In the 1980’s, when computer technology was just beginning to be common, a friend of mine who was a professor at Cal developed a program to pick football games. His strategy was to match situation against situation to find when teams were most likely to cover the point spread.
What if a team was at home, getting points, off a loss against a division opponent who they lost to earlier that season?
Situations like that could have generated a play that won the point spread a high percentage of the time.
Later, he formulated a program that searched for situational edges and it routinely identified situations that had winning percentages over the past ten seasons that beat the spread more than 80% of the time.
I contended the information was flawed. Just because a set of circumstances might have won a high percentage of games in one period of time didn’t mean, without a logical reason, that the pattern would repeat. After I had built my own database with more than 20 years of history I would test the theories the professor generated with his program.
Turned out that most of his high percentage winners that had a bunch of meaningless criteria not only didn’t maintain a winning record in a different ten year period, but more often than not they were losers.
Because without logic driving the statistics, the fact that some things came up often when this and that lined up likely was destined to trend towards a 50/50 proposition, which meant they would often have the reverse of his high percentage of point spread covers.
Then there are some patterns that occur commonly in NFL games that are based on a logical assumption. For example, this week the Miami Dolphins host the Buffalo Bills and my initial thoughts on this game ran counter to logic. Here is what I mean.
The Bills lost last week at home and now travel to Miami for second week action. The Dolphins won on the road, downed the New England Patriots last Sunday, and now have a chance to go two games up on the favorite to win their division. The books saw the advantage for the Bills, made them a road favorite, which initially lured me to consider the strength of a play where I had a winner against a loser at home getting points.
But it didn’t feel right.
Unless we are all wrong about the Bills being among the favorites to win the AFC this season, they win this game. It’s not just that Buffalo has the personnel on the field to compete with anyone, but they have made the strides in prior seasons to promise this year will be special. Two years ago they cracked the playoff field, last year they won the AFC East and a pair of postseason games, this year a Super Bowl berth seems plausible.
Still, the books accomplished their mission of having me shy away from a road favorite that lost against a first week winner. But, turns out, the books know what they are doing. Since 1970, 30 times a team has been favored on the road against a team that opened with a win. Know what their straight-up record is in those 30 games?
Twenty-six wins, four losses.
Now, the point spread reduces that winning edge to 16-11-3, but that is still a winner and it has solid logic driving the stat. When this game is taken into consideration specifically, one can see that last week the Bills were confident headed to the locker room with a 10-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers. That overconfidence is partly to blame for them getting run over in the second half by 17 points enroute to a 23-16 opening loss.
It is highly unlikely the Bills will be overconfident this week, meeting a division foe on the road while staring at a possible 0-2 start and two games behind Miami in their race.
We have logic on our side, stats on our side and the fact that Miami wants this win today but the Bills need it.
The edge goes to the Bills, and while I won’t be recommending a wager on this contest, if Buffalo wins here they can get back on track with at least a tie for their division lead after two weeks. If Buffalo doesn’t get a victory today in Miami a lot of people, including myself, were wrong about the Bills 2021 prospects.