Coaches, Super Bowl 56

Vlad in Chico, CA writes:

Heels will you be doing a writeup on the Super Bowl coaches in advance of this year’s Big Game, as you did in the past?

We failed to make the time for a deep dive on Sean McVay of the Rams and Zac Taylor of the Bengals. We note that both coaches are younger than us: McVay is 35 and Taylor is 38. Younger coaches are becoming a phenomenon in the NFL. Taylor used to work for McVay, which is interesting. We can’t find an easy stat for how often former colleagues have coached against each other in the Super Bowl. Mina Kimes would probably know.

In Seth Wickersham’s It’s Better to Be Feared about the Belichick/Brady era Pats, we learn that Belichick gained from his frequent experience in Super Bowls:

With its overwrought introductions and halftime show, the Super Bowl was at least an hour longer than most games. The drawn-out nature of the game his the defensive line hardest, draining the pass rush in the fourth quarter. Belichick had robbed himself of the ability to rotate in fresh legs. He never repeated that mistake again, and he exploited it when opposing coaches committed the same error against him in future Super Bowls.

McVay has Super Bowl experience and is playing at home. Our prediction is the Rams will win decisively, beating the current line of -4, but we’re not betting on it. This is based on vibe speculation, not technical analysis, and here in LA it’s possible my viberead is tainted. We don’t have any information or indications that wouldn’t be priced in. There’s some evidence that homefield advantage can be underestimated systematically in sports betting, but it’s not strong enough to be significant.

Sports betting is not legal in California, although we’ll have an opportunity to change that on the 2022 ballot, if we pass the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act, which is sponsored by DraftKings. There may even be multiple sports betting propositions on the ballot. We believe the gains here for legalizing the incredibly popular activity of sports gambling and extracting revenue for the state would exceed the social cost in ruined lives from gambling addiction and coarsening of the pure spirit of sport, but we’ll see how the ballots shake out. This feels like a “don’t put law on people if it’s not in their hearts” situation.

Here’s hoping for a great game!


When the US Congress put forward a bill in 1969 suggesting that cigarette advertisements be banned from television, people expected American tobacco companies to be furious. After all, this was an industry that had spent over $300 million promoting their products the previous year… So, what did they choose to do? Pretty much nothing.

Far from hurting tobacco companies’ profits, the ban actually worked in the companies’ favor. For years the firms had been trapped in an absurd game. Television advertising had little effect on whether people smoked, which in theory made it a waste of money. If the firms had all got together and stopped their promotions, profits would almost certainly have increased. However, ads did have an impact on which brand people smoked. So, if all the firms stopped their publicity, and one of them started advertising again, that company would steal customers from all the others.

Whatever their competitors did, it was always best for a firm to advertise. By doing so, it would either take market share from companies that didn’t promote their products or avoid losing customers to firms that did. Although everyone would save money by cooperating, each individual firm would always benefit by advertising, which meant all the companies inevitably ended up in the same position, putting out advertisements to hinder the other firms. Economists refer to such a situation – where each person is making the best decision possible given the choices made by others – as a “Nash equilibrium.”

… Congress finally banned tobacco ads from television in January 1971. One year later, the total spent on cigarette advertising had fallen by over 25 percent. Yet tobacco revenues held steady. Thanks to the government, the equilibrium had been broken.

That is from The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling by Adam Kucharski, a very readable book full of insights. It’s mostly about cases of physicists and mathematicians who have “beaten” (more often found slight edges) in roulette, poker, horse race betting, and sports gambling.

Kucharski is Sir Henry Dale Fellow in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Now there’s a job!