TMCnet Feature
October 27, 2021

Data and analytics technology being used by NFL franchises



The utilizing of analytics technology to get ahead of the game has increased markedly across all sports as teams attempt to push for those marginal gains that make the difference between success and failure at the highest level - from Billy Beane’s methodology of managing an MLB (News - Alert) roster with his cash-strapped Oakland A’s outfit to the use of GPS trackers to monitor, and maximize, sports performance, data and analytics is huge.  



Arguably it is in the NFL where those margins are at their finest and so optimizing the probability of victory proves crucial, it is no wonder that NFL franchises have taken this technology almost as their own to impact on both on-field and off-field strategy, rostering and winning games of football. The amount of data produced from a single game is enormous and football fans and bettors also look to the same systems to guide their NFL picks in the hope for a pay-off.

Starting on the field, the biggest emphasis for franchises is centred on Expected Points and Expected Points Added, which are analyses that are used to measure the value of a play and to demonstrate just how effective a player or a team is when it comes to specific in-game plays and across the game as a whole. These systems can also give a team’s coach a major insight into the opposing side’s strategies and plays as the data demonstrates how often team’s utilize certain plays and how best those plays were nullified. Knowing just how the opposition plays without requiring to undertake mountains of visual analysis can prove to be a huge advantage.

As former Philadelphia Eagles analyst and game management coach Ryan Paganetti told Forbes, the Super Bowl LII champions used his expert analysis to great effect in plotting their strategies during games to give them the best chance of winning.

The data analysis can also extend to picking the right moment to use a timeout and then managing that timeout effectively - another crucial method behind winning or losing if a coach can utilize the timeout to his advantage. Paganetti’s input proved valuable to the Eagles success in winning football matches and ultimately the prize crown in 2017.


 

There have been countless studies into the use of data analytics and technology in the NFL over the years, and they have tended to point to football fanatic and math enthusiast Brian Burke and his Advanced Football Analytics website as the origin of modern day analysis - the site now serves as somewhat of an archive into the workings of a highly-specialized NFL data analyst, who is now employed by ESPN (News - Alert). Indeed, Paganetti referred to Burke as the “Greatest Of All Time of football analytics” when speaking to Forbes.

Burke’s finely detailed mathematical and statistical methods were utilized to predict the outcome of football games and also to rate NFL teams using a logistic regression model which he had based on the statistics behind team efficiency. Advanced Football Analytics also had a win probability model which analyzed in-game decisions including whether to kick or attempt first down conversions.

Burke has carried his wealth of in-depth statistical knowledge and experience onto the bigger stage of sports broadcast analysis, albeit behind the scenes with ESPN as an official Sports Data Scientist, and he continues to be at the forefront of NFL data and analytics which is moving forward at a breakneck pace. There already exists tiny microchips in just about anything imaginable in the NFL game - from the football itself to the pylons on the field of play, constantly sending real-time data to the coaching staff, broadcasters and just about anybody in-between - and now it appears that there is no limit to how far the analytical technology can go.

Computerized player tracking has been looked into by NFL chiefs since as far back as 2009 and now Zebra Technologies (News - Alert) is coming into its eight year in partnership with the organization, providing measurements for every possible throw in every match - using tags in the ball, the pylons, first-down markers and even the player’s own shoulder pads. There is even scope for electronic first-down and touchdown data.

John Pollard is the VP of Business Development for Zebra and as he told CBS Sports: “Over the last two seasons we have worked really closely at trying to find new project opportunities, things I can't talk about today specifically, that we're working on to help support game plan evaluation, game operational processes and team processes.”
 

VP of Business Development at Zebra Technologies, John Pollard

It seems unfathomable but there is already a whole mine of data the watching public cannot access which all 32 NFL franchises receive in the days following a game to use at their own leisure to improve those fine margins for success. This includes data on player performances from not just their own team but opposition teams too, which can guide their future rostering decisions, as well as data on team strategies and plays. 

For as long as future developments of data analytics to aid statistical evaluations of player and team performance are kept under wraps, the air of intrigue for the watching public will continue to build for what has now become an integral part of the game.



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