Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Aug 2010

Scramble: AFC Over/Unders Part II

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Let us all bow our heads and have a moment of silence for Tom's Internet connection. Your Scramble writers apologize for the uneven writing style these technical difficulties have caused.

Houston Texans (8.0)

Tom: I feel bad for Vince, who had to write the Houston chapter of Football Outsiders Almanac 2010. There seems to be a popular perception of the Texans as a team on the rise, but our projection hates Houston this year.

Mike: It seems a bit harsh, honestly. We make great hay of their schedule, and while we do predict an average opponent in the top 10, the ninth-hardest schedule in the NFL is hardly the kiss of death.

Tom: The Texans did fit as one of those teams I thought people might be overrating, but that just meant I was expecting them to be around 8-8, not to fall off a cliff.

Mike: I think it also has a lot to do with how much you like Steve Slaton.

Tom: And Arian Foster, but now not Ben Tate.

Mike: I'm not sure I'm really qualified to assess him, since most of my knowledge comes from fantasy, where he helped me out a lot last year when my squads were demolished by injury. So maybe I'm a bit sentimental, but I think he gets a bad rap.

Tom: Eh, maybe.

Mike: I think that in any case his benching was absurd.

Tom: The big thing is the defense; I mentioned in Four Downs this offseason that the Texans have never had an above-average pass defense by DVOA. Sure, they drafted Kareem Jackson in the first round, but they lost Dunta Robinson. Yeah, it's cool, let's all rip on Dunta Robinson, but he's almost certainly still better than a rookie corner, and they still don't have a free safety they can trust.

Mike: No, I agree that the pass defense is largely garbage, but if the offense is good enough to win the inevitable shootouts, it's not a fatal flaw.

Tom: I'm still more worried about Matt Schaub being healthy than I am with whoever is playing running back.

Mike: That's another high point: When Schaub is injured, there will be no Rex Grossman Experience! That alone may be the best roster change in the NFL.

Tom: Yes, they've swapped the Rex Grossman Experience for the Dan Orlovsky Experience!

Mike: I'll take cannoli over the dragon any day of the week.

Tom: Here's the thing about the red zone stuff; our numbers, as shown in ESPN's fantasy football magazine, say the Texans were actually OK in the red zone. They were 13th in red zone touchdown rate and slightly below-average running inside the five, mostly because Chris Brown sucks at power running.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this, but I think I'm thinking that whatever Houston's problems were last year, it wasn't necessarily with the running back.

Mike: Probably true, and also probably true that even if the running game is good, the chance of injury to Schaub is too great to have much optimism for this team.

Tom: Slaton's real problem may have been ball security, which Tiki Barber showed is something that can be fixed. The running back question is more an issue for fantasy, but I'm quite concerned about the big issues like Schaub and the pass defense. I'll go under.

Mike: Agreed, under.

Indianapolis Colts (10.5)

Tom: The Colts have won 12 or more games in each of the last seven seasons. We have already agreed that the Texans will be under .500.

Mike: The Colts are really why I'm preoccupied with running backs in the AFC South.

Tom: Joseph Addai is one of the reasons I still hate fantasy football, because he's still a great fit for the Colts offense and can have a pretty good game with a line like 21 carries for 79 yards.

Mike: Since we're talking about hate, I hate writing an over/under for the Colts. They are as constant as the stars, and there's simply so little new from year to year to talk about. Maybe that's at the core of the Colts/Patriots dispute ... New England has a soul to its ridiculous winning ways, whereas Indy is just like a machine with Peyton Manning as the engine, soullessly churning out wins.

Tom: I think you're underrating just how interesting the Colts are from a team-building perspective. Starting with your soulless quarterback, how you go about churning out wins is an interesting question.

Mike: I suppose that's true, and it is interesting the way they attack the problem, but they do it in much the same way other consistently good franchises do it. They take care of the big tickets and then try to get value by finding players that are marginal or can semi-uniquely fit into their scheme. Second to that is the ability to prioritize; not only for the team to find uniquely suitable talent but to figure out what they absolutely must have for the system to work and then figure out what they can cut to the bone.

Tom: FO interviewed Bill Polian a couple years ago, and one thing we didn't ask him for that I'd be interested to hear is his response to is the FO theory that running back performance is heavily dependent on the offensive line, so you don't really need a premium running back.Yet Polian is a guy who has drafted three first-round running backs in the 12 post-Manning drafts. In any case, I'll be curious to see how Brown looks in his second season.

Mike: What I want to see is some hint of Anthony Gonzalez's upside. While it's probably true that there is a base level of performance that Manning will get out of anyone, better receivers will of course make his job easier and (as crazy as it sounds) make him look better.

Tom: Coming out of Columbus, I didn't think it was that high. Weird thing, though, is I'm not sure it mattered that much. The colts were stuck playing Dallas Clark in the slot during the team's Super Bowl run just because they didn't have a third wideout they could trust. It seems that things have improved a little since then, but the thing I really liked about Bill's latest installments of wide receiver Plus-Minus was it became clearer just how relatively below-average the non-Reggie Wayne receivers were that year.

Mike: Right.

Tom: I'm really starting to ramble, but I find the Colts almost endlessly fascinating.

Mike: I admire their consistent performance, but I don't find much fascinating about them. They have a set philosophy that works, in a generally soft division, with the luxury of pursuing such strategy due to the presence of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. All that to say that they're probably going to hit the over.

Tom: Why mess with success? Recent history plus weakness in the division makes this an over for me as well.

Jacksonville Jaguars (7.0)

Mike: My God, it's full of holes. I don't even know where to start.

Tom: I had to write the team chapter, so I can tell you all about those.

Mike: Tell us, writer of the chapter, what is the worst hole of them all?

Tom: The hole that'll hurt them most in 2010 is the horrible secondary, which they didn't address at all in the offseason, either through the draft or free agency.

Mike: It seems that we're complaining about a lot of secondaries this year. I wonder what's going on there.

Tom: Let me note that was a regular season column idea.

Mike: "Why Does Everyone's Secondary Suck?" That seems somewhat limited.

Tom: More "Well, Pass Defense is Hard." And it seems like it might be harder than it was 10 to 15 years ago.

Mike: I think it's definitely harder than it was 10 to 15 years ago, in large part thanks to rules changes.

Tom: The other part of it is that it is easy to find possible holes in a secondary. Bad secondaries almost certainly don't have the chance to go out and add a Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency. Good secondaries often have their good but non-elite players raided by other teams, like Pittsburgh losing a cornerback. Anyway, Jacksonville is hoping that an improved pass rush from a revamped defensive line can make their Lions-caliber secondary look non-horrid. I am skeptical.

Mike: Maybe that's why we're commenting on so many bad secondaries, because so many teams try that strategy. All save Baltimore fail.

Tom: And Baltimore's been covering for corners, not for both corners and safeties.

Mike: Yeah. Pass rush is not going to fix your overall pass defense.

Tom: I think the Jaguars should be kind of OK on offense, and somewhat improved on run defense. Mentally, I had them at around six to eight wins, so I'm going to be statistically unintelligent and say 7.0 is a push.

Mike: I think 7 wins is too high for what could be a disastrously flawed team. Under.

Tennessee Titans (8.5)

Mike: Must ... overwork ... Chris ... Johnson ...

Tom: The 422-carry, 1,740-yard Wisdom of the Crowds projection for Johnson is my nightmare.

Mike: You should honestly prepare for your nightmare to become reality. Honestly, I'm waiting for him to actually die on the field.

Tom: The Titans had a very narrative season in 2009. They lost their first six games because they played bad pass defense, then went 8-2 in their last 10 games, not because they played quality defense, but because they played better offense. Specifically, when Vince Young had an above-average game, they won (8-0, with positive DVOA). When he had a below-average game, they lost (0-2, with negative DVOA). So, in those 10 games, the quarterback really was solely responsible for all wins and losses!

Mike: You and Simmons should write a book about it.

Tom: As silly as that theory is, I really do think that's a good rule of thumb for the 2010 Titans. They will go as far as Young is good at passing.

Mike: I'm not sure we won't see some of the Rex Grossman/Derek Anderson effect here. Young was essentially a new player coming on to the scene last year, so I'm wary of putting any stamp of approval on him just yet, in case it was a newbie bump.

Tom: I'm not sure I agree with the Rexxy/Anderson comparisons, but that may just be me being too close to the team that I want to concentrate on the distinctions.

Mike: I'm not saying they're exactly the same, just using them as prominent examples of quarterbacks who put up good numbers because other teams weren't ready for them and/or didn't have enough material to properly game plan against them. Once the honeymoon was over, splat.

Tom: I think it's more he benefited from Johnson's great year, and probably won't be quite as productive if/when Johnson isn't as productive.

Mike: Both are probably viable theories. Probably a little of both, actually.

Tom: That's why I'm expecting another 8-8-type season. Eight is a smaller number than 8.5, so this is another under for me.

Mike: I think they'll work Johnson to death, which should be enough for the over. And in a few years' time we'll be talking about the great talent the Titans wrecked.

Tom: We shall see.

Denver Broncos (7.5)

Tom: I'll have a lot less to say about the AFC West than I did about the AFC South. AFC West fans, consider this as further proof that FO hates your team.

Mike: But ... but ... Tim Tebow!

Tom: He's not starting this year, unless Kyle Orton gets hurt. Maybe not even then.

Mike: Oh, there is absolutely no way he is starting this year.

Tom: You didn't see Brady Quinn play this weekend.

Mike: Thank heaven for small blessings.

Tom: If I were a true cynic, I'd think McDaniels fired Mike Nolan not because Denver's defense collapsed last season but because Nolen gets credit for Denver being decent back when we thought Denver was decent.

Mike: There is an astounding amount of psychoanalysis directed at McDaniels, more than perhaps any coach other than Belichick.

Tom: Why, just because in two offseasons he's run out of town maybe two of the four (Ryan Clady and Champ Bailey) best players on the team?

Mike: In his defense, we don't really know what happened between McDaniels and those players. They could really be head cases, or it's also possible the previous administration just spoiled them rotten.

Tom: Sure, and I'm not claiming that either Jay Cutler or Brandon Marshall is the world's easiest person to get along with, but it still doesn't make a lot of sense. I wonder if McDaniels needs to listen to stories about how Bill Parcells made special rules for LT, just because sometimes you have to adapt to your best players, not have all your players conform to you.

Mike: I question whether that's a good idea. Sure, it worked for Parcells, but imagine the different outlook for Pittsburgh this season if Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin had beaten Ben Roethlisberger into the ground a little bit more.

Tom: Or traded him after a mediocre 2006 season.

Mike: I'm just saying, treating your stars differently is not always a good idea.

Tom: Not always, but sometimes.

Mike: Anyway, I imagine a lot of this line is due to Marshall leaving, and it should be. Orton is the kind of quarterback that will be productive with good receiving talent and unproductive with mediocre talent.

Tom: Fortunately, they now have LenDale White to save their offense! Once he returns from his four-game suspension, that is.

Mike: It speaks volumes for how much of a factor White will be that I can't even remember what he is suspended for.

Tom: Violation of the substance abuse policy.

Mike: Ah, right.

Tom: We should probably also mention their only good pass rusher is out for the year. All over/unders were pulled at or after the first column, at which point Elvis Dumervil was already injured and out for the year.

Mike: Long story short, regardless of the motivations for various firings, the defense was wholly inept. Under.

Tom: Under.

At this point, a man wearing black walks on stage holding a mannequin of Al Gore, stabs it, and disappears into the background. Tom did not take this malfunction well:


Kansas City Chiefs (6.5)

Tom: FOA does like the Chiefs, or at least "the Chiefs in the context of their projected schedule." I have to go back, however, to what I harped on during the draft -- they had the second-worst run defense by DVOA in the league and didn't really do anything to address that. It's not just DVOA, either -- they were second-worst in yards allowed and yards per carry allowed also, so it's not just situational. We put Demorrio Williams and Glenn Dorsey on the All-KCW Team, if you recall.

I guess the expected improvement comes from top-five picks Dorsey and Jackson improving, or maybe Eric Berry has some big impact, but it's tough for me to see a safety having that much effect on run defense. The pass defense should be OK, but I don't see why they won't still get run over constantly. Jamaal Charles had a great half-season, but at what looks like an unsustainable full-season pace. They picked up Thomas Jones and are talking like they're giving him maybe a majority of the carries. That's great for Charles' durability, less great for their 2010 prospects. I still don't like Matt Cassel or the offensive line in pass protection, or their wideouts. They're not nearly as horrid as the 2009 Rams, so I can't say that FOA's optimistic projection of them winning the division is nuts. I wouldn't go that far myself, but I can see 7 to 8 wins. Over.

Mike: I disagree strongly with the FOA position on the Chiefs. I must admit that part of it is my very, very amusing memories of last year's Cleveland/Kansas City game. Bill did a good job outlining the factors feeding into that projection, but I'm just not buying the narrative. The offense improvement is resting on the shoulders of Jamaal Charles, an untested running back, and Casey Wiegmann, who is ridiculously, absurdly, astoundingly old. Kansas City's offensive line was ranked 25th in pass protection by Adjusted Sack Rate and 30th in run blocking by Adjusted Line Yards. The line is awful, the league will have a lot more tape on Charles moving into this year, and Matt Cassel is going to continue to be harassed mercilessly. Even granting good development from the young talent on defense, and the relatively low line, I'm still unwilling to go with anything other than the under.

Oakland Raiders (6.0)

Mike: Amusingly, the breaking news that the Raiders are actually going to properly utilize their best player this year has changed my opinion of this team. Well, it has changed my opinion of the over-under, at least. The Raiders have been one of those "inescapable miasma of suck" teams for quite a while now, but this ridiculously common-sense move, paired with the new hope a decent quarterback brings, may be enough to elevate this team from the ranks of the truly miserable to the merely bad. The team also highlights one of the most difficult parts of football analysis: peeling back the layers and judging individual players and units individually. There is so much interplay between a quarterback and his wide receivers that when a team gets to Raiders-level futility, it's hard to say where the quarterback's ineptness ends and the wide receiver's begins. Aside from Darrius Heyward-Bey, of course.

Now I'm not saying that Chaz Schilens or Zach Miller or Johnnie Lee Higgins is going to lead the league in receiving this year (I'm not even going to bother talking about Heyward-Bey), but I'm willing to give them a chance to prove themselves with a quarterback who is not JaMarcus Russell. I think they may even have a shot at respectability, at least this year, because one of the major knocks on Campbell, his inability to deal with pressure, will not be as much of an issue. I look at their schedule and see four, maybe five games where Oakland will have to deal with a big-league pass rush, plus a few of those secondaries we have been endlessly complaining about. The Raiders certainly won't win the division, but I'll give them enough credit to crawl past six wins for the over.

Tom:
I repeat myself from last year's Over/Under section. The last time the Oakland Raiders won as many as six games in a single regular season, they made the Super Bowl. Yes, Jason Campbell is an upgrade at quarterback over JaMarcus Russell. The wideouts are still lousy, the offensive line mediocre, Darren McFadden oft-injured, the defensive line not bad but lacking in a real difference-maker, I question the linebackers, and the secondary is still Nnamdi Asomugha and a bunch of guys you can throw on successfully. I'll believe they'll win six games when they actually do it, which might not be until the regular season goes to 18 games. Under.

San Diego Chargers (10.5)

Tom: I admit it, I kind of enjoy one-dimensional teams like last year's Chargers, who had a great passing offense and not much else. The Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill holdouts scare me, though -- without those two guys, it's hard to see the passing offense being nearly as productive. With better health on the offensive line and the fresh young legs of Ryan Mathews, I think the running game can really rebound to at least mediocrity (great career, but Tomlinson really looked washed up last year and his old burst looked almost completely gone). The next question is whether and how much the defense can improve. Not having to spend time fumbling around trying to find the next nose tackle will help. Shawne Merriman to me looked done as a great pass rusher, so they'll need Larry English to play better. We'll see. The secondary looks only OK. If they had a great pass rusher, I might almost like it, but without that pass rush, I think they can be had. I'm a little more optimistic than FOA, but I'll still go with the under.

Mike: The AFC West is just so bad in so many ways, it's honestly hard to see San Diego not winning 11 games. Even if they split with Denver, the division itself is likely to get the team roughly halfway there, and the rest of the schedule is hardly murder's row -- FOA projects the Chargers to face the second-easiest average opponent this coming season, even with its very rosy picture of the Chiefs. I think in the end the Chargers are going to be very dangerous but very one-dimensional, as Tom pointed out. I'm going to take the schedule and the fact that they seem to be a low-rent version of the Patriots and take the over.

Next week your Scramble writers get a bit more with the times and transition to Kabuki. Expect a lotta waka for next week's survey of the NFC West and NFC South!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 18 Aug 2010

49 comments, Last at 10 Sep 2010, 5:02pm by tuluse

Comments

1
by dryheat :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 3:28pm

I think the fact that neither Houston nor Jacksonville improved their secondaries is reason enough to fire their respective GMs.

2
by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 3:29pm

Come on, it's not like either one is in a division with possibly the greatest QB of all time and that stopping the pass should be their #1 priority every season!

3
by TomC :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 3:45pm

Houston & Jacksonville play in the AFC East?

(I kid, I kid.)

4
by Jeff Fogle :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 4:22pm

Notes for the "Why does everyone's secondary suck" article...as it may relate to the liberalization of holding giving QB's a little extra time, and/or other evolutionary influences:

PASS DEFENSE DVOA (negative numbers good/positive numbers bad):
2005: Medians 2.1/2.8, 7 teams at +10 or more, 4 at +20 or more
2006: Medians 3.3/3.3, 8 teams at +10 or more, 2 at +20 or more
2007: Medians 5.8/6.3, 12 teams at +10 or more, 5 at +20 or more
2008: Medians 11.7/11.9, 17 teams at +10 or more, 9 at +20 or more
2009: Medians 9.4/11.3, 16 teams at +10 or more, 6 at +20 or more

Definitely a relative explosion the past two seasons, with some slight regression in 2009...but not something that regressed back to the standards of 2005-2007.

I did those by hand, so something may be off here or there. But, not enough to change any conclusions about the clear tendency toward the high number of struggling pass defenses...

5
by tuluse :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 4:55pm

Tom: Joseph Addai is one of the reasons I still hate fantasy football, because he's still a great fit for the Colts offense and can have a pretty good game with a line like 21 carries for 79 yards.

Do you also hate DVOA, which says that Addai was the 17th most valuable running back?

Also, I listened to that whole stupid youtube video. I just thought I'd mention that.

7
by Eddo :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 5:43pm

I wasn't quite sure what Tom was getting at there. Was he saying that fantasy football overrates Addai, or underrates him?

I'm also a tad confused by your post, tuluse.

I'll just shut up now.

8
by tuluse :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 5:45pm

I was assuming that he was saying fantasy football underrated him (71 yards is not a good fantasy game).

I was pointing out that "fantasy points" were not the only metric that says Addai is OK, but not great.

6
by AnonymousC (not verified) :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 5:35pm

That would be murderer's row.

9
by Led :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 5:49pm

I'll take the over on the Raiders. They won 5 games last year with Russell and a completely ineffective Heyward-Bey. Cambell is much, much better than Russell and Heyward-Bey is bound to be improved in his second year, even though he'll never justify his draft position. They have a talented tight end and decent receiving threats at running back. Their defense isn't terrible. That sounds like a seven win team to me.

10
by jimbohead :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 6:03pm

I tend to agree. Not only are they in the AFCW, but they're playing the NFCW. Sounds like a recipe for relative success to me.

11
by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 6:13pm

Yeah, the fact that they obviously improved (and improved significantly at the most important position, no less), play in one of the two weakest divisions and play out of conference against one of the two weakest divisions... even a bad team could stumble its way to 8-8 or 9-7. If it's not the Raiders, it will be one (or two) of the six other reasonably bad teams in those 2 divisions...

15
by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 7:32pm

I'm very high on the Raiders this year. Jason Campbell is in the dictionary under "Replacement Level Quarterback", which is a SIXTY PERCENT DVOA gain over JaMarcus Russell. Oakland's offense is young at the skill positions and likely to improve. On defense, they will be moving Nnamdi around, finally, which should assist with the pass defense.

One can realistically project the Raiders as the division winners, really; San Diego's defense is imploding before our eyes, Kansas City may convince KUBIAK, but we know better, and Denver is the worst team in the NFL this year, on paper.

17
by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 7:35pm

Hmm... I wouldn't go that far. I think they will have a better record, but San Diego is a far better team and will be feasting on the same chumps. With the Broncos and Chiefs, who the heck knows - they both look terrible now, but they're also big question mark teams to me.

31
by Neoplatonist Bolthead (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 1:55pm

How is San Diego's defense "imploding"? Barring injuries, it's going to be radically better than 2008, and significantly better than the first half of 2009. The D-line improved over last season, and now all those rookies are sophomores. Larry English goes into year 2, and looks ready to step up. Merriman may or may not get back to steam this year, but the worst-case scenario still ain't bad. Between Siler, Burnett, Cooper and a couple of OLB/ILB tweeners (Applewhite being the best of them), the ILB corps should be about as good as it was last year, which is to say better than '07-'08. The cancer in the secondary is gone. There is also a lot more/better competition at SS and in the nickel and dime slots. This year's Chargers D will be better than the '09 D in all phases.

Nah, the only knock on San Diego this year is that they have an unheralded, untested left tackle. But even that concern is mostly about moneyball. If both Dombrowski and Green fail at LT in the Dallas and New Orleans preseason games, they'll work out a short-term deal with McNeill, who made it clear he wants to play, though not at 600k or 3M. He'd miss the KC and Jax games (31 and 32 in sacks last year)... but I'm betting on Green or Dombrowski getting the job, because I know better than to doubt the product of A.J. Smith and Hal Hunter.

Vincent Jackson is a good player, but the best thing about him is the guy whose passes he's catching. Cromartie and Tomlinson were liabilities and morale-breakers. Cro is a fine nickelback, but as a sideline defender he's a problem. Tomlinson is great in historical, Hall of Fame kind of terms, but he's totally washed up. Mathews is a stud. They haven't replaced Lo Neal or Brandon Manumaleuna, but they have new assets doing different things in the same positions: Randy McMichael and Mike Tolbert.

12
by CuseFanInSoCal :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 6:25pm

Brett Favre is much, much better than Tavaris Jackson, and the Vikes won... one more game with Favre as the starter. The idea that any one player in the NFL, even at QB, is worth more than one win (just maybe two) on a 16 game schedule is a bit silly.

13
by G_Man1 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 6:46pm

What? No they didn't. They won 2 more regular season games, secured a first round bye, and won one more playoff game. I'd say that is significantly better than barely winning your division on the last day of the season, and losing your first playoff game at home.

14
by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 7:31pm

Also, there's a bell curve to the degree of difficultly here - It's easier to go from 6 wins to 10 than from 10 wins to 14. Or 12 wins to a perfect season. The vikeswent from what 11-5 to 13-3? That's a difficult improvement, certainly rarer than going from 7-9 to 9-7.

Teams flip from losing seasons like 6-10 or 5-11 over to wildcard winning seasons all the time. But it's rare to go from really good (like 11-5) to great like (13-3). And let's not overlook how inhumanly terrible Jamarcus was - seriously, look at his DVOA last year. QB's are worth more than 1 or 2 wins - looks at the Pats dropping five games going from Brady to Cassell or imagine the Colts with Paintner starting all season. Or say... what happened when the Titans took out Kerry Collins and replaced with Vince Young (0-6 to start the season and 8-2 to end.)

Plus, if Campbell is only worth 1 win, that gets them to 6-10. If the defense has improved (and it certainly appears to have improved) and that gets them another win, they're at 7-9. Now, what if the young recievers improve and a back with a lot of potential like McFadden has a breakout season? Is that worth another win? That's 8-8 right there and that doesn't even factor in a ridiculously easy schedule where they face 100% suspect teams in the Chiefs, Broncos, Seahawks, 49er's, Cardinals and Rams. I mean, come on, 8-8 is far from out of the question for a team that went 5-11 last year, improved across the board and faces a potentially weak as hell schedule.

16
by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 7:33pm

After looking it over, I think the Raiders going over 6-10 and the Colts going 11-5 or better are the safest best on here...

18
by Jimmy Oz (not verified) :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 9:09pm

Denver's under for me. I cannot see 8 wins.
7 winnables v Radiers, KC, and NFC West
9 toughies v San Diego, Jets, Ravens, and AFC South

BUT: 5 of the winnables come after their week 9 bye and the Broncos went cold turkey after October last year, and they've lost Brandon Marshall and Elvis Dumervil.

Also - Titans get the benefit of playing the Colts in week 17.

25
by chemical burn :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 10:30am

Yeah, I don't know why I'm not counting Denver out. They really do look terrible on paper and if their aging defense starts to sustain injuries, they're going to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Assuming the whiskey kid doesn't deliver his proven magic. Yeah... they were 8-8 last year and look much worse this year (especially with Dumervil gone.) Yeah. It's bad. Do Denver fans disagree?

34
by tunesmith :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 3:10pm

denver fan... here's my sense of the team:

DL: massively improved.

Safeties: Excellent reserves with a year under their belts.

Corners: One of the best tandem in the leagues, and if you watched Champ in the first preseason game, he's still amazing. I agree, possible problem if one gets injured. Nickel situation is improved over last season.

Linebackers: This is either about the same, or worse than last season, but they weren't a limiting factor last season. The improved DL helps here, but yes, I am concerned about pass rush.

We look to have a greater role among tight ends and fullbacks this season, and the position looks strong.

People that don't follow Denver closely are never going to be convinced about our receiver situation after losing Marshall and Scheffler, but Gaffney had a better yards-per-attempt figure than Marshall last season, and Royal looks much improved in the slot. Plus there's a lot of optimism about our two rookies - Thomas appeared to learn his new route-running studies very quickly before he got reinjured, and Decker is big with great route running and great hands.

Justin Fargas and LenDale White are upgrades over Peyton Hillis and whoever our fourth back was that came over from New England, already forgot his name.

Our line's injury situation is dicey, but there's more upside than our line had the first half of last year. People forget that the season started going downhill at about the same time we lost Ryan Harris, and he's back now. Beadles and Walton look really good, though.

Orton 2010 is better than Orton 2009. Quinn is better than Simms. Tebow is better than Brandstater. I'm not a religious nut but there are too much people saying Tebow sucks just because they hate the religious stuff, just like how there are too many people that say McDaniels sucks just because he's young and "brash" (code for young). Learn your place, whippersnapper!

Anyway, most positions on the team have been improved. Biggest question is linebacker, and if the team can collectively still have a good sack/pressure total. Then there's always the injury wildcard but that's the same with any team. I'd put the over/under at 9. I think it'll be 10 wins. The people that are so down on the Broncos are the same that said 3-13 last season. Been that way every since Shanny left, some kind of grudge or something.

38
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 7:22pm

Dude, I know I've got a potentially homerish post of my own elsewhere in this thread, but really?

Last year the Broncos' three best players were Clady, Dumervil, and Marshall (if you think Jabar Gaffney, a middling 32 year old slot receiver, is even remotely as good as a 25 year old two time pro bowler with three consecutive 100 catch seasons you need your head examined, better YPA or no). None of those guys are going to be playing for the Broncos this year. Orton is 28 and entering his fourth season as a starter. I suppose he may improve a little, but a big jump is hugely unlikely and without his top receiver and elite left tackle his production will suffer even if his play improves. Quinn is very probably not better than Simms, but in any case I'm pretty sure that if the quality of you're back-up quarterback is a major factor it's not going to be a good season. Lendale White is absolutely not in any way an upgrade over Peyton Hillis, and I'm not convinced that Fargas is either.

Also, if you think the team will win ten games, why set the over/under at 9? Personally, I think they'll be pretty freakin' terrible - maybe the 2nd-4th worst team in the league - but still probably win about 5 thanks to the weak schedule. For whatever my opinion's worth.

40
by tunesmith :: Sat, 08/21/2010 - 3:17am

Fair enough - just hold on to your impressions and we'll see whether the team gets closer to five wins or ten wins.

39
by tornadot :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 7:27pm

I can see 10 winnable games. Will they get there? Eh, tough to say but I don't think this team is near as bad as people say. This schedule is (at the onset) favorable compared to the murderous one from last year.

43
by Shattenjager :: Sun, 08/22/2010 - 1:27am

[Decided post was even more worthless than my usual post. Deleted. Carry on.]

19
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 9:32pm

Didmt read article yet but want to say Raiders dont have ray of hope. Raiders have whole sun of hope.
Note to Chargers, chefs and broincos fans- laugh now ,get sunburn laterr

20
by mm (not verified) :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 11:31pm

Awesome as always, Raiderjoe!

21
by Kibbles :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 3:36am

Are you saying that playing the Raiders will be like a day at the beach?

22
by Brendan Scolari :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 6:59am

"FO interviewed Bill Polian a couple years ago, and one thing we didn't ask him for that I'd be interested to hear is his response to is the FO theory that running back performance is heavily dependent on the offensive line, so you don't really need a premium running back."

So at what point will people realize how obvious this same concept can be applied to almost any position and the idea that "RB's are extremely fungible" doesn't make sense?

The "theory" is the equivalent to saying you can have a great front seven without a premium left defensive tackle, so you don't really need a premium left defensive tackle. Or that you can have a great offensive line without a premium right guard, so you don't need a premium right guard.

It takes 11 players to play offense. Apart from quarterback, all of the other players' contributions are roughly equal on any given play. The running game depends not only on the ability of the running back, but also the blocking of five offensive lineman (plus a fullback and/or tightends most of the time) and the ability of the QB and the receivers to make the passing game a threat to keep defenders out of the box. The idea that the RB should outweigh all of those other factors is idiotic. The offensive line is five players, it's almost half the offense!!! Of course their contributions combined are much more important than a lone running back in any aspect of the game! An e quivalent would be saying a middle linebacker is much less important than your front four, it's a totally unfair comparison.

A running back can have their importance overrated by people who take player stats at face value, since running backs (statistically speaking) get all the credit for ground game production. But the idea that RB's are way more fungible or less important than left guards, tight ends, or a wide receiver is silly. Is the dropoff from Chris Johnson to a replacement level running back a lot less than the dropoff from Jahri Evans to a replacement level guard? Would the Saints suffer much more than the Titans if both injuries were to occur? I don't think so. The idea that running back is some position that you can plug anyone into and get decent play comes solely from the emphasis on individual stats, when football is largely a group effort (in my opinion).

/end rant

24
by RichC (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 10:06am

The point is, you put a speedy back behind Tenessee's line, and hes going to get 5 ypc. He may not get the 5.6 that Johnson is getting, but hes going to look good. You put Chris Johnson behind the Bears line, he'll be lucky to break 4 ypc.

Elite runningbacks aren't fungible, but pretty much all the other ones are.

36
by Brendan Scolari :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 5:26pm

No, sorry, I don't believe that last sentence. .6 yards per carry is a pretty big difference, and I don't think that's all the dropoff you'd see. Are RB's more fungible than one offensive lineman? Tight ends? Receivers? Prove it. I don't buy it.

Would losing Nick Mangold hurt the Jets more than losing Chris Johnson would hurt the Titans? Would losing and average tight end hurt a team more than losing an average running back?

26
by Noah of Arkadia :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 10:31am

I agree. My favorite team suffered through an endless parade of ineffective RBs for years, so I'm not buying that.

Of course, they do have a point that the OL is very important in the equation.

32
by Neoplatonist Bolthead (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 2:01pm

This Chargers fan agrees. 2006-2007 LaDainian was running behind mostly the same line as 2008-2009 LaDainian. But instead of averaging 5 YPC and 25 TDs over that time, he was averaging 3.5 and 13.

That's why I think those people who got on his case in that New England game are silly. That injury ruined his career; you'd be pouty too.

33
by Neoplatonist Bolthead (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 2:02pm

Never mind. I guess even the "fungible" proponents make an exception at the top. And LT's average last year was better than Sproles or Bennett.

41
by Tom Gower :: Sat, 08/21/2010 - 10:13pm

Questions I'd like Bill Polian to answer:
1. FO conventional wisdom, as embodied in the Adjusted Line Yards statistics, is that rushing yards, especially in the 5 yards and under category in which almost all carries end up, are largely the product of the offensive line, rather than the running back. Do you agree with this?
2. The Colts annually rank among the teams with the fewest rushes (in percentage terms) that gain 10+ yards. Do you think that's in part a product of what you look for in a running back?
3. What running back attributes do you see as having the widest range of variability? Is it rushing ability, ability to gain long gains, some aspect of pass running, or pass protection ability?
4. One of the things you've been able to do successfully is find defensive players in the middle to late rounds. I think the reason this works is you look for different attributes in defensive players than most other teams. Does drafting running backs early indicate that what you're looking for at that position is in some sense more conventional/closer to the NFL mainstream?

42
by tuluse :: Sat, 08/21/2010 - 10:21pm

I like that last question a lot. I think you'll get mostly stock answers for 1 and 3.

1) Something about how it's both the running back and the line (and maybe the QB and receivers), and they have to work together to succeed.

3) Something about how they have to be smart players to learn the system, while also having good enough physical attributes.

44
by Noah of Arkadia :: Fri, 08/27/2010 - 11:01am

I would like that

23
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 9:24am

"I think I'm thinking that whatever Houston's problems were last year, it wasn't necessarily with the running back."

As far as run offense is concerned, I really, really don't think the evidence is in your favour:

2009 Texans ALY: 4.10 (15th)
2009 Steve Slaton: 131-448 3.42ypc 3TD 5fum -118DYAR -30.8%DVOA 35%suc
2009 Chris Brown: 79-267 3.38ypc 3TD 1fum -3DYAR -9.5%DVOA
2009 Ryan Moats: 101-390 3.86ypc 4TD 2fum 45DYAR 1.5%DVOA 57%suc
2009 Arian Foster: 54-257 4.76ypc 77DYAR 3TD 0fum 24.8%DVOA

Slaton and Brown had 210 carries between them and were terrible. No, losing Pitts and Brisiel didn't help, but Studdard et al came in and did an adequate job. The bad running was all about horrible running back play, and nothing else.

"it's tough for me to see a safety having that much effect on run defense"

I invite you to check out the 2009 Texans run defense numbers with and without Bernard Pollard.

It may just be homerism talking, but I really, really think the projection system is wr-wr-wr-incorrect about the Texans. Will they be in big trouble if Schaub goes down long term? Sure. Could a tough schedule and a few bad breaks leave them at 7-9 despite being a decent team? Sure, it's possible. But I think absent a serious injury to Schaub or Williams, it is hugely unlikely that they will be a significantly worse team than last year, and given the squad's incredible youth I think substantial improvement from within is very likely. I suspect that the projection system is putting too much weight on the Richard Smith era defenses of perennial suck, and expecting regression towards that level of play, when in fact continued improvement is far more probable. I really don't have much hesitation in taking the over on 8 wins for the Texans.

35
by jbrown (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 3:56pm

Starting to like you more and more Shush. I completely agree about Pollard, and think that on a similar note people don't quite grasp the depth on that defense. Most people look at the change from last year to now as "subtract Dunta Robinson, add rookie Kareem Jackson", but gloss over Glover Quinn's solid rookie season (especially in run support, like Pollard) and the midseason acquisition of Pollard, and getting Eugene Wilson back from injury. They didn't run out and make a bunch of moves this offseason, but I think will be seeing the benefits of moves made over the last year or so (even if it's not as flashy).

Oh and to whoever says Wilson isn't competent at FS or too "frail", just ask Larry Fitzgerald about that. I'm sure he would beg to differ

37
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 6:50pm

Thanks for the compliment. I very much agree about Quin, who I think has it in him to really be a pretty good corner. He'll be the man stepping into Robinson's shoes, not Jackson.

Wilson's still a decent player, but he's missed 29 games in the last 4 seasons, and I don't really expect that trend to change when he's just turned 30. The guy I'm a little excited, or at least intrigued, to have back is Troy Nolan, who I think has a decent shot of being a solid long term answer at that position, and is at any rate likely in my opinion to be a much better back-up option than the various putzes who have filled in there over the years.

I also want to see what Barwin can do with a year's pro experience under his belt and a bit more playing time. That guy's explosion is scary.

27
by Monkey Business (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 10:45am

Gonzo's upside is catch rate. He posted something like 72.5% in 2008, and essentially didn't play in 2009. The guy has glue hands and is gonna catch just about anything you throw in his general direction. When you're working with arguably one of the best QBs in NFL history who can drop a football on a quarter at 60 yards, I'd imagine that glue hands is a good trait to have. He's never gonna have Garcon-style breakaway speed, or Wayne-style precision routes, but if you absolutely need 5 yards, Gonzo is the guy that'll get you 6, guaranteed.

The continued inability of any team in the AFC South to deploy a pass defense better than "mediocre" is one of the great mysteries in football. Either that, or they're just playing the old "Wait until the superstar QB retires" gambit.

29
by marco rossi :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 11:56am

you cannot possibly believe all you have to do is put in a speedy running back behind Tenn offensive line and they are going to crank you out 5 ypc over the course of over 350 carries?

30
by marco rossi :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 11:56am

.

28
by marco rossi :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 11:55am

offensive*

45
by prtex (not verified) :: Sat, 08/28/2010 - 4:10am

"It's tough for me to see a safety having that much effect on run defense."

Remember the Colts in 2006? How their run defense collapsed without Bob Sanders, and became pretty good as soon as they got him back?

46
by tunesmith :: Fri, 09/10/2010 - 4:44am

Just a public service reminder about the Broncos.

In effect, the Broncos traded:
1) Keary Colbert
2) Jay Cutler
3) Brandon Marshall
4) Their 2010 4th rounder (#114)

In return, the Broncos received:
1) Kyle Orton
2) Tim Tebow
3) Demaryius Thomas
4) Erick Decker
5) Robert Ayers
6) Either Richard Quinn or Seth Olsen (pick one)
7) Miami's 2011 2nd rounder

47
by tuluse :: Fri, 09/10/2010 - 2:58pm

They also traded the pick that became Johnny Knox.

48
by tunesmith :: Fri, 09/10/2010 - 4:47pm

That's the Keary Colbert pick (a 5th). Good on Chicago for getting Knox, but Denver didn't trade Knox away.

49
by tuluse :: Fri, 09/10/2010 - 5:02pm

Oh, I see. I didn't realize they got that pick from another player.