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Wells Fargo’s Quants Pick the Patriots to Win the Super Bowl

Updated on
  • Formula says New England will cover point spread over Philly
  • Firm has called 10 of the last 14 winners against the spread

The New England Patriots on Jan. 21.

Photographer: Jim Rogash/Getty Images 

Picking a winner in the Super Bowl can feel like a crap shoot, but if you ask Wall Street’s rocket scientists they’ll tell you the smart money’s on the New England Patriots.

Wells Fargo Asset Management’s Analytic Investors LLC, the Los Angeles-based quant shop that’s beaten the point spread in 10 of the last 14 Super Bowls, says gamblers should take the favored Patriots over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Analytic Investors applies its predictive quant models to the National Football League’s championship game. Its data shows that the Patriots will beat the Eagles by at least five points, since the point spread on the game is 4 1/2 points. And that prediction comes despite a few Eagles fans within the ranks.

“I know it’ll tick off a few of my Philly fan friends,” said Chris Lardieri, one of the study’s authors. “But the numbers don’t lie.”

The model centers on what the firm calls “NFL Alpha,” a calculation of each club’s investment return, which is a function of whether a team won based on the odds set in the gambling markets. The higher the alpha, the better the performance against the odds. Take the Carolina Panthers, whose rebound from a disappointing 2016 season earned them a 40.2 percent alpha and a top slot on the list. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns -- only the second team in NFL history to put up a winless season -- had the lowest alpha at negative 100 percent.

The twist is, just like predictions of low market volatility reversing to its higher average, the quants assume there will be a mean reversion on the field. In other words, the teams with the highest NFL Alpha are the ones you should bet against. Since the point spread is designed to level the competition for gamblers, teams that have outperformed or underperformed against those odds eventually should come back to the norm.

The Patriots are coming into Super Bowl LII with a lower alpha than the Eagles. So according to the study, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady should get to add another ring to their collections.

To be sure, Analytic has some answering to do for incorrectly picking the Atlanta Falcons last year. But, Lardieri points out that by the third quarter, ESPN had calculated a 99.8 percent chance of Atlanta winning the title before the team inexplicably crumbled. If it were a stock market rally, most managers would’ve sold in the second half and locked in their profits, he said.

“The Falcons just had to run the clock out,” Lardieri said.“You can’t account for human error and questionable decisions.”

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