Saturday, March 15, 2008

NFL Post-Mortem

Apologies to loyal Godivans for my late post-Super Bowl post. The week after Super Sunday I was racing to finish a project with a 31 January deadline that I missed by a kilometre. Then, toy boy Archibald and I spent the past month shuttling back and forth caring for Archibald’s dad, who has now recovered I am chuffed to report.

Super Sunday provided a fitting ending to a dismal year for Lady Godiva. My only consolation from my 3-8 playoff record is that 27% in the playoffs makes my 47.5% regular season record look good.

I hope to file a new post Thursday with NCAA March Madness tournament picks if toy boy Archibald can persuade his pal Jarhead to give up his computer-generated picks. As a former schoolgirl netball player back in dear olde Coventry, I have only the vaguest idea of what basketball is all about. So, I will be relying on Jarhead who claims to have a system for playing friendly, non-profit NCAA pools that will work more often than not. We shall see if Archibald can convince Jarhead to share his secrets.

To cap off the gridiron season just past, here are some random observations:

Overdogs still rule in the Super Bowl with a 21-19-2 record or 52%. But, a sample size of 42 games is too small to draw any firm conclusions. I have been treating the Super Bowl like any other overdogs-rule playoff game, but Professor Levitt may well be right that playing the Super Bowl underdog is the best approach. Unfortunately, even a long lifetime of 90 years is probably too short to avoid the small-sample problem. Playing the Super Bowl underdog may be a sensible bet over the long run, but as the great economist Keynes quipped: ``Ìn the long run, we are all dead.`` In other words, it will take far longer than 100 years to find out whether Lady Godiva or Professor Levitt has a better handle on Super Sunday.

I did not realize this until just recently when I checked the record, but my playoff picks have been dismal – 43% from 2002 through 2008 vs. my 52.4% record over the past 7 regular seasons. My playoff record has been even worse than the 45% winning record for overdogs from 2002 to 2008. In other words, my few deviations from my overdogs-first playoff approach have served only to make matters worse. By contrast, my 52.4% regular season average is a touch above the 51.7% winning record for a plain-vanilla, all-underdogs strategy.

My faith that overdogs dominate the playoffs is based on overdog dominance from 1992 to 1998/9 when favourites won 75% of all playoff games outright and 60% against the spread. But, from 1999/2000 on overdogs have won just over 65% of all playoff games outright and only 46% against the spread. The overall playoff record of overdogs looks good over the past 16 years – 70% winners outright and 52% against the spread. But, this record can be divided into two distinct periods and the most recent 9 years have been dreadful for overdogs.

In any case, 176 playoff games over the 16 years from 1992 on is too small a sample to draw definite conclusions. Overdogs won 52% of 256 games played during the 2007 regular season, but one regular season is not enough to support a NFL pool strategy for all time to come. Based on overdogs’ 48% record over the past 16 regular seasons, I will continue recommending an underdogs-first approach when the 2008 regular season kicks off in September.

But, the same logic leads me to question my overdogs-first approach to the playoffs. Contrary to my picking approach, playoff and regular season games may not differ at all. Overdog playoff dominance from 1992 through 1998/9 may simply be a random deviation from the underdog norm in the same way that overdogs’ 52% record over the 2007 regular season deviated from the 48% historical norm. If time permits, I would like to dig up regular season and playoff records prior to 1992 to see whether underdog dominance in the regular season and the overdog playoff advantage persists in the pre-1992 data.

Check back next week to see whether I have obtained Jarhead’s recommendations on how to play March madness NCAA pools.

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