The Reckoning – NFL Wildcard and BCS Title Game

by dave on January 9, 2013

Coming into this little experiment, I expected to learn things; gaining a new perspective and knowledge; understand better how Las Vegas works and how professional bettors go about their business.

But there was one thing I never considered. The longer I have been here, the more money I have bet, the more money won, the more money lost, I have realized that it turns out that gambling isn’t really about the money for me.

A few weeks ago, I met a professional handicapper who admitted that he actually doesn’t bet a lot on his own. His entire career involves handicapping games and selling his picks yet he personally doesn’t bet a lot on a consistent basis. One could say that doesn’t make sense – the ‘put your money, where your mouth is’ line of thinking. I (and he) argue, by putting his entire livelihood in the hands of those picks, there is no need to spend more money on those bets –his entire income is his bankroll. If he loses his picks consistently he does more than lose a bet, he loses reputation, customers and ultimately income.

While I do still bet regularly – that is kind of the point of what I am doing – I have found my bankroll has slowly come to be beside the point. My bankroll is down on the season, but I have dipped into less than 20% of my bankroll and there are only 7 NFL games remaining on the season. Unless one or more of these remaining games shows a remarkable amount of value, I won’t bet enough over the next three weeks to lose the rest of my bankroll or even lock in a profit on the season. Like a projected path for a hurricane, as the season has progressed, my ending bankroll is slowly narrowing onto a path that leaves me with some but not out-sized losses.

So, at this point, it isn’t about the money. It is about being correct. To think you not only know more than sports books but that people actually want to read your rambling thoughts, you have to possess a pretty healthy ego. I certainly meet that criteria, so as losses pile up, it is increasingly about the dent put in my ego more than the dent put in my bankroll that drives me nuts. I just hate that I missed something, that I misunderstood what was going to happen.

Sure, even the best gamblers can only expect to win 55% or more of their bets on a consistent basis, that doesn’t help the bruising after a painful win. The pain is especially acute on the games where I bet higher amounts, because those correlate to the game where I was even more confident. It is one thing to lose a game where I bet a small amount on something that appears unlikely. It is another to be confident in how something will play out and end up being completely and totally wrong.

Which brings us to Notre Dame.

Last week, I laid out my rationale for betting heavily on the Irish – based mostly on the historical patterns we have seen in BCS title games of big underdogs playing close and even winning out-right.

As I sat at my seat in the Hard Rock casino, after about 5 minutes of game time I realized I was completely and totally wrong in looking at historical scenarios because I picked the wrong historical comparisons. Nick Saban has a semi-pro team and across 4 separate national title game appearances has honed his approach to preparation to be a razor sharp blade. For the remainder of the game, I spent as much time scrolling Cantor’s in-game betting menu looking for opportunities to make some money back as I did watching the Irish get slaughtered.

Under-manned, less talented teams can sneak up on over-confident, complacent teams. They can’t sneak up on a Nick Saban team with a month to prepare.

So I lost a good sized chunk of money on the Irish. The lost money hurt but at the same time, thanks to the line never getting over +10.5, my losses were actually somewhat contained and my misery was more driven by being so utterly incorrect in my projection.

After having a fairly successful college gambling season, it sucks to go out on such a sour note. But that is the way of the Las Vegas. Now I have seven games left in the NFL to end on a higher note.

Another lesson that I have learned here: there is no brooding about losses in Las Vegas. To have any chance at success you have to forget wins and losses and always focus on the next game, confident on this one you will be correct.

A lesson, even Nick Saban could appreciate.

Bet #1 – Notre Dame (+9) vs Alabama

Bet #2 – Notre Dame (+10) vs Alabama

The story of this game has been diagnosed repeatedly to this point so there is no reason to re-hash how out-manned Notre Dame ended up being; dominated on the offensive and defensive lines; a secondary not athletic enough to have a prayer of covering the Tide. The real question is what this does to Notre Dame’s reputation long term. After getting crushed in their last two BCS Bowl games by SEC teams, can we ever believe in Notre Dame again?

If, in a year in which they beat USC and Oklahoma, they still aren’t the athletic equal to an SEC team, will they ever be? If some future Irish team really is competitive with the best teams in the country will they be essentially blackballed – victims to the abysmal failure of Monday night? Can we ever believe in them? Yes, Notre Dame surprised us all by going undefeated this season, but did they actually do more harm to the long term prospects of the Irish as national champion contender by being given a chance this year?

At a minimum, the next time they won’t get my financial backing.

Bet #3 – Houston (-4.5) vs Cincinnati

Bet #4 – Houston/Cincinnati Under (43)

My weekend actually started out on a much more positive note with a double win of the Houston /Cincinnati game. I believed Houston was being undervalued after a sluggish end to the season and that the Bengals were being overvalued after wins over mediocre division foes Baltimore and Pittsburgh. It was tight throughout but the Texans held on for a 6-point win.

The Under was a little more interesting. Over the last month, I have been playing with a revised system for handicapping NFL games. The Under came out as the best value on the board last weekend. It was such a low number – a 24-21 win would blow through it – I was a little concerned but I decided to trust the system most than my extremely fallible opinion. The Under was never really threatened after a first half that saw only 16 points put on the board. Even beyond being directionally correct was the accuracy of the system for this weekend.

The system said this score would be in the neighborhood of 19-16. It ended 19-13.

The system projected 26 points for Green Bay. They ended with 24 points (I give it a pass on being too high on the Vikings because it couldn’t estimate how bad Joe Webb would be).

It projected 21 points for the Seahawks. They scored 24. It was too high on the Skins, but we may never know how much RG3 was impacted by that knee injury in the first half.

It projected 3 of 4 Unders hitting where all 4 actually did. The only game where it was wrong was the Joe Webb apocalypse in Green Bay.

If you ever wondered if the use of a quantitative gambling system of some sort really does have value to a gambler, the contrast of my bet on Notre Dame (a game in which it was repeatedly reported that wiseguys – pro bettors – were on Alabama) and the performance of blindly following that system on Wildcard weekend should resolve that question.


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