This week we’re taking another break from our regularly scheduled programming and fading the “To Fade or Not” article. See what I did there?… Instead, we’ll take a look at the many lessons I’ve learned over the first eight weeks of this NFL season.
Sports betting may be the only industry where losing 45% of the time is acceptable. In fact, you can earn a living by winning 55% of your bets with proper bankroll management and unit allocation. At the same time, those losses can teach us about what we got wrong, what we got right, and where exceptional variance occurred. Let’s take a look at all three.
- Bet on fewer games earlier in the season: Through the first six weeks of the NFL season, yours truly was averaging approximately 20 bets per week. Maybe it was a dash of overconfidence or maybe I perceived I had an early edge in more cases than I really did. Either way, my bankroll had too much exposure.
The volatility we’re seeing overall this year in the NFL feels historic, but it still doesn’t compare to the first few weeks of the NFL season. Early on, every team plays under the assumption that their squad has a shot at winning the Super Bowl. Motivation doesn’t wane. New coaches and players on new teams are anxious to break out and show the world what they can do. At the same moment, all of these characters are adjusting to the routines of another 18-game schedule. For coaches and players, life is both exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.
This season’s Thursday night opening game — the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams against the favorite to win this year’s title, the Buffalo Bills — featured seven turnovers. The other participant in last year’s championship game, the Cincinnati Bengals, were bested in overtime by a team that totaled only 267 yards. The Bengals were at home, and they turned it over five times.
Anticipating a level of variance through every week of an NFL season is important. Anticipating a greater amount of variance in the first few weeks is essential. Next year I’ll practice more judiciousness and limit my plays and my bet sizes early.
- Restrict the teams you view as elite: Part of the unpredictable nature of the current NFL season is how evenly matched most teams are. At this point, it’s evident that only the Philadelphia Eagles, Bills, and Kansas City Chiefs can be considered “elite.” In my opinion, the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Dallas Cowboys are right on the edge of that designation.
We all know that underdogs are thriving this year. In fact, dogs are still covering at 56.7% ATS, so this season might be more of an anomaly than most. Regardless, I wagered on too many favorites who weren’t up to the task.
One of the first things any experienced NFL bettor teaches is to find value on underdogs every week. Dogs come with inherent value to a degree, because they don’t need to win the game to earn us money. Some early bets where I floundered and underestimated the ability of the underdog: the Rams (-10.5) in Week 2 against the Falcons; the Vikings (-6) in Week 3 against the Lions; the 49ers (-1.5) in Week 3 at Denver; the Chiefs (-7) in Week 5 against the Raiders.
- Mike McCarthy is a damn good ATS coach: I’m a Giants fan and I don’t always like to admit it, but Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy is absolutely the brand of coach you want to bet your money on. Whether he’s a genius in the Xs and Os department or not, he can clearly get his men to play hard for him. Dan Quinn and his masterful construction and play-calling of their defense is certainly a part of that.
As the Cowboys’ head coach, McCarthy is 19-7 (73%) ATS. That’s astounding. This year, he’s 6-2 ATS, which is tied for the best ATS record in football. Enough said.
- Avoid betting on Carson Wentz from here on: I consider myself a sharp evaluator of quarterbacks. Before it was sexy, I called the eventual downfall on Baker Mayfield without an elite offensive line (like he had in Cleveland). Before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon, I knew that Joe Burrow had competitiveness and moxie to become one of the NFL’s premiere franchise quarterbacks.
But I’ve been off about Carson Wentz. Watching him on the mid-season Hard Knocks show last year, I perceived something was off. He just doesn’t have the same fire and leadership intangibles you’d want in your starting QB. But I overlooked some of that because of his physical abilities. I watched him slice and dice the Giants’ defense on more than one occasion when he was a Philadelphia Eagle. I witnessed him almost single-handedly take over a game and will the ball downfield for a win.
That didn’t last after he left Philadelphia. Whether it is detachment from the team or he’s simply uncomfortable on his new squad, his time with the Commanders has been riddled with bad decision-making and errant throws. What’s more, the Commanders were not covering ATS with Wentz at quarterback. They were 2-4 ATS, and both wins came against two of the NFL’s worst teams (Chicago, Jacksonville).
With Taylor Heinicke at QB, the Commanders are 2-0 straight up and ATS, and that was against highly competitive teams in the Packers and Colts. The Washington offense has become instantly more efficient, and the players appear to be fighting harder. Tickle me, not surprised.
- Bet on what you know, not on what you think: Too many times this season, I bet on situations and teams that I had less handle on. Why? I don’t know. As a handicapper, sometimes we take on wagers just because we want to feel sharp. It’s some sort of weird epidemic among our community, as if winning at a high rate isn’t enough. Nope — we need to win the bets that others are too scared to take. It’s not a wise method, and in the long run, it’ll bring down your record and profit tremendously.
Early in the season, I had the Chargers, Raiders, Jaguars, Commanders, and Rams written down as teams I shouldn’t try to bet on or bet against. They just didn’t make a lot of sense from where I was sitting. All of those outfits had reasons to believe in them, particularly for how much talent they had this season, yet every one of them was perpetually disappointing. Apparently I lost my notes or discarded them all together, because I wasn’t paying much attention to a very self-aware assessment early on. Here are some of my more egregious errors this year, betting on these teams when I didn’t know enough about the way it would play out. Maybe you can benefit from my transgressions:
- Raiders (+3.5), with a brand-new coach, against the Chargers in Week 1
- Jaguars (+3), again with a brand-new coach, against the Commanders in Week 1
- Commanders (+6.5 and +4.5) against the Eagles in Week 3
- Commanders (yup, again, +3.5) against the Cowboys in Week 4
- Rams (+7.5 in a teaser) against the 49ers (who OWN McVay) in Week 4
- Raiders (-1.5) against the Saints in Week 8 (insert eye-rolling emoji)
In most cases, unless there’s a significant disparity in power ratings or a faulty line given by the sportsbook, you’re better off avoiding teams that you really can’t predict. In games where I bet on or against the Giants for example, I’m 6-1 ATS this season. Stick to what you know and throw out the rest — you’re guessing more than you think.