What do smart NFL teams do in and around draft day that naive, stupid teams don't do? They draft better players, of course, but it's not that simple. They don't "want it more" and will themselves into picking better players. The dregs of the league don't just forget what winning football teams look like and come away from the draft with three punters and a kicking tee. Matt Millen drafted Calvin Johnson. The Browns took Joe Thomas at the top of the first round. Dumb teams do brilliant things sometimes. And likewise, the teams we perceive to be among the league's smartest make plenty of mistakes on draft day. The Ravens traded up to grab Kyle Boller. The 49ers took Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers. Bill Belichick has drafted dozens of useless defensive backs over the past few years. This stuff happens.
Because they occasionally screw up, we know that it's not that the league's wise teams are privy to some super-secret scouting technique that the dumb ones can't pick up on. They don't see some tiny hitch on tape or have some perfect interview question that reveals everything about a player's future. And players don't come fully developed out of the college womb, either; they continue the growth and maturation process at the professional level, and it would be naive to pretend that the organization they end up in doesn't have a huge say in that. It's no accident that linebackers for the Steelers and defensive linemen on the Giants seem to develop more reliably than if those same players lined up for the Chargers or the Jaguars.
In case you were out pretending like you've seen and have an opinion about Oscar nominee Amour, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Cleveland Browns have filled their vacant head coaching position, hiring Rob Chudzinski away from the Carolina Panthers. It has also been reported that Chudzinski is targeting former San Diego head coach Norv Turner to be his new offensive coordinator. "I can't imagine a more Cleveland set of hirings than Chud and Norv," said longtime Browns fan Milt Johnson. When asked to try harder and really push his imagination, Johnson let out an exasperated sigh, saying, "Fine, I guess that they could have hired like Chan Gailey and an old, overweight Golden Retriever named Honey, but I don't really know how having a dog as an offensive coordinator would work."
It's good to check in with the league's most relevant team statistics about once every four weeks. Four weeks isn't enough to dramatically shift things, but it's enough to see some change from (season) quarter to quarter and actually get a macro-level view into how teams and players are performing and changing. Of course, I haven't gone back and done this since Week 8, so today's look at the numbers is actually going to be with six weeks of gametime in the books. Are the Broncos still treating loose footballs like they're banana peels in Mario Kart? And have the Dolphins continued to press opposing field goal kickers into missed opportunities? Let's see what the numbers say. (Much of the data in this piece comes courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.)
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Cam Newton threw for 302 yards and accounted for four touchdowns as the Panthers topped the Eagles 30-22 in Monday Night Football. After the game, fired Auburn coach Gene Chizik greeted Newton in the parking lot with a sarcastic slow clap. "Well, look at Mr. BigShot," he said with a sneer, before toppling to the ground and bruising his ribs on an empty vodka bottle.
With most teams about to get their eighth game in the books this upcoming weekend, we're getting to the point where we can begin to get an idea of how randomness is affecting the NFL. In some cases, it's because teams have done so well in a small sample size that it will be impossible for them to keep that rate up over a bigger one; in others, it's because we're beginning to build a large enough sample that we can get a grasp on what's real and what's not. Eight games might not sound like a lot, but that's right around 100 possessions and 500 plays from scrimmage on either side of the ball for most teams.
Of course, we can use that information about randomness to get some insight into whether certain teams have been "luckier" than others over the first half of the season. Luck is a tricky word in terms of football, and it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Take fumble luck, for example. Fumble luck is the idea that no team in the league recovers a particularly high or low percentage of the fumbles in their games, year after year. There may be years when a team like the 2009 Jets recovers 70 percent of its fumbles, and it might even repeat that number the next season (as the Jets did in 2010), but that recovery rate won't stick around for half a decade or anywhere close. A team like the Bears is likely to recover a lot of fumbles, year after year, because they force a lot of fumbles, and forcing fumbles is a far more consistent skill. (Just ask Charles Tillman.) They won't recover a disproportionately high percentage of those fumbles, though.
It's also important (if admittedly tedious for the regulars) that the idea of some player or team benefitting from randomness in a certain sample doesn't mean that the team is going to suffer from bad luck in that same category in the near future! If the Jets recover 70 percent of the fumbles in their games in a given year, it doesn't mean that they should expect to recover some really low percentage of their fumbles in the following season. That's the gambler's fallacy, the idea that a team is "due" for good luck or bad luck. The truth is that the Jets aren't any more likely to recover 70 percent of their fumbles in a given season than they are 30 percent, or any more likely to recover 60 percent of the fumbles than 40. Over a long enough time frame, we would expect to see the Jets recover just about 50 percent of the fumbles in their games. That's the concept of regression to the mean.
So, with those cautionary points ringing in your ears, let's take a look at how the league has been affected by randomness during the first half of the NFL season. And since it just came up, let's start with that wonderfully meaningful bit of fumble luck.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
Glory Days, They'll Pass You By
Dez Bryant's great-catch-too-bad-about-the-landing play was the most viewed piece of Dallas-set footage since the Zapruder Film. Sunday afternoon, most of America watched over and over to see if the Cowboys wide receiver had gotten his fingertips inbounds as he fell from the sky. It was great drama, to be sure, and it pretty much defined this Cowboys season, if not the Jason Garrett–Tony Romo era.
A more fascinating moment, for me, however, happened just seconds later, when Bryant, clearly dazed and confused from his free fall onto the Cowboys Stadium turfcrete, tried to escape the watchful gaze of his trainers and check himself back into the game. There was something "I'm not having a heart attack, you're having a heart attack" about it all.
Having suggested that the Bears were the best team in football last Monday, I anxiously tuned in to Monday Night Football’s tilt between the Bears and Lions to see just how gruesome the effects of my (unintentional) reverse jinx would be upon Chicago. Instead, the Bears showed up and played an impressive game under the prime-time lights, shutting out Detroit's high-powered offense for most of the game before allowing a mostly meaningless touchdown on the final drive to prevail 13-7. That final score does a poor job of getting across what actually happened in the game. It was a game where, somehow, the Bears felt like they were dominating throughout and at the same time the Lions were far closer to winning than it might have seemed. The Bears played well and were not lucky to win, but they easily could have lost.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Wei-Yin Chen pitched 6⅓ strong innings and Chris Davis hit a crucial two-RBI single as the Orioles evened up the ALDS at one game apiece with a 3-2 win over the Yankees. "Was this my favorite game? No," said home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who was repeatedly forced to clean vomit off home plate after at-bats by "nervous pukers" Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. "Swisher even tried to apologize, but guess what happened? If you guessed that he puked on me, f---ing bingo."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Ross Detwiler pitched six strong innings and Ryan Zimmerman slammed a key RBI double as the Nationals clinched the first playoff berth in franchise history with a 4-1 win over the Dodgers. Wait a second is ESPN.com down? Weird. OK, just be cool. This is no big deal. It's just sports. It'll probably be back up soon. Maybe read the New York Times or something. Maybe see what's happening in the world since you last checked. Hmmm life expectancy is shrinking for less-educated whites in America. Am I less educated? I'm definitely white. I went to college, so maybe I'm OK. But I don't have a Master's degree. Oh God, I'm screwed, I'm going to die. I don't want to read this. Come back, ESPN. Just please come back.
My personal quest to discover precisely how much of a fool I am (and whether my foolishness is of the greater or lesser variety) has gotten off to a flying start, and I now have a much clearer idea of my failings as a tipster, and indeed as a human. Last week, I posted five picks; three losers, a push, and a tip that won’t be resolved until next May (and is definitely going to win at long odds, just you watch). Now, my hopes and dreams lie in ashes around me, but this week, I intend to rise from those ashes like the Green Bay Packers.
That was originally supposed to read “like a phoenix,” but it seemed inappropriate given that the Cardinals aren’t just undefeated, but also one of the best teams in the NFL, according to the British Conkers System, the origin point for all known sport ranking systems. The Conkers System is Britain’s gift to the world (along with computing, the World Wide Web, and One Direction; you’re very welcome), but I have opted to use restraint and forsake my patriotic duty to use it to make all my picks, and will instead be relying on a combination of cack-handed statistical analysis, poorly understood intuition, and my oft-touted blend of self-delusion and ego. After all, the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” fails to offer any advice on what to do if it is, in fact, broken, so in the absence of any further clichéd guidance, I’m opting to continue as before, although I intend to proceed in a slightly more cautious fashion. So, here are five really solid NFL picks, one blindingly obvious trap bet that only a fool would pick (hello!), and — just to keep you interested to the very end — a value-tastic soccer tip that I would definitely be lumping huge sums on, had I any huge sums left to lump following last week’s escapades.
See if you can detect a theme in these picks, as well as spot the obvious/costly mistake.
Welcome to the Thursday Skunk of the Week, in which I spray my stink on an unsuspecting team that probably felt great about their chances until I became involved. In Week 1, I sprayed the Giants by comparing Jerry Jones’s last 15 years to my dog crapping all over my house on Labor Day. You might remember Tony Romo subsequently picking the Giants apart en route to an opening-night upset. In Week 2, I sprayed the Bears by raving about Brandon Marshall’s impact on their franchise — not just this season, but historically, as their first great receiver maybe ever. Marshall disappeared that night in Green Bay, catching just two passes and dropping a wide-open touchdown in a Packers blowout.
In Week 1, the Carolina Panthers’ listless offense turned over the ball twice, gave up three sacks, and registered a grand total of 10 — yes, 10 — rushing yards. Last week against the Saints, Carolina exploded for 35 points and 219 yards on the ground while Cam Newton averaged an amazing 12.7 yards per pass attempt. The Panthers looked like the offense it was for much of last season, and they did it by getting back to what is, for them, basics — the read-option running game.
Newton is a one-of-kind offensive weapon, and his abilities to both be a threat to run the ball and make accurate run-game reads make everyone on the Panthers offense better, including his wide receivers. Steve Smith had Carolina’s biggest play of the day — a 66-yard catch in which no one on New Orleans's defense was within 20 yards of him. As Newton explained after the game, Smith was the direct beneficiary of Carolina's dynamic rushing attack: "Of all of the people on this field to be wide open, you would think Smitty would be the last person,” Newton said. “But that is what type of pressure the zone read gives us."
As an organization, the Giants get a lot of things right. They have a competitive advantage when it comes to identifying and developing pass rushers and build their team around doing so. They're comfortable drafting the likes of Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul in the first round without a glaring need up front, knowing that their talents and the ravages of time will combine to create an opportunity. General manager Jerry Reese has been able to integrate rookies from his draft classes into each of his two Super Bowl winners, and since that 2007 season, only the Packers and Saints have won more games in the NFC than Tom Coughlin's team.
There is one blind spot for the organization, though, that has repeatedly caused them to waste money. Why are they convinced that they need to devote significant resources to their ball carriers at running back? Over a stretch that dates back nearly 20 years, they've gotten little return on their investments at halfback. On Thursday night, they will stumble into the latest of their many changes at running back by virtue of an injury to Ahmad Bradshaw, a move that might end up sticking for a while.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
A referee was pulled from the Panthers-Saints game when his Facebook profile revealed that he was a Saints fan, and Cam Newton's 324 yards of total offense led the Panthers to a 35-27 win. The referee in question was assigned instead to Monday night's Broncos-Falcons game, though NFL lawyers are checking whether that would violate a restraining order issued three years ago when he bit Matt Ryan's leg at a charity event.
On Tuesdays last year, we here at the Triangle brought you the most-named column in football, "The Fabulous and the Flops," in an attempt to reveal some of the numbers flying beneath the radar about each NFL game from the previous week. This year, we're shifting things around; instead of a little blurb or two on every single game from the previous weekend, our focus will move to deeper analysis of a few selected games each week. The hope is that you'll gain some insight into what actually happened on the field that you wouldn't get from a highlight package or game recap, aided by a mix of statistics and game tape (including that vaunted All-22 film). The hope is also that we'll come up with a wordier name than "The Fabulous and the Flops".
This week, we're going to start in New Orleans, where Robert Griffin III torched the Saints as part of a stunning Redskins upset. You've seen that slant to Pierre Garcon a million times by now, but what did the Redskins change about their offense to fit RG3? And what does it tell us about how the Redskins — and Saints — might look going forward?