Sports Betting 101: Best Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for NFL Betting

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Set yourself up to win when betting the NFL by following advice from a successful sports bettor (photo credit: Imagn/USA TODAY Sports)

What are the best strategies for betting on the NFL? What are some tips to make you a better NFL handicapper? How can you win more wagering betting on the NFL? We’ll aim to answer all of those questions in this article, with help from expert sports bettor J.J. Apricena.

Setting Yourself Up with a Yearly Goal

You’ve heard the phrase “keep it simple, stupid.” Here we’re going to talk about how to “keep it realistic.” Set a realistic betting goal for the NFL season. Apricena suggests to keep things to the regular season and to work toward a goal of winning 20 units.

Before you go thinking that 20 units isn’t enough, you should hear out the example that Apricena runs through because it gives you a good idea of what realistic means.

There are 256 games to bet on during the NFL regular season. Let’s say you bet on half of those, so you’ve got action on 128 games. If your goal is to hit 60%, that’s 77 wins and 51 losses against the spread (ATS). If you’re betting in units of $1,000, you’re going to win $77,000 and lose $56,100 (betting $1,100 to win one $1,000 units). That’s a difference of $20,900, so nearly 21 units won on the season. That’s a really good result and something to be proud of. Don’t believe people when they tell you that 60% isn’t a high enough win rate or winning 20 units in a season is too low. Remember, keep it realistic.

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Be Comfortable with Your NFL Betting

For Apricena, his NFL-betting comfort zone means betting five games each week. That’s what he suggests for you. Although one can certainly tailor a comfort level to his own individual needs and wants, but Apricena stresses that you should not bet more than five games per week.

Apricena finds what he believes to be the best five edges on the weekly slate and bets on those games. Four of the games, Apricena bets one unit on each. For the fifth game, he bets two units. That means Apricena is betting six units per week over the course of 17 weeks for a total of 102 units wagered. Apricena says that his goal is to go 60% on the single-unit plays and 65% on the double-unit plays, putting more emphasis on games that have two units bet on them.

Overall, between setting yourself up with a yearly goal and correctly assessing your comfort level, it’s important to have a plan when betting an NFL season and to stick to that plan. Think big picture and don’t live week to week.

Use Two-Sided Lines When Handicapping the NFL

According to Apricena, it’s important to set a line for both sides of a game. He goes over some examples of how to do this and ultimately tells us that if we’re not using the logic of developing two-sides lines then we are selling ourselves short when it comes to handicapping. You should be able to come up with enough adequate reasons to bet the opposite side of a game. If you can’t, then just avoid the game altogether.

Use the Media To Your Advantage

We see it time and time again. The media hypes one team and dumps on another, and those narratives, the headlines, drive public sentiment. This is information that you can and should use to your advantage.

One good example of how hype can be driven by media is through HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ series. Every season that ‘Hard Knocks’ is produced, the team that is featured gets a lot of extra love. It’s the show’s goal to be exciting and entertaining and get your amped up for football season. That’s media-driven hype that is supposed to make you feel better about a team than you should. Recognize situations like these and act accordingly.

Using the media to your advantage when betting sports is heightened exponentially when betting on the NFL. The NFL is the league that gets the most coverage, by far, so there is a greater volume of media driving positive or negative storylines. The NFL has a rather short season in terms of volumes of games, so it can be very volatile. Don’t add to this volatility by perceiving things irrationally.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

You’ve likely heard the story about the tortoise and the hare, right? Just like in that race, the race on the NFL betting scene can be won with a slow and steady approach to it. With as much attention as the NFL gets every single week during the season, both from a fan and public perspective and from a media perspective, it’s easily to let yourself swing like a pendulum, as Apricena says it, weekly. You’re high on a team one week, then the next week you’re out on them, but then the week after that you’re back in.

In a week-to-week league with a 17-week regular season, there is going to be a lot of variance. Understand that. Accept that. Once you do, you can recognize that you should gradually adjust your perception of each team rather than sway one way or another dramatically. Approaching your NFL handicapping with a slow and steady approach will put you in a better position to win.

Build Your Own Power Rankings

It’s important to have your own power rankings for the NFL, just as was suggested by Apricena when it comes to betting on college football. The reason is that you want a way to be able to judge between good, mediocre, and bad teams. Having a ranking system allows you to better compare teams against one another.

When it comes to power rankings, there are plenty of lists out there already, but it’s important to do your own. If you want to use another list as your foundation, that’s fine, but it’s important to work through a process of developing your own system to rank the teams and adjust them accordingly. Remember, adjust your rankings gradually rather than dramatically.

With your own power ranking system in place, you can use these rankings to compare the lines Vegas or another sportsbook is providing. This is how you will best find your edges.

Don’t Get Lazy

Like anything you want to succeed with in life, you’re not going to want to get lazy in the process. That’s the entire process from start to finish. Work hard and do not get lazy. Don’t just wake up on Sunday morning, run over the games, and fire in some bets. Start your process earlier in the week by adjusting your power rankings from the week before, then start looking at injury reports from every team to see who is in, who is out, and who could be affected. Read the news and follow the media to see where the public narrative is being driven. Check in with teams and lines on a daily basis.

All of these things matter. It’s not easy betting on the NFL. It’s the sport and league that gets the most attention from a betting perspective, so sportsbooks won’t be getting lazy because that’s how they get hammered. You also don’t want to get lazy. They say luck with when preparation meets opportunity, so prepare yourself as best you can to be in the best position possible in order to take advantage of an opportunity.

Don’t Chase Your Losses

This is something that applies to every sport, not just the NFL, but it’s a practice that is even more important when it comes to betting on the NFL. The uniqueness of the weekly NFL schedule has games regularly on Sunday night and Monday night. If you’re sticking to betting five games a week, as Apricena suggests, don’t chase on Sunday or Monday night if those games weren’t already ones you pegged as good value.

It’s easy to go 1-4 during the day on Sunday and then try want to chase your losses on Sunday night. Remember to stick to the process you laid out ahead of time. Sticking to the process over the course of the season will help you best reach your goal.

Teasers, Parlays, and Buying Points

When it comes to the NFL, there are tons and tons of bets you can make each week. There are also a wide variety of types of bets you can make. You’ll often hear of people talking about teasers, parlays, or buying points.

When it comes to buying points, the simple rule is to just not do it. If buying points was advantageous for the NFL bettor, the sportsbooks would likely not allow it. You’re paying up for a better number, but you’re paying to much.

For teasers, Apricena suggests that if you do it, you stick to key numbers and two teams and only do it rarely.

Parlays, as Apricena refers to them, are the ultimate temptation. He also refers to parlays as “thorns in a bankroll.” If you want to make money betting sports longterm, don’t bet parlays. The prices you’re getting don’t line up to what they should really be and you’re going to be losing in the long run.

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