When a Half Is More Than a Half (and When It Ain’t)

October 23, 2020 at 5:16 am 1 comment

Tonight, the dreadful Philadelphia Eagles defeated the pathetic New York Giants 22‑21 in a match-up of horrendous one-win teams. But not all one-win teams are created equal: in late September, the Eagles played the Bengals to a 23‑23 tie in a game that might have featured the all-time worst ending ever. As a result, the Eagles entered tonight’s game with a horrid 1‑4‑1 record, but not to be outdone, the Giants entered the game with a slightly more putrid 1‑5 record.

In football, a tie counts as a half-win (and a half-loss). But half-wins are sometimes worth more than half a win, sometimes they’re worth less than half a win, and sometimes they’re worth exactly half a win. Let me ‘splain.

After their win tonight, the Eagles record is 2‑4‑1. For the time being, that puts them atop the lowly NFC East:

Eagles 2-4-1
Cowboys 2-4
Washington 1-5
Giants 1-6

 

Philadelphia has played 7 games and won 2 1/2 of them. That is, they’ve won

\frac{2\frac{1}{2}}{7} = \frac{15}{42}

of their games. That puts them ahead of Dallas, who has won

\frac{2}{6} = \frac{14}{42}

of their games. So, the Eagles are currently in first place by 1/42 of a game.

But let’s say the Eagles had entered tonight with a 3‑2‑1 record and the Cowboys were 4‑2. After tonight’s win, the Eagles would be 4-2-1, and they would’ve won

\frac{4\frac{1}{2}}{7} = \frac{27}{42}

of their games. The Cowboys, on the other hand, would have won

\frac{4}{6} = \frac{28}{42}

of their games, and the Cowboys would be leading the division by 1/42 of a game.

So that half-win tie? It’s worth more to the Eagles because they’re terrible. Were they at least mediocre, that tie wouldn’t be as valuable.

On the other hand, if the Eagles had entered tonight with a 2‑3‑1 record and the Cowboys were 3‑3, then the Eagles would have been 3-3-1 after tonight’s win, and they would’ve won

\frac{3\frac{1}{2}}{7} = \frac{21}{42}

of their games. Similarly, the Cowboys would have won

\frac{3}{6} = \frac{21}{42}

of their games, and the teams would’ve been tied for first in the pitiful, talentless, miserable NFC East.

(Yes, I’m being hard on the NFC East, but it isn’t unwarranted. The average power ranking of the four teams is 28, when the lowest possible is 30.5. The four starting quarterbacks have thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns (24 TDs, 22 Ints), and the four teams’ top running backs have more fumbles than touchdowns (11 TDs, 12 Fum). Seriously, this division may be all-time bad.)

All that said, it’s highly unlikely that the season will end with the Eagles having played more games than the Cowboys. Then again, with COVID‑19, who knows what might happen?

It’s often been said that football is “a game of inches.” But given the importance of half-wins, isn’t it time we started saying that football is “a game of fractions”?

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About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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