Weekend Football Review (10/10/11)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, October 10 at 8:30 PM ET
It is very important to us to be transparent and honest about our picks. I always try to recap each football weekend. For this week's blog, we will not delve as much into money management strategies (other than to PLEASE USE THE PLAY VALUE RECOMMENDATIONS and, when getting differing lines from the published picks PLEASE USE THE PLAY ANALYZER AND/OR CUSTOMIZABLE PREDICTALATOR tools) as we will cover recent performance in the NFL (good), college (bad) and the MLB Playoffs (good). At this point, through Sunday, Paul's Picks, which include the top three ATS plays Saturday and Sunday as well as the top weekday college against- the-spread (ATS) plays and the Monday Night play, are 25-17 ATS (60%) to start the season. The ATS Top Plays of the Day, the strongest opinion ATS each day overall in football are 14-11 ATS (56%) and the "Locks of the Week" are 5-4 ATS (56% - with the NFL Lock of the Week playing tonight). Including last season, this brings our all- time record during football to 123-82 ATS (60%) for Paul's Picks, 87-47 ATS (65%) in ATS Top Plays of the Day and 33-16 ATS (67%) for Locks of the week.

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The Predictalator loves me. It loves me not. It loves me. It loves me not... If I had a nickel for every time that I have heard the word "rollercoaster" or the phrase "up-and-down" this season, I may be able to retire away from the stress rollercoaster and up-and-down nature of this business. At the very least, I'd probably be able to cover personal losses from the last few weeks in college football. While I should be ecstatic today coming off of our second consecutive undefeated Paul's Picks Sunday (our third out of five weeks in the season) and being 18 games over .500 ATS in the NFL, I'm left reeling a bit from the similarly negative performance of and response to our college picks from the last week (and I fully understand that the vast majority of people checking in on the blog are interested in our admission to the significant struggles of college football over the last three weeks as opposed to the glorification of our NFL performance). Ultimately, I am somewhere in between, trying to remain as grounded as possible - "keeping the lows high and the highs low, operating a narrow gap" (another common phrase). It's the only way to be in this business. I know for a fact that some (though, clearly not a large subset) subscribers won with our information on Saturday (especially with the use of the Play Analyzer that day, which hit five of the top eight plays, those that covered 60%+, on the consensus line just before games started). And I know that many people lost with our information on Sunday (especially those playing the free pick that was emailed, the only normal+ ATS play to lose, and those that loaded up on the Houston/Oakland over that was a few inches away from covering at the end).

As many previous seasons of data and personal performance supports this technology is not going to continue being this rough in college football, nor will it likely sustain 64%+ picking every NFL game against-the-spread. Over seven seasons predicting the NFL ATS, four previous seasons predicting college football ATS, four NCAA Tournaments, two MLB Playoffs, two NBA playoffs, one college basketball regular season, one NBA regular season and one MLB regular season (all documented professionally), our only events that have not turned a profit have been in the NBA (every season and postseason in all other sports has been successful/profitable). Last year, through two weeks, our NFL accuracy picking every game ATS was below 40%. We ended up at 56.9% ATS for the year (through the playoffs - and not including Week 17). In college, in the first two weeks, we were hitting 65% picking every game ATS and ended the season accurately picking 54.6% of all games correctly ATS. Do we expect to be a little better in the NFL than college? Yes, our confidence and performance suggests this is accurate. It also makes sense given the massive public response to the NFL that is exploitable. Do we expect to do worse going forward than our confidence suggests in the NFL because we have performed so well thus far and things need to "even out?" No. Similarly, do we expect to do better than our confidence suggests in college because of the last three weeks of poor performance? No. Our confidence is our confidence and we fully expect that will be reflected in our performance numbers. Great and terrible weeks will happen and they may even happen in bunches, but, unless there are obvious reasons for them (which I would not contend there are in either sport right now - but we will delve into a couple possible areas for improvement), when it is all said and done, performance should match expectations.

The Football Numbers:
Below are our win/loss stats from Week 6 in College Football and NFL Week 5 using playable picks (53%+ to cover) from our published articles (yet again, Play Analyzer results from the day of the games highlighted even better opportunity for value that was more successful than picks at Wednesday's lines).

  • All Playable Games ATS: 55% (23-19)
  • All Playable Games O/U: 49% (20-21)
  • Paul's Picks ATS: 43% (3-4)
  • Lock of the Week: 100% (0-1... With one to play tonight)
  • ATS Top Plays of the Day: 33% (1-2)

And here are the combined numbers for the season thus far:

  • All Playable Games ATS: 52% (126-119)
  • All Playable Games O/U: 52% (115-108)
  • Paul's Picks ATS: 60% (25-17)
  • Lock of the Week: 56% (5-4)
  • ATS Top Plays of the Day: 56% (14-11)

NFL Performance:
With an overwhelmingly greater number of games in college as opposed to the NFL - and with the strong performance of the NFL to-date - here are NFL-specific ATS numbers:

  • All Playable Games ATS: 64% (41-23)
  • Paul's Picks ATS: 79% (15-4)
  • Lock of the Week: 50% (2-2... with one to play tonight)
  • ATS Top Plays of the Day: 80% (8-2)

Play Value Calculator and Play Analyzer Recommendations:
It appears in just about every blog entry, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to follow the Play Value Calculator recommendations for plays and to determine the picks that should be made at all. We post and track our picks along with very important recommendations that are designed to protect users from having "crushing" days, while optimizing the value in strong days, about how much should be wagered relative to bankroll, confidence and other wagers, based on the lines at a single point in time. Sometimes, those lines ultimately hurt our performance numbers and sometimes they help, yet this is all we can really do. In college this week, our numbers look much better from Saturday's lines than they do on the published pages - on Saturday, San Jose State was a 14-point underdog, Marshall (+20) was our fourth-strongest ATS play and the Vanderbilt @ Alabama UNDER (43.5) was about 1.5% stronger than any other O/U play. In the NFL, it kind of worked the other way because Cincinnati ended up favored on Sunday (the Bengals were +2.5 on Wednesday en route to being our top Sunday play) and Minnesota lost some edge by crossing the three-point threshold from -2.5 to -3.5 (due to other line movements though, the Vikings were still our second-best Sunday ATS play and we still had a strong showing with the Play Analyzer picks as compared to the picks from Wednesday). What should be relevant to every subscriber is not as much how our published picks are performing (unless all wagers are made at 8:00 pm ET on Wednesdays at the consensus lines), but how the picks are ordered and perform at the available lines to the subscriber when plays are made. With the exception of the Week 2 and Week 3 college football Saturdays, due to roster/injury issues that we believe we have since resolved, and Week 3 Monday Night Football, using the picks on the consensus lines in the Play Analyzer on the day of the games has returned equal or positive net results relative to the published picks every day. Many of the headaches experienced by our subscribers on days like this Saturday could be mostly alleviated by following Play Analyzer and Play Value Calculator recommendations. It may fly in the face of human nature to be conservative and patient, but it is also the best way to build bankroll.

College Worst and Best(?):

Toughest Losses: Switching things up and leading off with the toughest losses, since we went 0-for-Paul's Picks in college football last week, leaving us 2-10 ATS with the Paul's Picks in the last three weeks. In those 12 games, the teams we have supported against the number (eight favorites and four underdogs; six home teams, five road teams and one neutral site team) have thrown 18 interceptions and lost 20 fumbles en route to a -16 turnover margin (-1.3 TO/Game). In the 53 other games those teams have played, they have a +22 turnover margin (+.42 TO/Game). More notable, our opponents have combined to have nine defensive scores, while our teams have zero in those games. Not only have our teams in those games experienced unpredictable bad luck with respect to turnovers (-1.72 TO/Game relative to their other games), those turnovers have directly related to scores at an alarming rate. Return touchdowns are essentially random and have a fixed percentage of likelihood in our numbers (relative to yard-line of the turnover) so this is definitely a phenomenon we could not see coming. The major takeaway here is ridiculous bad luck. However, there are some engine tweaks that we have put in place to better account for the likelihood of a turnover in extreme talent and experience mismatches (even in cases where the opponent has not forced a large number of turnovers or especially when the team has not turned the ball over often thus far). These well-researched tweaks will be in place for this week, but a) hopefully we don't keep running into these issues and b) the further we get into the season the more reasonable our turnover expectations should become.

Can I honestly say that, even without the turnover situation, Texas looked on the field like it was within ten points of Oklahoma (our biggest ATS loss of the season thus far)? No. For the third time since the start of the 2010 season (Fiesta Bowl vs. UConn and at Florida State being the others) and despite a reputation for doing the exact opposite, the Bob Stoops coached Oklahoma Sooners took unexpected steps forward and far out-played their numbers from other games. We may be looking at the quintessential play to the level of the opponent team in Oklahoma, sleep walking against weaker teams and stepping up against the better opponents. With the trend there, we should be prepared going forward... But on that game, what happened to Case McCoy and the balance between what he could bring in the passing game with a strong running attack? David Ash was not the answer. We saw it with Nebraska @ Wisconsin last week. The Longhorns really lost this game when they panicked and got away from a ground game that should have been more effective (and gimmick plays that lose 10+ yards don't count as the ground game)...

Elsewhere... Getting home (from being out and watching college football) to see almost simultaneous interceptions thrown by our teams to seal the fate of the last two Paul's Picks (on the published lines at least) was a pretty terrible way to end the night (though I wouldn't say it really ended there because I definitely did not get much sleep after that day)... Western Kentucky is really bad. A lot of things actually went the Blue Raiders' way in that game. Turnovers or not, Middle Tennessee had no business losing to Western Kentucky... The fact that Florida couldn't really move the ball at all essentially cost us the UNDER in the Gators' game against LSU as the Tigers continuously had great field position, racking up almost enough points to cover that line on their own... It's interesting how concerned coaches of good teams from the Pacific Time Zone seem to be with making "statements" (read: covering the spread), especially in nationally televised weekday games - and even if it costs the team a Heisman Trophy candidate (and we still had many opportunities in the last few minutes to cover in the Cal @ Oregon game)... In the same vein as Oklahoma's big steps forward in bigger games, Kansas State surprised at home in back-to-back weeks. Head coach Bill Snyder has publicly stated that he only opened up about 15% of the playbook in a 10-7 win over Eastern Kentucky. Well that's fine and accounted for, the team has also improved far more than would normally be expected against good competition like Miami (FL), Baylor and Missouri. We did not have a very strong opinion of this Tigers team before the season, but Mizzou has much more talent and has played much better than its 2-3 record would suggest... C.J. Brown has no business running for 77 yards on one play against anyone... At halftime, Auburn +10, Northwestern +7.5, Louisiana-Monroe +2, Cal +24 and Virginia Tech -7.5 looked solid. (Sigh...) Ah, halftime... What happened to Navy?

Best Wins: Had we had performed as well with our top ATS picks as we did with our top Over/Under picks even if we would have been as poor in O/U as we were with the top ATS picks, the perception of our performance from Saturday would have been very different. We market ourselves on our ATS pick performance and those are played at a greater rate, so I get it. It just so happens that we hit four of our top five O/U plays (and were half a point away from hitting seven of our top eight)... Along those lines, as is often the case, many of the more extreme lines were not extreme enough. The linesmakers and betting public tend to be afraid of trusting teams to cover lines when they get really high or really low. Kansas @ Oklahoma State (72.5) had one of the highest total lines we had seen all season. It was 56-7 at halftime. The game finished with Oklahoma State winning 70-28. Kansas is now allowing 6.6 yards-per-carry and 9.2 yards-per-pass. The Jayhawks play Oklahoma this week...

Elsewhere... Marshall (+20) @ UCF ended up being the fourth-best ATS play on Saturday. It was already a strong play at +17.5 and covered both lines easily in the 16-6 game... San Jose State will not count as a win in our record (or when the TrendFinder launches pretty soon), but some were salvaged by a +14 consensus line on Saturday (it was +12.5 in the published picks and the Spartans lost 29-16)... Alabama did what LSU could not by shutting out Vanderbilt (34-0) without covering the total (41.5). That consensus line actually moved to 43.5 on the Saturday, making it a 2X play and the strongest O/U pick on Saturday at 62%+ confidence... While we did not know that Notre Dame would hang 59 points on Air Force, our favorable opinion of the Irish in general and in the ability of Notre Dame's offense to get it going against Air Force was nicely rewarded... Pitt may have looked great against USF, but I have a feeling we'll look back on this season and think of that more as an anomaly than actually representative of the Panthers' season... We might have picked against them with our Week 1 Lock of the Week (which was suspended with Michigan covering the spread), but Western Michigan is moving the ball as well as any BCS non-AQ team in the country (East of the Mississippi at least)... Ohio State (+11) almost fell into the group above that looked great at halftime, but stung us in the end. The Buckeyes were up 27-6 in the third quarter and lost 34-27. That may have not been good for the OSU fans I was with at the time, but I'll take it... Clemson (-21), Mississippi State (-17), Penn State (-4) and Georgia (-1) did not look so solid at halftime. Yeah, halftime... I wish we could have had Akron at +21 on Wednesday (it spent some time there on Tuesday) so the opinion would have been stronger... Ball State's defense cannot compete with decent offenses... Chuckie Keaton hustles hard... Wake Forest is built just like Florida State. It's definitely not a surprise to see the Demon Deacons cover against the Seminoles. Winning outright was not expected as more often than not, but when the rosters and numbers are that close, home teams can pull that off...

Week 7's Most Interesting Games: USC @ Cal (Thursday), Baylor @ Texas A&M, Michigan @ Michigan State, Utah @ Pitt, Miami (FL) @ UNC, Oklahoma State @ Texas, UCF @ SMU, Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest, Florida @ Auburn, Arizona State @ Oregon

NFL Best and Worst:

Best Wins: When I sat down on my couch yesterday just before 1:00 pm ET to watch the NFL games, after the performance from the college picks the previous day, I confronted the realistic possibility that, with all three of our Paul's Picks at the early timeslot, the next three hours would be the worst of my professional career. By about 4:15 pm ET, when the Philadelphia Eagles jumped offsides on a Bills' fourth-and-1 (something that went against us two weeks ago in the Atlanta @ Tampa Bay game), I actually cracked a little bit of a smile. We went 3-0 with the Paul's Picks for the second consecutive week and third of five weeks this season. The logic in the engine is almost exactly the same but, considering motivation, prevalence of injury news, consistency of professionals and typically far more games worth of data on each player - as well as the more exploitable public - the NFL functions as essentially a different product. Fortunately, it's been a pretty successful product for us this year...

Our biggest overall win from the published picks on the Sunday slate was the Bengals' outright win at Jacksonville (we are now 4-0 in Paul's Picks against Jacksonville this season - and well on our way to hitting the UNDER on their 6.5 preseason win total), but that play was not nearly as valuable on Sunday morning when the Bengals were slight favorites (they had been 2.5-point underdogs on Wednesday). Our second biggest play, Minnesota (-2.5) did shift to -3.5 by Sunday, but was still the second-strongest ATS play of the day. The Vikings trusted their offense with Adrian Peterson and he almost single-handedly won them the game (and the cover), 34- 10, with 122 rushing yards and three first quarter touchdowns. The third-best ATS play from Wednesday, Buffalo (+2.5), became our strongest ATS on Sunday when the line moved to +3 for the home Bills. Buffalo won in a similar to fashion to how the Bills upset the Patriots at home earlier in the year. And the Eagles found a way to lose as they have made a habit of in each game since winning us a Lock of the Week in Week 1... The best overall game for us though may have been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ San Francisco 49ers. We had the 49ers (-3) winning convincingly in a high scoring game (side and total were "normal" plays). San Francisco took care of both the side and the OVER (41) in the resounding 48-3 win. Normal+ picks in the NFL were 4-2 yesterday... The/my/our Green Bay Packers battled back from a 14-point deficit to win and cover at Atlanta... While we would have preferred a Texans' touchdown on the last play to give us the side and the OVER (48.5), it was compelling to watch the Raiders win in an upset the day after losing owner Al Davis... Cam Newton is making a habit of keeping his team closer in games than most expect. Watch out NFL in 2013 (maybe 2012). Newton had our best grade coming into the draft in the four years that I have evaluated quarterbacks before the draft...

Toughest Losses: While it was our fourth-strongest ATS pick on Wednesday (third-strongest on Sunday), our upset prediction of Tennessee (+3.5) winning outright over Pittsburgh was one of our most talked about selections. And it did not come close. Credit to the Pittsburgh offensive line for keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and to Roethlisberger for playing by far his best game of the season. The Steelers don't need an effective running game to win. They need to get the ball downfield to weapons like Mike Wallace in the passing game. That finally clicked for the Steelers. And, in the same game, the Titans, one of the most impressive teams over the previous three weeks, fell flat...

In retrospect, it would have been nice to see if Matt Schaub could have made it into the endzone running the ball on the last play of the Texans' game - would have loved the OVER (48.5) in that game. In that game, tough break for the Texans in losing Mario Williams for the year. With a great start and no Peyton Manning, David Garrard or Chris Johnson (right? has he started playing yet?) in the division, things looked great for Houston to win 12+ games and get homefield advantage in the playoffs. While that still might happen, the bad luck that has cursed some of the rest of the division just got to the Texans... Tim Tebow only played as a Wildcat rusher in our 50,000 simulations of the Chargers @ Broncos game, but it was still a blast to cheer for him to lead the team back. And while he made things interesting on the last play, a blown two-point conversion and bone-headed personal foul penalty on the Broncos in the Chargers last drive ultimately cost us the cover - by a point... It was not an ATS loss for us, but the Giants looked like the surest straight-up winner of the week. So for those who had "survived" with our top SU picks through four weeks, they finally lost with the Giants (as did more than half of the remaining entrants who had the Giants in most Survivor pools)...

Week 6's Most Interesting Games: San Francisco @ Detroit, Carolina @ Atlanta, Philadelphia @ Washington, Houston @ Baltimore, Dallas @ New England

The Baseball Numbers:
The MLB Playoffs have been going pretty well. Over/under picks are slightly out-performing money-line and run- line plays, but performance across the board has been better with stronger picks. Also, the Milwaukee Brewers, our pre-MLB Playoffs dark horse as the most "bettable" team given the payout and odds to win the World Series, are now the actual overall favorite in our numbers to win it all (a pretty cool sentence to write for someone who was born in Wisconsin the year that the Brewers last made the World Series and is convinced he was named after Paul Molitor). As seen previously with other postseason tournaments (outside of the NBA as noted above), there is something to be said for clear motivation, a full season of data and trustworthy lineup and pitching staff information. Below are win/loss stats from MLB Playoff picks using the published Play Value Calculator recommendations for a $50 bettor.

  • All Playable Games: +$329 (25-17, 60%)
  • Normal+ Plays: +$287 (6-1, 86%)
  • "Half-Bet" Plays (when PVC recommendation is greater than $25): +$386 (16-8, 67%)

For those who may have missed out on purchasing the MLB Playoff Package, it is still available in the Shop. The price for this package will be further discounted once the World Series is set.

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