10 best early value NFL bets

Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears could present good value in Week 2 against the Vikings. AP Photo/Scott Boehm

LAS VEGAS -- The saying here has long been that the "NFL is king" when it comes to sports betting, and it reigns earlier and earlier every year.

Yep, April schedules bring May point spreads. Actually, NFL Week 1 lines have been up since the day after the league released the schedule on April 18 (you can see that list in a forum thread at my ViewFromVegas.com website), but the Cantor Gaming books took it to the next level this past weekend by posting lines on every NFL game through Week 16.

(Author's note: They don't do Week 17 because that week is more volatile with teams resting starters for the playoffs, teams perceived to be packing it in, etc.)

The LVH SuperBook does a smaller version of this that they call their "Games of the Year" and includes marquee matchups, rivalries and all nationally televised games (Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights) -- and we're sure to start seeing more books get on the bandwagon.

The casinos like to offer these because it gives out-of-town visitors the chance to bet their favorite team in any week at any time (for instance, if Packers backers are in town in the summer and are next planning to come back during the season, they can still bet Green Bay minus-4 against the rival Bears in the Nov. 4 game on ESPN's "Monday Night Football").

But the majority of the handle on these is going to come from the professional bettors here in town. The wiseguys love to bet these because you can lock in great prices on future contests. There will be many games that have lines move by several points because of how the teams fare between now and then, and that's not even considering the fact that major injuries can affect the lines. This can allow bettors the opportunity to shoot for a "middle" by betting back the other side. Of course, if you bet this far in advance, there's the risk the line can move against you, and there's nothing that can make a sharp feel more like a square than holding a ticket on a team minus-7 points when the line on the board is minus-3.

But enough of the esoteric discussion on betting theory. Let's get down to specifics and see which games on the schedule might offer betting value, even though it's still spring.

I stopped by the Venetian on Monday night to check all of Cantor's 240 available games, and it was interesting to note that, after the opening weekend of wagering, none of the actual point spreads had moved. However, there were 30 games for which they had adjusted the juice. For instance, the biggest change was in Week 2, when the Colts opened pick 'em versus the Dolphins with the standard vig (the amount a bookmaker charges to take a bet) of minus-110 and the home favorite had been bet to pick 'em (minus-140). There were two games with a 25 cent increase, as the 49ers opened as a 1.5-point road favorite at the Redskins on Monday night, Nov. 25, in Week 12, and have been bet to minus-1.5 (minus-135), and the Patriots opened as a 2-point road favorite at Miami in Week 15 and have been bet to minus-2 (minus-135).

Here are 10 games I'm considering betting right now:

Week 2

Chicago Bears (minus-2.5) versus Minnesota Vikings: The key to betting these is getting on the right side of key numbers (primarily 3 and 7 in the NFL), and this is a great example. This line is less than a field goal, and there's a very good chance that if the Bears blow out the Bengals in Week 1 as a 3-point favorite or the Vikings get routed by the Lions as a 2.5-point road underdog that this line will be at a field goal or higher. The other key to betting these lines is to try to find games that offer what I call "line protection" -- meaning that there's relatively little chance the line will move against me, or at least that I won't lose much value if it does. In this case, barring an injury to Jay Cutler in the preseason or the opener, I can't see this line being much less than 2.5. And even if the Bears were to lose to the Bengals or the Vikings did upset the Lions and the line dipped to minus-2 or even minus-1, that's not giving up too much value.