On Monday, the Cowboys made headlines when some oddsmakers in Vegas opened them as slight favorites over the Panthers.
One sportsbook, the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, even had the Cowboys opening as -2.5 point favorites according to OddsShark.
One of the first reactions to that opening line came from Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who called the Vegas spread "a little disrespectful," thereby showing a lack of understanding about point spreads that’s very surprising for a guy who spent almost all of his adult life in football.
What the casual fan often doesn’t understand is that the point spread is not a predicted margin of victory, though the numbers certainly look like it and often come very close to the actual result of a game.
For oddsmakers like sportsbooks and casinos, the objective in setting the point spread, or the line, for an NFL game is to make sure the line attracts an equal amount of wagers on both sides, as this limits the exposure of the oddsmaker.
The opening line is an oddsmakers' best guess as to which point spread will get equal action from bettors on both sides. Because most NFL games are mismatches, oddsmakers use a point spread to balance out the betting action on the two sides. Otherwise, everybody would just bet on the favorites to win, and the bookmakers would be left to cover the difference.
When one team gets a lot of attention from bettors, that tells the bookmakers their opening line may be off, and the line can then move quickly as the bookmakers adjust the line to keep the wagers balanced on both sides. When that occurs, it is known as steam, and that’s exactly what happened to the Cowboys’ line over the last few days. As an example, here’s how the line for the Cowboys moved from Sunday through Tuesday at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas:
|Sunday 7:39 PM||-2.5|
|Sunday 8:12 PM||-2|
|Sunday 10:39 PM||-1.5|
|Monday 9:02 AM||-1|
|Monday 1:49 PM||Even|
|Monday 2:05 PM||Even|
|Monday 4:56 PM||+1|
|Tuesday 8:37 AM||+1|
|Tuesday 11:43 AM||Even|
To understand what exactly was driving the line, I reached out to Scott Cooley of Bookmaker.eu, and he explained Bookmaker’s perspective on the game:
We opened the spread at Dallas -1, and the sharp bettors didn’t take long to make their play. Midday on Monday we adjusted to a pick ‘em and then later in the afternoon we moved to Panthers -1. At this point, we’ve taken three times as much money on Carolina as we have on the Cowboys.
I could see this line climbing a bit more in favor of Carolina with bettors following the steam, but I expect it to come back down as Thursday approaches. We’ll have some smart bettors on Dallas no doubt. And of course, the public bettors will look toward the Cowboys as this is still the most wagered on team in the league. We needed to attract Carolina money early because we’ll be seeing a lot of bets on the ‘Boys come Thursday.
The fact of the matter is that from top to bottom, the Panthers are currently the better club, but they are going to lose at some point. With Tony Romo and Sean Lee healthy again, Dallas certainly has the personnel to win this game.
As Scott notes, and as we saw in how the line has moved so far this week, the point spread will likely continue to move, though it's probably going to remain relatively small, even if it continues to bounce back and forth in favor of one or the other team.
Note to Ron Rivera: With the money bound to pour in for America's team, the line had be set the way it was to get some action on Carolina. This has nothing to do with respect or disrespect, but simple economic reality.
Two other games this week with small point spreads are the games involving the remaining NFC East teams.
The Eagles were early 1-point favorites over the Lions in Detroit, but the latest line has the game as a pick 'em. Scott Cooley again on what's going on with that game from and oddmaker's perspective:
We opened this game as a pick ‘em and immediately took action on the Eagles, driving the spread to -1 and then -1.5. I was looking at the screen scratching my head because I really expected it would have moved the other way. We have seen some smart money on the other side since, and we’re currently back to the opener of a PK.
From our vantage point, the Eagles are the worst team in the division. Yet they continue to get respect from the betting public because of their namesake and allure. I think we will see the Lions favored by kickoff, but then again, it’s a Thanksgiving Day game and square money will be in full force.
Gotta like how the "smart money" is moving in Detroit's direction.
The Giants' opened as slight favorites over the Redskins in Washington but the point spread has since increased in favor of the Giants. Scott Cooley gives us the lowdown on this game too.
We didn’t move off our opener of Redskins +1 until Monday when the spread went to a pick ‘em. However, it’s been an influx of Giants money since then as the number has jumped to Giants -2.5, and I suspect we will reach the key number at some point this week.
This is an intriguing game that should give us a good gauge of where both teams are at this point in the season. Washington has been resilient this year, having dropped two in a row on just one occasion. I do think New York is the better team and the right side of the wager, but I won’t be surprised if the ‘Skins pull out a win. It’s just the nature of the topsy-turvy NFC East we’ve come to know and love.
Our pick 256 participants don't appear to be influenced by the Vegas lines very much this week, at least not in the three NFC East games. Here's who the 160 participants who've submitted their picks so far like for straight up win in each game:
81% like the Cowboys over the Panthers
66% like the Redskins over the Giants
As a further and final point of comparison, here's who the NFL Experts polled at NFLpickwatch.com currently like as the straight up winners in the NFC East games:
36% like the Cowboys over the Panthers
68% like theover the
33% like theover the Giants
Now that you know what Vegas, some media experts, and your fellow BTB members think about the games, what's your take on how the NFC East will fare this week?