Even before I worked in the front office of the Oakland Raiders, I had developed an appreciation for the role motivation plays in the outcome of a National Football League game. Then, during those four seasons with the Raiders, I got to see first hand why this is so.
If the players on a team were just as excited as their fans tailgating in the parking lot every week before a home game, the motivation would not play as important of a role as it does. But, you have to know that while the fans can get pumped up for rooting on their home team, those players were going about their business all week in preparation for that game, and in some weeks they just weren’t as into their job as in others.
I suspect that many of the fans that get pumped on game day may not have had a high level of enthusiasm all week for the job they perform to make a living. Sometimes, a person’s work will have extra significance in preparation for a big event, while much of a person’s work life is marked by a routine that can often become mundane.
I know this is sacrilegious to enthusiastic fans, but those players simply have a job, and sometimes it takes second place to difficult situations at home, or the same challenges we all face negotiating everyday life.
When an upcoming contest on the athletic field appears easily achievable without extra effort, the preparation for that game can wane. How a team plays on game day is directly tied to how they prepared all week. A challenge that does not summon their best effort, will often result in a poor performance on game day.
Okay, I watched when the Raiders prepared for a critical contest against a formidable foe, like the Pittsburgh Steelers or Miami Dolphins, and how their preparation was less intense and focused when preparing for an opponent they were confident they would easily beat.
With charts that track a number of factors that contribute to motivation, when I first opened Qoxhi Picks in 1981, I accepted the fact that there would be times when I was betting on a team I thought would be motivated based on the challenge they faced and they got blown away simply because their opponent was that much better. I considered this a necessary price to pay for the opportunity of always backing a motivated team that won more often than not.
I have been less likely in more recent years to expect the overmatched but motivated teams to always be able to overcome talent disparities. Tonight, is one of the games that thirty years ago I would have been backing the home team underdog. I would have confidently thought there was no other play possible when the Philadelphia Eagles host the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks are coming off a huge home win 11 days ago over the Arizona Cardinals and the Eagles are locked in the war of attrition in the NFC East against three other division opponents without a winning record. Since their bye week, the Eagles have lost two games against opponents less talented than Seattle, namely the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns.
But, before I, and you I suggest, run over to the book to get down on the home team underdog tonight, I recommend we take a lesson from yesterday’s game in Denver. The Broncos had to play the contest without a player on their roster listed as a quarterback. That was because backup Jeff Driskel tested positive for Covid-19 and he was in quarterback meetings that forced the rest of the Denver field generals, Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles, to a minimum of five days isolation.
That means Denver took on the talented New Orleans Saints defense with a wide receiver, Kendall Hinton, forced to play quarterback.
Can you imagine the motivation for the Broncos here?
They have an unbelievable challenge and no doubt prepared with an intense focus.
How did that work out?
Turns out a New Orleans team that might have been supremely confident, coming into the Mile High City riding a seven game win streak, didn’t need any extra motivation to dominate the home standing Broncos. Without a proven quarterback, the Broncos completed only one of nine passes on the day, Denver never appeared on the verge of cracking the endzone while being crushed on their home field, 31-3.
Which is an abject lesson that sometimes talent is just too much to overcome even for a highly motivated team.
Like perhaps tonight, when the talented Seahawks visit the City of Brotherly Love looking to take control of their division race after both the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals lost yesterday.
I’m not ready to bet on talent alone to both win a game and cover a bloated point spread, but I have evolved to the point where I’m not looking to slay a dragon with a slingshot.