How to Handicap NFL Games

How to Handicap NFL Football Games
by Vernon Croy

Millions of people bet on the NFL each and every weekend of the season. Yet, the vast majority of those people don’t actually win money. At best, they might be breaking even, and riding those wins while forgetting about the losses in between. When you really want to improve the performance of your NFL betting, then you need to learn effective strategies for handicapping NFL games and correctly predicting the outcome. Use this guide to get started, and the results will speak for themselves.

As opposed to other sports such as baseball with over 160 games per season, or basketball and hockey, with 82 games each, there are of course only 16 games in every NFL season. That’s important to think about, because with such a small number of games, each game and each match-up is an absolute unique situation. There’s a lot to consider for each and every outing, and from one week to week, all of those variables will be different.

When most people bet on NFL games, they look at the teams and compare their win-loss records and the expectations that people have had for them on the year. From there, they might check the last week’s scores to see how those teams each did the week prior, and from there they’ll put together their pick. But if you want to win, there’s much, much more to it than that.

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You have to see where each team stands for this single game in terms of what they’ve been doing previously, and what is coming ahead. So much of how a team plays in a single game, one of 16, will be based on whether or not they’re riding momentum coming into the showdown, or whether they might be looking ahead to a bigger opponent, becoming vulnerable to a letdown game. This can also happen if it a team is coming off a big win, they can suffer that emotional letdown and underperform for the next game.

It’s also crucial to look at overall trends. How have these teams played one another in the past? Who has had the edge where this game is being hosted? How does each team play when they have to travel, for example, or when they are coming off their bye week? All of these are crucial factors, and they can make the difference between accurate and sloppy handicapping and picking.

Besides trends in a team’s performance, also look at betting trends and stats. How does one team fare as a home favorite, or a road underdog? Do they cover their spreads, lose outright as a favorite, or win but fail to cover? Do they lose but tend to beat the spread as underdogs, and do they ever pull off big upsets?

In the NFL, injuries are huge (especially to offensive lines), and are one of the most underrated or underutilized tools in handicapping games. Most people would react to the star quarterback being out for the game, but this isn’t the NBA, where a team can revolve around a single player.

In the NFL, a major injury can occur to any starter, and especially crucial will be major components on the offensive and defensive players. Star players absent from either line can have a big impact on a team’s performance.
In fact, offensive and defensive line play are both extremely underrated factors to begin with. The skill players get the headlines, but the line play is what really determines a game’s outcome. If one team can put great pressure on the quarterback, and the other can’t, that’s huge. If one team can run the ball with ease, and the other can’t get the ground game going, that’s huge as well. So you have to analyze the offensive and defensive play for each team and see who has the advantage, and how much of an advantage that may be.

Other individual match-ups in a game are also important. Does one team have a shutdown cornerback who can take the other team’s best offensive player out of the game completely? Does one team have a wide receiving threat that will need to be double teamed on every play? Individual match-ups like this are very important for handicapping NFL games, but the best place to start is with the offensive and defensive lines for each squad.

Another important factor will be public perception and the importance or need from time-to-time to go against that perception. For one thing, remember that lines are created to encourage betting on both sides of each game so that the bookie can lock in a guaranteed profit from the vigorish. It’s not necessarily a numerical value saying Team A is 7 points better than Team B.

Also look for key games where public perception is swaying lines too far one way or the other. Is a team ripe for the picking but the public is buying into the hype? Trust your analysis of the trends, injuries and more, and make your decision based on that.

Another thing to take into account is that you don’t want to get caught too much in preseason hype, expectation or perception. This can leave you thinking in week 10 that a 7-3 team is bad because they were supposed to be, or that a 3-7 team will pull out of a slump at any minute because they should have been good. Focus on what is actually happening in the games, and not what teams should have been.

As you can see, there are many different variables at play for handicapping and betting on NFL games. It’s much more than just a team’s win-loss record on the season, or the highly publicized star player. To be successful, you have to view the game with a very fine lens, looking at each aspect of that individual game’s storyline, from recent and long-term trends, momentum, injuries, turnovers and much more. If you can do all of that, you’ll be able to be much more successful with your NFL bets in the future.

If you liked this article, you may also be interested in checking out Betting NFL Underdogs.

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