Can an algorithm used to predict chess and tennis matches also be used to predict the outcomes of NFL games?
That’s what IronRank is betting on, as a four-man crew of self professed geeks from Waterloo, Ontario (and admittedly not the biggest sports fans), have applied their mathematic formula to football games, and through the first nine weeks of the season, have found success 65-percent of the time.
“We wanted to tackle the challenge of taking unpredictable things, such as football games, and see if we could use our algorithm to predict the games,” says IronRank’s Brenden Sherratt. “We launched a Web app at the beginning of the season, but so many of our users are on mobile, we wanted to find a way to connect with them better, so this week we launched our mobile app for Android.”
IronRank uses an Elo rating system, used in video games like League of Legends to help match like players against each other, but in IronRank’s version, they are rating each team based in categories offense, defense, and strength of opponent.
“Each team begins with a rating of 1500,” explains Sherratt, “and basically we look at them and say, Team 1 should win and Team 2 should lose. If Team 2 wins, they gain 50 points and Team 2 loses 50 points, then as those numbers accumulate throughout the season, that enables us to predict upcoming games like how the Broncos are going to beat the Chiefs next week, even though the Chiefs are undefeated. We say that the Broncos are going to win based on their Elo rating, because even though the Chiefs are undefeated, they have been playing lower-ranked teams, while the Broncos have been playing stronger teams.
“So even though we only show the one overall ranking on the page, we’re also ranking each team’s offensive and defensive performance, that way when a very good offensive team meets a poorly ranked defensive team, we can also calculate that into our scores.”
And while IronRank doesn’t include the Vegas lines in its predictions, it does produce its own point spread to help those who might be using the app’s calculations for wagering purposes (legally done, of course).
As for IronRank’s long-term NFL predictions, their numbers right now are already predicting a Super Bowl match-up.
“Football is something that’s extremely unpredictable, but that’s why it’s been so much fun playing around with the data and seeing what we can do,” says Sherratt. “But according to the numbers so far, it’s going to be the Broncos versus the Seahawks in the Supers Bowl. I’m not going to venture to say who is going to win yet, but that’s our prediction as of today’s date.”