Succeeding at sports gambling, as you hopefully know, is all about understanding and interpreting numbers. You want to know what bets give you the best chance of winning so that over time you win more money than you lose. Obviously, reading and understanding betting lines and various statistics is essential. But sometimes, the numbers you don’t see are just as important as the numbers you do see.

Professional gamblers, also known as sharps, understand this better than casual wagerers. It’s part of what makes them sharps. Being able to see things from their perspective can give you a distinct advantage when it comes to choosing what games to play and how to play them.

Understanding Key Numbers

When it comes to betting on football, both NFL and college, it’s important to understand how so-called key numbers factor into bets. The key numbers in football are most often identified as 3, 7, and 10. Scoring in football is most frequently done either 3 points at a time or 7 points at a time. Thus, the most common margins of victory are 3, 7, and 10. In college football, there can be a greater discrepancy in talent level, making scoring margins of 14, 17, 21, etc. more common. But for the most part, 3, 7, and 10 are the key numbers when it comes to football betting.

One thing you should be looking for is point spreads that are a half point below these key numbers. For instance, a spread of 2.5 points for an NFL game. When you see a betting line like this, it often indicates that professional gamblers are not a fan of the team that’s favored to win. The sharps will either pass or lean toward the underdog.

If you see a line staying stagnant at 2.5 points (or 6.5 or 9.5), it likely means betting experts have decided not to bet heavily on the favorite. Had the sharps jumped on the bandwagon of the favorite, the line would have moved off 2.5 and been pushed to 3, 3.5, 4, or higher.

In most instances, if the line stays at 2.5 points, the sharps will decide to pass. However, if public betting on the side of the favorite is enough to push the line from 2.5 to 3 (or 6.5 to 7, as another example), sharps are likely to start moving all-in on the underdog. This is why you don’t want to put money on the favorite if the line is holding steady half a point below a key number. You need to trust that the sharps have a method to their madness.

You need to trust that the sharps have a method to their madness. Here it is. For a line of 2.5, stats show 51% in favor of the underdog and 49% for the favorite. This isn’t enough of a difference to cover your vigorish for the games that you end up losing. Over time, betting games with a 2.5point spread won’t pay off. But when the line is bumped up to 3 points (or another key number), there’s a 6% push rate. This changes the underdog to 51% and favorite to 43%. This is a small but significant difference. Over time, betting on the underdog with these odds should give you more wins than losses.

So, the moral of the story is if the sharps are passing on a game until the line bumps up to a key number, you should do the same. If a key number isn’t part of the betting line, it’s essential that you understand why and how to respond.

Early Season Games

Betting on football games early in the season can be problematic. Much like key numbers, you need to look at what’s not there. Early in the season, we lack information about a team’s home and road splits, their strength of schedule, and even the health of a team. We’re also flying blind when it comes to the potential emergence or growth of young players, especially young quarterbacks. For example, will players like Jared Goff or Trevor Siemian be substantially better in their second year as a starter? This is the kind of uncertainty that can plague betters early in the season.

For this reason, in-season stats during the first few weeks of a season are less important than they will be later in the year. One good game by a team can sway league stats significantly, potentially fooling gamblers who don’t know what stats to take with a grain of salt. There may be stats that are unsustainable over the course of a full season that will eventually even out of the course of the season.

For example, the Carolina Panthers are allowing just three points per game. Do the Panthers the greatest defense in league history? Probably not. Instead, Carolina likely has a solid defense that has benefited from playing the 49ers and Bills, two teams that figure to have below-average offenses. When the Panthers play a team that has a decent offense, they are sure to give up more than three points, causing their defensive stats to balance out.

This is the challenge with early season games. You have to look deeper at the numbers that the betting market is missing. For example, are there similarities between a team’s next opponent and their previous opponent. If not, then most of a team’s season stats will be unhelpful, or even worse, misleading.

This is what makes early season betting so difficult. If you can’t find numbers that are below the surface and hidden from everyone else, it may be best to pass until you have more information and can make an informed betting decision. Remember, betting is all about interpreting numbers, so if you can’t interpret the right numbers, you shouldn’t be betting.

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