ESPN’s gurus have officially whimped out. Here are their collective cowardly picks for the 2007 NFL season. As I noted before, there is typically a 50%+ turnover in the NFL teams that make the playoffs from year to year. Regressions to the mean is one heartless bitch. We can expect at least six and probably seven of last year’s playoff teams to be watching them on TV this January. We can also expect six or more groups of last year’s disappointed fans to be happily freezing to death come Christmas time as they paint their team’s color on for the wild card or divisional round.
So what I want to know from the experts is this: Which teams will stumble? Which ones will surprise? Who’s a sleeper? Come on. Dazzle us by picking Cleveland to win the Super Bowl or something.
Well the brave ESPN analysts, people paid for their insight, have given us an exercise in pussy groupthink.
As for the wild card teams, the most likely to fall off the Earth, they have a little more courage. Eight expect Dallas to repeat as wild card; seven tap them to win the division. Only two pick the Jets to make it again and no one thinks the Giants or Chiefs will repeat. The most common wild card picks are Denver (10 votes + 1 division win) and Cincinnati (eight votes plus four division crowns), Dallas and Philly (15 of 16 expect both to make the playoffs) and Seattle (five votes – after nine to take the division).
Buffalo, Miami, Cleveland, Tennessee, Houston, Kansas City, Oakland, Giants, Minnesota, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Arizona are given no chance at the playoffs. Washington, Green Bay and Detroit are given only one vote. I boldly predict that at least one of those teams will make the playoffs and probably at least one will win their division. I’m really surprised no one picked Green Bay to do anything since a) their defense is excellent; b) they have an easy schedule; c) they finished 8-8 last year; d) the media worships Favre.
OK, maybe this is some collective wisdom of crowds thing. After all, the collective picks of Yahoo! users from week-to-week always outperform the analysts because, even though most of them picks lots of upsets, collectively they all pick favorites. Maybe the ESPN analysts understand there will be a lot of turnover, but aren’t agreed on where it will happen.
Nope. Breaking the picks down coward by coward:
Now, fun aside, I understand why they do this. It’s the same reason the fans do. We know that half of last year’s playoff teams will be playing pinochle by New Year’s. We just don’t know which half. And to be honest, if you were a betting man, you’d probably bet on teams to repeat, since you’ve got a 50% chance of winning that bet against only a 25% chance betting on any team that didn’t make the post-season last year.
It’s the old Final Four Dilemma. Picking all favorites is the safest and most rational course since the favorites are the most likely to win. Of course, if you do nothing but pick favorites, you won’t win the betting pool. So most people pick lots of upsets and either end up in first or last place, depending on whether they picked the right upsets or not. There’s always the potential of looking silly if you pick Weber State to win it all. But anyone who tapped George Mason two years looked like a genius. And as Spanky says, why not at least have fun?
No one except Gregg Easterbrook is going to remember who made what NFL prediction when January 2008 rolls around. So why not have fun? Why not go out on a limb and say this is the year New England stumbles? Or be bold and predict the Falcons will be better off without Vick. Something. Anything. I don’t need to turn on ESPN to see a bunch of favorites get picked. I can do that all on my own.
Easterbrook himself went with Football Outsiders picks. The boys over at FO would laugh if anyone took their 0.1 win precision predictions seriously. They’ll be the first to tell you that error bars on those numbers are a few wins, give or take. The entire league is not going to finish sandwiched between 5 and 12 wins. Some team will have a great year and lump up 14 victories. Some team will be awful and only manages two (my money’s on the Raiders for that achievement).
But even the spineless computers only pick two division winners and six playoff teams to repeat. They project a strong AFC North, a surging Jacksonville, bad stumbles and missed playoffs for the Chargers, Cowboys and Saints and the Packers taking the division from the Bears (although I should note that FO thinks that the Saints’ prediction is wrong — the computer is being fooled by the Katrina Year).
Maybe they’re wrong, but at least they’re interesting. At least they’re fun. At least there’s insight. Congratulations, ESPN. You have fewer balls and less sense of adventure than a lump of silicon microchips.