The value of a half-point in NFL betting

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“Impatience for victory will guarantee defeat.”

 

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When I was watching this week’s Ahsoka episode that one line jumped out to me more than any other. It’s a simple concept, wait and strike at the correct time to improve your chances of success. Act rashly or without a plan you will fail. In the episode, this was mentioned on the battlefield, but it hit home for me when betting sports. Every single day, there is something that you can bet on. There is always another event and patience, discipline and timing are three of the most important attributes for a sports bettor.

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Since we are in full swing in the NFL season, let’s apply this directly to the importance of timing and patience when betting NFL sides. When you watch VSiN, you will hear people talk about how they may like a game at -2.5 but would pass at -3 or play the other team at +3.5. It’s logical since about 15% of NFL games have landed on 3 since 2015. Let’s dive into how much that 0.5 is actually worth to better explain why getting the number that you want is more important than just placing a bet.

First, let’s take a look at two charts. On the left is a breakdown of how often NFL games landed on final margins of one to eight, a one-score game. On the right is a profitability matrix with the percentage required to be profitable at each step from +100 to -135.

While the value of a half point does vary in the NFL, from 0.08 to 0.25, depending on both the number and total of the game, for this exercise, let’s call a non-key half point worth 0.10 and a key half point (on and off of 3 and 7) worth 0.25. The best way to understand the value is to go the sportsbook you are using and see what it costs to buy the half point off those numbers.

I do not buy the half point on or off anything but 3, and that is still rare for me. While the distribution above is since 2015, I would expect those numbers to even out over the next 10 years, specifically 6,7 and 8. With the number of teams going for the two-point conversions in new situations, 7 is going to become a less key number. Three will continue to be a common endpoint due to game-winning field goals and overtime, but I would expect the near 15% to drop and both 1 and 2 to be higher.

While those percentages listed are to break even, if you want to be a profitable long-term bettor, you will need to be about 3% higher than everything listed.

Now, let’s tie this all back. I gave out the Cleveland Browns and -2.5 on Tuesday in my weekly look ahead column. I’ve got them covering about 56% of the time making that a highly profitable bet at -110. We have some books now at -3. Since the -2.5 was readily available, and still is in some places, you cannot bet this once it moves to -3. While you get -110 on the -3, you are effectively laying -135 because the -2.5 was readily available in the market. Over the long haul, passing on the -2.5 and then playing -3 closer to game time is going to make you a losing bettor.

Impatience for victory will guarantee defeat.

It is okay to miss a number and pass on a game. It is okay to wait on a better number that never appears and pass on a game. Use the two charts listed in this article as a guide to better understand the actual cost of that half point in the NFL and consider a moving line an opportunity cost lost, not just a new number to bet.