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Who Sets The Line?

Understanding how point spreads work is essential in order to be a successful bettor. But thinking like an oddsmaker and setting your own lines before the opening odds are released can help you greatly and allow you to find the most value on the betting board.

To think like an oddsmaker though, you need to first know how he sets his numbers. The initial line, also known as an ‘overnight line’ or ‘opening line’, is an educated guess of a starting point that oddsmakers believe will get equal action from bettors on both sides. Oddsmakers are often the brightest minds in the sportsbook and know all about the public perception of teams along with key statistics bettors use to make their picks.

Sportsbooks vs. The Betting Public

Oddsmakers certainly know people in Boston will bet the New England Patriots if they are favored by 6 points or 8.5 points, so why not give themselves more of an edge? They also know it is considered heresy for Dallas fans to bet against the Cowboys, so let's open them at -8, even though the 'real' line should be around -6 instead.

So besides thinking like the public, what do oddsmakers use to their advantage to beat bettors with their numbers? Well, they use computer algorithms and fancy math formulas to help generate a rough guess at what they should use for the opening line. They then use power rankings to crunch numbers and rank how the teams fare against each other in key stat categories. The key is releasing a number they hope will be right in the sweet spot where half the bettors will pick one team and half will pick the other.

It is important to keep in mind that the point spread is not the oddsmaker’s predicted margin of victory, although the number sometimes comes very close to it when all is said and done. Oddsmakers typically offer their opening line to a select few bettors to see which side those professional bettors will pick. Armed with that information, and factoring in home-field or home-court advantages along with weather and/or injury situations, the oddsmaker then refines the line before pushing it live for the public.

The Waiting Game

After the lines are finally available for the public to bet on, there tends to be a wait-and-see approach before any significant movement takes place. Some ‘sharp’ bettors wait to see how it initially moves based on how the public reacts and then decide for themselves when – or if – to place their bet. Others will place their wagers right away if they believe the oddsmakers are off with their numbers and do not want to miss out.

Sometimes the best NFL lines are the first ones you see late Sunday night or early Monday morning. Other times, you may get the number you have been waiting for five minutes before game time. Remember, if everyone starts betting on one team, that tells the oddsmakers their opening line may be off and they will start to move it.

For example, if the Green Bay Packers open at -7 and everyone is betting on them, the oddsmaker will move the line to -8 or -9 to encourage people to bet on the underdog Chicago Bears. No matter if you are a ‘chalk’ or ‘dog’ player, there will always be a right time to bet that side. By monitoring line moves closely, you can only help yourself get the best number.

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