The last game of the last week of the NFL regular season. That’s what the famed SuperContest came down to for the 2018-19 campaign. And Scott Panza summed it up quite well in saying:
“A million-dollar swing on the arm of Blaine Gabbert is a little hard to swallow.”
Panza made the picks for the Pigskin Junkies entry in this year’s contest, which drew a record 3,123 entries to the SuperBook at Westgate, and a record first-place prize of more than $1.4 million. Panza was in first place entering Week 17, with 57 out of a possible 80 points.
He got wins out of Buffalo and Cleveland. But with Eric Kahane’s Personal Gourmet entry throwing out a 5-0 dart in Week 17 – Cowboys/Chiefs/Eagles/Browns/Bears – to jump from 54.5 points and a tie for third up to 59.5 points in solo first place, Panza was in just the precarious spot he described: a million-dollar swing on the arm of Blaine Gabbert.
Kahane, a longtime NFL bettor in his first SuperContest, was in no such predicament as the clubhouse leader before the Colts-Titans game even kicked off Sunday night. So the Southern California gourmet food businessman, who was in Las Vegas for the weekend, just had to wait it out.
“As far as the Week 17 games, when things are rolling good, you keep getting more confident,” Kahane told Covers on Tuesday night. “When I knew I needed Andrew Luck, against Blaine Gabbert, I had a much better feeling than if the roles were reversed.”
Pigskin Junkies had the Titans +3 at home against the Colts, and Tennessee was without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. A Tennessee cover would give Panza first place outright, and a push would net a tie for first with Kahane. A Tennessee pointspread loss would secure the championship for Kahane.
The Titans had opportunities to at least get that push, but they ultimately lost 33-17.
“Gabbert is not gonna win them the most important game of the year,” Panza said Monday morning, when the loss was still a bit raw for him.
So instead of $1.4 million, Panza – who works for a hedge fund in Stamford, Conn. – and his contest partner had to settle for $409,000 in a tie for second with the entry of Rush YYZ 2112. Of course, Edward Caravalho and his partner in the Rush entry had a story to tell, as well.
Caravalho, the CFO of a blockchain technology company in New York City, did well all season long by balancing analytics and instincts. Just not quite well enough in the final week, with a 3-2 effort that didn’t include one game Caravalho wished he’d taken in hindsight: the Bengals +14.5 at the Steelers.
“We just didn’t pull the instinct trigger,” Caravalho said Tuesday morning. “If we had, we’d have won, so it’s a little hard to swallow. We were a little too much analytical in not taking the Bengals.”
Still, both Panza and Caravalho had to tip their caps to Kahane, from Irvine, Calif., after his 5-0 rally to claim the top prize. Panza and Caravalho’s entries were a half-point back at 59.
The second-place finishers both cited the same game as sealing their fate: Cowboys-Giants. Kahane took Dallas +6.5 and got a stunning W when the Cowboys – down 35-28 – scored a 32-yard touchdown on a late fourth-and-15 play, then went for 2 to win 36-35.
“Absolutely, the killer for us was the Dallas game,” Panza said, noting the Cowboys had nothing to play for in that contest, stuck in the No. 4 NFC playoff slot, yet went all out the whole game. “I’m not sure what they were thinking playing their starters. It all came down to that fourth-and-long bomb into the end zone.”
The pass from Dak Prescott to Cole Beasley was initially ruled incomplete, but the call was overturned on review. Ultimately, Panza and Caravalho’s stomachs were overturned, as well.
“Why would he pick the Cowboys?” Caravalho marveled. “But when all is said and done, they make a fourth down, back of the end zone.”
Kahane said it was really pretty simple, as he followed a strategy that served him well all season.
“The majority of my picks are underdogs that I think are going to win outright,” Kahane said, before specifically addressing the Cowboys-Giants tilt. “Neither team needed the game. But Dallas is the more talented team and getting a touchdown? Sign me up! And the same thing with the Bears-Vikings. I’ve got the better team, and I’m catching more than a field goal.”
Still, to trail by 2.5 points and knock out five winners in the final week, when the strategy and analysis is often much more difficult, is a tremendous feat. The fact that it won the SuperContest made it all the more tremendous.
“You handicap Week 17 differently than Week 1, 7, 12 or the playoffs. That being said, my strategy going in was basically the same as the first 16 weeks: I need five winners,” Kahane said. “To think in terms of, ‘This guy’s gonna pick this team, and that guy’s gonna pick that team,’ I can’t do that. It’s hard enough to stay in your own head, let alone get in someone else’s.
“The idea was to find five winners and let the chips fall where they may.”
Caravalho won on the Chiefs, Bills and Rams in Week 17, losing on the Packers and Vikings. The strategy session to arrive at those five teams was quite difficult.
“Every week, we list about eight games, if we can get to eight,” he said. “This week, we had six, including the Ravens. But people have been riding the Browns. I was adamant about not taking the Ravens, because of Baker Mayfield. He could throw three interceptions, but he could also throw three touchdowns.
“We liked the Chiefs, they were a lock, and loved the Bills. We liked the Rams a lot. The Vikings hurt us, and then the mistake pick was the Packers. We thought Aaron Rodgers would want to prove something, and the Lions hadn’t won at Lambeau Field in years.”
Since 1991, in fact. But Detroit knocked Rodgers out of the game under concussion protocol in the second quarter and went on to a blowout 31-0 victory as 8-point underdogs.
Panza enacted a Week 17 strategy of blocking, aiming to pick teams he felt certain others at the top would see as good options to move up in the standings.
“Denver and Tennessee, I thought for sure that those were gonna be blockers. And I thought Buffalo and Cleveland were gonna be blockers,” Panza said. As it turned out, Kahane didn’t take the Broncos, Titans or Bills, and Caravalho didn’t take the Broncos, Titans or Browns, so Pigskin Junkies didn’t have much left in the way of blockers.
“The process was there. Plus, I was really confident in Seattle,” Panza said. “I’d been riding the Seahawks. But that was the game that kept us from winning.”
Seattle was laying 13.5 points at home against Arizona and led 14-3 early in the second quarter. But the Seahawks never stretched it out and ultimately needed a last-second field goal to win 27-24.
Panza and Caravalho also pointed to Week 16. Panza went 2-3, losing on the hook in all three games, and in fact Weeks 16 and 17 were his only losing weeks all season. Caravalho termed Week 16 “the hardest week of the year” and went 1-4, his only losing week of the season, with two losses coming on the hook.
If just one game goes the other way, Panza or Caravalho could’ve outlasted the late flurry from Kahane, who weathered the Week 16 fallout with a 3-2 record, to go along with that final-week 5-0 punch.
“The guys who came within a half-point over 17 weeks, that’s just bad luck,” Kahane said in acknowledging the efforts of Panza, Caravalho and others at the top of the leaderboard. “Anybody in the conversation in the last week knew what they were doing. Congratulations to everybody who was in that conversation and in it on the final day.”
Caravalho took it in stride, trying not to Monday morning quarterback too much.
“It’s a massive difference for one game. Should we have done something different? It’s a tricky situation,” Caravalho said, before turning optimistic about a solid six-figure payday in just his second year in the SuperContest. “I think the contest is awesome. It’s done so well, it’s so great and it’s so exciting. It’s a hobby you can turn into an opportunity.”
Panza, in his first SuperContest, also tried to look at the bright side, while again extending props to Kahane as he recalled a message he sent to his contest partner before Sunday’s kickoffs.
“Early in the day, I texted him and said I was worried about Personal Gourmet. I loved his picks,” Panza said. “He had some stones. There was a lot of pressure, and he just nailed it. And a lot of them weren’t even close. He absolutely crushed it.
“It’s hard for me to be upset with such a great payday. It was an absolutely wild ride, and we enjoyed every moment. I wish things fell a little different on Sunday, but it was a great season.”
In fact, Caravalho – in his second year competing in the SuperContest – said it’s a little hard to believe the grind is over.
“I’m gonna miss it this weekend!”
Kahane had a modest Sunday night celebration in Vegas, getting dinner with a few friends, then actually bolting town around midnight to get back to his family in SoCal and a busy New Year’s Eve for his gourmet food company.
“My first reaction was, ‘What restaurants are open until 10 o’clock, so I can sit down and eat?’” Kahane said, noting he struck out on his top two choices – even in this 24-hour town – but ultimately got that Vegas victory meal.
Kahane, who also shared a bonus with Panza for the player with the best midseason record, said a few people suggested he was in the better spot in Week 17, as the hunter instead of the hunted. He couldn’t disagree more.
“I was pissed I wasn’t in first every week that I wasn’t in first. It’s tough to swallow when you fall out of first place,” he said.
After Sunday night, however, there was nowhere to fall, with Kahane in first place all alone. And for eternity, as he put it.
“The coolest thing about this is that 3,122 other people wish they were in my place,” Kahane said. “The accomplishment is so much cooler than the money. The accomplishment will last me the rest of my life. When they bury me, that’s going on my tombstone.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.