The New Year is the perfect time of year to reflect some exciting NFL betting. 2021 has come and gone, and now we can look back through the last calendar year and see which teams were the best against the spread, and which delivered the most winnings for sports bettors.

With that in mind, let’s review the best ATS teams in the NFL in 2021.

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Dallas Cowboys

ATS Record: 12-4

The Dallas Cowboys are 12-4 against the spread through 16 games. Part of this is due to the Cowboys being in the NFC East. The Cowboys thrashed the NFC East. Now we just have to see what happens with their next game vs the Philadelphia Eagles.

Their closest game was a game at Washington in which they took a huge lead and survived a bad second half. They later annihilated the Washington Football Team on Sunday Night Football.

Beyond their division, though, the Cowboys have done other things to attain such a good record against the spread this season. They won in Minnesota against the Vikings when Dak Prescott was injured and backup Cooper Rush had to fill in at quarterback. Dallas also won at the New England Patriots and Mac Jones.

Green Bay Packers

ATS Record: 12-4

The Packers are 12-4 against the spread at most PA sportsbooks. Aaron Rodgers has been his normally excellent self, leading the Green Bay offense to big drives whenever the Pack Attack has really needed something from him. Rodgers remains an equation-changing quarterback in the NFL, a guy who has lost none of the mustard on his fastball.

His instincts and reflexes are top-notch. This is why the Packers have fought past their opponents and handled their business with relative ease. Even when the Packers seemed to be in trouble, Rodgers has risen to the occasion. He beat the Arizona Cardinals on the road when the Packers were missing several important players.

Green Bay beat the Los Angeles Rams, other Super Bowl contenders, and other possible playoff teams with a lot of talent. Beyond the obvious wins against the Lions and Bears, the Packers have beaten the more competitive teams on their schedule as well.

It also has to be said that if the Packers had not won at San Francisco early in the season, they might not have become such an ATS juggernaut this year. That game was a real tone-setter for the Packers as they moved forward with their 2021 journey, which is now carrying into January.

Detroit Lions

ATS Record: 10-6

The 10-6 record the Detroit Lions have against the spread has to rate as one of the bigger surprises in the NFL this season. The Lions are an enigmatic team. What has helped them to win 10 games against the spread is that expectations were so low. Nevertheless, they had to rise above those expectations. They do that two-thirds of the time (10 of 16).

The Lions beat the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings. They tied the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road. Those were three obvious covers since the Lions have been an underdog in all of their games, but the Lions have covered the spread in seven other instances this season.

Lions for real?

To be more precise, the Lions have covered the spread seven times in games they lost straight up. Why are the Lions able to do this? Why are they able to cover so many times? A few answers come to mind: First, Dan Campbell takes a lot of risks. The Lions faked two punts against the Los Angeles Rams and converted both. That kept the ball from the Rams and enabled the Lions to shorten that game, which they very nearly won.

The Lions often play with nothing to lose. The other part of this is that the Lions play a lot of close games in which they do just enough to lose. Like a bad team, they find a way to make the losing play, but the other part of the equation is that they put themselves in a position to win.

They just don’t finish the job very often. The Lions have such a well-established identity as a bad team that people forget they actually compete well. This team just doesn’t win, competitive but not successful, and they battle, but they don’t play smart

These are the kinds of distinctions and points of differentiation people need to make – and take note of – when understanding why a team with only two straight-up wins is so successful in covering the spread.

“The Lions are going to lose” is a safe bet. “The Lions are going to lose against the spread” is not a safe bet. Moneylines, not ATS, provide a situation in which betting against the Lions is smart. Know the difference between the two.

Indianapolis Colts

ATS Record: 10-6

The 10-6 ATS record of the Indianapolis Colts comes from their 1-4 start, but everyone wrote them. People thought Carson Wentz was going to struggle on a lot of Sundays. But he didn’t. People did not expect the Colts to win eight of 10 games straight up.

Coach Frank Reich has really overachieved with Wentz. A lot of people are surprised that the Colts can run the ball so well even though Wentz’s inconsistencies make opposing defenses load up the tackle box to try to take away Jonathan Taylor. Everyone knows Taylor is getting the ball, but the Colts still run the ball well. That leads to a lot of games in which the Colts cover the spread. It’s very impressive.

The other part of this story is that the Colts are simply beating good teams in games with very small point spreads. They beat the New England Patriots when favored by only two points, close to a pick’em game. They beat the Arizona Cardinals as a two-point underdog. Winning up-for-grabs games certainly elevates the Colts’ overall ATS profile, as it would for any other team which did the same thing.

Image credit: Kyusung Gong – AP