Winter does not officially arrive until Dec. 21 but cold climate, particularly when it’s accompanied by windy or snowy conditions, should be a part of any handicapping and wagering analysis for NFL betting fans.
It’s important to understand that when sportsbooks post their NFL lines on Sunday evening, they do so with the anticipation that weather conditions for the following Sunday’s games will be “normal,” simply because severe weather, even in the heart of winter, is more the exception than the rule. Like bet makers, bet takers also have access to long-range weather forecasts but, although computer models have aided those involved in the science of meteorology to make significant progress in weather forecasting, anyone who has ever been caught in the rain without an umbrella because he relied on one of these forecasts, knows this is an inexact science.
So, how do savvy NFL betting protagonists take advantage of this gap in science and oddsmaking? The first step is to recognize that snowy, windy, muddy or extremely cold conditions can have the effect of reducing scoring and leveling the playing field. Teams with superior passing attacks lose that advantage in severe wind or snowy conditions. Poor visibility and questionable footing limits a football team’s offensive options. You can’t throw the ball if your hands are too cold to even hold it.
There is no better example of this final point than the now infamous 2001 AFC divisional playoff game known as the “Tuck Rule Game” game, contested in a snowstorm between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders in Foxboro, Massachusetts on January 19, 2002. The name “Tuck Rule Game” originates from the controversial game-changing play where Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lost control of the football while being sacked by Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson. Originally ruled a fumble, the play was overturned on replay, ruled an incomplete pass, turning a certain Oakland victory (both straight up and against the spread) into a 16-13 overtime win for New England that allowed the Pats to push on the 3-point spread. The over/under on the game was 38.
The Patriots were involved in another memorable NFL game where weather played a huge factor, the “Snowplow Game” versus the Miami Dolphins at Schaefer Stadium on Dec. 12, 1982.
Heavy Saturday night rains froze the Astroturf field, a condition made far worse when a significant snowstorm hit the area Sunday morning. Officials enacted an emergency ground rule that allowed a snowplow operator to clear the yard markers. Despite the rule, the field could not be plowed often enough for the offenses to operate effectively and the teams struggled to score points in the difficult conditions.
With the game still scoreless in the fourth quarter, snowplow operator Mark Henderson—a folk hero in New England—cleared a spot on the field specifically for Patriots place kicker John Smith, who nailed a 33-yard field goal. That was the only score in the game and the Patriots won, 3-0.
The best football betting strategy for attacking these December games is to bet the underdog and/or the under early in the week and hope for adverse weather. If you believe that sportsbooks do an excellent job at posting accurate numbers—and they do—then even if the Sunday conditions are clear, you have the underdog and/or under at a fair price. But if snow, extreme cold, wind, sleet or heavy rain arrives, you probably have “stolen” an advantage.
An alternative strategy is to wait to see if adverse conditions develop and act accordingly at that time. However, operators of sportsbooks are privy to the same information and will adjust their prices when the threat of poor weather becomes more likely. That said, because of liability and the threat of being “middled” or “sided” on a game, line changes tend to be made slowly–usually a half-point at a time—so there’s an argument to be made for patience.
Of course, these underdog/under bets only apply to teams playing in outdoor stadiums in cities where winter weather can be a handicap, such as Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Green Bay, Kansas City, New England, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington.
Of the NFL cities listed above, only San Francisco is free from severe winter weather. But the “City by the Bay” has some of the windiest conditions in the United States. In fact, sports historians may recall the 1961 Major League Baseball All-Star game in which the Giants pitcher, 165-pound Stu Miller, famously was “blown off the mound” at Candlestick Park, resulting in him being called for a balk. Imagine what a strong wind can do to a 14.5-ounce NFL football.
As the calendar turns to winter, NFL betting fans who don’t respect Mother Nature and fail to analyze weather factors could be left out in the cold.