Why is Contrarian Betting so Profitable for Sharp NFL Bettors?

Whether it’s due to the meteoric rise of fantasy football, hyping of the sports media or the incredible popularity of football in general, public money from casual bettors dominates the NFL betting market. These bettors often overreact to one week of action and place future wagers based on the outcome of a single game. This plays right into the hands of sportsbooks who can accurately predict where they’re going to get action each week and shade their lines accordingly.

Oftentimes, novice NFL bettors end up betting into bad lines because they just watched Tom Brady throw for five touchdowns, Adrian Peterson single-handedly rip apart a division rival or Mark Sanchez buttfumble his way to an embarrassing loss on national television.

At Sports Insights, we monitor and archive the NFL betting trends at seven offshore sportsbooks (CRIS, 5Dimes, GTBets, BetUS, Sports Interaction, Sportsbook.com and Carib Sports). These percentages represent actual wagers (not consensus data) placed by bettors and are crucial in monitoring and understanding the forces that move lines across the sports betting marketplace.

By analyzing our historical archive of NFL betting trends data, we’ve found that whenever the public loads up on one NFL team, it’s been historically profitable to bet the other side of that matchup. To illustrate this, we turned to our Bet Labs software to perform the analysis.

To start, we created an NFL betting system that examined all underdogs that received 20% or less of spread bets since the start of the 2005 season.

The screenshot below displays the results:

 

NFL-Contrarian-All-Dogs

 

This strategy has produced a 57.7% win rate against the spread (ATS) for profit of +14.19 units and a +12.8% ROI. While this is already quite profitable, we can improve results even further by filtering out visitors and focusing solely on home teams.

The screenshot below shows the updated results:

 

NFL-Contrarian-Home-Dogs

 

With visiting teams removed, we see ATS win rate improve to 59.4%, pushing units won to +15.45 and ROI to an impressive +16.1%.

Try Bet Labs for $25 and create your own winning betting systems now!

Why does Contrarian NFL Betting Work so Well?

One of the biggest differences between sharp sports bettors and squares is that sharps understand the importance of getting the best of the number. Because almost 25% of NFL games finish with a margin of victory of either 3 or 7 points, having tools in your arsenal to get better lines has a real effect on how profitable you’ll be over the course of an NFL season.

Using Bet Labs, we examined how NFL lines move throughout the week to show how one-sided public betting affects line movement.

To perform the analysis, we looked at how lines moved from open to close for all NFL teams who received 20% or less of spread bets. We then did the same analysis for teams who received 21% or more of spread wagers and compared the results.

Line Movement Open to Close
≤ 20% of bets
All Other Games
Line Gets Better For Favorite 19.1% 42.3%
No Movement 25.5% 30.9%
Line Gets Better For Dog 55.4% 26.8%

Table Key:

Line Gets Better for Favorite: If the Cowboys open as -3 favorites against the Giants and the line closes at Dallas -2.5, we consider that line move to be better for the favorite.

Line Gets Better for Underdog: Using the same example, if the line closes at Giants +3.5 after opening at +3, we’d consider that move to be better for the underdog.

The data above confirms that there is a correlation between one-sided public betting and NFL line movement. More specifically, in games where one team received 20% or less of spread bets, the underdog in that matchup closed with a better line (compared to the opening line) 55.4% of the time. In all other games, underdogs improved from open to close only 26.8% of the time.

Sharp sports bettors understand this concept and exploit public perception by consistently “buying-back” underdogs at better prices.

It’s also interesting to note that Bet Labs uses archived line data from Pinnacle, a market-setting sportsbook. NFL bettors who take advantage of sportsbook shading should be able to find even more value employing this strategy at public books as they typically shade even further off the market consensus.

9 comments on “Why is Contrarian Betting so Profitable for Sharp NFL Bettors?
  1. Is this a fair summary of this post?

    Books try to balance the money they receive on each team. Therefore, when a lot of money comes in on one side (80% or more), the books offers a better price on the other side to entice more money to come in. This seems like simple supply and demand.

    Not trying to criticize this post on being simple or anything, just trying to see if i understand.

    • At times, books try to balance their action, but they’re also willing to take a position on a game when they believe they have the right side. They do this by shading lines in anticipation of one-sided action, which is taking a position against the public.

      In other scenarios you’re correct that there is so much public money taking one team that books are forced to move their number, which gives added value to the other side.

  2. When filtering the data down to strictly home teams receiving less than 20% of spread bets, I was wondering what the winning percentage was for home dogs getting 7 or more points that are receiving less than 20% of spread bets?

  3. Great post. I have been a true believer in the contrarian approach and technical analysis for years. Anyone that doesn’t base their research on line movements, betting trends and true line value is wasting time and money. Betting trends are going to blow up this year. It’ll be interesting to see what the next edge becomes as the public will becomes smarter.

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