Betting opens on 2020 NFL games: Gamblers play the arbitrage game, home field sans fans perplexes market

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 2019-12-08
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
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Gamblers shopped for the better numbers between two Las Vegas sportsbooks that opened wagering on NFL games Thursday, shortly after the league released its 2020 schedule. The Westgate SuperBook and Caesars Entertainment both hung Week 1 lines, and bettors sought to take advantage of significant differences between the point spreads at the two shops.

Buccaneers at Saints – one of the most intriguing games on the Week 1 card, as it marks Tom Brady’s debut for Tampa Bay – provided arbitragers a 2-point middle. Bettors laid Saints -4.5 at the Westgate and took Bucs +6.5 at Caesars, per emails oddsmakers sent to BetChicago.

“We think pretty highly of the Saints. And I am just not sure if Tom Brady is the right fit for a Bruce Arians offense,” wrote Rex Beyers, Senior Sports Trader at Caesars. “We opened that game with the Saints laying 6.5, but took some underdog money and it was down to 4.5 at the end of business on Thursday, which was in line with most everyone else.”

Similarly, Westgate booked action on the Dolphins +6.5 at the Patriots, while New England -5.5 was the play at Caesars.

The SuperBook also saw money on the Jaguars +8.5 (Caesars opened Colts -7), Bills -5.5 (Caesars went Jets +6.5) and Rams +3 (Caesars hung Cowboys -2.5).

At Caesars, there were moves on the Redskins +6.5 (Westgate has Eagles -6) and Bengals +5 (Chargers opened -3.5 at the Westgate).

“Most of our bets were between us and Caesars,” Ed Salmons, Westgate’s Vice President of Risk Management, said in an email. While Westgate hung lines for Week 1 and 2, Salmons added, “Week 2 saw little action as Caesars only used the Raiders Monday night game (when the team hosts the Saints in its first game in Las Vegas).”

Salmons also mentioned a “small amount” on the Packers +3.5 at the Vikings, while Titans +3 at the Broncos was of interest to bettors at both locales.

Week 1 and 2 lines are listed below.

What’s home field with no fans worth to the point spread?

Thanks to mitigation efforts in this age of Coronavirus, there’s a strong possibility that NFL games will be played without fans in the stadiums this season. This throws a wrench into handicapping – what is home-field advantage worth if the venues are empty?

The betting market’s traditional standard is to spot the home team 3 points on the spread, although more sophisticated analysis says that not all home-field advantages are equal.

“I can imagine teams would love to go to Seattle or Kansas City and not have any fans there because those are tough places to play,” U.S. Bookmaking’s Robert Walker told BetChicago this week.

The consensus among oddsmakers is to start by valuing home field at 1.5 to 2 points and then see where the market takes it.

“Very, very slight,” the South Point’s Chris Andrews told BetChicago when asked this week how he plans to weigh home field. “Probably, as a benchmark, 1.5 or 2 points. I don’t know what it’s going to be like. I’ve talked to some guys that think it’s worth 0. Some guys think it’s going to be worth just what it always has been, because travel might be more difficult, that sort of thing. But right now, I’m kind of putting it in the middle. … I’m thinking mostly 1.5. It depends – if you have West Coast (team) going to the East Coast, it might be worth 2, but that tends to get overrated a little bit.”

Westgate Executive VP of Operations Jay Kornegay told us last month, “It’s going to be a slight adjustment, which means, you could see a point, point-and-a-half, maybe two points at the most. But as we move along and we observe the results and the level of impact of having no fans, that number could change.”

Sharp bettors, of course, will also help dictate how home field sans fans is valued – although, as expected, their lips are sealed.

Beyers at Caesars emailed, “I cannot speak for how (colleagues) Jeff (Davis) and Alan (Berg) factored what the home-field advantage is, but our lines in the games in Week 1 were opened under the assumption that the games will be played behind closed doors – the soccer slang for ‘no fans’. What that is worth is ultimately up to the bettors and/or the market.”

Added Walker, “The sharps will put us in our place really quickly, and they adjust really quickly. I think within a few games.”

NFL Week 1 opening betting lines

Spread reflects home team’s number. Totals in parentheses.

Week 1 WestgateCaesars
Texans at Chiefs-10.5 (56.5)-11
Dolphins at Patriots-6.5 (44)-5.5
Browns at Ravens-8.5 (49)-10
Jets at Bills-5.5 (40.5)-6.5
Raiders at Pantherspk (46.5)pk
Seahawks at Falcons+1 (49) +1.5
Eagles at Redskins+6 (45.5)+6.5
Bears at Lions-1.5 (44.5)+1
Colts at Jaguars+8.5 (47)+7
Packers at Vikings-3.5 (47)-3.5
Chargers at Bengals+3.5 (46)+5
Cardinals at 49ers-8 (45)-7
Bucs at Saints-4.5 (49.5)-6.5
Cowboys at Rams+3 (50)+2.5
Steelers at Giants+3.5 (48.5)+3
Titians at Broncos-3 (42)-3

NFL Week 2 opening betting lines

Spread reflects home team’s number. Totals in parentheses.

Week 2Westgate
Bengals at Browns-8.5 (46)
Rams at Eagles-4.5 (49)
Panthers at Bucs-8.5 (48)
Broncos at Steelers-5 (44)
Falcons at Cowboys-7.5 (50)
49ers at Jets +4 (43.5)
Bills at Dolphins+3 (43)
Vikings at Colts -3.5 (47)
Lions at Packers-6.5 (46)
Giants at Bears-5 (43.5)
Jaguars at Titans-11 (42.5)
Redskins at Cardinals-7 (45.5)
Ravens at Texans+6 (54.5)
Chiefs at Chargers +5.5 (51.5)
Patriots at Seahawks-3.5 (44)
Saints at Raiders+4 (50.5)

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