Picture yourself nearly a month from now. You’re sitting in front of the television anxiously awaiting the start of Super Bowl VLXLI (or whatever the Roman numerals are for this years affair in Minneapolis). As you watch the teams take the field, you can’t help but think back to the games over the last few weeks. As you slip into a wing-induced coma, presumably not seeing your favorite team running onto the field, you ask yourself a question: where did it all go wrong?
Believe it or not, the five or ten (or fifteen) beers you drank have given you the ability to think like a nobel prize winning psychologist. Well, more or less. The point is that you’re asking the right question, just… not necessarily at the right time.
Daniel Kahneman, author of both the novel Thinking, Fast and Slow and countless world changing papers on behavioral economics, discusses the idea of (pretty much) exactly what we just talked about – using the thought process of identifying what went wrong with a plan or an event to eliminate biases that influence decision making. in the aforementioned book.
Kahneman suggests we do it before the event even happens. So, for example, if you were planning on say… betting on Jacksonville to cover seven and a half points on Sunday afternoon your pre-mortem might read “Jacksonville scored 13 points again, this was not enough to beat Pittsburgh” or something of the like. Kahneman himself can probably give a better explanation than I can, so I’ll let him do it here:
Got it? Good. If you hadn’t noticed, my betting this season went, well, let’s be nice and call it poor at best. Perhaps if I had listened to a Nobel prize winner, rather than my gut, things might have gone a little better for me.
For this weekend’s set of games, I plan to do just that. Let’s start with the early game on Saturday where Atlanta takes on the Carson Wentzless Eagles in a game where, for the first time in a long time, the number one seed is an underdog at home.
Atlanta -3 (-110): What Went Wrong?
You grossly underestimated how good the Eagles fourth ranked defense would be in front of a raucous Philadelphia crowd that made it impossible to hear the snap count and they made Matt Ryan look like the version of him that scored two points against the Giants in 2011. Nick Foles did just enough to win in a close game after the Falcons don’t benefit from special teams mishaps as they did against the Rams.
Atlanta +3 (-110): What Went Wrong?
Despite the meme that Ryan doesn’t get it done in the playoffs, he meets his average of career rating of 102.4 while throwing for his average eight yards per attempt. He does this by utilizing one of the league’s best players in Julio Jones in tandem with one of the league’s most efficient running games. Controlling the clock on offense combined with Nick Foles’ inability to move the chains, wears out Philly’s vaunted D and sends Atlanta back to the NFC championship.
Of the two outcomes, the scenario where the Falcons win seems more likely. Let’s go with that. The late game pits the Tennessee Titans, fresh off of an improbable comeback in Kansas City, against the reigning Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
Tennessee +13.5 (-105): What Went Wrong?
Marcus Mariota’s second playoff game goes as well as the half number one of his first playoff game and the Titans are unable to get anything going against arguably the greatest playoff QB of all time. The Patriots, one of the best coached teams in the league, make less mistakes than Tennessee and jump ahead of them early. The Titans defense fares much worse, and the Titans get blown out much to the surprise of no one. The game is never close. You stare blankly at the wall and wonder why you bet against the Patriots again.
New England Patriots +13.5 (-115): What Went Wrong?
The Patriots, who have already lost at Foxboro twice this season, are unable to get their offense going early and fall behind a Titans team who plays as if they have nothing to lose. Mariota, learning from the tape of DeShaun Watson, is able to use both his legs and his arms to extend drives to control the clock and manages to keep the game close through the late third to early fourth quarter. Eventually, Derrick Henry takes over and the Patriots either fall behind for good or are barely able to squeeze ahead.
The last sentence of the first scenario really got me. Though I’m probably falling for one of those biases I mentioned earlier (in this case, the availability bias, meaning I can recall lots of times when the Patriots have beaten me and none of the times I would have beaten them), I can’t imagine myself betting against Tom Brady again. Let’s go with New England.
Although I can’t imagine myself betting on Blake Bortles two weeks in a row, now I’m here about to imagine a scenario where that happens.
Jacksonville +7.5 (-120): What Went Wrong?
Blake Bortles does Blake Bortles things and throws for less than 100 yards again while the Jaguars defense shows the same weaknesses you saw in week 16 where a first year starter dropped 44 points on them. Leonard Fournette is unable to support the offense and the game doesn’t finish within 30, much less seven and a half. The future where you assumed you wouldn’t get screwed by betting on Bortles anymore isn’t the future anymore, it’s now.
Pittsburgh -7.5 (Even): What Went Wrong?
The game was essentially a replay of the game earlier this year in Pittsburgh where the Jacksonville defense forced five interceptions out of Big Ben and the Jaguars are the team covering the seven and a half. The Steelers are unable to adjust based on what they’ve seen earlier in the year and the Jacksonville offense regresses to the mean, playing like closer to the fifth highest scoring team in the league rather than the team that scored thirteen points last week.
You know what? I talked myself into it. Fuck it. Bortles baby. Ride or die.
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, so I’m starting to run out of gas here. Luckily, the last game to cover is the one that features my least favorite team in the league. This time, I know there’s a bias. Fuck it.
New Orleans Saints +5 (-115): What Went Wrong?
God is dead. How could he not be? Somehow, the Vikings were able to overcome the fact that Case Keenum is their starting quarterback and win their way into a Super Bowl berth. Their fans are one step closer to living the dream of seeing their Vikes become the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl at home. I drink to excess and die of alcohol poisoning.
Minnesota Vikings -5 (-105): What Went Wrong?
There is a God. Only in a universe with an all loving, all knowing deity who truly adores me could we see so many beautiful moments of pain for Vikings fans. I know that I work with some of them and that many of them are good people, but after watching the Vikings blow another big game I couldn’t help but smile. This might be the worst pre mortem ever written, but I don’t care one bit. Fuck you, Minnesota (except for the nice people at the Mayo Clinic, and Ichi Tokyo, basically all of Rochester really).
Let’s take New Orleans plus five and call it a night. We’ve done our due diligence, let’s see if it was enough to overcome our biases. I’m betting against that.
Hey, at least I’ll be right about one of those things.