Winning games in the NFL is hard. Winning a lot of football games in a row is really hard. It often doesn’t take long – just three or four games at the start of the season each year – until there are just a very small handful of unbeaten professional football teams remaining in the league. Until the last unbeaten NFL team falls those few remaining unbeaten teams are a unique challenge for sports handicappers, and it gets tougher the longer they stay unbeaten. Here are four particular challenges of betting on games featuring unbeaten teams as the NFL season progresses:
Public enthusiasm grows beyond reason – The betting public – the largely uninformed majority of NFL bettors who rely on emotion, hype, loyalty, reputations and media opinions to make decision instead of sound handicapping – are very predictable. There are some teams and situations that they are almost certainly going to be drawn to in large numbers. One of those is definitely an unbeaten team. The more games a football team wins in a row, the more the public is going to be entranced by them. the more popular the team generally is, the more intense the love will be while they are undefeated. The more impressively they are winning – big offensive explosions and big winning margins, or stunning comebacks – the more the public is going to support the team. As a NFL handicapper you need to be very aware of what the public is likely thinking, and when they are deeply in love with a particular team in a given situation. When the public really likes a team they are going to bet heavily on them. Oddsmakers know that, and often times the bookmakers will make the spread bigger than they otherwise would to take advantage of the public bias. That means that value could be hard to find if sports bettors like the unbeaten team, but easier than usual if they like the opponent.
Hard to assess whether team is overachieving – When evaluating a football team you learn a lot from the games they lose. You get a better sense of how they can be vulnerable, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. It’s harder to get that when a team has yet to lose. As a result it can be hard to really have an accurate sense of how good a NFL team really is until they have lost a game. With an unbeaten team the media and the public will naturally assume that they are very good. Handicappers will often be skeptical, but it’s hard to know if they are overachieving – or at least how much they are overachieving – if they keep winning.
Especially challenging when a team is also perfect against the spread – The challenge of determining whether a football team is overachieving and by how much is especially hard for handicappers if they have covered the spread in each game. When a team wins but doesn’t consistently cover the spread then you know that they are good, but probably not quite as good as the public thinks that they are. If they are covering the point spreads – and especially if they are doing it easily – then it is much tougher to really accurate know how the team is doing compared to how they should be doing.
Media coverage is intensified – The more football games a NFL team wins in a row to start the season, the more media attention that team will attract. The fewer remaining undefeated squads there are, the more the media will focus on each team that hasn’t lost. As handicappers, it is important to block out most of what the media says – or at least to look at it objectively and consider whether it makes sense, is relevant, and is important to your handicapping. The more media attention there is on a team, the more noise you will have to block out when you are making your decisions to be sure you aren’t led astray. On the flips side, the more media attention there is on a football team, the more the public will be attracted to that team.
There are some areas in particular that the media has troubles being objective about. For example, they will trumpet how impressive a NFL team has looked if they have won several games in a row, but they won’t spend much time or effort actually considering who they have played. Some wins are more attractive than others, so a team that has beaten four straight weak teams in a row is far less impressive than one that has beaten four likely playoff teams. If you listen to the media hype without judging it closely then you could miss this and easily believe that a football team is far more impressive than they really are and that can be a big factor in how big or small your NFL betting bankroll becomes.