According to Woody Allen, 80 percent of success is showing up. So when I finally turned old enough to enter the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest—an event that, in almost every conceivable way, I'm under-qualified to compete in—I knew I couldn't just sit back and watch it unfold. I had to show up.
Of course, that's easier said than done when the entry fee is $1,500. The SuperContest, you see, is the premier event on the handicapping calendar, drawing veterans from across the profession every year. It's the World Series of Poker for sports bettors, only without the dealers, decks and Norman Chad.
Also separating the SuperContest from the WSOP: The latter enjoyed its moment in the sun last decade, but has since devolved toward obscurity. The SuperContest, however, is on the upswing. Annual entries and coverage from the likes of ESPN/Grantland's Bill Simmons and ESPN's Chad Millman have helped the event move, ever so slightly, into the purview of the masses.
The full rules can be found here, but here's a quick breakdown:
- Entry Fee: $1,500
- Each week, participants select five NFL games against the spread. Any five games at all.
- A win is worth one point, a tie is worth half a point, a loss is worth zero points.
- The player with the most points at the end wins the grand prize.
Last year's winner, Sans Souci, finished an astonishing 58-22-5, good for 60.5 points. The team (which consisted of four Vegas-based friends) took home a grand prize of $313,533.
Here's how some other notables fared in 2011:
|Bill Simmons (ESPN/Grantland)||46-36-3 (56.0%)||47.5|
|Chad Millman (ESPN)||45-36-4 (55.5%)||47.0|
|Steve Fezzik (2-Time Contest Champion)||40-40-5 (50.0%)||42.5|
|Bill Barnwell (Grantland)||37-44-4 (45.6%)||39.0|
Yeah––this handicapping thing ain't as easy as it looks.
Picking games against the spread is hard. It's why Sportsbooks make so much money. There's a science to this, but there's also an art—advanced statistics and esoteric algorithms play a huge role in betting success, but you'd be remiss to ignore intuition. The trick is knowing where and when to make a number-based play when your gut is screaming otherwise (or vice versa).
Me, I'm relatively realistic about the whole thing. I crunch some advanced numbers—that is, I read sites like FootballOutsiders.com—but I'm admittedly not privy to some of the success-predicting formulas used by my competition. Most of my bets will be generated with pure, old-fashioned visceral analysis––the stuff I see on the field, not just the spreadsheet.
Does that make me a longshot to place in the money? Hell yeah, it does.
I didn't spend $1,500 on this entry as a fiscal investment. I spent it because (1) I've always wanted to participate and (2) this might be the last time in my life I have readily available means to do so.
The world outside of college is scary for a 21-year-old kid––especially when the job market looks bleaker than Minnesota's secondary. Would it be smart for me to leave school with an extra $1,500 buffer? Sure. But would it be smart to leave school with the regret of missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
So here I am. My cards are on the table. Feel free to kick it by my side along the way—I'll be posting my picks here every week.
Because if showing up is really 80 percent of success, my chances aren't nearly as bad as they should be.
*Projected Winners are in bold*
Buffalo Bills (+2.5) at New York Jets
Sharps are all over Buffalo this year, betting this game down to minus-1 in some places. The additions of Mario Williams and Stephon Gilmore (who earned glowing approbation in training camp) should help bolster an already decent defense. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the offseason of healing for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was supposedly injured during his late-season struggles.
The Jets, meanwhile, have been an obnoxiously well-documented disaster of Brobdingnagian proportions.
The offense is in shambles. They have no playmakers, and even if they did, they don't have any quarterbacks capable of getting them the ball. And even if they had that, they don't have an offensive line capable of keeping those quarterbacks upright long enough to get the ball to those hypothetical playmakers––which again, they don't actually have.
Buffalo should be worried about the fact that Stevie Johnson—their only true receiving threat—will be marooned on Revis island. He's had unique success against Revis in the past, but he should be hindered be his iffy hamstring. Still, if the running game is effective and Fitzpatrick plays up to potential, there's no reason they won't muster up 20 points.
I'm betting the Jets can't make it to 23, and those are odds I like.
New England Patriots (-5.5) at Tennessee Titans
Why make this more difficult than it needs to be? On one side, you have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. On the other, you have Jake Locker, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Jared Cook.
This stat might be a tad convoluted, but it's worth looking at regardless: In his past four completed Week 1 starts against teams that aren't the Buffalo Bills, Tom Brady is 4-0, with four double-digit victories.
Alright––maybe that was more than just a tad convoluted. The point is, New England has a proclivity for blowing teams out in the season's first week. And, in this particular iteration of Week 1, the Pats are pissed off in the wake of a disappointing Super Bowl loss.
The Titans have a sneaky-good defense and claim Chris Johnson looks like Chris Johnson again (I'll believe it when I see it), but they don't have enough firepower to hang with the Pats. Even on their home field.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2.5)
Let me get this straight. Carolina stood pat with a team that went 6-10 last year (and had the No. 1 overall pick the season before). Tampa Bay made considerable upgrades to a team that went 4-12 last year (and won 10 games the season before).
And Carolina is supposed to be this year's sleeper?
I get the Cam Newton hype train, and I get that's why the Panthers have been tabbed as this year's surprise, but in reality, Tampa Bay is probably just a better football team. The additions of Vincent Jackson on the outside, Carl Nicks on the inside and Greg Schiano on the sideline make them poised for a significant upgrade in 2012.
Playing on their home turf and eager to put last season's debacle in the past, Tampa Bay should come out plenty fired up for this one.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (-5.0)
It's hard to articulate my feelings about the 2012 49ers better than Grantland's Bill Barnwell did earlier this summer. In short: According to almost every advanced metric of regression we have, San Francisco is poised to take a big step back this season.
The schedule-makers didn't do them any favors, giving them the high-powered Green Bay Packers to contend with in Week 1.
The five-point line will scare some bettors off, since the Niners defense was so stout last season, but lest we forget how shaky they looked last time they played an explosive passing offense?
I'm not saying Green Bay is gonna play the Niners out of the water. I am saying, however, that San Fran doesn't have the firepower to stay within a touchdown against a prolific offense and a fired-up defense.
Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) at Arizona Cardinals
I could worry about the fact that a rookie quarterback—and a third-rounder at that—is about to start his first NFL game on the road.
I could worry that a rookie running back—this one a fourth-rounder—stands poised to start alongside Russell Wilson in the backfield (if Marshawn Lynch's creaky back doesn't hold up).
I could worry about Pete Carroll and how—despite his bluster and his collegiate bona fides—he has a sub-.500 record in his NFL coaching career.
But for the love of God, have you seen Arizona play this preseason?
Picking against the Jets and Cardinals may be putting too much stock in preseason action. After all, the games are essentially meaningless. But I know what I saw, and it was enough for me to feel confident betting against them.
So yes, the Seahawks have some question marks that made me reticent at first. But when you're going up against John Skelton and company—well, there's scant a reason to worry.