Football Calculus 4

from Hunter Leath


Sort of Back to the Point

I’m sorry I’ve deviated from the true purpose of this column. You guys knew I didn’t have the attention span to write about the same things for an entire year didn’t you? As you know, I took some time off a few weeks back to deviate to a column on baseball and spent last week working on a glorified panic attack. But throughout the past few days I have calmed down, gotten grounded, found some perspective, and decided that I needed to get back to the calculated view of football that got me into to my weekly column. So, yes this correspondence will include some digressions. Naturally, I will try to make some jokes. Yes, there will more than likely be youtube links (If this somehow gets to you Troy as I plan on it, sorry.) that distract you from the column itself. But, the brass tax is that I will use big words and small numbers to talk about football. You dig? I thought you would. Later in the column I will divulge back into some power ranking analysis, but as it is Monday night and the games have yet to finish, I can’t do that yet. But, as if a mystic portal appears, after five to ten minutes of reading it will already be Tuesday! How do I do it? I am some sort of wizard? Am I going to keep my recurring theme of three rhetorical questions for yet another column? The answers are, in reverse order: of course I will, not that I know of, and because I have surprisingly copious amounts of free time while maintaining high grades. I rescind my previous answer: I am a wizard.

Drastic Overreactions about This Weekend:

OMG! Some elite teams lost to slightly less elite teams! Someone call a council of the football equivalent of the Jedi Council to sort this out. Wait a second; I’m getting a buzz that says that doesn’t exist. Why the heck not? It seems like we need one. After all, the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers both lost this weekend! I don’t care if they lost to the defending best team in football and the defending Super Bowl Champions respectively, this means the rapture is about to come! Hide yo’ kids and hide yo’ wifes! And the Patriots lost? What in the name of Favre is going on here? Is this amateur hour? Are you kidding me right now? You mean the team with the worse record won 8 of the 13 games that have already finished and pigs are not coming out of my anus right now? I feel like that should be happening. Why is the earth not crumbling from its core and forcing liquid hot magma out of its seas and mountains? Tell me why I haven’t shat a buffalo at this point! If you have watched any analysis from the sports yak in the past 24 or so hours, you have heard this exact sentiment. It is sad that this is the state of sports coverage we are at right now. It is despicable that all analysts of this game we like to call football have slowly dropped their level of professionalism to that of Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow. Don’t overreact about everything people. (as fun as it is to see smoke come out of the ears of Ron Jaworski any time he says the phrases blown coverage, underperforming, and blocking communication) Seriously, there is no anomaly going on right now in the National Football League. Here is the first striking statistic of the weekend for you to chew on. So far the home team has won 9 of 13 games this week and the other game is ten points in favor of the hometown team. There is no mystery here. Home teams always have a slight advantage, and this seemed to pay off this week. Why try to justify upsets with this you may ask? Because the real reason to bring this up lies not in the 9 but in the 4. You may ask who the teams that lost at home were this week. I can tell you that, but you won’t believe it. The losing teams at home were the Bengals, Eagles, 49ers, and Texans. For those counting at home, those are teams that all had playoff expectations not aspirations coming into this season. Two of these teams came into the week as Super Bowl favorites and the other two came in as odds on contenders to make the postseason. Now we have one that is coming off of a loss to the Cleveland Browns, one in full on crisis mode in danger of benching their quarterback and canning their coach (not a can of soup mind you. Andy Reid would like that too much.), one has suffered two losses to the hands of conference foes, and one has everyone from you to your grandmother questioning if they can win big games and come back from behind. What do they all have in common? They lost at home. They let an enemy infiltrate their fortress and got tactically defeated. This fault lies in coaching would be the first obvious thought, no? One could easily recognize that three of these four teams are led by sideline generals that have won Coach of the Year honors, but they lost to the likes of Pat Shurmur, Jim Schwartz, and Tom Coughlin, who is legitimately a good coach. As for Kubiak, he never won Coach of the Year, but neither has Mike McCarthy so he has no excuse either. But I’d like to pose a different reason than home field advantage for why we should be freaking out.

The simple answer: WE SHOULDN’T BE FREAKING OUT FOR PETE’S SAKE!!!!! I don’t know how to spell whoop-dee-freaking-doo, so I will just use that phonetic assumption. WHOOP-DEE-FREAKING-DOO! The Texans lost. Boo-hoo. The 49ers lost. Call the police, my innocence has been robbed. The Patriots lost. Holy cow, teams tactics get figured out after 11 years of dominance? The Eagles lost. And you didn’t expect this at this point, they always find ways to lose winnable games. The Steelers lost. No witty retort he, my Titans just outplayed them. Wait, that was in fact a witty retort. The Cardinals lost. Did you really think they could keep it up? The Cowboys lost. No shit! The Cowboys haven’t been good in years! I don’t hear anyone complaining about the Rams losing to the Dolphins. Why not, after all the Rams had a winning record and the Dolphins haven’t been relevant since Seinfeld was on the air and Titanic made a billion dollars and won a few awards. That was 1997 by the way. Or 1998, depending on whether you want to count Seinfeld’s last season by its first or last episode and whether you count Titanic’s release date or the date of the Academy Awards for the date I am referencing. Why am I saying this? AND WE WILL ALL GO DOWN TOGETHER! Sorry, I’m listening to Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel right now. I have to scream that part. Back to the point: teams lose. Let’s take the San Francisco 49ers for example. At this point last year they had one loss. They finished with three and received a first round bye, making it all the way to the NFC Championship game. Their team is different than last year in the most negligible of ways. Their defense is an exact replica with one more year of experience and their offense added Brandon Jacobs and some wide receivers. This is a good team. Don’t count them out just because they lost to the New York American Football Giants. The G-Men are exactly what I said they are: men! These dudes may make up the best team in football if they can, you know, run the ball like they did yesterday. So the 49ers lost to them. Big whoop, this is still a double digit win team with the most confident coach in football and the most consistent defense in the world, outside of the Alabama Crimson Tide of course. (There was your obligatory SEC Football Reference of the week, cockily thinking we’re the best because someone else in our conference always seems to win the championship since 2007.) Yes, there is some call for concern from a loss, but that is no different than any level of the game. If a middle school team gives up 100 rushing yards to a team not known for running the ball, what would they do? Make adjustments and don’t let it happen again and sure up the trenches some more. Now, what do you think the Harballer is going to do? Probably make adjustments and don’t let it happen again and sure up the trenches some more if I were a betting man. Calm down San Fran Fan. (You know why I didn’t pluralize.)

Here is something else. The same is true of the inverse. The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants have proven to be flawed teams this season, losing to teams like the Cowboys and the Colts this season. The Packers are a team with a problematic schematic (awesome album title alert), as they have shown they are a one dimensional offense with detritus for a defensive backfield. They have been ripped to pieces by Alex Smith and two rookies defensively. Okay, one rookie. Russell Wilson didn’t win the game for the Seahawks, but the Packers by no means deserved to win the game the way they played. Any time you expose your leader, face of the franchise, and king of the Discount Double Check to that much of a beating, you deserve to be sentenced to life in the body of the principal of an all-girls middle school, because I imagine that would suck. Yes, they beat a very talented Houston team, but their flaws still shone brighter than lightning crashing in the middle of the Pacific, because I imagine that would be bright. The Packers still only rushed for 99 yards on 31 attempts, a measly 3.2 yards per carry with Aaron Rodgers accounting for 17 through scrambles. They were still outpossesed in the game by four minutes, which I’ll admit is a nit-pick, but a valid problem. Improvements were seen in the protection of the quarterback, only two sacks, and in turnovers, none, but I’m not going to jump back on the bandwagon quite yet. As for the reigning champions of the universe, this is a team susceptible to devolving into a weak team in division games and relying too heavily on a good pass rush to defend the pass. Yes, last night the Giants finally showed they are capable of running the ball against a good defense (sorry Panthers, you don’t qualify) and didn’t give up a sack. But this is also a team that went 2/6 in the Red Zone and relied heavily on sacks, as always, to win the game. Getting six sacks against a dominant offensive line with literally 964 first round picks on it is never a bad thing, but the fact is Tuck, Pierre-Paul et. al have some off weeks and the defensive backfield isn’t good enough to force three picks when they aren’t going against a still weak San Fran receiving corps. These are two teams that made drastic improvements this week, but don’t immediately discount the last few weeks. The Giants haven’t lost to the Cowboys and the Eagles, both division foes, and the Packers have lost a fourth quarter lead to the Indianapolis Colts. I can’t emphasize this any more than I already have. The Colts, a team led by rookies and Reggie Wayne on offense and by the decaying carcass of Dwight Freeney on defense. So, rejoice not at this point, as you may end up disappointed at the end. I need ten words for an even 2000. Got it.

Why Do I Have This Much Free Time: An Essay About Numbers About Football

I love Power Rankings. They serve literally no purpose for the NFL, as the league is decided by a playoff and a rulebook as opposed to a computer and style points, but they also tell you everything you need to know about a team. Every site that is significant makes power rankings. ESPN makes a list, as does it’s fan site SportsNation. NFL.com makes a set of expert rankings. Bleacher Report does its own interpretation before the Monday night game even kicks off and still makes it seem important. Hell, even Storieshouse.com, the world’s foremost site for Lambert Graduate Humor and Analysis, has a staff writer (who wishes he was paid by the word, for the record) who makes a complex set of power rankings. So, here is your Stories House Power Rankings for Week 7 of the NFL season, followed by some way over analysis. WAY. You know what, if you want the actual rankings send me a message and I will send you the spreadsheet. By the way, I’m going to reference a spreadsheet many times throughout this column. Really, you will want a picture or an e-mail of this is you want full understanding, but you can make do without it. If you feel you will benefit from the spreadsheet being at your side, which includes five sets of rankings, a large portion of the mathematics used in the next few paragraphs and some made up statistics that I made up to seem like I’m a good enough football mind to make up stats. On with it you say, fine. Here we go. There are a few things that can be easily ascertained from Power Rankings. I have been calculating division means to rank the strength of divisions for three years. But this week, I took it a step further. I used the power rankings from ESPN, SN, Bleacher Report (BLURP), NFL, and Stories House (ME) and averaged every team’s ranking across the spectrums and then used those averages to aggregate a double mean to see a strength of division statistic. These values are as follows. The strongest division in football is the NFC West (10.95), followed by the NFC North (11.5), the NFC East (12.35), the AFC East (16.9), the AFC North (16.95), the NFC South (19.6), the AFC South (21.55), and rounded out by the AFC West (22.1). You see what that means first of all? Obviously, this experiment is working out, which is odd. I originally embarked on this column to explain whether or not the eye test was backed up by numbers: is the NFC West the strongest conference in football? Obviously the consensus has folded to believe that the only division with three four win teams is the best. But that is not what the purpose of this is. I also did some analysis of deviation by division. The deviation is by no means surprising. The NFC and AFC South both have massive outliers in the Falcons and Texans. The AFC and NFC East and the NFC West are all tightly knit and the other divisions are in between. I didn’t waste my doing the calculations, my website does it for me when doing other stuff, but I really didn’t need to tell you that. I went into it last time. If you want me to explain it to you, again, coerce it from me. Here is the real big deal of this column. I talk a lot about point differentials. A lot of other people talk a lot about point differentials. They are the reason that people like to explain the demise of the Philadelphia Eagles (-22), the dominance of the 49ers (+58), and the complete averageness of the Rams and the Steelers (-1, 1). But do these numbers translate to division preeminence? Can you use point differentials as an x value that correlate to a y value of Power Ranking? Did I really just propose we regress divisions in football against a mythical statistic of combined regression to find whether or not point differential predicts rankings? Yes, I did. I am that kind of good. But, first let’s hypothesize shall we? If the goal is to have a low power ranking value (1 is low) and to have a high point differential (The Chicago Bears have the highest with 78 and the Tennessee Titans have the worst with -90), then we would expect a negative correlation between the independent value of PD and the dependent (possibly, that is after all what we are testing) value of power ranking because a high x should correspond to a low y. The chances of this being a perfect line are literally zero, so let’s just assume that for the correlation to be strong, we want a value to be between -.99 and -.75. Anything else will be weak and the last few hours of my life will have been for naught. I take that back, if I am wrong that is more powerful, as I figured out something no one else has. But I doubt it. The actual r-value for this equation, courtesy of my subscription to StatCrunch.com, is -.88. This means that there is an 88% negative correlation between the values of ranking and point differentials. What does this mean? It means that perception is everything, as most already may have ascertained by the theme early in this column. Power Rankings are in no way scientific; there is no formula used to find the true talent level or playing capacity of a football team, so we have to use the eye test. The eye test, or as most college fans refer to it “style points”, is quite frankly who looks best on the field regardless of competition. The Chicago Bears are not the best team in football, they probably aren’t the best team in their division on the bases of talent, play this season, expectations, and coaches who are bad at handshaking. But, they have put up more points than their opponents in all but one game, which is a fancy way of saying they have one loss. In addition, every win has been with plenty of style points. But look at who they’ve beaten: Indy by 20, St. Louis by 17, Dallas by 16, and Jacksonville by 38. Those teams average to have a power ranking value of 23.4. The only quality opponent they have had this year resulted in a thirteen point loss. So does this really mean the Bears are the fifth best team in football (APR: 5.8) or does it mean they have looked like it based off of who they have played? If only someone with a lot of time on his hands and an obsession with football could come up with a formula on how to adjust another formula someone with a lot of time on his hands and an obsession with football came up with for talent of opponents. Thinking… Thinking… GOT IT! I should do it! And I think I have an idea on how it could work. This is the official unveiling of a new Nick Suss metric: Opponent Adjusted Point Differential [ (Point Differential in Wins X Average Number of Losing Opponents Wins) + (Point Differential in Losses X Average Number of Winning Opponents Wins) ] Using this formula that I just made up in my head in under two minutes, the Bears point differential changes from 78 to 143. It seems like I have made a mistake, but wait. Let’s take a look at a team that is 3-3 and has lost to quality and not quality and has beaten quality and not quality. Pretty much, all I am saying is let’s take a look at Philly. The Eagles currently have a true point differential of -22 and have beaten the Browns, Ravens, and Giants by a total of 4 points. They have lost to the Cardinals, Steelers, and Lions by a total of 26 points. The adjusted point differential for the Eagles is -56. Once again, the value is more polar. That is because I am now realizing I have to find a constant value to add to the end of the formula to make the values not inflate because of the twice multiplied nature of the formula. Or I could give up on it because making up a stat is hard. I don’t know. I’ll figure it out. But I don’t see you trying to make up a formula. See, I’m not completely crazy, maybe it’s you who is crazy because you are wasting your talents by not trying to come up with formula. Help will be appreciated. If you see a hole in the formula’s logic, send me a message as always and I am open to changing it. That’s all for this week. Next week I will type about something else. Obviously, if I typed about the exact same thing that would be boring. Nick


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