What is Garbage Time and Why Do I Care?
November 16, 2022

Garbage time in games is important to sports bettors in many ways. Sometimes, it can bring us great wins or devastating losses when a meaningless last second score affects the spread or total. Sports betting modelers are constantly trying to define garbage time to make sure it doesn’t negatively affect their models. So what exactly is garbage time?

Some people define garbage time as when a game is out of hand and the losing team can no longer win the game. But what if a baseball team is down 9-0 in the 4th inning or a football team is losing 35-0 in the first half? Technically, the team that is trailing still has a chance to win the game, no matter how unlikely it is. Also, what about the end of the first half of an NFL games where a team takes possession on their own 10 yard line, with 45 seconds remaining. If that team just runs the ball into the line two or three times to kill the clock, should this be considered garbage time as well?

Well let’s take a look at what qualifies as “garbage time” as opposed to “regular time” in the NFL. Based on models built that incorporate score, time remaining, and play selection, we can get a relatively clear definition of garbage time.  Here are the garbage time situations below:

When a team is down by at least 21 points at any point in the game. This is the magic number where teams abandons their offensive game plan and begins passing or running more, depending on if they are leading or trailing.

When a team is trailing by 14 or more points after the first quarter. Teams who fall behind by 14 points in the first quarter generally stick with their gameplan for the time being, but that changes as you move to the second quarter and beyond.

The final two minutes of each half. When teams get to these points in the game, their play calling and style of play changes. Teams typically get very pass-heavy in the first half unless they are just trying to run out the clock, and in the second half, teams will change their gameplans as well to protect a lead or try for a late score.

In these situations, it is important to understand that the style and play calls are not indicative of how a team usually plays, and should not be used for modeling purposes. We will have another article coming shortly discuss how garbage can affect fantasy football players and their expected points per game.