Gambling on the NFL is big business, especially after a 2018 Supreme Court decision striking down a federal ban on sports betting. Recent estimates suggest that as many as 46.6 million people will place a bet on the NFL this year, representing nearly one out of every five Americans of legal gambling age. As a result, there's been an explosion in sports betting content, most of which promises to make you a more profitable bettor. Given that backdrop, it can be hard to know who to trust.
Fortunately, you can trust me when I promise that I'm not going to make you a more profitable sports bettor. And neither will any of those other columns. It's essentially impossible for any written column to do so, for a number of reasons I detailed here. (I'm not saying it's impossible to be profitable betting on the NFL, just that it's impossible to get there thanks to a weekly picks column.)
This column's animating philosophy is not to make betting more profitable but to make betting more entertaining. And maybe along the way, we can make it a bit less unprofitable in the process, discussing how to find bets where the house's edge is smaller, how to manage your bankroll, and how to dramatically increase your return on investment in any family or office pick pools (because Dave in HR and Sarah in accounting are much softer marks than Caesar's and MGM).
If that sounds interesting to you, feel free to join me as we discuss the weekly Odds and Ends.
Talking About Line Movement Again
When initial lines were posted for the championship games on Sunday night, the Chiefs opened as 1-point favorites against the Bengals. As the week wore on and pessimism about Patrick Mahomes II's health set in, the line moved. By Wednesday, the Bengals were 1.5-point favorites over the Chiefs. Then a video came out of Patrick Mahomes II working out and looking not quite as hobbled as initially feared, and the line moved back towards the Chiefs, who, at the time of writing, are back as 1-point favorites.
What lessons can we take away from this line movement? Absolutely nothing! The thing about each line is it is a snapshot, representing the best estimate of how the game will play out at that particular moment in time. As more bettors weigh in with their opinions and more news comes out, that line will move. But that movement is (for our purposes) random-- it is as likely to go in one direction as the other.
When the original line opened, it was as likely to move toward the Chiefs as it was toward the Bengals. After it moved toward the Bengals, it was as likely to swing back to the Chiefs as it was to continue trending toward Cincinnati. Now that it's back on the Chiefs, it's as likely to move back toward the Bengals as it is to widen further.
Obviously, not all of these bets are equally good. If you like the Chiefs, it's much better to get them at +1.5 than -1.0. If you prefer the Bengals, you'd rather have them +1.0 than -1.5. Some of these bets are better for you; some are worse.
But all of these bets were equally good at the time. Betting the Bengals -1.5 on Wednesday was as likely to pay off for you as betting the Chiefs at -1.0 on Friday.
This is kind of a weird realization. The Bengals can't simultaneously be 50/50 to win at both -1.5 and +1.0. But those odds weren't simultaneous. When you took the Bengals at -1.5, there were potential universes where the game looked better for them in the coming days and potential universes where the game looked worse. You were essentially placing two bets-- one on the game and one on the uncertainty in the lead-up to the game.
The first bet is still up in the air, but you already took a loss on the second. Had Mahomes been declared out, the Bengals would have been favored by even more. It looks like that possibility is now closed, so the price on the Bengals is updated to reflect the new range of possible outcomes.
An important distinction is that this only matters to lines that aren't simultaneous. This is why line shopping is a thing: if two different sites were offering Bengals +1.0 and Bengals -1.5 at the exact same time, one of those bets would have been significantly more likely to pay out than the other. But with ever-increasing processing speed, automated bettors are patrolling the sites so that when simultaneous discrepancies like that occur, they quickly get bet out of existence.
For us humans, there's not a lot we can do to take advantage of line movement. It's not a reliable indicator of which side will win the bet, and it's not an actionable arbitrage opportunity unless our past self already managed to bet the initial line before it moved.
So our official position is the same as our official position on everything related to betting the spread: don't sweat it.
Lines I'm Seeing
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