Fun with Computers: Predicting the Rams’ 2011 Season

“I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.”

Long-time readers will remember our surprise last year, when a computer-modeled simulation of the NFL season had the Rams slated for a maximum of three wins, and holding a top-three pick in the draft for the fourth year in a row. At the time, it made me think that certain computers needed a nice spring cleaning in their logic-board array.

Well, Paul Bessire and the good folks at the Predictalator are back again with more predictions, and this time give Rams fans a bit more hope for the season.

Prediction 1: This year’s 7-9 record will have company in the division.

The Predictalator has run more than 50,000 simulated 2011 seasons. Here’s what it thinks of the Rams’ chances for the entire season.

Week Opponent Rams Score Opponent Score Win %
1 vs Eagles 19.2 27.1 29.1%
2 @ Giants 19.3 27.5 28.3%
3 vs. Ravens 18.8 22.6 39.5%
4 vs. Redskins 24.9 21.3 59.4%
5 Bye.
6 @ Packers 16.4 29.8 15.0%
7 @ Cowboys 20.0 29.1 26.5%
8 vs. Saints 20.0 24.8 36.9%
9 @ Cardinals 22.1 24.7 43.1%
10 @ Browns 22.1 24.7 39.9%
11 vs. Seahawks 26.1 20.4 65.0%
12 vs. Cardinals 25.4 21.9 58.9%
13 @ 49ers 21.5 23.5 44.5%
14 @ Seahawks 23.1 23.4 49.1%
15 vs. Bengals 22.8 17.0 66.6%
16 @ Steelers 15.3 25.8 19.8%
17 vs. 49ers 24.5 20.7 60.3%

Their prediction for the NFC West has three teams finishing 7-9, with Arizona the slight favorite (thanks to an ever-so-slightly easier schedule) to win the division.

Prediction 2: The offense improves, but the defense regresses

In last year’s simulated season, the Sim Rams’ scoring jumped up nearly a touchdown per game, from averaging 10.9 points in 2009 to 17.1 in sim 2010. That turned out to be eerily accurate, as the real Rams offense improved by 114 points total, to 18.1 points per game.

However, last year’s machine whiffed badly on the Rams’ defensive improvement, predicting another year of turnstile tackling and red carpets in the red zone, on their way to allowing the most points in the sim-NFL. Instead, Spagnuolo’s defense throttled down opponent scoring by 108 points to 20.5 points per game, making it one of the most-improved units of 2010. And if anything, they look stronger this year. 

This year, the sim Rams’ defense are expected to allow nearly 24 points per game, against an admittedly tougher schedule that includes the potent offenses of the Eagles, Packers, Cowboys and Saints. We’ll have to see how this plays out, but color me optimistic that the Rams can again outperform their prediction.

Prediction 3: The Rams have a 1% chance of winning the Super Bowl

The Packers are the big favorites to repeat as champions, no surprise there. And it likes the Eagles, Steelers, Chargers (!) and Patriots as championship contenders as well. But in a huge improvement over last year’s predicted washout, there actually is a 1% scenario where the Rams win it all in 2011. (That makes this column by Craig Vonderhaar eerily prescient.) 

Jimmy Shapiro of Zucker Sports Media was kind enough to dig into the machine and give us a taste of how this miracle season could play out:

  • A 2-2 record at the bye after beating the Giants (rather handily, 29-19, on Monday Night) and Redskins, but losing to the Eagles and Ravens.

  • A 3-5 record at the halfway point after toughing out the roughest part of the schedule and squeaking out a big 22-20 road win over the Cardinals.

  • A 6-2 charge through the second half to win the division that could have been even better but for a mysteriously flat 16-13 loss at home to the Seahawks.

  • A completely unexpected charge through the playoffs with wins over the Vikings, Eagles (a 20-19 stunner!), and Saints in the NFC, and revenge against the Ravens in the Super Bowl. Except for the Vikings, the Rams will have faced each of these teams before in the regular season, perhaps helping them gameplan.

For the record, here’s the combination of dominos that have to fall in the playoffs to make one of these 1% scenarios happen, including shocking early exits for the Packers, Colts, Jets and Patriots:

NFC: 1) Saints 2) Eagles 3) Packers 4) Rams 5) Vikings 6) Falcons

AFC: 1) Patriots 2) Ravens 3) Chargers 4) Colts 5) Steelers 6) Jets

Wild Card:

Falcons 34 – Packers 31
Steelers 20 – Colts 16
Rams 29 – Vikings 23
Chargers 24 – Jets 17


Saints 27 – Falcons 20
Steelers 23 – Patriots 17
Rams 20 – Eagles 19
Ravens 23 – Chargers 10


Ravens 19 – Steelers 17
Rams 24 – Saints 20

Super Bowl: 

Rams 21 – Ravens 17 

Will it happen? If you’re a betting man, no. But could it happen? Is it in the farthest reaches of the realm of possibilities? According to the Predictalator, yes, yes it could. 

Who came up with these numbers? Not me.

The Predictalator, part of, is the latest project by Paul Bessire, who was the key quantitative mind behind FoxSports’ Bessire has a nose for winners … he’s correctly predicted the winner of: five of the last seven Super Bowls (including all eight Super Bowl winners against the spread); five of the last seven World Series, including the Yankees’ 2009 win in six and the 2006 Cardinals win in five (both to the game); five of the last seven Stanley Cup champions; and five of the last eight NCAA Tournament champions (as of Selection Sunday).