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Sports Handicapping for Beginners

If you fancy yourself a big sports fan, odds are you’re bound to have some interest in sports betting. The two can easily go hand in hand, as you can enjoy the game you love and also profit from it at the same time.

Unfortunately, a lot of people get into sports betting without putting in much effort. People tend to assume they can “wing it,” or that their knowledge sans extra research is good enough to win.

Getting lucky with a big win or scoring wins inconsistently can be done without the hard work. However, anyone who is serious about sustaining consistent profit as a sports bettor learns quickly that some type of strategy is necessary.

Handicapping in Sports

This is where understanding sports handicapping comes in. There are two ways to perceive sports handicapping:

  • Vegas handicapping games
  • You handicapping the pick

The most basic understanding of sports handicapping is where the oddsmakers provide bettors with a spread or line to wager with.

Here is the exact definition of handicapping:

A race or contest in which contestants are given advantages or compensations to equalize the chances of winning.

Sports betting is technically neither a race nor contest, but sportsbooks do give everyone a chance at an advantage by issuing point spreads for any given matchup.

It’s not always as simple as saying “this team will win” or “this team will lose.” Vegas enhances the bet, and in some ways simplifies it by giving bettors the opportunity to pick an underdog without really picking them.

A great example is trying to pick a tough NFL game between the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans.

The Patriots are yearly title contenders, while the Titans usually aren’t. Vegas knows New England will be the obvious favorite, and because of that, few will bet on them straight-up. Bettors won’t have that much interest in betting on the Titans, either, seeing as they’re unlikely to win.

Vegas handicaps this contest by awarding a point spread, like this:

  • Patriots -10
  • Titans +10

This handicap allows you to bet on the Patriots and obtain value in the same breath. A game like this would carry something like a -425 Money Line or greater in favor of New England. If you’re betting on this game, you would need to throw down $425 just to get $100 back on top of your bet.

There isn’t much upside in that, so bettors are instead drawn to the point spread. In this case, bettors need to decide if the Patriots are such a safe bet that they can cover the spread. If so, they can bet what they wish that the Patriots will win by 11 points, effectively covering the 10-point spread at hand.

On the flip side, those that believe the Titans might either win or at least play a close game can bet on the Titans to beat the spread. In this case, the Titans would simply have to lose by 10 points or fewer, and you would then convert a win on your wager.

That’s the beauty of the handicap the oddsmakers give you. It doesn’t always work out, but it puts underdogs in play and at least in theory helps make every single contest a bettable option.

The second way to perceive sports handicapping is where the bettor does all they can to take advantage of any potential edge Vegas hands them. The sportsbooks think that they’re calling the games right and that they have the edge, but if you put in the research and make the right pick, you can profit.

That doesn’t always mean you’re going to come out on top, and Vegas doesn’t need to be wrong for bettors to win, either. It also doesn’t mean that when people do win, they’ll always win big.

Many bettors refer to “the grind” of sports betting, because it’s not about one big win or beating Vegas. It’s about handicapping each individual game you plan on wagering on and coming out with as many wins as possible on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

The point here is that Vegas handicapping games can be something to look at, but the idea of sports handicapping is an idea all by itself. It’s the act of researching, detailing, explaining, and proving that a pick can/will be correct.

How to Handicap

Anyone can handicap any game in any sport. There isn’t any one strategy or process, but the idea of combining strategies, narratives, data, and betting value is sports handicapping in a nutshell.

The bottom line is that you’re trying to get an edge against the sportsbooks so you can profit. That means not always just giving in to the first line you see, and working hard to maximize the money you’re risking.

Step 1

The first step to sports handicapping is realizing that the knowledge you already have inside your head isn’t good enough to win consistently.

Each day and week can bring new matchups, depending on what sport you’re trying to handicap, while injuries and rotations can drastically impact the way we perceive games.

Staying on top of the specific sport you plan on betting on is crucial to sustained betting success.

Step 2
Track Data and Trends

This files under the “research” category, but probably deserves its own spot, just so it doesn’t get ignored. There are a lot of basic statistics you can stumble upon, but hard data and trends can help uncover hidden gems in the betting world.

What data you deem useful will ultimately be up to you, but here are a few things you’ll want to consider:

  • Home/Away Records
  • Matchup History
  • Against the Spread Data
  • Team and Player Stats
  • Winning/Losing Streaks
  • Individual Positional Matchups
  • Reffing
  • Coaching Changes and Game Plans

Depending on the extent of your research, the list can keep going. The point is to consider all your resources to make the best bet possible.

The more you know, the better of an edge you can have, and the more likely you’ll be to get a win.

Look for Value

A huge part of sports handicapping is understanding value when you see it, and searching high and low for it until you do.

It’s difficult to really define betting value, as it’s really in the eye of the beholder. Your perception of value will undoubtedly be dictated by two things:

  • How you view a matchup
  • How Vegas scores the matchup

How you look at the teams in any given matchup is going to have you lean one way or the other before odds even come into play. Once you have odds to work with, Vegas can also impact how you plan on betting.

You can always manipulate this by considering all of your options with any given bet and by also picking your spots. For instance, on any given day, there might be 8-10 NBA games you can bet on.

Every game won’t offer the value you desire, so just pick the handful of games that can be exploited based on how Vegas scores them and how you view them.

The other way to maximize value is by forcing sports betting sites to compete against each other. Most sites will have similar lines for the same matchups, but they can separate themselves and stand out to you, depending on which side of the fence you’re on for a specific bet.

If you love the Lakers to take down the Suns on a given night and their Money Line is different on two different websites, you’re obviously going to bet on the site where you’re getting more money by backing Los Angeles.

This can work with point spreads, totals, and any other bet you can think of. Find the matchup you think you can exploit, and then run through your personal favorite online betting sites until you land on the best spot to place that bet.

Handicap Experts and Resources

Beyond understanding what sports handicapping is and putting it to use, there is also outside assistance that can be helpful.

There are sports betting experts that really know what they’re talking about, and the best can help you win consistently.

These experts cover sports for a living and tend to know how to grind out wins. As professional gamblers, some of them also place similar bets in accordance with what they’re suggesting, which can prove that they’re truly vouching for their pick.

While expert advice can be useful, don’t ever let it be your only path to success. If it is, it can be a short-lived route. There are other snags in the process, too, so be sure to look out for the following if/when you listen to expert advice:

  • Don’t pay for picks
  • Track and compare
  • Find sports-specific experts
  • Sometimes just listen

One of the biggest problems with expert handicappers is that they tend to try to sell you their picks. Everyone has ups and downs in the sports betting industry, and there are loads of sites offering fantastic picks that also happen to be free.

You should never pay for picks. Not only do you not know these people most of the time, but the percentages and profit margins they throw at you can’t always be trusted.

It’s likely that you can obtain the same information and similar picks by doing your own research and/or surfing the web and reading free content.

Tracking experts you read and listen to is crucial.

Discovering later in the year that you went downhill with a struggling writer is not an ideal path. Comparing experts and their pick success can also be helpful to avoid an extended picking drought.

Another good idea is to make sure you’re following experts and writers that specialize in one specific sport. This is a good practice as a bettor (focusing on betting on one sport at a time), but can also be applied to the information you’re getting.

There are a lot of sports betting writers who just shove content out onto the internet and really don’t know what they’re talking about. Sift those useless options out of your system and narrow down a handful of experts you trust and can use on a regular basis.

Lastly, bettors shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything more than listen to experts. Even the best sports betting handicappers are wrong a good amount of the time, and their opinion can be skewed for any number of reasons.

Soak up all the information you can, consider other people’s opinions, and locate value.

In the end, all of that together will develop your own sports handicapping process and potentially bring you consistent profit.