Sunday, January 08, 2006

Thickening Gibberish

Something about playoff time in the NFL spurs sportswriters to fill their pages with ever thicker helpings of gibberish. I've been in the mood to bash them recently so here's another round. asked its stable of writers to predict playoff winners for this weekend through the Super Bowl. And boy is there a lot of gibberish. Green Bay Packers safety Darren Sharper notices that Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell and Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms are similar...and different. After a lot of back and forth he gives the edge to Brunell because of his greater 'playoff experience'. (Do the rules change in the playoffs?)

Simms passed for five times as many yards as Brunell today--so much for playoff experience. Simms did throw one more interception than Brunell--perhaps with a little more experience he'll learn that's a bad thing to do in the playoffs.

Sharper predicted Cliinton Portis would have a big day against the Bucs because that's what he did last time. Portis didn't get the message--he finished with 16 carrys for 53 yards.

Sharper believes the Redskins had the 'momentum' edge against the Bucs after winning their previous five games. Lincoln Kennedy likes the Skins chances against Seattle but is worried that Washington has "expended too much energy just getting to the playoffs". On the other hand, at least they haven't needed to 'rebound from a tough loss'!

(Hmm. I think understand this: Wins give you momentum and make you harder to stop, but they take a lot of energy. When your energy runs out you slow down and become easier to beat. If the Redskins have enough fuel in their tanks they'll reach the Super Bowl. And Joe Gibbs owns a champion NASCAR pit crew so he'll never let his football team run out of gas!)

Today's Wall Street Journal (yes they do have a sports page) gets the gibberish of the week award. A chart in the print edition (not sure if it's online--their site requires a subscription) shows the top-seeded playoff teams and ultimate Super Bowl contenders for the past ten years. Its caption reads:

While much is made of the value of getting the top seed--and it's accompanying home-field advantage--in the NFL postseason, recent history shows that teams with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs made it to the Super Bowl less often than teams that had to win on the road.
From 1995 to 2004 in the AFC 3 of 10 teams with the No. 1 seed (home-field advantage) reached the Super Bowl. In the NFC over the same period, 6 of 10 teams with the No. 1 seed (home-field advantage) reached the Super Bowl.
But the chart demonstrates exactly the opposite of what its caption implies! Yes, only nine of 20 teams in the past ten Super Bowls were top-seeds, but there were five times as many lower-seeded teams in the pool. Nine of 20 top-seeded teams (45 percent) reached the Super Bowl while only 11 of 100 lower-seeded teams did (11 percent). Top-seeded teams are actually four times as likely to reach the championship game! Moreover, seven of the 11 lower-seeded teams reaching the Super Bowl were second seeds--meaning they had home field advantage up to the conference championship game.

You'd think a newspaper with over two million daily readers could afford a few numerical literates amongst its fact-checkers!

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