Feb 022014
 

superbowl-xlviii-opening-line-has-denver-broncos-as-1-5-point-favorites-against-the-seattle-seahawksWell Fat Jesus wrapped up the weekly picks contest last week, going 2-0 to open up a three game lead with just the Super Bowl remaining. So congrats to Fat Jesus! Of course, the Ghost Rat was the one contributor who predicted Denver and Seattle in the Super Bowl in our pre-season picks, so now we will see if I can accurately predict the winner of that contest as well.

At the beginning of the year I said it would be Denver over Seattle, with a good offense beating a good defense, and I still hold that this will be true today. Manning has too many weapons for Seattle to stop them down consistently, though Manning and the Broncos may struggle to sustain the long drives that they enjoyed against the Patriots. Manning will need some big plays downfield to earn his second Super Bowl ring. Seattle has an outstanding chance of winning this game on the backs of their defense, but it is easier for me to imagine Denver shutting down Russell Wilson than it if for me to see Seattle shut down Manning. Of course, in recent years the MVP Award has been a consolation prize in place of Super Bowl championships, so those believing in omens will find that little factor in Seattle’s favor.

Across our contributors, we give the Broncos a 7-3 edge. Here are our predictions and scores, along with the season rankings.

WriterDEN v SEAScore
Brodrick KincaidDEN27-20
Country PreacherSEA24-20
DJ CrashSEA23-20
Fat JesusDEN27-21
Flip StriclandDEN24-20
Ghost RatDEN31-21
LGBTSEA28-24
Rat's WidowDEN31-17
Reyno IslandDEN34-31
SharpeDEN31-21
Guest QuarterSEA
ContributorWLGB
Fat Jesus17788X
Ghost Rat174913
DJ Crash174913
Flip Stricland170957
Brodrick Kincaid169968
Country Preacher168979
Sharpe16410113
Like Gandhi, But Taller16110416
Reyno Island16010517
Rat's Widow15511022
Guest Quarter (coin flip)13013547
updated 2/1/14
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 172014
 

Brady - ManningIt looks like it’s going to be a Denver-Seattle Super Bowl, or at least says the consensus pick of our resident experts this week.

The Denver versus New England match-up offers another chapter in the Brady v. Manning saga, and even with a Brady loss this weekend, the Patriots’ quarterback has dominated the head to head match-up between the future Hall of Famers.

There are a couple of things going for the Patriots. The Denver defense is beat up, missing both Chris Harris and Von Miller. Additionally, Tom Brady has won every contest in which he has faced a Jack Del Rio led defense. The emergence of LaGarrette Blount gives the Patriots a lethal offensive weapon, and potentially opens up the play action passing attack to the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, and the cast of rookie receivers.

But there is far more in Denver’s favor. First, no team has suffered greater season-ending injuries this season, and nearly a quarter of the Patriots’ salary is currently on injured reserve. That includes the entire interior defensive front seven in Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Vince Wilfork, and Tommy Kelly. The Patriots’ have done more with undrafted rookie free agents than any other team in the league, but there is only so much that a team can do to fill the void. In all likelihood, Manning and the Broncos running attack will combine to rack up huge numbers on the day and end the Patriots’ run, a season which has exceeded all reasonable expectations.

This game has the feel of the 2006 AFC Championship, when the Patriots got a big first half lead on Manning and the Colts, but ultimately were doomed by a banged up and tired defense as Manning brought the Colts back en route to the Super Bowl win over the Chicago Bears. I expect this game to go much the same way, with the Patriots being competitive in the first half, but falling behind as the third quarter wears on. My predicted score is Colts 34 Patriots 24.

Pay no attention to the fact that I am picking the Patriots this week in our picks contest; that is simply a desperate calculation to try and catch up with Fat Jesus in our standings.

On the NFC side, the Seahawks have a great home field advantage, and have easily handled the 49ers in the last two encounters in Seattle. Colin Kaepernick is struggling in the pocket, and the Seattle defense is likely to make it a long day for the third year quarterback. Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson can be counted on to provide enough offense to dismiss San Francisco once again. Look for a 30-17 contest in favor of the Seahawks.

Here are our collective picks for the weekend:

WriterNE @ DENSF @ SEA
Brodrick KincaidDENSEA
Country PreacherDENSF
DJ CrashDENSEA
Fat JesusDENSEA
Flip StriclandDENSEA
Ghost RatNESEA
LGBTDENSEA
Rat's WidowNESEA
Reyno IslandDENSEA
SharpeNESEA
Guest QuarterNESF

Here are the standings with only three games to go:

ContributorWLGB
Fat Jesus17788X
Ghost Rat174913
DJ Crash174913
Flip Stricland170957
Brodrick Kincaid169968
Country Preacher168979
Sharpe16410113
Like Gandhi, But Taller16110416
Reyno Island16010517
Rat's Widow15511022
Guest Quarter (coin flip)13013547
updated 2/1/14
Jan 112014
 

Brady v LuckAnother week, and another leader in our Gridiron Rats weekly picks contest. Fat Jesus has pulled in to the lead by a game, and this Rat finds himself having a pick against his own team to try and make up the difference. I am hoping that the Patriots can pound the ball against the Colts, and the Patriots’ running attack should be able to tear up a questionable Colts’ defense. But it is the Patriots’ defense that has me worried, as now a fourth defensive starter has gone on the shelf for the season. While linebacker Brandon Spikes has been dealing with an injury for some time, it was aggravated in the Week Seventeen win over the Bills. But it took Spikes to be late to practice for Bill Belichick to place Spikes on IR, sending a loud message to the locker room, but shutting down the teams best run defender. It seems like the end of the road for Spikes in New England, and I for one will not miss this loudmouth when he signs on somewhere else next season, but his absence this week against the Colts could be troubling. The game is likely to be a high-scoring affair, and it’s entirely possible that the last team to possess the ball will win the game. However, I can’t help but envision a situation where the Patriots are down by four and need to drive the field in the last minute, but are unable to find the end zone. And, with a loss, perhaps Bill Belichick’s finest year as a head coach, will end with another January disappointment. I’d really rather be wrong about this pick, but I have a sneaky feeling the Colts will pull this one out.

For the divisional round, all of us chose the Seahawks in our only unanimous pick. We figure the Saints are not a better team than the one that got blown out in Seattle five weeks ago, having lost two defensive starters in that span.  Bu, even if all else is equal, we figure the Seahawks’ secondary will just interfere with the Saints’ receivers in order to shut down Drew Brees. The Seahawks should win by two scores. Most of us like the 49ers to beat the Panthers, though this contest is truly up for grabs. The 49ers are playing well right now, but Ron Rivera has done a terrific job to earn Carolina the home field advantage. Look for a battle to the end. Finally, we favor the Broncos to take apart the Chargers, despite a recent Chargers win in Denver. San Diego has been on fire over the last month, but the Broncos just have too many weapons to be shut down two meetings in a row.

Here are our picks for the week:

WriterNO @ SEAIND @ NESF @ CARSD @ DEN
Brodrick KincaidSEANESFSD
Country PreacherSEANESFDEN
DJ CrashSEAINDSFDEN
Fat JesusSEANESFDEN
Flip StriclandSEANECARDEN
Ghost RatSEAINDSFDEN
LGBTSEANECARDEN
Rat's WidowSEAINDSFDEN
Reyno IslandSEANESFDEN
SharpeSEANESFDEN
Guest QuarterNOINDCARSD

Our current standings:

ContributorWLGB
Fat Jesus17788X
Ghost Rat174913
DJ Crash174913
Flip Stricland170957
Brodrick Kincaid169968
Country Preacher168979
Sharpe16410113
Like Gandhi, But Taller16110416
Reyno Island16010517
Rat's Widow15511022
Guest Quarter (coin flip)13013547
updated 2/1/14

 

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.

Jan 062014
 

Kiko Alonso2013 saw some outstanding performances among defensive rookies, and we have nominated eight for the award won by Luke Kuechly last season. This year’s nominees include (in alphabetical order):

Kiko Alonso, BUF (6-10, 159 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 INT)
Jarvis Jones, PIT (8-8, 40 tackles, 1 sack)
Star Lotulelei, CAR (12-4, 42 tackles, 3 sacks)
Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (10-6, 68 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT)
Alec Ogletree, STL (7-9, 117 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD)
Sheldon Richardson, NYJ (8-8, 76 tackles, 3.5 sacks)
Logan Ryan, NE (12-4, 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 INT, 1 TD)
Desmond Trufant, ATL (4-12, 70 tackles, 2 INT)

This award generated a wide variety of opinions among our contributors, as three different players accumulated first place votes, and one player who received a second place vote and three third place votes didn’t make the final cut (Logan Ryan), nor did another player who received a first place vote (Star Lotulelei). When all the votes are tallied, here are the top three vote winners:

Third Place: Alec Ogletree, linebacker, St. Louis Rams

Ogletree led a resurgent Rams’ defense with 117 tackles while forcing six fumbles. Ogletree also returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, had a sack and a half and ten pass breakups. The first round sellection from the University of Georgia, coupled with defensive end Robert Quinn, give Jeff Fisher a solid defensive nucleus entering the 2014 season.

Second Place: Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, New York Jets (2 1st place votes)

One of our two selections from the AFC East, Richardson single-handedly made new GM John Idzik look pretty bright this season, as the budding star dominated the line of scrimmage and was a force against opposition running games. Despite being a rookie and joining a very talented defensive front, Richardson proved to be arguably the best defensive player on the Jets’ roster. Richardson closed the season with 76 tackles and three and a half sacks.

First Place: Kiko Alonso, linebacker, Buffalo Bills (4 1st place votes)

Jets’ fans may disagree, but we agree with Mel Kiper on this one. Alonso was the best defensive rookie in the NFL in 2013, nearly on par with Kuechly’s performance in 2012. Alonso recorded 159 tackles in 2013, while helping the Bills improve to the tenth ranked offense (in defensive yards allowed). The secondary proved to be the bane of Buffalo’s defensive unit, but Alonso quickly established himself as a dominant and disruptive presence, picking off four passes while breaking up another nine, and tallying two sacks, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Alonso finished third in the league in tackles, behind only Vontaze Burfict and Paul Posluszny.

Jan 062014
 

Rat's Awards ImageBeginning later today, the Gridiron Rats second annual post-season awards will start being unveiled. You will recall last year that we correctly predicted each of the NFL’s post-season awards winners, a feat unmatched on any website that we are familiar with. This season, we actually hope not to perform so well, because it was never our intent to predict who others were going to honor. Sticking with our purpose to be strictly a fan site, we are sticking only with with award nominees that our own contributors have nominated, which of course leaves room for some oversights and for some homerism along the way.  Of course, since I get to make nominations as well, I do try to make sure that our slate of nominees is broad and reflective of the many outstanding performances from the 2013 season.

Our schedule for post-season awards is as follows:

January 6 – Defensive Rookie of the Year
January 7 – Offensive Rookie of the Year
January 8 – Comeback Player of the Year
January 9 – Coach of the Year
January 10 – Defensive Player of the Year
January 11 – Offensive Player of the Year
January 12 – Most Valuable Player
January 13 – Rat’s Dropping Award
January 14 – Pied Piper Award

The last two awards are our new creations this season; the Rat’s Dropping Award recognizes an active NFL player as being the worst role model in the National Football league, while the Pied Piper Award recognizes the active player who serves as the best role model in the NFL.

Check back later today to see our first award.

Jan 012014
 

Cincinnati BengalsAfter 256 games of the 2013 NFL regular season, the real football season is finally upon us! We have four wildcard playoff contests this weekend, and the NFL is likely to get four competitive contests, exactly what they are hoping for. Among our contributors, we have no unanimous picks this weekend, and a great deal of disagreement over the Saturday games in particular. Our experts are split between the Colts and the Chiefs in the early contest on Saturday, and have only a slight preference for the Eagles to take out the Saints in the late game. We have more agreement on Sunday, where an overwhelming majority of our contributors expect the Bengals to beat the Chargers and the 49ers to take out the host Packers in Green Bay.

Our full predictions for the weekend follow:

WriterKC @ INDNO@PHISD @ CINSF @ GB
Brodrick KincaidINDPHICINSF
Country PreacherKCPHICINSF
DJ CrashKCNOCINSF
Fat JesusINDNOCINSF
Flip StriclandKCNOCINSF
Ghost RatKCPHICINSF
LGBTINDNOCINSF
Rat's WidowKCPHICINSF
Reyno IslandINDPHICINSF
SharpeINDPHISDGB
Guest QuarterKCPHISDGB

For the season, the Ghost Rat rode a 14-2 Week Seventeen showing back into first place in our weekly picks contest, edging out Fat Jesus by a game, while DJ Crash slipped into third place, just two games back. We have some disagreements this weekend among the top three, so the standings are sure to change by the time we are back at it next week. Flip, Brodrick, and the Preacher are locked in a tight battle for fourth place, while Rat’s Widow notched her 150th correct pick for the season; not bad for someone who turned in all of her picks for the year before the first kickoff of Week One.

And, for those who are interested, our staff are staying very competitive with boys over at Pro Football Talk. Michael David Smith, who is kicking the hell out of Mike Florio this season, has 170 wins, which would be good for a one game lead in our league. Meanwhile Florio, who I might add is (justifiably) getting paid great money for his love of (and presumed knowledge of) football, has only 159 wins, which would place him seventh at Gridiron Rats. Better luck next season, Mike.

Here are the standings going into Wildcard Weekend:

ContributorWLGB
Fat Jesus17788X
Ghost Rat174913
DJ Crash174913
Flip Stricland170957
Brodrick Kincaid169968
Country Preacher168979
Sharpe16410113
Like Gandhi, But Taller16110416
Reyno Island16010517
Rat's Widow15511022
Guest Quarter (coin flip)13013547
updated 2/1/14
Dec 302013
 

Mike ShanahanIt’s that time of year… the day following the end of the regular season when NFL head coaches get shown the front door. We’ll keep a running commentary of any coaches fired over the course of the week leading up to the Wildcard Round.

Here are our coaching casualties to date:

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans

OK, so the Texans got the jump of Black Monday a few weeks back by ousting Kubiak, which was a long time coming. Kubiak’s job was hanging on precarious threads a few times in the past, and even when the team was successful they managed to find ways to underachieve. But this year’s total collapse was the final straw in Houston. Bill O’Brien is the early front-runner, but the Texans will be looking at several candidates, including former Bears’ coach Lovie Smith.

Rob Chudzkinski, Cleveland Browns

I’m not sure I get this one. Sure, the Browns were 4-12 this season and can be accused of under-performing, but I’m not entirely sure that Chud was the problem. The team has been laden with personnel issues from the previous regime, and is still lacking consistent quarterback play. Given that the Browns fleeced the Colts for a first-round pick, I would have loved to see what Chud could have done with the addition of two first round picks and an improving defense next season. But the Cleveland brass seems to have needed a scapegoat, and Chud gets the honors.

Mike Shanahan, Washington Football Club

Like there was any doubt about this one. Sure, Daniel Snyder hates to part with money, but it was pretty obvious he would pay just about anything to be rid of Shanahan and his staff. Let me be honest, I think Shanahan is one of the most overrated coaches in NFL history, two Super Bowl wins not withstanding. His 55% winning percentage includes two Super Bowl wins, which he never would have gotten without John Elway, and he has had seven losing campaigns (along with three 8-8 seasons) in his twenty year career as a head coach. He finishes 24-40 after four years in Washington, along win one playoff appearance in last year’s loss to Seattle.

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings

It’s hard to argue with this one after the Vikings fell off a good 2013 campaign, and the year was undermined by Frazier’s inability to settle on a quarterback that he could get consistent play from. The team went from 10-6 last year to 5-10-1 this season. Coupled with the Vikings’ refusal to extend his contract after last season’s success, Frazier looked like a prime candidate to lose his job as the Vikes plummeted in the standings. Early reports link Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase (both of the Broncos) as possible replacements.

Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay

Public discussion was back and forth on whether or not the Bucs had done enough at the end of the season to save Greg Schiano’s job. They didn’t. The Bucs cleared house on Monday, sending Schiano and his staff packing along with GM Mark Dominik. This may clear the way for Schiano and his sunny disposition to wind up at Penn State if an when Bill O’Brien leaves. The Bucs went 4-12 this season, and Schiano’s two-year tenure with the team netted an 11-21 record.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions

Speaking of sunny dispositions and overrated coaches, Jim Schwartz is out in Detroit, and for good reason. The demise of the Green Bay Packers earlier in the season left the Lions an inside track to a division crown and playoff spot. The team’s response? To close the season with a 1-5 record over the last six games to finish at 7-9. While Schwartz deserves some credit for dispelling the culture of losing from the Lions, he failed to instill discipline in his team on or off the field, and was sometimes a coaching catastrophe on the sidelines. Schwartz had only one winning season in his five years in Detroit (10-6 in 2011), finishing with a 29-51 mark.

Along with the casualties, the New York Jets have given a vote of confidence to Head Coach Rex Ryan, in that they are allowing him to return in 2014 after a very good run by the Jets this season. There is still no word on a contract extension, but either way it is fair to assume that Ryan will once again be coaching for his job in 2014.

We are still waiting word on the fates of Leslie Frazier (Minnesota), Mike Munchak (Tennessee), Jim Schwartz (Detroit), Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay), and Jason Garrett (Dallas). My money is on Garrett and Munchak keeping their jobs, and Frazier, Schiano and Schwartz losing theirs. (Update: Right on Frazier. Right on Schwartz. Right on Schiano.)

(Update: Right on Garrett as well. Jerruh has committed to another year of him as GM, Garrett as coach, and a recovering Romo at QB. What could possibly go wrong?? Here’s to another 8-8 season, at best.)

Dec 282013
 

On the MoneyAs we enter the final week of the regular season, DJ Crash maintains a slim one game lead over Fat Jesus and a two game lead over Ghost Rat. We maintain this competition through the post-season, so there are just 27 games left in our competition and in the 2013 season. Fat Jesus, Flip Stricland, and Gandhi all led the way at 11-5 last week, while Ghost Rat and Reyno Island each grabbed ten wins.

Rat’s Widow came in at 7-9 last week, giving her a 140-99 record for the reason so far. And while that leaves her in a battle with Reyno Island in a competition for the bottom of our standings, it’s time to reveal why her picks have been so impressive the season. The madness to her method? I gave her the full NFL schedule for the season in August and within two hours she handed me back her picks for the entire season. That’s right… her predictions for the season that we published several months ago included the winner of every game, and she’s been right at a 59% clip, a mere seven percentage points off of the lead. That’s not bad for someone who hasn’t made a single change to her picks as the year has worn on, and as those of us picking weekly have long ago abandoned Houston and Atlanta, the Widow has held tight. Next season she has promised to pick weekly like the rest of us, and I can only assume that means trouble for her competition.

Here are the standings through sixteen weeks:

ContributorWLGB
Fat Jesus17788X
Ghost Rat174913
DJ Crash174913
Flip Stricland170957
Brodrick Kincaid169968
Country Preacher168979
Sharpe16410113
Like Gandhi, But Taller16110416
Reyno Island16010517
Rat's Widow15511022
Guest Quarter (coin flip)13013547
updated 2/1/14

For the final week of the regular season, we have three unanimous picks: the Broncos, Saints, and Seahawks. Otherwise, there is a fair amount of disagreement among our contributors on the final full slate of games. By our accounting, the Dolphins will grab the final AFC playoff spot with a win over the Jets, coupled with a Ravens’ loss to Cincinnati. The Patriots should grab the #2 seed with a win over the Bills, though the Bills’ defense promises to give the Patriots’ makeshift offensive line some fits on Sunday. In the NFC, a Saints win will wrap up a wildcard spot, as Carolina looks to win the division. Finally, our money is on the  Bears and Eagles to win the “win and you’re in” games this weekend. Our picks for the week follow:

WriterCAR @ ATLGB @ CHIHOU @ TENCLE @ PITWAS @ NYGBAL @ CINPHI @ DALJAC @ IND
Brodrick KincaidCARCHITENPITNYGCINPHIJAC
Country PreacherCARGBTENPITNYGBALPHIIND
DJ CrashCARCHITENPITNYGBALDALIND
Fat JesusCARCHITENPITNYGCINPHIIND
Flip StriclandCARCHITENPITNYGCINPHIIND
Ghost RatCARCHITENPITNYGCINPHIIND
LGBTCARCHIHOUPITWASCINPHIIND
Rat's WidowATLCHITENPITNYGCINDALIND
Reyno IslandCARGBTENPITWAS CINPHIIND
SharpeCARGBTENCLENYGCINPHIJAC
Guest QuarterCARCHIHOUCLENYGCINDALJAC
WriterNYJ @ MIADET @ MINBUF @ NETB @ NODEN @ OAKSF @ AZKC @ SDSTL @ SEA
Brodrick KincaidNYJMINBUFNODENAZSDSEA
Country PreacherMIAMINNENODENSFKCSEA
DJ CrashMIADETNENODENAZSDSEA
Fat JesusMIADETNENODENAZSDSEA
Flip StriclandMIADETNENODENAZSDSEA
Ghost RatMIAMINNENODENSFSDSEA
LGBTMIADETNENODENAZKCSEA
Rat's WidowMIADETNENODENSFKCSEA
Reyno IslandNYJDETNENODENSFKCSEA
SharpeMIADETNENODENAZSDSEA
Guest QuarterMIAMINBUFTBDENAZKCSTL