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Weather Factors in Handicapping by Jeremy Martin
Mid to late November is when weather situations start to become an increased concern for the oddsmakers responsible for setting football lines. With winter quickly approaching, bookies must pay increased attention to weather reports for cities all across the country. Adverse weather can have serious effects on the outcome of a football game. Failing to recognize weather as a factor can have dire consequences for the sportsbooks.
Weather is a major handicapping tool of the professional bettors, or 'wise guys,' according to Tony Sinisi, odds director for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the firm responsible for supplying odds to most of the sports books in Nevada. The public or 'square' bettors don't really factor weather into their bets unless they are "hit over the head" with the information, he said. When weather is involved, therefore, the bookie must set his line in such a fashion to have the best chance for balanced action between the two groups.
The most serious weather situations are wind and heavy downpour. The wind can wreak havoc on the kicking game and rain can cause fumbles as well as minimize the passing game. Snow is also a concern if it is coming down hard. A light snow isn't really going to affect the game in most cases.
Bad weather has the most serious affect on 'totals' in the NFL and college football. Because the kicking game is diminished in bad weather situations, bookmakers expect there to be missed field goals and bad punts. The wise guys play the 'under' when the weather is at its worst.
"You are looking for the extremes of all of it," said Sinisi. "You are looking for the exceedingly cold or out of the ordinary high winds or heavy (rain). A perfect example of that is that Miami/Pittsburgh game (week three in the NFL). (The rain) was just torrential for the whole (game). That's the extreme that you have to be concerned about."
The posted total for that game was 31 at most sportsbooks. The Steelers won the game 13-3 and the smart bettors who factored the forecast into their wagers made out with a nice easy profit.
While weather can affect the total for football games, the oddsmakers also factor it into the lines for sides as well. Although not nearly as common as the total, weather can bring two teams that are mismatched a little closer together.
"A team that is a 24-point favorite over another team, well, it comes out that (there will) be high winds and a 90 percent chance of rain, (the professional bettors) will look at the underdog a little bit more and I would too because of that factor," said Sinisi. "In sports there are random factors but weather is adding another dimension in the randomness of the game. I think there is the tendency to lower the point spread a little bit under those circumstances. (Weather) can be an equalizer in terms of talent."
"If you have a passing team against a running team, the line may drop, but not nearly as significantly as the total," added Richard B. Dressler, race and sports book manager for the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. "(The total) is your main concern as a bookmaker. If it is snowing, you can't play your game if you are a better team. Maybe the other team gets an edge from it. But them again, maybe they slip and slide and fall more too. There's no telling which side it will affect."
Since weather can bring a large underdog a little closer to it's competition, it is obvious to conclude that weather plays into college games more than the pros. There aren't many double-digit spreads in the NFL while there are many huge lines each weekend in college ball.
Bookmakers in this day and age have it much better than their contemporaries did in the 1970s and 1980s. As technology has improved, so has the accuracy of weather information. Today bookies have a number of top-notch sites on the Internet where they can get instant up-to-date weather information. The forecasts are also much more accurate than they were in the past. Despite these factors, even the top prognosticators cannot determine the weather 100 percent.
"It's absolutely better than it was 10-20 years ago," said Sinisi. "There is still that ambiguity of when it is going to hit. There's a large chance that it is not going to hit when you might have thought it was. It's not an exact science."
Dressler finds that simple word of mouth can often be his best source of up-to-the-minute weather info. When he wants to know the exact weather before game time if he is considering a line move, he checks the message board at one of his favorite online resources, EveryEdge.com.
"My thing here says there is a 60-65 percent chance of snow in Green Bay," he commented. "I go into the forum. I post, 'Is there anyone in here from Green Bay, what is the weather like? Stick your head out the window.' In five minutes I have a guy telling me what the weather is."
While weather is mostly a tool of the professional bettors, the public does factor it in to their wagers if it is highly publicized, according to Sinisi. "It could be an NFL game where all week where they are talking about how bad the weather is going to be in Green Bay on a particular Sunday. If you are getting that on SportsCenter every night you might get the public. If it is not well publicized, I don't think you are going to (see) the general public play the weather."
There are certain weather factors that are well known to the public, however. One of them is the idea that the teams from Florida go not play well in late season games in bad weather situations. Sinisi said that there is some truth to that notion.
"I think there is something too that," he said. I have seen the Dolphins play up in Buffalo enough and I see their pained expressions on the sidelines. That certainly can come into play."