January 26, 2012

The Winner Of Predict The Season Is...

     ...nobody???  In a bizarre turn of events, WhatIfSports and W17L both will finish the competition at 111 points, with Peter King managing a mere 110 points. 

     W17L and King led after the regular season with 90 points.  Both entries were within one win of the correct total for at least 14 teams.  WIS finished the regular season with 82 points, but came back to tie for the lead after correctly predicting a Super Bowl appearance for the Giants.  Since none of the entries predicted a championship for either the Giants or the Patriots, the scores are final.

     Congratulations to everybody involved!  Even though Peter King lost by 1 point, the scoring is so convoluted that he probably did just as well as the rest of us.

January 22, 2012

Why Patriots/Giants Is An Absolutely Horrible Matchup For Super Bowl XLVI

     Let me start with a disclaimer:  I realize that in my Building the Perfect Super Bowl series, I rated Patriots/Giants 10 out of 10 in the storyline category.  The relationship between the teams is very complex.  The Patriots are a classic Goliath, the #1 seed in the AFC and a perennial top team.  The Giants are a perfect David, a team that finished 9-7 this season and has unique strengths.  However, the Giants won the last game between the two teams, as well as Super Bowl XLII.  Each team is an underdog of sorts.
     Which leads me to my hatred of this game.  One of the most important aspects of a great football game is a team to root for.  I don't feel compelled to root for either of these teams.  The Patriots are one of the most hated teams in the NFL.  Tom Brady is annoyingly smug and humble.  Bill Belichick is annoyingly secretive.  Both of them already have 3 championship rings, and avenging their loss in Super Bowl XLII isn't going to be worth a whole lot.

     The Giants, on the other hand, were champions more recently than the Patriots, a mere 4 years ago.  No one on the team is really unlikeable (except maybe Tom Coughlin), but it doesn't feel like a Super Bowl win is that important for them.  They can't even play the underdog card, because of the two aforementioned wins they had against New England.

     Let's hope that the game itself is at least watchable.

January 10, 2012

Completion Percentage Vs. Yards Per Attempt

     I've always said that completion percentage is the most overrated statistic in football, if not all of sports.  It's the first number cited whenever somebody talks about how good or bad a quarterback is.  Yet the actual act of completing a pass is not that tough.  I could complete 100% of passes if you asked me to, but they would all be to someone two feet in front of me and wouldn't be effective at all.  Completion percentage doesn't really tell you how good a QB is.  It's more of a description of the QB's style and the type of offense he runs.  That's why I always look at yards per attempt.  You can manipulate completion percentage, but you can't really gain yards without being productive.

     Case in point:  Tim Tebow's performance against the Steelers.  His Total QBR, an overall rating used by ESPN that I still hate, was 97.3, the highest in a playoff game since at least 2008.  This was despite Tebow only completing 48% of his passes.  He did, however, pass for 15 yards per attempt, more than double the league average.

     Of course, I was wrong about the BCS being any good at picking a champion, so maybe this topic needs to be looked into as well, using my brand of technically unsound mathematics.

     Using the drive simulator from the Pass vs. Run post, I created two scenarios.  The first kept everything at the NFL's average through Week 10, except for completion percentage.  The percentage was switched between 7 different values, with the other numbers being adjusted so that yards per attempt and interception percentage would stay the same.

     There is a clear advantage to completing passes and getting yardage consistently rather than in big chunks.  But the difference between an awful 20% and a wonderful 80% is only 0.66 points per drive, a fairly small number.

     The second scenario fixed all numbers except for yards per attempt, which was also switched between 7 different values.

     The gap appears to be much wider here, with 1.48 points per drive separating 4 yards per attempt and 10 yards per attempt.

     In the NFL's formula for passer rating, 1 yard per attempt is worth 5 percent in completions.  After adjusting the point totals (by removing one point per interception), one yard per attempt is found to be worth 0.2533 points per drive.  To change the output by that same amount, you would have to adjust the completion percentage by 24.23.  This means that the passer rating formula overvalues completion percentage by a factor of 5.

     Don't misunderstand me; completing passes is important.  But the reason it's important is that it makes achieving high numbers in other categories a lot easier.  All I want is for people to realize that completion percentage on its own is pretty much useless when looking at the skill level of a quarterback.  It's the other numbers like yards and interceptions that affect the outcome of the game.

January 7, 2012

Time For A Bold Prediction!

     I haven't heard anybody on TV with the guts to say this yet.  So now I'm going to do it (because I don't have any credibility anyway):

     The Broncos will beat the Steelers on Sunday.

     It's a classic "no respect" game.  Most people are treating this game as a bye week for the Steelers.  But the game is in Denver, where the change in altitude is flat-out annoying.  Roethlisberger has a shoddy ankle, and the Steelers will be missing their starting running back and a starting safety.  The Steelers just beat the lowly Browns by 4 points, in a game that could have been the difference between a first-week road game and a bye week.  Four of the last five playoff teams with non-winning records won their first game.  Between Tim Tebow, Brian Dawkins, and Champ Bailey, somebody is going to find a way to motivate this Denver team, because no one is taking them seriously.  Except me.

Building The Perfect Super Bowl, Part 3

     In the previous post of this series, I chose Packers vs. Patriots as the ideal matchup for Super Bowl XLVI.  But that was mostly because of how evenly matched the two teams are, meaning the game itself would most likely be great.  What if I was able to script the actual game and allow the best storyline to take place?

     Enjoy my made-up extravaganza, told in the past tense as if on an NFL Films special:

     The Green Bay Packers were the superior team of the 2011 season, going 15-1 behind MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a playmaking defense.  They met little resistance in the playoffs, beating the Giants and Saints by two scores each to lock up a shot at repeating as Super Bowl champions.

     The Denver Broncos were far less dominant.  They started 1-4 with QB Kyle Orton, including a loss to the Packers, and then won 7 of their next 8 games after Orton was replaced with second-year quarterback and former college star Tim Tebow.  However, the Broncos lost their final three regular season games to finish at 8-8, and only made the playoffs after the Oakland Raiders lost to San Diego.  Once in the playoffs, Tebow Magic went back into effect, as the Broncos eeked past the Steelers, then the Patriots, and then the Ravens, to earn a shot at their first championship since the Elway days of 1998.

     Rodgers led the Packers on a 10-play opening drive that went quickly into scoring range but fizzled out after an incompletion, a short pass, and a short scramble by Rodgers.  Mason Crosby kicked a 36-yard field goal to put Green Bay up 3-0.

     Throughout the season, the Broncos were a run-first team, due to Tebow's lack of production as a passer.  Denver stayed true to its identity on its first two offensive plays, calling two runs that Willis McGahee took for 3 yards each.  Facing 3rd and 4, it was time to unleash the passing game.  It soon became apparent that this would be no ordinary day for Tebow.  After a 7-yard pass to tight end Daniel Fells for the first down, Tebow threw a 25-yarder to Demaryius Thomas and followed that with a 7-yard scramble.  Then came a 30-yard pass on play action to Eric Decker, for the first touchdown of the game.  Denver led 7-3.

     The Broncos had the momentum.  Aaron Rodgers was sacked by Elvis Dumervil on the very next offensive play, putting the Packers on their own 12-yard line.  But Aaron Rodgers wouldn't stay down for long.  He worked the ball methodically down the field, completing four straight passes to four different receivers.  The fourth was a 14-yard touchdown throw to Jordy Nelson to put the Packers up 10-7.

     Denver's next possession started out with two runs by Tim Tebow.  Then the Packers defense, second in the league in takeaways, struck their first blow.  Linebacker Erik Walden stripped the ball from Willis McGahee, and Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji recovered the fumble.  Green Bay quickly worked its way into the red zone.  It looked as if they were about to get a two-score advantage over Denver, but the Broncos had their own secret weapon.

     Safety Brian Dawkins spent 13 years in Philadelphia.  He played in 5 NFC championship games but only made it to one Super Bowl, which the Eagles lost.  Dawkins wasn't about to let this opportunity slip away.  He blitzed Rodgers on 1st down and got the sack.  The Packers couldn't recover and settled for a 42-yard field goal to end the first quarter.  Green Bay led 13-7.

     Tim Tebow began the second quarter much like he ended the first, missing only one pass on the ensuing drive and finishing with a 26-yard touchdown strike to Matt Willis.  Denver now led 14-13.

     After a big kickoff return from rookie Randall Cobb, the Packers again moved the ball into the red zone, this time earning a 1st and goal from the 4-yard line.  Rodgers threw an incomplete pass on first down.  On second down, James Starks gained 3 of the 4 yards.  On third down, Rodgers handed off to fullback John Kuhn, who was stuffed in the backfield.  Mason Crosby was forced to kick another field goal, this time from 19 yards out, to put Green Bay ahead 16-14.

     The Broncos were riding high after the goal line stop, but that would come to an abrupt end.  Denver running back Lance Ball got the carry and had gone 25 yards when Charles Woodson punched the ball out.  It was dangerously close to going out of bounds but Packers safety Morgan Burnett landed on the ball before that could happen.

     This was a perfect opportunity for Green Bay, but a holding penalty on 1st down eventually caused the Packers to punt from Denver's 44-yard line.  That's when Tim Masthay uncorked a beautiful punt that landed on the 5-yard line, took a good bounce, and was downed on the 1.

     Tebow worked masterfully out of the shadow of his own end zone, converting on 3rd and 8 from the 3-yard line, then later on 3rd and 18, when a 17-yard pass to Eric Decker created a manageable 4th and 1.  Tebow looked as if he would attempt a QB sneak on 4th down, but pulled back and fired a 6-yard pass to Daniel Fells.  Denver would work the clock all the way down, scoring on an 8-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas with 3 seconds left.  A squib kick finished the half.  All season long the Broncos had been horrible in the 2nd quarter, but this time they outscored Green Bay 14-3 in the period, and held the lead in the Super Bowl, 21-16.  Tebow completed 16 of 21 passes in the half for 206 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He also ran 5 times for 61 yards.

     The Broncos tried to slow the game back down by running the ball, but their first drive of the second half would stall, leading to their first punt of the game.  Punt returner Randall Cobb made it count, taking the ball 50 yards before pitching it to cornerback Jarrett Bush, who went the other 40 yards for the touchdown.  Just like that, the Packers were up 22-21.  Coach Mike McCarthy decided to play it safe and kick the extra point, giving Green Bay a 23-21 lead.

     Not to be outdone, Broncos kick returner Matt Willis took the following kickoff to the Packers' 45-yard line.  The Broncos quickly got within the 10-yard line, but they would have to settle for a 19-yard field goal from Matt Prater.  The Broncos now led 24-23.

     Until now big plays were nonexistent in the game.  Then Rodgers threw a 44-yard bomb to Greg Jennings, and six plays later, Rodgers threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to 13-year veteran Donald Driver.  Driver was injured during the Super Bowl the previous year, and now he had put the Packers up 29-24 late in the third quarter.  McCarthy elected to go for two this time, but an errant throw by Rodgers kept the lead at 5.

     The Broncos countered with two runs by Willis McGahee.  Then, on the final play of the third quarter, Tebow was sacked by B.J. Raji for an 8-yard loss.  Denver was now faced with 3rd and 16, needing a big play to keep the drive alive and keep pace with the Packers.

     Again, Tebow found a way to get it done, starting the 4th quarter with a 22-yard pass to Eric Decker.  But Packers safety Charlie Peprah would knock the ball out of Decker's hands.  Luckily, Denver recovered the fumble.  The Broncos stole momentum right back with a 28-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas.  The following pass bounced off of Decker's hands and was caught by Packers cornerback Tramon Williams at Green Bay's 3-yard line.

     The Packers then began a 13-play drive to run as much time off the clock as possible.  They converted on three third downs, including a 3rd and 9 from their own 4-yard line.  Then, on the 13th play, Rodgers threw a pass into the end zone for Greg Jennings, only to have it intercepted by Champ Bailey, another veteran on the Broncos defense looking for his first Super Bowl ring.

     With just over 7 minutes left and down by 5, the Broncos looked to be in position for a game-winning drive.  After 7 plays, they were 9 yards away from scoring the go-ahead touchdown.  However, Erik Walden recorded a sack to set up 3rd and 7.  Then things went from bad to worse, as Tim Tebow underthrew an out route and was picked off by Charles Woodson, who returned the interception for a touchdown.  Woodson had always been on the wrong side of Super Bowl glory.  In 2002, he thought he forced a Tom Brady fumble that would get the Raiders to the Super Bowl, only to lose out thanks to the Tuck Rule.  In 2003, his Raiders lost the championship to the Buccaneers.  In 2011, he got his Super Bowl ring but was injured for over half the game.  But in this game, he was totally healthy and made what looked to be the biggest play of the game, putting his team up 35-24 with under 4 minutes to play.  The lead would have been 12, but Mason Crosby missed the extra point wide left to keep the lead at 35-24.

     Any feeling that the game was over was quickly put to rest, as Tebow completed a 35-yarder to Decker to bring the Broncos inside Green Bay territory.  Another pass put them on the Packers' 27-yard line.  But after two incompletions and a 9-yard scramble from Tebow, it was 4th down with one yard to go.  The Broncos decided to forego the field goal and called a quarterback sneak.  Tebow dove through the offensive line and, after a measurement by the officials, it was determined that he got the first down.  He would capitalize on the next play, throwing a 17-yarder to Thomas to bring the Broncos within 5 points again.  Unfortunately, he couldn't connect on the two-point conversion, and with the score 35-30 in favor of Green Bay and with 1:34 left on the clock, Denver would need to get the onside kick and score a touchdown.

     The first part of that plan worked to perfection.  The kickoff hopped off the ground and off the hands of Packers receiver James Jones.  Broncos wideout Eddie Royal would come down with the football and set his team up 60 yards from the end zone with 94 seconds to play.  Four consecutive completions put the Broncos in a familiar situation, 8 yards from the end zone, the same position from which the Broncos scored on the final drive of the first half.  With 20 seconds remaining, Tebow looked for an open receiver but had to throw it away.  15 seconds remained.  On 2nd and goal, Tebow was chased out of the pocket and attempted a sideline throw to Thomas, who couldn't make the difficult catch.  It was now 3rd down with 10 seconds left.   Tebow rolled out to the left but, seeing nobody open, had to run with the ball and managed to get out of bounds at the 3-yard line with 3 seconds remaining.

     It was 4th down.  One final play would decide Super Bowl XLVI.  Tebow took the snap.  Clay Matthews got to Tebow quickly but couldn't make the tackle.  Tebow tried to run between the center and right guard, but the hole closed up.  He then found a seam in the left side of the offensive line and ran through it, lowering his shoulder and falling into the end zone.  The Broncos won Super Bowl XLVI, 36-35.

     Super Bowl XLVI had a little of everything:  a punt to the 1-yard line, a punt return lateraled for a touchdown, multiple conversions on third and long, two missed two-point conversions, a missed extra point, a pick-six, an onside kick recovery, 9 lead changes, and a comeback from 11 points down with under 4 minutes left.

     The game set many Super Bowl records.  The 11-point comeback was the largest in Super Bowl history.  Green Bay's 35 points was the most ever by a losing team in the Super Bowl.  The teams combined for a record 986 yards from scrimmage, including a record 693 passing yards.  Cobb's and Bush's punt return TD was the first in the game's history, and Woodson's interception return for a touchdown was the first by a team that lost the Super Bowl.

     Tim Tebow would win the game's MVP, with 32 completions in 47 attempts, 431 passing yards, 4 passing touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a 107.7 passer rating.  His 431 passing yards were the most in Super Bowl history.  He also carried the ball 15 times, gaining 147 yards (6th all-time in a Super Bowl) and 1 touchdown.  Demaryius Thomas caught 10 passes for 176 yards and 2 TD's, and Eric Decker caught 6 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.

     Statistically, Aaron Rodgers played better than Tebow, completing 24 of 30 passes for 304 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a 117.2 passer rating.  His leading receiver was Greg Jennings, who caught 4 passes for 91 yards.
     Rodgers would go on to a Hall of Fame career and win 2 more Super Bowl championships with the Green Bay Packers.  Tebow would become a journeyman, starting for 4 teams over his 11-year NFL career.  Yet for one night, Tebow was the king of the league, leading the Denver Broncos to one of the most improbable Super Bowl wins in NFL history.

January 4, 2012

LSU-Alabama Will Be Higher-Scoring Than You Think


     It's the easiest prediction in sports:  things will go exactly the way they have been going.  About two months ago, LSU and Alabama played a defense-laden contest in which 15 total points were scored.  When they play again in 5 days for the BCS National Championship, experts are expecting defense to rule again.

     Past BCS championship games, though, have suggested that might not be the case.  Last year, all the hype surrounded the high-powered offenses of Oregon and Auburn, and everybody thought each team was going to put up 30, 40, or even 50 points.  They ended up with a combined 41.  Likewise, three years ago, two offensive juggernauts in Florida and Oklahoma met for the title, and they put up a grand total of 38 points.

     Now we have the opposite case.  The top two teams have highly respected defenses.  Yet both teams have a good amount of offensive talent as well, talent that will be very motivated to show that they deserve respect too.  Also, the coaching staffs for both schools will spend a lot more time trying to beat the other team's defense than working on their own.  This may not lead to a 45-38 shootout like in the Rose Bowl, but there will be a noticeable increase in points.

     I like LSU to win, 31-21.

January 3, 2012

Building The Perfect Super Bowl, Part 2

     In the first post of the series, I outlined three things that make a great Super Bowl.  In this post, I'll rate each of the 36 possible matchups for this year's championship on a scale of 1 to 10 for each category, and add up each rating to figure out the best version of Super Bowl XLVI we can get.

1.  Lead Changes and Momentum Swings:  This rating is based solely on the total number of points and the total number of turnovers recorded and allowed by each team.
2.  4th Quarter Drama:  This rating is my assessment of how likely each combination is to play a close game.
3.  Storylines:  This rating is my opinion of how interesting the stories would be for each team as well as between the two teams.  This includes things like rematches, QB matchups, the David/Goliath factor, and the almighty Tebow.
     Now for the total ratings:
     There you have it.  I want to see the Packers play the Patriots for the Lombardi Trophy.  They are the best big play teams in each conference.  They're almost mirror images of each other, so you know the game will be close.  And it will pit two of the NFL's best QB's against each other.  Tom Brady and the Patriots try to get back to their playoff-game-winning ways.  Aaron Rodgers and the Packers try to repeat as champions.  Rodgers aims to get his second title, something that Brett Favre could never accomplish.  Veterans Donald Driver and Charles Woodson try not to get hurt this time.  This would truly be an awesome Super Bowl.

Coming Soon:  Part 3, where I try to decide between Packers/Broncos and Patriots/Giants and script THE greatest Super Bowl in history.  (I was going to have Romo and the Cowboys beating the Steelers, but we all know what happened there...)

January 2, 2012

Building The Perfect Super Bowl, Part 1

     Now that the NFL playoffs are upon us, I need to figure out who to root for to make the Super Bowl as super as possible.  Thus begins the Building the Perfect Super Bowl series.  The first post will break down the criteria that makes a Super Bowl awesome.  The second will rate each of the 36 possible matchups based on those criteria.  The third will be an elaborate description of the perfect Super Bowl XLVI as played out in my imagination.

     I'll be using three categories to rate the possible matchups.

1.  Lead Changes and Momentum Swings

     Everybody has a different opinion of what a great football game looks like.  To me, the best football games are those with many huge changes in momentum, whether it's a lead change or a turnover or a trick play.  My template is the 2010 NFC championship between the Saints and Vikings, the most interesting 60 minutes of football I've ever seen.

     When rating the choices for this year's Super Bowl, I'll use each team's ability to create and give up long passes, long runs, sacks, turnovers, big returns, etc.

2.  4th Quarter Drama

     A pretty obvious one.  The longer a game stays close, the more exciting and memorable it becomes.  Any great game is winnable by both teams well into the 4th quarter.

     The ratings in Part 2 will be my assessment of how close the two teams are in skill level.

3.  Storylines

     A great game alone does not make a great Super Bowl.  Take the 2004 matchup between the Patriots and Panthers.  It had 37 points in the final quarter, and a game winning field goal with 4 seconds left.  Yet when you think of the best Super Bowl ever, you think of games like Giants/Patriots or Rams/Titans because they had interesting background stories.  They were fitting conclusions to the stories told over the entirety of their respective seasons.  The Patriots/Panthers Super Bowl was nothing more than a championship game between two great teams.
     In the next post, I'll use some moderately biased numbers to come up with what I think would be the most interesting championship.

January 1, 2012

Week 17 Legend Of The Year: Justin Houston

     All the games this week with playoff implications were dominated by big-name players.  But one mediocre player had a sizable impact on the Chiefs/Broncos game.  Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston has had 10 starts, 56 tackles, and 5.5 sacks this year as a rookie.  He came up big against the Broncos, recording a team-high 7 tackles as well as 1.5 sacks.  Midway through the second quarter, Houston recovered a Tim Tebow fumble at the Chiefs' 14-yard line.

     Houston's performance helped the Chiefs toward a 7-3 victory that put the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs.  So congratulations to you, Justin Houston, for playing at such a high level on the biggest week of the season!