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Super Bowl Aftermath: Don’t Call it an Upset

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I missed on my super bowl pick this year.  This is nothing new, of course.  Since 2000, my picks for the big game were as follows (in chronological order): Giants, Rams, Raiders, Panthers, Patriots, Seahawks, Bears, Patriots, Cardinals, and now Colts.  I have bolded all the teams who actually won for your viewing pleasure.  That Gorilla that took the Saints hasn’t been alive as long as I’ve been picking SB games this decade, but it’s been roughly as right as I have over this timeframe.

I thought the Colts would win.  I thought it was possible that the Colts could blow out the Saints.  I even went as far as predicting that if each team lost it’s quarterback, the Colts’ advantage would become more decisive.

But no matter how I crunched all the evidence, there was no way to possibly suggest that the Saints had a worse than 40% chance to win the game.  And, yeah, that’s not supported by the final line on the game (5 points).  So when I picked the Colts, I did so based on the “blowout principle” which essentially states that, even if the game probabilities are split, taking the team that I believe has a greater chance to win an uncompetitive game makes the pick both smarter and safer.  Moving the line, though from two points to five points hardly makes the game blowout proof.  So, it appears that Super Bowl 44 represented a market inefficiency between all the information we had, and how the game was perceived.

The way the Colts had performed in the playoffs, they deserved to be favored.  But, had the super bowl been played in New Orleans, the spread of five points still suggests the Saints would have been favored.  That can’t be right.  Maybe the Colts should have been slight favorites on a neutral field, but I’m thinking two points max.

The inefficiency described here resulted in a bet against the spread that I witnessed at the Super Bowl party I was at.  The bet was a friendly one for an insignificant sum of money, enough to make the outcome matter to two neutral parties, not enough to cause any anxiety for the loser.  The bet initiator was all too happy to willingly offer the spread to allow for an agreement.  In this instance, it might have been more fair to just bet the game straight up.

To put this in further perspective, consider the Colts response to the Saints after the 2-pt conversion to go up by 7.  Did the Colts throw caution to the wind and start slinging the ball downfield in an attempt to make the final five minutes look like last year’s super bowl?  No. The Colts clearly had the idea to slow down their offense and work to eat up all the remaining time off the clock, score, and (presumably) play for overtime.  This response was to the Tampa Two Coverage scheme the Saints were playing most of the game.  The Colts not only didn’t try to generate a big play, they specifically tried to avoid getting chunks of yardage and giving Drew Brees the last chance to win in regulation.  The Colts, most probably, were going to be successful in forcing overtime if not for the great individual win by the Saints that caused the interception.  And if that happened, the super bowl would have been decided by a margin of three points one way or the other.

It was a pretty close game, either way.  The final three minutes were anti-climatic, but it was a game that featured more move-and-counter-move strategies than any super bowl in recent memory.  Which was kind of predictable, if both teams were understood well.  The difference in the game was essentially, that the two point conversion was overturned, and that Reggie Wayne’s route go jumped by a little known second round corner.  That’s not what a lot of people predicted would happen.  But furthermore, that’s not really an upset.

It was the close game that everyone wanted to get, that people expected to see.  Peyton Manning did not have the final moment of glory.  But more than that, the Saints, in two and a half quarters, erased a 10-0 deficit and led by a full touchdown in crunch time.  The Colts have been great at the end of game situations over the last four years or so, but the Saints had won on the field well before Tracy Porter finished the game on the scoreboard.

That simply would have not happened if the Saints weren’t the better team.  A lot of things can happen in a football game.  The Saints were in all likelyhood going to be in the game in the fourth quarter.  But they won because they were able to force the Colts to play for overtime.  And anytime you can marginalize a powerful opponent into working hard, and smart, just to have a chance at winning a coin flip, it can be summarized that the Colts would have been incredibly lucky to have come back.  A great team, but also a lucky team.  And the Saints won by 14 because instead of getting lucky, the Colts were unlucky.

The Saints won the game because they were better.  Don’t call it an upset.

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