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Handicapping Sports Betting

If you’re like a lot of sports bettors, you get through the dog days of summer just counting down until the start of the National Football League season.

Anticipation of those tense Sunday betting smorgasbords is enough to make anyone antsy.

Traditionally, the NFL is the toughest nut for sports bettors to crack. With a limited universe of teams, 32 under the new realignment plan for 2002, the glare of the media spotlight reduces opportunities for insiders to take advantage of exclusive info as they do in other sports.

But with the masses continuing to bet the NFL with religious-like fervor, there will always be opportunities for sharp bettors who are willing to do a little legwork to get an edge in recognizing early season indicators.

Those bettors whose database consists of the last game they saw, and who rely on trends from the Vince Lombardi era, make it easy for the rest of us. As a Gambling Online Magazine reader, we’ll assume you’re not a couch spud who bets every TV game, or a fan who automatically backs his home town team. In the NFL, some of the choicest pickings happen during the early season. That’s when Joe Sixpack is still using last year’s records, combined with a preseason blowout he saw to handicap his picks.

During the early going, astute players are ahead of the learning curve, anticipating what will happen based on shrewd observation and interpretation. Don’t keep waiting for the season to take shape. By then it is too late.

Be innovative and creative. Remember, we’re not simply looking for teams to bet on. We’re seeking out go-against teams as well. It is all part of the effort to squeeze out enough edges to slide past that break-even point of 52.38 percent in the war against the bookmaker’s 11-10 advantage. We frontload our betting during the early season, but let us stress that exhibition games are not part of the mix. There are lots of theories about these games, and we limit ourselves to small recreational plays.

Our rule of thumb is, when they play for real, we bet for real.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking your work is done just because you’ve completed your numbers. Information is always coming in, particularly as teams are in the process of jelling. Morale problems surface … there are suspensions … you must stay abreast of all this and monitor subsequent line adjustments. If you perceive an under-reaction or over-reaction by the public, then pounce. The window of opportunity doesn’t stay open for long.

Get past the hoopla and hype that teams engage in to sell tickets, and that the media uses to attract viewers. Reading between the lines, and making a different, more accurate interpretation of what is going on, will pay off handsomely.

Case in point: Last year’s Washington Redskins. Billionaire owner Dan Snyder hired high profile coach Marty Schottenheimer to erase the Norb Turner era and win a Super Bowl.

Notoriously whiney and selfish Jeff George was the QB Schottenheimer inherited. But instead of going out and finding a signal caller who would fit in with his system and drill sergeant demeanor, Marty stayed with George.

Bettors who saw through the self-serving rhetoric that came out of the ‘Skins camp were rewarded when they went against the team, which opened out of the gate at 0-4 S/U and against the spread (ATS).

This year, Marty has taken his act to San Diego, a young team that many feel has playoff potential. But sharp bettors will watch and see if this could be a strong go-against team during the early season. Schottenheimer has already announced the QB position is up for grabs via a competition between Doug Flutie and Drew Brees.

If Flutie, who is on the downside of a notable career, beats out Brees, a promising sophomore who showed flashes of being an NFL caliber quarterback during his rookie season, bet against the disheartened Chargers until the coaching staff sees the light.

A similar situation exists in the Jets camp. Vinnie Testaverde is a 38-year-old QB in his 16th campaign. To say he moves like Bernie Kosar in cement overshoes might be cruel, but it is also apt.

Second-year coach Herman Edwards will be paying close attention to progress shown by heir apparent Chad Pennington. Due either to injury or performance, the strong-armed kid out of Marshall will get the call early on.

Pennington to wide receiver Santana Moss, last year’s first pick in the draft, will become a popular combination. The replays will be all over ESPN. But, unless Edwards comes out and says Pennington is the QB at the start of training camp, the Jets are a go-against team during the early season.

Other early season go-against teams include:
Raiders. Al Davis’s inability to keep talented coaches negates all the progress Oakland made under the spirited and intensely competitive Jon Gruden. He and veteran QB Rich Gannon had a synergistic relationship that will not be replicated. Entering his 14th NFL campaign, Gannon’s performance takes a step backward.

Chicago Bears. Coach Dick Jauron got a remarkable 13-3 S/U and 11-4-1 ATS record out of last year’s edition of the Monsters of the Midway. But unless there is an upgrade at QB, the team’s potent defense will not be able to arrange for the same miracle victories the Bears enjoyed last year. Also, while its home park, Soldier Field, is renovated, the Bears will be playing the equivalent of 16 road games this year. It will take the early part of the season for the team to make an adjustment.

Here are some teams that offer early season value:
Cincinnati Bengals. Despite a S/U record of 6-10, the Bengals were a respectable 8-8 ATS. Look for the team to shed its moniker “Bungles” and have early season success behind a slashing, aggressive defense led by linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons. RB Corey Dillon is an established star performer who needs just a decent passing attack to become even more potent. Free agent acquisition Gus Frerotte should put pressure on incumbent Jon Kitna, and one of them could have a quality year.

Indianapolis Colts. Tony Dungy promises he has shed his conservatism and will take full advantage of his awesome offense, led by QB Payton Manning. RB Edgerrin James is fully recovered from his knee injury last year. This team has to overcome all the negativity of two head coaches, one who is no longer there, and one who is there and has changed his stripes. This will pay off during the early season for Colts backers.

In summary, this season you’re going to need to do your homework, follow your instincts, and hang up the phone if a man calls with the lock of the century.
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