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Monday, May 30, 2005 

A Day to Remember

On this Memorial Day, we should all take a moment to remember and thank our veterans. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. I forget the exact statistic, but the number of living WWII veterans is rapidly shrinking. We must never take our democratic way of life for granted, and we should never forget the determination and spirit of the American people during that conflict.

Say a prayer for our military men and women around the globe.

Friday, May 27, 2005 

Mile Hile Madness

I'm still trying to figure out Denver's recent acquisitions. Signing Jerry Rice adds a class individual, but they would have been better served to use that roster spot on a young receiver they could develop. It's sad to see Rice become a vagabond, since this is now his fourth team. But I don't understand the Todd Sauerbrun trade at all. He's never been considered a boy scout, and the steroid allegations reported on 60 Minutes would have scared off most teams. In the thin air of Denver, the Broncos could have used a younger, cheaper, alternative and achieved similar results on the field without the potential locker room distraction.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 

Any Given Sunday

Much has been written about the level of parity in today's NFL, so this isn't a news flash, but the Patriots recent run of success made me wonder how this era stacks up historically. There are a lot of ways to look at parity, including regular season records, but since the ultimate objective is to win the Super Bowl, I decided to look at the NFL's version of the "final four". If greater parity includes the top teams in the league, then over the past 5 years we'd expect to see a more diverse group of teams reaching the conference championship games and the Super Bowl than during a 5 year period in the 1970's, for example. Since the league keeps expanding, it makes it less likely statistically that teams will repeat, and makes it more likely that we'll see five different teams win the Super Bowl over any given 5 year period.

For instance, from 2000-2004, 3 different teams won the Super Bowl, 8 different teams reached the Super Bowl, and 13 teams reached the conference title games. If you look at the period from 1999-2003, the numbers are identical except that 4 different teams won the Super Bowl.

The contrast between now and the 1970's is stark. From 1973 to 1977, 4 different teams won the Super Bowl and 6 different teams reached the big game, but just 7 unique teams played in the conference championship games:

AFC: Miami, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Denver
NFC: Dallas, Minnesota, Los Angeles

This entire period from the 1970's was similar (1974 to 1978 was even less diverse), with plenty of repeat appearances by a small group of great teams. Even with the recent success of the Patriots and Eagles, the salary cap and revenue sharing have led to much greater parity.

 

Spreading the Word

I finally decided to try to get my blog listed on Football Blogs, and they accepted me yesterday. Thanks!

Check out their other blogs using the link at the right.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 

Prodigal Son

It appears that Ricky Williams is going to show up for Dolphins training camp, but will show up late to take advantage of a loophole in the NFL drug suspension rules.

When Williams retired in July, he was in violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy and subject to a one-year suspension. If he returns within a year of the day he retired, he would still be subject to the one-year ban. If he returns after that date, he will be subject to a four-game suspension.

There is some confusion as to when Williams retired, but according to the NFL, the date is July 27. The Dolphins open training camp July 24.

At first, I was surprised by this rule. But in fact, the NFL is acknowledging that Williams has already sat out a year, and is imposing an additional penalty of a four game suspension. Sounds like the fair thing to do.

If I had Nick Saban's job, I would try to trade Ricky Williams as soon as possible - but the four game suspension (and his checkered past) will make that nearly impossible. You don't need a distraction like this when you're starting your first NFL head coaching job, especially when you've drafted Ronnie Brown with the second overall pick.

Although Brown shared time with Carnell Williams in the Auburn backfield, is durability that big of a concern? Unless Brown gets injured during the first four weeks of the season or is a bust, Williams will most likely be a part-time back. I would be concerned that Williams will eventually get upset with his diminished role, be a bad influence on Brown, and not improve his trade value that much. Besides, I doubt that any team will trust him enough to make his their number one back, unless he's willing to sign an incentive-laden contract.

Sunday, May 22, 2005 

What can Brown do for you?

It's nice to hear that Troy Brown is returning to the Patriots. I never believed that his return was predestined, even as the papers up here wrote about his locker still being intact at Gillette Stadium, etc. But last week, a story about Bill Belichick's recent talk at a Big Brothers event made me think twice. While praising several of his players, he saved the most superlatives for Brown, saying that he was the best leader he had even known in football, and was willing to do anything to help the team. That kind of overt praise made me realize that Brown wasn't going anywhere else unless another team made an extremely inflated offer.

Friday, May 20, 2005 

Twin Peaks

Remember when the Vikings traded Randy Moss? It looked like they were turning the page by ridding themselves of a major distraction. Plus, Red McCombs was selling the team to Reggie Fowler, who despite questionable finances, was poised to become the first black owner in NFL history. A new stadium deal was even on the horizon, adding to the fans optimism.

But then the real soap opera started.

Head coach Mike Tice got caught in a Super Bowl ticket scandal, Fowler couldn't come up with the cash he needed, and Onterrio Smith brought more attention to how to beat drug tests than any player had before.

Now Smith has been suspended by the NFL for the 2005 season. Luckily for the Vikings, they've built some backfield depth:

Despite missing four games last season because of his suspension, Smith led the Vikings in rushing with 544 yards. He was No. 2 on the depth chart behind Michael Bennett. Second-year pro Mewelde Moore moves up to No. 2, while rookie Ciatrick Fason, the team's fourth-round draft pick this year, is likely to become No. 3 ahead of Butchie Wallace. Veteran Moe Williams is the third-down and short-yardage back.

The one piece of good news is that the ownership situation looks like it is really resolved, as New Jersey real estate developer Zygi Wilf has become the new majority partner in the group trying to buy the Vikings. Wilf was originally supposed to be a limited partner to help in getting a stadium built, but now Fowler will be a minority partner (in more ways than one) instead.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 

Freak Show

The recent injury to Kellen Winslow while he was riding his motorcycle made me think about other freak sports injuries. There's the famous story of Larry Bird permanently hurting his hand in a pickup softball game before he joined the Celtics. Or Rocco Baldelli of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who has missed time this season because of a knee injury sustained in a backyard basketball game. And one of the most unfortunate events in Red Sox history occured after the 1967 season, when Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg hurt his knee while skiing and was never the same.

You'd think athletes today would know better, especially with all the money that's at stake, but I guess their competitive (and risk taking) nature gets the best of them.

Sunday, May 15, 2005 

Sunny Side of the Street

Looks like Ty Law's agent is (surprise, surprise) optimistic about Law's return to Football. Carl Poston was quoted in yesterday's Miami Herald that:

"I don't think there's any question that Ty is still Ty Law," agent Carl Poston said during a radio interview Friday. "He had the injury, but he's ahead of schedule."

The Lions, Jets, and Dolphins are the most interested in Law at this point, and while the Lions pursued him agressively earlier, the Dolphins have been bit by the injury bug:

The team traded Patrick Surtain before the draft, and second-year player Will Poole suffered ACL damage during one of Miami's offseason training sessions.
The Dolphins hope to place Poole on the physically unable to perform list rather than lose him for the season, said coach Nick Saban. Poole is scheduled for surgery Monday.

Of course, Law's familarity with the Patriots doesn't hurt either.

Friday, May 13, 2005 

A Match Made in Heaven

Wouldn't it be great if the Saints moved to Anaheim and played in a new stadium next to the Angels?

Los Angeles certainly sounds like a better long-term fit for an NFL team than San Antonio or Albuquerque, though Saints owner Tom Benson has property and business interests in the former which would make it attractive to him personally.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005 

Los Angeles Colts of Anaheim?

Yesterday marked the latest chapter in the battle to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles, as the city of Anaheim presented its plans for a new stadium. The proposal for a 70,500 seat stadium to be completed by 2008 was a first step towards a more formal pitch at the NFL owners meeting May 24-25.

But even the consultant hired by the city, David Carter of The Sports Business Group, expressed mixed feelings about the project's chance for success:

"We came back with the fact that each of the four competing sites [Anaheim, LA Coliseum, Rose Bowl, and Carson, CA] has some real attributes and each has shortcomings," he said. "Ultimately, Anaheim's biggest shortcoming is the real estate values continue to escalate rapidly and the city believes there are additional uses for that land."

I wonder why the NFL can't leave well enough alone and stay out of LA. California fans did not support the Rams or the Raiders, so why should another team be expected to thrive there?

 

Family Matters

I wonder if Onterrio Smith and Ty Law share a distant cousin?

Patriots fans will remember Law's infamous run-in with customs officials at the Canadian border a few years back, in which Law claimed he was carrying his cousin's luggage.

Sunday, May 08, 2005 

Lies, Damn Lies, and ...

This is an example of how statistics can lie if you do not use a big enough sample set.

I started looking through some 2004 NFL team stats from nfl.com, and was wondering if "negative plays" have as much of an impact as we're led to believe. These would include turnovers, penalties, and even sacks. I could measure the last two using yardage, and figured I could use some rules of thumb to convert turnovers into yards too. I tried the following:

Negative Yards = Penalty Yards + Sack Yards + (Fumbles Lost * 20) + (INT * 50)

My yardage numbers for Fumbles and INT are based loosely on Pete Palmer's research for his Hidden Game of Football and Pro Football Abstract books, plus some research from Football Outsiders. Using this formula, the results are as follows:

Team Neg. Yards
New York Jets 1524
Indianapolis 1550
San Diego 1624
Jacksonville 1866
Pittsburgh 1897
Minnesota 1902
Seattle 1925
Baltimore 1931
New England 1944
Philadelphia 1951
Detroit 1998
New York Giants 2126
Houston 2149
Denver 2150
Green Bay 2201

League Average 2205

Carolina 2236
Kansas City 2240
Atlanta 2265
Cincinnati 2329
Washington 2339
Buffalo 2352
New Orleans 2364
Arizona 2388
Tennessee 2430
Tampa Bay 2475
Dallas 2505
Oakland 2534
Cleveland 2536
San Francisco 2608
Chicago 2625
St.Louis 2795
Miami 2798

The best way to judge whether this statistic is meaningful is to look at the records of the teams who are above and below the average. The 15 teams whose Negative Yardage was less than the league average won an average of 10 games during the 2004 season, while the other 17 teams averaged 6.2 wins.

At first glance, the biggest flaw seems to be that poor teams like Detroit, Houston, and the Giants all finished above the average although they finished below .500. However, 10 of the 12 playoff teams came from those top 15 teams. The exceptions were Atlanta and St. Louis - it's interesting that Atlanta finished 21st overall using this metric, while St. Louis, who were lucky to make the playoffs at 8-8, finished next-to-last. Obviously, this formula is not considering a team's ability to make big (positive) plays that overcome the negative ones.

When I dug a little deeper, the numbers looked better. Since a reasonable margin of error is 10%, I figured that an average team would be expected to accumulate +/- 10% the league average of negative yards. This created 3 "buckets" of teams - above average, average, and below average:

B 10% 11.1 wins 10 teams
+/- 10% 7.8 wins 13 teams
A 10% 4.9 9 teams

Those 13 teams in the middle would all be considered to have "earned" an average amount of negative yardage, and their average record was nearly 8-8, as expected. The fact that the average win totals for the highest and lowest performers spread apart also led me to believe that I was on the right track.

Finally, I ran a standard correlation calculation in Excel. The correlation coefficent between Negative Yards and wins in 2004 was -0.705, which, while not as strong as I would like, is a fairly strong relationship.

So then I switched to 2003 data and my results were radically different.

Above Average 9.7 wins
Below Average 6.7 wins

Correlation Coefficent -0.463

B 10% 10.0 wins 7 teams
+/- 10% 10.3 wins 18 teams
A 10% 6.7 wins 7 teams

The reasons were pretty clear when I looked at the data. Four playoff teams exceeded the average, with St. Louis and Baltimore the worst offenders, and half the playoff field resided in the +/- 10% range. But the Rams make a lot of big plays, and Baltimore has a very good defense. That said, "negative yards", taken by itself, is far from a perfect predictor of team performance.

Saturday, May 07, 2005 

More Draft History online

I found another great site today, Pro Football Encyclopedia.com, which contains a complete list of all professional drafts since 1936. It also contains a player register and statistics, though I still prefer the format that Pro Football Reference.com uses.

I've added this site to the links and reorganized that section again. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005 

Loading up in Big D

The Cowboys made another splash in free agency yesterday, signing RB Anthony Thomas to a one-year deal. After rushing for over 1000 yards in two of his first three seasons in Chicago, Thomas spent last year backing up Thomas Jones. Now he'll be spelling Jones' little brother Julius. It's a good move to add a veteran, especially since Julius had some injury problems last season and didn't play a full season. Maybe the Cowboys are concerned that the can't take the pounding of 16 games.

Looks like Bill Parcells wants to put last year behind him in a hurry.

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