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FOOTBALL HANDICAPPING FOR EXPERTS

Football Handicapping for Experts
by Website Staff

If you talk to ten gamblers there is a good chance you will hear ten different ways to handicap football. Some suggestions might be valuable while others are useless. Most football handicapping techniques will fit into one of the four categories; power ratings, trends or angles, situational analysis and match-up analysis,

Power ratings are used to assign a grade to every team and are statistics based. Subtracting the power ratings of two teams yields a mock pointspread which is compared to the sportsbook's line.

Trends and angles are tendencies that repeat; Teams that have won two or more games against the spread are 24-16-4(60%) as an away favorite since 2003.

Situational analysis measures the impact of outside influences. This may include the weather, injuries or a mid-season coaching change.

Match up analysis compares a team's style of play with their opponents. A position by position analysis might be used.

Basic Power Rating (PR)

Many handicappers use power ratings as the foundation of their sports handicapping program. The power rating is used to create unbiased pointspreads. Average margin of victory is the most common statistic used to create power ratings.

Basic PR = (Total Points Scored - Total Points Scored Against) /Games Played

Use the power ratings calculated for each team to predict the outcome of a game.

Pointspread = (Home Team PR - Away Team PR + 3) *-1

Subtract the Away Team PR from the Home Team PR, add 3.0 points for home field advantage and multiply the result by (-1) to show the Favorite as a negative number. A negative pointspread indicates a Home Favorite and a positive pointspread indicates a Home Underdog.

Using the AFC Championship game as an example:

1. Calculate team power ratings.

New England PR = (620 points scored - 294 points scored against) /17 games
New England PR = 19.2

San Diego PR = (457 points scored - 314 points scored against) /18 games
San Diego PR = 7.9

2. Calculate the predicted outcome or pointspread.

Pointspread = (New England PR - San Diego PR + 3) *-1
Pointspread = (19.2 - 7.9 + 3) *-1 = -14.3

We have calculated New England as a -14.5 point home favorite.

Advanced Power Rating

Unfortunately basic power ratings do not take into account a team's strength of schedule. A more accurate power rating can be calculated by averaging opponent PR's and averaging this number with the team PR.

Advanced PR = (Team PR + Opponent Average PR)/ 2

1. Calculate opponent basic power ratings.

New England
Week Opponents PR
1 New York (NYJ) Jets -5.44
2 San Diego Chargers 7.94
3 Buffalo Bills -6.38
4 Cincinnati Bengals -0.31
5 Cleveland Browns 1.25
6 Dallas Cowboys 7.41
7 Miami Dolphins -10.63
8 Washington Redskins 0.18
9 Indianapolis Colts 10.82
10 Bye  
11 Buffalo Bills -6.38
12 Philadelphia Eagles 2.25
13 Baltimore Ravens -6.81
14 Pittsburgh Steelers 7.18
15 New York (NYJ) Jets -5.44
16 Miami Dolphins -10.63
17 New York (NYG) Giants 2
Wild Card Bye  
Divisional Jacksonville Jaguars 5.44
  AVERAGE -0.4

San Diego
Week Opponents PR
1 Chicago Bears -0.88
2 New England Patriots 19.18
3 Green Bay Packers 9.76
4 Kansas City Chiefs -6.81
5 Denver Broncos -5.56
6 Oakland Raiders -7.19
7 Bye  
8 Houston Texans -0.31
9 Minnesota Vikings 3.38
10 Indianapolis Colts 10.82
11 Jacksonville Jaguars 5.44
12 Baltimore Ravens -6.81
13 Kansas City Chiefs -6.81
14 Tennessee Titans -0.41
15 Detroit Lions -6.13
16 Denver Broncos -5.56
17 Oakland Raiders -7.19
Wild Card Tennessee Titans -0.41
Divisional Indianapolis Colts 10.82
  AVERAGE 0.3

2. Average opponent basic power ratings.

New England Opponent Average PR = -0.4
San Diego Opponent Average PR = 0.3

3. Calculate advanced team power ratings.

New England Advanced PR = (New England PR + Opponent Average PR)/ 2
New England Advanced PR = (19.2 + -0.4) /2 = 9.4

San Diego Advanced PR = (San Diego PR + Opponent Average PR)/ 2
San Diego Advanced PR = (7.9 + 0.3) /2 = 4.1

4. Calculate the predicted outcome or pointspread.

Pointspread = (New England Advanced PR - San Diego Advanced PR + 3) *-1
(9.4 - 4.1 + 3) *-1 = -8.3

After factoring in the opponents power ratings we have calculated New England as a -8.5 point home favorite.

Weighted Advanced Power Rating

A college football team's season can last more then four months and NFL teams will play up to five months if you include the playoffs. During this time a number of changes can take place and the team you saw play in September is not always the same team in December and January. To account for this change weighting a team's most recent performances may be necessary.

Accounting for bye weeks the above chart shows that New England and San Diego played nine games by the end of the tenth week. For simplicities sake let's give all games played after week ten twice as much weight.

1. Calculate team power ratings for the first ten weeks (9 games).

New England PR = (355 points scored - 147 points scored against) /9 games
New England PR = 23.1

San Diego PR = (212 points scored - 185 points scored against) /9 games
San Diego PR = 3.0

2. Calculate team power ratings for games played after week ten.

New England PR = (265 points scored - 147 points scored against) /8 games
New England PR = 14.8

San Diego PR = (245 points scored - 129 points scored against) /9 games
San Diego PR = 12.9

3. Calculate weighted team power ratings.

Weighted PR = (PR 1st ten weeks + PR after week ten + PR after week ten) /3
Make the denominator equal to the number of factors enclosed by parenthesis.

New England Weighted PR = (23.1 + 14.8 + 14.8) /3
New England Weighted PR = 17.6

San Diego Weighted PR = (3.0 + 12.9 +12.9) /3
San Diego Weighted PR = 9.6

4. Average opponent power ratings from the first ten weeks.

New England
Week Opponents PR
1 New York (NYJ) Jets -5.44
2 San Diego Chargers 7.94
3 Buffalo Bills -6.38
4 Cincinnati Bengals -0.31
5 Cleveland Browns 1.25
6 Dallas Cowboys 7.41
7 Miami Dolphins -10.63
8 Washington Redskins 0.18
9 Indianapolis Colts 10.82
10 Bye  
  AVERAGE 0.5

San Diego
Week Opponents PR
1 Chicago Bears -0.88
2 New England Patriots 19.18
3 Green Bay Packers 9.76
4 Kansas City Chiefs -6.81
5 Denver Broncos -5.56
6 Oakland Raiders -7.19
7 Bye  
8 Houston Texans -0.31
9 Minnesota Vikings 3.38
10 Indianapolis Colts 10.82
  AVERAGE 2.5

5. Average opponent power ratings for games played after week ten.

New England
Week Opponents PR
11 Buffalo Bills -6.38
12 Philadelphia Eagles 2.25
13 Baltimore Ravens -6.81
14 Pittsburgh Steelers 7.18
15 New York (NYJ) Jets -5.44
16 Miami Dolphins -10.63
17 New York (NYG) Giants 2
Wild Card Bye  
Divisional Jacksonville Jaguars 5.44
  AVERAGE -1.5

San Diego
Week Opponents PR
11 Jacksonville Jaguars 5.44
12 Baltimore Ravens -6.81
13 Kansas City Chiefs -6.81
14 Tennessee Titans -0.41
15 Detroit Lions -6.13
16 Denver Broncos -5.56
17 Oakland Raiders -7.19
Wild Card Tennessee Titans -0.41
Divisional Indianapolis Colts 10.82
  AVERAGE -1.9

6. Calculate weighted opponent power ratings.

New England Opponent Weighted PR = (0.5 + -1.5 + -1.5) /3
New England Opponent Weighted PR = -0.8

San Diego Opponent Weighted PR = (2.5 + -1.9 + -1.9) /3
San Diego Opponent Weighted PR = -0.4

7. Calculate weighted advanced team power ratings.

New England Weighted Advanced PR = (New England Weighted PR + Opp. Weighted PR)/ 2
New England Weighted Advanced PR = (17.6 + -0.8) /2 = 8.4

San Diego Weighted Advanced PR = (San Diego Weighted PR + Opp. Weighted PR)/ 2
San Diego Weighted Advanced PR = (9.6 + -0.4) /2 = 4.6

8. Calculate the predicted outcome or pointspread.

Pointspread = (New England Weighted Adv. PR - San Diego Weighted Adv. PR + 3) *-1
(8.4 - 4.6 + 3) *-1 = -6.8

After weighting the advanced power ratings we have calculated New England as a -7.0 point home favorite.

Summary

Basic Power Rating = New England -14.5
Advanced Power Rating = New England -8.5
Weighted Advanced Power Rating = New England -7.0
Closing Vegas Line = New England -12.0

New England won the game 21-12 but did not cover the spread as predicted in the final version of our mock pointspread.

The six point difference between pointspreads that were calculated using the basic and advanced power ratings was in large part due to New England playing against average competition. New England's deflated play and San Diego's improved play during the last half of the season was reflected in the pointspread derived from the weighted power ratings.

A problem that arises when using statistics is that the sample size is small for the first few weeks of the season. Power ratings are most effective after every team has played a couple games. For this reason we must use trends, situational analysis, and match up analysis early in the season. These handicapping methods should also be used to fine tune team power ratings through out the year.

Trends and Angles

Most trends and angles have a small sample size that cannot be proven valid and usually does not hold water over time. Only use a trend if it has been consistently profitable over multiple years or a team trend that you are intimately familiar.

Situational Analysis

Weather - John Madden mentioned on MNF that passing teams had the advantage over running teams on a slippery field. The reasoning is offensive lineman and running backs can not get any traction in the mud. True or not weather should be considered when handicapping.

Motivation - Who would have thought Florida would take one on the chin from a disappointing Michigan team in the Capitol One Bowl? The Wolverines had enough fortitude to win their last game for Coach Carr. Meanwhile the Gators experienced a classic letdown game having played in the BCS Championship game the year before.

Injuries - Injuries are often over compensated for by handicappers. Exceptions are cumulative injuries to a specific position or side of the ball and season ending injuries to Pro Bowl caliber players. When I say Pro Bowl caliber players I mean Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Most winning teams can handle any player loss for a few games but a long term injury to a team leader can be the cause for a team giving up after a few losses.

Match Ups

When analyzing match ups we are looking for specific strengths or weaknesses when comparing two teams. Do not blindly guess and predict Team A will pass all over the secondary of Team B. Look at specific games where Team A was successful passing against a team that had similar talent in their secondary and ran the same type of defense as Team B.

Final Thoughts

Remember to include returning starters in the equation when handicapping college football at the beginning of the season. Mediocre NFL teams that barely make the playoffs often regress due to having a tougher schedule the following year.

Due to the abundance of sports television networks football has become a year round pastime. With national signing day, spring games, free agent signings, the draft and training camp it never ends. For football handicappers the crowning of the Super Bowl Champion should signal the start of the next season. Now is the time to update your statistics database and start crunching numbers because it will be time to pay a visit or logon to your favorite sportsbook before you know it.


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