Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Jan 2010

Week 17 Quick Reads

by Bill Barnwell

(Ed Note: In the past, the Week 17 version of Quick Reads has been a review of the season. This year, we did a standard Week 17 Quick Reads for ESPN on Monday, and a season review on Tuesday. As we did during the regular season, each one will run on Football Outsiders one day later. During the playoffs, Quick Reads will run on FO on Monday nights, a few hours after it is posted on ESPN Insider.)

Before the injury to Wes Welker put the kibosh on such talk, the dominant topic in between Weeks 16 and 17 was how to solve the sudden problem of teams resting their starters before the playoffs.

Of course, teams have been resting their players in meaningless games for a long time now; this new outrage revolves exclusively around the Colts passing up a chance at an undefeated regular season to rest their skill position players and give the Jets a path back into the playoffs, resulting in Colts fans (who have seen a higher quality of football than anyone this decade) somehow being tricked into spending money on tickets for what amounted to a fraud of a football game.

Colts fans looking to get refunds for their tickets might have heard the cries of Patriots fans out east, weeping for virtually the opposite reason. The Patriots were playing in a game that wasn't meaningless, as they could have made the relatively meaningless fall from third to fourth with a loss and a Bengals win, while the opposing Texans were fighting for a playoff spot, but an injury in their least consequential game of the entire season resulted in what will be a significant disadvantage for them in the games that count the most.

During the week, though, the NFL's Competition Committee was scheduled to talk about the issue of teams resting their stars in games of little or no consequence, and commissioner Roger Goodell mentioned that a rule forcing teams to keep their starters in the lineup could be enacted.

The problem with such an idea is that it's impossible to demarcate a line at which teams and players aren't doing enough to win. Backups try; ask the 2004 Bills if the Steelers' backups weren't good enough in Week 17. Losing teams send good players to surgery instead of asking them to rehab and come back. Those same Patriots were criticized in 2007 for leaving Tom Brady on the field to throw the ball around in the fourth quarter of blowout victories. Try to build a rule that accounts for those possibilities and still does what angry fans want it to.

The "slippery slope" argument can itself often be a slippery slope, but we're not asking "What if?" here, we're asking "What is?" The idea that it's only playoff-bound teams resting players that are costing fans is absurd from any perspective. Sure, the Colts rested Peyton Manning and other prominent players, but do Giants fans deserve any less of a refund for the egg that their team laid in Week 16 against the Panthers? Should Raiders fans get free tickets for having to sit through their organization's inane affection for JaMarcus Russell and Darrius Heyward-Bey? What about the fans in Washington that have sat through a lame duck second half? And none of those fans even get to go to the playoffs!

Players don't "quit" -- the competitive nature of pro athletes and the physical level of effort required to make it through an NFL game without getting injured prevent such a thing from happening -- but they're not robots, either. Players on losing teams don't see the Colts coming into town and start planning their victory parties, so when they go down 20 points early, should their fans receive a discount for the decreased effort they'll see from their defense, or the backup quarterback that's going to get a few reps? Maybe, instead of everyone getting a free taco for a shutout, teams should give out that taco if they get themselves don't get on the board.

In the end, any plan "urging" teams to start their prominent players in games of little or no consequence will end up in the scrap heap, right next to baseball's plan to "urge" teams to stay within a recommended slotting system when handing draftees bonus money. If a team sees an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage without clearly breaking the rules, they'll take it and the haranguing that ensues afterwards. And if such a rule actually is enacted, it will be futile enough at actually succeeding that the league's competitive balance and level of play will be harmed, thanks to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The NFL -- and football -- will never be perfect. Here's a situation where both the commissioner and the league's fans need to accept that fact and move on.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
1.
Brett Favre MIN
25/31
316
4
0
242
245
-3
Last week, the Giants were laid to rights by the Panthers' freakish ability to convert third downs against them. This week, they saved themselves the trouble and just lay down on first down. After an incompletion on his initial first down attempt, Favre completed his next six first downs, all for new sets of downs. They went for 10, 12, 18, 27, 40 and 50 yards, and by the time he thew another incomplete pass on first down, it was 24-0.
2.
Aaron Rodgers GB
21/26
235
1
0
201
188
12
Even if we don't include a 28-yard pass interference penalty, Rodgers started the game 7-of-8 for 145 yards. That helped push the Packers into a 14-point lead and chased Kurt Warner from the game. He finished the day -- and his season -- with nine consecutive completions, culminating in a touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley. And he wasn't half-bad in-between those two streaks, either.
3.
Tony Romo DAL
24/34
311
2
1
182
182
0
Romo's tipped interception inside the Eagles 10-yard line evoked memories of the turnover fiesta that wrecked the Cowboys in Philly a year before, but it was his one moment of bad luck during a day that was otherwise effective. The famously-slow starter actually went 7-of-11 during the first quarter (with an additional defensive pass interference) before finishing it with a pick, but the big numbers came afterwards: He had seven completions for 15 yards or more, and they all came after the first quarter.
4.
Daunte Culpepper DET
23/33
262
2
1
124
125
-1
Whoa! How did Culpepper get here? No one will mistake the current Bears' pass defense for a star-studded affair, and Culpepper's second touchdown required a miraculous turn even by Calvin Johnson's standards, but it wasn't that bad of a day in what could be Culpepper's final NFL start. Given the opportunity to air out the ball in the second half, Culpepper completed seven straight passes on first down, resulting in five new sets of downs and a total of 106 yards.
5.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
18/27
220
3
0
115
112
3
Roethlisberger was very boom or bust, with passes of 54, 37, and 26 yards to go along with a 26-yard defensive pass interference penalty. Beyond that, he was 15-of-24 for 103 yards, and while he threw three touchdowns, he was also picked off and fumbled the ball away on a sack that came inside his own red zone and late in the fourth quarter of a close game. The whole package ends up being a very valuable player, but what a remarkably strange quarterback Roethlisberger is. Not included in these numbers is the juke he put on the onrushing Nathan Jones that dropped the Dolphins' cornerback to his knees. If it had been an And1 game, Jones would have been disqualified.
6.
Matt Schaub HOU
24/38
303
2
1
115
116
-1
Schaub was responsible for one of the most damaging plays of the week, an interception thrown from the Patriots' 15-yard line that was returned for a touchdown. While Texans fans have their doubts about Kris Brown, that's very likely a swing of ten points, if not 14. It's a shame, too, because Schaub was very good besides that. At one point, he completed seven passes in a row, including three in a row to the unstoppable Joel Dreessen. Dreessen didn't end up with the sort of volume that star tight end Owen Daniels was accruing before the latter tore his ACL in Week 8, but Dreessen's numbers in Daniels' stead were nothing to be ashamed of. Daniels had 40 catches for 519 yards (13.0 yards per catch) before going down; Dreessen didn't do much immediately after replacing Daniels, but over the final four weeks of the season, he caught 16 passes for 208 yards (13.0 yards per catch). Correlation isn't causation here, but the Texans also won all four of those games.
7.
Charlie Frye OAK
18/25
180
1
0
100
96
4
8.
Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF
16/25
155
3
0
82
77
5
Playing the Colts is a lot easier when they're down Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, of course, and giving their remaining stars liberal doses of rest. Fitzpatrick wasn't sacked once, a sign of how much time he was getting to throw; as a result, Terrell Owens and Lee Evans were able to get open downfield and make big plays. You'll also note that Fitzpatrick's three touchdowns all came before halftime, at which point the field was cleared of snow. With Fitzpatrick's Harvard background and a rare successful game underneath his belt, maybe Buffalo should try and play all their home games in a blizzard.
9.
Jay Cutler CHI
22/36
276
4
0
77
76
1
A season that started horrifically and never really got much better ended with Cutler's best game as a Bears quarterback, which predictably came against suboptimal opposition. His four touchdowns don't tell an accurate story; he had at least one more touchdown dropped in the end zone, but on the other hand, his two final touchdown passes came on his two final throws of the year.
10.
Jason Campbell WAS
28/42
281
2
0
70
62
9
Outside of his long touchdown pass to Malcolm Kelly, Campbell was downright miserable on first down despite playing only a marginally-motivated set of Chargers. His other 15 first down attempts yielded exactly one new set of downs, and while he completed eight of those 15 attempts, they went for a total of 39 yards.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
11.
Matt Moore CAR
14/23
162
1
0
63
63
0
Without Steve Smith, Moore's starting receivers were Muhsin Muhammad and Dwayne Jarrett. It's hard to think of an inferior 1-2 punch. Not only are Muhammad (at his current age) and Jarrett mediocre receivers at best, but their skill sets are remarkably similar. At least most bad teams offer a variety of mediocre wideouts. 15 of the 17 passes he threw to wideouts went to either Muhammad or Jarrett; the other two were incompletions on throws to Kenny Moore and Charly Martin, who have to show identification multiple times a day to prove that they are actually NFL players.
12.
Billy Volek SD
19/30
216
1
1
57
57
0
While counterpart Jason Campbell was struggling on third down, Volek was even worse. His big play, a 50-yard completion to Malcom Floyd, didn't make it into the end zone. That was his first attempt on first down, and after that, he went 4-of-10 for 32 yards, with a sack and an interception.
13.
Kyle Orton DEN
32/56
431
1
3
57
50
8
It's not Orton's fault that two of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns by Derrick Johnson, since the length of interception returns is mostly random, but throwing three picks against the Chiefs isn't going to win him any awards, either. With Brandon Marshall suspended, Eddie Royal out, and Tony Scheffler benched, Orton probably deserves a little more credit than these numbers indicate. He also had 51 yards across two defensive pass interference penalties.
14.
Matt Cassel KC
13/24
207
0
1
57
57
0
Cassel sure wasn't boring on Sunday. He faced seven third downs, and they yielded an aborted snap (inside his own 10-yard line), a completed pass for a first down, three incompletions, a defensive pass interference penalty (inside the Broncos' 10-yard line), and an interception.
15.
Tom Brady NE
17/26
186
0
1
39
39
0
The substitution patterns surrounding Brady on Sunday were downright bizarre; he came out for a series before halftime, then came back in after the break, only to leave right after the Patriots blew the lead and needed to run a two-minute offense. Bill Belichick's decisions are sometimes unconventional, but almost always steeped in logic. That doesn't appear to be the case here, outside of some strange desire to see Hoyer's ability to run the two-minute offense cold.

Of course, the decision to keep Brady out should have been easy after what happened to Wes Welker, who tore his ACL running after a catch on Sunday. The Patriots' passing offense wasn't great without Welker when he missed two weeks early in the season, but one of those games came against the Jets, who have the best pass defense in football. Brady was better against the middling Falcons. Replacing Welker (19.9% DVOA, 13th in the league) with Julian Edelman (1.0% DVOA) is an obvious downgrade, but it shouldn't matter much next week. Welker had a combined nine catches for 64 yards in two games against the Ravens as a Patriots player; they make it very difficult for undersized receivers like Welker to go over the middle, and challenge Tom Brady to make throws downfield.
16.
Philip Rivers SD
9/15
99
1
0
38
38
0
17.
David Garrard JAC
22/36
202
2
1
32
14
19
With Torry Holt out and Mike Sims-Walker banged up, Garrard was limited to mostly checkdowns and short stuff. He only had three passes that qualified as "deep" attempts (15 yards or more downfield), and each fell incomplete.
18.
Vince Young TEN
18/27
171
0
1
26
26
0
Young's job on the day was mostly to hand the ball to Chris Johnson and get out of the way, which is reasonable, but why didn't the Titans run more play action off of the Johnson handoffs and try to get Young on bootlegs with the entire field at his mercy? Young attempted five "deep" passes (15+ yards downfield), and completed two of them for a total of 44 yards, but his longest pass -- a 42-yard bomb to Justin Gage -- was picked off.
19.
Matt Ryan ATL
23/35
223
2
2
25
26
-1
The highlight of Ryan's day was completing ten straight passes (with one defensive pass interference mixed in) on first down. They only yielded three first downs, but getting seven yards on first-and-10 is way better than getting zero.
20.
Mark Sanchez NYJ
8/16
63
0
0
22
20
2
It wasn't pretty, but it didn't need to be. Sanchez's best play of the night was an effective rollout and quick throw to Jerricho Cotchery for a first down on third-and-3, keeping their opening drive alive. He also made a pretty good throw deep to Braylon Edwards for what would have been a 48-yard touchdown pass, but Edwards mistimed his jump and dropped the pass.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
21.
Brian Hoyer NE
8/12
71
0
0
18
12
7
22.
Peyton Manning IND
14/18
95
0
1
15
15
0
The substitution patterns don't add up. If the Colts want to keep Manning healthy, why did he throw 18 passes in a totally meaningless game played in a snowstorm? To get Dallas Clark to 100 receptions? Ridiculous. They could've kept his games started streak going by letting him play the first snap -- heck, the first series -- but he made it into the second quarter.
23.
Chad Henne MIA
16/20
140
1
1
6
6
0
Although he was remarkably accurate, Henne threw an interception deep in his own territory that set up a Steelers field goal, completed a pass for -10 yards, struggled with a snap, and was sacked out of field goal range on the play that ended his season. In other words, it was about as bad as you can do while completing 80 percent of your passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
24.
JaMarcus Russell OAK
9/14
102
0
1
-7
-10
3
Writing about a quarterback's presence -- whether it be of the veteran or pocket variety -- is usually a sign of confusing cause and effect. In this case, though, it's pretty clear Russell just doesn't read the rush very well and has no idea where blitzers are around him. The strip-sack of Russell on the Ravens 25-yard line that knocked a couple of AFC teams out of the playoffs was uglier than most of Russell's picks this year. Interceptions are bad decisions, but for Russell to get sacked without any idea of where the rush is after five or six seconds is yet another sign of general incompetency.
25.
Joe Flacco BAL
11/19
102
0
0
-16
-9
-7
The book on Flacco at this point is simple: Dial up your exotic blitzes and watch him tremble. The Raiders -- who never blitz, because that would make for exciting football, and who wants that -- sacked Flacco four times in 23 dropbacks, and Flacco only had one completion longer than 15 yards downfield, a 19-yard toss to tight end Todd Heap. Bill Belichick used to be known for developing exotic blitz packages to confuse young and/or inexperienced quarterbacks; this weekend calls for exactly that.
26.
Derek Anderson CLE
7/11
86
0
1
-18
-20
3
What a weird season for Anderson, who saw the majority of snaps in eight games and failed to hit 20 attempts in five of them. Of course, considering the way he played when he did drop back, that's probably a good thing. Most teams see the Jacksonville pass defense as an opportunity to air the ball out and create big plays downfield, but why would Eric Mangini start taking the path of least resistance now? The logic behind this sort of offensive attack is to pound your back into the line and make the safeties pay for creeping with play action passes to streaking, speedy wideouts, but that's too good for the Browns; Anderson only had one completion that was thrown further than nine yards downfield, and it was to tight end Robert Royal.
27.
Matt Leinart ARI
13/21
96
0
2
-20
-20
0
He would have had a third pick, but that interception was nullified by a holding penalty in the end zone that yielded a safety. It seems like a bad time to mention it, but Leinart represents a remarkable buy-low opportunity for teams leaguewide; it's pretty clear that Arizona can't value him very highly after an ugly three-pick performance, and the Lewin Career Forecast projects him as a future franchise quarterback. He's looked awful the past two years in very limited time, but failing to get first-team reps can do that. Considering what Vince Young has done since getting a chance to re-start his career as a starting quarterback, would a team like Seattle or Oakland really be stupid to offer Arizona a third-round pick for Leinart and give him a fair shot at the starting job?
28.
Tyler Thigpen MIA
4/8
83
1
2
-27
-23
-4
29.
Alex Smith SF
17/28
222
1
0
-29
-25
-4
Smith finished the year with nearly identical lines in back-to-back games, following his 20-of-31 for 230 yards and a touchdown performance against the Lions a week ago with the line above against the Rams on Sunday. As we said last week, those numbers aren't good enough against arguably the league's two worst pass defenses. Those are the games where quarterbacks put up massive totals, roll off great completion streaks, and grab a half-dozen big plays to put in their highlight reels en route to the Pro Bowl. Instead, Smith was positively ordinary until finishing his day with two final passes combining for 111 yards. Is he the solution in San Francisco? Depends on how tired management is of trying to answer the question.
30.
Donovan McNabb PHI
20/36
223
0
0
-47
-50
2
The Eagles can thank McNabb for having to spend Saturday night in a finer Dallas hotel. Although backup center Nick Cole didn't give him a great snap out of the shotgun, McNabb failed to handle it and gave the ball back to Dallas inside their red zone when the Eagles were already down two touchdowns. More egregious were McNabb's repeated misses of open receivers, almost always on crossing patterns and/or passes over the middle. With a dab more accuracy, the Eagles could have at least challenged the Cowboys on Sunday, if not won outright.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
31.
Mark Brunell NO
15/29
102
0
1
-49
-49
0
Brunell only had six attempts that traveled even as far as ten yards away from the line of scrimmage. He completed one of them. He had nine attempts that were behind the line of scrimmage, and failed to complete three of them. Saints fans, if Drew Brees had ever gotten hurt, there would've been serious issues. New Orleans would be wise to upgrade behind Brees this offseason.
32.
Kyle Boller STL
4/11
23
0
0
-50
-52
3
33.
Eli Manning NYG
17/23
141
0
1
-59
-59
0
Six of Manning's first eight passes on the day were to Steve Smith, which got the Giants' starting receiver over 100 receptions on the season, but didn't do much to actually get the Giants going; only one of the passes resulted in a first down. That's abnormal for Smith, who picked up a first down on 39.6 percent of the passes thrown to him. Among wideouts with 50 targets or more, the receiver with the lowest percentage of passes turned into first downs this year was the Chiefs' Mark Bradley, at 19.3 percent, with teammate Bobby Wade (23.7 percent) right behind. On the flip side, a whopping 55 percent of Vincent Jackson's catches resulted in first downs, and Antonio Gates topped all tight ends, at 54.7 percent. The average among all receivers with 50 or more targets is 36.1 percent.
34.
Keith Null STL
7/17
57
0
0
-67
-60
-7
The rookie quarterback's season ended in typical fashion -- he took a sack at the end of the first half on the 49ers 20-yard line, and then started the second half by taking another sack and throwing an incomplete pass before being removed from the game and not returning. He finishes his rookie season with nine interceptions against three touchdowns and a miserable 4.8 yards per attempt; those are reminiscent of Alex Smith's rookie numbers.
35.
J.T. O'Sullivan CIN
4/8
31
0
0
-69
-71
2
This marks the only time we can say "Carson Palmer made J.T. O'Sullivan look good" without chuckling.
36.
Josh Freeman TB
16/32
174
1
2
-70
-63
-7
Freeman's second interception probably cost the Buccaneers a shot at the win, but it was the right idea. He got Antonio Bryant, his best receiver, matched up one-on-one with the Falcons' worst cornerback, Brent Grimes. Freeman threw a long pass into the end zone, but it was thrown to Bryant's inside, not his outside, and Grimes held his position and actually intercepted the pass. It was the right decision by Freeman, but it required better execution. That will come.
37.
Curtis Painter IND
4/17
39
0
1
-74
-53
-21
Sure, he was just a spider in the snow, but 4-of-17 is ugly. How ugly? Among quarterbacks with 15 or more attempts, Painter's 23.6 percent completion percentage is merely awful as opposed to transcendentally bad. Derek Anderson's 2-of-17 game against these same Bills in Week 5 was twice as worse, at 11.8 percent, but even that fails to compare to Don Gault. In his only NFL start for the Cleveland Browns in 1970, Gault had one of the worst games in NFL history, going 1-of-16 for 44 yards with two interceptions. He never threw another NFL pass, and is one of the few NFL players to finish his career with negative fantasy points. Not even Painter, the human white flag, is that bad.
38.
Matt Hasselbeck SEA
15/30
175
1
1
-77
-78
1
It seems strange to say for a team that's invested so much at wide receiver, but the Seahawks desperately need someone who can stretch defenses. And before you say Nate Burleson, guys who get hurt and miss time every year don't count. Matt Hasselbeck threw seven passes further than ten yards past the line of scrimmage; one was completed, and another was defensive pass interference. That 34 dropbacks yielded seven downfield passes, though, is ridiculous.
39.
Carson Palmer CIN
1/11
0
0
1
-83
-83
0
We're convinced that the Bengals have replaced Palmer with Darren McCord. We'll get to his second-half slide in our season-in-review Quick
Reads on Tuesday, but let's talk about that line above. His one completion was a pass thrown to Laveranues Coles one yard behind the line of scrimmage, which Coles advanced back to the line. No quarterback in NFL history has ever thrown as many attempts in a single game and ended up with a donut for passing yards. The previous record was ten, held by Gary Cuozzo of the 1971 49ers and Kordell Stewart, who did it for the 1996 Steelers in their playoff loss to the Patriots. Neither of those quarterbacks even completed a pass, so Palmer deserves extra credit. Or extra demerits.


Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Jamaal Charles KC
259
2
3
0
98
98
1
Our final running back section of the year will have a theme. First, let's travel through logic. If Charles can run for 259 rushing yards against a Broncos rush defense that had everything to play for, the Chiefs have a fantastic rushing attack, the Broncos' rush defense is terrible, or it's a combination of the two. The Broncos were 11th in rush defense DVOA before this week, and while the Raiders gashed them two weeks ago, they dominated the Giants' power rushing attack as recently as Thanksgiving. So the Chiefs' rushing offense had a pretty great game.

Now, for a team to have a great rushing attack, they need both a quality running back and an effective offensive line. Charles has been extremely impressive since taking the starting job -- his performance over eight starts put him on a pace for 1,936 yards -- but the line also deserves a fair amount of credit.

Here comes the mean part, where we have to reconcile all this together. If the Chiefs just have a great offensive line, how bad could Larry Johnson possibly be to have done so poorly behind them over the first half of the season? And if Charles is really an elite back playing behind an average line, how incompetent is the Chiefs' coaching staff for playing Johnson over him during the first half of the season? This is lesson 1,400, why you don't spend tons of money on a halfback.
2.
Fred Jackson BUF
212
0
15
1
82
63
19
In 2007, the Bills selected Marshawn Lynch in the first-round, and added Fred Jackson as an undrafted free agent, thanks to either some impressive performances in second-division indoor football leagues or the fact that both he and Marv Levy went to Coe College. You pick which. Since then, Jackson has carried the ball 425 times for 1933 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and caught 105 passes for 878 yards (8.4 yards per catch). Lynch has ran the ball 650 times for 2601 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and caught 93 passes for 663 yards (7.1 yards per catch). Lynch has pocketed close to $11 million from his contract. Jackson's earned about $3 million as a pro player. This is lesson 1,401, why you don't spend first-round picks on halfbacks.
3.
Arian Foster HOU
119
2
26
0
75
62
13
Instead of futily handing the ball off to Reggie Bush for two yards, the Texans have built a rushing attack around third-round pick Steve Slaton and now Foster, an undrafted free agent who split time at Tennessee. Foster benefited from the absence of Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, but his 20 carries yielded six first downs and two touchdowns. A success rate of 60 percent is nothing to sneeze at, regardless of who's across the line. This is lesson 1,402, why you pass on a top-five halfback for a top-five defensive end.
4.
Willis McGahee BAL
167
3
0
0
69
69
0
It was interesting to see the Ravens rely almost exclusively on McGahee as the clock-killer late in Oakland, although it's hard to argue with giving him the ball after that highlight reel stiff-arm of Hiram Eugene. As nifty as that play and his 14 touchdowns are, McGahee's been an obvious disappointment in both Buffalo and Baltimore, failing to meet expectations at either stop. His touchdown total appears to make him a good goal-line back, but that's just not the case; his total is the result of usage, not ability.

McGahee ran for seven touchdowns inside the five-yard line this year. That's an impressive figure, but it took him eleven carries, including five from the 1-yard line. Given recent rates of scoring on each carry from the 1-yard line, 2-yard line, and on, McGahee would've been expected to score 4.94 touchdowns, meaning that he was 2.06 touchdowns above average inside the five.

So, scoring seven when you're supposed to score five is a good thing, right? The problem is that McGahee hasn't consistently shown this skill as a pro; over the course of his career, the difference between McGahee's expected touchdowns and actual touchdowns inside the five, by year, has run like this: -0.47, -4.56, 0.92, -2.46, 1.61, 2.06. Over his career, he's still -2.89 touchdowns below average inside the five. Furthermore, the other Ravens' backs (Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain) were also above-average inside the five, scoring three touchdowns against an expectation of 2.13. It's hard to construct an argument that suggests that there's something special about McGahee's abilities as a goal line back in 2009, and whether the Ravens use him as a goal-line back next year or a team signs a cut McGahee to serve as their goal-line back, they're going to be disappointed. This is lesson 1,403, why there's no such thing as a "nose for the end zone", with lesson 1,401 as a prerequisite.
5.
30-L.Hamilton NO
48
1
38
0
46
29
18
Hamilton converted his chance from the 1-yard line, had three first downs on his other nine rushing attempts, put up a 70 percent success rate on the ground, and picked up three first downs as a receiver. He wasn't the poor man's Reggie Bush on Sunday; he was the poor Reggie Bush. This is lesson 1,404, and the final lesson of our class: Scheme, versatility, and blocking are more important than about 98 percent of what mortal running backs can do.


Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Mike Bell NO
28
0
-2
0
-48
-36
-11
Of course, that same scheme couldn't do much for Mike Bell, who took the ball 17 times and rushed for exactly one first down while finishing with an 18 percent success rate. His two receptions went for a combined -2 yards. About the nicest thing you can say is that he didn't turn the ball over or hurt anybody during the game.


Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Jabar Gaffney DEN
14
19
213
15.2
0
87
In a role as the featured receiver for the first time since his Houston days, Gaffney had 213 receiving yards to go along with 51 yards in pass interference penalties. His 87 DYAR were the sixth-most of any wide reciever in a single game this year, and an argument for trading Brandon Marshall that Josh McDaniels might turn back to once or twice this offseason.
2.
Sidney Rice MIN
6
6
112
18.7
2
82
We don't give style points in DVOA, but Rice deserves some for his acrobatic touchdown catch in the second quarter. Rice also drew a six-yard pass interference, so his seven targets yielded four first downs and two touchdowns. His only play that failed to move the chains was a ten-yard gain on second-and-11.
3.
Patrick Crayton DAL
4
6
99
24.8
1
54
The Cowboys clearly thought they could make the Eagles pay for their blitzes with throws to Crayton out of the slot, and this week, they were right. It'll be interesting to see how the Eagles adjust their blitz packages to account for it going forward.
4.
Jacoby Jones HOU
5
6
65
13.0
1
52
Ignoring that he deflected his one incompletion to a Patriots player in what resulted to be a pick-six, Jones turned his other five touches into four first downs and a touchdown.
5.
Miles Austin DAL
7
8
90
12.9
0
43
Size for wide receivers is often an overrated attribute, but Austin represents a very tough matchup for the undersized corners of Philadelphia. Few receivers in the league use their body better than Austin does, so he's capable of shielding passes from the prying arms of Sheldon Brown or Asante Samuel over the middle, and then can out-jump them deep and use his height and vertical to get over them. That has to give Philadelphia pause when they think about blitzing their safeties and heading into "zero" coverage.


Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Robert Meachem NO
2
9
12
6.0
0
-65
The end to Meachem's breakout year looked a lot like the 2008 version of Meachem; mainly, because he was playing with the backups. It was a bad day that included a fumble deep in his own territory, but there's no reason to believe Meachem won't be back to his normal self for the playoffs.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 05 Jan 2010

135 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2010, 7:35pm by Eddo

Comments

1
by MCS :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 2:33pm

That picture creeps me out.

More insightful commentary later.

2
by Anonymous Coward (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 2:34pm

what I'd like to see is winning the last game of the season somehow figuring into the playoff qualifying and seeding tiebreaker rules

3
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 2:34pm

Given all the brouhahha about the trio over the last year, it's funny to see The Zombie King, his noninfected heir (Rodgers might be the only guy connected to the Saga of The Zombie King who has kept his wits about him), and Jessica Simpson's ex topping the chart in week 17.

When you see what Favre has done this year, it really makes one wonder how many less talented qbs don't get intensely schooled in one offensive system for multiple years, as Holmgren did with Favre, and have their careers severely damaged as a result. If Wilf and Childress have any brains, they will, at the the right time, get their favorite jeans model in an office, close the door, and tell him off the record that it's fine if he publicly waffles about coming back until about the fourth quarter of the 2nd preseason game next August.

85
by Bobman :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:21am

I hadn't thought about the "whole career in the same system" aspect, but it sounds strangely similar to my favorite Mastercard pitchman. (It's a mouthpiece. Go ahead, try it on, see if it fits.) Egad, they are obviously good physical and mental fits for their jobs (duh), but one has to assume that the background consistency helped a lot. A lot of highly touted college QBs end up with a handful of HCs and OCs and probably QB coaches in their first five years, which certainly can't help, and may well be screwing them out of a decent career. That guy in Philly, MacBeth or something like that, he's prety good too, and he's had a pretty stable system in place no?

There is no way the Vikes don't bring Favre back, unless Dan Snyder offers him a mountain of solid gold, some complimentary Wrangler jeans, and a brand new John Deere. Hard to pass up on those fringe benefits. Al Davis will counter with all licensing royalties for the color black and the letter R (two of his inventions), we well as a closet full of black and silver nylon track suits.

96
by Boesy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 10:05am

Mountains of gold, and royalties aside, Favre signed a 2 year deal with the Vikes...and no force on earth would have them 'release' him to find work elsewhere after a convenient 'retirement' period.

110
by The Hypno-Toad :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:09pm

Besides, no amount of gold mountains or nuclear warheads or whatever else he's offered gives him the chance to stick it to the Packers a minimum of twice each seeason. And if there's one thing that causes the Zombie King's cold, black heart to briefly beat again, it is the prospect of punishing Ted Thompson for the sin of taking the Zombie King at his word.

116
by andrew :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 4:38pm

The prospect of facing a rapidly improving Rodgers and Packers defense might. Assuming he dodges them this round he might call it quits or bolt to somewhere that wouldn't let them get the final word.

4
by Rick Z. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 2:38pm

Was McNabb at fault for those missed passes or were his receivers?

Would McNabb be a Super Bowl winning quarterback with a different team and a different coach?

Would Andy Reid and the Eagles be a Super Bowl winning team at any point in this past decade with a different quarterback?

Ah, the big, frustrating questions for a Philadelphia Eagles fan.

49
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 5:09pm

McNabb was 3/7 to Jackson, 3/7 to Maclin... and 7/10 to Celek. And it's not like Celek's passes weren't deep, too.

I don't buy the fact that it was McNabb. Maclin and Jackson both had obvious drops, and Celek was snagging balls mid-stride and picking up a fair amount of yards after the catch.

57
by zip.4chan.org/sp/ (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 6:12pm

I think it has more to do with McNabb and the o-line than the receivers. Whenever McNabb gets rushed or has psychological pressure on him, his pass accuracy drops like a rock. He's not great at high pressure comebacks and he's not great when he doesn't feel safe behind the line.

The game against Dallas he was playing behind a backup center, Nick Cole. The Eagles started out shaky and the line looked bad. McNabb and Cole has some miscommunications and mis-snaps. Overall, McNabb got into his mentality of feeling rushed, even later in the game when the line was actually functioning pretty well. Of course, at that point he was playing a high stake game from a 17 pt. deficit--not his strong suit.

If you looked at his passes, they were overthrown or thrown behind his receivers (except for Celek, who he didn't seem to have much problem connecting with). That's McNabb's classic behavior when he's under pressure. He's a great QB, but that's a career-long problem that no one has corrected.

The Eagles need to give McNabb extra protection early in the game this saturday to make sure he's mentally where he needs to be. If he feels confident in his protect, his pass accuracy will rise again, and the Eagles can give the Cowboys a run for their money.

60
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 6:31pm

If you looked at his passes, they were overthrown or thrown behind his receivers (except for Celek, who he didn't seem to have much problem connecting with).

Right... so why does it have to be McNabb and not the receivers? I don't get it. If McNabb was off, Celek was able to handle it. Why weren't Jackson, Maclin, and the other receivers able to?

Jackson flat-out dropped one ball, as did Weaver and Westbrook. Maclin had one go through his hands - say it was underthrown, thrown behind him, whatever, it went through his hands. I won't even say McNabb overthrew Jackson on the deep ball because Jackson's route didn't look sharp.

That's McNabb's classic behavior when he's under pressure

Yes, I agree, but I don't think that was the problem on Sunday. I think the receivers were more jittery than McNabb was.

5
by E :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 2:40pm

While I agree with Bill's premise that there is a slippery slope in determining which teams and players aren't doing enough to win, I don't agree with his conclusion, that "any plan 'urging' teams to start their prominent players in games of little or no consequence will end up in the scrap heap". The problem simply needs to be addressed from a different angle. If the incentives now are to rest, rather than to win, the NFL has to implement a rule that changes the incentives. For example, I've seen a few proposals (not from the NFL) which suggest determining playoff seeding by weighting the last few games of the season more heavily. I think a proposal of this type could work.

24
by nojo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:36pm

Ugh. How do you compensate for the fact that teams have very different schedules over the last few games? There's no way that you could make this even close to fair.

51
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 5:26pm

For example, I've seen a few proposals (not from the NFL) which suggest determining playoff seeding by weighting the last few games of the season more heavily. I think a proposal of this type could work.

Stupidest... idea... ever. First, it doesn't help, unless it's huge - the Colts were 3 games up on the Chargers (14-0 vs 11-3) with 2 weeks remaining. The only way the Colts wouldn't've been able to tank one of those two games (assuming they could win if they wanted to) would be to triple weight week 17. That's completely inane. Note that earlier weeks don't matter - increasing their weight increases the chances that week 17 will be made meaningless unless week 17's weight is crazy-high. Double-weighting both week 16 and week 17, for instance, would still leave the Colts able to tank week 17 if they won week 16 (or the Chargers lost).

Second, the schedule issues are insane. It would just end up in completely random seeding.

55
by Sophandros :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 5:53pm

I think that scheduling all divisional games in the second half of the season, and having at least the last three games be divisional games will eliminate much of this.

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

62
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 6:55pm

How would that have changed anything this year? The Colts had a massive lead in their division, a 3-game lead in the conference, and two potential playoff teams in their division.

If two final games of the year were Colts-Texans and Cincinnati-Pittsburgh, and the Colts rest their starters and Cincinnati doesn't, you've got the same problem.

63
by Arkaein :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 6:57pm

That could be even worse.

Instead of Indy laying down for the Jets, it could have been for Houston or Jacksonville. Instead of New England pulling starters late against the Texans, they might have done it versus Buffalo, but they also could have done it versus Miami. Cincinnati might have folded for the Steelers or Ravens as easily as they did for the Jets. And Sand Diego could have faced Denver instead of Denver having to play a team that actually cared.

Division games simply aren't important enough when they make up less than half of the schedule and one-third of the available playoff spots are wild cards. The Colts and Saints would have wrapped up top seeds early no matter what order they player their opponents in. Moving Buffalo and Tampa Bay up in the the schedule wouldn't have changed that.

58
by Jackson Jackson (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 6:15pm

Playing the regular season as a kind of Swiss bracket would eliminate the ability of teams to just lie down. Teams would be paired throughout the season against teams of equal record. It's unlikely that these massive undefeated streaks (or defeated streaks) would emerge from a Swiss-type system.

59
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 6:29pm

For those of us who are not familiar, how does a Swiss bracket work?

69
by zip.4chan.org/sp/ (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:33pm

A Swiss bracket was common when I was playing amateur tennis tournaments. The way it was set up was as a double elimination bracket in which every game is played between people with equal records. So after the first round, everyone was either 1-0 or 0-1. All the 1-0s would play each other, and all the 0-1s would play each other. By the third round, 2-0s would play each other, 1-1s would play each other, and 0-2s would be eliminated. It would proceed in the same manner until there was a winner.

Applying a Swiss bracket to the NFL would be more difficult, since you wouldn't have elimination, and because you would have to find a way to work in division games (or scrap the divisions as we know them). Nevertheless, you could probably have teams with the same or similar records playing each other throughout the season, leading to better competitive balance, and fewer teams racing away with 6-0 or 0-6 starts before facing their first difficult patch in their schedule.

Problems with Swiss scheduling would might be that there may be no two teams with the same record in a given week, so odd teams out may have to play each other or get a bye. Also, you would have to massively change the division structure, probably messing up long-standing rivalries. Also, bye-weeks would mess things up. Also, it would make planning more difficult, because teams wouldn't know next week's opponent until all the games were played.

So while Swiss scheduling would solve certain problems like overly weak strength of schedule and perhaps the meaningless games at the end played against opponents that don't affect seeding, it would also create a pretty big logistical puzzle to solve. Might be worth it, but I would be surprised if it ever came up at the NFL secret headquarters located within a volcanic island in the south pacific.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_tournament

71
by Agamemnon :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:49pm

If there are an odd number of teams with the same score (like, 7 at 1-1), you would just bring the best team up from the lower group (0-2) and treat them as the worst 1-1 team.

There are computers that are very good at this sort of thing, and there are multiple variations too (especially to allow for more than n rounds when you have 2^n teams, or for fewer than n rounds when you have 2^n teams).

However, that hasn't stopped the mighty Russian chess team from resting its starters (i.e., arranging for short, non-combative draws with their opponents to give each team a free half-point) because they had already clinched the championship, and the other team was fighting for a podium finish.

70
by Agamemnon :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:40pm

Essentially, winners play winners and losers play losers. It's designed to not necessarily figure out anything except who is the best team. It's used quite often in chess tournaments (but very rarely at the highest, professional levels) to determine the champion.

Say there are 8 teams in a swiss tournament. You initially seed them based on some valid ranking system. The best of the top half plays the best of the bottom half (so you don't have NCAA Tourney blowouts in round 1):

1 vs. 5
2 vs. 6
3 vs. 7
4 vs. 8

Assuming the seeds hold, 1, 2, 3, 4 all have one win, 5, 6, 7, 8 all have zero wins. Then like plays like in similar fashion:

1 vs. 3
2 vs. 4
5 vs. 7
6 vs. 8

Assuming the seeds hold, 1, 2 have two wins, 3, 4, 5, 6 all have one win, and 7 and 8 all have zero wins. Repeat:

1 vs. 2
3 vs. 5
4 vs. 6
7 vs. 8

So you have an undisputed (and undefeated) champion by the end of the tournament, and many of the games are good games, rather than what sometimes happens where the best seed plays the worst seed (team 1 plays teams 5, 3, and 2, rather than the NCAA Tourney style where they would play teams 8, 4, and 2).

With upsets and ties and more teams, though, the picture is a bit more complicated, which is why a swiss is good at figuring out who the best (and, inversely I suppose, the worst) team is, not necessarily the order of teams somewhere in the middle.

74
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:53pm

I thank both of you for your explanation.

It sounds really interesting, but logistically, it seems impossible to implement after years of having planned schedules and division rivalries.

86
by Bobman :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:26am

Works great in elementary school chess tourneys, where you might have 100 kids with widely varying skill levels. Somehow, after 4 rounds, you usually get the two best slugging it out at board 1.

76
by Noname (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:30pm

I like the re-seeding ideas I've seen. In the wildcard round you keep the current seeding procedure to determine who hosts and who gets a bye. After that you reseed based upon the record of the teams remaining. In the SB the team with the higher seed is the "home" team. Since it is a neautral site and you lose home field advantage the home team, instead, wins all coin flips (including at the beginning of overtime).

6
by nat :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 2:48pm

Of course, the decision to keep Brady out should have been easy after what happened to Wes Welker, who tore his ACL running after a catch on Sunday.

That's the worst analysis of the week. With Welker out, Brady needed game-time experience with Edelman playing the Welker role. Likewise, Edelman needed time receiving passes from Brady. Giving Edelman all of his reps with Hoyer at QB would have missed the point entirely.

16
by Al (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:25pm

No, Edelman did fine when Welker was out earlier. It is doubtful that any increased chemistry would outweight the real risk of injury.

43
by nat :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:38pm

The point being that Welker getting injured made it more reasonable to leave Brady in, not less. Brady and Welker didn't need to work on their timing (much). Brady and Edelman - at least arguably - could benefit from the practice. The fact that Edelman did okay doesn't prove anything.

You may disagree, and it is possible you are right in this case, but there are many examples of players needing more plays at full speed to get their timing right.

52
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 5:29pm

If only there was some time not during a game when Brady and Edelman could practice running routes/catching passes with each other...

Have Edelman and a bunch of DBs/LBs put on some pads and hit live in practice, with Brady not at risk. Brady only needs to see how Edelman reacts to a live defense - he doesn't need to see the live defense himself.

120
by crack (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 7:39pm

Yeah I mean there couldn't be value in getting actual game experience.

7
by Dan :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 2:49pm

I think that the Colts were mostly just giving their starters some snaps to stay sharp. They didn't care about winning.

8
by Q (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 2:56pm

"For example, I've seen a few proposals (not from the NFL) which suggest determining playoff seeding by weighting the last few games of the season more heavily. I think a proposal of this type could work"

I don't see how this makes the situation. Not only would it marginalize games that occur earlier in the year but also would introduce a huge luck element (better hope your hard games are scheduled early in the year and your easy ones towards the end instead of vice versa). None of this is even factoring in an increase of week 17 injuries to starters, thereby making the playoff less interesting

12
by Led :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:13pm

...plus teams that have the bad luck of losing games late in the year because key players missed time with injuries in weeks 16-17 rather than weeks 4-5. This is a situation where the problem is not as bad as the various proposed solutions. The best solution is competitive conferences and divisions so teams don't have the luxury of resting players. I think the league does as much as it can to foster competitive balance.

13
by wr (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:17pm

And by marginalizing the early games, you'll have *more* teams minimizing the starters' playing time so that they will be healthy for the more meaningful late season games.

10
by andrew :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:10pm

Last week, the Giants were laid to rights by the Panthers...

I'm not familiar with the expression "Laid to Rights". I did a google search and found only five hits, of which one was this article. The others all were Rights in some context, rights of reason, rights to images, rights aide and rights work....

Did this mean to be "laid to rest"?

don't mean to nitpick, just curious (and if there is new lingo emerging want to be on top of it)...

anyway great season of quick reads, I got used to the new format of a day later, the monday night bonus reads were worth the wait anyway to me. Hopefully this mechanism served to draw ESPN readers to this site...

17
by dryheat :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:27pm

Perhaps Bill was thinking of Dead to Rights...which doesn't really fit the context.

40
by andrew :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:26pm

"I was corrupt before I had power!" - Random

Thanks, though, that almost fits...

I think it is a portmanteau of "laid to rest" and "dead to rights", and it sounds better than "dead to rest".

9
by alexbond :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:09pm

Seahawks receivers -

Deon Butler of last year's 3rd round will be that downfield guy once he gets his feet under him. You may remember him catching a deep ball down the sideline to get the Hawks in position for the gamewinning field goal against the 49ers in week 13. The problem isn't the receivers, it's a quarterback who can't throw the ball more than 10 yards without it being a long, slooooow arc that gives every DB on the field about 15 minutes to adjust to it in the air and make a play on the ball. We don't need Jay Cutler's fastballs, but we need a guy who can actually get the ball to the receiver in a reasonable amount of time. Matt Hasselbeck no longer has the physical ability to accomplish one of the most basic things a quarterback is expected to do. When you can't throw fast in a straight line, you can't throw posts, no deep digs, no deep outs, your only deep routes are the fade and the streak jump ball. Randy Moss might be able to make a play on a Hasselbeck pass - Tim Russell's midgets can't.

11
by IsraelP (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:11pm

Where is Pat White?

21
by andrew :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:31pm

Probably at home, they released him from the hospital thankfully....

If you mean where is he on the quick reads, remember they only list all the quarterbacks.

34
by Levente from Hungary :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:04pm

Box score of the game: P. White 0/2 0, 0, 0
Well, he wasn't there as a passer, for sure.

14
by John Brockington (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:20pm

Competitive integrity is the only real issue with the Jets' two cakewalks. Going for 16-0 is up to the Colts, but if they're playing someone with something to play for, they owe it to the rest of the league to try to win. It's disgraceful not to, in my view. If you play a sport in which the injury risk is perceived to be THAT GREAT, well, that might say something about the very nature of the sport. How many games in a row has Peyton already survived? Put an asterisk on the last two, at least.

By the way, will the Pro Bowl played the week before the Super Bowl be two-handed touch, or flag?

19
by mawbrew :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:29pm

This has been my complaint too (at least since the Colts similarly laid down for the Titans in 2007, costing the Browns a playoff spot). This essentially makes scheduling luck (playing teams not trying in the last few games) a huge factor in who makes the playoffs and who doesn't.

I fully appreciate teams wanting to protect their own intersts first and I don't have any solutions, but it's damn frustrating to watch.

29
by whatyousay :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:47pm

But scheduling luck is already a huge factor. Teams that played Pittsburgh with Polamalu were unlucky. Some teams played the Falcons without Ryan and Turner. Some teams got to play the Delhomme-led sucky panthers -- other teams had to play the Matt Moore good panthers. There is a LOT of luck already.

33
by mawbrew :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:58pm

Absolutely right. It's just not as frustrating to watch happen if you know teams are making their best effort to win. The teams you mention were doing their best to win (in the case of the Panthers what they thought was best) despite their injuries. The Colts, on the other hand, treated it like preseason.

123
by bear goggles (not verified) :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 3:17am

Ding Ding Ding, we have a winner.

Unless you're going to make every team play a schedule of identical difficulty, there's no reason to try to micromanage this. Some teams are lucky--and some unlucky--every year. It's not exactly fair; then again if you think you have a shot at the Super Bowl, you should be able to overcome a little bad luck at some point.

22
by dryheat :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:31pm

I'm of the opinion that the Colts and anybody else in that position have earned the right to rest starters. Provided they're actually trying to win the games with the backups, I don't have a problem with it. If a team, let's say the Broncos, needs help to get into the playoffs and was hurt by the Colts resting some players, than the Broncos should have won one more game over the course of the season. The Colts don't owe them a damn thing. Every team is in control of their own destiny as soon as the season starts. Win.

28
by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:45pm

I'll also add that we don't know the contracts of Wayne and Clarke. If they have bonuses for 100 catches, it's the teams duty to give them the best opportunity to accomplish that. I don't see how it's strange to leave Peyton in there to get them to those milestones.

88
by Bobman :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:41am

Good point, (though what kind of crackhead agent puts a 100-catch milestone in his TE client's contract, as it's only been done once before? It's almost like (exaggerated for emphasis) an RB getting a 2,100 yard bonus, a QB getting a 5,000 yard or 50 TD bonus, a baseball player getting a bonus for his 70th HR of the season, or a basketball player having a bonus for scoring 100 pts in any game.) If it is in there, I admire both the agent's and Clark's optimism, but personally, I'd expect contractual milestones set somewhat lower for a TE, even an excellent one, at 60, 70, 80 catches.

But yeah, when people talk about the team "owing" the rest of the teams the effort to win those games, I think their higher priority might be to owe their own guys the chance to hit their personal milestones. Like when Harrison got spoon-fed until he hit 1,102 receptions in last year's final game (to hit #2 all time). I saw that and thought why are they doing this shameless thing now, there's always next year... and then... uh-oh, he's toast. And indeed, that was the case.

97
by Eddo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:04am

I've always assumed that there are many players who have such escalators in their contracts. The team isn't afraid to acquiesce, since it's so unlikely they have to pay, and it makes for a more impressive maximum value of the contract.

100
by bubqr :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:17pm

Yeah, I think it's pretty usual. See Larry Fitzgerald for example.

50
by JonC :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 5:20pm

I really don't understand the ink spilled over this issue. If "competitive balance" is the best argument to be made in favor of viewing this as a "problem," there's no argument at all. Resting starters is only an issue for sorting out logjams between teams that are near .500--that is, average teams. You've got to really split hairs to argue that one 9-7 team "deserves" to be in the playoff more than another; or, as Barnwell says, cherry-pick examples of undeserved wins without looking at the strength of schedule in total.

Any playoff system is by definition going to be arbitrary and occasionally produce results that appear to be antithetical to it's own principles--case in point, the Chargers making the playoffs last year, while two teams with better records stay home.

56
by anon (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 6:03pm

Something I'd like to see discussed regarding this issue is what kind of precedent this sets for _bad_ teams. If it's okay to rest your starters and keep them healthy once you've clinched a playoff birth, shouldn't it be okay to bench the starters once you're eliminated in order to get the best draft spot possible?

I may be missing something, but a) this comparison seems valid to me and b) it definatley seems unsportsmanlike. Why isn't resting starters on a good team viewed the same way?

77
by John (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:51pm

Arguments why the two aren't the same:

* Colts earned the right to rest their starters through winning. St. Louis "earned" that right through losing, which many would argue is not at all equivalent.

* Playoff seeding is rarely locked up much before week 17; the Colts were an extreme case, and still only locked their seed after week 14. I haven't looked back, but I bet that by week 15 there was more than 1 team eliminated from the playoffs.

* Teams that are resting starters late typically are still trying to win, just with players who don't generally see as much action otherwise; in your scenario, those teams would be actively trying to lose. That's a far more insidious route.

If the Colts had Jim Sorgi instead of Curtis Painter, there's a good chance they're 15-1 instead of 14-2. They were not trying to lose.

80
by HostileGospel :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 10:21pm

The difference is that the Colts are attempting to improve their SB chances by keeping Manning et al healthy, and rolling over for two games is a byproduct of that. If their backups win the last two games, no one minds. Conversely, if the Bucs sit their starters just to gain draft position, their backups are also expected to lose, because rolling over is the goal.

The idea of putting yourself in a worse position to win now (when games mean nothing) so that you can be in a better position to win later is not the same as deliberately attempting to lose. It looks similar, but I think there's a big difference there. I understand that drafting higher theoretically increases your future SB chances, but losing on purpose is still not something I approve of.

--
Overall, I'd be kind of embarrassed to critique something when I didn't know what the hell I was talking about, but then, oh yeah, my NAME is on what I write, isn't it?

-Les Bowen

91
by Bobman :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:51am

And it is worth noting that (1) their primary backup QB is IRed--Sorgi actually WON one of these sub-fest games a couple years ago, against AZ IIRC. Had Sorgi played and done respectably, this probably isn't such a big deal, and if he actually won, it's forgotten immediately. And (2) the Colts did not even start a lot of slightly injured guys and that's hardly discussed as well. Five starters sat out the Jets game entirely and still when Manning was pulled, Indy had a 5 point lead. If not for a flukey QB fumble recovered in the EZ, a blocked extra point, and a KO return for a TD, that's a tie game. They hardly gave it away.

Against the Jets, the Colts did not play great ball (a fair number of drops early) but if the team announced to the world ahead of time that they would pull their starters after 40 minutes in the "meaningless" game (ignoring the 16-0 potential) I think the world would have said "okay, that sounds great, much better than previous years one-series laughers." It's just that Manning left a 5-point lead rather than a 14 pt lead, as many might have expected.

103
by JonC :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:24pm

The difference: nobody has done this, and nobody would care because the teams suck (joke!). Also in these cases the head coach is typically on the hot seat, as it were, and unlikely risk losing their job to help out their GM; I'd guess the case would be even harder to make to players: Alright, guys. Time to go out there and STINK IT UP!!! YEAH!! So we can dramatically overpay some 22-year old and throw you oldsters OUT ON THE STREET!! NOW LET'S GO SUCK! Point being, it is not a precedent any bad team has obviously followed.

78
by Purds :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 10:02pm

"How many games in a row has Peyton already survived? "

But, you're missing what the Colts did. They rested a ton of players, all of them likely more in danger of injury than Manning. They included Mathis, Freeney, Sessions, Powers, Clark, Wayne, and Addai. Those were less visible than Manning sitting, but just as important to the Colts.

And, I think this debate would be much less sharp had the Colts not had the misfortune of having Siorgi get injured 4 weeks ago, leaving just Painter s the backup. Siorgi is no Manning, but he's an enormous upgrade from Painter and would have made the Jets game, at least, a little more competitive.

79
by Purds :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 10:03pm

Sorry for the double post.

15
by C (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:23pm

15 attempts, 8 completions for 39 yards... Wow, other teams better back up when Jason Campbell is playing QB. Don't want to get burned by one of those 5 yard checkdowns that he has a 50/50 chance of completing.

I can't believe Mark Brunell is still even in the league...

Orton # 13 with 3 picks?

39
by Arkaein :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:09pm

Convenient to ignore the other 13 attempts that went for 242 yards and 2 TDs. I believe that is what they call cherry picking.

Orton was 1 yard above replacement level on a per play basis, but posted a decent total due to a large number of pass attempts. I think most weeks this would be an average or slightly below DYAR total, but in this week the numbers for a lot of QBs are depressed due to being pulled before the games are over, combined with a lot of play by backups.

53
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 5:37pm

The short throws aren't checkdowns. They're the intended play. Blame the playcaller for that, not the QB. There are plenty of things to blame the QB about - tentativeness, pocket presence - but blaming him for completing a bunch of short passes when that's what he's asked to do is just silly.

18
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:29pm

Oh, and Bill? Gary Cuozzo played for the Vikings in 1971, and turned in that performance against the 49ers. I was at that effin' game, as my childish grade school optimism was turned into a cold, bitter, realism by watching a guy who was a dentist (and he looked like Hermey the Elf, too!) play like an awful qb for a team with a historically great defense, and thus ruin it's chances for post-season success.

Nah, it doesn't bother me today. Not at all.

23
by andrew :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:35pm

How many times can we wonder would might've been if Finks had opted to pay Joe Kapp... I know Kapp sucked royally with the Patriots and couldn't throw a spiral to save his life, but he was made for that team and I am convinced he would've gotten them through at least twice more in the next 3 years...

27
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:45pm

Well, let's not get too carried away. The Vikings got killed in Super Bowl IV in good part due to the fact that the Chiefs had no fear of Kapp going downfield. Now, if Finks had made a trade for, say, Billy Kilmer, who actually could pass, that may have been something to see. Of course, absent the wasted titanic defenses of '70 and '71, Tarkenton never gets back to Minny, but the defense never got back to the level they were on from '69 through '71.

20
by bd (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:29pm

Make the end of the season meaningful by determining the divisional champs by the intra-divisional records and changing the schedule so that the last three games are round-robin against divisional opponents. Decide the wild card teams by over-all records. We would still have some teams that manage to clinch a playoff spot before the final game, but it woulde be less common. It would mean that most teams would still have shot at the playoffs until the final three games and that the playoffs would have the teams that were hottest at the end of the season and knockout teams that now limp into the playffs on multi-game losing sreaks. It would also foster stronger traditional, long running rivalries that are at the heart of sports. And as for sending weaker teams that manage to win their divisions to the playoffs over teams with better win-loss records, the current system does that.

46
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:49pm

While basing the division champs on intradivision record (like college conferences do) is really interesting and could be a lot of fun, it has it's share of problems.

1. College football does this because the out-of-conference schedules of teams is much more variable. Generally, the seven-, eight-, or nine-game intraconference schedules that teams play are much more equal than the three-to-five-game interconference schedules. In the NFL, the slight imbalance between intra- and interconference schedules is more than offset by the sample size issues (using only six games instead of sixteen).

2. In college, roughly two-thirds of a team's schedule is intraconference. In the NFL, roughly one-third is intradivision. A team like the Browns, that for whatever reason played much better over the last four weeks, could sneak into the playoffs despite a really poor record. In college, having the best conference record at least means you have a rather good overall record. That is, an NFL division-winning team could have as few as three or four wins overall (more realistically that would be six to eight) out of sixteen games, while a college conference champion is almost guaranteed to have seven or eight wins out of thirteen games, which is good for a much more respectable winning percentage.

Your idea could work; have the final three games be all intradivision games, and either place the other three intradivision games during weeks seven through nine, or place them randomly throughout weeks one through twelve, or so.

The biggest obstacle is the fraction of the schedule division games make up, however. One way around that, potentially, is to increase the number of teams in each division. Three divisions in each conference results in unbalanced numbers per division. Two divisions means you can't have a home-and-home against each fellow division member without reducing the out-of-division games to two apiece, which wouldn't bring in enough year-to-year schedule diversity to satisfy fans.

25
by Levente from Hungary :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:36pm

Re: Chad Henne comment "completed a pass for -10 yards" - I did not understand why Williams caught it? He saw that the defender is catching him, he should have just batted it to the ground. Instead he made quite an effort to catch the ball. ???

31
by Sidewards :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:51pm

Because you can't risk it being a lateral, thus a fumble. Williams made the right decision there.

38
by Levente from Hungary :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:09pm

I'm afraid you did not see the play. I'm just watching the recording of game: it was definitely forward for 2-3 yards, a lob over a defender.
In general I agree with you, to tell the truth did not even think of that issue. But this instance it was a different case.

44
by whatyousay :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:46pm

Henne got hit as he was throwing and the ball came out funny. No guarantee it wasn't a fumble.

26
by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:42pm

What proof do we have that Matt Leinart is worth a high 3d round pick? He's been awful as a qb with arguably the best WR corps in the league. That 3rd round pick could be better spent on your own developmental qb who doesn't have a questionable work ethic. Why make the excuse that he doesn't get first team reps when you rarely throw that life preserver to any other backup qb? It's odd logic - you could say the same thing about Painter who doesn't even get as many reps as Leinart, was playing in the snow, and is a rookie without the pedigree of Leinart.

30
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:49pm

I tend to agree. The reports I've read indicate that the guy's work habits are not wonderful. I think he and Jamarcus may be golf buddies.

68
by BillWallace :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:30pm

My god can you imagine if JaMarcus plays golf like he plays quarterback?
He can probably drive it 350 yards into the next fairway over.

109
by TRav (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:14pm

Knock a hundred yards off that and that's how *I* play golf.

115
by dougs (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 4:15pm

Me too. I'm always in the fairway...just not *my* fairway.

36
by Jeff Q. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:06pm

Why do teams continue to throw millions of guaranteed dollars at kids coming out of college who may have had a good bowl game or two quarterbacking for a spread offense on a college team that sets them up to win?

Seriously. If I were an NFL team this year, the only quarterback I would even remotely think about drafting in the top 5 would be Jimmy Clausen.

You would think that the Alex Smiths, Matt Leinarts, and Jamarcus Russells of the world would give these guys some pause, but that's never the case.

42
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:38pm

Your initial question makes perfect sense in general, but it doesn't apply to Matt Leinart at all.

First, Leinart had much more than "a good bowl game or two" on his resume. He won a Heisman Trophy. He quarterbacked one National Championship, split another, and reached a third.

Second, Leinart did not have all his success "quarterbacking for a spread offense". USC runs what is arguably the most pro-like offense in all of college football. In fact, this was considered to be a big positive for Leinart (and, more recently, John David Booty) coming out of college.

Third, unfortunately, the only realistic way to acquire a franchise quarterback is through the draft (or through some other team giving up on one due to some really rare circumstances). Quarterbacks drafted near the top of the first round, while more likely to cost you millions of dollars, are much more likely to turn into franchise quarterbacks than guys you take flyers on later in the draft. Remember, for every Drew Brees or Tom Brady, there's dozens of John Becks and Andre Woodsons.

48
by Illmatic74 :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:56pm

I don't know what he is talking about USC rarely even uses shotgun.

32
by dmb :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 3:51pm

Bill: The long Campbell-to-Kelly play didn't go for a TD.

35
by jonnyblazin :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:05pm

I disagree with the Flacco assessment. You beat Flacco by taking away Mason with a great CB in single coverage, i.e. Namdi, or Leon Hall. The whole offense hinges on Mason's ability to beat single coverage, and NE doesn't have a CB that can shut him down on their roster.

37
by Fan in Exile :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:08pm

If you really wanted to change it you would have to attack the economic incentives. Make it easier for season ticket holders to turn in their tickets for a full refund without attaching any kind of penalty to it this would also include a prorated portion of the PSL. Meaning they could turn in their tickets for a full refund and still be able to buy them again next year. I think you would only have to do it for week 17 even. Do this up to the start of the game so that teams can't just wait to announce that their starters are sitting.

Let the fans decide if they are going to still support their team or not.

66
by Jerry :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 7:47pm

Goodell deserves a lot of credit for considering the interests of ticketholders, with regard to both exhibitions and now end-of-season games. There's no way, though, that his solution will involve teams losing revenue.

41
by Theo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:29pm

Unbelievable that 5 of the Carson Palmer passes were just dropped.

45
by g (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:47pm

How about giving teams a bit of extra incentive to win *every* game? Award playoff teams one point per regular season win differential in their first playoff game. In other words, if an 11-5 team plays a 14-2 team in their first playoff game, they start with a 3 point deficit. This only applies to the wildcard and divisional rounds; the conference championships and Super Bowl would start at 0-0 as usual.

47
by Duff (J) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:56pm

On Curtis Painter: "Sure, he was just a spider in the snow, but 4-of-17 is ugly."

Is that really a Dismemberment Plan reference in Quick Reads? Knock me over with a feather!

I didn't see the game, but I can imagine he might have looked a little obvious and lonely...

54
by Thok :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 5:49pm

My quick and dirty solution to resting starters: if Team X (who has already cliched a playoff berth) does not make a competitive effort against Team Y, which causes Team Z to lose a playoff berth to Team Y, then Team X forfeits a draft pick to Team Z (haven't decided the value of the draft pick, but it should be in this years draft; a third round pick sounds about right.)

This year that would mean Indy owes Houston a draft pick for the right to ignore the second half of the Jets game.

61
by Arkaein :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 6:51pm

So how exactly do you define "competetive effort"?

Do you have to play your starters for a whole game, or is 3 quarters enough, and what does the score have to be at specific points in the game that pulling the starters is legitimate because the game is either in hand or unwinnable?

What about injuries? How can you claim that if a QB is knocked down on a pass play and is pulled from the game that he is being pulled due to a legitimate injury, or just using the hit as a convenient excuse to leave the game early?

There's no way to make these calls objectively. Every team sits some players each game due to injury, and almost every NFL player has bumps and bruises that could be used as a reason to keep them from a game without too much stretching of the truth, or at least a definitive knowledge of what the true situation is, unless you want independent doctors to examine every player before games late in the season with the power to override team doctors, coaches, and the players themselves in deciding who should play.

On a more general note, I think the one thing all of these suggestions on how to prevent teams laying down have in common is that they are all worse than the current system. Any system can be gamed, and coming up with new rules will just allow new ways the system can be gamed.

64
by John Brockington (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 7:33pm

There is no perfect solution, but it seems worth griping about. It would be poetic justice, though, to see the Jets knock off the Bengals and Colts, and maybe knock Manning out of the game in the process (nothing too serious, of course).

82
by Thok :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 11:31pm

Make the decisions on a case by case basis, at the final determination of the Commissioner. In my mind it's a similar situation to a tampering allegation and should be handled in a similar manner.

65
by lester bangs (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 7:35pm

No one dresses up common sense as "splitting the atom brilliance" quite like Billy B. I hope I'm not the only person who senses how obnoxious this is (see this week's running back session). I agree with your conclusions, but try not to admire yourself too much all during it.

67
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:18pm

Actually, when someone usues the device "lesson 1400","lesson 1401", etc., the point they are making, and the manner it is being made, is precisely the opposite of what you assert. Barnwell is saying that this stuff does NOT require anything approaching a high level of intelligence to figure out; that staying sober and awake on most autumn Sunday afternoons will suffice.

94
by greybeard :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 5:27am

I found the way he is making his point quite annoying.
Besides I watched Kevin Barlow and then Frank Gore to play RB for 49ers, and I suggest doing that as lesson 1 for "RBs are not fungible" class.

99
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:12pm

Well, what is annoying is a mstter of taste. I was just noting that Barnwell's rhetoric carried with it no implication that Barnwell's assertions were the by-product of any type of high level intelligence.

101
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:20pm

Interesting example, as Gore was neither drafted in the 1st round nor acquired as a big money free agent.

Also, Kevin Barlow sucks. That doesn't mean it's hard to find someone better than him, it means the opposite.

So I think you just proved Bill's point.

107
by David :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:20pm

Gore was drafted with the first pick of the second round - I agree, not a first-rounder, but literally the next-best thing

And he only fell that far due to injury...

108
by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:10pm

Frank Gore was drafted with the 65th overall selection, the first pick in the third round.

119
by greybeard :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 6:06pm

Where Gore was drafted does not matter. Not that it matters to my argument but he got good money in his contract year. My point was about running backs not being fungible as implied. There are good running backs and they are worth the money paid to them. Your point was running backs can be found anywhere and are not worth paying money. Just because on week 17 a few lower paid running backs have good performances does not mean anything. You will find weeks where a few lower paid QBs are at the top of the list. I cannot imagine you will say lesson 1400, why you don't spend top money to QBs.

It is very sad that you think 32 franchises, which are worth around 20 billion dollars and employ hundreds of people in player evaluation cannot come to the same logical conclusions that you and a few of your collogues do. They keep on drafting running backs in the first round and keep on paying their money to those people where if they were as smart as you are, they would just not draft running backs before 4th round.

121
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 1:16am

Certain positions, like safety, tight end, guard, center, and kicker/punter are infrequently, rarely, or never drafted in the first round, and those that are are virtually never taken in the top 5. There are good safeties and tight ends, but they get paid less on average than most other positions (by the way, so do running backs). Bill's argument, which I agree with, is that running backs should be added to that list. The only running backs who might be worth drafting in the top 5 are Hall of Fame talents who can succeed despite a poor offensive line and passing game. There aren't many of those guys out there, and it's usually tough to recognize them before the draft.

And by the way, not all 32 franchises overvalue running backs. Denver and Houston, at least, seem to subscribe to this theory.

124
by greybeard :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 5:00am

So franchises are smart enough to recognize this for safety, tight end, guard, center, and kicker/punter but not running backs?
Denver drafted a RB in the 1st round last year.

127
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 12:09pm

You're right, I should have said Denver under Shanahan. McDaniels may have a different approach. Also, I think we can add Green Bay to the list. (They haven't drafted a RB in the 1st round since 1990!)

Yes, I think most franchises systematically overvalue RBs. I think the most underrated quality for a workhorse back is durability aka health. Get a guy who's competent and stays healthy and put him behind a good line, and you have a good running game. It's that simple. When his contract runs out and he demands more money, let him go and get another guy.

RB performance is tied to O-line performance more so than almost anyone is willing to admit. That's the difference between RBs and S, TE, G, etc. Everyone knows you can get by with a weak link at safety if you have talent around him (depending on your scheme), and everyone knows you can have a good offense without a good TE, but few people acknowledge that you can have a good running game with an unremarkable RB as long as you have a good line.

Now, as I said if you can get a guy who can perform well despite poor line play, that's very valuable. But as I said those guys are very rare. (Similarly, if you can get an Ed Reed or a Tony Gonzalez, you should grab them, but for the most part it's not a smart move to draft those positions so high.)

126
by Eddo :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 11:33am

I'm coming to think there's quite a difference between "in the first round" and "in the top five".

BGA, your overall point is valid, but safeties, tight ends, guards, and centers are taken in the first round nearly every year. It's usually towards the end of the round, because the salaries there are much more in line with what you'd pay a good-but-not-elite player at those positions in free agency.

128
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 12:12pm

Yes, it would be fair to amend my argument when I say "don't draft a RB in the 1st round" to mean "don't draft a RB until late in the 1st round."

130
by Eddo :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 1:52pm

I think a good summary would be:

Don't draft a running back, safety, or tight end in the top ten picks unless you're certain he'll become an elite player at his position.
Don't draft a center or guard in the first round unless you're certain he'll become an elite player at his position.
Don't draft a kicker, punter, or fullback in the first round, period.

Now, one might say that you should never draft anyone in the top ten unless you're certain they'll be an elite player, but that's not really true. The eliteness is not a requirement for positions like quarterback, tackle, defensive lineman, linebacker, wide receiver, and cornerback. The salaries those positions get paid are greater, so a top-ten rookie contract isn't the equivalent of an elite salary at those positions. Getting "just" a good left tackle with the third pick, for example, is still an very good result for a team.

132
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 2:32pm

Yes. I agree with everything you've just said, except I would add that it's not just about rookie salaries. Even disregarding salary considerations, you will get better total value from your picks by not choosing "secondary" positions in the top 5 or 10. Let's say you have a top-10 pick. It's smarter to pass on a RB early and take a player at a "primary" postion, even if the RB is better than the other guy, because you can get a RB later who is pretty good and it's much harder to find value at those other positions once you get out of the top 10.

Drafting OT (or another "primary" position), S, RB in order with your first 3 picks will get you more net talent than drafting the RB or S first. There is a steeper drop-off for OTs (and QBs, and DL, etc.).

Roughly speaking, we could divide all positions into 4 categories, based on availability:

Primary positions: QB, OT, DL, LB, WR, and CB- Valid top-10 picks even if not elite
Secondary postions: RB, TE, S- Only draft in top-10 if they truly elite
Tertiary: G, C- Only draft in 1st round if they are truly elite
Quaternary: K, P, LS- Don't even think about taking before the 6th round

The point of all this is that most teams seem to think RBs should be in the first group and I think they should be in the second.

133
by Eddo :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 3:52pm

You're right, it's not just about salary.

An analogy to your argument is fantasy football. The top scoring players in a given season are almost always quarterbacks, yet very few quarterbacks go in the first two rounds of a fantasy draft. Why? Because it's easy to get similar production later, which isn't true of running backs (in fantasy drafts). It's a similar concept.

My theory on why many still feel running backs belong in your Primary group is that good-but-not-elite running backs (ex: Thomas Jones, Eddie George) still put up big conventional statistics, due to usage. Therefore, it appears that since running backs are a huge part of offense, a team's primary running back is very important.

134
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 6:44pm

Thomas Jones is a great example. His first year with the Jets, he was horrible. Then the next year, they added some linemen and suddenly he was good. Makes you wonder if they could have gotten the same results with some other RB and avoided paying him all that money.

135
by Eddo :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 7:35pm

Bingo.

Jones is also interesting, as he was drafted *seventh* overall by the Cardinals and had three mediocre-to-poor seasons in the desert. He wasn't considered to be a good back until after he left Arizona, as he needed a good offensive line to be productive.

72
by zlionsfan :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:49pm

IIRC the NHL attempted to address this, fining teams for resting players at the end of the season. (They've also punished teams for having players skip the All-Star Game.)

If what I recall is true, then clearly the NFL shouldn't try it. It's hard to go wrong doing the opposite of anything Gary Bettman does.

102
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:22pm

Off the top of my head, I remember talk about doing those things, but I don't know if they ever actually went through with it.

73
by Seattleite (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:52pm

Pay teams to win.
If your base salary is X, and you play 16 games per season, then you make X/16 per game.

For each game your team wins, you make 1.2(X/16). For each game your team loses, you make .8(X/16). This applies to players (whether they actually play or not)and to coaches/managers. Better teams will make disproportionately more money, but the leagues can defray some of that with bonuses to owners for wins or somesuch.

75
by Jovins :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:13pm

Does that money go towards the salary cap? Does it not? If it does, good teams will be hugely rewarded for being good. Do you take 10 million dollars a year to go to the Lions, or 8 million a year to go to the Colts, where you're likely to earn a huge bonus? Paying the players is a ridiculous proposition.

We live in a free market. No one is forcing the Colts fans to buy season tickets, or tickets of any sort. To be honest, I think the Colts season ticket holders got more for their money this year than say, Lions season ticket holders. If people really cared, then they'd stop buying season tickets.

The effect on the league is also being blown out of proportion. As was mentioned above, playing teams who have superstars on the injury list is a huge benefit. Look at the Dallas Cowboys a few years ago - when Romo got hurt, and Brad Johnson came in, they were a different team. Is it fair to the teams that had to play them with Romo that the teams playing Johnson had a much easier path to victory? No. But there's nothing to be done about it. Scheduling luck plays a huge part in overall record, more than just injuries. Travelling from the west coast to the east coast is difficult. Playing teams when they're hot is a matter of luck. Playing in the NFC or AFC West.

Unless the entire regular season is retooled, there is not going to be a fair way to schedule. This is just another example of a team getting a lucky break. If the Steelers to complain, fine. But they too got a lucky break - they played the AFC West. They just didn't take advantage of their luck.

The teams in the playoffs took advantage of their good fortune. We don't reward teams based on how well they played. We reward them based on wins and losses. Losing close games doesn't necessarily make you a bad team. However, it will keep you out of the playoffs.

81
by Seattleite (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 10:24pm

The salary cap would be based on X. A team's players salaries could up up to 1.2 times the cap if they win every game and were already at the cap. I don't see a problem with a player debating whther to go to a better team for less base pay considering the potential to be paid more based on record. That's just more incentive for a franchise to build a good team. And the salary cap keeps things from getting too out of line (1.2 and .8 is just an example, 1.1 and .9 may be better, or 1.3 and .7).

Saying we live in a free market is no argument against this scheme. Yes, the Colts fans can not buy their season tickets if they aren't getting value - or far more importantly, maybe the telecasters pay the league less because viewership drops. It's in the economic free-market-based interests of the league and of the teams comprising it to deliver as compelling a product as possible.

89
by Jovins :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:44am

Ignoring the other part of my argument doesn't make it go away. This is merely another scheduling discrepancy that the league doesn't need to eliminate. What's the saying, all publicity is good publicity? The league isn't being penalized by this. People are already paying money for noncompetitive games in the preseason. The networks don't show the Colts game, because they know the starters aren't effected. It just doesn't matter.

That's the whole point. It doesn't matter. This has happened before and will happen again. The reason there's a big fuss about this is because the Jets happened to play two teams with very little incentive to win.

83
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 11:44pm

Oh hell, have the offended GM challenge the offending GM to a duel. Have them march out to the fifty during halftime at the Super Bowl. Goodell awaits them there, with old-fashioned flintlock pistols on a pillow. Ten paces, turn, and BLAMMO! Who the hell needs that ol' pervert Townshend?

Of course, if it ever turned into a shootin' match between Al Davis and somebody else, it might be an unfair fight, given Al used flintlocks when he was growin' up.

84
by Dan :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:02am

This is lesson 1,401, why you don't spend first-round picks on halfbacks.

On the other hand:
1.07*
1.24*
1.24
1.27
2.55
2.60

* starter

Those are this year's Pro Bowl halfbacks, by draft pick (AP, CJ, SJ, DW, RR, MJD). And looking at previous years, it's typical for at least half of them to be first rounders. Advanced NFL Stats also looked at this, with similar results for Pro Bowls and ypc.

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by bubqr :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 7:38am

I agree with you, saying that HB is a position where you can more easily find starters later in the draft than for other skill positions is different than "you shouldn't spend 1st round picks on HBs". Does it mean that Tennessee and Minnesota made mistakes by drafting AP and CJ ? It says so at least.

2 quick observations :

1. BAL Defense isn't what it used to be, but the Ravens were playing for a playoffs ticket, and those Charlie Frye numbers sure looks good. And that is weird.
2. Blaming "Derek Anderson" for "failing to hit 20 passing attempts" is not so logical. He is only partly, and indirectly responsible for such numbers (sucking doesn't give your coach much confidence in you and doesn't help in sustaining drives which lower the number of opportunities to pass the ball). He doesn't call the plays.

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by WhoDat? (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:47pm

I find it odd that they reviewed Russell's performance and not Frye's. After all, Jamarcus just met expectations. Frye's game had to be taken as exceeding expectations, so it would have been interesting to see a comment on that.

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by Eddo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 5:04pm

EDIT: Misread your comment. Apologies.

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by Eddo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:13am

First of all, going by Pro Bowl selections will only help early picks, since they're more hyped-up to begin with, and thus more likely to be voted into the Pro Bowl.

Secondly, the "running backs are fungible" idea isn't that any running back can replace any other, but that it's not worth it to ever pay one like you would a QB, LT, or DE.

I generally have two rules regarding drafting running backs:
1. Never draft one in the first five picks overall, as the price is too high.
2. Only draft a running back in the first round if he's a superb talent. I'm referring to guys like Peterson, Chris Johnson, and Steven Jackson, who are unique talents. Most other running backs are too dependent on having a good offensive line to use a top-20 pick on.

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by dryheat :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:46pm

By definition, can a group of 3 players be said to have "unique" talents?

It's also a pretty good list put together in hindsight. Neither Jackson nor Johnson was the first RB taken in their respective drafts (didn't Jackson last until the 2nd?), and most thought Johnson was a significant reach in the first round (even at 30th overall, IIRC).

Guys like Reggie Bush, Ronnie Brown, and Ricky Williams were thought of a priori to be more superbly talented.

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by Eddo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:13pm

"Unique" was a bad word to use; I should have explained myself differently. What I mean is, the player I'm drafting must have some talent that sets him apart from other running backs, besides just college production.

Adrian Peterson was the most talented back to come out of college in a while.
Chris Johnson was the fastest back taken.
Ronnie Brown fits my criteria, too, if you could see his ability to throw and essentially play the role of option QB in the Wildcat formation.

Steven Jackson probably doesn't fit my criteria, as he's really just a better version of a "standard" running back.

Ricky Williams does not. He's really a product of an excellent team around him in college.

Reggie Bush does fit my second criterion, but I wouldn't have drafted him second overall, as per my first criterion.

My point kind of is this: unlike QB, or DE, or WR, RB is the one position I'd draft based on potential. Someone like Johnson may have been a reach, but his upside (like Peterson's) was that he would be a threat to score every time he touched the ball. If the high-potential guys flame out, you can replace them with street free agents or lower-round picks.

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by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:29pm

Yes but would you rather have a Pro Bowl RB plus an average starter at another position or a Pro Bowler at another position plus a near-Pro Bowl RB? The point is that you can cheaply find RBs who are effective, even if they will never become the best RBs in the league. It's harder to find good quality at most other positions.

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by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:25pm

And looking at previous years, it's typical for at least half of them to be first rounders

See the ROBO-PUNTER discussion. A punter with ROBO-PUNTER's skillset would be a Pro Bowler every year. That doesn't mean it's worth it to draft him first overall.

RB is a really strange position in the NFL - most teams still insist on drafting guys very high, but there's ample evidence that the resources would be better spent elsewhere. Some of those teams are even well-managed ones, like NE and Indy. Indy spending two first-round picks on RBs in the past 4 years is especially baffling.

87
by Mike Y :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:38am

My solutions for competitive balance:

1. Only guarantee the division winners a playoff spot, not a top 4 seed. Seed playoff teams by record, and apply conference tiebreakers when seeding. Theoretically, a 9-7 division winner could be a #6 seed, and a 12-4 wildcard team could be a #2 or #3 seed. This would prevent some teams from being "locked" in their playoff position.

or

2. Make the first tiebreaker the week of your last loss, the earliest lass loss wins the tiebreaker, no matter the head-to-head record between the teams. For example, if the 10-5 Bengals lose to the Jets get to 10-6, while the 9-6 Ravens win against the Raiders to get to 10-6, even if the Bengals swept the Ravens, give the division title to the Ravens, since their last loss is earlier in the season. Only apply this to one loss, and if both teams had their last loss in the same week, apply the rest of the tiebreakers.

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by Jovins :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:47am

The tiebreakers work well as it is. Very well. Is it fair to penalize a team for playing better early than late? What if a team loses its star quarterback in week 12, and has to use a backup? They'll be penalized for that. Beside, it isn't the wildcard teams and the marginal division champions that are "messing up" the system. It's the teams that easily earn a first round bye. Under your scenario, nothing would have changed this year.

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by lester bangs (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:57am

Your first idea is a good one, open up the seeding for the conference, the division title only gets you in the playoffs. I'd also suggest the NFL save up more divisional games for week 17; not necessarily an exclusive slate, but let's try to keep some stuff in the balance.

Alas, most of Week 17 was in-conference stuff and it still didn't matter. But if you take away the divisional privilege, the Green Bay-Arizona game would have gotten full effort on both sides last week.

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by Mike Y :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 4:53am

Yes, I'm not necessarily advocating my idea#2, but the first idea they should implement as soon as possible. It would prevent a situation like 12-4 Indy traveling to 8-8 SD in the playoffs like last year.

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by ChiJeff (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:15pm

Then what would be the point of winning a division and the effort it takes? Division winners should have HFA.

118
by Arkaein :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 6:01pm

Which takes more effort? Going 10-6 in a bad division (e.g. Cardinals), or going 11-5 in a division with another team with at least as good of a record (e.g., Packers).

Neither the Packers nor the Cardinals had a tough schedule this year, quite the opposite actually. But The Packers at least had to play Minnesota twice. Arizona didn't have to play a single good division opponent once.

A division winner should always be awarded a playoffs spot, but if they weren't guaranteed HFA in any round it would more incentive to win late in the season, and should produce more meaningful games. The Arizona-GB game would have actually meant HFA for the winning team instead of being a glorified exhibition.

I'm a Packers fan, so take my comments with their inherent biases. FWIW, I don't really mind that the Packer have to go on the road to face a team with a worse record, but I think there's a good argument that they earned a home field game at least as much as Arizona did. Saying they don't is basically punishing them for playing in a tougher division, which I don't see as being any better than some teams being punished or rewarded for arbitrary late season scheduling.

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by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 1:22am

I agree with your plan of seeding purely by record, without distinguishing between division winners and wild cards. (Division winners should still be guaranteed a spot, though, as you said.) I think it would give more teams more incentive to keep playing hard late in the year, plus it would stop punishing good teams who play in a division with another great team and rewarding mediocre teams who play in crappy divisions.

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by Arkaein :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 2:10pm

Thanks, but give credit to Mike Y for originally posting the idea above. I was just advocating for it.

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by nojo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:20pm

So, as you've alluded below, #2 is a horrible idea. You've given the scenario why: you just punished the Bengals for playing a good team in week 17 and rewarded the Ravens for playing a bad one. Not sure why you should punish/reward based on schedule.

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by andrew :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 8:50am

Did the season-ending version of quick reads get posted on ESPN already? Is it still slated to make its way here?

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by Staubach12 :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 12:56pm

It got up on ESPN (I don't have insider access, so I can't read it). I think it was a day late, so I'm hoping we'll get it today.