Pop Picks

Stats do sometimes lie

Posted on November 29, 2009

I don’t often post on sports related items, though I am huge sports fan.  I particularly love the Patriots and still mourn the bogus roughing the passer call on Ray Hamilton that allowed the Oakland Raiders to keep a drive alive and eventually score the winning touchdown in the 1976 playoff game.  Since Bill Belichick is highly criticized and eventualy ill-fated call to go for it on fourth down in the recent Colts game, I have taken refuge and solace in those articles showing statistical support for the decision even though common sense screamed “punt.”

Aha, I thought, another instance when science and hard objective analysis shows popular sentiment to be dead wrong.  After all, we live in a country where the majority of citizens still don’t believe in evolution (people, even the Vatican has embraced it and, your love of bananas notwithtanding, your great-great-grandfather really wasn’t a monkey).

However, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons tears apart that statistical argument in his excellent, if disturbing, column on the ESPN web site: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmonsnflpicks/091120.

Statistical realities give way to the messiness of life drama and the way events turn on a moment.  Turns out my revered Bill Belichick was less of a mad football scientist than I want to believe and was instead channeling Grady Little when he when he decided a predictable spread package with everyone in the place looking for a short, quick pass was better than pinning the Colts down deep in their own end with little time remaining.

Ah, the pain.

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