NFL Picks: Sorting Out Sharp From Square Betting

Jason Lake

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 10:11 PM GMT

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015 10:11 PM GMT

The NFL playoffs always bring casual fans into the betting marketplace. Traditionally, those bettors wait until later in the week to make their NFL picks. But has the march of progress changed things?

Jason’s 2014-15 postseason record: 3-1 ATS, 2-1-1 Totals
It might be time to revisit some of the basic tenets of NFL handicapping. For years, we’ve relied on the consensus reports to tell us which teams are drawing action. In theory, by applying some established betting logic, we can sort out the “sharp” action from the “square” action. The logic still holds, but that hold is getting a little more tenuous every year. We’re going to have to try something new at some point.

One of the biggest rules of thumb when it comes to making NFL picks: Early action is usually sharp action. Traditionally, sharp bettors are quick to jump into the market and take advantage of soft football odds, while casual fans are more likely to place their bets after the work week ends on Friday. Is this still the case? Certainly to some degree.


Not Everybody’s Working for the Weekend
The biggest problem with the “early action is sharp action” rule is that the traditional work week is slowly disintegrating. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the Monday-Friday dynamic is still the norm, although there has been a very gradual decline in the number of hours worked per week. By the way, this Monday-Friday tradition has only been around for about 100 years, and it didn’t become an international standard until the post-WWII era.

Of course, you also have the international betting markets where the weekend is Friday-Saturday, although these tend to be Muslim countries where gambling of any sort is banned. However, with the general rise of secularism, more and more people worldwide are working on Saturdays and Sundays. And of course, in highly competitive white-collar businesses, many people are putting in ridiculous hours throughout the week. These changes will naturally affect the betting patterns we’re used to seeing.


I Sing the Baud Electric
Then you have the Internet itself and the easy access we have to information. It’s been about 20 years since the information superhighway started spreading outward, first at universities and colleges, and then into the home. People of a certain age will be familiar with the heartwarming sound of the modem handshake. You can buy a computer now for what a modem used to cost then. You can also buy multiple monitors with giant screens. In short, any casual fan today can easily acquire a better set-up than top handicappers could just 10 years ago, let alone 20.

So let’s say it’s a Sunday, and “square” bettors are enjoying their NFL football experience. The instant that those games are over – in fact, usually before those games are over – the football odds are available for next week’s games. It only takes a few clicks of a mouse or the tap of a finger to bring up our NFL odds page and your favorite online sportsbooks. More and more casual bettors are getting their bets in a week in advance, and that’s only going to continue as sports betting becomes more mainstream.


Orange Crush
Which brings us to a second rule of thumb that needs reconsidering: Big money is sharp money. As disposable income climbs, more and more bettors who don’t know jack about football are throwing down some big money on their favorite teams. Last Sunday’s consensus reports, for example, showed major bets coming down on the heavily favored and highly public Denver Broncos. Surely that wasn’t sharp money, regardless of the result.

What we need here is some data. But in the meantime, we can still assign at least some credence to our old rules of thumb and get some indication of where the sharp money is by looking at the early betting patterns – which we’ll do for this Sunday’s Conference Round games in our next article.

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