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5 Obscure Factors to Remember When Betting on the NFL

Betting on football can be an incredibly rewarding hobby for handicappers, but it’s also one of the more unpredictable sports. With 11 athletes on both sides of the ball and sophisticated schemes in which every player impacts each of their teammate’s ability to perform their responsibilities, it can be a nightmare trying to isolate the stats and factors with the strongest correlations to winning. That said, it isn’t impossible to dramatically improve the accuracy of your predictions if you know where to look.

Before we get into the five obscure factors you probably haven’t considered when betting on the NFL, you should know that many of the more popular stats shared in the sports media are relatively useless for handicapping. Things like “win/loss records” and “total passing yardage” don’t provide bettors with enough context to help forecast results.

For example:
  • Casual fans frequently overrate the performances of quarterbacks who threw for over 300 yards in a contest. Such a stat-line may help your fantasy squad, but there’s no correlation between hitting that milestone and producing wins.

In this article, I wanted to share some factors and considerations you should keep in mind before visiting your favorite football betting sites. Most of these tips aren’t widely known or discussed by the media, meaning they should give you a solid edge against the public at the online sportsbooks. However, when it comes to the NFL, it takes more than studying data sets to know what’s going to happen next.

You need to know which statistics are worth studying and analyze specific matchups, both between the team’s playing styles and pairs of opposing players. For example, a franchise like the New England Patriots may exploit a particular defender’s weakness in coverage, giving them an advantage, even if most of the season-long stats suggest the other squad is better.

Unlike baseball—and to a lesser extent, basketball—football’s statistics are rarely predictive. They can show us specific trends without necessarily painting a clear picture of what will happen next. Nevertheless, if you know which numbers are worth paying attention to, and how to combine that information with an understanding of how to analyze matchups, you can significantly improve your chances of making a profit betting on football.

Let’s look at the most crucial stats and info you focus on to start football betting.

Net Passing Yards Per Pass Play

If there’s one statistic that’s proven its effectiveness at predicting teams’ success in the NFL, it’s their yards per pass attempt. This value does more than merely count a quarterback’s total yardage, it factors in the results of every play in which the offense dropped back to pass, including incompletions and sacks.

This stat is calculated by taking passing yards, minus the yardage lost from sacks, divided by the total number of dropbacks.

The very best offenses average between 7.0 and 8.5 yards per pass play. However, to get a clearer picture of how an entire team is performing, you also need to know how many yards per pass play the defense is allowing.

Once you have the numbers for both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, predicting a team’s actual ability is as simple as finding the difference between the two figures. The resulting value is called “net passing yards per pass play.”

Through six weeks of the 2019 NFL season, the seven teams with a positive differential greater than 1.0 have won 77.5% of their games. Meanwhile, the eight squads with a negative differential of one or worse have won only 27.27% of their contests.

At the time of writing this article, the two teams with the highest positive differentials for “net passing yards per pass play” are the San Francisco 49ers (3.1) and the New England Patriots (2.9). As such, it shouldn’t be any big surprise that they’re both undefeated through six weeks.

Year-to-Year Defensive Statistics Aren’t Stable

If you’ve ever played season-long fantasy football, you’re probably aware of the futility of drafting a defense before the last two rounds. Every year, people jump to take a dominant unit from the year before a few picks too early, only for them to fall short of expectations.

  • For some reason, even when most of the roster remains the same, the NFL’s defensive statistics from the previous season rarely give any indication of how they’ll perform in the upcoming campaign.
  • For some reason, fans of football frequently expect teams to either play the same or better. They rarely anticipate regression. Yet, history has shown us time and time again that this is a mistake.

Take the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars, for example. They fielded a dominating defense that carried them to the AFC Championship Game. Then, after returning just about the entire unit for 2018, they completely fell off, becoming a five-win team.

One reason for the significant variability between years is the massive impact turnovers have on wins and losses. The numbers show home teams with a positive turnover differential of one winning 73% of the time, while a differential of positive two raises that percentage to 86%.

Unfortunately, interceptions and fumbles are almost entirely unpredictable from season to season. Recovering fumbles, for example, is mostly a matter of luck, depending on how the ball bounces. So, you may be tempted to use last year’s turnover numbers to predict which defenses will excel in the upcoming campaign. But that would be a mistake.

Quarterback Hits – The Exception

There’s one defensive statistic that stays relatively stable over the course of multiple years—quarterback hits. QB hits include sacks as well as plays in which contact is made with the passer just after releasing the ball. While sack rates can be highly variable, the ability to reach the quarterback tends to be much more consistent.

Plus, hitting the QB as he releases the ball has a significant impact on the offense’s ability to complete passes. The defense may not enjoy the loss of yardage a sack brings, but the contact alone drastically drops completion percentages, regardless of target depth and area of the field.

A team that can generate a high volume of hits on opposing quarterbacks will usually be able to continue doing so, ensuring a successful defense even when fumbles and interceptions aren’t going the franchise’s way.

Offensive Line Stats Are Essential

Anyone who has paid any attention to the Cleveland Browns for the last two years should understand how unbelievably valuable a quality offensive line can be. The Browns spent the offseason acquiring marquee offensive weapons like Odell Beckham and Kareem Hunt but sent Kevin Zeitler, one of their best pass protectors, to the Giants in the deal.

Now, behind a much worse line, Baker Mayfield is showing serious regression after looking like a sure-fire future star in his rookie season. Once again, it all comes down to getting pressure on the quarterback.

If an o-line can give the QB time, just about any passer will thrive. When they’re suddenly racking up tons of hits, all of those explosive weapons go to waste. You can’t hit Odell deep if you’re running for your life or worrying about the contact that may or may not actually come.

There are several valuable offensive line stats and rankings that can be found at websites like Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. They will track data on a few factors:

  • Average rushing yards before contact with the defense (which measures how much of a push an offensive line gets on run plays)
  • RB yards per carry
  • Adjusted Line Yards (decides how much responsibility the line should be given for RB yards)
  • Power Success (how many first-and-goal, second-and-goal, or third and fourth down runs with two yards or less to go are successfully converted for a TD or first down)
  • QB Hits Allowed
  • Open Field Yards (yards earned by the runningbacks beyond 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, divided by total carries)

Find Value in Low Win-Totals

Because the NFL is so unpredictable from year to year, preseason NFL win-totals bets often possess lots of positive value for handicappers. To find the easiest lines to beat, look to the extremes, like teams with expected win-totals of six or fewer, or 10 or more.

Every season, we see multiple organizations either make an unexpected jump into the playoff race or experience severe regression.

Comparing Vegas’ expected wins from each season between 1989 to 2018 to teams’ actual number of victories over that same stretch, the win-totals set at six went over more often than any other totals line. Over that span, franchises expected by oddsmakers to win six games averaged 6.7 instead.

On the other end of the spectrum, organizations with expected win-totals of 11 fall short, with those squads averaging only 10.2 wins per season of that same 20-year stretch. This past season, the Giants and Raiders seem to be the most promising teams to exceed their six-win expectations. Meanwhile, the LA Rams (10.5), Cleveland Browns (9.5), Philadelphia Eagles (10), and LA Chargers (9.5) were all likely candidates to fall short of covering their lofty totals lines.

Location, Location, Location…

Believe it or not, many NFL teams are strongly influenced by the location of a given contest. Franchises will often show patterns of performing significantly better at home than on the road, sometimes in terms of real wins and losses. For others, it only affects their record against the spread. Whatever the case, this is vital information to consider before placing your bets.

The location of a game is especially significant when travel is involved. Research has shown that athletes traveling from the west coast of the United States to eastern time zones are at a major disadvantage.

The belief is that time change throws off their circadian rhythms, which results in decreased performance. For every time zone an athlete travels through, it takes one additional day before their internal clock adjusts back to normal.

For that reason, while NFL betting, you may want to target teams in the west who are forced to travel east, especially if they’re on a short week.

Those rosters won’t have time to adjust or recover from the previous contest. However, weekend games can be just as advantageous, especially those that are played early on Sunday morning.

In Conclusion

As skilled as NFL oddsmakers may be at setting lines, football’s unpredictability presents an excellent opportunity for handicappers to beat the online sportsbooks. With so many stats being shared and discussed publicly, and high volumes of casual fans making wagers, there’s a lot of misinformation out there that results in mispriced football betting lines. This creates an ideal situation for sharp bettors to find value and profit.

The five obscure factors about NFL betting shared in this article will give you an excellent place to start to find an edge consistently. Don’t get caught up in the media hype or expectations based on last year’s performances. Instead, spend your time focusing on the things that matter—offensive line play, quarterback hits, home/away splits, and net passing yards per pass play.

You can also take advantage of the highest and lowest win-totals in NFL betting. With so much variance between seasons, it’s those totals lines located along the extremes that are easiest to exploit. Most organizations struggle to post double-digit wins multiple years in a row, while terrible teams from the year before often play a much easier schedule and exceed expectations.

Use the statistics and variables shared on this page in combination with specific matchups and playing styles, and you’ll be cashing winning bet slips in no time!

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