Here’s a pro tip: any time you see an article talking about how the line in a NFL football game is ‘nearing an all time record in Las Vegas’ the correct move is to bet the other side. This concept is clearly at play here. Earlier this week, the media reported that the pointspread in the New England Patriots’ game against the Miami Dolphins could rank among the biggest prices for a road favorite in history:
“When the early odds for this game were released on Sept. 8, the Patriots opened as 15.5-point favorite. Over the past five days though, the public has been hammering the Patriots, which has led the point spread to shoot up to 18.5 points at most sports books. If that’s where the line ends up closing, it would make the Patriots tied as the third biggest road favorite in NFL history.”
There’s a decent chance that this happens. The line is currently -19 at a good number of sportsbooks. It’s up to -19.5 at a couple of offshore books considered ‘public’ outs. Then there’s this bit of misinformation:
“In a weird coincidence, the Patriots have actually been the favored team in three of the four games where a road team was favored by 18.5 or more points.”
Not a ‘weird coincidence’ at all. It’s no huge secret that the most commonly occurring margins of victory in NFL football are 3 and 7. Handicappers consider 3 and 7–along with multiples thereof–as ‘key numbers’. Key numbers are of greater significance to both sharp players and bookmakers. Bookmakers are a lot more deliberate in moving a game onto or off of a key number than they would be for a non-key line move. Handicappers recognize the significance. This is why ‘sharps’ consider a move from -3 to -3.5 a bigger deal than a move from -4 to -5.5.
To some degree, the fact that the Patriots are involved is something of a coincidence but not for the obvious reasons. The coincidence is that the Patriots were in the right place at the right time in the perfect situation against a bottom feeder. The way you get a huge pointspread like this is to take a very good team that the public loves and put them against a complete doormat that the public disdains. The Miami-NE matchup is an obvious case in point. The Patriots other -18.5 game was at Baltimore in 2007. That was the year the Pats went 16-0 and on Monday Night Football. Baltimore was 3-8 at the time. This was a couple of years after MNF moved from ABC to ESPN but it was still a bigger deal to fans and bettors than it is now. Once again–very good team the public loves against a bad team the public disdains in the NFL game with the biggest ‘public’ audience each week.
The top two road favorites are the 1976 Patriots who were 10-3 at the time in their regular season finale against arguably the worst team in NFL football history: the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And lest you think the Bucs would have ‘played for pride’ the mindset of the team was well known to fans and certainly to bettors. Here’s Bucs’ alum Pat Toomay quoted on CBS Sports:
“By the time we got to the last game of the season, we had so many injuries that we didn’t feel we had much of a chance. Everybody was so sick of the season that they showed up packed and ready to get out of town. It looked like a bunch of Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl. … I was living in Dallas at the time, and I know my goal was to be out of the state by midnight.”
The biggest road favorite in history was the 1987 San Francisco 49ers against the Atlanta Falcons. This was a strike year and the Falcons had a roster of replacement players. San Francisco, meanwhile, had a number of starters crossing the picket line including Joe Montana, Roger Craig and Dwight Clark.
Here’s the ‘actionable lesson’ from all of this. All three of the previous -18.5 or higher favors won the game but didn’t cover. This is how we’re going to play tomorrow’s game. Miami is a miserable team. No doubt about it. Even so, basic human nature suggests that they’ll put forth a better effort than they did in Week 1. Pro football handicapping 101 also suggests that the Patriots could be in for a less impressive effort than they put forth in Week 1. As I so often remind people “No team is as good as they look at their best or as bad as they look at their worst.”
For whatever reason, the Patriots have struggled at Miami in recent years. They’ve lost outright at Miami in the past two seasons. They’ve lost both SU and ATS in 5 of their last 6 trips to South Florida. Obviously, new Miami head coach Brian Flores wants to win this game–or at least be competitive–as he was New England’s former defensive coordinator. At the same time, there’s no real reason that Pats’ coach Belichick would go out of his way to humiliate the well regarded Flores by dropping a huge margin on Miami.
We’re going to wait to see how high the line goes and take the Dolphins plus the points. We’re even going to take a flyer on the moneyline. Stranger things have happened in sports and Miami is a +1200 moneyline underdog.