Cold Weather Impact on NFL Games: Should You Bet the Over or Under?

Preconceived notions or ready-made rules of thumb known as heuristics can lead to poor betting decisions. One such bias that can be seen in football is the overestimation of the significance of cold weather on point totals in the NFL.

The New England Patriots (10-6) play at the Buffalo Bills (10-6) on Saturday, January 15th at 8:15pm EST. This game is forecasted to be one of the coldest games played at Orchard Park, NY in the past 30 years.

The current forecast is clear of precipitation and wind is minimal, however, frigid temperatures below 5 degrees are expected.

Initial thoughts are that points will be difficult to score for both teams as the players battle the cold, however, this conclusion may not be accurate.

Is an Under bet for Saturday’s game between the Bills and Patriots advisable based solely on the weather?

To look at the effect of the weather on scoring, we compiled a list of the games played at 20 degrees or lower. 

It’s important to note that you don’t want to take such studies too far into the past for a variety of reasons. You will likely hear many people quote data that includes games played in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The game of football was fundamentally different then. Scoring has increased dramatically and that’s a function of three primary factors. Rules changes, more passing and more aggressiveness on 4th downs. 

Before the 2010 season, the NFL issued major rules changes to improve the safety of QBs in the pocket and receivers on routes.  Going back to the 90s and even early 2000s is less relevant now. As a result of those rules changes, pass rates for teams exploded since passing became significantly easier and more efficient. 

Finally, teams are more aggressive now. A 4th & 2 at midfield in 1990 meant a punt. A 4th & 2 at midfield in the playoffs in 2021 means a go-for-it situation. And whether the team converts or does not convert, it still will result in more points scored on average than a punt would have.

As a result, it’s more of a priority to look at more recent games rather than looking historically at the coldest games.

This is why we captured the 40 most recent games played in extreme cold — any game with temperatures of 20 degrees or colder.

The over/under results in cold weather are surprising and indicate that bettors and sportsbooks are over adjusting totals based on cold weather alone.

Since 2009, 40 games have been played in weather colder than 20 degrees: 

  • Surprising most bettors, the Over has hit in 58% of the games.
  • The average line in these games is set at 42.4 points and games have finished with an average of 43.6 points scored, 1.2 points on average above the linemakers total.
  • Additionally, games that are even colder, at sub-15 degree temperatures, have gone over the total in 10 of 17 games (59% over).

This may be stunning to some, because you’ve heard the mainstream narrative: cold games go under.

They will tell you that players are frozen solid in these extreme cold temperatures and they cannot throw the ball, catch a pass or kick a field goal because the ball is too hard and they are too cold.

The ball may be hard and they may be cold, but the overs are still hitting.

A much bigger factor than just temperature is wind. Wind is more of a factor on totals than anything else. Currently in Buffalo on Saturday night, they are calling for 6 degree temperatures at kickoff, 0% precipitation and winds of 4 mph.

When we cross referenced wind speed in these cold weather games, it appears that wind is more likely to hamper scoring in these cold games:

  • Exactly half of the games have been played with winds more than 10 mph, with the over hitting at 55% or 11-of-20 games.
  • In these 20 games, the average line is set at 41.9, and games finish with exactly 1 point below the total, with 40.9 points scored.
  • As the wind increases in these cold-weather games, the scoring continues to decrease, as can be seen in games with more than 15 mph of wind the over hits in only 3-of-8 games.
  • In these eight games, the average line is set at 39.25 with games finishing with an average of 31.75 points, an average of 7.5 points below the total.

 

When it comes to betting on NFL games, don’t make the common error of jumping to an incorrect conclusion. This Saturday’s Patriots vs Bills game is going to be cold, but as of now the forecast has minimal wind and an overreaction to the weather could occur with this total.

Best of luck this weekend and enjoy the game from your warm couch and if you think both offenses could exploit weaknesses on the other side of the ball, don’t be afraid to fire an over bet just because of the weather.

Last 40 games played (since 2009) in Temperatures of 20 Degrees or Colder

DateHomeVisitorWeekResultOver/UnderPoints ScoredOU ResultTemperature
1/10/16MINSEA18L 9-104019under-6
12/18/16KANTEN15L 17-194336under1
1/5/14GNBSFO18L 20-2346.543under5
12/9/13CHIDAL14W 45-284973over8
12/8/13GNBATL14W 22-214743under9
12/23/17GNBMIN16L 0-164116under10
1/2/22GNBMIN17W 37-1042.547over11
12/15/19GNBCHI15W 21-134034under11
12/31/17PITCLE17W 28-2438.552over11
12/18/16CHIGNB15L 27-304057over11
11/30/14MINCAR13W 31-1341.544over12
1/3/10BUFIND17W 30-73237over12
12/31/17NWENYJ17W 26-643.532under13
12/27/15MINNYG16W 49-1744.566over13
1/12/13DENBAL19L 35-3844.573over13
10/25/20DENKAN7L 16-434659over14
1/8/17GNBNYG18W 38-1346.551over14
12/28/14MINCHI17W 13-946.522under15
12/10/09CLEPIT14W 13-634.519under15
12/31/17NYGWAS17W 18-104128under16
12/28/15DENCIN16W 20-1739.537under16
1/3/10CLEJAX17W 23-173540over16
12/31/17DENKAN17L 24-2737.551over17
1/8/17PITMIA18W 30-1247.542under17
1/23/11PITNYJ20W 24-193843over17
1/14/18PITJAX19L 42-4540.587over18
12/18/16DENNWE15L 3-164319under18
12/8/13DENTEN14W 51-2849.579over18
12/27/09GNBSEA16W 48-1043.558over18
1/20/19KANNWE20L 31-375668over19
12/31/17PHIDAL17L 0-6416under19
12/31/17BALCIN17L 27-314058over19
11/24/13GNBMIN12T 26-2644.552over19
1/2/11GNBCHI17W 10-343.513under19
12/26/10KANTEN16W 34-1442.548over19
1/10/15NWEBAL19W 35-3147.566over20
11/24/13CLEPIT12L 11-274038under20
1/23/11CHIGNB20L 14-2142.535under20
1/10/10NWEBAL18L 14-334447over20
1/3/10NYJCIN17W 37-033.537over20

Cold Weather Impact on NFL Games: Should You Bet the Over or Under?