You might have noticed that new fancy touch-screen toy the TV stars on "SportsCenter" are playing with called the Predictor. It's pretty swell, especially if, oh, I don't know, you are one of those fans who is interested in not only who will win the game but by how much they will win the game (wink, nod, wink, nod).
Well, the Predictor actually is a tool that has been hanging around the catacombs of Insider's computers for a while now. And it's the brainchild of the guys at Teamrankings.com. I've featured them before in the column when I've spoken with Tom Federico, one of the founders of the decade-old company. Tom and a fellow Stanford geek named Mike Greenfield were math and engineering students. They liked to screw around in their dorms with complicated algorithms and formulas -- as all the cool kids in Palo Alto are apt to do on a Friday night -- and eventually they developed a sophisticated, three-pronged approach to handicapping.
The first element focuses on the standard power ratings formula. The second element employs a "Similar Games" model, which incorporates the power rating as well as dozens of other stats and betting lines that featured similar teams. From a data set of 2,000 NFL games, going back to 2003, the TR model finds 75 teams with similar statistical profiles as the two teams being analyzed in the current game. It then puts all that info into a computerized blender and creates an expected outcome. The "Similar Games" algorithm is what powers the Predictor model on "SportsCenter."
The third angle is based on Decision Tree models, which is what a lot of high-falutin' business types use to identify patterns in very complicated transactions. For reference, here's how I described it last year when Federico and I first spoke during the NCAA tournament: