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August 2002 Article

The NFL Numbers Game
By: Greg Dempson

When wagering on a NFL game the movement of the point spread or the line can be a useful tool if you understand the importance of the movement.  In preseason NFL games the line will cross key numbers.  In week 1 in the American Bowl the 49ers opened at – 2˝ points and close as a 2 ˝ point underdog.  They were actually + 3 points at some books.  A line movement of 5 points in the preseason is significant; but the money to move the line in the preseason would pale in comparison to the regular season.  If a NFL regular season line moved by 5 points, two things would have to occur.  Firstly, Warner and Faulk would have to be scratched from the starting line-up, and in that hypothetical scenario, the game would be “off the board.” Secondly, the odds maker posted a very bad number if the line moved by 5 points (without a key injury).  If the latter were the case, he would be looking for a new profession.

When a team is favored by 8 points and the number moves to 9˝ points, it really hasn’t crossed a key area when one reviews the final scores.  Yes there are games that result in 8, and 9 point wins, but they don’t occur as often as the key numbers do.  A line move from 5 to 5˝ points could only hurt you if the favorite that you wagered on at – 5˝ won by 5 points.  Again not that many games conclude with one team winning by a score of 25 – 20 or 19 – 14 and so forth.  A score of 14 – 9 would land on exactly 5 points but that is insignificant when you look at all the final scores from the past 42 years that ended at 14 - 9.

Scoring in the NFL.

A safety, resulting in 2 points doesn’t occur too often in the NFL; but when the league adopted the 2 point conversion rule, that did change the final scoring results when reviewing how many games ended with one team winning by exactly 2 points.  If a team was behind by 15 points and scored a touchdown, they would be trailing by 9 points and would kick the extra point in this situation.  If they were to go for 2 points and not convert, they would still be down by 9 points and need an additional 2 scores.  By kicking the extra point they would then be trailing by 8 points.  If they were to score another touchdown they would now be trailing by 2 points and go for the 2 point conversion and attempt to tie the game.  If they missed and their opponent were to run out the clock the final score would land on 2 points such as 28 – 26, like the Titans and Rams game last weekend in preseason.  The 1 point victory or final score is also significant.  Let’s say a team was leading by 12 and tried a 2 point conversion, and didn’t convert.  Their opponent then marched down the field and scored 6 and kicked the extra point and was trailing by exactly 5 points.  If the team that was behind by 5 points managed to score an additional 6 points they would now be ahead by exactly 1 point.  Do you think they would kick the extra point again?  Absolutely not, they would go for the 2 point conversion; if they were successful they would be ahead by 3 points.  If they failed they were still leading by 1 point.

Lines and number moves of importance.

When a team is favored by 2˝ points and then moves up to 3 points the book usually takes a stand.  If you have money down on the favorite at – 2˝ and they are now - 3 you would stand pat.  If a large or disproportionate amount of money was still backing the 3 point favorite, the sports book would in most cases stand at – 3 and increase the “juice.”  They might have a – 3 at – 1.30.  If they were to move the number to – 3˝ points they could get “middled.”  They in essence would be gambling that the final score didn’t land on exactly 3 points.  Of all the games played in the NFL since 1960 more games have with a 3 point win than any other number including 7.  The movement from 2˝ to 3 and then 3˝ points is not a position a sports book wants to be in.  Line moves in this area are the most important.

One of the off shore books allows clients a free ˝ point from midnight Thursday until early Saturday morning.  They will reward you with a free half-point on any NFL total or side except the key number of 3 points.  They won’t give you the free half-point from 2˝ up to 3 or allow you to move from laying 3˝ down to - 3 points.  You have to pay additional “juice” to move up or down on this key number.  They do allow you to move from + 6˝ up to 7 or from a – 7˝ down to 7.  Last year the Chicago Bears were a firm – 7 across the board.  The free half-point allowed me to take the Bears at – 6˝ at home against Arizona.  The Bears won by 7.  It never hurts to shop around.  This past weekend I was backing the Cleveland Browns.  Most books where I wager had the Browns at + 3, I shopped around and found + 3˝ points.  It didn’t matter in that particular game but a dog of 3˝ is much stronger than + 3. You should always shop for the best number when playing totals.  The numbers of 40, 41 and 44 are very important.  I won two wagers last year by getting a free half-point.  I had the Bills/Colts over 43˝ moving off another key number of 44.  The final score landed on 44 and that was a winner rather than a push.  The first Cardinals/Eagles game had a total of 41 posted.  The free half-point had me playing that game over 40˝ points. The final was 21 – 20 or it landed on 41 points another winner rather than a push.

Final Scores - and what numbers are or aren’t important.

Here are some observations of the past decade when tabulating the final margin of victory.

1.   399 games produced a final score that landed on exactly 3 points.
2.   202 games resulted in a 7 point victory.
3.   155 games resulted in a 10 point victory
4.   130 games resulted in a 4 point victory.
5.   129 games resulted in a 6 point victory.
6.   121 games landed on exactly 14 points.
7.   104 games ended with a 1 point victory.
8.   104 games ended with a 17 point win.
9     88 games ended with a 2 point margin of victory.
10.  86 games ended with a 5 point win.

The number 3 had more occurrences than the second and third most common results.  Exactly 16% of all final scores landed on 3 points.  When tallying the top 10 margins of victory the following results was noted; 60.86% of all games played landed on the above 10 scores.  The number 13 was the 11th most common final and the final score of a 12 point victory had fewer occurrences than the numbers 8, 9, and 11 did.  The final margin of victory saw 56.65% of all games land on the numbers 1 though 10 inclusive.

The number or final score of exactly 8 points had 29 occurrences from 1992 until 1996.  From 1997 until 2001 there were 43 games that ended with an 8 point victory.  A final score of exactly 1 point had 40 occurrences between 1992 and 1996, and increased to 64 occurrences from 1997 until 2001, an increase of 24 games.  A 4 point win decreased from 78 to 52 in the same period while the number of 5 increased from 34 up to 52 occurrences.  A 7 point win moved from 88 up to 114, an increase of 26 games.

Remember, we not talking about the point spread, but key numbers when pertaining to the final scores in NFL play.

In conclusion I would definitely consider buying a half-point if your line is - 3˝ and lay 3 points instead.  By shopping around you can sometimes find a + 3 rather than a + 2˝ point spread if you wish to back the underdog.

Three-peat after me, 3 is the key number in the NFL.



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