The Muffed Punt: Dead NFL numbers are coming to life, and it scares the crap out of books

Be afraid, be very afraid. The dead numbers are coming.

Thanks to the NFL’s new extra point rule – moving PAT kicks from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line, essentially making it a 33-yard attempt – pointspread numbers that booksmakers deemed as “dead” for so many years are starting to claw their way out of shallow graves, like someone just spit some verses from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (where my Evil Dead people at?).

Dead numbers, such as five, eight and nine, aren’t simply dismissed by bookies anymore because more teams are 1. Missing PATs and 2. Going for 2-point conversions. As of Week 8, there have been 27 missed PATs compared to just eight for all of last year. And as far as 2-point converts go, NFL teams have attempted a total of 46 2-point tries after combining for only 59 attempts in 2014, and we’re just hitting the midway mark of the schedule now.

In previous seasons, a pointspread of -4.5 would often jump straight to -6 because books knew there was little chance the game would finish with a scoring difference of five points. The same could be said about taking a spread of -7.5 and jumping it straight to -10, knowing the slim probability of the game landing on eight or nine – opening up the Lemarchand’s Box (where my Hellraiser people at?) of bookmaking terror known as “the middle”.

However, just when sportsbooks thought they were safe with these time-tested line moves, a game like last Monday’s tilt between the Ravens and Cardinals jumps from the shadows and bites bookies in the neck – and wallet.

Arizona opened -7.5 and drew one-sided action all week, forcing bookmakers to move the spread. And following the idea that -8 and -9 were dead numbers, most markets jumped right to Cards -9.5 or -10. That lofty adjustment opened sportsbooks up to a middle on the Monday nighter, with bettors able to take Arizona as low as -7.5 and buy back Baltimore as big as +10.

A missed PAT kick by Arizona in the fourth quarter made the game 26-10 for the Cardinals, which was followed by a Ravens touchdown with 4:26 remaining in the final frame. Instead of simply kicking the extra point, Baltimore opted to go for the two-point conversion and found the end zone for the double, making the score 26-18 – a rare 8-point differential and a huge middle winner for anyone who bet both sides at opposite ends of the line move. The dead number was alive and kicking Monday night.

While oddsmakers aren’t factoring in how missed PATs and 2-point conversions will play into the game when crunching their weekly power ratings – which drum up the NFL pointspreads – the guys who handle those numbers after they’re submitted, the sportsbooks, are admittedly growing more and more cautious of the so-called dead numbers.

“It’s not a dead number anymore,” Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, says of 5-point spreads. “Rather than move from -4.5 to -5.5, I’ll go to -5. We’re no longer trying to get to -6 as fast as we can because now we’re manufacturing a middle for them (bettors), and that’s the world we’re living in with every half-point being scalped. Everyone’s trying to hit a home run off a bologna sandwich.”

Now, before we get carried away like this is some sort of NFL betting “28 Days Later”, the frequency in which NFL games are landing on these once-dead numbers – I was going to say “stiff digits” but it sounded too dirty – isn’t blowing the doors off the previous years of data.

Between 2000 and 2014, NFL regular season games were decided by five points just 3 percent of the time and were even less frequent in the previous three seasons (2012-2014) at 2.48 percent (19/768). And numbers like eight and nine were just about as frequent as a house giving out full-size candy bars on Halloween, coming up 3.4 percent and 1.5 percent respectively in the 15 previous seasons.

In a short sample period, the first seven weeks of the 2015 NFL season, games have landed on five four times in 106 games – that’s 3.77 percent, a noticeable climb from the 2.48 percent clip of the previous three seasons. Eight-point finishes have been just as frequent at 3.77 percent and there has been one game decided by nine points – a 28-19 win for the Vikings over the Lions, which featured a missed PAT as well as a safety in the final minute.

“None of these numbers are really dead now,” Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, says. “You used to be able to move past them and not worry about getting sided. But now you have to be more careful because you can. When we’re moving a line, we’re thinking about those numbers because they’re not dead like they used to be.”

So, knowing that, NFL bettors who like wait on those quick line moves from 4.5 to six or 7.5 to 10 may want to take another approach. It seems books will be adjusting these spreads as slow as the roving pack of zombies – thanks in large part to those “Back from the Dead” numbers.

Live lines

Wondering which numbers are the most live when it comes to NFL spreads? Yeah, you are.

Three, seven, and 10 are the most frequent point differentials – Duh Doy! That’s why they’re so common on the weekly NFL board and considered key numbers. NFL regular season games have finished with a difference of three points 14.55 percent of the time since 1985. In that same span, 8.8 percent of games have been decided by seven and 6 percent have been by 10 points.

Behind those obvious frequencies, four (5.6%), six (5.4%), 14 (4.8%) and one (4.1%) are the next most common differentials over the past 30 seasons of NFL regular season football.

Under wonders

Primetime NFL games are known – at least in the betting community – for one-sided action on the Over. The ways books explain it, Joe wants to sit down and be entertained by a high-scoring game – so that’s the way he’s going to bet it. And that’s the way it goes most Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights.

Thanks to that trend, however, sportsbooks are taking Joe “Over” Bettor to the cleaner in primetime plays this season. After last night’s dismal performance from the Dolphins offense, 2015 night games are 7-15-1 Over/Under heading into the weekend – playing below the number 68 percent of the time.

This is a complete 180 compared to 2014, when primetime games finished a collective 34-16 O/U count on the season – 68 percent winners for the Over.

Heading into the remaining two night games for Week 8, the Packers-Broncos total is 45.5 and the Colts-Panthers Over/Under is sitting at 47.

Pants pooping Trend of the Week

A few years ago, there was a bonkers trend when it came to the totals in non-conference games – NFC vs. AFC. For the 2013 regular season, non-conference clashes produced a 49-15 O/U record, paying out for Over backers 76.5 percent of the time. That’s like printing money.

As with most profit-producing trends, bookies got wise and upped the totals on these NFC vs. AFC games. Since then, non-conference games have slightly favored the Under, going 42-50-1 O/U (54% Under), without really leaning one way or the other – until now.

The 2015 NFL season has featured 13 battles between NFC and AFC foes, and nine of those have played Under the number. That 4-9 Over/Under mark – which is hitting at 69 percent – is a very small sample size. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on after the way Overs caught fire in non-conference games just two seasons ago.

Candy crush

Halloween is here, which means I’m about to get a couple cavities all up in my grill. I take my kids Trick-or-Treating, but make it very clear before they ring one doorbell that there’s a candy tax in effect. It’s a complicated policy, but the bare bones of it is that I get all your Reese Peanut Butter Cups. With candy on the brain, here’s some of today’s NFL teams – if they were Halloween candy:

New England Patriots are…

Crushed bag of Doritos. These are still so good, even if all the air got let out of the bag.

Philadelphia Eagles are…

Warheads. Never has sweet and sour been so confusing. One second it’s fine. The next, your face looks like a cat’s butthole.

Indianapolis Colts are…

Can of soda. You couldn’t wait to crack this bad boy open the second you got home. Then… KAPOW! Soda explodes in your face after being shaken in a bag all night. Not what you expected, right?

Detroit Lions are…

An apple. WTF? Why is someone trying to kill me? Trash.

New Orleans Saints are…

Mysterious gummy-marshmallowy thingy. I don’t know what the hell you are, and why is there Chinese writing on the wrapper? Screw it, I’ll eat it anyway. Hmmm… not bad. Not great, but not bad.

Makin’ some Bacon

Like the past few Fridays, I swapped NFL betting info with Rob Cressy from this morning. Excuse any blips or blurps with the video, we had some technical difficulties like we were the visiting coach trying to radio in plays at Gillette Stadium.

The Madden Project

For me at least, the old NFL Madden video games on the Sega Genesis taught me football. So why can’t it teach me about football betting? With the advancements in video games in recent years, we wanted to see how NFL Madden 16 for Xbox One would do picking games against the spread each week. We sim a few of the bigger games and see how the machine does each week. Here goes Week 8…

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh: 28-31/42-35/21-28 – Pittsburgh wins 31.3-30.3
Minnesota at Chicago: 17-14/21-20/21-31 – Chicago wins 21.6-19.6
Green Bay at Denver: 41-30/34-27/10-31 – Denver wins 29.3-28.3

Last week: 1-1-1 ATS
Madden 16 season: 13-11-1 ATS (54%)

Biggest line move

Jets at Raiders. This one opened pick’em but both sharp and public money pounded Gang Green, moving New York to 3-point road favorites on the other side of the country. I don’t think this goes any higher but expect massive buy back if we see Raiders +3.5.

Wiseguys love…

The Bears… sorry, sorry… Da Bears! Chicago opened as a 2.5-point home underdog hosting Minnesota and was bet all the way to -1.5 before money came back on Minny. All sharp money early in the week so it makes this an interesting line to watch Sunday.

Books are sweating…

Cardinals at Browns. It’s been both sharp and public money pouring in on Arizona, moving this line from Browns +4.5 to as high as +6. A lot of parlays will have the Cardinals featured also, so this is a big decision game for books.

Banker game

Seahawks at Cowboys. The NFL has limited the amount of 4 p.m. ET starts, which means there aren’t many chances for books to knockout parlays before the night cap. According to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, “No matter what happens in the early games, you’ll end up with parlays tied into the Seahawks.” Seattle is a 5.5-point road favorite.

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

If my weekly DFS selection was a house on Halloween, this house would be giving out Smarties/Rockets (see Smarties are like M&Ms in Canada) – that roll of pill-like chalk candy that settles to the bottom of your Trick-or-Treat pillowcase like crap in the toilet. No one wants those but people still give them out anyways, which is what I’m doing… Happy Halloween kids!

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week: Martavis Bryant, WR Pittsburgh Steelers ($7,200)

Ben Roethlisberger is back which means the Steelers passing game is in full effect versus the Bengals. Antonio Brown will draw blanket coverage from the defense, so Bryant should have some space to make plays. He’s posted 42.8 DFS points in his two games back from suspension and had 109 yards receiving and a score against Cincinnati in Week 14 last year.

Injury you should know

Tashaun Gipson/Jordan Poyer FS, Cleveland Browns

The Browns could be down to a third-string rookie free safety against the home-run hitting Cardinals. Gipson was back in practice this week after missing three games with an ankle injury. He says he’s going to play Sunday but we’ll see how mobile he is. Poyer suffered a shoulder injury in the loss to the Rams and is out of action. That leaves Ibraheim Campbell as the lone healthy FS on the roster. He’s mainly been on special teams this season.

We know how to pick’em

Each week, we take the game with the pick’em spread – or closest thing to it – and throw all the hardcore handicapping out the window, instead making our pick based on which cheerleading squad is hotter.

This week, it’s the Bengals and Steelers which is at a pick’em with some books. And since the Steelers don’t have cheerleaders, you get a double shot of the Ben-Gals, who just won a $255,000 claim against the franchise stating that they were paid less than minimum wage. You go girls!

Sunday’s menu

Seeing that Sunday is the first day of November, and winter is quickly closing in on us like Michael Myers chasing down Jamie Lee Curtis, I’m going to fight back and have some BBQ. That should upend the early onset winter blues for at least another week.

Song for Sunday

The Patriots kept their undefeated season intact Thursday, but there’s a good chance there will be a couple more teams get their first taste of defeat (I can only imagine it taste like those nasty Halloween caramels. Yuck!). We will at least have one team – Packers or Broncos – drop from the ranks of the undefeated, so with that in mind, here’s my favorite lead singer OF ALL TIME – and also my favorite Halloween costume… OF ALL TIME!

Follow Covers Features Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns, including his NFL’s biggest betting mismatches Week 8.


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