How to Bet NFL Futures, and Other Sports Betting Tips
FROM ET FAN:
How to Bet NFL Futures
[From Blackjack Forum Vol. XXI #2, Summer 2001]
|A+||15-1 or 16-0|
|E-||1-15 or 0-16|
These letter rankings correspond to how I feel a team is playing presently, and are meant to reflect how a team’s record would look after a 16-game season playing at this level, assuming that their competition was average. For example, if a team is playing like an 8-8 team, I give them a ranking of C—right in the middle of my range and in the middle of the league. At the very top (A+) of my ratings would be both 15-and-1 and 16-and-0 kinds of teams, while at the very bottom (E-) would be any 1-and-15 or 0-and- 16 teams. Only tthe 1985 Chicago Bears ever made it to A+ in my ratings. No team has ever sunk to E-.
Because they reflect a team’s current performance, letter power ratings are updated continuously throughout the season. And, in my letter power ratings, teams don’t always end up ranked according to their actual record. This is because their actual wins and losses may involve an unusually easy or tough schedule, or unusually good or bad luck. Instead, I look closely at the games teams have played to put a "team picture" together.
The letter power rating is to some extent a subjective one, and will only be as good as the experience and judgment of the rater. One way to check your power ratings, as you acquire experience and judgment, is to compare your ratings to those of other respected handicappers. (The Gold Sheet and Power Sweep are among the reputable publications with power ratings in them. You may obtain the current issue of either of these publications from GBC in Las Vegas, or you can subscribe to them directly. The Gold Sheet also has a website at www. goldsheet.com, where you can download a sample back issue of their publication.)
However, if power ratings could be reduced to a simple formula, all good handicappers would be betting the same games. They’re not. Different winning handicappers—like different winning card counters—can be looking at different things. Ultimately your ability to find value in a line (and make winning bets!) will depend on your developing your own skills.
Once I have assigned letter power ratings, I use a simple chart to assign corresponding points by which to separate various teams. I’ve arrived at these point assignments through twenty years’ study of how NFL teams do in pointwise ratio (that is, points scored versus points given up.) The "Average Edge" in Chart #2, below, is the average number of points by which each rank will outscore opponents or be outscored by opponents.
Chart #2: Power Rating Edge
|Average Edge (points)|
|A to A+||4||A||13|
|A- to A||2 1/2||A-||10 1/2|
|B+ to A-||2 1/2||B+||8|
|B to B+||2 1/2||B||5 1/2|
|B- to B||2 1/2||B-||3|
|C+ to B-||1 1/2||C+||1 1/2|
|C to C+||1 1/2||C||0|
|C- to C||1 1/2||C-||-1 1/2|
|D+ to C-||1 1/2||D+||-3|
|D to D+||2 1/2||D||-5 1/2|
|D- to D||2 1/2||D-||-8|
|E+ to D-||2 1/2||E+||-10 1/2|
|E to E+||2 1/2||E||-13|
|E- to E||4||E-||-17|
|A to A+||4||A||13|
My study shows that when a team goes 8-and-8, it gives up and scores the same number of points on average over a season. When a team goes 9-and-7 it outscores teams by 1 1/2 points per game on average. When a team is 7-and-9, it is outscored by 1˝ points per game. Thus the difference between a C- (7-and-9) kind of team and a C (8-and-8) kind of team is 1˝ points. The jump from C to C+ (a 9-7 team) is also 1˝ points. The jump from C- to C+ (two steps) is three points. This means that if a C+ team plays a C- team, a C+ team will be three points superior on average on a neutral field.
In my letter power ratings, I list the majority of NFL teams someplace between B- and D+. At the end of the 1996 season, for example, just eight of the 30 teams fell outside of this range.
When the ratings move above B- and below D+, note that the equivalent point values get bigger. Teams above the B- class outscore their opponents by more and in larger jumps per class than those that are rated between D+ and B-. Teams below D+ tend to be outscored by more and in larger jumps per class than the teams in the D+ to B- range.
Thus, from Chart #2 you can see that a B+ team will outscore an average (8-and-8) team by eight points a game (which is the same as saying it will outscore all opponents, on average, by eight points a game). Teams that are rated A- will have a 10˝-point-per-game edge, while "A" teams will have, on average, a 13-point-per-game edge. Meanwhile a D- team will be outscored by eight points per game; an E+ team will be outscored by 10˝ points per game; and an E team will be outscored by 13 points per game.
And, at least in the world of power ratings, if an A+ team plays an E- team, the A+ team should be ranked 34 points better on a neutral field.
However, since most NFL teams are ranked between D+ and B-, with a difference between these two letter rankings of only six points, the teams in this area of my letter power ratings are very close to even. It is in this area, incidentally, that I concentrate my handicapping, because it is here that emotional edges mean more.
Now, let us go on to how you can convert power ratings into winning bets.
I have mentioned very briefly how power ratings can be used to find value in a game’s line.
But straight bets on games are only one of a number of types of wagers an NFL bettor can make. In addition to straight bets on one team or the other against the point spread, you can wager on over/unders, also known as "totals," in which you bet against a number that represents the total points scored in a game, betting on whether more or fewer total points will be scored.
There are also a number of "exotic" bets, including parlays, teasers, and reverses —most of which are sucker bets most of the time, and all of which are beyond the scope of this article. In this article, we are going to concentrate on season over/under future bets, which are some of the first profit opportunities that will arise this football-betting season.
"Future" wagers in the NFL are basically bets you make on how a team will perform in the upcoming season, including the playoffs and Super Bowl. These wagers can be bet at a number of reliable sports books in Las Vegas, on the Internet, and offshore. In regular season over/under future bets, you bet on how many wins a team will garner. In other future bets, you can wager on particular teams to win their conferences or the Super Bowl.
But how do you make money predicting how a team is going to do over a whole season—particularly when you have to overcome a healthy house edge? This again is where your power ratings come into play.
You begin by assigning each team a letter power rating at the start of the season. You do this either by starting with your power ratings from last year, modified for changes in team personnel, or, if you are a beginner, by consulting the power ratings of a more experienced, reputable source. Chart #3, below, contains my power ratings for the start of the 2000 season. Note that there were no teams on the A+ through B+ levels and none between the E+ and E- levels at the start of the 2000 season.
Chart #3: Preseason NFL Power Ratings, 2000
|B-||Broncos, Colts, Jaguars, Bucs, and Redskins|
|C+||Ravens, Bills, Cowboys|
|C||Bears, Lions, Jets, Raiders, Chargers|
|C-||Falcons, Packers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Vikings, Giants, Seahawks|
|D+||Cards, Panthers, Patriots, Saints, Eagles, Steelers, 49'ers|
The next step is to convert your letter power ratings into projected point spreads for each game, using a schedule for the upcoming season, and the Power Rating Point Differences in Chart #2. [Note: You can download a complete 2001 NFL schedule at the NFL’s official website: www.nfl.com] In addition, because over the long run in the NFL the home field advantage has been shown to be worth about 2 ˝ points, every home club should be given an additional 2 ˝ points in your season’s projected point spreads, unless there is a very compelling reason not to.
After projecting point spreads for each game, I convert the point spreads into decimal numbers (see Chart #4) that represent fractions of games won, according to the percentage of times a team should win a game at a given projected point spread. (This fraction, like the other statistics in this article, is derived from my own research.) These fractions (decimal numbers) can then be added to project each club’s season number of wins.
Chart #4: Spreads as Decimals
|1/2 or 1||.507|
|17 1/2 and more||.968|
After you project win records for each club, you are ready to check the over/under totals the sports books have put up. You need a two-game or more difference between a sports book’s total and your projected number of wins to make a wager.
Let’s take an actual wager I made in the 2000 preseason as an example.
As you can see from Chart #3, before the 2000 season began, I gave the Washington Redskins a B- rating, a letter power rating that translates to ten wins—against an average schedule. This is what I wrote about them as the pre-season was closing: "Team is under enormous pressure to win from owner Daniel Snyder. However, the main defensive additions—Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, and Deion Sanders—are well over 30. The offensive line also has two old starters. Last year the Redskins were just 1-5 against other playoff teams. The loss of Cory Raymer (center) will hurt badly. The defense will be better but the Redskins will be overrated early in the season. Look to bet against early in the year."
However, teams seldom have a totally normal or neutral schedule. To develop a projected win record strong enough to be the basis of a wager, I had to see how the Redskins’ actual season schedule would play out mathematically.
In their first game, the Redskins (B-) hosted Carolina, a D+ team. Since there is a six point difference between B- and D+, I rated the Redskins an 8 ˝-point favorite (remember, they got an additional 2 ˝ points for being the home team). The decimal number equivalent for 8 ˝ points is .762. I rounded off that number and gave the Redskins .76 for this game.
In their second game, the Redskins would play at the Lions, a C-rated club. That meant the Redskins were a half-point favorite (the three-point difference for the letter power ratings minus the Lions’ 2 ˝-point home edge). The decimal equivalent gave the Redskins .51 for this game.
In their third game, the Redskins would play the Cowboys—a C+ team— at home. I projected them a four-point favorite and used the decimal .63. (For the complete Redskins schedule, and projected wins for the 2000 season, see Chart #5 below.)
Chart #5: 2000 Redskins’ Season Projection
|1||Redskins (B-) host Carolina (D+)*||6||Redskins -8 ˝||.76|
|2||Redskins (B-) at Lions (C)||3||Redskins -1/2||.51||3||Redskins (B-) host Cowboys (C+)*||1 1/2||Redskins -4||.63||4||Redskins (B-) at Giants (C-)||4 1/2||Redskins -2 1/2||.52|
|5||Redskins (B-) host Tampa (B-)*||0||Redskins -2 ˝||.52|
|6||Redskins (B-) at Philadelphia (D+)||6||Redskins -3 ˝||.62|
|7||Redskins (B-) host Ravens (C+)*||1 1/2||Redskins -4||.63|
|8||Redskins (B-) at Jacksonville (B-)||0||Redskins +2 ˝||.48|
|9||Redskins (B-) host Titans (B)*||-2 1/2||Even||.50|
|10||Redskins (B-) at Arizona (D+)||6||Redskins -3 ˝||.62|
|11||Redskins (B-) at St. Louis (B)||-2 1/2||Redskins +5||.34|
|12||Redskins (B-) host Eagles (D+)*||6||Redskins -8 ˝||.76|
|13||Redskins (B-) host Giants (C-)*||4 1/2||Redskins -7||.72|
|14||Redskins (B-) at Dallas (C+)||1 1/2||Redskins +1||.49|
|15||Redskins (B-) at Pittsburgh (D+)||6||Redskins -3 ˝||.62|
|16||Redskins (B-) host Cardinals (D+)*||6||Redskins -8 ˝||.76|
*Home games. At home, the Redskins get an additional 2 ˝ pt. home advantage. On the road, they get a -2 ˝ pt. road disadvantage.
In the end, adding up the decimal numbers for all sixteen games of the regular season, I projected 9.48 wins for the Redskins.
Once I had projected 9.48 wins, I was ready to check the sports books’ numbers. Since it happened that several sports books had set their regular season over/under total on the Redskins at 11˝ wins, I had the two-game difference I needed to wager on the under. Moreover, in addition to the two-game edge, I was getting 1.20-1 odds on my bet. When I later saw an over/under total of twelve at another book, I went even further in my bet even though here I had to give 2.20-1 odds, since I now had a 2˝-game edge on my under wager.
There was one other team that I almost wagered on. Using the above system, I projected the New England Patriots to win 6.35 games. One place in Las Vegas had the over/under on the Patriots at 8 1/2. I had my magic two-game edge. However, to bet the under on the Patriots, a bettor had to give hefty 3.20-1 odds. That, I knew from my research, was too great a price to give. I’ll spare you the calculations here, but as a general rule of thumb, the odds you pay should be no higher than the number of games you have as an edge (don’t go over 2-1 for a two-game edge, 3-1 for a three-game edge, etc.). Too bad I passed. The Patriots ended up at 5-11 for the season. Still, you have to stand by your math.
While the Redskins gave me some anxiety early in the season when they started at 6-2, they slumped in the second half of the year. Their owner, Daniel Snyder, put undue pressure on the team as I knew he would if they had any problems. The Redskins lost six of seven and ended the year at 8-8: over a game worse than I had predicted they would finish.
Now let’s talk about the odds you must overcome to be successful in sports betting.
When you bet against the point spread, you are not only giving or taking points. You are also almost always giving 11-to-10 odds to a bookmaker or sports book, meaning that if you want to win $50 on a game, you must risk $55. When a bettor is giving 11-to-10 odds, he is bucking a 4.55 percent edge against him.
To make this clearer, take two bettors who choose the opposite sides of the same game. If each one wants to win $100, each must actually risk $110 (the extra $10 being a fee or commission for the sports book, called the "vigorish" or "vig.") After the game, one bettor will lose the $110 he risked while the other gets it back plus his $100 win. Thus of $220 total risked $10 goes to the bookie. Ten dollars of $220 is 1/22 or 4.55 percent.
The odds on futures bets are different—hidden in the price. I’ve already mentioned that on my bet on the Redskins to win under 11˝ games I got 6-5 (equivalent to 1.20-1) odds. Since I couldn’t bet enough at this price (some sports books have ridiculously low limits) I went further with this bet against the Redskins betting a small amount on them winning under 12 games. On this part of the bet I gave 11-5 (equivalent to 2.20-1) odds. To compute these odds (or "money line") equivalents for yourself, simply divide: 6 ÷ 5 = 1.20; 11 ÷ 5 = 2.20.
What were the odds or vig for an "over" bettor? At the book where the over/under was 11˝ wins for the Redskins, a bettor would have had to give 7-5 (1.40-1) odds if he felt that going over 11˝ wins was a good investment. Since the difference between what I got on the Redskins (1.20-1) and what a Redskins bettor would have had to give (1.40-1) is .20, this line is often called a 20-cent line.
The odds makers who set this line were saying through their numbers that the real line on the Redskins winning over 11˝ wins was 1.30-1 in favor of it happening. Let’s say these odds were true (they might or might not have been, remember, due to how lines are set). I was getting 1.20-1 odds against something that had a 1.30-1 chance of happening.
Let’s do the math on this. Let’s say I put up $10 on this bet and play it out 23 times (once for every possible outcome: 13 losses for every 10 wins). If the odds were the true line on this event, I would win 10 of the 23 times. I would lose the wager 13 of the 23 times. All told, I would be risking $230 and my return would be $220 (I would get back $22 each time I won: the $10 I risked and a $12 profit—remember I was getting 1.20-1 odds). Thus, the sports book’s profit would be $10. The vig in their favor would be a little over 4.3% (which you figure by dividing the $10 profit by the $230 invested).
If a bettor wagered on the Redskins winning over 11˝ wins he would risk $14 for every $10 he wanted to win. Walking through this 23 times, our Redskins backer would win 13 of the 23 times and get back a total of $312—13 x $24 (the $14 risked plus $10 profit) on a total risk of $322 ($14 x 23). Here the sports book’s edge or vig is just 3.1% (their $10 profit divided by the $322 taken in).
Thus, any bettor who wagered on the Redskins to win over 11˝ games had over one percent less vig to overcome than us anti-Redskins bettors.
On the part of my bet where I bet the Redskins under 12 wins, the vig worked a bit differently. That is because bettors who took the Redskins to win over 12 games got just 9-5 (or 1.80-1) odds. Remember that those of us betting under 12 wins were giving 11-5 (or 2.20-1) odds. Since the difference between 1.80 and 2.20 is .40, this is often called the 40-cent line.
To calculate the vig against a bettor on this bet, you do it the same way as in the above example. The mid-way point between 1.80-1 and 2.20-1 is 2-1. Assuming that’s the real line, you play out the wager three times (once for every possible outcome), with the Redskins going under 12 wins twice. On a $10 bet, I would be putting up $66 on three bets (2.20 x $10 = $66)—or $22 a wager.
I would win two of the three bets getting back a total of $64 on my total $66 investment. The sports book’s profit would be just over three percent ($2 divided by $66). For bettors going with the Redskins over 12 wins and taking 1.80-1 odds, the sports books’ vig would be greater. These bettors would put up $10 three times but win only once, getting a return of $28. The book’s profit would be $2 on $30 risked, or 6.7%.
If the lines in sports betting represented the real odds, there would be no point in betting. In other words, if the actual odds of the Redskins winning over 11˝ games last year had been 13-10 in favor and the actual odds of them winning over 12 games had been 2-1 against, I would have been going up against insurmountable odds. Though small odds, they would still be insurmountable and in the long run, I would go broke.
However, since the odds set are not the actual odds but the public perception of them as seen by the odds maker, NFL season over/ unders and other sports bets can be highly profitable.
To give you an idea, a solid NFL handicapper with a 55% win rate has a 5.5% edge on every bet. An expert handicapper with a long-term 57% win rate has a 9.7% edge on every bet. Top handicappers, with a long-term 60% win record, have a 16% edge on every bet. You should not bet until you’re confident that your win rate is at least 54%.
It is the job of the NFL handicapper to find the weak spots in the line. As with card-counting, in sports betting discipline and patience are key. ♠
For more information on winning sports betting, see Tips on Touts: The Smart Bettors Guide to Pick Services and Getting More Bang for Your Quinella Buck both in the Blackjack Forum Library.
For more information on Dan Gordon's book, Beat the Sports Books: An Insider's Guide to Betting the NFL, see Blackjack Forum's Recommended Gambling Books.
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