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Archive for October, 2006

The Bears again

Posted by Doug on October 30, 2006

Three weeks ago, I posted this bit about the Bears and where their start ranks among the all-time great starts. Since then we've seen a really ugly win against a bad Cardinal team, a bye week, and another blowout against the 49ers.

It's time to forget about how the Bears' start stacks up. The fact is, only a select few teams have ever routed as many teams in a full season as Chicago has in its first seven games. The Bears have five wins of 25 or more points so far this year. Since the 1970 merger, only two teams have had more such games in a season. And only four more can even match the Bears.


TM YR 25+ wins
======================
gnb 1996 7
stl 1999 6
chi 2006 5 <-----------
pit 1979 5
min 1988 5
was 1991 5
stl 2001 5

Since the Bears have a 26-point win and a 27-point win, you might rightly argue that I'm cheating a bit by drawing the line at 25 points. If you look at wins of 21 or more points, the Bears are currently tied for twelfth in modern NFL history. And of course, they still have 9 more chances.


TM YR 21+ wins
======================
stl 1999 9
gnb 1996 8
sfo 1994 7
min 1988 7
min 1998 7
was 1991 7
sfo 1995 6
nyj 1998 6
kan 2003 6
pit 1975 6
den 1997 6
chi 2006 5 <----------
phi 2002 5
pit 1979 5
sfo 1993 5
hou 1991 5
dal 1978 5
cin 1989 5
min 1970 5
nwe 1997 5
ind 2004 5
stl 2001 5
mia 1973 5
min 1975 5
ram 1980 5
sfo 1984 5
was 1983 5
phi 2004 5
sdg 1979 5
bal 1971 5
dal 1973 5
oak 2000 5
kan 1997 5
pit 1976 5
sea 1984 5
dal 1993 5

5 Comments | Posted in General, History

Overtime

Posted by Doug on October 27, 2006

I just realized that I've been blogging for over six months and I haven't yet championed some clever overtime system to replace the NFL's current sudden-death system. I don't really have a problem with sudden death, but everyone else has a pet idea, so I want one too. Actually, I have two.

Unlike some of the other proposals out there, these have absolutely zero chance of ever being taken seriously by the authorities. So there's no sense in getting all serious and trying to start the grassroots movement. But I do think they're interesting ideas. They both focus not on restructuring overtime itself, but on preventing the need for it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all that.

1. Eliminate the (kicked) extra point. Teams are required to "go for two" after every touchdown, but it's just for one point. I haven't done all the math, but I think this would make ties less common, because teams that scored the same number of TDs and field goals would be much less likely to have the same number of points. We'd pick up a few extra ties because lots of TDs would be equal to two field goals. But we can fix that. Make the touchdown itself worth seven and the try worth an additional one point. Since 3 is relatively prime to both 7 and 8, I think we could make ties very unlikely with this system.

2. No overtime. A tie counts as a loss in the standing for both teams.

I told a friend about this system, and he cleaned it up by suggesting that we don't have to "count a tie as a loss." We could call a tie a tie, but change the standings so that they don't list wins, losses, and ties, but instead list wins and nonwins.

I really haven't thought my way through the consequences of this, but I do know that it would create a sense of urgency at the end (of regulation) of a fair number of games that isn't there now. Nothing disgusts me more than a team down three with a minute left sitting on the ball so they can kick the easy field goal and play OT. This would put an end to that practice. And in fact, I think the effect of this rule would ripple back to create more aggressive decisions all the way back to the beginning of the fourth quarter.

And I don't think there is any circumstance where the end of regulation would be less exciting under my system than it is under the current system. Yes, we'd lose the overtime, but overtime is pretty boring anyway. It usually consists of 0, 1, or 2 punts, a 40-yard drive, two kneel-downs in the middle of the field, one timeout to ice the kicker, and then a field goal. I can live without that.

Implement both of these rules and I bet it would almost completely eliminate ties without playing any overtime at all.

30 Comments | Posted in Rant, Rule Change Proposals

Owned

Posted by Doug on October 26, 2006

During the footballguys.com podcast (mp3, rss), which by the way is a must-listen for fantasy football types, Sigmund Bloom pointed out that the Texans just seem to have Jacksonville's number for some reason. Not being a close follower of either team, I hadn't noticed, so I looked it up.

After Sunday's game, the Texans are now 5-4 all-time against the Jags. The Texans' overall franchise record is 20-50, which means they are 5-4 (.555) against Jacksonville and 15-46 (.246) against everyone else. During the Texan Era, Jacksonville has been exactly a .500 team. While it may or may not be significant in any official statistical sense (I didn't check), I think it's reasonable to say that Houston has had Jacksonville's number, at least relatively speaking.

I decided to take a look through the archives to find similar (or even more dramatic) pairs of teams and stretches of years where one team was better in general but the other owned the series (again, I consider "relative" ownership to be within the spirit of the query).

I looked at five-year stretches starting in 1960. I didn't know exactly how to quantify what I was looking for, so I just played around with some ad hoc formulas involving the teams' overall 5-year winning percentages and the series record during those same five years. I did require that one team had a better overall winning percentage while the other took the majority of the games in the series.

What you see here is a list containing each franchise's best five-year run of relative ownership. They are roughly ordered by their "surprisingness." To get a feel for the chart, take a look at the first line. From 1978--2002, the Seahawks and Jets played five times and the Seahawks won all five. During that stretch, Seattle was 32-41 overall while the Jets were 36-36. So a 5-0 series record would appear to be fairly unexpected. What must that have been like for Jet fans?


5-yr records
TM1 TM2 Years TM1 TM2 Series
=======================================
sea nyj 1978-1982 32-41 36-36 5- 0
dal was 1997-2001 34-46 40-39 9- 1
ram nyg 1988-1992 35-45 49-31 4- 1
nyj mia 1998-2002 48-32 50-30 9- 1
gnb min 1984-1988 29-49 38-41 8- 2
phi pit 1962-1966 25-42 28-38 5- 1
hou kan 1990-1994 44-36 51-29 4- 1
was pit 1962-1966 27-41 28-38 5- 1
pho atl 1989-1993 25-55 30-50 4- 1
det tam 1995-1999 37-43 42-38 8- 2
atl min 1966-1970 16-51 39-27 3- 2
tam was 1992-1996 29-51 31-49 4- 1
rai den 1988-1992 43-37 44-36 8- 2
ind nyj 1989-1993 29-51 30-50 8- 2
bal ten 2000-2004 48-32 48-32 4- 1
nwe ind 1988-1992 23-57 34-46 7- 3
nyg stl 1963-1967 28-39 37-29 5- 2
buf nyj 1966-1970 21-46 39-28 6- 4
den nyj 1965-1969 21-48 40-26 4- 3
cin pit 1977-1981 34-44 52-26 6- 4
car stl 2000-2004 33-47 51-29 3- 2
sfo det 1962-1966 25-42 33-32 4- 2
kan den 1980-1984 34-39 42-31 6- 3
min gnb 1992-1996 47-33 51-29 7- 3
nor tam 1998-2002 35-45 50-30 3- 2
mia bal 1968-1972 42-25 47-21 4- 2
chi min 1966-1970 26-41 39-27 5- 4
pit cin 1968-1972 25-44 27-42 4- 2
sdg kan 1996-2000 26-54 45-35 5- 5
cle cin 1971-1975 33-35 40-30 6- 4
jax pit 1999-2003 38-42 44-35 4- 3

[The bolded line is comment fodder for two particular commenters.]

Some of the teams at the bottom are interesting. Cleveland and San Diego, for instance, have been around for a long time, and the best stretches of unexpected ownership they can claim are these?

I guess we should keep in mind that this was just a rote database query, and there is the potential for some loopholes. It is possible that some of these seemingly surprising results are not so surprising when you look at them closely, and it's also conceivable that there have been some much more surprising stretches that my naive query did not pick up for one reason or another.

Finally, here is each franchise's most surprising five-year stretch of being owned by someone else. Obviously there is some overlap between the two lists.


5-yr records
TM1 TM2 Years TM1 TM2 Series
=============================================
sea nyj 1978-1982 32- 41 36- 36 5- 0
dal was 1997-2001 34- 46 40- 39 9- 1
dal nyg 1962-1966 31- 36 33- 34 5- 0
nyj mia 1998-2002 48- 32 50- 30 9- 1
gnb min 1984-1988 29- 49 38- 41 8- 2
phi pit 1962-1966 25- 42 28- 38 5- 1
hou kan 1990-1994 44- 36 51- 29 4- 1
sea cle 1977-1981 33- 45 39- 39 4- 1
pho atl 1989-1993 25- 55 30- 50 4- 1
det tam 1995-1999 37- 43 42- 38 8- 2
atl car 1999-2003 30- 49 34- 46 8- 2
dal gnb 1993-1997 52- 28 55- 25 4- 1
atl dal 1986-1990 23- 55 25- 54 4- 1
rai den 1988-1992 43- 37 44- 36 8- 2
bal ten 2000-2004 48- 32 48- 32 4- 1
nwe ind 1988-1992 23- 57 34- 46 7- 3
sea oak 1976-1980 29- 47 53- 23 4- 3
nyg stl 1963-1967 28- 39 37- 29 5- 2
car stl 2000-2004 33- 47 51- 29 3- 2
sfo det 1962-1966 25- 42 33- 32 4- 2
nyj nwe 1973-1977 20- 50 35- 35 6- 4
sfo chi 1962-1966 25- 42 39- 27 3- 2
car sfo 1999-2003 34- 46 39- 41 4- 2
bos buf 1966-1970 21- 46 21- 46 7- 3
kan sea 1981-1985 32- 41 39- 34 5- 3
pit cin 1968-1972 25- 44 27- 42 4- 2
stl phi 1980-1984 34- 38 36- 36 6- 3
ram nor 1993-1997 27- 53 31- 49 6- 4
pit bal 1999-2003 44- 35 47- 33 6- 4
rai sdg 1994-1998 36- 44 37- 43 6- 4
bal jax 1998-2002 43- 37 44- 36 5- 4

4 Comments | Posted in General, History

Tanking it

Posted by Chase Stuart on October 25, 2006

If you don't live in Oakland, Arizona, Tennessee, Houston, Miami, Cleveland, Buffalo, Green Bay or Detroit, you probably would be surprised to know that some people are already discussing the 2007 draft. Any debate about that draft will inevitably result in the mentioning of Notre Dame star Brady Quinn, just like a year ago USC stars Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart were at the center of draft discussions. And then, one of my biggest pet peeves will be suggested: teams should tank the season to draft collegiate star X, a can't miss prospect that will surely take moribund franchise Y to Super Bowl glory.

Maybe it's because I had to handle watching my favorite team win four games over two years in the mid-90s, but I treasure every win my team gets. Every one of them. I get angry when I hear fans discuss the idea of tanking a game, and generally only fair-weather fans talk like that. On some levels, this makes sense. If you're a fair-weather fan, you don't care whether your team is 1-15, 4-12 or 7-9. You just want to root for them in the playoffs, and you figure that getting Brady Quinn and being 2-14 is better than being 8-8; after all, the losses don't really bother you.

I maintain that fans that want to see their teams tank don't really feel significant amounts of despair when their teams lose 13 or more games in a season. It stinks. On the other hand, a good number of hardcore fans that I respect (when they aren't spewing this gibberish) have wanted their teams to tank at various times.

We could debate all day what the merit is of this argument, and how "true" of a fan that person is. But I've got much more important things to present -- some empirical evidence to dispel the notion of tanking games.

The 1989 Cowboys are the typical example used of how you can go from worst to first. That team went 1-15 just a few years before the great run that ultimately saw Troy Aikman win three rings in four years. Additionally, the 1978 49ers went 2-14, and won the Super Bowl three years later. The 1979 49ers went 2-14 as well, and of course won the Super Bowl two years later. Those are the only three teams to win less than 20% of their games in a season and win a Super Bowl within three years of that season. Think about that for a minute. And then realize that they have something else in common: none of them had a high first round pick after that miserable year.

The goal of tanking, of course, is to get a high draft pick. The '89 Cowboys lost their first round pick by drafting quarterback Steve Walsh in the supplemental draft the previous year. The Cowboys missed out on the top RB in the draft -- Blair Thomas, number two overall -- but settled for Emmitt Smith. I'm not sure why the '78 49ers didn't have a first round pick to ease their fall, but they drafted James Owens (19 catches in his 49ers career) with the top pick in the second round. The following year the Lions had the top pick and grabbed Billy Sims, but the 49ers didn't have the second pick. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable of the situation can explain in the comments, but for whatever reason the 'Niners didn't pick until the thirteenth slot. They selected Earl Cooper, who had a strong rookie year but barely contributed after that.

To sum up, the three teams to go from the basement to Disneyland in three years or less, can't attribute any of that turnaround to their high first round pick.

So what does it all mean? It's time for a table. The Steelers won the 40th Super Bowl this February, which means we have 40 Super Bowl winning teams to look at. The chart below shows how the group of 40 performed the prior year to winning the Super Bowl (denoted as N-1) all the way to their winning percentages five years earlier (N-5).

Let's use the 1991 Redskins as an example. Washington went 10-6 (.625) in 1990, so they are one of the 32 teams to post a greater than .600 winning percentage in the season before they won the Super Bowl. Since 21 teams -- over half -- of all Super Bowl winners had a winning percentage above .700, we can say the 1990 Redskins had similar records to those of 11 other teams in the year before they won the Super Bowl. (10-6 was also the most common record of Super Bowl winning teams in the previous year, as six teams had that record; 12-4, done four times, was the second.) In 1986 -- five years before the franchise would win the Super Bowl during the 1991 season -- the 'Skins went 12-4, and eight teams in total had winning percentages in the .700s five years out from winning it all.

I'll let you guys digest the table for a minute.


WPct. N-1 N-2 N-3 N-4 N-5
>.900 2 1 0 3 2
>.800 10 6 7 9 4
>.700 21 14 11 13 12
>.600 32 24 22 18 18
>.500 37 32 26 25 27
>.400 37 34 32 29 30
>.300 39 39 36 36 34
>.200 40 39 38 38 37
>.100 40 40 39 39 39

Maybe not surprisingly, but 37 of the 40 teams had a winning record the year before winning it all. It's pretty clear that the tanking it philosophy isn't going to help you win the next year. You probably remember two of the three teams, the 1999 Rams and the 2001 Patriots, who were helped by an undrafted QB and a sixth round QB respectively. The other team, the 1981 49ers, went 6-10 in 1980. San Francisco did draft Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott, but it was with the 8th pick, not a top-three spot. In the next couple of rounds the 49ers drafted Carlton Williamson and Eric Wright. Both defensive backs would make the Pro Bowl in 1984 and 1985, and Wright also had an interception to help San Francisco win the Super Bowl during his rookie season.

Tanking it just won't cut it for winning right away. I think the idea is to get an elite talent and win the Super Bowl in a few years. But 39 of the teams that would win the Super Bowl in two years posted winning percentages above .300, which means a modern day 5-11. I don't know what the standards are for tanking it, but if a team goes 5-11, that doesn't seem to be it for me. And only one team (besides the 1998/1999 Rams, covered earlier) has ever gone worse than 5-11 and won the Super Bowl in either of the next two years: the 1979/1981 49ers. We've probably talked about that 1981 San Francisco title team more than anyone cares to, but as I wrote earlier, that '79 team didn't even have a top ten pick the next year. And like any of you need a reminder, but that '81 team had a pretty darn good QB in place (who was the last pick in third round I might add).

Giving a bad team an additional year to win it all doesn't seem to help much either. The worst records of teams that would win it all three years later are: 1-15 (1989/1992 Cowboys, but remember no first round pick), 2-14 (1978/1981 49ers), 3-12-1 (1983/1986 Giants) and 3-10-1 (1969/1972 Dolphins, also no first round pick). As I wrote earlier, San Francisco drafted Earl Cooper. The Giants drafted linebacker Carl Banks. Almost anyone in NFL history would have been the third best LB on those Giants teams, as future HOFers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson made the Pro Bowl a combined 19 times. Banks was a good player, and went to Hawaii once in 1987. Banks did record ten tackles in the Giants first Super Bowl win, and started many games for Big Blue. But somehow I'm left with the feeling that when teams tank their season, it isn't to get a player like Carl Banks and to win the Super Bowl three years later.

Even going out four years, only 10% of eventual Super Bowl winners had really bad seasons. The '69 Dolphins are on this list again, because Miami won it all in both '72 and '73. The '89 Cowboys are on it for the same reasons, as Dallas won the Super Bowl in '92 and '93. The '88 Cowboys also went 3-13, and that IS the team that drafted Troy Aikman first overall. The Cowboys actually won their second to last game of the season in '88, and almost had to settle for Barry Sanders (#3), Derrick Thomas (#4), Deion Sanders (#5)... or Tony Mandarich (#2).

There's one other team on this "terrible four years out" list, and it's the 1996 Ravens. They selected Peter Boulware, who would win the defensive rookie of the year award in 1997. Boulware was an excellent pass rusher before injuries robbed him of his tremendous athleticism, and was an impact player for Baltimore. But still, I don't think he's the type of player you tank a season for in the hopes of winning a Super Bowl four years down the line. Put it this way: nobody argued that Green Bay should have lost their last five games in order to select A.J. Hawk, to pave the way for the Packers Super Bowl in 2010.

Six teams -- including the '88 Cowboys and '79 49ers -- had fewer than five wins five years before winning a Super Bowl. The 1969 Steelers went 1-13, and drafted Terry Bradshaw with the first pick. The '91 Packers went 4-12 but only had the fifth pick, as four teams won three or fewer games. Green Bay grabbed Terrell Buckley, who grabbed only ten of his 50 career INTs wearing the Green and Gold, and wasn't a member of the 1996 Super Bowl team. The 1994 Rams were 4-12, but picked sixth because of the expansion Jaguars and Panthers. St. Louis drafted Kevin Carter, who had 52 sacks his first five seasons, and his 17 sacks helped him make the Pro Bowl in 1999 when the Rams won it all. The 1967 Dolphins went 4-10, and drafted Larry Csonka with the 8th pick in the draft.

Conclusions
The 49ers had a bad year, selected Ronnie Lott with the 9th pick, and won the Super Bowl the next season (and several more). The Giants took Carl Banks with the third pick, and would win it all three (and seven) years later. The Cowboys went 3-13 and grabbed Troy Aikman first overall, and of course won a Super Bowl four, five and seven years later. The Ravens drafted Peter Boulware with the 4th pick, and won a SB four years later. (Additionally, the 5-11 Browns the year before had the 4th pick, and drafted Jonathon Ogden.) The Rams took Kevin Carter with the sixth pick, and won a Super Bowl five years later, and the Dolphins selected Larry Csonka at eight overall and won a few Super Bowls a few years after that. And finally, the Steelers took Terry Bradshawn with the first selection, and won the Super Bowl five, six, nine and ten years after a miserable 1-13 season.

Of course, if you go through the list of any Super Bowl winning team, you'll see lots of successful high draft picks. The Steelers hit on Troy Polamalu at 16, the Ravens with Ray Lewis at 26, the Broncos with Trevor Pryce at 28, the Cowboys with Emmitt Smith at 18, and the 49ers with Jerry Rice at 16; of course, even more star players come out of rounds two through seven.

When talking about tanking a season, no one thinks of Peter Boulware or Carl Banks. They think of that superstar quarterback. Throughout the 40 NFL Super Bowl teams, only twice has a team had a miserable season and then drafted a QB that would help them win the Super Bowl. Curiously enough, Bradshaw and Aikman account for seven of those 40 rings. And while both QBs are HOF players, neither won immediately, and they played on two of the most talented teams ever. Almost inevitably, the team that will win the next Super Bowl is a team that contended for the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that. It's not a team that tanks a season.

And when you consider The Loser's Curse, a theory claiming that high first round draft picks are less valuable than lower first round draft picks because of the disproportionately high salary paid to those picked at the top, the idea of tanking a season seems pretty silly to me.

5 Comments | Posted in General, History

The Broncos

Posted by Doug on October 24, 2006

The Broncos have only allowed 44 points in their six games this season. Since 1978, only six teams have allowed fewer points in a six-game stretch. And of those six teams, five of them faced teams that scored less (on average) than the Broncos' six opponents.


TM YR Weeks PA AvgOFF
=============================
chi 1985 7-12 29 20.5
pit 2000 5-10 31 17.8
nor 1991 2- 8 36 17.7
jax 1999 4-10 36 18.1
ten 2000 12-16 42 15.8
bal 2000 4- 9 43 17.3
den 2006 1- 6 44 18.4
min 1988 10-15 44 16.8

Interestingly, all those teams but one scored a lot more points in their six game stretch of spectacular defense than the Broncos' 79:


TM YR Weeks PF
======================
chi 1985 7-12 170
pit 2000 5-10 97
nor 1991 2- 8 130
jax 1999 4-10 134
chi 1985 6-11 160
ten 2000 12-17 142
bal 2000 4- 9 79
den 2006 1- 6 79
min 1988 10-15 173

When you put it all together, it adds up to the 4th-fewest total points scored in a single-team six-game stretch since 1978:


TM YR Weeks PF PA TOT
================================
nyj 1993 13-18 36 77 113
nwe 1993 9-15 50 64 114
bal 2000 5-10 69 50 119
den 2006 1- 6 79 44 123
atl 1988 11-16 55 71 126
pit 2000 5-10 97 31 128

That 1993 Jet team is almost the mirror image of this Denver team. Bronco fans seem a bit frustrated right now, even though the team is 5-1. What must it have been like to be a Jet fan in late 1993 and be on the losing end of those kind of games?

7 Comments | Posted in General, History

Born on the 4th of July August?

Posted by Doug on October 23, 2006

Let me regale you with tales of my childhood glory on the baseball diamond.

When I was growing up, I played each year in a spring league and a summer league. The spring league was organized by grade (the age cutoff was Sept 1). The summer league was organized by age, with the age cutoff being Aug 1. I was born in late August, which meant that I was always among the youngest people in my grade, but among the oldest in my summer league baseball age group.

So, for example, when I was 14, I was in 9th grade. In the spring I played with 9th- and 10th-graders (the high school JV team), because I was in 9th grade. But in the summer, I could play in two leagues. I played with the 9th- and 10th-graders because that's who I had played with in the spring (and because the summer league allowed for playing up). But I also played with the 7th- and 8th-graders because I was only 14.

I believe that setup was the best of all possible worlds for my baseball development. It gave me the chance to get accustomed to "the big time" while also allowing me to be a star in the younger league. Granted, I'm teaching math and writing a blog instead of playing professional baseball, but I was a pretty good ballplayer back in the day, and I've always believed that my August birthday had a lot to do with it.

My buddy JC Bradbury posted some data over at sabernomics that show that I'm not alone. More major league ballplayers were born in August than in any other month. But the data show more than that. August/September/October birthdays are much more common than May/June/July birthdays, which indicates that it was probably the playing down that helped me more than the playing up.

The idea is summarized in this passage from Steven Dubner, whose work (with Steven Levitt) is what inspired Bradbury to look into it:

Since youth sports are organized by age bracket, teams inevitably have a cutoff birth date. In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature. Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites.

Evidently the same phenomenon is observed, to some extent, in soccer and hockey. This NYT article examines whether or not it might play a role in academics as well.

So I decided to check out the football situation. Among all players currently playing in the NFL (except for offensive linemen, who are not in my database), the birthmonths break down like this:


Month #born
============
1 119
2 111
3 126
4 88
5 91
6 94
7 92
8 129
9 118
10 98
11 113
12 105

The pattern is not quite as clear as it is in baseball (possibly because I have a lot less data), but it nonetheless appears that May/June/July is a bad time to be born if you have aspirations of being a professional athlete. Of course, all this assumes that birthdays are spread equally throughout the year for the general population, which is probably not correct. Still, 40% more current NFL players were born in August than in July, and I seriously doubt that the difference is that dramatic in general.

10 Comments | Posted in General

BCS thoughts

Posted by Doug on October 20, 2006

The first set of BCS standings was released last weekend. As usual, nobody is happy with "the BCS," but different people are unhappy with different aspects of it, and very few people actually understand it. "The BCS" has basically become a synomym for "something about the structure of college football that I don't like."

It would make a lot of sense for the powers that be to do away with all the formulas and standings and just have a selection committee announce the bowl pairings on December 10th. They could still use the computers in an advisory capacity, as the college hoops people do.

It is admirable, I suppose, that they are attempting to make the process transparent by stating the formula in advance. But if they really wanted to make it transparent, they'd choose open-source computer algorithms. Of the six computer algorithms, only Wes Colley's is fully open to public inspection (major kudos to Colley for this). Peter Wolfe, Kenneth Massey, and Jeff Sagarin give some information about their methods but not enough to completely reconstruct their rankings. The only information on the The Anderson-Hester rankings page is so vague that it is totally useless. Rob Billingsley says an awful lot but ultimately leaves us with no real idea of the nuts and bolts of his ranking system, which incidentally is either the high or the low ranking (and is therefore thrown out) on nine of the top 10 teams in the current BCS standings.

Now I don't blame Jeff Sagarin and the others for not publishing the details of their systems. Not one bit. The algorithms are proprietary and, at least in Sagarin's case, I assume he makes money doing what he does. But I do blame the NCAA for choosing these algorithms when there are some perfectly fine open methods out there. David Mease's, for example, is very good in my opinion, as is Colley's, which they do use.

The fact that they did not select open methods tells me one of two things: (1) no one associated with the NCAA really understands any of these ranking methods or knows about the variety of methods that are available, or (2) they specifically do not want the process to be transparent. I suspect it's probably both, but more (2) than (1). The unveiling of the BCS standings each Sunday loses a bit of its suspense if nerds across the internet are able to compute and post them immediately after Saturday night's games. The human polls would still prevent the nerds from being able to compute exactly, and there are some nerds that do a pretty good job of it as is, but my suspicion is that the NCAA doesn't want transparency. It wants publicity. And the weekly unveiling of the standings each week provides that.

Enough of the rant.

Of all the teams with a reasonable shot at the title, I think I'll be pulling for the West Virginia Mountaineers. One thing I've noticed about the computer rankings is that the Big East is not the weakest of the BCS conferences, not by a long shot. In fact, almost every reputable computer algorithm that I've seen has them ahead of the Big XII and ACC.

My margin-of-victory-not-included ranking system of choice is similar to Wolfe's and is nearly identical to Mease's (referenced earlier). Here is the top 25:


Team W-L Rating
============================================================
1. SouthernCalifornia 6- 0 11.65 0.903
2. Michigan 7- 0 11.09 0.899
3. OhioState 7- 0 9.47 0.885
4. Florida 6- 1 6.38 0.844
5. Auburn 6- 1 5.93 0.836
6. Rutgers 6- 0 5.23 0.820
7. Louisville 6- 0 4.96 0.813
8. Arkansas 5- 1 4.85 0.810
9. BoiseState 6- 0 4.67 0.805
10. NotreDame 5- 1 4.57 0.802
11. California 6- 1 4.46 0.799
12. Tennessee 5- 1 4.21 0.791
13. WestVirginia 6- 0 3.88 0.779
14. Texas 6- 1 3.38 0.759
15. Oregon 5- 1 3.23 0.752
16. BostonCollege 5- 1 2.98 0.739
17. Clemson 6- 1 2.90 0.735
18. Nebraska 6- 1 2.90 0.735
19. Wisconsin 6- 1 2.87 0.733
20. GeorgiaTech 5- 1 2.53 0.712
21. Tulsa 5- 1 2.50 0.710
22. WakeForest 6- 1 2.46 0.708
23. TexasA&M 6- 1 2.46 0.707
24. LouisianaState 5- 2 2.43 0.706
25. Missouri 6- 1 2.38 0.702

When trying to sort out the relative strength of conferences, here is the view I like to look at. Here you'll see all the out-of-conference wins and losses by each conference, and the ranks of those teams.

Out-of-conference wins


Big East Big 10 Big XII ACC
==================================================================================
29 Navy 10 NotreDame 33 Washington 34 BrighamYoung
41 Maryland 14 Texas 43 SouthFlorida 59 CentralMichigan
46 Ohio 28 Pittsburgh 46 Ohio 64 Houston
47 Miami(Florida) 56 BowlingGreenSta 54 Louisiana-Lafay 66 Connecticut
60 KansasState 56 BowlingGreenSta 63 Texas-ElPaso 69 Syracuse
62 Kentucky 57 WesternMichigan 70 ArkansasState 72 MiddleTennessee
65 Indiana 58 Kent 72 MiddleTennessee 76 Cincinnati
72 MiddleTennessee 59 CentralMichigan 75 SouthernMethodi 79 Wyoming
79 Wyoming 69 Syracuse 82 Army 86 Mississippi
82 Army 71 Idaho 86 Mississippi 92 Rice
85 Akron 73 Vanderbilt 88 Alabama-Birming 97 FloridaAtlantic
87 EastCarolina 76 Cincinnati 91 NorthTexas 98 Troy
90 CentralFlorida 77 NorthernIllinoi 92 Rice 98 Troy
90 CentralFlorida 78 IowaState 93 NewMexico 100 LouisianaTech
94 MississippiStat 85 Akron 97 FloridaAtlantic 115 FloridaInternat
95 Illinois 107 BallState 97 FloridaAtlantic 115 FloridaInternat
95 Illinois 107 BallState 98 Troy 116 Temple
96 Virginia 108 SanDiegoState 99 Toledo 120 1AAOpponent
99 Toledo 116 Temple 100 LouisianaTech 120 1AAOpponent
101 NorthCarolina 117 Miami(Ohio) 100 LouisianaTech 120 1AAOpponent
101 NorthCarolina 117 Miami(Ohio) 105 Marshall 120 1AAOpponent
105 Marshall 118 EasternMichigan 113 Nevada-LasVegas 120 1AAOpponent
115 FloridaInternat 118 EasternMichigan 114 Louisiana-Monro 120 1AAOpponent
116 Temple 120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
117 Miami(Ohio) 120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
117 Miami(Ohio) 120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
120 1AAOpponent 120 1AAOpponent
120 1AAOpponent

Out-of-conference losses


Big East Big 10 Big XII ACC
==================================================================================
3 OhioState 6 Rutgers 1 SouthernCalifor 6 Rutgers
22 WakeForest 10 NotreDame 3 OhioState 7 Louisville
22 WakeForest 10 NotreDame 7 Louisville 10 NotreDame
29 Navy 10 NotreDame 15 Oregon 13 WestVirginia
31 Iowa 11 California 30 WashingtonState 26 Alabama
48 VirginiaTech 46 Ohio 31 Iowa 28 Pittsburgh
50 MichiganState 66 Connecticut 37 Georgia 32 SouthernMississ
83 Kansas 69 Syracuse 51 ArizonaState 43 SouthFlorida
84 Nevada 61 TexasChristian 57 WesternMichigan
120 1AAOpponent 61 TexasChristian 85 Akron
120 1AAOpponent 64 Houston 87 EastCarolina
74 ColoradoState 120 1AAOpponent
82 Army
99 Toledo
120 1AAOpponent

The Big East doesn't have the quality wins that the Big 10 has, but it also doesn't have the multiple bad losses that the Big XII and ACC have. You can quibble about which set of wins and losses is best, but the point is that --- at least for 2006 --- the Big East is not a joke compared to the majority of the other BCS conferences (the SEC and Pac10 are a cut above the rest). I'm not going to claim that the Mountaineers (or Louisville or Rutgers) have a tough schedule, but by the time they've gotten through it, I'd have no problem calling it adequate.

7 Comments | Posted in BCS, College

The Great New York Sports Debate I

Posted by Chase Stuart on October 19, 2006

For my birthday, my brother gave me a copy of The Great New York Sports Debate, by Roger Rubin (of the Daily News) and David Lennon (of Newsday). The caption at the top reads: "Two New York Sportswriters go Head-to-Head on the 50 Most Heated Questions." In the introduction, the authors explain that the list only considers the last 35 or so years in New York sports, so there will be no section on Babe Ruth.

I've decided to take each of the football chapters and make a blog post about it. Why? I'm not really sure, other than when I hear a couple of people talk about football, especially New York football, I feel obliged to chime in. The first few chapters (one chapter per question) of the book hit on mundane topics like baseball and basketball, but then we get to...

Chapter 4:Did the Giants Blow it with Eli Manning?

Here are a few excerpts from each writer...

Lennon

The Giants believed they were getting the next Peyton Manning when they grabbed his younger brother, Eli, in a draft-day trade with the San Diego Chargers in 2004.... Well, they got a mini-Peyton all right....Eli exhibited all the classic Manning traits [in his playoff loss to the Panthers]: bowed head, shrugged shoulders, face twisted in abject look of helplessness....

Here's what makes Eli's development even more painful to endure: Ben Roethlisberger, selected at No. 11 in that 2004 draft, already has a Super Bowl ring[.] [Lennon would later write that the Giants would have taken Roethlisberger instead of Rivers had New York stayed at four, and that the "biggest knock against Roethlisberger apparently was that Archie Manning wasn't his dad."]

[The Giants traded Philip Rivers along with their first and third round picks in the 2005 draft for Manning, and] the Chargers did turn one of those picks into linebacker Shawne Merriman, who happened to be named the NFL's Rookie of the Year in the same season that the Giants wound up woefully thin at that position.

Pretty good arguments from Lennon, and I've long been in the "Manning is overrated" camp. I'll make my argument after we hear what Rubin had to say, but it's going to be hard to overcome the "we could have had Shawne Merriman" line. (Merriman currently has 5.5 sacks and an INT in five games this year.)

Lennon also wrote that Eli would have to be the next John Elway to be worth the stunt he pulled to get out of San Diego. Rubin responded by saying

Rubin

Manning is ahead of where John the Great was [two years into his career]... Just as Manning did [in 2005], Elway laid an egg in his first playoff game, a twenty-four-point loss to the Seahawks that saw him throw for only 123 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. He got picked off twice in a seventeen-point loss to the Steelers the next year, too.

Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls but imploded in a thirty-two-point loss to the Lions in his first postseason appearance.... You know how many seasons it was before Terry Bradshaw completed a season with more TDs than INTs? Try five.

Rubin goes on to say that comparisons to Roethlisberger are unfair because of the superior talent in Pittsburgh, but that Roethlisberger's 9-21 for 123 yards, 0 TD/2 INT performance in the Super Bowl looked pretty similar to Manning's only post-season moment.

So who got the best of these arguments? I wholeheartedly agree with aspects of what both authors wrote. Rubin's accurate in advising patience and caution with the younger Manning, who seemed to make another big leap this year. But mostly I agree with Lennon, for three main reasons. In reverse order, to point out the obvious...

3. Shawne Merriman is a stud in the NFL. He looks to be a legitimate candidate to fly to Hawaii every February for the next decade. When the Giants traded for Manning, I thought that they were basically giving up another top 10 pick to get him, and a team that bad couldn't afford to give away picks. I was wrong about how good they were, as Big Blue has rebounded nicely and was considered by some a Super Bowl contender this year. But the significance of gaining Merriman means the Chargers got the best of this trade.

2. That being said, we still have to get to the big debate -- who is the best out of Eli, Roethlisberger and Rivers? The Giants could have had any of the three, but opted for Eli. I already wrote that Eli isn't better than Merriman plus either QB, but is Eli better than both Rivers or Big Ben...or either of them?

I'm a fan of both Roethlisberger and Rivers, so it's hard for me to say yes. Both play in conservative offenses, but there are two things you can't ignore about Roethlisberger -- his incredible athletic abilities, and his terrific efficiency numbers. Roethlisberger has great size and strength, can throw the ball a mile, and always appears able to make something out of nothing. He's very accurate, which is a perfect fit in the Pittsburgh offense. Put simply, there's very little he can't do. He's not Mike Vick fast, but (pre-injury, at least) he's a mobile QB that can hurt a defense by scrambling.

Lots of quarterbacks have great talent, but Roethlisberger has seen those numbers translate into on the field success. Roethlisberger ranked 5th in the NFL in adjusted yards per pass as a rookie, and led all quarterbacks in that metric last season. His QB rating after two years ranked third in NFL history at that experience level, behind Kurt Warner and Dan Marino. It's rare to find a QB with all the physical tools (Daunte Culpepper) with great numbers (Peyton Manning) that's won a Super Bowl (Tom Brady). Roethlisberger's record coming into 2006 was a sparkling 22-3 in the regular season and 5-1 in the post-season. He's taken a big hit this year (up until this weekend), but he's the best of the three so far.

I'm a huge Philip Rivers fan, in large part thanks to Maurile Tremblay, who works with me and Doug at Footballguys.com. I can never write it better than Maurile, who wrote a few months back that

He has a stronger arm than Brees, a quicker release, he is more accurate, and he makes his reads more quickly. He also sees the field better on a one-step drop, so he can beat the blitz more effectively. I've watched both guys in practices and in games, and there is absolutely no doubt that Rivers has better physical skills. And based on everything you can find out about him, you will find no reason to doubt his mental abilities, either. Those have always been his strengths -- his understanding of the game, his intelligence, his leadership, etc.

Maurile's without a doubt the most conservative and rational football fan I know, so I've taken his words seriously. Maurile and I have been leading the pro-Rivers charge this off-season, and I'm glad to see it looks like we were right about something. It's hard to complain about a QB that's currently ranked second in all of football in quarterback rating. He's got some talented targets, so he can't get all the credit for what he's done, but I've got no doubt that Rivers is going to be a good quarterback in this league for a long time. That brings us to...

1. Yes, the Giants messed up by passing on Roethlisberger and Rivers, and really messed up by trading an extra first round pick (Shawne Merriman) just to get Manning. The worst part? Right now, Eli's the worst of the three QBs.

I know, I can already hear Big Blue's faithful slapping their monitors. But while you'll probably hear "Manning ranked 5th in TDs and 4th in yards last year", my simple response is that he ranked 3rd in pass attempts. It's hard for me to think a QB is some sort of stud when his best ranking in all the passing categories, is his ranking in pass attempts.

Manning has two other big problems: he gets intercepted a lot, and he doesn't complete enough of his passes. That brings his AY/A way down. In fact, Eli was barely better than the league average passer last year in adjusted yards per attempt. Manning ranks 68th in quarterback rating through two seasons, ahead of Fran Tarkenton and Drew Bledsoe, but behind Tony Banks and Timm Rosenbach. For his career, Manning ranks as a below average starting QB. Surprised?

Most of that is due to his rookie season, of course, where his 3.54 adjusted yards per attempt was the worst in the league for all QBs with 100 attempts. Manning was absolutely horrible in 2004, and merely average (as a starter) in 2005. Peyton Manning, Trent Green, Matt Hasselbeck, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Jake Plummer, Jake Delhomme, Marc Bulger, Byron Leftwich and Drew Brees were clearly better passers last year. Manning fit somewhere in the middle third of quarterbacks, which is good (or merely average, depending on your perspective) but certainly not great. The Eli hype was out of control in 2005 merely because he ranked 3rd in the NFL in attempts (and thus accumulated a ton of stats) and well, his dad is Archie Manning.

This year? I might have to bite my tongue on Eli. His comeback performance against the Eagles was superb. He's completing nearly 2/3 of his passes, has thrown over 2 TDs per game, and his YPA is at 7.6. Yes, he's still got the accuracy issues, but I'm starting to come around on Manning. I think the biggest disparity between my view of Eli and others was that I saw Manning's performance last year and said he's an average NFL QB at the time, while others looked at it and said "that was excellent for such a young QB." I am cautious about giving too much credit for potential, but it seems like Eli can do some great things.

But I think they'll be just a little less great than the things his friends in Pittsburgh and San Diego do.

19 Comments | Posted in General

They’re what we thought they were

Posted by Doug on October 18, 2006

If you haven't seen Denny Green's postgame tirade following the Cardinals' Monday Night Meltdown, you need to check it out. It's an instant classic, and it inspired this thread at the footballguys message board where folks are collecting audio files of famous coach rants. From Jim Mora's "playoffs??!!" and "diddlypoo" to Herm Edwards' "YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME" to "Larry Bird isn't walking through that door" and a beaut from former Cubs' manager Lee Elia that I hadn't heard before, you'll find some good listening material there.

Classic rants usually become classic not because of what was said, but because of how it was said. But Green's had a bit of substance to it. His main point, I think, was that no one should have been surprised by his team's ability to challenge the Bears because they did so in the third week of preseason. And the third week of preseason, at least for the first three quarters, is just like a real game.

Is that true? I know the starters play, but are the game plans for real? Is the intensity level even close to the same? I decided to check it out real quick: if we look at the first three quarters of the third preseason game, do the results generally match up with what we would later see in the regular season? At least for this season, the answer seems to be yes. Here were the results for those "games."

Giants 10, Jets 0
Vikings 13, Ravens 7
Panthers 16, Dolphins 10
Cardinals 20, Bears 6
Eagles 16, Steelers 7
Raiders 21, Lions 3
Bills 10, Browns 10
Colts 24, Saints 7
Patriots 27, Redskins 0
Cowboys 17, 49ers 7
Falcons 17, Titans 6
Jags 15, Bucs 11
Chiefs 16, Rams 9
Seahawks 20, Chargers 17
Broncos 10, Texans 6
Bengals 41, Packers 10

That's 16 "games." Ten of them were won by the team with the better 2006 record (through six weeks). One was a tie, and one was between two teams with the same 2006 record. So only four games out of 14 would be considered upsets, and the only really surprising games would be the Cards over the Bears (not surprising to Denny Green, of course) and the Raiders over anyone.

I don't have time to check out previous seasons right this minute, but if some of you do, it would make for some good reading in the comments. Here are links to preseason week three in 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002.

4 Comments | Posted in General

Weirdest season ever

Posted by Doug on October 13, 2006

I've been playing fantasy football for a long time. And the only thing I can predict with absolute certainty is that every year, people will claim that this is the wildest, craziest, wackiest fantasy football season ever. It's as regular as the tides. But this year they might just be right. Let's take a position-by-position look at fantasy scoring.

Except for Donovan McNabb, fantasy scoring is down at the quarterback position this season. In this table, we see the average (2000--2005) fantasy point total of the player ranked X through five weeks. For example, on average the top-ranked QB through five weeks has 130.5 points. McNabb has 149.8. The 20th-ranked QB through five weeks has accumulated, on average, 66.9 points while this year's 20th-ranked QB, Drew Bledsoe, has 66.0. The asterisks indicate slots where the 2006 performer is outproducing the historical average, and there aren't many of them.


00--05
RANK AVG 2006 player 2006 FPT
==========================================
qb 1 130.5 Donovan McNabb 149.8 *
qb 2 118.5 Peyton Manning 107.0
qb 3 112.5 Rex Grossman 98.9
qb 4 107.4 Jon Kitna 94.0
qb 5 104.0 Marc Bulger 91.3
qb 6 99.1 Byron Leftwich 90.8
qb 7 96.4 Eli Manning 89.1
qb 8 93.3 Charlie Frye 87.9
qb 9 87.7 Brett Favre 86.2
qb 10 85.2 Tom Brady 83.2
qb 11 83.4 Alex Smith 80.8
qb 12 80.9 Drew Brees 79.4
qb 13 79.4 David Carr 78.2
qb 14 77.7 Chad Pennington 77.9 *
qb 15 74.9 Michael Vick 75.4 *
qb 16 73.3 Mark Brunell 69.1
qb 17 71.0 J.P. Losman 68.5
qb 18 69.7 Brad Johnson 66.4
qb 19 68.4 Carson Palmer 66.3
qb 20 66.9 Drew Bledsoe 66.0

Now I know that some teams have had their bye and some haven't, so total points might not be the best way to rank players at this point, but that was true of the previous seasons as well, so at least we're comparing apples to apples.

The QB list tells a simple story: QB production is generally down this year. But the running back story is a little more complex. If you have a typical team, then odds are your #1 RB is doing worse than last year, but your #2 is doing better.


00--05
RANK AVG 2006 player 2006 FPT
==========================================
rb 1 118.4 Brian Westbrook 86.6
rb 2 100.2 Frank Gore 81.2
rb 3 92.8 Larry Johnson 77.9
rb 4 84.7 Steven Jackson 70.9
rb 5 82.9 Deuce McAllister 67.3
rb 6 77.7 Clinton Portis 67.0
rb 7 76.0 Rudi Johnson 63.9
rb 8 73.3 LaDainian Tomlinson 62.6
rb 9 71.7 Kevin Jones 61.4
rb 10 69.8 Ronnie Brown 61.1
rb 11 64.1 Chester Taylor 59.9
rb 12 61.0 Fred Taylor 59.5
rb 13 58.4 Edgerrin James 58.9 *
rb 14 56.2 Laurence Maroney 58.8 *
rb 15 55.2 Julius Jones 56.9 *
rb 16 53.7 Willie Parker 56.3 *
rb 17 51.9 Willis McGahee 55.1 *
rb 18 49.4 Thomas Jones 54.1 *
rb 19 48.1 Dominic Rhodes 51.5 *
rb 20 46.6 Maurice Jones-Drew 50.8 *
rb 21 45.0 Tiki Barber 49.6 *
rb 22 44.4 DeShaun Foster 49.5 *
rb 23 43.9 Joseph Addai 47.6 *
rb 24 42.5 Corey Dillon 42.3
rb 25 41.1 Tatum Bell 42.0 *
rb 26 39.9 Reggie Bush 42.0 *
rb 27 38.1 Ladell Betts 41.9 *
rb 28 36.6 Ahman Green 41.3 *
rb 29 35.6 Marion Barber III 39.2 *
rb 30 34.7 Warrick Dunn 38.7 *

Every year you hear people complain about the fact that more and more teams are moving toward running back by committee (RBBC) systems. The facts tell a different story, as the past few years have, as a whole, featured far less RBBC than at any point in history. However, there may have been a slight shift toward RBBC just last year (I need to write up a full post or two on this), and it may be continuing (and accelerating) this year.

But the same thing is happening at the receiver positions. Here are the WR and TE lists.


wr 1 84.6 Bernard Berrian 65.8
wr 2 81.4 Torry Holt 61.2
wr 3 70.7 Santana Moss 59.4
wr 4 67.5 Keyshawn Johnson 55.7
wr 5 63.4 Marques Colston 55.4
wr 6 60.7 Reggie Williams 54.5
wr 7 58.7 Greg Jennings 54.4
wr 8 56.7 Andre Johnson 53.0
wr 9 54.9 Jerricho Cotchery 51.3
wr 10 52.8 Marvin Harrison 50.2
wr 11 51.6 Terry Glenn 49.2
wr 12 50.1 Laveranues Coles 49.1
wr 13 49.5 Anquan Boldin 48.7
wr 14 48.0 Reggie Brown 47.9
wr 15 46.7 Darrell Jackson 47.3 *
wr 16 45.7 Amani Toomer 46.8 *
wr 17 44.8 Plaxico Burress 46.6 *
wr 18 43.5 Larry Fitzgerald 45.6 *
wr 19 42.9 Javon Walker 45.2 *
wr 20 42.0 Roy Williams 45.1 *
wr 21 41.1 Reggie Wayne 44.2 *
wr 22 40.6 Donald Driver 41.8 *
wr 23 40.4 Braylon Edwards 41.1 *
wr 24 39.9 Chris Chambers 40.4 *
wr 25 39.5 Mike Furrey 40.3 *
wr 26 39.1 Isaac Bruce 40.3 *
wr 27 38.5 Joey Galloway 39.9 *
wr 28 38.2 Antonio Bryant 39.7 *
wr 29 37.4 Lee Evans 39.5 *
wr 30 36.7 Muhsin Muhammad 39.4 *
wr 31 36.1 Donte Stallworth 36.8 *
wr 32 35.7 Steve Smith 32.8
wr 33 34.9 Arnaz Battle 31.4
wr 34 34.4 Derrick Mason 31.0
wr 35 33.4 T.J. Houshmandzadeh 30.9
wr 36 33.0 Travis Taylor 30.8
wr 37 32.6 Greg Lewis 30.7
wr 38 31.8 Drew Bennett 30.5
wr 39 31.3 Wes Welker 29.9
wr 40 30.7 Chris Henry 29.7


00--05
RANK AVG 2006 player 2006 FPT
==========================================
te 1 47.9 Kellen Winslow Jr 40.3
te 2 42.4 Todd Heap 36.0
te 3 36.1 L.J. Smith 34.7
te 4 33.6 Desmond Clark 30.4
te 5 30.7 Antonio Gates 29.7
te 6 29.2 Dallas Clark 24.4
te 7 27.4 Tony Gonzalez 23.2
te 8 26.3 Heath Miller 22.8
te 9 24.2 Ben Watson 22.3
te 10 22.8 Bo Scaife 21.8
te 11 21.3 Daniel Wilcox 21.7 *
te 12 19.9 Jeremy Shockey 20.7 *
te 13 19.5 George Wrighster 20.1 *
te 14 18.8 Randy McMichael 19.7 *
te 15 18.3 Alge Crumpler 18.8 *
te 16 17.5 Eric Johnson 18.6 *
te 17 16.7 Dan Campbell 18.0 *
te 18 16.1 Chris Baker 18.0 *
te 19 15.5 Owen Daniels 16.7 *
te 20 14.5 Alex Smith 16.6 *

I don't know what to make of this, but there is some serious compression this season. From 2000--2005, the difference between WR#1 and WR#20 after five weeks has averaged 42.6 points. This season it's just 20.7. The TE position is seeing a similar shift, but not as drastic.

6 Comments | Posted in Fantasy

Matt Leinart

Posted by Chase Stuart on October 12, 2006

If you're reading this blog, you probably know that Matt Leinart made his first NFL start this weekend. Experts have been raving about Leinart, and one could justifiably gush about how impressive it was to pass for 250 yards and a couple of touchdowns in his first professional start. It's slightly less impressive, although equally accurate, to say that his performance ranks about as good as the debuts of former NFL quarterbacks Mike McMahon and Chad Hutchinson. It's a lot less impressive to note that he looked worse than Chris Weinke, Steve Matthews and Ryan Fitzpatrick did in their respective first starts.

There have been 105 quarterbacks to enter the NFL since 1995 and throw more than 20 passes in a single game. I don't have complete games started data, so I had to use "over 20 passes" as a proxy for "NFL start". This is going to be both overinclusive (say, Philip Rivers in week 17, 2005, throwing 22 passes in relief) and underinclusive (say, Philip Rivers throwing 11 passes in week 1, 2006, his first actual NFL start). But for the most part, the list is going to consist of QBs making their first start. Instead of writing out "in his first NFL game with over 20 pass attempts", I'm going to just say "in his first start", but now you know what I mean.

Let's divide this up into rookies and non-rookies. Sixty-eight of the 105 quarterbacks started their first game during their rookie season. The rookies averaged 4.73 adjusted Y/A as a group in their first games starting, while the non-rookies were a bit higher at 5.45 Y/A. You'd expect this of course, because a year of seasoning should prepare any QB to do well in his first start. You might think that the rookies as a whole were more talented (and that's why they started as rookies), but even if true, that doesn't seem to be enough to compensate for the steep learning curve.

The "round" column shows which round the quarterback was drafted in, with undrafted QBs designated by a "U". Note how few first round quarterbacks top the list, but several are featured at the bottom. (This list is slightly different if you read this blog before 11:00 today; thanks to JKL for the corrections.)

name			round	year	team	att	pyd	ptd	int	AdjY/A
Ryan Fitzpatrick	7	2005	ram	30	310	3	1	9.83
Drew Brees		2	2001	sdg	27	221	1	0	8.56
Chris Weinke		4	2001	car	22	223	1	1	8.55
Patrick Ramsey		1	2002	was	34	268	2	0	8.47
Jim Miller		6	1995	pit	28	262	1	1	8.11
Jeff Garcia		U	1999	sfo	33	243	2	0	7.97
Quincy Carter		2	2001	dal	26	194	1	0	7.85
Jim Sorgi		6	2004	clt	25	168	2	0	7.52
Aaron Brooks		4	2000	nor	22	187	2	1	7.36
Shaun King		2	1999	tam	37	297	2	1	7.35
Steve Matthews		7	1997	jax	35	252	0	0	7.20
**Bruce Gradkowski	6	2006	tam	37	245	2	0	7.16
Mike McMahon		5	2001	det	25	165	0	0	6.60
**Matt Leinart		1	2006	crd	35	253	2	1	6.51
Chad Hutchinson		U	2002	dal	24	145	1	0	6.46
Craig Whelihan		6	1997	sdg	29	206	2	1	6.24
Steve Mcnair		1	1995	oti	27	203	1	1	6.22
Kerry Collins		1	1995	car	32	234	1	1	6.22
Jeff Brohm		0	1996	sfo	30	176	1	0	6.20
Luke McCown		4	2004	cle	34	277	2	2	6.09
Tim Couch		1	1999	cle	24	134	1	0	6.00
Eric Zeier		3	1995	cle	46	310	1	1	5.98
Akili Smith		1	1999	cin	41	221	2	0	5.88
Ben Roethlisberger	1	2004	pit	22	163	1	1	5.82
Koy Detmer		7	1998	phi	36	185	2	0	5.69
Jon Kitna		0	1997	sea	37	283	1	2	5.49
David Carr		1	2002	htx	22	145	2	1	5.45
Craig Krenzel		5	2004	chi	25	168	1	1	5.32
Cade McNown		1	1999	chi	33	255	1	2	5.30
Rex Grossman		1	2003	chi	30	157	0	0	5.23
David Garrard		4	2002	jax	26	135	0	0	5.19
Danny Kanell		4	1996	nyg	27	128	1	0	5.11
Brock Huard		7	2000	sea	34	172	0	0	5.06
Peyton Manning		1	1998	clt	37	302	1	3	4.78
Doug Johnson		0	2000	atl	33	233	1	2	4.64
Michael Vick		1	2001	atl	30	176	0	1	4.37
Charlie Frye		3	2005	cle	24	138	1	1	4.29
Chris Simms		3	2004	tam	32	175	0	1	4.06
Moses Moreno		7	1998	chi	41	153	1	0	3.98
Doug Nussmeier		4	1996	nor	35	171	1	1	3.89
Tim Hasselbeck		0	2003	was	30	150	1	1	3.83
Ryan Leaf		1	1998	sdg	31	192	1	2	3.61
Kyle Orton		4	2005	chi	28	141	0	1	3.43
Anthony Wright		0	2000	dal	25	119	0	1	2.96
Byron Leftwich		1	2003	jax	36	231	1	3	2.94
Donovan McNabb		1	1999	phi	21	60	0	0	2.86
Tony Banks		2	1996	ram	33	174	1	2	2.85
Kurt Kittner		5	2003	atl	29	115	1	1	2.76
Henry Burris		U	2002	chi	22	50	1	0	2.73
Kyle Boller		1	2003	rav	43	152	1	1	2.72
**Vince Young		1	2006	oti	29	155	1	2	2.59
Matt Schaub		3	2004	atl	41	188	0	2	2.39
Eli Manning		1	2004	nyg	37	162	1	2	2.22
Matt Lytle		U	2001	car	25	126	1	2	1.84
Charlie Batch		2	1998	det	40	160	0	2	1.75
Danny Wuerffel		4	1997	nor	32	132	0	2	1.31
Dave Ragone		3	2003	htx	23	71	0	1	1.13
Jake Plummer		2	1997	crd	40	195	2	4	0.88
Joey Harrington		1	2002	det	35	182	2	4	0.63
Jonathan Quinn		3	1998	jax	27	88	1	2	0.30
John Navarre		7	2004	crd	40	168	1	4	-0.05
Billy Joe Hobert	3	1995	rai	37	162	0	4	-0.49
Jim Druckenmiller	1	1997	sfo	28	102	1	3	-0.82
Alex Smith		1	2005	sfo	23	74	0	4	-4.61

In Bouman's first start, Randy Moss caught seven passes for 158 yards and a score. The next two QBs on the list played on the Martz-led Rams. On the other side, did you notice that two 49ers QBs round out the list? It's harder to make fun of Alex Smith now, but his NFL debut was as bad as it gets.

Interestingly enough, Matt Leinart's performance against the Chiefs wasn't even the best by a rookie QB...in his first NFL start...this weekend. That's right, Toledo's own Bruce Gradkowski had the tenth best performance on the list. But Gradkowski didn't even have the best first start by a Tampa Bay rookie QB in the last ten years...that threw 37 times. As good as Gradkowski looked, it's hard to top Shaun King's 297 passing yards in 1999. (Although technically, King's first start came the week before, but he only attempted nineteen passes.)

What about non-rookies making their debut? Here are the 37 performances by a non-rookie QB (but that entered the NFL after 1994) in his first NFL "start".


Rob Johnson 4 1997 jax 24 294 2 0 13.08
Todd Bouman U 2001 min 31 348 4 1 11.06
Jamie Martin U 1998 jax 23 228 2 0 10.78
Marc Bulger 6 2002 ram 21 186 3 0 10.29
Jake Delhomme U 1999 nor 27 278 2 1 9.37
Trent Green 8 1998 ram 25 208 2 0 9.12
Carson Palmer 1 2004 cin 27 248 2 1 8.26
Billy Volek U 2003 oti 41 295 2 0 7.68
Tim Rattay 7 2002 sfo 21 138 2 0 7.52
Brian Griese 3 1999 den 40 270 3 0 7.50
Tony Graziani 7 1999 atl 22 152 1 0 7.36
Tom Brady 6 2001 nwe 23 168 0 0 7.30
Bobby Hoying 3 1997 phi 38 276 0 0 7.26
Todd Collins 2 1996 buf 44 309 1 0 7.25
Chad Pennington 1 2002 nyj 34 281 0 1 6.94
J.P. Losman 1 2005 buf 28 170 1 0 6.43
Marques Tuiasosopo 2 2003 rai 28 224 0 1 6.39
Alex VanPelt 8 1997 buf 24 177 2 1 6.33
Daunte Culpepper 1 2000 min 23 190 0 1 6.30
Paul Justin 7 1996 clt 22 128 1 0 6.27
A.J. Feeley 5 2002 phi 30 181 0 0 6.03
Kurt Warner U 1999 ram 44 316 3 2 5.82
Jesse Palmer 4 2003 nyg 26 140 1 0 5.77
Chris Redman 3 2002 rav 34 218 1 1 5.38
Brooks Bollinger 6 2005 nyj 28 149 0 0 5.32
Damon Huard U 1999 mia 42 240 2 1 5.12
Ken Dorsey 7 2004 sfo 32 205 0 1 5.00
Steve Stenstrom 4 1998 chi 25 154 1 1 4.76
Kelly Holcomb U 1997 clt 30 181 0 1 4.53
Spergon Wynn 6 2001 min 39 218 0 1 4.44
Stoney Case 3 1997 crd 33 222 0 2 4.00
Travis Brown U 2001 buf 33 201 1 2 3.67
Sage Rosenfels 4 2004 mia 38 264 1 3 3.66
Ray Lucas U 1999 nyj 30 137 1 1 3.40
Philip Rivers 1 2005 sdg 22 115 0 1 3.18
Cody Pickett 7 2005 sfo 21 102 0 1 2.71
Matt Hasselbeck 6 2001 sea 34 178 0 2 2.59
Josh McCown 3 2003 crd 32 150 0 2 1.88
**Andrew Walter 3 2006 rai 27 162 0 3 1.00
Clint Stoerner U 2001 dal 23 177 1 4 0.30
Kordell Stewart 2 1996 pit 21 77 0 2 -0.62

That's right, Bill M.: before Rob Johnson became a Buffalo legend, he turned in the best performance of any QB making his first NFL start in the last eleven years. Twenty of twenty four, 294 yards and two TDs will be tough to top, especially in a win.

I was curious how it would look if we broke it down by draft round. The results are a bit surprising. Below are the totals for all 105 quarterbacks.


Round Att Yards TD INT AY/A
1 784 4825 25 36 4.41
2 296 1851 8 12 4.70
3 434 2430 7 20 3.69
4 339 2246 12 12 5.39
5 109 629 2 2 5.13
6 264 1780 10 5 6.27
7 334 1965 11 7 5.27
8 49 385 4 1 7.76
U 583 3926 27 21 5.58
3192 20037 106 116 4.97

I'll let you guys comment on what's a pretty surprising split. Lastly, if you have six minutes to spare, you won't regret checking out some interesting footage of Matt Leinart.

11 Comments | Posted in General

Fun divisions

Posted by Doug on October 11, 2006

I don't know what possessed me to look into this, but I got curious about what division had the most closely-contested set of intradivision games. Since the merger, it looks like the 1991 AFC West has that honor. The average absolute score difference was 5.7 points (for reference, an overall NFL average is around 11 or 12). And 75% of the intradivision games -- 15 of 20 --- were decided by 7 points or less.

On the other end of the spectrum, we see that the average 1976 NFC West game was a 21-point game and fewer than 1 in 5 were decided by 7 points or less.

Some 2006 divisions appear near the top and the bottom of this list, which is to be expected. It's still early.


YR Division AvgMargin %close
=====================================
1991 AFC West 5.8 75.0
2006 NFC West 6.8 75.0
1990 AFC West 7.0 65.0
1990 NFC West 7.1 66.7
1976 NFC Central 7.3 58.3
2006 AFC East 7.4 40.0
1980 AFC Central 7.4 66.7
1978 NFC West 7.4 58.3
1977 AFC Central 7.6 66.7
1999 NFC Central 7.7 65.0
2004 NFC North 7.8 66.7
1989 AFC West 7.9 70.0
1997 NFC East 8.0 50.0
1970 AFC West 8.0 50.0
1993 AFC West 8.0 55.0
1999 AFC East 8.2 60.0
2002 AFC North 8.2 58.3
1987 NFC Central 8.3 61.1
2005 AFC East 8.3 58.3
1974 NFC Central 8.3 50.0
2000 AFC West 8.3 65.0
1999 AFC West 8.4 65.0
2001 AFC West 8.4 55.0
1982 NFC East 8.5 61.5
1979 NFC East 8.6 45.0
2006 AFC North 8.7 33.3
1974 NFC East 8.8 60.0
2003 NFC South 8.8 75.0
2000 AFC East 8.8 55.0
2006 NFC South 8.8 50.0
2002 NFC North 8.8 58.3
1988 NFC East 8.9 60.0
1994 AFC East 8.9 50.0
2006 AFC South 9.0 66.7
1996 AFC Central 9.1 50.0
1979 NFC Central 9.1 55.0
1986 AFC Central 9.2 66.7
1974 AFC West 9.2 50.0

. . .

1996 NFC Central 14.3 30.0
2005 AFC South 14.3 33.3
2006 NFC North 14.4 40.0
1975 AFC Central 14.4 41.7
1982 NFC West 14.4 42.9
1970 AFC East 14.4 35.0
2000 AFC Central 14.5 30.0
1982 AFC East 14.5 33.3
1972 NFC East 14.6 30.0
1994 NFC West 14.7 33.3
1992 NFC Central 14.8 35.0
1976 AFC West 14.9 25.0
2006 AFC West 15.0 50.0
1975 AFC East 15.0 30.0
1988 AFC Central 15.1 50.0
1983 AFC Central 15.1 33.3
1987 AFC West 15.2 36.8
1980 NFC Central 15.2 30.0
1996 NFC West 15.4 35.0
1973 AFC Central 15.5 33.3
1986 NFC Central 15.7 35.0
2002 AFC East 15.9 25.0
1971 AFC East 15.9 35.0
1973 AFC East 16.1 25.0
1999 NFC West 16.4 30.0
1972 AFC Central 16.7 41.7
1972 NFC West 17.6 25.0
1973 NFC Central 18.2 8.3
1972 AFC East 18.4 25.0
1973 NFC West 18.9 33.3
1989 AFC Central 19.6 33.3
1990 AFC Central 19.9 16.7
1987 NFC West 20.7 27.3
1976 NFC West 20.9 18.8

Here are the all-time figures for each division.


Division AvMargin %close
====================================
NFC North 10.0 50.9
NFC South 10.8 53.7
AFC West 10.9 48.4
AFC North 11.0 39.2
NFC East 11.4 45.5
NFC Central 11.7 43.8
AFC South 11.7 41.2
AFC Central 12.3 42.9
AFC East 12.3 43.4
NFC West 12.7 41.8

12 Comments | Posted in General, History

Inexperienced quarterbacks

Posted by Doug on October 10, 2006

I got an email last week from a reader who was interested in knowing if 2006 should be called The Year of the Inexperienced Quarterback. The Titans, Browns, Bills, Chargers, Raiders, Bucs, Bears, Cardinals, and 49ers all look like they may be prepared to finish out the season with quarterbacks who, prior to this year, had no more than a handful of starts on their resumes. How rare is this?

The GS (games started) column in my database is not complete right now unfortunately, so I will estimate experience by looking at career passing attempts. Let's start with this list of quarterbacks since 1970 who (a) led their team in passing attempts and (b) had not thrown a single NFL pass prior to that season.


YR TM Green QB
==========================
1970 buf Dennis Shaw
1970 pit Terry Bradshaw
1971 nwe Jim Plunkett
1971 hou Dan Pastorini
1971 gnb Scott Hunter
1972 phi John Reaves
1973 sdg Dan Fouts
1973 buf Joe Ferguson
1974 sfo Tom Owen
1975 nwe Steve Grogan
1975 atl Steve Bartkowski
1976 sea Jim Zorn
1977 nyg Joe Pisarcik
1978 sfo Steve Deberg
1978 tam Doug Williams
1979 det Jeff Komlo
1979 kan Steve Fuller
1979 nyg Phil Simms
1980 mia David Woodley
1981 det Eric Hipple
1982 bal Mike Pagel
1982 chi Jim McMahon
1983 mia Dan Marino
1983 den John Elway
1983 hou Oliver Luck
1984 hou Warren Moon
1985 ram Dieter Brock
1985 cle Bernie Kosar
1986 buf Jim Kelly
1986 ind Jack Trudeau
1986 ram Jim Everett
1988 ind Chris Chandler
1989 dal Troy Aikman
1990 ind Jeff George
1991 pit Neil O'Donnell
1991 pho Stan Gelbaugh
1993 sea Rick Mirer
1993 nwe Drew Bledsoe
1994 was Heath Shuler
1995 car Kerry Collins
1996 stl Tony Banks
1997 ari Jake Plummer
1997 sdg Craig Whelihan
1998 ind Peyton Manning
1998 det Charlie Batch
1999 cle Tim Couch
1999 sfo Jeff Garcia
2000 min Daunte Culpepper
2001 car Chris Weinke
2001 dal Quincy Carter
2002 hou David Carr
2002 det Joey Harrington
2002 dal Chad Hutchinson
2003 jax Byron Leftwich
2003 bal Kyle Boller
2004 cin Carson Palmer
2004 pit Ben Roethlisberger
2005 chi Kyle Orton
2005 sfo Alex Smith
2006 oak Andrew Walter

As of now, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and Bruce Gradkowski are not their teams' leaders in pass attempts. It's probable, but not certain, that at least one or two of them will be by the end of the year. On the other hand, Andrew Walter may be removed from the list if Aaron Brooks is given the job back when he returns. All things considered, I'd guess that 2006 will have two teams whose main QB had not thrown a single pass before the season started.

If you look at the list, you'll note that that is quite unremarkable. Since the merger, only two seasons --- 1987 and 1992 --- have failed to have a team whose leading passer had zero prior game experience. But 1987 had Detroit's Chuck Long, who came into the season with 40 previous pass attempts, and 1992 had Brett Favre (Packers) and Browning Nagle (Jets) who had combined for 7 previous attempts.

This next list shows the number of teams whose leading passer had fewer than 100 previous career attempts.


YR #
=======
1970 3
1971 4
1972 1
1973 3
1974 2
1975 2
1976 2
1977 1
1978 4
1979 4
1980 2
1981 3
1982 2
1983 4
1984 6
1985 3
1986 5
1987 1
1988 4
1989 2
1990 3
1991 4
1992 2
1993 5
1994 3
1995 3
1996 3
1997 4
1998 3
1999 7
2000 1
2001 4
2002 5
2003 3
2004 3
2005 4
2006 2

The 2006 number is definitely in flux. Right now, the two are Philip Rivers and Andrew Walter. As mentioned before, Young, Leinart, and Gradkowski might add themselves to the list and Walter might be removed. Still, even a four there seems unremarkable. Trivia time: name the 7 from 1999 (without looking it up of course).

Finally, let's take a look at the average number of previous career pass attempts by the league's starting QBs (again defined as the QB on each team who attempted the most passes).


YR AvgPrevAtt
================
1971 1198.6
1972 1299.7
1973 1303.6
1974 1394.4
1975 1360.0
1976 1211.9
1977 1319.0
1978 1252.9
1979 1361.9
1980 1412.6
1981 1622.2
1982 1654.6
1983 1419.1
1984 1332.9
1985 1266.4
1986 1201.2
1987 1432.6
1988 1235.8
1989 1451.9
1990 1581.3
1991 1516.7
1992 1569.3
1993 1705.5
1994 1903.3
1995 1999.7
1996 2092.5
1997 1809.9
1998 2071.4
1999 1598.5
2000 1456.2
2001 1402.0
2002 1478.5
2003 1609.0
2004 1639.1
2005 2013.2
2006 2154.6

Now obviously, these numbers are going to creep upward over time because teams are passing more than they used to. And again, a Young/Collins switch would decrease this average by about 160. A Leinart/Warner switch would decrease it by another 75. But Gradkowski/Simms wouldn't change it much at all, and Huard/Green and Walter/Brooks have the potential to increase it. With Favre, Bledsoe, Brunell, Manning, Plummer, McNair and Brad Johnson, if anything, 2006 looks like the year of the Graybeard Quarterback.

15 Comments | Posted in General, History

The Bears

Posted by Doug on October 9, 2006

I'll admit it. I thought the Bears were pretenders last year and that they'd struggle to make the playoffs this year, much less be in the hunt for a first round bye. I know I'm not alone on this. At this point, we're well beyond acknowledging that they're for real and we need to start talking about where their start ranks among the all-time dominant starts to a season.

Since the 1970 merger, 56 teams have started the season 5-0, including this year's Bears and Colts. The Ravens might join them tonight. Of those teams, the 2006 Bears have the 2nd-highest point differential and they are one of only two teams to have won 4 of their first five by 20 points or more. The list below shows all the 5-0 starters, Margin is the team's point differential through five games, B stands for blowout and is the number of 20+ point victories in the first five games.


TM YR Margin B Record
==========================
stl 1999 123 4 13- 3-0
chi 2006 120 4 ??????
was 1991 111 3 14- 2-0
den 1998 89 2 14- 2-0
mia 1984 88 2 14- 2-0
nwe 1974 87 2 7- 7-0
chi 1986 86 2 14- 2-0
den 1997 84 2 12- 4-0
min 1975 81 2 12- 2-0
ind 2005 77 2 14- 2-0
den 1977 77 2 12- 2-0
ind 2003 76 2 12- 4-0
chi 1985 75 1 15- 1-0
stl 2001 75 2 14- 2-0
phi 2004 74 1 13- 3-0
nor 1991 74 2 11- 5-0
stl 2000 72 2 10- 6-0
ram 1973 72 2 12- 2-0
min 1998 70 2 15- 1-0
kan 2003 70 2 13- 3-0
was 1971 67 2 9- 4-1
min 2003 67 1 9- 7-0
dal 1976 66 1 11- 3-0
dal 1977 66 1 12- 2-0
pit 1978 64 1 14- 2-0
min 1974 63 1 10- 4-0
nyg 1990 63 1 13- 3-0
den 1986 61 1 11- 5-0
stl 1974 61 2 10- 4-0
nor 1993 60 1 8- 8-0
mia 1972 57 1 14- 0-0
phi 1981 56 1 10- 6-0
bal 1977 54 0 10- 4-0
mia 1992 53 1 11- 5-0
nwe 2004 52 0 14- 2-0
cin 1975 51 1 11- 3-0
sdg 1994 50 0 11- 5-0
was 1978 49 1 8- 8-0
tam 1979 48 0 10- 6-0
buf 1980 48 0 11- 5-0
cin 1988 47 1 12- 4-0
was 1986 47 1 12- 4-0
dal 1983 47 0 12- 4-0
buf 1991 47 0 13- 3-0
min 1973 43 0 12- 2-0
ram 1985 40 0 11- 5-0
sfo 1984 40 0 15- 1-0
ram 1989 40 0 11- 5-0
tam 1997 39 0 10- 6-0
ind 2006 35 0 ??????
ram 1978 35 0 12- 4-0
car 2003 33 1 11- 5-0
sfo 1990 33 0 14- 2-0
jax 1998 32 0 11- 5-0
min 2000 31 0 11- 5-0
nyj 2004 31 0 10- 6-0

Sure, the Bears schedule hasn't been that tough, but it hasn't been a joke either. The 1999 Rams' was almost certainly easier. The 1991 Redskins had a tougher slate than the 2006 Bears and if you made me choose just one team (after having given it very little thought), I'd say that the 1991 Redskins probably had the best 5-game start in modern NFL history. But the Bears have a pretty strong case.

A few weeks ago, I opined that the first two weeks' results don't mean much. But a look at the top of this list shows that the first five weeks' unquestionably do, at least if they are as strong as the Bears' have been. Six of the top 10 teams on that list made the Super Bowl and a few of the ones that didn't were favored to.

22 Comments | Posted in General, History

Predicting this weekend’s games

Posted by Chase Stuart on October 4, 2006

I'm guessing none of the readers of this blog predicted the '75 Packers would beat the '75 Cowboys in week five of that season. Green Bay was 0-4, while the host Cowboys were 4-0. Green Bay wound up winning 19-17, and that's the only time since the NFL merger that a road 0-4 team defeated a 4-0 team. But will we see a repeat this weekend?

Since 1970, there have been 964 games played during week five of the season. I thought it might be fun to go through the history books and see if they can help us learn anything about the future.

Buffalo (2-2) at Chicago (4-0) Home team: 2-2 all time, 0.500

Surprisingly enough, the road teams have fared alright during these matchups. For those curious, the 1987 Saints won at Soldier Field and the '88 Rams lost to the visiting Cardinals.

Cleveland (1-3) at Carolina (2-2) Home team: 17-9 all time, 0.654

As you might expect, one-win teams don't fare very well on the road. That percentage is probably what you would have guessed.

Detroit (0-4) at Minnesota (2-2) Home team: 7-6 all time, 0.538

This is the mirror image of the Bears-Bills game: here we have a winless team on the road (instead of an undefeated team at home) against a .500 team. Once again, we see a pretty surprising result. For those who believe in the "due for a win/loss" theory -- and I'm not one of them -- you now have some empirical evidence if you're riding the Lions' or Browns' bandwagon this week.

Miami (1-3) at New England (3-1) Home team: 13-3-2 all time, 0.778

Subjective opinion after watching these teams so far would say Miami has no chance to win. Objective opinion says pretty much the same thing. On the other hand, the '86 Raiders won at Arrowhead, and the '96 Cowboys won in Philadelphia. Maybe the '06 Dolphins can continue the ten-year trend.

St. Louis (3-1) at Green Bay (1-3) Home team: 14-12 all time, 0.538

You might be surprised to see the Rams at 3-1, because they've played pretty poorly. The last three weeks the Rams have faced teams that are 0-10 when not playing each other (49ers, Cardinals and Lions), and have outscored them by just two points. Combine that with history showing that the team with two less wins has won more often, and this seems like a good upset pick. Since 1976, the home team in this "series" is 14-6, and the last matchup was a Patriots win against the visiting Chargers in 2001.

Tampa Bay (0-3) at New Orleans (3-1) First ever matchup

Yes, history will be made in New Orleans this weekend...again. This is the first matchup since the merger pitting an 0-3 team against a 3-1 team. In case you were wondering, 0-4 teams were 1-7 against 3-1 teams, with the '76 Chiefs obtaining the lone win at Washington. As noted above in the Dolphins-Patriots game, 1-3 teams haven't fared much better against 3-1 home teams than the winless teams have.

Tennessee (0-4) at Indianapolis (4-0) Home team: 2-1 all time, 0.667

This matchup has only happened three other times since the merger. The most recent one, in 2000, saw the Rams beat the Chargers 57-31. Two years earlier, the Broncos roughed up the Eagles 41-16. And in 1975, the Bart Starr-coached Packers upset the Cowboys, 19-17. I'll let you decide which game the Titans/Colts clash is most likely to resemble.

Washington (2-2) at N.Y. Giants (1-2) Home team: 1-1 all time, 0.500

Is this really that rare a matchup? I would have guessed that two pretty mediocre teams would have faced each other a number of times, but I forgot that the NFL teams didn't have bye weeks until 1990. Interestingly enough, the 2-2 Jets beat the 1-2 Bengals by 17 in 1997, while two years earlier the 2-2 Broncos lost to the 1-2 Seahawks by 17.

Kansas City (1-2) at Arizona (1-3) Home team: 2-1 all time, 0.333

This marquee matchup features quarterbacks with 12 career passing TDs among them, so I'd be wary of any predictions in this game. Most recently, the 2002 Titans lost at home against Steve Spurrier and the Redskins.

N.Y. Jets (2-2) at Jacksonville (2-2) Home team: 15-12 all time, 0.556

That 0.556 figure is only a bit below the average home winning percentage in the NFL, so that ratio makes sense when you have a two .500 teams facing each other. Good news for Jets fans: the road team has won five of the last eight times, along with the last two matchups (2005 Seahawks @ Rams, 2002 Giants @ Cowboys).

Oakland (0-3) at San Francisco (1-3) Home team: 10-0 all time, 1.000

This year marks the 11th matchup to decide the Battle of the Bay. The Raiders hold a slight edge, having won six of the first ten games. I took a little bit of liberty, as nine of those ten matchups featured an 0-4 team against a 1-3 team, but I figure the 2006 Raiders are probably worse than most 0-4 teams anyway. In the one matchup of an 0-3 @ 1-3, the 2001 Lions lost to the Vikings. That Lions team might have actually been worse than the Raiders: Detroit had scored 20 points and allowed 87 after three games, while Oakland has scored 27 and allowed "only" 79.

Dallas (2-1) at Philadelphia (3-1) Home team: 0-2 all time, 0.000

The Eagles were on the flip-side of this equation in one of the biggest losses ever by a Super Bowl Champion. The 1994 49ers were 3-1, but got blasted 40-8 by the visiting Eagles, and were out-gained by 248 yards. A year later, the Browns under Bill Belichick lost 22-19, in a game featuring 7 FGs. Cleveland wound end the season 5-11 after starting 3-1, and Bill Belichick achieved some modicum of success later in his career coaching the Patriots. This was also the last season in Cleveland before The Move, and the Browns seemed to tank the season after the mid-season announcement that the team was leaving for Baltimore. The only home game they would win after week four was the home finale at the Old Dawg Pound.

So history points to an upset in this one. I'm guessing that won't trump The Story Of the Year, as TO returns to Philly.

Pittsburgh (1-2) at San Diego (2-1) Home team: 2-0 all time, 1.000

Both the Chargers and Steelers have had their byes already, and remember we're only looking at teams with these records that met in week five. That's why we've only seen it twice before, and both home teams won by a touchdown.

Baltimore (4-0) at Denver (2-1) Home team: 0-1 all time, 0.000

The 2004 Lions went into Atlanta and won, which is surprising because I couldn't believe the Lions had been 3-1 in recent memory. The 2-1 Patriots also beat the 3-0 Saints in 1998, in the only other time a 2-1 team went on the road against an unbeaten team. I think the Broncos have been playing under their heads and the Ravens have been playing over their heads, and Denver has one of the best home field advantages in the NFL. So don't be surprised to see Denver win this one.

9 Comments | Posted in General

(Travel) time and temperature, part two

Posted by Doug on October 3, 2006

This is a continuation of yesterday's guest column by JKL:

Today, I am going to look at the effect of climate. This study is a little less exact than calculating the distance between two cities. After all, most cities are not like Rock Ridge; they do not change locations overnight. However, temperatures can and do fluctuate throughout a season. It would be too time consuming, and probably impossible, to find accurate weather information on every divisional game played from 1986-2005, so I tried to do the next best thing.

To get a general sense of the effect of climate, I used the National Weather Service median daily high temperatures for each city from the months of September through December, and averaged those 4 months. For teams that played in a dome, I approximated 74 degrees as the average in-season temperature. Houston, because of the retractable roof, was a potential problem, but as it turns out, the average in-season daily high in Houston (if you consider Houston an outdoor team) is only 2 degrees higher than my guess at dome temperatures.

The list below is similar to the distance list from yesterday. It lists the home team wins and losses in divisional series between 1986-2005, sorted by the average in season temperature difference (in Fahrenheit) between the two cities.

temp diff Home W Home L Home T Pct
0 to 5.0 348 305 2 0.533
5.1 to 10.0 303 258 0 0.540
10.1 to 15.0 161 103 0 0.610
15.1 to 20.0 170 109 0 0.609
20.1 to 25.0 132 81 0 0.620
25.1 plus 124 75 0 0.623

Now, let's cross-reference both distance and climate differences, and see what we get.

temp diff 0-400 401-800 801-1200 1201-1600 1601+
0 to 5.0 0.528 0.561 0.526 0.450
5.1 to 10.0 0.515 0.455 0.552 0.613 0.605
10.1 to 15.0 0.517 0.646 0.631
15.1 to 20.0 0.646 0.574 0.531 0.652 0.667
20.1 to 25.0 0.660 0.625 0.571
25.1 plus 0.650 0.608 0.600

This seems to show that both distance and climate matter. At distances less than 800 miles, so long as the temperature difference is not extreme, the home field advantage is very small. Conversely, at longer distances, so long as the playing environments are very similar, the home field advantage is very small. Divisional opponents from similar playing climates, but at distances beyond 800 miles, have a home record of only 65-64-2. Consider the farthest single divisional matchup in terms of distance, San Fransisco versus Carolina in the pre-2002 NFC West. Despite the change of three time zones and over 2300 miles, the two cities have almost identical in-season average temperatures, and the road team won 8 of 14 games.

However, at longer travel distances, once the cities/playing environments start to deviate in temperature beyond five degrees difference, the home field advantage does kick in and increase dramatically.

To demonstrate the strong effect of playing climate change, here is a look at the home team records in series between the current NFC North teams, since 1961. In 1961, Minnesota joined the NFL, and the 4 teams have been divisional rivals since that year. Following the 1974 season, Detroit moved from Tigers Stadium to the Silverdome. Following the 1981 season, Minnesota moved from Metropolitan Stadium to the Metrodome. The Bears and Packers have played outside, as the Good Lord and Lombardi intended it, the entire time.

team 1 team 2 years Home W Home L Home T Home Pct
Chicago Detroit 1961-1974 13 14 1 0.482
Chicago Detroit 1975-2005 40 21 0 0.656
Chicago Green Bay 1961-2005 45 43 0 0.511
Chicago Minnesota 1961-1981 22 18 2 0.548
Chicago Minnesota 1982-2005 28 19 0 0.596
Detroit Green Bay 1961-1974 11 12 5 0.482
Detroit Green Bay 1975-2005 41 21 0 0.661
Detroit Minnesota 1961-1974 11 15 2 0.429
Detroit Minnesota 1975-1981 11 3 0 0.786
Detroit Minnesota 1982-2005 26 21 0 0.553
Green Bay Minnesota 1961-1981 17 24 1 0.417
Green Bay Minnesota 1982-2005 29 18 0 0.617
Outdoor Outdoor 1961-2005 119 126 11 0.486
Outdoor Dome 1975-2005 149 82 0 0.645
Dome Dome 1982-2005 26 21 0 0.553

Note that the home team is only 119-126-11 when the two teams both played their home games outdoors. Granted, during some of those years, there has been a significant power difference between the haves (Green Bay of the 60s, Minnesota of the 70s, Chicago of the mid-80s) and the have-nots (Detroit, and with condolences to MDS, pick your decade). However, when upsets have occurred, they have been more likely to occur on the better teams home field. Consider 1966 and 1967. Green Bay went on to win the Super Bowl both years, but lost to a rather poor Minnesota team at home (while winning in Minnesota) both seasons.

If you asked most NFL announcers what the biggest factor in creating home field advantage was, most would probably attribute a large part of it to crowd noise. This research casts some doubt on that view. I am guessing that the crowd is no less loud (and probably is louder) in divisional rivalry games against close geographic neighbors, such Bears-Packers, Steelers-Browns, or Eagles-Giants. Despite "crowd noise" in these games where the teams are in close proximity and play their home games in similar environments, the home field advantage has been, and continues to be so far in 2005 extremely small.

11 Comments | Posted in Home Field Advantage

(Travel) time and temperature, part one

Posted by Doug on October 2, 2006

Longtime readers of this blog know that a guy with the handle JKL always has interesting things to say in the comments. In particular, he did a couple of very interesting home field advantage studies awhile back. I asked him if he'd be willing to write those up and let me post them here. He agreed, and so I'll be posting them today and tomorrow. Thanks JKL!

Kansas City and Denver are generally considered to have two of the best home field advantages in the NFL. More often than not, this is attributed to, in Denver's case, the altitude, and in Kansas City's case, the environment ("crowd noise") at Arrowhead Stadium.

But is there another explanation? Denver and Kansas City are more geographically isolated from their conference opponents than any other franchises in the NFL. In fact, they are each other's closest geographic neighbors, separated by approximately 567 miles and 4,000 feet in elevation change. Denver's next closest AFC opponent is division rival San Diego. Kansas City's next closest is non-divisional Indianapolis. Compare this to Pittsburgh, who is within 300 miles of all 3 divisional opponents, and within 500 miles of several conference opponents (Buffalo, Tennessee, New England, New York Jets, Indianapolis).

To examine this more closely, I looked at all divisional series played between 1986-2005. With a few exceptions from the 1987 strike season, all divisional series have been played on a home and away basis over that span. This method was chosen because it allows us to compare 2 games, at different sites, each year, to see which series feature a high percentage of home team splits, compared to those that feature more sweeps or series splits where the road team wins both times. Obviously, if a Super Bowl contender is playing a first overall pick contender (like Indianapolis and Houston last year) it is going to make little difference where the game is played. The hope is that over the course of 20 seasons, things will even out, and the series will show roughly even distribution of years where the teams were relatively close, and those were one team was significantly better than the other. I was not concerned about which specific team in the series was winning more, but rather, how often the home team in the series won.

I then looked up the geographic straight-line difference (in miles) between each city in a series (as opposed to the driving distance) because I wanted to get a good approximation of travel time by air on a charter plane. With the exception of Green Bay playing down the road in Milwaukee, I excluded those years when one team played its games in two or more cities, such as New Orleans of 2005. Below are the winning percentages of the home team in divisional series, sorted by geographic mileage between the two cities.

Distance W L T PCT
within 400 363 293 0 0.553
401-800 248 205 0 0.547
801-1200 332 235 1 0.585
1201-1600 172 102 0 0.628
1601-2000 56 42 0 0.571
2001 or more 74 55 1 0.573

Conventional wisdom is that distance matters at extreme distances such as cross-country trips. However, the series beyond 1600 miles, which consist of pre-2002 series involving Arizona in the NFC East, and San Fransisco and Los Angeles versus the other old NFC West opponents, show no greater home field advantage than those at, say, 1100 miles difference.

For some concrete examples of the effect of short distances, here are the divisional series that have been played between 1986-2005 where the teams are within 300 miles, with the miles separating the teams, followed by the home team's won-loss record:

team 1 team 2 distance (mi) Home W Home L
nyg phi 90 22 18
rai (la) sdg 108 7 11
cle pit 125 19 15
phi was 133 23 17
chi gnb 167 17 23
rav (bal) pit 198 11 9
cin cle 210 19 15
nyg was 219 21 18
atl car 228 15 7
cin oti (ten) 245 5 5
chi det 247 26 13
cin pit 253 19 21
clt (ind) oti (ten) 260 4 4
gnb min 266 26 14
det gnb 283 26 14

Notice the winning percentages in the series involving one dome team against an outdoor team, versus those involving two outdoor teams. In Outdoor only series, the home team was 181-174, a paltry 51.0%. In series involving a dome team, the home team was 97-52 (65.1%). Basically, in outdoor series where the teams were relatively close geographically, the home team has had virtually no home field advantage. This has been borne out again this season, as New England won at New York Jets, Cincinnati won at Pittsburgh, Chicago won at Green Bay, and the New York Giants won at Philadelphia. Does this mean the road victor is going to cruise to victory at home later in the year in these series, because they already won on the road? If history is any indicator, the answer is no.

It also raises the interesting question of climate, and how much of what is showing in this distance data is actually due to climate differences, rather than the effect of travel time. Most of the dome series results are from the current NFC North teams, where the difference in playing temperature between playing outdoors and playing in a dome can be very significant.

Tomorrow, I will look at climate differences, and also put the old Black and Blue Division under the microscope. The NFC North teams provide a good case study because not only are two teams outdoor cold weather teams, and two teams indoor controlled weather teams, but because all four teams used to play outdoors. Thus, we can see the effect that changing to domes has had on home field advantage in those series.

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