Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Feb 2010

Super Bowl XLIV Quick Reads

by Bill Barnwell

Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints organization and the great fans of New Orleans for winning Super Bowl XLIV. May the feeling you had watching Tracy Porter run the victory into the end zone remain on instant recall for generations, and may those fans who haven't yet experienced the bliss of a Super Bowl victory get to experience the same exhilaration one day.

And how did it happen? Well, the instant narrative that has spilled out of Super Bowl XLIV is that "Payton beat Peyton": Sean Payton made amazingly brave decisions, and Peyton Manning couldn't come up big when he needed to. The "Manning choked" talk is just as silly on its face as it was five years ago and deserves little respect, so we're going to focus on a much more quantifiable part of the game: Payton's decisions.

In a game that often paralyzes coaches with its importance, Sean Payton made two extremely bold, unconventional moves. To steal our favorite phrase from Herm Edwards, Payton coached to win the game. An evaluation of those decisions -- even without considering the outcome of the game, which is mostly independent of his two biggest strategic choices -- proves them to be correct.

His first bold move was to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Colts 1, with 1:49 to go. You can take issue with the specifics of the playcall and whether the Saints might have been better off running behind guard Jahri Evans or putting the ball in Drew Brees's hands, but the logic behind the decision is sound. Teams succeeded in 2009 when running the ball from the one-yard line 54.3 percent of the time. (In small sample size theatre, New Orleans was 7-of-11 running from the one this year, but Indy allowed only three touchdowns on 11 attempts from the one.)

Using the 54.3 percent conversion rate, the Saints would expect to score 3.80 points by going for it, and somewhere in the range of 2.96 points by kicking a field goal. The break-even point -- the point at which kicking a field goal becomes the superior decision -- is if the Saints would only expect to convert 42.8 percent of the time. Payton is very clearly in the right.

Even that's a conservative analysis, though. We know that, historically, teams that start with the ball on their own one-yard line score -0.68 points on their next possession; the possibility of a safety or a turnover, combined with the difficulty of travelling 99 yards for a touchdown, actually produces a negative expectation for points. The Colts are no average offense (which they showed on a 96-yard drive for a touchdown earlier in the quarter) and their expectation is higher, but it's close to zero points. A Saints stop could also produce good field position for them with a chance to score again, which is exactly what ended up happening; a field goal leaves 1:45 on the clock for Manning with timeouts and better field position than his own 1-yard line. Considering all these factors, going for it is not only the right move, it's the obvious one, even allowing for the possibility of Thomas getting stuffed.

Starting off the second half with an onside kick was an even bolder move, but it was again mathematically correct. Football Outsiders has found that the recovery rates for unexpected onside kicks has been, historically, 70.5 percent. That jibes with Payton himself, who estimated it to be better than a 60 or 70 percent chance during the week. That historical rate is again conservative, since it doesn't account for the nature of the Super Bowl; all surprises aren't created equal, and nobody in their right mind was expecting an onside kick, especially after Payton's big decision had just come up short.

If we just assume that 70.5 percent figure is the true probability that the onside kick would be recovered in this situation, we can figure out the expected points gained or lost by the move. We'll use the actual recovery point of the Saints 42-yard line as the expected location of the ball after the kick attempt. The average team starting with the ball on their own 42 will score 1.06 points, so multiplying that by the 70.5 percent chance of recovery means that the Saints would be expected to score .75 points. On the flip side, if given the ball on the opposition's 42-yard line, the average team would be expected to score exactly 2.00 points, so since the Colts would be expected to recover the onside kick 29.5 percent of the time, the negative expectation for the Saints is .59 points. Since .75 is more than .59, although it's a minor net gain, it's the correct decision for Payton to make given the circumstances.

The decision also looks better when we consider that the Saints and Colts aren't average offenses; they're great ones. The Saints scored 44.1 percent more points per drive than the average team in 2009, while the Colts scored 36.8 percent more than league-average. If we adjust the figures accordingly, the Saints actually expect to score 1.08 points with a successful onside kick while allowing only .795 in the process, upping the difference to .29 points.

We can keep going and adjust those figures for quality of defense, but you get the idea. The point is simple: Each time Payton made his decision, despite the fact that coaches tend to be risk-averse and that one of his decisions didn't pan out, he was making the mathematically correct choice.

Of course, if the Saints had ended up losing, we'd be dealing with a different set of what-if's than the ones running through the heads of Colts fans this morning. Instead of thinking about Dwight Freeney's ankle or Pierre Garcon's drop, Saints fans would be wondering what would have happened if Marques Colston hadn't dropped an easy first down in the first quarter, or if Jabari Greer hadn't gone out for a play and left Pierre Garcon alone with Usama Young for one fateful touchdown. Or what would have happened if Tracy Porter hadn't dropped that interception with a clear path to the end zone with three minutes left. Instead of patting Payton on the back for his boldness, he'd be crucified for failing in fourth-and-short and the ludicrous decision to try an onside kick to start the second half.

Sean Payton wasn't wrong when the Colts stuffed Pierre Thomas, and he wasn't right until the final horn sounded and he was being carried onto the field by his players. He was right the moment he kept his offense on the field, and he was right the moment he told Morstead to execute the onside kick. Here's to hoping that more coaches show his level of bravery when teams try and figure out the Saints' formula for success moving forward.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
1.
Drew Brees NO
32/38
288
2
0
189
189
0
Brees had an uneven start to the game; Dwight Freeney was giving Jermon Bushrod trouble, and while Marques Colston was getting open against the Colts linebackers and finding spots to attack their zone coverage, there was simply nothing deep for Brees to attack. Once Freeney slowed down, though, Brees went into the zone and remained there for the rest of the game. After he came onto the field with 8:14 left in the second quarter, Brees went 25-of-27 for 225 yards, with 11 first downs and two touchdowns. The first pass of that sequence was a 27-yard incompletion to Jeremy Shockey; Brees's only other incompletion for the rest of the game was a drop by Reggie Bush. A quarterback wins Super Bowl MVP most years, and he doesn't always deserve it (example: Eli Manning). This year, Drew Brees absolutely was the best player on the field.
2.
Peyton Manning IND
31/45
333
1
1
139
139
0
Manning is given heaping amounts of DYAR blame for throwing an interception in a key situation, but he doesn't get any added penalty for Tracy Porter's ensuing return for a touchdown; return length has been proven to be generally random for all parties with a few exceptions (Ed Reed, DeAngelo Hall), so we add a penalty for the league-average return length from the yard line of the interception into what DYAR docks Manning. As we mentioned in the introduction, Manning's touchdown pass was a product of the situation; Greer, the Saints' star cornerback and unquestionably the league's most underrated player, went to the sidelines with what appeared to be an injury after Joseph Addai's 26-yard run; immediately afterwards, Manning targeted backup corner Usama Young and Pierre Garcon beat him off the line for an easy touchdown. Outside of that, Manning really didn't have much success throwing to the sidelines; Porter got help over the top from Darren Sharper on Reggie Wayne, while Greer ably handled Garcon one-on-one. His success was almost exclusively throwing into the slot, where Dallas Clark and Austin Collie faced inferior players and single coverage.


Running Backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Joseph Addai IND
77
1
58
0
34
17
17
77 rushing yards on 13 carries looks like a great day, but it came against the league's 29th-ranked run defense, so it charts out to be a decent day as opposed to an excellent one. He also accrued about half of his receiving totals -- three catches and 33 yards -- when the Colts were down 14 in the fourth, so it was mostly checkdowns against a prevent defense. A question to ask Manning and Tom Moore: After Addai ran for 58 yards in the first quarter, why did he only get two carries in the second quarter and three in the third?
2.
Pierre Thomas NO
30
0
55
1
26
-1
27
His nine rushes only yielded two first downs and included that fourth-and-goal stuff, so it was a negative day on the ground. On the other hand, he was great after the catch all game long, highlighted by a touchdown that saw him pick up 20 YAC en route to the end zone. He got some help from the Colts' defense, though: Indy might miss more tackles than any team in football.
3.
Reggie Bush NO
25
0
38
0
9
3
7
Three first downs on nine touches isn't bad, but throw that in a mix with four yards over two punt returns and there's just not that much here. At this point, it's pretty clear what Reggie Bush is: 20 percent of the time, he's the guy that blew up against the Cardinals; 20 percent of the time, he's injured; and the other 60 percent of the time, he's a really destitute man's Leon Washington. With an uncapped year looming and Bush due $8 million in salary, he's a prime candidate to be released.


Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Pierre Garcon IND
5
7
66
13.2
1
30
Outside of the touchdown pass with Jabari Greer on the bench, Garcon didn't actually do very much; his other successes came when the Saints were in zone coverage and Garcon got across the field and away from Greer. He was able to beat Greer once, but dropped what would have been a pass for a very nice gain. One of the weaknesses of stats is that they don't adjust for injuries; if our advanced metrics knew Greer was off the field on the touchdown pass, Garcon wouldn't be this high. And if you're wondering why Greer was on Garcon and not Reggie Wayne, well, Greer is the left cornerback, and Wayne plays almost exclusively on the opposite side of the field. The Saints chose to double Wayne and keep Greer where he was comfortable, and it worked.
2.
Marques Colston NO
7
9
83
11.9
0
25
Never a particularly fast receiver, Colston succeeded this year by using his size, guile, and just enough speed to get past linebackers and safeties in zone coverage. That's exactly what he did for most of the first half on Sunday, giving Drew Brees a safety valve in the middle of the field for 8-10 yards on most plays. When the Colts adjusted at halftime, they took Colston away -- he only had two targets in the second half, both catches -- but opened up opportunities for the rest of the offense.
3.
Dallas Clark IND
7
9
86
12.3
0
24
Thinking that one or even two of Scott Fujita, Scott Shanle, Randall Gay, Darren Sharper, or Roman Harper couldn't cover him, Clark was our pre-game choice for Super Bowl MVP. It started out looking pretty wise; Clark had two catches for 25 yards on the opening drive, with a third pass desperately tipped away. Then the Saints adjusted, and Clark didn't catch another pass until the third quarter. He contributed five first downs on his nine catches, but he only really got downfield on two plays, which were responsible for 45 of his 86 yards.
4.
Devery Henderson NO
7
7
63
9.0
0
17
If you want to criticize Sean Payton for something, go after the decision to send Henderson on an ill-advised reverse for a loss of seven yards. While there's the subtle benefits of forcing the Colts to honor their backside responsibilities when running the ball to the outside on subsequent plays, a reverse against the speedy Colts' defense is just asking for a drive to end. It's too bad, too, because Henderson was great as a receiver, catching everything Drew Brees threw at him and nabbing four first downs in the process.
5.
Lance Moore NO
2
2
21
10.5
0
5
When Brees couldn't find anything deep or on the outside early, there was one exception: A deep out to Moore for 21 yards on third-and-2 that kept a second-quarter drive going. Moore was later thrown a quick hitch for no gain on first-and-goal, as part of the series of downs ending with Thomas getting stuffed on the goal line, but he made up for it by doing a great job of getting off the line and making himself available to a scrambling Brees for the two-point conversion that gave the Saints a seven-point lead.
6.
Jeremy Shockey NO
3

4

13
4.3
1
2
Shockey was more useful as a blocker than he was as a receiver, with little to show besides the two-yard touchdown pass that ended up being the game-winner for New Orleans. Now that he's won a Super Bowl, we can safely lay the whole movement tying the Giants' success two years ago to the injury-enforced absence of Shockey in the playoffs to rest. Oh, and now that the work's over, he can party in Miami all he wants.
7.
Austin Collie IND
6
9
66
11.0
0
-7
Collie was another player we expected to have an impact in the slot, but he didn't do much until catching a gorgeous lob from Manning for 40 yards as part of the penultimate Colts drive. It was clear that the Colts wanted to get Collie the ball in space and hope that he'd bounce off a few tackles from undersized Saints, but Collie could only muster 12 YAC across his six catches, and nine came on that lob.
8.
Robert Meachem NO
2
3
6
3.0
0
-12
An absolute non-factor, Meachem finished the playoffs with only three catches for 25 yards. Fortunately, they don't give out half-championship rings.
9.
Reggie Wayne IND
5
11
46
9.2
0
-22
If you really feel the urge to pin the blame on exactly one Colts player for the loss, go ahead and put it on Wayne. He was playing a good pass defense, but he was facing the average Tracy Porter, not Greer, the team's elite corner. Sure, he faced double coverage a fair amount of the time, but he's supposed to be one of the league's best wide receivers; those guys are supposed to beat double coverage.

(Ed. Note: This article originally appeared Monday on ESPN Insider.)

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 08 Feb 2010

85 comments, Last at 11 Feb 2010, 11:40am by imafreak

Comments

1
by displaced_saints_fan :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:06pm

Bush might be released, though an astonishing number of people still think he's effective. He's not without value, but neither is he worth his contract.

It will be interesting to see how the back office will handle success. I want a GM who is ruthless; there just aren't enough roster spots to keep a bunch sub-replacement level players out of loyalty and still hope to field a competitive team. I love Deuce, but I'm glad we didn't bring him back last summer.

30
by Dean :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 10:47am

He's a lot like the dog killer in that regard.

People who play video games think he has value. People who watch sportscenter think he has value. People who watch football know better.

31
by Theo :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 10:49am

I watched the game on BBC and they were talking about Reggie Bush a lot more than other players. They were really expecting 120 yards rushing and 60 receiving and were surprised he wasn't a big factor.
I understand they wanted him to be a key factor, but they didn't know he isn't.

42
by Ben Stuplisberger :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:14pm

He's very useful from a marketing standpoint, which may prevent him from getting released, despite his limited on the field value.

2
by Alexander :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:10pm

Reggie Wayne was an embarrassment. DYAR seems to agree that he had a bad day, but considering his star status, and lackluster effort on the Pick-6 I feel confident using the word embarrassing.

3
by Anonymous1234 (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:14pm

Yeah, I second that. Reggie Bush has to go. I though he looked bad on the mid-field punt return in the second quarter where he kept dancing, instead of running north to south. The Saints, though they got the field goal, should have had a significantly shorter field starting at around the Colts 40 instead of their own 46. He does this way too often.

13
by Yaguar :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:43am

I'm a Colts fan, and I was hoping for Bush to see the ball as much as possible. Bush is horrid against fast defenses. Colts fans fear small, agile backs like Bush - but only the ones that drive straight ahead with purpose.

There is a place in this league for Reggie Bush, but against a fast, aggressive defense with mediocre gap control (hello, Indianapolis!) he's going to do far worse than someone like MJD.

4
by Key19 :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:25pm

Let me preface this by saying that I generally feel like Manning plays very well in the Playoffs.

However, the Colts seriously are the most disappointing team in terms of Playoff success that I can think of. They've been the most dominant regular season team of the last decade, and yet they've won only one Super Bowl in that time. I know that winning a Super Bowl is hard, but the Steelers and Patriots each have multiple SBs in the 2000s. Is anyone going to argue that the Colts were somehow worse in the 2000s than those teams? I just don't understand it. Every year it seems like right after the Super Bowl, analysts (and Vegas) are saying "this is the Colts' year." EVERY YEAR THEY SAY THIS! And they're not really wrong for saying it, but it has only worked out once.

I really just don't understand how a team that has been so good EVERY YEAR for so long can only have one Super Bowl win. Is it just because the Patriots had their number for what, 3 postseasons in a row or something? I can see an argument that says "whoever won Colts/Pats was gonna win SB, and Colts just were usually on wrong side of that one." Kind of like "whoever wins SF/DAL in the 90s was gonna win the SB."

I just really can't fathom how unsuccessful the Colts have been at actually bringing home the Lombardi trophy. Sure, you can say "just trying being a Browns/Lions/Raiders fan," but I dunno, I think always having my heart ripped out just before reaching the ultimate prize might actually be worse than being say a fan of a team that makes the Playoffs quite a bit with 10-6/11-5 records with the occasional 6-10/7-9 season intermixed. Colts fans expect every year to be their year (and for good reason), and yet it still has only worked out once. What's their problem?

Just some rants/mutterings that have been on my mind for honestly a few years now. I seriously have come to expect the Colts every year to be ridiculous in the regular season only to fall short of the SB for some reason. I don't know what their problem is, but there is a problem.

Extremely successful or not, they just can't seem to bring home the trophy like they should. I mean hell, the Bucs have as many SB wins in the 2000s as the Colts. Yeah, the Bucs aren't nearly as entertaining otherwise in this last decade, but in 50 years no one will really know the difference. If Peyton had somehow lost against the Bears in the first SB, he would most likely become the next Dan Marino story of the NFL. Sure, the Dolphins were probably fun to watch with him around, but what did that actually accomplish? Nothing.

7
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:39pm

I think a lot of it is just pure randomnes. We think of a decade's worth of playoff appearances as being a big number, but it really isn't. I think even the most sophisticated football fans tend to underestimate how much of a role random chance plays in these events. The other part, I think, may be in part due to being a very qb dependent team which has never been dominant on the line of scrimmage, even two outstanding edge pass rushers. The earlier Patriot, and Steeler teams, had really really dominant defensive front sevens.

15
by Alexander :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:45am

Well the defense is always hurt, and thus come playoff time, always crappy. The year they won the SB they were relatively healthy.

16
by kamiyu206 :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 1:03am

Think Atlanta Braves of 1990's or New York Yankees of 2000's. (prior to 2009) Winning a championship is THAT hard, even though you field an excellent team every year.

Besides random luck (we all know teams need certain luck to win a championship), maybe the Colts' coaching staffs' conservative approach rather work well during the regular season but not so much in one & done playoffs? I don't know but one might guess.

19
by Bobman :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 1:26am

kamiyu206, interesting point on the conservative play calling; probably a factor. Thinking about it more would probably give me an ulcer.

But I think the Colts come out ahead in the Braves and Yanks comparison because those teams had the benefit of five- and seven-game playoff series. You can easily lose one game due to random bounces (the Colts playoff loss to Pittsburgh leaps to mind for about a half dozen of them on both sides) or officiating or surprise on-side kicks. But to lose consistently over a series of series, well, they probably had it coming.

But I DO like those comps--nobody would say they weren't among the best teams of their decades.

23
by kamiyu206 :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 4:00am

Bobman, I think it's a valid argument, but also you have to consider the difference between two sports.

Among 4 major professional sports of North America, baseball might be the least favorable one for the best team to win a game. In usual, the best NFL teams win 75~88% of their regular season games. Best NBA teams win 70~80%. Best NHL teams win 65~70%. However, best MLB teams usually win 60~65%. (best winning percentage of modern era baseball is .716, and it was an extraordinary achievement.)

Of course it is somewhat a reflection of sample size difference of games playing between each sport, but still I think it's safe to say that winning a single baseball game needs more luck than winning a single football game. And I think it could be argued that winning a 5 or 7 game baseball series needs as much luck as winning a single football game. And actually it makes sense, because there are so many cases that best hitter of a certain team goes like 4/20 in 5 games, and best starting pitcher throws 2 poor games during the 5 or 7 game series, etc.

Since the insertion of wildcard system in 1995, the winningest teams in MLB regular season have won the WS grand total of 3 times. (1998, 2007, 2009) 4 times, WS matchup featured no first or second winningest teams of either league. (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006) In 2000, it was actually the 4th winningest team in NL (Mets) versus the 5th winningest team in AL (Yankees).

During the same period, the winningest teams in NFL regular season have won the SB 3 times, same as MLB. (1996, 2002, 2003 - I ignored the tiebreak) But, each SB has at least one second or most winningest team in their respected conferences. Actually, last year's SB was the first time since 1995 that did not have at least one winningest team of either conference.

There might be some selective bias, I know. But I don't think Colts come out ahead in the Braves or Yankees comparison just because of different playoff system. Systems are different, yes but so are the other aspects of the games themselves.

36
by Eddo :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:43am

This is a very good post, and very thorough, so don't take my criticism the wrong way.

There are a couple things I disagree about, here.

While it's true that the teams with the best record win 75-88% of their games in the NFL, I wouldn't say that the best teams do so. Rather, the NFL differs from the NBA, the NHL, and MLB, in that the latter three have a long-enough regular season to determine with decent confidence which teams are actually the best.

The NFL, due to playing only 16 games, sees a lot of randomness in record. For example, the 2005 Steelers were probably one of the two or three best teams in the league, but had to barely sneak into the playoffs. The 2001 Bears finished 13-3 and got a bye, but were clearly not one of the four best teams that year.

However, because MLB plays 162 games, if a team wins 100, you know they "deserve" it. When a team like the 2001 Mariners wins 116, you can say with extreme confidence that they're the "best team" in the league.

And baseball, despite playing five-to-seven game series in the playoffs, is indeed the hardest for the best to win, just like you said. This is due to the nature of baseball, however, where half the game is based on players who don't play every day. The game fundamentally changes, somewhat, in the playoffs. In the regular season, having poor 4th and 5th starters can cost you 20+ games, theoretically. In the playoffs, due to the structure and the amount of off days, you can get away with only needing three starting pitchers, covering up the flaw that kept you from being one of the best teams during the regular season.

The NFL is obviously more difficult to advance in the playoffs due to its single-elimination nature.

The NBA is the easiest for a top team to advance because, in basketball, you can depend on one or two stars more than any other sport, and therefore the level of play between the top team and a non-top team is much greater. Throw in that you play seven-game series in each round, and it's very difficult for a middling team to stay hot enough to overcome the huge skill disparity and upset a top team.

18
by Bobman :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 1:18am

I think this is a legit gripe, but a lot of it is timing. How many people pegged the Colts as the second best team in the league (certainly not an insult) when they happened to face the SB champ Patriots in 03 and 04? While those losses are disappointing, there really is no shame. Don't forget the Pats had just won 3 of 4 SBs in that span and people were talking (and still are) "greatest team ever."

The losses that stand out for me are the 2005 season loss to the Steelers (who caught fire late and won it all, making Indy possibly the seocnd best team once more?) and this year, same thing. The Steeler loss hurt me more than yesterday, but that might just be me. The 07 and 08 teams that lost to the Chargers were injured and flawed and had no real chance in the post season, IMO. A healthy Freeney and Mathis in 2007 and they MIGHT have toppled the Pats before the SB. As good as the Pats were that year, the Colts were just a step behind until Freeney went down.

EXAMPLE: Picture a statistical system, whereby students are measured based on their grads on tests, one per week over 10 weeks. With the absense of one super dominant test taker, the kid who comes in second on five of them, and gets the top score in one, and maybe 4th/5th on the rest, could very well have the highest average in the class. Ergo the highest grade/best/smartest student, at least by the measure of averaged grades.

"What?!" says the outraged student who got a 110 on one test while the class average was 80. (He really knew his shit that week.) "I had the highest spread of any winner that week. I am the best."

"NO way, says another kid, I had top scores on three of them and came in 2nd on another. Yeah, I missed one test because I was sick, and messed up another because I filled in the wrong circles on the answer sheet...."

You can slice it and dice it with SD and variance, look at how they did each week compared to the class average, but just taking raw numbers, the kid who comes in second consistently, has a pretty good shot at having the top grades without ever clearly being the best. It's just the nature of measuring across bundles of unrelated data like that.

Do the more sophisticated stat heads here have a clearer explanation? Does htis analogy hold up? I am not saying the Colts are the best, or anybody else is or is not. (I would not argue with the Pats as "team of the decade" and could accept the Steelers ahead of indy based on 2 SB wins and the H2H playoff win.) What I am saying is that if a team was consistently #2 or #3 for every year of the decade, even without winning it all once (which may disgust a lot of people who view rings as the only validation of anything), they could well deserve team of the decade recognition. No?

If any one thing truly disappoints me today, it's that Hank Baskett is still employed. And not in a hospital.

25
by DeltaWhiskey :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 7:55am

Key19
Excellent points and nicely articulated.

Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:39pm
I think a lot of it is just pure randomness (sic).

Randomness is huge, since once a team makes the playoffs, either a 4 or 3 game winning streak is required to win the Super Bowl. I came to fully appreciate this in 2005 with the Steelers run to the Super Bowl, with further reinforcement by the Giants two years later. Casual perusal and review of several teams’ regular seasons suggests that even winning three to four games in a row in the regular season is not easy. Three to four game win streaks in the regular season, while not rare, are not overly abundant for most teams either. After all, putting together a series of 2 game win streaks with only one loss after each will get you a 10-11 win season.

With that being said

RE: Bobman
"What I am saying is that if a team was consistently #2 or #3 for every year of the decade, even without winning it all once (which may disgust a lot of people who view rings as the only validation of anything), they could well deserve team of the decade recognition. No?"

I wouldn’t say I’m disgusted by this, but I do think that at the end of the day, it’s the ring that matters. There is no clearer way in my eyes of determining which team is the “best” – if the champion is not the “best” team, then who is, and what is the point of playing a championship? Any other slicing/dicing is consolation for the team(s) that didn’t get the job done.

For me, there are at least two factors that make the “champion is the best” argument valid. First, making the playoffs means the team is at a minimum good. Second, as I said, putting together the 3 or 4 game win streak is not easy, especially since it is done against teams that are expected to be better than the average week-in, week-out fair encountered during the regular season. Finally, to win the 3 or 4 games in a row, the randomness that Will mentions above has to be managed, overcome and/or exploited.

Based on this and coming back to Key19, I think if I don’t believe in the value of the ring, and were ranking teams, I would have to place the Colts of the last 10 years below the 4 and none Bills of the 90s.

32
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:21am

"if the champion is not the “best” team, then who is, and what is the point of playing a championship?"

The best team is the one that would have won the championship most often if the same teams had played out the same season enough times to eliminate randomness as a significant factor. Or, alternatively, the team that one the title most times across the spread of "close enough" possible worlds.

The point of playing a championship is to determine the champion. Being the champion is pretty great, whether or not you're actually the best team.

50
by Robbie (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 2:31pm

"if the champion is not the “best” team, then who is, and what is the point of playing a championship?"

The team that is the best is the team that is the best at winning football games. The luck that can cause that team to fail to win a championship doesn't make a difference in their being the best.

The point of playing a championship is entertainment.

56
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 4:02pm

"if the champion is not the “best” team, then who is, and what is the point of playing a championship?"

To hand out a trophy.

The idea that you can decide the "best" team in one game is just crazy. It's easy to cook up a situation where the "best" team in the league doesn't even make the playoffs. After all, the NFL schedule is designed to discourage repeat winners due to the strength-of-schedule component. It's only 3 games, but you only need 1 to not make the playoffs.

73
by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 6:59am

"The best team is the one that would have won the championship most often if the same teams had played out the same season enough times to eliminate randomness as a significant factor. Or, alternatively, the team that one the title most times across the spread of "close enough" possible worlds."

To what degree is randomness a "significant factor?" On this sight, we all assume that it is a significant component. Stats like DVOA account for approximately 70 to 75% of the "stuff" in wins, suggesting that up to 25% of winning may be due to random (luck) factors; however, that 25% could also be due to currently unmeasured and/or unmeasureable factors (football skill, football intelligence, coaching, preparation, fatigue, team cohesion, swagger, confidence, momentum, clutch ability, etc). Essentially, we don't know how big of a factor randomness plays - currently we assume it is huge, but this perception may be due partly to having just recently begun to understand its releavance and having a limited understanding of it. Therefore, b/c it is unknown to us, we potentially over estimate its import.

"The team that is the best is the team that is the best at winning football games. The luck that can cause that team to fail to win a championship doesn't make a difference in their being the best."

Alternatively, could we not argue that part of being "the best" has to do with being able to overcome bad luck or to properly capitalize on good luck, and perhaps good teams are better able to generate their good luck and avoid bad luck and vice versa. And as noted above, we don't truly know the magnitude of the impact of luck (randomness).

"The idea that you can decide the "best" team in one game is just crazy. It's easy to cook up a situation where the "best" team in the league doesn't even make the playoffs. After all, the NFL schedule is designed to discourage repeat winners due to the strength-of-schedule component. It's only 3 games, but you only need 1 to not make the playoffs."

The "best" isn't decided in one game. It is decided first over the course of a 16 game season, whereby approximately 1/3 of the field is eliminated from the picture. Next in the playoffs, over the course of 3 or 4 games the weeding process is continued. Regarding the strength-of-schedule componet, I would argue that the strength-of-schedule fails to discourage repeat winners. If strength-of-schedule truly discouraged repeat winners, then 4 teams (NE, PIT, PHI,IND) would not acount for ~1/3 of Playoff Success noted in the NFL Standings, 2000-2009 article at http://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2010/nfl-standings-2000-20... (nevermind that five teams, CIN, BUF, HOU*, CLE, and DET, have had no success or that 3, NE, PIT, IND acounted for 6 of the Super Bowl Wins and that the 4 teams, NE, PIT, PHI,IND, account for 9/20 possible Super Bowl berths). If parity existed and strength-of-schedule worked, playoff success should be more evenly distributed.

79
by Fred B (not verified) :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 5:28pm

Please don’t fret….50 years down the road—great point, so let’s look at it…In the last 55 years or so, who was the one (or two) great team of the period (maybe not THE best, but great) regarded as having come up short:

1956-63 NY Giants (won one),
1964-69 Baltimore (but won in ’70),
1965-73 Dallas (but won in ’71),
1966-70—Prothro-hiccup-1973-80 Los Angeles (Nothing),
1967-77 Oakland (but won in ’76, and ’80),
1968-77 Minnesota (4 empty SB trips),
1975-82 Dallas (but won in ’77)
1982-85 Miami (Nothing),
1986-89 Cleveland and Denver were not very good, so skip over
1990-93 Buffalo (4 consecutive empty SB trips),
1994-1998 Green Bay (won one),
1999-2002 St. Louis (won one),
2003-2010 Indy (won one).

OK, the only teams really screwed here are Los Angeles and Miami (Marino). What this tells you is that if you can win just ONE super bowl (or lose as at least four), then looking back in 50 years, you should be OK --- so don’t worry about it….Also, in 50 years, what about not so great teams that won a championship: teams like Bears ’63, Jets ’68, Chiefs ’69, Ravens ’00, Tampa ’02, NYG ’07. Well Bears (Halas’ last), Jets (AFL!), Chiefs (AFL!), and Giants (18-1!) are OK, but you are right, I have no idea how that Tampa championship is going to be perceived….

82
by Jimmy Oz (not verified) :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 7:46pm

Tampa v Oakland was best defence v best offence (using yards)

35
by Key19 :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:31am

Ok, well is it possible that maybe the Colts' philosophy regarding player physicality (aka small fast guys to fit the scheme) just simply cannot hold up reliably enough for them to ever be healthy in the Playoffs? It's well-known that the Colts have increased injury rates (among the worst in the league), and yet FO always credits injuries as a main determinant of team success. Maybe the Colts' philosophy is one that will build predictably consistent regular season dominance, all while sustaining critical injuries throughout, but these don't come to a head until they're already done playing for real (aka Week 15-ish) so we don't notice a real decline because we just assume the backups are pulling the load by choice (when really a lot of them are there by necessity).

What I'm trying to say is that my new view is that the Colts' personnel is simply not built to endure a 16-game season and then be even remotely successful afterwards, and that while they are often viewed as successful even in spite of their bad injury "luck," it's really that "luck" catching up with them in the Playoffs that explains their oft-early exits.

43
by everyday (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:18pm

I think there's something to respecting overall achievement, particularly the regular season. After all, there's no reward for being the best team in the regular season - just one for winning the playoff tournament. One could argue that the 18-1 Patriots were the kid who did well every week, while the 14-6 Giants mixed in a lot of poor performances.

But on your specific hypothetical, I think the consistent 2nd or 3rd place team would need a clear edge over the others. Not being able to end up 1st in the tournament, against the best teams, should stand for something. That said, if team A won 13 games each year, and team B 2 Super Bowls but an average of only 11 (including playoffs), it would make for an interesting argument that team A was better. Presumably, team B would've had some 5 or 6 win seasons when they were far inferior to team A, to go along with a few years where they were better.

Or: would you rather hire someone who worked at 90% effectiveness 12 months a year - or someone who worked at 70% effectiveness for 11 months, then turned it up to 110% for the last month? Everyday excellence, the challenge of coming to play each week and being able to succeed on a regular basis, should be celebrated too. And the Colts have proven able to do that.

39
by SHogun-6 (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:56am

Welcome to life as an Eagles fan.

40
by DGL :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:06pm

I think a lot of it is just the fact that the teams that get into the playoffs are all generally good, and the probability of any given team winning three straight games against good teams is low, no matter how good they are.

Take kamiyu206's assumption below that the best NFL teams win 75%-88% of their regular season games against all (good and bad) competition. When you get into the playoffs and all the other teams are good, the "better" team is probably likely to win only maybe 55%-60% of the time. Even a "great" team wins maybe only 65% of its games against other playoff teams.

If a team wins 60%-65% of its games, the probability of winning three in a row is only 22%-27%. If a team is consistently so good as to make the playoffs nine years out of ten, and is so good that they are 60%-65% likely to win any game against playoff-quality competition, their expected number of championships is two. Winning one championship in that period is really within the bounds of random variation, not cause to look for why Manning's s**t doesn't work in the playoffs.

51
by Keasley (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 2:31pm

The bottom line to me is that the NFL has been very successful at acheiving parity. And a certain amount of luck, injury and otherwise, is virtually the only thing that has allowed any team to acheive a 'dynasty' on game day.

I mean, only two teams have won more than 1 Superbowl in the last decade: the Patriots and Steelers. And despite the 6 Superbowl appearances among them, not a single game was a blowout. 5/6 came down the final 2 minutes and were decided by 4 points or less: well within the margin where a single play, single bounce or single call can change the outcome. The one Steelers/Patriots SB that was decided by more than 4 points, XL, was a weird one to say the least. The winning QB was awful and the losing team got more yards, more first downs, and won the turnover battle. In defense of the Steelers in that game, they had a couple big plays that were successful, and the Seahawks had dropped passes, questionable clock management, and missed field goals against them. But the refs played way too big a role in that game. Had some calls gone differently the final score could have easily been 21-10 for Seattle.

I'm rambling a bit here but really, how big a role should the XL refs and an Adam Viniateri FG (from when he was with the Patriots) play in deciding how good a quarterback Peyton Manning is...

83
by DeltaWhiskey :: Thu, 02/11/2010 - 6:03am

"The bottom line to me is that the NFL has been very successful at acheiving parity."

I would argue, the NFL has been very successful in achieving the perception of parity. Both this article, Opening 2011 Super Bowl Odds (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2010/opening-2011-super-bo...) and this article, NFL Standings, 2000-2009 (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2010/nfl-standings-2000-20...) suggest otherwise. The latter does perhaps provide evidence suggestive of parity in the regular season; however, in the post-season, there are clear and consistent high performers. The first article, when compared with the second, suggests that this is not likely to change. Seven of the first 10 teams in the first article appear in the Top 10 of the second.

ODDS article Top 10:
Indianapolis Colts 13/2
San Diego Chargers 8/1
New England Patriots 10/1
*New Orleans Saints 10/1
Pittsburgh Steelers 11/1
*Dallas Cowboys 12/1
Green Bay Packers 12/1
*Minnesota Vikings 12/1
Philadelphia Eagles 16/1
Baltimore Ravens 20/1

10 Year Performance Top 10:
IND
NE
PIT
PHI
GB
DEN*
BAL
TEN*
NYG*
SD

*Appears in only one list.

The reality of NFL Parity is that in any given year, a certain number teams are going to rise and make it to the playoffs; however winning the Championship is another matter - 12/20 available Super Bowl berths in the last 10 years have been filled by 5 teams.

The more I think about and look at available information, the more I begin to believe that in general, saying a Super Bowl Champion is the best team is a fair assessment. It requires the least justification and qualifying, and in addition to being face valid, there are other strong indicators as I've outlined above and in other posts. Winning the Super Bowl is not a perfect measure obviously, but I have yet to see a better one.

47
by Josh S (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 1:47pm

Yes, the sample size here is definitely an issue. I was thinking immediately after the SB that if these two teams played a seven game series, I'm not sure the Saints win. Not trying to take anything away from their win, I'm just trying to think about why the Colts have "only" won one during these years of their regular season dominance. I think we can easily see the fortunes of the Patriots in the playoffs turning out differently (a couple of narrow SB victories), for example....

I have also long thought that it's unfair of fans and the media (and the players themselves) to place so much emphasis on being the SB champion (or the World Series champion, etc.) as the only way to measure success for a team. Yes, the Colts haven't been able to get more than one Trophy, but there is still a lot to be proud of on that team over these last years. We would certainly still place them in the top three most successful NFL franchises, I think (behind perhaps the Patriots and the Steelers). The Bucs would be much, much lower despite their equality in number of trophies.

57
by C (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 4:19pm

Key19
One word: Dungy

Patriots have the genius of Bellicheck
Steelers had Cower ( not great, maybe even overrated IMO but still very good)
Tomlin did a good job in what seemed to be a down year

Dungy: Ultra conservative, predictable, vanilla cover 2 schemes, doesn't mix it up, doesn't take chances... plays not to lose ( not to win)... Isn't even involved in the offensive side of the game ( that's actually a good thing though)...

Caldwell was Dungy Jr, playing not to lose, getting outcoached by Sean Payton, who came prepared, aggressive, and with a plan... NOT running vanilla schemes on defense ( thanks Greg Williams).

Yes, the Colts should have won more than 1 super bowl in the last decade, but that team had the Dungy nuce around their neck. Dungy was even out there predicting a Colts blowout... Maybe that has something to do with why he coached so conservative and so, " not to lose"?

61
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 6:08pm

Dungy won just as many superbowls as Cowher did, last I checked.

65
by laberge :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 7:37pm

That makes me wonder if there is a quantifiable difference between "types" of coaches, not just anecdotal observations. Do "aggressive" coaches have an edge in SB's over "conservative" ones? How do you even define the terms? This reminds me of a discussion I heard before the Colts/Dungy had won an SB, "motivator" coaches versus even tempered ones. The thought was guys like Dungy and Marv Levy hadn't/couldn't win because their lack of a fiery demeanor left them unable to give their teams the extra motivation needed to play well in the big game.

67
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 8:26pm

Yeah, I've noticed people try to describe the effect of different coaching types on the game before. The conclusion I've drawn is that sometimes, change is good. Some teams who've been ridden rough need a "player's coach" to come in and respect them, and they blossom. Others with lax discipline need some authoritarian to come in and scare the crap out of people and work them hard. Different kinds of coaches work best on different teams.

This seems like an obvious conclusion...but if it were so obvious, people wouldn't waste time arguing that one kind of coach was better than others. There's plenty of examples of disciplinarians that couldn't win, and nice guys with multiple SB trophies.

I though Dungy was a smart choice when the Colts took him. They were a frantic, psychotic team under Mora. 3-13, 13-3, 6-10, all over the place. A mess, with 1995's 9-7 and a playoff run standing like a mountain on their resume since the 1970s. Though shoot, there are plenty of Colts fans who can generalize about that time much better than I can. Mr. Calm seemed to work for them.

78
by Fred B (not verified) :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 5:26pm

Please don’t fret….50 years down the road—great point, so let’s look at it…In the last 55 years or so, who was the one (or two) great team of the period (maybe not THE best, but great) regarded as having come up short:

1956-63 NY Giants (won one),
1964-69 Baltimore (but won in ’70),
1965-73 Dallas (but won in ’71),
1966-70—Prothro-hiccup-1973-80 Los Angeles (Nothing),
1967-77 Oakland (but won in ’76, and ’80),
1968-77 Minnesota (4 empty SB trips),
1975-82 Dallas (but won in ’77)
1982-85 Miami (Nothing),
1986-89 Cleveland and Denver were not very good, so skip over
1990-93 Buffalo (4 consecutive empty SB trips),
1994-1998 Green Bay (won one),
1999-2002 St. Louis (won one),
2003-2010 Indy (won one).

OK, the only teams really screwed here are Los Angeles and Miami (Marino). What this tells you is that if you can win just ONE super bowl (or lose as at least four), then looking back in 50 years, you should be OK --- so don’t worry about it….Also, in 50 years, what about not so great teams that won a championship: teams like Bears ’63, Jets ’68, Chiefs ’69, Ravens ’00, Tampa ’02, NYG ’07. Well Bears (Halas’ last), Jets (AFL!), Chiefs (AFL!), and Giants (18-1!) are OK, but you are right, I have no idea how that Tampa championship is going to be perceived….

80
by Fred B (not verified) :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 5:29pm

Please don’t fret….50 years down the road—great point, so let’s look at it…In the last 55 years or so, who was the one (or two) great team of the period (maybe not THE best, but great) regarded as having come up short:

1956-63 NY Giants (won one),
1964-69 Baltimore (but won in ’70),
1965-73 Dallas (but won in ’71),
1966-70—Prothro-hiccup-1973-80 Los Angeles (Nothing),
1967-77 Oakland (but won in ’76, and ’80),
1968-77 Minnesota (4 empty SB trips),
1975-82 Dallas (but won in ’77)
1982-85 Miami (Nothing),
1986-89 Cleveland and Denver were not very good, so skip over
1990-93 Buffalo (4 consecutive empty SB trips),
1994-1998 Green Bay (won one),
1999-2002 St. Louis (won one),
2003-2010 Indy (won one).

OK, the only teams really screwed here are Los Angeles and Miami (Marino). What this tells you is that if you can win just ONE super bowl (or lose as at least four), then looking back in 50 years, you should be OK --- so don’t worry about it….Also, in 50 years, what about not so great teams that won a championship: teams like Bears ’63, Jets ’68, Chiefs ’69, Ravens ’00, Tampa ’02, NYG ’07. Well Bears (Halas’ last), Jets (AFL!), Chiefs (AFL!), and Giants (18-1!) are OK, but you are right, I have no idea how that Tampa championship is going to be perceived….

5
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:26pm

Well, that's just it; when you are playing a poor run defense, and that poor run defense has decided to have one of it's safeties line up in Ft. Lauderdale, you damned well better gash the hell out of them with your running game, to penalize them for largely taking away your ability to throw deep. If you don't, then you just may end up in some unfavorable downs and distances, leading to some three and outs or worse.

Run to win? Well, no, but run to better enable passing? Sometimes, yes. Combine a poor running attack, against a poor running defense which is daring you to try to run, with your defense's inability to get off the field, and the outcome isn't surprising at all.

6
by jivk (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:36pm

Im not sure mean or averages are the correct statistic to use here. You assume a normal distribution. Here critical errors matter so that another type of analysis is needed.

8
by Boots Day (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:41pm

One questionable Payton decision that I haven't seen discussed anywhere was the play before the Thomas run on fourth and one, when Brees handed off on third and goal from the one to Mike Bell, who promptly fell down. On third and goal from the one in the Super Bowl, shouldn't you have a better option than your third-string tailback? Why is Mike Bell even in the game at that point?

11
by mm (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:14am

Bell was used as a short yardage specialist for the Saints much of the year, though he hadn't been playing well late in the year (an unannounced injury perhaps?).

Anyway, Pierre Thomas was #1 in DVOA for the year and the best back for the Saints, but Mike Bell actually was ahead of him in success rate for most of the year, before falling back a bit at the end. So, while Bell didn't get as much bonus yards, he was slightly more successful at getting the key distance each play. If his late year slide was due to an injury (again, I'm not sure, but he didn't look the same) that had healed, he's not a bad option.

I was annoyed at how many Saints were losing their footing in that first half. That happened to the Saints before this year in a game, and I think it might have been the game in Miami.

37
by Boots Day (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:51am

Thanks, I didn't realize how much the Saints had used Bell early in the year. His season breaks down as follows:

First four games: 343 yards on 72 carries, 4.76 avg.
Last 12 games: 311 yards on 100 carries, 3.11 avg.

So whether that's from injury or ineffectiveness, Bell basically disappeared in the last three quarters of the season. Also, in the two playoff games preceding the Super Bowl, he ran six times for 11 yards. That doesn't sound to me like the guy you want in there in a crucial situation.

70
by mm (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 9:38pm

Early in the year he was the primary carrier for awhile when Pierre Thomas was injured. When they were both healthy he generally got a handful of carries per game, often in short distance situations.

While I would have preferred Pierre Thomas, it was the same role he had been used in the majority of the season.

38
by Random_FF_Player_in_NOLA (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:54am

Mike Bell did indeed have an ankle/leg injury late in the season. It was talked about on the local talk radio stations a bit. The general concensus was that he was being sat a lot to let Lyonell Hamilton develop and carry some of the load and to keep him well for the playoffs. He turned out to not be needed much in the Arizona game, it was pointless to run up the middle against the Vikings defense, so he was kept out till the superbowl.

I watched the Miami game on T.V. earlier this year and all of us in the rome commented on how many slips and lost footing instances the Saints had on that field in that game. I don't know if its just the equipment guys selecting poor cleats or what, but the Saints didn't have that same problem on the other natural fields they played on this year. (@Carolina and @ Washington come to mind).

9
by Treima (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:46pm

Where's Donald Brown?

24
by Theo :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 5:43am

I saw him in next to Manning on passing downs. Don't remember if he got the ball though.
Didn't see him be a part of a tripple team either.

10
by Sophandros :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:05am

Quick: Which player has led the Saints in touchdowns since 2006?

-------------
Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

14
by HostileGospel :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:44am

PFR says Colston with 33, just ahead of Bush (32).

I thought you were trying to make a point about Bush there, and I admit to being surprised that he's basically tied with Colston. Still think he might be a bit overpaid, but hey.

--
There's a place I want to be. It's the NovaCare Center. That's in Philadelphia. One NovaCare Way, where the Eagles practice and then they eat cafeteria food and they watch film and we eat and we have fun.

-Donovan McNabb

28
by Sophandros :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 10:14am

PFR's numbers don't include this year's playoff games...

-------------
Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

33
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:28am

No one (or no one I know) denies that Bush is a valuable player who is well worth a roster spot in the NFL on a non-minimum salary. He was still not a good use of the #2 overall pick, and certainly is not worth what he will be paid next year. Given the lack of salary cap and his ability to shift merchandise, I doubt the Saints will cut him, but if there were a cap he'd be a rational cap casualty. I don't know about poor man's Leon Washington, but I would be happy to call him the NFL's Hidetoshi Nakata.

41
by Random_FF_Player_in_NOLA (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:13pm

Reggie is, at best, a versatile Slot Receiver. He doesn't have the speed advantage over opposing defenses that he had in college, and he doesn't have a dominant run blocking line like he had then either. Because of that, he rarely makes it past the line of scrimmage on a carry. The difference for Reggie is getting him the ball in open space. He is a decent receiver for short to intermediate passes and tends to do well against NFL defenders in 1 on 1 situations.

I feel that the Saints tend to try to use him more as a traditional back then he really should be, but, the other side of the coin is that most teams tend to respect his speed a lot when he's on the field, opening up coverage a bit on the other receivers. By occassionally handing him the ball back there, they keep his Decoy value high, which is where he really shines. Then, when teams start to believe that's all he is, he pulls out a game like Arizona on you.

Is he worth 8 million? No, not hardly, but he's definitely an "above average player" when you consider his versatility and his contribution to the offense's production when he doesn't get the balll. His team value is difficult to quantify on a stat sheet. I used to bag on Bush a whole lot, but then I started to look at what was really going on and realized where he fits into the puzzle of the Saints offense. The problem is, for him, when you replace him with "legitimately skilled competent replacement running back", the team production drop-off is non-existent. But, that also has a LOT to do with the type of offense that the Saints run.

People will argue that he doesn't have much of an impact on each individual game regularly. I ask you, which player, other than Brees, on that team has significantly more regular impact on the offense? Given the fact that the Saints will have about 50-60 snaps a game, and Drew routinely throws to 6-8 different receivers, and hands the ball to two or three different backs in a game, that gives each player an average of about 5-7 touches a game. Looking at the big play success rate for some of the elite players in the league shows that most only have a big play about one out of every 4-6 touches. The rest of the time, they are making average yardage or are occassionally not producing anything from a drop or a stuff. With so few touches per game for individual players, I do not have the expectation for any of them to have more than 2 "big, impactful plays" in a given game. Given such small sample sizes, its not beyond expectations that any one or two of the players could go more than one or two games in a row without doing anything more than providing a leage average performance.

Also, consider this one other point, giving Reggie the ball is like rolling a pair of dice. This fits Sean Peyton's style very well. He has a reputation as being willing to take a gamble, and I see the attraction there for him. If he's willing to renegotiate his deal, I see no problem with keeping him. If he doesn't, then it may be time to part ways with him. Besides, he earned $300K for the divisional victory, $500K for the NFCCG victory and another $500K for the SB victory. He's got some spare change around for a rainy day now...

49
by Alexander :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 2:16pm

Lucky Pierre would like to have a word.

12
by troycapitated p... :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:42am

I just think it's funny that going into the draft Reggie Bush was proclaimed to be one of the greats, and now he's not just a poor man's Leon Washington, but a really destitute man's Leon Washington, though I suppose there's probably a bit of hyperbole there, too.

17
by Ralph (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 1:15am

I assume the main reason Addai hardly carried the ball in the middle quarters was because the Colts' offense was hardly on the field?

20
by Bobman :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 1:38am

In the second quarter, yes. 6 plays, and two were runs to Mike Hart (who once went nearly 1,000 carries between his TWO fumbles in college, which I am sure was on their minds).

My gripe is why not in the 4th quarter? The final drive in particular. I was telling my son, not long before exploding in a string of profane invective, that the Colts had to milk the clock and score in five minutes, not 2.5. They'd be wise to run, and use runs they had not used before to get yardage and kill the clock. I was starting to tell him about the Panthers ill-fated late TD drive that left Brady and Co with about 90 seconds left (if I was TMQ six years ago I'd have written "game over" in my notebook as soon as I saw the clock) to win the game, when Manning threw the pick-six.

Cue Bob cursing like a Torette's sufferer who is surprised by a live (and ill-tempered) moray eel in his toilet bowl, his wife whisking the kids up to bed to keep them from being eaten, and the night is pretty much over.

RE the pick-six, clearly it was four down territory for a desperate team down one score late--why not embrace that and expect four downs, welcome four downs as the best way to kill the clock, and run the damn ball? (I know in theory they wanted to score fast and kick on-side to get the ball back, but if the Saints got the ball with over 30 seconds left, I had no faith in the Colts D holding the game. Most of the season, yes, but not this week. Made more sense to me to score slowly and tie, hope for the best in OT--the coin toss, a turnover, a random D stop...)

In that scenario, run to win made perfect sense to me. Actually, run to tie, which is not terribly impressive sounding, but still better than "pass to lose by two scores."

22
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 2:19am

Bobman, to me, the tell in that four down sequence is the bubble screen call on 2nd and eight, which lost yards. A team with confidence in it's running game, against a poor run defense, takes the opportunity to make it third and five with another running play, and then is confident in having two shots to pass needing five yards. Either that, or just throw another pass for positive yards. I just really dislike throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage in that situation.

45
by imafreak (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:47pm

Just clarify, Mike Hart only LOST 2 fumbles at Michigan. He put the ball on the ground slightly more often but Michigan got it back. Those 2 lost fumbles both came at the goal line (trying to stretch the ball over the plane) in Hart's final game at Michigan--the Capitol One Bowl against Tebow's Gators. That was the only bowl game Tebow lost and it came in his Heisman season.

Anyways, can someone explain why Hart was in there for those 3 carries? I didn't watch that much of the Colts regular season and was completely shocked to see Hart getting carries in that critical situation. In retrospect, that series strikes me as a turning point. The Colts foreited their patented end of the half points by giving the ball to Mike Hart (?) and instead gave the Saints a chance to make up for their unsuccessful 4th down gamble.

The whole thing was just so weird.

46
by Marcumzilla :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 1:44pm

He was getting a handful of carries in the last few games where the Colts tried. He wasn't extraordinary, but had a couple decent runs. Looks like he had 28 carries for 70 yards on the season.

AFAIK, he never passed Simpson for third on the depth chart, but he may be better at holding on to the ball.

21
by otros :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 1:48am

Bill, when you posted this: "http://bit.ly/b6v10a RT @rkapur000: he played poorly in 99 vs tenn, 02 vs jets, 03 vs pats, 04 vs pats, 05 vs steelers, 07 vs sd." What was the point, that rkapur000 missed the 00 vs MIA game? ;)

26
by nat :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 9:04am

If you really feel the urge to pin the blame on exactly one Colts player for the loss, go ahead and put it on Wayne.

That seems unreasonably harsh. Without the interception pass, Wayne is probably near Dallas Clark in DYAR, which is a fine place to be. And he was thrown to his usual number of times, so you can't say he was being shut down. You can only blame Wayne if you blame that one play. And Wayne hardly deserves the majority of the blame for that screw-up.

34
by RickD :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:30am

"Wayne is probably near Dallas Clark in DYAR". If -22 is near 24, sure.

If Randy Moss or Terrell Owens had a Super Bowl as unproductive as Wayne just did, we'd be hearing about it the entire off-season.

Wayne was a non-entity for most of the game. He let Porter get the pick and he also dropped a TD pass at the end of the game.

Again, if Moss or Owens had dropped that TD pass, it'd be shown on replays all summer long.

48
by nat :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 2:15pm

-22 is Wayne's DYAR including the interception. Without the interception, he's probably around +10 to +30 DYAR.

Kind of makes the rest of your post moot.

27
by Johnny (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 10:13am

Football Outsiders...making excuses for Petyon Manning since 2001.

52
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 2:37pm

No excuses made in this article -- they in fact said explicitly that they weren't going to talk about him.

Comment full of sound and fury, appropos of nothing.

29
by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 10:15am

Can we stop using the term "narrative"? When the basis of the article is disproving a popular "narrative", all you're doing is showing that mainstream sportswriters are idiots, which is like beating a baby in a footrace. Additionally, FO writers create "narratives" and stubbornly stick to them as well as anyone (see: the idea that interception returns for TDs are random, or that Matt Leinart can be a starting qb, or that the Lewin CF is gospel, etc.) which is understandable, but just as annoying as "Manning choked again." I love this site, but from time to time articles become "see, we're smarter than Don Banks and Pete Prisco" when there's so many better things you can say. I don't care about their opinions, that's why I come here.

44
by Bill Barnwell :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 12:24pm

Hey -- there's an issue with the math for the conversion that I'm fixing now, so if the numbers changed slightly, you're not crazy. I was, for some reason, including the extra point as a full point regardless of whether the conversion was successful or not. The premise of the article is still correct, but there's a smaller gap between Payton's decision and the incorrect one.

53
by morganja :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 3:16pm

Reggie Wayne looked like he was playing hurt all game. He was not cutting sharply, he wasn't getting to where he needed to be as fast as he normally does and it clearly was throwing off their timing. The interception was Wayne's fault in that he didn't cut like he normally does to get where he should have been. In things like this though, I don't blame Wayne who was playing hurt. It's up to the coach to pull a player that can't perform. A player only needs to be a fraction of a second off to turn touchdown throws into interceptions. Maybe the slightly off timing of a hurt player is better than the timing of a sub, but I think just about any other receiver on the Colt's roster would have got into position better than Wayne could on that particular play.

60
by Marcumzilla :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 4:27pm

Wayne did leave practice early on Friday after tweaking his knee. I believe he was actually listed as "Questionable" (for what all that really means).

54
by E :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 3:43pm

Poor Eli. His brother loses the Super Bowl and then Bill Barnwell takes a random shot at him in Quick Reads. Rough week.

59
by Kevin from Philly :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 4:23pm

At least he can console himself with all the Oreo eating trophies.

55
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 3:56pm

Considering all these factors, going for it is not only the right move, it's the obvious one, even allowing for the possibility of Thomas getting stuffed.

It is absolutely, 100% not as simple as saying "what's the expected outcome of each option?" and then choosing the highest one. Both decisions have benefits and drawbacks.

Going for it wins out in the long term, but it's the bigger risk. Let's assume it's 50/50 - 50% of the time, you gain 7 points. 50% of the time, you place your opponent in, say, -0.8 points worth of field position. That's a big swing between the two. If you essentially consider a field goal a 100% gimme, you're essentially risking 2 points to gain 4 points, with a 50% chance of success. That's a pretty good bet, but it's still a decent sized risk. Whether you take it depends on whether or not you think you need it. The "expected outcome" analysis is very misleading, because the team only gets one shot at that decision, not hundreds.

Now, the Saints were losing at the time - by 7! - they should be taking risks, and it's really a no-lose situation, so it's a good time to take the risk. Think of it like taking a shot deep on 2nd and short - yeah, you're tossing a down, but 3rd and short is still a good situation.

But if, say, the Saints were ahead by 7? There's no real reason to risk the points in that case - take the high-percentage play. And to be honest, that's what most coaches would do.

58
by C (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 4:23pm

I don't like the comment that "Eli Manning wasn't the super bowl MVP his year"... Was he the reason why he won? NO... He played a good game at a key position though... As did many of his D-Lineman, but you can't give the MVP to ( Giants D-Line)...

In that case, which lineman do you give it to? Tuck? Strahan? Robbins?

People were comparing Eli to a 4 man unit. The MVP is an individual award, not for the best "unit". But other than that, I agree with your point. Drew Brees was lights out.

Caldwell/Coyer were ignorant to run the vanilla cover 2 the whole game, while there was a great QB on the other side of the field running a clinic on them. I think Brees had 2 of his incompletions in the first 2 series or two when the Colts brought pressure and played some man, but they were getting death of 1,000 cuts playing zone, and the ultra conservative Colts coaching staff were arrogant to stick with it.

62
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 6:37pm

I would have given it to Tuck, but MVP awards for single games are kinda' dumb, in my opinion.

63
by Eddo :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 6:41pm

I, too, would have voted for Tuck. The Giants' defensive line was the main reason they won the game, and Tuck played best of all the defenders.

However, going by MVP logic, Manning made sense as the choice (with Strahan as the second-most likely, I suppose):

1. Did the winning quarterback have a very good game? (ex: Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Steve Young)
2. If not, did another individual have a stand-out performance? (ex: Desmond Howard, Santonio Holmes, Terrell Davis, Marcus Allen, Jerry Rice, Larry Brown)
3. If not, did the winning quarterback play well and/or lead a fourth-quarter game-winning drive? (ex: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning)
4. If not, and the defense carried the team, did they have a high-profile leader? (ex: Ray Lewis)
5. If not, did a defensive player do something notable, like score a touchdown or cause multiple turnovers? (ex: Dexter Jackson, Richard Dent)
6. If not, pick someone that scored a touchdown, had 100+ yards, or played a pretty good game. (ex: Hines Ward)

66
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 8:14pm

Cool. I wonder if this flowchart would work for all Super Bowls?

Tough ones to formalize would be Chuck Howley SB V (played for the losing team) and Harvey Marting and Randy White SB XII (co-MVPs).

Co-MVPs...what an idea. Superbowl XLII should have taken note.

You could probably qualify the "something notable" in #5...at least two interceptions, etc.

69
by Eddo :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 9:26pm

Thanks. I ran into some difficulties with the defensive parts, so I kept it vague on purpose. I actually think that it should come before the Ray Lewis step, as well; I feel that if a Ravens player had two interceptions or touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXV, they might have been named MVP over Lewis. Instead, he was rewarded as the quarterback of the defense.

Here's another go at the chart:

1. Did the winning quarterback have a great game? (Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Steve Young)
2. If not, did another individual have a stand-out performance? (Desmond Howard, Santonio Holmes, Terrell Davis, Marcus Allen, Jerry Rice)
3. If not, and the winning quarterback already won at least one MVP, did another offensive player perform better than any other offensive player? (Deion Branch)
4. If not, did the quarterback lead a game-winning drive in the final few minutes (Tom Brady, Eli Manning), make a shocking guarantee (Joe Namath), culminate a Hall-of-Fame career (John Elway), or just have a good-but-not-great-game (Mark Rypien)?
5. If not, and the defense carried the winning team to victory, did any single defensive player do something notable, like score multiple touchdowns or cause multiple turnovers? (Larry Brown, Richard Dent, Dexter Jackson)
6. If not, and the defense carried the winning team to victory, did they have a high-profile leader? (Ray Lewis)
7. If not, did the quarterback at least have an OK game? (Peyton Manning, Len Dawson)
8. If not, did another player on the winning team at least have 100 yards, or an exciting touchdown, or something? (Hines Ward)
9. If not, did a player on the other team have a great game in a losing effort? (Chuck Howley)
10. If not, is there a popular player on the winning team? (Biletnikoff)

Now, let's look at the actual MVPs, and which step was the deciding factor)
I: Starr (1)
II: Starr (1)
III: Namath (4)
IV: Dawson (7)
V: Howley (9)
VI: Staubach (4)
VII: Scott (5/6)
VIII: Csonka (2)
IX: Harris (2)
X: Swann (2)
XI: Biletnikoff (10)
XII: Martin and White (5/6)
XIII: Bradshaw (1)
XIV: Bradshaw (1)
XV: Plunkett (1)
XVI: Montana (4)
XVII: Riggins (2)
XVIII: Allen (2)
XIX: Montana (1)
XX: Dent (5)
XXI: Simms (1)
XXII: Williams (1)
XXIII: Rice (2)
XXIV: Montana (1)
XXV: Anderson (8)
XXVI: Rypien (4)
XXVII: Aikman (1)
XXVIII: Smith (3)
XXIX: Young (1)
XXX: Brown (5)
XXXI: Howard (2)
XXXII: Davis (2)
XXXIII: Elway (4)
XXXIV: Warner (1)
XXXV: Lewis (6)
XXXVI: Brady (4)
XXXVII: Jackson (5)
XXXVIII: Brady (1/4)
XXXIX: Branch (2/3)
XL: Ward (8)
XLI: Manning (7)
XLII: Manning (4)
XLIII: Holmes (2)
XLIV: Brees (1)

68
by tuluse :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 8:44pm

Tuck-Strahan co-mvp would have been the best choice.

64
by GR (not verified) :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 6:51pm

I found this blog looking for some insight into who was responsible for Porter's pick. My first reaction to the replay was that Reggie Wayne gave up on his route. The columnist on another website thought that Peyton held the ball too long, allowing Porter to read and jump the route. Maybe they both contributed to what happened.

Unlike morganja, I didn't pay attention to Reggie Wayne earlier in the game. I did, however, notice on the play before the pick, that he ran a fly pattern on the outside, as a decoy. Granted, he was not the primary receiver on that play - but this was the Super Bowl, and even when you are decoying, you have to sell the route. He didn't. That was the most indifferent pass route I've seen run since I last played touch football down the street, with a case of beer on the sideline.

If he played the entire game that way, then, as suggested, he should not have been on the field, or Peyton should have taken that into consideration when he threw the pass. And, if Wayne really was hobbled, then Porter's pick was inevitable - he would have realized long before then that Wayne was lame and knew that he could safely jump the route without fearing that Wayne could hitch and go.

In any event, I'm glad I found this site. Great article and all the posts are thoughtful. (I'd like to see Bobman's analysis of the list of leading $$$ leaders on the PGA Tour- you can do very well with a handful of top 5 finishes and no wins) Even without the statistical analysis, Barnwell makes a great point - that credit and blame for success and failure on the football field is often misplaced - assigned based upon final outcome alone, with no insight or analysis.

Consider Super Bowl XXX MVP, Larry Brown, who received the award for his two interceptions which Neil O'Donnell was kind enough to throw well over the head of his receivers and right between Brown's numbers. I'll never understand why everybody thought he was so special for doing that. But he got the MVP and a huge contract after being the media darling and most sought after free agent in the off season.

71
by Jeff Fogle :: Tue, 02/09/2010 - 9:55pm

Here's the official word from the state of Nevada on Super Bowl betting (pdf form)

http://gaming.nv.gov/documents/pdf/pr_10superbowl.pdf

82.7 million in wagers, 6.6 million in profit, extremely similar to last year's totals.

Still representing a down economy. 2005-2008 all topped 90 million in wagers. The link has a summary going back to 2001.

Thought some of you might be interested...

72
by Jerry :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 4:26am

How much represents the down economy and how much is online betting?

76
by Jeff Fogle :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 1:29pm

Tough to know for sure Jerry because offshore doesn't report, and is even more quiet now than in the past about any US money that comes there way because of the UIGEA (passed mid-2006).

We do know this:

*Offshore betting was very popular back in the early part of 2000's. The well known Aces Gold scandal was in the 2002 Super Bowl (New England/St. Louis), when one of the most prominent offshore places shaded the line in one direction to purposely create unbalanced action. When their side lost, the owners disappeared with all the money. That was thought to be a development that would help Vegas books at the expense of offshore books for big events like the Super Bowl. Nobody wanted to win a big bet and not get paid.

*The UIGEA passage of 2006 was expected to further crimp the offshores and help boost Vegas Super Bowl betting too. The arrest of David Carruthers of Bet-on-Sports (a place that had been advertising aggressively in the US) had an even further dampening effect on what was happening offshore.

So, to see things trending DOWNWARD the past few years in Vegas given that backdrop would point to the economy. I know a few people who matter in Nevada, and they're always talking about how much traffic has dropped in terms of sportsbooks visits. How the number of lavish Super Bowl parties is way down. How the decreases in Super Bowl action are consistent with (actually LESS dramatic) than the downturns in other casino revenue.

So, in Vegas, they attribute the down turn the past two seasons to the economy. Really put a stop to what had been a strong upward trend:

2001 67.7 million
2002 71.5
2003 71.7
2004 81.2
2005 90.8
2006 94.5
2007 93.1
2008 92.1
2009 81.5
2010 82.7

It's not like this year's game was low interest. It set the all-time viewership record for any TV show.

To the degree I've heard anything, it sounds like offshore is down too in terms of handle. Hard to pin down for sure though what influences Aces Gold and UIGEA had. We can at least see things were trending upward through those events before hitting a wall last year.

81
by Jerry :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 6:22pm

Thanks, Jeff. I'm not a bettor. but I remember reading some time back that a lot of action was moving offshore as casino books became more conservative. I believe what you're saying, though.

74
by AdamJT13 (not verified) :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 12:48pm

Just to clarify, when you say a team starting at X field position is expected to score Y points, that's NET points on that possession, correct? In other words, it includes the possibility of a safety or defensive touchdown?

The Raiders' terrible offense averaged 1.02 points with an average starting field position of its own 26.9, which doesn't jibe with teams averaging 1.06 from their own 42 -- unless you're talking about gross points for the Raiders' offense and net points for offenses in general.

77
by Eddo :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 2:45pm

I'm curious as to where you got your 1.02 figure for the Raiders. My guess is that's straight-up dividing offensive points by number of possessions, which would be the gross value.

You are correct that the 1.06 cited in the article is net points. Having the ball at your own one-yard line is worth negative expected points!

84
by AdamJT13 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/11/2010 - 6:28am

The 1.02 for the Raiders came from Football Outsiders' offensive drive stats.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/drivestats

75
by Drew (not verified) :: Wed, 02/10/2010 - 1:15pm

"A question to ask Manning and Tom Moore: After Addai ran for 58 yards in the first quarter, why did he only get two carries in the second quarter and three in the third?"

Because the Saints did their darnedest to keep the Colts offense sitting on the sidelines?

85
by imafreak (not verified) :: Thu, 02/11/2010 - 11:40am

Mike Hart got 3 carries in the second quarter. While the Saints did a great job of erasing the 3rd quarter (as you note), I think there's a valid question to be asked here.