Saturday, September 04, 2010

If You Can't Trust a Pseudonomynous Stranger on the Internet, Who Can You Trust?

Over on the Web site message board, a thread has been started for predictions on the NFL season. I bring this up only because there are preliminary indications that national sentiment as rather more bullish on your New England Patriots than you are.

As of this morning, most of the 20 or so folks who've posted predictions have picked the Pats to win the AFC East. Three of them have picked the Pats to reach the Super Bowl. I sincerely doubt that there are many Patriots fans who'd make that latter bold call. As best as I can tell, the overall mood of the New England fan community is hopeful but skittish. They remain affected by Last Game Syndrome, in which the memory of a team's last game assumes way too much influence in how one feels about said team now. The Pats' last real game, of course, was a ghastly whuppin'.

Yet here we have anonymous folks (most but not all of them work at newspaper sports sections) who seem to feel the Pats will be pretty much the same team they've been for a decade -- a damn good one. They haven't obsessed over the preseason, they probably haven't thought much about the Pats at all. They are betting on the power of inertia, on the principle that a team at or near the top tends to stay there longer than might be expected.

Like all principles of sports forecasting, that one is right just often enough to be dangerous if you're a gambler. I wouldn't want to say that my anonymous former peers have been gifted with second sight as far as the NFL goes. There's a lot of enthusiasm for the Ravens, for instance, which I can't see at all, and the consensus Super Bowl fave is the Packers, which means, as a group, members of that message board are big-time over bettors.

But I do think the contrast between what I read on that thread this morning and the mood around here, especially the very (and to me unduly) pessimistic on-the-record forecasts of local sports media is an anomaly worth studying.

Familiarity, it seems, breeds fret.


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