How to Interpret Line Movement

Football Betting: How to Interpret Line Movement

By Loot, Football Handicapper,

There are different views out there on how to deal with line movement. Some of the ideas contradict themselves, but such is the case with football betting. There are no hard-and-fast rules. There are no systems, regardless of what the scamdicappers say. You have a bunch of different information and it inevitably comes down to how much importance you attach to all the different data and insight.

This especially applies to line movement. On one hand, you know the general betting public is a losing lot. The bookies are the ones who survive year after year, not the players. So if a bunch of bets come in on one side, you might be inclined to go with it. But noting how small the percentage is of successful football bettors, you might want to fade the public–go the opposite way.


But then you run the risk of rendering your own handicapping moot. A lot of players do this. Sure, they handicap games, but their moves are based on line movement. They try to determine where the smart money is and attempt to extract the best value out of a bet–by knowing where the line is going to move.

You want to find balance with this dynamic. You don’t want to make all your bets based on what other people are betting. You don’t want to become overly-enamored with a team getting better and better value as the week wears on. Kansas City might have opened the week at +3. Just because they are now +6 doesn’t mean you should blindly jump aboard the train.

We should allow line movement to be one of many tools we use when handicapping games and trying to formulate winning wagers. Don’t let line movement guide the chariot. Formulate your picks first, and ideally do it early in the week to make the line movement pertinent. So you already have your picks before the lines are out and begin to move. Then pay attention.

There are two different types of bettors that can move the lines–the sharps (the wise-guys) and the general betting public. While wise guys can bet at any point during the week, they are the ones more likely to pounce early on what they perceive to be a soft spread. So if you see line movement early in the week, it is more likely to be a result of professional bettors pumping the number up, rather than the general betting public jumping on one side.

So if you see Denver is playing Pittsburgh with an opening line of Pittsburgh -6 and in a few hours, it has become Pittsburgh -4.5, that tells you that the early smart money is on Denver. You might be inclined to follow the leader and take Denver. But remember those sharps liked Denver at +6 and now it’s only +4.5. Taking a spread that is worse than the opening line isn’t particularly comforting. If you’re taking Denver, you’re following the “smart money,” but you are doing it with a worse point-spread.

Try to determine where the smart money is going before the line bottoms out. It doesn’t go from 6 to 4.5 in just a few minutes. You can sometimes see what direction the line is moving early if you pay attention.

Line movement that occurs later in the week is usually a result of the moves being made by the general betting public–the same group of people who keep the bookies in business. In other words, that’s not really a group of people you want to make a habit of emulating. At the same time, if you think you can come out ahead in this business by fading the public in knee-jerk fashion, think again. That won’t work, either.

There is a tricky element to it that sometimes surfaces. Some super-sharp betters sometimes might fake out the book and public by betting a big amount early in the week. So when the number changes, they resurface later in the week and hammer it with a huge bet. We might feel like puppets if we react to head-bobs like that. Again, interpreting line movement can be quite problematic.

There are times where a line will move so significantly that you might want to take the team whose value has become almost too good to pass up. The Bengals might not have been appetizing at +2, but at +5.5, you see really good value. OK, that’s fine. The line moved enough to give a team the value you were looking for before making a bet.

When dealing with line movement, it takes experience to understand all the ins and outs. Once you get comfortable with it, you can use it as a valuable tool to find out where the smart money is and to help you get the best spread for your money.

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