So, you’ve decided to take the plunge into the exciting world of legal football betting. I’d like to congratulate you on your glorious achievement. Welcome to a world where your significant other now hates you, because you are spending ungodly amounts of time pouring over the Kansas City Chiefs five-year trend as a road favorite on a short week coming off a rivalry game blow out, instead of taking him/her out to dinner.
WHY YOU NEED THIS GUIDE
Before we talk about anything that even whiffs of advanced metrics or supposedly sharp angles, we’re going to have to get some basics of betting down pat. Otherwise your recreational bets will end up siphoning off your beer money, lunch money, maybe your light bill, and forget that all inclusive trip to the DR.
If you are building spreadsheets and statistical models and not even bothering to watch the games and are only checking results to see if your model is working or not, this is not the column for you.
If you are the “I told you the Chiefs would cover against the Jags. I wish I had laid a bet” guy, then column this is 100% for you.
This column is for the beginner who knows what a point spread is and what a six-point teaser is, but who is also inclined to chicken out on taking the points when Kansas City is laying 7.5 on the road in a rivalry game.
I’m not here to discourage you from betting. No sir, I am here to help you not be the rube who gets burned laying 14 points on a road favorite like I did back in 2009 when the Raiders beat the Eagles 13-9. I am here to help you be a better bettor and to avoid the traps and the bright lines that should not be crossed.
So, let’s start with a few basics.
Betting 101 – Lesson # 1
VEGAS IS ALWAYS RIGHT
Look, I know everyone thinks they are an expert when it comes to football, but the first part of succeeding at anything is admitting that you really don’t know shit. If you find yourself perusing any given week’s lines and think to yourself, “that doesn’t look right,” just stop and assume that it is right.
The guys in Vegas who set the lines know what they are doing. Like, in ways you cannot possibly imagine. There are guys running mathematical models that would make your head spin and they bring decades and decades of experience into their line-making. When you see the Rams favored by 2.5 at home against the Saints it’s not a mistake or an oversight. That is the market.
JUST ASSUME THE LINE IS CORRECT
Your best move is to assume the line is correct and then work from there. At this stage you are not putting together your own power rankings and statistical models, so don’t do the equivalent of throwing a dart at a board and look at a game like Dallas and Washington and say, “wow, Dallas is a bargain at -5.5” even though the line has already climbed from -4 on Monday.
Another thing, eliminate the concept of Vegas trying to even out the action on either side so they can guarantee a profit. That’s not how it works. Vegas is simply setting a market and then we, the investors, act accordingly. To have any success whatsoever at sports betting, you will have to overturn some preconceived notions and swallow your biases, especially when it comes to your own team.
In other words, betting with your heart will break your bankroll.
“Yo, Sally, did you see the Patriots cream the Steelers?! Oh, boy, they are gonna STEAMROLL the AFC, babay!”
UNDERSTAND RECENCY BIAS
You will hear shit like this at the start of every football season. A really good, if not outright great team will just clobber the hell out of a rival or a team that’s a perceived contender, and everyone jumps to conclusions about what will happen in the following weeks.
One of the greatest misconceptions in sports is that a performance is supposed to carry over from week to week. Announcers and lazy sports writers will always tell you that the key to winning is consistency. No shit, Barney. Tell us something we don’t know.
You are going to find that the vast majority of bets made by squares – and do not kid yourself, you are so square your mom sends you to school with a briefcase and Brylcreem in your hair – are based on the results from the previous week. You will see Team X beat up on Team B and you will think that Team X is on track to kick Team K’s ass next week because they lost to Team B six weeks ago. I hear things like this at the bar ALL THE TIME. You have to take a breath and squash that excitement and realize that heightened expectations off a win will usually lead to disappointment the following week.
THE THREE TIMES IN A ROW RULE
Teams advance and regress regularly. A friend of mine who is a professional bettor who uses mathematical models and rolls with a bankroll big enough to make a down payment on a condo says, “if you find yourself backing a team three times in a row, back off.” He’s not wrong. You will lose if you find yourself backing a particular team, especially if they are a favorite laying more and more points.
A PERFECT EXAMPLE
Last year the Patriots seemed to be a lock to cover against the Dolphins, when the Miami miracle lateral play happened. Gronk looked like a statue tripping over its own feet as the Fish pulled off the last second win.
Was this a huge surprise or a huge upset? Well, no it wasn’t. The Pats were an 8.5 favorite on the road in Miami, a place where they have historically had trouble winning much less covering the spread. The 8.5 point spread was inflated by New England’s recent success during the season, not on what usually happens when they go to South Beach.
The week before the Pats beat down the Vikings and the week before that creamed the Jets coming off their bye week. Joe Public went into that Dolphins game thinking, “OH YEAH, TOM TERRIFIC IS GONNA EAT THE FISH!” and Joe Public got his ass handed to him on money line plays, against the spread, and in teasers.
The Miami miracle game is a case study in not just recency bias, but over-confidence in a team’s given value against the market price. Don’t get suckered in. If you begin to feel a little queasy over a bet then listen to your gut. I am not saying to chicken out, I am saying to think carefully before making that play.
YOU HAVE TO STUDY
I know, you hate homework. However, this time you get to do homework that you will enjoy. Your girlfriend may hate you for it, but there are plenty of other columns and podcasts that will help you with that problem, and I will address how to explain this shit to your girlfriend in an later column. All I can say for right now is carve out your “me time” for betting research so it doesn’t screw up your sex life or your female relations.
For any degree of success in betting, you need to spend a few minutes a week studying up on each game that you’re eyeballing. Here’s how.
Look at really basic things like power rankings. That means a team as a whole as well as any given team’s defensive and offensive power rankings. Look at a quarterback’s road record. Pay attention to a teams point differential.
DIVE DOWN THE STATISTICAL RABBIT HOLE
Go look up these stats so you can begin to make bets supported by the numbers, not just blind wagers based on your gut. (More on your gut later, but for this section, it’s about putting in work.)
- Historic win/loss records (seriously, take a look at a team going back as far as five years)
- Point differential
- Points Per Game
- Points given up per game
- Offensive Yards for/against
- Passing Yards for/against
- Rushing Yards for/against
- Red Zone efficiency
- Time of Possession for/against
- 3rd Down Efficiency
- Average Starting Field Position for/against
These numbers can back up or overturn your biases and feelings. They will stop you from betting like a basic square who just lays a LOT of cash on favorites and plays a ton of three-team parlays hoping for a 6-1 payout that happens maybe three times a year (if you are luckier than lucky).
Studying these stats will open your eyes up to a team’s true nature and will give you information to help make a better decision. Even when I lose a bet, I feel a helluva lot better about myself because I made an educated investment. I might have chosen the wrong side in the end, but I had real information to back up my decision.
END OF LESSON 1
The key here is to start taking this seriously. You’re putting your hard-earned cash on the line. That’s serious, man. Act like it. It’s perfectly okay to listen to a guy like me or people on podcasts blathering on about the games. You’re just gathering information so you an make an educated decision for yourself about the bets you feel best about. At the end of the day you want to have made the best play possible, even on the losses.
Put in the work and the work will pay off.
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