Casey Stengel said, "Never make predictions, especially about the future." That's good advice from Casey, but he should have added, " . . .. especially when predictions about the future are based on won/lost records from the past."
Most sports bettors and handicappers look at coaching records when making preseason selections. It is well known that some coaches, like Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio, New England's Bill Belichick, Caronlina's John Fox, Denver's Mike Shanahan, Cleveland's Romeo Crennel, KC's Herm Edwards, the Giants Tom Coughlin, Tampa Bay's John Gruden, and Chicago's Lovie Smith have winning records above 58% in preseason play. Those coaches are thought to have their excellent winning records becuase they approach preseason games with the desire to win.
Other coaches such as Arizona's Ken Whisenhut, Buffalo's Dick Jauron, the Colts' Tony Dungy, and Philadelphia's Andy Reid have lost more than 58% of the games that their teams have played in preseason. It is thought these coaches lose because they don't care about winning in the preseason, and they don't have their teams trying to win in the preseason.
What could be easier for the sports bettor? Simply bet on the coaches who try to win in the preseason, and bet against the coaches who don't. When you have a winning coach matched against a losing coach, sell your spouse and kids into slavery and bet the winning coach. With a simple winning system like that, why aren't more people coming out of the preseason rich? I decided to do some research to find out.
For my experiment, I made a list of every coach who had a meaningful winning or losing record before the start of the 2007 preseason, and I tracked the results in 2007 for an imaginary bettor placing $110 to win $100 on each winning coach and against each losing coach in every preseason game. I eliminated any game in which two coaches with winning records or two coaches with losing records were matched against each other. I did not double up on games in which a winning coach met a losing coach. I simply made a $110 to win $100 bet on the winning coach, which was also, of course, a bet against the losing coach in the same game.
I considered a meaningful winning or losing record to be a 100% record won or lost for coaches with a 4 or 5 game lifetime record with their current team, an 80% record won or lost for a coach with 8 -10 games with their current team, and a 58% record won or lost for coaches who had more than 10 games in their record with their current ream.
All the winning coaches on my list had a combined straight-up record of 62% wins. All the losing coaches had a combined straight-up losing record of 63.5% losses. I expected that betting on the winning coaches and betting against the losing coaches would have produced a nice profit for 2007. To my amazement, betting on the winners and against the losers would have resulted in a LOSS of $550 in 2007 for my imaginary bettor.
At first, I thought that the problem was the line. Most bettors know which coaches have winning preseason records and which coaches don't. The linemakers take well-known trends into account when formulating the line, and the line is skewed against such trends.
"Perhaps," I conjectured, "the linemakers have adjusted the lines to a point at which the winning coaches will lose against the spread and the losing coaches will win against the spread."
I checked the against the spread (ATS) records for each coach and found that, in fact, the lines were skewed against the coaching trends. However, the lines were not skewed enough to stop bettors from winning. Betting on the winning coaches over their history with their current teams produced a combined 57.6% win rate against the spread (ATS). Betting against the losing coaches over their history with their current teams produced a combined 54% win rate ATS. The combined ATS results were 232 wins - 178 losses, which translates to a profitable 56.5%.
Obviously, the losses encountered in 2007 were not caused by the linemaker skewing the lines. Next, I theorized that maybe 2007 was an aberration. I checked back for two more years to 2005. Those years also produced losses for the coaching trends.
As I checked more years, however, I noticed that the reason that betting on long term coaching trends did not result in predicting winners lay in the trends themselves. What appeared to be winning trends were not winning trends anymore. Suddenly, Casey Stengel's statement at the beginning of this article made sense. Long term trends should should never be used to make predictions about the future, because they merely record the past.
Any coach can change his philosophy and methods at any time. When a coach changes his attitude toward the preseason, that might be apparent in his pronouncements to the media before each game, but it can take a long time for the change to be reflected in the overall record.
For example, I found that, even though Bill Belichick still had a long term SU record of 31-22 and an ATS record of 30-18-4 when 2008 kicked off,. the New England Patriots have not had a winning preseason for the past 3 years. It could take as many as 5 more years of losing preseasons before Belichick's long-term record stops looking profitable. It is obvious, however, that Belichick's attitude to the preseason changed three years ago.
Even though Herm Edwards' record was 16-9 ATS (64%) at the start of the 2007 season, and was still 16-13 ATS at the start of this season, his ATS record for the past three years has been a horrifying 2-10. John Fox still has a 14-9 ATS record, but his record for the past 3 years ATS is an awful 4-8. For the past 2 years, Mike Shanahan is 4-4 ATS.
The attitudes of all these coaches has changed, but the change is not apparent from simply looking at their long term won/lost records. It's not a question of being too late to win with these trends either. Most of the coaches' extreme records were a result of only one or two years in which they were 4-0. With most you could not predict they would be 4-0 because their preseason record was nothing special before that. They simply wanted to win for some reason in the one or two seasons that produced a perfect record. Sometimes, the extreme record was produced in years in which the coach was new with his team. His attitude in the first year could be completely different from his attitude in later years.
For those of you who think the answer is to use 3-year trends instead of lifetime-with-the-team records, the question is: How do you know the coaches' attitudes won't change again this year? The answer is: You don't. Won/lost records of any length should never be used to make predictions, especially about the future. They can only be used to describe the past in very general terms.
The secret to winning in the preseason is to read all the local newspapers and monitor local radio and TV interviews with the coaches of each team. That has become easier to do thanks to the internet, but it is still time consuming. If you don't have the time to do it yourself, Pregame provides selections for you from handicappers who, for a small fee, have done the work for you.
To get my preseason winners in the NFL for tonight, for Monday, or, better yet, for the rest of August, CLICK HERE.