Ferringo Examines Early Line Moves
by Robert Ferringo - 09/19/2007
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.
To this point, sharp action has gone 9-6 against the spread in college movements and 6-4 ATS in the NFL movements. That's 15-10 ATS (60 percent) overall. Here are some of the most noticeable and significant early steam movements in both the college and pro football opening lines:
Illinois at Indiana (Noon, Saturday, Sept. 22)
Open: Indiana -1.5.
Current: Illinois -3.5.
This is moderately surprising considering that Indiana has gotten off to such a hot start (3-0 straight up, 2-0 against the spread). Also, the home team has won four of five in this series and Illinois is a pathetic 1-15 SU in their last 16 Big Ten road games. The Illini are clearly improved, but enough to be a road favorite against an equal opponent?
Air Force at BYU (3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22)
Open: BYU -13.0.
Current: BYU -9.5.
Air Force is coming of a stunning upset of Texas Christian and they had two extra days of preparation after that Thursday victory. Also, BYU has dropped two straight, including a baffling 55-47 game at Tulsa last weekend. But the Cougars have won three straight over the Falcons by an average of 19 points. BYU did lose its starting running back, but if they were going to cover this number it would be through the air.
Washington at UCLA (10 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22)
Open: UCLA -10.0.
Current: UCLA -6.0.
Both of these clubs got blown out last week, but I think the Huskies getting beat down in the second half against a respectable Ohio State squad is a bit more forgivable than the egg that the Bruins laid at Utah. The Huskies overcame a 16-point deficit last year to score a stunning 29-19 victory at home. They are better on both sides of the ball and playing virtually the same Bruins team.
San Jose State at Utah State (8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22)
Open: San Jose State -2.5.
Current: Utah State -3.0.
Both of these teams suck, and you're taking your life into your own hands with a wager on either. However, it is interesting that this line movement was so severe and through so many key numbers. Both clubs are desperate for any positive momentum and their opponents have outscored both units by at least 24 points per game. This is the Spartans' fourth straight road game and they still have a lot of injuries along the offensive line. But they had a 6:30 a.m. practice after a Saturday night game so coach Dick Tomey clearly means business this week.
Northern Illinois at Idaho (5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22)
Open: Northern Illinois -4.5.
Current: Idaho -2.0.
Again, we simply have two putrid teams here. But this line now makes sense since Northern Illinois shouldn't be a road favorite against anyone in Div. I-A right now.
Purdue at Minnesota (9 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22)
Open: Purdue -14.0.
Current: Purdue -10.0.
Indianapolis at Houston (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 23)
Open: Indianapolis -6.0.
Current: Indianapolis -5.0.
This line actually ping-ponged around quite a bit on Sunday night. It was released at six by the LVSC but then was released at 4.5 by the Las Vegas Hilton. It's stabilized around 5.0 but you're still finding some variance. There's no doubt in my mind that it will be back up to six by Thursday, and higher by kickoff.
Denver at Jacksonville (4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 23)
Open: Denver -4.0.
Current: Denver -3.0.
Even though the Broncos are 2-0 I think that sharps aren't impressed with neither the quality of Denver's wins nor the quality of their opponents. I can't say I blame them. These are two physical teams with rugged defenses and the fact that it could again come down to a game-winning field goal puts a lot of value on that three points.
San Francisco at Pittsburgh (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 23)
Open: Pittsburgh -7.5, 42.0.
Current: Pittsburgh -8.5, 38.0.
It looks like the sharps don't have much love for the NFC West leaders. To this point the Steelers have beaten Cleveland and Buffalo - not exactly World Beaters - by an average of 25 points. They're 2-0 against the spread and the books appear bent on setting a line that's overly appealing for 49ers backers. Don't expect this number to get below 8.0 and get on San Fran at your own risk. Also, this total movement is significant considering that Pittsburgh is 13-2-1 against the total at home since 2005.
Arizona at Baltimore (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 23)
The spread on this game also jumped from an open of 8.5 to 7.5, and it has even touched 7.0 at certain books. I believe that a lot of this has to do with the Kyle Boller Factor, but I also think that it's working in conjunction with the total movement. Sharps are clearly expecting a low-scoring grinder here, hence the 35.5, so there's clearly more value in getting a touchdown-plus.
Tennessee at New Orleans (8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 24)
Anyone that's seen New Orleans play over the past two weeks would think this a no-brainer. The Saints have mustered just 24 total points and only 14 by the offense, with both TDs coming in garbage time against Tampa. The Titans want to control the ball and the clock and their secondary has been adept at not giving up big plays. I think both teams try to run the ball and right now I see this total moving even lower as the week goes on.
For more information about Robert's member's picks, check out his Insider Page here.