As a five year old I started obsessing over predicting football games when my dad started talking to me about his bets. Determining the outcome of a football game is a complex problem - a mix of attitude, scheme, and talent - that can drive thousands of hours of thinking. And those hours learning to break things down to their core components and understand their relationships paid off. As a 31 year old, my job as an analyst is to understand and predict outcomes. I'm unsure if I ended up an analyst because of my obsession with football, or if I developed my obsession with football because I was destined to end up an analyst.
I've always been fascinated by the Westgate Super Contest and after a couple of profitable seasons I decided to invest my winnings to enter this year. I know it's a terrible investment. It costs $1,500 - which is a lot of money to toss away in a gambling contest - and 97% of participants lose their money, but I've always wanted to do it. It's my shot to prove my understanding of the game.
I didn't join this contest to end up at or near even - I joined to compete. I started this blog to give myself the best shot I could at competing. Clear writing is clear thinking, so I figured forcing myself to write my picks should improve my thinking about them. So far it hasn't happened.
This isn't about my pedestrian 8-7 record through three weeks or my consecutive 2-3 weeks. This is about my picks. I started week 1 as a contrarian, but turned into Joe Public - making the same picks as the majority of bettors - by week 3. My 4-1 start deluded me into thinking that I knew better than the professionals.
But I'm not crazy, I know that I can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results. I did some introspection and I believe I've spotted my issues and I'm ready to correct them. I noticed that in my analysis I had overreacted to the results of games so far and forgot about the people playing them. Of course the Jaguars would lay an egg the week after redeeming their playoff loss to the Patriots, and struggling teams like the Bills, Steelers, Cardinals and Lions would play with purpose after poor starts. These are people preparing to perform each week. They'll have good weeks and bad weeks depending on their mood just like I do at work.
I also noticed that I stopped reasoning about the puppet masters in Vegas setting the lines. It's a myth that they're trying to split the action 50/50 so that they can guarantee profit from the juice. They're trying to maximize profit by tricking the public into consistently losing. If Vegas doesn't move a line that gets 60% or 70% of the money go to one side of the game, it's for a reason.
That reason is not always for Vegas to win. If Vegas consistently won these games then the public would stop playing. They need to keep us playing - and keep the market confused - so they mix in a few low-volume winners each week with the games they plan to profit on.
This week I incorporated these factors into my decisions. I projected the lines based only on previous performance to spot lines that would have looked great to my public viewpoint the past two weeks. But then I added another level and looked at the human circumstances facing each team. I believe I've captured Vegas' intentions and I plan to capitalize on it.
This week's article has a different structure to reflect my change in thinking. I'll talk about what the line tells my public point of view, the human circumstance of the game, and what Vegas is trying to do with this line. I'm not sure I'll be right, but at least I'll be different.
COLTS -1 over Houston
I don't understand this line at all. My projection for it was Colts -6 and it's actually only -1. The Colts are a good team and the Texans are a bad team. There are concerns about Andrew Luck's lack of arm strength, but look at what Eli Manning did to the Texans last week from within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
On the other side of the ball Deshaun Watson has not become the star everyone expected him to be this year. Nfl Next Gen Stats has a stat called expected completion percentage which they describe as: "The probability of a pass completion, based on numerous factors such as receiver separation from the nearest defender, where the receiver is on the field, the separation the passer had at time of throw from the nearest pass rusher, and more." Deshaun Watson has the league's lowest expected completion percent - probably due to the pass rush. Greg Cosell, the best QB analyst the media has, said Watson is starting to "anticipate the rush". Anticipation is good for throwing wide receivers open, not for taking hits.
There is nothing special about the circumstances heading into this game. The Colts barely lost to the team coach Frank Reich had been a coordinator with last year. And the Texans lost a game that wasn't as close as the score indicates to the Giants at home. I don't expect either team to be particularly inflated or deflated after that.
I think Vegas is handing us this one. It's a division game with two teams coming off of 1:00 games that did not get much attention. Betting volume will be low, but the Colts will easily cover this odd number. Colts win 24-20.
DALLAS -3 over Detroit
I think the Lions are the better team here, but a line of Dallas -3 implies these teams are even. If this were last week I'd easily pick Detroit. I have eyes and a Twitter account. I've seen this Tweet:
I read this Ringer article by Robert Mays about how the Cowboys offense is antiquated. And I saw the Lions look pretty great against the Patriots. So what gives?
If we take a look at the situation it makes a bit more sense. Matt Patricia - who even after beating the Patriots last week is still a bad coach - just got his first win by stomping the Patriots. I'd bet the team was 0-2 heading into that matchup because it's all he'd been prepping for all year. I don't think he's going to put that type of focus into this game. But you know who will be focused? The Cowboys. Coming off an embarrassing loss and having the media clobber them, they'll look for redemption at home.
Vegas is looking to cash in on this game. Bettors will side with the Lions in droves after watching them crush the Pats in Prime Time and then listening to the media bash the Cowboys all week. I've caught it, and I'm siding with Vegas. Cowboys win 23 - 14.
BRONCOS +5 over Kansas City
I thought this line was finally too much respect for KC so to me this looked like Vegas asking me to Denver. Denver is 2-0 at home this year, and the crowd will be even more raucous for a Monday night against a division rival. The Chiefs offense has been exceptional, they have the 6th best DVOA through three games in the past thirty years. But this is Mahomes' first night game, in a hostile environment, against the best defense he's faced so far this year.
Last week Denver got embarrassed by 13 points in Baltimore. They're going to look to bounce back in their stadium. The Chiefs won another non-chalant victory where their offense looked awesome. Complacency is going to kick in at some point.
It looks like the public can't get enough of the Chiefs as they're getting 58% of bets according to oddsshark. This is going to be a high betting volume Monday night game and Vegas is happy to risk a big loss if the Chiefs cover and so am I. I think we finally see the Chiefs look mortal as Von Miller and squad pressure Mahomes. Case Keenum and his mediocre offense will look great against the Chiefs easily diced up defense. Broncos win outright 31-27.
PACKERS -9.5 over Buffalo
Since Sean McDermott took over defensive play calling duties during halftime of week 2 with the team trailing the Chargers 28-3, they've looked different. They've given up 9 points in three halves of play and the offense has come alive under Josh Allen. On the other side of the field, Aaron Rodgers looks injured and their defense can't stop roughing the passer. The 9.5 points look like way too much. Joe Public should take Buffalo.
But let's look at the spot. Green Bay just got embarrassed by the mediocre Redskins. They're going to want to make a statement this week. Plus, Green Bay won't overlook Buffalo after Buffalo crushed their division rival Vikings - a team Green Bay tied the week prior. While Green Bay has been preparing to redeem themselves, Buffalo has probably been busy smelling themselves. Rookie Josh Allen just won his first game and listened to the world talk about how he is actually good. Their defense could finally breath this week after embarrassing their defense focused coach the first two weeks.
Buffalo has had the attention of bettors since they looked historically bad in week one with Nathan "future stockboy" Peterman. This week, after they posted the biggest upset since 1995, they were a story on every podcast I listened to. Vegas is ready to capitalize on this attention, getting bettors to pick them to keep it close in Lambeau field. They won't. This is a blowout. Packers win 38-17.
RAIDERS -2.5 over Cleveland
Cleveland is a better team than Oakland. They are faster and stronger, and have more good players. The Raiders have looked okay so far, but they keep finding creative ways to lose. Coach John Gruden hasn't shaken off the rust of his ten year absence. This line should be a pick em.
But it's not. That's because I can't even imagine Browns practice this week. I think this is a case where having the extra time from playing on Thursday night hurts. Have you ever just accomplished something at work and then had extra time to prepare for the next deliverable? When this happens to me I normally diddle around until it's too late and I need to scramble at the deadline to get something out. That seems like what this coaching staff will probably do this week. And don't get me started on Baker Mayfield. I imagine he was extra focused this week - just not on football. Meanwhile the Raiders were prepping extra hard because this is a great opportunity to get their first win.
Vegas was ready to cash in on this line, but then something happened. On Wednesday, Colin Cowherd called out the fishy line and declared the Raiders his pick of the week early. Now, 57% of the money is on the Raiders. Instead of just sitting on it and taking the action because they expect a win, Vegas moved the line to -3 because they need Browns action to balance out their pending loss. I see Vegas' fear, but the Westgate Super Contest can't change it's line, so I'm laying the 2.5. Raiders win 23-12.
If you'd like to be notified as soon as I post my picks then subscribe below. If you are a subscriber and haven't gotten my emails - let me know. And finally, if you'd like to contribute to Unintelligible, send me a note, and we can work to get you published. Best of luck this week, let's make some money!