NFL Handicapping: Avoid Buying Points When Betting
by Jeremy Martin - 9/3/2012
We’ve all been there before. It is a couple hours before Monday Night Football. You got demolished on several of your larger wagers on NFL Sunday. You lost your biggest bet by a measly half point.
The MNF matchup looks lopsided, and the favorite, your chosen side, is laying 13 points. However, all you can remember is that half-point loss from the day before. That loss has enveloped your soul and completely taken over your brain. You decide that won’t happen again, so you buy a half point to lower the spread to 12.5. That half-point cushion gives you some comfort in the event that the outcome is close to the line. If you had that extra half point on Sunday, your big loss would have been a push.
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However, your favorite wins by only a touchdown. And not only did you not win your bet, you paid way more than you should have to buy the expensive extra half point that didn’t even come into play in your wager.
We have all been there. Buying points always seems tempting, especially to those that have lost some close bets. But in the long term I am a firm believer that buying points is a drain on your NFL betting bankroll.
For those unfamiliar with the act of buying points, here’s a quick rundown. Most sportsbooks will allow you to buy points in any sport that takes bets via a point spread. These points are sold in half-point increments (buying a half point is referred to as “buying the hook” in sports betting lingo). Most sportsbooks tack on a 10-cent price for each half point. If you like the favorite laying 12 points at -110 (the standard juice on a point spread wager, meaning $110 bet to win $100) then you will have to lay -120 to move the line to 11.5 and -130 to move it to11.0, and so on.
While it does not seem like much to lay an extra $10 on a $110 bet, this extra juice really adds up over the course of a full NFL season. And the extra points are not going to come into play enough to give you proper return on investment.
Key numbers are the most important factor in NFL betting. NFL games land on three more than any other number. Therefore, three is the most important number for NFL handicappers since so many games are decided by a field goal. The next most important NFL key number is seven, obviously, since that is the difference in games decided by a touchdown and extra point. Four, six, 10, 14, and 17 are secondary key numbers.
If sportsbooks would allow bettors to buy points off of the number three, for the standard 10-cent price, I would be rich. There is so much value in turning a three-point line to +3.5 for the underdog and -2.5 for the favorite. However, most books don’t allow bettors to buy off of three in the NFL because of the inherent value present. And the books that do allow this offer a very steep price that basically saps the value out of the line move completely.
Some books will allow bettors to buy points onto three, meaning turning a line of +2.5 for the underdog to three from a half-point purchase or making a favorite of -3.5 a field-goal chalk. Books do charge more for this option than the standard 10-cent price. The price for buying onto three is normally 25 cents. This is one area where buying points would sometimes make sense and 25 cents is a pretty fair price for moving onto the most key of all key numbers.
The NFL betting market, however, is such that point spreads of 2.5 or 3.5 normally don’t stay available for too long. These lines are almost always bet either to the key number of three or else they go the other way and get bet away from that key number (to two or four, for example). Bookies have a lot of risk taking wagers at 2.5 or 3.5, so to be safe they normally move their lines to three unless there is very heavy action that forces them off the key number.
Bookies are often more willing to let you buy points off other key numbers. Buying off seven is going to cost you quite a bit of extra juice. But buying off of some of the other secondary key numbers is possible for a decent price. And this is the only reason I would ever buy points – to manipulate key numbers. If you read my Doc’s Sports Journal article from last year about my success with two-team, six-point NFL teasers, you know that I firmly believe manipulating key numbers is the key to NFL betting success. However, if you are so desperate for that half point that you have to pay such a high price to get your spread to a key number, maybe you should not be betting on the game in the first place.
“I have bought points in the past before I got into this business on some of those key numbers,” says Kevin Bradley, sportsbook manager at Bovada.lv. “But when you have to pay 25 cents more it’s all relative. You can also look at it if you have to pay -135 instead of -110 to bring a favorite down from -3.5 to -3, why not just pay -110 and take the +3.5 on the dog.”
While key numbers in the NFL are so important, there are also a lot of numbers that I consider “garbage numbers,” and buying points onto garbage numbers is a mistake that novice bettors will often make.
While it seems like many NFL games are really close at the end, not many games are decided by one point. If you have a one-point underdog and buy a half point to move your line to +1.5, you are not getting good value for the price you pay since games are so rarely decided by a single point . It’s the same scenario for buying a half point to move a 5.5-point favorite down to five.
Study up on key numbers in NFL betting and learn which numbers that games most often fall on. This will help you navigate key NFL numbers and differentiate them from the garbage numbers.
Shop for the Best Numbers
Shopping for the best line is the No. 2 most important aspect of sports betting next to money management. Any bettor that is serious about making money should have several “outs,” or different bookies available to take their bets. If you have several bookies at your disposal, whether it is a local bookie, in Las Vegas, or online, you can often find vastly different lines at competing books. And then you have the ability to find the best line that suits your needs without buying that expensive extra half point.
Buying points throughout a full NFL season might net you a couple extra wins or maybe turn a couple losses into pushes, but the cost of buying these points will cut deep into your bankroll. Having a handful of outs, however, will ensure you get the best line most of the time and will probably double the success you would have in close games from buying points. However, you would do so without paying the exorbitant fees the books charge for buying the hook.
While the price for buying points doesn’t seem like a lot on a per-game basis, it adds up fast over the course of the season. And I think buying points is a losing proposition in the long-run.
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