June 22, 2017

Preseason Power Rankings Are Worth What They Cost

The endless lists of preseason power rankings hold all the predictive power of Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent. And they are almost as funny. (If you are old like me, and it’s been too long, treat yourself.)

I thought it would be worth a minute to look at just how accurate the collective football genius of the brain trust at ESPN was in their predictions last year.

Compare the first two columns. Not. Even. Close.

ESPN’s 2010 Week 1

Power Ranking

2011 Draft Order


ESPN’s 2011 Week 1

Power Ranking

1. Indianapolis Colts 32. Green Bay Packers 1. Green Bay Packers
2. New Orleans Saints 31. Pittsburgh Steelers 2. New England Patriots
3. Green Bay Packers 20. New York Jets 3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Dallas Cowboys 29. Chicago Bears 4. Philadelphia Eagles
5. Minnesota Vikings 28. New England Patriots 5. New Orleans Saints
6. Baltimore Ravens 27. Atlanta Falcons 6. Atlanta Falcons
7. Atlanta Falcons 26. Baltimore Ravens 7. New York Jets
8. San Diego Chargers 25. Seattle Seahawks 8. Baltimore Ravens
9. New York Jets 24. New Orleans Saints 9. Indianapolis Colts
10. New England Patriots 23. Philadelphia Eagles 10. San Diego Chargers
11. Miami Dolphins 22. Indianapolis Colts 11. Houston Texans
12. Cincinnati Bengals 21. Kansas City Chiefs 12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
13. San Francisco 49ers 20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13. Chicago Bears
14. Houston Texans 19. New York Giants 14. Dallas Cowboys
15. Philadelphia Eagles 18. San Diego Chargers 15. New York Giants
16. Tennessee Titans 17. Oakland Raiders 16. Detroit Lions
17. Washington Redskins 16. Jacksonville Jaguars 17. St. Louis Rams
18. Pittsburgh Steelers 15. Miami Dolphins 18. Kansas City Chiefs
19. New York Giants 14. St. Louis Rams 19. Jacksonville Jaguars
20. Arizona Cardinals 13. Detroit Lions 20. Minnesota Vikings
21. Chicago Bears 12. Minnesota Vikings 21. Arizona Cardinals
22. Denver Broncos 11. Houston Texans 22. Oakland Raiders
23. Carolina Panthers 10. Washington Redskins 23. Tennessee Titans
24. Oakland Raiders 9. Dallas Cowboys 24. Miami Dolphins
25. Jacksonville Jaguars 8. Tennessee Titans 25. Seattle Seahawks
26. Seattle Seahawks 7. San Francisco 49ers 26. San Francisco 49ers
27. Kansas City Chiefs 6. Cleveland Browns 27. Denver Broncos
28. Detroit Lions 5. Arizona Cardinals 28. Washington Redskins
29. Cleveland Browns 4. Cincinnati Bengals 29. Cleveland Browns
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3. Buffalo Bills 30. Buffalo Bills
31. Buffalo Bills 2. Denver Broncos 31. Carolina Panthers
32. St. Louis Rams 1. Carolina Panthers 32. Cincinnati Bengals

My guess is that if you trained a monkey to move 32 mangets from one column to form a new one, it would probably come about as close as ESPN did. Maybe closer.

The formula for creating preseason power rankings works like this: begin with the draft order, adjust for how well/poorly you believe each team drafted, make a couple of shifts based solely on personal biases, and then move up a couple of east coast teams and a west coast team just to cater to their fans. TA DA! Power rankings on the easy.

Based on the monumental load of cow chips that column 3 represents, we can be sure of one thing. If the Bengals are picked to finish last, they won’t. For that, ESPN, we thank you. Bengals fans everywhere would be more than happy to be picking around #14 next year, just like the Rams (your whipping boy from last year) did this year.