Reacting to Recent NFL Scoring Boom Sportsbooks Are Getting “Over” - Whelmed

Over/Under Boom in NFL Sports Bets

  • No one specific reason causing record scoring involving “Over” results for NFL bettors in 2020
  • Lack of penalty flags, not bad weather nor Covid-19 seems to be the primary reason for change
  • Wise bettors isolating “Under” opportunities upcoming as bookmakers react to public demand

Analyzing the NFL 2020 early season remarkable scoring trend, all experts agree on one factor. That is, that it should not be attributed to simply one factor. And perhaps also it should not be an assumed easy pass to riches for any sports bettor playing the “over’ the total wager for the rest of the season. Here are some experienced reasons why.

Along with many other facets affecting our general life experience in the year 2020, the NFL football season seems to be joining along. The Covid-19 virus minimizing practice and eliminating all preseason games has undoubtedly affected defense more than offense. It has even been more dramatic relating to NCAA college football. Quarterbacks are taking advantage and especially receivers over often confused, inexperienced defensive secondaries.

Through Week 5 of the NFL season, each game has “averaged” 51.5 points per game. That is approximately a very noticeable 7.5 points per game HIGHER average total that has surely been noticed by bettors.

Popularity of Totals (Over/Under Wagering)

On average, most sportsbooks like DraftKings or FanDuel report totals wagering on NFL football games to range between 20-25%, with betting on the sides approximately 70% percent. The remaining play is on the straight money line to select an outright winner of the game.

Like any other trend, popularity will shift where there is an opportunity. Through this early stage of the season that points to bettors noticing the opportunity for “over” wagering on the totals, where thus far about 60% of the winning has taken place. Feeding that opportunity, sportsbooks have reported a strong upsurge of almost 75% of their wagers on Over, exceeding the normal pattern. Therefore, it has produced a profit lost for most bookmakers within this category.

Helping the trend are also savvy bettors incorporating teasers into their wagering strategy. As an example, a bettor “buys” or lowers their two-team teaser six points. A 48-point total now becomes a 42-point total. A bettor must win both teams (games) within his bet at the accepted vigorish odds. Given the reliability thus far of scoring in most all NFL games, it has proven an exceptionally good investment.

Additional Reasons for Early NFL Season Scoring Splurge

Many reasons have contributed to the dramatic increase in scoring. They include the loss of home crowd advantage without fans in attendance affecting momentum of defense. Also, some claim the running quarterback style of play including Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens plus some of the new stars a factor. But overall, most all agree the most dominant factor has been the sudden, dramatic drop in penalty flags from referees. An earmarked result from an explicit effort by the NFL league office to call only “clear and obvious fouls”.

During the first four weeks of the 2020 season, NFL games have averaged 13.4 flags per game, including those that were declined or offset. That is the lowest per-game average through four weeks dating back to the 2001 season. It has been a consensus that fewer penalty flags are what the audience likes and therefore what the NFL office also likes.

Within that stat the most noticeable penalty flag dropping is for offensive holding. There have been 126 offensive holding calls thus far in the 2020 NFL season, the lowest total since at least 2001. That reflects an incredible 56.3% drop from 2019, when the league made offensive holding a point of emphasis, and 41.2% from 2018. Therefore, some big pass plays have been allowed to stand.

And then there is the most obvious factor of all, the weather. Combining the facts of the previously mentioned new and unusual factors are the most traditional one. During the first quarter of the NFL season, the weather is predictably pleasant for all 32 NFL teams. There are no snowstorms, few all-day rains to consider and certainly no sub-freezing temperatures working their way toward assisting the defense. Look for that to change subtlety by late October and certainly by November in at least half of all NFL team locations.

Get Ready to Go “Down Under”

An important principle for any sports bettor to understand is that sportsbooks are not in business to lose money. Though they cannot control the outcome of any NFL game, they can control and react to the numbers/lines posted during the season. Look for that to take more immediate effect targeting totals wagering.

It began in NFL Week Five but was not as noticeable yet affecting their “hold” or bottom-line profit on totals over/under wagering. It is generally accepted that most casual players have always preferred playing the “over” choice in this type of play. The principle being they are never “out of the game” and always maintain a rooting interest. During the first five weeks of the NFL season, several games were decided “over” the total late in the 3rd quarter or early 4th quarter.

Look for that to change as the NFL season rolls on and the sportsbooks to take advantage. Weather will worsen, more flags figure to drop, and most important, defenses will start to benefit by experience playing time together. In a minor change, a small percentage of fans are now being allowed into NFL stadiums, which also have a potential effect on lowering points.

But likely the biggest factor will be the points totals themselves. As a large majority of bettors continue to wager the “over” side on games, they will be greeted by challenges of higher totals to reach. Eventually, some games will fall a point or two or maybe even a half-point short of reaching a number. It would be wiser to isolate those specific opportunities and begin betting those games “under” the total.

Some specific high-profile NFL teams have earned their reputation for going over the total thus far this season and therefore handicap the bettor paying extra points built into the games. They include the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers (averaging 38 PPG), and New Orleans Saints. Combined they are 12-2 Over/Under. Surprisingly, the Buffalo Bills and Las Vegas Raiders are both 5-0 Over/Under.

As a goal, the nirvana for any sportsbook would be to receive even action on every proposed wager to earn their vigorish or commission. This rarely happens. Once the line is initially posted, it is believed the “smart money” moves the line. That is action the bookmakers believe is being wagered in large amounts indicating an unfavorable trend, therefore causing their reaction. What has happened unusual this 2020 NFL season is no matter how high bookmakers have reacted moving totals higher, it has not mattered in graded results.

Yes, it is expected that scoring will continue to be proficient as the NFL weeks continue. Fewer penalties will be thrown, and rust will heal slowly from the unusual Coronavirus plagued conditions all players and coaches will be forced to accept. But more important for bettors, look for more “under” the totals to reappear in wagering results for those wise enough to isolate them and understand all remarkable trends eventually do turn around.

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: larry.gibbs@wsn.com