Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Market Watch
Season overall records to date:
Public Consensus Picks: 22-22-1
Hilton Contest Consensus Picks: 22-20-3

Before I get to my mid-season review, let's cover how the public and pros did against the spread this season.  Now let it be stated up front that the Hilton Contest players are not all "pros" or "sharps".  There are many "squares" and people who think they are "pros" that enter this competition so the numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Having said that, it's the closest thing we'll get to "pro" plays so it will be an adequate measuring stick for our purposes.  When you compare the top 5 consensus plays from the public tracking systems and the Hilton Contest--the differences are very obvious.

At this time last season both the public and pro plays were hovering around 39-44%.  The Hilton picks eventually recovered to achieve 50%, but the public never came close to that number.  The interesting aspect of this season is that the big favorites are covering like never before.  Despite inflated point spreads, heavy favorites are getting the job done and the public is reaping the benefits.  Will this trend continue or will the books adjust?  I have a couple theories on this down the page...

SIDES
This season I stand at 21-19-2 ATS on sides at the halfway mark.  In football handicapping, the magic overall number is 52.4%.  Achieve this winning percentage at the end of the year and you will have broken even.  This is the minimum number that is the most important once the Super Bowl is handed out in February.  Right now I'm exactly at that mark.  Not very good, but not bad either.  Sometimes a break even record is a morale victory in itself.  At this point last year I was 23-19-1 at the midway point and I finished the year 57% on sides and close to 60% if you include the preseason.  So while I'm not thrilled with how the season has gone, I'm not deterred either.

Looking back at my losses, a handful of teams have accounted for most of them.  ATL and SD were teams I was high on coming into the season and I've missed 3 times with each.  I've lost twice with CAR, PHI, BUF, and MIN.  Ironically enough, with the exception of PHI, the other 3 teams have winning records ATS.  In fact, CAR is 5-2-1 ATS this year so imagine how good I feel about picking their only 2 losses.

Teasers
This has been one area that has gotten the best of me so far this year.  After going back and reviewing all my teaser picks nothing really stands out--they just haven't hit this year.  If I would have taken all my teaser picks as straight picks against the spread the record would be 13-16.   This tells me two things.

1) I haven't had much luck in terms of which teams I combine.

2) I've been teasing the right sides, but the 6 points hasn't been enough.

Unlike "totals" last season, I don't see any trends that signal a red flag so I'm going to continue with them throughout the 2nd half.  In theory, many games down the stretch are sure to be highly competitive and tightly contested affairs. Weather will become more of a factor and point spreads will be inflated based on what we've seen thus far.  There will be opportunities to take advantage of this.

Player Props
Last season player props were posted earlier in the week than this season. Right now books like Bodog and 5dimes aren't posting their props until late Saturday or early Sunday.  It is simply too many games to go through with not enough time to evaluate and get them out to be much of a factor this season.  In the 2nd half I'll post player props for the prime-time games for those looking for a little extra action on the side.

My top 50 season-long player props are looking good though.  On props that are all but decided on I'm 14-8.   About half of them could go either way depending on how the 2nd half goes.   2 were graded as "no-plays" because they didn't play in week 1.

Division Winners
These have been a mixed bag thus far.  STL has been a big disappointment this year and SF have been much, much better that people expected.  PHI has an outside chance to win the division because they still have another head-to-head game with NY and NY have a very tough 2nd half schedule.  That said, it's not a pick I'm expecting to win at this point.

I picked HOU to win before any of us knew that Peyton Manning wasn't going to play and I feel great about that pick--especially getting them at +200.

I took a pass on the NFC North, AFC East, and AFC West because GB, NE, and SD were so heavily favored.

My other 2 picks are pending.  ATL has a decent chance to take it, but they'll need to beat NO head-to-head.  PIT isn't out of it yet, but losing both games to BAL is going to make things difficult.

In hindsight there isn't much I would have done differently here.

Season Win Totals
There isn't much to report in this category just yet.  I'm on track to be 6-4 with teams that are all but decided, but 9 teams could go either way (NYG, CHI, ATL, TB, TEN, SD, OAK, PIT, DEN).

I hit on MIN, DET, SEA, ARI, HOU, and MIA.

I missed on PHI, SF, BUF, and CIN. I think it's fair to say that most (if not all) of these teams haven't shocked people in the 1st half of the season.  I'm not surprised PHI struggled out of the gate, but I am surprised they have a losing record given their schedule.  It will be interesting to see if SF, BUF, and CIN can keep it up when the games become more important.  

Going Forward
The main difference that I've noticed between this season and last is how the trends have played out.  In 2010 underdogs won at an unprecedented rate during the first half of the year and things balanced out as the season went along.  This season the league has seen an unprecedented rate of scoring with no apparent trends regarding underdogs/favorites/home/road teams.  This trend is bizarre on a number of accounts.

1) Every sharp on the planet assumed that defenses would be way ahead of the offenses due to the lockout-shortened offseason.

2) The new kickoff rule has reduced returns by a significant amount

3) More rookies started the season than any time before

The only trend counter-acting all of this was the strong emphasis on player safety in the rules.

The results couldn't have been more opposite of what was expected.  Offenses came flying out of the gate and seemed miles ahead of the defenses.  Rookies were making a much more significant impact than people expected.  And points from long drives has not been affected due to the kickoff rule.

How this has all shaken out in the point spread is a lot of unpredictability in the 4th quarter.  Teams that would have otherwise had a game in the bag have given up the lead like we've never seen before--and I'm not just talking about garbage points.  Dramatic lead changes at the end of games have made a large share of games a coin flip on the Vegas line.

The reason for this is fairly simple.  Passing is way up and the rules facilitate it.  Right now 14 teams (almost half the league) is passing over 60% of the time.  Last year only 7 teams were passing this much.  That increase is phenomenal.  300 yard passing games used to be a barometer of an top tier quarterback.  Now people start asking questions if you don't reach that mark.

Penalties have always been a problem in the NFL.  Going back in time I don't know anybody that hasn't attributed some of their losses to bad calls that turned a game.  The difference this year is that player safety is being used as a copout reason for a large amount of bad calls.  Whether it is a helmet to helmet hit, a pass interference play, or a roughing the passer call--penalties are sustaining drives and increasing scoring.  When almost half the teams pass 60%+ of the time those calls are going to become even more prevalent.

Now I'm not about to blame my losses on this new trend because I'm sure I've been on the winning side of it too, but it has added a new wrinkle to handicapping football in the 2011 season.

Conclusion
At this point of the season I feel pretty good about things.  It's reassuring to know that even in a turbulent season that has caused problems for mostly everyone, my system is still holding up well.  Teasers have hurt my overall profit margin so far, but with 8 weeks of the regular season and playoffs remaining, I expect to have a 6th straight profitable season.

I'd like to thank all those who have taken the time to contact me and I appreciate all the feedback (good and bad) and support.  Behind the scenes, I've been in talks with a handful of people in regard to expanding the website.  It's possible that I introduce more people and their picks before the season is out, but those details are still being ironed out.  Stay tuned for that and best of luck to all the rest of the way!