The National Football League has had preliminary discussions with owners about switching from a 16-game to a 17-game season. Anybody who loves football like we do should stand up and cheer. The more professional football the better.
But as football handicappers and not just football fans, we should consider how a 18-game instead of a 17-game season will affect NFL odds. Check out the three most likely things to happen to football betting odds should the NFL add an extra regular season game to the schedule.
How a 18 Game NFL Season Will Affect Betting Odds
Tighter NFL spreads in divisional and intra-conference matchups
What’s an extra game? In the NFL, it’s a lot! Heading into Week 17 this season, 5 teams in the AFC, the Browns, Dolphins, Ravens, Titans, Colts, were alive for 4 playoff spots. In the NFC, the entire East Division had yet to be decided.
An extra game will put an emphasis on both division and intra-conference matchups. Winning your division is the best way to ensure a playoff spot. If you don’t win your division, you must beat teams in your conference because conference record is the tie-breaker to determine which team gets playoff bids and which teams don’t.
NFL teams may rest a starter or two or place a starting player on the injured and can’t perform list with a hangnail, for out of conference games.
One of the most annoying aspects of the NBA is how coaches rest star players. Some players, like LeBron, tell the coach when they don’t feel like playing. In LeBron’s defense, he’s 36-years-old and everyone knows he plays to win. LeBron can decide when he wants to play because Frank Vogel knows King James wants to be one-hundred percent for the playoffs.
Players like LeBron will never exist in the NFL because football is the ultimate team sport. However, coaches could adhere to the “rest your starters when you can” philosophy. Don’t get us wrong. The Kansas City Chiefs will never send Patrick Mahomes to the bench before they’ve sewn up a playoff spot.
But a team like the Saints or Steelers could rest their aging quarterback in a non-conference game versus a doormat. The problem for bettors is that we may not know when coaches decide to rest a star quarterback, running back, or wide receiver.
How to bet for a 18-game NFL Season
The extra game will make a difference. To illustrate, let’s take a look at what happened in Week 17. The Miami Dolphins lost to the Buffalo Bills while the Cleveland Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cleveland got the playoff berth. Miami didn’t. What if there was a Week 18? And what if in Week 18, the Browns played Buffalo while the Dolphins got to play a team like the Cowboys? If the Fins and Browns had finished with the same record, Miami would have gotten the playoff nod.
NFL coaches take these things into consideration and so should bettors. If we stick with the idea that teams concentrate on intra-conference and division games, we should handicap accordingly. When a team, favored or underdog, plays a division rival, handicap as you normally do.
But if a team with a big division lead plays a non-conference opponent, wait until the day of the game to make your bet. You’ll want as much information as possible before laying down money. Big Ben could end up on the sideline due to the aforementioned hangnail, blowing away your early in the week bet on the Steelers.
NFL coaches will come up with a strategy to play the extra game without hurting their chances of making the playoffs. The guess here is that the strategy will involve resting star players when possible in meaningless non-conference games while working hard to win conference and divisional contests.
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