2020 NFL Handicapping & Betting Guide

Sports are finally back and 2020 NFL football is just around the corner.

Heck, you might stumble across this invaluable guide months after I've written it and the NFL season might already be in full swing.

The point is, if you've found this article, you are interested in professional football and you have the potential to leverage your knowledge of the sport to earn some money. If you are already heavily into fantasy sports, this won't be a tough transition. In fact, you probably already have the keys to the castle in your pocket, you just have to figure out which ones go where.

Let me start by saying that handicapping NFL football has nothing to do with gaining an edge over the average bettor. This is commonly stated on various websites and betting guides. It's it not you versus the public. It's you versus the betting lines that the bookmakers set. So, the first rule to handicapping and betting on NFL games is to have multiple options.

The Power of Lines Shopping

In some ways, we are jumping ahead here. But I believe this is so important that this needs to be addressed before we get into things that would normally come first in the handicapping process.

The first thing you should do is find a list of books and review them to find a few that best serve your needs. You should have accounts open and ready at least three different betting outlets, but five is recommended.

The reason for this is two-fold. You should always be looking for the lowest juice (bookie rake) and the most advantageous spread, total, or money line price. An example of this is imagine that you have an account at Bookmaker.eu -- this is a great, trustworthy book and we recommend them -- and they have the Kansas City Chiefs -7.5 and you like the Chiefs to cover the point spread. That said, Pinnacle has the Chiefs at -6.5, if you take the Chiefs at Bookmaker, and the Chiefs win by a touchdown you lose your money. However, had you taken the line Pinnacle was offering, you would have won.

Another example is the juice. The standard price for spreads and totals is (-110) on both sides, meaning to win $100 you must risk $110. But if you shop around, you can reduce your season-long risk substantially by choosing instances at specific books where the spread or total might be on the same number, but you increase your returns and minimize your losses by placing action where the juice is reduced to -105, or -103, etc.
If you are betting multiple games per week, you can easily lose 10 games in a season (and still be profitable). So, let's do some simple math. If I lose 10 games at -110, hypothetically my loss is $1,100. But if I lose the same 10 games at -103, my losses total $1030. I saved my self $70 just by taking advantage of the power of lines shopping.

Power Ratings

Okay. Now let's backpedal to the handicapping part. The first thing you need in the handicapping process -- or at least what works for me -- is a reliable power ranking system. Now, you can do the leg work yourself, or purchase a quality power ranking service -- there are some free power rating services but I wouldn't trust those implicitly.

But why do you need this?

It allows you to handicap spreads before the lines makers release their point spreads on the individual matchups. Having an excellent power rating system allows you to look at the bookmaker's odds and quickly identify weaker lines that you might be able to exploit. Now, let me go on to say that this does not mean you should be betting these willy-nilly just because your power rating says so. What it does do is clue you in on a few games that you should look into further.

In a nutshell, if a team is above another in accuracy, then that team should be favored on a neutral field. The farther the two teams are apart, theoretically, the bigger the point spread should be.

That said, power ratings need to be adjusted. But it's a fine line. You don't want to make any rash decisions based on a singular instance. Then again, you don't want to hang on to what has turned into a bad power rating with a death-like vice grip. This is why I recommend going through the practice of making your own power ratings and then comparing it against some established systems such as Walter Football, ThePowerRank, CBS Sports, ESPN FPI, and TeamRankings.

Knowing when to adjust can be tough in the beginning, so it's a good idea to follow a system that you like, and watch when and how they adjust. Keep comparing against your model, as this is a moving calculus, so to speak.

Here is ESPN's Football Power Index, you can use it as your starting point:

1. Kansas City Chiefs 7.4
2. Baltimore Ravens 6.0
3. San Francisco 49ers 5.3
4. New Orleans Saints 5.2
5. Dallas Cowboys 2.8
6. Philadelphia Eagles 2.6
7. Seattle Seahawks 2.6
8. New England Patriots 2.6
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2.5
10. Buffalo Bills 2.0
11. Pittsburgh Steelers 1.2
12. Los Angeles Rams 1.1
13. Minnesota Vikings 1.0
14. Green Bay Packers 0.5
15. Indianapolis Colts 0.2
16. Denver Broncos -.01
17. Tennessee Titans -0.2
18. Atlanta Falcons -0.3
19. Cleveland Browns -0.4
20. Los Angeles Chargers -0.6
21. Arizona Cardinals -1.1
22. Las Vegas Raiders -1.3
23. Chicago Bears -1.3
24. Houston Texans -1.5
25. New York Jets -1.7
26. Detroit Lions -3.8
27. New York Giants -3.8
28. Miami Dolphins -3.9
29. Carolina Panthers -4.7
30. Cincinnati Bengals -5.2
31. Washington -5.6
32. Jacksonville Jaguars -7.6

Using this model, the numbers you see are the average point margin against average teams. So, the Chiefs are listed as the strongest team in the league, expected to win by just over a touchdown on a neutral field against average teams. However, Arrowhead is a field that is worth a little more than a field goal, so an average team in KC, the Chiefs would be 10.

The Ravens are 6 points better than your average NFL team If we saw a line where the Ravens. On a neutral field, the Chiefs should only be favored by about a point and a half, conversely, the Ravens should be -1.5 point favorites over the Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium since we typically give a field goal for homefield advantage.

Now, look at the Jaguars. They are likely to lose by seven points or more to an average team like the Colts, Broncos, and Packers. So, they should be full-on double-digit underdogs against a team like the Chiefs or Ravens.

Homefield, Injuries, Momentum, and Weather

Using your power rating system, you have a great starting point for identifying potentially weak betting lines. Once you have identified a line that looks off, it's time to dig deeper and see if there is a definitive advantage against the betting lines.

Let me be 100% clear here ... only bet games you feel that you have clear advantage over the odds. Don't heart-bet.

2020 Week 1 NFL football has the Packers heading into Minnesota to face the Vikings. If we consult the preseason power-ratings, the Vikings are half of a point better on a neutral field. So, they should be listed as -3.5 home favorites. Which is exactly what they opened at. Now, however, they are just -3 favorites, because the public has already placed enough action on Green Bay to move the line.

But what if the Vikings were listed as 1.5-point favorites? This would be a clear sign that you should investigate and handicap further. Did the bookmakers open the lines this way? If so, why? Are there key players missing? Is there trouble in the locker room? Is the weather forecast going to benefit one team more than the other? Or is the line movement artificial and now the public has pushed the line to a number that has value? Or ... this one is tricky but over time you'll get better at spotting it, did the bookmakers create a trap line to get people to initially bet one way or the other -- when this happens it's a good idea to stay away because they may have insider info that we don't.

We can't teach you everything there is to know about handicapping NFL football in one short betting guide, but this should get you started, and with some practice, you'll be on your way to beating the books.

1. Make sure you have the best betting lines available for the game you've handicapped.

2. Use a trusted power rating system as your starting point.

3. Once you have identified any lines with potential, handicap those lines further factoring in home-field, injuries, personal issues, weather, team momentum, and situational trends, and ignore the rest of thee games on the slate.

Good luck!

Featured Site