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NFL Odds: On Early Point Spreads & the Intangible

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Following last week's introduction from Danny to my contribution to this website, and subsequent posting of the spread/line available for each Seahawks game (barring Week 17) for the forthcoming 2012 season, I was drawn to one reader response in particular: "So, they're giving the Seahawks a 6-10 season."

My immediate response to that was to say that of course that isn't the case. However, it's a great point and has prompted me to put digit to keyboard. Technically, it's the most correct assumption to make and when looking at Seattle's schedule, it's easy to see why Cantor Gaming look at the Seahawks as having no better than a 6-10 season; the only real gimme on the schedule is, in my opinion, the visit of Minnesota.

That isn't the full story though and when analysing the spread, I sometimes write about the being that nobody can account for, the beautiful leveller, and that's the intangible. Players get injured early in games, receivers drop balls, running backs fumble, kickoffs and punts are returned for TDs (stats that are largely ignored by prognosticators), teams may struggle for motivation against a sub .500 team the week before a big game against a division rival, Mike Smith goes for it on 4th and 1 in his own half against Drew Brees and co. in overtime.

Rarely does the course of a true wager run smoothly and it's the intangibles that can often drive you to despair as much as they'll put you on cloud nine...but it's usually the former!

My point here is that sometimes, as we're all more than fully aware, shock results do happen and, while us handicappers obviously have opinions on games, the spread is formulated on cold, hard facts, facts that can suddenly be lost in the ebb and flow of a game.

In addition to sometimes addressing possible intangibles, I always include my own line at the beginning of my analysis as it's paramount that the reader understands my angle because in some cases my view of a spread can differ remarkably from what's on offer in Vegas. With that in mind, let's take a look at the aforementioned Minnesota matchup in Week 9.

Cantor Gaming have opened the line with the Vikings + 5.5. They believe that, right now, the Seahawks aren't even two field goals better than Minnesota... at CenturyLink Field. I believe that to be ludicrous. Yes, they instantly upgraded themselves in the Draft, at both left tackle and free safety with Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith, but the Seahawks are still at least a touchdown better than the Vikings at home. My line opens with Minnesota + 9.5 as I believe Seattle to be a touchdown and a field goal the better team.

Refresher on the Point Spread: the point spread - also called "the line" or "the spread" - is used as a margin to handicap the favorite team. For betting purposes, the oddsmaker predicts that the favored team will win by a certain number of points. This number of points is the point spread. The favorite is always indicated by a minus sign (e.g. -5.5) and the underdog by a plus sign (e.g.+5.5). If you bet on the favorite, you win your bet if the favorite wins AND their margin of victory is greater than the point spread. If you bet on the underdog, you win if the underdog wins, ties, or if the favored team wins but fails to exceed the point spread.

Mine is just one opinion though and I daresay those of a Purple People Eater persuasion would argue otherwise, but the black and white facts are that the Seahawks are a team on the rise while the Vikings remain firmly on the lower rungs of rebuilding. Now, Minnesota may well enjoy a positive start to the season and your correspondent may well end up with egg on his face (old habits die hard), but that's still to be determined; at this very moment, should Seattle be entertaining Minnesota this Sunday, I'd be biting the hand of the Vegas sportsbooks off, asking the Seahawks to win by just two field goals to cover the spread.

Going back to intangibles and players going down, two significant injuries were recently reported, injuries that could have an early impact on their respective teams, one of them especially so. I refer to Da'Quan Bowers in Tampa and Terrell Suggs in Baltimore. Bowers, it would appear, can already wave goodbye to 2012 while, intriguingly, Suggs is talking positively about being available for at least part of the season.

Bowers is significant, but I believe not nearly as much as Suggs so I'm going to focus on the Ravens. Call it fortune, but Baltimore's drafting of Courtney Upshaw allows them to plug him straight in to Suggs's WLB position. Yes, call it fortune, but Ozzie Newsome is arguably the greatest talent evaluator of his generation so if fortune favours the brave, or the downright darned-good-at-their-jobs, then Newsome deserved to see Upshaw fall into his lap.

Without brushing off the injury, Baltimore are able to integrate Upshaw immediately as the starter and that'll be the case in September, barring a calamitous offseason, so the injury to Suggs this early will have absolutely no impact at the moment on any spread involving the Ravens. They open the season at home to the Bengals and I wholeheartedly agree with the opening line of Cincinnati + 7 (well, I go + 7.5). However, if Suggs were to have been injured in, say, Week 10, it may have caused handicappers to shave a half point or a point off of their line the following week, what with a rookie, albeit a highly touted one, having to replace the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year.

The half point is crucial in many cases and that's why I love this form of betting above anything else. You may notice, as the season wears on, that my line will always include the half point, whereas Vegas sportsbooks will sometimes offer a team with a flat 2 or 5 or 7 or 10 point handicap. I always analyse games to include the half point as I like to take the tie out of the equation when gauging how well (or badly) I've done in any given week. However, if there's no half point to be had in any book on a particular game, I will advise as dictated to by Vegas. For example, Seattle -6, whereas my own personal line may be -5.5 or -6.5.

I'll finish up here with what I consider to be a gem of a price to win Super Bowl XLVII. Betting is all about grabbing the best value you can and while there are more than a couple of teams with attractive odds to hoist the Lombardi trophy next February, I particularly like the Bears at 30-1 with bet365. That seems high, but I also couldn't sign off either without the same company's odds on the Seahawks outright...50-1 to those of you that still believe that defense wins championships.

Me? My formative NFL following years began with the '85 Bears and Buddy Ryan's 46 Defense so of course I'm still a believer.

-Rob's NFL Yard-

DK Note: In case you missed it last time, Rob (aka my nickname for him - the Seahawks' Bookie) is going to be contributing here at Field Gulls to give all you degenerate gamblers a better look at the ever-changing NFL odds, with a focus on the Seahawks. During the season, his odds and game-handicapping-based analysis should be a great complement to Jacson's excellent NFL Picks column to give readers a really, really great picture of each game going into Sunday, and hopefully enhance your enjoyment of the action.