Coaches are always banging on about the advantage of rest to their teams. When he was coaching in the NHL during a Stanley Cup playoff series, Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman would hustle his team to get showered and changed post-game on a getaway day. Bowman believed if they got to the other city before their opponent did, those precious extra minutes of rest would matter in the outcome.
Coaches are known for sweating the details to a level of obsession. In this case, on the surface, logic would lead one to think that a more rested team would be better prepared to participate in an arduous competition than the team that isn’t as well rested.
A tired team is a mistake-prone team, these coaches surmise. History suggests that people have bought into this rhetoric for decades. Should you, as a sports better, also take this advice to heed and wager on the team with the rest advantage?
When it comes to the NFL, evidently not.
Doing the math from the 2019 NFL season, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that rested teams are better off than a tired team. Among teams with a rest advantage, the campaign showed that 12 teams posted winning records against the spread with a rest advantage, and four of those clubs were unbeaten in this scenario. In total, 18 teams were .500 with a rest advantage, while a dozen teams posted losing slates. Eight among that latter group were winless.
On the flip side, those teams playing games with a rest disadvantage really didn’t seem to be all that disadvantaged. Four of these squads went unbeaten against the spread, while 12 posted winning slates. And 18 teams were .500 clubs. A dozen teams finished with losing slates, nine of which were winless.
These outcomes are virtual parallels. This would most certainly indicate the rest advantage is a myth. But perhaps football is an anomaly, since teams only play one game per week.
Let’s look at hockey. The NHL is just as physically demanding on its players as the NFL but teams often play 3-4 games per week, many times on back-to-back nights.
According to research conducted by Bet Labs Sports, rest matters in the NHL. Their data shows that since 2005, when a favorite has enjoyed between 2-4 days of rest and the underdog is playing the second game in as many nights, the favorites have posted an 1,824-1,133 record. That’s a win rate of 62 percent.
This pattern was even more evident during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Teams with a rest advantage of two or more days went 6-1 during postseason play. That’s an 85.7 percent win rate.
It would appear that rest matters much more on the ice than on the gridiron. That’s something to keep in mind when wagering on either sport.