The NFL is the most difficult betting market to beat in sports. From the sharpest professionals to the most casual of bettors, everybody loves betting on the NFL. So by the time Sunday rolls around, so much money is wagered on the NFL games that point spreads are hyper-efficient.
With this in mind, there are a few basic rules to follow before you even analyze a matchup to give yourself the best chance to win when you bet on the NFL.
1. Always Manage Your Bankroll
Casual bettors are often, well, casual about (or unaware of) the critical need to manage their betting bankroll. But if you want to bet on the NFL sustainably over a full season and beyond, you need to implement responsible bankroll management practices.
Your sports betting budget should be a part of your discretionary entertainment budget — this is money you can afford to lose.
Your experience level, financial status, and your risk tolerance all factor into determining your starting bankroll. This might be $200 for one person and $2000 for another. Whatever your starting bankroll may be, you shouldn’t bet it all in week 1.
One key element of bankroll management is setting an appropriate standard bet size for yourself given your bankroll size. You can use our bankroll management guide to help you right-size your standard wager amounts; a good rule of thumb for bet size is between 2 and 4% of your bankroll.
Another critical part of managing your bankroll is setting daily and weekly betting limits.
With player props, parlays, and live betting, on top of popular bet types like spreads, totals, and moneylines, there are so many options enticing NFL bettors, it’s easy to start firing off a ton of unplanned bets. But smart bettors can discipline themselves.
Our rule of thumb for setting daily betting limits is to not wager more than ten percent of your bankroll in a given day.
Depending on the slate, you will like a different number of games each week, and you should allow yourself the flexibility to bet on games you like. But setting weekly NFL betting limits helps you impose guardrails on yourself and place bets for the right reasons, not just because you’re thirsty for action.
We can’t emphasize enough the importance of bankroll management. These practrices will help you grow, rather than blow your bankroll.
2. Never Chase Bets
Consider a scenario you might be familiar with. It’s NFL Sunday, and the 1 PM and 4 PM slate have come and gone – you went 0-5 on your bets. You think to yourself, I have to make this back. There’s one game left, Sunday Night Football. You slap down a monster wager to try to erase the day’s losses in one swoop. This is always a mistake.
You should never chase your bets.
When you are frustrated, your emotions are running hot, and your impulse is to go online and find a bet to make. Stop. Log out of your sportsbook, and close the laptop. Better yet, turn off the TV. Take a walk. Take a beat.
The impulse to make up for the losses will pass.
You should view sports betting through a long-term lens. Once you take the long view, chasing your losses at the end of a bad day to make it back ceases to make sense.
The long view pulls you back from the emotional edge after a tough day betting and calms you in the knowledge that you have months and years to refine your strategy and win in the long run.
3. Be Sensitive To Price
Most casual bettors lack price sensitivity. They have money deposited on one sportsbook and whatever the odds are on that sportsbook are the odds they bet. This is a mistake.
Different sportsbooks will have different odds on the same games. Just as you would comparison shop as a consumer to find the best price, it’s important to shop for the best odds.
Small differences in odds (the prices you pay) add up over time.
Finding the most favorable spread for the NFL bet you like is only part of the equation. In the NFL, point spreads will settle at a near consensus before game-time, typically with a half-point difference across books, at most.
DraftKings might have the Packers favored by 4 points against the Rams, while Fanduel has the Packers favored by 4.5. No matter what side you like, experienced NFL bettors know to grab an extra half-point. Simple.
But many bettors overlook that they might be paying for that extra half-point. Suppose you like the Rams in this example. The DraftKings line on the Rams is +4 (-110), and the Fanduel line is +4.5, but the odds are -125. The bettor is, in effect, paying an extra fifteen cents for that extra half-point. In most cases, that half point isn’t worth the cost (we’ll get to where it might be).
NFL bettors will often see odds fluctuate between +100 (even money) and -120. These fluctuations happen when sportsbooks want to rebalance or entice betting action on one side or another without moving the spread.
Be sure to take advantage of even the smallest differences in odds across sportsbooks.
DraftKings might have the Packers -4 with -110 odds, while FanDuel has them -4 with -105 odds. Or, suppose the Seahawks are +280 on DraftKings to beat the Niners but are +270 on Fanduel. Leaving better odds on the table is akin to throwing away money.
Shopping for the best odds requires you to maintain an account and deposit money on a few different betting sites, but it’s worth it.
Shopping for the best odds will allow a losing better to lose less and a winning bettor to win more. You need to take every opportunity you can find to maximize potential return.
Lastly, price sensitivity doesn’t just mean shopping for the best odds.
Early in a week, you might want to bet on a team or against another in the upcoming week. Guard against the inclination to get locked on that side and to ignore new information and shifts in the market. If the line moves away from the side you lean towards to the point where the number isn’t favorable, you need to be malleable enough to get off that side.
4. Keep The Parlays To A Minimum
It’s easy to understand the allure of parlays. Wager a relatively small amount of money and win 5x, 10x, or much more on your original stake. Some bettors prefer the thrill of rooting for big potential payouts over grinding out wins. That’s fine for recreational betting. But serious bettors know that betting parlays excessively is a losing strategy. It’s difficult enough to win one NFL bet against the spread.
Imagine being right about three legs of a four-team parlay and just one lost leg costs you the bet. If you had bet the four legs as individual straight wagers, you would have been 3-1 on the day and made money.
If you expect to lose over time and bet mostly for entertainment, that’s one thing. It’s fun to mix in small risk parlays here and there, and there are circumstances where parlaying together heavy favorites on the moneyline makes sense. However, if you want to win, you should stick to straight wagers.
You Shouldn’t Buy Points (99% Of The Time)
Sportsbooks will give the option of paying to move the line in your favor by increments of half a point. When you buy points you essentially purchase a more favorable line in the form of a decreased payout. For example, if you like the Dolphins +2.5 in a game against the Patriots but want to make sure you push your bet in the event of a three-point loss, you might buy a half point.
In most cases, buying points is a bad idea. Sportsbooks wouldn’t give you the option of buying points if it didn’t work in their favor.
The inclination to insure yourself against loss is understandable, but you can’t bet scared. What might seem like a good way to protect yourself is actually detrimental to your long-term profitability.
From 2015-2020, only four margins of victory (3,6,7,14) occur more than 5% of the time. Almost every other outcome occurs roughly 4% of the time or less. That means that outside of a few circumstances, when you buy points you’re insuring against a one in twenty-five chance outcome.
A half point will typically cost 10-20 cents of juice, so if the spread carries the standard -110 odds, buying a half point would move it to -120 or -130. Look to use a book that only charges 10 cents or a maximum of 15 cents. Spending 20 cents to buy a half point, no matter the circumstances, is not worth it.
You should only consider buying points to move on or off 3 and 7. These are key numbers because they are the most common margins of victory.
To take the above example, if you like the Dolphins, you might pay to move the line from +2.5 to 3 or from +3 to +3.5. If you like the Patriots, you might pay to move the line from -3.5 to -3, or -3 to -2.5.