X-Factors That Throw Off "Expert" Predictions
Right about now, dozens of football experts are busy typing away their annual Season Previews, complete with prognostications telling us their best guess over who will win their divisions, make the playoffs, the Super Bowl and take home the Lombardi Trophy. They look over new rosters, amendments in coaching staffs and updates in player development, before placing their picks on paper and provide the fodder for reporters at the end of the season when one team, “predicted at the end of the year to…” well, doesn’t.
But why don’t they? What happens that makes all these “experts” into fools, aside from the “Any Given Sunday” concept that happens in the post-season?
While there are some things an “expert” can predict, there are other factors that can easily derail the consensus argument that the Jets are the team to beat this year.
Predictions are heavily based on rosters, filled by players. However, when they get injured, those players won’t be there to fulfill these prophecies. If they knew Tom Brady, Michael Vick or Troy Polamalu would spend most the season on the IR, they’d not only account for it, but also suffer endless hate mail. Not to mention if they predicted a team would become injury-depleted, their credibility would be beyond questioned, too.
Aside from the chemistry issues a coach staff is supposed to manage, sometimes they take a look at their depth chart and see a new scheme of plays to run. Fortunately for them, their opponents won’t see it coming. And, unfortunately, neither can the experts. Their analyses of players gets completely thrown off, and when the players performances become unexpected, the predictions of how well the teams will do undeniably fall apart .
Breakthrough Players I: Late-round draft picks
While the first-rounders are expected to be impact players, the seventh-round players are kind of treated like a crapshoot. Some teams roll snake eyes, while others roll sevens. Either way, their expected impact is minimal, and when it isn’t, that throws off the “experts” who safely expect them to be role players or starters after a few years working up the depth chart.
Admittedly, some educated gueses are made, but for the most part, it's easier to hedge your bet, play the odds and hope that the one team that hit the late-round jackpot isn't the one you thought it'd be.
Breakthrough Players II: Off the Bench
Even if the experts are right, when they do work their way up the depth chart, they still have to have that breakthrough year to prove they deserve a higher score on the following year’s Madden game. It can happen from the afore-mentioned injuries, but there are also times it happens with a free agent leaving or retirement. Either way, the player isn’t proven until the game is finally played, which might as well be a coin-flip.
Breakthrough Players III: Free Agents
Yes, many experts can see a big-name signing like LaDainian Tomlinson as the key to make a good team great. But it’s also sometimes the one that fly under the radar that finally find a home in a different locker room or with a different system. Experts will use their past performance to judge the future, but just because they didn't work out under one situation doesn't guarantee difficulties in every situation.
In contrast, the reverse can happen of any of those three. The reason why teams draft players pick a player so high in the draft, is traded for, or signed, as a free agent is that they think the player will do well. Experts may be a little critical about who the team didn’t select or sign, but for the most part, they have to give benefit of the doubt that the player will do well. And when they don’t, it’s back to the drawing board.
The refs are probably (hopefully) rated by the league, and although we’re not supposed to directly see these ratings, you can cynically decipher them indirectly (The higher profile the game, the better the ref, plus not all refs retire one would suppose.). And most previews don’t say who will be officiating each game. Seriously, does anyone know when they reveal who the zebras are, or is it basically seeing who’s got the most frequent flyer miles?
Anyway, one bad call at the wrong time can make the difference between a win and a loss. And as we also know, one loss can make the difference between making the playoffs and watching the post-season at home. Not to mention if a ref gets on a roll screwing one team, it can lead to a bad loss or even an injury when they keep the laundry in their pocket.
Sometimes a good team just doesn’t show up, and sometimes a bad team plays out of their heads. Other times, a player or two will have the “mental mistakes” that cost their teams. Usually, a player – or combination of them – just makes the occasional great play in the second quarter than runs a wrong route in the third.
The problem is you can’t tell when it will happen, or what combinations. This probably causes at least half the upsets in the NFL that derail expectations.
Random Acts of Unpredictability
No one knows where a deflected pass is going to happen, much less who will catch it and where – if caught – they’ll take it. They happen, and sometimes they can change the course of a game. You also don’t know the internal politics of a team.A fluke play here, a fumbled ball goig out of bounds, a punt with a friendly bounce. They can all add up if they go your way - or against you. And if a game's on the line when one of these freak plays happen, it can be another difference between win or loss...and more.
Over the course of a season, good teams emerge and bad teams fall by the waistside, making most experts mostly correct. Then again, maybe it also push that contender over the hump, or snakebite a contender out of the post-season. Yet it only takes a small amount of these X-factors that can make the difference between making the playoffs, winning a division, getting home-field advantage…or not. But when you’re an expert predicting who will when you know these things happen, isn’t it worth a shot guessing when/where they will happen?