Saturday, January 10, 2015

To Err Is Human, To Lose Money Erring Even More Human

There is a unique consensus among the vast pro football commentariat about this evening's playoff game between the Patriots and Ravens. Almost all of them are predicting a Pats victory, but only in a close game. It's like they were writing or broadcasting network promos.

Of all the predictors I've seen, only Benjamin Hoffman of the "New York Times" has picked the Ravens to win. But only Jim McBride of the "Globe" has formally chosen the Pats to win by a double-digit point total (a couple of others, including the stat-crazed gang at have hinted that this is their guess).

The consensus is best expressed by a seven-expert panel of, who unanimously predicted that Baltimore would cover the seven-point spread. One of them, Pete Prisco, subsequently wrote that New England should triumph 28-24. I'll bet at least four others of the seven also think the Pats will win.

"They'll win, but it'll be close" is a prediction that echoes the vapid search for the "sensible middle" that is one bane of American political commentary. Worse than that, it's gambling malpractice. Strange as it may seem, many bettors are guided by the thoughts of people who they innocently assume know more about pro football than themselves. I know, because I once wrote a gambling column for the Herald, meant to be more than slightly tongue in cheek, and I took phone calls from happy/sad/very angry souls who had taken my predictions as Gospel.

Bet the NFL consistently, you'll lose money. You'll lose it much faster, however, if you ignore certain principles of wagering. Pats to win but not cover is a bet that violates a Prime Directive.

Never, never, ever bet the underdog just to cover. Only take points if you believe that the team getting them will win the game without artificial assistance. This goes quadruple for road dogs, and ten times that for playoff games.

I see the Pats winning and covering, I could be wrong. The consensus could be right. But in pro football, as in all other sports, blowouts occur more frequently than nailbiters. Close games are celebrated precisely because they're rarer than dull ones.

"All life is six to five against," Damon Runyon wrote. Why seek out an eight-to-five against proposition?


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