1) Higher Scoring Is Bad News for Underdogs
Fans love scoring, and scoring has been on the rise every year since 2009, when the league started cracking down on helmet-to-helmet blindside hits. The impact of rising numbers affects the underdog. As the points per game go up, so does the likelihood that the favourite will be able to cover the spread. Chalk was definitely the better choice last year at 139-122-5 ATS, or 53.3%. Bet those favourites at home, and they were even more profitable at 93-78-4 ATS (54.4%).
2) Be Prepared to Bet on Last Season’s Losers
You hear it a thousand times a day: Buy low, sell high. And NFL teams don’t get any lower than the Houston Texans. They finished dead last in the 2013 standings at 2-14, a terrible fall from grace after winning back-to-back AFC South division titles. Handicappers who didn’t sell high on the Texans last year saw their bankrolls emptied at 4-12 against the spread.
3) Watch for West Coast Teams in Early Games
The NFL’s West Coast teams bring a lot of betting value to the table. There is, however, one situation where they’ve struggled: early afternoon games on the opposite coast. That’s early afternoon Eastern Time, which happens three hours sooner than it does in the Pacific Time Zone. Imagine having to prepare for an NFL game that starts at 10 in the morning.
4) Beware of the Surprise Quarterback
Just four years ago, Josh McCown was playing quarterback in the United Football League. But the veteran journeyman found a spot with the Chicago Bears in 2011 as Jay Cutler’s backup. When Cutler was injured last year, McCown kept Chicago’s playoff hopes alive with three wins in five starts. McCown’s 109.0 passer rating was miles ahead of his 77.5 career mark.
Now McCown has the starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But don’t expect the same kind of miracles he performed in Chicago – McCown has “regression to the mean” written all over him, and you can see it in his third-down conversion rates. Chase Stuart crunched the numbers and found that McCown was able to convert 46% of his third downs (27-of-59) last year despite facing an average distance of 7.3 yards. That works out to a conversion rate of 9.8% above expectation, ranking third in the NFL behind Peyton Manning (10.7%) and Philip Rivers (9.9%).
5) Ex-Coaches Get Their Revenge
Did you bet on the 2002 Oakland Raiders at Super Bowl XXXVII? You’re not alone. The Raiders were fan favourites that year, going 11-5 (10-6 ATS) during the regular season, and they were a very popular Super Bowl pick at –4 against the defensive-minded Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One problem: Tampa Bay had some inside information. Head coach Jon Gruden was in charge of the Raiders from 1998 to 2001, and he used his knowledge of Oakland’s playbook to guide Tampa Bay to a 48-21 victory.
These things happen in the NFL. Teams get rid of coaches all the time, but since there are only 16 games in a regular season, it’s not too often you end up facing the guy you just fired. Savvy handicappers look for these “revenge” situations – whether it’s a head coach or a co-ordinator who’s switched sides.