I was due for a losing week, I guess. The lines this week were very sharp: 5 games ended within +/- 1 point of the number. I picked 3 of those games for the SuperContest, and went 0-2-1 in those games. And yes, I'm aware these are bitter whiney sour grapes and I don't care.
Last week: 1-3-1 (25%), Overall: 19-14-2 (57.6%), Fake rank: 154 (out of 745)
This week's picks:
A new challenger has emerged!
Making their first appearance on the big board are the Chicago Bears, who ROCKET to the #1 spot. This despite 3 of the teams they jumped ahead of winning, and another having a bye week (and still being 6-0). So what's going on here? Is my model whacked?
Well, that's always one possible answer. To consider other possible answers to the question, I ran two versions of my model this week. In addition to the final one, I ran one before the Monday night game, so I could separate out how the Bears performance in that game impacted their standings, vs. what was happening around them in the league. To facilitate this, here is a detailed chart of Chicago's progress.
Let's start by looking at their week-to-week win projections. Chicago's stock has been rising steadily ever since their week 2 loss to Green Bay. This building process is important. Much of sports analysis seems to take place in a vacuum. To use their week 2 opponent as a particularly illustrative example, one week, the Green Bay Packers are losing at Seattle on a bogus official's call, and the punditry is asking what has "happened" to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Then the reigning MVP throws 9 TDs and 0 INTs in his next two games, and the story is, do the Packers have their groove back? Both statements were dumb.
Instead, each piece of new information should build upon itself. Based on the Packers recent track record, a couple of early season wins should not be looked upon as the new normal, but as a bump in the road. Even the Saints 0-4 start may have less to do with Bountygate as it did with fluky luck.
That being said, we are now nearly halfway through the season, and your record at this point matters. The Saints are 4 games behind the Falcons with 9 left to play. Thus, their odds to win the division are only 3%. The Packers are trailing the division leading Bears AND the Vikings, leaving only a 7% slice of the division pie for them.
Getting back to my main point: each new data point should move the needle, but by how much? How much data does it take to convince us that what we are seeing is real?
In the case of the Bears, the answer was "alot". But once the model is convinced, each new datapoint will go a long ways towards convincing it that what it is seeing is real. Last week, the Bears were projected to win 10.6 games on average. After everybody else had played, but before the Monday night game, this number was 12.2. After the Monday night game, this increased to 13.2.
Why did they go from 10.6 to 12.2 before they even played? Let's look at their schedule moving forward: Carolina, Tennessee, Houston, San Fransisco, Minnesota, Seattle, Minnesota again, Green Bay, Arizona, Detroit. Collectively, these teams went 6-3 (excluding Detroit). But that doesn't tell the whole story. Only one team (Houston) looked truly impressive in victory. Everybody else either lost, or won by a touchdown or less. After putting a win in the books and Detroit looking pathetic, they gained another game in their expected outcome. Out of the 2.6 win increase modeled for Chicago, only 1.0 had anything to do with their performance Monday night. The other 1.6 had to do with what the rest of their future opponents did, which, other than the Texans, was be mostly mediocre.
This jump from 10.6 to 13.2 basically explains everything else. They went from being projected as the 4th best team in the league to the best. This gives them, on average, better playoff position, more bye weeks, and more home games, in addition to the model just thinking they are better to begin with.
On the one hand, the model's change in opinion regarding Chicago was very drastic this week. On the other, it took several wins in a row before the needle moved on Chicago at all, meaning it wasn't REALLY that drastic. The initial skepticism it had regarding Chicago meant that it took a few weeks to catch up to what somebody with a stronger starting opinion about Chicago might have already thought.