There are few things more frustrating to NFL handicappers than seeing a heavy favorite who was a logical choice lose a game. Often times those losses come out of nowhere, and it can be hard to understand what happened. On top of the frustration of a losing bet these situations can cause real headaches because you have to figure out what to do with the football team the next time they play. Was the upset a sign of bigger problems, or will it make them angry, focused, and determined to win? It’s not always easy to determine which will be the case, but here are six questions for NFL handicappers to consider to help them figure out their next football picks:
Why did they lose? – This can be a deceptive question. It seems very simple and straightforward, but it often isn’t. You have to spend a lot of time on it, though, because it is so important. Ultimately, football teams lose because they score fewer points than their opponents. When you aren’t expecting that to happen, though, then you have to decide whether it was because of a serious, lasting issue that had gone undetected, because of something new that has popped up like a major injury, or just because the team wasn’t focused and had a bad day or got unlucky. Did they lose because they weren’t as good as people thought they were, or because their opponent was better than they got credit for? Did the football team face a style of play that was hard for them to overcome? Did the opposing coaching staff come up with a scheme that immobilized the team? Will other NFL teams be able to exploit the same issues? If the team didn’t show up for the game then is there a good reason why? Are they likely to be more focused and prepared again? Every result in football happens for a reason. You just have to figure out what that reason was, and what it means for the losing team.
Are there lasting issues? – NFL teams have a lot of time to refocus, recover, and prepare for their next game, so a lot of issues that can cause them to lose one game aren’t necessarily going to be an issue next time. Sometimes, though, there are issues that can continue to be a problem. Injuries are the most obvious of these lasting issues, but there are others that can arise as well. If the same issues that were a problem last game still exist then it might be reasonable to expect a similar result.
How are they responding mentally? – A big loss when it isn’t expected can exact a major mental price from a team. You aren’t in the locker room or the front office so you can’t have a perfectly clear sense of how a team is responding. By hearing how the football team deals with the media, though, you can get some good clues. Are the players or coaches making excuses, or are they owning up to what happened? Are they facing the media head on or are they being evasive? Are they reasonably positive, or are they angry or frustrated? Are they responding noticeably differently than they normally do after a loss?
How well have they bounced back in the past? – Every NFL team has lost games that they shouldn’t have, and they have almost certainly done so more than once in the last few seasons. By looking back at how they responded in the past you can get a sense of how they might respond in the future. You have to be careful here, though. If there has been a change in coaching staff or in the on-field leadership of the team then what happened in the past is not a good indicator of what will happen now.
Who are they playing this week? – This may be the most important factor of all. Every game in the NFL is basically an entirely new event, so it is far more important to think about what the team faces in their coming game than it is to worry about what happened in the last game. How well does their offense match up to the opposing defense? How about their defense? Do they have a special teams edge? What is the pace of the game likely to be? Is there a coaching edge? If you have to choose between decoding why they lost last time and looking closely at how they match up this time then you would be better served looking at the latter. Of course, looking at both would be the best.
How will the public respond? – Since the public bets so heavily on the NFL they can have a very significant impact on some lines. Oddsmakers will inflate lines to limit their risk when they know they are going to be exposed to lopsided betting on a public team. The football betting public has the power to move a line significantly if they latch on to one team aggressively. You need to look closely at how the public is responding to the favorite that lost last week. As a general rule the public really likes favorites, and especially likes ones that seem dominant. If the loss was particularly dramatic, though, then the betting public may lose faith in the team. If you still like the favorite in their next game, then, you might be able to find some nice value on betting on them once the public has jumped off the bandwagon. If the public is still fiercely loyal to the favorite, though, then uncertainty caused by the loss could make it very hard to bet on them, and it could even create real value in betting on the other team. Expert NFL handicappers recognize this and see the value accordingly in the point spread.