The key to sports betting of any kind is finding as much value as possible amongst the posted lines. Calculating the expected value and ensuring that it results in a positive outcome for you, the bettor, is essential to finding and sustaining success. When it comes to betting on the NFL, there are several steps to take to uncover value. This article offers an introduction to expected value in sports betting, specific things to consider when it comes to finding NFL betting value, and how to translate numerical power rankings and calculations into NFL point spread betting value.
Sports Betting Expected Value Overview
Losing money isn’t fun for anyone. For every great sports betting success story, there are a hundred brutal defeats. To give yourself the best possible chance of coming out on the right side of the winner-loser spectrum, a basic understanding of math, probability, and value is necessary.
Expected value is abbreviated by the letters “EV”. By definition, expected value when it pertains to sports betting is the measure of what a bettor can expect to win or lose per bet placed on the same odds repeatedly. If a bet is projected to leave the bettor with a deficit, the expected value of placing such a bet is said to be negative (-EV). On the flip side, when the anticipated value of placing a bet figures to turn out positive in the long run, this is said to be a positive expected value (+EV).
Betting with positive EV will result in a profitable betting venture in the long run. It is important to remember that expected value projects the outcomes of making the same wager repeatedly over time. Making +EV bets does not always guarantee that the bet will turn up a winner every time. In a similar vein, -EV bets aren’t always guaranteed to lose either. But if you consistently place wagers that offer poor expected value over time, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Knowing that the math is in your favor to eventually make a profit, even if that means losing here and there in the short term, +EV bets are considered to be a sports bettor’s best friend.
Calculating Expected Value
The key components to have handy for calculating expected value are the amount of the wager, the odds (in Decimal form), and the win/loss probabilities for the bet. There is any number of online odds and value calculators to help with this process and allows you to implement American odds. If you choose to do the calculation by hand, the formula is quite simple:
Expected Value in Action
A good old-fashioned coin flip is the simplest way to exemplify expected value calculations. Suppose a casino is willing to pay a bettor an $11 payout for winning bets of $10 on either heads or tails. This scenario would have an EV of 0.5. For every $10 wager made, the bettor would expect to make a $0.50 profit. While winnings might not be realized right away, if the bet were to be placed several times, the bettor should expect to profit given that the potential winnings are greater than the amount wagered and that a coin flip is a 50-50 proposition. This is a +EV wager.
In contrast, if the casino only offered the bettor a $9 return for the same $10-coin flip wager, the EV would be -0.5. Even if the bettor were able to correctly predict the coin flip and win early on, if the same process was repeated long term, the bettor would be losing $0.50 every time since the $10 wager is more than the potential winnings of $9. This would be a -EV bet.
Finding NFL Betting Value
When it comes to NFL handicapping specifically, there is any number of things to be conscious of when trying to find positive EV amongst the lines. The following sections detail strategies to implement and things to keep in mind that can help you gain a tactical value advantage on the sportsbooks.
Know Public Betting Habits
The NFL is extremely popular amongst the betting public. As a result, the sheer volume of bets that sportsbooks take on the NFL can cause some errors in the lines, leading to strong value opportunities for the astute bettor. While the list of public betting trends and habits is lengthy, the following are some of the crucial areas to consider when it comes to finding NFL betting value.
The phenomenon of public teams occurs in every sport, with the NFL being no exception. Put simply, the more popular and recognizable a team is, the more public money they will attract. Popularity can be due to several factors, including on-field success, a recognizable brand, a storied history, and the presence of one or more marquee stars on the roster. The following are considered the ten most public teams in 2020, based on social media research done by WSN. When it comes to finding betting value, these would be the teams most likely to be overvalued on the market in any given week.
Another long-standing trend of the betting public is to overvalue homefield advantage. Accounting for the advantage gained by teams playing a game on their home field is a necessary part of NFL handicapping, but the true impacts of playing at home are widely overvalued. Most bettors have likely heard that home field is worth 3 points on a game’s point spread. In actuality, the value of home field is less, and in some cases much less. The following is a list of NFL team homefield advantages that were calculated for the 2019 season. The values were calculated by averaging the scoring advantages (or lack thereof) of playing at home compared to on the road that each team experienced over the five preceding seasons. The three categories used were points scored, points allowed, and winning margins. You’ll see that no team has a homefield advantage greater than or even equal to 3.
The tendency of the public to bet with a recency bias cannot be understated when it comes to finding NFL betting value. If a team throttles an opponent the week before the game you are looking to bet, there is a very real likelihood that the line will be overinflated based on the public’s reaction to such a dominant victory. It is important to remember that NFL betting is a week-to-week affair. While sharp bettors can learn from past results, they also aren’t exact predictors of the future.
Similar to in-season results, teams can also be overvalued coming into a season based on player and personnel moves. While it is true that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a lot of high-profile moves this offseason, including signing free agent quarterback Tom Brady, it is highly debatable as to whether they now warrant the fifth-shortest Super Bowl odds on the board.
Monitor Injury Reports
The violent nature of the sport of football makes injuries a key component of NFL handicapping. Staying on top of injury reports and inactive lists throughout the week leading up to a game and also on the day of the game itself can go a long way in helping you find the best betting value possible. In some cases where the health of a key player is in question, most sportsbooks will pull the game right off the board until clarity is established. Even so, there are still plenty of opportunities to use injury information to your advantage.
Twitter is a great resource for helping one stay up to date on the latest injury news and alerts. With such an emphasis placed on actives and inactives in Fantasy Football, you must find a reliable source to reference for this information. Lineups.com has updated injury information throughout the season.
Study Positional Matchups
While football is a team game, several individual-level position battles are going on with every snap. Combing through rosters in detail can help you find potential strengths and weaknesses that certain teams will have in positional matchups for a specific game. While referencing statistics and data is the best way to account for true performance advantages, you can also compare positional advantages using a surface-level approach by knowing which positions are most influential to team success. Quarterback, edge rusher, and left tackle are widely considered to be the three most important positions on an NFL team. If one team has a significant advantage over their opponent at any of those three positions, you can often account for this in your handicapping process without even having to get bogged down in endless statistics.
Shop the Lines
Shopping the lines is a must for any type of NFL or sports betting. Even if you find a number that you really like at one sportsbook, it never hurts to check around. Falling in line with the theme of +EV bets, you want to ensure that you get the absolute best odds for the wager you are attempting to make. Odds that lean further in your favor on the same bet will only increase your +EV and your likelihood for profit. Do not limit yourself!
Numerical Techniques for Finding NFL Betting Value
In addition to the strategies listed above, numerical power rankings and modeling provide NFL bettors with another great way of finding the best +EV opportunities amongst the available lines. This section will cover how the Pythagorean Formula, discussed in greater detail as it relates to calculating NFL season win totals HERE, can help with finding value amongst weekly NFL game lines.
Pythagorean Formula and Spread Value
Bettors can use calculated Pythagorean win totals to implement a numerical point spread handicapping method for each week of the NFL season. For a given matchup, you want to compare the Pythagorean projected win totals of the two teams. Each half win is worth 1 spread point. For example, a team with a projected win total of 9 would be favored by 3 points on the spread over a team with a win total of 7.5.
After this initial spread is calculated, the next step is to account for homefield advantage. There are many ways to do this. The best way is to come up with some form of projecting how valuable the home field is to each specific team, as this varies around the NFL.
Once you have determined the value of home field for the game, you must either add or subtract this from the previously generated win totals spread. If the home team is originally favored, the homefield advantage that they will receive is simply added on to the existing spread. If the road team is originally favored, the advantage that the home team will get must be subtracted from the original spread. Depending on the size of the original spread and homefield advantage, this can sometimes cause the home team to become a favorite after starting as the underdog.
The final step is to compare the calculated point spread with the one being offered at your sportsbook of choice. A greater discrepancy from the line signals a greater betting advantage based on the Pythagorean ratings. A smaller discrepancy indicates that the Pythagorean ratings agree with the posted line. The image below looks at this process playing out for three games from the 2019 NFL season.
Note that relying solely on numerical handicapping strategies is ill-advised. There are many things that numbers cannot take into effect. Refer to the NFL Win Totals Betting HERE article for more on this subject.
Expected value is one of the pillars of sports and NFL betting. While it may not always guarantee that a wager will pan out, bettors who make picks with +EV are much more likely to generate a profit in the long run. When it comes to finding NFL betting value, there are several things to consider. Public betting habits and trends, injury reports, and positional matchups that might yield an advantage or disadvantage are among those things at the top of the list. The importance of shopping the lines at different sportsbooks to get the best of a number can also not be understated. Finally, bettors who choose to deploy numerical handicapping techniques such as the Pythagorean formula can construct their own point spreads for NFL games. Comparing these calculated lines to those on the market is a great way to find potential NFL betting value. While committing to betting with +EV as a focal point takes time and effort, your work will undoubtedly be rewarded over time. After all, math and probability say so.