The fall season marks a busy time for sports betting. Baseball season is beginning to wind down as the football season heats up, but fans are also excited for hockey and a couple high-profile fights. So what are the smart bets and mistakes to avoid this season? Stay up to date with the information that can help you at the sports books. 

Rule Changes are a Factor in Football

It’s important for any NFL fan to understand the rule changes. The helmet-to-helmet rule penalizes players 15 yards for lowering their helmets upon contact while a revised catch rule has redefined how players can move the ball forward. “Those are both in favor of the offense,” says Jason McCormick, race and sports director of the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. “During the preseason we’ve seen a lot of those penalties called on the defensive player versus the offensive player… I think that we’re going to see higher scoring games in the NFL this season. We’re starting to see a lot more running backs that are catching the ball out of the backfield versus just driving the line. A smart bet this year will be to look for higher scoring early in the season.”

Be Wise About Prop Bets in Football

Prop bets have been posted — everything from which team will win the division, conference and league championships to which player will score the most passing yards or receiving yards. But fans eager to place a wager may want to pay the most attention to most rushing yards.

“I think you look at this year and it’s back to the running back era in football,” says Chuck Esposito, race and sports director of Sunset Station casino in Henderson. “You look at Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell — and then there’s all the buzz for Saquon Barkley, a rookie.”

The Texans and Vikings Have Promising NFL Seasons

There’s been about a 30 percent change in starting quarterbacks, including trades involving Alex Smith to the Redskins, Kirk Cousins to the Vikings and Case Keenum to the Broncos. In addition, the Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Texan’s Deshaun Watson are both returning from injuries.

“I really think the Texans are a team to look out for,” says McCormick. “You saw what the Texans did when Watson was healthy, and they were still able to be competitive when he left the team. But I think him coming back with the offensive weapons they have in a softer division — not necessarily that the Colts and Titans are soft teams, but not offensive powerhouses — I think the Texans will do some damage.”

McCormick also feels good about the Vikings. “If Kirk Cousins can be responsible in that offense and not turn the ball over, much like he did in leading Washington to a decent season last year with really nobody around him — and now you put the tools around him with the Vikings — I think they’re a very dangerous team.”

Image: Red Rock Resort Race and Sports Book

Place a Value Bet on the Smart Team in the NFL

Esposito agrees the Texans have strong potential, but is also big on the Giants, a team that took steps to rectify their problems last season.”The two things they couldn’t do last year was run the ball or protect Eli Manning,” he says. “They went out and drafted Will Hernandez, they drafted Barkley. So now they can run, they can protect and their big free agent signing is Nate Solder, an offensive lineman to help protect Eli Manning.”

Will the Vegas Golden Knights Do Even Better This Year?

Last year, the Vegas Golden Knights became the darlings of the NHL in their debut season, going all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in a losing bid against the Washington Capitals. Can the Cinderella team have even more success in their second season?   

“The Knights only lost a couple of guys,” says Esposito. “The two big losses were (James) Neal and (David) Perron. They went out in the off-season and picked up Paul Stastny, which helps a lot, and they’ve got an influx of young players. I think a big key for them is that Marc-André Fleury stays healthy and some of the kids they have behind him produce as well. But overall, it’s a really good team.”

Place Ambitious NHL Bets in the East

Washington and Tampa Bay are early favorites in the east, but the bracket is wide open with Toronto and Boston also looking good. In the west, oddsmakers like Nashville and Vegas, but don’t overlook Winnipeg. “They get everybody back,” says McCormick. “They were a team that wasn’t supposed to have the success they had last year — and now they’ve got that taste. All too often we see a team that got decently far in the playoffs come back (the following year) and be able to win it. They kind of crossed that bridge in making themselves a playoff team.”

Big Fights Mean Big Dollars at the Sports Books

The UFC is looking forward to its biggest fight of the year when top star Conor McGregor challenges Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight championship on October 6 in Las Vegas. It’s McGregor’s first UFC fight in nearly two years after taking time off for a boxing fight against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. last year. He’s currently an underdog, so if you want to bet on him, the sooner the better.

“It is a little bit of wait-and-see because he’s had that time off,” says Esposito. “But then again, it’s McGregor. My guess is by the time they get into the Octagon, you’re going to see a considerable amount of money on McGregor… I wouldn’t be surprised to see those odds drop considerably.”

Another big Vegas fight is the September 15 championship boxing rematch between middleweights Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin and Canelo Álvarez. The two fought to a controversial draw last year, although Golovkin seemed to make the better impression, allowing him to be a slight favorite this time around.

“I think a lot of people thought Triple G won the fight,” says Esposito. “You want to see the two best fighters in a weight class fight each other… Sometimes in boxing it doesn’t happen as quickly as you would like it to. These two guys are really talented and it’s obvious they don’t like each other. Triple G knows what he has to do to maybe knockout Canelo, and Canelo knows now how tough Triple G is. It’s going to be interesting.”

Image: Westgate Superbook

Don’t Forget About Baseball

This time of year, it’s common for sports bettors to shift focus from baseball to football. “If you follow the right team at the right time in baseball, there’s money to be made,” says McCormick. “Follow the Red Sox. They’ve struggled a little bit against Cleveland, but they’re on a record pace from a win standpoint.”

Common Betting Mistakes

Too often, bettors fall victim to parlays. They try to put eight or 10-team parlays together to try to win a lot by betting a little. “We call them lottery tickets,” says McCormick. “Those are very difficult to hit… My advice would be to stay with three teams or less, stick with your favorites and don’t try and go too deep.”

As always, odds can change at any given time. Have fun at the sports book, but don’t exceed your means. The National Council on Problem Gambling operates an assistance hotline at 1-800-522-4700 for those who need help.

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