The Proper Way to Approach Sports Betting Trends
One of the biggest negatives that has come with legalized sports betting’s boom is the amount of useless information readily available to the public. Whether it’s #GamblingTwitter or the endless array of “data driven” websites, the judgment of even the most seasoned of bettors is constantly being tested. The easiest and most dangerous rabbit hole to jump down is trends. Try looking for a team’s over/under record or a matchup’s series history and next thing you know, you’re reading about Team A’s 12-4 ATS record on Wednesdays when the moon phase is waxing crescent and the field surface is grass. Don’t laugh because there are plenty of trends that are published that are just as absurd. Betting trends are not always a bad thing but it’s extremely important that bettors understand the difference between one that has merit and one that is nothing more than a data-mined piece of trash. Below are some sport-by-sport examples of what to look for and what to avoid.
College Football – There are a lot of moving pieces year-to-year in college football. Players and coaching staffs come and go on a routine basis. This makes it difficult to buy into any trend that encompasses multiple “regimes.” You may find a team that over a 10-year period is 59% ATS as an underdog. But after closer examination, much of that success was accumulated from the first of three head coaches. The coach in question took over a struggling program that improved each of his three seasons. During his tenure the team went 16-5 ATS as an underdog. The next two coaches went a ho-hum 16-17 ATS. Some bettors will see 59% over 10 years and get excited when in reality, the only thing you should be focused on is where is the head coach who posted that stellar 16-5 mark is currently employed. A better angle to look for with team trends is program stability. Alabama is very good example. Nick Saban has been in Tuscaloosa for over a decade and has been incredibly consistent in terms of output. One trend that I made a lot of money with was Alabama second half unders during blowouts. Playing in the SEC, there’s rarely a need for “style points” and it’s not worth risking injury in October when the focus of every season is to win in January. So like clockwork, Saban would get up a few touchdowns, run the ball, chew the clock, and be satisfied winning 42-0 as oppose to 59-0. Unfortunately, oddsmakers eventually caught up to Saban’s ways (24’s became 21’s and 20.5’s) and coupled with more emphasis on aggressive play calling — thanks, Lane Kiffin! — the trend cooled. But it is “profiles” like that, that if discovered can lead to a nice run of profits.
NFL – I typically like to look for league-wide trends when it comes to the NFL. For example, since 2014, totals 39 or less are around 60% to the under. Thinking slightly outside of the box that trend makes sense considering how much talk is centered around the evolution of offense in the NFL. But not every team is an offensive juggernaut. In fact, seven teams last season averaged less than 20 ppg despite it being the “era of offense.” Bettors see enough 27-24 type games and all of a sudden 39 looks impossible to bet under but the data says otherwise. Finding matchup profiles can also be profitable. A colleague of mine spotted that for a time, Thursday night division games had a high success rate of unders. Again, that type of trend is logical when you consider two teams familiar with one another face off in a game that has extra meaning. Couple that with the potential for it being a short week and you end up with a lot of factors that point towards a lower scoring affair.
MLB – One popular trend in MLB is umpires — something that I heavily researched and later discovered was essentially no longer worth following. Ball parks can offer potential. Certain venues favor southpaw pitchers more than righties or vice versa. The same can hold true for hitters. Tracking wind patterns and totals is another good example. Results when the roof is opened vs. closed is one worth monitoring. What to avoid is team trends. The Yankees are 51-18 in their last 69 games vs. a starter with a WHIP greater than 1.30. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the Yankees are pretty good and starting pitchers with a WHIP greater than 1.30 are typically not. 51-18 may seem impressive but when you account for the moneyline price the Yankees commanded in those 69 games, you come up with, “of course” rather than, “wow, I’m betting that!”
College Basketball – One of my favorite trends to look for in college hoops is injuries. One player can have a significant impact on a team’s pace and offensive and defensive efficiency. Late last season, UConn’s Jalen Adams got hurt in the opening minutes vs. Temple. I remember watching the game and noticing how lost the Huskies looked on the offensive end without him. Adams is a high-usage, score-first guard so UConn’s offensive struggles made perfect sense. With Adams in street clothes, they ended up going under the total seven straight games! And when Adams returned, UConn’s next two games went over the total by a combined 30 points.
NBA – The NBA is a great league to mine for trends. I found one last season where Team X (sorry, but I don’t want to name the team because unless the roster is overhauled, it may carry over to next season!) was excellent ATS in the first quarter. You would have never guessed it either because they were one of the weaker teams in the league from an overall ATS perspective. The reason for the first quarter success vs. full game failure was because the starting unit was semi-decent while the bench was downright awful. It’s a lot easier to hide a weak bench for a quarter than 48 minutes! Over the last three regular seasons, the Boston Celtics have won nearly 64 percent of their games under Brad Stevens. But in the dreaded second of back-to-backs, that winning percentage jumps to north of 68 percent. The ATS results are not as strong (58%) but still profitable which speaks to Stevens’ approach of ensuring his team has something left in the tank despite the difficult spot. Using Stevens again, 10 of Boston’s last 12 matchups vs. Golden State have gone under the total. You may be saying that’s too small of a sample size but a trend doesn’t always need a large swatch of data for it to be bettable. Stevens is one of the smarter coaches in the league and trying to slow down the pace of one of the greatest offenses in history is a pretty savvy approach.
The best advice I can offer regarding trends is to use common sense. Take a step back and ask yourself, are the results real or random? More often than not, a matchup will show positive and negative trends for BOTH teams. When that occurs, it’s best to ignore them and focus your attention on what you feel is going to take place once the whistle blows.