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Cam disingenuously listening to his head coach

Cam disingenuously listening to his head coach

Four years ago, I noted with some annoyance that the Carolina Panthers signed Olindo Mare to a 4-year, $12M deal, while at the same time signing Cam Newton to a 4-year, $22M contract. I was not a fan of the way rookies were treated under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the Mare/Newton situation was a perfect example of the problem. With the new rookie wage scale, the NFL had taken money that was going to go into Newton’s pocket and placed it into the wallets of players like Mare.

Much of the outrage over what rookies made under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement was due to the fact that “unproven” players were making so much money. Even look at the comments to my old article: there are several who expressed the idea that proven players should get rewarded at the expense of unproven players, and Newton would benefit from that scenario once he became a proven player.

Well, that’s sort of true. I assume that most everyone would agree that Newton is now a “proven player” or else that is a term without any meaning. This week, Newton signed a five-year contract extension worth an additional $103.8 million. According to Over The Cap, Newton received a $22.5 million signing bonus and $7.5 million roster bonus upon signing the contract, and you can read Jason’s full article on Newton’s new contract here.

The contract extension Newton signed is pretty close to a “market value” contract for Newton, although I do think he’d make more on the open market than what he just received.  Newton’s leverage was slightly limited by the fact that Carolina had him under contract for $14.66M in 2015, and could use the franchise tag on him in ’16 (which would probably cost Carolina around $20M).

But the real issue is the lack of any “catch up” payment.  Newton lost real dollars on his rookie contract due to the new structure, and he’s never going to get to make those up. The rookie wage scale has always been B.S., and I’ve said so much from the moment it was instituted.  But the new system was, by some, argued as an improvement because only the “proven players” would be rewarded. Sure, a rookie might make less now, but he’d get to make more in the future. After all, if teams weren’t forced to pay so much to rookies, there would be more money to go around for the “proven” veterans, right?

But that logic doesn’t work once we look at Newton, who has been the Panthers most valuable player over the last four years, and will probably be the team’s most valuable player over the next six, too.  As a rookie, Newton was grossly underpaid, with a salary cap value of $4M while the salary cap was $120M.  As a result, Carolina was able to lock up Newton for just 3.3% of the cap, which enabled the team to overpay players like Mare.

In 2012, Newton’s cap hit only rose to $5M, or 4.2% of the cap.  In 2013, his cap hit became $6M, or 4.9% of the $123M cap.  And then last season, Newton’s contract reached $7M, which was 5.3% of the $133M cap. It goes without saying that the Panthers received quite a deal over the last four years.  On average, Carolina devoted 4.4% of its cap from ’11 to ’14 to Newton.  This season, he will cost the Panthers $13M salary cap dollars, or 9.1% of the cap.

Let’s assume that the salary cap will increase by $7.5M per year over each of the next five years. And let’s assume, naively, that Newton will play out his entire contract.1  In that case, he will take up about 12-13% of the Panthers salary cap from ’16 to ’20.  But that still means that over his first ten seasons in the NFL, Newton will, on average, only take up about 9% of his team’s salary cap.

In the table below, I’ve shown Newton’s salary cap hit, the NFL salary cap, Newton’s percentage of the cap in that season, and Newton’s career average (in terms of percentage of cap hit) through that season. In each case, I’ve assumed a $7.5M yearly cap increase beginning in 2016. Here’s how to read the ’16 line: That year, Newton will have a cap hit of $19.5M, while the salary cap will be $150.8M. That means Newton will take up 12.9% of the Panthers cap, but will have only taken up, on average from 2011 to 2016, 6.6% of the Panthers cap dollars over the course of his career to date. As you can see from the last entry in the table, Newton — if he reaches the end of his contract — will only take up about 9% of the Panthers salary cap over the first decade of his career.

YearNewton CapNFL CapSingle Yr %Career Avg %
2011$4,004,636 $120,375,0003.3%3.3%
2012$5,005,795 $120,600,0004.2%3.7%
2013$6,006,954 $123,000,0004.9%4.1%
2014$7,008,113 $133,000,0005.3%4.4%
2015$13,000,000 $143,280,0009.1%5.3%
2016$19,500,000 $150,780,00012.9%6.6%
2017$20,166,000 $158,280,00012.7%7.5%
2018$21,500,000 $165,780,00013.0%8.2%
2019$23,200,000 $173,280,00013.4%8.7%
2020$21,100,000 $180,780,00011.7%9.0%

The $7.5M increase is just an estimate, but it works well enough for our purposes. If the salary cap continues to increase by about $10M per year, then that percentage will drop, but only to 8.8%. If instead the cap increases by an average of just $5M/year, Newton’s percentage will only rise to 9.3%. In other words, the Panthers will be able to lock up the first overall pick for a decade and pay him an average of just about 9% of the team’s salary cap.

Is that right? Well, that’s not the correct question to ask.  The correct question, I think, is “is that market?” And the answer there seems pretty clearly “no” to me.   If the number one pick is a quarterback who turns out to be a success and even he is only getting 9% of his team’s cap space over the first ten years of his career, that seems very out of whack with actual market value.

Perhaps nobody cares or will care, because why should people care whether Newton makes $140 million or $180 million? But I do think it’s worth recognizing that the NFL gas screwed over rookies with the new CBA, and part of the narrative was that it came with the promise that if those players weren’t busts, they could make up that money in their second contract.  Looking at Newton now, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  If a top draft pick is merely okay (but not a bust), a team will likely avoid having to pay serious dollars to that player, as it could always just replace him with a rookie at a fraction of the cost.  That’s the obvious downside to the rookie wage scale for veterans: cheaper replacement labor is now available. But there’s another downside to the rookie wage scale for veterans: even if that player turns out to be a success, he’ll only receive market value for about half of his first decade with the team, and he’ll always be chasing the dollars he lost.

Of course, everything above applies even more strongly to Russell Wilson. That will be another contract worth watching, but don’t expect the Seahawks to give Wilson a bump just because the team got to ride his low-salary contract for years.

  1. In reality, he will be cut if he under-performs and see less money, or likely restructure the deal with an extension towards years four or five if he is successful. []
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Yesterday, the NFL announced the extra point will be moved to the 15-yard line (although two-point conversion attempts will stay at the 2-yard line). What will this mean?

Probably not too much. You can expect the extra point conversion rate to go from a hair shy of 100% to say, 95%. On field goal attempts from 31 to 33 yards (assuming the average XP will be a 32-yarder), kickers were successful on 96% of attempts last year, 96% in 2013, and 92% in 2012. This rule change would have made a much bigger impact … well, just about at any other time in NFL history. The graph below shows field goal success rates from 31 to 33 yards since 1960: [click to continue…]

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As you know by now, Tom Brady has been suspended for the first four games of the season. This seems to have sparked outrage among everybody because that is what we do in 2015. But let’s try to take a logical approach to things.

Do you think the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs?

The answer to this one seems to be almost certainly yes. The numbers bear that out, as does the very lengthy Wells Report. There has been some confusion about the Wells Report findings, so let’s try to clear that up now.

What exactly did the NFL ask Wells and his team to do? To “conduct an investigation… pursuant to the Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of Competitive Rules.” The very first footnote in the Wells report reads

Under the Policy, the “standard of proof required to find that a violation of the competitive rules has occurred” is a “Preponderance of the Evidence,” meaning that “as a whole, the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not.”

So the NFL asked Wells to determine if it was more probable than not that the Patriots violated the rules. Here was Wells’ conclusion:

For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.

Wells’ report did not say he thought there was a 51% chance the Patriots violated the rules. In reading the report, it seems pretty clear that Wells thought it very likely that the Patriots violated the rules. But that wasn’t the question he was asked. He was asked if he thought it was more probable than not that the Patriots deliberately circumvented the rules, and to that he answered in the affirmative. At this point, I don’t see any rational argument to be made to the contrary, given the duration and depth of Wells’ investigation. Sure, it’s theoretically possible that the Patriots did not intentionally cheat, but that seems to be very unlikely. [click to continue…]

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Andrew Healy, frequent contributor here and at Football Outsiders, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Andrew’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @AndHealy.


For a stats guy, the Wells Report is gripping reading, particularly the appendices provided by the consulting firm Exponent. The conclusion there is pretty simple. Compared to referee Walt Anderson’s pregame measurements, the Patriots’ footballs dropped significantly further in pressure than the Colts’ footballs did. Therefore, even if Tom Brady’s involvement is unclear, a Patriots’ employee probably deflated the balls.

At first glance, that evidence seems pretty convincing, maybe even strong enough to conclude more definitively that tampering occurred. And it is kind of awesome that the officials even created a control group. But there is a problem with making firm conclusions: timing. As Exponent acknowledges, the measured pressure of the balls depends on when the gauging took place. The more time that each football had to adjust to the warmer temperature of the officials’ locker room at halftime, the higher the ball pressure would rise.

And, not surprisingly given the Colts’ accusations, the officials measured the Patriots’ footballs first. This means that the New England footballs must have had less time to warm up than the Indianapolis footballs. Is that time significant? We will get to that, but it does make for a good argument that the Indianapolis footballs are not an adequate control group for the New England footballs. Given the order of events, we would expect the drop of pressure from Anderson’s initial measurements to be lower for the Colts’ balls that had more time indoors at halftime. As the Wells report notes, the likely field temperature was in the 48-50 degree range, compared to the 71-74 degree range for the room where the footballs were measured.

So, how much lower? Here it gets a little fuzzy. The report is clear that the Patriots footballs were gauged first during halftime, but it is unclear about whether the second step was to reinflate the Patriots’ balls or to measure the four Colts’ balls. In Appendix 1 (see p. 2 of the appendix), Exponent notes “although there remains some uncertainty about the exact order and timing of the other two events, it appears likely the reinflation and regauging occurred last.” If events unfolded this way, it would make the Indianapolis footballs at least a better sort of control group. [click to continue…]

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There were only two trades on Thursday night, but the activity picked up significantly last night. Let’s go through all the trades through the first three rounds of the 2015 draft.

1) San Francisco trades the 15th pick to San Diego for the 17th and 117th (4th) picks, and a 2016 5th round selection

The Chargers traded up for Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, while the 49ers took Oregon’s Arik Armstead, a 3-4 defensive end, two slots later. According to my chart, San Francisco picked up 136 cents on the dollar on my calculator (using the 150th overall pick as a proxy for the 2016 5th), while the trade was essentially even on the traditional calculator, with the 49ers getting 99 cents on the dollar. [click to continue…]

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As explained last year, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement provides that most rookies sign four-year contracts. But teams were granted a club option for a fifth year for all players selected in the first round. Note that the option is only guaranteed for injury, however, so a team can exercise the option for 2012 first round picks and still release the player at the end of the 2015 season.

For players in the top ten, that fifth year salary is equal to an average of the top ten highest-paid players at their position from the prior year. For players selected with picks 11 through 32 — and for the second straight year, the number 11 pick has produced one of the most valuable players from the class — the fifth-year deal is worth an average of the salaries of the players with the 3rd through 25th highest salaries at their position.

The deadline for exercising the fifth-year option on 2012 first rounders is May 3rd. As a reminder, here is a review of the first round of the 2012 Draft: [click to continue…]

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In week 5, Carolina has a bye.

In week 10, Arizona has a bye.

In week 11, San Francisco has a bye.

And in week 12, Pittsburgh has a bye.

And each of those teams, in the week following that bye, play the Seahawks. That gives Seattle a league-high four opponents in 2015 coming off of their bye week. In addition, the Seahawks play the Rams in week 16, when St. Louis will be coming off of ten days’ rest, having played on Thursday Night Football against the Bucs in week 15. You can view the full schedule here.

There is one saving grace for the Seahawks: all five games take place in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. Is that a coincidence? Probably not, although don’t expect Seahawks fans to give the NFL the benefit of the doubt here.

Playing four opponents off of a bye is a lot (tho not unheard of). In fact, only one other team has more than two such games, and that’s Washington. In weeks 5, 6, and 11, the Jets, Bucs, and Giants have their respective byes. And those teams are Washington’s opponents in weeks 6, 7, and 8 (the Jets game is on the road; the other two are home games).

In week 8, New England plays on Thursday Night Football, and week 12 is Thanksgiving, when the Dallas annually plays. The Patriots and Cowboys play Washington in weeks 9 and 13, respectively, giving New England and Dallas extra rest before their Washington game, too.1

Seattle and Washington are the only teams in 2015 that play five games against teams coming off of extra rest. On the other hand, we have Tampa Bay and Carolina. Neither the Bucs nor the Panthers play a single opponent coming off of extra rest in 2015! Carolina has its bye before a trip to Seattle and a Thursday game (Thanksgiving) before a trip to New Orleans, so the extra rest on the team side (rather than the opponent side) could come in handy. Tampa Bay travels to Washington after its bye and hosts the Bears after the Thursday night game against the Seahawks, and well, the Bucs could use all the help they can get. [click to continue…]

  1. One might argue that in New England’s case, this is canceled out by the fact that Washington has a week 8 bye, so the Patriots get no advantage here. On the other hand, every team gets a bye, so if Washington’s one bye is neutralized, that appears to cancel out the, uh, canceling out. []
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The 2015 NFL Schedule

The color-coded schedule is back!

Download the Excel file here

That Excel file contains full page and wallet-sized copies of the schedule, in both color and black and white. On the wallet-sized copies, the line between weeks 8 and 9 has been enlarged — that is where you want to fold the paper in half to put in your wallet.

iPhone page: http://www.footballperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2015-iphone-schedule1.png

Go to that page on your phone, then hit your power and home button at the same time to take a photo (or hit the button on the middle of the Safari browser and click ‘save image.’) The schedule has been formatted to fit an iPhone screen, so you can always carry the schedule with you.

Of course, you don’t need an iPhone or Excel to view the NFL schedule: [click to continue…]

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Running Backs are More Desirable than Kickers

These guys like running backs

These guys like running backs

This time last year, the media chorus was signing that the running back position had been severely devalued in the modern NFL. Part of that, no doubt, was true: it is undeniable that less draft capital is being spent on running backs.

When I wrote about the 2014 Running Back Free Agent Market last year and how little they were being paid, I made sure to link to a pretty key point made by Jason Lisk at the Big Lead: the free agent class just wasn’t very good. Last year, the top free agent running backs were Toby Gerhart ($4.5M guaranteed, $7M over the first two years of his contract), Donald Brown ($4, $7), Rashad Jennings ($2.98, $5.25), Maurice Jones-Drew ($1.2, $5.0), Ben Tate ($2.5, $4.35), and Knowshon Moreno ($1.25, $4.25).

In case you forgot, here’s a quick summary of how those backs fared last year:

  • Gerhart averaged 3.2 yards per carry over 101 carries and was benched;
  • Brown averaged 2.6 YPC over 85 carries and was benched;
  • Jennings rushed for 639 yards in 11 games, missing 5 due to injury;
  • Jones-Drew averaged 2.2 YPC over 43 carries and is now retired;
  • Tate was cut after 106 carries and 8 games;and
  • Moreno was limited to 3 games due to injury.

This was an underwhelming class of free agent running backs that somehow fell far, far short of expectations.  Then, Chris Johnson joined the class, and signed a two-year, $8M contract with $4M guaranteed.  The Jets cut him after one season, where he gained 814 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns in 16 games. [click to continue…]

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Darrelle Revis Returns

There are legitimate criticisms one could identify, and they aren’t just nits. Darrelle Revis will turn 30 in July, and his contract far outpaces that of every other cornerback in the NFL. He is getting $39M guaranteed at a rate of $7.8M in guaranteed money per season, numbers that are more than 50% higher than every other corner. He will count for $48M against the cap over the next three years. Nobody knows how Revis will age, but he’s had one ACL surgery and he’s never been a player with top notch speed, which means he can’t really afford to lose a step (quick, think how many cornerbacks — as opposed to wide receivers — you can think of that get by on veteran guile).

Revis is all about Revis, which is a crime in some circles. He’s not loyal, and is now switching teams — incredibly — for the third consecutive season. The Jets were one of the worst teams in football by any measure last year, and with no clear answer at quarterback and holes throughout the roster, squarely fall within the definition of a “rebuilding team.” And writing blank checks for 30-year-old cornerbacks is not exactly part of Rebuilding 101. [click to continue…]

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The contract Miami is willing to give this guy is kind of nuts

The contract Miami is willing to give this guy is kind of nuts

Ndamukong Suh will be signing a 114 million dollar contract with the Dolphins today, with approximately $60M of that money guaranteed. Suh has often been compared to Reggie White, which makes some sense given that each player possessed rare a rare combination of size/strength/agility for any human being, and both were defensive linemen. Recently, Suh has been compared to White in another way, as some have referred to Suh as the best player to hit free agency since White.

Peyton Manning, of course, was a free agent a mere two years ago, but let’s not let facts get in the way of narrative. Suh was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press last year; as it turns out, 25 players were so named between 1992 and 2014, and then switched teams the following offseason.

The table below shows all 25 players. Here’s how to read it. Suh is a defensive tackle, and his last year in Detroit was in 2014 (i.e., Year N). That season, he recorded 17 points of AV according to PFR. As of September 1st of 2015 (i.e., Year N+1), Suh will be 28.7 years old. His new team is Miami, and the final column shows how many points of AV each player produced in his first season with a new team. [click to continue…]

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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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