Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Tyrant King

Bryant McKinnie has been suspended (Star Tribune).

I feel that if the NFL is going to suspend a player for his off-the-field legal trouble, particularly before the player has been convicted of a crime, then the power to punish should not lie so narrowly with one person. There is far too much room for subjectivity when Roger Goodell alone can decide whom to suspend and for how many games, whose suspensions to reduce, whose appeals to accept or reject, when to declare suspensions, etc. This is an issue the players' union should take up: there should be a more fair and objective due process for punishing players.

I also feel that by emphasizing off-the-field conduct of players with suspensions, Roger Goodell has brought more negative attention to the issue without really solving the "problem."

I also personally feel that Roger Goodell is a prick, and I miss Paul Tagliabue.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Super Sleeper: the Cincinnati Bengals

It's hard to find a real playoff sleeper these days: there are so many football outlets, and everybody is looking to predict this year's surprise team.

But nobody likes the Cincinnati Bengals.

Sports Illustrated thinks they'll finish 5-11. Not one of ESPN's analysts think the Bengals will even finish 2nd in the AFC North: they all predict 3rd or 4th place finishes. Pete Prisco thinks they'll finish 3rd in the AFC North. Don Banks thinks they'll be 6-10. Bill Simmons thinks they'll be 6-10. Not one of USA Today's prognosticators picks the Bengals to win their division--just one picks them to make the playoffs. No Sports Illustrated writer picks them to make the playoffs. One of eleven Fanhouse writers picks the Bengals. This all intrigues me: I'm not saying these writers are wrong to expect little from Cincinnati, but real sleeper emerges when almost nobody expects them to do anything.

There are a lot of problems in Cincinnati, on and off the field. But I think Carson Palmer is an elite quarterback, and he's surrounded by a lot of offensive talent. And I think there are significant flaws to the Ravens, the Browns, and even the Steelers: the AFC North is there for the taking.

I've already predicted a 10-6 record and a division title for the Bengals. I can see why nobody else likes them: questions about players like Chad Johnson and Chris Henry, questions about a defense that's been bad for years, questions about the poorly run organization, questions about the coach. But if you're looking for a sleeper playoff team, who else is there? I have a feeling that during games, any of those "character" questions will not matter: Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzedah will line up and catch passes from a very good quarterback. I'll take Carson Palmer flinging the ball all over the field leading the Bengals to a surprise playoff berth.

Is Cincinnati really so inferior to a team like Cleveland? Look at the team numbers Prisco provides. The '07 Bengals scored 380 points and gave up 385; the '07 Browns scored 402 points and gave up 382. The Bengals had 348 yards per game and gave up 348.8 yards per game; the Browns had 351.3 yards per game, and gave up 359.6 yards per game. When you look at those numbers, the teams are barely different at all. A little fluctuation in points differential and the Bengals are the 10-6 team and the Browns 7-9. Isn't Carson Palmer throwing to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzedah at least as intriguing as Derek Anderson throwing to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr? And what are the other big differences between these teams?

The Ravens will struggle offensively all season. The Steelers may have problems with pass protection (Ben Roethlisberger lost more yards on sacks than any QB in the league last year, and that was with Alan Faneca), may have trouble in the running game, and face a tough schedule. The Browns are pretty a pretty similar team to the Bengals, comparable in many areas. It's not so odd to imagine the Bengals getting to 10 wins and winning the AFC North.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jerry Rice, Wide Receivers, and MVP

Jerry Rice scored more touchdowns than anybody in NFL history. But he never won the AP MVP, which has become the officially recognized NFL MVP. Why didn't Jerry Rice ever win MVP? Because he plays Wide Receiver, so he's virtually ineligible. Since the AP started naming an MVP in 1957, no Wide Receiver has ever won it.

Receivers have won other MVP awards, though rarely. Don Hutson won the Joe F. Carr Trophy twice playing End. And Jery Rice was named MVP in 1987 by other organizations, such as Pro Football Writers of America. and Newspaper Enterprise Association. But the AP MVP is the recognized NFL MVP, and no Wide Receiver has ever won it. That includes the greatest scorer of touchdowns in NFL history.

Rice led the league in receptions twice, in receiving yards six times, in receiving touchdowns six times. He had 10+ TDs nine times and 14 1,000 yard seasons. Obviously there are a lot of great seasons when Rice could have, and probably should have, won MVP. For me, three seasons stand out.

In a strike shortened season, Jerry Rice only played in 12 games. In those 12 games, he set the record for receiving touchdowns with 22. He scored 23 touchdowns total for a team that finished 13-2 ; to put this in perspective, the 1987 AP MVP John Elway threw for 19 touchdown passes on a team that finished 10-4-1. Rice scored more touchdowns than Elway threw, but Elway won MVP. It was a nice season, and I have the sense that Elway dragged those '80s Bronco offenses around on his back. But Rice made history in 1987.

Rice won the receiving triple-crown in 1990: he led the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. This is a fairly impressive and rare feat: it has also been done by Ray Flaherty in '32, Don Hutson in '36, '41, '42, '43, and '44 (Hutson was far ahead of his time: if Rice isn't the greatest receiver in NFL history, it is Hutson), Elroy Hirsch in '51, Pete Pihos in '53, Raymond Berry in '59, Johnny Morris in '64, Dave Parks in '65, Lance Alworth in '66 (in the AFL), Sterling Sharpe in '92, and Steve Smith in '05. There were fewer teams before the merger, thus fewer players (and certainly fewer elite pass catchers) to challenge for the different statistical categories. It simply becomes more difficult to lead the league in multiple categories the more players you add to the league. When Rice did it in 1990, it hadn't been done since the merger. But Rice's teammate Joe Montana won MVP, which highlights the problem for a Wide Receiver's MVP case: if a Wide Receiver is playing great football, it's very likely his quarterback is also playing great football too. Montana won MVP in 1989 with one of the best passing seasons of all-time; in 1990, his numbers declined in most categories (some categories significantly). It was still a great passing season, but I don't think it was enough to overshadow the league's first receiving triple-crown since the mid-'60s.

In 1995 Jerry Rice set a record for receiving yards in a season with 1,848 yards (and this without Steve Young for five games). The previous record was set by Charley Hennigan in the AFL in 1961. But it was, admittedly, a pass-happy season. Isaac Bruce also passed Hennigan with 1,781 yards. Herman Moore had 123 catches (besting teammate Brett Perriman's 108), breaking Cris Carter's year old record of 122 (Carter again had 122 catches in '95). And Michael Irvin had 11 100-yard receiving games in his best statistical season. The passing numbers in 1995 were dizzying, so I can hardly blame MVP voters for overlooking Rice's record season. Furthermore, '95 AP MVP Brett Favre was very deserving. Injuries forced Green Bay's top receiver Sterling Sharpe to retire after 1994, and still in '95 Favre led the league with 4,413 yards and 38 touchdowns, leading the Packers to an 11-5 finish. And if Favre hadn't won MVP, it would have been hard to overlook Emmitt Smith, who had gargantuan numbers leading the league in rushing yards (1,773), touchdowns (25), and yards from scrimmage (2,148). Smith averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had 62 receptions, the 25 TDs was a record, and Smith's Cowboys finished 12-4 (eventually winning the Super Bowl). Think about 1995: the WR with the most touchdowns ever, the QB with the most touchdown passes ever, and the RB with the most rushing touchdowns ever was each in his prime and had arguably his best season!

The Quarterback Problem
If you really want to know how great Jerry Rice is, just look at his quarterbacks. FIVE TIMES Jerry Rice was a primary pass catcher for the league MVP: Joe Montana in '89 and '90, Steve Young in '92 and '94, and Rich Gannon in '02. According to the AP MVP voters, Jerry Rice was never good enough to win MVP. However, three different quarterbacks throwing passes to Jerry Rice were good enough to win MVP.

And that's why I don't think a Wide Receiver will win MVP: anything the Wide Receiver does to merit the MVP will be outdone by his own Quarterback. Most recently, Randy Moss scored a record 23 touchdowns in 2007, but was of course overshadowed by Tom Brady who threw 50 touchdowns. A Wide Receiver will always hurt his own MVP case by helping his own Quarterback. A great Wide Receiver may help his QB to an MVP, or he may not even get the attention, allowing a Quarterback or Running Back on a different team to win the award.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On hating the Packers

(I dislike group generalizations. Where I've regretfully slipped into such here, I ask you to forgive me, and enjoy it in the spirit of fun, and in the spirit of rivalry. I claim none of this to be rational, fair, or unbiased. I'm trying to express the unreasonable disdain I feel for the Packers, the wordless sense of antipathy I have for this team).

I'm a Viking fan. Knowing this, some Packer fans may now consider themselves morally superior to me. Why?

Because I root for a team that plays indoors. I should root for a team that plays real football, that braves the elements to play a man's game, not root for a bunch of wimpy crybabies that play on turf. My favorite team plays in a dome, and I should be held individually responsible for this.

Because I root for a team that has a shiftless, fickle fanbase--the Vikes don't even sell out all their games. This should be considered an indictment on each individual Viking fan, regardless of how devoted he/she is as an individual.

Because I root for a team that has never won a Super Bowl, a team that always chokes. This, too, is a reflection of my own sorry character.

Perhaps other Viking fans have experienced the sense of moral superiority, the holier-than-thou attitude that Packer fans sometimes exude. Packer fans are rather proud of the devotion the state of Wisconsin has for the Packers--and they should be. The Packers are not merely a sports team that plays in Wisconsin, but a dominating facet of Wisconsin culture. But I've encountered Packer fans who lord this over me. I think a many Packer fans really believe they are better fans than any other fans. No, not as a group--the Packers do have a large, devoted fanbase. I mean as individuals: I've sensed that individual Packer fans believe they are superior to individual Viking fans just because of their rooting interest. Wisconsinites will sometimes remind me that everybody in their families roots for the Packers, that there are pictures of them as little babies dressed in Packer gear, that it's so hard to get tickets to Lambeau because the fans are so devoted. I've been told Packer fans would never leave Lambeau Field early. Some Packer fans used to tell me what a rotten human being Randy Moss was, often suggesting the Packers would never have a player like him on their team. Because Packer fans are salt-of-the-earth human beings, and they will only tolerate morally upright players on their beloved franchise. It usually amounts to this: the Packers have a long, rich tradition, and Packer fans are special because they are a part of it.

And it doesn't matter that there are baby pictures of me in a Viking shirt. And it doesn't matter that I grew up hearing stories from older family members about Bud Grant, Alan Page, Karl Kassulke, Chuck Foreman, Carl Eller, Fran Tarkenton, Matt Blair, and the rest. And it doesn't matter that I too have suffered for my team, feel the emotional sting of every loss. It can't matter. Because the simple fact is I root for the Vikings, and thus I'm an inferior fan to any individual that roots for the Packers.

No, I don't root for a team that has won a dozen championships, that has the Super Bowl trophy named after its legendary coach. I don't root for a team that plays in the football cathedral of Lambeau Field. I was born too far west, to other people who were born too far west, and thus took to rooting for a different team, the Minnesota Vikings. We love the Purple, but our relationship with them is not very peaceful. Rooting for this team has made us slightly bitter, has made us perhaps bristle all the more at Packer fans, rooting for their team with 12 championships, always able to ask "How many Super Bowls have the Vikings won?" always able to remind Viking fans of Drew Pearson's pushoff, of Gary Anderson's missed field goal, of a trophy case devoid of championship trophies. And that's why I know my feeling toward Packer fans is not fair, does not actually match my character in other facets of life. Because I do root for a team with no championships, because I do root for a team that consistently breaks my heart, I'm all the more galled when Packer fans remind me just how special they are because they root for the Packers.

My reaction to Packer fans is partly consumed with my own self-loathing and feeling of inadequacy. It is not jealousy--at least, it is only jealousy to the extent that I'm jealous of all fans who have seen their favorite team win a championship. Perhaps it is resentment. Or perhaps its the strange pride that comes with a certain type of suffering.

So I guess I'm also speaking to my Packer fan friends (for I have many). I know I haven't been the easiest to deal with. I'm the one dancing around gleefully, unable to stop smiling, when the Packers lose. I'm the one always trying to tear down the mythology of your team. And so I recognize my disgust of the Packers is partly a personal psychological problem. I can't wish you any more joy from your team. I hope that if the Vikings win a Super Bowl, this will pass. If I could just root for a team that has won one Super Bowl, I'd mellow out. I would still root against the Packers, but I wouldn't be consumed with the hate (which I recognize as self-hate directed outward).

But as it is, I do hate the Packers. I hate the sound of their name, I hate their colors, and I can't ever really like any players on the team. My perception that individual Packer fans believe themselves to be superior to me may be incorrect. It may be that because I root for a team with no championships, I see that hideous green and yellow and am reminded of what I lack. For I find the purple and gold beautiful. What I want to see is purple and gold confetti falling down upon a Super Bowl celebration. And if I can see that, no matter what happens, I'll be able to say "The Vikings won the Super Bowl." And then all the arrogance of Packer fans will mean nothing to me. I'll have reached a state of sports fan peace.

Big Blizzard of Links

Sports Illustrated's Viking Scouting Report.

Sports Illustrated's NFL Predictions: the Vikes at 13-3 and losing the NFC Championship Game.

ESPN's forecast for the Vikings.

ESPN's NFL predictions.

Chad Greenway (Star Tribune).

Brian Robison (Pioneer Press).

Whither Daunte? (ProFootballTalk).

Reggie Wayne (USA Today).

Booty or Bollinger (Viking Update, Pioneer Press).

Adrian Peterson (ESPN).

Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams (ESPN). If it weren't for the Lions historic struggles against the Vikings, these are the division players I'd be most worried about.

Cian is a Packer fan that blogs at fuh-baw; he's written a Viking preview at Throwing Into Traffic, with some comments on the Viking-Packer rivalry for fans.

How does team passing efficiency affect fantasy running backs? (

An alternative to my view of Peyton Manning's fantasy value (Fantasy Football Fools).

The decline of the 49ers, an historically great franchise (Cold, Hard Football Facts). Just a note: "Dark Ages" is a nasty slur.

AFC Over/Under wins (Football Outsiders).

It just hit me
Seeing SI predict the Vikings to lose in the NFC Championship game made me think about how miserable I'd be if the Vikes lose another NFC championship game. And then I imagined them getting to the Super Bowl and losing that, and what my emotions might be. And that reminded me what's coming: the emotional swings of the NFL season. I'll be up and down, dancing around my living room in euphoria, screaming, sulking, brooding, feeling my heart in my stomach, agonizing during close games, ecstatic after victories and devastated after defeats. It's all coming: an emotional powerhouse, swinging me all over the place. I'll be emotionally drained after every close loss. I'll be edgy and cranky all week after every loss. I'll be desperately anticipating the next game. I'll feel a flow of intense emotion that I rarely feel otherwise.

Are you ready for this? Are you ready for your mood to be taken over by the performance of your favorite football team? I'm ceding my free will to the Vikings: I will only be happy when they win, and I can only be sad when they lose.

I hate the Packers
I'm a Viking fan that has either lived or worked in Wisconsin for the last decade. As such, my attitude toward that dreadful team is largely shaped by my interactions with various Packer fans. As the latest Viking-Packer game approaches, I'll share some thoughts on this rivalry, and try to express just what I find so distasteful about this team.

And below
If you haven't already checked it out, my 2008 NFL preview might be the longest post I've ever written here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

PV's Massive NFL Preview

For several years, I've tried to project the NFL season in the same way. I look at an NFL schedule, and for each game I circle a projected winner in fewer than five seconds of thinking about it. Is this a stupid way to do it? Of course. But it's probably stupid to spend any of my time on this at all.

When I make these quick decisions on each game, I largely think about the team's quarterback, the team's recent history (more than just last season), and the game's location.

When I am finished and I tally up each team's projected record, I'm often surprised myself. I end up projecting teams I expect to be good to be under .500, and teams I think will suck to be .500 or better. So as we go through each division, I'll discuss my game-by-game projection, as well as my wider sence of each team.

NFC North
When I played out the schedule, the only team I found over .500 was the Vikings. I always underestimate the Packers when I do the game-by-game projections--they should be competitive. I really don't believe in the Bears (they'll win some games because of the defense, but they have no passing game and a questionable running game) and I'll probably never believe in the Lions (though Calvin Johnson looks like he might carry them to some wins they shouldn't get). The Vikings have a tough early schedule, and (in current appearances) an easy later schedule. I could see them starting 0-2, maybe 1-3, and still winning 10+ games.

NFC East
Looking at Dallas in the second half of last season, this might not be a dominant team this season. But the offense appears so loaded, and the defense is good too, and they added another extremely good player in Adam Jones. My projections found them at 11-5, the Giants at 9-7. I think this is going to be a toughly contested division though--I really expect the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles to be around 9-10 wins, with the division winner determined by how these teams all play against each other. I don't think Washington is that good.

NFC West
Once again, this division could be utterly horrible. My projections have the Seahawks at 12-4, with the other teams under .500. Those teams just don't look that good.

But here's another thing: the Seahawks have been to the playoffs five straight years, and won their division four straight years. During most of that time, they've been a solid team: well-coached, quality quarterback, mostly a well-run organization. But they haven't been that good. They haven't been the sort of team that I would say "Yeah, it makes sense that they win five straight division titles." If one of the other teams (possibly the Cardinals) really improves, and maybe knocks off Seattle in their games, I could see Seattle finishing around 8-8 and missing the playoffs. I don't expect it, but it seems like they should.

NFC South
I have the Saints and Panthers each going 9-7, with the Buccaneers and Falcons each being horrible. Horrible. The Panthers and Saints should each play each other to some tough games. Both are solid in several areas, and should compete every week.

AFC North
I don't know why Carson Palmer does this for me: I have Cincinnati winning the division at 10-6, with the Steelers at 8-8, the Browns and Ravens under .500. There's no reason I should think the Bengals will win 10 games this season, but when I looked at a lot of their games, I saw them winning. This could be a weak division this year: I really expect the Steelers and Browns to decline, and the Ravens are going to struggle at quarterback.

AFC East
In my projections, each team in this division had at least seven wins, with the Patriots taking the division at 10-6. Even if the Patriots have a severe decline, I see 10 wins as their floor. I don't really think the Bills or Dolphins are going to be good, but I found them at 8-8 and 7-9 respectively. The Dolphins should, however, be much improved. They've got a quality quarterback, they added an offensive tackle with the #1 pick in the draft, and they now have Bill Parcells building the team. The Jets are a mystery to me, which is why I have them at 8-8, I guess.

AFC West
Kansas City and Oakland should each be very bad. Denver should be competitive, but they'll lose some games they shouldn't, and end up around .500 and probably out of the playoffs. In my projections, the Chargers are 14-2, the top record in the league. That seems unlikely to me for all sorts of reasons, but that's what I got. This is a weak division.

AFC South
Can a team really win 12+ games six consecutive seasons? The Colts have done it five straight years, and they seem built to be able to do it again. They're extremely good offensively, featuring the best quarterback in the game today with perhaps the best overall group of skill position players in the league (Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai--any one of these players would probably transform another team's offense). They're extremely good defensively, featuring a lot of young, dynamic players and a head coach that always brings a defense ready to play. Somehow in my projections, every team in this division won 9+ games, with the Colts winning the division, but I don't think the Titans or the Texans are that good.

And my desires
If I really made a list of teams based on whom I desire to see win the Super Bowl, it would go like this:

1-31. Minnesota Vikings
32. Other

Each season, I believe the Vikings have a realistic chance to win the Super Bowl: if I didn't, I don't know that I would watch football. And while I love watching all sorts of NFL games, and there are all sorts of teams and players I like and dislike, the only team I've poured my soul into is the Vikings. The Vikings winning the Super Bowl would be a transcendent experience for me. I might be pleased if the Colts win the Super Bowl, but it's not going to fill me with euphoric peace. Sometimes I despair: I'm overcome with the feeling it is for other fans to actually follow championship teams, that it will never really be for me to do so. But I hope, and that's why I'm watching.

I just want to emphasize that what I really root for in the deep of my soul is for the Vikings to win a championship this year. But there are some teams I really don't want to see win a championship this season.

Teams I don't like, and if any of these teams wins a Super Bowl, I probably wouldn't want to read anything about football for the entire offseason.

New England Patriots: Enough Boston. Enough Tom Brady. Enough Bill Belichick. I don't want this anymore.

New York Jets: Of course you know that a few weeks ago, I would have counted myself completely indifferent to the Jets. Not anymore.

Green Bay Packers: It's not just that I've spent a lot of time in Wisconsin, and currently work in Wisconsin. It's not just that I have relationships with Packer fans. It's not just that they're the Vikings' biggest rivals. It's not just that I resent the self-righteous, holier-than-thou Packer fans and their seeming sense of moral superiority because they root for the Packers. It's not just that I disdain the media love for Green Bay football. It's also that I root for a team that has never won a championship, and if I saw a division rival that is so near to us win its 13th championship before I even get to see my favorite team even win one, I'd probably be driven into a fit of nihilistic depression.

Players that I like to a greater or lesser extent, and thus wouldn't mind seeing them and their teams win a Super Bowl
I don't have loyalty to any team other than the Vikings. But throughout my football watching days, I've variously loved some non-Viking players, and this has made me temporarily like their teams. When I first started watching football heavily, my two favorite players were Dan Marino and Michael Irvin. So I liked to see these players succeed, and see their teams succeed. And today there are some players I like and would feel good seeing win a Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning: If you read this blog for thoughts on the Vikings, you've already grown weary of my Manning praise. He's my favorite non-Viking, and he's made the Colts my favorite non-Viking team. I've also grown to like Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.

Donovan McNabb: I like him a lot, and I'd either like to see him cement his legacy with a Super Bowl, or see the Eagles struggle, cut him in the off-season, and have him end up on the Vikings. Either/Or.

Carson Palmer: Don't ask me why I like him--I don't understand it myself.

I also root for...
Everybody on the Experience: yes, I really grow to root hard for the players on my fantasy football team. Some I continue to like after they're no longer helping my fantasy team (Reggie Wayne), but many I become indifferent to in following seasons. This year I see myself growing attached to players like Brandon Jacobs, Calvin Johnson, Torry Holt, and Dallas Clark, and if they're not on my team next year, I'll probably grow detached from most of them. Such is this stupid fantasy football habit.

And I root for my fellow suffering fans.
But beside players I like, I also root for those fans that have waited a long time to see their favorite team win a Super Bowl. There are 15 franchises that have not won a Super Bowl in their current location. Some of these franchises feature a loyal, often heartbroken fanbase. I'd like to see these fans assuaged. I feel a sort of kinship with fans of the Buffalo Bills, the other 0-4 Super Bowl team. I feel a sort of pity for Cleveland sports fans, who haven't seen a pro sports title since 1964. I'd like to see some other long-suffering fans be contented.

MVP Predictions
It's not hard to narrow the pool of MVP candidates. First, the MVP is almost always a QB or RB (the AP MVP only went to a player at a different position three times, the last in 1986). Second, the MVP usually plays on a team with the best record in its conference, but at the very least a playoff team.

The award will usually go to a QB who puts up elite numbers on a playoff team, but it may go to a RB that plays on an elite team and puts up gargantuan numbers that overshadow his own team's QB. And the MVP usually goes to an already established star.

With that in mind, here is my pool of potential MVPs:

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ladanian Tomlinson, Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson, Matt Hasselbeck, Drew Brees, Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer.

Based on my own projections for each team, that pool can shrink further. I'll drop from the list players whose teams don't make the playoffs according to my projections, leaving:

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ladanian Tomlinson, Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson, Matt Hasselbeck, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer.

Hasslebeck and Brees would be Rich Gannon picks: if the year provides a thin MVP pool (no great statistical seasons from a QB or RB on a playoff team), and Hasselbeck or Brees puts up really good numbers while leading his team to a #1 seed, he could win MVP. But I think other playoff QBs or RBs will have elite stat seasons. And while I have the Bengals making the playoffs, I doubt very much they'll be a top team in the conference, or that Palmer's numbers will be clearly ahead of everybody else. I also think Tomlinson is a long-shot: he's been putting up spectacular seasons for years, but to win MVP in 2006 he had to be on a 14-2 team and put up mind-boggling, record-breaking numbers. If he has typical LT season (say, 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 18 TDs), he probably won't win MVP. That leaves us with:

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson.

If the Patriots have the top record in the AFC, and Brady throws for around 30 TDs and 4,000 yards, he could win MVP again. But I don't think he'll come close to last season's numbers, and so I think he's won his MVP award and he won't get another. I think the voters are tired of Manning's consistently great seasons: if they hadn't, he would have probably won MVP in 2005, too. I think it's possible Manning is going to have a transcendent statistical season like he had in 2004 (for a few reasons), but that's what it would take for him to get MVP again. For Romo to win MVP, he'll have to lead the Cowboys to a 1st or 2nd place finish in the NFC, and his numbers will have to at least match Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, if not far exceed them. And I don't think that will happen.

And so we're left with:

Adrian Peterson.

Believe it or not, when I started this little elimination exercise, I didn't think it was going to end with Adrian Peterson. And I don't really think he'll be MVP. But I can see the scenario: he has another incredible statistical season (in which he plays at least 14 games), he has a few bananas games (comparable to his games last season at Chicago and against San Diego), and the Vikings make the playoffs behind a tough defense, a brilliant running game led by Adrian Peterson, and a perceived weak passing game (which will be better than the perception). And so the next great running back and next great Viking could follow up his Rookie of the Year season with an MVP season.

And why no playoff predictions?
Based on my quick game-by-game projections, my NFC playoff teams are the Cowboys, Giants, Vikings, Seahawks, Saints, and Panthers, and my AFC playoff teams are the Patriots, the Bengals, the Colts, the Chargers, the Jaguars, and either the Titans or Texans. I find it hard to predict these games: not only is it difficult to forecast hypothetical January games, but most of these teams are really capable of beating each other. But the bigger issue is this: I can't in conscience pick against the Vikings winning the Super Bowl, but I also don't want to just be a homer blogger that picks his favorite team to win the Super Bowl.

(wait a minute...I don't mind being a homer blogger that picks his favorite team to win the Super Bowl...why would that bother me?...What do I care who judges me...I'm a completely senseless Viking fan...and didn't I just predict Adrian Peterson to win MVP? In for a penny...)

...On second thought

My 2008 prediction for Super Bowl champion:

Your Minnesota Vikings!

Monday, August 25, 2008


The Viking defensive line (Kevin Seifert).

The Viking defensive line (Star Tribune).

Signal to Noise makes NFC North predictions.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith (NY Times).

Marketing and "the Redeem Team" (Slate).

In praise of ESPN's NFL page has really pushed a lot of focus on blogger-reporters covering each of the NFL's divisions. I like this a lot. First, it means that you can see stories on your favorite team regularly on, instead of waiting and hoping for an eventual feature. It also allows ESPN to really compete with local news coverage, which is generally superior when it comes to covering one team. And finally, it means when an interesting story breaks for a team you don't usually follow, there's a central place you can go to find a blogger-reporter that is really covering that beat and can provide insights and inside information.

Kurt Warner: starting fantasy quarterback
It's a risk: he could get hurt or replaced mid-game, leaving you with a poor scoring week. And I learned in 2002 (and to some extent in 2004, when Warner played well but didn't really throw TDs) that he's a quarterback that can completely undo your fantasy team. But he's an accurate quarterback that likes to throw downfield and he has Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for targets.

Some inanity from Peter King
From King's MMQB:

"Alex Smith will make $10.3 million to back up J.T. O'Sullivan, who will make $645,000. Is there no end to the indignity of Smith's NFL career?"

Oh, the indignity! Alex Smith is going to make $10.3 million this year! Can't anybody please give him his dignity back? He's making almost 16 times more money than the player he's watching from the sidelines! Please, 49ers, let Alex Smith have his dignity!

I'm really excited about the Viking front seven.
I just get thrilled thinking about the starting defensive line: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Ray Edwards. And then I imagine those linebackers running around hitting people and making plays: E.J. Henderson, Ben Leber, Chad Greenway. This can be a dominating unit. What are the weaknesses of the front seven? They have size and speed. They can stop the inside run, they can rush the passer, and they can cover receivers. They might be vulnerable to runs off-tackle and around the edges. Might.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Quarterback assessment and team context

Quarterback is the most important position in professional football, but every quarterback is dependent on his team context to win. It is fashionable to cite a quarterback's record as a starter (I'm sure I've done it). But this assigns credit or blame to the quarterback for the entire team context.

If we're going to look to the team's performance in assessing quarterbacks, let's at least cut the team context in in half and look at the offensive performance alone. Certainly that is also dependent on team context, but it's not dependent on the performance of the defense, which the quarterback has no control over at all. Instead of citing a quarterback's winning percentage, cite his team offensive ranking.

For example, under Peyton Manning, the Colts have ranked in the top-five in both points and offensive yards in eight of 10 seasons. The Colts have won a lot of games during that time. The defense has been up and down for the last decade, but that really shouldn't matter to an assessment of Peyton Manning. He's made the Colts' offense one of the best in the league for years. Certainly he's been helped by the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James, and Joseph Addai: there's still context. But we can at least cut that context by half (or more, including special teams) and look at what the quarterback actually can control. Compare Manning to Tom Brady, who has a better winning percentage. In Brady's seven years as starter, the Patriots ranked in the top-five in scoring twice and offensive yards once.

Examining a QB's team offensive ranking rather than his team record might allow us to re-evaluate some players. For example, under Trent Green, the Chiefs led the league in points in 2002 and 2003, and in offensive yards in 2004 and 2005. Certainly a great offensive line and a great running attack are largely responsible for that. But do you think of Trent Green as an elite quarterback at all? Me neither. But during that time, the Chiefs' defense ranked 32nd, 29th, 31st, and 25th in yards allowed. If the Chiefs defense had ranked in the top-10, would the Chiefs have won a Super Bowl? Maybe. And then might you think of Trent Green as an elite quarterback? He could at least be considered a Troy Aikman type of QB.

Looking at how a quarterback helps his team succeed is important. But looking at a win-loss record, and crediting that to the quarterback, pretends the quarterback has control over defense and special teams. Looking at a team's offensive rankings actually shows how the quarterback was able to help his team in the area he can control.

Free Kurt Warner!

He's the third highest rated quarterback ever. Last season he completed 62.3% of his passes and threw 27 touchdowns. He threw for at least two TDs in each of his final eight games last season, and threw three TDs in five of those. And this guy is getting benched for a QB that's never done anything in the NFL?

OK, I get why teams usually favor a recent first-round draft pick at QB over a successful veteran. When the 2004 Giants replaced Kurt Warner with rookie Eli Manning, it was bad news for the 2004 Giants, but the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Giants made the playoffs. The Bengals replaced Jon Kitna with the unproven Carson Palmer, but I think most of us believe Palmer has been and will be better for the Bengals than Kitna was. And the Chargers likely would have been great if they had kept Drew Brees, but when they let him go in favor of unproven Philip Rivers, they won 14 games the next season, and went to the AFC Championship Game the year after that. Sometimes replacing a solid veteran can be the right long-term move.

But goodness, Matt Leinart is doing what he can to get moved to third-string. The strength of the Phoenix Cardinal's offense (yeah, I'm calling them the Phoenix Cardinals again) is their incredible wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. They absolutely need a quarterback that can utilize their skills. In the NFC West nine wins could take the division title, and in the NFC it likely means a playoff berth. I would think a team that has made the playoffs six times in its history, once since 1975 and not at all since 1998 would want to do whatever it can to make the playoffs again.

Free Kurt Warner! He's the best player for the Phoenix Cardinals right now.

Update: FREE!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Blizzard: mostly fantasy edition

Matthew Berry makes 50 fantasy predictions. They're deliberately aggressive (or aggressively stupid, depending on your point of view).

Here's just a whole bunch of fantasy football stuff at Fox Sports.

Pete Schrager has some fantasy football rules. I like some of his rules ("Don't pay much attention to the 'fantasy football experts' on TV: Trust me. They know no more than you. In most cases, they're doing nothing more than just taking guesses...") but always break others ("Don't draft too many guys from your favorite NFL team").

Clark Judge looks all around the league. had a series of posts on the value of a starting QB (1, 2, and 3).

Football Outsiders discusses Reggie Bush.

A fantasy football movie (Fantasy Football Fools).

The Fifth Down on NY Times talks about why you can't put too much stock in last season's numbers when preparing for a new fantasy football season.

Game Theory and fantasy football (Advanced NFL Stats).

Michael Lombardi looks at who's better or worse than "we" (who is the "we" here, I don't know) thought; he says good things about Man Myth Legend Tarvaris Jackson.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gene Upshaw

ESPN is featuring an archived article by Greg Garber detailing Gene Upshaw's accomplishments. Peace to his family.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blizzard: do you realize how close the season is?

At ESPN, James Quintong examines whether Marion Barber can handle being a feature back.

Advanced NFL Stats discusses fantasy football strategy (here and here).

Adrian Peterson (Viking Update).

Tarvaris Jackson (Viking Update).

Tarvaris Jackson's injuries (Kevin Seifert).

Doesn't this make Lion, Viking, and Packer fans smile? Kyle Orton is the Bears' starting QB (Fox). Orton means fewer turnovers, but he also means few pass plays worth any yardage.

An amusing take on the sorts of memorabilia they're putting into sports cards these days (Insomniac's Lounge). That crazy Allen & Ginter set: I had to go ahead and buy a Fyodor Dostoevsky card. Could hardly resist.

Peter King
Peter King called out Jets fans for not attending a preseason game, and Signal to Noise's reaction is pretty close to mine. I've been to two preseason games (I stayed at one from beginning to end): nobody, in any situation, needs to provide any excuse for missing a preseason game. I've watched a lot of Kansas City Chiefs' training camp practice--that's more fun than a preseason game, much less expensive, and much less hassle. And here's King's reaction to fans writing to him about this really stupid point. He uses language such as "a real Jet fan" and "Sorry, I've got a problem with that" (King has evidently appointed himself arbiter of what "real" sports fans are and what they must do. Hey, I guess it works for Bill Simmons). I think this is a sign that King is out of touch. It's not only that King has elevated Brett Favre to some sort of demi-god and is surprised that others haven't. It's that King, who is paid to cover the NFL, is lecturing people who are not paid to cover the NFL about why they should take up a summer evening to commute to a stadium to watch a football game that means absolutely nothing. It was not Brett Favre's debut with the team any more than his first practice was a debut with the team (even if ESPN et. al. tries to hype it that way). His real debut with the Jets will be week one, and his first touchdown pass with the Jets will not be the one he threw in a preseason game, but the first touchdown pass he throws in a regular season game.

This reminds me a bit of the episode of The Wire when McNulty is on a date with a political campaign adviser. When McNulty tells her he doesn't follow politics (and didn't vote in the last election), she is flabbergasted. And I recognize her reaction. She's so consumed with politics, so devoted to it, spending all of her time thinking about it, she just assumes everybody else should be too. Have you encountered such situations? Been in a conversation with somebody who doesn't even seem to realize that his/her particular interest, hobby, or career, is not something most people spend all their time thinking about? I think that's the sort of attitude that makes a person lecture fans--particularly fans devoted enough to the team to purchase season tickets--about why they should go to a game that doesn't matter. They've already devoted a large enough portion of their lives to the Jets to purchase season tickets, to make the financial commitment and the time commitment to go watch the team in person throughout the season, and King doesn't think they're good fans because they don't also want to go to a preseason game.

I suspect that because covering the NFL is Peter King's career, he's rather consumed with it, and expects others who follow the NFL to be consumed with it. Well, many of us are, but for most of us, it's not our job. There are die-hard Jets fans that have jobs, have families, have other hobbies. There are season ticket holders that are going to give up a lot of time to go to eight games throughout the fall, and they may not want to give up additional time before that for games that don't count. And there are many die-hard Jets fans that won't go to any games, that will watch all the games on TV. And in my estimation, this makes them no less die-hard. You can be a devoted fan while watching all the games on TV. You can be a devoted fan and mostly ignore the preseason. King is paid to go to the games; Jets fans, I wouldn't listen at all to Peter King's judgment of you.

Some personal whining
There is only one way that I can actually miss Viking games on TV for work: if the NFL schedules them for a Monday night game at 6:00 central. There is only one such game each year, and now the NFL has scheduled the Vikings for this game two of the last three years. I'll get home in time for halftime, and I love you, DVR. You complete me.

What do you want in a fantasy football backup quarterback?
I think there are two ways to go:

1. Steady.
Draft a QB that you know you can rely on if you're forced to start him for a stretch of games. He's probably not going to be terribly high scoring, but over the course of the season, he's not going to disappoint you. He's the sort of player that, if he were a little better, he'd be a fantasy starter. Depending on the size of your league, this type of player might be Jake Delhomme, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, that sort of fellow. You'll expect 3,000+ yards and 20+ TDs, but not that much more than 3,000 yards and 20 TDs.

2. Go Bananas or Go Drink Garbage Water.
It's your backup quarterback, after all: you can afford to take risks. Go ahead and take the QB that could reasonably be expected to completely suck, but just might go bananas. This is the Vince Young sort of QB. If he plays like last season, you don't even want him as your backup. But...he can run...and he can throw... and you know that you just might be looking at a QB who will have 800 yards and 10 TDs rushing.

Fantasy Football Rookies
Running Backs are really the only rookies you should take in a fantasy football draft, and I almost always take one. This year I went for Matt Forte: other than Darren McFadden, Forte seems to have the least in his way to becoming his team's feature back.

Bernard Berrian
I'm really starting to feel like Bernard Berrian is going to be a central player to the Vikings' 2008 fortunes. Tarvaris Jackson has been blamed for his struggles last season, but Viking WRs and TEs had a lot to do with those struggles. Jackson often threw passes to receiver who dropped the ball, or tried to complete passes to receivers who couldn't get separation from defenders.

Whoever plays quarterback for the Vikings this season is going to need good play from the WRs. That means a lot is riding on Berrian. If he can make plays in the intermediate passing game, and occasional plays in the deep passing game, the Vikings can be special. If he is a free agent bust, the Viking passing game will likely continue to struggle.

That crazy English language
The story link to this Matt Hasselbeck story reads "Hasselbeck set to go after nursing a back injury." When I first glanced at the sentence, I thought Hasselbeck was getting ready to seek some sort of special nursing for his back injury (my mind somehow inserted "for" in between "nursing" and "a". No no, he's no ready to return after having nursed his back injury. Fun times (although maybe only for me).

Jared Allen

USA Today's Jarrett Bell does a story on Jared Allen.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fantasy Football Discussion: David Garrard

Some people are high on David Garrard as a fantasy quarterback this season. For example, Matthew Berry points out that

"David Garrard averaged 15.4 fantasy points a game last year. He played only 12 games. In a 16-game season, that equals 246 points, which would have been 10th-best in the NFL last year. If you take out the Colts game, in which he was injured early, Garrard averaged 16.6 points a game. Over a 16-game season, that's 265.6 points, which would have been as much as Matt Hasselbeck and more than Carson Palmer, tied for eighth-best among quarterbacks."

Berry then notes "I'm fairly high on David Garrard this year."

But I am not.

First, I'm always leery of taking a player's stats in fewer than 16 games, and extrapolating them out to 16 games. Did the player actually do it in 16 games? Has the player ever done it in 16 games? This is the same logic that is making Andre Johnson a top-5 fantasy WR in some people's estimation, even though Johnson has never been a top-5 fantasy WR over the course of 16 games.

But I'm also leery of David Garrard after looking at his game logs. Garrard threw for 250+ yards in just three of 12 regular season starts last season, and 4/14 starts including playoffs (I don't really see a reason to exclude playoff numbers from fantasy football analysis--they are further samples of the player's performance to use for assessment). In his career, Garrard has played in 40 regular season games, and started 30 regular season games. He has a total of just five regular season games with 250+ passing yards.

Last season, David Garrard threw for 250+ yards in 3/12 regular season games and 1/2 playoff games. In his career, he has thrown for 250+ yards in 5/30 starts. And Garrard has only modest rushing numbers to supplement that.

This points to a negative for me. If the Jaguars' running game and defense give Garrard a lot of scoring opportunities, he may throw for touchdowns. But there aren't numbers to suggest that as a fantasy quarterback, Garrard is going to consistently produce numbers in his own right.

Furthermore, Garrard is not exactly a touchdown machine. He was good in 2007, throwing 18 TD passes in 12 starts. But in 2006 he threw 10 TD passes in 10 starts. In 2005 he threw 4 TD passes in 5 starts. His total numbers, including regular season and playoff games: 39 touchdown passes in 32 starts and 43 games. This is not a fantasy football juggernaut. Too often, people project good numbers in year N+1 based on good numbers in year N, ignoring entirely bad or mediocre numbers in the years prior to N. Certainly year N is the most important year for projecting year N+1, but it's not the only year.

There are other reasons one might avoid Garrard. Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders is avoiding Garrard, noting that Garrard had a ridiculously low--and lucky--number of interceptions in 2007, which is not likely to be repeated:

"Garrard has a major correction coming. [...] The extra interceptions mean that drives that continued in 2007, with additional passing yards and eventual touchdowns, will instead end in 2008."

Garrard is getting fantasy hype for a very brief stretch of solid fantasy production (12 starts in 2007). But in his career he rarely throws for a lot of yards (six career 250 yard games, no career 300 yard games), and throws a modest number of touchdowns. So if you take Garrard as your fantasy starter, you are hoping that

a.) Garrard's 2007 fantasy production in 12 games is far more indicative of Garrard's likely production in 2008, enough to negate Garrard's low fantasy production pre-2007.
b.) The Jaguars will continue to play good defense and run the ball extremely well, giving Garrard opportunities to throw touchdown passes, because the numbers don't suggest he'll throw for a lot of yards.

And after all, according to Berry himself, his best manipulation of the numbers puts Garrard's 2007--Garrard's career year so far--as "tied for eighth-best among quarterbacks." That's not exactly reason to take 12 solid 2007 starts (which lack in yards) over everything else.

Which is why I see Garrard as a very good fantasy backup, and a very bad fantasy starter.

More on Tony Gonzalez' Diet

Michael Silver talks with Tony Gonzalez about his diet--Gonzalez has given up red meat and dairy.

Tarvaris Jackson's injury

John Clayton reports that Jackson has a sprained MCL (ESPN).

This would not torment me quite so if the Vikings had a better backup quarterback.

Sportwriting on Tarvaris Jackson

A pluralistic media is wonderful for democracy, but in many situations, it is completely unnecessary.

For example, many major sports media outlets sends one of its reporters to the Minnesota Vikings' training camp to do the exact same story that other major sports media outlets' reporters did when they visited Viking camp.

Clark Judge of CBS Sports is the latest to do the "The Vikings are great but all the attention is on unproven Tarvaris Jackson" story. The only difference is which specific quotes Judge gets, but the quotes are all of the same sort that every other reporter gets. Jim Trotter of SI took up pretty much the same angle, and Vic Carucci of did mostly the same story. Kevin Seifert focused on this angle too.

Obviously, Tarvaris Jackson is the central focus on stories about the Vikings. He should be: the team appears very good in every facet of the game except pass offense, and we really just don't know much about what Tarvaris Jackson will do. I still agree with Michael Lombardi who writes, "I can't think of one player who will control the won/loss record of any team in the NFL more than Tarvaris Jackson." This should be the focus of a national reporter covering the Vikings for a national audience. I'm just wondering if this is the best use of collective resources: are we getting much more out of the story by sending multiple writers to the same place to provide pretty much the same narrative? The angle is familiar: "The Vikings are very good. But they'll depend a lot on Tarvaris Jackson, who has struggled and is inexperienced. All the pressure and attention is on Jackson to produce. But here are some quotes from Jackson, Jackson's coaches, and Jackson's teammates expressing confidence in Jackson's ability to produce." Again, that is the primary story on the Vikings--but it's probably the narrative one writer could go and get.

A lot of the stories on Jackson tend to lapse into worn out figures of speech, too.

From Jim Trotter:

"All eyes are on second-year starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson."

"The team will go only as far as he takes it."

"Jackson is the only major question mark on a club that..."

Vic Carucci:

For the most part, Jackson is passing those tests with flying colors."

"Yet, at the end of the day, it all figures to come down to how Jackson performs."

"At the end of the day" means the same thing as "it comes down to." I'm still waiting to see a sentence that starts "Ultimately, at the end of the day, what it comes down to on the bottom line is..."

From Clark Judge:

"He must improve if the Vikings are to climb the division ladder."

"The Vikings can't afford to wait. It's now or never for Jackson."

Clark also quotes an unnamed NFC head coach saying "that team's a quarterback away from the Super Bowl." Normally I wouldn't even identify a spoken quote from a non-writer, but it reminded me so much of this passage from a recent John Clayton mailbag:

Jackson is the key to the Vikings' season. They are a quarterback away from winning the NFC North. Jackson has to prove he's that quarterback."

I'll also give some credit to Michael Silver of Yahoo! for doing a story on Tarvaris Jackson and getting something a little different out of Jackson for the story. The story reveals more personality from Jackson (Silver seems gifted at getting that out of players), and provides some anecdotes and quotes we don't see elsewhere.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I panicked a bit when I first read that Tarvaris Jackson hurt his knee, but was relieved to read:

"Vikings coach Brad Childress downplayed the injury.

"'He's fine,' he said. 'He just got bumped in the knee. ... Got some ice on it at half. Just a little contusion there.'"

OK, probably one of those meaningless preseason injuries that isn't really an injury. But why is Jackson so important?

For one thing, he's playing pretty well in the preseason (in two games, 15-22, 200 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs). He's looking like he just might be ready to prove the critics wrong and be a competent, efficient, playmaking quarterback. Or at the very least, a much improved quarterback from last year, making him at least decent enough not to cost a good team football games.

For another thing, he is really important to the Vikings. Don't forget that the Vikes were 0-4 without Jackson last season, averaging just 10.5 points in those games. I think Jackson's mobility and ability to avoid sacks is important to the Vikes' offense (last season Jackson's sack percentage was half that of Kelly Holcomb or Brooks Bollinger); the pass blocking is occasionally suspect, and the Viking offense last season had virtually no chance when found in something like 2nd and 19.

But here's the real key:

The Vikings don't have a good backup for Tarvaris Jackson!

And once again, my biggest frustration with the Vikings' management is their failure to get a better option at backup quarterback. In 2007, Jackson missed four games with three separate injuries. And if he gets hurt, the Vikes depend on 37 year old Gus Frerotte (who stunk last season, and has a career completion percentage of 54.2%). Frerotte has never been anything other than a decent backup option at best, and now he's 37, and the Vikes, stacked all around the roster, might turn to him if Tarvaris Jackson struggles or gets injured.

I'd be more pleased about the Vikings' decision to commit to Tarvaris Jackson as starting quarterback if they had a real, legitimate backup option ready to go.

It's Tarvaris Jackson or nothing.

(Oh, and two sacks for Jared Allen? This could be a lot of fun).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fantasy Football Discussion: Quarterbacks

Should you draft a quarterback early?
In 2007, there were nine quarterbacks with 24+ TDs and 3,200+ yards.

In 2006, there were six quarterbacks with 24+ TDs and 3,200+ yards.

In 2005, there were seven quarterbacks with 24+ TDs and 3,200+ yards.

In 2004, there were eight quarterbacks with 24+ TDs and 3,200+ yards.

In 2003, there were nine quarterbacks with 24+ TDs and 3,200+ yards.

In 2002, there were seven quarterbacks with 24+ TDs and 3,200+ yards.

And keep in mind, in a typical year, the league leader has 30-36 TD passes (31 in '06, 32 in '05, 32 in '03, 28 in '02--look here for each season's leading number: only seven times in history has the leader had more than 36 TD passes). A 50 TD season is an anomoly: I expect the league leader in TD passes in 2008 to have 36 or fewer. So generally, you can expect around seven or eight quarterbacks to throw for between 24 and 32 TD passes, while throwing for at least 3,200 yards.

This means that while quarterbacks are generally the highest scoring fantasy producers, you can find quality quarterbacks without using a pick in the first two rounds.

You have to be able to predict which QBs will be solid in the coming season. Some QB will put up great numbers that nobody expected to (Derek Anderson in '07). Some QB will have high expectations to put up great numbers, and will entirely flop (Kurt Warner in '02, Daunte Culpepper in '05). So you need to be able to guess which QBs will be solid in the coming year, and hope which one might be in for a monster year.

That's why I like to look for QBs that are consistent and reliable season by season. Peyton Manning has never thrown for fewer than 26 TD passes in a season, and he's had 4,000+ yards in 80% of his seasons. In most of his seasons, Matt Hasselbeck averages around 1.5 TD passes and over 200 yards per start. These are the quarterbacks I look to get over the QBs that had a great 2007 season, but don't have much history before that. It's more reliable, less risky.

Look to the Game Logs
But cumulative numbers aren't all either. When I studied QBs this season, I made a list of QBs I would consider drafting (or tolerate as my starter), and noted how many games each had with: 200+ passing yards, 250+ passing yards, 1+ TD pass, and 2+ TD pass. This gives me a sense of both the QB's consistency and his ability to break out for high-scoring games.

I also look particularly closely at yardage, because TDs might fluctuate for a variety of factors, and as I noted above, plenty of QBs will have 24+ TDs. Game logs and yardage are what shies me away from Ben Roethlisberger. In 2007, Roethlisberger threw a bunch of TDs, but he had 200 yards in just 8/15 games, and 250 yards in just 3/15 games. That tells me that unless Roethlisberger gets a bunch of TDs (and 2007 was his first season with more than 18 TD passes, so I'm not ready to count on him for that), he'll be a fantasy football disappointment.

Career game logs (and all stats) are easily accessible at

Thursday, August 14, 2008



Pat Williams and Jared Allen taunt the Packers (Yahoo!).

Brad Childress doesn't necessarily find the narrative of his training camps accurate (Star Tribune).

Jared Allen (Pioneer Press).

E.J. Henderson (Pioneer Press). I really love E.J. Henderson.

Tarvaris Jackson (Yahoo!).

Vikings as a fantasy juggernaut: #14 (Yahoo!).

In the division...

Around the NFC North (

Calvin Johnson (CBS).

Roy Williams (USA Today).

And more

Cold, Hard Football Facts has Power Rankings.

Advanced NFL Stats finds that teams down by one early in the fourth quarter have a better chance of winning than teams up by one early in the fourth quarter. Brian Burke's theory sounds reasonable:

"Why would a team be better off being down by a point than ahead by a point? I think it has to do with mindset and risk tolerance. Teams that are down increase their risk tolerance and teams that are up decrease their risk tolerance. My theory is that, in general, almost all offenses usually play below the optimum risk level. They should typically be playing more aggressively. But teams may actually start to optimize when behind in the 4th quarter. Teams with small leads would restrict their risk tolerance even more, tilting further from the optimum risk-reward balance."

Matthew Berry notes 50 fantasy football facts. I'll quibble a bit with the first one:

"Last year, there were seven games -- almost half a season -- in which Peyton Manning threw only one or zero touchdowns."

This is, of course, accurate, but it is framed in such a way to show what Berry wants it to show. Looking at Manning's game logs, you could also note that there were just two games in which Manning threw zero touchdowns (including the last game, when the Colts coasted with everything clinched). This was topped only by Matt Hasselbeck and Tom Brady (15) and tied by Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. So it is technically accurate to say that there were seven games when Manning threw only one or zero touchdowns, but it distorts the fact that only two of those games featured zero touchdowns. This also means there were nine games in which Manning threw multiple touchdowns. From my brief look, this was topped by six quarterbacks in 2008. While this doesn't make Manning look far superior to every other quarterback, it still shows that throwing multiple touchdowns in nine games is an impressive achievement.

Of course, we're also talking about the quarterback that has averaged 30.6 TD passes and 4,163 yards per season in his career, and that has never thrown fewer than 26 touchdown passes in a season, and that has never missed a regular season game due to injury. Can we say that about the six quarterbacks with more multi-touchdown games than Manning in 2008? You know the answer.

So even if Peyton Manning's 2008 season (which was excellent) makes him appear less than a great fantasy quarterback, he's still the most reliable fantasy quarterback there is. He threw a touchdown in 14 games last season (topped only by Brady and Hasselbeck). He threw for 200+ yards in 13 games last season (topped only by Brady and Brees). And over the course of his career he has always thrown for at least 26 touchdown passes, and he has always passed for at least 3,700 yards. His average season is 16 starts, 4,163 yards and 30.6 touchdowns. He is usually a spectacular fantasy quarterback, and he's always consistent.

This is not to say that Peyton Manning's fantasy value, or more accurately the perception of his value, isn't overhyped. It may well be. But Manning is a spectacular, consistent, and reliable fantasy quarterback. He's not going to have a dud season. If you use an early pick on Manning, he will produce for you.

(Now you're asking, "PV, at what point did you turn this blog into half a Viking blog, half a Peyton Manning blog?" My apologies. I do know, I think, how Manning became my favorite non-Viking player, a guy I root for. The Vikings are the team that has often been great, has often been close, but has never won a championship and has a reputation for choking. That description also fits Manning before the 2006 season's playoffs. I started to want him to win, to prove everybody wrong, to finally get over the edge. In some weird way being a Viking fan made me a Peyton Manning fan. That doesn't mean, of course, that when he comes to the Metrodome in September, I won't be rooting for the Vikings to crush him and make him play horribly in defeat--don't worry about anything like that. And at least this blog has always been devoted to intense fantasy football arguments--we haven't changed there. Thanks for indulging).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Football as Reading a Book

(Or, pretentious reflections before another NFL season)

What draws me to football is often the story, the narrative. There are overarching narratives: the Minnesota Vikings, a long storied history, always so close to transcendent glory, but always failing in tragic and comic fashion and falling just short. It is the narrative of a quest (will they ever finally reach the goal?) but it is also a narrative of tragedy (no, they cannot). And there is the narrative of a season for each team. All the little dramas, all the conflicts, all the events and plot. A team could be successful but for one tragic flaw, one weakness, one area of the game it performs poorly at. The drama may come from the team's repeated efforts to improve on (or cover up that weakness), or it may come from the team's repeated failures because of that weakness. Each season has a narrative, each franchise has a narrative, each game has a narrative, each player has a narrative. Many of the expected narratives have already been constructed for the 2008 season. "Tarvaris Jackson is the weak link on a Super Bowl contender: can he perform?" "How will the Patriots respond to a season that included 18 straight wins but one ultimate loss?" "Will Aaron Rodgers be able to replace a beloved legend?" These are the "stories" we'll follow, and we don't know how they'll end, but we know the dramatic issues the stories will be full of. We know the theme. Mostly it is a quest narrative, and it is also a plot with explicit conflict, explicit action. Each game is a clear moment, episode, event.

And there are the characters, characters in action. They are characters we come to "know," and we know them by their works. We assess them, judge them, interpret them, psychoanalyze them, root for them, root against them, we relate to them, we empathize with them, we become frustrated with them, we are annoyed by them--in short, we do the same things we might do to characters we encounter in fiction. There are villains and there are heroes (though we know that often it is we who choose which are the villains and which are the heroes). I can't say these characters are as familiar to me as those people I know in my life. But I can say they are as familiar to me as the characters I've come to know in novels I've read and enjoyed. Just read the names, and you'll find you "know" the character too. You've assessed the character and have an opinion of the character. Bill Belichick. Brett Favre. Terrell Owens. Brad Childress. Tom Brady. Randy Moss. Adrian Peterson. When you see the name, the character comes to you. The name itself means something to you that probably can't be paraphrased or easily articulated.

Every game and every season is something of a morality play, with the characters acting, with real events, with a driving plot, leading to a conclusion. Ah, the conclusion. In life there is no real conclusion but death. But in fiction, even if the ending is ambiguous, even if the ending is a cliff-hanger, even if we do not understand the ending, even if a writer like John Fowles decides that one ending isn't quite enough and we'll have more, the book still ends. There's always a last page. The author may decide to leave characters and readers hanging in an unresolved conclusion, but you still get to put the book away when it's finished. How often in life do you get to put anything away and call it finished? And that is where football is like a novel. We know that it will end. All the complexities and open-endedness and confusions of life may play out in the chaos of the line of scrimmage or the bouncing of an odd-shaped ball. But unlike real life, the game is going to end with a winner and a loser (in rare cases, a tie). Unlike real life, each season gives us teams with a record, division winners and playoff teams and those that aren't. There's something. I know that sometime in February 2009, I'm going to see a conclusion to this mad thing called an NFL season that's about to start. The season itself is full of open roads, potentials, possibilities, mysteries--anything might happen. But in February, one team will have done what it takes throughout the madness to emerge as the Super Bowl champion, to be the winner, to have come out as the hero of the narrative. Along the way there will be fading characters, emerging characters, and scapegoats. There will be emotional highs and lows. But the game will end with a winner, and the season will end with a winner. Sure, there's still a future, still a time for hope--it's not the last book you'll ever read. But there's a finality, an ultimate meaning that the season gives us.

And so it comes upon us. Another NFL season is about to start; a new book lies waiting to be opened. I have expectations of the book. I'll open it, and get a sense of the tone, find the narrative, follow the interesting characters and pay little attention to the uninteresting, take interest in the episodes that make up the plot, see patterns and themes and meaning. I'll be moved emotionally, and I'll develop ideas. Along the way I'll talk to people who are reading the same book, find their opinions on it, argue with them about it. I'll share my interpretations and theories, and I'll listen to theirs. I'll certainly laugh and smile and cheer and dance and feel a buoying euphoria. I'll also yell and get frustrated and sad, feeling weighed down by disappointment. I might cry, but I also might learn something. I'll carry the book with me when I'm not reading it, mulling it, letting it color my worldview and shape my mood. I'll think about it and long to return to it while I'm not reading.

And for me, at least, watching football and reading books are not just a minor hobby, an entertainment to pass the time. Reading books is not only a part of my career, but it is a part of my soul: what I read changes me, teaches me, moves me, provides my religious sensibilities, my morality, my philosophies, my hopes and aspirations. And watching football is something like that, no small part of life. Football takes my intellectual and emotional energy in big clumps (not to mention my time), but it also provides something--fun, joy, energy, passion. It will affect my thoughts and feelings for much of each week.

Football is the book I don't want to put down.

And now it starts again. I'm guessing, if you're not only watching the Vikings but bothering to visit a blog in August to read about the Vikings, that football means something big to you too. I'm not alone in anticipating not just the start of a professional sports league's season, but a shift in the rhythms of life. Schedules are altered. The devotion leads to a whole different way of thinking, of acting, of being. Some deep part of us is affected. Sports are not trivial--that which inspires real passion cannot be. And here it comes.

Are you ready?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kevin Seifert overviews the Vikes

At ESPN, Kevin Seifert provides the sorts of useful insights we've come to expect from him. I'm glad to hear that Adrian Peterson and Eric Beiniemy have looked specifically at how he can run against eight-man fronts (which must be the focus: too often in the second half of 2007, Peterson tried to break runs outside against defenses specifically focused on stopping him. If he can take those runs inside, settling for solid 4-5 yard gains and patiently waiting for his chance to break long runs, he can be dominant). Seifert also notes that "Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is calling plays this summer from the sideline instead of the press box, allowing him more interaction with Tarvaris Jackson."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Big Blizzard

Viking Links
At, Vic Carucci goes to Viking camp and does the same story we've all read many times: there's all sorts of pressure on Jackson to perform this year, and here are some quotes from coaches and teammates saying he's handling it great and they have confidence in him.

Aundrae Allison (Pioneer Press).

John David Booty (Sports Illustrated).

Zygi Wilf (Star Tribune).

Heath Farwell is out (Pioneer Press), which hurts the Vikes' special teams.

The Ragnarok is optimist about Tarvaris Jackson (once and again).

Some observations of the Vikes' preseason game (Grant's Tomb).

Super Bowl Buzz Kill: Vikings (Hater Nation).

Other Links
Football Outsiders looks at fantasy football players to avoid (both my tight ends are featured).

Chad Pennington will, I believe, help the Dolphins, and then everybody can love Bill Parcells. Cold Hard Football Facts notes Pennington is underrated: he's got the best completion percentage in NFL history, and he's three times led a team to the playoffs. The Jets may think they improved, but they also allowed a division rival to improve. Am I the last person on earth who thinks Josh McCown should be a starting quarterback? What is it about McCown that makes me like him? Why should I care?

John Clayton on Vince Young (ESPN). Pete Prisco on Vince Young (CBS). Here's my stance on Young: some year, he's going to be a fantasy football juggernaut. I see 3,000 yards and 25 TDs passing, 800 yards and 10 TDs rushing. It might not be this year, and it might not be next year. But it's going to happen, and so I'm going to keep drafting Vince Young until it does.

Michael Silver on Torry Holt (Yahoo!). Do you have a football player that you always want to have on your fantasy team, but never actually get on your fantasy team? For me that's been Torry Holt. I finally got to draft him this year.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith (Edge of Sports).

Javon Walker (fuh-"baw).

I believe!
It's foolish, I know. But after the Viking preseason game, I am optimistic about Tarvaris Jackson and Bernard Berrian. Seeing Jackson without his helmet on, he just looks like a starting quarterback: confident, calm, in control (this is stupid, right? Saying I believe in a quarterback because without his helmet on, he looks like a quarterback, whatever exactly that means? Isn't that absurd?). And Bernard Berrian made me believe he's not going to be a free agent disappointment: I believe he's a wide receiver that can consistently make plays in the 15 to 30 yard range. I'm starting to think Jackson can be a 3,000 yard quarterback, that Berrian can be a 1,000 yard receiver. I'm starting to think the Vikes are developing a passing game capable of making them a 10-12 win team.

In the Hazelweird League, I traded for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Marion Barber, Reggie Wayne, and Kenny Watson for Peterson, Taylor, and Kevin Curtis. Tell me I got took.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tarvaris Jackson!

I think a preseason football game should be regarded as slightly less significant than an intense day of practice.

Still, Tarvaris Jackson looked sharp in the Vikes' first preseason game. His mobility really gives the Vikings something extra to work with, and he's pretty accurate throwing on the move. He looks to have some chemistry with Bernard Berrian, who could be a really good player for the Vikings this year.

From Jackson, we'll be looking for smart decisions (limiting turnovers), accurate passing, and the ability to connect on deep passes. But he looks better than he looked last season.