So I’ve been posting picks on NFL and College Football games on the Fake Sports Bar Facebook page all season, and have had some success (58-41-4, for a success rate of just under 59%) coming out on the right side of sides and totals. A few of the readers of this site have asked if I there is any rhyme or reason to the picks I make, so I decided to audit my picks and see if there were any trends of note. I also thought it might be helpful to pass along a few tips that can apply to NFL/Survivor Pools, office pools or a long weekend in Vegas or (if you’re lucky) Delaware, where you can bet parlays in many bars on the NFL games. If Chris Christie gets his way, sports gambling will come to New Jersey next, and if national trends continue many more states will adopt it as well so that they can tax it like marijuana and casinos.
The first thing I noticed is that Facebook is a terrible place to post picks if I intend on keeping track of them. I’m thinking for bowl season and the NFL Playoffs, I’ll move the picks over to our Twitter page. Many Facebook posts vanished and I had to dig deep to find most of them. For the purposes of looking back at my picks, I threw out the four pushes and the two baseball picks I made. That leaves 97 picks, of which I found 96 within the Facebook feed and this site.
Here are 6 tips to consider when picking games:
You can make a pretty good living by totally avoiding road favorites: In the NFL this season, road favorites are 28-34 ATS. The Texans are the only team (3-0) that is more than a game above .500 in that scenario. For my picks, I took a road favorite twice all season. When you’re looking at a board on any given Sunday, it helps to scale down the number of teams you are considering to make the board more manageable. Eliminating all road favorites is a good exercise in removing probable losers from consideration.
Taking the alternate line on Thursday, Sunday and Monday Night Football has been a profitable endeavor: There have been 47 NFL games in primetime this year (including the Thanksgiving games); of those games the team that covered did so by 6 points or more points 35 times. The Thursday night slate has been exceptionally awful, but all three vehicles have been plagued by blowouts in 2014.
What’s this mean for your wallet? If you are on the winning side, you should have also taken the alternate lines at plus juice. Alternate lines are typically step ladders where, for example, you make a 3 point favorite a 7 or 10 point favorite and if the team covers that alternate line you get paid more than even money on the result. The tougher you make it on yourself, the more you can possibly win. It’s been a winning proposition in primetime NFL for a number of years now. If you like teasers, these outcomes have been Kryptonite for your teaser tickets.
Speaking of teasers, never play them but keep them in mind when looking at the board: This goes for NFL and college. The most obvious teasers options are favorites of 6 to 8 points and pretty much any big primetime game. You can use this exotic bet that the general public loves to play to your advantage. If you feel like you’ve got a live dog that’s getting 6 to 8 points, you should always take them on the money line as well. Great examples from my picks this year are West Virginia beating Baylor, the Redskins beating the Cowboys and the Bucs beating the Steelers. In all three cases, the favorite was more than likely apart of most two or three team teasers for that weekend and ended up losing outright. That’s because teasing a team down to a pick ’em or laying less than a field goal is always an obvious choice for those unfortunate souls who like playing teasers. It’s like they say in “Rounders”, if you look around the table and don’t see a sucker, YOU are the sucker. Teaser players are definitely suckers. This same approach can be used on totals for primetime games; often they fly way over of under and the alternate lines can be a good source of extra profit.
Find a couple of sources of information and stick to those: It’s so easy to get inundated with information on any subject, whether it be investment advice, real estate speculation or picking football games. All of the NFL media partners have guys who pick games ATS, many newspapers have picks and tons of websites (including this one of course) span the spectrum of casual picks to hardcore trends on teams and games. Find a couple you feel you connect with and stick to them, and never, ever pay a tout or website for picks. It’s a total scam.
Personally, I like Phil Steele (who gives free picks on ESPN and The New York Post), Walter Football, Kevin Sheehan’s “Smell Test” and the info you can find on Scoresandodds, especially their Betting Trends tab and Free Matchup tab linked under each game. I may not always agree with the picks on Steele, Walter and Sheehan, but they typically have really good views on games and info that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. There are also a few guys on Twitter who I will check out regularly, including Stuckey2, kalind_totals and daviddaman2.
Just as finding a couple sources to solidify your opinion is important, finding good fade material is just as important. Whether these places are clueless suckers or TV personalities ordered by the NFL to publish bad picks, I always feel better when I’m on the other side of the panel picks at CBS Sports Line, The New York Post and any pre game show. Bill Simmons “Guess The Lines” B.S. Report is aptly called the B.S. Report, because his NFL opinions are usually off base, knee jerk reactions.
The error of recency: This is a phrase I stole from the aforementioned Kevin Sheehan, and it’s a great angle when looking at lots of things including football games. People by nature, believe the last thing they saw is true. Like when the Steelers went into Charlotte on Sunday Night Football and blew out the Panthers. The general public saw this game, disregarded prior weeks where Pittsburgh looked like a flawed team, and lined up to pound the books with Steelers bets as they hosted the Bucs the following Sunday as an 8 point favorite. Pittsburgh would lose outright.
Teams who perform above and beyond what you would expect and then are favorites of the betting public the following week are usually great fade material. A great way to identify these opportunities is when an underdog wins a game outright and then is favored the following week. A good example this season is when Virginia beat Miami (FL) as a 6 point dog and then traveled to Virginia Tech 6 days later as a short favorite in Blacksburg. These swings from underdog to favorite are typically too much of an overreaction based off of one game and often there’s tremendous value with the underdog.
You aren’t smarter than the oddsmakers: It always cracks me up when people hear a sketchy line and immediately think that the oddsmakers have made a mistake. The oddsmakers pour over so many statistics and results; they are paid to come up with a line that will draw 50/50 action from the betting public, ensuring profit for the house. Often this is a challenging task as the public will bet certain teams (Cowboys, Packers, Steelers) no matter the point spread.
The most important thing is to pay attention to are key numbers. In football, those are 3, 7, 10 and 14. The most common result in football is a 3 point margin, so if you see the betting public pounding a 3.5 point dog, and the line moves to 4, I’m very inclined to pick that 4 point favorite. If the sports books are getting heavy action of the 3.5 dog, why wouldn’t they move the line to 3 instead of 4? Same with games that teeter between 6.5 and 7.5 points, and so on. If a heavily bet favorite doesn’t see their line go from 6.5 to 7 points, that’s a big red flag and I’d take a serious look at the underdog. The point is, my picks aren’t based on the rosters of the teams as much as the movement of the Vegas lines. I don’t handicap games, I let the oddsmakers do that for me. Based on the situation of the game as well as the points I’ve made above, I’ll come a conclusion of who I like for a specific game. That doesn’t mean you should blindly follow line moves, but it’s a great foundation when picking games.
I’ve had the most success with home teams this year, as my home faves have gone 17-11 ATS and my home dogs have gone 13-7 ATS. One last bit of advice is to stick to what you know. In college, try to stick to conferences you know inside and out, whether it’s the SEC or Conference-USA. In the pros, perhaps it’s a few teams you constantly watch and have a good feel for on a weekly basis. This also helps trim the board down and focus your attention on games you have the most knowledge about.
Check out my Facebook page to keep up to date on my picks and see if I can finish out the season above 60%, a winning proposition when it comes to picking games.