For the sportsbooks, no sport is as profitable as the NFL. Each weekend millions of dollars are wagered on the outcomes of the country’s most popular sport, and rarely does the public come out ahead.
Avid sports bettors typically gamble on all the major sports, but even the most amateur bettors look forward to making their plays on NFL games. This leads to a lot of action that is placed by an uninformed public who is relying on their “instincts” rather than any type of system to be successful.
On the other hand, those who are willing to put in the necessary time and research when looking at each game have been known to make a few dollars during the season.
While there never has been, and likely never will be, a truly reliable hack for betting on the NFL, the key is to make informed plays that are based on a set of criteria that is deemed worthy of consideration. In short, regardless of which side you bet on, it pays to have some reasoning behind the decision.
Unfortunately, most bettors don’t have access to analytical systems that the sportsbooks use, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. In this article, I’ll outline a betting “checklist” that explains what to look for before placing a bet, and why it’s important.
1 – Schedule
It’s about as basic as it gets, but when you’re looking at information to help you make a pick, the schedule is a great place to start. You might think you have a good idea of how a team has performed throughout the season, but if you’re just looking at the overall win-loss record, you aren’t getting the full story.
Records might tell you something about each team, but not all losses (or wins for that matter) are created equal. Not to mention, when you’re betting on football and the two teams involved have had a common opponent prior in the season, you can take a great deal of information from those matchups.
The best part about using the schedule as a major source of information is that when it comes to the NFL, it’s totally realistic. In sports like basketball or hockey where there are 80+ games, taking a real look at the schedule is nearly impossible late in the season. Even entering the final week, this isn’t the case for the NFL.
Another reason that the NFL schedule provides such quality insight is that each team is actually trying to play to their full potential each game. In the NBA, it’s well-known that teams don’t give max effort each night. In baseball, the varying starting pitchers make schedules less reliable. In the NFL, you get each team’s best effort, leading to much more valid data.
Aside from looking at a team’s entire season, you can use the previous game and the following game to help make your decision. Meaning, there’s a good deal of information to be gained from looking at who each team played last week, and who each team plays next week.
Trap games, meaning games where a team plays an easy opponent before playing a quality opponent, are a frequently-discussed phenomenon in the gambling community. In these games, the favorite often falls into the “trap” of looking ahead. Betting the underdog in these games can pay out big time if you’re able to identify when they’re going to occur.
Another piece of information you can take from the schedule is the idea of a get-right game. These are the games in which a good team is coming off an uncharacteristically bad performance the previous week. Expect favorites to be slightly undervalued, making them a good choice to play.
Looking beyond the schedule is crucial to maintaining consistent success, but even just looking through a team’s prior games that season puts you at an advantage over the public.
2 – Injuries to Non-Skill Positions
When a top quarterback or receiver is out with an injury, it’s fairly obvious to both the sportsbooks and to bettors. However, other players at key positions can have injuries that fly under the radar.
Checking the injury report might only take a few minutes, but it can be one of the most important moves you make when deciding which way to bet on a game. One major position group to look out for on the report is offensive line. Unless it’s your team, there’s a good chance you aren’t familiar with the injury status of most of the league’s offensive lineman, but these players have a major impact on the game.
For example, if you notice that a left tackle (who protects the quarterback’s blindside) is out and his team is facing a top-tier defensive end, you can expect the defense to spend a good deal of the game wreaking havoc on the quarterback.
Another example of an important injury that may get overlooked is defensive back. When a team is facing an elite receiver, playing without a shut-down corner can have major implications.
It’s often said that unless a quarterback is out, injuries don’t usually shift the point spread more than a half-point or point at most. That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t change the outcome of the game.
In all cases, if you’re placing a bet without first considering the injury report, you’re missing an opportunity to find an advantage that the general public might be missing.
3 – Dome Teams
Teams are built in accordance to the conditions they’ll play in at their home field. For example, northern, cold-weather teams know that they’ll need a big-arm quarterback to be effective in the winter weather. Similarly, dome teams often focus on speed as perfect conditions tend to benefit the faster team.
Regardless of which dome team you look at, they all have one thing in common: historically, they struggle in rough conditions.
When you sit down to make your picks for the NFL weekend, see if you can identify a situation where a dome team is traveling to play in a cold-weather game. The severity of the weather certainly has an impact on how much the advantage is worth, but if it’s under 32 degrees I usually consider it a 1.5 point advantage in favor of the team used to playing in the elements.
4 – Bye Weeks
One of the more noticeable trends in the NFL is the way certain teams play following a bye week. Obviously, the quality of the team coming off the bye week and who they’re playing has a major impact, but in the right situation it’s an extremely valuable variable to consider.
Much of a team’s success, or lack thereof, following a bye week revolves around the coaching staff. Plenty of information is available that shows coaches’ records coming off their week off, and this data shouldn’t be ignored.
When looking at the spread on a game featuring a team coming off of a bye, try to ask yourself which way you would bet if you take the bye element out of it. Next, apply the amount of points you think is appropriate based on a coach’s career success following the bye week.
Preparation is a major factor in the success of NFL teams, which is why certain coaches seem to be successful year-after-year regardless of the talent on their roster. When you add an extra week to prepare, the best coaches are able to take advantage and their teams typically perform accordingly.
Cracking the code of NFL handicapping is an art and a science… a little luck never hurt either. The key take away from this article is that whichever set of criteria you use to make your picks, just have some reasoning. These items are by no means the only components of a game to look at, but if you don’t know where to start, try utilizing this four-step list.