Tags: football

glasses

Santonio was awesome

My Week 12 pick to win the super bowl won!  Yay!  And what a classic game.

Santonio Holmes was awesome, while Hines Ward served mostly as a decoy. 

Sure, Holmes's impossible catch in the end zone FTW was amazing, but perhaps cooler was his touchdown celebration.  He impersonated LeBron James's pregame ritual of putting powder on his hands and then throwing a cloud of it up into the air.

People who don't watch basketball probably didn't pick up on that, so I figured I'd let you know.

Very classy, as far as TD celebrations go.
glasses

Pats out

The Patriots (11-5) are out of the playoffs this year since  both the Dolphins and Ravens won their games!  They've had bad luck this year, I must admit, but I'm not complaining.

Meanwhile, the Colts at 12-4 will be matched up at either the Broncos or the Chargers, who are sitting at 8-7 and 7-8 right now and had easy  schedules this year.

The bad news: Dungy rested his starters in the game against Tennessee.  The only year they won the super bowl was the year Dungy didn't rest the starters.

At least this year they have to play in a wild card game, which means they won't have 3-4 weeks without starters playing in real games as they have in some years past.  My only worry is that all their last 4 opponents were weak teams, including Tennessee without 8 of its starters.  Will they be in for a shock even against a mediocre team like Denver or SD?

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Strength-of-Schedule and average Margin of Victory.

The only sports media person I know who pays close attention to these numbers is John Hollinger, who accounts for that heavily in his excellent basketball power rankings.  For example, the Pacers are currently ranked 9th of 30 teams in his rankings, despite their 5-7 record, because of their SoS and average margin of victory.  On Marc Stein's more fun but less accurate power rankings, they are 22nd of 30 teams.  I suspect their actual quality is somewhere in between, but I put far more stock into Hollinger's formula.

Let's apply that philosophy to the NFL, essentially ignoring win-loss.

Here are the teams with the toughest schedules so far in the NFL, and their opponents' collective records thus far.
Steelers .598
Colts       .594
Jaguars  .559
Vikings    .551
Ravens   .551
Titans      .551
Bengals  .547
Texans    .547
Browns   .543

You'll note that most of the top teams are clustered into the AFC South and AFC North - due to the way those divisions were paired with other divisions.  I interpret this to mean that the Colts, who have scored only three more points than they allowed, are playing 10-6 ball, since they're playing .600 opponents about even.  The Steelers have outscored their opponents by 76 points and have to be considered the scariest team in the AFC, except for perhaps for the Titans, who are 92 up on their opponents.

Even more interesting is to see who's inhabiting the bottom of the strength of schedule.
Saints .449
Broncos .445
Raiders  .438
Chargers .422
Patriots   .387

The Patriots are sitting at 7-4 and have outscored their opponents by 45 this year, but one could argue, (and I, as a Colts fan, will) that they are in for a rude awakening as their schedule heats up.  Mainstream media is just assuming that they're good because they're the Patriots.  The Jets are 8-3 and their opponents have played .457 ball, so it looks like the Pats won't be taking home the division this year.

Of course, there's a second-order flaw in all of this.  If we're ignoring win-loss in these rankings, why are we considering opponents' win-loss?  The Colts are getting credit for beating the 7-4 Pats and the 8-3 Terrible Towelettes, but one could argue that their win over the former is overvalued and their win over the latter is undervalued.  What we really should be doing is making the 'power' of a team a recursive function of itself.  Compute a team's Power based on opponents' win-loss, and then recompute based on opponents' power.  Repeat until you reach a fixed point.

I would be interested to see how Hollinger's NBA rankings would shake out differently if he applied this technique.  I suspect there would be a small but noticeable difference.
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NFL rules changes

There's a certain geeky pleasure in coaches exploiting loopholes in the rules, but the level of absurdity is pretty high for a multi-billion dollar powerhouse sports league.

1) Let's dispense with calling timeout before a kick to 'ice' the kicker. I seriously doubt there is any decrease in field goal accuracy on the second kick. In fact, often times the timeout is late enough that the kicker gets a 'practice kick.' Surely, accuracy increases after a practice kick.

It's rare that something so petty routinely and simultaneously wastes millions of peoples' time. Thank goodness for DVRs.

Now, one would hope that natural market forces would dispense with this practice, but it seems to be thriving. Coaches take forever to change their practices. Coaches like to feel like they have control over whether the opposing kicker makes a field goal.

Since the coaches won't stop, I think we need a rules change to prevent this silliness.

2) Can we please stop with the "too many men on the field" penalty? The basic scenario is this: team randomly picks one or two plays during the game to sprint up to the line of scrimmage while the other team is trying to substitute players. The replaced player is running off the field and is a couple of yards away from the sideline when the ball is snapped. The offense doesn't have a play in mind, they are just being opportunistic.

This adds no value or even drama to the game. Allowing a player to be "exiting" the field on a snap seems reasonable. One would need to allow them to be "5 yards from the sideline and exiting" or something similarly finicky and, admittedly, hard to measure. Of course, the NFL rulebook is filled with rules that are as ambiguous or more than this rule.

Seems like there should be some good solution here. Allowing the defense at least X seconds to get set also seems reasonable, though that would end up being another one of those "not in the last two minutes of a half" types of rules.
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Pats-Colts

It's been a relatively tough season for a Colts fan, but it's officially not a loss, with a 18-15 win over the Evil Team last night.

Hard to say which team was actually better. The Patriots gained about 40 more yards on offense but made more mistakes. They thoroughly dominated the running game, whereas the Colts thoroughly dominated the passing game. It was good to see Harrison, Wayne, Clark, and Gonzalez all get involved in the offense. I would not be surprised if Harrison is fourth in number of yards gained this year - it's clear he's lost some speed.

Belichick did a couple of very stupid things. He pretended to go for it on fourth-and-1, in field goal range and down by 3, and then called a timeout just before the play. The Patriots would surely have converted it, they had been dominating the line of scrimmage. Instead, he kicked the field goal to tie, and it cost him a timeout.

On a Pats running play for a loss, the Evil Overlord also challenged a failure to call too many men on the field and lost a timeout for his efforts. Amusingly, the Colts *eleventh* man had been leaving the field, not the twelfth. They stopped the Patriots for a loss with only ten defenders on the field!

On the ensuing drive, the Colts maneuvered their way to a field goal, stopped the patriots on the next posession, and basically ran out the clock. This was possible due to Belichick's mismanagement of his timeouts.
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What a quarter

Wow, what an amazing fourth quarter between the Giants and the Patriots.  If it's any indication, even non-football-fan Jason got really into the game.

I mean, there was no sense of destiny to any of it.  There were plenty of hair-raising third down conversions on all of the touchdown drives, and of course, Manning's escape-and-throw to Tyree.  I'm almost convinced that Rodney Harrison actually helped him catch the ball by stabilizing it.

All this post-letdown talk of the Patriots being flawed, their defense needing work, their old linemen tiring out over the season, whatever, is pure nonsense.  Folks, there is luck in football.  And the Giants played well enough to get lucky, especially on the defensive line.

By the way, I was shocked to see Bill Belichick, of all coaches, punt on 4th-and-2 from the Giants' 45 or so, after having gone for a 4th and 13 from a similar field position earlier.  I don't remember what other circumstances involved the 4th-and-13, but it feels like most coaches would have done the opposite.

Surely there's a youtube video out their of all of Brady's sacks and knockdowns... set to the tune of You Shook Me All Night Long.

glasses

Poison Pill Two Years Later

Yesterday, Minnesota's Chester Taylor replaced the star rookie Adrian Peterson and "surprised everyone" (everyone = the media) by running for 164 yards.

I wasn't surprised.

Two years ago, Seattle's rushing offense ranked third in the league and first in TDs on the strength of Shaun Alexander's MVP season.  Minnesota's ranked 27th.

Last year, Seattle's attack went from 4.7 yards per carry to 4.0, and Minnesota's rose from 3.7 to 4.1.  Seattle's rushing touchdown total plummeted from 29 to 8.  Mainstream media lamented Shaun Alexander's injury woes as the primary cause.

This year, Seattle's rush is all-but-unwatchable, with star Shaun Alexander averaging 3.3 yards per carry.  I guess he never recovered fully from his injuries.  Or maybe at 30 he is getting old.  Meanwhile, Minnesota is riding high with their rushers averaging an unbelievable 6.0 yards per carry alongside a so-so pass offense.

Chester Taylor's good day reminds me of the real #1 reason behind all of this - Steve Hutchinson and the Poison Pill.  After the 2005 season, Minnesota offered the league's best offensive guard and restricted free agent Steve Hutchinson an unprecedented 7 years and 49 million dollars to play for them, of which I think 3 years was actually guaranteed.  Seattle might have matched the offer - but there was a clause in the contract that required the team to guarantee the contract if at any point, another lineman made more money than Steve.  Sounds weird, right?  Well, Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones was right beside Steve Hutchinson on the left side of Seattle's offense, and Alexander basically just ran left all year in his MVP season.  Jones was due to make a bundle at some point, I think this year, which means Seattle would have had to guarantee all 49 million, a huge risk if the man gets injured or stops performing... contracts like this rarely last through their last year in the NFL.

The league failed to do anything about this or any "poison pill" clause, which pisses me off because I think it defeats the point of restricted free agency requiring a "matching" offer.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson is gone, Jones is not the player he used to be, Alexander has declined (slightly).

You've guessed my point, which is that offensive linemen don't get nearly enough credit.

glasses

Colts-Bolts

 You outgained the opponents 386 yards to 177 yards and possessed the ball for 13 more minutes than they did.  What needs to happen for your team to lose 23-21 in a rainy game in which you outgained them by well over a 2-to-1 margin?

(A) Your star kicker, who has won four superbowls, often on game-winning FGs, who has been nicknamed "Mr. Clutch," goes 0-2 on field goal attempts, including a missed game-winner from under 30 yards.
(B) A 96-yard interception return by your team is waved off because a referee thought the play was dead and blew his whistle.
(C) Your all-time quarterback, Petyon Manning, throws 6 interceptions after having thrown only 4 in his first 8 games of the season, and having never thrown as many as 4 in a game since 2001.

I don't think I've ever seen the Colts look, alternately, so impressive and dreadful on one day.  Special teams were dreadful, but the defense was excellent.  The offense was great or terrible depending on whether Peyton was throwing INTs (1-2 of the INTs can be blamed on the receivers).  The Chargers were just dreadful almost throughout - they can blame it on the rain, I guess.
The Colts at least were decimated by injuries, with 3 of the 4 top receiving threats, the starting left tackle, and two linebackers injured, and they lost  three or four more to injury over the course of the game.

*grumble*
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