Past performances are not predictive of future outcomes.
The NFL is not a science, not truly, despite the overwhelming surge of analytics in today’s game. It’s a game, with scientific elements, human elements, weather elements, and whatever random garbage the NFL competition committee has cooked up at that moment.
One of the things fans frequently do is use a third team’s performance against a common opponent to make predictions or evaluations. It’s so common that it’s a built-in part of the NCAAF ranking system.
But it’s not a good system.
One player can - even in a 22-person sport - have too much impact on a game for us to use this comparison. One particular scheme, offensive or defensive, can have an even greater impact by far.
So naturally when the Arizona Cardinals played the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, and the Los Angeles Rams played the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2, the temptation is to use the “how-much-did-we-beat-them-by” philosophy, but it might be best avoided.
NFC West Scores
San Francisco 49ers - defeated Detroit Lions 41-33
Rams - defeated Chicago Bears 34-14
Cardinals - defeated Titans 38-13
Seahawks - defeated Colts 28-16
Rams - defeated Colts 27-24
49ers - defeated Philadelphia Eagles 17-11
Cardinals - defeated Minnesota Vikings 34-33
Seahawks - lost to Titans 33-30
Here are some average maths and some terrible conclusions:
- Cardinals beat the Titans by 25, Seahawks lost to Titans by three. Therefore, were they to play each other than the Cardinals should beat the Hawks by 28.
- Seattle beat Indy by 12 but the Rams only won by 3, so the Seahawks are a better team than Los Angeles by nine.
- Meanwhile, the Eagles gave up 17 to San Francisco and only six to the Atlanta Falcons so the 49ers are only an 11-point stronger team than Atlanta.
It’s ridiculous right?
When you lay it out like that it is, but conversation last week was peppered with “what if Indianapolis beats the Rams?” and this current week has its inevitable share of “but look how bad the Cardinals beat Tennessee” nonsense.
The two weeks don’t prove any of that.
The “Derrick Henry effect” is especially interesting here. Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams both raved about Henry after the game, indicating how he took it to them. However, the data shows that Tennessee’s commitment to the run game was really what did Seattle in.
Outside of popping one big run, there's not much to say that Henry got better as he got more carries against Seattle pic.twitter.com/SmV9Wn6NUi— Nathan Ernst (@NathanE11) September 22, 2021
Granted, not every back in the league could make that 60-yard TD (I’d argue none), but the rest of it shows how much a different plan, approach, or circumstance can swing the Titans losing by 25 to the Cardinals and beating the Seahawks by three.
All that being said, Minnesota had a 20-7 lead over Arizona at one point in Week 2, so speculate away!