Factors to Consider When Handicapping Football

Many football bettors waste a lot of time and energyon trying to find a perfect system for handicapping football games. No such thing exists. There are some simple football betting systems that can improve your chances of making money, but the idea that there's some magical formula that will help you to consistently pick winners is severely flawed.

Like most other sports, football can be very unpredictable. Here are just a few examples of this.

  • Teams that should comfortably win matches against weaker opposition don't always perform as well as they're capable of.
  • Underdogs often perform above expectations and pull off surprising results.
  • Games that are expected to be high scoringoften end up being relatively low scoring.
  • Games that are expected to be close regularly end up with one team winning by a large margin.

Football games are not played on paper, so you can't handicap them simply based on what SHOULD happen. There's no point in predicting what you think is going to happen based on instinct alone; you have to be smarter than that.

Instinct does play a part in handicapping though, to some extent at least. You can follow all the theories and strategies you want to – and they can certainly help - but it's ultimately your own instincts and personal judgements that will determine how successful you are. Handicapping football is really more of an art than it is a science.

One of the most important aspects of handicapping is learning about all the different factors that can affect football games. You have to be able to analyze these, and understand the potential impact they have. You should also learn about the different statistics that are worth studying.

On this page, we teach you about these factors. We also list some of the stats that have some value in the handicapping process. Taking the time to read through the information here, and then using it each time you bet, will almost certainly help to improve your football betting results.

Team Quality

This is perhaps the most obvious factor listed here. The quality of the two teams taking part in a game will of course go a long way in determining in outcome. Although it's never just as simple as analyzing which team is better, it's definitely important to analyze how strong each team is. Assessing team quality is vital when placing future wagers too, such as those on which teams will make the play offs.

The key here is not just to look at the star names and the "glamourous" positions. You need to evaluate the quality right through the team.

One common mistake made by football bettors is to judge the quality of a team based solely on their offensive line. This is media-driven to some extent, as the media does generally focus far more on the offense than the defense. For proof of this, watch the highlights of a game and see how much time is dedicated to showing and discussing offensive moves. It's a lot more time than is spent on the defense.

A team's quality in offense is important beyond doubt, but don't underestimate the importance of a solid defensive line and good linebackers. Every single position on the football field has a role to play, so you need to consider them all for the purposes of betting too.

Team Style

The style of a team is only marginally less important than the quality of a team when trying to make predictions about games. This is especially true when betting point spreads or totals, as with these you're not just trying to predict which team is going to win a game. You're trying to predict how many points a team will win by, or how many points will be scored in total, and the styles of the two teams will have a big influence on these things.

Think about how the coach tends to set his team up. Does he impose a specific philosophy on his players, or does he allow them freedom to express themselves on the field? Does he prefer a predominantly attacking style, or a defensive one? Answering these kinds of questions will help you to think in more detail about how a game may pan out.


It's not uncommon for football bettors to completely dismiss motivation as a handicapping factor. We understand why this, as it's not unreasonable to want to assume that football players are always going to leave everything they have on the field.

The reality is, however, that there are different levels of motivation. Most players probably do put their best efforts into most matches, but there will be times when they are especially motivated to put in a good performance. There will also be times when they're not as motivated as they could be.

Here are some things to think about in relation to motivation.

  • Previous game – A big win or a heavy loss can affect team motivation in the following game
  • Recent schedule – Tired players can suffer a drop in motivation
  • Previous matchup result – Revenge can be a big motivation for a team to win
  • Standings – Having nothing to realistically play for can affect a team's motivation

The motivation of individual players should be considered too. For example, a player who has been criticized in the media recently may be fired up to prove his doubters wrong. A player up against a teamwho traded him might be especially motivated to perform.


We mentioned above that a team's recent schedule can potentially have an effect on motivation. That's one reason why the schedule is a handicapping factor to consider, and there are others too.

The opponents that a team has to face, and the order in which they face them, will unquestionably impact their overall performance throughout a season as well as in individual games. One of the many things we recommend doing during the off-season is studying the schedule as soon it comes out, and thinking about how it's going to affect teams.


Football handicappers should always try to stay up to date with injury reports during the season. Injuries have the potential to have a very detrimental effect on performances, especially for teams that don't have quality replacements for they players they're missing.

Even the strongest squads can easily be disrupted by more than one or two injuries.

With that being said, be careful not to overreact to injuries. Many bettors will automatically bet against a team that's missing a star player, but remember that the bookmakers will already have factored that loss into the odds and lines that they're offering. There is often some value to be had by backing a team without one its big performers, especially if most people are going against that team.

Playing Conditions

Some teams are able to perform at their best whatever the circumstances. Others need favorable conditions if they're going to play to their full potential. Playing conditions are therefore something that should be considered when handicapping a game.

Some specific conditions that you should consider include the surface, the crowd, and the weather. You might not think that the surface makes much difference, but it can to some teams. The crowd can be important too. In a game between two big rivals, a vociferous home crowd can really make a difference. Home advantage is usually factored into spreads and lines, but not always to the extent it should be.

Weather is an often overlooked factor by handicappers, but it's something you should pay at least some attention too. Although you can't rely on weather reports to be 100% accurate, they're still useful for giving you some idea of what the conditions are likely to be. Snow is definitely something to look out for, particularly when betting on the totals.

Bills vs Colts Game

Current Form

Current form, or momentum, is overrated by many handicappers. It's important not to read too much into a team's recent results, but they shouldn't be ignored either. The key here is to make sure that you take who they have been playing into account.

Backing a team to win again after a five game winning streak might seem like the logical thing to do, but not in isolation of other factors. What if that team just happens to have had a very favorable schedule for those five games? And is now about to face a much tougher opponent? Their recent results could actually go against them in such a scenario. Relatively easy games are not always the best preparation for playing more challenging opponents, as the players not be at their sharpest.

There are all kind of nuances to consider when assessing form, and there's no right or wrong to go about things. Just try not to overestimate how much a winning streak, or a losing streak, actually means.


You obviously can't predict luck, so why have we included it on this list? First let us remind of you a point that we made right at the start of this article; football is unpredictable. You could analyze all of the factors listed here in great detail, and make a perfectly valid judgement about the likely outcome of a game. What you can't do, though, is ever be 100% certain about what's going to happen.

The point we're getting to here is that you always need a bit of luck on your side to win a wager. Or, at the very least, you need to avoid any bad luck. What's important is that you don't get disheartened when things don't turn out well for you. Even the most successful bettors in the world have runs of bad fortune where nothing goes their way, so there's every chance the same will happen to you. Stay calm when it does, and be sure to evaluate your decision making processes. If you're satisfied that you're making good decisions, then you just have to chalk up your losing streak to bad luck and keep on going.

Stats to Study

Some football handicappers make the majority of their betting decisions based solely on what the stats tell them. Others prefer not to use stats at all for their decisions. Neither of these approaches can be considered right or wrong, as how to use stats when handicapping is down to what works for each individual. Some strategies lend themselves very well to the use of stats, while others don't require them at all.

Our view is that certain stats can be very useful when handicapping football. You shouldn't necessarily read too much into any of them, as stats by themselves serve a limited purpose. Combined with other knowledge and insight, however, they definitely help when it comes to make accurate predictions.

There are tons of different published stats relating to football, and most of them are relatively easy to find on the web these days. Please don't spend time studying them all though. It makes much more sense to pick a few and really analyze them so that you can try to gain something meaningful from them. It's ultimately up to you determine which stats you find the most valuable, but we suggest that the following are certainly worth considering.

  • Key Numbers
  • Turnover Differential
  • Passing Yards
  • Yards Per Attempt
  • Rushing Yards
  • Yards Per Carry
  • Sacks Per Game
  • Negative Passing Plays


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