I would have made a killing with these insane, prescient NFL predictions

When betting based on nonsense goes very, very right

(Image credit: (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall))

A few weeks ago, before the NFL playoffs got underway, I made some unserious predictions about who would win. More accurately, I predicted which mascots would win in fights against each other, and then filled out the playoff bracket from there.

I should have put my money where my half-serious mouth was.

I originally meant only to have some some fun with the fact that, for all their credentials, "experts" aren't really any better than anyone else at predicting the outcome of games. That's particularly true in the NFL.

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But then my teams started winning. And winning. Through the Conference Championships, my mascots teams are eight for 10.

To a degree, that reaffirms the original hypothesis that predicting winners in the playoffs is a total crap shoot. You may as well bet based on which uniforms you think look coolest. And though it would be nice to believe I'd discovered the best way, short of true clairvoyance, to bet on sports, the results are, sadly, mere coincidence.

Still, the surprising run of luck got me to thinking: How much money would I have won had I actually made those bets?

Based on the pre-game point spreads and the standard 10/11 odds for straight bets on football games — meaning, a wager of $11 would net a return of $10 on top of the original wager — I could have made out fairly well. Let's assume I wagered $110 on each game in the Wild Card round — a correct call would return $100 — and then let all the money ride from there, divided evenly between the following rounds' games.

Wild Card

I got every outcome right, but only covered the spread in three games. The Colts won as I guessed they would, but by a single point; the spread was 1.5. (So close!) The 49ers, meanwhile, won by three to barely cover the 2.5 point spread.

Again, assuming a $110 bet on each game, I would have picked up $300 for the three correct wagers, while getting back the $330 I initially bet on those games. The Colts, and their failure to score one more point, cost me another potential $210, but I still come out well ahead.

In: $440

Out: $630

Divisional Round

Splitting that $630 across four games comes out to $157.50 apiece. And though I went three-for-four on predictions alone, the point spread again works against me.

The Patriots, Broncos, and 49ers all won as predicted, but the Broncos couldn't cover the nine-point spread. At least the final game, which I predicted incorrectly, ended with the Seahawks winning by exactly the eight-point spread, resulting in a push; I get back my bet, and that's it.

For my two correct calls, I pick up $286.36 on top of the initial wagers. Peyton Manning's refusal/inability to run up the score stings, but the Seahawks-Saints push keeps me from losing more.

In: $630

Out: $758.86

Conference Championships

With only two games, I'm kind of screwed. I need to win both to avoid losing money.

The Broncos won, as predicted, and covered. But the Seahawks also won, contra my predictions, and covered the spread, too. I blame Richard Sherman.

I lose a little on this round overall, but still come out with a hypothetical $724.37 for the experiment. That's nearly a $300 gain — or a 65 percent return on investment — all for the mere trouble of deciding that a punch from a horse would hurt quite a bit. Had I gone bigger from the outset, or thrown in more money as I went, I could have made off even better. An $1,100 bet on each game in the opening round, say, would have earned me almost $3,000 by now.

I still have one team in the Super Bowl, so I could increase my theoretical earnings yet again. Which is to say: I'm now betting heavily on the Vikings to win.

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Jon Terbush

Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.