5 Fun Ways to Bet on NFL Without Using a Sportsbook

The leaves are falling once again, which means the long-awaited return of National Football League (NFL) action. The 2020 NFL season might look and sound a little different in 2020, but the on-field product remains the same.

For 17 weeks, modern-day gladiators representing 32 teams will take to the gridiron, all hoping to secure the opportunity to play at the Super Bowl. Betting on NFL football has never been better.

With the five fun at-home gambling activities found below, you don’t have to visit a sportsbook to get in on the action.

1 – Run a Weekly “Pick’em” Contest Using Las Vegas Point Spreads

Dating back to the pre-internet era, serious real money sports bettors and casual football fans alike have come together to compete in “pick’em” contests. Better known as office pools to members of the previous generation, pick’em contests hosted all over the world tend to follow the same basic template.

First, participants pony up an entry fee which seeds the money pot to be earned by the eventual champion. To make our example math a little easier, let’s opt for a nice round number through a $100 entry fee and 30 players.

With a pot of $3,000* now established, the organizer typically establishes a 1st-2nd-3rd hierarchy for the prizes up for grabs. This is always flexible though, so you can opt for a 1st-5th arrangement, Top-10, winner takes all, or whatever works best given your contest’s field size.

*This example doesn’t include any administrative fees, also known as “the rake,” charged by the contest organizer

For our purposes, let’s assume the champion takes home $2,000, the runner-up collects $750, and the bronze medal winner pockets $250.

With the financials now sorted accordingly, the real fun begins—actually picking NFL games against the spread and against one another. You can search online to source accurate point spreads offered by Las Vegas sportsbooks, so just choose a “cutoff” time each week to finalize your contest’s lines.

After emailing all contest participants the list of spreads, their job is simple enough. They’ll size up the weekly slate of NFL games and pick a winner against the spread (ATS) from each one. Point spreads leave open the possibility of a “push,” or final score which creates an exact tie using the given spread, so most pick’em contests utilize a points system.

I prefer the traditional structure in which an ATS win earns 1 point, an ATS push earns 0.5 points, and an ATS loss produces 0 points. You can modify this system however you wish, of course, so feel free to get creative.

Pick’em contests are so much fun because they provide more bang for your betting buck than most NFL gamblers. For just a single $100 entry fee, you can sweat the outcome of all 16 games on the weekly schedule, good for a paltry $6.25 per game investment.

Naturally, the goal of any pick’em contest is to make as many accurate picks ATS as you can.

Let’s say you pick correctly in 10 games, push in another, and lose ATS in the other five. Using the simple points system described earlier, you’d finish the week with 10.5 points in the standings. That’s good enough to beat out most of the field, but because your brother-in-law notched one additional win, his 11.5 points forces you to be content with runner-up status.

And the beauty of NFL pick’em contests is twofold too.

While you can sweat the outcome of 16 games each and every week, you also get to “run it back” by hosting the same contest in all 17 weeks of the season. All told, you’ll have a personal stake in each and every one of the 512 games on the NFL regular season schedule.

By inviting just the right mix of friends, family, along with their friends and family, a good pick’em contest becomes a breeding ground for friendly rivalries and genuine competition. Don’t take my word for it though, just imagine how nice it’ll feel returning the favor to beat your own brother-in-law out of that $2,000 next Sunday.

2 – Set Up a Season-Long Winner-Take-All “Survivor” Pool

Every season, after surviving the gauntlet of a 16-game season plus the playoffs, one NFL team reigns supreme as Super Bowl champion.
Indeed, survival is the name of the game in pro football, which is why the “survivor” pool gambling game is so much fun.

In a classic survivor pool, everyone chips in an entry fee which creates the kitty for a season-long competition. In our case, let’s go with the same 30-player field and $100 entry fee to create a $3,000 total prize pool.

All participants are then asked to choose the single winner, straight up rather than against the spread, that they have the most confidence in for Week 1.

If the season is already underway, you can always start midstream and play through Week 17 (or whenever a winner is crowned).

After all the games are in the books, any participants who chose a losing team are eliminated from the survivor pool. This rule can be amended to allow for one re-entry, typically limited to the first two weeks of play, but most experienced players prefer a pure survivor pool with no re-entries.

In any event, the strategic elements of survivor pool success boil down to one major caveat—you can only choose a team once. In other words, when you decide to back a team with your weekly pick, they can’t be selected again for the rest of the season.

For this reason, most survivor pool aficionados try to back bad or mediocre teams in the early going, in hopes of saving the best squads for crunch time.

The objective of a survivor pool is, as the name suggests, simply to survive until the next week. A typical contest will see a handful of players eliminated each week, steadily whittling the field down toward the endgame. Oftentimes, one major upset where a huge underdog notches the unlikely win can lay waste to the field by eliminating half or more of the remaining players.

However it plays out, the excitement builds from week to week as you watch opponents culled from the field. And because most survivor pools are winner take all affairs, the intensity reaches a crescendo when the final two or three players have emerged.

In the latter stages of the season, with many teams already scratched off your list, figuring out which team to ride when it matters most can be particularly challenging.

Survivor pools aren’t for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach the swings of a single-elimination tournament, you’ll have more fun watching football than ever before.

3 – Organize Private Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) Tournaments

I spent a ton of time in college competing in an old-fashioned fantasy football league, complete with a “snake” draft on the big whiteboard and beers all around.

Today, the world of fantasy football has largely shifted online thanks to major platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel. As pioneers of the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry, these sites have perfected the art of daily and weekly fantasy football tournaments.

Drafting a competitive team using salary restrictions, while spotting diamonds in the rough poised for a big statistical performance, is deceptively difficult. But therein lies the challenge – beating your buddies in a true test of football knowledge.

You can invite your buddies to take a shot at big money in the $1 million guaranteed open tournaments. In doing so, you’ll go up against thousands upon thousands of opponents nationwide with five- and six-figure prizes on the line.

If you prefer a more intimate affair with lower stakes, the big DFS sites also allow players to set up private tournaments. Just name it, send out invites, and enjoy the show as your group competes to crown its fantasy football king.

4 – Predict the Playoffs Using a Tournament Bracket Point System

One of my personal favorites, this football gambling game takes its cue from college basketball.

Every sports bettor savors the thrill of March Madness, as the 64-team tournament bracket sets the stage for high drama complete with big upsets and buzzer-beaters. Well, this year’s expanded field of 14 teams for the NFL Playoffs creates the same bracket dynamic for creative bettors.

Have everyone pitch in an entry fee to purchase a blank postseason bracket. Remember, with the addition of one Wild Card team to each conference field, you’ll see some changes from years past. The opening round Wild Card Weekend action expands to three games in both the AFC and NFC side, while each conference awards just one first-round by apiece.

The best way to run an NFL Playoffs tournament bracket contest is to assign points for correct picks. As the postseason proceeds, players who filled out accurate brackets will pile up points, and the most accurate prediction takes the lion’s share of the prize pool.

5 – Host a Super Bowl “Squares” Contest While Watching the
Game

If you’ve never played Super Bowl squares before, you’re in for a treat.

This classic addition to any Super Bowl party asks participants to purchase numbered squares within a large grid. This grid features the numbers 0-9 on either axis, with each axis assigned to either the AFC and NFC representatives in the Super Bowl. These numbers will be randomly assigned to various rows and columns.

In the end, any particular square a player purchases (again at random) will correspond to a two-number combination such as 7-3 or 4-0. With your numbers now set, you’re hoping to see them show up as the last number in each team’s score at the end of each quarter of play.

Thus, with a 7-3 square in the bag, you’re cheering for the first quarter to conclude with the Chiefs up 17-13 over the 49ers. Whomever holds the correct square for each quarter wins a portion of the prize pool, while the final score winner takes home the top prize.

Conclusion

Well before sportsbooks began their slow march to respectability outside of the Silver State, Americans in every non-Nevada jurisdiction were still betting NFL. Pro football’s perfect blend of competitive parity, variance-heavy scheduling, and a well-calibrated scoring system has always made it a favorite of bookmakers and bettors alike.

Thus, it’s no surprise to see creative football fans turning the NFL into an engine for recreational gambling through the games above. Pick’em contests, survivor pools, private DFS leagues, playoff brackets, and Super Bowl squares are part and parcel of America’s lasting love affair with its two national pastimes: football and gambling.

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Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.

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