Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Oct 2005

Dr. Z: Standings Don't Tell the Whole Story

Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman has no respect for the Bengals or the Bucs. How else can we explain that he has these two 5-1 teams ranked No. 10 and No. 11? Oh, wait. One possible explanation is that these are just his subjective opinions, and not a reflection of his own personal feelings of respect toward any team. And if we can use that explanation on subjective rankings, it makes even more sense that completely objective ratings don't reflect any personal feelings of respect, or lack thereof.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 19 Oct 2005

35 comments, Last at 21 Oct 2005, 4:53am by lafcadio


by djcolts (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 3:52pm

How many think the Texans will beat the Colts this week? Besides you, Dr. Z.

by JG (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 3:55pm

You know, sometimes I think I could be an SI.com collumnist. I could organize all the teams into 2 hats by record (top 16, bottom 16) and then randomly draw out names and place them next. Then I could watch sportscenter on sunday night and monday night and rehash rediculous comments made by half a dozen other people in the past two days.
Ok, so maybe I'm going a little overboard, but I do think I've figured out why sportswriters mix up their powerpolls entirely every week. This way no matter which team wins the writer can claim to have predicted it back in week 2,3,6,8 or whatever. Pretty clever really. Wish I would have thought of it.

by wrmjr (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:07pm

Sure the ratings are subjective, but the Denver fans LOVE him.

by Drew (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:11pm

Against the Patriots they found the long ball. It was disguised as a salami.

OK, someone's going to have to explain that one to me.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:30pm

The Texans beating the Colts? Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Not even if they instituted a four-second rush for the Colts' defensive line.

I don't disagree with the general point - if the Colts continue to play down to the level of their opponents, they may find at some point in the near future (against a team other than Houston) that they won't have enough time to "turn it on" and catch up. I just disagree strongly that the Texans are the team to catch them napping.

(not content-related) Once again, I notice that the "print version" is not a print version. It seems to be the exact same content down to the "click here blah blah blah" button. So I skipped page 2.

Yes, I think pretty much anyone could do a power rankings column, and most of us who read FO regularly could come up with better comments than some that you'll find elsewhere, although Dr. Z isn't nearly as bad as some others. Heck, if you did one well enough, it might even show up in Extra Points some day ...

by zip (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:33pm

I read Dr. Z's power rankings because they're funny. Don't need any other reasons.

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:38pm

Colts, looking forward to the bye & big meetup with Patriots, plan a very conserviative offense & defense, not wainting to give Bellicheck anything to look at on tape. Houston is unable to do anything on offense, but the Colts offense is pratically catatonic. The 4th quarter winds down with the Colts driving towards the endzone, trying to put up another score to protect a 7-3 lead. On 1st and goal from the 9 yard line, Edge fumbles the ball. It's recovered by a defender who streaks downfield for a touchdown. The ensuing kickoff is muffed by the Colts and recovered by the Texans. Texans sit on the ball to wind out the clock and squeak out a 10-7 victory. That's about the only scenario I can come up with for the Colts losing on Sunday.

by Francisco (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:45pm


Perhaps he was suggesting that the Broncos, though lacking in manhood previously, discovered their one-eyed wonder weasels and threw deep. Or something. I have no idea either.

by JonL (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:57pm

I agree with #6. I find his rankings entertaining, nothing more.

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:59pm

the Broncos, though lacking in manhood previously, discovered their one-eyed wonder weasels and threw deep.

I thought running is manly, and passing is effete, metrosexual, and vaguely liberal

by pawnking (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:00pm

Folks, with few exceptions, sportswriters are not sports experts. They are writers. Writers move up in journalism not be being expert, but by writing well and gnerally provocatively. Dr. Z is well known not for being a great prognosticator, but for being a good writer.

My question: Why does anyone expect his "picks" to reflect reality? Like almost all journalists, Dr. Z has no real insights into football and how it works, at least no more than a fan who follows the game closely. Give up reading him, Easterbrook, Bill Simmons, etc. for education purposes. It's all just for the entertainment value, no more.

Remember the article a few days ago about why sportswriters are so bad at picking teams against the spread? The telling quote is that they are NOT experts, they just pretend to be. Why should any other aspect of their writing be any different from the only measurable one (win loss record against the spread)?

by Björn (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:05pm

RE: #2

Actually, Dr. Z's ratings are not very mixed up. The teams in his rankings only moved a combined 53 places, or 1.66 places per team. That is less movement than the FO power rankings.

I put these numbers for other rankers in the rankings thread.

by Jon T. (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:18pm

I could see the Colts losing that game to Houston. Seems to me that back in 1997 a winless team beat the consensus best team in week 13 and the Colts were involved. They beat the Packers, who were much better than the previous year's Super Bowl Championship team. To be fair, a young wideout named Harrison had quite a game that day. Who was the Colts QB that day? The immortal Paul Justin. He was 24-30 for 340 and a TD with no INT's.
After looking back at Indy's schedule and results in 1997 they may have been the best 0-11 team ever. They had only 4 games where they lost by more than 4 points. That's material for a future debate...the best winless teams. They must have been trying to lose in order to get Manning.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:32pm

Didn't the 13-0 '98 Broncos also lose to a NY Football Giants team led by the immortal Danny Kannell, one week before going to Miami? I'm not saying the Colts are going to lose, but stranger things have happened. It's not inconveivable that the Colts, looking ahead to New England, concentrate on not getting hurt instead of focusing on the game.

by Longhorn (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:34pm

Dr. Z is the guy who picked against the Cowboys in both Superbowls against the Bills and the Superbowl against the Steelers. Dr. Z? Dr. Zip!

by djcolts (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 6:11pm

Both the Ind/GB 1997 example and the NY Giants/Broncos 1998 example are both inter-conference games. Since this is a division game, I don't see the Colts completely overlooking the game because of the potential dire consequences of a loss. And, if you listen to the Bill Polian show, he makes the Texans sound like the '85 Bears in his analysis of the team (I'm only slightly exaggerating).

I do think the game will be on the ugly side, though.

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 6:28pm

RE #10:

You are correct, sir. Passing is Communism it its purest form. A guy can pass the ball two yards and the reciever runs it the other 96 and they BOTH get credit for a 98-yard pass? No thanks, Vladimr. I'll take a good 3-yard run over that socalist crap anyday!

by Drew (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 6:31pm

I'd agree that anything is possible, and that the Texans could beat the Colts. I would question the "looking ahead" idea though, because the Patriots game is not next week, but the week after that. I bet that if they struggle against Houston, it will be because they play down to the level of the competition, as they are sometimes wont to do.

Also, Dr. Z wasn't really picking Houston to win, so much as he was trying to pick the biggest upset he could think of. Then, in the off chance that it occurs, he can claim to be a genius.

No one sure about the salami reference?

by Jon T. (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 6:35pm

RE #18:

I could be wrong, but I think he is just saying a football stretched out into a "long ball" looks like a salami.

by HLF (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 6:54pm

re #17 -- that brought a HUGE smile to my face, as Bo once called BYU football "communist football". Good times!

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:17pm


In some Vegas parlors, the "grand salami" is a betting menu for NFL (and NHL) packages. You can bet away points, home points, over points and under points.

You can bet indivual games, bundles of games, even the entire spate of games.

Maybe he meant that the Broncos found the long ball (passed a lot) but found themselves in a salami-type of shootout for over/under.

I have no idea.

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:19pm

By the way, I haven't seen the Vegas early line on the Colts/Texans yet, but I'd put it at -16.

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:21pm

Bengals by a FG. EVEN if Ward, El and Roethlisberger are healthy. We'll know more on Thursday.

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:28pm

I'd put SD, Denver and KC in the top 10 of the NFL. Easily. I think SD actually is playing the best football now.

The Bengals line is beaten up, and there isn't much depth. But the same can be said about the right side of the Steelers' line, and they've got their top wideout hurt and their QB dinged.

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:32pm

Click on my name for the line. I was right about the Colts.

Gotta love that o/u.

Vikes and Packers? Off the board!

And probably unwatchable.

Bengals by one over Stillers, at HOME. Hmmmmmm.

Take KC. They'll easily cover that line.

If Vick is healthy, I'd say it would be Falcons by 11 over the Jets. But I'm not a betting man.

by bobstar (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 8:31pm

I think we're looking a gift horse in the mouth. Check out Vic Carucci's rankings on NFL.com (click on my name) and tell me how much work he put into his column and how entertaining it is to read compared to Dr. Z.

by erik (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 10:22pm

re: salami

Before, they couldn't find the long ball because it was disguised as a salami. It was disguised BEFORE, which is why it was lost. Now it's found.

by thad (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 11:00pm

just out of curiosity, why do you think the Chiefs are a good team? It is my understanding that their defense is god awful.

by Purds (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 1:18am


SD is playing the best football right now? Evidence? You mean because they beat the 1-4 Raiders (without Moss) on the road? Or because they lost to (now 3-2) Pittsburg at home? Or are you being overly swayed by their beatdown of the (now 3-3) Pats?

I am not sure anyone is playing the best football right now -- no one really seems on a roll. When the best clubs play, they seem to split wins. The Bengals and Colts still need to play someone good (though the Jags might be considered a quality opponent if they keep playing well) before we know anything about them.

I'm not sure I would single out SD for praise.

by Dotrat (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 10:35am

Zimmerman is actually one of the few football writers who reviews tape each week and goes into detail about line play. (He also played at the college and semi-pro levels.) I'm not sure he takes the "Rankings" very seriously -- he constantly makes fun of himself in the column because of his past mistakes and his own inconsistincies. I enjoy reading his stuff and am more than willing to give him a pass on this one.

by JG (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 11:32am

Having never placed a bet in my life, can someone explain to me how the system works. That is to say, what does the line and the over under and all that stand for?

by TomC (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 12:02pm

Remember the article a few days ago about why sportswriters are so bad at picking teams against the spread? The telling quote is that they are NOT experts, they just pretend to be.

Pawnking, you are aware that Dr. Z wrote that article, right? That's not to say that he's any better at picking games than any other sportswriter, but --- unlike most of the bunch --- he knows he's not an expert.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 12:17pm


Without getting overly complicated (all you betting losers out there hush up), the line is the balance of bets, plus a margin of profit, for Vegas bookies.

The initial line is established as an educated guess using advanced mathematical/statistical tools. I have consulted, for free, with some of these data researchers, so my hands are clean.

The initial line is adjusted up or down based on a preponderance of bets.

The o/u is, again, a guess that's moved one or another that tracks the likely total number of points in a game. The reason why I was drawn to the Indianapolis game was because the Vegas oddsmakers are pretty much saying that the Colts, on short rest, on the road, will beat another NFL team by 16.

With Houston's problems on offense, you've got to assume the oddsmakers' scenario basically involves the Colts scoring a very great many points, and the Texans almost none.


But when I ran my algorithm(s), I got 16, too, so the initial Vegas line and I were in sync.

It's the structure of the algorithm that teases out the SD profile, too. Wow. What a brutal schedule, and they're playing in what I say is the best division in football, so it doesn't get any easier.

SD is 3-3, but the SoS implies that every week they've played KC, a team I also think so far is pretty good.

The Colts on the other hand (another team I think is very, very good), has played the equivalent of playing the New Orleans Saints or Tennessee Titans every Sunday.

That a team could go 6-0 against another professional squad such as the Titans or Saints, at the margins the Colts have achieved, is impressive, so I'm not knocking this achievement, just slightly qualifying it.

As for Oakland, they're real outliers. Before they lost Moss (which is big), they were performing about as well as Carolina in the algorithmic structure. They just weren't winning against a very tough schedule (every team they played I would put in the top half of the NFL).

Think of it this way: The math would project Oakland playing New England five times and going 1-4 in very close games. That's not shabby. It takes nothing away from either the Pats or the Raiders.

I like SD because they've gone 3-3 against a pretty good run of teams, and they're relatively healthy.

New England has the same record, against an even tougher crowd, but they're very beaten up, and at some key positions that regression says they shouldn't be getting hurt if they want to win a lot of games.

That's one of the reasons I'm not yet sold on the Jags. Sure, they've gone 4-2 against what I would say is the toughest schedule so far in the NFL. But they are relying on defense to win games, and the relatively high rate of injuries at those positions -- and a real doubt that they can correspondingly perk up their offense with the roster they have -- suggests to me that they won't make it to the end.

See also Redskins.

That might seem unfair, because pollsters should rank teams where they are now instead of where one expects them to be later, but there's my bias.

The problem with ball control offenses, especially over a span of several years, is that you're relying on a very physical and dominating defense and a premier running game.

Unfortunately, those positions are the most likely to sustain crippling injuries throughout a season, relative to, say, O-linemen and QBs. Now. the latter cost more and are far less fungible, but they also get hurt less. A team that keeps these players healthy stands a much better chance of winning (and making the playoffs) than a team that starts strong but then watches the toll of injuries winnow their ranks.

The difference maker for New England has always been that they kept the most key positions on the offense healthy AND productive at cheap prices while finding great value on defense.

Since the advent of the CBA, see also Philadelphia, Green Bay, Denver and (welcome to the club) Indianapolis.

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 2:52am

Carl, this year I think the Patriots alone will prove your theory of %80 of defensive backs getting hurt...hell, I think we've got %80 of ours not playing...:p

by lafcadio (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 4:53am

American football is pure communism, ALL the teams (O and D and ST) must be good, if one player fails in his assignment, everybody pays.

American football is pure capitalism, the win is almomst always for the QB...


I love that game, one player can't make the whole difference.
In soccer our Zizou can win games quite alone with an honest defense behind him, not in football. Even with the greatest defense and the greatest QB, if you don't have an even average O-line, no way you win.