The 2002–2003 season also saw another major change to further cloud the picture. The introduction of a 32nd team, the Houston Texans, into the NFL gave its administrators the chance to reorganise the league from its existing six divisions into eight, each containing four teams. The effects are open to debate, but one clear consequence will be the increased chance of a team winning a weak division with a losing record while a team with a winning record in a stronger division fails to make the play-offs.
The importance of winning the maximum number of games and securing a bye week in the play-offs should also mean less meaningless end-of-season games where neither team has anything riding on the result. Suffice to say, the full impact of the change, and the trends it leads to, may take several years to come to light. What is apparent is that the nature of the league means more teams are in contention to win the Superbowl in the last few weeks of the season now than ever before.
Of course, there is an argument to be made that if the NFL season has become so difficult to predict then what chance do punters have? I would suggest that on the contrary the unpredictability can work in our favour. Bookmakers who price up the league on reputation and last year’s standings alone are asking for trouble. There is true value to be had on American Football whether it is a long-term bet or individual matches.