How Geography Impacts Your Football Wagers

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In an episode of The Sopranos, Tony (the crime boss of New Jersey, for any millennials or non-TV fans out there) learns that a kicker for the Miami Dolphins has suffered an injury. Quickly, he puts down a bundle on their opponents to win.

It wasn’t necessarily a stupid wager. Placekickers score lot of points in the NFL, so an injured kicker can easily be the difference between covering or losing on the point spread. But later in the episode, Soprano loses the bet and destroys a few pieces of furniture after learning the score.

Tony was guilty of betting before considering all the variables. Yes, a missed field goal attempt or a botched kickoff can affect the outcome of a football game. But what if the team with the ailing PK has a superior offense and puts him in a better position to connect? Or what if the air conditions (damp, dry or thin) help to even-out any disadvantage?

The culture of American football has a way of clouding even the simplest logic. For instance, take the forever-debate about whether offense or defense is more important. “Give me a team that scores every time,” says one fan. “No, defense wins championships,” replies another. Yet common sense makes both arguments totally absurd. Each team’s defense must try to stop the opposing offense. Therefore, to say that one side’s offense is more important is to say that the other side’s defense is more important…and vice versa. Both are equally crucial because both sides of the scoreboard count equally.

Bettors would benefit from asking the most basic, simple questions they can. Who is playing? Why are they playing? Just as importantly, where are they playing?

Geography plays a major role in football betting

Or at least it should. To ignore factors like weather, climate, and culture is to miss out on wielding a weapon that can slay the house bookie.

Here’s a look at some geographical factors that should influence your NFL and NCAA wagers this autumn. Make no mistake, they’ll affect the odds and the action.

Game-Time Weather

Football gamblers in their 40s and 50s must change how they think about the weather. Once upon a time, rain or snow could grind 2 offenses to a halt and present almost a guaranteed lock on the under, presuming the bookie didn’t catch on to the forecast fast enough. Those times are in the past. NFL and FBS passing games have become so precise and well-executed that a wet field is often a bigger disadvantage for the defense than it is for the QB or wide receivers.

Never assume that a contest will be low-scoring just because the turf is soggy

A little rain, sleet or snow won’t necessarily affect the turnover battle either. Spread offenses help to prevent fumbles and interceptions in poor conditions because athletes are handling the ball in wide-open spaces and have only 1 or 2 tacklers to protect the bean from.

Rain games are still portrayed in movies as total chaos, a pile-up of muddy players poking and scratching at a slippery ball. But Hollywood is behind the times. “The Longest Yard” is now an easy Brady-to-Amendola bubble screen for a 3rd-and-short conversion. Even in the rain.

But when the weather gets horrendous, that trend can work to the disadvantage of an offense. Many modern coaches are so stubborn about running a spread-passing attack come hell or (literally) high water that they no longer adjust even when they should.

The “Hurricane Bowl” played between Notre Dame and North Carolina State in 2016 is just one example. The Fighting Irish came into the contest with designs on a bowl bid. But head coach Chad Kelly decided to pass the ball, an absurd idea given that the tail of Hurricane Matthew was making Carter-Finley Stadium an impossible slog for WRs. Players splashed and slid and passing attempts became comical. The proper strategy would have been to hand-off to the most sure-handed UND tailbacks, gain a few yards at a time and punt NC State into bad field position. Instead, Kelly asked DeShone Kizer to put the ball in the air.

A wind-blown, puddle-splashing 10-3 loss later, and the favored Irish had damaged their postseason chances while soaking bookies around the world…and rewarding those who had bet on the underdog Wolfpack.

Important:

Remember that wind is the real killer for QBs in the 21st century. Light rain or snow helps their receivers get open, heat or cold can be mastered with space-age nutrition and a good pair of grip-gloves. But severe wind hurts them, spoiling their accuracy on long throws.

Very bad weather puts the betting value on the underdog, especially if they’re at home. But not just for the traditional reason that weather “evens everything out.” Arrogant, irrational head coaches do more than just even things out. They create a handicap for their teams, especially when faced with unforeseen conditions in which to coach in.

How Air Quality Affects the Kicking Game

A big deal is made about how the density of the air affects a kicking game. Kickers have a natural advantage at Sports Authority Field in Denver due to the thin atmosphere at a higher elevation. Meanwhile, they’re supposed to struggle to get the ball over the crossbar at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

In my opinion, those factors are overblown. The longest field goal ever made in a Denver Broncos game was 64 yards. The longest ever made in another NFL stadium was 63 yards.

Yes, it’s slightly easier for kickers to hit long attempts when the air is thin. But it doesn’t affect Over/Under betting in every outing because coaches have a lot to consider other than their kicker’s range when making the decision to attempt a 3-pointer. 60+ yard field goal attempts must utilize a very low trajectory, can be blocked more easily, and saddle the defense with a short field to defend if they miss.

Kickers would prefer to play every game in a domed stadium if they could. The artificial turf is always perfect, and there’s only a negligible amount of wind to deal with. But that doesn’t mean things can’t still go wrong.

Ultimately, it’s a bad idea to place a wager with only special teams in mind…even if you’re the Don of New Jersey

Travel Factors in the NFL

NFL teams flying coast-to-coast have issues with fatigue. It’s well-known that west coast teams struggle when visiting franchises on the Atlantic coast. Not only do they have the normal disadvantage of crowd-noise and strange scenery, a roster used to afternoon kickoffs in Pacific or Mountain time is essentially playing at 9 AM when asked to play a midday scrum in Washington.

But odds-managers and handicappers factor that in already. You may determine that the 49ers face a touchdown handicap (on top of the disadvantage of being lousy) when traveling to play the Carolina Panthers or Jacksonville Jaguars. But the point spread will reflect that, so any betting value is iffy from the start.

Note:

A better tactic is to look at the experience of the road team. Veteran NFL squads have seen it all and played everywhere. Meanwhile, a group of green-horns is more likely to be thrown-off by playing far away from home in an unfamiliar climate.

The Arizona Cardinals won the NFC Championship in 2008-09. But not before they suffered some embarrassing late-season losses, the worst of which came in a snowy 47-7 thrashing by home-standing New England. A careful look at the Cards’ roster revealed why. Rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was born in the deep south and played there almost his entire career. He had never seen snow, let alone played covered opposing receivers in it.

Handicappers got the wrong message. They assumed that the Cardinals just weren’t ready for prime-time. Since Arizona was not a major-market team and had not contended for a championship in ages, ESPN anchors and other TV talking heads did not bother to analyze. Everyone took for granted that the Big Red was lucky to be in the playoffs at all. Nobody stopped to consider the circumstances of the blowout loss in Boston.

The result was that home-team bettors in the desert made a fortune. When Arizona beat Atlanta in the Wild Card round, bookies made them prohibitive underdogs in the next game against Carolina. The Cardinals whipped the Panthers and advanced to the NFC Championship, but were made underdogs again against Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles.

By the time the Cards reached the Super Bowl, gamblers who had taken a chance on them didn’t need to risk another bet. They were already swimming in riches. All because Dallas Cowboys fans, ahem, I mean, mainstream NFL pundits were too lazy to look deeply into an unheralded team. As is often the case, hype affected the action and created a jackpot for those thinking critically.

Geography and Culture in Football Betting

Apart from a few international junior tournaments, casinos never place odds on high school athletes to win or lose. High school games don’t have a national audience, and besides, involving teenagers in gambling could feel like buying beer for little kids.

But an understanding of youth football culture – and how geography and civics affect the local and junior levels of the sport – is a weapon that all bettors should have in their arsenal. It helps to remember that the Notre Dame Varsity Football Irish is not made up solely of kids from South Bend, Indiana. The New England Patriots roster includes few athletes who were born in Boston. Major college and NFL teams are business entities which recruit players from everywhere.

Important:

Mid-major colleges are more likely to suit-up large numbers of local prospects. Knowing the culture that those players were born and raised in can help bettors understand the tendencies of teams, especially when a smaller FBS program ends up challenging the big dogs on the grandest stage.

Tom Osbourne’s great Nebraska teams of the 1980s and 90s, for instance, were mocked and ridiculed for recruiting home-grown prospects with slow track times and few flashy skills. But Osbourne knew that a majority of Nebraska high schools ran playbooks similar to the Power-I formation and triple-option tactics of the Cornhuskers. Some prep coaches even copied the Nebraska playbook. As a result, Osbourne’s rosters included redshirt freshmen who already knew the plays by heart. Great runners like Tommie Frazier helped spur Nebraska to national titles. But the foundation was laid by teamwork. It’s hard to beat 50 big men who play as one unit.

More recently, Scott Frost (a Cornhusker alum now employed as head coach in Lincoln) took the Central Florida Knights to an undefeated campaign and a Peach Bowl win over Auburn in 2017-18. The program had been undervalued on the betting board due to its status as a mid-major and plurality of local recruits. But smart bettors cleaned up by picking UCF, knowing that high school players from Florida have talent and stamina to burn. They’ve been raised in highly-competitive environments while dealing with relentless heat and humidity.

“But everyone knows Florida has great high school teams,” you might say. Yes – but remember that the amazing number of great young athletes in the Sunshine State can work to the disadvantage of a kid looking for a big-time scholarship. A speedy running back from rural Montana can rush for thousands of yards while facing defenders who run 5.0 40-yard-dashes. He is relatively safe from injury, and it’s easier to play more downs in a cool climate.

Tailbacks from Florida must play against superior athletes and beat out other talented kids at their own school just to earn a starting spot. When they do earn a key role, they must deal with dehydration and cramps brought-on by the swampy air. When they fail to rack up gaudy statistics, major-conference recruiters are less likely to notice them.

Coaches like Frost take advantage of those circumstances to find diamonds in the rough. So do successful cash bettors who pay attention to worthy mid-major teams while ignoring the mainstream Big Ten and SEC-centric narratives.

There’s a world out there! Alabama and LSU no longer have a monopoly on great players, and gamblers now have the time and resources to consider factors that even college recruiters can miss.

Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees

Geography, weather, and climate will always be crucial factors in football betting. But not only are casino handicappers wise to the elements, they’re also aware that even Mother Nature can’t change the fundamentals of the sport.

Go ahead and read that tip on a placekicker who isn’t bothered by the wind, or a quarterback who grew up on the beach and loves throwing passes in a misty rain. Bet the under in a blizzard or the over in a dome. But don’t forget that superior blocking and tackling usually wins in the end.

Does LeSean McCoy run just a little faster on artificial turf? Sure. But so will the guys chasing him. Don’t forget the big picture when chasing your next winning wager.

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