Cowardice In Review

Earlier this year, I dinged ESPN’s experts for making lame and unimaginative picks for the NFL season. I pointed out that they basically picked the same teams to make the playoffs this year that made it last year whereas only half of playoffs teams repeat from year to year. If you’re going to be wrong, at least be wrong with some style. As stupid as picking Cleveland to win the AFC would have been, at least it would have been entertaining. Picking Dallas to win the NFC — as most did — was both wrong and boring.

Let’s see how they did with their ultra-safe conservative picks.

They unanimously picked New England to win the AFC East. Had Brady not gotten injured, they probably would have been right. The Pats just missed.

Twelve picked Pittsburgh to win the AFC north. Right again. Four picked Cleveland which was … um … really wrong.

Ten picked Indy to take the AFC south with six taking Jacksonville. Indy was a wild card, so I’ll give them points for that. Jacksonville was a dreadful disappointment.

Everyone picked San Diego to repeat as AFC West champ. They were right but barely.

Only 5 out of 16 analysts picked Tennessee to even make the playoffs. Not one picked Baltimore or Miami. Excluding the Ravens and Dolphins seemed quite reasonable four months ago. But the reason analysts are paid money, supposedly, is to see the things that we ordinary clods don’t. Not one analyst looked at Parcell’s record or Baltimore’s defense and said, “Hey! Here’s a crazy tought…!

But so far, so good. The analysts correctly picked SD, Indy and Pitt to make the playoffs and some of them had Tennessee. I’ll cut some slack for not getting the division and wild car winners just right. Let’s give the analysts 3.5 out of 6 picks correct.

Now we get to the NFC, where it gets really fun.

Fourteen analysts picked Dallas to win the NFC East. In fact, Dallas was touted at the beginning of the season as the probable Super Bowl winner. Dallas melted down in a game Greg Easterbrook called the worst he’d ever seen. Injuries played their part but egos played a bigger and foreseeable one. Their collapse should have been especially obvious to those with insider information like, um, paid analysts.

The analysts split the NFC North between Green Bay and Minnesota. Half-right.

The NFC South was given to New Orleans on 15 ballots. Eeesh.

The NFC West was given to Seattle on 14 ballots. Oops. I chided two analysts for picking Arizona to win that division. So that’s me being dumb.

Of the six NFC playoff teams, Philadelphia and New York got a lot of picks as wild cards, Arizona and Carolina got three picks, Atlanta got none. We’ll count Philly and New York as correct picks by the analysts. With half-credit for tapping Minnesota to take the NFC North, that’s 2.5 out of 6 picks right for the analysts.

In other words, they got 6/12 picks right. The breakdown, just counting correctly called playoff teams — without any distinction between wild card and division winners — reveals the tremendous groupthink that dominated ESPN’s preseason picks:

Chadiha: 6/12
Clayton: 6/12
Graham: 4/12
Green: 4/12
Joyner: 6/12
Kuharsky: 6/12
Mosley: 6/12
Paolantonio: 5/12
Pasquarelli: 6/12 (bet he boasts about picking Arizona!)
Sando: 7/12
Seifert: 6/12
Walker: 5/12
Wickersham: 3/12 (that’s what you get for being bold, I guess)
Williamson: 6/12
Williamson II: 4/12
Yasinskas: 6/12

I praised Wickersham for making his picks interesting. But I wouldn’t be too embarrassed if I were him. The guys who went conventional didn’t do much better.

I’ll spare the analysts the embarrassment of reviewing their Super Bowl picks. Wait a minute, no I won’t:

NFC Champ: Dallas (12), New Orleans (2), Philly (1), Seattle (1)
AFC Champ: San Diego (8), New England (5), Indy (2), Jacksonville (1)

Not one analyst got even one conference champ right. Mike Sando, who got 7/12 picks right, was the only one to even pick a team that made the conference title game. In fact, he was the only analyst to pick, as NFC champ, a team that even made the playoffs.

Now, my picks weren’t much better. I got 3/12 right, taking dives on Jacksonville, Cleveland, Green Bay, Seattle, Dallas and New Orleans. That’s what I get for reading everybody else’s picks before I make mine.

But I’m not paid to do this. I don’t have exclusive insider information. I don’t live and breath football. These guys do.

I don’t mean to pick on ESPN’s analysts, really. I just think the whole exercise of predicting the season is silly. And, given the perfunctory way the analysts seem to approach this exercise, I think they know how dumb it is.

Previewing the season is another thing entirely. If someone writes an article that talks about what team they think will win the NFC, what teams could play spoiler, what teams could be dark horses — and explains their reasoning — that’s fun and interesting. That’s why I buy Football Prospectus ever year. So I know what to look for.

But these long tables of picks that ESPN loves to run — in all sports — are just boring. No analysis. No insight. Just conservative picks that are about as good as throwing darts at a board. When Dallas was tapped by 12 of 16 experts to make the Super Bowl, that made them no more or less likely to actually do it. So what’s the point?