After oddsmakers release their opening lines at sportsbooks, the betting public almost immediately reveals which side of the number they like more and moves them accordingly. But while these early line moves may show where the public money is initially going, it does not obviously tell the whole story until we can see where the closing odds end up.
It is important to realize that a lot of movement can happen on sporting events, especially with football since there are so many days in between games, giving bettors plenty of opportunities to get action on different numbers.
The goal when following line moves is to always try to get the best of the number you are looking for, whether you are interested in wagering on the favorite or the underdog. That can be much easier said than done, though, because the opening number may be the lowest you will get on a favorite before the public hammers it and makes it too high.
Timing is Everything
As a general rule, if you like the number on a favorite against the spread, betting it early is recommended due to the fact that most bettors prefer favorites and most line movements go against the “chalk” as the week goes on. But while there are advantages to jumping on a line early, there can also be advantages to sitting back and watching to see how the line moves. That can definitely be the case if you are more interested in betting on the underdog, as you may be able to simply wait and watch the value grow.
Overall, line movements can be fairly predictable. Many lines remain fairly stagnant, eventually moving a half-point or so against the favorite (as the public bets on the favorite), and then perhaps coming back to the original line after the underdog bettors get their action in. However, this is not always the case, as some lines change quickly by a point or more, and these moves tend to give us some clues on where the public and “sharp” money is going.
For example, when a line increases by a full point or more, the key is to watch how quickly this movement takes place. If a team opens at -3.5, moves to -4 a few hours later, and then eventually moves to -4.5 or -5 days later, this is likely a case of the public just continuously wagering on the favorite throughout the week.
Impact of ‘Smart’ Money
On the other hand, if a team opens at -3.5 and rapidly moves to -4.5 or -5, this is more than likely a case in which “smart” money is on the favorite, as the line needed to be adjusted as soon as possible. Even though you may have missed out on the best line in these cases, there may still be value in the side the “smart” money appears to be on, so it is definitely worth a closer look.
Sometimes “smart” money can also be diagnosed when the line movement (or lack thereof) appears to be odd or off from your original thinking. You might expect the New Orleans Saints to be huge favorites this week, and when they open at -2, something does not seem right. If the line does not move or goes the other direction against New Orleans to -1.5 or -1, chances are that “smart” money wagered by “sharp” bettors is on New Orleans’ opponent this week, which explains the strange movement.
Regardless, it is always extremely important to follow line moves carefully and use your gut feeling on when to jump in and place a bet on the side you want before it becomes too late.