Legalized sports betting is all about the variables. That means, knowing which factors to include in your handicapping, which to prioritize, and which to discard altogether. The bettor who best understands what statistics and attributes correlate most strongly to wins takes home the most cash at the end of the season.
There are thousands of things to consider when breaking down a game. You may analyze the strength of schedule, the talent of the quarterbacks, playing surface, or how many points they score per game. Many people research a team’s historical record against the spread and how well they do both home and away. Travel is another metric that’s used in football betting.
While you’ve almost certainly developed a list of things to examine when handicapping NFL games, I’ve located a few obscure variables that you may be overlooking. In this article, we’ll look at five of these factors that I believe will take your analysis and predictions for upcoming contests to another level. Remember, the handicapper with the most knowledge, who knows how to utilize it, goes home with the biggest bankroll at the end of the season!
Typically, we talk about the environment in sports betting either when handicapping baseball, where the fields are all different shapes and sizes, or when discussing road games played in front of a raucous crowd. But where a game is played and when are significant influences on the outcomes in football as well.
One of the essential environment-based variables to consider is whether a contest is being played inside a dome or an outdoor stadium. You’ll often hear the term “dome team” used to describe an up-tempo, throw-heavy offense that uses speed and vertical attacks to stretch the field and scores lots of touchdowns.
However, the knock on these squads is that their style of play often doesn’t translate to outdoor stadiums, especially during the cold playoff months.
For years teams like the Patriots, Bears, and Green Bay Packers have benefitted from blustery, snow-filled playoff games that drastically slowed down their opponents’ offense. Meanwhile, teams that can run the ball, especially between the tackles, tend to fare much better in the elements.
So, when breaking down a game for your legal football betting, be sure to consider a team’s style of play, and how well it transfers to the environment in which they’ll be competing.
The Offensive Line Makes Everything Click
All of the mainstream, celebrated statistics like touchdowns, passing yards, and rushing yards go to the skill position guys. They’re the players you select in fantasy football, after all, and their statistics are how we determine value. But whether you’re talking about the quarterback, wide receivers, or running back, the offensive line is the unit on which they all depend to find any success.
If you remember the Mike Shanahan Broncos of the 1990’s, it often didn’t matter who they plugged in behind that offensive line. Every running back they signed would immediately rush for 1,000 yards or more! People often falsely attribute those yards to the runners, and while they do play a role in rushing success, the bulk of the credit should fall on the linemen.
At websites like Pro Football Focus, you can find individual grades from each game for each offensive lineman. They also rank every team’s o-line unit as a whole as well. If you want a more detailed understanding of the style of game that’s about to be played, you should research these rankings.
A dominant line versus a weak run defense is likely to pound the ball all game. This will have a significant impact on the final score and pace of the contest.
Excellent pass-blocking offensive lines can make a mediocre quarterback look great. While the greats like Tom Brady and Drew Brees can diagnose the defense in a fraction of a second and punish teams for blitzing, most play callers need a bit more time. The longer a QB has to go through their progressions and find an open man, the better their numbers tend to be.
Team Popularity and the Line
Something to remember about legalized football betting is that handicapping isn’t exclusively about what will happen on the field. The sportsbooks don’t set the lines based solely on how the two teams match up. Sure, that’s a significant portion of their job, but they also have to place odds that will attract an equal volume of wagers on each side.
That’s why you’ll often find the most popular teams with inflated odds that don’t quite reflect the product on game day. In anticipation of their massive fan bases pouring tons of money into their squad no matter what, bookmakers inflate the line for big-name teams to limit the amount of risk they’re exposed to.
Take a team like the Dallas Cowboys, for example; it’s almost impossible to ever to find value in their futures odds because so many of their fans enter each and every season convinced their boys are winning the Super Bowl.
If you know to incorporate these skewed odds, you can use them to your advantage. There’s value in fading these fan favorites; you just have to find the right situation. On almost any Sunday you should be able to steal an extra point or two simply by going against the Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers, and Packers of the world.
Point Differential > Win Totals
A fairly common way that sports fans determine how good an NFL franchise is, is by looking at their win-loss record. It makes sense to judge them on this basis, a team’s record decides whether they’ll make the playoffs, the position of their next draft pick, and acts as a marker of how successful the year was. However, it doesn’t tell you as much about how good the team actually is, as you would think.
Not all teams are created equal. Because of that fact, every team encounters a different strength of schedule. Get lucky enough with regards to the opponents you are facing, and suddenly a seriously flawed roster has double-digit wins and a playoff spot. Another organization may be stuck in a fiercely competitive division, where they win fewer games, despite being a top-8 team in the NFL.
Successful legal football betting requires the ability to deduce what numbers really mean, to find the context of things like team record rather than taking them at face value. What handicappers have discovered is that point differential is a much better indicator of a squad’s ability than their wins and losses. How many more points have they scored on the year than they’ve given up?
A team that’s lost six one-touchdown games against robust competition, but who has blown out the bad and mediocre opponents should be favored over a four-loss group who was blown out by every contender they faced, but who eked out some wins against sub-par competition. This happens every year, and these organizations with inflated records frequently get embarrassed early in the playoffs.
Pass Yards Per Attempt
Alright, I’m going to share with you the number one statistic when predicting whether or not a team will win an NFL matchup. There’s no value with a stronger correlation to winning professional football games than passing yards per attempt. Teams that consistently find success consistently moving the ball through the air win at a higher rate than all the others.
Some of the favorite old football myths are that “you must establish the run,” and that “defense wins championships.” While it’s true that having a multi-dimensional offense is helpful, as is a dominant defense, passing the ball is really what separates the winners and losers. Especially in today’s pass-happy NFL. And while offenses have definitely ramped up their number of pass attempts, the advanced analytics suggest franchises still aren’t throwing enough.
If you have access to a football database like Bet Labs or Pro Football Focus, look at the records of teams with the highest passing yards per attempt. These units historically have won roughly 80-90% of their contests. Those are serious winning percentages, and an excellent reason to heavily incorporate this stat in your football betting analysis.
Finding success through football betting takes work. No matter how many datasets you collect or statistics you compare, there’s always more refinement to be done. You can always find a way to make your predictions more accurate. That means finding more relevant factors to include in your handicapping, reworking the extent to which you rank each variable, and looking for new patterns and trends through regression analysis.
Often, sports bettors will only use the summary statistics shared in the box scores or on ESPN, which rarely tell the whole story. In fact, things like touchdowns, win-loss records, and quarterback passer rating are relatively ineffectual when attempting to predict an NFL game’s outcome accurately.
To find a betting edge, you have to dig a bit deeper and research the conditions that actually matter. Things like point differential and passing yards per attempt will tell you much more about an upcoming contest than records or scoring numbers ever will.
Hopefully, you’ll find success incorporating these five obscure factors into your weekly picks. But don’t stay satisfied with only these values. Bookmakers are aware of these variables as well, so as handicappers we must always be searching for new data with strong correlations to winning. This article will help you get started, but when it comes to football betting, a gambler’s job is never done!