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Bookmakers Unsure How to React to NFL’s New Tackling Rules


Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Ed Hochuli

  • Bookmakers in Vegas are doing their best to adjust to the new tackling rules in the NFL this preseason.
  • As a result of the new rule, 11 of 16 games during preseason Week 1 went over the total, causing a knee-jerk reaction from bookmakers.
  • Sportsbooks are hoping to have a good feel for the impact of the new rules will have on over/unders by the regular season.

We’ve seen some serious line adjustments in the NFL this preseason, and no, it has nothing to do with the wave of young, exciting quarterbacks entering the league.

These adjustments are actually stemming from the new tackling rule that penalizes teams 15 yards for “lowering [the] head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”

Not surprisingly, this rule has caused mass confusion among fans, defensive players and NFL officials, all of whom aren’t entirely sure about what the true definition of a “legal hit” is.

There was plenty of chatter in the media leading up to this preseason about the league stepping up its efforts to protect players, with extra emphasis placed on how contact is initiated.

Sportsbooks had remained skeptical of the new rules heading into this preseason, and that was reflected in how they set over/unders in the first week of the preseason.

Most of the totals from Week 1 were in the range of last year’s preseason’s numbers, but 11 of the 16 games went over, and that caused a knee-jerk reaction from the books.

Week 2 totals were, on average, five points higher than those from the previous week.

Now it is important to note that Week 2 totals tend to be higher than Week 1 numbers as starters play more in the second week of the preseason.

But when key players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Drew Brees were announced out for Week 2, the lines didn’t go down.

In fact, most went up.

It isn’t just fans and refs who are unsure about how the game will be called. According to John Murray, Race and Sportsbook Manager at the Westgate Las Vegas, players look confused, and that will lead to problems on defense.

“It’s definitely possible NFL players don’t know what’s a legal hit anymore, so this will likely be reflected in totals in the short term,” he said.

John Avello, Race and Sportsbook Director at the Wynn Las Vegas, felt the same way.

“While scoring was down a bit last season partially due to key injuries to top quarterbacks, an indirect effect of the new contact rule will likely be more penalties, and thus, more points,” he said.

Coincidentally, nine of the 16 games in Week 2 stayed under, so it’s very possible the reaction was a bit premature. However, as with most NFL preseasons, a potential trend is nearly impossible to predict.

According to Ed Salmons, Race and Sportsbook Manager at the Westgate, thinks the reaction will pass fairly quickly.

“The new helmet rules remind me when the NHL made adjustments to both the holding and hooking rules,” Salmons said. “This will likely correct itself once the regular season starts. It’s just an overemphasis by the NFL and the officials to make their point.”

He continued to point out that simply changing the culture of play in both the NCAA and NFL will be a slow process.

“Look at plays now, both in college and the NFL. Players are backing off much more than 10 years ago. It’s a slow process and will take some time to adjust,” Salmons said.

Early Week 3 preseason lines are out, and it seems that the theme has continued at the sportsbooks.

Fourteen lines were set at the time of writing and all of them had totals set at 39.5 or higher with an average total of 43.

That is four points higher than last year’s average total for this week.

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