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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bill Belichick Fnord

This story represents an evil fnord I see over and over again. It occurs in all places, and not just in sports. In the context of sports, it's more obvious.

At the end of Sunday night's football game, Bill Belichick's Patriots had the ball at their own 20 yard line. It was 4th down and 2 yards to go. The Patriots had a 6 point lead. Instead of punting, Bill Belichick chose to go for the first down. They failed to make the first down. The Colts got the ball in a great field position, and then scored the winning touchdown.

The evil fnord is "New England failed to make the first down and lost the game. Therefore, Bill Belichick made the wrong decision."

Whether New England actually lost the game or not has *NOTHING* to do with whether or not it was the correct decision. The correct question is "Given statistical assumptions about how both teams play, did going for the first down increase their chance of winning?"

There are arguments in favor of going for the first down. If they made the first down, they would have practically won the game immediately because they would have been able to run out a lot of the time remaining on the clock, or force the Colts to use up their timeouts. (The Colts still had all 3 timeouts.) If successful, the Patriots could have gotten another first down, which would definitely have ended the game. Even if the Patriots failed to make the first down, the Colts still needed to gain 20 yards for the winning touchdown.

Punting only gains 30-40 yards. There's a risk that the punt could be returned for a touchdown. Knowing they need a touchdown to win, the Colts will go for the first down on fourth down. This makes the Colts more likely to score a touchdown than in a normal possession. The Colts have a top-rated offense, which is another argument in favor of trying to keep them from getting the ball back.

The only objective way to determine if Bill Belichick made the correct decision is with a proper statistical analysis. For example, you could play out the remainder of the game 200 times with the Madden NFL game and see what happens if you go for the first down 100 times and punt 100 times. I wonder if that game lets you configure the scenario correctly?

There also are intangible factors. Bill Belichick gave his offense a vote of confidence, when he let them go for the first down. That could be an advantage in future games. Also, Bill Belichick could have judged how tired his defensive players were.

The important point is that you cannot conclude "Bill Belichick made the wrong decision!" based solely on the fact that his team lost the game. In order to be sure, you'd have to consider the odds of winning from each decision *BEFORE* he made it.

Most people are focused on loss-oriented thinking. They focus on the worst-case outcome instead of the average-case outcome. If Bill Belichick's decision increased his chance of winning, then it was correct, even if they ultimately lost the game.

If Bill Belichick had punted and then lost the game, then nobody would have criticized him. A bad coach would make the decision that gets the least criticism, rather than the choice that maximizes the chance of winning.

As another example, suppose I attempt practical agorism. State thugs kidnap/arrest me and I waste time in jail. Does that mean I made the wrong decision? No, because that's judging by outcomes and not a priori odds. If I don't attempt agorism, I'm accepting the sure loss of more than half my life to taxes. If I don't attempt agorism, then I'm accepting my status as a slave. I should do what I think is right. The worst-case outcome of attempting agorism is that State thugs kidnap/assault/murder me. The average-case outcome of not attempting agorism is probably worse than the average-case outcome of attempting agorism, although the worst-case is better.

Parasites want people to focus on worst-case outcomes instead of average-case outcomes. This way, productive workers can be easily controlled by parasites. The worst-case outcome is "Some parasite will punish me for disobeying!" Productive workers do not think about the average-case, because they continually fear punishment by the parasites around them.

As another example, I refused to take psychiatric drugs. My psychiatrist focused on the worst-case outcome, which is "FSK will relapse!" I knew that taking the drugs, I would definitely be unable to do anything. I decided to accept the risk of relapse. The benefit is that I would be my productive normal self most of the time. At worst, I'd be sick for a week or two per year. By focusing on average-case outcomes instead of worst-case outcomes, it was easy for me to decide to refuse to take psychiatric drugs.

This is an important aspect of pro-State brainwashing. "Focus on the worst-case outcome instead of the average-case outcome!" is a common evil fnord. It's a symptom of pro-State brainwashing. I doubt that any of the sports comedians covering this story are aware of the huge logical error they are making.

Bill Belichick is criticized for making a non-standard decision that might have actually increased his team's chance of winning. That is reinforcing everyone's pro-State brainwashing, to focus on worst-case outcomes instead of average-case outcomes.

The details of sporting events are necessarily reported honestly. That allows these evil fnords to be sometimes more obvious. This evil fnord seems to occur a couple times per season. A coach is criticized for making a non-standard decision that may have actually increased his team's chance of winning. A coach who goes for it on fourth down and fails and loses the game is usually roundly criticized, even if it may have been the statistically correct decision.

I read about one coach who did a statistical analysis, and concluded you should almost never punt. A punt only gains 30-40 yards. If you go for the first down and make it, you may then get another couple of first downs and score. Plus, the fact that you will go for it on fourth down gives you more options on third down. If you plan to go for it on fourth down, a third down play that leaves you just short of the first down is a good idea.

The only way to prove if Bill Belichick made the right or wrong decision is a careful statistical analysis. Even that isn't proof, because there may be intangible factors a coach knows that aren't measured in a simulation.


fritz said...

I watched that Game in the Bar I work in last night. And I was able to see all the arm chair Quarter Backs analysis. The only valid statement I heard about the decision to go for it was.
"Well, I guess he had more confidence in his offense to make 2 yards than his defense to stop the colts from making 60".
If that was the case then he made the correct decision to go for it.

fritz said...

Heres a Fnord from my work. We are open all holidays now, we were closed in the past. Thanks giving, Christmas,christmas eve . We were told that we had to volunteer for 2 out of the three so we could have 1 off.
The fnord is that on the holiday we are working no one can complain. Because the reply would be.."stop complaining you volunteered for this". Just like if anyone in the military complains "they volunteered" Its still wrong but some how when you volunteer you give up the moral ground to protest.

Kelly W. Patterson said...

This video was on ESPN a while back about a high school coach who always goes for it on fourth down regardless of how far they need to gain or where they are on the field. The also do an onside kick on every kickoff.

I think the Pats got a bad spot, BTW. It is interesting that, had they gotten that first down, the story would be what a genius Belichick is.

Anonymous said...

This Loss-oriented thinking is an interesting concept

Could this be the reason why people follow the advice of the doctor and get vaccinated. They believe if they don't they have a tiny chance of dying because of the disease and feeling very stupid for not taking the vaccine.

Off course you could take the vaccine and die because of the side-effects or get the disease anyway and feel victimized by the medical industy.

Probably to most people the first loss seems more likely or worse.

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