NFL Bye Week Strategy and Tips

February 16, 2023

The NFL bye week is an important matter that many casual gamblers overlook. If you consider yourself a novice sports bettor and see a betting line that sends you to Google News and your popular sports stat site to see if a player is injured, remember to look to see if the other team is coming off a bye. This post will cover some higher-level research and insights into the bye week for those sophisticated sports bettors dealing with the bye week. Before I get there, I’ll review some general points for anyone who needs clarification on what a bye week is or which weeks teams have byes.


NFL Bye Week: The Basics


As you are aware, an NFL regular season consists of each team playing 16 games. To maximize revenue from television advertising, the league switched to a 17-week season in 1990. This left each team with a single bye week at some point throughout the season. The bye week was random throughout the season, but the structure was changed in 2004 to produce a more consistent schedule for the postseason race. Bye weeks are now always scheduled between weeks 4 and 10. As a sports bettor, you should pay special attention to teams coming off a bye around weeks 5-11, as they will have more time to recover, get well, practice, and prepare.


While we won’t include it in our analysis, Thursday games are another area recreational bettor can keep an eye on. Beginning in week 10 of the NFL season, there is a single Thursday night game, with two additional Thursday day games on Thanksgiving. This means that teams will frequently play on short rest on Thursday, which is usually the case for both sides; however, this is fine. The following week is when it becomes a problem. Teams will benefit from an advantage equivalent to that gained from a bye week. When betting on the NFL, keep in mind both teams coming off a bye and those coming off a Thursday game.


Capping the NFL bye Week


Given that this isn’t a publication about statistical handicapping methods, which 95% of readers may find too sophisticated, I won’t go into much more depth than making a single statement and supporting it. The stronger a team is, the more they profit from a bye week. This is not a hypothesis but something that has been extensively measured through statistical research and is known to the greatest oddsmakers. The adjustment for teams coming off a bye is a power rankings-based multiplier. The bye week benefits all teams; however, the amount they profit is related to how good of a team they are.


Don’t worry if the preceding statement needs to be clarified. I’ll offer some basic statistics regarding how well teams returning from bye weeks have performed to help you understand the patterns better.


How Teams that Have Had a Bye Have Performed in Recent Years


Over the last four seasons (2007-2010), the team coming off the bye has a mark of 65-54-1 straight up and 61-44-5 against the spread in games in which only one team is coming off the bye.


If you’re considering betting teams coming off a bye since they’ve covered 58.1% of the time over the last four years, read my piece on the current betting market. A system like that might have worked in 2006, but this trend is unlikely to continue. This is because NFL betting lines are significantly more efficient today, and the market will almost certainly fix itself.


The standard ATS data is fine, but it only tells a little if we dig further. As a result, a more interesting trend emerges. Using the same 110-game sample, favored teams coming off the bye week have a track of 48-12 straight up and 36-20-4 ATS, whereas underdogs have a record of 17-32-1 straight up and 25-24-1 ATS.


Let’s now break down this data into four subsets:


  • Home Favorites: 31-11 Straight / 21-19-2 ATS
  • Road Favorites: 17-1 Straight / 15-1-2 ATS
  • Home Underdogs: 9-8-1 Straight / 11-6-1 ATS
  • Road Underdogs: 8-24 Straight / 14-18 ATS


The representative sample on road favorites is low, but 15-1-2 against the spread is still quite outstanding. To offer a faraway statistic from a piece I did a few years ago, road-favored teams coming off a bye week covered the spread approximately 70% of the time from 1990 to 2008 (roughly a 150-game sample size).


Nine games are missing from the 110-sample size I used to get more accurate four-year stats for all favorites coming off the bye. This is because there have been nine games since 2007 in which both clubs were coming off a bye. (324=128), I arrived at the sample size of 110 because 18 byes were irrelevant to the opening discussion. In these games where both teams were coming off a bye, the favorite is 8-1 straight up and 7-2 ATS. Using all statistics from the previous four seasons, the following are the records for favorites coming off the bye:


  • All Favorites: 56-13 Straight / 43-22-4 ATS
  • Home Favorites: 37-11 Straight / 26-20-2 ATS
  • Road Favorites: 19-2 Straight / 17-2-2 ATS


The evidence here strongly suggests that excellent teams profit from the bye more than the market recognizes. That is because, in the NFL, only good teams are favored on the road. However, using only road favorites is unusual, and some may consider it “data mining,” even though this trend dates back far further than 2007. If we genuinely want to dig this, we need to look at subsets of all favorites that exclude home and away, as that is embedded into the spread.


Using all of the data from the previous four seasons:


  • Favorites of -14 or more coming off a bye week

5-1-1 (ATS)


  • Favorites -7.5 to -13.5 coming off a bye week

8-4 (ATS)


  • Favorites -7 or less coming off a bye week

30-17-3 (ATS)


It is essential to emphasize that there is no assurance that these patterns will continue. As a significant believer in efficient market theory applied to sports betting, I predict the same results will be unlikely in 2011. It is still something to be aware of in the future.


Again, specialists have known for years that the compensation for teams returning from a bye week is a multiplier based on power rankings in a statistically driven formula. The good news is, “I won’t be publishing an article on that issue,” It doesn’t matter if you’re a recreational bettor who bets on feel, caps the market, or a sharp or odds maker. If you want to earn money betting on the NFL, examine the bye week more closely, as this has been the most efficient part of the market since its inception.


Even though we didn’t give you the whole rice bowl, this article offers some great advice to help any sports bettor make the proper decisions—more than most are prepared to disclose.

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