Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Word of Muth: Osemele's Breakout Season

Ben Muth says that Baltimore's third-year guard Kelechi Osemele might be the NFL's next great interior lineman.

21 Jan 2008

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

compiled by Doug Farrar

Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2008.

San Diego Chargers 12 at New England Patriots 21

Doug Farrar: Apparently, Igor Olshansky was flipping off the Foxboro crowd before the game. I find it interesting that A) The Chargers seem to have a predilection for taunting people they don't have to physically face on the field (Philip Rivers messing with Jay Cutler; guys messing with crowds everywhere, though after this game, I should probably give them credit for shooting their mouths off all the time no matter what) and that B) If they keep this up, the impossible could happen and popular sentiment might revert to the Pats.

Mike Tanier: Norv Turner lets the boys be boys, you know. That sort of thing has a way of snowballing. It didn't hurt them this year, but it shows a lack of professionalism that could spill into other aspects of the Chargers' play next year.

Russell Levine: Is it just me or does the crowd seem kinda flat? Maybe three Super Bowls, 17-0 and a team with all three of its offensive stars hurt has led the crowd to feel this will be just another ho-hum win? There's no noise at all evident on the broadcast.

Mike Tanier: Clapping with gloves on sounds pretty muffled.

Aaron Schatz: If you listened to the Simmons podcast this week, you heard me and Bill talking about the noise in Foxboro. There's no question that it is one of the quieter stadiums in the league and Simmons is of the opinion this has to do with the architecture of Gillette, it just doesn't amplify the crowd noise like a dome, or like Qwest Field does.

Will Carroll: Philip Rivers couldn't set on his first throw; his knee buckled due to the lateral push. I don't think he should go much more. Note it's the lateral movement that's the problem and that he's wearing a brace that should limit lateral movement. I don't think any possible ACL problem is affecting things.

Doug Farrar: If the Chargers are able to get a defensive push up the middle on Tom Brady as they were able to do to end New England's first drive, things could get very interesting. I don't think defenders from the side affect him that much, but he really relies on being able to step up in the pocket before he makes the throw under pressure.

San Diego is doing a great job with their blitzes early on in frequency and creativity. They're giving Brady different presnap looks, and they have the confidence in their corners to play up. Laurence Maroney has nothing available to him.

Vince Verhei: On the Patriots' first possession, the Chargers rushed five and got a three-and-out, but Brady had open receivers downfield both times -- once Brady threw a bad pass, once he didn't see the open man. Chargers have been rushing four most of the time since then, and on the touchdown to Jabar Gaffney, they only rushed three. So they're mixing up their fronts, and it seems to be working.

Ben Riley: CBS graphic just said, "Merriman: Big-Time Him." What does that mean? When did "Big Time" become a verb?

Doug Farrar: About the same time "Melty" became an adjective.

Ben Riley: Antonio Gates wandering toward the locker room already (though that was apparently an "equipment" issue). Philip Rivers looking shaky in the pocket. Igor Olshansky taunting aside, if the Chargers win today, it will be the biggest upset in sports history. Not football history. Sports history.

Sean McCormick: True, but it would still fall nicely into line with the running theme of dominant teams slipping up in the playoffs and then making up for it the following year by winning on the road.

Doug Farrar: I dunno, a lot of people thought that Jacksonville could win last week, and the Chargers finished sixth in DVOA while Jacksonville was fourth. If San Diego had a different coach, it wouldn't be seen as such an impossibility, and the Chargers are on a pretty hot streak of their own. Given the perceived AFL-NFL talent disparity (inaccurate, of course), it'd be tough to top Super Bowl III.

Stuart Fraser: I don't buy that San Diego over New England here, even with San Diego's injury situation, is a larger talent disparity than Stanford over USC or Appalachian State over Michigan.

Russell Levine: Count me in the group that thinks there's no such thing as a pro sports upset that can rank with some of the all-timers in college or the Miracle on Ice. There are no comparable talent gaps in pro sports.

Ben Riley: Russell, you make a good point, but I think a Chargers win would be more impressive than the Miracle on Ice, for three reasons. First, the Chargers' three best players are playing with one leg, four toes, and whatever else is wrong with LaDainian Tomlinson; I'm pretty sure Team USA was completely healthy. Two, this game is being played in New England; the Miracle on Ice took place in Lake Placid. Three, I'm not sure who Team USA had to beat to play USSR, but the Chargers are taking on arguably the best team in pro football history after beating a great Indianapolis team ... in Indianapolis.

Patrick Laverty: Actually, a football equivalent of Miracle on Ice would be something along the lines of Ball State beating the Patriots (in Muncie), not another NFL team. Russia was a bunch of professionals against a bunch of college kids. One also has to think that Stanford +52 beating USC is a bigger upset than the AFC's #3 seed beating the #1.

(After Brady throws a first-quarter interception to Quentin Jammer...)

Russell Levine: I'm going to look stupid when New England wins 35-7, but not only does the crowd sound flat, the Pats look flat on offense, and Brady is struggling with his accuracy and has been hit a few times. They don't look very Pats-like in the first 10 minutes.

Stuart Fraser: The Chargers are doing most of the traditional keys to limiting the Patriots: Stop the run with your defensive line, pressure Brady up the middle, play in high winds (or as close as you can manage,) smack the crap out of the New England receivers, and accept the occasional flag. It seems to be helped by Brady's bad day.

Ben Riley: Is there a shakier kicker in important games than Nate Kaeding? He manages to make 25-yard, first-quarter gimmes exciting.

Doug Farrar: Perhaps not an American kicker. Canada's got the champ.

Michael David Smith: The Chargers' decision to de-activate Dave Rayner was a huge mistake. Kaeding's kickoffs have been terrible.

Will Carroll: I don't believe in clutch, but I do believe in choke.

Kelly Washington: +1 for the slap on the ball that kept the punt out of the end zone and put the Chargers deep in their own territory;
Kelly Washington: -2 for the stupid dance.

I still think one of the big advantages a team could find is using more starters on special teams.

Doug Farrar: The last play of the first quarter –- that short pass to Stallworth –- was a perfect example of Brady's acumen under pressure. Everything's collapsing all around him, but as long as he can step up, it's almost as if the defenders aren't there. Is there anyone better in the NFL at taking one step out of trouble?

Aaron Schatz: Phil Simms keeps talking about Philip Rivers looking comfortable out there, but I'm with Will; it does look like things are sailing a bit and they're getting a lot of yardage with runs. Clearly, Tomlinson was nowhere near as healthy as we thought, because this is now two straight drives he has not been on the field.

Once again, the Chargers are doing some up-the-middle pressure here with Stephen Cooper. They did that in the first game, but they hardly did it against any other team this year.

Vince Verhei: I don't know if the wind was playing havoc with Brady's accuracy early, but it looks like the Pats have adjusted by getting the ball to Randy Moss on the reverse, and throwing to running backs in the flats -- short passes that don't get blown away. This also gets the ball to running backs around the Chargers' front -- which is crucial, because they were having no luck trying to go through it.

Doug Farrar: Going into the second quarter, it looks to me as if the mid-zone of that New England defense -- the 5- to 12-yard area -- is open for business. Rivers has a lot of time, and there are times when his options are shot down, but I've seen some iffy play underneath. Linebackers bumping into each other, hanging close to the line on fake blitzes, leaving huge holes in the zone. It looks like they need a reset.

Ben Riley: Do you think Vincent Jackson is aware how badly the 75,000 people who had him on their fantasy teams this year resent his playoff success? I mean, the guy has been an absolute beast the past two games.

Stuart Fraser: That was an interesting variation on "no holding in the playoffs" on that second-and-goal to Gates with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.

I'd agree that passes are sailing on Rivers, but they're sailing on Brady too. Of course Brady often can't step in due to pressure and it seems Rivers won't step in, probably due to injury. Or it could be the wind.

Russell Levine: The Chargers need to stop kicking field goals if they're going to have a shot.

Sean McCormick: I was thinking that the Chargers might want to try one or two onside kicks today, and if they can't do better than giving New England the ball on the 40, they might want to try more than that. When in doubt, do as Jeff Fisher would do.

Ben Riley: The Patriots can continue to avoid Antonio Cromartie by throwing at Quentin Jammer, but Jammer seems determined to turn his career around tonight. He's playing out of his mind right now, and if Brady keeps throwing in his direction, he's going to get picked. Again.

Sean McCormick: Phil Simms just made a good point (and the world briefly stopped turning on its axis): San Diego is able to play tight and effective man coverage on both sides of the field. That's the kind of coverage that Miami used to play very successfully against Brady, and even though this Pats team is far more loaded at wide receiver, to the point where you'd expect them to find a good matchup somewhere, it hasn't really happened yet.

Doug Farrar: That tackle by Brandon Meriweather on Pocket Hercules II with 18 seconds left in the first half might wind up being the play of the game. The Chargers don't get the first down, they have to take their last timeout, Rivers has to heave the ball out of bounds on the next play, and though Kaeding broke his postseason 40-plus schneid, Meriweather's tackle may have prevented what I suspect will be a desperately-needed touchdown down the stretch.

Aaron Schatz: The Chargers are getting insane pass protection. That's why this game is still close. Rivers is getting tons of time to throw.

I've called Quentin Jammer overrated a lot in the past, but there's no question this was his best season, and he is playing very well today.

Mike Tanier: I think he is destined to have a long second career in the Charles Woodson/Shawn Springs sort of way. Some of these high-talent cornerbacks are very erratic early in their careers, then figure it out after several years, when their exceptional athleticism has faded a bit but their brains have caught up with their bodies.

Stuart Fraser: Add mine to the cavalcade of Jammer praise; he's playing really well. That said, Cromartie isn't being thrown at at all -- which is about the ultimate sign of success for a cornerback.

Bill Barnwell: On one hand, Jammer's having a great game. On the other, it's pretty amazing that the Patriots simply aren't going at Cromartie. It looks like he's officially their No. 1 corner, and he's absolutely taken Moss out of the game. They're doubling Moss on most every play, of course, but other teams do that, and he still gets his catches.

By the way, Matt Light's a dead ringer for "Wolf" from American Gladiators.

Will Carroll: So, you're the one watching that show.

Doug Farrar: He was a dead ringer for the best left tackle in football on that long Maroney fourth-quarter run. Damn, that's some killer downfield blocking.

Aaron Schatz: They keep talking about the Chargers feeling good about themselves, confident, because they are still in this game. I think the Chargers have outplayed the Patriots so far and they are still losing. The Patriots get the ball first in the second half, and the Chargers defense has a trend of playing worse in the second half all season long. I think that's a reason for the Patriots to be the more confident team coming out for the third quarter.

Mike Tanier: The Chargers played a lot of Cover-3 or quarters on first-and-10 and early in drives. The corners would drop way back and allow little 5-yard smash routes in front of them. Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans, and I think Donte Stallworth all caught first-and-10 passes that netted 7 to 12 yards without a defender anywhere near them on smash routes. Several Patriots drives stalled after that (or ended with turnovers) but it is hard to win the field position battle when you spot your opponent a first down to start every drive.

Vince Verhei: Dan Marino's cell phone going off was the greatest halftime act I've ever seen -- until I realized the whole thing was sponsored by Sprint. Oh boy.

Most unlikely one-on-one matchup of the day: Tedy Bruschi finds himself isolated against Antonio Gates at the goal-line -- and knocks the pass away.

Benjy Rose: Can someone tell me why Gillette Stadium plays "Hell's Bells" after the Brady tipped interception?

Stuart Fraser: I don't know, but that was clearly a makeup call by Fate after last year's divisional round.

Bill Barnwell: That interception looked like miscommunication with Stallworth and Brady, where Brady maybe thought Stallworth was changing his curl into a go, and Stallworth was still going to run a curl.

I like what the Patriots are doing with Kevin Faulk and Maroney, motioning them out so that the Chargers both announce their coverage and, if it's man, narrow down who's going to be rushing by getting one of the linebackers out of the box.

Doug Farrar: Junior Seau makes the second huge third-down tackle for the Patriots, on Michael Turner with nine minutes left in the third quarter from the New England 4-yard line. Another Kaeding field goal, another opportunity bites the dust.

Is it my new TV, a footing issue on the field, or is Maroney always this slow out of the blocks? He looks like Shaun Alexander from the handoff to the line, and that's not necessarily a good thing with this quick defense.

(After Brady throws interception No. 3, right to Cromartie in the middle of the end zone...)

Russell Levine: The Keep Choppin' Wood award will go to Cromartie, for running that pick out of the end zone, if this leads to a three-and-out.

(It actually leads to a four-and out -- the Chargers get one first down and have to punt.)

Mike Tanier: I have no problem with him doing that because he is Antonio Cromartie and is incredibly dangerous with the ball. He got tackled at the 7, but if he runs it out 20 times he is going to score four or five times and take it past the 20-yard line another eight or nine times.

Russell Levine: Still, what gives with Brady? He has been ordinary to bad today.

Michael David Smith: I would argue that "ordinary to bad" is being extremely generous. He's made some horrible throws out there.

Patrick Laverty: I don't know if Will or anyone else can confirm, but WEEI in Boston was saying that Brady had a little bit of the flu/cold thing going on. That definitely wasn't the Brady we saw all year.

Will Carroll: I don't do colds. I'm an injury guy, not an illness guy.

Patrick Laverty: The radio guys also kept ranting about Brady's performance the game after a bad game. Guess that could be something to check. Does he really have a great game after a bad one?

Mike Tanier: When I re-watch this game, I want to see how Brady leads his receivers. The diving catch in the final drive by Kevin Faulk is a great example of a touch pass. Brady did it early in the game on a short pass to Moss: With Moss about to release, Brady threw the ball about 8 yards upfield. On one pass to Wes Welker near the goal line (just before the Cromartie pick as I recall), Brady through to Welker's back shoulder, almost shoving him into the end zone with the throw. Those are great throws, and a few of them go a long way: If Brady just throws to Faulk in stride in the fourth quarter, the Patriots may not convert that third-and-10.

Doug Farrar: The next killer third-down stop -- Harrison blitzing left on third-and-10 with nine minutes left in the game. He forces the poor throw from Rivers, which keeps the Chargers out of field goal range, still down by nine, at the Pats' 36-yard line. New England's predictable ability to make these plays when they absolutely must, and to prevent the opponent from doing the same, really defines them as a team.

Stuart Fraser: And Norv Turner realizes he's down by two scores in the fourth quarter, and goes pass-wacky. Norv, there are 10 minutes in the game and all you need is a touchdown and a field goal. A few running plays won't kill you. (A cynic watching the game with me suggested that Norv knows he needs four field goals, so all the drives have to be in hurry-up from here on).

Ben Riley: Wow, I couldn't disagree more with Norv's play calling there. You've got first-and-10 in New England territory -- that's four-down territory! So run the ball, man! Instead it's three incomplete passes and a punt. And Easterbrook just started scribbling in his notebook...

Aaron Schatz: The Chargers are playing really well, but that's now two big mistakes running balls out of the end zone. First, on Cromartie's interception, he should have just gone down to a knee; instead he tries to run it out and the Chargers get it on the 4 instead of the 20. Then, after the Wes Welker fourth-quarter touchdown, Stephen Gostkowski booms it with the wind 5 yards deep in the end zone, and Darren Sproles takes it out and gets drilled at the 15. Sometimes, it's better to not try to make the big play.

Stuart Fraser: One situation in which the Chargers aren't playing well is when New England has third-and-short. I don't think San Diego has managed a stop on third-and-less than about 6.

And, in the end, (actually, throughout most of the second half), the Chargers couldn't stop the run. This is unusual, because normally when teams go one-dimensional to kill the clock it becomes a lot easier. I don't know enough about San Diego to accuse them of lacking depth along the line and at linebacker, but that's the usual cause of being unable to hold up against the running game in the second half.

It is, of course, possible that nobody in San Diego prepared for a running game out of two-TE sets. But they should have done so -- New England loved it last year, and the personnel are still there (or they've been improved).

Russell Levine: Kevin Faulk gets the Pats' MVP today for those two drive-extending catches. On the other hand, that was a brutal decision by Norv, punting from the New England 36 down two scores.

Vince Verhei: To those who say the Patriots high ranking in rush offense DVOA is merely a product of the threat of their passing attack, I present to you the second half of this game. Playing with the lead and to run out the clock, they go to a one-wide receiver offense, alternating between an I-formation with two tight ends and a single-back, triple-TE approach, and run over the Chargers over and over again.

Mike Tanier: Anyone see the Richard Seymour shot on Philip Rivers after the whistle?

Stuart Fraser: Yes. In rulebook terms, I thought it should have drawn a flag. In personality terms, I suspect Rivers probably had it coming. It wasn't a particularly vicious shot.

Aaron Schatz: What do people think about Philip Rivers today? He did look pretty good considering the injury, and yet at halftime, Bill Cowher was saying that he thought the Chargers should take him out, and early on Will pointed out how the knee was seriously limiting him.

Russell Levine: Is there a quarterback in the NFL that throws an uglier-looking -- yet still effective -- ball than Rivers? The ball never seems to have anything on it, yet usually finds the mark.

Sean McCormick: Rivers is what Chad Pennington would be with top level personnel around him.

I was just about to post that the Chargers are being successful for the second week in a row at working the deep outside. Then Philip Rivers promptly put that wounded duck up for Ellis Hobbs to grab near the end of the second quarter. Of course, it's possible that the Chargers called the old "Let him intercept it, then strip him" play, but they don't execute it as well as the Pats.

Doug Farrar: That wasn't as bad as Rivers' other early interception, the "I'm falling down, but I don't want to eat the ball" pick by Samuel. I'm sure many people yelled "Pick!" while that one was in the air.

Stuart Fraser: Rivers reminded me of Pennington at times, though I'll let people who watch more Jets ball than me comment on that analogy. The first interception was all on Chambers, though -- almost as bad as the hook-and-lateral-via-a-defender the Patriots pulled off in this fixture last year.

Ben Riley: It was damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't for the Chargers there. Rivers was clearly struggling throwing anything deep, but even on one leg, I think he's a better option that Billy Volek. And if the Chargers had managed to punch a few touchdowns in, we might have been talking about one of the "gutsiest" playoff performances of all time.

Stuart Fraser: In general, I'm not taking Cowher's word for anything when it comes to quarterbacks. He's far too inclined to wrap his quarterbacks in cotton wool and not let them do anything bad. Which isn't all that bad an idea when you've got the Steelers defense, but it will only take you so far. I don't think Rivers played great, but he did more than I'd have expected from Volek. There seemed to be too much air underneath many of his passes -- but I could say the same about Brady.

Mike Tanier: Both Rivers and Brady made some great throws and some really bad ones. Rivers was wildly off target at times but threw some absolute strikes, like when he hit Chambers with his tippie-toes on the sidelines. Rivers never looks good when throwing on the waddle, so when the Patriots forced him to run a little in the second half they were at a big advantage. But after being outside for 15 minutes today, I don't know how anyone was gripping a football.

Russell Levine: I don't know what to make of the Pats' last three outings. They've looked beatable all three weeks. What does it mean for the Super Bowl? Anything? Who knows, but it's been a while since they've looked dominant.

Doug Farrar: It probably means that the team they're facing will put a few good things together, maybe even take an early lead, and everyone will be writing all this stuff about how this is where it all ends. Then, the opposing team will make one imperceptible mistake. Because of that, and before anyone knows what happened, the opposing team will find itself under a really huge boulder as the Patriots do what they've done all the way through the second half of the season, or at least since Rosevelt Colvin got hurt. Death by a thousand paper cuts, bend-but-don't-break, whichever cliché you care to employ. They seem to have forgotten how to lose.

Tim Gerheim: It is incredibly impressive that the Patriots ran a drive that lasted over nine minutes AT THE END OF THE GAME? Sure the words "game over" were written in TMQ's notebook when Turner punted at 9:13, but there's no way even Easterbrook thought the Chargers wouldn't even see the ball again. How often does a nine-minute drive even occur? I would be surprised if it was even once a weekend during the regular season. And the Pats did it, against a good Chargers defense, during the last nine minutes of the game.

Ned Macey:Sure Brady didn't play well, but he was playing the second best pass defense according to DVOA and the best overall defense in weighted DVOA. Might that not have something to do with the 3 INTs and overall mediocre performance? Also, the Chargers run defense ranked 19th in DVOA, so the Pats' second-half strategy was extremely sound.

Of course, Brady also suffered from the weather. One of the next major breakthroughs for FO is weather-adjustments for offensive and defensive play. I know Aaron has written a few times about doing that for the 2008 book.

The Chargers coped impressively with the losses of Tomlinson and limitations of Gates, but the fact that they lost this game in the red zone, where those two players excel, was unfortunate.

Aaron Schatz: I feel really bad for LaDainian Tomlinson. Here is a guy who is one of the best players of his generation, former MVP, class act. Here he is, finally, one game from the Super Bowl, and he's forced to sit on the sidelines, unable to help, watching his team lose. I am guessing that Norv Turner made the right decision, given the quality of the other San Diego running backs, but it had to be so emotionally hard for L.T.

Although the Patriots struggled in this game, the way they won demonstrated why they are the best offense of all-time and probably the best team of all time. When I was on WEEI on Tuesday, we had a caller who talked about how, if the Patriots were running an offense as good as the 99-01 Rams, why couldn't a team come in and beat them just like the 2001 Patriots beat the 2001 Rams? My response was this:

First of all, people don't understand just how big the 2001 upset was, possibly the greatest upset in NFL history, greater than Super Bowl III. It's not the class of upset that happens all the time.

Second, the difference between the 2007 Patriots and the 1999-2001 Rams is flexibility. The Mike Martz offense is what it is. If you can figure out how to stop it, you stop it. He doesn't want his quarterback to call audibles to adjust at the line. He doesn't come in with power running. He runs what he runs. The 2007 Patriots are flexible. Brady audibles whenever he wants. If they can't pass the ball -- and they could not today, due to the wind and Brady having perhaps his worst day of the year -- they bring in two tight ends, three tight ends, and they stuff it down your throat with a power running game. Not that Laurence Maroney is better than Marshall Faulk, since he certainly is not, but the 2001 Rams could not have adjusted to do what the 2007 Patriots did in the second half of this game. That's why the 2007 Patriots have the greatest offense in NFL history.

New York Giants 23 at Green Bay Packers 20 (OT)

Doug Farrar: Everyone gets excited for conference championships! Why? Because in the words of Emmitt Smith, "If the Giants win this game, they could possibly go to the Super Bowl."

Mike Tanier: He didn't really say that, did he?

Doug Farrar: I don't think he meant to say it (i.e., he knows that a win would put the Giants in the big game and he just verbally gets in his own way a lot of the time), but he said it.

Michael David Smith: He said it.

Aaron Schatz: I just have to point out that the advertisement on the side of Gmail for this message was "Green Bay Packers Zubaz: We're Back!" OK, who decided that Zubaz was back?

Will Carroll: The halftime shot of Lambeau looked like they were heating the field. I couldn't find anything on a quick Google, but isn't there some kind of melting tech under the field there?

Doug Farrar: They've had coils/rails under the field for decades. If I remember correctly, they didn't work (or weren't turned on) before the Ice Bowl, hence the name.

Bill Barnwell: One of the things I've been lamenting about the Giants from the preseason on is their tendency to overpursue on defense. The first two plays in this game from the Packers totally exploited said tendency.

I have a man-crush on Justin Tuck. I just wanted to say that.

Ben Riley: "Eli, hi, this is Matt Hasselbeck. The Dropped Pass Support Group meets at 7:30 on Monday. See you there."

Aaron Schatz: This game is definitely backing up the charting numbers showing Al Harris as no longer playing at a superstar cornerback level.

Stuart Fraser: Did Troy Aikman really just describe the Al Harris-Plaxico Burress matchup as "a good matchup for both teams"? If he did, does anybody know what the blazes he meant?

Ahh, the Giants are showing how wide receivers should really let a quarterback down. Anybody can drop a pass, but having your split end and your slot guy run into each other requires skill and true dedication to screwing up. Wonder how many reps it took in practice to perfect that?

(After Green Bay's return man very nearly flubs a Giants kickoff...)

Doug Farrar: Anyone who had "11:33 left in the first half" in the Koren Robinson Dropped Football Pool, you're a winner!

Ben Riley: Last week, Doug and I were talking about which team had a better wide receiving corps, Packers or Seahawks. I argued for Seattle, but Doug argued -- and I quote -- "the Packers' yards after catch numbers are insane." One 90-yard Donald Driver touchdown with 85 yards after the catch later, I think we can score that one Farrar 1, Riley 0.

Doug Farrar: It would be a lot closer to a tie if D.J. Hackett could stay healthy and Deion Branch didn't keep turning into a pumpkin. But the Packers have invested in those big guys who can bring in a quick slant and just blaze upfield. They're built for the spread offense, and they can all block like monsters.

Bill Barnwell: Ben and I are debating here on Atari Bigby's play: Is it good that the Bigby laid the huge hit on Burress in the first half, or was it his responsibility to have anticipated the slant and have covered it in the first place?

Also, forgetting that Corey Webster was absolutely manhandled by Driver on the line on the 90-yard touchdown, the angle that Gibril Wilson took on the tackle was absolutely unforgivable. Just atrocious.

Aaron Schatz: The Giants keep looking for flags on the Packers defensive backs for illegal contact. Bigby led with his helmet when he laid out a Giants receiver and got no flag. MDS did a research article back in the first year of FO showing that officials really do call fewer penalties during the postseason, except for Ed Hochuli for some reason. The "let them play" ethic is really obvious this year.

In the Patriots-Chargers game, there was basically no holding (only one offensive holding penalty, which was declined on a sack). No holding so far in this game either.

Doug Farrar: This has been an exceptional postseason for the "let them play" thing, and I don't mean "exceptional" in a good way. I think it will go through the Super Bowl, and there will be some silent offseason adjustments directed at next year's postseason, which is what the NFL seems to do whenever the officials keeping flags in their pockets seems to benefit one especially physical secondary. Call it the Bill Polian Rule.

I'll say this, though: Mike Pereira can't talk on one hand about how he's pushing for consistency in officiating and watch stuff like this, and even the graphic crew-by-crew swings in the regular season for certain penalties, on the other. If there was consistency, scouting crews ahead of time wouldn't be necessary, but it is. I also wonder how much of this has to do with the postseason all-star crews.

Stuart Fraser: Wow. I think Antonio Pierce's play in blowing up a screen despite having three blockers between him and the ball carrier, and forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal, is the best individual defensive effort in this year's playoffs.

Bill Barnwell: That was a great freaking play. I don't know if it was the best individual effort of the playoffs, but it was a great, great freaking play.

Ben Riley: Wow. The Joe Buck-to-Troy Aikman frigid-broadcasting-booth chest bump just raised the bar on man-on-man awkwardness. High comedy.

Doug Farrar: Terry Bradshaw's "I'm going to talk no matter where my microphone is" halftime analysis was wonderfully reminiscent of Larry "Bud" Melman.

Vince Verhei: Bradshaw did that in the pregame show, too. You've got to give him a break though, he's only been doing TV for 23 years.

Ben Riley: "That makes me feel like a real sissy." -- Joe Buck, as Fox comes back from commercial showing the three attractive girls who live in Green Bay wearing bikini tops.

Aaron Schatz: The biggest question going into tonight's game was: "Are we getting the Giants' passing game from the regular season, or the Giants' passing game from the last three weeks?" At halftime, I would have to say that Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress are still drinking the '03 Panthers juice, but the other guys on that offense have reverted to normal.

Bill Barnwell: I will say that as improved as Eli Manning has been this postseason, he still panics when the clock is running down. He has one or two "OH S**T -- TIME OUT!" moments per game.

Vince Verhei: The Packers seem to be running a lot of play action from draws. So they fake pass, then fake run, then really pass. It seems to be slowing the Giants pass rush down even more than normal play action, but it also takes longer to set up. If the Giants ever start blitzing, that tactic could backfire big-time for Green Bay.

For the Giants, they've got to be feeling good about themselves. On that last drive, they've got the big dropped pass by Burress, plus the brainfart Manning had when he tried to scramble with no timeouts; otherwise they've got another field goal, maybe a touchdown. But Harris clearly can't cover Burress, Eli's had plenty of time to throw, they've had some success running the ball, and if the Giants can stop beating themselves, they've got a great chance to win this game.

Ben Riley: What's that famous logical paradox? Zeno's Paradoxes? The Packers seemed determined to make it real by making it half the distance to the goal twice. From within the 1-yard line.

Stuart Fraser: I'm guessing that either the Packers decided that "half the distance to the goal" isn't much of a deterrent from the 1, or alternatively whatever they thought was the Giants' snap count wasn't.

By the way, if the Giants win, do we need another irrational Brady-Manning thread?

Ben Riley: So, Plaxico Burress just ran past the Packers bench yelling, "He can't cover me!" while pointing at Al Harris. It's true. Harris can't cover him. Should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Vince Verhei: After the Packers scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter, they gave up on the Harris-Burress matchup, putting Charles Woodson on Burress instead.

(One play later…)

Vince Verhei: OK, forget what I said about Woodson-Burress. It lasted exactly one play, a completion. I guess the Packers figured Woodson can't cover Burress either.

Aaron Schatz: On the first drive of the third quarter, we learn that the officials' "let them play" postseason attitude simply is no match for the most-penalized defense in the NFL. Eventually, the flags had to come out on the Packers.

Well, so much for keeping the flags in the pockets. Did the officials just hand the Packers a touchdown with a ticky-tack 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on Sam Madison that easily could have been a no-call or offsetting penalties on Madison and Vernand Morency?

Stuart Fraser: I don't know. And the reason I don't know is that the replay cut off partway through their contretemps, with my compliments to FOX. It's probably my biggest hate about NFL coverage: when there's a major penalty and the replay cuts off halfway through the action, missing off all sorts of things that might have moved the zebra to get his flag out.

(Early in the fourth quarter, Brett Favre is intercepted by R.W. McQuarters, who fumbles. The ball is recovered by Mark Tauscher...)

Mike Tanier: I just witnessed Favre's interception and Tauscher's fumble recovery. I am glad the season is almost over. I can't make sense of this stuff anymore.

Ben Riley: OK, so some plays just require a classical name. The Catch. The Music City Miracle. And now we have R.W. McQuarters picking Brett Favre, and then fumbling. Divine Intervention?

Doug Farrar: Tauscher might be the Packers' Most Valuable Player this postseason. Patrick Kerney was negated against him last week, and Michael Strahan (with a nod to Sal "That won't happen to Strahan!!!" Paolantonio) has two tackles and no sacks through the third quarter.

Stuart Fraser: That's a play from the New England playbook, isn't it? DB hook right Brown lateral?

Vince Verhei: On that failed third-down screen that led to the game-tying field goal: Was that meant to be a double-pass? Looked like a lateral to me. Odd time and place for that call.

Ben Riley: I'm totally confused as to why Mike McCarthy accepted that penalty with nine minutes to play. Isn't fourth down with a potential 52-yard field goal attempt better than giving the Giants another chance at making the first? (And as it turns out, the Giants gain 12 yards on third down and get a questionable pass interference call to convert on fourth. Just sayin'…)

The cognitive dissonance happening within Tom Coughlin's mind after Lawrence Tynes shanked that field goal was truly breathtaking. Coughlin's internal monologue: "I've revitalized my team and my self-image. But my kicker is still complete [rhymes with spit.] Do I scream at him? Or do I pretend to be supportive? Ah, whatever, I'll scream and clap and hope Favre throws a pick."

(After Green Bay goes three-and-out midway through the fourth quarter...)

Doug Farrar: Favre didn't throw a pick there, but if the Packers lose this, he'll spend the offseason wondering about the drive that ended with six minutes left in the game. Two bad throws, a short dinker to Morency for 7 yards on third-and-10, punt. That's the Favre from 15 years ago that Mike Holmgren still yells at in his sleep.

On the late Manning sack, it looked to me that the center was making a football move, as they say, before KGB took off from the line. Brought his head up and looked to be starting the snap. Probably a good no-call, though it was close.

Bill Barnwell: Regardless of whether Gbaja-Biamila was offside or not on that pass rush, Ahmad Bradshaw's blitz pickup was abysmal. He just totally ignored the outside rusher.

Doug Farrar: Outstanding job by Jeff Feagles to bring the high snap down on the missed 36-yard field goal attempt to end regulation. I understand that the snap threw the rhythm off, but Tynes had a foot angle on that ball like Garo Yepremian on acid.

Brett Favre in the second half: 9-of-16 for 21 yards. Can't wait to see those DVOA splits!

And literally one second after I wrote that, Favre barfed all over himself and airmailed a pick to Corey Webster in overtime. Eeek. People are going to say that the Packers lost this game more than the Giants won it, but when you offer up a game to the home team that many times and they won't accept the gift, that has something to do with your team as well. And I'm very happy to welcome Eli Manning to the Quarterback Club inside my head, because I was tired of the extreme dichotomy between the performances and the hype. He wasn't what they thought he was before, but he is now.

Sean McCormick: The Giants were just better, and they were better in conditions that did a lot to negate their pass rush. Eli was better than Favre, the receivers played completely out of character and came up with big catch after big catch, and Bradshaw was the best running back on the field. Their kicking game could well undo any chance they have at an upset, but they deserved to win the game.

And I'm happy for Eli, too, even though it guarantees there are going to be about 600 uncomfortable shots into whatever luxury suite Peyton is sitting in. They should just give him a field pass and let him stand on the Giants sideline.

Any early guesses on the line? Does it come down some because of the way the Giants played the Pats in Week 16, or does it balloon up because of the AFC-NFC imbalance? I'm saying 14 to start.

Aaron Schatz: Green Bay only has itself to blame. Missed kicks, fumbled interceptions and punts... the Giants kept trying to hand the Packers a trip to the Super Bowl and they just wouldn't take it.

Mike Tanier: Don't forget penaties. The Packers defense killed itself with penalty after penalty. The drive that ended with the Zeno-paradox-half-the-distance fouls and the Jacobs touchdown started with an illegal contact and a roughing the passer foul.

Aaron Schatz: The Giants have done their best 2003 Panthers impression, but if they win it will be a far greater upset than it would have been if the 2003 Panthers had beaten that Patriots team. That Patriots team ranked third in DVOA in a compressed league without any really great teams. This Patriots team just finished the greatest regular season in league history. If the Giants win the Super Bowl, it will rank as the greatest championship upset in the history of American professional sports.

Sean McCormick: In theory, that's true. But the Giants actually look a lot more dangerous than that 2001 Pats team did going up against the '01 Rams. They have a legitimate elite receiving threat, a quarterback who is actually throwing downfield and winning games rather than managing them, and they have the best defensive line in football. The Pats were better this year than the 2001 Rams, but they kind of staggered down the stretch and have not been particularly impressive. If the Pats had put up that effort today against Indy, I think they would have lost.

No one should expect the Giants to win, mind you, but I'll be less surprised than I was in 2001.

Vince Verhei: All credit to the Giants: They won, on the road, even though it seemed like every single break went against them. They were clearly the better team today. That said, it sets up the biggest mismatch in the Super Bowl we will ever, ever see. If they beat the Pats, then it will certainly be the biggest championship upset in sports history.

In both games today, the inconsistent young quarterbacks significantly outplayed their MVP/Super Bowl Champ/future Hall of Fame counterparts, and the best of them all was clearly Eli Manning. Weird, huh?

Aaron Schatz: I've been comparing the Giants a lot to the 2003 Panthers, but I realized there are a couple of other good historical comparisons. The question is: What other wild card teams have gotten red-hot in the playoffs, and what did it mean when they hit the championship?

One of them isn't really that historical, and it isn't even in the same sport. The Colorado Rockies went 15-1 down the stretch this year. They went 7-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Then they went to take on the team with the best record in baseball during the regular season. They got crushed.

The other team snagged a wild card, won three straight playoff games on the road, and headed off to the Super Bowl to take on a team some people considered the greatest of all time. That team was the 1985 New England Patriots. They got crushed.

This isn't to say that the Giants will get crushed -- the 2003 Panthers only lost by a last-minute field goal -- but there are plenty of indications that playoff momentum runs out when it faces regular-season dominance.

Bill Barnwell: You know, I didn't even get excited when the Giants won. Everyone in the room was hooting and hollering and I just kinda sat there, mouth agape, a mix of confusion and astonishment.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Your team doesn't make it to the Super Bowl after you predict they'll finish with the worst record in football, or when they're the least-likely team to make the finals according to your own Secret Sauce (which we can now officially say has gone bad, I think). Not with a secondary like that, not with a crippled star wideout and a questionable starting quarterback.

And yet, we are.

It took a couple of hours for it to sink in and for me to shut the analyst side of me down. I never believed, for one moment during the game, that the Giants were going to win this game. The Tynes miss at the end of regulation was ordained from above. I'm surprised Feagles even got the snap down. After Trey Junkin a few years ago, it seemed natural that we'd go through that again.

I don't care if this team isn't great. I know they're not. I know they were mediocre for 15 games and had four great games in a row at the end of the season, and that the former 15 are likely much more indicative than the final four. I know that they're flawed in many ways, that they simply weren't close to the best team in the NFC at any point this year, that there's no real indicator that they're a significantly better team outside of their passing attack, that they've been subject to some incredible luck with injuries and bizarrely poor performances, but it doesn't matter. I don't care.

My team -- my stupid, ugly, crummy, klutzy, divorce-riddled team -- is in the Super Bowl. And I'm just happy.

Ned Macey: I probably don't match a Peter King in this area, but I've always really liked Brett Favre. That being said, he just played really badly in the second half. I don't understand what goes on in his head, but he just stared making terrible decisions much like the Dallas game in the regular season. Who would have thought as late as Week 10 that the sound defensive strategy was to stuff the run and make Favre beat you?

Mike Tanier: Explanation of Giants: Decent, Wild Card-caliber team gets better late in the season, gets a boost from some rookies (Ross and Bradshaw), faces a Wild Card opponent on its last legs, beats a flat Cowboys team that looked shocked to discover they were expected to actually show up for the two games before the Super Bowl, then wins an Ice Bowl against an opponent determined to beat itself with interceptions and penalties.

The Giants deserve their due. They really stepped up in the last month and particularly the last 2 weeks. But sorry, I am not going to break my back explaining why they are winning despite a low DVOA figure, and I am not going to start overrating some of their players/units because they have won a few games. They aren't who I thought they were at the start of the year (a joke), but I still think they are only slightly better than the team I figured to go 9-7 and lose in the first round of the playoffs.

Aaron Schatz: I don't think I can run out of "how incredible is it that the Giants got this far?" facts. Can you guess how many regular-season wins the Giants had over a team that finished the regular season with a winning record?

One. Week 3, 24-17 over Washington. Philadelphia was 8-8 and the other seven teams the Giants beat had losing records.

The whole thing is just nuts.

(Ed. Note: Just to let readers know, we won't be running an Any Given Sunday on the Green Bay-New York game. We've pretty much said everything that needs to be said, either here or in the NFC Championship preview. Eli Manning is playing much better, Al Harris struggled this year, the Packers get lots of penalties, etc.)

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 21 Jan 2008

400 comments, Last at 04 Feb 2008, 5:09am by James

Comments

301
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:07pm

Nicky, for some reason you believe that I am forming judgements on the performance of the people who make personnel decisions. I'm not. My assertions pertain only to the players' performance. Scott Pioli is not a New England Patriot. His performance does not pertain to evaluating how the players employed by the New England Patriots have performed on the field, relative to how previous players have performed on the field. Peyton Manning and his teammates are opponents. Bill Polian is not. Why do you wish to debate me regarding something I've not made assertions about?

Starshatterer, you are free to form impressions about the inner workings of my mind, if you for some reason find it useful, but actually this is something I've been saying for a couple of years now, that despite multiple Super Bowl wins, the Patriots had yet to to accomplish in a single season what other champions in the past had accomplished, which is total domination of playoff opponents. I guess I'll follow your lead, and form the impression that you wish to ignore certain facts.

Yes, Mack, if you are determined, you can ignore evidence which suggests that the Pats aren't the best team ever. See how pointless is to question others' motives?

I will concede that you made a decent case that the '89 49ers were better than the '85 Bears, but I'll note that, if I remember correctly, the Giants and Rams never even came close to threatening a score in those games, so seven and ten point leads were fairly substantial.

Look, if somebody wants to maintain that a team which did not totally dominate it's playoff opponents is better than teams which did, because the former team went 16-0 in the regular season, while the latter teams went 15-1 or 14-2, or because of point differential in all games, hey, be my guest. I simply stated that my belief that the teams which best removed randomness as impediments to championships were the best teams. There really is no need to engage in mindreading here.

302
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:10pm

You could even make the argument that the 89 Niners had the best three game run ever. No more, no less.

Their regular season was not that dominating.

Not to mention they lost a couple games, which removed the increasing weekly pressure the Patriots dealt with this year.

303
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:18pm

MJK, if you think that playing a playoff team in September is approached the same way as playing a playoff team in the playoffs, we'll just have to agree to diasagree. One of the reasons why the playoffs are more prone to blowouts is because teams more ruthlessly press their advantage. The intensity level between playoff football and regular season football is not the same. In the games that mattered most, the Patriots simply have not been as dominant.

I agree, Patriotsgirl, that the '89 49ers may well be the best. It really would be interesting to see the VOA numbers from all these teams' playoff games

304
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:19pm

If you are AJ Smith and you want to improve the Chargers, what do you do?

You start a fight with Norv Turner and Ted Cottrell and bring in better coaches. Either that or demote Norv to offensive coordinator and bring in a better head coach and defensive coordinator.

305
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:25pm

Will Allen I have really enjoyed your posts in this thread. I'd agree that playoff success is much more important than regular season success for the reasons you mentioned.

Also look at the fact that the Pats have a passing offense and have played in weather conditions that are not ideal for a passing offense.

Let's just get a time warp and bring back the 85' Bears and watch them go at it. The Fridge taking handoffs on goalline stands and Mike Vrabel catching touchdowns. Maybe Bellicheck should let Richard Seymour or Vince Wilfork take a handoff for those style points the 85 Bears had going for them.

306
by nat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:39pm

I really hate to rain on all of the theories about what constitutes "greatness", but it's in the rules... specifically the rules for the draft selection meeting:

(1) superbowl winner
(2) superbowl loser

...and for teams not yet ranked:
(3) best record in regular season
(4) in case of tie, order exiting from playoffs
(5) in case of tie (two non-playoff teams, or two teams knocked out in the same round) Strength of Schedule
(6) in case of tie, divisional or conference tie breakers, if applicable
(7) coin flip

Of these, only 3, 5, (some of) 6, and 7 could apply to comparing superbowl winners across years. That is, best regular season record, strength of schedule, div/conf tiebreakers, coin flip.

So, it's official: 16-0 is better than 15-1. No amount of scoring (playoff or otherwise), whining, or cherry-picking will change that. As far as the NFL rules go, a team that went 15-1 is weaker than a team that went 16-0, and deserves an earlier draft pick.

307
by nat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:46pm

In case anyone is wondering, the Patriots would edge out the 72 Dolphins on Strength of Schedule, since it's the won-lost-tied percentage that defines regular season record, not total number of wins.

All this assumes the Patriots win. If they lose, they will merely be the best team ever to lose the superbowl.

308
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:46pm

Will,

You just cannot admit that this Patriots dynasty is impressive. Even historically speaking, a team that wins 3 SBs and possibly a 4th is pretty damn good any way you slice it.

309
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2008 - 11:50pm

Will,

Tell me why "I’m getting the impression" implies I've read your mind? You say something, I get an impression from it -- this isn't mind-reading, it's what people do when you say things. Perhaps if you want to convey a different impression, you could (for example) not try justify your logic by saying you've been arguing against the Patriots for years. You do see how that might lead people to conclude that your mind isn't entirely open on this question, yes? Consistency in bias is not objectivity.

And why does saying I prefer regular-season record to (arbitrarily-defined, by you) playoff dominance equal "ignoring certain facts"? Saying two-score wins isn't sufficiently dominant is no fact: it's your opinion, of no greater weight than claiming a perfect regular season is more important. Until one team dominates every aspect of every game, all season long and through the postseason, there's room for counter-argument.

You can continue to prefer the '85 Bears or the '89 Niners, or the '76 Buccaneers, if that makes you happy.

310
by nat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:13am

So, I've found the official-as-it-gets answer to "which team is the greatest": the Patriots (if they win the superbowl). The sports-bar question of "who would win if the 1985 Bears and 2007 Patriots played head-to-head" would depend.

Under today's rules in normal conditions, the 2007 Patriots take the 85 Bears easily. In a high wind, I might pick the Bears. But if you were to send the 2007 Patriots back in time, I'm thinking it's a near thing.

But then I remember that Belichick has all of the 85 Bears game film to study, so I'm sticking with the Pats.

311
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:25am

Starshatterer, when your impression is devoid of any impact from something I've written, it's safe to say your are mindreading. I wrote A.) The Patriots are not the best team ever, because it is my opinion that the best teams ever dominated their playoff opponents in a fashion the Pats have not. You replied B.)My impression is that you are cherrypicking. Since B does not logically follow from A, it is reasonable to assert that the impression you formed is mostly an attempt to read my mind.

What form of logic are you employing that causes you to assert that if someone says they believe playoff dominance to be a critical factor in determining the best team of all time, that person must be biased? I mean, does it logically follow that because you differ, I am biased or non-objective? Again, please explain your reasoning. Is it not more reasonable to conclude that we have both looked at the same set of facts, and have reached different conclusions, in an objective manner? Why do you start to make statements regarding my state of mind, which you obviously can have extraordinarily little knowledge of, given the limitations of a forum like this?

Look you were the one that made the initial assertion that I lacked objectivity. Why would you find it notable that someone would mirror your rhetoric?

Look, you accused me of a lack of objectivity, without a shred of evidence other that the fictions you created in your mind. I merely mirrored your rhetoric.

Nicky, how does it happen, when I clearly write that the Patriots are an undeniably great team, that you have come to conclude that I asserted that what the Patriots have done is not impressive?

312
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:30am

Sorry, starshatterer, I meant to delete the more inflammatory version of my last paragraph addressed to you. I'm not looking for a big argument here, but I was just puzzled as to why my state of mind became a topic.

313
by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:38am

I don't think you can just go by record. Otherwise the 72' Dolphins are the 2nd best or 1(A) best team ever.

314
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:42am

Different subject: I've come up with a little game to play with pre-free-agency NFL teams:

Take a team -- say, the 1985 Bears. List the 22 starters from offense and defense. That team chooses three players to protect: one on offense, one on defense, and one from either side. To continue the '85 Bears example, I'd protect Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, and Richard Dent.

Then the "free agency" side takes away two players. Back to the Bears, take away Jim McMahon and Wilbur Marshall. The Bears can veto one of these moves, but then the free agency side can pick two more. So if the Bears protect McMahon, then the free agency side snags Dave Duerson and Jim Covert.

Continue until the free agency side runs out of picks or is entitled to the whole rest of the team. Assume the first two replacement guys are league-average, and the rest are replacement level. Discuss how well the team would do in those conditions.

315
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:50am

Will,

You said:

"I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, that despite multiple Super Bowl wins, the Patriots had yet to to accomplish in a single season what other champions in the past had accomplished, which is total domination of playoff opponents."

I guess I interpreted that as downplaying their accomplishments.

You say other champions in the past had accomplished total domination of playoff opponents, but how many teams besides SF 89 accomplished that? You said other champions accomplished that. But which ones?

If your only answer is 89 Niners, that's fine.

But to not acknowledge that the Patriots would be even better and increase their production with no salary cap is beyond me. Conversely, the 89 Niners would not have had the ability to hold onto a few players had they been restricted by a cap.

You said "My assertions pertain only to the players’ performance."

But the same exact mix of players would not have been able to perform together on that Niners team under the old rules. Losing just a few players could have made a HUGE difference in their season. It could have been the difference between 14-2 and 12-4 and precluded them from this conversation altogether.

That's why your I believe logic is skewed.

If I haven't said it already, the fact that the Pats are even in this discussion makes me very proud to be a fan.

316
by MRH (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:51am

BTW, I'd add the '60-'67 Packers to the list of greatest multi-year teams. Six championship teams and five wins. Bart Starr easily has the best big-game record as a qb.

I started following football in '64 and was a Colts/Johnny U fan (and the irrational Unitas-Starr threads were something back then). I say that because admitting the Packers were great is something like a Colts fan admitting the current Pats are great.

I won't attempt to judge pre-60s teams, but for best multi-year teams I think the contenders are the '60s Packers, the '70s Steelers, the '80s 49ers, and the '00s Pats (IF they win this year). There are a lot of very good franchises like the '90s Cowboys and 82-91 Skins who fall just short of those teams.

For best single year team, I'd put the '85 Bears and '07 Pats in the mix. A lot of other worthy teams have been mentioned and should be in the discussion, but I'm too tired to do a serious list.

As for the Chargers, the #1 thing AJ should do is upgrade his backup QB because there is a very good chance that Rivers will struggle next year if he's healthy at all. I'm also not convinced that Jackson/Chambers is a good enough wr pair based on their entire body of work. This team should be good enough to make a playoff run again, but most people thought that about last year's Bears, too.

317
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:53am

nat, if we adjust for 23 years of improved athleticism in the NFL population, there isn't much to tell me that the Jaguars of this year belong on the same field as the '85 Bears. Given that the Patriots didn't beat the Jaguars easily two weeks ago, I don't agree with your conclusion.

318
by Mack (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:53am

Actually, Will, nothing in my post ignores any evidence of anything, good or bad for New England. I’m open minded to the notion that the ‘85 Bears or one of the 49ers SB winners or some other team might be the best ever. I was critiquing the logic behind your argument.

It should be clear that forming an opinion on this matter is highly subjective, and that there are many, many factors that should go into determining just how good any given team is. As an example, we have 1000 teams. We’re Gods. We know exactly how good they are from best to worst. We split these teams up into 50 seasons of 20 teams each. If the 20th best team plays in a season where the second best team is the 500th best out of our theoretical 1000, that team will dominate the entire league to absurd levels. If the team we know to be the best ever competes in a season with two other top ten teams, they won’t look as dominant as number ten even though we know they’re objectively better, right? Which team is going to look better to the non-omniscient observer? The weaker team, obviously. In short, given the relative reasonableness of most of your posts and the transparent weakness of your argument in this case, it’s hard not to conclude that you’re trying to get to a desired outcome as fast as you can. Really, I get the impression you jumped into this argument without particularly strong feelings for any team other than Anyone But The 2007 Pats. (And by the way, I understand you’re not an irrational Pats hater).

Look, it’s a fun argument that no one can definitively win. I’d like to see Dallas and Pittsburgh fans make the case for one of their Super Bowl winners as the best single season team ever. Hell, if you think you can make a strong case for some team, as opposed to eliminating teams you don’t want at the table, go ahead and make it.

As for reading into your motives or mindset, you've made it clear for quite a while on these boards that you were rooting against the Pats going 19-0. Your desired outcome was a Colts victory over NE in an AFCCG rematch, IIRC. Not in an irrational hatred kind of way certainly but it doesn't really matter how you got to that point. You're a sports fan, you've been rooting for an outcome and you continue to do so. Cool. Just stop pretending otherwise.

319
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:54am

I meant to say "that same exact mix wouldn't be able to perform together under the NEW rules."

320
by CA (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:02am

Will, you’re one of my favorite regular commenters on this site, and I don’t mean to pile on. That said, I think you’re vastly overstating the relative value of playoff performance v. regular season performance. I think the different level of intensity that you perceive applies more to the fans and media than it does to the players and coaches. Players and coaches probably do indeed want to win more in the playoffs than they do in the regular season, but, for the most part, they give maximum effort at both times. Sure, a player may be more likely to play through an injury in the playoffs (as if that did the Chargers any good) and the like, but I do not believe that the quality of play in the playoffs is any higher than it is in the regular season among playoff-caliber teams. You seem to be getting uncomfortably close to suggesting that clutch performance is a reality and not merely a myth.

As for the 2007 Patriots’ place in history, I think the Patriots have been good enough this season that, if they had narrowly lost a couple of their close games, they would be at or near the top of the list of two-loss teams in the discussion of greatest teams of all time. They’re not the best of all time or very close to it because they’re undefeated. They’re undefeated because they’re the best of all time or very close to it. Part of me hopes they lose the Super Bowl just so I can contend that a non-NFL champion may well be the best of all time (remember, I don’t believe that postseason wins or losses are any more or less consequential than regular season wins or losses in judging a team’s quality).

One more cautionary note to those who cite the Giants’ recent performance to make the case that DVOA and others underrate the Giants: Aaron has written that people often perceive trends where really there are just blips. Aaron has tried weighted DVOA formulas that give significantly more weight to most recent games, and he has found them to be less predictive than the current weighted DVOA formula. As much as Giants fans and the “RESPECT!” crowd don’t want to believe it, the Giants’ recent success may well be just an anomaly rather than evidence that they have turned into a legitimately, consistently good team.

321
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:22am

Nick, why is stating that having a cumulative score through two playoff games of 52-32 is not as dominant as having one of 45-0 (Bears) or 43-10 (49ers of '84) or 65-17 (Redskins) through two games thought to be dimissive? Or that the Patriots have yet to rack up three blow outs in a row in a Super Bowl run? I really do wish we had advanced metrics for these games, because I suspect that the differences would be every bit as pronounced.
Look, they are a great team. They haven't dominated a post-season in the way other teams have. These two statements are not mutually exclusive

Finally, I am still at a loss as to why you wish to confuse personnel executive performance with player performance. If you want to argue with someone about which era made it harder to field a great team, go ahead, but there is nothing in this thread that I have written that has anything to do with that. I am merely commenting on what the players accomplished on the field, not how they got there.

I will say that I don't understand the element of fandom that makes people proud to be a fan of what people they see on T.V. have accomplished. I mean, I was thrilled when the Twins won two World Series in four years, and if the Vikings ever have a similar level of success, I will be as well. I have no real relationship with these people, however, nor have I contributed to their success in any real way, so I just don't get it. Happy? Sure. Proud? Eh, not so much.

322
by 26554 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:39am

'78 Steelers had a cumulative score of 67-15 for their two conference playoffs games. Of course, they then had a 35-31 score for their Super Bowl, but to be fair, their SB opponent was tougher than the SB opponents of the other teams mentioned.

I'd rank em like this:

'78 Cowboys

'84 Dolphins
'91 Bills
'89 Broncos
'07 Giants (on paper)
'85 Patriots

323
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:40am

Poor Will Allen,

First, people argue that he shouldn't have been picked for Dr Z's All Pro Team and then we all pile on him in this thread. :-)

Will, I second what CA said about you being one of my favorite posters on FO, and I completely agree with you with regard to leaving the salary cap out of the discussion of which team is the best on the field.

I guess we do have to disagree on the meaning of playoff success versus regular season success (wow, I'm agreeing with CA again...I'd better start talking about how I love cold weather games in open stadiums quick... :-) I agree that teams play more aggressively in the playoffs (at least, teams not coached by Mary or Norv), but unless a team isn't really trying in the regular season for whatever reason, I just don't see that you can't infer anything more about a team's "goodness" from a playoff game than from a regular season game, assuming of course equal levels of competition, and sample size issues have the statistician in me very worried about trying to infer anything definitive from a two to three game sample.

But I guess this is why we love football, and FO...look at this great discussion we're having!

324
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:50am

Will,

Is score the only indication of dominance? Are there other variables involved? Final scores don't often reveal the whole story. In 04, the Pats beat Pitt in the AFCCG 41-27, though anyone who watched that game would say it wasn't even that close.

I'm done arguing about personnel being a huge factor in distinguishing between different teams from different eras. You have your opinion, I have mine.

I concur that there have been teams that have had better postseason runs than the Patriots, but I don't think it's a coincidence that all the teams in your argument are pre-cap.

Ok, I'm thrilled to be a Pats fan. I'm happy to be a Pats fan. The word "Pride" is probably something that gets instilled in people in high school - team spirit, Panther Pride, etc. It becomes a figure of speech at some point. Lighten up.

Will, the sky is blue. What color do you think it is?

325
by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:59am

The 78 Steelers were leading 35-17 in the 4th quarter of that SB, in case anyone forgot. Staubach had two late TD drives.

That game had arguably the best collection of talent on a field in SB history.

326
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:02am

Yeah, the '78 Steelers were magnificient, and it may be unfair to downgrade them for failing to blow out a Cowboys team filled with Hall of Famers.

MJK and CA, I fully agree that others can legitimately have different criteria as to what constitutes greatness. My definition of it as being the team which best eliminates randomness as an impediment to a championship may seem odd to some, but so it goes. I don't think noting that playoff football is played at a higher intensity is a commentary on the fiction of clutchness. Bettors have long noted, for good reason, that in regualr season games, the more desperate team, in terms of saving the season, is the one that will more often than not play with greater intensity. In the playoffs, everybody is desperate.

327
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:10am

Nick, for the final time, I never stated that it was coincidental that the teams I am speaking of were in the pre-cap era. What causes you to argue with things I have never written? You really need to lighten up.

Oh, and again, I really would like to see the advanced metrics from these games, to see the degree of domination thorugh a different prism than merely the score.

328
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:23am

Will,

You never stated it was a coincidence. I stated it was NOT a coincidence. I was merely making my point, not a counterpoint to something you already said. Relax.

329
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:53am

I am unsure salary cap/free agency is relevant to discussions comparing teams across eras. Well-run franchises have been able to maintain long-term success even in the free agency era; you could even argue free agency has given well-run franchises yet one more source of adding talent.

I also think discussion of expansion is relatively irrelevant. Take away expansion teams, and a lot of good players are then redistributed to the existing teams. This was my argument defending the 72 win Chicago Bulls as the best basketball team ever: take away the expansion teams, and the Bulls' 8th through 12th players are probably better quality players than they had. Why hold an expanded league AGAINST a great team, when the great team would also be potentially better in a contracted league?

330
by hwc (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:57am

I’d just like to mention that the 2 lowest ranked teams in “Special Sauce” are now facing off in the Super Bowl. Back to the cherry picker, I guess.

Out of respect for Bill Barnwell and the effort he puts into his entertaining and informative articles, I wasn't going to mention that.

I would, however, like to point out that my "blue uniform" playoff index is looking pretty darn good!

331
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:03am

Nick, I guess I still don't understand what your point has to do with what group of players performed the best, but trust me, I'm perfectly relaxed, and just killin' time, as I have been off and on all day.

Mack, there was nothing I was predetermined to assert with in regards to the Patriots, and by the way, I'm hoping they stomp the Giants.

332
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:05am

Nick, I guess I still don't understand what your point has to do with what group of players performed the best, but trust me, I'm perfectly relaxed, and just killin' time, as I have been off and on all day.

Mack, there was nothing I was predetermined to assert with regard to the Patriots, and by the way, I'm hoping they stomp the Giants.

333
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:14am

Yes, Mack, it is a shame that your tranparently weak arguemnt fails to recognize that when it is an argument that no one can win, it is silly to say that someone's else view of the data is tranparently weak, unless you really meant to say that everyone's argument is tranparently weak. Otherwise, someone could, in fact, win the argument.

334
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:18am

I swear, I'm not drinking, and I do know how to spell transparently. Maybe I should start.

335
by Dan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:25am

Haha, keep clinging to your ONLY hope they kill us...because if we do somehow keep it close again and even WIN! this whole site is going to have to have some better explanation than "Look at the Carolina Panthers"

336
by Kurt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 10:37am

One more cautionary note to those who cite the Giants’ recent performance to make the case that DVOA and others underrate the Giants: Aaron has written that people often perceive trends where really there are just blips. Aaron has tried weighted DVOA formulas that give significantly more weight to most recent games, and he has found them to be less predictive than the current weighted DVOA formula. As much as Giants fans and the “RESPECT!” crowd don’t want to believe it, the Giants’ recent success may well be just an anomaly rather than evidence that they have turned into a legitimately, consistently good team.

And one more cautionary note to those who ignore the Giants’ recent performance to make the case that DVOA and others were exactly right about the Giants: I am writing that people often perceive blips where really there are trends. Nothing can possibly be less predicitve than DVOA was about the Giants. As much as Giants detractors and the “DON'T RESPECT!” crowd don’t want to believe it, the Giants’ recent success may well be evidence that they have turned into a legitimately, consistently good team rather than just an anomaly.

Honestly, doesn't it strike anyone as a bit odd that the most controversial team in DVOA discussions all year has been the Giants, and now here they are in the Super Bowl? This isn't hindsight - people like Chris and Gerry were arguing months ago that DVOA was missing something about the Giants, and taking a lot of crap for it, and yet after playoff wins against the elite NFC teams, plus Tampa, here we are having the *exact* same discussion like none of it ever happened. And it's still the anti-Giant side accusing the pro-Giant side of not wanting to believe the truth! Plus, I think you meant to say "proof" at the end. I think we'd all agree that beating Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay isn't *proof* that they're a good team, but if it isn't evidence, then the word "evidence" has no meaning.

337
by Conor (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 11:34am

"the 2007 Giants are an average team, a team that couldn’t win against good teams, but beat bad ones and made it into the playoffs as a Wild Card, then went on a hot streak"

Why are wins in the regular season against good teams proof that they can beat good teams, but wins in the playoffs against good teams just "a hot streak"? If instead of beating Dallas in the playoffs, they beat them in the regular season, why would that be more evidence that they could beat good teams?

Dallas and Green Bay went a combined 27-8 this year.

If you take the games where they played the Giants out of the equation, they went 25-5.

To say that the Giants can't beat good teams, after they just won 2 consecutive games against 13 win teams in their own buildings, is ridiculous.

338
by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 11:40am

Kurt #336:

people like Chris and Gerry were arguing months ago that DVOA was missing something about the Giants, and taking a lot of crap for it

Because they were simply disparaging a system that does nothing more than compare play results to league averages as if it was biased against the Giants. They weren't even suggesting what was missing or wrong with DVOA, which has worked perfectly well for the most part in a very unpredictable game.

They apparently can't accept the idea of this year's Giants being an outlier in results, but marked dead on in ability.

We listen to this sort of thing every year here from fans of overperforming underdogs. In 2005 we had to endure se7en_dust and his rantings about the Falcons, Seahawks fans who couldn't see the flaw in their team was a failure to prolong mid-field drives 10-15 more yards into field goal range and the like. In 2006 it was insane blather from Giants fans on being listed behind an Eagles team that they had beaten through extreme luck and would proceed to lose badly to twice.

There's nothing new under the sun here.

New York is doing well because they haven't been turning the ball over the past three games like they did the previous 16, allowing them to pull out close wins against better teams that have done so.

If you'd just accept the stats for what they are in describing what the Giants have done and enjoy what your team is doing in outperforming its regular season self, you'd have a better time here and come to appreciate the stats and site more and the work that goes into producing all of this.

339
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:26pm

Will Allen deserves a medal for taking on the Pats fans that lurk in these parts. Good work, head off the 'greatest team ever' talk before the super bowl. Only one thing is certain, if the Pats lose they'll be the biggest chokers ever (well, them and Scott Norwood).

340
by Patrick (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:28pm

Besides playoff blowouts, another logical way to settle the issue of all time greatest team is to examine how good looking the starting QBs are. So we have Brady, Montana, McMahon, Bradshaw, Rypien,....anyone i'm missing?

341
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:33pm

"those of us who put much greater value on playoff performance than on a game in mid-September, or even mid November,"

Anyone find this statement by Will amusing, after him arguing that "playoff record" can't be used when discussing Martyball?

I do.

342
by Conor (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:46pm

"In 2006 it was insane blather from Giants fans on being listed behind an Eagles team that they had beaten through extreme luck and would proceed to lose badly to twice."

How does losing to a team on a FG on the final play of the game equal beating them "badly"?

343
by Kurt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:46pm

I'm having a great time Andrew, thanks for the concern. I hope you can enjoy yourself too, and live with the fact that not everyone will shut up and "accept" the stats the way Tom Cruise accepts scientology. I've never said that DVOA is "biased" against the Giants, and I'm happy to accept that the Giants are an outlier in terms of DVOA's projections. Does that make them a mediocre or pitiful team? I guess it depends on whether you're a fan of football, or a fan of DVOA. In football the object is to win games; IMO the Giants have been pretty good at that. In DVOA there are lots of objects; maybe the Giants weren't so good at those. DVOA is a nice little way of looking at the game, but I prefer football.

As for "ability" DVOA doesn't even purport to analyze ability, its object is to analyze results. I'm not a scout, and neither are you, but to me the Giants have a fair amount of ability. If you break a team down into all its components - quarterback, pass blocking, run blocking, running backs, receivers, pass rush, run defense, etc etc., I'd say the Giants are pretty good in most areas. Where are they below average? Secondary, field goal kicking, maybe kick coverage.

You mentioned the "extreme luck" they had in beating the Eagles. I agree with that, they got some very lucky breaks to win that game. Can anyone point to a similar game in 2007. I can't recall any. What I've seen, is a team which controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in three straight playoff games. Whenever you can do that, your chances of winning are pretty good. Is that luck? I don't think it is.

As for turnovers, they've won the turnover battler by 2 against Tampa, by 0 against Dallas and by 1 against Green Bay, ignoring last minute desperation interceptions against Tampa and Dallas. You'd think elite teams would be able to overcome that against a mediocre or pitiful team, so perhaps there were other factors contributing to the results.

I do appreciate your acknowledgement that they have been "doing well" the last few weeks, which at least separates you from CA.

344
by Conor (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:54pm

re: 341

Obviously, that should read "how does beating a team on a last second FG equal beating them 'badly'"?

345
by Gerry (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:55pm

"Because they were simply disparaging a system that does nothing more than compare play results to league averages as if it was biased against the Giants. They weren’t even suggesting what was missing or wrong with DVOA, which has worked perfectly well for the most part in a very unpredictable game."

I'll let Chris defend himself, but as far as I am concerned, this is not an accurate portrayal about me or my comments.

I have always been complimentary about DVOA. I am a huge fan of the work that is done here, consider it ground-breaking, and think it is one of the best analytical tools for understanding the quality of teams. I have not been disparaging it, at all-- unless you believe that stating something along the lines of "I don't think DVOA has the Giants pegged right" is disparaging it. I do not think perfectability is a reasonable goal. It is something that you strive for but know will never happen. It will never be perfect, and given sample size issues can never be perfect. Heck, that is one reason the QB projection system uses as one of its components an offshoot of scouting (when the player was drafted). DVOA compliments what one can see with their eyes; it does not replace it.

The statement that I have not offered suggestions for how it could be improved is a better critique, and my defense there is because I haven't thought of the answer. While it is better to identify the solution when suggesting a problem, sometimes one can merely suggest a problem and hope that the combined wisdom of other eyes can come up with a possible solution.

That said, I have been thinking about what might be a possibility. I am not sure how workable it would be, but I'll throw it out here. My point regarding the Giants has been that the main thing that has kept them from breaking into the upper echelon has been their proclivity for beating themselves-- turnovers, penalties, mental mistakes. Things that have shown themselves to be repeatable characteristics of the team, and not just them suffering bad luck. DVOA dispassionately says "this is who they are." What I think it has been missing from the Giants is "this is who they could be if they fix what is fixable". Probably for good reason-- I am sure that research would show that what the mind says *should* be fixable generally does not get fixed. A quarterback who makes bad decisions generally does not learn to stop making bad decisions. A guy with a fumbling problem generally does not stop fumbling. A guy who gets called for lots of penalties generally continues to do so. Obviously there are exceptions, but in general players are who they are. But the potential is there.

What I saw when I looked at the Giants was that, when they aren't beating themselves, they can play with anyone. Think back to the first game last season against the Colts. The Giants could have won that game, and it was not because the Colts were playing poorly. Same thing for the last game this season. They were right there with the Pats, and not because the Pats were playing poorly and not because the Giants were playing out of their minds. They were playing like they normally do *excepting that they were not making the stupid mistakes*.

So what could be a possible improvement? I do not recommend changing DVOA, at all. But how about something like 'potential DVOA', which would be DVOA on plays not involving turnovers, penalties, or things like that? Probably I would remove from this proposed other metrics things like kickoffs out of bounds, or other things that are commonly considered mistakes. They belong in DVOA because teams that make a lot of them generally continue to make a lot of them. But the second metric here would be a measure of how dangerous the team could be if they could simply rein in their mistakes. Because while it may not be common for a team to suddenly become more disciplined, it is certainly more possible than it is for a team to learn suddenly how to be stronger, faster, more physically adept.

To be honest, I don't care one whit if DVOA is sour on the Giants. All that matters for my team is if we win games or not. You know what? If we win a championship because we had good fortune? I'll still be happy.

However, when I am arguing that what the numbers say don't match exactly what I am seeing, it isn't me saying that the numbers are wrong. It is me saying I don't think the numbers are painting the entire picture. Maybe, just maybe, that means we can figure out a way to paint the picture better. Or maybe, just maybe, I need my eyes checked. But debating football is fun, isn't it? So even if you don't agree and think my arguments are full of it, who cares? Talking about football is often better than not talking about football.

346
by Kurt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:08pm

Gerry, the one critique I'd have of your post is that penalties are probably as much a reflection of ability as they are "mistakes". The OL who holds becuase he just got beat, the CB who tugs at the jersey of the WR who just blew past him, the DL who tries to anticipate the snap and jumps offsides because he's outmatched...maybe you could separate out "mistake" penalties (delay of game, illegal formation etc. from those more reflective of ability.

347
by Gerry (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:09pm

One more quick point, Andrew.

"They apparently can’t accept the idea of this year’s Giants being an outlier in results, but marked dead on in ability."

I can most certainly accept this idea as a possibility. I don't accept it as a certainty. I would argue that you do not seem to accept the possibility that the games that do not fit with the Giants level of ability are the five games they lost (not counting the Pats game) as compared to the three playoff games they won (plus the season ending game against the Pats). I completely understand and accept, on top of it, that the Giants played all year exactly like the team DVOA was saying they were. What you seem unwilling to accept that when I was saying that I was seeing a team that was dangerous and could very well be more than what they had been all year, that I was not just being a mindless homer. You seem to think it is impossible that they might have figured out how not to be the Giants we all had come to expect, and be the team they could have and should have been all along, and instead want to stay with your comfort zone that they stink.

348
by Gerry (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:15pm

Kurt, absolutely. Which is why it belongs in DVOA.

I am not saying that my proposed new metric would be more predictive than DVOA. It would almost certainly not be. What it might add to the picture, however, would be an indication of teams which *might* be capable of going on a seemingly unpredictable tear. And just because I threw out a one paragraph idea doesn't mean I have it fleshed out with research. The due diligence would be to build the metric and see if it has any predictive value in retrospect-- find teams that had unexpected runs (generally in the playoffs, but not necessarily limited to them-- perhaps late season runs to make the playoffs would fit) and see if by and large they had 'potential DVOA' numbers higher than their actual DVOA numbers.

It is just a suggestion on what might be interesting to see. I don't have the answers.

349
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:19pm

Rich, the situations are not analogous at all. In evaluating Schottenheimer, we are evaluating a performance which is once removed from what takes place on the field; we are taking an indirect measurement. Just as importantly, those who use Schottenheimer's playoff record against him are using the difference in playoff football from regular season football as a reason to substitute a sample size of 345 games with a sample size of 18 games, while the sample can only use to indirectly measure the phenomena we are insterested in, how good a coach Marty Schottenheimer is. This is a supremely silly thing to do.

Tell ya' what, Rich; give me a sample size of 345 games by which to measure the 2007 Pats, and I'll be quite happy to weight playoff games the same as regular season games. Until then, I'll evaluate the greatness of a team based upon how well they eliminated randomness as an impediment to winning a championship.

350
by Sid (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:24pm

One also has to think that Stanford +52 beating USC is a bigger upset than the AFC’s #3 seed beating the #1.

This was a joke, right? Stanford was +41.

351
by Kurt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:24pm

I agree, Gerry; hope I didn't come across as being too critical.

I suggested after the Tampa game that it might be useful to look at how predictive regular season turnover differntial is in the playoffs. I completely agree that intuitively mistakes would seem easier to fix than speed, strength, qb accuracy and so on; and I'd also be very curious to know if the numbers would bear that out.

352
by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:27pm

Jumping in to this Gints discussion from the sidelines, what seems to be missing is consideration of the dynamic nature of team performance over the rather NFL season. Perhaps that's what's implied by the "blip vs. trend" back and forth, but it is entirely possible that the Gints have simply gotten better in a number of small ways, some of them not easily quantifiable and some of them underaccounted for with DVOA. On that last point, someone above said that FO has tweaked the Wtd DVOA formula to shorten the data set but found that to fit to be worse. Worse in the aggregate, okay, but perhaps the resulting formula under-credits teams who really did turn things around at some relatively late point in the season.

I agree with Gerry's notion that for years the Giants have underperformed my perception of their talent (in particular, their talent along the lines) mostly due to untimely penalties and the patented Eli inopportune pick. And just as I think most casual fans assume too often that young flawed players will improve over time, I think perhaps here we've been too quick to assume that just because it doesn't happen as often as the casual fan thinks, it never happens at all.

I'd love to see KC Joyner's stats on stupid throws for Eli, b/c my impression is that he's not only cut out the interceptions recently, he's basically cut out the stupid throws that over time produce most (non-tipped) interceptions.

Coughlin by all accounts has been less of a petulant tyrant this year, and perhaps that's relaxed the team and reduced the stupid penalties (admission: that's pure speculation).

Perhaps the team really couldn't stand Tiki and Shockey.

Perhaps the O line and D line have both come together in spectacular fashion.

Perhaps Gilbride learned from his horrific playcalling vs. WAS that basically gifted the game to the skins. Most guys that age are incapable of learning anything new, but most does not equal all.

Perhaps Plaxico's ankle is feeling better than ever.

What I do know for certain, is that the Gints dominated TB after a dismal first Qtr; beat a darned good Cowboys team, despite the Boys ridiculous success on third downs; and absent one horrendous blown coverage, completely dominated an outstanding Packers team. Sounds like a pretty good team to me at this point in the season -- maybe they've actually gotten better.

353
by Sid (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:29pm

I agree that San Diego was not nearly aggressive enough to beat NE. When your kickoff guy sucks like Kaeding does, you need to try one or two onside kicks. NE wouldn't be ready for it.
Also, they should've been more aggressive in the red zone.
Finally, that punt in the 4th quarter was ridiculous.

354
by Herm? (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:32pm

I don't know if I'm smart enough to pile on DVOA, so I thought I'd ask questions for the stat fans out there:

Questions:
Where do the Giants stand if you heavily weight very recent weeks and drop the earlier weeks?

What is the margin of error for Giants performance when they play a game with no turnovers vs. their average turnover quantity? (is their recent success predicated upon not turning the ball over?)
If you quantify margin of error, what is included? Turnovers and TD's from turnovers? Penalties? Special Teams TD's?

If you were quantify the best + worst possible scenario, as in a DVOA range rather than a specific figure, you'd find that the Giants best possible performance intersects with their opponents' worst possible performance, although the mean weighted DVOA indicates that .

For the DVOA critics, I think you'd find this could explain your anger, and the existence of a column called "Any Given Sunday"

355
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:35pm

I guess I missed the article which stated that a team's DVOA performance was a constant. It seems to me that many of those who are ripping the Giants have a hard time acknowledging that performance is not a constant, and that teams can, in fact, improve, and predicting when this will happen is pretty damned hard. It also seems to me that a lot of Ginats fans don't realize that their team's improvement was essentially unpredictable, and the fact that they said it would or might happen was merely a lucky guess. Now, if there is a person out there who can consistently tell us which team will improve the most at the tail end of the season, year after year, I'll withdraw my assertion, but I doubt such a person exists.

356
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:37pm

"When your kickoff guy sucks like Kaeding does, you need to try one or two onside kicks. NE wouldn’t be ready for it."

NE was playing their onside coverage formation almost the whole second half.

357
by Herm? (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:38pm

oops, please disregard the "mean weighted DVOA" qualifier, I meant to delete it.

358
by Gerry (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 1:43pm

Great point, Will. I thought the Giants were capable of this. Does that mean I predicted they would do this? Hell no.

359
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:05pm

Gerry, I really think that even people who visit this site a lot have misperceptions about what the metrics used here are. There is nothing magical about measuring each play's results in the context of the game, instead of measuring points scored or total yardages, but like a a lot of non-magical things, it required someone to do put in the labor to do it first, and Aaron and Co. deserve great credit for that.

Many of those who are saying DVOA missed something in regards to the Giants are mostly just reflecting on the fact that their hopes for the Giants' improvement luckily came true, and are use hindsight to claim that what happened in the past was not indicative of what the Giants were. Many of those who are continuing to rip the Giants are just hoping that this improvement is temporary, in which case their current guess that the Giants will revert to earlier form will be claimed to be indicative of wisdom, instead of luck. Lemme know when somebody shows that sort of wisdom year after year after year. Until then, I'm betting on pure random outcomes.

360
by MikeB (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:07pm

RE: Giants Potential

As a Giants fan, I have also been continually frustrated about what they could be if they just reigned in the mistakes. This is a team that had something like 52 drops this year, more than three a game. I imagine Eli's stats would have been a lot better if half or 2/3s of these were caught and he was not forced into many 3rd and longs where a pick was more likely.

I was at the skins game where Toomer dropped the ball that hit him in the hands that would have probably gone for a TD and it killed the team. That and throwing 50 times in gusting wins. If something like potential DVOA for the Giants was calculated, it would look a whole lot better if you got rid of that whole game.

Of course that could be cherry picking data to get it to say whatever you want.

Giants fans knew that this turnaround was possible, DVOA fans knew it just wasn't probable.

361
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:09pm

To put it in shorter form, Gerry, nobody knows anything, really, at least in regards to the future.

362
by Gerry (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:12pm

True dat, Will.

I am looking at this debate here, and thinking about what will happen after the Super Bowl.

If the Pats win big, then it will be perceived that the Giants were mediocre, and that's that.

If the Giants win, there will be some who say they were mediocre but lucky, but probably more will think they were probably pretty good.

And the difference between those perceptions will be what happened in a single game. A sample size of one. Any given Sunday.

Win or lose, I am thrilled with the Giants season. It has exceeded expectations, and matched some hopes.

363
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:18pm

In the eventuality that the Pats do win, I am starting to look forward to the irrational Pats 07/ Bears 85/ Niners 84,89/ Packers 60-67(?) argument that will blatantly need its own thread.

At one stage I was dreading it, but now it might even be fun.

364
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:27pm

My major critique, and really not a severe one, of the metrics here have been mostly limited to the individual and unit measurements, and not total team efficiency. I do think player and unit interdependence are are such great factors that the individual and unit measurements need to be assisted by a huge amount of breaking down tape, if one is to get a real picture of individuals and units are actually performing.

I have a large degree of confidence that a team's DVOA gives us a good picture of how well that team has played. I have far less confidence that a running backs's DVOA or DPAR is telling us how well that player has performed, and although Aaron acknowledges that individual DVOA is not saying, "Player X has performed this well", but rather, "Player X, while surrounded by these teammates, has performed this well", he sometimes in his commentary expresses sentiments too close to the former statement, rather than the latter. Perhaps as the charting gets more sophisticated, some of this will be rectified. I really respect the amount of labor that has been taken on by the Outsiders crew.

365
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:33pm

"I have far less confidence that a running backs’s DVOA or DPAR is telling us how well that player has performed, and although Aaron acknowledges that individual DVOA is not saying,"

I would go even further than that and say that Individual DVOA does a disservice to this site, as it is more misleading than it is enlightening. It completely ignores the roles certain players play.

366
by Kurt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:54pm

Dumb question about dropped passes - does anyone know what a "normal" number is? We all know the Giants led the league, but if they had 50 or so, does an average team have 20? 30? 40? I just want to know whether it's really a big deal or not.

367
by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:01pm

339: Ignoring your shot at Pats fans, I think that Norwood is given far too much crap for being a "choker," given that it was a 47-yard kick, on the grass, and he had a history of making big kicks for the Bills (who I hated).

I think Roger Craig's fumble in the NFC Championship game that same year (and/or Walsh's decision to give the ball to Craig rather than Rathman) was much worse, given that there was only 2:36 left in the game, they were in opposing territory, and his main goal was to run as much time off the clock as possible.

Put another way - I suspect kickers miss 47-yard FGs a lot more often than franchise RBs fumble with a lead when trying to run down the clock in opposing territory.

368
by MikeB (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:03pm

365:
I can't find total stats, but last year Seattle led the league with 30 drops, so I'd say the average is probably mid 20s or so.

http://profootballexperts.scout.com/2/687001.html

369
by gmb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:20pm

366:

Walsh retired after the 88 season. That was Seifert's second year as head coach, so let's not blame Walsh for that decision!

370
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:32pm

I've said it before, but if you want to speculate in a way that demonstrates the slim reeds upon which reputations are hung, if Craig doesn't fumble, or if the 49ers just have a little good fortune and recover the fumble, there is an outstanding chance that Seifert retires with the highest winning percentage among coaches in NFL history, with three Lombardis to his name, is inducted into the HOF, with some people arguing whether he is the best coach ever.

371
by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:52pm

368: My bad. As soon as I posted that, I thought "crap, I think it was Seifert's team," but got distracted by actual work and forgot about it. And I live in SF! No excuse.

369: Not to mention the fact that Seifert was also coach of the Niners when another dynastic team, Dallas, was in the same conference. I get that it could be argued that the 1989 team was a Walsh legacy team (though it was superior to the 1988 squad, which IIRC had to win a tiebreaker to make it into the playoffs) in the same way that Switzer's SB team was a Johnson legacy - but then, I would have thought that the 1994 win would quell some criticism about that.

372
by Sean McCormick :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:55pm

It strikes me as fairly obvious that the only way to judge which team or teams have been the most dominant is to examine them within their own environment, i.e. the year in which they were playing. Trying to graft on extraneous factors like which players a team could have retained what players in a salary cap environment is really muddying the water to no good effect, and introduces a literally endless number of variables. If you're going to take starters off the Steelers because your retroactively fitting a salary cap onto them, then you have to go the other way as well and give Joe Greene Rodney' Harrison's lifetime supply of HGH, or give Joe Montana access to five year's worth of taped defensive signals, or allow Terry Bradshaw to throw in a post-1978 environment where the rules for secondary play are entirely different. It just doesn't make sense to do so. You can fairly judge teams within the parameters of each season simply because all teams are playing by the same set of rules within that season.

There is also an underlying assumption that the Patriots have somehow accomplished more because they have had their run in a free agency environment, and that it is more difficult to have sustained success under those conditions. That seems to be conventional wisdom, but I don't see much evidence that would support it. Since Reggie White moved to Green Bay and set off the free agency era, you've had the Packers go to an NFC Championship game and then two Super Bowls in a row, followed by a Denver team that winning back to back championships (and going 13-3 the year before), the Rams going to two Super Bowls in three years, the Eagles going to four consecutive championship games, and of course the Patriots making four Super Bowl appearances in seven years. Even a team like the Colts has managed to put together consecutive seasons of 12-4, 12-4, 14-2, 12-4 and 13-3, which is a string of dominance that more than holds its own with any of the pre-salary cap powerhouses.

If you are going to make the argument that dominance is based upon providing as little room for doubt as possible (and I think it's an interesting argument), that in and of itself negates the importance of being undefeated, as the difference between being a 16-0 #1 seed and a 14-2 or even 12-4 #1 seed is purely aesthetic, and that the more relevant thing is laying down a heavy margin of victory in the playoffs. You could then judge the teams on the basis of their playoff domination and/or the quality of the opposition they faced. If you devalue the importance of playoff performance in favor of regular season dominance, that leaves the door open for teams that did not actually win the Super Bowl or even get to the Super Bowl (which I'm okay with). The 1983 Redskins or the 2001 Rams were far more dominant than many Super Bowl winners but would probably be removed from the conversation by most people. (By our own numbers, two of the most dominant teams of the last 12 years-the 2000 Titans and 2005 Colts-didn't even get out of the divisional round.)

373
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:20pm

Sean,

I believe Jim Haslett came out and said that he and other members of those 70's Steelers teams were on steroids.

And I would love if the NFL had an anonymous "exit poll" when players retired to find out how many of them actually juiced up, because I'm guessing the numbers would be staggering, what with there being no solid test for HGH that is currently being used.

But I guess this is another topic for another day.

374
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:27pm

Sean,

One more thing - I don't understand how the importance of being undefeated could ever be negated.

It's been done exactly one time in the history of the modern NFL.

The Super Bowl is won every year, and sometimes it is dominated by a team. But going undefeated is an incredibly rare feat - there's a reason it's only been done once.

I don't think you can devalue the importance of EITHER the regular season or the postseason. They should be viewed as a whole, as they represent an entire season. That's why if the Patriots don't win it all, this discussion is moot.

IF the Patriots wind up becoming the second team to do it, there's going to be some excellent debates for the ages. But that's all it will ever be - a debate. There will be no definitive way to prove it.

375
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:45pm

Sean, 12-4 is too close, for me, from being a few bad breaks from being 10-6, and 10-6 has missed the playoffs in a lot of years.

376
by lyford (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 5:00pm

Hey Will,

I think that this is a legitimate and defensible position:
"Until then, I’ll evaluate the greatness of a team based upon how well they eliminated randomness as an impediment to winning a championship."

Once you've taken it, however, you've destroyed your own argument for dominance. Once you say that there is "randomness" that affects game outcomes, you're effectively saying that the final score isn't necessarily indicative of the way that the game went. Consider the first divisional playoff fame for the 1985 Bears and the 2007 Patriots. The Bears won by 21, the Patriots by 11. So you're saying that the Patriots didn't "eliminate randomness" as much as the Bears did. But maybe they did, and the "randomness" in 1985 made the Bears victory look bigger and the "randomness" in 2007 made the Patriots victory look smaller.

The Bears, for example, led 7-0 at halftime, while the Patriots were tied. But the Bears touchdown came when a wind gust pushed the ball off of the Giant punter's foot. The Patriots fell behind 7-0 when the opposition made a great play on a broken play on 4th down, and then threw a touchdown on what may have been a sack. If that wind gusts 5 seconds later in Chicago, and Garrard misses slightly on the 4th down throw, then maybe the Bears are tied at the half and the Patriots are up by 7.

The point is, once you allow that the outcomes of games can be affected by "randomness," you can no longer say that the 21-point victory is better than the 11-point victory - maybe they were both affected by "randomness."

(FWIW, I don't have a position yet on "greatest team," because the Patriots haven't finished their season. There will be plenty of time for that discussion later. I find it interesting, though not determinative, that Ditka thinks his Bears would have had real trouble with this Patriots team. But, as I say, there will be plenty of time for all of those discussions after we know how the 2007 Patriots finished...)

377
by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 5:02pm

371: Hear hear!

378
by Sean McCormick :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 5:21pm

Well no one is debating the rarity of going undefeated or the difficulty in doing so- clearly it's hard or it would have happened more than twice in the Super Bowl era. But it doesn't therefore follow that going undefeated trumps all other factors when considering which teams were most dominant in any given year. Exhibit A is obviously the 1972 Dolphins, who played an incredibly easy schedule and went into the Super Bowl as underdogs. Other factors come into play. If we were to amass DVOA stats for the entire Super Bowl era, I doubt that '72 Dolphins team would crack the top twenty, and I suspect they would fall behind some teams that failed to win a championship. I know I wouldn't put them anywhere near a top five list. The Patriots are a different kettle of fish because they've both gone undefeated and been dominant (for most of the season, anyway), but that just underscores the point that their status as an undefeated team is of secondary consideration when looking at their dominance. Otherwise you're talking about a team whose claim to preeminence literally rests upon a timeout. The whole conceit behind DVOA is that there are more accurate ways to gauge how teams are performing than simple wins and losses. It is entirely possible that other teams have executed at a more consistently high level than an undefeated team, but that they were unlucky in spots where the undefeated team was lucky.

Will,

12-4 is a little murky, but again, it depends on what criteria you are using. If you are trying to play the "which team would win?" game or even the "Who would Vegas favor" game, I imagine that the 1993 Cowboys would stack up against any modern team and would do so quite comfortably. Honestly, I'm not sure they would be underdogs to this Patriots team. That goes back to why I think it's dubious to start pulling teams out of their historical environments, but yes, point taken.

379
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 5:32pm

lyford, I would prefer to advanced metrics for all these playoff games, to better determine which team best eliminated randomness. I am going off 23 year old memories of the Bears, and there is a chance that my memory would be shown to be in error. I can say with nearly 100% confidence that the '89 49ers have hugely outdistanced the '07 Patriots, in terms of eliminating randomness as an impediment to winning the championship. You work with the tools available.

380
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 5:39pm

With regards to the Pats case for being the best ever team gaining a boost from playing in the free agency era, I think that it has been to their advantage.

Off the top of my head, the players that they have gained that would not have been available in the 80s (I know some are trades but I don't think that the circumstances which allowed their movement would have arrived):

Moss, Stallworth, Welker, Kyle Brady, Heath Evans, Adalius Thomas, Gaffney, Vrabel, Seau, Colvin and Harrison

Decent players lost:

Law, Milloy, Tebucky Jones, Graham, Andruzzi, Woody, Givens and Branch

Who have all been terrible away from NE.

This really illustrates that a good GM can really take advantage of free agency and it isn't entirelly certain that a guy like Bill Walsh wouldn't have been just as good in free agency.

381
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 5:42pm

Any coach who would state that his team would have no trouble with the '07 Pats is a fool, and Belichik certainly has enough respect for the complexity of this game to not be dumb enough to state his team this year would have no trouble with the teams we have been speaking of.

382
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 6:03pm

Will,

Say a team goes 15-1 and wins every game by about 3 points in the regular season, while losing their only game by 3.

They then play the #6 and #5 seed in their conference, and then the #6 team from the other conference in the SB.

Highly unlikely, I know, but stay with me here.

They win each playoff game 42-7.

Does that make them the greatest team of all time? Or is it possible that they went on the greatest 3 game run of all time?

383
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 6:17pm

No, Nicky, I wouldn't say such a team did an especially good job of eliminating randomness. I haven't worked out exactly how much more I'd weight playoff contests, but certainly it wouldn't be a 100% to 0% ratio. The converse to your hypothetical would be a 12-4 regular season team which won those 12, and all three playoff games, by 49 points. I'd probably say that was the best team ever.

384
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 8:17pm

If the criteria is eliminating the possibility of losing then the Bears have to have been the best ever. They shut out their first two playoff opponents and in the Superbowl conceded the first FG following a botched hand off recovered by the Pats. The Pats still lost about ten yards and only just managed to stay in field goal range. The Pats did manage to score a TD later on, but that was after 46 unanswered points. My point is that the Bears defense didn't allow any points to be scored on it (the FG was the fault of the offense). In other words when the title was in any doubt the 85 Bears defense didn't allow the opposition to score, at all. If you can't score on a team, you can't beat them.

'85 Bears win. WOO HOO! DE-FENSE DE-FENSE DE-FENSE!!!

385
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 10:03pm

372: I've made a similar argument to your second paragraph. Some people claim we should be more impressed with the Patriots than with previous dynasties because the Patriots do it in a free agency/salary cap era. But plenty of teams have been able to sustain long-term success in this free agency era (the Pats winning 6 of 7 division titles, the Colts in the playoffs 8 of 9 years, the Seahawks in the playoffs 5 straight years, 4 conference championship games this decade for Philadelphia, 3 for Pittsburgh). If the NFL rules are designed to prevent teams from maintaining long-term success, then the NFL rules are failing. Free agency and the salary cap have no bearing on how I compare a team from this decade to teams from the 70s or 80s.

386
by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 10:43pm

372, 385: But might the cap and free agency have an effect on playoff dominance? From the 1984 Niners until the start of the salary cap in 1994, almost every Super Bowl involved a dominating performance (with two exceptions).

Since that point, we've only had four where one team completely dominated - one was the first year of the salary cap (SF v. SD), one was in part because the team played the coach's old team (TB v. Oak), one was a team that didn't have a regular season bye (Baltimore v. NYG), and then you have Denver v. Atlanta in 1998. And three of those teams (SF, TB, and Denver) played less-than-dominating championship games - TB was leading by 10 until most of the way through the 4th, and Denver was losing 10-0 to NYJ in the 2nd half.

And the teams that are dominating in the regular season - Colts, Pats, Eagles, Steelers - aren't doing so in the playoffs, even when they win.

And there could be a number of facts for this swing, including luck and randomness - or, it could be that the Colts and Pats aren't as good as those 80s teams, I don't know. I just don't think regular season record alone answers the salary cap question.

387
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 12:11am

386:
Before the Salary Cap/Free Agency Era, there were already teams that were consistently good but didn't always have great playoff success: the 1980s Bears (one championship), the 1970s Raiders (always great regular season records, made five straight AFC championship games from '73 and '77, losing four of them), the 1970s Rams (in the playoffs almost every year--look at the NFC in the 70s, and you mostly see the Rams, Vikings, and Cowboys playing each other in the playoffs). So that's pretty similar between the FA/SC era and the pre-FA/SC era.

Maybe a thorough study of playoff points differential would reveal some difference. When I look at playoff teams and results, though, I don't see any significant difference between eras.

388
by Doug (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 12:58am

One possible reason that conventional wisdom says it's harder to maintain a top team in the salary cap era is because the first dominant team of the era, the 90s Cowboys, faded just a couple of years after the cap came in..

So maybe everyone just assumed that's how it would be in the new cap era....Just a thought

389
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 4:12am

388: Could be. Hindsight shows us that Jerry Jones' mismanagement of the coaching staff and a general failure to maintain top-flight personnel through the draft was the reason Dallas didn't reign longer--but those that don't look closely might just say "the cap prevented them from maintaining dominance."

I think it's that a lot of people looked at what I consider the "transition stage" (around '99-'01), during which some teams really did seem to come out of nowhere to win Super Bowls, and believed that was just the way it is now. Hindsight should show us that teams like the '99 Rams and '01 Pats were just starting successful runs; at the time it looked like they just came out of nowhere. To me this same sort of transition stage takes place around '80-'82: after the Steeler dynasty ended, some new teams (like SF and Washington) won Super Bowls. Later we saw that those teams would be competing for a lot of championships.

These are just my crackpot thoughts on NFL history.

390
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 4:18am

I want to add that the 49ers dynasty didn't keep winning championships because they hoarded their talent; they kept winning championships because they kept adding new talented players. They won five titles from '81 to '94 because even after winning championships, they consistently drafted well and added talented players to maintain their dominance. The most obvious example is that they won two championships, THEN drafted Jerry Rice.

391
by Herm? (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 11:33am

I'd also qualify a 9 minute + drive at the end of a game when the opponent is trying to avoid the end of their season as dominant. Scoring at will probably says just as much about the losing opponent than the winner anyways.
There are far too many factors to take into account besides final scores and competitive player salaries.

392
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 1:06pm

Yes, it is a dominant nine minutes. It is not a 55-10 dominant 60 minutes, or even a 21-0, never let the opposition into your side of the field, domination. Yes, I would also like to see the VOAs for these games.

393
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 3:04pm

I completely agree with all the Giant fans that DVOA stinks and the Giants should have been ranked higher! Every other stat pointed to the Giants being a very good team. Seriously just take a look:

Points allowed/game - Uhhh... 17th
Points scored/game - Well, uh, 16th
Offensive yards/game - Gee, 14th
Turnover differential - 26th? Is that right?
Ints thrown - Come on! They've gotta be better than 23rd! That can't be right!
Defensive yards/game - Well hey! 7th! That's not too shabby!

Alright, there's gotta be one here that they are close to the top....hmmmm...

Got it! Sacks! They are first in sacks! See! Clearly they were one of the best teams all year because only great teams get a lot of sacks. Yards, points, turnovers? Bah! Who needs 'em?

See, EVERYTHING pointed to the Giants being an excellent team except for the stupidhead footballoutsiders.

394
by Herm? (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 7:29pm

I'm mostly trying to identify some of the defining factors of dominance over opposition. Points is a good one. VOA will help, and adjusted VOA would be important if defining "of all time".

Points are a very good indicator, but it would be tough to use it when just scoring is not necessarily the goal. Scoring more points than the opposition is. And passing dominance usually means more points and yards than running dominance.

The whole point of getting on the field is to win, and if sacrificing extra yardage and points in order to dominate clock consumption is what gets one win, so be it (I used the NE/SD game because it is fresh in our minds).
Maybe a pass happy track meet is what wins another game. But you can't penalize a team for it's method of winning simply because it doesn't cause a major point differential...and yes, I might be splitting hairs - I agree that point differential can and should be considered, but I believe in other factors.

I also put a lot of weight into matchups. If two teams built on speed compete using the same offense and defense, the faster team won't just win...they'll win handily. It's a simplistic example, but the same thing goes for teams built on strength...or a team that is built around defense and is good enough to get to the SB, but can't defend the type of offense their opponent runs.

If there is a lopsided matchup between ONLY 2 of 22 players, you may see a lopsided score. Especially if there is nothing done about it over 4 quarters...and that only indicates dominance between 2 people, which creates the appearance of dominance of one team over another. 2 examples fresh in my mind are Deion Branch's MVP game and the slot receiving prowess of Green Bay in '96. Neither guys are dominant NFL players, but they certainly had a good matchup in their respective superbowl games.
Then there's the Indy @ NE AFCG in 2004, which was definitely not a lopsided win, but would probably qualify as a dominant performance, with factors such as weather and homefield advantage.

Sorry to ramble, not sure if anyone agrees, but I think you get the point that there needs to be more factors other than point differntial to define dominance .

395
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/25/2008 - 12:51pm

I don't really see anything wrong with what Will is saying. If both Indy and NE played Pitt and Indy won by 9 and NE beat them by 32 I think most NE fans would use that game to justify the belief that NE was a better team. Obviously team from different generations didn't play the same teams, but by virtue of making the playoffs we can reasonably assume that all opponents faced were at least good.

And I see his case for ignoring cap considerations. For example, let's say that for some odd reason, pick-up baseketball teams are picked by 5's. Said another way, the first captain to choose selects five players before the second one does.

After a while, people realize the folly of their ways and go to a more traditional back and forth selection process.

Sure it may be more difficult to build a great team using the second method, but if you are simply trying to ascertain which team was better, team building hurdles are completely irrelevent. It is still possible that the a team developed by the second method *could* be the better one, but the odds are that the first one would grade out as better.

As someone already said, it is a nebulous topic anyway. If NE goes on to win the SB, I certainly won't care if people still think that the '85 Bears were a better team.

396
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/25/2008 - 1:11pm

Sean,

then you have to go the other way as well and give Joe Greene Rodney’ Harrison’s lifetime supply of HGH, or give Joe Montana access to five year’s worth of taped defensive signals, or allow Terry Bradshaw to throw in a post-1978 environment where the rules for secondary play are entirely different

I don't know if you are trying to be humorous here, but I have to say it comes off as overly antagonistic instead.

It is pretty well documented that the Steelers were pretty heavy into the steroid scene.

Parcells recently chided Steve Young about frequent malfunctions with the coach to QB communication during SF's scripted 15 play opening. The insinuation being that, since both teams have to turn off the communication system if one goes down, SF can hinder their opponent's offense while doing little harm to their own - since the first plays were already called before the game and all.

Young's reaction made it perfectly obvious that Parcells was right on the mark and returned the blast by pointing out that NY's doors would coincidentally open - bringing in extra wind - whenever the opposing kicker was lining up for a FG.

Your point is fine, but the overt attacks on NE are completely unnecessary.

397
by Al 45 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/25/2008 - 1:53pm

re: Oswelk 396

Parcells recently chided Steve Young about frequent malfunctions with the coach to QB communication during SF’s scripted 15 play opening. The insinuation being that, since both teams have to turn off the communication system if one goes down, SF can hinder their opponent’s offense while doing little harm to their own - since the first plays were already called before the game and all.

One slight nitpick on this piece. If one teams coach to QB communication system is malfunctioning the other team does NOT have to shut theirs down. The requirement that other teams shut down communication systems is only for coach to coach's booth communication systems.

Remember, this happened this year during the Pats/Colts game. The Patriots coach to QB system was malfunctioning, but the Colts were not forced to turned off theirs. It's only if the malfunction is from coach to coach's booth.

398
by mrparker (not verified) :: Sun, 01/27/2008 - 1:31pm

I like how Aaron is skittish about comparing the Rams 00 to the Pats 08.

How many points do you think the Rams could have scored if they were enjoying running up scores for half a season.

And the Pats can't be stopped?

Umm they only scored 21 points at home in the afc championship game. That last drive was inches away from ending when Kevin Faulk saved the Pats tookus

399
by mrparker (not verified) :: Sun, 01/27/2008 - 6:10pm

Why not adjust dvoa for luck by eliminating a certain percentage of a teams worst and best plays?

So you know maybe you take out the the top 5 and the bottom 5 percent out of the equation.

Maybe this would result in everyone having a near 0 rating.

I don't have access to the data so I don't know.

400
by James (not verified) :: Mon, 02/04/2008 - 5:09am

so, to curtis & nicky in particular,

where do the pats rate in the 'greatest of all time' stakes now?

maybe you should've crowned their a$$es after the superbowl? mwhahahahaha...