Early Bird Special: Analyzing FanDuel’s Gamble On Advance NFL Lines

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DraftKings was first to market with online sports betting in New Jersey. But rival FanDuel has figured out a way to be first to market every single week going forward.

Last week, FanDuel Sportsbook started a new offering expected to last throughout the remainder of the NFL season, posting the full slate of spreads and money line odds a week early. In other words, before Week 9 games had even been played, customers could bet on Week 10 games — using highly speculative lines.

It’s an uncommon risk for a sportsbook to take, giving sharp bettors the opportunity to seize upon lines derived from highly incomplete information. The earlier a line is set, the more chance there is for a mistake to be made. The question for FanDuel is whether the downside is worth it in exchange for the new players these unique betting opportunities will attract.

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Bust a move

Sometimes the books nail a line a week in advance. But more often, without knowing for sure what either team’s record will be after another Sunday of games, and without knowing which important players will suffer injuries in the interim game, the books will be a little off. Or a lot off.

Here’s a look at FanDuel Sportsbook’s opening lines for NFL Week 10, set late last week, side by side with the latest odds found at the online book:

GameNov. 2 line (before Week 9)Nov. 6 line (after Week 9)
Carolina at PittsburghSteelers by 3.5Steelers by 4
Detroit at Chicago Bears by 4.5Bears by 6.5
New Orleans at Cincinnati Saints by 3.5Saints by 4.5
Atlanta at Cleveland Falcons by 3Falcons by 4
Jacksonville at Indianapolis Colts by 2.5Colts by 3
Arizona at Kansas City Chiefs by 13Chiefs by 16.5
Buffalo at NY Jets Jets by 7.5Jets by 7.5
Washington at Tampa Bay Buccaneers by 2Buccaneers by 3
New England at Tennessee Patriots by 4Patriots by 6.5
LA Chargers at Oakland Chargers by 6Chargers by 10
Miami at Green Bay Packers by 6Packers by 10
Seattle at LA Rams Rams by 9.5Rams by 10
Dallas at Philadelphia Eagles by 4.5Eagles by 6.5
NY Giants at San Francisco49ers by 1.549ers by 3

A half-point here, a full point there, no big deal. But four points in the Chargers-Raiders and Packers-Dolphins games? And 3½ in the Chiefs-Cards mismatch?

A particularly savvy bettor — say, one who predicted Green Bay would be competitive against the Patriots in Week 9 but lose, and would therefore be facing a must-win Week 10 game at home as the more talented team against Brock Osweiler’s Dolphins — could have pounced on the Packers last week at a mere -6, then grab Miami this week at +10, creating an enormous “middle.” It’s a gambler’s dream to be able to win both bets if the home team triumphs by 7, 8, or 9 points while being in a no-lose situation (aside from the vig) on any other result.

Daring to be different

It’s not unusual for bookmakers to open a single major game attracting national interest (like this past Sunday’s Rams-Saints showdown) a week early. But all 14 games on the schedule?

“I’ve never seen anybody put up the whole NFL slate a week early like this,” veteran sports bettor Blair Rodman, whose book Bet On Sports is coming from Huntington Press in 2019, told NJ Online Gambling. “I like that FanDuel, and DraftKings also, are trying to be progressive and put up stuff that other places don’t have. I think it’s great to get away from the Nevada clone model and start branching out into things which may entice people away from the offshore books. So I like that they’re doing this.

But I don’t see that it helps anybody except the pro bettor.”

Rodman speculated following FanDuel’s announcement of its new NFL early betting option that it likely came with lower betting limits, to restrict the house’s potential liability. But a spokesperson for FanDuel assured NJ Online Gambling that the limits are the same as they are for any NFL game.

Essentially, FanDuel is taking on the risk in order to get some extra attention and publicity and differentiate itself from all the other online sportsbooks in the competitive New Jersey market during this first NFL season of the post-PASPA era.

Bet early and often

Posting lines early gives bettors with itchy fingers an outlet. It’s somewhat like DraftKings and FanDuel racing to open Week 1 NFL daily fantasy contests a month in advance; the host site gives players a longer window of time over which to spend their money and also captures their attention and their wager before a competitor can.

The difference, of course, is that in DFS, users aren’t up against the house, so bad player prices — the DFS version of bad lines — don’t negatively impact FanDuel or DraftKings. A weak sports betting line, on the other hand, can cost the book big time.

“If you’re the first one putting up lines on these games,” Rodman said, “you’re going to put up some bad lines. There are bettors who might not be able to beat the ironed-out lines, but they can beat the early lines.”

There’s risk on the bettor’s side as well. For example, they’re putting money on the line without knowing if a star player might suffer an injury in the intervening game. But the top bettors, the one who are more process-oriented than results-oriented, pounce on every edge. “If the books put up what they see as a weak line,” Rodman said, “they’re going to bet it.”

“For FanDuel, I like the idea of it,” Rodman emphasized. “I like that they’re trying new things. I hope they keep experimenting. And it absolutely opens up another opportunity for the serious bettor.”

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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