How Contrarian was the 2008 NFL Season?

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Not fucking very, I'll tell you that much.

If you recall, about a month ago, I looked at how win probabilities were spread across different bins of Wagerline percentages for the entire college football season. The results were a lot more cut and dried there. Remember, for each graph, it is the amount of action and win percentage received by the favorite.

For example, if the 53-54 bin has the following record: 8-4-0 0.667, that means that the aggregate of all favorites that received between 52.5 and 54.49% of the action at Wagerline won two-thirds of their twelve games.

Below are the results for all games and some selected discriminators. Red (Green) text indicates results that would be bad (good) for a contrarian. Yellow highlighted boxes show something that I found interesting.



Wow, you think the NFL market was efficient this year? Can't get much more efficient than that.

As a whole, if you weren't betting on the most contrarian sides, favorites receiving less than 40% and dogs receiving less than 30%, you weren't profiting this year, unless you had other strategies. I think one of the things that helped me to my demise this year is that 69-70 bin, where I would imagine I played close to every game.

Home Favorites

Road Favorites


For a while now, it's been touted that in the NFL, home dogs are generally a safe wagering option. Guess who figured that out and changed the market? This year, home favorites had a losing record. On top of that, almost 70% of the games played had a home favorite. So, if you were playing road dogs, opposite of what you would expect, you would have been profitable, barely, at 53.1%. For the road dogs, it was once again the extreme events where the most value was to be found.

When the road team was favored, there was hardly any profitable angle at all. Home anti-public dogs (getting less than 35%) went a miserable 14-16-1 this year. That area is where a lot of money can be made in college, but in the pros, it was worthless.

Spread = 1
Spread between 1.5 and 4.5

Spread between 5 and 7.5

Spread between 8 and 13.5

Spread 14 or Greater


I opted to bin the spreads differently for this exercise. There seemed to be a lot of one point spreads in the NFL this year, and I wanted to capture that. From there, I split them up so the lines were roughly indicative of field goal, touchdown, 10 point and two touchdown lines.

There were two places where I think real money could have been made this year. The first is the anti-public favorite when the spread was one. Up through 54%, anti-pub chalk was 15-6-1. If your personal cutoff was 52%, that rose to 15-3-1. Beyond that, just about every other aggregate was garbage in the NFL this year. The other place that money was to be made was with big dogs, regardless of spread. Old time gamblers bet any line greater than 14 on principle (or so I am told, I don't actually know any old time gamblers). The final table shows that was profitable, at least for this year.

So what does this tell me? First, there is no easy way to beat the system in the NFL. Second, you need more than consensus numbers to make intelligent decisions, whether it's intuition or some other metric. I'd be interested to see somebody take the spreads and see how something like Football Outsiders does ATS. Third, this is my third losing NFL season in a row. I am considering hanging it up in the pros. Why bother if there is no angle? When somebody like Moneyline can't turn a decent profit, why cause myself the aggravation? I will likely stick it out one more year to try to get better, but if results like this come back next year, I'll be happy to watch the NFL for pleasure in 2010.

I should point out that I think this year was particularly bad to contrarians, though I have neither the time nor patience to go back and compile previous years' statistics. Feel free to do so on your own and let me know what you find.

6 comments:

Billy Mays said...

Isn't everything extreme for road dogs?

am19psu said...

I'm not sure I get your question, Billy. Overall, if you bet on every road dog, you would have shown a profit (assuming -110 juice). If you had only bet on extremely anti-public home chalk (<40%) or extremely anti-public road dogs (<30%), you would have been ridiculously good.

Also, I'm rally disappointed that I couldn't fit a cheesy Easy Off Bam! pun into my explanation above.

Sham said...

Good work, as usual.

ilike#s said...

"So what does this tell me? First, there is no easy way to beat the system in the NFL."

Wouldn't just playing against the extreme consensus yield 17-6-2? I'd take that in a heart beat considering the season as a whole?

am19psu said...

Wouldn't just playing against the extreme consensus yield 17-6-2? I'd take that in a heart beat considering the season as a whole?

Absolutely. Do you have the discipline to only play 25 games out of 17 weeks? I suppose I do if I really see numbers convince me of that (i.e. same pattern after next year), but doesn't that take some of the fun out of gambling?

I mean, assuming that you do this a little bit for enjoyment, rather than simply an investment strategy. Of course, if it is the latter, you should be in a low-risk mutual fund.

ilike#s said...

I am not sold that such "discipline" is actually profitable on a consistent basis anyways. But if it was, i think >~30x for one season to be enough enjoyment for me.