Should You Bet Against New NFL Head Coaches In Week 1?

New Head Coaches

The jury is still out on Joe Judge with the New York Giants (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

This offseason in the NFL featured, well, a lot more “off” than normal. Teams did not hold voluntary workouts or host other activities after the NFL Draft. They could not evaluate rookies or work off the rust in preseason game action.  Preseason camps were delayed because of coronavirus testing.

It’s the kind of situation where one would think that new head coaches would be at an additional disadvantage, given their relative lack of history with a team. But as it turns out, even before the Age of Coronavirus, the last two years have featured some new head coaches laying some real stinkers in their opening games:

  • The Lions got embarrassed by the Jets two years ago in Matt Patricia’s debut, losing by 31.
  • The Browns got smoked in Freddie Kitchens’ first game last year, losing by 30 to the Titans.

All told, new head coaches have gone 1-13-1 straight up and just 4-11 against the spread in Week 1 over the last two years, a pretty horrendous performance.

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Is Fading New Head Coaches An Obvious Bet?

Of course, what would be even better to know is whether this a betting angle that is likely to continue to provide value in the near future.

15 games is a seriously small sample size, and we’ll never get a big one since only a handful of head coaching changes happen each year. So the immediate answer is, it’s going to be tough to draw any sort of confident conclusions.

At the same time, there are sound qualitative reasons that could explain this underperformance, so it’s worth taking a deeper look.

New Head Coach Performance in Week 1

Here are the straight up and against the spread records since 2010 for all teams with a new head coach in Week 1. A couple of notes on these numbers:

  • They do not include teams that had an interim head coach at the end of the previous season stay on as permanent head coach.
  • This summary does not include matchups where two new head coaches faced each other, which happened a total five times since 2010.

Straight Up and Against The Spread Records Of New Head Coaches, 2010-2019

YearSU WinSU LossSU Tie ATS WinATS LossATS Tie
2019161350
2018070160
2017210210
2016310400
2015520520
2014320410
2013240411
2012150330
2011130130
2010210210
TOTAL2032129231

While the last two years have been ugly for new head coaches in Week 1, with only Matt LaFleur winning in his debut with the Packers last year, the longer term shows that rookie coaches have done just fine. It’s a good example of why you need to be careful blindly trusting short term trends.

In fact, from 2010 to 2017, new head coaches won exactly half their first games, and covered the spread over two-thirds of the time (25-12-1 ATS).

It’s somewhat interesting to note that in 2011, the year the NFL was coming off a lockout and dealing with a shortened preseason, new coaches did go 1-3 both straight up and against the spread in Week 1 — but that’s only one flipped result away from being 50/50.

Home/Road and Favorite/Underdog Splits for New Head Coaches

What if we look at this case according to whether the new coach was at home or on the road, and whether their team was the betting favorite or the underdog?

The data over the last decade does show a split here, where new coaches in Week 1 on the road, and as the underdog, have covered at a higher rate.

  • New coaches as favorites are only 7-11 SU and 6-11-1 ATS.
  • New coaches as underdogs are 13-21-1 (pretty much the same as favorites) but 23-12 ATS.
  • New coaches playing on the road are 6-13 SU but 13-6 ATS.
  • New coaches playing at home are 14-19-1 SU and 16-17-1 ATS.

Small sample size caveats of course still apply here.

This Year’s New Coaches

Here are the teams with a new head coach for 2020, and who they play in Week 1, along with the game point spread as of Saturday:

  • Dallas (Mike McCarthy) -2.5 at LA Rams
  • Carolina (Matt Rhule) +3 vs. Las Vegas
  • Washington (Ron Rivera) +5.5 vs. Philadelphia
  • NY Giants (Joe Judge) +5.5 vs. Pittsburgh
  • Cleveland (Kevin Stefanski) +7 at Baltimore

Dallas is the only betting favorite in a game involving a new head coach. Three new coaches are home underdogs, while Cleveland is a road underdog at Baltimore in Kevin Stefanski’s debut.

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