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Momentum Myths: Finding Sell-high Opportunities in NFL Betting Markets

Is “momentum” in sports a real thing, or totally made up? Here’s how NFL bettors can use this divisive concept to their advantage.

One of the critical skills for handicapping NFL games is identifying overrated and underrated teams in the right spot. Buying low and selling high. A tale as old as time.

(Or in the case of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, a tale as old as time management.)

Everyone knows the term “momentum.” Sports enthusiasts usually refer to it when teams are on a heater. That could be a streak within a game or a winning streak across several games. When a team scores a touchdown on Thursday Night Football and recovers a fumble on the next first defensive snap, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will call it “gaining momentum.”

From an NFL betting perspective, teams could gain positive or negative momentum by winning or losing several games in a row. That could attract bettors to place wagers. But it’s important to decipher which performances are authentic and which are fake. We want to determine whether we want to ride the hot team or fade them. There were a few sell high spots this season.

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Sell High at Mile High

The Denver Broncos had some momentum going into Week 4, right? They had beaten the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets by a combined 76-26, and even shut out Gang Green. The Baltimore Ravens came to town after barely surviving the Detroit Lions with a record-setting field goal by Justin Tucker. Their “momentum,” we were meant to understand, put them in a prime position to extend their winning streak against a team that almost lost against the Lions.

With that in mind, the market installed Denver as modest home favorites over the Ravens (-118 to +106 at Pinnacle). With diminishing home-field advantage in the NFL, this meant that Denver and Baltimore were close to equal on a neutral field. 

The Broncos also entered the game without wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. In hindsight, it looks wild that the market made that assumption. Some bettors found an edge on Baltimore and “sold” the Broncos at their market-high point.

And in the end? The Ravens had no trouble, beating Denver 23-7 at Mile High.

Winning Streaks Don’t Matter

Over four weeks, the Tennessee Titans beat the Bills, Chiefs, Colts, and Rams by 42 points. They entered week ten as the No. 1 seed in the AFC and hosted the 5-3 Saints with Trevor Siemian under center. Early in the week, Julio Jones was not on IR yet. For the casual NFL observer, that would have been a smash spot for the Titans. However, the market number for that matchup was “only” Titans by 3.

During the week, the spread bounced between -3 and -2.5 but ultimately closed at Saints +3 -110 at Pinnacle. Julio was placed on IR, and Saints RB Alvin Kamara also got ruled out for the game. The Titans won by two points, but the Saints covered.

Off four consecutive, impressive wins, the Titans had all the momentum in the world. But the betting markets didn’t trust them. That was because Tennessee’s underlying performances weren’t awe-inspiring at all. They got a lot of luck in the turnover department, and their offense had a below-average drive efficiency. Betting markets are usually pretty good at spotting overrated teams despite “momentum”. That’s why they are so tough to beat.

This week, there are also a few “momentum” spots to look out for. Just ask the Twitter account for the NFL’s official operations department.

The Philadelphia Eagles have won three out of their last four and have orchestrated the best offense in terms of efficiency over that stretch. They are facing the 3-6 New York Giants, who are coming off a lousy Monday Night Football performance, after which they fired offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The Giants are currently +3.5-point underdogs at home.

The Eagles have the momentum, per se, but the spread will have some perceiving the Giants as being in a buy-low spot.

Meanwhile, the Rams are playing at Lambeau Field after two horrific primetime showcases featuring several turnovers from Matthew Stafford. Buy-low? The market is currently installing the Rams as road favorites (-1).

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