If you watched every American professional football team play every snap, analysed its success, compared it to all other plays in that situation, and then weighed it according to the defence it faced, you would reach an important conclusion: the Denver Broncos have the best chance of winning the Super Bowl on February 3.

That is according to FootballOutsiders.com, whose popular DVOA rating puts the Broncos as a slight leader (24.3 per cent) over second-favourite New England Patriots (23.6 per cent).

Founded by Aaron Schatz, an ESPN columnist, the site provides an in-depth analysis of every single play of the NFL season along with various ratings based on that analysis.

“For me, personally, I started this because I wanted to make better commentary,” says Mr Schatz. “The bigger gap that needed to be closed was between reality and the nonsense of colour commentators.”

Baseball’s “sabermetrics” movement – popularised by Moneyball (both the book and movie) – led the way increasing the sophistication of the statistics used in sport. It was primarily developed by people outside the baseball establishment to help teams properly value individual players.

In contrast, Football Outsiders does provide some predictive qualities, but the data analysis offers a different utility from the of baseball: to educate and inform football fans about a complicated and sometimes misunderstood sport. Read more

With the US presidential election race coming to an end tomorrow (we hope!), it is time to take one last one last look at the RealClearPolitics (RCP) poll average and the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM) winner-take-all contracts and see where things stand.

We’re including one more data set this time just to give an additional picture – Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model, which has become the source of quite a bit of contention.

One thing to point out about the IEM that we mentioned in the initial post – the contracts represent a probability, as does the much-cited FiveThirtyEight model that we’ll look at later in this post. That means that as it stands in the IEM, Obama is the favourite but far from a sure thing.

The RCP poll average appears neck and neck:

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When we started these posts for the 2012 election season, the goal was to give a purely numbers-driven look at the presidential election – a respite from the noise. Not that the media coverage isn’t useful, however it can be occasionally useful to turn off the noise and just look at the data.

Let’s get a sense of the polls for the last month and a half. Each of these graphs looks at the race(s) from September 1 to mid October.

Real Clear Politics (RCP)

Now that’s what I call volatility. After being in a dead heat in early September, Obama built a lead that hovered in the 3-4 point range for much of the month. The October 3 debate was seen as an important turning point, giving Romney some sorely needed momentum. It is important to note, however, that he had been trending up in the days preceding the event.

To the market!

Iowa Electronic Market (IEM)

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It has been a rocky road for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney since we last checked in on the polls, and the money is starting to lose faith in the challenger.

The Iowa Electronic Market from 8/23 through 9/25:


As of the end of trading on September 25, the disparity in contracts between Romney and US President Barack Obama was at an all-time high. The polls tell a similar, albeit more muted, story. Read more

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s announcement on August 11 of Paul Ryan as his running mate drew a variety of responses, including cheers, jeers and even some comparisons to John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin in 2008.

But for all the media fervor over Ryan and his controversial budget plan, the polling response has been muted compared to 2008. The Real Clear Politics poll shows  Romney narrowing the gap from 4.6 points to 2.8 since the August 11 announcement.

But compared to 2008, the bump from Ryan looks inconsequential. Nine days after  McCain announced Palin as his running mate, the GOP hopeful had not only erased a 3.9 point deficit, he had taken a narrow 1 point lead.

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The beautiful game is about to get a bit more by the numbers. Starting in 2013 the US soccer league – Major League Soccer – will begin using Adidas’ micoach elite system, which will track “heart rate, speed, acceleration, distance, field position and, for the first time, power.”

The data be collected in real time and transmitted wirelessly for in-game analysis and fans will have access to the raw numbers as well – meaning pub debates could get a lot more interesting in the future.

The sports data analysis revolution that took hold first in US baseball and has crept in to basketball has left football (or in the US, soccer) relatively untouched. Most stats haven’t changed much since categories like shots, fouls and passes completed. Read more