How To Profit From NFL Line Moves.

While various civilizations and cultures around the world have been engaged in some form of betting for more than 3000 years, the point spread, or ‘betting line’, is a relatively new invention and has only been in use for the better part of 70 years. Its impact in this relatively short period of time is undeniable and as an un-named bookie quoted in a 1951 book by sports journalist Charles Rosen put it: The spread has easily been ‘the greatest discovery since the Zipper’. Without question, it has had a huge part to play in today’s popularity of one sport in particular–the game of American football.

While most certainly an American invention, the true origin of the point spread is cloudy. Some experts believe it was introduced in the 1920’s while others claim it wasn’t widely used until the 1930’s in the New York area. Regardless of its actual birth-date, this much is known–In the years following the 2nd world war, the point spread became the dominant form of wagering for both American football and basketball. It was a bookies dream, helping to make the underdog much more attractive and assuring sports books and bookies a 10% profit on the ‘vigorish’ shaved off the top of winning bets.

Originally set in the early days by a consulting firm out of Minneapolis run by Leo Hirschfield, spreads are now more of a consensus originated by managers from sports books inside Vegas’ casino’s, as well as offshore establishments. For the purposes of my research, I have relied on the lines provided by the Don Best Sports Information Service, a consensus of roughly 25 sportsbooks (17 offshore and 8 Las Vegas).

For the majority of games, the point spread is initially set in the hope that wagers will fall fairly evenly on both contestants. Sometimes the bookmakers will misread public opinion and you may see a 2 or 3 point move in the point spread from early in the week until the close of betting action. In other situations, the bookmakers will purposely set a skewed line in an attempt to sucker the public into taking predominately one side–a team that those in the ‘know’ will stay away from. While this might appear to be a risky position for the sport books to take, having 80-90% of action on one side where the line value greatly favours the bookmaker is a good situation for sports books (and individual bookies) to be in over the long-haul.

While the Internet age has certainly helped to sharpen the betting skills of the average bettor by providing an abundance of high level handicapping info, a large percentage of bettors can still be classed as ‘squares’–meaning, they will bet on the well-known favorites week after week, no matter what the circumstances. It’s this group of novice and intermediate bettors that Vegas and the off shore books will prey on over the course of each season. Evidence of this is shown in the fact that over the past 14 years, a strategy of betting all favourites has turned a profit in only 2 different years (1998 and 2005) and since 1994, favourites are a dismal 1543-1652 (48.3%) against the number.

Contrarian betting methods have always worked well in the NFL and by using services that track where square money is flowing each week, sharper bettors can put themselves in a position to ‘cash-in’ on sucker lines and play against the majority. This is a strategy that works in most years (1998 and 2005 aside), but, this kind of information does not come cheap—services that analyze and provide bet percentage information can charge anywhere from $100-$600 US per month.

An alternative to this is to utilize the Internet to obtain ‘live’ NFL lines which can provide an indication of where the money is flowing on any particular game. A line that is adjusted downwards is usually a reaction to a larger amount of money coming in on the underdog while a spread that creeps up, is a sign that the favourite is receiving more of the action. By analyzing the timing and size of these moves, I have been able to come up with a total of 8 different betting strategies that are easy to implement using free line data found on the Web.

All of these situations use the line posted Wednesday evening at 6pm as the starting point but any stable line listed between Wednesday and Friday evening (for Sunday and Monday games) should work equally as well.

The first group of situations involves wagers on favourites while the 2nd covers good opportunities on the underdog. Profits shown are based on 10/11 odds with a $110 wager to win back $100 on each game.

Fav Situation #1: Favourites that increase in the final hour before GT.
Record since 2001: 100-83 ATS (+$870) 15-21 ATS in ’06.
(Closing line used for grading).
A late increase in the line from the value posted 1 hour before game time signifies a good play on the favourite. This situation suffered in ’06 as favourites generally took a beating overall, but it has still shown a decent profit over the past 6 years.

Fav Situation #2: Favourites that are at least 1 point bigger @ 1/2 hour before GT than they were on Wednesday evening.
Record since 2001: 107-85 ATS (+$1,350) 16-18 ATS in ’06.
(Line 1/2 hour before GT used for grading).
Favourites that rise between Wednesday evening and a 1/2 hour before game time have been very profitable, except for last season. The line must increase by at least 1 whole point for this situation to be effective.

Fav Situation #3: Favourites of exactly 3 points on Wednesday that increase to at least 3.5 points @ 1/2 hour before GT.
Record since 2001: 26-20 ATS (+$400) 5-9 ATS in ’06.
(Line 1/2 hour before GT used for grading).
Field-goal spreads are usually not prone to fluctuations; however, when it does happen, the favourite is a decent bet as long as the move is an increase. This situation also took a beating in ’06, but, it should be in-line for a rebound in 2007.

Fav Situation #4: Favourites of exactly 7 points on Wednesday that increase to at least 7.5 points @ 1/2 hour before GT.
Record since 2001: 15-8 ATS (+$620) 3-1 ATS in ’06.
(Line 1/2 hour before GT used for grading).
As with field-goal spread values, teams favoured by an even TD @ mid-week do not normally move off this number, but, when the line increases, the favourite has been an excellent wager in the past 6 seasons–including 2006.

Profits from line movements are not limited to favourites alone. There are also 4 different strategies available for those that like to place their money on the Dog.

Dog Situation #1: Underdogs that decrease in size during the final hour before GT.
Record since 2001: 109-80 ATS (+$2,100) 11-9 ATS in ’06.
(Closing line used for grading).
Spreads that drop from the value posted 1 hour prior to game time signify a good play on the underdog. This situation has been a consistent winner since 2001 and it can occur as many as 40 times per season.

Dog Situation #2: Underdogs of 7 or 7.5 points on Wednesday evening that are a bigger underdog 1/2 hour before GT.
Record since 2001: 25-14 ATS (+$960) 4-1 ATS in ’06.
(Line 1/2 hour before GT used for grading).
This situation does not arrive too often but when it does, it’s extremely profitable. This strategy includes moves of only a 1/2 point, such as a shift from 7 to 7.5, or, 7.5 to 8.0.

Dog Situation #3: Underdogs that are at least 2 1/2 points smaller @ 1/2 hour before GT than they were Wednesday evening.
Record since 2001: 20-13 ATS (+$570) 6-3 ATS in ’06.
(Line 1/2 hour before GT used for grading).
Underdogs in this situation are typically small dogs of 1-2 points that actually swing over to a small favourite as game time approaches. Despite the large loss in line value, they still remain a very good bet to cover.

Dog Situation #4: Big underdogs of >= 12 points on Wednesday that have dropped in size @ 1/2 hour prior to GT.
Record since 2001: 13-9 ATS (+$310) 5-3 ATS in ’06.
(Line 1/2 hour before GT used for grading).
This situation has seen limited action since 2001, but, it has shown some promise and I will be watching its results closely in 2007.

The lesson to be learned from these situations is that: line moves–late ones especially–offer a relatively simple (and free) way to turn a profit each season. The driving force behind these movements could be the result of the betting actions of a relatively small number of ‘high-rollers’ with inside information, or, perhaps the reactions of many smaller bettors placing last-minute wagers based on late-breaking injury updates and changing weather conditions. Regardless of the source, no decent handicapper can afford to ignore the implications that these key changes may have on their wagers.