With the 2021 NFL season in the books, bettors can look back to evaluate their performances for the season. According to the American Gaming Association (AGA), more than 45 million Americans placed bets during the 2021 NFL season. The AGA noted in their preseason study that that figure stands as a 36 percent increase year-over-year, and plenty of those people got to enjoy NFL betting upsets this season.
2021 was the year of the underdog in the NFL. Underdogs went 142-127-3 against the spread in the regular season, covering 52.8 percent of the time. Road ‘dogs covered at the highest clip, 54.1 percent (85-72-3), with home ‘dogs covering 50.9 percent of the time (57-55).
Underdogs got their fair share of outright wins as well. ‘Dogs posted a 105-173 outright record this season, a mark that trailed just the 2006 campaign (106-161) for the most underdog wins in the Super Bowl era.
Some of the biggest betting wins this season came in games featuring a double digit spread. 44 contests closed with a line of at least 10 points this season, and while the favorites won the majority of those, there were some meaningful betting upsets. With the best odds, picks and predictions, favorites posted a 35-9 straight up mark laying double digits, going 24-18-2 against the spread.
Playing the underdog was the way to go this season, so here’s a look at the top five NFL betting upsets of 2021.
Betting Upsets No. 5: Jets (+11) Top Bengals in Week 8
The AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals played the New York Jets on the road in Week 8. The Bengals entered that ballgame at 5-2 (4-3 ATS), and faced a New York team playing without their starting quarterback, Zach Wilson. The Jets sported a 1-5 record at the time (1-5 ATS).
Look ahead line for this game saw the Bengals lay 3.5 points. Most books opened Week 8 with Cincinnati as at least 9.5-favorites on the road, but bettors jumped on a Bengals team coming off a dominant 41-17 win over Baltimore in Week 7. The line closed 11 in most sportsbooks.
This game stood out as the first one of the season where the road team laid double figures. The Bengals had not been favored by at least eight points under head coach Zac Taylor, and had not been favored by double digits on the road since 1982.
Cincinnati went down 7-0, then scored the next 17 and seemed to be control of this contest. The Bengals actually held a 31-20 lead in the fourth quarter before melting down in the Meadowlands. After the Jets scored a touchdown to trim Cincinnati’s lead, Joe Burrow’s threw an interception to give New York the ball inside the red zone. From there, the Jets took the lead and didn’t look back.
The Jets looked hopeless entering this Week 8 matchup against one of the top teams in the AFC. But then Mike White, making his first NFL start and just his second career appearance, provided New York with one of their most memorable wins in recent memory. White completed 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the 34-31 win.
Cincinnati took another tough loss in Week 9. But following their Week 10 Bye, the Bengals put together an 8-3 run to with the AFC and make their first Super Bowl since 1988. The Jets, meanwhile, couldn’t build on this momentum and only won two more games for the rest of the season.
Betting Upsets No. 4: Saints (+11.5) Shutout Brady and the Bucs in Week 15
The New Orleans Saints played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Week 15 hoping to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Saints entered the ball game 6-7 (6-7 ATS), having snapped a season-long five-game losing skid with a dominant 30-9 win over the New York Jets in Week 14. The Bucs, meanwhile, entered 10-3 (7-6 ATS) on a four-game winning streak, having just topped the Buffalo Bills in overtime.
The Bucs rolled into Week 15 with the league’s top scoring offense and passing game, but New Orleans stymied their efforts. The Saints defense limited Brady to just 214 passing yards, sacking him four times and forcing two turnovers. This stood as Brady’s first shutout since 2006, a run of 255 consecutive starts.
The Bucs bounced back with a dominant 32-6 win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 16, a game in which they were favored by double digits once again. Tampa Bay went 7-2 straight up and 6-3 against the spread as a double-digit favorite, with this Week 15 loss being the biggest upset.
The lookahead line for this game originally saw the Bucs laying seven points, with an over-under total set at 52. The line closed at 11.5 at BetMGM, with other books posting it between 11 and 12 in favor of the defending champs against a Saints team playing with their backup quarterback. The total closed at 46.5.
The Saints thrived as road underdogs under head coach Sean Payton, posting a 13-6-1 against the spread record with 10 outright wins. One bettor in Pennsylvania wagered $525,000 on the Saints to cover that spread, cashing out in a big way with a payout of $1,002,272.73.
Betting Upsets No. 3: Lions (+13.5) Bit the Cardinals in Week 15
Week 15 featured another of the NFL’s biggest upsets in 2021 when the Arizona Cardinals played the Detroit Lions in Motown. The hapless Lions entered this game 1-11-1, having snapped a 15-game winless streak in Week 13, but remained one of the better teams against the spread (8-5). The Cardinals, meanwhile, came in 10-3 (9-4 ATS), with their sights set on an NFC West division title.
The Cardinals sat tied atop the NFC and went to Detroit hoping to clinch their first playoff berth since 2015 against a Lions team with just one win to their name. But the Lions scored one of the biggest betting upsets of the season with their 30-12 victory. Jared Goff had perhaps his best performance as a member of the Lions, completing 21 of 26 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
Kyler Murray struggled mightily and the defense seemed completely absent in the loss. Murray went 23 of 41 for 257 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He managed just three rushing yards on four carries in the game. The defense saw one of the league’s lowest scoring offenses put up 30 points.
Ironically, both the Lions and Arizona would win two more games the rest of the way, but while that was a success for Detroit, the Cardinals see it as a dismal failure. Detroit closed the year with a 7-3 record against the spread as an underdog of at least seven points. For Arizona, this proved to be the team’s lone ATS loss on the road, as the Cardinals finished tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the league’s best ATS record as a road team (8-1).
The lookahead line for this game started at 6.5-points in favor of the Cardinals, with an over/under total set at 47 points. The line opened at 12.5 points for Arizona in Week 15, and closed at 13.5 points. This was the second game for the Cardinals as a double-digit favorite, as Arizona won and covered as 20-point favorites against the Texans in Week 7.
Historically, double-digit spreads in favor of Arizona were rare. This 13.5-point stood as the franchise’s largest road spread since 1970, with the only spread greater than 14 points coming in 1966. The Cardinals are now 2-10 against the spread all-time laying at least nine points on the road.
Prior to the Jets outright win getting 11 points against Cincinnati in Week 8, double-digit underdogs were 0-11 straight up and just 3-9 against the spread. So, to say when the Buffalo Bills played the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in northeast Florida another betting upset seemed unlikely. The Jaguars entered that ballgame 1-6 (2-5 ATS), having only recently snapped a 20-game losing skid. The Bills, meanwhile, went to Jacksonville 5-2 (5-2 ATS), sitting atop the AFC East and on a roll.
The Bills entered Week 9 with the league’s No. 1 scoring offense (31.7 points per game at the time), but managed a meager six points on the road against the hapless Jags. Jacksonville unleashed Josh Allen on, well, Josh Allen. The Jags’ Allen had a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery to go along with eight tackles against in the 9-6 win over the Bills.
This game proved to be Buffalo’s lone loss when favored by double digits in 2021. It was also the first time since 2004 that the Bills were double-digit favorites on the road. The Bills posted a 5-1-1 record against the spread as double-digit favorites in 2021.
The lookahead line for this game checked in at 6.5-points in favor of Buffalo at the start of the season, with an over/under total set at 51. Entering Week 9, the line jumped to 11-points for the Bills, and money for Buffalo ultimately pushed it to 14.5 for the Jaguars in most books.
At least one sportsbook saw the spread reach 15.5 points, which marked the most points the Jags had ever been underdogs. The total for this game closed at 48.5 and came in way under. Jacksonville saw 12 games go under the projected total in 2021, a mark that tied them with the Broncos for the league-lead.
Betting Upsets No. 1: Jaguars (+15) Keep Colts from the Playoffs in Week 18
The Jaguars earned the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft thanks to the ending with the league’s worst record (3-14). So it’s no surprise that two of the biggest betting upsets of the 2021 season came thanks to the efforts in Jacksonville. When the Indianapolis Colts played the Jacksonville Jaguars, they did so with their postseason hopes in their hands. A win would have clinched a playoff berth for Indy.
The Colts entered 9-7 (10-6 ATS), coming off a disappointing loss in Week 17. Indy hadn’t been a 14-point road favorite in over ten years (2009), and hadn’t laid as many as 15 points on the road since 2005. The 15.5-point line in some books matched the Colts’ largest line as a road favorite in the last 45 seasons.
The Jags came to this one 2-14 (4-12 ATS), and, ironically, performed better as double-digit underdogs. Jacksonville posted a 3-2 mark against the spread and a 2-3 record outright when getting at least 10 points. One of those covers came against the Colts in Week 10, when Jacksonville covered as 10-point underdogs in Indy. The Jags were a league-worst 1-7 against the spread in games where the spread closed under seven points.
Jacksonville clowned the Colts in this 26-11 win. The Jags defense limited NFL rushing champ Jonathan Taylor to 77 yards and sacked Carson Wentz six times. They forced two turnovers and saw Trevor Lawrence play one of the best games of his rookie season. Lawrence finished 23 of 32 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns, his first game with multiple TD passes since the season opener. The loss kept the Colts from the 2021 playoffs and made people wagering with Jacksonville quite a bit of money.
The lookahead line for this game opened with the Colts giving three points on the road. This became the second time this season Jacksonville scored a betting upset of at least 14.5 points, giving them two of the top-10 biggest NFL betting upsets since 1990. Indy probably shouldn’t have been a double-digit favorite, considering it had lost six straight games in Duval County.
Jacksonville had been at least 14-point underdog at home just three times before this in franchise history. Prior to this season, the Jags biggest betting upset previously was as 14-point underdogs in Denver during the Divisional Round of the 1996 NFL playoffs.