The top two football teams to qualify for the NFL playoffs in each conference don’t have to play in the wild card round. The question for NFL handicappers, then, is whether that bye week is a good thing for them or not. Some teams benefit greatly from the rest. They are able to get healthy and to prepare for their opponent completely. They are able to maximize their benefit. Other football teams just can’t seem to get going after the week off. They look rusty and lethargic and don’t play anywhere near the level that earned them the bye in the first place. Here are six factors to consider in your NFL handicapping when trying to determine how a team will respond coming off a bye week in the playoffs:
How healthy are they? – By the end of the 16 game regular football season there isn’t a team that is completely healthy, and most are nowhere close to it. The extra week of rest can help NFL players who are banged up get a little healthier, and that in turn can let them play a little better. The rest doesn’t always have a big impact on teams in these circumstances, though. It’s tough to have a good sense of what impact it will have for a specific team because injury reports are all but meaningless at this time of year. The best you can do is make an educated guess about the impact. Have the key performers on the football team, the star running back, primary receivers, QB, been underperforming in recent weeks? If so then the rest could be helpful. Were key players hurt earlier in the year but back in action now? If they hurried to get back into the lineup then the break could come at a good time for them.
Are they a streaky team? – You can debate for yourself whether you believe in momentum or not in the NFL. The clear fact is, though, that there are some football teams that get on hot streaks and others that don’t seem to ride a wave of momentum nearly as much. If a team has been red hot coming into the playoffs then the bye – and the disruption of routine that comes with it – could have a negative effect.
How have they handled the bye in the past? – History can be very revealing in sports betting. Thankfully, every NFL team has a bye week every single week for us to learn from. This is somewhat different because it comes later in the season, but if the team has consistently struggled to bounce back from their bye weeks – and if they have the same core of players and same coaching staff – then you would be justified in being concerned about how they bounce back here.
Is home field a particular advantage? – When teams get a first round bye in the playoffs they also get to host a game in the second round on their home turf and in their friendly stadium. As important as looking at the impact of the bye week, then, is looking at the importance of the home game. In most cases that will be at least as important.
How beat up is their opponent? – While the team has been on their playoff bye their opponent has been playing a game. Playoff football can be brutal, so there is a solid chance that he opponent has paid a physical price to get to where they are. The more beaten up the opponent is after their wild card win the more of a benefit the rest might be. This can especially be a factor when the football team is coming off a road win in the wild card round. Not only will travel be grueling with back to back road games, but the mental toll of consecutive playoff road games could be very tough.
Had they rested heading into the playoffs? – Often times a NFL team with a first round bye clinched their position before the end of the regular season. Many football teams will choose to rest several of their key starters after they have clinched. That means that a starter can go three weeks or more without having played in a game, and can be very rusty as a result. Very good quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers have had issues with this in the past, so it is a real concern. Handicappers need to consider whether it will be an issue in conjunction with the point spreads and moneylines and use it in making smart sports bets.