Everyone has their own unique style of handicapping and some sports gamblers may even have different styles for different sports. Here is my fairly simple and somewhat effective way of handicapping most NFL games.
Here, the assignment is to work through the thought process and some of the methods used to handicap NFL games, here using working examples from Week 1 with a game worth wagering on because of Trends and other realities around it, and another where the game’s quickly thrown out because of the similarities between the two teams.
Fear and Loathing of Numbers and Trends and Streaks and Injuries and Breaking News...
Handicapping and betting the NFL has seemingly become a little more difficult through the decades, with the advent of the Internet and Offshore wagering making it to where almost almost sportsbooks from Europe to the Caribbean to here in Las Vegas know of Injuries or Line Movements immediately because of computers and the Information Highway. Beep beep. Vroooom. And there are few real chasms between numbers anymore. And the large betting groups, Wise Guys and online players have affected the picture for the recreational gambler and tourists who still actually walk up to the betting window and plop cash down, who almost always get “the worst of it” in the context of what’s perceived as “the Best Number.” There are always “Best Numbers,” and those who prioritize that facet have their own unique style and various levels of success in sports gambling. But the amount of Time required to constantly look for and hunt for “the best number” should probably be taken into consideration in the whole gambling picture for each individual, because, after all, Time is Money, right?
So the assignment is “How I Approach Matchups When Betting the NFL.” And I am sure I approach matchups differently than most, pretty much from a fear-based, recoiling position, primarily eliminating any games that are close where no edge is perceived (for betting Sides only). Maybe the best way to do this is just use some working examples from Week 1 with the thought process for each, using an example of a bet-worthy game and the reasons why and another example of a game “tossed out” with reasons why to get both sides. Honestly, most NFL games are thrown out within a split-second in my mind, either because of the Matchup or the ways one or both of the teams are playing or because of an Injury to a key player or enough cumulative injuries to a team as a whole. Or it could be something else. There are almost an unlimited number of variables, and juggling and weighing them all in your mind is sometimes half the battle. Anyway, let’s start with the two of the first three games from Week 1 on the NFL betting board for the new season and see how I have approached each matchup, as odd or as simple as that process may be. And formulating an opinion or lean before listening to anyone else, reading anything or often even seeing/knowing the odds is also often a pure and profitable approach. You will be betting your money, so why not formulate your own opinion so as to not have to worry about second-guessing or blaming anyone after the Final Score comes in? In past years I found the more I listened to others and the more I read and listened to the radio and weighed everything, the more confused I was in the end about what to do. Often, the quick, simple first impulse about a game is the best and most honest one and getting the bet amount right is often just as important but seldom chirped about. It matters. Very much.
Week 1—Thursday, September 10: Steelers at Patriots (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET)
This is a great example of how to approach a game with a cloud of mystery surrounding it. If this game were in Pittsburgh, I might just toss it out, but with the game being at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and with all the mystery and fluctuation with the point spread—it’s gone from Patriots -6 down to -2½ and is back up to -3 in most places—there could be some value and the huge reaction to the initial news that New England QB Tom Brady would be suspended, with fans, media and the betting public perceiving that the suspensions would take place from Weeks 1-4, starting with this game against the Steelers. So, Brady appealed the suspension and then NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally said no this week, and that the 4-game appeal will stand. And now the NFLPA has filed a lawsuit and is suing the NFL to overturn the Brady suspension, so, now bettors and sportsbooks have no idea what happens on the next episode of The Brady Bunch. Anyway, the approach here is put weight in the fact that despite Brady’s potential absence, there are several positive things going in the New England Patriots favor. Here they are...
1—It’s the first game of the season. It’s hard to catch good team’s off guard in Week 1. And smack dab in the middle of a Dynasty as defending Super Bowl champions, it’s safe to say that the Patriots are a good team. 2—The System. New England is a system team, made by Head Coach Bill Belichick to be that way. Short passes, possession football. A team able to come from behind, who loves to pass and can always rely on TE Rob Gronkowski in the Red Zone and WRs Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola for First Downs. A system team can function more so without a star QB than a non-system team. And Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo will be ready for his time and ready to shine and New England will have had over 6 months to prepare for a non-Brady game scenario. So, they’ve certainly had, and will continue to have the Time to prepare. 3—The game is at New England. And on national TV to boot. And the first game of the entire NFL Regular Season. C’mon man. Ain’t nobody want to get beat at Home in the first game of the year on national TV. And, New England was 7-1 at Gillette Stadium last year, losing only to the Buffalo Bills, 17-9 in Week 17 in a game New England probably cared little about with the oh-so valuable Homefield Advantage in the AFC already clinched and Belichick wisely looking to avoid any needless injuries in the game. 4—The Trends. The Trends are always my favorite handicapping tool and way of approaching specific matchups when betting sports, especially in the NFL and in European soccer where they actually seem to provide some value. Here, the Trends—and the best Trends are recent and relevant ones as teams and rosters obviously change through the years—support backing the Patriots. New England is a stellar 9-3 ATS L12 against Pittsburgh (75% win percentage for Patriots backers) and the Patriots are 5-2 ATS L7 here at Home against the Steelers (71%). And the last time these two played here at Gillette Stadium in New England (2013), Brady and New England rolled to a 55-31 win and easy cover over Pittsburgh as 5½-point favorites.
Adding it all up, having the Patriots at -3 or -2½ if you can find it seems smart, even with the lawsuits and stuff still swirling. I’m usually not a slave to the numbers and seldom care about movement in the NFL (on Sides at least), but the difference between having New England -6 as opposed to having New England -2½ or -3 is huge. Especially in this game which figures to be tighter should Brady miss it. And winning a Home and NFL season opener on national TV after winning the Super Bowl is almost assumed, and good teams at Home do just that. True, the Pittsburgh Steelers (+2750 to win Super Bowl, 5Dimes) will have an edge at the QB position with Ben Roethlisberger, but as important as the QB position is for football teams, games are always a finite number of plays of playing Offense, Defense or Special Teams. Meaning? The QB (like starting pitchers in MLB) only has so much effect on a given game while the betting public often perceives the starting QB (or starting Pitcher) have some huge effect on the entire game. They do, but they don’t. They do have influence when on Offense, but around half a game is what your Defense does is around 50% of the nut, and quite often, it’s the Special Teams, Field Position and TOs that really make the difference—both for the teams on the gridiron as well as the people betting on those teams. Great teams can overcome adversity and, if he’s gone here, Brady will be missed. But as much fuss as this has caused, I can’t help but think it will also potentially create an “Us Against the World” mentality from the Patriots from this point forward and a very Mad and focused football team. And Mad is often a good thing in football. In the end, the Trends, the Site and the massive overreaction to the Brady suspension are enough to make me bet on New England (+1000 to win Super Bowl, 5Dimes) in this spot. And maybe a star named Garoppolo will be born.
Week 1—Sunday, September 13: Chiefs at Texans (CBS, 4 p.m. ET)
This is a perfect example of a quick toss-out. As written about here at Sportsbook Review this Summer, I see both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans as being two teams on the upswing in the AFC this season, likely fighting for one of the two Wild Card spots in the conference with the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and the whoever the second-place team in the AFC North ends up being. So, these two teams both have a lot to lose here in Week 1, as that Loss here for either Kansas City or Houston may be the loss that prevents them from making the postseason. Serious stuff. Like a Week 1 playoff game, bruh. Also, both teams went 9-7 last year, both were 4-4 on the Road, both won their last game last Regular Season and the Chiefs finished with a +72 Point Differential while the Texans were at +65. Teams don’t get much closer that all that. Here, oddsmakers have made the host Texans 1½-point favorites (Pinnacle, Total 42), and that also shows how tight this game is thought to be. And even the one relevant Trend—Kansas City 3-1 ATS L4 vs Texans—screams ‘pass’ here, with the game being played at NRG Stadium in Houston. Toss in the reality that both these teams will be playing with starting QBs—likely recently acquired Brian Hoyer (Browns) for Houston and Alex Smith for the Chiefs—who will still be feeling their oats around these teams’ rosters and you have the makings of a game where anything could happen and a game in which I want absolutely no part of, from a side POV. (It should be a great watch, though.) But in doing all that thinking about the game and situation and teams’ realities heading in, it makes you think if maybe the Under (42½, Westgate Las Vegas Hilton) might not be a bad idea with both teams tentative, playing not to lose and preferring to rush the ball through workhorse RBs Arian Foster (Texans) and Jamaal Charles (Chiefs).
Conclusions and Some Simple NFL Betting Philosophies
Betting individual NFL games has become much harder than it used to be, but that’s to be expected with the evolution of Sports Betting and the technologies and expanding betting markets created to appease the industry’s users. Approaching matchups comes easier the more you do it, but like everything good in Life, does require the Time to do your homework on each game. And you can end up doing 45 minutes of handicapping on an NFL game, only to throw a game out. And that’s often the best approach, eliminating games. Doing nothing. I find that getting the individual bet amounts right and being selective are much more important than over-thinking or relying on other so-called experts or shopping around for the best numbers. I’m possibly old fashioned in that regard, but it seems to eliminate the days of potentially getting hammered when all of the favorites take a dump. Also, in the NFL, I never bet on lines or look for certain numbers, but will be extremely hesitant on 3½, 7½ and 10½ and choose to either lay off, look for a 3, 7 or 10, or, simply buy the half-point. There’s seemingly nothing worse than losing a straight bet or a parlay element by a ½ when laying 3½, 7½ or 10½. Or at least so it seems. Losing by a ½ is never fun, but protecting yourself from those jagged edges on those few Key Numbers is just good sports gambling. And most of the time, laying 10 or 10½ won’t matter. But when watching it, it’s so much easier knowing you did buy the hook and paid the -120 juice. Always better safe than sorry, and in the NFL, there are so many more times where that little reality pops up, compared to College Football.
In the end, weighing all the different things becomes important, and often different things (Injuries) carry different weight for different games. The recent relevant Trends, Home record (and Home history) of the host team, and results from the last time the two teams played are always three of the key things I look at in any sport, along with obviously how the teams have been playing recently. But this particular approach seems to work best in European Soccer and the NFL, with some success in NHL and MLB.
Week 1 NFL Picks: New England Patriots -3 over Pittsburgh Steelers (Mirage), Green Bay Packers -5 over Chicago Bears (Pinnacle), Carolina Panthers -4 over Jacksonville Jaguars (Pinnacle), Philadelphia Eagles PK over Atlanta Falcons (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook), Minnesota Vikings +3 over San Francisco 49ers (Pinnacle)