Handicapping Quarterback Injuries
by Trevor Whenham - 09/10/2008
The first week of the 2008 NFL season was absolutely brutal on quarterbacks. The big story was the loss of Tom Brady for the season with a knee injury. He didn't even make it out of the first quarter. Kansas City's Brodie Croyle was hurt in the same game, and will miss time. Vince Young will miss 2-4 games with a sprained knee (and maybe more because he appears to have lost his mind, but that's another story). Tampa's Jeff Garcia is questionable for his next game with a sprained ankle. The weekend was carnage. At that pace every team in the league would suffer two injuries to starters through the season.
This rash of injuries is a bit unusual, but injuries to quarterbacks are a fact of life. It's crucial, then, that bettors have a strategy for coping with these injuries. If they don't have a plan then they can over-react or under-react to the situation. In either case, they are just throwing away money. A few simple rules can help you avoid that same fate when you are handicapping games with QB changes due to injuries. The big thing to remember through it all is that the situation is never, ever as bad as the public and the media thinks.
1. Watch the line movement - When oddsmakers set the lines they will obviously have compensated for the injuries. That's often not enough for the public, though. Often, the public will move a line significantly after it has been set in a key injury situation. By looking at that movement you can get a sense of what the public is feeling. That doesn't mean that is what you should do, too, but at least you will have a sense of how worried people are about the injury and how much of an impact it will have on the line. That way you can determine if there is still value in the line, or if you should stay away. It's not always foolproof, though - sometimes a book won't move a line even if action is lopsided because they aren't afraid of that action. That's why line movement is only an indicator and not something to be relied upon entirely.
2. Take a deep breath - The worst thing you can do in a situation like this is to act quickly and irrationally. When you are dealing with an injury situation, the best thing to do is often to take a step back and wait to see how things play out. It's often not as bad as it first seems, and the team often has a plan in place for dealing with an injury. Only by waiting can you see the team's full response and determine what it means. For example, the Patriots responded to the Brady injury by really doing nothing. They didn't immediately add a QB or even work one out. They didn't seem that worried, and there could be a lesson in that. Kansas City, on the other hand, took more extreme, immediate action.
3. Assess the backup - In many cases, the loss of a starter isn't really much of a loss. It could be that the starter just isn't that good, or that the backup is seasoned or reliable. It's just not safe to assume that the loss of a starter will be a big step back for the team, though that is what the public usually assumes. If you can spot places where the team won't suffer a letdown, then, you can often give yourself an edge against the public.
4. How key is the QB? - If an offense is heavily reliant on the pass then losing a QB could be a real problem. On the other hand, a run-centered offense won't be that bothered by the loss. You also need to look at a couple of key stats. How many pass attempts does a QB average per game in the offensive system, and how many yards per attempt does he average? The more attempts he makes the more key he is to the offense, and the more the team will have to adjust to the change. The yards per attempt is a quick way to tell how effective a QB is and how much he will be missed - if he averages over seven yards per attempt he's solid. Anything less, and he'll likely be fairly easy to replace.
5. What happened in the past? - If a QB has been in the league for a while, and he isn't Peyton Manning or Brett Favre, then he probably has been injured before. Take the time to look at what happened the last time the QB was hurt, or the last time the team faced this situation if the QB is new. If a team has dealt with this before then it probably won't be that big of a deal. Learn from the past.
6. Don't be afraid to pass - You don't have to bet every game. If you can't get a good read on an injury situation then skip it and move on to one where you have a better edge.