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Picking Apart Bill Simmons' Wild Card Picks

Illustration for article titled Picking Apart Bill Simmons Wild Card Picks

When we last left ESPN demigod and Malcolm Gladwell fan club president Bill Simmons, he was really making an effort to not publicize his NFL picks, picks that ended the season 32 (!) games below .500. Now that the playoffs have started, he's back on the wagon. Let's read, shall we?


I posted my last Playoff Gambling Manifesto in January of 2006 right before the NFL playoffs turned into a glorified crapshoot.


The NFL playoffs just happened to turn into a glorified crapshoot around the same time that the sport's rules began skewing towards offenses, while the quality of the athletes themselves went through the goddamn roof. But there's no explaining why it got harder to pick playoff games. They just turned into a coin flip on their own.

Since January 2006 …

• The league's two best teams by record only faced off in one Super Bowl

That's what happens when teams can't pad their records against the Texans and Raiders anymore and have to actually beat the best teams in football, or a team that is in better form. This isn't some kind of voodoo here.

• The no. 1–ranked DVOA team only made one Super Bowl

This is because DVOA doesn't hold as much weight when good teams face off with one another in tight games. DVOA is meant to expose teams that prey on poor competition and pad stats when games are decided. Since none of that happens in the playoffs, it's not as useful a statistic as it is in the regular season. But, again, the magical crapshoot fairy is to blame here.

• Three teams won a Super Bowl without hosting a playoff game: the '05 Steelers, '07 Giants and '10 Packers. From 1966 through 2004, that only happened twice.


Again, this isn't some kind of fluky coincidence. Think of all the legitimately great players to play on those championship teams, despite them not earning a home playoff game. That kind of depth simply didn't exist for many of the years prior to this happening for the first time. It's just painstakingly obvious, yet it doesn't fit his narrative, so get ready for more paragraphs of truly pointless crap.

• We've had one significant Round 2 upset for eight straight Januarys

WAIT. You're telling me that the public bet up favorites, playing directly into Vegas' hands, and it didn't work out? Isn't that the entire point of sports books, for them to make money off of idiots? This is less evidence of the NFL playoffs being a crapshoot and more of a friendly reminder to stop being an idiot when you bet on football.

I don't see things changing, either. We knew the NFL wanted perpetual parity by ushering in the Salary Cap era, but the Bigger, Stronger, Faster era might be having a bigger impact than anything else. These guys are clearly too huge now; the YouTube videosof the 1970s games have little correlation to what we're watching now. (Bonus points for the Brent and Irv footage! I think Irv was the first announcer I ever made fun of ... I'll always have a soft spot for him.) And let's be honest — nobody really cares. The league's PED testing system remains a laughable joke, as does the fact that it won't discuss weight limits or any other out-of-the-box idea that might make the league's players a little more, um, realistic. Instead, it's cracking down on hard hits, cheap shots and headhunting — a decent start, but nothing that will solve the fundamental problem of NFL players outgrowing a sport that was originally designed for different bodies and different speeds.


This paragraph could have gone before the last forty bullet points, completely eliminating the need for them but, hey, it's all about the word count, homey.

Whether it's a coincidence or something more (and I say the latter), it sure seems like we're seeing more and more injuries to marquee players.


You just said that the players were too big, fast, and strong for the sport. Injuries are the most obvious side effect of that. So far, 90% of this column could have been replaced with one or two paragraphs that said "the NFL is full of more supreme athletes, which has resulted in players getting hurt from the dramatic increase in the speed and athleticism of defenders." So, actually, one sentence would have worked. This is awkward.

The lack of depth has been astonishing. In Week 16, the injury-ravaged Patriots started four guys they found off the street — not even off practice squads, but off the street.


(cut to Bill Belichick sneaking into a homeless shelter in the middle of the night and filling a duffle bag with the most athletic looking guys in there)

Now throw this in: The slew of NFL safety-first rule changes made it easier for receivers and tight ends to run over the middle, and also allowed quarterbacks to stand in the pocket without worrying about being decapitated or being bernardkarmellpollarded.


EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS ALREADY OH MY GOD. Just adding "Also, the NFL's more offense-friendly rules have resulted in more closely contested shootouts" to my sentence above would have summarized this rudimentary aspect of today's NFL, but we have to write at least 150 words about every thought in Simmons' world, otherwise those words will just stay in his brain and his brain will overflow in the form of a green sludge while doing a live NBA Countdown broadcast.

Also, God forbid we get through one Simmons NFL column without a reference to a guy who hurt Tom Brady FIVE YEARS AGO. I was a freshman in college when that shit happened! Get over it!

In the old days, you'd just assume that a shitty-to-mediocre QB would self-destruct in the playoffs because of the defensive pressure, the intensity or whatever.


But, again, the players are better than they used to be, so that's not really a thing anymore. Danny Kanell was a professional quarterback in the '90s. Today, he wouldn't even be Blaine Gabbert's backup. The first thing you learn in college level journalism courses, other than "don't lie about stuff," is to get rid of wasteful words. Unfortunately, those have been the only words in here so far.

It's much more difficult to break a quarterback now. Well, unless it's Blaine Gabbert.


Or RGIII, who is actually physically broken.

Everyone has a puncher's chance in 2014. Everyone. And that's one of many reasons why Playoff Gambling Manifesto 5.0 will never happen.



The good news? We learned a few lessons and suggestions over these past eight years. You don't have to live by these babies; just keep them in your hip pocket and sprinkle them into your gambling life however you want. Call it a Pseudo-Manifesto.



SUGGESTION NO. 1: Find this year's "NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!!!!" team and give strong consideration to riding them like Secretariat.

Green Bay Packers: … it's unclear if people remember how good Rodgers is.

So what you're saying is that I should ride Aaron Rodgers like Secretariat? I would, but he totally went on the radio this week and said that he wasn't into it.


San Diego Chargers: Barely finished 9-7 … only made the playoffs after getting major help from Geno Smith and Geno Smith's dong … oh, and they needed five quarters and Ryan Succop's shanked game winner to beat KC's second string in Week 17 with their season on the line.


So, despite all of those reasons as to why the Chargers are really bad, I should actually believe in them, even with one of the worst defenses in football, on the road? Makes sense!

SUGGESTION NO. 2: Don't bet against God, puppies or gambling theories from Pakistan.


I know that this is a part of Simmons' schtick from when the Cardinals made the Super Bowl way back when with Kurt Warner at quarterback, but it was probably pretty fun to bet against Tim Tebow (pretty much God) and Michael Vick (the adversary of puppies) in plenty of their playoff games.

SUGGESTION NO. 3: Beware of the "Everybody Believed In Us" team.

You never want to be riding the consensus favorite that's suddenly and incredulously staring down at that bullet hole — whether it's the 2001 Rams, the 2007 Pats, the 2012 Broncos or whomever. Overconfidence = playoff death.


No. No no no. Teams that everyone believe in tend to be overrated in terms of their number against the spread, because the public bets them heavily. It's not because everyone believes them and they're just so gosh darn full of themselves. Betting on football doesn't turn into a mood ring when the playoffs roll around. Avoiding teams whose value is artificially inflated by the public should be a given, and not accompanied by any stupid superstitions. THIS IS WHY YOU WENT 32 GAMES BELOW .500 THIS YEAR.

LESSON NO. 1: Beware of the "Looked A Little Too Good The Previous Round" team.

One of the few Manifesto staples that still works — remember, people love overreacting to whatever happened the previous week


An actual relevant piece of football betting advice! This is one of the last ones in the column, despite being the first one.

LESSON NO. 2: Beware of any and all aging QBs in cold weather.

Or, as it's better known, the Favre/Manning Theory. (And hopefully not this month, the Favre/Manning/Brady theory.)


It's worth noting here that Peyton Manning helped the Broncos score more than 30 points in their cold weather playoff loss to the Ravens last season, before his defense completely sabotaged him. But that would require Billy boy not taking a petty dig at one of the best football players ever, and we know that's not going to happen.

LESSON NO. 3: Beware of all dome teams in cold weather.

Thanks to Chase Stuart for this stat: Dome teams are 3-22 in the playoffs when they're outdoors and it's 35 degrees or colder.


That's so Simmons to not look up his own stats. I'm surprised that he didn't do this whole column in mailbag form so he could copy and paste his way to a 1-3 week against the spread on the way to next week's NBA Countdown appearances.

LESSON NO. 4: Don't make any three-team, 10-point teasers with three Round 2 favorites.

As covered earlier, the last time all four Round 2 teams went "chalk" was January 2005. This isn't even a lesson, it's a rule — no three-team teasers in Round 2. Period. Don't even think about it. The cousin of this rule: "Beware of the two-team teaser or parlay on paper that looks a little too easy." Gambling is never easy.


The reason for not combining three games into a teaser is that, regardless of the extra ten points, asking for an outcome to occur three times instead of one time requires so many more things to go your way that it is a legitimately stupid idea. It has nothing to do with how rarely the top two seeds advance, because you could always choose non-top seeded teams, but it's just basic math.

SUGGESTION NO. 6: "Before you pick a team, just make sure Marty Schottenheimer, Herm Edwards, Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, Andy Reid, Anyone Named Mike, Anyone Described As Andy Reid's Pupil and Anyone With the Last Name Mora" Isn't Coaching Them.


Did you hear that, everyone?! Only coaches named Parcells, Lombardi, Belicheck and Payton. I'd throw Coughlin in there, but he got lucky against the Pats both times, dammit! Let's see you stop us this year, David Mikel Tyree!

LESSON NO. 5: Don't forget that the most important people on a playoff team are the coach and the quarterback.


I almost forgot. Thanks, dude.

LESSON NO. 6: Never bet too much money on your own team, and (obviously) never bet against your own team, ever, under any circumstances.

Goes without saying. If your team made the playoffs, you already have enough at stake.


What is at stake if you're not betting for or against your team? Whether they win or lose, you're going to be in the same situation you're in now, which is to say that you'll be contemplating hitting yourself in the foot with a hammer to get out of work the next day when the game ends. We should all listen to Simmons' advice for managing our bankrolls, though, since betting $20 on each of his picks this season would have resulted in a net loss of nearly $800. Objective viewing of your team be damned!

SUGGESTION NO. 7: Don't try to be a hero, just try to win money.

I get it. You want to be cute. You want to say things like, "I don't care about Andy Reid's history in big games, or Alex Smith's history in general … that's precisely why nobody will see the Chiefs coming this weekend!" and load up on the Chiefs, then feel like a hero when they covered.

Ask yourself this question: If your life depended on it, you'd really bet on Alex Smith and Andy Reid in a road playoff game?


If your life depended on it, you'd probably find a better game to wager said life on than a Colts/Chiefs game with a one point spread. Not to mention, with Kansas City on the road and only getting one point, they'd be considered favorites on a neutral field, so maybe risking your life with #SmittyTime isn't so dumb.

LESSON NO. 7: When in doubt, gravitate toward the one pick that (a) would screw over the most gamblers and experts, and (b) would definitely be going against the single worst gambler you know.


Translation: just fade Simmons. He's the worst gambler you know, trust me.

Simmons ended up going with the Colts, Eagles, Chargers, and Niners. These are all perfectly fine picks, given how evenly matched the weekend's games should be. I just hope that he didn't over "nobody believes in us" himself after such a poor regular season of picks.

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