New Football Content (8/5/13)

By Paul Bessire
Tuesday, August 6 at 7:00 AM ET

With baseball in full swing (and, thus far, providing success and strong value similar to last year - especially with Over/Under picks), the NFL (available now) and college football (launching August 15) previews coming to fruition and extensive preparation for the oncoming football season materializing on the site just under four weeks before the first meaningful game, we are excited to take this time to discuss and introduce new content, products and significant updates that have been made to the site for the upcoming football season. As ESPN's Chad Millman and I recently discussed on his Behind the Bets podcast, our focus is centered around providing the best, most valuable and educational products that we can to our user base - rather than to "tout" our records. While our records, specifically in the logical areas of note, such as over/under season win totals, the postseason in most pro sports, over/under game picks in baseball and college football and (for the most part) sides in the NFL, both speak for themselves and are tracked with all of our picks in our transparent ResultsFinder database, of far greater concern to us than telling you about those records is providing the best tools and explanations as to how to use our information. Each year around this time, we unveil new tools and products built from listening to feedback and extensive research. Not only is this year no different, we could not be happier with the broad suite of applications that will be available for use within the next month (and how that can help you).

2013 NFL Preview:
First, we would like this to serve as a hub for the recently launched NFL Preview content, in which we provide links with a little more insight about each article. The NFL Preview utilizes 50,000 simulations of the entire 2013 NFL regular and postseason to generate meaningful information about players, teams, wagers, value and more. It is comprised of these eight other articles (we are also launching Matt Richner's two latest NFL Draft features at this time as well). Some of the following content is available to subscribers only. Each article states what is available to whom.

Over/Under Win Total Picks - We compare consensus NFL Team Over/Under Win Total lines and odds to the output of our projections to find value in what we have found to be one of the best opportunities to leverage our technology in the sports betting market (as noted in the past, I personally wager more on Over/Under Win Total Picks than any other type of wager). The ability to purchase these picks separate from the full season package as well as the ability to order picks by overall value as opposed to just pick confidence (i.e.. accounting for the significant juice incorporated in these plays) are both new this year.

NEW Futures Picks - A brand new article that will be a weekly feature throughout the season, Consensus Super Bowl, Conference and Division win odds will be compared to our projected win probabilities for each team to find valuable plays. Technically, in the past, those interested in playing these could have done the math to find such picks, but now we are doing the work for you, including use of our state-of-the-art Play Value Calculator and Key.

NEW Projected Scores (All Regular Season Games) - This article has projected scores and win probabilities for all 256 regular season NFL games (organized by team) as of right now before the season. Seriously. Obviously projections and picks will change leading up to Week 1 and beyond, but this represents the raw data behind all of our other information. A thorough analysis of the last three seasons of our predictions notes value in our predictions from before the season relative to before-season, published look-ahead lines for Weeks 1-16.

In-Depth Team Analysis - Our main preview article consolidates Power Ranking, Playoff Probability, Win-Loss Projection and Fantasy Football information combined with additional commentary on each team and division.

Projected Standings and Playoff Probabilities - See each division's projected standings as well as the likelihood for each team of winning the division, earning a Wild Card berth and taking home a Super Bowl ChaFmpionship.

NFL Team Rankings - Traditional NFL Power Rankings are taken to the next level with our true ranking of who-would-beat-whom in the league. Also included are strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency rankings for each team's offensive and defensive pass and run abilities.

Fantasy Football Projections and Rankings - View the projected overall Top 400 fantasy football players ordered by value for upcoming drafts (both standard scoring and points-per-reception).

Positional Cheat Sheets and Week-by-Week Fantasy Projections - Positional cheat sheets for fantasy football are available for the entire season as well as for each individual week of the year. This is great for strategy around managing bye weeks as well as reviewing our exact statistical projections for all players. This is updated weekly throughout the season as well.

New Football Products and Content

Halftime Picks powered by Live ScoreCaster™ - Our extensive research from last year's picks (where we had Live ScoreCaster output for every game) suggests that halftime picks should perform better than our pregame picks. Considering the objective books and those who tend to make such plays, the market should be more exploitable because bettors often overreact to what happens in the first half of games and books have to consider "total game risk" with halftime lines so balancing action is almost as important to them as getting the line "right."

Launching on its own page (under Live ScoreCaster in the navigation menu) for NFL (all regular and postseason games) and College Football (all games involving AP Top 25 teams and other nationally televised games), Halftime Picks will leverage our ability to simulate the game as it happens to compare halftime projections to available lines. Like the Customizable Predictalator, users will be able to simulate games at halftime against any line. When a game reaches halftime and a pick is ready, icons will appear in the Halftime Picks and Live ScoreCaster sections of the site.

As part of our continuing goal to offer less expensive options for those who may not be able to commit yet to our more thorough products, access to Halftime Picks will cost just $9.95 a week (or $99.95 for the year). Anyone who has access to the normal NFL or college picks for the week or season will also get halftime picks.

Futures Picks - With our ability to fairly account for future schedules and performance, simulating the rest of the season and postseason can help us find considerable value in NFL Futures plays. For this weekly article, we will compare consensus Super Bowl, Conference Win and Division Win odds to our most recent output for the season to uncover recommended plays. Access to Team Over/Under Season Win Total picks in the NFL comes as part of the full season Futures Picks package. For me personally, though my investment tends to be greater with Over/Under Win Total plays when value is greater before anyone has taken a snap, Futures picks represent my strongest area of in-season investments/wagering. All futures picks come with Play Value Calculator and Key.

As part of our continuing goal to offer less expensive options for those who may not be able to commit yet to our more thorough products, access to Futures Picks will cost just $9.95 a week (or $99.95 for the year including Over/Under Win Total Picks). Anyone who has access to the normal NFL for the week or season will also get futures picks.

Fantasy Football (Including Daily Fantasy Analysis) - Fantasy rankings of the Top 400 players before the season and the Top 250 players each week will remain free and available to all throughout the season. With the advancement of Daily Fantasy sites such as FanDuel and DraftDay, has come ample opportunity for profits using simulation technology to exploit the market. Thus, this year, we will have significantly amplified coverage of fantasy football. This will include:
  • Value Rankings has ten years of experience simulating NFL games to create, publish and leverage fantasy football projections. By comparing's player projection fantasy point output (using DraftDay and FanDuel's default scoring option) to the default DraftDay and FanDuel salary structure for each player, we will rank and publish all players at each position by “value.” Value will be determined by the number of “dollars” it costs for each projected fantasy point. A top 200 overall, top 32 qbs, top 64 rbs, top 100 wrs, top 32 tes, top 32 kickers and top 32 defenses list will be published and accessible to fantasy subscribers weekly on Wednesday evenings.
  • Optimized Lineup
    Simply picking the best values at each position does not guarantee a roster that will fit under the salary cap or that the highest total of possible projected fantasy points has been accumulated by that roster. Leaning on its experience with quantitative financial models, PM has developed an optimization tool that maximizes projected fantasy points to fit within the salary cap limitations of DraftDay and FanDuel's default weekly game structure. We will publish this lineup each week for fantasy subscribers on Friday mornings.
  • Expert Analysis
    Brian Harnisch, who achieved his MS in Statistics by completing a thesis on optimizing daily fantasy lineups with point projection services will expound on the two items of content above to share his weekly thoughts for fantasy subscribers on strategy for default and customized DraftDay and FanDuel leagues. For instance, when there may be injury risk associated with players chosen as high values and/or in the optimized lineup, Brian will outline those risks and make roster suggestions. He will also overview the different risk and economic strategies associated with the size of the participant pool and related to the payout structure (50/50, etc.). Brian will have an introductory column available within the next two weeks.
As part of our continuing goal to offer less expensive options for those who may not be able to commit yet to our more thorough products, access to Fantasy Picks will cost just $9.95 a week (or $99.95 for the year including Over/Under Win Total Picks). Anyone who has access to the normal NFL for the week or season will also get fantasy picks.

In-Depth Analysis - Taking the place of the Paul's Picks in the NFL will be our In-Depth Analysis section. Though the "Paul's Picks" had a successful run over three NFL and college football seasons and four NCAA Tournaments, we found that their usage was not necessarily consistent with the theme of this site or our money management goals. By labeling certain plays as Paul's Picks, focus was often taken off of the confidence of those plays as well as other plays that ultimately had more value - such as those identified as stronger picks in the Play Analyzer (if you subscribe to our information, the Play Analyzer is the most valuable tool we have) closer to game day or Over/Under picks that, most notably in college football, yield higher confidence and a strong track record of success.

Rather than choose four games to identify as "Paul's Picks," we will give a more in-depth breakdown of EVERY NFL game, including play value recommendations, easy-to-use team comparison charts, a few nuggets to consider with each game, the impact of relevant injuries to watch and a market report on the direction we anticipate lines to move accompanied by when would be most appropriate to make certain plays. We endorse all of our picks as published at the exact percent that they are noted (and at the exact percent confidence that they become in the Play Analyzer when lines change) and we understand the interest in additional support. We feel that the new, In-Depth Analysis section on the site will add appropriate commentary on our extensive NFL pick information.

Like with the Paul's Picks, access to In-Depth Analysis is available to anyone with NFL Picks package access.

Other New-ish Site Updates
Live ScoreCaster™: Now free and available to all, Live ScoreCaster allows anyone to view current scores and play-by-play of all NFL, MLB and select college football games as well as live, continuous projections from 50,000 simulations of the remaining time. After each play in a game, the Predictalator simulates the rest of the game 50,000 times to determine the projected score and the likelihood of either team winning. We hope Live ScoreCaster will be of value to the average fan who wants to know his/her team's chances of winning a game after every play. We also expect it to be valuable with live, in-running wagering as that market grows in Vegas and we lead the way with innovative technology designed to exploit live market inefficiencies…

Team and Player Stats: In 2011, we introduced a “Data” tab to the site that included the ResultsFinder, League Schedules and Team Schedules. While that information is still available (including archived information from previous seasons), we have added several new items to the Data section. Most notably among the new Data items are comprehensive Team and Player Stats (and I'm not sure that “comprehensive” is significant enough of a word to apply to the amount of information we will provide in these totally free sections). I often reference “sack rate,” “interception rate,” “points-per-play,” “yards-per-play” and other statistics that I am constantly looking at yet are difficult to find elsewhere. Now there is no need to look elsewhere as we will provide all of that information and more for teams (including league averages – i.e.. context) and players and broken down even further for situational splits. Team stats are presented in 36 different categories for NFL and FBS college football, while player stats are segmented into 18 different options. All “normal,”
conventional, boxscore stats will be available in addition to the more in-depth information that is of more importance to our projections.

ATS and O/U Team Stats: In addition to what a team does in the boxscore and play-by-play, it can be at least as valuable to know how teams are performing relative to public/Vegas' opinion. For NFL and FBS college football, we present team performance against-the-spread and with over/under total lines under ten unique circumstances. There is some great information here about which teams are under/overvalued each season.

Strength-of-Schedule Rankings: “It does not just matter what a player has done, but against whom he has done it.” I have said that many, many times. Now, not only do you get to see the Team and Player Stats that frame the way that I look at what a player has done, you will also see the general way that I put that into context with our Strength-of-Schedule Rankings. Strength-of-schedule rankings are based on the strength of the opponents that the team has played in the season to-date. For this reason, they will not be published for the first time in a football season until at least three games have been played. Factors considered in these rankings include: margin of victory and wins and losses of opponents and the opponents of a team's opponents.

Injuries: Traditionally, for NFL games it has been easy to know which offensive, skill position players are considered healthy for our simulations. However, for non-skill position player and for any player in any other sport, this has not been as obvious. On the Injuries page, we highlight the notable/relevant players with injuries that have been removed from the simulations for all game predictions that appear on our site. If a player does not appear as injured on a team, he was either utilized in the simulation or he does not provide a significant impact to his team's chances either way. In football, with several days before the game predictions that we post at 8 pm ET on Wednesdays, we have the ability to update game outcomes when absolutely necessary (and let you know that we have done so), but with football, as with our daily sports, we do not make modifications to game information within two hours of the first game of the day. The injury report will keep track of who is out of the games we project.

Play Analyzer: Please use the Play Analyzer. Going hand-in-hand with the injury conversation, we have added something to the Play Analyzer that should protect those with access from sketchy (for lack of a better term) line movements. Any time a consensus line in any sport shifts dramatically from our pick, a Caution Sign will appear to note this change. Whether due to a major injury, weather, suspension or just major action, these games warrant both caution and research. With football, we consistently pay attention to news and make modifications due to roster/depth chart changes or weather when necessary. When this is done, it will be noted. That being said, to retain the integrity of our pick tracking and information, we do not change picks within two hours of the first game of the day. Please proceed with caution around picks like this. If concerning information does not arise for a game and/or we don't make modifications to it given ample time, it may just be gaining great value. Still, remember that this is place to protect our users in unforeseen circumstances.

The Blog: If you have not been checking out the New PM Analytics Blog recently, I highly recommend it. While I have not added many of my long-winded diatribes in the last few months, we have averaged more than an article a day this year. Mostly the brainchild of our Director of Research and Analytics, John Ewing, the new PM Blog has featured consistent content on the general sports, sports betting, sports analytics and fantasy sports worlds. For the most part, these articles are short (with pictures!) and easy to consume. If you've made it this far into this blog update, you could easily click around and check out all of the cool stuff that we (mostly John) have been doing recently. Expect similar content throughout the season (in addition to what should be a weekly-or so blog entry from me).

Engine Tweaks
Nothing has consumed more of my time or thoughts since February than research and improvements involving our NFL engine (and, to a lesser extent, all engines - but that's pretty normal). After back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011 of "off-the-charts" (relative to the competition and just about anyone who has delved into this industry - we topped 57% ATS picking every NFL game for our first two seasons in existence), 2012 was a trying year with just 50.2% of all picks ATS hitting and well below that mark (47% ATS) coming in for our strongest plays.

While some of that can be explained away by inevitable rough seasons/bad luck/randomness over the course of one's career in this industry, there are certainly some tangible issues that we identified and have addressed. For the most part, we can boil the issues and changes down to: everything that we did last season to improve college football from a down 2011 (after a solid 2010) into a strong 2012 (our best overall regular season pick performance of any sport we have ever projected) we have applied directly to the NFL. As strong as the NFL had been for the duration of my career, I (admittedly stubbornly) did not want to mess with something that did not appear to need fixing.

Some of the changes were implemented just past midway through the 2012 NFL season (and performance did improve over that span), while others have been addressed in the last six months. We even had two different thesis projects completed by Masters of Business Analytics candidates who have helped us dive even deeper into the issues with statistical weighting in all of our engines as well as what to expect from in-game adjustments given expected talent gaps and scoring margin. Specific areas of improvement have included team-specific Home Field Advantage, Strength-of-Schedule Adjustments, anticipated In-Game Adjustments and Statistical Weighting.

Not only should we anticipate that a regression back in the direction of our previous performance, well-researched, tested and implemented modifications leave us expecting significant pick performance improvement from 2012 (hopefully more in-line with 2010, 2011 and my career before that).

Below, I include my explanation of these engine-related topics from previous entries on these topics:

2012 NFL Issues (from personal letter to subscribers):
Over my career and throughout this site's history, the NFL has traditionally been the site's strongest and most accurate product available. All eight of my previous professional seasons predicting NFL games ATS have been profitable, including hitting 57%+ picking every NFL regular and postseason game ATS in the first two seasons since founding Given the success over the first five weeks of this season, expectations for another solid year remained high. Ultimately, these last six NFL weeks have been incredibly frustrating for me, as I am sure they have for you as well. While there have certainly been games where the breaks – many of the same breaks we likely caught in other seasons and weeks – did not go our way, there have also been enough apparent swings and misses that have fallen far enough out of line from our expectations to warrant further review.

In an effort to turn things around, I have gathered my in-house research and technology teams and have been examining the entire NFL process, including the priority (known as “weighting”) of our statistical inputs and assessing potential "algorithm tweaks" to fine tune the Predictalator. This is akin to the process that we undertake in the off-seasons of each sport. However, though there were some traditional “state of the game” tweaks made to address rule and style changes, the NFL was not impacted nearly as greatly as every other sport in its most recent offseason. If it ain't broke… With the attention that needed to be paid to college football, I believe our allocation of resources, research and modifications to the engine were fair and logical at the time. That being said, many of the findings and adjustments we outline below are very similar to those that we uncovered and enacted with college football, which has seen a notable year-over-year uptick in performance (and several, including unique HFA (Home-field advantage) and in-season weighting, are currently applied to every sport in full except the NFL and are being worked in with the NFL as well as possible during the season).
Simply put, here's what we have initiated:
  • Strength of Schedule Adjustments – While removing bias inherent in the numbers is of the utmost importance to understanding the true strengths, weaknesses and identities of each player and team (just ask Nate Silver), unprecedented extremes in schedules seem to have adjusted our expectations for certain teams (namely Carolina, St. Louis and Dallas, which have played the toughest schedules) beyond reasonable limits. We have carefully reviewed and modified this process based on our findings.
  • Home Field Advantage (HFA) – Unique home field advantages have received plenty of recognition within blog conversations. A representation of those unique HFA in the NFL has always been present, yet not to the degree that we see with college sports. Not only are we working to improve the uniqueness of HFA for the NFL, we have addressed the unforeseen phenomenon in the NFL this season that has led to all-time low home field advantage levels – rendering home field almost totally useless since the return of the non-replacement referees.
  • In-Season Weighting – To the best of our ability during the season, though it is impossible to fully leverage until the start of next season, we now utilize the statistics weighting strategy outlined in this college football blog entry. In retrospect, it is easy to make the argument we should have already been doing this for the NFL (it is now in place for every sport) it had been difficult to argue with eight years of success (not to mention early season success this year). Candidly, while back-testing suggests an improvement in performance for the rest of this season (your greatest concern right now), the full impact of this will not be felt until the start of 2013.
  • Scoring Opportunities – Simulation allows us to factor how teams get into scoring position en route to scores (which, at the end of the game is all that really matters), but many teams have consistently proven an inability to score as expected in such situations and/or an ability to score consistently in otherwise unconventional ways. Never has this been as evident as with the NFL in 2012 (Dallas/Philadelphia and Chicago/Baltimore are extremes from each situation). We feel we have improved this process without overcompensating and will continue to monitor.
  • Confidence/Money-Management – Remember that this site is designed as an educational tool to aid money management. Our most important goal is that, over time, pick performance matches pick confidence. As high or as low as the peaks and valleys get, please keep this in mind as we intend that every pick this weekend (and for the rest of this season and postseason) is at least as likely to hit as we suggest.
We also want to reinforce to you how valuable the ResultsFinder can be. This feature was vital in the research, discovery and reaction to the items above as we looked for consistent strengths and weaknesses of our current approach. The ResultsFinder was built to not only provide total transparency for site results but also to allow our subscribers a search tool that can be modified with simple drop down menus to expose situations that may consistently produce strong ROI.

2012 College Modifications (from this blog)
Along with preparing new content for the football season, I/we have spent considerable time updating our college football and NFL simulation engines (even though this borders on performance reporting, we receive enough questions about this to warrant discussion going into the season). While we had great seasons last year providing consistent value/profit with college football over/under plays and NFL against-the-spread picks, it was essentially the opposite (though still consistent) for college football ATS and NFL O/U. I have researched and implemented everything that I could find/come up with to improve the performance of the areas in which we are weak, while not negatively impacting the areas where we were strong (for what it's worth, universally with our sports, when we have a strong opinion ATS and O/U in the same game, our performance in the typically weaker of the category is better than when that is not the case, which aids in the argument that improving performance in one area should not hurt the performance in the other – though there is obviously some correlation between total points expectations and the spread).

Home Field Advantage: In 2011, all college football venues were assumed to provide the same home field advantage. Research suggests that is definitely not the case. The average home field advantage is 3.8 points, but actual advantages seem to range from zero (at Navy) to nine points (at Oklahoma). That means A LOT to these predictions and has been fully incorporated into our college football simulation engine (as it was for college basketball as well) for this upcoming season. Here is more information from a previous blog outlining our analysis and results. A great follow-up in an independent study conducted by provides strong support for our approach.

Strength-of-Schedule: As the sports and media worlds shrink, so does the relative gap between most college football programs. I covered this topic at length in an “SOS” blog on college basketball, but it applies just as much to the now 124 teams in FBS. The same exact concepts that we put into place for college basketball (and seemed to result in some improvement throughout the regular season) has been implemented into college football (with even a large amount of additional research completed to discern optimal SOS modifications at each step in the simulation process).

Here is a valuable excerpt from that blog that provides a good analogy about these adjustments: I fully believe that adjusting for opponents in college sports in our analysis was excessive (in most areas - double accounting in some). Basketball provides a great example. Jeremy Lin played in a sport with 345 different teams, on a team that would rank somewhere around the middle of that enormous group and against opponents that would rank anywhere from the top ten to the bottom ten. Yet choosing any sample of 25 consecutive games in his career (25 is around the threshold for statistical significance in this example) - including college and NBA - unveils a player who shoots around 55% from two, 33% from three, 73% from the free throw line (though FTs were never impacted by opponent in our numbers), had about 1.5 assists for every turnover, rebounded a high percentage of the game's misses relative to his position and was typically the best on the floor with respect to steals per defensive possession. It's the same guy on any court. We trust that is the case for professional athletes, but that concept is true for most DI college athletes as well. Far more so than ever, DI college athletes are talented and consistent. Furthermore, not nearly as much separates the good from the bad as their used to.”

Statistics Weighting: That blog entry also includes this note: “The most difficult, yet important things to get right when manipulating data are: removing bias from previous opponents (strength-of-schedule adjusting), deciphering what portion of performance in a new season is "real" (as opposed to what career numbers indicate), role changes (mostly having to do with how a coach will use a play) and evaluating the impact of injuries on a player who is going to play.”

We just covered strength-of-schedule adjustment modifications and we discussed during basketball season that we have brought in additional resources to aid us with roster maintenance and pick generation. That leaves the questions regarding what is real.
At one point last year (after Week 5 in college football), I wrote this: “We have consistently performed well in the first 1-2 weeks of the college football, NFL and MLB seasons. Then, it can be a roller coaster for a couple weeks before performance stabilizes and generally improves incrementally. With our strong performances in early weeks, it may make sense to minimize the impact of early-season on-field performance, especially relative to competition, but there are always going to be a few teams that come out playing completely different than expected, to the point where significant adjustments above and beyond the norm are clearly needed. It's a delicate balance and one that I believe we do better than anyone else, yet it's also our opportunity for greatest improvement.”
Most of you still reading at this point know that college ATS picks were very good in the first two weeks and weaker in weeks 3-4, then did not improve incrementally (more like dropped off dramatically), but the point of this section is that this season, after a long college football offseason, presents our first opportunity to improve and illustrate that improvement with how we handle this situation.
Unfortunately in college football, when teams incur losses, they can be quickly eliminated from the national championship picture, which immediately puts our most basic/important assumption – that every player on the field is 100% and trying 100% to win each game – in doubt. There is nothing we can do about that. However, in talking with others who succeed in this field and researching strategies as well as our own strengths and weaknesses relative to predicting game outcomes, the most successful approaches seem to be those that consistently stick closer to what was expected of teams and players leading into the season than what has been seen on the field thus far.

Major injuries obviously change that discussion, but we are better set up to handle those situations than those who do not simulate the game with the players. We have built what we believe is a much smarter, automated system to handling player inputs based on previous data than we have ever had. The way we were able to build it allowed for more back testing from previous seasons than we are normally able to do and I am pleased with the way it performs. None of this may mean anything to anyone else, but it's something I am very much looking forward to seeing in action for football (particularly in college where too much work, number crunching, analysis and roster evaluation goes into preparing inputs for teams going into the season to be discounted once teams start playing).

As usual, if you have any of your own comments about this article or suggestions about how to improve the site, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time. We respond to every support contact as quickly as we can (usually within a few hours) and are very amenable to suggestions. I firmly believe that open communication with our customers and user feedback is the best way for us to grow and provide the types of products that will maximize the experience for all. Thank you in advance for your suggestions, comments and questions.