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NFL Week 11 – Winning By Losing

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The Chargers upset of the Colts was nearly unimaginable. Not quite Appalachian-State-over-Michigan unimaginable, but pretty close. Even considering their loss to the Pats in the previous week, the Colts were on their way to being a team of historical greatness. Football Outsiders has a database of statistical info that goes back to 1996. At the end of Week 9, they checked to see what teams had the highest DVOA through the first nine weeks. Number one was this year’s Patriots. Not surprising. Number two was this year’s Colts. So everything you have read about the Pats overshadowing the great Colts season is true. We are not just witnessing two teams separating themselves from the pack this year. We are witnessing a McGwire/Sosa dynamic — two pantheon-worthy performances in the same season.

Rounding out the top five are the ’96 Packers (13-3, won Super Bowl), the ’01 Rams (14-2, lost Super Bowl), and a tie between the ’99 Rams (13-3, won Super Bowl) and the ’01 Eagles (11-5, lost to the Rams in NFC Championship). Interestingly, this year’s Cowboys come in at number seven.

Through nine weeks the Colts were head and shoulders above all those teams. The Pats were head, shoulders, torso and well… you see what I driving at. The Chargers, on the other hand were a disappointingly average team. They looked like a top drawer group before the season started, but despite occasional flashes of brilliance they have consistently dashed expectations all year, culminating in being Adrian Peterson’s play toy the week before.

The extent to which stars had to align for the Chargers to eek out a two-point victory was astounding. The Colts had to go into the game with their offense decimated (down two starting offensive linemen, a starting tight end, and their first and third receivers). Peyton Manning, probably the most effective QB in history, had to throw 6 interceptions (rain assisted). They had to fall behind by 23 points at the in the first half. In the final minutes, they had a long interception return pulled back because of an inadvertent whistle and a first down reversed on a booth-initiated review over a dispute of a few inches. Adam Vinatieri, one of the most storied kickers in history, had to miss two field goals, including a chip-shot game-winner. After all that San Diego still only won by two and Indy was in it until the final seconds.

The whole thing reminded me of America’s Cup yacht races from back in the ’80s. (A sailing analogy? Seriously?) The U.S. had about a 120-year winning streak in the America’s Cup. In 1983, they lost for the first time when the Australian entry showed up with a new-fangled winged keel that nobody could compete with. They beat the U.S., skippered by Dennis Conner, 4-3 in a closely contested finals round. The next time out, in 1987, Conner had adopted the winged keel and proceeded to trounce the Aussies 4-0 in the finals. While everyone was busy congratulating Conner on his dominating victory and his professional redemption, the sailors in his crew had a different take. They were pleased with the victory but, to a man, they felt the greater achievement was nearly winning in 1983 despite having a much slower boat.

Now, I know a good deal of the Colts problems were of their own making, but sometimes, if you look closely, a gritty loss is more impressive than an annihilating victory.

Despite all that, little has changed in the AFC big picture. It may have been mildly disruptive if the Titans had beaten the Jags and tied up the AFC South, but Tennessee tanked pathetically so everything is still in order for a Colts-Pats showdown in January. In fact, the Jags are now tied with the Titans for second place in the division and the first wild card spot. (Ha ha. Have I mentioned I hate the Titans?)

What’s more interesting is the way the NFC is morphing from a bazaar into a cathedral. What started out like a open scramble has turned into the Packers and Cowboys soaring above all the rest. Their immediate divisional subordinates (Lions and Giants) are sitting in the wild card drivers seats. I guess that makes the Packers/Cowboys match on the November 29th the next game of the century. Call it Super Bowl 41.683. The ancillary story to that game occurs on Sunday when the Giants and Lions meet. The winner of that game still has an outside shot at a division title; the loser gets tossed in to the stew pot with the wild card contenders from the South and West.

Apart from the obvious competition between Favre and Romo to see who can throw the single most ill-conceived pass that happens to get caught for a touchdown, the big issue with Super Bowl 41.683 is one of availability. The telecasting rights for this game have been retained by the mothership, and the NFL Network is not universally available.

In case you’ve missed it, the NFL and the cable companies are locked in battle over this. The NFL wants their network to be available as part of enhanced cable service — in other words, as soon as you step up from the very basic cable, you should get access to the NFL Network. Time Warner, Comcast, and some others, say nuh-uh. They won’t carry the NFL Network unless it is part of an elite tier. If the NFL wins, lots and lots of people will get access (including many who don’t care) and the cost ($0.61 per subscriber) will eventually get rolled into your standard subscription in the course of the usual price increases. If the cable companies win, the network will be targeted more precisely at those who want it, but the price of getting it will be much higher.

The NFL is looking for the broadest coverage and knows full well that in time, people will come to think of the network as just another “free” channel that comes with their subscription, like USA or TBS, etc. The cable companies know that sports nuts will pay an arm and a leg for access to premium tiers, and they risk a short term backlash from non-football fans if they lump it in with a standard subscription. The NFL calls the cable companies greedy for wanting to fleecing folks who just want to watch football which, as we know, is a Constitutional right. The cable companies call the NFL sleazy for trying to push some of the cost of their product on to people who don’t want it and will likely be unaware they are paying for it, because we all know the cable company will only pass on the $0.61 cost, not structure themselves a profit out of it. The NFL calls the cable companies a bunch of stupid heads. The cable companies reply, “NO YOU ARE!” And on it goes.

So for the time being, Time Warner gets no NFL Network. Comcast which already had rights to broadcast the NFL Network won a court victory to bundle it with a premium sports package, which means they better make as much money off it as possible because they can kiss their rights to the NFL Network good-bye the instant the contract is up. As a practical matter most people who want to see Super Bowl 41.683, including yours truly, will be heading to the nearest sports bar, where the audience participation game will be to take a drink every time someone uses the word “gunslinger.”

Last week

I was geeked for the Seahawks victory Monday because it gave me a 2-3-1 record in spread picks. 2-3-1 is a minor setback. 1-4-1 is a horrendous beatdown. It’s a fine line. For the year that makes us 12-5-1 meaning a layout of $1980 has returned us $2620 for a net profit of $640.

Despite the Colts hacking up a furball, the money line came though yet again. $920.65 back from a layout of $800 bringing our annual winnings to $1067.74. The money line formula is the New England Patriots of the gambling world.

Spread Picks (spreadsheet)

Well the obvious pick seems to be the hated Titans getting 2.5 from Denver (certainly a very odd point spread). Was last week’s loss to Jacksonville a blip for the Titans or something scary? Was it the absence of Albert “Riverdance” Haynesworth? And what about being on the road in the thin air? But the Broncos are not on the same level as the Jags. Even at Mile-High we’ll have to take Tennessee if they are getting points. Pick: Hated Titans +2.5.

Did you notice Pacman plea-bargained some of his criminal charges? He has agreed to inform investigators regarding the details of his rainmaking episode. Does that make him a snitch? If this were The Wire he’d be getting a visit from Snoop Pearson. Apparently Roger Goodell is more terrifying than any assassin.

The Bucs are giving 3 to the Falcons in Atlanta, where Joey Harrington appears to be ripe for another unwarranted dissing. Byron Leftwich was truly lousy in his last attempt to pilot the Falcons. But whatever the case, the Bucs are a vastly superior team. They should win by more than a field goal. Pick: Bucs -3

It’s hard to see broken-down Panthers as remotely competitive against the Pack on the Tundra. Pick: Pack -9.5

Without the misguided compulsion to get the empty husk that is Shaun Alexander involved the game, the rejuvenated Seahawks should demolish the Bears in Seattle. Pick: Seahawks -6

There are five double digit spreads:
•Pats -16 at Bills — There is no line that is implausibly high for the Pats. The only hope is that the bye week has mellowed them. Riiiiight. Pass.
•Colts -14.5 v. Chiefs — This is really the most appealing double-digit line, but I just can’t answer for the Colts health. Note the “.5″ meaning two touchdowns is not enough of a win. Asking for trouble. Pass.
•Cowboys -11 v. ‘Skins — Tempting. Dallas has a mad passing game, and the Skins pro bowl safety is out. On the road last week, the Cowboys beat the Giants by 11. At home, they should handle the ‘Skins by at least that much. Pick: Cowboys -11
•Steelers -10 at Jets — Big Ben still seems like he is close to another injury. I can’t explain it, but I can’t shake the whole bruised hip thing. Whatever the case, I’m just not comfortable counting on the Steelers to rack up points and not let the other team slide back into it. Especially on the road. Even the Jets. Pass.
•Eagles -10 v. Fins – This one is tempting also. The Eagles looked like they hooked up to the wayback machine last week. Miami is going with rookie John Beck at QB, just to get him started at pissing his career away with the Fins. Meanwhile, Ricky Williams has been reinstated by the NFL. Weed merchants throughout South Florida rejoiced. I’d feel better is it was going to be cold and snowy at the Linc (I heard somewhere that it’s always sunny in Philadelphia), but this one looks like a romp. Pick: Eagles -10

I’m going to allow myself one more pick that isn’t entirely supported by DVOA. Or rather, it is, but only in the details. The Giants are giving 2.5 to the Lions in Detroit. At first glance that looks about right. The Giants are more talented, but the Lions are at home and playing over their heads. But according to DVOA, the Lions have the worst pass protection in the league. Kitna has been sacked at a David Carr-esque rate. On the other side of the ball, the Giants pass rush is the terror of every QB in the league. I think the disparity of that match up kills Detroit. Place the over/under on Kitna sacks at 10. Pick: Giants -2.5

Money Line Picks (spreadsheet)

Every single line pick kicked out this week is an underdog. I actually went back and verified all my formulas it was so strange. I have absolutely no confidence in these picks. Of course, there’s no telling if that’s a good sign or a bad one.

Here’s an interesting note on how good the Pats are. Even giving the Bills the benefit of home field advantage, the payoff would have to be nearly 17 to 1 for the formula to let me take the Bills (it’s 10.5 to 1 for those of you who don’t look at the spreadsheets). The most lopsided hypothetical DVOA matchup possible this week would be if the 49ers were visiting the Pats. In that case, the Niners would have pay more than a staggering 43-1 to take the bet. Any given Sunday my ass.

Pick Recap

Spread Picks
Titans +2.5
Bucs -3
Pack -9.5
Seahawks -6
Cowboys -10
Eagles -10
Giants -2.5

Money Line Picks
Atlanta +155
Baltimore + 130
Arizona +155
San Diego +125
San Francisco +130
Tennessee +110

All the money line picks are underdogs, but 6 of the 7 spread picks are favorites. Weirdness. I have a lot of apprehension about this. There is no winning by losing in gambling.

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About David Mazzotta

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    I was this close to changing it to Super Bowl XLI.DCLXXXIII

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    You are both funny guys.

    If the Lions don’t win this week, they will be 6-4. 6-4, and playing the red-hot Packers the following Thursday [known nationally as Turkey Day]. And Kevin Jones is questionable for both this Sunday and next Thursday. And their schedule doesn’t get much easier after that.

    Color me nervous. :-/

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    6-4 in the NFC is like 4-6 in the AFC.

    Unfortunately, 6-4 in the NFL is like 5.99999-4 in the CFL.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    The Money Line was a bitch this week…

    :-/

    The Spread Picks were epic though.

  • david mazzotta

    Unless the Titans suddenly morph into the Patriots, it’s looking like the spread picks will be 4-2-1.

    The line picks are a complete disaster. Looks like a loss of about $345.

    I’m pretty sure a loss on the money line coupled with a gain on the spread has never happened before in the three years I’ve been doing this.