NFL

Swings and misses from SP+ and betting spreads in CFB Week 1 games

    Bill Connelly is a staff writer for ESPN.com.

Books 1, Nerds 0.

According to the website Prediction Tracker, sportsbooks betting lines might have just had their best college football opening week ever. Only six of the 47 prediction systems listed there are over .500 against the spread. Week 1 is generally a chance for particularly strong ratings systems to shine, but almost no one did this time around.

That includes SP+. Thus far, the average absolute error for SP+ — the average difference between the projected scoring margin and actual scoring margin — is 13.2 points per game, which would rank second to only ESPN’s FPI at Prediction Tracker. But it went just 22-22-2 against the Caesars closing line last week, 20-24-2 against the midweek spread.

We headed into 2021 not knowing how much we could trust the reliability of what we saw in 2020, a.k.a. the COVID year, so it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that the algorithms would struggle a bit more than usual. (The absolute errors are higher than normal, too.) But let’s walk through some of the bigger swings and misses from both the lines and the computer ratings and check on both the reasons for the whiffs and the potential sustainability of the surprises at hand.

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