In theory, point spreads are 50/50 propositions. Either Team A will cover the spread, or Team B will (excluding pushes, when the difference in the final score is the exact same number as the point spread.)
At -110 odds, you only need to win 52.38% of your point spread bets in order to break even, and anything better than that will make you money. So why does it sometimes seem so hard to pick 53% when simply flipping a coin would result in 50% winners?
It’s probably because most bettors think the same way, and the oddsmakers tilt the lines a bit so that it really isn’t a 50-50 proposition after all. After all, if the sportsbooks know that most of the money in this weekend’s games will be bet on popular teams like Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Dallas, why wouldn’t they set the lines to make it a little more difficult for the Packers, Steelers and Cowboys to cover them?
Not that you’ll get rich betting against those public teams, either. Many have tried the ‘fade the public’ approach without success. No, the best way to win consistently against the point spread is by looking to find value in areas where other people don’t.
Here are 5 NFL spread betting tips that can help you do just that.
1. Don’t Overreact to Injuries
One of the biggest mistakes bettors make when picking against the spread is automatically betting against teams that are missing one or more of their star players.
If you’re aware of the injuries, it’s likely that the oddsmakers are, too.
The absence of those star players is already factored into the betting line, so you aren’t getting any additional value by betting against teams missing key starters.
For example, oddsmakers recently put up 2 different betting lines for a Week 3 game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings. If Sam Bradford started at QB for the Vikings, Minnesota was going to be a -1 favorite at home. If Bradford didn’t start, Tampa Bay was a 3-point favorite. That 4-point swing in the point spread was the oddsmakers’ way of compensating for Bradford’s potential presence or absence, meaning bettors weren’t getting any extra value either way.
By the way, Bradford didn’t play, and the Vikings easily covered the spread as home underdogs, pasting Tampa Bay 34-17. Apparently, Minnesota was still capable of beating the Bucs without their #1 quarterback.
That’s another reason not to bet against teams just because they’re missing an important player – those teams often bring more focus to the game and elevate their play because they know they have to. Research the backup who will be filling in for that starter, and you can often grab some extra point spread value by betting on the team who is missing a top player.
2. Look at the Schedule
Trap games. Sandwich games. Lookahead spots. Letdown spots. Whatever you want to call them, an NFL season is ripe with situations in which teams can drastically underperform.
You can often identify these in advance simply by looking at a team’s schedule. Even at the beginning of the season, you can project when certain teams may not be completely focused on this week’s opponent, simply because of who they played last week and/or who they face next.
A classic letdown spot is when a team has a non-conference road game sandwiched between games against divisional opponents. Division games are so important in the NFL, and the rivalries are often so intense, that teams will struggle to manufacture the same intensity for a non-conference game that doesn’t really matter as much. Sure, every game is important in the overall scheme of things, but it’s virtually impossible for teams to “get up” for all 16 games of the season.
Teams who are playing their third consecutive road game are also in a tough situational spot, as are teams who played a road game on Monday Night Football the previous week and have one less day to prepare for their next opponent. Betting against teams who played on Monday Night Football is an even stronger angle if their upcoming opponent is coming off a bye week (or even a Thursday Night Football game from the previous week) since the difference in preparation time is even more significant.
Yet another great letdown spot is when teams are coming off a hard-fought emotional victory, a big upset or a blowout win in which they performed at the top of their game. It’s simple human nature for people to get a little complacent after a strong performance, so they may not be as mentally sharp in practice the following week. And since the public is generally influenced by what happened in last week’s games, you’ll probably catch some extra point spread value as the odds on those teams are adjusted to reflect that strong performance.
3. Respect Home Field Advantage
According to studies, home teams in the NFL win approximately 57% of the time. That’s the second-highest home team winning percentage in the 4 major North American sports (NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and NHL), behind only the NBA’s 60% home team winning percentage.
Even the best teams in the NFL often have a difficult time putting together a winning record on the road.
In 2016, 3 division champions posted records of .500 or worse away from home, as the Texans went 2-6, the Seahawks were 3-4-1 and the Packers went 4-4. AFC North champion Pittsburgh was just 5-3 on the road, where the Steelers averaged nearly 2 fewer touchdowns per game than when they played at Heinz Field.
If a weak team is going to beat a heavyweight, it’s almost always going to happen at home. The longer that the home underdog can keep things close, the more the crowd gets behind them, and the home team will feed off that even more. Visiting teams also need to deal with overcoming crowd noise when they’re on offense (hurting their ability to call audibles at the line of scrimmage), they may not be familiar with field or weather conditions, the referees may be biased towards the home team, and visiting teams’ preparation for the game is shortened a bit by having to travel.
3 points is what home field advantage is generally considered to be worth on the point spread, but there are certain home fields in the NFL that could be worth more than that. ESPN.com did an interesting analysis of which teams enjoy the best home field advantage in the NFL, and you’ll want to make sure you’re not often betting against the top teams on that list when they’re playing at home.
4. Look at More Than Just the Teams’ Records
It’s a huge mistake to assess a team’s ability and potential purely on its record.
So many things go into winning and losing in the NFL, but the biggest factor may simply be luck. It’s common for a team to get dominated in yardage, yet win the game because it recovered a couple of fumbles at key times or returned a kick for a touchdown. In fact, turnovers (which have a lot to do with luck) often decide who wins the game. Teams that are +1 or better on the turnover ratio win approximately 70% of the time.
A more accurate way of analyzing teams’ strengths and weaknesses is by looking at their yards per play on offense and defense. Luck will even out over time, so a team that consistently gains lots of yards will do better in the long run than a team that struggles to move the chains.
Also be sure to look at how the offenses and defenses of each team match up against each other. For example, if one team excels at running the ball on offense and the other struggles to stop the run on defense, that’s a mismatch you’ll want to exploit.
5. Get the Best Number Possible
Some people think that point spreads don’t really matter that much because the team that wins the game in the NFL often covers the spread in the process. Obviously, if an underdog wins the game, they cover the spread, and favorites usually cover the number if they win the game, especially if the point spread is under a touchdown.
But even if correctly predicting who will win the game will go a long way towards nailing your point spread pick, you still need to pay attention to what the point spread is. More specifically, you need to make sure you’re getting the best possible number on that point spread. Getting a few extra winners or pushes in a season because you got an extra half-point on the spread is often the difference between a winning season and a losing one.
The best way to do that is by having accounts at several different betting sites and then monitoring each sportsbook’s betting lines throughout the week. If the Giants win by 4 points and you were able to find -3.5 instead of settling for the -4 available at the majority of online betting sites, you’ve turned what would have been a push into a win. Do that enough times and you’ll turn a barely profitable 53% season against the spread into a lucrative 56% season.
Getting the best number is especially important when dealing with point spreads in the range of 3 and 7.
Those are the 2 most common margins of victory in the NFL, so consistently being able to get -2.5 instead of -3 with favorites or +7.5 instead of +7 on underdogs will always pay off in the long run.
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