December is the best month to create “middles” when betting NFL games. This article explains why the final four weeks of the regular season presents ideal opportunities for wagers that, essentially, “can’t lose.”

Finding middles in NFL betting odds
Betting NFL games early in the week sometimes creates ideal middling opportunities. (Image: AP)

Last week, the Chicago Bears opened as -2.5 favorites versus the Detroit Lions. By kickoff, the line was up to Chicago -6. That game presented an ideal “middling” opportunity. Allow me to explain why, after providing a short primer on this clever betting strategy.

What’s a “Middle” when Betting?

A middle is a handicapper’s dream come true. It essentially refers to a combined series of bets that can’t lose (or may lose only a small amount, i.e. the house vig, or juice). Hitting a middle means either winning one wager and pushing the other, or winning two wagers. The worst possible outcome is splitting the two bets and going 1-1, which usually means a net loss of 10 cents (-.10) on the losing wager.

How is this possible?

The best middles take advantage of line movement by correctly anticipating a significant shift in the point spread, preferably across “key numbers.”

Key numbers in NFL wagering include 3, 4, and 7 (and other numbers based on multiples of the most common scoring differentials). Basically, we wager on one side (the favorite) and lay the low number. Then later, after the line moves, we bet on the other side (the underdog) and take the points. Note that sometimes, the line will move down, in which case we reverse the strategy by betting the underdog first, then the favorite later. Middles can work either way.

The Perfect NFL Point Spread Middle

We got an example just last week of what creates an ideal middling situation in the Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions game played on Thanksgiving Day.

In this classic NFC Central matchup, had we bet on Chicago early in the week at -2.5, we could have locked in a huge middling opportunity by later putting money on Detroit at +6. That combination of two wagers would have presented a whopping 3.5-point middle, which is almost unheard of in the NFL these days.

Chicago ultimately beat Detroit 24-20. Since the Bears won by only 4 points, the middle hit — meaning both teams covered. Had you wagered on the Bears early and the Lions late, you could’ve watched the game stress-free, and also would have ended up cashing two winning tickets. Sweet Thanksgiving gravy.

Here’s a short recap of all last week’s NFL games.

But how do we anticipate middles? Is this even possible? The answer is — yes.  This is especially true for the month of December. In fact, late-season games provide us with the best middling opportunities. Let me explain …

Holiday Season Gift Exchange

What makes the month of December special? Injuries and weather conditions, primarily.

December games are often filled with injuries, especially to skill players such as quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. Even kickers who are injured can significantly alter the outcome of a game.

The other factor is weather. December means plunging temperatures, snow and wind-chill, icy hands, and hard footballs — all of which can dramatically impact scoring totals in outdoor games. Middling a point spread (or total) requires the bettor to correctly forecast a shift in public perception of the outcome, as reflected in the odds.

So, returning to the Chicago-Detroit game… when the line opened at Bears -2.5, the quarterback status for the Lions was uncertain.

That opening number — which was available for almost two days — was based on the notion that backup QB, Jeff Driskell would be starting for the Lions. However, those who follow the Lions knew Driskell had suffered an injury in the previous game, so his status was uncertain, too. If Driskell couldn’t start, the task would fall to an undrafted, third-string quarterback named David Blough, who had never taken an NFL snap. That’s exactly what happened.

Once the Lions named Blough as the starter, the betting public panicked. The point spread rocketed from -2.5 to -6. It even closed at -6.5 at a few books.

Oddly enough, Blough played a pretty good game, and the Lions almost won. But, the middling strategy was still smart. As great as it can be to see a deep bench player wow the fans during his chance in the spotlight, every serious NFL handicapper would take a 3.5-point middle in a heartbeat.

The bottom line is that injuries to quarterbacks are the most significant influence on the point spread. Accordingly, betting against teams with precarious injury situations early in the week is advisable.

What About Weather-Related Middles?

As stated earlier, adverse weather can significantly impact both totals and scoring.

Most opening totals reflect ideal weather conditions. As weather forecasts become more reliable and kickoff approaches, totals almost always move in bad weather games.

Cold-weather cities such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh (and others) may get blasted by a cold front, or worse — a blizzard.

We all remember snow games when offenses can’t move the ball, and the game is uncharacteristically low scoring. We should be targeting these kinds of games for weather-related middles on totals.

I’ve seen the over/under line move nearly a touchdown from the opening to closing number. That’s a huge gap, and a huge opportunity.

Week 14 Middles on Tap

NFL Week #14 provides some attractive games and teams worth considering for middling action. A nationwide winter storm may be subsiding, but home teams playing in potentially frigid outdoor stadiums this week include:

  • Chicago (Thursday)
  • Buffalo
  • Green Bay
  • Cleveland
  • NY Jets
  • New England
  • Philadelphia
  • Kansas City

There’s no guarantee that weather will be a factor in any of these games, but anyone who bets on totals should keep one eye on the forecast and the other on the pregame matchup.

Sometimes, the weather can be a real gift and provide us with a golden middle.

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