It’s going to be a sad day in Philly if Dave Holt’s numbers pan out.
Holt, a computer programmer from Chattanooga, Tenn., has predicted 13 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners.
And this year?
Sorry, Birds fans. The Patriots have the edge – with or without Terrell Owens in the game – and should win, 31-24.
How does this work? Holt and colleagues Alan Stephenson and Steve Olson just finished running a 20,000-game simulation after plugging Eagles and Patriots statistics into their program. When all the games are done, a representative game is spit out. That game had the Birds on the short end.
“The program has no frills. It’s purely a number-crunching application,” Holt said. “It plays every down, every situation, and then spits out a result. It goes through about 500 games a minute, so this computer system is cooking.”
But this year has had a little twist for Holt and company, and leave it to the flashy, outspoken Owens to create it. It takes a week to run the simulations, but no one – apparently outside of God – knew whether Owens was going to play until he announced Tuesday that he was ready.
So the programmers, who had to start running the program before Owens made his decision, ran 10,000 games with a healthy Owens and 10,000 without.
“I hate to admit it, but it was a lot of fun to do it twice,” Olson said. “Since everyone was talking about Terrell this year, it was fun to see if he really would make a difference.”
Did he ever.
Without Owens, the Eagles won only 30 percent of 10,000 simulated games. Olson said once a team like New England got an advantage of 60 percent or more, a blowout could be in order.
But with a healthy Owens, the Eagles lost to the Patriots in only 54 percent of 10,000 games, which makes an upset very possible, Olson said.
“Everyone predicts that New England is going to win,” Holt said, “but if Terrell is healthy, the only thing that separated these guys in a hundred simulations was four games.”
Underdogs or not, Holt said, the Eagles had one statistic that could overpower all of the Patriots’ other superseding qualities.
The pass rush.
“The judi poker program has New England favored, but the good news is, there’s a way out,” Holt said. “Terrell will keep them in the game, but what’s going to win the game for them is the pass rush. It’s a very unusual number that speaks tons. That is the ticket for the Eagles.”
The statistic jumped out at Holt and Olson immediately: The Birds gave up only 9 yards per pass completion in the simulation – one of the lowest rates ever seen by Holt and Olson, who said the pressure on Pats quarterback Tom Brady forced much quicker, shorter passes.
Statistically, the Eagles “are outweighed on all the other categories,” Holt said, “but if David is going to beat Goliath, he’s got to use his slingshot – the pass rush.”
And if the simulations prove right, Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse will have his way with Brady. In the Eagles’ simulated victories, Kearse typically got two or three sacks.
Also, Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was effective in stopping New England running back Corey Dillon. In the games the Eagles won, Trotter helped hold Dillon to an average of less than 4 yards a carry.
Holt, 48, who taught himself programming, said that his love of football had carried him through excruciating hours of programming and experimenting, and that he did it purely for entertainment. He’s not a gambling man.
What he is, is a big Owens fan. He followed the receiver’s career closely when Owens played at Tennessee-Chattanooga, in Holt’s hometown.
But favorites aside, Holt can guarantee one thing: Either team is capable of winning Sunday.
For example, one of the four times Holt was wrong about the Super Bowl involved the Patriots, when he predicted the St. Louis Rams would win in 2001.
“We don’t say our statistics are infallible. They’re not,” Holt said. “We give Philadelphia fans hope, because there is a chance. I wouldn’t put anything against Coach [Andy] Reid.”