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Stats Vs. Narrative

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Man up (or lady up) and tell me how you coordinate your chaotic view of the Miami Dolphins.

Hero Indian Open - Day Four Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Life as a human being is a paradox, isn’t it? We’re both rational and irrational, safe and destructive, deliberate and whimsical. The quest to understanding your favorite NFL team (say the Miami Dolphins) involves hundreds of variables and a messy interplay of fact and opinion.

There are any number of reasons to become a fan, all of them equally valid. If you’re the type who likes to participate in discussions like what we have here at the Phinsider, what do you lean more on to show your fandom: stats or narrative?

And it’s one thing to delve into the mind of a sports fan, but I can't think of too many more bipolar topics than to delve into the mind of a Dolphins fan. (Cue your best “mad scientist in a laboratory” maniacal laughter).


Analytics, SPARQ scores, box scores, yards per attempt, DVOA, SLAYtics, and all the other fancy numbers-driven MoneyBall concepts out there either involve outcome-contingencies based on science or diagnostic tools involving science. Football inherently incorporates economics, psychology, physiology, physics, among others, and economists, psychologists, and the like prove their ideas (or at least try to) in objective terms.

If I can be so bold as to reduce the “stats” theory crowd: if there’s any enterprise that can encapsulate the winning formula of football or unravel the vast volume of information needed for “organizational diagnoses”, it’s science. Bias is a wart on the road to truth. Humans know other humans are fallible, thus checks and balances are in place - and those checks and balances reach equilibrium through science.

Numbers don’t lie...


But numbers do lie, because in the NFL, evaluation usually involves interpretation, and interpretation involves subjectivity or preference.

There’s a reason a true formula doesn’t exist for NFL success, and that’s because there isn’t one. Football seems to favor one sexy god: Lady Luck, not science. There’s a reason the game is played every Sunday despite what the match-up looks like on paper.

Are wins and losses a “QB stat”? The sphere of art in football has such a wide-ranging smorgasbord of topics: “if Player X played on Team A, would team A have made the Playoffs?”, “if that coach didn’t have his head up his ass, this team could have...”, or “if injuries didn’t decimate us, how would this group have done against the run?”

And what does science have to say about leadership, motivation, locker room fit, attitude, etc...? Last time I checked, these are integral traits that have not had their mysteries unwrapped by science, and maybe never will.

If I can be so bold as to reduce the “narrative” theory crowd: numbers can’t possibly encapsulate winning football nor do stats accurately separate bias from actuality, therefore football is best seen as art.

Most of the time, we pass down stories to our kids, not vertical jump measurables at the Combine.

Where Do You Stand?

When you think about it, some of the beautiful differences that we have between us at the Phinsider stem from this very debate. We are a rich community here, in that, we pride ourselves in the one and only recognizable currency: thoughtful and intelligent participation. Sometimes the stats make more sense, and sometimes the story makes more sense. But we rarely get to talk about why they make more sense.

There are different ways to be informed, isn’t there? Maybe you like the fact Isaac Asiata has a brother in the NFL (narrative) or maybe you like the fact Ryan Tannehill was a top 5 QB in the Deep Ball project (stats): drastically different methodologies that have avenues to truth. PFF stats (stats) vs. “the eye test” (narrative) - the list goes on and on...

Some of us live with stats and narrative as a black-and-white proposition, while others see it as a sloppy world of gray (thinking of many 50 Shades of Grey-ish type jokes that involve the elderly, so be thankful I have too many kids to invest much time in tattooing a WTF moment in your brain).

Again, I won’t refute the fact that my fandom involves a messy interplay of stats and narrative, but if push comes to shove, which resonates more? Or better yet, describe your combination of both and what makes YOU, YOU, as a Dolphins fan.


I lean more towards...

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    (43 votes)
  • 36%
    (55 votes)
  • 34%
    Shut up, SUTTON. The stench of your stupidity offends me.
    (51 votes)
149 votes total Vote Now