Handicapping NFL Thanksgiving Games
by Trevor Whenham - 11/26/2008
It's almost Thanksgiving. Besides a turkey and mashed potato induced coma, Thanksgiving is all about football. There are three NFL games to watch this year. That means three games to handicap. For the most part handicapping these games is pretty much the same as any other game - it's still football, after all. There are a few things to consider, though, if you want to treat these games a little bit differently, and potentially give yourself a bit of an edge. Here are six factors to keep an eye on that could help make you a Thanksgiving winner. Pumpkin pie tastes better with a full wallet.
Short rest - All six teams playing on Thursday also played on Sunday. At first glance that wouldn't make it very relevant - if all teams went through the same thing then no team should have an edge. That's a bit too simplistic, though. Short rest is going to affect different teams differently. Younger teams are generally going to be better off the short break because they will heal quicker. Beyond that, some teams are just better prepared psychologically to weather the strains of short rest. The best way to get a hint of this is to look back at how the teams have done in short rest. Look at how they have done in recent Thanksgiving games. Look at their performance on a Sunday following a Monday night tilt. Even a Saturday playoff game can be helpful.
Injuries - This goes hand in hand with the short rest. If a team has a lot of nagging injuries then they obviously aren't going to have time to heal. The team with the healthier active roster, then, will have an edge. Injury reports can be somewhat helpful in ascertaining this advantage - players that are questionable or probable likely won't be at their best. You can get a much better sense of things in just a couple of minutes, though. You can use the Internet to peruse the sports pages of the team's local papers or fan message boards to get a sense of the injuries that haven't made the official report.
Game planning - A short rest is bad news for two kinds of teams - those with offenses or defenses that aren't working, or those that are facing a style of offense or defense unlike what they have seen before. A team with struggles of their own won't have as much time as they likely need to reshape their offense or defense and fix whatever problems have been affecting them of late. A team facing a unique opponent won't have adequate time to study the opposing units and try to replicate them in practice. A short break will magnify the game planning challenges a team faces.
Travel - Two of the three home teams were also at home last week. That means that they obviously didn't need to travel, and that gave them more time for preparation. All three road teams were at home last week, but they still had to spend the time to travel to their games. For Arizona and Seattle that means long trips to Philadelphia and Dallas, respectively. Teams that don't travel well generally will have even more troubles this week.
Team unrest - If a team is bickering, or if there have unresolved issues, then this week is going to be a particular problem. There will be less time for the issues to be resolved, and any hurt feelings or misunderstandings will still be in their rawest form. That means that any problem that may have quit being an issue by Sunday could still be one on Thursday. To some extent, Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia and Seattle are all dealing with troubles that could fit into this category.
Significance of games - Because of the difficulties and annoyances that this week can cause for teams, the ones that attach the most significance to the games are more likely to do well. If the game means little to a team - either historically or in the standings - then the team may use all the excuses available to them to justify the lack of their best effort. On the other hand, the teams that are historically linked to Thanksgiving - Dallas and Detroit - may elevate their game because of the importance of the events to their organizations.
The important thing to remember with all of these factors is not to overcompensate. Any of these factors can be significant, and they certainly have the potential to affect the outcome of the games that will be played. None of them, though, will work in isolation to singularly change how a game may turn out. In other words, the Lions will not turn into a good team overnight no matter how many factors are working in their favor.