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Using Public Opinion When Betting on the NFL

There are a variety of reasons as to why more people choose to bet on football over any sport. The first reason that comes to mind is very simple; football is the sport they know and understand the best. Football is incredibly popular, and the majority of football bettors are fans of the sport first and foremost. They choose to bet on it because they believe their knowledge and understanding will help them win money.

We understand why football fans think this way. If they follow football closely, and are knowledgeable about all the relevant teams and players, it makes sense that they’ll be able to confidently form accurate predictions concerning the games’ outcomes.

We only wish that football betting was that straightforward. Don’t get us wrong. Being knowledgeable about a sport is not only beneficial, but it’s actually a necessity. The football strategies we discuss here would be nearly impossible to implement without a fundamental understanding of football and an in-depth knowledge of the teams and players.

However, this knowledge and understanding is of limited use by itself. It can help with making accurate predictions, and it can help you win a few wagers every now and then. What it won’t be able to do is help you consistently make money over any substantial period of time.

There are two reasons for this. First, the bookmakers have even more knowledge and understanding of football than most bettors do. This is especially true when it comes to the NFL. They take millions upon millions of dollars in NFL wagers, so you can be certain that they know everything there is to know. This enables them to set very tight odds and lines that are very hard to beat on a regular basis.

The second reason is that successful football betting isn’t actually about making accurate predictions: not entirely, anyway. The goal isn’t necessarily to determine what’s most likely to happen, but rather to determine where the value lies in the football betting markets. This requires considering other factors in addition to those that directly affect a football game.

One factor that we don’t recommend ignoring is public opinion. This might surprise you, but thinking about which way the majority of the public is betting on a game can really help you make solid betting decisions. There’s even an accepted betting strategy that’s based entirely on this information. It’s called “fading the public,” and it’s a strategy that a lot of football bettors rely on. While it can be effective in some circumstances, overall this strategy is just too limited.

We discuss the fading the public strategy and its drawbacks below. We also explain why public opinion matters when betting on the NFL, and the effect it can have on the odds and lines. We’ve provided some advice for using public opinion effectively when making your betting decisions too.

Why Public Opinion Matters

To understand why public opinion matters when betting, you first need to understand how bookmakers and betting sites set their odds and lines. We explain this concept in detail in our introduction to sports betting, but we cover it briefly here as well.

Many bettors assume that bookmakers set their odds and lines based entirely on what they think is likely to happen. Their thought process would be something like this. If the New England Patriots are six-point favorites to beat the Oakland Raiders, then the bookmakers must believe that the Patriots winning by six is the most likely outcome. If the total line for the same game is 42 points, then 42 points is what the bookmakers believe to be the most likely total.

This is NOT necessarily the case.

While it’s true that bookmakers will always have a view on the outcome of a game and their view will always be factored into the odds and lines. It’s also important to remember that bookmakers take other factors into consideration too. They don’t rely solely on their ability to predict the result of a game, but instead they also try to predict how their customers are going to bet.

Why do they do this? They want balanced action on the betting markets they offer. This way, they can pay out roughly the same amount no matter what the outcome. In other terms, they are guaranteed to make a profit regardless of what actually happens. This is every bookmaker’s goal.

To see what this looks like in practice, let’s take a look at this hypothetical betting market for the Patriots verses Raiders game that we mentioned earlier.

New England Patriots vs Oakland Raiders
Point Spread
Patriots -6 -110
Raiders +6 -110

Let’s say that the bookmaker offering this market took ten $110 wagers on the Patriots, and ten $110 wagers on the Raiders. This would mean they’ve taken a total of $2,200 in wagers (20 x $110). A winning wager of $110 returns a total of $210 (including the original stake). Whichever team covers, they’re going to have to pay out ten winning wagers for a total of $2,100 (10 x $210). Since they’ve taken $2,200 in total, they’re guaranteed to make a profit of $100.

Now let’s say that the bookmaker took fifteen $110 wagers on the Patriots, but only five $110 wagers on the Raiders. They’ve still taken in a total of $2,200, but their potential payouts are now as follows.

  • If the Patriots cover, they have to pay out $3,150 (15 x $210)
  • If the Raiders cover, they have to pay out $1,050 (5 x $210)

They will suffer a substantial loss if the Patriots cover. Even though they have the potential to make a huge profit if the Raiders cover, they don’t want to expose themselves to that much risk. They’re effectively gambling on the outcome of the match, which isn’t how bookmakers tend to operate. They want the balanced action and locked in profit, as that’s a much safer approach.

We hope that this makes sense to you so far, but we know what you must be thinking. What’s this have to do with public opinion? Well, the bookmakers have to gauge public opinion when they’re trying to predict how their customers are likely to bet. If they think that public opinion is behind one team in particular, for example, then they can safely assume that they’ll get a lot of action on that team. They can then factor that into their odds and lines, to make sure that the market stays balanced for them.

Let’s go back to the Patriots versus Raiders game. If the bookmakers felt that public opinion was firmly behind the Patriots, they’d probably adjust the market so that betting on the Patriots was less attractive. So rather than the market we displayed above, they might offer something like this instead.

New England Patriots vs Oakland Raiders
Point Spread
Patriots -7 -115
Raiders +7 -105

This would have a dual effect. It would prevent some people from betting on the Patriots, due to the increased spread and lower odds. It would reduce the bookmaker’s exposure to risk too. If they still ended up taking in more action on the Patriots, and NOT having balanced action, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. By increasing the spread, the Patriots will now be less likely to cover. By reducing the odds, the bookmakers will now pay out a smaller amount if the Patriots do cover.

The bookmakers will never know exactly what the football betting public are thinking or what moves they’re going to make. What they do know is this; the public is predictable, and the following statements are true more often than not.

  • The public are heavily influenced by the media
  • The public will overvalue favorites
  • The public will prefer to bet the over

For obvious reasons, the majority of recreational football bettors make their decisions based on what’s being said in the media. If the media seems to be pointing heavily in favor of a certain outcome, then you can almost guarantee that the public will be swayed in the same direction.

There’s also no doubt that the public have a tendency to overvalue favorites. The whole purpose of a point spread is to effectively create an equal proposition, where each team is just as likely to cover as the other. The favorite is obviously the most likely to WIN the game, but not necessarily the most likely to COVER. Despite this, most recreational bettors back the favorite far more often than they back the underdog.

Totals are also supposed to be an equal proposition, but most recreational bettors tend to have a clear bias on these markets too. The over is generally far more popular than the under, for the simple reason that people like to see high scoring games. This influences their betting, whether consciously or sub-consciously.

Since these tendencies are reasonably predictable, the bookmakers will frequently factor them into their odds and lines. They’ll shade them based on media opinion, which often means shading them towards the favorite and the over. When these adjustments are minimal, they won’t really have an effect on the way you bet. When they’re more significant, YOU can benefit from them. This is when the fading the public strategy comes in.

The Fading the Public Strategy

The fading the public strategy is based on two core principles.

  • Public opinion is reflected in betting odds and lines
  • Most football bettors lose

We’ve just explained how and why public opinion is reflected in betting odds and lines, and it’s no secret that most football bettors lose. So the fading the public strategy is clearly based on sound principles. But how exactly does it work?

This is actually one of the most straightforward football betting strategies you can use. The idea is simply that you bet the opposite to what the majority of the public is betting on. In theory, this should work for two reasons. When the bookmakers shade their odds and lines based on public opinion, they create extra value on the other side. Also, based on the assumption that most football bettors lose, betting the opposite of them should be profitable.

It’s hard to argue with this logic. That’s why this is still a popular strategy, despite the drawbacks we cover later. It actually used to be a very powerful strategy, and it does still have the potential to be profitable if used sparingly and in the right situations.

To use the fading the public strategy, we simply need to determine which way the majority of the public is betting. This is relatively easy to do. First off, we need to consider the tendencies that we outlined earlier. We know that the public are led by the media (to some extent at least), and we know that they generally like to bet on favorites and on the over. This information alone can give us a good idea as to where the public are putting their money on any given game.

What will be even more helpful is watching the odds and lines move as a game gets closer. Recreational bettors generally place their bets just a day or two before game day, which is why bookmakers tend to move their odds and lines at this point. So if we see the odds on a favorite shortening, or the spread getting bigger, then we have a strong indication that the public is betting heavily on that favorite.

For an example of this, we’ll go back once again to the Patriots versus Raiders game. We’ll say that the bookmakers set the initial spread as shown earlier – at seven points, with the Patriots at -115 and the Raiders at -105. A day before the game, the market had moved to be as follows.

New England Patriots vs Oakland Raiders
Point Spread
Patriots -8 -120
Raiders +8 +100

By looking at the changes made the bookmakers, it’s easy to see that there must be a great deal of money coming in for the Patriots. If we make the reasonable assumption that this money is coming from recreational bettors who are following public opinion, then in order to fade the public we would look to go against them and back the Raiders.

That’s all there is to the fading the public strategy. We did say it was straightforward! Before we move on to explaining the drawbacks of this strategy, we should quickly cover an alternative way you can gauge public opinion.

There are a number of websites that publish regularly updated betting information based on data they receive from online betting sites. This includes details of how odds and lines have moved, and what percentage of people are betting on which side. Here’s an example of how one website displays this information for a game.

Details of how the public are betting on a football game

This shows us that 83% of people are betting on the Vikings. This also makes it clear that the line has moved, probably as a direct result of this. The Vikings started out as -1 favorites, but are now -2.5 favorites. The public is clearly favoring the Vikings, so if we wanted to fade them we’d simply back the Eagles.

Some websites make it even easier to find spots to fade the public. They list the most popular public bets in this way.

The most popular NFL public bets

To employ the fading the public strategy here, we’d simply back the opponents of the teams on this list.

We’ve just showed you how the fading the public strategy can be simple, easy to use and based on sound logic. We see why so many people think it’s such a great strategy! Don’t rush off to start placing your wagers just yet though. There are some significant drawbacks to this strategy, as we’ll now explain.

Drawbacks of Fading the Public

A lot of people overcomplicate their strategies when betting on football, and make things more difficult than they need to be. The fact is that some of the most effective strategies are actually quite straightforward. The simple approach is usually the best approach, in our opinion.

Some strategies are TOO simple though.

Bookmakers aren’t perfect by any means, which is why it’s definitely possible to “beat” them and make long-term profits. It’s even possible to do this without using incredibly complex strategies. Simple strategies can be effective, but if a strategy is too simple then it’s unlikely to work.

Fading the public is one of those strategies. As sound as the logic is, the bookmakers are too clever to allow a strategy that simple to pull the wool over their eyes. They DO factor public opinion into their odds and lines, but not to the extent that we can just blindly bet against the public and watch the profits come rolling in. For the most part, they get the odds and lines just right. They shade them enough so that the public won’t get any real value when blindly backing favorites and overs, but not enough so that they automatically create real value on the other side.

In any case, although the majority of bettors do lose, it would be foolish to say that they’re never right. A lot of bettors frequently make the right calls on games, but lose money for other reasons. Maybe it’s that they bet too often, that they fail to consider value or that they are simply not employing proper bankroll management. Never assume that public opinion is always wrong, because it’s actually correct more often than not.

These two points highlight how the football betting market as a whole has changed over the years. Fading the public was once a valuable strategy, but that was back when the bookmakers were nowhere near as efficient at setting their odds and lines. Not to mention the general betting public were nowhere near as informed. Back then you COULD simply go against public opinion and expect to win money. Both the bookies and the general betting public are smarter now though, so fading the public is just not that profitable anymore.

Does this mean public opinion is irrelevant these days?
No, absolutely not.

Using the fading the public strategy in its most basic form is, for the most part, a waste of time. However, the fundamental principles on which fading the public is based on are as sound as they ever were. Using public opinion to make decisions CAN still be effective, as long as you don’t automatically go against public opinion without considering the circumstances.

Using Public Opinion Effectively

Fading the public has the potential to be profitable, as long as you’re being selective. Be sure to look for spots where you’re positive that the public opinion is so strong that it has skewed the odds and lines enough to create value on the other side. Realize that these opportunities do not present themselves very often, but they should be taken advantage of when they do.

The following are some example scenarios of when fading the public can be effective.

  • Games involving the most popular teams
  • Games where there’s a perceived mismatch
  • Especially powerful offenses against weak defenses
  • Teams on winning streaks/losing streaks
  • When key players are injured

The most popular NFL teams are almost always heavily backed by the general betting public. You’ll find this to be especially true when they’re clear favorites to win, and they’re playing against teams that only have regional support. For instance, if the Green Bay Packers were playing the Cleveland Browns, it’s pretty obvious that the betting public will favor the Packers. They don’t generally take into account how well they have been playing or how big the spread is, they just want to get their money down on them.

This would be likely to lead to the Browns being undervalued. They’d probably get more points on the spread than they technically “should” and higher odds too. This might present an excellent opportunity to fade the public and take advantage of the extra value.

A similar principle applies to games where there’s a perceived mismatch. If a team is considered much stronger than their opponents, the media is likely to talk up the possibility of a big win for the favorite. The betting public will often respond to this, and bet accordingly. Again, this will create a bigger spread than might otherwise be expected. So there could be some value in backing the underdog to cover the inflated spread.

Games with an especially powerful offense up against a weak defense are great spots to go against the public on the totals. The general betting public love to back the over as we’ve mentioned, and they’ll usually go in hard when there’s even the slightest chance that the offense is to going to run riot. The bookmakers know this, so they’ll inflate the total accordingly, which regularly creates value in backing the under.

The general betting public are typically swayed very easily by a team’s recent form. If a team is on a long winning streak, or a long losing streak, they’ll almost always bet on the streak continuing. So if a team is winning, they’ll back them to keep winning. If a team is losing, they’ll back them to keep losing. This can lead to some value in backing a team to reverse their streak. For more information on this, please read the following article.

The final scenario we’ve mentioned is more difficult to judge than the others. It’s one to look out for though. The public has a tendency to overestimate the impact of injuries to key players, and assume that teams will automatically struggle to cope. This isn’t always the case, as some teams have more than enough strength in depth to perform well even when one or two of their best players are out due to injury.

Most recreational bettors don’t really pay close attention to the details. If they see that a team is missing a key player, they’ll just bet against that team. When this happens, that team might end up undervalued in the market. Ask yourself this question; how big of an impact will the loss of that one player have? It’s typically right to go against the public and back them.

There are other scenarios worth considering too, but in our experience it’s the ones mentioned here where public opinion has the most effect. Basically, these are the scenarios where the betting public are the most predictable. If we can predict what they’re going to do, then the bookmakers will also be able to. They’ll set their odds and lines accordingly, with enough bias to make fading the public a viable option.

If you try to really understand how public opinion affects the NFL betting markets, and follow all the advice we’ve offered you here, then you should be able to identify some good spots where you can use public opinion to your advantage. There’s just one last vital piece of advice we have to offer.

Continue to handicap games as normal.

Fading the public is fairly limited as a standalone strategy. Under the right circumstances, however, it can be successful. It’s most powerful if you use it in conjunction with other strategies though. If you first handicap games based on all the relevant factors, and THEN consider public opinion, you’ll be in a very strong position to make good betting

decisions.