NFL Betting 101: Casual Bettors’ Common Pitfalls

Casual bettors rock! Also, casual bettors sometimes fall short of their expectations. Why? Avoiding these common pitfalls might help.

It’s okay to be a casual bettor. You know what? I’m a casual bettor. For some of us, it’s not about making (or losing) big money. It’s about putting some skin in the game and having another reason to watch a game, root for a team, or cheer on a player.

And there are plenty of pitfalls for casual bettors — common mistakes that could otherwise upend a weekend and leave us with more questions than answers. Here are some of those pitfalls, and how to avoid them.

Not Searching for the Best Odds

Joe Jones wants to place a prop bet on a running back he believes will have a great game. Joe’s “favorite” betting service, DraftKings Sportsbook, offers -115 odds for betting the over on 64.5 rushing yards. Joe happily makes the bet.

MORE: NFL Betting: How To Wager on NFL Games for Free

Wait! What could Joe have done differently? That’s right: shop around for a better deal. Maybe another service, such as FanDuel Sportsbook, is offering -110 odds on the same prop (or visa versa) — or the same -115 odds but on 62.5 rushing yards instead of 64.5.

Year-to-year profitability sometimes comes down to how we bet. Not the teams or the players, specifically. Rather, are we maximizing our probability of success by securing the best value for our wagers? Are we using services like Pikkit to access the latest lines, so we can easily make the wisest decision?

Overinvesting Emotionally

Many bettors see wagers as a financial investment. Terrific. But don’t let it cross over into emotional investing.

What do I mean? Well, there are two angles. The first concerns how we feel about money. If we lose $10 on a bet today, will we be upset? What about $50? $500?

Each of us has a line. I’m not talking about betting lines. I’m talking about emotional lines — the lines we don’t want to cross if we have a rough day. Casual bettors might consider the entertainment value of wagering. What is it worth to you? Then bet no more than that. Win or lose, you’re paying for the joy of competition and for the possibility of putting some money in your pocket.

The other angle concerns our biases. Suppose you’re a Cowboys fan. You can’t, in good conscience, root against your team. So you make a bet on Dallas winning the Super Bowl. Hey, it’s a win-win, right? You’re rooting doubly for your favorite franchise.

But objectively, Dallas might not be the most sensible wager to make. You’re betting with your heart more than your head. And that’s a risky approach if you’re trying to turn profits.

Bankroll Mismanagement

This ties in with the previous section and also stands on its own. Sometimes a casual bettor might get overexcited about a “can’t-miss” opportunity. This is a golden opportunity for a huge payday. -650 moneyline odds on this 15-point favorite to win? Wager $1,000 to win $153 and some change? Yes, please.

Ok, if you’re wealthy enough to lose that kind of money without it impacting your day-to-day livelihood, more power to you. Enjoy the ride.

The risk, of course, is greatest for bettors who have to win to be able to keep betting. Wagering more than you can comfortably afford — for a seemingly great chance at acquiring a financial cushion that could keep you afloat for weeks or even months — can trip up casual bettors who believe in the near certainty of outcomes.

Savvier, more experienced bettors understand that there are no sure things. No guaranteed payouts. No all-expense-paid trips to Profit Island.

NFL history is loaded with outcomes that could not have been easily conceived before the opening kickoff. Sometimes, if we’re paying close attention, they occur in every game. Sometimes it’s a final score that makes no sense. Sometimes it’s a player’s production that defies logic (see: Jonas Gray).

Short Memories

Before she places a bet, Julia Johnson examines last week’s stats, because these are much more important than what happened two, three, or four weeks ago and beyond. Betting smart is all about trends, and the latest results represent the latest trends.

Wait! What could Julia do differently? Ah, yes. Avoid putting too much stock in what just happened.

Because NFL teams, just like teams in most other sports, are in constant motion. When they’re not playing, they’re practicing. When they’re not practicing, they’re strategizing. They’re adjusting.

MORE: The Top 7 Sports Betting Strategies

Why does a decent receiver rack up 110 yards and a touchdown against a great defense one week, and then only 35 scoreless yards versus a middling defense the following week? Because the NFL doesn’t operate linearly, and neither should we.

What I mean is, don’t draw a line from point A (last week) to point B (this week) and think that’s the highest-probably result. Look at the big picture. What contributed to that receiver’s success last week? For that matter, why was it his first 70+ yard performance in six weeks?

Casual bettors sometimes don’t dig too deep below the surface. But the deeper we dig, the more we can uncover, and the better prepared we’ll be before making a bet.

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