american football field

American Sports betting tips for January 2020

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Betting on the Big Four American sports

Americans in most states can’t legally bet on sports online. Of course, that doesn’t mean that gamblers in Europe or elsewhere are unable to bet on sports in the United States.

The world’s premier American football and basketball leagues are located in the USA – the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) respectively. It would also be easy to argue that the top hockey league worldwide is the National Hockey League (NHL), and that Major League Baseball (MLB) is home to superior talent compared to other professional leagues.

If you live outside of the U.S. and you’re interested in betting on one of the four major American sports, you’re in luck. Major European sportsbooks like Paddy Power typically offer lines on every U.S. sporting event you’d want to bet on.

Whether you happened to catch a bit of an American sport on TV or you’re a serious fan, you’ve happened across the right place. This page will guide bettors – both new and experienced – to understand the ins and outs of betting on U.S. sports.

NFL Football betting

The NFL is by far the most popular sport for betting in the United States, accounting for nearly half of all legal wagers in Las Vegas. Regarded by many as the most entertaining major U.S. sport, it’s easy to see how the NFL has turned Sundays into weekly holidays for sports fans.

With 32 teams in relative parity creating a dynamic and highly-competitive landscape, the sport has created unrivaled drama for fans and bettors alike. Here’s what you need to know to get started betting on the NFL.

Bet Types

With dozens of ways to bet on each fixture and more created every day, it can be difficult to navigate your options at first glance. For now, we will focus on the three most common bet types:

Spread betting

Spread Betting is the most popular kind of NFL bet. This involves the sportsbooks handicapping the fixture by setting a number of points that a favored team is expected to win by. In order for a bet on the favored team to pay out, that team must win by more points than the set amount (the “spread“). A bet on the underdog team will pay out if that team loses by less than that number or if they win outright.

The below odds from bet365 illustrate a sample spread bet for the first game of the upcoming NFL season. The Carolina Panthers are favored by 2 points over the Denver Broncos, yielding a spread of Carolina -2. If the Panthers win the game by more than 2 points, a spread bet on them will pay off. Conversely, a spread bet on the Broncos will pay out if the Broncos win outright or lose by 1 point.

Money Line betting

Money Line Betting is the other common way to bet on an NFL team, and is perhaps the most straightforward. This bet is simply a wager on a team to win, with the bookmakers setting payouts for each side based on the likelihood of each team winning.

In the above example, a £27 bet on the Carolina Panthers would yield a potential payoff of £20, reflecting that the Panthers are favored to win the game. Meanwhile, a £20 bet on the underdog Broncos would pay out £23.

Over/Under betting

Over/Under Betting involves betting on the number of total points scored in the game. To use the above example once more, bet365 is offering odds on the point total for the fixture exceeding or not exceeding 43, with a price of 10/11 on each side.

If the combined points scored by the Panthers and Broncos is more than 43, the Over will pay out, while the Under will pay out if fewer than 43 points are scored. Note that this total includes any possible points scored in Overtime.

NFL betting tips

While every game is a unique scenario, American football is filled with trends and stats that can be leveraged in placing smart bets. There’s nothing wrong with wagering on your favorite team every week, but for those keen on expanding to a wider slate of fixtures, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Bet with your head, not with your heart

It’s difficult to separate emotion from sports, and American football is a prime example of that. While the game is built on aggression and adrenaline, it’s important to keep a level head when betting on the NFL.

Just because the thought of the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl has a certain sex appeal doesn’t mean that betting on them at 25/1 is a wise decision.

Conversely, it’s equally important not to get carried away betting on teams that get off to a hot start. In 2015, the Atlanta Falcons began the season 5-0 and looked poised for a deep playoff run, but ended up going 3-8 down the stretch and missing the playoffs altogether.

While it would have been tempting to continue to ride their hot start in the middle of the season, a glance at their schedule and the close nature of their opening games indicates that they likely benefited from luck more than high-caliber play.

If you only follow one guideline in betting the NFL, it should be this: don’t let emotion overrule your better judgement—bet with your head, not with your heart.

Focus your energy on early season games

Not only does the beginning of a new NFL season bring renewed optimism for fan bases from Seattle to New York, it also brings the biggest opportunity for bettors. Football is an immensely complex game, and the combination of frequent player changes at many positions and the short 16-game season means that we never get a great look at a static team, as we might in other sports.

A new season brings a fresh start, and it means that the oddsmakers are often flying just as blind as everyone else. This creates tremendous opportunity for bettors who know where to look.

One of the biggest mistakes bettors make each year is assuming that the good teams from last year will continue to perform well this year, while bad teams will continue to struggle. Based on the number of moving pieces in a 53-man NFL roster, this is usually folly.

It’s okay to use a team’s prior year performance as a baseline expectation for the new year, but consider taking a hard look at a team’s offseason moves (trades, free agent signing, coaching changes, etc.) before assuming they’re in for more of the same.

Find out what everyone else is wagering on—then do the opposite

If there’s one truism that never seems to let us down, it’s that the general public is dreadful at predicting the NFL. In a league where the media tends to focus on big market teams and perpetual powerhouses, there is often a substantial gap between the perceived and actual skill levels of a given team.

Knowing which teams are consistently public darlings—these days, typically teams like the Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, and Seahawks would all qualify—can lead to contrarian betting value. By betting against the popular teams and instead backing undesirable teams such as the Jaguars, Titans, Raiders, and Browns, you may be amazed at how easy it is to find value in the odds for certain fixtures.

This strategy also applies to teams on streaks. The public and the media is quick to hop on the bandwagon of teams on a winning steak, and equally quick to dismiss teams who have dropped consecutive games. By opting to go against the grain and betting against such public perception, you can take advantage of irrational assessments of team skill and often earn yourself a tidy profit.

Bet against teams in must win games

Every year, the media hypes up certain games as “must-wins” for a certain team. Not only are they typically wrong about the game being a must win, but the perception leads to a bias in the public’s perception that leads people to believe that the team is more likely to win than they truly are.

The logic generally goes something like this: “The Seahawks MUST win tonight to keep their season on track—therefore they WILL win.”

This line of thinking is, of course, nonsense, and the statistics bear that out. Aside from this red herring, the public perception often ends up skewing the odds on the game, creating an opportunity for savvy bettors to find value by betting against those teams in such situations.

This extends even to extreme scenarios like a Week 17 do-or-die game to determine whether a team will make the playoffs. Fading teams in these positions is rarely a bad decision.

Take advantage of Bye week scheduling

Over the course of the grueling 17-week-long NFL season, each team gets only one respite—the Bye week. This break allows teams to rest injured players, get in extra practices, and lay out a more detailed game plan for the next opponent.

While a bit of extra rest may not seem like a big deal, stats show that teams coming off a Bye week win their next game over 52% of the time.

On the flip side, teams heading into a Bye week have only won 48% of their games in the past five years, suggesting that teams might be looking ahead to their break.

Most importantly, sportsbooks don’t seem to have fully adjusted their odds for either of these phenomena, leaving the door open for bettors who do their homework. While this may not seem like a huge advantage, it can be quite a nice benefit when coupled with other trends.

Know the team schedules forward and backward

If there is one key factor that fans and bettors alike don’t take seriously enough, it’s scheduling. While there are countless nuances to consider here, there are three major angles to remember above all else:

  • Time between games
  • Travel required for games
  • Back-to-back away games

While most games are played on Sundays, the inclusion of weekly Thursday and Monday night games makes things a bit more complicated. It’s not uncommon for a team to play a Sunday game on the road and then have to travel for a Thursday night game on a short week.

The stats show that teams tend to struggle in these situations due to the short prep time. On the other hand, teams that play on a Thursday often have the advantage of a long break before their next game.

In addition to these timing quirks, location plays an equally significant role for bettors. It’s well-documented, for example, that West Coast teams traveling to play early games on the East Coast have a horrendous track record. Not only do these teams have to travel all the way across the country, but they have to play what to them feels like an early morning game.

Finally, it’s important to consider the home/away cadence for each team. While teams tend to perform reasonably well on the first away game of a road trip, a second straight away game often spells disaster. Teams in this situation win at a much lower rate than the typical away team, and the effect is even more pronounced if teams are traveling from coast to coast on the trip.

Keeping these three factors in mind and looking for instances where more than one of these cases may apply will yield chances for the bettor who does his homework to have a big edge come wagering time.

Armed with these tips, you’re well-positioned to become a shrewd, winning NFL bettor right away.

NBA Basketball betting

While the NFL is still the most popular sport for betting in America, basketball is now running a close second, with over $1 billion wagered in Las Vegas sportsbooks alone last year. With compelling narratives such as the Golden State Warriors’ record win total and Lebron James’ storybook championship this past season, the sport is poised for even more explosive growth this year.

This sudden spotlight has also skewed casual fans’ perceptions of many of the league’s 30 teams, creating value for educated bettors. Here’s what you need to know to get started betting on the NBA.

NBA betting tips

Know the ins and outs of each team’s schedule

Outside of team skill and home court advantage, scheduling is the most important factor in predicting the outcome of a game. Over the course of an 82 game season, rest days are as good as gold, with rested teams having a major advantage over those with less fresh legs.

The most common way this manifests itself is in ‘back-to-backs’—sequences where a team has to play games on consecutive days. With no time to recuperate, a second game in two days can be a major challenge for even the deepest squad.

This effect can be compounded if the team is traveling between the two games. It’s not uncommon for a team to enjoy a solid win at home one day and be blown out by a lesser team on the road the next.

Knowing each team’s schedule may not give you a major advantage over bookmakers, who are also wise to the calendar, but it will at least provide guidance in selecting teams at full strength, and will stop you from overvaluing teams facing lesser opposition when playing on consecutive days.

Be alert to teams resting players

Now more than ever, in-season strategy has become a major part of the NBA season. Playoff-bound teams, for example, commonly rest players in an effort to keep them fresh for the postseason. For teams confident in their position in the standings, this can even start early in the season.

This is where the value for educated bettors comes in. By understanding the value of key players and the relative skill of a team’s back-ups, it’s possible to get an edge over the casual bettor who fails to accurately account for this switch.

For example, many fans were tempted to bet against the Golden State Warriors last season when All-Stars like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were given the night off. In most cases, however, this came back to bite bettors, as the Warriors’ incredibly deep and talented bench carried the team.

There is no easy guideline for betting in games like this—finding value requires doing your homework on each team’s roster and exploiting media overreaction to lineup changes.

Not all home court advantages are equal

Most experienced NBA bettors agree that, on average, home court advantage is worth 3-3.5 points in a typical game. This means, for example, that if the Miami Heat are 2 point underdogs on the road playing the Cleveland Cavaliers, you would expect them to be 2 point favorites at home against the same opposition.

It’s important to acknowledge, however, that this is a gross generalization. Some arenas are significantly more difficult to play in than others, and it’s not hard to see why if you watch enough games.

Certain locations, like Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena, pride themselves on making games especially difficult for visiting teams, while others struggle to make much of an impact. In general, winning tends to lead to more enthusiastic crowds, and explains why in recent years places like Miami, Golden State, Portland, and Toronto have had particularly strong home courts.

While these differences may only be worth an extra point or two per game, these advantages add up over the course of a season, and it’s unclear how well oddsmakers capture these differing effects for each team.

Consider individual player matchups

Basketball is the only major sport in the U.S. where a one-on-one matchup can legitimately determine the outcome of a game. If an opposing team doesn’t have an adequate defender to match up against Lebron James, for instance, that team isn’t going to win very many games against the Cavaliers, regardless of how skilled their players are. While this is an extreme example, it highlights an important point—individual battles are incredibly important to the outcome of a game.

This is one area where bettors will reap what they sow. The more research you put into these nuances, the more successful you will be. This may seem like an unreasonable amount of work at first, but luckily there are countless resources at your disposal. Steal insights from experts on Twitter and from team journalists.

Pick a handful of games to focus on and really do your homework on those specific matchups, rather than trying to tackle every single game. In situations like this where the research can seem endless, work smarter, not harder.

Look out for teams that are tanking

Tanking has been around in the NBA for a long time, and will continue to be a popular off-the-record strategy in the league as long as the draft lottery structure encourages it. In recent years, this trend has moved into the spotlight in the form of Sam Hinkie and the Philadelphia 76ers, who have masterfully thrown games over the course of the season to ensure a high draft pick.

The key to taking advantage of this strategy is to identify situations where teams are likely to tank. In many cases, this may not be obvious, as the league has an obligation to crack down on blatant displays of tanking.

It could be something as simple as starting an ‘experimental’ lineup featuring traditionally back-up players who are being given a shot at starting a game. Or a few curious coaching decisions in the 4th quarter that conveniently don’t work out in the team’s favor at the end of the night.

Whatever the method, the takeaway is the same: if the team or the coach is trying to lose, you will turn a handsome profit by betting against them. This is especially true because the stats-driven odds that the bookmakers set often do not consider the impact of tanking.

And who can blame them?  If the Sacramento Kings would normally be 4 point underdogs against an average team, but have decided to tank, who’s to say whether they should be 6 point underdogs or 12 point underdogs in there next game? Take advantage of this shortcoming by the books—opportunities like this are few and far between.

Remember that teams evolve throughout the season

On the whole, pundits and fans alike overreact to a team’s recent performance and are prone to draw inferences from a small number of results. This is especially true in sports like football, where the entire season is only 16 games long. But in basketball, uniquely, a shift in a team’s record may legitimately be due to a significant evolution over the course of a season.

With communication and team chemistry playing major roles in results on the court, it can often take time for a new group of teammates to adjust to each other’s playing styles and tendencies. In recent years, this has borne itself out over and over again following big trades (see: the Orlando Magic in 2013 or the Miami Heat in 2010).

Sorting out which teams have organically grown better as a unit over the first few months of the season versus those that have simply gone on a hot streak can be challenging, but doing so can yield huge profits for savvy bettors.

In general, look for media overreactions and claims of underperformance early in the year. This is typically a sign of a talented team who simply hasn’t had sufficient time to build team chemistry yet.

Being patient and backing these squads later in the season can be an incredibly lucrative strategy if executed properly, so always be on the lookout for scenarios that seem to fill this bit. Proceed with caution, but capitalize aggressively when given the chance.

MLB Baseball betting

Affectionately called “America’s pastime,” baseball is somewhat less popular than football and basketball among sports bettors, but provides action on a much more regular basis, with each team playing 162 games each year.

With so many matchups to choose from, it can be difficult at first to navigate a full daily slate of games.  Here’s what you need to know to get started betting on MLB:

MLB betting tips

Check the weather forecast

Baseball is the only one of the “Big 4” U.S. sports to commonly be impacted by weather. With rain delays a regular threat during the summer months, it’s important to consider how these game-time changes can affect the teams.

The most direct impact is on starting pitchers. In general, pitchers can only warm up once per day, and a lengthy delay can mean a short outing for a pitcher.

Given that pitchers are the most important player on any team, it’s critical to consider how this would affect game odds. For example, if you anticipate a weather delay, it may be worth betting on the team with the worse pitcher, and hoping that both teams’ starting pitchers have limited impact on the game.

In addition to rain, both temperature and wind can be critical variables in betting run totals. Higher temperatures lead to longer hits, meaning more home runs. Consider betting the ‘Over’ on games played in unusually hot temperatures.

Wind is equally as important in this regard—breezes blowing toward the outfield lead to more home runs, while winds blowing in lead to lower scoring. Try to be picky and focus on betting Over/Unders in games where both temperature and wind are in your favor.

Consider the ballpark

One of the most underrated factors in betting baseball is the ballpark. In contrast to most other major sports, baseball does not have well-defined field dimensions.

Each ballpark has a unique shape, with larger parks (e.g. Petco Park) favoring pitchers and smaller parks (e.g. Yankee Stadium) favoring hitters. The most obvious impact is on runs, with pitcher’s parks tending to result in lower scoring games, and hitters’ parks more often leading to high-scoring shootouts.

But just as importantly, a ballpark’s configuration can favor certain styles of pitching, giving one team a big edge over another in a given game. Pitchers that are prone to giving up fly balls, for instance, will fair much better in larger parks, as they are less likely to give up home runs.

Pitchers that typically give up more ground balls, on the other hand, are less impacted by what park they’re playing in. By betting against fly ball pitchers in small parks, and betting on them in bigger parks, you can take advantage of an often overlooked factor in the game and give yourself a leg up on the sportsbooks.

Anticipate lineups for each team

Typically, odds for each game are released about 24 hours in advance of each game, or as soon as each team’s prior game is finished. The lineups for each team, meanwhile, are only released 1-2 hours ahead of the game. This creates a tremendous opportunity for bettors who think ahead.

Most hitters gets off days now and then as a respite from the brutally long season. If you can anticipate that a team’s best hitter may be getting a day off tomorrow, you can get ahead of the oddsmakers by betting against that team. While at first this may seem like a tall task, remember that managers typically base these decisions on the team’s schedule.

For example, it’s extremely common for a catcher to get a day off in a daytime game following a nighttime game. The same is often true of older players who tend to have less stamina. This same logic often applies toward the end of a team’s road trip as well, with managers opting to give their tired players some extra rest before beginning a stretch of home games.

Don’t underestimate the value of bullpens

When considering which team to bet on, many fans look first and foremost at the starting pitcher for each team. In fact, this practice is so common that sportsbooks often list the pitching matchup next to the team names in each game’s odds, like the below example from Bet365:

baseball odds example

While taking starting pitchers into account is obviously part of being an educated bettor, it’s important to remember that these pitchers will only be in the game for, on average, 5-6 innings. The remaining 3-4 innings of each game come down to the bullpen.

With such a large impact on the game, these pitchers deserve a significant amount of consideration as well. Teams with strong bullpens have a tremendous edge over other teams for 3-4 innings of most games they play—a fact that the oddsmakers don’t always do a great job of remembering. In a matchup of roughly equal offenses, betting on the team with the better bullpen can provide a huge leg up.

For bettors willing to do a bit more research, an additional edge can be found in looking at which bullpens have been over-worked versus those that are fresh. For instance, consider a team coming off a series of rough games in which their bullpen has had to pitch double their normal amount of innings.

This team will be at a big disadvantage in their next game, as the best pitchers in their bullpen will likely be unavailable, forcing starting pitchers to stay in the game longer and lesser relievers to chew up innings. Conversely, a team with a fresh bullpen may have their starter on a shorter leash, safe in the knowledge that their relievers can handle the rest of the game.

Compare odds at multiple sportsbooks

One of the unique aspects of MLB is the level of parity between the teams. In a league where winning 2/3rds of your games puts you in historically rarified air, the amount of variance in games between most teams is overwhelming.

For this reason, it’s unusual for teams to be more than a 2/1 underdog or a 1/2 favorite in any game. As a result, oddsmakers generally offer better odds on baseball than on other sports, with typically half of the normal vigorish of basketball or football games.

This can serve as a tremendous boon for bettors with access to multiple sportsbooks. As odds at each book commonly differ by at least a few points, a bettor willing to shop around a bit is often rewarded with better odds on the team they’re interested in.

By incorporating this practice into your daily betting routine, you can maximize your payouts on each game. Remember that while the difference for each game may be relatively small, these additional points add up to a great deal of extra winnings over the course of a 162-game season.

NHL Hockey betting

Perhaps the most intense and entertaining of the four major U.S. sports is ice hockey. Buoyed by fast-paced play, heated rivalries, and superstar players, the NHL has experienced something of a resurgence in recent years. While it won’t be challenging the NFL for top billing anytime soon, hockey has again captivated sport fans’ attention, and the growth in wagering totals in recent years has reflected that.

With team and player information seemingly harder to come by for many casual followers, learning to assess NHL wagering odds can at first seem rather daunting to the unacquainted bettor. Here’s what you need to know to get started betting on the NHL.

NHL betting tips

Bet on goalies first and foremost

Football has quarterbacks, baseball has pitchers, and basketball has point guards, but perhaps no position in U.S. sports is as important as a hockey team’s goalie. A goalie in top form can on some nights be nearly unbeatable, while one lacking confidence can cost a good team the whole game. When considering what hockey teams to bet on, look first and foremost at the goalies.

Top keepers are a rare commodity, and an elite stopper can transform an otherwise average team into a perennial playoff contender or a basement dwelling team into a respectable side.

Consider each team’s starting and back-up goalie when placing bets. While most bettors have a decent sense of the value of some popular goalies, backups often present an opportunity to outwit fellow gamblers.

By knowing which backups are starting caliber versus those that are lucky to be in the league, you can take advantage of rest days for normal starters. In addition, a rested goalie often provides some extra value over those who have started several straight games.

Beware of ‘look ahead’ games

Perception is a big part of sports, and this is especially true in hockey, given how physical and how competitive games tend to be. With dozens of heated rivalries, annual playoff pushes, and personal one-on-one matchups, teams absolutely get a bit more hyped for certain games than others. While this tends to result in entertaining games for fans to enjoy, it also has a carryover effect on games surrounding big showdowns.

For example, if the New York Rangers have a home game against their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on Saturday, it may be difficult for them to focus 100% on a road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. This ‘look ahead’ effect creates value in fading teams in these situations.

Just as commonly, teams in this spot may have a let-down game following a highly hyped matchup, as they have not yet emotionally or physically recovered from their last battle. Over the course of an 82-game season, these psychological challenges can be just as rigorous as any encountered on the ice.

Account for injured players

Hockey is an extremely physical game, and over the course of a long season, injuries occur with depressing regularity. Being aware of injuries to key players is crucial to success in betting hockey. While it’s tempting to focus on star forwards, remember that defensemen are just as important.

Even a player who is not known as a strong individual contributor can be a big loss if they have great chemistry with the rest of their line. And, more importantly, oddsmakers are less likely to adequately adjust for injuries to these under-the-radar yet equally valuable players.

Don’t underestimate the value of team depth late in the season

As each team will undoubtedly be carrying several injuries for a good chunk of the season, depth is incredibly important in hockey. With four main lines considered the norm these days, it’s important to be able to backfill roles with solid bench players when starters go down.

Remember that these role players often get nearly as many minutes on the ice as most superstars, and thus have immense responsibility in the success of the team.

By betting on teams with deep benches, you can minimize your risk due to in-game and long-term injuries. Focusing on matchups against depleted teams will allow you to compound this edge and really get a leg up on the oddsmakers.

Pay attention of a team’s recent form

In many sports, a team’s recent successes and failures are overblown by the media, causing bettors to overreact and shift their money prematurely. Hockey may be the one exception to this trend.

With team chemistry and communication having such a major impact on overall success, a team’s recent form is often an omen of future performance. Winning streaks can give a team remarkable confidence boosts, while losing streaks can cause teams to question themselves and introduces a level of doubt. In a game where psychology plays such an integral role in results on the ice, form may not be an overblown factor at all.

Look in particular for games that pit a team on a winning streak against one which has been struggling. Players can pick up on body language signals, and this often leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy where the more confident team gains even more confidence from sensing weakness in the opposition.

While betting on ‘hot’ teams may seem like an overly basic strategy, by focusing on stringent cases such as this, it is still possible to extract value in games that the bookies may be too conservative on.