11/17/2011 3:52PM

NFL bets: As books adjust, trends even out


LAS VEGAS – We talk a lot in this column about how the point spread is the great equalizer.

Oddsmakers will always adjust to any trend in the marketplace and take away the betting value. That’s why it always seems by the time you hear about a juicy trend and start betting it, it almost always reverses.

This NFL season is a prime example. Almost every betting trend that I tracked is right around .500 and below the 52.38 percent you need to break even if you lay the standard 11 to win 10, and is thus not profitable if you were to blindly play either side. The rundown (all records are graded against the ViewFromVegas Consensus Closing Line that I come up with as the most widely available number at kickoff):

Favorites/underdogs: Underdogs are 72-68-6 (51.4 percent) against the spread after starting the season 29-16-3 (64.4 percent). Those who started betting chalk at the start of the season and then switched to dogs got doubly burned.

Home/road teams: Road teams are 73-66-6 (52.5 percent), though this has hovered around .500 most of the season. (Note: There’s one fewer game listed here because of the Bucs-Bears game played at a neutral site in London in Week 7. I also graded Redskins-Bills in Week 8 as a Buffalo home game even though it was played in Toronto.

Home underdogs: This has long been one of my favorite plays. They started out like gangbusters at 11-6-2 (64.7 percent) through the first weeks, but this has also regressed to the mean and is 24-24-2 (50 percent) after going 1-3 last week.

Teams after bye: Those teams were 4-6-2 ATS after going 2-3-1 ATS in both Week 6 and 7, and a lot of talk circulated about the new collective bargaining agreement giving players more time off during bye weeks than they’ve enjoyed in the past. So, when most jumped on the bandwagon and bet against those teams in subsequent weeks, they’ve gone 9-7 since then and stand exactly at .500 at 13-13-2 with just four teams left with byes in Week 11.

Over/unders: This is the biggest example of a trend reversing. Before the season, we all remember everyone (TV analysts, handicappers, etc.) saying that scoring would be down early in the NFL season because of the lockout, shortened training camps, unfamiliarity of free agents joining teams late, defenses being ahead of the offenses, etc. What happened? Overs went 12-3-1 in Week 1 and 11-5 in Week 2 to start the season 23-8-1 (74.2 percent). Oddsmakers adjusted and made totals higher, and we saw unders go 10-6 in Week 3 before overs took over again the next two weeks at 9-6-1 and 9-4 to stand at 47-28-2 (a still gaudy 62.7 percent). However, those who have been betting overs the last five weeks have hit a rough patch. The seasonlong record is now at the bookmakers’ desired level of 71-71-4.

Double-digit underdogs: My other pet play started the season 6-2 (75 percent) ATS through the first five weeks. It still has a solid overall record of 12-8-1 (60 percent) through 10 weeks, but that means it’s 6-6 the last five weeks. And while I’m usually the first to jump on any NFL double-digit underdog, even I am having a hard time pulling the trigger on this week’s options: Buccaneers +14 vs. the Packers and Chiefs +15 vs. the Patriots.

Back to the (football) betting board

I went 1-1 with my NFL plays last week with the Steelers-Bengals game staying just under 41.5 points, but the Vikings getting blown out Monday night. This is the time of year when I usually get hot, so hopefully that’s one trend that continues.

Bengals +7 vs. Ravens

The Bengals showed me a lot in their 24-17 loss to the Steelers last week, when they battled back from an early deficit, only to lose the game and the cover late. But I expect the same effort here against the Ravens, who haven’t shown the consistency to be a touchdown favorite here against a good team. This is a big game in the AFC playoff picture, and I expect it to come down to the final gun, so a 7-point head-start is great.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Panthers +7 vs. Lions

The Panthers have lost their last two games, but those were as favorites, a role they’re obviously not comfortable with. The same could be said of the Lions, so this is just as much a bet against them. Cam Newton and Co. are 3-1-1 ATS this year as underdogs and should be in this game the whole way against the Lions, who have come back to earth after their high-flying start. Even if the Panthers fall behind, the back door should be wide open.

PLAY: Panthers for 1 unit.

Chargers-Bears over/under45 points

I’ll go with this as my under play of the week. Both teams are battling for a playoff spot, and these are games I think will stay hard-fought and close. The one thing that scares me is special teams and/or defensive touchdowns, something these teams have shown a tendency to give as well as get.

PLAY: Chargers-Bears under 45 points for 1 unit.

Eagles +4 vs. Giants

The Dream Team has been a nightmare for backers (3-6 ATS), but I think this is where we start to see value in betting them, especially against a Giants team that isn’t as good as its 6-3 record indicates (4-5 ATS). The Giants, like the Ravens, have been inconsistent, and the Eagles can take them down if they can learn to not give up leads in the fourth quarter.

PLAY: Eagles for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-1 for a loss of 0.1 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 11-14 for a net loss of 4.4 units.