Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Dumb Statistic Alert

So, I'm watching the football game last night and Al Micheals says something like: "I know you (John Madden) agree with me that it seems that the team that has the ball last in the Super Bowl always seems to win". It is a rough paraphrase, bear with me.

This was presented as if it were an enormous insight. Let's step back for a second. There are 4 possible normal conclusions to a football game at the two minute warning.

1. The team with the ball at the warning is way ahead.

2. The team with the ball is ahead but by less than a touchdown.

3. The team with the ball is way behind.

4. The team with the ball is behind but by less than a touchdown.

Now, in scenerio 1 the team with the ball will usually gracefully run out the clock by running the ball or kneeling on the play (depending on the opposing team's timeout situation). So, the team with the ball will be the winner.

In scenerio 2 the team with the ball will attempt to run out the clock as well, but may attempt to score depending on the exact circumstnaces.

In scenerio 3 the team with the ball is likely to quickly and aggressively strike for the endzone. Doing this is likely to lead to: a score (which means the team with the lead gets the ball back and we are back to scenerio 1), a turnover (same story), or a loss of downs (same story).

In fact, it is only in scenerio 4 where we might expect the team with the ball at the end of the game to be the losers. They have the ball and need to get the final score. But if they get it and time runs out, once again the team with the ball at the end of the game wins.

So, Al Michaels brilliant theory boils down to: it is pretty rare for a team to have the ball at the end of the game, be down by less than a touchdown, and fail to score at the end of their final drive. Not that interesting.

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