Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» 2017 Adjusted Games Lost

Two NFC teams were hit hardest by injuries last year. One already set the AGL record in 2016, while the other has a coach with the worst AGL since 2002. Also: the Rams' incredible bill of health in L.A., and Tampa Bay's questionable injury reporting.

17 Aug 2006

Scramble for the Ball: NFC Over-Unders, Part I

Bill: You know, Ian, part of me wonders why this column is named Scramble for the Ball. Does the randomness of a scramble for a loose ball, the utter ugliness of it all match the depravity and sometimes nonsensical beliefs it takes to be successful at fantasy football and gambling? Is it an XFL reference? I really hope it's an XFL reference.

Ian: You bet it's an XFL reference! For those that never saw, in lieu of having a wimpy coin toss to see who gets the ball first, instead the ball was placed at the fifty yard line, and one player each from the opposing teams would scramble from the thirty yard line at the sound of a whistle to take control of the ball. It was so excellent, that a player got seriously injured on the first week of the season and missed the XFL entirely!

I'm still sad that the XFL didn't make it. Its two biggest problems: 1. No hit protection for quarterbacks. The talent level was low enough for the league; with half the starting quarterbacks getting knocked out due to injury the play for most of the league became downright terrible. Possibly more importantly though, 2. Saturday night? Saturday freakin' night?? Football fans are willing to give up their Sundays for the love of the game, but not their Saturday nights. Viewership was quite low, and it was no surprise.

I'll always miss the XFL, and I'll never forget the people that started up Fantasy XFL Keeper leagues. Hope they weren't too attached to the concept. Anyways, on to the football we care so much about…

Bill: This week, we return to the second division of football. We start with the team that was a reason to commence the relegation system in American sport if there ever was one…

San Francisco 49ers (o/u 5.0)

Bill: On one hand, the 49ers were terrible last year. Absolutely awful. They were last in offensive DVOA and next-to-last in defensive DVOA. Their performance, according to DVOA, would've estimated that they won 1.6 games. 1.6. Keep in mind that the Texans, who beat them to the first overall pick by, well, losing to them in Week 17, had 3.6 Estimated Wins according to DVOA. This offseason, they let the player they designated as their Franchise Player in 2004, Julian Peterson, leave for Seattle, and used their top pick to select tight end Vernon Davis, who plays a position where the injury-prone but undoubtedly talented Eric Johnson already plies his trade. While Davis may or may not be an improvement on Johnson, let's just say there are a lot of places that could've used the help outside of tight end. Quarterback, for one, although the 49ers weren't about to draft Matt Leinart. All these things point to the 49ers' remaining miserable. On the other side, well, there's the whole regression to the mean thing. I hate -- hate -- to say that teams that are so bad aren't going to improve enough to escape that extremely poor level of play but, well, there's so much evidence pointing to an awful season that I have to go Under here.

Ian: The 49ers may be in a rut lately, but let's not fold them from the NFL -- they have one of the strongest histories of any franchise, and it wasn't that long ago that they were in the playoffs.
That being said, things are certainly looking bleak. Alex Smith may develop into a quality quarterback, but it looks like he'll continue to be a Loser League All-Star for a little while before ascending to the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. Last season's numbers -- one touchdown, 11 interceptions, and 11 fumbles -- are no way to lead your team to victory. Antonio Bryant is a decent receiver, but he's no number one. Arnaz Battle isn't going to do much to draw attention away from Bryant. And neither will do much to draw attention from the running game, which is a shame, because Frank Gore is a terrific young running back.

All that being said, this team, quite simply, can't be as bad as last year. Alex Smith's best two games of the season last season happened to be the two at the end. Bryant Young is a terrific defensive player. And Norv Turner has been brought in to help out.
Wait… Norv Turner? I'm going Under.

Green Bay Packers (o/u 6.0)

Bill: Happy Scrappy Hero Pup Brett Favre tells me that this is the most talented team he's ever played on! How can I argue with him? Over! OK -- maybe not. I still do think they will win more than six games, but there are other reasons. The Bears should regress to the mean. The Vikings are not going to be any good. The Lions should improve but, well, they're a mess. I don't think the Packers are going to run away with the division or anything, but they have more of a shot than people realize. They have the second-easiest schedule in football this season, drafted the most NFL-ready player available with the fifth overall pick and filled a need in the process, and spent second- and third-rounders on a center and guard to hopefully improve what was a morass in the middle of their offensive line after Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera left. Throw in the signing of the underrated Ryan Pickett at defensive tackle, and I see an eight, maybe nine win team. Maybe Brett is right.

Ian: As much as I'd enjoy seeing Brett Favre go out on a high note, I don't see it happening. The biggest area of concern is the offensive line. This unit has gone from great to below average with the departures of Mike Wahle, Marco Rivera and Mike Flanagan. The Pack drafted to address the need, but it will take a few seasons for all the new faces to gel. Pretty much every Packers running back is coming off injury, so the running game is unlikely to take the pressure off Brett. This is a big problem, since Brett's biggest problem is his tendency to force the ball when he needs to make something happen. I anticipate this will be the case often.

There are certainly things to like on the defensive side of the ball. Pro Football Prospectus cover-boy Al Harris shut down virtually everyone last season, and Aaron Kampman is a terrific playmaker. There's not enough elsewhere on this team to earn seven wins though, and I'm going Under.

Detroit Lions (o/u 7.0)

Bill: I think the team with the most variance for their win total has to be the Lions. Really, how can you predict how they'll perform? They have the third-easiest schedule in football this year, which is great, but they haven't actually been very good themselves for a while now. Replacing Joey Harrington with Jon Kitna helps, but I'm not sure how suitable he is for the Mike Martz system. Of course, Mike Martz isn't sure how suitable any of the wide receivers are for the Mike Martz system, depending upon how much you believe the reports out of camp. I'm not particularly confident in the Lions offensive line being good enough to keep Kitna afloat, either -- remember, a few years back the Rams had what was regarded as a very good offensive line, anchored by the best offensive tackle in football, and Kurt Warner was still destroyed. Pro Football Prospectus 2006 has the Lions' Mean Projection at 7.8 wins. I believe in you, brave little book that can. Over.

Ian: It's always tough to be confident on an under pick when the line is as low as this one. That being said, I'm confident in the Under here. Jon Kitna had one strong season in Cincy, but he also had two mediocre seasons as the starter in which he couldn't throw more touchdowns than interceptions. Roy Williams looks like he's in line for a strong season, but Charles Rogers can be found in the dictionary next to "bust" and Mike Williams looks like he's still a season or two away from being an impact player. Not that it matters much, since Kitna is unlikely to find much time behind a decidedly below-average offensive line. There isn't much talent on the defensive side of the ball this side of Shaun Rogers. I just can't see this team winning seven games. It's not gonna happen.

New Orleans Saints (o/u 7.0)

Bill: There's no way you can perform any sort of objective analysis on last year's Saints team. So then, throwing that out of the way, we have a team whose offensive and defensive lines are in relative disarray, and whose biggest additions in the offseason were a pretty good quarterback (to replace their overrated, mediocre quarterback) and a pretty good running back (to replace their overrated, injured running back). Unfortunately, their biggest losses were their best offensive and defensive linemen. Of course, we'd all rather have Jeff Faine than LeCharles Bentley now, but he's not going to be able to anchor a porous offensive line. The Saints will be a fun team to play as in Madden, and they may have their skill position players put up some big fantasy numbers, but they're not going to win very much. Meet the new Saints, same as the old Saints… Under.

Ian: The Saints are looking pretty weak at offensive line. The early picks they've spent on defensive linemen haven't produced the expected results. Their secondary doesn't intimidate anyone. Who knows how much longer they'll actually be in New Orleans? That being said, there are things to like here. Reggie Bush. Joe Horn. Drew Brees. And, oh yeah, Reggie Bush. Reggie is simply a playmaker; the kind of guy that can make something out of nothing. For those who are wondering, he will be a worthwhile fantasy starter this season.

Despite the strong skill position players, a team starts with its offensive and defensive lines, and there just isn't enough talent here. Throw in the fact that they're in a division full of strong defenses to keep their offensive talent in check, and I'm taking the Under.

St. Louis Rams (o/u 7.0)

Bill: Here's the thing with the Rams. They didn't win seven games last year. While they signed Will Witherspoon, they're moving him to the inside -- I don't doubt that he'll be able to make the switch, but I don't think he profiles as someone who is going to retain all his value after making it. Replacing Ryan Pickett with La'Roi Glover was amusing in that their rate stats in PFP 2006 are eerily similar, but Pickett was involved with 64 plays according to our Game Charting project, while Glover only made it to 27. I don't think their defense is going to play much better than it did last year. When it comes to the offense, they're going to be taking the parts from a Mike Martz offense and applying them to a totally different scheme -- guys like Torry Holt and Steven Jackson will be able to advance, but I don't think that the interior of their offensive line will be able to. I just don't see good value here betting on them to win eight games this year. Under.

Ian: I'm also going Under. Taking a quick peek, it seems I'm taking the under on everyone so far. The way I see it, the NFC is full of the haves and the have-nots. And we're still (barely) among the have-nots.

Seattle swept them last season. Arizona split their two matchups, but I'm pretty high on Arizona and think they'll beat St. Louis twice this season. Even the lowly 49ers swept the Rams last season! I don't expect that to happen again, but I do expect a 1-5 divisional record, which means that to win 8 games they'd need to go 7-3 outside the division. Fat chance.

Father time finally caught up to Marshall Faulk, and it's knocking on Isaac Bruce's door. There's still plenty of talent on this Rams team. Steven Jackson has shown his fair share, Torry Holt is still elite, and the newly-acquired Corey Chavous should help stabilize the secondary. It won't be enough though. I'm not seeing a terrible season in store for the Rams, but I'm not seeing a seven win season either.

Arizona Cardinals (o/u 8.0)

Bill: The Cardinals are another hard team to call. If you've read the site at all this offseason, you've heard talk of how Edgerrin James will have to overcome the worst offensive line in football. If you bought the book, you've seen how KUBIAK projects Larry Fitzgerald to be the best receiver in football. If you've watched the Cardinals play in the last two years, you've seen how good Adrian Wilson is. That's about all we know. I would say Neil Rackers will be worse, but, well, all bets are off on him. He might actually be ROBO-KICKER.

Will Kurt Warner play 16 games? Will Matt Leinart play 10? Which would be preferable? Most people agree that Clancy Pendergast is an effective defensive coordinator, but does he have enough to work with? With this many questions, I'm going to look at the context. They have an average schedule, but with the Seahawks regressing to the mean, and my low opinion of the Rams' and 49ers' performance this year, well, someone has to win some games in this division. They play at San Diego in Week 17, a game that I think won't matter to a team that will have already clinched a first round bye. That will be the Cardinals' ninth win. Over.

Ian: Now we're getting to the "haves." The Cardinals made one of the biggest offseason splashes in acquiring Edge, and while I recommend letting someone else overpay for him in fantasy leagues, he will certainly bring the Cardinals' rushing attack to respectability. The threat of play-action is something that's been missing in Arizona, and it can only help an extremely potent passing game. The Cardinals will be putting a lot of points on the board this season. They even have quarterback depth -- something becoming a bit of a rarity in the league.

There's talent to like on the defensive side of the ball as well. Chike Okeafor, Karlos Dansby and Adrian Wilson provide playmaking at all depths of the defense. They're not part of one of the better defenses in the league, but they should help keep other offenses in check. That's all it will take to let the offense handle the rest, and handle things they will. This is a playoff team. Over.

Atlanta Falcons (o/u 8.0)

Bill: OK. Must not offend large Falcons fanbase. At same time, must not offend Dr. Frankenstein. Hmmm… Let's all agree that Brian Finneran's loss hurts this Falcons team. We can't argue that, right?! A team is better with a productive wide receiver healthy instead of injured, right? OK. Baby steps. John Abraham's acquisition was a great idea for a team at this point of the success cycle, in a similar fashion to Denver's acquisition of Javon Walker versus drafting a wide receiver. Good. Ed Hartwell coming back is another good thing. Good. This defensive backfield is a little sketchy. Wait -- wait Falcons fans. I'll say another nice thing. Hmmm… Oh. The offensive line is real good. Yep. I'm not even going to accuse anyone of cheating. No sir. See, look -- I went an entire Falcons offseason review without even discussing Michael Vick. Oops. The Buccaneers' regression is to the Falcons benefit. Over.

Ian: How to follow up that cutting edge analysis? Look, the Falcons season is largely dependent on two things: Can Michael Vick become a more accurate passer, and can Michael Vick stay healthy? If Vick developed Donovan McNabb's ability to throw accurately while on the run, this Falcons offense would be virtually unstoppable. He can make time by scrambling around in the backfield, but he doesn't deliver the ball well under pressure, so the extra time only helps when he pulls down the ball and runs. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, but imagine trying to defend him if he could pull up and deliver a strike to receivers who'd used the time to get open? Brian Finneran, their best possession receiver, may be out, but Alge Crumpler does a great job of getting open past the sticks, and now the Falcons will have a lot of speed at the wideout spots (though they're a bit raw on talent).

The defense is a solid unit, and Warrick Dunn is terrific at making whatever yards are available. Michael Vick is the key though -- I don't believe any other team in the NFL is as dependent on the performance of one player as the Falcons are. So will he do it? Will he develop into the unstoppable force he's capable of being, while retaining the intelligence to get out of bounds and stay healthy? I say "no." He is what he is -- a running back playing quarterback with an inaccurate cannon of an arm. Having to start two inexperienced receivers won't help their biggest problem area from last season. If any team needed the talent of Terrell Owens the most, this was it. Regardless, until Vick shows me he can deliver a consistent, accurate pass, I'm not predicting a strong season for Atlanta. Under.

Minnesota Vikings (o/u 8.0)

Bill: First off, I just want to applaud the Vikings and Seahawks front offices for their offseason charades with Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson. As a man who has held many an unnecessary grudge in his lifetime, I am always happy to see some childish fighting amongst professionals. Sadly, I am not anywhere near a good enough writer to actually pull off my "Great Poison Pills in NFL History" column idea.

That being said, I'm not particularly confident in the Vikings' performance this year. While their offensive line should be among the league's elite, particularly after the Hutchinson signing, they don't appear to have real strong players at the skill positions. Mewelde Moore may be great at about 85 percent of the Brian Westbrook role, but he doesn't have the running skill that Westbrook has. While the Vikings previously had some serious depth at running back, they are now down to Moore, Ciatrick Fason, and free agent signing Chester Taylor, who isn't the new Priest Holmes.

Brad Johnson's not a very sturdy bet at quarterback -- our new quarterback injury projection system pegs him with a 21 percent chance of suffering a major injury this season. Mike McMahon isn't exactly someone you want in the lineup, as Lions and in particular Eagles fans will attest to. He may end up playing the same role this year. While Burleson didn't perform particularly well last year, Troy Williamson simply isn't ready to be a number one wide receiver. This offense needs to be blown up. Under.

Ian: In the NFL, just about every quarterback has a decent chance of getting injured. It's just the way of life (and one of the reasons they deserve every penny of the excessive salaries they receive). Thankfully, Brad Johnson's strongest point is his ability to simply take what's given and not force the issue, including throwing the ball away rather than getting killed in the pocket. Give him some capable receivers and a running game, and this offense will do a decent job moving the football, while rarely putting its defense in tough spots.

Given the talent spread out throughout the Minnesota defense, a weak division, and a great-looking quarterback replacement waiting in the wings (no, not Mike McMahon-- Dynasty leaguers, take note of Tarvaris Jackson!), and I'm going with the Over here.

Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Scramble for the Mailbag

Chris C. in Charlotte, NC: Love the column, I'm a third year fantasy player who is just now stepping into a Dynasty Style keeper league (as in, you keep every player every year). We're drafting fresh this year, so this is pretty important. Anyways, like I said its the first time I've don't this style, what are some tips? Do the same strategies work? What rookies should I bank on and how much do younger guys increase in value? I know these are generic questions, as of now I'm just hoping for some general guidance. Thanks.

Ian: Howdy Ryan. Nothing beats the inaugural draft of a keeper-league team. Always fun to build a franchise from scratch.

Certainly, a lot of the league rules will impact your draft strategy. Is it 6 points for a passing touchdown or 4? Do you get 1 point for every 10 yards rushing/receiving or every 20? With 6 pts for passing TDs, top quarterbacks become a lot more valuable. With just 4, you can easily wait till late to grab a solid QB. Philip Rivers is a good late choice; we at Football Outsiders think he'll have a strong season this year and beyond.

As far as how the dynasty league format impacts your draft choices, it's definitely worth looking towards the younger players who'll have more years of servitude on your fantasy roster, especially when it comes to running backs. Guys like Laurence Maroney are definitely more valuable than guys like Jamal Lewis. I'd rather have Cadillac Williams than Tiki Barber. At running back, they take so many hits that it's very common to see a sharp decline as their age nears 30.

In other positions though, this isn't as much the case -- I'd just focus on the best players available for wideouts, tight ends and whatnot. Since they don't take the beating of a RB, they can be effective for far longer than their tailback counterparts.

Quinn Broda: I am in a keeper auction league. $50 salary cap, 50 cent minimum bid, all bidding is in 50 cent increments. I was just wondering how I would use your KUBIAK spreadsheet to generate proper values for all players. The league settings are: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR,1 TE, D, K; roster size from 16-22. I assume it would take something like assigning, for example, the 20th best QB as 50 cent value and then using that as a baseline for the value of all other QB's. If you could point me in the right direction, I should be able to figure it out. Years of reading Baseball Prospectus has helped.

Ian: Preparing for an auction can be tough. When it gets down to it, you really have to do two things: Overpay for the guys you want, and get lucky with your $1 fliers near the end of the auction. But how much is reasonable? Who's to say if Larry Johnson is worth $50 or $70?

Unfortunately, there's no good "system" for determining auction value. So much of it depends on what your other owners are willing to spend. I spent hours tinkering with the KUBIAK spreadsheet to come up with a magical formula, but nothing quite cut it. In lieu of such a tool, here's some good advice:

Ian's Rules for Auction Drafting

1.Only spend more than the minimum on a kicker or defensive team if you have more money than you expected to have available after drafting your early targets.

2. Be prepared to overspend! I've seen many websites indicate that top running backs are worth between $50 and $60. In my yearly auction league, the top three running backs all went for over $70! Then, because the scarcity of running backs dwindled, the other players were forced to overpay for the second tier of running backs. And the third tier. It may seem smart, then, to only buy cheap running backs and get top players everywhere else for good prices. Trust me, this never works. And to top it off, you'll have leftover money at the end of the auction with nothing to spend it on, while wishing you'd spent it on better starting running backs earlier in the auction.

3. Arrive at the draft with an "outline" of what you want to spend on which positions. In baseball, this may seem hard to do, because there's so many players involved. In football, the prices drop off quickly. An example of this for your league might be: QB -- $2, RB -- $20, RB -- $15, RB -- $3, WR -- $3, WR -- $2, WR -- $2, TE -- $2, K -- $0.50, DT -- $0.50. (Of course this wouldn't leave you money for enough bench players, but you get the idea.) Then list a group of players that fit in each pre-priced slot for you. Hopefully you can get one of those names. If you get one for cheap, upgrade another spot on your roster. If all the names are evaporating, be prepared to overpay for someone and adjust on the fly. The good thing about the outline is that it helps you to not leave unspent money at the end of the auction. It also prevents you from freezing up at inopportune moments because you have little prep-work and don't know how much you want to spend on the players you like.

4. It's just not worth spending much at all on a quarterback this season. The top quarterbacks will go for a good chunk of money, and won't be all that much better than the guys you can get for $1. There's a tremendous number of serviceable quarterbacks this season. In case you didn't get the hint earlier, spend that money on running backs!

5. Call out the names of the players you want early. This seems to go against conventional wisdom, as usually you want your opponents burning their dough on guys you don't want. This will leave less money to fight you for the guys you want, right? Sorry, it just doesn't work that way. There's always plenty of money floating around, so you're not going to get a surprise bargain. When your guy does get called though, he's more likely to be among the top names left on the board, and there won't be much left behind him, so you can easily get into an unwanted bidding war for his services.

At my auction last year, it's a league that awards 1 point for every 10 yards rushing and receiving (in addition to 6 for touchdowns). For this reason, I was rather high on Warrick Dunn. He won't win you weeks on his own, but is good for a solid 10 points week in, week out, and doesn't cost very much. So I called him out very early. I got him for only $14, as other players wanted to save up for the remaining big names on the board. I outbid them for Shaun Alexander anyways, and while I had a superstar running back and a solid second starter, they were left to overbid for who was left.

When it comes to auction drafting, a little bit of preparation can go a long way.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell and Ian Dembsky on 17 Aug 2006

60 comments, Last at 25 Aug 2006, 7:12pm by Pat


by JasonK (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:32pm

Turn your smilies off. Everytime the article tries to say (o/u 8), the last bit turns into sunglasses dude.

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:38pm

Best Gil Thorpe ever. Though now I'm wondering what the original strip was about.

by CA (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:46pm

Re: Look, the Falcons season is largely dependent on two things: Can Michael Vick become a more accurate passer, and can Michael Vick stay healthy?

The latter part of the statement brings up a good point. If Vick can stay healthy, the Falcons have little chance, and I gotta go with under sunglasses smiley. If Vick can't stay healthy and a guy who is actually capable of passing the football like Matt Schaub gets starts, then the Falcons have a good shot of going over sunglasses smiley.

Re: He is what he is — a running back playing quarterback with an inaccurate cannon of an arm.

Perhaps, but that running back would be a smaller, more injury-prone version of Michael Bennett with even less blocking, receiving, and tackle-breaking ability. Can you say CFL?

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:49pm

2: I'm pretty sure it's panels from four different strips, but with Gil Thorpe, they all seem to be assembled randomly (the actual comic, not the Jason Beatie remix).

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:59pm

No way that Minnesota, Atlanta and Arizona all win more games than the sungalasses wearing smily face.

by Parker (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:13pm

Please stop telling everyone to spend their money on RB's until after 4:00 this Saturday.

Thank you.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:13pm

Sunglasses smiley as records? What is this, hippie NFL?

"The NFC North makes the Bears feel (alligator)."

by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:14pm

Turn your smilies off. Everytime the article tries to say (o/u 8) , the last bit turns into sunglasses dude.
My guess is that the Vegas linemaker went blind from watching last season's Arizona Cardinals footage. That guy might be smiling on the outside, but it's all a show. He really misses his eyesight.

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:54pm

Aw, heck, a review like that just invites comments.

The key to the Falcons season is whether or not they can stop the run, not whether Michael Vick improves. Two years ago, they were decent against the run and won their division. Last year, they were horrible against the run in the second half of the season and finished 8-8. This year?

Also, I won't say I've charted it, but to my eye Vick appears considerably more accurate on the move than when he stands still.

As for Schaub, well, we'll see. His one successful game was against a New England team with a decimated secondary featuring Duane Starks in all his glory. He wasn't exactly wowing anyone against the Patriots' second team last Friday.

Finally, our OL run-blocks OK, but couldn't keep a toddler out of the pocket.

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:55pm

bill - you think the chargers will be one of the top 2 afc seeds??!


by Tally (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:55pm

Or insert an empty tag between 8 and ), for instance (o/u 8) rather than (o/u 8).

by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 4:10pm

#9 - You are FAR too well-spoken and thoughtful to have been one of the Falcons fans from 2005.

#10 - I reviewed them in our previous Scramble for the Ball, which you can read here.

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 4:26pm

Oh, I was here then, Bill, I was here. Just submerged in the noise, that's all.

by Zac (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 4:48pm

Over/under on sunglasses smiley commments: 7.

by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 5:04pm

Zac, shouldn't that over/under be 8) ?

by JasonC23 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 5:08pm

Wait, wait, wait!

What kind of Skittles?

by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 5:09pm

I think 7 (or 8) must be possible if Vick stays the QB he is.
If he only learns to throw, 9 must be possible (at least more than 8).

by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 5:20pm

Brian Finneran, their best possession receiver...

Do you mean he's... white?

by Tim Gerheim :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:03pm

Ugh. I didn't even know this thing supported smilies. I'd turn them off in a heartbeat if I knew how. In the meantime, I just cheated to fix them. I blame the NFL's parity for all these teams with over-unders right at 8.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:04pm

Oh, I forgot to mention:

I'll be bold and say San Francisco's a dead-lock over. They rolled over Chicago in the preseason, and while that doesn't mean that they'll beat Chicago in the regular season, it means that 1) Chicago will have to work to win that game, and 2) San Francisco is capable of rolling over a team. Any team. Last year, they couldn't - not in the preseason, not in the regular season did they win a game by more than one score.

If they win tonight at Oakland, it's even more of a lock. I'd say Oakland, Detroit, New Orleans, Green Bay, and Minnesota are easy wins. They'll probably win 2 out of 4 with St. Louis/Arizona, so I'd say 7-9 is a good bet.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:07pm


I'll but the over/under of SF wins before people stop making fun of the team losing to SF at 5.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:07pm


by Lou (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:24pm

Fnor, was that an Arrested Development reference? Awesome!

by The Cartoonist (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:41pm

The panels here, like most of my creations, are from 4 different Gil Thorp comics throughout the past year. The original storyline featuring students dressed up like hoboes was as you might guess, incredibly awesome. In fact I've become obsessed enough with Gil Thorp that last month I started a blog about the daily strip...Click my name if you want to check it out.

Oh and #16: Two packs tropical fruit, one pack original.

by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 7:54pm


San-Francisco-Oakland is Sunday, not tonight.


Wasn't it a crocodile, not an alligator?

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 8:24pm


i read it bill, and i agree with what your wrote then. however, i will respectfully raise my eye brow to the chargers being one of the top 2 seeds.

chargers as a playoff team? good chance. top seed? too many good afc teams for my taste. so it could happen but i wouln't bet my money on it!

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 8:57pm

I have no idea if it was crocodile or alligator. I think the line was "Just because you got an alligator in spelling," though I could be wrong. Just reminded me of that episode.

by Thok (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 9:44pm

It's possible the Niner's could improve a lot just from an improved offensive line and from Alex Smith's development. I remember hearing when he was drafted that Alex Smith took a while to get comfortable with the Utah playbook before he truly started playing well; if the same thing has happened in the progame there could be a remarkable improvement.

And heck, the Niner's could see remarkable improvement in their offense just by having their quarterback play improve from "An abomination to the football gods" to "Meh, he's sort of mediocre".

by Al (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 10:45pm

As the guy who followed the "buy cheap running backs and top wide receivers" strategy in the auction last year, I'll second Ian's statement that it doesn't work. Especially when one of those top wide receivers is Terrell Owens.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 12:16am

From Packers camp these are the recurring themes:

Second round wide receiver Greg Jennings will be starting come the first game.

Punter BJ Sanders will be cut.

Defensive tackle Colin Cole has taken a step forwrd in his development.

AJ Hawk looks ordinary. As in VERY ordinary. As in DEFCON 5, WTF(!) ordinary.

Scott Wells looks better then ok at center.

Favre has had a terrible camp. Velocity is great. Everything has gone to sh*t.

Just thought this would be the place to pass those tidbits on to the masses.....

by yet another falcons fan (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 3:14am

I don't want to sound like one of the jackass falcons fans spoken of around here, but I've heard most of Ian's criticisms before (interestingly, Bill floated more than a few observations that I would've liked seeing expanded upon), and the logic of them never really gelled with me. I'll try to explain why without getting too defensive.

The Falcons offense has been pretty productive under Michael Vick. This site had it ranked 11th overall for 2005, which is solid. It's not a terrifying, well-oiled machine like that of the Colts or Seahawks, but as a unit they rarely have trouble putting up points (btw there's a lot of bitching by falcons fans about how horrific greg knapp's playcalling is, make of that what you will). They made it to the NFC championship game with a pretty similar offense and a much better run defense.

What I'm getting at is that it's more than fair to observe that the Falcons' success depends on Vick's play, but the conclusion often drawn from this - that his *improvement* as a passer and decision maker is the very fulcrum upon which their season rests - is historically unsupported. There are a lot of fair criticisms that can be levelled at Vick, and he certainly has room for improvement, as does the entire unit. But the undertone of this message is usually that his performance thusfar has hindered the offense more than it has helped, which I think is just patently untrue. The fact that the offense has been pretty consistently succesful and that the team's record has risen and fallen in accordance with the quality of the defense (particularly against the run) seems to serve as an indication of what the team's needs are, yet every evaluation of the team seems to begin and end with a dissection of #7's flaws. It makes it seem like the writer's primary interest is in ragging on one of the team's most beloved players, and I think that's why the fans have become so defensive. Which isn't to say that he should be exempt from criticism or that he should get special treatment because the fans like him, it's just that the pretenses under which he is critiqued often feel disingenuous.

That was probably a lot more longwinded than it needed to be.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 4:04am


You made your points well, and that kind of intelligent discussion is always welcome. To "sound like one of the jackass falcons fans spoken of around here", you'd have to say something like "Flacons rool and your all a bunch of nerds."

by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 4:53am

Yeah - I mean - really, I should've just asked you to write the Falcons section. Geez! I'll never complain about people disagreeing with me (or Ian) if they can at least form a coherent argument. Especially if said argument is more coherent than my piece to begin with.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 5:52am

Re #9: Finally, our OL run-blocks OK, but couldn’t keep a toddler out of the pocket.

Welcome to the joys of the Alex Gibbs blocking scheme. Great for running plays, but the undersized linemen tend to get pushed around a bit in pass protection unless you get some serious studs (like Nalen, Zimmerman, Lepsis, etc).

Seriously, head coaches aren't stupid. Everyone wonders why they don't all just go to a zone-blocking scheme if it works so well. The answer is that it works great when you're running, but has some definite disadvantages when you're dropping back. That's one of the reasons why Denver's playbook is so full of rollouts and bootlegs and the like.

by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 7:30am

Interesting piece by Pete Prisco (did I just type that?) on zone/cut blocking here.

by JasonC23 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 9:50am


Hmm...switch the original to sour, and you've got a deal!

by Ricardo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 11:38am

Flacons rool and your all a bunch of nerds.
Given that, the Falcons will be a playoff contender as long as Vick is lining up behind center. The offense continues to be among the league leaders in rushing year after year, and Vick will never put up good passing numbers as long as the Falcons throw the ball as much as the Steelers.

The big difference IS the run D. The common theme in every Falcons loss was an inability to stop the run, something ignored by the media and fans who cant wait to jump on Vick. The Falcons conceded over 100 yards to the other teams starting running back in Every. Single. Loss. Cadillac and Deshaun Foster combined for over 600 yards alone.
The defensive line is built full of pass rushers with Coleman, Abraham and Kerney. The Falcons have had big problems filling the hole at nose tackle, hopefully Shropshire can prove his ability as a run stopper. It would be nice if Ed Hartwell steps up and shows why we spent the big money on him as a run stopping LB.

by emcee fleshy (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 11:53am

ATL - judging from the Run D in the first preseason game. J.A.F.F. and I are in for another season of torment. The most painful thing to see in football is consistent 7-8 yard runs against your team's defense. Under sounds about right.

Unrelated and completely irrelevant - Is J.A.F.F. a lawyer? Long sentences suggest no. But I've never heard a non-lawyer use the word "patently."
(pot, meet kettle)

by Xian (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 12:31pm

Maybe it would be more accurate to say, "the Falcons passing game won't improve until Vick is able to improve his throwing accuracy."

Then we can have arguments about whether or not it's possible to have a top-flight offense with just a good running game and sub-standard passing.

Or just ignore me, I'm a Packers homer and I'm bitter that the running game will probably still suck even with zone-blocking.

by noah of the ark (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:06pm

Oakland, New Orleans, Minnesota, Detroit and Green Bay are easy wins for San Francisco?
I bet those teams are counting on SF being an easy win for them!

by Bjorn (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:10pm

Happy Scrappy Hero Pup


by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:16pm

Re: 40

And those teams (except maybe Minnesota, imo) are going to be disappointed.

by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:27pm

I'm doing a mini-piece of research for next week's column analyzing whether completion percentage has much to do with a team's performance. It won't answer the Vick question, but it may shed some light.

It's also worth noting that the Falcons rushing DVOA over the Vick era:

2001: -11.7% (22) Vick 1/2 year
2002: 6.6% (9)
2003: 3.7% (9) Vick 5 games
2004: 17.8% (2)
2005: 14.8% (5)

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 2:02pm

And those teams (except maybe Minnesota, imo) are going to be disappointed.

Absolutely. Any team whose offense can beat up Chicago's defenders, even without them blitzing, is at least an average offense. You've gotta figure that a vanilla Chicago defense is still an average defense.

The 49ers largest victory last year, preseason or regular season, was against Oakland in the preseason, by 8 points. And their preseason first half point differentials last year were -6, -3, 7, 0. Quite simply, they never looked as good as they did against Chicago last week last year.

by NoJo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 3:29pm


Repeat after me: "It's only preseason. Good teams don't care at all if they win in the preseason. Arizona went 3-1 in preseason in 2005, and they still sucked."

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 3:55pm


Good teams don't let themselves get blown out in the preseason first half by bad teams. They can sometimes get blown out by good teams (see Cincinnati/Indy last year), but not by bad teams.

There might be, just might be, an article about this on here. It could've, y'know, been written by me. San Francisco meets Chicago again in the regular season. 64% of the teams who were up by more than 7 points in the preseason at the half won their rematch, and over 80% of the teams either won or were within a score by the end of the game.

Arizona, first half point differentials, 2005: 7, -10, -2, -7. Two of their wins in 2005 came in the second half. They won none of their preseason games convincingly.

I don't believe wins and losses mean anything in the preseason. I do believe that performance still means a lot.

by Insancipitory (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 4:47pm

Pat, it's not like the Bears did that great against the 49er's last year. Everyone only remembers Vasher's freak 108 yard return. With out 50 mph winds, maybe last year's Bears lose that game at home.

The 49er's were in it for one of the Seahawks games and the Buccs too. But they're still a giant mess.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 5:41pm

Pat, it’s not like the Bears did that great against the 49er’s last year. Everyone only remembers Vasher’s freak 108 yard return. With out 50 mph winds, maybe last year’s Bears lose that game at home.

Even if the 49ers would've won that game, it wouldn't've been by that much of a margin. Maybe 12-10.

Let's put it this way: Alex Smith had the best passing half of his career, preseason or otherwise. I'm not saying that they'll beat the Bears in the regular season, but it'll be a closer game than people think.

What made the 49ers so bad last year was their offense. It was far and away the worst in the league. The fact that Alex Smith can put together a half like that at all is a major, major improvement over last year. Last year.

Last year, the only game that Smith started where he didn't throw an interception was against St. Louis, the 5th worst pass defense in the league. I don't believe that Chicago's secondary - even their second team secondary - is worse than St. Louis's secondary.

Hey, I'll eat my words if come Sunday he looks like crap against the Raiders. But I doubt it.

by NoJo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 6:37pm

It's quite possible to take 1 game to mean too much. I'll pick a single example (I'm not trying to claim that there's any sort of trend here, so no lectures about picking a single data point).

In 2003, the first game of the season (the regular season, not the preseason, so the teams were actually trying), the Bills whupped the Patriots 31-0. Did that mean that the Bills were a good team? Apparently not - they finished 6-10. Did that mean that the Patriots were a bad team? Apparently not - they finished 14-2.

You stated that "Good teams don’t let themselves get blown out in the preseason first half by bad teams." It should follow then that good teams don't let themselves get blown out in the regular season first half by bad teams (when the teams are actually concerned about the outcome of the game). But sometimes it does happen. You just can't take a single game and say that it's definitive evidence of a team's ability.

Until I see more evidence to the contrary, I have to assume that we saw a Chicago team that just wasn't ready to play and that's the reason that SF looked good against them.

And to respond to your 64% and 80% numbers: how do you know that SF isn't in the 36% and 20% of teams whose performance in the regular season rematches go quite differently than the preseason?

by NoJo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 6:57pm

And of course, you pointed out those games as outliers in your article. I want to make my point clear: I think that this SF-Chi was an outlier. I think that if you believe otherwise, you're ignoring too much evidence that SF is just a very bad team.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 7:24pm

The Bills/Patriots rematch isn't just an outlier. It's the largest outlier in the past 6 years. Those sort of things happen, but they happen in a "once in a blue moon" timescale.

Yes. It happened. And it could happen again. And I can do you one better than that example: The best example I can think of is San Diego with Ryan Leaf in 2000, where San Diego outscored San Francisco 23-6 in the first half in a preseason game. They lost in the regular season to them by 28 points, on the way to a 1-15 record - though FO shows them to be probably one of the unluckiest teams in history, with 4.6 estimated wins, and only 1 win.

I don't doubt that it can happen. But the question isn't 'what could happen.' The 49ers could end up the 20th best team in the league, and go on to win the Super Bowl.

The question is 'what's likely to happen?' and it is more likely that the 49ers will play well next time against the Bears than not.

I think that if you believe otherwise, you’re ignoring too much evidence that SF is just a very bad team.

I think you're ignoring the point that I'm making. SF likely is a bad team. But they played in preseason last year, too. And they sucked then. They were terrible all last year. That first half was the best half they've put together at all. If nothing else - that game shows that they've made significant improvement.

I'm not saying San Francisco is even likely to beat Chicago in the regular season. But I would bet that they'll be on the 'over' side of 5 wins - especially with the schedule they have.

by johnt (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 9:38pm

My pet theory on Vick is that he experiences a greater variation between playing good and bad defenses than most QBs. His sheer athleticism makes bad teams unable to stop him at all (Falcons/Saints games tend to just be depressing). But on the other hand, with his inability to really be much of a passing threat the Falcons offense has a one dimensional aspect that better teams manage to exploit because they have the personnel to "make him beat them with his arm" (no, a 250 yard passing game does not mean you've done this, Mikey). It was like the difference in the playoff games versus the Rams and Eagles. They'll be trapped in "good but not SB contender" mode until he can burn teams for daring him to beat them with his arm.

by Jeff (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 10:12am

Hey Guys,

I'm sorry if this has been addressed in another column, but I was wondering if the "Loser League" will be back? One of my favorite things about FO. Thanks.

by lk6 (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 12:25pm

Yeah, we want loser league!

by Mo (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 4:49pm

Still standing by your statement re: the 9ers after their poor showing against Oakland?

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 8:32pm

I mentioned it several times in the Week 2 preseason thread: I still think the 49ers are going to be better than last year, but I think they're probably going to be #1 in DVOA variance again.

It's not because Oakland was playing more "real" defense or anything like that: a good number of the mistakes were purely execution problems. The mistaken backwards pass, the delay-of-game penalty, the interception. Like I said there, I don't know how you go from playing a flawless game against the Bears to playing a totally flawed game against the Raiders.

But I will point out again: Frank Gore again had a strong showing, running at a 6 yards/carry clip. Even if Smith is a total bust, it looks like Gore could be a heck of a running back, and that might be enough to carry them over 5 wins.

by Dan (not verified) :: Thu, 08/24/2006 - 5:38pm

#20, if you think the worst team in the league posting a 7-9 record this year is a good bet, we should play poker sometime. As the french say "you are on le cracke".

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/25/2006 - 11:10am

Depends on the odds you'd give me. 6 wins is probably better than 50/50. 7 wins requires Minnesota getting worse, which I think they will.

The 49ers were the worst team in the league last year. Two weeks ago they posted their best offensive performance ever. If they do that every other week, they'll go 6-10.

by Dan (not verified) :: Fri, 08/25/2006 - 2:32pm

#58, you are proving my point. You are saying that they need to post thier best offensive permoance ever, every other week, to get to 6-10.

So why is 7-9 a "good" bet. It sounds like a "crappy, delusional, wish it was early 90's again" bet.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/25/2006 - 7:12pm

#58, you are proving my point. You are saying that they need to post thier best offensive permoance ever, every other week, to get to 6-10.

I don't think the Bears game will be their best offensive performance of the year. I think they'll bounce between that and last week's.

I'd say this week is a good test. I'll start feeling the first week is a fluke if they just constantly make mistakes against Dallas.

So why is 7-9 a “good� bet

Depends on the odds - if an over/under of 5.0 is 50/50, 7 wins would be what, something like 5 to 1 or 6 to 1? I think they've probably got a 30-40% chance of 7 wins with the information I've got now.