The NFL is the most popular sport in the country to watch, and it’s also the most popular sport to bet. Since a majority of bettors are long-term losers, we have found a betting edge when betting against the public in the NFL. When we examine these trends, we are always looking at the results against the spread (ATS).
However, we rarely post anything about betting against the public when it comes to totals. Why? Because it doesn’t win. Here is a graph of betting the total when the betting percentages are between 0 and 30 percent:
In case you aren’t visually inclined, lines trending downward and the color red are both bad signs. So let’s investigate further, what if we only look at Overs or only look at Unders? Here is the number of times that the “Under 30%” criterion applies to Overs and Unders:
Betting against the public essentially becomes an exercise of betting a lot of unders. If it were as simple as bet all the unders and win, then we could all be partying on my yacht right now. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Even when we filter the results to focus on highly bet games (getting 1.5 times the average number of bets for the day) the results still do not improve; the 30% level produces a 19-21 ATS record, and the 50% level produces a 30-47 ATS record.
We’ve established that betting against the public doesn’t work for totals, but the question is why? The simple answer is volume. The number of bets on the spread far outnumber the number of bets on the total. The same is true for the amount of money. Injuries, weather, and a quarterback change can all move lines but the most influential effect on a line is still cold hard cash.
For spreads, sportsbooks know that public money can outweigh sharp money and they have to set their line accordingly. This is not true for totals, as the professional bettors’ money typically outweighs the recreational players’ money. The key difference is when you bet against the public on the spread, you are on the same side as the house which isn’t necessarily the case when you bet the total.
And as we all know, it’s always nice to be on the same side as the house.