Point-Spread Lust: Fans Overvalued “Sexy” San Francisco
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against the spread through the prism of our cutting-edge Quality Stats.
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By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Potentate of Pigskin (@footballfacts)
The Cold, Hard Football Facts were bullish on Jim
Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers since early in the 2011 season, when it became
apparent that something statistically special was happening to the struggling
franchise under the then-rookie head coach.
We reported as early as Week 7 2011 that Harbaugh’s 49ers
were “the best coached team in football”
here at CHFF Insider.
Smart fans, like
CHFF Insiders, rode those well-coached but workmanlike 49ers to incredible
success over two years: San Francisco went 20-11-1 (.641) against the spread.
But the image of the 49ers began to change in late 2012,
when Colin Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith. The team suddenly became sexy. And
that aura hurt bettors.
The secret to success in this business is knowing when the
public has finally caught up with the stats and then begins to over-value a once
And the time to pull the plug on a team is when it becomes
“sexy” in the eyes of the Pigskin Public, when fans begin gushing about its star
We all know what happens when humans get turned on: they
starting thinking with parts of their body other than their brain; they start
marking irrational decisions.
Remember, the point-spread is a gauge of public sentiment,
and not a gauge of a team's actual merits.
San Francisco provides a perfect case study.
Alex Smith’s 49ers were perceived as a dutiful
meat-and-potatoes team of efficient QB + good defense.
The reality was different than the public perception. Smith
was brilliantly efficient by the critical Quality Stats that we study – those
stats that have a direct correlation to winning football games. In fact, if you
look at our
Real Quarterback Rating Big Board for 2012, Smith produced two of the four
most statistically dominant QB performances of the entire year:
- a 145.05 Real QB Rating vs. the Bills in Week 5
(second among 512 performances)
- a 142.71 Real QB Rating vs. the Cardinals in Week 8
Keep in mind that Real Quarterback Rating has the highest
correlation to victory of any stat in football: the top 102 team performances in
produced a stunning record of 101-1. But the public didn’t perceive that
dominance, largely because they so often look at the wrong stats.
Smith rarely passed for 300 yards (just once in fact). So
the public failed to notice his deadly efficiency in the Quality Stats that win
and lose games.
Harbaugh failed to notice, too. He fell in love with a
younger, sexier model, like a husband having a mid-life crisis even though he
has a perfectly good wife.
Harbaugh benched Smith and inserted flashy young Colin
Kaepernick at quarterback.
The rest of the world fell in love, too. Kaepernick was
long and lean and he kissed his chiseled tattooed guns in the end zone.
The Pigskin Public was smitten. The image of the 49ers
suddenly went from workmanlike to star-powered, even though little to nothing
changed statistically for the team.
And then, of course, the public did the obvious thing: they
began thinking irrationally, taking a team that was habitually undervalued with
Smith under center to one overvalued with Kaepernick under center.
The watershed moment came last season in the NFC title game
and in the Super Bowl – a trend we caught in time and helped ride to
an 8-3 performance ATS in the 2012 postseason.
The 49ers entered Atlanta for the NFC title game
as a 4.5-point favorite. Something was fishy: the Falcons were 13-3, the No.
1 seed in the NFC and playing at home in an arena where they rarely lose.
Yet the 49ers entered the game the
biggest road favorite in modern title game history.
No smart football fan would like that combination of great
home team vs. historic point spread. It strongly smelled like the public, after
undervaluing the 49ers for two years, was suddenly overvaluing them amid the
Kaepernick hype and the breathless, sex-fueled frenzy of big-game postseason
We picked the visiting 49ers to win in
our NFC championship game analysis, but thought 4.5 points suddenly too
rich. What looked like an easy ATS victory turned into one we sweated out to the
very end, as the 49ers stormed back from 17-0 down to win 28-24. It was a San
Francisco win on the field but, more importantly for us, an Atlanta victory ATS,
however narrow it might have been.
Fast forward to the biggest game of the year, the one
already prone to irrational point spreads in the best of circumstances.
The 49ers were again big favorites in the Super Bowl, this
time by 4 points, while playing against the team and the quarterback that were
in fact the sexiest in the 2012 postseason based upon key statistical measures
in the passing game.
We anticipated a 1-point San Francisco win and a Baltimore
victory ATS. We got a 3-point San Francisco loss and, more importantly for us, a
Baltimore victory ATS.
That same San Francisco team that was undervalued for
nearly two years, beating the spread in 64.1 percent of games in the 2011 and
2012 regular seasons, suddenly went 0-2 ATS in the final two games of the 2012
CHFF Insiders went 2-0 ATS in those two games, because they never fell in
The key is Quality Stat discipline: our numbers, the Cold,
Hard Football Facts, do not suffer the weakness of human emotion. They do not
fall in love with sexy players or teams.
In fact, we prefer to think of our numbers as the antidote
to hype, a cold statistical bath amid the public passion that so often causes
bettors to overreach.
Some team in 2013 will be statistically sexy even if the
public doesn’t perceive it, much like the 49ers were in 2011 and early in 2012.
Another team will be perceived as sexy, even if the Quality Stats don’t warrant
the public lust.
We do not know who those teams will be – yet. But we will
use the power of our Quality Stats to identify them early in the season and then
all year long for
Rest assured, no matter what happens,
CHFF Insiders will not fall in love with any team – let along the wrong