The calendar has turned to October, and many football fans and handicappers feel they now have a decent sense of each team. Their opinions and assessments reflect confidence, and bettors seem rather comfortable. Expanding on that premise, we can now start to draw conclusions from certain trends, even after just four weeks.
Professional bettors and oddsmakers all lean on power ratings and tweak their numbers accordingly. "My handicapping is way more focused on what these teams are now," professional bettor Erin Rynning told ESPN, sharing how much he weighs previous seasons. "But there's a certain baseline built into my number based off last year's numbers to a significant degree."
One Sunday matchup does highlight this concept and theoretically presents enormous line value, depending on whether you believe four weeks is a sufficient sample size.
The numbers you need to know
The Philadelphia Eagles have performed better than every other team in the first half, while no team has performed more poorly than the Arizona Cardinals. Philly leads the NFL in first-half scoring and time of possession, while the Cardinals rank in the bottom four of those two categories. In terms of point differential, Philly is tops and Arizona is the league's worst. In each of the previous three seasons since Kyler Murray was drafted and became the starting QB, the Cardinals have ranked in the middle of the pack in first-half scoring. This first month could certainly be an outlier, but there's no denying that Philly now has a potent offense that is far superior to last year's. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has steadily improved and is a legitimate MVP candidate. Thus, it's fairly illogical to incorporate previous seasons.
Oddsmakers determine first-half point spreads once they finalize the odds for the full game. It's essentially clockwork, and they do not set the odds in a vacuum. So if an NFL team is a 5- or 5.5-point favorite like the Eagles are, then the first-half line is 3 points. That's been the case for all three such scenarios so far this season.
I do believe the first four weeks provide enough actionable data points. And I imagine we can all formulate narratives that explain the statistics. Perhaps Philly's offense is just so unique that it requires an adjustment period, even for teams that seemingly prepared all week. And anyone who's watched the Cardinals can sense tension or a lack of chemistry. Regardless of the reasons for these trends, I am backing Philly in the first half as my top play.
It's not often I run to the window to bet a third-string quarterback, but this coaching matchup is way too desirable. 70-year-old Bill Belichick is still capable of wizardry and will likely push enough right buttons with Bailey Zappe, who is expected to start. I do like Detroit's Dan Campbell, but he finds his way into head-scratching decisions. I expected Jared Goff to struggle yet again with Belichick, who held Goff's Rams without a TD in the Super Bowl in 2019. Plus, the Lions are still nursing key injuries: D'Andre Swift is out, and Amon-Ra St. Brown is listed as questionable.
Line move of the week
Occasionally we see what is affectionately called reverse-line movement. This occurs when an overwhelming amount of money is wagered on one side of a game but the line moves in the other direction. That's an indication of respected money solely dictating the point spread, regardless of the masses.
We have such a situation in the nation's capital. The Titans were as high as 2.5-point road favorites throughout the week, and despite the overwhelming amount of action on Tennessee, the line has ticked down to PK. All this resonates when you learn that, for example, Caesars Sportsbook has seen 84% of all wagers on this point spread on the Titans.
As I try to communicate every week, there are different tiers of sharp bettors. Sportsbooks categorize them by profiling their betting behavior, thanks to technology. In fact, respected money can end up on both sides of a game. But I try to sift through all the information while bothering my contacts to weed out some of the noise. And remember, their wagers dictate the market, so the numbers they bet are typically unavailable at this point. From a consensus standpoint, sharp money is on the Texans +7, Dolphins -3, Patriots -3, Commanders +2, Browns +2.5 and Raiders +7.
Teasers are a popular option for many bettors. They feel like a parlay by providing action on multiple games, and there's even added excitement by adjusting the line in your favor. Now, the payouts are far less than parlays, but getting to significantly move a point spread is the tradeoff.
A popular teaser on Sunday will be the two-leg, six-point option with the Packers and Vikings. That means you can adjust Green Bay to a 2-point favorite and Minnesota laying 1.5 points. The rationale is moving the point spread through key numbers of seven, six and three points. And the juice is in the neighborhood of -130. I also will partake in this teaser, starting the morning early with action in London.