The long-running SuperContest and the newcomer Circa Million wrapped up Sunday, as the NFL’s regular season came to an end. Covers talked with the newly minted millionaires, whose scores were almost identical in each contest, and spoke with two brothers who came tantalizingly close to a first-place prize.
On Sunday morning, the city of Grand Island, Nebraska, was in the wake of a snowstorm. So the frigid weather on the fruited plain certainly wasn’t going to make Eric Jensen sweat.
Fortunately, for the most part, neither did the NFL’s Week 17 slate. By the time the late games kicked off, Jensen and his longtime buddy Matt Kucera – located a couple hours away in equally frozen Omaha – had already locked down first place in the prestigious SuperContest at The SuperBook at Westgate.
The Patriots’ shocking outright loss to the Dolphins, coupled with the Saints easily covering against the Panthers, secured the victory.
“You know what? I was just happy I didn’t have to sweat it out all day,” Jensen told Covers. “I was digging out snow all day. It’s still surreal to me. It’s hard to believe this is really happening.”
As the State Farm commercial says, though, “Oh, it’s happening.” Operating under the team name It Ain’t Breezy, Jensen, 38, and Kucera, 36, pooled their cranial resources to finish with 59 out of a possible 85 points (69.4 percent) in the contest, in which entrants make five plays per week against the spread. It Ain’t Breezy had a 1.5-point lead heading into Week 17 and went 3-2, meaning it would take a 5-0 to catch them, which did not happen.
Kucera was equally stunned when Jensen phoned him and said there’d be no sweating the later games.
“He said, ‘It’s over.’ I was like, ‘Shut up!’ And he said, ‘No, we won!’” Kucera recounted. “I was helping my 2-year-old daughter building with Lincoln Logs. I had to go back to that. She doesn’t care!”
In Week 17, It Ain’t Breezy went with the Saints -13/Titans -3.5/Colts -3.5/Rams -3/Giants +4.5. New Orleans rolled at Carolina 42-10, Tennessee – with a number that was long gone, as the game closed -9.5 – coasted at Houston 35-14, and Los Angeles topped visiting Arizona 31-24 to beat the contest number in a game that closed Rams -7.
But again, once the Saints won and Patriots lost early, second-place entrant Crispr – with four Week 17 plays in common – could no longer catch It Ain’t Breezy. For Jensen and Kucera – who both lauded Kelly Stewart’s proxy service for getting their plays in each week – it was the culmination of a solid last several weeks.
“We really started to make a push at about Week 13,” Jensen said. “We’d been knocking out 3-2s, 4-1s, occasionally get a 5-0. In Week 13, we were in the top 3 percent or so.”
That was pretty impressive on its own, in a field of 3,328 who ponied up the $1,500 entry fee.
“Week 15 is where we got on a real heater,” Jensen continued. “We went 5-0, then in Week 16 went 4-0-1.”
Kucera chimed in: “We were 1.5 points out of first going into Week 16, and we came out 1.5 points ahead after Week 16.”
Jensen and Kucera, who have been friends since their days playing youth/Legion baseball together in small-town Nebraska, said they had a few strategical points that worked well for them. But there was one concept they leaned on all season long.
“One thing Eric and I always do when we’re stuck on a team or a game is that we look at the quarterback, and then we look at the coach,” Kucera said. “If the better coach and better quarterback are on the same team, then the majority of the time, we’ll pick that team.”
That strategy came into play a couple of times in Week 17. Initially, Jensen and Kucera had the Cowboys, but that would have put all five of their plays in the late games, something they were wary of. So they looked at the early kicks and considered the Saints, then did the comparison between New Orleans and Dallas.
“That’s the reason we took the Saints over the Cowboys,” Jensen said. “Jason Garrett is not as good a coach as Sean Payton, and Drew Brees is light years ahead of Dak Prescott.”
As it turned out, the Cowboys won and covered, too, though that pick would’ve prolonged It Ain’t Breezy’s sweat. Jensen and Kucera employed the same coach/QB strategy in taking the Rams over the Cardinals.
It all worked out to the tune of $1.469 million, not bad at all for the $1,500 outlay this year, as well as last year’s $1,500, when the two joined the contest for the first time and finished a tick above .500 with 43.5 points. Second-place Crispr pocketed $505,190 in a contest that pays the top 100 and ties.
“When we first got into this, we never thought we’d be doing interviews two years later,” Kucera said, while thanking Jay Kornegay and all those at The SuperBook who manage this massive contest.
Added Jensen: “We’re just two regular guys who are happy we won it. We’ll have a good time with it and probably enter next year.”
“There’s no probably about it,” Kucera said. “We’ll be in it next year.”
In a lengthy and wide-ranging conversation with Isaac Meier, perhaps the comment that stood out most was one in which the winner of Circa Sports’ inaugural Circa Million contest spoke about his weekly process in making five NFL picks against the spread.
“This is the funniest thing: I didn’t make any of the picks,” Meier told Covers, before going on to explain how his plays, under the contest name Booty Blockers, came to fruition. “I eliminated all the games that I thought weren’t pickable – either too close to call, in my opinion, or no way I could pick this team in any situation. I whittled it down to five games, and based on my checklist, if it was favorable to one side, I’d pick the favorable side.”
In some instances, if the game was overwhelmingly favorable to one side – a red flag for Meier – he’d allow flexibility to possibly take the other side or move off that game. It was certainly a great strategy when paired with all the other analysis and metrics the financial portfolio manager employed to finish with 58.5 out of a possible 85 points – 68.82 percent – to claim the $1 million top prize.
But the conversation got even more fascinating as Meier revealed a few other nuggets about his weekly picks in the $1,000 entry-fee contest.
“I avoided taking games involving the Bears or the Raiders, because if you bet on or against those teams, you’re going to get screwed more likely than not, being on the wrong side for the wrong reasons,” Meier said. “Those two teams have something that is like the anti-bet. I also didn’t pick the Browns once, and I didn’t pick the Jaguars once.”
Furthermore, Meier never played a stand-alone game – Thursday night, Sunday night, Monday night, or even the three Saturday games in Week 16.
So when all of the above was applied to Week 17, and with a 1.5-point lead, his five plays were: Saints -13/Patriots -16/Eagles -4.5/Titans -3.5/Colts -2.5. The Saints, Eagles and Titans gave him a 3-2 week, meaning it would take a 5-0 mark to beat him. Philly proved to be the clinching victory, as his closest pursuers took the Giants in that game.
It was all about sticking to what worked all season.
“My day job is in finance, and I work a lot with the stock market and numbers and analysis. The key was using what I used in analysis for companies and applying it to teams,” the 34-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “Generally speaking, that also includes using common sense. Sometimes a team on paper looks really, really good, but given the situation, the opponent and the motivation, there’ll be a huge discrepancy.”
Meier noted there was a huge discrepancy favoring the Patriots against the Dolphins in Week 17. But that was one instance in which he felt the motivation – assuring a playoff bye and home-field advantage in the divisional round – was too much to bypass his normal stance of proceeding with caution on teams that had too many favorables.
It didn’t cost him any ground, as he ended up maintaining his 1.5-point lead, with entrant Live Odds taking second with 57 points to earn $100,000, followed by a third-place tie between entrants thebetbot.com, SD-2 and MJTADE at 56 ($41,667 apiece).
Meier led the contest from Week 12 onward, despite his last five weeks being his worst stretch – 3 points every week. Still, he was confident throughout that he’d finish on top, leading to a measured reaction once victory was assured.
“I was much more relaxed than I would even expect,” said Meier, who also shared one of the $143,750 quarterly prizes, tying one other entrant for the top score from Weeks 9-12. “It’s not like I made one big bet and won a million dollars. It was 85 individual bets, and it all led up to this. I was sitting there watching (Week 17 games) with my wife. She’s been great throughout all of it. She wanted to watch the last week with me.
“I told her, ‘As long as the Ravens win and the Eagles cover, we’re good.’ After that happened, I was like, ‘That’s it, we got it.’ She got super excited. She was much more up-and-down emotional than me during the Eagles game, which was closer than the score indicated.”
Indeed, the host Giants tied it at 17 late in the third quarter, before Philadelphia pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 34-17 win and cover.
Meier gave much credit to his proxy – Kelly Stewart’s service doubled up, with the winner of both Circa Million and the SuperContest – and couldn’t gush enough about the ingenuity of Circa Las Vegas chief Derek Stevens and his sportsbook staff headed up by Matt Metcalf.
“Circa and Derek and Matt, and Mike Palm and Jeff Benson, deserve a big round of applause for a job well done. It was an organized, fun and interactive contest,” Meier said. “I’ll do it again.”
OH SO CLOSE
If you paid any attention to the SuperContest standings on a weekly basis, then you’re certainly familiar with Tuco-1. For an impressive 13 of the 17 weeks, the entry of brothers Jenson and Dane So either led or was tied for the lead in the record field of 3,300-plus contestants.
Jenson and Dane, who both work in finance in the Bay Area, also tied for the top score in Weeks 1-4 and again in Weeks 5-8, splitting $15,000 each time. But over the last few weeks, they just couldn’t keep hold of that top spot, ultimately finishing fourth with 55.5 points, 3.5 behind the winning entry of It Ain’t Breezy.
“It still stings, for sure, especially when you’re that close,” Jenson told Covers. “We’ve played the contest for six years and never been that close. But it was a fun season.”
Indeed, as much as the two wanted that $1.469 million first-place prize, they still won approximately $218,000 on a $1,500 entry fee, a superb return on investment. They had a win percentage of 65.3, which any bettor would gladly accept.
Jenson, 37, and Dane, 36, successfully used their finance background to help analyze their picks each week, but they also had another key component to their game plan.
“For sure, it was looking at underdogs who we thought could win straight up,” Jenson said. “The points were just a cushion. I felt that strategy was working pretty well. It worked out over the course of the season. Luck played into it, as well.”
However, standing in third place and 2.5 points out of first heading into Week 17, Jenson and Dane had to mix it up a bit and likely go 5-0 to have a shot at winning. They tried to keep their plays – submitted throughout the season by proxies Matty Simo and Toni Law – from matching those of the two entries above them, It Ain’t Breezy and Crispr.
“We wanted to go a little contrarian,” Jenson said. “There were a few stale lines, including on the Titans and the Rams. We knew the consensus would be on those plays. I’d do that, too, if I was in first place. We stayed away from those games and picked our best five, in hopes of making a move. We took a little bit more risky plays, because No. 1 was always the goal. For us, it would’ve been life-changing money, so we might as well go for the big prize.”
The picks: Bengals +2.5 vs. Browns; Panthers +13 vs. Saints; Giants +4.5 vs. Eagles; Patriots -15.5 vs. Dolphins; and 49ers -3.5 at Seahawks. Only Cincinnati and San Francisco got there, allowing the entry of Pro’s and Con’s – which went 4-1 in Week 17 – to overtake Tuco for third and collect $275,558.
But at least that Niners win and cover proved lucrative, putting Tuco-1 in solo fourth place to boost the winnings by about $25,000.
“This is our hobby, what we love to do outside of our day-to-day work,” Jenson said. “We enjoy the process. It’s a sport we love to watch. This was the most fun season for us, for sure.”
So will they be back for a seventh year?
“Oh yeah, definitely. We love it!”
The SuperBook at Westgate also again held SuperContest Gold, a winner-take-all contest in which each contestant submits a $5,000 entry fee. The entry dubbed Walter Payton went 4-1 in Week 17 to finish with 53.5 points and claim the $585,000 purse in the field of 117. Walter Payton needed all four wins, as second-place IG:ThisIsWalkerAT-1 went 5-0 in Week 17 to finish with 52.5 points.
In the SuperContest Reboot, a new SuperBook contest covering the last nine weeks of the NFL season, the entry of Fisherman-1 earned 32 of a possible 45 points to win the first-place prize of $44,840. The entry of On My Way-1 was second at 31 ($22,420) in the contest that had 236 contestants fronting the $500 entry fee.
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.