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How Betting Strategy Changes During the NFL Season

How often does your opinion of an NFL team remain the same from the start of the season right through to the end? If you’re like any other typical fan, then your answer is obvious; this just simply doesn’t happen very often. No matter how well you think you know a team, it’s rare that they’ll ever meet your expectations exactly.

This is nothing to worry about it. Don’t take it personally, as this in no way reflects your ability to be able to judge the relative strength of a team. That fact is that it’s very difficult to predict how well a team is going to perform before the NFL season is even underway. Teams often look like they have it all, only to end up as huge disappointments. Others look as if they have no hope, but surprise everyone and go on a major winning streak.

You should always aim to form opinions about each team prior to the start of a season. In the same way, you should always be prepared to adjust those opinions as the season goes on. As you get more information that you can use to your advantage, it’s only natural that your opinions would change. That’s why it’s important that you don’t get too attached to your opinions, as that kind of rigid thinking will ultimately cost you money.

It’s not just your opinions that you need to change as a season progresses either. Certain aspects of your approach to betting need to change too. Although many of the strategies you can use will be effective throughout an entire season, the right way to apply those strategies could be different at different stages.

In this article we take an in-depth look at how betting strategy changes during the NFL season. We’ve broken down the season into three distinct stages, and discussed the kind of information you should be analyzing at each of those stages. We’ve provided advice on how to analyze that information, and offered additional tips where appropriate.

Please note that the three different stages are fairly arbitrary. For the purposes of this article, the early season should be considered to include the first four or five game weeks. The late season includes the final four or five game weeks, and the mid-season covers everything in between.

Betting During the Early Season

Football fans everywhere can’t wait for the end of summer. Why? The hype around the new NFL season is reaching its crescendo, and we’re all looking forward to it starting in September. We’ve just gone several months without any competitive games to watch, so we can’t wait to see the teams in action again.

As bettors, however, our enthusiasm is tempered by the challenges we know we’re about to face. The early part of an NFL season is usually very exciting, as we don’t really know what to expect from the teams. This is great from a spectator’s point of view, but it can be frustrating from a betting perspective. It makes it very hard to predict how games are going to play out.

Of course, we NEVER know for sure exactly how games are going to play out. Betting would be super easy if that was the case. The truth of the matter is that football is unpredictable, and it’s this unpredictability that makes betting on it so difficult.

Betting on football is especially difficult during the early part of the season, as things are even more random than usual. There are a few reasons why this is the case, but there’s one in particular that has a major effect.

Most teams undergo significant changes during the close season.

A lot happens between the end of one NFL season to the start of the next one. It’s an opportunity for teams to reflect on where they are, and try to address any weaknesses they may have. They make changes to their rosters by bringing in new players from the draft and via free agency. They may also make changes to their coaching staff or their playing styles.

The goal is obviously to improve as a result of these changes, and there are usually at least a few teams that manage to do that. It’s not uncommon for a team to be relatively weak or average one year, and then perform much better in the following season. Here are some examples of when that’s happened in recent years.

Detroit LionsDetroit Lions:Won 7 games in 2013, then 11 in 2014.
Houston TexansHouston Texans:Won 2 games in 2013, then 9 in 2014.
Washington RedskinsWashington Redskins:Won 4 games in 2014, then 9 in 2015.
Carolina PanthersCarolina Panthers:Won 7 games in 2014, then 15 in 2015.
Minnesota VikingsMinnesota Vikings:Won 7 games in 2015, then 11 in 2015.

Some teams don’t manage to improve though. Some stand still, and some go backwards for one reason or another. They might lose key players to other teams, or to retirement, and fail to find sufficient replacements. Or their head coach might leave for another team, and be replaced by a less talented one.

Here are some recent examples of teams that have suffered a year on year decline.

New Orleans SaintsNew Orleans Saints:Won 11 games in 2013, then then 7 in 2014.
Tennessee TitansTennessee Titans:Won 7 games in 2013, then 2 in 2014.
New York JetsNew York Jets:Won 8 games in 2013, then 4 in 2014.
Baltimore RavensBaltimore Ravens:Won 10 games in 2014, then 5 in 2015.
Dallas CowboysDallas Cowboys:Won 12 games in 2014, then 4 in 2015.

Significant improvements or declines in win records aren’t always a direct result of the changes the team made. Other factors influence them too. A team might suffer badly from injuries in a season, and then have a fully recovered team in the next. Or a team might have a fairly easy schedule for a season, followed by a really tough one.

The point we’re trying to make here is simply that we don’t really know how valuable each team is at the start of a season. We can make judgements based on the information available to us, but until we actually see them in action it’s very difficult to know where they are at and what they’re capable of. As a result, betting on games during the early of part of a season is especially challenging.

We know of some serious football bettors who choose not to place any bets on the first few rounds of games. They prefer to just watch the action, and learn as much as they can for the rest of the season. Although we see in the logic in doing this, it’s not an approach that we recommend. It’s certainly not the approach that we take, as the early season often presents some great betting opportunities. You just have to know how to take advantage of them, and that’s something we can help with.

OUR TOP TIPS FOR EARLY SEASON BETTING
  • Make sure that you’re fully prepared.
  • Don’t read too much into media opinion.
  • Pay close attention to movements in the odds and lines.
  • Study the teams that no-one is talking about.

The first tip on this list is easily the most important in this entire article. Good preparation will prove invaluable throughout the whole season, but it’s especially useful during the first few weeks. Specifically, it can help you to overcome the challenge of not really knowing where each team is at. If you spend your time wisely during the close season, then you can have a much clearer idea of how the early games are likely to go.

There will still be some surprises of course, that’s inevitable. It’s impossible to be completely sure about what’s going to happen, no matter how prepared you are. But if you’ve closely studied all the changes that the teams have made, and properly assessed their potential impact, you’ll certainly have a much better chance of making accurate predictions. That should always be your goal!

Preparing for a new season isn’t just a case of looking at the changes each team has made though. There are a lot of other things to do that can give you an advantage during the early stages of the season (and beyond). We explain all of these in great detail in the following article.

Our second tip must be interpreted correctly. We’re not suggesting that you ignore media opinion completely, as it can be insightful. However, we just don’t want you to assume that the so-called experts in the media are always right. They’re more than capable of completely misjudging a team’s moves in the offseason.

This is why we often see teams get hyped without any real justification. We also see other teams get talked down when they don’t deserve to be. We don’t want to be improperly swayed by these views, which is why we have to be careful when considering media opinion. We take what they have to say into consideration, but we give much more weight to our own judgments.

Let’s face it; most recreational bettors do the exact opposite. They don’t take the time to thoroughly analyze the teams during the offseason, as they tend to focus mainly on headline moves. Due to this lack of effort, they tend to rely heavily on media opinion when betting during the early season. In general, they’ll probably bet on the teams that have been getting the best press, and against those that have been getting bad press.

That’s hardly a recipe for success, but it’s actually beneficial for us. It means that a sizable majority of the betting public are likely to bet the same way during the early part of season, and this is where our third tip comes in. By paying close attention to the way the odds and lines are moving, we can get some idea of where the public are putting their money. In many cases, the right thing to do is put our money on the opposite side.

This doesn’t mean blindly betting against the public though.

Going against the public is an established football betting strategy. It’s also known as fading the public, or the contrary betting strategy. The basic concept is simply that it must make sense to do the opposite of what most bettors do, as most bettors lose.

There’s some sound logic at play here, and going against the public can definitely be profitable in some circumstances. We find that the best time to use this strategy is during the early season, when the majority of bettors are betting based on a very limited amount of information. They will be too focused on what happened last season to pay close enough attention to what happened during the off-season. As we’ve just mentioned, they’re also likely to be trusting opinions in the media.

However, we can’t ASSUME that the public are going to make the wrong calls on all the early games. So we can’t just go against the public for each and every bet that we make. That’s not going to make us any money. Instead, we must try to find spots where we’re genuinely confident that public opinion is wrong. That’s when we’re most likely to find real value on the opposite side.

Our final tip in the list above is one of the best ways to gain an edge in the first few weeks of a season. There are often many teams at this stage that aren’t getting much attention at all, and they can present some good betting opportunities. We try to look out for teams that have made some good, but low profile, moves during the close season. They’re likely to have gone under the radar, so there’s a good chance there’ll be some value in backing them.

There are a couple of other pieces of advice we have for betting on games in the first few weeks of a season. These are as follows.

Stake smaller amounts than usual.

Be even more selective than usual.

Although our earlier tips should help you to find good opportunities during the early stages of an NFL season, it’s still important to remember that this a very unpredictable period. The reality is that it’s impossible to accurately predict how each team is going to perform. Even if you’re fully prepared, some teams are sure to take you by surprise. Don’t bet large amounts during the early season, and certainly don’t bet on every game you can.

There might be some exceptions to this. But, as a general rule, it’s best to bet a little extra cautious during the early season.

Betting During the Mid-Season

Our betting decisions become a little easier once all the teams have played their first few games. We’ve got additional information to work with, so we can make more informed judgements. We’ve had a chance to actually see the teams in action, which enables us to assess where they are at more accurately. By this stage, we’ve got a better idea of what the teams are capable of. We’ll be able to gauge which ones have improved from the previous season, and which ones haven’t.

However, there are still some challenges that the mid-season brings. Specifically, the early form of teams can be VERY misleading. It’s not uncommon for teams to start off strong and then fade away: nor for teams to start off poor and then turn things around completely. So we have to be careful not to make assumptions based on results and performances in the first weeks. We don’t want to jump to the wrong conclusions. That can be very dangerous, and lead to bad decision making.

Also, by this stage of the season there are usually at least a couple of teams that are performing way above our expectations. There are usually one or two teams that are performing way below our expectations too. Betting on games involving these teams is often very difficult, as we have conflicting information to consider. We can’t ignore our earlier analysis completely, but we obviously can’t ignore the fact that these teams aren’t performing as expected.

So, how do we overcome these challenges?
We have to analyze the early season form in detail.

The mid-season presents arguably the best opportunities for betting on individual games, largely due to all the extra information we have at our disposal. We can only take full advantage of these opportunities by properly putting this information into context though. It’s never wise to assume that the teams winning their early games are going to be strong all season long, or that the teams losing their early games are going to stay on a season long losing streak.

We have to understand WHY each team has been performing the way it has, and try to assess whether their form will continue or not. This means not only analyzing the form itself, but also considering what factors may have affected each team’s form.

Doing this properly requires a great deal of effort. It’s important though, especially for teams that are performing way above or way below our expectations. If we want to make accurate predictions about how these teams are going to perform during the mid-season, we’ve got to invest some serious time. Here’s a list of the things we recommend studying.

  • Changes to the roster
  • Past strengths and weaknesses
  • Injuries and suspensions
  • Strength of schedule
  • Underlying statistics
  • Consistency of performances

Now let’s take a closer look at each entry on this list.

Changes to the roster

You should have already studied the roster changes each team made during the offseason. Now’s a good time to revisit your analysis though, and look retrospectively at how those changes have actually affected teams. They will often have had a very different impact to what you were expecting.

For example, let’s say that a team had performed reasonably well the previous season and then signed a couple of top class players. They didn’t lose any key players, so your expectation was that the team would probably improve. Instead, they’ve actually been playing poorly and losing most of their games.

One reason for this could be that the new players have struggled to adjust to their new team. Their individual performances have not been great, and the team has suffered as a result. Now it’s time to make a judgment call. Are these players going to start settling in soon? Or are they going to take a while longer to have the impact you expected? This call will obviously affect how you view this team as a whole, and therefore affect your betting decisions for their games.

For another example, let’s say that there was a team that had lost some key players in the close season. They didn’t appear to have replaced them with players of equal quality, so your expectation was that they would probably be weaker this season. However, they’ve been performing really well and have won most of their early games. You need to look again at the replacements that have come in, and see if you have possibly misjudged them. Perhaps they’re better than you thought.

These are just a couple of vague examples that hopefully illustrate our main point. Changes during the offseason don’t always work out in the way that we expect, so we need to be prepared to adjust our views accordingly. Our opinion of each team should be fluid.

Top Tip:
It’s particularly important at this stage to consider the VOLUME of changes a team made. If a team that made a lot of changes is performing badly, it could be that they’re just getting used to a whole new setup. There may be valid reason to think that they’ll turn their form around sooner rather than later.

Past strengths and weaknesses

Looking at where teams have been strong or weak in the past can be very useful when trying to put their current form into context. If a team in good form has built on its past strengths, that’s a sign that their form is likely to continue. If a team in bad form is still struggling with past weaknesses, then we can expect their form to continue. Obviously, there are other things we have to take into consideration, but this is certainly a powerful indication that we can’t just simply ignore.

We have to be careful when teams appear to have developed new strengths though, or eliminated past weaknesses. Although these may be signs of things changing for the better, it’s always possible that these changes could be temporary.

Take a team that’s been notoriously weak at running the ball, but has shown a significant improvement in this area during the early part of the season. We might assume that they’ve finally addressed a long standing weakness successfully, but that’s not necessarily the case. It might be a result of recent matchups allowing them to run the ball, or just a short-term abnormality.

In scenarios such as this, we need to see if there are any genuine reasons for this improvement. If a team has employed a new coach with a track record for improving the running game, then obviously there’s a correlation and cause to believe their form will continue. The same principle applies if they’ve added players to the roster who are better at running the ball. However, if we cannot find these reasons, then we have to face the reality that their current form may not be sustainable.

Injuries and suspensions

Injuries and suspensions always need to be considered when betting on football games. Our view of a game is obviously going to be affected if a team is missing one of their most important players, or if several players are out. But we shouldn’t just consider the effect injuries and suspensions might have on games that have yet to be played. We also need to consider the effect they’ve had on games that have already been played.

This is vital when assessing early season form. If a team in bad form has been missing a lot of players through injury and/or suspension, then it’s fair to assume that the loss of those players will have contributed to their form. This doesn’t guarantee that they team will improve once those players come back, but it is certainly something to consider.

Strength of schedules

The strength of schedule is another factor that we should always take into consideration for our betting decisions. This is even important during the early season. A particularly challenging schedule can at least partially account for poor form, while a relatively easy schedule can possibly account for good form.

We’ve seen many teams that have started off a season with some really tough games, and looked like a team that was going to struggle for the entire season. Then, once the easier games came around, they’ve looked like an entirely different team. We’ve also seen teams that have looked unstoppable in their early games against weaker opponents, but then looked average once they’ve come up against tougher opposition.

So it’s important to remember that a team’s results can only tell us so much by themselves over a short period. They actually mean very little without also considering the quality of the opposition they’ve been facing.

Underlying statistics

A key part of assessing early season form is assessing the actual performances of teams. As we’ve just stated, the results of just a few games don’t tell us much in isolation. A team can be playing very well and just not getting wins on the board due to a combination of bad luck and tough opponents. Conversely, a team can be playing pretty poorly but managing to get wins in spite of this.

A good way to gauge how well a team is playing is obviously to watch them for yourself. But you can’t expect to watch every single game for every single team. So you’re going to have to rely on statistics too. By studying the underlying statistics for a team, you can get some idea of whether their results are matching their performances. If they are, then it’s reasonable to expect their form to continue. However if they’re not, then their form may be liable to change.

Consistency of performances

The consistency of a team’s performances during the early season can tell us a lot about what to expect during the mid-season. If a team’s performances are consistently good, or consistently bad, then that suggests they’re playing about their level. This gives us something solid to work with when predicting how they’re likely to perform for the rest of season, subject to other factors too of course.

If a team is inconsistent during the early season, however, it becomes much harder to predict how their season will go. We can’t read too much into their form, because it doesn’t paint a clear picture of what their true level is. They might have just had a couple of bad games for one reason or another, and be about to play consistently better.

On the other hand, the bad games might have been the real reflection of where they’re at, or they might just remain inconsistent for the rest of the season. There’s just no way of knowing. That’s why we recommend not betting too often on inconsistent teams at this stage.

Before we move on to the late season, there’s a couple of important points we need to make. First, we need to make it clear that everything we’ve outlined above needs to be considered collectively. We’ve talked about what certain things can indicate, but you can’t read too much into any one factor when assessing early season form. The aim is to form a solid opinion of how each team has been doing, and why, based on ALL the difference factors combined.

Next, remember that you’re only working with a very small sample size. We’re talking about assessing four or five games for each team, and that’s simply not enough to tell you everything you need to know. Even when you put form completely into context, and consider all the relevant factors, the fact is that it’s still a limited amount of information to work with.

It helps if you’ve properly prepared for the season by doing a lot of analysis during the offseason. If you’ve assessed where each team was at when the previous season finished, and then also assessed the changes they’ve made, combining all that with your assessments of early season form will definitely put you in a strong position to attack the betting markets in the mid-season.

Don’t overreact to early results and performances though.

People have a tendency to overvalue the most recent information, and completely ignore the older information. Try not to make the same mistake. Team quality varies drastically from one season to the next, and teams will often start off a season in ways we would never suspect. Don’t be too quick to completely change your overall opinion of a team based on a few games, but instead look at what you knew before the season started and compare it to what you’ve learned so far. Follow these tips, and your chances of success will steadily increase.

Betting During the Late Season

Earlier on we mentioned that the mid-season offers the best opportunities for betting on individual games. This is because of the extra information that we have available to us. Seeing as we have even more information available as the season progresses, why does the late season not offer even better opportunities?

To some extent it does. There are certainly some games that are easier to predict now than ones that occurred earlier in the season. However, there are also many games that are harder to predict. This is for one primary reason.

The pressure on teams and their motivation can change dramatically towards the end of the season.

Early on in the season, pretty much every player on every team will think that they have a chance of winning the Super Bowl. Even if they know that it’s not a particularly realistic chance, they’ll allow themselves to believe there’s at least a slight possibility. After all, the whole NFL has been structured to create parity as best at it can. So every team SHOULD have a chance.

Therefore, everyone’s fully motivated during the early part of the season. They want to get the wins they need to give themselves a shot at the playoffs, and so on.

By the time the first few games are played, it usually becomes clear that some teams have no real chance at playoffs. But this doesn’t typically affect motivation levels substantially. There’s still a big chunk of the season left to play, and most professional sportsmen at this level don’t give up too easily. So most, if not all, teams will still be fighting for every win.

Once the late season approaches, though, this motivation will start to fade for a number of teams. Those that cannot make the playoffs anymore have little to play for except their pride. Although some view that as enough motivation to continue playing to the best of their ability, it’s fair to say that a lot of teams understandably struggle to stay motivated.

You might think that this would make it easier to predict games, not harder. As with most things in life, though, there is a flip side! The pressure is off these teams, and that can sometimes be a huge release for the players. Teams with nothing to play for can sometimes IMPROVE their performances in the late season. This brings about another level of unpredictability, and makes late season betting that much more challenging.

It’s not just losing teams that become unpredictable either. Teams that have already clinched a playoff spot can also experience a drop in motivation: obviously for different reasons. They don’t NEED to get results anymore, which can lead to worsening performances. This can even be deliberate in some instances. They might decide to start taking it easy, to ensure they’re fresh for the post season. Again, this just leads to more unpredictability.

Then you have the teams that are still fighting for a place in the playoffs. Their motivation is unlikely to be called into question, but there will be extra pressure on them during the last few games. This is especially true if they absolutely HAVE to keep winning to make it. That pressure can either motivate teams or discourage them. So there’s one more reason why games can become less predictable during the late season.

How do we deal with this unpredictability?

The same as always – analyze all the relevant factors.

It is essentially that simple. Football is always unpredictable to some extent, as we mentioned earlier in this article. The fact that the late season can be especially unpredictable just makes it harder to find value in the betting markets. We CAN still find that value, if we analyze all the relevant factors that come into play during this stage of the season.

This is where an intrinsic knowledge of each team and their players is proved to be useful. If you know enough about the players, you should be able to determine how they’re likely to react to whatever situation they find themselves in towards the end of the season. This is the first step in trying to predict how their games will pan out.

An understanding of how the relevant coaches think is also helpful. Some coaches have a tendency to rest players when there’s the opportunity to do so, while others don’t believe in that approach at all. Some coaches make sure their players always play with full intensity, while others are more likely to allow players to ease off where appropriate. If you know how a coach is likely to react in the late season, then you’re have a better chance of making accurate betting decisions.

Other factors to consider include the following.

  • Season expectations
  • Health of a team
  • Upcoming opponents
  • Likely close season changes

The effects of pressure and/or motivation on a team will depend to some extent on what the expectations were at the start of the season. If a team’s coming into the late season with very few wins on the board, for example, then they probably won’t be beating themselves up too much if they weren’t expected to do any better. It’s even possible that they have given up by this stage in the season. But if they’ve performed well below expectations, then they might be prepared to fight hard to finish the season strong.

The health of a team can have a big impact at this stage. We don’t mean the injuries that keep players out of a team, although they’re still as relevant at this stage as any other. We mean the general health of the players, and any minor injuries they might have. Players will usually ignore minor injuries when there’s a lot at stake on the field, but they’re less likely to push themselves physically if they’ve got little to play for or post season games to be fit for.

Some teams will be more affected than usual by who their opponents are at this stage of the season. Take a team that’s had a bad losing season and is about to play one of their biggest rivals. They might view this is as a chance to redeem themselves. Another team that’s made the playoffs might put in extra effort when facing a team that they could possibly have to face in the post season because they wouldn’t want to give away any potential psychological advantage.

Finally, any likely close season changes can affect the way players and coaches are thinking. If any of them are expecting to be moving on to bigger challenges, their minds may already be on their new team. Or they may be determined to leave their team with a victory. Any players at risk of being let go might fight very hard to earn a new contract, or at least attract the attention of other teams.

A particular consideration here is if the coach is likely to be fired at the end of the season. If the coach is very popular, then the players might do everything they possibly can to make sure he doesn’t lose his position. If he’s not, then they might not be very motivated to try their best.

Take all of this into account and there’s no reason why you can’t make some money during the late season. It can be a difficult time to find good opportunities, but no part of the season is without its challenges. You have to be prepared to face these challenges head on if you want to be successful.

Now that we’ve covered pretty much everything we wanted to, we want to leave you with one more thing to consider. This article has focused entirely on betting during the regular season, and how your approach should change as it progresses. When it’s over, there are even more betting opportunities to follow in the post season. These opportunities again require adjustments to certain aspects of your betting strategy. This is something we cover in detail in the following article.