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Handicapping NFL Football

One mistake that a number of sports bettors make is in trying to handicap all sports the same. Each sport has its own distinct tendencies, including professional and college versions of the same sport, such as basketball and football. Handicapping college football the same way as one does the NFL typically doesn’t work for several reasons, while we’ll try to outline here.
As Phil Steele notes each week in his excellent Power Sweep football newsletter, there are three basic types of football handicapping; Fundamental, Situational, and Technical. We’ll look at each of the three and how they apply to the professional game, as well as give a few instances where they differ from the college game.

Fundamental Handicapping is what I refer to as Statistical Handicapping, which is the use of statistics, power ratings, and personnel match-ups to determine a selection. This type of handicapping is crucial for the NFL.

NFL teams play far fewer games than any of the other professional sport leagues, and theoretically at least, should be less prone to the emotional factors that take place in the other leagues. It’s easy to picture an NBA team not being up for all 82 games, but since an NFL team only plays 16 games and has a week between contests, there is no reason for the team not to be ready to play its best each week.

While there are a few spots where an NFL team could have a bit of a letdown, such as a big win over its primary rival or after a stretch of three or more consecutive conference games, for the most part, NFL teams will be ready to play each week.

Situational Handicapping This type of handicapping is much more significant in college football than the professional game, primarily due to the age of the players, as college players are more prone to peaks and valleys. Situational Handicapping includes letdowns, look-aheads, revenge games and non-mathematical systems.

Technical Handicapping Of all the handicapping factors, this one generally carries the less weight, as it generally makes no difference if Team A has covered five of their last six games as a road underdog of a touchdown or more, especially with the advent of free agency and players moving to different teams more than before.

Technical Handicapping does point to some coaching tendencies, so it shouldn’t be completely discarded, but it should never be the sole basis of making a wager.

The Total Package

Steele says that he uses a combination of 50-percent Fundamental Handicapping, 25-percent Situational Handicapping, and 25-percent Technical Handicapping in deriving at his selections, which has obviously worked well for him, as he runs probably the largest sports service in the country.
Personally, for the NFL, I use a 75-percent Fundamental (Statistical) Handicapping, 15-percent Situational Handicapping, and 10-percent Technical Handicapping breakdown, electing to give more weight to the predicted statistical output.

There is no right way or wrong way of handicapping, but there are right and wrong predictions. If you’re happy with your prediction results, there’s no need to change what you’re currently doing. If you would like to see your results improve, try altering your handicapping techniques a bit and see if your results improve.

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