Friday, October 24, 2014

NFL Picks, Week 8

Quick hitters this week, home team in CAPS

Detroit (-3.5) over "ATLANTA"
Atlanta's not really home (game is in London at 9:30 AM Eastern), and they're playing a legitimately very good defense.

Minnesota (+2.5) over TAMPA BAY 
Tampa Bay shouldn't be favored over anybody, except maybe Oakland.

NEW ENGLAND (-5.5) over Chicago
Jay Cutler morphs into Captain Turnover yet again.

KANSAS CITY (-7) over St. Louis
The Rams exhausted their bag of tricks last week.

Seattle (-5) over CAROLINA
Seattle's offense found their groove a little too late against the Rams, but they should keep rolling against what has been an awful Panthers defense this season.

Buffalo (+3) over NEW YORK JETS 
The Jets' pass defense is just so bad that Kyle Orton should be able to move the ball against it.

Miami (-6) over JACKSONVILLE
The Dolphins defense will destroy Blake Bortles in this game.

Houston (-3) over TENNESSEE
Welcome to the NFL, Mr. Mettenberger. Your host for the afternoon in your own backfield will be Mr. JJ Watt.

Baltimore (-1) over CINCINNATI
Two teams going in vastly opposite directions.

ARIZONA (-2.5) over Philadelphia
I don't trust Philly's defense...or their offense fully against a good defense.

Indianapolis (-3) over PITTSBURGH
Pittsburgh isn't a very good team, and they're very bad on defense. Indianapolis is a very good offense.

Oakland (+7) over CLEVELAND 
That's way too high a line.

Green Bay (+2) over NEW ORLEANS
Yes, the Saints are undefeated at home. They've played the Vikings and the Buccaneers. And they needed overtime to beat Tampa Bay. This line completely baffles me.

DALLAS (-9.5) over Washington
Colt McCoy against a 6-1 team? No thank you.


This Week: 0-1 (D'oh!)
Last Week: 6-9 (.400)
2014 Season: 54-51-1 (.514)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NFL Picks, Week 8 - Thursday Night Edition

This week's maps: 506sports


  • The "national" late afternoon game is Indianapolis at Pittsburgh (really?), on CBS.  
  • Atlanta is playing Detroit in London, but instead of playing the game late in Londo so it falls in the 1:00 window in the US, they are playing the game at 9:30 AM Eastern time, and the game will be broadcast nationally on FOX. 
  • Seattle at Carolina was "flexed" to CBS during the 1:00 slot. 
  • This is the last Thursday Night Football game that will be broadcast on CBS as well as the NFL Network. From now on all Thursday Night games will appear only on the NFL Network, with one exception. The 3rd game on Thanksgiving Day will appear on NBC. 

San Diego (+9) over DENVER 
This line feels pretty inflated. I watched the Sunday Night Football game too, but I don't think it means the Broncos are suddenly two scores better than the Chargers, something they haven't been in almost two years. 

I expect San Diego to use their offensive blueprint in this game: control the ball, ease their way down the field a few yards at a time, avoid negative plays (be they penalties, sacks, or turnovers), and keep the ball out of the opposing quarterback's hands. This formula has worked wonders for them almost all season. It didn't work for them against Kansas City last week, they only went 3/10 on 3rd down after not converting 3rd downs at less than a 38% rate in any other game this season. 

In fact, they executed this very plan last year in Denver on a Thursday night to win 27-20. Denver's defense has stepped up a couple of weight classes between then and now, but the Chargers are playing much better now as well. 

2014 Midweek Picks: 6-1

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

NFL Power Poll, Week 7


1
5-1
33.08
27.61
5.47
2
5-2
23.17
18.95
4.22
3
4-3
21.57
28.89
-7.32
4
3-3
21.53
18.11
3.42
5
6-1
18.76
13.71
5.05
6
5-2
13.89
15.78
-1.89
7
5-2
13.48
5.13
8.35
8
5-2
12.90
15.91
-3.01
9
3-3
9.63
0.66
8.97
10
5-1
9.03
6.10
2.93
11
5-2
8.32
12.81
-4.49
12
5-1
7.07
6.97
0.1
13
3-3
5.23
14.36
-9.13
14
5-2
3.28
-5.40
8.68
15
2-5
2.37
-4.47
6.84
16
4-3
1.75
6.48
-4.73
17
3-4
1.00
9.63
-8.63
18
4-3
-0.24
-3.30
3.06
19
3-4
-1.72
1.34
-3.06
20
2-5
-3.40
-9.45
6.05
21
3-2-1
-6.10
4.99
-11.09
22
3-3
-6.37
-6.06
-0.31
23
2-5
-6.41
-0.77
-5.64
24
2-4
-8.61
-11.18
2.57
25
1-6
-13.74
-18.78
5.04
26
2-5
-14.60
-9.16
-5.44
27
3-4
-17.70
-12.07
-5.63
28
3-3-1
-19.19
-10.74
-8.45
29
2-4
-20.85
-18.30
-2.55
30
1-6
-23.23
-33.63
10.4
31
1-5
-25.94
-25.94
0
32
0-6
-27.24
-25.84
-1.4

A Deeper Look:
Here I'll take a closer look at some teams whose ranking may look funny when compared with their record: 

Seattle (3-3, ranked 4th): Seattle still looks like a top team because they have the 2nd best yards per play differential (mostly thanks to their yards per carry stats, 5.4 ypc for and 3.2 ypc versus). Also, despite not forcing many turnovers (only 5 on the season, just two teams have forced fewer), they trail only Denver and San Francisco in toxic differential. Teams that are beating Seattle are doing it without many big plays. Seattle's problem is they aren't generating many negative plays, which makes it easier (still not easy) to put together long drives against their defense. 

Miami (3-3, ranked 9th): Miami is toed for 3rd in yards per play differential and has a solid toxic differential. That's enough for a top-10 spot. 

Arizona (5-1, ranked 10th): The Cardinals actually have a negative yards per play differential and a neagtive big play differential. How are they 5-1? Turnovers (they're +7) and they're top 10 in points per drive differential. 

Cincinnati (3-2-1, ranked 21st): When the Bengals have lost, they've lost big, as a result their points per drive differential is negative. They also give up almost 5 ypc to opposing rushing attacks and they've given up 9 more big plays than they've generated. If they hadn't done such a good job taking care of the ball (only 5 teams have fewer giveaways), they would be even further down this list. 

Carolina (3-3-1, ranked 28th): The Panthers are getting gashed on the ground (5.3 ypc against, compared to only 3.5 ypc for), only 3 teams have given up more big plays than they have, and they have been outscored by almost half a point per drive. Other than that, things are terrific. 

Biggest 1 week risers: 
1. Jacksonville (+10.4)
2. Miami (+8.97)
3. Indianapolis (+8.68)
Biggest 1 week fallers: 
1. Cincinnati (-11.09)
2. Cleveland (-9.13)
3. Chicago (-8.63)

The Forumla: 
I broke down my formula into three parts: 

Part 1: Yards per play. 
Here I take each teams yards per carry (rushing) and yards per attempt (passing) numbers and subtract from them the YPC and YPA their defense allows.  The theory being that, if Team A's offense is better per play than what their opponent's offense can muster against Team A's defense, Team A should be consistently better than their opponents over a full game's worth of plays (60 to 70 per game approximately). 

Part 2: Toxic Differential
A better yards per play differential is helpful to a team's chances of winning, but just how often is an NFL team able to consistently drive down the field taking 5-8 yards at a time? You're essentiall asking an NFL offense to put together 10-12 plays without more than 1-2 negative plays, be they incompletions, sacks, no-gainers, or worse: turnovers. It's doable, but it's really hard to do with any sort of consistency in a single game.

This is why coaches harp on turnovers so much. A turnover a) takes away an opponent's possession which decreases their chances of scoring more points, and b) can give your team a shorter field so you don't have to put together an 80+ yard drive to get points of your own. The problem with turnovers is you can't count on them. So much of what goes into a turnover is dependent on a) the other team and b) luck that relying on turnovers is a dangerous proposition.

So yes, turnovers are important. But there's something else that can make getting points in a drive much easier: big plays. If my offense can get 20 or 30 yards in a single play, that cuts out 4-6 plays of grinding, or 4-6 plays where something could go wrong. Now my offense only has to put 5-6 plays together on a drive where they also get a chunk play.

Brian Billick is credited with coming up with the toxic differential statistic. This adds your takeaways and big plays generated by your offense and subtracts your giveaways and the big plays given up by your defense. Again, the theory goes that teams with a better toxic differential will be better at turning drives into points and games into wins. Pete Carroll also bases his offensive and defensive identity around turnovers and big plays being the most important indicators for both sides of the ball.

Note: For this formula, a big play is considered a rushing play of 10+ yards or a passing play of 25+ yards.

Part 3: Points Per Drive
What's the most important job of an NFL team? Score more points than your opponent. Rather than look simple points per game differential, I wanted to dig a little deeper and normalize the data a little further. Game-to-game the number of possessions can vary based on team tempo, weather coniditons, etc. So instead I looked at points per drive data for each team's offense and defense, and multiplied the difference by 10. Why 10? A typical NFL game has 12 possessions, but 1-2 of those come at a point where a team isn't really interested in scoring (maybe they get the ball with 12 seconds to go before halftime, or they get it with 3 minutes to go in the game up 14+ points already. 10 seemed like a good number of possessions per game where the end goal is to score points.

All statistics taken from Sporting Charts and TeamRankings