The 'Bounce Factor' in Football Handicapping
by Gary Patrick Garry - 09/04/2007
I was watching a no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament last night and there was a lot of bluffing going on. It was amazing to see Scotty Nguyen raise a large bet with absolutely nothing because he knew the other guy was bluffing and had less than Scotty's nothing. Poker isn't just about luck and good cards, but it's also a people game. You have to know how to read people and capitalize on what you've learned about human nature.
Sports betting is no different. It's the other players who set the line based on who they're betting on. So the profitable handicapper needs to make it his business to identify common misconceptions that are going to move the line too far in a particular direction and offer value on the other side.
Say you're watching a game one day between the Packers and the Browns. Everything is clicking for the Pack. The defense is stifling, standing up the run and getting pressure on Frye when he tries to pass. Everybody is doing his job and they're playing as a team. It seems as though they know what play is coming and they have the Browns confused and playing uphill.
On offense they are just as dominating, creating holes, giving Favre time in the pocket, mixing the run and the pass, taking care of the ball, and maintaining time of possession. The coaches have them well-prepared and they are executing the game plan to perfection.
The special teams excel. The kick-offs result in touchbacks. The return team is providing great field position. The few times they've had to punt the punter has pinned the opposition deep in their own territory.
Slowly but surely the game turns into a debacle. You're impressed, and you grab a schedule to see who the Packers are playing next week. The Lions? That team isn't even as good as the team they're beating up on right before your eyes. You can't wait to see the line. You know it's the 10-star can't miss play of the decade.
Of course you lay the lumber and bet the Packers the following week, and they lose outright. What happened?
Athletic performance tends to bounce back and forth between peak efforts and dull ones. There are physical factors, like being particularly healthy as a team on a given week. You have weather conditions that may have helped a team's style of play. You may have luck on your side, making tough catches that you may not make on a different day. The punt bounces and stops at the one instead of getting into the end zone. The cornerback falls down when you throw the bomb. You recovered your own fumble. A questionable officiating call went your way. All things that could have made a big difference in the outcome had they gone the other way.
After a dominating effort a team may become overconfident and lose the sort of intensity that enabled that performance. They may become complacent, feeling that they have superior talent when in fact it was the team effort, precise execution and fundamental soundness that made the difference.
On the other hand, a team coming off of a disappointing or even embarrassing performance is open to suggestions. Humbled by the defeat they will listen to the coaches and be willing to get back to basics. They'll make sure tackles, protect the ball, play within themselves, and keep the penalties to a minimum. And they will be very motivated to redeem themselves.
How many times have you gotten on the wrong wavelength in these situations when betting the NFL? You see a team kick ass and you think, next week, I'm on 'em. But they bounce, you lose, and you think, man, they actually suck. So you bet against them the following week, and they kick ass again, and you lose again.
Football is an emotional sport and it's difficult to be more fired up than your opponent week in and week out. Sports betting is all about value, and a peak performance by a team is going to inflate the line for their game the following week.
So before you get too high on the team of the moment, take pause, seek value, and consider the bounce.