USA Today not ready for some football

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Our research editor, Sandy Wood, reads the newspaper with a red pen -- even the USA Today sports section, apparently, because in the course of his after-the-fact checking this weekend, he found a doozy of a mistake:

"Like many of you, I take part in a 'friendly' fantasy football league each week, so I made sure to pick up last Friday's USA Today, which included a 22-page preview of the NFL season - and noticed something very, very wrong.

In 2005, there were bad teams. Horrible teams. Four of them, the Titans, Raiders, Packers, and 49ers, went 4-12. The Saints went 3-13, and the Texans went 2-14. But USA Today predicted that 2006 would be looking up for, oh, just about everybody. The only teams they thought would go 5-11 this season were the Texans, the Bills, and the Rams. The 49ers were predicted to bring up the rear at 4-12. Okay, so fewer horrible teams must mean fewer great ones, right? Or at least a higher-than-normal share of teams with middling records like 7-9 and 6-10.

Per USA Today, the Colts will go 14-2, the Panthers 13-3, the Broncos, Patriots, Buccaneers 12-4, and the Steelers, Dolphins, Bears, and Falcons will end up 11-5.

The overall numbers add up to a mathematical impossibility.

To check the math, I added up the wins and losses in USA Today's projected final 2006 NFL standings. The AFC, the calculations revealed, will go 138-118. That's possible with all the inter-conference games, but it would mean the NFC would have to go 118-138, giving the league a 256-256 overall record. For every game an NFL team wins, there has to be another NFL team that loses. But USA Today's NFC predictions also resulted in a 138-118 record. Huh. They're trying to tell us that this year, NFL teams will win 276 games, but only lose 236 of them. Sorry, guys.

I'd like to believe that USA Today simply wants all of us to think that all of our teams are going to win a game or two more than they actually will. Fans feel good when their favorite team performs better than expected.

But really, I think they just didn't do the math."

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September 11, 2006 - 11:45am
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