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Scott's Sports Blog: Why I bet the Patriots, and why I regret it

Mr. Nostril

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I've been toying around with writing a sports blog for a couple years now, but I've been fairly undisciplined about it. I just put my first post in over 6 months. Any thoughts, positive or negative are appreciated.


At about 5:00 on Sunday nights, the following week’s NFL lines are hung by bookmakers, and I’m refreshing my browser to see where the lines start. Over the course of the next 24 hours, the lines see their most dramatic movement. Yesterday, the Patriots – Jets game for Sunday night was a pick, and I immediately put some money on the Patriots. My thought process was that the line was an overreaction to the Patriots loss to the Giants just before this line was hung. I figured any time you have a chance to bet on Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick off of back to back losses, and you don’t have to lay any points, it’s a bet you have to take. The last time the Patriots lost 3 or more consecutive games was 2002, when they lost 4 in a row from week 4 to week 7. That’s the only time a losing streak of more than 2 games has happened in the Brady/Bellichick era. So, why not bet against it happening again? However, now I’m wishing I’d bet the other side, because I think by betting the Jets you’d be taking the better team, and the better team would have homefield advantage.

The Jets got off to a disappointing start. They beat the Cowboys, but the story surrounding the game was that Tony Romo sits to pee lost it, rather than the Jets won it. They looked awful on National TV against the Ravens, when they gave up 21 points off of turnovers, and needed kickoff and interception return TDs to score only 17 points. People saw their Monday night game where they blew out the Dolphins, but that was easy to write off as meaningless, because you can’t put much stock into blowing out a win-less team. So, the Jet’s perception as a disappointing team remains.

But the Jets have changed. They’re coming off of 3 consecutive wins, including back to back against the Chargers and Bills, and their defense is looking better than ever. Over the past 3 games they’ve caused 8 turnovers and given up only 31 points to opposing offenses. This includes a garbage time touchdown to the Bills, yesterday morning. At the beginning of the season, there was unprecedented offensive production in the NFL, which has tailed off as the season’s gone on. I’ve heard two main hypotheses to explain this spike in offense. The first is that the NFLs crackdown on “devastating hits” opens up the middle of the field, and defenses are powerless to stop these plays. The second is that, because of the lockout and lack of offseason practices, more zone coverages are blown. If the second hypothesis is true, it makes sense that the Jets, a defensively minded team, with an excellent secondary would be among the teams most negatively affected.

The Jets have also made changes on offense. Over the first 5 games the Jets scored 19.6 points and gave up 2 turnovers per game. Over the last 3 games, they’ve scored 23.7 points and given up 1.3 turnovers. In the two games since their bye week they’ve scored 27 points in consecutive weeks. The reason for this is that they’ve started running the football again. During the past 2 seasons, the Jets have been one of the most run committed teams in the NFL. But at the beginning of this season, it seemed like they were trying to put the games on Mark Sanchez shoulders. In the first game of the season they attempted 44 passes and 16 runs, 73% passes. They evened out a little bit after this game, but over the first 4 games of the season they still passed 62% of the time. Over their three game win streak they attempted passes only 46% of the time. This doesn’t say much for Mark Sanchez, but the end result is improved offensive performance.

The Patriots, on the other hand, have been the best offensive team in the NFL, but their defense has ranked near the bottom of the league in most categories. The Patriots were one of the teams causing the big spike in offensive production I talked about earlier. After 3 weeks, Tom Brady had thrown for 1327 yards and 11 touchdowns, which is a pace to throw for over 7,000 yards and destroy his own record for touchdown passes in a season. Now, he’s on pace for 5,400 yards and 40 touchdowns, which would still be a historically significant and record breaking season, but it’s fallen to earth. Based on their recent performance, the Patriots appear to be good, but not completely overwhelming as an offensive team. Again, if the hypothesis that the lockout is responsible for the spike in passing offense is correct, it makes sense that the Patriots, a veteran team who’s been together for a while, with a complex passing oriented offense, and a great quarterback would be among the teams most positively affected.

Which brings me to one of my handicapping theories. When a great offense is going up against a great defense, you shouldn’t spend much time guessing how well that offense will do against that defense. Instead, you should spend more time guessing what the lesser offense will do against lesser defense. You should assume that the great offense and great defense will neutralize each other, and the great offense will perform somewhere around league average. This came into play in Super Bowl XLIII, when the Cardinals played the Steelers. The Steelers defense looked like it could stop anything, the Cardinals offense looked like it could score against anything. The result, the Cardinals scored 23 points. In order to get an accurate feel for how that game was going to go, you should have been focusing on how the Steelers offense would perform against the Cardinals defense. I believe this will be the defining characteristic of this week’s game. Over the past few weeks, the Jets offense hasn’t been great, but it’s been fine. The Patriots defense has ranked near the bottom of league in most categories. So, I like the Jets shot at scoring points.

Finally, what to make of the fact that Patriots have only lost 3 games in a row once in the Brady/Bellichick era? Well, this might simply be an example of the Gambler’s Fallacy, where we assume there is significance in streaks, when in fact, there is none. Tom Brady has a career record of 116-35(regular season) for a winning percentage of 76.8%. His career career record of 23-7 (regular season; wins off of losses in the final game of the season not included) coming off a loss is a 76.7% winning percentage, which is essentially identical. This includes the outlier of the 4 game losing streak in 2002, which throws the percentage off a bit. But, his record from 2003-present is 96-25 or 79.8%. His record coming off a loss, during this period is 18-3 or 85.7%. This makes it look like there might be a statistical indicator that the Patriots are better coming off a loss, but this might just be a problem of small sample size problem. If just 1 game had gone the other way, that percentage would be 81%, which is very close to 79.8%. So, I’m not sure the difference is statistically significant.

Since yesterday, the spread has moved from a pick to Jets by 2. I think that the Jets are more likely to win this game, and with a small spread, my advice would be to either lay the points with the Jets, or stay away from the game entirely. However, if like me, and you’ve already put money on the Patriots as a pick, you’re screwed. I can’t take the Patriots as a pick and the Jets -2, because if the Jets win by 1 point, I lose both bets. So, my only choice is to cross my fingers and hope the Patriots win.

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