Office pool goal:
Finding bargains that win outright!

Aug 31, 2004 1:14 AM

For millions of NFL followers with something at stake on the games, the key to each week’s outcomes is not covering the spread but winning the game outright.

Yes, NFL office pools are entrenched in our society from coast to coast. The season long "pick every game each week contests" are proliferating, and the rewards of winning such events keep increasing. Consequently if you play in something of this sort, it is a wise investment to take a step back and understand the realities of straight-up handicapping.

First off, there are two main splits in pools. Some have you pick every game for the winner and all correct picks count for the same value. Other pools have you select not only the winner but weigh the picks from highest to lowest (often a 16 down to 1 point scale). It’s imperative to make the right choices for the high-weighted games, since the top pick counts more than the lowest five picks combined!

Either way, the first thing to recognize is human nature. It’s hard for most people to submit a card picking all the favorites in a week. As a result, many pools feature people playing far too many underdogs. Indeed you’ll find that some season-long pools can be won by taking all favorites. After all, if you pick five dogs on a card and go 2-3 you’ve done quite well most likely in picking upsets, but you would still be losing to the favorite player.

The key then is to find the matchups with solid upset potential, while recognizing the cases where the favorite is truly to be favored. We could use a large sample of years but, given how the NFL today is a far cry from the 1980’s, we’ve elected to go with just the past five years of history.

The prime upset zone is home underdogs getting 0 to 2½ points where such ’dogs have gone 68-50 straight up! Even small home favorites of less than a field goal are barely above 50 percent and ripe for the taking!

If you’re looking for a shocker, the home dogs getting a touchdown or more might suit you. These teams have won outright over 36 percent of the time, which isn’t too shabby.

There is reason to believe of course that the stage of the season may also have some influence on these numbers. The sample sizes on some of these numbers are small (the downside of only using five years), but there are some notable findings nonetheless. You’ve got to love the performance of small home underdogs (+0 to +2.5) in week 12 and beyond.

Ah, but you may want a little more added to the equation, so we’ll include the last game WL performance. The table may help clarify some "hot zones" for upsets (a small home dog in any situation). The "home off win, away off loss" case is a strong dog to win outright play. Just ignore the excitement about the 67 percent 7+ home dog winners. We’re only talking 2-1 over the past five years!

Now there’s a fair amount of tactics in a season long game, particularly in the final week of the season. A lot depends on how many players you are competing against. With your typical 10 player office pool, going with favorites and small home dogs is a healthy basic plan. In a contest with thousands of players (like Las Vegas casinos offer), you’ll need to do better to collect the cash.