To dog or not to dog

(warning #1: if sports bore you, then don’t even bother trying to readag this.)

(warning #2: if gambling on sports bothers you, again don’t read this. And if you think i have a gambling problem, then realize that i have exactly 19.5 cents riding on each NFL game during the season. That 2 dimes per game, or $50 for the whole season. Show me some other form of entertainment that costs $50 and lasts from September to January.)

picking NFL games against the spread is an exercise in futility. and yes, it’s no coincidence that i’m saying this following an abysmal 3-11 Week (MNF game pending). For the record, i went 12-4 last week. But picking NFL games, there’s just no science to it, I don’t care what anyone tells me. There’s alot of factors that go into this i think.

  • Factor 1: parity. The difference between the 5th best team in the league and the 5th worst team in the league is closer than you think.
  • Factor 2: the spreads themselves. Vegas puts them right where they want them; to get equal action on both sides. So, in essence, they are reducing the game down to a coin flip. Will Dallas win by more than 3? Will the Vikings keep the game within single digits? It’s a coin flip.
  • Factor 3: teams can score points in bunches of 1, 2, 3, and 6 points. No other sport offers this. In Hockey and Baseball, each time you put the puck in the net or step on home plate it always counts the same. Basketball offers scoring in 1,2, and 3 increments, but there’s certainly no 6-point shot. (Imagine how crazy that would make the game!). In football, you can score 14 points in a couple of plays.
  • Factor 4: the performance rollercoaster. Look at the Browns. Last week they get shut out 30-0 by the Bengals, this week they beat the Chiefs. I can give you 100 examples of teams playing great one week and bad the next.
  • Factor 5: Small sample size. Imagine how frustrating it would be trying to handicap regular season baseball games? On any given night the best team in baseball can lose to the worst and we wouldn’t blink an eye. Maybe if the best team got swept in a 4-game series by the worst, we might raise an eyebrow. But one game? Anything can happen. So why is it then, that we think this maxim doesn’t apply to football? Is it because teams only play 16 games in a season, so each game is about 6% of the entire schedule? Perhaps.

So here is sit, there’s 4 weeks left to go in the season and i am just a few wins out of first place in my Picks league, despite my chokejob this weekend. Or maybe it wasnt a chokejob, maybe i just got unlucky. So how do i try and get lucky this weekend? Maybe instead of trying to guess at how each individual game will play out i should pick one variable and make it my constant. Maybe i should just take all the underdogs. How would that have worked out for me over the past 8 weeks?

  • My record over the last 8 weeks: 57-60 (49%). Not terrible, but not gonna win me anything.
  • Underdogs over the last 8 wks: 71-46 (61%). Wow. If I would have started taking only the dogs since Week 6, I’d be in first place by 12 wins right now.

Do i have the cajones to just go with all dogs this week? Not sure that i do. If it doesn’t work out so well, I’ll feel like a moron and kick myself for not evaluating each game. If it does, will i look like a shmoe for taking all the dogs? Frankly, i don’t care what i look like, so that’s not even a factor.

Why does the underdog thing have a chance to work? Because Vegas won’t correct it. What Vegas does is adjust the spreads each week based on the team’s performance the week before. But like we’ve already seen, a team’s performance from week to week can vary like New England weather. Coming off the shutout loss, the Browns were getting 5.5 from the Chiefs at home. Had the score been reversed and it was a 30-0 Browns win over the Bengals, I can almost assure you that the Browns would have been favored against the Chiefs, or 1.5 dogs at the worst. So Vegas plays with the spreads based on past performance, and they should, because that’s what bettors take into account. And remember, all Vegas wants is an equal amount of bettors on either side of the number.

For Vegas to correct the Underdog thing, it would basically have to set all the lines like normal, and then shave off a few points from the line for every game. They don’t work like that though. The only way that would happen would be if all underdogs were getting a majority of the action (which is possible if everyone else is onto this underdog thing), forcing Vegas to entice more people to take the favorites to even things out. I’m sure I’m oversimplifying here, and have no idea what I’m talking about, but hey it’s fun to pretend.

So, I guess if i decide to go the underdog route, i need to carry it through and commit to it for the last 4 weeks of the season. Picking only dogs for just one week will be reintroducing the sample size problem that evaluating each game on its own carries. But wait, wasn’t i just saying a few paragraphs ago that this whole thing isn’t a science, and now I’m trying to break it down again? Chock it up to my nerdiness, or maybe this Dunkin Donuts coffee that is running through my veins right now.

Then again, maybe I’m taking all the fun out of this. Evaluating each game and convincing yourself that one side is a sure thing is supposed to be the fun part. It’s supposed to be, but it’s really not. If I’m honest, the fun part is looking down at my sheet and seeing that i’m 9-2 after the early games like last week. The not-so-fun part is putting time and energy into it and laying an egg, like i did this week.

To dog or not to dog, that is the question. Will i go with the trends and take the “fun” out of it by picking all of the underdogs? Or will i evaluate each game on its own using my God-given noggin and let the chips fall where they may? The latter is the method that has me in third place through 13 weeks, but also drives me crazy when i go 3-11. The former might be the easy way out by taking the Bryan-element out of the way (protecting my ego in the process), but the numbers say it could lead me to victory.

I’ve got 3 days to figure out which way to go.