Wednesday, October 17, 2012

About Power Rankings

It seems like a very popular exercise in today's media driven sports world is creating a Power Ranking as the season progresses to see which team seems to be leading the pack at various junctures during the season. Presumably, this gives the studied fan and the experts a chance to forecast which teams are most likely bound for playoff glory and Super Bowl contention. In reality, it is just another conversation starter, another attention grabber, a gimmick to get clicks and eyeballs on the web sites without real meaning. Having said that, it is a fun conversation item, good water cooler chatter and it is interesting to see which teams are considered the favorites in the league. How do you evaluate which team is the best in the league right now? If you simply look at record, everyone would agree that the Falcons at 6-0 are best in the NFC and Texans/Ravens with only 1 loss each are best in the AFC. In fact virtually all the power rankings I have seen have these teams in the top 4 or 5 of the league. (Someone will no doubt come out with a web tool that searches all the power rankings on the web, and averages them all together for a pooled power ranking. Kind of like: Gallup Polls meets the NFL Power Ranking game.) The problem with considering the current record of each team above all else is that it neglects to take into account what kind of schedule each team has played and how good they looked in those games. I know the old Parcells-ism "you are what your records says you are", but that's not entirely true, certainly not in the middle of the season before the entire schedule is played out. Looking at the Giants, for example, until week 6 and you could certainly question the Giants 3-2 record. They beat 3 poor teams in the Bucs, Browns and Panthers without looking very strong in two of those games. And they lost to their division rivals Eagles and Cowboys in the only games they played against talented teams. Of course the SF win in week 6 may have validated them as a serious team, but my point is - schedule is relevant.

Looking at the Falcons 6-0, for another example, they barely squeaked by 3 weak teams to achieve that 6-0 record. You can only play the teams on your schedule, so you can't knock them for winning. But my question is this: Do you think the "best team" is one that is very consistent, finds a way to win even when it doesn't play particularly well. Is it a team that never stumbles or stubs its toe by losing to a team that it should beat and always plays to its level? Or is it a team that occasionally plays poorly when it shouldn't, but can also rise up, play at the highest level and can beat the best teams in the league. For my money - it is the latter that has greatness within them.

Consider two students that both have an average of 80 on their exams. You might call them equal as students and equally intelligent. But if one student got his 80 average by getting a score of 80 on every exam and another did it by getting 60 on half his exams and 100 on his other exams, you might evaluate them differently. The one that got half 100s has brilliance within him but doesn't always perform at his best. The one that gets 80 on every exam - that's his ceiling. You know which kid the Giants were last year.

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