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10 Fundamentals of Football Handicapping

   by Hollywood Sports - 10/02/2010

After a particularly good or bad week, I find it wise to revisit my fundamentals to handicapping I use when researching and analyzing the next week's slate of college and professional football games. Successful long term handicapping requires employing tactics that consistently work. Bad beats are part of the process but rethinking how one is going about choosing what to play and what not to play is a healthy way in keeping sharp and avoiding relying on bad habits. And because I don't want to get too confident after a particularly good weekend, rethinking my basic assumptions is a good way to stay grounded to hopefully keep the momentum going. Here's my list of ten fundamentals to football handicapping.

1. Don't Overreact to the Results of the Previous Week. The recency effect is when the last impression holds a disproportionate level of importance in creating an impression. Statistically, what happened last can represent too small sample size to make an exclusive judgment. Or, as the saying goes: S**t Happens. Teams that look unbeatable are probably not quite that good and team that look horrible are probably not that bad. We may find value in taking a contrarian view to performances from the previous week that may later be considered outliers (in statistical language).

2. Teams Off Emotional Highs Tend to be Flat. The football experts who know the inside of Xs and Os offer great insight for future match-ups. The stat guys at Football Outsiders that employ hard core statistical analysis offer rich material regarding long term trends. But the edge experienced sports handicappers offer is not only knowledge of Xs and Os and the ability to deploy quantitative reasoning but also the insight on the likely emotional temperment of both teams. This is a very underrated component to handicapping. One aspect to this is that individuals cannot sustain a high level of emotional intensity. Eventually human beings search for a level of normalcy. Teams that invested and experienced an emotional high cannot help to lose that edge in their next competition since the stakes are not as high.

3. Teams that are Peaking Emotionally are Very Dangerous. This is the flip side of the above as teams that are out to prove something raise their emotional investment into the preparation and playing of a game. Whether it is a rivalry game or perhaps the desire to bounce-back (an intangible so important it often is the basis of our plays), teams that are in these situations tend to play better that their statistics would suggest.

4. Home/Road Split Stats are Often Very Telling. In football and most other sports, analyzing the discrepancies between how a team plays at home versus how they play on the road is perhaps the single greatest measurement of predicting an outcome. I often use these numbers as a necessary (but not sufficient) starting point. Solid teams typically play their best ball in the friendly and familiar environment of their home stadium. Mediocre teams often under-perform when in uncomfortable environments.

5. Remember the Travel and Schedule Situations. Travel and schedule trials or tribulations can affect both the emotional state of a team as well as determine their level of preparation. Teams coming off a bye week are more rested and better prepared for a game while teams coming off a short week (having played a game less than a week ago) are out of their routine and missing typical preparation time. Teams enjoying a long stretch of games are more comfortable than teams traveling across the country to play. The best handicapping in the world fails if this intangible is not put into the equation.

6. Be Wary of Big Point Spreads. I would consider a big point spread to be double-digits in the NFL and over 24 points in college football. It is great to side with a big favorite who has covered large number by halftime. But remember that many things have to go right for that favorite to cover those large point spreads. If just one thing goes wrong -- a long touchdown drive by the opposition, turnovers, penalties, etc. -- than it becomes unlikely that the favorite will cover the spread while winning. Remember, the coach only cares about winning the final score. On the other hand, while it is perhaps even better to take a big underdog who keeps it close or even pulls the upset, there are some teams out there that are so bad that they should never be safely backed.

7. Investigate Lines that Look Wrong. If a point spread looks wrong, don't just assume that its an easy winner. Investigate why the number is what it is. The line was set to get comparable action on both sides. Discover why bettors would take the other side. Sometimes, this research will unveil very nice intangibles that I did not previously consider. The lines-makers may know something I didn't. Sometimes the public is all on one side while all the winners are on the other side (and these situations trigger my Bet With the Books and Avoid the Trap Specials).

8. Stay Flexible About My Impressions of Teams. Teams improve and get better. Other teams regress and go into the tank. Don't get fixated on an impression about a team (especially if that impression has been rewarded in the past). The goal is to be right in the future rather than basking in being right in the past. Jumping on (or off) the proverbial bandwagon of teams at the opportune time offers great value relative to the line that is mostly based on the evolved conventional wisdom.

9. Make Sure the Type of Plays are Varied. I worry if a disproportionate number of plays are all favorites or all home teams. My concern is that I am privileging the betting situation (I want underdogs or home teams play better) over the relative assessment of both teams based on the point spread. If I am evaluating how teams match-up vis-a-vis the point spread than my plays should be varied. Privileging the betting situation is intellectually lazy and makes one vulnerable to a bad weekend.

10. Don't Forget About Total Plays. I naturally evaluate a game looking to choose a side. A majority of my plays are sides. But when a situation is not reaching my required level of acceptability, before abandoning the situation remember to evaluate if those conflicting factors actually support an Over or Under play. Totals pay green just like side plays!

It's a good list and it motivates me to make my decisions for my games this week. Best of luck for us -- Frank

Here's a free play for Oct. 2:

Lay the points with Boise State on Saturday as they will value each and every one of the style points they can muster against a New Mexico State defense that is allowing 41.7 PPG. The Aggies' defense limited their opponents to just 202 passing YPG last season but that number has skyrocketed to 276 YPG this year. New Mexico State ranks 119th in nation by allowing 519.7 YPG which is very bad news when now facing the potent Broncos' offense that averages 40.3 PPG and over 500 YPG. The Aggies' anemic offense that is gaining less than 300 YPG will struggle to move the ball against the Boise State defense that ranks 3rd in FBS with their 228.7 YPG average. The fact that Boise State has done all this against strong BCS-conference representatives (Virginia Tech and Oregon State) is very impressive. Now they start padding their numbers. Lay the points.

It was the first Saturday in October last year when Frank Sawyer's Hollywood Sports UNLEASHED his 25* Big 10 Game of the Year WINNER as Michigan State defeated (and covered) against Michigan! Frank RINGS THE BIG 10 BELL AGAIN exactly a year later with his 25* Big 10 Game of the Year & its backed by pertinent team trends that reveal a DYNAMITE 36-10 combined winning angle for this situation. DO NOT MISS OUT ON THIS WINNER!

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