How many times has the team you wagered on staked out a decent lead, only to let it slip away in the second half? Fans of the Bears (led 20-0 but lost 29-23) and Titans (led 21-7 but lost 31-28) and to a lesser extent the Vikings, Seahawks and Chiefs understood your pain this weekend. If you have never tried betting on First Half lines you are missing a valuable tool from your wagering arsenal. That is the topic for this week’s column. I will focus on the NFL for today but please note that most of what you read today will be directly applicable to college football as well.
Books offer first half wagering for the simple purpose of increasing handle. The more you bet, the more (hopefully) the book earns. There is not much secret in how First Half lines are derived – generally it just the pointspread for the game cut in half with a half-point to full-point adjustment against the favorite. For example, the Sunday Night Falcons-Bengals game had a pointspread of –7.5 and a First Half spread of –4 or –4.5. There is usually a bias against the favorite team because bettors tend to prefer them in the First Half as perception is that the favored team is more likely to get out to a quick lead in the First Half before allowing a “back-door” cover in the Second Half. However, I have yet to see any statistics that prove that either the dog or favorite for the game are a better bet. Like any other bet type, you need to pick your spots.
It is very easy to find a team’s total points for and against for the season as a total. Every newspaper and major sports website provides this readily. What is tougher to find is a team’s points for and against by Half. I track this myself every week in a spreadsheet and it helps as interesting mismatches do appear. For example, one of the comparisons I make is a team’s scoring margin in the First Half compared to a team’s scoring margin in the Second Half. After 2 weeks, Miami was the best First Half team with an impressive 49-10 scoring margin in the First Half. Compare this with their 21-24 Second Half numbers and I think you can quickly see where the opportunity lies. Other top First Half teams for the first two weeks were the Chargers (37-3 in the First Half) and the Eagles (47-17) and playing all three of these teams for the First Half this week would have made you 3-0. The worst three teams after week 2 were the Bengals (0-37), Lions (7-38) and Rams (13-33). Betting against these three teams in the First Half this past weekend would have made you 2-1 (the Lions covered by being tied 21-21 with the Packers at the break). This is by no means a system, just a simple analysis that happened to work on one NFL weekend, but it is definitely something you can easily do in a few minutes every week. If 15 minutes a week of tracking scores by half leads you to find a single winning play, then it is worth it every time.
Another stat I track is a comparison if a team’s First Half performance relative to it’s Second Half performance. I feel that the spread is a good indicator of a team’s overall performance for a game but that the bookmaker’s system of cutting the spread in half cannot be an efficient indicator of First Half performance. Looking at the Dolphins again, they are –3 in the Second Half and +39 in the First Half. Therefore I rate them a +42 for First Half over Second Half. Other top teams on this list (for the first two weeks) are Cleveland at +34 (+23 and –11), Philadelphia +33 (+30 and –3), Minnesota +30 (+10 and –20) and the Falcons at +26 (+11 and –15). Betting on these five in the First Half for week 3 would have made you 4-1. The worst teams on this list (which might make good teams to play in the Second Half) are the Bengals –33 (-37 and –4), Bears –31 (-18 and +13), Rams –28 (-20 and +8), Patriots –27 (+13 and +40), and Packers –26 (-19 and +7). Betting against these five would have also made you 4-1. Again, not a system by any means, but something that bears watching to make you a more profitable bettor.
In summary, it is worth your time to track all teams’ performance by Half and look for inconsistencies in the First Half line. This past Sunday night, the Falcons were 4-point favorites in the First Half. Considering Atlanta had outscored their first two opponents 21-13 (in Green Bay) and 10-7 (at home against the Bears) in the First Half before losing both games outright while the Bengals had yet to score a First Half point (but had given up 37), that line looks very low. The Falcons led at the break 20-3 and if you had the First Half bet, you could now get some sleep and not worry about losing your bet (or even worse, watching the Bengals play another 30 minutes). Take this with a grain of salt though as it is very easy to pick winners the day after the games are played.
Once again, I am pleased to offer Kent’s “Move of the Week”. Kent is BoDog’s top bookmaker and He has graciously agreed to provide us with detailed insight into one game every week. Here are his thoughts from this past weekend:
“The Move of the Week comes to us from NFL Week Three where it was a mixed bag of results for the House. One result that favored the House was the public continuing to play on a Minnesota Vikings team that looks long removed from the form that saw them make the playoffs a few years back. The line came out at solid Vikings -6 and stayed that way throughout the week before creeping up to -6.5 late Saturday and then moving up to -6.5 (-115) before finding it’s final resting spot at Minnesota -7. I also started at -6 and let the public drive the line up to -7 where we would hang tough and let the folks fire away. In case anyone missed it, Minnesota is now 0-3 while the Panthers are 3-0. Now make no mistake, the Panthers are not that good however the Vikings just may be that bad. Minnesota had a heck of a time stopping Bledsoe and the Bills receiving trio of Moulds-Reed-Price last week and this week made RB Lamar Smith – cut by Miami – look like Marcus Allen as he rushed for 154 yards. Looking at the Vikings as a football fan, they seem to be trying to put Moss into every play and the result is that Culpepper was intercepted 3 times while trying to throw to Moss. The Minnesota QB also managed to fumble once. It doesn’t get any easier this week for the bettors to figure out the Vikings as Minnesota travels to Seattle where the Seahawks have been pegged as a 3-point favorite at home. In a match-up of two winless teams the home team has been made given the Field Goal which is directly attributable to them having the home-field edge – on a neutral field this game would be a Pick. It will be interesting to see how the bettors respond to this match-up but as of right now the number looks right.”
Thanks Kent. I will be back next week with a column on Halftime betting. Thanks for reading and good luck.