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NFL Betting Lines: Underdogs Dominating
by Trevor Whenham - 10/14/2010

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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.

It has been a very good year for underdogs in the NFL so far. That means that it has been a very bad year for people who like to routinely bet favorites – which is most of the general betting public. In turn, that probably means that it has been a pretty good year for sports books so far.

The record against the NFL spread for underdogs so far is 46-26-4. That’s a winning percentage of nearly 64 percent - a wildly profitable rate. In the first week underdogs were just 7-7-2 ATS, but since then you would have been very profitable each week just by betting every underdog. That’s a sign of a lot of things, but above all it tells us this - this has been a very strange year in the NFL. Just think about it - the Cardinals and the Chiefs are leading their divisions, top NFC contenders Minnesota, Dallas, and San Francisco have two wins between them, Tampa Bay has as many wins as Indianapolis - it goes on and on and on.

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The number of underdog winners has hit a lot of bankrolls hard. It also creates some real issues that bettors need to consider. Here are three things you need to consider when thinking about the underdog bias so far this year:

Things will balance out - More correctly, what I should say here is that things will probably balance out. There are at least three good reasons for this. First, it’s sports and sports tend to balance out over time. We have not only seen a lot of underdogs covering, but also a lot of underdogs winning outright. That means that in a lot of cases a more talented team has been beaten by a less talented one. That can happen in the short term, but is less likely to happen over the longer term.

In the short term anything can happen in sports, but the more games that are played, the more likely that the better teams will rise above the lesser teams. More significantly, the books are going to be motivated to get the balance between favorites and underdogs back closer to even.

In the short term the books are going to be very happy that the underdogs are coming out on top so often. In the longer term, though, books are heavily exposed if this imbalance continues because astute bettors will recognize what is happening and move to exploit it. Books obviously can’t affect the outcome of games, but they could adjust lines.

Third, the more games that are played the better people are going to understand what teams actually have to offer - as opposed to what we thought they had to offer - and the harder it will be for teams to surprise us. That likely means that the favorites will cover more often.

Each week is independent - More significantly, each game is independent. The single biggest mistake that bettors can make is to assume that what happens in the past has a direct effect on what will happen in the future - that underdogs will keep covering because they have been consistently covering. The truth is that what has happened in the past from a betting perspective doesn’t have any direct effect at all on what will happen next.

Each week teams play different teams in different situations, so the week is totally unique. Assuming overriding trends like an underdog bias is dangerous and usually just isn’t right.

Keep doing what you do - Whether  you are winning more than usual or losing more than usual right now, the important thing is not to dramatically change what you are doing. If you have been a successful, profitable bettor in the past, and if you are using the same approaches now that you have in the past, then the important thing is to stick with it.

It can be tempting to panic and try something new, but it makes less sense to totally change what you are doing now then it does to stick with it and wait for better times.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t try to tweak and improve you NFL handicapping - you should constantly be doing that. I’m just saying that the time to toss out what you are doing and start doing something new is not now when things are going badly and when the reason for things going so badly - the disproportionately strong performance of the underdogs - is clear and easy to spot.

When you panic you never make the best decisions you can, and a losing streak is certainly enough to make you panic. The best way to avoid panicking is to be aware that you are vulnerable to panicking because of the situation you are in - once you know it could happen it won’t happen. Just take a deep breath and keep doing what has worked in the past because it will work again.

 

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