Monday, September 14, 2015

Pigskin Pick’em; or, the Agony and Ecstasy

The NFL season has begun, and with it another foray into the agony and ecstasy of Pigskin Pick’em, a.k.a. “the pool.”

As I’ve covered here many autumns before, we pick games straight up (not versus the spread). All 256 of them. I came out of the weekend having gotten 10 of 14, and since that wasn’t 14 of 14 I am necessarily full of second-guesser’s remorse.

I was thinking this afternoon about the relative degrees of pleasure and pain these picks produce. Poker provides a starting place for such a discussion.

It’s a common aphorism in poker to talk about how winning a pot produces less pleasure than the pain produced by losing one. Also relevant, of course, is the extent to which one’s winning or losing is the product of having made a good or bad decision as well as how much luck (also good or bad) affected the outcome.

There’s a lot of luck involved with how NFL games go. But when it comes to picking them, I can’t really blame bad luck on having chosen this team or that one. That is to say, I think I play each “hand” here with equal “skill” (or lack thereof), with some being more difficult than others but my own action (the pick I choose) entirely determining whether I am successful or not.

Thus when discussing how the pleasure and pain of each game compares, I’ll divide the games and outcomes into four groups as follows:

  • most pain: making non-consensus choice (usually an underdog), being wrong
  • least pain: making consensus choice (usually a favorite), being wrong
  • least pleasure: making consensus choice (usually a favorite), being right
  • most pleasure: making non-consensus choice (usually an underdog), being right
  • On the one hand, these rankings are essentially emotion-based. However, they also directly correspond to the actual value of the picks, relatively speaking.

    The most painful example of going against the grain and being wrong (as I was when I picked Oakland yesterday -- why!?!) hurts worse than missing a game everyone else does, too (as when I picked Seattle, like nearly everyone else). Meanwhile the most pleasurable outcome of going it alone and being right (as when I took Buffalo, as few others did) helps me more than getting the same game right everyone else does (such as when we all took Green Bay on Sunday).

    I’ve written before here about the “hero pick” (i.e., the non-consensus selection). I suppose if I wanted to lessen the emotional “swings” of the game, I’d avoid those or at least minimize them. But who wants to play that way?

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