A New 11-0 (4/23/12)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, April 23 at 8:00 PM ET

11-0... No matter what happens going forward, this site and my career will always be linked to that record. We put together a perfect 11-0 ATS record in the 2011 NFL Playoffs. (Then, we started 10-1 - almost getting to 11-0 - with Paul's Picks in both the 2011 NCAA Tournament and 2011 football season... Our longest accuracy streak that I am aware of actually occurred when we began the 2010 college football season 17-0 with all playable ATS and O/U picks.) Now, there is another 11-0 streak of note to talk about (and it may grow - though not tonight as there are no qualifying opinions).

The 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs featured/normal/strong picks have begun the postseason 11-0, which is +$499 using our conservative play value calculation recommendations for a normal $50 player. Nine of these plays have been over/unders (prompting this text message I received on Saturday: "Your top hockey totals are legal tender in 32 countries."), while two have been puck-line plays (both on Philadelphia +1.5 against Pittsburgh in the two games after the Penguins did us a huge favor and scored ten unanswered goals in Game 4 to cause an overreaction in the lines that we exploited). I don't just mention this because it is far more fun to toot our horns about that kind of success than it is to stare at our NBA regular season record from the past two years, but also because I think it tells something very interesting about each of these sports - and human nature.

Since we launched the site prior to the Super Bowl in 2010, our pick record in "normal" or better ATS, O/U, money-line, run-line and puck-line plays for the NFL, NHL and MLB playoffs is 38-4 (90.5%) (normal plays occur whenever our confidence against the numbers is strong enough to warrant at least a "normal" play, which should be 1-3% of one's bankroll and coincides with 57%+ confidence in typical -110 situations) . Adding in college basketball postseason normal+ ATS and O/U plays to that mix, yields a 124-58 (68.3%) record (all but 19 of those plays were at -110 odds). When we got to 9-0 in the NHL Playoffs and I sent out these numbers, the very first response I received was, "Why do you think that success doesn't translate to the NBA?" (which I purposely left out of the 38-4 stat because normal NBA picks have barely exceeded 53% ATS and 55% O/U overall over the last two postseasons and, consequently, are only being sold for $49.95 this season.) While that as the immediate (negative/only) response was mildly depressing and I certainly do not ever expect to hit at 90%+ for information in which we typically have 57-60% confidence, I get it. That is the way that most gamblers think. They love the feeling of winning, but remember and stress over the losses, or in this case, the not as frequent wins more. Plus, it alludes to the greater point (and it discusses NBA performance which we, since I am referring to an internal email, are always trying/hoping to improve).

It's early into the NHL Playoffs and we also do not have a large sample size for the MLB postseason (one season, 63 playable picks), but, thus far picks in every postseason sport except for college football have not only been profitable (incredibly so for everything else outside of the NBA), but more profitable than for the same sports during the regular season. Our postseason profitability per playable pick by sport thus far would rank as follows: 1) NHL (yes, even though we are 20-3 ATS all-time in NFL, the 55 playable NHL picks thus far have been slightly stronger than all NFL playoff picks), 2) NFL, 3) MLB, 4) College Basketball... (significant gap), 5) NBA and 6) College Football. In many previous blogs, I have attributed our postseason success to four factors: 1) a full season worth of data 2) stronger, exploitable opinions from the public, 3) better known and manageable injury information and 4) the strongest element of truth in the assumption that every player and team is trying its best to win. While all four of these are certainly true, the more I learn of our results, the more I focus on one specific one factor - motivation.

Our pick performance is best when players are universally trying their best to win.

Consider also that our regular season profitability per picks by sport ranks this way: 1) NFL, 2) MLB... (notable gap), 3) College Football (even with a difficult six week stretch in 2011, the rest of that season was solid and 2010 was very strong), 4) College Basketball, 5) NHL... (notable gap into "unprofitability"/"the red" thus far) and 6) NBA. Additionally, for all sports, preseason O/U team wins picks have been very profitable (and where I personally invest the most financially - as noted in previous blogs). The NFL is by far and away the most watched sport with (generally) the largest number of teams remaining in playoff contention deep into the season. And, with only 16 regular season games there is, unquestionably, the highest percentage of meaningful games. The NFL Draft is incredibly popular, as is fantasy football (which encourages players to put up big numbers). Players have limited careers and limited opportunities to prove themselves for future roster spots and contracts. Almost every game matters equally to every team and player. With that as the basis for our conversation on motivation, it may not seem logical that MLB, with its 162 games, is next from a profitability standpoint, but, after greater thought it makes total sense. Starting pitchers dictate lines and performance against and they only get up to about 35 chances (once every five days) to prove themselves each season, and, similar to NFL players, also have relatively short careers with serious injury risks each outing. College football has the weekly nature of the NFL and even fewer games, yet the season can essentially end for many teams after one loss (as alluded to early, our performance is very good/much better for college football early as opposed to the NFL and MLB where it is steady) and a small percentage of players are actually capable of "proving" themselves for the next level.

At the other end of the spectrum is the NBA where players, coaches and teams clearly do not try as hard to win in some games as opposed to others. It happens in the regular season and in the playoffs. As someone who is an ex-fan of the sport and one who must try to predict it, that is incredibly disappointing. At the very least, the NBA season needs to have fewer games spread out over a similar period - especially in a full calendar year - and/or the league needs fewer teams. Furthermore, it is impossible to ignore the importance and relative inconsistency of officiating, especially in the playoffs. Coaches, like Greg Popovich when resting players for the Spurs, or teams, like the Golden State Warriors in some games as of late, can make this easier on us by benching anyone of any significance (though this does not always happen before our posting deadlines). Otherwise, we can do everything we can to track trends of teams and players playing in certain situations (back-to-back-to-backs, home and away, etc.) and officials calling specific fouls in certain situations, but until the players start telling us which games they are trying to win and which they care less about (or will ultimately skip) and/or until officials clarify which players or teams will get preferential treatment (a concept that will never make sense to me) each game, the NBA will likely always be the most difficult sport for us to predict using data.

I often state that there are no "intangibles" in sports because every characteristic that can be discussed can be measured. At this point, though, since it is unlikely that players, coaches, teams and officials will ever disclose their exact "motivation percentage," motivation is and will remain the only true "intangible" in analyzing any type of activity - and, while we will continue to search for trends and other ways to uncover hints at a player's motivation (that we can incorporate into our inputs and in can be reflected in our projected confidence), there is likely little else that we can do about it.

For now, I feel very comfortable in the fact that we seem to be employing appropriate and successful methodology to predict outcomes of competitive events. Given equal motivation, our performance is off the charts. And, while the last two paragraphs come off as negative, I am very content knowing/believing, as a professional prognosticator and a fan, that the vast majority of players and teams in the vast majority of sports and instances seem to play at equal/high motivation. Not only is our performance strong and generally close to equivalent to our confidence in most sports during the regular season, the fact that players and teams do enough over their careers and within specific seasons for their body of work to accurately represent what they will do in the postseason, is uplifting, enlightening and consistent with our most critical assumptions.

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.