Unless you've been living under a rock for the past two years, you're all too aware that the election is a mere two days away. And if you happen to be a fan of bizarre statistical anomalies, you may also be aware that the winner of today's Panthers-Redskins game may accurately predict whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney becomes the next Commander-in-Chief. Since 1940 (when the Redskins moved to the nation's capital from Boston), the Redskins have played in 18 seasons where there was a general election, and in 17 of those 18 years, when the Redskins win their last home game prior to the last day of the campaign, the party that won the previous election has stayed in power. When the Redskins lose their last pre-election home game, the non-incumbent party has always won the election.
For this trend (minus the 2004 results, when the Redskins lost but George W. Bush was re-elected) to have gone on as long as it has is nothing short of remarkable. It isn't just that any series of games could accurately predict who wins the election for so long, it's that it happens to involve the Washington Redskins -- D.C.'s own local football team. Essentially, the Redskins have represented political status quo 18 times and have failed only once; to call it fitting would be an understatement.
Knowing all this, it's imperative that we take a look at who is going to win today's Redskins home game. After all, why should we waste our time watching pundits babble on CNN and FOX News when we can get all the election info we need from a football game? It also presents a rare opportunity in sports, where Democrats and Republicans can root for opposite sports teams strictly on a partisan basis. The Panthers will represent Mitt Romney and the Republicans, and the Redskins will represent Barack Obama and the Democrats. (Never mind that the Panthers wear blue and the Redskins wear red.)
So, who will win? Well, let's dissect the numbers as though it was the election itself. Right now, the Redskins are 3.5-point betting favorites according to Oddshark. Washington is 3-5 overall and 1-2 at home; the Panthers are 1-6 (the worst record in the NFC) and are 0-3 on the road. The Redskins score more points, rush for more yards and allow less running yards than the Panthers; the Panthers allow less points, allow less passing yards and throw for more yards than the Redskins.
Aaron Schatz is the creator of Football Outsiders, a website that looks at football statistics from a Sabermetric perspective. Since Schatz could offer a far more exact prediction of the game than just about anybody, I asked him who he thought would win and if he could put a percentage to it -- in the spirit of polling season. "We've got Washington slightly higher than Carolina in our ratings, and the Redskins are at home, so I would have to go with them in this game, probably a 60-70 percent chance of a win," Schatz wrote me. "Both teams have had mediocre defense and poor special teams this year, but the Washington offense is just better, especially the run blocking. Our Adjusted Line Yards stats have Carolina 31st, and their runners are getting stuffed at the line 23 percent of the time, which is 29th in the league. Plus, the Panthers can't seem to decide what they want to do with their offense. Everything that seemed to work well last year has worked poorly this year, and instead of just sticking with it, they've been dicking around with strategy and figuring out which running backs they want to use and how often and it just seems like a bit of a mess right now."
What might be troubling to Panther fans (or Mitt Romney supporters) is that pretty much everybody seems to be picking the Redskins in this game. ESPN's weekly Madden NFL simulations -- which are way more accurate than you might imagine -- have the 'Skins triumphing 21-17; Accuscore, which runs 10,000 simulations of every single NFL game, has the Redskins as a 59-40 favorite to come away victorious; The Predictalator, which runs every NFL game 50,000 times, projected the Redskins to beat the Panthers back in August. And if you're not a fan of statistical mumbo-jumbo and are more interested in what the experts think will happen, then feast your eyes on ESPN's "Experts Picks" predictions page:
You'll notice there isn't a single Panthers logo in sight.
Of course, this is what makes this Redskins election streak so remarkable. Right now, everyone and their grandmother has Barack Obama getting a second term -- as of today, the political blog Five Thirty Eight has the odds of Obama winning at 85.1%, the same way every person alive seems to think the Redskins will win today. And yet, both the political matchup and the football matchup are incredibly close; a recent Washington Post/ABC poll has Obama and Romney dead even at 48%, and while the Redskins may be projected to win, they have the most porous pass defense in the NFL, are playing without their top two receivers (Fred Davis and Pierre Garcon) and are also hurt defensively. The Panthers, and Romney, could both easily win.
And therein lies the flaw, if you will, of polling and statistical projecting. Yes, we can conclude the likeliness of a result, but that doesn't erase the fact that the guy slated to lose still has a hell of a chance as well. If the Redskins are 59% favorites, that still means the Panthers would win this exact same matchup 41 times out of a 100, and who's to say this wouldn't be one of those 41?
All of which makes this Redskins election mark remarkable. All it would take is a single injury, a single bad snap or muffed punt, and the outcome of today's football game could contrast with the results of the election. But for 72 years, the Redskins and the election have been intertwined all but once, and for that simple reason, Democrats and Republicans should keep an eye on today's game -- while keeping in mind that it ultimately doesn't mean anything.