How many times has the team you wagered on staked out a decent lead, only to let it slip away in the second half? Anyone who bet on Tampa Bay last night (led 21-0 after two quarters but lost 38-35 in OT) or the Raiders on Sunday (led 18-3 at the half but lost 31-28) understands the frustration. If you have never tried betting on First Half lines you are missing a valuable tool from your wagering arsenal. That is the topic for this week’s column and it seems like a good time with six teams losing this weekend despite Halftime leads (Bengals, Falcons, Titans and Broncos were the other four teams). I will focus on the NFL for today but please note that most of what you read today will be directly applicable to college football as well.
Books offer first half wagering for the simple purpose of increasing handle. The more you bet, the more (hopefully) the book earns. There is not much secret in how First Half lines are derived; it is generally just the pointspread for the game cut in half with a half-point to full-point adjustment against the favorite.
For example, the Monday Night game (Colts at Tampa Bay) had a pointspread of Tampa Bay -4.5 or -5 and a First Half spread of -3 (even). There is usually a bias against the favorite team because bettors tend to prefer them in the First Half as perception is that the favored team is more likely to get out to a quick lead in the First Half before allowing a back-door cover in the Second Half. However, I have yet to see any statistics that prove that either the dog or favorite for the game are a better bet. Like any other bet type, you need to pick your spots.
It is very easy to find a team’s total points for and against for the season as a total. Every newspaper and major sports website provides this readily. What is tougher to find is a team’s points for and against broken out by first half and second half. I track this myself every week in a spreadsheet and it helps because interesting mismatches do appear. Remember that a team is playing the same opponent in both half’s of every game so even great and horrible teams will have a stronger half.
Imagine one team outscores its opponents 48-7 in the first half of the first four games but is only even at 31-31 in the second half. It would be a good team because it has outscored its opponents 79-38 and that team would probably be 4-0 straight-up but may not have covered the spread all four times. This would be a strong contender for a first half play.
Conversely a team that is outscored 48-7 in all its first halves to date and manages to get to 31-31 in its second halves would be bad and probably winless; but may have a couple of back-door covers to its credit. This would be a strong candidate to play against in the first half.
These examples are dramatic, but you get the idea; some teams get off to a quick start but fade while others start slowly but finish strong. When you compare two teams that are playing each other and see that one plays better in the first half and their opponent plays better in the second half, there may be an opportunity to exploit the weakness of the first half pointspread. This is by no means a system, but it is definitely something you can easily do in a few minutes every week. If 15 minutes a week of tracking scores by half leads you to find a single winning play, then it is worth it every time.
Now for a quick look back at the week. Houston beat up East Carolina 27-13 on Tuesday to give players a good start to the week. Miami (Fla) -14 was a huge play in the first half on Thursday but they could only muster a 10-10 score at the break and were lucky to get the 22-20 win despite being 27-point favorites. A West Virginia win would have been a candidate for upset of the year! Friday was a good day for the book with the 17-13 Utah win over Oregon.
Saturday saw bettors hit early with Wisconsin 30-23 (Pk @ Penn State) and late with Oklahoma 53-7 (-21 @ Iowa State) and Texas Tech 51-28(-6 vs. Texas A&M). In between the book had wins on Georgia Tech 29-21(+6 vs. NC State), UCLA 46-16 (+2.5 vs. Washington) and Auburn 28-21 (-1 vs. Tennessee). I am sure bettors must be getting frustrated with Auburn; when they bet on them, Auburn got beat badly but when they have bet against them, Auburn has won. Strange season! Biggest game of the day went to the book when Iowa squeaked out a 30-27 over 3.5-point favorite Michigan.
Sunday was a pretty good day for the book, although players won the biggest decision of the day when the Vikings (-5) beat up on the Vickless Falcons 39-26. Chicago’s first win over the Raiders 24-21 was a good result, as were the wins by New England and Cleveland. Cincinnati, New Orleans, Denver, and Washington all couldn’t win but kept it close enough the cover the spread and win for the House.
It was a very good day for teaser bettors though with a lot of games around the spread. Buffalo -7.5, Carolina -7, Kansas City -3, Philadelphia -4.5, and San Francisco -7.5 all didn’t cover but teasers with those lines were winners. Buffalo, Carolina and San Francisco were very popular teaser plays. The only bright spot there for the books was the Cleveland upset over 7-point favorite Pittsburgh.
Baseball volume was outstanding early in the week but definitely tapered off when football was in the air. Bettors generally did well with the Yankees and Cubs, and the Red Sox rally was good for them as well. We did see San Francisco Giants money for the most part so that was the only series that went our way.
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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino
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