What closely tracking spread results has taught us at the NFL's halfway mark

The halfway mark of the NFL season is supposed to engender some level of clarity. We're supposed to know who the contenders are, who the middle class is made up of, and who's been left in the dust already.

In 2017, it's been harder to do make those distinctions than ever. Just when the NFL-informed world thinks it can make a conclusion about a team, that certainty seems to get muddled up and tossed back into the vat of randomness that has been this season (well, except for Cleveland, which has been predictably putrid in both the win column and against the spread).

But hey, there's nine weeks of regular season play left, so we might as well try and figure this thing out. Live Bets has been diligently working at that elusive goal since Day 1, tracking the spread results closely and analyzing the results to the best of our mortal ability. For a recap of our methodology, take a look at our first instalment of analysis, in which we whiffed on the 49ers, Lions, and Cardinals, nailed it with the Bills and Chargers, and were sort of right about the Pats and Seahawks. Now, let's dive into the lessons learned from the second quarter of the season and some predictions for the coming weeks.

Betting results against the spread

Element of surprise has been best predictor of ATS success

Raise your hand if you would have believed back in August that the Eagles, Texans, Bills, and Saints would make up 80 per cent of the best spread performers in the league. I'm going to go ahead and guess that your hands haven't moved, because no one really saw their collective success coming (although Houston's may be coming to an abrupt and premature end, thanks to the terrible DeShaun Watson injury).

In a way though, it's not so surprising that these teams would be so good against the spread, because beating the spread is easiest when teams are coming in with an element of surprise. Being undervalued dilutes the challenge of overcoming the spread. The massive logjam of solid-but-not-great squads in the standings has made it even easier for these sorts of teams to be properly evaluated, because nobody truly knows what to think of them.

Going forward, it may be a good idea to keep rolling with teams that have fared well so far, but in all likelihood, we're set to experience some more shakeups. Already we saw the Bills fall hard against the Jets (a surprising team in their own right) last night as three point underdogs. More and more strength of schedule will start to be a useful indicator of how good teams really are (Washington has had a rough draw so far), so take that into account when making picks. But try to forecast the surprise a bit yourself and look for things that the general public may not have latched onto. As we've seen, that's how to get the best results for yourself.

The Chargers have done a complete 180

Last time Live Bets did this the Chargers were performing terribly. They were losing nail-biter games and getting spreads that they couldn't live up to. Then everything flipped. Since Week 4, the only game they've failed to cover was one at New England where they missed it by a point. Now that they're clicking a bit more—and cut a struggling kicker—they could be a middle-of-pack team whose reliability is real.

Keep a close eye on the Bears

Chicago has played the league's third-hardest schedule through eight weeks and performed as the 10th-best against the spread. They may be winning and competing in wacky ways, but it's working. There's no reason they can't continue finding ways to cover, especially with three home games in the next month.