November 2012

Over some five years, the whole of the Matt Ryan – Mike Smith era, Atlanta has had a habit of outperforming its Pythagoreans:

Atlanta outperforming its Pythagoreans
Year WL% Pythag Delta
2008 69 62 7
2009 56 56 0
2010 81 72 9
2011 63 59 4
2012 (to date) 90 71 19


But they’ve never outperformed their Pythagoreans as substantially as they have this year. It can’t be blamed on early season New Orleans collapse, as their only loss was inflicted by New Orleans. New Orleans has only hindered this process. Is it turnover that are causing all this? While the 2010 team had a +14 turnover ratio and the 2011 team had a +8 turnover ratio, the 2012 team has only a +5 turnover ratio at this point and the 2008 team had a -3 turnover ratio. No, it’s something else. For now, perhaps noting that this team tends to outperform its Pythagoreans is enough.

Week 11 scoring stats:

Chicago’s biggest weakness was on display this Monday night, as Aldon Smith had a career day. Aaron Schatz (@FO_Schatz) has sent digging into his archives for the biggest DVOA blowouts of all time. The 32-7 demolition of the Bears by the 49ers wasn’t the worst, but it clearly evoked the worst.

The game plan was heavy on traps and wham blocks, and would have warmed the hearts of anyone who ever played NFL Strategy against a blitz heavy opponent.

It does lead to the question of whether Chicago is in the same downward spiral they experienced last year. At this point, however, you would expect Jay Cutler to return and thus slow down the bleeding.

The three sites we noted last year: Cool Standings, Football Outsiders, and NFL Forecast, are at it again, providing predictions of who is going to be in the playoffs.


Cool Standings uses Pythagoreans to do their predictions (and for some reason in 2011, ignored home field advantage), FO uses their proprietary DVOA stats, and NFL Forecast uses Brian Burke’s predictive model.

Blogging the Beast has a terrific article on “the play”. If you watched any Dallas-Philadelphia games in 2011, you’ll know exactly what I mean, the way with a simple counter trap, LeSean McCoy treated the Cowboys line as if it were Swiss cheese.

Most important new link, perhaps, is a new Grantland article by Chris Brown of Smart Football. This article on Chip Kelly is really good. Not only is the writing good, but I love the photos:

Not my photo. This is from Chris Brown’s Chip Kelly article (see link in text).

as an example. Have you ever seen a better photo of the gap assignments of a defense?

I believed, in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 season, that with Jason Peters at left tackle, the least of Philadelphia’s worries would have been the tackle position. Instead, he was injured in the off season. In September, Philadelphia center Jason Celce went down with a season ending injury. In the New Orleans game, Todd Herremans suffered a season ending injury, and going into the Dallas game, starting guard Danny Watkins had been out with a sprained ankle.

Losing Todd Herremans: deal breaker for the Eagles? (Image from Wikimedia).

So, in week 10, the Eagles had one healthy starting caliber player, and 4 backups playing on the offensive line. This loss of talent was profound, even in comparison with Dallas, which had 1 backup on the line – though Dallas RG Mackenzie Bernadeau has been pretty marginal as a starter. Simplified, losing tackles is much worse than losing a guard and a center. Result? A markedly ineffective Vick, a thoroughbred offense reduced to dog-sled pace.

No wonder announcers were hyping this as the “end of a season” for one of these teams. Most any cold blooded announcer could have figured out what was about to happen. The only question was how best to pitch it so people would actually watch.

Atlanta: I’ve been comparing the 2012 Atlanta Falcons to the 1976 Oakland Raiders, to make the case that Atlanta has a chance. But the 1976 Raiders had made it to three previous Conference Championship games, while the Mike Smith squads have never gone that far. They lack the deep playoff experience of those 1970s Raiders squads.

The fact is, all scoring stats suggest Atlanta has benefited from plenty of luck. I think, because of a better Julio Jones, that this is a better Falcons team than the 2011 team, but the coaching changes in New Orleans markedly benefited this squad. Yes, Atlanta can be beaten.

Week 9 scoring stats:

Week 10 scoring stats:

If we use the median point spread as a measure of how good Atlanta is, and select the teams within 2 points of their value, you end up with a group that includes San Francisco, New England, Minnesota, and the New York Giants. That’s a talented group of teams, but perhaps not as terrifying as Green Bay, Houston, Denver, and Chicago. Pythagoreans point out three elite teams in Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco, while simple rankings prefer the quartet of Houston, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco.

At this point, perhaps the more appropriate past comparison for the Falcons would be the 1973 Oakland Raiders. Atlanta needs to make some noise in the playoffs first.

Should anyone be worried about the Giants mid season slide? No. They always do this. The question is, will they fully recover in time to make a playoff run. That’s not something that will be entirely answered until week 17.