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4 Tips for Betting Totals in NFL Games

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The NFL is the centerpiece of all things handicapping when it comes to the United States of America. Though other sports receive plenty of action, the NFL has managed to get the attention of sports bettors who don’t really care to bet on anything else, and that’s what sets it apart.

When you find yourself on a losing streak in terms of betting on the spread, betting on totals (over/under) can help get your bankroll back where it needs to be. In this article, I’ll go over 4 tips to help you hit on more of your NFL totals bets. You might find that you can forget about spread bets and focus on the totals all of the time.

1 – Remember the Public’s Bias toward Scoring

I’ll save you the long explanation, but it’s important to know that your main competition isn’t the sportsbook – it’s the general public.

The sportsbook’s goal is to get 50% of the money on either side of a bet and collect the juice after the losers pay out the winners. It’s not realistic to make this happen perfectly, so obviously the sportsbook wants the side with the most people on it (“the public”) to lose. Somewhat counterintuitively, when there’s a huge percentage of the money on one side of a bet, it’s usually best to go the other way. Sportsbooks with millions of dollars at stake don’t generally make mistakes – sports fans do.

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This probably comes as no surprise if you’ve paid attention to vast number of offense-friendly rule changes that have happened over the past decade, but fans want points, and the NFL knows this…so do oddsmakers. What does that mean? People don’t want to bet the under because it puts them in a position to root against points being scored.

To continue on with the philosophy, when it’s nearly certain that the public is going to be on one side of the wager, you should strongly consider going the other way. With that being said, it’s still important to remember that this isn’t a one-size-fits all strategy that leads to putting your money on the under every time.

Of course there’s an exception – it would be far too easy to just say bet the under every time. Even an elementary strategy such as “fading the public” is a bit more complex than that. And in fact, fading the public is essentially what I’m suggesting your best move is when it comes to these bets.

So when should you bet the over, if you don’t know exactly where the public’s money is going? The strategy I’ve found to be most effective is: when the number looks high, bet the over, when it looks low, bet the under. Most bettors see a high number and think it’s unreachable, or see a low number and think there’s no way the teams won’t put up more points than that.

Fading the public is, most of the time, decent advice, but with NFL totals it’s almost a rule.

2 – Look at the Weather Report

Don’t get me wrong – you aren’t outsmarting the sportsbook by looking up the weather report prior to putting in your over/under bet. However, you might be getting an edge on the public, which has a tendency to place bets without fulling considering all the relevant factors.

Note:

On any given day, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be putting in totals bets on more than a handful of games. It shouldn’t take you more than about a minute to both look up the weather and evaluate if and/or how it’ll impact the play on the field. Sure, most of the time, especially for the first couple months of the season, it’s not going to make a huge difference one way or the other. But think about it this way: Are you going to be frustrated when you put in an “over” bet and then turn on the TV and see it’s snowing profusely with 25 MPH winds?

When you’re looking at the weather don’t just consider precipitation or temperature – the two things that are most readily-available. Wind is a major factor in an NFL if it’s gusting at above-average levels. If a team relies heavily on its passing game and doesn’t have the capability to run the ball with any type of consistency, this could present a great opportunity to hammer the under.

Handicapping the NFL successfully requires bettors to get as much information as possible before making a decision. If you’re putting money on the total number of points scored in a game, of course the environment is going to matter. Look at the weather report beforehand so you don’t flip on a game and have an immediate regret for betting the way you did. Even if the weather doesn’t look like it’ll change anything, it’s still better to know than to be surprised.

3 – Look at Defensive Injuries

Everyone knows when a quarterback or star skill-position player is going to be out. What most people don’t know is when an outside linebacker or free safety from a team that isn’t their own is on the injured list for the week.

In the NFL it’s a cliché that every player matters, but this really is the case when you have an above-average defensive presence, especially in the secondary. You could argue that injuries to offensive players have much more of an impact when compared to the defense, but this is dependent on the team’s (and individual’s) strengths.

Again, this goes back to the same philosophy of checking out the weather – you want to have as much information as possible. Perhaps one defensive starter sitting out won’t be enough to change your mind, but what if there are two or three, and one at a key position?

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Even if you consider yourself to be a diehard NFL fan, nobody can keep up with the injuries that happen on a weekly basis around the league. Occasionally it won’t even be released that a player will be sitting out until the day of the game itself.

Look, you’re going to be putting your hard earned cash on the line – don’t abuse your bankroll by neglecting a very important part of the research process: knowing who’s actually going to be playing in the game!

4 – Consider Alternate Lines

One of the non-negotiables in my overall betting strategy is seeking out value whenever possible. When it comes to the over/under bet in the NFL, you’re going to be looking at -110 pretty much all the time…or are you? Not if you get creative and investigate the alternative lines.

Note:

If you’re not familiar, alternative lines move the total number and provide different risk-to-win odds accordingly. For example, if the over/under is at 48.5 (-110) and you want to go with the under, you might consider moving it to 45.5 and get the odds at +115 (approximately). Have a feeling it’s going to be even lower scoring? Try 42.5 at +150 (again, just guessing on the specific moneyline).

Now here’s the challenge that you need to keep in mind: sportsbooks are really, really good at getting close to the number on a strikingly-regular basis. I’m all for choosing an alternate line when you have some information to support your decision, but be careful on moving it too much. There’s a very real chance that a few points could be the difference between a win or a loss.

Conclusion

The NFL is never going to be an “easy” sport to bet on, but if you remember the things in this article you have a chance to keep your head above water all season long. At the end of the day it’s important to remember that even if you lose, staying the course will pay off over time.

Your main takeaway from this article – if you have to pick one – should simply be to remember that the public wants points, and that means the lines can be higher than they should be. If you bet with this in mind, you’ll have the edge you need.