Monthly Archives: August 2013

NFL Superbowl Predictions

As with all sports, making a prediction before the season begins is a tricky process. Pre-season matches rarely reveal any substantive information about the teams, and are really only valid as a fitness assessment on key players. However, predictions can be made based on a number of criteria – last season’s performance, draft assessments, injury reports, schedule and so forth. Rather than a post on each one, this will set out my predictions for each division, and therefore the post season chances before a Superbowl prediction.

AFC

The bookies have Denver, New England, Houston and Pittsburgh as the four favourites, and by default the predicted divisional winners. Baltimore and Cincinnati are the next two shortest price teams, and therefore should be considered the initial selections for the wild card places. Looking at the Pythagorean data from last season, there seems no reason to expect anyone other than New England to win the AFC East. Denver are looking very solid for the AFC West, building on last season’s performance with a top grade QB bringing the team together. However, all divisional rivals should perform better in the upcoming season – but starting from such a poor season it is perhaps stretching things to expect them to challenge for the division or even a play-off spot. The AFC South is very confusing. Houston deserve their position as favourites, but arguably overachieved last season. The question is whether their end of season form was more indicative of their true level of performance, or was it a blip for an otherwise excellent team? Looking at their challengers, Jacksonville should improve, but will still be a <.500 team this season and no threat. Indianapolis ran Houston close last season, but massively over-performed on a Pythagorean basis and an 8-8 season is more likely. Tennessee might be the surprise package of this division, ready to pick up any points dropped from the divisional rivals. Good enough to secure a play-off place though? The AFC North always used to be dominated by Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but the dramatic improvement of Cincinnati adds more to the mix. Moving to this season, there is a distinct chance that the bookies have this right and that both wild card teams will come from this division. I have to give the division to Pittsburgh by the smallest margin, followed by Cincinnati and then Baltimore, but all to go to the post season.

So, to summarise, the divisional winners will be (in seeding order) New England, Denver, Houston and Pittsburgh. The wild card places will be taken by (in order) Cincinnati and Baltimore.

NFC

Taking the bookies as a starting point, the divisional winners would be San Francisco, Green Bay, Atlanta and NY Giants. However, Seattle are second favourites and New Orleans fifth favourites ahead of the Giants! Keeping it simple to start, the NFC North does look like Green Bay’s to lose. The Vikings had a good season, but any season built upon the phenomenal performance of one RB is always a risk. Injury, better defences, a drop of form; all of these will destroy the Vikings game. A return to the horrific 3-13 season (my loyalties may have been revealed there) is unlikely, but 8-8 is more likely. Detroit should perform significantly better, but still likely to finish <.500. Chicago are the dark horse, and whilst I think that GB have the slight advantage, probably in the head to head, their potential for post season qualification shouldn’t be ignored. The NFC East is likely to be between the Giants and Washington, and a lot will depend upon the fitness of RGIII as the Redskins QB. However, Washington did slightly over-perform last season, and so slightly under, so I would agree with the Giants as a pick for the division. Dallas are, well, Dallas are Dallas. There is still a question mark over the entire organisation’s ability to push through a championship season, and Romo is a very variable quantity. 8-8 last season, I see the same this season. Finally Philadelphia are a team that I have always had a soft spot for, but I still see them propping up the division. The NFC West looks dangerous. San Francisco narrowly missed the big prize last season and have a very solid team, Seattle were also solid with a good QB. These two will top their division – Arizona and St Louis have a little while to go before they can challenge for this division. But I feel that Seattle may just have the measure of the 49ers for the title. Atlanta certainly appear to be the team to beat in the NFC South. A good season last year petered out in disappointing fashion for the Falcons, and I think that will drive them on. I see that NO are well backed, but I don’t see it myself as it would take a big improvement from last season. 9-7 seems right for them, with Tampa and Carolina possibly hitting .500 seasons.

To summarise, the divisional winners will be (in seeding order) Green Bay, Seattle, Atlanta and NY Giants. The wild card places will be taken by (in order) San Francisco and Washington.

Play Offs

Just looking at the play offs as representing the strength of the teams as they appear at the moment. As such it can’t take into account momentum or late season performance; two elements that are vital in the drive to the Superbowl. For the AFC the expectation at this point has to be for Denver and New England to make it to the Conference game. I can’t see Pittsburgh or Baltimore getting through, and whilst Cincinnati have a chance of upsetting the apple cart I can’t see them going all the way. It just seems that Denver have the whole package moving forward, and I’d expect to see them beat New England to represent the AFC.

The NFL is very tricky, but I actually see San Francisco facing Seattle in the Championship game. And this time I think that Seattle will rule the roost – that may be tainted by my belief that teams that win the Superbowl, or even get to the final match, find it difficult to repeat the following season unless they are a country mile ahead of the opposition, and that isn’t the case this time.

Superbowl

So a match between Seattle and Denver will form Superbowl XLVIII in the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (a nice East coast venue for those of us watching in the UK!). And I see Seattle taking the win this time. Age will catch up with Manning whilst Wilson is just starting what should be a stellar career. The Seattle defence will control Denver, whilst the likes of Harvin will provide a threat that the Denver secondary can’t cope with. But it will be a close game!

Final Thoughts

Will this really be what happens? I very much doubt it! Injuries, off field antics, momentum; all will scupper some heavily fancied teams and no doubt some of those ‘lower’ teams will make a run for the post season (I am looking at you Detroit!). Will be interesting to see how these are looking at around week 8.

Formula 1 Betting

I’ll admit that I love F1. Much to my wife’s annoyance race weekend’s are arranged around watching qualifying and the race – and if missing the live coverage is unavoidable then a whole saga of avoiding any potential results services until I have caught up with the recording! This used to extend to getting up at 3 or 4am to watch live coverage from the Far East and Australia, although that has gone by the wayside as age has crept up and sleep becomes a higher priority.

But despite watching the races for many, many years, I haven’t really bet on the sport to any significant level. There are two main reasons for this – the winner/each-way market is so badly priced given the domination of a few drivers and teams that there is no value, and secondly that it is all but impossible to remove the random element that make any bet a true ‘gamble’ rather than a considered option. Will a carefully analysed race based on driver performance, weather conditions and track characteristics be undone by a rush of blood to the head of a midfield or tail-end driver ploughing into a driver in the first corner?

To address the concerns various betting firms now offer some more markets on any race. Race winner, fastest lap and winning car still don’t offer a great deal of value, although the option around the ‘third’ team can be interesting there still isn’t much of a chance and the odds reflect the one in eight or one in ten chance that such a team has.

However, other markets are more interesting. I am sure ‘Safety Car During Race’ would have been were it not for the fact that the Safety Car appears to be deployed these days if a driver so much as sneezed; reflected in the 8/15 odds on one appearing in Belgium. Winning margins are invariably over 6s as teams ‘give up’ after all the pit stops are completed.

Bet365 offer markets on the leader after 1, 5 and 10 laps. In Belgium pole sitter Hamilton is 1/4 in the lap 1 market, although Vettel at 7/2 is interesting. However, I’d go for Rosberg at 16/1. Lewis may well be focussing on a battle with Seb to the first corner, and need to move across, leaving Rosberg to push down the racing line. If I was betting on it, that would be the choice I’d make.

The other market that catches my eye is the ‘Number of Classified Drivers’. This may well reflect a statistical analysis better than other markets. Some tracks are certainly notorious for being ‘car breakers’; particularly demanding of brakes or tyres (yes, even considering the current issues with tyres!) and being associated with multiple retirements. Belgium is notorious for very changeable weather, and with a long lap a driver can find themselves on dry tyres for a long lap with parts of the track soaking wet, a sure recipe for a spin (although run off areas the size of Central Europe most drivers get a second chance here). But the real attraction is the odds. For Belgium the odds are: Under 18 – 6/4; 18-19 (inclusive) – 13/8; Over 19 – 2/1. As you might expect, the average appears (without calculating) to be around 3 retirements per race (that would mean 19 finishers). Spa – with a long lap, changeable weather, tricky fast corners and a massive potential for a large first corner shunt? The only bet I think I’d look at taking would be the Under 18 finishers at 6/4. It is the only market where I can see a reasonable return!

Update

Oh well, can’t win ’em all. 19 cars finished the Belgian GP which was better than I expected – although clearly the market makers had it right. Maldonado getting to the chequered flag was something of a surprise, but the lack of any rain in the race scuppered my prediction that the weather would contribute to some retirements. Will have to look at the Italian GP markets though; Monza can also be something of a car breaker.

Premier League ’13-14 Final Prediction

Having looked at the mathematical models, and the gut calls, it is time to combine them to provide a final prediction of the table as it will appear at the end of the 2013-14 season.

Pos Team Pts
1 Chelsea 80
2 Manchester City 78
3 Manchester United 74
4 Arsenal 74
5 Liverpool 70
6 Tottenham Hotspur 64
7 Everton 60
8 Swansea City 51
9 West Bromwich Albion 49
10 West Ham United 45
11 Fulham 43
12 Southampton 43
13 Cardiff City 40
14 Aston Villa 40
15 Newcastle 38
16 Sunderland 38
17 Stoke 37
18 Norwich 34
19 Hull City 25
20 Crystal Palace 22

(Apologies for the table formatting, not completely used to WP yet)

I guess we’ll see at the end of the season just how close – or far – I was!

 

Premier League ’13-14 Gut Calls: 1st to 10th

After the last post looked at the bottom half of the table, it is time to look at the top half and the European qualifying places not to mention the Champions!

  • 10th – West Ham United
    • Same old same old for The Hammers – they have fallen into the same predicted place for each model and that is the place that they finished last season. Perhaps a Cup run is due before they move to the Olympic Stadium.
  • 9th – West Bromwich Albion
    • The Baggies have surprised many since coming back up to the EPL, and appear to have put the ‘yo-yo’ club moniker to bed. They don’t yet have the quality or strength in depth to break into the European places but they should still be the ‘best of the rest’ and could be closer to the others if Anelka still has his goal scoring boots.
  • 8th – Swansea City
    • Another team that has surprised many, and actually improved during their time in the Premiership. The League Cup win last season was nothing less than they deserved, but it remains to be seen how they will manage a challenging league campaign along with European competition. Michu will need another standout season, but the constant improvements seen thus far justify an 8th place.
  • 7th – Everton
    • A lot here depends upon the team keeping its ‘star’ players. If Baines or Fellaini head over to Old Trafford it is unlikely their replacements will be of the same quality. And whilst Martinez is certainly a scrapper, his experience at the sharp end of the Premiership is limited meaning he is something of an unknown quantity. Assuming the players do say another top half finish should be straightforward, and perhaps a little closer to those above, but a challenge for the top is still beyond a team that doesn’t have the resources – or the desire to get into debt – to attract stellar names.
  • 6th – Tottenham Hotspur
    • As with Everton, the position Spurs will occupy depends on the remainder of the transfer market. Yes, Bale is that important to the team. Spurs appeared to overperform last season, and although the defence was impressive at times it is unlikely to be as easy this year. AVB does appear to fit the team well, so I don’t see any tremendous fall from grace, but if Bale goes that will not be an easy gap to fill.
  • 5th – Liverpool
    • Whilst I remain unconvinced about Rodgers ability as a manager of a top flight team (and I am sure that gives him sleepless nights!), Liverpool were a far better team last season than their final position would indicate. The defence has solidified, although the loss of Carragher will be keenly felt, and Mignolet will be under a lot of pressure replacing a well loved Reina. The midfield has relied too heavily on an aging Gerrard (still extremely talented, but every game?), but the forward line is where the real danger lies. Too reliant upon Suarez the transfer shenanigans could have terminally damaged that relationship. Without Suarez (either gone in a transfer or just not as good without the motivation) Liverpool could struggle for goals, although I think the other attacking options will step up.
  • 4th – Arsenal
    • Fourth again, but I expect them to be closer to the top three this time. The defence at the Emirates is solid as we know, but last season showed a need for more forward work. A quality ‘out and out’ striker (someone like an RVP perhaps?!) could see Arsenal mount a serious challenge, but such a player costs significant money and Arsenal just never seem prepared to spend.
  • 3rd – Manchester United
    • What? Manchester United third? Really? Yes, really. After what can only be described as an outstanding season in 2012-13, things may be trickier this time around. Last year RVP was sensational, but it is rare that a player can produce such a phenomenal season two years in a row. Defensively there is still a question mark, not on the quality of the players but on the ability of Ferdinand and Vidic to last a season. Midfield still seems somewhat light (for a team of such stature, not when compared to many others in the league), and the change in manager is likely to have some effect. This won’t be the dramatic fall from grace that some have predicted, but it was always likely to be a tough season, made worse by an expected improvement from their chief rivals.
  • 2nd – Manchester City
    • City’s defence of their EPL title was disappointing to many. The players were still there, in the main, but they weren’t brought together as a strong unit. Reports, if they are to be believed, would indicate that Mancini was a major factor in this, and similarly reports indicate that Pellegrini has addressed this. Reports, as we know, are notoriously unreliable though… There have been significant purchases over the Summer to offer alternative attacking options and to strengthen the midfield, and these were completed early in the transfer window allowing the players time to get to know the rest of the squad. There is still a concern over the defence, and the reliance on Kompany to marshal everything not to mention Hart’s variable form where he has never recaptured the stellar performances of the title winning season.
  • 1st – Chelsea
    • Yes, the ‘Special One’ will win the title on his return to the EPL. Or at least, that is what I think will happen. The man certainly has managerial talent, and clubs appear to get the best out of him in his first couple of seasons with them; but is this to be counted as his first couple of seasons with Chelsea? The squad available is also very strong, and their performance last season puts them into a good place to challenge from the start. There are questions – the defence isn’t as imposing as it was (Luiz is variable, Terry overrated and ageing) and the midfield maestro that is Lampard is on the downward slope of his career, but certainly still capable of driving a team throughout a season. This may well be the last chance for a number of players to command regular starts for a team such as Chelsea, and I expect Mourinho to feed off that to produce a special season that will end with the title.

So there we have the full table based on gut predictions. Not a scientific analysis in this case, and one that I am sure many would disagree with – I claim no particular expertise as a pundit but I am interested to see how well my efforts stack up with the professionals or even the statistics!

Next, and finally on the pre-season predictions, will be a summary predicted table that combines the Pythagorean approach with the gut call to see where there are differences.

Premier League ’13-14 Gut Calls: 11th to 20th

We have had a look at a mathematical model relating to the potential EPL finish, but now it is time to temper the stats with a ‘gut’ assessment. In this post we’ll look at the bottom half of the table including the relegation candidates:

  • 11th – Aston Villa
    • I am expecting an improvement from Villa this season after a difficult outing last time. The younger players have had a chance to bed in and gain some experience, and having managed to retain their primary goal threat they should start reaping the rewards.
  • 12th – Fulham
    • The perennial mid-table team I don’t see any reason for that to change this season!
  • 13th – Southampton
    • A bit of an unknown quantity, Southampton had a mediocre season punctured with some good wins. A poor start didn’t help them, but despite the predictions of doom they certainly had a better second half that helped keep them clear of the main relegation dogfight. Nonetheless, I don’t see the quality to propel them further up the table, although I have a suspicion that they might put something together in one of the cup competition.s
  • 14th – Cardiff City
    • One of the promoted teams usually does well on its entry into the EPL, and Cardiff are well placed to be that team this year. Having the money behind them will help, as well as some experienced players. Cardiff could be in for the long haul.
  • 15th – Newcastle
    • I am concerned about Newcastle. Things really fell apart last season, and the role that Kinnear will play could well lead to more of the same for the Geordies. Their performance last season was woeful at times, and they were lucky not to get involved in a more serious relegation battle.
  • 16th – Sunderland
    • Well at least some in the NE will still like me… Sunderland could be in for a sticky patch, and I am not sure of Di Canio’s temperament if things go against him. He certainly revitalised a team heading for disaster last season, but this time I fear the long haul may be too much. Although I have them 16th, I do predict something of a gap to 15th and very much part of the relegation battle.
  • 17th – Stoke City
    • Stoke have been an EPL constant for many years, but last season’s 13th place flattered a team that seemed to have run out of steam. It appeared that a dramatic change in personnel was needed to inject some energy into the team, and the buys don’t seem to have it. Hughes has a big job on his hands.
  • 18th – Norwich City
    • The fairy tale ends. Although The Canaries will keep it close, probably to the last game, I fear that their luck will run out. That said, the club has made some astute buys in the off-season that may well prove me wrong, but I fear just a couple of injuries (e.g. Bassong) could consign the club back to the Championship.
  • 19th – Hull City
    • Some experience of the EPL will help, but not enough to bridge the gap from the Championship. Despite expressing some interest, the club hasn’t really been strengthened in the off-season; in fact it has lost a couple of solid players that won’t help them make a good start in the new season.
  • 20th – Crystal Palace
    • Although play-off winners can often upset the apple cart, there doesn’t appear to be much chance of this for Palace. The Eagles route into the EPL was fraught to say the least, and the loss of their most potent weapon will be keenly felt. The signing of Chamakh on loan won’t replace the loss of Zaha, and more threat from the forwards would be needed for the team to secure the goals, and therefore the wins, that they would need. Unless, of course, Phillips can continue churning out the goals! At least Holloway will provide some good post-match entertainment!

So there is the gut call for the bottom half of the table. I am sure that many will disagree with the conclusions, and that is part of the joy of the pre-season prediction. Top half to follow, and then the final prediction combining both the stats and the ‘feelings’.

Playing the numbers or the heart

There are many reasons for betting – making money, adding some excitement to a game, the challenge of out-thinking the bookie or market and others that I am sure people can quote. The difference in why someone bets will often dictate what they will bet on, and naturally how much they will bet as well.

For pure thrills the games of chance come to the fore. There is no system for roulette, despite the best attempts to prove otherwise, and so placing money there is a pure gamble for the thrill. However, some prefer to apply some more logic to the process, and choose an event where there is a chance of making a judgement call.

In the case of a judgement, the first step is often to make the prediction. And here is where many, including myself, fall flat. Whilst I am not making a selection purely on wishful thinking grounds, it is still a ‘gut call’. Too many times I have placed a bet thinking ‘I am sure they’ll do the business this time’ – an example being the recent Lions tour where I had a 100% track record in my two margin bets; 100% the wrong way as I went with the gut feeling that the Aussies would sneak at least one of the tests.

A ‘true’ gambler, however, doesn’t rely on ‘feelings’. Here the world of stats rule, and so an assessment of form, previous matches, league results etc. are used to establish a probability of an event. That probability is then compared to the odds being offered in order to see if there is value in the bet. Why look for value than take what is on offer? Simply because whilst any one bet may fail, over time the value bets should cover those losses and leave the bank in a healthy position.

A simple example would illustrate, using exaggerated odds for the upcoming Premier League season. If our analysis showed that Chelsea had around a 30% chance of winning the title (based on a simple assessment that they are one of only three teams that could win – 30% for each with the remaining 10% representing the combined chances of the other seventeen teams) then we would expect odds of around 3.40 (12/5). If we found a bookmaker offering odds of 10.00 (9/1) then we’d be a fool not to take them – this represents only a 10% chance of winning the title. The gap between the ‘real’ probability and that represented by the odds equals the value in the bet. On the other hand, if we could only find 1.33 (1/3 or ‘three to one on’) then that would be a case of bad value; the probability offered is 75% which is much higher than our prediction. By the way, if your assessment of probability is that far outside that of the market it might be an idea to double check your numbers!

So the reasons for placing a bet are key to understanding what bet to place. There is no reason not to place a bet on your favourite team to win the Premier League/Aviva Premiership/Superbowl (not that I would, as I am superstitious that way), but don’t do that if there is no value in it and your main aim is to see a return. Similarly there is nothing wrong with taking to the roulette wheel or the lottery or such, but just don’t try to kid yourself that there is a system that can work here.

Premier League Predictions 2013-14 – The Pythagorean Approach

Compared to our American Cousins, football has been a lot slower on the uptake of statistical analysis as a method of predicting performance for either a single match or an entire season. However, that has been changing over the last few years with the adoption of some very clever models that have been used in baseball, the NFL or other American sports and applying them to football. This is not something that is without its own difficulty – the draw, for example, throws a curve ball into calculations every time and that doesn’t being to cover the fluid and often completely capricious nature of the game of football.

Predictions at the start of the season also have to rely on data from either the immediate predecessor or historical data. Straight away a problem manifests itself; how can stats account for Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford, or if Real Madrid acquire Bale from Spurs? How can we predict the performance of the promoted teams? They can’t, and the only option is to make allowances and assumptions, and therein lies our old friend ‘error’.

For this initial model the Pythagorean Prediction concept has been used. This is a well established model with its roots in baseball where it was found that analysis of the runs scored and allowed was a better reflection of a team’s real performance than the win/loss ratio. It would enable the identification of teams whose performance warranted a better final standing, and therefore – all things being equal – teams who should improve in the next season.

Applying this to football uses goals scored and goals conceded to predict an expected total points, which can then be compared to the actual points total. For 2012-13 that looks like:

Pos Team Points Predict Points Difference
1 Manchester United 89 76 13
2 Manchester City 78 75 3
3 Chelsea 75 75 0
4 Arsenal 73 75 -2
5 Tottenham Hotspur 72 65 7
6 Everton 63 63 0
7 Liverpool 61 70 -9
8 West Bromwich Albion 49 49 0
9 Swansea City 46 48 -2
10 West Ham United 46 45 1
11 Norwich City 44 38 6
12 Fulham 43 44 -1
13 Stoke City 42 41 1
14 Southampton 41 44 -3
15 Aston Villa 41 37 4
16 Newcastle United 41 36 5
17 Sunderland 39 41 -2
18 Wigan Athletic 36 35 1
19 Reading 28 32 -4
20 Queens Park Rangers 25 27 -2

In an effort to minimise the error the exponent used in the Pythagorean calculation has been adjusted to 1.5, and the win % multiplied by 2.7 to account for draws.

An assessment of this shows that Man Utd overachieved last season by a considerable level, but would still be Champions. Although 2nd-4th all were predicted 75 points, before rounding this would have seen Arsenal second, followed by City then Chelsea. Whilst there is still a gap beyond the ‘Top 4’, it is Liverpool that should have taken 5th as the most underachieving team of last season.

Taking this as a predictor of the upcoming season, a close battle between the new ‘Top 4’ of Utd, City, Chelsea and Arsenal appears to be on the cards. Liverpool should do better, but equally Spurs may well fall down the table. At the bottom end Norwich should be concerned with their 11th place last season apparently far more than their goal record deserved, and both Aston Villa and Newcastle will be hoping that last season isn’t a sign of things to come.

Of course, the problem here is the relegation/promotion consideration. Clearly the newly promoted teams can’t be included in the assessment as their goals were all in the Championship with a completely different set of teams. And so in creating the starting table a very blunt, and not particularly scientific assessment needs to be made – they will make up the bottom three again. I’ll be looking at a way of more accurately reflecting this in future years, but also when reassessing the Pythagorean prediction as the season goes on.

Pythagorean Predicted Table

Pos Team Predict Points
1 Manchester United 76
2 Arsenal 75
3 Manchester City 75
4 Chelsea 75
5 Liverpool 70
6 Tottenham Hotspur 65
7 Everton 63
8 West Bromwich Albion 49
9 Swansea City 48
10 West Ham United 45
11 Southampton 44
12 Fulham 44
13 Sunderland 41
14 Stoke City 41
15 Norwich City 38
16 Aston Villa 37
17 Newcastle United 36
18 Cardiff City N/A
19 Hull City N/A
20 Crystal Palace N/A

Just a reminder that I use a very simple application of the Pythagorean method, and with our friend Mr Google far more advanced methodologies can be found.