Matchbook's Big NFL Betting Preview

36 min

It’s time to drop to one knee, raise an arm in salute and celebrate because the NFL is finally back this weekend!

Tom Brady hoists the Lombardi Trophy after the Patriots beat the Falcons 34-28 in Super Bowl LI.

To help you make the most of the new season we’ve gathered some of the sharpest minds in NFL betting to give you their thoughts on the 16 weeks of action ahead, their tips for the playoffs and some advice on how to raise your game while making money from the biggest show in sport.

After what was probably the greatest Super Bowl in history last year, last year’s winners the New England Patriots start as favourites to repeat their success this year. But do our panel think they can hold off the challenge of the likes of Green Bay, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Atlanta or are there some bigger priced teams in with a shout? And how will they be looking to make money week-in and week-out.

Before we find out, let’s do some brief introductions to our panel.

Brad Allen: A regular on the Matchbook podcast, semi-pro bettor Brad takes a data-driven approach to finding value on the NFL and loves to find spots the bookies may have missed.

Nick Goff: The ex-head of trading at a major sportsbook, Nick is now a full-time pro gambler who focuses on soccer and the NFL. He’s never shy of taking a view, but takes a modern analytical approach to his betting.

Neil Channing: One of the UK’s most respected and well-known pro gamblers, Neil has been betting on the NFL since the 80s. You can subscribe to his tips on his own site and hear his views on the Matchbook podcast.

Jesse May: US sports betting fanatic, Matchbook podcast co-host, author, poker commentator and all round guru, Jesse is here to pass on some hard-learned lessons from decades in the game.

Aidan O’Sullivan: Matchbook’s resident US sports expert and ex-trader and odds compiler, Aidan can also be found writing previews and tips on Matchbook Insights.

Todd Fuhrman: Legendary US sports handicapper and ex-odds maker at Caesars Sportsbook in Las Vegas. You can find Todd on TV and radio in the US and as an occasional guest on the Matchbook Podcast, and hosts the hugely popular Bet The Board Podcast.

So let’s start off with the big one. Gents, who is going to win the Super Bowl?

And the Super Bowl winner is…

Six sharp minds, and six very different answers here. One guiding factor is those taking a chance on improving or recovering teams and those who think the market principles look too strong to oppose. For Nick

One guiding factor is those taking a chance on improving or recovering teams and those who think the market principles look too strong to oppose. For Nick Goff it’s a fairly simple decision….

Nick Goff: It may lack a bit of imagination to tip the favourite but the New England Patriots are the best team, in a very weak division, and if Tom Brady stays healthy they are very likely to be appearing in another Super Bowl.

Jesse May: I don’t know but I sincerely hope it’s a long shot. Because if so, then there’s a decent chance that I might get to grab them on the way. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’m laying the top six favourites on the board.

Brad Allen: I like the Steelers. They have a young improving defence and will start the season with their big four offensive weapons on the field for the first time in more than a year.

Aidan O’Sullivan: I really like Green Bay at 13.0 with Matchbook.

The Packers were unfortunate to meet a juggernaut Falcons team last year, and I think their defence will improve enough this year to get them over the hump.

Neil Channing: So much can happen between now and then, but I like Arizona as they’re coming off a season where their quarterback was carrying an injury for a lot of it and they have a potentially devastating offence if everyone is back to full strength. And it’s a very friendly looking price.

Who will make the playoffs?

There was a reasonable amount of consensus on this one with the Tennessee Titans getting a lot of love from the panel, although there is a pretty bold shout from Brad and a very bold shout from Jesse in amongst them.

Nick Goff: The Tennessee Titans have a huge chance to win their division and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. They missed out to Houston only on a tiebreaker last season and it looks a match between the two again in the AFC South because Indianapolis have huge doubts over Andrew Luck’s fitness for the start of the season and until he’s back they’ll struggle to win any games, while Jacksonville seem to jump from one crisis to the next.

The Titans tick all the boxes. They have the Quarterback in place and all the pieces around him.

At anything above 2.37 I make Tennessee an outstanding bet for the division.

Neil Channing: Tennessee are the team everyone wants to be on and I can understand why as they didn’t miss out by much last year and they look in much better shape this year and they look like a likely improver to me.

We also like Cincinnati at Betting Emporium.

They suffered with a lot of injuries last year and their quarterback and running back are both very good and we have a strong view that Baltimore (Cincinnati’s rivals in the division) are shit so it’s between them and the Steelers.

Aidan O’Sullivan: I can see why people are loving the Titans, but give me the Carolina Panthers. Last year was a giant post Super Bowl hangover for Ron Rivera’s team and while there are some questions on defence, I believe that the drafting of Christian McCaffrey will elevate this Offense to a whole different level.

Todd Furhman: I won’t say they’ll necessarily go far, but I think the LA Chargers can be a darkhorse. This is a team that dealt with a slew of injuries a season ago along with blowing a ton of late leads. if you believe in injury luck correcting itself and regression in those tight games this might be a team that plays a home playoff game in their brand new home.

The expected improvement of Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota is one of the main reasons many of our experts fancy a decent season out of the Titans.

Brad Allen: I’m taking a punt on the Eagles, who had a positive point differential despite their losing record, giving them a Pythagorean expectation of 9.0 wins, while also playing the toughest schedule in the NFL. If the regress to the mean in games decided by seven points or less (went 1-8) last year, they should challenge for the NFC East title. Quarterback Wentz should also improve in his second season and enjoy the protection of Lane Johnson at left tackle for a full season. Johnson was suspended ten games last year, and without him Wentz posted a 48.5 QBR, compared to 73.2 with him.

Jesse May: I think Head Coaches are generally underrated in the scheme of ratings and modelling. Without knowing anything else, I’m going to take a punt and say that the 49ers will outperform expectations this season purely on the basis of their massive upgrade in the head coaching position.

How to bet on the NFL

Before we dive headlong into some of the tricks and techniques our panel use to find their winning bets on the season we thought we’d get some overall advice on people new or less experienced in NFL betting. So we asked everyone what advice they would give to someone first getting started and we found some very solid advice…

Jesse May: Welcome to a new league of Bad Beats! Imagine the worst sports betting bad beat you have ever taken, and then prepare yourself to get punishment and pain of a level 10 times that. But, on a more serious note, this is a betting gig with a very marginal edge.

The best NFL bettors in the world are working off of a 5% ROI, maybe. And probably less.

Stake in a manner that accepts that there will be a lot of variance in your results.

Brad Allen: I’d agree. Don’t bet a lot of money and don’t bet big money line favourites. Also betting based on what you saw last is a terrible idea.

Don’t believe what your eyes tell you. It’s very easy to watch a team dominate one week and assume they’ll do the same the next, but game-plans and match-ups and the bounce of a ball are so important in the NFL that teams look completely different week-to-week.

There’s a saying “No team is ever as good as they look at their best and never as bad as they look at their worst.” Use something far more stable as the basis for your bets like yards per play.

Jesse May: For sure. Reading too much into last week’s games results as an indication for what’s going to happen in the next game. The opposite is in fact more true.

Todd Furhman: The biggest mistake new NFL bettors can make is falling in love with what they saw last. We say it all the time, no matter the sport, no team is ever as good or as bad as they looked the week prior. Try to approach each game as a blank slate taking advantage of huge overreactions in the market.

A common mistake from first time NFL bettors is to not factor in the difference between numbers like 2.5 and 3. Successful Field Goals are a huge factor in Point Spread betting.

Nick Goff: Make sure you don’t overreact to win/loss records! In an NFL season, we’re permanently dealing with smaller than ideal sample sizes. That’s all we ever have. There’s often little or nothing between teams with 10-6 and 6-10 records. Always be aware that the difference between those records often comes down to one or two great or terrible plays in each game, a bad refereeing decision or just old-fashioned good or bad luck.

In any season there will be a couple of exceptional teams and a couple of completely hopeless ones. The rest will be separated by very fine margins.

Teams play only 16 regular season games. Compare that with Premier League football at 38, or Major League Baseball at 162! Then consider that 46% of NFL games are won by 7pts or fewer – that’s one score either way.

Neil Channing: These numbers are absolutely key to betting on the NFL.

Around 15% of all NFL games are decided by a score of 3 and around 10% by a score of 7. This means the handicap line (spread) is so important when placing bets.

A lot of people will miss -2.5 and see -3 and think they may as well still bet as it’s only a small change, but that is a huge mistake.

NFL Betting Tips

So that’s what not to do, but how do you make money from the NFL. As you’d expect with so much experience under their belt our panel have a lot of advice here, not least Jesse May. But first we’ll give the floor to Aidan, Neil, Brad and Nick with some great tips that will definitely boost your bankroll over the course of the season.

Aidan O’Sullivan: As Neil mentioned, when betting on the handicaps (point spreads) take your time, and only take the number that you’re happy with.

If you don’t think that the Patriots are a 7.5 point favourite but like them to win nonetheless,  look around and if there is 6.5 available grab it.

Yes you will get a lesser price but the number is always more important than the price.

Be sure to browse the NFL markets on Matchbook and check out the alternative point spreads.

Neil Channing: Don’t bet too many favourites!

People who bet too many favourites on the handicaps are not going to end the season in good shape.

If I looked at someone’s betting patterns and had to guess if they were a losing bettor or not then anyone betting favourites week in and week out is going to be high on my list.

You really need to betting a mix of favourites and underdogs throughout the season.

Another big mistake is betting too many favourites on the road.

A lot of people don’t like to bet teams at home because they are giving up so many points and think the away handicap looks much friendlier but they are unlikely to be looking at the reasons why this is the case.

Led by the irrepressible Tom Brady the Patriots are almost always a well backed Favourite.

Brad Allen: I tend to stay away from team trends who are offered as double digit favourites, as there’s bound to be some standout numbers and there’s a good chance it’s simply variance.

One trend I do believe in is backing big underdogs in divisional games, where the familiarity between the two teams helps coaches to game plan and nullify talent disparity.

Todd Furhman: Like any sport set aside money you can afford to lose. We all need to learn how to win over time; it doesn’t happen immediately. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with US geography and the teams before you take big swings in the market. I personally went through a three year learning curve when I started studying the EPL and the NFL, aside from no relegation, offers similar challenges to new bettors.

Nick Goff: Learn the Quarterbacks and gradually develop opinions on all 32 of them. Be under no illusion, this is a Quarterback’s league. There’s no more important position in any professional sport. There are 53 players in an NFL team’s matchday squad, but the match result frequently comes down to the performance of just one of them. It’s all about the Quarterback.

Jesse May: My friend Morty the Bookie has a couple of simple guidelines for NFL betting – as stupid as they sound I’ve found them to be the most profitable betting rules there are for the least amount of work. and I’ll present them to you now.

His ** Star Rule: Back bad Quarterbacks – Always bet on the team on the handicap who is perceived by the public to have the worst quarterback in the league. I remember going an entire season betting on JaMarcus Russell when there was an ongoing discussion as to whether his throwing motion was the worst in the history of the game.

His *** Star Rule: Back big dogs – Once the handicap is over 14 points, back the underdog. Just do it.

His ***** Star Rule: Tony Dungy is an Idiot – .This is actually the greatest angle in the history of NFL betting. Tony Dungy is an idiot. He usually tips up games on ESPN. The more he likes a team, the more you should bet the other way. And anytime he says you can take something to the bank, it’s time to unload against him.

Just lay Tony Dungy. The man is an idiot.

What teams to back?

While you should be very wary of any long-term trends in NFL betting there are some reliable signals you can follow to find some decent value bets and our panel have a few to get you going.

Although Nick Goff offers a word of caution. “I’m not big on individual team trends,” Goff says: This is a sport of such small sample sizes each season, and squads and coaching staffs with such high turnover from one year to the next, that anything that looks like a trend may well just be the random product of small samples.

Neil Channing: I’ve spent a lot of money backing Jacksonville as a big dog and it’s been a disaster, I’m trying to wean myself off it this year.

But one team I love to back is Green Bay at home as they just always seem to beat the market.

The analysts always seem to think the line is too big and they won’t cover but they just seem to get there, particularly against divisional rivals.

Brad Allen: LA Chargers QB Philip Rivers is one to back as a dog: His record against the spread as of October last year: Underdog: 41-24 (63.1%). Favourite: 50-56 (47.2%).

Brad Allen loves to back the Chargers and their QB Philip Rivers as underdogs.

Aidan O’Sullivan: Pains me to say it as a Jet’s fan (yes we are a dying breed) but backing the Patriots as a favourite last season more than paid for a few steak dinners.

The eventual Super Bowl champs covered the spread in 13 of their 16 regular season games.

They’ll be big favourites in most games again this season, but it’s hard to go against the best coach and QB combo the game has ever known.

Todd Furhman: You won’t catch me laying more than a TD often in this league but if I do it’s with the New England Patriots. There isn’t a franchise more buttoned up across the league than what we see in the northeast especially with a back-up QB looking to turn heads. Seattle will also be a team that bears watching; the depth they’ve built recently is nothing short of incredible.

Other Factors to Note

Finally we asked our panel what were the less obvious factors they looked for before placing a bet and as you’d expect we had some very interesting and varied answers. The main point appears to be look to the skies, in more ways than one.

Aidan O’Sullivan: Given that the majority of my NFL bets are Totals, the weather is always going to be a key factor when I do my mid-week research. I find  is one of the most reliable tools for this. Travel and time zone factors are also a huge consideration. For example…

if the 49ers are playing a 1pm game in the Eastern Time Zone, their bodies are on a 9am time clock and this is generally worth about 2pts to the home team.

Todd Furhman: No bet should be placed before understanding the kind of weather you’ll see in a game or the list of injuries to key players. I also can’t emphasize enough the value handicappers need to place on travel and schedule when seeking to find an extra bit of value.

Brad Allen: I like the weather angles. Wind is a big one that is underrated by the market.

Per a 2014 study, wind speeds of 10 mph are estimated to reduce quarterback ratings by 1.7 points, total passing yards by 6.8%, completion percentage by 2.4%, and yards per completion by 1.6%.

According to Pinnacle research, in the 50 games in recent years when average wind speed was 20 mph or greater, the average total was 38.5, but actual points scored were even lower at 35.3 and under bets were successful in 64.6% of games.

Nick Goff: Weather is vital when you’re betting on total points, though its wind rather than rain or temperature you need to take most notice of.

Wind makes passing the ball so much harder and therefore sends points totals lower, whereas snow actually slows down defensive players as much as offensive ones and sometimes markets overreact.

People see snow and bet the under to a point where the line sometimes moves far enough that taking a contrarian view can be the right long term play.

Neil Channing: I like quirky angles like betting against teams that have been involved in big games, or those that have gone into overtime or if they have played Thursday and then need to play again on the Monday. I’m always keen to take them on in the next game.

I also like to oppose teams after big breaks. A few points in the season a team will have a proper break and players will sometimes go on a short holiday and they don’t seem to be in the right mental frame when they get back.

The Dallas Cowboys host the afternoon game on Thanksgiving Thursday and according to Neil Channing it’s not always such a great home advantage.

By the same token the game before teams travel to London seems to have a psychological impact and I love to look at all those more subtle factors. One interesting one is to bet against teams who play at home at Thanksgiving. It sounds counterintuitive, but those on the road are away from family and can just focus on the game.

Nick Goff: Long weeks and short weeks are the first thing for me. American Football is more physically testing than most other mainstream sports.

If you play in the Thursday night game you have four days extra rest for your next game than the teams who play Monday night.

There’s no sport (that I watch, at least) in which that extra rest and recovery time is more important.

Jesse May: I always try and discern where the public money might go. Anytime there’s a story that seeps into the part of the public who don’t care anything about the game, you have to go the other way. It usually happens with quarterbacks. The more they talk about Tom Brady, the more you need to be laying the Patriots.

So there you have it folks, the experts have spoken. Get involved in our twitter poll below to have your say on who lifts the Vince Lombardi trophy this year!

Matchbook Betting Podcast

It’s also highly suggested to follow the Matchbook Betting Podcast and take in the NFL Season Preview Show (starts 16m 33s). Trust us. It’s a good listen.