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Forecasting Lines and Score Prediction

Football Lines

Those new to gridiron betting probably wonder why Vegas handicappers make such a big deal out of line forecasting.

After all, the sportsbook’s odds for any contest must be wagered on as they are – or at least at where the lines wind up after a week or more of betting action.

But the betting lines can be deceptive. Often, a gambler will second-guess himself after seeing a consensus opening line that is starkly different from what he imagined. That can plant a seed of doubt as to whether his analysis of a match-up is accurate.

Line forecasting is a way around such a dilemma. By line forecasting an NFL or an NCAA football game before the odds appear (or before looking at them), the bettor can efficiently run through a checklist of factors that could affect the outcome and handicap a point spread or a moneyline of his own.

If the spread or the ML (or the O/U) differs greatly from your experiment in line forecasting the game, then perhaps you have stumbled on an extremely profitable betting market.

How Line Forecasting Helps NFL Handicappers Succeed

Even high-rollers can be influenced by the odds that they see. If you expected to see the Denver Broncos favored by (-3), and instead they’re favored by (-13), suddenly everything feels called into question. Is the opposing quarterback injured? Will there be nasty weather at Mile High that only the Broncos know how to handle? What info do the insiders have that isn’t available to the public?

Probably not a whole lot, at least as far as the National Football League is concerned. Line forecasting college football is more complex, since there are over 100 teams in the NCAA’s top division, and not all of them get a ton of media coverage or are forced to reveal every injury.

The NFL is extremely cognizant of gambling action on its games and has regulated pregame info over the decades. TV broadcasters can ask coaches for confidential game-planning info, but only with the agreement that nothing will be revealed until kickoff. Injuries can be hidden or covered up – lord knows the New England Patriots have tried – but in general, the NFL’s injury reports are thorough and honest.

There’s no spying needed when line forecasting the NFL, but it is important to know what types of odds tend to be set for the pro gridiron as opposed to college football and other sports.

If you want to brush up on the betting markets and sportsbook rules (and some general betting strategy) before learning more about line forecasting, click on the link below to read more about basic NFL handicapping.

Line Forecasting NFL Over/Under Totals

The Over/Under, or O/U, asks the bettor to pick whether the final score’s total point tally will exceed a point total set by the sportsbook. If the point total of the game and the O/U line are equally matched after four quarters, the wager is a push.

Over/Under totals in college football tend to be higher than those set for the NFL ranks. Line forecasting an FBS game between two wide-open offenses is a matter of calculating dozens of potential points in each quarter. But handicappers who spend their Sunday nights line forecasting the next weekend of NFL action know to keep their O/U totals in the 40 to 60 range, or even less than 40 points if a pair of tough defenses are playing against mediocre QBs.

Click below to read more about Over/Under totals betting on the NFL.

Line Forecasting an NFL Point Spread

Choosing a winner “against the spread” means picking a team to prevail on a plus/minus handicap with points spotted to the underdog. Favorited NFL teams must win by more than the points spread to win for gamblers who picked them. Underdogs must either win the game or lose by less than the spread.

Point spreads in the NFL are also tighter than in college, and line forecasting NFL games to have anything close to -20 or -15 spreads is a mistake unless an unbeaten Super Bowl favorite is playing the worst team in the league. That’s because not only is The Shield designed to create unpredictable match-ups on any given weekend (“any given Sunday,” as the cliché has it), but NFL games tend to feature fewer plays from scrimmage and a smaller percentage of totally helpless defenses.

Finally, FBS coaches are aware that margin of victory is crucial to their success in the rankings and ultimately in bowl placement and recruiting. NFL coaches have no such worry. A National Football League team could, theoretically, win 19 games in a row by a single point each and become an undefeated Super Bowl champion.

Sure, any NFL head coach would love to run up a huge lead in the third quarter and pull his starters off the field. But they will not sacrifice their best chances to win just to try to bring about that scenario. In the NFL, every lead must be protected like gold.

How does all of that affect NFL line forecasting? When line forecasting a point spread, consider that NFL spreads rarely exceed the low teens. Rivalries such as Giants vs. Eagles and Broncos vs. Chiefs can make the consensus point spread even tighter than it would normally be for those match-ups even if there’s a severe disparity in records and positive statistics.

Read more about NFL point spreads on the page linked below.

Score Prediction: A Crucial Tool in Line Forecasting

A handy method of predicting an O/U total or a point spread is to try to predict a final score. Perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs, an elite offensive team with a porous defense, are taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team with a good defense and an average offense.

If your analysis leads you to believe that Jacksonville will control the contest, then an O/U total in the high 40s might be an accurate call. But if it looks like Kansas City has all the momentum, and the quarterback will get lots of snaps in good field position, the bettor’s line forecasting effort should include a higher point total than what is normal for an NFL contest.

But remember that the result of a football game is also based on luck and chance to some degree. Vegas handicappers do not predict final scores as much as they handicap what “ballpark” the final score is likely to be in. If Kansas City is expected to beat Jacksonville by -8 points with a 54 O/U total, then a little remedial algebra gives us the prospective final score of 31-23.

However, the score prediction should not be taken as more than a guess at the most likely outcome. Imagine a bell-curve graph with “31 to 23” somewhere in the middle at the highest peak. “60 to 0” would get a very low height on the graph, but “32 to 22” would be right up there among the likeliest results of the contest.

NFL Line Forecasting: Determining the Moneyline

NFL moneylines ask the football bettors to choose which team will win a game by any final score. Moneylines are given in fractions relating to $100. A “+” symbol indicates an underdog, while a “-” identifies the favorite.

For instance, a line of +200 means that the gambler will receive $200 on a winning $100 wager, while a -200 moneyline means that the bettor must wager $200 to potentially win $100.

A helpful trick for line forecasting a moneyline is to imagine the game being played ten times. Remember that a 3-to-1 payoff moneyline indicates that the sportsbook’s odds-managers believe that the underdog has roughly a 1-in-3 chance of winning.

If such an underdog (at a moneyline of around +300) could win four games out of ten against a favorite, then the line forecasting bettor can conclude that the moneyline should be shorter. If they could only win two or three times out of ten, then the house is offering a longer moneyline than it should, and betting value switches to the favored team.

Still confused about betting moneylines? Read below for a primer.

NFL Line Forecasting and Betting Tactics

So you’ve indulged in some Sunday night line forecasting of the NFL week to come. Then, on Monday morning, the odds come out. What now?

Unless you’ve already got your eye on a particular team or a particular market, there are only two possibilities of how the line forecasting will shake out.

Either your line roughly (or exactly) agrees with the Vegas consensus, or it’s way off. If it’s way off, you’ve either made a mistake…or your bookie has.

Go back through the analysis that you made when line forecasting the match-up. Have you covered all of the angles? Are there trends in the series that should be heeded? Late-breaking injuries or mysterious reports of a hurt superstar? What about the weather?

Weather Impact on Line Forecasting

Long-term weather forecasting is a big part of NFL line forecasting for outdoor games. Last season, one of our writers wondered in a blog why an Over/Under line was dropping like a rock with over a week to go before an outdoor NFL contest. Turns out that while meteorologists can’t always predict whether it will shower or shine in an hour’s time, they’re pretty good at noticing when a gigantic slow-moving snowstorm is about to settle on a particular city or state.

Subtle weather conditions such as a breeze affecting the kickers should be analyzed on the night before gameday. When making bets earlier in the week or when line forecasting, simply look at the radar and a few long-term weather predictions for the region. A little wet weather doesn’t bother most NFL teams, but an Arctic white-out or a monsoon most certainly does.

Placing a Confident Bet

If you’ve gone back over your line forecasting process, and your score prediction is still vastly different from that of Las Vegas, consider placing a bet on whichever sportsbook line has value as a result. Obviously, a low-scoring game will win on the “Under” against a too-high O/U total, while a stronger-than-expected underdog will be more likely to cover the spread. Both bets can be made with confidence once the bettor’s line forecasting gives him a better idea of the mistake bookies are making.

But that’s only good advice for betting on a given day. What about plotting out your wagers and tactics for an entire week, then placing bets once the action has swayed the markets?

Forecasting the Betting Public’s Whims

Casinos tend to play it safe by “balancing” action on both sides of any line and will adjust the lines as bettors lean heavily toward a particular team or O/U wager.

Though not technically “line forecasting” (and certainly not related to picking the final score), an understanding of which way the odds are likely to move as the week progresses is crucial for sports gamblers who profit from betting against the public.

Thankfully, the betting public’s whims are usually not random but can be tracked and predicted in a similar fashion as the fates of NFL teams on the gridiron.

It’s an established truth, for instance, that recreational bettors prefer to win on their picks (as opposed to looking for the best risk-reward value) and will bet on favorites a little too often. In the NFL, a popular franchise “brand” can also result in moneyline movement in the well-hyped team’s direction.

Veteran handicappers know that a rush of action on the Dallas Cowboys to cover against Arizona or Buffalo is not always based on sound line forecasting but can simply be a product of the Silver Star’s enduring fan appeal and weekly media coverage. Familiar athletes can seem more talented than “no-names” even if their skill-sets are actually very similar.

If line forecasting tells you that there’s value in betting on the Cowboys’ opponents to cover the spread, then it can be profitable to wait for the spread to veer toward Big D. But if Dallas is the team you want to bet on, do it quickly before the action can steer the odds in a less-favorable direction.

For more on betting against the public and other NFL betting tactics, take a peek at some of the links listed below.

Conclusion: Beating the House with NFL Line Forecasting

Like any system or tactic, line forecasting should not be considered the end-all, be-all of successful NFL betting. Remember that ultimately, you’re still doing the same thing as you normally would – analyzing a match-up for betting value – except without looking at the Vegas lines first.

But there’s no question that starting with a blank canvas can aid the armchair handicapper in making successful picks. Las Vegas odds-makers are not infallible, and we know for certain that the betting public isn’t.

Go ahead and set your own lines before the bookie does each week. You may just find that line forecasting helps you identify mispriced odds…and take advantage with winning bets.