Nestled somewhere in the cozy confines of Cambridge, Massachusetts is a little old college that you may have heard about. Harvard is known for producing things like U.S. presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and Supreme Court Justices. And in the football world, it has produced NFL players like Matt Birk and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now we can add NFL team projections to that list.
The esteemed folks at Harvard - actually some guy named Kurt Bullard, who designed a prediction model for the 2015 NFL season – posted a study on the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective (HSAC) webpage this week, using a formula that, based on all kinds of really smart-sounding scientific mumbo jumbo, has the Dolphins going to the Super Bowl this season.
Yes, you read that right. The Dolphins. Going to the Super Bowl.
Got your attention yet?
The Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective (HSAC) is an “organization at Harvard College dedicated to the quantitative analysis of sports strategy and management.” So they gotta know their stuff, right?
Now granted, this study doesn't mean a lot in the grand scheme of things. It's only July, and Vegas isn't exactly scrambling to update their odds on Super Bowl contenders (yet). But since Harvard is known for producing such smart people and all, let’s take a look at how Bullard came up with his predictions. (Warning: highly boring scientific mumbo jumbo ahead - if you haven’t had your coffee yet, you might want to skip the next five paragraphs and go straight to the pretty picture.)
“The biggest challenge obviously is to come up with a sound way to estimate team strength, an endeavor that’s demanding considering the amount of personnel turnover each offseason and the lack of advanced statistics to evaluate player interactions.The method that I came up with uses Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value statistic, the site’s best measure of trying to tease out individual talent. Then, using ESPN’s NFL depth charts, I aggregated each team’s per game approximate value of what I considered to be the “core” makeup of an NFL team: QB, RB, 2 WR, TE, Top 2 OL, the Top-4 “Front Seven” defensive players, and the Top-2 players from the secondary."
Translated, he’s basically saying he weighed a team's top seven offensive players vs. another team's top seven offensive players. And on defense he matched up a team's top nine vs. another team's top nine.
And just to make sure it sounded all Harvard-y, Bullard added this:
“To make sure this was a sound method, I tested it out on last year’s data and ran a regression to see if AV was predictive of the end-of-regular season ELO ratings as reported by FiveThirtyEight. Aggregated AV was indeed significant with a T-stat of 8.57. It was also a strong predictor of ELO, as the regression returned a .72 R-Squared value."
Continuing to put us all to sleep, Bullard continued:
“I then converted the aggregated AV for each team into an ELO rating so that I could later use that value to calculate the win probability of each team in each game this season. With the mean ELO rating set at 1500, I set the possible range of ELO values between 1320-1900, since the standard deviation of ELO ratings has traditionally been 90 points. So, the Raiders, who had the lowest AV aggregate (76.34) were set to 1320, while the Seahawks (166.19) were set to 1680. The rest of the teams were set on the scale based on the following formula: 1320 + (360/(166.19-76.34))*AV.”
Yeah, I have no idea what that means. But in spite of all that, the study included a pretty colored picture showing the Dolphins as the top-ranked team AFC team. Now this I can appreciate!
The image above is from the study, courtesy of the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective (HSAC). Bullard’s original post, with more mumbo jumbo and another pretty picture, can be viewed here: http://harvardsportsanalysis.org/2015/07/a-way-too-early-prediction-of-the-nfl-season.
How about that, huh? Miami is the third-strongest team in the league, and the top-ranked team in the AFC!
Note that it won’t be the easiest road to the Super Bowl for Miami, as all four of the teams in the AFC East are listed in the top ten. But as a die-hard Dolphins fan, it sure is fun to imagine Miami not only beating out New England for the AFC East crown, but beating out everyone else in the conference for the AFC Championship.
Going to the Super Bowl.
I'm so excited, I might break out in song! Sing along now:
Miami has the Dolphins,
The greatest football team.
They take the ball from goal to goal,
Like no one’s ever seen.
We’re in the air, we’re on the ground,
We’re always in control.
And when you say Miami,
You’re talking Super Bowl!
Now excuse me while I get busy looking for tickets in the Dolphins section at Super Bowl L in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016. See you there!
This story was written/imagined by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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