How Much Should Wind Speeds Affect How You Bet NFL Totals?

We often look at matchups, injuries, and more when it comes to handicapping NFL games. But what role should wind play in these decisions?

Have you ever tried hitting a beach ball back and forth while running through the scorching sands of the beach? You and your friend accurately volley the ball back and forth, sometimes diving for fun onto the forgiving sand floor.

Then suddenly, a gust of wind sends your beach ball flying dozens of feet away from your intended target. In an attempt to catch up to the wayward ball, you stumble out of control and into a nearby sandcastle that a poor little kid spent all morning carefully crafting.

Wind can affect any sport. In baseball, it can cause an innocent fly ball to turn into a first-row home run. Wind also affects the NFL, but we often don't think much of it except for extreme weather circumstances. If you bet on the NFL, you should start checking on the wind speeds.

Earth, Wind, and Football

When it comes to betting on totals in the NFL, most bettors love betting on the over. If you are unfamiliar with betting on NFL totals, each game has what's called a total. Some people call it an over/under. For example, Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots had a total of 48.5 points. As a bettor, you have to decide whether or not the final score will fall short of or eclipse that total number. The total score easily eclipsed it with 74 total points scored.

Bookmakers set these totals before every game. Vegas totals in games that involve elite quarterbacks like Joe Flacco Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will often be the highest. On the contrary, games between two stellar defenses will have lower Vegas totals. Often, bettors will see a cold weather game and bet the under, but that hasn't mattered much over the years.

While the temperature may not have a direct effect on scoring, it seems that the wind does have an impact. I collected wind speeds for every regular season game in 2017 and found the following:

How Wind Speeds Affect NFL Totals

Of the 256 regular season games, 74 games were played in either a dome or without wind. The Vegas totals in these games were the highest at an average of 45.43 points. Vegas tends to project more shootouts in domes because of the controlled environment. It also doesn't hurt that stud quarterbacks like Drew Brees play in a dome more than half of the season.

As we look at the wind speed ranges, you'll notice that games in which the wind was six miles per hour or lower did not have their total scores affected by the wind. Their average actual score was 45.46 points per game. This begins to change as wind speeds get higher.

There were 75 games with a wind speed of 7 to 12 miles per hour. In those games, the average actual total score was 42.09 points per game. This is about 3.5 points lower than games in that zero to six mile-per-hour range.

Business picks up as the wind picks up. During the season, the wind was 13 miles per hour or higher in 30 games. In those 30 games, the average actual score was 37.23 points per game, yet the Vegas total remained 43.38. This difference of about six points is one worth exploiting when it comes to betting. Of those 30 games, 19 of them finished under the Vegas total. That's a 63.33 winning percentage.

How to Bet It

It seems most reliable to bet on the under when the winds are high, but when can we be sure that a wind forecast is accurate? Since I know nothing about predicting the weather, I reached out to Ron Smiley, a meteorologist at KDKA TV in Pittsburgh.

Smiley indicates that the accuracy of wind forecasts can be beyond three days, but it's safer to go with a short-range forecast of three days. This means, if the game is set for Sunday at 1 pm, you can start tracking wind forecasts on Thursday or Friday to try and find an edge. numberFire has a page that monitors the weather, including wind speeds for every game. If you wait too long to bet, you could miss out on value. Here is an example of what I mean:

On Sunday, November 19, 2017, the New York Giants played a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The total in this game reached as high as 46.5 points on Friday, just two days before the game. By Sunday morning, the total began to dwindle and fell to 44.5 points by kickoff. A total or a spread moving one way is usually related to large amounts of money being bet on one side. It could also be from player news, weather, injuries, etc. There's some reason to believe this one was weather-related.

Tweets like this were popping up everywhere and for good reason. The game ended with the Giants upsetting the Chiefs, 12-9, in overtime. The teams combined for just 21 points over more than four quarters of play. The total was never in danger. While the total dwindling two points may not have mattered, you always want to get the best of the number.

Betting on the wind won't always glide you to an easy win, but it should be added to your betting repertoire when handicapping totals. And if you bet on the total early enough, you may even pop up a few of those first row home runs.