One of the great things about the NFL is that it always has the ability to surprise. Just when you think you have things totally figured out a result comes around that is precisely and totally the opposite of what you thought would happen. Of course, that’s also what can make it so tough to handicap at times. The most frustrating kind of unexpected performance is when a football team that appears to be very good comes out and plays an impossibly bad game. That leads to all sorts of questions. Did they just have a really bad day, or are they not as good as we thought they were? What happened? Can it happen again? It’s enough to make your head spin. Here are eight questions for NFL handicappers to ask when trying to determine what these NFL teams are likely to do in their next game after the big setback:
Is there an obvious good excuse? – The excuse probably won’t be too obvious – if it was then you would have seen it before the game and the result wouldn’t have been a surprise. Often times, though, when a good football team loses a game badly there is one reason that was a clear contributing factor to the problems. Perhaps the quarterback had terrible accuracy issues. Or maybe the running game couldn’t get anything going. Or maybe the opponent was able to run pretty much at will. If there is one clear fault like that then you need to look at why that was happening. Was the quarterback inaccurate because he had a blister on his throwing hand? Was the running game weak because of a short term injury to the starting running back? Was the opponent able to run because of a dominant offensive line? If there is a clear excuse for the problems then your job is to determine whether that excuse was just an isolated problem, or if it is likely to continue to be an issue? The answers to these questions can help you make smart NFL bets.
Is there a big risk of it happening again? – Once you have looked at what happened, you need to really get a sense of whether it is going to happen again. When a NFL team loses badly, for example, there is a very good chance that their offense had real problems, and that the opposing defense was able to handle the offense effectively. In that case you need to assess whether the reason the defense was able to dominate was an isolated problem – the quarterback had a bad day, minor injuries were an issue, players fumbled too much, and so on – or if it was a more serious problem that could repeat itself in coming weeks – the opposing defense was able to find ways to limit the effectiveness of the defense, a player missing for a long term injury was proved to be more valuable than expected, the defense found matchups that gave them an edge, and so on.
Who were they playing? – The opponent that they lost to is obviously an important factor here. In simple terms, the worse the opponent is, the more you have to be concerned about what happens. It’s important, though, that you look at how good or bad the opponent actually is, and not how they are perceived to be in the media or by the betting public. The media pays far too much attention to things like the record and the play of the quarterback, and don’t look closely at factors that are a much better indicator of how a team is actually playing. It’s quite possible that a team that is perceived to be bad could actually be playing very tough, but just aren’t getting the results.
What was the weather like? – Did the weather play a significant factor in the outcome of the football game? That most often won’t be the case, but it could be. For example, a NFL team that relies heavily on a big time passing attack could struggle if it is particularly rainy or windy, and a warm weather or dome team could really struggle in the brutal cold and snow.
How is the betting public likely to respond? – The betting public is prone to panic, and nothing can set them off faster than a team that they love playing really poorly. If the football team in question is a very public team and if the loss was ugly and high profile then it will be important for you to look at the line movement and bet distribution closely to see what the public is doing and whether their panic is creating opportunities for value.
Who do they play next? – Their ability to bounce back will have a lot to do with who their next opponent is. How have they done against the team in the past? What kind of matchup situations does the game present? How is that opponent playing coming into the game? Because of the time teams have to prepare between games and the complexity of the game it is very hard for teams to carry momentum from one game to the next, so looking at the next opponent is a better way to spend your time then worrying too much about how the team will bounce back in most cases. In other words, spend most your time handicapping the game like you would any other and make your pick accordingly.
How have they bounced back in the past? – History can be a very good teacher in sports. We can learn a lot about how a team might handle this adversity by how they have handled serious adversity in the past. In order for that comparison to be meaningful, though, it’s important that the past game you are using as a comparison featured the same basic coaching staff and core players. If the cast of characters has changed significantly then there is no reason to expect the team to respond in the same way.
What kind of shape are they in now? – Injuries probably played at least somewhat of a factor in the outcome of the football game. Either they were banged up coming into the game, or an injury or injuries over the course of that game led them to have some serious problems. If injuries were a factor before then you need to assess whether they are likely to be a similar factor next time out. Use these guidelines to make winning NFL picks.