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Utilizing Vegas Lines

Derek Farnsworth (Notorious)

Derek Farnsworth, aka Notorious, is one of the most recognizable names and faces in all of DFS, thanks in large part to the great advice he gives on a daily basis in RotoGrinders.com’s Grind Down for NBA and MLB as well as the First Look column that gives a preview of the day’s games from a DFS perspective. Before joining the RotoGrinders team, Derek received a Masters Degree from the University of Utah. When he’s not busy providing content, he’s dominating the industry as evidenced by his consistent top rankings in multiple sports. Farnsworth provides expert analysis for RotoGrinders Premium members on a daily basis during the NBA season and has also been nominated for five different Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association (FSWA) awards.

“They’ve done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.”

-Brian Fantana, Anchorman

If using Vegas lines can help us win 60 percent of the time, every time, count me in.

I have no way of knowing the exact number, but I would guess that close to 95 percent of high-volume DFS players factor Vegas lines into their daily research routine in some fashion. The reasoning is simple. Vegas lines give us an accurate representation of the expected outcome of any single sporting event. Vegas lines are free, easily accessible, and there is a linear relationship between fantasy production and Vegas team totals.

The few people who don’t incorporate Vegas lines into their analysis argue that they either 1. can’t trust the sportsbooks, or 2. the lines are too influenced from public betting. The common thought is that Vegas wants to create lines in order to get 50 percent of the action on both sides of the bet. This would allow the sportsbooks to have equal action and to take their five or ten percent off the top. While this would be a perfectly acceptable scenario for the sportsbooks, this is rarely the case. There are very few games that end up having equal action on both sides.

The reason that we can trust the lines is simple. A sportsbook’s viability depends on it. There are millions and millions of dollars bet every single week in the NFL and Vegas MUST create accurate lines, or the sportsbooks will quickly be out of business. Vegas needs actual outcomes of games to fall on both sides of the line 50 percent of the time over the long run. They don’t mind taking a bet one way or another, as long as they are on the right side of the line at least 50 percent of the time.

Additionally, these lines need to be accurate right when they are published. If a sportsbook puts out a bad spread early in the week, the sharp bettors, and possibly the public, will be all over it. If money keeps coming in on one side, they will be forced to move the line, which can create a gray area where the sportsbook could actually lose bets on both sides of the line.

To illustrate my point, let’s say that a book opens with the Broncos listed as 6.5-point favorites, and all of the sharp bettors jump on this number. After a ton of money comes in on the Broncos, the line continues to move until it eventually settles at 9.5-points. The book now has a grey area between 6.5-9.5 points where they could actually be paying out both sides of the bet. If the Broncos end up winning by 7 points, the books would pay out everyone that bet on the Broncos -6.5, as well as everyone that bet on their opponent at +9.5.

Understanding the Lines

By now, you probably understand sports betting terminology, but I’ll quickly go over the spread and the game total. The spread is the handicap that the favorite gives to the underdog for betting purposes. It’s basically a head start for the underdog. The total is the total number of points that are expected to be scored in the game. It’s also known as the over/under. These two are used together to come up with team totals, which is what we like to use in weekly fantasy football.

The spread is important in weekly fantasy football because it can help us predict game scripts, but we will cover that at the individual position level in lessons later on. The piece that most applies to weekly fantasy football is the team totals. You can find team totals on some sportsbooks, here on RotoGrinders, or you can calculate it yourself with the formula below:

• (Game total / 2) – (Team Spread / 2)

For instance, let’s say that the Cowboys are favored by 7, with the total for the game set at 42 points. For the first half of the equation, take the total (42 points) and divide by two, which gives you 21 points. Then for the second half, take the Cowboys spread (-7) and divide by two, which gives you -3.5 points. Then use the formula above to get 21 – (-3.5) = 24.5 points.

• (42/2) – (-7/2) = 24.5 point team total

Why Are Totals Useful?

When we know a team’s total for the week, we can try to predict where the scoring will come from, based on historical scoring rates of both teams and individuals. Touchdowns are very volatile week to week, but if we know that Andrew Luck accounts for 40 percent of his team scores, and we know that the Colts are projected to score 30 points that week, we can get a reasonable prediction of Luck’s expected touchdowns that week.

Team totals are also a good tool to use for predicting ownership levels each week. When a team like the Broncos is expected to score 35 points, their players are going to be highly owned in both cash games and tournaments. A team total that high would immediately make me gravitate to Broncos’ players in cash games, while I would look elsewhere in tournaments so that I could differentiate my lineups.

Player Props

I’ve never been a huge proponent of player prop bets as a stand-alone weekly fantasy football tool, but I do like to take a look at them every week. Vegas has the same incentive to get the player prop bets right, although they don’t allow as high of maximum bets as they do on their actual lines for the games. Rather than use the lines as an input source in my model, I use them more to confirm how I already feel about players or to look for any red flags on players that I’m already targeting that week.

Where to find Vegas lines

There are thousands of sites that list the spreads and totals each week, but there are a few sites in particular that I like to use. The first is Pinnacle.com. They are well known as having the sharpest lines in the industry. This doesn’t mean a whole lot to most people that play fantasy football, but it does to the pros. The pros like to use the lines that aren’t influenced by the public. Pinnacle will generally take a stance on a game and keep that line consistent throughout the week.

The other site that has a ton of useful information is Covers.com. They obviously have the spreads for all of the games, but they also show what percentage of money is coming in on each team. This is useful in a few different ways. It shows us teams that the public isn’t as high on, which typically means they won’t be highly owned in weekly fantasy football. It also shows how each line has moved throughout the week, which is a good indicator that we need to take a closer look at certain games and teams.

Weather

As I mentioned above, Vegas wants to set accurate lines early so that they don’t have to adjust the line throughout the week and end up having that potential grey area where they could have to pay out two sides of a bet. This gives them every reason not to adjust the lines based on weather, even though there is a ton of data that proves that offenses (especially passing) are less efficient in the wind, snow, and rain.

While most people will trust Vegas to adjust their lines, it happens less often than you would think. This leads to the weather getting overlooked by too many people. Research shows that the passing game is much less efficient as the wind picks up. Not only that, but rain and snow can cause a coach to change his game plan and focus much more on the running game. For cash game purposes, I try to avoid quarterbacks and wide receivers in games that are expected to have high winds, heavy rain, or snow.

“They’ve done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.”

-Brian Fantana, Anchorman

If using Vegas lines can help us win 60 percent of the time, every time, count me in.

I have no way of knowing the exact number, but I would guess that close to 95 percent of high-volume DFS players factor Vegas lines into their daily research routine in some fashion. The reasoning is simple. Vegas lines give us an accurate representation of the expected outcome of any single sporting event. Vegas lines are free, easily accessible, and there is a linear relationship between fantasy production and Vegas team totals.

The few people who don’t incorporate Vegas lines into their analysis argue that they either 1. can’t trust the sportsbooks, or 2. the lines are too influenced from public betting. The common thought is that Vegas wants to create lines in order to get 50 percent of the action on both sides of the bet. This would allow the sportsbooks to have equal action and to take their five or ten percent off the top. While this would be a perfectly acceptable scenario for the sportsbooks, this is rarely the case. There are very few games that end up having equal action on both sides.

The reason that we can trust the lines is simple. A sportsbook’s viability depends on it. There are millions and millions of dollars bet every single week in the NFL and Vegas MUST create accurate lines, or the sportsbooks will quickly be out of business. Vegas needs actual outcomes of games to fall on both sides of the line 50 percent of the time over the long run. They don’t mind taking a bet one way or another, as long as they are on the right side of the line at least 50 percent of the time.

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About the Author

  • Derek Farnsworth (Notorious)

  • Derek Farnsworth, aka Notorious, is one of the most recognizable names and faces in all of DFS, thanks in large part to the great advice he gives on a daily basis in RotoGrinders.com’s Grind Down for NBA and MLB as well as the First Look column that gives a preview of the day’s games from a DFS perspective. Before joining the RotoGrinders team, Derek received a Masters Degree from the University of Utah. When he’s not busy providing content, he’s dominating the industry as evidenced by his consistent top rankings in multiple sports. Farnsworth provides expert analysis for RotoGrinders Premium members on a daily basis during the NBA season and has also been nominated for five different Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association (FSWA) awards.

Instructor

Derek Farnsworth, aka Notorious, is one of the most recognizable names and faces in all of DFS, thanks in large part to the great advice he gives on a daily basis in RotoGrinders.com’s Grind Down for NBA and MLB as well as the First Look column that gives a preview of the day’s games from a DFS perspective. Before joining the RotoGrinders team, Derek received a Masters Degree from the University of Utah. When he’s not busy providing content, he’s dominating the industry as evidenced by his consistent top rankings in multiple sports. Farnsworth provides expert analysis for RotoGrinders Premium members on a daily basis during the NBA season and has also been nominated for five different Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association (FSWA) awards.

RotoGrinders.com is the home of the daily fantasy sports community. Our content, rankings, member blogs, promotions and forum discussion all cater to the players that like to create a new fantasy team every day of the week.

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