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Top-10 tidbits for the NFL bettor

12 October 2009

Parity has long been the goal of the NFL, but five weeks into the 2009 season things haven't gone exactly as planned.

"Parity is a non-existent word right now," says John Avello, the Director of Race and Sports at Wynn Las Vegas. "We've played about 30 percent of the season and we have a whole bunch of teams with just one win and four teams with no wins. It's been a while since I've seen it like this."

And while the lack of parity can make Avello's job of placing sharp pointspreads on NFL games very difficult, it's not something that he and his fellow oddsmakers can't handle.

"A run like this is surprising, but not shocking," says Avello, who began his career in the sportsbook business as a ticket writer at the Las Vegas Hilton in the early 1980s and has been with Wynn since 2005. "One thing I've learned by doing this for so long is that as the season goes on and we make adjustments, things have a way of evening out."

That very well may be the case. But as we head into Week 6, things are out of whack from a sports bettor's perspective after five weeks. For proof, we crunched some numbers. Here's a look at some of the more interesting things we found.

10. The good teams are winning and covering
As we head into Week 6, five teams are still undefeated. Denver, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minnesota and the NY Giants have combined to go 24-0, but even more impressive is the fact that those teams have been virtual ATMs, going an incredible 21-3 against the spread.

"We're going to have adjust the spreads and make them even higher than they've been until these teams come back down to earth," Avello said.

9. The bad teams are losing and not covering
As good as the undefeated teams have been against the number, the bad teams have been money burners. St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and Kansas City are the four 0-5 teams. And each of those teams have gone 1-4 ATS, making them a combined 4-16 at the pay window.

The one-win teams haven't fared much better. Carolina (the only winless team ATS in the league at 0-4), Oakland (2-3), Detroit (2-3), Cleveland (2-3) and Buffalo (2-3) are a combined 8-16 against the spread. Looks like you should have heeded the warning we gave you back in August when one of our 10 Football Betting Commandments was "Avoid Betting Bad Teams." By the way, Pittsburgh, New England and Dallas are the only teams with winning straight-up records and losing ATS records.

8. The Giants have been the class of the league
"I'd have to say that I'm most impressed with the Giants," Avello said. "They're taking no prisoners. They're just going out and getting it done every week. The only game they haven't covered was in Week 1 against the Redskins, but Washington scored a TD real late in that game to make it. Since then the Giants have been lights out."

Avello's not kidding. In the last four weeks, the G-Men have covered the spread by a total of 46.5 points. And to think, they opened as a 3-point underdog for their NFC showdown against fellow-undefeated New Orleans this Sunday.

7. The Broncos have everyone puzzled
There's no question that the undefeated Denver Broncos are this year's surprise team.

"When we put out our season over/under win totals during the offseason, not many people expected Denver to win more than six games," Avello said. "It's amazing what they've been able to do so far."

But Avello isn't expecting it to last. He added that despite the undefeated record, the Broncos will likely only be favored in about four games for the rest of the season.

"And that's if they continue to play well," he adds. "I don't want to take anything away from them, but the win over New England was probably their only credible victory. Everything has really fallen into place for them nicely. How much longer can a team with that kind of personnel continue to do this?"

6. Favorites are winning and covering
Five weeks into the NFL season, favorites are hitting 56% (42-33).

"That's high," Avello says. "It won't be that high at the end of the year. Trust me on that."

Before underdogs cashed in seven games in Week 5, favorites were on an incredible run in the NFL. Between Weeks 3 and 4, the favorites went a combined 21-9. And since the betting public always tends to bet more favorites, that was a concern for the sportsbooks. But Avello said that he was saved by the fact that the total points scored in those games didn't soar over the posted totals, since "over" bets are also popular with the public.

"Overs" were 16-14 during those two weeks. And for the season over-under bets are pretty much right down the middle with 39 overs and 36 unders.

5. Double-digit favorites are getting it done
This past Sunday, there were four double-digit favorites and three of them cashed tickets for their backers. In fact, before Sunday's action, home favorites of 14 points or more were covering just 40 percent of the time in the NFL since 1980 and were 1-9 in the last 10. But Philadelphia (-15) over Tampa Bay and the Giants (-15) over Oakland were both winners on Sunday.

Minnesota and Baltimore have been the best double-digit favorites with 2-0 records in that role, although the Ravens lost their game against Cincinnati as a 9-point favorite on Sunday. New England, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Washington are all 0-1 laying double-digits.

4. Expect more big favorites as we go forward
Because there are so many "bad" teams this year, you can expect to see more of those 15-point spreads in the next few weeks.

"Remember, the pointspread is supposed to even things out," Avello says. "So when you have one of these power teams playing one of the bottom-feeders, we have to make it attractive to bet both sides of the game."

And if the double-digit favorites keep rolling, the numbers will get higher and higher. Take, for instance, the record-breaking 2007 New England Patriots. The team opened the season with eight straight covers. Each week, the oddsmakers had to make adjustments to the line, and it worked. In the final eight weeks of the season, the Pats went 2-6 ATS, despite winning all of those games straight up. While there's not a power team out there this season like the '07 Pats, we're likely to see some pointspreads get pretty high in the next few weeks as the oddmakers continue to make adjustments.

3. Some of the bad teams will get better, and start to cover
Avello said that while it's no surprise that the Rams, Lions and Buccaneers have combined for just one win, there are some teams that have fared a lot worse than expected by the oddsmakers and the general public.

"I don't think anyone would have predicted that Tennessee would be 0-5 at this point in the season," says Avello. "But I respect their coach (Jeff Fisher) and I don't think this is a team that's going to fold. I think they'll come back and compete. And I think Kansas City has shown some signs that they may improve.

"Oakland and Tampa Bay are definitely two of the worst teams in the league," Avello went on to say. "I have no idea what to expect from Oakland. They may try a few different things, but they're a bad team. Tampa could get better, but they just can't score. The only chance their going to have to win a game is when they face another team that's low scoring. Other than that they just can't keep up. That's what happened to them in Philadelphia [on Sunday]."

2. Home field advantage is overrated
The home field advantage is something that is talked about in every sport, but it is also factored into the pointspread each week.

And so far, home teams have been just average against the spread this season. Through five weeks, home teams are 40-35 ATS. And all of those bettors who swear by "home dogs" are just 22-28 (44%) this season.

1. Pick the straight up winner, and you've got the pointspread winner
This may sound strange, but when it comes to picking pointspread winners in the NFL, the best strategy may very well be simply eliminating the pointspread from your decision making.

Through five weeks, the pointspread has only played a factor in 11 out of the 74 games played. In other words, the team that has won the game outright this season has also covered the pointspread 85% of the time.

And with the lack of parity this season, picking the outright winner is becoming easier and easier.

Recent Articles
Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT