Forecasting the 2020 NFL Season in a Pandemic
How I’m crowdsourcing predictions from the fantasy football and NFL communities
Editor’s note: This post takes a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of The Fantasy Forecasters NFL forecasting platform. Join in the fun and make your predictions today at www.thefantasyforecasters.com.
As an amateur forecaster on Good Judgement Open and Metaculus, I love making predictions about what will happen about the future. I’ve recently forecasted on questions like “Who would Biden pick as his vice presidential nominee?”, “How much Disney’s Mulan will make at the box office?”, and “Will FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast would give President Trump a higher chance of winning the 2020 election than the Economist’s model”, among others.
I have a particular soft spot for making predictions on sports, a familiar feeling to any sports better or armchair quarterback. The NFL has always been my favorite sport and I’m a big fan of fantasy football, with its perfect mix of analytics, luck, and trash talking competitiveness.
A Year of Uncertainty
As we approach the 2020 NFL season, like most things this year, the future seems more uncertain than usual. There are no preseason games, 171 players have tested positive for COVID-19 (so far), each team has a different policy for in-person attendees (some already announcing that they won’t be hosting any fans in person this season), and notable players are opting out of playing at all this year:
What can be done about so much uncertainty? If I’ve learned anything from my participating in forecasting platforms, tournaments, and studies, it’s that while the wisdom of the crowds isn’t a crystal ball to know exactly how the future will play out, it can get pretty darn close.
Forecasting platforms, similar to betting markets, work by crowdsourcing insights from seemingly random participants across the globe, posing a verifiable question about a future event and asking forecasters to provide probabilities that a given outcome will occur.
These forecasting communities, I figured, could be my way to gaining some insight about what will go on in the NFL in 2020, and open up opportunities for a new way to conduct fantasy football analysis. For example, I could ask “When will the last game be played?” to get a sense of whether the season would be cut short or “Which quarterback will score the most fantasy points in 2020?” to inform who I should pick in my fantasy draft.
While the top existing platforms consider and publish user-submitted questions to be forecasted on, I knew that the NFL and fantasy football was going to be a bit niche for those communities. So, I reached out to Cultivate Labs to inquire about leveraging their forecasting software for an NFL-specific forecasting site.
Creating a Forecasting Platform for the NFL
Speaking with Cultivate Lab’s CEO and co-founder Adam Siegel, he was supportive of the idea, saying “I’ve wanted someone to do something with fantasy for a while as I think it could be a great application of the platform”. Within a few hours, I had a placeholder site set up and ready to go.
It was easy to start creating questions and “challenges” — categories of questions to be forecasted on. Within just a few minutes I had six challenges and a handful of questions published to start accepting forecasts on my new forecasting platform I called The Fantasy Forecasters:
Each challenge covered a different theme of forecasting questions. Here are the original set of questions that, as of this writing, are still open to new forecasts:
In this challenge, I’ll be creating recurring questions each week to forecast the top-scoring players in each position, as well as the top-scoring rookie for each week of the NFL season. So far, there are five questions about Week 1:
- Who will be the QB1 of Week 1?
- Who will be the RB1 of Week 1?
- Who will be the WR1 of Week 1?
- Who will be the TE1 of Week 1?
- Who will be the top-scoring rookie of Week 1?
This challenge features a suite of questions similar to the weekly challenge, but with longer timelines to determine which player will be the top scoring player over the course of the entire season:
- Who will be the QB1 of 2020?
- Who will be the RB1 of 2020?
- Who will be the WR1 of 2020?
- Who will be the TE1 of 2020?
- Who will be the top-scoring rookie of 2020?
- Will Tom Brady or Cam Newton score more fantasy points in 2020?
COVID-19 is of course the reason for such uncertainty this season. This category of questions features my personal favorites that I think are most important to knowing how this season will turn out:
- When will the last game of the 2020 NFL season be played? (Will the season be cut short??)
- Which team will be crowned champion of the 2020 NFL season? (“No one” is a possible answer!)
- How many NFL players will have tested positive for COVID-19 by the end of the season?
- How many total fans will attend NFL regular season games in person in 2020?
This category of questions features miscellaneous non-fantasy NFL-related questions:
- Which current NFL head coach will first permanently vacate his post?
- What will be the official name of the Washington Football Team on March 1st, 2021?
- Will a sitting U.S. president attend an NFL 2020 season game in person?
- How many tweets from @realDonaldTrump will include “NFL” between September 2020 and March 2021?
This challenge asks a few navel-gazing questions about the fantasy sports industry itself:
- Which organization(s) will win the most industry awards at the FSGA annual conference in January 2021?
- Which Fantasy Footballers expert will be ranked highest for 2020 in-season accuracy by FantasyPros?
How to Forecast on Fantasy Football and the NFL
Making a prediction or forecast is easy:
- Select a question.
- Review the description detailing how the question will resolve (which source it will use, when it will stop accepting forecasts, etc.).
- Review the options for each question. Most are multiple choice with only one correct answer, but some questions allow for multiple correct answers or simply require a yes/no prediction.
- Provide your forecast by selecting a probability between 0% and 100% for each option indicating how likely you think it is that the question will resolve to that particular answer. For most questions, the sum of the options will need to add up to 100%.
- Optionally provide an explanation for the rationale behind your forecast. This could be simply articulating your thought process or linking to a particular source as evidence for your forecast.
- Submit your forecast!
You can also view the crowd forecast at any time to get a sense of whether your prediction will be in line with the consensus.
Update your forecast at any time before the question stops accepting forecasts. It is considered a best practice to update your forecast frequently as evidence surfaces to bolster a particular resolution.
To view the various categories of questions and to make your own forecast, go to The Fantasy Forecasters Challenge page.
Will the NFL season end on time as scheduled?
The question with the most forecasts so far tries to get at a crucial question for this season: will the NFL season play on as scheduled, or will COVID-19 cause it to be cancelled or delayed like so many other professional sports leagues?
The question itself asks “When will the last game of the 2020 NFL season be played?” with six options:
- No 2020 season games will be played
- Before November 1st, 2020
- Between November 1st, 2020 and December 31st, 2020, inclusive
- Between January 1st, 2021 and February 6th, 2021, inclusive
- Between February 7th, 2021 and February 8th, 2021, inclusive
- Not before February 9th, 2021
Currently, the crowd forecast puts a pretty even probability across most options. Interestingly, the crowd gives only a 30% chance that it will end on time on February 7th/8th with Super Bowl LV:
While there is no crystal ball to tell us what will happen this season, crowdsourced predictions can help us make some sense of what might happen to our favorite sport in a crazy year.
As you might imagine though, creating a forecasting community is a bit of a chicken-or-egg problem: people won’t participate unless they see others making forecasts. The more forecasts that are made, the better the wisdom of the crowds will be, so I could use your help!
If you find this interesting and want to help, go to this question asking “When will the last game of the 2020 NFL season be played?” and make a forecast. Then, take a look at all open questions and make as many predictions as you’d like. Finally, share the platform with a friend and through your social network, and follow @FantasyForecstr on Twitter.
I have a ton of fun forecasting and am even more excited to have you join me in forecasting on fantasy football and the NFL at The Fantasy Forecasters.
Before You Go
If you liked this post, you may also like my other posts about fantasy football and the NFL — give me a follow to be notified when I post more!: