Sunday, November 07, 2004

Generalities in this NFL season

I've come up with a few rules regarding the NFL. Using them, so far I made it five weeks into my annual KOTH tournament, won a week in one pool, and came in second (with a small prize) in another pool. I also have at least one weekly win in every pool I ever play, and I'm usually near the top of the annual standings in them. I've also had some dismal weeks, though, and the pools I play are very low-stakes.

Rule number 1:
The AFC is currently a far stronger conference. Ergo:
- Given a roughly equal matchup across conferences on paper, the AFC team will win around 80% of the time.
- This can apply to the teams' records, statistics, or anything else you'd use as a criteria.
- So if a cruddy AFC team plays a cruddy NFC team, the AFC team wins.
- And a mediocre AFC team has a reasonable shot of beating a good NFC team...
- And a top-notch AFC team (see: Pittsburgh) will utterly humiliate a top-notch NFC team (see: Philly)
- The AFC will be favored in the Super Bowl.

Rule number 2:
More than in any other league, coaching makes a difference. So...
- Any Bill Belichick team will be a Super Bowl favorite. Until he proves otherwise.
- Mike Martz will never win a Super Bowl, because he is guaranteed to have a major Brain Fart at least once per game.
(see: today against the Pats - where he let his team to waste nearly a minute in a 2nd and goal with under 4:00 left)
- Given the parity in the NFL talent-wise, any good coach has a chance any given week.
- With the basic conservatism in the NFL, bad coaches get recycled for a long time before new blood gets into the system.
- Look at Rich Kotite as a good example of this.

Rule number 3:
Some owners are just guaranteed to suck. The best example of this is in the NBA, with Donald Sterling's Clippers. But it applies in the NFL, too. Usually when the owner decides he's a good football mind. Bob Kraft learned his lesson after trying to micromanage Bobby Grier and Pete Carroll. After handing it to Belichick and getting out of the way, he's picked up two Lombardi trophies. This is also why Dan Snyder will never win. And why Al Davis can no longer win.

Rule number 4:
Ego rarely wins. This has been proven conclusively by the Patriots - players sublimate their egos (and often get paid less) to get rings. Teams with big, standout superstars usually go home in January, even if the players themselves go to the Pro Bowl.

Corollary: superstars cost more money, and bust your salary cap wide open. Fewer superstars equal more quality mid-level players - and they make better interchangeable parts with good coaching (see rule #2).

Exception: some players are so good that you can't help but win with them. But even then, they need the right complementary parts. How many Super Bowls did John Elway win until he got a running attack to work with? And how many did Dan Marino ever win?

Rule number 5: Injuries matter. Scan the injury reports and see if a starter is out. And the position matters a lot. A good scheme can usually mask an O-line outage (again, the Pats are a great example, as are the Broncos). Defensive outages are tougher. Look at the way the Steelers torched the Patriots last week as soon as Ty Law went down with an injury. This week, with a week to prepare, the Pats were able to whup the Rams while resorting to Troy Brown at corner for much of the game.

Rule number 6: Quarterbacks have changed. When Drew Bledsoe came into the league, he was The Prototype. Big, strong, with a gunslinger mentality and a cannon for an arm. What Dan Marino was in his prime. But a few years ago, the game changed. Gunslingers were out - quarterbacks had to become accurate and mistake-free, with faster reads and checkoffs. Game management was key. Which is why Bledsoe struggles in Buffalo now, Kurt Warner is running for his life in New York, and Tom Brady is now the new Prototype. Steve McNair is the other master at this, but with the extra dimension of a running threat. There's a few more with potential (this new rookie, Rothlisrebergrremeisterskistein, could maybe get there, and Chad Pennington shows signs), but that's the New Breed of QB.

Rule number 7: Running is important. The Pats go one game without Corey Dillon available, and they get hammered without a legit running threat. Edgerrin James gets hurt in Indy, and down go the Colts. The only places where this doesn't seem to matter are in Denver, where I could probably plug my toddler into their scheme and he'd gain 1000 yards, and in Buffalo, where they had Willis McGahee ready to replace Travis Henry. This week saw Jerome Bettis gain nearly 100 yards with Duce Staley on the sideline, but right now Pittsburgh is riding one of those Magic Waves.

And finally:
Rule number 8: Sometimes, none of this matters. Look at the Giants-Bears game today. By all measurements, the Bears had no chance and shouldn't have even bothered flying into Newark to make the pilgrimage to Exit 16W. But the Giants didn't bother showing up instead, and the Bears win 28-21. Or the fact that the Dolphins have actually won a game this year.

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