Monday 21 January 2013

Harbaugh Lights

Most of you should be familiar with Nate Silver by now. I went on about him enough during the US Presidential Election and have recommended his book The Signal And The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - but Some Don't, but having made his name with political and baseball predictions, he turned his talents to the NFL a few weeks ago, predicting a Superbowl between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. Seattle were eliminated last week, and yesterday the New England Patriots followed them in something of a surprise loss to the Baltimore Ravens. 

His reputation is hardly tarnished though. Silver ran the numbers and came up with his selections as the most likely match up, but small sample sizes are essentially meaningless. As the excellent Mark Taylor says in his Power of Goals blog:
Nate Silver was brave enough to put his predictive credentials gained in the field of politics and to a lesser degree baseball on the line on TV this weekend by plumping for a Seattle/New England Superbowl on February 3rd. That prediction is no longer an option following Seattle's demise in Atlanta and predictably Silver's reputation as a soothsayer is seen as tarnished in some quarters because his prediction was wrong. However, all any predictive model can do is produce estimates of how likely an event is to happen. An event may be predicted to happen 60% of the time, but that also means it won't happen 40% of the time. 40% is the minority event, but it is still going to happen fairly regularly.
A couple of statistically based models made Seattle narrow favourites in Atlanta, (I made them 52% favourites), but the numbers were close enough to call the game a coin toss. So if we called heads and saw a tail, we wouldn't be too surprised. Disappointed maybe, but not surprised. That's pretty much what occurred in Atlanta, a single trial on a coin flipped failed to go that extra half revolution in the last 25 seconds. A failed prediction on the day, but only time and numerous repeats of similar predictions can validate the model from which the single prediction originated.
Silver himself tweeted a version of Billy Beane's famous quote from Moneyball, "my sh*t doesn't work in the playoffs" at the end of the regular season. The truth is that no one's sh*t works that well in small sample sizes, which is what the playoffs are. Ten games and a (usually) neutral venue, inter conference showdown is all there is and random luck and a sudden death format is going to have a huge influence on individual games and the final destination of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Americans Can't Spell Harbour
Last night's results mean that the Superbowl will be between the Jim Harbaugh coached San Francisco 49ers from the NFC and the John Harbaugh coached Baltimore Ravens from the AFC. What a dream for the media. And both are Catholics. What are the odds on that? As Yahoo Sports says:
Jim and John Harbaugh will coach against each other in the Super Bowl after San Francisco beat Atlanta and Baltimore beat New England in the NFL conference championship games. And if you thought the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh story was given a lot of ink for a regular season game last season, just wait for this two-week lead up to the Super Bowl. 

1 comment:

AL said...

Nate has been seen for the fraud and charlatan that he is.