The winners of football handicapping contests come from all walks of life and their formulas for success often vary wildly, from rudimentary to complex. Some champions analyze offensive and defensive efficiency metrics; others simply discuss it with their spouses over dinner. Regardless, for one season, they picked more winners than the competition and have larger bankrolls to prove it.
ESPN asked the winners of three NFL handicapping contests to briefly break down Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers using the approach they implemented to win their respective contest.
Here are their stories.
Gary and Roxanne Heineman chose to watch a movie, "Bohemian Rhapsody," instead of NFL Week 17 games. Gary's lone entry into the SugarHouse/BetRivers $500,000 Pro Football Pick 'em contest was in the mix for first prize. They were nervous.
Gary, 57, is a mostly retired construction worker from the Pittsburgh area. He's a Steelers fan and a regular sports bettor with an affinity for favorites. He overcame a slow start and surged into contention midway through the season. That's when Roxanne became interested. "She's into the numbers," Gary said.
The table talk produced a midseason adjustment to start taking more underdogs. It worked. The Heinemans finished with 169 correct picks, two more than second place, and won the $125,000 first prize.
They're headed to the jewelry store this week. Roxanne earned an upgrade on her wedding ring, Gary says.
For the Super Bowl, the Heinemans are riding the underdog 49ers. Roxanne already placed her bet on San Francisco. Gary is waiting to see if the point spread moves.
"Kansas City has a slight edge in the offensive department, but we're both leaning on the defense, and the 49ers have a slight edge on defense," Gary told ESPN. "That's what we came up with, and we're told over and over that defense wins championships."
Rushes plus completions per game
There were nearly 1,900 entries into the inaugural Circa Sports Million Pro Football Contest in Las Vegas, an impressive amount for the first year.
Isaac Meier, 34, a portfolio manager from Los Angeles, beat them all, hitting 69.5% of his 85 picks against the spread and winning the $1 million grand prize. It was the first Las Vegas handicapping contest he'd ever entered.
Here's how Meier, who describes himself as a numbers guy, broke down the Super Bowl:
"It looks obvious that the Chiefs have a strong offensive advantage over the 49ers, but it's the nonobvious that makes champions. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs averaged over nine adjusted net yards per pass attempt this season, while the 49ers averaged just seven. Still, the 49ers have been extremely efficient on offense.
"The efficiency metric that I've used is rushes plus completions per game. If the number is 52 or more, it means that the offense is playing efficiently. It is not predictive of the outcome of the game, but it helps in adjudicating between two quality teams. The Niners average 51.9 rushes and completions per game. The Chiefs average 47.0 rushes and completions.
"Big plays in the Big Game are crucial to address in this matchup. Defining a big play can be somewhat subjective, but it shouldn't be. A big play is simply an offensive play that gains 25 or more yards. The Chiefs have made 57 big plays (3.16 per game). The 49ers have made 54 big plays (3.0). The Chiefs have given up 38 big plays (2.11 per game); the 49ers have given up 26 big plays (1.44).
"These two teams are talented on both sides of the field. They both can score on offense and can get stops on defense. On balance, while my gut says the Chiefs, the numbers slightly favor the Niners."
Westgate SuperContest winners
Two childhood friends from Nebraska, Matt Kucera and Eric Jensen, had dabbled in sports betting, and in 2018 when they learned that legal sportsbooks would be opening across the border in Iowa, they decided to take a shot. They put their picks to the test in the prestigious Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest.
Jensen, a 38-year-old well driller, and Kucera, 36, an insurance broker, finished above .500 in last year's SuperContest.
This year, they won it all.
Kucera and Jensen's "It Ain't Breezy" entry topped a record field of 3,328 contestants, finishing 58-25-2 against the spread (69.9%) to claim the $1.47 million first prize.
Using some of the key pillars from their "It Ain't Breezy" approach, here is how they broke down the Super Bowl:
Pillar No. 1 -- QB Patrick Mahomes vs. Jimmy Garoppolo: Mahomes is the better QB in this matchup. Mahomes played two fewer games and still outproduced Jimmy G. Mahomes has more weapons (five) at his disposal and does not throw the picks Garoppolo (13) does.
Pillar No. 2 -- Head coach Andy Reid vs. Kyle Shanahan: Overall, Reid has the advantage in experience and overall winning percentage at 61.8%. Shanahan acquired a terrible team two years ago and has built this team from the ground up. We think this is a wash.
Pillar No. 3 -- Offensive line: Hands down, the Niners have the better offensive line, and it is not even close.
Pillar No. 4 -- Defensive line: Hands down, the Niners have the better defensive line, and it is not even close.
So, in addition to those pillars, we don't see anything on the injury report that shows an advantage, and we think the NFC was the better conference this year. The Packers, Saints, Seahawks and Niners were legitimate Super Bowl teams. The AFC had only two contenders in the Ravens and Chiefs.
Our pick for Super Bowl is the 49ers +1.