Bookmakers and bettors have battled back and forth, while underdogs, especially in prime time and on the road, and overs have been money-makers through nine weeks of an NFL season like no other.
At the midway point, underdogs are 75-56-1 (57.2%) against the spread overall. Road ‘dogs are covering at a 59% clip, and in prime time games the underdog is 19-6 ATS. Games are averaging 50.7 points, which, according to ESPN Stats and Information, is the highest through the first nine weeks since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Oddsmakers have struggled to keep up with the increased scoring –the over is 72-58-3 (55.4%) so far this season.
With the coronavirus pandemic posing unprecedented challenges for bookmakers and bettors, the betting market has adjusted on the fly. Teams are covering the spread by 9.52 points per game, the smallest spread margin — the difference between the closing line and final margin of victory — -through the first nine weeks in any season since the 1970 merger.
Here’s a look at the NFL betting market at the midway point:
• Super Bowl odds: The Chiefs remain the consensus favorites to win the Super Bowl and are listed at 7-2 at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. The Steelers (11-2) are next, followed by the Saints (7-1). The Buccaneers and Ravens are the only other teams with single-digit Super Bowl odds, each at 9-1.
• Biggest mover: The Steelers began the season as 22-1 to win the Super Bowl. They’re now the second-favorite, behind only the defending-champion Chiefs.
• Biggest faller: The Cowboys have seen their Super Bowl odds fall from 12-1 at the start of the season to 200-1.
• Best teams to bet: The Steelers, Dolphins, Packers and Bengals are each 6-2 ATS.
• Worst teams to bet: The Cowboys are 1-8 ATS. They covered the spread for the first time this season on Sunday against the Steelers. The Jets are 2-7 ATS.
• Best over teams: The Raiders, Seahawks and Saints are each 7-1 to the over.
• Best under teams: The Cardinals and Rams are each 2-6 to the under.
• Biggest lock: The Saints (+3.5) covered the spread by 31.5 points in a 38-3 thrashing of the Buccaneers in Week 9.
• Season-win total lock: The Cowboys’ season-win total was set at 10. At 2-7, the under has already been clinched (as long as Dallas plays its full 16-game regular season).
• MVP odds: Russell Wilson +130, Patrick Mahomes +200, Aaron Rodgers +300, Josh Allen +1800, Ben Roethlisberger +2500.
• Offensive rookie of the year odds: Joe Burrow +100, Justin Herbert +100, Tua Tagoviloa +1,000 (via DraftKings).
• AP comeback player of the year odds: Alex Smith -250, Roethlisberger +270, Cam Newton +1,000.
Mid-season book report
• After holding their own early in the season, the tide has turned against the betting public. Several bookmakers said Weeks 8 and 9 were among their most lucrative of the season so far.
“Overall, it’s been kind of a choppy season,” Jeff Stoneback, director of race and sports for BetMGM sportsbooks in Nevada, said. “We’d have good days, give it away on a Monday night. It was kind of back-and-forth all season, until these last couple of weeks.”
• Sportsbook operator PointsBet said its hold percentage (the amount the book keeps from the amount wagered) has exceeded expectations through nine weeks.
“A big factor there has been the consistent run of bad performances from the favorites in prime time matchups,” PointsBet communications director Patrick Eichner told ESPN. “Our biggest handle events are always going to be the marquee, standalone night games, and favorites have been crushed against the spread there thus far. It’s also worth noting that those games are often the final leg of a parlay, with bettors usually needing the favorite to cover.”
• Las Vegas casinos have been operating at limited capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has not significantly hurt betting handle on the NFL.
“Year over year, our NFL handle is actually up from 2019,” John Murray, executive director for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, said. “I was surprised when I saw that because I know we have a lot less tourism in previous years.”
“The betting handle has been great,” added Stoneback. “I would’ve expected it to be quite a bit down from previous years, but it’s been holding its own. We’ve been writing actually more tickets than we have in the last years.”
• Station Casino sportsbook has seen strong handle on the NFL and an uptick in mobile wagers.
“The season started slow in regards to win and hold percentage. Bettors did well in September,” Chuck Esposito, sportsbook director for Station Casinos, said. “However, over the last month, it has started to turn a bit in favor of the books.”
• With players going on and off of COVID-19 lists, bettors and bookmakers have had to pay close attention to the news.
“We’ve definitely noticed our sharper college players being a lot more tentative this year, especially early in the week. It’s hard to fall in love with a side on Monday when you know there’s a good chance 10 of the guys on your team will be in quarantine by Wednesday,” Murray of the SuperBook said. “You have to be a little more cautious than ever before, and we are seeing a lot more sharp players take that approach than in previous seasons. As for the NFL, I’d call it similar. But it does seem like the NFL is not being impacted quite as much. There’s a little more clarity there. In both pro and college football and all sports, really, information is more valuable than ever before. Knowing a QB is about to be ruled out for COVID before anyone else can be worth a lot, and it’s always a race to have that information first.”
Midseason by the numbers
• 48.02: The average closing over/under total in games this season, the highest such mark through nine weeks in the last 20 seasons.
• 18: The number of games that have ended with a margin of victory of three. That’s eight more games than any other margin of victory.
• $132.1 million: The amount wagered on football in September and October with Indiana sportsbooks.
ESPN Stats and Information researcher Bryan Beasley contributed to this article.