The below article was originally published in the “My Two Cents” section of the TSP Newsletter on October 11, 2022. I am publishing it to the Articles section on the website for future reference.
A common question I get every week is, “why are we always betting bad teams?” The answer is simple…because nobody is betting them, so that’s where the value lies. The book needs to attract money, so it makes the ugly team look better by adding value to that team.
It has never been pretty to be a value/sharp bettor, but that’s what it takes if you want to win at sports betting. There is an old saying about investing…”The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” You ever see a team that has a ton of injuries to key players? The public will go out and hammer the other team regardless of the price pushing the line up and up. That’s “blood in the streets” for sports betting and it is also the time to buy the team with the injuries. Why? Eventually, price will more than compensate for the missing players. Does that mean the team with injuries covers every time or a large majority of the time. No…often the team with the injuries will lose…a lot. However, when you look at a sample of 500 games where there are heavy or key injuries on one team and the public is hammering the other team…the injured team will win just a little bit more than it loses. The record might see the injured team cover 265 games and the healthy team cover 235 games. So, betting the healthy team still cashed 235 tickets…made you feel your assessment was spot on because again…you cashed some tickets. It’s not like the injured team had a record of 497 wins and 3 losses against the spread. It’s just that the injured team won just a little bit more than the healthy team, and in betting the injured team that nobody wanted to bet, you ground out +6.5 units over those 500 wagers. A tiny profit, but that’s how gambling works. You don’t hit 70% of your games. You hit a tiny percentage more than you lose and over time that grinds units into your pocket.
How many casual bettors would see the above…a sampling of 500 wagers, where the bettor is “only” +6.5 units of profit and say that’s not worth the time. Unfortunately, a vast majority of bettors would thinking they could do better with their own assessments. Well, those same bettors would bet 500 games “their way” and likely lose 20-25 units (that’s just the math of betting and vig)…but at least they didn’t have to bet Washington or Carolina!
It is often said, and it is true…”as a gambler you bet numbers…not teams nor players”. The public bets teams, “Philly is hot…I am all over them…” and players, “Nobody beats Mahomes, so I am taking KC…”. All those perceptions are already worked into the current price. It doesn’t mean that KC never covers a game, nor the same for Philadelphia. However, when the public is strongest on these hot teams is usually when those teams fail to cover. Why? The number on the hot team gets too far out of whack. It’s why when you look at Book Needs within TSP content, the Low Level Book Needs are profitable (+1.6% ROI)…but the High Level Book Needs are really where it’s at. High Level Book Needs have an ROI of +17.9%…quite impressive. Why are High Level Book Needs so strong? It’s because the value gets pushed so hard to the team the book desperately needs that the value is overflowing and the returns on those teams are very high thanks to that tremendous value. Do High Level Book Needs win all the time? Nope…but they win more units than they lose. Perhaps this past weekend you bet Washington and Carolina as book needs…and lost…the day before (Saturday) Book Needs went 4-1. GRINDING PROFITS…all both Saturday and Sunday had you on some seriously ugly teams!!
Look at last night…everyone was betting KC. Sure, people bet KC hard every week but last night the public was all over them…Monday Night Football…time to BAILOUT!!!!! Sharp money was happy to take the +7 and buy it up to +7.5 on Las Vegas. It was a clear value on Las Vegas. Whether that value would pay off was the question. Value does not win 100% of the time. Negative values win all the time. However, betting value will usually lead to winning 53 to 55 games out of every 100 wagers. That also means that negative value will see success a decent amount of the time…in this example 45 to 47 games out of every 100. Last night, the value side won as Las Vegas was part of the 53 to 55% of the time when value wins. Next week the negative value side might win on Monday night football…giving the public bettors a perception that they are indeed betting geniuses!!! These wins on negative value keep the public sucked into the possibility that they too can be professional sports bettors. At the end of the season, the negative value side will DEFINITELY cash some tickets along the way…sometimes even seeing negative values hit a white hot run of winners! At a minimum, negative values will cash a decent chunk of games. It’s just that looking back on the season…the value side usually cashes a tad more…and therein lies the profits betting value! It is also why I emphasize looking and betting for the big picture, not sweating the daily, weekly or even monthly ups and downs!
He’s an example from this past weekend. The hot team in the NFL is the Eagles…Arizona has a lot of issues. Who would you rather bet…Kyler Murray and a coaching staff that has lost its touch or Philadelphia who has been executing quite well? Of course the public wants Philadelphia. The books know this, so if the book feels the “fair value” line is Philly -3, they might juice this up to -4 or -4.5 knowing the public will still be all over Philly at a -EV price. The public rarely cares much about the line they take…just the team…and the books use this assessment flaw against the public. By setting this price at -4 or -4.5, the book also knows that this now makes Arizona a value and thereby the book can expect some offsetting action from sharp money on Arizona. So, “fair value” is Philly -3, but the best price for the book to hang is Philly -4, -4.5 or -5 as you draw in sharp money on AZ to offset the flood of public money on Philly which has no regard for price.
The book isn’t going to make a hot team like the Eagles a value BECAUSE then both sharp money and public money would be betting them. The book would then be over leveraged to Philadelphia AND at a value price…that won’t work well for them. Sure, the book doesn’t mind being over leveraged on wagers, but only when the wager with all the action is a negative value. As a book you don’t want to be over leveraged on a value!
On Sunday there was decent sharp money on Washington. It’s easy to say Wentz blows…because he does. Hell, even his coach said as much in the postgame press conference. It is easy to say Tennessee is better because, well, they don’t have Wentz. The book knows people will bet on Tennessee more than Washington. So, the book sets a price to attract that Washington sharp money. By setting Washington as a PK, in a situation where Washington should be -2 or -3, you then draw in sharp money to offset the public money taking a Tennessee team at a PK that should be +2 or +3. So, that’s why you see Washington on the TSP Live Radar…sharp money is buying the value.
Now people will say, Washington shouldn’t be -3 to anyone. OK, but let’s look at the stats and a simple ratio in the game from this past week. A score predictor in MLB is 2 hits for every 1 run. So, if your betting model or algorithm calculates that a team will have 10 hits, you can reasonably assume they will have roughly 5 runs in the game. You then calculate the expected hits for the opponent, divide that also by 2 and you have just created a model to calculate the score of an upcoming MLB game. Well, in the NFL the leading and most basic stat to points ratio is 15 yards per point scored. So, if a team has 150 yards, they would be expected to have roughly 10 points in the game.
On Sunday, Washington had 385 yards to Tennessee’s 241. Doing the calculation of yards divided by 15 to project points would get us to an expected score of Washington 26 to Tennessee 16. Washington wins by 10 and easily covers! Which means the public loses on Tennessee and sharp money wins on Washington. Of course this didn’t happen. However, sharp money was correct in their assessment that the stats in the actual game would point to a Washington win. If Wentz wasn’t totally pathetic and could actually punch in a TD with 1st and goal from the 1 yard line in the final seconds of the game then we would not be having this discussion today. Washington would have won 24-21 and sharp money would have cashed another value. Notice how that “fair value” price of Washington -2 or -3 versus the actual line of PK would have been the most accurate had Wentz actually been able to move the offense 1 yard over four downs?? Moving forward, because of Washington’s stats, they will continue to calculate as a value…assuming the team doesn’t engage in a coup (which is a possibility we have to assess). The short sighted bettor would say…yeah Washington was a value, but they lost! Correct…but Washington’s stats show them as undervalued due to underperformance. Which means books will discount their worth because the public will over amplify how poor Washington is when handicapping. The public will fade Washington hard and the books will need to attract money on Washington. Which means the books will have to shade lines toward Washington and that will only amplify the value on Washington moving forward. Eventually the value will get so great that even Washington can’t screw it up and actually covers. Sharp money is betting that eventually everything progresses to the mean and a team that is underperforming their stats will eventually perform as expected. Short term underperformance or over performance by teams always shakes out over time. However, sometimes teams can underperform a lot longer than you, as a casual bettor, will remain patient waiting on them to perform as expected.
Should you bet Washington this week? Well, we have Washington who underperformed in a loss to Tennessee going against Chicago. How did Chicago perform? Chicago +8.5 ended up covering against Minnesota in a 29-22 loss. Let’s check the stats. Chicago had 271 yards to Minnesota’s 429! WOW! OK, so those stats would calculate out to Chicago scoring 18 points to Minnesota’s 29. Look at that…Minnesota was calculated to score 29 points based on the 15 yards per point ratio…and that’s exactly what they scored in the game. However, Chicago was calculated to score 18 points, but they actually scored 22. Had the Bears scored 18 they would not have covered. So, we potentially have an over performing Chicago team going against an underperforming Washington team. Which means Washington will likely be the value in Thursday Night’s game. So, there you have it Thursday Night Newsletter GAME OF THE DECADE!!! LOL (this is a joke)!! Let’s see how it plays out though! Will this be the 53-55% of the time value wins…or the 45-47% of the time when value does not???
Here’s one last example. There was a high level Book Need on Carolina. Carolina had 308 yards to San Francisco’s 397. Those yardage stats point to a final score of Carolina 21 and San Francisco 26. Carolina was +6.5 in that game…should have been an easy Carolina cover based on the stats. However, Carolina…like Washington…has an X-factor working against them. Another pathetic QB in Baker Mayfield and some laughable coaching. Instead of a 26-21 San Francisco win, the final was 37-15…San Fran over performed by 11 points and Carolina underperformed by 6 points. The inability to convert on plays leads to underperformance in the stats and a game that using the actual stats in the game would point to a cover, instead fails to cover. Just how it goes sometimes.
You might say, but Wentz and Mayfield still suck…and still won’t execute…how can we possibly bet them? As I brought up above, eventually (perhaps as quickly as this week) the lines will get so far out of whack that they will actually overcompensate for the lack of talent by Wentz, Mayfield and the coaching staff. If the lines didn’t compensate, then betting would be very easy…simply fade Washington and Carolina for the rest of the season and make money every single game. If Washington and Carolina cover this week, now perception changes and the following week…both teams might no longer be a value. It’s a constant value assessment and reassessment that goes on game to game. However, if you are betting profitably, most of your bets will be on bad and ugly teams, not the pretty ones!