The game before the games
The betting lines are out for this Sunday's pro football games, and in the underdog pool in which I have been playing, lo this entire season long, it's time to call a final winning 'dog. Here are the choices -- if you had to pick one of the underdogs (in caps) to win its game outright, which one would it be? If I pick correctly, I get the number of points listed next to that 'dog:
6 BALTIMORE at Pittsburgh
3.5 ARIZONA vs. Philadelphia
Readers, as ever, your predictions are welcome:
While the actual games should be fun to guess about and watch, the last week of the underdog pool is as much about gamesmanship in wagering as it is about which underdog team is going to win. To have a shot at moving up in the standings -- top four players get
cash shall we say, rewarded -- you have to pick the underdog that the player ahead of you isn't choosing. If both you and the other player pick the same team, your positions in the standings relative to each other won't move. And so one of the first hurdles is choosing the team that the player ahead of you will decide not to go with.
Assuming you get that right, you have two ways to move up:
1. Your 'dog wins, the pick of the person ahead of you loses, and the point earnings on your game are greater than the distance between the two of you in the pool standings.
2. Both 'dogs win, but your point earnings exceed the other player's point earnings by more than the distance between the two of you in the pool standings.
Of course, on the other side of the ball is defense. If one of the games has a smaller point potential than the other, by choosing the game with the larger spread you can insure that the person behind you can earn only the smaller points at most. If the smaller points are less than the distance between you, you thereby insure that the person behind you can't catch up.
If you've got people both in front of you and behind you, there's sometimes a tough choice to be made between offense and defense. By trying to move up, you may risk falling back.
Not to overlook the obvious, in order for either of you to go forward, you or the person behind you has you pick a team that's going to win. But there's a good chance that it won't matter -- that the pool could be decided before kickoff on Sunday. For example, if we all pick the same 'dog, the current standings automatically become final at tailgate time.
With that, I'm sure most readers will have had their fill of the internal drama of the final act of the pool -- if not more. But if you've been following the action over the last 19 weeks and care to hear about how it's all coming out, here's the preview of the final week's throwdown:
I currently stand in third place, and there's enough of a gap between me and second place that there's no chance of me making it to second. But the guy right behind me could sneak into third place if I let him. And so for me, the game is defense. Meanwhile, he's got both sides to think about, because there are two players behind him that could catch him if certain events transpire.
Here are the top six players left in the pool (not their real names), and their point totals. Nobody else can take home a prize:
66 SamanthaSamantha and Endora will battle it out for first. Samantha finishes first and Endora second in all of these scenarios: (a) neither 'dog wins; (b) they both pick the same 'dog; (c) they pick different 'dogs and only Samantha's 'dog wins; or (d) Samantha takes Baltimore, Endora takes Arizona, and both 'dogs win. Endora prevails only if: (e) they pick different 'dogs and only Endora's 'dog wins, or (f) Endora takes Baltimore, Samantha takes Arizona, and both 'dogs win.
For third place, it's me against Mike. I finish in third ahead of Mike unless we choose different 'dogs, Mike's wins, and mine loses. Interestingly, though, if I choose Baltimore, the most Mike could pick up would be 3½ with Arizona, which would leave us tied for third place. If I select Arizona, and Mike takes Baltimore, then if he's right and I'm wrong, he would pick up 6 points, leaving me in fourth. Hmmmm.
Right behind Mike is Chuck. Chuck needs 5 points to catch up with Mike. The only way Chuck can get there is if Chuck picks Baltimore, Mike picks Arizona, and only Chuck is right. In that case, Chuck is fourth, and Mike is out of the money. If Mike takes Baltimore, Chuck can't catch him.
In sixth place is Greg. The only way Greg could get to fourth place and a prize would be to get ahead of both Mike and Chuck. And the only route to that outcome would be Greg winning with Baltimore, and Mike and Chuck losing with Arizona. In that case Greg and Mike would split fourth prize.
(... I think. Man, somewhere in here is a math term paper for some youngster.)
So what should Mike do? Mike knows that Greg and Chuck are going to take Baltimore. If Mike takes Baltimore, they can't bump him out of the money or even get a piece of fourth. Moreover, if Mike takes Baltimore, there's a chance he could knock me down to fourth and take third himself. So from both a defensive and offensive standpoint, Baltimore looks like the better bet for him. But I know that. He knows I know that. I know that he knows that I know... Oh, the drama.
What would you do if you were Mike?
Anyway, we'll all be watching the players' selections when they're announced Sunday morning. As mentioned earlier, the pool could become final right then and there. The games will both be fun to watch regardless, but if there are still prizes at stake for us players, they'll take on that little extra edge that the pool has given the league all season.
UPDATE, 1/18, 12:45 p.m.: All the top players took Baltimore, and so we wound up in third place, with $60. Not bad! Couldn'ta done it without the blog commenters. Thanks, everybody.