NFL Betting: Hangover From International Games?
by Trevor Whenham - 10/31/2008
Whether you love them or hate them (I fall emphatically into the second group), it seems like the NFL's obsession with international games isn't going anywhere soon. New Orleans and San Diego played the second straight regular season game in London, and they have been successful enough at the box office that they are sure to keep happening. There is also going to be a preseason game in China next August - a game that was originally scheduled for 2007. If these international forays aren't going anywhere then we might as well get used to them. More importantly, we might as well look at whether we can learn any lessons from them.
The current series of regulation games is called the International Series. The first game was in Mexico City between San Francisco and Arizona in 2005, and it was the first regular season game outside the U.S. and set an all-time NFL attendance record with more than 103,000 people. That was followed up by the two games in London - the snore-fest on impossibly bad turf between the Giants and the Dolphins last year, and this year's shootout. There is also a Bills game being played in Toronto, but since that's only a two hour drive from Buffalo and us Canadians aren't that different than you Americans in a lot of ways we won't call that an international game.
Before these games, the only international action was an annual preseason battle called the American Bowl, which was played at least once a year between 1986 and 2005 with the exception of 2004. Games were played in Japan, Mexico, Germany, Spain, England, Canada, and even Australia.
So, what can we expect from the Chargers and the Saints when they return to North America, and to action after their bye week? Obviously, the comparable regular season sample size is limited to two teams. Mexico City doesn't seem to be relevant - it's closer for a lot of teams than some of the regular cities in the league, and there is no significant time change. Neither the Giants nor the Dolphins won their first game back. The Giants were two-point underdogs at home against the Cowboys. They lost by 11, and Eli Manning didn't have his best day. The Dolphins were three point underdogs at home against the Bills. They lost by three. So, neither team won or covered the spread, but that doesn't mean much - it's only two games, and the Dolphins didn't make much of a habit of winning last year.
The exhibition games are a different animal entirely, but looking at the last several international games can give us a larger, if slightly flawed, sample size. Atlanta beat Indianapolis in Tokyo in 2005. The next week, Atlanta won and covered again. The Colts lost again the next week, but that doesn't necessarily mean much - they are notoriously bad in the preseason. In 2003 the Jets beat the Bucs in Tokyo. Both teams won and covered the next week. It was Washington and San Francisco in Osaka in 2002. Both teams lost in their return to the States. The next long distance game was between Atlanta and Dallas in Tokyo in 2000. Both teams covered their return engagement.
We could go on and on and look at every international game ever played, and I probably would if I was paid by the word. You can see as clearly as I can what we are learning here, though - not much. If you are planning to make a handicapping decision based on the fact that the Chargers or the Saints are going to be somehow disturbed by their extra long trip then you are probably making a bad decision.
It only makes sense, really. These guys travel in very comfortable planes, stay in the best hotels, and almost certainly have their food needs provided for when they are out of the country. Their routine will be largely undisturbed - they'll still have meetings, walk-throughs, and light practices. They'll still be living in a hotel, and they'll still have down time to fill. They will have to deal with a larger than usual time change, but coast-to-coast travelers have to deal with three-hour changes regularly, so it won't be the biggest deal in the world. Jet lag could be an issue, but both teams came home to a bye week, so those effects are non-existent. By the time they get back to practice it will be like they never left. The biggest effects will be in their heads, and we can assume that if the players can't act professionally enough to overcome that then their coaching staffs can. If tennis players and golfers can play on a different continent every week then surely football players can handle this. In other words, there are lots of reasons why New Orleans or San Diego may not cover the spread next week, but their jaunt to London won't be one of them.