Tuesday, July 31, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #3

# 3: 2011 Week 8: Saints 21, Rams 31 (ρ=1.3721)
Saints' season: finished 13-3, clinched the #3 seed in the NFC, and lost to the 49ers in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
Rams' season: finished 2-14. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo was fired after the end of the season.
What happened: the Rams didn't do well on defense in 2011. They gave up 407 points during the regular season, more than all but 6 other teams. But somehow, in this game, they managed to absolutely shut down one of the most potent offenses in the league. They got 6 sacks, 2 interceptions, and held the Saints to just 269 passing yards. This was, by a pretty big margin, the fewest yards produced by the Saints offense in an otherwise record-setting season.
Also of note: with 4 games, including 3 in the top 10, the 2011 season is by far the most represented. No other season has more than two games on the list.

Next week: the penultimate game of the list, and one I nearly left off.

Monday, July 23, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #4

# 4: 1970 Week 8: Lions 17, Saints 19 (ρ=1.3604)
Lions' season: finished 10-4, clinched a wildcard spot, and lost to the Cowboys in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
Saints' season: finished 2-11-1. Tom Fears, the Saints' inaugural coach, was fired after 7 games. This was J.D. Roberts first game as head coach. He retained the position through the 1972 season.
What happened: for much of the 1970 season, the Lions scored a lot of points (20+ points in 9 games), and the Saints allowed a lot of points (20+ points in 11 games). But in this game, the Lions had 6 turnovers (3 interceptions and 3 lost fumbles), which were enough to keep the Saints in the game. And, in the final moments, Tom Dempsey kicked his record-setting 63 yard field goal to give the Saints their second (and final) win of the season.
Here's the final moments of the game:
Also of note: Jason Elam and Sebastian Janikowski have both kicked 63-yard field goals, although they both did it at Mile High stadium.

Next week: from the oldest game on the list, we go to one of the most recent, featuring the final appearance of the Saints, and another bad Sunday for Drew Brees.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

NFL: Pythagorean Projection 2011 -> 2012

We're coming down to training camps and the start of preseason football, so it's time for this year's edition of Pythagorean Projection!

Team Projected WinsNote
Rams 2.3New HC
Colts 3.3New HC, QB
Buccaneers 3.5New HC
Chiefs 4.0New HC
Browns 4.9New QB
Jaguars 5.2New HC
Vikings 5.5Adrian Peterson coming off injury
Redskins 5.8New QB
Broncos 5.8Peyton Manning
Raiders 6.3New HC, QB (again)
Bills 6.6
Cardinals 7.0
Panthers 7.5
Giants 7.9
Seahawks 8.2New QB?
Titans 8.2New QB?
Bears 8.3Cutler &co healthy?
Jets 8.4Tebow!
Dolphins 8.5New HC, QB(?)
Cowboys 8.6
Bengals 8.6
Chargers 8.7
Falcons 9.3
Eagles 9.8
Lions 9.9Lots of off-field drama
Texans 10.9Schaub healthy
Ravens 11.2Terrel Suggs hurt
Steelers 11.2
Patriots 11.6
Packers 11.9Defense has to be better. Right?
Saints 12.1New HC, DC
49ers 12.3


  • The Rams are a really bad franchise. Four years during the "Greatest Show on Turf" era are the only winning seasons they've posted since 1989. Jeff Fisher seems like a pretty good coach, but he's got his work cut out for him to make something of that team.

  • The Bengals are another team with a long history of mostly losing seasons. If they make it to 9 wins in 2012, it will be the first time since 81-82 that they've had back-to-back winning seasons.

  • I wonder how good Peyton Manning will be this year. 2010 was really not a good year for him, although it's hard to say how much that (in hindsight) weak supporting cast was at fault. But now he's got a new team, a new coach, and who-knows-what for a receiving corps. The good news is it could easily be another year where 9 or 10 wins will take the AFC West, so the Broncos should have some margin for error.

  • It seems like the Dolphins could be on the verge of... well, not sucking as much as lately, anyway. But they need to win some home games, and keep their quarterback (whoever that turns out to be) healthy and productive for the whole season. The list of Dolphins starting quarterbacks since Marino retired is a rogues gallery of has-beens and never-wases. And the list of seasons where they had a quarterback even make it to 15 starts is pathetically short.

  • The good news for Tarvaris Jackson is that 2011 was one of the best seasons of his career. The bad news is, that was only good for a 7-7 record, and it's not clear he's got a lot of room for improvement. If Matt Flynn looks anywhere near as good in preseason as he did in his week 17 start last year, Pete Carroll is going to be hard pressed not give Flynn the starting spot.

  • The Saints have to be an early candidate for the team most likely to fall well short of their projection. Given the bounty scandal, suspension of coaches and players, as well as the drama of Brees' protracted contract negotiation, they're facing a lot of pretty major distractions and setbacks this season.

  • I think the 49ers are going to be hard pressed to make it to 12 wins this year. I feel like they played at least a little over their heads in 2011, and they're facing a tougher slate of opponents this year. Their offense can be pretty weak at times (especially on the road), and they're not going to be flying under anyone's radar in 2012...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #5

# 5: 2004 Week 15 Patriots 28, Dolphins 29 (ρ=1.3472)
Patriots' season: finished 14-2, clinched the #2 seed in the AFC, and won Super Bowl XXXIX.
Dolphins' season: finished 4-12. Head coach Dave Wannstedt resigned after 9 games. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates finished out the season as interim head coach, and Nick Saban was brought in the following year.
What happened: in 2004, the Dolphins had a weak defense and an awful offense. But what really set them apart from other teams was turnovers. The offense turned the ball over 42 times that season, more than any other team. Given they managed to recover 26 fumbles, it could've been even worse.
The Patriots had a much happier season in 2004. They had the #4 offense (points scored) and #2 defense (points allowed), which carried them to 14 regular season wins and a Super Bowl victory. But with 27 turnovers themselves, the Patriots offense had a bit of a weak point as well. They had 7 games with two or more turnovers, including a couple 4-turnover games (this one, and their loss to the Steelers).
Also of note: the The Patriots are 0-8 in games where Tom Brady threw 3 or more interceptions.

Next week: Turns out I was wrong when I said game #7 (Vikings @ Jets from 1970 week 11) was the oldest game on the list. This next one has that beat by 3 weeks, and features a game-winning play with an NFL record that still stands.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #6

# 6: 2011 Week 15: Packers 14, Chiefs 19 (ρ=1.3215)
Packers' season: finished 15-1, clinched the #1 seed in the NFC, and lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
Chiefs' season: finished 7-9. Head coach Todd Haley was fired 13 games into the season; this was Romeo Crennel's first game as his replacement.
What happened: all season long, the Packers' defense was one of the worst in the league—a stunning turn-around from 2010, where they played a major role in the Packers' Super Bowl run. This was the game where their offense finally faltered. They posted the fewest yards, fewest points, and worst passing completion of any game all season. And instead of stepping up to carry the game, the defense simply couldn't keep the Chiefs very unremarkable offense from controlling the ball. Once they established a lead, that's all they needed to do.
Also of note: including this game, Kyle Orton has a 4-2 record as a starter against the Packers.

Next week: if you plot the ρ values for all the games posted so far, it's a relatively straight line. Starting next week, the ρ values go up much faster. These last 5 are really in a class by themselves.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #7

# 7: 1970 Week 11: Vikings 10, Jets 20 (ρ=1.3188)
Vikings' season: finished 12-2, won the NFC Central, and lost to the 49ers in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
Jets' season: finished 4-10. Long-time coach Weeb Ewbank would coach the Jets through the 1973 season.
What happened: in 1969, the Vikings were NFL champions, ultimately losing to the AFL champion Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. The Jets also had a very good season in 1969, going 10-4, and losing to the same Chiefs team in the final AFL Championship game. The Vikings were at the start of a period of strength that would last through most of the 1970s. While the Jets had fallen into a long-term slump—they would not return to the playoffs until 1981.
A big part of the problem for the Jets in 1970 was their defense—they held their opponents under 20 in just 5 games that season (compared to 9 times in 1969). Especially once Joe Namath got hurt, this wasn't something their offense could keep up with.
But the Vikings had problems of their own, at least in this game. Gary Cunzzo, their starting quarterback, got knocked out of the game after just 3 pass attempts, and back-up Bob Lee did not have a good game (9 completions on 24 attempts for 126 yards and 4 interceptions). The Jets were also able to hold the Vikings to 59 yards rushing, and the Vikings just weren't able to overcome their problems.
Also of note: In spite of his awful outing in this game (and generally unimpressive career numbers), quarterback Bob Lee was in the NFL through the 1980 season, and is credited for throwing at least one pass every season until his last.

Next week: the next installment of "a good offense can't always get by with a bad defense".