4 Ways Evaluating the Human Elements in Sports Can Help You Win More Bets

Thinking Man in Front of a Laptop on Left with a Hockey Player and a Football Player on Right

Anyone who’s ever played sports at a high level knows that there are a number of factors that impact the outcome of a game that have nothing to do with the X’s and O’s. Things like revenge, desperation, and many other feelings we experience as human beings can all play a role in what happens on the field, the ice, or the court.

Unfortunately for sports bettors, these emotions don’t typically show up anywhere on a stat sheet. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them into account when betting on games. In this article, I’ll explain how looking at the human element can help you win more bets.

1 – Rivalry Games in College

When it comes to games like the Red River Shootout (or is it showdown now?), Ohio State vs. Michigan, Duke vs. UNC, and even lesser-known rivalries that don’t feature premier programs, a rivalry game means you can throw your stat sheet out the window.

When it comes to these types of matchups, a major upset doesn’t quite feel all that surprising. I’m not saying you can entirely throughout considerations for talent, record, etc., but if the odds are good, the underdog is worth taking a look at.

This is even more recognizable when the underdog is at home and the favorite is forced to travel to a hostile atmosphere to play a team (and a wild home crowd) that has nothing to lose. The list of major underdogs who have defeated a highly-ranked rival school when they come to town is too long to list.

Once again, I want to reiterate that just because you identify a situation in which a heavy-favorite, highly-ranked school is going on the road to play their top rival, that doesn’t mean that you have to take the dog every time.

However, I would say it’s a reminder that you shouldn’t be taking the moneyline favorite in this scenario.  When it comes to 18-22 year-olds, emotions are a major factor in performance, and when the stakes are raised anything can happen.

2 – Postseason Considerations

Does [x] team need a win to make it to the playoffs, while their opponent in the upcoming has been out of the running for weeks? If this is the case, it’s important to recognize that the real mismatch is in the motivation each team is going to have to play their best.

One of my favorite cliché sayings in all of sports (and there is an infinite list of these) is “you can’t fake desperation.” Whether it’s an NFL team going into the fourth quarter of a playoff game down by 10 points, or an NBA team who’s playing their first home game of the playoff series after dropping two on the road, there’s an unquantifiable advantage to absolutely needing a victory.

It’s an advantage that can be overcome by a better team who is able to execute despite the circumstances, but seriously – how many times has a team gone down 0-2 in the NBA playoffs, returned to their home court and managed to get a victory in Game 3?

NBA Bubble 2020

The same philosophy can be applied to college football games as well. For example, if a team is heading into the conference championship game needing a win to get into the College Football Playoff, they’re probably going to play harder than a team who is coming off a crushing defeat that all-but-eliminated their chance at capturing a title.

I don’t want to make it sound like things like talent and coaching aren’t relevant – they are, and always will be important to evaluate when trying to predict the outcome of a game. But if you’re looking at the spread for a particular matchup and there’s a noticeable mismatch in how badly each team needs to win the game, perhaps that talent might not go as far as it would under a different circumstance.

3 – Media Hype

Another great sports cliché is the concept of “bulletin board” material. It happens dozens of times every year, in every sport – a player (or coach) takes the mic at a press conference and proceeds to give a comment that isn’t exactly complimentary of the upcoming opponent.

Of course, this can be manufactured. Some coaches, Bill Belichick for example, have made careers out of getting their guys to play just a little bit harder and more focused in order to make a naysayer eat his or her words. One could argue that’s part of what makes him an all-time coach.

No matter the sport or professional status, from grade school to the NBA, when someone starts talking down to you or your team, you have that extra motivation to prove them wrong.

The next time the media creates (and yes, these are often media creations at the start) a feud between rival players or coaches, consider betting on the side who feels the most slighted in the situation. Many high-level athletes have lived their lives “proving people wrong,” and they’re always ready to do it again.

4 – The Dreaded Trap Game

The “trap game” has been the sportsbook’s best friend since they started taking bets in the mid-20th century (depending on who you ask). If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a trap game is a situation in which a good team has an easier opponent followed by a marquee matchup that has been circled on the schedule since it came out.

For example, Georgia might be playing against a 2-4 Tennessee team in Week 7, and a 6-0 top-ranked Alabama team in week 8. Where do you think their attention is going to be?

The focus is always on the game at hand, and athletes know that the consequences of looking ahead can be severe. Still, this article about the ‘human’ element, and the trap game highlights a very human response to a situation such as the one I’ve laid out above.

Sports bettors should always be checking the schedules before making a bet to gain a clearer picture of what each team has been about throughout the season. Still, when I say “look at the schedule,” that typically is going to mean looking back at the previous games that a team has played – not necessarily looking at what lies ahead.

One thing is for sure though, everyone on the sideline knows when the biggest games of the season are taking place.

NFL Ben Roethlisberger Getting Sacked

When the game before the “big game” has a large spread – think 21+ points – chances are the favorite can win without putting in maximum effort. Also, as the game enters the fourth quarter, assuming the better team has a relatively comfortable lead, the starters may get taken out to preserve them for the more important game on the schedule.

If you have only one takeaway from this article, it should be that recognizing the trap game phenomenon is going to help you big-time. The funny thing about the trap game is that it’s often said in this context, “Well, should have seen that one coming – total trap game!” Bettors tend to recognize it after the game, even though it was clearly visible beforehand.

Those with a low risk tolerance might have a hard time trusting the trap game. Even though you won’t get every single one right, there’s a reason it’s become one of the most recognizable phenomena in sports gambling.

Our Thoughts on These Tips

Gambling is inherently concerned with numbers and quantifiable factors that can be relied upon to help us make the right prediction. If you’re talking about the casino, this might be all you need. When it comes to sports, however, you need to go beyond just the data.

Obviously evaluating the “human element” is more of an art than a science.  But in this article I’ve provided specific scenarios in which you can expect emotions to have a significant impact on the outcome of games. If you’ve been struggling to win bets lately, start incorporating this aspect into your evaluation strategy and see if your luck doesn’t turn around.