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?