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NFL Betting 2020: How early-season outcomes offer future betting value

Sports betting markets only get increasingly efficient, making it harder to find value. Both sportsbooks and bettors can change their approaches at any time, making it harder to predict where the market will move.

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When looking at the schedule and betting lines, however, there are usually places where the market is more likely to allow inefficiency to creep in. We’ll look at two of these today: How a team’s early schedule might distort their true value, and how the market can underestimate high-leverage games.

EARLY SCHEDULE DIFFICULTY

The NFL regular season schedule-makers can place opponents anywhere in the season. Many teams will have easy and difficult games spread throughout, but some will have early schedules filled with many of their easier games or many of their more difficult games. 

Teams with games that are particularly more difficult than the rest of their schedule are often underrated by the market because bettors will often see the team “underperform” a few games in a row and expect the trend to continue. These can present good spots to back the team before the market adjusts. The reverse is also true — teams with an easier earlier part of their schedule will often be seen as “outperforming” early and can present good spots to fade the team.

To identify these teams quantitatively, we start off by looking at lines from a sportsbook that has posted lines for all 256 games in the season — we'll use YouWager.LV here. For each team, we can take the average of their 16 spread lines, which reflects the difficulty of their average game. For a given game for a team, we take the spread line minus this average to define the game’s Difficulty Over Average (DOA) for that team.

For example, the Miami Dolphins have a spread line of +3.7. For Week 1, the Dolphins are currently 7-point underdogs when traveling to face the New England Patriots. Subtracting, this game has +3.3 DOA. Let’s look at each team’s total DOA through Week 4:

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