Wild Card Review (1/9/12)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, January 9 at 4:30 PM ET
It is very important to us to be transparent and honest about our picks. I always try to recap each football weekend. With the addition of the TrendFinder database, which tracks all performance for all of our information (against published lines in every sport), the blog will focus more on topics beyond performance. Our performance is now as transparent as it can possibly get. We will still do our best to note areas of strength, while acknowledging areas of weakness - honing in on what this means to subscribers as it applies and touching on other, "big picture" topics in the process.

This blog will touch on the end of the NFL Playoff results, the Play Analyzer, the BCS National Championship Game, bowl performance and future blogs. Next week, we'll recap the NBA Free Trial, which, like the college basketball trial, has been improving steadily.

As a reminder, at midnight ET each day, we make all of our previous day's subscriber content available for free for registered users. Performance is also tracked in the TrendFinder Database (updated every morning from the previous day). We're never going to hide anything. So even though we have to swap out articles in the archive to focus on new ones, articles never go away. Just make sure to use the correct week and date in the URL - or ask us for the link...

NFL Wild Card Weekend:
The streak is over. It was going to happen at some point. Last season, we would have only given ourselves, based on our published confidence a 1-in-115 chance of going an undefeated 11-0 ATS. That may not sound like a lot, but that is significantly better than the presumed 1-in-2,048 chance that a random picker has against the house. While the first round plays were weaker this year than last (aided by three 2.5 point lines last year as opposed to two three point lines this year), we still know that our information puts its user in a much better position than it would be otherwise (especially with the Play Analyzer tools and the fact that next week's picks already appear to provide significantly more value than this last week's).

After 13 consecutive correct picks against-the-spread in the NFL Playoffs and despite Detroit +10.5 covering with 4:40 left and that game never technically/correctly completing (Detroit still has one more play to run - if NFL time keeping, like the direction the officiating is already going, is headed the way of soccer, that could have serious negative ramifications on this country's favorite sport), the Saints won, covered and, yes, could have won and covered by more. Watching that game and reviewing the boxscore, there are many things that someone in my position could fret (the clock situation being the least of those - that is just a joke above), but I know that similar things had to break our way over the last two years just to be in that position.

Relative to the published picks, we split every game ATS and O/U to go 2-2 with each this weekend. Houston (-3 with an O/U of 38) ultimately dominated to a greater degree than expected (much to the chagrin of my wife who grew up a die-hard Bengals' fan and was torn, yet much to the delight of Bengals' owner Mike Brown, who was rooting for a loss after publicly lamenting the fiscal cost of road playoff games) in a 31-10 victory (we had it at Houston 20-15). New Orleans won 45-28 over the Lions to cover -10.5 and the highest OVER (59) in the history of the NFL Playoffs (we had it at New Orleans 35-27). The Giants (-3, with O/U of 47) dominated more defensively than they had all season in a 24-2 game against a Falcons team that was playing outside for the first time since Week 6 (we had it at New York 29-23). And, in the least likely outcome of the weekend by far, Denver (+8 with an O/U of 35) coupled a perfect offensive gameplan with an injury-riddled Steelers defense (that lost two-thirds of its starting defensive line, not to mention Pittsburgh's starting left tackle on the offensive line to in-game injuries) to win 29-23 in OT (we had it Pittsburgh 25-14).

With Pittsburgh's straight-up loss, also came the end of our NFL Playoff winning streak of 15 previous correct winners on a seven-point teaser line (during the season, we hit 14 or more on the 7-point teaser line in four different weeks - and all 16 in one week). With 16 games, a normal NFL week, in the books for the playoffs at the site, it's hard to be disappointed with 14-2. Furthermore, the weaker of the two ATS picks lost each Wild Card day and those who leveraged the Play Analyzer did very well...

Play Analyzer:
As our most comprehensive money management tool, the Play Analyzer was extremely beneficial with those who had access to the NFL information for Wild Card weekend. By utilizing the "consensus lines" feature, it was easy to spot where the public was overvaluing certain circumstances with these games - most notably in the Pittsburgh @ Denver game on Sunday. When we published the pick, Pittsburgh (-8) was just 53.5% to cover, playable, yet very weak. After the picks went out (4:00 pm ET on Wednesday, as will be the case with all updated NFL content this week as well), that line (- 8) was no longer to be found. Just about every booked moved to -8.5 or -9. At -8.5, the pick (Pittsburgh 51.8%) was no longer playable (there is some presumed value in a push). At -9, the game was almost exactly 50/50 on either side. For the purposes of this site and radio conversations, the pick from that game counts as a loss, yet an observer of the up-to-date pick information would/should not have played it at anything greater than -8 (unless a line was available for -9.5 or greater, in which case Denver was the pick).

Meanwhile, the total in Pittsburgh @ Denver game dropped to 33.5 from 35 for much of the week. At 35, we liked the OVER to cover 56.3% of the time, which nears the threshold of a "normal" play. At 33.5, we had the OVER as a 60%+ play - by far the strongest NFL opinion of the weekend. No one wanted a piece of the OVER in that game and I get it, but the math noted how unlikely it is that any two teams be expected to combined for less than 34 points in an NFL game. That total play covered by 18.5 points. No other lines shifted drastically, especially relative to our picks. It's always important to review our information in the proper context. We report our records based on the lines and picks when we publish the information, but the vast majority of users should have seen even greater success this weekend (by staying away from Pittsburgh and hitting that OVER harder) than our record would indicate.

Bowl Picks:
January 2nd, 2012 will go down as a day that I will never forget. I did not get a chance to blog about it then and will not dwell on it now, but we lost each of our picks ATS on the day that had the most bowls of the bowl season. Oklahoma State and Wisconsin (silly Badgers) each found ways to fail to cover by a half a point, despite appearing as though they were going to (or had in the case of Oklahoma State) cover late in those games. Georgia was a strong candidate to push in OT, yet lost that and a strong opinion on the UNDER (the only O/U of six we lost that day). And Nebraska, Penn State and Ohio State did the Big Ten few favors by combining for 41 points in three losses against very beatable teams. The day was a mind-boggling, inexplicable and demoralizing as it gets with respect to our ATS opinions - yet, unfortunately, not all that different than chunks of the regular season... We have not lost an ATS bowl pick since (tonight is both free and a "no pick" in the published picks - though now a slight lean towards LSU at +2.5 in what is otherwise an even game).

As was the case for much of the season, the playable O/U bowl picks will finish profitable and the ATS picks not (even though we marketed based on O/U picks, we understand that ATS is of greater interest and we will also never publish anything for any pick that we do not believe in as much as the stated confidence suggests). It is much easier to forecast pace, tempo and paint a general storyline for a college football game than it is to rely on one set of 19-22 year olds and coaching staffs over the other. We were on the wrong side of just about every bad beat this season (though, winning the Fiesta Bowl with Oklahoma State -3.5 would have been laying a bad beat, not taking one) and could not catch the breaks that went against us. It is unlikely that this was all "bad luck" (especially as we found ways to improve throughout the season). With a full season's worth of data including bowl season, we are as armed with information capable of aiding the performance of our college football analysis (across the board). I'm glad the season is ending and oddly excited about the challenge that lies ahead (I call it "mad scientist mode" when I get to dig into the numbers and uncover ways to improve what we do - I'm always doing it to some degree, yet rarely will I have this much time to work on one topic and with this much room to improve).

BCS Championship Game:
You will not find a bigger proponent for a college football playoff system than me. However, this season, Alabama and LSU are the two best teams in the country and they are the two most deserving to play for the championship. That is not only the system that has been put in place and "agreed" upon; it what we all hope/assume will be the case in any championship scenario. The fact that these two teams already played is largely irrelevant.

So, for those considering boycott watching tonight's game strictly to make a point against seeing "rematches," in championship scenarios, will you also boycott watching three of the four NFL Divisional Playoff games (which are rematches)? And for the AP voters prepared to vote LSU as the national champion whether the Tigers win tonight or not, would you still consider the Green Bay Packers NFC Champions even if they play the New Orleans Saints next week and lose - because the Packers won the first matchup and had a better regular season? The fact that we have a system where anyone believes that votes, opinions or creating compelling matchups matter this much when it comes to crowning a champion is the problem. Trying to make statements against the current system by "choosing" who should be champion before the final game is played or by refusing to watch on grounds that would actually be more likely in a playoff system (rematches) is backwards. The system may be broken, but so are those messages.

Blog Topics:
With the football season winding down and the TrendFinder handling all performance reporting, even with "mad scientist mode" in full effect and plenty of new concepts for this site in creation/incubation, I will have far more time to delve deep into money- management, sports analysis and general sports (or non-sports, space-based solar power anyone?) related topics in the the blog. I have several topics that I deem important that I intend to get into soon. More importantly, I would love to hear from you. If you have a topic that you would like to see me discuss/breakdown/analyze/ramble on about, please do not hesitate to contact us with your ideas or questions. Part of me writes this blog for me (though, if that were the only audience member it would probably be very different - lots of Mike Gundy bashing even if he didn't do anything "wrong" in the Fiesta Bowl), but I am far more concerned about producing (free) content that is valuable to you.

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.