On Power Rankings

12 Oct

It’s the bye week, and we just came away with a win, and there’s not a lot to be Angry about right now. So let’s talk about Power Rankings.

Please take this short quiz before reading:

1. Have you ever become angry about your team’s placement in an “official” power ranking?

2. Have you ever created a power ranking of your own?

3. Have you ever argued with another team’s fans concerning relative power-ranking-placement?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” pull up a chair. Get comfortable. And listen to me for a second.

Power rankings are fucking stupid.

“No shit, asshole. We know that.”

Oh, sure, you might know that. But we don’t know that. No, sir. Check a random message board. Go ahead. Any team. See what I mean? Power rankings drive clicks. Power rankings create links to websites like ESPN.com and NFL.com all over the internet, and you can’t help clicking on them, can you? Don’t give me that shit. When #disrespeck guy drops a tweet “look where they have us ranked on NFLFUCKWRITER.COM http://fuckyou.com/powe…” you can’t help clicking that shit and you know it. And you scroll on down to the 20’s to catch that asinine one-liner that nobody will put their names to, and it pisses you off.

It can’t help but piss you off.

My question for you power ranking aficionados is this: What the fuck are power rankings? A ranking of NFL teams obviously has no real-world purpose, since records (you know, the number of games a team actually fucking won) determines who gets in to the playoffs. So they must create some idea of relative strength just for the amusement factor. You could accomplish this in one of two ways:

1. Retrospectively – Rank the teams by relative strength up to today. Who is the most powerful team right now?

2. Predictively – Create a ranking that, supposedly, would have some predictive power over who will win the next game. If #1 plays #16, #1 should win.

Number 1 can’t be the case. If number 1 was the strategy, you wouldn’t place the Steelers above the Titans this week. Care to guess how many power rankers will put the Titans over the Steelers? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Number 2 can’t be the case either. If number 2 was the strategy, there would be some stability to a power ranking. Sure, upsets happen. But every team wouldn’t move every week, because the better teams would be beating the lesser teams. There is no stability, as you’ll about to see.

See, power rankings are fucking stupid, because it’s football. My point? My point is that no matter what power rankings are supposed to represent, the guys who create them are fucking terrible at what they do. Does this mean a good power ranking is impossible? Probably. Without a doubt, it means the people who are voting on power rankings should stop doing so immediately.

To prove my point, I’ve done a little analysis. Hey, it’s the bye week, and I’m pretty bored.

How do you do that?  First, you start with a roux spreadsheet.

I compared NFL.com and ESPN.com on a few simple factors. First, I looked at average move over the first 6 weeks. In other words, it’s the total number of spots each team moved each week (up or down), divided by 6 (weeks), divided by 32 (teams). The average team on the NFL poll moved 2.7 spots per week. ESPN’s move was 2.3 spots per team per week.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, I guess what we’d like to see is that the polls are getting better. That the pollsters are learning. So let’s look at the difference between the move from week 1 to week 6. The NFL poll moved a total of 126 spots from week 1 to 2, and 82 from week 5 to 6. Good job, guys! You suck a little less than you did at the start of the season.

ESPN, on the other hand, only moved 90 spots in week 2, but they also moved 88 in week 6. By their own admission, they know no more about NFL teams in week 5 than they did in week 1. Fuck you, ESPN. But all those numbers mean nothing in a vacuum, which brings me to my second point (the first one, if you don’t recall, was that power rankings are fucking stupid).

My second point concerns the creation of the AP NFL Power Ranking, called Pro 32.

The AP Power Ranking.

AP.  NFL.

Power Ranking.

Fuck.

This is a real thing, and it just shouldn’t be. Why? WHY, you assholes, WHY? 12 sportswriters from various formats and outlets get together every week to rank a professional league whose playoff format is decided by fucking math. Not computers, not people, just records and tiebreakers. My theory is simply that with the BCS taken away from them, they need a little more power. We all know the media likes to control the story, and maybe, somewhere in the deep recesses of the ESPN machine, someone thinks they can eventually take control of the NFL playoffs. I mean, would you really put it past Roger Goodell? “As long as I get a vote, fuckers. Saints #32, bitches!”

The AP Power Poll, ladies and gentlemen, consisting of the collective knowledge of the Associated Fucking Press, is equally bad at getting their shit together week after week than NFL and ESPN. Science proves it.

Again, since it’s not playoff time just yet, we have to rely on movement (and therefore inconsistency) to measure how bad these assholes are at ranking people. 531 moves in 6 weeks, 85 in week 6 alone, only slightly more consistent than post-week 1.

For all of you who have just skimmed right through my borderline obsession with the shittiness of power rankings above, here’s the too long; didn’t read graphical-representation of the randomness and suckage of power rankings version (thanks be to Excel):

Does that look like something you should be taking personally?

(Note the Seahawks. They’re the most fun to trace through the weeks: 24-22-19-9-17-15 on AP, 15-22-15-10-16-13 on NFL, 20-26-16-10-16-15 on ESPN. Weeee!)

They’re throwing fucking darts based on knee-jerk reactions from the previous week’s games, tagging on an infuriating comment just to distract you from the stupidity of the very idea of power rankings in the first place, and leaning back in their chairs and laughing as you comment on and link to their absolute bullshit.

Stop complaining about your team’s placement.  Stop pretending this bullshit means anything.  Stop peeking week after week to see if the Saints maybe, just maybe, moved up a couple spots with that win. 

“Um… Dude, this post.”

Yes, I get it.  I clicked two dozen times, spent about 2 hours building a spreadsheet, and wrote 1100 words on the topic of power rankings – so you don’t have to anymore.  

That’s not irony.  That’s not hypocrisy.

That’s taking one for the team.

So just stop it.