What can we learn from the first half of the season?
Before we get to the incredible Dallas Cowboys, let's take a moment to appreciate this NFL season. I know, that's not a popular sentiment; but amid all of the noise, the gambling has actually been a lot of fun this year. Some might say it's the only thing keeping us sane at times. We here at FOX Sports are 68-49-3 against the spread in 2016 (odds courtesy of Bovada.com and the Las Vegas SuperBook), so we won't argue.
And with the NFL's unofficial midway point in the rear-view mirror, now's a perfect time to sort through all of the gambling to find the biggest trends, stats and facts headed into the second half of the season. We charted each game so far and pulled out the 10 things we think you need to know to maximize your value the rest of the way. Then, for good measure, we went team-by-team to look at every squad's success against the spread.
To all of the bettors out there: enjoy, good luck, and keep reading to find out which team is still undefeated at the books in 2016.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
Here are the teams you can trust with your bankroll
Three teams stand above the rest when it comes to covering against the spread this season. The Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos each covered six timesin the first eight weeks of 2016; the New England Patriots went a step furtherand covered in seven of their first eight games.
Yet the Cowboys are arguably more impressive than the Patriots, since they don't have a loss against the spread on the books. Dallas opened the season with a push against the Giants, leaving the Cowboys at 6-0-1 against the spread.
If I could only bet on one team each week the rest of the year, though, it would obviously be the Patriots. The Tom Brady Revenge Tour is the closest thing we have to a sure bet in the NFL.
As for those undefeated Cowboys? You'll want to check out their team section below for a glimpse at their performance this season, but first ...
The teams to avoid like the plague
Some of the least profitable teams so far are those that had the biggest expectations coming into 2016. Four teams have covered just twice this season:
Green Bay Packers
The San Francisco 49ers stand alone in gambling futility, however, with just one cover through the first eight weeks. That came in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams. What about the Browns, you might ask? We'll get to them later, I promise.
When the line is a TD or more, lay the points ...
Out of 22 games where the line was 6.5 or higher, the favorite covered 15 times. If you only wagered on those potential blowouts, that 68 percent win rate would make you a very rich NFL fan indeed.
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... but take the underdog when the spread is close
In part thanks to Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, who has coached aggressively with the game on the line, underdogs have covered in 10 out of 18 total games where the line was 2.5 points or less. One of those 18 contests (Giants -1 v. Cowboys in Week 1) ended with a push.
Defense continues to win (gambling) championships
Teams covering against the spread this season have ranked just outside the top-10 in defense in the NFL, on average (as measured by Football Outsiders' DVOA), and two of the top five defenses (Denver and Minnesota) have combined to cover in 11 of their 15 games. Defense doesn't just win championships; it wins you money.
Offense is less important, unless ...
Teams covering against the spread in 2016 have actually been slightly below-average on offense according to DVOA, but there is one notable exception. In a league where most QBs struggle to throw a five-yard out, elite passing offenses will carry you to a successful day of betting against the spread.
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Home, (not so sweet) home
Being at home hasn't exactly lived up to the hype in 2016, with games split right down the middle in the first eight weeks. Home teams have covered 57 times; road teams have covered 57 times; there have been three pushes; and the three games in London don't really fit into the "home/away" dichotomy.
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2016 is the year of the underdogs
Underdogs have covered in a startling 56 percent (65-51) of games this season. When in doubt, take the points.
In addition, one line closed as a pick 'em (the Jets ultimately defeated the Ravens at home in that contest), and as previously mentioned, three games ended in pushes.
Getty ImagesPatrick Smith
How to bet when the NFL goes abroad
If you're a true degenerate who needs every bit of gambling information possible, you might be interested to know that underdogs are 2-1 in London this season. The NFL won't return to the UK in 2016, but Week 11's matchup between the Texans and Raiders will take place in Mexico City, if that counts for anything.
So what does it all mean?
Add it all up, and here's where we stand through the first eight weeks of the NFL season:
Road underdogs lead all other betting options, covering 41 out of a possible 119 games with a favorite this season. If ever there were a sign of the topsy-turvy nature of the 2016 season, that would be it.
Home favorites are up next with 34 covers. Home underdogs trail further behind (22 covers), with road favorites (16) bringing up the rear for the four major categories.
As previously mentioned, in the one pick 'em this season, the home team covered; in three London games (as previously discussed), underdogs went 2-1; and there were three pushes.
Now that you're up to speed on all of the league-wide trends that will shape the rest of your gambling year, let's take a look at each team's success (or lack thereof) against the spread in 2016, with a quick note on what sticks out the most for all 32 franchises. (Teams listed in order from least to most covers against the spread.)
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San Francisco 49ers (1-6 W-L record): 1 cover against the spread
Depending on your point of view, the 49ers are either the worst or the best team to wager on in all of football. It's a real glass half-full/half-empty kind of situation in San Francisco.
Carolina Panthers (2-5): 2 covers ATS
Time and time again this season, the Panthers have been heavy favorites. Time and time again, they've failed to live up to those expectations (except against the 49ers in Week 2).
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
Chicago Bears (2-6): 2 covers ATS
It's tough to belittle Chicago too much after a big Week 8 win over the Vikings, but consider this: the Bears are the only team to let the Jaguars come into their stadium and leave with a win this season. That's not great.
Getty ImagesDavid Banks
Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1): 2 covers ATS
The Bengals only cover when they're really expected to win, as both covers this season have come with Cincinnati as more than a seven-point favorite at home (vs. Miami, vs. Cleveland).
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY SportsAaron Doster
Green Bay Packers (4-3): 2 covers ATS
Whether you're a gambler or a regular NFL fan, the Packers have to be one of the most disappointing teams of the 2016 season. The good news: Green Bay's two covers this season came in the past two weeks. The bad news: Green Bay, you know, hadn't covered through the first five games.
Associated PressCharles Rex Arbogast
Baltimore Ravens (3-4): 2 covers ATS
The Ravens were a last-minute TD (and a backdoor cover) by the Giants away from a sliver of respectability with three covers, although a current four-game losing streak is probably more significant to Baltimore than the record against the spread.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1): 3 covers ATS
The Cardinals have covered just once on the road — against an overmatched 49ers team. This is one of the least consistent "good" teams in a chaotic NFL season.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY SportsKevin Hoffman
Cleveland Browns (0-8): 3 covers ATS
Remember our advice to lay the points when the spread is a touchdown or more? The Browns might be the lone exception, having covered 3 times as a TD or more underdog. Of course, that's out of six total such games. Vegas doesn't have much faith in Cleveland; the Browns have been underdogs in every game this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5): 3 covers ATS
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson ended up as the scapegoat for Jacksonville's underwhelming start. On the bright side, at least the Jaguars (who have been favored in just one game) covered against the Packers in Week 1!
USA TODAY SportsReinhold Matay
Kansas City Chiefs (5-2): 3 covers ATS
Kansas City thrives on the nail-biting point spreads, with all three covers coming on lines that closed within a field goal.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY SportsRon Chenoy
Miami Dolphins (3-4): 3 covers ATS
How has Miami covered at all this season? Not thanks to Ryan Tannehill; instead, the Dolphins have relied on the league's No. 1 rushing attack (as ranked by DVOA). Unfortunately, when Miami inevitably falls behind, that approach tends to go out the window.
David Butler II-USA TODAY SportsDavid Butler II
New York Jets (3-5): 3 covers ATS
A silver lining in the dark cloud that is the 2016 season for the Jets: New York is one of only three teams (New England, Minnesota) to cover more than once as a road favorite. If you can't be great, you might as well rub elbows with greatness.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Seattle Seahawks (4-2-1): 3 covers ATS
Russell Wilson's injury status hasn't kept oddsmakers from listing the Seahawks as big favorites this season. Seattle's inability to match those inflated lines is as much a harbinger of doom as the Seahawks' shaky offensive line. Remember: good teams win, great teams cover.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4): 3 covers ATS
Two of Tampa Bay's covers have come as underdogs against playoff contenders in Carolina and Atlanta. The other was courtesy of the lowly 49ers. It's good to cover both ends of the spectrum.
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Tennessee Titans (4-4): 3 covers ATS
It's hard to draw any major conclusions from the Titans' 2016 campaign, other than maybe Marcus Mariota's ability to keep his team in games when he has time in the pocket. That hardly makes the Titans unique, however. The only clear trend: Tennessee will continue to be an underdog for most of this season.
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Indianapolis Colts (3-5): 3 covers ATS, 1 push
The Colts are a classic zig-zag team, covering one week and imploding the next. For the record, they came up short in Week 8. Let that serve as a heads-up going into this week's meeting with the Packers.
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Los Angeles Rams (3-4): 3 covers ATS, 1 push
Looking to place a wager on the Rams? You'll need a weak passing offense on the other side; Los Angeles has only stood a chance against battered opposing QBs.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY SportsJasen Vinlove
New York Giants (4-3): 3 covers ATS, 1 push
New York started the season 0-3-1 against the spread, then followed that up with a 3-0 streak before a Week 8 bye. Which way they'll trend in the second half of the season is anyone's guess.
Getty ImagesAl Bello
Buffalo Bills (4-4): 4 covers ATS
Rex Ryan's reason to smile: Buffalo is the only team to cover against the Patriots this season. Of course, the Bills paid the price for their transgressions in the rematch, but the Week 4 win was worth it.
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Philadelphia Eagles (4-3): 4 covers ATS
The Eagles sneaked up on opponents and oddsmakers this year, with three of Philadelphia's four covers coming in the first three weeks of the season. Since then, Philly has come back to earth a little bit — although had the Eagles fended off Dak Prescott's late Week 8 rally, they'd have five covers (and wins).
USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3): 4 covers ATS
The Steelers haven't covered since losing Ben Roethlisberger to injury. Here's hoping he's back soon to help facilitate a few more Pittsburgh covers — and an Antonio Brown TD celebration or two.
Getty ImagesRob Carr
Detroit Lions (4-4): 4 covers ATS, 1 push
The Lions have beaten the league's best defense (Philadelphia) and struggled to cover after being spotted a touchdown against the Packers, which nicely sums up their up-and-down 2016 season.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsAndrew Weber
Houston Texans (5-3): 4 covers ATS, 1 push
You know what you're getting with the Texans, at least. Houston has covered four times as a favorite (plus the one push against the Colts); as an underdog, the Texans are 0-2 against the spread.
Isaiah J. DowningIsaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons (5-3): 5 covers ATS
Those willing to put their faith in the Falcons before they established themselves as one of the NFL's top offenses were rewarded. All five Atlanta covers through eight games came with the Falcons as underdogs, and four of those games were on the road.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Minnesota Vikings (5-2): 5 covers ATS
The Vikings opened the season with five straight covers, but they haven't beaten the spread since — a foreboding omen for Minnesota.
USA TODAY SportsBruce Kluckhohn
New Orleans Saints (3-4): 5 covers ATS
The Saints were favored just twice through the first eight weeks; they failed to cover both times. However, New Orleans is one of three teams to cover five times as an underdog.
USA TODAY SportsDerick E. Hingle
Oakland Raiders (6-2): 5 covers ATS
Just win, baby — specifically, on the road as underdogs, where Oakland has claimed all five of its covers against the spread in 2016. Four of those five games came with the Raiders closing at +1 or +1.5, which is either a testament to late-game execution or a harbinger of the regression looming for Oakland. Those coin-flip games tend to split 50/50 over the long run.
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San Diego Chargers (3-5): 5 covers ATS
Continue to underestimate the Chargers at your own peril. San Diego has covered four times as an underdog (thrice on the road), plus once as a home favorite against Jacksonville. The leading indicator of Chargers success against the spread: a soft defensive middle for Philip Rivers to exploit.
Washington Redskins (4-3-1): 5 covers ATS
I've made a ton of jokes about betting against Kirk Cousins in my weekly picks column, and he tended to make me regret them in the first half of the season. Can Washington keep it up as they prepare to lock in for the playoff hunt?
Getty ImagesMatt Hazlett
Denver Broncos (6-2): 6 covers ATS
Denver's lackluster offense has served as a boon to gamblers this season, keeping lines close and allowing the Broncos defense to muster up a half-dozen covers. Through eight weeks, Denver has been favored by more than a TD just once. Thanks, Trevor Siemian!
Dallas Cowboys (6-1): 6 covers ATS, 1 push
Dallas' undefeated start against the spread:
Week 1: +1 vs. Giants; Giants win 20-19
Week 2: +3 @ Redskins; Cowboys win 27-23
Week 3: -5.5 vs. Bears; Cowboys win 31-17
Week 4: -4 @ 49ers; Cowboys win 24-17
Week 5: +1.5 vs. Bengals; Cowboys win 28-14
Week 6: +4 vs. Packers; Cowboys win 30-16
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: -4.5 vs. Eagles; Cowboys win 29-23
Not too shabby.
New England Patriots (7-1): 7 covers ATS
Other than that Week 4 shootout against the Bills, New England has crushed opponents, racking up six covers of at least 6.5 points and three of nine or more. Until oddsmakers set the line at two TDs, I'll certainly be taking the Patriots each week without a second thought. In fact, I'm kind of depressed that they're on their bye in Week 9.