Full disclosure, last week was my worst gambling picks week of the year. Luckily, though, our new “Give a Hoot” system protected me from placing a lot of money on the line, so it was not my worst in terms of actual money losses.
And while next week looks like a 5 Hoot week (I already have a quarter of my bank roll down on some of the early lines - hello Indy PK @ PIT) this seems like a good time to acknowledge the theme for this week’s recap: I am still learning.
Although I have been gambling successfully for a while, this is my first year positioning myself an expert. In doing so, I am learning more about my tendencies and weaknesses. Having to write thousands of words every week analyzing picks and decisions has allowed me to take a deeper look at my process.
With that in mind, this week’s article is dedicated to what hasn’t been happening in my betting process. It consists of three lessons, as illustrated by this week’s games, that I have learned and will apply moving forward.
So on that note, here is what hasn’t been happening at Owl Eats Football:
What hasn’t been happening: I haven’t been able to quit teams I love.
There is a prevailing theory amongst NFL analytics experts that the most useful data to mine is on a cycling four-week basis.
In other words, teams shift and change so frequently throughout the season that this picture is impossible to capture if you include every snap from a season. By limiting the window you are looking at, you can better capture the true tendencies and identity of a team.
For me, this has been an easy one to understand, but a difficult one to enact.
Take the case of the Buffalo Bills, I rode them to wins in each of the first four weeks and internalized this as a a truth of the NFL. The Bills are good and I am the only one who knows it.
Well, clearly the logic here is flawed in two ways.
First, in the way outlined above, the Bills have changed as a team. What was once a dominant defense has seen itself solved to some degree by its last two opponents. Miami managed to score a then season high 21 points against the Buffalo D before Philly dropped 31 on the Bills this past week.
Clearly, in the span of an NFL season, concepts that are new and successful in Week 1 will be understood and less effective by Week 8.
The second way, however, in which my blind loyalty to the Bills is rooted in error is that Vegas learns as well. What may have been a contrarian and unpopular opinion about the quality of the Bills at the beginning of the season has since been adopted by many, especially Vegas.
We say frequently here at OEF that Vegas is undefeated. Part of the reason is that they prey upon the vulnerabilities of the people and exploit them for profit. They have adapted their views on the Bills to match reality, and in the process they have leveraged us Josh Allen fanatics into overvaluing the points they offer.
If you lost me in that last paragraph, the point is essentially that while bettors still think they are sneaking one by Vegas by betting the Bills, the lines actually now refelct the Bills success and thus offer us less advantage moving forward.
Another example of love for a team misguiding bets was in this week’s matchup of the Cardinals and Saints.
On the one hand, I bet the Cardinals +13 because I have faith in that team based on all the past results they have won for me. I couldn’t objectively look at the game when the Cardinals past two upset wins made me feel as though I knew them better than Vegas. If I had taken a step back and seen a Super Bowl favorite getting their Hall of Fame quarterback at home taking on a first year coach who exclusively kicks 20-yard field goals, I would have been able to bail on this game.
The other element here is that Vegas course corrected on the Saints. For weeks they have been putting New Orleans in underdog positions against inferior teams. This week, they adjusted their view and opened this as a 10-point line before Drew Brees was declared back. Ultimately, then, if we had gone here looking for a previous edge, we would have lost because Vegas would be a step ahead.
Moving forward, then, it is important that we don’t pick a team because they have done something weeks ago to make us think it is safe. We have to be as agile and as flexible as Vegas, and the way we can do this is looking for new edges and advantages each week.
The old saying is “you dance with who brought you”, but it’s 2019 and the new saying should be “you dance with who brought you, until you see someone prettier and then you dance with them”.
Shallow? Yes. Callous? Yes. Profitable? Yes.
Disclaimer - If my beautiful fiance is reading this, there’s no one prettier than you so you’re safe.
What hasn’t been happening: I haven’t consistently attacked big spreads.
One of the biggest trends of the season has been Vegas’ inability to set lines high enough for the elite teams in the NFL. Despite the fact that this won me a lot of money in the early season, I have lost my way in this arena.
Take for example this past week. New England was favored by anywhere between 10-13 points all week. Cleveland is a bad, bad team who has no offensive line and who is poorly coached.
For some reason, though, the double-digits scared me off.
See, the inverse of Vegas setting these big lines lower is that bettors see these numbers as insurmountable. Because the book makers are hesitant to go too high, our radars as bettors goes off when they actually do go into the double digits.
But what we have learned this season is that the lines that are consistently too conservative are those that set a 20-point game in the teens.
To put this into numbers, this season’s two best teams - the Patriots and Niners - are both undefeated in real life. But they are also both top of the league against the spread.
At 6-2 New England is tied for the best in the league against the spread, despite being favored by double digits in all games but one. The Niners are right behind them at 5-2.
Even more astounding is that they also both lead the league in average margin of victory against the spread. New England beats the spread by an average of 10.9 points per game, while San Fran beats the spread by 15.9 points (!) per game.
These teams aren’t just beating the spread, they are demolishing it. Vegas continues to favor them, but they can’t keep up with two defenses that make it almost impossible for opposing teams to cover. This becomes infinitely more impressive when you learn that New England has been favored by the most points in NFL HISTORY through eight weeks. They are beating the highest spread of all time by and average of ten points per game.
Next week San Francisco is -10 at Arizona and New England is -4 at Baltimore. You better believe that we have learned are lesson and that we will be hammering both of those lines.
We’re getting back to having no fear of large spreads. Instead, let’s make Vegas scared of us.
Disclaimer - If Vegas is reading this, there’s no one scarier than you so you’re safe.
What hasn’t been happening: I haven’t been betting proportionately to confidence.
This is something that we are working on correcting with our patented “Owl Gives a Hoot” system, but it has become clear to me over the past two weeks that I lose a sense of value in the bets I place throughout the week.
I end up with similar amounts of money on games that I feel strongly about and games that feel very variable. The end result is that even though I feel like I nailed a week, I break even because I overextended myself into areas of the slate which were true gambles.
Given the razor thin margins of advantage available to us bettors, wading into territories where we’re not fully comfortable s a recipe for losing money. Sometimes it will work out, but even when it does, you feel like your dodging a bullet rather than hitting a target.
At the core of this is making sure we bet from a disciplined, principled, informed place. But it is also more than that, it is recognizing when a bet is more appearance than substance.
Take last week, I ended up with as much money on Tampa Bay +2.5 as I did on Seattle at -5.5. If you had offered me 100 different scenarios, I would have said that the Seahawks wouldn’t cover in ten of them. But the Bucs? I would have said it would be 50-50.
Despite the fact that Tampa Bay would have won if a whistled hadn’t stopped a fumble return touchdown, the bet was more of a gamble than an astute assessment of the lay of the land. Meanwhile, Seattle was in a position in which I felt something crazy would have to happen to prevent them from controlling the game from start to finish. That bore out because even though they went three-and-out on three out of four second half drives, they still won the game by seven.
What this boils down to then is betting on what we think (or as close as we can to know) will happen versus what we want to happen. I wanted Tampa Bay to win that game because that would validate my notions of them and Tennessee as a team. Looking closer, though, it would not have surprised me if either team won that game, and I might have even felt more confident about the Titans if I had been able to strip away my biases.
The “Give a Hoot” system is the first step down this path. The next is to be sure that my weekly write-ups of my bets are driven more by numbers than feelings.
I feel like that’s the right thing to do, and the numbers back it up.
Disclaimer - If my feelings reading this, there’s no one I listen to more than you so you’re safe.