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Beating The NFL: A Guide To Smart Sports Betting.

Well folks, here we are. It's August 13 as I write this, and the start of the official NFL season is but a mere four weeks away. If you're like millions of Americans, you're probably counting the days until the season starts for two reasons. One, you want to see if your team is finally going to make a playoff run (my team is the Lions, so playoff football isn't something I'm really concerned about), and two, you can't wait to start losing your shirt betting on football.

Getting buried by betting on football has been a long established American tradition; so much so that it has almost become a rite of passage into adulthood. You can go to college, get a job, and find a beautiful wife-but you really haven't come of age until you've really lost your ass betting the foots. For me this came in the fall of '95, a gambling year that began with a series of small losses through September and October, and culminated in two whopping losses in November; one on the Texas-Texas A&M game, and one on the Alabama-Auburn game. When the dust had settled I was stuck for far more money than I could possibly raise, and was forced to install skylights through the winter in order to pay off a man named 'Kool-Aid' who lived in Saginaw.

Does this story sound familiar? For many of you, it probably does. Hopefully, however, we can finally put the years of constant losing behind you, for this year we're going to do what we can to finally get you out of the red when it comes to betting the NFL. Obviously I can't guarantee you a winning season-nobody can. But I can show you how to identify the kinds of bets that professional gamblers make-and don't make-every Sunday.

Before we start, there are a couple things we need to cover. First, understand that beating the NFL--- or any sport, for that matter-is the result of the the accumulation of small edges. There is NO SUCH THING as a handicapper who hits over 60% on his plays. This beast does NOT exist. In the coming months your radio is going to be flooded with ads from an array of idiots promising you 'lock' games and 'can't miss' parlays. Do not, my friends, be fooled. None of these guys are winners-they are just dart throwers who have a knack for marketing. If you want to beat the foots you have to realize that you're going to be making bets that carry a 2-4% return on your money. That's it. Nothing more. Before you make your first bet, promise yourself that you will not, under any circumstances, send money to some clown who promises to have inside information on the Raiders/Dolphins tilt this Monday. Beating the game is hard enough-if you're kicking out money to touts, it's almost impossible.

Second, much of the trick to beating the NFL comes from smart betting, not handicapping. The prevailing belief amongst novice sports bettors is that all successful sports bettors have monstrous data bases, and thousands of spread sheets, through which they process and interpret game stats and other relevant information. True, there are many successful sports bettors who do this-however, it's not a requisite for success. By learning to spot profitable bets, and bet combos, you can show a tidy profit at the end of the year without crunching a single number. With that out of the way, let's move on the game.

1) Don't bet on road favorites!

This is a huge mistake that most bettors make every year. Simply put, road favorites have only performed at about a 48-49% clip in the past. It's a horrible subset, and you've got to be really, really sharp in order to find profitable bets in a subset that performs this poorly.

Most people get sucked in to betting road favorites at least a few times each week. What usually happens is this: a 'public' team, like the Patriots, is playing a mediocre opponent the following week. Also, that mediocre team has recently lost their starting quarterback to injury, and the back up is a 22 year old sixth round draft pick. Now the clowns at ESPN dedicate the entire next week to informing us how the Pats defense is going to absolutely destroy this kid, and how the mediocre team has zero chance of covering the spread-much less winning outright.

For some reason our unsophisticated bettor believes that the sportsbooks haven't taken this information into full account. He knows that it's the book's job to factor injuries into the line, but somehow he convinces himself that the book doesn't really understand how devastating this injury is to the mediocre team. After all, Ron Jaworski just predicted a final score of 38-9!! Giddy with anticipation, our hero hops online and gets down on the Pats at -6.

Now maybe this bet wins, and maybe it doesn't. But if there's one thing you can always be sure of, it is this-the book always, and I mean always, knows more about the game than you do. They've got an entire staff that does nothing but evaluate match-ups, and they do it all year long. They have computers. They have experts. They have fat bank accounts. And they didn't get all this stuff by hanging lines which can be destroyed by a guy who gets 90% of his information from Chris Berman, Tom Jackson and the USA Today football supplement. If this game was such a lock, you can be sure that the big betting syndicates would have bombed the books with heavy Pats action from the minute the line was hung-and would have kept bombing them until there was no value left in the line. You don't know more about football than Billy Walters,, and you don't know more than the books. The sooner this sinks in, the faster you can start making money.

The fact is, road favorites are a bad bet. Period. History bears this out, and it's unlikely to change as long as every Tom, Dick and Harry out there keeps making these bets. The linesmaker knows that most ploppies like to bet the favorites, so they shade the lines accordingly in order to get maximum value from the squares.

2) Don't bet parlays!

These bets are some of the book's favorites, since they can offer such crappy odds and still get plenty of action. It's true that a 55% handicapper can actually get a larger return playing two-team parlays with a payoff of 13-5, however, the fact that the variance associated with these bets is so high means they have to bet less money than they would if they just took the two teams straight-up. As a result, they almost never take the parlay.

In short, parlays are for suckers who want a chance at a big payoff with minimum exposure. For that opportunity they're willing to let the book skim off a healthy percentage of the bets expected return. Remember-'friends don't let friends bet parlays!'

3) Shop around! This should be self explanatory. The fact is, all successful bettors have multiple 'outs'. They don't just open an account at one book and pray that that book will have the best line on a game that interests them. You should have multiple accounts opened up, and some money left over that you can toss into a book should you find a juicy line. Remember: What we're looking to do is accumulate small edges; picking up a nickel here, a dime there. To do this you need to be able to bet into the best lines possible.

4) T-T-T Tease me!!

One of the best kept secrets in sports betting is the fact that you can profitably bet two-team six point teasers when you can capture both the three and the seven. So, if a book has the dog on one game lined at +2.5, and the favorite on another game lined at -8, you can tease the +2.5 up to +8.5, and the -8 down to -2, and have a profitable bet. Remember: you have to capture the entire 3 and the entire 7 for this to be profitable. If, in this same case, the favorite was -9, you couldn't bet this teaser since you'd only be able to tease the favorite down to -3.

The nice thing about these teasers is that you don't have to worry about who's home and who's away. Home favorites, home dogs, road favorites, road dogs-they will all work here (caution: recent findings suggest that road dogs are the weakest of these four subsets, and may not make for profitable teaser bets. When possible, avoid using a road dog as one of your legs). Just be sure that you're not paying more than -110 for this bet. Also, many books offer 'open teasers', whereby you can take on team on a teaser and take the second team at a later date. So, even if you can't find two teams to profitably tease, take the one team and fill it your card with the second team the next time you find a team that fits the requirement.

5) Stay away from totals!

If there's someone out there who can consistently beat totals then I haven't found him yet. In any case, totals are always a bad bet for those of us who don't spend 60 hrs. a week crunching data. I don't know why people insist on betting totals, although I think it often has something to do with bettors thinking they 'know something' that the lines maker doesn't.

An example of this would be the weather. For example, let's say it's December, and the Bills are hosting the Jets. On the Wednesday before the game the Weather Channel announces that it looks like Buffalo is going to get some heavy snow on Sunday morning. The typical square now goes to his book and pounds the under, thinking that this nasty weather will keep scoring down.

There are two problems with this. First, the front may never materialize. And second, bad weather doesn't keep scoring down in the NFL. Don't believe me? Then ask John Elway, or Fran Tarkenton, about how badly the foul weather in their respective cities hindered their ability to put up decent career numbers. The fact is, when the weather gets bad the offense has an advantage, since they know where they're headed on the field. It's the defense's job to react-and that's tough when you don't have your footing. Say you're playing corner for the Packers, it's raining cats and dogs at Lambeau, and you're matched up on Randy Moss. You want to try and react to the cuts of a guy with 4.4 speed when you can hardly stand up without slipping?

Stay away from totals, folks. Trust me.

6) Don't pay for picks!

Unless you're going to be betting $1000 or more per game, it's probably not worth it to kick out $500 or more for a handicapper's picks. If you're betting $500 a game, say, and your handicapper expect to have 120 picks over the course of the season, a 54% 'capper can expect to go around 65 and 55 against the spread. Figure in the juice on the 55 losers and you're probably looking at a profit of around 5 units or so. This equals a profit of around $2000 bucks after you figure in the cost of the picks. This isn't bad, but it's tough to justify spending 20% of your profit on picks-especially when you can make plenty of advantage bets by doing your homework and shopping around.

That said, I'll recommend a couple sites to check out for those of you who are looking for a sports service. Steve Fezzik, one of the handicappers at , is one who I would be comfortable endorsing. Same with the handicappers at . Also, I usually check out what Brian has to say at . Brian and I have some different ideas about poker, to be sure, but I respect his NFL opinions.

7) Get Creative!

This is probably the most important section of this article. Once you understand how to compare point spreads to money lines you'll find all kinds of opportunities to bet middles, reverse middles, and other odd combo bets for profit.

One thing to remember is that the '3' in the NFL is worth about 20 cents. That is, if you can take a team at +3 +100 at one book, and +3.5 -120 at another book, these bets have roughly the same expectation. With this in mind, you can profitably middle the 3 so long as the difference between your bets is less than 20 cents. Example: book A has the favorite at -3 -110, and another book has the dog on the same game at +3.5 -110. Since the difference between these lines is 20 cents, you can't bet both sides here and expect to show a proft. However, if the line at book B was +3.5 -105 (or lower), you could bet both sides and expect a positive long term return of about 1.5% (obviously the farther away you get from a 20 cent disparity between the two lines, the higher your expected return).

You can also find opportunities to scalp a money line against a point spread. For instance: say you find a game where the money line on the favorite is -150 at book 'A', while at book 'B' you can get the dog for +3.5 -110. If you do the math, you find that +3.5 -110 is the same as +160 on the money line. Anytime the odds you're receiving on the dog are larger than the odds you're laying on the favorite you have a profitable scalping opportunity. In this case, assuming you have no opinion on the game, you expect the favorite to win by exactly 3 or less about 14% of the time. This means that 50% the favorite will win by 4 or more; when this happens you lose 10$ (the juice on the bet on the dog). 36% of the time you expect the dog to win outright; when this happens you'll lose $50, since you win $100 on your dog bet but lose $150 on the money line bet on the favorite. But 14% of the time you'll win both bets; i.e, the dog will cover AND the favorite will win outright. When this happens you win $200. Doing the math, we see that you expect to win $200 14% of the time, for a net win of $2800, lose $50 36% of the time for a loss of $1800, and lose $10 50% of the time for a loss of $500. This leaves you with a win of 2800- (1800+500), or $500, which equals an advantage of about 2.27% for every dollar wagered.

Here's another example of a creative wager. A week ago or so a sharp bettor on an Internet forum posted a combo bet on the Denver Broncos. One book offered the Broncos to win the AFC at +1800, while another book offered the Broncos not to win the Super Bowl at -2100. So, he placed a $100 bet on the Bronco's to win the AFC, and a 2100$ bet on the Broncos not to win the Super Bowl (note: the actuall wager amounts were probably much higher than this; we're just using $100 to make the point). If the Broncos failed to make the playoffs, or otherwise failed to win the AFC championship, the sharp would break even. If, however, the Broncos win the AFC, he's now in an interesting spot. He's already won $1800 by virtue of the fact that the Broncos won the AFC, but now he's got to worry about them winning the Super Bowl-a disaster that would cost him his $2100 bet, and result in a $300 loss for the combo. To avoid this, he can now bet the money line on the Broncos in the Superbowl. If the Bronco's were -200 in the Super Bowl, for example, he could bet $1000 on them to win. If they do win he ends up ahead 200 bucks; 1800 (because they won the AFC) +500 (because they won the Super Bowl) -2100 (because they won the Super Bowl). If they lose, he's out the $1000 bet on the Super Bowl, but he still wins the $1800 for the Broncos winning the conference plus the $100 dollars he won for them not winning the Super Bowl. In any case, the entire bet is a free roll.

These little numbers-1.5% here, 3% there-certainly don't sound like much, but remember: When you're betting a scalp or a middle your exposure is virtually nil. As a result you can put a much higher percentage of your bankroll into play, since you're only nominally worried about going broke. Taking a bet with an expectation of 1.5% isn't very sexy, but when you can bet five times more on that bet than you would on a 'straight bet' your bankroll can fatten at an alarming rate. And that, my friends, is what the game is all about.

Guy Downs has been an advantage gambler for over eight years. You can find more of his sports betting and poker advice at


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