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Seven guidelines for picking NFL games

If you’re like me and plan on making picks for every single NFL game in 2018, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Washington Redskins v New England Patriots
The Patriots are usually a pretty safe bet at home... but not so much in Miami.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There are three things that make up the fun aspect of being an NFL fan.

There’s the football games, obviously (the most important part, since without the football games, then football season wouldn’t really… um… exist).

Then there’s fantasy football. This keeps you interested in other players that don’t play for your favorite team and thus, keeps you caught up on all the happenings around the league and not just in your city. Plus it adds the thrill of competition. There’s just something about obliterating someone else to smithereens that is good and healthy for the soul.

And thirdly, there is picking games – or if you’re a little more daring than me, actually gambling on the games. I can’t afford to just give money away, which is what I would essentially be doing if I gambled on the games, so I just stick to simply making weekly picks and hoping to come out the other side at .500 or above.

Like everyone, I have a few rules I like to abide by when making my picks. It’s not exactly a foolproof system – I’m not sure one exists – but it’s at least somewhat reasonable. So if you’re like me and plan on making a pick for and/or gambling on every single NFL game this year, here are a few guidelines…

1. Always take home field advantage into account

It’s been a true statement for all sports over the decades: home teams simply thrive off their home crowds. A roaring crowd has the ability to lift a team to an entirely different level. So even if a so-so quarterback like Kirk Cousins is going up against a great quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, but the game is in Minnesota, you can’t just automatically give the game to the Packers. Home field advantage comes into effect more often than we would generally like it to.

Now, the Cousins-Rodgers analogy is just for the regular season. Under no circumstances should you ever take Cousins over Rodgers in a playoff game.

2. Keep an eye out for teams that are on a roll

This one kind of goes without saying, but momentum is everything! If a team has won three games in a row, they are soaring with momentum. That means they have confidence. That means they believe in themselves. And as our parents have always told us, you can do anything when you believe in yourself.

If a team is on a hot streak, keep picking them until they fizzle out. Hopefully you’ll get more right picks than wrong picks.

(Side note: Obviously, this rule doesn’t come into effect until a few weeks into the season. But it’s an important one to keep in mind.)

3. Pick at least one or two upsets every week

Every single week, there’s always at least one game that leaves us thinking, Man, I can’t believe the (insert team name here) won that game! I didn’t think they had a chance! The more upsets you pick, the better your chances are of getting one right. And we all love that feeling when we get to yell, “I called that upset! I was right!” at the top of our lungs.

Of course, you can’t get too crazy with it. For example, you probably shouldn’t pick the underdog to upset the Patriots, the Steelers, the Packers, and the Eagles all in the same week. But with at least one or two games, go ahead and take, for another example, the Chargers over the Steelers. If you’ve had good luck recently, or you’re just feeling like it’s a good week, maybe pick two or three upsets. Like I said, the more upsets you pick, the better chance you have of getting one right.

Just remember, there’s always at least one upset that nobody sees coming every week. Think about it beforehand and you can be the one person that DID see it coming.

4. If you’re itching to pick against the Patriots, do it when they play in Miami

It’s a bizarre phenomenon, but the city of Miami is like kryptonite to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. In the last five seasons, the Patriots have only won once during their annual trip to south Florida to face the Dolphins.

To sum up, the Pats have won more Super Bowls in the last five years than they’ve won games in Miami, and they play in Miami every single year. Picking against New England in general isn’t usually the best idea, but if it’s a road game against the Dolphins, it might be a fairly safe pick.

5. Don’t make blatantly dumb picks

We all know the Browns aren’t going to win more than two or three games this year, maybe four if they’re lucky, so don’t try to be a hero and pick them on more than two or three occasions, if even that many. To be honest, it’s probably safer to just pick against the Browns every single week, because then you should be right roughly 70-80 percent of the time.

6. When in doubt, go with…

There are a couple of different methods you can go with when you’re stumped and have no idea who to pick.

Say you’ve got Rodgers, McCarthy and the Packers going against Roethlisberger, Tomlin and the Steelers. In that case, you’ve got a good quarterback, a good coach, and a good team on both sides. Tough to decide. In this scenario, you can revisit Rule No. 1 and get behind the home team. There’s a good chance that playing in front of its home crowd will make one good team a little better than the other good team on that given night. So if that game is happening in Green Bay, then give the advantage to the Packers and the Lambeau faithful.


You can revisit Rule No. 2 and go with the team that has been on more of a roll lately. Even if the game is happening in Green Bay, but the Packers have lost two of their last three games while the Steelers are riding a three-game win streak, then you can go the other way and take Pittsburgh. Whichever method you feel the most comfortable with.

However, it goes without saying that if the team playing at home is the team riding the three-game win streak, then you ALWAYS pick that team and it’s not even a debate. End of discussion.

7. Above all else, always trust your gut

As football fans, we just kind of have a sixth sense about these kinds of things. So if you’re watching the Rams play the Eagles on Sunday Night Football during Week 15, and the top spot in the NFC is on the line, and you want to get behind Jared Goff at home, but your gut instinct is telling you to take Carson Wentz on the road, then it’s probably a good idea to go with the Eagles. You can disregard all of the above rules if your gut instinct is strongly in favor of one team over the other.

In the meantime, let’s just hope that Wentz gets out of that game in Los Angeles without any torn ligaments this time.

PS: I must reserve the right to add to this list as the season goes along because, as you know, the NFL is unpredictable arnd crazy and anything can happen.