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Cowboys: Succeeding By The Numbers

Have things changed for Dallas? One popular formula for predicting wins says that they have.

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Yeah, we're talking numbers today.
Yeah, we're talking numbers today.

If imitation is truly the most sincere form of flattery, OCC might be getting a really swollen head. First, he got me hooked on the Pro Football Focus grades, and now I put out at least one article a week taken from their player rankings. Now, I am venturing into another one of his signature areas, the Pythagorean Win Probability Formula. (Go here for a quick rundown of what it is, along with some other metrics of interest.)

Just briefly, here is the formula itself:

Points Scored2.37
Points Scored2.37 + Points Allowed2.37

The name sounds like this is really fancy, and as the formula shows, there is some actual math involved, but the basic idea is simple. Obviously, you have to outscore your opponents to win. A larger margin of victory is indicative of a team being more successful. It is fairly intuitive.

The Dallas Cowboys are trying to break out of a recent run of mediocrity, with two 8-8 seasons. In both seasons, the Cowboys too often found themselves squeaking out narrow wins. That is exactly what you see with teams that hover around .500.

This season, things seem to be running a bit differently. The Cowboys have been involved in a couple of close losses, but with the exception of the season opener, the wins have all been by two scores or more. This means the points differential is now leaning pretty strongly in Dallas' favor. The Cowboys have scored exactly 200 points thus far, while yielding 155. I plugged those numbers into a Pythagorean calculator and, using the most common exponent of 2.37 cited above, came up with a 64.66 win percentage.

Dallas has 9 games left, and the percentage says that they should win 5.8 of them (or 5.8194, to be precise). Or, since the NFL seldom awards .8194 of a game, the Cowboys should win 5 or 6, with 6 more likely.

Added to the current win/loss totals, it puts Dallas at either 9-7 or 10-6, leaning toward the higher win total. Given that the NFC East is not exactly overflowing with powerhouses to challenge for the division crown, a 9 win season would most likely win the division and get a playoff home game. 10 wins would just about be a lock.

I mentioned that 2.37 is the most common exponent used. Some sources, like this one, argue that an exponent of around 2.5 is more accurate. It doesn't make much difference, since the predicted wins go from 5.8194 to 5.8869. Basically, the first seven games of the season are indicating that Dallas is closer to being a 10 win team than showing up at 8-8 again.

This is one more arrow that seems to be pointing in the right direction for the Cowboys. Of course, it is just an indicator. It really has nothing to do with the actual outcome of games in the future.

But over the past two seasons, this formula has repeatedly forecast that the Cowboys would wind up pretty much where they did. After six games last year, OCC was worried about whether the Cowboys were going to be a 6 win team. They did exceed that - but just to the point of mediocrity.

This year is looking better at this point than it has the past couple of seasons, and with the defense starting to come around, and a couple of budding stars at wide receiver, there are clearly reasons for hope. All the Cowboys really have to do is keep outscoring the opponents.


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