Happiest NFL wins Week 1

I’m going to use a swear word in this article that many associated with the NFL – inside and outside the locker room – may not like. The word is happiness. There are other names for it – karma, serendipity, variance, etc. – but the key point is that players and coaches don’t have complete control over everything that happens on the field.

Many have tried to quantify happiness. The NFL’s football operations department identified four key scenarios in which luck plays a large role: broken interceptions, broken passes, missed kicks (field goals and extra points) and fumble recoveries, which can depend on which way the football bounces . Julian Ryan of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective found nearly a decade ago that 55 percent of an NFL team’s revenue disparity during the regular season can be attributed to luck. A widely read article written in part by Michael Lopez, now the NFL’s senior director of data and analytics, noted that luck permeates the league, from the low number of games played per season to the league’s parity to the Unpredictability is the sport itself. So it should come as no surprise that there were teams that won in Week 1 and may have gotten lucky in the process.

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The luckiest team of the week was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who beat the Minnesota Vikings 20:17. Tampa Bay led for just five minutes and 49 seconds in this game and benefited from three turnovers – two fumble recoveries and an interception. Interceptions are considered lucky because they can depend on unpredictable factors such as receiver errors, deflections and defensive positioning, as well as whether the defensive player actually catches the ball. Those Minnesota mishaps saved the Bucs 14 points based on the down, distance and field position of each turnover, a huge number in a three-point game. Minnesota safety Jay Ward also went offside on a Tampa Bay field goal attempt in the third quarter, giving the Buccaneers another series of downs that they used for a touchdown. Some may not consider that luck – Ward made the mistake – but was it a true measure of the difference in talent between the two teams?

The Vikings were incredibly lucky last year. Expect a step back.

After accounting for these and other strokes of luck, we would expect Tampa Bay to lose a game like this by 12 points rather than win by three points. In other words, after factoring out the role luck played in this match by adding or subtracting the expected points for the various random factors, the Buccaneers are only likely to win such a game about 36 percent of the time. Since 2002, when the league grew to 32 teams, only seven other teams won by a lower score expected Win rate in the first week of a season. These seven teams combined to go 1-6 in Week 2 games after having good luck in Week 1.

The Buccaneers were the luckiest team of the week, but the Philadelphia Eagles, considered by many to be Super Bowl contenders, were close behind. The Eagles intercepted quarterback Mac Jones on the Patriots’ first drive, resulting in a 70-yard pick-six. On the next play from scrimmage, defensive tackle Jordan Davis tackled New England running back Ezekiel Elliott, setting up a four-play touchdown drive that gave the Eagles a 16-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Philadelphia’s offense would only score nine more points, while New England scored 20 points with only one turnover, a fumble by quarterback Jalen Hurts that New England recovered but was unable to convert into points. Adjusting for these and other luck factors, one would have expected Philadelphia to win this game only 42 percent of the time.

Other lucky winners from Week 1 included the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions.

The Saints, who beat the Tennessee Titans 16-15, benefited from three interceptions. Detroit beat the Kansas City Chiefs 21-20, thanks in part to the absence of star tight end Travis Kelce and All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones, who were not on the field for the Chiefs. Additionally, the Chiefs had a chance to win with two and a half minutes left, but missteps (a dropped pass, an offensive holding penalty and a false start) derailed their comeback. Moments like this are often more of an anomaly than a trend, which is why the Chiefs remain one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, with far fewer odds than the Detroit team that just beat them.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/09/14/eagles-buccaneers-lucky-week-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage Happiest NFL wins Week 1

Ian Walker

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