Danny Boy

Hi. I'm Dan. I like football, baseball, and cheese. Also beer. I live in Colorado, where we have good beer and great football. Baseball and cheese? Not so much.

Jan 222014
 

BroncosRavensAFCsnDSC_2831

(*and what they should worry about instead.)

So, it’s the Broncos and the Seahawks. For only the second time in the past 20 years, both of the top-seeded teams have made it to the Big Game. Huzzah.

Broncos fans (myself included) are quietly bemoaning the fact that in this, of all years, the NFL has decided to experiment with a cold-weather venue for the Super Bowl. In light of Peyton Manning’s documented struggles in below-freezing temperatures, we ask, wouldn’t it have been nice to wait until a round number (maybe Super Bowl L?) before messing with a good thing?

Regardless, a shot at a Lombardi Trophy is something to celebrate — it’d be nice not to obsess over East Rutherford weather forecasts along the way.

On the other hand, perhaps Peyton Manning’s struggles in the cold have been somewhat overblown… Below, I present the case for ignoring the weather (and instead putting the worry where it belongs).

First of all, it’s a small sample size. Manning has played 23 games in which the temperature at kickoff was below 40°. That’s only 9% of his games played. Of those, one can be tossed out (in Week 17 of 2004) because he made a total of two pass attempts before sitting down (playoff seeding had already been decided). In the remaining 22 games, Manning’s teams have a record of 9-13. Not very good, huh?

However, as I argued in my last column, Manning shouldn’t be judged solely on his teams’ results — he is only one out of 22 players on the field, after all. No, we should instead focus on his individual performances. Here, there is still room for concern, although not as much as the conventional wisdom might tell you:

Temperature Games Cmp Att Yds TD Int Rating
40° or above 239 5555 8470 65,586 492 212 97.9
30-39° 14 308 483 3,649 21 20 83.9
20-29° 6 126 219 1,256 7 6 73.2
19° or below 3 81 120 782 7 3 102.8

 

Clearly, Manning’s numbers have suffered as the temperature drops through the 30s and the 20s. On the other hand, once you get to 19° or below, the stats pick up again. The main reason for this is because two of Manning’s three games in such cold temperatures have been during his stint with the Broncos — and if you limit the sample to 2012-2013, the chart looks like this:

Temperature Games Cmp Att Yds TD Int Rating
40° or above 30 799 1156 9.626 85 20 111.7
30-39° 2 50 70 593 5 1 114.8
20-29° 1 19 36 150 2 1 70.4
19° or below 2 67 102 687 7 2 109.4

 

The sample size here is admittedly even smaller, but it seems Manning’s weather-related struggles have somewhat abated in Denver. There is one glaring exception — that game played in 20-29° temperatures, when Manning only got a 70.4 rating.

That was back in November, in New England.

It’s possible that was due to the gameplan, which clearly emphasized the run (32 runs versus 15 passes while Denver had the lead). It’s possible the Patriots simply have Manning’s number. Or — and this is where we get to the crux of the problem — perhaps Manning just hates the Northeast.

Consider this: in his career, Manning’s rating in above-40° weather is 97.9; below 40°, it’s 82.6. Outside of New York and Boston, his rating is 98.5; on the road against the Giants, Jets, and Patriots, it is 76.2. That’s a drop of 16% in cold weather, but a drop of 23% in the Northeast. Still not convinced? Remove the games at New York and New England, and Manning’s cold-weather rating is 91.0.

Manning doesn’t have a problem with the cold. He has a problem with New York.

Curse you, Roger Goodell!

Jan 102014
 

bradymanning

Barring a shocking development (which is not out of the question in today’s NFL), the league will get yet another Manning/Brady showdown come January 19. If it happens, it will be the fifteenth time they have faced each other, the fourth time in the playoffs, and the third time a trip to the Super Bowl is on the line.

If you thought the hype was big back in November, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

So, what’s an interested fan to do but join in? It’s time for Danny’s answer to the Great Quaterback Debate. Here’s the executive summary:

Manning is a better quarterback than Brady.

Sure, I’m a homer, having been a Bronco fan since the early Elway days and a Manning supporter more often than not (Super Bowl XLI being the rare exception — curse you, Rex Grossman!). However, I fail to see any way of honestly viewing the numbers that convincingly shows otherwise. That being said, Manning and Brady are clearly #1 and #1A in the modern era. (I’ll leave the “Best of All Time” argument for another day.)

“But what about winning?” asks the voice on the other side of the screen. “Brady has the highest winning percentage of any quarterback in history! Brady has three rings; Manning only has one!”

My response is simple: “So what?”

Football is a team sport, not an individual one. Baseball statisticians long ago figured out wins are the absolute worst way to assess the effectiveness of pitchers; one day, football will catch up and realize the evaluation of a quarterback does not begin and end with “games won”. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous, unless you can explain his role in winning during the 50% of the time he is not on the field. At best, the quarterback’s job is to run the offense effectively and score as many points as possible; even then, he is severely limited by the talent pool around him. Sure, he can play a role in defense by keeping his offense on the field, but that only goes so far — particularly since the better the quarterback, the more likely the team is going to score quickly.

In fact, assigning wins to quarterbacks makes even less sense than doing the same for pitchers. A superior pitcher essentially negates the talent of the rest of his defense. Surround Walter Johnson with seven scrubs for nine innings, then do it again with seven All Stars. The results are going to be surprisingly similar. No one with a functioning brain can suggest the same is true with a quarterback.

Further, if a quarterback’s value is solely in championships won, please feel free to argue that Trent Dilfer is a better quarterback than Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Dan Fouts, and Jim Kelly.

Simply put: if your answer to the Manning vs. Brady question is, “Wins and championships are all that matters,” you’re not going to like this article. Then again, you are objectively wrong, so I can safely dismiss you.

For the rest of you, here goes.

Pro-Football-Reference.com tallies 26 statistical categories for passers. Of these, several can be discarded:

  • Games Played and Games Started have little to no bearing on a QB’s effectiveness; all they can tell us is how often the player was considered the best option for the team signing his paychecks.
  • Quarterback Record (i.e. team win-loss record when the player started) is, as stated above, one of the worst ways to evaluate a quarterback.
  • “Raw” statistics, like Completions, Attempts, Yards, Touchdowns, and Interceptions are useful, but not as much as the related “rate” stats.
  • Longest Completed Pass is mildly interesting at best. As it represents the single most successful pass thrown in a given season, its value in assessing a player’s overall performance is limited.
  • Yards per Game is a “rate” stat, but it is much more dependent on the team’s gameplan than the quarterback’s skill level.
  • Total Quarterback Rating has only been tracked by ESPN since 2008, so it can’t really tell the whole story of our two players’ careers.
  • Times Sacked, Yards Lost, Net Yards per Attempt, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, and Sack Percentage have some relation to the player’s skill level, but they are much more a reflection of the offensive line playing in front of him.
  • Fourth Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives are highly subjective. Just because two players have the same number of game-winning drives does not mean they are equally skillful. You have to consider, for example, how often the team has had to play from behind, how big the deficits were, and so on.

This leaves us with seven categories: Completion Percentage, Touchdown Percentage, Interception Percentage, Yards per Attempt, Adjusted Yards per Attempt, Quarterback Rating, and Approximate Value (Pro-Football-Reference.com‘s proprietary rating system). (The remaining category — Yards per Completion — is simply a combination of Completion Percentage and Yards per Attempt, and is therefore superfluous.)

A direct comparison of career totals shows that Manning leads in six of the seven:

Statistic Manning Brady Difference
Completion Rate 65.5% 63.4% +3%
Touchdown Rate 5.8% 5.5% +5%
Interception Rate 2.6% 2.0% +23%
Yards per Attempt 7.7 7.5 +3%
Adjusted Yards per Attempt 7.7 7.6 +1%
Quarterback Rating 97.2 95.8 +1%
Adjusted Value 16.9/season 15.8/season +7%

 

Admittedly, the numbers are remarkably close. Manning throws more touchdowns, but not decidedly so. Brady throws fewer interceptions, although Manning is a touch more accurate overall.

Okay, so Brady and Manning are essentially neck-and-neck. But what about consistency? After all, a quarterback who throws 40 touchdowns one year and 10 the next will have the same average as one who throws 25 touchdowns year after year, yet it should be obvious which would be the preferable signal-caller.

Manning and Brady have played in 11 seasons together, not counting years when one or the other was sidelined by injury: 2001 through 2007, 2009-2010, and 2012-2013.

Peyton Manning
Year Comp% TD% Int% Y/A AY/A QBR AV
2001 62.7 4.8 4.2 7.6 6.6 84.1 15
2002 66.3 4.6 3.2 7.1 6.6 88.8 15
2003 67.0 5.1 1.8 7.5 7.8 99.0 18
2004 67.6 9.9 2.0 9.2 10.2 121.1 21
2005 67.3 6.2 2.2 8.3 8.5 104.1 18
2006 65.0 5.6 1.6 7.9 8.3 101.0 20
2007 65.4 6.0 2.7 7.8 7.8 98.0 17
2009 68.8 5.8 2.8 7.9 7.8 99.9 17
2010 66.3 4.9 2.5 6.9 6.8 91.9 16
2012 68.6 6.3 1.9 8.0 8.4 105.8 15
2013 68.3 8.3 1.5 8.3 9.3 115.1 19

 

Tom Brady
Year Comp% TD% Int% Y/A AY/A QBR AV
2001 63.9 4.4 2.9 6.9 6.4 86.5 12
2002 62.1 4.7 2.3 6.3 6.1 85.7 13
2003 60.2 4.4 2.3 6.9 6.7 85.9 11
2004 60.8 5.9 3.0 7.8 7.6 92.6 16
2005 63.0 4.9 2.6 7.8 7.5 92.3 15
2006 61.8 4.7 2.3 6.8 6.7 87.9 14
2007 68.9 8.7 1.4 8.3 9.4 117.2 24
2009 65.7 5.0 2.3 7.8 7.7 96.2 16
2010 65.9 7.3 0.8 7.9 9.0 111.0 18
2012 63.0 5.3 1.3 7.6 8.1 98.7 18
2013 60.5 4.0 1.8 6.9 6.9 87.3 13

 

As you can see, Manning has been better in each of our categories at least 8 out of the 11 seasons — except for interception percentage, which Brady has won 6 of 11 times. More impressively, Manning was better than Brady in all seven categories for four straight seasons, from 2003-2006, and again in 2013, and bested him in six of the seven in 2009 (the year after Brady’s knee injury). Brady was better in a majority of categories only twice: in 2007, when he won all seven, and in 2010, when Manning surpassed him only in completion percentage (the season before Manning’s neck surgery).

In fact, one of the big points assumed to be in Brady’s favor is his consistency; yet, over those 11 seasons, look at the coefficient of variance (standard deviation divided by average) for each player in each stat:

Statistic Manning Brady
Completion Rate .026 .040
Touchdown Rate .251 .251
Interception Rate .318 .315
Yards per Attempt .076 .081
Adjusted Yards per Attempt .133 .134
Quarterback Rating .102 .107
Adjusted Value .113 .225

 

In every case, Manning has been at least as consistent as Brady, if not more so. To further highlight this, consider the players’ best seasons — in 2007, Brady had what is arguably the best year either has seen in leading the Patriots to a perfect regular-season record. Manning’s 2013 campaign comes close, but not quite. And yet, if you express their stats in terms of standard scores (i.e. numbers of standard deviations above or below the career average), something interesting emerges:

Player Comp% TD% Int% Y/A AY/A QBR AV
Brady (2007) +2.15 +2.44 -1.08 +1.26 +1.72 +2.13 +2.30
Manning (2013) +0.92 +1.72 -1.21 +0.94 +1.37 +1.52 +0.88

 

In nearly every case, Manning’s “great year” numbers are closer to his career averages than Brady’s. In other words, Brady’s 2007 season was possibly the best a quarterback has ever had, but it was more of an outlier than Manning’s only slightly less-impressive 2013 season.

Take names out of it, and ask yourself this question: if you are comparing two players and one (a) has better career numbers, (2) has better season numbers more often than not, and (iii) has maintained the same level of performance year in and year out, who would you conclude was the better player?

As noted at the outset, you cannot reasonably say a quarterback’s sole job is to win games; a quarterback can throw for five touchdowns per game, but if his defense gives up six, he’ll lose every time. That being said, I can feel the doubters out there: “Just win, baby!”

So, we’ll take a quick look at winning.

Using the Pythagorean win percentage, we can look at how many games each player’s teams can be expected to have won based on points scored versus points allowed. Over the 11 seasons both Manning and Brady have been in the league together, their teams have performed as follows:

Player Points For Points Against Estimated Win % Expected Record Actual Record
Manning 4985 3738 .664 117-59 129-47
Brady 4836 3232 .722 127-49 134-42

 

It can be argued that Brady’s one clear advantage is explained by the fact he has had much better defenses on the other side of the ball. Swap them, and this is what you get:

Player Points For Points Against Estimated Win % Expected Record Actual Record
Manning 4985 3232 .736 130-46 ?
Brady 4836 3738 .648 114-62 ?

 

Another point often trotted out in Brady’s favor is the idea of “intangibles”; that he “knows how to win” or somesuch drivel. Frankly, the evidence doesn’t bear that out; if anything, Manning has the advantage here, as well. As shown above, Brady’s teams “should have” won 127 games during those 11 years. In reality, the Patriots won 134 games, or 6% more than expected. Meanwhile, Manning’s teams, projected to win 117 games, actually won 129, or an increase of 10% over the expected win total.

Or, if you don’t like the whole Pythagorean thing, consider this: in their careers, Brady has won 12.4 games per full season as a starter; Manning has won 11.1. Are you really comfortable saying the Patriots’ demonstrably superior defenses (and arguably the most effective head coach of all time) are worth less than 1.3 wins per season?

“Okay,” say the Brady defenders. “We can’t argue with the stats, and Manning seems at least as good at winning. But that’s the regular season; and everyone knows Manning chokes in the Big Game.”

Do we really know that?

Brady has won more playoff games than any other quarterback — but as we’ve said, you can’t lay those wins solely at Brady’s feet, nor can you entirely blame Manning for his teams’ 11 playoff losses. Instead, let’s look at their individual performances in the playoffs:

Player Record PPG Comp% TD% Int% Y/A AY/A QBR
Manning 9-11 23.0 63.2 4.2 2.8 7.5 7.1 88.4
Brady 17-7 25.4 62.3 4.7 2.5 6.7 6.5 87.4

 

Brady throws more touchdowns than Manning in the playoffs, but the difference in interception rates is narrower than in the regular season, while Manning is significantly better in both Y/A and AY/A. Note that both players’ QBRs are the same, relative to each other, from the regular season to the playoffs, so it’s hard to justify claiming either player “chokes” more than the other.

Honestly, when I started this analysis, I assumed I would find the conventional wisdom borne out: Manning would have clearly superior regular-season statistics, while Brady would shine in the playoffs. It turns out both assumptions were wrong. Manning’s performance in the regular season has been consistently better, but not by much. Meanwhile, in the playoffs, Brady’s performance suffers more than it improves relative to Manning’s.

In short, while Brady is a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, Manning is a notch above. This is not a prediction of the outcome should the Patriots head to Denver next Sunday — the Broncos’ defense is far too questionable for me to put money on that (and that blown 24-0 lead back in November still stings). But in the battle of individual performances, there can be no realistic doubt: Peyton Manning is the best quarterback of his generation.

Oct 312013
 

It’s looking like the Chiefs will remain our Super Bowl favorites until they lose; and the numbers say that isn’t likely to happen this week. We have Kansas City as 16-point favorites in Buffalo (Vegas is less bullish on KC, giving the Bills a scant 3 points. Perhaps the system needs to consider home-field advantage; or maybe the oddsmakers just feel — understandably — that the ride has to end sometime, right?)

Johnny+White+Kansas+City+Chiefs+v+Buffalo+4OQUJKFUtVyl

There is hope for the rest of the league, however: the Chiefs’ odds are down five percentage points since last week, and 11 points over the past two weeks. They keep winning, but 1- and 6-point wins, at home, against weak opponents, is not exactly championship football. They have to face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos two out of the next three weeks, which will go a long way towards deciding the AFC West. By December 1, the Chiefs will have either solidified their hold on the AFC title race, or… not.

If you’ve forgotten how the whole Pythagorean Five thing works, click here.

WINNERS

Cincinnati Bengals (+1.3): One of the things we’re trying out behind the scenes is the concept of a “game score”, in which teams are rated in each week based on how well they played and the quality of their opponents. This week’s game score for the Bengals was 96 — a far cry from the measly 6 they scored four weeks ago against their intrastate rivals. Wins over Green Bay (74) and New England (88) should prove the Bengals are a contender; but they need more consistency for a playoff run.

New York Giants (+1.1): The Giants are now up 3.5 wins from their low point three weeks ago. Sadly, that doesn’t mean a whole lot; at the time they were a projected 0-16. Certainly, most people would look at 4-12 as much better, but you have to wonder if it will be enough to save Tom Coughlin’s job.

Arizona Cardinals (+1.0): Looking at a projected 8-8 finish instead of last week’s 7-9, the Cardinals should be feeling pretty good after dispatching the Falcons. But does it mean much? There’s literally no chance Arizona leapfrogs both San Francisco and Seattle for a division title. Our projections say they are in fourth place for the second NFC Wild Card berth, behind Carolina (10.7), Detroit (10.1), and Chicago (8.6).

LOSERS

New York Jets (-1.1): One week after gaining 1.2 projected wins (with the help of an untimely Patriots penalty), the Jets give almost all of it right back with a truly pathetic showing against Cincinnati. Things aren’t likely to get much better with a date this Sunday against New Orleans — but at least New York is guaranteed not to lose the following week.

Atlanta Falcons (-0.9): Number-crunching aside, I am voting for Atlanta as one of the biggest disappointments this season. Before the season, I would have pegged them as a contender for their division, at least. Now, they’ll be lucky to avoid a losing record.

Philadelphia Eagles (-0.9): Expect the Eagles to battle all the way until the end for the coveted spot of first-place loser in the worst division in football. Whee.

Current projection accuracy:

  • Average difference between actual and projected wins: 0.67
  • Median error in winning percentage: 7%
  • Overachiever: New York Jets (+1.5 wins)
  • Underachiever: Carolina Panthers (-1.8 wins)
WEEK EIGHT RESULTS (9-4) WEEK NINE MATCHUPS
San Francisco (96%) at Jacksonville [35-9] Final: 42-10
Carolina (90%) at Tampa Bay [22-9] Final: 31-13
Cleveland at Kansas City (90%) [23-9] Final: 23-17
Seattle (83%) at St. Louis [31-16] Final: 14-9
Green Bay (80%) at Minnesota [37-20] Final: 44-31
Buffalo at New Orleans (79%) [30-17] Final: 35-17
Washington at Denver (79%) [54-31] Final: 45-21
New York Giants at Philadelphia (72%) [32-22] Final: 7-15
New York Jets at Cincinnati (66%) [21-16] Final: 49-9
Miami at New England (63%) [22-18] Final: 27-17
Atlanta (60%) at Arizona [26-22] Final: 13-27
Dallas (59%) at Detroit [30-26] Final: 30-31
Pittsburgh (51%) at Oakland [17-17] Final: 18-21
Tampa Bay at Seattle (91%) [26-10]
Kansas City (89%) at Buffalo [28-12]
New Orleans (89%) at New York Jets [32-13]
Indianapolis (87%) at Houston [32-14]
Atlanta at Carolina (83%) [28-14]
Minnesota at Dallas (78%) [40-23]
Pittsburgh at New England (73%) [21-14]
Cincinnati (72%) at Miami [25-17]
San Diego (72%) at Washington [33-22]
Chicago at Green Bay (65%) [39-30]
Baltimore (62%) at Cleveland [21-17]
Tennessee (60%) at St. Louis [22-19]
Philadelphia at Oakland (50%) [21-20]
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
North South East West
Cincinnati Bengals 11.5 (+1.3)
Baltimore Ravens 7.6 (-0.2)
Cleveland Browns 6.8 (-0.2)
Pittsburgh Steelers 5.4 (-0.5)
Indianapolis Colts 11.5 (-0.1)
Tennessee Titans 8.2 (-0.1)
Houston Texans 5.0 (-0.1)
Jacksonville Jaguars 0.8 (-0.1)
New England Patriots 11.0 (+0.5)
Miami Dolphins 7.3 (-0.5)
Buffalo Bills 7.0 (-0.3)
New York Jets 6.3 (-1.1)
Kansas City Chiefs 14.1 (-0.1)
Denver Broncos 12.2 (+0.4)
San Diego Chargers 8.4 (-0.1)
Oakland Raiders 6.8 (+0.9)

 

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
North South East West
Green Bay Packers 11.4 (+0.3)
Detroit Lions 10.1 (+0.5)
Chicago Bears 8.6 (+0.1)
Minnesota Vikings 3.5 (-0.2)
New Orleans Saints 12.0 (+0.4)
Carolina Panthers 10.7 (+0.3)
Atlanta Falcons 5.2 (-0.9)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1.8 (-0.3)
Dallas Cowboys 9.2 (-0.8)
Philadelphia Eagles 6.3 (-0.9)
Washington Redskins 5.5 (-0.7)
New York Giants 3.9 (+1.1)
Seattle Seahawks 13.2 (+0.1)
San Francisco 49ers 11.4 (+0.6)
Arizona Cardinals 7.9 (+1.0)
St. Louis Rams 5.6 (-0.3)

 

PLAYOFF CHANCES
AFC Championship NFC Championship Super Bowl XLVIII
Kansas City Chiefs 49%
Cincinnati Bengals 18%
Denver Broncos 13%
Indianapolis Colts 8%
New England Patriots 7%
San Diego Chargers 4%

Seattle Seahawks 35%
New Orleans Saints 33%
San Francisco 49ers 14%
Green Bay Packers 10%
Dallas Cowboys 5%
Detroit Lions 3%

Kansas City Chiefs (1) 31%
Seattle Seahawks (2) 17%
New Orleans Saints (4) 16%
Cincinnati Bengals (9) 8%
Denver Broncos (3) 7%
San Francisco 49ers (5) 6%
Green Bay (7), Indianapolis (6) 4%
New England Patriots (8) 3%
Dallas Cowboys (10) 2%
Detroit (11), San Diego (13) 1%

 

Teams are ranked by expected number of wins. The value in parentheses is the change in expected win total since last week. Under “Super Bowl”, the number in parentheses is the current Gridiron Rats Power Ranking.

Oct 242013
 

I am of two minds regarding the Kansas City Chiefs:

  1. Winning close games is what championship teams do.
  2. A one-point squeaker, at home, against one of the worst teams in the league, is not what you want to see from your Super Bowl front-runner.

Alan+Branch+Seattle+Seahawks+v+Kansas+City+H-1WNW8apoBl

Whatever I have to say on the matter, the system remains high on the Chiefs; their Super Bowl victory odds dropped back down to 36%, but they are still well ahead of the next contender. Seattle and New Orleans are the only other double-digit shots, while Carolina is a surprisingly strong new entry to the NFC title race.

For a refresher on how the whole Pythagorean Five thing works, click here.

WINNERS

Pittsburgh Steelers (+1.2): For two weeks in a row, the Steelers have had the biggest positive change in expected win totals. I said last week they weren’t a likely playoff team, and while it’s less certain, I stand by that assessment. Sitting at a projected 6-10, Pittsburgh gets a deceptively difficult opponent next week at Oakland, then has to head to New England before home dates with Buffalo and Detroit. Looking at the schedule, I think it’s optimistic to credit them with 5 more wins. Even in a seemingly weak AFC North, 7-9 isn’t going to cut it. Scrape together another win or two, flip that record to 9-7, and they just might squeak in.

New York Giants (+1.2): And the Giants are on the board! The system had New York as the underdog in Monday’s game, but it doesn’t take into account ill-advised changes at quarterback by the opposing team. See below.

New York Jets (+1.2): What a difference an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty makes. Again, see below.

LOSERS

Minnesota Vikings (-1.2): Josh Freeman? Really? Ponder wasn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard, but he lost to solid Detroit and Chicago teams by a combined total of 11 points (and he had the Bears game wrapped up until the defense collapsed in the final minutes). The switch to Cassel was understandable, even if the results were somewhat disappointing. They should have beaten Cleveland, but the loss to Carolina was predictable. News flash, Minnesota; your team just isn’t that good. The move to Freeman smells like a coach trying to save his job instead of doing what gives his team the best chance to win week in and week out.

New England Patriots (-1.0): Take away the penalty on the Jets’ 56-yard field goal attempt, and New England, in all likelihood, wins the game 30-27. With that result, New England retains a first-round bye in our projections (by 0.001 wins) and more than doubles their chances of making the Super Bowl. One thing is becoming clear: getting one of the top two seeds is Very Important.

Denver Broncos (-0.9): Ouch. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Before we get to the standings and playoff projections, a quick check on how the system is doing accuracy-wise. Two weeks ago, 27 of the 32 teams were within one win of their projected total, while the average error in winning percentage was 13% (median: 11%). This week, 26 teams are within one win of their projected total, and winning percentages are off by an average of 9% (median: 7%). The largest error? The Carolina Panthers, who have won 1.8 fewer games than the system predicted.

WEEK SEVEN RESULTS (8-7) WEEK EIGHT MATCHUPS
Houston at Kansas City (96%) [33-8] Final: 17-16
San Diego (93%) at Jacksonville [35-12] Final: 24-6
Seattle (82%) at Arizona [24-13] Final: 34-22
St. Louis at Carolina (79%) [24-14] Final: 30-15
New England (77%) at New York Jets [20-12] Final: 27-30
Minnesota (75%) at New York Giants [38-24] Final: 7-23
Tampa Bay at Atlanta (70%) [22-15] Final: 31-23
Baltimore (68%) at Pittsburgh [23-17] Final: 16-19
Chicago (66%) at Washington [33-25] Final: 41-45
Dallas (65%) at Philadelphia [40-31] Final: 17-3
Cleveland at Green Bay (64%) [25-20] Final: 31-13
Buffalo at Miami (57%) [26-23] Final: 21-23
Denver at Indianapolis (56%) [31-28] Final: 33-39
San Francisco (56%) at Tennessee [20-18] Final: 31-17
Cincinnati at Detroit (54%) [22-21] Final: 24-27
San Francisco (96%) at Jacksonville [35-9]
Carolina (90%) at Tampa Bay [22-9]
Cleveland at Kansas City (90%) [23-9]
Seattle (83%) at St. Louis [31-16]
Green Bay (80%) at Minnesota [37-20]
Buffalo at New Orleans (79%) [30-17]
Washington at Denver (79%) [54-31]
New York Giants at Philadelphia (72%) [32-22]
New York Jets at Cincinnati (66%) [21-16]
Miami at New England (63%) [22-18]
Atlanta (60%) at Arizona [26-22]
Dallas (59%) at Detroit [30-26]
Pittsburgh (51%) at Oakland [17-17]

 

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
North South East West
Cincinnati Bengals 10.2 (+0.3)
Baltimore Ravens 7.8 (-0.7)
Cleveland Browns 7.0 (-0.9)
Pittsburgh Steelers 5.9 (+1.2)
Indianapolis Colts 11.6 (+0.6)
Tennessee Titans 8.3 (-0.7)
Houston Texans 5.1 (+0.3)
Jacksonville Jaguars 0.9 (-0.1)
New England Patriots 10.4 (-1.0)
Miami Dolphins 7.8 (-0.8)
New York Jets 7.3 (+1.2)
Buffalo Bills 7.2 (+0.6)
Kansas City Chiefs 14.2 (-0.2)
Denver Broncos 11.8 (-0.9)
San Diego Chargers 8.5 (+0.6)
Oakland Raiders 5.9 (-0.1)

 

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
North South East West
Green Bay Packers 11.1 (+0.8)
Detroit Lions 9.6 (-0.8)
Chicago Bears 8.6 (-0.7)
Minnesota Vikings 3.7 (-1.2)
New Orleans Saints 11.7 (-0.2)
Carolina Panthers 10.4 (+0.3)
Atlanta Falcons 6.1 (+0.5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2.1 (-0.2)
Dallas Cowboys 9.9 (+0.6)
Philadelphia Eagles 7.2 (-0.8)
Washington Redskins 6.2 (+0.9)
New York Giants 2.8 (+1.2)
Seattle Seahawks 13.1 (+0.1)
San Francisco 49ers 10.8 (+0.6)
Arizona Cardinals 6.9 (-0.3)
St. Louis Rams 6.0 (-0.4)

 

PLAYOFF CHANCES
AFC Championship NFC Championship Super Bowl XLVIII
Kansas City Chiefs 55%
Indianapolis Colts 20%
Denver Broncos 13%
New England Patriots 5%
San Diego Chargers 4%
Cincinnati Bengals 2%
Seattle Seahawks 31%
New Orleans Saints 29%
Carolina Panthers 19%
Dallas, San Francisco 7%
Green Bay Packers 6%

Kansas City Chiefs (1) 36%
Seattle Seahawks (2) 14%
New Orleans Saints (4) 13%
Carolina (15), Indianapolis (6) 9%
Denver Broncos (3) 6%
Dallas (10), Green Bay (8), New England (7), San Francisco (5) 2%
Cincinnati (9), San Diego (14) 1%

 

Teams are ranked by expected number of wins. The value in parentheses is the change in expected win total since last week. Under “Super Bowl”, the number in parentheses is the current Gridiron Rats Power Ranking.

Oct 172013
 

628x471

The dust has settled after Week 6 in the National Football League, and Kansas City is still riding high. In fact, their odds for winning the Super Bowl have shot up nine points; although their likely opponent has changed from New Orleans to Seattle.

Still a long way to go, of course, but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the possibility the Chiefs are for real.

For a refresher on how the whole Pythagorean Five thing works, check out last week’s post.

WINNERS

Pittsburgh Steelers (+1.8): The first win of the season is always the most important. It’s better when it comes via a superb defensive effort from a team that had been giving up 28 points per game. Holding the Jets to two field goals means that average is down almost 20%; more importantly for our system, Pittsburgh’s Pythagorean Expectation is up nine points, from 24.9% to 34.2%. They’re not likely to be a playoff team (we have them finishing at 5-11) but 1-4 looks a lot better than 0-5.

stdev_wins

Carolina Panthers (+1.6): Carolina has been the most inconsistent team so far this season (see chart at left): after week one, the system was predicting fewer than four wins; after weeks three and four, it was projecting almost 12. Following this week’s solid effort at Minnesota, they are up a win and a half, and the system has them favored in every game the rest of the way, including in Weeks 14 and 16 against New Orleans (although by the slimmest of margins: 51/49). They only need to pick up a net of 0.04 wins to overtake San Francisco for the second Wild Card spot in our predictions, and who knows? If the Saints stumble again, those games at the end of the season could decide the NFC South.

St. Louis Rams (+1.4): Houston hasn’t exactly been lighting teams up this year; although, they were a poor decision by Matt Schaub away from defeating the current odds-on NFC Champion and being just a game behind Indy prior to last weekend. So, when St. Louis went into Reliant Stadium and roughed them up Sunday, many people may have been surprised (including most of our resident prognosticators) but our system wasn’t. It had the Rams as 55/45 favorites. Don’t get too excited; they are still projected to only finish 6-10.

LOSERS

New Orleans Saints (-1.7): Losing a game to Tom Brady in the closing seconds is not exactly shameful — it’s happened to better teams than New Orleans. But allowing 30 points (twice your season average) is going to make a dent in your Pythagorean Expectation (from 80.8% to 74.2%); enough to drop the Saints’ projected finish from 14-2 down to 12-4. That’s still sufficient to keep them in the divisional driver’s seat; and while they are currently no longer favored to win the NFC, Week 13 may provide a preview of a championship game for the ages (at the moment, Seattle is favored 54/46).

(Interestingly, the system isn’t necessarily punishing New Orleans for losing, per se. If Brady’s last-second pass had fallen incomplete, and the Saints won 27-23, Seattle would still be the NFC favorite, but by a much smaller margin: 39% to 38%.)

stdev_wins

Minnesota Vikings (-1.4): This is the biggest week-over-week change in projected wins for the season’s third-most consistent team (see chart at left). The good news? Next week’s opponent is still winless. The bad news? Our system pegs the Vikings as the underdog in every game the rest of the way.

Indianapolis Colts (-1.3): The Colts weren’t failed by their defense on Monday night; 19 points allowed isn’t much more than their season average going in to the game (15.8). But an offense scoring 28 points a game was held to three field goals, and that doesn’t happen without some consequences. Indy is still favored to win their division, but is currently losing out on a first-round bye due to New England’s softer schedule.

WEEK SIX RESULTS (11-4) WEEK SEVEN MATCHUPS
Jacksonville at Denver (98%) [65-12] Final: 35-19
Oakland at Kansas City (89%) [24-10] Final: 24-7
New York Giants at Chicago (88%) [46-20] Final: 27-20
Indianapolis (80%) at San Diego [31-17] Final: 9-19
Tennessee at Seattle (69%) [23-16] Final: 20-13
Carolina (68%) at Minnesota [25-18] Final: 35-10
New Orleans (67%) at New England [16-12] Final: 27-30
Philadelphia (67%) at Tampa Bay [20-15] Final: 31-20
Pittsburgh at New York Jets (67%) [23-17] Final: 6-19
Cincinnati (63%) at Buffalo [21-17] Final: 27-24
Washington at Dallas (63%) [34-27] Final: 31-16
Arizona at San Francisco (61%) [19-15] Final: 32-20
Green Bay (58%) at Baltimore [28-25] Final: 19-17
St. Louis (55%) at Houston [25-23] Final: 38-13
Detroit at Cleveland (51%) [22-21] Final: 17-31

Houston at Kansas City (96%) [33-8]
San Diego (93%) at Jacksonville [35-12]
Seattle (82%) at Arizona [24-13]
St. Louis at Carolina (79%) [24-14]
New England (77%) at New York Jets [20-12]
Minnesota (75%) at New York Giants [38-24]
Tampa Bay at Atlanta (70%) [22-15]
Baltimore (68%) at Pittsburgh [23-17]
Chicago (66%) at Washington [33-25]
Dallas (65%) at Philadelphia [40-31]
Cleveland at Green Bay (64%) [25-20]
Buffalo at Miami (57%) [26-23]
Denver at Indianapolis (56%) [31-28]
San Francisco (56%) at Tennessee [20-18]
Cincinnati at Detroit (54%) [22-21]

 

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
North South East West
Cincinnati Bengals 9.6 (+0.6)
Cleveland Browns 7.9 (-1.3)
Baltimore Ravens 8.5 (-0.6)
Pittsburgh Steelers 4.7 (+1.8)
Indianapolis Colts 11.1 (-1.3)
Tennessee Titans 9.0 (-0.5)
Houston Texans 4.8 (-0.7)
Jacksonville Jaguars 1.0 (+0.3)
New England Patriots 11.5 (+0.4)
Miami Dolphins 8.6 (-0.1)
Buffalo Bills 6.6 (-0.4)
New York Jets 6.2 (-1.0)
Kansas City Chiefs 14.5 (+0.4)
Denver Broncos 12.7 (+0.2)
San Diego Chargers 7.9 (+1.2)
Oakland Raiders 6.0 (-0.9)

 

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
North South East West
Detroit Lions 10.4 (+0.8)
Green Bay Packers 10.2 (+0.3)
Chicago Bears 9.3 (+0.3)
Minnesota Vikings 4.9 (-1.4)
New Orleans Saints 11.8 (-1.7)
Carolina Panthers 10.10 (+1.6)
Atlanta Falcons 5.5 (-0.1)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2.2 (-0.6)
Dallas Cowboys 9.3 (+0.9)
Philadelphia Eagles 8.0 (+0.9)
Washington Redskins 5.3 (-1.1)
New York Giants 1.7 (+0.2)
Seattle Seahawks 13.0 (+0.3)
San Francisco 49ers 10.13 (+0.7)
Arizona Cardinals 7.3 (-0.9)
St. Louis Rams 6.4 (+1.5)

 

PLAYOFF CHANCES
AFC Championship NFC Championship Super Bowl XLVIII
Kansas City Chiefs 59%
Denver Broncos 15%
Indianapolis Colts 13%
New England Patriots 10%
Cincinnati, Tennessee 2%
Seattle Seahawks 40%
New Orleans Saints 34%
San Francisco 49ers 7%
Dallas, Green Bay 6%
Detroit Lions 5%

Kansas City Chiefs (3) 42%
Seattle Seahawks (2) 17%
New Orleans Saints (5) 13%
Denver Broncos (1) 8%
Indianapolis Colts (9) 6%
New England Patriots (4) 4%
Dallas (13), Green Bay (11), San Francisco (6) 2%
Cincinnati (10), Detroit (12), Tennessee (14) 1%

 

Teams are ranked by expected number of wins. The value in parentheses is the change in expected win total since last week. Under “Super Bowl”, the number in parentheses is the current Gridiron Rats Power Ranking.

Oct 172013
 

peyton-manning-getty

We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one [Super Bowl ring].

So, Jim Irsay decided to diss the man who built his fancy new stadium in Indianapolis. That’s fine. It’s his prerogative to be a complete moron — and to flash that idiocy for the world to see.

Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three.

I’m not about to get into the “who is the best QB of this generation” argument. Not now, anyway. But if there’s one thing that pisses me off in football analysis more than anything else, it’s the equation of championships with individual greatness. If Super Bowl rings made quarterbacks great, then Trent Dilfer would be a better QB than Dan Marino, Mark Rypien would be superior to Warren Moon, and Jeff Hostetler would rank above Fran Tarkenton.

You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times.

Well, gosh, Jim. I suppose there’s no other reason that happened other than Peyton Manning not being the Bestest Quarterback He Could Be. It couldn’t be the team (and its owner) emphasized “Star Wars” offensive numbers and failed to recognize that, even in this pass-happy environment, you need a defense to win championships, could it?

Here’s a quick look at those eleven Colts playoff teams:

Year Record PF PA Pyth% Result SB Pyth%
1999 13-3 423 333 63.8 Lost Divisional 86.3
2000 10-6 429 326 65.7 Lost Wild Card 84.0
2002 10-6 349 313 56.4 Lost Wild Card 79.4
2003 12-4 447 336 66.3 Lost Conference 71.1
2004 12-4 522 351 71.9 Lost Divisional 77.4
2005 14-2 439 247 79.6 Lost Divisional 72.6
2006 12-4 427 360 60.0 Won Super Bowl 60.0
2007 13-3 450 262 78.3 Lost Divisional 53.6
2008 12-4 377 298 63.6 Lost Wild Card 74.0
2009 14-2 416 307 67.3 Lost Super Bowl 72.2
2010 10-6 435 388 56.7 Lost Wild Card 75.7

 

Notice anything? I’ll give you a hint: those Indianapolis teams weren’t “great”. They averaged a Pythagorean Expectation (PE) of 66.3% — somewhere between 10-6 and 11-5. Better than most, but not consistently championship-worthy. Don’t believe me? Look at that last column, showing the PE of the eventual NFL Champion. Only twice did the Colts’ PE exceed that of the Super Bowl winner: in 2005, when the Colts had a slight 7% edge on Pittsburgh, and in 2007, when New York stunnned the Patriots (whose PE was a whopping 85.6%).

Looking more closely, we can see why the Colts weren’t as good as the Super Bowl winners. In the ten seasons they failed to win it all, the Colts scored an average of 429 points (7% more than the champions), while giving up an average of 316 points (26% more than the champions). The Colts outscored the champions in 8 out of those 10 years, but gave up more points than the champions in 7 of those 10 years (again, that includes 2007, when the Giants won the Super Bowl despite giving up 351 points).

In other words, those Manning-led offenses were more than good enough to compete for multiple Super Bowl rings — it was the defenses that weren’t up to the task. To overcome the defensive deficiency and achieve the same PE as the Super Bowl champions, the Colts would have needed to score an average of 76 more points per season.

And yet, those eleven Colts teams outperformed their PE by an average of 8.7%, or about 1.4 more wins per year. Their best years in this respect? 1999, when they won 2.8 games more than expected (losing in the divisional round to the eventual AFC Champion Titans); 2006, when they won 2.4 games more than expected (going on to win the Super Bowl); and 2009, when they won 3.2 games more than expected (losing to the Saints in the Super Bowl — whose PE was 5 points higher). Only once did the Colts underperform compared to their PE (in 2000, winning 10 games instead of the predicted 10.5).

So, in short, we’ve got a team, consistently playing above its potential, making the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons, finishing with a record of 9-10. Again, not “great”, but co

Frankly, there’s only one year in which the Colts clearly choked in the playoffs. In 2007, they won 13 games, right in line with their PE of 78.3%. They had a first-round bye, and for once their defense was superb, giving up 16 points/game (first in the NFL).

But who choked, exactly?

Was it the offense, which put up 24 points against the fifth-ranked defense in the league?

Or was it the defense, which allowed almost twice as many points as its per-game average?

There’s no question you need a great quarterback to consistently succeed in today’s NFL. But don’t be an idiot like Jim Irsay — if you want to know why the Colts “only” have one Super Bowl ring, you need to look at the whole team, not just one position.

And whose responsibility is it to build the whole team?

Hmm…

Oct 112013
 

hi-res-107946283_crop_650x440
Well, that is that, I suppose. There’s no point in playing the rest of the season. The Kansas City Chiefs are your Super Bowl XLVIII champions. (Disappointing, I know, but at least it’s better than a Packer victory.)

Or, maybe not. I’m sure you can provide a litany of reasons why the Chiefs aren’t as good as their 5-0 start. Go ahead; make the case for the Saints. Or the Broncos. Or even the Indianapolis Colts. Nevertheless, at this insanely early point in the season, the numbers say the Chiefs will be standing on the podium come February 2, 2014.

In this case, “the numbers” refers to a system I’m trying out this season, tentatively called “Pythagorean Five”. The results are based on two equations, both developed by Bill James for use in baseball analysis, but which have been applied to football with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

The first is the “Pythagorean Expectation”. The idea is to determine the expected winning percentage based on a team’s points scored and points allowed:

Win% = (Points Scored)^2.37 / ((Points Scored)^2.37 + (Points Allowed)^2.37)

For example, the Detroit Lions have scored 131 points and allowed 123 points. Their Pythagorean Expectation is 53.7%.

The second is “Log5″. This formula gives the probability that Team A will win a game against Team B:

Log5 = (Win%(A) - (Win%(A) * Win%(B)) / (Win%(A) + Win%(B) - (2 * Win%(A) * Win%(B))

For example, Detroit (53.7%) is playing Cleveland (54.2%) on Sunday. Detroit’s Log5 value for this game is 49.5%.

The methodology is simple: compute each team’s Pythagorean Expectation, then determine its Log5 against each remaining opponent. The sum of these values is the number of wins the team should have at the end of the season. For the playoffs, the probability of each outcome for all potential matchups are then determined to estimate the chance of each playoff team winning its conference championship and the Super Bowl.

How accurate is it? Only time will tell, but at the moment, 27 of 32 teams are within one win of where they “should” be based on the Pythagorean Five system, while the average error in winning percentage is approximately 12%.

American Football Conference
North South East West
Cleveland Browns 9.1 (+1.4)
Cincinnati Bengals 9.04 (+1.3)
Baltimore Ravens 9.02 (+0.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers 2.8 (-0.2)
Indianapolis Colts 12.4 (+0.3)
Tennessee Titans 9.5 (-0.8)
Houston Texans 5.5 (-1.6)
Jacksonville Jaguars 0.7 (+0.2)
New England Patriots 11.1 (-1.1)
Miami Dolphins 8.7 (-0.3)
New York Jets 7.2 (+1.1)
Buffalo Bills 7.0 (-1.0)
Kansas City Chiefs 14.1 (+0.1)
Denver Broncos 12.5 (-0.1)
Oakland Raiders 6.9 (+1.6)
San Diego Chargers 6.7 (-1.0)

 

National Football Conference
North South East West
Green Bay Packers 9.8 (+1.2)
Detroit Lions 9.5 (-1.5)
Chicago Bears 9.4 (+0.3)
Minnesota Vikings 6.3 (+0.1)
New Orleans Saints 13.5 (+0.5)
Carolina Panthers 8.5 (-2.9)
Atlanta Falcons 5.7 (-0.3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2.8 (-0.1)
Dallas Cowboys 8.5 (-0.9)
Philadelphia Eagles 7.0 (+1.0)
Washington Redskins 5.8 (-0.1)
New York Giants 1.6 (+0.1)
Seattle Seahawks 12.7 (-1.7)
San Francisco 49ers 9.5 (+2.1)
Arizona Cardinals 8.1 (+1.7)
St. Louis Rams 4.9 (+1.2)

 

Playoff Chances
AFC Championship NFC Championship Super Bowl XLVIII
Kansas City Chiefs 50%
Indianapolis Colts 27%
Denver Broncos 13%
New England Patriots 6%
Tennessee Titans 3%
Cleveland Browns 1%
New Orleans Saints 46%
Seattle Seahawks 36%
Green Bay Packers 6%
San Francisco 49ers 5%
Dallas Cowboys 4%
Detroit Lions 3%
Kansas City Chiefs (4) 33%
New Orleans Saints (2) 22%
Seattle Seahawks (3) 16%
Indianapolis Colts (5) 15%
Denver Broncos (1) 7%
Green Bay (11), New England (6) 2%
Dallas (13), Detroit (12), San Francisco (7), Tennessee (14) 1%
Cleveland Browns (20) 0%

 

Teams are ranked by expected number of wins. The value in parentheses is the change in expected win total since last week. Under “Super Bowl”, the number in parentheses is the current Gridiron Rats Power Ranking.

Oct 072013
 

Scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I stumbled across this gem: Broncos-Cowboys game underscores diminishing role of defense in NFL.

OK, so that Broncos game Sunday was very exciting. It kept us all on the edge of our seats, and it certainly enlivened my son’s birthday party. But what about defense?

1381108333000-USP-NFL-Denver-Broncos-at-Dallas-Cowboys

Now, I love a good “kids nowadays” rant as much as anyone. (Don’t get me started on how every one of today’s stars is the “Best. Player. EVAR.”) But I like my arguments to be underpinned by actual… um… whaddaya call ’em?

Oh, right.

FACTS.

The NFL has done everything it can to prevent defenses from doing what they are supposed to do, which is to stop the other team from scoring, not lay down and provide a doormat for them. Offensive linemen are allowed to do all sorts of things that would have been called holding in the past. Defensive backs are severely restricted in what they can do to impede wide receivers.

I’ll leave aside the obvious counter-argument that anyone who supports the Green Bay Packers has no idea what he’s talking about, and simply focus on those pesky facts: this year, the National Football League is averaging 23.1 points per team per game. Remove the ridiculous start by the Denver Broncos, who will likely regress to the mean, and that average is 22.3; or a half-point lower than last season (22.8), and almost identical to 2011 (22.2).

If you want to argue recent rules changes have shifted the league towards the passing game, you can do that. So far this year, 2.32 yards have been gained through the air for every yard gained on the ground; five years ago, the ratio was 1.82:1.

Sadly, Mr. Meyer forsakes the rational argument for one based on his emotional attachment to what he thinks was the game of his youth:

I like old-school football. I grew up watching Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers teams, which included nine Hall of Fame players. They played great defense, and they had a nearly unstoppable running game. They had a Hall of Fame quarterback, but in his five championship seasons Bart Starr averaged 157 yards passing per game. He averaged 13 touchdown passes per season.

Unknowingly, Mr. Meyer completely undercuts his own position, while simultaneously making the case for the current era representing a shift in offensive focus, rather than an upending of the traditional offensive/defensive balance of power. Statistically, Bart Starr’s best year was 1966, when he had a 105.0 passer rating. Like me, I’m sure you are curious to know what the scoring average was that year.

It was 21.7.

That’s right: in the defense-heavy struggles of yesteryear, teams scored 0.1 points per game MORE than were being scored during the decade from 2003-2012. Sure, if you only focus on the last five years, teams are scoring 0.4 points more per game than in 1966; but that’s the equivalent of two additional field goals per season.

Also, for what it’s worth, the scoring average in 1966 represented a slight drop-off from 1965, when the scoring average was… wait for it…

23.1.

You might recognize that number, since it’s the same as we’ve seen through the first five weeks of this season.

So, if scoring isn’t really up in the modern NFL, why do Meyers and so many others persist in making such claims? For one possible answer, consider the following lines from the linked article:

“…They played great defense, and they had a nearly unstoppable running game…”
“…I like watching a good running back wear down a good defense…”
“…great defense, great running game…”

In Meyers’ mind, a good running game and good defense go hand in hand, to the point that the one is interchangeable with the other. He grew up with an NFL in which the running game was much more prevalent than today (although not dominant — the air/ground yardage ratio in 1966 was 1.47:1), yet “remembers” a league in which defense played a bigger role. And that is objectively untrue.

Meyers’ disdain for the passing game reaches its apex here: “…it has become so easy to throw touchdown passes.”

Seriously?

In the past fifty years, the number of passing touchdowns has remained remarkably steady, averaging about 1.3 per game. The coefficient of variance is 10%; that means two-thirds of seasons fell within 10% of the average. Last year, it was a whopping 1.5. Sure; that’s an increase of 15% over the fifty-year average, but so what? That’s one additional touchdown through the air for every five games.

Why does all this matter? Isn’t Meyers just another sloppy sports journalist with column inches to fill?

Perhaps. But arguing for the revocation of rules changes to “correct” a non-existent imbalance is not only farcical, it is downright dangerous when you consider many of those changes were put into effect out of respect for player safety. Maybe the rules make the game safer; maybe they don’t. Regardless, it’s clear they aren’t substantively tilting the game in favor of the offense. (At least not yet.)

You don’t have to like the same things about football that I like. If you would prefer three yards and a cloud of dust, that’s your prerogative. But don’t take your prejudice and dress it up as some existential threat to the very nature of the game.

Sep 252012
 

…maybe the replacements got it right, after all.

If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.

Go watch the video, and tell me you can see whether the defender caught the ball first, or if the ball was caught by both players at the same time. Even the announcers called it “simultaneous”.

But it was reviewed, you say?

Irrelevant.

A ruling of simultaneous possession is a judgement call — i.e., one that cannot be overturned on review. Replays can only be used to determine if a pass was complete or incomplete. So, the only way the referee could have overturned the score is if the video clearly showed the ball hit the ground. Since it didn’t, they had no choice but to award the touchdown — and the game — to Seattle.

EDIT: In light of the NFL’s statement, I stand corrected on this. Simultaneous possession is reviewable in the end zone. This changes my thinking somewhat, but my larger point still stands (read on).

In other words, the replacement referees made a split-second call (and anyone who says they saw an obvious interception at full speed is lying), a call the rules expressly prohibited them from changing upon review.

Blame the referees for making horrible calls all night, if you must. Seattle wouldn’t have been in the position to score if not for a very questionable pass interference flag a few players earlier. On the other hand, Green Bay’s only touchdown drive was saved by another, just as (if not more) questionable, penalty.

I’m not suggesting the replacement referees have been good. However, I don’t for a second buy the argument that it’s inevitable a “real” crew would have called the play correctly. I’d say the odds are 50/50 at best. If you remember, there’s a reason we have replay in the first place; the game is so fast that even those who have officiated games every week for years still get it wrong sometimes.

EDIT: This is where I stand by my thesis. If you honestly think every “real” referee would have overturned the call upon review, you haven’t been watching the same league I have. In light of the NFL’s clarification (above), I’d increase the odds to 60/40 or even 70/30 that the locked-out officials would have made the correct call, either initially or upon review, but no more than that.

The game last night was a godsend for the locked-out officials, in that one play has provided a focal point for all of the boiling anger and resentment by players, coaches, and fans alike. The NFL is all but certain to settle within weeks, if not days. That’s good news for everybody.

The better news for the officials and the league (and the bad news for fans) is the “real” guys weren’t on the field last night. That gives cover for what is an unacceptable state of affairs — namely, that in the age of dozens of camera angles and high-tech replay booths, the rules still prevent officials from correcting many of their “mistakes”. This is the most obvious place where a rules change is needed (aside from the forever-damned “Tuck Rule”).

I put “mistakes” in scare quotes because I have argued for years the mere existence of replay creates an unrealistic expectation of perfection. Referees, umpires, and back judges are human, after all — and while the past couple weeks have proven they are the best at what they do, they still can’t see what fans at home can see with their 90″ HDTVs and super-slo-mo. Frankly, I would be happier if replay was done away with completely, but I realize it’s here to stay. So, here are my humble suggestions:

1) Require reviews to be made at full speed, or at most, slightly slowed. If a call isn’t obviously wrong at 50% normal speed, then live with it.

2) Do away with limitations on what can and cannot be reviewed. I’m not sure where those limits come from, but if the referee can overturn himself, or a member of his crew, on a question of whether a player stepped out of bounds, it seems reasonable he can also overturn judgement calls like whether a cornerback made contact with a receiver too early.

3) Get rid of (or at least refine) the challenge system. If you want to get it right, get it right. Whether or not the opposing head coach wants to wager a timeout should have no bearing on the matter.

4) Finally, adopt the system in place in Canada, and have all replays reviewed centrally. This will ensure consistency (and remove any subconscious reluctance on the part of referees to overturn their crew members’ decisions).

In the end, I have to say no: the replacements didn’t get it right. That much is obvious. But the list of who got it “wrong” is much longer than the poor guys in the end zone last night:

  • An offense that scored 35 points a game last year could only manage a single touchdown, with the assistance of a phantom interference call.
  • The top takeaway defense in the league couldn’t manage a single turnover against a rookie quarterback.
  • The officials aren’t even in a position to make the call if M. D. Jennings takes Tom Jackson’s perennial advice in Hail Mary situations: “KNOCK IT DOWN!”
  • While it didn’t affect the outcome of the game, Mike McCarthy’s professionalism took a major hit when he and his team left the field before the game was officially over. Not a classy move, Mike.

I join my fellow Rats in imploring the league to get this mess over with as quickly as possible.

Sadly, I doubt the griping over the officials will end, one way or the other.

Aug 202012
 

Here we are, still stuck in that nether-world between the start of preseason (yawn) and the beginning of Real Football (yay), when it feels like all is right with the world, yet when you look up, Caleb Hanie is under center for the Denver Broncos… In an effort to fill the void, I present to you this year’s Wardrobe Malfunctions — the team in each division that really (and in some cases really REALLY) needs to do something about its threads.

Let’s kick it off with the AFC, shall we?

AFC NORTH

They may be the division snowball, but I’ve got to hand it to the Cleveland Browns — they’ve held the line (so far). Likewise the Steelers, whose logo-on-one-side helmet has been around long enough to be considered cool rather than annoying. Also, the thick black stripe on the pants is sweet.

Then there are the Baltimore Ravens, who managed to ditch one of the worst logos in the history of sports, only to end up with one of the worst logos in the history of sports.[1] Add to that the purple-and-black color combination, which does get pity points for originality, and you’ve got the recipe for a full-blown wardrobe malfunction. However, luckily for the Ravens, they share the division with…

The Cincinnati Bengals.

When the Bengals first unveiled their striped helmet in 1981, I was a huge fan. I mean, anything is an improvement over the word “BENGALS”, but the stripes were inspired. In retrospect, I should have taken note of the additional tiger stripes over the shoulders and down the pants — they were a harbinger of things to come. First, the tiger patches in 1997; then the expanded stripes on the shoulders, the white lines down the sides of the jerseys, and the orange nameplate across the back — seriously? Less is more, my friends.

AFC SOUTH

The AFC South makes me wish I could pick two teams from a different division — all four teams here are solid on the uniform front. From the classic look of the Indianapolis Colts, to the sleek modern design of the Titans’ duds, there’s not a stinker in the bunch. The Houston Texans are hampered by the blue-and-red color scheme that I’ve never liked (two primary colors? tsk tsk…) yet manage to (mostly) pull it off. Thus, almost by default, we come to…

The Jacksonville Jaguars.

To be fair, the Jacksonville uniforms are not ugly, just rather boring (which is probably a good thing, since teal as a primary color is about as adventurous as a football team should get). About the only concrete suggestion I have is getting rid of the piping. It serves no purpose, and just looks wrong on 300-pound linemen.

AFC EAST

This one was going to be easy — possibly the easiest choice in the entire league — but then the Bills went and updated their uniforms. Curse you, Buffalo! (Also, good job, Buffalo; about time. Now, let’s talk about those primary colors…)

The Dolphins are perfect the way they are; here’s hoping the rumors of a logo update are just that — rumors. We’ve seen what can happen in south Florida. Meanwhile, while I prefer the New York Sack Exchange, I have to agree the Jets’ current look is the best option for today’s game. So, once again, almost (but not quite) by default, we end up with…

The New England Patriots.

The New England uniforms have improved somewhat since Flying Elvis was first unveiled — but not by much. They get credit for the gray shoulder stripes, instead of red (see above for what I think of that combination). But one Elvis is bad enough; why is there another on the sleeve? Frankly, I think the old Pat the Patriot needs to make a comeback… But what makes this more than just a default pick are the horrid gray (silver?) pants. On one hand, I give the Patriots credit for being different — but with the faded blue and red stripes, the end result just looks like something that hasn’t been washed since 2005[2].

AFC WEST

Okay, so whatever I have said in the past about the Oakland Raiders (suck), I have to admit the black and silver kicks ass. (In light of what I said about the Patriots’ pants, above, I should note the Raiders’ pants are actually silver, one of the team’s primary (only) colors. With New England, it comes off as just an excuse not to use white.) Similarly, whatever faults I find with the Chiefs (suck), their uniforms should never ever change, nor should they ever give in to the temptation of an “alternate” jersey. Arrowhead is as close to a college atmosphere as you’ll get in the NFL; it would be horrible to dilute that sea of red by trying to mix in some other color for the sake of selling more jerseys.

San Diego (sucks) would be close to perfect if they went all in and made the power blue jersey their primary. (I’ve never liked white jerseys at home.) However, the switch (return) to white helmets in 2007 was a welcome change. I’d love it if they added the uniform numbers, too, but that might be too much to ask. Which means, by process of elimination, the astute reader will have determined that the wardrobe malfunction in this division belongs to…

The Denver Broncos.

Let’s give the team some credit, here — they have returned to orange as the main jersey color. And the team has won two Super Bowls with the new bronco logo, so it’s grown on me a bit. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement: (1) do something about the curvy swooshy stripe on the pants, and (2) ditch the half-hearted stripe on the helmet. It looks like the equipment manager ran out of paint.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve got. What do the rest of you think?


[1] Which is weird, because their alternate logokicks ass.

[2] You know, the last time they won the Super Bowl.