Good games, weird data

Why waste time with a 401k when you could just bet against the Jets?

Why waste time with a 401k when you could just bet against the Jets?

I’ve been a Jets fan for as long as I can remember, and like any self-respecting Jets fan, I have no respect for the franchise. How can I bet against the Jets?

I’ve written up an ode to Sam Darnold contracting mono and a detailed explanation of Jets misery in 2015 for SB NationSomehow this take from five years ago hasn’t aged a day:

Life as a Jets fan goes one of two ways. For your combative types, you can weaponize your decision to ritualistically ruin your fall and winter in punch-first, think-second mode. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a large man in a tight Testaverde jersey explain that we’re one deep threat away from contention, willing himself into a delusion that will strangle his dreams. For others, you adopt a well-worn fatalism that never, ever allows you to draw pride from the multi-billion dollar business so dear to your heart. It’s a conscious masochism. The two most common words uttered after admitting I root for the Jets are: “I know.”

Today, I want to see what would have happened if I put my money behind my pessimism.

Thanks to the heroics of Twitter user @mrcaseb, we have access to a dataset of all the betting lines and spreads for NFL games since 2004, collected across a variety of sportsbooks. Smarter analysts than me will likely use this data as features to build machine learning models to improve their betting. The smartest ones would probably never reveal they did it and count their winnings in blissful silence.

I’ll admit, the Jets cause me to lose the cold rationality of a data scientist. I believe in my scarred heart that they’ll lose every single game in some debilitating fashion. What if I bet that feeling?

How tO Bet AGainst the Jets?

We’ll track the last ten Jets seasons, starting with the 2010 year. I used the bet365sportsbook for the odds, as they have data on all sixteen games for each season. I’m making a few key assumptions.

  • We start with a $100 deposit in 2010 and bet $10 on the first game.
  • We’ll bet that the Jets do not cover the spread. We’re betting that they either lose by a larger margin than expected when underdogs, blow it as a favorite, or win as a favorite but by a slimmer margin. Here’s a great guide on how those odds work.
  • I’ll track two versions. In one, all wins are reinvested into the next bet, so if I win $5 in week one, I’ll bet $15 on week two. In the other, we’ll stick to a strict $10 only, and pocket any winnings. 
  • All losses are deducted from the total, and we only bet $10 the next week. 
  • While a smart bettor might cut their losses if we lose the entire $100, I’ll keep going.
  • We’ll track this return against a $100 purchase of equivalent Amazon stock in 2010, a savings account with 1% annual interest, and, tragically, an optimistic Jets fan shorting my position and believing that they’ll cover.

Liquidate your assets now

Here’s a look at how our investment strategies would play out over the last ten years. In a fun twist, the very first game we’d be betting on—a 2010 Jets/Ravens barnburner that the Ravens won 10-9—ended up being a push for our bets, as the spread pegged the Jets losing by 1. Push bets mean we just get our wager back, so if that ever happens, we’ll run back the winning bets or default back to a $10 bet if the one prior was a loss.

First, the cautious approach. What happens if you keep to a $10 bet regardless of the prior week’s result?

Optimistic Jets fans would take an early victory lap in 2010. Yet, fate laughs at any fan who thinks Gang Green provides lifelong smiles. 

At the end of this experiment, if you had bet $10 against the Jets every single week, your initial $100 deposit would end at $207.90, for a tidy profit margin of $107.90.

If you believed in the Jets, you already made one mistake. Your second ended up costing you $230.83, as that strategy ended $130.83 in the hole.

What about Doubling down on Wins?

I watched The Big Short, so trust me when I say this is not a sound investment.

Both the pessimists and optimists end up losing their shirts in this, with the haters down –$5.22 and the misguided, hopeful Jets fans down -$130.43. Oddly enough, there’s not much of difference between the aggressive and conservative strategies, which crystalizes the key finding for me.

You’ll never go broke when you bet against the Jets.

Here’s how that $100 compared to Amazon’s stock performance and a typical savings account with 1% annual interest.

While we might not beat out Jeff Bezos’ empire, a Jets hater would do better embracing their rage than parking their money in a savings account. We just need the FDIC to insure my hedge fund, Gang Green Pessimists Limited.

What have we learned? Gambling is great!

I had a hunch that Jets optimism would end up in the red. Yet, I’m fully shocked that conservatively betting against the Jets every week would net you a 2.08X return on your initial investment. 

I’ve been trying to save money in dumb things like a 401K or a savings account. The real solution stared back at me every somber Sunday, likely down 14 by halftime.

Jim Cramer, eat your heart out.

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Jamie Larson