by Alex Langer
We’ve just finished Week Three of the NFL season, less than one-quarter of the way through, but if your team was 0-2 going into this week, you most likely wasted three hours watching them, because history says they have very little shot at making the playoffs. Every year before Week Two, articles come out with statistics about how often 0-2 teams make the playoffs versus 1-1 teams. For instance, this 2009 ESPN article points out that teams that begin 0-2 only make the playoffs ten percent of the time. Since then, only three teams (the Seahawks last season, the 2014 Colts, and the 2013 Panthers) have made the playoffs after beginning 0-2. The point of that article was to highlight the improbability of the New York Giants’ Super Bowl victory over the undefeated New England Patriots, especially because the Giants began the season 0-2. This ESPN article’s thesis was that the pessimism surrounding an 0-2 start was nearly impossible to recover from; that establishing momentum after such a poor start is extremely difficult.
Last week, the Nate Silver website, fivethirtyeight.com, argued that the first few weeks of the season are critical to the hopes of NFL teams. The article is worth a read, but the basic gist is that wins in the beginning of the season matter more than near the end of the season, and are better at predicting overall records than later wins. It argues this in spite of teams such as the 2007 and 2011 Giants, the 2012 Ravens, and the 2014 Seahawks, who all began the season slowly, only to make the Super Bowl. Silver, always a fan of analytics, argues that the early games in a season are of greater predicative worth than the games near the end of the season. In layman’s terms, wins in week two are worth twice as much as wins as late as week twelve or so. So, teams that go 1-1 are expected to finish at 8-8, he claims, while teams that begin 0-2 are only expected to win six games at the most.
by Keith Aksel
It’s a national pastime; when preseason college football polls are released, people go up in arms about their absurdity, their baselessness, and their over-reliance on the past to inform the present. Every new edition of the polls brings a new wave of criticism and rebuke. Fans run to internet message boards to weigh in on why “A&M should be ranked outside of the top 15,” and why “UCLA’s schedule is weak, and they aren’t worthy of a top ten ranking yet.” The general fan consensus seems to state that over all, polls are wrong and unhelpful, and that polls should be ignored until the CFP rankings are released later in the season.
Yet there is an odd cycle of hypocrisy at work among fans that actually works against their anti-poll sentiments. While fans claim to think polls are ridiculous and irrelevant, they continue to reify the place of polls in the sports fan world by fixating on them endlessly. And doing so misses the hard truth that in a very real sense, fans are actually right on the irrelevance of polls.
by Chris Foss
As I typed this column, it was interesting for me to note that the word “Brexit” was not a spelling error. The word has entered our lexicon for better or worse, as the British are seemingly on the verge of leaving the European Union after a “Remain” or “Exit” referendum that took place on June 23. At a conference I attended that day in San Diego, my European colleagues were unanimously dismayed after the “Exit” vote narrowly carried the day among British voters. Among the concerns registered among the conference-goers, however, one important one was not discussed: what the impacts would be on the sports world.
Below is a brief digest (with links) of some of the initial reactions of the sports world to Brexit, followed by a brief analysis of the situation from a sports fan’s perspective.
by Alex Langer
Baseball is designed to test your patience, to test your soul. The season is long. After the initial excitement of April and the first glimpses of how your team is faring, baseball slips into the endless days of summer, where five or six-game winning streaks are often followed up by three and four-game losing streaks. The summer months test baseball fans to their core. But its September now. There are fewer than thirty games to go. The pennant race is in full swing.
At the end of 162 games, consisting of at least 1,458 innings, two teams in each league will get the pleasure of their season coming down to a one-game playoff, the so-called Wild Card Playoff, now in its fifth year. After the marathon of the baseball season, designed to let talent and resilience win out, two teams will send exhausted pitchers to the mound for the chance to officially enter the playoffs. Currently there are seven teams in the American League and five in the National League that have a legitimate shot at making one of those two wild card spots. The Seattle Mariners, who have missed out on the playoffs for over half of my life, are one of those teams, though their recent play leaves little in the way of optimism. Let’s say for the sake of argument, however, that they manage to sneak in to the second of the two Wild Card spots, and play the Boston Red Sox in a one-game playoff. And lose. Did they truly make the playoffs? Can Mariner fans claim the drought is over?