In high school, I spent more time charting stats on sports than I did studying for history tests. In college, more time was spent chronicling point spreads than preparing for math exams. I have been charting numbers and looking for edges since the 1960’s, worked professionally in sports after graduation from college through most of the 1970’s, and opened Qoxhi Picks in 1981.
You would think that all that work and data would lead me to easily identify this team or that based on history and tendencies alone. There is a problem with that method, the guys entrusted to separate gamblers from their money keep adjusting what they are doing to flatten one time advantages and lure bettors to the wrong side of propositions.
All my experience leads me to a fundamental truth; winners are not found from yesterday’s results but more importantly from unique circumstances governing the talent and motivational level of each matchup. Situations that favored an underdog for years have been erased by linemakers adept at pulling the rug out from popular plays.
So, I don’t come at each week of an NFL season thinking I know who is going to win, or more importantly, who is going to beat the point spread. I come at it looking for the edges that are unique to this particular week’s matchups. Why a team favored at home is not likely to win, or at least not cover the point spread. Why a favorite is poised to dominate the action and scoreboard.
The playoffs offer all sorts of factors to be considered before deciding what team is likely to emerge the winner. And my initial work this week illuminated that the first game played this weekend offers a great opportunity for the Wild Card Las Vegas Raiders to beat the AFC North Division champion Cincinnati Bengals.
But, I had a problem with this early assessment.
Only one team of the 55 that have won a Super Bowl did it in a season in which they allowed more points than they scored during the regular campaign. That was the 2011 New York Giants, who allowed 400 points and scored 394 during the regular season in which they capped their postseason with a victory over Tom Brady and his New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, 21-17.
So, when I noticed that two teams in action this week were outscored by their opponents in the regular season, the Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers, I first thought that would give a decided edge to their opponents, Cincinnati and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Thinking and empirical evidence are often in conflict in the handicapping business. It surprised me to discover that since 2000 there have been 16 teams in action during the Wild Card weekend that were outscored during the regular season. Two of those teams, the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks, played each other in 2004.
Know that happened to the other 14?
Turns out they beat their opponents eight times in 14 decisions straight-up and had an even better record against the point spread, 9-4-1. Three times the teams that were outscored in the regular season were favored on the point spread against teams that outscored their opponents while earning a playoff date. All three of those favorites won their games straight up and two of them beat the point spread.
My concern about second guessing the advantages I saw favoring the Raiders because they were outscored in the regular season, Las Vegas allowed 439 while tallying 374 this season, was mitigated. In fact, statistically, teams in Wild Card games coming off a regular season giving up more points than they scored appear to have an advantage.
If they do, then how about the Steelers over the Chiefs on Sunday?
Pittsburgh was outscored by 55 points this season while Kansas City had a cumulative advantage over their opponents of 116 points, the fourth best point differential in the NFL.
No. No single stat is reason to back a team, but in this case, one that looked ominous on the surface is not one that detracts from the likelihood of a point spread win for the road team on Saturday in Cincinnati.
Once again, you, or should I say I, learn something new every week.
Qoxhi Pick: Las Vegas Raiders (+5½) over Cincinnati Bengals