Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Catch Radius: The Bigger, the Better?

Our season finale of catch radius focuses on the growing size of Josh McCown's talented receiving duos, including breakout stud Alshon Jeffery. Also: Anquan Boldin's incredible year.

29 Oct 2004

Scramble for the Ball: As Not Seen on TV

Al: You know what really bugs me Viv? The NFL's television policy. Sunday, after the Giants game ended at 4, Fox cut over to the end of the Cleveland/Philadelphia game. I was pleasantly surprised. Without DirectTV, I usually can only watch the Giants and Jets on Sunday afternoon, so it's always good when I get to at least catch a glimpse of other teams.

So, Cleveland is driving to tie the game with under three minutes left. The Browns are facing fourth down on the Eagle 32-yard line. Easily, the most important play of the game. What happens? Fox cuts to its postgame show. Why? Because the Jets were kicking off against the Pats at 4:15.

The NFL's television policy just makes no sense. Here is the NFL's blackout policy, which I originally found here:

Glossary of Terms
Franchised Market - television market (ADI or DMA) that has an NFL franchise (i.e. Buffalo, NY or Phoenix, AZ).
Secondary Blackout Market - television market in the home territory (with station(s) having signal penetration to within 75 miles of the game site) of an NFL franchise that is subject to blackout restrictions.
Early Game - Game with kickoff at 1:05 p.m. (Eastern Time).
Late Game - Game with kickoff at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. (Eastern Time).

Blackout Policy
To ensure an NFL club's ability to sell all of its game tickets, and to make televised games more attractive to viewers through the presence of sellout crowds, the following policy is observed by the NFL:

For a home game to be aired locally in the franchised market and in any secondary blackout market(s), the game must be sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff. If the game is not a sellout by the 72 hour cutoff, both the home franchised market and the secondary markets of the carrying network will air an alternate game.

Number of Games in a Market
With regard to the number of NFL games seen in a particular market on a Sunday afternoon, there are three different situations.

1. An NFL franchised market (i.e. New York, Chicago, Dallas, etc.).
On a week when the NFL team (or teams) in a market is on the ROAD Sunday, Monday or Thursday night or Saturday afternoon, the market will receive three Sunday afternoon games... two telecasts by the network with the doubleheader week and one game by the network with the single game week. When an NFL team in the market is playing at HOME on Sunday afternoon, the market will receive two games... one game on FOX and one game on CBS, regardless of which network has the doubleheader week. Unless 1) the home team's assigned telecaster that day (CBS or FOX) is also on the doubleheader network and 2) the game is sold out 72 hours in advance. Then the three games would be the home team's and two other games in the remaining early or late window.

2. All other television markets (including secondary blackout markets).
Network affiliates in these markets will receive three games on Sunday afternoon, two on the doubleheader network (one early and one late) and one game on the single game network (either early or late).

Selection of Games to be Telecast Regionally
By network contract, all team road games must be telecast back to that team's home territory (franchised market and secondary blackout markets).
Other than the above requirement, the televising network is the sole selector of which game(s) will be aired in all markets.

Al: I don't understand this at all. First of all, is there any relation today between the ability of a person to watch a game on TV and the likelihood of a team selling out its home games? Of course not. If your team's awful, the game isn't going to sell out whether it's available on TV or not. Have they shown a Cardinal home game in Phoenix in the past decade?

Second, the 75-mile rule is just dumb and doesn't take things into account like Buffalo being within 75 miles of Pennsylvania. That leads to things like the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania CBS affiliate being forced to show a Ravens game instead of the Steelers. That leads to things like the General Assembly of Pennsylvania passing House Resolution 892 calling for the NFL to reconsider it's broadcasting policies so that people in Pennsylvania can watch the Steelers and Eagles. Yes, that's right. A state legislature took the time out of it's busy day to talk about what game was on TV on Sunday. Don't forget to vote on Tuesday.

My favorite line from the resolution: "The broadcasting of the Baltimore Ravens, NEW YORK GIANTS, NEW YORK JETS AND BUFFALO BILLS professional football contests has little direct positive effect on the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

In today's day and age, there's little to no reason for the NFL to keep these archaic broadcasting rules.

Vivek:

Average Ticket Price for NFL Game in 2004: $54
Parking for Game: $20
Food and Drinks: $20
Being Able to See A Game Via DirectTV without Blackout Rules: Priceless

I completely agree. Is the fact that a Cardinals fan in Cochise County, Arizona cannot see a heated matchup with the Jets going to make him rush out to the stadium and buy a ticket? I think not.

I echo Al's feelings above, and have one more issue with the NFL and television contracts. Remember when the Dolphins-Titans game was moved up to Saturday in Week One because of Hurricane Ivan? Did you know that nobody outside of the Tennessee and Miami areas could view the game live because of the NFL's agreement not to compete with the NCAA's broadcasts? The NFL decided to make it up to the viewers by letting the rest of the country see the game taped the next day via DirectTV. Yay. (Note: sarcastic yay.)

I bet that most New Yorkers wished that the Jets and Giants games were blacked out though last weekend. The Jets held their own against the Pats but made too many careless errors to top New England. Jerald Sowell (why was he carrying the ball anyway?) fumbled a the Pats' 15-yard line on the Jets' first drive of the game; Dwayne Robertson was flagged for a roughing Tom Brady inside the Red Zone, letting the Pats continue a scoring drive. A good team won't make those mistakes.

Down at the Meadowlands, Kurt Warner and the Giants showed that they cannot beat a team with a winning record, falling badly to the new road warriors, the Detroit Lions.

Al: The bit about not competing with the NCAA isn't just an agreement between the two leagues. It's actually based on federal legislation -- the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961.

And I don't really consider DirectTV that great of an alternative. As Gregg Easterbrook has discussed in the past, there are many people who can't subscribe to DirectTV because of technical reasons. As DirectTV points out on their website, you need to place the dish so that it has a direct line of sight to the south, which may be impossible for people in apartment buildings. Many homeowner or condo associations just won't allow people to put dishes up outside of their homes. Anecdotally, I know of at least one person who had the Sunday package but ended up getting rid of because the signal would become unwatchable when it rained.

Now, I'm not here to knock DirecTV. If you can get it to work for you where you live I'm sure it's a quality service. But the NFL is doing a disservice to its fans who would be willing to pay for a full season NFL package by only allowing those who are able to meet DirectTV's requirements to do so.

As for the Giants, I'm expecting them to lose again this week to Minnesota. That would put them at 4-3 and put a damper on this improbable Giant playoff run. Looking at the rest of their season, I'm going to pencil in wins at home against Chicago and Dallas and on the road against the Redskins and Bengals. That gets them to eight wins. They'll need to win at least two of their other games to get in as a Wild Card. What's left? Games at Arizona and Baltimore, and visits from Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. The Giants should be able to scratch out another two wins out of those five games. If they don't, I'd expect the "Tom Coughlin is too tough on his players" stories to start up all over again.

What Did We Learn from Week 7?

Lesson 1 -- Herm Edwards Can Still Provide a Great Soundbite

Vivek: Newsday's Ken Berger let the world know that Herm Edwards still has it.

"You play to win the game . . . hello?" -- Herman Edwards, Oct. 30, 2002

"This is not the game of all games." -- Edwards, Oct. 18, 2004

"Now the mood is that it was a moral victory for us. That's hogwash." -- Edwards, Oct. 27, 2004.

Al: You can listen to his press conference here. Good stuff.

Lesson 2 -- Willis McGahee Deserves the Starting Job in Buffalo

Vivek: And no sooner did I type that than did coach Mike Mularkey tab McGahee as the starter for this weekend's game against Arizona. Henry has been hurt by a foot injury, but he has been lackluster in his previous two games, totaling only 60 yards rushing. Henry is still looking for his first touchdown of the season as well. McGahee on the other hand, has rushed for 211 yards in the past three games (two games splitting carries with Henry). What better way to start off the McGahee era than by giving him the start against a bottom-rung rushing defense.

Al: Fantasy alert. Start Willis this week. Opposing rushers are averaging 4.8 yards per carry against the Cardinals this year. Now, Arizona does have the best rushing defense in the league, according to DVOA. However, their defensive line is in the bottom third of the league in adjusted line yards, especially vulnerable on runs to the right. Buffalo's offensive line is tops in the league in adjusted line yards on running plays to the right side of the line.

Lesson 3 -- Ron Dayne is the Worst Player in the NFL

Al: I really just want to vent about how terrible a running back Ron Dayne is. I'm sure he's a fine man who loves his mother and helps old ladies across the street. But he has no business on an NFL roster, let alone actually on the field during an actual game, let alone carrying the ball on 3rd-and-goal from the one yard line.

I've ripped on Drew Bledsoe's play too many times to mention, but at least Bledsoe could be a competent NFL player if he had a brick wall of protection in front of him. If you put a brick wall in front of Ron Dayne, he would run directly into it. He wouldn't notice the huge opening two steps to his right. He'd just run straight ahead. Running through the hole would require Dayne doing something crazy like "using peripheral vision," or "changing directions," or "turning his hips," things Dayne has shown a complete inability to do in his NFL career.

How is he still on an NFL roster? The Birmingham Bolts would have put him on their practice squad. He would be cut by the Cologne Centurions. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers wouldn't invite him to a tryout. What does Ron Dayne bring to the table? Does he actually possess any discernable football skills? I haven't seen any.

Scramble for the Ball Mailbag

Al: Remember that you can send us your fantasy and other NFL questions to us at scramble@footballoutsiders.com. Loyal reader NEPAT1 Don took a break from celebrating the Sox win to throw in a question:

"How should Belichick scheme Ben Roethlisberger, heavy on the blitz or continually dropping 7 in coverage?"

Al: Good question Don. I wouldn't go too blitz crazy if I was New England. The Rotweiller is the first rookie QB since Phil Simms to win his first four starts of his career. He completed 84% of his passes against Dallas last week. Ben has the highest QB rating in the AFC in the fourth quarter and on third down. The last thing you want to do leave his receivers with single coverage. Ben will be able to get the ball to them. He doesn't seem like the type of quarterback who will get rattled by an extra rusher or two coming at him.

This is going to be a very interesting matchup. The key to stopping Pittsburgh is to keep them out of the red zone, because if the Steelers get inside the 20-yard line they're going to get into the end zone. Pittsburgh has the best red zone TD percentage in the league, getting six an astonishing 82% of the time. New England, however, has been successful in large part because they're so good at stopping offenses from scoring once they get in the red zone. Only Arizona (!?!?) has allowed a lower percentage of red zone touchdowns than New England's 29%, and as Gregg Easterbrook pointed out Tuesday (using numbers provided by Football Outsiders) the Pats have allowed opponents 36 inches per red zone play. It's the irresistible force against the immovable object. I'd can't wait to see what happens, and thankfully since the Jets are playing Monday night I just might be able to.

Keep Choppin' Wood Award

Vivek: I wrote about it earlier, but Jerald Sowell. You cannot fumble in the New England red zone on your first possession of the game. There was no reason for Sowell to be running the ball in the first place with Curtis Martin and Lamont Jordan there (not to mention the fact that Sowell had one carry on the year total). Game-changing.

Al: I'm worried that I'm going to start sounding like a broken record, but how can this not go to Drew Bledsoe? I don't care if you're playing against a team of Jedi Knights using the force to rip the football out of your hands. You just can't turn the ball over five times and expect your team to win. Bledsoe's four interceptions and a lost fumble handed a game to Baltimore. When your defense holds the other team to 160 yards of offense, you have to win that game.

Loser League Update

Al: We're still working to get the weekly contest updated on the new server, hopefully later on Friday. Here's the Loser League All-Star Team from Week 7:

QB: Kyle Boller -- 2 points (10-19, 86 yards, 1 Fumble)
RB: Najeh Davenport -- 5 points (12 carries, 37 yards, 2 catches, 20 yards)
RB: Brian Westbrook -- 5 points (13 carries, 43 yards, 3 catches, 17 yards)
WR: Reggie Williams -- 1 point (2 catches, 19 yards)
WR: Santana Moss -- 1 point (2 catches, 12 yards)
K: Doug Brien -- 1 point (1 XP)

Best Bets

Vivek: (1-2 last week, 8-15 overall) Back to my usual ways after a winning record in week 6. My losing picks at least had shots, unlike my partner here. I hear the voice of the legendary Warner Wolf: "If you had the Falcons plus 46... you lost!"

JETS – 6.5 over Miami

I may be picking this game just so I can throw in the fact that Hulk Hogan's daughter is singing the national anthem before the Monday night matchup. Curtis Martin will continue his torrid pace with a 130-plus yard performance against the Dolphins.

Green Bay -2 over WASHINGTON

Folks, this game has so much more on the line than a regular season win. According to Snopes.com, "the outcome of Washington Redskins football games has correctly predicted the winner of every U.S. presidential election since 1936." If the Redskins win, we have four more years of Bush. Don Majkowski could be starting for the Pack, and I'd pick them in this case. (Note: NOT an excuse to use the discussion thread to debate the election.)

San Francisco + 1.5 over CHICAGO

Did you know that Bears starting QB Craig Krenzel has a degree in molecular genetics and won the academic version of the Heisman trophy?

DENVER – 6.5 over Atlanta

Al: ( 1-2 last week, 11-12 overall) Thanks for taking the bullet with the Green Bay pick. No way I'm touching that one.

Jacksonville +1 over HOUSTON

I'm expecting a nice 300-yard day out of Byron Leftwich here. If you can beat the Colts on the road, the Texans shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Detroit +3 over DALLAS

If Detroit can match up Roy Williams with Terrence Newman, Williams could top 200 yards receiving. The Lions did a good job containing the Giant passing attack last week. They should be able to handle Vinny Testeverde.

CHICAGO -1.5 over San Francisco

How many people will be watching this game on Halloween night. 7? 8? I'd expect Thomas Jones to have a great game against the 49er "defense." I can't believe we're both picking this game. There's no reason for this.

Carolina +8 over SEATTLE

I don't really like this line, but I wanted an excuse to end the column with this, which has been stuck in my head since around midnight Wednesday night/Thursday morning:

Where it began, I can't begin to knowing
But then I know it's growing strong
Was in the spring
Then spring became the summer
Who'd have believed you'd come along

Hands, touching hands
Reaching out
Touching me, touching you
Sweet Caroline
Good times never seem so good
I've been inclined
To believe they never would

And now I, I look at the night
And it don't seem so lonely
We fill it up with only two
And when I hurt
Hurting runs off my shoulder
How can I hurt when holding you

One, touching one
Reaching out
Touching me, touching you
Sweet Caroline
Good times never seem so good
I've been inclined to believe they never would

Sweet Caroline
Good times never seem so good

Posted by: scramble on 29 Oct 2004

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