When it comes to handicapping games in the NFL the schedule is more significant than many factors in terms of determining winners and losers. Schedule analysis, when done poorly, can force people to make a lot of poor decisions, though. The single most important thing to remember when analyzing a football team’s schedule is that there are no hard and fast rules. What might be a horrific circumstance for one team might not bother another at all. Effectively using schedule analysis as a handicapping tool uses some sharp thought and the search for insights. If something about the schedule is obvious then everyone is going to figure it out and it won’t give you any betting advantage. You need to look deeper to get that edge. As you are looking deeper here are four potential paths of thinking that you might want to follow:
Cross country trips – You wouldn’t think that traveling across the country would be particularly hard on football players. After all, they travel in charter planes, eat the best food, stay in fancy hotels, and get waited on for their every need when they aren’t on the field. For some reason, though, some NFL teams have a heck of a time when they have to go from one coast to the other. West coast teams can struggle in the east, and east coast teams don’t always travel to California or Seattle with grace. There are a lot of possible reasons for this one. The travel can get particularly tiresome if it is happening a lot. For that reason it’s of particular interest if a west coast squad has to go east six or seven times in the year, and that interest would be intensified if the trips were condensed after the bye week. The time of the game can also be interesting. West coast teams that have to play 1:00 pm teams in the east are actually starting at 10:00 am in their time, so they will have had to head to the stadium before they are used to getting out of bed at home. That can be an issue for them. East coast football teams playing Sunday night or Monday night games on the west coast face the opposite issue – by the time the game ends it will be way past their bed times. Those time issues aren’t reason to bet against a team on their own, but when factored in with a team that is already weary, or if it happened several times in a short period of time, then it might start to be an issue.
Ignore strength of schedule – We’ve talked about this a lot in the past, so I will only touch on it briefly – time spent worrying about strength of schedule in the NFL as it is traditionally understood is a total waste of time. Those calculations depend on how a team performed last year, and that rarely has a lot of bearing on how a team does this year.
Placement of bye week – The bye weeks are spread out so much now that it’s very important for NFL handicappers to consider what impact their placement has on teams. If they are too early then it leads to a long, uninterrupted streak after the bye, and that could lead to a fatigued team late in the season. If it comes just as a team is in a good streak it could be a bad thing, and vice versa. If a football team is banged up then it could give them a chance to heal. If they are healthy then it can be a disadvantage because it gives other teams a chance to catch up. A bye week before a tough opponent can allow the staff to get their team better prepared. If it precedes a weak opponent, though, it can allow a team too long to think about their superiority and get cocky. If you are willing to play amateur psychologist then you may be able to find an edge here.
Opponent’s style of play – This is the single most important factor as far as I am concerned. As the old saying goes, who you play is less important than when you play them. There are many times every year when a series of games makes a team appear to be a different team than they really are, or it can have a real impact on their ability to perform. If you can spot that you can make some real money. If, for example, a NFL team plays strong running teams several weeks in a row then their run defense is going to be ravaged if it isn’t any good, and even if it is good it is going to be tired by the end of the stretch. Those defenses are also going to be tired because they are going to have spent a lot of time on the field. A strong passing team that plays a few strong pass defenses in a row could see their confidence take a hit if they don’t get anything working, or they could feel relieved when they finally meet up against a mortal pass defense. The betting public can start to think that a team is much better than they really are if they play a string of teams that match up well for them, or if they are playing relatively weaker teams. That can lead for value if the public then buys into the hype and bets accordingly. That can mean winning NFL picks for you.