If you are a baseball, basketball or hockey bettor then sooner or later you are going to have to develop a betting strategy for 7-game series. They are an inevitable, and exciting, part of the postseason in all three sports. If you just treat them like any other set of games, though, then you are heading for trouble. Expensive trouble. The structure of the series, the pressure, and the rewards of experience all provide unique challenges for handicappers. Here are six tips to help you develop your own betting strategy for 7-game series.
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1. Location, location, location - I hope this isn't news to you - the team that plays more games at home tends to have an advantage in a seven-game series. There are a few reasons for that. First, playing at home and sleeping in their own beds almost always gives a team a boost. More significantly, the team that has the home advantage had the better regular season record, so they at least theoretically could have an advantage over the road team. The first step to handicapping a 7-game series, then, is to look at where the series will be played. That sounds ridiculously easy, but I'm talking about more than just looking at the schedule. You need to look at how the teams involved play on the road and at home, how they have played against each other in their buildings, and what their recent form is on and off the road. You also need to look at the structure of the series - is it 2-2-2-1, 2-3-2, or 2-2-1-1-1? Each structure has advantages and disadvantages on teams, and can have real effects on momentum as the series progresses.
2. Experience really, really matters - The deeper a team gets in a playoff run, the more it relies on guys who have been there before to provide leadership and show the other players how to deal with the pressure. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just adding up the number of playoff games the players on each roster have played. You need to look at key players and what they bring to the table. In many cases there won't be a clear edge one way or another. Sometimes, though, the edge will be distinct and useful. In the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, for example, it was obvious that Detroit would be much more comfortable in the series than Pittsburgh would based on experience, and the Red Wings won decisively.
3. Gauge talent - It can be very tempting to look for the underdog in the playoffs. Everyone loves the story of the plucky overachiever who kills a giant or two. Why do we love that so much? Because it is so rare. In the large majority of cases the team that is more talented wins, and this is especially the case in earlier playoff rounds. That's not to say that you have to bet on the higher ranked team all of the time. Where's the fun in that? What it does mean, though, is that you need to make sure that you have a very good reason, or ideally a series of reasons, before you decide to go with the underdog.
4. Under-compensate for injuries - By the time the playoffs roll around the teams have been through a long season. That means that everyone is injured. In the regular season you may lean towards one team or another based upon a key injury or two. You can't do that as easily in the playoffs. Players are willing to play through minor injuries, and news coming out of teams is very limited and often designed to confuse and misdirect. If a key player on one team is hurt and you hear about, chances are that the other team has a key injury or two that you aren't hearing about. Until you can confirm that a player isn't playing in a game, assume that everything is as it should be.
5. Don't rely on momentum - There is no word you will hear more during the playoffs than momentum. The problem is that it may or may not exist, and even if it does it is very hard to determine who it favors and when it will end. If you make your decisions based upon trying to figure out who has momentum then you are going to drive yourself crazy, and you aren't going to be further ahead. Instead, ignore momentum as a factor and just apply sound handicapping principles instead.
6. Go local - The national media is almost never the best source of information about teams in a series. National writers have to know a little bit about a lot of teams, so they don't have the time or interest in having the intimate kind of knowledge that could give you an edge. Luckily, you have the Internet. When you are handicapping a series, spend some time reading the local newspapers that cover the teams every day. See what they are saying, feeling, and thinking. That alone will give you a significant edge over most bettors.