Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Have you no shame, ESPN?

So I was flipping through channels yesterday and I paused a moment on ESPN. This is what I saw. (Young readers, or those with an acute sensitivity to frivolousness should avert their eyes.)

They were showing the results of a poll on who has the cooler helmet, USC or South Florida. The show was College Football Live. I thought at first that maybe this was just a segue from the commercial break, but boy was I wrong. The show is conducting a "tournament" to decide who has the best looking helmets in college football. The international leader in televised sports analysis was devoting time to critique the logos and color schemes. I quickly checked to make sure that I wasn't watching HGTV or some What Not To Wear special on TLC. Indeed my suspicion was right, ESPN the "worldwide sports leader" had made this into a feature. In a moment that epitomizes not only ESPN's pro-frivolity bias and their pro-USC bias, Reece Davis proceeded to browbeat the voters for choosing South Florida's helmet over USC's.

So after devoting a good deal of minutes to this, they segue to some analysis. They take viewer questions about if South Florida will win the Big East, and if Notre Dame will lose their opener at home to SDSU. The answers given were a quick yes and a quick no. And then they pick the biggest future upset. After a minute or so of that, Reece Davis spends the rest of the show browbeating the voters for undervaluing USC's helmet.

Alright, I know that it's the offseason and such and they can only devote so many minutes of each show to pretending to know the things about which they're talking. Come on though, this is like their moronic "Who's Now?" circle jerk, except less related to sports. I never thought that I would type those words. Less related to sports than "Who's Now?", that's really saying something.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

One Thing I'll Never Understand

For some reason, sportswriters find it impossible to accept that some times good players are on bad teams, and sometimes bad players are on good teams. Jeffri Chadiha should hardly be blamed for doing something that has become the industry's bread-and-butter, but then again, the world is not fair.

Chadiha compiled a list of the 10 Most Indispensible Players in the NFL. Some of them are picks that he simply has to make: Peyton, Brady, both fine. Some are sort of unconventional. Sure Antonio Gates is a man of spectacular ability, but he's still a tight end and by last years DVOA (via Football Outsiders), not even the most valuable. Even so, Chadiha makes a good point. Likewise, four is Adrian Peterson. He is great, but he is also one of very few running backs to be have fewer in Football Outsider's adjusted yards than actual yards. His five fumbles are steep for someone with so few carries, and he shares the team with a top 20 DVOA back.

Enough of that, let's get completely crazy. Scroll down to number ten and you'll see, of all people, Eli Manning. I'll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor. I'll admit Manning put together a pretty good playoff run, but when you look at the larger sample size of the regular season, he was just awful. Football Outsiders has him listed as roughly the 35th best quarterback. His real performance was possibly not even good enough to start. Just because his team put together a remarkable run and was inspirational and beautiful all that crap doesn't change the fact that Eli Manning was bad. He really was quite bad. It has nothing to do with him not being intense, or being too intense or whatever, he was just bad. He is not the 10th most indispensible player, he is actually, seemingly, very dispensible.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Match for the Ages

Okay, we get it guys. People want the NFL to be a 12 month deal. They want year round NFL coverage ranging from the strategy behind the X's and O's to an intrusive view of the players' lives. I get that.

And still, this is not necessary.

As a blogger, I think this could be a pretty cool idea for a feature length article: take all the base salaries in the NFL, and make a 53 man roster out of the players around their league: keeping the total payroll under 116 million, which is the NFL salary cap.

It's not necessary to have this done twice.

It's really, really dumb to have the two "teams" "play".

To have the "winner" of the game decided by Dr. Z, it just defies words.

"I know you like the Lombardies and you're gonna have to lay 12½."

To recap:

1. Michael Lombardi and Bucky Brooks now are in charge of make believe teams assembled under a ficticious 116 dollar cap.
2. The teams will clash in "Dream Game 2008"
3. The line on said game is 12.5

Now, Dr. Z gives us a horrifically scary play by play recap of the game.

Seven minutes left. Brady goes to work. The Brooksies have dressed only six D-linemen and that's their undoing. They're exhausted. The rotation is killing them. The rush has died. Brady works them over with his mini-backs, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ahmad Bradshaw. With three minutes to go, he runs Jones-Drew on a sucker-trap for six points. The Brooksies get the ball at midfield, after a nifty return by Devin Hester. Will this be an overtime contest, the first one in a title game since Colts-Giants?

But the numbers game kills Brees, too. The Lombardies have loaded their lineup with D-linemen, nine, count'em, nine! On third-and-long, the well-rested pair of wingmen, Dwight Freeney and Justin Tuck, get him in a squeeze and knock the ball loose. The Lombardies only have to run the clock now, but on third and long they run a draw play, over Shaun Rogers, who is too tired to get out of his stance, and little Maurice breaks it for 40 yards and the last score of the game, which gives the Lombardies a 34-20 victory. Dr. Z's bet, taking the 12½, sinks beneath the waves with all hands singing Nearer My God To Thee.

Alright, let's recap:

1. The "Lombardi's" win 34-20
2. Those who took the Lombardi's and the points just beat the spread
3. Dr. Z lost against the spread -- on a game that was played inside his own head

Finally, since this post is in desperate need of common sense, I give you Ross Tucker, who apparently does have the mental capacity to put the basic point of this exercise into focus...the point that all 4 of the prior writers totally missed:

The key is to attempt to compile all of the young players around the league drafted after the first round that have already proven themselves to be quality NFL players but have not yet received their second contracts. That is where all of the value is, both in the real NFL and in the Salary Cap Roster Challenge. Unlike the NFL, where you have to draft well in order to create that value, the Salary Cap Roster Challenge allows the combatants to selectively scour the league and scoop up all of the young players that have clearly outplayed their rookie contracts, thereby creating an enormously attractive value proposition for both their actual franchises and their virtual Roster Challenge teams.

Players that produce at a high level for a relatively paltry sum include the Saints' Marques Colston and Jahri Evans, the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw and Kevin Boss and the Packers' Ryan Grant, Greg Jennings and James Jones, just to name a few. It also would have been easy to put a solid line together with the likes of the Bucs' Jeremy Trueblood and Aaron Sears. And there's no doubt I would have fought tooth and nail to get Devin Hester on my team -- $795,000 for a game-changer is a no-brainer.

Just remember: Michael Lombardi and Bucky Brooks actually worked on the side of football that is responsible for these decisions. Lombardi is in part responsible for the mess that is the Oakland Raiders today. Tucker, obviously, was a player. Which of course, proves that the concept of value is hardly rocket science. It's simply the most important concept in the game, and one that most execs don't quite understand as well as they should.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Top Players Leaguewide

Here are the top offensive players, by DPAR, for the 2007 season:



Tom Brady 200
Peyton Manning 134
Brett Favre 103
Drew Brees 99
David Garrard 91
Tony Romo 89
Carson Palmer 85
Matt Hasselbeck 78
Ben Roethlisberger 75
Jay Cutler 71
Derek Anderson 65
Jeff Garcia 59
Phillip Rivers 54
Donovan McNabb 53
Randy Moss 52
Kurt Warner 49
Brian Westbrook 46
Terrell Owens 44
Jon Kitna 44
Reggie Wayne 44
Jason Campbell 43
LaDainian Tomlinson 41
Sage Rosenfels 39
Wes Welker 37
Matt Schaub 36
Marcus Colston 35
Chad Johnson 34
Antonio Gates 34
Bobby Engram 32
Marion Barber 32
Jason Witten 32

These 31 players contributed roughly one "win" or more above replacement level to their teams in 2007. The point of me making this list is this: To show how important Quarterback play is. It's to show that when talking about the best players in the league: you essentially have to ignore Quarterback play to allow any other position to dominate the list.

If I were making a top NFL talents list, this would be a good place to start. Sure, it's hard to quantify individual linemen and defensive players in terms of their effect on the game, but one would think this list would be a pretty solid start, no?

This is where I bring in Pete Prisco's list of the top 50 players in the NFL.

Prisco's list isn't particularly offensive, and I'm not going to bother to tinker with his defensive rankings, but a few of the offensive talents on the list could have been better chosen:

34. Braylon Edwards, WR, Cleveland Browns: Edwards was second to Moss with 16 receiving touchdowns in his third season in the league. He averaged 16.1 per catch and will only get better as he hits his prime.

Is Braylon Edwards really a top 50 player in the NFL? Really?

This year, he caught 52% of balls thrown his way, posted a slightly above average DVOA, and 20 DPAR, which puts this season -- his best -- among such company as Najeh Davenport and Quinn Gray. Obviously, it's easier to acquire a RB better than Davenport or a QB better than Gray than it would be to replace Edwards, but Braylon Edwards shouldn't even be close to a top 50 NFL players list.

49. Fred Taylor, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Taylor finally got his due last season with his first Pro Bowl appearance. At 32, he remains one of the biggest home-run threats in the league. His 5.4 per-carry average was second best among the league's best rushers to Peterson (5.6).

Fred Taylor is an underrated back. No one is going to confuse him for one of the 50 best players in the NFL.

He's now 32 years old. He might be capable of another good season, but Prisco only has 4 other RBs on this list: Tomlinson, Westbrook, Adrian Peterson, and Steven Jackson (who is defensible because he was hurt last year). Joseph Addai, Laurence Maroney, and Brandon Jacobs all missed the cut that Fred Taylor made.

50. Devin Hester, KR, Chicago Bears: I don't normally put return men on these lists, but this guy has earned it. It will be interesting to see how long he can maintain it.




He's really fast and breaks a lot of games wide open with special teams plays. Good for him. He's also incredibly fumble prone and can't play on the offensive or defensive sides of the ball, yet at least.

Additionally, if you are going to count for return ability, how do you not take Josh Cribbs! The guy only had, according to the link, the greatest return season ever last year. Bonus: He can also play on offense! What a concept!