The Supreme Court of the United States is set to render a decision in a sports betting lawsuit that was brought by New Jersey. The court heard arguments in the case in December 2017 and observers of the court expect it to announce its decision in the spring.
The decision is of great interest to sportsbooks and to handicappers based in Las Vegas. As sports betting has long been allowed in Las Vegas casinos but has been illegal elsewhere, if the Supreme Court allows sports betting generally across the nation, it would serve to take away sports betting revenues from Las Vegas casinos and give it to casinos, or other designated legal betting venues, in the other states that would quickly move to legalize sports betting in their states.
At this point, and with the Super Bowl between New England and Philadelphia on the horizon, it might be appropriate to discuss how the so-called professional sports handicappers analyze teams and come up with their stated odds.
NFL Has Short Schedule
The NFL is possibly the easiest professional league to handicap because there are only 256 games during the regular season and 11 total games in the playoffs. In contrast, baseball has 2430 regular season games and basketball has 1230. The winner of the Stanley Cup in hockey may have to play as many as 28 playoff games on top of the 82 regular season games each team plays.
Since the Super Bowl looms ahead, we’ll confine this analysis to the NFL and even more specifically to the playoffs.
The NFL is the most injury-prone league. Because there are so few “skilled” players on teams, an injury to a top of the line starter on offense makes a huge difference. The player’s replacement also comes into sharp focus. This year, Nick Foles took over for Carson Wentz as the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. The drop off in expected level of play from this all-important position is significant as Wentz was considered an MVP candidate. Nevertheless, Foles has shown himself immensely capable of winning games and will suffer less in comparison with Tom Brady than was previously thought.
In addition to injuries known about before a game, in game injuries play a huge part in determining the outcome of a game. The concussion that kept Gronkowski out of the second half on Sunday puts the Patriot’s comeback in sharper relief. It will enhance handicappers’ perspective on Tom Brady’s ability to rally his team and win a game and the lesser offensive talents to step up and make plays.
Long term forecasting has gotten a lot better than ever. We may not know how much rain or snow will fall but we do know the expected temperature and wind speed. This year, the Super Bowl will be in a domed stadium in a frigid locale so the weather inside will be calm and warm for both teams.
Handicappers are different than so-called experts who weigh in with their opinions each week. These “experts” have nothing on the line while handicappers determine the betting pattern for the casino that takes bets. So, it’s better to take the Las Vegas bookmaker’s opinion over that of any news media expert.
The final analysis is yours alone. Trust in your ability to make a sound prediction for the game. If you’re betting win or lose, you only have to be correct on that score. If you’re betting on the spread, you need to factor in other elements that will determine not just who wins but how close the game will be.
This is one of the many intangibles you need to address. If a team always plays at a high level regardless of the score or the situation in the game, it bodes well for that team staying close toward the end and possibly making a comeback late in the game. Last year’s Super Bowl was a case in point. Instead of showing a letdown as the score snowballed to 28-3 against them, the Patriots drew on all their resources to stage the greatest comeback in NFL history.
When players make a show of every good play they make, it shows a subtle but significant aspect of themselves and possibly of the team. Maturity is one of the least appreciated aspects of a player’s overall performance. Many players look to make the single flashy play instead of a steady stream of excellent but not flashy performance. Young players tend to showboat a lot more than veteran players so youth in this game may be a slight drawback.
Youth also suffers in the critical category of experience. The catch Julian Edelman made late in last year’s Super Bowl was part luck and part skill but the biggest factor was experience and maturity. These two under the radar factors allowed him to maintain his concentration until the play was over.
The ability to fool an opponent also plays a bit part in winning a game at the level of the Super Bowl. Trickery works when the element of surprise comes into play; it also depends on team’s understanding of the importance of surprise.
Avoiding penalties is as important as not turning the ball over. In the game between Jacksonville and New England, the Patriots were again on the ropes and the Jaguars made two horrible unforced defensive mistakes which had the effect of two long passes from Tom Brady to a receiver. The resultant touchdown made it clear that the Patriots would stay close until an opening appeared and could pull out a win even against a great defense from the athletic and statistical standpoints.
This is the last of the long list of intangibles. Here coaching involves in-game adjustments but the coaching staff has less influence during a game than do the veteran leaders on a team. In essence, the veteran players rally the younger players. Coaches cannot do this; it has to be done by teammates who share the on-field challenges.