Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Streakers come to Minnesota

If I was completely impartial and unbiased, I would probably say that the Vikings are the most likely home team to lose this weekend. Dallas has been hot for the last month, the Vikings have been hit-or-miss, and Tony Romo is that type of elusive quarterback who gives our pass rushers nightmares. (Remember the Jeff Garcia Tampa Bay game in 2008? Yeah, I've tried to forget it, too.) The oddsmakers would seem to agree with this, making the Vikings just a 2.5-point favorite, the lowest of all the home teams.

Fortunately, I'm not impartial and unbiased. Well, I am, and I do think the Vikings will struggle, but the team that I think will really have troubles this week is New Orleans because they've struggled even worse than the Vikings down the stretch.

Here are the results of the Saints' last five games:

23-10 loss @ Carolina (where the starters barely played)
20-17 loss vs. Tampa Bay
24-17 loss vs. Dallas
26-23 win @ Atlanta
33-30 win @ Washington

The tight Atlanta win came without having to face Matt Ryan or Michael Turner and the Washington win...well, it was against Washington. That's five straight weeks of subpar performances, including two wins against teams they should have dominated. And then there was that Tampa Bay loss.

So I think Arizona has a better than average chance of beating the Saints, especially on the fast surface of the Superdome. So, what about those "hot" Cowboys? Well, they beat New Orleans, which, as previously mentioned, may or may not be impressive. Then they shut out Washington -- no great feat -- and twice hammered Philadelphia, which came into their week 17 contest on a six-game winning streak. So much for being "hot."

A few years ago, I did a study on streaking teams in MLB and the NFL to see if there really was any correlation between being on a win streak and whether a team would win its next game. The correlation in baseball was virtually nil. In 2005, a team that had won six or more games actually won its next game less than 50% of the time. Football, with its smaller sample size, was a little more volatile. Over the five seasons I looked at, a team with a four-game or higher win streak was 107-54 (.664) in its next game.

So, what's all that mean? That Dallas's win streak means less than the fact that the team is talented. So are the Vikings. (And consider that San Diego, on an 11-game winning streak, is still not favored to win the Super Bowl.) I think the "buzz" over the Cowboys playing well in December and January and the Vikings being so-so over that same time span is enough to influence people to think that the Cowboys are the better team. But we're all too smart for that, right?

Let's hope so.

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