One of the biggest mistakes of the betting masses when wagering on NFL football is overreacting week-to-week based on the results of the previous week’s games. Of course, we should pay attention to the results of each game and how each team has played, but the results of the previous week shouldn’t be the basis for our bets in the coming week.
That may sound against conventional wisdom to some, but for the most part, NFL bettors are a “what have you done for me lately?” bunch. They weigh the previous week (and to an extent any previous results) much too heavily when it comes to evaluating future markets. They also don’t factor in other factors quite as much, such as travel, type of opponent, motivation, injuries, and bye weeks.
Luckily for the bookmakers, most of their clients don’t bother to line shop either. It’s a brutal concoction and one we as sharp bettors need to avoid.
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Things To Look For
There are many reasons why a team may be primed for a let-down after a win the previous week or a bounce-back after a loss. Perhaps, they aren’t as motivated, are coming off a critical win, traveling a far distance, nursing injuries, or simply don’t take their opponents seriously enough.
Motivation is a key factor in both spots. Look, I don’t want to say NFL players “aren’t trying.” They’re being paid millions and should be well prepared and put out their maximum effort each week, regardless of the opponent. However, it’s clear that in certain games teams are clearly more prepared and more motivated than others.
In-Season Example: Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 & 3
Let’s head back to Week 1 of the 2016-17 season. Seattle came off a victory in Week 1 at home against the visiting Miami Dolphins. It wasn’t too convincing, but they managed to win the game 12-10.
Next week, the Seahawks traveled to Los Angeles to take on the L.A. Rams in their first game back in Los Angeles. The Rams were embarrassed in primetime in Week 1, losing 28-0 at San Francisco on Monday Night Football.
Concerning for Seattle was an injury to quarterback Russell Wilson, which he played through in Week 1. The sprain put his Week 2 availability in question.
The odds opened at -6.5 in favor of Seattle. About 70 percent of all wagers came in on the Seahawks. The odds moved to -7 at some sportsbooks, but the spread went down to -5 as we got closer to kickoff. The Rams saw a lot of reverse line movement, and they looked like a strong bet, particularly those who locked them in early.
Well, the Rams didn’t disappoint their fans like they did on national television in Week 1. It wasn’t a high-scoring game – neither team scored a touchdown – but they won a low-scoring slugfest by a score of 9-3.
Our focus doesn’t end right there, however. It should be clear that the writing was on the wall for a Seattle letdown. Road game, against a motivated divisional opponent, and a quarterback coming off an injury, who decided to play, but was ineffective.
The vast majority of bettors didn’t look at the game that way. They saw a Seahawks team that made it to the Super Bowl in two of the last three years (winning one) and looked at how badly the Rams performed in Week 1 and placed the bet without much other consideration.
The Seahawks went back home in Week 3 and faced off against the visiting 49ers. Many bettors saw this as an opportunity to bet San Francisco because the 49ers blew out the Rams in Week 1 and L.A. just beat Seattle last week!
The public was all over San Francisco in this one. Seattle opened as -10 favorites and even after 60 percent of all bets came in on the 49ers, the line still dropped to Seahawks -9.5 and -9 at kickoff. Once again, another case of reverse line movement.
Seattle decimated the 49ers, winning by a score of 37-18.
Putting It Into Practice
I hope with all of the above information, even though we got the right result, still makes sense from a betting theory perspective. Of course, you’re not always going to come out ahead when you’re looking for a let-down or bounce-back spot.
However, these situations continue to be +EV in NFL betting markets, and that likely isn’t changing anytime soon. It’s easy for me to recap these spots after they’ve occurred. The goal is to identify potential spots early in the week and set up a plan of action for when to bet the number.