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NFL Betting: Important Games

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper,

In all walks of life, there are times when you are just more "up." The same applies to NFL football, where any number of variables can make a player or an entire team perform just a little better. It's a principle that makes sense, though it doesn't always work out, frankly. You have to pick your spots.

Sometimes you expect a team or key player to try harder in a given situation. But that implies that they weren't trying their hardest before. Maybe they were doing their absolute best and there is simply not another gear available. But there are some situations that just resonate in the core of a player or team that gives way to improved form--things that weren't in place the weeks before.

Division games usually produce at least a slightly heightened sense of urgency. These are games between teams who face each other twice a year and who are in direct opposition of each other in terms of playoff spots. So the passion runs a bit deeper. Even when a division powerhouse is facing a lower-echelon team in the same division--they usually step up their play, as opposed to if they were just playing some other bad team.

And results within the same season can usually tell you a lot about the second game. It's one thing if Tampa loses twice in a season to the Saints. But among teams that are more closely-matched, a loss can really fire up a team for the second game. Or when a better team loses the first division game to a lower-end team, you better believe they'll be pumped up for the return.

In 2011, the Patriots lost to AFC East rivals Buffalo in week 3. They were touchdown road favorites and lost by 3. You know that was fresh in their mind as they crushed Buffalo 49-21 late in the season in their second divisional game. So looking at the divisional dynamics when handicapping the game can give you a little extra insight.

Pride is a big factor in professional football. Losses and other bad things that can happen on the field of play stick with players. Bad losses lead to a strong desire for revenge. It's not often you see one team cover the spread twice in a row against the same team by an extreme amount. The team that lost the first time will remember the loss and try extra hard to not get beaten up again.

In the NFL, a lot of players and coaches cross paths during their careers, as they hop around from team to team. And sometimes, the marriages were not happy ones. Splitting up can be acrimonious. And when things get personal, the sense of urgency is heightened. Don't think Kyle Orton wasn't especially happy in the final regular season game of 2011 when he quarterbacked the Chiefs over the team that cut him in the same season--the Denver Broncos.

Feelings can run deep. Players and coaches might not let on to the media, but it's hard to not resent a team that didn't want you for some reason. Or one that maybe didn't give you an opportunity. And when facing those teams, these players and coaches might be gunning a little harder than normal to get the job done. As bettors, we never get that opportunity. If we could stick it to our former employer, that's exactly what we would do.


There are certainly a lot of stars in the NFL who have cemented their position. They are nowhere close to being on the hot-seat. But on some of the struggling teams, players arrive at a point where their very careers are in jeopardy. A string of bad performances have made their standing on the team very precarious indeed--especially in the high-profile positions. It comes to a point where you can almost isolate the very moment where they have reached a precipice. Either they start turning it around or they're gone. At these times, you can often times see a player have a little spurt. There is a lot of pride involved and no one wants to be on the outs with their team. Don't be so quick to write off players whose careers are on the line.

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