Picking Winners in Championship Games

You know the deal – the appeal of betting on these championship games is easy to understand. They usually involve the league’s best-performing (and most discussed) athletes. They cap off an entire season of play. There are emotions at stake, particularly in the hearts of fans spread around the country and around the world.

Championship games are anticipated for months, discussed and analyzed endlessly on Web, TV, and radio, and involve major broadcast productions with musical performers and other fanfare. The NFL Super Bowl alone garners the biggest ratings anywhere on television like clockwork EVERY year; it’s also why it’s the most bet on game in the world EVERY year as well.

The Super Bowl – the BETTING Mecca

Super BowlSuper Bowl bets spread well into the European and Asian markets, as does betting interest on the MLB World Series, NBA Championship, and Stanley Cup. Domestically, NCAA basketball and college championship games are also big financial boons for bookmakers legal and otherwise.

But if the strong desire to wager on the NBA Finals or the endless games of March Madness is easy to understand, it is also an easy attitude to poke holes in. Plenty of bettors go out of their way to avoid placing wagers on high-profile games of any sort – you don’t get a much higher profile than a championship. The reasoning is simple – oddsmakers make a killing during championship games.

That’s in part because a lot of the money wagered on these games comes from total amateurs, which affects the line, and in part because the handicappers have weeks to analyze potential matchups and balance their books. Others may stay out of a World Series wager because they have a favorite team in the game and don’t want to bet based on their emotions. The reasons for skipping out on championship game wagers are legion.

Picking Super Bowl champions

So what is a bettor to do if they have a little bankroll left to spend on the NFL season and the Super Bowl is just around the corner? Is it possible to make smart wagers on championship games? Absolutely – and the good news is, most of the tactics described below (the ones we use to handicap championship games) is a combination of conventional wisdom and easy-to-research numbers and statistics.

As an example of a simple way to pick a champion, let’s look at how some of our writers break down that massive display of corporate-sports alignment that is the Super Bowl.

The nice thing about betting during championship season is that you’ve only got to worry about the head-to-head competition between two teams. One of the simplest ways to predict an NFL champion requires first that only two teams are left in the fight – once the NFC and AFC champs are announced, you can compare the teams statistically.

Breaking down past stats & using other metrics

Our favorite method involves a simple comparison of fifteen categories based on team performances during the regular season. Some of these categories are based on offense, others on defense, still others on facts about the franchises.

The method is simple – whichever team has more points (out of a possible 60) will be exponentially more likely to win. Please note that this is based on recent NFL history, and older games may reflect different results.

Using this customized blend of stats, we’ve managed to pick eight of the last ten Super Bowl champions. Give it a try this year, and let us know how it worked.

Start by giving ten points to either team if they’ve won a Super Bowl in the past three seasons.

Next, give eight points to either team if their opponent franchise is playing in its first Super Bowl ever. Give another eight points to whichever team saw the least number of rushes in the regular season.

The team whose defense has the lower per-carry rush average earns five points.

Give four whole points to the team with the better net kick-punt TD returns, as well as to the team with the better record against the spread, and another four to the team with the fewer number of total penalty yards.

….Still with me? It only gets trickier from here.

NervousManSweatingIt gets SLIGHTLY tricky here, because we start awarding some half-points. Give 3.5 of them to whichever squad has the higher yards-per-pass-attempt stat. Another 3.5 points goes to the team that’s given up fewer points overall.

Go ahead and give three total points to the team with the better rushing defense, here meaning the one that’s allowed the fewest rushing TDs.

We award two points to the team with the higher number of total sacks. Notice that this stat is actually far less valuable defensively than a team’s ability to shut down the running game. This acts in part to counter the fact that most modern Super Bowls involve teams helmed by awesome passing attacks.

Finally, there are four single-point awards to hand out: one to the team that faced fewer offensive pass attempts, one to the team that had the higher number of total punts, one to the squad with the better per-rush average on offense, and a point to the team with the better pass-completion percentage.

Conclusion on betting championship games (in ANY sport)

This kind of analysis is nothing new – similar point systems for various championship games in other sports are easy enough to find online. Ours is streamlined and geared to pick potential Super Bowl winners under modern game conditions.

Notice that Super Bowl experience is heavily weighted under the above system – that’s an example of a stat that would matter less in other pro sport title games, particularly the NBA and college basketball. The trick to picking a championship game winner in any sport is to tailor your system (like the one we use above) to the particulars of that sports.

A system for selecting March Madness winners would concentrate less on title game experience and more on regular season real-game stats, to address the fact that recent history is less important at the college level, and to compensate for smaller NCAA basketball team sizes.

It’s worth mentioning the vast difference between multi-game championships (Lord Stanley’s Cup, the World Series and the NBA Finals) and single-game titles like you find in professional and collegiate football. Multi-game championships are more difficult to handicap, if only because they involve more games (and different player matchups).

Whatever tactics you want to use as a bettor to make a pick in a championship series (as opposed to a single title game) still make sense, just applied on a game-to-game basis. Some bettors even use recent playoff performance stats to influence their NBA Finals handicapping.

The point here is simple – there is no good reason to avoid making a wager on a title game in any sport. Sure, plenty of cash is wagered (and lost) by amateurs and bettors making picks without much thought. But sports bettors who spend a few hours handicapping using a tactic like the one above can make intelligent picks at the end of the season just as well as they can during regular game times.

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