Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mad Football

I, for one am sick and tired of hearing it over and over: “These are the wildest playoffs ever!  We haven’t seen anything like this before!”  It is time to face facts.

Say it with me now…

(channeling Robin Williams--careful for the language on the clip)

We don’t know anything about the NFL.

We don’t know anything about the NFL.

We don’t know anything about the NFL.

(Still don’t get the idea?  Watch from 2:03 till 2:32, I’ll wait…….Thank you Jim)

That’s right, one more time: We don’t know anything about the NFL.

(and It's not your fault)

Considering the following 4 things;

1.       The Cardinals supposedly “came out of nowhere,” and for two weeks have been the best team in the NFL.  This would be nothing if it were October, but the red, orange and yellow leaves have long since fallen, meaning that it is playoff season when we find the Red and (white…I guess), on top of the NFL.  Of the other 3 teams, the Eagles were declared dead weeks ago when Donavan McNabb was done in Philly, and no one on the blogosphere, radio or television had the Ravens with their rookie head coach and quarterback going to the playoffs coming into ’08, let alone the AFC Championships.

2.       On the other side, we were told that the Giants were the class of the NFL for the entire season, only to be one and done in the playoffs.

3.       (and now for your explanations)  In three of the four sports, we receive what would be considered an appropriate sample size.  Baseball plays 162 games, and the NBA and NHL play 82.  An appropriate sample size from which trends can be extrapolated according to statisticians (the real kind, not those who keep sports stats) is approximately 40, well within the boundaries of those three seasons.  The NFL season is scarcely 1/3 of that established benchmark.  According to this, any statistics that we are able to take regarding teams ability to win football games are not sufficient to predict future behavior.  Without getting too far into the numbers, this means that it is entirely possible (from a statistical point of view) that the 4-12 Seattle Seahawks were equally capable of winning football games as the 12-4 Carolina Panthers.  Breaking down turnovers, points scored, and yards gained etc. can give football’s answer to SABRmetricians plenty of things to play with, and indeed an idea of how good a team is, but so many things go into winning football games (from offense, defense and special teams to clock management, play calling etc), that football more than any other sport really defies statistical analysis when it comes to the 2 columns that matter (W and L) at the end of the day.

4.       We know what a pitcher does, we know what a power forward does, and we know what a first baseman does.  While we know what a quarterback does (or at least most of it), %99.9 of fans couldn’t watch a football game and tell the difference between an all pro guard and one who is on his way out of the league.  While the offensive line thing is no new revelation, most fans watch the ball when they watch games, meaning that if they weren’t told by the Ron Jaworski and Peter Kings of the world, they would never be able to tell you who is a shut down corner, and only the most diehard fans would know about run stopping linebackers, so let’s be honest, very few people can pick out a defensive MVP, let alone break down a 4-3 without help from the media (this is particularly important in the playoffs where “defense wins championships”).  While there are a few people (particularly the aforementioned Jaworski and King) who attempt to give us a glimpse into the hidden side of football, no fan truly knows everything that goes on in a play, let alone a game.  The defensive MVP this year went undrafted by 32 teams with front offices chocked full of experts attempting to put the best defense that they can on the field, which really tells you all you need to know.  This leads to complexities that are lost to everyone that watches.  For instance how many people watched the Atlanta-Arizona game, turned to their  buddies and said “I can’t believe Ryan is snapping the ball on 1 every time!”  %01?  %.00001?  And while multiple Cardinals have said this was the case, the fact is the most observant fans probably just said “wow, Arizona is getting a lot of pressure on Ryan,” while the vast majority of the fans just said “the Falcons offense seems off.”

So there you go.  It doesn’t make it any less fun to watch (or indeed predict) but it is time to admit it.  The fact is, no matter how much football fans watch or play, the fact is THEY KNOW NOTHING!

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