The New ESPN “Odds And Info” Page

by A.J. Coltrane

ESPN has what I think is a new page — “Odds and Info”. It’s on their front page tab right above “Poker”. Clicking through takes you to a page called “Chalk”, which is about as neutral a name as they could have picked so as not to upset the squares.

The funny thing is that when I stumbled onto it yesterday the tab and page were both named “Betting.” Maybe ESPN instantly got complaints?

Two thoughts:

1.  It’s going to continue to get harder to gamble on sports as information becomes more widely available. That process has been going on since the 1980’s — it’s always been a matter knowing more than the general population. Back then a copy of the Sporting News was enough. Not anymore.

2.  On September 5th, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that legalized sports gambling was “inevitable” [ESPN]:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver believes expanded legalized sports betting in the United States is “inevitable,” and the league is open to participating in it.

Speaking at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit on Thursday in New York, Silver said that he understood that cash-strapped states will pursue legalized sports betting and that the NBA can benefit from it.

“It’s inevitable that, if all these states are broke, that there will be legalized sports betting in more states than Nevada,” Silver said, per “We will ultimately participate in that.”

It’s a change in tune for the NBA, which in 2012 joined the NCAA, NFL, MLB and NHL in suing New Jersey over its efforts to bring legalized sports betting to its casinos and race tracks…


“If you have a gentleman’s bet or a small wager on any kind of sports contest, it makes you that much more engaged in it,” Silver said. “That’s where we’re going to see it pay dividends. If people are watching a game and clicking to bet on their smartphones, which is what people are doing in the United Kingdom right now, then it’s much more likely you’re going to stay tuned for a long time.”

More than $3.6 billion was wagered on sports at Nevada sports books in 2013. The American Gaming Association, citing the National Gambling Impact Study, estimates that as much as $380 billion is wagered illegally in the U.S. annually.

Silver seems to think that legally allowing gambling will be good for the NBA, attracting more eyeballs to the telecasts. Given what fantasy football has done for the popularity of the NFL, he may be right. It certainly won’t lead to *fewer* people watching the NBA.

My guess is that ESPN is very quietly trying to get ahead of the curve, or at least not get left behind. Between Silver’s statement, the New Jersey lawsuit, and this new ESPN page, it seems like we’re near a tipping point for legalized sports gambling in the USA.

Something else to help keep me entertained in my retirement!

The NFL. What A Crapshoot.

by A.J. Coltrane

Over time I’ve decided that NFL outcomes are more random than I prefer to be involved with (read: gamble on). There are too few possessions per team, and too few scores — if the NFL awarded one point for a touchdown instead of seven a “normal” result would be something like 4 points to 2. Turnovers have a huge impact on the end result. Fumbles happen at random times. Which team recovers the fumble is basically a coin flip… as of today I think there’s too much granularity all around to try to predict outcomes with any accuracy.

With that in mind, Bill Barnwell’s playoff preview included this little gem:

Since 1990, teams that have won the turnover battle in a given game during the regular season have won that game 79.1 percent of the time. In the playoffs, that figure climbs to 84.2 percent. Of course, everybody knows that winning the turnover battle is important; it’s figuring out how to win the turnover battle that’s the hard part.

So there’s that. Yikes.

Maybe my current feeling about predictably predicting NFL results is party based around having seen so much unpredictability. When I was (much) younger the randomness issue didn’t concern me that much. Probably because it was difficult to quantify much of anything from a 1980’s box score. (And that includes baseball — in the 80’s there was no walk info, or ball-strike, or total pitches..) Even back then I couldn’t find a reason for 8-10% of the NFL results.

Maybe I’m older and wiser.


But at least I know to avoid the NFL.

Predicting the 2013 NFL Season

By Blaidd Drwg

The great thing about baseball is that you can generally use advanced metrics to make a prediction about the performance of a team in an upcoming season with reasonable accuracy. There are certainly things you can’t predict (injuries, guys significantly over/under performing, luck, etc.) but those metrics have been tested and tweaked to give you a pretty reasonable picture of what will happen in the upcoming season.

Football, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to enjoy the same level of prediction accuracy. Back in August, ESPN had their NFL preview and included projected standings based on a computer simulation. Here is what we got:

Team Overall W-L Home W-L Road W-L
MIA 10-6 7-1 3-5
NE 9-7 8-0 1-7
BUF 5-11 5-3 0-8
NYJ 4-12 4-4 0-8
CIN 11-5 7-1 4-4
BAL 9-7 8-0 1-7
PIT 9-7 7-1 2-6
CLE 5-11 4-4 1-7
HOU 11-5 8-0 3-5
IND 8-8 6-2 2-6
TEN 6-10 6-2 0-8
JAX 4-12 4-4 0-8
DEN 13-3 8-0 5-3
KC 10-6 7-1 3-5
SD 5-11 5-3 0-8
OAK 4-12 4-4 0-8
WAS 10-6 8-0 2-6
DAL 8-8 7-1 1-7
NYG 8-8 7-1 1-7
PHI 6-10 6-2 0-8
GB 11-5 8-0 3-5
CHI 9-7 8-0 1-7
MIN 7-9 7-1 0-8
DET 5-11 4-4 1-7
ATL 11-5 8-0 3-5
TB 9-7 7-1 2-6
CAR 7-9 7-1 0-8
NO 6-10 6-2 0-8
SEA 13-3 8-0 5-3
SF 13-3 8-0 5-3
STL 7-9 7-1 0-8
AZ 3-13 3-5 0-8


It wasn’t the most accurate prediction as they only got 4 out of the 8 division winners correct and 2 out of the 4 Wild Card winners correct. The win totals look reasonable on a cursory level until I actually looked at what made up the records. According to the simulation, 10 teams would go undefeated at home in 2013, 10 teams would go 7-1 and only 6 teams would be .500 or worse. On the flip side, they predicted that only 4 teams would be at least .500 on the road (with no one going better than 5-3) and 19 teams would be either 1-7 or 0-8 away from home.

Now I don’t know exactly what went into the programming of the simulation, but let me tell you, this just looks wrong. It seems that the programmers put too much emphasis on home field advantage and caused some whacky results. I am surprised that they let this be published, given that any average football fan would realize these numbers just look wrong. Just how wrong are they? Well, I decided to look at the road records and over the past 11 NFL Seasons (2002 – 2012), there have been 13 teams that have failed to win a game on the road, which is about 4% of the teams. The prediction for 2013 was for 10 teams to go winless away from home, or 37%. On the flip, over the same period, 46% of NFL teams played at least .500 ball on the road. The computer for 2013? Just 12%. Um, I am pretty sure that you have a significant error in the calculation here.

In some ways, I am comparing apples to oranges by looking at the historical numbers. How did the computer actually do with its predictions? Well, here you go:

Number of Wins Home Prediction Home Actual Road Prediction Road Actual
0 0 0 12 1
1 0 2 7 6
2 0 1 4 4
3 1 5 5 8
4 5 6 1 6
5 2 7 3 2
6 4 5 0 5
7 10 3 0 0
8 10 3 0 0


Those numbers look pretty bad in comparison, especially at the upper and lower ends of the spectrum.

How about total wins? Well, that looks a little better, but only because the increased number of bands flattens out the distribution:

Number of Wins Projected Total
13 3 2
12 0 3
11 4 4
10 3 2
9 5 1
8 3 7
7 3 4
6 3 1
5 4 1
4 3 5
3 1 1
2 0 1


The moral of this story is if you are trying to figure out how many games your team will win in 2014, take a look at their schedule, go through it game by game and predict a winner. My guess is that you will be more accurate than the computer.

The Stink About The Patriots – Panthers Game

by A.J. Coltrane

Last night the Patriots lost to the Panthers, 20-24. New England had the ball on the Carolina 18 yard line. Tom Brady tried to throw a pass into the end zone as time expired. The officials threw a flag, then picked it up and declared the game over. All of the talking heads freaked out.

Had the penalty stood, the Patriots would have had one more play, either from the 13 (for defensive holding), or from the 1 (if it was pass interference).

What the talking heads didn’t say: 

The line was Panthers -1. They covered. Had New England gotten another attempt and scored a touchdown it would have swung the cover to the Patriots.

And — The Over/Under was 46.5. The final game score was 44, so the “Under” won. Had the Patriots scored a touchdown it would have moved to the “Over”.

I’m going to guess that most of the money was on the Patriots and the Over. I don’t have anything concrete to base that on, other than people like betting the Patriots, and they like betting the Over… If I’m correct, the bookies and sportsbooks are very happy right now.


2013 NFL MVP Odds

by A.J. Coltrane

2013 NFL MVP Odds at ESPN.

Rank Candidate Odds
1 Peyton Manning 5-1
2 Aaron Rodgers 13-2
3 Colin Kaepernick 10-1
3 Drew Brees 10-1
5 Adrian Peterson 12-1
5 Tom Brady 12-1
7 Matt Ryan 15-1
8 Robert Griffin III 18-1
8 Russell Wilson 18-1
10 Andrew Luck 25-1
10 Calvin Johnson 25-1
10 Eli Manning 25-1
Source: @BovadaLV


I think the best value is Matt Ryan. Atlanta has two outstanding wide receivers and they’re going to have to throw to win. It’s an interesting look at who’s considered “hot” right now.


by A.J. Coltrane

I’m playing in a restaurant pool where contestants pick the winner of each NFL game. The restaurant awards gift certs if you have the best weekly record, or the best record at the end of the season. Underdogs won 10 out of 14 games outright last week. I didn’t pick anything like 10 underdogs last week, so this was me:


Uglier And Uglier, Or Something

by A.J. Coltrane

Predictably, expectations for the Seahawks’ season are headed south (Grantland):


Seattle Seahawks
OPENING LINE: 7 wins, Over EVEN, Under -120
NOW: 6.5 wins, Over +145, Under -165

Even at 6.5 wins, the Seahawks’ odds keep falling. On Monday, that over was at +130. Now it sits at +145. Although they beat the Chargers in the preseason opener on Thursday, it wasn’t pretty; Tarvaris Jackson looked awful at quarterback, key left tackle Russell Okung sprained his ankle, and the Seahawks left some of their first-team players in for the entire first half, a sign of how far they have to go in installing their offense under new coordinator Darrell Bevell. Would you want to bet on the combination of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst winning seven or more games this season? It’s become increasingly difficult to find anyone who would say yes to that question.

The Grantland piece links this piece, which talks about the “The Magic of 55 Percent Winners” — how often gamblers have to win to succeed at gambling on sports. Very instructional if you’re at all interested in how the process works.

While we’re here, through two preseason games:

Charlie Whitehurst – 28 of 39, 71.8%, 212 yards. 1 TD, 0 INT, 93.1 rating.

Tavaris Jackson – 14 of 26, 53.8%, 88 yards. 0 TD, 1 INT, 45.0 rating.

And Coltrane favorite:

Colt McCoy – 19 of 28, 67.9%, 231 yards. 4 TD, 0 INT, 132.6 rating.

Las Vegas And The Ashtray Of Shame

by A.J. Coltrane

It was a good long first weekend in Vegas of March Madness gambling. I made over 50 (straight) bets on college basketball and won about 65% of them — I had money on all but about two games between Thursday and Sunday. (For the record, betting on every single game is *not* the recommended way to be successful in Vegas.)

The highlight of the weekend was the San Diego State – Temple double overtime game. The Aztecs were 6 point favorites, and the score was close as the game wound down. So close that everyone who had picked San Diego State — and that was everyone in the bar — were loudly rooting for overtime at the end of regulation. And at the end of the first overtime. San Diego State finally pulled away in the second overtime to win by a whopping 7 points! The bar erupted, and there were high-fives with complete strangers all around!

The lowlight was BYU failing to cover as 8.5 point favorites against the Wofford Terriers. Here are the last fifty seconds:

Time Wofford Score BYU
:50   63-73 Jimmer Fredette missed Free Throw.
:50   63-74 Jimmer Fredette made Free Throw.
:41 Cameron Rundles missed Jumper. 63-74  
:40   63-74 Noah Hartsock Defensive Rebound.
:14   63-74 Jimmer Fredette missed Three Point Jumper.
:08 Wofford Defensive Rebound. 63-74  
:02 Terry Martin made Three Point Jumper. Assisted by Cameron Rundles. 66-74  

That was a killer! Fredette missed a free throw with BYU up 10, then threw up a terrible brick of a 3-point attempt with 14 seconds to go. Wofford capitalized on this “opening” by making a meaningless 3-pointer with 2 seconds to go, reducing the deficit from 11 to 8, and bringing a collective groan from the crowd. (Nobody had picked Wofford, either.) It was kinda funny actually — most times there’s at least some grumbling and swearing when bets are lost. But to lose the bet like that — what are you going to do? Stupid Jimmer Fredette.

What happens to all of those losing tickets?

The Ashtray Of Shame! For proper effect, say it like a super hero would say it.