There’s an old betting adage in football that says a point spread of 5 points is a “dead number.” That’s because it’s considered difficult for an NFL final score to land on and it’s surrounded by the more common score margins of 3, 4, 6 and 7.
Well, don’t tell that to anyone holding a ticket in Sunday’s Saints-Vikings game. Five is very much alive after Minnesota pulled off the unbelievable 29-24 victory over New Orleans on a Stefon Diggs touchdown as time expired.
The fireworks finish sent sportsbooks into a frenzy because the Vikings were anywhere from 4 ½-point to 5 ½-point favorites throughout the week. So the timing of when you placed your bet was a big deal.
The Sportsbook’s Jay Kornegay told USA Today the Diggs TD cut the SuperBook’s losses from “six figures” to half that. South Point reported multiple five-figure bets on the Saints, both on the moneyline and +5.
Sportsbook’s Dave Mason tweeted that 59 percent of bets at his shop were on the Saints +5.5 while he also saw sharp play on the Vikings with the number at -4.
So you can see why bettors reacted like this inside Las Vegas sportsbooks when the Vikings decided to take a knee rather than kick the extra point at game’s end.
“We needed that extra point,” Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at an operator, told USA Today Sports.
All of this highlights something important for football bettors: 5 is no longer a so-called dead number and the data tells us so.
Between 1984 and through the 2016 season, 2.57 percent of all NFL games were decided by exactly a five-point margin. That only makes it the fourth-least common final score margin among single digits. The numbers 2 (2.56 percent), 8 (2.32 percent) and 9 (1.13 percent) are all less common, or more dead, numbers than 5.
What’s more is that wins of five points appear far more often since the NFL moved the extra-point attempt back to the 15-yard line in 2015. We’ve seen 40 games decided by exactly five points since then, which is five percent of games and nearly double the percentage we saw with this margin previously. We also saw 16 of them this past season, or in 6.1 percent of games.
(That’s astonishing when you consider that 7 is the most common margin of victory in the NFL with 7.17 percent of games finishing on this number from 1984 to the start of 2017.)
The change to more five-point win margins comes from the result of more missed extra-point attempts, which has also led to more two-point attempts after a touchdown. Teams haven’t averaged better than 94.2 percent on extra-point attempts in the three seasons since the rule change, compared to 99 percent or better in eight of the nine seasons previous to that.
It all means oddsmakers have to treat the number 5 a little more seriously than they did previously and bettors would be wise to do the same. It’s worth shopping around when the spread hovers around this number whereas before 2015, many recreational bettors wouldn’t have given this line a second thought.
This week the Minnesota Vikings opened as 4.5-point favorites at Sportsbook over the Philadelphia Eagles before being bet down to 3.5 at most shops. We could also see the Vikings favored by 5 points over the Jaguars if that improbable Super Bowl matchup occurs.
Point being, keep the five-point data in mind if that number arises again and also when you see those 5-point spreads pop up next season in the NFL.