Public Betting to Distort NFL Odds for Broncos vs. Bengals

Jason Lake

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 1:30 PM UTC

Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 1:30 PM UTC

The Denver Broncos haven’t performed too well against the NFL odds this year. But if you like them in Monday night’s matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, you’d better get in now, before the public does.

Jason’s record after Week 15: 36-50-1 ATS, 18-26-1 Totals

By the time you read this, it might already be too late. The Denver Broncos are dancing around the magic number three for their Monday nighter (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Paul Brown Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals. The sharps got in early on Denver at –3 (–125), and they’re still pounding the Broncos at –3.5 (+105) as we go to press, holding steady at 68 percent consensus. It won’t take much more action to move this line to –3.5 at the usual –110 vigorish.

And it’s pretty much a given that the NFL odds will continue to pile on the chalk. The Broncos are one of the most popular teams in the league, while the Bengals have a very small footprint on the national stage. Using fundamental betting principles, we can expect casual fans to throw their weight behind Denver over the weekend; if you like the Broncos, and they’re still available at –3 without too much of a premium on the vig, now is the time to buy.

Most Favored Nation
Getting in on those favorites before the public does has become the new standard for many of the sharps and their NFL picks. We’ve seen something similar happen against the totals in recent years, with the sharps pounding the OVER right out of the gate. If that’s a viable strategy, then doing the same with the favorites only makes sense, given the synergy between the faves and the OVER – and the public’s taste for chalk.

We’re going to see that in spades this week. We’ve already discussed how the sharps are pounding double-digit road favorites in the New England Patriots (–11.5 against the New York Jets) and the Green Bay Packers (–11.5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). But this Broncos-Bengals game is a little different. It features two division leaders, and there’s a strong case to be made for being patient and betting on the underdogs closer to Monday’s kick-off.

Not So Simple
There was a time when the Bengals (9-4-1 SU, 7-6-1 ATS) would have easily been considered the sharp pick in this matchup. They’ve got that small Rust Belt market share, which is only getting smaller over time as people pull up stakes and move westward. They also lean heavily on defense and special teams, while the Broncos (11-3 SU, 7-7 ATS) are still driven primarily by Peyton Manning and one of the best offenses in the NFL. Casual bettors are drawn to Manning like moths to an orange flame.

We can see this disparity on the public money charts, where Denver checks in at No. 3 overall and No. 2 during the past 30 days. Cincinnati is way down the list at No. 15 overall, although recent success has pushed the Bengals up to No. 8 over the past month. That’s still a sizeable enough gap for us to expect the betting public to overdo it with the Broncos, especially with the extra spotlight that comes with playing on Monday Night Football.

But maybe it’s the Bengals who are overvalued in this contest. They’ve played a much softer schedule than the Broncos up to this point; Football Outsiders has Denver’s strength of schedule ranked No. 4 overall, while Cincinnati’s is ranked No. 20. In terms of Estimated Wins, the Broncos come out at 12.3 EW, which tells us they’ve been playing even better than their 11 Actual Wins would suggest. The Bengals? Only 7.6 Estimated Wins. The Simple Rating System at Pro Football Reference concurs, with Denver at plus-10.4 SRS and Cincinnati treading water at plus-0.3 SRS. Would you be willing to bet on the Broncos as 7.5-point road faves?

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