NFL Betting: Does Denver Have An Early Season ATS Advantage?

The Denver Broncos have some extreme looking historical trends in early vs. late season betting results. What can we make of the data?

Denver Against the Spread Splits

We wrote a post to have an excuse to post the old Broncos uniforms (Photo By John Cordes/ICON Sportswire)

The Denver Broncos are a unique team in the NFL:

  • At home, the Broncos play at the highest elevation of any team in the NFL — in fact, about 4,000 feet in elevation higher than any other NFL city.
  • Denver is the only NFL city that is in the Mountain Time Zone and on Daylight Savings Time. (Phoenix is also in the Mountain Time Zone but does not observe Daylight Savings, putting them with the Pacific Time Zone for nearly half the season.
  • Denver is geographically isolated, more than 600 miles from the nearest potential opponent (Kansas City).

Because of some of these unique traits, when it comes to performance against the point spread, some results and trends involving Denver might not be as random as you would expect with other teams.

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Denver Against The Spread and Point Total Results, By Week

We have NFL point spread results going back to the 1985 season. Here are the results for Denver, by week of the season, going all the way back to that year.

The results shown in this table include a variety of different Denver teams and team qualities, such as when they had John Elway, when they had Tim Tebow, the Mike Shanahan Super Bowl era, when they went 4-12 in 2010, Peyton Manning’s time in Denver, etc.

Denver Broncos ATS and Over/Under Results, By Week, 1985-2020

WEEK SU WSU LSU TPCT ATS WATS LATS TPCT OUNOVER PCT
1241200.667201420.571201600.556
227810.764241020.694201510.569
3201600.556131940.417181600.529
4181500.545171420.545171600.515
5221200.647161710.470171410.547
6211200.636171700.500151900.441
7161300.552161210.569171020.621
8141900.424151620.485171510.530
9161300.552121610.43120720.724
10221000.688201200.625141710.453
11251000.714201410.586142100.400
12161900.457122210.357201410.586
13211500.583191520.556191700.528
14201600.556152100.417171810.486
15161900.457142100.400191510.557
16171800.486142100.400171800.486
17161500.516141610.468131620.452

What stands out a bit is that Denver’s spread record late in the year is a losing one, compared with early in the year.

In the first two weeks, for example, Denver is 44-24-4 (64.9%) against the spread since 1985. The Over also hit 56.3% of the time in the first two weeks.

In contrast, Denver is 57-79-1 (42.0%) ATS in the final four weeks of the season, which usually corresponds with the month of December.

Let’s organize this into groups and also split it by home and away results. Here are the home results, divided into groups by weeks of the season:

Denver Broncos ATS and Over/Under Results, At Home, By Season Segment, 1985-2020

WEEKS SU WSU LSU TPCT ATS WATS LATS TPCT OUNOVER PCT
FIRST 5732400.753464290.521573720.604
6 TO 9382200.633332430.575352320.600
10 TO 13422100.667293310.468332820.540
14 TO 17462200.676283910.419313430.478

And here are the road results:

Denver Broncos ATS and Over/Under Results, On The Road, By Season Segment, 1985-2020

WEEKS SU WSU LSU TPCT ATS WATS LATS TPCT OUNOVER PCT
FIRST 5383810.500433220.571354100.461
6 TO 9303500.462273710.423342830.546
10 TO 13423300.560423030.553344100.453
14 TO 17234600.333294000.420353310.514

Checking the Denver Splits Across Time

The amount of data we’re looking at here isn’t a lot, but Denver does appear to show a tendency to cover the spread more often early in the year, especially at home. The Broncos’ over/under results also have generally trended from Over to Under when comparing early to late season splits.

Sometimes things that look like longer-term trends end up being highly skewed by results from a few years that may not be very relevant any more, so let’s do another quick test. The game of NFL football has changed a lot since 1985, so let’s cut the data into two roughly equal time periods (1985-2001 and 2002-2020) and see if the trends hold.

As it turns out:

  • The over/under trends mostly go away. Denver has some extreme over/under results from 1985-2001, going over the total points line in 73% of home games in the first five weeks of the season, compared to the over hitting just 43% of the time in the last month of the season. However, that trend has not been as pronounced since 2002.
  • The early vs. late season point spread results splits also become less pronounced, though the Broncos still have a strong ATS record in Weeks 1 and 2. Denver covered the spread 70% of the time in Weeks 1 and 2 prior to 2001, and has covered 61% of the time since 2002. Denver is 20-3 SU and 12-7-4 ATS in the first two weeks at home since 2002.
  • The late season poor ATS performance is present in both samples. Denver went 26-35 ATS (42.6%) from 1985-2001 in Week 14 or later, and has gone 31-44-1 ATS (41.4%) from Week 14 on since 2002.

Theories on the Denver Spread Results

The sample sizes are too small here to definitively come to any conclusions; any trends we’re seeing could just be random. However, with Denver in particular, there are at least plausible theories that could help explain some of these numbers.

First, playing at elevation is an advantage if you are used to it and your opponent is not. (If you have ever traveled to the Rocky Mountains and tried to do some strenuous exercise you likely have experienced this phenomenon.) There’s a good reason that elite distance runners like to train at elevation.

At the same time, over the years NFL teams and players have gotten much better at at offseason conditioning, year-round training, and opponent scouting and preparation. So some of Denver’s more extreme past success may have been due to having a big training advantage and better conditioning at altitude than their opponents early in the season, but that advantage is dissipating over time.

Meanwhile, the primary potential disadvantage for Denver is its extreme travel schedule. Denver routinely travels further than most teams. Virtually every road trip is to a different time zone, at a distance that requires a lengthy flight, to a stadium at a much lower elevation. It wouldn’t be out of the question that travel fatigue could start having an outsized impact on the Broncos toward the end of the season.

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