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Super Bowl XLIX New England/Seattle Preview

Will Brady be mad after today's game?

Will Brady be mad after today’s game?

I’ve done Super Bowl previews the last two years, but I decided not to go with the full-fledged Super Bowl preview this year. One reason: Bill Barnwell’s outstanding preview is so excellent and exhaustive that well, I didn’t have much else to say.

But I do have some high-level thoughts. Regular readers know that I’m a guy who spends a lot of time thinking about rating teams and players and trying to make adjustments to make high-level comparisons across eras. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe that in any one game, matchups can matter more than pure talent. Last year, I thought the Seahawks were a bad matchup for the Broncos, and I tweeted as much before the 2013 conference championship games. I still believe that if the 49ers had scored on that final drive against the Seahawks, then Peyton Manning would have another Super Bowl in his trophy case.

But the matchups this year are kind of weird, a fact that Barnwell detailed well in his preview. When Darrelle Revis was with the Jets, fans often bemoaned that he was a “waste” against a Patriots team that threw to Wes Welker in the slot and to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Jets may have had a star cornerback, but the Patriots didn’t have a star outside wide receiver, and the Jets best player was essentially neutralized when playing New England.

Here, something similar will happen, but for both teams. Revis will be manned up on Doug Baldwin and well, okay. So instead of four catches, Baldwin will have… two? The hunch is that Richard Sherman will see a lot of Brandon LaFell, which means the Seahawks best cornerback will be isolated on the Patriots third-best receiver (behind Gronkowski and Julian Edelman). [click to continue…]

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The Patriots SRS rating has been inflated in the postseason

The Patriots true SRS rating is deflated if you only use regular season data.

It has always seemed a little strange to me that we think about the regular season and the playoffs separately when evaluating a team’s season. At least, that’s usually what happens in terms of the numbers. We think about a team’s regular season record and we think about where they were eliminated in the playoffs. A team’s Simple Rating System (SRS) rating is based just on their regular season performance.1 When we evaluate a team or a matchup, it might make more sense to think about their whole body of work including the playoffs when calculating ratings.

In the table below, I have calculated the SRS of Super Bowl teams according to Pro Football Reference’s (PFR) method that considers just the regular season.2 I have also added adjusted ratings that include the playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl. These set of adjusted ratings help to identify the Super Bowls that were the closest and best matchups based on teams’ performances over the entire season including the playoffs. [click to continue…]

  1. Note that Football Outsiders’ DVOA does update for the playoffs. []
  2. It looks like I get the same numbers as PFR in a bunch of cases, but I have not checked all of them. In any event, it looks like my program works. []
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Thoughts on the Championship Games

On conference championship Sunday, it’s easy to pick the home teams, particularly when they are the number one seeds and touchdown favorites. That logic is further supported in a case like 2014, where the favorites have histories of success against these particular underdogs.

But conference championship game Sunday is not immune to upsets. The graph below shows the average point spread of each winner in a conference championship game since 1978. Based on the line data I have (which comes from PFR), there have been a pair of touchdown underdogs in recent memory: the 2012 Ravens and 2007 Giants.

ccg hist

In recent history, conference championship games have been viewed as much closer than what we see in 2014, where the Seahawks are 8-point favorites and the Patriots are currently at -6.5. To find a semifinal weekend where both favorites were giving at least six points, you have to go back to 2007, when the Patriots and Packers were also playing. That day, the Giants pulled off the huge upset in Green Bay, while New England handled San Diego. [click to continue…]

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Brady was happy to have the game put in his arm on Saturday

Brady was happy to have the game put in his arm on Saturday

Every week during the season, I compile Game Scripts data, which measures the average points margin during every second of every game. Since most people don’t have a chance to watch every game, it’s helpful to have this information.

During the playoffs, most of us are watching each game, so we know what’s going on. But after two weeks, I thought it was still worthwhile to check in on the numbers. There have been two big comebacks during the playoffs: the Cowboys against the Lions during the wildcard round, and the Patriots against the Ravens last weekend.

The Dallas comeback against Detroit would rank as the 4th biggest comeback of 2014, or the 4th worst Game Script produced by a winning team. Those with longer memories may recall that in 2011, the Lions beat the Cowboys despite having a Game Script of -9.4, and last year, the two teams scored 41 combined fourth quarter points. In other words, don’t turn off the game early when the Lions and Cowboys are playing.

The Patriots also pulled off a big comeback. New England trailed 14-0 and for most of the first half, and entered the locker room down seven. The Patriots are no strangers to these sorts of comebacks, though: since 2001, New England has the third best winning percentage when trailing at halftime by between 7 and 14 points.

Here are the full numbers from the first two rounds of the playoffs:

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio
INDCINBoxscore2610167.8452564.3%382164.4%
CARARIBoxscore2716115.8333945.8%321568.1%
SEACARBoxscore3117145.8242747.1%382956.7%
BAL@PITBoxscore3017134.6302554.5%531973.6%
IND@DENBoxscore2413113.8432860.6%482070.6%
GNBDALBoxscore26215-0.4362955.4%232845.1%
NWEBALBoxscore35314-4.8531380.3%452861.6%
DALDETBoxscore24204-8.1372163.8%452267.2%

[click to continue…]

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This week at the New York Times, a look at the two matchups this weekend, arguably pitting the most valuable quarterbacks against the most talented teams.

At Stanford, Andrew Luck was immensely hyped as the next great quarterback prospect. The Indianapolis Colts selected him with the first overall pick in 2012, and remarkably, Luck has managed to meet even the highest of expectations. After helping turn a 2-14 team in 2011 into a playoff team in 2012, Luck won his first playoff game during the 2013 season and has now guided the Indianapolis Colts to the A.F.C. championship game.

Just 25 years old, Luck threw for a league-high 40 touchdowns during the regular season. On Sunday, against the heavily favored Denver Broncos, he delivered another strong performance, throwing for two touchdowns and guiding an offense centered on the passing game.

Luck is perhaps the most important person to his franchise of any player in the N.F.L. But it is Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and not Luck, who is likely to be named the league’s most valuable player this month. Rodgers averaged 7.68 net yards per attempt during the regular season, the highest in football. Rodgers also led the N.F.L. in interception rate (a minuscule 1.0 percent) and finished second to Dallas’s Tony Romo in touchdown rate (7.3 percent).

You can read the full article here.

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This week at the New York Times, an early look at the division round of the playoffs:

In 1990 the N.F.L. switched to its current playoff format, featuring six teams from each conference, with the top two seeds earning first-round byes.

For the first 15 years, this structure appeared to provide an enormous edge for the top two seeds: Teams coming off byes won 81.7 percent of all games in the division round of the playoffs from 1990 to 2004.

Then, over the next six seasons, the rested teams were 12-12 and it seemed as though being “hot” negated any advantage teams gained from a week off. In the last three postseasons the pendulum has swung back, with three bye teams winning each year. Last year, all four favorites were victorious in the division round of the playoffs, with the road 49ers winning at Carolina as 1-point favorites.

This year projects to mark a return to the old days. For the first time since 2007 all four home teams in the division round are favored by at least 4 points, and any more than one upset would qualify as shocking. So while the home teams are heavily favored this weekend, here is one tidbit to keep in mind for each game.

You can read the full article here.

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Luck's Colts won big early in the year, but are small favorites today

Luck’s Colts won big early in the year, but are small favorites today

In week 7, the Bengals lost 27-0 to Indianapolis. What does that mean? I looked at all playoff rematches where:

  • The teams only played once during the regular season (as, I think, division rivals represent a different equation)
  • The rematch occurred in the same location as the original game
  • The home team won the regular season meeting

This happened once last year, where the Saints also lost by 27 points on the road to the Seahawks during the regular season, and then revisited Seattle in the playoffs. Obviously Seattle won that rematch, too, which is not unusual. There have been 11 situations where the home team won by at least 27 during the regular season, and the home teams went 9-2 in the rematch. (And, it’s worth noting, that one of the wins came with Joe Montana starting the playoff game for the Chiefs, after Dave Krieg started the regular season loss.) The table below shows all playoff rematches between teams that met the above criteria.

Here’s how to read the second entry. In 1991, the Lions traveled back to Washington for the Conference Championship Game. Detroit was a 14-point underdog, and point spread data is included for all games since 1978. In the game, Detroit lost, 41-10. In the regular season, the teams met in Washington (remember, all games in this table were rematches at the same site) in week 1, and Detroit lost 45-0 (remember, all games in this table occurred from the perspective of the road team, and the road team lost in the first game). That -45 points differential was the 2nd most ever; the table is sorted by points differential in the regular season. [click to continue…]

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These guys are back in the playoffs

These guys are back in the playoffs

At FanDuel, you start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 defense, with a salary cap of $60,000. The scoring system is pretty standard, with 0.5 points per reception being the most notable feature to keep in mind.

Given that there are just four games this week, predicting the game flow (and subsequent Game Script) of each matchup is a vital part of determining which fantasy players will do the best. My thoughts:

Arizona at Carolina

The Panthers have been hot the last four weeks, although part of that was due to playing poor teams. Fortunately for Carolina, another poor team is on the horizon in Arizona. The Panthers defense should be able to contain Ryan Lindley, making them a strong play. The forecast is for rain in Charlotte, making the matchup even tastier.

Another notable development: Arizona’s run defense has fallen from 5th in yards per carry allowed over the first 11 weeks, to 32nd over the last six. The Cardinals defense allowed 278 rushing yards in four games to Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, which makes Cam Newton a potential threat for a big game today. The downside to Newton: Patrick Peterson shutting down Kelvin Benjamin and the Panthers getting up early could limit Newton’s passing stats. A 16/25, 160 yard day with 50-60 rushing is one possible outcome, and probably more likely than Newton throwing for 300+ yards. If you want play Newton, you’re likely banking on a rushing touchdown. [click to continue…]

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John Idzik Fired, and Rebuilding in New York

A very unhappy marriage

A very unhappy marriage

After two seasons on the job, Jets general manager John Idzik was fired on Black Monday. Idzik has been loudly criticized for his personnel decisions — more on this in a bit — but even the anti-Idzik crowd would recognize that firing a general manager after just two years is unusual. Firing a general manager who drafted the defensive rookie of the year in one of those two seasons, and who never was permitted to hire his own head coach, only adds to the perception that Idzik’s tenure in New York was unique.

In retrospect, the decision that may wind up ruining Idzik’s career was the one to agree to take the vacant Jets job. Recall that Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell chose Jacksonville over New York, in a move that foreshadowed some of the problems Idzik would encounter. Chief among them: rebuilding in New York — and in particular, with the Jets — is just not like rebuilding in other places.  The Jets were 6-10 and coming off back-to-back seasons without the playoffs when Idzik was hired.  New York was in a clear rebuilding situation: the Jets cap situation was in terrible shape, and the talent had been depleted.  This was going to take some time.

Idzik came from Seattle, where John Schneider took the Seahawks from 5-11 to 7-9 and 7-9 in his first two seasons.  Now recognized as one of the best GMs in football, Schneider may well have been fired after two years had he compiled that resume in New York and had the same strained relationship with the media that Idzik had.  At a high level, Idzik planned to do in New York what Schneider did in Seattle, or Ted Thompson has done in Green Bay: build through the draft, spend money wisely, and patiently construct a roster.  With the Jets — and in particular, due to the media that covers the team — that plan leaves very little margin for error. [click to continue…]

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There are lots of bad things one could write about the NFC South. But for the most part, the Atlanta Falcons had been a competitive team this year, and not just by NFC South standards. Entering week 17, Atlanta had posted an average Game Script of +0.7; sure, that’s not very good, but it’s above average! The Falcons had not been embarrassing, and in fact, had outscored opponents by 40 points through three quarters.

Sure, Atlanta had issues maintaining leads in the fourth quarter, but they were rarely soundly beaten from start to finish. The Falcons had (prior to Sunday) four bad Game Scripts this year. Three of them came on the road: -12.8 in Baltimore, -10.6 in Green Bay, and -8.5 in Cincinnati, and all three of those teams are notable for being much stronger at home in recent years. The fourth was a -8 against the Steelers, but even then, Atlanta had the ball down by just seven with 6 minutes remaining.

Then, week 17 came. The Panthers led by 10-0 after the first quarter, the largest deficit Atlanta faced after one quarter all year. Carolina upped that margin to 21 points at halftime, the second largest halftime lead an opponent had against the Falcons this year (Green Bay was up by 24 points). The 31-point margin after three quarters was easily the largest margin, too. It was a start-to-finish beating by the Panthers, who posted a Game Script of 16.4 in the process.

That was the second largest Game Script for Carolina this year, and by quite a large margin. Other than another December blowout over a division rival (New Orleans), the Panthers didn’t have a Game Script of over +7. But are the Panthers peaking at the right time, or just beating up on NFC South opponents? Tune in next week: actually, never mind. The Cardinals are an NFC West team in name only; with Ryan Lindley under center, Arizona is actually the fifth member of the NFC South. [click to continue…]

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Quick Reactions From Week 17 of the 2014 season

Some quick thoughts on all the week 17 action.

Baltimore 20, Cleveland 10

The Ravens ranked 5th in DVOA entering week 17, so it sure felt like Baltimore was a worthy playoff team. But Baltimore looked horrible in week 16 against Houston and then trailed 10-3 entering the third quarter against a Browns team starting Connor Shaw at quarterback.

How good are the Ravens? Baltimore swept the NFC South, and beat the Titans and Jaguars. The four other Ravens wins: a split with the Steelers, a sweep of the Browns, and an impressive-at-the-time win over Miami. That means the Ravens finished the year with just one win teams with a winning record. The losses were all to good teams: Pittsburgh, a sweep by the Bengals, the Colts, the Texans, and the Chargers. So the 2014 Ravens went 1-6 against teams with winning records, and 9-0 against the rest of the NFL.

Given what happened with Joe Flacco and the team in 2012, I don’t think anyone is going to brand Baltimore as a team that can’t beat good teams. But you can be sure that if, say, the Bengals had this split, that narrative would dominate the headlines. On the other hand, the Ravens are one of just six teams to finish 2014 with a +100 points differential. The silver living here is that the Ravens didn’t just beat bad teams, but that Baltimore tended to do so convincingly. [click to continue…]

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The NFC South is upside down

The NFC South is upside down.

The Atlanta Falcons began the season with a 2-6 record.  In the second half of the year, the team was 4-7 and then 5-9.  The Carolina Panthers began the year with a 3-8-1 record. One of these two teams will make the playoffs.

I’m not even sure what else there is to say.  The phrase “left for dead” is probably too kind.  Carolina fell to 3-8-1 in embarrassing fashion; the team’s 8th loss came in a game where the Vikings returned two blocked punts for touchdowns, and the Panthers body language read “checked the #*$! out.”

From October 6th to December 6th, the Carolina Panthers did not win a game.  Through week 13, the Panthers ranked 28th in points differential.  The Panthers may turn out to be the most unlikely playoff team in NFL history. [click to continue…]

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The Arizona Cardinals and Pythagenpat Records

The secret to Arizona's success

The secret to Arizona’s success

At 8-1 — but with just a 0.668 Pythagenpat winning percentage — I wrote about the good fortune of the Arizona Cardinals. Fortune is relative: the Cardinals have lost both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries, and just about every key contributor you can think of along the way. But the team’s good fortune when it comes to Pythagenpat winning percentage has continued. (For the uninitiated, you can read more about how to calculate Pythagenpat records here.)

Since that article, Arizona has gone 3-2 despite being outscored by 10 points. That is both a fact and doubles as the most 2014 Arizona Cardinals sentence you could ever write. The 11-3 Cardinals are definitely not the worst 11-3 team ever, but they aren’t too far from the top of the list. If we look at all teams with at least 11 wins in their first 14 games, Arizona checks in as the 8th biggest overachiever. Given that the 2004 Falcons had a worst points differential *and* were fortunate to face an easy schedule, Arizona can’t match Atlanta when it comes to worst 11-3 teams. [click to continue…]

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Number one in our hearts

Number one in our hearts

Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 3,652 yards and 35 touchdowns on his 416 pass attempts this year. He has throw just three interceptions, although he has taken 26 sacks for 156 yards. Do the math, and Rodgers is averaging 9.19 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this year. Through 14 weeks, the NFL average is 6.24 ANY/A, which means Rodgers is averaging 2.95 ANY/A better than average. Over the course of his 442 dropbacks, this means Rodgers has produced 1,303 yards of Adjusted Net Yards of Value over average.

ANY/A leaves much to be desired as the end-all, be-all measure of quarterback play, but it’s simple, easy to understand, and works well for historical comparisons. At the end of the year, I will produce an SOS-adjusted version of the statistic, but today, I just wanted to take a quick look at the leaderboard. There are a few surprises, after the very expected result at the top of the list. [click to continue…]

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Week Fourteen Game Scripts: Comeback Colts Return

Luck had gone 20 consecutive regular season games without a game-winning drive

Luck had gone 20 consecutive regular season games without a game-winning drive

As a rookie in 2012, Andrew Luck led Indianapolis on a league-high seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. In 2013, the Colts won games with Game Scripts of -11, -4.6, and -2.8, and Luck recorded four 4th quarter comebacks for the second straight year.

This year? Indianapolis did not have a single victory with a negative Game Script, and Luck did not record a game-winning drive or a 4th quarter comeback, until this past weekend in Cleveland. It’s worth noting that the comeback was in part the result of Luck’s mistakes: the Browns raced out to a 21-7 lead thanks to two Luck turnovers that went for defensive touchdowns. But in the final four minutes, the star quarterback led the Colts on an 11-play, 90-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown.

That was the only big comeback of the week. On the blowout side, the Carolina Panthers — you know, the team that was on a six-game losing streak and had not won a game since October 5th — produced the most dominant performance of the week, finishing with a Game Script of +22.9 in a blowout over New Orleans. The Giants similarly embarrassed the Titans, producing a Game Script of +18.5.

Below are the week 14 Game Scripts data, and three games near the top of the list show the difference between Game Script and points differential.  The Packers had a Game Script of 10.6 but won by only 6 against Atlanta, while St. Louis won by 24 but with a Game Script of only 10.  But the Game Script measures the average points differential throughout the game: Green Bay led Atlanta 31-7 at halftime, while the Rams were up by just six points at the break.  The Broncos led Buffalo 24-3 after three quarters, which led to a Game Script of +9.6, even though Denver wind up winning by only seven points. [click to continue…]

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The Steelers beat the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night, narrowly moving into second place in the competitive AFC North in the process. But in reality, all Pittsburgh did was hold serve: the Bengals, Browns, and Ravens have all already defeated the Titans this year.

Each team in the AFC North plays six division games, four games against the AFC South, and four games against the NFC South. Then, based on how each team finished in 2013, single games are played against teams from the AFC East and West. Given that all four teams in the AFC North are within a half-game of each other, I thought it would be instructive to take a look a more in-depth look at how the schedules have unfolded to date.1

Let’s begin with games against the worst division in football, the NFC South: [click to continue…]

  1. Regular readers may recall that I did this with some shockingly-accurate precision last November for the NFC East. []
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FanDuel Lineups – Week 11, Thursday Night

Daily fantasy football is pretty sweet, and I’ve become very active in it this year. I’ve only played on FanDuel (affiliate link, here), so my analysis will be limited strictly to that site.

At FanDuel, you start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 defense, with a salary cap of $60,000. The scoring system is pretty standard, with 0.5 points per reception being the most notable feature to keep in mind. There are generally two that I play: 50/50s, or what people refer to as cash games, where you say, pay $25 to enter a tournament of 50 people, and the top 25 people win $45. The house gets roughly the same cut of ~10% in most games, so the 50/50 is the low-variance play.

The other option is to play in tournaments, which can range from large, to very large, to absurdly large. Anyway, enough minutia. I have limited my play to 50/50s this week, although I did enter one tournament lineup which I’ll explain at the end. [click to continue…]

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FanDuel Lineups – Week 10, Thursday Night

Daily fantasy football is pretty sweet, and I’ve become very active in it this year. I’ve only played on FanDuel (affiliate link, here), so my analysis will be limited strictly to that site.

At FanDuel, you start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 defense, with a salary cap of $60,000. The scoring system is pretty standard, with 0.5 points per reception being the most notable feature to keep in mind. There are generally two that I play: 50/50s, or what people refer to as cash games, where you say, pay $25 to enter a tournament of 50 people, and the top 25 people win $45. The house gets roughly the same cut of ~10% in most games, so the 50/50 is the low-variance play.

The other option is to play in tournaments, which can range from large, to very large, to absurdly large. Anyway, enough minutia. Here are my thoughts on 3 of the 50/50 lineups I entered tonight: [click to continue…]

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Projections: Mark Sanchez with the Eagles

Philadelphia's savior

Philadelphia's savior.

Nick Foles is going to miss at least the next month, and perhaps the rest of the year, with a broken collarbone. To the Eagles’ rescue comes…. Mark Sanchez?

Yes, the quarterback who in his best years provided more below-average value than any other passer in NFL history. That Mark Sanchez. Of course, the Jets passing attack has not been very good in the post-Sanchez environment: in fact, Geno Smith has been even worse than Sanchez. Statistically, Sanchez has been the best of the six quarterbacks who have thrown 20+ passes for New York since 2009. Of course, being better than Geno Smith is a pretty low bar; the more telling statistic is that and Sanchez ranked 2nd-to-last — in between Blaine Gabbert and Matt Cassel — in both passer rating and ANY/A in his final year in New York.

On the other hand, Foles has not been particularly good this year, either. Some regression was to be expected based on his otherworldly 2013 numbers, but he’s suffered noticeable declines in most categories in 2014: [click to continue…]

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Week 7 (2014) Game Scripts: Packers Lead the Way

For the second straight week, a pair of blowouts registered Game Scripts of at least +17.0 points. This time, two 2013 NFC playoff teams were on the losing side of things, as the Packers (+22.8) crushed the Panthers in the afternoon before the Broncos obliterated the 49ers (+18.0) at night. Aaron Rodgers was his absurdly hyper efficient self, completing 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns. Peyton Manning, in addition to setting the career passing touchdowns record, threw for a first down on 14 of his 28 dropbacks. That’s pretty darn good.1

There were only two teams to win in week 7 with a negative Game Script.  The most shocking comeback of the day came in Detroit, where the Lions overcame a 13-point deficit with five minutes remaining to win, 24-23. In Buffalo, the Bills drove 80 yards in just over three minutes and defeated the Vikings when Kyle Orton hit Sammy Watkins for a touchdown with just one second left in the game.

In the “misleading final scores” category, the Browns/Jaguars game takes first prize. The Jaguars posted a Game Script of just +1.5 in the team’s 24-6 win; the Browns actually led for most of the first half and had the ball in Jacksonville territory in the middle of the fourth quarter tailing by just four points. Alas, two late touchdowns, and it turned into a Jaguars blowout. On the other side of the coin, the Rams won by just two points, but were in control for most of the game in the upset victory over Seattle. St. Louis had a 21-3 first half lead, before Russell Wilson second-half magic nearly altered the result. For the day, Wilson became the first player to ever pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game.

The table below lists the Game Scripts data from each game in week 7.

[click to continue…]

  1. The best rate this year was Matt Ryan against Tampa Bay, when he picked up a first down on 60% of his dropbacks. []
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Just above these words, it says “posted by Chase.” And it was literally posted by Chase, but the words below the line belong to Bryan Frye, a longtime reader and commenter who has agreed to write this guest post for us. And I thank him for it. Bryan lives in Yorktown, Virginia, and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history.



With six weeks behind us, we should be at the point where we can figure out who teams are.1 However, this season seems to be a parity lover’s dream. Although many teams near the poles are who we thought they were, others (such as New Orleans and Dallas and perhaps San Diego) are far from their preseason projections. The middle ranks are a jumble of average and indiscernible teams, and no team was even able to make it to 4-0.2 With half of the NFL’s teams lingering around 1-2 losses, how can we tell the petty tyrants from those with legitimate claims to the throne? I recently began working on a model to do just that.

[click to continue…]

  1. For a counter view, see this post by Chase. []
  2. Think that’s crazy? In 1961, the Cowboys, Lions, and Eagles were the last undefeated teams in the NFL, at 2-0. []
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Analyzing NFL SRS Ratings Through 3.0625 Weeks

I thought it would be fun to create NFL SRS ratings through three weeks and one Thursday Night football game. After just 3.0625 weeks, all data are heavily influenced by events that are unlikely to be repeated.  Remember Neil’s old post that showed how for teams with any record, to determine their “true winning percentage”, we need to add 5.5 wins and 5.5 losses. That means through three weeks, a team’s actual record should still be regressed to league average by nearly 80%; in other words, take all these ratings with a big grain of salt.  But there’s no reason not to run the numbers, so here are the customary parameters:

  • Home wins of less than 3 points are treated as ties;
  • For all other games, give the road team 3 points.  From there, wins of fewer than 7 points are treated as 7-point wins;
  • Wins of between 7 and 24 points (after adjusting for home field) are treated as they are.  So a 14-point home win is a 11-point MOV, and a 17-point road win is a 20-point MOV;
  • Wins of greater than 24 points convert to a Margin of Victory that is the average of 24 and the HFA-adjusted MOV.  So the Falcons get a 31.5 for beating Tampa Bay by 42 at home, while the Giants get a MOV of 29 for winning in Washington by 31.

From there, we simple use the typical SRS iteration process to produce a set a season ratings. Those are presented below: [click to continue…]

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Fourth Down Conservatism Rules Week 3

The top-scorer on Harbaugh's fantasy team

The top-scorer on Harbaugh's fantasy team.

It’s become trendy in this space and many others for stats folks to rail against bad 4th down decisions. It’s even trendier to do it when those conservative decisions backfire, leading to losses. But analyzing any decision — and especially decisions about whether to go for it or kick on 4th down — should not be done with the benefit of hindsight. So today, I’m going to rail against John Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, and Mike McCoy, who made some awfully timid 4th down decisions but won on Sunday. And while one could argue that they won because of those decisions, the better argument, I believe, is that they won in spite of them.

Trailing by 4 with 5:03 remaining, the Ravens kick a Field Goal on the 3-yard line

Harbaugh is no stranger to meek 4th down decision making; in fact, he’s no stranger to this particular brand of conservative coaching. Last year, he sent out the kicker when, trailing by 6 points with just over four minutes remaining in the game, the Ravens faced a 4th and 5 from the 6 yard line. Both Jason Lisk and I wrote about the silliness of this decision, which resulted in a Buffalo 23-20 victory.

Facing similar circumstances — a 4-point lead and an extra minute remaining makes it less objectionable to kick the field goal, but being on the 3-yard line makes it even worse — Harbaugh again sent out Justin Tucker to take the points.  That decision cost the Ravens 0.22 expected wins; according to Advanced Football Analytics, the decision to kick a field goal instead of going for it dropped Baltimore’s win probability from 54% to 32%.

As Mike Tanier facetiously wrote, this just set up the ultimate Ravens end game: one bomb from Joe Flacco and one kick by Tucker is all the team would need to win.  Sure enough, Flacco hit Steve Smith for a 32-yard catch, and Tucker kicked the chip shot for the win.  The Ravens wound up having two additional possessions: after Tucker made it a 1-point game, the Browns and Ravens traded 3-and-outs, and the Browns went 3-and-out again before giving Baltimore one final possession with 1:58 remaining.

At the time of the decision to send Tucker out for a field goal, Brian Hoyer was 19 of 22 for 290 yards and a touchdown. He wound up throwing incomplete on his last three passes of the day. But if not for two Cleveland three-and-outs — the only two of the day — Harbaugh’s decision to cost his team 22 points of win probability would be generating much more backlash today. [click to continue…]

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Here is graphic video of a famous football player performing an act of cowardly violence against a defenseless victim. The offender did not receive any penalty for his actions. After committing that crime, the assailant showed no remorse at the condition of the victim, who lay prostrate on the ground. Not disciplined for earlier acts of violence, that player struck again, this time paralyzing his defenseless victim. That victim would eventually die far too young, in part as a consequence of that attack.

For this perpetrator, the response was much worse than insufficient punishment or radio silence. Jack Tatum was celebrated for many of his hits, perhaps most notably the one on Sammy White in Super Bowl XI. The Ray Rice punch makes all of us cringe, but the hit on White―and even more so the one on Darryl Stingley ― should also make us cringe. [click to continue…]

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Quick Thoughts on the Saints 0-2 Start

No team wants to start the season 0-2. By now you’ve heard the statistic that since 1990, only 12% of teams to start 0-2 have made the playoffs. While that’s true, that’s just one way — and not the only way — to examine the Saints start. That analysis is based on the following idea:

Look at group of teams with the same start –> see how they finish the year

But there’s another way to consider New Orleans’ early season woes. The Saints lost both games on the road. So while New Orleans is 0-2, the team still has 8 home games remaining. Based on the Saints history under Sean Payton, projecting a a 7-1 home record doesn’t seem unreasonable. And while the team lost both games so far, note that Saints opponents have already kicked three game-winning or game-tying field goals at the end of regulation or overtime already.1 That’s an amazing feat to have occurred after just two games; from a predictive standpoint, the Saints could just as easily be 2-0. And from a predictive standpoint, a 3-3 finish in road games the rest of the way doesn’t seem unreasonable, either. That would give the team a 10-6 record, and probably a playoff berth. [click to continue…]

  1. Matt Bryant forced overtime with a 51-yard field goal as time ran out in the 4th quarter, and then won the game for Atlanta in week 1 with a 52-yarder. []
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Quick Reactions From Week 2 Sunday’s Games

After a really dark week for the NFL, I don’t blame you if you were less excited than usual about this weekend’s games. But there were 14 games to watch on Sunday, and I at least watched a little bit of each game. Here are some quick thoughts, in chronological order.

Buffalo 29, Miami 10

  • Last December, Ryan Tannehill went to Buffalo and proceeded to have one of the worst passing games you could ever have without throwing an interception.  He gained 36 net yards on 34 dropbacks.  In the first half on Sunday, he had… 13 net yards on 14 dropbacks. In the second half, he dropped back to pass 40 times (!) and gained 197 yards. Okay, not the stuff Pro Bowls are built on, but hey, it’s an improvement.
  • EJ Manuel looks to be playing the role of game manager: as long as the Buffalo defense (this week) and running game (last week) play well, that can be a winning formula.  Manuel’s numbers looked good this week, but that was more Sammy Watkins than Manuel.  From what I watched, Watkins (8/117/1) could have had an even bigger game had Manuel been more accurate. Buffalo had just 13 first downs.
  • Plays You Need To Know About: Mike Wallace had a ridiculous catch for a touchdown. C.J. Spiller had a great kickoff return touchdown. Any play involving Sammy Watkins.

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Red Zone Diaries: Week 1 Review

Football is back. Oh my goodness gracious. Football is back.

The return of football also means the return of TV’s greatest channel and one of the five most important innovations of the 21st century. The Red Zone Channel has simultaneously rendered obsolete commercials, bad games, bad moments of good games, and halitosis. Let’s celebrate with a running diary. Below is what I was thinking as I watched the RedZone through the early games on Sunday.

Allow me to make one gambling note right off the bat. My stone-cold mega-lock of the week was a two-team tease of the Raiders (to +11.5) and the Bears (to -1). I feel completely queasy about the Bears part of this bet. I’m sticking with it, but every instinct in my body is crying out: “Why take Jay Cutler down to 1 point when I can take Peyton Manning down to 2? You know you will regret this.” So if I sound extra emotional about Raiders-Jets and Bills-Bears, that’s why.

One more note: I was writing this as the games were still going on so the time is approximate in some cases. You can pick most of those out by the times that are whole numbers that end in :00 or :30.

Week 1 Red Zone Diaries

Pregame: Ten years of redzone? I didn’t know about this until 2010 or so. Clearly I am getting old. Maybe I’m remembering that wrong, anyway, since I am getting old. Oh so good to see Andrew Siciliano. Is it possible he’s the median man in America? Dark hair, white, average handsomeness, only his ears seem anything other than completely average. If he’s the median man, here’s the Andrew Siciliano of restaurants and the Andrew Siciliano of American incomes. [click to continue…]

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2014 NFL Standings Prediction: Confidence Edition

Here are my NFL projected standings for 2014, but with a twist: I’m ranking the teams from most confident to least confident in their final records. In other words, these are rankings with implied variances, too. If you think this is just a way for me to have built-in excuses for missing on teams in the bottom ten, you are completely wrong and I would never do that.

1) Denver Broncos: 12-4

There may be no more exciting team to watch on the field than the Broncos. Of course, there’s no more boring team to talk about, which is why the Broncos take the place atop my confidence leaderboard. Absent a Peyton Manning injury, Denver will sleepwalk to 12 wins. Games against Seattle, San Francisco, and New England will be must-see television, and also serve to guard against predicting a 14-2 sort of season. The additions of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, and Aqib Talib, along with the return of Ryan Clady on offense, means the Broncos are fielding their deepest team of the Manning era.

2) New England Patriots: 12-4

Even when the Patriots aren’t very good, they still win 12 games. The offense has a lot of question marks at wide receiver, but Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski can mitigate those concerns when healthy. The defense has five Pro Bowl caliber players on defense with Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty.  Three others — Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins — look to be above-average starters, too. This should be the team’s best defense in a long time (and will be even better once Brandon Browner returns from suspension), which makes New England have a higher floor than any team in the NFL.

3) Seattle Seahawks: 12-4

Do you really need explanation here? The only reason I’ve got Seattle down at 3 instead of 1 is I see a bit more variance in their potential outlook.  The Seahawks are the clear best team in the league to me, so a 15-1 season isn’t out of the question;1 of course, a very difficult schedule could lead to a 10-6 year, too.

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  1. For what it’s worth, while it’s a bit easier to be higher on Seattle after their strong performance in week 1, I did predict the Seahawks to win against Green Bay. []
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Which team will be the biggest surprise in 2014? Last year, the Houston Texans shocked Vegas and analytics fiends alike. Before the season, the Texans’ over/under win total was 10.5. Football Outsiders Almanac projected them to have 9.3 wins and gave them a 67% chance of making the playoffs. Basically nobody saw the 2013 Texans’ implosion to 30th in DVOA coming. Interestingly, though, the Texans are part of a larger trend in the kinds of teams that have been having enormous drop-offs in performance.

Consider the graph below. It looks at the change in DVOA for good-but-not-great teams, those that ranked between 6th and 15th in the previous year.1

AH Fig 1

Historically, the good-but-not-great teams have regressed a little bit. From 1985 to 2010, those teams dropped on average between two and four points of DVOA. The trend was relatively stable for each five year period. While we would expect some regression from good teams, the size of that regression has changed since 2010. Over the last four years, the good-but-not-great teams have dropped an average of ten points of DVOA, the biggest regression by far since the merger. Note that if we drop 1983 to account for regression coming out of the strike-shortened 1982 season, we get a DVOA change for 1980-1984 of about four points of DVOA, making 2010-2013 even more clearly on its own island. This idea leads into my first prediction for the season. [click to continue…]

  1. Before 1989, I use Andreas Shepherd’s estimated DVOA. I thank him for sharing his data. []
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Projections: 2014 Awards

After 214 days off, we finally have real football again. Tonight, the Seahawks host the Packers, as Seattle begins its title defense.

Starting in 2004, the NFL now schedules the defending Super Bowl champion to take the field for the league’s opening night kickoff game.  For the first eight seasons, the defending champion hosted each of these Thursday night games, and won all eight times.  In 2012, the Giants lost the opening game to the Cowboys on a Wednesday night, as  President Barack Obama was speaking the following night at the Democratic National Convention.  And last year, a conflict with the Baltimore Orioles led to the Ravens/Broncos matchup moving to Denver, which the Broncos won, 49-27.

So the last two years, the defending champs have lost, although it’s worth noting that the Ravens were a 7.5-point underdog in 2013. Tonight, Seattle is a 6-point favorite, which has become the new norm for the team.  But it wasn’t that long ago that the Seahawks were far from a lock to win every home game.

In each of Russell Wilson’s first three home starts — against the Cowboys, Packers, and Patriots — the Seahawks were three-to-four point underdogs.  And, with an assist from the replacement referees, the Seahawks won each of those games.  For his career, Wilson is 17-1 in Seahawks home games, including a 2-0 mark in the playoffs (the one loss came to Arizona, in the last regular season game in Seattle).

That makes Wilson the fourth quarterback to win 17 of his first 18 starts, joining Daryle Lamonica, Kurt Warner, and Matt Ryan. But did you know that Danny White began his career as the Cowboys starter with 18 consecutive home wins (including playoffs)?

And now, before we kick off the season, I wanted to get in my 2014 projected award winners. [click to continue…]

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