Pursuit of Perfection

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A Comparison: The Pursuit of Perfection Best of Decade vs. USA Today’s Best of Decade

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Interestingly, in the overnight hours USA Today’s NFL editors cobbled together a “Best of the Decade” Power Rankings for the NFL from 2000-2009.  While taking into account regular season victories, playoff victories, and Super Bowl wins, there is also clearly some subjectivity involved in the rankings, which can be found here.  In the interest of seeing how the formula I used to come up with my “Best of the Decade” list compared to what was put together by people who are actually getting paid to discuss football, here’s the comparison:

  1. PoP:  USA Today:
  2. PoP:  USA Today:
  3. PoP:  USA Today:
  4. PoP:  USA Today:
  5. PoP:  USA Today:
  6. PoP:  USA Today:
  7. PoP:  USA Today:
  8. PoP:  USA Today:
  9. PoP:  USA Today:
  10. PoP:  USA Today:
  11. PoP:  USA Today:
  12. PoP:  USA Today:
  13. PoP:  USA Today:
  14. PoP:  USA Today:
  15. PoP:  USA Today:
  16. PoP:  USA Today:
  17. PoP:  USA Today:
  18. PoP:  USA Today:
  19. PoP:  USA Today:
  20. PoP:  USA Today:
  21. PoP:  USA Today:
  22. PoP:  USA Today:
  23. PoP:  USA Today:
  24. PoP:  USA Today:
  25. PoP:  USA Today:
  26. PoP:  USA Today:
  27. PoP:  USA Today:
  28. PoP:  USA Today:
  29. PoP:  USA Today:
  30. PoP:  USA Today:
  31. PoP:  USA Today:
  32. PoP:  USA Today:

Analysis of the Results

In order to craft  a complete comparative analysis of these results, I felt it would be useful to break the rankings down into particular categories.  Category #1 is “Exact Picks,” which means that my formula and the NFL experts at USA Today came up with the same ranking for a particular team.  Category #2 is “Close Matches,” which are teams that ranked within 2 spots of each other in differential between my formula and USA Today’s evaluations.  The third and final category is “Big Differences,” which are teams that were 3 or more spots different between the two evaluations.

 Exact Picks (7 out of 32; 21.88%)

  • Patriots at #1
  • Eagles at #4
  • Giants at #5
  • Ravens at #6
  • Jaguars at #24
  • Bills at #29
  • Lions at #32

No surprise to see the Patriots atop both lists, and the #4, #5, and #6 places were locks as well.  Big gap between 6th and 24th for exact picks, then a couple matches at the end as well.

Close Matches (17/32; 53.13%)

  • Steelers — 1 Off (2/3)
  • Colts — 1 Off (3/2)
  • Saints — 1 Off (7/8)
  • Buccaneers — 1 Off (8/9)
  • Chargers — 1 Off (13/12)
  • Vikings — 1 Off (14/15)
  • 49ers — 1 Off (25/26)
  • Redskins — 1 Off (26/25)
  • Bengals — 1 Off (27/28)
  • Chiefs — 1 Off (28/27)
  • Browns — 1 Off (30/31)
  • Texans — 1 Off (31/30)
  • Seahawks — 2 Off (9/11)
  • Titans — 2 Off (12/10)
  • Rams — 2 Off (17/19)
  • Falcons — 2 Off (22/20)
  • Dolphins — 2 Off (23/21)

A lot of the differences here, being just 1 or 2 places off, reveal a certain subjectivity to the placing in the USA Today rankings–placing the Titans over the Seahawks, for example, while the Seahawks made a Super Bowl appearance and the Titans were shut out.  The majority of these differences are really not worth acknowledging, but I am surprised at the selection of the Colts over the Steelers for #2 when the Steelers were the only team other than the Patriots to take multiple Super Bowl Championships on the decade.  In the formula used here, Super Bowls receive a good amount of weight (equivalent to 20 regular season wins in the formula) and that resulted in Pittsburgh taking second.  It also seems, from USA Today’s comment on the Steelers–“Three different QBs (Stewart, Maddox, Roethlisberger) led them to 10-wins seasons.”–that such an evaluation would be a positive for the Steelers decade due to their QB instability while Indianapolis had one QB under center for the duration of the sample period.

Big Differences (8/32; 25%)

For this category, I will analyze each example individually:

  • Packers — 3 Off (10/7)

Analysis: The Packers are a good team–the only team in my formula’s Top 10 without a Super Bowl appearance–but for that reason I’m surprised that they were placed above many teams that did make the big game.  The USA Today comment–“Had six seasons with at least 10 wins — but only three playoff victories.”–isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement either.

  • Bears — 3 Off (15/18)

Analysis: Not a huge issue here, except for the fact that the USA Today rankings put the Bears behind teams that did not make Super Bowl appearances, some of these examples more egregious than others.  USA Today said–“One Super Bowl appearance, three playoff seasons … and a lot of disappointment.”–while simultaneously putting the Cowboys ahead of them (those same Cowboys that only won 1 more regular season game than Chicago and had far less playoff success).

  • Cardinals — 3 Off (20/23)

Analysis: Lower in the pack, these differences aren’t as important; the Cardinals were bottom-half teams for both rankings.  However, their late-decade success in the NFC West and the Super Bowl appearance made them more valuable through the formula.  The Falcons, Dolphins, and Raiders all ranked above Arizona in USA Today’s evaluation but only the Raiders duplicated their playoff success.

  • Jets — 4 Off (18/14)

Analysis: The Jets made the playoffs for 5 seasons of the decade, which is a good number; but 4 of those appearances were Wild Card berths, and the formula doesn’t weigh those as strongly.  This is only further confounded by the Jets not performing strongly in the playoffs until the AFC Title Game this past season.  The USA Today comment, again, hardly endorses the Jets as a top-half of the NFL team–“You might be surprised to learn they earned five playoff berths in decade.”  If the average fan would be surprised by that, it’s unclear how that results in a 14th ranked evaluation.

  •  Cowboys — 4 Off (21/17)

Analysis: The comment from the USA Today rankings–“Was lone playoff win of decade (in 2009) a springboard to a better decade in 2010s?”–reveals the nature of how the Cowboys jump 4 spots from the formula’s evaluation: this is a projection to what is thought might happen with the franchise.  In the USA Today list, the Cowboys placed above 5 other teams who had more than 1 playoff victory in the 2000’s.  The Cowboys had a good number of regular season victories in the 2000’s, but the downfall of their decade was poor playoff performance.

  • Panthers — 5 Off (11/16)

Analysis: The USA Today comment–“One Super Bowl appearance, but no back-to-back winning seasons.”–is a legitimate gripe for the Panthers.  That said, they were ranked below 6 teams who failed to make a Super Bowl appearance during the 2000’s.  A Super Bowl appearance isn’t everything, but it makes up a significant measure of success in the formula and in the fanbase.

  • Raiders — 6 Off (16/22)

Analysis: Even as the author of the formula used in my rankings, I was surprised to see the Raiders fall directly in the middle of the 32 teams.  For them to be dropped 6 spots in the USA Today owes to the comment they made–“Thirty-three wins first three years; 29 rest of the decade.”  The Raiders had a rough finish to the 2000’s after a promising start, which cannot be questioned.  But one criteria of the formula is a separation between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in success getting to the big game; only 14 distinct NFL teams appeared in the Super Bowl this past decade.  Of teams with Super Bowl appearances, they were second-lowest (ahead of Arizona) in the USA Today ranking.

  • Broncos — 6 Off (19/13)

Analysis: The comment in the USA Today story–“You might be surprised to learn they earned five playoff berths in decade.”–is confusing for two reasons.  First, the Broncos only had 4 playoff appearances in the 2000’s.  Second, it’s the exact same quote they used for the Jets in 14th place below the Broncos; only the Jets actually made more playoff appearances than Denver.  The Broncos were a strong regular season team, but the lack of significant postseason success ultimately doomed them in my formula.  The folks at USA Today were much more gentle.

Overall Reaction

In the end, I think that the people working at USA Today have put together a solid list of rankings for National Football League teams over the 2000’s decade.  The majority of the rankings between my formula and their selections were within two spots of one another, with only 25% of the teams having differentials of 3 or more places.  The similarity of the list would speak towards the use of statistics in making the list, but there do seem to be certain examples of subjectivity overruling the number results.  In the end, it’s intriguing to see another “Best of the Decade” list so soon after making my own and it certainly helps to spark conversation as we look forward to another new decade of football ahead of us.


Written by Brian Parker

February 17, 2010 at 12:38 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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