Want to Win? Time to Look for NITS (Not in the Spread)

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David Malinsky

Friday, September 8, 2017 1:39 PM GMT

Friday, Sep. 8, 2017 1:39 PM GMT

Time for NITS, and the best thing to do in Denton on a Saturday night is to head to Dallas...Some underdogs can bark; David Shaw will also bite...At least Patriot fans can console themselves with a pint of Julius...

Point Blank – September 8, 2017

The NFL season opened with quite an event, the Patriots going from dominating in a major way early to simply getting shellacked at crunch time, Kansas City winning the fourth quarter 21-0 on the scoreboard and 227-31 in total offense, and even the latter would have been worse if not for the victory formation losses at the end. There is plenty to sort through from that one, which will come in Tuesday’s “What a Bettor Better Know’ NFL edition, but you are already well-versed in one of them – it is going to take some time for the New England passing game to jell, especially with Danny Amendola now nicked up.

Time to advance to the games ahead of us on the weekend board, and throughout the season. One of the prime starting points I will detail here at the beginning of each football season is also one of the simplest, and yet it is not a “duh” thing – the games have pointspreads on them.

Simple, right? Yet it is of such foundational importance as you do your handicapping breakdowns because in order for a line to exist, there needs to be someone making that line. What does that someone do? Much of the same work that you are doing. The single greatest challenge any of us faces in beating the game long-term is understanding that fine line (literally) between what it is already factored into the pointspread, and what isn’t. If you are laying 11-10 directly into the same information you are using to make a handicap, you are going to watch your bankroll gradually erode. Hence the search for elements that are not factored in, and the edges they can bring when the base pointspread is fair for an event.

Today I will use a case study on a particular game to focus on the latter point, and with a dynamic weekend ahead across the NCAA and NFL boards it means time to plug the jukebox in for some background as you process through it all. This week began with a tribute to the late Walter Becker, who spent the last 50 years of his life working with Donald Fagen to create the unique sound that became Steely Dan, so I will make it a bookend. Let’s go to one of the last shows that Becker ever played, just down the street from me in Las Vegas, with “Reeling in the Years”. Becker and Fagen wrote this one when they were still young, far ahead of the game with words that mean even more as one experiences life head-on through the decades –

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You been tellin' me you're a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I've known you
I still don't know what you mean

You can apply that to ever so much. Now let’s get to work.

NITS Time: The best thing to do in Denton on a Saturday night is head to Dallas

Let’s begin by adopting a phrase – NITS, for “Not in the Spread”, which can be used across the betting landscape over the time ahead. It will refer to games in which there are factors of significant impact in the outcome that are not a part of the process by the oddsmakers, or most of the betting markets, as the lines get set and the trading unfolds.

Many of these NITS will come from misleading scores and statistics. Some will come from matchups. Others will come from motivational and scheduling edges (those can connect up), and there are times in which the home field advantage is not factored properly. Let’s go to a particular case study on this week’s board to lay one out.

I’ll have a piece of #375 North Texas (7:00 Eastern) when the Mean Green face SMU on Saturday night, with +13.5 available across the board, and value holding at +13 or better.

That is a fair line given the relative levels of the program, though a pinch high on my ratings, if A. Both teams approached the game with the same intensity; and B. There was a traditional home field advantage in play.

But now for the NITS aspect – the underdog is going to bring a far higher level of intensity to the game, and there isn’t much advantage for the Mustangs being at home, if any at all. That means time to back Jeffery Wilson and a hungry underdog.

Although it is a non-conference affair, this may be the biggest game of the season for the North Texas program. The roster is filled with players from the state of Texas, and Seth Littrell is well aware of how important it will be to gain a foothold into the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex as he builds his program. Recruiting that fertile ground is a priority, and a convenience, because the UNT campus in Denton is only 40 miles away. This provides the opportunity to step up in class and make a statement.

Now contrast that with the SMU focus. What do the Mustangs get to do next week? Step up in class and make a statement in what might be their biggest game of the year, albeit again a non-conference setting, when they bus across town to face TCU.

Is SMU good enough to beat North Texas without playing at peak of intensity? Yes. But are the Mustangs good enough and deep enough to win by more than two touchdowns against a hungrier underdog? I don’t think so, especially with such a young defense (three sophomores starting in the secondary) making it so difficult to shut the back door.

Now let’s talk about the setting. Gerald Ford Stadium is a small place by national standards, holding 32,000. The SMU following is small by national standards; in 2016 the Mustangs averaged 21,551 fans for home games against opponents that weren’t from the state of Texas.

Why do I isolate those games? The area known as the Metroplex has a population of over seven million, which means two things – 1. It is a fun trip for visiting fans because there is so much to do in terms of making it a weekend (hotels, restaurants, etc.); 2. So many of the Texas universities already have plenty of alums living in the area, who need only make a short trip to see their school play.

And of course when it is North Texas coming to town, students and fans have a short drive down from Denton, as does the team, which takes away many of the usual disadvantages of a team being on the road. That is not insignificant – while most folks think of the home team having an advantage in games, a portion of that is better labeled as the road-team disadvantage. As I will note often, while the length of the plane ride is the usual consideration, for most team’s road trips mean a bus to the airport, then the plane ride, and then another bus. It ties up logistical time that can impact a team’s preparation, as does sleeping in a hotel bed on Friday night.

Now let’s propose something – SMU’s home field advantage should profile as being particularly weak when facing an in-state opponent. And what does the research show? It is. Had you faded the Mustangs in all 20 such games over the past decade you would have gone no worse than 14-6 ATS, with a shopper likely at 14-5-1.

That connects up well here. The underdog will bring more passion to this game than the favorite, and consider this from a fan standpoint – the UNT enrollment is 37,973, while SMU is 11,739. With such a short trip, and the opportunity to hang out in the area afterwards (beats the hell out of Denton on a Saturday night), I expect the Mean Green to have a good following, especially since the Mustangs end up with plenty of tickets available to their home games.

You can see where the edges come from here, a case of some important items that are not factored into the betting lines. And that is part of the process day-in and day-out.

Let’s go to another category…

And More NITS – When an underdog doesn’t just bark, but bites

Charting the various coaches across multiple categories is indeed a worthwhile exercise, and many of those nuggets will get passed on here from time to time. One of the most common items tracked is also something that you should be taking a step further, when it comes to coaches as underdogs.

There are naturally a lot of elements at play for a coach to be successful in the role – he needs to be able to motivate his team when taking on a superior opponent, and of course there are also those X’s and O’s. There are some coaches that relish the tactical challenge, and find a way to overcome the disadvantages.

What you should be doing in taking this a step further is to also track the straight-up record in those games, because it brings those elements to the spotlight, in particular the tactical ability to win when the other side may have the better personnel.

Want to have some fun food for thought when Stanford takes on USC in that Pac 12 showdown on Saturday night? Consider David Shaw’s track record as a regular-season underdog –

2012  +9.5  21-14  USC
2012  +9  13-20  Notre Dame
2012  +18.5  17-14  Oregon
2013  +10  26-20  Oregon
2013  +3  38-14  Arizona State
2014  +7  16-45  Oregon
2014  +6.5  31-10  UCLA
2015  +9.5  41-31  USC
2016  +3.5  6-44  Washington
2016  +3  17-10  Notre Dame

That is an 8-2 ATS run, but also seven outright wins across those 10 games, and five of those wins coming as +6.5 or better.

On to Sunday: Just in case the markets get silly in Buffalo

Imagine someone waiting from the electric Patriots/Falcons finish in the Super Bowl last February until Sunday’s kickoffs to get back in action, only to find that the first major investment of the season is in backing Josh McCown and arguably the worst offensive huddle of the modern era for a non-expansion team.

OK, I am not there yet, but now that the depth charts are out there, let's revisit some key Buffalo notions from the Wednesday edition. Only one player in the WR rotation caught a pass in a Bills uniform last year, that being Brandon Tate, who only caught eight. And Tate won’t start. Exacerbating the lack of chemistry in the passing game was the time missed by Tyrod Taylor because of the concussion protocol. There is a new system in place, with a lot of new faces that just haven’t had much time to work together.

Now consider the secondary, where there is not a single player that played a down for Buffalo in 2016. That means a lot of new faces learning a new system, and you have to question how well this group got to develop in fall camp because of the weak QBs they were up against (rookie Nathan Peterman getting far more practice snaps than had been anticipated).

The only real strength for the Bills is the ground game with LeSean McCoy, but that plays right into the New York strength, a rush defense that is among the NFL’s best. I’ll be in the game if a +10 shows, especially because of the confidence the Jets can bring, having beaten the Bills head-to-head in both 2016 meetings.

The Back and Forth for The Weekend Ahead

Now that both the NCAA and NFL boards are in play that means time for a lot of back-and-forth as we get many of you involved – Point Blank is a community project, and through the years the comments section has brought forth some pearls that have helped to make the bankroll shine.

The grey button in the upper left is the place to go, with a couple of caveats. First is that discussions on all handicapping topics are welcome, and I will do my best to respond to all queries, but “Who do you like in XXX vs. YYY?” is not a discussion, and is an underdog to get a response. Talking points inside of games are fine, but not queries for straight opinions. Also note that NCAA game days are a frenzy of activity, with game-charting and in-running throughout, so I may not see questions until long after they have been posted. If you have something timely, best to get it in well before kickoff.

Since it is easier to add to the comments section than to re-edit here, if there are some items of interest on the MLB board I will post them into that section, and needless to say that if the markets keep pushing the Dodgers that fade will continue (there is already the first -205 showing for tonight).

For your listening pleasure

A new feature this season will be a weekly podcast with Matt Landes, the aptly named “House of Yards”, as we cover both the precise measurements across the gridirons in the search for edges, but also deal with what a bettor has to do for himself in order to maintain the proper focus. For many of you that will include the occasional adult beverage, and when beer is that beverage of choice, I know of no one better to serve as a tour guide than Matt.

House of Yards is a work in progress, and like PB it is a community project. Let us know what you would like to hear, and what we can do to make it better, and we will be on it. You can also let us know when you disagree with Matt’s beer ratings, though when that is the case I will likely bet that you are wrong.

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And for your drinking pleasure, The Beer of the Week

And from our pal Matt comes one this week that really does tantalize. Matt wanted to focus on something regional as the Patriots kicked off defense of the Super Bowl crown at home (rather ingloriously as it turned out), and Julius profiles right to the heart of my taste buds, a preference for citrusy IPAs because of the kind of cuisine I enjoy most days.

Unfortunately, Julius cannot be found in Nevada yet. I hold out a minor hope because there is a PB reader from the East Coast heading our way in a few weeks, and he is more than capable of bringing some along, except that he is a greedy selfish bastard that would likely drink them all in route. I may only be able to daydream about this one for a while.

Brewery: Tree House Brewing Company
Beer: Julius
Style: American IPA
ABV: 6.8%

From the bright, juicy appearance to the intoxicating aroma and flavor bursting with citrus, stone fruit and tropical fruit notes to the velvety mouthfeel, it's easy to see why Julius has a perfect score on Beer Advocate.

Impeccably balanced with a rounded bitterness and precisely the right amount of carbonation, Tree House's flagship American IPA is a ticket to paradise. For first-timers, one sip, or even just one whiff, is enough to make you wonder where Julius has been all your life.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5*

*Based on a can aged several months and transported across the country. Fresh from the source, with the hop aroma and flavor in their prime, Julius is a heavy favorite to warrant a perfect 5.

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