If you can’t successfully handicap divisional games in the NFL then you aren’t going to be a winning bettor. It’s as simple as that. Football teams play each of their three divisional foes twice each year – something that happens for no other opponent. The games are particularly important because the value of a win in a divisional game is so significant in the standings. From a betting perspective the unique combination of familiarity and contempt supercharges divisional games and makes them different from most games that are played. Here’s a look at five factors for NFL bettors to keep in mind when trying to find a winner in a divisional contest:
What happened in the past? – In most football games we see in the league we don’t have the benefit of a lot of recent play. If an opponent comes from the other conference then they rarely play them, and probably haven’t with the same core of players that they have now. If they are in the same conference but outside the division then a few years can still pass between games. In divisional games, though, we know that each team will be paying twice this year, and they have played twice each year at home. You don’t have to worry about where the last game was played, either, since they play both at the home stadium and on the road each year. The more often teams play each other, the easier it is to get a sense of how well they match up, what vulnerabilities they have that the opponent is capable of exploiting, and what we can expect to happen. That means that there is less guessing that is required in these situations. That can be a good thing or a bad thing depending upon your preferences and strengths. It can be easy for someone to give too much credit to past performances – especially if one team has been particularly dominant. Handicappers really need to be conscious that they learn what they can from these past matchups without overvaluing them.
How will public respond to what happened in the past? – This is perhaps where the most significant advantage can be gained from the fact that NFL teams play each other so often. The sports wagering public isn’t going to be too sophisticated in their analysis, so if there is something on the surface that stands out – like if one football team has a winning streak going against the other – then they aren’t going to look past that. If there is a good reason for you to believe that what happened in the past isn’t what is going to happen in the future because something significant has changed then you could find value that you wouldn’t be able to find if it wasn’t a divisional game. The public often overreacts, and they are particularly vulnerable to overreaction in this kind of spot. Be a smart sports handicapper and react accordingly
What’s on the line? – Whenever you look at every game you have to look at the pressure of the situation the teams are in and what that could mean to the style of play. Because of the significance and added pressure of these games you need to be particularly aware of what is on the line and what impact it could have on the players and the coaches. A loss in a divisional game could end the playoff hopes of a team – even reasonably early in the season – so teams are going to be particularly aware of what is on the line, and that can weigh on them. That means that that pressure can be a great source of an edge for insightful NFL handicappers who can successfully interpret the impact of it.
How strong is the rivalry? – The more intense a rivalry is, the more impact it can have on the teams involved, and therefore on the outcome of the games. If the rivalry is intense the teams will be particularly focused on winning, and their preparation and focus will be as good as it can be. The crowd in the home stadium will be particularly intense in these games as well, so the home field advantage will be close to as high as it can be. It’s important here, though, that you make sure that the rivalries are real ones that are significant to the football teams, and not just to the media or the fans. There are far fewer teams that will qualify when you consider this.
Is this different than a non-divisional game? – As you look at these games you need to ask one big question – is there a difference between these games and any other game? As we have seen there is certainly the potential for a significant difference. Often times, though, the difference between this game and others doesn’t matter. If the rivalry is almost non-existent, the two teams are mismatched in terms of talent, and the crowd is not particularly inspired by the pairing then it will be just like any other game. Divisional football games can matter a whole lot, but you have to be sure not to make the mistake of assuming that they always matter. Never assume as a sports bettor.