:: “Line Value in the NFL” is a past article written by Ben Burns that appeared in our print edition.
There were not many similarities to be found between the first two weeks of the 2002 NFL season. Week 1, the highest scoring opening week ever played in the NFL, saw 12 of the 16 games fly ‘Over’ the posted total. Total bettors looking to cash in on the high-scoring trend weren’t so fortunate during the second weekend of play though. With the Monday night game remaining, the ‘Under’ sits comfortably at 9-6 for Week 2. Week 1 saw the majority of the games come down to the wire. Expecting more close contests in the second round, oddsmakers set lines of 4.5, or less, for 14 of the games. Strangely though, only one match was decided by less than four points, with many of the outcomes being decided before the first half was finished. In fact, every Week 2 winner also covered the spread. One similarity that did exist in both weeks was the large number of line moves off the opening number.
If you are reading this, then you probably already know the importance of getting the best wagering number possible. If one has an account at only one sportsbook, there is no choice but to either accept the line offered, or not to bet at all. By using two or more sportsbooks, one can compare the lines, and wager on the line that provides the best opportunity to win. While getting the best line is always imperative, it becomes critical on certain ‘key numbers’. Obviously the number ’3′ is the most important. In 2001, 17.3% of the games were decided by exactly a field goal. Other numbers to pay close attention to are: 7, 10, 4, 14, 6, 1 and 13. Last year, 56.7% of the final scores fell on exactly one of these numbers (includes the #3).
Personally, I feel that line variances, even on these key numbers, are a lot more common than most people realize. I am almost always able to find line differences on the games that I like. I cannot stress the importance of having more than one ‘out’ enough times. However, the subject of how many, and which, sportsbooks one should use, has been covered many times. I’d prefer to talk about what to do after you have chosen which books you will play at.
Once one has a few accounts funded, and ready to go, the real challenge is not in picking the best available line, but rather in predicting which way the line is likely to move throughout the coming day, or week. Although I consider myself very good at predicting which way the line will move, I don’t always guess correctly. On opening Sunday, with less than an hour before kickoff, I was asked by a friend whether he should go ahead and play Carolina at +1.5. Since I was still seeing a mix of 1.5′s and 2′s at my books, I told him to hold off, and hope for the +2. Within 20 minutes, the line was down to a pick’em at all his books, and he got stuck with playing them at that. (I still got the +2 with a local who doesn’t move his lines too fast). Thankfully, it didn’t matter, as Carolina managed to win the game outright.
When is the best time to make one’s wagers? Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer to this question. Each game has unique properties, and has to be looked at individually. Conventional wisdom states that one should play favorites early, and wait until closer to kickoff before playing underdogs. The logic here is that most bettors prefer taking the favorite, so the line on the favorite will tend to go up. While this may be true more often than not, it is definitely not the rule for every game, and sometimes works exactly the opposite way.
One method that I use to determine which way the line will move is to try and find out what side the ‘public’ favors. Every year I participate in a large weekly NFL pool, made up primarily of ‘squares’. The pool isn’t for much money, but it serves a more valuable purpose for me. Since all plays must be in on Tuesday, I get to know what all these ‘Joe-public’ type bettors are taking well in advance of Sunday’s games. In general, if a high-percentage of them favor a particular side, barring injuries, that is the way the line will move. I also use consensus sites on the Internet for the same purpose. The 49′ers/Giants game in Week 1 was a good example. I knew that I had a lean towards New York. The consensus sites showed that almost 80% of the sample preferred San Francisco. Using this knowledge, I decided to wait until right before kick-off to make my play the Giants. Sure enough, the line moved right past the critical key number of ’3′; and my wager became a win instead of a push.