Ferringo Examines Early Line Moves
by Robert Ferringo - 09/12/2007
Being able to properly read and assess the opening line in college and professional football seems like one of the most basic and simple components of football betting. However, analyzing the opening line and initial movements off of it is a skill that takes years to master. In fact, even handicappers that have been in the game for decades still have difficulty explaining why a certain line may move a certain way during the week - and even more trouble still deciphering what that movement portends.
Basically, the opening lines are created by institutions like the Las Vegas Sports Consultants and then passed on to their clients, the sportsbooks. The books then open their lines to sharp bettors and players who wager tens of thousands of dollars. Those players get their initial action on certain sides and totals, and the books then adjust the lines before releasing them to the general public in an attempt to balance out the action. It's a constant shadow dance between the books and the betting public.
Each week we're going to analyze the opening lines with the greatest variance from their original release from the LVSC. These "steam" moves are indicative of where the "smart money" began and is usually a predictor of where the money will continue to roll. Our goal is to make sense of exactly where the value is on some of these situations for either the underdog or the favorite. Again, this is a delicate science and I'm not going to presume to have all the answers. But together we'll try to sift through the games that the sharp action is on and see if we can't uncover some useful trends as the season progresses.
Here are some of the most noticeable and significant early steam movements in both the college and pro football opening lines:
West Virginia at Maryland (7:45 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 13)
Open: WVU -12.5.
Current: WVU -16.5.
This is one of two things. First, it's the normal public rush on a potential national championship team. Second, it's the realization that the Big East absolutely owns the ACC - and it's not even close. However, I think the initial line was a much more accurate reflection. WVU won by 19 last year as a 17-point favorite. The Terps should get that three-point bump from home, as well as some extra points for having more returning starters, going 3-1 ATS in their L4 at home against the 'Neers, and having revenge.
Central Michigan at Purdue (Noon, Saturday, Sept. 15)
Open: Purdue -17.0.
Current: Purdue -20.5.
Central Michigan is 0-13 against the Big Ten since 1993 and have been outscored 40-12 in those contests. Purdue looks sharp, and with their ability to put points up in a hurry this one could get out of hand. The Chips are a horrible grass team and they are just 12-19-1 ATS over the past seven years as a road dog. After a huge win against Toledo it looks like the sharps are anticipating a letdown.
Toledo at Kansas (7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15)
Open: Kansas -17.5.
Current: Kansas -21.5.
The Rockets managed to absolutely steal a win last year in double-overtime against the Jayhawks, taking advantage of a +5 turnover differential en route to a 37-31 victory. Kansas has looked extremely sharp and the extra cushion could be due to the fact that the Jayhawks are 8-3 ATS at home recently while the Rockets are 1-5 ATS on the road and 5-11 ATS in the nonconference.
Boston College at Georgia Tech (8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15)
Open: Georgia Tech -4.0.
Current: Georgia Tech -7.0.
Tech has been one of the most impressive teams in the country to this point - even if they have only played Notre Dame and Samford. There is an incredibly profitable returning defensive starters system at work here, and that may have shifted the line, but I still think that B.C. is being disrespected. The Eagles are 19-8 away from Chestnut Hill lately, even if they are 1-4 against the Yellowjackets.
UTEP at New Mexico State (8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15)
Open: NMSU -2.0.
Current: NMSU -6.0.
UTEP has inexplicably covered in two straight games. NMSU is 0-1 against the number and coming off a loss in an emotional in-state rivalry. So why the love? Mainly it has to do with the Miners' weak secondary and the fact that the Aggies have covered in four of the last five meetings at home. Be wary - UTEP is 8-3 ATS against the WAC and the Aggies are 5-15 ATS as a favorite.
Florida State at Colorado (10 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15)
Open: Florida State -7.0.
Current: Florida -4.0.
Clearly the sharps are much smarter than the general public, because there is a heavy reverse line movement on this one. The squares are on the Seminoles at nearly a 2-to-1 ratio, yet the line has plummeted. It could have to do with playing at altitude, in a hostile environment, and fighting a time-zone change. Or it could have to due with the fact that the Florida teams from the ACC - Miami and FSU - are the two most overrated bets in sports.
SMU at Arkansas State (7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15)
Current: Arkansas State -3.0.
Southern Mississippi at East Carolina (6 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15)
Open: Southern Miss -3.0.
Houston at Carolina (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 16)
Open: Carolina -9.0.
Current: Carolina -6.5.
The public never saw this line at 9.0, but according to Stephen Nover's reporting that's the number that the LVSC released to its clients this week. That, to me, is a huge red flag. The books are clearly expecting the public to overvalue Houston's blowout win last week, but I think it's also an indictment of the Panthers. Carolina has been an automatic play as an underdog but they are just 9-17-1 as home favorites with the brain trust of John Fox and Jake Delhomme.
Oakland at Denver (4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 16)
Open: Denver -9.0.
Current: Denver -10.0.
Denver has been the preeminent September team in the league over the past decade and they possess one of the most tangible home-field advantages in the NFL. However, I didn't see anything in their performance that would justify them as a double-digit favorite here. They were in a similar situation last year - posted as 10.5-point home chalk, after a lackluster opening week road game, against a division rival - only to eke out a 9-6 win against the Chiefs.
Minnesota at Detroit (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 16)
This is a key move because it's off one of the most important totals (41) and past another (42). I don't really understand the movement, however, even after Detroit's 36-point outburst against the Raiders. Minnesota has averaged 1.4 offensive touchdowns per game in the Brad Childress Era and if they don't score with their defense they may not score at all. The 'over' is 8-4 in this series since 2001, but it's just 11-9 over the long-term.
Kansas City at Chicago (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 16)
Open: Chicago -11.5.
Current: Chicago -12.5
If the Chiefs lost by 17 points to the Texans, who aren't exactly a Super Bowl-caliber juggernaut, then what will happen when they roll in to Soldier Field? The answer is not good things. There are some systems here that suggest taking the points when getting over double-digits against a team off a road loss. But then when you consider that Chicago won its first four home games of 2006 by a combined score of 152-30 and that the Chiefs were hammered 45-7 last year in Pittsburgh you may want to throw systems out the window and stick with common sense.
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