Divisional Review (1/16/12)

By Paul

Monday, January 16 at 6:30 PM ET
It is very important to us to be transparent and honest about our picks. I always try to recap each football weekend. With the addition of the TrendFinder database, which tracks all performance for all of our information (against published lines in every sport), the blog will focus more on topics beyond performance. Our performance is now as transparent as it can possibly get. We will still do our best to note areas of strength, while acknowledging areas of weakness - honing in on what this means to subscribers as it applies and touching on other, "big picture" topics in the process.

This blog will review the NFL Playoffs division results, the BCS Championship game, the NBA trial and performance and future blogs. Next week, we will discuss college basketball performance, especially as it relates to unique homecourt advantage (Cliff's Notes: we have historically hit greater than 60% ATS on neutral courts in college basketball, yet have not found nearly as much success in regular season, non-neutral games, but we hope that will change/improve as we further incorporate "new" information/tweaks to homecourt advantage and player/team data this week), including publishing college basketball homecourt and overall team power rankings.

As a reminder, at midnight ET each day, we make all of our previous day's subscriber content available for free for registered users. Performance is also tracked in the TrendFinder Database (updated every morning from the previous day). We're never going to hide anything. So even though we have to swap out articles in the archive to focus on new ones, articles never go away. Just make sure to use the correct week and date in the URL - or ask us for the link...

NFL Division Weekend:
If last week's story was about "the streak" (which extended to 14 consecutive correct ATS NFL Playoff picks before losing Detroit +10.5 in New Orleans) ending, a different type of streak must be considered. With a 3-1 ATS weekend, where we lost our weakest/barely playable pick (55.2% on Denver +13.5), but won our three "normal" or better picks (57%+ to cover), we have still yet to miss a strong opinion ATS in the NFL Playoffs. Including New Orleans +5.5, which was 60.6% likely to cover over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV - two weeks after we launched the site - "normal" or better NFL Playoff opinions are 10-0 ATS. Line movement in the next two days, injuries and weather could play a role, but it looks as though we will have at least one and potentially two "normal" or better ATS opinions in the conference championships (this was not the case last year when the conference championship and Super Bowl ATS opinions were all "weak" yet still went 3-0).

In total, picks went 5-1 ATS and O/U on the Divisional Playoff weekend with two "no picks" on the O/U. The OVER (52.5) in the Giants @ Packers game was a "normal" pick that covered with Brandon Jacobs' "dagger" 14 yard touchdown run with 2:36 left to go. The UNDER (35.5) actually moved up to 37.5 in the Texans @ Ravens game, which moved our confidence from 53.6% to 57.0% in the Play Analyzer. With a 20-13 final (as opposed to our 19-15 prediction), the UNDER covered against either line.

The assumption that the linesmakers/public overvalued the elite offenses proved accurate with covers by the three underdogs that had a legitimate chance of winning (Denver only won 21.9% in our projections). What was most notable and surprising on the weekend though, was that the two NFC underdogs won outright. San Francisco (+3.5) and New York (+8) looked like the right sides regardless of "luck," but luck definitely played a role in those wins. It would have been impossible for anyone to predict that two teams that finished the season +21 in turnover margin would be -7 combined in just one weekend. I know where our pick is headed right now, but, with the two surprising NFC opponents squaring off in San Francisco, it will be fascinating to see where the action heads (after opening up at SF -2 or -2.5 in most places, early action was on San Francisco to move lines up to -3, yet LVH Super Book manager Jay Kornegay added intrigue to the mix by tweeting "Don't be surprised if the NY/SF game gets close to "pick" by kickoff.").

Last season, we consistently took advantage of the undervalued Green Bay Packers for four of our 11 ATS NFL Playoff wins. As a Packers' fan and (in mother's name) shareholder, nothing I've experienced professionally or as a sports aficionado has - or likely ever will - match that run (as my friend Danny Rouhier of 106.7 in Washington DC told me the next week, "My two favorite things in sports are when my team wins and when I am right." I got to experience both for a month). It was a different story this year. The numbers saw the Packers as obviously overvalued after a 15-1 season and an impressive offensive output that was not substantiated by their defensive output (the losses of Cullen Jenkins and Nick Collins from last year's rosters proved CRITICAL). They did not warrant being greater than a touchdown favorite against a very good Giants squad that looked/looks a whole lot like the Packers of last season. That the Giants (+8 and the OVER, 52.5) covered makes me extremely happy. I always value our performance over any fan affiliation. But there was a seven point window (a Green Bay win from 1-7 points) that would have made me even happier - and we missed that by 18 points. Even with the great weekend for us and the great regular season by the Packers, that does sting a little.

After games and performances like that, everyone looks for the reason the heavily favored team lost. There is not ONE. The Packers played a well prepared team that presented them with a difficult matchup and hit its ~40% chance to win the game. I have used this argument quite often, but was anyone that surprised when Ted Williams, who hit .406 in 1941 (i.e. a hit for every 40% of his at-bats) got a hit. No individual player had an utterly terrible game for the Packers. Everyone was just a little off. It happens. It happened in Kansas City too. The point is that there is never that much that separates the final eight teams in the NFL. It's extremely difficult and will probably never be more likely than not for any specific team to win three consecutive games. Even the path for the top seeds is tough at this level. Going into this weekend, we did not have any team as more than 42% likely to make the Super Bowl. Even if we make the very bold assumption that the best team in a conference is 70% likely to win each of its two home conference playoff games before the Super Bowl, a top seed still would have less than a 50% chance to make the Super Bowl and there would only be a 24% chance that BOTH top seeds make the Super Bowl. In other words, it's far more surprising if the top seeds face each other in the "big game" than it is that they do not... And that's why we all love the NFL.

BCS Championship Game:
FYI... Alabama is good, particularly on defense. The Crimson Tide ranked first in our College Football Team Rankings every week from the Preseason to the Postseason. I guess it could be perceived somewhat convenient to compare our own metrics to each other, yet it is still notable to see that 24 of the teams in the top 30 of our preseason College Football Team Rankings finished in the top 30 in our postseason rankings (seven of the top ten teams were the same in each).

In the off-season, while also digging deeper into the engine (I've already been very energized looking into football and basketball engines in "mad scientist mode" for about a full week), I hope to put the performance of the Alabama defense in better historical context. Before the season, I told everyone I could that this defense would be better than any other in the last decade (dating back at least to the 2001-02 Miami Hurricanes). It would be difficult to argue against that comment. Would the 2011-12 Crimson Tide rank as the best ever? I do not think the answer will ultimately be "yes," but I hope to develop the best objective way that I can to find out.

NBA Free Trial
After three weeks (and one day), the NBA Free Trial concluded yesterday, while the 2011-12 NBA Regular Season Package has begun with the early Martin Luther King Jr. Day games (that I am watching as I write this). As we have had the knack for doing in the past (with NBA and college basketball last season, MLB, college basketball this season and even in the free week of college football), performance was strong, especially in that it improved steadily over time. In this case, as opposed to some of those other examples (in particular MLB and this year's college basketball where performance was well beyond expectations and leveled out for the rest of the season), we believe/hope/think that the performance is sustainable because it does fall reasonably within expectations relative to our confidence. That being said, at this point it seems as though we are locked into some market inefficiencies. Inevitably, as the season goes along, some market inefficiencies are corrected (sometimes over-corrected), while others appear (part of the reason that every analyst/approach/system will appear "streaky" to many who utilize it, with the main reason being that is impossible to hit the exact same percentage of games every night/week/season).

Assuming we consistently run games with appropriate rosters (a dedicated employee manages this for both college basketball and the NBA - but there are still situations, like we saw with Derrick Rose in the early games today, where very late injury news breaks and it is impossible to react to that news before tip-off), our approach should be able to uncover and exploit market inefficiencies.

All NBA performance data from the free trial period is available in the TrendFinder. This will be updated daily going forward as well (while NBA and college basketball team rankings and our ATS performance by team should be updated weekly starting next Monday). Here are some positive highlights from the 22 day NBA Free Trial ("Week 4" just completed):

  • "Normal" or better ATS Picks: 17-12 (58.6%... 18-12 with today's Cleveland Cavaliers' upset of the Charlotte Bobcats)
  • "Normal" or better ATS Picks (Weeks 3-4): 12-5 (70.6%)
  • All "playable" ATS Picks (Week 4): 22-18 (55.0%)
  • Games in which both the ATS and O/U plays were "weak" or unplayable have not been profitable, but in games where at least one of the picks was "normal," the "weak" picks in those games have gone: 22-13 ATS and O/U (62.9%)
  • O/U have only produced 13 "normal" picks in the last two weeks (and are only 6-7 in those games). Early in the season following a lockout, we have seen great fluctuation (and least opportunity for value) in general and relative to expectations in NBA totals.

And lastly, with the NBA, I/we have fielded several questions about teams playing in back-to-back-to-back games, since every team will play three consecutive games at some point in this shortened season. With just 84 previous instances of this in NBA history, it is difficult to draw strong conclusions about how teams will fare in the third game of back-to-back-to-back games. In our numbers, it means as much to road teams as it does home teams (a modifier to team and player stats that ultimately moves the numbers 2-3 points). As this article suggests, that varies from a market that has traditionally undervalued this impact on the home team and overvalued this impact on the road team. We cannot yet discern how the market is approaching this unique element of this specific season, but I definitely hope the market inefficiencies persist.

As a very, very general rule of thumb, blindly playing for or against teams due to obvious trends without considering the factors in or accuracy of the lines is a counterproductive strategy as these can be traps set by an overreaction in the market. Chances are that the impact of the factors beyond how much better/worse is the home team than the road team are far less significant than you think they are - especially if the overwhelming majority of people thinks they are significant. We took advantage of this when the public overvalued the impact of the NFL lockout on specific teams and hope we can with the NBA this year as well.

NHL Picks
Testing of the NHL Predictalator is in full effect. I have two things to say about it: 1) the Boston Bruins are really good and 2) check back next week (or maybe even later this week) for more information about the launch of the NHL analysis (and what to expect).

Blog Topics:
With the football season winding down and the TrendFinder handling all performance reporting, even with "mad scientist mode" in full effect and plenty of new concepts for this site in creation/incubation, I will have far more time to delve deep into money- management, sports analysis and general sports (or non-sports, space-based solar power anyone?) related topics in the blog. I have several topics that I deem important that I intend to get into soon. More importantly, I would love to hear from you. If you have a topic that you would like to see me discuss/breakdown/analyze/ramble on about, please do not hesitate to contact us with your ideas or questions. Part of me writes this blog for me (though, if that were the only audience member it would probably be very different - lots of Mike Gundy bashing even if he didn't do anything "wrong" in the Fiesta Bowl), but I am far more concerned about producing (free) content that is valuable to you.

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