The NFL season is only a few days away. Professional and casual gamblers alike are clamoring at the thought of dropping units on their favorite spots. Here at Pro Football Network, our goal is to educate and guide casual gamblers into profitable wagering seasons. Looking at the NFL odds market, we can see where the money is being spent and if we are following the herd or breaking away.

There are a number of ways that you can look at a football game. Some people like to wager with their hearts, often putting their hard-earned money on their favorite teams. Others are more analytical, using market movements to track the best spots to make plays on.

What is the difference between being a casual bettor and a professional? In Vegas terms, a casual bettor is referred to as a square. A professional is a sharp. These are titles that mean little when it comes to how you wager. Whether a sharp or a square, we all want the same thing: to win our bets.

Following the herd or breaking off

Over the season, we will be putting together the Sheep Report on a weekly basis. Our goal is to look at NFL odds and see where public money and sharp money has landed. Whether you want to follow the herd of casual bettors, or break off and follow the sharp, this is where you need to gather your information. We will let you know what was more profitable.

Following the herd of casual bettors was once a profitable strategy. It is no longer the case. Professionals have long claimed that fading the public is the sharpest way to gamble. One sportsbook manager claimed:

“Fading the public will win considerably more often over an extended period. Sportsbooks know where the public money is and smart sports gamblers can track it themselves as well. To be successful, you must find wagers with value as well as the winners. The sharp money knows that sometimes you have to go against popular opinion to get that value, and fading the public is the best way to do just that.”

It is a legitimate argument for fading the public. However, it is not as simple as just looking at what direction the herd is trending and then going the other way. If the sharps always won, then sportsbooks would be out of business. Sometimes, the collective hopes of the public are on the right side as well.

It is a little known fact that to be successful in the sports gambling industry, you need to win 52% of your bets. That means that even professional sharps can lose, on average, 48% of the time. If you want to win, you need to decide if you want to simply be a sheep or control the herd — to control, you need to integrate other points into your betting strategy, including handicapping, tracking line movements, and looking for attractive odds.

NFL odds of publicly backed teams

Starting this season, there are a number of highly bet favorites in the NFL. These are teams that are receiving most of the bets and most of the money. Do we follow the herd, or do we break away?

Baltimore Ravens (-6.5) – 94% of the money and 84% of the bets

Baltimore will be going up against the lowly Miami Dolphins in week one. Clearly, with the percentages listed above, we can see that sharps and the public are both on the same side. Personally? I will be one with the herd and take the Ravens to win this game with ease.

New York Jets (-2.5) – 80% of the money and 62% of the bets

The New York Jets will be at home against Buffalo to start their season. 80% of the money is on the Jets, but only 62% of the bets. This represents a large amount of money from sharp bettors being put on the Mean Green. 62% still means more than half the people betting are going with the Jets, but it is a lot less unanimous than the Ravens. I will once again follow the smaller herd and take the Jets minus the points.

The sharps breakaway

We have analyzed where the public is putting their money in week one, but now we need to look at where the sharps have decided to go.

Dallas Cowboys (-7) 33% of the money and 51% of the bets

The public loves to bet on America’s team. The Dallas Cowboys are usually one of the highest bet teams on the board. As we can see here, 51% of people are betting on Dallas, but they have only received 33% of the money. This means the professionals are putting their big-money bets on the Giants to cover the spread. If the sharps were on the same side of the public, Dallas would have a significantly higher percentage of the money. In this case, I will join the sharps and escape the herd. I will be on the Giants opening weekend.

Weekly roundup

Check back here every week for a roundup of the NFL odds and what the Pro Football Network gambling team accomplished. We will have a weekly resumé of what went right and what potentially went wrong. Don’t forget, whether the leader of the herd, or just a follower, check out PFN for all the information you’ll need to win money!

Ryan Gosling is a writer covering gambling for PFN. Follow him on twitter at @RyGosling.