You can prepare all you want in the world of the National Football League, but sometimes it is inconsequential. To be more specific, sometimes it is overruled by a difference force. We have all watched a game, sometimes involving the Dallas Cowboys, and felt like the “better” team lost for a number of reasons. Sometimes that reason is the bounce of the ball or an accidental thing that should not have otherwise happened.
If we had to lump all of these would-be things under umbrella then a safe term for them is probably luck. There is a misconception that luck is lame or cheap, but luck totally counts. Nobody is mad when their team is lucky as the wins don’t count any less.
Of course, it is impossible to plan on, or truly measure, being lucky, but this has not stopped people from trying. And what do you know, the Cowboys that have been very successful this season are one of the teams least benefiting from luck around the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys are near the bottom of luck benefit this season while all of their division rivals are near the top
We live in a day and age where so many interesting things are studied and analyzed. It seems impossible to measure something like luck, but educated minds have given it their best go.
Before we move any further, we have to make sure that we understand how “luck” is being measured relative to the NFL. Here is a full explanation on the study that we are about to share:
Although NFL game outcomes are far from random, teams still get lucky. We identified four key scenarios where teams benefit from actions in a game that are almost entirely derived from opponent performance or lucky bounces.
Dropped Interception (dropped by opponent): When an opponent drops an interception, you get lucky. We assume that the intercepting team keeps possession at the spot of the drop.
Dropped Pass (dropped by opponent): When an opponent drops a pass, you get lucky. We assume the offense would gain yards after catch using the Next Gen Stats Expected YAC model.
Field Goals and Extra Points (attempted by opponent): When an opponent misses a kick, you get lucky, and when your opponent makes a kick, you get unlucky. Field goal make probabilities are based on the Next Gen Stats Field Goal Probability model.
Fumble Recoveries (by either team): When a team recovers a fumble, there’s a chance the luck of the bounce was involved. Fumble recovery probabilities are based on observed recovery percentages by when the fumble occurred (i.e., after a catch, during a rush, fumbled snap, muffed punt).
Luck is a mystical thing, but these are certainly very fair ways to attempt to quantify and measure it. Football is played with an oblong-shaped ball made of leather so the proverbial bounces that it takes are not predictable; therefore, if the ball bounces your way, so to speak, you are by definition benefiting from luck in that sense.
This is all by nature impossible to influence, or force, which is why it is categorized as luck. This study took a look at how much each team is benefiting from luck to this point in the season, and as you can see, the Cowboys are near the very bottom.
Only five teams (New England, Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Carolina) are benefiting more from luck in that they have had fewer wins attributed to the magic L-word. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum (so looking at the teams most benefiting from luck), we have the Pittsburgh Steelers leading the way with two wins estimated to be coming directly from luck. This is particularly depressing for the Steelers in that they have exactly two wins so far this season!
But after Pittsburgh, we have the rest of the NFC East. The New York Giants are the team in the division most benefiting from luck while the Washington Commanders come in right behind them with the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth overall spot. Each of them has over an estimated win coming directly from the result of “luck” which is certainly fodder for divisional debates.
While it is certainly fun to show this information to supporters of the other divisional teams, I think I speak for all of us in saying that we are hardly calling the success that the other teams have experienced this season totally fraudulent. But it is certainly worth mentioning that looking through an objectively-defined prism all of the Giants, Commanders, and Eagles have benefited more from the aforementioned bounce of the ball than this season.
To take things one step further, this study doesn’t include injury “luck” meaning the amount of games lost by players getting hurt. While everybody in the NFL has seen somebody important go down for a stretch, there is no question that Dallas has faced the toughest challenge in this regard within the division as Dak Prescott missed five games earlier this season. That the Cowboys have endured the biggest hurdle and have also benefited the least from the so-defined luck suggests that they are a highly quality football team.