Saturday, July 31, 2004 

Blue Moon over Miami?

Count me among those who view the "retirement" of Ricky Williams as a positive for the Dolphins. Williams was going to miss the first month of the season with his suspension anyway, and now Wannstedt doesn't have to worry about transitioning his offense in mid-season. Who knows, Travis Minor might surprise everyone. However, I am curious why the Dolphins didn't try to get Antowain Smith, especially since Williams's retirement has been a rumor for a while.

Long-term, this should force the Dolphins to concentrate on finding a better quarterback to use their obvious down-field weapons: Chris Chambers, Randy McMichael, and possibly David Boston if he stays in line.

Saturday, July 24, 2004 

Cowboy Up

The signing of Eddie George by Dallas is definitely getting a lot of press. Let's face it, who would you rather have, Troy Hambrick or Eddie George? But Eddie George is in his early thirties now (31), and those 2733 carries have taken a toll. He's hasn't made the Pro Bowl since 2000, and barely topped 1000 yards last season (1031) with only 2 100+ yard games against New Orleans and Atlanta. George used to average 5+ 100-yd games a season when he was younger. His rushing average has also decreased over the past 3 years:

1996 4.1
1997 3.9
1998 3.7
1999 4.1
2000 3.7
2001 3.0
2002 3.4
2003 3.3

Still, it is a good signing for Dallas for the money. And the Cowboys can break in their younger backs gradually, like the Titans did with Chris Brown. But could they have signed Antowain Smith themselves and gotten similar production for even less money?

Sunday, July 18, 2004 

Picking a Winner

Just over a week ago, Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman wrote an analysis piece on the last 10 NFL drafts 1994-2003).  He made a few simplifications:

How do the teams stack up, overall? The problem is that if you include the entire draft, the thing becomes too unwieldy, plus it will give a skewed picture. The all-important statistic of how many regulars came from those 10 drafts will always end up in an overload in favor of the bad teams, because they're more in need of help. There are more spots available for rookies.

So I tried to level the field by using only the top three rounds of the draft, the elite. Good and bad teams alike need a steady influx of these high choices, the lifeblood of their future.

Dr. Z goes on to list each NFL team's record for the past 10 years (except for Houston, and the "new" Cleveland Browns), how many players they drafted are still with the team, and how many of them are "regulars".  Dr. Z then repeats this for the just the first-rounders.  Finally, he lists how many Pro Bowl players each team found in the first 3 rounds, and how many players spent less than one year with the team (aptly named "flunks").  The list of "regulars" was somewhat subjective, since he included "important" role players but not players like Ryan Leaf, who started but were not successful. 

I wish he had listed All-Pros (selected by media) instead of Pro Bowlers (selected by a mix of player and fan voting), but that's a nitpick.  My real problem is the limitation on the first 3 rounds.  I agree that bad teams will use more rookies - but over a ten-year span, shouldn't every "bad" team eventually get good?  The years 1994-2003 include New England Patriots teams that finished 6-10 or worse, plus 2 Super Bowl Champions.  I'd love to know how each team did in uncovering "gems" - Pro Bowlers who were found in the last 4 rounds - like Tom Brady.

In terms of the data itself, I found three things very interesting:

1. Miami has done an awful job in the first round of the draft.
To be fair, they have only made 6 first round selections over the past ten years, but to have just one regular remaining is really bad, plus they have a league-high 7 "flunks".  Only 3 other teams have more than 3 flunks - St. Louis (6), Atlanta (5), and Cincinnati (5).

2. Pro Bowl Players = Championships.
Six teams have found 7 or more Pro Bowlers in the first 3 rounds over this period: Tampa Bay (8), Denver, Baltimore, New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (7).  Four of those teams have combined to win six Super Bowls, and the other two (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh) have repeatedly reached their Conference Championship game or Super Bowl in this period.  But once again, I'd like to see the later round numbers...

3. Parity has REALLY taken over in the past 5 years.
If I asked you to name the 3 teams with the best winning percentage over the past 10 years, who would you pick?  Green Bay would be a safe bet, but San Francisco and Denver?  Here's the top 10: 

1.  Green Bay      108-52
2.  San Francisco  100-60
3.  Denver          98-62
4.  Miami           96-64
5.  Pittsburgh      95-64-1
6.  Kansas City     94-66
7.  New England     93-67
8.  Minnesota       92-68
9.  Tennessee       89-71
10. Philadelphia    87-72-1

Of those teams, four have combined to win six Super Bowls (Green Bay, San Francisco, Denver, and New England) and two others have lost the big game (Pittsburgh, Tennessee).  But what is amazing is that NONE of those top 3 teams has played in a Conference Championship game since 1999 (San Francisco hasn't won their division since 1997), and yet they still lead the pack.

Sunday, July 11, 2004 

More on Quarterbacks

I've spent the last few weeks following the discussion on Football Outsiders about the article "The Best Quarterbacks of Each Half Decade" by Michael David Smith. Most of the discussion has centered on whether a QB who wins Super Bowls is automatically "better" than QBs who do not. Before this year's draft, I wrote that bargain QBs seldom win the Super Bowl unless extraordinary circumstances (great defense, career year, etc) occur. But great QBs can fail to win the Super Bowl for many reasons. The key for a successful franchise is to build a team that plays hard, and fits the system the coaches are designing (or vice versa) to take advantage of the players' strengths and minimize their weaknesses. For example, both Dan Marino and John Elway suffered from the lack of a running game and poor defense at times.

I'll stay out of the Brady vs. Manning discussion (folks, they're both very good at what their teams ask them to do) and focus on another comment from a Patriots fan named Paulette:

"As far as homerism, I root hard for the Pats and always have through the worst of times, but have never been small minded toward great players on other teams and never will be. It never crossed my mind to think Tony Eason was better than Dan Marino, lol."

She's right, but what's funny is that both went to exactly one Super Bowl and lost, and New England beat Miami in the 1985 AFC Championship game. Don't get me wrong, Dan Marino is one of the all-time greats, but declaring Tony Eason a complete bust would be a little too strong.

One reply post included the following stats from 1985-89:

Marino: 1639/2790 (58.7%), 20559 yd, 152/102 TD/Int
Elway: 1328/2431 (54.6), 16934 yd, 95/85
Montana: 1269/1982 (64.0), 15445 yd, 110/53
Simms: 1188/2129 (55.8), 15966 yd, 95/76
I did some quick math to calculate their "average" season during that period:

Marino: 328/558 (58.7%), 4112 yd, 30/20 TD/Int
Elway: 266/486 (54.6%), 3387 yd, 19/17 TD/Int
Montana: 254/396 (64.0%), 3089 yd, 22/11 TD/Int
Simms: 238/426 (55.8%), 3199 yd, 19/15 TD/Int
It's interesting to note that Tony Eason's 3 full, yet injury-plagued, seasons as the starting QB for the Patriots (1984-1986) stack up fairly well, especially when you consider that the Patriots in this era ran the ball much more than the Marino/Elway teams did:

Eason: 234/392 (59.7%), 2904 yd, 18/12 TD/Int (average season 84-86)
Playoffs: 42/ 72 (58.3%), 561 yd, 7/ 0 TD/Int (totals 85+86; QB Rating 115.6)

Unfortunately, Eason's injury problems basically ended his career after that.

It should also be noted that this is an example where stats CAN lie. Eason's QB rating in this three year stretch is better than Elway's, though I doubt anyone would have preferred to have Eason during this period...

1984 1985 1986
Eason 93.4 67.5 89.2
Elway 76.8 70.2 79.0

Saturday, July 10, 2004 

If I were a betting man

When are pro athletes going to learn that associating themselves with gamblers is going raise eyebrows? Jerome Bettis is the latest example. The Bus was already slowing down and nearing the station, so to speak, so why does he want to give the Steelers one more reason to cut their ties to him? Or perhaps he's working on a post-retirement career as a "greeter".

Monday, July 05, 2004 

Preview 2004

I've always wondered why folks buy those preseason football magazines now that the internet is so widely used. Barnes & Noble had a HUGE stack of Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News, etc this week. The only ones I used to find worth reading were the fantasy football magazines, since they actually gave you some statistics. The others stick to the standard roster and positional breakdowns, and are largely obsolete by the time you get them.

On another note, it's strange that the Pro Football Prospectus book for this year has been delayed and will not be available until August 24 (according to Amazon.com). I guess the football book market is not as strong as the baseball book market, where you can get the "James/Neyer Guide to Pitchers" and find out what Bruce Hurst's typical pitch selection was. Sounds like a real page-turner...

Sunday, July 04, 2004 


The current talk about Coach K possibly leaving Duke for the Los Angeles Lakers job should make the college football leaders take notice. While the NFL won the Maurice Clarett case and kept him out of this year's draft, history says that the league won't be able to keep "underage" players out of the draft forever. If that happens, will the top college football programs start losing players like Coach K has at Duke? And will those top programs be unable to keep coaches like Nick Saban from jumping to the NFL?

The whole college football system is built on popular programs and high profile bowls, unlike college basketball which has an exciting tournament that fosters interest in the underdog small schools. I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to watch Boise St. play Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, for example.

The NCAA and NFL should be getting together to try to resolve this situation before letting it get out of control and watering down their products too.

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