How Much of A Loser Will Chip Kelly Be?

Chip Kelly will lose more games this year than he ever has in a season as head coach.

Since the most he’s lost previously was three games (in his first year, 2009) that’s a given. In fact, Kelly will probably lose more games this year than in his entire four-year head coaching career combined (seven so far). As Tommy Lawlor noted, Andy Reid lost the first four games of his successful stretch in Philadelphia.

One question is, how will all of this sudden losing affect him? Is he one of those coaches with a “glass jaw,” who does well when his teams are rolling but cracks under the pressure of a losing binge? I discuss this question in great detail in a guest article over at IgglesBlitz, a big Eagles blog.

The short answer — spoiler alert! — is, I think he’ll do fine, based on past experience. Why Iggles, you ask? That’s how someone with a typical Philadelphia accent pronounces the word “Eagles,” which explains why no one apparently had thought of calling them “the Philadelphia Egos” last year, as apt as it was.

One of the main elements of Kelly’s coaching philosophy is to reduce the emotion surrounding games and focus on executing your plays, staying in the moment and forgetting about future games and past results. No one enjoys losing, but this more professional, more Zen, attitude will go a long way toward minimizing discouragement, if Kelly can sell it to his players.

Rasheed -- "Just CTC, baby!"

Rasheed — “Just CTC, baby!”

No one needs to get as cynical as Rasheed Wallace when, as a Trail Blazer, he responded to criticism by saying, “Just CTC – cash the check, baby,” but Kelly’s calmer approach worked at Oregon and should be a more natural fit with adult professionals than it was with young, emotional college kids. Already, Kelly has been enthusing over the attitude of his veteran players.

“This is their chosen profession, and all they want to do is be successful. They’re a lot more mature, they’re a lot more focused on what they have to do. They come to work every day, ” he told Sheil Kapadia.

Still, Kelly has to show some improvement over last year’s 4-12 record or he risks losing both players and fans, and hearing endless inane Steve Spurrier comparisons. So how many games will the Eagles win this year? I was put on the spot with this question on Comcast SportsNet Philly and, frankly, the question caught me off guard. I stalled for a bit and eventually managed to predict they’ll go 8-8, give or take two games.

Some blowhard on TV

Some blowhard on TV

Today I want to look at this question more closely, since I have a bit more time to think about it. I’m going to use my dumbed-down version of Bayesian analysis to come up with a more precise answer. What I mean by that is, instead of simply predicting win or loss for each game, I’ll assign a percentage likelihood of winning each game, and add up those fractions to get a total predicted number of wins.

So instead of predicting a win at home against the Cowboys and a loss on the road at Washington, I might say there’s an 80 percent chance of beating the Cowboys, and a 40 percent chance of beating Washington. 0.8 + 0.4 = 1.2, a more precise estimate of winning than “win one and lose one, so 1-1.”

Of course, there’s no such thing as two-tenths of a win, but over the course of the season the fractions add up and smooth out the risks of upsets. I’ll admit that I never took a statistics class and I’m kind of BSing, but I used this technique to predict who would attend my first wedding and it came out amazingly close. So there you go.

I also called in my favorite football analyst and fellow palindromist, Martin Clear of Sydney, Australia, to refine my win percentage estimates. Australia?! Yeah, buddy.

Next time you complain about having trouble getting a game on TV, imagine this guy, an avid NFL fan who played tight end on a team that won Australia’s American-Rules Football championship. College ball is simply not televised down under, so he’s been listening to me rave about how great this Chip Kelly guy is for years without being able to follow it. Martin’s as excited as any Philly fan about Kelly coming to the Eagles, just so he can see if I’m full of crap.

Here are my predictions:

Game Date Team % Win
1 9/9/2013 At Redskins 35%
2 9/15/2013 Chargers 70%
3 9/19/2013 Chiefs 80%
4 9/29/2013 At Broncos 25%
5 10/6/2013 At Giants 40%
6 10/13/2013 At Buccaneers 45%
7 10/20/2013 Cowboys 65%
8 10/27/2013 Giants 55%
9 11/9/2013 At Raiders 80%
10 11/10/2013 At Packers 25%
11 11/17/2013 Redskins 55%
12 11/24/2013 Bye 0%
13 12/1/2013 Cardinals 75%
14 12/8/2013 Lions 60%
15 12/15/2013 At Vikings 35%
16 12/22/2013 Bears 45%
17 12/29/2013 At Cowboys 45%
——– ——–
Total: 8.35 wins

So a more statistical approach pretty much confirms my seat-of-the-pants estimate. Martin’s numbers were very similar, especially since I cheated off his notes. He was more optimistic about beating the Cowboys and Redskins at home (70 percent each), but more pessimistic about the last game at Dallas (40 percent), for a result of 8.5 wins. Plus, as he notes, “the exact .5 decimal cleverly allows me to claim to be 100 percent right if the Eagles finish with either eight OR nine wins. Neat trick.”

Try it yourself and tell us what results you get, for individual games or overall wins. Post your answers in the comments and let’s discuss.

Since we’re talking about numerical cipherin’, I wrote last week about a statistical analysis showing that contrary to popular opinion, Michael Vick did not hang on to the ball much longer than Nick Foles, if at all. Sportswriter Jimmy Kempski — who just took over at Bleeding Green Nation, one of the biggest Eagles blogs – did his own statistical analysis back in February and got noticeably different numbers.

But if you look under the hood there, you’ll see that Vick’s release times were much worse in the first four games, and after that he was comparable to Foles. The twist is that the Eagles were 3-1 in those first four games, but I think that has more to do with the collapse of the Eagles’ defense after Reid fired his defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, after that fourth game.

In any case, it shows that Vick is coachable and capable of making adjustments even in his second decade in the league. Another encouraging sign for a very interesting year in the City of Brotherly Love.

Mark Saltveit’s book “The Tao of Chip Kelly” has been one of Amazon’s best-selling football books since its release last month. You can find it at the Ducks Store in Eugene, the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, various stores around Philadelphia, and online at

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Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit's newest book is "Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly's Football Revolution" (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of "The Tao of Chip Kelly" (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.

8 Responses

  1. Mike Pitzler says:

    How do you come up with the likelihood of winning by percentage? Chip would call each of those the Superbowl, and each team a faceless opponent, so, I take this as your prediction, and not Chip’s, but fair enough. I like your guesses better than simple win/lose, and 8-8 for the first year would be more than a step in the right direction. Go Iggles!

    • msalt says:

      Right, that’s all from me. You’d never catch Chip making predictions. It was pretty much seat of my pants, with feedback from my buddy Martin. Do you have different percentages?

  2. Mike Pitzler says:

    No. There are too many variables in a football game. I don’t follow the pros at all, and I’m just interested in Chip’s success. World Palindrome Champion, eh? Now that’s interesting.

  3. Jon Sousa says:

    I defer to CK’s answer to the idea of naming a starting QB now: “Based on what?” We have no clue what their chances are in any game because we have never seen them play. I expect CK to not name a QB until at least half way through the pre-season games. He will give 2 or 3 QBs a whole lot of snaps. What happens if they win the pre-season? the first regular game? What happens to confidence level? How does that affect future work ethic and focus? Success breeds success and failure breeds failure. What happens in the first few games may dramatically affect your percentages for the other games.

    Look at Oregon State last year. How many people thought OSU would win 9 games? Based on their percentages for each game folks might have predicted 6 wins. That unexpected (by everyone else) first win helped them immensely.

    So, how many games will the Iggles win next year? It could easily be 9-12 and maybe a playoff victory too (or two?).

    • msalt says:

      Exactly. I know it’s not commonly done, but then you think about it — give all of your QB’s a chance to move the team down field, and the one who consistently does the best gets the job. Why would you do it any other way?

  4. duckinatlanta says:

    I like your analysis. It seems reasonable to me.

    On the subject of Palindromes, you may be aware of a small town in Northern California called Yreka. It has (or had) a store called the Yreka Bakery. You might want to stop and get a doughnut there…

    • msalt says:

      Oh, I have! It’s on I-5, right on the way to San Francisco from Portland, not far from Weed and Yolo County. Believe it or not, the person who first wrote about that place was Mark Twain, 150 years ago. It’s shut down now — but shortly after it closed, someone opened the “Yrella Gallery” which sold paintings of course.

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