Editor's Note: Nick Christenson is handicapping Canadian Football League games this entire season and making picks each week. What follows is Mr. Christenson's CFL predictions and picks for the second round of playoff games.
CFL Playoffs Round 2
This lead-in will be a little bit of a deeper dive into some playoff-specific handicapping considerations. So, if you’re not interested in this sort of thing, feel free to jump to the game write-ups.
In certain kinds of data one type of inaccuracy that can creep in is due to something called “survivor bias”. This comes about when the members of the statistical group change over time, with the ones who are doing well continuing to participate while the ones who aren’t doing well stay home. This is a problem in chess ratings, for example, where the people who win a lot of matches tend to continue to play more games, while a lot of folks who don’t do well drift away from the game. These poor players lose points to the surviving system and then leave. This leads to the ratings of surviving players creeping up over time, and many chess ratings systems employ methods to combat this trend.
The same thing can happen to sports power ratings during the playoffs, especially when some teams are on a bye. Last week, Hamilton and Saskatchewan played while Toronto and Winnipeg didn’t. Whoever won last week’s games was more than likely to also cover, and when teams beat the spread, we tend to raise their power ratings. As it turns out, both Hamilton and Saskatchewan won and covered last week, so their power ratings go up a little. But someone had to win last week’s games, and whoever won them was much more likely than not to also cover, so it was probable that Toronto and Winnipeg’s opponent was going to be more highly rated this week than either of their potential opponents were last week, and that should give us some pause.
When every playoff team has played the same number of games, every surviving team has roughly the same chance of its power rating creeping up the same amount after a win, so this largely works itself out. However, when one team is on a bye, we should be aware that their opponent’s power rating might be creeping upward when setting our lines. In any one round, this effect should be small, but it’s something we should keep in mind.
Sunday, December 5, 12:30pm EST
Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Toronto Argonauts
Toronto -1, Total: 45.5
This game opened Toronto -2 with a total of 46.5. I made the line Toronto -1 with a total of 43.5, so I think the total is still a little high, but not by so much that I want to fade -110 betting the under. Despite Toronto playing great and pounding Hamilton at BMO in week 15, their last meaningful game, I still think that the Tiger-Cats are playing better football overall in the later part of the season, but not so much better as to completely nullify the Argos home field advantage. I think the totals openers were both too high this week, and they’re still too high. I don’t know who has looked at this season and thought that an average of 47 was the right baseline for setting totals this week, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be right. If I could have gotten an under bet at a total of 46.5, I would have taken it, but I’m going to pass at 45.5.
Sunday, December 5, 4:00pm EST
Saskatchewan Roughriders at Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Winnipeg -8, Total: 45.5
The game opened Winnipeg -8.5 with a total of 47.5. I made the line Winnipeg -9 with a total of 41.5. Winnipeg is the lowest totaling team in the CFL this year with an average of 40.2 points per game (in games that mattered, not counting the last two.) Saskatchewan was 3rd to last in totaling this year with 43.6 points per game (counting their playoff game but not counting the meaningless game in week 16.) How one gets a total of 47.5 out of these two teams I don’t know. I still think the total is too high at 45.5, although it’s a shame to give up those extra points. As we all know, Winnipeg has a historically great defense this year, and while I think Cody Fajardo is a fine quarterback, deep passing and a quick strike offense is not what he’s known for. His forte is marching the ball down the field with short and moderate passes while also moving the chains with his feet, and this takes time off the clock. While many people expect that cold and snow will depress totals more than they actually do, they don’t raise totals, and can be especially impactful in the kicking game. Weather forecasts have it cold and snowy, but not terribly windy, in IG field on Sunday.
Nick Christenson has been using mathematical methods and computer modeling to as tools for successful sports betting for over 15 years. He lives and works out of Las Vegas, Nevada where, during rare off-seasons, he enjoys cooking, reading, and hiking.