The NFL football season is getting closer. It’s still too far away for most, but it’s a lot closer than it was a month ago. Instead of just sitting around impatiently waiting for things to get started smart NFL bettors are using this time to get more prepared for the season so that they are ready to identify and exploit any edge that they possibly can. To do that yourself here are five different things you could think about doing to improve your NFL handicapping. You don’t have to do all of them – anything you do is more than most of the public is doing, so it certainly won’t hurt:
Study depth charts – ESPN and the other major media sources have beaten the big player moves to death. Football is the ultimate team sport, though, so adding role players and depth can have just as much impact as adding a star. Spending time studying the depth charts of teams will help you spot the moves and additions that the public isn’t going to have heard of, or which they aren’t going to attach as much importance to as they probably should if they have heard of it. To get the most of your work here you need to not only look at the names of the players, but the roles they are filling, how much they are likely to play, how they fit into the scheme they will be playing in, and their value compared to the player they will be replacing. This can be useful in a lot of ways, but two stand out as particularly important – you can be confident in an NFL pick on a team that the public isn’t because they have quality players even if they lack big names, and you can avoid overreacting to a big injury because you are comfortable with the replacements.
Note coach, coordinator, and scheme changes – This is an excellent time to study the changes that teams have made to their coaching staffs. Head coaching changes are obviously important – Washington under Mike Shanahan will bear little resemblance to the team under Jim Zorn – but changes to coordinators are less visible and almost as important. When you are looking at the changes you need to go deeper than just looking at the names to see which ones you recognize. Have the coaches or coordinators had experience in the role in the past, or are they making their debut? What was their start like the last time they took over a position? Are they an upgrade or a downgrade from the previous coach? Are they changing schemes in a fundamental way? What is the short term impact of those changes likely to be? The NFL betting public will think about what the long term impact of a change of coach or coordinator will be in the long term, but they rarely consider what the short term impact will be at the beginning of the season. If you consider it then you could have an edge early on.
Watch as much video as you can – Players spend as much time as they possibly can watching video. It helps them tremendously, and it can help you as a bettor, too. You don’t need to have any fancy special video like they do, either. the NFL Network always shows replays of games, and there are dozens of places on line to find pull or partial replays of games. The chief benefit of this is simple – the more football you watch the more comfortable you get with it, and the more more intricacies you will start to notice and pick out. That means you would be more likely to spot when a defensive scheme isn’t working for a team, or when a player’s bad performance isn’t likely to carry over to the next game, or when a star player isn’t performing as well as the public perceives that he is. All of those things can lead to you to an edge in the next game. There is no downside to watching as much video as you can.
Pick a division and really study it – You probably heard this advice when it applies to college football or basketball – pick a single conference and learn everything you possibly can so that you have an edge over the general public. That’s effective in those sports because there are frequently loose lines that you can exploit with knowledge. In the NFL that doesn’t work quite as well because the lines are virtually never wrong. Still, the more you know about teams the more of an edge you have. In a perfect world you would get to know all of the teams intimately, but that’s not realistic for most people. By picking out a conference to really focus your attention on you’ll have a particular advantage over the public when those teams play divisional games, and you’ll be well prepared for all of the games the teams play.
Pick a new stat or two and really get to understand them – Every year I like to pick out a new stat that I don’t currently use in my handicapping, get to know and understand it, and figure out if and how it can be useful for me. For example, a few years ago I looked at yards per attempt. Now I use it extensively because despite the simplicity it is a very powerful stat. It can give you an idea not only of how effectively a quarterback is passing, but also indirectly how effective the running game and the offensive line has been, how effectively the offense is operating, and whether the team is showing meaningful offensive improvement. YPA is a powerful stat, and there are several other NFL stats like yards per pass attempt out there. By picking one out and playing around with it you might find one that works for you.