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Getting a Leg Up On Betting The 2013-14 NFL Season

Getting a Leg Up On Betting The 2013-14 NFL Season

Getting a Leg Up On Betting The 2013-14 NFL Season
By Teddy Covers

I’m writing this column over Memorial Day Weekend, nearly two and a half months before the NFL preseason kicks off with the Hall of Fame Game on August 4th and a full three and a half months before the start of the regular season.  And yet NFL betting numbers for the upcoming campaign are becoming more and more widely available; once again proving quite clearly that the NFL is King when it comes to sports betting.

The single most profitable set of wagers that I’ve found in my 15 years as a professional bettor living in Las Vegas are NFL Season Win totals.  Super Bowl odds, and odds to win divisions or conferences only give bettors one choice – betting ON a particular team.  Then that team has to beat out all of their competition to win the division/conference/Super Bowl for you to cash, offering big payday longshot returns, but cashing a very low percentage of the wagers that are made.

NFL Season Win totals, on the other hand, offer bettors the opportunity to bet AGAINST teams from a macro perspective.  And with win totals, you don’t have to worry about the competition, even when betting Overs.  For example, the Seahawks didn’t win their division last year; unable to get past mighty San Francisco.  They didn’t win the NFC or the Super Bowl.  But they cashed every Over ticket that was bet on their season wins, with their 11-5 campaign offering a "no sweat" positive return on investment (ROI)for a team lined at 7 or 7.5 wins prior to the season.

Other sports offer win totals, but they’re not as easy to beat.  College football win totals often come down to one or two key pick ‘em type games that will determine a team’s fate for the season.  And you can’t find win totals for every team; just the ones that various books decide to post.  NBA and MLB win totals involve much longer seasons, giving teams much more time to morph from where they were when the season began, especially when it comes to in-season trades.

This is not to say that there aren’t profitable opportunities betting college football, MLB or NBA season win totals – there are plenty!  But NFL win totals take the cake.  The books have little wiggle room when setting a number because of the short 16 game schedule.  There’s virtually no in-season trading, leaving injuries as the primary morphing catalyst.  And you can handicap depth effectively over the summer months, identifying teams with potentially significant injury concerns at key positions.

My goal here is not to tout how successful I’ve been with this particular type of wager – I don’t write this column each week to blow my own horn.  Instead, I’m willing to share my secrets to success.  Over the course of the long, hot summer months, I’ll be writing a whole series of articles detailing my entire process.

I’m writing it now because as the market matures earlier and earlier each year, bettors who don’t get their NFL work done until August face a significant disadvantage.  Well, that and the fact that bettors start dreaming about the NFL at this time of year – quality NFL content always gets hits over the summer months.

Step 1 of my process involves a thorough accounting of exactly what happened last year.  The betting markets start with last year’s results as their base point.  They look at final records and standard strength of schedule models in an attempt to ascertain whether those results were based on how good or bad a team actually was, or whether the final records were unduly influenced by a particularly tough or weak slate of opponents.

Those conventional models just add up the combined records of every opponent a team faced to come up with their strength of schedule.  Those models will tell you that the Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Bengals and Falcons played the five easiest schedules in the league last year, and the Cardinals, Rams, Jaguars, Lions and Cowboys played the five toughest slates.

That’s not my process.  A team’s final win-loss record tells us nothing about how good they actually were at the time the game was played.  There were some enormous in-season power rating shifts last year, just as there are every year.  If you faced the Redskins during their 3-6 start, you faced a fairly weak team.  If you faced the Redskins during their 7-0 run to close out the regular season, you faced a fairly strong team.  The easy, conventional method computes both versions of Washington as the exact same squad. 

The Redskins are but one example.  Seattle was a very different team in December than they were in September.  So was Detroit.  Remember when Arizona was 4-0 to open the season last year, including wins over the Seahawks and Patriots?  They were playing good ball; a confident, well executing team before the bottom dropped out at the QB position.  What an enormous difference if you faced the Cardinals in November or December, as they closed out the season on a 1-11 slide, losing seven of those games by two TD’s or more. 

Carolina opened the season with a 3-9 mark, but they were a much better team in December when they won each of their last four games.  Did you face the Steelers when Big Ben Roethlisberger was healthy or when Byron Leftwich was behind center?  Did you face the Giants during their 6-2 start or their 3-5 down-the-stretch collapse?

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.  The aggregate numbers for last year’s strength of schedule -- the starting point for any analysis of the upcoming 2013 campaign – can be extremely misleading.

So here’s what I do.  I go back to my 2012 spread sheet that details my power rating numbers on a weekly basis from last year.  Then I go through the schedule, using my numbers for every squad on the week the game was played!  Using that formula, you’ll get some VERY different results than the ones I listed above (Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Bengals and Falcons as exceptionally easy, while the Cardinals, Rams, Jaguars, Lions and Cowboys  were exceptionally tough).

I also discount Week 17 results.  Some teams had quit on their coach and their season, other teams were resting starters and other teams were playing their guts out to try to reach the postseason.  Power rating models for the final week of the regular season are inherently flawed – that’s why we see enormous line moves that week on a yearly basis.

My personal power rating strength of schedule numbers tell a different story than the conventional methodology.  The New York Giants faced single toughest schedule from last year based on my numbers on the weeks the games were played.  The Saints weren’t far behind.  Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee, Baltimore and St. Louis all faced abnormally tough slates.

On the easy side, the Colts, Texans and Bengals all stood out; by far the three easiest schedules in the league.  Miami, Atlanta and San Diego also had much easier than average slates.  In my next column, I’ll write about the next step in the process – identifying accurate strength of schedule numbers for 2013.

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