Football Betting: Alternate Lines
by Trevor Whenham - 09/18/2008
Yes, football bettors, there is a world out there beyond the point spread, money line and totals. There are more different ways to bet on the NFL these days than there are teams in the league. One of the more interesting ways, if not always the most useful, is the alternate line. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks will often offer several different lines on a game besides the normal one. In some the favorite is favored by larger spreads, while in others they face a smaller spread. Typically they are available from at least some books in both a moderately adjusted and extremely adjusted form, and usually in both directions. The payoffs obviously vary widely in these cases, and it's, as always, the job of the bettor to determine if the potential reward is worth the risk.
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These alternative spreads are not appropriate for every occasion, and need to be used sparingly. Still, they can be very powerful when used in the right place. Here's a look at six places where you might want to use these bets:
Close game - If a line is small but not necessarily small enough to make you comfortable then the alternate line might make you happier. The classic example of this is a game where the two teams both have a defensive, run-first style. The game is likely to be low scoring, and the margin of victory could be small. If you like the favorite but the spread is a bit bigger than you would like it to be then an alternate line could make you more comfortable. Looking at this another way, in a game you know will be close it could be worth sacrificing a bit of potential return in exchange for the cushion of an extra point or two that could make all the difference.
Underdogs - This could be appropriate for you if you are a bettor who favors underdogs on the money line. The money line might be attractive, but if you have a reason to believe that the underdog is going to win outright then you might be better off playing an alternative line that actually has the underdog favored. The payoff will be even more attractive than the money line. You are obviously taking on more risk with this approach, but it could be worth it if you expect the underdog to win comfortably--you are betting for the same outcome you anticipated on the money line anyway, but you get more return if you are right.
Pass-oriented teams - When a game has a high total and the offenses primarily pass there is a huge amount of volatility in the game. Depending on how a number of factors play out you could see one team or the other win comfortably. When a team is offensive but not particularly consistent then they have the ability to either win by a bunch or lose by a bunch. They may not often play a close game. In cases like that playing the alternate line would allow you to increase potential payout and perhaps make it more attractive over the long term to bet on an inconsistent team.
Build your own spread - Nobody ever said that you can only bet one line per game. In some cases you may find that none of the available lines accurately reflect your expected outcome for the game. In those cases, you could bet a combination of the normal line and an alternate line, or two different alternate lines, to create a virtual line that is more attractive. To figure this out all you really need is a spreadsheet and a bit of experimentation. You can often build your own line that more accurately reflects your ideal balance of risk and reward. As you know well if you have spent much time betting on football, a single point can often make a big difference. This approach is a way you can find that extra point or two if you feel you will need it.
Consistent team - If a team is in a groove and looks like they can sustain it then you may want to use alternate lines to take advantage of it. In the 2007 season, and especially in the first half, the Patriots were running away from teams every single week. They were covering regularly because books couldn't make a line big enough to contain them. You could have made a lot of money just betting the team on the normal line week after week, but you could have made even more on the alternate lines until the lines started catching up to reality.
Key numbers - Alternate spreads can be very useful to get around key numbers - particularly three and seven. The books will often keep the lines so that the favorite is just below those key numbers. Alternate lines can get you to the other side of those numbers so that those likely outcomes actually work in your favor.