Print

Steelers to win Sunday by 8.3 points.

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Good news, Steelers partisans. One of your own says Pittsburgh's goin' to the Super Bowl.

Shocking, right?

But this prediction doesn't come courtesy of a know-it-all neighbor, a talk radio hot air machine or a bloke on a barstool.

This is according to Nik Bonaddio, a North Allegheny alum and Steelers fan living in New York City. In fact, he says that the Steelers "should have this game comfortably" in hand by a score of 25.3 to 17. Again, that's 25 point 3 to 17.

So, he's got your attention with the oddball score, and with his black and gold bona fides, but how did he arrive at this conclusion?

The short answer: he's very smart.

A 2004 graduate of Carnegie-Mellon, he holds a degree in Information Systems and Communication Design and completed graduate study at the university in 2005. Along with co-expert, Will Carroll, who covers fantasy football for SI.com, Bonaddio runs Numberfire, a site that uses statistics to predict football outcomes.

Specifically Numberfire uses what Bonaddio terms "a blended mathematical model that is fundamentally based on the concept of similarity."

Uh … sure it does.  

In layman's English, Numberfire predicts the future by comparing things and outcomes from the past that are alike. In this case, Bonaddio says that Numberfire finds teams and situations that are similar to this week's upcoming game, and then uses the historical results as a basis for the projections.

Bonaddio explains the methodology further:

"For example, the model finds that the 2010 Steelers are most similar to the 1994 Cowboys. Sure, some readers may blanch at that comparison, but that similarity is rooted in statistics -- the model looks at different data points such as rushing yards per attempt, third down completion rate, and so on and finds all the teams who are statistically similar to the Steelers.

"Once we have that list of similar teams, we can look again to history and find all the games where a team similar to the Steelers played a team similar to the Jets. These games are given a certain weight based on how close of a match they are (and thus, how strong of a predictor they'll be) and the model aggregates those results to create a very specific, detailed projection of the upcoming game."

So, even though the model uses different teams from different years than the those at are playing Sunday, the prediction is rooted in historical precedent.

"The larger concept at work here is that we're eliminating human bias," Bonaddio said. "The model doesn't play favorites in the same way you or I would. It just happens to like the Steelers because the Steelers are a better team."

He likens the projections to what a person buying or selling a house might do: look sale prices of comparable homes to get an accurate sense of market value.

"Things tend to unfold in a predictable manner if you know how to look for the right things. If you have the flu, you know exactly what to do - you've had the flu before. The logic is pretty similar."

The algorithm Bonaddio and Numberfire use adjusts different years and eras in football. For example, he notes that offenses pass more and score more than ever before, but, "the algorithm knows this, and adjusts accordingly. It also adjusts for things like weather, off-the-field issues, injuries, and a host of other things."  

During the regular season, Bonaddio used Numberfire's model to predict player performance for fantasy football. He said Numberfire picked better than ESPN.com and Yahoo! (the industry standards) nearly 70% of the time.

In addition to Numberfire, Bonaddio's primary employment is as the Creative Director for a startup in Manhattan called WorkMarket. In 2009, he won $100,000 on the 10th anniversary edition of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" -- "A totally ridiculous and surreal experience" he said, though Regis Philbin seemed to like the cut of his jib after he danced his way into the contestant's chair.

The Tartan gushes about his alma mater, "what I learned [at Carnegie-Mellon] profoundly changed the way I thought about the world and how to address problems," he said, and hopes to return there someday to teach and help with the track squad, of which he was a once standout member, earning NCAA Division III All-American honors in the 400-meter dash.

But back to that little matter of the football contest at Heinz Field Sunday evening …

Bonaddio's official prediction:

"The Jets may have looked strong offensively against the Patriots, but coming into Heinz Field to face Timmons, Woodley, Harrison, Polamalu and crew is an entirely different proposition. The Patriots would have been a terrible matchup for the Steelers, but it's hard to think of a better one than the Jets. The Steelers will bottle up in the run and pressure Sanchez into mistakes, and unless they give up another special teams TD, they should have this game comfortably."  

His Numberfire partner Carroll concurs. (The Steelers will play the Packers, by the way)

Bettors take note: this playoff season, Numberfire is a perfect 8-0 at picking against the spread. Fans take concern: he's only 4-4 at picking winners.

"You'd have been hard-pressed to find anyone who would have stuck his neck out for Seattle over New Orleans," he said.

A fair point, but twice he's picked the Jets to lose. Twice they haven't.

He hopes the third time is … y'know.

 

Read Nik Bonaddio & Will Carroll's full Numberfire analysis here.

Watch Nik Bonaddio's 2009 appearance on WWTBAM? below:

Part II:

Part III:


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.