How are Betting Lines for NFL and College Football Games Set? (Tutorial)

We are going back to school this summer. I’ve grown tired of hearing people
talk about football betting when they have no idea of the fundamentals. I
won’t pretend to be the world’s greatest football bettor, but I do
understand the basics, and that is a surprising boost. So, over a series of
eight articles this summer, we are going back to the basics, making sure we
understand how betting on football really works, so we can improve our
chances of success. This time around the topic is how betting lines for NFL
and college football games are set.

Simply put, if you don’t understand how lines are set, and what forces them
to move, then you don’t understand anything about betting on football. More
bad decisions are made because people don’t understand this fundamental
than anything else.


Common Mistakes Sports Bettors Make

Sportsbooks do not make their money by betting against you. They have no
interest in having a position and hoping for one team to win. In a perfect
situation they set themselves up to make money no matter how the game turns
out. They collect juice on each point spread. Typically, they collect $110
for a chance to win $100. You bet that whether you bet on the favorite or
the underdog. If they have $110 bet on each side on the favorite wins then
they return the $110 that bettor bet as well as a $100 profit. The
remaining $10 is their profit. And if the underdog wins their result is the
same. They have no risk – no way that they can lose money. The worst that
can happen for them is if the game lands exactly on the number and they are
forced to return all of the money bet.


What Vigorish Means in Sports Betting

Making a profit without risk is the dream for sportsbooks, and it is the
goal that they chase when they set their odds. This is crucially important,
then – and totally misunderstood incredibly often. Oddsmakers do not set
their line based on which team they think is going to win and how much they
are going to win by. They don’t really care about that. The line is set at
the point in which they think that an equal amount of money will be bet on
both teams. And the lines don’t move because one team has become more or
less likely to win, or the game has somehow changed. The line changes
because action on the game isn’t balanced, and they hope that by changing
the line they can drive more action on the team on which less money has
been bet.


Steam Moves Explained

This isn’t the way that lines are set just for point spreads. It’s the same
for any type of bet. If you are betting a moneyline or a prop, you won’t
see the favorite at -200 and the underdog at +200. Books would just be
taking money from one person and handing it to another. Instead, you might
see something like -210 and +190. If the favorite wins, then the book will
return the $210 bet, as well as the $100 profit on the bet. They wouldn’t
make any profit if the bet was balanced, but they wouldn’t lose. And if the
underdog wins, they return the $100 bet, and the $190 profit, and keep the
extra $20 for themselves. The difference in profit on the two sides will
affect what the books want to do to balance the action – drawing a little
underdog action could be of interest to them in some cases.

Understanding what could impact how lines are set could give you a big
advantage. One example is public money. There are some teams that are very
popular to the general betting public. Conveniently, they are called public
teams. People bet on these teams based on loyalty or reputation, not based
on the reality of their current matchup. Teams like the Patriots or the
Cowboys fit into this group. And there are teams that the public really
doesn’t like or care about – the Jaguars and the Buccaneers could be put in
this group right now. If New England is playing Jacksonville, then, the
sportsbooks know that a larger than normal percentage of public bets will
be on New England, and a smaller than normal percentage will be on
Jacksonville. To do their best to avoid a serious imbalance, then, books
will set a number that more aggressively makes the Jaguars attractive than
they might if the teams were the same but reputations weren’t in play. If
your handicapping points you to the Patriots, then, you need to make sure
that there is even more value than you would normally want. But if you are
betting the Jaguars, they could be even more attractive than normal.

If you can understand the basics of how lines are likely to be moving it
can also be a big boost to your bet timing. Once you know which team you
are likely to bet on, you can look at when to bet to give yourself the best
chance. If the line is likely to move to make your team less attractive,
then you should bet as soon as you can. But if the likely movement would
make your team more attractive, then you should wait as long as you can.
This alone can have a big impact on your long-term bottom line.

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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham