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75 MIN READ TIME

Luck and Regression To the Mean

BY GARY SMITH

PEYTON MANNING IS ONE OF THE GREATEST QUARTERBACKS in NFL history, and in 2013 he had one of the best years of his career. He threw 55 touchdown passes with only 10 interceptions. ESPN commentators talked about the 2013 season as if that was pretty much all that mattered for the forthcoming 2014 season. They talked about Peyton Manning’s pass receivers, the team’s running backs, and the offensive line. They didn’t talk about luck—about how an exceptionally good or bad performance typically involves fortune or misfortune. No one said a word about how Manning might have been fortunate in 2013. They assumed that he would do just about as well in 2014 as in 2013. They predicted he would throw 48 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions and, once again, be the top NFL quarterback by a wide margin.

The commentators were overreacting to Peyton’s 2013 stats and ignoring the likely pull of the mediocrity magnet in 2014. They should have looked at Manning’s entire career and considered the possibility that he had good luck in 2013, because the more he benefited from good luck, the less likely it is that he would have as much, or even more, good luck in 2014. Before the start of the 2014 season I posted a blog titled, “Peyton Manning is Likely to Regress to the Mean.” I ended the post with this prediction:

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