If you’re new to betting on the NFL, you probably haven’t paid much attention to the opening odds. While it might not seem like a very significant aspect of sports betting, it’s actually quite important. Where the line opens, how it moves and where it closes is all significant information for handicappers. Let’s take a closer look at the opening odds, both to understand them and learn why they’re important to monitor.
Understanding Betting Odds
Before we get to the opening odds, let’s do a quick rundown of how the betting odds work. This will be useful to those who are new to sports betting. If you’re a veteran, you can skip to the next section.
When you see an NFL line, it’s going to look something like this:
Minnesota Vikings +2.5
Green Bay Packers -2.5
The number next to the team name indicates a point spread, which is a margin of victory. If there’s a minus sign in front of the number, that tells you that the team has to win by that amount for you to win your bet. For example, if you bet on the Packers, they have to win by more than 2.5 points for you to win your bet. In other words, they have to win by three, four, five or more. As for the Vikings, since they have a plus sign in front of their odds, that means they are getting points. If you bet on them, they can lose by two, one or win the game outright and you win your bet.
What Are Opening Odds?
The opening odds — or opening line — are the first time a betting line is posted on the board. Typically what happens in the NFL is we only see the betting line for the upcoming game. Let’s say it’s Week 1. You’ll only see lines for Week 1; you won’t see lines for Weeks 2, 3 and 4. The reasoning for that is because a lot can change while the games are being played. So if a sportsbook had a line on Week 2 before the Week 1 game was over, an injury or a wacky performance could significantly change the line. That’s usually why those odds are off the board while the teams are playing.
Of course, you’ll sometimes see a lookahead line – betting lines for the weeks ahead – but there is a separate article on those lines and the strategy of them.
So the opening odds are important because they refer to when the line first opens up. As soon as the teams are finished playing for one week, we’ll see the lines for the next wave of games pop up on the board. The first number that is posted is therefore known as the opening line.
In the NFL, the opening line is usually released on Sunday nights, right before Sunday Night Football. That’s because the majority of the league’s 32 teams have already played and all that’s left are four teams for Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football.
The Pros and Cons Of Betting Opening Odds
So now that you know what the opening odds are, we can focus on the strategy of them.
The benefit of betting an opening line is you can potentially take advantage of some good value. The betting lines are going to shift around throughout the week but if you like a line, you can bet it early and get the number you prefer. Let’s use the following example:
Dallas Cowboys +3.5
Philadelphia Eagles -3.5
Dallas Cowboys +6.5
Philadelphia Eagles -6.5
In this situation, if you bet the Eagles early — when the lines opened — then you could get the Eagles at -3.5. When you compare that to those who’ll bet it later — at -6.5 — that’s a three-point difference. In football, that’s huge. On the flip side, it’s possible you bet the Cowboys early and lost out on value when you could have waited. And it’s also possible a player gets injured midweek in practice, so that could have an unexpected impact too.
To be successful with this, you have to have a keen understanding of the opening lines, a knowledge of the teams involved and a grasp of how the lines will move.
Who Likes To Bet Opening Odds?
As you can imagine, understanding which way the lines will move is expert level sports betting. That’s why you don’t see beginners engaging in this very often. Typically, beginners will make their decisions on Sunday morning. However, the pros will usually jump in as soon as the line is posted.
The pros like early lines because they tend to come up with their own numbers for games. Some handicappers use models and spreadsheets to create their own point spreads, so if they see the oddsmaker has posted a very different number, they’ll pounce on it right away.
Sharps, or pros, are the ones who love to bet opening odds. Almost everyone else waits.
Limits On Opening Odds
Since we know that the pros like to bet the early lines, you’ll often see limits on the opening odds. That’s because the oddsmakers are not perfect. They understand that they make mistakes. Typically, a smart oddsmaker will have a lot of respect for the sharps. As a result, they’ll try to keep the limits low on the opening odds so they don’t get hammered.
Another reason why you might see low limits on opening odds could be because of an injury. If a player is questionable to play or there is some kind of weather situation expected, the oddsmakers might post a line so that you have access to it early but they’ll keep the limits low in case the player’s situation changes or if the weather becomes an unexpected factor.
What Do The Line Movements Mean?
Although there are a number of reasons why a line might move — weather, injuries, momentum, trades — we’re going to focus on one specific type here: the person who is betting the game. Typically, the oddsmakers move the line when sharps or pros are betting on a side. Not only do they respect their opinion but the amount that pros bet is significantly more than the average player. So one reason you might see a line move — especially early on Sunday night — is because the sharps are betting it.
Another reason could be the total money coming in on one side. Remember, the oddsmakers try to keep the action just about even on both sides so that they have no stake in the game. If they have equal money on both sides, they’ll just take the juice and view that as a success. So if the money — both from sharps and the public — is streaming in on one side, that indicates that everyone likes that particular team (or betting line) and expects that to be the winning side.
Let’s use the Cowboys-Eagles example once again. If the Eagles opened -3.5 and closed at -6.5, that could mean a lot of people bet them throughout the week. It could mean the oddsmakers underestimated the Eagles but both the sharps and the public love them in this spot. The oddsmakers would keep rising the price on the Eagles — from 3.5, to 4, 4.5, 5 and so on — until they could start to entice bettors to take the other side. That’s because they are looking to adjust the line until it’s enticing enough to take the Cowboys with the additional points. That way they can eventually even out the action on both sides.
NFL Week 16 Opening Odds
Saturday, Dec. 22
Washington Redskins +10 at Tennessee Titans, O/U 37
Baltimore Ravens +4.5 at Los Angeles Chargers, O/U 45
Sunday, Dec. 23
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +7 at Dallas Cowboys, O/U 46
Buffalo Bills +10.5 at New England Patriots, O/U 45.5
Atlanta Falcons +3.5 at Carolina Panthers, O/U OFF
Jacksonville Jaguars +4 at Miami Dolphins, O/U 39.5
New York Giants +9.5 at Indianapolis Colts, O/U 47
Houston Texans -3.5 at Philadelphia Eagles, O/U OFF
Minnesota Vikings -4.5 at Detroit Lions, O/U 43
Green Bay Packers -3 at New York Jets, O/U 45
Cincinnati Bengals +7 at Cleveland Browns, O/U 46.5
Los Angeles Rams -13.5 at Arizona Cardinals, O/U OFF
Chicago Bears -4 at San Francisco 49ers, O/U 43
Pittsburgh Steelers +6.5 at New Orleans Saints, O/U 57.5
Kansas City Chiefs -2.5 at Seattle Seahawks, O/U 54
Monday, Dec. 24
Denver Broncos -3 at Oakland Raiders, O/U 45