Weekend Football Review (1/24/11)

By Paul Bessire

Tuesday, January 24 at 11:12 AM ET
I will always recap the weekend in football each Monday afternoon (whoops it's Tuesday already - 10-0 celebration spilled over a day or so). It is very important to us to be transparent and to honest about our picks. 10-0. Just two games to discuss - and I don't want you to ever get sick of 10-0, so there is not too much here - just some conference championship talk and NBA/college basketball previews.

Since going undefeated ATS in the NFL Playoffs is a stated lifetime goal for many/most football prognosticators, how does hitting 11 straight NFL Playoff games ATS rank? We launched PredictionMachine.com for the Super Bowl last year and had Colts 28 - Saints 27. This means that, with this year's 10-0 ATS record and the Saints +5.5 outright Super Bowl win, we have yet to lose an NFL Playoff game. With the Super Bowl still to play (but likely not a strong ATS opinion coming from us on it - the public is getting smarter), does our 11-0 consecutive games performance count at all? And if it does, do we have to coin a new term for it to separate it from the true undefeated NFL playoffs a la the "Tigerslam?" or the "Rafaslam?" Just trying to have some fun with the thought based on the situation we are in...

Super Bowl Picks, Analysis and Props: All registered users will have access to the Super Bowl Predictalator Picks and Paul's Analysis, which will include projected scores, winning percentages straight-up, against-the-spread and over/under and Paul's breakdown of the exploitable strengths and weaknesses of each team. This will be posted tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, January 26th). Subscribers to the NFL Playoff or Super Bowl Props packages will have access to the projected boxscore, Customizable Predictalator for the game and our mathematical and written analysis for every possible prop. This feature will be posted on Monday, January 31st after the prop lines have been published. Early indications suggest a weak, but playable play on the side and a fairly strong opinion on the total. And, as I just Tweeted, we will be favoring the Packers to win straight-up just less than 60% of the time.

The Football Numbers (through the Conference Championships):

  • ATS Locks of the Week: 1-0 (Green Bay -3.5 won 21-14 over Chicago)
  • Football Year-to-Date ATS Locks of the Week: 27-12-1 (69%)
  • All-Time ATS Locks of the Week: 76-23-4 (77%)
  • YTD Daily Top ATS Plays: 72-36-1 (67%)
  • Paul's Picks ATS Week: 2-0
  • YTD Paul's Picks ATS: 97-63 (61%)
  • YTD ATS All Games: 56%
  • YTD O/U All Games: 54%
  • YTD SU (NFL and FBS vs FBS College): 73%



NBA and college basketball Picks: As many of you have noted, the NBA regular season packages are now available in the shop. From the shop, the Predictalator will provide straight-up, against-the-spread and over/under picks with confidence for every NBA game. Predictalator output comes complete with a Play Value Calculator, Play Value Key and Parlay Calculator for optimal bankroll management. Picks will be sold on a season-long and weekly basis, with the picks beginning on February 22 (after the All-Star break). All subscribers will also get access to the Customizable Predictalator for every team and game. Projections and picks will be posted and the Customizable Predictalator updated on a daily basis for every game that day at least two hours before the first game begins.

Here are some commonly asked questions from the last week since we posted our NBA picks package...
Q: I'm interested in buying the NBA season package but before I do I would like to know the success that the predictions had last year and/or years before for the NBA season package. It would be nice to know the stats against the line and for over/unders. Also, what percentage of games qualify as at least "Normal Plays"?

A:Your points are understandable and well taken. This will be our first year predicting daily NBA and college basketball games, so we do not have previous records that we can quote. In the very near future - likely sometime after the Super Bowl, but in advance of the All-Star break - we anticipate starting a trial period to demonstrate the power of the Predictalator as it applies to regular season basketball. I can confirm that initial testing has been very positive, but it would not be fair of me now to cite those specific test results. That being said, very few games typically qualify as "normal" plays. That's good news and bad news. We're going to have fewer opinions on a daily basis, but we're also obviously good at coming up with something close to the line, which means that, when we suggest making plays, they are typically pretty strong and should be pretty accurate. For instance, from Sunday - Saturday of last week, we only made 20 "normal" or better ATS plays. My guess is that will be pretty typical. Prior to today (Editor's Note: Thursday of that week), we have had only 10 "normal" or better ATS NBA plays this week. Thanks again for the interest. We will have more information and news regarding our regular season basketball picks soon.

Q:How many plays 60+% (ATS for side or total) do you anticipate there being on a nightly basis on your NBA picks starting 2.22?

A: Great question. We seem to be very good at projecting what the lines will be, so we rarely have very strong opinions on NBA games. To me, that's good news though since our pick performance in those few games where we think the line is off is very good. To answer your specific question, last week there were 5 ATS picks and 8 totals 60%+ to cover. This week (Editor's Note: As of Thursday morning of that week), we have seen similar numbers with 3 ATS picks and 7 totals at 60%+. Also, we anticipate doing a free trial in advance of that 2/22 date, but have not yet finalized the dates for that.

Q: Is there any way to just purchase the locks of the week each week? If not, are they given each week along with the other picks? And will the answers to these questions also apply to the NBA season?

A: We give the lock of the day/week as well as every other game with access to the analysis, picks and Customizable Predictalator on each, to allow you to be as informed as possible. While the "Lock of the Week" will never change after we publish and write about it as such, the best pick when YOU go to wager may actually end up different based on line movements. The Customizable Predictalator allows you to identify this. And yes, this will be the same approach for NBA, which will also be sold on a weekly basis, with picks published on a daily basis.

Q: I don't know if this is blog-worthy, but I was curious: do you feel the predictalator gets better as the season goes on or is there less value in the lines? For example, for NCAA basketball I remember Chad Millman saying a few months ago that wise-guys make their money during the season and not the NCAA tournament. The reason is at that point there isn't much value in the line because the information is so widespread. Also, I'm paraphrasing but Bill Simmons talks about how NFL football lines are easiest to beat early in the season before line-makers know what to make of all the teams. Does the same hold true for the predictalator? Is the predictalator better for the Super Bowl because it has an entire season of data, or is it less likely just because there will be less value in the line and therefore the confidence will be lowered?

A: The question you bring up is very interesting. I may touch on it more in the blog soon (Editor's Note: Boom). In general, the Predictalator gets more accurate over the course of the season as more data is available. But your point is well taken that lines should also be more accurate then. So while the straight-up percentages and projected scores may be more appropriate later in the year, our against-the-spread percentages may not.

In college sports, we tend to do better earlier in the year ATS than later in the year because of the phenomenon you bring up. Two other major factors go into that well: 1) college sports are built so that the end of the season often means less than the beginning, which hurts our assumption that every team and player is always trying its hardest to win and 2) when better teams play each other, lines shrink, which leaves minimal margin for error and very little opportunity for high-confidence. One loss typically means much more in college and players have less incentive to give each game their all (on the whole) after a team has lost its chance of winning a conference or national championship. This was evident with our performance in college football this season (no joke - we hit our first 19 ATS and O/U plays of the year). We were much better earlier than later because our assumptions were most valid earlier and the lines became more appropriate later in the year. For bowls, when the assumption that teams are playing their hardest should be valid, the bigger lines that were easiest to exploit because they either were not high enough or were far too high. We had much more room to work with in those games. In the games with small lines, every play means more, which puts more pressure on the psyche of the teams (especially relative to talent) and we struggled. College basketball is a little different than football. Our performance should be steadily strong throughout the season (maybe a little stronger earlier than later, but not much), but then improve through conference tournaments to peak within the first couple of weeks of the NCAA tournament. In the tournaments, our "motivation" assumption is most valid, homecourt advantage - which is incredibly strong and variant in college basketball - can be removed (usually) and yet there are still big gaps between many teams. As the gap between teams narrows the further the NCAA tournament progresses - and the more the public has figured out about these teams - the tougher it is to have great confidence in picks. (I'm getting to the pros next, but we have seen something similar in the NFL playoffs this year with Green Bay as we did last year with a team like Kansas State. Lines were way undervalued for these teams early, yet became very appropriate as everyone else learned more about these teams and competition became much better.)

The margin for error/low spreads conversation actually answers your question about our confidence in the Super Bowl. With just a 2.5-point line this year and two even/very good teams, it will be difficult to have a strong opinion against it. However, in pro sports, particularly in the NFL, we get better towards the end of the regular season (except with meaningless games in the last couple of weeks) and in the post-season. The reason for this is that the public generally makes up its mind with teams early and then overreacts when the team plays one game that is different from expectations (See: Seattle @ Chicago having the same line as New Orleans @ Seattle). MLB is similar - that our numbers get better as time goes on because we have more data on what teams really are and the general public has typically either made up its mind or overreacts. This affected is not as extreme in the NBA because it is not followed as closely before the All-Star break as after. This presents a great opportunity for us when we have more than half a season's worth of data to use and a mostly-ignorant public that is trying to make up for football losses to exploit. Come playoff time in the NBA though, we have not performed as well on a game-by-game basis (ATS) as expected. Something happens within series that can really only be explained by up-and-down fluctuations in player motivation or officiating inconsistencies (either way, we will do everything we can to account for this next NBA Playoffs).

It is also important to note that, by presenting games the way that we do, our "accuracy" should be seen in our confidence levels. A 60% winner ATS is always presumed to be 60% likely to win. To recap our confidence expectations: College Football - Very confident (early weeks, bowls that matter to both teams and have larger spreads), Not as confident (late weeks, bowls where motivation is not predictable); NFL - Very Confident (Weeks 3ish - 15ish, Playoffs), Not as Confident (Weeks 1-2ish, Weeks 16ish - 17); College Basketball - Very Confident (Conference Championships and NCAA Tournament First 2 Weeks); Neutral/Steady (Regular Season, NCAA Tournament Last 2 Weeks); NBA - Very Confident (January - April), Not as Confident (November - December, May - June); MLB - Very Confident (mid-May - October), Not as confident (April - mid-May).

NFL Best and Worst:

Best Wins: 10-0...Go Packers! For the third week in a row, our "Lock of the Week" was an opinion on the Green Bay Packers in which we expected them to win outright despite being a road team in the NFC Playoffs. In fact, for the third straight week, one of the plays in the Packers game was 60%+ to cover and did (in this case, the UNDER 43.5 covered easily). Part of the beauty of the Predictalator is that I can completely remove my bias and distinguish between Paul the fan and Paul the prognosticator. The numbers are the numbers. I don't ever do anything to change those (unless the entire engine needs to be tweaked, which has not happened in the NFL since the start of the season). And I always root for our picks above anything else (because that's what benefits you). But, when every fiber in my body wants to root for the Packers, and, when I have to get on-air in Madison, WI (a half hour from where I grew up) every week, it's always great to be able to cheer for my team. This situation could not have set up any better though. The Green Bay Packers have carried PredictionMachine.com to the edge of one of the most sought after feats of everyone in this industry - a perfect NFL Playoff run. It may not be an ideal situation that I/we am/are in now, though. The pick will be posted tomorrow. If we are picking GB -2.5, I get to root for my team again, but with a ton of pressure (and likely not much confidence) on the pick and on my team to win convincingly. If we are picking PIT +2.5, I can root for an unlikely one or two point Packers' win or have some solace in a Packers' loss if it happens - knowing we get to 11-0. I already know what our pick will be, but I'm still not sure which situation I would prefer at this point... After many controversial decisions (still own that "Fire Ted!" shirt, Dad?), the Packers franchise is back in the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years - and has enough youth and the right coaching to be in this position for the next several years... Just think that, after the Super Bowl, either Aaron Rodgers will have as many Super Bowl wins as Brett Favre or Ben Roethlisberger will have as many Super Bowl wins as Tom Brady (and as many as contemporaries Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Donovan McNabb combined)... In the NFC Championship game itself, the Packers' defense played excellent as expected - both defenses did. Aaron Rodgers and James Starks were not spectacular, but they did what needed to be done and the superior defense did the rest. While we did not anticipate Jay Cutler coming out of the game, we definitely know that Caleb Hanie is/was/would be better than Todd Collins... On the topic of Jay Cutler, just like the many athletes who found themselves on every sports talk TV and radio show in the country yesterday, I tweeted some since-modified tweets about Cutler that were probably a little more emphatic and across the line than necessary (a neckline slimmer and Julia Roberts movies were referenced - my wife helped me with the wording). So while my take is not as extreme as it may have come off to many in real-time, I still think Cutler worked very hard at finding a way for the loss not to blamed on him - and that did backfire on him. I don't think it was a conscious decision, but I believe it is in his personality as a competitor to love the spotlight in wins and run from it in losses... Back to the game, I wonder if people in planes flying over Wisconsin when Sam Shields intercepted Caleb Hanie's last pass could make out the "fall down" screams. Shields made a great play on the ball, but it was fourth down and the game was over as long as the Packers retained possession. Catching the pass is OK (See: Glover Quin at Jacksonville), but just stay there (See: Nate Clements at Atlanta)... Shields did get a chance to show off a very impressive, adrenaline-aided 40-time on the field. A great athlete and return man in college, much like Devin Hester coming out of "the U," Shields was position-less going into the NFL. His transition to corner has been invaluable to the Packers, allowing Charles Woodson to make plays in space while Tramon Williams shuts down the other side of the field. Shields had a tremendous game, just like other previously unheralded players forced into duty due injuries throughout the season like Desmond Bishop, Erik Walden, James Starks, John Kuhn and T.J. Lang... With their relatively young head coaches (with old, veteran defensive coordinators), excellent, young quarterbacks, elite 3-4 defenses, oft-maligned offensive lines, extremely deep receiving corps, below-average special teams and propensity to find diamonds in the rough, to go with perfect role players (not to mention their combined nine Super Bowl wins, 19 NFL Championships, 13 Super Bowl appearances and 170 years in existence), the Steelers and Packers are eerily similar teams...


On to the Steelers' win over the Jets... We were picking both favorites with Pittsburgh and Green Bay both at -3.5 and with the Packers as slightly stronger favorites to cover than the Steelers. My common phrase was that both games should be close and appear in doubt throughout, yet both favorites should still win decisively. That's exactly the way it played on Sunday. The Packers used a late interception to seal a seven-point victory, while the Steelers converted a crucial third down conversion to win by five. Both teams lined up in victory formations and took knees (plus whatever Rashard Mendenhall did to Ben Roethlisberger) at the end. The Steelers won with a great offensive effort in the first half and an excellent all-around defensive effort that included a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a goalline stand... Despite citing the gap between quarterbacks as the likely difference between teams in both games, it was Mendenhall who made the difference for the Steelers early as they got out to a 24-0 lead (24-3 at halftime). Mendenhall ran the ball 27 times for 121 yards (4.5 yards-per-carry), an impressive feat against any team, let alone a team that allowed just 3.6 ypc on the regular season. The Steelers' running game dictated tempo barely gave the Jets a chance. That should worry a Packers' defense that has looked tremendous against the run in the playoffs, yet gave up 4.7 ypc during the regular season. If the Steelers are going to win the Super Bowl, Mendenhall may have to do it... As for the Jets' play calling near the endzone, I have the utmost respect for what Brian Schottenheimer has done for the Jets in the past two postseasons. However, you will never convince me that any play besides a QB sneak should be called within a couple yards of the goalline/first down. I'm aggressive. I'd love to pass far more often than run in just about every situation. But the only goal here is to advance the ball a yard or two. QB sneaks should never go backwards. Just keep moving forward and you'll get there... Does the NFL like that Ben Roethlisberger finds himself in this situation this season? That may depend on how he continues to behave off the field and how he handles himself for the next two weeks. I can't say that I love it, but I can say that I am impressed. In the preseason, we had the Packers as the most likely NFC team to make the Super Bowl, but the Steelers barely broke .500 in a year where, at the time, they could have been without their starting quarterback for up to six weeks. Congrats to what Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, the tremendous Steelers' defense and the entire organization has been able to do... Now, go Packers!... 10-0...

Toughest Losses: At 52.9%, the UNDER (39) in the AFC Championship was a "no pick," so I hope no one was actually playing it individually, but many probably did in parlays, etc (teasers were like ok if you could wrap the total into one because the 39 point total only went over by four points). Technically, all playable picks went 3-0 ATS and O/U.... Everyone who wagers on anything has plenty of these stories, but I don't really have any other "losses" to discuss this week, so I'll share this anecdote. While putting the finishing touches on our NBA and college basketball testing, one of our employees did suffer a tough loss on a six-team parlay that included Youngstown State +4 on Saturday. Of over 50 playable sides on Saturday, Youngstown State +4.5 hosting Detroit was one of about eight sides that came in 59%+ for the day. Two of those games had started before my colleague could put in any action in at his book in Vegas. When he got to the book, the Penguins were still +4.5. When he got to the window though, YSU was +4. Detroit won by four to push and negate parlay. The other five sides won. Obviously, the information was beneficial to him, yet, a couple minutes earlier to the window and that could have been a much bigger payday.

As usual, if you have any of your own 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.