Optimism Bias at Work

forecastESPN has 32 team bloggers, and each has predicted the 2014 season record for the team he or she (they aren’t all guys) covers. They are remarkably positive on the chances for each team next season, forecasting that, in the aggregate, NFL teams will win far more games than they lose, quite impossibly going 290-222 (as reported by The Big Lead). Again. Last year, also as reported by The Big Lead, they collectively predicted that NFL teams would go 283-229.

It’s easy to assume that we’re witnessing the collective math or probability suckage that so easily beset us. But that would be an erroneous conclusion since ESPN is careful to inform us that each team’s blogger made his or her prediction independently and only made a guess as to his or her covered team. Instead, what we’re seeing is an obvious example of how bad we are at forecasting and how susceptible we are to optimism bias. In general, it’s a lot more fun — and you get a lot more readers — when covering a winning rather than a losing team).

Remarkably, only five teams are forecast as having a losing record this year, with Washington (at 7-9) the only sub-.500 team in the entire NFC. Three teams in the powerful NFC West are expected to go 12-4. My Chargers are even expected to go 10-6 (don’t we wish). But at least the blogger for the Cowboys seems to have (finally?!) learned his lesson as what was once America’s Team is predicted to go 8-8 (yet again). And, happily, the hated Raiders are said to be a 5-11 team. There’s at least some reality-based thinking going on at ESPN!

Fans are well-known to be excessively optimistic in general and especially so before the season begins. It seems clear, yet again, that the alleged “experts” are too.

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