Sunday, February 03, 2019

Past Performance Is No Guarantee of Future Success, But It's a Good Way to Bet

One of my brothers e-mailed me this week asking for a Super Bowl prediction. He himself said he was picking the Patriots because of "experience." And so am I, but not because of their experience, because of mine.

I am picking New England to win over the Rams today for the simplest of reasons. I'm a prisoner of my own five senses. I've seen the Patriots win almost all the time for 18 years now, and that has had a strong effect. Human beings see what they expect to see. They expect to see what they've seen before. I'm no exception.

Some sophisticated analysis, huh? Dedicated readers if I have any will note it's the same rationale I used to pick the Pats in the last Super Bowl, and the one before that, too. Come to think of it, the only Pats' Super Bowl where I didn't fancy their chances was the one against Seattle. They won that one. Teach me a good lesson. Won't make that mistake again. If I'm gonna be wrong, I want company.

After almost two decades of seeing an NFL team compile a record where its big game losses can be counted without using all one's fingers, I approach every Patriots game the same way. From season opener to Super Bowl, I NEVER really expect them to lose. When the Falcons led 28-3 in Super Bowl 51, and the Pats' fans at the party I attended were ready to jump off the apartment balcony, I said, "not over yet." I was right, too.

Of course, the Pats do lose. I said "not over yet" when Tom Brady was strip sacked in crunch time in last year's Super Bowl, and I was wrong. I was also surprised. That is my invariable reaction to a New England defeat. And it should be. The Pats have won roughly three out of every four games since Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001. That's one hell of a lot of autumns and winters watching win after win, some stirring, some historic, most pretty routine. Roughly once a month I'd see a loss. How can I deep in my heart conceive of any outcome this evening but another wretched Bob Kraft speech holding the Lombardi Trophy?

In a solid result for human nature, the true serious analysts of the NFL amongst the media have almost all picked the Pats, and when one cuts through the stacked boxes, 11 personnels and the like that clutters their prose, their reasoning is the same as mine. New England will win because, well, because that's what happens.

This effect is so powerful it can rewrite actual history. I have noticed that not just in Boston's media, but throughout the NFL world, you'd think the Pats had beaten the Eagles last year. That game has been memory holed. It doesn't compute. And a lot of this season, has been forgotten too, at least the awkward parts like New England getting run off the field by the Lions and Titans, or even more recent events. The Pats gave up 24 points in the last quarter of the AFC championship game, and there has been more than piece written on how their defense was the key to victory against the Chiefs.

On paper, or perhaps I should say on pixel, the Rams are one of the strongest opponents the Pats have faced in their nine Super appearances. The number crunchers supreme at Football Outsiders took all their stats I will never understand, ran a gazillion simulations, and had the Pats win 50.1 percent of the time. That's a true pick 'em matchup, or it would be if one of the two teams didn't already have a wing under construction at the Hall of Fame.

There are people outside the Ram organization who have picked them to win today. Two such worthies place seven-figure bets in Vegas to back their choice. I wonder if deep down they expect to cash those tickets, or if they are the type of plunger who must buck the crowd some what may, telling himself he's found another overlay.

I am not so bold, nor definitely so rich. Contrarianism is fine for talk radio, but not so hot as an investment strategy. My brain and spirit tells me that dynasties get that way because nobody expects them to win more than they do and no one is more surprised when they don't. Victory is a habit, just like sound pass blocking technique.

I suppose a critic could say I'm picking the Pats because I'm lazy. It's the line of least resistance to the nth degree.

Maybe so. But one thing I've learned about the NFL. The line of least resistance is often the shortest distance between two points. And one championship.


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