Handicapping the Unpredictable in Football

Jan 9, 2014

When a professional handicapper makes his or her picks on a football game, he or she does not do so on a whim. It would be pretty easy to pick winners if there were no point spread, but since there is, a handicapper must try to find an edge that will increase his or her chances of being right.

A team’s record against the point spread as well as their record against the opponent are two important statistics to be considered. However, things that happen during the game are hard to predict and are often the reason why a football handicapping service’s picks do not turn out to be right.

1. Turnovers

How can you predict when someone is going to fumble the ball? It is true that you can study the number of fumbles and interceptions a team has committed in past games, but you never can be certain that they will repeat the same errors in the next game. When handicapping a football game, you might take note of a statistic showing that a team forces more turnovers than they commit. You can no predict whether a turnover will lead to points or if it occurs at a crucial time in the game. More often than not, teams that win the turnover battle also win the game.

2. Penalties

If a bad team gets some extra help from a few questionable calls by the referee, that can make a difference in whether they win or lose the game. While it is never good manners to blame the officials for a loss, penalties like pass interference on a long bomb, or the infamous blocking in the back on a 90-yard kickoff return, can change the outcome of a game.

3. Bad calls

Instant replay has eliminated many of the bad calls that you can clearly see on your big screen, high definition TV. However, instant replay does not correct every bad call. If the whistle blows too soon, a legitimate fumble is deemed to not have happened. Many calls are judgment calls and can not be reversed by instant replay. With the recent edict issued by the NFL, players are getting called for late hits and hits to the head when there is even the slightest evidence of an inappropriate tackle. You never know when a player will be penalized or even thrown out of the game.

4. Injuries

An injury to a key player in the first quarter can certainly change the outcome of a game. When Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury on a Monday night game against the Bears, the favored Packers wound up losing the game. Losing your starting quarterback, a dominant defensive end or your reliable place kicker, will affect the score, if not the outcome, of most football games.

It can be the weather, an injury, bad call, penalty or turnover that affects the outcome of a football game. Handicappers make their picks long before the opening kickoff and can only guess that such events may take place. While such occurrences can affect the outcome of a particular game, over the length of the season, those things tend to balance out. Football is exciting because you never really know what will happen until the game is played!