Saturday, January 9, 2010

NFL Wrapup: Top 10 Upsets

Determining Upset Magnatude

When power index values are computed for the purposes of weekly power rankings and picks, the values for each game are weighted so that older games matter less than more recent games.

Since it makes more sense to evaluate upsets in the context of the whole season, all games are given equal weight for purposes of this post. This means the matchup ratio (ρ) given below will usually not be the same as the one posted when the game was originally picked.

Also, in order to avoid some of the weirdness associated with the end of the season (e.g., teams resting in preparation for the playoffs), the games in the final week of the season were not included in the power index computations.

Determining the Top 10 Upsets

Once the power index values have been computed for each team, the full season of games was examined, and all games where the lower-ranked team won were selected. The "upset games" se were then sorted by the ratio of the teams powers (higher divided by lower), and the games with the biggest ratios selected for this list.

Dishonorable Mention: some games that missed the cut

There are some notable upsets outside the top 10 that deserve at least a mention:

  • Week 13: The Patriots travel to Miami looking for their second road win of the season, and come away denied.
  • Week 9: The Packers give the Buccaneers their first win.
  • Week 13: The Steelers can't stop the Raiders in Pittsburgh.
  • Week 13: The 49ers can't get a win in Seattle.
  • Week 11: The Bengals faltering offense can't outscore the Raiders.

The Top 10 Upsets of the 2009 Season

As determined by the unweighted APR power indexes from week 16.

  1. Week 11: Browns 37, Lions 38 (ρ=1.6037)
    This looks like more of an upset now thanks to the Browns finishing on a 4-game winning streak. But as an example of utter ineptitude on the part of the losing team, it surely qualifies. Is there another example, ever, of a defense getting called for pass interference on a Hail Mary?

  1. Week 16: Vikings 30, Bears 36 (ρ=1.6171)
    The Vikings were still alive for the #1 seed going into this game, and needed a win to maintain control over the #2 seed. Instead, they lost their third road game in four weeks, and only clinched a bye thanks to a stunning collapse by the Eagles in week 17.

  1. Week 10: Broncos 17, Redskins 27 (ρ=1.7181)
    This was the game Chris Simms had to finish because Kyle Orton got hurt. This was also the game where the Redskins tried their "no way that's going to work" fake punt and it worked. What's worse, this wasn't even the biggest upset of the year for the Broncos.

  1. Week 14: Steelers 6, Browns 13 (ρ=1.7331)
    It was late in the season, the Steelers were coming off a couple embarrassing losses, but they were still in the thick of the wildcard race. All they needed to do to get back on track for the playoffs was to take care of business against the 1-11 Browns. Instead, the Browns sacked Roethlisberger eight times, the Steelers could only put up 6 points, and they went home with a third embarrassing loss.

  1. Week 15: Raiders 20, Broncos 19 (ρ=1.7529)
    The in spite of a 2-5 stretch, in week 15 the Broncos were still alive for the playoffs. Taking care of the 4-9 Raiders at home would be a good first step in getting things turned around. Instead, the Raiders got 241 yards rushing, and even JaMarcus Russell managed to throw a touchdown.

  1. Week 3: Redskins 14, Lions 19 (ρ=1.7964)
    The Redskins actually had a pretty decent defense this season, although this game is not a good example. Matt Stafford threw for 241 yards and a touchdown, Kevin Smith ran for 101 yards, and it was just too much for the Redskins' struggling offense to overcome.

  1. Week 11: Steelers 24, Chiefs 27 (ρ=1.9538)
    The Steelers were terrible on special teams this year, and really struggled on defense when Troy Polamalu was out. Both weaknesses contributed to the Steelers biggest upset of the season.

  1. Week 6: Eagles 9, Raiders 13 (ρ=2.0861)
    The Eagles' week 17 shutout was not a total fluke. This is another example of a game where they just couldn't get much going offensively. This was one of just two games where the Raiders didn't give up at least 16 points.

  1. Week 17: Chiefs 44, Broncos 24 (ρ=2.1695)
    Either Jamaal Charles (259 yards rushing in this game) is one of the break-out stars of the 2009 season, or the Broncos are really, really bad at run defense. We'll have to wait until September to find out about Jammal Charles, but there's no question the Broncos playoff hopes were snuffed out in part because they couldn't stop Jamaal Charles, Michael Bush, and Darren McFadden (the last two doing most of the damage for the Raiders in game 6, above).

  1. Week 16: Buccaneers 20, Saints 17 (ρ=2.5171)
    For much of the season, the Saints plowed through their competition like they were playing at another level. But as the season wore on, outcomes started getting closer and closer, until finally, with the #1 seed still in play, they lost to one of the worst teams in the league.

Eliminated Games

The following games were elminated from contention because one team pulled its starters, or was indirectly affected by such a team.

  • Week 10: Jaguars 24, Jets 22 (ρ=1.6275)
    A "win" over the Colts made the Jets look better than they really are. This was something of an upset, but it doesn't belong in the top 10.

  • Week 17: Colts 7, Bills 30 (ρ=1.7270)
    How much did it matter that the Colts were resting their starters? This was only the fifth game of the season the Bills managed to scored more than 17 points.