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Anticipating Low-Scoring Second Halves

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/11/2011

Handicappers are always looking for angles to replicate week after week in an attempt to cull profit from the books. Here’s a tried and true oldie: Look at second halves to go under the total if the home team has a big lead. We’ve already seen it this season. In Week 3, the Ravens blitzed the Rams and led 27-0 at the half. They played it conservative in the second half, relied on their defense, and finished up with 17 total points scored in the second half. The biggest halftime deficit this season was when the Texans led the Colts 34-0 at the half. The second half? 7 total points scored.
Last season in college football, Utah bombed overmatched San Jose in the first half, leading 35-3. From 38 first half points there were only 21 total second half points. Coaches that have a game in hand at the half are likely to run the football, if they are good at it, as not to show anything on offense that opponents watching game film can prepare for. Also, visiting teams can be inclined to pack it in, as if to say, “We’ll get ‘m next week. Let’s just get out of this one without any injuries.”
I recall a game a few years ago when Penn State and Ohio State hooked up. In that matchup, you had two strong defensive teams and two banged up offenses. Those things, alone, make bettors want to take a serious look at the entire game going under the total.
What happened was that Ohio State jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead – certainly not the kind of defensive game oddsmakers were expecting, as the total on the contest was 34. However, this was a perfect spot for the second half to be very low scoring. For one thing, the home team -–Ohio State – had a two touchdown lead. Many football coaches prefer to go conservative to protect a lead like that, so they will be looking to control the ball and the clock in the second half. Ohio State was the perfect type of team to do that, too, with a strong defense and a run-oriented offense. There was no need for the Buckeyes to open up the offense in the second half with a 21-7 lead. Rather, the game plan was simple – no mistakes, go to the running game, play the field position battle and use one of its strengths – defense – to keep the lead and ice the win.
Despite the high scoring first half, the game still went under the low total in Ohio State’s 21-10 win. This strategy is exactly what the Buckeyes did. Understand that the second half total was 17½ and it sailed under with only 3 second half points. The old rule is if the home team is up by two touchdowns or more, take a serious look at the under for the second half. It helps if the home team has a strong defense and a decent running game. Ohio State filled the bill perfectly on all the criteria.
This was evident, too, that same season in the UCLA/Stanford game. The Bruins had a powerful running game, like the do this season, and led 14-0 over Stanford. UCLA turned the ball over to the ground game in the second half in its 21-0 win. Again, the game went way under the total, but the second half was an even easier under. In that game, the Bruins ended up with 246 rushing yards, with two backs gaining over 86 yards with Maurice Drew’s 105 and Manuel White’s 87.
This happens in the NFL, too, especially with conservative coaches who have reliable running games and above-average defenses. Teams that currently fit this paradigm, if at home with a big first half lead, would be the Ravens, Dolphins, Vikings, Bengals, Steelers, 49ers and Titans. Yes, we all look for games and point spreads to beat, but don’t ignore halftime wagering, either, because there are all kinds of methods to build your betting bankroll.

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