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Cause and Effect
by Dennis Ranahan

The 2018 National Football League regular season was the highest scoring in history. Coming into the year, only 19 teams had ever scored as many as 500 points in a season, only the Denver Broncos five years ago had tallied as many as 600. Then, in 2018, three teams cracked the 500 point total. The Kansas City Chiefs the most, 565, and the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints followed with 527 and 504 respectively.

On the heels of the highest scoring season the NFL staged their lowest scoring Super Bowl when the New England Patriots and Rams combined for 16 points.

What this clearly illustrates is that NFL results are not necessarily a repeat of what has come before, but more tied to what the previous results logically lead to based on the one factor that influences every NFL result, motivation.

When the Patriots and Rams came into the Super Bowl with defenses that ranked 7th and 20th in points allowed, and offenses that ranked second and fourth in the 32 team league in terms of points scored, one could logically expect a high scoring game. But that logic is only based on what has happened, while the art of handicapping is more attuned to how past results feed what is more likely going to happen while employing cause and effect principles.

When defenses are overmatched, they are more motivated to overcome the challenge. The more motivated teams are the ones that appear to be playing on their toes, while an overconfident squad can look more as if they are struggling in sand.

In Super Bowl LIII, both defenses were motivated to challenge the higher ranked offenses, and that motivation had both stop units dominate the highly regarded offenses.

This was not a secret in the handicapping world. In fact, the line movement of the over/under number in the Rams/Patriots most recent Super Bowl is a clear illustration that the wise guys knew what was to come.

They may have not expected the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever, but they sure had a pretty good idea that the game was going to land below the opening number on the total which was posted at 58 points. By game time, even though the public bets were backing a high scoring game with the “over” play, the smart money moved the over/under line down 2½ points to 55½.

The under was the best play in Super Bowl LIII, not because of what most expected based on history, but what happened based on the cause of motivated defenses dominating talented but overconfident offenses.

In 1973, I was just out of college and working my first professional job in the front office of the Oakland Raiders. On my second week of full employment, I had begun my career with the Raiders as an intern and then hired as a training camp worker during the summer, I passed Al Davis in the hallway of the Raiders business office. He was on his way to his workout at our player facility and Thursday night meeting with John Madden and his coaches.

The week before, we had stopped the Miami Dolphins record winning streak which included their perfect season and Super Bowl win in 1972, with a victory in second week action, 12-7. Off this satisfying accomplishment the Raiders were now headed on the road to meet division rival Kansas City in a year the Chiefs were not highly regarded. The Raiders were road favorites, and just before I crossed paths with Al Davis at the Raiders Oakport Street offices, I had overhead runningbacks coach Paul Roach say to Tom Flores at the Raiders DooLittle Drive practice facility, “Well, we would have been satisfied to start with two wins in three weeks knowing we had to play the Vikings on the road and Dolphins in the second week.”

What Roach implied in his statement was that the win over Miami, after losing our opener in Minnesota, was reason to think that we were going to get our 2 and 1 start. The assumption in that statement is if we were good enough to beat a great Dolphins team we could certainly handle an overmatched Chiefs squad.

“How ya doin’ young man,” Al Davis said to me as we approached in the hallway. “Good sir,” I replied like addressing a drill sergeant in the army.

“And how’s our team doin’,” he said expecting a similar trite and positive response as he passed.

“We’re in big trouble,” I announced before thinking through my words.

The comment caught Davis like a gunshot, he turned seemingly as a snake would on prey, and flashed almost reptilian looking eyes at me with vengeance seething through his pores.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” he said as if he had found a traitor in his ranks.

“Sir,” I quickly retaliated, “It’s not that I don’t want us to win. It’s just that I’m still hearing the players talking about Csonka, Kiick and Warfield and how we beat them while I know the Chiefs are focused on us.”

My logic seemed to register with Davis, and even though his current distaste for me as the messenger remained, he quickly ended our encounter while pointing his finger and the words, “You just do your fucking job, I’ll take care of the team.”

As he walked away, I slumped against the wall in the offices across the freeway from the Oakland Coliseum with a sense that this was the greatest moment of my life. I was able to tell the genius of football what I knew from years of study on NFL results and the importance of motivation in dictating those scores. At the same time, he was going to fix it, so I saved the Raiders by alerting him of the impending danger.

It may have been that Davis had not fully embraced my concerns, or more likely, even if he had he didn’t have the ability to alter the outcome. Motivation is not really gained in a fiery coach pregame talk, but truly in the real fear of failure that athletes can benefit from in preparation for an opponent.

The results the next Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium were textbook. The underdog Chiefs looked to be on their toes, and the Raiders stuck in sand. When the final seconds were ticked off and the Chiefs owned a 16-3 victory, Davis leaped from his seat in the owners box and turned to me, in my location directly behind him. He grabbed my arm forcibly and pointed at my face with his other hand while saying in an intimidating tone, “And you knew.”

With only a moment pause between repeating the words Davis said it again not in vengeance, but seemingly in appreciation, “And you knew.”

After I left the Raiders I opened Qoxhi Picks in 1981 to offer clients the same insight I delivered Davis 46 years ago.

Offering NFL selections not based on history repeating itself, but rather identifying results to come with a firm understanding of cause and effect.