We’re now into the second half of the NFL season. In a lot of ways the league only gets more and more exciting as it gets closer to the postseason. For pro football handicappers, though, the midpoint of the season signals a subtle shift in the NFL that requires a shift in thinking to maximize your profit. There are several ways that the second half differs from the first half. Here are four that expert pick makers and odds makers consider:
Teams have much more information about their opponents – In early football games in the season teams don’t have as much fresh information to scout and prepare with than they do in the second half. In early games teams have to rely on a limited amount of current game film, and they have to fill in the gaps with older film. That won’t necessarily include the same players as the team will see this year, so it isn’t the best means of preparing. By the second half of the season there is a deep well of video to pull from. More significantly, by the time teams have played eight or more games they have probably shown a full range of the plays they are capable of and likely to run, so there are fewer surprises. The more a NFL team can anticipate what their opponent is going to do, the more likely that the better team can come out on top. Preparation, coaching and skill become bigger factors as the season goes along. Since those things can all be assessed effectively by handicapping, their increased significance is good news for astute football handicappers.
Injuries are an inevitable factor – The deeper we get into the season, the more of a factor injuries are for every team. There isn’t a team in the league that hasn’t lost starters for significant amounts of time, and by this point most have at least one important guy on the IR. Beyond the major injuries, though, pretty much every guy who is playing significant minutes is beat up and battered. In the early games in the season we don’t have to worry too much about the injuries because teams are as healthy as they are going to be. The deeper we get into the season, though, the more injuries are a factor, and the more you have to consider their impact on games and your betting.
Coaches are on unstable ground – At the beginning of the year NFL coaches are on reasonably stable ground – at the very least they are expected to make it through the current season. By the midpoint, though, that has changed. The first coach has often been fired, and even if their hasn’t been a casualty you don’t have to be an NFL insider to have a good sense of which teams are going to have a new face in charge next year. The more unstable a coaching situation becomes, the harder it is for that coach to maintain a high level of intensity and focus, and the better the chances that good preparation will be the victim. It’s not hard to think of situations where a tenuous coaching situation has spiraled out of control by the end of the season. The further we get into the season, the more teams there will be with coaching issues, and the better the chances that these issues will impact the outcome of games.
Motivation can vary significantly – Early in the football season every team is, at least to some extent, optimistic about their future. They all feel like they have improved since last season, they are feeling healthy, and they feel that they can be competitive and exceed expectations. By the middle of the season, though, a lot of that optimism has been beaten out of some NFL teams as hopes and dreams have been replaced by harsh reality. That can have a serious impact on motivation. At the start of the season every team can be expected to try as hard as they can to win every game because every game has equal meaning for every team. As reality hits and teams fall out of contention, though, they may not always perform to the best of their capabilities. If teams are injured or the atmosphere in the locker room gets less positive players might not stretch to make a play they would have made before. As the football season progresses, then, handicappers have to spend more of their effort on assessing the psychology of teams and the chances that they will show up. This isn’t just limited to good teams, either – once a NFL team has clinched their playoff spot the guessing game begins for them down the stretch as well.