Make no mistake – betting on the NFL playoffs successfully is very different than betting on the NFL regular season. A lot of casual, and probably unsuccessful, sports bettors wouldn’t see the differences – football is just football in their eyes. the distinctions are very real and significant, though, and successful bettors understand the differences and adjust their handicapping process accordingly. Here are five ways in which the playoffs differ from the regular season from a betting perspective:
Motivation – During the regular football season assessing motivation levels is a constant challenge. Very often it will seem as if one team will be hungrier to win a game than the other, and that will result in stronger preparation, better focus, and more intense play. By decoding where the motivation levels will be football handicappers can often find themselves an attractive betting opportunity. That’s just not the case in the playoffs. Making the playoffs is the point of the NFL – what every team is trying to do when the season starts. With very few exceptions teams are going to be very fired up for the opportunity to play and move on. That means that bettors can’t safely assume that one NFL team is going to be more prepared, or playing with more intensity. One of the more powerful ways to find an edge in football handicapping is lost to us in the playoffs.
Mismatches – During the regular football season mismatches are a regular occurrence – very good teams play very bad teams every week, and the results are predictable more often than they aren’t. In the playoffs these mismatches just don’t happen. Period. All of the teams in the playoffs are, by definition, playoff caliber teams, and they need to be treated as such. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some teams that are clearly better than others. There certainly are. It’s just that you can’t afford to treat any NFL playoff team with the disrespect that you would treat a bottom feeder during the regular season. the media will have you believe that there are some serious mismatches – every year there is one or two division winners that doesn’t stack up to the others, and doesn’t have a record that seems to make them worthy of being in the playoffs. That makes for a good story, but believing it as a bettor is dangerous. No matter how lousy a team’s record might be – like Seattle’s lowly 7-9 mark in 2010 – they still were better than the rest of their division. Teams with lousy records may even have an edge coming into the playoffs – they probably had to fight hard to make the playoffs, so they are already adjusted to the intensity of playoff-like games which end your season if you lose.
Nagging injuries – In the regular season sports bettors have to keep a close eye on the injury reports and news to try to figure out not just who will be playing, but how well they will be able to play given the bumps and bruises that are bothering them. That’s technically still the case in the playoffs, too, but you just can’t dwell on it here. Players know how much the playoffs matter, and they know that they will soon have all the time they could want to rest and heal properly. A nagging injury that could keep a player out of a game in October won’t even be noticed in January. In the regular season you can often get a nice edge by understanding injuries better than the general public. In the NFL playoffs you can cost yourself money by worrying too much about injuries and thinking they will have more impact than they really will.
Betting volume – The public loves the playoffs. That means that the already high betting volumes the NFL usually sees can even increase in the playoffs. More significantly, there are no more than four games per weekend in the playoffs, as opposed to as many as 16 during the regular season. That means that the betting action is very concentrated on these games. It’s never easy to find value or overlooked teams in the NFL, but it is all but impossible in the playoffs. If a line is at all suspect it will be corrected very quickly. The increased betting volume means that football handicappers have to be very much on their toes when betting the playoffs, and if they see a mistake in the lines they are wrong.
Far fewer games – There are both positives and negatives to the much lighter schedule of games that the playoffs offer. On the plus side, fewer games means that we have much more time to spend on each game, so we have the luxury of getting into more depth in our handicapping than we normally have. On the other hand, only having four games or less to choose from means that football handicappers don’t have the luxury of only betting on the most attractive games on the schedule and skipping most of them – if you are too choosy then you won’t have anything to bet on. The extra time that we have to focus on each game can also be a problem for bettors – it provides too much time to second guess, look at factors that sound more significant than they are, and get swayed by the endless chatter that comes from the media at this time of year.