Guest columnist Zachary O. Binney fact-checks a story in a national publication and finds that everyone makes mistakes.
14 Jul 2003
Football Outsiders is unlike any football site you've ever seen on the web.
So what makes us different, you wonder?
First of all, Football Outsiders brings you a series of brand new, in-depth statistics you can't find anywhere else. With these stats, we will attempt to bring objective analysis to football that matches the revolution in baseball writing and analysis over the past 20 years. We have new methods for analyzing skill players, offensive and defensive lines, and total team efficiency. These statistics are not only complete for the 2002 and 2003 seasons; they will be updated on a weekly basis during future seasons. We don't just have reams of stats, though; we'll also have in-depth articles explaining these statistics as well as articles to answer specific questions and challenge conventional wisdom about the game.
Football Outsiders also features a daily blog of the best NFL articles from around the Web. We won't be linking to every single AP release updating player injury status, we'll just link you to the best-written, most insightful articles on the NFL from around the Internet and from the newspapers covering all 32 teams. Like BaseballPrimer.com's Clutch Hits, we hope each article will inspire a thread where football fans can discuss and debate these articles and what impact they have on our reason for waking up on Sundays.
Third, we're going to have articles written by fans for fans, articles that take a look at what's going on in the NFL with an outsider's detachment, a fan's obsession, and, hopefully, a bit of wit to boot. Right now we have two regular columns. One is Scramble for the Ball by Al Bogdan and Ian Dembsky, a record of their never-ending (and never boring) discussion about life, football, and the pursuit of He Hate ME. They tackle everything from annoying commercials to bad coaching decisions, from your fantasy start and bench choices to point spreads. The other column, added in the middle of the 2003 season, is Confessions of a Football Junkie by Russell Levine, which gives commentary on both the NFL and the college game.
The Internet has a lot of websites giving fantasy football advice, and a lot of websites giving strategies for picking Sunday's games with your bookie. Is this another one of those sites? Well, we all play fantasy football here, and we're going to let everyone in on a fun little twist on fantasy we call the Loser League. Many of us like to put money on the games each week, and we all play in a small-cash pool picking the week's games. So we're going to talk about fantasy football some, and the statistics we introduce will help you build your team. And we're going to talk about gambling some, and the statistics we introduce will help you win more often. But we're hardcore fans, like you, and just as interested in the real games in the real stadiums, where covering the spread is meaningless if your team tanks the final game and blows the playoff tiebreaker.
It started with a simple question. The conventional wisdom of the Boston media said that the New England Patriots were losing games because they couldn't establish the run. It didn't make sense to me - did winning teams really run early? I always thought winning teams padded their run totals later in games, holding onto leads.
I thought back to the early days of Bill James. The Bill James Baseball Abstract started because Bill James had some questions about the conventional wisdom of baseball, and he figured that the only way to answer his questions was to add up the data. Did specific pitchers have as much influence on stolen base rates as catchers? In those pre-Internet days, James added up the stolen bases from 162 box scores for each team to find out the answer. Those questions and answers became a book that James mimeographed in his garage and advertised in the back pages of The Sporting News. Read Moneyball by Michael Lewis if you want the rest of that story.
The world has changed a lot since 1978. Every NFL game now has play-by-play available on the Internet. "OK," I thought to myself, "Let's go through every game, and figure out how many times each team ran during the first half, and see if teams that run more in the first half have a tendency to win games."
I started counting manually, and about four games in I realized this was silly. Why not just paste the text of each game's play-by-play into a spreadsheet, and use another column to add up the rushing attempts? And once I thought of this, I realized, there was no need to count only rushing attempts. You could count passes and compare receivers, or quarterbacks.
What started as a small project became a big one. Hey, I'm a dork, and my company was on Christmas hiatus so I had a lot of time on my hands. I ended up creating a database of every single play in the 2002 NFL season, based on the ESPN.com play-by-play files (and later tweaked based on the NFL.com play-by-play files).
So, now that I had this huge spreadsheet, I could answer a ton of questions. Did teams win more often if they established the run? Did big backs wear out defenses more than small backs did? Who was worth more, a running back with 500 yards and 10 TDs, or one with 1000 yards but only 5 TDs?
Now I was stuck with all this work I had done, and nowhere to share it with other football fans. The solution: start my own site. Of course, statistics are fun, but I needed more than that to start an NFL website. I wanted to combine the critical analysis of BaseballProspectus.com with the community discussions featured on BaseballPrimer.com. Luckily, I had a group of friends who love the NFL as much as I do.
We hope you'll bookmark us and check back often. We hope you'll participate in the discussion threads in the NFL blog. If you would like to write an article, let us know.
And, if you don't mind us sticking in a plea for donations, we hope that you will toss us a little money if you find our writing fun and our statistics insightful. This isn't a subscription site, but we're working hard on it -- especially me, because I've spent a ridiculous numbers of hours tweaking spreadsheets while watching Sportscenter out of the corner of my eye. A couple of us are out of work right now. Al has law school bills to pay. Benjy and I have young daughters, and Russell has a couple of kids. We'd much rather have a lot of readers give us ten bucks voluntarily than eventually develop a subscription system that lowers our readership and costs more than your fantasy league. So reach deep down and give it up for the Outsiders -- for less than the cost of a really big cup of coffee, you can help support our ridiculously geeky venture. Donation buttons are on the left side of the page.