Week 6 of the USFL is in the books, leaving us four more weeks of the regular season. After the 10-week season concludes, four teams advance to compete in two semifinal games followed by the championship. That gives us 19 total football games left to bet on and plenty of opportunities to boost our bankrolls before gearing up for the NFL this fall.
After a rocky start, the season has been very successful from a betting perspective. The first few weeks were filled with challenges, including unreliable kicking and quarterback rotations that caused a great deal of variance and frustration as a bettor. With only a three-week training camp, coaches were still trying to learn the strengths and weaknesses of their new teams. We have learned which coaches are aggressive or overly conservative in high-leverage situations. We have all screamed at the TV when a coach makes a questionable decision that impacts our betting interest.
A positive from the first six weeks has been the competitiveness of each game. Seventy-one percent of games have been decided by less than 10 points, while 59% have had a margin of victory of seven points or less. These tight games provide bettors a window into how the teams, specifically how quarterbacks and coaches behave under pressure in one-score games. That behavior is not always predictive, as players and coaches can learn or mature as the season progresses. However, it's still useful information we can carry forward when deciding who to trust as we bet into the remaining four weeks. I put together three betting takeaways from what I learned throughout the young season, and hopefully it helps how you approach your wagers in the second half of the year.
I prefer betting on sides rather than totals, but when you find an edge, you bet it. Totals have been the sportsbooks biggest challenge since the opening week. Bettors blindly slammed every under in anticipation of low scoring based on previous start-up spring football leagues. Unders went 3-1 in Week 1 and hit at a 67% rate through the first three weeks. Then there was a shift.
Offenses started to jell, and scoring increased in a big way. Overs have gone 10-1-1 since Week 3, and 8-0 over the last two weeks. The market has been slow to adjust. After every game in Week 5 went over the total with a combined score of at least 41 points, not one closed higher than 41 the following week, allowing bettors to take advantage with a second consecutive weekend of overs sweeping the board at 4-0. Here is a look at how the scoring has increased relative to the totals.
19.1: points per game per team
39.6: average total at close
22.4: points per game per team
35.5: average total at close
25.8: points per game per team
38.9: Average total at close
If there is one thing you can count on, it's that the market will eventually catch up. However, we have seen a reluctance to trust the recent scoring output of the league, and we might get one more week of some decent edges. Follow your analysis for each game, but it's more likely scoring over the last two weeks is closer to the future expectation than being an outlier.
The significance of Week 7
Week 7 marks the final weekend in which teams face off for the first time. The schedule for the eight-teams follows a round-robin format for the first seven weeks, followed by rematches against divisional foes in the final three weeks. One of the greatest challenges in handicapping games early on was trying to decipher the level of competition each week. If a team had a great rushing or passing performance, it was difficult to determine if that was a team strength or more of an opponent weakness. Is it something that will continue the following week against a different opponent? Having seen each team go around the league once gives us a clearer picture of where they rank in each area, increasing our confidence in our rankings.
Key numbers are the most frequent margins of victory. From a betting perspective, it's important to understand the likelihood of games ending by a certain margin when determining the value of a point spread. The value of capturing +7.5 instead of +7 is greater than the difference between +9 and +8.5, because it's more likely to be a factor in the betting result. When discussing key numbers, it's important to note we are working with a small 24-game sample. There are three things that jump out when looking at the margins of victory through six weeks. Here are the two most common numbers with the top percentages associated with each.
7: Twenty-one percent — or five games — ended with a margin of victory of seven. This is not surprising as seven is the second-most popular key number in the NFL. If you are betting on an underdog and expect the line to move in your direction, it's worth your time to wait for the 7.5. Those betting a favorite will want to lock in 6.5 before the line moves to 7.
1: Seventeen percent of games have been decided by a single point. That's over 13% higher than what we have seen over a much larger sample in the NFL. This is the biggest takeaway. There has been a one-point game the last four weeks, with the Houston Gamblers on the losing end of three. Typically, bettors will lean towards the money line with small underdogs to extract more value, but you should strongly consider grabbing every point you can get with the Gamblers.
There are five numbers tied for the third-highest percentage (4, 5, 8, 10 and 13), but it's a number we haven't discussed that should catch your attention. The number three is the NFL's most common key number. It regularly forces bettors to agonize over waiting for the line to drop to -2.5 or risk getting stuck with the dreaded -3.5. The USFL has yet to have a team win by three-points. It's fair to say the early-season kicking struggles are partially to blame, but being this far into the season leaves me wondering if there is more to it. It could all change this week, but it's good information to have in your back pocket if you are stuck agonizing over a line move. Or it could be just the variance of a small sample size. Good luck this weekend.