Raheem Morris, head coach of the 4-2 Buccaneers, says that "Stats are for losers." Well, Raheem, I have just one thing to say to you.
Most football stats are pointless. Total yards, field goal percentage, fantasy stats, total tackles, and the king of all bad stats--passer rating--are not much more than trivia. Coach Morris prefers to focus on wins, saying, "...you keep looking at stats and we'll keep looking at wins." Here, we are in complete agreement.
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At the time Morris made the comment, he was confronted by a reporter with his team's standings in terms of total yardage gained and allowed. Those statistics can be very misleading and are often disconnected with winning. How do I know that? From other, better statistics.
Like it or not, football is a game of numbers. Coaches like Morris are fond of pointing to the scoreboard as the only measure of a team. But take a good look at the scoreboard and what do you see? Numbers, and lots of 'em. Now look down at the field. What do you see there? Oh, look at that, big white numbers painted all over the field. The question is not whether or not numbers matter, because they certainly do. The only question is which numbers matter most.
Everyone, except fantasy fanatics I suppose, agree that winning is what ultimately matters. So let's start with wins and work backward. We can ask which numbers or combination of numbers explain and predict the wins and losses we see on the field. That would tell everyone, coaches included, about what really makes a winner. Just as an example, consider the statistic most directly connected to winning and losing: Win Probability. How could that statistic have been useful to Morris? It might have saved Raheem from one of the dumbest coaching decisions of 2009.
Football stats, at least the ones most people have traditionally focused on, are pretty worthless. But good stats can teach us a lot about a sport that literally paints its field with numbers. You'd be a loser to think otherwise.