How to bet on NFL games: Four football gambling tips

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And here we go! The NFL season is off and running after the Thursday Night Football kickoff between the Chiefs and the Lions. Over the last three seasons of professionally betting the NFL and college football, I have learned quite a few lessons that have prepared me to have success year in and year out. I am going to share some of those with you today in the premiere edition of my Friday column which will be focused around betting strategy and mechanics to help make you a more advanced bettor.

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No. 1 – Make Your Own Power Rankings

There are quite a few sites out there with rankings and some available from experts, but one of the biggest tools from adjusting from a losing bettor to a winning bettor over an NFL season was creating my own ratings. It’s time-consuming, but not overly difficult to do and helps you focus on the number that separates the two teams you are comparing. To build your own, rank the teams from 1 through 32 and then set the spread for each match up if it was played on a neutral site. For example, my No. 1 team is the Chiefs and I have them favored by two points over my No. 2 team, the Eagles. The Bengals are my No. 3 team and I have the Eagles favored over them by 0.5 points. Once you have values for all 32 teams, you take the difference and add in home field advantage, from 2-3 points depending on the site, to create your line.

Doing this over the last three seasons has helped me eliminate my bias. Each season, there have been four or five teams that I am higher or lower on than the market. I will then dive into those teams and decide if I can back up that opinion with facts or if it is more narrative-based. Comparing your lines to the closing line each week will give you a good idea of how accurate your power rankings are to the market and allow for adjustments. I will generally spend the first 3-4 weeks adjusting my rankings before I begin to bet solely on them. That coincides with the time when you will see the biggest market adjustment as well.

No. 2 – Timing Your Bets

It is almost impossible to bet five minutes before kickoff and win. You must take a broader look at the football market if you want to be able to get the best of the number and, in the long run, beat the book. NFL lines are posted the Sunday prior to the games between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET. From Sunday night to Monday morning, you will generally see the largest line moves. Being able to take advantage of those moves can put you in a very profitable position come the following Sunday. You will often be able to get the better side of a key number like 3 when the opening lines come out that are not available the rest of the week. 

Last season, close to 60% of my NFL bets were made between Sunday at 6 p.m. and Monday at Noon for the following week to try to get ahead of the moves that I was projecting. If you are correct in the movement, you create an opportunity to be able to buy back some of your risk at a better number and create a middle for your bets. There is no better feeling than laying -2.5 on Monday morning and being able to play the underdog in the same game +3.5 on Friday or Saturday of that week. Paying attention to which teams are getting bet as the season progresses and having accurate Power Rankings helps you snipe those games and teams that will move quickly.

No. 3 – Wong Teasers

These specific teasers have been highly profitable for me, specifically later in the season. Wong Teasers come from the book “Sharp Sports Betting”, which was published in 2001 and focuses on capturing the four most important numbers in football; 3, 4, 6, and 7. This strategy is why many sports books have adjusted the industry standard from -110 on a two team, 6-point teaser to either -120 or -130. If you shop around, you can still have -110 in some places, most are now -120. Do not play -130.

These teaser legs are teams that are -7.5 to -8.5 and +1.5 to +2.5. In each case, subtracting 6 from the favorite or adding 6 to the underdog, you capture 3, 4, 6, and 7. 

Now, we talked about how it takes 3-4 weeks for the NFL market to be at its most efficient point after adjustments. That makes teasers more efficient as well. I will either pass or play for a partial unit early in the season and then up that to a full unit or more once the market is more mature in Week 5 or 6. Last year in Week 1 through 5, Wong Teaser legs went 13-11 for an awful 54%, but once the market had a better grasp on the teams that completely flipped. From Week 6 to Week 16, Wong teaser legs went 59-12 clipping off at a profitable 84%. Wait for the market to correctly assess the teams early and then add Wong teasers into your weekly bets.

No. 4 – Beware of Week 1

Week 1 is exciting, but man can it be scary. You’ve got a pocketful of Super Bowl tickets, Win Totals and Division winners. Make sure not to overextend on those same teams with bets against the spread in Week 1. The Week 1 lines have been posted for months at this point, they have been picked at, analyzed, and turned over in every way possible. They are sharp by now. Many people will run to the window with a bet on the Packers on Sunday that already have a Packers division ticket. That creates overexposure to the possibility of the Packers just not being good. The first four weeks of the season are my lowest volume weeks every year. I already have my season long bets in pocket and I don’t need to double down on teams that I’ve got very little data on heading into a new season.