≡ Menu

Predictions in Review: NFC North

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, the NFC West, the AFC South, the NFC South, and the AFC North. Today, the NFC North.

The Detroit Lions will win more games in 2013, June 21, 2013

In 2012, Detroit finished 4-12, but they seemed like an obvious pick to have a rebound season. The Lions went 3-9 in games decided by 8 or fewer points that year, which was the worst mark in the league. Since such a poor record is usually a sign of bad luck rather than bad skill, Detroit wouldn’t need to do much to improve on their 4-win season. The Lions had 6.4 Pythagorean wins, and no team fell as far short of their Pythagorean record in 2012 as Detroit. There was one other reason I highlighted as to why Detroit would win more games in 2013: the Lions recovered only 33% of all fumbles that occurred in Detroit games. As a result, the team recovered 7.6 fewer fumbles than expected.

Of course, none of this was a surprise: Vegas pegged Detroit as an average team entering the season. And even though the Lions did finish 7-9, a three-win improvement wasn’t enough to save Jim Schwartz’ job. After a 3-9 record the year before, the 2013 Lions went 4-6 in games decided by 8 or fewer points, which included losses in the team’s final three games.  Detroit did improve when it came to fumble recoveries, but only slightly: the Lions recovered 42.6% of all fumbles in their games in 2013, which was 3.6 recoveries fewer than expected.

What can we learn: When it comes to records in close games and fumble recovery rates, we should expect regression to the mean.  Last year, the Colts (6-1) and Jets (5-1) had the best records in close games; Andrew Luck has been doing this for two years now, but no such benefit of the doubt should be given to the Jets. Meanwhile, Houston (2-9) and Washington (2-7) had the worst records in close games. All else being equal, we would expect both of those teams to improve on their wins total in 2014 (for the 2-14 Texans, it will take some work not to win more games in 2014; and, of course, such rebound seasons are already baked into the Vegas lines).

As far as fumble recovery rates, well, that’s one area where the Jets are hoping for some regression to the mean.

The 2012 Chicago Bears had the Least Strange Season Ever, August 2, 2013

Here’s what I wrote about the 2012 Bears:

The 2012 Bears played two terrible teams, the Titans and the Jaguars. Those were the two biggest blowouts of the season for Chicago. The Bears had five games against really good teams (Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, and the Packers twice): those were the five biggest losses of the season. Chicago had one other loss, which came on the road against the next best team the Bears played, Minnesota.

But the Bears didn’t just have a predictable season. That -0.89 correlation coefficient [between Chicago's opponent's rating and location-adjusted margin of victory] is the lowest for any 16-game season in NFL history. In other words, Chicago just had the least strange season of the modern era.

This post was not about predicting Chicago’s 2013 season but analyzing a quirky fact I discovered. The Bears struggled against the best teams in 2012, and that cost Lovie Smith his job. In 2013, Chicago’s season was much more normal; in fact, the Bears had a slightly “stranger” season than the average team.

The Bears did manage to defeat the Bengals and Packers (without Aaron Rodgers), but Chicago still finished below .500 against playoff teams thanks to losses to New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Green Bay (with Aaron Rodgers). After a 2-6 performance against playoff teams in 2012, I suppose a 2-3 record is an improvement. But the irony is that the reason Chicago’s season was less normal in 2013 wasn’t due to better play against the best teams, but because Chicago lost to Minnesota and Washington. In the first year post-Lovie, the Bears missed the playoffs because they lost to two of the worst teams in the league, causing them to miss out on the division title by one half-game. Here’s one stat I bet Lovie Smith knows: from 2005 to 2012, Chicago went 30-0 against teams that finished the season with fewer than six wins. As for which teams had the strangest and least strangest seasons in 2013? Check back tomorrow.

Can Adrian Peterson break Emmitt Smith’s rushing record?, August 3, 2013

What a difference a year makes. Eight months ago, the debate regarding whether Adrian Peterson could break Smith’s record was a legitimate talking point. After a “down” season with 1,266 yards in 14 games, nobody is asking that question anymore. Of course, Peterson never had much of a chance of breaking the record anyway, which was the point of my post. Not only had Smith outgained him Peterson through each of their first six seasons, and not only did Smith enter the league a year earlier than Peterson, but Emmitt Smith was also the leader in career rushing yards after a player’s first six seasons.

Peterson just turned 29 years old. He ranks sixth in career rushing yards through age 28, but Smith has a 1,119 yard advantage when it comes to rushing yards through age 28. Barry Sanders has them both beat, of course, but he retired after his age 30 season. The problem for Peterson? He needs to run for 8,241 yards during his age 29+ seasons to break Smith’s record. The career leader in yards after turning 29 is Smith with 7,121 yards.

What can we learn: Unless Peterson finds the fountain of youth, Smith’s record won’t be challenged for a long, long time.

Witnesses to Greatness: Aaron Rodgers Edition, August 30, 2013

In late August, I wondered if we had taken Rodgers’ dominance for granted. After all, he had a career passer rating of 104.9, the best ever. Then in 2013, he produced a passer rating of … 104.9, the fifth best mark among qualifying passers.

Passer rating stinks, as we all know, but Rodgers is dominant in nearly every metric. If we break passer rating down into its four parts we see:

  • Entering 2013, Rodgers was the career leader in completion percentage. Drew Brees now holds a 0.1% edge over Rodgers in this category. Rodgers completed 66.6% of his passes last year, the 5th best mark of 2013.
  • Rodgers was the career leader in interception rate entering 2013, and still holds that crown. Believe it or not, his 2.1% interception rate last year ranked only 12th.
  • With a 5.9% touchdown rate in 2013 (5th best), he remains the active leader in touchdown percentage. Everyone ahead of him on the career list began their career before 1960.
  • Rodgers was the active leader in yards/attempt prior to 2013, and then he had another dominant year by producing an 8.7 average (2nd best). He’s now widened his lead in this metric and should remain the active leader for the foreseeable future.

What can we learn: That Rodgers is the man? Of course, this year we got to see that first-hand. The Packers went 6-3 in Rodgers’ 9 starts and 2-4-1 without him, but remember, he threw just two passes in his Bears start, which the Packers lost. Count that as a non-Rodgers game, and Green Bay went 6-2 with him and 2-5-1 without him. From there, one might infer that he added 3.5 wins to the Packers last year, tied for the 4th most ever from a quarterback relative to his backups.

The only area where Rodgers struggles is with sacks, and it’s worth remembering that all of his other rate stats are slightly inflated because they do not include sacks in the denominator. He’s still the man, of course, but sacks, era adjustments, and the fact that he isn’t done producing top seasons is why he “only” ranked 12th and 14th on these lists.

{ 3 comments }

After the projections for most of the week was below-zero weather, the latest reports indicates that by kickoff, the temperature in Green Bay should be in the single digits. The temperature of a game is more open to interpretation than you think: in a lot of the games below, there are different reports depending on which source you use.  That said, I’ve found six playoff games that had a temperature of zero degrees or colder:

  • The Ice Bowl: The classic cold-weather game: the temperature was reportedly −15 degrees with an average wind chill around −36, although PFR has it at -2 degrees and -23, respectively. The Packers won 21-17, after Bart Starr‘s quarterback sneak for the winning score in the final seconds.
  • The Freezer Bowl: In 1981, the Chargers played in Cincinnati in -9 degree weather; add in the 27 miles per hour winds, and it felt more like −37 degrees. PFR has those numbers at -6 degrees, wind 24 mph, wind chill -32. Cincinnati won 27-7, to advance to the Super Bowl.
  • The 2007 NFC Championship Game: This was the Giants/Packers game where half of Coughlin’s face turned Giants red. New York won in overtime, 23-20, before upsetting the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The gamebook lists the temperature at -1 degrees, with a wind chill of -23. PFR has it at -7 degrees, with a brutal wind chill of -27.
  • Washington at Chicago, 1987: PFR has this one at -3 degrees with a wind chill of -20. Classic Ditka weather! Here’s the video to the CBS intro with John Madden and Pat Summerall (note that the broadcast states it was 12 degrees, with a wind chill feel of -5.). Washington won, 21-17, and eventually won the Super Bowl.
  • Indianapolis at Kansas City, 1995. Lin Elliott misses three field goals for the Chiefs, and the Colts win 10-7. PFR has it at 0 degrees, – 15 with wind chill.Some other playoff games come closer.
  • When Los Angeles traveled to Buffalo in 1993, it was zero degrees with, according to NFL.com, a wind chill at -32! Jeff Hostetler, who never had a bad playoff game, lost his only playoff game here despite throwing for 230 yards and a touchdown (with no interceptions) on 20 passes. Jim Kelly threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Bill Brooks, and Buffalo won 29-23. PFR lists the temperature at 3 degrees with a wind chill of -14

A pair of playoff games in Lambeau Field in 1996 and Soldier Field in 1963 probably could have been sub-zero games, but noon-time starts kept the temperature on the positive side of the ledger. Ten years ago, the Titans game in New England got the Saturday Night treatment, which allowed the temperature to drop down to 4 degrees with a wind chill -14. And the Browns/Raiders game known simply as Red Right 88 was at 2 degrees with a wind chill of -20.

It looks like today’s game will join the list of freezing playoff games, but may not make the top five.

San Francisco’s Turnover Margin

I think the 49ers are the vastly superior team here, so my pregame analysis will be limited. The Packers are a very average team, and a healthy Aaron Rodgers only makes them above-average. San Francisco led the league in points differential through two quarters and through three quarters, and I can still see this team becoming the next Lombardi Packers. But here’s an interesting stat from Bill Barnwell: [click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }

Leader in Fu Manchus among active quarterbacks (sorry, Mark)

Leader in Fu Manchus among active quarterbacks (sorry, Mark).

Let’s be honest: we all know Aaron Rodgers is great, so we don’t spend much time talking about him. Debating his ability is pointless, so we instead spend countless hours discussing Tony Romo’s intangibles, Tim Tebow’s throwing motion, Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos, and Joe Flacco’s eliteness. Talk radio dies when it discusses Aaron Rodgers: debating the Packers quarterback is as fun as watching paint dry and as illuminating as asking if water is wet.

But we’re doing a disservice to us all when we ignore how great Rodgers is. I mean, we spend lots of time chronicling the feats of Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson — why not Rodgers?

One way to measure Rodgers’ greatness is to look at passer rating. Now we know that passer rating is wildly overrated, so perhaps you shouldn’t be too impressed to hear that Rodgers has the highest passer rating in history. But consider: Rodgers has a career 104.9 passer rating, well ahead of Steve Young, who is second at 96.8. Chad Pennington sits at #13 on the career passer rating list (an example of why this metric is one I don’t use), but Young is closer to Pennington (90.1) than he is to Rodgers. But there’s an even better way to show Rodgers’ dominance in this statistic.

Passer rating is made up of four metrics. Let’s take a look at how Rodgers ranks in those four categories:
[click to continue…]

{ 42 comments }

The winner of the first Super Bowl

The winner of the first Super Bowl.

Congratulations to Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco, and the Baltimore Ravens on winning Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens and 49ers treated us to an exciting Super Bowl, and the Hall of Fame chances of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Matt Birk, Anquan Boldin, and yes, Joe Flacco, are a lot better today than they were 24 hours ago. And while most writers today will focus on the champions, I’m going to go in a different direction.

Two years ago, the 49ers were 6-10 and floundering; they had the 5th worst record in the league from 2004 from 2010 in the pre-Jim Harbaugh era. Today, San Francisco possesses arguably the NFL’s most talented roster and best coaching staff, but is coming off a painful loss in the title game.

When I look at the 49ers, it’s hard not to see the striking similarities to an incredible turnaround executed 52 years ago. From 1953 to 1958, the Green Bay Packers were one of the league’s most poorly-run franchises. The team won just 20 games over that six-year period, the second fewest in the league. Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959, and the Packers won the NFL’s West Division in 1960, losing in the final seconds in the title game that year to Philadelphia. It was a heartbreaking loss, but the Packers used that game as motivation to win NFL titles in ’61, ’62, ’65, ’66, and ’67, with the latter two coming in the Super Bowl.

In 2011, I read and reviewed John Eisenberg’s excellent book That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory. Eisenberg looked at a subject that always fascinated me: the 1958 Packers, despite being the worst team in the league, had seven future Hall of Famers.
[click to continue…]

{ 9 comments }

I was on vacation last week, so I provided just a bare bones set of NFL playoff predictions. Technically, my picks went 4-0 on Wildcard Weekend, but that doesn’t count for much when you pick the favorite in every game. With a little more time on my hands, here’s an in-depth preview of Saturday’s games. Tomorrow I’ll be previewing Sunday’s action.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (+9.5) at Denver Broncos (13-3), Saturday 4:30PM ET

Manning looks for to win another Super Bowl

Manning points to his glove dealer.

Most of the signs in this game point squarely in the favor of Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Baltimore has wildly underachieved on the road the last few seasons, and in Denver does not seem like the optimal place for that trend to reverse itself. From 2002 to 2010, Manning went 8-0 against the Ravens, including a 2-0 mark in playoff games. If you double his numbers in those games (to approximate a 16-game season), Manning would have thrown for 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions, while averaging 7.8 Y/A and 7.9 AY/A to go with a 65.6% completion rate and a 97.7 passer rating. Manning was similarly lethal in Denver’s win over the Ravens in Baltimore earlier this year.
[click to continue…]
{ 5 comments }

Season in review: AFC and NFC North

On Monday, I examined the seasons of the teams in the AFC and NFC East. Today I will do the same for the AFC and NFC North, starting in the AFC.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 11 wins (after weeks 2, 5, and 9)
Minimum wins: 8 (after week 16)
Week 1 comment: Sunday Night was one of the best games I’ve seen from Ben Roethlisberger. An elite team that will be favored to win most weeks, although questions remain about the offensive line, the running backs, and the age of the defense.

Pittsburgh started off 6-3 and looked like a contender, but tanked in the second half of the season once Roethlisberger went down. Even when Roethlisberger returned, the offense never quite looked right. Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Rashard Mendenhall were unexciting plodders, which is an improvement over the 25 carries that went to Baron Batch. No Steeler finished the season with more than two rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both failed to match last year’s lofty numbers. The potential was there, but the results were not in Pittsburgh in 2012.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s defense performed well by conventional measures — through week 16 (which is when they were knocked out of the playoff race), they ranked 1st in yards allowed and first downs allowed, and ranked 2nd in net yards per attempt allowed, rushing yards and rushing yards per carry allowed. But the defense wasn’t really up to Steelers standards — through week 16, they ranked 10th in points allowed and, more damningly, had forced more turnovers than just three teams. Pittsburgh allowed 5 4th quarter game-winning drives, which ultimately cost them the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 11 wins (first after week 3, last after week 13)
Minimum wins: 9 wins (after week 15)
Week 1 comment: Great performance on Monday Night, but I have to imagine missing Terrell Suggs is going to hurt this team. He’s too good to simply expect business as usual in Baltimore, and their schedule (AFC West, NFC East, Houston, New England outside the division) is riddled with traps.

The schedule was riddled with traps, but the Ravens rode some late-game success and excellent special teams to a 9-2 record. At that point, I wrote: I still don’t believe in this team, because they aren’t going to have amazing special teams or amazing 4th and 29 conversions every week.

Joe Flacco had a solid but not great year, while Ray Rice continued to prove effective when given the carries. The big issue for Baltimore was defensively. Through 16 weeks, the Ravens ranked 20th in yards allowed, 18th in NY/A, and 24th in first downs allowed. While the Ravens won the North, 8 games out of Terrell Suggs, 6 games of Ray Lewis, and 6 games of Lardarius Webb simply wasn’t enough to give them the defense Ravens fans were used to seeing.
[click to continue…]

{ 0 comments }