If you are going to have success handicapping the NFL, you have to pay attention to the injury report on a consistent basis. A lot of amateurs make the mistake of focusing only on the injuries to star players and overlooking the guys who don’t receive a lot of attention from the media. Plus, they don’t know the point spread values assigned to the players that are missing.
It’s no secret that the most important position in regards to how an injury can impact a game is the quarterback, especially if we are talking about a top level signal caller. The elite NFL quarterbacks can be worth anywhere from 4-points to a touchdown on the spread. The thing to keep in mind, is that oddsmakers are almost always going to over-adjust the line in these circumstances, as few are willing to lay their hard earned money on a backup quarterback. So before you jump to fade a team that just lost their starting quarterback, keep in mind that you are betting into an inflated line.
It’s easy to pay attention to injuries to quarterbacks, as the media outlets are quick to bring these to our attention, but it’s not the only position that can have a huge impact on the outcome of a game. On the offensive side of the ball, injuries to wide receivers, tight ends and fullbacks are definitely ones that you want to focus on when it comes to the skill positions, while injuries to running backs aren’t all that important.
This is where a lot of people get in trouble, as it’s easy to over-react to a team that just lost a star running back. In reality it’s not all that important to the overall success of a team. Almost every NFL team has a capable backup running back who can quickly step in and put up similar numbers to that of the starter, but that’s not the case for wide receivers, tight ends and fullbacks.
If you think about it, it makes sense. A teams’ starting wide receivers spend countless hours forming chemistry and most importantly timing with the starting quarterback. Rarely do the backup wide outs get time with the starting unit in practice. When they get forced into action, the chemistry and timing simply isn’t there. An injury to a starting tight end can be even worse, as many times these are the guys that quarterbacks count on being open when under pressure. You might be asking why an injury to a fullback would matter all that much. The key thing to remember here is that few teams carry more than one fullback. If there’s not a capable backup, those formations that require a fullback may be thrown out of the game plan entirely.
It’s also worth noting that injuries to exterior offensive linemen (tackles) typically have a larger impact than that of interior offensive linemen (guards and center). This also makes sense, as it’s a lot easier for a quarterback to avoid pressure up the middle, than on the outside. Also, if the offensive line can’t set the edge on the outside, it will also hurt their ability to run the football.
As far as the defense is concerned, injuries on this side of the ball historically don’t have all that big of impact in the outcome of a game. In terms of importance, linebacker and safety are the two positions that you want to pay attention to, while injuries up front on the defensive line and at cornerback aren’t something you need to be overly concerned with.
While evidence suggests that some positions are more important than others, in order to take full advantage of the value that may or may not present itself when a team suffers an injury to a key player, you need to make sure to check the depth charts of the team in question. Some teams may have a more than capable backup at a key position, where an injury to a starter won’t hurt them. Others may not have adequate depth at some less important positions, where an injury could drastically reduce their chances of winning.