Wagering Over or Under the Betting Total
An alternative to betting who will win a game is betting the total. This is called total betting, which is a 50/50 proposition on whether the total points scored by both teams that will go over or under the bookmaker's posted total. This method of wagering is available for all sports including football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and soccer.
Pricing Betting Totals
The only sport in which it is rather easy to handicap total betting is hockey. Here, the simple formula, average goals scored plus average goals allowed for both teams divided by two, is enough to make a rough prediction. For baseball, all sorts of other factors come into play, primarily the starting pitcher, how batters have performed against pitchers with similar stats, today's lineup, bullpen, etc. Baseball, although complex, has a lot more useful data that can be factored in to get a far more precise prediction.
For football betting, there are simply not enough games in the season to get an accurate figure using points scored and points allowed alone. For this, the first adjustment required is to use medians not averages. For example, in the series 15, 7, 3, the median is 7 whereas the average is 8.33. So what you should do when calculating points scored and points allowed is to place each into a list in ascending order, and take the middle figure. You should then weight this against league average.
So for example:
(Home Team Median Points Scored + League Average Points Score)/2=A
(Home Team Median Points Allowed + League Average Point Score)/2=B
(Away Team Median Points Scored + League Average Points Score)/2=C
(Away Team Median Points Allowed + League Average Point Score)/2=D
From here, (A+B+C+D)/2 will give you a rough estimate of the total points you expect to be scored in the game. Of course this model is far too simplistic to yield long-term profit. No matter how simple the sport, you'll need to make other adjustments. The unfortunate news is that if handicapping totals were easy, the market would dry up and there would be no profit left. Depending on how ambitious you are, this might actually be good news.
Rather than learning how to price totals, a better strategy for the ambitious beginner is learning predictive modeling. There's a written article in SBR moderator Justin7's book, Conquering Risk: Attacking Vegas and Wall Street by Elihu D. Feustel. It is available on Amazon, and while not written for the sharpest of sharps, it's excellent for those needing advanced fundamentals. Now for those who don't want to wait for the book, we continue with more helpful advice on total betting.
Understand Key Numbers
When projecting betting totals, it's important to understand key numbers. For example, in NFL football, the most common total points scored in order are 41, 43, 37, 44, 51, 33, and 47. Knowing this we'd be far more likely to bet over 41 when our model predicted 41.3 than we would be willing to bet under 41 when our model predicted 40.7. While 40 is still a rather common outcome, 39 and 38 are very low probability totals. Over-41 gives us a push on the most common outcome and a win on very close second and fourth most common outcomes.
Off Market Prices and Bonuses
With the information just given, it should be very easy to profit by betting NFL totals. The goal is to take advantage of sports betting bonuses and off market prices simultaneously. Specifically, as mentioned in our article on how to handicap the market, there's such a thing as sharp books, which are betting sites friendly to professionals, and square books, which are betting sites that target recreational players.
What you need to understand is fan bias. The majority of NFL football fans prefer to bet that something will happen than that something won't. In other words, betting the over is a lot more fun than betting the under. This leads to recreational betting sites such as Bovada often padding the total an extra 0.5 points, thus making the line worse for players betting the over, and better for players betting the under.
Bovada has total disregard, or might even be unaware of, the implication of key numbers. Again 41, 43, 37, 44, 51, 33, and 47 are the most common total points scored in NFL games. If you were to shop Bovada.lv against a reduced juice betting site looking for spots, the sharp book has perhaps a 47.0 betting total while Bovada has 47.5. You'd quickly spot that the under bet at Bovada is close to neutral expected value.
Finding these near neutral EV bets while having a bonus is enough to make considerable profits by betting totals. Even better is when the bonus is a massive 50% cash (yes, cash, not free play) bonus obtainable at TopBet. Shopping Topbet against a sharp book like 5dimes, while using the bonus, is a great way to profit betting totals.
Getting Maximum Value
One way to gain maximum value total betting is to consider if there's a correlation between the total bet you're making and a game's point spread. For instance, let's say you're betting the under based on the fact that Ben Roethlisberger is playing with less than 100% health, and you believe the Steelers will run the ball and eat clock. Now if the Steelers are -7.5 favorites in the game, maybe your opinion that the game will go under also means their opponent is more likely to cover the +7.5 point spread. In cases such as this, it's highly advisable to bet the point spread and total together in a parlay bet.
Odds or Evens
To state what to many is probably obvious, in certain sports, even and odd number totals make a huge difference. This relates to low scoring sports such as baseball, hockey, and in certain cases soccer. Keep in mind that in baseball and hockey, if a game ends in a tie, it keeps going until the tie is broken. Considering all ties total an even number of points, an odd total outcome is more likely to occur than an even total outcome.
To share a related tip, in soccer matches where ties must be broken (example: elimination tournaments), an over betting line of 2.5 has only four ways for the under to win (0-1), (1-0), (0-2) and 2-0. Notice that the only way for the under bet to win is for there to occur a shutout. We've actually found occasional arbitrage bets (bets where you can bet multiple sides guaranteeing a win) just from taking this into consideration.
Avoiding Suckers Bets
The final thing to mention is flat out sucker bets need to be avoided. For example, as mentioned earlier, shopping 5dimes against recreational betting sites such as Bovada. This is most often profitable because the site is shading the line to make the odds worse for the more popular selections. This is to trap fish; if you don't want to lose a fish (the guy for whom they send the limo), make certain you shop the lines and don't end up betting the wrong side of a Bovada line shade.
The final tip is for reasons covered in the article on teaser betting strategy; we strongly advocate never teasing the total. Making teasers on totals is a long-term losing proposition you'll want to avoid.
Author: Jim Griffin
Updated: March 2015
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