Aug 23, 2018
Aug 23, 2018

The simple handicap method part one: The method explained

Understanding a common problem with betting on the NFL

The benefits of a simplified approach

Don’t trust others to find you an edge

The simple handicap method part one: The method explained

Data can help bettors build more accurate predictive models and ultimately make more informed decisions when it comes to placing a bet. However, with so much information to process, the basic principles of betting can sometimes be neglected. What is the simple handicap method and how can it help bettors? Read on to find out.

A common problem with betting on the NFL

I was sitting at a bar discussing a challenge I was trying to overcome in the workplace with a friend. I was having a difficult time articulating the extent of the problem and was growing frustrated.

That night in Toronto with its checkerboard floors, I picked up an extra menu and dropped it on our table. In a last-ditch effort to explain my problem, I finished a drink and smacked the glass upside down on the menu. The rim of the glass made a circle around one of the many menu options.

"This is the problem!" I exclaimed.

"To be successful, I need to be able to see the edges of the menu so I can find the best option within it. However, I continuously get stuck looking only at the item isolated inside the rim of the glass."

As I continued to explain my tendency to get locked in one option, immediately I started to think about NFL betting. Each week there is a big menu of games, and I struggled for years getting outside the "rim" of the glass. I lived through the issue that many deal with week by week.

When I first started betting on the league in my early teens, I approached the markets from a fan perspective. I followed my beloved New York Jets each week, watched all of the highlight shows, weekly previews and nationally televised games. I used injuries and performance estimation to make wagers.

When the narrative for a game comes from within, the data and statistics on top become much easier to comprehend and prioritise.

Some years later as I started working in the industry, I began to rely heavily on data. Things like DVOA, H2H efficiency percentages, yards per play, success rates and power ratings became mainstays in my vocabulary and thought process.

After a decade of betting on the NFL, I realised, despite watching hours of football each week I was retaining very little of what I saw. I was speaking a different language of numbers and stats, but I had so little comprehension of team performance that I started mentally blocking out games in advance if I anticipated a poor fit statistically. 

All of a sudden a sixteen game schedule each week diminished into two or three - which then turned into one potential wager. I watched each week as easy bets cashed in that I did not give the time of day during the week.

The benefits of a simplified approach

After a horrendous season betting football two years ago, I hit the reset button and started approaching games using, "the simple handicap method" before looking to data and information to validate my position.

The simple handicap process is carried out by breaking each game down to answer four questions: 

  • Team A will try to...
  • Team B will try to...
  • Team A will have success if...
  • Team B will have success if...

It sounds elementary, but it is challenging to do. These four questions are tough to answer because they require ownership and accountability.

Building up a case to back a team creates strength and confirmation bias. Stripping down a case to back a team exposes vulnerability and poor personal judgement.  At the most basic level - if honest - betting positions take on a very different light.

Don’t trust others to find you an edge

It is easy to get caught up with the overwhelming common narrative and lose focus of the big picture in the NFL. Many bettors become reliant on others to provide information and lose the ability to make an accurate judgement on their own and see the league as a whole.

One person reiterates the same information and much like the telephone game; it trickles throughout the industry bettor by bettor. Without a solid foundation of knowledge, it is impossible to remain neutral, evaluate both sides and judge the validity of market movement.

The four questions in the simple handicap method demand that both sides of the equation get acknowledged. It prevents mental anchoring and compounds week by week to create an understanding of the entire league. It forces those that practice it to look at the big picture.

My intent of this article is not to disregard the use of data and statistics - doing so would be foolish. I write this to encourage all reading to take a few steps back. When the narrative for a game comes from within, the data and statistics on top become much easier to comprehend and prioritise. 

If anyone reading this has the humility to follow the simple handicap method, I guarantee the immediate benefit will be a new found ability to judge the betting market which in turn will identify new betting opportunities.

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