Along with Prof. Torin Clark and Dr. Alex Stimpson, I have written and presented two statistical research papers on the National Football League that have been presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference:
Going for Three: Predicting the Likelihood of Field Goal Success with Logistic Regression
Paper presented at SSAC 2013.
Abstract: The field goal is a critical scoring play in the National Football League. Coaches and fans alike are interested in the probability that a field goal attempt will be made or missed. Traditional analyses assume that the attempt distance is the primary factor determining success; however, we believe that other environmental and situational factors cannot be ignored. We constructed a binary logistic regression model based on data from the 2000-2011 NFL seasons to identify factors that have a significant effect on the likelihood of field goal success. Distance and most environmental factors were significant. Altitude and artificial turf improved the likelihood of a make, while cold temperatures, wind, and precipitation reduced it. Contrary to popular belief, not one situational factor (regular season vs. postseason, home vs. away, whether a timeout was called before the attempt, and situational pressure) was significant. We used our comprehensive model to evaluate kicker careers, seasons, and stadiums between 2000-2011. This evaluation is superior to pure make percentage, which is ignorant of the difficult of a kicker’s field goal attempts. By more accurately predicting the outcome of field goal attempts, coaches can make better in-game decisions and fans can gain a greater understanding of kicker ability.
You can download the paper here: Going for Three, or you can read more from MIT News. You can also watch me and some animated drawings explain things in this clip from ESPN 2’s Numbers Never Lie!
Turning the Tide: Big Plays and Psychological Momentum in the NFL
Poster presented at SSAC 2012.
Abstract: In this paper, we investigated one often-discussed form of psychological momentum in the NFL – whether a team’s offense performs better after their teammates make a big defensive play. We compared drives preceded by a big defensive play (BD drives) and those that weren’t (NBD drives) on three dependent variables: the result of the first play after the change of possession, the success or not of the first set of downs, and the points scored on the drive. Possible confounding variables that may change teams’ strategy were accounted for to provide a symmetrical comparison between BD and NBD drives. For each dependent variable, we compared the counts of specific outcomes between BD and NBD drives. Some differences were observed, but Pearson’s Chi Square tests showed no significant association between big defensive plays and subsequent offensive performance. Therefore, despite popular belief to the contrary, we found no evidence to support a transfer of psychological momentum from a team’s defense to its offense.
You can download the paper here: Turning the Tide, or you can read more from Wired.com.