NFL wild-card contrarian betting system

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

As we head into the NFL playoffs, I want to thank our loyal readers for their support this year. Although betting against the public produced mixed results during the 2016 regular season, the postseason has historically created unique opportunities for our contrarian strategies. In fact, we're already off to a hot start, with our college football system matches posting a 10-6-1 record during bowl season.

If you're a frequent reader of this column, you know the team at Sports Insights tends to be oppositional to mainstream convention. We extract value by taking teams others won't and grabbing lines that have been artificially inflated based on public perception. By examining some of the top historical betting trends and identifying sharp money indicators, we inform bettors on how they can capitalize on these market overreactions. Whenever the public zigs, we zag.

Of course, the regular season and postseason are completely different beasts, and bettors can't always employ the same strategies. During the playoffs, the number of tickets placed on every game nearly doubles, with much of the action from square bettors. These recreational weekend warriors place wagers based on instinct and gut feelings rather than data and analysis.

In the past, we have stated that the value derived from betting against the public is directly correlated with the number of bets placed on each game. Contrary to popular belief, oddsmakers do not attempt to balance their book by attracting 50 percent of the action on each side. Instead, they shade their opening lines to capitalize on public perception and allow their sharpest bettors to shape the line. However, with this influx of money from casual bettors during the postseason, sportsbooks are increasingly willing to adjust their lines in order to encourage action on the unpopular side of a game and limit their exposure.

To learn more about how the handle changes between the regular season and playoffs, I spoke with Scott Cooley, an odds consultant from Bookmaker.eu.

"It does increase per game, but not as much as you might think," Cooley said. "On average the handle might be up 5-10 percent for a playoff game [compared with] that of a Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football game."

During the regular season, casual bettors overwhelmingly hammer the favorite, and oddsmakers adjust by shading their lines and forcing casual bettors to take bad numbers when they play the popular side of a game. This has historically created value on underdogs. However, that's not necessarily the case during the playoffs.

Since 2003, the underdog has received the majority of spread bets in less than 20 percent of regular-season games. However, underdogs have received the majority of bets in 42.7 percent of all playoff games. That's largely because casual bettors overvalue elite offenses and undervalue stout defenses.