Advanced Football Analytics (football)








August 2018
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On today’s episode of the Advanced Football Analytics Podcast, Professor Laura Albert McLay of the University of Wisconsin-Madison joins Dave to discuss her work on operations research in Football. Professor McLay outlines her research into different ways to use analytics to predict the selections of the College Football Playoff committee and how a logistic regression Markov chain provided the best predictive results. She explains how selecting the top teams in college football is similar to how Google ranks websites, and how operations research tools can help answer questions about the “quality” of a team’s season.

Dave and Professor McLay finish out the episode with a look at other Football questions that Operations Research can help answer, such as fourth down decision-making, two-point conversions and even scheduling.

Read more of Professor McLay’s work at her website, Punk Rock Operations Research, and make sure to check out her new podcast on the subject as well.

Direct download: 062_AFAPodcast.Laura.Albert.McLay.1.5.16.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 12:30am PDT

On this special college bowl edition of the Advanced Football Analytics podcast, Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Info joins the show to break down the upcoming New Year's Eve and New Year's Day bowl games.  Sharon begins by breaking down the predictive performance of ESPN’s College Football FPI statistic this season and describes some of the tweaks her team at ESPN made to the metric to better predict unique bowl scenarios.

Dave and Sharon then go in-depth into each of the new year's day bowls and provide analysis of the Outback, Citrus, Fiesta, Rose and Sugar bowls. They then preview the New Year’s Eve College Football Playoffs at the Cotton and Orange Bowls and make some predictions for this year’s eventual champion. They wrap up the episode with a look at a list Sharon compiled of the top ten biggest plays from the last decade in terms of win probability swings.

Direct download: 061_AFAPodcast.Sharon.Katz.12.30.15.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 11:04am PDT

This week, we go back into the AFA Podcast archives to revisit an interview with Jeff Sagarin and Wayne Winston, two longtime friends that have made a lasting impact on the field of sports analytics.

Dave talks with Jeff Sagarin and Wayne Winston about their four decades of work in the field of sports statistics. Wayne and Jeff met while studying together at MIT and have been friends ever since. In the early 80’s, they had their first collaboration on a football play-calling project for Indiana University’s head football coach, Sam Wyche. Since then, Jeff has been publishing his team ratings in USA Today while Wayne published his book, “Mathletics“, and currently teaches at Indiana’s Kelly School of Business.

During the show Jeff and Wayne discuss the history of their friendship, from playing dice based football board games in their dorm rooms to their current work as professional statisticians. Jeff gives his thoughts on how the BCS computer rankings have changed in recent years while Wayne shares his ideas on how to best evaluate football teams and individual players. Questions fromTwitter are also answered during the episode, so make sure to keep the ideas coming!

Direct download: Archives_AdvNFLStats.SagarinWinston.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 12:30am PDT

Brian Burke (ESPN Stats & Info) returns to discuss the latest trends in FPI rankings. He and Dave discuss the recent performance of the Texans, Lions, Chiefs and Redskins and what their FPI rankings mean for their performance going forward. Brian discusses his recent work integrating win probability onto ESPN platforms in preparation for the Playoffs.

Dave decides to poke the bear and dive into Brian’s twitter posts and they get into a discussion of what “the eye test” really means and why it’s essential to define assumptions in any debate. They close out the episode with a look at the playoff probability leverage of key week 13 games.

Direct download: 060_AFAPodcast.Brian.Burke.12.4.15.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 6:19pm PDT

Mike Sando (ESPN Insider) re-joins Dave to discuss some of the most surprising teams in the NFL. He explains how health and personnel have fueled the Bengals’ breakout season and how Miami and Oakland have gone in different directions with their developing quarterbacks. They discuss the disaster in Dallas and the value and trade-offs necessary to budget for backup QB’s and Mike breaks down how the Seahawks’ strangely poor record even while winning turnover battles bodes well for their chances later in the season.

Dave and Mike then go on to discuss Mike’s revised “Insider QB rankings” and look at some of the rising and falling stars at the position this season. Mike discusses the risk/reward trade-offs of Aaron Rodgers’ “second reaction plays” and explains how the player personnel framework of “can we win with this guy?” has led to the benching of Colin Kaepernick and Peyton Manning. Finally, Mike makes his case for why Cam Newton’s performance this year should be judged less on metrics like QBR and more on his ability to fulfill the role his team needs him to play in the offense. The show rounds out with a look at the key Jets at Texans match-up and what it means for the AFC playoff picture.

Links from this episode:

Direct download: 059_AFAPodcast.Mike.Sando.11.20.15.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 12:30am PDT

This week Sharon Katz (ESPN Stats & Info) is on the show to discuss the 2015 college football season and the upcoming college football playoffs. Sharon breaks down the metrics ESPN uses to rate college team performance and dives in detail into the seasons that Clemson and Iowa have had thus far. Sharon and Dave break down the upcoming slate for the key Big 12 contenders, and discuss this weekend’s showdown between the top two teams in FPI (Oklahoma vs. Baylor). Sharon breaks down this year’s College Football Playoff Committee's rankings and outlines the changes that she’s seen in year two of the committee’s work.

The episode rounds out with a look at the NFL, with Sharon explaining why the NFL FPI metric has been so strongly in favor of the Eagles performance. She dives into some key week 10 match-ups and highlights the most important NFL games to watch this weekend.

Direct download: 058_AFAPodcast.Sharon.Katz.11.12.15.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 8:42pm PDT

This week, we go back into the AFA Podcast archives to revisit an interview with Virgil Carter, the man many consider to be the founding father of advanced football statistics.

On the episode, Dave, Brian Burke and Virgil look back at Virgil’s playing days when he was suiting up at quarterback for the Bears while studying for his MBA at Northwestern in the off-season. It was there at Northwestern that he published his first paper, Operations Research on Football. That paper introduced the idea of expected point value based on game situation, an idea that is still at the core of advanced football analysis. Virgil also talks about what it was like to play under head coach Paul Brown, and why if it weren’t for him, Bill Walsh might have never needed to create his “West Coast” passing offense.

If you want to learn more about Virgil and his fascinating career both on and off the field, check out the following links:

-Sports Illustrated article from October, 1972: “Handy Pair of Brainy Bengals
-Virgil’s graduate research paper: Operations Research on Football
-Pro-Football-Reference Player Page: Virgil Carter
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Direct download: 058_AdvNFLStats.VirgilCarter.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 12:30am PDT

Sterling Xie (Football Outsiders, Bleacher Report) returns to review his preseason projections. He and Dave begin by looking at the results we've seen so far from the Detroit Lions and speculate what sorts of changes fans can expect to see with a new offensive coordinator. They then discuss the Vikings, and try to decipher the discrepancies between the team's record and DVOA as well as what to take away from Teddy Bridgewater's performance through six games.

Next, Sterling discusses his research on the top defensive front sevens in the NFL and explains which metrics he chose to isolate front seven performance. The episode finishes with a discussion of Sterling's work following the Patriots each week and which units he's watching closely in the second half of the season.


Direct download: 057_AFAPodcast.Sterling.Xie.10.29.15.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 12:30am PDT

Brian Burke returns for his record-setting 15th appearance on the podcast. He discusses his recent trip up to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT and the work he's done to integrate Win Probability onto all the ESPN platforms.

Dave and Brian then discuss FPI and what it can tell us about the future of the remaining unbeaten teams, and how the upcoming return of quarterbacks from injury can raise a team's rating. They also discuss QBR and compare the seasons of Andy Dalton and Peyton Manning.

Dave and Brian then discuss how FPI can help understand upcoming week seven match-ups. The episode concludes with Brain retelling the story of how he was starstuck when he ran into some ESPN on-camera talent in the ESPN cafeteria!

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Direct download: 056_AFAPodcast.Brian.Burke.10.23.15.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 7:51pm PDT

Trey Causey (@TreyCausey) is a data scientist, NFL statistical consultant and writer. He joins Dave on this episode to discuss what he's learned during his time working for an "unnamed" NFL team. He explains how the structure of a team's analytics department is crucial to their ability to promote change in an organization, and how the unique time pressures of professional sports make creating a successful long-standing analytics operation a tough challenge. Trey goes on to explain some of his research on k-means clustering and how it's a useful way to organize players into groups. Dave and Trey close out the episode with a discussion of the 4th down bot and the challenges Trey has faced in updating its win probability algorithms for end of game situations.

Links from this episode

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Direct download: 054_AFAPodcast.Trey.Causey.10.8.15.v2.mp3
Category:Football -- posted at: 12:30am PDT

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