By Robert Ferringo
Knowing the NFL and winning money betting on the NFL are two completely different things. One of the biggest mistakes that average bettors make is to think that because they follow pro football closely that they’ll be successful betting on it.
There is a name for those people: suckers.
Sports betting is a feral, barbaric beast. Understanding the market, interpreting secondary betting factors, and knowing how to manage a bankroll are all things that most public bettors don’t fully grasp. However, those fundamentals are the foundation of a successful sports betting career, regardless of whether you are betting $10 per game of $1,000 per game.
Here are five basic concepts that anyone considering betting on the NFL should understand:
Money management is the key to successful sports betting. Period. If you can’t keep it in your pants then it is just a matter of time before you flush your entire bankroll.
We use a standard 1-8 Unit System at Doc’s Sports. Each “unit” represents one percent of your bankroll and your average bet should be somewhere around 3-4 Units per game. There will be exceptions and plays you like more than others. But even in those games you shouldn’t commit more than seven or eight percent on any situation throughout the season.
If you have $2,000 in your account, you should be betting around $40 per game. I know it’s not as sexy as betting $200 or $300 per game. But that type of recklessness is for amateurs and tourists. Play within your means and you’ll stay in the game a lot longer. Do that and you can eventually turn that $2,000 into $4,000, $5,000 or $10,000. Then you can be the high roller you always told your wife you would be.
One of the first things you need to understand about an NFL point spread: it’s not a prediction. Sportsbooks aren’t trying to predict outcomes. They just want to post a spread that results in equal betting on each side (known as balanced action).
To be a successful bettor you should be a good oddsmaker. And that all starts with knowing how and why spreads are posted and why they move in the manner in which they do. Thus the importance of viewing several sources to help make your picks and predictions.
A fundamental NFL betting concept is that of “key numbers”. Spreads of 3.0, 4.0 and 7.0 are considered “key” because three, four or seven points decide an inordinate amount of games. As a result, sharp bettors understand the value difference between placing a bet on an underdog at 3.5 rather than 3.0 and getting a favorite at 6.5 rather than 7.0.
It is also important to be able to read line movements. Let’s say that more than 80 percent of the bets on a game are on the favorite. But instead of climbing, the spread actually falls away from the side the public is on. That’s called a reverse line movement and is an indicator that the professional bettors are on the opposite side of the square public.
Also, it is telling when the books move the spread off a key number, and that can be a sure sign of professional or “sharp” money is coming in on a team.
The oddsmakers are a lot better at this than you are. You have to respect that. If a line looks too good to be true, there is probably a very good reason for it. Try to think like an oddsmaker and you can stay a step ahead.
The public overreacts to everything that happens in the sports world. Media outlets like ESPN have built empires stoking the frenzy surrounding the NFL and everything that happened five minutes ago is The Most Important Thing in the World. The NFL is ripe for this type of alarmism because the teams only play once a week. That leaves a lot of time for hand wringing and carnival barking about the league’s comings and goings.
The Up-Down Theory suggests that teams that played poorly one week should be due for a positive regression the next, while a team that played above itself will come back down to earth.
However, the market usually corrects the opposite way, assuming that a team that played poorly is a “bad team” and will be continue to play poorly or that a team that played well and won one week is going to continue to play well. And the perfect situation for savvy bettors is when you have a team coming off a statistically anomalous “bad” game against a team that played over its head the week prior. That is a classic Up-Down situation.
For example, in Week 9 of the 2020 season Indianapolis got smothered at home by the Ravens, losing 24-10 in a game that was uglier than the final score. That same day the Titans got outgained by 150 yards and outplayed in Chicago, but won 24-17. The Colts were ripe for a bounce back up. The Titans were ripe for a slide back down. The two teams met on Thursday night in Week 10 and the Colts dominated the Titans 34-17. That is what the Up-Down Theory is all about.
The difference between the fifth-best team and the 20th-best team in the NFL is razor thin. So motivational and situational factors can play a huge factor in how games will develop. If Team A is on the road after a physical, emotionally draining rivalry win at home, then they are in a prime letdown spot. If another squad is a West Coast team flying across country for the second straight week for a 1 p.m. EST start, then you have to figure they will be at a severe situational disadvantage against their opponent. Things like that have to be considered when making any wager in the NFL.
Betting on a team coming off a bye week because they had “extra time to prepare” is actually one of the most overrated factors in NFL betting. But betting against a team that might be looking ahead to a more important game the following week – a Look Ahead Situation – is often underappreciated by the general betting public.
Also, momentum is a crucial aspect to any NFL season. Teams can get hot or go cold at any point. And, especially late in the season, these streaks can lead to teams playing above themselves on the field and at the window. Never bet against a streak. You are better off either jumping on the gravy train or staying off the tracks.
Points-per-game average is not as strong of an indicator of team performance as yards per point. Third-down conversion rate is a more consistent indicator of a team’s offensive performance than yards per rush. Understanding which statistics are loaded with meaning (turnovers) and which ones are overvalued (passing yards) is a key to becoming a sharp NFL bettor.
The yards per point for the median NFL team is right around 15.5. So if a team plays a game in which they had a YPP of 24.0, then you can deduce that they scored a lot less than they should have. This could lead to a higher-scoring game the following week and that team may be ripe for an ‘over’.
Further, stats like total yardage differential (yards gained minus yards allowed), strength of schedule, and point differential are actually better indicators of team strength than win-loss record. Paying attention to those numbers can help you find overrated and underrated teams throughout the season.
Robert Ferringo has been one of the top football handicappers in the country and from 2011-2020 he earned nearly $40,000 in total football profit (average profit: +$4,400). He has also posted 8 of 10 winning seasons and produced an amazing 53 of 82 winning football months over the past 13 years. Robert is looking for a fifth winning football year in the last six and wants more profit this fall.
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