In Week 3, NFL predicts a lopsided win for Romney
The NFL is in sore need of a few recounts after another weekend of on-field farce put on by the replacement referees. But as long as the season goes on, the Signal will tally the games that, according to a rigorous historical study—my own—have been determined to predict the presidential election.
Last week, I posted a rule for every franchise that predicts the winner of the election every four years, or at least nearly so. For example:
If Tampa Bay scores more than 14 points in its fourth game, the out-of-power party wins the White House. Otherwise, the incumbent party wins.
Check for yourself if you don't believe me. This was true in 2008, 2004, 2000, 1996, 1992, 1988, 1984, 1980 and 1976—every election since the Buccaneers joined the NFL.
This may all seem like an elaborate exercise in the perils of confounding correlation with causation, and perhaps one that raises concerns about the author's aptitude for time management. But if Mitt Romney wins the election, you will have read it here first. Going in to last weekend's games, Romney led President Barack Obama four games in two. In other words, of the six rules that involve a game in the first two weeks of the season, four point to a Republican victory while two point to a Democratic victory.
Three more rules were up for evaluation on Sunday:
The Eagles Rule: If Philadelphia scores at least one offensive touchdown per nine first downs in its second away game, the Democrat wins the White House. Otherwise, the Republican wins.
The Jets Rule: If the New York Jets win their second away game, the Republican wins the White House. Otherwise, the Democrat wins.
The Texans Rule: If the Houston Texans win their second away game, the Republican wins the White House. Otherwise, the Democrat wins.
All three point to a Romney victory: Philadelphia never scored a touchdown, and both the Jets and the Texans won. That brings the score, after Week 3, to 7-2 in the former Massachusetts governor's favor.
If Romney wins, credit fate. If he loses, blame the referees.
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Broncos for Romney? Patriots for Obama? How your NFL team can predict the next president
Want to know who the next president will be?
Every four years since 2000, 7-Eleven has conducted a coffee cup poll, with the sales of candidate-branded coffee cups correctly predicting the actual winner in November three times in a row. Sales of Halloween masks of the two major-party candidates have predicted the next president since 1996, and the Scholastic News poll of students has been right 16 of the last 18 elections, going back to 1940.
We have a natural ability to find patterns—even made-up ones—in the noise of the universe. People like the idea that one factor can encapsulate the thousands of data points that go into the real election. It's all nonsense, of course. While we might expect something like coffee cups or mask sales to loosely align with the real outcome, the fact that these trends have a winning streak going is pure luck. In a crowded field of numbers, some events will randomly align with the results of the American presidential election (or the stock market, the planets, pistachio sales, whatever).
And that's how we got the Redskins Rule, a prediction that has a tradition of accuracy even better than Scholastic's survey. It goes like this:
If the Washington Redskins win their last home game before the election, the incumbent party retains the White House. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins.
This pattern has failed only once since 1940, though which year it failed is something of a debate on Wikipedia, depending whether one honors a retroactive change to the rule to recognize the winner of the popular vote.
To belabor the point that these rules are just coincidences, I concocted a rule for every NFL franchise. (Well, I exploited a computer to try every combination for me.) For example, here is the Broncos Rule:
If Denver rushes for more than 106 yards in its fifth game of the season, the incumbent party wins. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins.
This rule has held for every election since the Denver Broncos' first season in 1960, when the Broncos ran for 104 yards on 22 carries against the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 16, dooming Richard Nixon and turning the White House over to the Democrats.
Here is the Patriots Rule, true for 12 of the past 13 elections:
If New England commits fewer turnovers than its opponent in the team's first away game, the out-of-power party will win the White House. Otherwise, the incumbent party wins.
When I presented my findings to Steve Hirdt, the Elias Sports Bureau executive who discovered the Redskins Rule in 2000, he wasn't impressed.
His rule, he pointed out, uses only "the simplest of statistics and involves the team you would want it to involve"—that is, Washington's team. It also occurs right before the election.
For a team that's been around since 1960, the odds of any statistic matching up every four years with the election results is only 1 in 4,096. That's 12 coin flips in a row all landing on heads. (There have been 13 elections since 1960, but the first year is a freebie because it establishes the trend.) To find a rule for every franchise, I had to start concocting absurd combinations of game statistics, giving way to rules like the 49ers Rule:
If San Francisco scores at least 1.5 points for every completion in its third home game of the season, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins.
The odds of the Redskins Rule being true 17 out of 18 times, if you figure there's an average of a 50-50 chance that either candidate wins over time, are about 1 in 14,500.
But it is impossible that there is any actual connection between the Redskins and national politics. Right?
Unless you have a persuasive theory for why the Redskins Rule is nonrandom—and I'd love to hear it—we have to conclude that we are very lucky to live in a universe where the odds of so simple a rule working out came true. In the meantime, here are the less elegant rules for every other franchise. The data comes from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
every team rule here and the rest of the article
The Saints Rule: If New Orleans tallies more first downs than its opponent in the team's fourth away game, the out-of-power party wins the White House. Otherwise the incumbent party wins.
Re: In Week 3, NFL predicts a lopsided win for Romney
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