Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Price of Randy Moss

Here's a quick guess at what a third-round pick -- which was apparently the going rate for one of the best WRs in history -- is worth.

Here are all third-round draft picks from 1991 to 2000. It can be assumed that all of these players have completed their careers or, in a few cases, we've seen enough of them to get a reasonable idea of how successful they've been. We can use PFR's Approximate Value as a guideline, sorting by CarAV to see who the best third-round picks were. The top five are:

Terrell Owens - 116
Jason Taylor - 115
Ronde Barber - 110
Aeneas Williams - 104
Curtis Martin - 101

If the Vikings actually gave up a player of that caliber for a few years late in Randy Moss' career, then it was a bad move, for certain. (I'll ignore the 7th-rounder the Vikings got from New England.) But those are just five players, out of 323 3rd-round picks, or about 1.5% of all picks. Sorted by AV, here are the number of players, and their percentage of all 323 picks:

100+: 5 (1.5%)
80-99: 5 (1.5%)
60-79: 9 (2.8%)
40-59: 27 (8.4%)
20-39: 65 (20.1%)
0-19: 212 (65.6%)

That means that about 2 out of every 3 3rd-round picks are essentially valueless -- players who achieve a career AV of less than 20. The 20-39 isn't much better, and the 40-59 tier hardly represents players you would regret not having on your team; the high end of that bracket gives us players like Ray Buchanan, James Jones, Brian Griese, and Darrell Jackson -- useful, but not overly significant.

Here's another way of looking at it: Coming into this season, Randy Moss has averaged about 14 points of AV per year, and that includes his hideous years with Oakland. Assuming the Vikings have him for three years, and assuming some decline in his skills -- with years of 12, 10, and 8 AV, that would give him 30 points of AV, which would make him better than 255 of the 323 3rd-rounders (78.9%) in our sample. So, you could say that there's about a 4-in-5 chance that this was a good deal for the Vikings and a 1-in-5 chance that the player the Pats get -- which will, we hope, be a late 3rd-rounder -- will be good enough to offset the loss of Randy Moss.

I'm happy with those odds.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2010 Season Predictions

So that "going to post more" semi-promise. Yeah, not so much.

But, on the eve of the 2010 season, the first game of which features the Vikings, I thought I should at least briefly share my opinions on the Vikings chances this season and the NFL as a whole. Unfortunately, I don't share the optimism that most of my brethren seem to.

I hate to sound like a naysayer, but I feel the Vikings have declined this offseason, while the Packers look to be really, really good. Our secondary is limping to the starting line, the offensive line (and Pat Williams) is still too fat, Adrian Peterson still fumbles, Sidney Rice is hurt, Brad Childress is still the head coach...

Oh, and yeah, there's that guy who's closer to retirement age than he is to college age. He's still a douche, and his ankle is already hurting.

As improbable as it was that Brett Favre would have the season he did at age 40, it's even more improbable that he'll do it at the age of 41, which he hits a month from tomorrow. Toss in the fact that he doesn't think Brad Childress knows how to run an offense (a point that I agree with him on) and the notion that, even if he's good, his body might not hold up all season, and only the homer-est of homers would have trouble acknowledging that the 2010 Vikings are walking a fine line between excellence and simply very-good-ness.

All is not lost, however, even if #4 doesn't perform up to snuff. The 2008 Vikings went 10-6 with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at the helm, and Peterson and the defense are enough to at least get us that far. Unfortunately, I don't know that they'll get much farther than that, unless everything comes together like it did last season.

My prediction: 10-6

Overall NFL Predictions (and very brief summaries):

AFC East
1. NY Jets - y
2. New England - x
3. Miami
4. Buffalo

The Jets probably aren't as good as everyone thinks they are, but they're good enough to get this far.

AFC North
1. Baltimore - y
2. Cincinnati
3. Pittsburgh
4. Cleveland

Sorry Pittsburgh, but you could be really bad this year.

AFC South
1. Houston - y
2. Indianapolis - x
3. Tennessee
4. Jacksonville

Houston has to get it done one of these years, right?

AFC West
1. San Diego - y
2. Denver
3. Oakland
4. Kansas City

I don't see any of these teams doing anything notable.

NFC East
1. Dallas - y
2. Washington
3. Philadelphia
4. NY Giants

Dallas is the only really good team here, IMHO

NFC North
1. Green Bay - y
2. Minnesota - x
3. Detroit
4. Chicago

Jay Cutler is really not good.

NFC South
1. Atlanta - y
2. New Orleans - x
3. Carolina
4. Tampa Bay

Don't sleep on the Panthers.

NFC West

1. San Francisco - y
2. Arizona
3. St. Louis
4. Seattle

See AFC West.

AFC Championship: Baltimore over New England
NFC Championship: Green Bay over Dallas
Super Bowl: Baltimore over Green Bay

See you in five months!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I don't usually use the d-word, but...

You know you're a douche when even your agent calls you a "goddamned drama queen":

And yes, I realize that complaining about media coverage of Favre while linking to an article about Favre is ironic, but none of it would be necessary if he wasn't such a douche.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

How many idiots does it take to make a bad draft pick?

My answer: one.

On the other hand, it takes a lot of idiots to make a good draft pick.

And at the heart of this discussion are Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy and why I'm OK with the Vikings not drafting either one of them, even with their pressing long-term needs at quarterback.

Confused? Good! Now, let me explain.

First, when I say "good" or "bad" draft pick, I mean that a player was drafted lower (good) or higher (bad) than he probably should have been. By this definition, Peyton Manning wasn't a good draft pick. He was picked #1 overall, which was probably about right. The same goes for Adrian Peterson, who was the #7 overall pick, and could arguably be called the #7 best player in the league right now. Similarly, Sam Manuel, the last pick of the 1996 draft who never played a game in the NFL, wasn't a "bad" pick -- he was picked right about where he should have been.

Now consider someone like Troy Williamson. #7 overall, has done squat in his NFL career...clearly a "bad" pick. On the flip side, there's the #199 pick in the 2000 draft, Tom Brady. He was a "good" draft pick.

Most teams probably had Williamson much lower on their draft boards than #7. But the Vikings, thinking themselves "smarter" than everyone else, had him pegged very high and chose him with the #7 overall pick. In other words, it can be argued that 31 of 32 NFL teams were "smart" about Williamson, and it only took one "idiot" team to overdraft him and make him a "bad" pick.

Now, look at Brady. Every NFL team passed on hi, multiple times. Clearly, this was not a good decision. The Patriots finally picked him -- making them the "smart" team and the other 31 teams "idiots." Even so, Brady is an anomaly. 6th-round draft picks don't normally go on to Hall-of-Fame careers. Nobody was commenting on how Brady was a "steal" when he was drafted. 30 of 31 teams didn't even want him on their roster, and the Patriots didn't even care to expend a pick on him until the draft was nearly over.

Clearly, the Patriots did well by drafting Brady. But it's not like they possessed some kind of prescient knowledge that he would go on to the type of career he did. If they did, they would have drafted him much earlier. At most, they were hoping for a capable backup and, perhaps someday down the road, Drew Bledsoe's replacement.

All of which brings us back to Clausen and McCoy. The Vikings could have drafted either player but chose not to do so. Instead, Clausen went #48 overall to the Panthers, while McCoy slid to the third round and was picked in the #85 slot by the Browns. Along with Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow, who were taken before the Vikings' first draft pick, both were considered potential future franchise quarterbacks. All four were featured extensively on ESPN, including a "QB school" run by Jon Gruden, where he broke down each QB.

My question is: If they're so good, how could every NFL team pass on them -- some multiple times?

Yes, not every team needed a quarterback, but I count about 17 possible picks before Clausen went and 25 before McCoy was drafted by teams that could have potentially gone after a QB (including several by Cleveland before the team took McCoy). If these two players are so good and were, according to many draft "experts," undervalued and "steals" by the teams that picked them, then why did it take so long for them to be drafted? I clearly didn't spend weeks breaking down each player, but I came away from his session with Gruden unimpressed. Both might be decent QBs -- and certainly better than what the Vikings look to have under center in 2011 -- but I don't think we "missed out" on either player. Chances are that both of them were "decent" draft picks, picked right about where they should have been.

(And only time will tell if the Denver Broncos were smarter than the likely 31 of 32 NFL teams who didn't think Tim Tebow was worthy of a first-round pick. Given those odds, I'd be pessimistic about Tebow's chances.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

2000 Draft Revisited

We all (OK, I) like to talk about how silly it is for the NFL pundits to grade the draft hours, or even minutes after teams have made their selections. We all (really, all of us!) know that you can't give a team an A- or a C+ or an F on its draft until several years have passed and those rookies have turned into All-Pros or unemployed free agents. Unfortunately, nobody ever really keeps track of what the draftniks of the world have had to say and hold them accountable for their predictions of draft success.

Yeah, I'm gonna go there.

Here is Peter King's draft report card from the 2000 NFL Draft. After 10 years, I think we can get a pretty good idea of how these teams actually did in the draft. To evaluate the draft, I'll be using Pro-Football-Reference's Approximate Value (AV) system to sum up the total value of a team's draft picks. AV is a decent measure of overall value of a player, whether he's a quarterback, offensive lineman, safety, tight end, whatever. It's not perfect, and, for purposes of tracking the draft, it doesn't account for players who leave a team via trade or free agency, but it's a reasonable way to measure draft success, and, since the draft was 10 years ago, most players taken in it have played the bulk -- if not all -- of their careers, giving us a good measuring point to determine their overall success.

Here's the draft list, sorted by AV, with Peter King's placement listed first and the team's top pick, as determined by AV:

KingTeamTotalAVTop PlayerAV
14NY Jets280John Abraham68
6Green Bay257Chad Clifton61
23Chicago235Brian Urlacher97
11San Francisco212Julian Peterson64
7Pittsburgh199Plaxico Burress66
19Denver196Deltha O'Neal47
16Baltimore188Jamal Lewis69
15NY Giants183Cornelius Griffin59
9Tennessee172Keith Bulluck68
2Seattle168Shaun Alexander68
8New England167Tom Brady104
17Arizona156Thomas Jones58
31New Orleans156Marc Bulger57
12Jacksonville153Brad Meester50
25Minnesota146Chris Hovan57
21Carolina131Deon Grant54
18Cincinnati131Neil Rackers45
1Oakland131Sebastian Janikowski50
24Indianapolis128Marcus Washington53
13Philadelphia111Corey Simon47
4Washington111LaVar Arrington61
10Cleveland110Dennis Northcutt41
22Detroit96Reuben Droughns27
20Kansas City96Greg Wesley38
28St. Louis94Brian Young42
27San Diego87Damion McIntosh39
29Atlanta66Mark Simoneau31
5Buffalo64Sammy Morris26
3Tampa Bay60Cosey Coleman27
26Miami59Todd Wade39
30Dallas34Mario Edwards24

The biggest issue with AV, IMO, is that it doesn't rate kickers (or punters), and there were three kickers and one punter who were drafted in 2000 -- first-rounder Sebastian Janikowski (Oakland), along with Neil Rackers (Cincinnati), Paul Edinger (Chicago), and Shane Lechler (Oakland again). I decided to go with a very simple rating of 1 AV per 20 points scored for each of these kickers. The very best players ever in the NFL have AVs around 150-200 for their careers (Jerry Rice is 250), and that would put the best kickers -- the ones around 2,000 career points at about 100 AV, which seems fair for kickers. As for Lechler, I semi-arbitrarily gave him an AV of 40 -- less than Jano, but still appropriate, I think, for a guy who's been probably the best punter of the last 10 years.

Some observations:
  • It's not hard to rule the roost when you have four #1 draft picks, as the Jets did in 2000. None have gone on to truly spectacular, HOF-worthy careers, but the foursome of John Abraham, Chad Pennington, Shaun Ellis, and Anthony Becht have a total AV of 208, which would be enough for fourth place alone -- not bad for one round!
  • Lechler and Jano save Oakland from having a truly abysmal draft; without my AV assignments to those two, the Raiders would have mustered just 41 total AV from their other picks, good for #30 (of 31) on the list. Still, they were probably a tad overrated by King.
  • Meanwhile, King's worst draft grade went to New Orleans, and probably deservedly so. Marc Bulger never played a down for the Saints; without him, the team's total AV drops to a mediocre 99, with Darren Howard (42) as the only notable.
  • Several of King's lowest grades -- St. Louis (28), San Diego (27), Atlanta (29), Miami (26), and Dallas (30) -- actually do rank among the worst drafts of 2000. Dallas' picks are especially putrid. Admittedly, they only had five picks, and #49 was their highest, but still... only sixth-rounder Mario Edwards made any kind of NFL impact.
  • King doesn't think much of Chicago's draft. "Brian Urlacher had better be great," he said, and he is, at least when he's healthy.
  • "he'll be a better pro than Ron Dayne" is what King said about Shaun Alexander. Uh, yeah.
  • His opinions of Tampa Bay's and Buffalo's drafts, though, were a little overly optimistic. "Cosey Coleman's an eight-year starter after Randall McDaniel retires," he said. Not bad -- Coleman started for six years with the Bucs and Browns. Then he said, "Corey Moore, will be one of those classic Bills picks (they always get a very good player after the first round, every year), the kind of player GMs will regret passing on." Moore played two years in the NFL, one for Buffalo and one for Miami.
  • One very good player can really skew a team's overall ranking. If not for Tom Brady, the Patriots would have had a total AV of 63, and their best player would have been Greg Randall (17).
  • Tee Martin and Danny Farmer also get big props for Pittsburgh.
  • The "uninspired" Vikings draft turns out OK. Unfortunately, Chris Hovan and Fred Robbins wind up playing much of their football outside of Minnesota, forcing the team to rely heavily on free agency for much of the decade, with mixed results.
Anyway, King's analysis of the draft is pretty much what you'd expect: some hits, some misses, overall reasonably good (as anyone can do just by observing draft position and possessing some football savvy) but generally uneven. And, like the Buffalo observation, a whole lot of "this guy is a hidden gem"-type commentary that's easy to ignore when the guy doesn't pan out (which happens 99% of the time) and is highly recounted when it's right. Shame he didn't get on the bandwagon of that Brady guy. Still, I suggest you read the full article if, for nothing else, a trip down nostalgia lane.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The not-so-triumphant return

Hey there. Been a while.

I won't get too heavily into what's been keeping me away from here. Don't worry, it's nothing drastic -- I'm not dying, I'm not in prison, I'm not getting married. I've just been busier at my job than ever before and I just didn't have the energy to try and keep up a blog when I went home in the evenings. I can't guarantee that I will now, but I'd like to still post occasionally, when the mood strikes me, which has been rare as of late. Just don't expect three to four posts per week, like I used to do.

In the meantime, if you're new here, or relatively new, you might have missed out on some of my crude attempts at analysis over the past few years. Now that fantasy football season is nearly upon us again (and I actually work for a company that produces fantasy sports magazines, though not in that department), all the tired old theories are being trotted out again as to why a player will have a better/worse season in 2010. So I thought I'd take a little time to refresh you on what I think on such matters, backed up by more than just selective memory and wishful thinking.

Here are my two most significant findings for you to keep in mind this fantasy football season:

1) The running game has virtually no effect (statistically, at least) on the passing game and vice versa. Don't believe it when someone says, "Running back X will have a great season now that quarterback Y is on his team!" This is often quoted when a RB does have a good year when a new QB arrives (or an old QB does well) and never mentioned when a RB has a bad year with a good QB (or a QB has a bad year with a good RB). For the statement to be true, it must apply in a majority, if not all cases. I got into it a little bit with someone on the PFR blog lately but decided to bow out since my research was a little crusty and spread out.

And here is that old, crusty research! Enjoy!

If you can only read one, read the second one. It contains most of the significant data.

2) A wide receiver's performance has nothing to do with other wide receivers on his team. Larry Fitzgerald will probably see his numbers drop this year, but it won't be because Anquan Boldin left. The absence of Kurt Warner will have a much bigger effect. A complimentary wide receiver (or good-hands tight end) has little to no effect on a player's stats. I covered that concept here:

When it comes to premises like these, I still think it's a case of people just trying to sound smarter than they are or, in the case of fantasy football, trying to make it seem like they're getting a great or emergent player as a great draft pick. Don't buy into it. Remember, Matt Forte was supposed to have an awesome year once the Bears landed Jay Cutler.

Oh yeah, speaking of Jay Cutler...

And here's one last fun little Cutler/Kyle Orton comparison:

Broncos' #1 QB passer ratings:
2008 (Cutler): 86.0
2009 (Orton): 86.8

Bears' #1 QB passer ratings:
2008 (Orton): 79.6
2009 (Cutler): 76.8

Still think that was a good deal, Bears fans?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

RBIs and Touchdowns

Joe Posnanski recently posted a nice article about the relative lack of value of RBIs, something that virtually any baseball fan with more than rudimentary knowledge of the game understands. These two paragraphs, in particular, helped solidify in my mind a similar idea I'd had for a while about football:

But it really isn’t so. Take this situation: One out, Rick Manning cracks a line drive single. Duane Kuiper hits a high chopper in front of the plate, he’s out, but Manning takes second. Jim Norris, with first base open and two outs, works for a walk. Manning and Norris move up on a wild pitch. Pitcher works around Andre Thornton, and he walks. Then, with a 3-1 count and the bases loaded, the pitcher has to throw a fastball that catches too much of the plate, and Rico Carty rolls a single between short and third, scoring two runs.

That’s a fairly typical sequence, I would guess. In our mind and in our statbook, Carty is the hero — two RBIs. He is, in fan and media shorthand, RESPONSIBLE for those runs. But he isn’t. Carty’s single didn’t make those two runs happen. Those two runs scored because of a series of events, and Carty’s single was just the last of those events.

I've emphasized that last sentence to drive home the notion that I have the same feeling regarding touchdowns. Last season, Adrian Peterson had 1,383 yards, a 4.3 average, and 18 touchdowns. In 2008, he had 1,760 yards, a 4.8 average, and 10 touchdowns. And I'd wager that at least a third of football fans would point to his 18 TDs in 2009 as a positive sign, despite the lower yardage and yards per carry.

I don't. I think they're meaningless, except to fantasy football players -- kinda like the RBI is to fantasy baseballers.

We've all seen drives where the quarterback passes and the featured back runs the ball down to the 1-yard-line. Then, in comes Mike Alstott (or Jerome Bettis or Craig Heyward) to plunge it in from the one. Alstott is the Rico Carty of this scenario. To paraphrase JoePo: Alstott's run didn’t make that touchdown happen. That touchdown was scored because of a series of events and Alstott's run was just the last of those events.

To be certain, there are times when the player scoring the touchdown is the "hero" of the drive and fully deserving of the stat bump and the accolades that come with scoring the TD. But taking another look at Peterson's 18 TDs in 2009, nine of them came from one yard out and only four came from further than five yards out. Peterson's good, to be certain, but a lot of backs could have scored from that distance, just as a lot of players can hit a single -- like Rico Carty did -- and drive in two runs in JoePo's scenario. All of which isn't to say AP's not a great player. He is, but it's not because he scored 18 TDs last year.

This is also why I've been slow to adapt to the notion, now professed by the guys at Pro-Football-Reference, that a TD should be worth 20 adjusted yards (instead of 10). To me, a touchdown doesn't require much more skill than any other run and shouldn't be rewarded in the stats. Yes, it is more difficult to gain a yard on the one-yard-line than it is on the 50, and I'm willing to give the 10-yard bump for that, but 20 just seems like too much to me.

Finally, JoePo goes on in his article to name a few situations where teams that added players who had poor averages put up big RBI numbers actually scored fewer runs the next season. I thought I'd see if there was any similar correlation in football. I did a search of players who scored more than 15 rushing TDs ("high RBI totals") but averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry ("low batting average/OBP") and got this list of nine players. (The Redskins apparently love these guys!) Did they improve their team's scoring the year they scored so many TDs? Let's see:

John Riggins: 24 TDs in 1983
1983 Redskins: 33.8 points per game
1982 Redskins: 21.1 ppg

Terry Allen: 21 TDs in 1996
1996 Redskins: 22.8 ppg
1995 Redskins: 20.4 ppg

George Rogers: 18 TDs in 1986
1986 Redskins: 23.0 ppg
1985 Redskins: 18.6 ppg

LaDainian Tomlinson: 17 TDs in 2004
2004 Chargers: 27.9 ppg
2003 Chargers: 19.6 ppg

Shaun Alexander: 16 TDs in 2002
2002 Seahawks: 22.2 ppg
2001 Seahawks: 18.8 ppg

Pete Banaszak: 16 TDs in 1975
1975 Raiders: 26.8 ppg
1974 Raiders: 25.4 ppg

Lenny Moore: 16 TDs in 1964
1964 Colts: 30.6 ppg
1963 Colts: 22.6 ppg

Karim-Abdul Jabbar: 16 TDs in 1997
1997 Dolphins: 21.2 ppg
1996 Dolphins: 21.2 ppg

Lendale White: 16 TDs in 2008
2008 Titans: 23.4 ppg
2007 Titans: 18.8 ppg

Well, that's not quite what I was expecting. In every situation except one (the Dolphins scored exactly 339 points in both 1996 and 1997), the team in the high-TD year scored more points than in the previous year -- and it usually wasn't even close. My only redeeming thought is that, unlike an "RBI machine," a high-TD featured runner can score around a third to a quarter of his team's points, compared to accounting for only about one-sixth to one-seventh of a team's RBI total, which is all most hitters can manage. Thus, with an outlying high-TD season, a high-TD back can have a bigger impact on his team's overall scoring than the RBI machine. I might also claim that five of these nine players were just barely under the 4.0 yards per carry mark (3.87 or better), so it's not like they were truly awful. And I'm not looking up any other team-related improvements that might have accounted for the increase in scoring. If I found a way to incorporate Adrian Peterson's 2008-09 seasons into this mix, I'd see that the Vikings scored 470 points in 2009 (when Peterson scored 18 TDs) and 379 in 2008 (when Peterson scored 10 TDs). But I think we all know who was responsible for that.

Maybe a wider search using this list (greater than 12 rushing TDs and less than 3.75 yards per carry) would shed some more light on the subject, but that's for another day. I'll still draft AP #1 overall in my fantasy football league, but I'll prefer if he has a season like 2008 than like he did in 2009.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Super Bowl XXXIII redux

I've been playing around with the NFL SimMatchup on lately, where you can match up any two teams in history and play a simulated game with them, just to answer the question: If Denny Green (and not Gary Anderson) hadn't lost the 1998 NFC Championship Game for the Vikings, how would they have fared in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos? Better than the Falcons, who got hammered 34-19 in a game that wasn't even as close as the score indicated.

It's easy to set up and sim games (if you're setting up this particular game, set 1998 Denver as Away, 1998 Minnesota as Home and select Pro Player Stadium at 70 degrees), and my first result was this 24-17 Denver win.

All right, so that's not very encouraging. But at least it was a far more exciting game than the real result, with Denver scoring the go-ahead TD with just five seconds remaining.

Still, small sample size, blah blah blah, so I ran nine more sims to get a full 10-game sample to play with. The results were:

Denver 24-17
Minnesota 18-13 (six Gary Anderson field goals)
Minnesota 23-16 (Cris Carter TD catch with 0:25 left)
Denver 24-21
Denver 27-20 (24 of game's 47 points in the fourth quarter)
Minnesota 28-17
Minnesota 23-17
Denver 54-41 (!!!!)
Denver 44-24 (Terrell Davis 239 yards rushing)
Minnesota 17-14

That's five wins apiece for each Denver and Minnesota, with an average score of Denver 25, Minnesota 23.2. And nearly all of them exciting, close affairs.

A few more notes on that insane 54-41 game:

* The game started off slowly, with Denver leading just 7-0 after the first quarter. The single-quarter scores after that were Minnesota 17-13, Denver 14-3, and Minnesota 21-20.

* Terrell Davis ran for 292 yards, which would have been an NFL single-game record at the time, and three touchdowns.

* Randall Cunningham countered with 396 yards passing and 3 TDs, 141 of it going to Randy Moss.

* Total offense: Denver 567, Minnesota 493, for a total of 1,060 yards.

* In a game like this, you'd have expected to see a few turnovers and long returns setting up or outright creating scores, but there were no turnovers and didn't appear to be any TD returns on kicks or punts.

* In a show of poor sportsmanship (which can probably be chalked up to the game algorithm just trying to score as much as possible), Denver kicked a field goal on the final snap of the game while already possessing a 10-point lead, to inflate the final score from 51-41 to 54-41. Boo, Dan Reeves!

Anyway, this is just one of the cool things you can do with the SimMatchup, and thanks to the guys at the Pro-Football-Reference blog for pointing it out to me. They've got their own interesting application for the SimMatchup planned, and I can't wait to see how it turns out. I'll definitely be rooting for the 1998 Vikings!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tarvaris Jackson for Brady Quinn?

The Browns are looking to deal Brady Quinn and want a quarterback in exchange.

Tarvaris Jackson is essentially done in Minnesota, whether or not Brett Favre returns.

So, why not?

I'm not as low on Quinn as others are -- playing for that awful Cleveland team will make anyone look bad. I don't know if his 53.2% completion percentage and 5.2 yards per attempt last year were his fault of the fault of his receivers, but he avoids turnovers (just nine interceptions in 353 career attempts and four fumbles on 45 career "touches") and he just looked too good in college to be a complete NFL bust. Give him Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, and Visanthe Shiancoe to throw to and Adrian Peterson (and LaDanian Tomlinson?) to hand off to, and he'll have to look better.

Besides, the Browns already have Seneca Wallace. With T-Jack, they could have the most mobile quarterbacking in the league, which they'll probably need.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Busy day for the NFC North

As a "final 8" team in this new uncapped year, the Vikings don't look to be too active in free agency this offseason. But the other teams in the division aren't as restricted, as was evidenced by today's flurry of activity by two of the Vikings' divisional rivals.

Well, by one of our divisional rivals and the Lions.

Here's my opinions, in order of increasing importance, of the five free-agent moves made today by the Bears and the Lions.

5) Lions sign WR Nate Burleson. Apparently learning nothing from the Seahawks, who got nine more catches and 31 fewer yards in four years of Burleson than the Vikings got from him in three, the Lions handed Burleson a five-year, $25 million contract. He did have a respectable 63 catches and 812 yards for the Seahawks last year but also missed three games, following a one-game 2008 season. And the Lions continue to show why they're in last place, year after year.

4) Bears sign RB Chester Taylor. If you're surprised I rank this transaction so low, consider this: The Bears already have a decent third-down back in Matt Forte (120 receptions in two seasons), Taylor will turn 31 just after the start of the season, and he's averaged 4.0 and 3.6 yards per carry his last two years with the Vikings. If the Bears plan to make him their featured back, consider that Taylor managed just 4.0 yards per carry his one year as a featured back (2006), which was vastly inflated by his 95-yard run against the Seahawks; he managed just 3.7 yards per carry on his other runs that year. I'm really appreciative of what Taylor did in his four years with the Vikes, but his age, Adrian Peterson's new-found receiving skills, and the presence of Albert Young and Ian Johnson to take over the backup role made him eminently expendable.

(Strange note: In my copy of Madden NFL 2009 that I played four seasons of last year, Taylor signed with the Bears during the 09-10 offseason. Now, if Tarvaris Jackson can just lead us to the Super Bowl, my game will be uncannily accurate...)

3) Lions sign DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Two years ago, Vanden Bosch was coming off three seasons of 12.5, 6.5, and 12.0 sacks. Since then, he's managed just 7.5 sacks, and the Titans' scoring defense sank to 28th in the league last year. Granted, he instantly improves the Lions' defense -- not a difficult task -- but he's not the playmaker he used to be.

2) Bears sign TE Brandon Manumaleuna. Chester Taylor won't do much to improve the Bears' running game, but Manumaleuna might. He's not much of a pass-catcher, but he's blocked for the likes of LaDanian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk during some of their biggest years. On the bright side, this means that Greg Olson's career as a Bear is almost virtually done, as he'll likely be traded for a draft pick, so, in the short term, one wonders if the "trade" is a wash.

1) Bears sign DE Julius Peppers. All of the other transactions involve so-so players or don't provide significant upgrades to their teams. This one's the biggie, though, and I, for one, am not looking forward to Peppers making our QBs run for their lives twice a year. My only consolation is that Peppers turned 30 in January (by comparison, Jared Allen is two years younger), but as was evident in the Panthers' game against the Vikings in December, he can still give any offensive coordinator nightmares.

Still, in general, I think that most of these moves -- Peppers excepting -- aren't the kind of big-impact deals that can completely change a team. The only team I'm really worried about in our division going into next year is the Packers, who, in winning seven of their last eight regular-season games last year, might not need much in the free agency market to give the Vikings a run for their money in 2010.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lazy Sunday miscellaney

Vikings OK waiting on Favre's decision.

Like we have a choice.

* If Brett Favre returns and throws more than 100 passes, he will become just the fourth such quarterback to do so at the age of 41, joining Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde, and Doug Flutie, as seen here.

* Speaking of Testaverde, I find it interesting that it may be a while before we see another QB inducted into the Hall of Fame. There were no passers among this year's finalists, and among quarterbacks who retired from 2005 to 2008, only Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, and Steve McNair have anything resembling a chance at the HOF, and I'd say all are iffy prospects, at best. The potential inductees in 2015 will include Kurt Warner and possibly Favre.

* How good was Favre's 2009? Only four QBs in the history of the NFL have had a season of more than 30 TDs and fewer than 10 interceptions, as Favre did in 2009. All of them came in the last decade. All except Favre went to the Super Bowl that year.

* And if Favre doesn't return? Well, there's Donovan McNabb dangling out there, Sage Rosenfels, and Tarvaris Jackson are in-house options -- and let's hope this scenario doesn't play out. We already have enough running backs, we don't need to draft one in the first round.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cris Carter and the Hall of Fame

Cris Carter isn't in the Hall of Fame yet, and that doesn't sit well with some people. And by some people, I mean "most Vikings fans," as can be evidenced by the outpouring of confused indifference to seething rage by bloggers:

Daily Norseman

Purple Jesus Diaries

I'm sure there are more out there. Even last year, I expressed my own "meh" at Carter's lack of enshrinement. Then, something interesting happened. I changed my mind. Sort of.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in Pro-Football-Reference's HOF roundtable discussion. I and the other panelists were asked a series of questions about this year's nominees, including who we thought should be enshrined. The two obvious answers were Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice, and then we had three other choices to make.

First of all, I don't believe in the "only one player per position" HOF "rule." If you're good enough to be in the HOF, you deserve to go in, regardless of who else is going in. With that in mind, my other three choices were Dermontti Dawson, arguably one of the top five centers of all time; Shannon Sharpe, who revolutionized the tight end position; and then, I decided to choose one of the wide receivers who were eligible: Carter, Tim Brown, or Andre Reed.

As much as I was a Cris Carter fan (when he wasn't being a sanctamonius whiner), I decided to approach this problem as objectively as I could, and the yardstick I tried to use to measure the three wideouts was yards per team pass play. I used YPTPP last year to determine the WR who had the best yardage totals given what he had to work with in his team's playcalling. To wit, a WR who accumulates 1,200 yards on a team that throws the ball 400 times (YPTPP = 3.0) performed much better, in my opinion, than one who got 1,200 yards on a team that threw 600 times (YPTPP = 2.0).

That's a little tougher to measure over a full season than it is over a single season, though, and there are (obviously) more ways that an already imprecise measurement like this could go wrong. Still, I thought I could at least take a shot at it and see if, as I expected, Carter and Brown measured out about the same while Reed would be left in the dust.

I looked over the careers of each man (Carter, Brown, Reed), trying to focus only on the seasons during which they were starters for most or all of their games; in this way, I could be assured that they were on the field for virtually all of their teams' passing plays. In the case of years where a player was a starter but didn't play every game, I would multiply his team's passing plays in that season by a fraction equal to that player's starts/16 in that season. For instance, I only count 12/16, or 3/4 of the Vikings' pass plays in 1992 (when Carter missed four games) against Carter's total.

The "active years" for each player:

Carter: 1988-1989, 1991-2001
Brown: 1992-2003
Reed: 1985-1989

(I skipped Carter's 1990, where he only started five of 16 games. Since he only racked up 416 yards that season, it probably isn't going to hurt his chances any.)

Over those time spans, I came up with the following yardage totals and the number of passing plays that player's team had during those spans (with adjustments for missed time, as noted above):

Carter: 13,336 yards; 6,995 team pass plays (1.91 YPTPP)
Brown: 13,182 yards; 6,237 team pass plays (2.11 YPTPP)
Reed: 13,095 yards; 6,957 team pass plays (1.88 YPTPP)

Wow. That's not what I was expecting.

"But what about the touchdowns?" you might ask. "That's all Cris Carter did, at least according to Buddy Ryan!" Carter has 130 career touchdowns, to Tim Brown's 100. Not a huge margin, but what if we add in 20 yards per TD (the accepted conversion rate, according to PFR) over the same time spans noted above? That's 124 TDs/2,480 yards for Carter, 86 TDs/1,720 yards for Brown and Reed both.

Carter: 15,816 yards; 6,995 team pass plays (2.26 YPTPP)
Brown: 14,902 yards; 6,237 team pass plays (2.39 YPTPP)
Reed: 14,185 yards; 6,957 team pass plays (2.13 YPTPP)

That gets Carter closer, but still no HOF cigar. And none of this takes into account Brown's relatively productive first four years and final year in the league (122 catches, 1,752 yards, 14 TDs) or his time spent as a punt returner (326 returns for 3,320 yards and 3 TDs). It's tough for Viking fans to admit, but Cris Carter was simply the third-best wide receiver in this potential HOF class. Granted, the inane voters didn't even vote in the second-best WR, but that's another story.

BTW, here's how Jerry Rice stacks up in YPTPP, using his numbers from 1986-1996 and 1998-2003:

Rice: 21,461 yards; 9,164 team pass plays (2.34 YPTPP) (without TDs)
Rice: 25,261 yards; 9,164 team pass plays (2.76 YPTPP) (with TDs)

Yeah, he was pretty good.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter vs. Berry: The Results!

Here's a post nearly six months in the making. And boy, have I been salivating over this one.

Back in November of 2008, I stumbled across ESPN fantasy "guru" Matthew Berry's "bold predictions" for the upcoming season, most of which were so absurd as to be laughable. I wonder if he drafted Ben Obamanu and Troy Smith for his fantasy team. Probably not. At the end of the season, I dissected his predictions and the results were, shall we say, less than stellar. Of his 41 "real" predictions, only three came true, an abysmal 7.3% rate.

But hey, who was I to talk? It's not like I made any predictions. So, when Berry posted his 2009 predictions, one for each of the 32 NFL teams, I decided not just to track them but to try and guess which ones I thought would come true and which ones wouldn't. At the end of the season, I'd see who was more right. He'd score a point for every prediction he got right, and I'd score a point for each of his predictions that I agreed with that was right and each one I disagreed with that was wrong.

And now comes the day of reckoning. Here we go! Berry's prediction is below, followed by my Yes/No vote on, on the next line, Berry's and my results -- Y for a correct prediction, N for an incorrect one. When talking about fantasy points and ranks, he's probably talking about the scoring in the ESPN fantasy leagues, but I don't play those and don't have access to them, so I'll be using the scoring and ranks as used on player pages on

Chris "Beanie" Wells stays healthy enough to get at least 1,000 total yards and eight touchdowns. YES.

N/N. 936 yards and 7 TDs. Very close, but I'm going to be strict.

Roddy White will lead the NFL in receiving yards. YES. Bold, but I like it. Jake Delhomme is due for a meltdown, and that'll hurt Steve Smith.

N/N. He was 13th.

Joe Flacco finishes the year as a top-12 fantasy quarterback. NO. Flacco is highly overrated because his defense is good.

N/Y. According to PFR, he was 17th. And slightly less overrated, but still overrated.

Terrell Owens finishes the year outside the top 25 fantasy wide receivers. You heard me. NO. I think he'll be down a bit, but even Trent Edwards can't screw him up too badly.

Y/N. According to PFR, he was 26th. But I'll play fair and count it as a "No" for me.

Jonathan Stewart finishes with more fantasy points than DeAngelo Williams. NO. Williams is overrated, thanks to his huge TD numbers, but he'll still get more carries and points than Stewart.

Y/N. 193 to 179, according to PFR. At this point, Berry leads me 2-1. Oh noes!

Devin Hester and Greg Olsen combine for 1,800 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. NO. Jay Cutler can't fix the mess that is the Bears' receiving corps.

N/Y. Not so much. 1,369 and 11.

Chris Henry has a better fantasy season than Laveranues Coles. NO. Of course, the Jets lost Brett Favre so they don't know how to pass any more.

N/Y. I debated tossing out this question entirely in the scorekeeping, considering what happened to Henry falls outside the normal bad luck of an injury. But he was out hurt when he died anyway and probably wouldn't have made up the 82-36 margin Coles "won" the matchup by.

Jamal Lewis has 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns, or the equivalent fantasy points. NO. Nice to throw in the "or the equivalent" phrase to CYA, but I still think Lewis is done.

N/Y. 588 yards, zero(!) TDs, and retired. Can't get much more done than that.

Without T.O. in town, Tony Romo has the best fantasy season of his career. NO. I think Romo will be fine, but the man had 4,211 yards and 36 TDs two years ago. That's tough to top.

N/Y. According to PFR, Romo had 334 fantasy points in 2009, compared to 371 in 2007.

Peyton Hillis will end the year with the most fantasy points of any Broncos running back. You heard me. YES. Hey someone's gotta run the ball in Denver.

N/N. Hillis had 54 whole rushing yards. Ick.

Brandon Pettigrew finishes the year as a top-15 fantasy tight end. YES. Bad/young QBs love a good tight end.

N/N. He was #25.

Ryan Grant goes for better than 1,500 total yards and 10 touchdowns. NO.

N/Y. 1,446 yards and 11 TDs. If he gets a point on me for T.O., I claim a point on him here.

Eighty-five receptions and 1,000 yards for Owen Daniels. NO. Daniels is really good and really underrated, but the Texans still have Andre Johnson.

N/Y. Daniels had 40 catches and 519 yards in eight games, so he might have managed it had he stayed healthy.

Anthony Gonzalez, whose career high in receiving yards is 664, doubles that this season. NO. A Colts WR might have 1,300 receiving yards, but it'll be Reggie Wayne.

N/Y. But T.O. wasn't my worst WR draft pick in that league! Yes, I drafted Gonzalez, too. Thank heavens I found Miles Austin a month into the season.

David Garrard will be a top-10 fantasy quarterback this year. Just like last season. YES.

N/N. PFR says Garrard was 15th in 2009 and 12th last year. At this point, Berry's on an 0-10 streak.

Matt Cassel will not be. In fact, he finishes outside the top 15. YES.

Y/Y. This wasn't exactly the toughest prediction. The Chiefs will regret this move for years to come.

Anthony Fasano, meet the end zone. You two will find each other 10 times this season. YES. Sure, why not?

N/N. Because he's Anthony Fasano, that's why not! He had 2 TDs.

Bernard Berrian gets more than 1,200 yards and nine scores. NO. Having Brett Favre means Berrian won't have to settle for those weak-armed QBs like the ones he had last year that limited him to a paltry 20.1 yards per reception, second-best in the league.

N/Y. Favre was better than expected, but all his big plays went to Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. Berrian had 618 yards and 4 TDs.

Eight hundred yards and seven touchdowns for Joey Galloway. YES. If he's healthy Galloway can catch 800 yards' worth of passes from anyone.

N/N. Yeah, about that. Galloway had 67 yards playing for Pittsburgh and New England.

Pierre Thomas is a top-10 fantasy running back this year. And Saints fans start wearing berets to games. You heard me. YES. But I'll disregard the beret thing.

N/N. He had a nice season but was in a three-way RB committee in New Orleans. #20 according to PFR.

Brandon Jacobs scores 20 touchdowns. NO. How will the Giants get that close to the end zone with Eli Manning battling Brett Favre for the league interception lead?

N/Y. More like 6 TDs. And FWIW, Eli doubled Brett's interceptions, 14-7.

Dustin Keller gets 800 yards, eight touchdowns and is one of the top eight fantasy tight ends this season. YES.

N/N. 522 yards, 2 TDs, and #20. So much for my theory about young QBs and tight ends.

More than 1,500 total yards and eight scores (or the fantasy points equivalent) for Darren McFadden. NO. I dunno, but I think we're going to look back in 10 years and find that Felix Jones was the better Alabama RB who entered the league in 2008. Plus, being with the Raiders automatically subtracts 25% (or more) from your fantasy potential

N/Y. 602 yards and 1 TD.

Brian Westbrook plays all 16 games. NO. Hasn't happened yet, see no reason to start now.

N/Y. 8 games.

Trendy preseason favorite Rashard Mendenhall finishes with fewer fantasy points than Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Heath Miller. YES.

N/N. Goes to show what we know. Mendenhall had 185 points, Miller 115, Parker 51, Moore 45.

Philip Rivers ends up with 225 fantasy points or fewer, which last year would have put him ninth among quarterbacks. (To put that numerically, I think he throws for fewer than 3,400 yards and 25 touchdowns). YES.

N/N. I don't know why I was so down on Rivers. He had 4,254 yards, 28 TDs, and 331 fantasy points.

Shaun Hill wins the starting quarterback job, throws for 3,000-plus yards and has at least 26 total touchdowns. NO. He'll be the starter, but he won't get those kind of TD numbers.

N/Y. Well, he was the starter for 6 games, notching 943 yards and 5 TDs.

T.J. Duckett scores double-digit touchdowns. Julius Jones has more than 1,200 total yards. Both have solid fantasy value this year. You heard me. NO. I could believe Jones, but absolutely not Duckett.

N/Y. Jones had 885 yards (and yes, I drafted him in that league) and Duckett didn't play.

Donnie Avery has more than 1,000 yards receiving. And yes, I know he's injured and most likely will miss the start of the season. That's how much I like him and the Rams' revamped offensive line. NO. But I don't like Marc Bulger.

N/Y. 589 yards for Avery.

Antonio Bryant finishes outside the top 30 of fantasy wide receivers. YES.

Y/Y. 50th. Not exactly a stretch, prediction-wise.

Nate Washington, on the other hand, finishes inside the top 30. YES.

N/N. 41st.

More than 1,000 yards and six touchdowns for Chris Cooley. NO. Put simply, expecting 1,000 yards from any TE is asking for trouble.

N/Y. 332 yards and 2 TDs. If he only would have tripled his numbers...

Berry nails 4 of his 32 predictions, an awesome 12.5% correct. A few, notably the Wells and Grant predictions, are close enough to essentially be correct, and a few (like Daniels) were ruined by injuries, but, at best, he'd only have about 25% correct. Combined with last year's 3-for-41, that gives him a cumulative 7-for-73, or 9.6% success rate, thus proving that the fantasy prediction business is something pretty much anyone can do. How can I get a job doing this?

Meanwhile, I score on 18 of 32, largely on the strength of my calling "BS" on 16 of Berry's 28 incorrect predictions. But even at the start of this exercise, I felt a little funny just going off someone else's work. Ideally, I would have made predictions of my own and, at the end of the season, we would have compared our predictions and seen who got the most right.

The problem with that is that it would have been tough to judge the "riskiness" of my predictions. Is it more of a reach to say that Bernard Berrian will have 1,200 yards and 9 scores or that, say, Visanthe Shiancoe will be a top 5 tight end? (He was #6, according to PFR.) I'd hate for my predictions to be too timid (or too risky) and for the comparison to be less equal than it could be. But hey, if Matthew's reading this, I'd love a "prediction competition" for next year. Especially since it looks like I won't have to do much better than a 10% success rate.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2009 NFL Predictions Revisited

Earlier this week, I looked back at my Vikings predictions for 2009, and now it's time to revisit my overall predictions for the 2009 NFL season.

AFC East Predictions
1. New England - y
2. Buffalo - x
3. Miami
4. NY Jets

AFC East Actual
1. New England - y
2. NY Jets - x
3. Miami
4. Buffalo

Someone will have to explain to me why I was high on Buffalo. At least I got it right when I said New England will rebound and Miami will regress.

AFC North Predictions
1. Pittsburgh - y
2. Cleveland
3. Baltimore
4. Cincinnati

AFC North Actual
1. Cincinnati - y
2. Baltimore - x
3. Pittsburgh
4. Cleveland

Another stinker of a division, and another "What was I thinking?" regarding Cleveland. I thought at least one of their QBs would be good.

AFC South Predictions
1. Tennessee - y
2. Indianapolis - x
3. Jacksonville
4. Houston

AFC South Actual
1. Indianapolis - y
2. Houston
3. Tennessee
4. Jacksonville

My faith in the Titans was sorely misguided, though they still might have the best O-line in football. Titans' QBs were only sacked 3.1% of the time, and their primary running back had a pretty good year, I heard. They can even make Vince Young and Kerry Collins look passable.

AFC West Predictions
1. San Diego - y
2. Oakland
3. Denver
4. Kansas City

AFC North Actual
1. San Diego - y
2. Denver
3. Kansas City
4. Oakland

Hey, there's one division champ I got right! I also said, "Oakland, Denver, and Kansas City could all finish under .500," and Denver just barely avoided that sentence, with an 8-8 record (after a 6-0 start, a collapse of Vikings-esque proportions).

NFC East Predictions
1. Philadelphia - y
2. Dallas - x
3. NY Giants
4. Washington

NFC East Actual
1. Dallas - y
2. Philadelphia - x
3. NY Giants
4. Washington

Not too bad, and very nearly perfect, if not for Philly's collapse in the final game of the season against Dallas (which I'm not complaining about, mind you). "And I think that the loss of T.O. won't hurt the Cowboys as much as people think." Granted, unearthing Miles Austin helped a bit.

NFC North Predictions
1. Minnesota - y
2. Green Bay
3. Chicago
4. Detroit

NFC North Actual
1. Minnesota - y
2. Green Bay - x
3. Chicago
4. Detroit

Spot on! Except for Green Bay making the playoffs, though I did say that "I admit that I'm very close to picking Green Bay as my wild card, but I think the defense will let them down just a little too often this year." The defense gelled, and the Packers were (sadly) very good.

NFC South Predictions
1. Atlanta - y
2. New Orleans - x
3. Carolina
4. Tampa Bay

NFC South Actual
1. New Orleans - y
2. Atlanta
3. Carolina
4. Tampa Bay

"New Orleans has no defense and no running game." Yeah, they mostly fixed that, and it took them all the way to the championship. And how on earth did Carolina win eight games? Oh yeah, by benching Jake Delhomme...

NFC West Predictions
1. Seattle - y
2. Arizona
3. San Francisco
4. St. Louis

AFC North Actual
1. Arizona - y
2. San Francisco
3. Seattle
4. St. Louis

So maybe Arizona is for real, after all. Well, at least until Kurt Warner retires -- oh, hang on... "St. Louis might fight with Tampa Bay for the #1 draft pick." Silly me, I forgot about Detroit sneaking in with the #2 pick.

My mantra, as always, was that I must pick four new division winners each year. There were, in fact, five new division winners in 2009. If I was to take a very early look at next year, I'd say that Arizona, Cincinnati, and Minnesota (depending on the Vikings' QB situation, though with Green Bay's solid play, it may not matter) will have the toughest time repeating, with New England and Dallas (challenged by the Jets and Eagles, respectively) could also have issues. Those predictions are probably about as useful as 2011 Super Bowl odds, but hey, it's all in fun, right? Nobody's really being held accountable for any of this, are they?

Wait until this weekend.

Monday, February 8, 2010

2009 Vikings predictions revisited

So, how'd I do?

Quarterback Prediction:
Brett Favre: 3,300 passing yards, 21 TDs, 19 Int.

Quarterback Actual:
Brett Favre: 4,202 passing yards, 33 TDs, 7 Int.

So I was a little off, but be honest -- you never saw this coming, did you?

There's little more that can be said about Favre's remarkable season, mostly coming after he crossed the age-40 threshold. I did somewhat predict his unpredictability, saying "he could be great, chucking 25-30 TDs, and he could be awful, chucking 25-30 interceptions." Technically, I was wrong, as he exceeded 30 TDs, but I wasn't exactly complaining. In fact, it was the most TDs Favre has chucked since 1997, and he set a personal mark in completion percentage and lowest interception percentage. Makes you wonder what he'll be like in 10 years.

Running Back Prediction:
Adrian Peterson: 1,450 rushing yards, 200 receiving yards, 14 TDs
Chester Taylor: 500 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards, 6 TDs

Running Back Actual:
Adrian Peterson: 1,383 rushing yards, 436 receiving yards, 18 TDs
Chester Taylor: 338 rushing yards, 389 receiving yards, 2 TDs

Here's one where I wasn't too far off, though Adrian Peterson's newly found skill as a receiver was a pleasant surprise. Believing that Favre wouldn't pass particularly well, I predicted higher rushing numbers for the Peterson/Taylor duo, which received 92.6% of all carries by Vikings running backs (if one counts Jeff Dugan and Percy Harvin as running backs). Overall, I predicted 2,450 total yards from scrimmage and 20 TDs for the duo, and they managed 2,546 and 20, so I'll call this one a win. If I was keeping score, that is.

Receivers Prediction:
Bernard Berrian: 55 catches, 900 yards, 7 TDs
Sidney Rice: 25 catches, 350 yards, 1 TD
Bobby Wade: 40 catches, 550 yards, 3 TDs
Percy Harvin: 20 catches, 300 yards, 2 TDs
Visanthe Shiancoe: 35 catches, 550 yards, 6 TDs

Receivers Actual:
Sidney Rice: 83 catches, 1,312 yards, 8 TD
Percy Harvin: 60 catches, 790 yards, 6 TDs
Bernard Berrian: 55 catches, 618 yards, 4 TDs
Visanthe Shiancoe: 53 catches, 556 yards, 11 TDs

I wrote, "Someone from the Vikings' second tier of receivers will have to step up this year... Sidney Rice shows occasional flashes but isn't reliable." Well, he's reliable now, and his Pro Bowl season definitely counts as "stepping up." If Favre retires, it'll be interesting to see how Rice's numbers respond, but he definitely proved me wrong this season.

If the previous category counted as a "win," this one definitely goes down as a "loss." I did somehow nail Bernard Berrian's 55 receptions and came within six yards of Shiancoe's yardage total, but Rice and Harvin exceeded all expectations and Berrian managed just a puzzling 11.2 yards per reception, after averaging nearly double that (20.1) in 1998. Other than the running backs, no other Viking receiver had more than 10 catches, and Bobby Wade had 36 catches for 367 yards and three TDs -- for Kansas City.

I don't have the energy right now to do a piecemeal dissection of the offensive line, special teams, and defense, so here's a Cliff's Notes looks at some of my best -- and worst -- predictions about those units for 2009.

"If Loadholt and Sullivan can get it done, the O-line could be one of the best in the league."

I've already discussed my opinion of the offensive line, which failed to open pretty much any holes for the second half of the season, even while it improved in pass protection. For the record, the Vikings were a mere 22nd in the league in yards per carry, and Vikings QBs were sacked on 5.8% of their dropbacks, 13th in the league. The line was average, at best.

"this has the makings to be a dominant defensive line, playing equally well against the run and the pass."

It had its moments, good and bad, but the defense began and ended, for much of the season, with the play of the defensive line. The starting foursome of Allen, Williams, Williams, and Edwards racked up 31 sacks, more than eight other entire teams.

"He'll probably never be considered an elite linebacker, but as long as he flies around the field like he does, I'll be OK with his lack of recognition."

That was in reference to Chad Greenway, who did indeed continue to fly around the field, leading the team in tackles.

"Unfortunately, as shown last year when Henderson went down (Napoleon Harris!), the team's depth at linebacker is almost non-existant."

For a rookie, Jaspar Brinkley did an adequate job filling in when EJ Henderson went down in December, and, depending on how Henderson's recovery from a broken leg goes, he might have more of a chance to build on his rookie season going forward.

"That could be a questionable decision in the future, with Winfield having just turned 32 and Griffin not being able to keep up with elite receivers at times last year, but both should provide at least decent play for a couple more years, provided the defensive line can keep quarterbacks on their toes."

By the end of the season, Antoine Winfield was a nickel corner and Cedric Griffin, while decent, again struggled in coverage when the defensive line couldn't produce pressure (though the weak safety play of Tyrell Johnson and Madeiu Williams contributed to these difficulties). With three of their four defensive backs (all but Johnson) locked into big-money, long-term deals (though Winfield's has a semi-"out" if he becomes a fifth DB), improvement in this area might prove difficult.

"Suffice to say, Longwell's earned his keep as a Viking."

Amen to that. In his four years in purple, Longwell has converted on 86.5% of field goal opportunities, including 26 of 28 this year. Tack on a league-high 54 extra-point attempts, and you have a 132-point season, the highest of the 13-year veteran's career. "Four more years!"

"the Vikings are turning to rookies Percy Harvin as their primary kick returner and Percy Harvin as the punt returner."

I'm not quite sure what I meant there, but Percy Harvin as a kick returner worked out fairly well, I'd say.

Projected Finish:
11-5, 1st in NFC North

Only off by one game, and that was with Brett Favre being mediocre. I think I expected more out of the defense and the running game to compensate, but however we got there, I'll take it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Letting it sink in

After a few days to absorb "the loss," I find that my opinion hasn't really changed much. The wound has healed slightly, and I'm moving on with my life. Just like Brett Favre. Or maybe not.

This paragraph, right here, will be the only thing I write from now until the start of the next season about whether I believe Brett Favre will return. My opinion: I don't know. Neither do you, and neither does he. We can all speculate, we can all guess, we can all read rumors, hear quotes, we can read on the Internet, hear on the radio, watch on ESPN, whatever. None of it means anything. Anything. Yes, he currently says it's unlikely he'll play again, but that's because he's tired, sore, and mentally exhausted right now. We've been through this before. By April, he'll be healed up and get that "itch" again and make some offhand comment to someone and then it'll be FavreWatch all over again. I'm willing to play out scenarios about the Vikings' quarterback situation going forward, and I'll include caveats about "If he returns," but all they'll be is speculation, just as if I was saying "If the Vikings draft a quarterback this year." It might happen, it might not. Until Week 1 of the 2010 season begins and Brett Favre is not suited up, then he is returning to play again. Until that time, I'm not interested in speculation. Really. Not at all. (In related news, Brad Childress won't set a deadline for Favre to return, which is like telling your boss that it's OK for him to take tomorrow off.)

Now that I've got all that out of my system, it pains me to admit that I can't really blame the NFC Championship Game loss on Saint Brett. Yes, those two interceptions, especially the one at the end of regulation were brutal, but even if he runs for a few yards on that play, as many have pointed out he could have, it would have left us with a 50-ish-yard field goal for the win. Ryan Longwell is certainly capable of making that in a dome, but it's not like Favre outright "lost us the game." He lost us a chance to win, yes, but probably no worse than the 50/50 chance we essentially had in overtime. I also don't blame the officiating crew who, despite some questionable calls in overtime, seemed pretty even-handed in dishing out the lousy calls all around, including a classic "roughing the Favre" penalty that even Troy Aikman didn't believe should have been called. Folks, when Troy Aikman thinks roughing the passer shouldn't be called, it ain't roughing the passer. And the Vikings' defense and special teams played surprisingly well, allowing just 257 yards from scrimmage and just one big kick return while completely bottling up Reggie Bush on punt returns. Even the playcalling was mostly good, if a little conservative late in the game.

No, the blame has to go around to guys like Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian, for their stunning inability to hold on to the football. None of Peterson's official three fumbles were recovered by the Saints, though he was probably to blame for the fumble at the goal line on a botched handoff at the end of the first half. That, as well as Harvin's and Berrian's fumbles all were recovered inside the 10-yard-line (either the Saints' or the Vikings') and it's easy to see that avoiding just one of those plays would have made a huge difference in such a tight game. Avoid all three and the game is likely a blowout for the Vikings.

It's amazing, though, to realize that even with five turnovers and a -4 margin, the Vikings were still just one play away from winning, which stands as a tribute to their overall strong play in other areas. This stands in stark contrast to their last NFC Championship Game appearance, the infamous 41-0 thrashing at the hands of the Giants in 2001. Even the agony of the 1999 loss to the Falcons seems more hurtful than this game, if only because we were supposed to win that one easily. This was a game on the road against a team with a superior offense and we practically dominated them. The manner of the loss is hurtful, but the loss itself seems less than unexpected.

But it's still a loss, and it's another gut-wrenching end to the season for the Vikings. I suppose I should be used to it by now. After all, statistically, only one out of 32 teams ever finishes the season the way it wants to, so the odds are always against us. But hope springs eternal, I suppose, and I'll be hoping again with the rest of you when September comes along.

Wait 'til next year.