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NFL Injuries by Jeremy Martin
Handicappers and oddsmakers have very different opinions when it comes to the importance of injuries in the NFL. Some believe that this is one of the most crucial factors that goes into picking a game or setting a line, while others insist that the NFL is full of so many talented players that there isn't that big of a drop off in talent from first-string to second-string.
One thing is for certain: injuries do affect the way lines are set in the NFL and there are certain advantages bettors can gain from knowing how oddsmakers factor injuries into their lines and how the general betting public bets into those lines when making plays based on key injuries.
When players who play at the 'skill' positions -- RB, WR or QB - are hurt, this will usually affect the line more than players in who line up in the 'non-glamour positions.' But injuries on the offensive or defensive lines or in the secondary can have as big of an effect on the outcome of a game as a missing WR or RB.
"Injuries to linemen, defensive backs and such can have a big effect on a game but they do not sway public opinion as much as injuries to quarterbacks, running backs or wide receivers where teams are often deeper in talent because of the star appeal of these positions," said Rob Gillespie, president of BoDog Sportsbook & Casino. "When these injuries pile up and teams are forced to start third stringers, there may be opportunity for bettors. Injuries are one of the last factors we look at when setting a line, as each has to be evaluated on its own merit. "
When uniformed bettors see that a star QB is listed as questionable for a particular game, they may be quick to bet on the other side not realizing that the player's status is already factored into the line. But a key injury to a star cornerback may not be a dynamic for the oddsmaker in setting a line. But his replacement may be undersized or a rookie and may have the propensity to get burned all day by the opposing QB and WRs. Since these kinds of injuries do not sway the opinions of the general public, the line is usually not affected and the savvy bettor can use this to his advantage.
"For the public, when they see a star player go out, they overreact and go jump on the other side, especially in football," commented Scott Epstein, sportsbook manager for Binion's Horseshoe. "If it's not a big star or a name player, it's not going to affect the line that much. If you were to have a couple offensive linemen out, it is probably going to affect the 'total' more than the 'sides.'"
Epstein is one of the believers that injuries in the NFL are not that significant unless they involve superstars. He thinks that the talent level across all NFL rosters is fairly consistent.
"I believe some of the backups and even third-string (players) can play just as well as the starters," he said. "In the NFL it is just about who can last longer without (injuries)."
Gillespie believes that it is less a case of talent, and more a matter of preparation.
"On many teams and at many positions there is no drop off with a backup and in most cases I would say it is a matter of preparation," he said. "If a player practices with the starting unit all week, they will generally be close to the level of the player they are replacing. If the injury comes late in the week, and the replacement has been on the second team or scout team, then they will not be as prepared to play and the drop off may be more noticeable. This is why injuries during a game can have such a dramatic effect but then be non-factors the next week. That being said, going from a Randy Moss to a Nate Burleson would have a dramatic effect."
The San Francisco QB situation is a good example of this philosophy. During the 49ers/Cardinals game on Oct. 26, Niners QB Jeff Garcia left the game at one point with a sprained ankle. Backup Tim Rattay entered the game for a couple of series and was basically ineffective. The following week, however, Garcia was still out with the same injury and his backup had a full week to prepare. Rattay wound up throwing for 236 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout win over St. Louis. Because the injury involved a big-name QB, sportsbooks in Las Vegas and overseas scrambled to come up with a new number that would reflect the loss of Garcia. It turns out Rattay was a capable replacement and the following week still-lingering injury to Garcia didn't play into the line at most shops when the Niners played Pittsburgh on Monday night.
Binion's, for example, originally had the line for the St. Louis game posted at -3 in favor of the Rams. The injury to Garcia, at first, did not seem to be that serious and it looked like he may have been able to start the game. When that looked more unlikely mid-week, the sportsbook had to rearrange its line.
"It was a bad mistake on our part, because (Rattay) did play so well," said Epstein. "We already had our parlay cards printed up and we had the Rams at -3. But after (Rattay was named the starter), the Rams went to -4 ½ or -5 everywhere so we pulled it off the cards and put it back up on the board at -4 ½."
Evidently, the public wasn't too excited about the Rams at that number and his parlay card business suffered as a result. "Everybody, of course, wanted to play the Rams at -3 on the parlay cards," he added. "They would have all lost and the house ended up losing money on that. It's real hard to determine what these backup quarterbacks are going to do unless they have already been starters. But when you have a guy like Rattay, who has just come in with minimal experience, its hard to handicap and you automatically have to make them a bigger 'dog' then the team would have been with (Garcia)."
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