Saturday, September 15, 2012

Historic and Hyperbolic

Last year, the NFL season kicked off in historic fashion.  Rodgers and Brees passed for 300+ yards, 3 TDs and no INTs in the same game, Brady passed for 500+ yards, Cam Newton set the rookie debut record with over 400 yards, Janikowski kicked a 63-yard FG, and Ted Ginn Jr. returned a kick and a punt for a TD.  This season started in a very similar fashion.  While last season saw offensive explosions from players (Rodgers, Brees, and Brady), this season saw offensive explosions of teams.  The Bears, Falcons, Redskins, Jets, and Ravens all scored 40+ points, the most number of teams to do so on opening weekend in history.  Cam Newton's rookie debut was topped by RGIII, who became the first player in history to throw for over 300 yards, 2 TDs and no INTs in his debut.  Janikowski's record-tying 63-yard FG was tied by David Akers.  And a return record was set, albeit a different kind, as Ed Reed set the record for most interception return yards in history.  With a similar beginning, let's just hope this season plays out close to as well as last year did.

The only negative start to the year revolves around the Green Bay Packers.  The media coverage of the Packers has been pretty ridiculous.  Coming into the year, ESPN the Magazine predicted that the Packers would go 16-0.  I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that is the most ludicrous prediction that's ever been made.  The Packers went 15-1 last year!  Do they really think a team is going to go 31-1 over a two year period?  That's insane!  It's very unlikely that a team wins more than 27 games, over a two-year stretch.  In fact, since the merger in 1970, it's happened less than half a dozen times.  The Niners have won 28 ('89-'90), the Patriots have won 28 on two separate occasions ('03-'04 and '06-'07), the Bears won 29 ('85-'86), and the '72-'73 Dolphins went 26-2 (which would be the equivalent of 29.7 wins, over a 32-game stretch).  No team has won 30 games over two years, yet the Packers are going to win 31?  Are you kidding me?  Not only is it statistically improbable for the Packers to win that many games, they don't even have the right type of team to attempt to do it.  The teams that won 28+ games all had very good defenses.  Here's their defensive rankings, by points allowed:

'89 Niners- 3rd
'90 Niners- 2nd

'03 Patriots- 1st
'04 Patriots- 2nd

'06 Patriots- 2nd
'07 Patriots- 4th

'85 Bears- 1st
'86 Bears- 1st

'72 Dolphins- 1st
'73 Dolphins- 1st

Where did the Packers rank last year?  19th.  They would've had to get substantially better on defense, in order to even get to 29 wins.  Especially considering the possibility that the offense would take a step back.  Prior to last year, there were 13 teams that scored 500+ points in a season.  Of those teams, only four regressed by less than triple digit points and only one (the 2000 Rams) actually scored more points the following year.  In summation, the Packers lacked an elite defense and possibly an unsustainable offense.  Not exactly the recipe for unprecedented success.

And when it took all of one week for the projection of an undefeated season to come crashing down, did everyone realize the error of their ways?  Did they realize that predicting an undefeated season was an absurd projection to make and that maybe they should stop making statements like that?  Nope.  Instead of deciding to stop making absurd statements, some thought the best course of action was to respond with some more idiotic remarks.  Like this gem from Foxsports: "The '72 Dolphins can pop bubbly early".  This, of course, is referencing the '72 Dolphins' ritual of toasting champagne whenever the last undefeated team in the league loses, preserving their season as the lone undefeated one.  Saying that the Dolphins can toast now is idiotic.  What they're saying is "Green Bay's not going undefeated, so no one is".  When a hyperbolic statement blows up in your face, it's probably not smart to immediately make another one.  Saying "there's no way anyone goes undefeated" is as stupid as guaranteeing that a team will go undefeated.  How about just not guaranteeing something that can't be guaranteed?

As if that wasn't bad enough, that wasn't the only generalized statement in that post (that's right, there's four sentences and half of them are generalizations).  It also stated that the Packers "still have no running game" (a sentiment I've heard from more than just Foxsports).  Let me get this straight, because Benson only had 18 yards rushing, the Packers will have no running game all year?  A guy in his first game with the team, against last year's top rushing defense, was enough to project how his year will go?  Maybe one game against a great rushing defense shouldn't be used to draw a conclusion?  (Last year, Steven Jackson had 19 yards against the Niners.  I guess he wouldn't help the Packers either?)

People overreact ("the Packers have no running game") in order to pretend that the original sentiment ("Green Bay will go undefeated") wasn't absurd to begin with.  How about just acknowledging that it was more likely the Packers were going to win 10-13 games this year?  Don't poke holes in the team after one week, pretending like some unforeseen circumstance is the reason why the original prediction isn't going to come true.  Don't make preposterous predictions and you won't have to sound the alarm after one week of football.

The hyperbolic nature of the media is taking away from the real stories, like how the Ravens are going to have the best offense in the NFL, RGIII is going to have the greatest rookie season in history, and that Adrian Peterson is genetically superior to the rest of us.  Ok, that last one is true.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Puzzling Scouting Reports

For every week 1 game, ESPN has done a scouting report, which includes a head to head comparison of each position group.  I'm no expert, but one of them included some egregious picks.  In the Green Bay-San Francisco scouting report, it gave the linebacker advantage to Green Bay.  A curious decision, seeing as the Niners have the best linebackers in football.  All-Pros Bowman and Willis, the best inside linebacker tandem in the league, are joined by Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks (who combined for 21 sacks last year).  It's no contest.  Clay Matthews is the only linebacker in Green Bay that would start in San Francisco, so picking Green Bay is a joke.  Equally as terrible of a selection was saying Green Bay had the advantage in special teams.  Apparently slighting the best linebackers in football wasn't enough, so I guess they had to slight the best special teams in football too.  Granted, special teams fluctuates from year to year, but seeing as a game hasn't been played yet, this analysis can really only go off of last year.  And what happened last year?  San Francisco had record years from Andy Lee and David Akers, and the Niners outperformed the Packers in kickoff return average, punt return average, opponents' kick return average and opponents' punt return average.  They literally outperformed Green Bay in every way, and Green Bay gets the nod?  Is this a joke?  I don't know what went into those decisions, but it clearly had nothing to do with what actually happens on the field.

Some other, less egregious, choices that I thought were curious:
Carolina DBs over Tampa Bay's- Tampa Bay signed Eric Wright (one of the best corners on the market), moved Ronde Barber to safety, and drafted Mark Barron 7th overall.  Meanwhile, Carolina's only new addition is Haruki Nakamura (a backup safety last year for the Ravens).  This on top of the fact that Tampa gave up less passing yards and their opponents had a worse passer rating against them.  So the better unit from last year got stronger, yet Carolina has the edge?  Makes total sense.

Atlanta RBs over Kansas City's- The Chiefs get the return of Jamaal Charles and the addition of Peyton Hillis.  The Falcons have a year-older Michael Turner.  Last year, Kansas City (led by Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle) had more total rushing yards than Atlanta.  Are they really going to be worse with Charles and Hillis?  Granted, there's some uncertainty about how they'll both bounce back from last year's injuries, but there's still too much upside.  This at least should've been ranked an "even".

Minnesota RBs over Jacksonville's- Gerhart and Jennings are probably pretty close to each other.  I think the disparity should come from the fact that MJD only sat out camp, while Peterson is recovering from a serious knee injury.  Even though it's mainly a battle of backups, I think MJD is likely to be more effective than Peterson (if Peterson even plays at all).  Therefore, the scales should be tipped in Jacksonville's favor.

Again, I'm no expert, but these all seemed like weird choices.