How to bet on football more like a sharp and less like a sucker
You’ve got some action but do you really have a clue? Maybe. More likely you’re part of the uninformed, reactive public that bets for entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that (except your ticket). But if you’re interested in making a profit, you can recalibrate your sports betting approach, follow telling trends, ignore popular sentiment and put your bankroll where the sharps do.
The house always wins, but it doesn’t beat everyone.
To bring you some knowledge as the NFL season heats up (assuming you have some basic understanding of sports betting), we spoke with Jay Rood, who sets the lines for all MGM properties, and Richie Baccellieri, former sports book manager at Caesar’s, the MGM Grand and the Palms Hotel who’s currently an expert on the Sporting News’ show “The Linemakers.”
The lines and approach
Richie said that these days, the online books and linemakers produce opening numbers on Sunday along with the Wynn. From there, he said the rest of Nevada picks up Monday morning based on opening lines and changes that occurred Sunday night or Monday. Books using their own in-house teams may analyze numbers and make their own adjustments.
Remember, a line isn’t necessarily a prediction of a game’s outcome. It’s a prediction of the money that will come in and it changes according to the betting.
Richie uses a rating system to evaluate teams and once he’s done that he’ll examine the lines.
“Every team has rating. In football I use a 10-point rating based on positions, skill, coaching; I use a quarterback rating, offensive line, what I call ‘conference rating’ and so on,” Richie said. “I use a 100-point system, and every team has rating 1-10 for all those variables that creates the total.”
“For the first four-to-five weeks of season, the numbers will jump around a bit. But the approach is the same – you’ve still got to analyze a team, make adjustments based on their performance and public perception, and mix it up to make a new rating on the team.”
Feel free to adopt that approach. “Doing the work is the most important part for anyone who wants to take it beyond recreationally.”
Meanwhile the lines are the lines and account for all the variables. Therefore, Richie said it’s unwise to bet on who you think is the better team. “It’s almost irrelevant, because the point spread already takes care of that.” So wager on which team you think will cover the spread. Jay said that about 90% of bets the MGM takes on a game’s winner are on the point spread, because “that’s just what everyone understands and knows,” while the money line is a more complicated beast.
Richie said a novice might bet on the money line rather than the point spread because there’s a greater potential win, for example, at +130 that at -110 on the 2.5 point spread. “But everything is predicated on value and odds.” He added, “Don’t disregard teams because of their records – typically the point spread evens that out.”
Good bets, spotting trends
As you’re making your ratings or just assessing teams in general during the early going, it’s important to note how a team has changed from the previous season.
“A team’s overall game plan might have changed,” Jay said. “Offensive coordinators change constantly. One team that may have focused on the run one year might have someone new in charge of the offense” which may lead to more scoring.
And that’s an area where you may be able to find some value: On over/under totals. Jay said betting on totals has increased the last few years.
“Traditionally the house doesn’t do well on totals. The action we draw there is mostly sharp money, professional money. We don’t get a lot of involvement from the average Joe, so there’s no offsetting money there.”
Jay said some sharps like “under” plays where it appears two teams are going to play in a high offensive game, but then something shows that might not be the case.”
The reason for that could be anything. Maybe one team’s offensive weakness gets exposed the previous week, or the other team suffers a key injury (likely to get factored into line at some point), or poor weather (likewise).
“I think people tend to overreact to rain,” Jay said. “It’s not a big a deal as wind. Wind is a much bigger deal when you’re handicapping a total on a game. It’s a much better trend to go with for the under if the line hasn’t already been adjusted for it.”
Your analysis of the teams and the matchup can guide the wager. For example, Jay suggested you can take a crack at a parlay if you think a favorite is a strong performer likely to have a high offensive output; take the favorite and over. Or if you have a good feeling on a dog in what looks like a defensive struggle, go for the dog and the under. While parlays aren’t always the sharpest plays, Jay said correlations like that make sense.
Although the talent level in the NFL is very high across the board, Richie said NFL games still have double-digit favorites because there’s s a lot of power teams and some weak ones. “The parity is from the 6th to 26th team.”
“The point spread is the evening out factor,” Richie said. “You can find quality dogs – that’s an angle that I always look at that people often don’t. An undervalued team in the NFL might be a team that’s not performing up to par.”
On the flipside, Jay said to look out for a team on a hot streak. For example (our example), the typically slow starting Chargers have stormed out of the gate at 2-0 after beating the underwhelming Raiders and Titans. But now the Bolts play a powerhouse team in the Falcons and they’re giving 3 points, so some sharp money might come on that side of the traditionally better team – the Falcons.
They’re not due
According to our experts, there’s another theory you can set on fire, throw out the window, and watch it burn a slow, agonizing death. It’s the “they’re due” maxim. “Sharp players aren’t going to look at the ‘due’ theory – that’s more hope than handicapping,” Jay said.
That element of hope and expectation is a big part of why “public” teams with marquee players get overvalued by Average Joes. “All of a sudden the Denver Broncos with Peyton Manning will draw a lot money,” Richie said. “Typically those teams have inflated point spreads, meaning the public is laying into number higher than they should. Good chance a sharp would understand that value and bet against it.”
(Look what happened last weekend when the Patriots, regarded as a public team, were a 13.5-point favorite over the Cardinals – definitely not a bottom-feeder that had just handed a decent Seahawks squad a loss in its opener.)
Sometimes marquee players go down, and that will get factored into the line. Excluding star quarterbacks or a player whose backup is a real disaster (uncommon in the NFL), don’t fret injuries too much. That said, Jay and Richie pay close attention to offensive linemen.
“They’re the ones protecting the quarterback,” Richie said. “If they’re not good, I don’t care how good you are in the pocket.” (Jay Cutler knows this well; so do his linemen.) He added that in general, the drop off from starter to backup may not be that great in the NFL but there’s other factors concerning big men up front like timing with the quarterback and taking snaps with starters.
“One of the areas I think the general pubic wouldn’t pay much attention that’s hugely impactful is the center,” Jay said. “If the center is injured or questionable– that’s a big difference.” Recall when Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey went down with an ankle injury before the Super Bowl XLV. “That’s a real key position that a lot of people overlook.”
Manage your bankroll
“I think the difference between a novice and a person trying to make money is control over the bankroll,” Jay said. “Don’t spread yourself out like most people do and get involved every game or too many games.” He said a lot of pros have maybe 1-2 games a weekend, maybe none.
“You’re not going to win every bet – that’s the thing,” Jay said. “The general public thinks think they’ll win every time. Pros know they won’t win every one but want to hit that 50-60 mark. They know that it’s a marathon not a sprint. The average public wants to hit the big ticket.”
Regardless your approach, Vegas books will be happy to take your wager, even if you’re twelve beers deep and just looking to make a play or hit it big on a 3-plus team parlay.
“Parlay cards are typically the biggest suckers but that’s why some people make ‘em,” Richie said. “It’s not necessarily a sucker bet — just a guy taking a shot. If he wins a few but loses in the end, it’s still entertainment because he can sweat it out all weekend.”
Note: Guyism does not promote illegal gambling on offshore Web sites or otherwise, but wholeheartedly recommends that your bring bankroll to Vegas (and often) or wherever else sports wagering is permitted.