Weekend Football Review (1/10/11)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, January 10 at 7:12 PM ET
I will always recap the weekend in football each Monday afternoon. It is very important to us to be transparent and to honest about our picks. It's good to get back to the blog after several weeks of traveling and other chaos that took up far too much of my time - not to mention PM stuff like the bowl and NFL picks, NBA and college basketball products, baseball (it's not too early) and other general end of the year/season reports, meetings, responsibilities, etc. It's also good to be talking about a 4-0 ATS NFL weekend (6-0 with the two bowl games). While it may seem like an obvious time for me to jump back into the blog more when we are on a big winning streak, I can assure you that is coincidence.

While I'd like to think that I'm always blogging about winning streaks, it actually is easier ramble on about losses and wins. In fact, it's cathartic. I don't prefer it - but I do feel better after writing. Never get too high or too low. The blog helps me stay grounded. As anyone who was around me throughout the holidays can attest, I probably needed it then.

I'm currently eagerly anticipating the BCS National Championship game - a game we have Oregon winning slightly more often than not (54.4% of the time) and by an average score of 41-38. While the line sat at Auburn -3 for quite some time, action has gone in the direction of our pick, which actually works against us. As opposed to the 58.5% pick that we originally posted, which would have warranted a $64 play from a normal $50 bettor, now, using the Customizable Predictalator, Oregon at +1.5 covers 56.2% of the time, which is no longer a "normal" play would only warrant a $40 play from a $50 player. Instead of winning the bet with Oregon winning straight-up 54% of the time and covering in the 4% of the time that Auburn won by one or two points (with a solid chance of a push), we lose the push cushion and winning the play when Auburn wins by two. Interestingly, the total line has actually moved away from our pick. Even givent that we are technically calling for an upset, at a 72.5-point total line, we like the Over (58.5%) a little more than we like the side. It's not a surprising turn of events given that the luster from Auburn's SEC championship game domination has come off a little, revealing how close these teams truly are (and how strong Oregon's defense is). And also, with such an extreme O/U, it was expected that it would come down a little. So be it. Here's hoping for a high-scoring, entertaining game that Oregon wins by a close margin.

Anyway, since Tuesday's quick blog, picking every bowl and NFL game, we are 7-2 ATS (78%) and 3-4 O/U (43% - though none of the NFL O/U picks qualified as "normal" or better). With Stanford (-3) last Monday and Green Bay (+2.5) yesterday, our Locks of the Week both covered. Besides the locks, Boston College (+9.5) and Miami OH (-1) were both 60% plays and covered to make us 4-0 in 60%+ ATS plays last week. In fact, the line in the GoDaddy.com Bowl with Miami OH moved all the way to +3 in some places, making the Redhawks our top gameday bowl play of the season. They won outright 35-21.

The Football Numbers (through the last week of bowls and NFL Wild Card Weekend):

  • ATS Locks of the Week (in last week's blog as well): 2-0 (Stanford -3 won 40-12 over Virginia Tech and Green Bay +2.5 won 21-16 over Philadelphia)
  • Year-to-Date ATS Locks of the Week: 25-12 (68%)
  • All-Time ATS Locks of the Week: 74-23-3 (76%)
  • YTD Daily Top ATS Plays: 69-36 (66%)
  • Paul's Picks ATS Week: 7-2 (BCS National Championship remaining)
  • YTD Paul's Picks ATS: 91-62 (59%)
  • YTD ATS All Games: 56%
  • YTD O/U All Games: 54%
  • YTD SU (NFL and FBS vs FBS College): 71%


NFL Playoff Probabilities (updated after Wild Card Weekend)
The Predictalator uses current rosters and strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player stats from the last 48 games to play, one play at a time, the NFL Playoffs bracket 50,000 times before it's actually played. For this analysis, we are tracking how likely a team is to make it to any level of the NFL Playoffs. The playoffs are played all the way through individually, with the team that wins each game in that instance advancing. The percentages in the table below represent the team's likelihood of advancing to that round.

The New England Patriots are our favorites to win the Super Bowl, bringing home the title 23.9% of the time. New England, the top seed in the AFC is closely followed by the best remaining NFC team, the Green Bay Packers at 16.9%, and the second the best AFC team, the Pittsburgh Steelers at 17.8%. The Patriots win the Super Bowl more than Seattle, the New York Jets and Baltimore combined. In general, the AFC is 56.9% likely to win the Super Bowl.

Interesting Super Bowl matchups and their relatively likelihoods include: Most Likely - Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots occurs 14.6%, Big Markets - New York Jets vs. Chicago Bears occurs 4.8%, Most Super Bowls - Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers occurs 10.2%, Least Super Bowls - Atlanta Falcons or Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Jets or Baltimore Ravens occurs 9.0%, PredictionMachine.com's Preseason Super Bowl Prediction - Green Bay Packers vs. New York Jets occurs 4.9%, Least Likely - New York Jets vs. Seattle Seahawks occurs 163 of 50,000 times.

NFL Playoff Odds (based on 2010-11 NFL Playoffs played 50,000 times)

Team Super Bowl Super Bowl Win
New England 41.6% 23.9%
Green Bay 35.1% 16.9%
Pittsburgh 29.2% 16.6%
Chicago 34.0% 14.1%
Atlanta 28.6% 11.9%
Baltimore 15.0% 8.5%
New York Jets 14.1% 7.9%
Seattle 2.3% 0.2%

College Best and Worst:

Best Wins: The best college football win for us last week kicked off the football week for us in a very big way. After a very difficult Christmas Eve - New Year's Eve (isn't that supposed to be the most fun week of the year?), it was big for us to hit our top play of the football season. No play throughout the year in either college or the NFL was stronger than Stanford (-3) over Virginia Tech at 65.2% to cover - one of just three games to get to the neon green, three times a normal play realm. After essentially forcing her to do nothing but watch football - and unfortunately more losing football than we have come to expect - for the two weeks we spent bouncing around Wisconsin and Minnesota in December (not as bad of an idea as I thought - there was far less snow there when we left than when we got there) and knowing how much this game meant to us and our customers, I headed to the Dinglehouse in West Chester, Ohio to drink some Scrimshaw (my second favorite now behind the Back 40 bock from New Glarus Brewery), eat some Irish egg-rolls (unbelievable) and watch the Orange Bowl. At halftime, a safety, blocked extra point and one of the craziest/most impressive touchdowns anyone will ever see meant that we were not yet covering. And at that time, I had not yet talked to anyone at the bar (some trivia game was taking everyone's attention). An impromptu conversation started by the guy next to me and and two Stanford TDs later, the whole bar was rooting for Stanford. Fortunately, we didn't need them. The end result proved what was noticeable in the first half everywhere but on the scoreboard, Stanford is/was much better than Virginia Tech. That's most baffling line that I have ever seen in a college game and I'm ecstatic about it... And Stanford will still be good next year. Jim Harbaugh meant more to get the Cardinal to this point and would/could have been very important to sustaining success at Stanford. But, for now, it's all about the horses - and the Cardinal is as talented as any team in the country.

Quick hitters: Those who took advantage of the Predictalator benefited greatly from Thursday's play on Miami (OH) in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Coaching uncertainty/distractions and an assumption that, with extra practice time and experience gained by playing with the starters after sitting out much of the early season, Dwight Dasher would revert to the type of player that dominated last season, particularly in the bowl, pushed the line away from Miami (OH) and towards MTSU. At gametime, our winning percentage against the spread on Miami (+2.5 or higher) was over 66%. A 35-21 loss pushed the Blue Raiders to 4-9 ATS on the season and we took advantage of an over-evaluation of the team all year... It's fascinating to watch how utterly horrific the Boston College offense looked in last night in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl - especially considering that they are the only school with two former quarterbacks, Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Ryan, remaining in the NFL Playoffs. Chase Rettig, the freshman starting quarterback for the new "QB U," completed just 14 of 34 passes for 121 yards (3.6 yards-per-pass) and two interceptions to no touchdowns. That's really bad. Here's the fun part - the Eagles covered! And not only did they cover, they covered exactly how we thought they would - would a tremendous rush defense that neutralized Nevada's rush offense. In fact, I even added the caveat "This pick really has little to do with the Boston College offense. It isn't good..." Anyway, while a 72-yard punt return scared me because games with big special teams plays can often defy the numbers (playing 50,000 times vs. once), a late field goal after Boston College's only real offensive drive of the game gave us the cover at any posted line (ranged from BC +10 to +7.5 during bowl season). For what it's worth, if Rettig and fellow freshmen Andre Williams, Bobby Swigert and others improve considerably over the next couple of seasons, BC could have a very good and experienced team on its hands... In another game that played out in a manner very similar to our expectations, backup quarterback Morgan Newton and the Kentucky Wildcats' offense couldn't put anything together against a very strong all-around Pitt defense in the BBVA Compass Bowl. With weekly radio interviews in Birmingham (where this game took place), Louisville and Lexington and with so few games to talk about last week, I probably broke this game down on-air more than any other non- BCS bowl. In retrospect, we were optimistic to expect so much offensive production out of Kentucky in our 27-20 prediction. The Panthers (-3.5) cruised to an easy 27-10 victory...

Toughest Losses: I'm not sure that I have taken another loss harder this season than Arkansas +3.5 in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State. Obviously, I root for our picks no matter what. However, growing up in Wisconsin and going to a different school in Ohio, I have extra incentive to see the Buckeyes lose outright. Dropped passes from one of the nation's best receiving corps were egregious and consistent enough to make the whole game frustrating and belie the numbers, but "we" were still in the game at the end, which just added to the roller coaster of emotions. With the Razorbacks trailing by five with a little over a minute remaining and the Buckeyes punting from their own 38, should I have been expecting Arkansas to be able to win? No. In fact, according to the live Predictalator, Arkansas had a 27.8% chance of winning that game - which almost sounds optimistic. But I held out hope. And Arkansas blocked a punt. The ball was bouncing freely towards the endzone - and the Razorbacks fell on it on the 18 yard-line. Take your time. Pick the ball up. Walk it into the endzone. Game over (at least as much to give me a virtual lock on a cover). There is no reason to fall on that ball. Falling on it means that the player thinks the chance is greater that an Ohio State player (the closest of which was the punter about ten yards away) forces his way through at least six Razorbacks, picks the ball up cleanly and runs through eleven Razorbacks for at least 24 yards en route to a first down than it is that he or one of his teammates can gain possession of the ball and advance it at least a yard (though 18 more yards wouldn't be too much more difficult) in the positive direction. The problem is that there were six Razorbacks there and it only takes one of them, likely wanting to get his name in the boxscore for fielding the ball at all, to screw it all up. There is no logical justification for not at least legitimately attempting to convert that play into a touchdown. Ryan Mallett's interception just topped off the incredibly frustrating finale. In an eerie turn of events I found myself watching that play over and over throughout the next 24 hours - as if something different was going to happen. The positive events of this weekend have mostly freed me of that feeling, but it's not bad to blog about it either...

Quick hitters: Remember what Texas A&M did in the first ten minutes of the Cotton Bowl? How were the Aggies not able to sustain that? That was exactly the type of team we thought that they were when we predicted the upset. LSU gets credit as 2010's most baffling college football team. The Tigers aren't that good - but I've been saying that all year, so maybe I'm the one who doesn't get it. At the very least, a team with a performance like this presents a potential opportunity for growth and review with the Predictalator. And while I want to give Les Miles the credit for getting more out of his players than expect - much in the same way that I think that Jeff Fisher and Tom Izzo are so great because their teams consistently (maybe not as of late with Fisher) outperform our expectations - Miles' teams still seem to under-perform their actual talent despite out-performing their numbers... By the way, the Cotton Bowl was pretty impressive to watch. It was great to see a bowl game that was not pre-packaged in the same ESPN flare that just about all of the others came in - plus there were 80,000+ fans from the region, split pretty evenly and rocking a state-of-the-art facility...

NFL Best and Worst:

Best Wins: We got all four NFL Wild Card games right against the spread. In all honesty, it seemed a little easier than usual and I'm not sure I've ever been more personally comfortable with picks than I was going into this weekend. Obviously, that showed in our output as three picks were 58.5% to cover or higher and, in the other game, the value was in the underdog. Re-think about this weekend. All four road teams were/are significantly better than their opponents. Three games had moderate lines and the other line was huge. Our general expectation for each game was something in between - road teams have a great chance to win, but not necessarily by crazy numbers. In the two cases where something somewhat unexpected happened - Seattle winning outright and Baltimore blowing out Kansas City - those scenarios worked in our favor because the line expected the opposite, but to a greater degree. I'm not saying that the picks were easy or that going 4-0 is easy. Even given our own expectations, we only gave ourselves about a 12% chance of hitting all four picks, but that's almost exactly twice as good a chance of going 4-0 than can be had with the (false) assumption that each pick should be 50/50. We doubled the odds of the perfect week and it paid off... Individually, the Green Bay Packers' win was probably the most fulfilling. It was definitely the most dramatic because it came down to the last drive and the straight-up win was likely to be determined in conjunction with the ATS win (the ATS winner was not really in doubt down the stretch in NO @ SEA +9.5 and NYJ @ IND -2.5). Tramon Williams, who may be as underrated as any player in the league because Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews make more obvious plays, sealed the 21-16 Packers' victory with an interception of Michael Vick in the endzone (apparently one big first down catch on the previous play made Vick fall in love with Riley Cooper). Rooting for my own, hometown team, which our family technically owns stock in, doesn't hurt. I always root for my picks, but it hurts to root against my team (as the Eagles' fan amongst us who was holding out hope of an Eagles' win and Packers' cover - assuming Eagles TD and missed two-point conversion - could definitely tell you). And let's just say that we'll be rooting for the Packers as long as they're still in the playoffs. The Packers are either the second or third best team in the NFL (it's very close with Pittsburgh, but Green Bay has the slightly easier route going on the road in the NFC as opposed to playing through the remaining teams in the AFC). Fortunately, Green Bay is healthy enough to be playing its best when it matter. Speaking of which, Mike McCarthy pulled a page out of Rex Ryan's book with the Jets and Shonn Greene from last postseason by keeping James Starks fresh and unleashing him in the playoffs. That move definitely paid off yesterday...


Quick hitters: As mentioned, the Ravens had as good a chance of winning by double-digits as Kansas City did at all. That being said, we did think that the Chiefs were more likely to win at all than the Ravens were likely to win by more than three touchdowns. Baltimore is an elite team. This upcoming week, they'll play another elite team (on the road). Last week (Saturday), they did not play an elite team... That being said, credit goes to the Chiefs for making the most of the 32nd toughest schedule. Teams that don't win those games don't end up playing the NFL's easiest schedule because they are too busy showing up on someone else's easiest schedule as wins for those teams... Seattle is home to the NFL's and college football's best homefield advantages. Unless the Seahawks can win in Chicago (again) and Green Bay "upsets" Atlanta, teams are done worrying about making the trip to Seattle for the rest of the season... How exactly did #1 seed Atlanta earn the right to Green Bay, while Chicago gets to play Seattle?. I'm of the belief that seeding should have to do with record (but, as seen with KC, records can be flawed as well)... Jets straight-up win was very big for two reasons 1) even though the Jets were already covering at +2.5, I specifically wrote and stated in interviews that the value was on the money line with the Jets for that game and 2) the New York Jets were our most likely preseason Super Bowl winner. That being said, they actually had a better chance of winning the Super Bowl then (11.9%) than they do now (7.9%)... If Indianapolis had had a running game like we saw from the Seahawks, the Colts may have had an easier time defeating the Saints in last year's Super Bowl. Think about that - we're still talking about Marshwan Lynch... When setting up teams today after the weekend's games, I got to completely skip over the AFC South, AFC West and NFC East. Crazier than that or that the NFC West is still around is that it was fairly likely heading into the weekend that we would be down to just four divisions remaining at this point. With divisional rivalries in both AFC games, the current expectation is that we will be down to three divisions remaining by next Monday...

Toughest Losses: I guess more points could have been scored in the Ravens @ Chiefs game. While no over/unders were "normal" or better plays, that was our strongest O/U with 56.6% favoring the OVER (41), which missed covering by five points. The Ravens defense was just too good.

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