The NFL is the most-watched sport in North America and a heavy hitter among bettors.
The NFL is the most-watched sport in North America and a heavy hitter among bettors.
Sundays in the fall present a great opportunity to place NFL wagers and enjoy loads of action. There are some key factors to consider, however, before locking in your bets. If you're unsure of what to look for, you could be missing an important piece of information.
That's why we're here to help you avoid making rookie mistakes before placing your next football bet.
When preparing for your next NFL bet, start by selecting a market to wager on. With moneylines, point spreads, totals, props and futures all available to you, narrowing the scope of your research to one betting market certainly helps.
We'll examine a variety of markets and offer some advice on how to make NFL wagers.
NFL = Not For Long
Perhaps the best piece of advice we can give is to say the NFL doesn't always make sense. Some might argue that the league usually doesn't make sense. Upsets are common and parity is plentiful.
What we mean by not for long is that an assumption you have about a team one week can be disproven the next.
Take the Cincinnati Bengals, for example. In Week 7 of the 2021 season, the Bengals dismantled the Baltimore Ravens 41-17 on the road to move into a tie with the Ravens atop the AFC North.
The following week, however, the Bengals fell to the lowly New York Jets, who deployed backup quarterback Mike White.
The Jets entered with a 1-5 record, and they'd been crushed 54-13 by the New England Patriots the week prior. In classic NFL fashion, the Bengals lost 34-31 and failed to cover the double-digit point spread.
As proven by Cincinnati's run to the Super Bowl, the Bengals were worthy of hefty spreads against lesser opponents. What the Bengals-Jets game proved, though, is that anybody can beat anybody in the NFL.
It's no secret that quarterbacks play the most important position in football. The best ones tend to play for the better teams, while the worst are generally found on bottom-feeders. But the precise value of a quarterback can be tough for oddsmakers to gauge.
In particular, bookies have struggled to properly weigh the value of starting QBs on playoff-calibre teams. Over the past three seasons, playoff teams have enjoyed great success against the spread (ATS) when starting backup quarterbacks (meaning a QB who wasn't the designated starter to begin the season).
An example of this from last season would be the Week 9 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers was forced to miss the game and his absence moved the line from Chiefs -0.5 to Chiefs -7.5. The line shift to more than a touchdown proved to be an over adjustment by the books as Green Bay led entering the fourth quarter and ultimately covered the spread, losing 13-7.
Since 2019, backups on playoff teams own an astounding ATS record of 40-20.
These backup QBs went 7-4 in 2021, 16-10 in 2020, and 17-6 in 2019. The most notable quarterback from this span is Ryan Tannehill, who usurped Marcus Mariota in 2019.
After receiving an opportunity to start in Week 7, Tannehill went 7-3 ATS in the regular season, and then 2-1 in the postseason.
Even without Tannehill's 9-4 ATS record in 2019, all other backups went 8-2.
It's not every week that you see a team catching points at home on Monday Night Football, but recent results suggest you should feel good about backing that side.
Since 2020, there have been 18 underdog hosts in Monday's primetime matchup, and the home team has covered 13 times. On the moneyline, these underdogs own a respectable 7-11 record.
In fact, the largest Monday Night Football home underdog over the past two seasons, the Bengals (+14.5), defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Week 16 of 2020.
One situation we love to bet against is a team playing on the road for consecutive weeks — specifically during a later portion of the year. As the season rolls on, NFL players' bumps and bruises really start to add up.
Travel adds another negative factor to that. In 2021, the NFL's first 18-week season, most squads struggled when travelling for consecutive weeks.
From Week 9 onward, teams playing consecutive road matchups went 18-23 ATS in their second game. That number worsens to 14-23 without the San Francisco 49ers, who were perfect in four tries (including playoffs).
While that's an incredible accomplishment for the Niners, it's also a major outlier. Looking even later in the year, from Week 17 onward, teams playing in consecutive road games limped to a 4-12 record, with San Francisco earning three of those four covers during the postseason.
With so many stats at your disposal, you're bound to find numbers that either endorse or contradict a pick for any NFL game.
Any number you're building into a game prediction has likely already been baked into the line. It won't take you long to realize sportsbooks know what they're doing.
One piece of advice is to have principles, but don't get hung up on any of them.
Adaptability is crucial in sports betting. Yes, the trends mentioned above have succeeded over multiple seasons, but they could balance out at any time.
In games where there appears to be a major mismatch in offensive quality, consider betting a team total instead of the game total.
A good example of this was the Buffalo Bills' Week 4 matchup in 2021 against the Houston Texans. Davis Mills, a rookie quarterback, was making just his second start, facing a Buffalo offence that had scored 78 points over its two previous games.
The game total was set at 46.5, while the Bills' team total sat around 31.5 points. While it seemed likely that Buffalo's offence would pile on the points, Houston's offence seemed destined to falter.
Mills had led the Texans to only nine points the previous week, and besting the Bills' defence was no small feat.
The game played out exactly as anticipated, as Buffalo throttled Houston, 40-0. Those who bet the over on the Bills' total were thrilled, but those who took the over for the game total came up empty.
Betting overs and rooting for points might be the fun thing to do — after all, the over is never dead — but it hasn't been profitable in recent years.
Since 2017, just eight NFL teams have a game-total over percentage greater than 50%, according to Team Rankings. That's just 25% of the league. Offence is on the rise around the NFL, but sportsbooks have caught on.
Just a few years ago, it was rare to see a game total of 50 points or more. Nowadays, bettors might see several on any given week.
If you're an avid fantasy football player but have very little exposure to the betting world, try some player props.
There's a huge correlation in applicable research for fantasy football and player props, which makes them a great way to acclimate to the betting world.
Think about the prep you do for your fantasy team: reviewing matchups, recent player performances, injuries, etc. All of that translates to player props.
When Miami Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker was absent, his teammate Jaylen Waddle caught seven-plus passes in five of seven games. When Parker suited up, Waddle only hit the seven-catch mark in three of nine outings.
Betting the over on Waddle's receptions prop was enticing when Parker was out, while the under was wiser with Parker healthy.
Game flow, or game script, is an important factor for prop bets such as QB passing yards. Game flow simply refers to the expectation of how a game will be played. Will it be a shootout or a defensive struggle?
One trait to consider with QB yardage props is whether a pair of top-10 passing yard leaders are in the game. If so, strongly consider taking the over on either player's yardage. We've found that elite QB opposition is predictive of high-yardage totals — more so than poor defences.
Tom Brady led the NFL in passing yards in 2021, and he topped 300 yards in all four matchups against fellow top-10 passers: 379 yards in Week 1 vs. the Dallas Cowboys, 432 yards in Week 3 vs. the Los Angeles Rams, 363 yards in Week 14 vs. the Bills and 329 yards vs. the Rams in the playoffs.
Poor quarterback opposition, meanwhile, presents an opportunity to bet the under. Brady's five-lowest passing totals from 2021 came against the Chicago Bears (211 yards), New Orleans Saints (214), Washington Football Team (220), Indianapolis Colts (226) and Carolina Panthers (232).
The NFL is primarily a passing league, but Brady didn't need to do as much when facing a mediocre QB.
More than any other sport, divisions serve an important role in shaping the NFL. Teams play six of 17 games against divisional foes, and the strength of their division can really affect win totals or Super Bowl odds.
In the case of 2021's conference leaders, the Tennessee Titans and Packers, both teams benefitted from playing in ultra-easy divisions. Of Tennessee's 12 wins, five came against teams in the dreadful AFC South. The four teams in that division combined for a league-low 28 wins.
The Packers, on the other hand, benefitted from a weak NFC North, which combined for a conference-worst 30 wins. Green Bay banked four victories against its divisional rivals.
Both the Packers and Titans blew past their pre-season win totals thanks to the lack of competitiveness from their respective divisions.
Coaches usually have a script of plays to use on their opening offensive drive, which is intended to provide rhythm for the offence and get a feel for the opponent's defensive plans.
But defences make adjustments throughout a game and sometimes that makes it harder for an offence to reach the end zone again. When teams score a touchdown on the first drive, the live-betting odds are greatly affected.
The spread, moneyline and total all drastically shift, creating an opportunity to buy in at inflated odds if you're still rooted in your pregame convictions. For more on live betting, check out some examples in our betting explainer on how to make in-game wagers.