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Relative versus absolute, trend versus deviation; these distinctions are key in economics, and altogether far too lacking in media. Two recent ESPN articles that detail some record numbers produced by Super Bowl XLVIII are guilty of these errors, and more fundamentally, the sin of omission.

“Super Bowl draws 11.5M viewers”, 2/3/2014

For the fourth time in five years, the Super Bowl has set a record for the most-watched television event in U.S. history, drawing 11.5 million viewers even though the Seattle Seahawks 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos wasn’t really competitive.

Catchy! A record! Wowza! The Super Bowl is setting a new viewership record nearly every year, how about that? The headline “The American TV audience continues to grow slowly over time, increasing the viewership of different viewings across the board” is just not as catchy. But that is more or less what is happening. The percentage of the television audience watching the game actually declined from last year’s 48.1/71 rating to this year’s 47.6/70.1 Super Bowl XLVIII’s viewership was an absolute gain but a relative loss. The share rating at kickoff–44.5/70–actually was the highest of all Super Bowl kickoffs, suggesting that the blowout did indeed reduce viewership significantly.

The number of Super Bowl-related tweets was up from 24.1 million last year.

The same consideration applies here. There are millions more users on Twitter now than there were a year ago. Recently Twitter has averaged roughly 16 million new, active users every month.2 ESPN presents these figures as if the only thing that is different is that this is a new Super Bowl with different teams. But things change over time, and the state of the world, sans Super Bowl, is not the same today as it was a year ago.

“Fans bet record $119M on Super Bowl”, 2/42014

Gamblers wagered a record $119.4 million at Nevada casinos on the Super Bowl, allowing sportsbooks to reap an unprecedented profit as the betting public lost out in Seattle’s rout of the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos.

While an interesting figure, do not take the gambling sum for anything particularly groundbreaking. Sports gambling has been increasing for a while, nearly doubling from a decade ago.3 This represents an increase, but the increase was foreseeable. The record numbers are not a significant deviation from the trend of annual growth.

Casinos paid out at 8-to-1 for the safety. Fans who bet that the first score would be on a safety cashed in at 60-to-1. It was the third year in a row that sportsbooks have been hit on the safety bet.

Though not a knock on ESPN, there are a couple interesting things in play here. Almost undoubtedly some people some where will remember this as if safeties are “getting hot” in the Super Bowl and think that a Super Bowl safety is more likely now. While significant rule changes (say, to intentional grounding or offensive holding) would affect the odds, without such things it is likely to pure dumb luck. Vegas knows this. Bookmakers might be a little ticked at the moment, but they may be able to take advantage next year, if people think safeties are suddenly more likely when, in reality, they are still quite rare.

On the flip side, perhaps after three consecutive safeties (which is ridiculous, if random), people will underestimate the chances of a Super Bowl safety next year. This is the Gambler’s Fallacy: a run of rare safeties does not mean that a safety is less likely; without changes to the state of the game (rules, etc.), a safety has a constant probability. As the sample size grows, the runs and streaks even out, eventually regressing to the mean. But in one particular game–say next year’s Super Bowl–the chance of a safety remains the same.

“The betting public certainly had their moments in this game. Some of the props that they bet on every year came through and they were rewarded,” said Jay Kornegay, who runs the LVH sportsbook.

This is great. Mr. Kornegay runs the sportsbook; of course he remarks that the gambling public had their moments! He is the one profiting from the gambling public! In other news, Lucy has remarked to Charlie Brown, “Hey, you’ve had your moments buddy! Tomorrow could be the day you finally kick the football!”

ESPN is terrific. But some of what makes their content interesting is what they fail to say.


  1. A program’s rating share is given as #A/#B. #A is the percent of all individuals with televisions who are watching the program. #B is the percent of all individuals watching television at the time who are watching the program. Of the American viewers who were watching something on television during Super Bowl XLVIII, 71 percent of them were watching the game. And do click here to verify these figures. 
  2. An active user is someone who logs on at least once a month. It varies, but generally between one-third and two-third of monthly active users log on daily. Click here for source. 
  3. Click here for source. 
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There were some technical difficulties today, presumably all around the world and definitely in my own laptop. Specifically, said difficulties concerned my ASUS “SmartGesture_Win8_64_VER225” touchpad driver, or whatever. This was not the first time. I was Not in the mood. Technology ultimately prevailed, but has left me exhausted and weak, physically and emotionally, much like yesterday’s NFC Championship game.

So this is not a post, but a repost, indeed a reposting. The following have been the most popular articles on Crossroads:

  1. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, & 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time (Part 1 of 2)

    Around midnight of December 18th, I sat back with a fairly comprehensive Bleacher Report article (as they go), my laptop, a bottle of whiskey, a recliner chair, a big screen TV, and a YouTube to investigate what makes the “All Time Classic Plays” just so. Eight hours later, I had many thoughts, maybe even answers.

  2. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, & 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time (Part 2 of 2)

    The results of this positively unscientific and whimsical process couldn’t be clearer: it’s a play’s impact on a game’s outcome, and how unusually the players pull it off, that are most likely to set a play apart.

  3. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Am Going There! NFC Wildcard EXCLUSIVE Preview-49ers at Packers-with Pictures! (Part 1 of 2)

    “Arctic blast”? What kind of s#$% is that? Most times there’s a winter storm, or even a blizzard. This time there’s going to be an “arctic blast”? Hell no. WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

  4. Early Betting Super Bowl XLVIII: Who Will Win “The Big One”?

    As they were months ago, Seattle and Denver seem to be the heavyweights, but then, so did the 2007 Patriots six years ago.

  5. Home Economics: The Sportsfan’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of Snowshoeing This Chicago Winter

    By assigning probabilities to different outcomes, the expected net benefits of both owning versus renting snowshoes this winter (between January 1st and March 15th) become apparent.

  6. Weighting the Coin: A Theoretical Case for Nomentum

    Forget sports (just for a second, don’t worry) and think about a coin flip. Say it’s a fair coin, and you flip heads two times in a row. Does the coin have momentum? Is the coin more likely to come up heads on the next flip? You’re smart, you know the answer is no.

  7. The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Winners & Losers of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw

    Who got off easy? Argentina, no question. In addition to being in their element in South America (theoretically), they drew a Bosnia-Herzegovina team playing in its first tournament as its own nation (being formerly part of Yugoslavia), ranked 21st, Nigeria, ranked 36th, and Iran, ranked 45th.

  8. Mike Tomlin, Player Fines, and What the NFL Really Cares About

    The average NFL salary is $2.016 million ($2,015,942), with a median of $0.753 million ($753,229). The average fine ($14,543) is 0.72% of the average salary, and 1.93% of the median salary. For half of all players, the average fine is a harsher punishment than Tomlin’s 1.74% loss.

  9. ESPM Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst) Contract in Football, LBs

    You should not be surprised to see that as quarterbacks are the most expensive players, the most expensive defenders are those whose job it is to get to the quarterback.

  10. NEWS FLASH: Many of the Best NFL Players Are Pro Bowl Snubs

    Flowers and Talib, 85th and 66th respectively among all cornerbacks, both make the cut with impressive negative grades. Anyone want to bet how many times announcers mention their Pro Bowl inclusion tomorrow in a context affirming their, uh, “quality” play this season?

Here are the current odds for each of the four remaining teams to win the Super Bowl (lines from Sportsbook.com), along with Football Outsiders estimate of their chances. With Carolina out, New England leads the way with the most potential value.

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 480 4.8 17.24% 22.40% 5.16% 1
SEA 190 1.9 34.48% 34.80% 0.32% 2
DEN 200 2 33.33% 24.70% -8.63% 3
SF 260 2.6 27.78% 18.10% -9.68% 4

The New England figures should clearly be discounted, because they have just had so, so, so many injuries, no Rob Gronkowski, no defensive front seven, no perpetually healthy wide receivers or running backs, and yet… they only need to win two more games. Stranger things have happened. And with Denver’s best defensive player, Von Miller, out for the season, and cornerback Chris Harris, Pro Football Focus‘ ninth-best corner (of 110, with a 10.9 grade), now out for the season, that first game might not be too crazy? Look at the conference championship odds:

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 175 1.75 36.36% 46.00% 9.64% 1
SEA 57.14 0.5714 63.64% 62.80% -0.84% 2
SF 155 1.55 39.22% 37.20% -2.02% 3
DEN 48.78 0.4878 67.21% 54.00% -13.21% 4

Look at New England! Football Outsiders estimates that betting them straight up this weekend will win nearly 10 percent more than it must to break even. Their calculations (using weighted DVOA) may not be 100 percent accurate, especially with regard to injuries, but given that Denver’s injuries are more recent, their predictions could quite possibly be overstating Denver’s chances. Throwing a little money at the New England money line might not be the craziest of ideas.

I wasn’t going to post today. I’ve had some bonus Saturday posts the last couple weeks (about Pro Bowl snubs and my emotional state regarding the 49ers-Packers game) and I am still exhausted after yesterday. But then I was all like… nah, check the Super Bowl odds! But I am keeping it quick.

Here are the eight remaining teams’ odds to win the Super Bowl at Sportsbook.com, alongside Football Outsidersestimation of their true probability, ranked by expected payout:

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 1/6/2014

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 1000 10 9.09% 15% 5.91% 1
NE 750 7.5 11.76% 17.2% 5.44% 2
NO 1500 15 6.25% 6.5% 0.25% 3
SD 1500 15 6.25% 6% -0.25% 4
IND 2000 20 4.76% 2.3% -2.46% 5
SEA 250 2.5 28.57% 24.6% -3.97% 6
SF 500 5 16.67% 8.9% -7.77% 7
DEN 250 2.5 28.57% 19.6% -8.97% 8

Again, Football Outsiders’ model can’t really account for all the Pats’ injuries1, so don’t immediately buy into New England. But the Carolina Panthers are still looking nice and undervalued! Here are teams’ odds to win their conference championship:

2013-14 NFL Conference Champion Odds- 1/6/2014

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 340 3.4 22.73% 37% 14.27% 1
CAR 400 4 20.00% 27.9% 7.90% 2
SD 700 7 12.50% 14.7% 2.20% 3
NO 800 8 11.11% 13.1% 1.99% 4
IND 750 7.5 11.76% 8.1% -3.66% 5
SEA 100 1 50.00% 41.6% -8.40% 6
SF 260 2.6 27.78% 17.4% -10.38% 7
DEN 62.5 0.625 61.54% 40.3% -21.24% 8

I’m a little more inclined to like New England here; with a home win over Indianapolis, and another Chargers win in Denver (the last of which came less than one month ago), it might not be… well no, it’s still pretty crazy given the injuries, but maybe has a higher chance than 22.72 percent? I’m intrigued by San Diego and New Orleans as well. We know the Chargers can win in Denver, but we don’t seem to believe it (Denver is favored by 10 points); we saw the Seahawks crush the Saints a few weeks ago, and might believe that a little too much. I would certainly not put money on Denver at this point, not with Von Miller out for the season.

Fewer than four weeks until the Super Bowl. Can’t wait!


  1. OH, and there’s been another one! Top run defender Brandon Spikes is out for the year, after playing the whole regular season. Really, really sad stuff. 

Last time I checked the temperature in Vegas was December 26th, last Thursday. Five whole days ago! I remember thinking throwing some money at Green Bay and/or Carolina might not be a bad idea. Rodgers was probably coming back (week 8 of a typically 4-6 week injury), and the playoff odds report from Football Outsiders suggested that New England might have good value (which I ignored due to their injury plague), as well as Carolina (which I didn’t, with encouraging signs from Steve Smith). Here’s a little doohickey of how the early Super Bowl bets looked back then (and here’s everything I wrote last time):

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 12/26/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 1000 10 9.09% 14.2% 5.11% 1
CAR 850 8.5 10.53% 15.2% 4.67% 2
PHI 3000 30 3.23% 4% 0.77% 3
CIN 1800 18 5.26% 5.9% 0.64% 4
NO 2500 25 3.85% 4% 0.15% 5
KC 3500 35 2.78% 2.9% 0.12% 6
PIT 20000 200 0.50% 0.1% -0.40% 7
ARI 9000 90 1.10% 0.6% -0.50% 8
DAL 10000 100 0.99% 0.2% -0.79% 9
MIA 9000 90 1.10% 0.3% -0.80% 10
BAL 10000 100 0.99% 0.1% -0.89% 11
SD 10000 100 0.99% 0.1% -0.89% 11
CHI 6000 60 1.64% 0.7% -0.94% 13
IND 3500 35 2.78% 1.1% -1.68% 14
GB 4000 40 2.44% 0.2% -2.24% 15
DEN 300 3 25.00% 20.3% -4.70% 16
SF 750 7.5 11.76% 5.7% -6.06% 17
SEA 220 2.2 31.25% 24.3% -6.95% 18

As always, the odds are from Sportsbook.com. Break Even informs how often the bet needs to cash for you to break even at those odds; Football Outsiders provides estimates of how often the bet will actually cash; and the long run Expected Payout is the difference. Those Football Outsiders’ numbers use their core DVOA metric, weighted towards the end of the season, and also attempt to account for home-field advantage. I don’t believe they are exactly the true probabilities of each team winning the Super Bowl, but they are (“probably”) close. Are they closer than Vegas’ probabilities? Well, here are the updated Super Bowl odds, as of this afternoon:

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 12/31/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 1100 11 8.33% 14.5% 6.17% 1
NE 850 8.5 10.53% 14.7% 4.17% 2
PHI 2000 20 4.76% 6.5% 1.74% 3
KC 3200 32 3.03% 3.4% 0.37% 4
SD 5000 50 1.96% 1.8% -0.16% 5
CIN 1800 18 5.26% 4.7% -0.56% 6
NO 2500 25 3.85% 2.8% -1.05% 7
IND 3000 30 3.23% 0.6% -2.63% 8
SEA 260 2.6 27.78% 24.9% -2.88% 9
GB 1800 18 5.26% 2.3% -2.96% 10
DEN 300 3 25.00% 20.2% -4.80% 11
SF 750 7.5 11.76% 3.5% -8.26% 12

Six teams have been eliminated, defrosting the picture a little. Remember five days ago when Green Bay was 40-to-1? And then remember this? Green Bay’s price in the betting world has more than doubled since then, now at 18-to-1. With Rodgers’ return, Football Outsiders made their projections using only data from games in which Rodgers played the majority of snaps. Given that they’ve got the Packers as winning it all only 2.3% of the time with Rodgers, and that Clay Matthews keeps getting surgery, 18-1 is too high a price for me now. But stranger things have happened.

What hasn’t happened is a similar shortening of the odds for the Carolina Panthers. In fact, their odds are longer! So let me get this straight: Carolina beat the 49ers in San Francisco by one point in a game in which the 49ers couldn’t score a touchdown (albeit without Michael Crabtree), secured a first-round bye (and time for Steve Smith to heal), will quite possibly host the Eagles for their first playoff game1, and the 49ers, down in the fifth seed, heading to Lambeau Field to face Aaron Rodgers, are more favored? Oh, I guess it’s because Carolina looked a little shaky last Sunday on the road against the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons, before sneaking out the win. OH WAIT the 49ers did the Exact. Same. Thing. Eight days ago. Remember this? Well I guess it’s because Carolina doesn’t have as good a defense… oh, right. Well, as good a young, mobile quarterback, then… oh, right. What the hell is going on here? This is Drew Brees’ face. And this is his face when he plays the Carolina Panthers. What else do you need?

As I’ve mentioned before, I think the reason Carolina is so low is because they haven’t been here before. Just a couple of months ago they were 1-3, and people were writing articles like this, agreeing when Rodney Harrison said in Week 5 that the Panthers should bench Cam Newton. Well, you don’t lose close games forever. The Panthers are legit. Yes, they could lose the Super Bowl, or in Seattle, or even their home divisional match-up next week. Every bet has risks. But at 11-to-1 (!!!), the Panthers are a risk worth taking.

That’s the Super Bowl odds. But you can also foolishly gamble on the conference champions! Here’s the same table for the conference champions:

2013-2014 NFL Conference Champions’ Odds- 12/31/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 500 5 16.67% 27.5% 10.83% 1
NE 350 3.5 22.22% 31.9% 9.68% 2
PHI 1000 10 9.09% 12.3% 3.21% 3
KC 1600 16 5.88% 8.2% 2.32% 4
SD 2400 24 4.00% 4.4% 0.40% 5
CIN 650 6.5 13.33% 11% -2.33% 7
NO 1500 15 6.25% 5.4% -0.85% 6
IND 1200 12 7.69% 2.5% -5.19% 9
SEA 90.9 0.9 52.38% 42.1% -10.28% 10
GB 950 9.5 9.52% 5.6% -3.92% 8
DEN 66.7 0.67 60.00% 42% -18.00% 12
SF 400 4 20.00% 7% -13.00% 11

Again, I like Carolina, and while I don’t really like Philly to take the NFC, I might like them at that price. As for being overvalued, certainly my 49ers seem to be (because of the last two years I guess, or possibly all the Pro Bowlers we don’t deserve?), and I’m guessing the Broncos are because people forget the enormous impact of Von Miller? Who the hell knows.2 Anyway, that’s my gambling outlook at the moment, once again courtesy of Sportsbook.com and the insightful people at Football Outsiders. Check back after Round One for an update. Salaam.


  1. I think the Eagles are the least scary of the NFC teams playing this weekend: 49ers, Packers, Saints, Eagles. It’s just my opinion. 
  2. That was not a question. I’m telling you, who the hell knows. Nobody, that’s who. 
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