How to Handicap NFL Games

This article is going to discuss some situational keys to look at when doing your NFL handicapping. Both handicappers and the public make the common mistake of analyzing games too much and/or looking at the wrong things. Let’s take a look at some simple methods to use when handicapping pro football.

One of the most overlooked and under used approach by handicappers is analyzing the situational aspects behind a game. People are puzzled when a team like San Diego can crush New York at home, struggle to beat Oakland, lose to Miami on the road, and then blowout New England. NFL analysts on television say that the league is crazy and unpredictable. However this is not the case. San Diego has played very well at home over the past few seasons, and both New York and New England had to travel across the country in those games. The Chargers were able to take advantage of both teams’ jet lag. Meanwhile, San Diego was not motivated to fly to the East Coast and play lowly Miami. As a result, they came out flat and lost the game outright as a 7 point underdog. Typically teams that travel long distances do not play well.

Another situational aspect is the bye week. The extra week off can be good or bad for teams. Teams playing well entering a bye usually don’t continue their hot streak after the bye, especially if their next game is on the road. Conversely, teams that are slumping going into a bye week usually come out very strong in their next game. Cleveland beating the New York Giants last week is a perfect example of this theory. The Browns were able to develop a strategy over two weeks that would put them in a position to beat the Giants. In addition, they were a huge underdog playing a home game after having two weeks to rest. They had tremendous situational advantages pointing in their favor. However, since the media had regarded Cleveland as awful and New York as the best team in the NFL, the Browns were a significant home underdog. This game also leads into my next situation.

This point was briefly discussed in the previous two paragraphs, but it is worth mentioning by itself. One of the most profitable situations is finding a game where one team is coming off of tough losses, facing a team that is overconfident because of recent successes. No game proves this point more than the winner I had last week with St. Louis, as they beat Washington outright as a 14 point underdog. Washington was coming into that game off of two big road wins over divisional opponents, Philadelphia and Dallas. All of the television experts were saying that they were vastly improved and going to challenge for a Super Bowl. Meanwhile, St. Louis had fired their coach and was labeled as the worst team in the league after their winless start. St. Louis, coming off of a bye week and revitalized under new coach Jim Haslett, wanted that game much more than Washington. The Rams came up with a good game plan and were able to pull out a last second win as a double digit underdog. Washington, meanwhile, played a sloppily and made several mental errors. The key with this situational play is to look for teams in the situation as St. Louis, especially if they are significant underdogs.

These three situational angles provide bettors with a tremendous amount of betting opportunities throughout the season. Understanding these situations is critical in order to successfully handicap the NFL. Never make a wager on a game without first understanding the recent trends of both teams.

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