NFL Handicapping: Situations Where Alternate Lines Could Give an Edge
by Trevor Whenham - 9/18/2009
For most bettors, alternate NFL lines are viewed as the domain of crackpots. Lots of bettors don't even know that they exist, and if they do they don't see any good reason why you would bet them. The fact is, though, that in many situations, the alternate lines offer you a chance to get much more value from your bets than the regular NFL points spreads and money lines ever offer the casual bettor. This is especially true early in the season when lines are based more on speculation and assumption than real numbers and statistics.
To understand the potential that alternate lines have you really only need to consider one stat from the first week of the 2009 NFL season - nine of the 16 point spreads in the first week were covered by eight or more points. That provides all kinds of opportunities for creative bettors to make some nice money with alternate lines.
Typically, you can find four kinds of alternate lines for NFL games - ones in which the spread is set higher and lower, and ones where they are set much higher and much lower. If you are betting on the favorite then you would pay increasingly higher juice the lower spread became, and would enjoy a higher payoff the higher the spread became. The opposite would be true if you are betting on the underdog.
Here is a quick look at six situations where you might find alternate lines attractive:
Betting against public teams - This is especially true in the first few weeks of the season. People bet one some teams just because of who they are and what they have done in the past. That means that the lines may not always reflect their current status. If you have a strong opinion that a public team isn't as good as the public thinks that it is then you could use the alternate line to leverage that opinion. In the first week of the 2009 season, for example Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis and San Diego all were heavily backed public teams but all failed to cover their spreads by more than a field goal.
When public sentiment is ruled by free agents, flashy players, or injuries - The public always assumes that a team is only one player away from being great, or that a good team is only one injury away from a disaster. As proof of this all you need to look at is the Chicago Bears. As soon as they signed Jay Cutler they were talked about as a Super Bowl team. Nothing else changed and they still didn't have any offensive skill depth, but a QB with a big arm and a losing record on his career was supposed to make all the difference. In cases of public overreaction like that the alternate line can help you extract early season value.
When a team is very inconsistent but talented and explosive - Take the New Orleans Saints, for example. When they are at their best no team can score as well as they can, and they are going to win a lot of games handily. You don't know, though, if their defense is going to show up, if Drew Brees will have an off day, or if a defensive scheme can at least temporarily slow them down. They might be a good team to use alternate lines on - you would get rewarded well when they win big, so they don't need to be on as often to turn a profit on the season as they would if you were playing normal lines.
When a total is low and you agree with it - If you think that a game is going to be a low scoring affair that will be decided by a small margin, then you can use the alternate line to give you a cushion. In other words, if you think an extra point or two could be the difference between a winning bet or a losing one then giving up some potential profit might be worth it to get those extra points.
When you have a strong opinion about an underdog - Every so often you'll see a game when you think that an underdog just isn't getting the respect that they deserve. You might think that they are going to keep the game close, and you might even think that the heavy underdog is going to win the game outright. Alternate lines are a great way for you to extract far more value from your opinion, and to decrease the number of times you have to be right in order to show a profit.
To build your own spread - If you are an astute bettor and you can use a spreadsheet then you can use alternate lines and the regular point spread to create your own virtual line that more accurately reflects your view of the outcome and your acceptable level of risk. By betting some money on the regular line and some on an alternate line you can create a virtual line that is anywhere between the two lines depending on the proportions of your bets. You can figure out how to do it by playing around with a spreadsheet for a while, and you might be surprised how well it works.
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