Gimmie five: What's the deal with 5-point spreads?

Oct 11, 2012 |
Eli Manning and the Giants were 5-point dogs versus the Niners.
Eli Manning and the Giants were 5-point dogs versus the Niners.
The 5-point spread is the red-headed step child of NFL spreads. It's sometimes called a "dead number" and is either cast aside by bettors and bookmakers or is at least shrouded in a bit of mystery for the betting public.

Games land on five less than 3 percent of the time and books will often ignore the number like it's not even there, going directly from 4.5 to 5.5 or vice versa.

“We just skip over it entirely,” Jeff Stoneback, sportsbook manager at the MGM Mirage, told Covers. “It’s the deadest of the dead. Games rarely fall on five and you often need a safety or something strange to get it.”

It’s plunked between two key football numbers – 3 and 6 – which are far more common final score differentials because they are the value of field goals and touchdowns.

So why do books and bettors bother with the 5-point spread at all?

“A 5-point spread is just two sets of power ratings, factoring in the home-field edge, that land on five. It’s just simple math, really,” says Covers Expert Ted Sevransky, who doesn’t handicap games with spreads of 5 or 5.5 any differently than others. “Certainly, there is some shading around the key numbers, but a spread of five is exactly where the power ratings say it should be."

There are five games on the Week 6 schedule that have or have had a spread of five or 5.5 points since odds opened early Monday morning – Tennessee at Pittsburgh, Detroit at Philadelphia, Buffalo at Arizona, New York at San Francisco, and Green Bay at Houston.

There have been 238 NFL games with opening spreads of five or 5.5 since 1997, with the favorite going just 112-122-4 ATS in those contests – covering just 47 percent of the time.

The betting public isn’t convinced the 5-point spreads were spot on this week, moving three of those five spreads down with action on the underdog. The Lions-Eagles spread is at -4; Bills-Cardinals is dealing -4.5 at most books; Packers-Texans can be had as low as -3.

Thursday’s game between Steelers and Titans has moved to Tennessee +6 with money on the visiting favorite and the Giants-49ers line has moved as high as seven, with numerous injuries to New York’s key players.

“I think you can find little things like (5-point spreads), that generally will raise a few eyebrows. But it’s all just static,” says Sevransky. “If the spread is five and I think it’s too high, I’ll chase the dog. If I think five is too low, I’ll bet the favorite. It’s as simple as that.”
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