In 2017 and 2018, after just one game of 38 had been played in the Scottish Premier League season, bookmakers Paddy Power paid out to any punter who had backed Celtic to win the championship. That's a bit like paying out for the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA Championship in October, or American Pharoah after the first bend of the Kentucky Derby. Crazy, right?

Well, sometimes you have to take these bookmaker gestures with a pinch of salt. In both 2017 and 2018 Celtic were overwhelming favourites to win the league, with odds of 1/100 in places meaning a GBP 100 bet would return a profit of GBP 1. Make no mistake about it, Paddy Power paid out early as a marketing strategy, to make sure the bookie's name was in several newspaperS. Nothing wrong with that as the punters get to profit. And, it certainly worked in terms of getting coverage for the Irish bookie.

Tight at the top of the table

However, there is a chance that Paddy Power may have got it wrong for the 2018/19 season. Celtic didn't even win their opening game before the bookmaker made the announcement. And, in truth, they have been patchy ever since. They currently site top of the league on 26 points, but only goal difference separates Celtic from Hearts. Rangers and Kilmarnock sit just 2 points back, with St Johnstone a further point behind. The point is, whisper it: Scotland might finally have a bona fide title race this season.

Of course, Celtic are still big favourites in the Scottish Premiership betting, coming in at odds of 1/8 with Paddy Power and several other bookies. But it's certainly not the walk in the park anyone expected. Rangers are given odds of 6/1, whereas joint-leaders Hearts have a big price of 66/1 from BetVictor. Indeed, BetVictor have also priced Kilmarnock, just two points off the top, at 125/1. While some would say these teams might fall away, punters will remember similar things were said about Leicester City in the 2016 English Premier League season. Moreover, it's no longer the early part of the campaign, we are more than a third of the way through the season.

Celtic have problems on the road

But, more importantly for punters, the general competitiveness of the league has gone up on a weekly basis. Celtic won the championship by 30 points in the 2016/17 season, going through the season unbeaten with 34 wins and 4 draws. They have already dropped more points this season. If the trend continues, it means you can pick up some value in the game by game betting. For example, Hamilton Academical are 18/1 with Betfair to beat Celtic (1/6) in their next fixture. Most seasons you would dismiss the Accies chances, but it's worth a second look this time around. Consider that Hamilton are at home and Celtic have already dropped points to Hearts, Livingston, Kilmarnock and St Mirren on the road.

Look, Celtic still boast the best squad by far, and it will be a huge shock if any other team but the Hoops lift the title at the end of the season. Yet, there have been some chinks in the armour of Brendan Rodger's men this season. For punters, such weaknesses should be seen as opportunities to beat the bookies.