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A Bettor's Guide: 14 Tips To Breaking Down NFL Matchups

There is no shortage of opportunities for NFL bettors to make some cash each week. However, a sports bettor needs to not only have a system of analysis in place, but he needs to know how to use that analysis to his advantage. Just taking the basic wagers into account (Moneyline, Over/Under, and Point Spread), the bettor has up to 48 wagering choices each week in the NFL. Pair that with the dozens of other bet options and there is money to be made by the savvy bettor.

Prior to placing any wager, a bettor needs to understand basic things like in the NFL a win is a win, whether it is by 1 point or 30 points. Whereas in college football there's much more at stake for top teams (other than just winning), running up the score is sometimes necessary to solidify a high ranking in college polls.

So, a 13-1 team playing at home and giving 14 points to a 2-12 team may seem like easy money, you have to bear in mind that once an NFL team gets a lead they either put backup players in or they run the ball over and over, not even trying to score more points.

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This is just the beginning of what novice football bettors need to know, so let's get into some further analysis and useful tips for the novice (and expert) football gambler.

We don't guarantee to make you a fortune, but hopefully some of these tips can give you an edge in your analysis and avoid common pitfalls before risking real dollar.

1) Situational Betting

Breaking down an NFL matchup starts with reviewing the recent performance of each team. First off, don't get caught up with wagering on a team just because they were blown out the previous week. Too many bettors do this. Momentum has its place in the NFL, but it isn't nearly as prominent as it is in college football.

With that being said, there are situational aspects you can watch for:

  • Blown out on the road: Teams that are playing at home on the week following an embarrassing road loss generally play fairly well. It has nothing to do with momentum, motivation or extra effort either. Players in the NFL are professionals and each week is its own animal. However, the numbers dictate that this trend works if you stick with it over time.
  • Jet lag: Anyone who has traveled from one side of the country to the other understands how much of an effect jet lag can have. Well, NFL players are people too, just like you and I. For example, let's say the San Diego Chargers have a few home games in a row against the New England Patriots and New York Jets, and they win both handily. The following week they hit the road to play a subpar Miami team and manage to lose, despite being 10-point favorites. The NFL analysts and announcers will tell you that it's just the crazy nature of the league. In actuality, what you had was two teams from the east coast who traveled 3,000 to play in San Diego and came up short. You then had a San Diego team that traveled cross-country and couldn't hand with a lowly Miami team. Coincidence? Maybe, but statistically speaking, this is a good angle to include in your game breakdown.
  • Bye week: Some analysts will tell you that the bye week is good for a team, while others tell you it is bad. The truth is somewhere in the middle and depends on how the team was playing entering their bye week and where the game is being played. As a general rule, teams that are on a roll entering their bye week often come out after the bye a bit flat, especially if they are facing a road game. Conversely, teams that enter their bye playing poorly will normally come out of the bye with a strong performance. Again, could it be a coincidence? Sure, but the numbers bear this trend out, and that is what betting is all about to some extent, playing trends and scenarios.
  • Teams going in opposite directions: This was touched upon briefly with a team coming off a bad road loss, but it goes further than that. One of the most profitable betting angles to explore is where a team that has a string of losses is matched up against a team on a winning streak. You will hear the analysts praising the favored team, saying how they are on a Super Bowl quest. Yes, they are professionals, but they are regular guys too, and they watch TV and listen to these analysts. Becoming overconfident can and does happen. When breaking down a matchup, listen to what is being said in the media, as this can often artificially inflate a line.

Let's get into some other tips you can use to your advantage:

2) Game Analysis

You came here to learn how to break down and analyze an NFL game, so do it! Any game you are considering wagering on should be thoroughly reviewed on every level. Hunches and feelings mean absolutely nothing when it comes to sports wagering.

3) Never Dismiss Underdogs

No, I'm not saying that underdogs are always the way to go. However, too many bettors dismiss a team because they don't seem to have a chance to win. So what? It isn't about who wins, it's about who covers the spread.

4) Bet Early

NFL lines move over the course of the week. The reason is that the original line was soft and everyone is betting on the same side. Check the lines as soon as they come out and find a few you can use to your advantage. It gets tougher to win with each passing day and each subsequent line change. Speaking of line changing.

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5) Watch for Changing Spreads

As just mentioned, lines are adjusted during the week to even out the betting. If too many people are betting a favorite, the line will increase to get bettors on the other side. Don't fall for this swing and think that the line is increasing because the favorite is a sure thing. However, you still want to keep up on any injuries or late information that could be altering the spread.

6) Analyze Matchups

Take your analysis even further by comparing each aspect of the game and forming an overall comparison. Size up the offensive and defensive lines, quarterback, wide receivers, running backs, etc. Take injuries into account and give an advantage to one team or the other in each area. Never rely on a single source for your information. Gather enough information so that you have the entire picture of the matchup and make your picks accordingly.

7) Look for Consistent Teams

These are two consistency trends that you want to look for; teams that regularly cover the spread and those that regularly fail to cover. It doesn't matter who wins or loses and a 14-2 team could very well be 2-14 against the spread. Look for a few teams each week that fall into this category of consistency.

8) Watch for Super Teams

Look for those teams that either have a great record or are on winning streak of at least five games. These teams have to face off against an opponent every week that is just dying to be the one to knock them off. The underdog will rarely pull it off, but more often than not they can keep the game close. Teams on a winning streak that are coming off the bye week or a short week of practice are primed for a letdown.

9) Defense Wins

When analyzing an NFL matchup, always put extra emphasis on defense. Here is one thing you can literally take to the bank; defense wins! This is an even stronger angle if the team with a good defense is going up against a team with a weak offensive line. Additionally, teams with a great offense and lousy defense are prone to not covering the spread.

10) Shop for Lines

Don't just break down the game you want to wager on, break down the line you are getting as well. Shop around and get the best line possible for the team you want to wager on. The difference between giving 3.5 points and 2.5 points doesn't seem like much, but you will feel differently if your team wins by three.

11) Don't Put too Much Emphasis on Injuries

An injury to a star quarterback would be an exception, but in general, never overestimate the importance of injuries. Professional football teams have backups, and backups for the backups, and lines often move based on injuries.

12) Take Advantage of the Spread

Let's move on to an overlooked aspect of NFL wagering; the spread itself. Yes, matchups, trends and injuries are important, but it all comes down to the spread. If you know what you are looking at, you can take advantage of a spread.

What are key numbers and what can they do for me?

A "key number" represents the most common final margin in NFL games. Knowing these numbers can give you a clue to what an oddsmaker may be trying to do with an opening line, and what impact line movement will have. 

  • The most common margin of victory in the NFL is three, and the next nearest number isn't even close. Seven is another somewhat common margin, for an obvious reason. Other prominent numbers are 4, 6 and 10. Higher numbers like 14 and 17 are further down the list and seen more in college football. There is so much parity in the NFL that a line that high is rare.
  • Between 15 and 20 percent of all NFL games end up with one team winning by three points, year in and year out. A margin of seven is seen in 8 percent of games, with a margin of six or 10 occurring in about 6 percent of games. These numbers are also the most common spreads as well.
  • When analyzing a line, keep an eye out for oddsmakers that are "begging for action" on one side or the other. For example, if the Dallas Cowboys are favored by 2.5 instead of 3, or the New England Patriots are favored by 7.5 instead of 7. Not all oddsmakers do this, but some will make a line seem more attractive on purpose, begging bettors to wager on a certain side.
  • When a line opens on a key number, such as three or seven, oddsmakers are hesitant to move the line. If you see a line move off of those numbers, it is a good indication that a significant development has occurred in the matchup that caused it. Discovering what caused the line to move can give you a leg up in deciding which side to wager on.
  • Keep key numbers in mind when considering teasers. If you are buying an extra three or six points, try to make sure that you are passing over as many key numbers as possible. For example, buying six points is an ideal choice when the line is +2. This would change it to +8 and take you across both the three and seven key numbers.

13) Analyze And Come Out Ahead

So, what does this all mean? It means that you need to know how to break down NFL matchups as well as the spread if you expect to make any money as a bettor. How much can you make? Well, that depends on the size of your wager, but very few people make a living wagering on NFL games. Top handicappers hit about 60 percent of their games, which covers the juice (casino's take) and an extra 5 percent or so.
14) Those who make money usually do it early in the season. Why?

The oddsmakers are similar to the average fan at the beginning of the season, meaning that they don't yet know how good each team is. As the season progresses, opening lines become more accurate and you will see your win percentage fall.

No other sport is wagered on as much as football, and no other sport is harder to handicap. Knowing how to analyze teams and trends and avoiding common pitfalls is the only way to come out ahead by the end of the season.

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