NFL Football Betting: Handicapping Illnesses in Sports

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:

In the previous two articles we’ve looked in depth at the illness suffered by New York Jets’ quarterback Sam Darnold and the short and longterm implication it could have on the team this season. 

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In this article, we’ll move from the ‘micro’ to the ‘macro’ and look at some broader concepts.  More specifically, we’ll consider a few things to look for when handicapping teams that are missing players due to illness.  Although we’ve been focusing on Darnold and NFL football the same concepts at work here are also at play in other team sports.


This general advice is valid for both injuries and illnesses.  As has been evident by the movement in the line on the Jets/Browns game following the announcement that Darnold will be out the public has a pronounced tendency to overreact.  At, the pointspread on the game had the Browns favored by -2.5 before Darnold was ruled out.  Within an hour and a half it shot up to Browns -6.5.  It has remained there ever since though there are a few books on the screen showing the Browns at -7.  As we talked about at length in yesterday’s article there’s just no way to justify this line move.  The ‘replacement value’ of backup Trevor Siemian is certainly not 4 points less than starter Sam Darnold.  Siemian actually has more experience as a starter and their statistical metrics of the two quarterbacks are almost identical.

There is almost always value to be had in injury/illness situations such as this one.  The higher profile the team and player, the more overreaction you can expect from the public.  For that reason, the correct move in most cases is to wait and see how high the line moves and then bet the other side.  There are some exceptions—teams that experience a long term, catastrophic injury to a key player sometimes don’t recover.  This is particularly true for younger teams or teams without strong coaching or veteran locker room leadership.  It is also prevalent when a team doesn’t have a viable replacement.  Finally, there are some injuries and illnesses that are so emotionally devastating that they have an impact beyond replacing a player’s statistical output.  An example of this was Magic Johnson’s 1992 announcement that he was retiring immediately due to a HIV Positive diagnosis.  This was a very talented team that had been a +600 choice to win the NBA title before the season.  Magic’s shocking retirement was something the team never recovered from.  Mike Dunleavy was a very experienced head coach and Sedale Threatt was a serviceable option at point guard.  Nevertheless, the Lakers finished 43-39, 6th in the Pacific Division and were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Portland Trailblazers.  The previous season they had lost in the NBA Finals with essentially the same personnel.


Thanks to websites like WebMD and the Mayo Clinic, a comprehensive overview of any illness or injury is available to anyone.  It’s important to understand the relevant illness, it’s symptoms and progression and recovery time.  Also important is any lingering effects post illness such as weight loss or fatigue. Furthermore, it’s also important to understand how contagious it is and how it spreads.  The information you obtain here will be helpful for the final two concepts we’ll address.


Athletes may be in great shape but they’re still human.  Like any human, it sometimes takes time after an illness has run it’s course to regain full strength and energy.  The extent and severity of post illness effects varies widely which is why you need to educate yourself as suggested above.  Some teams have the luxury of bringing a player recovering from an illness back slowly.  Others rush them back in the lineup, often bringing about negative results.


Once again, the specifics vary depending on the type of illness.  Just because there’s only one player named on the injury list as being ‘Out’ with an illness that doesn’t mean the rest of the team is in the clear.  This is particularly true for highly contagious illnesses such as the flu.  If there are players on the injury report sidelined by the flu you can be certain that there are others on the team that are ‘under the weather’ or suffering from ‘flu like symptoms’ of less severity.  Some illnesses aren’t as contagious or easier for teammates to prevent.

Like everything else in sports betting, the takeaway is to avoid ‘following the herd’ and overreacting to knee jerk judgments.  This concept is also true in injury situations though with illnesses the risk of cross infecting teammates makes a more nuanced analysis necessary.

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