PAUL'S POINTERS: FOOTBALL HANDICAPPING TIPS
by Paul Wilson
BJI contributing writer Paul Wilson is a quasi-Renaissance man and graduate of Millsaps College. Some of his interests and hobbies include finance, consulting, travel, photography, and rock music. He's an avid baseball fan. Paul has done freelance writing and editing for gaming publications and takes blackjack, video poker, and sports betting very seriously. As we learned in the November issue, he also might have a "thing" for Wonder Woman.
In last month's Paul's Pointers in the BJI, I asked the question, "Are you ready for some football?" Based on the early season action in the Las Vegas sports books, the answer was a resounding, "Yes!" In that column I outlined how to decipher some of the information available in the typical Las Vegas sports book; some basic sports betting terminology; types of bets; and how to place those bets. With weeks 3 and 4 of the NFL and college football seasons already in the bag and the upcoming week's schedule only hours away, we're going to take a look at some football handicapping tips this month with the goal of helping you win more of your football wagers, or at least, lose less. Fasten your chinstrap true believer; it's almost time for kick off.
How Do You Define Winning? (Win the Next Bet)
To rekindle the words ofSupreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in his 1964 concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio (378 U.S. 184, 197), "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it." Isn't winning a little like that too? We all think we know what winning looks like, but at the end of the day, winning might mean different things to each of us. Are you betting simply for entertainment or because the game is on television? Or, are you betting with the goal of turning a profit on this week's slate of games or perhaps the entire season? Goals are good, but sometimes in sports betting they can create unwanted stress or force us into making less than stellar decisions, for example, chasing losses or over-betting our bankroll. With that in mind, I challenge you to set the goal of simply winning your next bet. Do your homework and know why you are making each wager that you make.
As we learned last month, the standard price for betting football is -110, where you must wager $110 to make $100. The means that you have to cash 52.4% of your tickets (assuming you bet the same amount on each ticket) just to break even. At -110, you're basically playing into a 4.5% house advantage. One of the few advantages we (as players) have over the sports books is that the bookmaker must post a line or point spread on all the NFL and NCAA games each weekend. However, we (as bettors) can select which games we decide to bet. Study the weekend's slate of games carefully early in the week and circle a few that you think might make good wagers, then do some homework on each game. Even in the NFL, there are too many teams (32) for most of us to keep up with in detail from week-to-week.
Unless you are privy to inside information or have a high degree of ability to diagnose matchups, you're going to find it tough to be a long-term winner. Thanks to the internet and countless cable sports network programs, information is available to everyone in the marketplace, including those setting the lines. Sounds a bit like the stock market doesn't it? That's because it is. Betting lines are indeed a market place. Focus on a few games of interest to you and then "go shopping." In the world of -110, sidestepping a losing bet, means more to the bottom line than a winning wager. Concentrate your attention on winning that next bet; over and over. In time, you'll find that by being selective and doing your homework, your overall results will improve.
The Further One Travels, the Less One Really Knows (Do Your Homework)
For me, homework starts with looking at the previous week's results, maybe reading game recaps, and looking at the total yardage, turnovers, and time of possession for each squad in a particular matchup. Many professional bettors, those that earn their primary source of income from sports wagering, take this many steps further and maintain databases that they use to formulate power rankings for each team. This article is not for them. However, various sets of power rankings are available in newspapers and via sports betting related internet websites. Parry's Power Index is one that has been around many years and is often readily available to the general public. One prominent Las Vegas sports handicapper often posts his weekly NFL power index online. These handicappers assign a value to each team in their rankings; then compare the values to determine what they think the point spread should be on a neutral field matchup between any two teams. After allowance is made for the home-field advantage, generally 3 points in favor of the home team, the difference in these two sets of numbers is their projected line or point-spread. If the posted line differs from their projected line, they may well make a bet depending on how large the lines differ and their own set of personal betting criteria.
What goes into formulating a power index? That's pretty much up to the individual. I read a book about it once and understand the concept. However, writing computer code and generating relevant mathematical computations to account for the data in a meaningful way, then plugging it into a database each week to update the numbers is beyond my limited skillsets. My readings tend to discuss variable after variable after almost endless variable, then the notion of assigning a weighted value to the variable, that may or may not be of statistical validity, much less the outcome of next week's game. This falls into the realm of "Don't try this at home" and "Garbage in; garbage out." I'd never try to dissuade anyone from pursuing this route, but you better know what you are up against and proceed cautiously when it comes to putting real money into play.
The above discussion may sound like a bunch of hooey to some of you. I understand. In some ways it is and in many ways it's not. Much like basic strategy in blackjack, it's important to realize this kind of work is being done. The difference, unlike in blackjack, is that there is no generally agreed upon "basic strategy of determining power ratings." If there were, applying it would still present its own series of execution limitations and flat out "hunches."
Each week season statistics are updated and made available. Most of the Las Vegas sports books download this from a website called Covers.com. You can also go to their free website and print your own. These numbers are very useful, especially in the NFL where the caliber of competition is much closer than in college football. These stats often tell many truths about simple things like how many yards a team's defense gives up on average per game or how many points on average that team scores in home games. These stats get more meaningful each week as more data is added. This process presents a clearer picture of what a team is really about as the season progresses.
I must caution you about "outliers,"...
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