The betting world periodically posts a point spread that raises all sorts of eyebrows for casual sports fans but experienced gamblers barely flinch. Sunday's marquee NFL game has provided a quintessential example of this scenario.
The Dallas Cowboys are road favorites over the NFC's top-seeded Minnesota Vikings, who only have one loss and are coming off an impressive win at the Buffalo Bills. In fact, Minnesota is just the second 8-1 team since the merger to be a home underdog while still playing its regular quarterback.
The market is what it is. Opening point spreads are calculated with power ratings then adjusted as respected wagers are placed. But Minnesota still has its critics and is not considered among the league's elite teams.
"They are the Giants of the NFC North. They've very lucky," SuperBook head football oddsmaker Ed Salmons told ESPN, explaining how he would rate the Vikings behind about eight teams, if all rosters were fully healthy. "They are a soft team and can lose to anyone in the playoffs."
For decades, America's Team would draw an overwhelming amount of support from the betting public, and that would skew the odds. But that no longer influences the market. Dallas is a road favorite solely based on power ratings. In fact, since COVID-19 inhibited tourism, one oddsmaker explained that "square money is not anything near what it once was." There is "just way too much sharp money" to allow recreational money to influence the odds.
This situation screams of a Cowboys bet. We just witnessed a flat Green Bay Packers squad on Thursday night coming off a huge win the previous weekend. A similar performance by the Vikes would not surprise me. I have to pass. But under normal circumstances, I would absolutely bet on the Vikings; I think they are a legitimate contender.
The numbers you need to know
The Giants are tied for the NFL's best mark against the point spread. That 7-2 ATS record matches the Tennessee Titans, as they represent two of the most surprising starts we have witnessed so far. Somehow, the Giants are only a 3-point home favorite over the Lions. New York is my favorite play on the card. Detroit is coming off a strong showing with an upset over the Chicago Bears, but that was coach Dan Campbell's first road win. I don't think this team is capable of winning back-to-back away games.
Historical numbers also support this play. Since 2015, teams with at least seven wins have surpassed expectations (6-0-1 ATS) when facing a team with three or fewer wins. Disrespect the Giants at your own peril. I have backed them a few times this season and will do so again this Sunday.
Line move of the week
The NFL's decision to relocate the Bills' home game provided an intriguing betting twist. Due to a record-breaking snowstorm, the Bills will now face the Browns in Detroit. Since the market had already accounted for inclement weather in the original point spread, the Bills remained 8-point favorites even as the contest moved to a neutral site. However, since a dome provides pristine conditions, the total moved from about 42 to 50. A higher-scoring game offset the loss of home-field advantage, and the Bills remained a favorite of more than a touchdown.
This was a friendly reminder than home-field advantage is relative and does not impact the spread as drastically as one would imagine. The advantage ranges from .8 to 1.5 on the point spread. Key numbers obviously also play a big role in that equation.
It has been an interesting betting week that began with the league's lone remaining undefeated team suffering its first loss at home on "Monday Night Football." That Philadelphia Eagles' defeat initiated a line move and that was promptly followed by respected wagers against them. Philly opened as about a 10-point road favorite over the Indianapolis Colts, who are coming off a surprise win in Jeff Saturday's head-coaching debut. Respected money continued to back the Colts, driving the number all the way down to 6.5 points. That is a remarkable line move, and my sources confirmed it's been a wave of sharp money.
As is always the case, the profiling of bettors can be subjective and nuanced. Often respected wagers arrive on both sides of game. However, based on my intel, sharp wagers also arrived on the Los Angeles Chargers +6.5 and +6, Pittsburgh Steelers +4.5, Atlanta Falcons -3 and Los Angeles Rams +3 and +3.5.