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Injuries and the NFL Point Spread

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Updated September 11, 2008

Injuries and the NFL Point Spread

The injury to New England quarterback Tom Brady has forced oddsmakers and football bettors to do some major adjustments to the Patriots' power ratings. If there was one player in the National Football League whose team could least afford to lose, it was the Patriots and Brady.

The long-standing rule in the National Football League has generally been that an injured quarterback was worth a three-point or four-point adjustment in the point spread, but Brady is certainly an exception. While oddsmakers have said Brady's injury is probably worth close to an eight-point adjustment, it's difficult to tell if that is enough, at least in the first two or three games with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Once Cassel gets a few more games under his belt, a seven- or eight-point adjustment may be more than enough. Only time will tell.

The difference between an average NFL starter and his back-up isn't nearly as great as most people believe, but clearly, Brady is no average starter. Looking at the top two quarterbacks for all of the NFL teams this season, the only quarterbacks who may rate more than a 3.5-point adjustment are Peyton Manning and Tony Romo, while arguments can be made for Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Carson Palmer. Remember, it's not necessarily the actual difference between the starter and the back-up that causes the adjustment in the point spread, but how much difference the public perceives between the two.

Offensive and Defensive Injuries

An injury to a star running back or wide receiver is typically worth one or two points in the point spread, but that is generally reserved for the biggest names, such as Randy Moss, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Adrian Peterson. An injury to a normal starting wide receiver isn't likely to force any adjustment in the point spread, as most teams have several capable receivers who will be moved up one spot on the depth chart.

Injuries to offensive linemen are practically never given consideration by the oddsmakers, even when the starting center or left tackle will be out.

Defensive injuries are given little, if any, consideration by the oddsmakers. A star defensive player may be worth a half-point in the line, but that is it. Even that would be reserved for the top dozen defensive players in the league.

Should You Wager on Teams With Injuries?

For many years, the way of thinking was to wager on teams who were missing a big-name player. The rationale was that not only were bettors getting a break in the point spread, but the rest of the team would put forth extra effort to compensate for the injury.

But eventually the oddsmakers caught on, which is one reason why the adjustments in the point spread for an injury are relatively small.

For the most part, bettors can generally disregard injuries to the vast majority of players, with quarterbacks being the primary exception. An injury to a quarterback is the one area that has the potential to affect that outcome of a game the most.

The other area bettors should be concerned with is cluster injuries. These occur when several players who play the same position are injured. Individually, these may not matter a great deal, but collectively, these types of injuries can have an negative impact on a team. An example would be a team missing several wide receivers, offensive linemen, or defensive backs.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is there is no reason to bet against a team with an injured starter, just as there is no reason to automatically wager on that team. If you have any doubts about how a replacement player will perform, the best thing to do is pass on the game and wait to see for yourself how the back-up does.

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