NFL Key Betting Numbers: Business as Usual for Bookies after NFL Extra Point Rule Changes
When NFL owners approved the Competition Committee's proposal to move extra point attempts from the two-yard line back to the 15-yard line before the 2015 pro football season, suddenly traditional key betting numbers were in jeopardy. The long-established main key numbers of three and seven in NFL betting have long been the standard for bookies when setting and moving NFL lines. These key numbers are so important because they are the most common margins of victory in NFL games, with approximately 16 percent of pro football games landing on three for the past 20+ years and close to eight percent landing on seven. Bookies have to pay close attention when setting their lines around these key numbers as any line movement off of three or seven can cause major issues for sportsbooks if the final result of a game lands on that key number, causing them to return money on most bets and pay out on both sides on others.
So you had to think that bookies would be very worried about a rule change that turned extra points from a foregone conclusion into a big unknown and also helped convince more teams to go for two-point conversions instead of the longer extra points. Heck, as a bettor that always winds up with the dead NFL numbers of eight and two in my Super Bowl squares, I was thrilled. The point of the new rules was to facilitate a more exciting brand of NFL football. But I thought the sportsbooks had to be really antsy because of the unknowns of how this new rule would play out on the football field. But it turns out it hasn't has as big of an effect on the books as I would have thought.
"I wouldn't say the key numbers are compromised as a large percentage of the games still land on three and seven, but the so-called dead numbers are certainly more alive," said Scott Cooley of Bookmaker.eu. "We did not adjust (our strategy). It has been business as usual for our oddsmaking team."
It's possible we just don't have a big enough sample size to determine if the rule changes will alter the complexity of NFL key numbers in the future, with just two full seasons under our belt. So far games have found their way to three and seven at a similar rate as to what we have become used to over the years. During the first year of the rule change, the 2015 NFL season, 16 percent of regular-season games were decided by three points and 10 percent of games were decided by seven. However, last season we saw only 12 percent of games land on three, so this will be an interesting trend to keep track of in the coming years.
"It certainly creates a bit more work, but not too big of a headache," added Cooley. "We aren't going to start tinkering our methods and models based on a season or two of results. We react on large samplings because what we've been doing has been working for a long time."
The bookies are helped in their mission to set the best lines for two-way action (equal bets on both sides of a matchup, ensuring the sportsbooks earn a profit on the vig) by professional sports bettors, who normally bet heavily when the lines are released and they see wagering value. So if there is a number that is off the mark when released, that mistake will be quickly corrected, oftentimes before many books even release their lines on a matchup.
"When the new extra point rule went into effect, handicappers and sharp bettors adjusted these odds accordingly before they even got to us," said Verny, lines manager from Mybookie.ag. "All these numbers - spreads and totals - were already taking into account every possible variation that might affect the lines. If we were to adjust based on our own opinion, a double adjustment would have been made. We cannot over-adjust numbers beyond the industry averages or consensus lines. Otherwise, we would have been gambling instead of booking."
"Key numbers were not compromised at our shop," he added. "Mybookie.ag is a sportsbook that caters specifically to recreational gamblers. Most of the public bettors did not change their betting habits because of this. I don't even think they knew about this situation other than betting favorites and overs!"
No matter if the bookies' strategy hasn't changed as a result of the new extra point rules, you can't deny the fact that the extra distance has created problems for NFL kickers. Extra points had been successful at a 98 percent rate since 1990, and in the four seasons before the rule change they had a 99.5 percent success rate (about two misses per season). However, in 2015 there were 59 extra points missed during the season (94.2 percent success rate), and in 2016 55 were missed (93.7 percent success rate). On Nov. 20, 2016, 14 extra points were missed in one week, breaking a record that had stood since 1985.
As a result of the tougher extra point distance, more teams have been going for two-point conversions. Before the new extra point rules went into effect, there were approximately 60 two-point conversion attempts league-wide each year. However, in 2015 that number rose to 94, and it was even higher last season with a whopping 105 two-point conversion attempts (with a record 43.96 percent success rate). This is another trend to keep an eye on in the future.
"More teams are going for two-point conversions," said Cooley. "The kickers are going to get better at the longer extra points because that bar has been established, but the unknown of the two-point conversion will always exist. Some teams have more propensity to go that route than others, and if teams don't convert then they're constantly playing catch up, which can impact the total."
So while the new rules haven't had much of an impact on the bookies thus far, that may not always be the case. As in any aspect of NFL betting, it's a good idea to watch emerging trends closely and to be ahead of any major changes in the pro football betting landscape.
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