Thursday, January 31, 2008

Super Bowl XLII prediction

Football players are people, who have good days and bad days. Nothing is certain before it happens. The Giants absolutely could win the Super Bowl on Sunday night. As I've been documenting this week, it would be the biggest upset in the history of the SuperBowl, possibly the biggest upset in the history of the NFL playoffs. But it could happen.

I'd be absolutely shocked. Here are some of the historical reasons why it would be a shocking upset.

  • Teams which have a better regular season winning percentage are 204-79 (.721). The Patriots had a better record than the Giants.

  • Teams which have a better regular season Pythagorean winning percentage are 230-110 (.676). The Patriots had a better Pythagorean winning percentage.

  • In NFL playoff games, the team with the better offense (measured as points scored vs. league average) is 209-128 (.620). The Patriots had a better offense than the Giants.

  • The team with the better defense (points allowed vs. league average) is 198-139 (.588). The Patriots had a better defense than the Giants.

  • Teams which are better on both offense and defense are 109-40 (.732). The Patriots were better at both offense and defense than the Giants.

  • Teams with the advantage in all five of those statistics are 90-27 (.769). The Patriots are better in all five of those categories.

  • The cumulative disparity of 79.8% (offense and defense) between the Patriots and Giants is far and away the largest in Super Bowl history.

  • The point differential ratio between these two teams is 14.32, far and away the largest in Super Bowl history.

  • There has never been a Super Bowl with a 5 game difference in wins between the two teams. New England won six (6) more games than the Giants.

  • The New England Patriots Pythagorean winning percentage (.860) was 60.4% better than the Giants' (.536), far and away the biggest difference in Super Bowl history.

There are people picking the Giants. When I see those picks, they are invariably based on the perception that you've got a physical defensive team versus a finesse offensive team. The problem with that is this - the Patriots, despite the high-flying offense, despite all of the points scored, are still a tough, physical defensive team. And they're a tough, physical, wear-you-down offensive team. Perceptions are skewed by the number of points that they've scored, but this isn't a case where the prolific offensive team will get pushed around - the Patriots don't work that way.

People point to the 1990 Giants beating the high-flying Bills. Those two teams were each 13-3, and the point differential difference between them was very small. The Bills had a better offense, the Giants had a better defense.

People point to the 2001 Patriots beating the high-flying Rams. That was a major upset, but the Patriots had a better defense than the Rams, and their record, Pythagorean and offense were all closer to St. Louis' than the Giants' are to this year's Patriots'. In that case, you did have a finesse team against a physical team. As I've said, that's not the case this year.

And both of those underdogs had Bill Belichick, who is without a doubt one of the great game planners in the history of the game. The 2007 Giants will be facing him. Upsets happen when you get an underdog that's able to outmuscle or outcoach an overconfident or overrated favorite. None of that is likely to happen this week. This looks a lot more like Chicago-New England in 1985 than New England-St. Louis in 2001.

So, the Giants could win this game. But I can't see any reason to actually predict that. I don't see anything other than wishful thinking masquerading as analysis that would lead to someone actually predicting that result. The Patriots are on the short list of the all time best teams in NFL history. The Giants are, in many respects, one of the worst teams to ever reach the Super Bowl. They could win, but they'd have to play a perfect game AND have the Patriots play worse than I think there's any reason to expect them to. This is far more likely to end in a Patriots blowout than a Giants win. I don't see any scenario under which it results in a Giants blowout. I don't see any plausibly predictable scenario which leads to a Giants victory. "Tom Brady gets hurt on the first play," is not "plausibly predictable." It could happen, but you can't predict it.

And if you aren't going to predict that, how are you going to predict that the Giants either a) seriously slow down the Patriots offense or b) keep up with it?

The Patriots are a better offensive team. The Patriots are a better defensive team. The Patriots have advantages in special teams. I like Tom Coughlin, but the Patriots have a better coaching staff. In the end, the conditions will be perfect on Sunday, and the Patriots will score over 35, and the Giants won't be able to keep up.

My prediction: New England 42 - New York 17

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Super Bowl mismatch note of the day

I mentioned point differential the other day. I used ratio rather than raw differential (where the Patriots/Giants mismatch is also the greatest in Super Bowl history) because league context makes a difference. It's easier to outscore an opponent by 100 in a league where the league averages 400 points per team than in one where the league averages 200 points per team.

But there are other things that you can do with point differential. Or, at least, with points scored and allowed. Bill James did some work with baseball, and discovered that most teams winning percentage ends up being very close to what he dubbed the "Pythagorean" winning percentage. That is, the winning percentage will be very close, in most cases, to the ratio of the square of the points scored to the sum of the squares of points scored and points allowed. P^2 / (P^2 + PA^2). Work with other sports shows that the relationship holds pretty well. In football, people have found that the best exponent is 2.37.

So we look at Super Bowl teams. In nine of the previous games, one team had a Pythagorean winning percentage that was 24% or more better than the other. Those nine teams are 9-0. There have been 13 games where one team had a 20% or more advantage, and the team with the advantage is 10-3. The two biggest upsets (1980, where Philadelphia's Pythagorean winning percentage was 23.5% better than Oakland's and 2006, where Chicago's was 22.4% better than Indiapolis') occurred when the team with the lower Pythagorean came from a dominant conference. In 1980, the AFC was 33-19 (.634) vs. the NFC. In 2006, the AFC was 40-24 (.625) vs. the NFC. The third best Pythagorean advantage team to lose was the 1968 Baltimore Colts.

The biggest Pythagorean advantage in the first 41 Super Bowls came in 1979, when the Steelers Pythagorean winning percentage (.749) was 42.4% better than Los Angeles' (.526).

The New England Patriots Pythagorean winning percentage (.860) was 60.4% better than the Giants' (.536).

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Question: In the current United State political two-party environment, if the Republican Party does not support free-market capitalism, which party will?

Answer: Well, you know it won't be the Democratic Party, so the answer is c) none of the above.

On that topic, we have not quite the full recommended dose of Mark Steyn, but hey - a little's always better than none...
I'm getting a bit tired of Senator McCain's anti-business shtick. The line about serving "for patriotism, not for profit" is pathetic. America spends more on its military than the next 35-40 biggest military spenders on the planet combined: Where does he think the money for that comes from?

As for his line about "some greedy people on Wall Street who need to be punished", aside from being almost entirely irrelevant to the subject under discussion (the subprime "crisis"), it reveals, I think, one of the most unpleasant aspects of McCain. For a so-called "maverick", he's very comfortable with the application of Big Government power, and the assumption of Big Government virtue. Undoubtedly there are "greedy people on Wall Street". Why should he and his chums be the ones who decide whether they need to be "punished"? If greed is to be punishable, why doesn't he start with a pilot program applied to, say, the United States Senate and report back to us in five years how that's going?

I'm not going to be holding my breath on that one, I think...

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He Reigns

One of my favorite videos...

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Super Bowl mismatch note of the day

There have been 18 teams in the first 41 Super Bowls which, when compared to league average, had both a better offense and a better defense (by points scored/allowed) than their opponents. Those teams are 14-4. Two of the four losses were the Colts and Vikings, the last two years that the leagues were separate, so the competition levels were distinct. The last one to lose was Washington in 1983.

In all of the cases, one side or the other was fairly close. In 1968, Baltimore's defense was 44% better than the Jets, compared to the leagues in which they played, but their offense was only 3.6% better. The biggest cumulative disparity so far was the 1975 Steelers, whose offense was 6.6% better than Dallas', and whose defense was 39.6% better, a total of 46.2%.

The Patriots offense was 57.9% better than the Giants. The Patriots defense was 21.9% than the Giants.

The cumulative disparity of 79.8% is far and away the largest in Super Bowl history.

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Super Bowl mismatch note of the day

One of the good indicators of team strength is point differential. It has been determined many times that good teams tend to win games in which the final result is lopsided, while close games are more "random" in who wins. No one was going to blow this year's Patriots team out, for example. So point differential is indicative of team strength.

In the previous 41 Super Bowls, the biggest point differential ratio belonged to the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers. They outscored their opposition by 154 points, 11 times greater than the 14 point differential of the 9-7 Rams*. That was the only game in Super Bowl history where the point differential ratio between the two teams was greater than 6.

That statement won't be true on Monday.

The New England Patriots outscored their opposition by an NFL record 315 points**.
The New York Giants outscored their opposition by 22 points.

The point differential ratio between these two teams is 14.32.

* - That Rams team was probably the worst team ever to make the Super Bowl, just ahead of this year's Giants. They were one of only two teams (the 2003 Panthers being the other) with a smaller point differential than the Giants' 22, and the only team with a worse record than 10-6 (the 1988 49ers were the only other 10-6 team to reach the Super Bowl).

** - In the Super Bowl era, the previous best was the 1999 St. Louis Rams ("greatest show on turf") at 284.

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Blue Monday (on Wednesday)

I find this:
McCain - 36%
Romney - 31%

to be very depressing. The more I see John McCain, the more I look at his record, the more I do not want him to be President. And while he'll certainly be* preferable, or, more accurately, less objectionable, than whichever Democrat is the candidate in the general election, I ponder the prospect of a McCain presidency with something considerably less than enthusiasm.

As Michael Graham put it in The Corner last night:
In November, we'll be sending out our most liberal, least trustworthy candidate vs.[sic] to take on Hillary Clinton—perhaps not more liberal than Barack Obama, but certainly far less trustworthy. And the worst part for the Right is that McCain will have won the nomination while ignoring, insulting and, as of this weekend, shamelessly lying about conservatives and conservatism.

There's one more thing to consider. During the primary season, McCain has been the candidate of the big media and independents. He loses amongst Republicans. Even in Florida, which is supposed to be a closed primary state, exit polls indicate that Republicans voted for Romney. Well, he won't be the candidate of big media in the fall. All of the beltway insider types that man the national newsdesks, who are so quick to praise his "straight talk" when he's taking aim at Republicans, will be equally quick to decry his temperament, his positions, his "negative" campaigning when the target is Hillary or Obama. McCain could win, I suppose, if he can take a decent share of the independent vote while holding the conservatives, but I'm skeptical that either part of that is realistic. I can see a lot of people holding their noses and voting for him in the fall. I can also see a lot of people sitting out.

And I'll be honest - at this point, I don't know into which category I'll fall**.

[12:05PM UPDATE] - I was obviously venting, earlier, when I wrote this, so I want to acknowledge the other side of the argument, as made in these worthwhile comments from Jim Geraghty:
I'll also note that when McCain takes a position to the left of his party or to the conservative base, it's not on quiet, little-noticed issues. Campaign finance reform. The Gang of 14. The immigration deal. The Bush tax cuts. He's not perfect on guns, and he believes in cap and trade to mitigate global warming.

But year after year, there's been a lot of pro-life votes, a lot of defense spending bills, welfare reform efforts, the Republican Revolution of the mid-1990s, voting to impeach Clinton on both counts, Supreme Court justices, etc.

As discussion of Republican primary choices has gotten more heated, I think the terms "liberal", "not conservative" and "not as conservative as I would like" have become synonyms, and that shouldn't be the case.

* - It isn't mathematically over yet, but I don't see a realistic scenario in which McCain does not, at this point, take the necessary delegates to win the nomination.

** - (It won't matter, of course - here in Massachusetts, there won't really be a presidential election this year, just the charade which precedes the awarding of the presidential electors to the Democratic candidate...)

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Super Bowl note

I said yesterday that I think this is the biggest mismatch in Super Bowl history. I'll share some tidbits this week to support that.

1) The biggest difference in records between teams facing each other in the first 41 Super Bowls is 4. In 1967, the 13-1 Oakland Raiders lost to the 9-4-1 Green Bay Packers*. In 1985, the 11-5 New England Patriots (probably the best analogue to this year's Giants) got crushed by the 15-1 Chicago Bears.

There has never been a Super Bowl with a 5 game difference in wins between the two teams.

New England won six (6) more games than the Giants.

* - The Raiders, of course, were playing in the pre-merger AFL. It's debatable whether the competition was comparable at that point.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

" fully justified"

An excellent read over in The Corner, as Derb treats Obama's rhetoric with the contempt it so richly deserves...
Cynicism towards the kind of vaporous flapdoodle Obama trades in is fully justified, and ought to be encouraged. Doubt that an Obama administration will be able to do any better with the nation's issues than a Clinton, McCain, Romney, or Paul administration, is likewise fully justified, given Obama's lack of executive experience, or of experience in any real job; as is doubt that the things Obama says he wants to do, are desirable. Fear that an Obama administration will just take more of our money to sluice away on bureaucratic extravaganzas, ditto.

The man's a hard-left socialist, for Heaven's sake. Anyone falling for this stuff learned nothing from the later 20th century.

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Monday morning

Odds and ends, just to confirm that I'm still here...

  • I'll have some football stuff this week. I don't want to give it all away, but I'll say this - on paper, this may (I haven't finished my research yet) be the biggest mismatch in Super Bowl history. I'm not going to be predicting the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history, but my pick won't surprise people. And a couple of the previous results that people are pointing to as support for the Giants don't make the point the way that people think they do.

  • I think it's fairly clear that the Republican nomination contest is a two-man race at this point. Mike Huckabee is not going to be the nominee, neither is Rudy Giuliani. We're going to see Mitt Romney or John McCain. Mitt's my guy, and I think that he wins Florida tomorrow and becomes the clear front-runner.

  • I also think that I've been wrong on the short-term tactical stuff every step of the way so far.

  • Whether or not someone should feel guilty about taking pleasure in other's misforune, the schadenfreude of the left discovering that Bill Clinton is not truthful or dignified has certainly been amusing. And it's entertaining to watch the logical contortions necessary as people like Jonathan Chait go through the process of deciding that "Bill Clinton is a lying, egotistical, low-class practitioner of race-baiting and the politics of personal destruction, but there really was a vast right-wing conspiracy that was wrong when they said that Bill Clinton was a lying, egotistical, low-class practitioner of race-baiting and the politics of personal destruction."

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Can't attack Hillary? Attack Bill!

Well, this idea is incredibly appealing:
it's a McCain-Feingold idea. George Bush is not a candidate for any federal office. This means that "Americans United for Change" can spend infinite money trashing him, and they don't even have to report their donors to the FEC. What's more, there is inevitably going to be a certain, erm, latitude concerning what constitutes criticism of Bush and what constitutes criticism of Republican policies in general...In spite of the way former President Clinton is comporting himself, Bill Clinton is not a candidate for any federal office...

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Red Sox and Yankees are PARTNERS, not COMPETITORS

Apropos of nothing, in particular, but I stumbled upon this post from David Boaz saying something that I've been saying for years:
the notion that baseball owners “collude” in “cartel arrangements and restraints on trade” reflects a misunderstanding of the organization of a sports league. The different teams in Major League Baseball are not competitors like Coke and Pepsi. They’re not even quite like McDonald’s franchisees, who clearly don’t compete in the way different companies do. Rather, the economic unit is MLB, which is in the business of providing baseball games for entertainment. The competition on the field is real, but the teams are not actually economic competitors.

As I say, it isn't really relevant to anything currently taking place, but I noted it because it agreed with me, and was pretty well put...

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why didn't I think of that?

Rich Lowry reveals the secret to prescient punditry:
Here are the two steps: 1) think of trashy charges that can be made against Obama, and 2) predict the Clintons will make them.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

NFL Conference Championship Games

The matchup is now set for Super Bowl XLII, as the New England Patriots will face the New York Giants in Glendale, Arizona. The game is a rematch of the largest rated game of the regular season, as the Patriots went into New York and beat the Giants to finish the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. Some "experts" thought that the Giants foolishly expended themselves and were doomed to playoff failure*, while others thought that it was the performance that pushed them into the playoffs with great momentum. Whether that game made a difference in the Giants season or not is unknowable - what is knowable is that in less then two weeks, we'll see these two teams again, in what will almost certainly be the highest rated television event of the year.

  • There's been a lot of talk about how bad Tom Brady was yesterday. And he was - by his standards, it was an awful game. Here's one thing that's worth considering, though. When he threw his third interception of the day, to Antonio Cromartie in the end zone, he was 14-25 for 133 yards, with 1 TD and 3 picks (passer rating of 44.67) and the lead was 14-12. From that point to the end of the game, the Patriots had two more drives. One of them covered 67 yards on 8 plays and ended in a touchdown. The other covered 65 yards on 15 plays and consumed the last 9:13 of the game, finishing with the Patriots taking a knee. Over those two drives, Brady was 8-8 for 76 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions (passer rating of 145.83). That doesn't excuse the first 2 4/5 quarters, but when the team needed the quarterback to perform - well, he performed.

  • The Patriots game was not a blowout. Obviously. But it's worth noting that New England took the lead for good with less than 2 minutes gone in the second quarter. The game looked close, for a long while, but the Patriots led for the last 43 minutes.

  • And the Packers' season ends as a result of a Favre interception. Gosh, who saw that coming?

  • In the four games before the New England game, Eli Manning was 58 for 125 (46.4%) for 709 yards with 3 TD and 4 INT (passer rating 59.1). In the next four, New England and three playoff road games, he's 75 for 117 (64.1%) for 853 yards, 8 TD and 1 INT (passer rating 105.1). I don't know what happened, but those are two very different quarterbacks. Is it real? Is it sustainable? Only time will tell.

  • If I'm the Giants, I don't want a week off at this point. (I also really, really, really don't want to face the New England Patriots in perfect field and weather conditions.)

  • My opinion of Philip Rivers went up significantly. He put together a really good performance in tough conditions, on two non-functioning knees.

  • Just so the suspense doesn't get out of hand, I'll be picking the Patriots in the Super Bowl, to win and to cover. I think that they'll score 40+.

* - The relevant "expert" in question here is, obviously, me. Apparently, it was yet one more piece of NFL analysis, in a long line, which could not possibly have been more spectacularly incorrect.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The Golden Compass

In noting that the second and third books of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy are not going to be filmed, because of the poor response to the first one, Kyle Smith has, in my opinion, assumed facts not in evidence.
In an article in the December Atlantic, Hanna Rosin wrote about [Chris] Weitz’s evident frustrations in making [The Golden Compass]. (After he first agreed to do it, he dropped out, fearing either the Christian Right or the atheist followers of the book, then changed his mind again, then alarmed fanboys by basically telling them that he was going to water everything down to please his studio masters. ) Rosin’s article was well-reported and even-keeled; it was a detailed look at how Weitz was trying to make a film that was both faithful to the book and a financial success. He’ll be (falsely) remembered as failing to dilute the book’s atheism enough; what was left of the story, supposedly, was still enough to repel the average Christian. (Actually, the movie died because it was confusing and starred an actress audiences don’t like.)

The movie may have been confusing - I don't know, I haven't seen it. And maybe some audiences don't like Nicole Kidman, though that's not something that I was aware of, and her presence wouldn't prevent me from watching a movie that I wanted to see.

So I'm not going to say that there's nothing to what he's saying there. But I'm skeptical that either of those factors was determinative in the film's box-office results. I think that there's more to it.

I believe that it doesn't matter, in the long run, how much they toned down the anti-religious subtext of the books. It doesn't matter to me. I'm someone who loves to go to the movies, who has four kids who love to go to the movies, and who looks forward to movies that we can go out to see as a family. When something comes out that works as a family movie, in general, we see it. And we don't necessarily wait to see the critical reviews, and even if we did, this film got decent reviews from the critics that I read.

But I wasn't going to see it. It doesn't, as I said, matter whether they denuded the story of atheist prosletyzing or not. I wasn't going to spend money supporting Phillip Pullman. Period. I'm certain that I'm not the only one who felt that way.

It should not surprise anyone that a work whose fundamental premise demonstrates contempt for the deeply held beliefs of a large portion of its target audience fails to achieve financial success.

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Conference Championship Game weekend

I had a heck of a regular season picking the games. The playoffs, on the other hand...

There were four games last weekend. I got one (1) right against the spread. I got two winners. In none of the four games was I right both straight up and against the spread.

The good news is that this week, I've only got two games to get wrong.

San Diego at New England (-14) - Yes, the Chargers have played better over the last half of the season than they did in the first half. Yes, they've been even better than New England over their last 8 games. Before squeaking by Tennessee in the first round, however, that six game winning streak over the last half of the season was against bad teams. Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, Detroit. Overtime against Tennessee in a game where Vince Young got hurt. If you look at games against playoff teams, the Patriots and Chargers are each 3-0 since mid-November, and the Patriots have played better. And that's with everyone playing New England at a playoff level of intensity. We can, I suppose, throw out the first San Diego-New England game from this season. But the Patriots are, and have been, a much better team than San Diego, and when you look at the ancillary stuff (the weather, the injuries, the fact that San Diego will fly further on Saturday than the Patriots have in the last two months combined), there's no reason not to expect this to be a Patriots win. Which I do expect.

Pick: New England 38 - San Diego 17

NY Giants at Green Bay (-7) - Like the Chargers, the Giants have momentum. But let's be honest here - how much of a momentum advantage can either team have when you're in a Conference Championship Game? The Packers weather advantage would be greater against a warm weather team than it is against this one. Here's the deciding factor in this game for me - any quarterback (I'm looking at you, Eli Manning) can play a couple of great games in a row. What separates the greats from the "any quarterbacks" is the ability to do it consistently, over and over again. Could Eli have another great game this week? Yup, he sure could. And the Giants could go in to Green Bay and win. But that's not the way that I'm betting.

Pick: Green Bay 27 - New York 17

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Friday, January 11, 2008

NFL divisional playoff picks

A couple of things.

One is my performance in round 1. I was wrong on 3 of the 4, which is far more like my expected performance standard than what I managed this year.

The second is this. History suggests that the home teams will win. It also suggests that at least one of them will lose. I don't see any of the home teams losing. I think that Dallas is the most likely home team to lose, followed by Green Bay, followed by, I suppose, New England. That's not because I think that the Colts are better than the Patriots, but because I think that the Jaguars are much better, and much better coached, than the Chargers. I don't see either AFC home team losing, and will be very surprised if the AFC Championship game is not Indianapolis at New England.

Now, on to the picks...

Seattle(+8) at Green Bay - I was more impressed with the Seahawk defense last week than I expected to be. That said, if a Seahawk had touched the ball on the kickoff that the Redskins ran in to the end-zone, they'd have lost. Washington would have been up by eight, and the game would have been very different. I still think that the Seahawks are overrated, and I don't see them winning this game. But I do think that they keep it close.

Pick: Green Bay 27 - Seattle 21

Jacksonville at New England (-13) - The Jaguars and Patriots had four common opponents this year. Against Indianapolis, San Diego, Buffalo and Indianapolis (including the post-season), Jacksonville was 4-2, scoring 25.3 points per game and allowing 23.2. The Patriots were 5-0, scoring 38.0 points per game and allowing 12.8. There's going to be a huge national audience for this one, and a lot of people rooting for Jacksonville to knock off the Patriots. The Jaguars are a trendy pick in some places. The fact is, New England is a better team than Jacksonville, playing at home, play-off and pressure-tested, and well-equipped to take advantage of Jacksonville's weakness in pass defense. This may be close for a half, but it won't ever be in doubt.

Pick: New England 35 - Jacksonville 17

San Diego at Indianapolis (-8.5) - The Chargers did, in fact, beat the Colts this year. In a game in which the Colts were adjusting to the absence of Dwight Freeney, Peyton Manning threw six (6!) interceptions, and Adam Vinatieri missed a chip-shot game-winning field goal at the end. In San Diego. This one will be in Indianapolis, with the Chargers probably missing (or playing with a significantly hobbled) Antonio Gates. Kick-off will come at about 1:05 Sunday afternoon, any hope for a San Diego victory will be gone by 1:35.

Pick: Indianapolis 34 - San Diego 13

NY Giants (+7.5) at Dallas - My exhaustive scientific* evaluation of the football punditocracy has revealed that the Giants are the chic pick of the weekend. It is obvious** that Tony Romo is distracted by his relationship with Jessica Simpson***. Eli Manning has finally settled in to becoming a first-rate QB****. And the Giants are going to go into Dallas and shock the world*****. I'm thinking, just possibly, not. Yes, the Cowboys haven't played well the past few weeks. Yes, the Giants have played their two best games of the season the past two weeks. I'm still not buying. The Giants keep it close, but their magic carpet ride comes to an end.

Pick: Dallas 29 - New York 24

* - Evaluation was neither scientific nor exhaustive, consisting mainly of something I thought I heard someone say as I was changing radio stations.
** - There is no actual evidence available to anyone that demonstrates that Tony Romo is distracted by his relationship with Jessica Simpson.
*** - Who is Jessica Simpson? How did she become a celebrity?
**** - Eli Manning's played two (2) good games in a row. Make of it what you will - I suspect that many are making far, far too much of it.
***** - Although, as I say, the world won't actually be shocked by a Giants victory. Many people will actually be more shocked if the favored Cowboys win.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

It matters who wins elections

Michael Yon, with another very important story.
...When I finally succeeded in getting back into Iraq in late 2006, even I was truly amazed at the progress that had been made across Iraq with the training and management of Iraqi Army and Police forces.

There’s only a small group of writers who honestly spend enough time in Iraq to make serious claims based on firsthand accounts. But I’ve seen the Iraqi Army with my own eyes. I’ve done many missions in 2005 and 2007, in many places in Iraq, along with the Iraqi Army: please believe me when I say that, on the whole, the Iraqi Army is remarkably better in 2007 and far more effective than it was in 2005. By 2007, the Iraqis were doing most of the fighting. And ... this is very important ... they see our Army and Marines as serious allies, and in many cases as friends. Please let the potential implications of that sink in.

We now have a large number of American and British officers who can pick up a phone from Washington or London and call an Iraqi officer that he knows well—an Iraqi he has fought along side of—and talk. Same with untold numbers of Sheiks and government officials, most of whom do not deserve the caricatural disdain they get most often from pundits who have never set foot in Iraq. British and American forces have a personal relationship with Iraqi leaders of many stripes. The long-term intangible implications of the betrayal of that trust through the precipitous withdrawal of our troops could be enormous, because they would be the certain first casualties of renewed violence, and selling out the Iraqis who are making an honest-go would make the Bay of Pigs sell-out seem inconsequential. The United States and Great Britain would hang their heads in shame for a century.

Alternately, in an equation in which the outcome is a stable Iraq for which they (Iraqi Police and Army officials) are stewards, the potential benefits are equally enormous. Because if Iraq were to settle down, and then a decade passes and we look back and even our most severe critics cannot deny that Iraq is a better place, a generation of Iraq’s most important leaders would have deep personal bonds with their counterparts in America and Great Britain. This could actually happen.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Jim Rice Hall of Fame redux

I wrote this a year ago, but today we're expecting Baseball Hall of Fame results, so it's time to read it again. I modestly consider this to be the definitive article on Jim Rice's Hall of Fame case. (And there's a little further discussion here.)

Bottom line: Jim Rice shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. He may get in anyway.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wild Card picks

Two of the best football weekends of the year coming up, with two NFL games on Saturday, two games on Sunday, and only winning teams participating.


Washington (+3.5) at Seattle - 5-11. 4-12. 3-13. Those are the records of the worst three teams in the NFC. Each of which happens to reside in the NFC West. What's the point? The 10-6 Seattle Seahawks are a mirage. They were 3-3 in the NFC outside their division. They were 2-2 in interconference play. They are the epitome of mediocrity, playing in a division that's willing to reward them for it with a division title. (Yes, I'm a Patriots fan. Yes, the Patriots had Miami and the Jets in their division. All similarity ends there. Buffalo was two games better than the 2nd-place team in the NFC West, and the Patriots were, obviously, 10-0 outside their division.) The Redskins are unbeaten since Jason Campbell was replaced by Todd Collins, and one is forced to consider that Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls with Doug Williams and Mark Rypien, unspectacular but coachable pocket passers. Washington also comes into the playoffs as motivated and emotional as anyone in the game. That's not enough to beat New England or Indianapolis, but it might get them past the Cowboys or Packers, and should be more than sufficient to handle the overrated Seahawks.

Pick: Washington 31 - Seattle 21

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh (+2) - The Steelers are at home, and underdogs. Yes, the Jaguars finished with a better record than the Steelers. Yes, the Jaguars beat the Steelers at home a month ago. I'm going with Pittsburgh anyway. I wrote earlier this week about the "Patriots effect." When the Steelers lost to the Jaguars at Heinz last month, they were suffering from it. They had played in New England the week before, and came out flat, falling way behind Jacksonville before storming back to lose close and late. On paper, these are two evenly matched teams. Pittsburgh had a better point differential and pythagorean winning percentage, Jacksonville scored more points. I believe that the point spread on this game represents an overreaction to that one game.

Pick: Pittsburgh 27 - Jacksonville 24


NY Giants at Tampa Bay (-2.5) - There seemed to be joy in the Giants locker room following a loss on Saturday night, as they somehow achieved the never-before-seen feat of combining pyrrhic and moral victories in a loss. Ordinarily, you've got to, you know, win, to achieve the pyrrhic victory, but such was the magnitude of their moral victory that they actually think they won, so we'll give it to them anyway. They lost three starters during the game which did nothing, and they knew beforehand could do nothing, to move them towards their ultimate goal, post-season success. Now a huge portion of the punditocracy is jumping on the moral victory bandwagon. "Look at how well they played! They gained confidence! It was an important performance for Eli!" Hogwash. What it was was a loss in which they got physically beaten up in a meaningless game, while having weaknesses highlighted by the best game-planning team in the league. Remember the "Patriots effect?" It kicks in here with a vengeance.

Pick: Tampa Bay 24 - New York 13

Tennessee at San Diego (-9.5) - This would fall into the category of "saving the best for last," if this were going to be the best game of the weekend. Despite the fact that these two teams played into overtime just a few weeks ago, I'm thinking not. It is difficult to imagine the Titans team that squeaked past the 3rd-string Colts last weekend going out to San Diego and upsetting the Chargers, Norv Turner or no Norv Turner. This is the wild card game that has the best chance of getting out of hand, and if it does, it won't be the Titans on top. San Diego has not won a playoff game since the 1994 AFC Championship game. That last sentence is true today, but will not still be true on Monday.

Pick: San Diego 34 - Tennessee 16

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The "Patriots effect"

One of the things that has been anecdotally observed over the past several years is what has sometimes been called the "Patriots effect." That is, the Patriots are a tough, physical team, well-coached, disciplined and smart, and playing against them seems to take something extra out of a team. They play worse the weekend following a game against New England than they do in general, either because they have been physically worn down or because the Patriots have showed the opposition how to deal with some aspect of their game.

But it was, as near as I can tell, just anecdotal, observational. I decided to spend a few minutes trying to quantify it for the 2007 season.

The Patriots have played 14 times against 11* teams that played a game the following week**. This table shows how Patriots opposition did overall, against New England, against everyone except New England, and in the week following the Patriots game.

New England opponents


Against New England01523955115.9336.730

Against Everyone Else1091044611428221.6520.10.512

Week after facing New England41028435120.2925.070.286

Offensively, there isn't much difference. In terms of winning percentage and defensively, there are big differences. Against non-New England competition, these teams allowed 20 points per game and compiled a .512 winning percentage - the week after facing the Patriots, they allowed 25 points per game and compiled a .286 winning percentage. And of the four wins, three were against two of the worst teams in the NFL (the Bills and Redskins beat the Jets, the Browns beat the Dolphins.)

Obviously, we're talking about very small sample sizes here. But we can look at a couple of different statistical tests for significance. First, the winning percentage. If that set of teams has a .512 winning percentage, what are the odds of winning just 4 games out of 14? Simple binomial probability suggests that teams with a .512 winning percentage have about a 7.6% chance of winning fewer than 5 out of 14. So it is possible that only chance and schedule effects are in play here. At a 5% significance level, we can't say that it isn't just luck, at a 10% significance level, we can.

Looking at the defensive numbers, we can do a t-test, and it suggests that, at the 5% significance level, the difference is statistically significant.

Bottom line - we cannot say for sure that there is a "Patriots effect," but there is evidence that supports it fairly strongly, at least for 2007. And it will play into my playoff predictions this weekend (I'm looking at you, NY Giants, and you, Jacksonville Jaguars...)

* - They played the Jets, Dolphins and Bills twice each.
** - Cincinnati had a bye following the Patriots game, the Giants have a playoff game this coming weekend.

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