January 29, 2003

Derelict predictions

POST #    521

Derelict predictions
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

How sportswriters and TV broadcasters love to dash off NFL predictions, confident no one will remember what they foretold. Tuesday Morning Quarterback remembers. I have a mind like a steel vault -- that is, rusty -- but also write these things down. Welcome to my annual Bad Predictions Review.

Bad Predictions, Category One: Category One is offseason predictions, and "off" is the operative word.

ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli was early to the gate with his offseason prediction that the Bengals are a franchise "with more talent than people perceive." This is rather like saying "J-Lo sings better than people think" or that Merrill Lynch stock analysts have "more integrity than people perceive." Pasquarelli certainly was not the only one touting the Bengals in the offseason. Chris Berman of ESPN named Cincinnati his "sleeper" team of the year. Perhaps Berman meant to say his "sedentary fossilized" team of the year, as the Bengals finished with the worst record in the league.

Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News declared in the offseason that "no team did more to improve its defense than the Cowboys." The Cowboys defense plummeted from fourth-ranked in 2001 to 18th-ranked in 2002. Iyer further predicted that "Terry Glenn is an early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year" -- sure, and Howard Dean is an early candidate for Democratic nomination for president. Also, "the Chiefs have the talent to sneak away with the AFC West." The Chiefs finished last.

Dan Pompei of The Sporting News joined the early-predictions swirl by declaring that Miami's signing of tackle Leon Searcy "will be one of the steals of the offseason." Searcy was cut in training camp.

Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated devoted an offseason column to predicting Dwight Freeney would end up with more sacks than Julius Peppers. This turned out to be right, but Z couldn't resist predicting exactly how many sacks both gentlemen would record, and both predictions were wrong. It's one thing to predict that Player A will be better than Player B, quite another to predict that A will rush for 137 more yards than B. Trying to predict exact player season statistics is like those global warming computer models that try to predict what the atmospheric pressure will be in La Paz, Bolivia, at 10 a.m. on March 22nd in the year 2365 -- when no one can predict what the weather will be next Tuesday.

Jon Kitna
Shhh! You wouldn't want to wake Jon Kitna and the sleeping Bengals.
Bob McCollough of MSNBC warned in the offseason that "the Dolphins face an early playoff exit." Very early, since Miami failed to make the postseason. McCollough foresaw that the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons would win 10 games; they won seven. McCollough forecast Kansas City would be the first team in the AFC West to win nine games (K.C. won eight), but that after winning nine games, the Chiefs would be "knocked back" to a .500 record. This is one of TMQ's all-time favorite bad predictions, since it is impossible for an NFL team to have nine victories and a .500 record.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated declared during the offseason that Buffalo would make the playoffs (the Bills did not), and that St. Louis would be the NFL's top team. King was hardly alone in touting the Mouflons, who finished with a losing record. Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline had St. Louis his No. 1 club, declaring, "The Super Bowl hangover will drive this team." Well, at least St. Louis played as if it had a hangover.

Hmm, What Realistic Premise Could Justify a Movie About Wet Cheerleaders? Many readers including Maya Gutierrez of Laguna Beach, Calif., have pointed out that TMQ missed a flimsy excuse for the ESPN.com art department to ad cheesecake to the column by failing to praise the surfer-babe movie "Blue Crush." Maya, it's never too late for a flimsy excuse for cheesecake!

Surely "Blue Crush" was the date-night movie of the year, since double-Xs could appreciate the plot, which concerned a woman's attempt to break into the male-dominated realm of competition surfing, while their YX escorts could focus in on the crucial detail that most of the movie features wet bikini scenes. Mega-babe and real-world competitive surfer Sanoe Lake, who appeared in the film, told interviewers that during real-world surfing her top often comes off. Why was this critical realistic detail missing from the movie?

Michelle Rodriguez, Kate Bosworth, Sanoe Lake
Page 2 doesn't just show photos from "Blue Crush" -- we do entire stories on the movie.
The surfer-gear shop Pacsun.com now sells triangle-top suits inspired by "Blue Crush." Check a representative sample here. Note that it's $73 for a micro swimsuit containing perhaps three ounces of material -- not that TMQ is complaining -- which makes these bikinis $390 a pound.

Bad Predictions, Category Two: Then there are predictions that turn on the word "could." A lot of things "could" happen. North Korea could become paradise on Earth. An alluring woman could invite me to ride in her limousine. (Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas, said the Super Bowl ad that the NFL vetoed wasn't about gambling but rather about "an alluring woman on a limousine ride through Las Vegas.") George W. Bush could be misunderestimated.

Before the season, Chris Mortenson of ESPN declared the Bengals "could make a playoff run." ESPN.com's Greg Garber foresaw that the Bills "could rise to the top." Peter King of Sports Illustrated predicted Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell of the Bucs "could" both make the Pro Bowl; neither did. Pete Prisco said the Bills "could move up in a hurry" while one or the other of the Bengals and Cowboys "could" make the playoffs. Pro Football Weekly declared the Patriots "could make another playoff run, or fall flat." That about covered it. ("And in Wall Street news, stocks could rise or fall, unless they remain unchanged.")

David Carr
Try telling David Carr that the Texans "could" have made the playoffs.
Best of this group: Sporting News devoted an entire preseason article to predicting the expansion Texans "could" make the playoffs.

Disclaimer of the Week: If you look up a route with the Yahoo driving-directions utility, at the bottom of the page this insight appears: "When using any driving directions or map, it's a good idea to do a reality check and make sure the road still exists." Please, don't sue Yahoo if you drive on a road that does not exist.

Bad Predictions, Category Three: Now it gets interesting: predictions made on the eve of the season start.

ESPN The Magazine's preseason forecast said that the Broncos, Dolphins and Rams would win their divisions; none even made the playoffs. Meanwhile, TMQ The Columnist still doesn't understand why this publication is not just ESPN Magazine. Or go the other way and make it ESPN The Company, a division of Disney The Conglomerate, located on Earth The Planet. ("ESPN The Magazine, Published on Earth The Planet.")

The New York Times ran a group forecast in which four sportswriters made dueling predictions of the final standings. Three of the four Times predictors had the Persons in the postseason; San Diego, Chicago, Miami, Kansas City and New England were all non-qualifiers the Times projected for the playoffs. The four Times sports nuts were unanimous on the Rams winning their division; St. Louis did not make the postseason. Times chief football writer Thomas George forecast that neither the Raiders nor Bucs would make the playoffs. They were, of course, the Super Bowl pair.

Deion Branch
"We also predict Deion Branch will eat Cheerios on the morning of the big game."
King of Sports Illustrated forecast the Bills to finish 8-8, just a few weeks after predicting they would make the playoffs. He predicted New England would take the AFC East over Miami via tiebreaker -- which seems another fit of excessive specifics but wildly, the Pats would have taken the division over Miami via tiebreaker had the Jets lost to Green Bay on the final day of the season. King then added a ridiculous specific-player prediction, that the Patriots would beat the Marine Mammals on the season's last day on a touchdown pass to Deion Branch. Branch had no receptions in that game. Yeah, someone actually took issue with that prediction, and it was TMQ.

Stretching prophesy toward Delphic highs, King forecast, even before the season began, the pairings and results of all playoff games. He divined that the wild-card round would be Cleveland over Tennessee, Jersey/B over Oakland, Tampa over the Persons and the Niners over the Eagles; the divisional round would be Cleveland over Pittsburgh, New England over Jersey/B, Green Bay over Tampa and the Rams over the Niners; the championships would be New England over Cleveland and St. Louis over Green Bay. Ten projected games -- all wrong!

Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z dueled his colleague King with a second attempt to forecast in advance every playoff game. The doctor predicted a wild-card round of Packers over Bears, Niners over Eagles, Dolphins over Raiders and Patriots over Colts; a divisional round of Rams over Packers, Bucs over Niners, Dolphins over Titans and Steelers over Patriots; a championship round of Rams over Bucs and Steelers over Dolphins. One of 10 actually right! (Bucs over Niners in divisional.) In compiling prediction lists, TMQ has learned that one-fer-10 is spectacular success by the standards of preseason forecasting.

Then there was the incredible ESPN.com meta-forecast. ESPN.com broke all records and bested all comers by having an astonishing 17 assorted experts forecast every aspect of NFL outcomes.

Did any one of the 17 ESPN.com meta-forecasters call all division winners correctly? Nein; the ESPN.com meta-forecast went oh-for-17 on that score. How did ESPN.com do on calling the conference champs? Terrible, too. Here were the ESPN.com NFC and AFC champion forecasts: Rams (10 votes), Steelers (eight votes), Niners (three votes), Titans (three votes), Jets (two votes), Eagles (two votes), Colts (two votes), Pats (one vote), Packers (one vote), Raiders (one vote). Not one single ESPN.com expert forecast City of Tampa to win the NFC, and just one of the 17 ESPN.com powerful insiders correctly forecast the Raiders as AFC champs.

The ESPN.com gentleman who did call the Raiders, and sees all and knows all, was NFL editor James C. Black. Though Black was wrong about practically everything else; he had the Dolphins, Rams and Vikings in the playoffs, and Mike Tice as Coach of the Year. Also in the ESPN.com meta-forecast, not one but two insiders -- Merrill Hoge and Russell Baxter -- predicted Dick LeBeau to be Coach of the Year. LeBeau's team went 2-14, and he was fired seconds after the season concluded.

Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner's Rams were a popular Super Bowl pick ... popular and very wrong.
In his preseason preview, Prisco of CBS Sportsline foresaw Kurt Warner as MVP, the Broncos, Saints and Rams as division winners (all failed to make the playoffs) and the Bengals and Cowboys as wild-card teams (both failed to make the playoffs). Prisco said "the surprise team in the NFC" would be the New Orleans Boy Scouts; they surprised only him, by staying home. And Prisco takes the trophy in this category for his canny prediction that the "biggest disappointment" of the season would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "There are simply too many questions for Jon Gruden to fix," Prisco prophesied.

How Am I Supposed to Satire This? National Geographic magazine will publish its first swimsuit issue. The cover, depicting a luscious young mega-babe whose breasts are only marginally covered by a sea-shell top, represents "nature, because they are sea shells," a magazine spokesperson told the Washington Post. Look for these other upcoming magazine covers:

Foreign Affairs: "The Girls of the State Department."

Journal of the American Medical Association: "Tan Lines: A Pictorial Analysis."

For female readers:

Architectural Digest: "Who Will Be the Next Joe Millionaire? Construction Workers Shed Their Shirts."

Sorry, I can't go on with this, except to say that since National Geographic is run by a tax-exempt foundation, the people who are working hard to produce honest, law-abiding free-market cheesecake now must compete with federally subsidized near-naked mega-babes.

Bad Predictions, Category Four: Then there's the midseason forecast. It's one thing to be way off when calling results before anything is known; to be way off when calling results after eight games have been played takes special flair.

At midseason, Allan Barra, sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal -- one of history's odder job descriptions -- predicted that the division winners would include Denver, New England and New Orleans. All failed to make the playoffs; remember, the prediction came halfway through the season, with 50 percent of game outcomes already known. Barra also declared there was no point in forecasting which team would take the AFC North because "No matter who wins they're going to lose in the first round of playoffs." Pittsburgh, the AFC North champion, won in the first round of the playoffs.

At midseason, Barra further divined that the Super Bowl winner would come from this group: the Broncs, Bolts, Saints, Dolphins, Eagles, Packers, Bucs and Niners. Aside from the fact that four of the eight did not even make the playoffs, what sophisticated system was used to single out these teams? They had the eight best records on the day the column was published! Barra added that he could "pretty much guarantee" that Cleveland, the Jets, the Colts, the Giants, the Falcons, Oakland and Tennessee would not make the playoffs. All did, with Oakland advancing to the Super Bowl.

Bill Parcells
Bill is also not picking the D-Rays and Expos to meet in the World Series.
In a similar feat of midseason clairvoyance, Bill Parcells declared in November that "circumstances would lead you to believe that there's very little chance" that Carolina, Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota or Seattle could make the playoffs. What circumstances would "lead you to believe" this? The teams were a combined 15-41, all cellar-dwellers, when Parcells made his bold forecast. Is this the kind of canny insider's grasp of football Parcells now brings to Dallas? Come to think of it, by recent Cowboys standards this is canny insider grasp of football.

Barra of the Wall Street Journal came back at the end of December to declare that City of Tampa possessed "the best defense in the history of the NFL," making it a sure Super Bowl winner. Oakland, Barra declared, was the only Super Bowl-quality AFC club -- never mind that one month before, Barra said the Raiders would miss the postseason -- but the Raiders "can't stay on the field long" against Tampa. Hmmm, maybe Barra really does see the football future.

Then, having in late December called the Bucs the best defensive team ever, in his January columns Barra strangely waffled, saying Tampa merely "may well have one of the best" defenses. What, exactly, had happened to the Bucs defense in just a couple of weeks? And in late December having said the Bucs would win the Super Bowl, come January, Barra proceeded to predict Tampa would lose to the Niners in the divisional, lose to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game and to lose to Oakland in the Super Bowl by the exact final score of Raiders 23, Bucs 16.

Barra claims to be in possession of an incredibly scientifically advanced computer program that allows him to predict game results. His incredibly scientifically advanced computer said Oakland would win the Super Bowl because Tampa would be incapable of running against the Raiders' line. The Bucs gained 150 yards rushing. Also, Barra's incredibly scientifically advanced computer said Oakland would jump to a quick lead, forcing the Bucs' slo-mo offense to play catch-up. It was Tampa 34, Oakland 3 in the third quarter.

Act Before Midnight Tonight and Get a Sierra Club Sticker for Your SUV: Join the Sierra Club and you actually will receive -- a free backpack! That offer appeared in TMQ's mailbox the other day, of a Sierra Club backpack "not just for trailblazing" but with "rugged good looks at home on the city streets." Surely this recognizes the reality that few contemporary Sierra Club members actually hike anywhere, they just want other people to think they do: just as Sierra Club members never actually drive their SUVs off-road, but want people to think they do.

Delightfully, the Sierra Club does not allow prospective new members to complete this offer on the Web, which would save precious resources. You've got to mail in the dead-trees application form, which came to my house enfolded in about 15 pages of sales materials. Which means Sierra Club bulk junk mail is now being tossed into the trash all across America.

Bad Predictions, Category Five: Reserved for TMQ's own bad predictions. This column has often warned of its motto, All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back. Tuesday Morning Quarterback on ESPN.com is free, get it? So that if somehow one of my predictions was actually right, you would receive -- oh, never mind.

Miller Lite catfight
Until TMQ starts calling his shots, these ladies are out of reach.
At any rate, TMQ's central prediction for the year was that the team goin' to DisneyWorld would come from among the group that did not appear on Monday Night Football. I've made the same prediction four consecutive seasons, and been right the previous three times -- Rams, Ravens, Patriots. If I could call long-shots at the track or Powerball this well, I really would be riding around Vegas in a limo with an alluring woman. (Umm, actually I'd hire two; maybe the mega-babes from the Miller Lite "Catfight" ad.) But my prediction whiffed this year. Falcons at Eagles was as far into the postseason as a non-MNF team advanced. Raiders and Bucs were both Monday Night babies.

Next, since it has been the recent pattern for almost every division winner to fail to repeat the following year, I predicted that only two of last season's six division winners would repeat. Instead three did -- Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Oakland -- so TMQ whiffed there, too.

Finally, under intense pressure from ESPN corporate management -- which promised me free ESPN Zone tokens and never delivered -- I forecast the final records of all 32 NFL teams, which seems to me more challenging than just forecasting who makes the playoffs.

Let's see, TMQ's Sept. 3 column forecast that the Oakland Raiders would finish 11-5 -- exactly as they did. TMQ was also exactly right in forecasting the final records of the Eagles, Chargers and Seahawks. I was one game off in guessing the final records of the Cardinals, Ravens, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Colts, Jaguars, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jets, Saints, Steelers, Titans and Persons. That means I predicted the final records of 18 of the league's 32 teams either exactly, or within one game -- which, I submit, is none shabby. The teams I was totally wrong about were the Bears (off by seven games) and Rams (off by five games).

Of course, I would not be reminding you of this if I had not done so well. What was my incredible insider secret? Blind luck.

Ontologically, the Solipsism of Her Esculent Navel Tergiversates into Desuetude, Don't Ya Think? "Our readers are interested in a sophisticated exegesis of a sociological phenomenon like that." New York Times editor Howell Raines rationalizing his super-respectable newspaper devoting a front-page article to the latest repackaging of Britney Spears.

Bad Predictions, Category Six: Now let's turn to who predicted whom would meet under the F18s in San Diego.

USA Today in various preseason previews ran no fewer than five Super Bowl projections: Steelers over Rams, Eagles over Steelers, Raiders over Eagles, Packers over Titans, Packers over Steelers. All wrong! And of 10 chances to predict a Super Bowl qualifier, the paper got only one correct.

The Washington Post predicted New England over Atlanta. Wrong!

Frank Easterbrook, federal appeals court judge and an Official Brother of TMQ, predicted San Diego vs. New Orleans. Wrong! Plus, neither made the playoffs.

ESPN's on-air folks predicted Packers over Titans (Sterling Sharpe), Niners over Broncos (Steve Young), Packers over New England (Bills Parcells), Rams over Titans (Tom Jackson) and New England over Philadelphia (Chris Berman). All wrong! Plus four of ESPN's on-air predicted 10 Super Bowl qualifiers failed to make the playoffs.

Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated predicted Rams over Steelers, while Peter King of the same outfit predicted Rams over Pats. All wrong! Plus, neither of King's predicted Super Bowl qualifiers made the playoffs.

Jay Glazer of CBS Sportsline predicted Niners over Titans, Pete Prisco of the same outfit Rams over Jets. All wrong! NFL Insider, in a quasi-official prediction posted on the league's own website, offered a 10-segment meta-prediction: Steelers over Rams (predicted twice), Rams over Steelers (predicted twice), Packers over Steelers, Eagles over Steelers, Rams over Oakland, Niners over Oakland, Colts over Tampa, Packers over Colts. All wrong!

Steve Spurrier
We hope Steve Spurrier didn't clear space in the trophy case for that Coach of the Year award.
The New York Times offered four predictions: Rams over Jets (predicted twice), Rams over Steelers, Steelers over Eagles. All wrong! The Sporting News -- which predicted Steve Spurrier as Coach of the Year -- forecast Rams over Steelers. Wrong!

The CBS on-air broadcasters forecast Rams vs. Steelers (Deion Sanders, wrong), Steelers vs. Eagles (Dan Marino, wrong), Packers vs. Colts (Boomer Esiason, wrong) and Raiders vs. Bucs (Jim Nantz). To TMQ's knowledge, Nantz was the sole person in the entire space-time continuum of the local star cluster to foretell a Raiders versus Bucs Super Bowl. Note to anyone else who might have predicted Raiders-Bucs before the season started; remember, this is the annual bad predictions review.

Then there was the Chris Mortenson dividing-cell constantly-mutating Super Bowl forecast. In his preseason preview, Mortenson forecast Packers vs. Steelers. Then, at different points in the season, he changed his forecast to Raiders vs. Eagles, Packers vs. Broncos, Packers vs. Raiders, back to Steelers vs. Packers, Packers vs. "Don't Know," and Bucs vs. Raiders. This last was forecast on Nov. 26; later, Mortenson changed his prediction away from Bucs vs. Raiders to other different pairings. TMQ's guessing that Chris Mortenson has now been caught saying at least to his mirror, if not in public, "See? I predicted Raiders vs. Bucs!" But Mortenson forecast at least seven Super Bowl pairings that TMQ saw, maybe more on the air. At best he's one-fer-seven.

Finally the incredible 17-person ESPN.com meta-forecast projected Rams over Steelers (predicted four times), Titans over Rams (predicted twice), Rams over Colts (predicted twice), Steelers over Rams, Steelers over Packers, Steelers over Eagles, Steelers over Niners, Rams over Jets, Rams over Pats, Jets over Niners, Raiders over Eagles, Niners over Titans. All wrong! And of 34 chances ESPN.com's team had to forecast a Super Bowl qualifier, just one was correct.

Swelling Music Plays: The clichés, cheap shots and recycled jokes in this column are intended for the private use of the audience. All snide references are the property of Tuesday Morning Quarterback and cannot be reused or rebroadcast without the express written consent of the United Nations Security Council.

Condoleezza Rice
"Saddam Hussein copied my Super Bowl pick!"
Bad Predictions, Category Seven The seventh and final category is predictions once the Super Bowl contestants are known. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice picked the Raiders. Fun note: last week the National Security Advisor accused Saddam Hussein of plagiarism. That's worth a cruise missile right there! Suppose the inspectors catch him cheating at Yahtzee, will the bombing begin immediately?

The incredible Harmon Forecast, which boasts that it uses an incredibly scientifically advanced mathematical formula to "pick winners correctly between 72 and 78 percent of the time," forecast an exact final of Oakland 26, Tampa 21. For the 2001 season, the incredible Harmon Forecast was actually right only 63 percent of the time, and this is picking straight up, not against the spread. The Harmon Forecast continues to claim it is correct "between 72 and 78 percent of the time," and has solved the embarrassing track-record problem by ceasing to publish its cumulative performance, so no one has any idea how it did.

The joint CNN-Sports Illustrated website offered five dueling exact final score predictions, all wrong. A few clairvoyance highlights. "There is no Buccaneer who can make a game-breaking difference:" B. Duane Cross. "The key to the game will be the Raiders defensive backs, who will gamble and jump routes and come up with turnovers:" Paul Zimmerman. If only Dr. Z had written exactly the same sentence with "Buccaneers" instead of "Raiders" before "defensive backs," he'd be dining out on this for months! "The game will be low-scoring and close:" Peter King.

Newsweek, the Washington Post, The Sporting News, the New York Times MCNBC, the NFL's own website and many others offered exact final score predictions, all wrong. "The game figures to be close:" Newsweek.

Zo, Vat Deep-Seated Childhood Inadequacy Made You Vant to Become a Psychoanalyst, Ya? According to figures in this article by Erica Goode, 20 percent of the nation's psychoanalysts live in New York City. Three percent of the nation's population lives there. TMQ's theory is that the psychoanalysts all have each other as patients.

Single Worst Prediction of the 2002 Season: Many candidates are worthy, but the nod goes to Allan Barra of the Wall Street Journal. Please, don't complain that you weren't chosen!

In late December, Barra called Tampa the best team in the league, predicted it would win the Super Bowl and, specifically, would pound Oakland in any Super Bowl matchup. Mere weeks later the same columnist predicted that Tampa would lose every playoff game, then predicted Tampa would be defeated by Oakland in the Super Bowl. TMQ foresees that you will search a long time for worse clairvoyance than this.

TMQ Sign-Off: Now begins that long, lonely offseason, without any excuse to spend Sunday nailed to the couch drinking half-honey heavy-light twice-unfiltered pale triticale instant microwaved blueberry-almond ale. And with the season ended, Tuesday Morning Quarterback folds its tent and steals off into the desert till August, except for sporadic special-guest-star appearances.

TMQ recommends that you spend the offseason engaged in spiritual growth. Read the classics, Herodotus in the original Greek is particularly enlightening. Do Buddhist breathing exercises: Thich Nhat Hanh advises repeating to yourself, Breathing in I relax, breathing out I smile. Take long hikes through scenic nature preserves and don't think about mega-babes or ultra-hunks. Read Deborah Tannen on why men and women have such difficulty communicating and then, if you are a woman, spends hours discussing her work and, if you are a man, say, "Yeah, that book was OK." Join a faith-based organization. Eat a healthful diet of fresh foods, avoiding fats and sweets. Slowly sip decaffeinated herbal tea. Do these things and you will feel justified racing back to the couch, the beer, and the swimsuit calendars when the NFL resumes next fall.

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 4:47 PM



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