Frequent readers of this blog may have heard me bang on about volatility before, and specifically the fact we underrate it. And NFL Week 3 only crystallized the point. Seven or eight underdogs won outright, depending on what line you grade the Vikings/Buccaneers and Colts/Browns. That means the + points were literally useless and you could have got some big pay-outs on teams like the Saints, Jets, and Bills.
Indeed research has shown that the points come into play on something like 17% of NFL games and that taking the moneyline instead of the points for 3 and 2.5 point underdogs is a historically a profitable proposition.
I’ve not seen any research for bigger underdogs, but I’m sure the long-term payoffs are similarly profitable in the long run because markets across all sports lean towards safer propositions.
There are studies in MLB showing that taking favourites -1.5 runs is more profitable than the moneyline, while legendary football bettor Tony Bloom is known for preferring bigger Asian handicaps where possible. “I believe in betting aggressively. And, occasionally, to win big, you have to risk losing,” he said.
The underpinning of this market inefficiency I believe is ‘loss aversion’. The term refers to an investor’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses more strongly than acquiring gains. Most studies suggest a loss is twice as powerful, psychologically, as an equal-sized gain.
So taking an underdog +3 points at 5/6 does indeed give you a greater chance of winning that bet than taking the +150 on the moneyline. Or to put another way, it reduces your chance of losing, so is the option we gravitate towards.
But the rewards for those willing to risk losses are there across all forms of investing, not just sports betting.
Studies have shown that investors trying to minimise their risk by only buying stock options rather than the stock itself have historically been less probable. In other words, people willing to risk the stock going down and losing money, ultimately profit more.
Anyway, in sports betting, it means take more underdogs on the moneyline and take alternate spreads on favourites to boost your odds.
The natural question then, is where we should be looking to do that this week?
The first selection is the New York Giants, available at around +150 at the time of writing. A lot of this pick is admittedly fading the Buccanneers, who I argued before the season were closer to an 8 win team than the 10 win team they were being hyped as. They’ve proved that through two weeks of the season ranking 20th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
What’s holding the team back is its defense, which is seriously banged up through just two weeks of the season.
Linebacker Lavonte David, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and pass rusher Noah Spence are among the key players with injuries, while defensive end Robert Ayers and cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Ryan Smith also missed portions of the loss to the Vikings.
On Sunday, the makeshift Tampa D was carved up by the Vikings and Case Keenum (!!) to the tune of 494 yards, at 7.2 yards per play. Now they face a Giants team that retains its elite defense from last year and finally looks passable on offense, with Odell Beckham nearing full health.
His presence opens up so many opportunities for the other receivers, and you saw it with Sterling Shepard taking a slant 76 yards to the house, and Brandon Marshall even getting involved with a couple of big catches.
With a healthy OBJ, this Giants team is a 9 or 10 win squad, while the line suggests they’re actually worse than the Buccaneers on a neutral, given that the Bucs historical home-field advantage is around two points.
I think the +150 should be closer to pick em and represents good value. On the same note, the Over 44 is a good bet, given the aforementioned Bucs injuries and the Giants improving offense.
Last Sunday the G Men also revved up the pace, going no-huddle on 37.5% of snaps and getting the ball out of Eli’s hands as quick as possible to try and help their woeful offensive line. It means they snapped the ball every 21.1 seconds, their quickest mark in two years, and if they keep it up Sunday, we will see a hell of a lot of plays and a good chance for more points.
The Falcons are soaring
The other team I’m looking to back Sunday is Atlanta. I have actually bet against the Falcons in all three games this season, convinced their historic offense would take a step back thanks to the coaching change and natural regression, given it was one of the all-time great offenses in terms of efficiency and yards per play.
However, the past two weeks have convinced me otherwise. The team is generating 6.5 yards per play through three games, down just a tick from the 6.7 it generated last year, and good for third in the league.
On Sunday, the Falcons absolutely destroyed the Lions in a way the final score didn’t reflect because Matt Ryan threw three interceptions. Two of these were tipped, and I’m happy to discount them and focus on the down-to-down efficiency.
The Falcons went for 6.6 yards a play while holding the Lions to 4.9, helping them overcome those turnovers. In fact teams with a turnover margin of +3 or better who don’t turn the ball over themselves, like the Lions, are 844-51 SU (94.3%) in modern NFL history. For Atlanta to win that game despite their mistakes speaks to their true dominance.
And now they face a Buffalo team which has played stout defense so far but has come up against an injured Cam Newton, Josh McCown and Trevor Siemian.
These matchups are crucial because it means the secondary, which is made up of entirely new acquisitions, has yet to be truly tested.
Rest assured it will be on Sunday.
In addition, out of conference road teams have historically been a poor betting proposition, with the motivation factor perhaps missing given the relative unimportance of those games to winning divisions.
In fact, teams have gone 3-8 ATS in that spot this season missing by 9 points on average. I suspect we could see a big score piled up by the Falcons, and in line with my earlier note on volatility, I’m backing the Falcons-9.5 at around 2.2.
Brad Allen will appear as an NFL panelist at this year’s Matchbook Traders Conference. Click here for more details