NFL Sharp vs. Square Line Movement

NFL Betting Strategy Course 103

If you are entering the world of betting and have your sights set on trying to win money in the NFL, I should warn you to get ready for a rollercoaster ride that puts Space Mountain to shame. It’s a wild and entertaining industry that includes much joy and excitement. It also involves just as much heartbreak and agony, maybe even more. There’s not much feeling in the middle.

If you truly want to win money and not just do it because “it’s fun”, you need to dig deep and know all about the industry, not just whether to pick a favorite or an underdog. You need to know about squares and sharps and whom to follow and when to follow them. You need to know when you are being misled and when you’re on the right side. You need to know about the value of “value” and when to pull the trigger on heavy underdogs.

We will make an attempt to try and educate you a little further about the NFL betting world and how lines are made, how they are adjusted and how you should adjust, and ultimately, how you should bet.

What is the difference between a Sharp Book and a Square Book?

westgateFirst off, there are “sharps and square books”, “sharps and square bettors” and “sharps and square movement”, so let’s break these down. Let’s start with the books because they’re the easiest to explain.

To put it in layman’s terms, a sharps book is the “Big Boys book”. These are books that set the lines for the market and moves the line when money flows in one side over the other. These kinds of books are where the big money goes into, such as the legal Westgate Sportsbook and Betfair Casino; illegal offshore books such as Pinnacle, . You want to be on the side of the sharp books in your bets.

Square books post their lines based off the sharp books. They don’t move their lines until the sharps books move theirs. A lot of times they will adjust their lines to encourage the public to bet the favorite, because in case you didn’t know, square bettors love betting the favorites. They’re the most “tempting” pick Almost three-quarters of money at square books are played on favorites. Those who are “smart” go to square books to play the value, not necessarily the favorite. Square books includes legal US books like FanDuel Sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook, Sugarhouse Sportsbook, PointsBet Sportsbook and illegal offshore books like, Bovada,, and SIA.

What’s the difference between a “Sharp bettor” and a “square bettor”?

The biggest misconception after seeing the above definitions are that sharps bettors only play sharps books and vice versa. That’s not entirely true. A lot of sharp bettors have action in both, and will actually play square books because sharps like the underdogs and square books offer more value to the dog.

Square bettors are characterized as bettors who bet for fun, don’t bet full-time and don’t usually put a lot on a game. They typically ignore research and instead bet with emotion, bias and based on public perception. For example, if the Cowboys start off a season 2-0 and winning by double-digits and their next game is against the 0-2 or 1-1 Lions, the “square betting public” will be jumping on Dallas because of what they did the last two games, not to mention they’re a public team. The error square bettors make a lot of time is they go by recent memory results.

Sharps bettors, on the other hand, are more of your professional bettors. They play big money, do a lot of homework and research, and play often. They’re more seasoned-veterans. They’ll play a lot of underdogs, not favorites. They play trends and statistics, not based on wins, losses or recent memory like in the Cowboys example above. They’ll go by best value, not necessarily by best pick.

Example: Sharps open the Patriots up as 13.5 favorites over the Jets. Sharps love the Jets, but figure they can get the square books to jump on the Patriots since they are a “public” team and it comes just under the 14-point magic number. The public jumps on the Patriots and drives the price up to 14.5 or higher. Sharps will hold off and let the public drive that price up, and manipulate the line to keep it there. Then just before kickoff, sharp bettors will pile on the Jets.
Now, you can be a square bettor but have a sharps mind. There are a lot of those out there. They may not play a lot of money and are considered rookies and part-timers, but they are smart and know the way the game works. This needs to be you. You’re rookies out there, probably starting small; KNOW THE WAY THE GAME WORKS.

Show I follow the crowd or play against the crowd?

fish swimmingI can’t ever tell you which way you should go, because as I will tell you below, it’s your judgment. But know this: As the week goes on, lines move. This can be for a number of reasons. One reason could be a key player not playing in the game or impending weather. Most times it’s because sharps bettors are influencing the movement. Where the money goes is where the line usually goes. It’s not the percentage of plays. For example, 80% of the public may be taking the Jaguars +2 over the Browns, but if most of that money is square money and the sharps money is pretty even, the line won’t move. It could also work the opposite. Maybe 50% of the public is on the Jags, but sharps money is 80% on the Jags so the Jags go from +2 to +3.5.

The big rule of thought here is you need to figure out WHY a line is moving. Don’t automatically assume because the line is moving one way, that it’s always the smart play. One thing to know about sharps they look for value early and late. When a line comes out and they like it they will jump on it. The Super Bowl last year, the Rams opened up -1, the Sharps LOVED the Pats, and next thing you know, New England was favored.

Sharps can also manipulate a line to try and get the square bettors out there to bet the way the line is moving, and then the sharps will pick the opposite. That’s why trying to figure out sharps is hard sometimes. You don’t know what their true intentions are and whether it’s smart to go the way the line is going. They’ll actually put money on the side they’re going to pick against intentionally, and in the end, put more money on the right side. That’s not always the case, but it is sometimes. That’s why a lot of times it’s a good idea to see how the line moves the last 30 minutes before kickoff. Sharps money sometimes will come in early in the week to manipulate a line, and then very late to play their true play. In the above example, sharps may like the Jags at +2 but not at +3.5. They throw money on Cleveland and start driving the line up a little bit. They figure square bettors will follow suit since the Browns are a more public team and are able to drive the money up the spread over the key number of 3. Then on Sunday, they’ll double what they put on the Browns and take the Jaguars +3.5. Imagine how much those sharps win if the Jaguars lose by 3? This is where the value part comes in.

One of the biggest errors that rookie bettors make, especially in the middle of the week, is they always go where the line moves and that’s not always the way to go. Sharps books will set lines to suit the squares out there and try to get them to jump on the favorites and big name teams because squares love the favorites. The Patriots example up above is a common scenario you will see. If you’re going to strictly follow the sharps, I would recommend waiting right up until kickoff to do so and seeing where their money goes. If you want to follow the public, follow sharps right before kickoff. Follow the money at Pinnacle or 5Dimes and see where it’s headed. If, for example, if the public is driving up the price of the Ravens -5 over the Dolphins to -6.5 but sharps bettors are holding off, I would do my research and look at playing the Dolphins +6.5 if I like the numbers.

All that being said….

First and foremost, you should NEVER pick a game solely because of how the publilight bulb idea strategyc is reacting to a game. Secondly, you should NEVER pick a game based on who an expert is telling you who to pick. I will tell you right now that if you follow these two lines of thought, you are more likely to lose money than win over time. You need to do your own research. That’s how good bettors make money.

That being said, you also need to listen and be smart. I wouldn’t advise ignoring experts or sharps. Like I said above, if you see a line move, you need to know why it’s moving. Try and look at the books and see whether the sharps are driving the price or the public is driving the price. Next, ask yourself if the sharps are trying to manipulate a spread to get it past a key number or because they really like a play. When listening to handicapping experts, factor in their opinion to the equation. They do a lot of homework, probably more than you will do, and listening to the chatter out there is part of your homework. However, just don’t jump on who they say to jump on because they also miss a lot. Betting is a difficult game.

Another huge piece of advice with the NFL is don’t always jump on favorites. This is a square bettor mistake. Not saying you should never take favorites, but squares take favorites nearly 75% of the time. Do you know how many times an NFL favorite covered in 2018? 46%. Squares love home favorites more than anything. You know how many times they covered? 45%. Playing nothing but home dogs and away dogs last year would have won you money. That’s a smart bettor’s mentality. That may mean picking the Cardinals to cover against the Rams, but the odds may be on your side.

Some more advice for you: Look at value. The worst mistake rookies make is the “money line trap”. They bet money lines and money line parlays and teasers because “they look easy”. I mean after all, the Saints are -220 over the Bucs. There’s NO WAY they lose to them at home, right. I’ll put $220 down and get a free $100 back. Yeah, then Ryan Fitzpatrick throws bombs all over their secondary and next thing you know, your $220 just went down the drain. Now if you would have went the other way and bet the Bucs, you could have gotten them at +300. Put $100 down, and now you’re $300 in the green with one game. Yeah, I know they’re not all that easy, but looking at value is a good way to go, and that’s where sharps capitalize. They love taking home dogs that are +3 to +7 and getting +150 to +200 value. I mean if the Chargers are 3-point dogs to the Chiefs at home, are -125 to cover the three but +140 to win the game outright, might as well go for the value. The odds are on your side should the Chargers cover the three . There’s a good likelihood they will also win the game.

So let’s summarize

1) Do your own homework, don’t let others do it for you.
2) Don’t fall for the “favorite” trap like “bad squares” do.
3) Know why a line is moving mid-week
4) Look at line movement right before kickoff; that’s usually the sharps side.
5) Look for value in your plays

Oh, and one more piece of advice; don’t be a square and bet 15 NFL games each week. Pick and choose wisely. Other than that, good luck. Now go win some money!

I have a BA in Journalism from the University of South Florida and worked as a sports editorial assistant and supervisor for the Tampa Bay Times for 10 years. I've also taught and managed a Journalism program at the high school level and currently work as a freelance writer. I have a deep passion for sports, particularly golf, football, and baseball, and have been active in the gambling industry for the last 10 years.

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