On Wednesday and Friday, I took a stab at predicting the games for week ten of the 2006 season. In a perfect world, I would have empirically explained how confident I was about each game, because then it would be simple to analyze how successful the system was. I didn't do that on purpose though, because I know you can't tell much from just one week. So instead of a big table summarizing the results, you're going to have to sift through some text today.
Tennessee @ Baltimore
Prediction: Tennessee (+9) pulls the upset. History shows that 6-2 teams are 7-7 against 2-6 teams, and hosted exactly half of those games. Road 6-2 teams are just 2-5. This game’s a coin flip, so the smart money would be on the Titans.
Result: Baltimore 27, Tennessee 26. Tennessee +9 was easy money this game, so this was a very good prediction.
Buffalo @ Indianapolis
Prediction: Colts (-11) win. Home 8-0 teams are 2-0 against 3-5 teams. Yes, you won’t get this type of analysis anywhere else: 8-0 teams are good! Against the spread this one is a toss-up, and is a game I’d avoid.
Result: Colts 17, Bills 16. I'm not going to give myself any credit for the Colts winning, but I'm glad I decided to avoid taking the Colts and the points.
Cleveland @ Atlanta; Houston @ Jacksonville
Prediction: Atlanta (-9) Jacksonville (-10.5) in romps. Road 2-6 teams are just 1-8 against these opponents. Against the spread, I’d probably avoid both of these games. Of those nine previous matchups of road 2-6 teams, the margin of victory was between 8 and 11 points in four of them. (For those curious, the one team to win was the 1978 Chargers in Oakland.)
Result: In two of the biggest upsets of the weekend: Cleveland 17, Atlanta 13; Houston 13, Jacksonville 10. The history seemed to match our intuition: a road team with three fewer wins shouldn't have a very good chance of winning. Part of the problem here, I think, is that we've got the two most difficult teams in the NFL to bet on, Atlanta and Jacksonville. It's always difficult to tell if Jacksonville and Atlanta are good teams that play bad games, or bad teams that play great games. In hindsight, I'm very glad I advised avoiding these games. As an aside, Houston is now 6-4 all time against the Jaguars, and 15-48 against the rest of the NFL.
Green Bay @ Minnesota
Prediction: Green Bay +5. 3-5 teams have actually won 9 of the last 13 matchups, and seven of those were on the road. Road 3-5 teams are 5-7 overall though, so this game is really just a coin-flip. I’d take Green Bay, with the five points.
Result: Green Bay 23, Minnesota 17. Green Bay was in control for most of this game, and the only way the Packers weren't going to cover was if this one went into overtime. I think most people saw Minnesota as the team with a better record, and at home, and the line was set that way. But this is a good example of how a road team with just one fewer win isn't at much of a disadvantage.
Kansas City @ Miami
Prediction: Kansas City (-2.5) seems like a strong bet; road 5-3 teams are 4-1 all time. As is the case in this specific matchup, generally 5-3 teams are playing for the playoffs, while 2-6 teams have less at stake. History isn’t a great guide here though, so be careful basing much on the sample size of just two games since 1990.
Result: Miami 13, Kansas City 10. As a football fan, I'm very surprised with this one. The Chiefs had been red hot, and the Dolphins just aren't very good. I imagine that now lots of people will expect another second-half surge from Miami (I can't believe that's Miami's new reputation), but I'm far from convinced. I noted the small sample size (good), but a team with three more wins shouldn't be expected to lose very often, especially one playing as well as the Chiefs.
N.Y. Jets @ New England
Prediction: New York (+10) is a strong play. Road 4-4 teams are 8-8 against 6-2 teams since 1970, so getting ten points in a coin-flip game looks good.
Result: New York 17, New England 14. The Jets were actually in control of this one the whole way, and were never in danger of losing by double digits.
San Diego @ Cincinnati
Prediction: San Diego (-1). This game is almost a coin-flip, and it’s properly viewed as one. I’d stay away from betting on this one.
Result: San Diego 49, Cincinnati 42. This game was crazy, and went down to the final minute. Certainly a good game to avoid betting on, and the only reason I took the Chargers was because I'm a big fan of Rivers and Schottenheimer.
San Francisco @ Detroit
Prediction: San Francisco (+6) covers against Detroit. I’m pretty surprised to see a 2-6 team favored over anyone with a better record, but I’ll give the market some credit for this one. I’d expect Detroit to win (after all, road 3-5 teams are just 1-3) but six is a lot of points to give. I wouldn’t bet this game, but I think SF covers.
Result: San Francisco 19, Detroit 13. While I thought the 'Niners would -- and they won outright -- this is another good example of why we need more than technical analysis. I didn't know at the time that James Hall (in addition to Shaun Rogers) would be missing the game, which would of course had been irrelevant to the "system". But without those two, Frank Gore rushed for 148 yards in the first half. The sample size was pretty small, so I avoided betting on this one.
Washington @ Philadelphia
Prediction: Washington (+7) is what the numbers would tell me. Of course, Philadelphia could really be 7-1, so I’m not sure how similar they are to similar 4-4 teams of years past. The only thing I know is that there’s no way I’d want to bet on this one.
Result: Philadelphia 27, Washington 3. It was pretty obvious that the Eagles weren't your typical 4-4 team, I'm glad I didn't let the numbers sway me here. Remember, garbage in, garbage out.
Denver @ Oakland
Prediction: Oakland (+9.5). Yes, I know this sounds like near insanity. In fact, I didn’t type “Oakland (+9.5)” without bursting out laughing. ... Oakland is terrible, and Denver has had Oakland’s number, despite the Raiders being pretty good for a number of years. I wouldn’t want to bet a lot of money on Oakland covering, but I think they will.
Result: Denver 17, Oakland 13. This is actually the prediction I was most proud of this weekend. All the numbers seemed to indicate betting hard on the Raiders, but who in their right mind could do that? The Seahawks sacked Andrew Walter on three consecutive plays on Monday Night, but six days later the Broncos only brought Walter down three times all afternoon. The Raiders led for the majority of this game, and almost won it outright. Like the Tennessee game -- another prediction that would have seemed crazy -- the numbers really like the Raiders here. Score one for the system.
Dallas @ Arizona
Prediction: Bill Parcells doesn’t pull a Kevin Gilbride and Ray Rhodes on us, and Dallas (-7) wins easily. Ok, so I didn’t really follow my system there. Road 4-4 teams are just 3-2 against the 1-7 teams on the road, but two of those wins were by 57 points. Dallas covers the seven point spread.
Result: Dallas 27, Arizona 10. I wasn't nearly as happy with this prediction. History really wasn't on my side, but I just used some subjective thoughts: Bill Parcells is pretty darn good, and Dennis Green and the Cardinals are terrible. On the other hand, 40% of the previous games were blowouts in the good team's favor, and so was this one. Too small of a sample size to bet much on, but I did like Dallas even giving a TD.
New Orleans @ Pittsburgh (2-6)
Prediction: New Orleans (+4.5). History tells us this game is a coin-flip. Taking the points with a team that has won four more games seems like free money.
Result: Pittsburgh 38, New Orleans 31. This was the Steelers game from the opening kickoff. Pittsburgh was certainly one of the best 2-6 teams in recent memory, and history told us this game was a coin flip. That being said, you have to like getting 4.5 points on those type of games, because more often than not you'll be a winner. This was not one of those times.
St. Louis @Seattle
Prediction: Seattle (-3.5) covers; home 5-3 teams are 13-3 against road 4-4 teams. Sure the Seahawks record is inflated a bit, because Alexander and Hasselbeck were a big part of those five wins, and won’t play on Sunday. But 13-3 is pretty strong evidence, and I like Wallace and that home field.
Result: Seattle 24, St. Louis 22. The Seahawks won, which is good; they didn't cover though, which is bad. I wasn't surprised to see them win this one, but they came up a couple of points short.
Chicago @ N.Y. Giants
Prediction: New York (+1) wins. A 7-1 team has never beaten a 6-2 team since the merger. ... I know the Bears lost to Miami, and got outplayed by Arizona, but I’m a bit surprised to see a Giants team without its top two receivers favored in this one.
Result: Chicago 38, New York 20. Plaxico Burress ended up playing, and for most of the first half New York looked like the much better team. Things got out of hand after that though, and Devin Hester's touchdown return was the icing on the cake. Certainly a very ugly game for the "system".
Tampa Bay @ Carolina
Prediction: Tampa Bay (+9.5) covers. Sure, 2-6 teams are 3-14, and 1-6 on the road. But of those seven road games, only once did the 2-6 team lose by more than ten points.
Result: Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 10. Tampa was up 7-0 at halftime, but things went south quickly for the Bucs after that. This looked like a pretty good bet, but with just over three minutes to go the Panthers scored another TD.
Like every other system ever designed, this one got some of them right and some of them wrong. History gave us the Jets, Titans, Packers and depending on your risk tolerance (or gambling addiction), the Cowboys, Raiders and 49ers. Alternatively, all signs pointed to the Giants, Seahawks, Saints, Bucs and, depending on your risk tolerance, maybe the Redskins and Chiefs covering. Atlanta, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and San Diego were all in games that history said was too close to wager on.
On the positive side, history strongly pointed towards the Jets, Raiders, Ravens and Giants covering, and they did win three of those four. The Giants were depleted by injuries, and probably weren't really representative of a team that had won six of its first eight games. There were three games this weekend featuring 2-6 teams hosting 6-2 teams, and history said that those games were 50/50. All were close and decided by a TD.
On the negative side, some of the glaring defects of this system came out. The Giants and Seahawks (and to a lesser extent, Lions) were hit with some big injuries, and that wasn't taken into account. The Eagles were much better than your typical 4-4 team. The Steelers were worlds better than your typical 2-6 team. And comparing the Jaguars and Falcons to any average group of teams is a recipe for disaster.
Overall, I think the system had slightly more hits than misses this week. That's good. There are definitely some tweaks available for the system, and intuitively you would think that would improve the success of the system. But the fact that the Eagles weren't your typical 4-4 team, and the Giants were depleted with injuries, was reflected in the betting line. In games that are blowouts, it's easy to get frustrated with the system. I'll have to spend a bit more time stewing on ways to improve this.
Unfortunately, time constraints prevent me from running the numbers again this week, and most likely the week after as well. Depending on how things go, I might come back for week 13, which of course will have even more data available.
There's a lot of content coming this week, so I'm just going to throw this tidbit at the end here today. Over the next four weeks, we'll see the Chargers and Broncos play twice. It's not that rare for two very good teams to come from the same division, but it's not exactly common either. Since 1970, there are 19 pairs of teams that played in the same division and won at least 75% of their games.
Interestingly enough, ten times there was a sweep of the season series. Five times the team with the better end of season record would sweep, twice the teams would have the same record, and two more times the worse team actually swept. In 1999, the Jaguars went 14-2 and the Titans went 13-3, but Tennessee swept the Jags. To add insult to injury, the Titans eliminated the Jaguars in Jacksonville in the AFC Championship game. In 2001, the Green Bay Packers (12-4) swept the Chicago Bears (13-3), but both teams lost in the second round of the playoffs.
Six of those nineteen pairs of teams would meet again in the playoffs, which of course could also happen this year. Twice -- the 1999 Titans/Jaguars, and the 1986 Giants/Redskins -- there was a season series sweep, and both times the previous victor would prevail again in the playoffs.
One last note: don't let the venue affect your thinking too much. Home teams are just 17-19 in these types of games. (Of course, it's very possible that one team will fail to reach 12 wins, which would put them out of the study.) We're lucky this game's on national television, and I think it will be one of the best of the season. The Chargers have scored the most points in the league (297) while the Broncos have allowed the fewest points in the NFL (111).