November 8, 2012

The Greatest "Sporting" Event In America

     You can have the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup Finals.  Election Day in the United States is better than all four of them put together.  (Hyperbole alert:  I really do like the Super Bowl.  But Election Day is certainly better than the other three combined.)

     First you have the fact that every viewer, provided that he or she voted, actually has a hand in determining the outcomes, unlike every other sporting event in which we just helplessly cheer on our team.

     Then there is the sheer amount of stuff going on.  You have the presidential election, senatorial elections, congressional elections, and various referendums.  And then within the presidential election, there are 50 different state elections, four or five of which are incredibly exciting.  As these state elections occur, much like the 130 plays in a football game, they are combined using some arbitrary point system to determine an overall winner, even if it appears that the loser performed better.  And to help us along, we get expert opinions on why things are happening the way they are, different strategies used by each side, and how the current trends will eventually affect the outcome.  Sound familiar?

     I was wondering what the sports analog to the 2012 presidential election would be, and, being first and foremost an NFL fan, the one game that came to mind was the Patriots' 52-28 demolition of the Bills in Week 4 this season.

     Obama went into Election Day as the clear favorite, as did the Patriots that day.  (Maybe not officially, but we all know how good the Pats are.)  Naturally, I was rooting for the Bills, and ended up rooting for the underdog Romney as well.

     The beginning went pretty well for the underdogs.  The Bills took a 14-7 lead into the half, and Romney took an early lead as well and was hanging in there in the battleground states.  But in both cases, there was an uneasy sense that the favorites could take control at any moment.

     The scrappy Bills and Republican continued their momentum, but both showed signs of weakening.  The Bills earned a 21-7 lead, but the Patriots ended the 3rd quarter with 14 unanswered points to tie the game at 21-21, and had driven inside the Bills' 30-yard line.  Romney had made up a 200,000-vote deficit in Florida and narrowed a 10% gap in Ohio to 2%, but the President got a win in Pennsylvania and California's 50+ democratic electoral votes were about to officially hit the scoreboard.

     That's when things got ugly.  New England racked up 31 fourth-quarter points to get a comfortable 52-28 win.  In the election, Ohio was called for Obama despite the fact that Romney would take a lead after that decision.  Then a couple more states came in to put the President at a victorious 270 electoral votes.  I, not believing that Ohio was done, waited until the 290th vote before accepting the loss, because at that point Ohio didn't even matter.  Obama would end up winning 303-206, with Florida pending.

     To summarize, both contests began well for the underdogs, and they continued to provide hope for their fans deep into their respective competitions.  But in the end, things fell apart, and we realized that it was never really that close to begin with.

     Sure, I felt disappointment at the results of the night, but the prevailing feeling was that the election was a heck of a lot of fun to watch.  Having only been old enough to vote since 2008, this was the first election I really got into, and I hope that there will be many more enjoyable ones to come.

(Side note:  Did anyone else notice the ridiculous vote counting system in Wisconsin?  The Republican goes up by 10%, then they call it for the Democrat because Madison and Milwaukee get counted last.  We really need to fix that because it looks absurd.)

October 2, 2012

How Sports Can Help The WWE

     I just finished watching tonight's episode of WWE Raw, something I do occasionally because as much as I love the idea of pro wrestling, it hasn't been good enough to watch consistently for a really long time.  Though I was pleased enough to abandon the "How to Fix the WWE" post I've been stalling on for the last couple of months, there was one nagging issue I still have with the WWE in general.

     Matches are too predictable.

     Every time I watch, there are a few matches featuring the fan favorite or the "unstoppable" new guy versus some lower-tier wrestler, and everybody knows there's no way the lower-tier wrestler is going to win because it would make no sense.  I even predicted this year's Royal Rumble winner based on crowd reaction and storylines in the weeks leading up to it, and that's a 30-man match.

     Contrast that with a sports league like the NFL.  How many times have we seen a 2-9 team get a random win against a playoff contender?  It happens quite a bit.  Not so much that it seems unusual, but enough to let you know that anything can happen in any contest.  And despite this unpredictability, the NFL is full of intriguing storylines throughout the season.  They don't have to be written and meticulously planned.  They just happen.

     Here's what the WWE should try.  Give everybody a true winning percentage, the chance that they would win against an average wrestler.  For chronic winners like Sheamus and Ryback, that could be 90 or 95 percent.  For the top bad guys, it would be in the 70 to 75 percent range, because as much as I think they deserve a fair shake, I understand that the majority of people want to see them lose.  For the more unknown competitors, put it at 10 or 20 percent.  These percentages could change depending on fan reaction and a desired build-up for certain characters.  Next, come up with the stories that will lead up to each match, just like it would normally be done.  Then for each match, use Bill James's Log5 formula to determine the probability of each competitor winning.  Finally, use a random number generator like to find out who will emerge victorious.

     It would make for a much better product.  Every part of the show would be suspenseful.  Writers would have to think on their feet and adapt to the outcomes.  As a result, maybe we would end up with a wide variety of story arcs we don't normally see.  Competitions, fixed or otherwise, are better when there's a sense of unknowing.  Sure, sometimes we end up with undesirable results like Boise State's 2010 loss to Nevada.  But we also get classic moments like Appalachian State's win over 5th-ranked Michigan in 2007.  And as long as they don't happen too often, those classic moments will be better than anything that makes perfect sense.

September 25, 2012

The Replacement Refs' Impossible Situation

Okay, so this picture is old and that's a legit NFL referee.  But I had forgotten about this and seeing Kenneth Darby get lit up by a ref made my day.
     If you're a fan of NFL football, or even just live within the United States, you know that the NFL's usual referees have been temporarily replaced while the refs and the league work out a new contract.  The replacement refs come from many different levels of experience ranging from high school games to lingerie football.  Yet these officials all have one thing in common.  Everybody thinks they're doing a terrible job.

     I'm not convinced of that though.  I think this situation is more about the Kobe Bryant factor than actual officiating.  You know how everyone thinks Kobe is "clutch", so when he makes a late basket we use that to reinforce our belief, and when he misses we disregard it since everybody misses at some point and that doesn't reflect who he is.  But when you look at the stats, Bryant is around the league average in late-game situations.  The replacement refs are in the same situation, but in reverse.  People expect the replacements to be terrible, so we focus on the mistakes that they make and don't notice the calls they get right.  There was no way they were ever going to be accepted by the general public, and that's not fair to them.  So to try to make it up to them a little bit, let me defend them against three of the main charges against them.

1.  They make the dumbest mistakes.

     I'll admit the new refs have made some gaffes that I would never expect the usual officials to make, like not knowing certain rules of the game.  But the replacements have taken some heat for judgement calls as well, many of which could have happened no matter who was in charge.  I know Ed Hochuli has been involved in one or two boneheaded decisions.  Super Bowl XL involved the best referees in the game and is still regarded as one of the worst officiated games ever.  Fans aren't going to be any happier with the normal officials than they are with the current ones.  Hatred for referees is just part of the sports culture.

2.  Games last 9 minutes longer on average.

     What world-altering thing do these people think they were going to do in those 9 minutes?  Sit on the couch and watch the postgame show?  Use the bathroom?  These referees aren't used to calling an NFL game.  That's just a fact.  I'd rather they take the time to get together and make the right call than hurriedly make the wrong one.

3.  They're endangering the players.

     This is my favorite bad argument.  First of all, when some linebacker is going in for a crushing hit on a receiver, he's not thinking about who the referees are.  He's just going to make the play regardless, and if he gets a flag, so be it.

     But my real issue with this allegation is the sudden regard by the media for player safety.  Remember all the way back in 2010 and 2011, during the height of player safety rules and offensive bias, when everyone just wanted the officials to "let them play"?  Now we have this new batch of referees that calls far fewer penalties than their counterparts, that "lets them play", and how does everyone react?  With a big "thank you"?  No, suddenly everyone is worried about player safety and pass interference no-calls.  It's like they just want to complain for the sake of complaining.  That's what really bothers me.  Decide what you want, then stick with it.  You don't get both sides.  So when the referee lockout finally ends, I better not hear any complaining.

September 24, 2012

What Does The Packers-Seahawks Ending Mean?

     For those who weren't watching tonight's NFL game, let me recap the end of it for you.  Down 12-7 with 8 seconds left, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into a mess of players in the end zone.  As players were pulled away from the pile, Seattle WR Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings were seen fighting for the football.  One referee called it an interception.  One called it a touchdown.  Somehow that meant the ruling was a touchdown.

The best picture I could find, but it's obvious Seattle doesn't have a player whose hands are close to that ball.

     But luckily, every NFL scoring play is reviewed on instant replay.  So what really happened on the play?  Jennings first caught the ball with Tate's hands about six inches underneath.  Then as the players came down, Tate also grabbed onto the ball and both men fought for control on the ground.  The commentary crew seemed convinced that Jennings earned the interception, as did I.  Yet the official ruling was, you guessed it, a touchdown.  The Packers players refused to line up for the extra point for about 10 minutes while the sideline reporters interviewed Wilson and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who both acted as if they believed it was a touchdown like any other.  It was quite a bizarre scene, and even though I hated what happened, I was glad to have seen it live.

     So now I'm trying to figure out what it all means.  A lot of people are going to blame this on the replacement referees, but I don't think that's what it was.  It was the regular officials, after all, who made the controversial Calvin Johnson no-catch call in 2010 (another play I had the pleasure of watching unfold in real time).  Referees of any kind make some bad calls.

     What I think this speaks more toward is the league's general favoritism towards offense.  Look at everything that happened in that play.  Tate wasn't flagged for an obvious pass interference.  When one ref signaled an interception and one signaled a touchdown, it was ruled a touchdown.  And then there was the atrocious call itself.  I don't know if the referees thought, consciously or subconsciously, that the tie goes to the receiver, like it does to the runner in baseball.  I don't know what more they wanted from Jennings, but he and the Packers got ripped off.

September 15, 2012

I Was Playing NCAA Football '11 A Few Weeks Ago

     And I discovered that Ryan Tannehill, currently the Dolphins' rookie starting QB, is Texas A&M's starting wide receiver in the game.  And his throw power and throw accuracy ratings are 40.

Proof That I Am Officially Getting Old

     In the last week, I saw two people wearing Packers jerseys.  (Well, more than two, but the rest are irrelevant.)  One was #30 and one was #18.  To normal people, they were obviously representing current Packers John Kuhn and Randall Cobb.  The first people I thought of when I saw the jerseys?

Ahman Green

and Doug Pederson.

I am getting old.

September 1, 2012

I Know This Story Has Been Beaten To Death...

     ...but Washington Nationals, please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE don't shut down Stephen Strasburg.  Of all the dumb ideas I've seen in the world of sports, this might be the worst.  Ever.  You're going to stop playing your best pitcher during a playoff run just to keep him from getting injured.  When exactly do you plan to let him pitch for a full year?  Some season in the future when you're the best team in the league and he becomes an elite pitcher?  Guess what?  That's right now!  You're the Washington Nationals!  You've had 6 consecutive losing seasons before this one, 4 of which saw you finish last in your division.  The only reason you have young talent like Strasburg and Bryce Harper is because you've been such an awful team.  After 6 terrible years, what makes you think this single year represents some sort of trend?  Unless you're the 2008 Rays, every surprise team goes back to being decent at best the next year.  And even the Rays lost 13 more games in '09 than '08. 

     Basically, this is it, Nationals.  This is the best chance you'll have for a long, long time to win the World Series.  You might not even get to the playoffs again with Strasburg, especially since Harper's going to bolt for New York the first chance he gets.  Even if the idea that pitching for only 160-180 innings per season protects you from injury was true, you should be pitching Strasburg every 5 games for the whole year, and then every 3 in the playoffs.  Go all in!  If he gets hurt, at least he got hurt doing his job during an epic playoff run and not during some 70-92 season five years from now.  You can't afford to hold back this year and hope you make the playoffs again, especially when you have the best record in the major leagues.  This is your one chance at greatness, and you need Strasburg to get there.

August 31, 2012

Dream Scenario: 2012 NFL Season

     The following is my best attempt at creating my ideal 2012 NFL season.  Four notes about it:

-None of the following events involve injuries.  I know injuries are a part of the game and allow for amazing stories to happen.  However, I never want to see anybody get hurt, and there are always ways to make a great story without someone being injured.

-You may notice that the following scenario is not ridiculously far off from how this season should turn out.  That's because teams that have been good in the past few years got more coverage, which has made them more interesting, which means their presence is important in creating a truly awesome series of events.

-If I did everything correctly, this scenario is completely plausible.  I actually got the NFL schedule and picked each of the 256 games, though I did have to change a few of my picks to get what I wanted.  Also, I made sure to check that the tiebreakers were how I wanted them to be.

-If your team does not do well in this fantasy, it doesn't necessarily mean I don't like your team (though it probably does).  It may just be a case of your team being in a division with 3 other teams I want to see win (Buccaneers and Bengals), or even your team coincidentally being in games in which the other team's victory in crucial to the storyline.

     I will add more detailed descriptions of my thought process in italics throughout the post.  The fantasy directly follows the first ever jump break in W17L history.  Enjoy.

August 29, 2012

Is It Just Me...

     ...or does the NFL use the same 32 kickers every year and just rotate them around every once in a while?  Because I swear I've seen Billy Cundiff on about 10 different teams.

Cundiff, in a generic-looking jersey, so every year he can just use this photo and not have to take a picture with his new team's jersey.

"Sweet Caroline" Has Been Taken Off The Playlist At Beaver Stadium...

     ...because the lyrics, "touching me, touching you" may remind people of Jerry Sandusky.

     The worst part of all of this?  Nobody will get to hear The Darkness at a Penn State football game!

August 18, 2012

ESPN Ticker Shocker Of The Day

     While I was watching ESPN today, I looked at the bottom of the screen and saw a news update that went something like this:  "Jeff Demps, who won a silver medal with the U.S. 4x100m relay team, has signed with the New England Patriots.  Demps also played running back for the University of Florida."

     Going into that update, I knew this much:  Jeff Demps was a running back at Florida.  I remember him very well, as he and Chris Rainey were two of the highest rated sophomore running backs in NCAA Football 2010.  I also knew that Jeff Demps was one of the fastest guys in college football.  I was shocked, however, to see that this guy who I only knew as a football player was also a silver-medal-winning Olympic sprinter.  Granted, he only ran in the preliminary heat, but that group was the fastest in the preliminaries and did I mention he won a freaking silver medal in the Olympics!!!  My mind has been blown.

August 10, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: Recap

     To end the 3-Way NFL Preview, I offer you a recap of the best and worst teams in the projections, and links to all 8 divisional prediction posts.

Top 5 Teams (champion in bold)

W17L:  Steelers, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Falcons
Forecaster:  Patriots, Packers, Jets, Raiders, 49ers
Random:  Raiders, Eagles, Cardinals, Jaguars, Seahawks (Packers win title as 18th best team)
Overall:  Eagles, Raiders, Ravens, Packers, Patriots
W17L plus Forecaster:  Patriots, Packers, Ravens, Eagles, 49ers

Bottom 5 Teams

W17L:  Dolphins, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Rams
Forecaster:  Rams, Colts, Buccaneers, Redskins, Bears
Random:  Rams, Lions, Dolphins, Colts, Broncos
Overall:  Rams, Colts, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Redskins
W17L plus Forecaster:  Rams, Colts, Buccaneers, Redskins, Browns

Sleeper Teams

W17L:  Vikings, Eagles, Chargers
Forecaster:  Vikings, Seahawks, Panthers, Jets, Raiders
Random:  Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles, Vikings, Seahawks
Overall:  Vikings, Eagles, Jaguars, Raiders
W17L plus Forecaster:  Vikings, Panthers, Eagles, Raiders

Most Likely To Drop Off

W17L:  Bengals, Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks, Saints
Forecaster:  Steelers, Saints, Titans
Random:  Packers, Lions, Patriots, Saints, Steelers
Overall:  Saints, Packers, Lions, Steelers, 49ers
W17L plus Forecaster:  Saints, Packers, Titans, 49ers, Steelers

     For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Below are links to all 8 divisional projections:

AFC East
AFC North
AFC South
AFC West
NFC East
NFC North
NFC South
NFC West

     Keep your eyes peeled for my next project, my Dream Scenario for the entire 2012 NFL season!

Why I Don't Care About The Olympics

     Last night I stumbled across Cory Tell All Sports' excellent piece on why people love the Olympics, and it got me to thinking why I don't really care about them.  After pondering a few different reasons, I came up with the one explanation for why my passion for the Games is so low.

     One of my favorite aspects of watching sports is seeing all of the storylines unfold.  Sure, double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius was a great story, and countless other athletes overcame a lot of adversity to get where they are now.  But I can't get emotionally invested in these people because I've never seen most of them before.  Americans fell in love with Gabby Douglas once she started winning medals, but outside of national pride, I had no reason to care.

     Contrast that with my favorite sports moment, Super Bowl 42.  The Giants' upset of the 18-0 Patriots was an incredible story all on its own.  But I watched the Patriots win quite a few of those first 18 games.  I saw the Giants almost beat the Patriots in the meaningless regular season finale just to prove a point.  I had seen Tom Brady gradually change from a scrappy backup quarterback to a smug and talented superstar.  I remembered when Eli Manning was a struggling rookie and heard the criticism he received from the media in his first four seasons.  To me, the teams weren't just names or the representatives of a certain region.  They had their own personalities and stories that I knew a lot about.  That connection to what's happening on the TV is what makes sports a captivating event instead of a mildly interesting athletic contest.  With most Olympic sports getting little to no coverage outside of the Games themselves, the Olympics can't provide that kind of interest for me.

(The same argument goes for Little League, which is on all the time now!!!!!!)

August 9, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: NFC West

San Francisco 49ers
W17L:  10-6  (4th seed, loses to New Orleans in Wild Card Round)
Forecaster:  11-5  (2nd seed, loses to Green Bay in NFC Championship)
Random:  8-8

W17L's Take:  Nobody thought the 49ers were supposed to go 13-3 last year.  But they put up some really impressive defensive numbers, and Alex Smith re-invented himself as a top-notch game manager who can make big plays when necessary.  In the NFC West, even a down year for this team should get them 10 wins and a playoff spot.

Forecaster's Take:  The 49ers are the second best team in the NFC thanks to an incredible rushing defense and top-10 finishes in 4 of the 9 predictor stats last year.

Seattle Seahawks
W17L:  4-12
Forecaster:  11-5  (5th seed, loses to Green Bay in Divisional Round)
Random:  11-5  (5th seed, loses to Green Bay in Wild Card Round)

W17L's Take:  I have no reason to think Matt Flynn is a bad quarterback.  In his first start, he almost got the Green Bay Packers a win over New England in a super exciting game.  In his second start, he set the Packers record for passing yards and touchdowns in one of the more bizarre games you'll ever see (Matthew Stafford threw for over 500 yards).  However, two starts don't give me the confidence to say that Flynn can lead a team to the playoffs this year, especially one coming off a 7-win season.  It's going to be a rough learning experience for Flynn.  (And yes, I realize Tarvaris Jackson might start.  Still going with 4-12.)

Forecaster's Take:  The Seahawks are one of the major sleepers team this year.  They don't run the ball very well (which allows them to use their passing game), their defense forces opponents to run a lot of plays, and the defense is also very aggressive, which leads to penalties but also makes them more effective.

Arizona Cardinals
W17L:  5-11
Forecaster:  9-7
Random:  11-5  (2nd seed, loses to Green Bay in Divisional Round)

W17L's Take:  Larry Fitzgerald is the only great player on this team.  I don't think Kevin Kolb or John Skelton are good enough to take Arizona to the playoffs, or anywhere close.

Forecaster's Take:  The Cardinals will be pretty good this year, thanks to a defense that commits a lot of penalties and keeps drives going as long as possible.

St. Louis Rams
W17L:  5-11
Forecaster:  2-14
Random:  3-13

W17L's Take:  The Rams are slowly getting the pieces needed to become a contender.  Sam Bradford is a quality passer, Steven Jackson is a great running back, and Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold provide some talent on the offensive line.  However, that contendership is still a long way away.

Forecaster's Take:  The Rams are the worst team in the NFL because of their awful rushing defense and lowest-scoring offense.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

3-Way NFL Preview: NFC South

Atlanta Falcons
W17L:  11-5  (2nd seed, loses to New Orleans in Divisional Round)
Forecaster:  8-8
Random:  9-7  (3rd seed, loses to Dallas in Wild Card Round)

W17L's Take:  The Falcons have had a very good team for the last few years, and I don't expect anything about that to change.  I especially love the quartet of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Julio Jones.

Forecaster's Take:  I'm not as high on the Falcons, mostly because their offense has to run too many plays to score, and the defense doesn't keep opponents on the field long enough.

Carolina Panthers
W17L:  8-8
Forecaster:  10-6  (4th seed, loses to Seattle in Wild Card Round)
Random:  9-7

W17L's Take:  I am all-in on Cam Newton.  He is, in my opinion, the most exciting player to watch in the league, and I think he has the work ethic to learn from his poor performance in the second half of 2011 and figure out a way to beat the defenses designed to stop him.  Even if he doesn't, Newton is still a threat as a scrambler and short-yardage runner.  The Panthers should add a couple more wins that last year.

Forecaster's Take:  After leading the league in rushing first downs and coming in 5th in points scored, the Panthers have a great chance to take the next step and become a playoff team.

New Orleans Saints
W17L:  10-6  (5th seed, loses to Green Bay in NFC Championship)
Forecaster:  8-8
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  Dropping the Saints by 3 wins from last year isn't a sign that I think the bounty scandal will hurt them.  I actually think it will be a rallying point for the team, especially in the playoffs.  The reason I expect the Saints to win only 10 games is because Drew Brees can't possibly match his numbers from last year, and therefore the offense won't be able to cover up a below average defense.

Forecaster's Take:  The Saints will not be hurt by the bounty scandal, but rather their inability to make opponents run the ball, and the fact that they led the league in offensive plays in 2011.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
W17L:  5-11
Forecaster:  3-13
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  The Buccaneers weren't very good last year, and they didn't make any big moves in the offseason.  It's hard to score points when Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount are your primary weapons.

Forecaster's Take:  The Bucs will be awful in 2012 because they can't run for first downs and their run defense is pathetic.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

August 7, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: NFC North

Green Bay Packers
W17L:  12-4  (1st seed, defeats Pittsburgh in Super Bowl)
Forecaster:  12-4  (1st seed, loses to New England in Super Bowl)
Random:  7-9  (4th seed, defeats Oakland in Super Bowl)

W17L's Take:  As a Packers "fan", I generally shy away from picking them because I don't trust them.  But I know the offense is good enough to get them to 12-4 despite their poor defense.  And after that, I just didn't see any team that I thought would beat them.  Obviously I don't think Green Bay as a Super Bowl lock, but they're the closest thing the NFL has.

Forecaster's Take:  Not only does the Random projection think the Packers will go 7-9.  Not only does it expect the Packers to win the division at 7-9.  Not only does it think the Packers will win a playoff game.  It has the Packers winning the Super Bowl after going 7-9!!  What you should really know about the Packers is that they are the best team in the NFC, and a close second in the league to New England, thanks to a high-scoring offense and lots of first downs via penalty.

Chicago Bears
W17L:  10-6  (6th seed, loses to Green Bay in Divisional Round)
Forecaster:  5-11
Random:  6-10

W17L's Take:  The Bears were great in 2010.  They were on their way to the playoffs in 2011 before the Jay Cutler injury.  There's no reason to expect a change in performance in 2012, especially with Brandon Marshall teaming up with Cutler again.

Forecaster's Take:  The Bears will be the 5th-worst team in the league, as they don't force teams to run enough and are very passive on defense as far as penalties are concerned.

Minnesota Vikings
W17L:  7-9
Forecaster:  7-9
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  I've had a lot of respect for the Vikings roster over the last few years, and giving them 4 more wins than they had last year seems to be a sign that I still show that respect.  Adrian Peterson will be back and should be a least a very good running back, Christian Ponder should show improvement, and the defense is good enough to take this team a step in the right direction.

Forecaster's Take:  The Vikings should improve over last year, thanks mostly to its ability to run for first downs.

Detroit Lions
W17L:  8-8
Forecaster:  7-9
Random:  3-13

W17L's Take:  Like the Texans, the Lions had their breakthrough last season but should fall back a little this time around.  Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson are awesome, but I don't think the pieces around them are good enough to guarantee them a playoff spot.

Forecaster's Take:  The Lions can't run for first downs and take too many plays to get things done, which is why they will lose a few more games than in 2011.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

August 5, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles
W17L:  11-5  (3rd seed, loses to Chicago in Wild Card Round)
Forecaster:  10-6  (6th seed, loses to New York Giants in Wild Card Round)
Random:  12-4  (1st seed, loses to Green Bay in NFC Championship)

W17L's Take:  I know the Eagles went 8-8 last year.  I know they aren't the Dream Team "everyone else" thought they would be last year.  But the Eagles were better than their record last year, and seem to be good every season.  I think all of their star pieces will come together to a point this year, and lead the Eagles back to the playoffs.

Forecaster's Take:  The Eagles will be better this season than they were in 2011, thanks to a high-powered offense and a tendency to run for first downs (I can't believe I just typed that last part but the numbers back it up).

New York Giants
W17L:  8-8
Forecaster:  11-5  (3rd seed, loses to San Francisco in Divisional Round)
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  I could see this season turning out two different ways.  The Giants might take a page from its '08 counterpart or last year's Packers, and ride its championship momentum to a number one seed.  Or they might perform at the level they should have been at last year and finish around .500.  I'm going with the second one, just because I thought the team was that bad in 2011.

Forecaster's Take:  The Giants should improve their regular season performance, thanks to its poor running game that will force Eli to throw, and a defense that tires opponents out.

Dallas Cowboys
W17L:  8-8
Forecaster:  6-10
Random:  9-7  (6th seed, loses to Philadelphia in Divisional Round)

W17L's Take:  It's the same as every season.  Dallas has a lot of talent but will find a way to underachieve.

Forecaster's Take:  Defenses don't make mistakes against the Cowboys, and the Dallas defense doesn't force teams to run enough plays against.  The Cowboys will not only underachieve but will be flat out bad.

Washington Redskins
W17L:  6-10
Forecaster:  4-12
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  A 5-11 team replaces a rotating cast of quarterbacks with an athletic number 2 pick with one great college season under his belt.  That just sounds like trouble to me.  And for anyone who thinks I'm being unfair to Robert Griffin III, note that I improved the Redskins' record by one win.  You're welcome.

Forecaster's Take:  Even with a boost of luck from the Random predictor, the Redskins aren't even close to being a playoff team.  The culprit:  a terrible offense that has a tough time running for first downs.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

August 4, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: AFC West

Oakland Raiders
W17L:  9-7
Forecaster:  11-5  (2nd seed, loses to New England in AFC Championship)
Random:  13-3  (1st seed, loses to Green Bay in Super Bowl)

W17L's Take:  I do like the Raiders.  They have a ton of talent, and now they have Carson Palmer to tie it all together.  But nothing they've done in the last few years suggests they'll make a deep playoff run, though they have a good chance to make the playoffs.

Forecaster's Take:  The Raiders do a lot of things well, but the main factor in their projected success is a defense that commits a lot of penalties, meaning they are very aggressive, which should lead to a great performance this season.

San Diego Chargers
W17L:  11-5  (3rd seed, loses to New England in Divisional Round)
Forecaster:  8-8
Random:  10-6

W17L's Take:  I'll admit that I'm probably living in the past with the Chargers, but I just think of them as a great team.  I don't know if Philip Rivers can get them to 11 wins, but he should at least get them close.

Forecaster's Take:  San Diego is an average team, due mostly to a defense that doesn't stay on the field long enough.

Denver Broncos
W17L:  9-7  (6th seed, loses to San Diego in Wild Card Round)
Forecaster:  10-6  (6th seed, loses to Baltimore in Wild Card Round)
Random:  6-10

W17L's Take:  I know what you're thinking.  "With Tebow, they went 8-8 with a playoff win.  So you're saying Peyton Manning is only worth one more win?"  I want you to know I fully expect Peyton to be close to his old self.  But this Denver team didn't play like an 8-8 team last year.  They were a 5 or 6-win team that got a couple of breaks and won 8.  Peyton should be worth 3 to 4 extra wins over Orton/Tebow, and while that will be enough to get them in the playoffs, it won't be enough for them to contend for a title.

Forecaster's Take:  The Denver Broncos are legit, thanks to their ability to run for first downs and a defense that forces opponents to run a lot of plays.

Kansas City Chiefs
W17L:  6-10
Forecaster:  6-10
Random:  10-6  (5th seed, loses to New York Jets in Wild Card Round)

W17L's Take:  I don't have much to say about the Chiefs.  They have some really good players, but overall I don't think they have enough to do a lot of damage.

Forecaster's Take:  Don't let the Random prediction fool you.  The Chiefs are not a playoff team, or even a decent team.  The main culprit is their offense, which is downright horrible.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

August 2, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: AFC South

Houston Texans
W17L:  10-6  (4th seed, loses to Baltimore in Wild Card Round)
Forecaster:  10-6  (4th seed, loses to New York Jets in Wild Card Round)
Random:  7-9
W17L's Take:  The Texans finally made the playoffs last year, but I'm expecting a small letdown this season.  In an awful AFC South division, Houston can still win 10 games and make the playoffs, but I don't see them getting past the Ravens.
Forecaster's Take:  The Texans are a good but not great team.  They get a lot of first downs on runs, and don't give up many rushing yards.

Jacksonville Jaguars
W17L:  6-10
Forecaster:  7-9
Random:  11-5  (2nd seed, loses to Cincinnati in Divisional Round)

W17L's Take:  The Jaguars seem to be very content with mediocrity.  I'm not saying the players don't want to be great, but the organization never seems to make a big move to make the team better.  They just send out a decent team, fill half of their seats, and bring in the money.  Maurice Jones-Drew is an awesome running back, but with Jacksonville's passing game, they won't make the playoffs.
Forecaster's Take:  Don't listen to the Random projection.  I'm not buying the Jags as a playoff team, let alone the second seed.  They will be better than last year, but don't score enough to be a contender.

Tennessee Titans
W17L:  7-9 
Forecaster:  6-10
Random:  8-8
W17L's Take:  Just like the Jaguars, the Titans have great players in all the wrong places.  Namely, at running back.  We were surprised when Tennessee went 9-7 last year, so 7-9 won't be that surprising.

Forecaster's Take:  The Titans should drop off a lot from last year, mostly because of their inability to run for first downs and to keep opponents from throwing the ball.

Indianapolis Colts
W17L:  5-11
Forecaster:  2-14
Random:  6-10

W17L's Take:  Before 2011, the Colts had a ridiculous habit of winning 10 games every year.  Did Peyton Manning have a lot to do with that?  Of course.  But I don't think the Colts suddenly got worse over one random offseason.  With Peyton, I said they would have had a good shot at the playoffs this year.  With Andrew Luck, this team will stay right where it thinks it is, near the bottom of the league.

Forecaster's Take:  Surprisingly, the Colts aren't the worst team in this projection.  But with such a poor offense and an unwillingness to run for first downs, they are a close second.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

July 29, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens
W17L:  11-5  (5th seed, loses to Pittsburgh in Divisional Round)
Forecaster:  11-5  (3rd seed, loses to Oakland in Divisional Round)
Random:  10-6  (6th seed, loses to Cincinnati in Wild Card Round)

W17L's Take:  I like this team but I don't love it.  The defense is getting older but is still really good.  Ray Rice is a great running back.  But can Joe Flacco and whatever receivers they have in Baltimore provide enough offense to make the Ravens elite?  I don't think so.

Forecaster's Take:  The Ravens will succeed this year thanks to its fantastic run defense and an offense that forces opponents to commit lots of penalties.

Cincinnati Bengals
W17L:  6-10
Forecaster:  10-6
Random:  11-5  (3rd seed, loses to Oakland in AFC Championship)

W17L's Take:  As a general rule, I don't trust surprise playoff teams to continue their success the following year.  But is Cincinnati really a surprise playoff team?  They've been there twice in the last three seasons.  Still, I think the Bengals will drop off this year.  Andy Dalton will most likely suffer from a sophomore slump, and the whole offense will suffer.

Forecaster's Take:  The only projected 10-win team not expected to make the playoffs, the Bengals will be better than people think thanks to a low rushing average and great numbers all around.

Pittsburgh Steelers
W17L:  13-3  (1st seed, loses to Green Bay in Super Bowl)
Forecaster:  6-10
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  The two knocks against this team are its aging defense and its early playoff exit last year.  The defense was still the best in the league in 2011, so it isn't going to be an issue.  And the Steelers were 12-4 last year, in case you forgot.  That would have given them the division title were they not in the same division as the Ravens.  Instead, Pittsburgh was put into the classic "no respect" game, against the 8-8 Broncos at Denver.  The last six playoff teams with 8 wins or fewer all won their first game, so I'm not too worried that Denver did also.  What I like about the Steelers is their all-around game.  Elite defense, great quarterback, very good receivers, and a pretty good running back.  I came very close to picking them to beat Green Bay but I just didn't see them winning that game.

Forecaster's Take:  The Steelers don't make their opponents run enough plays, but more importantly, they only cracked the top ten in one of the nine predictor categories.

Cleveland Browns
W17L:  6-10
Forecaster:  6-10
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  I'm not sure why I even gave them this many wins, to be honest.  I do think Trent Richardson will be a very good if not great running back from day one, and the winner of the Colt McCoy/Brandon Weeden battle should provide enough balance to make the Browns' offense somewhat potent.

Forecaster's Take:  This analysis will actually make sense:  the Browns don't score enough points and give up too many rushing yards to even be considered good.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

July 28, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: AFC East

New England Patriots
W17L:  12-4  (2nd seed, loses to Pittsburgh in AFC Championship)
Forecaster:  12-4  (1st seed, defeats Green Bay in Super Bowl)
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  People are jumping on the Patriots bandwagon because they have a lot of good players, but I don't think they have enough great players to get them back to the Super Bowl.  Obviously Brady, Welker, and Gronkowski will be stellar, and the rest of the offense should perform well.  However, I think the Patriots' defensive deficiencies will hurt their record a little more than they did last year.

Forecaster's Take:  Why are the Patriots the favorite to win it all this year?  They score a lot, they make opposing offenses run a lot of plays, and they can make first downs by running or passing.

New York Jets
W17L:  7-9
Forecaster:  11-5  (5th seed, loses to New England in Divisional Round)
Random:  9-7  (4th seed, loses to Oakland in Divisional Round)

W17L's Take:  This Tebow/Sanchez thing cannot be good for this team, and neither of those two are to blame.  Both are classy and are willing to play the roles they've been asked to.  But you know that once Sanchez falters (and he will), fans will call for Tebow to start, then players on the team will start to take sides, and the whole season will start to go downhill.  This team was probably a 9-7 team to start with, but the QB controversy will cost them a couple of wins.

Forecaster's Take:  The Jets are projected to be the second best team in the AFC after New England.  Their lack of rushing prowess will force them to pass more (which will lead to a more efficient offense), they force defenses to make mistakes, and they make opponents run the ball a lot.

Buffalo Bills
W17L:  6-10
Forecaster:  6-10
Random:  6-10

W17L's Take:  I like Ryan Fitzpatrick.  I like Mario Williams.  I like Jairus Byrd.  The rest I don't know much about, but I haven't seen any reason to take this team seriously.

Forecaster's Take:  The Bills' main issue is the running game:  their own is too good and so is their opponents'.

Miami Dolphins
W17L:  4-12
Forecaster:  9-7
Random:  5-11

W17L's Take:  I don't know how this team will get anything done.  I'm looking at their roster and I don't see any great players outside of the offensive line.  They've got a new head coach.  Their QB could be Matt Moore, David Garrard, or Ryan Tannehill, neither of which is that great of an option.  Their only real weapon in Brandon Marshall is gone now.  I expect this team to be awful.

Forecaster's Take:  This team should be pretty good, mostly because of its excellent run defense and short offensive drives.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

July 26, 2012

W17L Presents The 3-Way NFL Preview

     Any website can give you an NFL preview from one perspective.  It takes a special website like Week 17 Legend to give you a preview using three different methods of prediction.  So without further ado, let me explain the three methods I'll be using:

     The first is my own personal predictions.  This style involves a little bit of knowledge and a lot of gut instincts and guesses.  Despite its simplicity, it has tended to be just as effective as any other prediction method.

     The second method is a formula I'll be calling the Forecaster.  The Forecaster was developed by collecting 40 basic offensive and defensive statistics from the 2006-2010 season, ignoring the statistics that correlate strongly with each other (for example, passing yards and passing attempts), and removing stats until the most efficient regression formula was produced. 

     The Forecaster uses 9 statistics.  For five of them, more of the stat leads to more wins the following year (points scored, rushing first downs, first downs via penalty, defensive plays, and penalty first downs allowed).  For four of the categories, a lower number leads to more wins the next year (offensive plays, yards per carry, pass attempts allowed, and rushing yards allowed).

     Because the win totals from this formula tend to be closer to 8 than actual standings in a given season, the numbers will be adjusted in the preview to more closely reflect those in a normal season.  All playoff matchups in this simulation are given to the team with the highest projected number of wins.

     The third prediction method involves the Forecaster, but also adds in a randomness factor similar to that found in the last five years.  Playoff matchups are decided randomly, with a team's chance of winning being calculated using Bill James's Log5 method and the unadjusted winning percentages from the Forecaster.  This method is not meant to be the most accurate predictor, but is instead meant to act more like the NFL really does.

     Below are links to all 8 of the divisions as projected by these 3 methods, as well as the recap post:

AFC East
AFC North
AFC South
AFC West
NFC East
NFC North
NFC South
NFC West

July 25, 2012

Why Can't We Just Leave Joe Paterno Alone?

     A couple days ago, we learned about the NCAA's sanctions on the Penn State football program after its sex abuse scandal.  Most of it was unsurprising and fair:  loss of scholarships, a monetary fine, bowl bans, and probation.  However, there was one punishment I wasn't expecting, and that was the one I found most intruiging. 

     Every Penn State win since 1997 was erased from the record books.

     I can understand how the scandal could be construed as an unfair competitive advantage.  Sandusky should have been fired after his crimes were discovered (though I'm not sure if that's an NCAA rule or just a moral one).  Without their great defensive coordinator, Penn State's performance would have suffered, and that decline along with the reputation of having a sex offender as a former coach would have affected the school's recruiting in the future.  Is that enough of an advantage to warrant the removal of 111 wins over 14 years?  I personally don't think so, especially since Sandusky had retired after the 1999 season.

     I think the main reason the NCAA vacated those wins, though, was to make a statement against the late Joe Paterno, Penn State's ex-head coach who before the sanctions was the NCAA's all-time leader in wins.  For most of his coaching career, Paterno was hailed as one of the most upstanding and classy men in college football.  Then we found out that he failed to properly report Sandusky's crimes, and the negativity came raining down on him.  Paterno was fired from Penn State in November 2011, and died two months later.  Now his statue outside Beaver Stadium has been removed, and his career wins record has been taken away as well.

     This sudden change in attitude toward Paterno is what bothers me the most about the whole episode.  Too often people want to categorize things as being either good or bad, when it's really somewhere in between.  Joe Paterno deserves better than to be remembered as the guy who let Jerry Sandusky molests some kids.  He has been a role model for so many people over the last 5 decades, and he has proven to be one heck of a football coach.  Yes, his reaction to the Sandusky situation was less than perfect, but it's not like he assaulted the children himself.  Let him keep the wins he earned.  Keep the statue outside the stadium.  He is the most famous person in Penn State athletics history.  It's okay to remember Joe Paterno as a great coach and a great man who in one situation showed poor judgement, instead of trying to erase him from all of our memories.

July 17, 2012

To W17L's Dedicated Readers

     I apologize for my lack of posting over the last month.  I started a lengthy and slightly off-topic post, which I kept working on instead of posting shorter, more frequent stuff.  Also, it's been a pretty busy summer and July is notoriously boring, so I haven't spent as much time working on the blog lately.  I will be on vacation over the next week or so, but when I get back I plan to finish the aforementioned lengthy post and begin making some NFL preview stuff.  (Or my laziness will become a habit and this last month was the beginning of this blog's slow death.  But let's just say it was a one-time thing.)

Linsanity Is Alive And Well (Just Without The Insanity)

     I want to be outraged at the 3-year, $25 million contract the Houston Rockets offered to Jeremy Lin, the point guard who excited the entire nation last year as a member of the New York Knicks.  My first reaction was, "Seriously?  You're giving eight million a year who was only good for about a month?"

     But then I went to find stats to support that argument.  And all I could find was that the offer was actually about right.  Last year, Lin was 41st in PER, the best statistic we have to estimate overall performance.  And that included every player, even those who had double-digit minutes for the entire season.  So it's not a stretch at all to say Jeremy Lin is one of the 50 best players in the NBA.  Isn't a top-50 guy worth 8 million dollars a year?

June 22, 2012

More Notes On The Heat: Battier Is Awesome, Wade Makes Me Cringe

     I don't admit to watching the Heat as much as a lot of people, but from the little bit of postseason action I watched, two people stood out to me.

     Shane Battier was the key piece that was missing from last year's Finals losers.  He brought an extra dose of intensity, hustle, great defense, and three-point shooting to this year's Heat, and it fit perfectly with the existing pieces.  He was more responsible for the championship win than anyone else not named LeBron.

     Dwyane Wade stood out for all the wrong reasons.  He's great on fast breaks, defense, and shooting right after a pass.  But there were a lot of times when he would shoot some awful 15-foot fadeaway and I would be sitting there asking, "What are you doing?"  Every time he had the ball for more than two seconds, I would just beg him not to shoot.  I can't imagine what it's been like for actual Heat fans who had to watch him every game.

What Else Can We Possibly Criticize LeBron For Now?

     LeBron James has now done everything he needed to do to be respected as the league's best player.  He's already a 3-time MVP and has been widely regarded as the best statistical player in the NBA.  In this year's playoffs, he had huge games just about every night, put up some massive fourth quarters, made big 3-pointers in the last minute of games, and topped it off with a championship.  He won the title by acting as the facilitator in Games 4 and 5, which proved more successful than the Kevin Durant method of shooting as much as possible.  Unless you're insane or Skip Bayless (maybe that's the same thing though), it's obvious that LeBron is the leader of his team, as Dwyane Wade disappeared in about half of the Heat's postseason games.  There's nothing left for LeBron to prove.  All he has left to do is play out the rest of his career.  Maybe it will end with a bunch of championships.  Maybe it won't.  But it's time for everyone to finally realize that LeBron James is as great as the numbers say he is.

June 21, 2012

It's Time For A Change

     With a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat are on the verge of winning their first championship with the James/Wade/Bosh trio.  And I can't wait to see it happen.

     When (I guess I should say if) the Heat get that fourth win, everything changes.  We've been stuck in the "LeBron folds under pressure, has no rings, and is therefore worse than any other NBA player" storyline for four or five years now, and it only got worse when Dwyane Wade entered the picture.  I've really enjoyed arguing about these things through the TV for the past few years, but I'm ready to move on.  It's time for a change.

     Sure, all the LeBron haters (and yes, they do exist) will find something else to complain about, like the fact that he needed Wade to help him win a title, or that he doesn't have two of them, or that he didn't win it on a last-second shot, or that somehow the refs were responsible for his first title.  But when they finally get that first championship, discussing those things will seem foolish.  We can finally focus on Kobe's final years, whatever Dwight Howard is going to do, the maturation of the league's young stars, and whatever happened to that Lin guy that seemed to exist for only about a month.  The Heat discussion will take a new shape.  We'll be talking about their attempt to repeat and to maintain the level of awesomeness.  We can finally recognize that LeBron may be one of the greatest players ever.

     I'm very excited about all of this.  So Miami Heat, I'm begging you.  Please, please, please, please, don't screw this up.

June 19, 2012

NBA Finals Predictions

     If there's one thing this blog needs, it's more predictions.  So far I'm 1-1 at predicting games (correctly picked the Broncos over the Steelers, and incorrectly picked LSU over Alabama in the NCAA championship).  Let's see if I can improve that record a bit.

     It seems to me that the key to Miami Heat games late in a playoff series has been how important the game is to them.  When it's not important, they tend to be less productive.  When the game is crucial, they shift into another gear and become pretty much unstoppable.  With that in mind...

Game 4:  Thunder over Heat, 106-99

     Going up 3-1 isn't a necessity, it's a luxury.  While letting the series get tied with only one home game out of the last three isn't ideal, I don't think the Heat are too worried about tonight.

Game 5:  Heat over Thunder, 91-86

     Plain and simple, the Heat cannot expect to win two straight games in OKC.  So they'll find a way to win Game 5 so they only need one road win.

Game 6:  Thunder over Heat, 95-90

     Obviously the Heat don't want to lose this one, but it'll be a much bigger game for the Thunder, and that should get them to a Game 7.

Game 7:  Heat over Thunder, 86-81

     It'll be ugly on both sides, but LeBron and Bosh will get their first championship.  I don't expect the perfect LeBron game-winner type of scenario everyone demands to see, but holding on to a 5-point lead throughout the 4th quarter is just as respectable.

The Best Story Of The 2012 U.S. Open...

     ...was not Webb Simpson.  It wasn't Tiger Woods.  It wasn't Jim Furyk, or Michael Thompson, or the course itself (which performed very well despite my earlier complaints).  The best story of the U.S. Open was Beau Hossler. 

     The 17-year-old Hossler came to the Open with one goal:  be the low amateur of the tournament.  Instead, he was in for the biggest roller coaster weekend of his life.  My love for Hossler began after the first round, when below Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell and David Toms was some amateur tied for 7th with even par, only 4 shots behind the lead.  I wanted this guy to win, because it was something that I had never seen before.

     This is the great thing about the U.S. Open.  In a normal tournament, the player you're rooting for has to put up low scores to win.  It's hard to imagine some unknown player consistently scoring in the sixties.  But in the Open, all your player has to do is survive.  And Beau Hossler was surviving like a pro, scoring even par in the first round and making par on each of his first 8 holes on Friday.  Then the story got even better, as Hossler birdied the 17th hole to earn a share of the lead and followed that up with a birdie on the 1st to take the lead outright.  Halfway through the second round, a high school kid was beating 148 professionals at the toughest test in golf.

     Sadly, the great moment fell apart quickly.  Hossler shot a bogey only two holes later, and ended up dropping 4 more shots to put him at +3, again four shots behind the lead.  With two more rounds to go, there was still hope that he could come back and win the whole thing.  Hossler went into survival mode again on Saturday, shooting even par and keeping his 4-shot deficit.  Things looked bleak, but I still felt he had a chance.  If he could just get to +1, he'd be in contention and anything could happen.

     It wasn't meant to be.  Hossler shot a +6 on Sunday, dropping to 29th place.  After all that excitement, he didn't even get that low amateur title.  That award belonged to Jordan Spieth, who barely made the cut at +8 after two rounds and then put up a meaningless 69 and 70 to finish at +7.  For a brief moment, though, Hossler captured the imaginations of golf fans everywhere, and gave us just a little bit of hope that we might see something historic and magical.