Posts tagged ‘football’

Probability, the Playoffs, and the Indianapolis Colts

With one week left in the NFL season, Dan Graziano had this to say about the Indianpolis Colts’ chances of making the playoffs:

Indianapolis can still win a third straight AFC South title. Really, it can. All it needs is to win and then have the Texans, Bengals, Chargers, Jets, Saints, Chiefs, Patriots and Browns all lose. The league will throw in the partridge in a pear tree.

Colts HelmetIf the Colts win and the Houston Texans lose, both would be 8-8, and the first four tiebreakers for deciding which team makes the playoffs – record against one another, record against divisional opponents, record against common opponents, and record within the conference – would not be enough to decide who makes the cut.

It then comes down to strength of victory and strength of schedule. And for things to play out in the Colts’ favor, a lot of things have to go their way.

Fox Sports referred to this as long shot, comparing it to a recent win by a horse who was 200-to-1:

Sure, going 9 for 9 here looks dim, but long shots come in every once in a while.

Are the Colts’ odds as good as that horse’s? Seems not.

Using a simplistic model, assume that each of the nine necessary outcomes are equally likely. That alone would put the Colts’ odds at 511-to-1. (Since 29 = 512.)

But it’s not that simple. The following chart from gives the probability of each team winning their game this weekend:

NFL Week 17 - Game Probabilitiess

The good news is that the Colts have an 81% chance of winning their game against Tennessee. The bad news is that it seems unlikely that any of the Texans, Bengals, Chiefs, or Patriots will lose, let alone all four of them. So putting all those numbers together, the Colts’ chances of making the playoffs are:

0.81 × 0.20 × 0.22 × 0.84 × 0.54 × 0.69 × 0.15 × 0.18 × 0.77 = 0.0002 = 0.02%

or, more precisely, about 4,311-to-1. That’s more than a long shot; that’s an extended-to-an-unfathomable-distance shot.

The Colts are in the unenviable position of Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance…”

December 31, 2015 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

P (NFL ∪ Math) > 0

John UrschelJohn Urschel is an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens and admits, “I love hitting people.” As it turns out, he loves hitting the books, too. He earned a masters degree in mathematics from Penn State, and he recently published a paper with the impressive title A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians in the Journal for Computational Mathematics.

Note that Urschel was the lead author, even though his three co-authors were an associate math professor from Tufts and two math professors from Penn State.

I have to wonder if the paper was fairly refereed. I mean, honestly, who in the math community is gonna tell a 6’3″, 308‑pound football player that he made an error?

A la Paul Erdös, Urschel doesn’t need much to be happy. In an essay published March 18, he wrote:

I drive a used hatchback Nissan Versa and live on less than $25k a year. It’s not because I’m frugal or trying to save for some big purchase, it’s because the things I love the most in this world (reading math, doing research, playing chess) are very, very inexpensive.

I was thinking about how Urschel has superior talent in two fields, when I saw this comment on an article on Deadspin:
Comments - Sports or Math

Here’s the thing.

There are 1,596 players in the National Football League at any given time (32 teams with 53 players each). Throw in a few more who serve on practice squads and occasionally get a chance when someone else gets hurt, so maybe that number climbs to 2,000. Still, the chance of making it to the NFL is unbelievably remote. Recruit 757 claims that only 0.008% of all high school athletes get drafted by the NFL.

And if you can believe Wolfram Alpha, there are 2,770 mathematicians in the United States, or approximately 1/47,165 of the U.S. workforce.

Point is, the probability of becoming either a professional football player or a mathematician is ridiculously small. Becoming both is smaller still. Though John Urschel proved it’s greater than 0. The saving grace is that he seems like a down-to-earth guy who realizes how lucky he is.

To read a math article written by John Urschel, check out 1 in 600 Billion.

March 22, 2015 at 6:25 am 1 comment

6 Degrees of Bad Math Jokes

I once read an article that said, “To a greater or lesser degree, everything tastes like chicken.” Well, that’s true, but it’s also true that everything tastes like broccoli, to a greater or lesser degree. Carrots, to a greater degree; mint chocolate chip ice cream, to a lesser degree.

To a greater or lesser degree, some of the following jokes are funny.

What did the thermometer say to the graduated cylinder?

Thermometer and Cylinder

A scientist dropped a thermometer and a candle from the roof of a building. He observed that both objects reached the ground at the same time. Conclusion: A thermometer falls at the speed of light.

A doctor walks into a meeting, and a nurse asks why he has a rectal thermometer behind his ear. “Damn,” says the doctor, “some asshole has my pen!”

The star college football player was taking a math exam. The coach desperately needed him for the big game on Saturday, so the professor agreed to an oral exam.

“All right,” said the professor. “How many degrees are in a circle?”

“That depends,” said the boy. “How big is the circle?”

If you’re cold and there’s a right triangle nearby, stand in the corner opposite the hypotenuse. It’s always 90° over there.

The number you have dialed is imaginary. Please rotate your phone 90°, and try again.

December 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm 1 comment

The MJ4MF Bowl

It’s college bowl season, and there is an impressive line-up of games, from the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, to the Bowl, to the…

Oh, for Pete’s sake.

There are no fewer than eight college football bowls that have completely abandoned any pretense of respecting tradition. The name of the bowl is isomorphic with the name of the sponsoring company. Sure, some bowls give a nod to tradition by appending the name of the sponsor to the historical name, such as the Allstate Sugar Bowl or the Discover Orange Bowl. But even in those cases, the sponsor is listed before the bowl itself.

What can you do? My daddy always told me, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”

Following his sage advice, I’d like to announce the 2013 Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks Bowl, which already has a spiffy logo…

MJ4MF Bowl Logo

But the MJ4MF Bowl will be different than the others. There have to be rules. My rules.

First, the game must be played on January 3, 2013, which can be written as 1/3/13. (Nice, huh?)

Second, both teams would have to be willing to modify their nicknames — only temporarily, of course — to make them more mathy. For example,

  • Arizona State Sum Devils
  • East Carolina πrates
  • Navy Midpoint Men
  • North Texas Median Green
  • Penn State Nittany Lines
  • Standford Cardinality
  • Tulane Sine Wave
  • UCLA de Bruijn Sequences
  • Western Kentucky Hilltopologists

Third, and most importantly, the yard lines on the field would need to be renumbered. Currently, they are numbered as follows:

|0    1|0    2|0    3|0    4|0    5|0    4|0    3|0    2|0    1|0    0|

That’s just dumb. For the MJ4MF Bowl, the yard lines will be numbered like this:

-5|0    -4|0    -3|0    -2|0    -1|0    0    1|0    2|0    3|0    4|0    5|0 

Honestly, doesn’t that make more sense? The middle of the field would be the 0-yard line, which seems appropriate; and, now when you hear, “The Lions have the ball on the 10-yard line,” you won’t have to wonder, “Which 10-yard line?”

Finally, teams will not have to meet the onerous NCAA bowl eligibility requirements to participate in the MJ4MF Bowl. Why does a team need six wins to be bowl eligible, anyway? That just means they’ll demand a big pay-out, and unless a rich, eccentric math geek buys a million copies of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks in the next week, well, that’s just not gonna happen.

Two exciting teams are currently sought to play in the inaugural MJ4MF Bowl. Notre Dame and Alabama are required to play for the national championship, and the likes of Georgia, Kansas State, and Nebraska have already agreed to other bowl games… but surely the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss (0-12) and the Akron Zips (1-11) are available, no?

December 31, 2012 at 11:32 am 2 comments

Math on Monday Night Football

Tonight’s Eagles-Panthers game had several mathematical incidents.

A Counting Problem

During pre-game warm-ups, a voice-over quoted one of the player’s thusly:

You want me to describe playing on Monday night in one word? Prime time.

Computer scientists start counting at 0. Apparently pro football players start counting at 2.

Speaking of counting… did you notice that the sentence above had three hyphenated words? That’s just crazy.

Flippin’ Out

Football Coin TossDuring the opening kick-off, Mike Tirico mentioned that the Carolina Panthers lost the coin toss. That alone is not exceptional, but it was the eleventh straight game that they had lost the flip. The odds of a team being that unlucky? How about 2,047 to 1?

Perhaps they can blame bad luck for their eight losses this season, too.

Numerically Interesting Milestone

Wide receiver Steve Smith of the Panthers caught a pass in the first half that took him to 745 career receptions for a total of 11,011 yards. What a cool number! First, it’s a palindrome. Second, 110112 = 2710, and he currently ranks 27th among wide receivers in career receiving yards. That’s a pretty fun coincidence.

November 26, 2012 at 10:33 pm Leave a comment

Football Math for Super Bowl Week

Super Bowl week seems an appropriate time to share some jokes that involve football and math.

[Super Bowl Squares Online Contest]

What is this?


Here’s another one involving fractions. (And that lead-in should be a hint if you had trouble with the question above.)

What do you call a Patriots fan with half a brain?

And just to be an equal opportunity offender…

What did the average Giants player get on his Wonderlic test?

There are several one-liners involving football and math (sort of).

Pro football players are so huge, it takes only four of them to make a dozen.

Their nickel defense is only worth 3¢.

His uniform number was 29, which was also his house number. He wore it to make sure he remembered where to go after the game.

That last one reminded me of a mathy football joke involving dumb people…

By the time Bubba arrived to the football game, the first quarter was almost over. “Why are you so late?” his friend asked.

“I tossed a coin to decide between going to church or coming to the game.”

“I don’t understand. How long could that have taken?”

“Well,” Bubba said, “I had to toss it 14 times.”

For a similar, non-football coin-tossing joke, read the one about the student at the final exam.

February 3, 2012 at 9:22 am 1 comment

The Book of Tebow

Editor’s Note: The following post is more about (American) football than math, but it does contain some humor (or, perhaps more correctly, it contains material similar to the other material that poses as humor on this blog). Just be forewarned. Read at your own peril.

Tim TebowI fell in love with Denver on a family trip in 1982. My favorite colors as a kid were blue and orange. So I was already a fan of the Denver Broncos when they acquired my favorite college player, John Elway, on May 2, 1983. (Ironically, my wife and I acquired our twin sons on May 2, also, albeit more than two decades later.) On Sunday afternoons growing up, I’d watch my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers at one o’clock, and I’d hope that NBC would show Elway and the Broncos during the late game.

So this whole Tebow thing? Yeah, I feel a little like I’m jumping on a bandwagon. Then again, I’ve been a fan of the Broncos for 28 years, so cut me a little slack.

Plus, it’s just so damned compelling. Any quarterback can win football games, but it takes a rare talent to repeatedly perform miracles. You better believe that I have already set our DVR to record tomorrow’s Broncos-Patriots game.

I also love the hype and the humor. The nickname “God’s Quarterback” seems to have stuck, and this great joke has surfaced:

And on the seventh day, God rested so he could watch his son play quarterback for the Denver Broncos.

A few days ago, a headline in The Christian Post caught my eye:

Tim Tebow God’s QB, But Does God Care About Football?

I have a Speed Bump cartoon on the door to my office suggesting, in fact, that He does:

Speed Bump - Miracle

I look forward to all that will follow. The legend of Tim Tebow continues to grow, and no doubt organized religion will begin to take advantage of the publicity. I suspect a rewrite to the Good Book before too long…

The Gospel According to Tebow

1 God created Tebow in his own image, in the image of God created He him. And God said unto him, Go forth, and run and score, and replenish hope in the city of Denver: and have dominion over the dolphins of the sea; and over the fowl of the air, over cardinals and eagles and ravens; and over cowboys and redskins and titans; and over every living thing that moveth upon the turf.

2 And lo, He made a great arena, called as the Stadium of the Authority of Sports, which was ten-thousand cubits from the one rim to the other. It was round all about, and a line of thirty-one thousand, four-hundred fifteen and nine-hundred twenty-six thousandths cubits (approximately) did compass it round about. And the incorrect approximation of pi previously appearing in scriptures was thus smote, and it was good.

3 He placed the stadium above the water five-thousand two-hundred eighty feet, providing a wonderful number with which to demonstrate the law of divisibility by eleven.

4 And He bade him, play your best, and do not be discouraged in half the first, or by thine rating of eighty-three-point-four, or by trailing your opponents at the end of quarter third; play well when the end is nigh, and best your enemy after regulation time has expired.

5 Lastly God said unto him: kneel before me, with but one knee upon the earth and a clenched fist upon thine brow, and let photographers take pictures; and all the peoples of the earth shalt imitate thee and post their pictures at, thus begetting an international phenomenon.

6 And Tebow did as commanded, and it was good.

December 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm Leave a comment

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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.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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