Super Bowl Handicapping: Line Movement 2014
by Trevor Whenham - 1/30/2014
Because of the popularity of betting on the NFL you can learn a whole lot from looking at how lines are set and how they move. The betting volume for the Super Bowl is massive — dramatically bigger than any other game — and the public comes out in full force. That means that studying line movement is both more important, and potentially more illuminating, than ever.
This year’s Super Bowl line movement has been two separate stories. Early on the action was frantic, and the line movement was significant and telling. Now, though, the action has settled down, and things are remarkably stable. Almost boring really — at least from a line movement perspective.
The game opened with Seattle favored by a single point. The action at that level was so significant and lopsided that it was very clear that early bettors didn’t agree with the opinion of the oddsmakers. Money poured in on the Broncos, and the line went on a wild ride. Within minutes it had moved to as far as Denver -3. As soon as the rush started, though, it was over. The key number of three is a very significant number, and as soon as the line hit that, it bounced back. That means that sharp money was just waiting to pounce on that number. It dropped back, settled around two points, and has been within that range since.
Given how quickly the line moved back from three, and that no other book has tried it again since, it seems very likely that the line won’t move to or above that number again. It also would be very unlikely, barring a major development or massive, unexpected action, that the Seahawks would be favored. As a result, we are likely to see the line settle in a very narrow range of somewhere between Denver -2.5 and -1. If it does move outside of that range then you can be sure that something significant has happened and that you need to figure out what it was and what it means.
Denver drew just short of 80 percent of the early action, so the line movement that happened wasn’t a particular surprise. Since then, Seattle has gained slightly more attention, so now just over 70 percent of bets have come in on the Broncos. Given the action, and their resistance to go to or over three points, you can be sure that the books are likely to be cheering hard for the Seahawks. A Seattle win could mean a nice day for them — at least in terms of the point spread.
This action shows just how consistent the public is in their beliefs and preferences. We have the best offense in the league against the best defense in the league. History has suggested that the defense often has the edge, yet the public is clearly all over the offense. Combine that with the presence of Peyton Manning on one side, and the lack of a real star that captures the imagination of casual bettors on the Seattle side, and the Denver action is predictable. It makes it somewhat surprising that the books opened the line where they did. Perhaps, though, they were hoping that by setting it there they could still see it settle below the key number of three.
The movement on the total has been just as stable as the sides have been in recent days. The total initially opened at 47.5. Books have tried both 47 and 48, but 47.5 can still be found widely. The lack of movement could indicate one of a couple of things. Perhaps the public just believes that the number is about right or that they don’t have a firm conviction about how it needs to move. Or perhaps the total just isn’t capturing their imagination in this one. Regardless, since we have seen so little movement so far, you can be confident that if a big move does happen it is very significant and the meaning of it needs to be figured out.
With so much stability in the line movement this year, bettors likely aren’t feeling much urgency to rush. That means that we could see significant late action as people sit back and wait to see how the weekend develops before making a bet. It’s possible, then, that we could see more movement or excitement in the day or two before the game than we have up to this point, Significant movement before Saturday, then, would be more significant than late movement.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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