Football is a complicated game, but when you boil it all down NFL handicapping it isn’t all that difficult – all you need to do is figure out whether an offense is going to be able to score on a defense. The offense that can score better is, in most cases, going to be the one that wins. Admittedly, that is much easier to say than it is to do. There are some solid ways for football bettors to quickly get a sense of the offense’s likelihood of success, though. Here are five:
Performance against similar defenses – This, obviously, is the first place to start. If a football team has had good success against similar defenses in the past then they are likely to succeed again, and vice versa. The trick, though, is to make sure that the defense really is similar, and not just seemingly similar. For example, you could think that two defenses are similar because they are both ranked in the top three in the NFL against the run, but if one is a 3-4 and the other is a 4-3 then the comparison isn’t nearly as useful as it could be.
YPA – I don’t know if you can have a favorite statistic, but if you could mine would be yards per attempt. You calculate the YPA by simply dividing the number of passing yards a quarterback has by the number of pass attempts he has made. You can calculate by the game, season, or whatever period you want. As a simple rule that is remarkably reliable a YPA over 7.0 indicates an offense that is operating well, awhile the further below 7.0 the average is the worse the offense is performing. It might seem that this is just a one-dimensional passing statistic, but it really goes so much further. In order to have a good YPA a team has to have a competent QB, an offensive line that can protect him, receivers that can get open and run routes, a running game effective enough to keep the defense on their toes, and a coach who can call a game effectively. You can also calculate the defensive YPA in the same way. If one offense has a much better YPA than the other, and if that YPA is far better than the opposing defense has then the offense is likely going to have a strong day. This stat is very useful in making winning NFL picks.
Turnovers – Winning NFL bettors knows that the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game a very high portion of the time. It only makes sense, then, to pay attention to the turnover tendencies of the offense and the opposing defense. It is impossible to predict when turnovers will happen or how often, but history is still very useful. If an offense has a tendency to be sloppy and the opposing defense is very good at creating takeaways then you could assume that turnovers are likely. Turnovers have a huge effect on an offense – both right when they happen and in the subsequent plays as the team gets tentative to avoid a repeat. In short, the more likely a winning NFL picks team is to turn the ball over, the less likely they are to have a great day.
Individual matchups – A winning NFL picks player’s success in any given game is largely determined by who they will most often be lined up against. A receiver is going to have a better day, for example, if he is up against a rookie corner with vulnerable cover skills than if he faces a shutdown Pro Bowler. As important as these matchups are, though, they can cause NFL handicappers a lot of problems if they aren’t careful. It can be very easy to give the matchups too much credit – especially if a defense substitutes players or shifts schemes regularly, or if a defense plays one instead of man-to-man. It can also be easy to fall into the trap of names – assuming that one player has an edge because they are the more well known player without looking closely at how both players are actually performing right now.
Health – Like individual matchups this is a very important consideration, but one which you can easily be misled by. If an offense is dramatically healthier than the defense then they are going to have more of an edge than they would if both football teams were at full strength. The opposite is also true. In order to accurately use the health of NFL teams as the judge of offensive potential you need to look not only at what players are going to be out of action for the game, but also which players are banged up but will still be playing. Further, as a sports bettor you need to get a sense of the depth chart – an injury hurts a lot less if the replacement is competent or even very good.