It’s hard enough to handicap an NFL team that has made a big turnaround in their performance from one season to the next. That’s a breeze, though, compared to trying to handicap whether a football team that makes a big turnaround in the middle of the season is for real. I’m talking about the kind of NFL teams that start the season losing several games and look terrible doing it, but then winning several in a row and looking like a whole different team. It happens pretty much every year with one or two teams. The trick for sports bettors is to determine whether the new look team is sustainable, or if they are likely to lose their ability to play well as quickly as they found it. Here are five factors for NFL handicappers to consider when trying to assess these turnaround football teams:
What does the schedule tell us? – The football betting public isn’t particularly sophisticated in their analysis. They will focus on what the scoreboard tells them above all – and often they won’t go much deeper. If a NFL team is losing they won’t be impressed, and if they are winning they will be won over. they rarely look at who those wins have come against. If the team lost games against likely playoff teams and then won games against other struggling teams then it would be hard to get too excited about the so-called turnaround – especially if more NFL playoff caliber teams were looming. The same would be true if the losses had come on the road and the wins were at home. Who a team beats is every bit as important as whether they win or lose. Smart sports bettors realize that the schedule can do more to camouflage the real play of a team more than any other factor.
How did the injury situation shift? – An injury to a key player can have a big negative effect on a football team, and the return of that player can give them a boost. Not exactly rocket science, is it? A NFL team could also receive a boost if they were suffering a lot of nagging injuries early on that have resolved themselves during the season. Looking at the evolution of a team’s injury report can really help you understand why a team is playing with new life.
Are they riding an emotional wave? – Sometimes a team can turn things around because of an emotional issue they can rally around. Did a key player get badly injured? Did a popular owner die? Did the team have a reason to feel slighted on the field that has fired them up? Is there a major event that has impacted the emotions of their hometown? Whenever a football team’s reversal of fortunes can be traced to an emotional fuse I am always skeptical that the team can maintain the intensity and sustain the momentum.
What do the key offensive stats say? – Final scores can be very deceiving because they depend on so many different factors. It can be easy to get a skewed opinion of the offensive health of a team by what the scoreboard says – it’s very possible for a team to score a lot of points while still playing lousy offensively if they scored on special teams or defense, or if they were heavily aided by penalties or mistakes or poor play by their opponents. Before you can accurately assess where a football team is at you have to look not at the points they have scored, but how well the offense is actually performing. If the turnaround in terms of wins and losses hasn’t been accompanied by a turnaround in terms of offensive performance then it is hard to imagine that it will be sustained. Has the yards per attempt for the quarterback improved significantly since the team has started winning? Have they significantly decreased the number of three-and-outs? Have they become more successful on converting third downs? Have they cut down on the number of negative pass plays? These are far more meaningful measures of their offensive effectiveness than the score, wins and losses, or other measures frequently used in the media, and will give the savvy sports bettor a far better sense of whether a performance is sustainable.
How is the defense performing statistically? – As the best, professional NFL handicappers know, evaluating the defense is just as important as evaluating the offense. If the defense has improved in meaningful ways then it is easier to trust that the team has improved as well. Just as with the offense it is important not to look at superficial and misleading stats like points or yards allowed, and instead focus on things that really matter. Many of the best measures of a team’s performance on defense is just the reverse of what we look at on defense. has the yards per attempt that they are allowing decreased? Have they forced more negative passing plays? Are they shutting teams down more regularly on third down? Are they forcing more three-and-outs? If the statistics don’t show a turnaround then it is very dangerous to have faith in the legitimacy of the turnaround. Do this part right and you’ll be on your way to making expert NFL picks.