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The NFL New Year draws nigh. Over the last few days pending free agents have been eligible to re-sign with their current team, but starting tomorrow they can sign with any club. Here are some figures to consider concerning the big names who already chose to stick with their team.

* denotes a team using its one-year franchise tag

Defensive Ends (4-3)

Michael Bennett

** all salary information from Spotrac.com

Age: 28 (29 on November 13th)
Old Contract**: 1 year/$4.8 million, $4.8 million average (18th-highest among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 24.2 (5th of 52 4-3 defensive ends with significant playing time)
2013 Contract Quality***: 1.09 (5th among position)
New Contract: 4 years/$28.5 million, $7.125 million average (projected 8th among position)

*** a player’s contract quality is the number of standard deviations his performance is above/below the average at his position (measured by PFF), minus the number of standard deviations his average annual salary is above/below the average at his position (obtained via Spotrac.com); CQ = (performance SDs +/- positional average) – (salary SDs +/- positional average)

Last year, Bennett’s play was worth about $8.8 million, given the salaries and performances of all NFL players at his position. This deal is nearly two million under that each year. May the football gods bless quarterbacks playing the Seahawks this coming season; Michael Bennett surely is not going to.

Greg Hardy

Age: 25 (26 on July 28th)
Old Contract: 4 years/$2.776 million, $0.694 million average (42nd among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 27 (3rd of 52)
2013 Contract Quality: 2.38 (2nd among position)
New Contract: 1 year/$13.116 million*, $13.116 million average (projected 2nd among position)

Hardy will probably be overpaid, at least based solely on his on-field contributions. (It may have been worthwhile for the Panthers to keep him for other reasons, such as selling tickets and not devastating their fan base.) The franchise tag is designed to strongly compensate the player, who has had his free agency stripped of him and receives only a one-year contract in return. The Panthers will be back to square one next year, with Hardy’s stock likely not going anywhere but up with him in his mid-twenties. The Panthers (likely) should have either locked him up long-term or let him go; what does one heavily overpriced year do in the meantime?1

Wide Receivers

Jeremy Maclin

Age: 25 (26 on May 11th)
Old Contract: 5 years/$14.375 million, $2.875 million average (41st among position)
2013 PFF Grade: N/A
2013 Contract Quality: N/A
New Contract: 1 year/$5.25 million, $5.25 million average (projected 27th among position)

Maclin is coming of a season-ending injury. This deal does not look terrible, and will look good if he shows he belongs in Chip Kelly’s offense. It does come with three million guaranteed, though, even if he is injured again or fails to measure up. And in his last healthy season, 2012, Pro Football Focus graded Maclin 101st among 105 wide receivers. Hm.

Anquan Boldin

Age: 33 (34 on October 3rd)
Old Contract: 3 years/$25 million, $8.333 million average (13th among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 17.9 (9th of 111)
2013 Contract Quality: 0.63 (33rd among position)
New Contract: 2 years/$12 million, $6 million average (projected 23rd among position)

Eleven years ago Anquan Boldin was one of the slower wide receivers entering the NFL draft; the Arizona Cardinals still took him 54th overall, and never regretted it. The Ravens did trade him to free up some cap money, but presumably do not regret the eight million-plus they gave him a year, after his thirtieth birthday, as he strongly contributed to their playoff trips and Super Bowl victory. The 49ers are actually paying him pretty much what they did last year (due to some dead money going to Baltimore’s books instead of San Francisco’s). And though he is old, he should not exactly “lose a step” to younger competition; he has always been slow. His strength lies in just that: his strength.

 


  1. A possible theory is that this is back pay for the good work Hardy has already done; after all, he was making pennies the last few seasons as one of the best defensive ends in the game. But Hardy was going to get millions this spring from whatever team signed him. Why would the Panthers (a business, to an extent like any other) grant him millions just because they were able to underpay him for years? 

Most football analysis requires expertise. But some plays, even amid unknown audibles, blocking schemes, options, etc, are simple enough for the common fan (such as myself, or yourself) to understand. Sometimes it is clear that no matter what else was going on, player X beat player Y for a big play. Let’s look at two very similar, very big plays from the 49ers 23-10 victory over the Panthers in the NFC Divisional Round game from last Sunday.

Up 7-6 with 6:35 left to go in the second quarter on a first and goal from the 49er seven, Cam Newton rushes around left end before NaVorro Bowman tackles him at the one for a six yard gain.

Here is the scene at the snap. Bowman is the right inside linebacker on this play, next to Patrick Willis, their other inside linebacker, who is standing on the hash marks five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey is lined up in front of Willis, directly over center with his left hand in the grass at the line of scrimmage.

Screenshot (2)Three seconds later the Panthers have four blockers to handle the three 49ers on the left edge at the line of scrimmage, between the six and seven yard lines. Newton’s chances of reaching the end zone look good. Panthers guards Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott–numbers 70 and 75–are closing in on Bowman, number 53. Center Ryan Kalil has moved Dorsey–number 90–back a couple yards, but Dorsey is still upright and in pursuit.Screenshot (6)Wharton engages Bowman on the five yard line, just in front of the rushing Newton. Dorsey–number 90–has shed Kalil–number 67–but he likely will be unable to move his 297 pounds into Newton’s path in time; Scott–number 75–sees him coming into the play.Screenshot (9)Now Wharton is blocking air, and Newton–number one–is going down, grabbed by the mostly hidden Bowman. Scott has broken away from Bowman and moves to block Dorsey, number 90. This has all happened in one second, from 6:32 on the game clock to 6:31.Screenshot (11)And what just happened, exactly? Let’s take another look, Joe! This is another view from the instant replay provided by FOX.  Newton breaks around the edge as Wharton–number 70–moves to block Bowman.

Screenshot (49)Wharton engages Bowman. Scott–number 75–sees Dorsey coming in. The Panthers look all set to escort Newton into the end zone.Screenshot (51)Bowman starts to shed Wharton and clear his path to Newton, number one. Scott–number 75– breaks towards Dorsey, number 90.Screenshot (53)Bowman, having freed himself of Wharton, and with his teammate Dorsey occupying Scott’s attention, meets Newton head-on at the five yard line. Just from these screen shots, it seems that if Newton had cut left around Wharton, he would have scored. Watching in real-time reveals that Bowman purposefully sheds Wharton in this direction to meet Newton after Newton had already cut inside.1

Screenshot (55)And there is our hero, emerging triumphant from the pile at the one yard line. Dorsey himself ended up getting in there too; he is the horizontal 49er next to Bowman.Screenshot (58)At the time Bowman’s outstanding effort (along with the teamwork of Dorsey, not to mention the other nine 49ers out there) seemed trivial. The Panthers would still have second and goal from the one yard line. The 49ers defense, as indicated by plays such as this, and their previous goal line stand, is certainly good, but generally even bad offenses against good defenses are going to score a touchdown given second and goal from the one. Brian Burke, of Advanced NFL Stats, noted on Twitter that in the past two seasons, the 49ers had given up touchdowns on 10 of 15 plays from their own one yard line. But they did not this time. The held the Panthers through third down, and Ron Rivera quite unwisely2 opted for a field goal. Bowman’s tackle, aided by Dorsey’s continual pursuit, saved four points.

Up 13-10 with 8:59 left in the third quarter on a second and goal from the Panther four, Colin Kaepernick rushes around left end and scores a touchdown.

This is the snap. Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence is following 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton–number 11– to the offense’s left side. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is lined up on the goal line just to the referee’s right; safety Mike Mitchell is at the near hash marks, on the goal line to the right of Kuechly. 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree is wide left, with Anquan Boldin in the left slot.

Screenshot (19)Kaepernick breaks left, following Patton. But left tackle Joe Staley is down on the goal line after having missed his block on Luke Kuechly, now at the two yard line on the far hash marks and breaking into the play. The corner Florence, originally chasing Patton, is now a yard deep in the end zone, also unblocked, and seemingly in good position to stop Kaepernick. The safety Mitchell is moving in from the two yard line on the near hash marks. Patton is now Kaepernick’s only blocker for the three Panthers.Screenshot (21)Patton engages Mitchell, but Kuechly is covering the lane to Kaepernick’s right, and Florence the lane to the left.Screenshot (22)Kaepernick (or “Fleetfeet”, as is about to become appropriately apparent) breaks left. Mitchell–number 21–has released off of Patton and is closing in. Kuechly–number 59– has come around them both and is also closing in. Florence is also closing in–wait, no, he is heading up field and taking himself completely out of the play, unless merely brushing Kaepernick with his outstretched hand will suffice. Boldin and Crabtree, in the lower left, finish their blocks on the outside.Screenshot (25)Kaepernick dashes past Florence and Mitchell, and Kuechly reaches out with his right hand…Screenshot (26) …and gets nothing. Kaepernick strides into the end zone.Screenshot (27)Touchdown 49ers! Screenshot (28)None of the three Panthers–not Florence, not Mitchell, not Kuechly–even register a missed tackle, because they do not even get close enough to attempt one. But all three of them miss Kaepernick, Florence by far the hardest of all. His poor angle, combined with Kaepernick’s speed, were enough for a touchdown, despite the fact that the 49ers blockers were outnumbered.

The Panthers are a very good football team. These two plays show how the 49ers beat them.3 Being a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and making better snap judgements (whom to block, what angle to take) a little more quickly is often all the difference in the NFL.


  1. Unfortunately video of the play, outside of NFL Game Rewind, seems to be unavailable. 
  2. Personally, I have never been so delighted to see my team’s opponents kick a field goal in my entire life. I am not even going to break out Brian Burke’s fourth down calculator and check to see what the baseline percentages for going for it are. Remember that earlier 49ers goal line stand? Remember how when the 49ers offense took over the ball on their own half yard line, they were so concerned about a safety/blocked punt/etc that they ran a quarterback sneak on first and ten? Remember on when Colin Kaepernick almost threw an interception inside his ten yard line? Remember when Andy Lee punted after the three and out and Ted Ginn Jr. returned the ball to the 49er thirty-one yard line, and the Panthers scored a touchdown on the next play? Remember how seven points is more than twice as many as three? Even if the Panthers had not converted yet again, they would still have been in great shape. 
  3. There were some questionable calls by the referees. They seemingly missed catching the 49ers with 12 men in the huddle; however, apparently they did notice this, but as they had not marked the ball as “ready to play” this did not warrant a penalty. More outrageously, they did not call Anquan Boldin for a headbutt, despite calling Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn4 for one earlier. And there was also a questionable unnecessary roughness call on the 49ers’ first drive. But then, there was also one on a terrific Dan Skuta sack of Cam Newton. And they let four extra seconds run off the clock on Vernon Davis’ end-zone-catch-eventually-ruled-touchdown, which would have robbed the 49ers of a final chance at a touchdown if the call had gone the other way, so… maybe this is not the big conspiracy theory Panthers fans have been calling it? 
  4. Inception footnotes! Captain Munnerlyn is his given name. He is not one of the Panthers’ captains. 

Last Week: 2-1-1. Regular Season: 53-49-3. My Entire Life: 55-50-4

Lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

Saints (+7.5) over SEAHAWKS

I have many theories for this one, mostly hinging on the idea that losing 34-7 is nearly the worst end of the spectrum for the Saints, and there could be some #regression. The Seahawks always seem to force some early turnovers in games like this; they did against the Saints in Week 13, and they did in their blowouts of the 49ers the last two times they went to Seattle. But forcing turnovers, despite the skill involved, requires some luck as well. Since 2008, 29 teams have gone plus-eight or better in turnover differential in the regular season, averaging at least plus-0.5 per game. In the playoffs, 23 of those teams saw this rate decline, 17 by a net turnover per game or more, down to a negative turnover differential in the playoffs. Only 14 of those 29 teams actually won a playoff game. Seattle led the league this season at plus-20. Maybe they will keep it up…but more likely they will not.

Colts (+7) over PATRIOTS

Quote from Bill SimmonsWeek 17 Column on Grantland:

Quick note on the Pats: Their best 12 players in April were Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Aaron Hernandez, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Shane Vereen and Rob Ninkovich in some order. Only four of them finished the Baltimore game last week; six aren’t coming back. As fellow Pats fan Jay Jaroch points out, “We had four guys starting for us in Baltimore — [Sealver] Siliga, Chris Jones, [Matthew] Mulligan, and [Josh] Kline — who were signed off the street. Not rookie free agents, not guys signed off some other team’s practice squad. Four dudes who were signed off their couch.”

Not included in Simmons’ list was Brandon Spikes, Pro Football Focus‘ sixth-best graded inside linebacker this season (among 55 who have played 25 percent or more of their teams’ snaps), who, really, do I even need to say what happened to Spikes? Ironically, most of the Pats’ defensive losses (Wilfork, Kelly, Spikes) affect their run defense, and the Colts are terrible at running the ball, but still, is it not a miracle that New England somehow got the two seed in the first place? And they could somehow win because the Colts really are not very good? Ridiculous.

49ers (-1.5) over PANTHERS

…(takes breath to say someth–)…

BRONCOS (-9.5) over Chargers

Yup! I just did that. I also took the Chargers at +10.5 when they won outright in Denver in Week 15. AND now the Broncos are without Von Miller. So this is crazy. The Chargers defense is 25th in weighted DVOA. The Broncos offense is first. I have no clue if San Diego’s prior defensive success is replicable, but I am guessing that no, it is not.

Well…I am really excited to watch football tomorrow. Playoffs!

I wasn’t going to post today. I’ve had some bonus Saturday posts the last couple weeks (about Pro Bowl snubs and my emotional state regarding the 49ers-Packers game) and I am still exhausted after yesterday. But then I was all like… nah, check the Super Bowl odds! But I am keeping it quick.

Here are the eight remaining teams’ odds to win the Super Bowl at Sportsbook.com, alongside Football Outsidersestimation of their true probability, ranked by expected payout:

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 1/6/2014

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 1000 10 9.09% 15% 5.91% 1
NE 750 7.5 11.76% 17.2% 5.44% 2
NO 1500 15 6.25% 6.5% 0.25% 3
SD 1500 15 6.25% 6% -0.25% 4
IND 2000 20 4.76% 2.3% -2.46% 5
SEA 250 2.5 28.57% 24.6% -3.97% 6
SF 500 5 16.67% 8.9% -7.77% 7
DEN 250 2.5 28.57% 19.6% -8.97% 8

Again, Football Outsiders’ model can’t really account for all the Pats’ injuries1, so don’t immediately buy into New England. But the Carolina Panthers are still looking nice and undervalued! Here are teams’ odds to win their conference championship:

2013-14 NFL Conference Champion Odds- 1/6/2014

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 340 3.4 22.73% 37% 14.27% 1
CAR 400 4 20.00% 27.9% 7.90% 2
SD 700 7 12.50% 14.7% 2.20% 3
NO 800 8 11.11% 13.1% 1.99% 4
IND 750 7.5 11.76% 8.1% -3.66% 5
SEA 100 1 50.00% 41.6% -8.40% 6
SF 260 2.6 27.78% 17.4% -10.38% 7
DEN 62.5 0.625 61.54% 40.3% -21.24% 8

I’m a little more inclined to like New England here; with a home win over Indianapolis, and another Chargers win in Denver (the last of which came less than one month ago), it might not be… well no, it’s still pretty crazy given the injuries, but maybe has a higher chance than 22.72 percent? I’m intrigued by San Diego and New Orleans as well. We know the Chargers can win in Denver, but we don’t seem to believe it (Denver is favored by 10 points); we saw the Seahawks crush the Saints a few weeks ago, and might believe that a little too much. I would certainly not put money on Denver at this point, not with Von Miller out for the season.

Fewer than four weeks until the Super Bowl. Can’t wait!


  1. OH, and there’s been another one! Top run defender Brandon Spikes is out for the year, after playing the whole regular season. Really, really sad stuff. 

Last time I checked the temperature in Vegas was December 26th, last Thursday. Five whole days ago! I remember thinking throwing some money at Green Bay and/or Carolina might not be a bad idea. Rodgers was probably coming back (week 8 of a typically 4-6 week injury), and the playoff odds report from Football Outsiders suggested that New England might have good value (which I ignored due to their injury plague), as well as Carolina (which I didn’t, with encouraging signs from Steve Smith). Here’s a little doohickey of how the early Super Bowl bets looked back then (and here’s everything I wrote last time):

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 12/26/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 1000 10 9.09% 14.2% 5.11% 1
CAR 850 8.5 10.53% 15.2% 4.67% 2
PHI 3000 30 3.23% 4% 0.77% 3
CIN 1800 18 5.26% 5.9% 0.64% 4
NO 2500 25 3.85% 4% 0.15% 5
KC 3500 35 2.78% 2.9% 0.12% 6
PIT 20000 200 0.50% 0.1% -0.40% 7
ARI 9000 90 1.10% 0.6% -0.50% 8
DAL 10000 100 0.99% 0.2% -0.79% 9
MIA 9000 90 1.10% 0.3% -0.80% 10
BAL 10000 100 0.99% 0.1% -0.89% 11
SD 10000 100 0.99% 0.1% -0.89% 11
CHI 6000 60 1.64% 0.7% -0.94% 13
IND 3500 35 2.78% 1.1% -1.68% 14
GB 4000 40 2.44% 0.2% -2.24% 15
DEN 300 3 25.00% 20.3% -4.70% 16
SF 750 7.5 11.76% 5.7% -6.06% 17
SEA 220 2.2 31.25% 24.3% -6.95% 18

As always, the odds are from Sportsbook.com. Break Even informs how often the bet needs to cash for you to break even at those odds; Football Outsiders provides estimates of how often the bet will actually cash; and the long run Expected Payout is the difference. Those Football Outsiders’ numbers use their core DVOA metric, weighted towards the end of the season, and also attempt to account for home-field advantage. I don’t believe they are exactly the true probabilities of each team winning the Super Bowl, but they are (“probably”) close. Are they closer than Vegas’ probabilities? Well, here are the updated Super Bowl odds, as of this afternoon:

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 12/31/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 1100 11 8.33% 14.5% 6.17% 1
NE 850 8.5 10.53% 14.7% 4.17% 2
PHI 2000 20 4.76% 6.5% 1.74% 3
KC 3200 32 3.03% 3.4% 0.37% 4
SD 5000 50 1.96% 1.8% -0.16% 5
CIN 1800 18 5.26% 4.7% -0.56% 6
NO 2500 25 3.85% 2.8% -1.05% 7
IND 3000 30 3.23% 0.6% -2.63% 8
SEA 260 2.6 27.78% 24.9% -2.88% 9
GB 1800 18 5.26% 2.3% -2.96% 10
DEN 300 3 25.00% 20.2% -4.80% 11
SF 750 7.5 11.76% 3.5% -8.26% 12

Six teams have been eliminated, defrosting the picture a little. Remember five days ago when Green Bay was 40-to-1? And then remember this? Green Bay’s price in the betting world has more than doubled since then, now at 18-to-1. With Rodgers’ return, Football Outsiders made their projections using only data from games in which Rodgers played the majority of snaps. Given that they’ve got the Packers as winning it all only 2.3% of the time with Rodgers, and that Clay Matthews keeps getting surgery, 18-1 is too high a price for me now. But stranger things have happened.

What hasn’t happened is a similar shortening of the odds for the Carolina Panthers. In fact, their odds are longer! So let me get this straight: Carolina beat the 49ers in San Francisco by one point in a game in which the 49ers couldn’t score a touchdown (albeit without Michael Crabtree), secured a first-round bye (and time for Steve Smith to heal), will quite possibly host the Eagles for their first playoff game1, and the 49ers, down in the fifth seed, heading to Lambeau Field to face Aaron Rodgers, are more favored? Oh, I guess it’s because Carolina looked a little shaky last Sunday on the road against the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons, before sneaking out the win. OH WAIT the 49ers did the Exact. Same. Thing. Eight days ago. Remember this? Well I guess it’s because Carolina doesn’t have as good a defense… oh, right. Well, as good a young, mobile quarterback, then… oh, right. What the hell is going on here? This is Drew Brees’ face. And this is his face when he plays the Carolina Panthers. What else do you need?

As I’ve mentioned before, I think the reason Carolina is so low is because they haven’t been here before. Just a couple of months ago they were 1-3, and people were writing articles like this, agreeing when Rodney Harrison said in Week 5 that the Panthers should bench Cam Newton. Well, you don’t lose close games forever. The Panthers are legit. Yes, they could lose the Super Bowl, or in Seattle, or even their home divisional match-up next week. Every bet has risks. But at 11-to-1 (!!!), the Panthers are a risk worth taking.

That’s the Super Bowl odds. But you can also foolishly gamble on the conference champions! Here’s the same table for the conference champions:

2013-2014 NFL Conference Champions’ Odds- 12/31/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 500 5 16.67% 27.5% 10.83% 1
NE 350 3.5 22.22% 31.9% 9.68% 2
PHI 1000 10 9.09% 12.3% 3.21% 3
KC 1600 16 5.88% 8.2% 2.32% 4
SD 2400 24 4.00% 4.4% 0.40% 5
CIN 650 6.5 13.33% 11% -2.33% 7
NO 1500 15 6.25% 5.4% -0.85% 6
IND 1200 12 7.69% 2.5% -5.19% 9
SEA 90.9 0.9 52.38% 42.1% -10.28% 10
GB 950 9.5 9.52% 5.6% -3.92% 8
DEN 66.7 0.67 60.00% 42% -18.00% 12
SF 400 4 20.00% 7% -13.00% 11

Again, I like Carolina, and while I don’t really like Philly to take the NFC, I might like them at that price. As for being overvalued, certainly my 49ers seem to be (because of the last two years I guess, or possibly all the Pro Bowlers we don’t deserve?), and I’m guessing the Broncos are because people forget the enormous impact of Von Miller? Who the hell knows.2 Anyway, that’s my gambling outlook at the moment, once again courtesy of Sportsbook.com and the insightful people at Football Outsiders. Check back after Round One for an update. Salaam.


  1. I think the Eagles are the least scary of the NFC teams playing this weekend: 49ers, Packers, Saints, Eagles. It’s just my opinion. 
  2. That was not a question. I’m telling you, who the hell knows. Nobody, that’s who. 
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