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Football Outsiders uses a proprietary formula to devise their weekly Upset Watch, highlighting the Bengals and Dolphins this weekend.
Every Thursday Football Outsiders presents a weekly Upset Watch that uses a "proprietary formula to forecast the expected point spread of each game based on DVOA ratings and, early in the season, our DVOA projections" (ESPN In$ider). It's a method of exploration, highlighting an underdog's chances to upset the favorite, dictated by a points spread from people supposedly smarter than the rest of us when projecting such things.
Football Outsiders projects that Upset this week could come from Paul Brown Stadium, based on a comparison of DVOA ratings at this point in the season.
According to DVOA, Miami has actually been the much more efficient team: The Dolphins rank 12th overall, compared with 19th for the Bengals. But this is a situation where the rankings don't properly illustrate the true difference, as the two teams are separated by 19.8 percentage points. To put that in perspective, it's akin to the difference between the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks right now. Indeed, when we translate DVOA into Football Outsiders' Estimated Wins statistic, Miami should be the 3-1 team, not Cincinnati.
Let's face facts. Football is one of the least formula-friendly sports in the world. There is too much randomness, as Danny Tuccitto points out. Even one of the more sure-handed receivers can drop a pass or a running back known for ball security can fumble two times in four games.
But how reliable are their prognostications this year?
Football Outsiders projected Arizona's week three win over the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago's week four upset over the Dallas Cowboys. On the other hand they badly missed Denver's week one victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia's week two win over the Baltimore Ravens. That's only .500
I guess no matter how advanced formulas become, you just can't predict or explain games in the NFL.