Posts tagged: Football

Josh Freeman or Aaron Rodgers, A Friday Night Lights Story

By , December 18, 2012 1:02 pm

Week 15.  Fantasy Football Playoffs.  Do I start Josh Freeman over Aaron Rodgers?  I already know the immediate answer.  No.  Absolutely, completely, without a doubt, No.  You are an idiot for even thinking otherwise.  It’s Aaron Rodgers!  He’s the best QB in the game!  You go with the horse that got you there.  Rodgers is a stud and what has Josh Freeman ever done?  I heard it all, a resounding ‘Yes’ to Aaron Rodgers …  and I started Josh Freeman instead.

Everyone I had talked to hadn’t looked at the numbers for these two quarterbacks this year, and practically no one considered the defenses both these guys went up against.  They heard the name Aaron Rodgers, and not only assumed he had been vastly superior to Josh Freeman this year, but also assumed that fantasy scoring systems reflect the true skill level of a player.  The reality is that Aaron Rodgers is probably the best skilled quarterback in the NFL, but when placed within the scoring system of fantasy football, Josh Freeman certainly becomes comparable.  Side Note:  When considered in terms of winning NFL games, Eli Manning tops all of them and is the perfect example of how real world winning doesn’t necessarily translate to fantasy sports winning.

For the season, Rodgers ranked 5th in scoring while Freeman checked in at 12th overall, with the  difference between them being 2.62  fantasy points per game (standard ESPN scoring system).  In a 12 team league, both quarterbacks would be considered QB1s based on the points they put up, so there is a conversation to be had here.  Josh Freeman also had a lower standard deviation in his scoring, which means that he was more consistent in achieving 16.23 points per game than Rodgers was in achieving 18.85.  In other words, Freeman statistical performances were less risky.

When you begin to look at the more recent history, the QB comparisons get a lot closer than you’d expect.  From Week 5 to Week 14 (9 games), Freeman averaged 18.87 fantasy points per game (fppg) with a 5.56 standard deviation, while Rodgers averaged 19.67 fppg with a 9.00 standard deviation (mind you I’m not cherry picking time frames here; Rodgers scoring numbers went up and it included both players season high point outputs).  When looking at this time frame, we are now talking about one quarterback who registers less than a point more per game versus one that is a whole lot less risky.  Uh oh, looks like we have a quarterback controversy brewing.

The last thing I looked at were the match-ups, and Freeman won big time in that respect.  New Orleans had given up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs in the league, to the tune of 20 fppg, which represented a +1.94 deviation from the league average of 14.84 fppg.  They had given up better than average performances in 11 out of 13 weeks to quarterbacks including the likes of Phillip Rivers, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, and Colin Kaepernick.  The Bears, Rodgers’ Week 15 opponent, was the exact opposite, giving up a meer 9.8 fppg (-1.89 standard deviation from league average), best in the league which included a 10 point game to Rodgers back in Week 2.  It is also worth nothing that Freeman had his season high 29 against his Week 15 opponent, the New Orleans Saints.

I used these statistics to build a very simple model to give me a sense of projected fantasy points for Week 15 (actually I considered a much more complicated statistical model normalizing all of these stats based on who actually played who, but I’ll leave that out because I don’t have a lot of faith that this math illiterate county can even follow this simple model based on averages and deviations).  I included the four other quarterback controversies I was considering for Week 15, which was the reality of all four leagues I was in this year:

Each color band represents the choices I had to make, and in each case, the higher seasonal ranking QB was listed first.  All four scenarios represent the exact same situation as Rodgers/Freeman, where we have a well established, well-known stud versus a relatively unknown and unproven commodity.  Using the simple model, in all cases the projected points suggested that you should bench your stud in favor of his back-up (the absolute points don’t matter in the comparison, and in the more sophisticated model, Rodgers was more in the 12 – 15 fppg range with Freeman in the 21 – 24 fppg range).  Reality seemed to have beared that out as well, since in 75% of the scenarios, QB2 outscored QB1.

So yes, I stand by my decision to start Freeman over Rodgers and with this type of analysis, I will get it right more often than not (hi Bill Belichick).  In the particular league where I had the Freeman/Rodgers choice, I lost by less than 13 points, so mostly everyone will point to that example as the reason to always start your studs.  However, the reality is that setting your line-up to maximize your points and what actually happens in the game are two separate and unconnected things.  The Packers play-calling in game situations doesn’t dictate they should throw to the endzone because Aaron Rodgers is my starting fantasy QB.  Above and beyond that, I might not have even won with Aaron Rodgers if I happened to run up against Russell Wilson (especially a downward single deviation that Rodgers has put up in past fantasy playoffs, in particular Week 14 against KC in 2011, Week 14 and 17 in 2010, and Week 16 and 17 in 2009).

In fact, it’s not even the Freeman/Rodgers decision that lost that game for me, it’s how far from the norm Freeman AND the New Orleans Defense deviated from their histories!  If the New Orleans played to the league average of 14.5 points given up, which was one standard deviation on the PLUS side for them, I would have won.  Had Josh Freeman performed within one DOWNWARD standard deviation of his stats over his last nine games, he would have had 13 points and I would have won.  If we could run the  Josh Freeman versus New Orleans Saints scenario a million times, 84% of the time Freeman would have put up enough fantasy points for me to win.  What we saw on Sunday was the perfect storm, a statistical aberration which resulted in a two and half standard deviation from the norm, a .5% scenario that no one is immune to.  Frankly, you don’t set your fantasy team, or make most decisions in life, based on .5% outcomes.  You buy insurance for them (or against them).

For the most part, these simple statistical predictions show themselves in the real world, given you have enough scenarios to examine.  In my limited fantasy world, I had four leagues where this case existed, and in three of them it proved to be correct.  In a broader history, a 36 – 17 regular season record, three first round byes, and two trips to the finals is probably better than most people who play fantasy football can represent.  If I had brazenly played Rodgers this week and snuck out the win, it would be statistically obvious to play him against the 20th worst pass defense in the league in Week 16.  The point is that sometimes you have to go Saracen when the analysis says so and put your ultra skilled J.D. McCoy on the bench even if it is in the playoffs, (*SPOILER ALERT*) … and sometimes you still just fall short.

Mathematical Proof of Why Golden Tate’s Touchdown was the Right Call

By , September 27, 2012 4:39 am

These replacement refs have caused quite a stir in the past three weeks, and at this point, the game ending call on MNF may have ended the labor dispute between the NFL and the NFLRA. Everyone seems to be pointing at that last second call as the most egregious error in the history of professional sports, but I’m here to present the case on why the replacement refs might have actually gotten that call right.

I’m going to preface this by saying by no means do I think that the replacement refs have been doing an great job in administering the rules of the NFL. I’ll also say they haven’t been completely atrocious as has been indicated by the rants of Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, Drew Brees and this moronic New Jersey senator.  They haven’t been significantly different from the regular refs as far as number of penalties called in games, which this Wall Street Journal article points out.  They have, however, been calling different types of penalties more (pass interference and defensive holding) and others less (illegal shifts).  Whether they are missing a lot of calls, I can’t really say, but since when did we live in a world where ref’s never miss a call.  Anyhow, back to my ‘Contrary Mary’ case for the right judgement call on that infamous final play in the Packer Seahawks game on Monday night.

I’ll start with the notion that EVERY PASS is an INCOMPLETE PASS until COMPLETED.  This may sound a bit weird (or completely obvious), but it’s that subtle difference that I want your mindset to be in.  I mean, when you really think about it, a pass spends 99.99% of its time incomplete before it is actually caught.

Now, what does it mean for a catch to be a catch (oh, the philosophy of it all)?  Well, the NFL has defined that for us, and in summary, three things need to happen for a catch to be a catch:

1.  The Ball Must Be Secure – this basically means the ball can’t be moving around whilst in your possession.

2.  Two Feet Down – you need to have two feet down in the field of play (tippy toes and derrières count here as well).

3.  Keep Control to the Ground – this was a new caveat introduced last year (any Detroit fan will know this one).  It is saying that when you hit the ground, the ball can’t come loose, or in other words, you need to maintain control when hitting the ground.

This DOES NOT mean that these three things have to happen in order.  You could be lying on the ground first (thus fulfilling 2 and 3) and then have a ball land in your hands (item 1) and that would be a catch.  I also want to point out that an interception is ALSO a catch, and the same three things have to be fulfilled for that to be the case.

Okay, now that the groundwork has been laid out, back to the play in question.  In this first still, we’ll see M.D. Jennings in the air with his hands around the ball and Tate’s left hand on the ball in-between Jennings’ arms.  Tate’s hand is actually between the ball and Jennings’ chest, and is possibly clutching the bottom nose of the ball.  Remember, a pass is always incomplete before it’s complete so we can not call this an INT or a TD until all three requirements are fulfilled.  Scorecard: Jennings 1 of 3, Tate 0 of 3.

In this next frame, we’ll see both of Tate’s feet on the ground with Jennings falling partially on top of him. Jennings still has his hands on the ball, and at this point, Tate is reaching around Jennings (intentionally phrased) for the top nose of the football.  The important thing to notice here is that Jennings’ left foot has not hit the ground yet.  Scorecard: Jennings 1 of 3, Tate 1 of 3.

This last frame shows when Jennings’ 2nd foot finally hits the ground.  At this point, it sure looks like Tate has also secured the ball.  It is absolutely conceivable that they both could have both their hands securing the ball, Jennings around the long part of the ball, and Tate around the noses (we can’t see EITHER of their hands or the football from this or any angle, so it’s unfair and biased to assume one has the advantage over the other).  Scorecard: Jennings 2 of 3, Tate 2 of 3.

The wrestling match on the ground probably safely assures that the 3rd part of a catch (control to the ground) has happened.  We don’t see any visual evidence of either one of them losing the ball while on the ground, or anyone gaining an upper hand before the call was made (oddly enough, Tate does emerge with the ball at the very end).  Scorecard: Jennings 3 of 3, Tate 3 of 3.

The NFL definition of ‘simultaneous catch’ is “If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.”  Notice that they have consistently used the word ‘catch’ and not ‘possession’ in the rule, which indicates that the three criteria of a catch has to be fulfilled first (after all, a catch has to be a catch first before it can be a simultaneous catch).  I believe the second half of this rule regarding ‘gaining control’ really applies to wrestling the ball away after a catch is established.  If Jennings had gotten his second foot down before Tate wrapped up the ball, then this rule would call it an interception.

But that didn’t happen.  The key here is really Jennings’ second foot.  To consider that, what would you say if a player does everything Jennings does, but the ball gets knocked out before that left foot gets down?  Clear cut incomplete right.  What if that ball is up in the air?  Live ball right.  Until Jennings’ second foot comes down, that ball is still technically incomplete and live. I’m going to finish this off by doing a simple proof to show you why this was a Seattle touchdown, and not a Green Bay interception.

Jennings 3 of 3 = catch

Tate 3 of 3 = catch

Jennings catch = interception

Tate catch = touchdown

catch = catch

By NFL rules, if catch = catch, then touchdown > interception

If anything, this might be the most glowing example of how the replacement refs got a call RIGHT (although procedurally it was … unorthodox).  Everyone needs to stop pointing to this as the end-all be-all for the problems with replacement refs, and really focus on the miscues that tilted the game earlier (mainly the roughing the passer which negated a Green Bay INT).  And everyone needs to stop acting like this never happens with regular refs.  Did we forget the ‘tuck’ rule … or Ed Hochuli’s phantom incomplete pass …  or this this seemingly botched call on a coin toss …. A COIN TOSS!?!?

“So this (Fantasy Baseball) team is perfect”

By , March 2, 2011 12:50 pm

It’s almost fantasy baseball time again and although my slow starting roster made a respectable run to finish in 4th, I didn’t re-capture the title which I won in 2008.  The consolation prize is that our commissioner, Hans Ruddilicious, for the 9th straight season did not win a title, settling for his record breaking/setting fourth 2nd play finish (see Bills, Buffalo – 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993).

Last year’s champ christened this year’s bulletin board with this fine piece of smack talk:

“i just took a quick glance at the initial rankings and the top 10 players looked like the 2010 Championship Bag of Poo lineup. weird…”

This got me thinking about what it would take to build a team that would perfectly beat any other roster of players, even if you were able to pick the same players (barring obvious ties).  It would seem that a baseball season, with 162 games would be enough to do statistical analysis, although we’d probably want to dampen the volatility a bit by looking at it on a weekly basis.  In this case, building a Monte Carlo simulation model and running thousands of scenarios could give you a good idea of which players would be best to wager a high draft pick on.

This would be a pretty good start, but what about other factors like injury proneness, skills progression/deterioration, team/lineup changes, and to a lesser degree strength of schedule and home field advantages/disadvantages?  It would be a pretty cool analysis to do to try to capture a bit of an edge in your fantasy league (i.e., look for Give It More Hand to return to the top of the standing this year).  Plus, it would be a pretty fun to put to the test our fantasy expertise, especially for bragging rights.

I came across this site that is bringing this concept to life, although not for fantasy baseball.  fantisserie.com looks like a game that lets you put your fantasy shit-talking to the test in a weekly competition for cash prizes.  The entry free is pretty nominal, about the cost of most iPhone and Android apps or a drunk impulse purchase of a Slim Jim from the local deli at 4:30AM, and they are offering a pretty large cash prize to anyone that can hit perfection for a week.

fantisserie

Not a bad trade-off, much like indigestion for the tasty deliciousness of previously mentioned 4:30AM Slim Jim.  Gotta have beef, gotta have spice, need a little excitement.  SNAP INTO A SLIM JIM.

The Perfect Fantasy Football Play

By , November 30, 2009 4:09 pm

I’ve been playing in a fantasy football league with the same group of guys for about ten years now, and like many others of you out there, I just can’t win.  It seems like everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, from a missed extra point to the NFL reviewing game tape to change the marking of a fumble which causes enough yardage difference to drop you 1 point loss in a game against the other team going for the last playoff spot (didn’t happen to me, but did to another manager whose opponent called up the NFL offices posing as a reporter to question a Jonathan Stewart fumble last year … priceless).

Now if you are an astute fantasy football player, you know exactly what it takes for you to win a game.  Even in the waning seconds of a game, I can come up with the most ridiculous real life football play that would pull my team out from the jaws of defeat and on to capturing an elusive Small Show* championship and the prestigious Portis Belt (and eventually making it rain like Pacman Jones).

My White Elephant

My White Elephant

After years of perfecting this ability, I started to think about what would be the most desperate of desperation plays that would be needed by a single player on your team to overcome a seemingly insurmountable lead.  At first I thought it was obvious, the 99 yard rushing/receiving touchdown from a running back/wide receiver/tight end.  The field is only 100 yards and a touchdown is the most amount of points you can score on a single play.  It’s the max on yardage and points on a single possible offensive play.  Defenses usually aren’t rewarded for return yards, so the best you can hope for there is a sack, fumble recovery, touchdown.

Actually there is a way to top the 99 yard, 1 TD effort, and this play is one of the rarest you’ll ever see.  It is a legitimate football play for the quarterback to throw a pass, have it deflected by a defender,  and then catch the deflection and run with it (Brett Farve’s first completion was to himself).  This counts as both passing AND receiving stats making it possible for a quarterback to throw and receive a 99 yard touchdown pass on the same play for 26.2 points of fantasy legacy.  Here’s a breakdown of the most possible points by position for a typical points-per-reception fantasy football league:

Fantasy Football Max Points Chart

Theoretically, any offensive player can do this (i.e., Ronnie Brown Ricky Williams in the Wildcat), but for practical purposes, we’ll expect the quarterback to be handling the ball at the end of the game.  So if your QB is backed up to his 1-yard line with 4 seconds left in the game and you are down 26, keep the faith, you still have a shot!

Here’s that Brett Favre completion to himself:

*The Small Show is the fantasy league that I play in.  I’m currently 4 and 7 and up by 5 points this week with Pierre Thomas (my guy) going against Tom Brady and John Carney (his guys) tonight.  If I win this week and next week I have an outside chance of getting into the play-offs provided another team loses and I can outscore him in Total Points.  What do you think my chances are in both tonight’s game and the playoffs?

The Pay-Off Matrix to Icing the Kicker

By , September 24, 2009 3:00 pm

First off, Eli Manning is a great quarterback whose number will probably never reflect how good he really is.  I’m not interested in the big arm of Jay Cutler, and the accuracy of Drew Brees, or the double threat QB nightmare in Philadelphia (McNabb and Vick).  Eli Manning flat out just knows how to win games (without the ego and attitude), and he’s getting better at it.

Aside from this, there were two things I took away from the Giants Cowboys game on Sunday night, played at the eighth and ninth modern wonders of the world (Jerry Jones words, not mine), the new Cowboys Stadium.  The first thing is that the Giant receivers are pretty good and I’ll specifically note the circus TD catch by Super Mario Manningham and the incredible juke Steve Smith put on before scoring.  In basketball,  the term is “broken ankles” and in competitive urban street dance, I believe it’s “you got served Orlando Scandrick.”

The second thing was how ridiculously popular it’s become to attempt to freeze the kicker by calling a time-out at the last possible half second so that the first attempt at a field goal doesn’t count.  My buddy Jeff brought up how silly the pay-off matrix looks like when coaches try to do this.  Essentially if the kicker makes the first attempt, then there’s no reason for the kicker to believe that he can’t make it again, since kicking FGs is a highly repeatable and high probability of success event (NFL average FGs made percentage was 84.5% last year).  If he misses, then he essentially has taken a practice shot, and now can adjust to better his outcome since the physical conditions of the kick hasn’t change.  Your hoping that the best case scenario happens twice, which if kicking FGs were independent, it would be something like a 2% probability of missing twice.

There is a mental element to missing a field goal, much like their is one to making one, but I don’t think that there is a strong relationship between kicking events.  In math world, it’s call the autocorrelation, which is the cross-correlation of a signal with itself.  In field goal kicking/inane time-out  world, the signal is the made/miss on a FG attempt.  It’s saying that if a kicker produces higher than average  success rate (made FG = 100% which is greater than NFL average 84.5%), then if the autocorrelation is high he’s more likely to make the next, and if he misses (made FG = 0%), then he’s more likely to miss the next attempt.  While I can see the autocorrelation being high on made FG attempts, I just don’t think it’s true on missed attempts (how many times have you seen a kicker miss even two in a row in the NFL from the exact same spot?)

If you really want to play a mental game with an opposing kicker, giving him a practice kick is hardly the answer.  I’d call time-out once the kicker got comfortable, but not where he could complete his routine by taking the kick.  Or try something like this legendary inbound play in a high-school basketball game, because it’s all about the element of surprise, and the last-second freeze play isn’t a surprise anymore.


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