Like a golem arising from a mound of clay, the football season has taken shape. I first realized this when I saw Crocodile Dundee 2. Have you ever seen it? It is totally inept, even for a fourth-rate sequel of a third-rate film. It’s also borderline racist, but it’s Australian so there you go. I have seen 15-minute snippets of Crocodile Dundee 2 probably thirty times. You are flipping channels — because the only game the network slate is a blowout between a 5-8 team and a 2-11 team, and the announcing crew is a trio of quasi-literate, cliché-spewing dolts — and you inevitably stumble across Crocodile Dundee 2 on USA or Spike and it just kind of sucks you in… for about 15 minutes, then you realize you are what you are watching and you have to start flipping again or else face-up to what a wasted, soulless life you are leading.
There’s this one scene where Paul Hogan needs some help to rescue his girlfriend from stock-footage Columbian drug dealers, so he asks his shucking-and-jiving, street-smart, token black friend, Bad Leroy Brown, to find some people who can help. Bad Leroy Brown leads him to a group of light-in-the-loafers white punks who are the self-styled “coolest gang in New York.” Well, ol’ Mick Dundee sees right through their little charade. He asks, “If you’re so cool, what do you do last night?” The response is a defensive, “We didn’t do nuthin’!” Now the viewers see the truth: these guys are all about their reputation. If you pose like tough guys and talk like tough guys, even though you are a crowd of re-costumed Broadway dancers, you can be the coolest gang in New York. The scene is stunning in its poignancy.
I immediately thought of the Tennessee Titans. Not that they are a pack of poofters, but they are clearly all about the pose. All the reports about them always seem to include a reference to how they want to be hard guys because it’s the hard guys that win. So they take pride in their training camp scuffles which, quite frankly, is not appropriate for Albert Haynesworth since he is one minor frustration away from going all Michael Flatley on some poor lineman. And their QB self-consciously preens and trash talks and flaunts the chip on his shoulder, despite the fact that he throws like Dan Quisenberry. And let’s not forget the specter of Pacman, looming in the distance, waving around his TNA Impact Tag Team Championship belt while trying to fend off multiple lawsuits from his rain-making episode in Vegas. They may be winning, but they are also a contrived drama.
Oh and please note that these scions of smash-mouth, these monsters of macho, gave up 29 fourth quarter points and needed eight field goals to beat the Texans. But I don’t doubt their little kicker snarled menacingly after each one. (A twelve-year-old I know claims field goals are totally gay.)
So I have decided to hate the Titans, and that was necessary. Each year I need to have a team to irrationally hate. Last year, I chose to hate the Saints after they turned their home opener into a pathetic celebrity wankfest. This year it is going to be the Titans. Going forward, they officially become “the hated Tennessee Titans.” Nothing personal guys, but that’s how it has to be.
Oh, and speaking of annoying Australians, what in God’s name was Russell Crowe doing in the MNF booth? Where was Jimmy Kimmel when we needed him? “Hey Russell, phone call for you — oh, wait, better let me take it…”
My pointless fetishes aside, and with apologies to Dennis Green, this season has turned into just what we thought it would be. (You have been following along with RJ haven’t you?) In fact, it’s pretty much been the same for the last three or four years.
In the AFC, the Tom Brady is striding confidently across the landscape, leaving crumpled defenders strewn all over the field like so many pregnant supermodels. The Colts are winning with such regularity that Peyton isn’t sure where the commercial script ends and the real game starts. The NFC contenders all remind me of me: talented, but deeply flawed, and hoping to get hot and get lucky at the right time. We are headed for a Colts/Pats showdown in the AFC championship followed by a perfunctory appearance by the NFC champ in the Super Bowl again.
We’ll have a full set of mid-term grades next week (and/or the week after), but the most important thing is that we now have a nice, fat set of data to work with for making picks. That’s what we’re all about here at Thoughtful Fool Orbiting Headquarters, picking winners. To do this we have a couple of strategies, both of which involve using the hard, cold statistical data generated by the HP12c-wielding madmen over at Football Outsiders.
Football Outsiders generates a single statistic, called DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), that encapsulates the objective success of an NFL team. It measures play-by-play success and as such, may not correspond directly to win-loss record and certainly won’t correspond to popular perception, but that’s what we want; we want to shake out all the unexpected occurrences, since they can’t be predicted. To get a more detailed description of our methods, I strongly recommend you read The Fool’s Errand. It sounds very esoteric, but the bottom line is that we are looking for situations where the gambling line is out of whack with the comparative quality of the teams to make our picks.
Each week we generate a spreadsheet to guide us in making picks for both the point spread and the money line. For historical perspective, last year was the fourth year for making spread picks and the first year I finished in the loss column. It was the third year for money line picks and I have yet to have a down year with them. In fact, I’ve had very few down weeks with the money line.
This year I am a bit worried, mostly because, as a mentioned above, this year is playing out as expected for the most part. For these picks to succeed, we need public perception to be out of whack. If public perception is out of whack, we should get plenty of surprises. And there really haven’t been any big ones this year. Results that are in line with common expectations do not bode well for this system. Scary. But gambling, like life, is a marathon, not a sprint. So here we go…
Here’s the point spread spreadsheet.
For some strange reason, Buffalo is +3 at the Jets. Buffalo is nobody’s push over. Not sure I can say that about the Jets.
We’ll also take Green Bay +4 over Denver. The Pack is the objectively better team and is still getting points. Denver pulled off a potentially season changing win last week, but I’m going to wait for proof of a turnaround before I fight the numbers.
The Steelers -4 over Cincy and the Browns -3 over the Rams are both examples of significantly superior teams taking on opponents that are teetering on the brink of implosion. We’ll go with both.
Now the two biggies.
Indy is spotting the Panthers less than a touchdown. Vinny Testaverde finally learned the names of all his new teammates, but by Sunday he will have forgotten them and just start calling everyone “you damn kid,” then yell at Steve Smith to get off his lawn. We’ll take the Peytons -6.5.
Now brace yourselves for this one: I’m going to take the Redskins +17 over the Pats. I realize approximately 75% are rolling around on the floor laughing right now. I’ll give you a minute… Look, the numbers (DVOA) say that the Redskins have the number one defense in the NFL right now. And frankly, even with that knowledge, I’m hesitant. But maybe, just maybe, all the bad sportsmanship accusations over running up the score might make a dent. And maybe, just maybe, Brady only throws four touchdowns. And maybe, just maybe, they only win by a couple of touchdowns.
Look at it this way. Before adjusting for home field advantage (which doesn’t seem to matter much to the Peytons and the Bradys) the DVOA differential between the Colts and the Panthers is much greater than the differential between the Pats and the ‘Skins. But the Colts are only giving 6.5 while the Pats are giving 17. Gotta buy Indy and sell New England in that circumstance.
Here’s the money line spreadsheet.
Since the money line depends on teams winning or losing outright, the goals of the gambler and the goals of the players are in perfect sync, so we let the formula do the picking for us — no judgments or mitigations allowed. And the formula gives us (the dollar amount is the payouts for a $100 bet):
New Orleans $70.92
Green Bay $161
Notice from the spreadsheet that the formula selects the Eagles before the home adjustment and the Vikings after. In cases such as this we have leeway, but I’ll pass on taking either of these teams — unless the Eagles are going to wear those cartoon uniforms like they did against the Lions. In that case I’ll take the Eagles.
Also note that the payoff for a $100 bet on the Redskins to win is $1200 dollars and the formula still won’t let me take the ‘Skins. A 12/1 win can make your whole season. If I was to gamble in real life, which I never do as far as you know, there’s no way I could resist that.
New Orleans $70.92
Green Bay $161
I had to push this column out a bit early this week so there was no line set on the Chargers/Texans game. Sorry to rush it, but I have to leave town for a few days. There are some angry Australians threatening to slather me with Vegemite and feed me to the dingos.