"Football Freakonomics": Is Momentum a Myth?

The following is a cross-post from NFL.com, where we've recently launched a Football Freakonomics Project.

Is momentum a myth? That’s the question we ask in our latest installment of Football Freakonomics. It’s the kind of topic that academic researchers are increasingly interested in – and the kind of topic that makes a lot of sports fans hate academic researchers.

Why?

Because they take all the fun out of our arguments! Do we really want to haul out a spreadsheet to talk about whether Mike Smith was a bonehead for gambling on 4th down? Or whether icing the kicker is a good idea?

As someone who has one foot in both camps (fandom and academic research), I can see both sides of the argument. In the case of momentum, however, I really want to know the truth – perhaps because it’s the kind of phenomenon that is harder to prove than most.

"Football Freakonomics": Why Even Ice a Kicker?

The following is a cross-post from NFL.com, where we've recently launched a Football Freakonomics Project.

Icing the kicker: Even casual football fans have come to expect that when a game is on the line and the kicker is brought out to try a crucial field goal, the opposing coach might call a timeout just as the kicker approaches the ball.

Makes sense, doesn't it? The coach can "ice" the kicker -- mess with his mind, throw off his routine, make him stand around like an awkward guy at a cocktail party for all the world to see.

But does it work?

"Football Freakonomics": Tradeoffs Are Everywhere

The following is a cross-post from NFL.com, where we've recently launched a Football Freakonomics Project.

Economics is all about tradeoffs. If you want to buy a top-tier performance car, it’ll cost you a lot more than a Camry. If you’re looking for an investment that’ll set you up for life, you have to be willing to take on more risk.

NFL personnel decisions involve the same kind of tradeoffs. Better players generally cost more. Bigger players are generally slower. Just look at the NFL Draft, and how hard it is to balance all these tradeoffs when making your picks – especially when you’re spending huge money on a team leader whose future is impossible to predict. (We explored this puzzle earlier in “The Quarterback Quandary.”)

In this installment of "Football Freakonomics," we look at a different kind of tradeoff – the decision of how to handle a player who’s gotten in trouble off the field. Unfortunately, you don’t have to think very hard to come up with a lot of big names from the recent past: Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Plaxico Burress, to name just a few.

With guys like these, the tradeoff is pretty clear. The player has already proven his value on the field, so that’s the upside. But will his off-the-field trouble follow him back into the game? And then you’ve got to wonder how his physical performance will be affected by his time off for bad behavior.

It would be nice to be able to give a purely scientific answer to the following question: After getting into big off-the-field trouble, do players tend to perform better, the same, or worse?

"Football Freakonomics": Controversy

In this segment of "Football Freakonomics," Dubner looks at how players perform after returning from controversial suspensions and jail-time.

"Football Freakonomics": When Good Stats Go Bad

In the third segment of "Football Freakonomics," Dubner examines how impressive stats in the NFL are often indicative of bad results. For example, we all want a quarterback who throws for big yardage. But for all the times a quarterback threw for 400 yards or more last season, how many of those games did his team actually win?

"Football Freakonomics": Icing the Kicker

In the second segment of “Football Freakonomics,” Dubner examines the strategy of "icing the kicker," a fairly recent trend in the NFL where an opposing coach will call a timeout just before a placekicker tries a field goal. The idea is to get inside the kicker's head, make him nervous by giving him a few extra minutes to think about all the pressure he's under. But does it work? Are kickers more likely to miss after being iced? The answer might surprise you.

"Football Freakonomics:" Is Momentum a Myth?

In the first segment of "Football Freakonomics," Dubner examines the phenomenon of momentum and whether we can actually prove its existence in football games. Here's a taste of what he found in the data: since 2007, immediately after a long kickoff or punt return, NFL teams are nearly four times as likely to score a touchdown on the next play than they are on a given play from scrimmage.

Video: Introducing "Football Freakonomics"

Last week, we told you about our new project with the NFL Network called "Football Freakonomics." We'll be posting segments here as they air throughout the season. "Football Freakonomics" will explore the hidden side of the NFL with original research and insight from brilliant minds from sport, academia, and beyond. We'll look at data, stats, performance, salaries, and much more. Here's the first segment to clue you in on what "Football Freakonomics" is all about.

You can also check out the "The Quarterback Quandary," a segment Dubner did prior to the NFL Draft.

Introducing "Football Freakonomics" on the NFL Network

As readers of this blog know, I like the NFL quite a bit (although not, for whatever reason, college football). I have written about players from the past like John Unitas and Franco Harris; I also love to follow the modern NFL and all its tricky issues.

So I'm thrilled to be hosting a new segment on the NFL Network called "Football Freakonomics." We did a short program together for the NFL Draft, called "The Quarterback Quandary," and now we're partnering up for an ongoing set of segments. The first Football Freakonomics feature will air this Sunday on the network's “NFL GameDay Morning.” We'll explore all kinds of issues -- winning/losing, performance, salaries, etc. -- and we'll lean on original research as well as the insights of many brilliant people from sport, academia, and beyond.

The first segment is titled "Is Momentum a Myth?" (If you've read the fine book Scorecasting, you may know where we're headed with this one.) I haven't seen it yet but all the NFL folks I've been working with in production are absolutely top-notch, so I'm sure they've come up with something great.