Wednesday, August 24

Forecasting the Browns' season

With our resident Browns expert Nick apparently still sidelined with ten broken fingers, I thought I'd take a look ahead at what awaits the Cleveland Browns in the almost-here 2011 season. While I do that, I want to simultaneously undercut my entire analysis by evaluating the volatility of the NFL season year-on-year.

You see, there's a certain temptation to look up and down the Browns schedule, evaluate the opponent, and mark prospective W's and L's depending on how that team performed last year. Cincinnati: W. Indianapolis: L. Dolphins: W. And so on. There are two major problems with this.

1) The Browns, even though they haven't been anything resembling good of late, always manage to defeat at least one team that no one gives them a chance against, one of those "guaranteed" L's on the slate. What did you think when you scanned ahead and saw dates at New Orleans and vs New England awaiting a team sporting a 1-5 record and a -37 point differential, starting a rookie third-string QB? Exactly. But look back, we do it every year: 2007 (Seahawks), 2008 (Giants), 2009 (Steelers, hell yes), 2010 (Saints and Patriots). There is a team somewhere on Cleveland's 2011 schedule that you're not giving them a chance to beat that they will neverthelesstake down. [The opposite will unfortunately happen too - 2010 (Buffalo), 2009 (Detroit), 2008 (Bengals) and 2007 (Bengals, thanks DA).]

2) The NFL has a lot of turnover each year in terms of which teams are good and bad. Frankly, I don't know how true this is, though I know I and others take it as an article of faith. If that's true, how come the stupid steelers are never bad? Granted, there are always a couple of surprise teams, but on average how much movement is there in the standings for a given year? I think it's time to see how much turnover there really is, and I'm just the guy to do it.

The Browns' 2011 opponents posted a .492 overall winning percentage in 2010, buoyed in no small part by the 12 wins posted by both Pittsburgh and Baltimore and the fact that we have to play both of those horrible franchises twice, as usual. Take out those AFC North behemoths, and the rest of our schedule is a paltry .406. All right!

Now the question: how much volatility is there really in the NFL for a given season? How useful are that .406 and .492 marks I calculated? I looked at the 2009-10 seasons, because why would I pick another one? It's possible, I suppose, that 2010 wasn't representative, but it didn't feel not representative, and I don't feel like evaluating multiple years' win-loss deltas.

In 2010, the average NFL team experienced a change in wins of 3.3, and moved up or down in their division 1.25 spots, the latter being rather significant because of the small four-team groupings in the current NFL. Fun fact: only two teams posted identical records in '09 and '10; the Miami Dolphins and YOUR Cleveland Browns.

In my view, that average number of 3.3 supports the conventional wisdom that success or failure in the NFL is highly variable year-over-year. Fifteen teams, just a shade under half of the entire league, won at least four more or fewer contests in 2010 than they did in 2009, a swing of an entire quarter of a season from one column to the other! So when you inspect, for example, the Browns' schedule and see a date with Jacksonville on November 20, you can note that the Jags went 8-8 in 2010 but also need to bear in mind that they're just as likely as not to post four or fewer (or 12 or greater) wins in 2011 as they are to remain in the 5 to 11 wins band, which is itself pretty wide. So armed with this knowledge, why on Earth would I try to forecast the Browns' season?

Ha, I talked myself out of it.

But it's still interesting to look at the groups of should-wins and should-loses and consider that they're virtually certain to buck public opinion on (at least) one from each list.

Should-wins (6 or fewer wins in 2010): Bengals (2x), Titans, 49ers, Cardinals

Should-loses (10 or more wins in 2011): steelers (2x), ravens (2x), Colts...and those are the only 2010 10-win clubs we play, thanks to it being our turn to play the NFC West this year.

I suppose the take-home message here is: expect the unexpected. That's good news for Browns fans, since pretty much everyone expects us to be awful this year.

1 comment:

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