How To Handicap Football
Before we get into detail about handicapping football, we'd like to start by making two important points.
- Handicapping is not as complicated as might think.
- Handicapping takes time and effort.
There are two common misconceptions about handicapping. One is that you have to be some kind of genius to do it, and this is completely false. That's why we've made the first point above. Many people don't even both learning how to handicap football, for the sole reason that they think it's too complicated
The other misconception is that handicapping is just about following some kind of set formula or system that basically tells you what to bet on. This is not the case at all. While you can develop specific formulas or systems to help with your decision making process, there is more to handicapping than just that. It doesn't have to be difficult, as we've just explained, but it does take time and effort. There is a lot to assess and analyze if you are going to handicap football games effectively.
In this article provide the information and advice that can help you become a successful football handicapper. We start by explaining exactly what sports handicapping is, and then look at how it can help you when betting on football. We then provide some tips and advice for how to go about developing your own handicapping techniques.
What is Sports Handicapping?
It's difficult to provide a precise definition of sports handicapping. It's not about doing any one single thing, or following a specific set of rules. Handicapping is essentially a combination of processes and techniques that can help you to make better decisions when betting on sports.The basic idea is to consider all the factors that can affect the outcome of a sports event, and then determine exactly what effect each one might have. Doing this gives should give a clearer picture of what to bet on.
There isn't really a "right" way to handicap sports. There are some general principles you should adhere to, but you ultimately need to develop your own methods. It's part science, and part art form. Some of the processes and techniques are purely mathematical, while others are subjective and opinion based.
We cover some of the mathematical techniques, that apply to all forms of sport, in our article on the basics of handicapping the market. Reading this article will give you a solid grasp of the more fundamental aspects of handicapping.
The subjective aspects of handicapping are the hardest to master. There are many books and websites that contain information on certain methods you can use to handicap sports, but the problem with using methods developed by other people is that they might not work for you. You ultimately need to develop your own methods, as that's the only way to be truly successful. In any case, you can be almost certain that the most effective handicapping methods are not published anywhere.
That's why this article is focused on teaching you all the things you need to consider rather than just giving you a fixed guide to follow. Actually learning how to handicap properly for yourself, and not just relying on doing what others to tell you what to do, will be far more beneficial in the long run.
How Does Handicapping Help?
As we've already mentioned, handicapping can help you to decide what to bet on. That's pretty much its sole purpose, in fact. The only real aim when betting is to make good decisions, and if you can consistently do that then you will almost certainly make money in the long run.
Making a good betting decision is not quite as simple as predicting what's going to happen though. Obviously you need to make accurate predictions if you're going to be successful, but there's more to it than that. You need to think about how likely a possible outcome is, and then compare that likelihood to the implied probability of the relevant odds. This is how you identify value, which is arguably the most important part of sports betting.
If you're not familiar with the concept of value, please read our article explaining the roles of probability and value in sports betting.
You should understand that when bookmakers set the odds and lines for a football game, or any sports event, they are effectively creating a market. Your goal is to find out where the value lies in that market. To explain this further, let's use an example. We're looking at an upcoming game where the Kansas City Chiefs are playing at the New England Patriots. The odds are as follows.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are the favorite here, and our initial instinctive view is that they're going to cover the spread. Now, the average recreational bettor would think no further than this. Having taken a view, they'll simply back that view by placing the relevant wager. So, assuming they had the same view as you, they'd place a wager on the Patriots to cover.
They may well prove to be right, and they'd take their payout and be happy that they won. There's nothing wrong with this at all, but it's not an approach that will be successful in the long run. They haven't given any consideration to whether their wager had any value at all.
If youwere handicapping this game properly, then taking the view that the Patriots are going to cover would only be the first step. The next step would be to work out how likely they are to cover. There are numerous ways you could do this, but let's say that you've developed a relatively simple handicapping technique based on yards per point. This works by giving each team a rating based on their yards per point statistics, which you calculate as follows.
Calculate a team's offensive points per yard by dividing their offensive yards gained by the number of points scored.
Calculate a team's defensive points per yard by dividing their yards given up by the number of points conceded.
Subtract defensive points per yard from offensive points per yard for a rating.
Your technique involves then calculating the difference between the ratings of two teams. In this case the rating for the Patriots is +2.3, and for the Chiefs it's -0.7. So the difference is +3 in favor of the Patriots.
Let's assume that you've carried out research that shows that teams with a +3 advantage or greater in this rating win by three points or more 65% of the time. So there's a (theoretical) 65% chance that a wager on the Patriots will win or push, and the implied probability of the odds is 52.38%. When the chances of a wager winning is greater than the implied probability of the odds, value exists. So in this case backing the Patriots to cover would be the right thing to do.
Please note that the data used in the above example is hypothetical. It's purely to illustrate how handicapping techniques to make good betting decisions and spot where the value is. Now that we've explained that, it's time to look at exactly how you can develop your own football handicapping techniques.
What is Sports Handicapping?
If you're going to have any chance of becoming a successful football handicapper, you have to know your stuff. You can't expect to accurately assess what's going to happen to in games, or over the course of the season, if you don't fundamentally understand the game. So here's some initial tips that you really should follow.
If you're a major football fan then then you probably already do the first two things on this list, and you're probably already familiar with many of the teams, player and coaches too. If you're not, though, then you should to get into the habit of watching games and reading match reports as soon as you can. This will give you real insight into the sport and its participants, and that insight will prove invaluable when trying to handicap games.
This is an ongoing process too. A lot of things change every season, you so need to stay up to date. This is one reason why we recommend learning how to use the off-season effectively when betting on the NFL. You want to be aware of roster changes and coaching changes, and you want to start analyzing the potential effects of them as early as possible. A new star quarterback, for example, could make a team much stronger for the upcoming season. A new coach may mean an entirely new playing style, which may make a team more effective against certain opposition but less effective against others.
You also need to understand the various factors that can affect the outcome of football games, and the important team and player statistics that can be used in handicapping. Here are just a few examples of these, in no particular order.
- Current Form
- Home Advantage
- Yards per attempt
- Passing yards
- Rushing yards
- Yards per carry
- Sacks per game
- Turnover differential
For a more detailed look at all of these, and more, you should read our article on the factors and stats to consider when handicapping football. It's only with a real understanding of them that you'll be able to develop and use your own handicapping techniques effectively.
Once you have that understanding, the work really begins. We mentioned earlier that our goal is to teach you how to handicap for yourself, rather than just tell you what to do, and we should now explain further why this. It's not because we don't want to give you the best chance of making money, as that's precisely what we ARE trying to do. We could simply share the techniques that are working for us currently, but there's a major problem with doing that.
It's really hard to find value in football betting markets, because the bookmakers are very good at what they do. Take the example we gave earlier of using yards per point stats to handicap point spreads. If such a simple system was able to consistently beat the bookmakers, they'd soon work it out for themselves. Then the lines they set would take that into account, so the technique probably wouldn't be useful anymore. You'd have to look at other factors and stats too, and use yards per point in conjunction with them.
The only way to consistently make money from handicapping is to consistently stay one step ahead of the bookmakers. That's incredibly tough to do, and there's certainly so no easy step by step guide we can give you for doing it. It absolutely can be done, but you HAVE to put in a lot of effort. You need to do a lot of research and analysis, look for trends and patterns, come up with theories, and then put those theories to the test. And, when you find something that works, keeping fine-tuning it.
That's really what successful football handicapping comes down to. There's no magic system that's going to tell you what to bet on each week. It's about working hard enough so that you have the ability to spot when there is value in market, based on your own analysis and assessments. If you're patient and committed, then you will find that value.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2016
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