The NFL is the league Americans bet on more than any other. It’s also the league that even the most experienced sharps find the hardest to win.
Because of the relatively few number of games played each week, sportsbooks have the time to focus on each individual matchup to make sure there are no easy wins. Even the somewhat misunderstood strategy of “fading the public” doesn’t always hold up when betting on the NFL because the oddsmakers are so diligent in setting lines so that money is nearly equal on each side.
With all of that being said, it’s still possible to turn a profit betting on the NFL if you’re willing to follow systems that have had success over time. In many ways, most sports fans are too emotionally attached to the league to bet rationally, but the numbers never lie.
In this article, I’ll dive into a few betting systems that have resulted in winning seasons for the sports bettors who don’t stray from the strategies that have resulted in successful seasons. Try implementing a few for yourself or check out this 7 step guide for how to bet on football and see if you can add a little extra to your bankroll come playoff time.
1 – Road Dogs (Under .500)
Life can be unpredictable, but there are a few constants that have withstood the test of time: death, taxes, and sports bettors undervaluing teams that are on the road, under .500 and an underdog.
You might be thinking that choosing a home favorite over a team that has a record under .500 is one of the more safe (spoiler alert, there’s no such thing as a “safe” bet) plays. But in reality, the public’s bias often results in inflated spreads that make the underdog a smarter bet.
Since 2005, road underdogs with a losing record have covered the spread at a shocking 55.5% clip from 2005 to 2019. Logically, it can be difficult to bet on a bad team, but sportsbooks are aware of how bettors typically think in how they approach their plays.
Generally speaking, home field advantage is overvalued. It’s a well-known fact that oddsmakers give the home team a 3-point boost that wouldn’t exist on a neutral field, but even a field goal might be overestimating the true impact. Additionally, public action tends to lean towards the favorite, meaning oddsmakers will further inflate the spread in an effort to even up the money.
Use public bias to your advantage by taking road underdogs who have a losing record. It might be hard to pull the trigger at first, but you’ll thank yourself when all your friends are riding the seemingly-obvious play and coming up a little short.
2 – Non-Playoff vs Playoff Teams in Week 1
Early in the season, it can be difficult to judge how good a team really is compared to the year before. Naturally, most bettors rely on last year’s opinion even when betting on the current year’s game.
Because there’s a huge lack of information in Week 1, it can be challenging for oddsmakers to put out spreads that accurately reflect the team’s current talent. This gives the public a tremendous amount of “power” over what the eventual spread will be.
Week 1 is notorious for having spreads that are larger than they should be, as the sportsbooks are looking to even up some of the money instead of having the vast majority on the favorite only.
While fading the public is overly-simplistic when the public has such a strong influence on the spread, it’s best to step away from the bias.
3 – Rebound Games
It’s typically a good idea to focus on quantifiable numbers and data when deciding which way to bet, but unlike wagering at the roulette or craps table, there’s always a human element at play when it comes to betting on sports.
Teams who have suffered a big loss in the previous week typically rebound and outperform the public’s perception. It’s important to consider that the public is likely to draw on the most recent information (meaning the previous week) to make their betting decision.
When a team loses a game by more than 21 points, they cover the spread the following week at a 59% rate since 2005. Recency bias is a strong motivator for bettors, and it’s no more prevalent than in the NFL. It makes sense; with a week between games, everyone is susceptible to overanalyzing a single performance. Don’t fall for this trap that presents itself as inflated spreads. If you feel like the sportsbooks are daring you to pick a favorite, go the other way.
Since you’re part of the general public, you might understand how it can be tough to place your hard-earned cash on a team coming off a convincing loss. This is a good time to point out that becoming an effective sports gambler requires you to think contrary to the “easy” play.
4 – Run to Victory
If you ask people who have a significant amount of football knowledge, they’ll tell you that controlling the run game is crucial to winning. Winning the time of possession battle is an important, but often-overlooked stat that has a strong correlation towards winning. Not to mention, rushing efficiency can have major implications for which team will cover the spread.
From 2000 to 2018, an NFL team that rushes for 30-plus yards more than their opponent covers the spread at an almost unbelievable 75% rate. The difficulty with applying this statistic to your betting strategy is that you can’t rely (necessarily) on past data, but rather, you must predict how the rushing yards will play out for each team.
With that being said, there are always games that appear to heavily favor one team when comparing rushing offense to the opponent’s rushing defense.
Keep in mind that this particular system doesn’t have anything to do with who will win the game outright. This means that it’s very possible to overlook the impact of the 30-plus rushing advantage unless you’re invested in the spread.
Remember, even though a team might lose a game, if they’re able to play keep-away and commit to the run, at the very least they’re preventing the other team from scoring…and most importantly, covering.
5 – Bet Against the Best
Contrarian betting is typically a smart move, and this is especially true late in the season. Each year, there are a handful of teams who find themselves with an 8-2 record or better coming into late November and beyond.
These teams are so highly regarded by the general sports-watching public that spreads on their games are often way higher than they “should” be. The numbers support the concept that fading the best teams in the league is a smart move, as hard as it may be to pull the trigger against a top-tier team.
From 2003 to 2018, teams that have a winning percentage of .800 or better after Week 12 have a 43.6% win rate against the spread. This means that the underdogs in these situations are a particularly profitable play.
It’s tough to go against the best in the game, but history shows that it pays to take the underdog.
I’ve mentioned it several times throughout the article, but as sports fans, the NFL over-analysis that takes place each week makes it hard for gamblers to see things rationally.
Stick to these systems that have a proven record of success and you’ll thank yourself come playoff time.