How to Read and Analyze Sports Picks

Bethany Jones
by Bethany Jones  |  Reviewer and Columnist

how to read sports betting picks

In the dynamic world of sports betting, the use of sports betting picks can be a game-changer – and you don’t have to be a beginner to really experience the benefits. When you use professional insights and comprehensive analyses, picks offer a strategic edge in predicting game outcomes more accurately.

With all the metrics and statistics, it can be difficult to navigate you through the essential steps of effectively using sports betting, even if you’ve already dipped your toe in.

Whether you’re a beginner eager to learn or an experienced bettor looking to refine your strategies, this guide will give you an understanding sports betting picks, making smart bets, and the significance of selecting the right handicapper.

What Are Sports Betting Picks?

In a nutshell, sports betting picks are recommendations from professional handicappers or betting experts. Experts like Slop’s Locks and McBets compile these picks daily, covering a wide range of sports from college football to the NBA.

The process behind these picks involves extensive research, including examining player forms, analyzing statistics, and understanding market trends to ensure you are making informed decisions.

Understanding What These Tips Mean

When it comes to reading picks, the shorthand used can be incredibly confusing at first. Here are some terms that you’ll come across often and what they actually mean:

What Does wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) in Baseball?

This is a statistic that measures a team’s or player’s offensive performance, which is adjusted for the league average and the specific ballpark, so a wRC+ of 100 is average. Of course, anything above 100 is above average.

So, if you’re reading a tip that says The Brewers have a 116 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers (righty’s) means they are a very good offensive team against that type of pitcher. The Reds, with an 87 wRC+, are below average offensively against right-handed pitchers.

This isn’t exactly a term that indicates a pick, but it gives you some useful information about why the pick has been made. I like when cappers give out this kind of data because it makes me feel like I’m making a much more informed decision.

Unit Picks

If you’re looking at a bet and they are assigned a value of units, this refers to how confident the handicapper is in making the bet. For example, if an NBA tip states:

2 Unit Pick: PJ Washington Over 1.5 Threes -185

This means the capper is so confident in PJ Washington making over 1.5 three-pointers in a game, that they’re willing to risk two full units on this outcome. The -185 odds mean you’d need to bet $185 to win $100 (for a total of $285)

If you saw a pick like this:

.5 Unit Pick: PJ Washington Over 2.5 Threes +175 

The capper not so confident that PJ Washington will hit more than 2.5 three-pointers, so they’re only risking half a unit on this bet. Here, The +175 odds mean a $100 bet would win $175 (for a total of $275).

Bovada Sports Betting
If you’re going to bet at my favorite sportsbook, Bovada, you should really learn how betting odds are displayed and what it all means.

Always remember the difference between the + and – figures. When there is a -, this is the amount of money you would have to bet to win $100. When there is a +, this means that you need to be $100 to win that amount.

Moneyline and Spread (aka Line)  Bets

I’ve found that many bettors get confused with Moneyline and Spread Bets. To be completely honest, it took me forever to really get to grips with them and I had to place a few bets to actually understand what I was doing:

So, I find the best way to illustrate it is in ELI5 (a Reddit term for Explain Like I’m Five-Years Old) form:

Let’s say you’re betting on a cheetah and a snail who have, for some reason, decided to enter a race against one another.

Moneyline Bet

This is the simplest bet. You’re just picking who you think will win the race.

  • Obviously, the cheetah is faster, so he’s the favorite. To bet on him, you might have to bet $150 to win $100.
  • The snail is the underdog. If you bet on the snail and he wins, you might win $200 on a $100 bet.

Why are the amounts different?

The favorite is more likely to win, so you have to bet more to win less. The underdog is less likely to win, so you bet less but could win more if they pull off the upset.

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Spread Bet (Line Bets)

This bet is about how MUCH the Cheetah will win by, or if the snail can keep it close.

So, let’s say the spread is 5 seconds. This means:

If you bet on the cheetah, he has to win by MORE than 5 seconds for you to win your bet.

If you bet on the snail, he can lose by LESS than 5 seconds, or even win the race, for you to win your bet.

How it Works in Different Sports

Moneyline and spread bets are the most common tips you’ll see from cappers no matter what the sport. Here’s how they work in different sports:


  • Moneyline: Betting on who will win the fight outright. Example: Mike Tyson (-200) vs. Buster Douglas (+150). Tyson is the favorite, Douglas is the underdog.
  • Spread (Rounds Handicap): Betting on whether a fighter will win by a certain number of rounds or if the fight will go the distance. Example: Tyson -2.5 rounds means he needs to win by 3 or more rounds for you to win.


  • Moneyline: Betting on which team will win or if the game will end in a tie (draw). Example: Manchester United (+120) vs. Chelsea (-140), Draw (+250).
  • Spread (Goal Line/Asian Handicap): Betting on a team to win by a certain number of goals or to keep the score within a certain margin. Example: Manchester United +0.5 means they can win or tie for your bet to win.


  • Moneyline: Betting on which team will win the game outright. Example: Eagles (-120) vs. Chiefs (+105).
  • Spread (Point Spread): Betting on a team to win by a certain number of points. Example: Eagles -3.5 means they need to win by 4 or more points for you to win.

Remember, moneyline bets are always about who wins, while spread bets are about the margin of victory.

Applying the Picks

When applying sports betting picks, you should use betting strategies that maximize your winnings and minimize risks. These are some methods I use to stay on the right track:

  1. Diversification of Bets: Spread your bets across different sports, leagues, and bet types to reduce risk. This helps you manage market risks, ensuring that no single event will cause a catastrophic loss for your bankroll.
  2. Setting Betting Limits: Establish clear limits on the amount you bet per day or per event. So, you’ll be able to manage your bankroll better and avoid any temptation of chasing losses.
  3. Utilizing Staking Plans: Implement staking plans that dictate how you size your bets based on your overall bankroll and the perceived risk of the bet. Common methods include percentage-based staking or using the Kelly criterion, which balances the probability of winning against the odds offered.

Monitoring and Adjusting Your Approach

Regular evaluation of your betting strategies is very important to success in the long term. These are some of the ways I ensure that I’m staying on top of performance and approach to betting.

  1. Performance Tracking: I keep a detailed record of all my bets, including wins, losses, and the strategies I used for each one. This data really helps illustrate which strategies are working and which are not.
  2. Adjusting Strategies Based on Performance: If certain strategies consistently result in losses, I consider revising or dropping them. On the other hand, if a strategy has turned out to be very successful, I’ll give it a good think about using it more often.
  3. Stay Updated with Sports Trends: Obviously, sports trends can change rapidly- so I’m always reading the latest news to update my knowledge base and then adjust my strategies accordingly. Things to look out for include understanding shifts in team performance, player injuries, and other factors that could impact game outcomes. I’d recommend getting your information from a reputable source like Bleacher Report or The Athletic.

Selecting the Right Handicapper

Selecting the right sports handicapper is crucial for your betting success. There are tons out there selling snake oil, and you should take care when trusting someone to give you quality tips. These are the criteria I would consider when choosing someone to rely on for tips:

  1. Transparency of Record: Always verify the handicapper’s win-loss record. A reputable handicapper will openly share their overall performance, not just highlight their wins. If this information isn’t readily accessible, it might be a red flag that the handicapper has something to hide.
  2. Realistic Winning Percentages: Even the most successful bettors typically have a winning percentage around 55%. You should approach anyone who claims significantly higher rates (80% and up) with caution; their figures might be a tad exaggerated.
  3. Promises and Guarantees: Be wary of handicappers who guarantee wins. Sports betting inherently involves risks, and no outcomes are certain. Trust handicappers who promise diligent research and transparent access to their betting history over those offering surefire wins.
  4. Customer Feedback: Check reviews and comments on their platforms. A majority of positive reviews can indicate a trustworthy handicapper. However, take the time to read through a significant number of comments to get a genuine sense of customer satisfaction.
  5. Avoiding Scams: Be cautious of handicappers who use aggressive marketing tactics, such as promising high returns from large “investments” or using pressure sales to upsell expensive packages. I know from experience that these tend to be red flags for unethical behavior.

Handling Variance in Betting

Something that most cappers don’t mention is that variance is a fundamental concept in sports betting. It refers to the degree of fluctuation in your betting results, and is the measure of how spread out your outcomes are:

High Variance

Bets with high variance have a wide range of potential outcomes, so the results are a lot  less predictable. They usually offer higher odds and potential payouts but come with a greater risk of losing.

For example, if you’re betting on the underdog, your returns will be bigger if the bet comes in but it’s also the riskier option. If you’re betting on the first player to score a touchdown, it also counts as a high variance bet – because there are so many different potential outcomes.

Low Variance

These bets have a narrower range of outcomes. As such, they’re more predictable and less risky. So, generally, they have lower odds and smaller payouts.

Using the above example, betting on the favorite team in a match is a low variance bet. It is also considered a low variance bet when you bet on total points scored on a match because, depending on the average of both teams’ performance in recent games, there are pretty few potential scores that won’t fall into the range you’re betting on.

The Importance of Really Understanding Sports Betting Picks

While sports betting picks can be a super useful tool, it’s important to remember that they’re not magic. Understanding how they work is key. That means getting familiar with all the lingo, understanding the numbers involved, and most importantly, knowing if you’re getting your tips from a reliable source.

Don’t just blindly follow someone’s picks without understanding why they’re making them. Do your own research, learn about different types of bets, how the odds work, and what factors can change the outcome of a game.

When it comes to choosing a handicapper, be picky. Look for someone who’s open about their track record, doesn’t promise crazy win percentages, and has a good reputation among other bettors.

At the end of the day, sports betting is a gamble, and even the experts get it wrong sometimes. But by knowing what you’re doing and choosing your sources wisely, you can make much more informed decisions and hopefully see better results. Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to betting.

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