Last year every week I picked the games for the week, and now it’s time to belatedly see how I did. First the overall numbers.
Home Teams (Benchmark): 137-128-1
Vegas Favorites (Benchmark): 172-94-1
So I did much better than a person just picking the home team, but a bit worse than somebody just picking the favorite. But as I explained in my Week 13 picks, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It can actually be quite skillful to be only slightly behind the Vegas lines, depending on how you pick, even to the point where you can make money by betting.
At that time I didn’t do the exercise of seeing if my picks actually met this standard, but with some extra time in the offseason (and some help from Dan Harms) I compiled the results into a spreadsheet and ran the numbers. How did I do?
If you bet every pick, you’d have lost money.
Since I did straight up picks (i.e. wins and losses) as opposed to point spreads or only picking games I’d actually bet in real life, there are many ways you can convert picks into bets. I decided on two methods. One was to bet 1 unit on games where I picked the underdog, and then the moneyline number for favorites (ex. if a team was -500, bet 5 units). That resulted in a total loss of 45.18 units over the season.
The second method was also to bet 1 unit on every pick no matter whether they were a favorite or underdog. This did a bit better, but you’d still be out 14.12 units. Either way, it’s not very good. However…
If you only bet every underdog pick, you’d have won money.
Now to be clear, I’m not saying you should invest your life savings into betting on my underdog picks, but had you bet 1 unit every time I picked an underdog, you would have wound up ahead 5.17 units. But it gets better. My week 17 picks were made before a lot of teams announced whether they would rest their starters. This resulted in two underdog picks that shouldn’t count as they were resting starters and thus I wouldn’t have actually bet them (Texans and Bills). Unfortunately I also picked the underdog Seahawks that week, which I don’t get to exclude since they clearly were not resting starters that game (although I will continue to complain that I was 6 inches away from adding 2.6 units to my win total). Excluding those 2 units that I “lost” on those games, it brings my “actual” to 7.17. (In case you’re wondering, excluding those games would not be enough to rescue my overall picks).
That may not seem like much, especially over the 53 underdogs that I picked, but it’s actually exceptional. To the point where if I could do that consistently I could quit my day job and become a professional sports gambler.
What explains that disparity?
Part of it is the mathematical quirk I explained in those week 13 picks. Even though I had a losing record picking underdogs (23-30), because you win more than you lose betting underdogs I was still able to come out ahead overall. Also the fact that Vegas sets the line so that on average people lose money explains the losses. My underdog wins were essentially extracting just enough value out of that net loss to be positive.
But it’s also maybe a reflection of my skill as a game picker. In games where I pick an underdog I usually have a good reason for going away from the conventional view, while games that I haven’t analyzed closely enough I’m more likely to just go with the crowd (i.e. pick the favorite). This is backed up by another piece of evidence. Since the Chiefs are in the AFC, I tend to follow AFC teams a lot more closely than NFC teams. If this difference is due to skill then you’d expect for me to do better when picking games with AFC teams than ones with NFC teams.
Not only is there a difference, the difference is gigantic. I absolutely killed it when picking the underdog in an AFC matchup, while NFC and inter-conference matchups were losses.
What’s even more amazing is that I was often wrong about the teams early in the season. For those who regularly read my power rankings, you know I loved the Browns, Jaguars, and Bills and was low on the Ravens. Of those I was only right on the Bills. To do so well despite that shows the power of betting on underdogs. For example, I picked the underdog team to beat the Ravens 5 times, and went 2-3 in those games. But because those teams were at +300 and +400, I ended up 4 units on those games.
So how did I do? Pretty good I’d say, at least with AFC games.