Patriots (PK) and first half under 24 One thing about Super Bowls is they don't tend to start with a bang.
Diagnosing sharp money
There’s no doubt the public plays a significant role in a sportsbook’s hold percentage on any given NFL weekend, but when it comes to hanging early lines, the bookmakers have only one thing in mind: wiseguy action.
The majority of sharp money comes in soon after those opening lines hit the board on Sunday night/Monday morning, and then again right before kickoff on Sunday. The basic strategy behind the wiseguys’ system is ostensibly simple: by betting early, they have the ability to go head-to-head with the bookmakers and take advantage of any perceived flaws in those early lines. And by betting late, they are able to fade the public, which habitually plays favorites.
That tactic also opens the door for middling games, their ultimate goal.
A prime opportunity to middle a game usually presents itself when a line opens within a half-point of a key number. For example, if Team X is initially hung as a 6.5-favorite over Team Y, wiseguys will immediately lay the 6.5 points on the favorite. There’s a chance that action alone will force the sportsbooks to move the line onto the key number of 7. But at the very least, the wiseguys know if they sit back and wait for the public’s expected action on the favorite, the sportsbooks will have no choice but to push the line to 7, and maybe 7.5. In the latter scenario, the sharp guys will come back in on Team Y at +7.5 just before kickoff. Because nearly 10 percent of NFL games land on that key number of 7, the opportunity to middle the game is ripe in that scenario.
While that strategy is systematically employed by sharp guys, it’s not always genuine, which is to say there are instances when they will make an early bet simply as a bluff that they hope will serve to move a line onto the number they want.
For example, if Team X is a 3.5-point favorite over Team Y and a wiseguy’s personal power rankings list Team X as exactly 3.5 points better than Team Y, they could make a sizable – but not full-limit – bet on Team X at -3.5. If the book bites and moves the number to 4, the sharp guy will come back with a full-limit bet on Team Y at +4, the number he coveted to begin with.
For bookmakers, identifying sharp money isn’t the challenge. Since there’s such a discrepancy between wiseguys and the public in terms of betting technique and sums of wagers, it’s obvious when a wiseguy is making a play. But attempting to diagnose whether sharp guys are masking their true intentions via a soft wager or simply playing a number they like is a quandary for the bookmakers, a game of cat and mouse that replays itself every Monday morning and Sunday afternoon.
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