Before you can be a successful sports bettor, you first have to learn to think like an oddsmaker, the guys who set the point spread and other betting odds for sporting events. I live in Costa Rica, the hub of sports betting, including multiple consultant companies that are responsible for providing lines to sportsbooks. After picking the brain of a few guys that set lines, here is how oddsmakers set point spreads.
If you are reading this, I am going to assume you at least have basic knowledge of point spreads and how they work. In case you need a little refresher, let’s say you are betting a NFL football game with a spread of 3. If you are betting the underdog, you are taking 3 points, meaning if the underdog’s score plus 3 (+3) points is greater than the favorite’s score, you win. If you are taking the favorite, you are giving 3 points, meaning if the favorite’s score minus 3 (-3) points is greater than the underdog’s score, you win.
The oddsmakers, or commonly referred to as handicappers, predict the number required to split the wagering evenly on both teams. Essentially, they want the spread to be evenly achievable on each side, making the spread a 50/50 proposition. This is because sportsbooks are basically a broker between you and other player betting the opposite side. The sportsbook take the juice or vig, which is the extra $10 it costs you to bet your typical spread, $110 to win $100. Sportsbooks are happy to have even money on either side, take their $10 commission on each bet and move on to the next day.
When starting to handicap games, oddsmakers start by using elaborate computer programs that will determine multiple power rankings for several aspects of every game. These power rankings will create matchups, such as o-line vs. d-line, wide receivers vs. defensive backs, special teams etc. They also take into account individual player matchups, recent performance and injuries.
These programs will also look at how much better or worse a team is at home as opposed to on the road, advanced statistics, weather and other factors that will influence the outcome of a game. Once this info is ran through a series of models, each team is given a point factor number, at which the point spread has a baseline.
One of my handicapping friends let me in on a little inside info on a Week 12 game of the 2017 season. The game featured two 6-5 teams when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Buffalo Bills.
Even though both teams were 6-5, but the Bills were 2-4 on the road and coming off three straight losses. The Chiefs were coming off two road losses after winning their first 5 games. The bottom line is after the original computer models were complete, the Bills were given a score of 70, while the Chiefs scored at 75. The line started at 5.
It is commonly known that oddsmakers issue the home team an average of 3 points for home field advantage. Arrowhead Stadium is famous for being one of the toughest road venues to play in, so another 3.5 points are added to the 5, so the line is now at 8.5.
That game opened at Chiefs -10.5, and even though I spend an hour trying to convince my friend to spell out where the other 2 points came from, he would not spill the beans. He did however tell me that there are many intangibles that oddsmakers take into account that are very difficult to assign an exact value to.
He told me that those factors include many things, but a lot of focus is placed on human factors that will motivate/demotivate and history. Of these factors, revenge and “looking ahead” are the two factors that will have the biggest impact on the outcome.
It is thought that these factors play a larger role in college as opposed to the pros, but I am sure you have often heard the term “trap game”, which is used when a team on top of the standing is playing a team that is at the bottom of the standings. College football is known for huge rivalries, and some teams will get up for a rivalry game more than any other, and could greatly effect the outcome.
Looking ahead occurs sometimes when a team has two tough opponents, separated by a weak opponent. The team possibly had a hard fought win in one week, with another tough matchup coming in two weeks. Their minds are on the tough matchup, and they forget to put forth their best effort against the “weak” opponent, and lose the game.
When doing your own handicapping, it is important to do your own power rankings, putting each aspect of the game against the other team, and come up with your own point spreads prior to looking at any other. This way, you will not be swayed to one side or the other, and will get a true representation of how you feel about that game.
After you are done creating your own point spreads, put them up against the ones found at your online sportsbook, and find yourself value. That is the major benefit we have over the oddsmakers, we get to choose which games we want to bet on, but they have to set lines for every game. There is no way they can get every one of the correct, and finding those weak lines is what will turn you into a winning bettor.
If you come up with a few games you are confident about, feeling really good that one team will cover with better than a 53% probability, that is referred to as an overlay, meaning you are getting value, and is the starting point of handicapping.
Knowing a little more about how oddsmakers set point spreads will undoubtedly make you a better bettor. Having an idea of how they think and what they feel are contributing factors to the outcome of a game will help you handicap your own games, in turn, winning more bets. I hope this answered some questions you had about point spreads and how they are generated, and getting you well on the road to beating the bookie.