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Preseason NFL Totals

   by Al McMordie - 08/26/2004

It's not your imagination; sports bettors are playing the "Over" this preseason. This is nothing new. The majority of football fans during the regular season and preseason lean toward betting the "Over" more than the "Under". This is because fans like high-scoring games as opposed to defensive duels. But often, there's no value in taking the "Over" since Sportsbooks get a lot of action from these "recreational" bettors, those who simply want to bet on their favorite team, or ones who do multi-team parlays in hopes of turning $50 into a fortune, so the total is adjusted upwards to balance that action.

I noticed the increase in "Over" money this weekend while observing the preseason NFL totals. Most of the numbers were bet up on Saturday, with some truly significant bounces like the Lions vs. Browns game going from 35.5 to 38, the Packers vs. Saints game jumping from 37 to 39.5, and the Redskins vs. Dolphins contest soaring from 33 to 37. Then on Monday, the Rams vs. Chiefs game moved from 39.5 to 42. Clearly, the cry of bettors this August has been "Over or bust!"

What is happening? Part of it is what I explained; that the majority of unsophisticated bettors look to play an "Over" before an "Under". Another aspect is changes in the officiating. This season, the NFL will enforce new rules that make it more difficult for defensive backs to grab or knock around receivers. This might even be called the "Anti-Bill Belichick Rule" after the Patriots won the Super Bowl with aggressive (though legal) contact against St. Louis receivers in the 2002 Super Bowl, as well as last year's AFC Championship game vs. Indianapolis when the Colts couldn't move the ball, and Peyton Manning was forced into four interceptions. Clearly the NFL wants to see higher scoring games, so enforcing the rules which frustrate defense is a move to achieve that desired result.

However, this price action didn't occur in Week 1. Perhaps it happened this weekend as a result of the Thursday and Friday games, where three of the four went "Over". Bettors no doubt noticed this, which led to an increase of "Over" wagers on Saturday and Monday. But a funny thing happened; notice that the "Unders" went 9-3, including 4-0 on the totals that moved at least two points. This is a great example of how difficult the sports betting world can be. Heck, they were betting the Washington vs. Miami game like they already had the result. But that score fell way "Under" the total in a 17-0 Redskins victory. For the record, after two weeks of preseason games, the "Under" is 20-13.

This is why it's essential to examine each game carefully. Don't just focus on one NFL rule change, or bet because you think the wise guys are all over a game, so therefore they must "know something." You must dig deeper. Might one team be overvalued or undervalued based on its previous performance? How long will each starting unit go? Are the changes implemented by new offensive and defensive coordinators working, or have they even yet to be grasped by the team? Are there injuries to the offensive line? Are the players focused on playing well (like the Vikings did in preseason Week 1 when they wanted revenge for last season's Week 16 loss to Arizona)? The successful handicapper does a lot of work and looks at many areas before putting his money down on a play. You should, too. Last week, I won eight of my ten preseason selections, with an eleventh play (Buffalo) falling around the number, so don't miss any of this week's Winners. Good luck as always...Al McMordie.

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