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Inflated Point Spreads

NFL Betting: Dealing With Inflated Point-Spreads

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper,

What we’re looking for in NFL wagering is good value. And in a lot of NFL games, you see inflated point-spreads--odds that overly favor a specific team. They cease becoming good wagers because the value has been sucked out of them. In cases like these, we take the good value, which is obviously the opposite side. Or at least we proceed with extra caution when betting these teams.

The most visible teams receive the most attention. Teams that get the most attention usually have the bigger followings. And teams with big followings usually receive the most robust betting support. When you scan for point-spreads for a given Sunday, the ones that will likely have you more taken aback are the ones where the glam teams are laying gigantic numbers.

Take the Dallas Cowboys, for example. It seems like no matter how they’re actually playing, the line always reflects what people wish they were--a playoff team. In the past two seasons (this article written in 2013), they have covered only 12 times in 32 games. They are a nationally-followed team. People say they are perennial under-achievers, but maybe they just aren’t as good as people’s misplaced perception of them would indicate.

And when betting on these teams, the lines can even be more inflated in isolated games. It’s bad enough when they’re just mixed up in the morass of games on Sunday afternoon. But games played on a Thanksgiving, a Saturday or Thursday, a Sunday night, or especially a Monday Night receive a lot of extra betting action. In those cases there will be even less value betting on the NFL poster teams.


This equation is even more evident in the postseason and in the Super Bowl. Even more attention is paid to these games, making the betting action fast and heavy. The bookies know that the glamor team of the equation will receive its share of action, so the line is set to tantalize the other side. Therefore, the other side has greater value. At the same time, those lines do take into account the heightened sense of urgency that comes in the postseason, which could make those few points worth of difference irrelevant.

Sometimes, the hype machine takes over. Take the 2011 Denver Broncos, for example. Tebow-mania was in full bloom. The Broncos were over-achieving in a big way. And Tebow and Company did cover a lot of spreads in the beginning. But by the time the hype really set in, suddenly Denver wasn’t a great value anymore. Those who hopped aboard late were left in the cold, as Denver failed to cover the spread in each of their last 4 games. Usually by the time the rest of the world knows, whatever was hot has already cooled off.

Other factors can lead to an inflated point-spread. When the opponent of the team has some high-profile injuries, take a close look. The line could have been adjusted to account for injuries that might not be so devastating. Sometimes, a player’s name-value surpasses what he has meant to the team in that specific season. So if a quarterback or running back with a big name goes down, see if there isn’t a possibility that a change in personnel won’t actually be beneficial--or at least not as devastating as the spread is saying.

Also be aware of hysterical media reporting. They need to fill up a lot of time on the air waves, so they might get carried away at times. You hear all kinds of extreme stories throughout the year about coaches on the hot seat or players who are under fire for not getting it done. Guys can get buried prematurely. In 2011, after the New York Giants fell to 6-6, you couldn’t watch ESPN without hearing about whether Tom Coughlin would get fired. A few months later, he coached his team to a Super Bowl win. That ridiculous chatter could have resonated with some people and they would certainly regret allowing that to influence them.

This is not an automatic equation. A lot of teams are hyped, have big followings, and play in the key spots precisely because they kick a lot of tail. Just because you’re getting a couple points of good value on Jacksonville against the Patriots doesn’t mean New England isn’t going to drop the hammer. Seeing an inflated point-spread isn’t an open invitation to always take the other team. But it doesn’t hurt to get good value on a bet and think twice about making wagers where the value is poor.

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