Daily Fantasy Sports Strategy: Using Betting Odds & Lines
One piece of fantasy sports strategy advice can be found repeatedly:
Use the Vegas betting lines and odds to determine the appropriate fantasy sports strategy.
The reasoning behind that is clear, too. After all, no one is better at making projections and handicapping games than the sportsbooks in Las Vegas. Why not tap into that data?
Here's the problem at first, though:
HOW does one use those betting lines and odds when making decisions?
The focus for the rest of this page is on providing specific advice for translating that data into something useful for the daily fantasy sports player.
Betting Lines & How They Work
We'll start with an overview of betting lines and how they work. There are three specific types of lines that you should understand, as follows.
Experienced sports bettors can safely skip this section. But someone might make a distinction they wouldn't otherwise make based on this explanation, so consider reading it anyway.
Point spreads are used for bets where we care who wins and by how much. The point spread is a tool that the book uses to get action on both sides of a game. As a general rule, bettors wager $110 to win $100 on a point spread bet, but this varies according to the book being used. Some require bettors to wager $115 or $120; others only require bettors to wager $105.
Either way, a team has to beat the point spread in order to win a bet. Here's an example of what a point spread looks like.
The – always indicates the favorite, so in this example, the Denver Broncos are expected to win. The + indicates the underdog, so the Baltimore Ravens are expected to lose.
The number after the + or – is the amount they have to win or lose by in order for the bet to pay off. A bet on the Denver Broncos (the favorite) requires a win of at least 8 points or more in order for the bet to pay off.
There's another way of looking at it too, where you adjust the final score based on the point spread. Here's how that works based on the above example.
- Suppose the Broncos scored 49 points, and the Ravens scored 27 points.
- The Broncos were favorite by 7.5 points, so that needs subtracting from their score.
- This gives them 41.5 points (49 – 7.5).
- That score wins against the Ravens' score of 27 points.
- A bet on the favorite would have won.
Here's another example.
The Patriots are the favorite and are expected to win by 10 points.
- Suppose the Patriots score 23 points and the Bills score 21.
- Subtract 10 from the Patriots score to get 13 points.
- 13 points doesn't beat 21 points.
- A bet on the favorite would have lost—even though the favorite won the game.
- This is because they didn't win by enough of a margin to beat the point spread.
Moneylines are for bets where the only concern is who wins. How much they win by is beside the point.
Here's an example of what a moneyline might look like.
The team with the – is the favorite. The team with the + is the underdog. This means that the book expects the favorite to win and the underdog to lose. The number after the + or – reflects how much money must be risked or how much the bettor wins.
The $228 return includes the initial stake, for an overall profit of $100.
Again, the $218 includes the stake. So the overall profit is $118.
The higher the moneyline is, the more likely it is that the favorite is going to win.
Here's another example.
Now a gambler has to risk $210 to win $100 on the favorite, the Los Angeles Dodgers. And if he risks $100, he can win $185 on the underdog, the Cincinnati Reds.
Totals bets are also sometimes called over/under bets. This is a wager on whether or not the total points scored by both sides will be over or under the prediction of the book. It doesn't matter which team wins or loses. It only matters what the total score for both sides combined is.
Here's how totals work, using the Denver/Baltimore game from earlier as an example.
- The over/under is 48.5.
- A gambler can bet that the score will be over that amount.
- Or they can bet that the score will be under that amount.
- As usual bettors have to bet a little bit more than what they hope to win.
- That's called paying the "vig". Betting $110 to win $100 is typical in this situation.
- Denver scored 49 points, and Baltimore scored 27 points.
- The total score for the game was 76 points (49 + 27).
- Had someone bet the over on the game, he'd have won.
- If he'd bet the under, he'd have lost.
Here's another example.
- In the New England/Buffalo game, the over/under was 51.
- The score was 23 – 21, so the total points scored were 44.
- That's less than 51, so had you bet the over, you'd have lost.
- Had you bet the under, you'd have won.
This is all very interesting, but what you really need to know is how it all translates into a strategy for daily fantasy sports.
Basing Team Selections on Projections
The goal is to have a team which scores more points than one's opponents. One of the tools for finding players for that team is to look at the over/under and the point spread. Then think about what that means relative to the playing tendencies for the teams involved.
For example, let's suppose the NFL has the following lines one week.
|Denver Broncos||-7.5||Baltimore Ravens||48.5|
|New England Patriots||-10||Buffalo Bills||51|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||-6||Tennessee Titans||42|
|New Orleans Saints||-3.5||Atlanta Falcons||55|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||-4||New York Jets||39.5|
|Kansas City Chiefs||-3.5||Jacksonville Jaguars||42.5|
|Chicago Bears||-3||Cincinnati Bengals||41.5|
|Cleveland Browns||-2.5||Miami Dolphins||41|
|Seattle Seahawks||-3||Carolina Panthers||44.5|
|Detroit Lions||-4||Minnesota Vikings||46.5|
|Indianapolis Colts||-11||Oakland Raiders||45.5|
|St. Louis Rams||-4||Arizona Cardinals||42.5|
|San Francisco 49ers||-5.5||Green Bay Packers||47.5|
|Dallas Cowboys||-3.5||New York Giants||50|
This information can be used to calculate how many points every team is projected to score in this week's games. Who's expected to win, who's expected to lose, by how much, and how many total points they're going to score are all known.
Calculating that is easy, with just five simple steps to follow.
Divide the over/under by 2
In that first game on the table (Denver/Baltimore), it's 24.25.
Divide the point spread by 2
The point spread in the same game is 7.5, which divided by 2 is 3.75.
Add the results from steps 1 and 2 together
24.25 + 3.75 gives us 28. This is the projected winning score.
Subtract the projected winning score from the over/under
The projected winning score is 28, which subtracted from 48.5 gives us 20.5. This is the projected losing score.
Project the final score
Based on the above calculations, we have a projected score as follows.
- Denver Broncos 28
- Baltimore Ravens 20.5
This can be calculated for every team every week. Here's a table with that data calculated using all the above examples.
|Favorite||Projected Score||Underdogs||Projected Score|
|Denver Broncos||28||Baltimore Ravens||20.5|
|New England Patriots||30.5||Buffalo Bills||20.5|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||24||Tennessee Titans||18|
|New Orleans Saints||29.25||Atlanta Falcons||25.75|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||21.75||New York Jets||17.75|
|Kansas City Chiefs||23||Jacksonville Jaguars||19.5|
|Chicago Bears||22.25||Cincinnati Bengals||18.75|
|Cleveland Browns||21.75||Miami Dolphins||19.25|
|Seattle Seahawks||23.75||Carolina Panthers||20.75|
|Detroit Lions||25.25||Minnesota Vikings||21.25|
|Indianapolis Colts||28.25||Oakland Raiders||17.25|
|St. Louis Rams||23.25||Arizona Cardinals||19.25|
|San Francisco 49ers||26.5||Green Bay Packers||21|
|Dallas Cowboys||26.75||New York Giants||23.25|
What can be done with these projected scores?
For one thing, fantasy sports managers can prioritize which quarterback they want to draft. Since the quarterback is involved in most scoring plays, the team with the highest projected score for the week is likely to also have the highest performing quarterback for the week.
In the above example, the team with the highest projected score (30.5) is New England. Since Tom Brady is their quarterback that week, he should be on the radar.
But the New Orleans Saints are also expected to have a high score (29.25). So Drew Brees is also a good choice.
When choosing between these quarterbacks, take into account their salaries. If Tom Brady costs $7,000 but Drew Brees is available for $5,000, Brees is probably the better choice. His team is expected to score almost as many points as Tom Brady's team.
Also, look at who the favorite targets for those quarterbacks are. For example, Tom Brady often throws to Julian Edelman, so you might want to stack those two players. Drew Brees often throws to Brandin Cooks, so he's a possibility too.
Whether or not you want to stack the QB with his WR (or TE) depends on the kind of game you're playing in, too. In a tournament, where you're hoping to fire on all cylinders, stacking these two players might make a lot of sense.
But in a cash game, where minimizing risk is the name of the game, it might make sense to take Tom Brady and Brandin Cooks, instead—or Drew Brees and Julian Edelman. Given the projections, it's unlikely that both the quarterbacks and the wide receivers on the two teams with the highest projected scores for the week are going to have a bad week.
Avoid the defenses for the teams playing against the projected highest scoring teams. The Buffalo Bills defense is unlikely to fare well against the Patriots offense, for example. It's hard to imagine getting many points from the Atlanta Falcons if they're playing the New Orleans Saints.
In fact, since defenses get points based on how low they can hold their opponents' scores to, it's a good idea to look at the defense playing the projected lowest scoring offense. Using the above week as an example, the Tennessee Titans are only expected to score 18 points this week. Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers are only projected to score 24 points, their defense should do well in fantasy points.
In terms of finding running backs, look for games where one team is a heavy favorite. Their running back is going to have the ball more often because they're bound to have possession a lot—especially if their opponent is projected to have a low score. In the above example, the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots are both big (10+) point favorites, so their running backs should see a lot of opportunities for production.
The Importance of Sports Knowledge
We've covered football above, but how does this line of thinking apply to other sports?
It's basically the same line of thinking, but it's very important to get familiar enough with the sport in question to see the application. If someone can project a score for a baseball team, they can get an idea of which pitchers to consider when drafting.
The lines and odds aren't the only factor you look at. They represent one aspect of the game. In some sports, injuries are way more important—for example, in basketball, be as sure as possible that all players are going to spend a lot of time on the court.
If you're not familiar enough with a specific sport to apply the Vegas lines and odds to your thinking using the examples above, spend some time getting more familiar with the sport in question.
Time & Effort Requirements
Some people are thinking that this seems like a lot of work just to draft a fantasy team. But the above stats were put together from looking at the historical lines and odds from the first games of 2013. And it took less than an hour.
Someone who is not willing to invest an hour a week into their fantasy sports hobby isn't very serious. Getting money into action without putting a lot of thought and effort into it is understandable, but isn't it more fun if you try to win?
Of course, websites extrapolate these projections down to the individual player level. Most of them use a methodology similar to this behind the scenes. That's how they come up with the individual player projections for their sites.
But daily fantasy sports strategy takes more work than just typing a URL into a browser and selecting the optimal lineup someone else projected. Where's the fun in that?
Also, if by using that as your strategy, you're going to tie the other players who are also using that strategy. Everyone will have the same lineup, after all.
And since the fantasy sports sites take a percentage of the entry fee even if you tie, a push is as good as a loss.
One of the most important aspects of daily fantasy sports strategy is considering what the Vegas lines and odds are for the upcoming games. No one makes more accurate projections than Las Vegas. They're not always right. In fact, on any given day or in any given week, there's going to be at least one upset.
But don't count on picking the upsets consistently every day or every week. You're not psychic. Rational human beings use the best data possible to get the best chance possible at winning cash consistently.
The Vegas betting lines and odds are a huge stepping stone toward achieving that goal.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: October 2015
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