49ers at 7-9? Seeking methods to madness

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
3:10
PM ET
Jbizzi from Kansas City is among those asking why Football Outsiders' projections call for the San Francisco 49ers to finish around 7-9 this season.

A reference to the projection appeared in a July 20 blog entry posted by editors while I was on vacation. While it's natural to expect some drop for the 49ers following their 13-3 season, Football Outsiders' projection does seem a bit extreme.

"How are statistical models put together by various outfits?" Jbizzi writes. "It would seem to me that a football team's (in particular) overall statistics are arbitrary at best, meaning that the outcome of the statistics for a game varies greatly on an 'any given Sunday' basis, which is random.

"A season of maybe 19 games is far to few to consider a sample size for measuring a team's ability even if there are few injuries or outliers (see: Tampa Bay vs. San Francisco 2011). Then you add in Free Agency and team shifts/moves the next season and it should seem impossible to predict (to a person like me). So, I guess I was wondering how a given outfit might try to put these numbers to some use."

Good question, Jbizzi. I'll be speaking with Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz soon, hopefully Tuesday, and will get some thoughts from him regarding what appears in the recently published Football Outsiders Almanac for 2012. The almanac, available for purchase, comes with an endorsement from Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider. That should make 49ers fans even happier.

"Football Outsiders has now built a system that has some serious traction behind it," Schneider says in promoting the almanac. "I personally find it fascinating."

Schatz and Football Outsiders are well aware of the randomness Jbizzi referenced. They realize it's impossible to predict team records accurately because so many things can change, and the unexpected does happen. Their projections place Seattle and San Francisco in the roughly seven-win range, with Arizona closer to six and St. Louis closer to five. Those are general expectations based in part on trends established by teams with similar characteristics. They are not offered as lead-pipe-cinch locks of the year.

The value for me comes in how our own thinking might benefit from understanding the methodology. We can hopefully improve our chances for anticipating correctly and analyzing accurately. I'll check back with thoughts after speaking with Schatz. We're both projecting more than seven comments left beneath this item.

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