Breaking down Week 1 NFL lines 

September, 7, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the myth of the opening number and how, since the days of old-time bookmaker Bob Martin and the Stardust hotel, the importance of that line has diminished. As I pointed out in the piece, the numbers for the NFL season open as early as May. That isn't just for one game; that is for every game, from September through December.

The subject came up again in a podcast I did this week with Cantor bookmaker Mike Colbert. (For those who dared not to listen, Cantor runs the sports books at several casinos, including the M, Tropicana, Palazzo, Venetian, Hard Rock and Cosmopolitan.) Colbert beat the rest of the industry by putting up 16 weeks' worth of numbers last spring, every week except Week 17. What I didn't understand was, if I am a bettor playing Week 1 games this week, what number am I getting? The ones he set in May? Or a new set that takes into account everything that has happened in training camp since then?

"The numbers we put up in May come down when we get to Week 1," Colbert said, "and the action on those is almost entirely sharp. We don't get a lot of square bettors looking to bet midseason NFL games in the middle of spring."

Keep in mind that Cantor uses a pretty sophisticated computer program to help set the lines for each game. It accounts for thousands of factors and spits out a projected line. It's a number Colbert and his team consider strongly when deciding on what the final line will be. They call the machine Midas and keep it locked in a room away from the viewing public. I once did a piece about Midas for "E:60" and asked if I could get a look. Colbert's boss, Lee Amaitis, stared me down and said, "No one sees Midas."

With Midas and the brainpower of his team, Colbert usually feels pretty good about the numbers he is posting. But even if Colbert is leaving himself vulnerable to sharp players by coming out first with an entire season's worth of booty, there is still an advantage to being out early that plays directly into the first week of the season. Between the first postings and how the season win totals are played, Colbert gets a clear picture of how wiseguys feel about certain teams. Which means, in theory, he should be able to post a number for Week 1 that is pre-pounded.

At least in theory. I asked Colbert to send me his May 1 Week 1 lines, the lines he posted last weekend and the lines as of Wednesday night. Here is what they looked like, with comments from Colbert about decisions made and money coming in where applicable:

Cowboys vs. Giants (just fun to do in retrospect)

May 1: Giants -3
Sept. 1: Giants -4
Sept. 5: Giants -3.5

"Personally, I am going to be all over the Cowboys," Colbert said Wednesday night.

Good for Mike. I should have listened to him. Instead I spent the second half of the game watching the Democratic National Convention, knowing I had no chance of winning Giants -3.5.

Colts vs. Bears