Saturday, January 31, 2009

Randall McDaniel

Viking offensive lineman makes the Hall of Fame (Star Tribune).

HOF observations

Hall of Famer by Year of Induction

For the third consecutive year, no quarterback was elected (that's fine: QBs are overrepresented).

In the past two years, six defensive players were elected (that's good: defensive players are underrepresented).

Bruce Smith, Rod Woodson, and Derrick Thomas should also be in the Tecmo Super Bowl Hall of Fame.

In 2007 I compared Michael Irvin to Art Monk, and in 2008 I compared Cris Carter to Art Monk, with emphasis on the gray ink test.

Bob Hayes was top-10 in receptions twice, receiving yards six times, and receiving touchdowns six times.  He was also a capable punt returner, scoring three touchdowns and averaging 11.1 yards per return in his career.

Hayes' playoff numbers are underwhelming, but that's probably not going to keep Marvin Harrison out of the Hall of Fame (has any superstar in pro sports had such a dreadful playoff record?  Harrison has 128 regular season TD receptions, but failed to score a TD in 15 of 16 playoff games).

Hall of Fame

Bruce Smith, Rod Woodson, Derrick Thomas, Bob Hayes, Randall McDaniel, and Ralph Wilson will be Hall of Famers in 2009 (ESPN).

Smith, Woodson, and Thomas are three of the elite defensive players I've ever seen play.  

Randall McDaniel was a terrific offensive lineman for a Viking team that was consistently productive offensively.

Cris Carter, who ranked in the top-10 in receptions eight times, receiving yards five times, and receiving touchdowns eight times, has still not been elected to the Hall of Fame.

What's stopping Zygi Wilf from building a new stadium?

I do not entirely oppose public funding for private stadiums (though I believe states and cities should demand something substantive in return for the public money).  But I am fed up with the language used by owners and commissioners who want the new stadiums.

In the Star Tribune, Roger Goodell talks about the importance of getting a new Viking stadium in Minnesota.    And perhaps it is important.  But if it is so important, then Zygi Wilf can go ahead and build a new Viking stadium.  I don't know that anybody is actively trying to prevent him from doing so.  It is not as if the state of Minnesota is putting up roadblocks to stop a private businessman from building a profit-making building with his own money.  What Goodell really wants, of course, is for the state to give Wilf public money to build the stadium.  You know, money that could otherwise be used for matters such as transportation, education, health care, and other necessary programs that benefit a wide variety of Minnesotans.

For example, Goodell says:

"I think we have to continue to work with the governor and the leadership in that community to understand those priorities and figure out how we get a new stadium built. That is necessary for the Vikings. We all want the Vikings to be there in the long term, successfully. They need a new stadium, that's clear. I think it's recognized by all parties and we need to get down to the difficult business of figuring out how to do it."

Is it hard to figure out how to get the new stadium?  I'll make a proposal: Viking ownership invests money into its business to build a profit-making building for that private business.  The real challenge on how to do it will actually be up to the architects, engineers, construction crews, etc., that Zygi Wilf hires to build his profit-making building.  

Goodell uses euphemism to distort what he really wants.  When he says "we have to continue to work with the governor and the leadership in that community," he makes it seem as if they must work hard together in a spirit of cooperation to get things done.  But we can easily define what he's doing differently: he's lobbying for taxpayer money to be used to build a very expensive building for a private business that makes a lot of money in profits.

I think we can use different--but still accurate--terminology when talking about building a new stadium in Minnesota.  If we do that, the perspective changes drastically.  Instead of "stadium," would say "profit-making building for a private business."  Instead of "work with the governor and legislators," I'd say "find a way to get politicians to approve of giving away taxpayer money."  And when Goodell talks about "priorities of the community," we could say "a stadium versus better funding for public schools, improved roads and mass transit, and other necessities and benefits that help millions of Minnesotans."

I don't oppose building a new Viking stadium, and I do recognize the benefits to the community that may justify using public financing for the stadium.  But I'm tired of the euphemism.  Nobody is stopping Zygi Wilf from building a stadium.  Don't pretend that you need support to build the stadium, when what you really want is support to take our money to help build the stadium for you.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What Sunday means

Gary Laderman in "Super Bowl Sunday, American Holy Day," at Religion Dispatches:

"The Super Bowl is a holy day as much as it is a sports event, holy as a sacred carnival dedicated to, and undergirded by, consumerism and masculinity, nationalism and play."

Enjoy the Super Bowl, suckers.

The Super Bowl is just another thing to pass the time until Dunkin' Donuts gets here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Commercial Life

There's a lot of violence, sex, and alcohol in TV commercials during NFL games (ESPN).

This is worth our consideration, but I worry when somebody refers to "our friends at the Federal Communications Commission." Who has friends at the FCC? Though from what I can tell, Common Sense Media appears interested in informing parents and advocating for better media, not in censorship.

See also:
Common Sense Media report (PDF)
Common Sense Media Press Release
Common Sense Media Ad Info

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Blizzard: In Soviet Russia, Super Bowl watches you!

Players becoming coaches (Star Tribune).

Kenechi Udeze (Pioneer Press)

About a month ago I told my wife I hate the Timberwolves, that thinking about them just makes me sick or angry or sad and I wish they would relocate so I could call myself a Celtic fan, or at least change their colors from the dull blue and green. Then they went on a tear (Randball).

Some Super Bowl players would be excited to win and meet Barack Obama (Sports Illustrated).

Steeler Defense and legacy (Don Banks).

Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger, not in their first Super Bowl, wanting a better performance than last time (Michael Silver). I think this is a bigger deal for Roethlisberger's legacy--he really sucked in his first Super Bowl. The Steelers are a defense-oriented team, but Roethlisberger can take big steps toward making a legacy on Sunday.

Cold, Hard Football Facts interviews Bart Starr.

Free Matt Leinart! (Pro Football Weekly).

Outsports helps those who may watch the Super Bowl but don't know anything about it.

State of the Blog
--When I started blogging, using a pseudonym seemed natural. But now I start to feel sheepish, attempting serious critiques of sportswriters while using a funny nickname, and having serious discussions about sports which require people to refer to me by said nickname. Somewhere along the line I started to think of this as actual sportswriting, and it's starting to feel more legitimate to post here under my real name. That doesn't mean I scoff at others for using pseudonyms (in fact, I'll still post as PV at my other blogs), just that I'm ready for a switch.

--The offseason is upon us, meaning there will be more posts unrelated to the Vikings. At this blog, I've always simply written about whatever sports stories interest me, and that's usually the Vikings, particularly from August through December. During the offseason we still cover the Vikes, but we'll write more posts about other football stories, fantasy football (I'll keep a list of fantasy columns on the sidebar), intersections between sports and animals (few sports bloggers bring an animal rights perspective to such stories, so why not me?), basketball, critiques of bad sportswriting (my 2008 sabbatical from Jim Souhan and Tom Powers is over!), attempts to find the poetry in sports, and any other sports subjects that strike me as worth writing about.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Steeler Defense: Stats and Facts

In 2008, the Steelers rank #1 in points allowed (13.9/game) and #1 in yards allowed (237/game). They also rank #1 in pass yards per attempt allowed and #1 in rush yards per attempt allowed.*

It is not just conventional numbers that show the Steelers as the best in the league. The Steelers rank #1 in Football Outsiders Defense DVOA, #1 in in Brian Burke's defensive efficiency rankings, #1 in Cold, Hard Football Facts Hog Index, and #2 in CHFF Defensive Passer Rating.

This is a defense that is basically the best in the league at everything.

How does this Steeler defense compare to earlier Super Bowl Steeler teams?
1974: 13.5 points per game (#2), 219.6 yards per game (#1)
1975: 11.6 points per game (#2), 295 yards per game (#1)
1978: 12.2 points per game (#2), 260.5 yards per game (#3)
1979: 16.4 points per game (#5), 266.9 yards per game (#2)
1995: 20.4 points per game (#9), 285.1 yards per game (#3)
2005: 16.1 points per game (#3), 284 yards per game (#4)

But the 2008 team is not the first Steeler team to rank #1 in both points allowed and yards allowed: the 1976 Steelers and 2004 Steelers both achieved that feat.

Since the merger, four Super Bowl champions have fielded a defense that ranked #1 in both points allowed and yards allowed:**
2002 Buccaneers
1996 Packers
1985 Bears
1972 Dolphins
Perhaps the 2008 Steelers will be joining these teams as the fifth.

* ranks the Vikings #1 and Steelers #2 with 3.3 ypa, but by the numbers they provide the Vikings allowed 3.31 per attempt, the Steelers 3.29.
**Unnecessary cheap shot to remind you this is, after all, a Viking blog: Brett Favre has a lot in common with Brad Johnson, Jim McMahon, and Bob Griese--give him an historically great defense, and he can win a Super Bowl!

Fantasy Football: Ignoring Touchdowns

In 2007, Braylon Edwards and Roddy White posted similar statistics in receptions and yards.

Edwards: 80 receptions, 1289 yards
White: 83 receptions, 1202 yards

Those numbers amount to a difference of 0.2 receptions and 5.5 yards per game, a negligible difference. Yet going into 2008, most fantasy footballers ranked Edwards far ahead of White (Fantasy Football Weekly, for example, ranked Edwards as the #3 WR, White as the #36 WR). Part of that difference was team context: Edwards would be catching passes from a returning Pro Bowl quarterback, while White would likely be catching passes from a rookie quarterback.

But a major difference was in touchdowns: Edwards had 16 touchdowns, White six. It seems quite reasonable to assess players by their touchdowns, since touchdowns play a major role in fantasy football. But Edwards' TD numbers should have raised crimson banners: 16 touchdowns is disproportionate to his other receiving numbers. One out of every five Edwards receptions went for a TD, and he had a touchdown for every 80.6 yards receiving. But it is simpler than that: 80-1,200 yard seasons are relatively common, 16 TD reception seasons are relatively rare.

That in 2008 Edwards was a major disappointment (55-873-3) and White continued to perform well (88-1382-7) of course cannot be attributed solely to Edwards' disproportionate TD numbers of 2007 (Edwards dropped a lot of balls, Cleveland QBs and offense in general struggled, Matt Ryan performed well). However, those touchdowns are critical to fantasy footballers--here's why.

Fantasy football is about guessing a player's actual value in contrast with his perceived value. This is true of auction or snake drafts: you don't just want to have ideas about what players will succeed or struggle, but you need to measure those ideas against the consensus of perceived value. Touchdowns, I think, disproportionately affect a player's perceived value--other statistics might be better indicators of a player's future performance. I'm not saying you should have known Edwards would struggle in 2008; I'm saying there were indicators he wouldn't live up to his perceived value.

And when preparing to draft, you need to find gaps between a player's perception and his performance. When a major fantasy football publication ranks 32 WRs between two WRs that posted nearly identical receptions and yardage, you know you've found a gap between perceived value and actual value. This can indicate players that will be drafted too early and too late, helping you to decide what high-ranked players to avoid, and what low-ranked players might be later-round steals.

There are a few lesson here. Beware of players whose TDs are disproportionate to their other numbers. Pay attention to different numbers to figure out which players have overrated perceived value. Pay attention to other numbers that indicate future success. You could even try do what I did specifically with Edwards and White here: try find a low-ranked player that is statistically even with a high-ranked player in other categories.

But to quote imminent theologian "The Misfit" of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find,

"If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow him, and if He didn't then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can."

We don't need no stinking moderation: either devote yourself wholly, or forget about it and do whatever you want.

So I'm taking this theory further. I'm going to rank fantasy football players for 2009 with no regard for their 2008 touchdown numbers. The Hazelweird League is a touchdown heavy league, but in ranking players, I'm going to pretend touchdowns don't exist. I'll assess all the other possible individual statistics, examine those statistics for cumulative numbers, efficiency numbers, and game log numbers. I'll consider players on factors like team context (quality of teammates, quality of offensive system, quality of coaches, difficulty of schedule, etc.). I'll look at long-term performers, and I'll guess at players I think will break out.

My theory is that good fantasy players will score touchdowns, and I can look to other numbers to tell me who the good fantasy players are (or will be). But because touchdowns may distract from a good guess of a players' actual value for the following year, I'm going to pretend there are no touchdowns when I rank players.

Perhaps I will make two lists: the first factoring touchdowns, the second ignoring touchdowns. But I would guess that the first list will give me a closer idea of what order players will be drafted in, and the second list will give me a better idea of how players will actually perform. The second list will tell me what high-valued players to avoid early, what low-valued players to target late. It is the second list that will make some overlooked players jump out, some overrated players reveal themselves. It's the second list I'd go with.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I now embrace mock drafts

In past years, I've dismissed early mock drafts as silly. I was wrong. A mock draft is simply a way to learn who some of the top prospects are, and what some team needs may be. I will read them simply to learn those things.

Here is a Don Banks Mock Draft.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Newman too?"

The wailing you don't hear is from Viking fans; special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro has taken a job elsewhere (Access Vikings).

Warner > Montana, Manning?

CHFF thinks so, suggesting Kurt Warner's outstanding playoff numbers push him past Joe Montana and Peyton Manning.

I actually think that in Kurt Warner's five peak seasons ('99, '00, '01, '07, '08), he played quarterback as well as anybody in the history of professional football. Ever.

The problem arises when we consider the years between those peak five seasons. He was struggling, and losing. If you match his playoff numbers against Joe Montana's playoff numbers, you're punishing Montana for actually getting his team to the playoffs a bunch more times, and rewarding Warner for missing the playoffs a bunch of times (he may well have stunk in the playoffs those seasons). Montana should probably be given credit for getting teams to the playoffs a whopping 11 times. And if you use Warner's playoff numbers to move him over Manning, you're basically pretending '02-'06 never happened for Warner, whereas in 11 seasons, Peyton Manning averaged 4,100+ passing yards and 30 TD passes.

Warner at his peak is arguably the greatest quarterback ever. But when he wasn't at his peak, he was mediocre to bad--you certainly couldn't say that Warner from '02-'06 was better than Montana or Manning. So when evaluating a quarterback, should you only consider his peak seasons, dismissing marginal to bad seasons, or should you assess the quarterback on an entire career?

But it is worth the argument.

Let Michael Vick move on

PETA's continuing publicity grabs surrounding Michael Vick and dog-fighting embarrass me. If you care, you can read why here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brad Childress

Football Outsiders Keep Choppin' Wood Coach of the Year (this is not a good thing).

1969 Vikings

They were the third best Super Bowl loser of all-time, sayeth Chase Stuart at Does this make you feel good or bad? I feel bad.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Super Bowl Rooting

I'm a suffering Minnesota sports fan: it's not in my nature to root for a fanbase to see its team win a sixth Super Bowl.  But I am rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Steelers are the better team, and they've been a good team all year long. They went 12-4 against a tough schedule, and they field a smothering defense (#1 in points allowed and #1 in yards allowed).   The Cardinals have been great in the playoffs, but they were of course a 9-7 team that outscored opponents by one point.  They would be a fluky champion, a team able to ride a hot Kurt Warner-Larry Fitzgerald streak at the right time.

There are people I like on both sides (in Arizona Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, in Pittsburgh Troy Polamalu and Mike Tomlin).  But for some reason I want to see restoration of order, in which the champion is a dominant, superior team, not a nice story of a surprise underdog.

Whom are you rooting for?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Playoff Legacies: AFC

Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin are early in Hall of Fame careers.  They're both good in their own right, but they are also in a great organization that always finds talented players (especially on defense).  I expect them to be winning playoff games for years.  But there's one Pittsburgh Steeler that leaves me in awe.

Troy Polamalu
If he were a run-stuffing strong safety, I'd say, "gosh, I've never seen a defensive back make so many tackles around the line of scrimmage."  If he were a coverage free safety, I'd say "gosh, I don't remember a safety that made so many spectacular plays in the secondary, deflecting passes, intercepting passes, hitting receivers, tackling in the open field."  In his best plays, he's nowhere on the television screen, then he comes bolting from nowhere, hair flying, to make a great tackle or to get to a ball in the air.  

For a long time I've felt like Steeler linebackers just change names but remain the same players: Greg Lloyd and Chad Brown and Levon Kirkland and Kevin Greene and Joey Porter and James Harrison and James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley and Larry Foote.  But Polamalu is a unique player, a dynamic force that is always noticeable.  The odd number 43, the long hair, the quickness, the speed, the hard hits.  This is a spectacular player.  I don't think there's a non-Viking defensive player I've ever had such fun watching.

Playoff Legacies: NFC

Kurt Warner 
Warner is now 8-2 in the playoffs (6-0 in home playoff games), and has played spectacularly well in many playoff games.  He will join Craig Morton (1970 Cowboys and 1977 Broncos) as the only QB to start a Super Bowls for two different teams.  Before the Super Bowl, Norm Van Brocklin  was a platoon quarterback for the champion 1951 Rams, and starter for the 1960 EaglesEarl Morrall also started for the 1968 Colts, was backup on the 1970 Colts, was a backup that started and won several games for the 1972 Dolphins, and was a backup for the 1973 Dolphins.

Warner joins Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubauch, Joe Montana, John Elway, Troy Aikman, and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to start at least three Super Bowls.  Those quarterbacks are Hall of Fame QBs--is Warner?  That's hard to say--he has had five great seasons, but was often irrelevant in other seasons.

Fitzgerald's 2008 post-season may be the greatest post-season domination by a pass catcher ever.  Jerry Rice is the greatest playoff WR ever (in four Super Bowls, he had 33 receptions, 589 yards, and eight touchdowns) and his best single playoff run was probably 1988, when in three games he had 21 catches for 409 yards, three rushes for 29 yards, and six touchdowns.  Like Rice, Fitzgerald is aided by spectacular quarterback play.  But Rice was usually a superstar guiding a juggernaut, while Fitzgerald is a superstar guiding a surprise 9-7 team to the Super Bowl. Fitzgerald's games of 6-101-1, 8-166-1, and 9-152-3 have been a joyful and incredible run.

Ken Stabler had some very good seasons and was a pretty good playoff quarterback (seven wins, five 100+ rating games, five multi-touchdown games), and has some memorable clutch playoff moments, but was 1-4 in AFC Championship games.  That's a lot like McNabb, but when when Stabler did get to the Super Bowl, he led the Raiders to a championship.

McNabb was often off-target against the Cardinals, missing open receivers high, low, behind, and in front.  Despite leading the team from down 24-6 to a 25-24 fourth-quarter lead, he has added to his reputation as a choker, a quarterback that doesn't come through in the "clutch."  Winning a Super Bowl would, I believe, cement a Hall of Fame career for McNabb.  One wonders, however, whether this was his last best shot.

Haunting my Dreams

Last night I dreamed, with fairly vivid detail, that the Vikings had just won the NFC Championship Game and were on their way to the Super Bowl.  Then I dreamed, with fairly vivid detail, that it was Monday morning after the Vikings had just won the NFC Championship Game.

After actually waking up to reality, I expect to be cranky all day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"They just don't get it up here!"

I don't understand how the only coach to ever lead a franchise to a Super Bowl win, like Mike Shanahan or Jon Gruden, could ever get fired by that franchise. When you look ahead from zero championships, it's rather impossible to understand what life is like with even one championship. I assume if the Vikings ever win a Super Bowl, the head coach that leads them there will have a lifetime contract, getting to continue coaching the team for as long as he likes no matter what his record, and fans would still be satisfied. Of course that isn't so, but looking at the rest of the world when rooting for a team with zero championships colors everything differently.


At this blog, I often link to and use statistics and statistical analysis to understand and argue about football. I do certainly believe that we should look to what objective data we can find to understand sporting events. But I am also frustrated with how statistics can be used, as totalizing explanations of reality (this frustration likely springs from my literary tastes and religious sensibilities). I want argument to be based on objective evidence, on factual data--but that doesn't mean I don't believe in "intangibles," in the existence of things that cannot be proven with numbers.

At Football Outsiders, Mike Tanier mentions

"'intangibles,' like home-field advantage and playoff experience. Flacco's remarkable implacability notwithstanding, he's playing in his 19th NFL game, completing a whirlwind of a year that took him from obscurity to the center of the sports universe. He has completed just 44 percent of his postseason attempts, and he'll attempt to make history on Sunday in one of the most hostile stadiums in the sports world. You can't put a DVOA number on the pressures he's facing, nor can you shrug them off as immeasurable, and therefore nonexistent." (emphasis mine)

I find Tanier's statement to be a clear and nuanced expression of my thoughts, primarily that "immeasurable" does not mean "nonexistent." I remember in a high school Economics class when I balked at some of the basic tenets (to the claim that there is a limited supply of all things, with value placed as such, an adolescent PV raised his hand and said "What about love?" I blush at the expression, but the belief is still sincere: much of what drives human existence--love, faith, fear, etc.--is "intangible," immeasurable, unlimited, but quite real (it's not exactly a surprise that my academic pursuits ran toward literature and language over math and science). I continue to find this belief supported in my literary studies (such as the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, explicitly in Notes from the Underground where the narrator talks about the irrational motivations of human beings).

I certainly believe those intangibles are relevant to the world of sports. But Tanier makes a further point:

"It's the nature of intangibles that they can go either way."

The "intangibles," by their very nature, are immeasurable, unpredictable, erratic and unclear. They do, indeed, impact the events of the world, including sports, but we don't usually know how they will influence the world. And that's why when talking about sports, I again and again turn to the objective data of statistics. The numbers do not always give us a whole picture, but the numbers are facts, grounded in a firmer reality than our subjective interpretations of the intangibles. I think good writing about sports can feature the tangible or the intangible (or both), but a sound argument requires supportive evidence to be convincing.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Cold, Hard Football Facts does an excellent job finding a correlation between particular statistics and team wins. What CHFF does not always do, however, is show a causation between particular stats and team wins. For example, CHFF has clearly shown there is a correlation between throwing multiple interceptions and losing playoff games (see here, here, and here). What I do not see, however, is clear evidence that not throwing interceptions causes a team to win playoff games. The data CHFF provides could be explained by a combination of two other factors:

1. Teams that fall behind tend to call more pass plays and more high-risk pass plays.
2. Inferior teams tend to throw more interceptions against superior teams.

These factors combine to make losing teams throw a lot of interceptions: superior teams jump out to leads against inferior teams, then the inferior team has to throw the ball more, but because the opponent is superior, it is able to stop the inferior team, sometimes by intercepting the ball. Furthermore, if superior teams are more likely to win the game in general, and if inferior teams are more likely to struggle against a superior team in general, a team with more interceptions may end up with losses more often in general, without the interceptions necessarily being the cause of the loss.

In other words, falling behind early causes interceptions, and being an inferior team causes interceptions. This is just a theory--I'm not really proving anything. I respect CHFF for finding and frequently citing the correlation between interceptions and playoff losses, but I'd like to see CHFF prove the causation between not throwing interceptions and winning playoff games. For example, in this 2006 article, CHFF cites Dan Marino's interceptions in playoff losses. But in Marino's ten playoff losses, seven times his Dolphins were playing against a team with a better record, and in eight of the games, his Dolphins were down by more than 10 points at some point during the game. I'd want to look closer at detailed box scores, but it's possible that my theory above about reverse causation of interceptions would hold for Marino. Incidentally, in Marino's playoff losses, the Dolphins allowed an average of 34.5 points per game--I think it quite reasonable to claim Miami's poor defense was a major cause of Marino's playoff losses (I might ask questions about the other examples cited. Is it incidental that Tom Brady started throwing playoff interceptions when his 10-6 team had to play on the road against a 13-3 team? And how about team context--did playing with a bunch of Hall of Famers help Bart Starr win a lot of playoff games--and possibly avoid interceptions?).

There is another recent situation in which Cold, Hard Football Facts finds a correlation without attempting to prove causation. Here, Kerry Byrne looks at how home field advantage has disappeared and the playoffs have been difficult to predict since 2002's realignment. But, the reason road teams may be performing better since realignment is actually brought up in Byrne's article--sometimes the Wild Card road team is superior to the Division Champ home team (regardless of record--a weaker team might have a better record because of a poor division, and a Wild Card team might have a lesser record because of tougher division competition). Byrne may be right that realignment devalues the regular season (I don't think so--it remains true that only 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs, meaning 62.5% of teams don't make the playoffs. You still must perform well in the regular season just to get to the wide-open playoff). But home field advantage may have disappeared because the home team is simply not so superior to the road team.

And does realignment account for all the silliness of 2008? For laughs, let's try put the 2008 AFC season into pre-2002 division alignment. It is hard to do--we can't simply transfer the 2008 teams' records to 2001 divisions because their schedules--and thus likely records--would be different. But we'll do our best. San Diego would still win the AFC West (and they'd probably have 9-10 wins, since they'd get to add two games against Seattle to their schedule). Indianapolis moves to the AFC East, and probably wins it, though it would be a tight battle between the Colts, Dolphins, and Patriots (possibly the Jets). The AFC Central would be wild, with Tennessee, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh beating up on each other twice a year (this season Tennesse crushed Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh swept Baltimore, and including playoffs, Baltimore split with Tennessee). But in such a conference, the Patriots might still miss the playoffs (though they might make the playoffs because Tennessee, Baltimore, or Pittsburgh may have had a lesser record because of the difficult schedule). And such alignment did, after all, lead to an 8-8 team making the playoffs and an 11-5 team missing the playoffs in 1985 (thanks Bismuth).

Here, Byrne further argues that realignment has created a mess of the playoffs, writing

"Consider the chaos of the past four years, and the unlikely champions it’s yielded"

I would argue, however, that chaos hasn't exactly had such a long reign. In 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers were a #6 seed, but an 11-5 team (the same record as the division winning Bengals, but with better point differential). This is not quite so chaotic: 11-5 teams won the Super Bowl in 1980 and 2001, before realignment (an 11-4 team won in 1987, a 10-6 team in 1988). In 2006, the Indianapolis Colts were a #4 seed, but 12-4 teams have won seven Super Bowls. the surprising 2007 Giants could be a mark of chaos, but if 11-5 Baltimore or 12-4 Pittsburgh wins this year, it will be hard to call 2008 chaos.

Byrne then shows that while home-field has been an historical strong advantage, that advantage hasn't shown in three of the past four seasons. Byrne is right to note that realignment is rewarding some lesser teams with homefield advantage. And Byrne may be onto something by finding a correlation between four-team divisions and the disappearance of home-field advantage. What I don't see Byrne showing, however, is that realignment caused home-field advantage to disappear.*

Byrne is correct to dismiss the myth of parity as an explanation (I've doubted and challenged the myth of parity for a while). But Byrne shifts blame for playoff chaos to realignment of four four-team divisions, and makes an historical comparison to 1967. Byrne concludes:

"In the expansion and realignment of 2002, the NFL spit up the lessons in moral hazard it should have digested in the late 1960s. So what we have today is postseason chaos on an even larger scale: a system in which 8-8 teams host playoff games against 12-4 teams, 9-7 teams host not one but two playoff games, 11-5 teams sit at home, and a pair of nine-win teams battle for the right to go to the so-called Super Bowl.

"It's not a pretty picture. And with no rival league and no merger on the horizon, the NFL needs to find another way to recapture the importance of its bone-crushing regular season and rescue the dignity of its once-proud postseason."

If the argument is that the system unfairly rewards lesser teams with home games and leaves good teams out of the playoffs, then I agree with Byrne. I'm even willing to entertain arguments for a restructuring of the playoff system.

However, Byrne shows no evidence that four division realignment is the cause of playoff upsets or the reason for the diminishing home-field advantage. If it is Byrne's goal to show four team realignment causes these two effects, he has shown absolutely no evidence that it does so (and if that is not his goal, then why did he bring up the 2005-2008 anomoly teams or the diminishing records of home teams?). I am not saying it is not a cause--I'm saying, show me the evidence. How do four divisions account for 11-5 Pittsburgh winning games at 14-2 Indianapolis and 13-3 Denver? How do four divisions account for 10-6 New York winning games at 13-3 Dallas and 13-3 Green Bay, then winning on a neutral field against 16-0 New England? How do four divisions account for 9-7 Arizona winning at 12-4 Carolina, 11-5 Baltimore winning at 13-3 Tennessee, or 9-6-1 Philadelphia winning at 12-4 New York? How do these events specifically "[call] into question the wisdom of four-team divisions and the realignment of 2002"?

In this case, again, CHFF has shown a correlation--after the 2002 realignment, there have been some surprising champions, and home-field advantage appears to be diminished. But why? How does realignment to four four-team divisions cause upsets, or diminish home-field advantage for superior teams?

As Stephen's Guide to Logical Fallacies points out, "the relationship between cause and effect is a complex one" (and follow the link to see how the cause-effect relationship sometimes gets misconstrued. For relevance to this post, see specifical the Post Hoc fallacy). Cold, Hard Football Facts sometimes notices correlations that others don't, and I commend the writers for that. CHFF provides historical insights and relevant statistical facts that are extremely useful for football fans. But sometimes CHFF presents correlations and implies causation, without fully exploring the cause-effect relationship.

*It may be implied that home-field advantage is disappearing because inferior teams are being granted home games. If that is the case, however, then the superior team is still winning the games, and that is an explanation (in which case the only complaint is that those superior teams should have had home games, not that they won games they shouldn't have). But this explanation is not used, would not support Byrne's earlier finding of "chaos," and it would not necessarily explain how teams like the 2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants, or any of 2008's surprise teams won several road games against teams with better records.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Viking Defense (2)

In an earlier post, I said the 2008 Vikings had a complete defense. To support this claim, I've compiled this list of some statistical assessments and significant defensive categories in which the Vikings ranked top-10 in the league.

Football Outsiders DVOA: #5 (#5 versus pass, #4 versus run)
Cold, Hard Football Facts Hog Index: #4
Advanced NFL Stats Efficiency Ranking: #5
Net Pass Yards Per Attempt Allowed: #8
Pass Touchdowns Allowed: #5
Rush Touchdowns Allowed: #6
Yards Allowed: #6
First Downs Allowed: #4
Passing First Down Percentage: #6
Rushing First Down Percentage: #5
Sacks: #4
Rush Yards Allowed: #1
Rush Yards Per Attempt Allowed: #2
Forced Fumbles: #2
Third Down Percentage: #4

The Vikings were not just excellent at stopping the run. They also rank very highly overall, and what might surprise some people, they rank highly against the pass in some significant categories and metrics, too. The 2008 Minnesota Viking defense was, overall, an excellent defense.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Defense: "Jerry, I didn't think you'd show."

Here is how the four remaining teams rank in points allowed.

Pittsburgh: #1 (13.9 ppg)
Baltimore: #3 (15.2 ppg)
Philadelphia: #4 (18.1 ppg)
Arizona: #28 (26.6 ppg)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Viking Defense: 2006-2008

At I Dislike Your Favorite Team, Big Blue Monkey 2 suggests the Viking defense has been overrated:

"The Vikings defense has been overrated for the last three years--yes, they are great at stopping the run. They've got huge fat guys who fart on the opposing offensive linemen, and let their linebackers stuff the run. They've been great at it. But they've got no real sense in the secondary, and their best players back there are getting older every year."

The suggestion seems based on a common misconception about the team: that it is great at stopping the run but poor at stopping the pass.

It is true that the 2006, 2007, and 2008 Viking defenses have been dominant stopping the run.

2006: 985 yards (#1), 2.8 yards per attempt (#1)
2007: 1,185 yards (#1), 3.1 yards per attempt (#2)
2008: 1,230 yards (#1), 3.3 yards per attempt (#2)

It is also true that these defenses gave up a lot of passing yards.

2006: 3,818 (#31)
2007: 4,225 (#32)
2008: 3,449 (#18)

A closer look, however, reveals that the Vikings gave up a lot of passing yards because they faced a lot of passing attempts:

2006: 599 (#32)
2007: 646 (#32)
2008: 530 (#22)

Because teams failed to run against the Vikings, they attempted a lot of passes. A look at the net yards per attempt numbers shows that the Viking defense was about average in 2006 and 2007, and good in 2008:

2006: 6.1 (#18)
2007: 6.2 (#17)
2008: 6.0 (#8)

In 2008, Jared Allen keyed a Viking pass rush that had 45 sacks, fourth in the league. The 2006 and 2007 Viking defenses were dominant against the run and competent against the pass; the 2008 Vikings became a complete defense (#6 in yards allowed) when they added a pass rush.

Overall, the Vikings have been a very good defensive team. In the 49 games the Vikings played from 2006 to 2008, they gave up one or zero offensive touchdown in 27 of them. Let's make this clear:

In 55% of the Viking games in the past three seasons, the defense allowed zero or one touchdown.

The Viking defense has performed very well for three years, and in 2008, it became a unit capable of guiding a team to championship contention. The Vikings have not been a championship caliber team, however, because of questionable coaching, poor quarterbacking, inconsistent receivers, and poor special teams. Big Blue Monkey 2 is correct that it cannot all be pinned on Tarvaris Jackson (though I'm doubtful Jackson will become a good quarterback--his biggest weakness is inconsistent accuracy, and I don't know that that will improve with experience). And while "overrated" is a subjective term, I think Big Blue Monkey 2 is incorrect to claim the Viking defense has been overrated.

I'd also argue with Big Blue Monkey 2's apparent hinting that Antoine Winfield was not Pro Bowl caliber in 2008 by citing Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders: "The charting numbers show Winfield with 5.5 yards allowed per pass and a 67 percent Success Rate, second among cornerbacks with at least 40 charted passes. [...] If you prefer league PBP to game charting, I can tell you that Winfield had 56 pass tackles and a 45 percent Stop Rate on those tackles, the best Stop Rate of any cornerback if we include only pass tackles and not passes defensed."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stupid Playoff Thoughts

I think conference championship game appearances are the mark of a successful franchise; they show a solid level of regular season and post-season success. It is very difficult to win it all, but successful, competitive franchises frequently put themselves in a position to win a championship. New England is obviously the team of the decade, but both Pittsburgh (conference title games in '01, '04, '05, '08) and Philadelphia (conference title games in '01, '02, '03, '04, '08) are also very well-run organizations.

Before a game on FOX, watch the intro with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. While Aikman talks, Buck watches Aikman, but every few seconds he turns to look at the camera with an ultra-serious expression, as if he's checking to make sure we're paying attention. It is a very unnatural, robotic movement--he seems compelled to artificially turn his head toward the camera every few seconds. It is fascinating.

As I ate my Garden Burger at the Metrodome, I wondered whether it was not only vegetarian but vegan (unlikely, but I ate it anyway because if we don't support these things, they might not make it!), then I wondered whether the Metrodome was conning me and giving me meat (even more unlikely). Then I wondered how many Garden Burgers the Metrodome was going to sell that day. And I wondered, are there some events when they sell more Garden Burgers than others? And when there's some sort of monster truck rally at the Metrodome, do they sell a single Garden Burger? And then I thought, I have a blog--maybe I should do some reporting and contact the Metrodome to ask these questions. Then I thought, no, I'm not going to call anybody.

The night I got home from the Viking-Eagle playoff game, hours later, out of nowhere, my wife said, "Did you notice? Andy Reid has really let himself go." My wife watches a lot of football, but I'm still surprised she has watched enough over the years to notice Andy Reid has let himself go.

When my wife saw Kerry Collins, she said "That's Kerry Collins? He's old. He looks like House." And he does. I said "Wait until you see him throw; he throws like I imagine House would, too."

I'm trying to understand those Howie Long truck commercials. From what I can tell, Long point out the nice luxury features of the competitor's pickup, then makes fun of those features for being unmanly, implying that "real men" would or should prefer a pickup without special features. And this helps you sell pickups? I was actually more interested in the heated steering wheel and the step to the pickup's box. A company is pointing out the features that a competitor's product has that its own product does not, and the company does this to, apparently, play on stereotypical concepts of masculinity. And apparently, real men want their hands to be cold and want to strain to climb into a pickup box. I'm baffled. Is "baffled" a better word than "flummoxed"? Actually I'm neither--I'm "flabbergasted." Actually I'm only bemused, but "flabbergasted" is the best word of all.

I don't watch a lot of games on CBS, but Phil Simms' voice gets rather tiresome. He's like a fellow at a family reunion that talks and talks: little he says is interesting, insightful, or intelligent, but there are a lot of words there, and they just keep being there.

Ben Roethlisberger makes me think of Jim from The Office. This does not make me like him more.

Just how many fanbases now see Asante Samuel in their nightmares?

For as long as I've watched football, the Pittsburgh Steelers have featured fast, strong, tough, athletic, playmaking linebackers. It doesn't seem to matter what their names are--they're always there.

Only three more football games left, and I'm sort of looking forward to it all being over for a few months.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


(chiming in at halftime of the Cardinals-Panthers game).

Larry Fitzgerald becomes legend
It's fun watching a wide receiver take over a playoff game.  It is domination in the playoffs that elevates Jerry Rice from all-time great wide receiver to one of the greatest football players and dominant athletes ever--in 28 playoff games, he has 151 catches, 2,245 yards, and 22 TDs (and conversely, it is weak performance in the playoffs that make Marvin Harrison merely a Hall of Fame wide receiver).

In the Cardinals-Panthers game, the Panthers are unable to stop Larry Fitzgerald.  He's getting wide open on all sorts of routes, and he jumping up in the air making amazing plays.  He's got six catches, 151 yards, and a touchdown.  This is already an all-time memorable performance, as Fitzgerald is crushing the Panthers (the only person crushing them worse is Jake Delhomme).

His domination of the reminds me of the 2005 season, when Steve Smith took over a playoff game against the Bears.  A very good Bear defense had no answer for Smith, who had 12 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed three times for 26 yards.    It was an amazing individual performance.

Fitzgerald dominating a road playoff game against a seemingly superior team also calls to mind Anthony Carter's 1987 season playoff game against the 49ers: 10 catches for 227 yards and one rush for 30 yards in an upset win.

Larry Fitzgerald seems to me an unholy combination of Cris Carter and Randy Moss: a crisp route runner and physical possession receiver that is also an amazing athlete that can burn people deep and leaps into the air to make acrobatic difficult catches.

Chiming in with scattered thoughts after the third quarter
My formative football-fan years were the early '90s when these NFC Divisional Round playoff games lacked any drama: Dallas and San Francisco generally just crushed whatever inferior opponent came out of the Wild Card round.  In recent years, however, the playoffs have not been a time for an elite team to crush inferior competition, but a time for a team on a hot streak to make a bursting run.  The last three Super Bowl champs (Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, New York) had to win three straight games to get to the Super Bowl, and scored a major upset in the Divisional round.   In today's NFL, a team can get hot at the right time and go on a championship run.

Going into tonight, Kurt Warner has started eight playoff games and won six of them.  The two losses were memorable: in the 2000 playoffs, the Rams lost a 31-28 shootout, coming back from 31-7 but losing when the Ram kick returner fumbled away the Rams' last chance to score (and that offense was so hot they probably would have).  And of course in the 2001 season Super Bowl, Warner led two late touchdown drives to tie the game before the Patriots ignored John Madden's advice to run out the clock.  Warner is a quarterback who has been in a lot of big playoff games, and usually come through.

At this point, Larry Fitzgerald has eight catches for 166 yards and Jake Delhomme has five turnovers.  If the score were reversed, I'd have long stopped watching, but when an underdog is blowing a favorite out, there's always a tension that keeps me watching.  Um, until now, I guess.  Time to move on with the evening.

Don't torment yourself.  Sure, the Vikings could have been playing against this Carolina team that is totally sucking right now.  Sure, the Vikings blew out the Cardinals who are now crushing the Panthers.  Sure, the Vikings defensively dominated the Panthers in week three.  But...oh.  OK, torment yourself.

Chiming in after the game
Playoff football is about timing.  In the regular season the Cardinals were 3-7 outside their division and only in the playoffs because of the terrible NFC West, and the NFC South was a tough division, deep and good.  And yet the Cardinals are using the playoffs as an opportunity to mow through the NFC South's 11-5 and 12-4 teams.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Viking All-Pros

Four Vikings were named All-Pro (Access Vikings). Note their ages:

Adrian Peterson: 23
Jared Allen: 26
Kevin Williams: 28
Steve Hutchinson: 31

The talented nucleus of the Vikings should be around for several years.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I resolve not to talk myself into Tarvaris Jackson anymore. A pro quarterback has to be an accurate passer, and for a long time Jackson's major flaw has been inaccuracy; he often throws passes wildly off target. During various brief stretches of quality passing, I've talked myself into Jackson's development. Always, the inaccurate, inconsistent passer returns.

For the next four months, the main drama for Viking fans will be the quarterback position. We will ponder the availability of various quarterbacks via trade, free agency, and the draft.

I'll throw my irrational hopes behind Matt Hasselbeck. He's 33, but he's not far removed from an excellent 2007 season (3,966 yards, 28 touchdowns, a 10-6 record and a playoff win on a team that couldn't run the ball). He's a three-time Pro Bowler, he's started nine playoff games, and the Viking offense suits his skills. If there's a chance he's available for trade, the Vikes would be fools not to try get him.

The other teams in the playoffs

The team I love (the Vikings) and the team I like (the Colts) got eliminated in the playoffs, and the teams I'd love to root against (the Packers, the Patriots, and the Jets) never made the playoffs. Now what?

I'll root for the Philadelphia Eagles. I've always liked Donovan McNabb, and he's faced a lot of criticism for an elite quarterback. I'd like to see him get the crowning validation to say "Screw you world: I'm awesome." Though I spent last Sunday rooting hard against the Eagles, I now like them better than any other team playing this weekend.

Of the remaining eight teams, whom would you most like to see win the Super Bowl?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Peyton Manning and Steve Young

After yet another disappointing playoff loss for the Colts, I'm reminded of wwtb?'s Epic Carnival post last year paralleling the careers of Peyton Manning and Steve Young.

Like Manning, Young led the league in major categories multiple times, won multiple MVPs, quarterbacked elite offenses, and led teams to an amazing number of regular season wins. One could argue that from 1992 to 1998, Steve Young played quarterback better than anybody in history; during that stretch the 49ers won a Super Bowl, but also lost a lot of disappointing playoff games.

Let's take the parallel further:

(Steve Young/Peyton Manning) was eliminated from the playoffs twice by the (Dallas Cowboys/New England Patriots) before finally overcoming his rival in a Super Bowl season; after that, (Steve Young/Peyton Manning) lost multiple playoff games to a new rival, the (Green Bay Packers/San Diego Chargers).

But Steve Young is left-handed, so he's much cooler.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Viking season is over. Long live the Vikings.

(this blog wouldn't be this blog if I didn't mark the end of a Viking season with a pompous, pretentious, needlessly introspective post).

If you're like me, you have recently been investing whopping portions of mental and emotional energy into the Minnesota Vikings. It has all seemed imbued with a grandiose sense of something (tragedy? pathos? absurdity?). I've been prone to unwilled fantasies, dreams of all the bizarre luck and unlikely scenarios and superb play that would spur this team to a championship run. And today I wake up, blinking, looking around at everything else in the world, realizing there is so much else in the world, and realizing it has been there all along. There are other things to look at. Other things to do. Other things to dream about.

That doesn't mean the fantasies are done. No, the irrational hope that the Vikings will win a championship in our lifetime will kindle new forms for our dreams. Those dreams will still rise up during cold winter nights and hot summer days. We're still Viking fans today, and we will be Viking fans tomorrow. But somehow the season ending also removes a burden. Watching a team with a stifling, dominating defense is enjoyable, but the frustration of watching a team without a quarterback capable of winning playoff games (but trying to convince oneself that maybe the team will win some anyway) won't be missed. Yesterday the Metrodome was filled with loud, buoyant energy, but I came home physically exhausted, emptied. That energy doesn't need to be called upon again for a while; we can blink out at the bright world. Reading a book, going for a walk, playing a game, whatever it is you do: these are no longer things to do to pass the time between Viking games. They are now the stuff of life.

But the Vikings will play again in 2009. And one more thing: wait till next year.

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now"
A.E. Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Staying on the Ledge: Eagles 26, Vikings 14

At the Metrodome, you can text the stadium security to alert them if anything is disrupting your enjoyment of the game.  I don't know if they could do anything, though, about Tarvaris Jackson disrupting everybody's enjoyment of the game.

All summer we heard that the Vikings were a quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender.  And today we know that is true: the Vikings are not a serious championship contender because of the quarterback position.  If the Vikings don't make a significant attempt to improve the quarterback position for 2009, then the Metrodome may not sell out any games.  Without improved quarterback play, we're just playing around watching this team.  It's fun to watch a dominating defense, and it's fun to watch Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor.  It's fun when the Metrodome energy is as wonderful as it was today.  But it is just laughs.  There's no Super Bowl in the future without major improvement at quarterback.

The Viking defense played admirably against the Eagles.  The defense is not fully exculpated for this loss: too often they had the Eagles pinned in difficult situations and allowed Donovan McNabb time to find wide open receivers in the middle of the field.  But through most of the game, the defense allowed only field goals, forced a couple of turnovers, and provided the offense with some solid positions.  But the Vikings spent most of the second half down by just two points, and couldn't muster a field goal drive.  And that's primarily because they don't have a passing game.

The Vikings had a home playoff game, and the defense allowed only one touchdown.  And they lost.   Brad Childress is an offense-minded coach, and his team lost a home playoff game because it didn't score after halftime.  The quarterback of Childress's choice was 15 for 35 and had an interception returned for a touchdown.  It is a distressing loss, and a loss devoid of much optimism for the future.

Playoff Game Day

Please share your personal experiences and football observations here before, during, and after the Viking game.

Football is fun, but devotion to a team sometimes transcends the concept of fun into something else.  It's a spiritual experience, an immersion into Fate, connecting your being to an event beyond your own will.  I expect to spend Sunday a nervous wreck (I've been physically nervous for the Vikes for days, not to mention the added tension of dealing with getting tickets and such).

In Saturday's playoff games, the road teams came in with better records, but the home teams won.  Hopefully Thunderdome is Thunderdome.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

No Blackout

The Star Tribune reports that the Viking-Eagle playoff game will be televised.

I will be at the game, screaming and hollering for the Vikings.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Ticket Update

Access Vikings reports there are 3,100 tickets left to sell to avoid a blackout, but the NFL has given the Vikings another extension to 24 hours before kickoff.

As I previously noted, the cheapest tickets are sold out, and only expensive tickets are left (Judd Zulgad says there are $80 tickets remaining, but at a Ticketmaster location I was told all remaining tickets were $120 or more.  Either way, the point is the same).

I wonder how many other fans want to go to the game but are unable or unwilling to pay $120 to do so.  It is not that there aren't a bunch of fans that want to go to the game, but that there aren't enough fans willing to pay a high price to do so.

Now that the weekend is here, I'm more optimistic the game will sell out.  Perhaps a fair number of people didn't want to commit to the game too far in advance (holiday plans, Minnesota weather), but will be ready to now that the weekend is upon us.  Still, $120 is a lot of money (today I was setting up an outing to the game with some family and friends, but we balked at the high price of tickets).  

Peyton Manning: fourth three-time AP MVP

Peyton Manning is the 2008 NFL MVP (SI).

The AP article claims that Manning joins Brett Favre as the only three-time winner of MVP (since "The award has been given by the AP since 1961")., wikipedia , and cite AP MVPs back to 1957, thus making Jim Brown ('57, '58, '65) and Johnny Unitas ('59, '64, '67) three-time AP MVPs.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame also cites "NFL MVP" on player profile pages, and thus notes that Jim Brown was "NFL's Most Valuable Player, 1957, 1958, 1965" and Johnny Unitas was "NFL player of the year three times."

I interpret the AP article to mean the AP MVP became the official NFL MVP award in 1961. Still, since the award was given prior to 1961, and both Brown and Unitas did win the award three times, I find it awkward to claim only Manning and Favre are three-time MVPs (I also consider Manning and Favre to each be 2.5 time MVPs; they each shared the award once). For years commentators have called Favre the only three-time MVP, and now commentators will call Favre and Manning the only three-time MVPs. If the AP MVP wasn't the official award from 1957-1960, then of course that isn't technically incorrect. But since it is the AP MVP both Favre and Manning have won three times, it seems awkward to ignore three-time AP MVPs Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas.

See John Turney's "Correcting the Record on the 'NFL Record and Fact Book'" in Pro Football Weekly.

Viking Tickets

I went to a Ticketmaster location today (we wrangled a crew of six people ready to buy tickets if we could get them cheap) and found out the only tickets left are $120+.  All the other tickets are sold out.

This suggests to me a blackout will be averted.  But if the game is blacked out, it is because the Vikings couldn't find enough people willing to pay $120+ per ticket, and the NFL is unwilling to adjust ticket prices for market demand. 

There are people willing to buy the cheap tickets (that are sold out), but can't afford to buy the expensive tickets.  I know six of them.  The game shouldn't be blacked out.

I must object

(Viking fans, feel free to carry on to my Vikings-Eagles preview--which should have been the top post here for Friday before I felt compelled to post this one--or check out the Blizzard of Links relevant to the game).

ESPN's Jeff Pearlman makes the claim that offensive lineman Larry Allen was the Dallas Cowboys' best player in the 1990s.

First, I want to quibble with some deceptive language Pearlman uses. He asks

"But of the three-time Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, who was the best player?"

To this question, Pearlman reaches the answer of Larry Allen. But let us note that Allen joined the Cowboys in 1994, and was thus only on one of the Cowboys' championship teams. While technically not an incorrect answer (he was on the "Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s" who were "the three-time Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s"), the syntax of the question suggests it is asking about the three championship teams, and the answer further suggests that Allen was a member of the three Super Bowl champion teams. But he wasn't.

Second, I would quibble with the content of the argument. Allen was, indeed, a great player. But Allen was such a great offensive lineman that...running back Emmitt Smith won rushing titles in the three consecutive seasons before Allen joined the team, and the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowls in the two consecutive seasons before Allen joined the team. Emmitt Smith was dominant before he ever ran behind a Larry Allen block, and the '90s Cowboys managed to win two Super Bowls without Allen's greatness. I'd say it's dubious at best to suggest Allen was the best player on the 1990s Cowboys.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Vikings-Eagles Preview

The 2008 Philadelphia Eagles are a high quality football team. They averaged 26.1 points per game (6th in the league) and gave up 18.1 points per game (4th in the league). Their Pythagorean expected wins are 11.3. Philadelphia ranks #1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA, and FO's system gives them 11.4 estimated wins. They rank #2 in Brian Burke's efficiency rankings, which also gives the Eagles 12.1 expected wins.

Be prepared for a dominant Eagle victory. They rank 6th in points scored and 4th in points allowed. Various statistical analyses find them to be an 11 or 12 win team. The Vikings are a good defensive team and a bad offensive team (particularly in the passing game) with terrible special teams and questionable coaching.

But optimistic Viking fans looking for hope can find arguments too.

The Eagles were 5-6 against teams .500 or better; a competent team can compete with them.

The Eagles were 1-5-1 in games decided by seven or fewer points. Critics can point to Any Reid's questionable decisions in close games.

The 2008 Vikings do have a great defense. They rank 4th in Cold, Hard Football Facts Hog Index, and they rank #2 in rush yards per attempt allowed and #8 in net pass yards per attempt allowed. If you take away the nine defensive or special teams touchdowns the Vikings allowed, the defense gave up just under 17 points per game. It is troubling that the team could be without Pat Williams (Star Tribune), but there are still plenty of playmakers on the defense that can make game-changing plays.

The Vikings were 6-2 in Thunderdome this season. Even though the Vikings are struggling to sell out the Metrodome and the game could be blacked out (SI), it's still Thunderdome, right?

Though Adrian Peterson was ineffective in his 2007 game against the Eagles, he's led the league in rush yards per game in each of the last two seasons, and led the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage in 2008. Though the Viking offense is not good, it does feature a superb player that can carry a team.

PV's guess
I don't think the Vikings are capable of blowing out the Eagles, and the Eagles are quite capable of blowing out the Vikings. The Eagles could dominate the game (primarily, in my opinion, because of the weakness of the Viking quarterback position).

But if the Vikings do get blown out, it would be the first time this season. The Vikes were only beaten by more than seven points once this season, and even in that game they were down by six with the ball in the fourth quarter. The Vikings typically keep games close. For this game to be close, the Viking defense must contain Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook (difficult, but the Eagles are just two weeks removed from a three point effort, and have a total of four games with one or zero offensive touchdowns), the special teams must cover well and avoid major errors, and the offense must avoid turnovers. And a close game can go either way. The Vikings can win this game.

There's a difference between optimism and hope. I'm not optimistic for this game, but I am hopeful.

Wild Card Blizzard

Vikings-Eagles Links

Philadelphia ranks #1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA.

The '08 Vikings were "lucky," and the '08 Eagles were not (Advanced NFL Stats).

Tarvaris Jackson (Star Tribune).

Donovan McNabb (Star Tribune, Yahoo!).

Tarvaris Jackson against the Eagle blitz (Pioneer Press).

Ticket Update: 8,000 tickets away at noon Thursday (Pioneer Press, Viking Update).

Visanthe Shiancoe and Chester Taylor will be important against the Eagles (The Ragnarok).

The Eagles (

Vikings-Eagles Breakdown (Sports Illustrated).

Similarities between Vikings and Eagles (ESPN NFC North Blog).

Much of the drama this week has centered not on the game itself, but whether or not the game will be blacked out on local television because the Vikings can't sell out the Metrodome.  I attempted an explanation on why Viking fans are cautious about going to this game.  I plan to go to the game, but I intend to go early and buy tickets outside the Dome, so my one ticket isn't going to contribute to avoiding the blackout.  Sorry.

Other Links

Jets players on Brett Favre (USA Today, Pro Football Talk).

Evaluating WRs (Defensive Indifference).