Savvy Football Bettors Looking North of the Border: Underdogs Sweep Week 1

Jason Lake

Thursday, July 2, 2015 8:32 PM GMT

People who make college football picks know the real value is in the mid-majors. Consider the CFL the pro football equivalent. Bettors who pounded the underdogs in Week 1 will agree.

There are two kinds of football fans in the world: those who divide football fans into two types, and those who don't. The first type will often divide football fans into those who appreciate the quality of the sport itself (“real” fans), and those who follow the sport for social reasons (almost everybody, including people who bet on football). The second type will tell you that people are more complex than that. We're all a little “fake.”

Enter the Canadian Football League. There's no question that the CFL's social profile has dimmed over the years relative to the NFL's. If you're a talented football player, you're probably going after one of those fat NFL contracts. And if you're a football fan, you're probably going to watch the more talented players. Never mind that the CFL version of football is considered by purists to be superior, with its three downs and extra-large field and (gasp) respect for place-kickers.

Seriously, never mind all that. If you're a fan of making money with your football picks, you'll be less interested in the CFL's profile and more interested in its soft betting markets. Just like the mid- and low majors in NCAA football, the CFL brings more betting value to the table than the NFL. Sharp bettors got a big helping of that value in Week 1 of the 2015 regular season: Underdogs swept all four games, with the UNDER going 3-1 in the process.

 

Put It All on RedBlack
If you're new to betting on football, here's the basic concept: Bet against the market, not the teams or the sportsbooks. Recreational bettors tend to put favorites in their picks, and they tend to bet the OVER, so generally speaking, do the opposite. Scoring is usually higher in the CFL (22.8 points per team in 2014, compared to 22.6 in the NFL), so we can reasonably expect underdogs to do a little worse than they'll do in the NFL, while the UNDER should perform better.

The 2014 season was unusually low-scoring, mind-you. In 2013, CFL teams scored 26.2 points per game (it was 23.4 points in the NFL), but the distressingly-named Ottawa RedBlacks expansion team skewed those numbers upon its arrival last year, scoring just 15.4 points per game. That's one big reason why the UNDER went 49-31-1 across the league last year, if I've done the math right, while underdogs finished much closer to break-even at 37-42-2 ATS. Ottawa finished last at 2-16 SU and 7-11 ATS with the UNDER at 10-7-1, by the way.

 

Tom Clements Says Hi
In theory, even if we didn't know anything about the RedBlacks (and let's be honest, most of us don't), we could look at them as our greatest potential source of revenue in 2015, since they distort the marketplace so much as a second-year franchise. It's like when everybody overreacts to the results from Week 1 in the NFL (or the CFL) and goes mental with their Week 2 NFL or CFL picks – except we don't have a longer-term history with the RedBlacks to fall back on.

The short-term history was awful, of course. So the RedBlacks naturally went into the 2015 campaign at the bottom of the Grey Cup odds list, checking in at 20-1 on the futures market at Bovada. Most of the action with futures comes from recreational bettors, so we can use this as a reliable baseline of public expectations for Ottawa's performance this year. Actually, the RedBlacks have made some major improvements for 2015, especially in the receiving corps. And wouldn't you know it, the RedBlacks beat the Montreal Alouettes (–8 CFL odds at home) 20-16 in last Thursday's season-opener. If they keep this up, maybe we'll forgive them for not calling themselves the Rough Riders again.