Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Vegas & The Packers' Quest To Go 16-0
By Bill Barnwell
Now that the Packers are 8-0, it's about time for Mercury Morris to get his TV haircut, since he might be needed to pontificate about the 1972 Dolphins and their greatness very shortly. Since the Packers figure to be favored in each of their final eight games, we are facing the distinct possibility that a third NFL team might finish the regular season 16-0 undefeated. And Vegas has taken note.
The Las Vegas Hilton recently posted a futures bet regarding such a possibility. Before their victory over San Diego, the odds of Green Bay going 16-0 were listed at +500. On the other hand, if you were a buzzkill and expected the Packers to lose at least once during their final nine games, you were getting -700 odds. A $100 bet on the Packers to go 16-0 would payout $500 in profit if they won; that same $100 on the Packers to lose at least once would pay a meager $14.29 out in profit. It's certainly more fun to bet the 16-0 side, but which side do you think should you plunk your hard-earned cash on? Let's do the math and get an estimate.
Figuring out the odds of the Packers winning each of their eight remaining games is simple probability; since they're independent events, we just multiply together the probabilities of the Packers winning each individual game. Figuring out the odds that the Packers will win each game, of course, is the hard part. That's where we turn to our old friend Bill James.
In his 1981 Baseball Abstract, James detailed a method for determining the likelihood of a team winning a particular baseball game using the winning percentages of the team in question and their opposition, which he called the "log5" method. We're going to use that method in the context of football win percentages. As an example, the log5 method estimates that a 10-6 team (win percentage: .625) would beat a 6-10 team (.375) 73.5 percent of the time. In reality, since 1990, teams that finished 10-6 are 100-31 against teams that finished 6-10, a win percentage of 76.4 percent. That seems like a pretty reasonable analogue to me. If you're skeptical, there's a lengthy article on the log5 method, its formula, and how it's applied here.
So now, we need win percentages for each team, but we also know that a win percentage over an eight-game sample doesn't exactly have the strongest predictive value. Instead of using each team's actual win percentage at the moment, we'll use their win percentage as calculated by their point differential in another James creation, the Pythagorean Expectation. We know that the Packers are 8-0, but obviously, most teams that start 8-0 fail to finish 16-0, so it would be foolhardy for us to use a win percentage of 100 percent for the Packers.
For the Packers and every other team in football, we took their points for and points allowed per game, projected those totals to a 16-game season, and then used those figures to form an adjusted win percentage. Our estimate based on their first eight games is that the Packers will score 550 points and allow 358 points, for a difference of 192 points and a Pythagorean winning percentage of .702. That's equivalent to an 11-win team.
If that seems a little low, it's because the Packers have won four games by eight points or less and only two by 20 points or more. They haven't been a particularly dominant 8-0 team, as their current point differential of 96 points only ranks 12th among the 18 teams who have started their season 8-0 since the merger. The 2007 Patriots, as an example, outscored their opposition by 204 points over the first eight games. They had a Pythagorean winning percentage of .871, which was the best ever through eight games, but even they were just on a 14-win pace. Going 16-0 requires a lot of luck.
We also have to factor in home-field advantage. Since 2007, home teams have won 56.7 percent of games, so we'll estimate home-field advantage at 6.7 percent. We'll give the home team in each remaining Packers matchup an extra 6.7 percent shot of winning as part of our calculations.
As an example of our method, let's look at this week's Packers-Vikings matchup in Lambeau Field. Since the Packers are at home, their Pythagorean winning percentage will be right around 77 percent. The Vikings, meanwhile, have been better than their 2-6 win-loss record, something they exhibited during their narrow defeat to the Packers in Minnesota. Their Pythagorean winning percentage is 42.8 percent. Plug these two figures into our log5 formula and we estimate that the Packers odds of winning this game are at 81.7 percent. To check our math, we can note that the Packers are currently 13.5-point favorites at most sportsbooks. The historical data gathered from Spreadapedia notes that when teams have been favorites with a spread between 13 and 14 points at home, as the Packers are listed right now, they've won 82.0 percent of the time. So our estimate isn't all that bad.
So if we do that for all eight games, what are the Packers' odds of going 16-0? After removing the casino's vig from those bets put up by the Hilton, the market is suggesting that the Packers will go 16-0 exactly 16 percent of the time. Our simple model suggests that the Packers will actually go 16-0 about 4.5 percent of the time.
THE ROAD TO 16-0
Exp. Win Probability
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New York Giants
Kansas City Chiefs
Probability of 8-0
The toughest game for the Packers is their tilt against the Lions in Detroit, a game in which we actually suggest that they should be slight underdogs. Remember that the Lions beat the Packers 3-0 last year, and while Matt Flynn played half of that game because Aaron Rodgers was concussed, shutting out Aaron Rodgers for a half of football is awfully impressive. Our estimate is that the true line for the "No" bet should be -2225, and that the "Yes" bet should be at +2225. You would be making a bet with a dramatic expected profit by betting "No" against the Packers going 16-0.
We suspect that Packers fans will accuse us of underestimating their team, and maybe we are, since we're not incorporating things like strength of schedule or injuries. So let's do a hypothetical study. Earlier, we said that teams favored by 13-14 points at home, just about the largest spread you'll find in a given season, win about 82 percent of the time. Those teams will lose about three points when they go to play on the road, so when we look up the performance of teams that are favored by 10-11 points on the road, we find that they've won 76.2 percent of the time. Let's assume that the Packers are just a dominant team and that every team they're playing is roughly akin to the worst team in football, which is something that these lines would suggest. Their probability of winning all eight games, using those figures, is just 16.4 percent. Even that figure would put their odds of going 16-0 at +509, which is just about where Vegas has them with their real schedule. It's simply not a smart bet, no matter how many favors you pay the Green Bay side. Going 16-0 is hard. Betting against it should be easy.
Sportsbook Review: The Mirage
Last week, we started our Vegas sportsbook reviews by taking a look at the Caesars Palace sportsbook. This week, we walk next door and break down the pros and cons of a similar book, the race and sports betting operation at The Mirage.
As the first of Vegas's megacasinos to open, The Mirage is already a little antiquated despite turning 22 this month. Its sportsbook feels a little like a state-of-the-art book from 1989, for better and worse. It has one of the largest footprints of any sportsbook in the city, and unlike most casino sportsbooks, it's located relatively close to The Mirage's main entrance. (Because sportsbooks generate a relatively small amount of revenue for casinos, they're often placed far away from primary entrances in order to try and get sports bettors to play a slot machine or table game along the way.) The Mirage book has the huge ceiling and dark atmosphere that makes it almost feel okay to desperately squander sums of money on disinterested players and horses.
The horses are one of the reasons, though, why The Mirage book is somewhat out-of-date. The room was built with the gambling standards of 1989, when horse action represented about 40 percent of a sportsbook's intake. Now, it's about 20 percent, with sports bets representing the other 80 percent of the action. Because horse bettors are so profitable for a casino, The Mirage catered their room to them, and about 65 percent of the book is dedicated towards horse racing bettors. There are about two seats dedicated to horse racing for every seat dedicated to sports bettors, and while the sport seats are plusher and in their own area of the 220-seat book, they don't have their own televisions.
Those nagging televisions represent the one area where The Mirage book falls flat and clearly needs to upgrade. The sports section of the book has six large televisions on the wall, but as you might already be aware, there are more than six football games going on at once most Sundays. Some of the less important games, then, aren't shown on the big screens. The racing section has four large screens surrounding a mammoth primary television, but that space is devoted to the horse races at Santa Anita on most Sunday afternoons. The televisions are also neither as large or as clear as the ones in newer sportsbooks.
Televisions aside, The Mirage can be a very comfortable sportsbook in which to spend a fall weekday of football. In fact, as we'll cover below, it might be the best book to show up at if you're not desperate to show up and reserve a seat at 7 a.m.. We spoke to The Mirage's sportsbook director, Jay Rood, about the ins and outs of his book.
The Sunday Experience
Seats and Timing: For a group of four looking to plunk your butts down in the sportsbook without wagering away your mortgage, Rood recommends that you get to The Mirage around 8:30 a.m. to ensure yourselves a seat. The book itself is open from 6:30 a.m. through to 2:00 a.m. on football weekends and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the week, and all tickets can be cashed at the casino cage (or mailed to the casino) if the book is closed. You can also sit in the horse racing seats if you can find free ones, but you're going to be pretty far away from the televisions with football on them.
If you're showing up late to the games, your best bet is to head to the California Pizza Kitchen right behind the sportsbook that opens up at 10:30 a.m.. Its dining area is open-air and sans windows, so half the dining room has a great view of the televisions from the sportsbook. Even better, they won't kick you out after you're done eating, as long as you continue to order drinks.
There's one more solution to the seating quandary that we'll get to in a minute.
Drinks: The Mirage is one of the best books in Vegas for getting blotto while sweating bets. The simplest way is to bet, of course, but that can be cost-prohibitive. It will take a $125 bet on sports to earn one measly free drink. Meanwhile, a $5 bet on the races will get you that same drink ticket. It sure seems logical to bet on the horses if your goal is to get drunk.
If you don't have any drink tickets, there's a bar next to the sportsbook that will sell you bottles of domestic beer for $6.49 or a 32-ounce Bud or Bud Light for just under 10 bucks. For those of you who followed our California Pizza Kitchen plan, drinks at the CPK range from $5 for a 16-ounce Bud Light to $10 for a 32-ounce Stella or Newcastle.
There is a third option, though, that's even sneakier than the CPK move. The sportsbook has race seats on the left and sports seats in an elevated area on the right. At the back of the row of racing seats nearest to the sports area is our value prop, a string of 13 video poker and blackjack machines. These quarter machines don't have the most comfortable seats, but like all of the other video poker machines in The Mirage, they are serviced by waitresses offering complimentary drinks. In fact, you can even hit a button on your machine to request cocktail service. Waitress service on quarter machines can be scattered, so follow the rule that our friend Tom has employed with great success: Tip the waitress five bucks the first time she brings you a beer, and then offer her a dollar every time she comes back. You will not want for alcohol. As for the machine, you might lose money playing 25-cent blackjack, but just play slow. Take one hand every time the game that you're focusing on goes to commercial. You might end up down 40 bucks or so when the day is done, but it's a better bet than the horses and far less expensive than drink tickets.
Rooms: The Mirage renovated many of their rooms last year as part of their 20th anniversary, but they also upped their prices a bit to help pay for it. Fortunately, November and December tend to be the quietest months of the year for Vegas travel, so if you're jonesing for a quick trip to bet on football, you can get a room for two for a three-night weekend stay (Friday-Monday) for as low as $228 (December 16-19) plus tax. On the other hand, like the other properties owned by MGM, the Mirage charges a ridiculous "resort fee" of $22.40 per day that includes access to the internet, a daily newspaper that can be picked up at the bell desk, a pair of robes for use during your stay, access to a cardio room, unlimited local and toll-free phone calls, and the ability to print boarding passes at the hotel's business center. These fees are the newest way for Vegas to charge you for things that were previously free. They suck. After taxes and the resort fees are added in, that $228 room is actually $329.76.
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Opened: Kansas City -7 +100
Now: Kansas City -3 -120
This line opened under the assumption that Tim Tebow was the worst quarterback in the history of pigskin-related sports. In Week 9, though, the Broncos scored 38 points in a road win over the Raiders, and the Chiefs lost by 28 points to the winless Dolphins. That will move a line four points.
Again, this is the effect of one team losing by a margin at home during the previous week (Buffalo) and the other team winning by a decent margin (Dallas, who outplayed Seattle far more than the margin would indicate). The Bills have also officially lost star defensive tackle Kyle Williams for the season, but he has been missing for most of the year, so it's hard to figure that placing Williams on IR moved this line all that much.
New England Patriots at New York Jets
Opened: New England -2.5 -110
Now: New York Jets -1.5 -110
That's right; after the Pats lost to the Giants on Sunday, the line has moved four points away from them and turned them from favorites into underdogs. This is where we would normally quote statistics about how Tom Brady plays after a loss, but we did that last week, and where did it get us?