Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Sep 2011

Week 4 N.F.L. Matchups

After all of last week's Jay Cutler controversy, I opt for the far safer course: obscure math jokes about Mike Martz.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 30 Sep 2011

60 comments, Last at 02 Oct 2011, 1:01pm by Raiderjoe


by qed :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 11:47am

I'm usually a sucker for math jokes, but between the incorrect use of "asymptote" and the terrible "derivative humor" joke it might be time to put them away for a couple weeks. Also, with Forte going 9 runs for 2 yards last week I'm not sure running the football more often is really going to help the Bears. Everything else was hysterical as always.

by zlionsfan :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 11:57am

What needs to be put away is the Times' insistence on catering to the National Society for Using "The" Everywhere. I'm picturing a modified version of Word that editors are assigned to use: it automatically flags any uses of an adjective followed by a proper name and uses Facebook-like popups for auto-correct help. "Use 'the' in this instance? Yes/No." Eventually the editors give in and click Yes as many times as possible just so they can finish doing actual editing work.

by Sergio :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 11:57am

Is it really? "Derivate humor" is perfectly used there - he's talking about rate of change...

Also the asymptote is correct AFAIK, I don't believe there has been a single game with no rushes...

However the Chargers logo is still biggest, and he picked them over Miami, so booo Tanier ;)

-- Go Phins!

by Dr. Mathematician in Disguise (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:11pm

I don't believe there has been a single game with no rushes...

Since 1960, the fewest is 6: Patriots in a 20-34 loss to the Steelers on Halloween 2004, and Cardinals in a 26-31 loss to the Vikings on 26 November 2006.

Click my alias for link to Pro Football Reference.

Loved the "derivative humor" double entendre, by the way.

by Dr. Try This Link (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:13pm

Ugh, that link didn't work; click "Dr. Try This Link" for a working one.

by Kevin from Philly :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:29pm

Was Belichick wearing an Andy Reid costume?

by BJR :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:37pm

How in God's name did Detroit have 8 carries for -18 yards against Arizona in November 2007? I feel like I should be able to recall that game.....

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:28pm

Aveion Cason lead the team with 1 rush for 1 yard. Kevin Jones had an Old Jerome Bettis game, 4 carries for -4 yards (but one 4-yd TD!). Shaun McDonald had a -15yd rush, probably a failed reverse.

by Independent George :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:32pm

Even more amazingly, they put up 21 points on a 32/45-296-2-2 performance from John Kitna.

by D Jones :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:29pm

I thought the math bit was great, and "derivative humor" made me chuckle.

However, the asymptote is the line that is being approached by the curve. So he should have said something like "As x increases, the ratio of f(x) to g(x) asymptotically approaches zero" or "As x increases, the ratio of f(x) to g(x) approaches an asymptote of zero". Sorta pedantic though.

by qed :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:31pm

I'm being too picky, but the f(x)/g(x) curve would APPROACH the asymptote, it wouldn't BE an asymptote itself. Anyway the idea clearly got across, and I'm apparently the only one who groaned at the "derivative humor" joke, so the math jokes are appropriately calibrated.

by Sergio :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:33pm

Hmm. Gotta go get some graphing paper.

-- Go Phins!

by Marko :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:16pm

You can never be too picky or too pedantic in FO comments. If you ain't being pedantic, you ain't trying.

by jebmak :: Sat, 10/01/2011 - 9:34am

I closed my eyes, lowered my head, and took a moment to compose myself before moving on. So I think that counts as a groan too.

by wr (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 3:09pm

Strictly speaking, he should have said "asymptotically close to zero".

by wr (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 3:14pm

Argh. Should have read further ahead. Anyway, Mr. Tanier should cease to feel
the pain of the bumps and bruises of the Cutler controversy due to the bumps and
bruises of the asymptote controversy.

by hbh_uk :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 5:41pm

As I recall an asymptote is a straight line to which a curve tends without reaching.
So in this case - where the function is y = g(x)/f(x) - the asymptote is the line where y=0, not the line of the ratio itself.

(I think that's right, although I'm sure there is someone out there who will put me right if not.)

by Mike Tanier :: Sat, 10/01/2011 - 10:52am

Well, I am much more upset at myself for using asymptote wrong than for bashing Cutler. I only taught asymptotic behavior for a decade. And yes, I should have written "asymptotic behavior" because the curve itself cannot be an asymptote.

by MJK :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 3:39pm

My issue with the asymptote comment is that you generally talk about them as your indpendent variable goes to infinity. But the amount of control Martz has over the gameplan (the independent variable x in this case) can not grow arbitrarily...it is presumably defined only on the interval [0,1]. In other words, Martz either has 0% influence, 100% influence, or something in between, but you can't talk about asymptotes when the independent variable is bounded. Instead, you would simply say what the function evaluates to at the bounds.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:29pm

You can define it as the ratio of control vis-a-vis Smith, in which case Martz/Smith can go to zero or infinity.

by Jimmy :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 11:54am

Derivative humour aside (and that is a great joke) do you remember the Bears / Panthers game from last year?

However much Clausen may have sucked he looked like an All Pro compared to the stiff playing for the Bears that day. You don't seem very impressed with Jay Cutler but the Collins to Cutler upgrade is bigger than the Clausen to Newton upgrade.

by justanothersteve :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:04pm

For us non-math people, it was definitely obscure though I did get the derivitive joke. I have no idea what asymptote means.

by Sergio :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:07pm

Asymptote by Wikipedia

It's basically a curve (that is, not a straight line) that infinitely approaches an arbitrary threshold, but never quite makes it there. Quite like the Dolphins and wins.

The page has several examples.

-- Go Phins!

by SteveNC (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 1:52pm

As your link says, the asymptote is not basically a curve; the asymptote is the line that the curve approaches.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 5:55pm

Since we're having a pedantathon an asymptote is a curve that another curve approaches. It's really common to say for example, that some function (or curve) approaches a constant value like zero. It's also valid to say that some function approaches the line y=x. But it's equally valid to say some function approaches a curve like y=x^2. The line and constant are just special cases of the concept of a curve.

by qed :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 9:44pm

Ok, now I think we've crossed from pedantry into a generally interesting discussion. How can you say a function "asymptotically approaches" anything other than a straight line? My geometric intuition can't work its way around that one. I can't picture any function that would asymptotically go to y=x^2 as x -> infinity.

by PatsFan :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 10:10pm

Here's one:

y(x) = x^2 + 1/x

That will asymptotically approach x^2 as x -> infinity

by Gus (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:05pm

Great stuff! Except Sanchise is not going to beat the Ravens.

by bravehoptoad :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 1:01pm

He doesn't have to! He gets to bring the rest of the team with him.

by Stevo (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:52pm

Great stuff. Though speaking of pedantic, the Times' insistence on N DOT F DOT L DOT always burns holes in my eyes. NFL - sans dots - is how the NFL refers to itself. But the New. York. Times. knows better, of course.

by Led :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:53pm

The sentient computer joke in the DVOA comments thread was better! Tanier is the T.S. Eliot of esoteric sports comedy.

by drobviousso :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 1:14pm

in Pittsburgh it is always 1978

So I take you've been to Pittsburgh?

And ballsy move to pick the Steelers to win straight up. I wouldn't even take them with the points.

by trill :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:37pm

I think both teams will be Who We Thought They Were, meaning the Texans will grind out a few good drives that stall in the red zone, while Pittsburgh starts slowly but keeps the game close enough to win via a late field goal or timely takeaway by the defense.

by Jerry :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 6:46pm

There was still some manufacturing around in 1978.

And 1976 was the year of 40 rushes a game, especially while Mike Kruczek was in for the injured Bradshaw.

by TomKelso :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 1:46pm

As Calvin once said, "I would explain it, but it involves a lot of math." Which is why Jay Cutler is treated as something equivalent to Susie Derkins, as a rule.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:00pm

Will make pucks hrre tonight

by Kevin from Philly :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:32pm

You're from Canada?

by Dean :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:53pm

RJ goes hockey? You have my attention. GO FLYERS!

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 6:18pm

Meant picks. Finger hit wrong key. Not fan of hockey but id go to some games ealrier in life.

by Kevin from Philly :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:34pm

Well Mike, if the whole author thing doesn't work out for you, at least you can get a job writing dialog for "The Big Bang Theory".

by ClemsonMatt (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:53pm

Real life math humour....

I was working as a tutor and a student came in ranting that the teacher added derivatives with two independent variables to the test without covering it in class.

She was complaining about taking the derivative of y=2(pi)x^2.

by Lance :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:00pm


by Manonanon (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:41pm

I feel like such a nerd for answering this, pi is not a variable. The student was an idiot.

by Mike Tanier :: Sat, 10/01/2011 - 10:55am

That was always a huge issue for my students. They always assumed PI was a variable, and I could nail even the good ones from time to time. They would tell me the derivative of Pi squared is 2 pi, instead of zero.

I used to say "Pi ain't nothing but a number." Usually make an inappropriate R. Kelly joke as well to hammer the point home.

by jebmak :: Sun, 10/02/2011 - 5:41am

I remember that being on a test in high school and thinking, "He's trying to trick us, but I caught him. Ha!"

by Mike Tanier :: Sat, 10/01/2011 - 10:55am

That was always a huge issue for my students. They always assumed PI was a variable, and I could nail even the good ones from time to time. They would tell me the derivative of Pi squared is 2 pi, instead of zero.

I used to say "Pi ain't nothing but a number." Usually make an inappropriate R. Kelly joke as well to hammer the point home.

by J Martin (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:09pm

"X-rays on Michael Vick’s right hand revealed that the Eagles’ linebackers are terrible."


Who, on the Dallas O-Line, will stop Ndamukong Suh?

(Yes I googled spelling of "Ndamukong".)

by Led :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 5:10pm

I hope and expect Tanier to work in the same kind of joke about the Eagles' linebackers every week.

by Hank (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:14pm

trying to complete the set, nice.

by young curmudgeon :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:30pm

A few days ago, I got a linguistics discussion started on another thread. Now we have a geometry controversy. Jeez, did you guys go to an Ivy League school or somethin'?

Oh, wait...

by Manonanon (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 4:49pm

Del Rio didn't need a JUGS machine to take out Koetter, he already hit him with a bus earlier in the week.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 5:57pm

Best line by far, "X-rays on Michael Vick’s right hand revealed that the Eagles’ linebackers are terrible." I got funny looks from my office-mates after reading that one.

by andrew :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 6:39pm

Watching vikings games backwards results in spirited comebacks that still wind up just short.

by qed :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 9:46pm

They would all end in 0-0 ties. I think the Vikings might prefer to go 0-0-16 at this point.

by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 6:48pm

1. Better safeties than Gerald Sensabaugh have tried to account for Calvin Johnson. The results haven't always been pretty.

2. What math is behind the fact the the Chargers ball on the page is larger than the ones for every other team?

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 6:56pm

Re: quesiton 2
Elephantiasis. It reoasn why Chargers never win Supoer Bowl. Too much weighth to lug around. Ebvetually run otu of steam when get to playoffsd if get to playofofs at all.

by Hurt Bones :: Sat, 10/01/2011 - 8:38am

I'm picturing a cinematic thriller with A.J. Smith starring as Wuchereria bancrofti.

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Sat, 10/01/2011 - 4:58am

Lot of good lines in the article. Enjoyed it.


by DGL :: Sun, 10/02/2011 - 11:10am

I knew that there'd be a lot if discussion on the math joke by the time I got here, but I had to wait to comment. See, I get the dead-tree edition of the Times, and reading Mike's Matchups column is integral to my Sunday morning.

by Raiderjoe :: Sun, 10/02/2011 - 1:01pm

forgto to post picks

here they are

eagsle 28, 49ers 20
loins 27, cowboys 24
Bilsl 21, bengals 10
Viks 28, chiefs 17
Ramms 17, redksins 14
Bears 29, Panthers 20
Texans 31, steelers 21
sainmts 33, Jax 13
titans 23, browns 19
cards 27, giaqnts 23
chargers 27, dolphsins 13
Falcs 30, seahsks 23
Raiders 34, Pates 24
Packers 41, Broncos 3
Jets 13, ravens 9
Buccs 31, Clorts 10