Steven Clinton, also known to BeerLife Sports fans as “The Professor”, is an expert quantitative modeler and former college football researcher at his alma mater of Northwestern, where he broke down film for the Wildcats.
#1: Have your own numbers before you shop
If you walk into (or log into) a sportsbook, there are going to be many attractive options on the board. Why? Because unless you are exceptionally fortunate, the people running the book are not idiots, and if you do luck into that situation, the book isn’t going to be in business long.
When it comes to betting on the NFL, it is rare that you are going to find a line that you believe is “off” by a significant margin. The bulk of your bets will come on the margins, perhaps a half-point on a spread, or ten yards on a quarterback passing yards prop.
Because these margins are normally tight, it is important to have your numbers ready before you start to shop. If you don’t, you’re going to find an awful lot of numbers that appear attractive on the surface (and you’ll often find promo prices that make an offer seem fantastic) but if you don’t have a valuation on what the price should be, you’re at the mercy of marketing.
A useful comparison is shopping for clothes on sale. If a $100 shirt is 50% off, it may seem like a great deal if you haven’t decided what you think the value of the shirt should, but if you decided the shirt was worth $25 to you before looking at the price tag, you wouldn’t want to buy it at either price.
Don’t look at the deal. Look at the value.– The Professor
#2: Shop around different sportsbooks
I cannot personally confirm this, but there are many stories of “line grinders” who make their living in Vegas going from casino to casino to compare odds and placing bets based on inefficiencies they find in the market.
The reality is there is no “correct” line. In general, the sportsbook is going to try to balance their action and make their money off the “juice.” Sportsbooks don’t want to be in the business of betting on one side or the other. That’s why you’ll hear a large bet “moved the line.” After taking a large bet, the book will adjust the line to encourage action to even that out.
That means that different casinos will have different odds on the same game, so if you have your own numbers, as we discussed in Item #1 above, you will be able to find slight advantages by shopping around. This is easier to do than ever in the era of online gambling, you can be at multiple sportsbooks at the same time, rather than driving from one to another. Save the planet and find yourself the best bet.
Marginal gains are incredibly important– The Professor
For the most part, this practice will simply allow you to bet at slightly better odds, but if you’re looking to make money in this business in the long term, those marginal gains are incredibly important. There is the rare case that the disparity in odds is such that there is a “middle”, or an opportunity to get odds on both sides of a bet such that you are guaranteed to win. This is a rare scenario and will usually lead to a limited profit because one of your two bets is going to lose, but as Jon Gruden once told Andrew Luck in his QB Camp in his ESPN days, “You can’t go broke making a profit.”
The one caveat to this is that you also want to be aware of promotions and bonuses at each casino. I settle the difference by using two preferred sportsbooks that offer better bonuses for my action if I can’t get an edge elsewhere, but I’m not a fan of giving away percentage points in a game played on the margins.
#3: Know the weather
A recent example of how weather can be overlooked, by both pure football experts and gamblers, is the stretch of games the Cleveland Browns played in their home stadium in 2020 against the Las Vegas Raiders, Houston Texans, and Philadelphia Eagles. The point totals n those games were 22, 17, and 39, and in the Eagles game that featured 39 points, 7 points came off a pick-six and 2 came off of a safety.
There were two interesting storylines to follow as this took place. First, many NFL analysts were breaking down how Cleveland’s abnormally high run to pass ratio indicated that the Browns did not trust quarterback Baker Mayfield, and the Over Unders for these games were opening at relatively normal levels before dropping by notable margins in the run-ups to the game. Some bettors were catching on to what was happening as kickoff approached, but in many cases, it was too late.
when I read that semis are getting blown over on I-80 in Ohio and the experts predict the conditions will persist all week, I’m looking to get early bets in on the under.– The Professor
The reason this was all happening is that the wind conditions were so severe that passes were getting knocked around by the air and blown off course. Yes, the Browns didn’t trust Mayfield to throw at a high volume in these games, but given that the same thing was happening to the opponent quarterback, it’s hard to say that was a Baker problem. Heck, even Deshaun Watson, who put together a brilliant 2020 campaign, led his team to all of 7 points and threw for only 163 yards in his trip to Cleveland. And as the opposing defense knew that the offenses they faced couldn’t throw the ball, they were able to focus more effort on stopping the run.
There are all kinds of ways to account for this: if you wanted to go the modeling route, you could add weather data as a predictor variable, or you could do some research and establish thresholds for when wind, rain, and snow become significant enough to shut down offensive play. It’s not a perfect science, as weather forecasts aren’t perfect, but when I read that semis are getting blown over on I-80 in Ohio and the experts predict the conditions will persist all week, I’m looking to get early bets in on the under.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this NFL betting advice. Make sense? Makes no sense? Or do you have a better set of rules you swear by?
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.