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Injuries are a factor in the NFL. It's often said that once the season begins, no player is ever going to be 100% health-wise. It's a grueling game that takes a physical toll over the course of the season.
While the NFL is better at disclosing injury information and player status than other sports, it often still leaves fans and bettors with limited information until the end of the week and into the weekend. Players practice some days and miss others, or players practice in limited capacity through the week. Some players don't practice at all and end up playing.
When making bets, we often want information and data to back up our selections. However, there's an art to making a bet within a bet that could lead to immense value on game day. We see a few examples of this on this weekend's Week 8 NFL slate at BetMGM.
Will Dak Prescott be able to go?
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a bye week, so one wouldn't expect the team to be dealing with too many injury concerns. However, in their win over the Patriots in Week 6, Dak Prescott injured his calf.
There was optimism that Prescott would use the bye week to rest his calf and that he'd be able to go against Minnesota on Sunday night in Week 8.
Dallas opened as a 1-point favorite against the Vikings when the betting market opened last Sunday. By Wednesday, the Cowboys were 2-point favorites.
However, once the Cowboys started practicing on Wednesday, the market started singing a different tune. Prescott was limited in practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, and reports are that the team isn't certain Prescott will be able to play on Sunday.
Now, the Vikings find themselves as 3-point favorites over the Cowboys at BetMGM.
Earlier in the season, we talked to Tristan Davis, one of BetMGM's traders. He disclosed that Russell Wilson was worth about a touchdown to the betting line and said the same could be said about other elite quarterbacks in the league.
Based on Prescott's performance this season and the Cowboys' performance without him last season, I think it's fair to say Prescott is among the group of quarterbacks that Davis was referring to.
If you were willing to take the chance that Prescott was going to miss the game earlier in the week, you would have gotten tremendous value on the Vikings as an underdog. Even at the current number of 3 points, there's still value on Minnesota if Dak doesn't play. If the Cowboys start Cooper Rush on Sunday, they'll likely be between 4- and 7-point underdogs.
The same can be said about the total for the game. The total was bet all the way up to 55 points on Wednesday, but it's come crashing down to 52.5 points. If Prescott misses the game, we'll see an even lower total by kickoff. If you grabbed under 55 earlier in the week, it might be the equivalent of buying 5-7 points off the total for free.
Similar situation in Cleveland
The Cowboys aren't the only team that entered the week with QB uncertainty. The Cleveland Browns are unsure if they'll get Baker Mayfield back after he missed last week's game due to an injured shoulder.
There are some notable differences in this situation. Mayfield hasn't been as good as Prescott. Case Keenum has experience as a starting quarterback and is a much better backup than Rush. The Browns' offensive system isn't disrupted as much by a quarterback change as the Cowboys'. If Mayfield does play, his injury to his shoulder is more likely to impact things than a lower body injury for Prescott.
Things also seem to be trending in different directions as there's growing optimism that Mayfield will play.
The Browns opened as 3-point favorites earlier in the week, but that number is now 3.5. If Mayfield is announced as the starter, they might bounce up half a point or a full point. Conversely, if Mayfield can't go and Keenum starts, maybe the Browns drop down below a field-goal favorite.
If you were confident in Mayfield's ability to play earlier in the week, laying 3 points as opposed to 3.5 is a big deal in the NFL. At the same time, maybe you're not confident that he'll play. Grabbing Pittsburgh at +3.5 will likely be good value if Keenum starts.
Risk aversion can be smart at times
Obviously, there are two different types of bettors in the world. Some are much more risk averse than others. Some bettors wait until game time, analyze the official injury report and then place their bets when they have all the information at their disposal.
However, if you're less risk averse, you could end up with a lot of closing line value. Beating the closing line is one of the best signs of a profitable bettor. You could have the Vikings as an underdog right now while the rest of the world is laying between a field goal and a touchdown on Sunday. That's the art of making a bet within a bet.