NFL Betting: Week 2

So last weekend was quite historical for Vegas sportsbooks. Luckily, I only made two bets, and went 1-1. Unfortunately, I lost the larger of my two bets, meaning I came out slightly behind for week 1. My picks overall didn’t fare great, but not horribly either. But let’s be honest, I care more about my real money picks. Let’s hope week 2 is better…

Week 1 (all picks): 6-10
Week 1 (money picks): 1-1 for -1 unit
Overall (all picks): 6-10
Overall (money picks): 1-1 for -1 unit

Week 2 picks:

Pittburgh (+3) over Baltimore
Lost this one already, but I thought this would be another classic rivalry between these two teams that stayed within 3 points, especially with the Ray Rice saga. Wasn’t to be…

Carolina (-3) over Detroit
Carolina won, on the road, over the Bucs, with Derek Anderson (who, to be honest, isn’t a terrible QB). I don’t have the Bucs rated all that highly, but being at home with Cam shouldn’t hurt. Detroit is stout, and I wouldn’t put any money on this game, but since I have to pick a side and almost 80% of the money is coming in on Detroit, I’ll go contrarian and pick the home team.

Buffalo (+1) over Miami
Miami beat New England, but it was at home against New England. The Bills were even bigger underdogs on the road to Chicago and held on to win in overtime. This line implies the Bills are 4-5 points worse on a neutral field than the Dolphins, and I see them a bit more evenly matched. Give me the home dog.

Jacksonville (+6) over Washington
This pains me, but the Jaguars showed they can play last week, and the Redskins showed they still need to progress in this new offense. Although to be fair, if not for a couple fumbles deep in Texan territory, we might be singing a different tune this week. Still, Jacksonville is the play here…just wish it was +7 instead of +6.

Dallas (+3.5) over Tennessee
This half point helps. Dallas isn’t as bad as they showed last week, especially if Romo starts to see the field better. Tennessee impressed, and they are a good team. Had this line been +2.5 or +3, I might be picking Tennessee.

New York Giants (+3) over Arizona
This is another line I don’t like. at 2.5 I’d side with Arizona, but this line is too close to call. Since the betting public is riding Arizona, I’ll take the Giants, at home, getting the points.

New England (-3) over Minnesota
This pick was a real money bet even before the Adrian Peterson saga. I just don’t rate the Vikings all that highly for their blowout win over a Rams team sporting a terrible offense.

New Orleans (-7) over Cleveland
Saints will have added defensive focus, and they won’t face as potent an offense as they faced in the healthy Falcons last week. A multi-TD win is reasonable here.

Falcons (+5) over Cincinnati
This line is in the dead zone between a FG and a TD. I like the Falcons to keep it close.

St. Louis (+6.5) over Tampa Bay
Give me the points. Tampa Bay just isn’t that good. Neither is St. Louis, but if Shaun Hill can play, they’ll be ok enough. This isn’t a real money bet, because we don’t know Hill’s status.

San Diego (+6) over Seattle
Hate picking against Seattle, but San Diego won’t sacrifice half the field like the Packers did.  86% of the money is coming in on Seattle, so I’ll go contrarian again. Their defense, plus home field, should be just enough to keep it close.

Houston (-3) over Oakland
I just don’t see Carr and the Raiders ready yet at this point in time. Houston didn’t play great at home against the Redskins, but I can’t see a Carr-led offense putting up a lot of points.

Green Bay (-8) over New York Jets
This line sucks. Green Bay, extra rest, home opener, and the Jets were poor last week. Which is exactly why -8 seems too good to be true (it actually got bet down from -8.5 recently). But I’ll bite anyway. Not a real money play.

Kansas City (+13) over Denver
Public will come in heavy on Denver here. I like double-digit underdogs that the public is fading. Kansas City might bounce back against a division rival.

Chicago (+7) over San Francisco
The Bears are not as bad as they displayed last week, and I think Vegas and the public have over-compensated here.

Philadelphia (+3) over Indianapolis
I feel like this game could go either way. It could be close, Indy could win big, or Philly could win big.  Not a real money play.

Real Money Bets:
New England (-3) over Minnesota – 3 Units
New Orleans (-7) over Cleveland – 1 Unit
San Diego (+6) over Seattle – 1 Unit
Kansas City (+13) over Denver – 1 Unit
Chicago (+7) over San Francisco – 1 Unit

NFL Betting: Week 1

The season is a game old and I’ll be honest, I picked Seattle to win big. I was a bit perplexed by the Packers gameplan on the ground. Not enough between the tackles running, allowing Seattle’s quick and athletic 2nd level to make tackles that often stopped Green Bay for short gains. I did like that Green Bay left Boykin on the right flank the whole game to be matched up by Richard Sherman (Green Bay did not attempt a pass Sherman’s way all night). The Packers were clearly trying to get their two best receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb free. It worked to a degree, as Nelson had a game high 9 catches for 83 yards, while Cobb hauled in another 6 for 58 yards and one of two Green Bay touchdowns (the other was on a John Kuhn 2 yard plunge).

Sunday and Monday the rest of the NFL teams open their seasons, and as a numbers guy, I can’t help but try to find an edge over Vegas. This year (for fun) I’ll be picking every game against the spread (ATS)…but what I really am keeping track of is the actual bets I place. I’ll be making wagers every week this year, although there is no specific number of games per week that I’ll be betting.

Without further ado, here are my week 1 picks:

Seattle (-6) over Green Bay:
Yes, call me out if you want since this is after the game, but I did pick my 2nd favorite NFL team to beat up on the Packers. After seeing what they did to the Broncos, and factoring in Seattle’s 12th man advantage, I couldn’t pick any other way.

New Orleans (-3) over Atlanta:
The Falcons will be much improved this year, but their run game still concerns me and they are not as sound defensively as New Orleans. Drew Brees has had one of the better preseasons of his career, and last year’s improved Saints defense should continue to develop even more in Rob Ryan’s second year as defensive coordinator. I like the team with the better offense and defense to win by at least a field goal, even on the road.

Minnesota (+3.5) over St. Louis:
St. Louis lost Sam Bradford, but the drop off to Shaun Hill isn’t as big as one might expect. Add in the Rams’ elite pass rush on defense and home field advantage and you’d think they’d be the smart pick. However, with Norv Turner now calling the plays, look for the Vikings to be more efficient offensively this year, even with Matt Cassel under center. Norv Turner immediately created 10 plays for Cordarelle Patterson, historically likes using his tight ends (meaning Kyle Rudolph should see improved numbers), vows to get Peterson more involved in the pass game, and Cassel himself has great rapport with veteran Greg Jennings (just look at Jennings numbers last year with Cassel at QB compared to Freeman/Ponder). I think Minnesota keeps it within a field goal, even if they lose.

Pittsburgh (-7) over Cleveland
Pittsburgh should win this comfortably. Despite Joe Haden’s noted coverage skills, Antonio Brown didn’t catch less than 5 balls in any game last year – expect that to continue. Wideout Markus Wheaton impressed in the preseason, and the Bell/Blount combo should force Cleveland’s defense to respect the run. Throw in Brian Hoyer starting his first regular season game since tearing his ACL and the loss of Josh Gordon and Cleveland becomes more one dimensional than two.

Jacksonville (-10.5) over Philadelphia
I’m not picking Jacksonville to win, but I think they keep it within 10. This is less about Jacksonville improving (I see them as a 5 win team this year), and more about Philadelphia regressing a bit. Nick Foles’ 27 TD, 2 INT season last year is a statistical oddity. He should be nowhere near that ratio this year. Jeremy Maclin should not pose the same downfield thread DeSean Jackson did (and Maclin always is an injury risk), and while I like Jordan Matthews to become a quality NFL wideout, it’s his first game. The Eagles will have to rely on their ground game and tight ends, which doesn’t equate to blowout for me.

New York Jets (-5.5) over Oakland
Geno Smith really came along at the end of last season. And I’ll happily take the home team that faces a rookie QB who has to travel east for a 1pm start time game.

Baltimore (-1) over Cincinnati
I’m quite torn on this game, so I’ll go with the should-be-improved Ravens over the Bengals and a brand new offensive scheme.

Chicago (-7) over Buffalo
The Bears will be a serious threat in the NFC North this year, and it starts with a thrashing of Buffalo. Sammy Watkins will not be playing all the snaps, the Bills are missing key defenders, and E.J. Manuel still needs to prove himself in the NFL. Look for the Bears offensive weapons to score early and often.

Washington (+3) over Houston
Yes, RGIII struggled in the preseason, but I also saw moments in there that made me hopeful (as a Skins fan). Houston will be significantly better than last year, but I can’t see them being playoff caliber with Fitzpatrick at QB. These teams are a toss up at Houston +3, so I’ll go with the QB with the higher ceiling.

Kansas City (-3) over Tennessee
The Titans just might earn a playoff spot this year, but I’m still going to take the Chiefs. They have one of the most calm, collected QBs in the league, and the addition of Travis Kelce as a receiving tight end (who comps well to one Rob Gronkowski) to complement the blocking of Anthony Fasano gives Smith a nice weapon. Throw in an upper level defense and home field, and I like them, even with out Dwayne Bowe.

New England (-5) over Miami
I think this is a close line, but give me New England by a TD. They are nearing 100% health offensively. While I like Tannehill, I don’t like his receiving corps, and I really don’t like the Miami run game.

Carolina (+3) over Tampa Bay
Cam’s hurting, but I think it’s a bit overblown. The Panthers’ D will neutralize a Tampa Bay offense that’s still looking to gel, and the Panthers will grind out a close one.

Dallas (+4.5) over San Francisco
This will be a close one. But without NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, a healthy Dallas offense at home should generate enough scores to keep this one close, and maybe steal the win.

Indianapolis (+8) over Denver
Denver, having seen how a good defense can dismantle a good offense, made moves to improve their own defense this year. But with suspensions to Wes Welker and Matt Prater, I think Luck and the Colts repeat what they did to the Broncos in the regular season last year. Prater won’t be there to save Denver with a 50+ yard bomb, his replacement Brandon McManus has already missed two.

Detroit (-6) over New York Giants
Detroit has a better overall game. Better run game, better passing game, better front seven defensively. And they are at home. The Giants first team offense looked terrible in the preseason, and while there were hopes on the ground, Eli won’t come close to the 70% completion rate target that quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf set for him.

San Diego (+3) over Arizona
I think San Diego wins this straight up. Arizona is another team (like the 49ers) that is missing key defensive personnel, and with news out about Andre Ellington injuring his foot on Thursday, some last minute game planning must be going on. Phillip Rivers has Malcolm Floyd (a potential fantasy sleeper) healthy again to complement Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates, and the three-headed attack on the ground will get things done.

Real Money Bets:
Where’s my money going this week? Cautious in week 1, money’s going two places:

  • Chicago (-7) over Buffalo – 2 units
  • San Diego (+3) over Arizona – 1 unit

A Weekend in Food

Hi everyone! We had a fantastic weekend full of food (okay, and cleaning). Here’s what we ate!

On Friday night we celebrated our friends’ recent engagement with dinner at the Stanbury.  Everything we had was delicious, but my favorite was the scallop crudo.  We’re super excited for our friends as they start a new chapter in their lives, and this was a great place to celebrate!

On Saturday, we spent most of the day cleaning and decided to relax and eat dinner at home.  I made bbq red snapper tacos, inspired by the bbq mahi tacos at one of my favorite restaurants.  Easy, healthy, and delicious.

Fish tacos!

On Sunday, we started the day with a bowl of this quick but delicious granola, yogurt, and sliced peaches.  And lots of coffee.  We’ve learned that buying a big house with two full time jobs sometimes means we need to just take a weekend and hit the reset button–especially when it comes to our bedroom, which we probably had not cleaned in a somewhat embarrassing amount of time.

Nick worked so hard this weekend! I thought he deserved a special reward, so  I made him a perfect summer cocktail on Sunday night.  I peeled and muddled one peach (one beautiful peach from my favorite lady at the farmers’ market) and a couple of basil leaves.  I then added bourbon and ice, and there you have it.  It was too strong for me, but Nick just loved it.

Nick’s new favorite cocktail

Ever since my parents bought us a smoker, our Sunday dinners have changed for the better.  We started a rack of beef back ribs around lunchtime on Sunday, and by 6 pm they were perfect.   I also sliced up some of our garden tomatoes and drizzled them with olive oil and salt, and steamed some white corn.   It was a delicious seasonal dinner, and I am looking forward to many more adventures with our new toy.

Smoked beef ribs

What did you eat this weekend?


World Cup Knockout Stage Predictions

It’s win or go home time. Down to the final 16, and there are some big surprises that made it out of the group stage (as there are every world cup). Here’s how I see the knockout stage shaking out:

Brazil vs. Chile
Brazil hasn’t lost a competitive home match since 1975. Even with how well Chile has been playing and the talent they have on their roster, I don’t see this being the time that streak ends. It will be close though, but Neymar scores the game winner.
Prediction: Brazil 2, Chile 1 

Netherlands vs. Mexico
After an ugly qualifying performance that left them a Graham Zusi goal away from qualifying, Mexico has rebounded under Miguel Herrera. They are playing attractive football and creating chances. Guillermo Ochoa saved their bacon against Brazil, and this team has a fighting chance against the Netherlands. Robin van Persie is back for the Dutch side who have looked very strong in the group stage. I think this goes into extra time, and from there either side can win.
Prediction: Mexico 3, Netherlands 2 a.e.t.

Colombia vs. Uruguay
It’s hard for me to see Uruguay responding positively after the Suarez incident, the whole country is crushed and deflated. Colombia has been one of the best teams in the group stage and they roll here.
Prediction: Colombia 3, Uruguay 0

Costa Rica vs. Greece
Did I just write that?! If you had this matchup predicted, you should be in Vegas right now. Oh, but I did put two bucks down on Costa Rica winning the group (although I did not predict that in a previous post) for a $100 dollar return. Anyway, the combination of Campbell and Ruiz for Costa Rica has been a big reason they made it this far, and they continue to roll over a defensive minded Greek side that needed a last minute penalty just to get here.
Prediction: Costa Rica 2, Greece 0

France vs. Nigeria
Nigeria did just enough to get through, but their just enough is going to be no match for a very strong French side that is firing on all cylinders. Benzema bags a brace, Valbuena with another and Les Bleus roll.
Prediction: France 3, Nigeria 0

Argentina vs. Switzerland
Although their defense looked like it had more holes than their cheese against France, I think the Swiss have a chance here. Argentina has been wholly underwhelming despite earning all 9 points after the group stage. Without Messi, this side might not even have made it out of the group stage. Switzerland is a small step up from Nigeria, Iran, and Bosnia. This one is tough to call…
Prediction: Argentina 1 (4), Swizterland 1 (3) in a Penalty Shootout

Germany vs. Algeria
The Algerians are another surprise team to make it to the round of 16, but unlike Costa Rica, their road ends here. The Germans are several levels above this Algerian squad. They’ve put up a great run, but it ends here at the hands of Müller et al.
Prediction: Germany 4, Algeria 0

United States vs. Belgium
Belgium, like Argentina, is another team that earned all 9 points despite looking rather pedestrian. Belgium led for all of 24 minutes in the group stage, and played three dreadful matches (I deleted all the Belgian games from my DVR). The United States is motivated, they fight for each other, and while possibly lack the talent Belgium has, does not lack in teamwork, passion, and national pride. I believe that we will win.
Prediction: USA 3, Belgium 1

Quarterfinals and Beyond
I won’t give any descriptions of the picks from this point forward, but here’s how I see the rest of the tournament shaking out (I will create a new post as we advance toward each round).

Colombia 2 (5) Brazil 2 (3) in a Penalty Shootout
Germany 3 France 2
Costa Rica 1 Mexico 0
Argentina 2 United States 1 a.e.t.

Germany 2 Colombia 1
Argentina 2 Costa Rica 0

Third place and Finals
Colombia 2 Costa Rica 0
Germany 3 Argentina 1

Fun Stuff: May (and some June) Edition

Okay people, I know it is almost July.  Work has been absolutely nuts and we’ve both been traveling like its going out of style.  Here’s what we’ve been up to for the last month (and some)!

Nick went to Denmark for work, and I was lucky enough to be able to go along.  We had a great time wandering around Copenhagen and enjoying the local culture.  We capped the trip off with a visit to my aunt and uncle’s house in Geneva.  The picture below is from a day trip we took to Yvoire, France.  Wonderful views and excellent gelato!

We're in France!
We’re in France!

We enjoyed a quiet Memorial Day at home, including getting our house back together(ish), having our crazy race day, and visiting our neighborhood pool.

We also added more to our veggie garden, bringing our tomato plants up to a grand total of seven!  We already have some big tomatoes, and we are impatiently waiting for them to ripen.  I have never successfully gotten jalapenos to grow before, but this year all three plants are growing like crazy.  We also have about 12 small crookneck squash and 6 small cucumbers.  I am so excited and preparing for our summer vegetable explosion.

Last week we traveled in parallel.  Nick went to Indy for a Fuel Ethanol conference, and I went to Stuttgart, Germany for a water resources conference.  I was able to take an afternoon and visit the Klinsmann Bakery (owned by the family of US Soccer Coach Jurgen Klinsmann–he also worked there!) in Boatneng which was just beyond neat.  The bakery was incredibly pastoral and made no mention of soccer or Klinsmann’s fame, save for some cookies shaped like soccer players.  While in Germany, I also got to spend time with some friends from UNC and visit family friends in Heidelberg.

Klinsmann Bakery
Klinsmann Bakery

Speaking of US Soccer, World Cup fever is in full force over here at the Giffen residence.  To say we have been going crazy is a bit of an understatement.

This weekend, we’re taking a quick trip up to Richmond for a wedding, then running home on Sunday to host some friends for the USA game.  We hope you had a great month, and GO USA!


World Cup 2014 Knockout Stage Predictions

Here are my group stage picks. After that, the real fun begins. Here’s how I see it shaking out.

Round of 16:
Brazil 3-2 Chile
Ivory Coast 1(4)-1(3) Italy
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-1 France
USA 2-0 South Korea
Spain 2-0 Croatia
England 1-0 Colombia (a.e.t.)
Argentina 3-0 Ecuador
Belgium 4-3 Germany (a.e.t.)

Brazil 2-0 Ivory Coast
United States 2(4)-2(2) Bosnia and Herzegovina
Spain 2-0 England
Argentina 2-1 Belgium

Brazil 2-0 USA
Argentina 2-1 Spain

3rd Place:
Spain 2-0 USA

Argentina 3-2 Brazil

A very small bit of actual analysis. There’s almost no chance USA wins the group, but whatever, I’m picking them anyway because “I believe that we will win.” Should that happen, though, they have a nice road to the quarterfinals as they’ll likely play Russia or South Korea in the Round of 16. From there, they would get the winner of the France/Ecuador/Switzerland/Honduras group or the runner up in the Argentina/Bosnia/Nigeria/Iran group. We can rule out Argentina from that octet, and the USA can beat any of the other seven. I have them up against Bosnia and Herzegovina, prevailing in penalties. Obviously this is all outrageous and depends on the US winning the group. A big long shot. But I don’t care. GO USA!

I like Argentina to win it all. Messi, plus a better overall team in 2014 than 2010, as well as continental advantage until the final (getting them past Spain in the semifinals). A match-up against Brazil would be epic. The disaster of 1950 repeats itself for Brazil, albeit against a different South American team. Argentina lifts the trophy.

World Cup Group Stage Predictions

The 2014 World Cup starts today! Here’s a quick look at my predictions. Note: no statistical analysis went into this. Knockout stage picks later (need to find my laptop battery).

Group A:
1. Brazil – No brainer
2. Croatia – USA can’t save Mexico this time

Group B:
1. Spain – Win over NED propels them
2. Chile – Home continent advantage over NED

Group C:
1.  Ivory Coast – Yaya, ya know
2. Colombia – Still enough without Falcao

Group D:
1. England – I’ve gone crazy
2. Italy – For Justin

Group E:
1. France – No shenanigans this time
2. Ecuador – Almost had them top, but play France in Rio, not Manaus

Group F:
1. Argentina – Don’t Messi this up for me
2. Bosnia and Herzegovina – First timers advance

Group G:
1. USA – I believe that we will win
2. Germany – It’s Jurgen’s group

Group H:
1. Belgium – Fellaini is my boy
2. South Korea – I’m part Ukrainian, not picking Russia here

Race Day 2014: Our Predictions + A Competition

Now that we’ve decided on our menu for tomorrow’s motor sports triple header, it’s time we focus on the racing aspect of tomorrow’s races. Since we’re both avid race fans, we’re each going to give our predictions to win, as well as our money bets (where we see good value from Vegas odds). We’ll each have $50 bucks to spend over the three races. We’ll be using odds from Bovada. To make this more fun, we’re going to compete against each other with these rules:

Winning picks – 10 points if your pick wins, 6 for 2nd place, 3 for 3rd place.

Money bets – 1 point for each dollar profited. No points lost if no profit.

Winner gets breakfast in bed on Monday.

Monaco Grand Prix Predictions 

Winning picks:

Nick – It’s pretty clear that the two Mercedes boys are the favorites. Between them, they’ve won every pole position and race. For my race winning pick, I’m taking Nico Rosberg. The pole sitter at Monaco has won 9 of the last 10, there’s no rain in the forecast to shake things up, and Nico is the defending champ (from pole last year).

Deena – Sebastian Vettel. Why? The Mercedes boys take each other out, and Vettel gets by his teammate Ricciardo. And…he’s Sebastian Vettel.

Money Bets:

Nick – $5 on Daniel Ricciardo at 16-1 (to win $80). If the Mercedes boys take each other out, I like Ricciardo to hold his spot and take the win. I think the Mercedes duo could take each other out at least once if they ran this race ten times, let alone 16.

Deena – No bets.

Indianapolis 500

Winning picks:

Nick – I have to favorites to win this race, and they are both simply gut-feel kind of picks. I like Marco Andretti to break the Andretti curse or James Hinchcliffe to bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to Canada for the first time since 1995 when Jacques Villeneuve came from two laps down to win (his own personal Indy 505). If I have to pick one, let’s say the curse continues. Hinchcliffe, rebounding from a concussion two weeks ago at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis is my pick.

Deena – I am going with the #DoubleOutlaw, Kurt Busch, to pull of the shock victory in the greatest race in the world, despite it being his first ever race in an Indycar. Why? He’s simply a hell of a driver, and if he keeps it off the wall he should be in that lead pack. From there, he’s got just as much talent and aggressiveness out there to win it as anyone.

Money Bets:

Nick – $5 on Justin Wilson at 50-1 (to win $250), $10 on Scott Dixon at 9-1 (to win $90), $10 on James Hinchcliffe at 11-1 (to win $110). My reasons? I like Wilson to hang around the lead pack just as he did the last two years. He also led the race late in 2009 in a Dreyer & Reinbold car. At 50-1, I think it’s value. Dixon’s Indy finishes from 2006-2012: 6, 2, 1, 6, 5, 5, 2 . I like that consistency. And Hinch for reasons stated above with my race winning pick…gut feel.

Deena – $5 on J.R. Hildebrand at 40-1 (to win $200), $5 on Simon Pagenaud at 16-1 (to win $80), $10 on Marco Andretti at 13-2 (to win $65). I like J.R. at Indy. He proved in 2011 he’s got the ability, and in an Ed Carpenter Racing entry, he has the wheels underneath him. Pagenaud is simply a great driver, he typically keeps his car off the wall, and he has a strong pit crew. Marco grew up around Indycar racing, and he can wheel it at the 500. He’s built for this track…the question is, will the curse continue?

Coca-Cola 600

Winning picks:

Nick – I’m going to say Kasey Kahne pulls it off here. He’s had a rough year so far, currently 16th in points. But Charlotte is a great track for him. With five wins at Charlotte (one in the All-Star Race, one in the fall race, and three in the Coca-Cola 600), he’s got this place down, and starts up front. And he needs the win badly.

Deena – I like Dale Junior to win. He’s been getting stronger and stronger in recent years, and almost won the 600 in 2011, running out of fuel on the last lap.

Money Bets (we’re going to have to use odds from CarbonSports.Ag since Bovada’s odds are currently off for this one at time of posting):

Nick – $15 on Danica Patrick at 300-1 (to win $4500), $5 on Joey Logano at 12-1 (to win $60). Yes, I’m putting money on Danica. To make this bet profitable, if this race were run 300 times, she’d only have to win once. She’s run well lately, finishing 7th at Kansas, another 1.5 mile track. She qualified 4th, and is confident and comfortable. I believe once in every 300 tries, she can at least win this thing on fuel mileage. As for Logano, I like him about as much as I like Kahne, but he has better odds than Kasey.

Deena – $10 on Danica Patrick at 300-1 (to win $3000), $5 each on Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr., Ky. Busch, and Larson at 7-1, 12-1, 15-1, and 20-1 respectively (to win $35, $60, $75, and $100 respectively). Danica because look at dem odds! As for the rest, I they’re all clearly talented drivers who are all running well. A small bet on each, and a win by any of the four turns me a small profit on this race.

Who do you all have winning? Who are your value picks? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Race Day 2014: Our Menu

Usually Deena writes about food or fitness, and I about sports. This is one of our favorite blog posts, because we get to combine food and sports!

Every year (except last year when we were at our friends’ wedding) we plan a menu for the Memorial Day weekend motor sports triple header. We wake up and make a European themed breakfast and eat it while we watch the Monaco Grand Prix at 8am ET. We clean up, then prepare a Midwestern themed lunch while watching the traditions of the opening ceremonies for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500. This year will be a little bittersweet during the opening ceremonies, since it will be the great Jim Nabors’ last year singing Back Home Again in Indiana, by far my favorite part of the opening ceremonies. We of course then enjoy the meal during the race itself. After the winning driver sips the milk in victory circle, we clean up again and usually take a power nap (maybe that’s what Kurt Busch will be doing as well as he flies from Indy to Charlotte trying to complete the double). Then we prepare an All-American or Southern themed dinner to have while we tune in to NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.

Oh yeah, and of course we have an alcoholic beverage for each race that matches the themes, duh!

This year we have to be a bit more creative, since I have realized I have a gluten sensitivity and therefore need to eat gluten free. I think we’ve handled that pretty well in the menu below, I’m really excited about gluten free chicken and waffles!

So without further ado, here’s our menu for Race Day 2014…

Morning (European Theme):
Race – Monaco Grand Prix
Food – Spanish tortillas
Drink – Mimosas 

Going for a run between these races…

Mid-day (Midwest Theme):
Race – 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (!!!!!)
Food – Bison burgers with Wisconsin cheddar and sweet corn sautee
Drink – Bell’s Amber Ale (Deena), 7 & 7 (Nick, rooting for Simon Pagenaud #77)

Power nap between these races…

Evening (Southern Theme):
Race – Coca-Cola 600
Food – Chicken & waffles (gluten free!) and watermelon caprese salad
Drink – NC Microbrews (Deena), Bourbon or Richard Childress wine (Nick)

Happy Race Day 2014 everyone! Let us know what you are doing for the races and who you think will win each one. I’ll have a follow up post later tonight with race predictions!


When it’s Hot, Does Smoke Catch Fire?

Ten races into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Tony Stewart has put up some rather pedestrian numbers so far. With only two top 5s and four top 10s Smoke, as he is affectionately known throughout NASCAR circles, currently sits 21st in the point standings. His average finish of 19.8 is well above his career average of 12.9, yet some fans don’t seem to be worried. The reason? Memorial Day is fast approaching and as legend has it when the temperature heats up Smoke starts to catch fire. Throw in the added fact that under NASCAR’s 2014 rules a single win will probably qualify a driver for the chase, and many fans are betting that Tony picks up at least one win sometime between now and the last race before the chase cutoff at Richmond. But, will Tony pick up that win? Is there any merit to the legend that summer heat helps Smoke catch fire?

We’ll start simple and look at average finishes overall. From 1999 through 2013 Smoke has an average finish of 14.91 before Memorial Day and 11.66 after. If we just limit it to “the summer heat” where we look between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the gap tightens just a bit. During the summer Tony averages 11.74 compared to 13.38 during cooler times of year. We can use a statistical test to test for significant difference. In doing so, despite the large sample size (N = 521), the data are highly non-normal so a Student’s t-Test is not the appropriate test to apply in this situation. Instead we use a nonparametric test called the Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test which allows us to test for significance even though the data violates the normality assumption. Doing so gives p-values of 0.0006 and 0.0325, indicating Smoke’s improved post-Memorial Day and summertime performance is not just random noise, and is in fact not a myth.

Stewart's finishes before vs. after Memorial Day (left) and spring/fall vs. summer (right) with Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test for significance.
Stewart’s finishes before vs. after Memorial Day (left) and spring/fall vs. summer (right) with Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test for significance.

However, we can take this analysis farther. First, let’s remove the impact of mechanical failures, which the great majority of the time is not the driver’s fault (there can be situations where the driver abuses the car causing a tire or other mechanical failure, but they tend to be few and far between). We leave in races where accidents have caused a DNF (did not finish) because there are times this is the driver’s fault and times the driver is simply caught up in someone else’s wreck. Since there is no way to differentiate fault, we play it safe and leave accidents in. In doing so, Smoke now has average finishes of 14.01 before and 11.39 after Memorial Day respectively, and 12.73 and 11.51 in spring/fall and summer respectively. In both cases, removing mechanical failures has tightened the gap. However, applying Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney still gives p-values of 0.0024 and 0.0561 respectively, once again implying Smoke’s finishes tend to be better after Memorial Day and during summer. Moving forward, the rest of this analysis has DNFs from mechanical failures removed.

It’s fair to ask the question, “well isn’t Tony Stewart simply better at some tracks than others, and the tracks he’s better at tend to fall in the summer?” Here’s where it gets interesting. Looking at the 14 tracks that Tony has raced on before and after Memorial Day, Tony has averaged 1.15 positions worse than his average finish at each track before Memorial Day. After Memorial Day, Smoke has finished 1.03 positions better than his average finish at each track, meaning Tony finishes almost 2.2 positions better compared to his track average before Memorial Day than after. This difference is statistically significant (p = 0.0225). However, if we look at the 9 tracks that have had summer and spring/fall races Tony finishes near his track average regardless of time of year (0.14 worse in spring/fall, 0.22 better in summer). This small difference could be purely random chance (p = 0.4895). Thus, it’s easy to conclude that since Tony does better after Memorial Day, but no better between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it stands to reason he does best after Labor Day.

Stewart's finish against track average for before vs. after Memorial Day (left) and spring/fall vs. summer (right) with Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test for significance.
Stewart’s finish against track average for before vs. after Memorial Day (left) and spring/fall vs. summer (right) with Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test for significance.

As it turns out, Smoke does indeed perform best late in the season. Now we divide the season into three segments, “Beginning”, consisting of races before Memorial Day, “Middle”, consisting of races between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and “End”, for races after Labor Day. For tracks that are not confined to one time of year he outperforms his track average by 1.21 positions at the end of the season, best of the three groups. This is one position better than the middle of the year, and 2.36 positions better than the beginning of the year against his track averages. The difference between beginning and end of year finishes produces the only result of significance (p = 0.0236).

Stewart's finishes against track average for beginning, middle, and end of year with Kruskal-Wallis (multiple means version of Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney) test for significance.
Stewart’s finishes against track average for beginning, middle, and end of year with Kruskal-Wallis (multiple means version of Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney) test for significance.

In other words, we can conclude, yes Tony Stewart does perform better after Memorial Day than before, but that is because stating it this way includes the end of the year. Instead, it is more correct to say he performs best at the end of the year, outperforming his track averages the most as the season winds down.

So, will Smoke similarly heat up this year? Under NASCAR’s new rules, winning matters most. Before Memorial Day Smoke has won 6 times in 174 races for a win ratio of 3.45%. After Memorial Day, he boasts a 12.54% win ratio. Considering there are 16 races left before the chase then at a similar 12.5% winning clip Smoke’s expected value is 2 wins before the chase in an average year. However, this has been no ordinary year so far for Smoke. Through 10 races, the 2014 season has been his worst start to date. Smoke has finished on average 8 spots worse than his track average in 2014. By comparison, his second worst start through 10 races was in 2007 where he averaged 4.9 spots worse than his track average. Applying the eight extra positions to Tony’s expected finish at each track, but crediting him for a post-memorial day bonus on all the tracks after Charlotte, we can try to calculate his expected wins. In doing so, the data for (actual finish – track average finish) needs to be transformed since it is highly non-normal. I first shifted the data so it is all positive valued and then I applied a Box-Cox transformation to produce a near-normal distribution of data. From here, we can calculate the expected win value for each of the 16 remaining races since we have the transformed mean and standard deviation for his actual finishes around his average track finish. When all is said and done, Tony’s new expected wins value is 0.1275 wins before the chase, a far cry from the 2.0 expected wins. This equated to about an 12% chance that Tony wins at least one race. Not too great.

Histogram of difference between actual finish and track average finish showing significantly skewed distribution of data
Histogram of difference between actual finish and track average finish showing significantly skewed distribution of data

Tony will have to step up his game if he wishes to make the chase. The data suggests he has only marginally improved performance in the middle of the year rather than the “as the summer heats up so does Tony” myth that is out there. Lucky for him, all it takes is one win, and if he does manage to significantly improve performance or grab an unexpected win with subpar performance to make the chase, all bets are off. Tony at the end of the year is a vastly different Tony than the beginning of the year as the data proves. Smoke could very well contend for the title if he simply makes the chase.