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NFL Game Betting 101: Sandwich Theory

Over the course of a long and punishing season, even the most talented teams in the National Football League have off-games. In a perfect world, every game would have every player playing at 110 percent – sports cliché! Unfortunately, that’s not realistic as fatigue and injuries often plague even the strongest of teams.

Some games will see a team feeling fresh, confident, energetic and ready to play at a high level. In other matchups, the emotional and physical toll of a long season will rear its ugly head on the field, making a powerful squad 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 bets. It can be hard to predict when a team is going to play one of these out-of-character games, but one handicapping angle to consider is the sandwich theory.

What is the Sandwich Game Theory?

This betting angle is based on the concept that not even the strongest NFL team will be at its best all the time. With that in mind, you would look for a game that could be considered a throw-away to either take the underdog on the moneyline, the UNDER for totals, or their opponent to cover the spread.

A sandwich game is considered any matchup that is scheduled between two more important matches. This seemingly inconspicuous game provides bettors with an edge if they’re able to do their homework. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

How to Bet on Sandwich Games

Let’s use the example of the New Orleans Saints, a team that generally dominates the NFC South. Their schedule sees them playing divisional rivals twice per season, once at home and once on the road. These are important games since they want to continue their reign over the rest of the division. They also play once against each of the four teams from other divisions within their conference, two at home, and two on the road (based on a three-year rotation). In addition, they play once against one team from each of the remaining two divisions within their conference, one at home, one on the road (based on the final divisional standings from the prior season). Finally, they play once against each of the four teams from a division in the other conference, two at home, two on the road (based on a four-year rotation).

During a three-game stretch, the Saints could be playing the Falcons at home on Monday Night Football, and the 49ers and the Buccaneers, both on the road. The sandwich game would be the one against San Francisco.

It’s assumed that New Orleans would have a letdown game against the Niners since they’ve just played Atlanta at home in the Superdome in front of their own fans who dress for every matchup like they’re interviewing for a job at Party City. Then, they go all the way to Northern California to play against a non-divisional team before taking another road trip to Tampa Bay.

The Saints’ focus would be on the two divisional games. It’s quite possible that they don’t play their best against San Fran due to the rigorous travel, and need to expend as little energy as possible against a squad that isn’t in their division. Although Nola will be coming off a home win against Atlanta, that momentum may not accompany them to Cali where they’re in a different time zone and colder weather.

Think of the two bookend matchups as the bread in this sandwich scenario. Without the bread, you don’t have a sandwich, you have meat and maybe some cheese being held together with nothing. What a mess!

Handicapping Games using Sandwich Theory

To get the edge on a bet like this, keep up to date on a team’s previous performance. You can use our NFL Database to see how they’ve done as an underdog/favorite or on the road/at home against their opponent. It might also be a good idea to fade the public, aka go against the consensus, if they’re heavily backing the team that is in the middle of its sandwich scenario. Furthermore, look at travel distances and time zones to see how far a team is going and how many hours they’re losing or gaining.

Sandwiching Week 17

The last week of the NFL season will see dominant teams locking in their spot at the top of their division, securing a playoff berth. It will also see those teams sitting their starters to give them a chance to rest up for the upcoming postseason games. You can treat these Week 17 matchups as you would a sandwich game and assume that the stronger team is benching its stars and won’t be playing at a high level.

Many bettors combine their sandwich wagers with halftime bets as a form of insurance. As these bets can be quite risky, you can always take the other side of the bet at the half to recoup potential losses.

You can look to our Betting Trends page for even more handicapping info. We also offer Free Picks in case you’re stumped and want to see what our Super Computer is predicting for the score, how each team will perform ATS, and the projected total.