Are There Any Distinct Patterns in NFL Betting Lines?

NFL Stadium

Monday, July 18, 2016 8:06 PM GMT

Let’s look at some things that seem to happen every Football season in the betting market. Also, let's make some early NFL picks based on these wagering trends.

Professor Summers Study Says Few Holes in Odds But Are There Usable Patterns?
In his in-depth 2008 study, “Beating the Book: Are There Patterns in Betting Lines?”, Professor Michael R. Summers, now at Pepperdine University's Seaver College in Malibu, California, concluded:

“Evidence of exploitable inefficiencies in the NFL betting market have been spotty at best.”
—Michael Summers, “Beating the Book: Are There Patterns in Betting Lines?" 2008

And although it's just one paper by one scholar on the subject matter, several others have also come to the conclusion with their own studies over the past four decades (1968-2008) that there just hasn't proven to be enough inefficiencies in the Point Spreads and Totals with Summers saying it best: “Overall it would seem that any inefficiencies in the NFL betting market are small and rather transitory.” And that was published in 2008. And it seems now with Computers a bigger part of the quotient than ever in Sports Gambling and more people getting involved than ever before, that all of these numbers now get beat down to their proper pulp and perceived Wise Guys may be betting like perceived Squares and the General Public is now often betting like the Wiseguys once exclusively did, having access to the opening numbers and being able to bet on them because of Technology and Awareness. The Times they are a' changin'.

But despite this reality that all the numbers will get smoothed out and that there are now no perceived holes in NFL Lines, there are some distinct betting patterns that seem to happen that many are aware of, and which may be able to be used. And remember that NFL (and NCAAF) betting is different from a number's (Point Spread) standpoint as an NFL number will sit out in the marketplace almost a full 7 days (Sunday-Sunday), whereas MLB (1 day), NHL (1-2 day), NBA (1-2 days) don't have the kind of long-term exposure in their markets to their Odds as does the NFL. And they also don't have the volume of money bet on them either. Anyway, here are some patterns and things noticed through the decades in Las Vegas in terms of betting on the NFL and this 16-week cycle which seems to shut off for Week 17 for most serious bettors due to the uncertainty of who Head Coaches will play and the reality that many teams have already clinched playoff berths and aren't really playing for anything.

Some Real Betting Patterns in NFL Betting Lines Still Seem to be Simplest Ones
1—The Wiseguys seem to bet a majority of NFL Total (Points) games Under right at Open.

2—Public favorites who are solid favorites (7 points and up) usually end up getting wagered up.

3—Sportsbook directors and managers (not Oddsmakers) will shade games a point or so up (or down) knowing that patterns show they will probably get heavier action on one side or another for whatever specific reason or a combination of reasons. And the same with the Totals numbers.

4—TV games usually move the most and get the most action, even if it's irrational or a perceived boring game. NFL bettors just love betting the last—or only in Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football's cases—game of the day and the majority are either chasing Losses or betting Winnings on these TV games anyway. So if you like an Under on a specific Thursday, Sunday or Monday Night Football game, maybe wait until right before kickoff (or bet in even In-Game) to seek the highest number—unless you can bet it a jump late Sunday night when many Offshore, Online and Las Vegas sportsbooks release their Opening numbers and get in or beat some of these wiseguy professional gamblers who, as mentioned, appear to bet the Under much at Open, possibly in order to create a Middle and/or knowing the General Public has the propensity to bet Overs in the NFL and that history shows the Total usually creeps up in the right game and sometimes peaks a couple of hours before kick-off. The amount bet on TV games because they are TV games is mind-boggling and a true reflection of Human Nature. Many casual bettors would never bet on certain matchups if played earlier on Sundays, yet on Sunday night, it looks necessary. It isn't. And the Wiseguys and Sportsbooks both know this and work with this voluminous reality. The combination of (American) Football and TV is just too much.

5—3½'s are rare and don't last long. 7½'s, 10½'s and 14½'s can all have short shelf-lives also. Wiseguys and professional bettors gobble these numbers up faster than Usain Bolt runs the 100 meters. And that's why you often see sportsbook managers raising the juice on a -3 to -120, -130 and higher if need be to keep from having to move their number off 3 and hang a wretched 3½ on the betting board on certain games. Fear and Paranoia consistently run high on both sides of the counter, much more so when NFL returns. And Paranoia strikes deep.

6—Bettors will bet with and hop on Steam to a certain numerical point before the (Point Spread and Total) seems to hit an invisible wall where there is (perceived) Wiseguy buyback and the number usually moves ½-, to 1½ points the other way. People are Sheep. Wave upon wave of demented avengers march cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream. Think for yourself.

7—People will often follow and back the team that “Groups” or a perceived Big Bettor has allegedly wagered on. The news spreads like wildfire and many react, blindly dumping on these teams that they have heard someone else seemingly super-smart has bet on. Like it's inside information or something. And word has it, that once in awhile a Big Bettor will bet one way at first (juking), knowing the people following that bettor of a group will bet that way, sending the line one way—the way the Big Bettor wanted it to go, creating a perceived edge. For the Little Guy and the General Public, it's probably best to avoid all this smoke and just have fun with your own picks. Nothing worse than betting what turned out to be just a juke and losing. And we all have proven time after time that we can already lose on our own.

8—The traditional NFL betting pattern of seeing a bulk of money bet early at Open and just after (Sunday-Monday), then a lull and sort of flattening out period (Tuesday-Friday), followed by more action on the weekend climaxing up to actual game (Saturday-Sunday) still exists, but seemingly not to the degree it once did. And again, the Technologies (Computers, SmartPhones, In-Game Wagering) have made it more so now that the General Public can bet like the so-called Wiseguys and professional bettors, although those overall tendencies for the Squares to bet the Favorites and the Overs and the Wiseguys to bet the Under and the Underdogs seem to still exist, despite being stereotypes. But the lines between the perceived Sharps and the Squares seem blurrier than ever. And nobody betting the NFL for whatever amount and forever what reason would enjoy being dubbed a “Square,” with its negative connotations, but the Sharps are aware of these betting patterns and (rightfully so) try to use them to their advantage in a vibrant and entertaining marketplace which can at least be deemed fair and two-way.

Best to Always Fade Big Favorites? Last Season's NFL 13+ Point Spreads, ATS Results Say Not So Fast...
Week 3—NE -14 over Jaguars (Patriots, 51-14, W; 1-0 ATS)

Week 3—SEA -16 over Bears (Seahawks 26-0, W; 2-0 ATS)

Week 9—CIN -13 over Browns (Bengals 31-10, W; 3-0 ATS)

Week 9—SEA -13½ over Redskins (Patriots 27-10, W; 4-0 ATS)

Week 11—SEA -14 over 49ers (Seahawks 29-13, W; 5-0 ATS)

Week 15—NE -15 over Titans (Patriots 33-16, W; 6-0 ATS)

Week 15—SEA -14½ over Browns (Seahawks 30-13, W; 7-0 ATS)

Any studies chirping about the beauty of betting against big favorites of 13 points and up need to work last year's numbers into that overall betting philosophy and realize that all that glitters ain't Gold. Like Life, things are changing all of the time and any statistics or short- or even long-term Trends are subject to the constant variables like Ownership and Head Coaching (the 49ers losing Jim Harbaugh being an example) changes, Roster changes, other teams with the Division and/or Conference getting better, teams aging and other things including simple Luck. Sometimes having a winning year ATS for many of these teams comes down to the most random and mundane things, be they on the actual gridiron or with the actual Point Spread and Totals numbers themselves. Never underestimate The Luck Factor in all of this and never think that Luck can be controlled. Luck is like the Wind in that it is always there and always affecting things yet it is impossible to actually see and predict in the Sports Gambling context.

And Summers sort of said that—that any studies only apply to a little slice of Time in a sample size and whatever specific Sport is being studied—in different words in his aforementioned study: “In performing statistical tests we necessarily assume that our results are representative of all NFL games. In reality, though, our results suffer from the same problems exhibited in other studies mentioned—they actually apply only to a particular sport in a particular time period and to particular sportsbooks. In order to test the persistence of our findings, more seasons could be examined as they occur, as well as more sports books. A similar analysis could be applied to other sports involving point spreads, such as college football and basketball.”

So like the Bees and their sacred Honey Hive, the patterns in NFL betting lines are sort of an organized chaos which may be predictable on the micro level using Point Spreads and more so Totals patterns which have been seen year-to-year. But at the macro level, it truly seems like gambling—as Professor Summers hinted at in “Beating the Book: Are There Patterns in Betting Lines?”—is subject to way too many variables as anyone who took all double-digit underdogs of 13 points or more, last season—hearing that trite (and now cliché) idiom, “Take the big double-digit dogs” ringing around their hollow heads, now sadly knows. Now that's “square” thinking in the defined in the Dictionary.com slang context of the word: “A person who is ignorant of or uninterested in current fads, ideas, manners, tastes, etc.; an old-fashioned, conventional or conservative person.” It's hard to believe that a “conservative” person would consistently be giving 13 or 14 points in an NFL game. That's sort of like the Great White Buffalo in that it exists, but they are extremely rare.

Some Logical Conclusions and Some Related Futures Book Picks
The best approach for the Common Man is to be aware of all of this and use it where he/she can when he/she wants. If you think NFL underdogs of 13+ will suddenly go 7-0 ATS this season and help even out last year's record, get down with your bad self. And if you think that the big chalks will continue to whomp—the 7 examples (all Home teams and the Seahawks 4 times, the Patriots 3 times and the Bengals once) listed above won by an average of 21.4 ppg (37, 26, 21, 17, 16, 17, 17)—you too shouldn't be scared of continuing to ride the horse the direction he's going. But remember two things: 1—Lines for games like these almost always go up so get and bet on them early if you like the Favorites angle and wait and bet them as late as possible if you're primarily an Underdog player. And, 2—Horses throw riders off and are strong enough, like the Wind, to change directions on their own. One can never assume a specific Trend is going to continue to go a certain way and the best way to arm yourself heading in is to have a plan and sticking to it. And Horses are wild by nature, like results.

A working example of this from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook 2016 NFL Games of the Year for the coming season would be in Week 10 when Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens (+3500 to win Super Bowl at GTBets) welcome the lowly Cleveland Browns (+20000 to win Super Bowl at GTBets) to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in Week 10. The Futures Book spread opened at Ravens -7½, and it's hard to believe Baltimore will be favored by that when the real Week 10 Point Spreads are released, with the line potentially pushing double-digits should the Blackbirds improve and the Brownies be as bad (or worse) than we all think they are. In this game last season, Baltimore actually lost as a 6½-point favorite in Week 5, 33-30, so a little Revenge could be served up in Crab City on Nov. 10 when these two AFC North teams meet for the second time this coming NFL Regular Season although the Ravens are just 1-5 ATS the L6 Home games against Cleveland. Woe is thee.

All in all, it seems best to stick to doing your homework, knowing who to trust and following the Trends and Betting Patterns because when and if there are some, they can quickly go stale like Bread and are ever-changing like the shoreline. And Technology has made finding holes in the line nearly impossible with all sportsbooks being able to share information and watch each other's numbers) from their Computers. Sportsbook Big Brother stuff. And as the great Billy Preston once sang, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.” Don't overthink it all.

NFL futures book free Big-Chalk-From-A-Distance Picks: Seahawks -9½ over Falcons (Week 6); Seahawks -8½ over Bills (Week 9); Ravens -7½ over Browns (Week 10); Seahawks -8½ over Rams (Week 15)