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How To Handicap Sports: 5 Basic Tips
Handicapping Sports
With all of the hoopla around the legalization of sports betting, mainstream media is becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of wagering on sporting events.

Heck, at the beginning of most basketball, football, hockey, and baseball games, the commentators usually mention the betting lines and which team is the favorite and by how much. So, now that the betting taboo is fading and it is becoming socially acceptable, many people are starting to get in on the action.

This is great for online sportsbooks and new state-run betting products. Why, because most of the time, the general betting public is going to lose.

There is an old saying, ‘Pros bet the number, Joes bet the team.’

But how do you handicap games to figure out if there is an advantage against a particular betting line?
Here are five simple sports handicapping tips to start betting like a pro instead of an average Joe.

Look at the Stats

Ok. So the most important part of handicapping is developing your power ratings. But to get there, you need to understand the stats. In football, whether it be college or NFL, the live-and-die stat to start with is yards per play. How many yards per play does each team average on both sides of the ball? With college basketball, arguably, the most important stats to start with are defensive field goal percentage and turnover percentage – who’ll control the ball better throughout the game.

Obviously, you will factor in other significant stats like overall points allowed and overall points scored. But, most average bettors leave out the most telling stats – the ones we just listed above.

Consider Track Record

Momentum can play a huge role in how a team will perform, and it’s often one of those intangible things that the pure numbers guys and gals will leave out. That said track record is often more important. What do we mean by this?

Take division games for example. Divisional opponents play each other a lot so it’s fairly easy to find large samples of situational trends. Perhaps you see that one team is on a roll but they are going up against a divisional opponent or a rival (like in college sports) that isn’t as good, but they historically match up well against the – at the moment– better team. For example, Team A might be a team that is undefeated in its last 10 games, and Team B, the rival they are going to play are just 5-5 in their last 10, but in that specific matchup, Team B has covered the point spread in all of their last five meetings.

Strengths vs. Weaknesses

This goes back to both stats and track records. Where are each team strong and what are their weaknesses and the way these strengths and weaknesses matchup play a critical role in the outcome of the game?


Injuries are not only important to consider based on the vanity aspect, like Lionel Messi or Lebron James won’t be playing, so the star player is out, but they are more important from a statistical and strength/weakness. How does the missing player affect the strength or weakness of the given team? Often, a betting line will be set and then the public will see that X player is out and a lot of action will go on the other team, artificially moving the betting line to a soft number. It’s your job to consider how much this injury affects the most valuable stat lines beyond the basic vanity metrics.

Are they Priced Correctly (Power-Ratings)

Power Ratings should be set up at the beginning of the season by division. Essentially, you start by looking at two teams and look at all of your stats and schedule information and set your own lines by thinking, how much would I take Team X by? For instance, in the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers London game, I might be willing to lay money on the Steelers to win by 3 but be hesitant to take them to win by 4 or 5 points. Conversely, I wouldn’t take the Jags unless they were getting at least 6 points. So split the difference, essentially I have determined that my fair line is 4.5 points.

Now, when we review 5Dimes, we see that the number for that game is set at -3.5 in favor of the Steelers. So, it’s a point softer than my line and there might be some value. This doesn’t mean that I should hop on this bet, but that this game should go on the shortlist for further handicapping. If you do this team by team for each division, you have an easy reference point to check against the betting lines. However, you can also find other trusted power ratings if you don’t have time to set your own.

Piece all of this together and you will be taking a pro mindset to betting Football, American Football, Basketball, Rugby, Cricket … you name it!

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