The best teams in 2022 were not always champions

The end of the year is always a reason for reflection, a moment to look back on all the good and bad that has happened in the past 12 months. If you play football for the Georgia Bulldogs, there’s a lot more of the good stuff! If you play for the Houston Texans, maybe less. So, in what has become an annual tradition, it’s time for us to take stock of 2022 in sports by comparing teams across all the different leagues we have Elo ratings for. (Including the World Cup, with ratings from Eloratings.net.)

We will measure the top teams of 2022 based on an average of three factors: their year-end, their average rating throughout the calendar year, and the highest rating they achieved at any point during the year. To ensure that each sport is judged on a similar scale, we also convert the ratings into z-scores (or the number of standard deviations that a composite rating was above or below the mean).

With all that out of the way, let’s first look at the teams that won a championship during the 2022 calendar year:

Elo’s best champions in 2022

Most standard deviations of composite Elo ratings above average (by league) for 2022 champions in major sports for which we have Elo data

Team League Top Average Finally Mixture Z-score
Georgia Bulldogs CFB* 2207 2064 2163 2144 +2.62
South Carolina Gamecocks WBB* 2395 2317 2395 2369 +2.25
Kansas Jayhawks MBA* 2135 1990 2135 2087 +1.96
Houston Astros MLB 1602 1566 1602 1590 +1.82
Argentina toilet 2158 1984 2143 2095 +1.74
Colorado Avalanche NHL 1634 1603 1583 1607 +1.73
Las Vegas Aces WNBA 1696 1630 1689 1671 +1.40
Golden State Warriors NBA 1712 1624 1571 1636 +1.18
Los Angeles Rams NFL 1670 1555 1424 1550 +0.26

* Z-score is relative to other power-conference teams.

Includes all games played by each franchise during the 2022 calendar year (through December 20). Champions from major professional leagues are included brave.

Source: eloratings.net

Among the all-sport champions in our selection, no team rose above the competition more than UGA’s aforementioned juggernaut: The Bulldogs won the 2021 national title in January, then went 13-0 this fall en route to another playoff appearance. The only other champion to be better than 2.0 standard deviations above the average in their sport was Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks basketball team, which lost just once in the entire calendar year and won the March Madness games by an average margin of 23.3 points per game (including a 15-point win over UConn in the final).

Perhaps because of how talent is concentrated more among the top college teams, professional champions tend to have lower z-scores than their counterparts on our list. But the champions of the top professional league, the Houston Astros and the Colorado Avalanche, rose above the rest with dominant performances that lasted all year. And between those two was Lionel Messi’s Argentina team, which capped off a 12-1-3 year with an all-time World Cup final victory.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Los Angeles Rams – victims of this list in part because of how the football calendar is structured. The Rams weren’t an overwhelming champion even during the season they won (they had a +1.24 z-score in the 2021 season, which ranked fifth among NFL teams), and even though they went 5-1 with a Super Bowl wins in January and February 2022, LA followed that up with arguably the worst title defense in modern NFL history. But hey, being the worst champion is still better than landing on this next list…

Elo’s best of the rest in 2022

Most standard deviations of composite Elo ratings above average (by league) for 2022 non-championship teams in major sports for which we have Elo data

Team League Top Average Finally Mixture Z-score
Los Angeles Dodgers MLB 1629 1599 1601 1610 +2.29
Stanford Cardinal WBB* 2386 2333 2349 2356 +2.20
Alabama Crimson Tide CFB* 2199 1983 1992 2058 +2.12
Michigan Wolverines CFB* 2117 1936 2117 2057 +2.11
Kansas City Chiefs NFL 1714 1683 1704 1700 +2.04
Buffalo Bills NFL 1710 1676 1710 1699 +2.02
Baylor Bears MBA* 2158 2075 2002 2078 +1.90
Brazil toilet 2195 1999 2134 2109 +1.84
Boston Celtics NBA 1764 1665 1644 1691 +1.80
NC State Wolfpack WBB* 2269 2224 2251 2248 +1.71

* Z-score is relative to other power-conference teams.

Includes all games played by each franchise during the 2022 calendar year (through December 20). Teams from major professional leagues are included brave.

Source: eloratings.net

For the second year in a row, the Los Angeles Dodgers found themselves at the top of our less-than-enviable ranking of the sport’s top “paper champions.” Despite being heavy pre-playoff favorites, LA fell to the rival San Diego Padres in a four-game National League Division Series upset.

If it’s any consolation, the Dodgers weren’t alone this year. Unlike in the odd, covid-interrupted season of 2020 (and to a lesser extent 2021) – when the top teams enjoyed surprising success – many of 2022’s big favorites suffered even bigger slumps. Alabama entered the fall as college football’s top playoff favorite, but was nearly eliminated from consideration with two losses in early November. Defending champions like the Rams, Atlanta Braves and men’s college basketball Baylor Bears came out in disappointing fashion. And in the World Cup, Brazil were sent into the quarter-finals despite entering the tournament with twice the probability of the championship as any other team.

Still other teams, like the Stanford women’s college basketball team, simply had the misfortune of facing better competition. The defending NCAA champions made it to the Final Four again, helping them rank high on our list of near-champions, but lost to UConn in the semifinals — not that either team was going to beat South Carolina in the title game. (Michigan football might be in the same boat compared to UGA, though the Wolverines still have a chance to change that fate in the playoffs — but that’s until next year.) Relegating legitimately championship-worthy rivals to the second list above might be for the best testament to any team’s greatness, and finally we got to see it multiple times in 2022.

Check out our latest NFL, NBA, college football and NHL predictions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *