If someone was doing a scientific study in nature but didn’t have an understanding of the laws of gravity, their study would be skewed.
If someone is trying to handicap a National Football League game and operates off a flawed premise, their expectations will most likely be unreliable.
On Thursday afternoon, I was talking on the phone to a good friend and, this might not surprise you, our conversation gravitated to the upcoming NFL Championship Games. He isn’t a fan of any of the teams involved in this weekend’s action, pledging his allegiance to the Las Vegas Raiders, but he had a strong comment on both my expected picks for Sunday.
When he learned that I would be backing both underdogs, the Cincinnati Bengals (+7) in Kansas City and the San Francisco 49ers (+3½) in Los Angeles, he had a response that he seemed to think was grounded in reality.
“I would never take two underdogs in the NFL Championship Games,” he said with a resolute voice that seemed to indicate his reasoning was grounded in facts.
In all honesty, I really didn’t know during that conversation what the stats were for underdogs in the same season in the two conference championship games. But when I hung up the phone, I went right to work to see if his assumption that underdogs were the wrong side in this round of the playoffs and certainly unlikely to both win in the same year.
Since 1990, the NFL Championship Games have split the point spread results 15 times, that is one underdog and one favorite getting the money on wagers. Eight times during those 32 seasons both favorites have scored point spread wins and covers, while nine times underdogs have gotten the money in both Championship Games.
In other words, there is no empirical evidence to conclude either favorites or underdogs are more likely to sweep this week, when the actual numbers show 15 times they split and 17 times the favorites or dogs won both games against the spread.
Here is another common assumption that is thrown out like it is fact based: ‘It is tough to beat the same team three times in the same season.’
Turns out, it is a lot more difficult to beat a team in the playoffs that has already won both sides of a regular season series. Since 1970, 74 playoff games have involved teams that met twice during the regular season and 53 times the two division rivals split their scheduled games. In the 21 contests that involved teams that swept the season series, the team that won both games have gone on to win a third straight 14 times, which leaves only seven teams that have reversed results after losing the first two meetings in a season.
Which brings us back to the basics.
There are no easy absolutes in handicapping a football game. I would not be influenced to take the San Francisco 49ers tomorrow based solely on the fact that they are looking for a third win this season and seventh straight victory over the Los Angeles Rams. In fact, if numbers and motivational tendencies I study pointed to the Rams in this game, I would be easily swayed to go against the 14-7 trend.
No, that’s not why I’m picking the 49ers on Sunday.
I’ve got the Niners for reasons that resonate with my work centered around motivation, defense and coaching.
When those three things line up, trends can be discarded as factors that are subservient to more fact based and reliable reasons.
So, when we get what we are looking for, and they get supported by trends, well then we’ve got a likely winner … which this weekend points to the visitor in Los Angeles.
Qoxhi Picks: San Francisco 49ers (+3½) over Los Angeles Rams