According to the Week 1 NFL odds, Tom Brady is worth 4.5 points ATS to the New England Patriots. Thursday Night Football's total against Pittsburgh has been pumped up by the same amount.
People love betting on NFL totals. Well, some people. Although these bets are becoming more and more popular, they're still dwarfed by bets against the spread – at least until we get deep into the playoffs. That means we can't generate much of a profit margin, if any, by employing our usual contrarian betting strategy. We've stubbornly tried over the years here at the home office, and we're finally willing to accept that we might as well be flipping a coin.
There are other ways we can go about this. Rather than bet against the public with our NFL picks against the total, we can try to bet with the sharps by keeping track of the early action. We can also emphasize betting the OVER when the total is suitably low – say, fewer than 37 points – and betting the UNDER when the total is high – somewhere beyond 51 points. Luckily for us, the first game of the 2015 regular season gives us both angles working in harmony.
Total Goes Up, Total Goes Down
It wasn't always going to be that way. When the NFL odds for Thursday night's matchup (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC) between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers were first released this spring, the total was pegged at 54.5 points. Then Tom Brady was suspended, and the total dropped as low as 48. Once Brady's suspension was lifted, the total went back up to 51.5, then gradually climbed as high as 52.5 points, where it sits at press time.
Seems fair enough. The Patriots themselves went from –2.5 to –7 after we found out that Brady would be starting Week 1 instead of Jimmy Garoppolo. That's a difference of... let's see, carry the one... 4.5 points, which is also the difference between 52.5 and 48 if I've done the math right. You might want to run those calculations yourself to make sure.
Centerklaas Is Here
So we've got a total that sits marginally on the high side of things. If the early action (post-Deflategate) has been on the UNDER, then in theory, we can make the same bet with at least some confidence. Lo and behold, our consensus reports show 56 percent of bettors taking the UNDER in the immediate aftermath of Brady's legal victory, before the inevitable run on the OVER.
It's still nice to look for support from a contrarian perspective, and in this case, the fact that both teams are expected to be without their starting centers is a plus. Bryan Stork (concussion) isn't likely to suit up for the Patriots, and Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) is definitely out for Pittsburgh. There might be a limited amount of public money riding on Thursday's total, but there will be some recreational bettors in the mix, and they'll be prone to overbetting the OVER with both teams compromised on the offensive line. In theory.
Free NFL Pick: UNDER 52 (–104) at Heritage