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Gambling on the NFL is big business, especially after a 2018 Supreme Court decision striking down a federal ban on sports betting. Recent estimates suggest that as many as 46.6 million people will place a bet on the NFL this year, representing nearly one out of every five Americans of legal gambling age. As a result, there's been an explosion in sports betting content, most of which promises to make you a more profitable bettor. Given that backdrop, it can be hard to know who to trust.
Fortunately, you can trust me when I promise that I'm not going to make you a more profitable sports bettor. And neither will any of those other columns. It's essentially impossible for any written column to do so for a number of reasons I'll detail over the year. (I'm not saying it's impossible to be profitable in the long-term by betting on the NFL, just that it's impossible to get there thanks to a weekly picks column.)
This column's animating philosophy is not to make betting more profitable but to make betting more entertaining. And maybe along the way, we can make it a bit less unprofitable in the process, discussing how to find bets where the house's edge is smaller, how to manage your bankroll, and how to dramatically increase your return on investment in any family or office pick pools (because Dave in HR and Sarah in accounting are much softer marks than Caesar's and MGM).
If that sounds interesting to you, feel free to join me as we discuss the weekly Odds and Ends.
Checking In On the Unders
In Week 7, I noted that unders had been hugely profitable so far this season and discussed structural reasons why unders tend to outperform overs (though usually not by enough to beat the vig). I also said I'd track the performance of the unders going forward to see if we could be profitable merely by mass-betting them every week. (My hypothesis was that unders would win somewhere from 50-52% of the time going forward.)
After three straight losing weeks, Unders returned to the black with a 9-7 finish in Week 15. This brings them to 67-61-3 since we started tracking, which would leave us... down 0.1%. If you bet $10 on every game (and got the same lines I published each week at -110), you'd have lost a whopping $0.91 so far. If you'd instead started with $160 and bet an equal percentage of your remaining bankroll on each game, you'd be down 23%, or $37.32.
Closing Out Your Picks Pool
There are only three weeks left in the season, which means (unless your pool goes through the playoffs) there's less than a month to go before scores are final and winners are settled in your office pick pools. I've discussed a couple of times through the year what kind of rules you should be following to maximize the number of points you're scoring. We've now reached the part of the season where you can forget about all of that.
Why? Because the point of the game isn't "getting correct picks". You might think so, but you'd be wrong. The point of the game is getting more correct picks than your competition. And sometimes, the best way to maximize your chances of doing that is to make suboptimal picks.
Let's say you've picked 50% of games correctly so far, while the leader in your pool has picked 54%. There have been 224 games played to this point, which means that would translate to 112 wins for you and 121 for your top opponent, a +9 advantage.
There are only 48 games left to pick, so if your opponent gets 50% right the rest of the way, in order to make up that +9 advantage, you'd need to get a whopping 68.8% of your picks right. In order to pass them entirely, you'd need 70.8%. That's... well, it's not technically impossible, but it's extremely unlikely.
So what can you do? If first place is out of reach and your pool gives cash prizes for second or third, you can focus on trying to finish there instead. If you're within easy striking range-- say within a win or three-- then it's probably best to keep making fundamentally sound picks, focusing on selecting teams receiving favorable line movement late in the week, say.
But if that's not an option, rather than trying to pick 70.8% of your games right, it's probably best to recognize that if your opponent picks 50% correct going forward, you simply can't catch up. And then, after recognizing that, operate under the assumption that your opponent will pick worse than 50% and set yourself up to capitalize.
If your opponent picks 40% over the final three weeks and you manage to pick the opposite team in every single game (meaning, by definition, you finish at 60%), that actually translates to a +10 edge for you and a win. And "opponent picks 40%" is a much more realistic possibility than "you pick 70%".
Which illustrates the clearest path to victory. If you're down by a lot, all of your efforts should be devoted to figuring out who the leader is picking and going with the opposite in all cases, no matter how you personally feel.
On the other side, if you're up by a lot, this whole logic gets flipped on its head. The only way anyone can catch up to you is if they differentiate their picks from yours, so the easiest path to victory is to ensure that you're making the same picks and just let your early lead coast across the finish line.
Lines I'm Seeing
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