December 26, 2011

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year





Week 17 of the NFL season.

A week too awesome for most fantasy leagues.

When playoff scenarios become playoff matchups. 

When great players sit on the bench and bench players become great. 

When a team filled with stars is led to a playoff-clinching win by an outside linebacker no one even knew existed beforehand.

When a wide receiver that would finish his career with 418 receiving yards makes a last-second game-winning touchdown catch for a 3-12 team, which allows a team in another division to make the playoffs.

When a 15-0 team plays all their starters to keep their undefeated season alive against a 10-5 team that also plays all their starters without any incentive other than to derail the other team's bid at history.

Week 17 is great because it's a showcase of the league as a whole.  While the season's best teams rest up for the playoffs, the other teams try to put a happy ending on their seasons.  Teams still in the hunt do everything they can to clinch a playoff spot against teams that would be better off losing to get a better draft pick.  Yet all but the best teams play out the games with maximum effort, just because winning feels great and losing feels awful.  Just to maintain the integrity of the league.  You always have to earn a win against a bad team, even if that bad team is completely out of the playoff picture.

Enjoy this week of NFL action, because it's the last time you'll see over half of these teams until next year.  Enjoy the Giants-Cowboys matchup.  Watch the Chiefs and Chargers try to screw up the AFC West.  Check out the Browns' attempt to keep the Steelers from winning the division.  Have fun watching NFL football this week, because it's some of the purest, high-quality football you'll see all year.

December 18, 2011

Sorry About That, Green Bay......

"I don't want to jinx it, but the remaining schedule for the Packers is easier than it looks."

-Me last week, on who could beat the Packers

Is Running The Football Even Worth The Effort?

     The average NFL pass gains 6.7 yards.  The average NFL run gains 4.3 yards.  So why do teams still run the ball over 40% of the time?

     The short answer:  Passes are very inconsistent.  If football was a game in which you had 10 plays to gain as many yards as possible, rushing plays wouldn't make any sense at all.  The 4-down structure (which in most cases is really a 3-down structure) makes passing very risky.  While it can get you quick chunks of yards, it's also likely to get you a quick 3-and-out.  The reason running plays are significant despite such a low average gain is that they usually yield some yards, which sets you up for the next down better than an incomplete pass.

     However, in accordance with my earlier rant on NFL coaches running outdated offenses, I wondered what would happen if a team decided to pass on every down.  To accomplish this, I set up an Excel spreadsheet that would simulate a drive using seven variables:

-Distance to the end zone
-Percentage of passing plays
-Completion percentage
-Yards per completion
-Interceptions per incomplete pass
-Sacks per pass play
-Yards per carry

     The first two are pretty much arbitrary.  Average values for the other five were fairly easy to find.  But there was something missing, a way to decide how far a specific pass completion or run would go.  For that I used three statistically normal games from a team that was near the middle of the league in passing and running averages.  (Thanks, Atlanta Falcons!)  I recorded the length of each run and each completion, and used that data to make a decent model of the distribution of those lengths.

     As a baseline, here's the results of 1280 drives for a league-average team with 57% passing plays, starting 70 yards from the end zone.  (I set it up to do 128 drives at a time.)

     (Field goal attempts are defined as drives which end within 33 yards of the end zone, which would be roughly a 50-yard field goal.  Points are calculated by giving 7 points for a touchdown and 2.5 for a field goal attempt, as 84% of field goals attempted in the NFL are made.)

     So the consistent nature of rushing plays is not influential enough to explain their widespread use.  What else could explain the lack of passing in the NFL?

     Another reason teams run the ball a lot is so their offense is "balanced".  That way, defenses don't know what to expect.  When they're able to predict whether the next play is a run or a pass, they're more likely to stop it.

     Let's assume that the league averages are only valid for a 50/50 offense, and changing to an all-passing offense results in, say, a 5% lower completion rate, one less yard per completion, and one more yard per run.  Changing to an all-rushing offense would have the opposite effect.  This is what the numbers would look like then:


     As you can see, too much passing would become harmful to the offense, and the optimal offense would consist of a little under 70% passes.  If each interception is said to cost the team one point (by making it easier for the other team to score), then the optimal percentage is closer to 65%.

     Now let's see what would happen for a team with a 5% better completion rate, 1 more yard per completion, and 1 less yard per run (something like this year's Giants):


     According to the data, this team should throw over 90% of the time!

     Now let's make the opposite adjustments to the average team (roughly the 2011 Vikings):


     This team should be running something close to a half-and-half offense.  What I find most interesting about these numbers is how close they are to one another.  With the average and pass specialist teams, run-heavy offenses fared much worse than normal ones.  The run specialists, though, can operate under any offense except the two extremes and be relatively successful.  This gives those teams an ability to change their offensive style depending on their opponent's defense, while the passing teams are less able to do so.

     So what have we learned from all of these numbers?  First of all, running plays are only useful because they make the pass more effective.  Secondly, NFL teams probably do not pass the ball as much as they should.  Thirdly, the best offenses are those that can pass the ball well, but the most versatile ones are those that run the ball much better than they pass it.  As coaches become more aware of the benefits of throwing the football often, the NFL is going to become even more high-scoring unless big changes are made.

December 13, 2011

Having Fun With ESPN's Playoff Machine

     Every year, ESPN adds an item to their website called the Playoff Machine.  This page allows you to pick the winner of each remaining game in the NFL season (or call it a tie), and then it works through tiebreakers and such to tell you what teams would be in the playoffs and what seeds they would occupy.  Some people like to use it to make predictions.  Others, like myself, enjoy trying to create the silliest playoff scenario possible.  I came up with one that has four degrees of silly:

1.  Kansas City wins its division at 8-8.
2.  Tennessee makes the playoffs at 10-6.
3.  The winner of the NFC East is 7-8-1.  It's Philadelphia.
4.  Arizona and Seattle are the two NFC wild cards, both with 8-7-1 records.

     Check out the above scenario here and see if you can come up with anything better.  To get the URL for your specific scenario, just click the "Copy URL" button below the NFC playoffs graphic.

Marcus Pollard, Amazing Race Contestant And Former NFL Player,...

     ...said in the finale on Sunday that his wife, who he ran the Race with, is smarter than any quarterback he's ever played with.  Did I mention he played tight end for the Indianapolis Colts from 1995 to 2004?  Your wife is nice and seems pretty intelligent, but you have to think before you make statements like this.

     Am I really the only one that noticed?

Who Can Beat The Green Bay Packers?

    
     The Green Bay Packers have not lost in their last 19 games.  Which of course means that all the sports experts are looking for teams that can beat them.  Some say it's the New Orleans Saints, because they have the offense to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and Company.  Some say it's the San Francisco 49'ers, because they play great defense and don't turn the ball over.
   
     I decided to take a slightly different approach.  Rather than looking at teams they could play in the future, I looked at the teams they already played.  Specifically, I went to find stats that the four teams who came within 7 points of beating the Packers had in common (Giants, Chargers, Vikings, Panthers).  The three stats I chose are combined into the Packer Factor, a measure of how well-suited a team is for playing against Green Bay.  The four aforementioned teams were all in the top ten of the league in these stats:

Most Rushing TD

     Why did this stat show up?  Most likely, it's because it signifies a team's ability to get near the end zone and then capitalize on the opportunity.  The Packers like to play a "bend but don't break" defense.  They'll let you gain a lot of yards, but they turn a lot of those long drives into turnovers or field goals.  Teams with a strong red zone rushing presence will have a strong chance against Green Bay.

Panthers:  1st
Vikings:  T-2nd
Giants:  T-6th
Chargers:  10th

Most All-Purpose Yards

     Green Bay scores a lot of points.  If you want to have any shot at beating them, you have to gain yards, in any way possible.  In the past few years, the Packers have been susceptible to big kickoff and punt returns, so a team with the ability to move the ball with returns, passing, and running will fare much better.

Panthers:  4th
Giants:  5th
Chargers:  6th
Vikings:  8th

Most Yards Allowed per Pass Attempt

     Yes, you read that correctly.  The four teams being studied all gave up a lot of yards for every pass the opponent threw.  What could it mean?  It probably means that the Packers' offense does not play as well against a defense that mimics their own.  Aaron Rodgers is very good at picking up the blitz, so the best way to play against him is to sit back, let him complete short and medium-length passes, take away the possibility of a big play, and hope he makes a mistake.

Panthers:  1st
Vikings:  3rd
Giants:  6th
Chargers:  10th

     Adding up a team's rank in each category gives the Packer Factor.  (Note:  For rushing TD's, tied rankings are averaged over the span of the tie, so two teams tied for 2nd would be ranked at 2.5, the average of 2 and 3.)  The teams with the lowest PF's should play much better against Green Bay than against other teams.  The lowest by far was the Panthers' 6, which explains why a 4-9 team came so close to beating the defending champs.  Here are the PF's for Green Bay's remaining regular-season opponents:

Chiefs:  66.5 (average is 49.5)
Bears:  56
Lions:  62.5

     I don't want to jinx it, but the remaining schedule for the Packers is easier than it looks.  What about their possible opponents in the NFC playoffs?

Giants:  18.5
Saints:  23.5
Cardinals:  48
Falcons:  52
Cowboys:  55
Bears: 56

49'ers:  59
Lions:  62.5

     Only two teams have a good shot at defeating the Packers in the playoffs, and it's two teams that have already played them to within 8 points.  Assuming they get to the Super Bowl, what AFC teams could give them trouble?

Patriots:  19
Chargers:  26
Texans:  43.5
Raiders:  43.5
Jets:  52.5
Ravens:  54.5
Broncos:  61.5
Steelers:  61.5
Bengals:  68.5
Titans:  78.5

     Obviously the Chargers were high up on the list, but the Patriots' good ranking is very intriguing.  They probably have the best shot of any team in the NFL at beating the Packers, but they would have to make it through a brutal AFC playoff to get their chance.  Could you imagine the Patriots, four years after their own failed bid for perfection, ending the Packers' season at 18-1?  As much as I love the Packers and hate the Patriots, I think that would be great for the league.

     Whatever happens, enjoy the rest of the season, because the Green Bay Packers are about to make it very interesting.

December 10, 2011

Tests Confirm That Ryan Braun Is Unreasonably Manly



But we already knew that.

Why I Dislike James Harrison

     A lot of football players injure their colleagues.  But James Harrison does it with the poorest tackling I've ever seen.  Every time they show a clip of him concussing somebody, it's him running at full speed into a player and sort of flailing his arms at them when he gets there.  He doesn't even try to wrap up.  He doesn't even try to lead with the shoulder.  It's embarrassing.  Were his coaches really that bad?  It bothers the heck out of me.

     Look at these big hits.  These are horrible.

     Right away I notice two things.  One:  What is he doing so high in the air?  You can't get any leverage that way.  Two:  Why are his arms above his head like that?

     Again, look at the arms.  This is a push.  I understand that McCoy was just standing there but if Harrison head was in a different spot this tackle would have dealt very little damage.  Also, why was Harrison's head so high up?  Don't be afraid to put it all the way down where it's supposed to be.  You'll be fine, James.

     Still don't know what to do during a tackle?  Please, study Ryan Clark for the next few weeks.

     Finally, a tackle that's technically sound and still painful.  The arms are wrapped around the body.  The head is below the receiver's head and the shoulder is correctly placed in the receiver's midsection.  It's beautiful.  And a lot less expensive.

November 23, 2011

Josh McCown Just Signed With The Chicago Bears

     As a fan of the Green Bay Packers, I was very excited to hear this, since McCown was partially responsible for the single greatest moment I've ever had watching football.


     (This one has all the stuff before and after the play and is purely awesome.  The play starts at 5:53)


     On the last week of 2003, in a game that meant nothing to the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals, this pass by McCown capped off a comeback from 11 points down with 2 minutes left.  The Cardinals' win knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs and gave Green Bay the NFC North title.

     Mr. McCown, I am forever grateful to you.  I wish you great success in Chicago, and may the rest of your team let you down.

November 17, 2011

Updates On Some Earlier Posts

I promised you random updates on two of my earlier posts, the Active Quarterback Greatness Leaderboard and the Predict the Season Contest.  Enjoy.


Current Greatness Scale Standings for Active Players (Preseason Rank):
1. Peyton Manning, 235.0 points (1)
2. Tom Brady, 233.3 points (2) -surpasses Steve Young for 3rd overall
3. Aaron Rodgers, 216.5 points (7)
4. Ben Roethlisberger, 212.3 points (4)
5. Drew Brees, 212.1 points (5)
6. Philip Rivers, 207.8 points (3)
7. Tony Romo, 205.5 points (6)
8. Donovan McNabb, 199.2 points (8)
9. Chad Pennington, 198.4 points (9)
10. Mark Brunell, 192.3 points (10)

Current Predict the Season Scores (after Week 10):
Peter King- 77.3 points
W17L- 77.1 points
WhatIfSports- 74.6 points

November 16, 2011

Stats You Probably Don't Need To Know

-The Green Bay Packers are averaging 9.8 yards per pass attempt.  The next highest?  Houston, at 8.5.

-Shane Lechler has a higher passer rating than Aaron Rodgers (135.4 to 130.7).

-Tim Tebow has the highest TD% of any QB with over 12 attempts not named Aaron Rodgers.  He has the lowest INT% of any QB with over 21 attempts (that includes Rodgers).

November 6, 2011

It's BCS Season Again! Let The Arguments Begin! (#1 vs. #2)


     In Saturday's "Game of the Century" (Way to set the bar high for the next 89 years!), #1 LSU defeated #2 Alabama, 9-6, in the first overtime.  The BCS standings have now been updated to reflect that result and all the others this weekend, and Alabama comes in at......#3.  And from the few comments I've read about it, fans all over the nation are upset that Alabama isn't ranked even lower.  They lost their shot at the national title.  All the other undefeated teams should jump them in the standings.
    
     These sentiments reflect the logic that a team's rank should be dependent on two things:  their record, and their strength of schedule.  The same criteria that I would use 99% of the time.  But this time, I think these fans are wrong:  Alabama should still be #2.

     Here's how I see it.  Provided that we did think LSU and Alabama were the best and second-best teams in the country (and most people did), then what would we expect to see if they played each other?  LSU should beat Alabama by a little bit.  And that's exactly what happened.  Nothing in that game demonstrated that Alabama is worse that we thought beforehand.  Therefore, they shouldn't be punished for the loss. 

     There are always complaints about how the BCS doesn't drop teams far enough for losing.  But maybe, the problem isn't the BCS.  Maybe the problem is that people put too much emphasis on losses, even if they're against a team that they shouldn't have beaten anyway.

November 5, 2011

The Colts' Blueprint For Andrew Luck

    
     There's been a lot of speculation lately about what the Indianapolis Colts will do if they "earn" the #1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, because Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the consensus "best college QB in years" will be available.  Should the Colts draft Luck and trade star QB Peyton Manning, who is coming off a neck surgery and will be 36 next year?  Should the Colts trade their #1 pick for a bunch of other good picks and keep Peyton as long as he can play?
     Fortunately for them, I think I have the answer.  No.  To both.  Here's what they should do:

1.  Draft Andrew Luck

     If you have the chance to draft a once-in-a-generation quarterback, you don't pass that up.  The Colts should know better than anyone how much a great QB improves a team.

2.  Keep Peyton Manning

     If you have the chance to trade a quarterback that led your team for 13 years and is a fan favorite, you don't do it!  Trading Peyton Manning?  Are these guys serious?  I know some people think the Colts can't carry Luck and Manning at the same time, but I don't see any issues with it.  Luck isn't going to have a problem sitting behind Manning and learning the craft from one of the best passers ever.  Manning will be too focused on the actual games to worry about Luck taking his job.  And unlike first-round quarterbacks of the past, Luck shouldn't take up too much of the Colts' cap space.  They can afford to keep both quarterbacks.

3.  Suffer for two years

     This is going to be tough for Colts' fans to hear, but to get the most out of Andrew Luck, they should let him sit and learn for two years.  This means playing with their current awful roster and allowing whatever comes from that to happen.  Look at Aaron Rodgers.  He sat for 3 years behind Brett Favre on a Green Bay Packer team that went from 4-12 to 8-8 to 13-3.  Had the Packers benched Favre during the 4-12 year, Rodgers probably wouldn't have played as well as he did in 2008.  He's even admitted that himself.
     Philip Rivers sat behind Drew Brees in 2004 and 2005 for a team that picked #1 in the 2004 Draft and was so bad, Eli Manning refused to play there.  They went 12-4 in 2004 and 9-7 in 2005, and despite how much people like to hate him, Rivers is playing very well for a team that consistently wins its division.  Chad Pennington sat behind Vinny Testaverde in 2000 and 2001 for a team that went 9-7 and 10-6.  When Pennington finally started in 2002, he was incredibly efficient, and now has a career 90.1 passer rating.
     That's it.  Every other quarterback drafted in the first round since 2000 has started a game during their first two years, and the results have often been more disastrous than the ones listed above.
     The Colts must sit Andrew Luck for two years.  No exceptions.

4.  Unload Peyton Manning

     This is the tough part.  For Brett Favre, the exit strategy provided itself quite nicely.  Manning, however, is not so indecisive or arrogant.  He will want to keep playing for the Colts.  The fans will want him to keep playing.  But the team must give him away for as many good draft picks or players as possible.  It will get very messy, but it's necessary.

5.  Suffer again

     Just what the Colts' fans need after the team gets rid of their favorite player, right?  But it always happens when teams get rid of Hall of Fame QB's.  In 2008, Favre got the Jets to 8-8 while the Packers only managed to go 6-10.  In 2009, Favre took the Vikings very, very close to the Super Bowl.  Joe Montana led the Chiefs over Steve Young's 49'ers in 1994.  The aggrieved player always gets revenge against its former team.

6.  Reap the benefits

     The veteran QB always becomes old and useless at some point, such as Favre in 2010.  Once Peyton hits that wall, the Colts will rise.  Luck will be awesome, and he should have lots of talent around him from the Peyton-based draft picks.  And best of all, this new core of players should be around for a good 10 years, meaning consistent playoff appearances and possibly a ring or two.  Revel in your success, Colts fans!

Note:  None of this applies if the Dolphins or some other unfortunate team has the worst record this year.

November 2, 2011

Dear NFL, Please Bring Back...

...Pat White, who I once thought would not be awful in the NFL, so he can complete a pass.

...Brian Brohm, whose game I have mocked ever since he started playing for Green Bay, so he can throw a touchdown pass.

...Craig Nall, so he can either throw an interception or complete his destiny of becoming the greatest NFL QB ever.

...Antonio Pittman, who has yet to rush for a TD.

...Randal Williams, who has 42 receptions without a TD.

...Barry Sanders.  When you're that close to 100 rushing touchdowns, you need to come back and get number 100.  Seriously.

October 8, 2011

The Milwaukee Brewers Won A Playoff Series!!!!



Three years ago they didn't even win a playoff game!

This year, they won a whole series!!! 

And St. Louis won against Philly?  I know we can beat St. Louis!  Thanks, Cardinals!!! 

Words cannot convey my excitement!  But hitting random keys on my keyboard will!
  Odkoek9wsioajnoancasnoanwqfeoifninsdavcnklxasmklXIWEFINJIWOIFQENIaodaneoi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

October 5, 2011

My Thoughts On Tony Romo

    
     I've been watching a lot of SportsNation lately, and the most interesting discussions on the show have been about Tony Romo.  The Cowboys QB has blown 2 pretty sizable 4th quarter leads already this year, and again people are questioning Tony's clutchness and level of ability.  Because those people are starting to aggravate me, I'm offering you a sloppily written, fake question-and-answer piece about Romo.  Enjoy.

Tony Romo is not a great QB.

He has a career QB rating of 95.3!  Even this year, as bad as he's been made out to be, his QB rating is 92.9.

Who cares about stats?  All that matters is wins and losses.

He's won 63% of his games...

He's also only won one playoff game.

I love this argument so much.  It's like everybody is so desperate to find a reason to discredit Romo, that once the "stats" argument and the "wins" argument are proven false, all they have left is this and the subsequent "rings" argument.  What a horribly simplistic way of looking at things!  It gives off a vibe that says, "I don't want to think that hard about the skill level of a quarterback.  There must be some simple way of judging them that can't be argued against."

There are 21 other starters on your team that determine whether or not you win.  Nobody is saying that LaDainian Tomlinson wasn't great because he has no rings.

He isn't the team leader.

How about Brian Urlacher, who is way more respected than any QB the Bears have had?  He's the captain of his side of the ball, just like a quarterback.  I've never heard anyone question his greatness due to lack of championships.

Okay, I get it.  You like Romo.  Do you think he's "clutch"?


Absolutely not.  In the past, I was willing to write off his awful losses as a series of freak occurrences.  But I feel now that he's had enough poor performances under pressure for me to know that he really can't handle it.

Therefore, he's not a good QB, right?

Wrong.  There's more to a game than the 4th quarter.  You have to play 3 good quarters to get to a point where the 4th matters.  If you play really well, you can basically skip the 4th quarter altogether.  And Tony Romo is awesome in the first 3 quarters, which is why he wins 63% of his games even with those blown leads.

Do you trust Tony Romo?

It depends on the situation.  If he has a 3-point lead with 5 minutes left, then no.  But if I'm coaching one game, and you tell me my QB is Romo, I would definitely trust him to get me a win.

Will he ever win a championship?

Probably not.  The only way it would happen is if he ended up in two blowout wins and lucked into a close win.  I just can't see Romo winning three close games in a row, and against such good teams, that's going to be the case more often than not.  And as disappointed as he'll be if he never gets a ring, he should still be happy with his NFL career.  It's been really, really good.

October 1, 2011

A Completely Different Use For The BCS

    
     For the last 13 years, the BCS has been determining the top 2 teams in NCAA football.  And by most accounts, it's been doing a terrible job.  Undefeated teams get left out of the championship game while one-loss teams get in.  Sometimes it has to choose between four or five teams with the same record, which is always going to anger somebody.  It's been so bad that the formula has been changed at least twice.  The BCS has basically become the transition from total chaos to playoffs.  At some point, it will be removed from college football.

     So what is it going to do once that moment comes?  I love the BCS.  I don't want to see it wandering around without a purpose for the rest of its life while everyone tells it what a failure it was.  Luckily, I think I've found a place where it would work perfectly.  Instead of sorting out college athletics, I suggest using the BCS to sort out college academics.

     That's right.  I'd like to see GPA's get the BCS treatment.

     I remember reading an article once that said something like 90% of Harvard graduates finished with high honors.  Professors are giving out A's and B's at higher rates than ever before.  I know of a high school that has about 10 valedictorians every year.  It's getting harder and harder to tell which students are really the best.  We need something like the BCS to fix that mess.

     The formula would be based on two categories:

Grade Compared to Class:

     This would be calculated by assigning a number value to each letter or using straight percentage, and then finding the average and standard deviation of the grades.  The GCtC would be the number of standard deviations away the student is from the average.
     What does this all mean?  Well, some teachers don't give out as many A's as others.  Sometimes, a class is just harder.  So instead of using the actual grade, I would compare it to the rest of the grades given out in the class.  A B in a class full of B's, C's, and D's would be about the same as an A in a class full of A's, B's, and C's.  A C+ in the first class would be roughly equivalent to a B or B- in a class with a wide variety of grades.

Strength of Classmates:

     Sort of like Strength of Schedule in the BCS, this number would keep an A in Algebra from counting as much as an A in Calculus.  Obviously the students in Calculus are smarter, so it's harder to do well in comparison to them.  The SoC calculation would somehow adjust the GCtC to fix that.
     How would we figure out how good a certain student is?  Use their grades in core classes, which almost all the students have taken and can be compared in.  If a student has tested out of one or more of the classes, they receive a "grade" that is slightly above the top performers in that class.

     I think this would be a really cool addition to the education system.  That is, until somebody starts sabotaging other students to make themselves look better.  If that happens, I had nothing to do with this.

September 25, 2011

Congrats To W17L's Choice For PGA Tour Champion:

Luke Donald!

     Donald would have won the FedEx Cup based on the system I created a month ago, with a handicap-added score of -5.  I seriously question the actual system when the 25th ranked player can surpass the 4th ranked player despite finishing only one shot ahead of him.  Your math is ridiculous, PGA Tour.

     So congratulations to you, Luke Donald, if you ever read this.  I hope you will enjoy this victory, even if you only enjoy it a little bit.

Some Thoughts On The Worst Officiating I Have Ever Seen: Syracuse/Toledo

     Just when I thought I had seen every kind of horrible call in a game, the referees at today's Syracuse/Toledo football matchup proved me wrong.  For those who haven't heard:

     Syracuse had just scored a touchdown to go up 29-27 with 2:07 left in the 4th quarter.  Their kicker then went on to miss the extra point, but the referees ruled that it was good.  The play was then reviewed via instant replay, and despite the fact that even the TV footage showed the ball crossing in front of the goalpost rather than behind it, the officials ruled it a successful extra point.  Toledo was able to kick a game-tying field goal, but ended up losing in overtime, 33-30.


     The first issue that comes up is whether or not the refs cost Toledo the game.  My opinion is that no matter how bad the officials call a game, within reason, a team should be able to overcome it.  For every play in which a referee hurts a team, there are five or ten plays in which that team hurts itself.  Toledo had 1st and goal at Syracuse's 4-yard line in the first quarter.  They failed to score three times and had to kick a field goal.  That's 4 points they cost themselves right there.  Toledo also threw an interception in the end zone and missed a 4th down conversion.  Had they performed better on any one of those plays, Toledo could have won the game.

     The next thing people bring up is whether or not the NCAA should change the official score of the game to a 30-29 Toledo victory.  The Big East head of officiating has issued an apology for the incorrect ruling, so there's no dispute that the game should have gone differently.  While it's easy to get behind the idea of "correcting" the outcome of the game, there's not really a good way to do so.  Just subtracting a point from Syracuse's regulation total is an awful fix, because the play in question happened with two minutes remaining, and that single point completely changed the way those two minutes were played.  A Syracuse defense that can't afford to give up a field goal is going to play a lot differently than a Syracuse defense that can.  They're going to be more aggressive, and maybe they get a key sack by blitzing a couple more guys, maybe they give up a touchdown, maybe they force a turnover.  We'll never know.  If it was the last play of the game that was in question, I could understand a simple changing of the score.  But doing it here is just not right.

     Finally, let me end with a rant.  I feel this is necessary.

     Seriously, how do you blow this call?  This is the simplest thing ever.  Is the ball crossing on the correct side of the goalpost?  Yes or no.  This is not a Calvin Johnson kind of judgement call.  Just watch the broadcast angle.  It got to our homes in 5 seconds!  How did you not get this video, guys?!??!  It was so clear!!!

     Okay, I feel better now.  Thanks.

September 24, 2011

FedEx Cup 3rd Round Update

After the third round, my system for the FedEx Cup and the actual one give these results:

     Hunter Mahan, who started the week in 21st, is now in the lead in projected FedEx Cup points by way of his tie for first at 9-under.  The other player at -9, Aaron Baddeley, started in 27th and is now in 3rd.  Webb Simpson, who started the week in 1st, can win the FedEx Cup if Aaron Baddeley wins the Tour Championship, even though Simpson is 8 shots behind the lead in that event.

     If I ran the FedEx Cup, Luke Donald would still be in the lead, with a handicap-added score of -4.  Second place would go to Jason Day at -2, and Simpson and K.J. Choi would be right behind at -1.  Each of those players began the week in the top 13 of the standings.  Mahan would have a score of +1, and Baddeley would have a score of +4.

If I Ran The FedEx Cup...


...Luke Donald would be winning right now.

     About a month ago, I posted my solution to the boring/confusing nature of the FedEx Cup, the playoff-style finish to the PGA Tour season.  It involved a handicap system for the final tournament, the Tour Championship, so that the Cup winner would be determined by strokes instead of abstract point totals.  Since the Tour Championship is happening right now, I decided to track how my system and the real system work this year.

     In the real system, Adam Scott has gone from 19th to 1st in projected Cup points by gaining a one-stroke lead in the Tour Championship.  Second place belongs to Webb Simpson, who led at the beginning of the current event but is 7 shots back at 1-under.

     In the handicap system, Luke Donald would be leading right now at -4, which is the -6 he's posted in the actual tournament plus two strokes for starting it ranked fourth.  There would be a 4-way tie for second place, with Simpson, K.J. Choi, Matt Kuchar, and Jason Day all tied at -1.  Scott would be sitting in 7th place at 1 over par.

     Liking the handicap system?  Feeling good with the Cup the way it is?  Sound off in the comments below.

September 16, 2011

Readers, I Need Your Help


      I want to have an awesome banner on the top of my page, featuring pictures of NFL players who inspired the name of this blog.  Players who were unknown but played great in the last week of the season and altered the playoff picture.  So far all I have is Erik Walden and Nate Poole.  And since the players I'm looking for are, by definition, unknown, I would love some input from fans of other teams.  Who are the random heroes in your team's history?

September 13, 2011

NFL Coaches And Their Boring Play Calls

    
     Remember when Cam Newton was in the Jon Gruden QB camp, being belittled because most of the plays he called at Auburn were two-digit numbers?
    
     I was reminded of that not when Cam was putting up big numbers against Arizona, but the day after, on Monday Night Football.  The commentators were describing the Dolphins' new "left lane" offense, which revolved around more passing and a faster, or even nonexistent, huddle.

     Look around the league, and you'll see tons of examples of fast-paced offense.  A few years ago, Miami began running a lot of plays in the "Wildcat" formation, which put a running back under center in place of a quarterback.  Now somewhere around half of teams use a variation of it.  The Atlanta Falcons experimented with a no-huddle offense this past Sunday.  How about when the positioning of the referees changed, and Peyton Manning got mad because his team was calling plays and lining up faster than the refs could get in their spots?

     NFL coaches always seem to emphasize speed and efficiency, yet they're stuck on the traditional methods of play-calling.  When is one of them going to figure out that they can find exactly what they're looking for in the college game?  Why couldn't "36" replace the standard nine-word play call?  As Newton said, "Simple equals fast."  And when you call a play quickly, the defense is forced to come up with a play just as quickly, they get tired, and they can't make the substitutions they want to.  None of that changes from college to the pros.  That's why NFL coaches always flirt with the idea.  Maybe someday you'll see Jim Harbaugh holding up cards with ESPN personalities' faces and random words on them, just like he's seen from Oregon.  It'll probably work, too.

September 5, 2011

Gut Vs. Gears (And Peter King Too): NFL Picks

    
     There are a lot experts that try to forecast the NFL season using a variety of methods.  But how do they compare to the average hunch-following fan?  We're about to find out, as I'm challenging WhatIfSports, a statistical analysis/prediction website, and Sports Illustrated's Peter King in the Predict The Season Challenge.

Let's see how the three entries stack up:

WhatIfSports's prediction was the closest to last season's standings.  The average difference between a team's 2010 win total and its projected 2011 win total was 1.4 wins.  Peter King came in at 1.6, and W17L came in at 2.1.

The largest deviation for WIS was 3 wins, most notably the Browns going from 5-11 to 8-8.  King had one pick that changed by 4 wins from last year, the Detroit Lions (6 wins to 10).  W17L had one 5-win deviation, the Chiefs' free-fall from 10-6 to 5-11.

Key team for each entry:

WIS:  Miami (9 projected wins, compared with 5 and 6 for W17L and King)
King:  Buffalo (7 projected wins, compared with 4 on the other two entries)
W17L:  Minnesota (10 projected wins, compared with 7 and 6 for WIS and King)


Enjoy the season, and Go Vikings!  (Oh yeah, I root for the Packers.  This is going to be weird.)

September 1, 2011

Peter King Stole My Super Bowl Pick!

     Even the losing team!  I'm not sure if I should feel really smart or if he should feel really dumb.  Probably the second one.

August 30, 2011

Why It's Okay To Consider A Pitcher For MVP

     No pitcher has won a major league MVP award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.  The last NL pitcher to be named MVP was Bob Gibson in 1968, and all he had to do to get it was put up a 1.12 ERA.  So how did we get to this point, where pitching is stressed every season (even more so in the postseason), yet every year baseball people think there is someone more important in the league than its best pitcher?  Why are people so afraid to vote for a pitcher for MVP?

Pitchers already have their own award, the Cy Young.

     So make one for position players too.  The Willie Mays award for best overall position player.  Most Valuable means most valuable out of everyone.  Don't ruin that just because the current setup isn't fair. 
     And let's not forget that position players have the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards too.

Pitchers only play once every five games, or one inning per game.  Position players play every inning, every game.

     Position players also bat only 3 or 4 times a game.  Pitchers face every batter while they're in the game.  Need some stats to accentuate that point?  The MLB leaders in plate appearances tend to have around 750.  The pitchers who face the most batters tend to pitch about 1000 plate appearances.  So it turns out that pitchers actually do more work than position players as far as hitting situations go.  Add in defense and base stealing, and hitters make just as many plays as pitchers, if not fewer.
     Pitchers have to field too.  And even hit in the NL.
    
     So don't be afraid to throw Justin Verlander in the MVP race, or whoever else pitches really well in the coming years.  They're just as valuable as anyone else.

August 29, 2011

I Think It's Safe To Say...


...Dustin Johnson doesn't have final-round jitters.  More like fourth-round jitters.  So as long as the Masters gets rain-shortened next year, he'll be just fine.

August 26, 2011

Fan Rulebook: The Foul Ball

  
     I am inviting you, my readers, to be a "Fan Congress" for my upcoming project.  I will randomly bring up subjects relating to fan behavior in an attempt to make an "official" rule for fans.  Those will be collected in the Fan Rulebook on the left.
     I will start the process by writing out the rule I would make.  Then you can vote on it using the "reaction" buttons below the post.  A click on Funny or Interesting counts as "yes", and a click on Boring or Confusing counts as "no".  By doing it that way, you don't have to make the effort to comment, and I don't look like I'm begging for comments.  If you have a counter-proposal for a ruling, please feel free to leave it in the comments for consideration.
     I'll wait a week or so for each ruling before deciding whether or not to put each item in the Rulebook.  My decisions will be overruled by a 2/3 vote for no, with a minimum of 2 votes.

First on the docket:  Baseballs landing just out of play


     You're sitting in the front row, to the right of first base.  An opposing batter hits a pop-up in foul territory.  It's coming right at you, but so is your first baseman.  Do you go for the ball, a souvenir you'll never have a chance to get again?  Or do you support your team by letting the first baseman grab it and get an out?
     I tend to side with the fan on this one.  You are not obligated to help your team in any way.  You're actually paying the team so they will entertain you.  And that gives you the right to keep anything thrown or hit at you.  Your team could have avoided the situation by throwing better pitches.  The first baseman should be able to win the fight for the ball.  Otherwise he doesn't deserve it.

Ruling:  Fans at a baseball game have the right to reach for any ball hit toward them, regardless of whether or not a player is also reaching for it, provided that the reaching action does not put the fan onto the playing surface or any into any other dangerous situation.

August 23, 2011

Re: Terrelle Pryor

     Forget what I said in my last post.  Apparently Terrelle Pryor has now said he will not appeal his suspension.  So I ranted for nothing.

     Have fun in Oakland, my friend!

August 21, 2011

Terrelle Pryor Will Appeal His Five-Game Suspension?

    
     Are you kidding me? 

     He was allowed to play in a BCS Bowl after agreeing to come back this year and face a 5-game suspension.  The NCAA and Jim Tressel held up their end of the bargain.  Suddenly Jim Tressel gets coerced out of his job, and now Pryor just doesn't feel like returning for eight-thirteenths of his senior year.  Hey, how about the NFL?  He can just go there, not get suspended and make money, right?  One problem, the draft already happened, and to enter the supplemental draft, your eligibility status has to have changed (Pryor's had not).  So the NFL, understanding how awkward it would be for Pryor to return to Ohio State, lets him enter the supplemental draft.  But wait, now there's no punishment for him breaking NCAA rules and breaking his promise to his school.  The NFL decides that it would only be fair to move his agreed-upon five-game suspension to his first NFL season.  I have no problem with any of this.  (Except Pryor being allowed in the Sugar Bowl but that's not really the issue at hand here.)

     How does Pryor re-pay the NFL for its infinite kindness?  He make plans to appeal his suspension.  I understand he wants to do what's best for his career, but at some point you have to own up to your wrongdoings and take your punishment like a man.  If I was the GM of a team, I would stop considering him right now.  He's been fighting the system throughout the whole thing, and I don't expect him to be any different once he gets signed by a team.

August 17, 2011

The U

     Nevin Shapiro says he gave awesome/illegal stuff to 72 Miami Hurricanes football players between 2002 and 2010.

     Does anyone else get the feeling he wanted to make sure that 2001 championship wasn't vacated?

August 16, 2011

Is Parity A Good Thing For Golf?

    
     100 of the top 102 golfers in the world played in the 2011 PGA Championship.  None of them won.  There have been 13 different winners in the last 13 majors.  The last 7 major winners had never won a major before.  After years of domination by Tiger Woods (and to a lesser degree Phil Mickelson), parity has finally hit the PGA Tour.  But fans are divided on whether or not the unpredictability of golf tournaments makes them more exciting.
     Some people like the fact that unknown players have been beating the odds and winning recently.  However, I feel like you can't really have an upset or a Cinderella story without them beating a much stronger opponent.  Y.E. Yang needed Tiger Woods, the way the 2007 New York Giants needed the 18-0 Patriots, or the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays needed the Yankees and Red Sox.  If Rocco Mediate plays an extra 19 holes against Jason Dufner for the U.S. Open, nobody cares.  If Rocco Mediate plays an extra 19 holes against an injured Tiger Woods for the U.S. Open, it's a huge deal.
     Somebody needs to step up and become that fearsome opponent on the Tour.  Maybe it's Rory McIlroy, who was at or near the top in 4 straight majors before fizzling out in the last two.  Maybe it's Dustin Johnson, who has been thisclose to winning a couple of majors and has a ton of natural ability.  It could be #1-ranked Luke Donald.  It might even be Tiger Woods again.  But without one or two players that excel above the rest, any upset or comeback is going to fall short on the excitement scale.
     Don't get me wrong:  I'll always take Keegan Bradley erasing a 5-shot deficit in the last three holes over McIlroy winning the U.S. Open by 8.  Thrilling golf always comes first.  But it needs that extra boost to put it over the top, and right now that's just not happening.

(My apologies to Keegan Bradley, for not mentioning your name until I was 283 words in.  Congrats on the win!)

August 15, 2011

Fixing The FedEx Cup

     The PGA Championship is done, and that means it's almost time for the FedEx Cup playoffs, an event that should be really exciting but always finds a way to fall short.  In 2007, Tiger Woods didn't even play in the first tournament and still ended up dominating.  In 2008, Vijay Singh was guaranteed the championship before the final event even started.  The 2009 edition featured a lot of drama throughout, but ended when Phil Mickelson won the Tour Championship but was not named champion of the PGA Tour.  The 2010 version ended with Jim Furyk jumping 10 spots to win the Cup after a one-shot win in the last tournament.
     But what can be done to make the tournament more exciting?  The setup used in '09 and '10 works really well, but one thing needs to change:  the Tour Championship, the final event in the FedEx Cup playoffs.  My problem is the point system.  Nobody wants to have to deal with points when a championship is on the line.  Nobody wants to see one player win but have the point system give the real title to another guy.
     What if instead of using points in the final event, they used a handicap system?  There's already a points reset before the championship.  So have the #1 player start at even par, the #2 and #3 at +1, the #4 and #5 at +2, and so on until #30, who starts at +15.  Then we'll be able to see right away who is leading in the FedEx Cup contest instead of having to wait for the CBS guys to tell us.  No confusing points system, just real golf scores.  The winner without handicaps can still get a cool trophy.
     Another benefit of the handicap system is that theoretically, none of the players requires other players to fail in order for them to win the Cup.  If Bo Van Pelt wanted to go from 30th to 1st, he wouldn't need Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, etc. to place below a certain spot in the standings.  He could take matters into his own hands by shooting a really low score (-20 would have worked last year).
     You know where else this would work?  NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Last year, only three drivers had a chance to win the Cup in the final race, and with the points being how they were, it was hard to tell who was leading.  I'd like to see them start the final race of the year at a standstill, and for each spot in the standings the cars would be spread a certain distance apart (I don't know racing as well so I don't have a suggestion).  Or they would all start in the pit and have to wait a predetermined amount of time before starting.  Then the winner of the race would win the Cup.  Simple.

     For the extra-curious, this is how the FedEx Cup would have played out under the rules proposed above:

-2007:  Tiger Woods wins by 11 or so
-2008:  Camilo Villegas wins in a playoff against Sergio Garcia (Vijay Singh is not close)
-2009:  Tiger Woods wins by 4 over Phil Mickelson, Sean O'Hair, and Steve Stricker
-2010:  Luke Donald wins by 1 over Jim Furyk

August 13, 2011

Thoughts From The Packers/Browns Preseason Game

-Best name I've seen in a while:  Shaky Smithson
-Browns CB Ramzee Robinson broke up two passes in the game.  After each one, he did some kind of "blowing a kiss and spreading it out" celebration.  For an incomplete pass.  As if that was something out of the ordinary for him.  Remind the Browns' GM to keep that guy; he really likes tipping passes.  Really likes it.

Why BCS Lovers Should Rethink Their Stance

     
     A lot of arguments against the BCS consist of intangible things like fairness, greed, and playing games on the field rather than on paper.  This is not one of those arguments.
     As a sports fan, I love the BCS.  It forces teams to schedule tough (aka exciting) games, it makes for amazing discussion between college football watchers, it gives teams an incentive to try in every regular season game, and it adds a level of excitement to mid-season games that normally wouldn't be there.  There's one problem with the BCS though.  It does a horrible job with the one thing any postseason is meant to do:  find the best team.
     I know what you're thinking.  How is an undefeated team not the best team?  Look at it this way:  If a team has an 80% chance of winning each game, there's a 5.5% chance that they win 13 in a row.  A team that wins 90% of its games has a 25% chance of winning 13 in a row.  We get undefeated teams by a combination of skill and luck, not because a certain team is unbeatable.  So while it's more common for a better team to go undefeated than a merely good one, the better teams still have a low chance of achieving a perfect season.
     This idea led me on one of my random mathematical experiments back in January.  What if we knew exactly how good each team was before the season started?  How often would the BCS crown the actual best team as the champion?  Would a 4, 8, or 16 team playoff really be better?
    
     Note:  The red brackets signify text under the Unnecessary Math Talk Alert.  Skip ahead if you wish.
   
     [I started by creating a hypothetical NCAA, giving each of the 120 teams a True Winning Percentage (my term for how often a team would win in an infinite number of games against an average team).  The top team was given a TW% of 90%.  Using those percentages, I simulated 50 seasons consisting of 12 games against average teams.  (There was an average of 2.22 undefeated teams per year.)  Ties were broken in a random fashion.  The final step was simulating a 2, 4, 8, and 16 team playoff for each season, using Bill James' Log5 formula in combination with the TW%'s.]
     Here's how it went:

BCS

In Numbers:
Average Actual Rank of Champion:  9.40
Standard Deviation of ARC:  11.32
Percentage of Correct Champions:  4%
Median of ARC:  5
Worst ARC:  59
Champion is in the Actual Top 2:  18%
Champion is in the Actual Top 5:  52%
Champion is in the Actual Top 10:  76%

In Words:
     The hypothetical BCS crowned the best team as champion only 4 percent of the time, by far the worst among the postseasons tested.  It was the worst in every category measured.  The real best team made the BCS title game 12% of the time, which is less than the frequency with which it won the championship in every other situation.  The BCS even gave a title to a truly average, 59th best team.

4-Team Playoff

In Numbers:
Average Actual Rank of Champion:  6.68
Standard Deviation of ARC:  7.92
Percentage of Correct Champions:  14%
Median of ARC:  4
Worst ARC:  39
Champion is in the Actual Top 2:  30%
Champion is in the Actual Top 5:  66%
Champion is in the Actual Top 10:  86%

In Words:
     The 4-team playoff settled in nicely as the 2nd worst option.  It named top-2 and top-5 teams as champions more frequently than the 8-team playoff but was still prone to some really bad seasons.

8-Team Playoff

In Numbers:
Average Actual Rank of Champion:  5.56
Standard Deviation of ARC:  4.48
Percentage of Correct Champions:  18%
Median of ARC:  5
Worst ARC:  20
Champion is in the Actual Top 2:  28%
Champion is in the Actual Top 5:  58%
Champion is in the Actual Top 10:  88%

In Words:
     The 8-team playoff was the "game manager" of postseasons.  It didn't crown great teams as often as its 4-team and 16-team counterparts did, but it didn't produce any ridiculously bad results.  Auburn started last season ranked #22 and won the title.  That's the equivalent of the worst season the 8-team playoff put up in this simulation.

16-Team Playoff

In Numbers:
Average Actual Rank of Champion:  5.60
Standard Deviation of ARC:  6.25
Percentage of Correct Champions:  18%
Median of ARC:  4
Worst ARC:  32
Champion is in the Actual Top 2:  34%
Champion is in the Actual Top 5:  70%
Champion is in the Actual Top 10:  90%

In Words:
     If the 8-team playoff was the "game manager" of the simulation, then the 16-team playoff was its Brett Favre.  It was the best at making great teams the champion, but it did produce some crazy seasons as well.  In one, the 32nd best team won as a 9-seed.  In another, the 29th best team won as a 16-seed.  I may write that off as a flaw, but I'm sure somebody out there loves the possibility of a Cinderella/David that this system allows.

The Conclusion:  I started this project hoping to get numerical "proof" that the BCS was the way to go, and I was completely proven wrong.  The BCS doesn't work because of the sheer number of teams competing for the title.  There are so many decent teams that one of them is probably going to end up winning 13 games in a row.  By adding a playoff, those teams are forced to win 14, 15, or 16 games in a row, which is really tough when you're not that good to begin with.
     I want to throw my support toward the 8-team playoff because it's still sort of close to the BCS I love, but looking at the numbers objectively, I have to say that the best plan is a 16-team playoff, using the AP rankings, with no conference tie-ins.  You win, condescending media jerks.

August 10, 2011

My Vision For The 2011 NFL Season

AFC East
New England (12-4, 1st seed)
New York Jets (8-8)
Miami (5-11)
Buffalo (4-12)

     The Patriots have picked up a bunch of interesting pieces, and while that may turn out to be disastrous, I think they'll have a pretty good season.  This is a team that 14-2 last year, and I'm pretty sure they got better.  As for the Jets, I hear about all the guys they lost and only one guy they picked up (Plaxico).  At some point, their string of AFC championship appearances has to end, and I think this is the year.  Miami will be terrible after losing Ronnie Brown, and Buffalo is a long way from contending for anything.

AFC North
Baltimore (11-5, 3rd seed)
Pittsburgh (11-5, 5th seed)
Cleveland (6-10)
Cincinnati (4-12)

     I tend to overrate Baltimore, but I really like that team.  Pittsburgh remains relatively unchanged after last year's Super Bowl loss.  The Browns are somewhere between decent and bad, and one of the Bengals' best players would rather retire than play for that team, so that can't end well.  Nothing new to see in the AFC North.

AFC South
Indianapolis (10-6, 4th seed)
Houston (9-7, 6th seed)
Tennessee (8-8)
Jacksonville (5-11)

     I don't believe that the Colts can keep overacheiving the way they have in previous years.  This is not a great team, but with Peyton they'll still win the division.  The Texans may have lost out on Nnamdi Asomugha, but they've been considered one of the most talented teams for the last few years now.  They have to make the playoffs soon.  Tennessee has Chris Johnson, some good defensive players, and a solid veteran quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck.  I see them doing better than most people would expect.  The Jaguars, on the other hand, are still boring and fanless, and should suffer again this year.

AFC West
San Diego (11-5, 2nd seed)
Oakland (7-9)
Denver (6-10)
Kansas City (5-11)

     I can tell that the first thing you noticed is me putting the Chiefs last in the division.  I don't trust any team that has an unexplainable jump in wins from one year to the next.  I don't think the Chiefs really got that much better; they just played very well last year.  Expect them to go back to a pre-2010 level of production.  San Diego seems to always do well in the regular season, so there's no reason to mess with that.  Oakland is talented, though slightly less so without Asomugha.  Denver isn't great but should be alright with Tebow.

NFC East
Philadelphia (13-3, 1st seed)
Dallas (10-6, 6th seed)
New York Giants (8-8)
Washington (4-12)

     I can't get past the fact that the Eagles are loaded.  That doesn't always help come playoff time, but it should be really beneficial in the regular season.  Dallas played really well with Jon Kitna and Jason Garrett last year, so I don't think it's too much to expect them to make the playoffs with Tony Romo and Jason Garrett.  Maybe I've just been listening to Colin Cowherd too much.  The Giants have Osi issues and aren't that great anyway.  Washington has a mess at the QB position, little talent across the board, and an egotistical, annoying coach.  They should thank me for giving them 4 wins.

NFC North
Green Bay (12-4, 2nd seed)
Minnesota (10-6)
Detroit (9-7)
Chicago (7-9)

     Minnesota?  10-6?  What?  Hear me out on this one.  I love Minnesota's roster as a whole.  They have Adrian Peterson, a great run blocking O-line, the Williams Wall, Jared Allen, and some good linebackers.  Add in Donovan McNabb trying to prove himself, and the Vikings could do great things.  I see the Packers as the Giants of 2008, coming off a Super Bowl win as a wild card, winning a bunch of games in the regular season, but not quite getting it done in the playoffs.  I'm unsure about their chemistry with so many "new" guys coming off the IR.  Detroit is becoming really good, but the playoffs are still out of reach for them.  And Chicago overperformed a lot last year.  There's no way they go 11-5 again.

NFC South
Atlanta (12-4, 3rd seed)
New Orleans (11-5, 5th seed)
Tampa Bay (7-9)
Carolina (5-11)

     The Julio Jones move was awesome in my opinion.  The Falcons' offense will be as close to unstoppable as you can get.  New Orleans has most of their players coming back, so they'll be fine.  The Bucs' record last year was way too good in so many ways, but I like them enough to only drop 3 of those wins.  And Carolina is just not that good.

NFC West
San Francisco (8-8, 4th seed)
Arizona (7-9)
St. Louis (6-10)
Seattle (5-11)

     And you thought the Minnesota thing was the weirdest prediction I'd make.  Originally, I gave Seattle 4 wins (a mess at QB), St. Louis 5 wins (they improved by 6 wins last year and should come back down a little), Arizona 6 wins (I don't hate Kolb but I don't think he'll do as much as everyone thinks), and the 49ers 6 wins (a mess at QB but good pieces everywhere else).  Then I realized playing against NFC West opponents would help each team's record, so I added one win to each team.  Still, another 7-9 division winner didn't make sense.  Needing to put one more win somewhere to get a league total of 256, I went with a complete hunch and gave it to the Niners.  They do have Frank Gore and Patrick Willis.

Playoffs

AFC
3 Ravens defeat 6 Texans
5 Steelers defeat 4 Colts

2 Chargers defeat 3 Ravens
1 Patriots defeat 5 Steelers

2 Chargers defeat 1 Patriots

     I seem to do this every year.  But at some point the Chargers will win playoff games.  It's not like they've lost all of them by a lot.  They're just not catching the breaks, and I think they can catch those breaks this year.

NFC
3 Falcons defeat 6 Cowboys
5 Saints defeat 4 49ers

3 Falcons defeat 2 Packers
5 Saints defeat 1 Eagles

3 Falcons defeat 5 Saints

     This played out as a series of redemptions.  The Falcons become motivated by their timid playoff performance last year, and return the favor the Packers gave them in 2010, by beating them at their own stadium.  The Saints know not to take the NFC West winner lightly this time around, and not only defeat the Niners soundly but also beat the top-seeded Eagles.  The Saints come close to the NFC title but can't quite pull it off.

Super Bowl:  Falcons defeat Chargers, 20-15


Think you can do better?  Enter the Predict the Season Contest!

August 6, 2011

Railing Against The "Total Quarterback Rating"

     I feel the need to rant, because ESPN thinks they can replace the Passer Rating I know and love.  Feel free to ignore as much of this as you want.  Here it goes:
     Who does ESPN think they are?  They think they can just come up with some kind of crazy stat and we'll all play along?  I only trust stats developed by random people in some obscure company, the way it's supposed to be done.  And what's this about passer rating being confusing?  It only uses five stats!  It's not that hard.  You want confusing?  How about a number created using an unknown number of obscure stats and video analysis?  How am I ever supposed to understand that?  I can go to ESPN to see a quarterback's TQBR in a certain game 12 hours after the game?!  I can see passer rating within a second or two!  TQBR correlates with winning more than passer rating does?  Why does that even matter?  Of course ESPN would make a metric that's biased toward winning quarterbacks.  Hey guys, there's this thing in football called defense.  Look it up.  If your defense sucks and your quarterback can't get any clutch opportunities because of it, that's not his fault.  And what's with this Year of the Quarterback thing?  That's like every year on ESPN.  You know football is 11-on-11 and not 1-on-1, right?  Maybe you read the number wrong, that's two ones.
     I'm running out of steam.  Thanks for your time.

August 4, 2011

The Best Interview In Sports

     Nyjer Morgan's latest post-game interview got a lot of exposure on ESPN a few days ago, just like the "didn't know I had the game-winning hit" interview did earlier this year.  That got me to thinking, "Is Nyjer Morgan the best interview in sports today?"  There are a lot of guys that will give you a string of cliches like "one game at a time" and "it is what it is".  Only a few give you opinions and other interesting matter.  Which current player or coach provides the most enjoyable interviews?  Let's take a closer look at the contenders for the title:

Nyjer Morgan
Strength:  You never know what he's going to say or do, but it will always be weird.  This is a guy who created a gentleman name for himself (Tony Plush) and brought in a silver Elvis wig last year for the player of the game to wear for the post-game press conference.  He has an endless supply of absurdities to use with the media.
Weakness:  He's too over-the-top for some people, and can be hard to understand at times.
Case Study:


Brian Wilson
Strength:  A general aura of awesomeness.  Whether he says funny things or just stands there with that ridiculous beard, Brian Wilson is flat-out interesting.
Weakness:  You have to sift through a lot of normal speech to get to the amazing quotes.
Case Study:

Ray Lewis
Strength:  Intensity.  Ray is always passionate when he talks, and that makes people want to pay attention.  Also, the way he phrases things is amazing, like when he described crime as, "evil, which we call crime".
Weakness:  Lack of humor, whether real or just perceived.  You never get a quote from Ray that you could laugh at and use when talking to your friends.
Case Study:


Dwight Howard
Strength:  He's a big, goofy, lovable guy.  He'll do impressions, and play pranks on other people, and pretty much anything else you ask him to do.
Weakness:  Not one to give a straightforward opinion on a subject, most of what he does is impressions and the like.
Case Study:


Ozzie Guillen
Strength:  Unpredictability.  He'll give you a hilarious quote one second and an expletive-filled tirade the next.  You never know what to expect.
Weakness:  His interviews are not child-friendly and sometimes hard to understand.
Case Study:


Ron Artest
Strength:  Personality and craziness.  He's a weird dude, and that can show up in an interview at any moment.
Weakness:  Thanks to his psychiatrist, he's much more mellow now.
Case Study:


Bart Scott
Strength:  Like Ray Lewis, Bart is very passionate.  He may never have another "Can't Wait" moment, but he's never afraid to talk trash.
Weakness:  Not as fun or unpredictable as some of the others on this list.
Case Study:


The Decision:  Ray Lewis comes close, but I just can't put him above Nyjer Morgan.

I know I missed somebody on this list.  Who do you think should be on it?