Vince McMahon’s XFL is back though it has little to do with the ill fated fiasco that came and went back in 2001. That XFL was based on the same ever so successful formula as the World Bodybuilding Federation (look it up). The notion that any niche sport would be better with pro wrestling style promos and angles was proved wrong by the greased up musclebound lunkheads and again in 2001’s XFL by the second tier pro football players.
The new incarnation of the NFL is focused more on putting a quality product on the field. With the exception of a few rule differences here and there (eg: no PAT kicks–teams can opt to go for 1, 2 or 3 points from scrimmage after a TD) it looks pretty much like pro football. The jury is still out on whether the American sporting public really wants a ‘Spring Pro Football League’ but if they do it’ll be one that offers a solid on-field component and not because of hype or gimmicks. In that regard, the early returns on the XFL has been positive. It’s bringing in decent numbers and attracting a reasonable amount of betting action.
The most important thing to keep in mind while handicapping the XFL–and particularly in the early going–is that it is still football. I’ve had a fair amount of success handicapping a variety of ‘alternative’ football leagues including Arena Football, Canadian Football, the WLAF and even the Lingerie Football League. I’ve found that any type of gridiron football–what they call ‘American Football’ in Europe–outside of the NFL and major US college football can be approached in a similar fashion. The tips that follow will be of value in handicapping the XFL but can also be used for any other ‘upstart’ football competition.
LOOK TO PLAY UNDERDOGS
The reason for this is simple: linesmakers’ numbers aren’t as sharp on niche sports. Just think of all of the demands a North American facing sportsbook has at the moment: college basketball and the NBA are priorities, NASCAR just started, international soccer, hockey, etc. They just don’t have enough hours in a day to focus on the XFL. Furthermore, they don’t have the data. At the time of this writing, there have been 7 XFL games played with favorites holding a narrow 4-3 advantage. The bookmakers and bettors are working from the same ‘short sample size’ of statistical data and past performance information.
At this stage in the XFL season, it’s easy to react to short term performance (good or bad) and to overreact to familiar names in the ranks of players and coaches. None of this has a long term bearing on team performance. Essentially, every team is in the same boat at this point trying to figure things out in a brand new league. For that reason, you have to be extremely careful when laying points. Personally, I’d rather be taking them.
PLAYING ‘UNDER’ THE TOTAL IS A STRONG POSITION
Like many ‘upstart’ football leagues, the XFL has rules in place designed to create more offense and scoring. It remains to be seen whether they have a significant impact in the longterm but based on what we’ve seen so far they have had little to no influence on the pace of scoring. What they have done is created the public perception of a ‘wide open’ high scoring brand of football and that’s a great situation in which to take the ‘Under’. Through the first 7 games of the XFL’s debut season only 2 games have gone ‘Over’ the total with teams combining for an average of 35.7 PPG. The market will eventually have a better feel for XFL totals but in the meantime ‘Under’ positions are particularly strong.
DON’T OVERREACT TO THE SHORT TERM
This is important in all types of sports betting and handicapping but particularly when approaching a new league full of new teams all trying to put things together on the fly. Just because a team looks terrible one week doesn’t mean they can’t fix their issues and rebound the next week. The opposite is also true. This concept is equally as important in more established leagues such as the NFL but the range of divergent performances is often magnified in a ‘new league’. You could do a lot worse than reading the XFL media’s reaction to teams and performances in a given week and use that information for contrarian plays against the prevailing public wisdom the following week.
BE REALISTIC ABOUT THE TALENT LEVEL IN THE LEAGUE
Not to denigrate the ability of any individual player, but it’s important to keep in mind where the personnel of XFL teams rank in the ‘big picture’ of professional football. During the regular season, each NFL team is allowed to have 53 players on their roster plus five more on the ‘practice squad’. Essentially, this means that the best player in the XFL could be considered the 1857th overall best pro football player in the United States. The real number is probably lower than that since the Canadian Football League (CFL) has established itself solidly as the #2 pro football circuit in terms of the level of competition. For that reason, it’s important to avoid getting hung up on ‘familiar names’ or overvalue a player’s NFL experience.
PAY ATTENTION TO LINE MOVEMENT
There are certainly recreational players betting the XFL but they’re not particularly sophisticated in their handicapping concepts. They’ll gravitate toward the favorites and look to bet the ‘Over’. At the same time, there’s not enough liquidity in the marketplace to create many line moves driven by the ‘public’. What does this mean? It means that most likely when you see a line movement in an XFL game it is a response to ‘sharp’ action that has found an edge.
We’ll be following XFL betting throughout the early part of the campaign and will be back at mid-season with an update on successful handicapping strategies.