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Sometimes silence in a betting market speaks volumes

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

The complicated keys to interpreting Thursday night’s Rams/Niners game involve what “isn’t” happening in the market…and what “isn’t” shown in early season stats.

NFL Marketplace: Rams sitting at -2.5 for so long tells you a lot about sharp assessment 
This is going to come up often during the college and pro football seasons. Great that we can talk about it in depth for a weeknight game. 

We talked about key numbers in our Wednesday tutorial. Sharps (professional wagerers) know all about the frequency of key numbers and how to apply them. If you see a game that’s settled at widely available lines a half-point BELOW a key number…meaning a favorite by 2.5, or 6.5, or 9.5 (a half-point below 3, 7, or 10)…that’s very clear evidence that sharps DON’T like the favorite. They would have jumped all over the favorite at those widely available prices because of the power of key numbers. They didn’t jump! 

That means it’s either dog or pass for the most respected influencers in the market, whether you’re talking pro or college football. 

As we discussed in our NFL teaser tutorial a couple of weeks ago, a widely settled line at plus 2.5 in pro football will see sharps moving the underdog up to plus 8.5 in two-team six-point teasers. That’s very likely to be the case with Niners/Rams. 

What is ALSO means is that any line move generated from public action up to -3 would bring a flood of sharp money on the underdog. If a dog is a pass at plus 2.5, it’s very likely a play at plus 3. Why? Let’s imagine some percentages. This may or may not be close to what the quants are getting with their math. We’ll use it for illustration purposes.

Dog side of plus 2.5: 51%
Exactly “Favorite by 3: 6%
Favorite by 4 or more: 43%

At the line of 2.5, we see 51% for the dog, and 49% for the favorite. No value there because the wins don’t cover the 10% vigorish on the losses. If our math represented “true likelihoods,” you’d lose over time betting either way

But should the line move to the three, suddenly it’s 51% to 43% for the dog with our example of a 6% push rate. That IS a play. In fact, it’s a pretty strong play in such a liquid market. You’re well clear of the 10% vigorish.

Other examples from this week’s schedule as we get ready to publish:
Tennessee is -2.5 vs. Seattle in the NFL (some stores are testing -3)
Duke is -2.5 at North Carolina Saturday in the colleges
Florida is -2.5 at Kentucky
Eastern Michigan is -2 or -2.5 vs. Ohio
Tulane is -2.5 vs. Army
Texas A&M is -2.5 vs. Arkansas

In all of those examples of settled widely available lines, we can assume that sharps don’t want the favorite or their money would already be in. We can also assume they’re looking to take the dogs at plus 3 or better if public money between now and kickoff moves the lines higher. 

Very important to remember that the key to reading the football market is often interpreting what HASN’T happened around key numbers. Sharps are actually showing their cards by not reaching for their wallets.

NFL: How to handle key stats when handicapping Thursday’s Rams/Niners game
Now we put on our handicapping caps. We know what the sharpest elements of the market are thinking. Can we find any edges they might have missed in some key stats?

LA Rams (1-1) at San Francisco (0-2)

  • Las Vegas Line: LA Rams by 2.5, total of 39.5
  • Estimated Market Power Ratings: LA Rams 76, San Francisco 71  

Both teams are 1-1 against the spread, which makes it difficult to get any confident reads. The Rams were a pleasant surprise in their season opener vs. Indianapolis, but a disappointment the next week vs. Washington. San Francisco looked helpless vs. Carolina, who then looked awful offensively vs. Buffalo. But, the Niners almost upset Seattle as a double-digit underdog the very next week on the road at a tough site. 

Key Passing Stats 

  • LA Rams: 10.3 yards-per-pass attempt, 2 TD’s, 1 interceptions thrown
  • San Francisco: 4.7 yards-per-pass attempt, 0 TD’s, 2 interceptions thrown

Two weeks into a new season, what “isn’t” in the stats includes the caliber of opposition…the home road split…the relative health of the teams involved, and myriad other issues. So handicappers can’t really place too much weight on in-season stats right now. Those passing numbers above do align with general perceptions that:

  • Jared Goff will be able to throw successfully downfield
  • Jared Goff will likely improve this season (maturity and new coach)
  • San Francisco emphasizes dinks and dinks
  • San Francisco may have a really terrible passing offense this season. 

Those are extreme stats though. Nobody is good enough to top 10 yards-per-pass-attempt for a season. You wouldn’t expect any team to be as bad in the air over a full season as the Niners have been so far. 

Complicating matters…

  • The Rams haven’t played a road game yet
  • The Rams played one laughingstock, and possibly another non-playoff team
  • The Niners look to have run into two very good defenses out of the gate

Honestly, the Rams may end up having a sub-par passing offense this season…but it’s been hidden by a friendly early schedule. San Francisco will probably struggle, but who knows what they might accomplish vs. less aggressive defenses?

Impact Defense 

  • LA Rams: 22% third down pct-allowed, 3 takeaways, 6 sacks
  • San Francisco: 47% third down pct-allowed, 2 takeaways, 3 sacks

Whoa…the Rams look like a defensive JUGGERNAUT thanks to facing Scott Tolzien, and to a lesser extent Kirk Cousins. San Francisco may be waving a red flag at us. Though they’ve only allowed 4.2 yards-per-play…the Niners let two struggling offensive opponents move the chains at an alarming clip. And SF had a poor defense last season.

To the degree we might be able to find something the market is missing…it could be that an improved Jared Goff is about to face a defense that may not be as good as it looked against opponents struggling to protect their quarterbacks. Plus Cam Newton still doesn’t appear to have full shoulder strength, which was likely an issue in that Panthers/Niners season opener. It can’t hurt that the Niners are more likely to be physically and emotionally drained from that last week’s loss. 

Maybe…all the “stat clouds” are disguising what’s about to be a statement performance from Goff. The market only thinks that’s enough for a tight win. 

Westgate SuperContest: Oddsmakers cognizant of sharp influences here as well!
If you’ve been watching our broadcasts the past three Wednesdays from the Westgate, announcing the official NFL contest lines for the most prestigious handicapping competition in the world, you’ve heard the sports book's oddsmakers talking often to Brent Musburger about how sharps are likely to bet the games. 

That might strike you as odd because there’s no reason for a sports book to “guard” against the sharps in a contest. All the money is already in! What’s actually happening is that the Westgate oddsmakers are trying to anticipate what the lines are going to be over the weekend once sharp influences have been accounted for. This provides a true test for entrants. It’s impossible to avoid “stale” lines entirely because injury news or other personnel developments could hit the headlines Thursday, Friday, or Saturday morning. Ideally, the Westgate wants this to be a “handicapping” contest, not a “finding stale lines” contest. Anticipating sharp action helps achieve that.

Jeff Sherman of the Westgate told VSiN City Wednesday evening “We do the numbers in the SuperContest as we would book the games.”

  • LA Rams -2.5 at San Francisco (Thursday)
  • Baltimore -3.5 vs Jacksonville (in London, England)
  • Cleveland -1 at Indianapolis
  • Pittsburgh -7 at Chicago
  • Miami -6 at the NY Jets
  • Denver -3 at Buffalo
  • New England -13.5 vs. Houston
  • Carolina -5.5 vs. New Orleans
  • Tampa Bay -3 at Minnesota
  • Atlanta -3 at Detroit
  • Philadelphia -6 vs. NY Giants
  • Tennessee -3 vs. Seattle
  • Kansas City -3 at the LA Chargers
  • Green Bay -8.5 vs. Cincinnati
  • Oakland -3 at Washington
  • Dallas -3 at Arizona (Monday Night)

Contestants must pick their best FIVE against those numbers. Any contestant who wants to include the Thursday nighter featuring the Rams and Niners must turn in ALL FIVE picks before that kickoff. 

Fully NINE of this week’s 16 games are within half-a-point of -3. Only one features a home favorite (Tennessee vs. Seattle). Seven are road favorites, plus Baltimore is a neutral site favorite over Jacksonville overseas.

You’ll note that there’s a line in Tampa Bay/Minnesota even though the regular board doesn’t have one up yet. Sports books are waiting to see if Sam Bradford will get the start this week after missing this past Sunday with a knee injury. If he can’t go, Case Keenum is expected to get the start. You heard on “My Guys in the Desert” Wednesday that the Westgate has priced this game on the assumption that Keenum will get the nod. That’s why the visitor is laying a field goal.  

MLB: Brewers could reach out and touch the Wildcard…but dropped the ball
When the Colorado Rockies lost 4-0 to the San Francisco Giants Wednesday afternoon, that opened the door for the Milwaukee Brewers to climb into a tie for the second and final NL Wildcard spot with a win in Pittsburgh. Milwaukee led 2-0 midway through the third, and 4-3 midway through the seventh and eighth. But the Brew Crew eventually fell short in a 6-4 walk-off loss. 

NL Wildcard Race
Colorado 82-70
Milwaukee 81-71
St. Louis 79-72

It’s still just a one-game lead for the Rockies, with St. Louis also breathing down their necks. Both of those NL Central divisional teams have a chance to chase down the Chicago Cubs, too. Chicago lost 8-1 Wednesday night at Tampa Bay

NL Central Race
Chicago Cubs 84-67
Milwaukee 81-71
St. Louis 79-72


Games Remaining
Colorado: at San Diego (4), vs. Miami (3), vs, LA Dodgers (3)
Milwaukee: vs. Chicago Cubs (4), vs. Cincinnati (3), at St. Louis (3)
St. Louis: at Cincinnati (1), at Pittsburgh (3), vs. Chicago Cubs (4), vs. Milwaukee (3)
Chicago Cubs: at Milwaukee (4), at St. Louis (4), vs. Cincinnati (3)

Wow…both the Brewers and Cards have some control over their destiny because of those four-game home sets coming up with the Cubs. But beating the Cubs also helps out the other chaser! Colorado will be rooting hard for the Cubs over the next week, as the Rockies try to take care of business against a friendly schedule that might include “lame duck” efforts from the Dodgers if LAD has nothing to play for. 

Needless to say, the Cubs/Brewers series that starts Thursday is going to be huge. Here’s a look at xFIP stats for the probable starting pitchers (that’s a fielding-independent stat created to fit on the same scale as ERA, but with better descriptive and predictive value…you can find it easily at fangraphs.com).

  • Thursday: Arrieta (4.05 xFIP) vs. Davies (4.34 xFIP)
  • Friday: Lackey (4.57 xFIP) vs. Woodruff (4.35 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Hendricks (3.93 xFIP) vs. Suter (4.17 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Quintana (3.28 xFIP) vs. Anderson (4.51 xFIP)

Arrieta is -140 over Davies on the early line for Thursday’s series opener, with an Over/Under of 8 (Over -120). 

The Cubs have had the better offense this season according to weighted-runs-created-plus, which is adjusted for ballpark influences. They also have the better bullpen xFIP. That didn’t help them when they got swept at home by the Brewers several days ago!

Chicago’s playoff plans are very much in limbo with eight remaining road games vs. rivals trying to chase them down, and only three remaining home games. Colorado is currently in a tighter race for its playoff spot, but has a 6-4 home/road split against mostly less dangerous opponents. 

Back with you Friday to run the key stats from Rams/Niners and talk about weekend football. If you haven’t already signed up for this FREE VSiN City weekday newsletter, you can do that by clicking here. Subscribers also get access to those very handy and easy-to-use betting sheets from the South Point.

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