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Broncos for Romney? Patriots for Obama? How your NFL team can predict the next president

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Every four years since 2000, 7-Eleven has conducted a coffee cup poll, with the sales of candidate-branded coffee cups correctly predicting the actual winner in November three times in a row. Sales of Halloween masks of the two major-party candidates have predicted the next president since 1996, and the Scholastic News poll of students has been right 16 of the last 18 elections, going back to 1940.

We have a natural ability to find patterns—even made-up ones—in the noise of the universe. People like the idea that one factor can encapsulate the thousands of data points that go into the real election. It's all nonsense, of course. While we might expect something like coffee cups or mask sales to loosely align with the real outcome, the fact that these trends have a winning streak going is pure luck. In a crowded field of numbers, some events will randomly align with the results of the American presidential election (or the stock market, the planets, pistachio sales, whatever).

And that's how we got the Redskins Rule, a prediction that has a tradition of accuracy even better than Scholastic's survey. It goes like this:

If the Washington Redskins win their last home game before the election, the incumbent party retains the White House. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins.

This pattern has failed only once since 1940, though which year it failed is something of a debate on Wikipedia, depending whether one honors a retroactive change to the rule to recognize the winner of the popular vote.

To belabor the point that these rules are just coincidences, I concocted a rule for every NFL franchise. (Well, I exploited a computer to try every combination for me.) For example, here is the Broncos Rule:

If Denver rushes for more than 106 yards in its fifth game of the season, the incumbent party wins. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins.

This rule has held for every election since the Denver Broncos' first season in 1960, when the Broncos ran for 104 yards on 22 carries against the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 16, dooming Richard Nixon and turning the White House over to the Democrats.

Here is the Patriots Rule, true for 12 of the past 13 elections:

If New England commits fewer turnovers than its opponent in the team's first away game, the out-of-power party will win the White House. Otherwise, the incumbent party wins.

When I presented my findings to Steve Hirdt, the Elias Sports Bureau executive who discovered the Redskins Rule in 2000, he wasn't impressed.

His rule, he pointed out, uses only "the simplest of statistics and involves the team you would want it to involve"—that is, Washington's team. It also occurs right before the election.

For a team that's been around since 1960, the odds of any statistic matching up every four years with the election results is only 1 in 4,096. That's 12 coin flips in a row all landing on heads. (There have been 13 elections since 1960, but the first year is a freebie because it establishes the trend.) To find a rule for every franchise, I had to start concocting absurd combinations of game statistics, giving way to rules like the 49ers Rule:

If San Francisco scores at least 1.5 points for every completion in its third home game of the season, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins.

The odds of the Redskins Rule being true 17 out of 18 times, if you figure there's an average of a 50-50 chance that either candidate wins over time, are about 1 in 14,500.

But it is impossible that there is any actual connection between the Redskins and national politics. Right?

Unless you have a persuasive theory for why the Redskins Rule is nonrandom—and I'd love to hear it—we have to conclude that we are very lucky to live in a universe where the odds of so simple a rule working out came true. In the meantime, here are the less elegant rules for every other franchise. The data comes from Pro-Football-Reference.com.

team rule streak

The 49ers Rule: If San Francisco scores at least 1.5 points for every completion in its third home game of the season, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 13/13
  Romney wins. The 49ers scored only 3 points on 23 completions against the Giants on Oct. 14  

The Bears Rule: If, in Chicago's fourth game, more than 5 percent of the quarterback's completions are for touchdowns, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 13/13
  Obama wins. Bears QB Jay Cutler threw 18 completions for two touchdowns, an 11 percent rate, at Dallas on Oct. 1  

The Bengals Rule: If Cincinnati posts more than 300 total yards of offense in its third home game, the incumbent party wins the White House. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins. 11/11
  Romney wins. The Bengals advanced only 185 yards on Oct. 21 against Pittsburgh.  

The Bills Rule: If the opposing team in Buffalo's second home game throws for more than 160 yards, the Republican wins the election. Otherwise, the Democrat wins. 13/13
  Romney wins. New England threw for 340 yards on Sept. 30.  

The Broncos Rule: If Denver rushes for at least 106 yards in its fifth game, the incumbent party wins. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins. 13/13
  Romney wins. Denver ran for 70 yards at New England on Oct. 7  

The Browns Rule: If Cleveland does not throw an interception in its third home game, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 14/14
  Romney wins. Cleveland threw one interception against Cincinnati on Oct. 14  

The Buccaneers Rule: If Tampa Bay scores more than 14 points in its fourth game, the out-of-power party wins the White House. Otherwise, the incumbent party wins. 9/9
  Romney wins. Tampa Bay scored 22 points vs. Washington on Sept. 30.  

The Cardinals Rule: If Arizona averages more than 18.2 yards per first down in its fifth-to-last game before the election, the out-of-power party wins. Otherwise, the incumbent party retains the White House. 17/17
  Obama wins. Arizona advanced 282 yards on 20 first downs at St. Louis on Oct. 4, a rate of 14.1.
 

The Chargers Rule: If San Diego runs for an odd number of yards in its third away game, the incumbent party holds the White House. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins. 13/13
  Obama wins. The Chargers ran for 117 yards at New Orleans on Oct. 7  

The Chiefs Rule: If Kansas City's opponent in the Chiefs' second game runs at least 7.2 yards for every point it scores, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 13/13
  Romney wins. The Bills averaged 5.7 rush yards per point on Sept. 16.  

The Colts Rule: If Indianapolis has more sacks than turnovers in its first home game, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 13/13
  Obama wins. The Colts sacked the Vikings four times and committed no turnovers in their home opener on Sept. 16.  

The Cowboys Rule: If Dallas rushes for more than 96 yards in its fourth home game, the Republican wins the White House. Otherwise, the Democrat does. 13/13
  This year: vs. Cleveland on Nov. 18  

The Dolphins Rule: If Miami's opponent in its last away game before the election completes at least 19 passes, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 10/11
  Obama wins. The Colts completed 30 passes against the Dolphins in Indianapolis on Nov. 4  

The Eagles Rule: If Philadelphia scores at least one offensive touchdown per nine first downs in its second away game, the Democrat wins the White House. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 15/16
  Romney wins. Arizona kept Philadelphia out of the end zone on Sept. 23.
 

The Falcons Rule: If the quarterback for Atlanta throws at least one interception in the Falcons' fifth game of the season, the out-of-power party wins the election. Otherwise, the incumbent party wins. 11/11
  Romney wins. Matt Ryan threw one interception at Washington on Oct. 7  

The Giants Rule: If New York completes at least 60 percent of its passes in its seventh game, the incumbent party wins. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins. 11/11
  Obama wins. The Giants complete 26 passes on 40 attempts Oct. 21 against the Redskins for a rate of 65 percent.
 

The Jaguars Rule: If Jacksonville completes more than half of its passes in its first away game, the out-of-power party wins. Otherwise, the incumbent party wins. 4/4
  Romney wins. The Jaguars were 23 for 39 against the Vikings on Sept. 9.  

The Jets Rule: If the New York Jets win their second away game, the Republican wins the White House. Otherwise, the Democrat wins. 12/13
  Romney wins. The Jets beat the Dolphins in overtime on Sept. 23.
 

The Lions Rule: If Detroit's opponent is charged with at least 20 percent more penalties than Detroit in the last home game before the election, the Republican wins. Otherwise, the Democrat wins. 13/13
  Obama wins. Detroit was slapped with five penalties to the Seahawks' two on Oct. 28  

The Packers Rule: If Green Bay throws more than one interception per 20 pass attempts in its last game before the election, the Republican wins. Otherwise, the Democrat wins. 13/13
  Obama wins. Green Bay threw one interception on in 30 pass attempts against Arizona on Nov. 4  

The Panthers Rule: If Carolina does not fumble in its third home game, the incumbent party wins the White House. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins. 4/4
  Romney wins. The Panthers fumbled once against Chicago on Oct. 7  

The Patriots Rule: If New England commits fewer turnovers than its opponent in its first away game, the out-of-power party wins the White House. Otherwise, the incumbent party wins. 12/13
  Romney wins. The Patriots committed zero turnovers to the Titans' two on Sept. 9.  

The Raiders Rule: If Oakland does not advance at least 358 yards in its fourth home game, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 13/13
  Obama wins--barely! Oakland posted 351 total yards against Jacksonville on Oct. 21  

The Rams Rule: If St. Louis averages at least one fumble per eight first downs in its first game, the Democrat wins. Fewer than that, the Republican wins. 13/13
  Obama wins. The Rams fumbled twice and achieved only 14 first downs against Detroit on Sept. 9.  

The Ravens Rule: If Baltimore wins its third-to-last away game before the election, the Republican wins. Otherwise, the Democrat wins. 4/4
  Romney wins. The Ravens beat the Chiefs 9-6 on Oct. 7  

The Saints Rule: If New Orleans tallies more first downs than its opponent in the team's fourth away game, the out-of-power party wins the White House. Otherwise the incumbent party wins. 11/11
  Obama wins. The Saints posted 14 first downs to Denver's 29 on Oct. 28  

The Seahawks Rule: If Seattle gets at least 18 first downs in its third-to-last game before the election, the incumbent party wins. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins. 9/9
  Romney wins. Seattle had 13 first downs at San Francisco on Oct. 18  

The Steelers Rule: If Pittsburgh rushes for more yards than it passes in the Steelers' first home game, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins. 15/17
  Romney wins. The Steelers advanced 66 yards on the ground and 265 in the air en route to defeating the Jets on Sept. 16.  

The Texans Rule: If the Houston Texans win their second away game, the Republican wins the White House. Otherwise, the Democrat wins. 2/2
  Romney wins. Houston defeated Denver 31-25 on Sept. 23.
 

The Titans Rule: If Tennessee fumbles at least twice in its second away game, the incumbent party wins the White House. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins. 13/13
  Obama wins. Tennessee fumbled twice at Houston on Sept. 30.  

The Vikings Rule: If Minnesota scores five or fewer points for every turnover the Vikings' opponent commits in the team's third home game, the incumbent party holds the White House. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins. 11/12
  Romney wins. The Viking scored 30 points on two turnovers by Tennessee on Oct. 7  

Follow Chris Wilson at @chriswilsondc or email him at cewilson@yahoo-inc.com.

Correction, Sept. 21 at 3:28 p.m. EST: This column originally stated that the Redskins Rule failed once, in 2000. It originally held up in 2000 and failed in 2004, but has since been amended to work in 2004 at the expense of its accuracy in 2000.

Update, Sept. 24 at 12:30 p.m. ET: Three rules were decided in yesterday's games: The Eagles Rule, the Jets Rule, and the Texans Rule. All three point to a Romney win.

Update, Oct. 2 at 11:50 p.m. ET: Four rules were decided in the past week. The Bears Rule and the Titans Rule point to an Obama win, while the Bills Rule and the Buccaneers Rule point to a Romney win. The score is now 9-4 in Mitt Romney's favor.

Update, Nov. 2 at 12:11 p.m. ET: Romney now leads Obama 18-10 among the 28 team rules that have been decided, meaning that, by this metric, he is certain to win the election. Three more rules will be adjudicated this weekend, including the vaunted Redskins Rule.

Update, Nov. 6 at 12:49 p.m. ET: The Redskins fell to the Panthers 21 to 13 on Nov. 4, meaning Romney will have to win in order for the Redskins Rule to succeed. Obama picked up two more rules the same day -- the Dolphins Rule and the Packers Rule -- for a final score of 19-12 in NFL rules.

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