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A guide to betting football Over/Unders

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

The challenges of betting football Over/Unders, plus slow starts in the SuperContest and an update on MLB Regular Season Win props right now in VSiN City.

Sports Betting: The challenges of betting Over/Unders in pro and college football
We’re devoting Wednesday’s to tutorials for various sports betting propositions. Last week we talked about basic strategy for two-team six-point teasers in the NFL. This week we’re going to focus on football Over/Unders.

First, a quick follow-up to last week’s teaser article. It’s always important to check with the house rules of your sports book whenever betting teasers. The general rule of thumb offshore is that you have to win BOTH parts of a two-team teaser to cash. 

  • If you win one half, but push the other, it’s a push and your bet gets refunded. 
  • If you lose one half, but push the other, it’s a loss because you didn’t win both halves.

In Nevada, stores including the South Point have friendlier rules on the loss-push combination. If you lose one half, but push the other…the bet is considered a push and is refunded. Last Friday, when talking about how New England’s loss killed a bunch of teasers, we should have mentioned that this was true offshore…but that there are Nevada sports books where you could still hope for a push that would “save” the teaser from being a loser. (Of course, if you had moved the line to one ending in a half-point, like -2.5 or plus 8.5, you had no chance to push and the Patriots loss had already killed your teaser). 

We apologize for not clarifying that rules quirk in our teaser tutorial.

Moving now to Over/Unders. These can be very tricky for casual bettors because they tend to bet with their gut instead of thinking through the process. Worse, they fall prey to the temptation to treat totals like roulette. If they see a team is playing some Overs…some will think that means you should “ride the Over streak,” while others think “Under is due, you’ve got to bet Under.” 

Playing that way doesn’t beat roulette. You can’t beat roulette without cheating because the payouts don’t reflect true odds, and the 0 and 00 create a high virtual “vigorish” that can’t be overcome. The approach won’t beat the 11/10 vigorish in sports betting either, particularly since the market tends to react quickly to publicly obvious tendencies. 

The key factors for finding vulnerable totals to bet are:

  • Evaluating the scoring skill sets of the offenses
  • Evaluating the point denial skill sets of the defenses
  • Evaluating the pace of the offenses
  • Evaluating the ability (or inability) of the offenses to run clock with a lead
  • Evaluating “game conditions” that will influence scoring (like weather, field surface)
  • Evaluating the market’s assessment of the game being considered

You can do a ton of work…determine that the Over/Under in a game should be 52, only to find out that the betting market is way ahead of you and already has the game in the 51-53 range. 

Generally speaking, the public devotes most of its efforts to studying offenses. They want to bet Overs anyway because it’s more fun to root for points than it is to bet Under and sweat every play wondering if you’re about to get burned with a long touchdown. If at least one team in a game has a great offense, the public wants to bet the Over. 

Not enough attention is paid to:

  • Defenses (particularly the ability of some defenses to force field goal attempts rather than allow touchdowns). Worse, if there’s a game that looks like it’s going to be a defensive struggle, the public will just “pass” rather than bet the Under. 
  • Pace or tempo, meaning the number of offensive plays that are likely to be run by each team. This is more important than ever in college football because so many teams are installing and running “fast break” spread attacks. To the degree it is considered, it encourages the love of Overs for too many casual bettors while ignoring Under potential in slower-paced games.
  • Running out the clock with a lead, which is part of how New England Patriots games went 6-10 to the Under last season even with a Hall of Fame quarterback leading a sharp offense to a 14-2 record. Offenses, particularly in the NFL, have become very savvy about “getting a game over with” when they have a big lead. This constantly provides great frustration for Over bettors. 
  • Weather, particularly wind. You’ve probably realized that Over/Unders often drop 2-3 points when there’s a strong chance of rain. Studies have shown that precipitation decreases scoring over the long haul. It’s not a 100% rule of thumb. More like a 55/45 rule, maybe 58/42. The problem is that too many people (particularly former coaches and players who are now sportscasters) remember the games where teams scored anyway thanks to cheap points and fluke plays…then try to tell you that rain helps scoring. Occasionally it does. More often it doesn’t. That’s why, for years, sharps have always pounded Unders when rain was in the forecast, and why oddsmakers will now move quickly (often “on air,” in anticipation of sharp action) to reduce totals in wet weather scenarios. Quants and other sharps don’t bet by anecdote. They study decades of results. Over/Unders drop on news of rain because of what was learned in those decades of study. 

Wind? Only recently has the market started paying more attention to this. You can make the case that it still hasn’t adjusted all the way. Some sharps will bet Unders hoping for 55/45 success whenever there’s a forecast for sustained winds of at least 10-15 mph…and particularly at forecasts for high gusts. Again, nothing is right all the time. But any stadium with swirling or gusty winds will wreak havoc on the passing game and on field goal attempts.  

If you want to add Over/Unders to your arsenal, either to increase your entertainment on recreational bets, or for investment purposes, it’s a good idea to mentally play the game out in your head to visualize how each team’s skill sets are likely to interact in that day’s environment. Quants, of course, have models that can do this thousands of times. The same principals of logic apply either way. 

You want to bet Overs when: the market hasn’t fully appreciated the scoring potential for these offenses…against these defenses…adjusted for likely pace…ideally in great scoring conditions…but accounting for the potential liability of the likely fourth quarter leader running out the clock with a scoreboard advantage.

You want to bet Unders when: the market hasn’t fully appreciated the scoring challenges for these offenses…against these defenses…adjusted for pace…accounting for the ability of the leader to run out the clock…ideally in game conditions that will hinder offenses even more. 

You don’t want to bet Over just because your initial gut reaction is that the game will be a shootout. The total in the NFL is probably at least 52-55 in that case, maybe 65-70-plus in the colleges. Most fans have the same gut reactions when high scoring teams play each other! Not much value there.

You also don’t want to have the mindset of “rules changes in the NFL have made it so easy for quarterbacks that you can’t even bet Unders.” You just saw a Sunday where 10 of the 12 games went Under, and it would have been a sweep if not for defensive points. The market knows about the rules changes. Besides, it’s possible to “help a quarterback” in a way that generates Unders if it’s helping him run clock with short passes that move the chains in the fourth quarter. 

Probably most importantly…have respect for the market instead of assuming that Over/Unders are soft. You can find winners. But by the time you’re betting, opening lines from experienced oddsmakers have been shaped by the sharpest influences in the market. Work hard to find a handful of edges, particularly in games where public mis-perceptions are having an undue influence on game-day prices. 

Westgate SuperContest: Tough week for the masses
So much for the wisdom of the crowds! Westgate SuperContest contestants largely took it on the chin in Week One NFL action. The combined record, according to the twitter account of Dave Tuley @ViewFromVegas, was 4999-7772-899, for just 39% against spreads that were posted last Wednesday. (Don’t forget to watch “My Guys in the Desert” today for all the Week 2 contest lines!)

Tuley also tweeted that only NINE contestants earned a perfect 5-0 mark, when the normal expectation “should be around 85” for a contest of this size. Nobody in the “winner take all” SuperContest “Gold” contest (with a higher $5,000 buy-in) managed a 5-0 record. (As you heard on VSiN programming over the weekend, one contestant was on location at the Westgate but forgot to turn in his picks by the deadline! Swallowing an 0-5 turned out to be not as damaging as expected for this tough week).

VSiN will be your mainstream media home for Westgate SuperContest(s) lines, consensus plays, and results all season long. Moving forward, we’ll likely be reporting on composite records better than 39%!

MLB: Who’s closing in on their Regular Season Win totals?
The lack of football on Wednesdays gives us a chance to check in on baseball. Let’s update how teams are performing in terms of reaching their Regular Season Win propositions that were posted at the South Point back in March. 

An interesting dynamic in 2017. Normally, the totals are about a half-a-win higher than they should be (on average) to create a house edge. That means Unders should offer a smidge of value. But a handful of teams are SO BAD, that we may have more than half the Majors topping their totals. 

Two winners already. Several more possibly within a week of getting there. Let’s take a look.

Already there:

  • Milwaukee (congrats Brewers backers!)
  • Arizona (great season D-backs!)

Within FIVE wins:

  • Minnesota (closing in imminently on 75.5 projected wins)
  • LA Dodgers (closing in imminently for TWO WEEKS on 94 projected wins)
  • Colorado (closing in imminently on passing 80 wins)
  • San Diego (closing in imminently on passing 66 wins)
  • Cleveland (aiming at 92.5 projected wins, this 20-game winning streak was timely!)
  • Washington (91 projected wins)
  • N.Y. Yankees (83 projected wins)
  • Houston (90 projected wins)
  • Kansas City (77 projected wins)

Anybody within five wins is a strong favorite to cash with everyone having two-and-a-half weeks of baseball left to play. Plus you see a lot of quality teams in that group who will be priced to soar past their totals on the daily money lines. The biggest surprise is San Diego. That projected “joke of a team” is knocking on the door very loudly. Shouldn’t be much of a sweat to see those nine join the prior two winners. 

Within SIX to TEN wins:

  • Boston (91.5 projected wins)
  • St. Louis (84 projected wins)
  • Baltimore (80.5 projected wins)
  • LA Angels (79 projected wins)
  • Tampa Bay (78.5 projected wins)
  • Miami (76 projected wins)
  • Cincinnati (70 projected wins)

Plenty of time, too, for all of these teams to make it. Obviously, there are some sub-par squads in the mix, which means playing .500 ball the rest of the way is far from certain. We’re likely to have some drama in the final week for that select seven.

Need to get hot:

  • Texas (84.5 projected wins)
  • Atlanta (75 projected wins)
  • Oakland (74.5 projected wins)
  • Chicago White Sox (70 projected wins)

Those four teams are double digits away with less than 20 games to go. Not likely to see any great runs. Though, Texas still has reason to keep battling for a shot at an AL Wildcard.

Need a miracle:

  • Chicago Cubs (must finish 18-0 to pass 95.5 wins)
  • Philadelphia Phillies (must finish 18-0 to push at 73 wins)
  • Seattle (86 projected wins)
  • Pittsburgh (82 projected wins)

Unless either of the last two turns into the Cleveland Indians overnight, no real shot. 

Can’t get there from here (already losers):

  • NY Mets can’t make it anywhere near 89 wins (and a projected NL Wildcard)
  • San Francisco will finish disastrously below 88.5 wins (and a projected NL Wildcard)
  • Toronto can’t make it past 85.5 wins (and a projected AL Wildcard)
  • Detroit can’t make it past 82.5 wins

It’s all of the losses by these teams that are helping shoot so many others up to cash-in territory. 

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Back Thursday to preview the NFL matchup featuring the Houston Texans at the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati has already shot from -4 up to -6 or -6.5 as of Tuesday evening. Not much market faith in Deshaun Watson in his road opener. Both teams are hoping to bounce back from horrible offensive performances in Week One losses. More on that the next time you’re in VSiN City!

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