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Top-10 ways to bet on the NFL season

30 Aug 2013

By Dan Podheiser
Fall is the best season.

The leaves are beautiful, the weather is pristine, the beer is -- don't even get me started on the beer. The beginning of September through Thanksgiving is the most magical time of the year.

But all of that would be worthless (OK, maybe not the beer) if it weren't for the National Football League, or more specifically, gambling on the National Football League.

The 2013 NFL campaign begins Thursday night as the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens visit Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The return of the football season also marks the return of the football betting season, and no other sport provides the same level of edge-of-your seat action the typical degenerate gambler craves.

There are several ways to gamble on the NFL, so many that even I learn about new props or pools each season. But if you're looking for some quality action this year, here are the 10 best ways to spread your money around:

10. Parlays

While betting on individual game spreads, over/unders or other prop bets is fun, the maximum payout is generally nothing to get worked up about. Most of the time, you're laying odds to the sportsbook, so even if you bet $100 on a team to cover the spread, you're likely walking away with just $95 or so in profit.

With parlays, though, you have a chance to win a whole lot more -- you just need to have a whole lot more luck. A parlay is simply a betting card that contains more than one bet. In order to win the card, you have to win each bet on the card. While it is certainly more difficult to cash in on a parlay than on a single-game wager, the payout on a parlay exponentially increases as you add more bets.

In Delaware, the only other state besides Nevada to allow sports betting, the wagering is limited to bets on NFL games using only parlay cards with a minimum of three games on each card. The true odds to win three NFL spread bets on a parlay card are 7:1 (assuming we're giving each team a 50 percent chance of covering the spread). A typical parlay will usually pay somewhere in the vicinity of 4-6 times the original bet for a "three-teamer."

And while parlays are often referred to as a "sucker's bet," keep in mind that any time you bet against a sportsbook, you're going to lose in the long run -- unless you're one of a handful of people in the world who actually make money betting on sports. So, if you're going to bet, why not shoot for a big payday?

9. Most passing yards in a game

If you're under the age of 75, and you've ever taken a sick day from work or school, chances are you've watched at least one episode of The Price is Right. The contestants in that show take turns guessing a retail product's cash value. The person with the closest guess -- without picking a number higher than the actual value -- moves on to play for the chance to win big money.

This pool utilizes a similar structure. At the beginning of the season, you and your buddies try to guess the most passing yards any quarterback will throw for in a game over the course of the regular season. It doesn't matter who the quarterback is -- only the yard total. Whoever is closest wins all the money. But channeling The Price is Right rules, anyone who guesses a number higher than the winning total is automatically disqualified.

Last year, Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 527 yards in Week 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was the third highest single-game passing total in the history of the league, so needless to say nobody in their right mind would have picked the over in a pool last year. But had someone picked 528 yards at the beginning of the season, they would have been eliminated.

8. Monday Night Football double-digit wins

Monday Night Football is not the spectacle it used to be. Now that there are games on Sunday and Thursday nights, it is no longer all that special to be able to watch football during a non-Sunday afternoon timeslot. And lately, it's widely agreed that Monday night games have been, for the lack of a better word, boring.

This bet is an easy way to put the spice back into your Monday nights. Decide a good over/under for how many Monday Night Football games will be decided by double-digit margins over the course of the year, and pick your side against someone with an opposite opinion.

In 2012, there were seven double-digit wins out of a total of 16 Monday night games. In 2011, 10 of the 16 games were decided by 10 points or more. This year, there are 17 Monday night games. I'd suggest setting the over/under at 9.5.

7. Scores TD first on NFL Red Zone

NFL Red Zone is a TV channel that provides fans with a live feed to any game with a drive taking place inside the 20-yard line, or the "red zone" in football terms.

This bet is simple. Each week, choose the team you think will score a touchdown first on NFL Red Zone, and have your friends do the same. The person whose team scores first wins the pot. Of course, the only teams eligible for this bet will be the ones playing the 1 p.m. games -- unless you think all of the early games will end in 0-0 ties.

It would be great to kick off your week of NFL betting by seeing your team pop up first on Red Zone. But remember, not all scoring drives end in touchdowns. If your team settles for a field goal, or botches the drive completely, then you win nothing.

6. DraftKings

DraftKings gives you the chance to play a new fantasy football team each week.

The Web site functions much like an online poker room. You enter "tournaments" that have different buy-in levels and that range entrants anywhere from two to tens of thousands of players. When the tournament starts, you assemble a fantasy team using a salary cap. Whoever has the most points at the end of the tournament wins the top prize.

A two-person match plays just like a fantasy head-to-head league mixed with a heads up Sit-and-Go: you score more points than the other person, you win the match and the money. A tournament with thousands of entrants, meanwhile, pays players just like an online poker tournament. Generally, if you finish anywhere in the top 10 percent, you'll win some money.

5. Pick'em pool

The standard "office pool," in a Pick'em pool you simply pick the team you think will cover the spread in each game, each week. Whoever ends up with the most correct picks at the end of the year wins the pool. A good pool (and one with a lot of players) will also have prizes for second and/or third place, and sometimes will even award the weekly top score.

The best part about Pick'em is that it's basically a crap shoot for each game. Again, unless you've created an algorithmic computer system to beat the Vegas odds makers, you basically have no chance to consistently beat the spread. That means that even if you spend two hours a week doing research -- which is half the fun -- you don't really stand a better chance than the guy who makes his picks based on the uniforms he likes best.

4. Confidence pool

A confidence pool is exactly like Pick'em, but with a twist. You pick winners for each game against the spread, but assign a "confidence" ranking to each game based on, well, your confidence in the outcome.

In a typical week with 16 games, for instance, you assign each game a value of 1-16, without using the same value twice. If you get your "16" game right, you earn 16 points. If you get your "5" game wrong, you earn zero points for that game. Note: Typically, when the bye weeks come into play, the top confidence values are shaved off. So in a week with 14 games, you can assign values from 1-14 for each game.

This will be my second year doing a confidence pool, and the commissioner of my pool implemented a rule that allows your worst point total of the week to be "forgiven." That means if you miss a week (either because you forgot or were unable to get to a computer) or just had dreadful luck, it won't count against your final score at the end of the year. While this rule slightly hurts the people who put a ton of effort into their picks, it does entice more people to play.

3. Fantasy rotisserie league

By now, everyone knows about fantasy football. But rarely do you see a rotisserie league. I've done fantasy football for well over a decade, and while I've done "roto" for baseball, I've never done it for football. While most fantasy football leagues pin one team against another in head-to-head competition to see which team can rack up the most points, a rotisserie league is played much differently.

A very basic rotisserie league simply removes the head-to-head aspect, and each team's points are tallied up at the end of the year. While both leagues dictate that a player goes for the most possible points by setting an optimal lineup each week, a roto league gets rid of the arbitrary nature of wins and losses. In a head-to-head league, you can score the second highest amount of points in a given week and still lose if you play the person who scored the most. A similar week in rotisserie, meanwhile, can actually be very productive towards the ultimate goal.

2. Fantasy head-to-head league

Who cares about arbitrary indicators of success? Beating your friends in fantasy football is the best thing ever!

Yes, a head-to-head fantasy football league involves a lot less skill and a lot more luck than a roto league. But it is unquestionably more fun.

There are a few ways to spruce up your standard fantasy league, though. First, I'd advise awarding "top points" prizes each week. Also, consider taxing players who are more active on the waiver wire than others. For example, if your league has a $500 buy-in, charge players $20 per transaction (trades, free agents, waivers, etc.) after their first 10. This helps build the pot, and the extra money can go to creating better payouts at the end of the year.

1. Survivor pool

The survivor, or "suicide" pool, is the mother of all football pools. It's also the easiest to follow.

You pick a team to win in Week 1. Not to cover the spread -- just to win. If your team loses, you're out. If your team wins, you advance to Week 2, where you now have to pick a new team to win. Once you use a team, you are no longer allowed to use that team for the rest of the year. And whoever is the last one standing wins all the money.

Sounds easy, huh? Well, consider this: In my pool last season, there were over 300 entries. Well over half of those went down when the heavily favored New England Patriots lost a Week 2 matchup against the lowly Arizona Cardinals -- on a last-second, botched field goal attempt, nonetheless.

Stuff like that makes survivor pools awesome. Heavy favorites go down all the time, and when they do they can bring down entire flocks of players. And when that happens, it means you are that much closer to winning all the money.

A twist: Ask the players in your pool for one buy-in, but divide the funds into two separate pools. In one pool, players will pick a team to win each week, while in the other they will pick a team to lose each week. The pools are exactly the same, obviously, but it gives players a chance to spread their action around and stay in the game longer than they might otherwise be able to.
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