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Every month or so, I see a thread in the forums about playing the "Pinnacle Lean" - where we offer a line on a game that is slightly off market price. For example on Tuesday we had New England favored by 9.5 points over Buffalo while the market was offering the Patriots at -8.5 and -9. Does this mean that we have an opinion on the game and are trying to lure Buffalo money? Not really.
At Pinnacle Sports we rarely take positions on games. Instead these off-market prices are the result of sharps placing large wagers with us. In the New England game, we had unopposed sharp money on New England at -8.5 and -9. On the NFL - although our minimum stake amount is just $1 - we normally accept bets of up to $30,000 per wager online with -104 pricing that offers up to 60% better value on NFL sides than other sports books.
This means that players of all levels can get their bets down at high limits and great odds at Pinnacle Sports. As we are attempting to attract balanced action, the sharps can sometimes even get two maximum limit bets on their chosen team before our line moves enough to discourage them. When the line moves on a game - it always happens first at PinnacleSports.com.
As you can imagine, our reduced juice pricing generates tremendous volume, making the line and odds we offer the result of an efficient market. Traditional sports books with higher juice receive far less volume and their prices are not efficient measures of the true market price. If you want to know what the "fair" market price on a game is, simply check our line one hour before kickoff.
How can you use this information to make money in the long run? Simply play any number that's too far off of ours, safe in the knowledge that our line is a true indicator of what the market believes the number should be. In the NFL, NCAAF, NBA and NCAAB you will be a long-term winner if you consistently find an off-market spread or total which is 1.5 points better than our price. Each weekend you will usually find a handful of games where there's this potential especially with totals in college football and basketball.
If another sports book has a number that is a full 2 points off, you can usually scalp it against Pinnacle's number with point-selling. Savvy bettors typically play as much of that bad number as possible and scalp most of it back at Pinnacle (leaving the equivalent of a small play on the bad number) for a low or no risk return.
This technique of playing off market numbers shouldn't be confused with chasing "steam", which is a bad bet in the long run. If a line moves more than 1.5 points in an hour, the movement is called "steam" and people betting in the direction of the move are making "steam plays". If you don't know why a number is moving fast, it's better to pass unless you can find and play at the original number before the line moved elsewhere in the market.
When there is a big steam play, there are two groups who profit: the originators/first takers who caused the steam and those that switch sides after the line movement (often the first takers). The players taking a number 1 to 1.5 points worse than the first takers are likely to lose in the long run.
For more inside information on this week's line moves, let's take a look at some of the biggest early movers of the week.
Georgia (+4) at Florida
Georgia's starting QB DJ Shockley is expected to miss the game due to a sprained knee and Joe Tereshinski will be making his first collegiate start. He will be leading a Bulldogs offense which relies heavily on the pass - rushing accounts for only 40% of Georgia's offense. Additionally, the Gators have had the benefit of a bye week.
This was a difficult line to set - if Shockley was healthy and Florida had no bye week, we would probably have opened the game around a Pick'em. As it is, we initially opened at +5.5 and were flooded with early sharp bettors taking the dog. We started to see some buyback on Florida at -4.5 and the line has since stabilized at +4.
Arizona (+8.5) at Oregon State
Arizona is 1-5 on the year with its only win against Northern Arizona, a Div I-AA team. The Wildcats problem has been an error-prone offense that gave up five turnovers last week and has lost 21 turnovers in its first six games. With nearly a third of its offensive possessions terminated by turnovers, their defense has allowed 30 points per game against Div-I opponents.
Arizona can make this match-up competitive as four of its six losses have been by 7 points or less. Oregon St. has its own defensive problems, allowing 36 points per game despite having a 4-3 record. If Arizona can protect the ball this might be a close, high-scoring game.
We opened the Beavers as a 7.5 point favorite and saw Oregon State money all the way at a ratio of four bets on the Beavers for every one on the Wildcats as the line pushed out to -9. At the time, a lot of sharps were playing the favorite early and buying the spread down to -7. We have seen some buy back on Arizona and the line has now settled at -8.5.
Philadelphia (+3.5) at Denver Broncos
On paper, Philadelphia looks the better team. The Eagles offense nets 15 yards per game more than the Broncos and the Philadelphia defense allows 9 yards per game less. The Eagles outscore their opponents by an average of 4 points per game, compared to 3 for Denver. If the Eagles are one point better on a neutral field, why are they a 3.5 point underdog?
Home teams have done freakishly well this year. The average home field advantage this season has been over 5 points compared to about 3 points historically. Bettors believe the home field advantage will continue to be larger and are backing their opinions with cash.
We opened this game at Denver -3 -117 and took some minor two-way action before seeing large sharp money on the Broncos. Once we moved to -3.5 we started receiving moderate two-way action with slightly more bets on the Eagles.
Green Bay (+9.5) at Cincinnati Bengals.
In the past, sharps have always loved bad teams getting lots of points. In the 90's, you could make money year after year betting every "big dog" at +7.5 or higher. This year, these dogs aren't biting and are 4-8 against the spread. They did poorly last year too, so what gives?
First, the lines have become tighter due to all of the sharps playing on the Internet. Your average big underdog gets about a full point less than they did in the 90's. Second, we have two extraordinarily bad teams in Houston and San Francisco who are a combined 1-5 against the spread when playing as a big dog.
This game opened at -7, where we took almost all Bengals money. The line has now been pushed out to -9.5 where we are seeing two-way action with some sharp players playing Green Bay by buying up to +10 and +10.5.