“Handicapping into buckets” is something I practice on a weekly basis. The five buckets I handicap into are:
When I want to know more about a line move, I handicap from different singular viewpoints to see what type of bettor is moving the line move.
Putting a who to the market change allows me to weight the opinion and go much deeper than the typical “sharp or square”.
Where’s This Move On The Vikings Coming From?
This way of thinking is especially useful in a market like Minnesota vs New England this Sunday.
The general mindset of bettors is any move that goes against New England is sharp, and many get weary when the price starts to dip. The rationale is understandable.
New England represents a substantial liability for bookmakers on nearly a weekly basis. If bookmakers are lowering their price, someone must know something…
While it is not a poor way to think, the assumption is so broad that it can often be misleading.
The Patriots opened this past Sunday night as -6 point favourites consensus across the board and as high as -7 (+120 or 2.20). Early on Tuesday morning, the price dropped to -4.5 for a few minutes and has since settled in at -5 or -5.5, a full point less than open.
Early betting figures show that the Patriots are a small to medium sized liability for bookmakers. Curious about the move, I did some digging. Here is the process I followed.
The look-ahead price before last Sunday was New England -6. The price opened -6, so no adjustment was made initially after both teams won and covered. The initial line movement was New England from -6 to New England -6.5 on Sunday night. There was no buyback on the number for almost an entire day before settling in at -6 on Monday evening.
The initial move was met with stability, and there was no buyback.
I do not look at this as someone working the price up because the number held. If you are working a price up, you take the price you want immediately after the movement.
The way to spot this is by looking at movement timestamps. If it is a move one way met by an immediate move the other way, the singles someone working the market.
In this case, the bulk move came on Tuesday evening from -6 to -4.5. The last official team news before the move released by New England was Rex Burkhead coming off of IR and returning to the team 30 minutes before the line move. Obviously, a good player coming back to the team is no reason to move the price down.
News of Tom Brady being limited in practice was released Wednesday afternoon, several hours after the move, but Brady not being a full participant at practice is not unusual nor is he expected to miss the game. Doesn’t appear to be someone in the know.
All other news points to Gronkowski and Edelman practising in full. On the Vikings side, the only report released before the move was Andrew Sendejo being put on IR and Xavier Rhodes injury being mild – which both came one day before the move. I can rule out informational handicapping being responsible for the move.
I can also rule out recreational handicapping ruling out the move.
The liability side for bookmakers is New England, and no network has been stomping on the Patriots after winning 7 of their last 8. The Vikings did win on national television, but the look ahead and reopen were the same price.
Situational handicapping edges New England’s way as well. The Vikings played a critical divisional game to keep their season alive against the rival Packers on Sunday Night Football and now fly to New England to play the Patriots on a shorter than usual prep week. New England had a comfortable win against the Jets coming out of their bye, and undoubtedly the coaching staff put a little bit of prep time during the extra week into this crucial game against Minnesota.
I can rule out situational handicapping.
That leaves statistical handicapping vs analytical handicapping.
Removing The Noise
My best guess for the move is that it came from a bettor or group of bettors who are very statistical based.
Despite sitting 8-3 on the year, the Patriots are actually pretty average. They have played the fourth easiest schedule of opposing defenses, but only gained 108% of the average opponent allowance (19th). Offensively they have declined the past four weeks dropping from 52% success rate passing to 47% and 53% success rate rushing to 50%. All of this has led to the Patriots being just +0.1 net yards per play this season, which ranks 14th in the NFL.
The Vikings, on the other hand, are trending up. They average 7.2 yards per attempt on offense and have called a successful pass play 58% of the time the last 3 weeks. Their 32nd ranked rush efficiency metric is the one stand out. The Vikings are +0.6 yards per play which rank them in the top third of the league. From a numbers only perspective, the Vikings are quite comparable to New England, and I could easily see the value in the statistical only side when getting 6 points – factoring in 3.5 to 4 points for New England home field.
Where I get interested in this game is removing the noise.
The core argument for the Patriots underperforming this year is their numbers vs an easy schedule. If their schedule is isolated to show numbers against only the top ten offenses and defenses, the picture looks much different.
New England has faced four Top 10 defenses in terms of efficiency, including games against #1, #2 and #4. In those four games, the Patriots scored 110 points, averaged 5.5 yards per play, and were successful on 50% of all plays – 8% more than their opponents’ average allowance. Three of the four games were on the road. The Vikings enter this game ranked 8th in defensive efficiency, lower than all four of those top opponents on the schedule.
New England has faced four offenses ranked in the top third of the league, including #1 and #5. Winning and covering three, and pushing a fourth. In those four games, New England held the opponents to 50% success rate passing and 56% success rate rushing. The collective successful pass rate of those opponents this season is 51%, and the collective rush rate is 54%. In the toughest four games, the New England defense held opponents to below average success passing and gave up 2% extra in passing.
From a matchup standpoint, this bodes well for the matchup.
Minnesota is the 4th most pass-happy team in the league, calling a pass play 66% of the time. Teams have had their most success offensively rushing the ball against New England. If the Vikings want to do so, they will have to put together a vastly different game plan on the road with short prep – something they tried to do in a similar spot at home on extended prep against New Orleans and failed miserably.
The Patriots have a couple great matchup advantages as well. The Patriots average 34 plays to running backs (rush or pass) per game. The Vikings despite ranking high in defense, are allowing 7.54 yards per pass play to opposing running backs.
The return of Rex Burkhead to the lineup gives Brady another weapon at running back and should open up up Brady’s favourite target, Rob Gronkowski at tight end, another spot where the Vikings are weak. Minnesota is allowing opponents to run a successful play to tight ends 61% of the time.
Mike Zimmer has faced off against opposing coaches in charge of teams with a top 15 offense – not named Mike McCarthy – just three times this season. In each of those three games, Zimmer was severely outcoached.
The Vikings wasted their entire game plan early in the first half against the Vikings, Saints and Bears.
In all three, they fell behind, trailed at the half and were forced into being one dimensional and could never come back. The fourth game is on Sundays, and I expect more of the same.
The Patriots play up to their competition, Zimmer gets outmatched by a tremendous offensive mind and the Patriots nickel and dime the Vikings to death leading to a win and a cover.
Keeping It Simple With The Steelers
In addition to the New England Patriots, I will also be backing the Pittsburgh Steelers -3. This line is too short, and the loss of Melvin Gordon combined with the incompetent coaching of Anthony Lynn makes this a must back spot out of principle. Period.
Sometimes, it is just this simple.
- Patriots -5 (1.96) risking 1.04x to win 1.00x
- Steelers -3 (1.81) risking 1.23x to win 1.00x
On this week’s NFL Podcast Nat Coombs is joined by debutant Nick Kostos, Mike Carlson and Sully to preview some of the stronger betting angles for Week 13. Listen below and search for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’ on your preferred podcasting app to subscribe.