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Ten thousand stories

Posted by Doug on June 2, 2006

Following up on a 15-year-old idea of Bill James, I decided to simulate 10,000 NFL seasons and see what would happen. Well I'm going to milk that idea for several posts. So if the idea doesn't intrigue you, you might want to check back in in a week or so. I'll still be here when you get back.

Today I'm just going to post one gnarly table and let you find interesting things in it if you're so inclined. Then, in keeping with Friday tradition, I'm going to get a bit silly.

Here is the table. It shows how often the team whose true quality was ranked Nth in the NFL finished the regular season with each given seed in their conference. Rank is the true quality rank, #1, #2, etc denote how many times the team with the given rank earned that seed, and OOP is the number of times they missed the playoffs:


========= seed ============
Rank #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 OOP
========================================
1 3822 1906 1106 469 1083 567 1047
2 2634 1827 1160 634 1235 753 1757
3 2039 1672 1192 740 1193 865 2299
4 1692 1435 1161 798 1325 879 2710
5 1356 1383 1118 818 1195 978 3152
6 1128 1245 1126 870 1186 952 3493
7 991 1156 1116 880 1087 952 3818
8 881 1008 1050 814 992 953 4302
9 789 957 949 886 954 907 4558
10 672 850 942 896 910 896 4834
11 532 758 882 928 823 901 5176
12 498 651 819 868 802 875 5487
13 447 657 824 797 789 845 5641
14 401 580 769 775 719 809 5947
15 361 540 633 796 665 726 6279
16 282 477 635 757 622 743 6484
17 247 445 572 692 572 683 6789
18 218 386 492 680 517 703 7004
19 174 333 448 695 463 680 7207
20 178 288 410 660 446 573 7445
21 146 263 435 602 412 543 7599
22 102 239 370 592 368 480 7849
23 105 222 298 566 307 461 8041
24 81 164 312 484 298 452 8209
25 58 137 282 459 242 374 8448
26 58 133 214 432 205 320 8638
27 36 88 197 367 189 297 8826
28 27 70 169 332 149 273 8980
29 20 54 106 264 106 225 9225
30 13 38 103 172 84 173 9417
31 9 31 73 165 38 107 9577
32 3 7 37 112 24 55 9762

If you put a decimal point in there you've got percentages. So the best team in football missed the playoffs about 10.47% of the time, roughly once every ten seasons on average. The best team in football got a bye roughly 57% of the time. The worst team in football made the playoffs about 2.4% of the time.

Now we're going to going to play a game called "Am I as much of a freak as Doug is?"

To start with, I am going to pick one of my ten thousand seasons, totally at random, and I'm going to post a summary of it right here. I want you to spend a few minutes looking over it before reading on.


buf 15- 1
nwe 7- 9
mia 6-10
nyj 4-12

bal 9- 7
cle 8- 8
pit 6-10
cin 4-12

jax 12- 4
ten 8- 8
hou 7- 9
ind 7- 9

den 10- 6
sdg 9- 7
kan 8- 8
oak 7- 9

was 10- 6
dal 9- 7
phi 5-11
nyg 1-15

det 11- 5
gnb 10- 6
chi 8- 8
min 8- 8

car 10- 6
tam 9- 7
nor 8- 8
atl 5-11

sfo 13- 3
sea 10- 6
stl 6-10
ari 6-10

AFC Playoffs:
Wildcard: KC over Denver, SD over Baltimore
Divisional: KC over Buffalo, Jacksonville over SD
Championship: KC over Jacksonville

NFC Playoffs:
Wildcard: Washington over Seattle, Carolina over Green Bay
Divisional: San Fran over Carolina, Washington over Detroit
Championship: San Fran over Washington

I know I have a reader who's a Browns' fan, did you notice that your team missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker? Did anyone notice that an 8-8 team beat a 15-1 team in the playoffs, and that that 8-8 team made it to the Super Bowl? Do you have a mental picture of what that 15-1 Buffalo team looked like, what they played like? What about the 8-8 Super Bowl Chiefs? Do you think they were a running-and-defense team or do you think they won those playoff games 45-38? Did you find yourself thinking that the AFC West and NFC North were probably a lot of fun from start to finish that year?

Did you check to see what your favorite team's record was? Did you check to see if it was better than their main rival's record? If I invented an emoto-scope and hooked you up to it, would it have detected some tiny bit of happiness when you saw your team's record was better?

Finally, did you notice that I didn't tell you who won the Super Bowl? Did you find yourself wanting to know who won it?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you might just be as much of a freak as Doug is. The only possible way you could be more of a freak than Doug is, is if you had an urge to gamble on this Super Bowl.

If I were more eloquent, I'd have something really great to say here about the grip that sports has on our minds. You're all smart people, and you were fully aware that the output above was generated by a bunch of random numbers. But because the random numbers were collated in a specific way and attached to some city names, I'm willing to bet that at least a few of you found them interesting.

If I were more familiar with math history and/or the philosophical side of math, I might have something really great to say about the incredible efficiency of numbers in their ability to tell a story. The standings above are essentially a labeled table of numbers containing roughly 200 characters. Is there any way to write 200 characters of prose that would evoke as clear or as many mental images as those standings did?

In my program that plays out these simulated seasons, I built in a flag that alerts me when something odd happens, like a team with a losing record winning the Super Bowl or a team going undefeated. When I go in to check out those flags, I find myself scrolling up to the season above or down to the season below, about which there is nothing special. But somehow those seasons are always just as fascinating as the flagged ones.

These make-believe seasons were intended to simulate reality in the present day NFL. If you're like me, and you find a random made-up season interesting, then I think the lesson here is that the present day NFL is incapable of producing an uninteresting season. There may be a 24% chance that the best team will win and a 10% chance they'll miss the playoffs, but there is apparently a 100% chance that I will enjoy the NFL in 2006.

Unless Dallas wins.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 2nd, 2006 at 4:16 am and is filed under Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.