The first rule of picking NFL winners is that there is no one betting strategy that will win you money. You need to consider a series of factors and statistics to make the most informed picks you possibly can. There are some strategies, however, which can help you become a more informed and sophisticated bettor. Let’s go over those strategies, while also teaching you how to avoid falling into certain bad betting habits.
1. Use the odds to predict games
The first thing you need to know is how to use NFL odds. Not all odds are created equally. For example, take a matchup between the Eagles and Giants. The Eagles are 3.5 point favorites in pretty much every sports book. However, if you bet on the Eagles to win by 3.5 points or more at BetMGM this week, the odds are -100, meaning you will get one dollar back for every dollar you bet, a true 50-50 bet. However, if you want to bet on the Giants at +3.5, the best odds you can get are +117 at Sugar House, meaning you will get $117 for every $100 you bet on the Giants to cover. Sometimes, if the line looks too good to be true, there’s a small catch, a higher moneyline.
Here’s the best strategy advice you can get: when the games end on Sunday night, look at the NFL upcoming week’s schedule and make predictions for what you think the line will be for each game. When you are done, look at the actual lines, and see which games can earn you value. Perhaps you thought that the Chargers would be favored by 2 points for their upcoming game in Miami and you planned on picking them to win the game. When you check the actual lines, you see that the Chargers are actually underdogs by as much as 2.5 points on one site. You just bought yourself an actual 3.5 points against the spread, all for free. Doing the same exercise for Over/Unders works very well, too. For instance, the Saints-49ers game features one team, the 49ers, that struggled to move the ball last week, and is arguably the team in the NFL with the most injured key players. If you predicted the Saints will win the game 31-14, you are assuming an Over/Under of 45 points. The actual Over/Under is actually 50 points, so by betting the under you are getting 5 more points than you assumed you needed.
2. In 2020, home field advantage does not matter
There has been one gambling constant in NFL history: the home team usually wins. In every season of the modern era, home teams have won the majority of their games. In 2020, with COVID causing empty, or near-empty stadiums around the league, that home-field advantage is completely gone. Through nine weeks, home teams are under .500 overall, with a record of 65-67-1. With teams moving away from plans to have full stadiums, this stat should hover around .500 for the rest of 2020.
There is one minor exception to this rule, however. A road team that travels a long distance is still more likely than not to lose. Take, for example, the recent game where the NFC West leading Seattle Seahawks traveled to Buffalo to play the Bills in a 1 PM game, which is 10 AM, Pacific Time. The Seahawks got off to a terrible start, looked sluggish throughout the game, and managed to allow 44 points to the Bills. You should still be wary of teams making cross-country trips, particularly west coast teams going east for 1 PM eastern kickoffs.
3. If you can’t be objective about your favorite team, don’t bet on, or against, them
Johnny is a diehard Denver Broncos fan who can name every player on the 53 man roster and most of the practice squad. But he consistently assumes the Broncos are better than they actually are and keeps losing money betting on them to win outright. Sometimes, you can have too much information about a team. If you don’t think you can be truly objective about your favorite team, it might make sense to bet on other games and just enjoy watching your favorite teams games, while betting on the rest of the slate. This also goes for fans who are too pessimistic about their favorite team. You might know the flaws of your team’s right guard and 5th defensive lineman, but you aren’t necessarily aware that every team has their own flaws and warts. Alternatively, maybe you should bet AGAINST your team every week. At least that way, you’re bound to win in one way.
4. Be wary of anyone guaranteeing winners
No one, and this means no one, in the history of NFL betting has only had winning seasons. If someone claims to have had a plus-55% winning percentage in each of the past five seasons, you should take that as a sign to ignore everything else they say. Betting on football is too difficult, and the oddsmakers are too good, for anyone to consistently beat them. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes following the picks of someone who owns up to their losers can be a better strategy than following someone who magically wins every weekend. A better idea is analyzing the picks of, say, the five bettors or analysts who you most respect and see which games seem to have a consensus forming for.
5. Ignore the fluff
There are certain statistics that DO NOT MATTER when picking NFL games. Why is it useful to know how many times the Raiders have won or covered against the Texans in their past 10 matchups? Some of those games featured zero current players or coaches on the current teams, it just isn’t relevant. In general, ignore any information that isn’t from the current season, particularly for a team that has undergone major upheaval since then, like changing their coach or quarterback. It might be a cool stat that a certain quarterback is 7-2 against the spread in road primetime games, but if half of those games happened in 2012 and 2013, it isn’t especially relevant to this week’s game.
Don’t get discouraged by losing
If you did a ton of research, felt really good about the week’s slate of games, but ended up with a record of 5-9, you might feel the need to scrap your betting system and try to search for new strategies. While we should always evolve as bettors, one week is generally not a representative sample of how good of a bettor you are. In fact, one season isn’t a large enough sample. The best bettors have had losing weeks and even losing years, while letting your cat pick every game for you would eventually have a season where it won over 50 percent of every game. The key is to do as much research as possible, look for the best odds you can find, and most importantly, have fun.
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