Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
25 Jan 2006
by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
"The thing about preseason picks is no one remembers them one week after the season starts. It's like draft review columns. It would be interesting to see in Week 8 or so how these predictions hold up." -- Commenter Johonny on the Football Outsiders 2005 Predictions
Al: Sorry we're late, Johonny. Like the man with the extra "o" said, most prognosticators make wild-ass guesses in August and September and the general public never hears about them again, unless one of those random predictions turns out to be correct and the prognosticator makes sure to point out his genius. Sure, at Football Outsiders we could do the same and point out how our editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz won King Kaufman's yearly predictions contest, and if you had chosen the 12 teams with the highest percentage chance of being "Super Bowl contenders" in Pro Football Prospectus 2005, you would have finished second in King's contest ahead of everyone but Aaron.
But that's not how we roll. We're going to take advantage of this dead week in football land after the Conference Championships have been played and dissected and before the Super Bowl hype really begins to look back at the predictions the Outsiders staff made in the pre-season, as well as some prognostication Vivek and myself did during the course of the season. It won't just be the predictions that came true that we'll be highlighting. No, if someone was dumb enough to predict that the Minnesota Vikings would win the Super Bowl and that "Culpepper will make Nate Burleson and Troy Williamson 1,000 yard receivers," we'll make sure the entire world knows how bad that person is at predicting what will happen on a football field. Right Viv?
Vivek: You leave the Vikings out of it, and I'll do the same with your picking the Redskins in 2004. Hindsight is always 20/20. After revisiting our predictions, I saw that both of us misfired on a few things as badly as Mike Vanderjagt's right foot.
Just like that NFL Network commercial that pokes fun at fans' preseason comments -- "The Bears aren't winning more than three games" and "Chad Johnson? Never heard of him"-- Al and I get to look back at the 2005 forecasts from the Outsiders. While a lot right were on the money, plenty (including from yours truly) were on par with the NFL Network commercial. The sad thing is that the NFL commercial was trying to be funny. I was trying to be the Nostradamus of the NFL.
Al: First, we'll tackle the official 2005 Football Outsiders Season Predictions, which were unveiled just before Week 1. Starting with the AFC, we were all smart enough to pick New England and Indianapolis to win their respective divisions. Aaron was the most accurate AFC prognosticator, correctly picking all four division winners and one wild card team. Of course, he also predicted that "with just a little improvement on both sides of the ball, [the Texans] would snag a wild card with an easier schedule than better teams from the other divisions," so we won't all slap his back that hard. Assistant editor Tim Gerheim notched the craziness up to 11 when he said they were "the second-best team in the AFC South" and would make the playoffs for the first time in history.
(Ed. note: Hey now, I was right about the schedule ... just pretend that where I wrote "Houston" I instead wrote "Jacksonville.")
Ned, Russell, Tim, Vivek, and myself were only able to guess one more correct AFC playoff team in addition to the Patriots and the Colts. Many of us were duped into thinking that the Ravens would be a playoff contender. Michael David Smith wrote that "When I look at the Patriots and Colts, I actually like them better than the Ravens, but I just feel like the Ravens are a team that might be better at the end of the year." Five of us picked them to win the AFC North.
Vivek: Maybe it was the fact that I caught a lot of WFAN while on certain parts of the Capital Beltway, but I thought that everyone was high on the Jets. Looking back, most of the Outsiders were pretty cautious about Chad Pennington's shoulder too.
And now on to more of fun part -- the good, the bad, and the ugly about what we wrote (heavily weighted to the bad and the ugly, of course.) I'll continue the trip down memory lane with myself and my love affair with the Chiefs.
"The Kansas City front office finally realized that two straight years with a terrible defense under different coordinators meant that the personnel needed to change. Kendrell Bell and Derrick Johnson are much welcome additions, and opposing quarterbacks will not be able to be as daring anymore with Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight."
The Chiefs showed improvement in defensive DVOA, moving from 28th to 12th this year, but still failed to keep opponents from reaching the end zone and moving up and down the field. The "upgraded" secondary ranked 20th in pass defense DVOA and Kendrell Bell was a bust and could be on his third team in three years in 2006.
Al: Unlike our relative success in the AFC, none of us had any clue about the NFC. Aaron once again predicted the most playoff teams, tying with myself, MDS, and Ned Macey with a whopping three correct predictions. Vivek was in the basement, only guessing correctly that Carolina would make the post-season. Everyone loved the Eagles, who were the Football Outsiders' unanimous pick to win the NFC East and the consensus Super Bowl champion.
I was the only person to have the Bears in the playoffs, let alone as NFC North division champion. I was also one of three geniuses to think that the Cardinals would be there with them. At least I didn't predict that "JJ Arrington will be the offensive rookie of the year as well."
Vivek: So Al, how was that Rose Bowl between Louisville and Boston College? Sorry, I needed to throw something back at you. (Speaking of, Tim actually got the Rose Bowl right: Texas over USC.)
I'll give credit where credit is due, though. Al did write: "Coaches that won't be on the sidelines in 2006 [with the same teams]: Jim Haslett, Mike Tice, Mike Sherman, Steve Mariucci."
And like he mentioned, Al was the first person to saddle up for the Chicago Bandwagon: "That leaves Chicago with a solid defense and multi-faceted running attack. If Kyle Orton doesn't screw up royally, which is a big if, there's no reason the Bears can't win the division."
And as history has illustrated, DVOA does not lie. The system picked eight of the 12 playoff teams this year, and that number could have been higher had not the Eagles been decimated by injuries.
We just need to figure out how to include the "Millen Factor" when calculating DVOA.
Al: The 2005 Season Predictions weren't the first attempt at predictions for the 2005 season that ran on FootballOutsiders.com. Back in July, Vivek and I started to look at the over/under lines for total wins for all 32 teams. We ran the discussion over four columns, one each for the West, East, North, and South divisions. I did fairly well overall, finishing with a record of 19-12-1. Vivek, on the other hand, ended up with a losing record at 13-18-1, including an incredibly awful record of 1-6-1 in the Western divisions.
Vivek: Being an East Coast guy, I always had a problem with the left coast swings. I blew it with the Seahawks and the Rams. St. Louis' offseason moves (Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley) did nothing to improve the defense, which finished 29th in DVOA. As for the Seahawks, I was accurate about the team having a lot of close games on the schedule, but they came out 6-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown.
What a difference a season made for the Broncos. During the summer, we were both killing Denver's front office for transforming the team into the Brown-cos. Maybe it was the thin air, but whatever it was, Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, Ebenezer Ekuban, and Michael Myers found a new life in Denver. Warren suddenly went from being dubbed uncoachable and lazy to a player that showed effort on every play. Courtney Brown found his health and Ekuban and Myers produced with playing time.
Al: To be fair, it's not like I nailed all of my West predictions on the head either. Speaking of Oakland, I wrote: "I don't think anyone expects this team to only put up 320 points on offense like they did last season." Of course they scored thirty fewer points despite adding Randy Moss and Lamont Jordan. I also predicted that "fourth round pick Craphonso Thorpe should develop into Kansas City's number two receiver by midseason." Thorpe spent the entire year on the Kansas City practice squad. In my defense, I didn't really think Thorpe would contribute much to Kansas City this season. I just wanted to work "Craphonso" into the column.
We didn't leave our awful predictions at the door of the regular season, however. Vivek and I took two other opportunities to revisit our playoff predictions during the season. Scramble for the Ball: Your Home for Four Sets of Bad Predictions.
We first revisited things after Week 4, where I ran as fast as I could away from the Seattle bandwagon. "I've lost all faith in the Seahawks in the NFC West. There's no reason to think they'll win a game on the road this year." Genius. Somehow, after four weeks of games had been played, I made my preseason predictions slightly worse, taking the division champion Seahawks out of my playoff picture, but adding in the Giants as a wild card team.
Vivek actually improved his NFC guesses by switching out the Cardinals in favor of Tampa Bay. We both ended up with the same AFC predictions, correctly replacing Baltimore with Pittsburgh at the top of the AFC North, but both stubbornly leaving the Broncos out of the playoff picture. He also was an early jumper onto the Washington bandwagon, stating "If Brunell can stay healthy and the Falcons' passing attack never gets going, the Redskins are next in line for a playoff spot in the weak NFC." It took a while to happen, but a healthy Brunell at the end of the season combined with the collapse of Atlanta allowed Washington to live up to their promise, becoming a very hot pick for the NFC representative to Super Bowl XLI.
Al: Just after Thanksgiving, we made some more guesses about the playoff picture once again, drawing upon the world of professional wrestling to express our feelings on the potential post-season participants.
Usually the reaction of Football Outsiders and FOXSports.com readers to the latest edition of Scramble for the Ball is a collective yawn. For that column, however, we received the most diverse reaction to a piece in the long, storied history of Scramble. One reader called it "possibly the most bizarre thing I've read today." Two others praised it as "the best Scramble ever," and for having the "best collection of links in an article ever." Others, however, were not as eager to dish out the praise. One commenter stated that "at least now I don't ever have to read anything you write about football because I now know that you two probably played more dungeons and dragons than you have football." Another reader stated that he "always thought Scramble was a little mediocre," "but I really feel like I learned absolutely nothing from this article save the name of Ric Flair's finishing move."
Vivek: Dungeons and Dragons? We're not that bad. Now fantasy XFL and fantasy golf, that's another question.
I'll admit it. This has to be the greatest stretch for amusement in the history of sports journalism (I use that term loosely), but Al and I got a kick out of it. It took me this long to finally believe in the Seahawks and Bears, but I eventually did come around.
Al: It's amazing how bad these predictions could have been with so little time left before the actual playoffs began. I couldn't have been more wrong about Washington and Kansas City's chances at the end of the season: "After blowing their game on Sunday against San Diego, the Redskins have no chance of sniffing the playoffs." "It's not unrealistic to think the Chiefs could lose out and actually finish with a losing record." Of course, there weren't two hotter teams at the end of the season than the Redskins and Chiefs.
I did get some NFC South predictions right, however: "Cadillac Williams wins the offensive rookie of the year award after he puts up big numbers with three games against New Orleans and Atlanta." Williams had 327 rushing yards, averaging 4.36 yards per carry, in those three games en route to winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award with 47 out of 50 votes. I also noted that "the Falcons get to face three of the top six run defenses in the league in four of their last five games. Atlanta needs to win three of their last five to get into the tiebreaker mix, but with the strength of their team neutralized I don't see it happening." In Atlanta's four games against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Chicago, the Falcons went 0-4, averaging only 103 yards on the ground. Insert line about the sun and a dog's rear end here.
Dave: A fantasy football question, with perhaps some bearing on DVOA. In a 16 team lifetime keeper league where the format is 1 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, and 1 flex, we can keep any 2 players with no restrictions. I have Tiki Barber, Rudi Johnson, Matt Hasselbeck and Antonio Gates. I'm planning on moving Hasselbeck for nominal consideration (a late draft pick), but my real dilemma lies with which 2 of Tiki, Rudi and Gates to keep.
I'm pretty sure I can move Tiki (or Rudi) for a decent draft pick (hoping to move up in the first round to a top three pick plus a later pick like a 4th rounder), whereas I could not get anything but a late pick for Gates. That being said, I'm wondering if this is one of those situations where the market is grossly undervaluing a commodity? Gates is so much better than any other TE that I value him quite highly. That, along with the age of Tiki, makes me think I should move Tiki, despite the fact that people are calling me insane for even thinking about that. Your thoughts?
Al: Tiki's value will never be higher than it is right now. You're not crazy for moving him, especially if you can turn it into a top three draft pick. Barber should still be productive next year, but expecting him to put up another 2000-yard season at age 31 is crazy. Based on some early projections, we expect Johnson to be just as good, if not better, than Barber from a fantasy standpoint next season. I agree that if you can get a good deal for Barber, Gates and Johnson are the way you should go.
Doug: I am the commissioner of a keeper league. I am new to your website, and I think your DVOA rankings are great. What rules do you guys have in the FF leagues you play in and/or what do you think are the most realistic rules you could have for a fantasy league.
Vivek: Realistic or fair for fantasy leagues? I have a different answer for each. In terms of a fantasy, I'll just paste in the keeper-related rules for a system that I for a change have no problems with. The basic premise is that you can keep up to six players, but cannot stock up on the early picks. This promotes parity and forces players to think hard about mid and late round picks.
For a realistic league, as much as I dislike this for a fantasy format, it would have to be one that has low roster turnover and some sort of salary cap.
Al: You could also go to an auction format for your draft, which really seems to lend itself well to keeper leagues. Each year you wish to keep a player, you add a certain dollar amount to that player's salary for the next season. You can also set some time limit as to how long you can keep a player. For example, let's say you have a league with a $160 salary cap and 16-man rosters. You can allow up to six keepers every year, but you have to add $5 to the player's salary the next season, and you can only keep a player for two years past the original season he was drafted or picked up from the waiver wire. This will reward teams who get lucky and/or draft well by grabbing someone like Larry Johnson for little money, while not keeping players out of the player pool for so long that other teams won't ever have a chance at having him on their teams.
Another draft format that I like, is somewhat similar to the one Vivek mentioned. Instead of a set number of keepers per draft position, however, you lose a draft pick a number of rounds, typically three, earlier than where the player was picked if you wish to keep this player. So, if you grabbed someone you wanted to keep in the fifth round, you could do it, but you'd lose your second round pick the next year. It makes the players drafted in the first three rounds unkeepable, which allows for top players to be available in the draft each year, and also alters overall draft strategy.
Al: Tim is still running away with this. Jason and Aaron are the only ones with somewhat realistic shots at catching him. Jason has five players still alive, including Shaun Alexander. If Jerome Bettis doesn't do anything in the Super Bowl while Matt Hasselbeck connects with Darrell Jackson for a couple of touchdowns, Aaron could jump ahead and win. My team is still awful.
|JASON||Rd 1||Rd 2||Rd 3||Tot||VIVEK||Rd 1||Rd 2||Rd 3||Tot||NED||Rd 1||Rd 2||Rd 3||Tot|
|QB||Manning, NYG||-3||0||0||-3||Plummer, Den||0||11||7||18||Manning, IND||0||20||0||20|
|RB||Alexander, SEA||0||-2||25||23||James, IND||0||11||0||11||Johnson, CIN||12||0||0||12|
|RB||Anderson, DEN||0||19||10||29||Foster, CAR||15||5||0||20||Dillon, NE||5||5||0||10|
|WR||Smith, DEN||0||15||6||21||Galloway, TB||6||0||0||6||Moss, WAS||2||16||0||18|
|WR||Ward, PIT||7||6||11||24||Branch, NE||3||15||0||18||Engram, SEA||0||1||3||4|
|WR||Jurevicius, SEA||0||3||0||3||Houshmandzadeh, CIN||8||0||0||8||Smith, JAC||3||0||0||3|
|TE||Stevens, SEA||0||1||12||13||Clark, IND||0||14||0||14||Miller, PIT||1||12||3||16|
|K||Brown, SEA||0||8||10||18||Vinatieri, NE||4||8||0||12||Elam, DEN||0||12||5||17|
|DEF||New England||16||1||0||17||Chicago||0||-1||0||-1||New York Giants||1||0||0||1|
|AARON||Rd 1||Rd 2||Rd 3||Tot||AL||Rd 1||Rd 2||Rd 3||Tot||TIM||Rd 1||Rd 2||Rd 3||Tot|
|QB||Hasselbeck, SEA||0||22||20||42||Palmer, CIN||3||0||0||3||Brady, NE||22||17||0||39|
|RB||Barber, NYG||6||0||0||6||Jones, CHI||0||11||0||11||Williams, TB||3||0||0||3|
|RB||Bell, DEN||0||1||5||6||Portis, WAS||11||5||0||16||Bettis, PIT||11||8||9||28|
|WR||Wayne, IND||0||11||0||11||Harrison, IND||0||5||0||5||Smith, CAR||21||35||9||65|
|WR||Jackson, SEA||0||20||13||33||Johnson, CIN||5||0||0||5||Muhammad, CHI||0||5||0||5|
|WR||Toomer, NYG||3||0||0||3||Burress, NYG||0||0||0||0||Lelie, DEN||0||5||12||17|
|TE||Watson, NE||15||0||0||15||Shockey, NYG||5||0||0||5||Cooley, WAS||1||8||0||9|
|K||Vanderjagt, IND||0||4||0||4||Feely, NYG||0||0||0||0||Gould, CHI||0||3||0||3|
The leading "Best of the Rest" team belongs to Geoff, who has 177 points. Yes, that's more than any of the FO staffers. This is what happens when a sixth seed makes the Super Bowl. Since the top "Best of the Rest" teams all have the same Steelers, Geoff wins the "Best of the Rest" competition unless one of these three things happens:
1) Antwaan Randle El scores -7 points.
2) The Pittsburgh D goes for -21 points (Yes, that means Seattle would have to score 147 points).
3) (Presumably as part of the same game) D.J. Hackett scores 71 points.
Al: No Best Bets this week. We're saving them up for next week as we unveil the Third Annual Super Bowl Prop-Bet Extravaganza.
48 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2006, 1:32am by Willsy