Like Robert De Niro's character in Silver Linings Playbook, every gambler has theories and superstitions. And if anyone's ever told you to bet on West Coast NFL teams when they play East Coast squads at night, hopefully you took their advice.
Researchers from Harvard and Stanford recently analyzed 30 years of NFL night games featuring an East-West matchup. The West Coast clubs beat the point spread 66 percent of the time -- and by an average of more than 5 points, according to the study data. (When it comes to making wagers and playing the odds, see where your city stacks up among The 100 Best Cities for Gambling.)
How come? Your physical performance is affected by circadian rhythms -- or your body's natural sleep-wake cycle. And your performance tends to peak in the late afternoon, the researchers say. As a result, the time change between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts means West teams are playing at their best, while East beasts are suiting up when their day would normally be winding down.
Now, they call it gambling for a reason -- there are no sure bets. But if rearranging remote controls and holding your team's handkerchief aren't working any better for you than they did for De Niro*, try these other science-backed betting tips. (Gain the edge in your office pool this football season. Find out how to Make Smarter NFL Bets.)
If the weather's frigid, bet on the home team, indicates research from Texas State University. Home teams who play outdoors win roughly 54 percent of the time when the temp drops below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. And that win rate climbs if the home squad is playing a team traveling from a much warmer climate -- say New England hosting Miami. Why? Vegas -- and betters -- tend to undervalue the visiting team’s lack of experience playing in cold temps, says study author Richard Borghesi, Ph.D.
If the weather’s windy, rainy, or snowy, bet the under. Your odds of winning jump as much as 9 percent, shows another of Borghesi's NFL studies. Although it seems obvious that crappy weather would affect a team’s ability to score, the over/under line tends not to factor this in, Borghesi adds. His research also shows throwing your lot behind home underdogs during the NFL playoffs is a winning strategy a whopping 78 percent of the time. (And while you're at it, make sure you know the 4 Ways the Weather Makes You Crazy.)
Pick upsets -- but not too early. When it comes to March Madness-style pools, there are usually so many entrants that picking favorites only lumps you in with the crowd, says Byran Clair, Ph.D., of St. Louis University. His research shows the best tactic percentage-wise is to pick favorites early -- say, for the first two rounds -- when an upset won’t win you many points. But in the round of 16 and beyond, you’re better off hitching your wagon to an underdog -- at least for a round or two -- to differentiate yourself from the masses. (Anyone who had Michigan in the championship game last year knows how well this can work out.) And if the tournament has a significant favorite? “Picking that team to miss the Final Four could be a good strategy” most years because very few people will do likewise, Clair says.
Never bet on black. Teams who wear black jerseys are penalized more frequently than those wearing white, according to an analysis of 50,000 NHL games from University of Florida researchers. One possible explanation: Western culture teaches us to associate white with good and black with evil, and so the refs may have a built-in bias against the dark-shirted skaters, the study authors say. (In addition, athletes from all sports count on superstitions or rituals for luck. Here are 10 of the strangest.)
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