The Reckoning – NFL Championship Weekend

by dave on January 21, 2013

It is a weird quirk of nature that 5 victories can pale in the face of a single defeat.

It is called loss aversion. The concept that we fear a loss greater than we relish a victory. We mourn $100 lost much more than we celebrate $100 won. Based purely on economics it is an irrational, human emotion with little explanation. $100 is $100 is $100. PacMan Jones can make them all rain the same.

Yet, I can’t sit here and pretend to be above this feeling, for today I am wallowing in it. I had a lucrative day yesterday, thanks to a couple excellent forecasts and astute in-game bets. I ended the day with more money than I started the day.

But it was one loss that continues to stab me in the ribs this morning.

I should be thrilled with being so right about my projections last week. For the most part, both of yesterday’s games followed the script I wrote of what I expected. Even better for the most part, I profited from those expectations, which has not always been the case this season.

More remarkably, on multiple occasions I “hedged” pre-game bets with in-game bets in hopes of hitting a smooth creamy middle winning both bets (as the THH crew calls it ‘a Twinkie’) and won those as well. I think that has worked successfully about 3 times all season, and I did it correctly twice yesterday. As Ice-Cube once said, I have to say it was a good day.

Except for one mistake on my part that I just can’t get over.

In recent years, social scientists have begun to debate whether loss aversion exists. On a Sunday in Las Vegas, I can 1,000% guarantee it does.

Bet #1 Atlanta (+3.5) vs San Francisco

Bet #2 San Francisco (+9.5) vs Atlanta – In Game

Last Sunday, I complete my rudimentary handicapping and projected that Atlanta should be even if not slightly favored over the Forty-Niners. Instead they were 3.5 point underdogs. I rushed down to the MGM sports book and laid Bet #1 convinced that if I realized Atlanta was being underrated, so would others. A home team an underdog by more than a field goal? It seemed clear money would move on Atlanta and quickly Atlanta would be underdog by a field goal or less. As it turned out, money poured in on San Francisco and the line climbed to Atlanta +4.5 before receding to +4. I faced the choice of piling more money on my bet or hoping the middle didn’t bite me. I chose poorly after a 4-point Niner win. By buying early, I lost the bet. It would be my only loss on the day and, yet the only bet I still even think about.

I’m going to look at this in full later, reaching out to an expert to understand how to avoid this in the future.

Bet #2 was made in the middle of the first half when Atlanta took a 17-point lead. It seemed clear to me that Atlanta wouldn’t hold that big of a lead (see last week’s sacrifice of a 20-point lead to the Seahawks) so I put money on the Niners to buy into the coming rally and hedge my Atlanta bet. Unfortunately it was less than half of the original bet but at least I won back some of my Atlanta losses.

Bet #3 San Francisco/Atlanta Over (48.5)

Bet #4 San Francisco/Atlanta Under (62.5) – In Game

My single biggest bet of the weekend was on the Over. After a high scoring first half that saw 38 points put on the board, it looked likely that the Over would cash so when the Niners started the second half with a strong drive, the in-game betting at Cantor jumped to 62.5 and was paying even money (it would spike to 66.5 after the Niners TD). I decided to put down money on bet #4 as a hedge to a complete stop in scoring with the hope that there would be just enough scoring to win both. Sure enough that first Niner touchdown combined with a touchdown in the final minutes, tipped over the original bet. When the Falcons failed to respond, the 2nd bet hit as well. Twinkies for everyone.

I won twice as much money on these bets as I lost on Bet #1 on Atlanta above. Yet, I haven’t stopped thinking about Atlanta. Damn you dirty birds.

Bet #5 New England/Baltimore Under (51.5)

Bet #6 New England/Baltimore Over (40.5) – In Game

I never got a good feel for the spread on this game. My system projected Pats by 10, but I leaned toward Baltimore. I wanted Baltimore as Underdogs by more than 10. Alternatively if the Pats could have gotten to be favored by 7 or less before the game I probably would have bet on them. But with the line floating between 8 and 9 I just stayed away.

Instead I did bet on the Under, based on the close, long history between these two teams. They know each other too well to allow for a high scoring game on a cold, windy day. Sure enough, the game started very slowly. In the first half, the in-game dropped all the way to 40.5, so I laid some money assuming there would be at least some jump in scoring in the 2nd half. The Pats were already checked out by that point but the Ravens did just enough to push the total to 41.

Can I pause for a moment and note how dumb we all are every year to think the Patriots are a legitimate Super Bowl championship contender? At this point, they are Duke basketball – they are the same team every year, a team good enough to look dominant throughout the season but not good enough to win a title. Where Duke annually relies on good three point shooting and a couple un-athletic big men, the Patriots rely on a rhythm passing game and a defense doing just enough to allow the offense to out-score their opponents. As with Duke, they annually look good against inferior teams throughout the season yet in the post-season, an opponent disrupts the Pats’ passing game or Duke’s three point shooting goes cold and they lose. Yet, the very next year, by mid-season we are all right back to thinking they are the team to beat.

The Pats are soft. And always will be soft until there is a complete overhaul of the team. The media will continue to fluff Bill Belichick as some great mastermind but he has built a weak team, incapable of adapting when games go against their narrowly defined gameplan. Tom Brady is the perfect embodiment of the Patriots – pretty looking, but with such a limited skillset, incapable of taking a shot on the chin and still play well.

But at least I didn’t bet into that weakness. Unlike the Falcons. Damnit.

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