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Best of Gary Trask

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Top 10 NFL betting tips and picks for the 2020 season

7 September 2020

OK, I’ll admit it: Betting on the NFL in the midst of a global pandemic scares the bleep out of me.

Putting your hard-earned cash at risk and attempting to predict the unpredictable during the five-month NFL roller-coaster-of-a-season is difficult enough under “normal” circumstances. Throw COVID-19 into the equation and all the new variables that come with it and you really have to question whether or not the betting strategies and tactics that have worked well in the past will be nearly as effective, or if there will even be a complete season.

Am I being overly cautious?

Perhaps, according to at least one veteran sports bettor.

“People want to say COVID is going to make this season so different, but I don't know that it will be necessarily,” professional sports bettor Ted Sevransky, better known in the sports betting world as “Teddy Covers,” told me last week. “The basic fundamentals don't change. Buy low and sell high. It's still Team A vs Team B. I'm still going to be analyzing motivation and matchups on a weekly basis. It's still betting football the way we always have.”

Hearing a calming perspective from a guy who’s entering his 23rd year in Las Vegas as a professional sports bettor and handicapper certainly helps lessen my trepidation for the upcoming NFL season, which kicks off on Thursday night and, God willing, will run through the Super Bowl in February. But who’s kidding who, Teddy? There are going to be some dramatic changes to how the course of this football season plays out. Not sure if you heard, but these are “unprecedented times” we’re living in, and that goes for betting football, as well.

So, before the ball officially goes into the air on Thursday night in Kansas City, let’s dive into some of the unknowns we’re dealing with, what to be wary of and, of course, a handful of future bets. (C’mon, you didn’t really think we were going to sit out the season, did you?)

10. No preseason
No matter what you think about the effect of the pandemic on the NFL season, you have to admit, it feels very strange that the real season will begin without seeing any kind of game action. Four weeks of preseason games is way too many. But having zero chance to watch the teams line up in an actual game situation is most definitely odd.

“For a bettor like me, who watches the preseason like a hawk and reads every morsel of analysis of what coaches are trying to do in the preseason, it’s a bit bizarre,” Severansky admitted. “What we’re left with is a lot of quotes from the coaches, but we don't have any play on the field to tell whether or not those coaches are full of shit.

“It’s definitely different for the bettors, but bookmakers are in the same boat. It's not like they have this huge edge over us because nobody really knows what to expect.”

9. COVID-19 testing
The opening lines for NFL games come out over a week in advance at some books, and with the whole new world of COVID-19 testing we may see some major swings in pointspreads this season by the time the games kick off on Sunday.

Players will be tested three times a week and there may very well be cases where we don’t hear about positive tests and teams having to sit players until Sunday morning. For this reason, my game plan is to be much more selective when betting games early in the week.

Not so for Teddy Covers.

“Look, anyone can strain his hammy in practice on Tuesday so it's not like you don't face injury questions every year,” he said. “The teams that are going to be playing the best football in November and December are the teams that are going to be healthy. That's not going to change.

“Does COVID make that any different? I don’t know. The potential for a huge outbreak on a single team between Tuesday and Sunday certainly exists, but it's not anything that I’m going to worry too, too much about.”

8. Will scoring go up or down?
NBA scoring surged when play resumed under the bubble in Orlando. Looking back, it makes sense as the teams get to play on the same courts with no fans, no travel and no distractions.

What should we expect in the NFL?

Severansky points out that Week 1 of the NFL is typically an “under” week -- especially in divisional matchups -- since defenses are usually ahead of the offenses, which are yet to get on the same page. Will that be exaggerated even more this year with no preseason?

Or will defenses be at a bigger disadvantage since there hasn’t been much live hitting or tackling? And how much will offenses playing on the road benefit from the lack of crowd noise?

“All good questions and the real answer is nobody knows,” Severansky said with a chuckle. “What I would anticipate is a lot of overreaction in the marketplace because there's not that much data behind anyone's opinion.”

The trading team at William Hill U.S. told us that early season NFL games was “already a bit chaotic” even when there were preseason games to base opinions on.

“We could see offenses flourish or players be out of sync,” they explained. “We’ll adjust more quickly than usual on totals swings to account for that unknown factor.”
Dallas is one of the teams that plans to allow a limited amount of fans at home games this season.

Dallas is one of the teams that plans to allow a limited amount of fans at home games this season.



7. Home field advantage
With weather, crowd noise and different playing surfaces and conditions, the home field advantage is more important in the NFL than any other sport, and it’s always baked into the pointspread, by as much as 3 to 3.5 points for some teams.

This year, however, with some teams -- Dallas, Indianapolis and Kansas City, to name a few -- allowing a partial crowd and most other teams at least starting the season with no fans in the stands, adjusting power ratings for home field will be tricky. There has also been talk about certain teams using manipulated crowd noise.

William Hill U.S. says that it will not give teams with fans in attendance any more of an advantage than the teams that do not. Severansky agrees.

“The question about the home field is the one thing I’ve been asked the most about entering the season,” he said. “My thought process going in is that I'm blinding giving every team 1.5 points, see how it plays out and adjust accordingly. I don’t think the teams with fans have any more of an advantage, but you have to factor in the travel.”

6. Continuity is key
This one makes perfect sense, particularly early in the season. Teams with continuity will have a step up on opponents that suffered a lot of turnover or are depending on rookies to contribute early on.

That doesn’t just go for skill position players.

“Yes, I’ll be looking to back teams with the same QB, running backs and wide receivers, but I think it will be just as important to have the same coach, offensive coordinator and offensive scheme coming back,” Severansky said. “Continuity along the offensive line will also be hugely important.”

CBS Sports ranked teams by “strength of continuity” entering the season and proclaimed the Steelers, Saints, Eagles and 49ers as the top four “elite” and the Broncos, Giants, Panthers and Dolphins as the bottom four.

By our research, 11 teams return their head coach, both the offensive and defensive coordinators, special teams coach and starting QB from last year: Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Green Bay, Kansas City, Las Vegas, New Orleans, NY Jets, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Also, five teams have new head coaches this year (Dallas, Carolina, Cleveland, NY Giants, Washington) and three of them have rookie head coaches (Carolina, Cleveland, NY Giants).

5. Lower the volume?
So, taking into account all of the above, how should an NFL bettor attack the season?

For me, it will be a cautious approach. No, I won’t be sitting out the season. Far from it. But I simply can’t shake the fact that this is a whole new world we’ll be betting into and there could be some landmines out there.

As for Severansky, he says the amount of volume on his future bets is way down this season and he’s being much more selective than usual. But on a week-to-week basis, Teddy Covers isn’t going to be shy.

“I think I will have just as many plays each week, if not more, than a typical season,” he said with extreme confidence. “If the markets are looking at what teams were ‘supposed to be’ as opposed to what they actually are, because there was no preseason, there will be some real opportunities as the markets over-adjust to a team looking particularly bad or particularly good. That’s how it’s been for me since baseball and the NBA returned and I anticipate similar opportunities in the NFL.”

4. Broncos Under 7.5 wins (-106)
OK, let’s dive into some future bets. My basic strategy for NFL season win totals has always been to lean toward unders since teams are far more likely to suffer damaging injuries that can be costly to their season, rather than add players to boost their chances, like what happens in baseball at the trading deadline. This is true this year, more than ever, so we start with an under.

Was it really just five seasons ago that the Broncos were crowned Super Bowl champs? It seems like a lifetime ago, mostly because since Peyton Manning limped out of Denver and retired, the QB position has been a disaster, leading to an average of just six wins the last three seasons.

While some think Drew Lock will be the answer, we’re not buying it. Yes, he went 4-1 as a starter at the tail end of last season, but as Adam Chernoff from The Simple Handicap points out (do yourself a favor and tune into his daily podcast), that was against a soft schedule of defenses and he really struggled when forced to make passes of 10 yards or more, with more than half of his passing yards coming after the catch.

In addition, Chernoff says that the Broncos will face the 10th most difficult slate of opposing defensive secondaries this season after going up against the fourth-easiest last year.

Lock’s progress this season will be hindered by the fact that the offensive line is breaking in three new starters, including a rookie at center. The team also has a new offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur, who was canned as the NY Giants head coach, and will be depending heavily on rookie WRs Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler.

Entering the season, the Broncos are only favored in seven of their first 10 games. In the first five weeks, they have a short-rest road game at Pittsburgh in Week 2 and back-to-back trips to the East Coast to play the Jets in Week 4 and the Patriots in Week 5. The schedule is soft in the later stages of the season, but by then this team will be cooked and we just don’t see them getting to a .500 record.

Wager $106 to win $100 at Unibet Sports & Racebook on Denver under 7.5 wins (-106)

3. Cowboys to win NFC East (-120)
With Washington and NY Giants projected to be two of the worst teams in the NFL (more on that below), the race for the NFC East title will be a two-team sprint between Dallas and Philadelphia. Simply put, the Cowboys have more talent and play a more favorable schedule.

Last year, Dallas started 3-0, fell back to 6-4, and still led the NFC East after Week 11. That’s when the bottom fell out as the team lost four of its last six games to finish 8-8, its first non-winning season since 2015.

When you look at the numbers, it’s mind-boggling this team managed just eight wins. The Cowboys were 1-6 in games decided by one score, despite ranking second in offensive efficiency (No. 5 in passing and No. 3 in rushing) and outscoring their opponents by a whopping 113 points. According to the fine work by The Athletic’s NFL beat writer Sheil Kapadia, this marked the only time in the last 20 years that a team with a point differential of 100 or more failed to finish above .500.

QB Dak Prescott is seeking a big pay day in 2021 so expect him to be ultra-motivated and all of a sudden Dallas has one of the better WR corps in the league, as well as a Top 5 running back. And we didn’t even mention the fact the team did some addition by subtraction when it finally fired underachieving head coach Jason Garrett and hired former Green Bay head man Mike McCarthy, who has a Super Bowl ring on his mantle.

So, why not go over the season win total? Well, that number has got too rich for my blood at 10 wins. Instead of needing 11 wins to cash a bet, instead we’ll lay the -120 and need Dallas to basically outlast one team.

If, as expected, the Dallas and Philadelphia head into the home stretch of the season neck-and-neck for the divisional title, the Cowboys gets second meeting of the season versus Philly at home in Week 16 and will be the favorite. But we’re hoping (and betting) the crown will already be theirs by then.

Wager $120 to win $100 at Ladbrokes Sportsbook & Racebook on Dallas to win the NFC East (-120)

2. Colts to make the playoffs (-160)
The big offseason news for the Colts was the addition of future Hall of Fame QB Philip Rivers, who has spent his entire 16-year career with the Chargers.

Rivers will suddenly be playing behind the best offensive line of his career and be running an offense he’s familiar with, since Colts head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni worked with him during their time as offensive assistants with the Chargers. Reich is considered one of the better head coaches in the NFL and has to be thrilled to see Rivers out there every day after Andrew Luck bailed on him weeks before the season-opener last year and being forced to go with Jacoby Brissett as his starter. Indy started 5-2 last year, but absolutely fell apart down the stretch and finished 7-9.

This year, Indy’s schedule is about as favorable as it gets. Eight of the team’s 16 games will be against teams with a projected season win total of 7.5 or less and only four of them are against teams with a win total of 9 or more, while its three toughest non-divisional games (Baltimore, Minnesota, Green Bay) are at home. The 2020 slate also gets off to a very easy start so a 5-1 or 6-0 record heading into the Week 7 bye is not out of the question.

Throw in the fact that the NFL has expanded the number of teams that make the playoffs from six from each conference to seven and I’m willing to wager that if the Colts don’t win the AFC South (which they are favored to do at +125) and clinch a spot in the postseason, they’ll get in via one of the three Wildcard berths. The -160 seems cheap.

Risk $320 to win $200 at William Hill Sportsbook & Racebook on the Colts to make the playoffs (-160)

1. NY Giants Under 6.5 wins (-120)
As mentioned above, teams with new head coaches will be at a huge disadvantage and at the top of this list is the New York Football Giants, who brought in a guy who has never been a head coach at any level, never mind the NFL.

This is not to say that the 38-year-old Joe Judge won’t someday become a great head coach in this league. But with no preseason and very little time spent with his team on the practice field, Judge and the G-Men are at a huge disadvantage. Making matters worse, the former New England assistant takes over a team that has won a total of 12 games in the last three seasons and will start a second-year QB who threw 12 interceptions and fumbled 18 times in 12 starts as a rookie. More bad news: The team’s best offensive lineman, left tackle Nate Solder, opted out of the 2020 season.

Finally, the schedule makers didn’t do Judge any favors. According to Warren Sharp’s Football Analysis 2020 Preview (an absolute “must-read” for any NFL fan/bettor), the Giants have the second-toughest schedule in the league this year and are the only team being forced to play three short-rest road games. They enter 2020 favored in just two games all season (vs. Washington and Arizona) and could easily be dogs in those games when they roll around. What’s more, nine of their first 10 opponents are projected to have a winning record this season. While Judge pays his dues as an NFL head coach, we’ll gladly cash in on his misfortune.

Risk $240 to win $200 at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on NY Giants under 6.5 wins (-120)

Top 10 NFL betting tips and picks for the 2020 season is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT