ESPN has made a bold and pretty much unprecedented move, hiring 32 beat writers, one for each of the NFL teams, in an effort to corner the market on pro football coverage.
Good for them. Many of them are extremely talented writers. But as mathematicians? Eh. Not so much.
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The parent company asked each of the writers to predict what their respective team's records will be. Makes sense. Readers love season predictions, and it stirs lively debate. The problem is that most of them think too highly of their own teams.
The cumulative record of the predictions (we went through and added them up) is 283-229. Now, that's a winning season! Sure, this is the network that brings you Jon Gruden, who might as well be picking every team to go 16-0. But little known fact you might not realize: Such a total needs to come out to 256-256 — a win and a loss for each game — unless we want to start predicting ties, and all that messy stuff.
The faulty math bears these ugly numbers. By their count, only eight teams will finish with losing records (last season there were 16), and 20 teams will have at least nine victories (only 14 in '12). It likely says as much about the way the media view the teams they cover, as it does their inability to add or subtract. We hope.
The writers might be optimistic overall, but it's the lower-caliber teams that likely need the biggest adjustment. ESPN has 13 teams winning between 10-12 games; last season there were 11, so they're likely not too far off there. Where their list likely won't hold water is with the middle-of-the-pack and worse clubs. There's an excellent chance that more than six teams will have six or fewer wins — last season there were 10 such teams — as dating back to 1996 there has been an average of 10.3 teams with six or fewer victories, with eight teams (twice) being the low-water mark in that spell.
Hey, maybe it was a poorly conceived idea. If it was one writer coming up with this total, it would be absolutely inexcusable to tally these records. But with 32 writers coming up with 32 individual predictions, it would take some serious editorial massaging — we suggest everyone shaving off one victory per team and going from there — to get the numbers to add up.
And really, even if you did have an Even Steven mark of 256 on each side of the ledger, it might not work out properly unless they went so far as to predict the outcome of every individual game, which seems a bit silly and laborious.
The greater point likely is this: Everyone is high on their teams now. Rosters are mostly healthy, and no first-round picks are busts at this point. Free-agent acquisitions can be excused for having poor preseasons because, well, it still doesn't count. But when the games start, reality will set in.