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Elo ratings predict yet another 8-8 season for Dallas Cowboys

A look at the win probabilities for all remaining Cowboys games doesn't look pretty - at first glance.

Dallas Cowboys  v Chicago Bears Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Elo ratings are a relatively simple rating system originally developed by the physicist Arpad Elo to rate chess players. The system can be easily adopted to other head-to-head competitions, and that's just what Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com did in 2014 when he extended the ratings system to football.

Elo ratings fairly straight forward in that they estimate each team’s skill level using only the final scores of previous games and the locations of each game. That skill level is translated into a points system where an average team has 1,500 points, and teams usually fluctuate somewhere between 1,300 and 1,700 points. The Cowboys for example are currently ranked 11th overall with 1,539 Elo points.

Using those points, the Elo system can calculate an expected point spread and win probability for the next opponent.

The Cowboys' next opponent, the 49ers, are ranked 31st with 1,308 points, which gives the Cowboys an Elo point spread of -6.5 and a win probability of 72%. And what can be done for the 49ers can be done for all of the remaining 2017 opponents. Here's what that looks like, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

The title of this post gave it away early: the Elo ratings system sees the Cowboys finishing the season with yet another 8-8 record - if the Cowboys continue playing the way they have over the first five games.

But that projected 8-8 record is not written in stone, even if many Cowboys fans may think, “Yeah, it kinda is, man.”

The Elo rating system always improves a team’s Elo rating after a win, just as it always reduces a team's rating after a loss. And the system also factors in margin of victory. A convincing win against San Francisco in 10 days could improve the team's rating to such a degree that the win probability for a game like the late-season road game in Oakland might swing in the Cowboys' favor. And already we're at a projected 9-7.

The Cowboys still face what looks like a tough three-game stretch after that: at Washington, vs. Kansas City, at Atlanta. And if they manage an upset or two in that three-game stretch, the Elo rating system would have the team looking at double-digit wins for the season.

Of course, if you're a glass-half-empty kind of person, you might see the Cowboys losing another heartbreaker in San Francisco, expect them to lose four games straight after that, and consider an 8-8 record wishful thinking at best.

Either way, the season is far from over, and it can develop in wildly different ways. Right now, anything between a playoff spot and a top 10 draft pick is still possible. And if nothing else, that's more than the Giants can say.

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