Over the course of a long and punishing season, even the most talented teams in the league have off-games. In a perfect world, every game would have every player playing at a 100%, but that just isn’t realistic.
Some games will see a team feeling fresh, confident, energetic, and ready to play at a high level. In other games, the emotional and physical toll of a long season will show on the field or court, making a team look sluggish and unfocused.
Every week we see teams inexplicably play way above or below their potential, much to our joy when we are on the right side of those instances and much to our dismay when we are on the wrong side. In many cases, it is hard to predict when a team is going to play one of these out-of-character games, but one angle to consider is the Sandwich Game Theory.
A “sandwich game” is a seemingly inconspicuous game sandwiched between two very important or very difficult games. For example, let’s say that the 2010 Indianapolis Colts had the following three games on their schedule in a row; at New Orleans, then home to Buffalo, and Tennessee.
A rematch against the team that beat Indianapolis in the Super Bowl would obviously spark a ton of emotion, as the Colts would love to get some form of revenge. The game against Tennessee is against a tough division rival and would have playoff and division title implications, another big game for which they’ll need to raise their emotional ante.
And then there is lowly Buffalo, at home. It would be extremely difficult for Indianapolis to bring their best effort in that game. Coming off an emotional win or loss to New Orleans and looking ahead to next week’s game against Tennessee, it would be easy to lose focus against an “easy” team like Buffalo.
When you see a situation such as this one, when a team has an “easy”, non-division opponent in between two big games, give them a strong look. You will likely catch the team in its sandwich game playing something less than their best.