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Predictions in Review: AFC South

During the 2013 offseason, I wrote 32 articles under the RPO 2013 tag. In my Predictions in Review series, I review those preview articles with the benefit of hindsight. Previously, I reviewed the AFC West and the NFC West. Today, the AFC South, beginning with a straightforward case in Tennessee.

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary.

Can Kenny Britt become the next great wide receiver?, July 9, 2013

Spoiler alert: Kenny Britt did not become the next great wide receiver, at least in 2013 (apparently, I still can’t quit him). Britt is an easy player to fall in love with, if you ignored the warning signs. He was just 20 years old when he played in his first NFL game in 2009. In 2010, he led all players in yards per route run according to Pro Football Focus, but his raw numbers underhwlemed because the Titans were a run-heavy team and Britt missed 30% of the season with a hamstring injury. In 2011, he matched his elite YPRR production, but a torn ACL/MCL tear ended his season after 94 pass routes.

He struggled in 2012, but I was willing to write that off due to recovering from the ugly knee injury, additional hamstring and ankle injuries, and a first-year starter in Jake Locker. That set up 2013 as a season where I thought Britt had great breakout potential. I interviewed Thomas Gower, of Total Titans and Football Outsiders, and asked him his thoughts. Gower was more pessimistic than I was about Britt, and for good reason.

As it turned out, Britt never seemed quite right mentally (in more ways than one); he struggled with drops and was eventually dropped behind Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright on the depth chart. He finished the year with 11 catches for only 96 yards and no touchdowns. In late December, Britt said he would definitely be a #1 wide receiver somewhere in 2014, which means I’m susceptible to falling into the Britt trap again. [click to continue…]

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Foster is thankful for a heavy workload.

Foster is thankful for a heavy workload.

Running back workload is a very difficult topic to tackle, and I don’t expect to make much of an indent into the subject today. But I do want to take a few minutes and look at some ways to measure heavy workloads. One school of thought is that the effect of carries is cumulative: Not only is a 25-carry game more likely to cause a running back trouble than a five-carry game, but it’s more than five times as likely to shorten a player’s shelf life. The cumulative effect of taking hit after hit means that carries 16, 17, and 18 hurt a runner more than carries 1, 2, and 3.

I don’t know if that’s true, but let’s investigate. First, I’m only giving a running back credit for his additional carries after his 15th carry of the game. So an 18-carry game goes down as a “3” and a 25 carry game is a “10.” Using this scoring system, Arian Foster had the highest number of “Carries over 15″ from last season, with 117. Such a list mostly corresponds to the number of overall rushing attempts for a player, but the exceptions could be revealing.
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Some Initial Thoughts Running Backs

Peterson and Foster each finished in the top four in rushing first downs

Peterson and Foster each finished in the top four in rushing first downs.

I’ve spent a lot of time this offseason looking at how to grade wide receivers; today I wanted to get some initial thoughts down on paper on running backs.

I’m short on time today, which means a lot of data and not so much theory. One of the more underrated statistics to measure running backs is the number of first downs they produce. I don’t like using Yards per Carry for running backs because that metric is pretty sensitive to outliers. But by using rushing first downs, perhaps we can smooth things out.

We know that the value of a touchdown is about 20 yards, but what is the value of a rushing first down? Being short on time, I took the easy way out. Pro-Football-Reference has produced Expected Points Added for each team’s running game going back to 2000. I decided to run a regression on the team level to best predict rushing EPA based on four rushing statistics. The R^2 was 0.77, but more importantly, here was the best fit formula:

EPA = -16.6 -0.58*Rush + 0.067*Rush_Yd + 1.43*Rush_TD + 1.08*Rush_FD

What interests me is the relationships between the variables. Rushing touchdowns are considered 21.3 times as valuable as rushing yards, which happens to fit in well with our previous assumptions. But more importantly, this tells us that a rushing first down is worth 16.1 rushing yards. That seems pretty high to me, and I reserve the right to adjust this later, but for now, let’s adjust down and say the value of a rushing first down is 15 yards. Now what?
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Is Arian Foster declining?

[House-keeping note: I've added the Salary Cap Calculator to the gray header tabs at the top of each page, so you can now easily get there no matter what page you're on at Football Perspective.]

A quick look at Arian Foster‘s statistics over the last three years paints a picture of a player in decline:

Year G Rsh RshYd RTD YPC YPG C/G Rec RecYd YPR TD YScm RRTD
2010*+ 16 327 1616 16 4.9 101.0 20.4 66 604 9.2 2 2220 18
2011* 13 278 1224 10 4.4 94.2 21.4 53 617 11.6 2 1841 12
2012* 16 351 1424 15 4.1 89.0 21.9 40 217 5.4 2 1641 17

 

Foster’s declined in rushing yards per game and yards per carry over the last two years, while his value in the receiving game fell off a cliff in 2012. One could reasonably conclude that Foster simply isn’t the same player he used to be, and that he could drop off even more in 2013.  But while the traditional statistics tell one story, what do the advanced metrics say?
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Yesterday, I previewed Saturday’s games with um, mixed results (skip the Denver-Baltimore preview and just read the San Francisco-Green Bay breakdown twice). Let’s take another crack at it by examining Sunday’s matchups.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (+1) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3), Sunday, 1:00PM ET

An offense where the star eats Skittle is a young one

Did you know Marshawn Lynch eats Skittles?

Once again, Atlanta is tasked with facing a dominant wildcard team. Is this the year Matt Ryan finally silences his critics?

Atlanta is only a one-point favorite, just the seventh time a home team has been given such little respect this late in the season since 2000. Home teams are 3-3 when underdogs or small favorites over that span in the divisional conference championship rounds, although one of those losses came by the Falcons in 2010 against the Packers when Atlanta was a 1.5-point favorite. But let’s focus on these two teams, because the stats might surprise you.

Russell Wilson edges Matt Ryan in Y/A (7.9 to 7.7), AY/A (8.1 to 7.7), and passer rating (100.0 to 99.1), despite having a significantly worse set of receivers. Ryan does have the edge in NY/A (7.0 to 6.8) but the two are deadlocked in ANY/A at 7.0. Both quarterbacks led four 4th quarter comebacks this year, and Wilson led 5 game-winning drives while Ryan led six. Considering one quarterback has Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez, and the other is a 5’10 rookie, I consider this pretty remarkable.
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