The Cleveland Browns suck, but their TV ratings don't

The Cleveland Browns have been a miserable football team, finishing over .500 once in the last 13 years. Yet despite their ineptitude, they're managed to produce better TV ratings than half the league over the last 5 seasons including a top 10 TV rating in 2014. People are still watching Browns games in spite of their failures.

It's a very simple equation for the NFL -- eyeballs on their games equal dollar signs. More people watching, more money. Not that the NFL has an issue with people watching their games; Americans love our football, with telecasts averaging around 20 million viewers per game last season. And while there are undoubtedly many factors that drive NFL viewership (like fantasy participation and rising ticket prices), we wanted to take a closer look at one factor in particular: Weather.

Simply, we figured that as the season goes on, and it gets colder in many places across the country, viewership would increase.

We gathered local TV ratings from the home cities/areas of all 32 NFL teams via Nielsen and Sports Business Daily for the years 2011-2015. We then matched these ratings with each team's wins in each of those seasons, and the average local temperatures between September and December (i.e., the NFL regular season). To look at the relationship between these three variables (TV ratings, wins, and average temperature), we used multiple regression.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a team's current season wins accounted for about 25% of team's local TV ratings 1. Likewise, the number of wins a team had the prior season accounted for an additional 9% of the local ratings 2. News flash: People want to watch teams that win games.

More to our hypothesis, though, for every 1 degree drop in average temperature between September and December, TV ratings go up by .3343 above and beyond accounting for current and previous season wins. In other words, when we control for win total over the previous two seasons, decreasing temperature accounts for another 10% of the increase in TV ratings.

What's it mean?
This is not to say that temperature is the sole cause of any change in NFL ratings; indeed, there are plenty of other explanations (beyond wins) including a team's legacy, marketing strategy, or player popularity to name a few. But the cold weather theory make a lot of intuitive sense -- with an average temperature of 47.6 degrees, maybe fans in Cleveland don't have anything better to do?

It might be a stretch, but it could also be incentive for the NFL to move north of the border.

1 (R2 = .26, p < .001, n = 128)

2 (R2 = .09, p < .001, n = 128)

3 (R2 = .10, p < .001, n = 128)

The sea breeze might be suppressing homers at Petco Park

Land and water tend to do two different things when it comes to heat – the land retains it, while water repels it. The land’s retention of heat gives way by the afternoon, causing the rising heat to create a vacuum, which sucks in cooler air sitting on the surface of the ocean. Cool air rushes into the coasts by mid to late afternoon.

Petco Park is less than one mile from the Pacific Ocean, making it susceptible to these afternoon sea-breeze gusts, which tend to pick up in the spring time and fade in the summer. Fortunately, the ballpark is situated east of Coronado Island [1], which helps to buffer the would-be stronger sea breezes that might affect fly balls. The spring time gusts, the Coronado Island buffer, and the “effect” on fly balls are all hearsay. We’ll look closer at each of these, starting with the sea breezes at the ballpark.

The Wind Matters
Let’s take a closer look at how the wind affects fly balls at Petco Park. Not that the common word of the good people of San Diego can’t be trusted; it’s just a matter of science. Below is a graph of every home run hit at Petco Park over the last two years and the approximate wind speed while the home run was hit. It seems like there’s no correlation between wind speed and distance of home runs. 

Why the Washington Redskins need to draft a running back

Not long ago, the duo of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris gave Washington a combination of youth and productivity that suggested good things were in the team’s future.
Of course, that has not been the case.
The team hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005, they continuously seem to draft as if they’re playing Ouija, and Dan Snyder continues to be Dan Snyder. Out of all the murky misgivings, public and private missteps, and Griffin’s injuries and on-field woes, there is still Alfred Morris.
Since the Redskins drafted Morris, he has yet to record a sub-1,000 yard rushing season. He also owns the franchise record for most rushing yards in a single season, with 1,613 yards in 2012.
But Morris can’t last forever. While he’s young and talented right now, even the toughest running backs succumb to the physical demands of playing every down in the NFL. The delicate balance of running back usage relies on offensive diversity and contributions of additional running backs. Morris will need the right balance support from other running backs to maximize the output of his best years.

Michael Crabtree, the Oakland Raiders, and the stages of regret

Just like normal people, football teams sometimes make regrettable decisions. The echoed cries of coaches and NFL front offices that lament, "I really wish we ran the ball on 2nd-and1," are no doubt the swan songs in the pantheon of football lore.
One recent head-scratcher was the Oakland Raiders' passing over the highly-touted Michael Crabtree and instead selecting Darrius Heyward-Bey in the 2009 NFL Draft. Curiously, perhaps as an attempt to make amends with past mistakes, the Raiders have signed Crabtree to a one-year, $3 million dollar contract to help fill their wide receiving needs. But does this move really take a skeleton out of the Raiders' closet? Was this the best move they could have made?

Looking Back

It's pretty obvious that Oakland did not get much production from the wide receiver position, and that's especially true through the lens of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP is our in-house metric for measuring a player's production. NEP quantifies what a player did and compares it to league-average (or expectation level) production based on on-field variables such as down-and-distance and field position.

How good was Troy Polamalu's career?

The laws of nature are clear-cut for most predators. Catch your food, kill it, and eat it. It also helps if you're bigger, faster, stronger, or smarter than thing you're trying to catch.
Out of all the predators we've documented, classified, and studied, what is a Troy Polamalu? We know that it looks a lot like a lion, but how do we quantify the all-time greatness of a 5'10”, soft-spoken safety who stars in shampoo commercials?

The Taxonomy

Just by the eyeball test, Polamalu was a great defensive player. Maybe even one of the best. But measuring defensive performance is no easy task -- it's difficult to divvy up individual credit for things like busted coverage or preventing a big play from happening. Fortunately, however, there are some metrics that allow us to measure everything tangible for defensive players. And, as it turns out, they seem to be fairly accurate.
To represent defensive performance, we used a metric designed by Pro Football Reference known as Approximate Value (AV). The AV score is basically a single numerical value for any NFL player calculated per season. For defensive players, it's a combination of their sacks, interceptions, defensive touchdowns, tackles, and All-Pro status. Gritty details can be found on the Pro Football Reference website.