Peoria Journal Star – Feb 6,2006 – Kirk Wessler – You just woke up. You have set aside a buck, or 20, or maybe even 100 or more to bet on the Super Bowl. You are looking for one magic morsel that will turn you into a winner.
Here it is:
Don’t do it!
On the other hand, if you must contribute to the $7 billion expected to ride on Super Bowl XL today, read this first.
John F. Murray predicts the Seattle Seahawks will win by 5 to 10 points, a point-spread wipeout of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are a 4 1/2-point favorite by the books. Murray is worth heeding, because he called Tampa Bay’s blowout of Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, and even though his picks, Carolina and Philadelphia, lost the last two Super Bowls, they beat the point spreads, which is the only victory that matters in the warped world of sports wagering.
Now, Murray will tell you he doesn’t bet, and he really doesn’t care who beats the spread. But he does enjoy the attention he receives for his successful predictions, which he promotes via his Web site and e-mails to the media.
A former tennis player and coach, Murray is a licensed clinical psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., where he specializes in counseling athletes. A lot of his work involves helping athletes fight overconfidence or regain lost confidence. It’s important to understand a player or team can perform very well and still lose – or underperform
and still win. Either outcome can have a detrimental effect on the next contest.
The key to success, Murray says, is getting the athlete to perform consistently, rather than worrying about the score. Basically, it’s a different spin on the cliche coaches love most: “Play ’em one at a time.” That should apply to plays within a game, as well as games within a season.
“If you focus on winning, you’ve already lost,” Murray says. “The mind has to be focused in the moment.”
And a sports contest, whether a tennis match or a foot race or the Super Bowl, is a series of isolated moments.
Murray’s fascination with this subject led him to devise the Mental Performance Index to quantify performance. The MPI is derived from a statistical analysis that assigns points to every play for “focused execution” and “pressure management.” The scale runs from .000 to a perfect 1.000. A score of .600 is considered excellent.
Murray says the team with the higher MPI in a game wins 95 percent of the time. Only one playoff game this season was won by a team with the lower performance index; that being Tampa Bay over Washington in the NFC wild-card round.
During the playoffs, Seattle posted a .556 MPI in its 20-10 victory over Washington, and a .575 in the 34-14 NFC title victory over Carolina, whose MPI was a paltry .409.
Murray’s interpretation of the title game: “Seattle played a remarkable game, especially in defensive pressure situations, and Carolina’s offense played one of the worst games ever in pressure.”
Pittsburgh scored a .523 in its AFC divisional victory over Indianapolis, which posted a .469 MPI. “The 21-18 score,” Murray concluded, “grossly underestimates the degree to which Pittsburgh dominated, especially in pressure defensive situations.”
That victory, plus the Steelers’ domination of Denver in the AFC title game (.541 to .491 in the MPI, 34-17 on the scoreboard), plus the AFC’s perceived superiority to the NFC provided the driving forces for oddsmakers to install them, and bettors to buy them, as Super Bowl favorites.
But Murray’s numbers come down decidedly in favor of Seattle.
Most notably, the Seahawks’ defense has posted a .598 MPI to the Steelers’ .505 during the playoffs. Perhaps even more telling is the Seahawks performance in overall pressure situations, a .624 to the Steelers’ .564.
“(The MPI) is not about prediction, it’s about performance,” Murray says.
But moments later, he adds: “Past performance predicts the future. The recent past predicts the future better than anything else. I’d say Seattle is clearly better, based on performance.”
Now, place your bets. If you dare.
KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist.
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.