Sometimes good teams – teams expected to make it into the NFL playoffs – play truly awful opening games. Not only do they lose, but they lose badly, and they look really lousy doing it. When a team starts out that badly people can easily panic. If they had high hopes for the team then this performance can cause them to re-evaluate everything. Bettors who can avoid panicking and who can get an accurate sense of what is going on and why the poor performance actually happened could find some nice value betting on a good team in their next game – but only if they can be confident that there is nothing really wrong with the team. Here are six factors to consider when looking at a good team that got off to a bad start:
How did they lose? – This is the starting point and by far the most important factor to consider. There are as many different ways to lose as there are games lost. No loss is good, but there are some losses that are a lot easier to handle than others. For example, you would feel a lot better about a team that played well but just couldn’t get the breaks they needed than you would about one that made a lot of mistakes, was fundamentally sloppy, and didn’t play with intensity. Basically, what you want to see is if the team that lost had a legitimate excuse for their loss. If there was no good reason to explain all or part of their problems – if they were well positioned to succeed but just didn’t get it done – then there could be bigger issues that could continue to be an issue down the road. If there were legitimate reasons, though, then you can feel comfortable about the team if you can feel confident that those excuses aren’t likely to be an issue in the next game.
Was there a coaching issue? – Good teams typically have good coaches, and those coaches are typically in high demand by other teams that aren’t as good. That could mean that a team that looks good on paper and still has all of the talent that makes them seem impressive could be changed in less obvious ways if coordinators or position coaches from last year have moved on to other jobs. Sometimes the reason for a bad start is just that the players and the coaches aren’t yet on the same page. It may not take that long to get on that same page, so if this is the reason you assign most of the blame for the bad start to – maybe players were confused about their assignments, or were frequently unsure of their assignments – then it’s quite possible that those issues will be resolved quickly as the players and coaches get more comfortable with each other.
Who were they playing? – The opponent can make a huge difference. Sometimes a huge loss like this is simply a result of motivation. Perhaps the opponent had attached a lot more importance to this game than the team in question did, so they were more prepared and more motivated. The 2011 season provided a great example. Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore were thought to be very strong playoff caliber teams. In the opener Pittsburgh was terrible and the Ravens humiliated them. Baltimore had obviously focused on this rivalry game for months and were determined to start the season with a big statement. The next week Pittsburgh was dramatically better in a 24-0 shutout of Seattle, while Baltimore looked flat and emotionally drained as they lost badly to Tennessee.
Who do they play next? – Just like the opponent they lost to is important the next opponent is a big factor. How well do they match up to the opponent? How well did the opponent play in their opener? How healthy is the opponent? Where is the game being played?
Are they healthy? – Health can obviously have a huge impact on how a team performs. If the team isn’t fully healthy coming out of camp then they can have issues – especially if the injuries to major players occurred late in camp after the team had prepared together. The more experience a team has playing without a key player the better they generally handle it, so the health issues might not be as much of an issue in the second week even if they aren’t resolved.
How is the public reacting? – When a well liked team is beaten up you need to keep a very close eye on how the public reacts the next week. It is especially important to look at two things – the line movement and the distribution of bets between the two teams in the next game. If the line doesn’t move against the disappointing team and if the public still supports them then it might be hard to find extra value. If the public jumps off the bandwagon dramatically, though – as you could tell by a wild line swing or heavier than expected support of the opponent – then you may find some very nice value if you still have faith in the team that struggled in their opener.