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Reading Total Line Movement – Identifying Expected Outcomes

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Line movement occurs in sports betting when an opening line changes prior to closing. For example, an NFL game might have a total of 43.5 points. If the total ends up being 46.5 points prior to the game starting, the line moved up. On the other hand, if the total closes below 43.5, the line is moving down. We’ll discuss reading total line movement throughout the remainder of this article. 

We will focus primarily on the indications of line movement, but we’ll also discuss the effects of injuries and a few strategies you can use going forward. Remember that this information is for educational purposes only. More than anything, this article intends to help you identify a key trend in sports. 

Reading Total Line Movement

If you’re new to sports betting, reading total line movement is arguably the simplest way to identify where the money is flowing. Money is what forces oddsmakers to rethink their line and move it accordingly in either direction. A lot of money on a certain pick gives a general indication that there’s an edge or the opening line is favorable to bettors. Because of this, oddsmakers will move the line in their best interest. 

The table below gives an overview of how lines move regarding total points. I’ve provided the general indication for when these movements occur. Similar concepts apply for line movements in spreads. 

reading total line movement table
A table showing indications when reading total line movement

Being able to read lines is useful when researching your picks for a given slate. Many websites allow you to do this at the click of a button, but you can also manually track lines on the platform you use. If you notice a line has moved sharply in either direction, you can easily identify what the expected outcome is. Note, however, that the expected outcome doesn’t always end up being a winner. 

A stable or constant line from opening to closing implies that there’s no internal or external circumstances impacting the game. The opening line was probably sharp enough to avoid a ton of money flow in either direction. Usually, a constant line means most of the information regarding the game is baked in. 

The Impact of Injuries

Player injuries can move a line in a number of different ways. Let’s take basketball for example where two or three superstar players can make up most of the offense for a team. If these two or three players are ruled out prior to gameday, the total will likely move down to reflect the lack of offense. 

You can also have a situation where there’s an understanding that star players are out before gameday. If the league or team announces these players are active, the total will probably shoot up to respect a healthy offense. Again, this doesn’t always happen, but injuries tend to have a big impact on projections. 

The same impact of injuries applies in football and baseball too. We’ve seen this a lot in 2022, with the most recent occurrence being the LA Chargers / Jacksonville Jaguars game a couple weeks ago. The total line had some crazy swings for this matchup as there was some debate over the health of Chargers’ QB Justin Herbert. Sure enough, Herbert ended up playing, but the books were right in thinking the offensive production wouldn’t be there. 

In baseball, total lines are less likely to move due to injuries compared to deviations from the expected lineup. Team pitching and batting splits are the two main factors when it comes to generating a total. Generally, a total will drop if a skipper puts out a terrible lineup against a good pitcher. A total might rise if a team’s best lineup faces a statistically terrible pitcher.  

Alternate Line Strategy

You can combine reading total line movement with alternate line betting to increase your chances of a big pay day. This is a strategy that I’ve personally started to play around with when putting together lotto parlays. The idea here is that you’re backtracking the line movement to link arms with the big money or “inital investors”. For example, if a total moves to 48.5 from 46.5, I’m going to backtrack and take the alternate over 46.5 or a number below that. 

You might think to yourself that this just increases the juice on the odds, thus decreasing your profit potential. Although this is true, most of the alternate lines end up being reasonably priced, so if anything it’s more of a safety blanket based on money flow. This strategy tends to have a high success rate, but you should always do your own research in addition to reading lines. 

The smartest way to approach this strategy is by betting singles or straight betting. In doing so, you limit your risk and won’t deal with the heartbreak of losing a parlay by one leg. If you choose to and your bankroll allows for it, I suggest combining several of these alternate lines as a lottery ticket type of parlay. As long as you manage your risk, hitting one of these parlays every so often can help you build your bankroll exponentially. 

The above strategy can be tried on any sport, but the NFL probably has the most lines available across various sportsbooks. DraftKings and FanDuel are among the popular American sportsbooks that give you these options. College football is also great for experimenting with alternate lines.  

Final Thoughts

Reading total line movement is a simple but important tool in sports betting. Essentially, you’re identifying a trend that alludes to an expected outcome. Lines can move due to a large amount of money backing a pick, injuries, and other external factors like weather. The key is to be on the right side of the movement whenever possible. If you’re ahead of the game and expect terrible weather for a specific outdoors matchup, you might lean toward the under if the total looks high. Vice versa if conditions are good and the total seems low. 

Thank you for reading this article, and feel free to check out our other content while you’re here! As always, remember to bet responsibly and research thoroughly prior to wagering your money.