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How Vegas Has Changed Its Mind On The Week 6 Games

Back in May, CG Technology released point spreads for games during each of the first 16 weeks of the season. Today, I want to check how the spreads for the week 6 games have changed since then.

There are 22 teams we can analyze using this method. Here are those 11 games, sorted by the games that have changed the most.

Home TeamRoad TeamMay SpreadCurrent SpreadDifference
BroncosGiants-3-11.58.5
FalconsDolphins-6.5-11.55
CardinalsBuccaneers-32-5
ChiefsSteelers-1.5-4.53
Redskins49ers-8-102
VikingsPackers1.53-1.5
JaguarsRams-3.5-2.5-1
PanthersEagles-4-3-1
TexansBrowns-9.5-100.5
RavensBears-7-6.5-0.5
JetsPatriots9.59.50

What can we learn from these 11 games?1

The Broncos were just 3.5 point home favorites a few months ago for this game against the Giants. Remember, New York made the playoffs last year and Denver did not. But after an 0-5 start combined with a slew of injuries, the Giants look like one of the worst teams in the NFL. As for Denver? The Broncos defense looks as strong as ever, and with a 3-1 start, Denver feels like a team that should make the postseason in the AFC. An 11.5-point line is a huge number, so this says a lot about how Vegas views the Broncos and not just that the Giants are terrible.

The Dolphins/Falcons game is interesting because Atlanta’s spread has jumped by 5 points despite… the Falcons not looking very good? The Falcons are 3-1 but could just as easily be 1-3, with two wins that hinged on 50/50 plays in the final seconds. The bigger issue, of course, is Miami. The Dolphins had a hurricane-induced week 1 bye and beat the Chargers in week two; since then, it’s been ugly. Miami gained 225 yards and was shutout until the final play against the Jets in week 3, and somehow, the offense has been worse since! The Dolphins gained 186 yards and was shutout entirely against New Orleans, and then picked up just 178 yards against Tennessee last weekend.

The Cardinals were 2-point favorites a few months ago against the Bucs; now Tampa Bay is a 3-point favorite. What gives? Well, Arizona has underwhelmed while Tampa Bay has looked pretty good. The Cardinals are 2-3 with both wins coming in overtime against the Colts and 49ers. The Bucs are 2-2 but nearly beat the Patriots last week. Arizona and Tampa Bay feel like two teams moving in opposite directions, and this spread reflects just that.

Perhaps the most surprising line is the one at the very bottom: the Jets/Patriots line has not moved at all! This despite the Jets being 3-2 when many thought they would be one of the two or three worst teams in the league, and the Patriots defense being incredibly underwhelming. New England is 3-2 but could easily be 1-4; only a remarkable last minute comeback against Houston and three missed field goals by the Bucs prevented that. The Patriots rank 32nd in Net Yards per Attempt allowed and 29 in yards per carry allowed. I don’t think the Jets are as good as their record, and New England is probably better than their record, but: shouldn’t this line have moved even a little?

What do you think?

  1. The Bills, Bengals, Cowboys and Seahawks are on bye this week. And the lines for the Titans/Colts and Raiders/Chargers games are both off due to uncertainty about the starting quarterbacks for Tennessee and Oakland. In addition, the Lions/Saints line is also not worth analyzing by this method due to some uncertainty about whether Stafford will start this weekend, so I have omitted that game as well. The Lions were 2.5-point underdogs for this game in New Orleans in May, and are 4.5-point underdogs right now; I don’t think that is what the line would be if Stafford were healthy. []
  • I think those huge 11.5 spreads in the games you mentioned is almost entirely on how bad the Dolphins and Giants have been offensively. With teams that can score, even if they are underdogs with a terrible defense, you almost never see spreads that large because of the good chance of points in “garbage time” eating a way at the margin of victory. Miami has 23 points in the last 3 games and the Giants basically have no weapons now that they lost their receivers key receivers.

    If I were a betting man (I’m not), I would take that action on the Falcons, but not the Broncos. Denver’s offense hasn’t looked great outside of the Dallas game. If New York scores 10 (which is very possible), Denver has to get to 22 to cover, which they’ve only done 3 times in their last 9 games going back to last year (and two of those were 24). Giants still have some talent on that defense and I doubt Denver is going to light up the scoreboard knowing that they really can only lose if they have turnovers and consistently give the Giants short fields. I expect a conservative gameplan from Denver offensively. Yeah I’d avoid that one.

    • Tom

      I’m in agreement 100%. Atlanta, yes, Broncos, no. Frankly, I’m not too concerned about Eli’s weapons. They have a week to figure this out, and the Giants defense will step up.
      Regarding this post, I don’t see the Giants as dropping off more than Miami, as the spread numbers indicate, not yet anyway.

      • Agreed. Eli always seems to be able to at least get something going with whoever he has out there. With an offense like Denver has had the last two years, an 11.5 spread is basically calling for the Broncos to give up 6 points or less. I don’t see that happening.

  • Tom

    I also thought that the Jets/Pats game would be slated a bit tighter…but public loves betting on the Pats (for good reason), so I’m thinking Vegas might have this number inflated a bit?

    I’m surprised by the Atalanta spread; as you mentioned, they haven’t been dominant enough this year to command 11.5 points even at home. Funny thing is, I think they’ll beat Miami by at least 17…the Miami offense is really, really bad, and Atlanta’s defense is a bit better than people think.

    I’m not getting the Broncos/Giants spread…I understand Giants are bad, Broncos are good, but 11.5? Are the Giants really 8.5 points worse since the beginning of the season? I don’t think so.

  • Richie

    The Dolphins also lost their starting QB since May.

  • Richie

    I’m also surprised that Chiefs line hasn’t moved more. Since home games are usually worth 3 points, the current line says the Chiefs would be favored by 1.5 on a neutral field. That seems low to me.

    Point spreads are funny. People spend a lot of time worrying about whether a line moves one point. But the spread rarely matters by such a small margin. And really doesn’t matter that often.

    From 2005-2014, the favorite only won 418 games without covering the spread (out of 2560 games). So that’s only 16% of the time that the spread actually mattered.

    Only 504 times (20%) has the final score ended up within 3 points of the point spread.

    • A friend of mine who used to bet frequently on NFL games with some success (i.e., he didn’t lose gobs of money), would never bet on the spread. His line: “If teams played against the spread, then I’d bet against the spread.” Always made sense to me.

      • Richie

        That’s one of the reasons I quit betting on games. I got sick of betting on a team to win by 7, and they give up a late meaningless touchdown and win by 5.

        • Tom

          For whatever reason, I’m totally hooked on picking games against the spread. In fact, it’s what got me involved with all this stat stuff in the first place. The challenge of predicting that the Jets can keep the score within 9 points against the Pats, is irresistible to me, and I know how ridiculous that sounds (the irresistible part, not the part about the Jets keeping it close)….I think it has something to do with being “right” about something. Of course, I’d never actually bet real money on these games (well, apart from $5 or whatever)…it’s too random, and as soon as you think you know what’s going on, that’s when you’ll start losing your shirt. ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’Em is as adventurous as I get…

        • Tom

          Yep, it makes watching a football game a weird affair…you’ll find yourself rooting for one team at a certain point in the game, then rooting for the other. There are times at the end of a game where my only hope to win my pick is if the game is tied, or sometimes I’m begging a team to NOT score a touchdown, just kick a field goal. A lot of people lost – and made – a lot of money last week in the Chiefs game when Justin Houston returned that fumble for a TD. That touchdown was meaningless, except to the thousands of people who bet on that game against the spread. Yeah, it’s kind of wacky.

          • Richie

            Well, I definitely have a lot of those dilemmas by being in 3 fantasy football leagues. Like having Ed Dickson in one league and going against him in a different league.

        • Anders

          Betting is quite funny this way.

          In Denmark the normal way to bet is you just bet who wins (or tie) and then you combine a minimum of 3 games. Where in US you bet on the spread and most often only bet on a single game at a time

          • Tom

            FYI, you can bet that way in the US as well. Betting on the spread is an option, you can bet on the straight up winner if you want.

            • Anders

              Just seems the majority of all betting is against the spread

    • Richie

      “Chiefs would be favored by 1.5 on a neutral field. That seems low to me.”

      This is why I don’t bet any more.

  • Deacon Drake

    The point spread only exists to trick people into betting on bad teams.

    In basketball, it makes sense, because there are so many scoring plays to filter out the noise. But in football (NFL), hockey, baseball, you are better off playing the total points or win line. Soccer is tough because of the draw factor. College football will have some pretty silly lines that can be exploited… man, I used to love catching Boise St -31 on the SmurfTurf against some unsuspecting clown school. Those always ended up 55-10.

    In the case of the Jets and Pats… people still know the Jets are no good (I actually thought they’d go 3-2 through this stretch on their way to 4-12) and the line is anticipation of Gronk coming back… I could see it slip to 7 if he’s out again. My formula also had Pittsburgh finishing under .500, so I’m expecting their slide to be permanent.

    • Tom

      Well, I’d probably use the word “lure” instead of “trick”…it’s debatable what we mean by a “bad” team in the context of a betting situation, but if we assume that means the team that is a large underdog, then betting on those teams isn’t such a bad way to go. You’re not going to get rich, but you’re not losing all your money to Vegas either. If you bet consistently on the underdog, with spreads of 7.5 or higher, since 1978, you’d be at 52% (breaking even considering the juice). And the higher that spread goes, your odds get slightly better (the sample sizes get smaller as well, of course):

      10 and higher: 54%
      13 and higher: 53%
      14 and higher: 54%
      17 and higher: 56%

      (data from profootballreference.com)

      In other words, there’s no point in “tricking” someone to bet on a team that actually gives them better odds to win (against the spread) than the favorite.

      Now, if what you mean by “bad” team is a team that perhaps isn’t a huge underdog, but is indeed a terrible team, and perhaps Vegas has inside info as to how bad they are, and so they give you those 2.5 points to “trick” you into picking them because you think “Well, maybe they can pull this off, and at least I’m getting 2.5 points”, you could be right about that.

    • Tom

      Incidentally, I don’t see Pittsburgh ending up under 0.500. My numbers say they lose (outright and against the spread) to Kansas City this weekend, but my gut and knowledge of recent Steelers history say they win the game. They’ve been doing this the past few years, not all the time, but a lot: struggle against an “inferior” opponent, then show up against the good ones.

      • Richie

        In the past 5 years, the Steelers have been underdogs 26 times (in the regular season). In those games they are 13-13 (straight up) and 14-10-2 against the spread.

        Their biggest spread was 7.5 points, where they lost to New England last year and beat Baltimore in 2012.

        In general, in recent years, the league wins outright about 37% of the time when they are underdogs by 1 to 7.5 points.

        • Tom

          When you say “the league”, you mean, when any team plays any team, if the spread is between 1 to 7.5 points, the dog wins 37% of the time. Or are you saying when teams play the *Steelers*, and they’re dogs by 1 to 7.5, *those teams* win by 37%? (too lazy to look this up)

          • Richie

            I meant any team vs any team.

            “The league” wins 37% of the time, but the Steelers win 50% of the time.

            • Tom

              OK, so the Steelers are above average winning games as underdogs, at least at that 1-7.5 range.

              How do they do the Steelers do when they’re the favorite?

              Since 2012, including this year, they’ve been favored in 59 games out of 85, for 69%. For some context, the Packers have been favored 67 times (79%) and the Patriots 72 times (85%).

              In those games, the Steelers are 38-21, 64%, straight up; in in the same time period, the league is 875-470, 65%.

              So it appears that my take that they “lose the games they shouldn’t” doesn’t really wash, as when they’re favored, they win about the same amount of games as every other team.

              Let’s take a look at the Packers and the Patriots:

              The Patriots are 56-16, 78% and the Packers are 49-18, 73% (both straight up).

              I think the reason I anecdotally think they “lose games they should win” is that perhaps I have a perception (shared by a lot of others I assume) that the Steelers *should be* winning a lot more of those games that they’re favored in, in the same way that the Pats and Packers do. So, perhaps it’s unfair to say that they “play down” to the competition, when in fact they’re no worse than any other team, but it is fair to say that recently, when they’re favored, they don’t perform as well as two other playoff-caliber, Super Bowl teams.

              • Richie

                Yeah, there is definitely a perceptions that the Steelers play down to competition. It seems like there is more to it than just in comparison to the Patriots and Packers.

                I’ll have to think about a way to find if it’s true.

                Maybe there is a home/road angle or maybe it has to do with not covering vs bad teams.

                • Tom

                  The perception is there, that’s for sure. If you type in Google “Steelers play down” it will finish with “to the competition” and you’ll see 4 or 5 articles on it.
                  There’s a lot to look at, but I really do think that perhaps they’re not that bad (at playing down, etc.), it’s that we are maybe expecting more out of them. All this hoopla about Brown and Bell, etc., and maybe we’re all wrong in thinking that they’re this great, explosive team. I mean, they are *on occasion* but not consistently.

  • jgov05

    Crazy that almost every underdog ended up covering this week. One would have done well betting on the Dolphins, Giants, and Cardinals based on the analysis above, though I’m sure it doesn’t work every week.