DENVER, CO – Brandon Staley is my new favorite coach in the NFL, full stop. I have never seen a man so blindly trust a math problem more than his players or conventional wisdom. Last night the man took points off the board at the five yard line or less four times. It was a master class in stupidity. In the business world phrases like “data driven decision making” or “insight driven decisions” are all the buzz. In the baseball world sabermetrics has fundamentally changed the way the game is recruited, played, paid, and just about everything down to how long the hot dogs are. The problem with analytics in football is simple…..the letter N.
Welcome to MTM Friday morning math class. In statistics the letter N signifies sample size. When N is sub 30 there can be no statistically relevant correlation. For example you flip a coin ten times and it comes up heads ten times. That isn’t a trend it is just dumb luck. Sabermetrics work in baseball because 162 games are played, with each player interacting with hundreds of various statistically relevant outcomes each season. In a 16-game football season, the only team that achieved going for it on 4th down in 2020 was the Cowboys at 31 attempts. The league total was 658 attempts with a 55% conversion rate. To put that into perspective, analyzing the entire league for the entire season generates the same amount of occurrence data, as one baseball player does batting in a season. Quite simply in the NFL N is sub 30.
So what does this mean for coaching decisions? For every Brandon Staley there is an Anthony Lynn that would have taken the FG each time and still found a way to lose last night’s game. I think what it means is that having a coach that trusts his gut and his game plan is worth a hell of a lot more than some Harvard egghead’s armchair quarterbacking the game-plan meetings. Somewhere between scared to lose and the football version of Bill James is a balance that comes from someone taking genuine risk based on one singular playIn one play your team could deal a devastating psychological blow. In one play you can make it a two-score game. In one play you can give the ball away and not score at all. These are gut calls. N will never approach 30 in a game or even a season for most teams. The problem with N sub 30 is that in order to gain strides on N which in turn gains statistical relevance, is that the logic of statistics dictates that to seek an outcome you must continue seeking that outcome. I knew when Staley went for it on the first drive of the game he was committing to do so the rest of the game wherein the score didn’t dictate the requirements. It is as if Staley kept flipping the coin expecting the outcome to change from heads to tails and it never did. Anyone who has ever played roulette has seen black hit ten times in a row and everyone loses their money betting red.
Going forward betting red is exactly what I will be doing. Chiefs will win the SB.
That’s it for now. Leave your N below and come back for someone that would love to be sub 30, Short Matt.