In the NFL playoffs the top seeded team in each conference holds a special place in the eyes of casual bettors. To earn that top seed they have had a very good season, and that means that the public is going to regard them highly, and is quite likely to bet heavily on them. Because these top seeds have played so well, have a week off, play at home in the playoffs, and are heavily hyped it can be very tempting to bet on them. That means that it can be easy to make mistakes when dealing with these teams. Here are six mistakes for football bettors to avoid when handicapping top seeds in the NFL playoffs:
Assuming that there is a gap between top seed and opponent – Quite often when you hear people talk about the top seed it will seem as if they can’t lose – especially in their first playoff game – because they are so good and so dominant. Sometimes, though, the gap between the top seed and the lower seed they are playing can be small – maybe just a difference of a win or two in the standings. It can be too easy for football handicappers to overlook the underdog, but that can be a big mistake. It is crucial in these cases to treat the two teams as equal opponents in your handicapping because once the game kicks off the seeds no longer matter.
Assuming that the bye is a good thing – Time and again you’ll hear about how having a bye week in the NFL playoffs is a big advantage for a football team. It often is, but that isn’t always the case. Some teams don’t handle having a week off well. It could be that they finished strong and the extra time disrupts their momentum. Maybe the coaching staff typically struggles with bye weeks as shown in the past. Maybe they are a team with focus issues that can be a problem with the extra time, or maybe the media will become more of a distraction to the team with an extra week. Before as a sports bettor you assume that the bye week is a good thing look at the situation from as many angles as you can be be sure that it really is a good thing.
Overreacting to off-week stories – Because the top seeds are typically popular the media writes and talks about them heavily – more than other teams in most cases. When the team has two weeks between games the media has to work hard to fill that extra time. That means that they can cover stories that they wouldn’t normally cover in a regular week. Some of those stories can sound very significant, and they can often gain real traction in the media. You will often hear stories of football players who are allegedly unhappy, coaches who don’t get along with players, injuries that have been hidden, and so on. It can be tempting for bettors to assign a lot of significance to these stories, but often time that is the wrong thing to do. It is important for handicappers to be able to tune out the noise from the media and to objectively evaluate whether the story actually matters and what impact it has.
Believing injury reports – Believing an injury report in the NFL is a bad idea at the best of times. When a top seeded team is coming off a bye week it is especially bad. Two weeks is a long time, and that can help players get healthy. Football teams have no incentive to be open about how healthy their players are, though, or how likely injured players are to play. With a top seeded team it is best to pretend that the injury report doesn’t exist and to handicap with all possibilities in mind.
Over-thinking the impact of the top seed – Being the top seed is important, but if it were a massive advantage then a top seed would win the Super Bowl virtually every year. That’s just not the case. When you are handicapping NFL playoff games involving the top seed then the seeding should perhaps be a factor, but less of one than the matchups, the quarterback play, the statistics, the coaching, and all of the other factors that go into handicapping any other game. It can be very easy for a NFL handicapper to assign far too much significance to the seeding.
Ignoring public preferences – The biggest impact of the top seed is that the sports betting public is likely to enthusiastically support the team – especially in their first game. Heavy and one-sided public action can have a big impact on how lines are set in a playoff game and how they move. If you aren’t considering how the public is reacting to the top seed in a game then you are likely to have an inaccurate picture of where the value lies in the game. As a football handicapper, you need to consider this.