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Denver remains No. 1 in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings, but New England moves up to No. 2 and has taken over as our Super Bowl favorite.

11 Aug 2006

Scramble for the Ball: AFC Over-Unders Part II

Ian: Welcome to Part II of Scramble for the Ball's annual look at NFL over/under projections. For those of you that missed the last column, we talked about the lines for the lower-rated half of the AFC. This time, it's on to the higher-rated teams of the AFC -- and highly rated, they are. Four teams are projected to win 10 or more games, while the other four are projected to win nine or more (in addition to the Bengals, who were covered in the last Scramble). The NFC, by contrast, has only two teams projected to win 10 or more games, and six projected to win nine or more. Bill, is football going the way of baseball, with the AFC playing the role of the American League?

Bill: Maybe we could get that D.J. Dozier comeback I've been pining for… Nah. It just means there's more value in the NL -- er -- NFC. That's for you to exploit, little gamblers. The NFC, however, must wait till next week -- let's finish up the AFC, starting in Florida:

Jacksonville Jaguars (o/u 9)

Bill: Most people are wondering whether the Jaguars will be able to replace the production of the retired Jimmy Smith. While the quality of their selections can be questioned, the Jaguars have addressed the issue by drafting three receivers in the first round over the last three years. Although Marcedes Lewis can be expected to struggle (as you will read in this year's Pro Football Prospectus 2006), Ernest Wilford (9th in DVOA last year) and an improving Matt Jones can be expected to pick up the slack. Reggie Williams, on the other hand… well, at least he's not Charles Rogers. The real key, though, is having Donovin Darius back in the lineup. The Colts' regression to the mean will be the Jaguars gain. Over.

Ian: I'm a huge Byron Leftwich fan. By now you've all probably seen the footage where his offensive linemen carried him up the field to help him lead his team, since he couldn't walk. Not only is he the kind of leader that is always there for his team, he's also among the football equivalent of Big Papi: Always performing at his best when the game is on the line.

Throw in the clutch factor with a division that includes four virtual "bye" weeks against the Titans and Texans (not to mention a home game against the Jets!), and I think the Jaguars are much more likely to win ten games than they are to lose eight. I'll agree with you and go Over.

Miami Dolphins (o/u 9)

Bill: Miami's season was real weird last year -- they won their last six games of the year, which would make you think they outperformed their Pythagorean numbers a little bit, but they pretty much matched up perfectly. (Pythagorean projection explained here.) After adding Daunte Culpepper, and with Ronnie Brown getting the rock full-time in the backfield, you figure their offense will improve. On the other hand, this front seven is old. When you combine that with the Taylor-Thomas divorce (no, that is not an attempt at a Home Improvement reference), the defense can be expected to decline. I think that the offense's improvement will be a little more incremental than the defense's decline, and when you combine that with an easy schedule, the Dolphins' playoff hopes look good. Over.

Ian: I definitely agree with you on this one; this is one of the better Over opportunities out there. Nick Saban has been extremely impressive in what he's accomplished in his short tenure as Miami head coach. He took a 3-7 Dolphins team into late November and December and won their last six games -- an amazing feat. Shedding that "Dolphins in December" image will go a long way to having this team believe they're on their way to the playoffs.

And as you point out, they do have what looks to be a relatively easy schedule. Getting home games against Green Bay and Minnesota is a boon. Traveling to Chicago can be tough, but traveling to Detroit isn't exactly intimidating. Heck, they have the hometown fans that rooted for the visiting team last season. The Week 1 matchup in Pittsburgh is a big one. If they can win there, which I think they will, an over bet on Miami will be like cash (which is just as good as money!).

San Diego Chargers (o/u 9)

Bill: Oh, Chargers, how I love thee. Keep in mind that this team had nearly 11 DVOA Estimated Wins last year, and nearly 11 Pythagorean wins as well. There's a crop of aging defensive players being supplanted by a group of youngsters with serious promise. If you read the book this year, you'll see how much the college quarterback projection system loves Philip Rivers. When you factor in that the Chargers won't be facing the league's hardest schedule this year, they're pretty much a mortal lock for ten wins. Over.

Ian: This is the NFL! There's no such thing as a "mortal lock for ten wins." Especially when you're (essentially) starting a rookie quarterback. The Chargers do have lots of offensive talent led by Gates and Tomlinson, and you have to love what we've seen out of Shawne Merriman so far. So, hopefully for them, Rivers can ease his way into the flow of the NFL, letting his teammates do most of the work early on as he gets up to speed.

The good news is the schedule. The Chargers open with a game at Oakland, then a home game against Tennessee, then a bye week. That should give Philip plenty of time to get his feet wet while the Bolts jump out to a 2-0 record. From there on out things do get tougher, but games against the NFC West should provide another three wins, they should be able to go 3-3 against division foes, and then they need just two wins in four games against the AFC North and a game at Buffalo. I realize that as the season goes on, adjustments will cause dramatic changes in the strength of schedule perceptions, but I based on what I see I have to go Over here.

Bill: Mortal. Lock. Remember. Marty is coaching. Now, if you asked me if they were going to win a playoff game…

Kansas City Chiefs (o/u 9.5)

Bill: Now, on the other hand, there are the Chiefs. I'm not sure if Willie Roaf's retirement knocked this line down any, but it probably should have. I have confidence that Larry Johnson is real great and will gain 1,500 yards. It's just the other 52 guys I'm worried about. This is an old team. Real old. Essentially, I'm saying the bottom's about to drop out -- especially when you consider that they'll be facing the third hardest schedule in football. Easy Under .

Ian: Yep. Strangely, though they have arguably the best running back in football -- and top fantasy pick everywhere, even by Reggie Bush -- the outlook for this Kansas City team is not good. Tony Gonzalez, Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker are not exactly the most intimidating receiving trio in football. In fact, they're among the worst. Kennison may be the next Rod Smith/Tim Brown type, having productive seasons year after year even though everyone keeps expecting him to fall off the football map, but Tony G's best years are behind him, and Samie Parker is, well, Samie Parker.

Losing Willie Roaf is indeed a huge blow to this team's offensive efficiency, while the defense isn't one to be feared. Will they have a solid season? Yes. Any team with a strong running game and a terrific fan base is going to be competitive. But are they a playoff team? I just don't see it. I'm taking the Under.

Denver Broncos (o/u 10)

Bill: We're getting up to the serious win totals here now. The most important thing for me when it comes to the 2006 Denver Broncos is that they'll be facing, according to DVOA, the hardest schedule in pro football. Last year, a very good Chargers team couldn't overcome that task on their way to a disappointing season. That being said, I think there's some reason to think the Broncos will, in fact, be able to overcome that. First, I think the Chiefs are about to collapse, and the Raiders aren't anything to write home about, either. If that's the case, the Broncos' schedule difficulty decreases some. Unlike the Chiefs, this isn't a particularly old team, which makes me think there is some room for improvement upon last year. I'm not going to lie -- I'm a little worried that Mike Shanahan's geniusosity has gone haywire and he is trying to prove his infallibility to fantasy football fans by naming an undrafted rookie free agent as his starting running back, but he gets the benefit of the doubt at this point. A somewhat iffy Over.

Ian: Here's the number of regular season wins for the Broncos over the last four seasons, beginning with 2002: nine, ten, ten, thirteen. Clearly the Broncos have been getting it done, thanks in part to the best home field advantage in all of football. But do they have what it takes to win eleven games this season? I'm not so sure.

Yes, Shanahan's pulling another one of his motivational tricks to get Tatum Bell fired up, and it seems to be working. Rumor also has it that newly-acquired Javon Walker has been tearing it up in camp. And, thankfully, Denver realized that they shouldn't be handing the ball off to Ron Dayne more than a couple of times a game. Eleven wins is not gonna happen though.

Gary Kubiak is gone. Off to become coach of the Texans, he leaves behind an offense that he steered to prominence. His balanced approach to moving the football helped numerous no-name running backs become first-round fantasy picks, and even helped Jake Plummer do a good job of leading the offense. Not that the offense will fall apart with him gone; he certainly leaves behind a legacy of success that won't fall apart overnight. But watch out for Jake Plummer this season -- I'm predicting that he returns to the Jake of Arizona past, and forces too many passes where they shouldn't be thrown. Mike Shanahan won't hesitate to mess with things and throw Jay Cutler in there, and then Denver can kiss an 11-win season goodbye. I'm taking the Under.

Pittsburgh Steelers (o/u 10)

Bill: Ah, the most difficult team to project in the AFC. Anything could happen with the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger could come back perfectly healthy and they could be the favorites to win the conference. If Roethlisberger's accident hadn't happened, I'd say this was an easy over. On the other hand, he could come back a little cloudy, the passing offense could never get going, and they could win six games. Why do I think the former will happen? Essentially, I have faith in the Steelers' offensive line both staying healthy and doing a good job of protecting Roethlisberger. I am Alan Faneca's #1 fan and that isn't changing anytime soon -- if I could find a way to draft him in fantasy football, I would. The Steelers struggled a bit last year when Marvel Smith went down, but once he returned, well, you saw what the Steelers offense did in the playoffs last year. I have faith in Ryan Clark replacing Chris Hope too. Over.

Ian: It seems that every season, one of the two Super Bowl teams from the previous year pretty much falls apart and fails to make the playoffs. This season, this is your team.

From my view, it's difficult to explain just how valuable Jerome Bettis was to that team last season. An emotional leader, someone who could get the team energized on the field, and the champion of clock-killing drives and goal-line scores. Not only did he give his all to help the Steelers win, everyone else on that team wanted to win not just for themselves, but for him.

Now, he's gone. Off to the pointless world of pre-game shows, while his void will deftly be filled in by… Duce Staley? Really? When the Steelers are up by three late in the game, can you see Duce Staley pounding out first down after first down? Sorry, I just don't see it. Nor do I see Hines Ward carrying their receiving corps on his own (though as I mentioned last week, keep an eye out for Cedrick Wilson -- defenses will sleep on him, and he will make defenses pay).

This team is built on defense and the running game, and half of that just won't be the same. There's no way I'd see this team winning 11 games; I'm going a confident Under here.

Bill: Is Jerome Bettis really going to inspire NBC's TV coverage to some great ratings this year? How does that work? Did Deion Sanders ignore all his cue cards and just rely on God-given charisma? Maybe the Steelers will have, you know, Bill Cowher emotionally lead them. With a snarl, I'd imagine, too.

New England Patriots (o/u 11)

Bill: There's a lot of uncertainty whirling around the Patriots this year. There are a lot of aged players in key roles, the drafts of the last two years haven't been as productive as the preposterously good drafts at the beginning of the Belichick era, their defensive leaders have knees blown to bits (Rodney Harrison, for whom we have the utmost respect) and broken wrists (Tedy Bruschi, who is an inspiration to us all of course). Their only wide receiver of note, Deion Branch, is holding out. Well, at least they don't have to worry about a kicker.

So, why will the Patriots win more than 11 games? Let's see. The Jets and the Bills are terrible. Their defensive line features four guys 27-and-under who are all, at worst, above-average. Monty Beisel can't possibly be any worse this year. Oh, and Duane Starks isn't playing for this team. Ever again. Expect a big year from Ben Watson, Laurence Maroney to be the starting running back by the end of the season, and 12 wins from the Patriots. Over.

Ian: I'm really torn on this one. As you pointed out, there are plenty of reasons to worry about this Patriots team. But doesn't it seem like there are reasons to count them out every season? Yet they keep performing, led by a terrorizing defensive line, and the one and only Tom Brady.

I think Deion Branch will sign before the season starts. I think Ben Watson will have a good season. I think Laurence Maroney will be great, and will allow Corey Dillon to remain healthy and productive throughout the season. But none of those things are the most important factor.

In addition to all the other problems they have, as you mentioned, the kicking situation is completely unclear. I'm in the "Let the Yankees overpay for Damon" camp, but I'm sure as heck not in the "Let the Colts overpay for Adam Vinatieri" camp. Did you see how Martin Gramatica single-handedly ruined Tampa Bay's season two seasons ago? What were the Patriots thinking, letting not only a huge fan favorite but the most clutch kicker in the history of the game get away? To Indianapolis, of all places? Trust me, the kicking game will prove a big problem for the Pats this season. That's why I'm going Under.

(Ed. note: Trust me, Martin Gramatica won't be kicking for the Patriots this year. Not that we know anything about Steve Gostkowski, but at least we know he's never been responsible for one of those gut-wrenching "Ian throws his hat at the television" Tampa losses.)

Indianapolis Colts (o/u 12)

Bill: And, finally, there is Indianapolis. After almost reaching perfection last year, the Colts came up about 17 yards right of the AFC Championship Game, in a game where they were the Steelers' match in everything but special teams. So, naturally, they signed the best free agent kicker on the market. Unfortunately, they also happened to lose the best running back on the market, and had their dreams of drafting Laurence Maroney scuppered by the perhaps-spiteful Patriots. If Joe Addai's as good at picking up the blitz as Edgerrin James was, the Colts win 12 games. I bet that he isn't. Under.

Ian: Let's start by looking at the Colts schedule to start the season: @NYG, HOU, JAX, @NYJ, TEN, bye. The Giants might be able to pull off an upset, but to me, that looks like a 5-0 start. Then Washington at home (6-0), at Denver (7-0), and finally when they go to New England in Week 8, they'll suffer their first loss of the season. That's okay, though: Buffalo's coming to town the next week to help them feel better about themselves.

Edge may be gone, but Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison aren't, and this offense will keep clicking, trust me. That's not the most important thing though. Remember why Tony Dungy was brought in? Two reasons. One, he's laid back enough to let Peyton Manning run the show (which keeps Peyton happy). Two, he knows how to build a defense. Not to say that Monte Kiffin wasn't a huge part of growing Tampa's Cover-2 into one of the top defenses in the NFL, but Dungy has finally got a defense in Indy that can perform. Their defensive line can get pressure on the quarterback, leaving the secondary in great position to make plays. With an offense like the Colts, the defense only needs to be "good enough" to contain their opponents. Thanks to Tony Dungy having a few seasons to shape his defense, they're better than that. And that's why I'm going Over .

Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive.

Fantasy Football Corner

Ian: While drafting "sleepers" and then having them "go to sleep" on you can hurt your chances at a fantasy football title, nothing is more damaging than investing an early pick or decent auction money into a player and having him stink up the joint. You can't bench him because you invested so much, but it kills you to see the lack of results week in and week out, while your reserve players continue to outperform him. And of course, as soon as you make the move and put him on your bench, there's the 150-yard, two-touchdown week you'd been waiting for. We've all been there.

In an effort to cut down on these torturous experiences, here's a list of players I'd suggest you let someone else spend their money on.

Reuben Droughns, Cleveland: Reuben is a popular third-round selection as a starting running back for those of you that drafted a quarterback or wideout early. He's rushed for over 1,200 yards each of the past two seasons, and has no real competition for playing time.

So what? The Browns offensive line is being decimated by injuries. Their quarterback flashed some promise last season but threw more interceptions than touchdowns. And despite being the starter all season long last year, Droughns put up a total of two touchdowns. That's right, two. It's going to be a tough year for the Cleveland offense, and a light year on fantasy points for everyone involved. When Droughns is the top listed back on your board, look to names like Chester Taylor and Jamal Lewis.

Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City: I'm shocked to see how early Tony G. typically is going in drafts this season. Am I the only one who noticed that he caught only two touchdowns last season? And he's already 30 years old? He's often being drafted ahead of useful running backs like Warrick Dunn, and he's usually the second tight end drafted.

Hey, I like Tony G. I love the simplicity of his goal-post dunk. I understand that for many seasons, he was the fantasy tight end to have. But, sadly, those days are over. He should not get drafted before any of the following tight ends: Todd Heap, Jeremy Shockey, Jason Witten, Alge Crumpler, or Chris Cooley. And some of those names are getting drafted pretty late. His best days are behind him, and you'd be wise to let someone else overpay for his services.

Defensive/Special Teams: No need to name a specific team here. People, quit reaching so early to have the "top" fantasy defense. It's not uncommon to see the top defensive team being drafted in the sixth round of fantasy drafts, and some other teams go in the next few rounds. This is a mistake.

The fantasy prowess of NFL defensive teams is rarely a continuous thing. For more detail on this, check out Aaron's essay in this year's Pro Football Prospectus 2006. The bottom line is that the fantasy defense drafted 10th can easily end up outperforming the fantasy defense drafted first -- particularly if you use Aaron's new projection system to grab a defense that suffered from bad luck in 2005. In the middle rounds of your draft, focus on your skill position players. Add depth at running back, grab one of the useful tight ends, or fill out your starting wide receiver slots. But don't draft a fantasy defense early. Don't be that guy.

Next week: The NFC, and more fantasy mailbag. Send your fantasy football questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell & Ian Dembsky on 11 Aug 2006

77 comments, Last at 15 Aug 2006, 6:56pm by Scott C.

Comments

1
by The Ninjalectual (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 3:54pm

I love your comparison of Eddie Kennison to Rod Smith. I know several Denver fans who are cringing in hippocampal misery right now.

2
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 4:00pm

Hooray, a new Jason Beatie comic! Oh, and nice article.

3
by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 4:20pm

Damn Ohio Desert...

I think Ian's a bit too high on the mystical Bettis mojo and Bill's too high on how bad the AFC East is going to be (not that it won't be terrible, but this year's Pats will need more than just that).

In other news, water is wet, the sun is hot, and an AFC North player was arrested.

4
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 4:32pm

Miami is the quintassential example of a team that had a few breaks to give it a better record than you would expect, and then people using that improper baseline for the following year's projections.

(Previous examples of this include 04 Bills, 04 Falcons, 03 Dallas and 01 Pats)

That was a 6-10 team last year that caught a few lucky breaks. Just a cursary glance at their "remarkable" run to end the season shows the following:

* Against SD, even though they had the advantage of knowing every line call (SD's coaches decided not to change them for this game even though Miami had the ex-OL coach) they barely pulled it out.

* Buffalo blew a 23-3 3rd quarter lead because they started coasting too early.

* Brooks Bollinger had this line at Miami!

C/ATT YDS TD INT
28/42 327 2 0

The Jets had a 1st and 5 on the 14 with just over a minute to go in a game decided by 4 points. Another skate against a bad team.

* And the Pats nearly won playing scond and third stringers for 3 quarters. This included a QB that hadn't played 3 full quarters since high school, a practice squad WR playing CB, etc.

I see Miami being an improved team, but taking a step backwards recordwise. I will be shocked if they win more than 8 games.

The Jets, on the other hand, are going to win at least 7 games. They were just the opposite in that their record was pushed down due to outside circumstances. Oddly enough, the recent team that they are most similar to is Miami in 2004. And, just as I was surprised at how many people didn't realize that Miami would certainly win at least 6-7 games just by having a normal camp in 05, the same holds true for the NYJ. As long as they don't lose Pennington again, they are definitely not a 4-5 win team.

Oh, and even though NE has many more questions than usual, it would take a series of injuries even worse than last year for them to win less than 11 games with their schedule. Take the over.

5
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 4:54pm

Jacksonville looks like it's losing more than just Jimmie Smith. How about Fred Taylor, who starts yet another season in the gimp ward? Haven't we heard enough about Leftwich being carried downfield four years ago? (or was that included as some sort of post-modernist irony? Along the lines of the questions after Bruschi's MNF return last season, "Did you guys know Bruschi was playing last night? Somehow I missed it...") So is Jax's D that much better to carry a team with even less O than last year? A lot of pressure on D Darius.

I think Indy regresses to 12 wins (down from 14), but Jax regresses to 9 or 10 (down from 11). I doubt Hou or Tenn will pick up the slack, so it must come from outside the division.

Ian, thanks for giving the Colts the 7-0 start with a win at Denver, but I will remain skeptical until I see it.

6
by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:08pm

Not only are the Stillers built to a significant degree on defense and the running game, but for an over, you're pretty much asking that defense to play at the supernatural level it did in the 2005 postseason, when it did some pretty impressive bridgework on at least three of the four best O-lines in the NFL...and with each game on the road.

Not that it couldn't happen, but that's a LOT to count on.

7
by David (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:22pm

I'm going to channel Bill Simmons for a moment here.

Is there a name for the perennial certainty people seem to have that, every season, this is the season that Jake Plummer will play as if he had the 1998 Cardinals' offensive line and the 1998 Cardinals' receiving corps? Somebody should get on that.

7
by David (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:22pm

I'm going to channel Bill Simmons for a moment here.

Is there a name for the perennial certainty people seem to have that, every season, this is the season that Jake Plummer will play as if he had the 1998 Cardinals' offensive line and the 1998 Cardinals' receiving corps? Somebody should get on that.

9
by David (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:24pm

Apparently I channeled too well.

10
by JeffS (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:31pm

Eddie Kennison = Rod Smith/Tim Brown. I'm shocked somebody who follows this game would even begin to bring this statement up. It's so bad we shouldn't even talk about it anymore.

11
by J (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:40pm

Ian, as a Pats fan, I beg of you:

Pick the "under" because you don't like our depth at ILB, or WR. Pick the under because you don't think our secondary will be improved enough. Pick the under because you think Corey's done and Maroney won't get it done.

But for the love of God and all that actually makes a lick of football sense, don't pick the "under" because of a kicker... especially one who's been entirely unexceptional in the 3 out of the last five seasons... including a horrible 2003 in which the Pats won 14 games.

12
by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:46pm

#6:

For 2005 PIT
Rushing DVOA: .2% (10)
Passing DVOA: 27.8% (5)

It seems to me that, at least last year, it was about the opposite.

I could see a good argument for under based on Roethlisberger's iffyness, but not the idea that the loss of Bettis will cripple some great running game. They might drop below average, but I think progression by Roethlisberger, Miller and Wilson will likely make up for that and the loss of Randle-El (Wilson actually had higher DPAR last year).

13
by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:58pm

Point well taken on the DVOA, #12...but as to what an offense is "built" or "based" on, I have to look at the fact that PIT ran the ball 549 times, as opposed to 379 passing attempts. Dead last in the NFL in pass attempts. First in rushing attempts. At what point does the relative effectiveness of the lesser-used option become cancelled out by the fact that the dominant option was so...well...dominant?

14
by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:58pm

Re 6:

As a Steelers fans I can tell you this...the way the defense played in the postseason is how we EXPECT them to play and are, to a degree, USED TO them playing...there wasnt anything supernatural about it. Bill Cowher has always had great defensive teams (I believe he has had a top 10 unit for about 13 years running).

I do, however, think that they will miss Bettis. It isnt going to be a dibilitating loss though.

15
by dannymac (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 5:59pm

I like the arguments made here for most of the teams, but one of them baffles me.

Last year, a certain NFL team finished 9-7, including a crushing loss to a division rival in week 15, which officially eliminated them from the playoffs. The GM and coach have been at odds for years, and they are starting the 2007 season with a quarterback that has never started an NFL game before.

Would you pick this team as a "mortal lock" to win more than the 9 games it did last year?

I just don't understand the Chargers lovefest. Is Peter King ghostwriting here? I'll be putting my money on the under.

16
by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 6:00pm

I spel gud.

17
by Sam (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 6:11pm

Yes, Jacksonville has improved on defense. Kenny "look mom I'm in the NFL!" Wright is gone and Brian Williams looks to be a great RCB. Jack Del Rio never liked Akin Ayodele (and Jack was a good linebacker and seems to know talent when he sees it) and their OLB prospects look pretty good. Darius is back which should improve the passing AND rushing defense.

Fred Taylor played in the scrimmage last week and he is expected to play this Saturday last I checked. If he has a good season, the Jags do well. If he doesn't, I think Greg Jones and Maurice Drew can definitely pick up the slack. Taylor is 30 years old already and the Jags aren't counting on him.

This is not a team tha tneeds 300 passing yards a game to win, but Leftwich can give that when necessary. His players want to play for him and the man can flat out PLAY. His numbers are pretty solid - comparable to what Mark Brunell was doing for the franchise during their playoff run in the mid to late 90s.

18
by Fred (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 6:14pm

The over on the Steelers is probably the better choice. The defense is essentially the same (and ask Peyton if it is any good), and with Heath Miller (lots of talk of Ben Watson, but Miller is likely the newest up and coming TE star), Hines Ward and a combo of Cedric Wilson/Santonio Holmes collecting passes from Big Ben, I think the offense is going to be better than last year. The Bus won't be rolling in the backfield, but with a strong passing attack to take pressure off, fast Willie Parker will be fine in the running game. Beating 10 wins shouldn't be too hard for this team.

19
by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 6:14pm

#17, are they planning to use Drew on returns? I keep wondering if he's Darren Sproles redux.

20
by James G (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 6:23pm

#13 - I think you have to be careful when saying more rushes really means that option was so dominant. The best offenses often have high efficiency pass ratings and better total rush ratings. Reason - get ahead with the pass and then grind out the win by running while you're ahead. Don't have the #s in front of me, but I would guess the Steelers' ration was primarily skewed in the 2nd half, not the first.

Before things like DVOA were around, I actually did a study that suggested as much. Unfortunately, the internet archive doesn't have that essay, which IMO was my best one. A similar study was performed by the authors of The Hidden Game of Football.

21
by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 6:49pm

Right...and that's the question I'm asking (by dominant, I mean dominant tendency, not dominant result). If a team is blowing other teams out and there's a decent swing to the run, that makes obvious sense...but here, you have an 11-5 team with the biggest possible swing in football.

I'd be very interested to see your study, as run/pass percentages and their effects on wins (and vice versa) are very interesting to me.

Here's a neat little stupid bit of trivia: In both 2004 and 2005, the Seahawks ran the ball 52.3 precent of the time.

22
by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 6:49pm

Or, "percent".

23
by James G (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 7:01pm

Well, if you click my name in this post you have the remnants of that study. Not sure these tables are that useful, though - 1998 totals for % rushing plays and % rushing yards.

The two Super Bowl teams - Denver and Atlanta - are both high in % rushing plays (54.9% and 51.7% ranking them 1st and 4th). Both are in the upper half of % rushing yards as well, but further down on the list. The thing that's missing (which I think was linked to nfl.com) is that Denver and Atlanta were at the top of the league in yards per pass attempt.

24
by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 7:23pm

Since people asked...

From player splits (not team totals; Roethlisberger, Maddox, Batch, Haynes, Bettis, Parker)-
Passing (1st half): 121 attempts
Passing (2d half): 108 attempts

Seems even. Then you take out Maddox's numbers (my guess is that his performances weren't part of the "plan")
Passing (1st half): 112 attempts
Passing (2d half): 83 attempts

So, the "plan" would include 25% more passes in the first half than the second. Additionally, the passes attempted in the second half seem to be shorter- despite Roethlisberger's completion % going up (from 61% to 64.9%) from the first to second halves, his YPA actually goes down, from 9.58 to 7.98.

Apparently that 25% loss of passes gets sucked directly into the running game, since rushes go from 186 to 253, or up 26.5%.
Bettis: 61-173/49-195
Haynes: 6-13/68-261
Parker: 119-462/136-740

Curiously, everyone's YPR went up from the first to second half. Maybe the "tire the defence" maxim actually has some truth to it?
Bettis: 2.8/3.9
Haynes: 2.2/3.8
Parker: 3.9/5.4

Anyway, since this is in response to #13... PIT last year seemed to be a very Colts-type team. I would say they relied on their passing game more than the running game, and that the gameplan itself reflected this. They were, in fact, abysmal running in the first half, but Roethlisberger and the passing game were quite good then, so it then turned into a grindfest at the end, which they are quite good at (and I give credit to the o-line for that). Had the passing game been closer to average (say, 15% rather than nearly 30%), I doubt they would have come close to the playoffs, much less won the superbowl.

25
by ben (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 7:51pm

15: I wouldn't call the Chargers mortal locks for a good season, but they have a much, much, much, much easier schedule than last year's hardest in the league. That difference should be enough to give them at least one more win even while replacing their quarterback.

26
by jim\'s apple pie (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 8:29pm

15:

Does it matter of the GM and coach are fighting? Does that affect the performance of the team somehow? Does losing a week 15 game last year really affect your season this year? The only valid point you made is that Rivers is starting for the first time, but reports are that he has looked great in training camp.

The Chargers have the best RB and the best TE in the game. They have solid receivers and offensive lineman. Their front seven is probably the best in the game, and they added McCree to help out the secondary. Sproles, Scifres, and Kaeding are all excellent on special teams, especially if Kaeding's hip is better and he can get greater distance on his kick-offs.

In addition, they played a ridiculous schedule last year and still had a shot at the playoffs. This year, they get:

2x Oakland, Denver, KC
Tenn
@Balt
Pitt
@SF
St. Louis
Cleveland
@Cincy
@Buffalo
@Seattle
Arizona

Oakland, Tenn, Buffalo, and SF are all pathetic, so that's five wins right there. Then they get home games against Cleveland, St. Louis, and Arizona. I have a hard time seeing a loss there, so that's eight wins already. KC looks to be weaker this year, but they're still tough at Arrowhead so let's assume a split, plus Denver winning both of their games. That puts us at 9-3. The other four games are Pitt, @Seattle, @Cincy, and @Balt. The Seattle game is tough so let's mark a loss there. That leaves us with three teams that are pretty tough to forecast, but I think that they'd at least win 1 of those, which would put us at 10-6.

Of course, it's impossible to predict how good the teams are going to turn out, but this illustrates that a 10-6 year is definitely within grasp. I wouldn't say that it is a mortal lock, but I do think that setting the over/under at 9 wins was absolutely the right choice.

27
by Anonymous (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 9:40pm

re: 26, "Does it matter of the GM and coach are fighting?"

Look at how the Steelers did when Cowher was fighting with Donahoe. They couldn't agree on players. Donahoe would draft people that Cowher didn't want; Cowher wouldn't use players Donahoe drafted. Further, Donahoe wouldn't sign players that Cowher wanted. The Steelers tanked; Donahoe was fired; the Steelers have since improved.

Regarding the Steelers chances to over, they were 15-5 last year and 16-2 the year before; they were 11-5 and 15-1 in the regular season; either gives 13-3 as their average performance over sixteen games.

At this point in his career, Duce Staley is still a better back than Bettis was last year. I'm confident that Staley can pick up Bettis' 300 odd yards if given the carries. Any of Washington, Wilson, or Holmes should be able to replace Randle El at WR and improve the position. Reid and Holmes will take care of his special teams work. There may be a drop in the QB efficiency on his trick plays.

The defense returned nine starters, losing an aging DE and a slow free safety. Keisel upgrades the pass rush on first and second down. If he gives up a little bit on runs, thats all right. Maybe the Steelers drop from third to fifth. One of the three free safeties they have in camp should be able to replace Hope, who was generally average.

The biggest question mark on the Steelers is the offensive line. Will they hold up for a full season? Smith and Hartings are especially questionable.

28
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 10:11pm

#4 and #15 - My reasoning, in the simplest possible terms beyond what I said in the article, isn't based upon their records.

Miami's DVOA totals last year would have estimated them to win 8.9 games. Pythagorean estimates (based on PF/PA) would have pegged them to win 8 games.

Let's say that they, in fact, were lucky to have those numbers, and should have only won 7 games according to DVOA - a two game swing.

You can throw in the fact that their best offensive weapon is maturing, they've made a significant upgrade at QB, and they've improved their offensive line depth. You could also make the case that they've improved their secondary. They also have the 26th most difficult schedule in football - those are all reasons to believe they are going to improve on last year's season, somewhat dramatically.

And what makes you think Buffalo wouldn't start coasting too early this year beyond the fact that they probably won't get up 23-3 this time? That seems very questionable to me.

As for the Chargers, if Peter King was ghostwriting, there's no way I would've been able to edit out all the coffee references. As you will see in this year's PFP 2006 if you buy it - the Chargers were real unlucky last year. DVOA pegged them as being a 10.9 win team (as opposed to a 9-7 team); they had 10.7 Pythagorean wins. Either way, they underperformed slightly and had the most difficult schedule in football.

This year, they have the 11th most difficult schedule in football. I can not emphasize strongly enough how IMPORTANT strength of schedule is when it comes to team performance, particularly for betting purposes. Just for reference, the 5 most difficult schedules in football last year were SD, OAK, DEN, KC, and PHI - at least two of those teams "underachieved". The five easiest schedules, meanwhile, were IND, CHI, TB, CAR, and SEA - you'll be able to recognize what those teams have in common.

As for Philip Rivers, well, you need to buy the book and read David Lewin's essay on QB performance. Suffice to say, we don't think it'll be a problem.

Oh, and just to throw my two cents into the Steelers discussion - I projected the Bengals and Browns to both regress a little, and for the Ravens to not do much better - SOMEONE has to win games in that division.

29
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 12:25am

Bill #28,

When you say

"And what makes you think Buffalo wouldn’t start coasting too early this year beyond the fact that they probably won’t get up 23-3 this time? That seems very questionable to me."

you are missing the point. My point was that Miami pulled out a fluke win, just like most of their late season finish. I understand that the pythag and DVOA estimates say that they were right around their proper win total. I'm telling you that based on what I saw, they are absolutely the prime candidate for "Team that everyone rushes to canonize because of a misleading win total the previous year that surprises everyone by actually not being very good at all."

I am more confident about Miami being surprisingly poor than anything else going into this season.

30
by dannymac (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 1:05am

If the Chargers "underperformed" last year according to estimated wins, what would make you think they would perform up to expectations this year? I know that luck factors into this margin of error and that could change, but doesn't bad coaching also? That hasn't changed.

I don't understand how a team starting the season with a qb that has never started a game can be a considered a 9 win team. I don't even know how you can even compare the offensive stats from last year to this year, when there is a brand new quarterback.

The only counter-argument I hear back on this is "trust us we know Philip Rivers will be good, we have a college projection system"

That sounds real good, I will be picking up the book to check it out. But let's just say I'm skeptical.

31
by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 1:14am

You can throw in the fact that their best offensive weapon is maturing, they’ve made a significant upgrade at QB, and they’ve improved their offensive line depth.

And their defense will regress in approximately equal proportion.

I'm with Oswlek here. 8-8 or 7-9 for the Dolphins.

32
by thad (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 1:27am

re 28
I really like this website. I bought the book as soon as i saw it. For those of you who don't have it, buy it tomorrow.
So I don't want to come across as super harsh.
having said that...

I have had enough with the strength of schedule comments.
DVOA is really good in many ways.
but page 3 of the pfp says that DVOA has a corrolation of 33% to wins the following year. So I am not gonna buy any comment on which team has the 11th hardest SoS.
Almost every year, not some years, not every so often, about half the playoff teams are different.

33
by Bill Barnwell :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 2:20am

Here we go! Arguing! About football! This feels like home.

#28 - I think you're missing my point. Were they lucky at the end of the season? Yes, probably. I bring up the DVOA and Pythagorean stuff because it also implies that they were unlucky at the beginning of the season.

#31 - I disagree. They have an old DL, but they have loads of old DL, so I'm not as concerned as I would be if they were expecting those DL to play every down. Junior Seau, their worst LB last year, is out of the lineup permanently. Sam Madison, who was not particularly effective last year, is being replaced by Will Allen who - granted - wasn't incredible last year either, but is at least younger and won't be expected to decline as much.

#30 - What makes you think Rivers will play at a level significantly worse than Brees beyond the fact that Rivers hasn't played for a significant period of time before? The quarterbacks I can think of who have gotten two years of time on the sidelines before starting are Chad Pennington and Steve McNair - and their skills turned out alright. Based on the evidence we have to work with, we think Rivers will be a good quarterback. Is it possible he won't be? Sure. But, well, when you're analyzing whether a line would be a good idea to gamble against, you have to take any advantage you can get. After reading the essays about Rivers in this year's book, I am inclined to think that Rivers' skills are underappreciated by the masses.

There's an interesting research case to be done analyzing how teams who keep their skill position starters do with a new quarterback versus an old one. San Diego's offense doesn't, from what I've seen, require the quarterback to be the star - the two stars, really, are Tomlinson and Gates. I'm not inclined to believe that a change of quarterback, even if Rivers was a little worse than Brees, would dramatically damper their offensive potential.

As for why they would do better, that leads into my comment in response to #32, which mentions that DVOA has a correlation of .33 to wins the following year. The previous year's wins have a correlation of .24, equal to that of point differential (which is why I bring up Pythagorean analysis as well). The evidence says that the Chargers were slightly more likely to have been a 11 win team (according to DVOA) last year than a 9 win team. As a result, I am naturally inclined to think their talent level was closer to an 11 win team than a 9 win one. After that, I take a look at the team and try and figure out what may have changed about their situation that would make them perform better or worse this year - and the reasons why I think they will perform better are the schedule being easier than last year, and that the defense has several young players who are getting better with playing time/experience.

As for bad coaching, Marty Schottenheimer's got a pretty good track record at this point. In the regular season, at least.

#32 - No worries about offering criticism - you're certainly welcome to it. ESPECIALLY if you buy the book. That being said, I disagree with you. You saw the teams I brought up earlier who had the easiest/hardest schedules according to DVOA. The teams with the easiest schedules were the teams that stood out as surprises in 2005 - all of them made the playoffs. You are right to say that the playoff teams do differ each year, but you have to keep in mind that the strength of schedule isn't projected by using last year's record or even last year's DVOA, but this year's projected DVOA instead. That's why I think it's more relevant than you give it credit for.

34
by Rocco (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 11:32am

It's funny to see a site that prides itself on statistics and unconventional thinking base its analysis on the old standby of "emotion" or "leadership". I love Bettis and all, but the mainstream media has been overstating his loss all offseason, and I was hoping FO would be smarter than that.

BTW, Hines Ward carried the Steelers receiving corps last year, with Randle El around. Assuming that Holmes stays out of jail, they'll be better than last season.

35
by thad (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 11:56am

re 20
I was unable to access that page.
However, I have saved my copy of the STATS 1999 pro football handbook.
For all teams that year they ran the ball
56% of the time when winning
49% of the time when tied
38% of the time when trailing

denver ran the ball
56% of the time when winning
44% of the time when tied
44% of the time when trailing

Atlanta ran the ball
61% winning
53% tied
44% trailing

Unfortunately these books are no longer published, so I cannot tell you the Steelers ratio.
I would guess its very similar.

36
by Harvey ""Mr. Steeler"" Aronson (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 12:30pm

I have no doubt the Steelers are heading back to the post-season and deep into the playoffs. The key to putting them easily over the top will be the health of Duce Staley. If the DUCE returns 100% and his usual self, we are heading back to the big dance. Everything else will take care of itself. I think this team is better than last year's and there are a few rookies that will give the team improvements. The defense is set to light it up.

37
by noah\'s ark (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 12:40pm

#29, 31. I agree with #33. The Dolphins were unlucky at the beginning of the season. Against the Bills the first game, for one thing. Didn't they fumble late in the game inside the Bills 20? Yes, I think they did. And the Jets got the benefit of playing them first while Pennington was in, Ricky was out, and Ronnie was not Ronnie yet. Then, you'll remember they outplayed the Pats with Tom Brady that last game before Matt Casell brought them back? Hey, I just wish they hadn't pulled him, the W would have been much easier. Sometimes a substitution like that gives you an edge. Plus the SD game wasn't as close as the score -SD's last score came with 15 seconds left in the game. Neither was the Carolina game.
Really, luck comes and goes and evens out over the course of a season, most of the time. It's just as easy to make a case one way or the other. Just ask the Cowboys.
Obviously the offense will be a lot better this year. Culpepper is ready to play now, and the OL will be better and deeper, even without Seth Mckinney. Of course a lot depends on Ronnie staying healthy. But explain again why the defense will be worse? They have a deep and talented DL rotation, and divorces don't affect football teams as much as they do soap operas. In any case Thomas and Taylor are far from done. Their depth at LB is very poor, but their secondary stands to be much improved. And this year's rooky class has been very impressive -including Marcus Vick-, even with their number 1 signing so late.
It will be a consolidation year for them, in the sense that the big jump will come next year. But IMO they will almost certainly make the playoffs, especially with the easy schedule and the drop in the AFC.
Hey it's never too late to jump in the bandwagon!
As for the Jets, I will pray for you, because their only chance to win 7 is if Pennington comes back at 100% -and I wouldn't get my hopes up. It looks like he'll be able to play, but his 3.9 yards per passing attempt last night beyond bodes ill.

38
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 12:53pm

It’s funny to see a site that prides itself on statistics and unconventional thinking base its analysis on the old standby of “emotion� or “leadership�.

To quote:

(Ed. note: There are many writers at Football Outsiders, and sometimes its hard to convince people that an article on our site represents “the author says X� rather than “Football Outsiders says X.�

Scramble has always been less stat-heavy than, say, Aaron's game previews. Don't try to turn the column into something that it's not. This is gambling. It's all potluck.

39
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 2:29pm

Great cartoon, although somehow it didn't seem quite as funny as the previous 1000 Clarett-Bengals jokes I heard/read this week. I guess originality does count when it comes to humor. Go figure.

40
by James G (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 7:29pm

35 - Sorry, that page is hit or miss when it is up. It's on the internet way back machine which is kind of flaky.

The thing I miss more than the STATS Inc Pro Football Handbooks is the STATS Inc Pro Football Scoreboard. They actually had some pretty good essays in those.

I'm glad Football Outsiders and PFP came along.

(And I must actually thank Chris Mooney for ever pointing me to this page in the first place, instead of Gregg Easterbrook like so many others here).

41
by Balaji (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 7:38pm

"Bill: And, finally, there is Indianapolis. After almost reaching perfection last year, the Colts came up about 17 yards right of the AFC Championship Game, in a game where they were the Steelers’ match in everything but special teams."

Uh...not to put too fine a point on it, but the Colts weren't even on the same field as the Steelers in that game until the 4th quarter (okay, maybe just their offense). And if Interceptiongate had never happened, I don't think the final score would ever have been as close as it was. Same goes for the Bettis fumble.

42
by Englishbob (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 9:16am

It strikes me that a lot of people are as excited about Miami as they were down on them this time last year.
If you are talking about strange results at Miami, don't forget the bizarre Denver game, when Denver decided not to turn up. It was such a shambles that I was amazed so many Denver fans were complaining about their rating at the start of the season. Any team that can implode the way they did to a poor Miami team had to be questioned. I don't think you can just blane the weather for it either.

43
by Englishbob (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 9:18am

Just on Denver, its hard not to go over for a team that will likely win at least 7 home games. Then their 3 division rivals all have serious question marks over them- potential to go 6-0 in their division?

44
by James G (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 11:28am

42 - I don't know if you can blame it on weather, but my sense as a Denver fan is that they have traditionally struggled in all games at Miami, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay more than you think they should based on stats & record.

45
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 11:58am

Test.

46
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 12:02pm

For some reason if I link to Miami's schedule, my post goes into hyperspace, nver to return. I cannot acutally provide the link, but you can find Miami's 2005 and 2006 schedule pretty easy. Here is what I have been posting:

Thanks for the lively discussion everyone. Sorry if I get a little overheated about Miami, but it just get so baffled when everyone jumps on a teams bandwagon when it seems perferctly clear to me that the team just isn't all their cracked up to be. Due to the pythag and DVOA responses that Miami had some poor luck earlier on, I have attached Miami's 2005 schedule (click my name.) It is my opinion that the "they were unlucky earlier in the season" doesn't really apply. My rationale:

* The two toughest early season matchups, Denver and Carolina came at home. Denver clearly wasn't prepared for the heat, but they had another break against Carolina; they had just played the Pats. Anyone who has followed either NE or Carolina knows that the Cats have been itching to take it to NE since SB 38. This was your typical case of the "overexert yourself the week before and not have enough for the next game" syndrome.

* Miami's late game flurry on what was really a close game vs. Denver skews the numbers for the pythag, but that isn't all that uncommon. However, the DVOA numbers are thrown way out of wack because had Miami played either of these teams just about any other week, they would lose. I am sure of it.

* The Buffalo game where Ronnie Brown fumbled at the end also began with Miami falling behind 17-0. Compare this the a similar type win agianst the Jets later, NY was ahead 17-10 late in the 3rd quarter. I will agree that the two cancel each other out, even though I feel that Miami was kind of lucky to even make the Buffalo game close.

* I will conceed that Miami should have beaten the Pats the first time they played. However, it is important to realize the NE was missing 5 starter on offense (along with 4 of their subsequent backups) and three starters on defense (with three of their backups). Also add in the fact that it was Brushi's 3rd game back, Seymour's first game back and Hobbs' first ever start and you see that NE was essentially at their Nadir of health. All the two games the Miami played against NE is that if you take away 10 of NEs better players, it narrows the gap between them. Both of the NE games, due to "NE played with lots of backups in both games" factors only throw the DVOA and pythag numbers more.

* I would have to say that the Atlanta game could have gone their way with a break here or there.

So, in summary, Miami had (IMO) two flukey losses (Buffalo and Atlanta) with another that could be misinterpreted as flukey until you look further into it (the first NE game) and 5-6 flukey wins (Denver, Carolina, #2 Buffalo, #2 NYJ, #2 NE and possibly SD). I usually will accept stats (particularly on this site) on the assumption that I may have missed something, but in this case, they are wrong.

P.S. Miami's massive early-season HFA won't matter as much because they are a) not playing that many home goes in Sept/Oct and b) playing teams that they should beat anyway.

47
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 12:03pm

Sorry for the poor grammar in the above post, I corrected it in the three prior, but forgot to in this last one.

48
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 1:08pm

Oswlek (#46 )--

Accepting all that you say about flukey wins and losses in 2005 for Miami, that still makes themabout 6-10 last year.

We still need to fairly evalute how many wins they can expect in 2006, with a somewhat improved offense and more-or-less the same defense and special teams.

They get to play the NFC North. That looks like three wins (loss coming at Chicago).

The get to play the AFC South. That looks like at least two wins (definite loss at Indy, Jacksonville @ Miami a toss-up.)

They get the AFC East. They usually split with New England, and should win at least three from the Bills and the Jets.

So if they win one of their strength-of-schedule games (Kansas City, @ Pittsburgh), that's nine. They only have to get one of three not-unlikely scenarios to come through for them (beat Jacksonville in Miami, sweep the Jets and Bills, or the Colts mail it in for week 17) to win ten and hit the over.

I'm no gambler, but I certainly wouldn't bet the rent money on the under.

49
by gleebergloben (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 1:13pm

People get too caught up in the "Bettis Factor". What happened to Bettis during the Stillers AFC Championship losses? Was he responsible for those defeats? No, because football is a team game. The Stillers have good chemistry, and only 3 things will prevent them from winning 10 or more games:

1. Injuries, injuries, injuries (which can be said of all contenders)

2. Rothlisberger can't shake the cobwebs from his injury.

3. Cowher decides to pass more, which will put Rothlisberger in more danger of getting blindsided by a sack, and will put the Stiller D on the field more. Run, run, run to the playoffs.

50
by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 1:44pm

I don't see the huge difference. Both conferences have 8 teams projected to win 9 or more games.

51
by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 1:44pm

Oops, disregard that last post.

52
by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 1:53pm

The Chiefs under 9.5 is a mortal lock.

I don't see how anyone could go OVER with the Steelers. There's no doubt in my mind that they're worse than last season. I see them winning 8 or 9 games.

53
by stan (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 4:28pm

Byron Leftwich is the worst QB I have ever seen running 2 minute offense. No one else is even a close second. He is horrible.

54
by Fnor (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 7:29pm

Sid: How do you figure? Like I said, Wilson was worth more than Randle-El last year, even without the postseason, and Holmes (provided he stays out of jail) should be a great help. Roethlisberger has another year under his belt. Bettis was very useful, and any other short-yardage back will be a downgrade, but they'll just have to not run up the middle 50 times in a row in the second half. I think they can adjust.

The big question is Safety. I think that is an issue, but a dropoff in safety probably won't keep them under 11 wins, in my estimation.

55
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 12:23am

I think the biggest hit for the Steelers is the improvement of their division rivals, combined with the already tenuous nature of their O-line and QB positions.

56
by primantis (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 12:51am

"Any team with a strong running game and a terrific fan base is going to be competitive." Is the fan base really that big a factor on the team's success? That quote was positively Joe Morgan-esque.

57
by Duff Soviet Union (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 9:45am

Re #56, yeah I think it can be. I don't have the numbers on me but I'd be willing to bet homefield advantage in the NFL is big. Running a 2 minute drill with fans screaming at the top of their lungs in Aarowhead Stadium can be pretty tough.

58
by Sam! (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 10:07am

#53:

How many times have you seen Leftwich run the 2-minute drill?

59
by Fnor (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 11:46am

#57: I believe the number was 15% DVOA for HFA, varying by team (last year, for instance, the steelers were better away than at home).

60
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 11:58am

and Holmes (provided he stays out of jail) should be a great help.

I don't doubt that the Steelers will probably be good this year as well, but I doubt Holmes will affect the outcome of the season much: rookie WRs, especially at the end of the first round, don't really do much their first year. This probably is just do to the fact that rookies are coming in on a good team, which means they're not going to see a ton of playing time, and that means they develop a little more slowly than they would if they were shoved in at a first-team role, for instance.

The best first-year rookie performances were almost all by mid-first and mid-to-late second round picks.

61
by Andy (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 12:00pm

Oswelk, are you a fan of the jets?

I think your logic has been swayed by your allegiance to the green fungus. Its okay, I can never objectively evaluate the performance of the jets due to my hatred for them -- of course I'm a Dolphins fan.

To quote your beloved Bill Parcells, "You are what you are". Miami was 9-7 last year. They were not a playoff team. I watched every Miami snap last year (except for the last 5 minutes of the Cleveland game, when I had to barf), and they didn't deserve to be in the playoffs, but then again, they were pretty good. Like most 9-7 teams. They won some games they probably shouldn't have, and lost some heartbreakers where they were the dominant team.

That said, they added Culpepper, replaced guys from the Wannestedt/Speilman regime with Saban's players, and have what appears to be an easy schedule.

I'll take the over (but I pick them to go 12-4 every year for the same reason why you're taking the under).

62
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 1:23pm

Andy,

No I am not a Jets fan. I am a Pats fan, so Mr. Parcells is hardly beloved. ;)

I will admit that I may have some bias against Miami, although it isn't as strong as it can get against other teams because I have much respect for them as a team, particularly Taylor and Thomas.

That said, I just have a very strong feeling that Miami isn't quite what people are expecting them to be. I believe very strongly that they are going to be a disappointment this year.

FWIW, I am typically on target with these "teams that are going to surprise people by not being quite as good as expected" bets. Just in the past few years I have made bets on the 2003 Bills, 2005 Bills and 2004 Cats to disappoint. I would have bet against NE in 2002 if I could have lived with myself afterwards (although it would have been wrong - they were 9-7 with a 8.5 line) and for the life of me I can't remember why I didn't wager against Atlanta last year even though they fit my formula to a "T". In the interest of fairness, I lost a little on NE last year, as I thought an 11 O/U was a gimme for at least a push.

I don't mean to offend anyone, I just can't see Miami being all that good. The only reason I have any doubt at all about my prediction is because Miami's schedule looks pretty simple, but I think they will struggle anyway.

63
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 1:36pm

I know nobody asked me, but here is my take on the Steelers:

I think of the 2005 Steelers as a better version of the 2001 Patriots team. Pitt was a good team that played great in the playoffs. They will more than likely win the AFC Central, but many people are making the mistake of projecting their 2006 season based on how well they played on the playoffs. Even had they not lost anyone to FA, they were likely to not live up to those expectations.

Even though Polamalu stepped up his game greatly at the end of last year, Pitt can be passed on. I know it isn't as simple as this, but there were numerous games last year that it seemed that all other teams had to do was go max-protect and wait for the receivers to come free. I still don't think Pitt's corners are anything to write home about.

In 2006, I see the Steelers as the #3 or #4 seed, with a win at home and then a loss on the road.

64
by Travis (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 1:37pm

Re: 60

The best first-year rookie performances were almost all by mid-first and mid-to-late second round picks.

Probably because they were drafted by already good teams, right? I think that's what you meant (correct me if I'm wrong).

65
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 1:57pm

Probably because they were drafted by already good teams, right? I think that’s what you meant (correct me if I’m wrong).

Drafted by decent, not great, teams who probably had a serious need for a receiver, which means the rookie will probably see a bunch of playing time.

This doesn't really say anything about the receiver's future career, just their first year. Guys like Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, Donte Stallworth, and Ashley Lelie were all mid-1st round WRs. That's not to say there weren't busts there, too, of course, but receivers in that range perform better than any other range.

Then, of course, at the top of the second round, you've got teams drafting who are bad again, and so the chance of a rookie WR having a good year is similarly bad.

66
by Andy (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 1:57pm

Oswelk, no offense taken. And please don't take any offense when Miami is the Champions of the AFC East!

67
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 2:18pm

Keep dreaming Andy! One day it just might come true :)

68
by James G (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 2:23pm

63 - I don't think people are projecting the playoff run only onto the Steelers. Rather they are projecting the 2004 Steelers plus the Roethlisberger-only 2005 Steelers onto the 2006 Steelers.

69
by MRH (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 3:13pm

Tony Gonzalez, Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker are not exactly the most intimidating receiving trio in football. In fact, they’re among the worst.

Now maybe Kennison and Gonzalez will decline with age but Parker might also improve. I think at most they decline to mediocre, not to among the worst. See, there's this site that does statistical analysis that tries to debunk the conventional wisdom. And they have some special stats to try to analyze players.

And this site I'm talking about, it rates Kennison as the 6th best wr in 2005 using a stat called DPAR. And Parker was 45th. 14 teams had 2 or more wrs in the top 45 so KC's duo looks pretty good, anyhow (oh and slot wr Hall was 38th, putting KC among only 4 teams w/3 wrs in the top 45). And then Gonzalez was 3rd among TEs in this same stat. It seems to me that this stats site is saying they were among the BEST receiving trios.

Don't like DPAR? What about this other stat those guys have, DVOA? Six teams had 2 or more wrs in the top 28 in DVOA. KC: Kennison 4th, Hall 16th, Parker 28th. The Chiefs WR corps looks even better in this stat, although Gonzalez declines to 8th. Still, hard to put them among the worst.

Either the WR corps is better than you think or Trent Green's 2005 QB season is one of the greatest of all times when you consider the bums he must have been throwing too. So he can probably carry them on his back again this year, don't you think?

Anyhow, you guys should check out this site I'm talking about, they have some really good stuff there. Maybe if you use their stats in your articles they’ll let you write for them.

70
by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 3:38pm

Oswlek - care to try and quantify your formula for teams that are going to underachieve? I would love to see it and see if it's applicable on a larger scale. Of course, for betting purposes, you might not want to.

I appreciate what you have to say about Miami, but I disagree with it. Basically, you're making a lot of statements that don't really have anything quantifiable behind them (i.e. "The Cats were itching to get back at the Patriots..." - don't they itch to beat every time?), and if it comes down to betting, I'll take data over my gut every time. Maybe that's why I don't hit any inside straights.

#69 - Can you attach a link to that site in your next post? I'd appreciate it, love to see the site. And could you put in a good word for us with the head guy? I happen to be more inclined to agree with you than Ian, to be honest, but I still see a cascading decline for the Chiefs offense because of Roaf and the offensive line. I still think Kennison and Gonzalez will be effective, but come on - you don't see them regressing at all? At least to the point where any improvement from Samie Parker would be washed out? And as for Hall, 2005 was the first year in three his DVOA wasn't approaching or below replacement level. If he has another solid year as a receiver, I will defend him, but his 2005 appears to be a fluky year.

As for the Steelers, keep in mind this team has won 25 regular season games over the last two years, with a maturing superstar at the most important position on the offensive side of the field. They've lost their second best safety and their second best running back. No one expects them to be as good as the playoff Steelers - I don't either - but even if they drop two games off their average in the Roethlisberger era, they'll still hit that over. If it were 11, I would be more inclined to see a decline, but 10 seems a pretty good bet to me.

71
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 4:57pm

Bill,

If I ever get time, I may try my hand at quantifying it, but as of right now it is more of a gut feeling type thing.

There are two types of teams that typically qualify for my "disappointment team of XXXX":

A) Teams that came on at the end of the year to transition from poor/medicore to "hey, these guys are actually pretty good."

B) Teams that made an unlikely playoff run.

Somewhere within this group there is always a team that generates a little too much buzz the following season. Usually there are signs that the team may have not have been quite as good as everyone thought the prior year. For example, the 2001 Pats won games where the following happened:

* Had a tipped pass by a defender on third down that was intended for a deep crossing WR that floated up into the path of the WR with the shorter crossing route. This was late in the 4th and the drive ended with the winning FG.

* Maintained possession in OT because the WR who was knocked unconscious on the play was touching the loose ball with his leg as his head rested on the sidline.

If it isn't flukey occureneces, then it might be the fact that they played a perfect combo of injured/terrible competition. But there is evidence that the team had a final result that could have easily been very different. I realize that this is true of almost every team in every sport, but it is typically intensified for this team.

The gut part comes from watching the team. I am not as football wise as most of the contributors to this site (be it writers or message board posters) so I can't explain *why*, but I am usually left with a feeling that the team just isn't as good as their record would lead me to believe.

The final piece of evidence is the media the following season. If everywhere I turn I see someone picking this team as a "surprise" team, then my choice is made.

Totally different topic, I was watching some sports show where someone was interviewing a Steeler, Bettis I believe. Said interviewer opened with a statement of "No one thought you guys were going to the SB at the start of last year."

Huh? They were 15-1 the preceeding year and went to the AFCCG and this guy is talking as if the Steelers went into the season without any fanfare. What is the deal with this? I realize that my team employs the king of disrespect, but isn't this getting a little out of control?

72
by MRH (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 6:06pm

re #70 - Yes I do expect Kennison to regress, last year was a career year. However, he has been a top 25 wr in DPAR/DVOA three years running. I expect him to fall out of the top 10 but still remain in the top 25. Parker I think will break the top 40 in DPAR and top 30 (again) in DVOA. Green seems to like him. Gonzalez will slide but will score more than 2 TDs as they will throw to him more in the RZ this year. Saunders got away from it last year as the running game was so effective and they got spooked by some Green INTs in the RZ.

I expect overall the 3 of them to be in the 2nd quartile of FO's stats. Above average, not as good as last year. Better than the conventional wisdom. Far from "among the worst".

73
by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 7:16pm

MRH, I'd be comfortable saying they will be in the 10-20 range, probably towards the lower half. So I agree that won't be among the worse.

74
by Scott C. (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 9:41pm

Having paid a lot of attention to the Charger's camp this year its very clear that the offense will improve and be better than last year by mid season (barring a rivers injury or massive O-line injury issues, of course). By the second half of the year there will be serious buzz about Rivers.

After seeing and reading a lot about their camp and their first pre-season game it is clear that he can do MANY things that drew could not:
1. Play action (drew couldn't sell it even with LT)
2. Screen pass (see #1 above and add shorty to the mix)
3. Hit recievers in stride on the slant over the middle.

He will reach or exceed a QB rating of 90.

That, and the Chargers have two 6'4 or 6'5 young recievers that have tremendous hands and have been learning how to run routes from James Lofton and McCardell. They will be able to put FOUR recievers/TE's of 6'4 or above in one package this year (and these guys are speedy too). Their reciever depth is very, very good with big upside....

Their linebacker depth is better than anyone else in the league if you look into it enough... 7 guys not counting Edwards who could start for half of the teams in the NFL.

Find some clips of River's play in the recent game, and read a little bit about his past, attitude, and the respect he has already earned from his teammates and you might just conclude what I have:

This kid is going to be in a lot of pro bowls before he is done. Quickest ball release since Marino. Accurate.

Sure, he hasn't started a game in the NFL yet and that does put a lot of uncertainty on things. But all of the stars are aligned for him... ALL of them. 2 years on the bench, a great support cast, the best college carrer, hard worker, teammate respect as a leader... and the first game is against the RaiDuhz, next against tenesse, then a bye. What better way to break in to the NFL?
But if not starting a game yet is your ONLY retort and you haven't done a lot of research on him or the team, watched him in camp, or other in-depth look at him then best of luck betting on under. Bets are won by the informed much more often than the uninformed.

If you stack that with the reduced schedule difficulty and likely improving defense, "mortal lock" it is.

75
by thad (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 12:14am

ok Scott, I'll bite.
I have done absolutely no research on Rivers. So let's say you are right, lets say he is every bit as good as Brees was last year and the Chargers offense is just as good as last year.
I have two questions. First of all what about their secondary. Last year opponents had a passer rating of 84.7.
Passer rating for and against corrolates really well with winning. As far as I can tell the Chargers have not improved their secondary. Think about it, how many times do you see a team win 10 or more games with a bad secondary or a below averge passer rating?
I am not saying it never happens, the Colts did it last year, but they had a really good offense and a really easy schedule. I am just saying it does not happen a lot.
Secondly you say they will have an easier schedule. What does that mean exactly?
They win an extra game?
they outscore their opponents by an extra 60 points?
I really have no idea.
I am not saying you are wrong, for all I know the Chargers could win 12 games.
I am just saying those are two things you might want to consider.
Anyway I read the article in PFP and it definately made sense, Rivers should be fun to watch this year.

76
by the_rausch (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 3:15pm

FYI: The fantasy football projections sold on this website project Ruben Droughns as a late 2nd round pick. Who to believe?

77
by Scott C. (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 6:56pm

The Chargers secondary does look improved. McCree is a significant upgrade over the bad safety play last year no matter how you look at it. Hart and Kiel are both strong against the run and very weak against the pass. Jue is still a below average safety against the pass but at least can cover the field and move to help the corner over the top (the other two are almost incapable of that which is a LOT of what makes Jammer look bad sometimes).

Cromartie looks to be a playmaker that is an upgrade already over Davis (the Candy Man) at nickel back. In the preseason game and training camp he has made incredible plays on the ball and covered recievers like glue followed by getting completely beat the next play. Davis was only capable of the latter.
If you split Jammer's play up from the first half of last year to the second half there was significant improvement. Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, and T.O. all had subpar days against Jammer -- and about half their actual catches were when they were lined up against the other corner, often Sammy Davis early in the season. Reports out of camp are that Florence has improved his game and sticks with his man much better, and he does have some playmaking ability.

Then look deeper at the chargers secondary last year.
Look at each Charger game last year and ask WHY was the secondary bad and in what situations. Brady, McNabb, Manning the older, ALL had very bad day versus the chargers. Sheli Manning, the Dolphins, Beldsoe, (Denver and KC too) and Pittsburgh did significantly better.

Can you spot the trend?
Looking at the games and situations, it breaks down like this:

In 2005 the charger's base defense, when uncertain if the opponent was playing pass or run, was BAD against the pass. Strong running teams fair well against the chargers in the passing game. This is somewhat unintuitive because the chargers have good run defense, but the fact is that teams with strong running games pass well on them but those that do not have good running games did poorly agains them in the passing game -- this -- was very clear. The chargers D, when expecting the pass and playing against it did well last season (on a per play basis, total yardage as we know is a nonsense stat).

Hence their victory over Indy, stopping NE's home win streak, and the pattern above. Force even the best passing team in the league, Indy(arguably) to be one dimensional and the chargers D is sufficient at slowing them down.

This is in large part due to their front 7. The impotence agains the pass when the front 7 is cued against the run is indicative of their poor safety play against the pass and somewhat the cornerbacks too (but moreso the safeteys if you see how poorly they moved last year and the resulting large cushion off the LOS that the DB's played quite often -- Jammer is significantly better in press coverage).

So what does that mean this year? Well any improvement in the ability to stop the pass in situations where the play calling isn't one-dimensional will help -- improved safety play is really the key to this, allowing Jammer to play closer to the line of scrimmage and hit the WR within 5 yards of it. Alternatively, any strategy that forces the opposing offense to be more one dimensional benefits the chargers defense, chief amongst such stratgies -- scoring early and getting a lead with a powerful offense.

It really isn't as simple as "the charger's secondary is below average" its a more complicated picture than that. How it plays out depends a lot on the effect on McCree, the additions to the defensive scheme in Phillips third year (some which were shown in the preseason game if you were paying enough attention), and the improvement of the two cornerbacks. I certainly don't see the secondary play declining, barring an injury to Jammer or McCree.

As for your second question, the schedule.
Last year the chargers went to the east coast 5 times. They played opposing teams 4 times after the opposing team had a bye. Those two things are not factored into the FO schedule difficulty rankings.

They travel hardly at all this year in comparrison, and against easier opponents all around.
Sure, Lets just call it a 1 game difference due to the schedule. The over/under is at 9 wins...

If you don't think the schedule matters, why did the 2004 chargers win 12 games and the 2005 9? Was the 2004 team really that much better? No, schedule + luck, for the most part.

Lets look at the luck factor. Last year it appears to be about 1.5 to 2 games. Read each recap of every game and you'll find about 3 games that they lost due to lucky events and one that they won due to lucky events (@DC). Funny how the numbers are in line with that. A team that is a clone of last year's should be at 11 or 12 wins or so with neutral luck and the easier schedule. If you dispute the luck factor, please tell me how this year they will lose a game again by a blocked field goal with an unlucky bounce where a kneel down would have been a better play. Plays like that don't happen every year. Stack that with close early losses before the improvement on defense or emergence of Merriman. This site has shown that teams that are very lucky or unlucky with respect to their estimated wins / pythagorean wins tend back to the norm the following year (with respect to the next year's estimated wins or pythagorean wins).

If Rivers isn't as good as Brees, they still have a very clean shot at winning 10 games.
Tenessee
Raiders x2
KC x 1
SF
STL
Buffalo
3 out of these 4: (Cle, Bal, Cin, Ari)

Usually, I figure one upset loss amongst those and one upset win against the remainder (Den x2, KC@KC, Pit, Sea). If the defense evolves towards improvment, and Rivers does turn out as good as Brees on average then Sea, Pit, and Den@SD look rather winnable, as does the AFC west crown.

So long as Rivers doesn't stink it up it is hard to see less than 9 wins, and with decent play (QB rating ~78) 10 wins-ish.

The Over/Under is factoring in the QB uncertainty but not factoring in the schedule/luck + improvement of the team outside the QB. Their really has been nothing but good news about the defense and recievers this off-season. No big name signings but A.J. Smith doesn't do that. But somehow he seems to find good talent anyway. Just look at how the team as it is now was built and think about what criticisms were at hand 2, 3, or 4 years ago aobut the chargers organization. Whatever the hell A.J. is doing personel wise is working. Highly regared as devoid of talent other than L.T. and now regared as one of the most stacked teams in the NFL. Don't expect him to change his ways and pick up the hot free-agent on the market.
Guys like McCree are exactly the sort of veteran he brings in (Oben, Foley, McCardell come to mind as well).