The injury of a star player in the NFL is almost certain to cause panic and have an affect on betting decision and on the NFL odds. You would get less reaction yelling fire in a room full of sports bettors than you would if you yelled out that Peyton Manning was out for 3-6 weeks. Sometimes injuries are a big deal that cripple the hopes and dreams of a football team, but not nearly as often as the betting public will assume that they will. When NFL handicappers are thinking about injuries and the impact they might have on a particular game they are interested in, here are six things to keep in mind.
People assume the starter is good and the backup is much worse – There seems to be a real sense among the betting public that an NFL starter is some sort of brilliant player, while a backup is far inferior because he’s not a starter. Sometimes that is true – Curtis Painter is no Peyton Manning. In many cases, though – probably in most – the difference between a starter and a backup in football isn’t that much. The starter might be more experienced, or he might have been with a team longer, or he might have a slight skill edge in certain regards, but often times he’s not a vastly superior player. The backup is still a good enough player to not only make a 53 man roster in the NFL, but to be second on the depth chart at his position. Too often people assume that the starter is much better than the backup because of the name or the stats, and they act accordingly, but the gap isn’t nearly what it seems. The single most important thing, then, is not to just react when you hear that the starter is out, but look to see who the backup is and what he is capable of before reacting. In many cases you’ll find that you aren’t nearly as concerned about the situation as the public is, and you could find some opportunity to grab value by backing the team that everyone is fleeing from.
Think about the position – The betting public will generally assume that the injury of a starting quarterback is a clear sign of the apocalypse. They might not give the injury of a nose tackle more than a passing glance. It’s quite possible, though, that a football team will feel a much more significant impact from the defensive injury than the offensive one. The sports betting public generally attaches much more significance to an injury in a skill position than any other. When you consider injuries you have to not only think about what the impact is going to be, but also what the perceived impact is going to be. The difference between reality and perception is often where profit lives.
Fresh legs might be more important than experience later in the season – When an injury occurs in the second half of the season it may actually be a good thing – especially if it happens on a less skilled team. Chances are that the drop-off from the starter to the backup isn’t that big, so the team will have a fresh, healthy player starting now and going up against the tired, worn down opposition. It could provide an unexpected spark for a team. A new player getting a chance to start could also bring new enthusiasm and hustle to a unit that needs it.
Replacement ease of position – Some positions are much easier to find a replacement for than others, and those positions aren’t standard from team to team. The Broncos under Mike Shanahan, for example, could turn pretty much anyone with a pulse into a 1000-yard rusher, so an injury to a running back there was no reason to panic. A running back in a system where he is required to block extensively might be sorely missed, though. An offense that relies on passing accuracy and timing will suffer much more from losing their QB than one that doesn’t. A 3-4 team might miss their nose tackle more than a 4-3 team misses their tackle. You can’t just assume what impact an injury to a player will have before you understand the role of that player on his team.
What was the potential for injury? – NFL team’s generally don’t like taking too many risks and being exposed too much during the season because so much is at stake. The more likely an injury is at a position, then, the more likely they are to have a good backup option. An aging veteran starter is perhaps not likely to play all of the games at a physical position so the team will be more prepared to replace him than they might be to replace a young fit player with no history of injuries.
Number of injuries – More important than any single injury a football team can be forced to endure is the number of injuries a team has. Any team can endure almost any injury if it is just one, but few teams can survive a brutal string of injuries that have hit several positions. If you look at any elite-caliber team that has an off year you can be almost certain that they missed more player-games than average. The impact of an injury is determined more than anything else by the injuries that have come before it. A number of injuries can also have a big impact on the depth chart. A NFL team never wants to lose a starting left tackle, for example, but they might be fine if that’s the only injured lineman they have. If the left tackle is the fourth lineman to head to the sidelines, though, then the team could be in real trouble.