Last time, I preached the values of contrarian betting, going against the grain in your wagering. Like the stock market, buying low and selling high is often the easiest way to end up a winner. Of course, accurately identifying value situations is a lot trickier in practice than in theory. Here are some examples of situations that might provide good opportunities to go against public opinion and take advantage of overpriced betting lines.
Watch for high-profile trends and act against them
The New England Patriots were the darlings of the NFL last year, and for good reason - they were undefeated until their loss in the Superbowl. Not only did they win games, they covered the spread too. The Pats were perfect against the spread through their first 8 games, besting the posted line by an average of 2 touchdowns despite finding themselves nearly 10-point favorites on average. The second half of the season was a different story, however, as they managed only a 2-6 record against the spread. Bettors jumped on the Belichick bandwagon and pushed the spreads to ridiculous levels, installing the Patriots as over 16-point favorites on average during the final eight games. The Pats also failed to cover in any of their 3 playoff appearances, ending the year with six straight losses against the spread. Contrarian bettors willing to make the unpopular bets against the Pats were rewarded at the end of the season, including an outright win with the Giants in the Superbowl.
Boise State is an example of this idea in NCAA football. The Broncos went on a tear from 1999 through 2002, winning 32 of 44 games against the spread during that span (72%) and earning themselves a stellar reputation amongst handicappers and sports bettors. Yet those who jumped on the train late ended up missing all of the profits, as the Broncos have gone a mere 32-27-2 since, barely enough to squeak out a profit depending on the lines available. Considering the Broncos went 56-9 straight-up over that span, this indicates that the betting lines have finally caught up to their performance. Regardless, their winning ways will likely continue to draw recreational bettors to their side (despite the team not making the preseason Top 25 this year), so they may be worth keeping an eye on as a "play-against" team in spots this season.
Look for underrated and publicly-shunned teams
Many teams will become underrated by the public due to poor past performances, lack of marquee players, or just general bad press. The St Louis Rams were downright awful in 2008, ending the season 3-11 and only 5-11 versus the spread. But this was due to a banged-up offensive line which decimated the offense, as the linemen played musical chairs all season. This year, key lineman Orlando Pace should be healthy and the offense should put up some fireworks as the core of Mark Bulger, Steven Jackson, and Torry Holt return at full strength. But most bettors will only remember last year, leaving some value on the Rams in the early going. Their schedule, which includes 5 games against playoff teams in their first 7 outings, will only serve to magnify the value on this team in the early season.
Take advantage of line movement caused by player injury
The general rule of thumb is that injuries to "key" players, particularly the quarterback and running backs, are overcompensated for in the lines. The higher profile the player, the more likely an overreaction. In this case, you are frequently safer betting on the team with the injury -- the second stringers are usually adequate and often underrated. However, injuries to little-known players are often not factored into the line much, if at all. This includes players like the center and middle linebacker, vital cogs on the offense and defense, respectively. Often betting against teams with these injuries is smart, since the public often will not even consider the injury status of non-star players. Offensive line injuries are often the best to bet against, since they are rarely followed closely by recreational bettors and can have significantly negative effects on a team's offense.
"Fade" hot handicappers
When a well-known handicapper like Dr. Bob starts winning 65% of his plays on the season, it is time to think about going against his picks. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not because of reversion to the mean or "being due" to lose. If Dr. Bob is truly, for example, a 55% handicapper, his next pick still has a long-term chance of hitting 55%, regardless of his recent streaks. Instead, the reason to go against him is because bettors have attached too much weight to his opinion due to the public perception of his recent run. A win streak will garner the handicapper more and more support, which translates to more and more dollars backing his opinion in the marketplace. Practically, this means the lines will tend to move too much, and playing the opposite way once the move has reached its peak is often the sharp play.
"The Complete Square's Guide to Sports Wagering" is a recurring series aimed at educating novice sports bettors. The next article will offer tips on anticipating and profiting from line movement.
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