How are Betting Lines for NFL and College Football Games Set?
We are going back to school this summer. I've grown tired of hearing people talk about football betting when they have no idea of the fundamentals. I won't pretend to be the world's greatest football bettor, but I do understand the basics, and that is a surprising boost. So, over a series of eight articles this summer, we are going back to the basics, making sure we understand how betting on football really works, so we can improve our chances of success. This time around the topic is how betting lines for NFL and college football games are set.
Simply put, if you don't understand how lines are set, and what forces them to move, then you don't understand anything about betting on football. More bad decisions are made because people don't understand this fundamental than anything else.
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Sportsbooks do not make their money by betting against you. They have no interest in having a position and hoping for one team to win. In a perfect situation they set themselves up to make money no matter how the game turns out. They collect juice on each point spread. Typically, they collect $110 for a chance to win $100. You bet that whether you bet on the favorite or the underdog. If they have $110 bet on each side on the favorite wins then they return the $110 that bettor bet as well as a $100 profit. The remaining $10 is their profit. And if the underdog wins their result is the same. They have no risk - no way that they can lose money. The worst that can happen for them is if the game lands exactly on the number and they are forced to return all of the money bet.
Making a profit without risk is the dream for sportsbooks, and it is the goal that they chase when they set their odds. This is crucially important, then - and totally misunderstood incredibly often. Oddsmakers do not set their line based on which team they think is going to win and how much they are going to win by. They don't really care about that. The line is set at the point in which they think that an equal amount of money will be bet on both teams. And the lines don't move because one team has become more or less likely to win, or the game has somehow changed. The line changes because action on the game isn't balanced, and they hope that by changing the line they can drive more action on the team on which less money has been bet.
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This isn't the way that lines are set just for point spreads. It's the same for any type of bet. If you are betting a moneyline or a prop, you won't see the favorite at -200 and the underdog at +200. Books would just be taking money from one person and handing it to another. Instead, you might see something like -210 and +190. If the favorite wins, then the book will return the $210 bet, as well as the $100 profit on the bet. They wouldn't make any profit if the bet was balanced, but they wouldn't lose. And if the underdog wins, they return the $100 bet, and the $190 profit, and keep the extra $20 for themselves. The difference in profit on the two sides will affect what the books want to do to balance the action - drawing a little underdog action could be of interest to them in some cases.
Understanding what could impact how lines are set could give you a big advantage. One example is public money. There are some teams that are very popular to the general betting public. Conveniently, they are called public teams. People bet on these teams based on loyalty or reputation, not based on the reality of their current matchup. Teams like the Patriots or the Cowboys fit into this group. And there are teams that the public really doesn't like or care about - the Jaguars and the Buccaneers could be put in this group right now. If New England is playing Jacksonville, then, the sportsbooks know that a larger than normal percentage of public bets will be on New England, and a smaller than normal percentage will be on Jacksonville. To do their best to avoid a serious imbalance, then, books will set a number that more aggressively makes the Jaguars attractive than they might if the teams were the same but reputations weren't in play. If your handicapping points you to the Patriots, then, you need to make sure that there is even more value than you would normally want. But if you are betting the Jaguars, they could be even more attractive than normal.
If you can understand the basics of how lines are likely to be moving it can also be a big boost to your bet timing. Once you know which team you are likely to bet on, you can look at when to bet to give yourself the best chance. If the line is likely to move to make your team less attractive, then you should bet as soon as you can. But if the likely movement would make your team more attractive, then you should wait as long as you can. This alone can have a big impact on your long-term bottom line.
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