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Top 10 NFL betting observations through Week 619 October 2015
Yes, we have an incompetent commissioner, so-called cheating scandals and multiple off-the-field arrests. But if you drown all of that out and simply focus on the games every Sunday, you won't go away disappointed. Every NFL Game Day is a soap opera unto itself, with new heroes, surprising goats, last-second dramatics and shocking upset bids each week.
In turn, my eyes are bleary red on Monday mornings from watching multiple hours of NFL Red Zone, the most innovative and useful football-fan invention since the yellow first-down line. I can't get enough.
Of course, the play on the field is a whole lot more captivating if you have "interest" in the games. It doesn't matter if it's a survivor pool, a DFS tournament, a wad of single-game and parlay tickets in your pocket from the sportsbook, or a combination of all three. Combine your piece of the action with the play on the field each Sunday and the end result is a day of unequaled entertainment value for any sports fan.
We're a little more than one-third into the NFL season and we've learned a lot. We know it's a top-heavy league, with five undefeated teams and more really bad teams than the league would like to see. We're confident the Patriots and Packers are far and away the best two teams and we're pretty sure there are others (Atlanta and Denver) that have similar records, but are frauds waiting to be exposed. And we're guessing there are a handful of teams that are much better than they have played and still have plenty of time to get healthy and become a factor (more on that later in the column).
The only thing we're 100 percent certain of? A lot – make that A LOT – can and will change between now and Week 17. That's life in the NFL.
But as we look back at what has transpired in the first six weeks – minus the Giants-Eagles Monday Night Football match-up, played before this column was published – here are 10 observations from a betting perspective that may be of help to us in the final 11 weeks of the season.
10. Strong start, then a fade for "public bettors"
It was an auspicious start to the NFL season for the public – or "squares" as they are often referred. Bookmakers took as big of a Week 1 hit as they have ever experienced, and the rest of September wasn't much better. According to Sportsbook Spy at PreGame.com, teams receiving 70 percent or more of the betting tickets on the first three Sundays of the season went 12-4 against the spread, including 6-1 during Week 3 alone.
As you probably could have predicted, that trend started to come back the other way in October, with the public going just 6-7 in games in that same scenario. And thanks to Pittsburgh's outright win and a late Indy touchdown that helped the Colts cover on Sunday night, the books were on the right side of two of the biggest decisions of the year, since the public was betting both the Cardinals (-4) and Patriots (-9.5) on Sunday as if the games had already been played.
In fact, BetOnline Sports reported on Twitter that Sunday night's Pats-Colts grudge match attracted more action than any game since last year's Super Bowl, with 77% of the tickets written on New England.
9. Surviving the "Survivor Pool" has been a chore
Major kudos if you are still alive in your "survivor," "knockout" or "suicide" pool. The popular pool in which you pick one team to win outright each week (no pointspreads involved) but can only use a team once all season has been difficult to maneuver this year, with plenty of upsets in the first six weeks.
While the Seahawks (-9) torpedoed more than a few pools yesterday with their loss to Carolina, as did the Bears (+9) when they upset KC last week, Week 2 was, by far, the most tumultuous Sunday of the season. According to Yahoo! Sports, a whopping 87 percent of the entries in its survivor pool were eliminated in Week 2 when popular favorites New Orleans, Baltimore, Miami, St. Louis and Tennessee went down, followed by the Jets' upset over Indianapolis on Monday Night Football.
Chances are, if you're still breathing in your pool the field has dwindled dramatically, as has the list of legit teams you can choose from. Exciting times are ahead, if you're fortunate enough to be in this position.
8. If London is calling, beware
A trend to keep an eye on going forward, especially as the NFL looks to expand the number of regular season games played overseas, involves teams playing in London the following week.
Now, please proceed with caution here. I'm not a big believer in trends. You can basically find any trend that will dramatically favor or suggest you bet against a certain team every week. But if a trend takes a large sample size into consideration and there seems to be some credence or solid reasoning behind it, I'm all ears. Do I bet it blindly? Absolutely not. But it does carry some weight in the handicapping of games.
Which bring us back to the U.K. Heading into this season, teams that had a trip across the pond on deck were just 6-16 against the spread. So far this season, those teams are 0-4 ATS, including 0-2 yesterday (Buffalo, Jacksonville) running the record to 6-18 (25%).
What's the reasoning? Difficult to pinpoint. Maybe players lose focus during the week of preparation, knowing they have a long trip ahead, followed by a bye week that will completely take them out of their routine? Or maybe the sample size is too small and this is simply an aberration? Either way, it's worth keeping an eye on.
7. The good teams are cashing in
Following a historical trend, the better teams are not only winning games this season, but also cashing tickets. Those five teams with perfect records we spoke of earlier (New England, Green Bay, Denver, Carolina, Cincinnati) are a combined 21-5-2 (81%) against the spread, if you judge the Bengals' three-point win over the Seahawks, and the Patriots' seven-point win over the Steelers as "pushes."
This shouldn’t come as a surprise since teams with winning records are typically profitable against the spread. Of the top five pointspread-record teams over the last 10 seasons, 43 out of 50 had a .500 or better straight-up record.
The 2011 Detroit Lions were the only team during this span to lead the league in the pointspread standings (12-4 ATS) but finish with a losing straight up record (6-10).
6. The bad teams are not
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the bad teams that are losing games both straight up and against the number.
There are no winless teams remaining, but we do have five one-win teams (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Detroit, Kansas City, Baltimore). And – you guessed it! – they have been money-eaters for their backers, going a combined 6-22-1 against the spread (21%).
The surprising Cleveland Browns are the only team in the league right now with a losing straight-up record (2-4) and a winning ATS record (4-2).
5. Bengals, Steelers are the pointspread darlings
The only undefeated teams in the pointspread standings right now are the Bengals (5-0-1) and Steelers (4-0-2).
Both teams were fairly highly regarded entering the year with a season-win total of 8.5, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. But you do have to consider Cincinnati's undefeated straight-up record an upset, since they were in the 40-to-1 range to win the Super Bowl before Week 1 and 20-to-1 to win the AFC. Those odds have dropped to around 10-to-1 for the Super Bowl and 9-to-1 for the AFC as the team ran its record to 6-0 for the first time since its 1988 Super Bowl season.
As a result of some key injuries and suspensions – most notably to QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has been out since Week 3 with an MCL sprain and may return this week -- the Steelers have not received as much attention as their divisional rival in going undefeated against the number, but have won outright the last two weeks as underdogs against San Diego and Arizona.
4. Pats, Cards are dominating
Two of the public's favorite teams to bet on this season have paid dividends for their followers. New England's record against the spread is 3-1-1, but in the one loss (last night against Indianapolis) and in the push (a Week 1 seven-point win over the Steelers) they allowed last-second touchdowns, using a prevent defense while protecting two-score leads.
Take those two meaningless scores away and the Pats are 5-0 ATS, and bookies would have taken a huge hit since New England is attracting loads of public money week in and week out.
If you go by the amount of points the Patriots have covered the number by this year, they are tied with the Steelers at +8.8 points per game, according to TeamRankings.com, second only to the Cardinals, who have used a couple lopsided scores to outscore the pointspread by 10.1 points per game. You may also be surprised to know that going back the last two-plus seasons, Arizona has covered 68% of its games (26-12).
3. Ravens are biggest disappointment
Look at the bottom feeders right now and you’re not surprised to see the likes of Jacksonville, Chicago and San Francisco. But can Baltimore really be part of the "One Win Club" at this point of the season?
Before Week 1, the Ravens were +120 to win the AFC North at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino Superbook, a slight favorite over Pittsburgh (+220) and Cincinnati (+225). Today, they are 0-5-1 against the spread and looking up at the Cleveland Browns in the standings.
According to TeamRankings.com, Baltimore, which was the fourth choice to win the AFC entering the season behind New England, Denver and Indy, has a 0.5% chance of winning the division title and just a 5.1% chance of making the playoffs. Stick the proverbial fork in them.
2. Is the "Super Bowl Hangover Theory" for real?
Another major disappointment have been the Seahawks, who are trying to become just the eighth team in history to return to the Super Bowl the year after losing it. (By the way, only two of those teams won the return trip -- 1971 Cowboys and 1972 Dolphins).
At the start of this season, NFL bettors certainly weren't worried about that trend as the Seahawks were the favorite to win this year's Super Bowl at 9-to-2, just ahead of the Packers at 6-to-1. Seattle was also an overwhelming favorite (-400) to win the NFC West, with the Cardinals a distant second at +550.
But after yesterday's home loss to the Panthers, Pete Carroll's Crew is in last place at 2-4 and now have just a 39.9% chance of playing in the postseason and a 26% chance to catch the Cardinals (4-2) and win the division.
Can the Seahawks rally and make another Super Bowl run? Read on…
1. Value bets to win the Super Bowl
The blueprint for success when betting on sports includes being able to predict when a team is underrated or if it's about to go on a profitable run.
My 10-year-old daughter can look at the standings and tell me what teams are currently running hot. I want to know what teams are about to get hot so I can cash in on the value they provide right now in the betting markets.
So, if we look at the current Super Bowl odds at Bet365.com, the Patriots (11-to-4) and Packers (3-to-1) are the clear-cut favorites, with the next tier (Denver and Cinci at 10-to-1) a significant notch below.
While it's difficult to envision a Super Bowl that does not include New England and/or Green Bay, remember this is the NFL. Momentum shifts. Injuries occur. Surprises happen.
With that in mind, the two best value plays on the board at this writing are Seattle (14-to-1) and Pittsburgh (20-to-1).
Yes, the Seahawks have major problems on the offensive line and could easily be 1-5 instead of 2-4 if the refs had a clue in their game against the Lions and made the correct call on the Calvin Johnson fumble out of the end zone. But using that same logic, they very easily could have prevailed in all four of their losses, which includes a tight 10-point loss at Lambeau Field and blowing fourth-quarter leads against the Panthers, Bengals and Rams.
This is still a team with a solid postseason history, an elite quarterback and defense, and one of the best home field advantages in the NFL. It has two games remaining against division-leader Arizona and has bad as things have gone for the Seahawks, they are only two games out of first place. Last year, they were 3-3 after six games and rallied to win the division and become the first team in 10 years to play in back-to-back Super Bowls. With that pedigree, we'll gladly take a shot on getting a 14-to-1 return on investment.
As for the Steelers, they have to be thrilled to be sitting where they are after losing Big Ben in Week 3 and having to go with relic Michael Vick and career-back-up Landry Jones under center for the last three games. With Roethlisberger healthy, the Steelers went on the road in Week 1 and moved the ball up and down on the Pats defense, giving New England its most competitive game to date.
This is another team with a Super Bowl-winning QB and head coach that also has the best wide receiver and one of the best running backs – when in uniform – in the game. While a divisional crown is unlikely, if the season ended today, Pittsburgh would be a wildcard and with Roethlisberger on the field they would be a favorite on a neutral field against any of the teams chasing them (Bills, Jets, Chargers, Browns, Texans). At 20-to-1, this is more than worth a shot.
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