By Steve Rieder
Editor's Note: This article is a one-time free preview of our 2021 NFL In-Season Package, which features best bets, player props, DFS strategy, power ratings, projected line movements, lookahead lines and much, much more. To view our weekly premium content schedule for our NFL In-Season Package, click here.
"The difference between sharps and squares is that sharps bet numbers and squares bet teams."
Most successful sports handicappers use a quantitative standard for assessing the game.
In order to do that, it is imperative to use power ratings, also known as 'power rankings,' to identify the point differential between opposing teams. By comparing two teams’ power ratings and accounting for home field advantage, the bettor can objectively determine what the point spread should be and take advantage of any difference in the actual line.
Early in the year, especially heading into Week 1, power ratings have to account for team’s retirements, player acquisitions and departures, coaching changes, injuries, etc. without much evidence to create their opinion. How the new pieces fit together in practice are largely told via the beat writers’ Twitter accounts.
What makes things even more convoluted is that most practices are closed off to the public and many even for the reporters themselves. Listening to a coach’s press conference can often shed some light on how a team or player is doing, sure, but how much of that information can be attributed to the truth versus the proverbial coach’s speak? As the year progresses, power ratings become more reliable because there are more data points to fine-tune a team’s rating. This is why we're now at ground zero.
Regardless of the difficulty to create, having power ratings is a must to properly handicap the NFL.
Below is the first edition of our Betting Predators 2021 NFL Power Ratings. To create the power rated line, take the difference between each team and factor in home field advantage. It is important to remember that power ratings are fluid and should just be the starting point of a handicap when considering a bet.
WEEK 1 POWER RATED LINES
- DAL @ TB (-9.5)
- SF (-8.5) @ DET
- PIT @ BUF (-7)
- NYJ @ CAR (-5.5)
- SEA (-2) @ IND
- ARI @ TEN (-3)
- PHI @ ATL (-5.5)
- MIN (-3.5) @ CIN
- LAC @ WAS (-2)
- JAX (-2.5) @ HOU
- CLE @ KC (-5.5)
- *GB (-4) @ NO*
- DEN (-1.5) @ NYG
- MIA @ NE (-3)
- CHI @ LAR (-8.5)
- BAL (-6) @ LV
- *Neutral Site*
Looking at the Power Rated Lines there are some significant discrepancies between the actual market.
For instance, Tampa Bay is a -9.5 power rated favorite, but only -7.5 at many books. Does the two points of line value mean an automatic bet? The answer is somewhat of a mixed bag. For starters, power ratings are the start of your handicap, not the conclusion. There are ancillary factors that can have a significant impact to the handicap that could take you on or off a game. I will list some of those considerations below.
In reference to the Tampa Bay/Dallas game, our number goes through 8 and 9, which aren't exactly key numbers. Since 2006, a a team has only won by 8 points 3.6% of the time and 9 points 1.7%. In recent years, with the increased distance of extra points, 8 lands even more frequently due to PAT misses and teams going for two. If the spread is considered a true 50-50, then we can expect to win this play 55.3% of the time (50% + 3.6% + 1.7% = 5.3%) . With consideration to the standard -110 vig, winning at 52.38% clip is break even. Since our expected win percentage (55.3%) is greater than our threshold to make money (52.38%), this would would be an actionable play. But again, this is still just the start of the handicap.
Lets look at some situational factors:
- Dallas continuity issues due to injury/covid.
- Brady knows how to lead a team after a Super Bowl victory.
- Defending Super Bowl Champions are 17-3 straight up and 13-5-2 ATS in Week 1.
- Arians is a superior coach to McCarthy and has ample time to prepare.
- Tampa Bay is at home and accustomed to the heat and humidity.
- Zach Martin, Dallas All-Pro Guard, is a late/unexpected scratch.
- Dallas' once solid offensive line will have trouble with TB's stout D-line.
- Questions with Dak's injuries (How healthy is he really?)
- Dak lack of time to regain chemistry with receivers
- TB #1 in 2020 Rush Defense - Can't count on Zeke to take pressure off Dak
- TB returning basically the entire team
- TB no continuity issues
- TB not intimidated by standalone opener
This list could go on for several pages, and as more factors are taken into consideration, this -9.5 might actually seem light. Perhaps we come to the conclusion that the game should really be lined at -10, which I actually think it should be. This still doesn't mean I'm betting Tampa Bay to cover the -7.5 though.
Do I think it is a good bet? Yes, but there is a better way to get at this.
I'd be much more inclined to do an advantage teaser (through the key numbers of 3 and 7) rather than just lay more than a touchdown. When doing advantage teasers, it is important to find a sportsbook that lets you lay -120. Several books are now charging -130 or more to parlay these alternative spreads, which is criminal and may actually be -EV. (Remember from earlier, "Sharps bet numbers/Squares bet teams")
In order to bet the Buccaneers in a teaser, then we need another team for our second leg. Let's take San Francisco -7.5 for another advantage teaser. Although historically home underdog advantage teasers are more profitable, this SF number is still light. We have Detroit power rated as the second worst team in a league with a first time coach who talks about breaking and biting off knee caps (the furthest thing from their previous astrophysicist coach) and a quarterback who got run out of Los Angeles by Sean McVay.
BEST BET: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -1.5 / San Francisco 49ers -1.5 (-120) Teaser
NOTE: This power rating/market discrepancy led to an actionable opportunity in this instance. However, that will not always be the case. Just because there is 2 points of value doesn't mean there will always be a bet to make.
WEEK 1 VALUE STILL EXISTS
Many recreational bettors will be eager to bet on the weekend. However, if you are betting a side or a total on Sunday, then there is a good chance you are doing it wrong. Professional bettors and syndicates have been refining the line all week and, in Week 1's case, all summer. By game day, almost all value has dried up for sides and totals. However, there are still actionable opportunities that are available and ways to get at Week 1. There are derivative and prop markets that provide value and opportunities to fade the public.
Bets that I have made that are still available:
- Baltimore Ravens -4 (-110) @ DraftKings
- Dallas Cowboys Team Total UNDER 22 Points (+100) @ PointsBet
- New York Giants Team Total UNDER 20.5 Points (-115) @ Caesars
Bets that I would still make at the current number:
- Denver Broncos -2.5 (-115) @ Bet365
- New England Patriots / Miami Dolphins UNDER 43.5 (-110) @ FanDuel
- Philadelphia Eagles / Atlanta Falcons OVER 48 (-110) @ FoxBet
- Jacksonville Jaguars -2.5 (-114) @ FanDuel
- Seattle Seahawks Moneyline (-134) @ FanDuel
- Seattle Seahawks -2.5 (-110) @ FanDuel
COVID-19 BETTING OPPORTUNITIES
I mentioned previously that almost all of the value was dried up by the weekend, and I typically spend my Friday-Sunday scouring the player prop and derivative marketplace, nearly ignoring sides and totals.
However, as negatively impactful as COVID-19 has been in general, it can actually provide value throughout the week and even on game day. For instance, All-Pro Guard Zach Martin tested positive and will miss Thursday Night's contest. A lineman being scratched may not move the needle much (although in this particular instance with the skillset of the player, the health of Dak Prescott and the lack of continuity this offseason, I believe it is impactful), but imagine it was Tom Brady that was going to miss the game.
This line could immediately swing to a pick 'em. If you had your alerts set on your phone and got the news before the sportsbook could pull down the line, you would have a tremendous +EV bet.
If the sportsbooks beat you to the punch, however, that doesn't necessarily mean that you lost out on the opportunity. Some books may pull down the spread and total, but leave the derivative market open by mistake. Having multiple outs and shopping those lines can provide some of the best bets of the year.
Another area to attack is the player prop market. If a starting quarterback goes down, we can also expect the pass catchers' output to decrease. Maybe the air attack becomes a ground and pound. This would be a great opportunity to fade receivers and pound the running backs, especially in live prop betting. Some outlets let you bet rushing attempts, as well as rushing yards, in this instance. If the defense knows the starting quarterback is out, then they will most likely look to stop the run, which may limit the production but not the opportunity of the running back. Playing over on rushing attempts would be more prudent than playing over on rushing yards. This is just a very specific/small example of how we can look to find an edge.
As the season progresses, we could also have certain states that limit the amount of fans at their stadiums. We will keep a close eye throughout the year and adjust our HFA when necessary on this.
The key to taking advantage of COVID-19 opportunities is being able to process the impact accurately, react expediently, and identify the best way to get down.
The Power Ratings may start the handicap, sure, but the situational factors will continue to refine the handicap as we construct it. Start with the Power Rated spread and then adjust for the following factors to determine your final game spread. These are key aspects we take into consideration each week at the Betting Predators when it comes to determining our most accurate power ratings and best edges for bets:
- Playing Styles
- Travel Distance
- Game Time
- Bye Weeks
- Days of Rest
- Divisional Games
- Letdown Spot
- Lingering Injury Concerns
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON TEAMS
- Indianapolis Colts:
There was plenty of positivity on the Colts this off-season, but things have quickly unraveled. With their underwhelming starting quarterback working back from an injury and quarantine, along with a suddenly injury plagued offensive line, things have turned pessimistic in Indianapolis. Perhaps the team will get healthy and hit their stride, but it the chances are slim it happens in Week 1.
- New York Giants:
The Giants have added much needed playmakers on offense this offseason, but Barkley, Golladay, Engram, and Toney have all been nicked up this summer. With the offensive line a turnstile, the Giants defense will have to carry the day to start the year if the Giants don’t want to find themselves in a hole in the NFC East. The Giants power rating should go up as the season progresses when the offensive pieces have time to get healthy and gel.
- Cincinnati Bengals:
With Burrow trying to get healthy and back up to speed, combined with first round pick Ja’Marr Chase’s curious case of the dropsies, the offensive woes could continue into the regular season. If Burrow shows he is healthy and Chase is back to his LSU form, the Bengals could easily see their number rise, but it's impossible to be bullish on them for the opening week.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Most Super Bowl teams have player turnover after hoisting the trophy, but the Bucs have brought back nearly every player on the roster. Super Bowl champions have done well to start the season in recent years and we have every reason to suspect the Bucs will hit the ground running in 2021.
- San Francisco 49ers:
The 49ers start the season relatively healthy, which is a major coup for the club that has seen their rash of injuries as the years progress. With Garoppolo at the helm, they may be a play-on team early until the injuries inevitably begin to mount or they make the switch to Trey Lance.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
- Denver Broncos:
The Broncos have had tremendous success at home in the first two weeks of the year as opposing unconditioned teams struggle to breathe in the altitude. Much to the Broncos dismay, they start the year in New York and Jacksonville squandering their geographic advantage.
- Florida Teams:
The Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all find themselves in a good spot at home early in the year due to the Florida heat and humidity. As teams try to get into game shape, they often struggle in the sunshine state. As the season progresses, this trend dissipates with the drop in temperature.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Despite the aforementioned environmental factors, the Bucs haven’t always had the greatest home field advantage. With Tom Brady in Tampa Bay and coming off a Super Bowl victory, the typically subdued Buccaneer faithful may be a bit more raucous this year.
- Las Vegas Raiders:
The stadium is beautiful and the city is buzzing as the Raiders finally get a full season with fans in Sin City. With all the fervor and bluster, there are serious concerns about the fandom in Las Vegas. With no real local allegiance and with the opportunity for opponents fans to vacation, there may not be much of a home field advantage for the Raiders this year. This situation bears monitoring.
- Houston Texans:
Travel and familiarity alone may make up 1.5 points for Home Field advantage. I’m not entirely sure the Houston Texans will get much more than that. With an inauspicious start to the year and Watson’s legal trouble thwarting any attempt at Texan success, the club could be drawing dead this year. If the fans show up at all, you have to wonder how fanatical they will be in support of their Texans.