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Archive for the 'Voodoo and witchcraft' Category

Scary Good

30th October 2010

With a full slate of games scheduled on Halloween this year, I thought it would be a good time to look back and note some of the best performances on October 31st over the past 50 years. First, the top 50 quarterbacks, measured by adjusted yards per attempt:

Name Year Team Opp W/L Score Cmp Att Yd TD INT AY/A Rsh Rshyd Rshtd
Earl Morrall 1971 BAL PIT W 34-21 11 19 286 3 0 18.2 0 0 0
Drew Bledsoe 1999 NWE ARI W 27-3 14 22 276 4 0 16.2 0 0 0
Scott Hunter 1976 ATL NOR W 23-20 10 11 138 2 0 16.2 2 3 0
Elvis Grbac 1999 KAN SDG W 34-0 11 15 194 2 0 15.6 1 -1 0
Drew Brees 2004 SDG OAK W 42-14 22 25 281 5 0 15.2 2 21 0
John Hadl 1971 SDG NYJ W 49-21 19 27 358 4 1 14.6 3 38 1
Chris Chandler 1988 IND DEN W 55-23 10 13 167 1 0 14.4 3 8 0
Tim Couch 1999 CLE NOR W 21-16 11 19 193 3 0 13.3 2 5 0
Greg Landry 1976 DET GNB W 27-6 12 19 211 2 0 13.2 2 11 0
Trent Green 2004 KAN IND W 45-35 27 34 389 3 0 13.2 3 -3 0
Bob Griese 1971 MIA RAM W 20-14 13 19 209 2 0 13.1 3 17 0
Scott Mitchell 1993 MIA KAN W 30-10 22 33 344 3 0 12.2 3 12 0
Michael Vick 2004 ATL DEN W 41-28 18 24 252 2 0 12.2 12 115 0
Peyton Manning 2004 IND KAN L 35-45 25 44 472 5 1 12.0 0 0 0
Johnny Unitas 1965 BAL SFO W 34-28 23 34 324 4 0 11.9 1 7 0
John Brodie 1965 SFO BAL L 28-34 20 28 289 2 0 11.8 2 13 0
Jeff Hostetler 1993 RAI SDG L 23-30 20 32 424 2 2 11.7 5 9 0
Chris Chandler 1999 ATL CAR W 27-20 14 21 201 2 0 11.5 1 -1 0
Gary Kubiak 1988 DEN IND L 23-55 12 16 138 2 0 11.1 4 21 0
Craig Erickson 1993 TAM ATL W 31-24 18 28 318 4 2 11.0 3 8 0
Fran Tarkenton 1965 MIN CLE W 27-17 17 27 234 2 0 10.1 2 -9 0
Norm Snead 1965 PHI WAS L 21-23 11 19 196 2 1 10.1 1 7 0
James Harris 1976 RAM SEA W 45-6 14 25 208 2 0 9.9 0 0 0
George Izo 1965 DET RAM W 31-7 9 19 168 1 0 9.9 0 0 0
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 PIT NWE W 34-20 18 24 196 2 0 9.8 5 3 0
Peyton Manning 1999 IND DAL W 34-24 22 34 313 1 0 9.8 0 0 0
Brad Johnson 1999 WAS CHI W 48-22 15 25 204 2 0 9.8 1 1 1
Mark Brunell 1999 JAX CIN W 41-10 11 19 145 2 0 9.7 2 11 0
Jim Hart 1976 STL SFO W 23-20 16 31 271 3 1 9.2 0 0 0
Jeff George 1999 MIN DEN W 23-20 17 29 218 2 0 8.9 1 0 0
David Carr 2004 HOU JAX W 20-6 26 34 276 1 0 8.7 3 15 0
Jim Hart 1977 STL NYG W 28-0 9 13 113 0 0 8.7 0 0 0
Roman Gabriel 1971 RAM MIA L 14-20 23 35 277 1 0 8.5 0 0 0
Kurt Warner 1999 STL TEN L 21-24 29 46 328 3 0 8.4 2 22 0
Sonny Jurgensen 1965 WAS PHI W 23-21 23 35 293 2 1 8.2 3 -10 0
Bill Nelsen 1965 PIT DAL W 22-13 18 35 272 3 1 8.2 2 7 0
Dick Wood 1964 NYJ BOS W 35-14 22 36 325 3 2 8.2 0 0 0
Jake Plummer 2004 DEN ATL L 28-41 31 55 499 4 3 8.1 2 5 0
Jim Harbaugh 1993 CHI GNB L 3-17 15 19 149 0 0 7.8 3 26 0
Jim Hart 1971 STL BUF W 28-23 15 27 171 2 0 7.8 4 2 0
Joey Harrington 2004 DET DAL L 21-31 19 32 255 2 1 7.8 1 -1 0
Steve Young 1993 SFO RAM W 40-17 22 34 245 1 0 7.8 7 57 0
Steve McNair 1999 TEN STL W 24-21 13 29 186 2 0 7.8 12 36 1
Jeff George 1993 IND NWE W 9-6 18 26 200 0 0 7.7 4 -2 0
Dave Krieg 1993 KAN MIA L 10-30 12 19 126 1 0 7.7 1 20 0
Craig Morton 1976 NYG PHI L 0-10 17 28 215 0 0 7.7 2 5 0
Jeff Blake 1999 CIN JAX L 10-41 13 23 155 1 0 7.6 2 10 0
Boomer Esiason 1993 NYJ NYG W 10-6 12 17 129 0 0 7.6 3 15 0
John Friesz 1993 SDG RAI W 30-23 13 25 162 1 0 7.3 2 0 0
Rodney Peete 1993 DET MIN W 30-27 20 28 273 1 2 7.3 8 13 0

The 66 running backs with at least 100 yards from scrimmage:
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Posted in Insane ideas, Voodoo and witchcraft | 6 Comments »

World Cup 2010 Checkdowns: Nike Commercial Curse?

22nd June 2010

Like most people who reviewed Nike's 2010 World Cup "Write the Future" campaign, I really adore the full-length version of the TV spot:

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, it's a fun, thrilling piece of visual and conceptual art. There's just one problem, though, according to Asher Klein at the NYT's Goal Blog:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Checkdowns, Voodoo and witchcraft, World Cup | 3 Comments »

Jake Delhomme and the playoff meltdown harbinger

11th September 2009

Jake Delhomme melted down big time in the playoff game last year, throwing five interceptions. Clearly, it's a harbinger of things to come for the 2009 season.

You might be interested to know (from our new play index) that the three quarterbacks closest in age to Delhomme to throw 4 or more interceptions in a playoff game were Brad Johnson (2001), Len Dawson (1968), and George Blanda (1961).

So what happened to these choke artists and their teams the next season? Well, Dawson was the winning quarterback in this game and Johnson was the winner in this one, while Blanda's Oilers lost in overtime in this one.

Harbinger indeed.

Posted in Player articles, Voodoo and witchcraft | 8 Comments »

Aaron Rodgers

20th August 2009

Aaron Rodgers finally got his chance to play in 2008, so I'd like to take a quick jaunt down memory lane. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Aaron Rodgers fell to the 24th pick back in 2005 because he had the taint of Tedford upon him. As the draft hype was entering its final stretch run in the spring of 2005, Rodgers was largely thought of as a top pick at quarterback, and in fact, many projections had San Fransisco taking the local product with the first overall pick.

When the Tedford Curse talk began, I thought it was just another draft smoke screen, with someone posturing for a trade, or sending false signals, through the use of national columnists or commentators, like Len Pasquarelli. After all, teams wouldn’t actually make decisions based on such rationale would they?

And let me be clear. If teams scouted, and I mean actually scouted, a player like Rodgers and saw flaws in his technique or something like that, even flaws that they may have also seen in other Tedford-coached players, that’s one thing. If they reviewed the film and saw that the numbers were inflated by throwing easy routes, and saw that he struggled with “NFL throws”—fine. But that’s not what this was. The worst thing I read about Rodgers, other than the vague fear of association with Tedford, was that he was “robotic”. If you play like Joey Harrington, you are “robotic”; if you play like Peyton Manning, you are “consistent” and “precision-like”.

As for the whole Tedford hysteria, it was overblown, even at the time. (And since I'm pointing out old articles discussing a Tedford curse and other such voodoo, I should also point out that Jeffrey Chadiha wrote a more reasoned piece at the time.) I mean, Tedford got credit/blame for BOTH Carr and Harrington in 2002? What, was he dating one while seeing the other on the side? It seems to me like there was a lot of "Norv Turner produces great running backs" hype going on here, where there are some truths, some half-truths, and some circumstantial stuff. So I cross-referenced Tedford’s actual coaching career with the “Tedford Five”.

As it turns out, Tedford only coached David Carr when Carr was a freshman reserve, and then Tedford moved on from Fresno State to become offensive coordinator at Oregon in 1998. A sample size of five is small enough, but there’s no way Carr should have been on the list. Tedford coached Akili Smith for one season as offensive coordinator (his first at Oregon), and Kyle Boller for one season as head coach at Cal. Boller was fairly widely considered a reach based on “potential” at the time of the pick. He wasn’t that good under Tedford in his final season at Cal, but that was an improvement over what he had been. I don’t see how you blame Tedford because Billick fell in love with Boller’s arm strength and turned him into a first round pick. Which leaves the guys that Tedford worked with for multiple seasons—Dilfer, Harrington, and now, Aaron Rodgers. I'm not here to tell you that Trent Dilfer was great or anything, but on the spectrum of first round picks at quarterback, he is a far cry from both the best and the worst--he did stick around for a long time. And as for Joey Harrington, well, he wasn't very good, and he got lots of opportunity to prove it.

It took four seasons for Rodgers to get his chance. As it turns out, a guy who carved up USC in 2004 might have been worth the top overall pick in the 2005 draft after all. I don’t know how Rodgers' career will turn out on the spectrum of good to great quarterbacks. He's not much like an Oregon Duck (or a witch), though, and he’s got a pretty good chance of staying afloat in the NFL for awhile.

Posted in Player articles, Voodoo and witchcraft | 13 Comments »

Friday the 13th

13th July 2007

I don't have offensive linemen or punters in my database, and I'm missing a few birthdates here and there, but those caveats aside, here is the full list of players who played in the NFL in 2006 and were born on a Friday the 13th:

  • Brad Johnson
  • Jason Craft
  • Landon Johnson
  • L.P. LaDouceur

In addition, the following players turned 13 years old on a Friday the 13th:

  • Michael Clayton
  • Jerramy Stevens
  • David Martin
  • Ahmard Hall
  • Sam Adams
  • Shaun Phillips

Now consider:

  • Michael Clayton sprained his knee in week 13 of last season and never again returned.
  • Brad Johnson's week 13 game included no TD passes and four interceptions. Although he did play in the following weeks, this game ultimately set in motion the chain of events that led to his benching. In fact, Johnson's TD/INT ratio is 11/12 in week 13 and 153/105 in all other weeks.
  • In his six years in the league, David Martin has only played in week 13 once. Only 17 of his 766 career receiving yards have come in week 13.
  • Sam Adams is incredibly fat.

But here is the clincher:

In week 13, Ahmard Hall had 2 rushes for 13 yards. That week, his Titans beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion Colts, but only just barely.

Posted in Voodoo and witchcraft | 5 Comments »


29th September 2006

A couple of posts ago, a commenter named Jacob requested an analysis of just how unlikely all these unlikely Madden cover tradgedies have been. So I did some research. As usual, Wikipedia has a pretty good summary.

It hurt my head a little to track down the details because of the naming conventions of the Madden games. For instance, Shaun Alexander's outstanding play in 2005 landed him a spot on the cover of Madden 2007, which was released in 2006. So, if a player is on the cover of Madden X, then he kicked butt in Year X-2, but should be struck by misfortune in Year X-1. Given this, I think it might be possible that the curse is capable of going backwards in time to rewrite history. Spooky stuff.

Anyhow, for the sake of definiteness, I will list players by their curse year (X-1).

  • Shaun Alexander, 2006 - he was having an unimpressive year through three games, and it now looks like he's going to miss some games with a broken foot.
  • Donovan McNabb, 2005 - he missed 7 games. His numbers were good when he played, but he was cursed with lots of off-field headaches.
  • Ray Lewis, 2004 - he missed one game, but otherwise had a fairly typical year. Numbers down a little, but they do not now look out of place in his career stat table.
  • Michael Vick, 2003 - he was hurt in the preseason and missed most of the year.
  • Marshall Faulk, 2002 - he missed two games (as he had in each of the previous two seasons). His numbers did decline dramatically.
  • Daunte Culpepper, 2001 - he missed five games to injury. When he played, his numbers were down from the previous year, but he was still on pace for almost 3800 passing yards and 28 combined touchdowns.
  • Eddie George, 2000 - he played the full 16 games and had arguably the best season of his career.
  • Barry Sanders, 1999 - he retired unexpectedly.

I am quite sure I am not the first blogger to attempt to debunk The Madden Curse. There's not much to it, really. It's a combination of selective memory, regression to the mean, and random chance.

The selective memory comes into play after the curse is in the public consciousness, or it can be applied in hindsight. Consider this blurb from the previously-cited Wikipedia article on the Madden Curse. On Eddie George:

Although he had the best year of his career, rushing for 1,509 yards, catching 50 passes for 453 yards and scoring 16 total touchdowns, he was cursed by bobbling a pass in the playoffs. The pass was then intercepted, ironically, by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who returned the ball for a touchdown.

This is almost too absurd to comment on, but people do cite this when talking about the curse, which proves that you can find anything if you look hard enough. More evidence is found in the Ray Lewis writeup:

It was also Lewis' first season without a single interception, after posting a career-high 6 the previous year.

Ray Lewis is a very versatile linebacker, but when it comes right down to it, the reason everyone fears him is because of his ability to intercept the ball. I mean, the guy has averaged two interceptions per year --- two! --- during his career. For him to go a whole year without one certainly requires explanation. The Marshall Faulk comment says this:

He never broke through the 1,000 yards rushing mark for the rest of his career.

Now that's legitimate Curse material, but things like this are only brought into evidence when they are bad. Daunte Culpepper came back a few years after The Curse to have an unbelievably great season. Where was the curse then? Ask a Curse-o-phile, and he'll look at you funny. The Curse had worn off by then, of course, what are you nuts? But, if Culpepper had not had that great season later on, I guarantee you that Wikipedia article would say, "Culpepper never again returned to form." (I hate to keep picking on the wikipedia article, but given the nature of how it came to be, I think it is relatively safe to assume it does reflect the mentality of those who believe in the Curse) Try this: ask a Curse proponent right now whether Donovan McNabb is still cursed, or whether the curse has expired. He's having a pretty amazing year as of now, so McNabb Curse talk is limited to just the season afterward. But if this year turns sour, it will surely be added to the list of evidence for the Curse.

The point is, lots of thing happen during an NFL season, and even more happen during an NFL player's career. If you pick out just the bad ones and ignore the good ones, it's easy to contruct an impressive list of misfortunes.

And then there is regression to the mean. In order to get on the cover of Madden, you have to turn in one of the best performances of the year. In almost all cases, that requires a bit of luck. The next year, you're still good, but there is no reason to expect the luck to be there. The league's best performers in any category will always decline, as a group. Just for fun, let's check out the LEAGUE'S LEADING RUSHER CURSE. Again, the year listed is the curse year, the year after leading the league in rushing:

  • Shaun Alexander, 2006 - detailed above. He is doubly cursed.
  • Curtis Martin, 2005 - his rushing yardage dropped by almost a thousand, and he lost four games to injury. The Jets went from a playoff team to 4-12.
  • Jamal Lewis, 2004 - his rushing yardage dropped by more than a thousand yards. And he spent six months in the clink. Further, "the Baltimore Ravens also failed to make the playoffs that season (2004), after winning their division the year before." Is that last one pretty cheap? Of course it is, but it came directly from the wikipedia Madden Curse writeup for teammate Ray Lewis who, by any measure, had a better season than Jamal.
  • Ricky Williams, 2003 - his numbers decline drastically and he never returned to form. The following season started his string of retirements and suspensions.
  • Priest Holmes, 2002 - he missed two games due to injury.
  • Edgerrin James, 2001 - he wrecked his knee and missed 10 games. This was the only year of James' Colt career that they had a losing record and the only year they did not make the playoffs.
  • Edgerrin James, 2000 - Uh, the next year, he wrecked his knee and missed 10 games. Also, he probably bobbled a pass.
  • Terrell Davis, 1999 - he blew out his knee in the season's fourth game, and was not having a good season prior to that. The Broncos went in the crapper after winning two straight Super Bowls. Davis never again had anything remotely resembling a good season.


  • Steve Smith, 2006 - missed the season's first two games with an injury. No TDs so far this year.
  • Muhsin Muhammad, 2005 - missed a game due to injury and also saw his numbers essentially cut in half.
  • Randy Moss, 2004 - lost three games to injury and had the only sub-1000-yard season of his career. Still has not returned to form.
  • Terrell Owens, 2003 - his team missed the playoffs for the first time in three years, his numbers declined, he missed a game due to injury, and he was horribly mistreated by his coaching staff. The events of this season set into motion a chain of events that essentially made TO the most hated man in the NFL.

OK, enough pomposity. Let's return to the original question, which is: exactly how unlikely is this string of occurrences? We need to examine two separate issues: (1) decreased performance, and (2) injuries.

First the performance. As I alluded to above, the top players in any category in any year will have a tendency to decline. But how much decline is reasonable, and how much is the result of the Curse? I looked at all top 3 (by fantasy points) quarterbacks and running backs since 1988. The quarterbacks, on average, declined by 3.3 fantasy points per game. The running backs declined by 2.0 points per game. Here are the declines for each of the cursed players (not counting Barry Sanders and Ray Lewis).

Cursed player Cursed Yr FantPtDiff
Eddie George 2000 2.4
Daunte Culpepper 2001 -2.8
Marshall Faulk 2002 -9.4
Donovan McNabb 2003 -2.0
Michael Vick 2004 -7.3
Shaun Alexander 2006 -11.8

That's an average decline of about 5 points, when we should be expecting an average decline of 2 or 3 points. Note also that, even though Culpepper and McNabb declined, they declined by less than typical top-producing quarterbacks usually decline. Looked at this way, three of the six players did worse than reasonable expectations, and three did better. Although admittedly, the ones that did worse did a lot worse than the ones who did better did better. Still, compare that with the Leading Rusher Curse

Cursed player Cursed Yr FantPtDiff
Shaun Alexander 2006 -11.8
Curtis Martin 2005 -7.8
Jamal Lewis 2004 -6.6
Ricky Williams 2003 -5.7
Priest Holmes 2002 9.3
Edgerrin James 2001 -3.9
Edgerrin James 2000 1.4
Terrell Davis 1999 -13.6

The average decline was about 4 points, when a decline of 2 points would be expected. But six of the eight did worse than reasonable expectations. This seems at least as bad as the Madden Curse.

Now let's consider the injury half of the equation. We can get the relevant data from yesterday's post, and by running the analagous numbers for quarterbacks.

  • Eddie George played 16 games.
  • Culpepper missed five games. My estimate is that an "average" quarterback has about a 20--25% chance of missing five or more games in a season.
  • Faulk missed two games, which we saw yesterday is just about average for a running back. I'd estimate a 30--40% chance of missing at least two games.
  • Vick missed 11 games, which I estimate has probability 10--15%
  • McNabb missed 7 games: about a 20% chance of that.
  • Alexander's fate remains to be determined. The reports I'm hearing right now suggest that he'll miss two to four games. If that's what it ends up being, it is again quite unremarkable for a running back.

Just as a very rough intuitive comparision, I'd suggest that this string of injuries is about as odd as Jeff Wilkins going through a 1-for-6 stretch in which he attempted field goals of 46, 34, 42, 29, 32, and 40 yards. That would be pretty rare, but I wouldn't assume Wilkins was cursed if it happened.

And again, the Leading Rusher Curse appears to be nearly as bad. Madden Cursed players missed an average of 4.7 games, while Leading-Rusher-Cursed backs missed an average of 4.4 games the next year (that's counting Jamal's jail time. I counted Alexander as missing 3 games in each case.)

Curses happen.

Posted in Voodoo and witchcraft | 11 Comments »