Football is a unique sport to bet on in North America because there is so much time between games. In baseball the line for a game only comes out the night before the game is played, so you really only have a few hours in which to handicap the game and make your bet (assuming you sleep, that is). Basketball and hockey lines can be out a little bit longer at times, but not much. Lines in the NFL are out nearly a full week before a game is played, though – lines for the next week’s games appear later on on Sunday. Because the lines are posted for so much time bettors have to decide not only who they are going to bet on, but when they are going to place that bet. Some people like to make their bets early in the week – Sunday night or Monday morning. Others like to wait until just minutes before kickoff. There are advantages to both approaches. Let’s look at three advantages of each:
Capitalize on any mistakes – It’s not that common in the NFL for point spreads to be totally wrong. Often, though, there will be a line posted that doesn’t match the opinion of smart bettors. In those cases the oddsmakers will quickly adjust the spread to compensate for the heavy action on the side that is out of whack. If you make your bets later than Monday morning at the very latest – and typically on Sunday night – then those changes will already have been made, and you won’t be able to get a piece of them. Of course, betting early means that you have to be prepared and have your handicapping homework done because making a losing bet early is as costly as making one late.
Grab a more favorable line if you are on the favorite – The NFL team that the public likes – usually the favorite – will draw the majority of the bets, and often times that action is heavy enough to cause the line to move. Over the course of the week it’s not uncommon to see a line for a favorite to move by as much as a field goal or even more. If you know that the team you are going to bet is likely to be a popular team, and you are confident in your opinion, then it makes sense to bet as early as you can to get the extra couple of points on your side.
Position yourself to take advantage of line moves – Even if you don’t particularly feel strongly about a game betting on them early can open up opportunities later in the week if the line does move. For example, if you bet on the favorite and the line rises significantly then the opportunity may exist to bet the middle – a very profitable approach. Let’s say, for example, that the football game opens with a line of -3.5 and you bet to win $100 on the favorite. Over the week the action is heavily tilted towards the favorite and the point spread jumps up to -7.5 by game time. If you bet on the underdog at that price you have a middle opportunity. If the favorite wins by less that four points then your bet on the favorite loses, but your bet on the underdog wins. All you have lost, then, is the juice on one of the bets – typically $10 in this case. If the favorite wins by more than a TD than the favorite bet will win, but the underdog bet will lose, and you will also lose just $10. If the favorite wins by four, five, six, or seven points, though, then both of your bets win and you would make a profit of $200. You are really only risking $10, so the return on investment is massive. With NFL handicapping middling is risky, and it’s not always possible to make it work, but when it works it works great, and it only really works if you make your first bet early.
Better price for team the public doesn’t like – If you are betting on a NFL team that the public doesn’t respect then the line on that team is likely to improve over the course of the week as the public pours their money onto the team that they like. By showing patience in terms of when you make your bet, then, you can often bet on a line that is a couple of points better than it was to start the week. Every point you can have on your side is a good thing – especially when you don’t have to pay for those extra points.
More time to prepare – When it comes to betting on the NFL, spending more time looking over a game and looking for the edge is almost always a good thing. The longer you wait to bet on a game the more time you have to handicap the game, and if you use that time well you’re going to be better off. In many cases I would expect that the extra time spent handicapping would create value for bettors even if the line moves in an unfavorable direction while they are handicapping because they are making a better decision and can be avoiding bad bets.
Can react to injuries and lineup changes – This one almost goes without saying. By waiting until later in the week to make a bet you are sure to avoid any surprising changes in the lineup – a NFL player who gets hurt in practice, an injured player who was expected to return but isn’t ready, an injury suffered in the last game that is more serious than it seemed, a benched starter, and so on. Any of those things can have a big impact both on the potential outcome of the game and how the line moves on a particular football game.