Funny how just about everything seems to fall on a bell curve. Funny, and highly profitable if you like to bet on NFL totals. Here’s the short version: The lower the posted total, the more you should bet OVER. The higher the posted total, the more you should bet UNDER. And we’ve got a relatively high total in store Monday night (6:55 p.m. ET, ESPN) when Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles land at FedExField.
The Way of Curve
Since we’re at the start of a new season, here’s a quick NFL totals refresher/crash course for those who need it. I sure needed it last year; it wasn’t until about halfway through the 2012 season that I started really wrapping my head around the probability distribution for NFL totals. I know, statistics, ewwww. But I managed to scramble back and finish the year at 26-21-1 on totals. Kinda like the way Robert Griffin III elevated his game during the second half of the season.
Anyway, I digress. I don’t always digress, but when I do, it’s away from something called a univariate Gaussian distribution. The bell curve is the most common example of this kind of distribution; the probability of something extreme happening at either end is small, while the most common occurrences are found right in the middle.
Scoring in the NFL is pretty much the same. Looking at the 10-year sample of regular season games at Sporting Charts, the most common combined score at the end of an NFL game was 41. It’s not a perfectly smooth curve, since most scoring in football comes in chunks of three and seven points - the second most common score was 37, followed by 44. Things start to get quite less common once you get below 37 points or past 51.
52 Shades of Green
Conveniently enough, the NFL odds board at press time was giving us a total of 52 points for Monday night’s game in Washington. That’s up from 50 points back when training camps opened; our consensus reports show nearly 60 percent support for the OVER, and given the NFL betting public’s preference for the OVER, we could see that total climb even higher before kick-off.
This bias toward high scoring is what makes betting football totals so (potentially) lucrative. It isn’t just that NFL teams have a lot of work to do to reach 52 points – it’s also the betting market creating inflated scoring expectations. You’ll see this as well at the other end of the spectrum, where too many bettors make their NFL picks the UNDER when there’s a low total on the board, pushing it even lower. But mostly you’ll see it at the high end.
Be sure to go back and check out my picks on the Spread!
Also, see whats happened since the Odds Opened for this Game~
What’s Your Sitch?
The trick with taking advantage of this imperfect market is to fade the bell curve, and pound the totals even harder when they’re farther away from normal. All other things being equal, I consider UNDER 52 to be a marginal play, with the value increasing more rapidly the higher the number gets. Same thing in the other direction with OVER 36. Every game in between – which is most games – needs a different and a powerful NFL betting angle worth taking.
Even when you do get an abnormally high total, you shouldn’t just auto-bet the UNDER. There’s still a game going on between two football teams. Is there anything going on with Philadelphia or Washington that would make you more or less confident with your bet? In this case, we have Griffin coming back from a nasty knee injury, and Kelly making his debut as an NFL head coach. Both have been very good in the past at what they do, but perhaps they’ll have some bugs to iron out in Week 1. That’s enough reason for me to go ahead and follow the curve.NFL Pick: Take UNDER 52 at Ladbrokes