Saturday, January 09, 2010

Playoff Picks Made Simplistic, I Mean, Simple

The thing is, the NFL got the name right. Wild card round implies a certain volatility, and the implication is an accurate one. Year in and year out, the eight teams which open up the post season are pretty darned good, but not so darned good as they are darned close.

Wild card teams, by and large, have between 9 and 11 wins in the regular season (that fits all eight this year). The true wild card teams, the runners-up, weren't as good as a divisional rival during the regular season. The home team division winners had to have had a few glitches along the way to fail to earn a bye, and more often than not qualified thanks to the abysmal nature of the division in which they're located (see Cardinals, Arizona: 2008-2009).

I have been known to make the occasional small football wager. I have never opened my wallet on wild card weekend. It's OK to have an OPINION on today's Jets-Bengals game, but if forced to consider it as an investment, the only prudent reaction is "What's my third choice?" Each team's good enough to win and more than flawed enough to lose.

I'm 90 percent sure the Cowboys will beat the Eagles, because, contrary to the cliche, it's easier to beat a team three times in a year than it is for the 0-2 team to win the third one. I'm 85 percent sure the Patriots will beat the Ravens, because the main reason the Pats made the playoffs is their ability to win at home (an increase in the discrepancy between home and road performance, by the way, is a leading indicator that a top team in any sport has started its trip back down the mountain, but that's a thought for another post). I wouldn't touch the other two games on the card with your money.

The only thing I know for sure is that the wild card games provoke the same reaction each and every year. Fans and media around the country will spend all next week hyping the four winners to the skies, and constructing scenarios in which it seems the four bye teams ought not to bother to show up for the thrashing they'll receive in the divisional round (You watch. If the Pats win Sunday, even Michael Felger will be talking about what a bad matchup they are for the Chargers).

As a sportswriter, I fell into that particular trap about a dozen times in my career, approximately 10 of which were to my sorrow. It's OK for fans to be optimistic. What fun would pregame hype be otherwise? But if you're investor, recognize that other people's optimism is almost always your opportunity for profit.


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