26 Sep

The Differences Between Betting on the NBA and NFL

Most sportsbooks treat the NBA and NFL in a remarkably similar fashion. They allow bettors to lay wagers on spreads, moneylines, and totals in both sports and even have a similar array of prop bets and alternative lines. In fact, they look so much alike at first glance that many amateur bettors employ the exact same strategies when switching between the two.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, and it can get you burned. Although NBA games and NFL games look the same on a betting slip, professional basketball and professional football are two very different sports with drastically different rules, schedules, and point totals.

Before you make your next wager, take a moment to brush up on the key differences between betting on the NBA and NFL with our helpful primer.

The Schedule Plays a Bigger Role in the NBA

It’s fitting that traveling is a penalty in the NBA (nominally, anyway) because it’s also one of the major drawbacks to being an NBA player. NBA teams play 41 road games per season and are often on the road for a week at a time. By contrast, NFL teams play just eight road games per season, and they have the luxury of returning home between games to rest and recuperate. They even receive one bye week per season to further aid their recovery.

The discrepancy in travel between the two leagues becomes even clearer when you examine the number of miles NBA and NFL teams must travel to reach their games. The Los Angeles Rams will travel 32,600 miles this season, while the Los Angeles Lakers will travel 44,816. It’s an even bigger chasm in Houston, where the Texans will travel 18,546 miles while the Rockets will travel 48,566 miles.

Studies have shown that excessive travel adversely affects reaction time, wreaks havoc on circadian rhythms, and even lowers testosterone levels.

All of those miles across all of those time zones can take their toll on players. Studies have shown that excessive travel adversely affects reaction time, wreaks havoc on circadian rhythms, and even lowers testosterone levels. It’s the reason why so-called “scheduled losses” are so common in the NBA, and why teams are increasingly turning to sleep doctors to ensure their players get adequate rest.

Bettors have to consider the role of player fatigue far more carefully when making bets on the NBA than the NFL. That means examining schedules, taking mileage into consideration, and looking at whether road teams are just embarking on a trip (when they should still be fresh) or wrapping one up.

NFL Bettors Have Access to Far More Information

Unlike NFL teams, which typically only play once a week, NBA teams generally play three to four games per week and average 14.4 back-to-back games per season. The NBA has begun making a concerted effort not to overtax its players physically, but the reality is that the NBA schedule is far more of a grind than the NFL schedule. It can also be far more challenging for bettors as well.

In the NFL, bettors typically have six days to consider matchups, examine lines, consult injury reports, and read dozens of articles about each game. By comparison, NBA bettors generally only have one to two days.

Due to the rapid turnaround in the NBA, there is far less information and far less in-depth analysis available for each game. To be fair, bettors aren’t going into the game blind, but they don’t have access to the same wealth of data and insight available to fans of the NFL. That puts them at a disadvantage and, in many cases, results in impulsive bets.

One Player Can Make a Huge Difference in the NBA

One of the major differences between the NBA and the NFL is roster size. An NBA roster is typically comprised of 15 players, of which ten may play in any given game. An NFL roster, meanwhile, has 53 active players, of which 46 may play in any given game. The differences don’t end there. NFL players are relegated to either offense or defense, while NBAers play both (a fact that someone should really mention to Nick Young). As a result of this discrepancy, one NBA player can have a much bigger impact on the outcome of the game than one NFL player, except for the elite QBs. That’s something bettors must factor in when considering the impact of injuries, suspensions and individual match-ups.

If a football team loses two players, it will have lost 4% of its team, but if a basketball loses two players it will have lost 13% of its team.

Meet the authors

Matt McEwan
Dave F.
Sports Writer
William Hill
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