Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
27 Jan 2005
by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
Al: What a disappointing Championship Sunday. Michael Vick put on a dreadful performance and the Patriots were their usual dominating selves. We'll have plenty of time to do a full blown preview next week during the Second Annual Scramble for the Ball Prop Bet Extravaganza, but I'm definitely looking forward to a Super Bowl matchup between the best teams from each conference so far over the course of this short century.
Let's get some use out of this dead week, however, and look back at the sometimes brilliant and sometimes comical predictions the Outsiders staff made before the year. Too often, pundits make outlandish guesses about what will happen over an upcoming season and only remind you of them at the end when these random guesses somehow turn out to be correct. Well, that's not the way we do things here at Football Outsiders. If someone said something like "There's little not to like about Washington's chances in the NFC," we shouldn't ignore that comment like it never existed. We should hold that person up to the ridicule and disdain that they deserve.
Oh, wait a second. I said that. Never mind.
Vivek: At least the Skins comment was on par with a certain columnist's "Everybody hop onto the Gunther Cunningham bandwagon" comment. That bandwagon did travel though ... from 379 to 356 yards per game. That 23 yard improvement could be attributed to FO's drunken monkey lining up in nickel packages. Why do people read this column? For the bold, out of left field predictions, that's why. (Hence: Outsiders versus Insiders.)
Al: We'll start off with the first bit of prognostication that occurred on this site last summer, before you joined the staff. That was when Aaron and I looked at the over/under odds for total wins of each NFL team and made a pick as to where we thought the team would finish. We did this in four parts. Here's, Part 1 of the AFC, Part 2 of the AFC, Part 1 of the NFC, and Part 2 of the NFC. Aaron ended up with a .500 overall, going 8-7-1 in the AFC and 7-8-1 in the NFC. I fared much better, correctly guessing 63% of the over/unders, with a record of 10-5-1 in the AFC and 9-6-1 in the NFC. Seattle and Baltimore were the pushes in each conference.
The over/under columns contained one of the few pre-season voices predicting a big improvement for the Chargers. Aaron noted that "the DVOA projection system likes San Diego for a big rebound this year." However, he also thought that Tampa was due for a huge rebound and that it would be "a major historic anomaly if this team doesn't rebound into the double digits."
(Ed. Note: Which it is. The Buccaneers defy all logic and historical trends. They are like the anchovies of sucking that completely overwhelm and thus ruin the delicious taste of the pizza that is NFL analysis.)
My brilliant prognosticating skills predicted the collapse of the San Francisco 49ers. We didn't know exactly where the 49er line would fall because of the uncertainty of Tim Rattay's health, but I said that "if this line ends up at 4.5, I'm taking the under." I also correctly predicted the Giants' season record because as Aaron had been saying for a while "someone in the NFC East has to go 6-10." Who knew that would be true about three-quarters of the division.
But my contribution to those articles wasn't limited purely to such perfectly forecasted gems. No, I also said some things which turned out to be amazingly inaccurate, such as "Washington is the best team in the NFC," "[Tampa is] the best bet in that division to end up with double-digit wins," and "their division is completely up for grabs, but Pittsburgh hasn't done much of anything to jump up and take it. 6-10 seems just about right again."
Then came the Football Outsiders Staff Preseason Predictions article, where the ridiculous statements really came out. As a collective, the FO staff did ridiculously well at predicting playoff teams. Every year King Kaufman keeps track of the pre-season predictions of pigskin prognosticators and determines at the end of the season whose guesses turned out to be the most correct. He does this by giving "two points for each correct prediction of a division winner or wild-card team, one point for a predicted division winner getting into the playoffs as a wild card and one point for a predicted wild-card team winning the division. The maximum score is 24." Using this scoring system, the Football Outsiders consensus picks lapped the competition, scoring a record-breaking 18 points. The second place predictor (Sal Paolantonio of ESPN) managed only 15 points.
But collective greatness does not mean all the Outsiders did well with their individual predictions. Using Kaufman's scoring system, here is how we finished:
Russell: 19 (AFC -- 9; NFC -- 10)
Vivek: 16 (AFC -- 8; NFC -- 8 )
Benjy: 15 (AFC -- 8; NFC -- 7)
Aaron: 14 (AFC -- 7; NFC -- 7)
Patrick: 14 (AFC -- 6; NFC -- 8 )
Ryan: 14 (AFC -- 7; NFC -- 7)
Vinny: 14 (AFC -- 7; NFC -- 7)
Ian: 11 (AFC -- 4; NFC -- 7)
Mike: 10 (AFC -- 5; NFC -- 5)
Al: 6 (AFC -- 2; NFC -- 4)
Jason's drunken monkey: 4 (AFC -- 1; NFC -- 3)
DVOA projection system: 11 (AFC -- 6; NFC -- 5)
Russell was the big winner with 18 points and was the only person to score in double digits for an individual conference. Nice job of finishing in second, Viv. You correctly predicted all six NFC playoff teams, just not in the right order. As for me, I only managed to beat out Jason's drunken monkey throwing darts at a list of teams. Arizona as the NFC wild card seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Vivek: Take out the spreads, and I'm the King of Prognostication. I'll work harder on the lines during the offseason.
I looked back at the predictions, and while I was on target with most of the teams, I saw that I was completely off base with some of my "bold" statements. I sipped the Kansas City juice along with my fellow cohorts. On the other hand, I rode Philadelphia all the way to the Super Bowl with Ryan. For the NFC Championship, I said: "With McNabb, Owens and Westbrook carrying the load full time, they'll have three potential Pro Bowlers at those skill positions. Remember that this team was killed by injuries to both lines last year. Add Jevon Kearse, and you have more a lot more talent. People knock the secondary after the losses of Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, but Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and Michael Lewis are all about to hit their prime."
Sorry for tooting my own horn, but I had to after a few more off-base comments: "Look for the Michael Vick-Peerless Price combo to be what everyone expected last year and give the Falcons the NFC South Championship." So I was half right there. Price regressed so far that we could even say that he may have been a product of ... Drew Bledsoe? Another pearl of mine was: "Curtis Martin, worn down after nine seasons of hits, loses his grip on the full-time starting job; Remember, Herm Edwards' Jets 'play to win the game,' so here comes the Lamont Jordan era." Fantasy owners are dying to see if he is even more worn down in 2005.
Al: Looking back, your best prediction may have been: "Parity is the key word for the rest of the league, as a lot of 9-7 teams make the playoffs." Unfortunately, you were talking about the AFC when you said that.
I made a bunch of ridiculous statements about the Redskins to go with my awful predictions. I wasn't the only one drinking the fruit punch, however. Vinny was with me, who thought that "Joe Gibbs [would solidify] his genius status by getting the Skins back in the playoffs in his first year thanks to Mark Brunell." So was Aaron, who wrote, "I'm allowed one pick that totally flies in the face of all statistical forecasting and that's the Redskins."
At least I didn't predict that Cleveland would win a division title. Or that "Ron Dayne would rush for 1200 yards," like Patrick did.
Vivek: The Browns did throw some of us off in the preseason. Ian: "Jeff Garcia will lead the arsenal of Browns offensive weapons to a division title." Mike: "I don't like any teams in the North, but I do think the Browns had the best off-season of the foursome."
With the bad, I have to credit the good. Patrick saw 2004 as the last year for the Greatest Show on Turf: "This will be the last year of this Rams run, so enjoy it if you're a fan."
Russell, wiser than someone else here, saw a Chiefs' dropoff. "Kansas City will take a step back because their defense won't improve much under Gunther Cunningham and Dante Hall won't win three games for them by himself."
Benjy: "Ben Roethlisberger is the best rookie quarterback." Pretty smart for a site designer.
Ian: "Tennessee loses too many close games and finishes below Houston in the standings."
Aaron should have topped a few fantasy leagues with sleeper picks, but might have been a year early for Eric Parker. "Fantasy breakouts include Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, Titans running back Chris Brown, Chargers wideout Eric Parker, and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten."
The race for the number one selection in the 2005 draft wasn't a huge shocker, with Aaron, Al, Benjy, Ryan, and I picking either the 49ers (1st), Dolphins (2nd) or Browns (3rd).
Al: Aaron couldn't have made a better prediction than "Drew Brees has a comeback in San Diego, making him the hot choice for teams that need a new quarterback in 2005."
Ryan was equally on-point. He foresaw that the "Dolphins are in danger of joining the Arena League," and also predicted that "the 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are this season's 2003 Oakland Raiders."
Vivek: He might be a Pro Bowler, but that's a big difference from All-Pro. Nobody will ever doubt his potential and marketability for the league, but I wish people would stop putting him up on this pedestal so early in his career. This is a quarterback who threw for more than 200 yards all of three times during the season. Give him another year learning the offense, another receiving weapon, some more accuracy and patience, then let's talk.
Al: Someone really needs to step in here. I'm all for flamboyant players. I love hearing people talking about themselves in the third person. I was a fan of the cornrow mohawk. But having someone follow you around with a replica classic Ric Flair-style championship belt is a bit much. Especially when you've never had over 500 receiving yards in a season. Mitchell isn't good enough to deserve one nickname, let alone two. It's bad enough he had to rip one of his nickname's off The Rock, but to rip another one off of a shipping company? "FredEx?" That's just sad. I have a sinking feeling that we'll be seeing quite a bit from his media day appearance next week, and I'm not so sure that's such a good thing.
Al: You can send us your questions each week at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week we have an email from Stan S., who asks:
So are we going to see TO play in the Super Bowl or what? I'm already sick of hearing about it.
Al: Thanks Stan. If you want a medical perspective, Aaron tells me that we'll have a few more injury notes from Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus before the Super Bowl. But personally, I would be shocked if Owens didn't manage to suit up and get on the field for a play or two. The more important question is "will it matter?" I don't think so. Owens' doctor isn't willing to clear him, so you can't expect him to be anywhere near 100% if he's on the field. Well, then maybe he'll be valuable as a decoy, you say? I don't see it. Maybe against another team, but not against the Patriots. Honestly, I don't think Belichick and Crennel care either way if Owens lines up in the slot next Sunday. They're probably happy that the pre-Super Bowl discussion so far has centered around TO. Otherwise, we'd be enduring two weeks of non-stop discussion of whether this New England team is a "dynasty" or not.
Vivek: Brian from Rhode Island is using this off-week to settle some keeper league fantasy dilemmas. Old age is catching up to his team quickly.
A year ago, I thought I was in great shape with Brett Favre and Steve McNair, but who knows if either will throw a pass next year. I have Brunell and Rattay on my roster (dead space), but have some depth at the other skill positions with Bruce, Darrell Jackson, Priest Holmes, Rudi Johnson, Harrison, and Driver. Would you gamble on picking up a sleeper QB in next year's draft, or would you trade away depth now?
Vivek: Tough break Brian, and it's harder to offer my $.02 without knowing how deep your league is, the number of keepers, etc. Unless you plan on starting Aaron Rogers or Joe Gibbs re-inserts Mark Brunell, you need some help. I think Holmes' value is going to be at his peak now. His health is in question and his heavy workload should be cut back with the emergence of Larry Johnson. Someone will give you a top-five quarterback for him.
Al: I don't know who'd give you a top-five quarterback for Holmes. He's going to be 32 next year and missed half of last season because of injury. I'd try to trade one of the receivers. You could get a top quarterback in return for Harrison. I'd probably just wait until next year and draft someone, though. In most keeper leagues, teams load up on running backs, and that leaves a good number of quarterbacks available at draft time.
Al: I'd like to give this to Vick, but you picked on him already. And Bill Cowher already (sort of) won the coveted Mike Martz Award. So let's give this to Atlanta punter Chris Mohr. During the first quarter, I was willing to give Mohr the benefit of the doubt for his terrible punts since he was kicking into the wind. But after seeing the way Dirk Johnson punted the ball 40+ yards into that same wind later in the game, the blame for Mohr's awful kicks falls squarely on his shoulders. He averaged just over 20 yards on his three punts into the wind. Even when he had the wind, Mohr couldn't figure out how to use it properly. His longest punt of the day was 37 yards, when coincidentally he was kicking from the Philadelphia 37-yard line. In a game where the Falcons were within striking distance until the fourth quarter, Atlanta could have used all the field position it could get. Too bad Mohr couldn't help them in that department.
Aaron: My turn this week to give the playoff fantasy update. Vivek has 201 and is clobbering everyone. There's a nice battle for second, though. Ian is there now, but Russell and I have more players left and even our special guest Will Carroll could climb into second if Tom Brady has a game as big as last year's. Once again all players now out of the playoffs are in red.
|IAN (1 left)||152||RUSSELL (3 left)||135||VIVEK (3 left)||201||EL ANGELO's||161|
|QB||Manning, IND||51||Favre, GB||6||McNabb, PHI||42||BEST OF THE REST|
|RB||Dunn, ATL||37||Bettis, PIT||26||Westbrook, PHI||29||ALL-STARS|
|RB||Jackson, STL||6||Martin, NYJ||19||Duckett, ATL||13||Culpepper, MIN||58|
|WR||Driver, GB||7||Harrison, IND||9||Wayne, IND||35||Faulk, STL||18|
|WR||Parker, SD||9||Holt, STL||26||Ward, PIT||32||Bell, DEN||13|
|WR||Mitchell, PHI||18||Branch, NE||27||Bruce, STL||4||McCareins, NYJ||16|
|TE||Pollard, IND||2||Smith, PHI||7||Clark, IND||19||Robinson, MIN||17|
|K||Reed, PIT||19||Longwell, GB||6||Akers, PHI||18||Moss, NYJ||25|
|AARON (4 left)||139||AL (none left)||117||WILL (2 left)||124||Elam, DEN||6|
|QB||Roethlisberger, PIT||29||Vick, ATL||27||Brady, NE||35||Green Bay||0|
|RB||Green, GB||9||James, IND||22||Alexander, SEA||6|
|RB||Dillon, NE||28||Tomlinson, SD||13||Staley, PIT||7|
|WR||Walker, GB||2||Burress, PIT||11||Stokley, IND||9|
|WR||Pinkston, PHI||5||Price, ATL||11||Moss, MIN||24|
|WR||Jackson, SEA||18||Randle El, PIT||5||Givens, NE||19|
|TE||Franks, GB||9||Crumpler, ATL||12||Gates, SD||14|
|K||Vinatieri, NE||20||Feely, ATL||13||Vanderjagt||10|
Al: Unless David Patten suddenly scores three touchdowns, nobody in the "Best of the Rest" competition will catch El Angelo, even though he has no players remaining on his roster.
Al: Nothing this week. But stay tuned in next week as we make picks for every different betting line that we can possibly find related to Super Bowl XXXIX.
Vivek: I guarantee perfection for my picks this weekend. Al and I both split last week: I took Philly and Pittsburgh, Al took Atlanta and New England. As a native New Yorker, I really have no idea who to pull for in the Super Bowl. Bring back the Bud Bowl.
Speaking of Bud and the Super Bowl, you probably all have heard about the ad that won't air next Sunday. You can check out the spoof of last year's Janet Jackson incident at Budweiser's homepage. Good stuff.
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