The Hedge, the Tease, and the Life of the NFL Bettor

What’s better than teasing and hedging bets on the NFL? Combining the two! The teaser-hedge was in play for many bettors in Week 7, myself included, and while it didn’t end up working out as a huge victory, it saved a lot of people a lot of money.

The teaser-hedge is actually two separate bets. The first outlay is a teaser bet made on two separate games that start at different times. The easiest scenario is with a Sunday NFL game and then the Monday Night Football contest. With a teaser, remember, you move the spread in each of two games by six or more points, creating a new line that you’ll need to beat in both games to cash. My personal six-point teaser was on the Packers -8 and the Ravens -7.5, moving their lines to Packers -2 and Ravens -1.5, respectively.

After you place your teaser bet, you wait to see what happens in the first game. Fortunately, the Packers covered their end of the teaser with a six-point win over the Vikings, so my teaser was still in play heading into Monday night. That’s where the possibility of hedging comes in. I could have still lost on my teaser if the Ravens didn’t win by two points or more (foreboding noise), but because the Monday-night game hadn’t happened yet, I still had the option of hedging my teaser bet by placing a second bet on the Jaguars!

Here’s where the magic of the teaser-hedge shows up. After I placed my bet on Wednesday, the line slowly began to shift during the week toward the Ravens. By the time Sunday night rolled around, the Jaguars line had gone from +7.5 -110 to +9.5 -105. By placing a bet on the Jaguars +9.5 not only could I only eliminate most of the risk from my initial teaser bet, I could set up an eight-point middle!

Let’s review the math. My best estimate on the initial bet before the game was that the Ravens would cover the 1.5-point spread 73 percent of the time. Of course, I failed to take into account that the Ravens had no intention of showing up for a prime-time game, but I didn’t realize that when I actually made the estimate. So if we bet $100 on our teaser at -120 and then don’t hedge it with a bet on the Jaguars, the estimated value of the bet plays out like this:

Having a bet that’s likely to realize a return of 33.8 percent in your pocket is fun, but we can do better with a hedge on the Jaguars. Using the Spreadapedia database, we looked back at games from the past 10 years in which a team was favored by a range of 7.5 to 10 points and saw how frequently they won by 2 to 9 points. That’s the middle that we’re trying to hit in this scenario, and in the past, it would have come through 26 percent of the time. That’s our estimate for how frequently the middle will hit. We’ll still estimate that the Jaguars cover 27 percent of the time, and the Ravens will win by 10 or more points the other 47 percent of the time. Let’s go with a $60 bet on the Jaguars +10 and see how our profit changes.

Here’s how the hedge works. If the Ravens win by 10 or more points, while we still make a profit, it’s down 60 bucks from what we would have made without having bet that money on the Jaguars. That’s a disappointment, and it’s the most likely outcome, but it’s still a slight profit and it won’t happen the majority of the time. If the Ravens had managed to turn things around in the second half and won by 2 to 9 points, a bet that looked very promising at halftime, I would have won $83.33 on my initial $100 teaser bet and still picked up a victory of $57.14 on my Jaguars +10 bet. That’s a huge value opportunity, and comes through frequently enough to make the bet profitable.

Unfortunately for my teaser-hedge, the Jaguars ended up winning the game outright. That was the worst scenario imaginable, but I still saved some money. With my hedge, I’d spent $160 and ended up with $117.14, a loss of $42.86. If I hadn’t hedged my Ravens bet, I would have lost $100. My $60 bet on the Jaguars ended up saving me $57.14 in this scenario, but on average, it would have made me close to $2 more than my initial teaser.

The people who realized the real profit, though, were the ones who were truly brave. Instead of hedging with the Jaguars line against the spread, they hedged against their Ravens teaser with the Jaguars moneyline. That’s a pure bet on the Jaguars winning the game outright, regardless of the score. On Monday night, a bettor at the Hilton could have bet on the Jaguars to win at +475 odds, a line that suggests that the Jaguars would win outright just 16.7 percent of the time. Over the past five years, though, home teams that are underdogs getting between 7.5 and 10 points have won outright 34.3 percent of the time, more than twice that listed price. Our estimate split the difference and suggested that the Jaguars would win outright 25.5 percent of the time. That moneyline bet would ensure an impressive return for less money with a Jaguars win, but if the Ravens won by a point (and remember how close this was to happening in the Monday night game), our bettor would lose all their money. And in the event of a tie, they would lose their teaser and push their moneyline bet on the Jaguars, resulting in them losing most of their money. Let’s plug in the numbers, though, and see what the expected return was if we hedged our Ravens teaser with a $35 bet on the Jaguars moneyline +475 instead of Jaguars +10 at -105:

The difference is enormous. While we run the risk of a catastrophic loss (for our bankroll, at least) if the Ravens pull out that one-point win or tie, the increased return on a Ravens win by two or more points and the dramatic return on a Jaguars win of any total makes this bet far more profitable than either hedging with Jaguars +10 or not hedging whatsoever. And while making the right bet doesn’t always pay off, the five-point Jaguars win rewarded specifically those people who made the right decision on Monday. Chalk up another one for the teaser-hedge.

NFL Line Moves

(All line moves courtesy of vegasinsider.com.)

Indianapolis at Tennessee
Opened: Titans -6.5 -110
Now: Titans -9 -110

Has any team ever lost by 34 points at home and still seen a line shift 2.5 points in their direction afterwards? That’s happened to Tennessee this week, of course, because the Colts gave up 62 points to the Saints on Sunday night. The Spreadpedia database stretches back to 1978, and while 15 teams have lost by 30 or more points at home and been favorites the following week during that timeframe, none of them have ever been favored by more than a touchdown. That makes me believe that this line will start dropping by Sunday. Then again, these very same Titans lost 59-0 to the Patriots in 2009, went on their bye, and then beat the Jaguars 30-13 as three-point favorites the following week. That win started a five-game winning streak for Tennessee. So who knows what either of these teams are capable of?

New England at Pittsburgh
Opened: Patriots -1.5 -110
Now: Patriots -3 -110

Do you know how rare it is for the Steelers to be underdogs at home? Since Pittsburgh opened Heinz Field in 2001, they’ve played 82 regular-season games at home. They’ve been underdogs in just three of them, and they won all three outright. That includes the 34-20 beatdown of the Patriots in 2004 that ended New England’s 21-game winning streak. This is a very tricky line for the sportsbooks, because they’ll continue to take action if the Patriots are favored by three points or less, but if the line goes to 3.5, everyone and their sister will bet on the Steelers.

San Diego at Kansas City
Opened: Chargers -4 -110
Now: Chargers -3.5 -110

This line hasn’t moved very much since it hit the market, but consider the circumstances for a minute. In Week 3, the Chargers hosted the Chiefs in San Diego as 14-point favorites. They didn’t cover, but they won by seven in a game where the Chargers outgained the Chiefs by 120 yards and held them to just 13 first downs. Since then, the Chargers have won twice and lost to a tough Jets team in New Jersey despite leading most of the way. The Chiefs have won three straight, but it’s been over the Vikings, Colts, and Raiders, the latter of whom basically turned the ball over to the Chiefs when they asked nicely. Because of those three weeks and a flip of home field, the line on this game should have moved by 10.5 points? That’s absurd. The Chargers are clearly the better team.


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Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.

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