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Betting Line Movement

NFL Betting: Line Movement

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper,

By now, we all now about point-spreads and totals. But let’s take a look at what goes into making a line, how a line can move, and things to watch out for. Early in the week, you will see the opening line. Look at it like a stock. The value was estimated and now you have an offer to buy into it. Once it goes public, the people will determine if it was over or under-valued.

Vegas and the offshore world come up with an opening line. It’s a calculation. Sure, it’s done by the smartest sports betting minds in the business, but it is a calculation nonetheless. And it’s up to the public to verify whether or not it was a good line. If the game gets a relatively even spread of action, it was a good spread. But if a bunch of money comes in on one side, the line will begin to move.

Line movement occurs when a bunch of money comes in on one side, or if the “smart money” is all going to one side. The market basically rejected the opening line. The early money came in on one side, forcing the bookie to make the other side more appetizing. And remember, they set the line already knowing where the money would go. If the Patriots are playing the Bills, the book knows the Patriots will just naturally attract more action. So the bet is already skewed a tick in the Bills favor. If a bunch of New England money comes in, you could find some good value on Buffalo.

Another consideration is when that opening line opens up on a key number like 3. Now you need to take a close look. If you are inclined to take a certain team, you might want to jump on it before it moves. In one way, it’s important to consider the dynamic of the match-up. If Dallas is -3 against the Panthers, you could assume if a big influx of money comes it--it will probably be on the more-followed and adored Cowboys.

Little things can happen during the week that shift that number to the wrong side, regardless of who the marquee team is. If you wanted to take the Panthers at home at +3 and Tony Romo gets downgraded from probable to questionable--that number could drop to +2.5, putting you on the wrong side of the hook. So when the opening line comes out on a game where you have an inkling, consider which side of the line is more vulnerable to being affected by outstanding variables that unfold during the week.

When betting totals, there are weather issues that can pop up during the week that force the bookies to reconsider the line. You can sometimes preempt the line moving the wrong way. If you’re going to take the under in a region normally known for cold weather, don’t wait for the blizzard to come through before making the bet. If the weather is unseasonably good, it isn’t going to get any better. The number can only go down, making your under bet harder to win.

One of the cool tools at your disposal when using online books is the ability to view line history. You can see how the spread or total changed during the week. It can offer you information and let you know if you’re getting a good deal. If Denver opened up at -3 against Oakland and the game ended up as a pick-’em, that means an awful lot of people liked Denver and the line needed to be moved drastically to balance the action. If you were thinking of taking Denver, you would be doing so realizing you are getting awful value, considering you could have had three points more on the spread earlier in the week.

NFL football is a sport where the line will move. A lot of action is coming in on games, especially late. A lot of people have driven out to Las Vegas to bet on what they thought was a “lock,” only to realize the original line has moved considerably. A +4.5 can easily become a +2.5 by the time all the bets pour in. A little insight into the nuances of lines can keep you a step ahead of the masses.

Tips to Betting Line Moves

One of the most common questions we receive is how to determine if a line move is due to wiseguy plays or public money. As a general rule of thumb, one can go to and check out the consensus to see how the public is betting a game. If a line is moving and 60% or more are on that side, it's likely public money driving the line up.

If a line is dropping and there's 40% or less on the team or total in question, it's almost certainly sharp action driving the move.

Lastly, sharps/squares can end up on the same side, but it's not a common occurence.

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