Winning in the NFL requires new betting rules

Sep 15, 2015 3:10 AM

When I first moved to Las Vegas just prior to the 1998 football season, I was not an experienced, seasoned bettor.

There was a ton to learn, and for my first few years in town I made sure to consume every bit of handicapping material I could find, primarily through books, newsletters and radio. And just about all of that source material referenced some key NFL concepts for winning.

“Don’t play road favorites; they’re a low expectation wager.”

“Week 1 in the NFL is the lowest scoring week until the cold weather hits – look for Unders, especially with the highest totals.”

“Beware the public teams; you’re laying a premium price to support them.”

“There’s more value in underdogs than in favorites.”

“The key numbers of ‘3’ and ‘7’ are crucial to have working in your favor.”

The betting marketplace has changed to a level that in some ways is nearly unrecognizable from the late ‘90’s. And the old “sharp betting mantras” haven’t been updated for the modern era, in part, because the changes have come so quickly and been so significant any database sample is inherently flawed; using results from a bygone era.

Beating the NFL in 2015 is, quite simply, a different animal compared to what it was two decades ago. The era where bettors could simply fade the public, shop for good numbers around 3 and 7, support “live” home underdogs and expect a consistently profitable result are a long way in the rear view mirror now.

The public is bigger now, and much better informed. Recreational bettors see point spreads casually displayed on ESPN in the modern era, and that website is loaded with betting previews from respected pros. In other words, basic betting info is widely disseminated in 2015 in a way that it wasn’t two decades ago.

The result is many “square” bettors now are at least somewhat better informed than they were, and those recreational players have at least a fighting chance to win.

The NFL has been tweaking their rules on an annual basis. This year, it’s the extra point changes; devaluing those key numbers of “3” and “7” (although how much those numbers are actually going to be devalued has yet to be determined by any database – we’ve only seen one week of regular season action under the current rules).

Last year, the NFL tweaked their pass interference rules, continuing a prevailing trend toward more offense and less defense while making it virtually impossible to shut down the elite level passing games. The end result is the five highest scoring years in NFL history have come in the last five seasons.

One week is not a full season, but the first week of the 2015 NFL season was an absolute disaster for bookmakers around town. The sharp bettors did just fine; taking advantage of bets they were able to make over the summer months at good numbers. The spring/summer betting marketplace for the NFL didn’t really exist two decades ago, other than for future book wagers. In the modern era, it has left books that cater to the pros facing liabilities from lines posted months ago.

Sharp bettors laid 4.5 and 5 with the Packers against Chicago over the summer. They laid -2 and -2.5 with Miami at Washington. They laid -3 with the Jets, bet the Broncos- Ravens total from 52 down to 46.5. These were lines that were nowhere to be seen by kickoff.

Getting those good numbers ensured that Week 1 was not a disaster for many pros, even on a week where the public enjoyed a huge payday.

In “standard” cases when the public enjoys a big weekend, many books are fine because the wiseguys got hammered. That wasn’t the case in Week 1, especially with the Patriots-Steelers last Thursday landing right on the final point spread of 7. When games land right on a number that’s been bouncing around, like the Pats-Steelers point spread did all summer, it’s generally a good thing for the pros.

And then the opening Sunday results came in. Two games closed right around pick ’em, and sharp bettors won them both. KC took a ton of money against Houston going from underdogs to pick ’em or -1 in some spots, and the Chiefs cruised to victory.

Also, the wiseguys were betting the Bills like they already knew the final score. All that Buffalo money, too, went into the pockets of the pros.

Five road favorites at kickoff wound up going 4-1 ATS as the Packers, Dolphins, Panthers and Bengals all cashed. The lone loser was the Seahawks’ OT loss in St. Louis. In fact, favorites went 8-3 ATS through the end of Sunday, discounting the Pats-Steelers push and the two games that closed right around pick ’em.

Just about every “bottom feeder” team the public loves to fade – Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Jacksonville, Oakland, Tampa Bay – failed to step up as “live” dogs, all losing SU and ATS.

Throw in a 9-4 mark to the OVER and you can understand why the results on the opening Sunday of NFL action were truly disastrous for the books.

The quote in David Purdum’s article on ESPNChalk from Westgate Superbook Director Jay Kornegay: “I don’t remember a worse opening Sunday.” Jay was already in town, making book, when I arrived in ’98.

It’s not an easy time to be a bookmaker. Books, too, are trying to find their way in a new era, because their historical database results aren’t worth all that much in 2015. Sharp bettors aren’t going away, and recreational bettors are capable of winning in the current marketplace.

Bookmakers face renewed competition from fantasy sites that have now gone mainstream, as clearly evidenced by the fact nearly every commercial break on Sunday featured an ad for FanDuel or Draft Kings. Bookmakers have bosses who are rarely pleased with losing results in any portion of their casino; a potentially stressful situation following their Week 1 bloodbath.

As for bettors, it’s long past time to throw away many of the mantras described in the opening paragraphs above. Marketplace changes require flexibility in savvy bettors’ respective thought processes. Those who don’t accept and embrace those changes will be left fighting an uphill battle to produce sports betting profits.

Find Teddy at and follow him on Twitter @teddy_covers. Email: [email protected].