Two of Saturday’s high-profile NFL games have been sitting all week on the tricky point spread of 6.5.
New England has been -6.5 over AFC East rival Buffalo in a game with important seeding ramifications in the playoff picture (4:30 p.m., NFL Network). San Francisco has been -6.5 over NFC West rival Los Angeles, with a 49ers win eliminating the Rams from postseason possibilities (8:15 p.m., NFL Network).
Why is a long-settled 6.5 tricky? Market observers can safely deduce that sharps don’t like the favorite at that price. If sharps wanted chalk, the game would have moved to 7 very quickly. But professional bettors don’t want the Patriots or the 49ers at -6.5. If you want to lay the points, you’re bucking the most informed influences in the marketplace.
There’s an old quip about Texas Hold-em that goes something like this: “Before the flop, there are only three ways to play pocket jacks — and they’re all wrong!”
You can’t fold pocket jacks; that’s one of the strongest possible starting hands. But if you limp with them, you’re allowing way too many weaker hands to come in and catch up on the flop. If you raise, the only callers will be hands better than pocket jacks or combos that play well against them.
Recreational bettors who love rooting for favorites face a similar quandary with a settled 6.5:
— Laying a stale 6.5 points isn’t a good play. Sharp inaction is warning you loud and clear.
— Teasing the game six points down to -0.5 feels smart because you’re only asking the favorite to win straight up. But you must be dealing with an unreliable favorite or a dangerous dog. Oakland lost outright at this price to Jacksonville last week. You probably watched Dallas lose to Buffalo on Thanksgiving at that spread. The no-juice money line suggests a straight-up win percentage at 73%. All teaser legs have to hit to cash a ticket.
— Using the favorite in a money-line parlay is a different ill-advised tactic for the same thought process. Favorites of this size lose too often to justify the strategy. All parlay legs have to hit to cash a ticket.
What’s “the right” way to play a long-settled line of 6.5?
— Sharps give the public a chance to drive the line to -7 on game day, where wise guys can come in very hard on the underdog.
— Sharps often settle for the dog at 6.5 if it’s clear that’s the best they’re going to get. If they made the line 5, 5.5 or 6, there’s still enough value for a token investment.
— Sharps may consider the underdog on the money line at 240 to 250 if their modeling suggests a wide volatility of potential results.
— And, of course, sharps will just pass the game if they believe 6.5 is the right number.
Two inverted skill sets for advancing from square to sharp: learn how to evaluate what isn’t happening in the market — and develop the discipline not to bet.