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Last Week: 8-7-1. My entire life: 20-21-2.

The (NFL) week has started most excellently. Last night I finished watching season 4 of Archer, shortly after the Jaguars covered +3 against the Texans, winning outright for the first time at home since November 25th… 2012. (BOOM!) I don’t even want to guess how many headlines across east Texas already said this, but Houston, we have a problem. A bunch of problems. And as I’m going to make foolish predictions anyway, I’m going to say the Texans take a dose of the ole’ improve-quarterback-play-and-coaching-amid-the-backdrop-of-an-already-talented-team, a la the 2011 49ers and the 2013 Chiefs, and make the playoffs next season. As for this one, here are my Week 14 picks. Lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

JAGUARS (+3) over Texans

That went surprisingly well!

The Kansas City Football Team (-3.5) over THE WASHINGTON D.C. FOOTBALL TEAM

I’m torn here, because Brian Burke actually gave Washington a slight edge, and Bill Simmons pointed out that Kansas City has pretty much nothing at all to play for, being assured of not catching Denver and not getting caught by anyone else for the five seed. I have RGIII in fantasy, but then I also have KC’s defense and special teams. My opponent has Alex Smith at quarterback, but Fred Davis at tight end. I seem to recall the 2011 Alex-Smith-led 49ers winning in D.C, so that’s that.

RAVENS (-7) over Vikings

I made a promise to not take the Vikings on the road for the rest of the season.

Browns (+13) over PATRIOTS

What’s less impressive, the Browns running game or the Patriots run defense? The Browns quarterback situation or the Patriots wide receiver situation? Anyway, I’m reading this as “Josh Gordon (+13) over AQIB TALIB”, and I feel a little better.

Raiders (+2.5) over JETS

As I’ve mentioned, the Jets’ point differential indicates that their record is way, way better than it should be.

BENGALS (-6.5) over Colts

I wonder how much this line would be if we could make them swap quarterbacks?

EAGLES (-3) over Lions

Doesn’t everybody know this season is going to crush Chicago Bears fans’ hopes for the playoffs in the most depressing way imaginable? There’s no drama if Bears fans don’t have to see themselves with the same record as the Lions but actually a game behind because they lost to them twice. Plus it could even give some hope to Packers fans! Come on Vegas! Easy money.

STEELERS (-3.5) over Dolphins

Again, it’s about the drama. Drama, when 10 AFC teams still have a hope come Week 17.

BUCS (-3) over Bills

Some home rookie quarterback who could be good over some away rookie quarterback who could be good.

Titans (+13) over BRONCOS

Yeah…

CARDINALS (-6) over Rams

Yeah…

CHARGERS (-3.5) over Giants

Yeah… wait, it’s the Philip Rivers-Eli Manning revenge bowl!

Seahawks (+2.5) over 49ers

At last! The 49ers have some definite advantages: an extra day of rest with the Seahawks playing on Monday night, the potential for a Seahawks letdown after a super-hyped blowout against the Saints, being good despite not doing anything to have the Seahawks take us seriously the last two times we played, having a little more to play for as the Seahawks have leads of three games in the division and two in the conference with only four games left, elite offensive tackle Joe Staley might actually play a week after spraining his MCL, and Jim Harbaugh’s dislike of Pete Carroll. BUT normally when we play the Seahawks, someone good on the 49ers gets injured in the first half and can’t return (last time it was Vernon Davis and Eric Reid), so if Staley does play, how long does he last? Also guard Mike Iupati is still out.

SAINTS (-3.5) over Panthers

If we believe the Saints are down but not out (I do), then they’ve got to be pretty pissed off, and looking to set the record straight with the national television audience.

Cowboys (-1) over BEARS

After watching Detroit open the door on Sunday, losing on Monday night seems the only way to go for Bears fans.

And that’s what’s happening Week 14. You may notice a game is missing. Where’s the Falcons at the Packers? Staying the hell out of casino books until we know whether Aaron Rodgers is playing. You remember, Aaron Rodgers, the guy who swung a game’s line by nine points earlier this season when the Packers announced he was out. Yeah. That guy.

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Lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS

BUCS (0) over Falcons

First time I’m keeping track of my picks, and there’s no spread. When in doubt, go with the good defense right? Or the home team?

Jets (-1) over BILLS

Maybe the defense more than the home team.

Lions (-2.5) over STEELERS

If they can beat the Bears in Chicago, surely they can beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh… right? Right??

The Washington D.C. Football Team (+4) over EAGLES

I’m still undecided on the whole racist names in sports things. I mean I recognize that the names are racist. But there was some article that talked about how some Native Americans don’t care about the Redskins, since the term originates from natives themselves, but rather want to see the end of the Kansas City Chiefs and stuff. He also talks about high schools in predominantly native communities with the same nickname, who love it. But I don’t think a lot of Native Americans are in the Washington D.C. Football Team organization. Anyway, I’m starting Nick Foles in fantasy football this week. Last time I started him the Eagles offense scored zero points. Plus Washington is going to play better after losing to the Vikings. Regression to the mean. You don’t just play at a level of losing to the Vikings week after week. You just don’t.

BEARS (-3) over Ravens

Chicago is down, but not out. Also, right now, in a vacuum, would you rather have Josh McCown or Joe Flacco as your quarterback?

Browns (+6.5) over BENGALS

Cincy is weird. Cleveland is weird. Geno Atkins is out for the season. Plus, wouldn’t it be great if neither of Cleveland’s two first round picks were among the first 16?

Raiders (+9) over TEXANS

So close to buying shares of Case Keenum stock. But not yet.

JAGUARS (+9) over Cardinals

Come on Jags, at home, you can lose by one possession or fewer. You can do it!

Chargers (-2.5) over DOLPHINS

It is entirely possible that Philip Rivers is better at playing quarterback (this season) than the Miami Dolphins are at generating headlines (this season).

Vikings (+12.5) over SEAHAWKS

Something about not thinking double digit favorites come in often against teams that are not the Jacksonville Jaguars.

SAINTS (-3.5) over 49ers

A concussion on each side of the ball. Michael Crabtree still not back. The Saints are coming off a blowout win, but still, I don’t think Drew Brees is going to throw two pick-sixes like he did last year. (Gosh that was nice.)

GIANTS (-5) over Packers

Is Eli Manning done throwing 3+ interceptions a game? Maybe? Thing is, Giants actually have an excellent run defense.

BRONCOS (-7.5) over the Kansas City Football Team

Alex Smith did beat Drew Brees once, in a playoff game. At home.

PANTHERS (-1.5) over Patriots

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p>Turns out that Carolina defense is pretty good, especially against the run, and the Patriots can’t throw, or rather, the Patriots can only throw to Gronkowski in double coverage.

I suck at gambling!

Debating the best quarterbacks is a ceaseless venture for nearly all followers of football. Excluding special teams positions, quarterback is the only responsibility shouldered by one player (ideally), and one player alone. They’re the most talked about, most paid, and have won most of the NFL MVP Awards1, honestly with pretty good reason. When Aaron Rodgers was ruled out for the Green Bay Packers game against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, the betting line in Las Vegas swung 10 points in Philly’s favor. For comparison, when elite Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson was ruled out for a game against those same Packers earlier this year, the line swung 2.5 points to Green Bay. Quarterbacks are, and I don’t know how to put this, but kind of a big deal.

So who’s the best? I dunno. And really, neither does anyone else, not for sure. Even if it was clear what “best” meant (in the 4th quarter? this week? on the road? this season? his career? his potential?), there is no clear winner. For this season, most would say Peyton Manning (he is on pace to set single season records for passing touchdowns and yards), which is fine. The good people at Pro Football Focus, who grade every NFL player on every play throughout the season, concur. Here are PFF’s Top 5 quarterbacks so far this season, among those who have played 25% or more of their team’s snaps (grade in parentheses):

  • 1. Peyton Manning, DEN (24.2)
  • 2. Philip Rivers, SD (19.1)
  • 3. Matthew Stafford, DET (18.1)
  • 4. Aaron Rodgers, GB (18)
  • 5. Drew Brees, NO (15.8)

And here are PFF’s Bottom 5:

  • 34. Chad Henne, JAC (-12.4)
  • 35. Joe Flacco, BAL (-12.7)
  • 36. E.J. Manuel, BUF (-14.2)
  • 37. Terrelle Pryor, OAK (-14.5)
  • 38. Geno Smith, NYJ (-15.1)

PFF grades aren’t perfect. Their biggest flaw is that they don’t adjust for the competition. Pump-faking New England Patriots’ safety Devin McCourty (PFF grade 17.9) to the wrong side before completing a pass counts the same as pump-faking Chicago Bears’ Major Wright (PFF grade -17.1). Nonetheless, they’re an objective analysis independent of a single expert or opinion, grounded in repeated scrutiny and facts. So sure, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback so far this season, well on the way to a record 5th most valuable player award.2 But exactly how much do the Denver Broncos value him?

Under his five year contract with the Broncos, Manning’s average annual salary of $19.2 million ranks third in the league among quarterbacks. (Also all players. Those quarterbacks get paid a lot.) The Broncos are paying the most valuable player (so far) the third most value. Neat. But is that the best? Forget what team is getting the most out of their quarterback, what team is getting the most out of their quarterback for their money? 

For starters, among quarterbacks who have played 25% or more of their team’s snaps, here are the Top 5 Most Paid (millions of dollars in parentheses), using their average annual salary under their current contracts as reported by the online professional athlete salary database Spotrac.com:

  • 1. Joe Flacco, BAL ($20.1 million)
  • 2. Drew Brees, NO ($20m)
  • 3. Peyton Manning, DEN ($19.2m)
  • 4. Matt Ryan, ATL ($18.958m)
  • 5. Aaron Rodgers, GB ($18.679m)

And here are the 5 Lowest Paid:

  • 34. Russell Wilson, SEA ($0.749m)
  • 35. Nick Foles, PHI ($0.677m)
  • 36. Terrelle Pryor, OAK ($0.59m)
  • 37. Thaddeus Lewis, BUF ($0.51m)
  • 38. Case Keenum, HOU (0.45m)

Yes, Joe Flacco is the 4th worst performing quarterback (so far) and the best paid. (Enjoy that Super Bowl championship, Ravens fans.) Among the lowest paid quarterbacks, Wilson is alone in starting all his team’s games this season, with Foles, Lewis, and Keenum starting for injured first-stringers and Pryor emerging (somewhat, again second worst grade) while missing time for injuries himself. 12 of the 32 teams have started more than one quarterback this season. All told, which have gotten the most for the least?

A good way to answer involves standard deviations. A standard deviation (henceforth SD) is a measure of variability for a group of numbers, in relation to the average. The SD of NFL quarterback salaries (who’ve played 25% of snaps or more) is $6.4 million. That means 68.2% of all quarterbacks have a salary within $6.41 million of the mean salary, $7.818 million. The SD is almost as large as the mean itself, indicating a lot of variability. The SD of quarterbacks’ PFF grades is 10.2, many times the average grade of 1.4; again, A Lot of variability. What do these numbers tell us about how much the Broncos pay Manning?

Manning’s salary ($19.2m) is 1.65 SDs above the mean. Manning’s grade (24.2) is 2.18 SDs above the mean. Relative to his peers, Manning makes an extreme amount of money. His relative performance, however, is even more extreme. That is good for the Broncos, and suggests that they are not overpaying him. Subtracting Manning’s salary SD from his PFF grade SD equals 0.53. What is 0.53? It’s a measure of Manning’s performance (“extremeness”) relative to his salary (“extremeness”). If it were 0, the Broncos would be paying him exactly how much he was worth. (Well, conceptually. The truth is more complicated.) 0.53 represents Manning’s “contract quality”. That the units are standard deviations, which themselves are in different units (the US Dollar and the PFF Grade) is not important, in terms of general understanding. The higher a player’s contract quality, the better deal it is for his organization. The lower the contract quality, the worse the deal.

The highest contract quality among all NFL quarterbacks is Russell Wilson, of the Seattle Seahawks. With a salary SD of -1.02 and a PFF grade SD of 1.33, Wilson’s contract quality of 2.35 is tops by a sound margin. This should not be surprising to football fans, as Wilson has played well (6th best this year, 15.3 grade) ever since starting as a rookie, all after being drafted in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, which enabled the Seahawks to pay him so little (5th lowest this year, $0.749m). With that, this Economics and Sports Management (or ESPM) recurring segment presents the mid-season award for best quarterback contract to Seattle’s General Manager John Schneider. Congratulations!

Here are the Top 5 NFL Quarterback Contracts (contract quality in parentheses)

  • 1. Russell Wilson, SEA (2.35)
  • 2. Ryan Tannehill, MIA (1.87)
  • 3. Andrew Luck, IND (1.32)
  • 4. Nick Foles, PHI (1.21)
  • 5. Case Keenum, HOU (1.19)

Notice anything? All of them entered the NFL in 2012, with Keenum the only one going undrafted. None of the best performing five quarterbacks makes the list, with Rivers coming the closest, 8th best with a 0.79 contract quality, and Brees being the only one seemingly overpaid, finishing 23rd with a -0.39 contract quality. There is a reason teams like collecting draft picks. Free agents are more expensive. Speaking of which, what are the worst quarterback contracts in the NFL this season?

  • 34. Tom Brady, NE (-0.93)
  • 35. Matt Ryan, ATL (-1.05)
  • 36. Eli Manning, NYG (-1.45)
  • 37. Matt Schaub, HOU (-1.62)
  • 38. Joe Flacco, BAL (-3.13) (Seriously, Ravens fans, enjoy that championship.)

Turns out, all of the worst contracts are free agent signings, with Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco tanking the way. Yikes.

Aside from learning the ole’ don’t-resign-players-who-play-well-even-really-well-in-a-few-games–even-if-those-few-games-are-the-playoffs-and-super-bowl-when-the-rest-of-their-careers-say-otherwise trick, there is a larger lesson to be learned here. Football analysts and commentators often speak of a “championship window”, which seemingly means a variety of things. But maybe there’s something to it. Those young guys leading the league in contract value now will be able to renegotiate after the 2014-2015 season, and become free agents in 2016 if they don’t. That will result in significantly less money for their teams to spend elsewhere. Russell Wilson accounts for 0.5% of the Seahawks’ salary cap this year. Peyton Manning accounts for 12.5% of the Broncos’. (His brother Eli Manning accounts for 17.1% of the Giants’. Yeesh.) So enjoy, Seattle. Nothing lasts forever.


  1. Quarterbacks have won 37 of the 58 NFL MVP Awards (63.8%). Running backs have won 18 (31%), and one defensive tackle, kicker, and linebacker have won one each (1.7% each). 
  2. He already has the current record with four. Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, and Jim Brown are tied for second with three each. 
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