Monday, January 21, 2008

Blizzard: existential football, playoff quarterbacks, and links

"Existence precedes essence"
In this discussion at Football Outsiders, I came to understand just what it is that bothers me about advanced statistical metrics for sports analysis. The advanced metrics (DVOA, Estimated Wins, etc.) are an attempt to look beyond (or closer than) wins and losses to understand the the quality of a team (or as one commenter calls it, the "intrinsic quality"). That is very useful stuff, and I don't scoff at it. However, this metric is an attempt to get at the "essence" of the team. Because luck does play a role in wins and losses, the advanced stats try to show the actual quality of the team without considering wins and losses (Football Outsiders does this by analyzing every play). This can be useful in making predictions for the future: because of the role of luck in wins and losses, the advanced metric may be a better indicator of future success or failure than wins and losses.

However, the advanced metric is not as useful in appreciating and recognizing past accomplishments of the team (I'm putting any game that is over in the past). Why? Because existence precedes essence: the actions are more important than any intrinsic qualities. For existential freedom, this means that whatever inherent essence or internal qualities I believe I have don't matter: what matters is how I act. It is in actions that I choose freedom, and it is by my actions that I become whatever it is that I am. For a football team, I'd consider "existence" the actual wins and losses. Existence precedes essence: it is pointless to look at the Giants' run to the playoffs and say "the advanced metric shows they are not as good as the teams they beat." Maybe it was luck. Maybe they got on a hot streak. But we must recognize what they have actually done, their actions. Certainly the advanced metric to get at the "essence" of the team is based on their own actions. But you could attempt an advanced metric of my soul to get at my essence, and it's still not going to define me more than my actions.

For Sartre, freedom makes itself real in an action (or as Christ says, by their works you shall know them). So I do, indeed, find it useful to look at the advanced metric, to look closer than wins and losses. However, I'm still primarily going to define teams by their actions, by their existence. The Giants won three straight road games, including two games in a row against 13-3 teams, to earn the NFC Championship. The advanced metric, the search for the Giants' "essence," is pointless in the face of their "existence": by their actions, the Giants are the best team in the NFC.

Some further steps...

A trend is not destiny. A trend is a trend and suggests possibility, but a trend is not destiny.

In a world of hazard, of complex human psychology, of free will, the best team doesn't always win. And that's why we watch.

Playoff Quarterbacks by Era
Let's pick up on Holy Hitter's post on quarterbacks to discuss the best playoff quarterback of each of the last five decades. Now, for obvious reasons, I don't think looking at a quarterback's win-loss record is an entirely fair way to evaluate a QB's playoff performance: it is a team game, and it is teams that win games, playoff games, and championships. But since QB is the most important position in football, QBs often get more credit or blame for playoff performances: it is a significant part of their legacies.

1960s: Bart Starr (9-1, 5 championships)
Pro-football-reference doesn't have all of Starr's playoff stats, but the Packers were 9-1 in the playoffs with Starr as the starter, including his last 9 playoff starts. Starr is, I believe, the first quarterback to start 10 playoff games; before the Super Bowl era, there was usually one or possibly two playoff games each season. So while Sid Luckman led the Bears to four championships in the 1940s, the Bears only played seven playoff games in Luckman's 12 year career.

1970s: Terry Bradshaw (14-5, 4 championships)
First, the obvious notes: the Steelers in the 70s were led by a dominant defense, and Bradshaw had four Hall of Famers around him on offense. Still, Bradshaw was a two-time Super Bowl MVP with 10 multi-touchdown games.

1980s: Joe Montana (16-7, 4 championships)
Meet the greatest playoff quarterback of all-time. He's the playoff leader in games (23), touchdown passes (45), and passing yards (5,772). He was 14-5 as 49ers starter, and in four Super Bowls, he threw 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He's also recognized for game-winning touchdown passes in the closing moments of the 1981 NFC Championship Game and the 1988 Super Bowl.

1990s: Troy Aikman (11-5, 3 championships)
Consider this: during the prime of Aikman's career, he led the Cowboys to wins in 11 of 12 playoff games. During those 12 games, the Cowboys averaged 34 points a game, never scoring fewer than 27 points.

2000s: Tom Brady (so far: 14-2, 3 championships)
I don't want to comment yet: Brady's career is far from over. Clearly, however, he's already in a league with the above mentioned quarterbacks.

You know what I'm sick of?
People complaining about being sick of the overhyped and repetitive stories during these two Super Bowl weeks. At this point, people are already complaining about the overhyped and repetitive stories BEFORE the Conference Championship games even reveal who will play in the Super Bowl.

I have advice for people who tire of all the forced Super Bowl storylines: DON'T READ THEM. DON'T WATCH THEM. Nobody is coming into your home, grabbing you by the hair, and shouting these storylines into your face. Nobody is forcing you to follow any storylines for the next two weeks. IT IS ENTIRELY YOUR CHOICE WHETHER YOU READ OR WATCH ANY SUPER BOWL STORYLINES! Embrace your free will.

To the Minnesota Timberwolves: I wish I knew how to quit you (Timberwolves 109, Warriors 108).

Free Darko on Martin Luther King Day and the NBA.

Signal to Noise reminds us that Martin Luther King was passionately opposed to war.

Cold, Hard Football Facts on the Packer-Giant game: "In a tight game, the Packers’ last four drives went 0, 7, 0 and 2 yards. From the start of the fourth quarter (an INT), Favre was 2-for-8 for 5 yards with two INTs."

NFL Stats finds that cold weather does not lower scoring.


  1. Anonymous12:01 AM

    When I began my search to determine just how good of a playoff QB, Brady was, I started listing the QBs I thought were up there in the debate. Here is the order of how I ranked them and researched:

    1. Montana
    2. Bradshaw
    3. Aikman
    4. Elway

    I didn't go into the pre-Super Bowl era. So obviously I agree with your representatives.

  2. On the week off, I can ignore the media coverage (and do) but the thing that really gets me is how much this stupid extra week throws off the rhythm of the football season. At least one game/every week is what I want. By the time the big game rolls around it feels completely divorced from the season, almost like some kind of exhibition.

  3. Anonymous9:51 AM

    topic should be list of quarterbacks with greatest sustained level of hall of fame talent and coaching. you should also look at the hall of fame defensive players who made it happen.


  4. Anonymous12:37 PM

    Two things:

    I completely agree about the "essence"/"existence" relationship and how both are important when looking at the past, present and even future of a team. What a lot of people are realizing now is that we can tell a whole lot more about a team by looking at the relationship between the essence (deep analysis) and existence (standings). I wrote a post on it before, and I'm pretty sure that FO did as well, but Bill James coined the term "plexiglass principle" when he referred to the relationship between a team's estimated wins and their actual wins, and how teams that underperform will often rebound the next year yada yada yada. Instead of focusing on just one aspect of the team, focus on both.

    Topic 2: the stupid overhyped stories. I HATE the overhyped stories mostly because they're lacking substance and they really don't have any connection to the actual game play. If Tom Brady is hurt, yeah I want to know about it. If the coach is black, I really could care less. I work from home and I like to have the tv on in the background and it's either overhyped sports stories, overhyped political stories, or Dirty Jobs reruns. I'll take the Dirty Jobs.

    And I like to make up my own headlines ;0)

  5. Sure, I'll list the defensive HOFers for each of the QBs I listed (parentheses are the number of championships the defensive players had with that QB).

    Bart Starr: Herb Adderley (5), Willie Davis (5), Henry Jordan (5), Ray Nitschke (5), Willie Wood (5)

    Terry Bradshaw: Mel Blount (4), Joe Green (4), Jack Ham (4), Jack Lambert (4).

    Joe Montana: Ronnie Lott (4)

    Troy Aikman: currently none, someday Deion Sanders (1)

  6. Anonymous9:52 PM

    I know that he isn't one, but I still can't understand why Charles Haley hasn't been elected to the Hall.