Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
06 Oct 2010
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: So, I don't know if all our readers have seen it, but Vince posted a list of teams with really good DVOA as of a given week. And this year there haven't been any teams like the 2007 Patriots, destroying opponents on a weekly basis. It's an interesting factoid, certainly, but here's my question for you, Mike: Do you care?
Mike: Care in the "Does this affect me?" sense, or the vernacular "Does this bother me?" sense?
Tom: Either/or. I'm not particular.
Mike: The answer to each is opposite, but consistent. I do care because it makes any given game more competitive. It does not bother me because it makes any given game more competitive. Chicago is an odd market.
Tom: I'm not sure I follow that.
Mike: We usually get Bears games, and then we'll get the top game. If there is no "big" game, we get a weird mix.
Tom: The Bears are on, and if the Bears aren't on, they'll show the Vikings or Packers as the top choice, or the national game. It's just that it goes back and forth a little in choosing between the Vikings and Packers.
Mike: Vikings and Packers often have night games, and often play in the same timeslot as the Bears.
Tom: Well, sure, if they're an option.
Mike: I'd say I see the Lions more often than either.
Tom: Yes, because you get both the Lions-Vikings game and the Lions-Packers game.
Mike: Well, for one, I'm telling you my experience, I'm not sure there's much debate about it.
Tom: Fair enough.
Mike: And second, that logic can be extended just as well to the Vikings and the Packers as it was to the Lions. Anyway, we also get really weird games.
Tom: Ah, but Vikings-Packers has been a prime-time game. And that's why I have DirecTV. I can watch my preferred team in the Titans, and then whatever other random game I want. Since I'm writing for FO, that's normally been the other team I'll be writing about, but I'll still watch teams I take a liking to for whatever reason.
Mike: Yeah. And even aside from random games, the "national" day game is often lopsided in years past because it's about the big-name team and not so much about competition.
Tom: I've found I'm actually less interested in some big-name games since coming on staff.
Mike: Is that because of some need to feel informed about teams nobody cares about and thereby burnish legitimate sportswriter credentials?
Tom: I know I'll hear about, e.g., last week's Eagles-Redskins game on Audibles, so I'm not missing quite as much watching Texans-Raiders. I also don't get the fetishization of "great teams." Take the 2007 Patriots -- their games early in the year weren't interesting or enjoyable to watch for me. I'm with you here -- parity means more competitive games, and more competitive games means a superior viewing experience.
Mike: Going back to your earlier point about writing for FO, I think that has a lot to do with it just because we're completely submerged in narratives with all the various reports and opinion pieces we end up reading. It gets tiresome, and at some point you just want to watch football. Then again, I spend way too much time watching the officials during plays. But that's just me.
Tom: I try, but I'm still normally stuck in ball myopia. Watching officials might be a way to get off that.
Mike: Probably true, but what's going on around the ball is probably a lot more interesting.
Tom: True. Part of my concern with ball myopia is football snobbishness. Any yokel can just watch the guy with the ball and the people around him, but we're paid football journalists.
Mike: Oh, here, you dropped your monocle.
Tom: I wear glasses because it's like getting a volume discount on monocles. I just don't follow the point of view that dominant teams are that inherently interesting.
Mike: I think part of it is that the NFL is a national product and that despite public perception, most people who watch football aren't heavily invested in any one team.
Tom: They're invested in one team. And maybe kind of interested in another, generally more interesting team.
Mike: A dominant team will have a strong storyline, will be instantly recognizable, and will give people who are more casual fans a clear view of the best of the NFL's product. I also think talking about people being "invested" in one team is far too strong a word.
Tom: Maybe. I think though you see a team or three emerge every year as the league's best team. We may look at them at kind of scoff -- they're just an 11-5 team that got lucky and went 14-2 -- but you can still have a storyline about them.
Mike: Well, you can have a storyline about anything. Success just gives it a more compelling veneer.
Mike: Parity does help avoid the "ascended 11-5" team, just because it's hard to get that lucky.
Tom: Eh. Some teams get lucky and are crowned great because of it. That's why I started reading FO in the first place, because that kind of thing annoyed me.
Mike: True. And then you learned all about the Eagles!
Tom: I wonder if Joe Banner thinks they're the best team in the league again this year. I wonder if Joe Banner secretly modified DVOA without Aaron knowing.
Mike: Tune in next week for good cop/stat cop!
Tom: Can't ... hardly ... wa ... *snore*
Tom: Remember last week, when I said I was going to start Bruce Gradkowski?
Mike: Let's say I do.
Tom: I did! And he outscored Tom Brady!
Tom: Most of my team had horrible games, but I still managed to eke out a win. My valuable players were Zach Miller with 18, Reggie Wayne's 17, Ahmad Bradshaw's 17, and Gradkowski's 12, but the rest of my team was garbage. Fortunately for me, my opponent started Mike Sims-Walker and Randy Moss, neither of whom appeared on the score sheet.
Tom: I'm not sure. Maybe I should offer to trade Gradkowski for him.
Tom: Really, though, I had the league's fourth-lowest score this week and was lucky to face the team with the third-lowest score.
Mike: Things started out really well for me, fantasy-wise. Then Sunday night happened.
Tom: Giants DST did great!
Mike: Amusingly though, my place in the standings hasn't changed. Also of note is that aside from one team, our league standings are aligned perfectly based on points even though we play head to head.
Tom: Wonderful, if only it could always line up that well.
Tom: Well, Gostkowski got a couple points.
Mike: I thought I had it made, Gostkowski was sure to put up eight points, and Chicago and New York were teams going in opposite directions. Things ... turned out differently. Forte gave me two points. Bradshaw gave him 20 thanks to Chicago's offense being completely neutered and a run-always game plan surfacing for the Giants.
Tom: I'm sure my opponent who got 9 points from Brady and Moss combined can sympathize.
Mike: Even then, Gostkowski gave me 19 points but it still wasn't enough, and I lost by 13. McFadden's injury did not help, but in the end, the Giants defense is what did me in.
Tom: Well, look on the bright side, you don't have my Staff League team. I was down five points going into Monday Night Football with Ronnie Brown and MIA DST going. I thought I had a sure winner. (Yes, I shouldn't have started MIA DST, that's my fault.) Ah, well, you get to read about that in FO Staff League Recap.
Mike: Do they ever.
Tom: The nice part about last year: I could just mostly ignore the one of the three fantasy leagues where I was terrible. This year, that's Staff League and you get to read about it in excruciating (to me) detail every week.
Mike: Well, part of the reason I don't have a team is so that I can deliver value-added excruciation.
Team CBORG (Probably Xenu, 1-3) 49 def. Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 1-3) 44
Ouch. Tom is the first to welcome our gigantic insectoid overlords, and would like to remind them that as a lawyer, he has value in helping them control the populace. This actually would have been worse, but CBORG's handlers for some reason forgot to pick up a kicker for the bye week. This game was hideous in general regardless, with a total of 13 of the 17 position slots (not counting Ryan Longwell's bye week) posting scores below 10. Two other teams this week beat this game's combined score. There's not much more to say.
Triple Asian Flu (Doug, 3-1) 74 def. Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell, 2-2) 71
The week's closest game was also the best played. Doug left a total of six points on his bench (Redskins DST 13 vs. Packers DST 11 and Nate Washington 4 over Louis Murphy 0), and Barnwell left 10 (BenJarvus Green-Ellis with 13 instead of Kevin Walter's 10). Either way, this was going to be an excruciating loss for somebody, and He of Many Team Logos took the fall. Maybe he should actually call CatholicMatch and find someone to console him.
Team Verhei (Vince, 3-1) 95 def. Scramble Forever (Ian & Al, 3-1) 84
Look upon Ian and Al's works, ye mighty, and despair. Arian Foster alone remains round the decay of Andre Johnson, Colts DST and Jahvid Best, boundless and bare save the shunned Terrell Owens the lone and level sands stretch far and away. To add insult to injury, it doesn't even look like Vince updated his roster this past week, as he played Vikings DST, which was on bye. Nonetheless, the trio of Philip Rivers (17 points), Rashard Mendenhall (19) and Joseph Addai (19) formed a core to topple the then-king of Scramble Alumni. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
Consensus Picks (Elias, 2-2) 70 def. Phanatic Codebreakers (Tanier, 1-3) 62
A lucky win for Elias, who got away with a truly mediocre performance because Tanier forgot to set his roster and ended up playing Brett Favre on his bye week. Had he played his only other active quarterback, Kyle Orton, the Codebreakers would have scored a cool 82 and handily moved up to .500.
Better Call Saul (Rob, 3-1) 78 def. Malice Aforethought (Will, 1-3) 42
This is an epidemic, really. Will started both Adrian Peterson and Thomas Jones, neither of whom played in Week 4. Rob proceeded to waltz to victory with a spread of decent but unspectacular performances (Donald Driver at 14 points led the team), and can feel better about himself than Elias, because in no small part thanks to Jay Cutler (-7 points), there was no possible way for Will to win this match.
That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 3-1) 113 def. Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 2-2) 85
This was by far the game of the week, with the two teams coming in at Nos. 1 and 2 in points. It was also another well played game, as Aaron only left 11 points on the bench and benefited from monster fantasy weeks from Maurice Jones-Drew (23 points) and Antonio Gates (26). But even without Steven Jackson's 12 points, Sean just had too much firepower, collecting 20-plus points from Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson and Chargers DST.
Your Scramble writer thought, after last week's column, that it might be fun to come up with logos or representations for the teams other than Remain in Matt Light, but then saw who that team was playing and quickly and decisively shelved the idea.
Tom: Or, I'm Bagman!
Mike: I'm guessing that they started the "Nuts About Southwest" channel during their "We give you peanuts" campaign, which would fall right into line with the general level of thought that goes into Southwest commercial concepts.
Tom: I like the old football ones, and "Want to get away?" was a great campaign.
Mike: OK, the football ones were good.
Tom: "We love you, Detroit!" ... "Man, Detroit was last night."
Mike: "Want to get away?" was all right. The bags fly free thing, though ...
Tom: It's a great marketing point!
Mike: Which makes the commercials that much more inexplicable. We talked about the lack of demonstrative advertising in America at this point last week. This is something that should be demonstrative. Instead, they feel the need to turn it into ... good lord, I don't even know what this is.
Tom: They tried demonstrative last year. It was baggage handlers singing. We didn't like it. We didn't ever use it in a column, but we hated it.
Mike: Oh, right. Needs to be demonstrative in a way that isn't completely insane.
Tom: "Demonstrative in a way that isn't completely insane" = BOO-RING.
Mike: Not even a Pretentious Latin Motto could save these, however.
Tom: TV Tropes? Don't you want to finish the column tonight, rather than having each of us spend the next five hours browsing that and linking to random pages?
Mike: I really wanted to go with Altum Videtur, but upon closer inspection the motto is actually correct ... I'm not sure if that helps.
Tom: At this point, I'd just like to point out we edited out the part of last week's commercial in which we discussed what the people in that commercial were actually saying (in Japanese). The thing about this Southwest bag cop is, it's a campaign:
Mike: None of which make the least bit of sense.
Tom: Of course. What they really should be doing is staking out the check-in counters.
Tom: By the time the bag is already on the plane, their "law enforcement" activities are just further inconveniencing people who've already paid the bag fees.
Mike: Well, that and they're some baggers driving around in a cart making siren noises with their mouths and trying to pull over planes. Planes of other airlines, which they have authority over because they are cheaper. I mean, think of the criminal justice system that would work on that principle. Rapists will be policed by less serious rapists in little rapistmobiles without any budget for sirens.
Tom: Making siren noises is absolutely the way to get people to pull over and let you go. Didn't you ever see Harry and the Hendersons? It's really kind of ironic that Southwest is promoting themselves based on their fixed price including some services other airlines charge on an a la carte basis.
Tom: I think the commercial that annoys me the most on television is Lineup. It's not really a lineup at all. Instead, all they're doing is pointing out to the woman what she paid in bag fees. I've actually paid bag fees before. I knew at the time what I paid. I'd hoped I could avoid checking, but I ended up checking a bag and paying for it. I got a receipt, which told me I paid $15 (or whatever it was). I knew that, if I checked a bag on the way back as well, I'd be paying that same $15 fee.
Mike: But that ruins the shocked "I'm paying how much?!" scene, which is absolutely necessary.
Tom: Fine, I'll go to lunch with co-workers later this week. After we get to the table, I'll tell them how much they paid for their meal. And I bet absolutely none of them will be shocked by the amount.
Mike: Well, you need to ask them about the round-trip.
Tom: I still don't get this, though. Southwest's initial marketing shtick was they were the no-frills airline. Other airlines charged more and gave you actual meals beyond peanuts and had nicer service and first class and assigned seating. Southwest got rid of all that stuff so they could charge lower prices. And now they're taking the opposite strategy. It just seems kind of weird to me.
Mike: Well, it makes sense, in a way. The other airlines have been forced to cut those things down and perhaps as a result the cuts are more severe.
Tom: Maybe. I'd have to spend more time than I care about looking at the numbers to figure it out, and probably still not even then. It's just unusual for me from a historical perspective.
Mike: That would require caring on a much more massive scale than either of us can muster. I think it just means that Southwest, which was cut-down by design instead of by circumstance, has more room for small frills now.
Tom: Scramble: Touching on vast and weighty subjects in a horribly casual way!
Kicker: Tom is grateful that his fantasy league doesn't subtract points for missed field goals, so he got two points for Jeff Reed's two made extra points and not Loser League's -2 as a result of those two missed field goals.
Quarterback: Apparently taking nine sacks in a game correlates to a good Loser League score, as your top scorers among the quarterbacks were the starters for the teams that were sacked a lot. Congratulations, Jay Culter (-2) and Derek Anderson (-1).
Running Backs: Your Scramble writers humbly inquire as to why Laurence Maroney still has an NFL job. If he continues to put up 1 point Loser League scores, he might not for much longer. Ray Rice and Matt Forte continue the parade of RB1s near the top of the Loser League leaders with 2 points each.
Wide Receivers: Steve Smith, Esquire (as opposed to The New York Football Steve Smith for those of you not up on your Scramble nicknames), Hines Ward, and Robert Meachem, you may have drafted in your fantasy league. Andre Caldwell of the Bengals you probably didn't. Each had 1 point this week.
Don't forget to check here each week to see the standings for the reader Loser League contest.
Keep Chopping Wood: Nate Clements on Twitter after he fumbled away an interception and the Falcons drove down the field for the game-winning score: "To all my supporters I appreciate you for stickin wit me...to those who hate, I use ur antics to fuel the fire".
Mike Martz Award: Some day, NFL head coaches may realize that it's virtually impossible to win a challenge of a spot where a player is in the middle of a huge mass of bodies. Sunday was not that day, as Jeff Fisher threw away his second challenge and a timeout the Titans ended up badly needing on a hopeless wish.
Colbert Award: Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell knew he was taking a risk calling a timeout after the Jaguars picked up eight yards on first down in the last minute of a tie game. Conventional wisdom clearly said let the clock run if the Jaguars weren't willing to take their remaining time out, and take your chances in overtime. The Colts eventually lost the game in regulation -- in part because of Caldwell's decision -- but this award is about boldness, and Caldwell made a reasonable decision in crunch time and stuck with it.
Carlos: Quarterback for Week 5: Mark Sanchez vs. Minnesota, Kevin Kolb at San Francisco, or David Garrard at Buffalo? Sanchez seems like the lowest beta, Kolb has higher beta, Garrard highest. I've missed Garrard's two big weeks, and unfortunately hit one of his duds. Thoughts?
Tom: As a perennial skeptic, I'm inclined to throw water on starting Sanchez. Yes, he's played well at the start of this year, but I don't trust that to continue and Minnesota still has a decent defense. Both Buffalo and San Francisco have horrible pass defenses by DVOA. Buffalo's looks better by conventional numbers, though, and more importantly, the Bills have a horrible rush defense as well by both conventional stats and DVOA. The Jaguars are still a run-heavy team, while the Eagles are a pass-heavy team facing an opponent where passing is the better option. I'll be starting Kolb in at least one league this week, and I recommend you do the same.
Mike: I started Matt Ryan against the 49ers last week on that same theory, and it backfired (starting either of the two additional quarterbacks on my team, Kyle Orton or David Garrard, would have won the match for me). I'm actually fairly sanguine on Sanchez's chances against Minnesota, a team with a reputedly formidable pass rush which has been far less impressive than advertised. Minnesota relies on that rush to stymie its opponents passing game to a much higher degree than Buffalo, which has a pretty decent secondary (although it does seem to be off to a rocky start). I have to go with Sanchez here.
Key19: I have Greg Jennings. He sucks. I've been offered Michael Crabtree and C.J. Spiller for him, Dwayne Bowe for him, and can package him with Orton for Larry Fitzgerald. I have Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick, so Orton is a spare part for me. Good move? KUBIAK approves, but is REALLY optimistic about Spiller's PPR value (52 rec for 624 yards in the midseason update). Jennings just seems to be so worthless right now I'm tempted to take two young guys with upside (who are also more involved in their offenses).
PPR, 100 yard bonuses for RB/WR. The rest of my RBs/WRs are:
Steve Smith (NYG)
What do you guys think?
Tom: Well, since you asked this, we learned that Michael Vick will very likely be out for this week's game. With Roethlisberger not coming back for another week, you could start Orton this week even though the Ravens aren't a great matchup.
Mike: I would take Bowe for Jennings. Orton will get you better value than half of Fitzhulu.
Mike: Jennings has six fewer points than Bowe in my league. Bowe is the top target on his team, and Jennings is in the middle of crowded field in a division with decent to good defenses. Jennings also has few targets leading to a lopsided touchdown total. If the touchdowns dry up, you have little value with him, whereas Bowe has a ridiculously easy schedule for his team, and higher target potential. It's not a clear-cut decision, but I'd make that trade.
Tom: I haven't spent much time looking at the KUBIAK update, but my general feeling is that it probably overrates Matt Cassel because he was once reasonably good when in an awesome situation. Sure, Kansas City has a pretty easy schedule, but if you look at Kansas City's offense Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, and Tony Moeaki seems to be playing a bigger role than Bowe. Sure, based on his injury history Moeaki will be hurt and miss four to six weeks any day now, but that just makes Bowe the fourth-most likely guy to score a touchdown. The trade that interests me is Spiller and Crabtree. Jerome Harrison is worthless, and unless you're in a weird one-running back league you need another back unless there's one you haven't listed.
Tune in next week when your Scramble writers discuss the pros and cons of the Borg eating freaking Pluto, and of course answer your questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com.
19 comments, Last at 10 Oct 2010, 10:08pm by Gabrosin