The Point Spread
The name of the game here is point spread. The point spread, for those innocent of the intricacies of America's national autumn sport, is the margin by which the favored team is expected to win; or the losing team is expected to lose.
Thus, if bookmakers favor Notre Dame by 7 points, you can't win a bet on Notre Dame unless they win by at least 8.
Notre Dame, in fact, is a very good example, because betting is usually very heavy on this much-loved college team. The great Ara Parseghian, formerly the coach of the Fighting Irish once said that his retirement from the game was hastened by the pressure not only to win, but to beat the point spread.
The pressure, of course, came from the legions of fans that put their money behind the Irish every Saturday.
As in the case of Notre Dame, the point spread calculation is based not only on various ways odds makers have of judging which team is better, but also on which team the public is expected to favor.
Thus, if a great deal of money is bet on any football team, the odds against the team--- or the point spread--- will change to reflect the heavy betting. The bookmaker's odds, therefore, are a boiling down of all the opinions on the subject of who will win, just as horseracing odds reflect not only the handicapper's line but also public opinion.
Systems for handicapping football get more complicated every year, as the game itself gets more and more sophisticated. In the beginning, before the introduction of the T formation, the most important thing to consider was how fast the players could run.
After T formation, it was speed plus quality of the quarterback. Now, quality of quarterbacks is a much more complex and nebulous item than speed, and modern football just keeps adding imponderables for bettors.
The quarterback is still important, especially in pro football, where factors such as playing on your home field doesn't matter so much to players.
Also important are team averages, individual averages, defensive game, running game, kicking game, special squads--- in short, just about everything the real aficionado knows about when he really knows football.
One tip that might surprise you: don't put too much weight on coaching. That's because, especially in the pros, most coaches are good, few, outstanding, and few bad.
If you run into a Vince Lombardi, you might add a point or two to your private point spread. If you know that a coach is unusually out of control, you might take off a point or two.
But basically coaching tends to equalize, as for gambling--- making it not much of a factor compared to the others mentioned above.