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East Coast Offense: 2008 East Coast Offense-Week 13

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

East Coast Offense

By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor

Probability and Prediction

I'm still in a handicapping slump against the spread, and even my once untouchable Fantasy Football Live Guru Picks have gone south, leaving me with just a 10-point lead over Brandon Funston. (This after I mercilessly trash-talked Funston and Brad Evans for 10 weeks). So what's my problem? Have I just hit a streak of bad luck, or am I missing something that I'd better become aware of quickly while there are still five weeks left?

Let's take a look at one of the games I got wrong. In Week 11, I took the Bears +3.5 in Green Bay. The Packers won 37-3. This wasn't the type of loss I could blame on a fumbled snap, or a botched chip-shot field goal. But what about the idea that the game played in the 99th percentile of possible outcomes favoring the Packers that day, and that if it played in the 50th percentile, the Bears might have lost by three and covered the spread? Looked at that way, my pick wasn't wrong - the game just played out in an extreme and uncommon way. (Or as I've written in the past: the game got itself wrong.

Maybe the way I'm picking is just fine, and I'm getting a combination of bad bounces (close/unlucky losses) and then extreme outcomes that happen from time to time. (That about covers every way one can lose against the spread - either narrowly or via blowout).

I could make a similar argument when I get a Survivor pick wrong. Let's say I picked a 14-point favorite to win outright and gave them a 92 percent chance to win. (That's very high for an NFL game). If I'm wrong, and they lose, I can say that the eight percent came in that day. After all, if you were on an airplane, and the pilot said: "Ladies and gentlemen, there are some problems with the plane's engine, but don't worry, there is only an eight-percent chance of a wreck", admit it, you'd probably crap your pants. (Also because the pilot is violating his training and likely the law by saying that and has quite obviously gone insane, so you'd suspect it was more like 75 percent, but let's assume he was telling the truth). The point is when we make a prediction about an NFL game, we know there's a realistic chance that we'll get it wrong, even in the easiest case when we're talking about a double-digit favorite in Survivor.

When handicapping games against the spread, each one is supposedly 50/50, but there's always that 8-10 percent chance that we go 4-12 or 5-11 in a given week. So in that case, how do you separate bad luck from bad handicapping?

I think the key here is the notion of probability. What we're saying when we put a percentage on a Bears-Packers prediction is if these two teams were to play a million times in the exact same conditions, this is the percentage of times Chicago would cover the spread. But that's ridiculous because those conditions will only obtain once, and you have to make a prediction for the outcome this time around. In other words, you're not just handicapping the average outcome of a million simulations, but predicting whether the actual outcome will be an outlier in the Packers' favor, and also to what extent. Probability's not going to help you much because you're predicting the result of a singular event. Even if you come up with some basis for assigning probability (games between those teams in the past, recent performance by both teams, games between divisional rivals with similar records generally, etc.), you're just estimating what the approximate average game between the two would be, and that's as of last week. It says nothing about how much this week's game will deviate from that average.

So, bottom line, am I doing a bad job, or just getting unlucky? Of course, I have no idea, but I prefer to think that I'm doing a bad job. Because if you retreat into the probability shell, then you can never take credit when things go well.

Norv Turner is Broomcorn's Uncle

When Turner opted for a game-tying field-goal attempt on 4th and 2 with a minute and half left Sunday night, he made the wrong call. The Chargers should instead have gone for the first down.

Even so, Turner did what a majority of coaches would likely have done because the chances of Nate Kaeding making a 47-yard field goal in good conditions is probably about 75 percent, while the chances of making the first down is probably closer to 60. So Turner's risk of losing immediately was significantly greater if he went for it. But what about the reward? When Kaeding made the field goal, the Chargers merely tied the game and gave the ball back to the Peyton Manning with plenty of time on the clock. Had San Diego made the first down, they payoff would have been far greater because they'd be in field-goal range, they'd have a decent chance for a game-winning touchdown, and they'd leave no time for the Colts to have another possession.

In an effort to play it "safe", Turner chose a far more dangerous course - like a poker player, who fearing to risk his money in a pot, winds up anteing himself to death.

Things to Take Away From Week 12

  • Don't spend a high draft pick on or trade for a quarterback

    Why bother drafting Peyton Manning or Tony Romo? Seven QBs passed for more than 300 yards this weekend, and 11 passed for 273 or more. Among the 300-yarders were Matt Cassel (second week in a row over 400), Chad Pennington, David Garrard and Shaun Hill. The crazy thing about Cassel is that he had 60-plus yards rushing in Week 11 and a rushing TD in Week 12. And now he's getting Randy Moss involved.

  • Pierre Thomas is far better than the current incarnation of Deuce McAllister

    Maybe the Saints felt they needed to balance out their speed back (Reggie Bush) with a big power back (Deuce McAllister), and Thomas was an afterthought. But at some point, you have to play your best guys, period. Thomas is only 5-11, 210 (think Emmitt Smith or Curtis Martin), but he runs well between the tackles and at the goal line. If the Saints merely have two smallish backs, it's doesn't matter as long as both are good. The Giants decided to go with two large backs for the most part, and that's worked out okay, too.

  • Randy Moss and Terrell Owens are just fine

    After Moss's three-TD week, he's now No. 6 among receivers in standard scoring leagues. And Owens had 213 yards, averaging 30.4 per catch - the Cowboys are connecting downfield again.

  • Brett Favre is playing under control

    After a five-game stretch with 10 interceptions, Favre's thrown just two in his last four games, including trips to New England and Tennessee. The Jets will be a tough out in the playoffs if that version of Favre keeps showing up.

  • Eli Manning's improvement is for real

    There was some question as to which Eli would show up this year - the 2007 regular season version, or the playoff one. So far it's a lot closer to the latter - he has 18 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions with a career-high 6.9 YPA. Who knows, he might face his brother in the Super Bowl this year.

Things to watch for in Week 13

  • Can the Cardinals win a tough game on the road? The Eagles have underachieved, but it will be interesting to see if Kurt Warner's able to carve up that aggressive defense.

  • Can the Patriots beat a winning team outside their division? Matt Cassel won't get 400 yards this week, but the Steelers defense should be a good test for him.

  • The Redskins get a chance to slay the dragon this week. Try not to step on the skulls of the Steelers, Eagles, Ravens and Cardinals. Incidentally, the Giants are only the second team in NFL history to beat five teams with winning records in a row.

  • Can the Chargers justify their bizarre five-point-favorite status against the Falcons?

Beating the Book

The Lions started out pretty strong last week, but as usual fell apart for two thirds of the game, putting us at 7-5 in forum. We're 87-84-5 overall.

Colts -5 at Browns

Maybe I've been struggling with my picks, but I have to stick to my guns and trust in my methods. The Colts look like one of the favorites to come out of the AFC right now, while the Browns announced Brady Quinn would start again this week then later found out he's out for the season. Still, you have to take the ugly home dog here - the public will be all over the Colts, and the Book doesn't give money away.

Colts 24 - 23

We were 6-10 in this forum last year, but 127-120 on the season overall. From 1999-2007 we're 1184-1018 (53.8%, not including ties).

The full article comes out on Thursday morning.

Surviving Week 13

Last week the Steelers won easily, and so did the Bucs, despite a first-quarter hiccup.

This week, we'd take Dallas at home against the Seahawks if you have the Cowboys available. Otherwise, it's a tougher call as I think the Jets-Denver game will be close, and I don't like Tennessee on the road in a nationally televised game on a short week - there's more volatility in a game like that, and when you're backing the favorite, you don't want volatility. Let's go Cowboys first, Tennessee second and the Jets third. We give Dallas an 82 percent chance to win this game. We reserve the right to change our minds before the full article comes out Wednesday night.

Article first appeared 11/26/08