The game of football can be made to appear very complex. How many people can really define a “West Coast offense?” How many can accurately identify a “zone blitz,” or a “nickel” or “dime” defense?
NFL analysts in the media have quick answers to all these questions. They have a listing of every player and his record at their fingertips. They have staff-written copy on hand to explain all types of game strategies. They have formidable arrays of statistics to cover any situation.
Because of the media, pro football is a sport of virtually no hidden information. However, it’s one thing to describe an event that’s already over. It is something else entirely to try to predict that which has yet to occur.
When the media try to predict game results, they tend to do poorly. To give just a few examples from New York City, where I live, every Friday eleven New York Post writers make predictions on NFL games against the spread. I’ve never seen one of these handicappers consistently pick the 52.4% winners needed to beat the 11-to-10 odds sports bettors must give. In fact, virtually every year for the past 20 years the consensus in the Post has finished below 50 percent.
One of the Post handicappers often mentions trends in his handicapping analysis—how teams do on grass or turf, as favorites or underdogs, etc. But trends are mostly useless these days since teams change so quickly due to free agency. What does it matter if a team is 12-and-4 on road turf over the last five years if only three of its players have been there that long?
On the radio, WFAN commentators also make predictions every Friday. But they too have seldom picked the 52.4 percent winners needed to beat the 11-to-10. To cover this, they often talk about their records in relation to the .500 mark. The vig seems not to exist in the world of WFAN.
And on television, ESPN’s Hank Goldberg has beaten the 11-to-10 in only one of the seven years he’s been there.
From personal experience, I’ve learned that most TV producers and newspaper editors view sports handicapping as entertainment rather than serious journalism. That’s why you, as a serious handicapper, should take all media predictions with a big grain of salt.
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