Victory in the NFL Matter of Brains Over Brawn
The Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts each won big blowouts on Sunday, while the Seattle Seahawks earned a dramatic come-from-behind win at Houston.
The Chiefs, Colts and Seahawks are now a combined 11-1 overall and 9-3 against the spread. Their Week 4 victories were, in each case, a triumph of brains as much as brawn – and a triumph for the powerful new Cold, Hard Football Facts Intelligence Index.
Those same three teams hold down three of the top four spots on the Intelligence Index heading into Week 5.
The shiny new indicator is tracked each week by Colonel Comey at CHFF Insider. The Chiefs, Colts and Seahawks were the three teams he identified last week in his list of “mental mismatches” – smart teams taking the field against intellectually overmatched opponents.
The smart teams profiled in his mental mismatches this season are now a perfect 7-0 straight up and 6-0-1 against the spread (7-0 ATS if you had Seattle -2.5 instead of -3).
So smart teams are not only winning games, they're easily beating public expectations, and for reasons that make perfect sense highlighted below.
The Intelligence Index quantifies for CHFF Insiders proficiency in situational football in a simple, easy-to-understand number based upon the most fundamental aspects of football: yards and points.
The Intelligence Index is deceptively simple – and ruthlessly effective. The indicator makes a few things clear: smart teams win games, win big and do it almost predictably.
The Intelligence Index is young and the body of evidence at this point is not large (our research so far goes back to 2010).
But the results so far are powerful and conclusive: Smart teams are not only winning straight up and against the spread, but dominating opponents on NFL battlefields. Dumb teams are getting physically and mentally dismantled.
We’ve used the Intelligence Index this season to highlight seven what we call mental mismatches. As mentioned above, those seven intellectually superior teams are perfect straight up and just about perfect against the spread.
These mental mismatches have also given us almost every single one of the biggest blowouts of the 2013 season. Eleven NFL games this year were decided by 24 points or more. Ten of the 11 were won by teams who entered the game vastly superior on the Intelligence Index. Five of the 11 blowouts were identified by us before the game as mental mismatches.
Here’s a list of the seven mental mismatches we’ve already highlighted this year.
- Week 2 – Cincinnati 20, Pittsburgh 10
- Week 3 – Carolina 38, N.Y. Giants, 0
- Week 3 – Seattle 45, Jacksonville, 17
- Week 3 – Dallas 31, St. Louis, 7
- Week 4 – Kansas City 31, N.Y. Giants, 7
- Week 4 – Indianapolis 37, Jacksonville 3
- Week 4 – Seattle 23, Houston, 20
We believe the Intelligence Index works, especially against the spread, for one very simple reason: sports fans overvalue the physical qualities of each team and undervalue their mental capabilities.
Brains vs. Brawn
Sports fans have been trained to value brawn almost to the exclusion of brains. And it’s perfectly natural to place so much stock in a team's physical capabilities, especially when it's a football team.
After all, sports are nothing more than an effort by one team or one individual to establish physical superiority over another. And no sport prizes physical superiority more than football. It is the ultimate celebration of speed, strength, brute force and physical intimidation.
Nobody described football better than the NFL itself back in 1970:
“Professional football is basically a physical assault by one team upon another in a desperate fight for land ... The most basic possession, land, is the issue in football and the most basic weapon, the body, is the means of acquiring it. It is a game of physical dominance; the weak are punished unmercifully and the unskilled are run off the field.”
But it’s quite possible that our obsession with the physical nature of the game causes us to ignore the more important mental aspects of the game. It’s quite possible that victory at the highest level of football is really a matter of mind and intellect over muscle and brawn.
Let’s face it: it’s nearly impossible at the professional level for one team of so many highly paid moving parts to establish physical superiority over another.
Sure, we see high school and college games where one team physically does not belong on the same field as another. But that kind of physical mismatch rarely happens in the NFL, if at all.
Instead, pro football games are typically won by smart, efficient teams that do all the little things right – the disciplined, well-coached, teams that excel in situational football.
Conversely, pro football games are lost by undisciplined, inefficient, poorly coach teams that fail in situational football.
Look at the state of the stupid Philadelphia Eagles and the brilliant Seattle Seahawks over the past two years.
Philadelphia has been among the dumbest teams in football each of the past two years: No. 31 on the Intelligence Index last year and near the bottom again this year (No. 26).
No coincidence the Eagles are a league worst 4-15-1 against the spread since the start of the 2012 season, including 1-3 ATS already this year. Fans look at all that physical talent the Eagles put on the field and assume the team is better than it really is. Few fans take into consideration the fact that this is a dumb, hugely inefficient team. Philly's mental deficiencies are killing the team ... and anyone who bets on them.
Seattle, meanwhile, has been the smartest team in football each of the past two years: No. 1 on the Intelligence Index last year and No. 2 this year.
No coincidence that the Seahawks are a league best 15-5 against the spread since the start of the 2012 season, including 4-0 ATS already this year. Fans know the Seahawks are a physically talented team and judge them accordingly. But they're not getting credit for being a mentally superior team, too. So Seattle has been habitually undervalued by football fans.
Yet week in and week out, the Seahawks are outsmarting their opponents, consistently doing all the little things right, playing more efficiently and beating opponents in situational football.
Seattle offers a deadly combination right now: they can beat you physically and outwit you mentally.
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