NFL Betting Guides

How To Handicap First Quarter Bets

Patience is a virtue… that many sports bettors don’t have these days.

We’ve become a society that craves instant gratification be it with friends, social media or sports betting. That’s why when it comes to wagering, sportsbooks are laser-focused on creating more and more micro markets where you can place a bet and get a result right away. Waiting hours for a bet to settle isn’t something that everyone wants to do. Betting the next play or next basket delivers that adrenaline shot that many bettors are looking for.

While it’s hard to find a good strategy for those micro markets, there could be value with one of the shorter segments of a football game. While it’s not a bet on the coin flip or what the result of the next drive will be, the first quarter offers a shorter segment and has some strategy to it. Let’s dive in.

How To Handicap First Quarter Bets

What’s Their Plan With The Coin Flip?

When it comes to betting on the first quarter, the first thing you’ll want to take a peek at is what teams do with the coin toss. Remember, there are limited possessions and if you’re trying to predict a winner (or the point spread), the side who starts with the ball will have an edge.

This used to be more of a “decision” but nowadays, the majority of teams just defer. Over the last five seasons, the rough numbers are about 90% of teams defer. For example, the Philadelphia Eagles won the coin toss 13 times in the 2022 season and deferred every time. The Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Washington Commanders, Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins all also deferred every single time they won the coin toss.

However, a team like the Dallas Cowboys won the coin toss seven times in 2022 and only deferred three times. Doing this type of research to glean which way a team will go is challenging but if you can find the right info, it can give you an idea of who’ll end up starting with the football.

Do Teams Start Fast Or Not?

If you’re betting the first quarter, you’re going to have to start looking for some stats that are not as easy to find. For example, if you wanted to get a read on how an offense performs in an entire game, that’s easy to find. You can go to or and see how many points per game a team averages. If you’re looking for points in the first quarter or first drive, those are harder to find.

When betting the first quarter props, you need to know if teams start fast or not. Looking at 60-minute might be misleading or ineffective. Some of the more useful stats to look at would include first quarter points and scoring percentage on opening drive.

First Quarter Points

A good gauge of how teams perform early on is to check-in and see what they average in the first quarter. Some of this is going to be obvious as some of the best offenses that deliver across four quarters will perform well in the first segment of the game. That’s why teams like the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs – teams who were among the best in points per game – were also strong in points averaged in the first quarter.

At the same time, drilling down in points per quarter – all four of them – might start to unearth some trends that will be useful to first quarter bets. For example, the Minnesota Vikings led the NFL in points per fourth quarter last season with 9.6 but managed just 4.7 in their first quarters. The Carolina Panthers were surprisingly fourth-best in terms of points-per-fourth quarter with 7.6 last season but only managed 2.8 in the first – the fourth-fewest.

When you start to track some of these numbers, you’ll see some trends. Some teams start slower and some teams start faster. Understanding these numbers will paint a certain picture as to whether a team or an over-under is a good bet for the first quarter.

Scoring Percentage On Opening Drive

Warren Sharp and a number of other advanced stat sites carry these numbers but in short, they’re quite important to first quarter bets. When you start to delve into these numbers, you might find a lot of surprises. That’s because some teams do a great job of game planning for the first series or first 15 plays, but then struggle the rest of the way. While you might assume that the league’s best offenses also perform well in the first quarter or first possession, that’s not always the case. Let’s take a look back to the 2022 season to see what the data shows.

The Chicago Bears ranked 23rd in points per game in the 2022 regular season but guess which team led the NFL in scoring percentage on their opening drive? Da Bears. They scored over 70% of the time. That’s pretty useful to know for first quarter bets or even the Team To Score First prop. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense was mostly listless in 2022, finishing 25th in points per game. However, they were fourth in this category, scoring 55% of the time on their opening possession. Considering how bad of a bet they were against the spread and straight up, bettors who backed them early actually did alright.

Remember to track this stat as it will give you a better idea of how to handle the first quarter lines.

Check-In With The Defenses

Bettors will often focus their handicapping on the offense and what they’re capable of in the first quarter but it’s also to remember the other half of the equation: the defenses. Finding stats and trends on the defenses in this smaller segment – the first quarter – is harder to do. Even so, you can start off with certain things like points allowed in the first quarter.

Some defenses also have a tendency of starting strong and wear down as the game goes along. Teams with better starters but worse depth might be fresh early but fade as they get pounded away upon.

Bet The Totals

The first way bettors go with the first quarter lines is the sides but don’t forget about the totals. Often times, there’s better value there as you can get a better feel for how the game flow will go. A number of bettors will stay away from the early sides because it’s hard to get a really good read on who’ll be winning after the first quarter. Maybe the coin toss doesn’t go your way or maybe there’s a fluky play that leads to an underdog grabbing the early lead. Many bettors prefer to bet on a whole game because they’ll feel like the team they’re backing will eventually come through – even if they’re slow to start.

At the same time, the total might offer more of an opportunity. You can take a look at the matchup and gauge whether the teams are going to start trading points right away in a high-scoring affair or maybe the teams will need time to feel each other out.

Is Weather A Factor?

Before locking in your bets, make sure you double-check the weather forecast. Of course, for games that are played in domes, you can cross that off your list. However, in games that are outdoors, weather can be a sizable factor that impacts the first quarter.

Many times, when bettors are examining the weather, they’re trying to project how big of an issue it will be later in the game. Football games last hours and weather forecasts are fickle, so bettors are often challenged while dealing with a manipulated variable. When it comes to the first quarter, though, you’re in a much better position to rely on the forecast because the weather is something you’ll be dealing with immediately.

Rain: The influence of rain tends to be tied to how strong it is. If it’s just a drizzle, many teams can play through it without any issues. They practice for these types of situations. Players will put on gloves and maybe change their cleats. However, if it’s a significant downpour in rain, that can hamper the field quite a bit (making cuts, trying to make explosive plays, defenders slipping). Visibility can also start to be a problem. If these are the types of things expected in the first quarter, you might want to look at an under bet.

Wind: Depending on which way the wind is blowing, it could have a significant advantage for one team. If it’s windy in one direction, teams may be more included to pass in that quarter and then more inclined to run when they’re going into the wind. Windy conditions can also impact field goals – either distances, attempts and accuracy – so be conscious of that for both sides and totals.

Snow: Snow is a tricky one to handicap because in some settings, it has a major impact on the game. In other settings, it’s not a big deal. Consider something like a blizzard where visibility is bad. Teams are going to have a period of feeling things out in the first quarter. On the other hand, if it’s just a big snowfall but the field has been cleared for start time, it might not have as much of an impact as many might think – especially if the home team is used to it.

Will Any Injuries Impact Your Strategy?

Injuries can play a factor in quarter betting because teams might need some time to get used to their new situation. For example, if a player has been deemed questionable all week, goes through warmups but is now out last minute. That could be a sizable inconvenience in the first quarter for that team. One of the best ways to handicap these types of “questionable” injuries is not to look at the full-game line but the first quarter lines. That way, as you watch the teams warmup and see the news, you can make your move on an early segment of the game. Sometimes, bookmakers will even adjust the full-game lines first and the smaller segments second, so you can possibly beat them to the punch.

When it comes to college football, keep an eye out for players that are suspended too. Sometimes players are suspended for a quarter or a half, and that can have the same type of impact on the early lines. While the team might be fine for the full game, they could face challenges in the early going.

First Quarter Bets Make Sense At Certain Times

The vast majority of bettors don’t pay attention to the first quarter lines nearly as much as they do for the full game. However, there are certain situation where betting the first quarter might present an edge. If you know how the teams start, have studied the matchups and are tracking the weather, there could be good opportunity handicapping the first quarter bets.

Outlier Team
September 19, 2023
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