People always talk about finding an angle when they're making NFL picks. But what is an angle, exactly? And how do you come up with the ones that actually work?
Last year at this time, we had the opportunity here at the ranch to talk about some basic, yet overlooked, NFL handicapping angles. They're the bread and butter of contrarian betting: Pay attention special teams, secondaries (safeties in particular), and offensive lines. I was reminded of these angles earlier this week when I went on a rant about how safeties get overlooked when it's time to vote for the AP Defensive Player of the Year.
But let's take a step back for a moment. What do we mean when we talk about handicapping angles? And how do we go about looking for the good ones? Glad you asked. Let's dig deep, peel back the layers, and get to know the real story behind the NFL odds.
You Must Come to Oxford With Me
Let's start by going straight to the Oxford Dictionaries website. Angle: “A particular way of approaching or considering an issue or problem.” In this case, the issue is making NFL picks. When you're handicapping, you want to find the best ways of considering what picks you'll make. We heartily recommend a contrarian approach; when the betting market gets distorted by too many people betting on Team A, the value comes from betting on Team B before the lines adjust.
There are certain basic contrarian angles that you may already know off by heart: betting on underdogs, betting on the OVER when it's cold, that kind of thing. And you may have already been looking at the teams with good/bad players at the less appreciated positions mentioned above. So where's the next frontier? Where do we mine for even more angles that haven't been talked about all that much?
Open up the Tired Eyes
If there's one go-to place for this kind of discussion, it's the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytic Conference. They don't necessarily frame their subject matter in terms of beating the football odds; they're chiefly concerned with exposing on-field and off-field inefficiencies. But it doesn't take much of a leap to turn those inefficiencies into handicapping angles.
Most of the NFL chatter at the 2016 Sloan conference was about analytics in a macro sense – using wearables to gather data and stuff like that. But in 2015, a paper by four authors (Murat Kurt, Mark Karwan, Niraj Kumar Pandey and Kyle Cunningham) was presented, showing how the league was failing when it comes to creating competitive balance with the regular-season schedule. For example, some teams get stuck playing more games against rested opponents (coming off a bye or a Thursday game, mostly) than others. They even pegged the value of an extra day of rest for a weak team at .334 points per day. For an “old” team, the value goes up to .351 points per day.
This is information you can use. Most recreational bettors don't pay any attention to the strength of schedule; those who do usually don't get much further than looking at the basic SOS list for the upcoming season, based on their opponents' combined win-loss records from the previous year. Why not take it another step and look more closely at rest? Those older teams should be a bit more profitable than everyone else when they get the same number of days off. It's just science, folks.
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