Elo everybody it’s Grey Cup time

Photo courtesy: Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

The first Grey Cup was awarded in 1909 and this year will be the 107th time it is awarded.

I have Elo Ratings calculated for every Grey Cup thanks to the great resource of CFLdb. The CFL itself was only fully formed in 1958 making this the 62nd year the CFL will be awarding the Grey Cup.

Accuracy of Elo Rating as a method of predicting the Grey Cup

Franchise and season Elo Ratings are 60-61 percent accurate at predicting the Grey Cup champion at the end of the year across its history. These numbers are essentially the same at 61-62 percent when viewed only in formal CFL 1958 history. The last twenty-five years is again roughly the same at 60-60 percent.

What is interesting is that in the last 10 years Elo Rating is at 70-70 percent in predicting the Grey Cup champion.

The three incorrect predictions begin with the 2012 Argonaut upset of the Stampeders in Toronto as newly-traded Ricky Ray and tamper fine hired Chris Jones at D.C. beat the Kevin Glenn and Jon Cornish Stampeders. The other two are of course the 2016 Henry Burris trick knee Redblacks winning in OT upset of the Stampeders despite the Stampeders storming back in the second half and the 2017 Grey Cup record fumble return TD and Ricky Ray pass TD game in the heavy snow in Ottawa.

Without those three games from Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Elo Rating would have been 100 percent correct the last 10 years. In fact, Elo would have been 100 percent correct in the last 13 years. Its last mistake would then be 2005 where it predicted Montreal over Edmonton. This was also Elo Rating’s closest prediction in that period with it giving Montreal only a 52 to Edmonton’s 48 percent chance to win game.

A good portion of this recent success of Elo Rating’s has been the weakness of the East division. In the last 10 years, outside of Anthony Calvillo’s 2010 Alouettes the East has not been favoured in a Grey Cup. The closest odds for an East team was last years Redblacks versus Calgary. However, this prediction would not have been as close if not for the late season losing streak of the Stampeders as they fought injury issues headed into the playoffs.

This year is different for the East with Hamilton being the clear favourite. A 15-3 team facing a team that finished third in its division. A third place division finish team has not won a Grey Cup since the aforementioned 2005 Edmonton team over Montreal.

In general, Elo Ratings performed really well predicting the 2019 CFL regular season. This is shocking given the turnover caused by a record free agency period and one year contracts head into a new CBA. The CFL also moved into a new era of quarterback contracts where either your team is structured around a big pay day QB star, or you have a mid-range or cheaper QB and can afford more big name free agents at other positions.

One reason Elo Ratings were accurate was due to how easy it was to predict that teams like Ottawa, Toronto, and B.C. would lose and continue to lose throughout the season. Even Edmonton was predictable after it was clear they were only beating those other three teams.

Elo Ratings were 78 percent (season Elo Rating) and 74 percent (franchise Elo Rating) at predicting this regular season. This was good for finishing in top 300 of the CFL Pick’em contest. If you picked only home teams this season you could have managed a 62 percent rate of correctness.

The last 10 years isn’t quite as good for Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are at 64-63 percent across the last 10 years. Home field advantage would have come in at 57 percent.

In general there is no home field advantage at Grey Cup. Home field rights are generally assigned to the hosting division of the Grey Cup. The crowd and setting are mostly neutral unless the home team makes it to the Grey Cup like the Riders in 2013.

Long-term it appears Elo Ratings appear to be as accurate predicting the Grey Cup as they are in the regular season, and they essentially give us the accuracy as if we had a home team to pick.

Hamilton vs Winnipeg in the 2019 Grey Cup

Given Winnipeg’s late season collapse it appeared that the pre-season expectation of a Hamilton vs Winnipeg Drought Bowl was going to fall apart. However, thanks to a smart late season trade for Collaros and Streveler playing through a broken foot, the Bombers have won two road games in the cold, in the West to make it happen.

Hamilton and Winnipeg entered the season with many of the same advantages that made them pre-season favourites. Both featured minor turnover, even Orlondo Steinauer becoming head coach had been an eventual expectation in Hamilton with Junes Jones considered a short-term coach. They both lost only minor pieces to free agency and added big name all-star quality veterans like the likely 2019 CFL MODP Willie Jefferson and Ja’Gared Davis who I’ve always called Charleston Hughes 2.0.

I made my first Elo Rating odds up in Week 8 this season. At that point the most likely Grey Cup match-up was already Winnipeg versus Hamilton at a 30 percent rate. Hamilton would easily hold on to this position with no team in the East ever looking close to a competitor. This only fell apart late in season as Winnipeg was caught by Calgary and Saskatchewan and forced into a road team needing two wins on the road to make the Grey Cup.

2019 Grey Cup Odds: Winnipeg vs Hamilton
2019 Grey Cup Odds: Winnipeg vs Hamilton

My favourite thing about Elo Ratings is not actually their predictive capability but how they provide a useful visualization of what a fan experience was like through-out a season or over a period of years. Looking at the franchise and season Elo Rating charts for this year give us a feel of how a fan would likely see their confidence or lack of confidence in their team ebb and flow relative to others. Hamilton rose from an average team consistently to the top where Winnipeg bounced back from a drop off late season to claw their way into the earned end of season match-up.

For non-Grey Cup teams, Montreal climbed back into relevancy while Edmonton struggled through mediocrity beating only bad teams. Calgary was surprisingly consistent after losing free agents and DeVone Claybrooks as defensive coordinator after three years of Grey Cup appearance dominance.

The Riders started average and new coach Craig Dickenson had them performing above expectations. The Redblacks had a consistent collapse of a season while the Argonauts continued to sputter. B.C. had a short re-invigoration against bad teams near to end of season but slumped back with the Mike Reilly injury.

2019 CFL Pre-Grey Cup Franchise Elo Rating Chart
2019 CFL Pre-Grey Cup Franchise Elo Rating Chart

The season Elo Rating chart is mostly converged with the franchise Elo Rating chart by end of season.

2019 CFL Pre-Grey Cup Season Elo Rating Chart
2019 CFL Pre-Grey Cup Season Elo Rating Chart

Grey Cup Prediction?

Hamilton is rightly favoured in the Grey Cup. Their odds are 54 percent to win in the neutral site game. This rises to 59 percent when considered as season Elo Rating. The relative power values of Markov ranking method and RPI would have Hamilton as less strong 53 and 51 percent favourites.

2019 CFL Elo Rating Grey Cup Odds
2019 CFL Elo Rating Grey Cup Odds

The pre-Grey Cup rankings have the two top teams playing. Hamilton was always on top but Winnipeg has pushed their way over the Riders and Stampeders with playoff victories.

2019 CFL Pre-Grey Cup Rankings
2019 CFL Pre-Grey Cup Rankings
Hudson is a Ph.D. graduate and instructor in computer science at the University of Calgary. He is a fan of football in all its forms