Monday, October 15 at 8:00 PM ET
For the weekly football review blog throughout the season, I am stealing a page from our weekly football podcasts (while also preparing for said podcasts) and will identify three things that stood out to me in college football and the NFL from the weekend as well as a play or two from the Live ScoreCaster in game projected results that had the most notable bearing on a pivotal game.
This week’s blog will be a little bit more abbreviated than usual. October may be our busiest month as I am currently working on something for all six of our sports. In addition to the college football, NFL and MLB prediction content, the NBA Preview just launched with Over/Under Team Win Total picks, Power Rankings and Championship Odds. The NBA regular season begins October 30. Also be on the lookout for our preseason College Basketball Power Rankings (most teams started practice late last week and will start the season as early as November 9) and NHL simulations (during the lockout, we’re simulating every game on the schedule one time instead of 50,000 to illustrate what the season could have looked like had there been one to-date) on CBSSports.com as well as an additional (along with the other articles and pages noted below) weekly feature for the NFL on the numbers behind critical plays in the game (one controversial decision, one would-be upset and one blown cover).
College Football Week 6 Thoughts:
Who is #2?... We still don’t know. Last week, we built the case for 11 different schools that could reasonably be argued as having the second best FBS college football team in the country. Of those 11 teams, Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Kansas State and Florida State all won their games and by a combined score of 268-142. Florida, Oklahoma and Florida State were the only teams from that group that won and covered. LSU and South Carolina played each other with LSU winning, but South Carolina covering a +2.5 line. Oregon had a bye week. West Virginia, for whatever reasons, was destroyed by Texas Tech.
The Mountaineers clearly fall out of the discussion, but that’s all we really know. LSU currently ranks second in our most recent College Football Power Rankings, but it’s really up-for-grabs still at this point.
SEC Madness (or is it mess?)… What we do know is that the SEC is very good. In the BCS Standings, which are COMPLETELY meaningless right now (anyone who is arguing that the computers are ridiculous to project that Florida and Notre Dame are “better” than Alabama does not understand the limitations that the BCS has placed on the computers, which are only allowed to evaluate what teams are most deserving of being ranked best based on they have done to this point in this season alone and must ignore margin of victory). Plus, we are just halfway through the season and only about one-third of the way into most conference seasons, the SEC has four of the top seven teams. In our power rankings, the SEC has four of the top five teams.
Alabama does not play Florida or Georgia. If Florida loses to Georgia, yet wins its other games, or, if South Carolina wins out and LSU beats Alabama, it is conceivable that the top FOUR teams BCS standings going into the SEC Championship game would all be from the SEC. At the very least, as it stands, at least THREE serious national championship contenders (from the group of five teams that includes LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia) are guaranteed NOT to make a BCS bowl….
And I have not even mentioned Mississippi State, which is undefeated against the 113th ranked FBS strength-of-schedule. Nor have I mentioned a one-loss Texas A&M team that ranks 14th in our power rankings. Either could wreak havoc in the SEC West and open things up within the conference and nationally with a win over either Alabama or LSU.
At this point, even with the schedule that Notre Dame, USC and Oklahoma have, it would be very difficult to make a case against putting a one-loss SEC team in the BCS Championship over a one-loss team from outside of the SEC. The best argument against doing that would be if that one-loss SEC team lost to the SEC champion, but we saw the exact same scenario last year when Alabama got in over Oklahoma State and Stanford (and Houston and Boise State).
Big East Undefeateds… The only teams that are currently undefeated that I neglected to mention in my conversations above about the second best team in the nation and the SEC are: Ohio, Oregon State, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Louisville. Ohio is 6-0 against a 116th ranked schedule that is not going to get better the rest of the year (plus, the Bobcats are just 2-4 against-the-spread). Oregon State’s resounding win at BYU with a backup quarterback starting puts the Beavers closer to the mix, but even though they are 5-0 against the ninth toughest schedule in FBS, those wins have come by a 44 points (the first three wins came by just 13 total points) and the Beavers recent history and high turnover margin suggest that this level of play – especially with a backup QB and with Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon still on the schedule – is not sustainable.
That leaves us with three teams from the Big East – Rutgers, Cincinnati and Louisville – to discuss. While we loved Rutgers in our picks over the weekend, that was against a weaker Big East team. Rutgers (103), Cincinnati (122) and Louisville (99 – which is even weaker when noting that Louisville beat UNC when star Tar Heels running back Giovanni Bernard was hurt) have all played well below average schedules. The Bearcats have already played two FCS teams (as an alumnus who had no interest in attending those games, trust me in knowing that the athletic department was working hard to change that – it turns out few high profile teams are interested in playing in front of 35,000 people). In our power rankings, which include strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics and define how likely teams would be to win over other teams on a neutral field, Rutgers (25), Louisville (31) and Cincinnati (39) and rank noticeably below where they appear in the BCS Standings (15, 16 and 21 respectively). Only Rutgers, which has our tenth rated defense, has a unit from the Big East that finishes in our top 25 nationally. Louisville has the conference’s best offense at #46.
To tie everything together, the BCS is not designed to rank the best teams, but, rather, the most deserving (which is why adding human voters confounds the problem). Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider the spread if Michigan, which is not in the BCS top 25, yet appears in our rankings at 16, played Cincinnati, which is not in our top 25, yet appears in the BCS at 21, on a neutral field. Even as a proud Bearcat, if you give me Michigan and points, I could not jump on that wager fast enough.
NFL Week 6 Thoughts:
Regression… Well, that was one of the more interesting and overall surprising NFL weeks in recent memory. Favorites (closing line) in Week 6 went just 5-8 straight-up and just 2-11 against-the-spread. (Note: The irony is not lost on me that we discussed this phenomenon and predicted such value last week, yet did not perform well in the picks on Sunday, though I like to think that I cursed myself more so by picking against “my” Green Bay Packers as we are now 0-6 ATS with Paul’s Picks on days when a Paul’s Pick is against the Packers and 63-31 ATS on all other NFL days.)
One of the common topics that prognosticators of my ilk often discuss is “regression,” (which could actually mean “linear” or “multivariate” or “logarithmic” regression for us nerds, but will have a different, straight-forward definition here). Regression or “regression to the mean” or the “law of averages” simply indicates that when the performance of an entity is far outperforming reasonable expectations, that performance is not likely to be sustained.
Going into this week, regression would suggest to us the following general insights (among others):
San Francisco will turn the ball over more often than the 49ers have since the start of 2011
The Detroit Lions were better than a 1-3 team (Cleveland, Oakland, Green Bay, Washington and Miami were also, by any set of metrics or analysis, better than their win-loss records)
The Minnesota Vikings were not as good as a 4-1 record would suggest (Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis and Arizona were also, by any set of metrics or analysis, not as good as their win-loss records)
JJ Watt cannot deflect a pass or put pressure on the quarterback on every play
Philadelphia could not sustain its above .500 record while turning the ball over at a high rate, not putting pressure on the quarterback and not scoring before the two minute warning in the first half.
Dallas will finish the season averaging more than 16 points-per-game
The New York Jets will finish the season allowing fewer than 26 points-per-game (even without Darrelle Revis)
The Mario Williams signing would have some sort of positive impact on the Buffalo Bills’ season
Baltimore and Pittsburgh would struggle to sustain strong defensive efforts with age and healthy concerns
While regression is expected over time/in the long run, to see all of those items reversed within the span of one weekend was not expected. Even though those items seemed to be inevitable, that does not mean that many of them were probable. Though we would assume that each unique game on any given Sunday is an independent event, I would guess that the Chicago Bears – the only team with a winning record that had a Week 6 bye week – are happy to have avoided such madness.
Who is #1?... Week 6 may have been an anomaly in many of the respects highlighted above, but, when it comes to NFL parity, it was and has been the norm. Nine team are currently 3-3, including the entire AFC East. Only three teams have five or more wins and only two teams have five or more (though no one has six) losses. Of 32 teams, six weeks into the season, 22 teams are within two games of .500 (and 20 are within two games of first place in the division).
The NFL may or may not like this. Those who create power rankings, do not like this. Fortunately, our power rankings are automated. However, we are all but guaranteed to have multiple teams coming off of blowout losses and at least one 3-3 team in our top five (hint: our top ranked team in tomorrow’s power rankings will very likely be coming off of a 14+ point loss). It can be easy to pass that off on the Predictalator, but it’s really a league related topic.
Houston looked like the best team through five weeks. The Texans still may be the best team, but they just lost to the Packers by 18 points at home. That was a Packers’ team that was playing without its starting RB, WR and DT and lost two LBs during the game. That was also a Packers team that lost at Indianapolis, which has lost games to the Jets, Jaguars and Bears by a combined margin of 51 points. San Francisco looked like one of the best teams in the league as well. Then, the 49ers lost at home by 23 points to a team that lost to an Eagles team that just lost to the Lions and a Cowboys team that had posted just 65 points scored going into yesterday.
Which is the best team in the league? It is probably one of those teams that just got obliterated. Atlanta is undefeated, yet has needed an RGIII injury and two wins by a combined five points over far inferior teams to win its last two home games. Baltimore is 5-1, but the Ravens just lost Ladarius Webb and Ray Lewis for the season. Chicago has played exceptionally in wins over bad teams, but was destroyed by the Packers and has relied on (unsustainable) defensive scores to post its impressive numbers. The New York Giants are up there with a 4-2 record and a marquee victory last week, but, it is difficult to ignore the Giants struggles with the Buccaneers and Browns and the losses to Dallas and Philadelphia. Seattle, Minnesota and Arizona have nice stories but glaring weaknesses (namely below average offenses). And then there are the Patriots and Packers who can resemble a team that could be the best team in the NFL, yet are also 0-2 against the Seattle Seahawks and are just 6-6 straight-up and against-the-spread overall. There is a long way to go, but the NFL race is about as competitive and mediocre as it gets right now.
The process will work as it always does, but this may be the most difficult week in my nine year career to build the arguments that defend our power rankings… unless someone asks me why we have the Jacksonville Jaguars in last.
Rest of the Season Fantasy Forecast… Each Tuesday, we publish the Rest of the Season projections that rank every player at each position in each future week and for the rest of the season overall. This is a great tool to identify roster additions for upcoming weeks and for evaluating trades. Keep in mind that players who have already had their bye weeks may have greater value going forward than those who have not. As I prepare that article, here are some highlights from the current results:
Top 5 QBs: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Robert Griffin III, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning
Top 5 RBs: Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Darren McFadden, CJ Spiller, Maurice Jones-Drew
Top 5 WRs: AJ Green, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston
Top 5 TEs: Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis, Heath Miller
Top 5 Ks: Sebastian Janikowski, Alex Henery, Adam Vinatieri, Lawrence Tynes, Jason Hanson
Top 5 DEFs: Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta
Live ScoreCaster Play of the Week:
The Live ScoreCaster App has several notifications that can be turned on for games that will keep users up-to-date on things like quarterly scores and projections, games ending, projected lead changes and major swing plays. I love utilizing all of these, especially the latter two as it’s interesting to see which plays lead to teams being favored and ultimately winning the game (as it happens).
For the Major Swing notification, when the projected winning percentage in a game shifts by 35% or more over the course of up to two plays, the notification is activated and the user learns the play, the current score and the new projection. Most games don’t actually have these kinds of plays. And those that do often come in the form of late, game-winning field goals that are less than 65% likely to convert. But there will still be a few other plays each week that stand out for playing pivotal roles in big games.
We have added a publicly viewable page that will show the charts from all Live ScoreCaster games for a week after each game. These are available for free to everyone. In other words, you should check out the win probability charts from Detroit @ Philadelphia, Oakland @ Atlanta, Cincinnati @ Cleveland, Buffalo @ Arizona, St. Louis @ Miami, Minnesota @ Washington and New England @ Seattle on our Live History page. For this week’s highlighted play, I want to focus on two-point conversions.
Throughout the weekend, in games like St. Louis @ Miami and Texas A&M @ Louisiana Tech, two-point conversions played critical roles in the expected outcomes. In watching these games and hundreds of others throughout the years, I am convinced that coaching staffs do not put forth the requisite effort towards preparing for situations where a successful two-point conversion is necessary. A two-point conversion that can change a five point game into a three point margin generally adds 15-25% to a team’s chances to win the game. A two-point conversion that can tie a game usually means twice that to a team’s win probability. Yet, teams and coaches are more concerned about blowing timeouts to prevent five yard delay of game penalties, utilizing finite challenges on eight yard completions and/or converting on fourth down – all plays whose worth typically pales in comparison to a needed two-point conversion – than they appear to be in intelligently calling and executing this important play (disagree – watch the differences in celebrations of a successful touchdown to what can be a more meaningful two point conversion – players and coaches don’t seem to care as much about those plays).
In no other game was the unpreparedness of such coaches and teams on better display than in Dallas @ Baltimore. With 0:40 seconds remaining in the game, Baltimore was winning 31-23 over Dallas and was an 81.7% favorite to win the game at the time. Tony Romo completed a TD pass to Dez Bryant to cut Baltimore’s win probability to 66.1%, a 15.6% difference. A successful two-point conversion would have evened the game and cut Baltimore’s win chance down to 50.9% - another 15%+ chance. Instead, a quick pass to Dez Bryant (what appeared to be a similar if not exact same play as the TD) was lazily thrown and poorly played by Bryant.
Dallas happened to convert an onside kick on the next play that actually put Dallas in an ever-so-slightly better position than if they would have converted the two-point conversion (which is interesting in its own right). The Cowboys found a way to mismanage that opportunity as well.
See the chart that tells the story of this game: Baltimore 31-Dallas 29.
New Football Content:
Just a reminder about our new content for this season. In addition to the weekly 3 Up 3 Down College Football (John Ewing), Tuley’s Vegas Beat (Dave Tuley) and NFL Draft Prospect Watch (Matt Richner) columns and the normal weekly Power Rankings, Playoff Probabilities and Fantasy Projections (including value projections for daily salary cap fantasy sites like DraftDay.com), we have added the following resources and articles:
Injuries – Thorough Listing of All Players Removed from College Football and NFL Simulations
Team Stats – In-Depth NFL and College Football Team Statistics
Player Stats - In-Depth NFL Player Statistics
ATS Stats – Comprehensive Against-the-Spread and Over/Under Records for NFL and College Football Teams
Rest of Season Fantasy – Fantasy Football Projections for Every Future NFL Week