The Cleveland Browns have lost games this season for a variety of reasons. In a few, they barely stood a chance after the first quarter but earlier in the season things just didn’t bounce their way. While blown pass coverage and huge run lanes have been, deservedly, blamed, the NFL actually believes the Browns have been unlucky.
Luck has always been an interesting topic of conversation around sports. Luck is far more accepted in gambling discussions (hence the above picture of the Las Vegas strip) than in sports analysis.
Another word close to luck that is often used around the Cleveland football team has been “cursed.” Almost no matter what has changed over the last few decades, losing and drama have seemed to follow the team.
In 2022, the NFL’s official data says that the Browns are the fourth unluckiest team in the league:
Here is an update of the win probability added by luck chart using data thru week 12: pic.twitter.com/5h5nSi69bi— Tom Bliss (@DataWithBliss) November 29, 2022
It is interesting that the league itself has quantified the idea of luck. Often, data is driven by outside organizations like Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders and others. With luck, the NFL has defined luck around four different variables:
- Dropped interceptions by opponent
- Dropped pass by opponent
- Results from field goals and extra points by opponent
- Fumble recoveries by either team
Looking at the above graph, Cleveland has been on the negative side of all of those variables. That means, opponents aren’t dropping interceptions or passes, are making more kicks than expected and the ball is bouncing their way more than the Browns.
If you would add in their own mistakes (missed field goals, defensive gaffes) along with this luck data, Cleveland should be closer to 7-4 than 4-7 today. Sadly, that is all theoretical and the fact is that the team’s record is paltry.
It is not surprising that the Browns are unlucky, it is surprising that the NFL has decided to quantify luck into a data point.
How would you try to define luck numerically? What did the NFL miss?