LAS VEGAS -- In last week's Opening Line column, I mentioned that the point spread is known as the "great equalizer." We saw more evidence why this week.
Heading into Monday night's Dolphins-Saints game, NFL favorites are 8-6 against the spread so far in Week 4 and lead 30-29-2 ATS on the young season (note: I grade sports betting results against the ViewFromVegas Consensus Closing Line and had the Lions-Redskins game last week closing as a pick-em; if you use the Lions as the underdog that they were most of that week, that would make faves/dogs tied at 30-30-1 ATS). Overs are also 8-6 on the week and overs and unders are tied 31-31.
This usually happens over the long run, but it's interesting that the books have been able to split the results already in the early going.
Another interesting stat about that 8-6 ATS record for favorites this week: All six of those dogs that covered the spread also won outright. I predict you're going to hear one of sports betting's oldest adages sometime this week (in addition to in this column, that is). It can be written or said in several variations but it goes something like this: "Don't worry about the point spread; just pick the winner."
The old saying sounds like great advice and is usually backed up by a stat such as "the point spread doesn't come into play in 82.5 percent of NFL games," give or take a few percentage points. So, basically, about 1 in 8 games ends up with the favorite winning the game but failing to cover the spread. On a full 16-game schedule like we had the first three weeks, that means that on average, two games a week will end up with the underdog covering in a loss.
However, even though this week has fallen short of the norm and last week only had one instance, it's interesting to note that there were four cases in Week 1 (plus the Bengals-Bears game pushing on 3) and five more in Week 2, so despite what people might be assuming based on the results of the last two weeks, we're actually ahead of the pace overall.
What's the reason for the disparity? I point to the fact that in Week 3 there were nine games with spreads of 3 points or fewer, leaving very little room for winning margins to finish under the spread as they'd have to be decided by 1 or 2 points, and then six such games this week. Compare that to Week 1 when there were a mere three games with spreads of 3 points or less and five in Week 2 and you can see why they happened with more frequency during those weeks.
OK, let's look at what else we learned from Sunday's action from a gambling perspective, and then we'll see if we can apply those lessons to next week's games, as well as examine the early Week 5 line moves.
1. The Denver Broncos are really, really good
OK, so this isn't an original observation, and I also might be late in acknowledging this, but the Broncos have shown themselves to be head and shoulders above the rest by cruising to victories in all four games. It's not unfair enough that Peyton Manning and the offense is as efficient a unit as we've seen in a while, but then Trindon Holliday is the hottest return man in the league (six TDs since joining the Broncos last October after running back another one Sunday) and Matt Prater, after booting seven extra points Sunday, added a 53-yarder just for kicks.