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Handicapping NFL Schedules

Football Betting Strategy: Handicapping NFL Schedules

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper,

Show a NFL team schedule to a person who doesn’t bet on football and they will see it merely as a list of games that a team will play. True enough, but within that schedule are many nuances that can offer helpful clues into future performances of NFL teams. Even bettors who have just bet NFL on a few Sundays will attest to the excruciatingly-wide range of form that most teams display throughout the year. Mastering the fluctuation to a tee is virtually impossible, but a fuller understanding of scheduling quirks can enhance our knowledge of these wide swings.

Look at the 2011 meeting between the Green Bay Packers-Kansas City Chiefs, for example. The Packers were 13-0, while the Chiefs had just fired their coach after dropping 5 of 6 games. Green Bay was an 11-point road favorite. As we now know, Kansas City scored the upset, ending Green Bay’s hopes for an unbeaten season.

Sure, this is all 20-20 hindsight, but let’s look at that game for a second. Green Bay was 13-0 and had everything locked up already. It’s understandable how they would be at a reduced state for this game--against a cross-conference team they have no rivalry with. Kansas City, though on the skids, was playing their first game under interim coach Romeo Crennel, with Kyle Orton getting back into the fray at QB after Tebow took his job in Denver.

KC had something to prove. A coach and a QB had their careers on the line. And for whatever reason, that urgency was enough to topple the mighty Packers, who in comparison had nothing to be that urgent about.

Then again, placing too much importance on urgency can come back and bite you. In a very spelled-out scenario where a team needs to win to get into the playoffs, the point-spread has already taken that urgency into account. And usually, it takes it into account too much. You see a team playing to get in the postseason against a team that apparently has nothing to play for, and it seems like it should be a cake-walk. But those lines are so inflated, that betting on those teams in sort of a blind fashion usually will result in you getting hammered. Look for more subtle instances where a team’s urgency can help you beat the spread.

NFL teams and players generally have a lot of pride. Look for spots where a player or team has a chance at redemption--an emotion that can propel a heightened level of play. Look for players in key positions playing against an old team, especially if their split-up was acrimonious. Getting back to Kyle Orton, don’t think he wasn’t motivated by this when playing the Broncos last season. Denver was in a “win and go to the playoffs” scenario. It didn’t quite match Orton’s quest for redemption--to beat the team that cut him earlier in the year.

Teams are generally at a higher state of alert when in certain situations. Home openers, for example, are usually high-emotion affairs for the home team. Games within the conference usually give way to a higher sense of motivation. Revenge games are also spots to keep your eye on.

On the flip side of the coin are teams coming off a draining win over a rival playing a non-rival across the country the following week. Those are spots for letdowns. Or teams playing opponents they squashed in the first game of the year. They might just think they need to show up in order to win, but their opponent may have improved from the time they got slaughtered and will be bent on revenge.

Look at the New England-New York Jets series from 2 years ago. In week 2, the division rivals played their first of 3 games that year, won by the Jets, 28-14. In week 13, however, New England got the Jets at home and smashed them 45-3. Seemed like New England had surpassed the Jets as the season got older. A little over a month later, the Jets came back to New England in a divisional playoff game, winning 28-21. You can bet the books cashed in on that game, with everyone hung up on that 45-3 result from a few weeks prior.

Look at past results within the same season with a discerning eye. The vast array of different results within the NE-NYJ rivalry in 2010 illustrate how important things like respect, redemption, revenge, and emotion are when handicapping a game. Looking at the physical match-ups is important, but that analysis needs to be accompanied with a full understanding of the emotional component--a factor that can often decide the result of a game and therefore--your wagers.

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