Football Betting: Analyzing Line Movement
by Allen Eastman - 8/18/2009
Early in the week bettors only have two options: think about the wagers that they won or lost from the previous weekend or try to plan out their strategy for winning the upcoming weekend. As Tom Petty sang, "The Waiting Is The Hardest Part".
But there is a very important skill that bettors should acquire and add into their mid-week repertoire. The ability to analyze line movements and decipher their meaning is something that takes a long time to develop. Bettors can only acquire this skill by consistently breaking down the movements week in and week out. But you'll find that once you understand how the big money and sharp action helps to shape the lines prior to kickoff you'll be better equipped to pad your own bankroll.
With the exception of a few marquee betting events the general public is usually not the driving force between line movements and the lack thereof. It's usually the sharp money from the professional gamblers that helps dictate movement. So your goal is to try to "think like a sharp" and try to read the terrain and get an idea of where their money is going.
For example, let's just use an "imaginary" preseason line. Let's suppose that we have a home team favored by 2.5 points over the visitors. The line was posted Monday and it held firm until kickoff on Friday. Now, the first thing that should jump out at you is the fact that the books posted the spread below a key number - 3.0. This tells me that the books are trying to flush out action from the general public on the favorite by enticing them with that "favorable" number.
But if that's the case, then why did the spread stay at 2.5 all week?
Well, that tells me the sharps were on the underdog. They were satisfied with their early position and there wasn't enough action on the favorite to get the line up to 3.0. This is also where a betting percentage service can be a useful tool. There are several sites out there and break down the percent of wagers that come in on either side of a bet. Let's assume, for our "imaginary" game that we checked out the bet percentages and 72 percent of all wagers on this game were coming in on the favorite at 2.5. That would simply reaffirm our view that the sharps are all over the underdog. Because if an overwhelming majority of individual bets are coming in on the favorite, and the line has stayed below that key number of 3.0, then we can assume there have been some pretty heavy bets placed on that underdog. If not - if everyone were just betting the favorite - then the books would have moved the line to 3.0 or higher to try to entice some action on the underdog.
That is just one example. Let's do another.
Let's say that a line opens up at -3.0 for our home favorite. This is a really common occurrence in NFL preseason betting. Let's say that the line is immediately bet up to 3.5 but then holds firm at 3.5 for the whole week. What is this telling us? This is telling us that the sharps saw the value on the favorite just laying a field goal. The books came up short on the line and the sharps jumped all over it. However, there was not much movement after that initial bump so clearly there were enough people that liked the underdog - and that could be sharps and squares alike - to keep this line firm.
A 3.5 can catch square bettors pretty easily because they figure "if we just lose by a field goal then we are OK". However, there are actually a relatively small percentage of games in the NFL that are determined by a three-point margin. In fact, on average only about two games per weekend (assuming a full 16-game schedule) will be determined by three points or less.
There are a lot of other factors that go into reading lines and there are much more complicated line movements that we will have to analyze throughout the year. But by "thinking like a sharp" you can help get a feel for why lines are moving and what those movements mean.
For more information on Allen Eastman's NFL and college football picks, check out his Insider's Page HERE.
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