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Previewing the Conference Championship Games

There are six conference championship games this weekend. Here’s a short preview breaking down this weekend’s action. All times Eastern.

MAC Championship (Detroit, MI)

Friday, 7PM: Kent State vs. Northern Illinois (-6.0)

What is inside of Dri Archer?

Weeknight MACtion doesn’t get better than this, and this is one of just two conference championship games featuring two 11-1 teams. The SRS hit the nail on the head, telling us that NIU is 6.2 points better than Kent State on a neutral field. The stars here are Northern Illinois’ quarterback Jordan Lynch and KSU’s running back Dri Archer. Lynch leads the MAC in Y/A, AY/A, TD/INT Ratio, and Passer Rating, and oh by the way leads the conference with 1,611 rushing yards and ranks third with 16 rushing touchdowns.

Archer, meanwhile, leads the MAC with 1,795 yards from scrimmage has scored 18 touchdowns. But here’s the killer stat: he averaging 9.7 yards per carry, the highest average of any player with at least 100 carries since at least 2000. In his spare time, Archer averages 38.2 yards per kick return, the highest average of any player with at least 12 returns since at least 2000.

Kent State lost to Kentucky, which didn’t seem odd at the time — because we’re talking about Kent State — but looks absurd in retrospect. The Golden Flashes received an SRS grade of 4.4 for that game. Northern Illinois’ one loss was on opening weekend against Iowa, an 18-17 loss in Chicago where NIU led most of the game.

My pick: NIU -6

Pac 12 Championship (Stanford, CA)

Friday, 8PM: UCLA @ Stanford (-8.5)

If we looked at the SRS standings from a week ago, we would set this line at Stanford -5.6. But the current projected SRS spread would be 8.6, mirroring the actual line. So how much do we take away from last week’s game, where Stanford had everything to play for and UCLA seemed content to walk away unscathed?

It’s tough to say. Jim Mora’s Bruins have been an exciting team to watch this year, but Stanford’s defense is well-equipped to stop any rushing attack. Runing backs Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) and Stepfan Taylor (Stanford) have been workhorse backs, each rushing for 11 touchdowns, ranking third and fourth in the conference in rushing, and chipping in in the passing game. And while freshman quarterback Brett Hundley has been outstanding for UCLA, I have a feeling he’s going to wind up very frustrated on Friday night.

My pick: Stanford -8.5

CUSA Championship (Tulsa, OK)

Saturday, 12PM: Central Florida @ Tulsa (-1.5)

These are the two best teams in Conference USA, but that isn’t saying too much. The SRS puts UCF as 3.1 points better than Tulsa, so this game should be a push in Oklahoma. The Golden Hurricane handed UCF their only conference loss two weeks ago in Tulsa, but UCF has the more impressive resume this year losing to just Ohio State and Missouri out of conference. Tulsa lost to Iowa State and Arkansas, and just lost on the road to SMU. So why am I going with the Golden Hurricane? Because Tulsa has gone 16-2 at home the last three years, with the only losses coming to teams ranked, at the time, 8th in the country (Oklahoma State and Houston, in 2011). The final score two weeks ago was misleading, as Tulsa outgained UCF by well over 100 yards rushing, average 1.9 more yards per pass, and won the first downs battle, 26-14.

My pick: Tulsa -1.5

SEC Championship (Atlanta, GA)
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I’ve got a real post ready for tomorrow, so Thursday is Rant Day this week. There’s been a lot of talk this week about how this would be a great year to implement the four-team playoff that’s coming to college football for the 2014 season. I suspect part of that reason is because people are recognizing that Florida boasts a more impressive resume than either Alabama or Georgia, and that Oregon is an elite team that lost an overtime game to a division rival. Therefore, a four-team playoff featuring Notre Dame, the eventual SEC Champion, Florida, and Oregon would be great.

On one hand, of course it would be great. I’d love to watch Notre Dame face Oregon and perhaps see Alabama and Florida face off (no, you couldn’t make me watch Florida-Georgia II). But that’s only because college football is great. In fact, this year — like almost every year — stands as a good example of why the four-team playoff system is doomed to create controversy and do little to increase fairness. Let’s start with…

Winning your division = Bad

We saw this last year, when Alabama ended the year as BCS #2 and therefore had locked up its spot in the national championship game, while LSU still had to go play in the SEC Championship Game. In this particular case, I don’t feel too bad about the fact that Florida would be given a free pass to the four-team playoff while Georgia has to go play Alabama, but only because Florida has faced a much tougher schedule.

But what if instead of what actually happened — Florida beating South Carolina, South Carolina beating Georgia, and Georgia beating Florida — the order was reversed, and Georgia beat South Carolina, South Carolina beat Florida, and Florida beat Georgia? In that case, Florida would likely be #2 or #3 in the BCS, while Georgia would sit pretty at 4. And Florida would go play Alabama for the right to win the SEC… with the loser being left out of the playoffs. That’s patently unfair. Being the third best team in your conference could be preferable to being the second best team. This is a lock to happen at some point during a four-team playoff. This is also going to be a bigger problem generally as conferences get bigger, because conference schedules will become unbalanced. The Big 12 has a round robin where everyone plays everyone, but in a 14-team conference, you can easily see a better team end up with a worse record than an inferior team due purely to scheduling.


It is being conveniently forgotten that Stanford actually won the Pac-12 North. In fact, we have an exact reversal of what happened last year, which many screamed was unfair to Oregon. Lest you forget….

In 2011, both Oregon and Stanford went 8-1 in the Pac-12. Oregon beat Stanford head-to-head in Palo Alto (but lost to USC), so they won the division and then the conference. Stanford had a soft nonconference schedule while Oregon traveled to Dallas to play and lose to LSU in the season opener. So Oregon was 11-2 (but Pac-12 champs) while Stanford was 11-1. After the regular season, Stanford was 4th and Oregon was 5th in the AP, Harris, and Coaches Polls, and also in the BCS. This struck many as unfair, because the Ducks were essentially the better team but had a brutally hard non-conference game, a de facto road game against the #1 team in the country.

Fast forward to 2012. Oregon and Stanford both went 8-1 in the Pac-12. This time, Stanford beat Oregon head-to-head — in Eugene — so they won the division and perhaps the conference (we’ll find out on Saturday.) Oregon had a soft nonconference schedule while Stanford went to South Bend to play the #1 team in the country. Stanford will finish 11-2 if they beat UCLA, while Oregon finished 11-1.

Should Oregon go to the hypothetical four-team playoff instead of Stanford? If not, why not?
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Week 12 Power Rankings

Belichick has an eye on the AFC standings.

The contenders have emerged in both conferences. The numbers say that the Broncos, Patriots, 49ers, and Texans are legit, while there are still question marks surrounding Atlanta, Baltimore, and Chicago despite their records. What to make of the Giants? No one ever knows.

Are we headed towards a rematch of Super Bowl XXIV? That year involved a San Francisco team with two different starting quarterbacks and a Broncos team built around a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Perhaps John Elway will get his revenge this year. Football Outsiders puts the likelihood of a Denver-San Francisco Super Bowl at 8.2%, just behind San Francisco-New England as the most likely matchup.

While things seem set in the AFC, there’s a very important race still going on. Whichever team ends up with the 1 seed always has an advantage, but this year, having the first seed takes on added value. There are three Tier 1 teams in the conference; the 2 and 3 seeds will very likely have to beat two of them to get there, while the 1 seed will likely get an easy matchup in the division round of the playoffs. New England hosts Houston in two weeks. If the Patriots win, they’ll own the tiebreaker over both the Texans and Broncos, and will trail Houston by only one game. It’s easy to envision the Pats having a first round bye followed by a second round game against Indianapolis or Baltimore before hosting Houston or Denver in the title game.

But if New England loses to the Texans, they’ll be behind the Broncos and in line for the 3 seed. That might mean having to deal with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, followed by trips to Denver and Houston. New England’s matchup against Houston next Monday night (Dec. 10) is one of the most important games of the year.

[As always, the number of wins I’m projecting each team to finish the season with is in column 3. The fourth column – PWIN – shows how many wins I projected last week, and the difference column represents how many wins I added or subtracted this week. The “RSOS” column stands for the remaining SOS for the team, based on the number of projected wins I’m giving to each of their opponents. The “RHG” column stands for remaining home games.]

Houston Texans10-1131300.5632Monday night in Foxboro is the last remaining hurdle for this team to clear until January.
Atlanta Falcons10-1131300.4883The Falcons have 10 wins and 7.5 Pythagorean wins. Apparently we're going to party like it's 2010.
Denver Broncos8-3131300.3883I continue to project them to finish 13-3. Ugly win against Chiefs doesn't change anything for me.
San Francisco 49ers8-2-112.511.510.5062The 49ers rank 1st in pass defense, as measured by NY/A. It doesn't matter whether Colin Kaepernick or Alex Smith is the quarterback.
New England Patriots8-3121110.5313Patriots offense is operating at historically good levels. They have 10 days to prepare for Miami, which is roughly 9 more than necessary.
Green Bay Packers7-4111100.4633The loss in New York looked worse than it was, because the Packers still control their own destiny for the division. The #2 seed was always a long shot.
Baltimore Ravens9-2111100.6003I still don't believe in this team, because they aren't going to have amazing special teams or amazing 4th and 29 conversions every week.
Chicago Bears8-3111010.4882A big win for the Bears, increasing their margin of error for the wild card and giving them a leg up in the NFC North. They play Green Bay on Dec. 16th.
New York Giants7-410910.5502As usual, no one knows anything about the Giants. I do know that teams are in trouble when the good Eli Manning shows up.
Indianapolis Colts7-410910.5002Basically clinched a playoff berth with win over Buffalo and Steelers loss. Hard not to like this team. #Chuckstrong
Pittsburgh Steelers6-59900.4633Yes, losing to Cleveland was horrible, but their schedule is easy enough for them to get to 9 wins. I think.
Seattle Seahawks6-59900.5253With three home games remaining, I am keeping Seattle at 9 wins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers6-59900.5562Bucs may be in luck, as Atlanta's week 17 game may be meaningless for the Falcons.
Dallas Cowboys5-689-10.4633The schedule isn't bad, but Dallas' playoff hopes are now on life support.
New Orleans Saints5-689-10.5752A tough loss against San Francisco, but still technically alive.
Cincinnati Bengals6-58800.4752Streaking Bengals look good, but none of their remaining games will be easy. Andy Dalton is quietly having a very good year.
Washington Redskins5-68710.4633Robert Griffin III on Monday Night Football vs. the Giants? Yes please. Washington very much alive in NFC East.
Minnesota Vikings6-578-10.6562It was a great half of a season.
Miami Dolphins5-67610.5693I dropped Miami from 8 to 6 wins last week, but feel comfortable settling on 7 with NE and SF the next two weeks.
St. Louis Rams4-6-16.55.510.5442No longer the worst team in the NFC West!
Tennessee Titans4-767-10.5383Lose to Jacksonville, move down one win.
New York Jets4-767-10.3382Last week's comment presented without further comment: "Jets looked good against the Rams; do they blow all that goodwill tonight?"
Buffalo Bills4-767-10.3944This has to be Chan Gailey's last year, right?
San Diego Chargers4-76600.4253I don't even know what to say anymore.
Detroit Lions4-76600.6383I challenge you to find a more hard luck team than Detroit.
Carolina Panthers3-86600.4252With a new coach, this team should be a sleeper team entering 2013.
Arizona Cardinals4-76600.5562Arizona is the first team ever to start both 4-0 and 4-7 in the same season.
Oakland Raiders3-856-10.3883New report is that Terrelle Pryor may become the quarterback. Spoiler alert: He's not the answer in Oakland.
Philadelphia Eagles3-845-10.5382Another embarrassing performance; how low can this team go? Sadly, they invade our prime-time lineup again this week.
Cleveland Browns3-84400.4632Hard to call it a great win when their turnover differential was larger than their points differential, but in Cleveland, a win is a win.
Jacksonville Jaguars2-93300.4632Good win for the Jaguars, although it may hurt them in April.
Kansas City Chiefs1-102200.4752They have a one game lead on Jacksonville for the #1 pick and will likely "win" the tiebreaker (easier schedule)

Interview with Aaron Schatz

Last week, I sat down with Brian Burke and discussed the work he’s done with NFL teams. Aaron Schatz, founder of Football Outsiders, an indispensable resource for fans of advanced football statistics, has been consulting with NFL teams for years. Schatz is also the lead writer, editor, and statistician on the book series Football Outsiders Almanac and writes for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Below is my interview with Aaron.

Q: Aaron, can you go into specifics on the type of work you do for NFL teams? Do you envision ultimately working for a team?

As far as consulting with teams, I’ve done two different sorts of things. First, I’ve done some in-game decision analysis, some fourth down stuff as well as some analysis on when to accept or decline penalties. Second, I’ve done reports for teams in February that gave analysis of the season with our stats, looking at what issues were likely to statistically regress and what issues really needed to be addressed, along with suggestions for possible free agent signings. Actually, it’s more accurate to say “we’ve done” rather than “I’ve done.” Some consulting I’ve done alone, and sometimes two or three guys on the FO staff work together.

Consulting for teams is great, but as advanced analysis people gradually move into front offices I don’t think I will be one of them. I don’t know about the various other folks who have followed in FO’s footsteps, but my heart has always been with the media, going back to my days running my high school paper, through my time as a radio disc jockey, doing the Lycos 50, and now Football Outsiders. I set out to revolutionize the way people analyzed the NFL, not the way they managed teams. If I end up improving the way people manage teams a little bit too, that’s just extra coolness.

Q: You publish your DVOA rankings every week, one of the most popular football articles on the web. Have you ever gotten flak from a team for them (i.e., how come we’re hiring you, we have a winning record, and you have us 24th!)?

No flak, no. A couple times I’ve had teams that I’ve worked with or that I’m otherwise in contact with ask me why their rating is particularly low in one area. However, unlike a lot of fans, people who work for teams understand that our stats are objective based on a general formula and don’t get tweaked to favor one team over another depending on how we feel each week. I think when people ask me why their team is low in one area, they often ask so that they can improve that area. And when a team hits rock bottom, I mean, they know it. The Jacksonville people don’t need to ask me why the Jaguars are ranked 30th in DVOA, or whatever it is this week. They don’t care as much about their DVOA right now as they do about their DVOA (and record) next year or two years from now. Jim Schwartz has told me he would rather have his defense ranked highly in DVOA than in yards per game. Of course, he’d rather have more wins than either. (In case it’s not clear otherwise, I should point out there are more teams where I’ve got contacts among various coaches and front office people than there are teams that I have actually worked for and received a check from.) [click to continue…]


NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 12

My article for the New York Times this week takes a look at one interesting statistic for each of the eight division winners.

Atlanta Falcons – Record in Close Games
In 2010, Atlanta raced to a 10-2 record on the strength of an improbable 7-1 record in games decided by 7 or fewer points. How a team fares in close games has a heavy impact on a team’s final record, but statisticians agree that such a metric holds little predictive value. The Falcons earned the No. 1 seed in the N.F.C. thanks to their success in close games, but ranked only seventh in the Football Outsiders advanced statistical rankings and 21st in the Advanced NFL Stats efficiency ratings. Atlanta lost badly in its playoff opener, not surprising to those who felt the Falcons’ record was more mirage than reality.

This season, Atlanta has raced to a 10-1 record on the strength of an improbable 7-1 record in games decided by 7 or fewer points. Football Outsiders ranks the Falcons 12th, and according to its founder, Aaron Schatz, the Falcons have by far the worst efficiency rating of any of the 18 teams that have started 10-1 since 1991. Advanced NFL Stats is slightly more generous, placing the Falcons fifth, although the gap between the fifth and 12th teams in its rating is miniscule. The takeaway: Don’t get caught up in the Falcons’ record. It will give Atlanta a bye, but no other guarantees come with it.

San Francisco – Top Pass Defense in the N.F.L.

Last season, the 49ers’ reputation for having an elite defense was built on their superb run defense, which ranked first in rushing yards allowed, rushing yards per carry allowed and rushing touchdowns allowed. But the 49ers were not dominant against the pass, ranking ninth in net yards per pass attempt allowed. This season, the San Francisco defense is without weakness.

The 49ers (8-2-1) actually lead the N.F.L. in net yards per pass attempt allowed. In the process, the 49ers lead the N.F.L. in points allowed, and their defense ranks in the top three in both first downs allowed and Pro-Football-Reference’s Expected Points Added statistic. The run defense remains stout, ranking in the top four in yards, yards per carry and touchdowns allowed, but the improvement in the pass defense makes this an even better defense than the 2011 version. As long as San Francisco continues to shut down opposing passers, it won’t matter very much whether Coach Jim Harbaugh picks Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.

Chicago – 11th in Points Scored Without an Offense

As a technical matter, the Bears (8-3) rank 11th in points scored. Just don’t let anyone tell you that in the context of a story about how Chicago’s offense is underrated. The Bears have scored eight non-offensive touchdowns this season — seven on interception returns, one on a blocked punt — and their great defense and special teams consistently set up the offense for success even when those units aren’t scoring touchdowns. Chicago is in the bottom five in Net Yards per Attempt, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, total yards and sacks allowed. The Bears’ running game benefits from a high number of carries, but ranks below average in both yards per carry and PFR’s Expected Points Added statistic.

The defense is excellent, but a poor offensive line and mediocre wide receiver talent behind Brandon Marshall leave the Bears with one of the worst offenses in the N.F.L. — regardless of how many points they’ve scored. Advanced NFL Stats ranks the Bears’ offense as the second worst in the league.

You can read the full article here.


Game Scripts, Part II: Analyzing team seasons

Yesterday, I rolled out Game Scripts, a way to measure the flow of every game since 1940. The sum of each team’s Game Script in each game can be used to give us an average Game Script score on the season. You might think that this number would be a good proxy for how dominant a team was, and that’s largely true: the teams with the highest game script scores tend to have been the most dominant teams. However, there are some reasons to be cautious with this approach: game scripts are not adjusted for strength of schedule and in any given game, the losing team can end up with a better score than the winning team. That said, here are the teams with the highest Game Scripts since 1940:


The teams with the highest game scripts last year? Green Bay (7.4), New Orleans (5.6) and Houston (5.4), while the Rams (-6.4), Colts (-7.2), and Bucs (-8.7) were at the bottom of the league. But let’s get to the real point of using Game Scripts — to help put passing and rushing ratios in context.

Last year, the Buccaneers had the second highest effective pass/run ratio in the league (defined as total pass attempts divided by rushes plus total pass attempts, but with all kneels and spikes excluded). But that’s misleading, because Tampa Bay had the worst Game Script in the league. Conversely, were Houston and San Francisco really the second and third most run-heavy teams in the NFL last year? The table below lists each team from highest to lowest pass/run ratio:
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McKayla Maroney is not impressed.

Lane Kiffin is not a very good coach, and that’s putting it mildly. He’s one of the most hated men in college football and he’s the face of a USC team that has had the worst season of any preseason favorite since at least 1964. With a 7-5 record, no one is defending Lane Kiffin. And given the various ways he mismanaged the clock against Notre Dame, nobody can defend his performance in that game.

But let’s puts everything aside — Kiffin for being Kiffin, the fact that USC had 1st and goal from the Notre Dame 2 with over 5 minutes remaining and then proceeded to waste over 150 seconds of clock — and look at one particular decision. Facing 4th and goal from the Notre Dame 1-yard line, trailing by 9 points with 2:33 left, Kiffin decided to go for it.

This clearly defies conventional wisdom, and when the move failed, it opened him up to even more criticism. But was it the right call? According to Brian Burke, if this had been an NFL game, the correct call would have been to kick the field goal.

That may not surprise traditionalists, but readers of this blog and Advanced NFL Stats may be surprised to find that, according to the 4th Down Calculator, when trailing by 9 with 2:33 remaining, you need an 87% chance of converting to make going for it the correct call. (I will note that if you are trailing by 10, things change dramatically and going for it is the correct play.)

But this was not an NFL game. Burke’s model is based on two assumptions that are relevant here: one, the team has an average number of timeouts remaining, and two, that the clock will stop with 2:00 to go. USC had one timeout left (which is probably below average for this situation) and there is no two-minute warning in college football. So it’s likely that using 2:33 is not the correct number to use the 4th down calculator for college.

If you use 2:33 remaining, you need an 87% chance of converting to make going for it the correct call.

But, according to the same model, if you use 2:03, it drops to 64%.

If you use 1:33, it drops to 13%.

Obviously figuring out which input to use is very important. However, let’s think about it in a different context.

If USC scores a touchdown and does not onside kick (which I don’t think they do), ND gets the ball at roughly the 25-yard line with 2:25 left. On 1st and 10, they run, USC calls timeout, and there is 2:20 left. On second down, Notre Dame runs, 40 seconds tick off, and there is 1:35 left. Rinse, repeat, and Notre Dame punts with 50 seconds left. This means USC gets the ball with roughly 40 seconds left at say, their own 45.

Here college football’s rules benefit the Trojans because the clock stops momentarily on first downs. At this point, it comes down to this:
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Introducing Game Scripts – Part I

Emmitt knows which way the arrow points.

From 1991 to 1995, Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys were one of the dominant teams in the NFL. As you probably heard, the Cowboys were pretty successful whenever Smith had a lot of carries. Over that five-year span, the Cowboys went 49-7 whenever Smith had 20+ carries in a regular season game, and an additional 8-1 in playoff games.

Despite the implication, we know that the causation arrow looks less like this…

Give Smith 20+ carries ——>>>>>>> Win football game

And more like this…

Have lead late in football game ——>>>>>> call running plays for Smith

How a game unfolds is what my friend Sigmund Bloom likes to call the game script. Sometimes, the game script goes away from one player and to another, and the final boxscore doesn’t truly reflect coaching preference. Rather, the boxscore simply reflects the way the game unfolds. And one of the weirdest boxscores you’ll ever see is a game between the Bills and the Dolphins in December 2005, which Miami won.

Knowing that the Dolphins won, you’d probably be surprised to know that they called 68 passing plays (65 attempts, 3 sacks) against just 22 rushing plays, while the Bills ran more than they passed. But the game script was very unique. In the first quarter, Lee Evans caught three touchdown passes from J.P. Losman. In the second, Miami settled for a 23-yard field goal to cut the lead to 18. The Bills got a safety in the third quarter, to go up 23-3. But Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, Chris Chambers and Sage Rosenfels led a spirited comeback, and scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to win the game. The way the game unfolded was for the Bills to play conservative and the Dolphins to go to the air.

Since 1940, there have been nearly 13,000 professional football games played between the NFL, AFL and AAFC. And each game has had its own game script, unfolding in its own, unique way. My goal was to come up with a single number to explain how the game went down. In this post, I’ll do my best to explain it.
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Week 13 College Football SRS Ratings

We all know the big story of the weekend: Wake up the Echoes, Notre Dame is in the National Championship Game. While it may be trendy to rip the Fighting Irish, they earned their golden ticket to Miami. Notre Dame’s opponent will be the champion of the Southeastern Conference, decided next weekend when Alabama and Georgia meet in Atlanta. Let’s take a closer look at the SEC in 2012, which is looking for its seventh consecutive national championship.

For a long time, the refrain among SEC folks was “there are no off weeks in the SEC.” If no team emerged with a perfect record, that was simply a testament to the depth of the conference. But this year has to go down as one of the most predictable seasons in the history of the SEC — or any other conference. There are six excellent teams representing the First Class of the conference: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, and South Carolina.

There are four genuinely terrible teams: Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas are the cellar dwellers, or Lower Class members. That leaves a lean, two-tiered middle class. Vanderbilt stands alone as an upper-middle class member, with the three M schools of the conference (Mississippi, Missouri, and Mississippi State) are lower-middle class schools. As it turned out, there are caste systems with more mobility than the SEC had in 2012. With 14 teams playing 8 conference games each, that leaves 56 conference games for the SEC. Here is what happened:

  • The First Class (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, and South Carolina) went 30-0 in games against the rest of the conference, with 21 of those wins coming by at least 14 points.
  • The Upper Middle Class (Vanderbilt) was equally predictable, going 0-3 against the First Class and 5-0 against everyone else.
  • The Lower Middle Class (MSU, Mississippi and Missouri) went 0-12 against the First Class, with 9 losses coming by at least 19 points. They also went 0-2 against the Upper Middle Class, but finished 8-0 against the Lower Class, with 6 of those wins coming by double digits.
  • The Bottom Class (Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas) finished 0-26 against the rest of the conference, with 18 of those losses coming by double digits

As a result of how stratified the conference was, it’s hard not to recognize how much the schedule impacts the results. Only two teams in the conference played just two games against First Class teams. It is not a coincidence, in my opinion, that those two teams happen to be the ones that landed in Atlanta.

In the West, Alabama went 1-1 against the First Class, 3-0 against the Lower Middle Class, and 3-0 against the Bottom Class. That’s a really easy schedule for the Crimson Tide — their second-best win this year came against Michigan (or Mississippi or MSU, if you prefer). That’s somewhat laughable for the team that is considered the #2 team in the country. Meanwhile, LSU had four games against the First Class of the SEC, going 2-2 in those games in addition to a 2-0 record against the LMC and a 3-0 mark against the Bottom Class. Texas A&M went 1-2 against the First Class, 3-0 against the LMC, and 2-0 against the BC. Is Alabama the best team in the division, or just lucky that they didn’t face Florida the way LSU and AM did? To put it another way, if Florida wasn’t so good this year, A&M probably finishes 11-1 and wins the division on the tiebreaker.

In the East, Georgia went 1-1 against the First Class, 3-0 against the middle classes and 3-0 against the Bottom Class. Are the Bulldogs in line for a national title game appearance because they’re great, or are they great because they’re in line to play for the title? Georgia’s second-best win this season came against Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Florida went 3-1 against the First Class, 2-0 against the middle classes and 2-0 against the Bottom Class. Which performance is more impressive?

Since the winner of the SEC Championship Game will end the season going 2-1 against the First Class of the conference, that does improve their resume. They’ll be a worthy participant in the title game, but it’s easy to argue that if the schedule had been arranged differently, so would have Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, or USC.

Here are the week 13 college football SRS Ratings:
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Checkdowns: FCS ratings and the FCS playoffs

In connection with calculating my college football SRS ratings at the FBS level, I also calculate them at the FCS level but rarely publish them. But with the FCS playoffs underway, I figured, why not? Here are the FCS ratings as of November 25th, 2012:

1North Dakota St1118.923.542.410-1North Dakota St
2Sam Houston St111919.838.88-3Sam Houston St
3NW Missouri St1322.115.93810-3NW Missouri St
4Montana St1114.521.736.210-1Montana St
5Minn St-Mankato1217.418.335.712-0Minn St-Mankato
7South Dakota St129.325.7359-3South Dakota St
8Georgia Southern1111.522.834.28-3Georgia Southern
9Missouri Western1318.614.833.312-1Missouri Western
10Cal Poly SLO1113.22033.29-2Cal Poly SLO
11Eastern Washington118.124.732.99-2Eastern Washington
12Northern Iowa116.226.432.75-6Northern Iowa
13Central Arkansas1112.419.431.89-2Central Arkansas
14Indiana St117.422.6307-4Indiana St
15Illinois St115.724.129.88-3Illinois St
19Eastern Kentucky1110.11929.28-3Eastern Kentucky
20Southern Illinois112.526.629.16-5Southern Illinois
21Youngstown St114.224.528.77-4Youngstown St
22Henderson St1123.74.528.210-1Henderson St
23Appalachian St11424.128.18-3Appalachian St
24Old Dominion1113.814.328.110-1Old Dominion
25McNeese St118.91927.97-4McNeese St
26Sioux Falls1110.717.227.99-2Sioux Falls
27Winona St119.91827.99-2Winona St
29Stony Brook1217.79.827.410-2Stony Brook
31Northern Arizona117.119.9278-3Northern Arizona
34Southern Utah11-2.127.725.65-6Southern Utah
37West Texas A&M1318.36.524.811-2West Texas A&M
38Michigan Tech1013.111.724.87-3Michigan Tech
40Eastern Illinois121.123.224.37-5Eastern Illinois
41Missouri St11-7.531.624.23-8Missouri St
42St Cloud St117.416.6247-4St Cloud St
43Coastal Carolina128.215.8248-4Coastal Carolina
44The Citadel112.820.623.47-4The Citadel
45James Madison115.817.523.37-4James Madison
46New Hampshire116.916.323.28-3New Hampshire
47Albany NY1111.411.723.19-2Albany NY
48Stephen F. Austin110.821.722.65-6Stephen F. Austin
49Murray St11-123.522.55-6Murray St
50North Dakota11-123.522.55-6North Dakota
51Bemidji St104.417.822.26-4Bemidji St
52Wayne St NE114.517.722.26-5Wayne St NE
53Jacksonville St11-2.924.922.16-5Jacksonville St
55Tennessee St11616228-3Tennessee St
57Sacramento St11-0.222.2226-5Sacramento St
59Portland St11-2.32421.73-8Portland St
60Central Missouri106.514.921.46-4Central Missouri
61Pittsburg St10813.321.27-3Pittsburg St
63Grand Valley St111011.121.18-3Grand Valley St
64Valdosta St1117.33.7219-2Valdosta St
66Emporia St119.311.320.79-2Emporia St
67Augustana SD111.918.720.55-6Augustana SD
69Ohio Dominican1115.24.619.88-3Ohio Dominican
70Colorado St-Pueblo1218.7119.712-0Colorado St-Pueblo
71Northern St SD114.215.219.46-5Northern St SD
73Midwestern St1112.96.219.19-2Midwestern St
74Winston-Salem St1224.4-5.41912-0Winston-Salem St
75Indiana PA1319.7-0.71912-1Indiana PA
77Saginaw Valley St116.511.918.48-3Saginaw Valley St
79Lindenwood MO1199.118.18-3Lindenwood MO
80Trinity CT819.1-0.918.18-0Trinity CT
82Northern Colorado11-3.721.8185-6Northern Colorado
84William & Mary11- & Mary
85Weber St11-10.327.417.12-9Weber St
86South Dakota11-12.429.4171-10South Dakota
87Ferris St114.511.916.47-4Ferris St
89Southern Arkansas1014.81.316.18-2Southern Arkansas
93Chadron St129.4514.49-3Chadron St
94SE Louisiana St11-10.925.314.45-6SE Louisiana St
96New Haven1120.2-614.210-1New Haven
98West Alabama129.34.914.28-4West Alabama
99North Carolina A&T118.25.8147-4North Carolina A&T
100Mary Hardin-Baylor1227.2-13.313.912-0Mary Hardin-Baylor
104Northwestern St11-6.819.913.24-7Northwestern St
106New Mexico Highlands1111.41.312.78-3New Mexico Highlands
108SW Minnesota St11-6.819.412.64-7SW Minnesota St
110Southern Oregon1216.8-4.212.59-3Southern Oregon
111Tennessee Tech11-719.612.53-8Tennessee Tech
113Delaware St111.211.112.36-5Delaware St
114SE Missouri St11-7.419.612.23-8SE Missouri St
116Florida A&M11-1.913.511.74-7Florida A&M
117Abilene Christian1165.511.57-4Abilene Christian
118Western Carolina11-15.626.911.31-10Western Carolina
119Alabama St119.41.911.37-4Alabama St
120Mount Union1235.5-24.211.312-0Mount Union
122Concordia-St Paul11-8.319.511.22-9Concordia-St Paul
123West Chester11101.211.27-4West Chester
124California PA118.42.811.28-3California PA
125Monmouth NJ1029.111.15-5Monmouth NJ
126San Diego107.53.6117-3San Diego
128South Carolina St11-5.816.610.85-6South Carolina St
129Wayne St MI10-2.613.410.85-5Wayne St MI
130St Francis PA11-0.911.610.75-6St Francis PA
132Tarleton St104.65.810.46-4Tarleton St
133Missouri Southern11-0.410.810.46-5Missouri Southern
135Western Illinois11-16.426.4103-8Western Illinois
136North Carolina Central110.59.19.76-5North Carolina Central
142Ouachita Baptist106396-4Ouachita Baptist
143Jackson St113.55.38.77-4Jackson St
145Arkansas-Pine Bluff118.40.18.59-2Arkansas-Pine Bluff
146Northeastern St OK10-7.315.78.44-6Northeastern St OK
148North Alabama101.96.48.35-5North Alabama
150Holy Cross11-7.415.17.72-9Holy Cross
152Central Washington119.3-1.97.47-4Central Washington
155Cornell NY10-4.611.77.24-6Cornell NY
156Missouri S&T1119-11.97.210-1Missouri S&T
159Northern Michigan11-8.915.974-7Northern Michigan
160Jacksonville FL114.926.87-4Jacksonville FL
161Colorado Mines1110.6-3.96.76-5Colorado Mines
162Upper Iowa10-12.618.96.32-8Upper Iowa
163Alabama A&M112.93.56.37-4Alabama A&M
165Adams St1110.7-4.46.38-3Adams St
166Charleston WV1112.1-5.96.29-2Charleston WV
167St Xavier1219.1-12.96.211-1St Xavier
168Nicholls St10- St
169Slippery Rock113.32.86.16-5Slippery Rock
170East Central OK11- Central OK
171Minot St11-12.318.35.93-8Minot St
172Cumberlands KY1218.5-12.65.910-2Cumberlands KY
173Georgetown KY1123.8-17.95.910-1Georgetown KY
174Georgetown DC11-4.2105.85-6Georgetown DC
175Fort Hays St11-5.411.25.85-6Fort Hays St
176Robert Morris PA11-6.412.25.74-7Robert Morris PA
178Montana Tech118.5-3.15.48-3Montana Tech
180Marian IN1117-12.24.710-1Marian IN
181Carroll MT119.2-4.54.77-4Carroll MT
184Glenville St113.31.34.66-5Glenville St
185North Central1218-13.44.69-3North Central
186Central Oklahoma10-11.516.14.62-8Central Oklahoma
187Angelo St11-2.574.55-6Angelo St
189Norfolk St11- St
190Morehead St1140.14.14-7Morehead St
192Truman St11- St
198Humboldt St115.3-2.337-4Humboldt St
200Sacred Heart11-7.710.52.82-9Sacred Heart
201Western Oregon112.70.12.86-5Western Oregon
203SW Baptist11- Baptist
206SE Oklahoma St10-24.22.24-6SE Oklahoma St
207Morgan St11-7.910.12.23-8Morgan St
209Charleston Southern11- Southern
210Mars Hill102.5-0.81.76-4Mars Hill
211Georgia St11-19.921.51.61-10Georgia St
212Austin Peay11-16.918.31.42-9Austin Peay
215Missouri Valley1222.6-21.51.112-0Missouri Valley
216St Thomas1219.4-18.31.112-0St Thomas
217Minn St-Moorhead11-17.818.70.91-10Minn St-Moorhead
218Delta St10- St
219East Stroudsburg101.5-0.90.65-5East Stroudsburg
220St Francis IN1213.6-13.20.49-3St Francis IN
224Central Conn St10-14.113.9-0.12-8Central Conn St
225West Georgia10-4.44.2-0.23-7West Georgia
228American Int'l103.4-4-0.77-3American Int'l
229Prairie View A&M11-5.54.7-0.83-8Prairie View A&M
230Fort Valley St123.8-4.7-0.98-4Fort Valley St
231Southern U.11-4.53.5-14-7Southern U.
232MidAmerica Nazarene1116-17.5-1.58-3MidAmerica Nazarene
233Mississippi Valley St11-1.5-0.1-1.65-6Mississippi Valley St
234SW Oklahoma St10-9.77.9-1.83-7SW Oklahoma St
235Pacific Lutheran1010.7-12.8-2.17-3Pacific Lutheran
236St Ambrose1111.8-14-2.19-2St Ambrose
237Idaho St11-25.623.5-2.11-10Idaho St
244St Augustine's102.5-5.3-2.86-4St Augustine's
246Louisiana College117.4-10.4-38-3Louisiana College
249Arkansas Tech11-7.94.5-3.35-6Arkansas Tech
250Simon Fraser11-1.1-2.5-3.65-6Simon Fraser
251Western New Mexico11-5.21.2-44-7Western New Mexico
255Notre Dame OH11-149.7-4.33-8Notre Dame OH
256Johns Hopkins1216.9-21.3-4.410-2Johns Hopkins
258Rocky Mountain112.8-7.3-4.56-5Rocky Mountain
259Lake Erie11-12.98.1-4.73-8Lake Erie
261Rhode Island11-25.720.8-4.90-11Rhode Island
262West Liberty11-0.3-4.8-56-5West Liberty
263Colorado Mesa11-8.23.2-5.14-7Colorado Mesa
264C.W. Post10-5.50.3-5.23-7C.W. Post
265Elizabeth City St112-7.2-5.37-4Elizabeth City St
266Incarnate Word11-12.16.8-5.32-9Incarnate Word
269Northwestern IA1216.5-22.4-5.89-3Northwestern IA
270Azusa Pacific11-7.61.7-5.94-7Azusa Pacific
273Cal Lutheran1014.5-20.9-6.48-2Cal Lutheran
274Johnson C. Smith103.6-10.2-6.66-4Johnson C. Smith
276Black Hills St11-5.7-1-6.84-7Black Hills St
277Eastern New Mexico10-13.96.9-73-7Eastern New Mexico
281St John Fisher1110.2-17.5-7.38-3St John Fisher
282William Penn1212.8-20.3-7.59-3William Penn
284Lincoln MO11-1810.3-7.71-10Lincoln MO
285Grand View116.9-14.6-7.77-4Grand View
286Virginia Union104.7-12.7-8.15-5Virginia Union
287Bethel MN128.7-16.8-8.19-3Bethel MN
289Montana St-Northern10-3.7-4.6-8.23-7Montana St-Northern
290Alcorn St11-14.76.4-8.24-7Alcorn St
296Bethel TN134.7-13.4-8.79-4Bethel TN
297St Francis IL115.8-14.6-8.86-5St Francis IL
300Savannah St11-23.514.4-9.11-10Savannah St
301Trinity TX108.5-17.6-9.27-3Trinity TX
304WV Wesleyan11-5.4-3.8-9.23-8WV Wesleyan
306UW-Eau Claire10-4.2-5.4-9.64-6UW-Eau Claire
307Albany St GA100.7-10.4-9.76-4Albany St GA
308Bowie St10-1-8.7-9.75-5Bowie St
309Fairmont St10-5.2-4.6-9.84-6Fairmont St
310UW-La Crosse10-6.9-3-9.84-6UW-La Crosse
311Grambling St11-13.23.3-9.91-10Grambling St
317Eastern Oregon10-9.3-1.2-10.54-6Eastern Oregon
318Cortland St118.8-19.3-10.59-2Cortland St
320Sul Ross St100.6-11.5-10.95-5Sul Ross St
322Dixie St11-12.21.2-113-8Dixie St
323Huntingdon AL99.4-20.5-11.16-3Huntingdon AL
324Central St OH11-5.1-6-11.14-7Central St OH
331Delaware Valley1115.1-26.9-11.88-3Delaware Valley
333Union NY106.7-18.5-11.96-4Union NY
336Washington and Lee1110.2-22.3-12.18-3Washington and Lee
337North Greenville11-9-3.1-12.15-6North Greenville
338Virginia St10-2.3-10-12.34-6Virginia St
339Benedictine KS1110.1-22.6-12.57-4Benedictine KS
340Southern Nazarene10-10.8-1.8-12.61-9Southern Nazarene
341Buffalo St10-0.1-12.5-12.66-4Buffalo St
343Kentucky Christian111.6-14.4-12.77-4Kentucky Christian
344Cumberland TN116.1-19.2-13.18-3Cumberland TN
345St Joseph's IN11-5.2-7.9-13.16-5St Joseph's IN
347St John's MN104.5-17.7-13.25-5St John's MN
351Texas Southern11-20.97.2-13.72-9Texas Southern
352Framingham St1216.9-30.8-13.910-2Framingham St
354Thomas More1013.8-27.7-13.97-3Thomas More
355Western St CO11-18.74.7-13.91-10Western St CO
356Salve Regina1115.9-29.9-149-2Salve Regina
357Fayetteville St10-10.6-3.6-14.22-8Fayetteville St
360Illinois Wesleyan106.8-21.3-14.56-4Illinois Wesleyan
361Brockport St108.7-23.3-14.66-4Brockport St
362Southern Conn St11-10.9-3.8-14.63-8Southern Conn St
364Robert Morris IL1116.8-31.5-14.88-3Robert Morris IL
367Concordia AL8-0.5-14.7-15.24-4Concordia AL
368UW-Stevens Point10-9.4-5.9-15.22-8UW-Stevens Point
372Lock Haven11-19.64-15.51-10Lock Haven
374St Olaf104.8-20.6-15.87-3St Olaf
377NW Oklahoma St10-17.81.6-16.23-7NW Oklahoma St
379Texas Lutheran100.4-16.7-16.34-6Texas Lutheran
381John Carroll107.9-24.7-16.86-4John Carroll
386Nebraska Wesleyan103.2-20.7-17.56-4Nebraska Wesleyan
389Bridgewater St MA1110.2-28-17.89-2Bridgewater St MA
390Franklin & Marshall114.2-22.1-17.87-4Franklin & Marshall
395Siena Heights10-2.4-16.3-18.75-5Siena Heights
396Augustana IL10-0.1-18.7-18.75-5Augustana IL
397Trinity Int'l112.1-21.1-194-7Trinity Int'l
398St Anselm11-13.7-5.5-19.22-9St Anselm
399East Texas Baptist10-7.3-12-19.33-7East Texas Baptist
402Concordia NE111.5-21.1-19.55-6Concordia NE
403Pacific OR9-4.4-15.2-19.63-6Pacific OR
405Lindsey Wilson11-5.9-13.9-19.93-8Lindsey Wilson
406Seton Hill11-17.1-2.8-19.90-11Seton Hill
407Virginia U-Lynchburg9-14.6-5.5-201-8Virginia U-Lynchburg
408Valley City St106.2-26.2-207-3Valley City St
411William Jewell11-16.8-3.5-20.32-9William Jewell
412Wash & Jeff113.7-24-20.38-3Wash & Jeff
413Clark Atlanta10-15.2-5.2-20.42-8Clark Atlanta
414West Virginia St11-20.90.4-20.52-9West Virginia St
415Edward Waters11-4-16.4-20.55-6Edward Waters
416Gustavus Adolphus10-3.5-17-20.53-7Gustavus Adolphus
419Bridgewater VA109-30-217-3Bridgewater VA
420Fort Lewis10-26.95.7-21.20-10Fort Lewis
423OK Panhandle St9-2.9-18.9-21.83-6OK Panhandle St
424Western New England109.9-31.7-21.86-4Western New England
425UW-River Falls10-14.4-7.5-21.82-8UW-River Falls
427Concordia IL1113.7-36-22.310-1Concordia IL
428Dickinson St11-18.3-4-22.42-9Dickinson St
430Central IA10-1.6-20.9-22.55-5Central IA
439Dakota Wesleyan10-2.4-21.5-23.96-4Dakota Wesleyan
440Lebanon Valley105-28.9-23.96-4Lebanon Valley
441Olivet Nazarene11-11.4-12.6-243-8Olivet Nazarene
444South Dakota Tech11-18.2-6.7-24.92-9South Dakota Tech
445Emory & Henry100.2-25.1-24.96-4Emory & Henry
448Kentucky St10-15.2-9.9-25.12-8Kentucky St
449Midland U.10-3.9-21.5-25.34-6Midland U.
451Ohio Wesleyan109.8-35.3-25.59-1Ohio Wesleyan
452Montclair St10-2.3-23.3-25.65-5Montclair St
453Grove City104.8-30.4-25.66-4Grove City
454Texas College11-13.8-11.8-25.63-8Texas College
455Carroll WI1016.5-42.2-25.88-2Carroll WI
456Washington U.10-1.3-24.6-25.85-5Washington U.
457Webber Int'l10-3.1-22.7-25.84-6Webber Int'l
458Ohio Northern10-1.3-24.6-25.94-6Ohio Northern
459Union KY11-9.1-17-26.14-7Union KY
460St Mary KS113.6-29.7-26.16-5St Mary KS
461Carnegie Mellon113.2-29.3-26.16-5Carnegie Mellon
463Kentucky Wesleyan11-17.4-9.3-26.72-9Kentucky Wesleyan
465New Jersey10-1.3-25.8-27.14-6New Jersey
468Mount Ida115.7-33-27.38-3Mount Ida
471Illinois College1013.1-40.9-27.88-2Illinois College
472Mass Maritime96.9-34.8-27.95-4Mass Maritime
473Mississippi College10-17.6-10.3-27.92-8Mississippi College
474Wisconsin Lutheran1011.8-39.7-287-3Wisconsin Lutheran
475Bethany WV10-2.5-25.5-283-7Bethany WV
476Concordia WI106.7-34.8-28.17-3Concordia WI
477Central Methodist10-7.3-20.9-28.22-8Central Methodist
478Christopher Newport11-3-25.2-28.26-5Christopher Newport
479Case Western Reserve105.2-33.5-28.36-4Case Western Reserve
485Buena Vista10-11.9-17.4-29.34-6Buena Vista
486Peru St11-4-25.4-29.45-6Peru St
487Lewis & Clark9-8.1-21.3-29.44-5Lewis & Clark
488Merchant Marine10-7.6-22.1-29.75-5Merchant Marine
489Lake Forest107.3-37-29.78-2Lake Forest
490Coast Guard92.6-32.6-305-4Coast Guard
492Southern Virginia10-6.6-23.7-30.34-6Southern Virginia
493Kansas Wesleyan11-1-29.4-30.46-5Kansas Wesleyan
494Castleton St111-31.5-30.47-4Castleton St
497Frostburg St10-15.2-15.9-31.13-7Frostburg St
499St Scholastica119.5-40.7-31.28-3St Scholastica
500St Norbert114.5-35.7-31.38-3St Norbert
501William Paterson10-1.3-30.1-31.45-5William Paterson
503Westminster PA9-1.7-29.8-31.53-6Westminster PA
504Lincoln PA10-22.1-9.5-31.61-9Lincoln PA
508Iowa Wesleyan11-12.5-19.7-32.23-8Iowa Wesleyan
511Point U.10-14.5-18.2-32.62-8Point U.
512Point U.10-14.5-18.2-32.62-8Point U.
514La Verne9-7.9-24.8-32.84-5La Verne
515Northwestern MN1111.6-44.4-32.88-3Northwestern MN
516Worcester St100.8-33.6-32.86-4Worcester St
517Benedictine IL102-34.9-32.95-5Benedictine IL
526St Lawrence10-17.7-17-34.70-10St Lawrence
527Monmouth IL103.4-38.1-34.75-5Monmouth IL
528SW Assem of God10-4.5-30.4-34.93-7SW Assem of God
530Westfield St10-2.9-32.2-353-7Westfield St
538Ave Maria8-17.5-18.7-36.21-7Ave Maria
545Briar Cliff11-16.5-21.2-37.71-10Briar Cliff
549Howard Payne10-23.9-15-38.91-9Howard Payne
552Cornell IA10-2.9-36.3-39.24-6Cornell IA
553North Park10-20-19.3-39.31-9North Park
554North Carolina Wesleyan10-11.1-28.3-39.43-7North Carolina Wesleyan
556King's PA10-11.7-27.9-39.62-8King's PA
559Southwestern KS11-7.7-32.2-39.94-7Southwestern KS
560Wayland Baptist9-20.6-19.6-40.12-7Wayland Baptist
562Dakota St11-14.5-25.8-40.32-9Dakota St
568Mt St Joseph10-1.9-39.4-41.34-6Mt St Joseph
569Western Conn St9-21.3-20.2-41.41-8Western Conn St
570Mayville St9-7-34.6-41.63-6Mayville St
573Concordia MI9-30.6-11.3-41.90-9Concordia MI
577Bethany KS11-10.8-32.1-42.93-8Bethany KS
580Puget Sound9-28.3-15.1-43.30-9Puget Sound
581Morrisville St10-19.3-24.2-43.51-9Morrisville St
582St Vincent10-17.6-25.9-43.50-10St Vincent
583Plymouth St10-12-31.8-43.72-8Plymouth St
584Fitchburg St9-15.4-28.8-44.22-7Fitchburg St
595Westminster MO10-1.5-47.7-49.24-6Westminster MO
598Martin Luther10-1.8-48.6-50.44-6Martin Luther
603Anna Maria10-15.1-38.5-53.62-8Anna Maria
604Maine Maritime9-23-33.2-56.20-9Maine Maritime
614Bethel KS10-34.2-27.4-61.60-10Bethel KS
616Trinity Bible8-23.4-42-65.41-7Trinity Bible
617Maranatha Baptist10-27-39.4-66.40-10Maranatha Baptist

[click to continue…]


Things are getting ugly in Pittsburgh. Really ugly.

Ben Roethlisberger started the first nine games of the season, but things are getting ugly quickly in Pittsburgh. After suffering a right shoulder injury and bruising his ribs against the Chiefs, Byron Leftwich started last weekend against the Ravens. Leftwich injured his ribs against Baltimore, leaving Pittsburgh to now turn to Charlie Batch against the Browns tomorrow.

When was the last time a team started three different quarterbacks in consecutive games? Three teams last year pulled off that feat. After Jason Campbell started the first six games of the season, Kyle Boller started the next week before the team permanently switched to Carson Palmer.

Matt Schaub was the Texans starting quarterback for ten games, but a foot injury ended his season. Matt Leinart took over, but a broken collarbone ended his season, leaving the reins in the hands of rookie T.J. Yates. In St. Louis, an ankle injury caused Sam Bradford to miss a December game against the 49ers, leaving A.J. Feeley to start. Feely injured his right thumb, but Bradford was back the next week. He would miss the rest of the year due to his ankle, though, and Kellen Clemens started the last three games.

So it’s actually not all that rare for a team to go with three different quarterbacks in three weeks; at some point this season, it’s possible the Cardinals will, as well, with John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Kevin Kolb. From 2000 to 2011, teams started three different quarterbacks in consecutive games on 36 different occasions:

HOU201110-12Matt SchaubMatt LeinartT.J. Yates
OAK20116-8Jason CampbellKyle BollerCarson Palmer
STL201112-14A.J. FeeleySam BradfordKellen Clemens
CAR20108-10Matt MooreJimmy ClausenBrian St. Pierre
MIA20108-10Chad HenneChad PenningtonTyler Thigpen
MIA20109-11Chad PenningtonTyler ThigpenChad Henne
MIN201013-15Tarvaris JacksonBrett FavreJoe Webb
TEN20109-11Kerry CollinsVince YoungRusty Smith
TEN201010-12Vince YoungRusty SmithKerry Collins
CLE200811-13Brady QuinnDerek AndersonKen Dorsey
KAN20081-3Brodie CroyleDamon HuardTyler Thigpen
KAN20085-7Damon HuardBrodie CroyleTyler Thigpen
SEA20084-6Matt HasselbeckCharlie FryeSeneca Wallace
MIN20077-9Kelly HolcombTarvaris JacksonBrooks Bollinger
STL200711-13Marc BulgerGus FrerotteBrock Berlin
STL200712-14Gus FrerotteBrock BerlinMarc Bulger
NYJ20053-5Chad PenningtonBrooks BollingerVinny Testaverde
PIT20059-11Charlie BatchTommy MaddoxBen Roethlisberger
STL200510-12Marc BulgerJamie MartinRyan Fitzpatrick
SFO20056-8Alex SmithKen DorseyCody Pickett
ARI200411-13Shaun KingJohn NavarreJosh McCown
TAM20044-6Brad JohnsonChris SimmsBrian Griese
TEN200314-16Billy VolekSteve McNairNeil O'Donnell
OAK20037-9Rich GannonMarques TuiasosopoRick Mirer
CAR20026-8Rodney PeeteChris WeinkeRandy Fasani
CAR20027-9Chris WeinkeRandy FasaniRodney Peete
CIN20023-5Gus FrerotteAkili SmithJon Kitna
PHI200210-12Donovan McNabbKoy DetmerA.J. Feeley
STL20024-6Kurt WarnerJamie MartinMarc Bulger
STL200212-14Kurt WarnerJamie MartinMarc Bulger
TAM200214-16Brad JohnsonShaun KingRob Johnson
TAM200215-17Shaun KingRob JohnsonBrad Johnson
WAS20023-5Shane MatthewsDanny WuerffelPatrick Ramsey
DAL20014-6Quincy CarterAnthony WrightClint Stoerner
SDG20003-5Moses MorenoRyan LeafJim Harbaugh
SDG20009-11Jim HarbaughMoses MorenoRyan Leaf

Excluding the 1987 season, the 1974 49ers were the only team since the merger to start four different quarterbacks in four weeks. As you can imagine, their story is interesting. Joe Reed entered the season as the starter, after splitting time with a 38-year-old John Brodie (who retired after the season) and Steve Spurrier (who suffered a severely dislocated shoulder in the final pre-season game in ’74) in 1973. He started the first three games of the year, and played miserably, so the team moved on to Dennis Morrison, who had been a 14th-round draft selection in 1973.

Morrison started the 4th and 5th games of the season for the 49ers, which is when the streak began. Morris started game five in Detroit, but threw three interceptions, so in week 6, the 49ers went back to Reed. Reed went 2/8 for 1 interception and was promptly traded later that week. So in week 7, 13th-round rookie Tom Owen started the game and performed reasonably well, but he was just the interim quarterback. That’s because in connection with the Reed trade, San Francisco acquired Norm Snead from the Giants, who sent Snead to San Francisco after acquiring Craig Morton from Dallas. Injuries and ineffectiveness limited Snead to just that one start for the 49ers in ’74, however, and Owen would go on to play (somewhat competently) for the remainder of the year.


Florida-Florida State.

Georgia-Georgia Tech.

South Carolina-Clemson.

And, as a technical matter, Vanderbilt-Wake Forest.

I’m not exactly breaking any news when I tell you this, but the ACC is not having a very good year. In the abstract, it might seem like any other elite conference. It has two 10-1 teams and each team has at least four wins other than Boston College. The problem is that the ACC, like all conferences not named the SEC, is measured by how it does in non-conference play. And it has had a miserable year in that regard.

Each team in the conference plays four non-conference games; with four games remaining, that means 44 have been played, although 13 of those games — including three by the two powerhouses of the conference, Florida State and Clemson — were against FCS schools. How has the ACC fared in its first 31 games against other FBS foes? The table below lists each non-conference game, sorted first by quality of the ACC team (that’s the SRS grade on the left) and second by the SRS grade of the opponent:

09-29-201255.3Florida St30South Florida17RoadWin1316BgE34.650.6
09-08-201253.4Clemson52Ball St27HomeWin2522MAC38.860.8
09-15-201244.5North Carolina34Louisville39RoadLoss-5-7BgE42.235.2
09-22-201244.5North Carolina27East Carolina6HomeWin2118CUS32.950.9
09-29-201244.5North Carolina66Idaho0HomeWin6643.5WAC15.959.4
09-08-201242.6Miami FL13Kansas St52RoadLoss-39-30B1259.929.9
10-06-201242.6Miami FL3Notre Dame41NeutLoss-38-31IND57.926.9
11-17-201242.6Miami FL40South Florida9HomeWin3126BgE34.660.6
10-27-201242Georgia Tech17Brigham Young41HomeLoss-24-25.5IND48.823.3
09-29-201242Georgia Tech28Middle Tennessee St49HomeLoss-21-24Sun36.212.2
09-29-201239.3Virginia Tech24Cincinnati27NeutLoss-3-7BgE4437
09-15-201239.3Virginia Tech17Pittsburgh35RoadLoss-18-15BgE37.722.7
09-22-201239.3Virginia Tech37Bowling Green0HomeWin3729MAC33.862.8
08-31-201238.9North Carolina St21Tennessee35NeutLoss-14-14SEC40.326.3
09-08-201238.9North Carolina St10Connecticut7RoadWin37BgE30.837.8
09-15-201238.9North Carolina St31South Alabama7HomeWin2421Sun21.942.9
09-01-201235.2Duke46Florida Int'l26HomeWin2017Sun27.744.7
09-08-201232.1Virginia17Penn State16HomeWin10B1047.447.4
09-29-201232.1Virginia38Louisiana Tech44HomeLoss-6-9WAC44.735.7
11-10-201231Boston College6Notre Dame21HomeLoss-15-18IND57.939.9
09-15-201231Boston College13Northwestern22RoadLoss-9-7B1045.738.7
10-06-201231Boston College31Army34RoadLoss-30IND22.722.7
09-22-201230.4Maryland21West Virginia31RoadLoss-10-7B1243.736.7
11-17-201228.1Wake Forest0Notre Dame38RoadLoss-38-29.5IND57.928.4
09-22-201228.1Wake Forest49Army37HomeWin129IND22.731.7

Both FSU and Clemson at least gave it the old college try: the Seminoles scheduled West Virginia and one FCS opponent, but when the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 they backed out of the game, leaving FSU to place a second FCS school on its schedule. Clemson scheduled Auburn – two years removed from a national championship – in Atlanta on opening weekend. But at the end of the day, neither FSU nor Clemson played any team out of conference – or in conference, excluding each other – that remotely impressed anybody. Of course, these two teams face huge tests this weekend against their in-state, SEC rivals.

UNC scheduled Louisville, a terrible team just two years ago that now may win the Big East. But that game did not go according to ACC script.

Miami certainly couldn’t have expected that they’d face two teams who would be ranked 1st in the country at some point this year when they scheduled Kansas State and Notre Dame. The results were, in hindsight, predictably bloody, with Miami losing by the combined score of 93-16.

Georgia Tech saved its worst games of the year for nonconference play. While Georgia Tech embarrassed UNC (68 points scored), Virginia (36 point win) and Maryland (33-13 on the road), the Yellow Jackets’ worst two games of the season were inexplicable 21- and 24-point losses to BYU and Middle Tennessee State. BYU scored 6 points against Boise State, 6 points against Utah State, and 14 points against San Jose State, but exploded for 41 points in Atlanta. MTSU lost by 42 to Mississippi State and lost to McNeese State – an FCS school – but somehow won on the road against the Yellow Jackets 49-28. And Georgia Tech is going to be your Coastal Division champs.

The sixth and seventh best schools – Virginia Tech and NC State – didn’t fare any better. Virginia Tech shockingly lost to both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, while North Carolina State lost by 14 points to a Tennessee team that may set a school record for losses.

This is why Florida State gets no love from the BCS computers. Out of conference this season, the ACC has been a joke. Consider:

  • Overall, the ACC is currently 14-17 in non-conference games against other FBS schools. This is the most impressive stat you will read about the ACC today.
  • Against Conference USA, the MAC, the Sun Belt, and the WAC, the ACC is 7-2. Against miserable Army — the 114th team in the SRS — the conference is 1-1. That means against the other BCS schools (the SEC, B10, B12, P12, Big East, Notre Dame, and BYU), the conference went a pitiful 6-14.
  • This is not a joke: Ball State is the second best team an ACC school has beaten this year. Virginia’s upset over Penn State — a one-point home win when the Nittany Lions missed an extra point and four field goals — is the conference’s best win of the year. After PSU and Ball State, at least according to the SRS, the best teams defeated by ACC schools were Auburn, South Florida (twice), Bowling Green, East Carolina, Temple, and Connecticut.
  • To put a bow on it, the ACC lost to the best six teams it faced out of conference, and according to the SRS, to 13 of the 14 schools they faced that have SRS ratings over 40.
  • I don’t know if much is going to change tomorrow, but for a conference that has zero signature wins this year, tomorrow is the only chance the conference gets. Clemson is a 4-point home favorite to a Marcus Lattimore-less South Carolina team; the SRS would make Clemson 2.2-point favorites, so that line seems appropriate. Florida State is a 6-point home favorite against Florida, while the SRS would make UF just a one-point dog. Florida State has beaten up on creampuffs while Florida struggles with everyone (but still defeated Texas A&M, LSU, and South Carolina). Because Florida State’s offense is very good and Florida’s offense is offensive, most expect the Seminoles to win. I think the safe bet is to expect a very ugly game.

    Georgia is 15 points better in the SRS than Georgia Tech, and with the game in Athens, should be 18-point favorites. In fact, the Bulldogs are favored by only 13 points, perhaps a sign that Vegas doesn’t want to penalize the Yellow Jackets as harshly as the SRS for losing to MTSU. Vanderbilt is an 11.5-point favorite on the road against an awful Wake Forest team; the SRS would project the line to be 14.6 points.

    The ACC is not in a particularly enviable situation. No one expects Wake Forest or Georgia Tech to win, because odds are they will get creamed. And while the Clemson and Florida State games favor the ACC squad, both should be very close. That’s a lot of downside for a conference that with a few bad bounces, could go 0-4 on the day. That would be a fitting finish to a dreadful season. For the conference to save any face, it will need victories by both of its heavy hitters and a respectable performance by Georgia Tech.


Checkdowns: Best Thanksgiving Performances

Stump your family with some Football Perspective trivia today. The tables below show the leaders in various categories in all games played on Thanksgiving since 1960.

Most passing yards

11998dalmin3646Troy Aikman345745510
21995detmin4438Scott Mitchell304541041
31995mindet3844Warren Moon304738432
42007gnbdet3726Brett Favre314138130
51998mindal4636Randall Cunningham173535941
61997daloti1427Troy Aikman274235623
72010nordal3027Drew Brees233935211
81994detbuf3521Dave Krieg202535130
92009gnbdet3412Aaron Rodgers283934830
102010nwedet4524Tom Brady212734140

Most passing touchdowns

12004cltdet419Peyton Manning232823660
11977miacrd5514Bob Griese152320761
32006daltam3810Tony Romo222930650
31962nyjden4645Johnny Green224629253
51995detmin4438Scott Mitchell304541041
51998mindal4636Randall Cunningham173535941
52010nwedet4524Tom Brady212734140
51987dalmin3844Danny White254134143
51985detnyj3120Eric Hipple192926941
52008phicrd4820Donovan McNabb273926040
51994gnbdal3142Brett Favre274025740
51985dalcrd3517Danny White142623541

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An exact replica of Tim Tebow's throwing motion.

The majority of power rankings out there have the Broncos, Texans, Patriots, Falcons, Packers, and 49ers in their top six. Each conference appears to have three elite teams, and one can justifiably rank them in just about any order.

Brian Burke has Denver first, San Francisco second, and Houston third (although his algorithm leaves the Patriots batting in the nine hole). Football Outsiders puts the 49ers first, followed by the Patriots and Broncos (and his algorithm has Atlanta down at #12). I don’t see much room separating any of those teams, although I’d probably rank them Houston, Denver, San Francisco, Green Bay, New England, Atlanta, if forced to choose. But power rankings at this stage of the game (like every other week!) are meaningless; all six teams will make the playoffs, where their true legacies will be formed.

[As always, the number of wins I’m projecting each team to finish the season with is in column 3. The fourth column – PWIN – shows how many wins I projected last week, and the difference column represents how many wins I added or subtracted this week. The “RSOS” column stands for the remaining SOS for the team, based on the number of projected wins I’m giving to each of their opponents. The “RHG” column stands for remaining home games.]

Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers out there. Check back at noon EST for some Turkey Day trivia.

Houston Texans9-1131300.5212Sure, it was against Jacksonville, but still good to see Houston win when the game doesn't go according to script.
Atlanta Falcons9-1131300.5003Well I'm certainly not going to bump Atlanta after that game.
Denver Broncos7-3131300.3543I can't project more than 13 wins for Denver, right?
San Francisco 49ers7-2-111.510.510.4842Considering the opponent, I'm not sure I've seen a better offensive performance all year. Alex Smith may have been Wally Pipped
New England Patriots7-3111100.4843Patriots look fantastic, but a difficult remaining schedule makes it hard to project a 5-1 finish.
Green Bay Packers7-3111100.5003I'm now projecting the Packers to win the NFC North without the need for a tiebreaker. Nate Silver, watch out.
Baltimore Ravens8-2111100.5423According to Football Outsiders, Baltimore has the best special teams since 1991 through 10 weeks. Schatz tweeted that Baltimore's the 16th best team based on just offense and defense.
Chicago Bears7-31011-10.5003In what has become a November ritual, Jay Cutler's agent is getting very excited, because we are seeing just how much the Bears need him. Although no quarterback could have succeeded against San Francisco.
Pittsburgh Steelers6-4910-10.4383An easy schedule should be the saving grace, but hard to ignore that the glaring quarterback issues here.
New York Giants6-49900.5833The lead in the NFC East is getting smaller; the Giants' margin for error is razor thin right now.
Seattle Seahawks6-49900.4793If the passing game can click, Seahawks should cruise to a playoff berth.
Indianapolis Colts6-49900.5003Rude awakening, but the Colts don't need to be all that good to make the playoffs.
Dallas Cowboys5-59900.4694Survive and advance against Cleveland. Matchup against Robert Griffin III should be fantastic.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers6-49900.6093I really like the direction Tampa Bay is going. Unfortunately, they have a difficult schedule and will lose a tiebreaker to both the Giants and Cowboys.
New Orleans Saints5-59810.5993Saints fans may want to start calculating tiebreaker scenarios with the Giants, Cowboys and Seahawks.
Cincinnati Bengals5-58800.4793Everything about this team screams 8-8. Although with A.J. Green and Geno Atkins, they have a couple of potential All-Pros.
Minnesota Vikings6-48710.6302They had a very good bye week, which consisted of watching the Bears -- their opponent in two of the next three weeks -- look like the Chiefs.
Miami Dolphins4-668-20.5474A few weeks ago, this was the 4th best team in the conference. Now they're the 4th best team in a terrible division. What happened?
Tennessee Titans4-67700.4793On again, off again, Chris Johnson did zilch last week.
Washington Redskins4-67610.4903Robert Griffin III looked outstanding off of a bye week. Washington just needs to keep him healthy.
New York Jets4-67610.4173Jets looked good against the Rams; do they blow all that goodwill tonight?
Buffalo Bills4-67610.4114If Buffalo can upset Indianapolis, realistic to think the #6 seed is in play for them with three straight workable home games on deck.
San Diego Chargers4-66600.4904Norv Turner and Philip Rivers should thank the Jets and the Eagles for taking attention away from how far they've fallen.
Detroit Lions4-66600.6464Lions' season effectively over, as it is most years by Thanksgiving.
Carolina Panthers2-86600.4272As bad as they've looked, three games against the bottom of the AFC West and Philadelphia should help. Burke still says they're better than we think.
Arizona Cardinals4-66600.5103At this point, even I feel bad making fun of the Cardinals.
Oakland Raiders3-76600.4063Underachieving and injured, this Raiders team looks like just about every other Oakland team over the last decade. An easy schedule will help.
St. Louis Rams3-6-15.56.5-10.5262When you get blown out, at home, by a team that spent the whole week forgetting they have a game, you move down in the rankings.
Philadelphia Eagles3-75500.5003Eagles are reminding me of the 2011 Bucs -- they appear to be in full-fledged quit mode.
Cleveland Browns2-84400.4793Browns will play hard, but still lack the talent to do much. Interesting rivalry game this week against a banged up Steelers team.
Jacksonville Jaguars1-93300.4693I don't think Chad Henne is the answer, but his performance is a sign that Blaine Gabbert isn't, either.
Kansas City Chiefs1-923-10.5313Matt Barkley was hurt last weekend, but Chiefs fans weren't happy about that injury to a USC quarterback.

An interesting story today on Antonio Cromartie, courtesy of Bob Glauber of Newsday. Cromartie says that after Revis was injured, the All-Pro cornerback told Cromartie that he needed to start taking his job more seriously and that it was time for him to reach his potential. Cromartie stated: “Hearing it from your peers, you take more out of that than hearing it from your coach…. Your peers expect so much out of you and expect you to play at a higher level, especially when he’s one of the best corners in the league.”

I’ve been very impressed with Cromartie this season, and Pro Football Focus’ numbers back in up. PFF’s subscriber content ranks Cromartie fourth in pass coverage among cornerbacks this season, behind only Charles Tillman, Casey Hayward, and Richard Sherman. He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him since he’s been a Jet, and he’s changed his demeanor off the field, too.

Your reaction to Cromartie’s comments is essentially a Rorschach test of your views on life. Whether you find it disappointing that this is what it took for the light to go on (and who knows when the bulb will need to be replaced) or inspiring that he was able to elevate his play is left to the reader.

Cromartie realized he had to take on more of a leadership role, and admitted that his level of play leading up to this season wasn’t as proficient as it should have been. It was a startling admission from a player who rarely suffers from a lack of self assurance, yet it was a moment that signaled a major turnaround. Cromartie is indeed playing his best football, and now laments that he didn’t take his craft more seriously before.

“It shouldn’t have taken for Revis to go down for me to be playing at a very high level,” he said. “There’s something I think I took for granted having Revis on the other side and not being able to play at a high level when he was here.”

“I think the biggest thing that’s changed for me is the leadership role,” Cromartie said. “Just making sure everyone was on top of everything, helping guys study film and knowing how to study film. I think I just took on a role that once [Revis] left, and I wanted to make sure I played at a higher level every single week.”


NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 11

This week at the Fifth Down, I look at the remarkable turnaround in Tampa Bay.  I argue that the success Tampa Bay is having this year dates back to the end of last year, when the organization decided to rebuild the offense with a clear image in mind.

Ten months ago, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik had a disaster on his hands.

The Bucs lost their final 10 games of the 2011 season and fired Coach Raheem Morris. The team ranked 27th in points scored, and quarterback Josh Freeman had regressed considerably in his third season.

In 2011, Freeman ranked 26th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt and led the N.F.C. in interceptions. Freeman had seemingly lost his way; he averaged a meek 10.4 yards per completion, placing him 33rd in the league and just barely ahead of weak-armed Colt McCoy (10.3).

If Freeman’s career had continued on this downward trajectory, Dominik would have become collateral damage. So in the off-season, Dominik rebuilt the team with a clear vision: he wanted an offense built around a strong running game complemented by a deep passing attack.

Dominik’s first move to was hire Greg Schiano, then the coach at Rutgers. The decision seemed odd at the time, especially in light of Tampa Bay’s flirtation with Oregon’s Chip Kelly. Kelly is considered an offensive mastermind, and Schiano is a defensive coach by trade. That meant the man Schiano would hire to coach his offense would be the most critical hire in Josh Freeman’s — and potentially Dominik’s — career.

Schiano didn’t have to venture far from Piscataway, N.J., to find his coordinator, Mike Sullivan, who was working as the Giants’ quarterbacks coach. The decision was considered risky because Sullivan had never called plays for the Giants, but he had a reputation for wanting to stretch the field with long passes in connection with a strong running game. In 2011, among the 25 quarterbacks that started at least 10 games and threw at least 300 passes, Eli Manning led the league in yards per completion.

In March, Tampa Bay signed wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who had starred for the Chargers. From 2008 to 2011, Jackson averaged 18.0 yards per catch, the highest average in the league over that span among players with at least 200 catches. During Jackson’s best season, in 2009, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers led the league in yards per completion, signaling the effects an elite deep threat can have on a quarterback’s statistics.

Tampa Bay also signed the All-Pro guard Carl Nicks from division rival New Orleans, although he is now out for the year with a left foot injury. Finally, in the 2012 draft, the Buccaneers selected running back Doug Martin with the 31st pick in the first round. Martin has 1,000 rushing yards in 10 games and is leading the N.F.L. in yards from scrimmage.

By adding one of the game’s best deep threats, an excellent offensive lineman and a talented, all-purpose running back, along with finding the right offensive coordinator and  coach, Dominik put the pieces in place around his franchise quarterback. This year, Freeman is having a breakout season. Playing in Sullivan’s offense, alongside Jackson and Martin, has transformed Freeman into one of the game’s most valuable players. Consider that through 10 games in 2011, Manning’s Giants were 6-4 and he was averaging 8.2 Adjusted Yards per Attempt; through 10 games in 2012,  Freeman’steam is 6-4 and he is averaging 8.2 AY/A.
After ranking 26th in ANY/A last season, Freeman  ranks second in ANY/A and Net Yards per Attempt, my preferred predictive statistic of quarterback play, trailing only Peyton Manning in both categories. After ranking second to last in yards per completion last year, Freeman ranks second in that metric this season, just barely behind Cam Newton.

You can read the rest of the post here, which also includes a look at the crazy records set in the Houston-Jacksonville game and some other interesting week 11 stats.


Pete Gogolak, not Brian Burke.

You know the name Pete Gogolak, don’t you? The former Buffalo Bill placekicker is a famous figure in football history for two reasons. First, he played a key role in the merger between the AFL and NFL in the 1960s.1 He’s also remembered for what he did on the field: Gogolak is widely credited with being the first soccer-style kicker in pro football history.

But Gogolak’s impact wasn’t limited to identifying the optimal technique for kicking a football: he also helped usher in an era of specialists. In the early days of the NFL, there was no room for a specialist as rosters were tiny and players played on offense, defense and special teams. Unlimited free substitution wasn’t permanently instituted until 1950, and as recently as 1963, teams were limited to just 37-man rosters.

Once teams were allowed to roster more players, and a certain unique brand of kicking was proven to be superior, a more specialized NFL emerged. In 1949, nobody would have signed a soccer-style kicker, or any person who could only kick a football. We joke now that kickers aren’t real football players, because back in 1949, a kicker would also need to play tight end or free safety. The idea that 5’11, 182-pound, 42-year-old Jason Hanson could be a contributing member of an NFL team is as noncontroversial in 2012 as it would have been laughable in 1952. It’s not going to take 60 years before an advanced statistical analyst — perhaps the front office version of a kicker — becomes a contributing member of an NFL organization.

This weekend, I sat down with Brian Burke, the founder of Advanced NFL Stats, a fantastic website on football, statistics and game theory. Burke’s win probability calculator has been one of the most exciting innovations in our industry. In Part II of this series, I’ll be interviewing Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz. Neither person is a threat to Ron Rivera’s job security anymore than Jason Hanson is a threat to steal Calvin Johnson’s job. Specialization is the way of the world, and hiring someone trained in the art of decision-making isn’t any different than choosing to hire a lawyer or doctor. We can’t expert anyone to be an expert in everything.
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  1. Gogolak was the first AFL player stolen by an NFL team. In 1965, Bob Timberlake succeeded on just one of his fifteen field goal attempts for the Giants. That prompted a desperate Wellington Mara to sign Gogolak after the season, which violated the gentlemen’s agreement between the two leagues not to sign each other’s players (which would drive up salaries). In response, Al Davis went nuclear, and the AFL signed Roman Gabriel, Fran Tarkenton, Sonny Jurgensen and Mike Ditka to contracts. Shortly thereafter, the two leagues hammered out the details on a merger. Baltimore’s Carroll Rosenbloom reportedly told Mara afterwards, “If I’d known you wanted a kicker, I’d have given you a kicker.” []

Mike Mularkey went for it on 4th and 10 in overtime

With 2:36 remaining in overtime, the Jacksonville Jaguars were at the Houston 47-yard line. It was 4th-and-10, following two short incomplete passes that were sandwiched around a run for no gain. Surprisingly, Mike Mularkey kept his offense on the field. The only similar example I can find of such an aggressive move in this situation came in 2009, when Carson Palmer and the Bengals convinced Marvin Lewis to go for it with 1:04 left in overtime, facing 4th and 11 at the Cleveland 41. Suffice it to say, this was something you don’t see everyday.

Despite being an unorthodox decision, most fans approved of the move. I do as well. Against arguably the best team in the league and your division rival, on the road, why not take the gamble? Is 1-8-1 that much better than 1-9, because punting in that situation is clearly playing for the tie. However, I think it’s important to make a clear distinction here, because stats guys are always recommending teams to go for it more frequently on fourth down.

This was *not* one of those cases. The numbers say this was a bad move. That’s exactly why this decision should be characterized as a a gamble. It’s okay to be risky for riskiness’ sake, but it’s important to recognize that that’s the reason. You’re playing for the variance here, not for the expected value. According to Brian Burke, Jacksonville would have needed a 55% chance of converting to make going for it the smart play. Over time, 4th and 10 plays are converted at roughly a 35% rate, and I don’t think that’s going to be higher when it’s Chad Henne against one of the best defenses in the league, regardless of how the rest of the game unfolded.

An incomplete pass, and your win probably decreases to 30% (never mind what happens on a sack or potential interception return). Give Houston the ball at say, their 14 following a punt, and you have a 60% chance of winning (this counts a tie as half a win). If you convert, you have a 76% chance of winning. Assuming a 35% rate, your win probably if you go for it is just 46% compared to 60% if you punt.

So the numbers don’t say going for it was the smart play. This was a gamble in every sense of the word. When statistical analysts argue that teams should go for it more often on 4th and 1, we’re not advocating risky moves; we’re advocating smart ones. This was risk for risk’s sake — which, given the situation, was probably appropriate.


On November 15, 2010, Michael Vick humiliated the Washington Redskins before a national television audience on Monday Night Football. The big news right before kickoff was that the ‘Skins had signed former Eagle QB Donovan McNabb to a five-year, $78 million contract extension, an ironic note that wouldn’t be lost on observers as McNabb’s replacement, Vick, put together one of the greatest all-around quarterbacking performances in NFL history:

DateTm OppResultCmpAttCmp%YdsTDIntRateSkSkYdANYPARushR_YdsR_TD
11/15/2010PHI@WASW 59-28202871.4%33340150.71114.28802

McNabb, on the other hand, was mediocre, going 17-31 with 295 yards and 2 TDs, but also 3 picks. More damning, Washington’s offense produced zero points until the Redskins were in a 35-0 hole and the game was essentially over.

Fast-forward 735 days, though, and the Redskins got their payback. An injured Vick was on the shelf, the Eagles entered the game on a 5-game losing streak, and electrifying rookie Robert Griffin III extended it to six with a brilliant performance of his own:

DateTm OppResultCmpAttCmp%YdsTDIntRateSkSkYdANYPARushR_YdsR_TD
11/18/2012WASPHIW 31-6141593.3%20040158.32816.012840

So, which performance was better, Vick’s original or RGIII’s remix? Vick threw for 133 more yards, rushed for practically the same amount as Griffin (on 4 fewer carries), and produced more total TDs. Then again, Griffin completed 93% of his passes and put together the vaunted 158.3 “perfect” QB rating. It’s a tough call.

Sound off with your opinion below!


Creating a Draft Value Chart, Part II

Last week, I took another stab at creating a draft value chart. The biggest modification I made was looking at just the value provided by a player in his first five years to a team. As a result, the graph flattened, compressing the difference between the value provided by the top and bottom picks.

I’m not sure if there’s a right answer, or even what the “market” is. Almost no one thinks the high values assigned by the Jimmy Johnson draft chart are “correct.” Still, I think advanced analysts can sometimes get carried away with the idea of trading down. You may not need a dozen superstars to win, but you probably need a few, especially on offense.

Last time, I stated that we needed to take the marginal value of a player compared to that of an undrafted pick. That’s true, but after thinking it over some more, we need to do this on a yearly basis. A player providing 1 or 2 points of AV in a season obviously isn’t doing much. Therefore, I reconstructed the draft value chart by giving a player credit only for the AV he produced after 2 points of AV in each season. So if a player had an AV of 10 in each of his first 5 seasons, he gets credit for 40 points of value. Using these values produces the following chart, along with a logarithmic trendline:

After again removing the marginal value for the draft slots on the “career” level — even undrafted players, on average, will have some seasons with AV over two in their first five years — we can finalize this draft value chart. You can view all the values here. We can also compare this (in blue) to the Jimmy Johnson draft chart (in red):
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Week 12 College Football SRS Ratings

Your assumptions are no longer valid.

Kansas State entered the weekend as the most balanced team in college football. Through 11 weeks, Baylor ranked 120th in yards allowed and 118th in points allowed. But last night in Waco, the Wildcats were unable to do much of anything on offense. Collin Klein had never thrown more than one interception in a game in his career; he threw 3 against the Bears. Kansas State was averaging 213 rushing yards per game, but Baylor limited them to just 76 rushing yards. The Wildcats hadn’t allowed more than 30 points in a game this year; Baylor scored 52 points in the first three quarters and ended the game with 580 yards of offense. The most balanced and consistent team in the country was demolished by one of the most one-dimensional teams in college football.

Who needs Andrew Luck?

At the same time, another surprise was happening in Eugene. If there was one thing we knew in 2012, it was that the Oregon offense was unstoppable. This has been the case for years — since Chip Kelly arrived in 2007, the Ducks had scored at least 24 points in every home game. Against Stanford, the Ducks were held to just 14 points in an overtime loss.

In their first years in the post-Andrew Luck and post-Robert Griffin III, the Stanford and Baylor programs dominated the college football headlines on the most important weekend of the season. For the first time in five years, the #1 and #2 teams in the BCS fell on the same day, rendering all of our national championship game assumptions moot.

This much is clear: if Notre Dame defeats USC at the Coliseum on Saturday, the Fighting Irish are going to the BCS National Championship Game. The winner of the SEC Championship Game is going there as well, barring an upset by Georgia Tech in Athens this weekend.1 I maintain that Georgia is far less deserving of its spot in Atlanta than Florida, who has the most impressive trio of wins this year by defeating LSU, Texas A&M, and South Carolina. Georgia lost to South Carolina but beat Florida, which gave them the tiebreaker and the division crown. But the real key for Bulldogs was that they faced Mississippi and Auburn in the West, not LSU and A&M; as a result, they are the SEC East Champions.

But now is the time for more relevant debates. Assuming an upset — either by USC, or by Georgia Tech coupled with a Georgia upset against Alabama — who is next in line? At that point, four teams will have legitimate claims for the other golden ticket: Florida, Florida State, Oregon, and Kansas State. Fortunately, the Gators and Seminoles play each other on Saturday, which would leaves us with just three promising candidates.

If they defeat Florida State, Florida is the clear “next team up” following a slip-up by Notre Dame or in the event of a two-loss SEC Champ. The computers would love them due to their strength of schedule, and the voters should love them for the same reason and the bump they would get for defeating Florida State.

If FSU wins, their case is much weaker. The computers hate them, and for good reason: they haven’t beaten any good teams. Defeating the Gators would give them a big bump, and they’ll get a chance to beat mediocre team in the ACC Championship Game, but consider: Outside of 10-1 Clemson, each of FSU’s other 9 victories have come against ACC, Big East, or FCS schools that have at least 5 losses. And how good is Clemson? Yes, they have a nice record, but their 10 wins have come against Ball State (#64 in the SRS), and ACC, SEC, or FCS teams with at least five losses.

According to the SRS, North Carolina is the 3rd best team in the conference and they rank 45th. FSU lost to a bad N.C. State team, while while Oregon (in particular) and Kansas State have much more palatable losses. FSU’s argument would be two parts “we lost earliest” and one part “we beat Florida and Clemson, even if Clemson hasn’t beaten anybody.” Florida State’s overall strength of schedule is far inferior to that both Oregon’s and Kansas State’s. In my opinion, even with a win over Florida, the Seminoles likely do not jump both Oregon and Kansas State in the BCS, nor should they.

And consider: if Stanford defeats UCLA this weekend, the Cardinal — and not Oregon — would win the Pac-12 North, which would deal a significant blow to Nike University. Kansas State still needs to get by Texas, but tonight might not end up being a season killer. At this point, they need to root for USC and Florida State, which is historically not a bad position to be in. My guess is Kansas State is next in line after an undefeated Notre Dame, a one-loss SEC Champ, and a one-loss Florida team. It’s possible only one of those three exist by the end of the season.

Let’s take a look at the SRS ratings after 11 weeks. As always, thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe. [click to continue…]

  1. No, we’re not getting into hypotheticals that involve Auburn beating Alabama. []

Checkdowns: QB Playoff Wins by College

Watching Matt Barkley today against UCLA, I tweeted that Mark Sanchez is responsible for 4 of the 9 playoff wins by USC quarterbacks. Since twitter is not a very good medium for showing large datasets, here’s a quick look at which colleges have produced the quarterbacks with the most playoff victories.

Two pieces of fine print. One, I am using the player’s last college as his college, so Oklahoma does not get credit for Troy Aikman in this scenario. Second, I am giving only the quarterback who threw for the most passing yards for his team in that game as the “quarterback” to avoid giving credit to players who came in and took a couple of snaps at the end of blowouts (or who started games but were benched or injured early). So the number of playoff wins for each quarterback — listed in parentheses in the table below — could slightly differ from official figures.

[click to continue…]


Checkdowns: College Team Efficiency Ratings

Note: There are many things theoretical issues with this post. That said, if I had to write down and explain all the drawbacks of the data I’m about to present, I wouldn’t have the time to make quick posts like this. So….

I thought it would be cool to take a slightly (emphasis on slightly) more nuanced look at team rushing and passing stats so far in 2012.

The first table shows how many “rushing yards over average” each team has this year. First, I calculated each team’s “Adjusted Yards per Carry” which is simply Yards per Carry with a 20-yard bonus for each touchdown. On average, teams are averaging 5.31 AYPC in 2012; to calculate rushing yards over average, I multiplied the number of carries for each team by the difference between their AYPC average and 5.31. As expected, Oregon ranks first.
[click to continue…]


Scott Kacsmar posted an interesting article yesterday, noting that teams are punting or kicking on 4th down in 2012 more frequently than at any other time in the last 20 years. So far in 2012, just 1.27% of all plays are 4th down attempts.

Scott also noted that teams have been less aggressive on 4th and 1. I wanted to tweak some of Scott’s cutoffs and see if the results changed. I look at all 4th-and-1s since 2000, but limited the data to just weeks 1-10 and the first three quarters of the game. This year, teams have gone for it 56 times in these situations, gaining a first down 75% of the time.

The table below shows how often teams punted, kicked a field goal, or went for it on 4th and 1. The fifth column shows the conversion rate when teams did choose to try to get the first down, and the next two columns display the run to pass ratio (scrambles are included as runs). The final two columns show the success rates by run and by pass.

YearPuntField GoalGo For ItConv RtRun %Pass %Run ConRtPass ConRt

It is a bit odd to see that teams seem less willing to try to convert on 4th-and-1 in 2012 than they were a decade ago. Why do you think that is?


Should Notre Dame be ranked in the Top 2?

Before I get to the question of the day, below is a quick roundup of some good college football articles I read this week:

  • Bill Connelly, of Football Outsiders and SB Nation, argues that Texas A&M’s victory proves head coach Kevin Sumlin was the right man for the job and that the spread works — even in the SEC.
  • You may recall that Alabama’s last chance to win the game was ruined when they fell for a hard count on a 4th down play with Texas A&M lined up to punt. Chris Brown highlighted how Sumlin has a history of success with the hard count — the day before the game.
  • Dan Wetzel, writing for Yahoo!, argues that the BCS is screwing over Notre Dame because of the Irish’s preseason ranking.
  • Stewart Mandel over at Sports Illustrated discusses the far-reaching impact of the Aggies’ upset victory
  • Matt Hinton at SB Nation provides us with the latest and greatest on the BCS race, including a terrifying-but-not-unrealistic theory on how we might get another All-SEC BCS title game.

As we move towards the final few weeks of the regular season, the picture is almost in place. We know that Oregon and Kansas State are atop the BCS standings, and if both remain undefeated, will end up facing off in the BCS National Championship Game. That would leave Notre Dame, as a potential 12-0, left out in the cold. Is this fair?

Of course not. Any system that is designed around a two-team playoff format is not going to be equitable when you have three teams finish a season undefeated. That’s basic math. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with the BCS for another 14 months. So the real question isn’t whether an undefeated Notre Dame would be getting screwed — they would be, just like countless other teams before them. No, the more interesting question is, assuming we are absurdly limited to the ridiculousness of choosing two out of three undefeated teams, should Notre Dame be one of those two teams?

The cast of characters in this case can easily be plotted a continuum, with “margin of victory” champs on one side and “strength of schedule” warriors on the other. On the left, a dominant offense; on the right, a dominant defense. It’s a case of “beauty contest winners” vs. “resume champs.” Or, if you prefer, the best predictive teams vs. the best retrodictive teams. In any event, you’ve got Oregon on one side, Notre Dame on the other, and Kansas State square in the middle. We’re left trying to magnify miniscule differences to figure out which two teams belong.

The case for Oregon

The Ducks lead the country in points per game and rushing yards per carry, giving them the most explosive offensive attack in college football. The Ducks are so prolific that they’ve managed to achieve these milestones despite largely shutting things down for large stretches of the game nearly every week: Oregon has had a lead of at least 32 points in nine of ten games, and in 8 of those games, they scored at least 4 straight touchdowns at one point (of the exceptions, in one they had two runs of three straight touchdowns and in the other, they broke USC’s school records for yards and points allowed).
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I’m a big fan of Mike Tanier, an excellent writer formerly of Football Outsiders and now with Sports on Earth. Yesterday, Tanier threw cold water on the idea that Chip Kelly is going to be the next great NFL coach. Tanier labeled him him this generation’s Steve Spurrier, and argued that it is lazy and unsophisticated to simply assume that “great NCAA coach = great NFL coach.” Unfortunately, his analysis only required the expenditure of one extra ounce of effort and intelligence:

Kelly is an offensive mastermind. He is guru of the modern college spread option. Marcus Mariota, his current quarterback, fakes a shotgun handoff, stands in the pocket while a file downloads, then floats passes to receivers who are open by five yards. Or, Mariota hands off to Kenjon Barner, who busts off 300-yard games against overtaxed defenses. Or, Mariota keeps the football himself. There are trick plays, wildcat packages, fake field goals, bells, whistles, onion rings and shakes. It’s fun, and the quarterback is always in the gun. Is your SpurriDar beeping yet?

Kelly runs an explosive college offense, but like Spurrier’s fun ‘n’ gun, it is distinctly and uniquely a college offense. It is built on the principle of littering the field with speedy young men who can outrun the opponent’s speedy young men in the wide-open spaces that only exist at a level of play where everyone is a step slower, an inch shorter and 15 pounds lighter.

Kelly’s offense is often mischaracterized as gimmicky, but Chris Brown did an excellent job explaining how traditional football principles are the key to Kelly’s offense at Grantland yesterday. Brown has also written a bit about Kelly’s zone-read running game, the way the Ducks teach reading the defensive tackle, and how Oregon’s attack compares to Nebraska’s old rushing offense over at his website, Smart Football; alternatively, you can read about Kelly’s offense straight from the horse’s mouth.

Can Kelly simply pack his playbook, spend a training camp with an NFL team, and turn them into the pro version of the Ducks? Of course not; even if his running game works perfectly, his runs will mostly go for 8-yard gains, not 40-yard sprints (unless he’s playing the Raiders). But reducing Kelly to an X’s and O’s guru incapable of adaption is unfairly harsh. Tanier credits the great Nike machine with providing Oregon with superior talent, but that’s not a fair criticism. Oregon has never had a top-ten recruiting class under Kelly, and Rivals generally ranks Oregon’s classes in the teens or early twenties. Spurrier, coaching in talent-rich Florida, not remote Oregon, was playing with a decked more favorably stacked than Kelly ever has. But more importantly, Kelly’s offenses were unstoppable when he coached at New Hampshire without any recruiting edge, and his success at Oregon happened immediately, even before Oregon truly became the nouveau riche of college football.
[click to continue…]


Week 10 Power Rankings

Houston, we may have a rematch.

Jason Lisk put the Texans on top of his power rankings. Both Aaron Schatz and Brian Burke loves the Broncos. The Patriots offense looks historically great. I know what you’re thinking: wasn’t it only five weeks ago that I read somewhere that the NFC was by far the superior conference in the NFL?

That still may be true. Football Outsiders has the Jaguars, Chiefs, Raiders, Titans, Browns and… Colts as their bottom six teams in the league. Advanced NFL Stats largely agrees, putting the Jaguars, Chiefs, Titans, Bills, Cardinals, Colts, Browns and Raiders — that’s 7 AFC teams — in the bottom quarter of the NFL. There is a large gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in the AFC, and the three teams straddling the border — Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis — are tremendously flawed. That says nothing of the middle tier of the AFC, populated by the schizophrenic Dolphins, Bengals, and Chargers. The AFC may not be any good this year, but that doesn’t mean it the Super Bowl winner won’t come from there.

[As always, the number of wins I’m projecting each team to finish the season with is in column 3. The fourth column – PWIN – shows how many wins I projected last week, and the difference column represents how many wins I added or subtracted this week. The “RSOS” column stands for the remaining SOS for the team, based on the number of projected wins I’m giving to each of their opponents. The “RHG” column stands for remaining home games.]

Atlanta Falcons8-1131300.4734Their first loss doesn't change their outlook -- this is a 13-win team that should get the #1 seed in the NFC.
Houston Texans8-1131300.4643Until someone mentioned it Monday Night, I forgot the Texans play in a dome. There's no team built for the outdoors like Houston.
Denver Broncos6-3131210.3754They still have, by far, the easiest remaining schedule. Their win total keeps rising.
Chicago Bears7-21112-10.5043The loss to Houston isn't as significant as Jay Cutler's concussion.
New England Patriots6-3111100.5134Suddenly, the remaining schedule looks a little challenging, with Ind, @NYJ, @MIA, Hou, and SF the next five weeks.
Green Bay Packers6-3111100.4733If Green Bay can manage to win road games against the Lions and Giants the next two weeks, the hype machine will be rolling.
Baltimore Ravens7-2111010.5543Not a fan of this team at all, but they're getting a break facing Pittsburgh this week.
San Francisco 49ers6-2-110.512-1.50.5313There are no gimmes left on their schedule and the 49ers are starting to show some cracks.
Pittsburgh Steelers6-31011-10.4734Losing Ben Roethlisberger hurts, but an easy schedule means the Steelers are playing with a safety net.
New York Giants6-4910-10.5633Four weeks ago, I wrote: "I've projected the Giants at 9 wins every week so far, and I'm not going to change now. The Giants are plagued by inconsistency." Two weeks ago, I had them at 11 wins. I should know better.
Seattle Seahawks6-49900.5003Three home games remaining = three more wins.
Indianapolis Colts6-39900.5273No, a win over Jacksonville does not give you a bump in the projections.
Dallas Cowboys4-59810.4205Streaking and still have 5 games left in Jerry's World to go with a creampuff easy schedule.
Miami Dolphins4-589-10.5044Seriously, what was that? The loss to Tennessee wasn't just the most unexpected game of the year; it was also the worst one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers5-49720.5763Josh Freeman is having a magnificent year. The schedule is difficult but a 9-win season is within their grasp.
New Orleans Saints4-58710.5583There's no margin for error for the Saints, who aren't good enough to operate with no margin of error.
Cincinnati Bengals4-58620.4463Can the Bengals win three straight games against the little sisters of the AFC West?
Minnesota Vikings6-47700.6612Not only does Minnesota have the most difficult remaining schedule but the Vikings are the only team with two home games left.
Tennessee Titans4-67610.4693I'm not about to buy into this team, but maybe they can use that win as a springboard.
St. Louis Rams3-5-16.560.50.4783A win over the Jets in the Schottenheimer Bowl may be the highpoint of the season. Anything would be better than kissing the 49ers.
San Diego Chargers4-567-10.5364Now that I think I've got them figured out, surely they're about to go on a winning streak.
Detroit Lions4-567-10.6615The loss to the Vikings effectively ended their season, as they are tied with the Vikings in having the hardest remaining schedule in the league.
Washington Redskins3-66600.4644Robert Griffin III off a bye week against the Eagles? Cover your eyes, Philly fans.
Arizona Cardinals4-56600.5543The St. Louis Cardinals won a game more recently than the football version. A regular season game.
Oakland Raiders3-66600.4294An easy remaining schedule means they probably won't be in contention for the top pick.
New York Jets3-66600.4063I hate this team.
Buffalo Bills3-66600.4425For the Bills, playing the Patriots close tends to be the highlight of their season.
Carolina Panthers2-76600.4463This team is much more talented than a 2-7 team, but I'm not sure what that gets them.
Philadelphia Eagles3-656-10.4733Yeah, the schedule is easy, but Philadelphia is on a 5-game losing streak that shows no sign of ending.
Cleveland Browns2-74400.5093The last 7 games will be very important for some members of the Cleveland franchise.
Jacksonville Jaguars1-834-10.5183Blaine Gabbert is ranked 33rd in NY/A out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks, sandwiched between the awfulness in Arizona.
Kansas City Chiefs1-83300.5274Hey, at least they didn't tie!


When Miami was blown out by Tennessee this weekend, I was shocked. So I cooked up a quick little way to measure how shocked I should have been. First, here are the SRS standings for the NFL through 10 weeks:

1Houston Texans911.6-0.311.3
2Chicago Bears911.8-0.910.9
3Denver Broncos99.41.310.7
4New England Patriots911.2-0.910.4
5San Francisco 49ers99.20.49.7
6Green Bay Packers95.41.77.1
7Atlanta Falcons98.4-2.36.1
8Seattle Seahawks103.72.15.8
9New York Giants105.105.1
10Baltimore Ravens96.1-2.33.8
11Tampa Bay Buccaneers95.3-2.23.1
12Dallas Cowboys9-
13Pittsburgh Steelers93.7-3.30.4
14Detroit Lions90.3-0.30.1
15Minnesota Vikings101.1-10.1
16New Orleans Saints9-1.10.5-0.6
17San Diego Chargers92.3-3.4-1.1
18Washington Redskins9-2.10.9-1.2
19Carolina Panthers9-6.24.8-1.5
20St. Louis Rams9-5.84.1-1.7
21Arizona Cardinals9-3.61.6-2
22Cincinnati Bengals9-1.6-1.2-2.8
23Miami Dolphins9-1.1-3.1-4.2
24New York Jets9-6.21.9-4.3
25Indianapolis Colts9-2-3.4-5.4
26Buffalo Bills9-7.21-6.2
27Cleveland Browns9-5-1.3-6.3
28Philadelphia Eagles9-7.61-6.5
29Tennessee Titans10-9.21.6-7.6
30Oakland Raiders9-10-0.7-10.7
31Kansas City Chiefs9-11.9-0.7-12.6
32Jacksonville Jaguars9-13.60.6-13

Now the SRS weighs each game equally. This means that we can come up with a projected game score for each week, and see how close the actual result came to meeting our projection. For this iteration of the SRS, I am not using any caps or floors, and am giving the home team three points.
[click to continue…]


NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 10

This week at the New York Times I looked at several interesting statistical developments in both the 2012 season and in week 10.

Even in today’s pass-happy N.F.L., it pays to have one of the best running backs. In one of the bigger surprises of the season, the best of the best is Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.

He’s a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time first-team All-Pro selection, but few expected a big year out of Peterson. That’s because last year, on Christmas Eve, Peterson tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the Redskins. Such a brutal injury often permanently robs a player of his elite ability; the rule of thumb tells us that it’s not until the second full season after the injury that the player regains his old form, if he ever does.

An injury so late in the 2011 season had most people figuring his 2012 season would be a lost year. Instead, Peterson leads the league in rushing with 1,128 yards and is on pace for a remarkable 1,804. Peterson is the first player since 2009 to rush for 1,100 yards in his team’s first 10 games, and he’s showing no signs of slowing. He has rushed for 629 yards in his last four games, including an impressive 171 rushing yards in a victory over the Lions on Sunday.

Peterson is also averaging 5.75 yards per rush the season, the most among players with at least 100 carries. He joins Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Chris Johnson as players with 1,100 or more rushing yards and such a high yards-per-carry average after his team’s first ten games.

Minnesota’s passing game ranks 26th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt and last in the league in yards per completion, a sign of an offense that doesn’t stretch the field through the air. But despite a passing attack that doesn’t scare any defense, thanks to Peterson, Minnesota is 6-4 and a potential playoff team.

The Return of Megatron

For most of the season, N.F.L. fans wondered what was wrong with Calvin Johnson. It wasn’t until the final minutes of Detroit’s loss to the Vikings on Sunday that Matthew Stafford and Johnson connected on a touchdown pass this season (Johnson did catch a touchdown pass from Shaun Hill earlier this year). Well, after a 207-yard game against Minnesota, Johnson is again leading the league in receiving yards. With 974 yards in nine games, Johnson is actually ahead of last year’s pace, when he gained a league-high 1,681 yards. The big difference: in 2011, he caught 16 touchdown passes, but he has only two in 2012.

Continued Dominance in New England

When it comes to the Patriots, mind-boggling offensive numbers are the norm. That means we occasionally ignore just how impressively the New England machine is operating. The Patriots lead the league in points scored, yards gained and first downs. Since 1990, only the 1993 49ers, the 1997 Broncos, the 2001 Rams and the 2007 Patriots have finished first in each metric.

The Patriots are averaging 33.2 points per game, 3.1 points more than the second-place Broncos. At 430.3 yards per game, the Patriots far outpace the rest of the league; Detroit (406.1) is the only other team averaging more than 400 yards per game.

But where New England really stands out is the 259 first downs it has gained. Last year, New Orleans set the N.F.L. record for first downs in a season with 416; the 2011 Patriots also broke the old record (held by the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs) with 399. This year’s team is on pace for an incredible 460 first downs. And the Patriots are on pace to crush the record in a surprising way: New England leads the N.F.L. in rushing first downs with 92, and Stevan Ridley leads all running backs with 54 rushing first downs.

You can read the full article here.

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Creating a NFL draft value chart, Part I

Nearly five years ago, I came out with my own draft value chart to replace the “Jimmy Johnson” draft chart commonly cited by draftniks. What I did then was assign the career approximate value grade to each slot for each player drafted over a 30-year period, smoothed the data, and came up with a chart that actually represented career production.

The chart was due for an update in any event, but I’m going to make a key change. Using each player’s career AV makes sense on some level, as the drafting team gets the chance to have a player for his entire career. But the real value in the draft –especially now thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement — is the ability to get a player for cheap on his rookie contract, which expires after (at most) five years. The Jets got a great deal with Darrelle Revis early in his career, but now that he’s the highest paid cornerback in the NFL, much of his value (even pre-injury) is gone.

There’s also another consideration. Of the 100 top-ten draft picks between 1998 and 2007, only 48 players1 were still on the same team entering their sixth season. From the perspective of the head coach, things look even bleaker. In only eleven instances were the head coach and the top-ten pick still on the same team after five years (i.e., in year six): Chris McAlister and Jamal Lewis with Brian Bilick in Baltimore, Donovan McNabb with Andy Reid in Philadelphia, Richard Seymour with Bill Belichick in New England, Julius Peppers and Jordan Gross with John Fox in Carolina, Carson Palmer with Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Eli Manning with Tom Coughlin in New York, A.J. Hawk with Mike McCarty in Green Bay, Mario Williams with Gary Kubiak in Houston, and Levi Brown with Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona.

If you’re a head coach — or a general manager — I’m not sure it makes sense to project any more than five years down the line. Therefore, I’m going to construct my draft value chart based on the amount of Approximate Value provided by that player in his first five years after being drafted.2 Using PFR’s AV as my guide, I graded each player drafted from 1980 to 2007 and counted how much AV they accumulated in each of their first five years. Below is a chart plotting the data along with a smoothed line:

[click to continue…]

  1. counting Eli Manning and Philip Rivers as staying with the teams that drafted them []
  2. Note: I am giving the player credit for all of the AV he earned, regardless of whether or not it was accumulated with the team that selected him. []
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