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09 Jul 2004
by Michael David Smith
If the Justice Department really wants to go after an important issue facing America, a good subject to investigate would be price fixing among our nation's football preview magazines.
I surveyed the five major magazines now on the market -- Street & Smith, Athlon, Lindy's, Pro Football Weekly and The Sporting News -- and found that the first four charge $6.99 a copy, while The Sporting News undercuts its competition by charging $6.98.
But of course we all know that good writing about the game we love is a steal at seven bucks. (Football Outsiders optional donation buttons, hint hint). So I've taken a look at each of the five magazines in an effort to help you make your own choice when you visit your local bookstore.
The first thing you want to know when you pick up a football preview magazine is how the resident experts think your team will do, and the second is who they think will win the Super Bowl. (In my case those have always been two separate questions, with the exception of 2000, when Dan Pompei of The Sporting News said my beloved Lions would win it all. He was wrong.) Street & Smith, Athlon and Lindy's all lack the guts to pick a team's exact record, so in the following chart the number indicates the team's projected finish in its division. With The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly, we get a projected final record. A D signifies the team is picked to win its division; a W signifies the team is picked to get into the playoffs as a wild card. The final column gives the number of magazines out of the five that pick this team to go to the playoffs.
SUPER BOWL PREDICTIONS:
What struck me most about all five magazines was just how predictable they were. The biggest surprise was that no one thinks the Buccaneers will make the playoffs. Yes, they had a disappointing record last season, but all of our analysis here at Football Outsiders indicates that they should rebound. Based on total team DVOA the Bucs were the No. 7 team in the league, and the Bucs outscored their opponents, with seven of their nine losses by a touchdown or less. That's a good indication they were a better team than their record reflected.
Joining the Bucs in getting no love from the preseason magazines are the Bills, Jets, Browns, Steelers, Texans, Jaguars, Raiders, Chargers, Cowboys, Giants, Bears, Lions, Saints, Cardinals, and 49ers. I'm a bit surprised that no one is taking the bait on Jacksonville, which looked like an improving team as the season wore on. And it's a mystery why everyone thinks Bill Parcells will fail to get the Cowboys back in the postseason in his second year in Dallas.
If the preseason magazines are correct, the coming season's playoffs will look a lot like last season's playoffs. The Patriots, Ravens, Chiefs, Eagles, Panthers and Seahawks -- all playoff teams last year -- are unanimous picks to make it back. The Vikings are also a unanimous playoff selection, probably because they don't have to play those tough Arizona Cardinals this year.
Which of the publications should you buy? No one stands out above the rest, so allow me to briefly mention a bit about each:
Street & Smith gives great information for people planning to attend a game, such as average prices for a ticket, parking, a hot dog and a beer at all 32 stadiums. That information is great if you're planning a trip, but to the bulk of NFL fans who watch the games on television, it's more of a curiosity.
Athlon's best feature is a box labeled "off-season impact," which shows the key additions and key losses for every team. It sounds simple enough, but it comes in quite handy on those nights when you're lying awake trying to remember which team signed Mark Bruener.
The Sporting News has the best analyses of individual players' strengths and weaknesses. Although some of their picks are dubious (Ricky Williams as the best runner between the tackles? Is one of those tackles still Wade Smith?), it makes for a good read.
Lindy's biggest strength is devoting one full page to each team's roster, telling us each player's vital stats and something about him you might not know. For instance, do you care that Cowboys linebacker Bradie James "had the best offseason of any player and will push for playing time in 2004"? If you do, this is the magazine for you.
Pro Football Weekly is the only magazine on newsprint rather than glossy paper, so if you're looking for top-notch photos and graphics, look elsewhere. My favorite feature was a brief Q&A with LaDainian Tomlinson in which he reveals that the two hardest hitters in the NFL are Ray Lewis and (surprise) Donovin Darius.
My advice is that you visit your local bookstore, buy a coffee, spend some time with each of these magazines, and then purchase the one that's most to your liking. Of course, you can always just read Football Outsiders, since we'll be publishing plenty of preseason material over the next two months. Feel free to donate your seven dollars to us instead. Or more. Or save your money for an announcement coming from us soon. Or all of the above. Hey, it's the NFL -- is there such a thing as too much information?