We talk a lot about how to profitably bet the NFL regular season. Really, though, I don’t think that that is specific enough. The long regular football season is really more like a continuous series of short seasons. Each one is a little bit different, and strong sports bettors need to adjust accordingly to best take advantage of the opportunities for profit. The first of those mini-seasons is, in my mind, made up of the first two games of the year. That’s before the teams have played any meaningful games, so the general betting public doesn’t yet have a sense of how good a team really is and what they are actually capable of. It’s reasonably easy, then, to be ahead of the public early in the season, and that’s a good way to find a profit. Here are five things for NFL bettors to keep in mind when you think about getting ready for those first two football games:
People are looking backwards, so look forward – For the most part the wagering public doesn’t put a lot of stock into what happens in the preseason – they are at least that smart. That doesn’t mean that they are going to be making ideal decisions, though. Most people will base those first betting decisions on what has happened in the past – the team’s reputation after last season, the additions through the draft and free agency, the high profile injuries and defections, coaching changes, and so on. Those things are all important, but they rarely tell the whole story. Smart bettors know that what matters is not what has happened, but how that information all affects what the team is going to be able to do on the field right away. By looking beyond what has happened to what is going to happen you can give yourself an edge. For example, the public will be excited if a big name veteran joins a NFL team, but won’t spend nearly as much time thinking about what role that veteran will actually fill, how much of an improvement he is over who he is replacing, and what kind of an impact he will actually have on the team early in the season.
Assess the reality of hype – Every year there are a few teams that come into the season bearing the burden of ridiculous amounts of hype. The job of smart bettors in these early games is to determine if the team is ready to live up to that hype right away. If a team is getting a lot of public coverage then the public is going to bet on them heavily regardless of their actual situation. NFL teams that don’t actually live up to the hype that has been directed towards them – or team that aren’t quite ready to play to their full potential yet – can create real opportunities.
Consider preparedness – The public will look at a team roster, assess the potential of that roster, and make decisions accordingly. Early on, though, that roster may not be ready to play as well as they ultimately will be able to. Maybe there are young players who will quickly become stars but who will need a few games to adjust. Or maybe newly added veterans will have to develop chemistry with their teammates before they can shine. Perhaps a scheme change will take a couple of games to really take hold. If there is any reason why you think that the current play won’t live up to the potential of the football team then you have an opportunity if the team is likely to be well backed by the public.
What does the schedule mean? – This is going to sound ridiculous, but it’s crucially important – even a 10 loss team is going to win six times. A potential ten loss team is generally going to be viewed as a bad one, but they are still going to be able to beat some teams that are worse than them, and some teams that are better than them overall, but which don’t match up very well. Early in the season the betting public is going to assume that a football team that looks to be headed for 12 wins will beat up on one headed for just six, but smart bettors know that the matchup means a lot more than the potential. The timing and location of games also matters. Some teams don’t perform well on the road, and some – like Chargers in recent years – just don’t perform well in September. The more thought put into how the schedule is set up and what it means, the more opportunities a smart NFL handicapper is likely to find.
Where is the public betting? Why? – I think it’s always important to keep an eye on where the public money is flowing in terms of bets. By doing that you know what they are thinking, what teams they are liking, and which bets they are over-investing in. That’s especially important in the first two games, though. The earlier we are in the football season the less concrete information people have on teams so, as we have already discussed, the more likely that the public is making decision s based on faulty assumptions. Some of those assumptions and tendencies will be more obvious than others, so by tracking the action you can see where the betting is heavy, determine why they are betting that way, and see if there are ways to capitalize on that to find extra value for yourself as a sports bettor.