How To Handicap Sports

If you grew up watching sports in the ’80s, you might have learned about sports “handicapping” from high-profile TV oddsmakers like Jimmy the Greek. It’s an odd term these days, but it mostly just represents how to analyze and predict sports outcomes.

If you want to bet on sports, what level of “handicapping” do you need to understand? Can you do it yourself or do you need professional handicapping guidance? Here’s what you need to know about sports handicapping.

What is sports handicapping?

At its core, sports handicapping is the process of examining and analyzing the factors that affect a sporting event. The goal is to add depth to your observations so you can better predict the outcome of a game.

This can range from basic observations about the weather and recent player performances to more advanced mathematical systems that perform simulations too complex for the human mind. The term’s origin has to do with the act of finding the disadvantages of each team.

What is the purpose of handicapping in sports?

People handicap sports in an effort to be more accurate in their predictions and win more bets than they would have otherwise. By examining all the possible factors, gamblers can inform themselves and thus make strong decisions.

It’s always a good idea to have as much information as possible before making a decision, and that is even more true when you’re risking money. By handicapping, you’re making sure that you’re in the best position to make the best possible decisions.

Am I making a mistake by not handicapping?

While the answer to this question is ultimately up to you and depends on your goals for gambling, handicapping can increase your chances of making money. If that is part of your goals, it might be a mistake to ignore handicapping.

However, if you’re more of a casual gambler, then while intense handicapping may not be for you, basic handicapping could still be a good idea as it doesn’t take much time and helps immensely.

How do you handicap a sports game?

The process of handicapping first starts with some of the bigger picture ideas that are happening with the game. How has each team played in recent games? Are there any injuries to significant players? Which team is playing at home? How rested is each team? These are some of the larger questions that are good for basic handicapping.

After doing this preliminary research, it’s important to look beyond these surface-level ideas. Looking at the different consequences for each team in the standings, how much pressure is on both sides and other similar factors is a good place to start for more in-depth ideas.

If you want to take it to another level, finding some statistics and analytics to compare or use in a predictive model can help sharpen your skills even more.

Handicapping and making a betting line

After doing your research and considering all the factors, you should make your own lines to compare against the ones that your sportsbook is offering. You can make your lines in a variety of ways.

The key is to look for variables that you feel oddsmakers have overlooked and weigh them in your lines, adjusting as you see fit. You can base your lines on what you see from oddsmakers or start from scratch to ensure that you don’t take in any outside influence.

Why is handicapping so important for NFL betting?

Handicapping is important for NFL games because of the vast size of the betting market. Because people wager so much money on the NFL, the oddsmakers ensure that they are taking the most care when they make their lines.

So you’ll need to do at least some handicapping if you want to enjoy any success, as you’ll need even small edges over other gamblers. NFL handicap betting is the easiest and most effective way to find these edges and can mean the difference between profit and losses.

How do I handicap an NFL game?

Handicapping an NFL game works much like any other sporting event. You must take the time to work through the factors that affect the game and create lines that you think are appropriate. After comparing your lines against the sportsbook lines, take advantage of any large differences by placing a bet.

For example, let’s say the Chicago Bears were playing against the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle, and the Bears are a two-point favorite. You should first walk through the basic aspects of the game and try to discern how they affect each team. You check how each team has played in recent weeks and you see that Seattle had a bye last week while the Bears played a tough game against a strong opponent.

You also know that the Bears are strong against the run but that Seattle has a strong passing attack and one of the Chicago safeties is hurt for this week. By taking all these factors into account, you start to think that Seattle might be a strong play, but you want to continue to do more research.

You know that Seattle will need to win this game to keep its playoff hopes alive, while the Bears have already clinched a spot with a few games to go. After considering all these factors, you come up with a line of Seattle -3 and decide that taking the Seahawks at +2 is a good idea.

Most important factors when handicapping sports

When handicapping games, these are some key ideas to keep in mind.


Rest is huge for professional athletes, and a well-rested team will have an edge over a tired team. More rest also means more time to prepare and get ready for the game. For example, in the NFL, if a team plays on Monday Night Football, it’s going to have less rest when heading into the next week of play.

Recent form

Momentum plays a big role in professional sports, and teams on losing streaks may need to play a few good games before they get their first win. Looking at how each team has performed in recent games is an important factor for any handicapper.

Head-to-head performance

Have these two teams met previously during the season, or even during the season before? Past meetings give the best idea of the specific matchups between teams and are a strong indicator of the next game. Make sure to look at more than just the score from the previous game, as sometimes that’s not enough to tell the full story.

What is handicapping in horse racing?

Handicapping in horse racing is similar to handicapping in other sports. You’re trying to take in information to make a more informed decision about the race that is about to occur. Of course, in horse racing, you have different pieces of information, so the process is slightly different, even if the overall idea remains the same.

Some of the major factors to consider are the jockey, the recent form of the horse, the ability of the horse, and the weather conditions.

What are the most important factors in handicapping horse races?

When it comes to horse race handicapping, the horse itself is key. You should do plenty of research into the horse and its past performances to get the best idea of its ability.

Besides the horse, it’s also important to consider the jockey and trainer who are associated with each horse and look at that relationship. The amount of impact a jockey or trainer has can vary, so it’s important to go on a case-by-case basis.

Some other important factors have to do with the race itself and the distance and conditions. Which horses have raced at this location before? What’s the weather supposed to be like? Which horses enjoy running this distance?

What makes horse race handicapping so difficult?

Horse race handicapping is so difficult due to the immense number of factors and the difficulty in weighing them. There are so many things that can affect the outcome of a race that it’s difficult to predict the ending.

A horse could slip or experience any sort of unpredictable action that prevents it from winning even if everything else goes correctly. Also, disqualifications are another aspect that makes horse racing difficult to handicap.

What is a handicapping service?

A handicapping service is a company that does the handicapping for you and then will tell you its findings. Some handicapping services use mathematical models while others use different methods. If you do choose to go with a handicapping service, make sure it’s reputable and has a proven track record.

You can find most handicapping services on the internet these days with a simple Google search. If you decide to use one, make sure to check reviews and compare results to find a service that is trustworthy and reliable.

Do I need a handicapping service?

There are a few different pros and cons to using a handicap service. The first con is the fact that it costs money and eats into your bankroll. Sports gambling is tricky enough without paying even more money for a service.

However, if your handicapper is good, then your winnings may balance out the cost. It’s important to track how much the service is costing you versus the results you are seeing if you decide to pay for handicapping.

Handicapping FAQ

Sports handicapping can be a very profitable business for those who are good at it. Like any business, if you make your clients money, you can in turn make a profit. However, one thing to remember is that sports handicapping is not easy. A non-profitable handicapper will struggle.

You can handicap pretty much every sport, from basketball to tennis. It’s common for all the major sports around the world to help gamblers find an edge.

This depends on the sport, but generally, the most important stats are ones that explain the strengths of teams or players.

Bankroll refers to the money that you have put aside for sports gambling purposes. This is a set amount of money that you should keep track of to tell how much you’ve won or lost.

Sports handicapping is completely legal. You do not need to worry about legal issues when buying a handicapping service or handicapping games yourself. There are legal issues with accepting bets, but as a handicapper, as long as it’s purely advice, you’re OK.