This NFL postseason, I joined a playoff picks pool run by a family member of occasional DRaT contributor @ribevan (who is now, regretfully, @eribeaux). The rules were pretty simple: pick every playoff game against the Vegas points spread. five points per game in the Wild Card round, 10 for divisional, 15 for the conference championships, and 25 for the Super Bowl. In addition, you could receive five bonus points per round for picking the QB with the most passing yards.
Going into Super Bowl Sunday, I was tied for 4th with a medicore (at best) 50 points, trailing two teams with 70 and one with 65. Thus, my only crack at winning came at leapfrogging all three of these teams (especially because only the top two paid out). Throughout the two weeks, I studied the lines and betting trends; Denver was routinely being picked by between 60 and 70% of bettors, something reflected in the line moving from SEA -1.5 to DEN -2.5 in a matter of days, maybe even hours. Even though I believed Peyton Manning and Denver would prevail, I knew my only chance at winning first place was rolling the dice with Seattle.
The rest is history. Seattle destroyed Denver 43-8 (the first such final score in NFL history!), bumping my score up to 75 (and then 80 with the 5 bonus points from Manning). The top three teams all chose Denver and fell back to five or ten points back. One other keen player (the guy I was tied for 4th with) had the same strategy as me, so we happily split the pot.
The lesson is simple: regardless of what you think may happen, sometimes the best choice is what offers you the most expected value. Even if you thought Denver had a great chance of winning, choosing them would’ve yielded me a second place finish at BEST had they won (and in hindsight we know I would’ve won nothing). By taking Seattle, I gave myself a terrific chance at money if the underdog won. Turns out the underdog should’ve been the favorite all along.