A book could likely be written about thousands of sports "clichés" we use that have become part of our vocabulary. They're part of the textbook of every football announcer before he gets a job. We automatically know what it means for offenses to "penetrate the red zone" or for a defender to "lay a hat on em".
We have numerous cliché's in the gambling world as well and perhaps no single one rings truer than "when the line talks, listen". Translated, it means that something just doesn't seem quite right in a conventional way. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers at home should be at least a -4 NFL betting favorite but for some unknown reason, they are only a -1.5 favorite against the Cleveland Browns. You say to yourself, I've carefully covered all the bases, read all the injury updates and recent player developments. Is there something I'm missing? Likely, yes. Something very important.
How the NFL Betting Line is Calculated
The most important factor any Nevada or offshore sportsbook faces is setting the correct line in determining the most probable way to receive even wagering for both sides of every game. Yes, a Bovada, BetOnline or Diamond Sports would happily live forever on the 10% or more vigorish or "juice" commission they receive if they could live that dream. No risk and everybody lives happily ever after, similar to the poker table rake. Unfortunately, that rarely exists and many offshore books go out of business due to taking poor unbalanced risks over a period of time.
The line adjustments made in seconds are largely due to help balancing those risks and to encourage you to often make poor decisions. When a sportsbook raises or lowers the line within any time period a noticeable amount, a red light should go off in your head. Similar to asking why Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, normally selling for $49 are now suspiciously selling for $24. True, they might be a great deal on sale, but they could be seconds, discontinued or just have a big stain hidden on the sleeve. Just like the Steelers, now at -1.5, you might want to take a second look before wagering.
The Line Screamed on NFL Week One
A huge red betting flag circled the Indianapolis Colt at Buffalo Bills game kicking off the season. The Colts under Andrew Luck and their new big-name offense were second choice to the Patriots to get to the Super Bowl. Many questions surrounded the Bills how they were going to handle new head coach Rex Ryan and an unknown rookie QB in Tyrod Taylor. The line sat on Colts -3 for weeks and looked like a road favorite steal.
Come game day a very weird thing happened. Starting in the morning, the line strangely began to shrink with money pouring in on the Bills. Why? In hindsight now we know the reasons but that day it looked bizarre and peculiar. By 11AM that Sunday the game was a Pick-em and many were questioning if Andrew Luck was hurt, star receiver T.Y. Hilton wasn't playing or many smart bettors knew something they didn't. Obviously they did.
The betting odds closed as much as Buffalo -1.5 at Bovada and a few other major sportsbooks. You looked like you bought that Polo shirt for $9.99 in getting the Colts with points. Sadly, you most often "get what you pay for" (another very true cliché) when the Bills opened up a 24-0 lead, cruising to an easy 27-14 win. The "sharps" victimized many books that Sunday and possibly foretold the future for the Indianapolis Colts. They since have not recovered, dumped their offensive coordinator and likely will let go of their head coach if they don't perform a quick turnaround within the next few weeks.
How to Listen to the Line
Step one is doing the best you can in making your own wagering line, whether it be NCAA or NFL. If it dramatically differs from the actual, either your judgement is out of whack or you missed some crucial data toward the game. Probably both. The best advice is to not approach that game in wagering.
NFL games traditionally have a tighter point spread, meaning less points between teams. Most games are closer, where mere half points can be dramatic toward cashing. If a line moves more than two or more points during the week, investigate further why. It if moves that far within the last two to three hours on game day, really probe why. NOTE: this affects the game line much more than the Over/Under or Total on a game as they are usually involve weather-related issues.
Also note that because a team is receiving "late money" or unbalanced action to move the line is NOT a guarantee they will cover. They will in a higher percentage of situations but not 100% of the time. Still, how can you offer more obvious evidence provided just within the last 48 hours.
The Cincinnati Bengals opened up a -10 favorite over the Cleveland Browns on Monday morning. By game time, most leading offshore sportsbooks had the Bengals -13, with a few given no choice to post them at -13.5. The line bellowed its mighty voice for all to hear...BET THE HOUSE ON THE 7-0 BENGALS!! You know the result. The tiger stripes cruised past Cleveland 31-10 and anyone's house was never in doubt during the second half. I'd expect Johnny Football & the Browns to pick up a few extra betting points in ten days. But we'll see what the line has to say about the Browns-Steelers game first.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, inlcuding NFL previews and picks from Glenn, click here.