Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Not All Contenders Are Contenders
Posted Nov. 14 at 12:59 AM
Last time I was here I named the running backs I figure will have the biggest half-seasons in Games 9 through 16. I based my predictions largely on various players' upcoming schedules -- and got the following feedback from Richard Loppnow:
Thanks especially for the 'schedule' analysis. Quibble I would add is that I think it's reasonable to expect contenders (GB, Indy) to shore up their run 'D's.
Fair enough. It makes good sense that if a team is indeed a contender, but has played poorly against the run, that team's year-end numbers may prove to be better than the roughly mid-season ones I considered at the time. Of course, the counter-quibble is this: Before we go expecting the improvement that can come from contenders' normal in-season fluctuations, are we sure we know which teams are contenders?
The analysis below is admittedly flawed. I'm going to argue that some teams aren't really contenders, and thus won't see any correction in their numbers -- but I'm going to do it by relying on the very numbers I say won't correct. The argument is classically circular: This team has been bad, so it's bad, so it won't get better, because it's bad.
I'm not saying this is perfect. I'm saying if we use the right statistical touchstones, we might conclude that the conventional-wisdom contenders aren't the real contenders.
I like two numbers in particular, and they're about as obvious as could be:
The contenders are the teams that outscore their opponents, on average, by the most points. Hardly brilliant, but it's deceptively un-dumb at the same time, because this doesn't correlate quite perfectly to winning percentage.
The top six teams in each conference by point differential:
TEN (+ 11.4 points per game)
NYJ (+ 7.2)
BAL (+ 6.9)
PIT (+ 6.4)
NE (+ 3.1)
SD (+ 2.9)
If the season ended today, all but SD would make the playoffs -- so pretty good, then.
What of IND?
The Colts are 5-4, but their differential is actually negative: - .7 points.
NYG (+ 11.3)
PHI (+ 7.9)
CAR (+ 6.4)
ARZ (+ 6.1)
TB (+ 5.9)
CHI (+ 4.7)
Pretty good here, too. CHI is locked up with MIN, so let's say they'd make it. Only PHI appears to have played in bad luck -- and let's not forget that the Eagles beat the Rams 38-3 in their opener, a win that adds nearly 4 full points to their differential over 9 games played.
So the true contenders are who we think they are. Records align nicely with points scored and allowed, and if one or more of these teams' defenses were putting up especially poor numbers against the run, I'd be inclined to doubt those numbers.
But there's a second kind of contender, right? Teams that can score at will are in every game; you can't beat them handily; they're always lurking. One of the teams Mr. Loppnow named is indeed a contender this way.
Top six teams in each conference by points scored:
NYJ (28.3 points per game)
Again, we might take the PHI-STL game as something of a yellow flag -- how hard was it to run up 38 points at home that weekend? -- but, still, the Eagles look OK this way. The Chargers, too; I fully expect them to beat out the Broncos for the division crown.
But if we're talking Green Bay and Indy, I'm just not sure it is reasonable to expect those teams to shore anything up. They don't have great personnel along their defensive fronts. Green Bay wins games mostly by out-shooting other teams. They average a whopping 33.3 points scored in their wins -- compare that to TEN's 24.4 or even ARZ's 31.3 or NYG's 31.0. And Indy?
The Colts simply aren't very good.
Actually, it's worse than that. They aren't very good, and their best players are Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. If they do wind up as a contender, it will certainly be as a GB-type contender. They can score in bunches, and quickly, but their defense has been putrid.
Bottom line: If there are teams likely to improve among those that have defended the run poorly to date, these aren't the teams. I don't see the Pack or the Colts making meaningful progress; I'll stand by the predictions from last time. Except, of course, the ones about Ryan Torain.
Last thing for now: I bought Greg Camarillo last week, and though I obviously wasn't thrilled with 4-for-21 in his first game on the squad, I'm convinced he has become a playable cheapo. Four catches isn't what I want week in and week out, but five or six catches would be, and that's what I figure he'll average the rest of the way. Just enough to put up the 62.5 yards per game that is a 1,000-yard pace -- and not so many that he kills the receiving average even if he continues at his Welkeresque 10.7 yards per catch. The salary Camarillo saves (at a scant $460 in the Football Challenge) should let me play LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson together when I want. Not that doing that worked out perfectly last week, either, and not that I want to think of Greg Camarillo as a difference-maker, but here we are.
I'm hanging in at 2-8-84 in the Football Challenge, better than that in my other games, and a severely under-owned Tomlinson is one key to my season? I'll take it.
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Nov. 21 at 07:06 AM
Took this long to get whatever fixed and so allow me to post a comment. I would think we could use Ian's projections to determine which teams are and aren't contenders. And my theory/guess/observation is that teams still playing for something come December simply play harder at that time of year, ergo in the trenches especially run better and defend the run better. Especially those teams that had hoped to contend and now find themselves not doing so, I would expect their ability to stand up to the run degrade noticeably. I guess we'll see soon.
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