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Football Handicapping Techniques

Have you ever used power rankings to make a football betting decision? Or studied a few statistics to determine whether a team is likely to cover? Maybe you’ve bet against a team that’s on a losing streak, or backed the over in a game between two teams you think are weak defensively. Perhaps you’ve compared how well two teams match up against each other before deciding who you think will come out ahead.

If you’ve done any of these things, then you’re already handicapping football. Whether you realize it or not, it’s true. Clearly, handicapping isn’t as complicated as people think: not at a basic level anyway.

Most football bettors don’t bother learning how to handicap football properly. It’s not because they have no interest in trying to win money, it’s just that they don’t really understand exactly what football handicapping involves. They figure that it has to involve doing in-depth analysis, or using complex systems and formulas to make predictions about what’s likely to happen. This seems overwhelming to them, so they just avoid it altogether. In reality, though, handicapping is a lot more straightforward than that.

In simple terms, handicapping is essentially just about analyzing any information that’s relevant to what we’re betting on. We use our analysis to form opinions about how likely certain outcomes are, and then make our betting decisions based on those opinions. The analysis doesn’t HAVE to be incredibly in-depth, and we don’t HAVE to use complex systems and formulas.

Don’t believe the myth. The truth is you don’t have to be a mathematical genius or have amazing analytic skills to handicap football. Sure, it will help if you have these attributes. However, ANYONE can learn how to handicap football even without these things. As long as you understand the basics, and are prepared to put in some time and effort, there’s no reason why you can’t become a successful handicapper.

Now, there are essentially two different approaches you can take when it comes to football handicapping. There are certain systems you can learn that involve following a precise set of rules and making betting decisions based on specific criteria. These systems can yield positive results, in the short term at least, but we don’t recommend taking this approach. It’s too limited, and most fixed systems are ultimately flawed in our experience. They’re not flexible enough to account for all the different factors that affect what happens in a game of football.

Our recommended approach is to learn as much as possible about the different techniques that can be used to handicap football. You should then experiment with these techniques, to determine which ones work the best for you. Once you have some meaningful experience behind you, you can try to modify and adjust the techniques you use to make them even more powerful.

Ultimately, your goal should be to develop your own techniques based on your own experiences and knowledge. This is what the most successful handicappers do, and it’s a big part of why they’re so successful. They use powerful techniques that no-one else is using, which greatly enhances their chances of finding value in the betting markets.

First things first though. You need to start with the basics, which we cover in this article. We begin by comparing fundamental handicapping with technical handicapping. These are widely considered to be the two main types of handicapping, so it’s beneficial to understand what each one entails.

Handicapping can also be classified as statistical, situational or trend based. These classifications are far more important in our opinion, so we take a look at each of these in detail too. We also include information on some specific techniques where appropriate, discuss combination handicapping, and offer some further advice on using football handicapping techniques effectively.

Fundamental Handicapping vs Technical Handicapping

The first thing you need to understand about fundamental and technical handicapping is that neither type is “better” than the other. A lot of handicappers have a preference for one or the other, but this is a matter of personal opinion. What works best for one bettor doesn’t work best for every bettor, and there’s no single correct way to handicap football. Fundamental handicapping and technical handicapping both have their own merits.

It’s fine to use only fundamental handicapping, and it’s fine to use only technical handicapping. Keep in mind though that these two types aren’t mutually exclusive, and using them both is a viable option too. In fact, there are many techniques that combine certain elements of technical handicapping with certain elements of fundamental handicapping. Some of these techniques can be very powerful.

Before we take a look at each of these two types in more detail, we should make one point very clear. The terms fundamental handicapping and technical handicapping are used quite frequently, but not everyone uses or understands these terms in precisely the same way. They are, to some extent, open to interpretation. The information we provide below is based on our own interpretation, so don’t be surprised if it conflicts with other information that’s out there.

FootballTechnical handicapping

Technical handicapping is all about the numbers. We consider this to be the more scientific form of handicapping, as it doesn’t leave room for individual opinion. It involves using hard data, and solely using that data to make betting decisions. Technical handicapping relies heavily on statistics, trends and patterns.

Here are a couple of very simple techniques that a technical handicapper might use.

  • Assessing the turnover differential of teams to determine their chances of winning an upcoming game.
  • Assessing the average points per game of two opposing teams to determine the likelihood of the total being over or under the line.

The problem with technical handicapping is that it can be a little rigid. As you can see from the example techniques above, just one single factor is being considered and only raw numbers are being assessed. This doesn’t really paint a complete picture, since there are numerous factors that affect the outcome of the game.

In reality, most serious technical handicappers will use more advanced techniques than the two examples outlined above. However, our point still stands. We believe that focusing solely on numbers is a very restrictive approach.

FootballFundamental handicapping

Fundamental handicapping is far less restrictive. It can involve the use of statistics too, but it’s more about actually analyzing those statistics and trying to draw conclusions from them. It also involves taking into account additional factors that cannot be easily quantified through numbers and statistics. Fundamental handicappers study factors such as injuries, weather, home advantage and motivation.

The goal when using fundamental handicapping is essentially to form rounded opinions about the quality of teams and players, and consider how they’re likely to perform in any given set of circumstances. Here are a couple examples of what fundamental handicappers do.

  • Look at a range of stats to identify where a team is strongest and weakest, and use that information to assess their chances of beating their next opponents.
  • Study a selection of situational factors that might affect the outcome of an upcoming game, and assess how those factors will impact each team’s chances of winning.

Again, these techniques are very straightforward. Many fundamental handicapping techniques are more advanced, and involve more in-depth research and detailed analysis. The purpose of using these examples is simply to highlight the main differences between the two types of handicapping. As you can see, fundamental handicapping is less scientific than technical handicapping. It involves looking at things more subjectively, and trying to form balanced opinions.

In our opinion, fundamental handicapping gives us far more opportunities to make informed judgements about likely outcomes. The focus is not as narrow as when technical handicapping. This is only our own personal opinion though, and we know there are many people out there that disagree with us.

In any case, you shouldn’t worry too much about comparing the relative pros and cons of the two main types of handicapping. It helps to understand a little bit about them, which is why we’ve provided these explanations, but labeling handicapping techniques in this way isn’t especially useful. It’s far more beneficial to concentrate on figuring out what kind of information you want to consider when handicapping, and what specific techniques you want to use. The next few sections of this article will help you do just that.

Statistical Handicapping

Virtually all football bettors use statistics to some extent. Even recreational bettors that don’t take things too seriously tend to look at a few of the main stats when making their betting decisions. And many serious handicappers use stats almost exclusively to form their opinions and make their decisions.

Thanks to the wide variety of football stats available, statistical handicapping can be very effective. It’s important that we learn as much as possible about the teams and players that we’re betting on, and analyzing stats can tell us a lot. It’s a great way to assess how teams and players have been performing, which is then useful for predicting how they’re likely to perform in the future.

Here are some examples of the stats that can help with handicapping football.

  • Points Per Game
  • Yards Per Game
  • Passing Yards Per Game
  • Rushing Yards Per Game
  • Third Down Efficiency
  • Number of Sacks
  • Number of Tackles
  • Number of Interceptions
  • Pass Yards Per Attempt
  • Team Yards Per Carry
  • Yards Per Play Differential
  • Yards After Catch
  • Turnover Differential
  • Negative Pass Play Percentage

Some of the stats on this list are very simple, while others are a little more advanced. Either way, they can all be useful. Properly analyzing these statistics can provide us with some valuable insight and help us to shape our views on how good a team or player really is. It can also help us identify key strengths and weaknesses.

Please see the following article for some general information and advice on using statistics in your football betting.

When it comes to handicapping, there’s an almost limitless number of ways to use statistics. As we mentioned earlier, technical handicappers rely heavily on stats. They’ll often devise techniques to make assessments and predictions based solely on either a single statistic or a range of statistics. Here are some examples of such techniques.

FootballUsing points per game to assess likely totals

This is an extremely straightforward technique. It involves simply looking at the points per game stats for two opposing teams, and using those stats to determine the likely points total. If the numbers project a total that’s higher than the relevant line, you bet the over. If the numbers project a total that’s lower than the relevant line, you bet the under.

FootballUsing key stats to rate offense and defense

This is a slightly more in-depth approach. The goal here is to assign a rating of some kind to a team’s offense and defense by studying the key stats that show how they’ve been performing. It doesn’t matter exactly how the rating is calculated, as long as the calculations are consistent for each team.

After you’ve gathered this information, you can then compare the ratings for opposing teams to assess how they match up. This will help you determine which team has a better chance of winning/ covering the spread. This technique is similar to , but it involves applying your own rating system rather than trusting someone else’s.

FootballUsing player stats to bet props

This is another very straightforward technique. Most bookmakers and betting sites offer individual player props such as an over/under on how many yards a player will pass in a game. Some simple analysis on a player’s passing yards stats can help you decide which way to bet. The same basic technique can be used to make decisions on prop markets that match up two players. For example, a simple statistical analysis can be used to help indicate which quarterback is likely pass the most yards in an upcoming game.
There are countless techniques that are built on this same principle, and in our opinion, they’re all flawed. We absolutely believe in the value of using stats in our handicapping, but we rarely (if ever) like to make betting decisions based only on what the stats tell us. This approach isn’t designed to give us an edge over other bettors, as it’s just too basic.

We do use techniques that involve statistical analysis, but the analysis we do only ever forms part of our overall approach. We don’t like relying on stats, because they don’t always paint the whole picture. They need to be put in proper context, which is exactly where situation handicapping comes into play.

Situational Handicapping

There are essentially two different kinds of situational handicapping. One involves looking at how teams have performed in specific situations in the past, and using that information to predict how they’re likely to perform in the same situations in the future. For example, let’s say a team has just suffered a big loss. You could go back over previous results to see how they’ve reacted to big losses before, in order to assess how they might react this time.

In some respects, this kind of situational handicapping is very similar to trend based handicapping. It’s not exactly the same, though, as you’re not necessarily looking for clear patterns. But you are using past performances as an indicator of previous performances, which is one the main principles of trend based handicapping. Still not sure how to use trends to handicap football? Don’t worry, this is something we take a closer look at later on in this article.

The other kind of situational handicapping involves looking at the different situational factors that can affect the outcome of a football game. Rather than comparing team and playing quality, you think about how each team will react to the circumstances surrounding a game. Here are some examples of situational factors worth considering.


In an ideal world, football players would always be extremely motivated to get out on the field and perform to the best of their ability. We should be able to expect this from professional players, at least, considering how much money they make.

However, regardless of what we expect, the fact is that players are NOT always as motivated as they can be. There are several scenarios where the motivation of a player, or even a whole team, can drop a level or two.

For example, towards the end of a season a team might have nothing left to play for. Some of their players might be thinking about their vacation time already, or be primarily concerned with just getting through the last couple of games uninjured. They’re not going to be as motivated as they would normally be, and their performances might suffer as a result.

FootballPlaying conditions

There are a few playing conditions that have the potential to affect the outcome of a football game. Extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain or snow can be especially influential, and other factors such as the venue and the surface can have an impact too. Obviously both teams in a game are always subject to the same conditions, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be affected in the same way.

A particularly loud stadium, for example, could give the home team an advantage over the road team. High winds might affect a passing team more negatively than a running team, and the might give one team an edge over their opponents.

FootballThe schedule

A team’s schedule can have a big impact on the way they perform in any given game. Sometimes their schedule can give them a clear advantage over their opponents, and sometimes it can put them at a clear disadvantage. It’s hard to determine when and how a team’s schedule is going to affect them. Still, it’s something you need to think about.

Let’s apply this to the following situation. There’s an upcoming game between two teams that are very closely matched. They have similar stats, and similar results for the season so far. It’s hard to assess whether one team is more likely to win than the other.

After looking at their respective schedules, you notice that one team is right in the middle of a tough run of games. They’ve been playing strong opposition for the last few weeks, and they’ve got strong opposition up next too. They’ve also been doing a lot of travelling recently, and haven’t had their bye week yet.

The other team has had a much easier run of games. They’ve been playing mostly weaker opposition, and haven’t had to travel very far. They had their bye week a couple of weeks ago, so they’ve had an opportunity to get some rest. Their next game is against fairly weak opposition too.

Clearly both teams are in very different situations here. This is actually not an easy scenario to handicap, despite the obvious assumption that the more rested team should have an advantage. We also have to consider the fact that the team with the more difficult schedule might be sharper as a result of their tough games, or that the rested team might have got complacent after beating weak teams relatively easily.

We don’t thoroughly address the impact of a team’s schedule in this article. The purpose of listing these three situational factors was simply to give you some idea of how this kind of handicapping works. The idea is essentially to study the potential effect of these factors to help you more accurately assess how a game is likely to play out.

Please Note:

We’ve written a comprehensive article explaining what effects the outcome of football games. This includes a detailed look at the main situational factors and the impact they can have.

There isn’t really much more we can teach you about situational handicapping. We’ve outlined the two different kinds of situational handicapping, and that’s essentially all you need to know. The techniques you can use are summarized below.

  • Study previous performances in specific circumstances to help predict future performances in the same circumstances.
  • Study the circumstances surrounding an upcoming game and try to assess their likely impact on each team.

Feel free to expand on either of these techniques. We just wanted to make sure you had a clear understanding of the foundation of each.

Trend Based Handicapping

Trend based handicapping is arguably the simplest form of handicapping. In our opinion, it’s also the weakest. We’re extremely unlikely to ever make a betting decision based solely on a trend. However, it does have its uses.

This form of handicapping is all about identifying trends and patterns that are likely to continue. The goal is to discover any tendencies that teams might have in specific circumstances. Here are some examples of the kind of trends that football bettors look for.

  • Always (or mostly) winning at home.
  • Always (or mostly) losing on the road.
  • Consistently covering when a small home underdog.
  • Consistently failing to cover when a big home favorite.
  • Performing well after a big loss.
  • Performing badly after a big win.
  • Performing well/badly when the pressure is on.
  • Consistently beating a specific opponent.

The theory is that any team who already has any of these tendencies is likely to continue having them in the future.  So if we discover that a team consistently covers when they’re a small underdog at home, the idea is that we should back them to cover whenever they’re in that situation. While this does make sense, it’s very limited. Let us explain.

Some trends and patterns are obvious. For example, it’s not hard to spot that a particular team almost always wins when playing at home. Or that another team almost always loses when playing on the road. The problem with these kind of trends is that virtually everyone is aware of them, including the bookmakers and betting sites. So, they’re typically already factored into the odds and lines, which means they don’t really help us when it comes to finding value in the betting markets. Plus, we don’t know for sure if those trends will remain relevant.

The trends that CAN help us find value in the betting markets are typically a lot harder to identify. The only way to uncover them is by sifting through an enormous amount of data, which can be very time consuming. We’re not sure that this is the best use of our time, considering how difficult it can be to assess how likely a trend is to continue.

To summarize, there are two valid reasons why we don’t love using trends as a standalone form of handicapping.

  • It’s difficult and time consuming to identify trends that are genuinely useful.
  • It’s hard to accurately assess the likelihood of any given trend continuing.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re advising you to ignore trend based handicapping completely. As we already stated, it can be helpful. There are actually two trend based techniques that we like, and they regularly form part of our approach to betting. Here’s a little information on them.

FootballHighlighting potential opportunities

In our view, this is without doubt the most valuable use of trends. Although we don’t like to rely on them to make our betting decisions, we do find them very useful for highlighting potential opportunities.

For example, let’s say we’ve identified a trend where a team consistently fails to cover when they’re a big home favorite. Some bettors would just blindly follow this trend. The next time this team is a big home favorite, they’re going back their opponents on the spread.

We’re not going to do that, but we ARE going to look closely at the game. The trend has highlighted a potentially good opportunity, and we want to see just how likely the trend is to continue. If we see even more reasons to back the opponents to cover, then we’ll put some money down. If we don’t see any more reasons to back the opponents to cover, then we’ll just disregard the trend.

FootballConfirming existing viewpoints

This is basically the above technique but in reverse. Let’s say we’ve been studying for an upcoming game and, after doing the necessary research and analysis, we believe the favorite is going to cover. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that they’ve just come off a big win and appear to be in very good form.

Sometimes this will be enough to convince us that we’re placing a wager for the right reasons. Other times, we might need a little extra assurance. At this point, we could go back over past data, and see if there was any trend indicating that this team tends to perform well after a big win. If we discovered such a trend, that would confirm our original viewpoint.

Both of these techniques effectively combine the use of trends with other handicapping methods. This is known as combination handicapping, which we’ll now cover in more detail. Before we move on though, here’s an article which explains more about using trends when betting on football.

Combination Handicapping

We already addressed that there’s no right or wrong way to handicap football. Each technique we discussed is valuable in its own way. So far, we’ve provided a balanced view on the different options that are open to you. Now we’re going to forget being balanced for a moment, and make our personal opinion very clear.

Combination handicapping is comfortably the most powerful form of football handicapping.

This isn’t even up for debate as far as we’re concerned. The other forms of handicapping we’ve described can definitely be useful in some circumstances, but they can never be as useful individually as they can when combined. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense.

All forms of handicapping are essentially based on using information to form opinions and/or make betting decisions. By combining the different forms, we end up looking at a broader range of information and analyzing it in a variety of ways. This can only help us form more rounded opinions and make more informed decisions. And that’s EXACTLY what we should be trying to do.

We could have approached this article in a very different way. We could have simply listed a selection of different handicapping techniques and explained exactly how to use each one. There’s a very good reason why we didn’t do that. We don’t believe it would have helped you very much at all. Simply telling you what to do and how do it is NOT going to turn you into a successful handicapper. It might give you some short-term success, but even that’s not guaranteed.

What we really want you to do is assimilate everything you’ve learned here, experiment with a few of the techniques that we’ve explained, and then work on trying to develop your own handicapping techniques. This is something we mentioned at the very beginning of this article.

Ideally you should try to use a combination of all the different forms of handicapping we’ve discussed. We encourage you to do some statistical analysis, and spend time learning how to assess the various situational factors that can affect the outcomes of games. Using trends can be very helpful too, providing you use them in the right way.

We firmly believe that this is the best possible advice we can give you. Follow it, and there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to make regular and consistent profits from your football betting. We’re not through yet either, as we have a few more useful tips to offer.

Using Football Handicapping Techniques Effectively

Regardless of which handicapping techniques you end up using, the techniques themselves will only get you so far. Even the most powerful techniques won’t be effective if you fail to get the basics right. Here’s a list of some basic skills that you’ll need to develop in order to be successful.

  • Use proper money management
  • Bet for value
  • Be selective
  • Consider a wide range of factors
  • Control your emotions

It’s impossible to be successful without proper money management, while betting for value is nothing short of vital. Being selective with your wagers should prevent you from throwing your money away unnecessarily, and help you to focus on finding the best opportunities. Considering a wide range of factors should ensure that you make betting decisions for the right reasons. Controlling your emotions is hard, but something you definitely need to learn how to do.

The following article covers all of this in much more detail, and features some additional tips too.