After a disastrous Wildcard Weekend, we managed to bounce back in the Divisional Round going 3-1 and pulling ourselves back over .500 on the season. WORMS enjoyed a similarly good week, but we’ll save that for our Best Bets post.
But I’ll be honest, 3-1 doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would.
Throughout this whole season, but specifically the playoffs, I have started to see the difference between the bets I am making. While some are lines I would put my house on, others are inclinations that need a series of events to fall our way in order to make money.
A big talking point on the OEF convention (being held in Southern California in February, email for tickets) is the notion that next year we do not want to make five picks a week, we do not want WORMS to be held accountable for predicting every game, but rather we want to be in the business of providing only winners. Perhaps that will be a week with one bet, no bets, or ten bets.
By limiting the number of picks we are marrying ourselves to, we increase the potential to minimize risk. Simple, right?
The reason I bring this up now is because in watching these four games this weekend, two felt inevitable while two felt like they were the result of variance. We got things right (and wrong) about each game, but in two luck was not a factor, whereas in the other two a series of events conspired to dictate an outcome.
So what I am getting at is that if I we had structured this week as we will structure next year, I wouldn’t have recommended all these bets. We will be trying to recommend those bets that would take the least amount of luck to win.
To get the ball rolling on this thinking, let’s look back and try to identify the games we got right, the games we got wrong, and the games we got lucky.
To be clear, we are still finishing out the year picking both Championship games and the Super Bowl. We are just reflecting on this week as we will predict next year - looking for sure things and minimal variance.
Let’s start with the game we were always going to get right:
WHERE WE WERE RIGHT: SF -7 vs MIN
In my personal betting, this was the game I had the most money on because I could not see a world in which Minnesota could score on or stop San Francisco, and boy was I right.
More specifically, what we got right in this game is the fact that the Niners getting back a healthy defense was going to be crucial. Without Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford, and Jaquiski Tartt (best name in the league alert) this defense had been giving up points to everyone the past couple of months.
In getting these players back, however, this defense was primed to throttle a Minnesota team with a bad offensive line and a quarterback not built for pressure.
Outside of a blown coverage in the secondary, Minnesota didn’t move the ball all game and wouldn’t have put up any points. The reason I was so sure about this game was the fact that Minnesota just didn’t have options. They couldn’t remedy the problems they had with creative play calling or superhuman individual play.
On the reverse side of the ball, although Minnesota has some studs on defense (Danielle Hunter is perhaps the best player in the league that no one knows) they were never going to be able to stop both the Niners running game and the individual weapons San Francisco could deploy. To pin their ears back and rush Jimmy G, they were going to need a lead. To get a lead they were going to need to score. They were never going to score enough to do this.
And so all in all, when a run heavy team goes on the road on six days rest to face a defense that is healthy and tenacious, they are not going to be able to play to their strengths.
On a deeper level this game was a microcosm of why running the football is not the key to winning, but rather winning is the key to running the football. If you have a free ten days, do a deep dive on Twitter where you can see analytical minds argue against the layperson in this arena. In the end though, just trust me that the evidence is clear: running the football isn’t a way to build a lead, it’s a way to keep the lead.
Given that the Vikings (and the Seahawks, but we’ll get to them later) try to run to win and were facing a front that wasn’t going to allow that, this game was an easy win.
We’ll talk more about what this means for the NFC championship next week (as well as unveil Niners fans extraordinaire Trevor and Alex), but for now let’s revel in the fact that we correctly saw why this game was a lock and then locked in our winnings.
This was lock not luck.
WHERE WE WERE WRONG: HOU +9.5
Never have I ever seen a 24-point lead feel so fragile.
And if that isn’t an indication that Houston was never going to win this game, I don’t know what is.
What we got wrong here was just the simple fact that the Texans had far too many deficiencies to ever be able to stop the Kansas City offense. In the end, I think the building of such a big lead hurt our chances to cover because Kansas City stepped on the gas and never let up while the Texans were forced (and not forced) into bad decisions.
But we should have seen this coming because of Bill O’Brien and Patrick Mahomes. First, the Texans coach.
After lambasting O’Brien all season, I then proceeded to bet on him in the biggest game of the year. On the road. After barely beating the Bills at home. Ugh.
O’Brien put on a bad coaching clinic in this game, primarily because he clearly had no plan.
After going up 21-0 in the first, the Texans had the ball 4-1 on the edge of the Kansas City red zone. They kicked a field goal, the Chiefs got a huge kick return, scored, scored, scored, scored and went into the half up 28-24.
The primary reason this was bad was because of O’Brien’s post game explanation where he said (paraphrasing) he thought they needed 50 points to win, but they didn’t have a play for 4th and 1 there. What?!
The secondary reason this was bad was because the Texans had yet to legitimately stop the Chiefs on offense. A blown coverage, two dropped third down passes, a fumbled, punt return, and a blocked punt were the reasons for Houston’s points. None of these were sustainable and a sign that, even with luck, Houston wasn’t winning this game. Knowing that he was running hot, O’Brien owed it to his team to maximize their lead.
The third reason this was bad was because O’Brien later fake punted, from his own territory, on fourth and four. If you are going to be aggressive in your own end, be aggressive in scoring position with a mobile quarterback, with a chance to pull away from a high scoring team!!
Instead, O’Brien’s inconsistent coaching meant that even with all the luck in the world, Houston lost this game by double-digits.
But let’s also credit Kansas City. Beside trusting O’Brien another thing I got wrong was thinking there was any scenario in which Mahomes didn’t light up this defense.
The primary reason that Kansas City came back and Baltimore didn’t is because they are a team designed to be able to pass and come back. Baltimore is a team that can get and salt away a lead, but can struggle when behind.
With that in mind, there would be no way Houston could get and hold a lead in this game. At the end of the day we bet on the Texans to be able to score some garbage time points to cover. That would have been incredibly lucky.
In reality, though, this result was set in stone before the game started and we missed it. The goal for next year is to be able to bet on the stone and fade the luck.
WHERE WE GOT LUCKY 1: TEN +10
So this was not a bad bet, but it was one that needed some luck, which we got.
How were we lucky to win a +10 bet when the team outright won by 16? Because without a few events, these teams would be in very different roles.
So let’s talk quickly about how this result came to be.
Through the first half, the Ravens had: a catch go off the hands of their tight end for an interception, no less than four drops (three on third down), and two failed fourth and one conversions (on which they had converted all their regular season chances).
Tennessee deserves credit for all of their plays, but if Baltimore makes those catches and converts even one of those first downs, they play with a lead and get to feature their strengths. Instead Tennessee played with a lead and got to exert theirs.
We do get credit for this bet, because the thesis was that Tennessee has the manpower to play from behind and keep up, but we got lucky that that was never tested. The Titans are more comfortable playing with a lead and they got to. If they were behind it would have been a nail biter to cover.
Once again, though, I feel obligated to clarify a common misconception about this game and all the games: The Titans were able to run because they passed themselves into the lead. Winning football means rushing success and not vice versa. I cannot stress enough how rushing is being misunderstood. (I have about 10,000 more words in me on this, so please email if you would like my passing > rushing manifesto).
But back to the game. We got lucky because the Ravens had nine drives end inside the Titan’s forty, yet only scored 12 points. We accurately noted that the Ravens were more fragile than perception because of their weak receivers and inability to play from behind, but it still took some luck to have those factors come to pass.
The Ravens were a historically good team with a historically good quarterback. But luck can fell any team and so can Derrick Henry.
It felt good to have seen some of this coming, but no one saw all of this coming, and there in lies the luck.
WHERE WE GOT LUCKY 2: GB -4
This was the luckiest of all the bets, and in the end, I don’t think anyone who bet on this game can say they were right or wrong.
Having seen the game play out, though, it does feel like Seattle +4 was the safer side of this bet since the game was always going to be close.
To win our bet we needed a missed Seattle field goal, a failed two point conversion, a questionable decision to punt, and then two long third down conversions by the Packers.
That’s a lot.
With all of them, though, we do deserve some credit as we got some things right that contributed to all of it.
First of all, the missed field goal and the missed two point conversion (the Night Owl tells me these total five points) were direct results of a defense that we predicted would hound Russell Wilson. Specifically, on the conversion, the Packers got through to Wilson immediately and he never had a chance to make anything of the play. We were lucky that it wasn’t converted, but also right about an advantage the Packers had that they exploited.
We were also right to doubt the Seahawks coaches. Say what you want, believe what you want, think what you want, but the truth is that Pete Carrol and the coaching staff lost this game for the Seahawks.
They tried to run for the entire first half and fell behind by three touchdowns. They passed all the second half and almost came back and won.
But the most direct example of this is the Seahawks punting the ball away on 4th and 11 in their own end down five.
While you might be saying this is an obvious punt, the fact is that the Seahawks had struggled to stop Rodgers all day and they were now giving a Hall of Famer a chance to win the game while taking it out of their own Hall of Famers hands.
With three timeouts, even if they don’t convert, they could still hold the Packers to a field goal and be down just one score. With a punt and a stop or a failed fourth down conversion, they would still need to drive and score a touchdown.
So in the Packers converting those two third downs, we can see that the genesis was something we were right about: bad coaching.
But, nonetheless, we were very lucky to win this bet. This was a good line, a bad bet (either way), and we won with luck.
Don’t get me wrong, it still feels good and I still made money from it, but my heart can’t take another season of bets like this.
We’ve got three more games this season and we’re two games over .500.
With any luck, my heart will make it to the off-season.