Public Underdogs - A Rare Situation in NFL Betting
by Trevor Whenham - 10/02/2007
It's not very often that you see the public backing an underdog in NFL betting, especially one on the road. The public loves a favorite and they love a home team, so a home favorite is usually too much to resist. Every so often, though, the public will jump on an underdog. The fact that it happened twice in the NFL this weekend got me thinking. Oakland had a good portion of the support heading into Miami as 3.5-point underdogs (the support was strong enough that the line fell from a high of five). In the Tampa Bay game, 60 percent of the action was on the Bucs. The line moved from 2.5 to 3, though, perhaps showing that the pros were on the Panthers while the public was on Tampa Bay. As you probably know, the public was right in deserting the favorites in both games. Clearly this whole public underdogs thing deserves a closer look.
To get more information it made sense to go right to the source. According to Bodog oddsmakers, it is fairly typical to see one or two public underdogs each week in the NFL, and this season has not been any different than normal.
There are a number of reasons that the public could back a dog. They can take the points when a team that is traditionally a fan favorite, or one that has been successful relatively recently, looks like they are in a position to start winning some games after a stretch of rough times. This is the case with both teams this week. It also helps if the teams are playing a squad that is better than the public realizes that they are. That was the case with Carolina this week, though they didn't live up to their potential here. The public loves their quarterbacks, so it will overcompensate for quarterback changes. It could favor an underdog if a well-respected quarterback is making a start (like they did with Oakland and Daunte Culpepper this week), or shy away from a favorite if they don't trust a new or existing QB (as was the case with either Jake Delhomme or David Carr for Carolina this week). Finally, the public could jump on an underdog if a number of 'experts' chose an underdog as their upset special of the week.
The Bodog oddsmakers said that these situations don't generally cause them a lot of problems, because they expect it to happen most weeks, they can often anticipate when it will happen, and they will book the games accordingly. They are well prepared, and are ready with adjustments. The potential exposure for them occurs when the pros and the public are on the same side. That means that the importance of having the best available number on the game is very high in these cases. That can happen in games with public favorites too, though.
Is there a way to capitalize on these public underdogs and profit from them? Let's see what we can come up with:
The first thing that we need to do is to look at the game to see if we can figure out why the public is backing the underdog. It could be for one of the reasons we mentioned above, or it could be some other reason specific to this game. If we can understand where the public is coming from then we can decide whether their thought pattern makes sense in this case or not. The public isn't always wrong (just more often than they are right), so you need to decide if this is a case where they are on the ball. It's quite possible that the public deserves more attention in these situations than they do in most because their behavior is atypical and contrary to what you would expect.
The next thing we need to do is to see how the line is moving. Any significant movement can give us a clue as to where the smart money is settling in. If the line is becoming more attractive for the public then the pros are on the other side. If the line is moving the other way then the pros and the public are probably on the same side. Knowing where the smart money sits gives us another clue to the game.
The final step I would take would be to see if the public action has been consistently on the underdog, or if it has spiked suddenly or increased dramatically. Sudden movement could indicate that the public is reacting to a development or announcement of some sort, while sustained action would show that the public is more settled in their opinion, and the line might be more vulnerable. Obviously the way to handle each situation would be different.
Here's my conclusion - there's no easy answer. As with everything is sports betting, there is no shortcut here. It's not as simple as backing every public underdog or going with the favorite in every such case. I do think, though, that games with public underdogs are worth more of a look than they might otherwise be. There's obviously something going on in these games, and that means that there could be an opportunity. By applying the analysis mentioned above to the game, and whatever other analysis you see fit, you might be able to recognize and capitalize on that opportunity.