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Preseason Line Moves

   by Al McMordie - 08/19/2004

I received a few phone calls last week from anguished clients who were worried that we were on the "wrong side" of the Houston/Dallas game, since the Cowboys opened up as a favorite of minus 1.5 (at the Stardust), and were steamed up to minus 3. Instead of being thrilled that we were now getting a field goal with Houston, they were fearful that the "Smart Money" knew something we didn't, and that we would lose our wager.

However, in the Preseason, nothing could be further from the truth. For years, I've studied the opening and closing Stardust lines and one thing is certain: if you go against a line move of 1.5 points or more, you'll put yourself in a great position to win.

Let's take a look at the last seven years, including the current season:

1998: 18-10-1
1999: 13-9-2
2000: 10-5-2
2001: 15-14-3
2002: 18-16
2003: 6-3
2004: 5-2-1
Total: 85-59-8 (59%)

What is great about this angle is that it's consistent. Including this season, it's shown a profit in 6 of 7 years. And the worst season (2001) wasn't horrible. It was 15-14, so one would have lost just 0.4 games after the juice. Not bad!

In 2004, there have been eight plays:

Washington (-1) over Denver (W)
St. Louis (-3) over Chicago (L)
Kansas City (+3) over New York Giants (L)
New Orleans (-1) over New York Jets (W)
Miami (PK) over Jacksonville (W)
Houston (+3) over Dallas (W)
San Francisco (+3) over Oakland (T)
Buffalo (+3) over Denver (W)

Take a look at these games. If you wagered on any of them, were you influenced at all by the fact that one of the sides was being steamed? Believe it or not, it's quite common. Often a line move will be exacerbated because of the "followers". The initial money may move a game from plus 5 to +3.5, but the "followers" may push it down to plus 3, or lower. And it's not just a phenomenon in the sports wagering market. It happens all the time on Wall Street. Shareholders often panick when a stock's price is going down. Perhaps it's just because an institution is unloading its position for innocent reasons. But shareholders will often erroneously assume that "someone knows something" and they'll be scared out of their stock.

When you're wagering on sports, don't over-react to pointspread moves. In the Preseason, line moves are primarily the result of the quarterback rotations announced by the coaching staffs, as well as comments made to the media that indicate a team may take the game more seriously than its opponent. Obviously, from the results of my study, these are not worthwhile reasons to wager on a game.

Why is that? Well, with respect to quarterback rotations, the bottom line is that a QB is just one player of 22 offensive and defensive starters. In the scheme of things, his importance is overrated. And, as far as statements that a team is "going to play to win", well, usually its opponent is trying just as hard. Heck, how often do we see a team lose a "must-win" game in the regular season vs. an opponent that is out of the Playoff hunt? Remember the Minnesota/Arizona game in last year's final week? In my analysis, I always make the assumption that both teams will be trying equally as hard to win.

The takeaway message, then, from this study is that you should NEVER wager on a team because it's being steamed. Indeed, if one followed the money, one would have lost 34.5 net games after the juice (59 wins, 93.5 losses). Don't be a follower. Instead, wager on games for valid reasons. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie. And don't miss any of my Preseason Winners this weekend, including an awesome play out of a system that has won 92% over the past 20 years.

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