27 December 2015

Completely random sportsball post

I haven't followed football at all this year. I am vaguely aware that the Panthers are undefeated in spite of this limitation, simply because football information is damn near inescapable in America. I was asked, as one often is when one is male at a larger social gathering, of an opinion for the quality of NFL prospects for winning the Super Bowl. One thing I do know, or at least think I know, is that the computer rankings of NFL teams tend to be much, much more reliable than raw records in forecasting performance. Records are mostly irrelevant because football teams do not play enough games, nor against the same quality of schedule to use it as even a casual basis for evaluation. Every year a few teams can and frequently will accumulate gaudy records against inferior competition, with limited skill of their own often by what amounts to sheer luck, and a few teams will struggle for the same reasons. By contrast, baseball, basketball, and hockey teams all play many more games, and against somewhat more even schedule qualities that a record can signify roughly the actual performance of a team (there is still some variance that can be examined and usually explained by things such as a higher or lower quality bullpen).

It was further assumed that home field advantages matter. They don't matter that much. Quality of opponents may matter as a route to a title game, and that can give advantages to higher ranked teams by record that they may get to play crummier teams in the playoffs, but higher quality teams will tend to win games where ever they are played, and seeding isn't a guarantee of playing lower quality teams.

The reason this came up is that when I replied with the relevant information I could look up quickly and form an opinion based around, the teams I said would worry about would be the Seahawks and Cardinals over the Panthers. These are teams rated ahead of Carolina in computer rankings (Seattle in fact is rated well ahead). Cardinals are at least the #2 seed in the conference, so most people would expect them to be a reasonable challenger. The Seahawks only clinched a playoff spot in the last week. Seattle may end up playing Carolina in the playoffs fairly early (assume that Seattle beats the NFC East winner, and Minnesota loses to Green Bay).

So why is a computer ranking system so sour on an undefeated team? They appear to have very poor quality special teams, and only an above average offense (not a good offense, just a little above average) to pair with an excellent defense. Their competition has very good offenses (Arizona #3, Seattle #2, both well ahead of Carolina at #8) paired with very good defenses (Arizona's is rated #3, Carolina is #2, Seattle is #5).

None of that means that I would think Carolina is a bad team, unlikely to compete for a title. Football playoffs can break oddly and unpreditcably more easily than most sports. And they are a good team this year. But that's also not what I was asked (something like who has the best chances was the question).

What sometimes happens when people ask me a question I find is that they expect a certain answer. And then don't get it. And get something somewhat unconventional instead. That can make for a very interesting conversation. Except I think many people ask questions on the expectations that some other person will affirm their beliefs and suspicions when they answer. This makes for more rapid conversation and less argument.
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