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Bill Belichick Must Be a Horseplayer

Last night on Sunday Night Football we saw a coaching call that reminds me that every day decisions, whether they be in sports, or life, can generally be described as a horseplayer decision.

With the ball on his own 28 yard line, up by six and facing a 4th and two, Patriot coach Bill Belichick stunned the conventional football world by going for it. The pass was completed, but the ball slightly bobbled and the referee placed the ball just behind the sticks. Indy ball.

They would go on to score, and with only a few seconds left New England could not get the ball into field goal range. Victory was Indy's.

The press shows their true colors on this - when something goes right, they tend to over-hype praise. And when something goes wrong - they tend to over-hype criticism. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

Fortunately, we can mess around and check the numbers, like a bettor does when making a value decision on a horse in the 4th. What would you have bet the Patriots before the play? What would you have bet on Indy to win if they are stopped. What would you have bet on Indy if they receive the ball on a punt instead? What would you have bet the Pats, if Indy scores quickly and they needed a field goal to win?

Speaking with a professional bettor who runs these numbers better than I can, said "He [Belichick] made the right call because the odds favored him. It was probably around 60-40 call - at the very least a coin flip - and nothing out of the ordinary if you run the numbers." In effect, Belichick made a value bet.

If you read the papers today or listen to call-in shows about this, I would bet dollars to donuts you will read about a "blatantly stupid call" moreso than other more dispassionate opines, over and over again. Patriot fan "Vic from Long Island" will be calling for heads, but as horseplayers, it appears the decision was nothing more than debatable.

By the way, well before that play with New England up big, the Patriots traded at 1.01 at Betfair. If you would have taken a chance that Indy could come back and win you could have laid New England $100 and got back $10,000. Not a bad days work; and you might want to send Peyton Manning a Christmas card if you did.


alan said…
The difference/irony here is that, while this might have been a horseplayer decision as you say, it was in this case made by a man who many of us consider to be a horse's ass. And that certainly accounts for some of the opinions you're reading today.

Also wanted to add belatedly to your post on Handicapping - One Sentence Is Enough - with the growth rate of the advances in handicapping information we've seen over the last 20 years, we'd all be making money if our proficiency increased at even a fraction of that rate. Instead, how many people do you really think are making more money? And how many of those are whales who are utilizing numerical programs or algorithms that have nothing to do with handicapping?
Cangamble said…
What were the Betfair odds when they lined up to go for it? That is the interesting question.

Alan, 20 years ago, there was a lot of mooch money that has now disappeared to slots and lotteries.

Now it is good handicappers versus good handicappers and thanks to tris in every race and supers in many, takeout has increased.

As for whales, their systems have lots to do with handicapping. Handicapping systems are just as valuable as methods where someone prints out a form and does their own numbers etc.
rakeback said…
Great coach/terrible call. Whether the play succeeded or not, you just cant go for it on 4th down on your own 28 yard line with a 6 point lead this late in the game. Make the Colts go 80 yards to beat you.
Anonymous said…
I thought that was a great call. That NY Times article you linked explained it well. Most coach's...... because they fear losing their job and not being able to face the music...... rarely play the proper percentages....... Shanahan used to do things just like this and he could get away with it. He has made that call (it worked both times) on his side of the field in high scoring games.

Belichick has no fear of losing his job ........ and it is why he wins games.

Having said that ..... I agree with Alan. I don't like him and I do not think I will ever like him...... I am typing with a smile on my face.

Anonymous said…
This is exactly the way I look at driver decisions in harness racing. If a driver has a horse who needs every inch of racetrack to beat the leader and has the two hole, he might have a 0% chance to win if he pulls it. If he sits he might have a 25% chance to get boxed, but he has more than a 0% chance to win if he gets out and uses the draft. When he sits he did the right thing like Belicheck did. Although bettors will scream at him for getting boxed.


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