BACKGROUND: ZEUS is a computer model of the game of football, based on years of NFL statistics: game logs, historical statistics, even the behavior of coaches. It runs on a standard laptop, and is designed to do in mid-game what a coach can't: calculate the consequences of a decision before he calls the next play. ZEUS could help coaches make better decisions and help sports fans learn more about their favorite sports. ZEUS can also be customized for the offense and defense of a particular NFL team and its opponent. With the capability of performing more than a million game simulations in a matter of seconds, it can assess critical play choices on their relative merits.
HOW IT WORKS: The core model accurately replicates the play-calling and statistical outputs of typical NFL teams. Often the correct decision to make in a given situation is obvious, but sometimes the choice is not as clear. The ZEUS engine is powerful enough to simulate the equivalent of every game played in the history of the NFL (more than a million game simulations) in less than a second, and can assess crucial play-calling decisions with startling accuracy.
The program takes the output of the simulation and performs an analysis of probabilities of various outcomes to determine the strategy with the best chance of success. After millions of simulations were performed, several of the resulting key statistics were compared to the historical NFL data. The computer results closely matched the real-world data in such categories as average score differential, points, time of possession, rushing and passing yardage, kicking distances, and field goal success rates. ZEUS can also analyze "player position value," converting NFL data on individual player performance into useful statistical output, such as net wins per season, to help team managers make better hiring and salary decisions.
ABOUT COMPUTER MODELING: Computer modeling is used to simulate the structure and appearance of both static objects, such as building architecture, and dynamic situations, such as a football game. Computer models can enable the user to test the consequences of choices and decisions. They can provide cutaway views that let you see aspects of an object that would be invisible in the real artifact, as well as visualization tools that can provide many different perspectives. Physical models that reproduce behavior are limited by the physics of the world, while computer models have much looser bounds. Physical models of living things can reproduce very few behaviors, compared to simulation models, and physical models simply cannot capture the sorts of species-level and conceptual-level phenomena that artificial life and artificial intelligence models do. Computer models enable you to run companies and civilizations, fight battles, play football games and evolve new species.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.