What Affects the Outcome of Football Games?
There are many different ways to bet on football. You can bet on how many points will be scored in a game, or on which team will score first. You can bet on the winner of the Super Bowl, or on which teams will make the playoffs. These are just a few examples of the vast array of options available to choose from.
Chances are the majority of your wagers will be on the outcome of individual games. This is certainly the case for most football bettors. Bets on the point spreads and the moneylines account for a significant percentage of all football betting activity. This comes as no surprise at all, given how many football games there are during a season.
In theory, betting on the outcome of individual games is one of the least challenging ways to make money. There are plenty of games where it’s reasonably obvious which team is going to win, or which team is going to cover the spread. If you bet on those games, and avoid the ones that are hard to call, you should be able to turn a profit. Right? Not quite.
Football just isn’t that predictable unfortunately. Things don’t always go as expected. A team you are confident will cover the spread can easily miss out by a point or two. Big favorites can and do lose matches. Upsets are common, which is why there’s no such thing as easy money from betting on this sport.
That’s not to say that you CAN’T be successful when betting on individual games though. You definitely can. But you need to delve a little deeper than just looking for “obvious” spots to get your money down. You need to study the factors that can affect the outcome of football games, and then analyze the effects that those factors are likely to have. This can be a very effective way to choose your picks.
There are a plethora of factors which directly affect the outcome of football games. Some of these factors are blindingly obvious, and taken into account by most football bettors. Some are considerably less obvious though, and often overlooked. Most of them can be broadly classified as falling into one of the following two categories:
- Quality of the teams
- Circumstances of the game
In this article we take a detailed look at how to assess the main factors in each of these categories. We also provide some advice on how to use your assessments to make informed predictions.
Assessing Team Quality
Overall team strength is arguably the single biggest factor in determining the outcome of a football game. In theory at least. After all, it’s entirely logical that a game of football will be won by the strongest team. It’s pretty easy to predict what’s going to happen when one of the best teams in the NFL is up against one of the worst. But it’s a lot harder when two evenly matched teams are playing.
Again, we’ll point out that football is just simply NOT that simple. The best team doesn’t always win. The sport wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if that was so. The unpredictable nature of football is one of the main reasons why so many people enjoy watching it.
Let’s ignore that for the moment though. The relative strength of two teams playing against each other is always going to be a good indicator of which one is most likely to win. So assessing the quality of football teams is obviously going to help when it comes to making accurate predictions.
Here’s the problem though. Assessing the overall strength of a football team is subjective to some extent. Especially during the early part of a season, when there’s a lack of hard data available. You might think that the Seahawks are the best team in the league, but your friend might think otherwise. Neither of you can definitively “prove” it either way though. It’s ultimately a matter of opinion.
With that being said, you don’t NEED to prove anything. Your aim is simply to evaluate the quality of teams and draw your own conclusions about just how good each one is. You do this by assessing all the information that’s available to you as objectively as possible. If you do this at the start of each season, you’ll have a good basis to work from when it comes to predicting the outcome of games. You can, of course, adjust your assessments as the season progresses and more information is available.
There are several factors to consider when assessing the overall quality of a team. There’s no single “correct” to way to analyze how good teams are, but we recommend taking each of the following into consideration.
- Individual player quality
- Team balance and depth
- Team unity
- Key strengths and weaknesses
- Coaching staff
- Playing style
- Ability under pressure
Let’s take a look at each of these in detail.
Individual Player Quality
The overall quality of a team is obviously affected by the quality of the individual players. Better players make for a better team, it’s as simple that. So a good place to start is to go through a team’s roster and assess just how good each player is. In particular, you want to look out for extraordinarily talented players in key positions.
All football fans know just how much difference a good quarterback can make. It’s widely considered to be the most important position on the field. The quarterback makes a lot of the team’s decisions, is responsible for calling the plays, and has a big role in how those plays work out. So having a talented quarterback instantly makes a team stronger.
You shouldn’t look ONLY at this position though. This is something a lot of bettors do. They look at two teams, and assume that the team with the best quarterback is the best team. This isn’t always the case. A quarterback also needs good players around him. He needs to be protected, so the quality of the left tackle and the right tackle is also important. He needs someone to aim his passes at, so the quality of the wide receivers is essential too.
Don’t underestimate how much value good defensive players add to a team. The offensive players tend to get talked about the most, but many successful teams rely on their defensive players too. Do you think the Broncos would have won Super Bowl 50 without Von Miller?
Team Balance and Depth
Balance is a vital ingredient for a football team. A couple of superstars in the team is great, but what if the rest of the roster is made up of distinctly average players? How does that compare to a team without any star names, but with good quality players in every position? There are no guarantees, but the more balanced team does have a higher chance of winning.
Depth is another aspect to football betting that’s often overlooked. Football bettors tend to look at the first choice for each position, and judge the team quality based on that alone. But what about when a first choice player gets injured? Does the overall quality of the team drop dramatically? Or is there a competent player on the roster to fill in? These are questions that you need to answer when assessing teams.
The way a team plays as a whole will determine how successful it is. Even a group of the very best individual stars can fail if they don’t work well together. On the other hand, a group of less talented players can do very well if there’s a strong sense of unity and togetherness.
There have been some very good football teams that haven’t necessarily featured the best players. They’ve got results purely by pulling together as a group, and working hard for each other. That kind of a unity can really push a team to perform at a higher level.
It’s difficult to gauge team unity of course. One way to do it is by studying how the players interact with each other on the field. This should give you some idea of whether there’s any genuine team spirit or not.
Key Strengths and Weaknesses
Every team has its own set of strengths of weaknesses. Identifying these strengths and weaknesses is a great help when it comes to assessing the overall quality of a team. They’re not always immediately obvious, but you can usually spot them if you look hard enough.
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of teams is especially useful when it comes to directly comparing two teams that are about to play each other. Here’s an example.
You’re looking at an upcoming game between two teams. They seem to be almost equally matched on paper, so you take a look a closer look at their respective strengths and weaknesses. You discover that both teams are particularly strong in offense, but fairly weak in defense.
How do you pick a winner here? The simple answer is that you don’t. You’ve done your research and found a situation that’s probably too tight to call. So it’s probably best not to bet at all. It’s fine to skip games where you can’t make a prediction that you’re confident with.
Remember, though, there are other betting options too. This might be a good spot to look at a totals bet. You’ve identified a game where there are two strong offenses going at each other’s weak defensive line. A bet on the over may be advisable here.
Most people focus on the players when assessing the quality of football teams. This is an entirely natural thing to do; of course the players are the main components of a team. You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the coaching staff though.
A head coach has many roles to fulfill. He’s not there just to yell on the sidelines each game. He has to carry out post game analysis, and pre-game planning. He has to make sure things are getting done right during practice, and he’s also responsible for making sure his players stay fit and motivated. Above all else he has to lead a team, on and off the field. A good head coach can have a significant impact on the way his team performs, both in individual games and over the course of a season.
It’s not all about the head coach though. The whole coaching staff is important to a team. The offensive coordinator and the defensive coordinator have particularly key roles. Among other things, they have to call the plays and decide which defensive schemes to run. These are obviously vital parts of an overall game plan.
So when you’re assessing a team’s quality, be sure to check out the coaching staff too. This is definitely not something that you should overlook.
When evaluating the overall quality of a football team, it’s a good idea to study HOW they play too. We don’t mean in terms of how well or how badly, but in terms of their style of play. The respective styles of two teams can have a big impact on how a game will pan out. So you’re better placed to make predictions if you’re familiar with those styles.
The best way to accurately assess a team’s playing style is to watch them for yourself. You can pick up some information by reading reports, but this doesn’t give you the same level of insight. You need to really study how a coach sets his team up, and what kind of philosophy he imposes on his players. Does he focus primarily on offense or defense? Or does he take a more balanced approach? Does he allow his plays creative freedom on the field, or does he prefer a rigid and structured style?
The answers to these questions aren’t always immediately obvious, but any insight you can gain is valuable.
Another important thing to consider here is how well the players fit into a team’s preferred playing style. A team can be packed full of superstars, but those players may not fulfill their potential if the style of the team doesn’t suit them well. On the other hand, a team with lesser players may over perform if those players are all a good fit for a particular style of play.
Ability Under Pressure
This is another factor that gets overlooked far too often by football bettors. It really helps to understand how well a team and individual players perform under pressure, but most bettors don’t give this so much as a moment’s thought. This a big mistake, because it’s information that can tell you a lot.
Many football games have moments of real pressure. And those key moments can often directly determine the end result. They can lead to a shift in momentum that can completely change the complexion of a game. So it’s in these moments when players and teams really need to show what they’re made of.
Ability under pressure is ultimately determined by mental strength. Assessing the mental strength of players and teams therefore gives you some idea of how they’re going to perform in the vital stages of a game. This can then be a good indicator for how a game is likely to turn out. A team packed full of players with great mental fortitude can always be expected to get results, even against more talented teams.
Consistency is an excellent indicator of just how strong a football team really is. Professionals at the top of their game should be able to play to their best game after game. But that’s not always the case. Some players, even very talented ones, can be hit and miss in their performances. The same applies to teams as a whole.
This is definitely something to look out for as a bettor. When you’re putting money at risk, the last thing you want to do is rely on performances from players or teams that have a habit of letting themselves down, because there’s a good chance they’ll let YOU down too.
Then again, consistent teams are likely to do the business for you. They’re not necessarily going to win every game of course, but it’s good to know that at least your money is riding on players and teams that regularly give it their all and play to the best of their abilities.
Assessing Game Circumstances
So we’ve talked about all the things to look at when evaluating how strong a football team is. Everything discussed so far will definitely help you make reasoned judgements about the likely outcome of football games, but there’s more to consider too.
The result of a football game isn’t determined solely by how good the respective teams are. If that was the case, then the best team would always win, and we’ve already established that’s not what happens. This is partly because a team’s performance isn’t always directly in line with its overall quality, and partly because there are various external factors that can affect the outcome of games.
There are dozens of these external factors, but it’s not remotely realistic to try to assess them all. You’ll just be overwhelmed with the wealth of information. The best approach is to determine which of these factors are the most important, and then focus on them. This is essentially a matter of opinion, but we recommend taking the following factors into consideration.
- Recent form
How do these factors affect games? Let’s find out.
Home field advantage makes a difference in football games. Plenty of people dismiss its importance, but we think they’re wrong to do so. The statistics support our view too, as the home team in NFL matches wins nearly 60% of the time. This would be around 50% if there was no at-home advantage.
So the venue of a game should definitely be factored into your betting decisions. But, like most football betting factors, it needs to be given proper consideration. There’s no point in simply always backing the home to win or cover, as that’s not going to work in the long run. The trick is to work out WHEN home field advantage is really going to make a difference. For example, there are some stadiums that teams really hate to visit.
Across the 2013 and 2014 NFL seasons, the Seattle Seahawks lost just two out of eighteen at home games. Clearly playing at home is a positive for them. They were already a strong team during those particular seasons, but dropping just the two games at home is an impressive record. They lost three during the 2015 season, but you’re still going to need a very good reason to bet against them when they’re playing at CenturyLink Field.
Not all teams have quite the same advantage when playing at home though. So while you do need to consider the venue, don’t assume that it always gives the home team a big edge.
The schedule has a bigger impact on the result of games than most people imagine. It’s not just about the quality of opposition that teams have to face, it’s also about the order in which they have to face them and the timing of games.
For example, a West coast team might have to fly East for maybe six or seven games in a season. If the schedule dictates that some of those games have to be played close together, this could really affect them. Especially if they have to play a number of early afternoon games, when the players’ body clocks will be telling them it’s still morning time. Is this team really going to be at its best for all those games? Probably not.
What about if a team with a few new players on the roster has to face three or four of their toughest opponents in their first few games? They’re going to be under pressure right from the start of the season, and may struggle to get any momentum going. Compare that to a team with a settled roster that gets a couple of easy games to start with. They’re likely to get their confidence going early on, which is a big advantage.
These are some fairly precise scenarios, but they can and do happen. There are some simpler scenarios to look for too. Here’s an example.
Two closely matched teams are about to play against each other. One is a marginal favorite at -3, and you think that they’re probably going to cover. But you’re not confident enough to place a wager. Then you check the schedule, and see that they’ve just come off their bye week. Meanwhile, their opponents have just played a really tough road game. Does this extra information help? Of course it does.
Whether or not it’s enough to sway you into making a bet is down to you. But the point is that checking teams’ schedules is definitely worth doing. It can give you extra information that will help with making sensible betting decisions.
The power of momentum in football is certainly up for debate. Some experts believe it’s very important, while others think it has little impact at all. We tend to lean towards the former view, as we firmly believe that the psychological aspect of football is very significant.
It’s entirely logical really. Winning is addicting. If a team is playing well and getting results, then the players are going to be confident. And confidence is always a good thing, in any sport. Most of the sports men and women in the world would tell you that their confidence helps them perform to the best of their ability. So it’s fair to assume that a confident football team is likely to perform better than a team that has been losing week after week.
Recent form can therefore serve as a useful indicator of future performances. However, it should be noted that a team’s past results can only tell us so much in isolation of other factors. A team might have just won five straight games in a row, for example, making it easy to assume that they’re playing great and in hot form. But what if four of those games were against significantly weaker opposition? Do those results really tell us much about how well they’re playing?
What about if a team has just lost three games in a row? Based on that information alone, it’s easy to assume that they haven’t been playing well. But those three games might have been their three toughest games of the season, and they only lost each one by a very small margin. With that extra information, suddenly their form doesn’t look so bad. Despite losing, the team’s performances in those games might have given the players’ confidence a boost.
So there’s no point in looking at the recent results of a team without looking more closely at how well (or badly) they’ve actually been playing. The quality of the opposition has to be taken into account. It’s also advisable to look at their margins of victory or defeat. This helps to build a much clearer picture about the level of performances a team is putting in.
Of course, you also need to remember that both good and bad form can turn around at any time. No winning streaks last forever, nor do losing streaks. Overall, though, studying recent form can be beneficial.
Motivation is regularly dismissed as a key factor in football, but it’s something we like to consider. The motivation of individual players, and teams collectively, can definitely have an impact on performance levels. There are times when players just aren’t as motivated as they can be, and there are times when they are very determined.
There’s a flip side too though. When players are really fired up – in a big rival game for example – there’s always a risk that they’ll lose control of their emotions. Not all players are capable of channeling their motivation in a positive way, so it can actually end up having a negative effect.
This makes it hard to judge the potential effects of motivation. So you need to be careful when considering this factor for your betting decisions. Take it into account for sure, but don’t give it too much weight unless you have a very good reason to.
You should always check the injury reports before betting on a football game. Injuries to key players, or any players for that matter, can seriously damage a team’s chances of winning a game. So you want to consider which players might be missing and assess the possible impact of their absence.
Remember how we talked about the importance of team depth earlier? One of the reasons why this is so important is because of the threat of injuries. Some teams can deal with the loss of players as they have suitable players to cover, but some teams don’t have this luxury. This needs to be factored in when making your betting decision.
Yes, the weather really can affect the outcome of football games. You could argue that both teams have to play in the same conditions, so it shouldn’t affect anything, but this view is too simplistic. Some teams manage to perform well in any conditions, while others can struggle in certain conditions. Particularly when those conditions are extreme.
It’s difficult to know exactly what impact the weather will have. And you don’t even know for sure what the weather’s going to be like anyway, as weather reports aren’t always entirely accurate. So you shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the weather and the impact it might have on an upcoming game. It is something to bear in mind though, especially if you’re aware that a team has a tendency to perform badly in adverse weather conditions.
Putting it Together
Once you’ve learned all about the different factors that affect football games, and given some thought to the impact they can have, it’s time to think about how you can use that information to your advantage. How exactly does it help you make better betting decisions?
Let’s consider the following three points to start with.
- The best team doesn’t always win.
- Expect the unexpected, as anything can and will happen.
- Games can be decided on small margins.
We’ve already touched on the first two points. We’ve mentioned how football games are not always won by the team that appears to be the “best,” and that this is an unpredictable sport. We’ve also explained that this unpredictability is part of the appeal for football fans. What we haven’t mentioned yet, though, is that this unpredictability is also largely what creates the opportunity for making money from betting on football games.
This is where the third point comes in. Many football games are decided by the smallest of margins. One small factor that seems insignificant can be the difference between a team winning and a team losing. It naturally follows that small factors can also be the difference between a team covering the spread or failing to do so.
This is why you want to consider so many different factors when making betting decisions. If you just choose your picks without any real thought, those small margins are going to take you by surprise time and time again. But with proper assessment and analysis of all the relevant factors, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what’s likely to happen. You’ll never completely eliminate the element of surprise, but you can certainly reduce it. And that, ultimately, is how you’re going to make money.
Before each game, there are four key questions you need to ask.
- Which team is better on paper?
- How does the matchup look?
- How do the playing styles compare?
- Do the current circumstances favor either team?
Everything that we’ve discussed on this page will help you answer these questions with some degree of accuracy. You should be able to state which team has the better overall quality, and you should be able to draw conclusions from the matchup. Plus, you’ll be able to compare and contrast the playing styles, and determine how the game is likely to play out. Finally, you should be able to assess the circumstances of the game and see if they give either team any notable advantage.
After that, you should be able to make an informed judgement about what the result of the game is likely to be. Then you have just one more question to answer.
This last question is vitally important. The end goal is not simply to just bet on what you think is going to happen. Instead, it’s to assign probabilities to all the possible outcomes. You then compare those probabilities to the odds and lines available, to see where the value lies. Only then should you actually look to get your money down.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of value in sports betting, don’t worry. We won’t cover it here, as we’ve already given you a lot of information to process. But we do have an article dedicated to betting for value on football. We suggest reading this next!
A myriad of factors can affect the outcome of football games. It’s not practical to analyze them all before each and every game you bet on. We recommend taking into consideration the ones we’ve discussed above though. This will definitely help you make more accurate predictions.
Of course, there will still be times when things don’t go at all as you expect them to. And that’s fine. You’re not going to get it right every single time. That’s just not realistic. Football is simply too unpredictable. No amount of analysis can prepare you for a star quarterback getting injured in the first ten minutes of game, or a team on a long losing streak suddenly putting in a great performance.
All you can do is try your best to make informed judgements based on solid reasoning. If you can learn how to do that consistently and effectively, you should see an improvement in your betting results.