Spreads, moneylines, value, probability… At times, it feels like sports betting is simply all about the numbers. But does focusing too much on the hard data get in the way of making accurate predictions?
Sports betting is different from casino gaming because of the inherent “human element” that simply can’t be ignored.
When you’re in the decision-making process before making a bet, it can be easy to overlook the factors that won’t show up on a stat sheet. Unfortunately, these things can play a major role in the outcome.
In this article, I’ll lay out the “beyond the numbers” aspects of a game that must be taken into account.
1 – Playoff Implications
You can’t fake desperation, especially when a trip to the postseason is on the line. In any game, especially one late in the season, it’s crucial to take a look at each team’s situation and take note of the potential implications a win or loss will have in terms of making it to the playoffs.
Regardless of sport, there’s a certain gear that teams are able to find when they’re fighting to keep their season alive and championship hopes intact. When you’re deciding which way to bet on a game, ask yourself if one team has a higher incentive to win than the other.
For example, if an NFL team needs to win their final game of the season in order to lock up a playoff spot and are playing against a team who has fallen out of the postseason race, it could mean you’re dealing with a serious mismatch in motivation. While it might seem like professional teams on each side will give full effort, it’s simply unwise to discount the impact that playoff implications have for each side.
At the end of the day, when there’s something on the line, a team is going to find a way to put forth their best game plan possible. If you find a game where one team needs a win to make the playoffs and the other team is out of the hunt, bet on the team who’s looking to punch their ticket to the playoffs.
2 – Revenge Game
One of the laws of sports that seems to present itself time and time again is: “It’s hard to beat a good team twice.”
In every sport (except college football), teams will play each other more than once throughout the course of the season. Divisional opponents in particular will have a long history going back to previous years and whichever team got the upper hand most recently should be on alert for a revenge game performance.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a team to complete a sweep and win both contests in a season. But when two teams are somewhat evenly matched, it’s more likely that they’ll split the two games, each winning one.
The concept of a revenge game does go a little bit beyond just human nature and wanting to avenge a previous defeat. Often times, teams will be able to use game film and scouting from the previous matchup and put together a better gameplan for the next game.
If you’re on the fence when it comes to which way to bet, if two evenly-matched teams are playing for the second time in a season, it’s a good idea to put your money on the team who lost the first game. Not to mention, the bias that will be shown at the online sportsbook toward the team that won the first game makes it such that a “fade the public” element is built into this play.
3 – The Trap Game
Perhaps the most well-known type of “unquantifiable factor” used when evaluating a matchup is the idea of the “trap game.” While there are several different types of scenarios in which this term can be applied, I’ll stick to the one that is most commonly seen in the world of real money sports betting.
The prototypical trap game situation happens when this scenario comes into play: A good team (typically a big favorite) is playing against a significantly lesser team in the upcoming game. Following the matchup against the significantly lesser team, the good team has a big game circled on the schedule. The “trap” is that the good team is looking ahead to the big game, and has a sloppy game against a team they should beat handily because of this.
Some bettors might be quick to discount the trap game as a myth. But time and time again, it has proven to be true. Typically, those who don’t take it seriously are the same bettors who look back in the fourth quarter as they stare down an inevitable loss and think to themselves, “Trap game. I should have seen that one coming.”
The most difficult part of betting on the bad team involved in the trap game is getting over the mental hurdle to actually pull the trigger. Because these games usually involve two teams with a huge disparity in talent, it’s always a challenge to put your money on a team who you acknowledge as being significantly worse than their opponent.
Once again—this might be a recurring theme—winning these types of plays takes some risk on the bettor’s end. If you can’t stomach the thought of betting on a bad team against a top-tier team, perhaps the trap game would fall into the category of games you’d be better off avoiding altogether.
At the very least, the fact that the trap game exists should be a reason you check the schedule before making a play. Don’t risk becoming a victim of this all too common phenomenon seen in sports betting.
4 – Travel
Gamblers understand that the odds on a game are slightly adjusted for which team is home and which team is on the road. With that being said, not all home-field advantages are created equal.
Of all the factors in this article, “travel fatigue” might be the most relatable. Just about everyone has experienced that run-down feeling after a day of cross-country travel.
Yes, it’s true that professional (and collegiate) athletes have much better travel accommodations and access to professional trainers to help them refuel and recover, but it still isn’t enough to completely eliminate the fatigue of flight that crosses two time zones.
When evaluating just how much travel is going to impact a team, consider the distance. If a team is flying from Chicago to Kansas City, travel probably isn’t going to be a factor. However, if a team is flying from Boston to San Francisco, it might impact the result of the game.
In addition to simply looking at distance, there’s another travel factor to consider: party cities.
It sounds frivolous to mention, but if you aren’t a believer, just look at the records of NBA teams that visit Miami during the regular season. Known as the “South Beach Flu,” the phenomenon of visiting teams playing poorly during an away game in Miami isn’t just a funny anecdote to mention amongst friends. It’s absolutely real.
While I won’t say there’s a hard and fast rule to be applied here (like there is with a trap game), don’t just evaluate games in a way where all home teams have the same advantage, and all away teams have the same disadvantage. If a team in a cold-weather city is visiting Miami or Southern California in the middle of winter, expect the visiting team to be worn out for reasons other than just the distance traveled.
Unlike casino gamblers who should rely on statistical probability above all else, the best sports gamblers don’t just look at the numbers. They also consider the human element that can observed when looking at the game on a deeper level.
It’s easy to forget that the athletes who sports fans hold to mythological levels are humans just like everyone else. They’re susceptible to playing at inconsistent levels based on the circumstances surrounding a game.
If you’re able to combine the things in this article with the hard data available, you’ll have the best chance at making winning picks on a consistent basis.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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