Monday, January 03, 2011

Self-Criticism Is Good for You -- Says Somebody Else

Before the NFL season began, I forecast that the Patriots would win the AFC East. This was correct. Yay!

I also predicted that the Pats would be just about as good a team as they were the season before, with a 10-6 record or thereabouts. This was somewhat less than correct.

What did I do wrong? Nothing. It's just that the Patriots proved me wrong through two major unforeseen-by-me accomplishments, one I feel slightly bad about missing, the other one I expect was unforeseen by the whole damn franchise back in September.

Accomplishment one is that Tom Brady had one of the two best and for my money the best regular season of his already legendary career. I should have made allowances for that possibility. With Hall of Famers, off-the-charts performances are always in the cards. Few will predict that Albert Pujols will win the Triple Crown in 2011, but nobody's going to bet too much money he won't, either.

Accomplishment two was the astonishing improvement curve of the Pats' defense in the second half of the season, which directly contradicted my forecast that the defense would struggle to establish cohesion due to the introduction of many new starters. This feat is a tribute to both the players and coaches involved, and those responsible cannot receive too much praise, although I'm sure Glen, Fred and Steve will test that assertion.

Accomplishments one and two add up to New England's ridiculous plus margin in the takeaway/giveaway ratio. That statistic alone, if the Pats had done nothing else this year, hell, if Brady had retired before the season started, would likely have given them that 10-6 record I murkily foresaw.

Just like on Wall Street, forecasts in sports tend to fluctuate in excess in response to each new bit of real data. After Week One, the Houston Texans were the coming force in the AFC. Michael Vick has gone from MVP to a menace to his own team off the results of one poor game.

All available data makes the Pats the overwhelming consensus favorite to win the Super Bowl. Really now, who else could anyone pick without admitting they were playing something of a longshot?

Consensus forecasts have about the same track record as individual ones -- mixed, very mixed. The Pats were overwhelming favorites to win the Super Bowl when the 2004 playoffs began, and they did. They were even more overwhelming favorites when the 2007 playoffs began, and they didn't.

That's why forecasting is easier than football. A .500 record can be a winner in places other than the NFC West.


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