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Meaningless games? Not to NFL bettors

(To view the chart accompanying this report, subscribe to Point Spread Weekly)

At the end of every NFL regular season, there are games in which one team, having clinched its playoff position, decides to rest its starters. Some teams sit their studs completely while others seek to keep them in sync by having them play a quarter or two. Making matters worse, a recent trend has seen teams that are eliminated from the postseason resting key players in order to preserve their health. Despite this uncertainty, and the difficulty that comes with handicapping teams that aren’t at full strength, many bettors have trouble staying away from these games. They figure that with lines so far out of whack, oddsmakers must be making a mistake. Hats off to those bettors, as I will illustrate that these games have proved to hold a ton of value.

In recent years there have been as many as six of these games in Week 17. Last year there were four. The rule of thumb is that if the line looks very abnormal or it moves significantly throughout the week, you can figure that the coach of the playoff-bound team has indicated he will rest at least some of his starters. Those are the two giveaways — unusual line or line moving rapidly. The trickiest spot is when a team’s playoff prospects are affected by an early game result and they play late. These lines can change dramatically as playoff scenarios play out. Out of the four games that qualified as “resting starters” games last year, three saw a line move of 7.5 points or more.

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