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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, January 6, 2012 at 7:22 PM

There are certain strategies that must be used when analyzing Wildcard games in the NFL playoffs. These strategies aren’t guaranteed to get every single game right. But, they will put you in position to have an edge much more often than not. And, that’s what being a professional wagerer is all about. You have to win more than you lose against that 10% vigorish that sportsbooks use to discourage you.

It would take a series of books to express to you EVERYTHING I’ve learned about playoff handicapping over my long career in this industry. I’ll do my best to narrow it all down to the most basic fundamentals these next few weeks, as I talk about handicapping the Wildcard games (today), the Divisional round (next week), the Conference Championships (in two weeks), and the Super Bowl (which will be here before you know it!).

Today, let’s look at strategies for handicapping the Wildcard games…

1…you regulars know my first step in football handicapping is ALWAYS to look at the playmakers. This can be tricky during Wildcard Weekend because many of the best NFL playmakers got byes! They’re playing for the four teams who don’t take the field until next weekend. You’ve probably watched a lot of Green Bay Packers games on TV this year…and a lot of the New England Patriots. Cincinnati and Atlanta? Not so much for many of you.

Still, the absence of guys from teams who aren’t playing yet isn’t really a concern. You must count up the playmakers for all eight teams in action this weekend and look for edges. An additional thing I do during Wildcard weekend is that I will SUBTRACT points for quarterbacks who aren’t playmakers. In a “must win” game, quarterbacks must keep firing until the very end. This is often a disaster for teams whose quarterbacks aren’t ready for that. They throw interceptions. They get sacked and fumble. Their inexperience or lack of big play ability becomes a dominant part of the storyline.

In short:

Bet on playmakers

Bet against quarterbacks who have a good chance of imploding

2…look at how each opposing defense is positioned (or not positioned), to stop or at least slow down the playmakers they’ll be facing. Soft defenses have very little chance to thrive in the postseason because they’re going to give up a few big plays. That’s all it takes! However, a great defense can complete disrupt the playmakers on the other team….which allows them to take control of the game.

Wildcard Weekend usually presents an array of defenses. Many borderline postseason qualifiers are known to have strong offenses but mediocre defenses, or strong defenses but mediocre offenses. That’s why they were good enough to get into the playoffs…but not good enough to earn a bye. Be sure you know the true strengths and weaknesses of the defenses on the field this weekend.

In short:

Bet on strong defenses who are capable of neutralizing playmakers

Bet against weak defenses who will get abused by playmakers

3…study the game conditions to see if they’re likely to favor one style of play over another. An up tempo passing team playing indoors is going to be in great shape except against the most elite of opposing defenses. Stick them outdoors in iffy conditions, and things can get really messy. On the other hand, an offense built around the run can grab a firm stranglehold on a game played in cold weather on a poor playing surface. Don’t put any money down until you have a great read on how the combination of opposing defense and game conditions will influence the playmakers and gamebreakers.

This may be more important THIS weekend than in any other. The very best teams will find a way to win in any conditions. But, the caliber of team that has to play in Wildcard games can look like champions one week but chumps the next (think of Seattle playing very well at home in the first round last year even though they weren’t even a playoff caliber team in the big picture).  

In short:

Bet on teams who are favored by weather and field conditions

Bet against teams who aren’t well suited to those conditions

4...try to anticipate turnover probabilities. You always hear head coaches and TV announcers talk about how important turnovers are. Yet, you hear a lot of gamblers say stuff like “there’s no way you can handicap turnovers.” It’s my view that turnovers are important, and that they CAN be handicapped to a degree that’s meaningful for bettors.

There are turnover-prone quarterbacks, and there are safe, conservative quarterbacks. Experience is better than inexperience. Windy games have more turnover potential than those played indoors. Wildcard Weekend is known to have extremes in this area because borderline qualifiers are prone to play toward extremes. There are past Super Bowl winners on the field Saturday and Sunday…but there are also two rookie quarterbacks and a guy who might as well be a rookie in Tim Tebow. If you hear a bettor say that you can’t handicap turnovers, explain to him that Advanced Handicappers can!

I have to keep many of my personal strategies private because my paying customers deserve that consideration. What I’ve outlined for you today are the basics that apply to all football analysis…but then aimed directly at the challenges you’ll be facing Saturday and Sunday. Bet on teams with clear edges. Bet the Over in any game where both offenses are in position to thrive. Bet the Under in any game where both defenses can impose their will.

If you’d like additional assistance, my personal plays can be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

I’ll be back again for another installment from my College of Advanced Handicapping early next week. Be sure to check the homepage of this website for video updates throughout the weekend. Thanks again for bringing your time and energy to my College of Advanced Handicapping.

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