At fourteen years old, on January 4th 2004, I made my first official sports bet with a bookie. Seattle was a six and a half point dog on the road in Green Bay in the wild-card-round of the NFC playoffs. The game went into overtime, locking up the victory. It turns out I needed the full six and a half as Matt Hasselbeck’s ill-fated “We want the ball and we’re gunna score!” proclamation didn’t quite go as planned. Instead, Al Harris sauntered down the sideline with the game winning pick 6 sending Lambeau into a frenzy. It was irrelevant to me, I was 1-0 and off and running.
The natural progression of this story would be to conclude the previous paragraph with, “and I’ve been hooked ever since”. This would make for both a neat and tidy story, and a logical starting point to a lifetime filled with gambling addiction. It would also be untrue.
Times are Changing
Gambling addiction is a serious epidemic. My heart breaks for people who suffer from this terrible disease, especially as lawmakers and public officials have succumb to financial temptation, and are beginning to widely legalize the majority of gambling mediums. Arguments, good ones at that, can certainly be made contesting that regulated environments for gambling may actually be a positive. I know, in my case, I would have learned about bankroll management much more quickly if I was forced to put my own cash up first, rather than barreling away 10x my life-roll on a weekly credit bases with the corner bookmaker. I’m not entirely sure where I fall on the ‘legalization of sports betting’ spectrum, but I’m certainly sensitive to the problem-gamblers of the world who face a brutal new daily challenge as they are now bombarded with advertisements for legalized gambling companies.
It’s important to acknowledge that all gambling addicts are not created equal. This is not to say there is a difference of class, intelligence, or dignity between the different types of addicts. It’s important rather to decipher between the various types of addiction because the term “gambling” is just too vast to classify everyone underneath one umbrella.
For the sake of simplicity, and there are countless scholarly arguments which get into infinitely more detail than I possibly can regarding this topic, I’m going to divide problem gamblers into two categories: action junkies and social gamblers.
Go to a casino in Atlantic City on a random Tuesday morning in the middle of winter. The people who have been there since Monday and are still pulling the same arm of the same slot machine or rolling the same dice at the same table hoping against hope that this will be the day their luck will turn, these are the action junkies. They come in all shapes and sizes, and this addiction does not make them a good or bad person, but it is clearly problem gambling. Go to a Buffalo Wild Wings around 1:00pm on a Sunday during football season. The people sweating their year-long fantasy lineups and betting $100 a game are social gamblers. Their main goal is to make their Sunday more interesting. They aren’t living or dying with their results, but this is not to say they don’t occasionally get in over their heads.
One could argue that both groups are seeking some sort of psychological “escape”. I know in troubling times throughout my life, gambling often became an escape. I can’t say, however, I can put myself in either of the two previous categories. As long as I can remember, I’ve had an obsession with strategy, team building, psychology, process, efficiency, and the almighty dollar. These passions have guided me to both career paths I’ve been on: football coach and professional gambler.
Football has always been a big part of my life. Although I never played a down, the game has always fascinated me. I was able to put this fascination to work my junior year of college at Susquehanna University. The head coach was kind enough to let me observe spring practices. This turned into a management role, which eventually transformed into a student-assistant coaching role. By the following year I was the assistant linebackers coach, and was hired full-time to coach the linebackers after graduation. My life was changed forever. The following season was a blur. I always believed I could ascend within the coaching ranks, but could not convince myself that I wanted this to be my life’s work. I absolutely adored the job, but as anyone who has done it at the college level would know, there is little or no room for life outside football. This shred of doubt, combined with some personal tragedy back home lead me to take a work-from-home sales job back home in NJ. I ABSOLUTELY HATED IT! Pushing a product that I personally had no connection with gave me tremendous anxiety. I quit three weeks in.
With more free time on my hands, I began to study poker. I’ve played cards my entire life, but never understood the finer points that separate winning players from losing ones. As luck would have it, in the following months I began to build up a nice bankroll culminating in a big tournament score at Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. This money would buy me time, but just like my experience with football, I had trouble convincing myself that poker would be my life’s work.
Understanding Your Edge
If you plan on sticking around in the gambling world, you better understand and take advantage of the qualities that give you some sort of edge. If you don’t have any of these qualities, you better surround yourself with people who do.
I’m rarely the smartest guy in the room. That said, I’m fairly confident that I’m not much further down than the two or three hole. If you are going to use pure statistical analysis to attempt to beat Vegas’ lines, you had better be the smartest guy not just in your particular room, but all the rooms. I will never pretend to be this guy. What I am confident in, however, is my ability to use my experiences with gambling and coaching alike in a unique way to analyze the National Football League.
In the past, I’ve sold myself short. I’ve spent too much time analyzing the same information available to everyone. This included approaches like looking for trends, analyzing the psychology of the teams by piecing together news clippings, obsessing over consensus data and reverse-line movement, breaking down coach’s film to try to grade individual players, fading life-long mushes. You name it, I’ve tried it. All along, I’ve failed to put trust in my own two eyes.
I want to be clear with this last point. My analysis is not the all-too played out “eye test” to see if a team has “it” or not. I’m analyzing critical points of the game like body language of the players and sideline, the efficiency of in-game coaching decisions, effort, pursuit, athleticism, awareness, sudden-change, conditioning, toughness, ball security, tackling angles, technique, level of complimentary football, whether or not a team can run the ball against less-than-favorable run looks, QB-decision making and coverage recognition, officiating discrepancies, bad breaks, variance, and countless other factors. These are things that fail to show up in the box score. This level of analysis is what gives me my edge.
So now I’ve watched, and re-watched, and re-watched all the games. I have a trillion notes that no one cares to read. How do I bring these opinions to life? Rather than having an overabundance of categories to grade each team in, again, this type of analysis is not my strength, I decided to view each team as a publicly traded company on the stock market. After all, traders are primarily concerned with whether or not a company is over-valued or under-valued because this is what will distinguish their view-point from John Q Public. This is a perfect analogy because in sports betting, John Q Public ALWAYS loses. It’s imperative to separate yourself from the pack! This cannot be stressed enough.
Following social media and TV pundits can give just about anyone a good grasp of how the public is perceiving a certain team. I’m using these avenues accompanied by consensus data to formulate a general public stance on a given team. I then decide where I fall on the spectrum. I call this stat “P”, as in position compared to public perception. I simply grade a team on a scale of 1 thru 5 ranging from most bearish to most bullish. I’m confident that this method of quantifying my stance on teams will return favorable results.
Week 3 was my first week of implementation and the results have been better than I could have hoped for! High emphasis picks went 3-1 (75%), standard picks went 12-3 (80%), and “P” picks as an isolated statistic (meaning ignore everything else, and back the team with the higher “P” rating) went 8-3 (73%).
More articles to follow including diving into the idea of developing “positions” on teams, how I see the game, and guides for interpreting the data. Let’s have a great 2018 and slay the giant that is the NFL!