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Long ago, before Twitch started playing Pokémon, before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, before Richard Sherman reminded us why it is a good thing baseball pitchers can throw at players’ heads, the Indianapolis Colts traded their 2014 first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for their 2012 first-round (and third overall) pick, running back Trent Richardson. It is quite curious that months later, the two teams involved in the spiciest mid-season trade of the last few years should find themselves on opposite ends of the 2014 draft potential spectrum.

As blogged about previously, the Jimmy-Johnson-arbitrarily-created draft chart of the 1980s is precisely that: the chart of the 1980s. The chart of the modern, savvy NFL general manager at least resembles that of Kevin Meers’, President of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective. Meers’ utilized decades of data from Pro Football Reference‘s career approximate value statistic to estimate the expected value of each pick in the NFL draft. Meers’ chart is not perfect–it estimates the relative value of draft choices based on performance data of all the players chosen in every draft between 1980 and 2005. It is an excellent guideline to every pick’s worth. How do all 32 teams stack up? [SPOILER: The team that received the first-round draft pick is better off.]

Team Rank Meers’ Valuation Score
CLE 1 1343.3
STL 2 1279.7
JAC 3 1178.2
HOU 4 1072.7
SF 5 999.7
MIN 6 958.6
ATL 7 900.5
OAK 8 880.6
BUF 9 845.2
TB 10 829.8
DAL 11 794.4
CHI 12 786.2
NYG 13 770.7
NYJ 14 751.6
DET 15 751.4
MIA 16 745.5
PHI 17 722.1
GB 18 718.4
CIN 19 705.7
TEN 20 701.6
SD 21 695.6
ARI 22 691.1
CAR 23 672.2
PIT 24 657.9
DEN 25 653.1
NE 26 652.6
NO 27 641.3
SEA 28 620.4
KC 29 576.8
WAS 30 572.9
BAL 31 567.3
IND 32 383.3

Without the Trent Richardson trade, the Colts’ 2014 first-rounder–26th overall, valued by Meers at 218 units–would still be in their possession. And the Colts’ total estimated 2014 draft value would be 29th instead of dead last, and the Browns’ would be fourth overall, not first. Of course, the Colts received Richardson in the trade, and as a second-year player he went on to record a…-4.8 grade from Pro Football Focus through his 16 games with the Colts so far. Hmm.

As Brian Burke notes, overall draft value may not be worth much, if it comes from several low-round picks. To be sure, low-round picks are undervalued. However, a team may only have 11 players on the field at once; if all of them are average, while they may have been obtained at good value, they likely will not win a championship. Which teams have the highest average valuation across all their 2014 draft picks?

Team Rank Average Meers’ 2014 Draft Pick Valuation
HOU 1 153.24
STL 2 142.19
BAL 3 141.83
TB 4 138.30
CLE 5 134.33
ATL 6 128.64
NYG 7 128.45
OAK 8 125.80
DET 9 125.23
BUF 10 120.74
MIN 11 119.83
JAC 12 117.82
TEN 13 116.93
ARI 14 115.18
CHI 15 112.31
PIT 16 109.65
NYJ 17 107.37
NO 18 106.88
MIA 19 106.50
PHI 20 103.16
GB 21 102.63
CIN 22 100.81
SD 23 99.37
DAL 24 99.30
KC 25 96.13
CAR 26 96.03
WAS 27 95.48
DEN 28 93.30
NE 29 93.23
SF 30 90.88
SEA 31 88.63
IND 32 76.66

Indianapolis is still dead last; Houston, however, armed with the first overall pick, the most valuable by any analysis, is ready to strike. Oh, and most likely they were the unluckiest team last season, not the worst.

It is still too late to give the final judgement on the Trent Richardson trade. But unless he plays as one of the top five backs in the league starting in week one of next season, it is a dominating win for the Browns. Even if he does, it could still be a win for the Browns; the added benefit of a first-rounder is nothing to sneeze at. Yes, the Browns did spend the third overall pick on Richardson, which no mater what will seem somewhat wasted. But it is much better to cut your losses for as high a value as possible (the 26th overall pick two years later) than be left with scraps. Despite the chaos going on in Cleveland, they have at least one thing going for them: the most draft capital in the NFL. No matter what, Browns fans will likely not be consoled until mayor of Cleveland Frank Jackson bans Brandon Weeden from the city forever.

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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!

Last Week: 8-8. My Entire Life: 53-49-3.

Hallelujah, all rejoice, for the 2013-14 NFL Playoffs have arrived at last! A quick note: I will be writing another bonus post, featuring all of my thoughts, emotions, and spiritual beliefs about the 49rs-Packers game on Sunday (which I will be attending, thanks to the profound kindness of some Packers fans friends). This game is just too much everything for me right now, and there’s no way I could not devote an entire post to it. The over-under on the word length for my entire experience is about 4,000 words right now; let me know if you’d like to place bets.

Anyway, here are the rest of my predictions (against the spread, naturally) for the upcoming Wildcard Round. As always, lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

The Kansas City Football Team (+1.5) over COLTS

I actually think Indy might be a little better, and have a higher ceiling. They did beat the Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, and… oh, right, Kansas City! In Kansas City, no less. At that point, Kansas City didn’t have a whole lot to play for, but still. But then there’s the Kansas City defense.

Saints (+2.5) over EAGLES

I dunno…. taking another road team? I just… yeah. The Eagles defense is bad. The Saints defense is better. Drew Brees… Sean Peyton… greater than Nick Foles, Chip Kelly, right? Maybe? The Eagles do have a good offensive line… I’m going to be pretty upset if the Saints lose this game by three points, is what I’m saying.

BENGALS (-7) over Chargers

They’ve won big a few times… Philip Rivers is having a great season… Time for Andy Dalton to show off on national television? San Diego’s defense is the defense to do it against? I would feel a lot better if Geno Atkins and Leon Hall hadn’t gone out for the season. But the Bengals are due for a postseason win right? Maybe? Or they’re just good, not elite, and Marvin Lewis will be another good coach that gets fired because his team keeps losing in the playoffs?

Alright, that’s how I’m feeling right now, so far as the first three games. As I said, I’ll be back tomorrow with most likely a mega-post (perhaps a meta-post?) detailing all the things I’ve already gone through regarding this 49ers-Packers game, including a picture of me holding all twelve hand-warmers I bought today! Stay tuned.

At last it has arrived! The final position (excluding special teams) of my mid-season search for the best contract in football, a recurring Economics and Sports Management feature. It’s the last post (until the season is over), and it focuses on the last men to beat in the defensive backfield: safeties. As always, players’ on-field performance grades come from the experts at Pro Football Focus and players’ average annual contract salaries come from the databases at Spotrac.com.

These are the Top 10 safeties this season, through Week 14 (PFF grades in parentheses):

  • 1. Devin McCourty, NE (17.3)
  • 2. Donte Whitner, SF (13.5)
  • 3. T.J. Ward, CLV (13.1)
  • 4. Will Hill, NYG (12.3)
  • 5. James Ihedigbo, BAL (11.8)
  • 6. Eric Berry, KC (10.7)
  • 7. Jairus Byrd, BUF (9.2)
  • 8. Earl Thomas, SEA (5.7)
  • 9. Kam Chancellor, SEA (5.5)
  • 10. Rashad Johnson, ARI (5.4)

I was a little surprised to see Whitner, but it looks like he’s put in the work this year after getting torched in the Super Bowl. I would guess Troy Polamalu is the most famous safety, but despite being big for Head and Shoulders he hasn’t been among the very best on the field, earning a 4.4 grade, good for 17th in the league.1 Here are the Bottom 10:

  • 74. Reshad Jones, MIA (-9.8)
  • 75. Dashon Goldson, SF (-10.9)
  • 76. Bacarri Rambo, WAS (-11)
  • 77. Thomas DeCoud, ATL (-11.2)
  • 78. Josh Evans, JAC (-11.5)
  • 79. Chris Conte, CHI (-12.2)
  • 80. Brandon Meriweather, WAS (-13.1)
  • 81. John Cyprien, JAC (-18.1)
  • 82. Brandian Ross, OAK (-21.8)
  • 83. Major Wright, CHI (-24.3)

Rough times in Chicago and Jacksonville. There are actually 85 safeties who’ve played 25% or more of their potential snaps. Will Allen was released earlier this year by the Dallas Cowboys, and Ed Reed was released by the Texans only to be signed by the Jets. I dropped them both from the analysis, although Reed’s substantial drop in pay will be worth mentioning in a bit. Among the other 83 safeties, the average grade was a -1.25, with a standard deviation of 7.32. And here are the Top 10 safety salaries (average annual salary in millions of dollars in parentheses):

  • 1. Troy Polamalu, PIT ($9.125 million)
  • 2. Eric Berry, KC ($8.341m)
  • 3. Dashon Goldson, TB ($8.25m)
  • 4. Eric Weddle, SD ($8m)
  • 5. Antrel Rolle, NYG ($7.4m)
  • 6. Reshad Jones, MIA ($7.34m)
  • 7. Michael Griffin, TEN ($7m)
  • 8. Jairus Byrd, BUF ($6.916m)
  • 9. Antoine Bethea, IND ($6.75m)
  • 10. LaRon Landry, IND ($6m)

Goldson, 9th worst safety on the year, is the third highest paid, with Jones joining him in the worst-play-best-pay clubhouse. And both Colt safeties also have performance grades below the -1.25 average. Not what you want for top dollar. Here are the Bottom 10 paid safeties:

  • 74. Antonio Allen, NYJ ($0.537m)
  • 75. Jaiquawn Jarrett, NYJ ($0.525m)
  • 76. Robert Lester, CAR & Jeff Heath, DAL ($0.495m)
  • 78. Rodney McLeod, STL ($0.481m)
  • 79. Will Hill, NYG, Tashaun Gipson, CLE, Duke Ihenacho, DEN, & Brandian Ross, OAK ($0.48m)
  • 83. M.D. Jennings, GB ($0.466m)

The average safety’s salary is $2.422 million, with a standard deviation of $2.334 million. As with many positions, salaries vary much less than performance. Now, before awarding another general manager with another award for one of the best contracts in football, I give you Ed Reed.

This past off-season Reed signed a three-year contract with the Houston Texans, averaging $5 million a year, a little less than his previous seven-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, which averaged $5.726 million. In 2008 (as far back as PFF data goes), Reed was the 4th highest graded safety of 83 who had significant playing time; in 2009, 2nd of 88; in 2010, 9th of 85; in 2011, 12th of 87; and last season, 59th of 88. A 12-year veteran, the Ravens let him go, but the Texans paid him well above average. Through Week 10, in seven games with the Texans Reed graded at -6.3, a -0.9 per game. The current league average among safeties is roughly a -0.09; Reed was playing much worse. Houston released him (still owing him about two million dollars), and the Jets signed him to a one-year contract worth only $0.94 million. With the Jets he’s still played poorly, a -1.5 grade through four games, but his current contract is much more favorable to the Jets than his old one was to the Texans. I estimate that his current contract quality is actually 0.59, a good move for the Jets (as it was a good move for the Texans to cut him). While Reed may be one of the better known safeties, in the period of a season and a half, as his play declined sharply, teams’ willingness to pay him declined sharply as well. On-field performance matters a great deal (duh).

On to the Top 10 safety contracts this season, so far (contract quality2 in parentheses):

  • 1. Devin McCourty, NE (2.72)
  • 2. Will Hill, NYG (2.68)
  • 3. James Ihedigbo, BAL (2.49)
  • 4. T.J. Ward, CLE (2.45)
  • 5. Robert Lester, CAR (1.72)
  • 6. George Iloka, CIN (1.58)
  • 7. Donte Whitner, SF (1.37)
  • 8. Ryan Mundy, NYG & Glover Quin, DET (1.34)
  • 10. Andrew Sandejo, MIN (1.28)

Another ESPM congratulations to New England Patriots General Manager (and head coach) Bill Belichick. Those top six contracts are all top 16 performers (the first four are top five performers) who make less than the average safety. Note that Baltimore, having moved on from Reed, is getting excellent value from Ihedigbo. In a similar play from the losers of last year’s Super Bowl, the 49ers let Dashon Goldson go in free agency, keeping Whitner3 and drafting rookie Eric Reid in the first round, currently the 25th best contract with a +3.3 grade on $2.12 million. As for Goldson, well… here are the Worst 10 contracts this season:

  • 74. Morgan Burnett, GB (-1.71)
  • 75. Thomas DeCoud, ATL (-1.82)
  • 76. John Cyprien, JAC (-1.85)
  • 77. Brandon Meriweather, WAS (-1.87)
  • 78. Brandian Ross, OAK (-1.98)
  • 79. Troy Polamalu, PIT (-2.1)
  • 80. Antoine Bethea, IND (-2.33)
  • 81. Major Wright, CHI (-2.39)
  • 82. Reshad Jones, MIA (-3.28)
  • 83. Dashon Goldson, TB (-3.82)

Yup, the Bucs rewarded Goldson with the third most money among all safeties, and he’s been, in a word, bad. It is worth pointing out that while building through the draft and getting some cheap contracts and all are usually good ideas, they aren’t foolproof. Cyprien went 33rd overall to the Jaguars, the first pick of the second round. Brandian Ross and Major Wright both make well below a million dollars, but they have just been really, really bad out there.

Once again, the data suggest that there is no ironclad, golden rule to attain success in the NFL. If there was, it would be easy. And boring.


  1. Of course, his popularity may benefit the Steelers in other ways, but for now I won’t be getting into it. It’s not a simple task. 
  2. CQ = # SDs a player’s performance grade is above/below the mean – # SDs a player’s average annual salary is above/below the mean 
  3. Soon to be HITner! Oh never mind. Thank goodness, I sure thought that was dumb. 

I love sports, and of course I love sports announcing. Though a San Francisco Giants fan1, I’ll definitely watch any west coast Dodger game just to enjoy the magnificence that is Vin Scully.2 And where would I be in the Olympics without Bob Costas guiding me along in the studio? I’ve never had quite as much love for any football game commentators, with the possible exception of Pat Summerall and John Madden. Generally, I feel they do a good job– it actually isn’t easy to sit down for three hours and talk during a football game while being appealing to millions of viewers– but they say many silly things. Or things that are just wrong. I find this most aggravating when it’s the “expert” color commentator, guaranteed to be a former player or coach, whom I feel people usually, often wrongly, trust. While they may offer some fascinating insights, they may also offer some terrible ones. It is rare that I watch a game and at no point think to myself “That’s wrong,” or “That doesn’t make any sense.” Yesterday as usual I started watching football at noon, and unusually finished at 11:30 pm thanks to an overtime thriller in Foxborough. While not a comprehensive list, I tried to make a note when a commentator said something silly.3 Here we go.

With the Ravens trailing the Jets 3-0 and 4:10 remaining in the first quarter, Ray Rice gained two yards on a 2nd&1 from the Jet 28.

CBS play-by-play man Greg Gumbel remarked:

Ray has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.

And color commentator Dan Dierdorf, 13 year NFL veteran, five-time First-team All-Pro selection, replied in his infinite wisdom:

Well he did, an- and because the criticism was all on him, when in reality I saw a whole bunch of tape on these guys where there were no holes whatsoever. Ray Rice was being met at the line of scrimmage.

At the moment Ray Rice has the worst Pro Football Focus grade4 among all running backs in the NFL, and it’s not close. With a -0.2 in the passing game, a -11.6 in the run game, a -3.1 as a blocker, and a -0.5 in penalties, he totals a -15.4. The next worst running back, C.J. Spiller, checks in with a -11.2, and third worst, Darren McFadden, registers a -7.9. PFF’s “Elusive Rating” is a statistic designed to gauge how well a running back evades tacklers, controlling for the quality of his blocking. Ray Rice is dead last among the 50 running backs with enough snaps to qualify with a 7.0; tops is Marshawn Lynch with a 72.7. (The rating roughly scales from 1-100.) So I know Dan Dierdof “saw a whole bunch of tape” and I believe him. But a whole bunch of guys at PFF saw all of the tape, and firmly conclude that Ray Rice has played abysmally this season. So if you caught a few Ravens’ games and heard Dierdof’s remarks and thought “Oh, it isn’t on Ray Rice, it’s the people around him,” rest assured: it is on Ray Rice. He has truly earned the second worst running back contract in football. Which is to say, he has not earned his contract at all.

With the Steelers leading the Browns 10-3 on a 2nd&10 from the Brown 14 with 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger’s pass for Antonio Brown in the end zone was broken up by Joe Haden.

Solomon Wilcots, six year NFL veteran and color commentator of CBS, broke down what happened:

This is a great play by Joe Haden. Watch him knife in underneath. He understands that down around the goal line, look at that play! You have to get between the quarterback and the receiver. He allowed himself to slip underneath, he had great position.

It’s great, except CBS is showing the replay as Wilcots is saying this, the replay in which Haden very clearly grabs Brown’s jersey with his left hand and holds on for a good moment. It wasn’t blatant pass interference, but it was pass interference. It’s one thing for the officials to miss it live; it’s another for Haden to miss it during the slow motion replay, as he remarks what a terrific play it was by Haden. And even though this is the type of penalty that may not be called most of the time, Wilcots doesn’t acknowledge that Haden grabbed Brown at all. Fans at home, Joe Haden is a very good corner in the National Football League, but that doesn’t always mean “slipping underneath”. Sometimes it may mean “gets overly physical without getting whistled”.

Down 10-3 at home after an incomplete Case Keenum pass on 3rd&goal from the Jaguar two yard line with 8:34 remaining in the third quarter, the Texans took their offense off the field to kick a field goal.

Said CBS color commentator Steve Tasker, 13 year veteran, seven-time All-Pro:

And that’s going to force the field goal, the fans aren’t happy about it but it’s the right move.

Of course if you’ve ever heard of Brian Burke, or know the difference between actual good strategy in the NFL and the still-prevailing conventional wisdom, you know that’s the wrong call. A quick rundown of the numbers: on average going for it in that situation produces a win probability of 0.38; kicking a field goal produces a win probability of 0.31.  From up in the press box Kubiak’s decision cost his team a 7% chance of winning the game.5 For going for it to be worthwhile in this situation, the Texans need to convert only 26% of the time. It’s two yards, and lest we forget, THEY’RE PLAYING THE JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS! For Tasker to dismiss this as “the right move” is just… how can he… it’s so obviously… RAGE!!! Furious George, L.O.L. I didn’t watch the end of the game, which the Texans went on to lose 13-6, but I bet at no point during the Texans’ final drive6 did Tasker point out “HEY, the would only need a field goal right now if they had gone for it on fourth down earlier and scored a touchdown, as was quite likely given that they only had two yards to go. And as it is, they STILL need to score a touchdown and are in a situation where they have to go for it on fourth down anyway, even if it’s way more than two yards to go. Jeez, I guess I was just saying what I always say and talking out of my @#$ earlier, huh Bill?” Of course if he did point that out, then, well, tip of the hat to him. But I kinda doubt it.

On a 1st&10 with 8:22 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Packers, down 20-7 to the Vikings, replaced Scott Tolzien with Matt Flynn, who promptly completed his first pass for nine yards.

Fox play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt stated:

A completion. And it’s got this crowd back in the game.

Color commentator and 15 year NFL veteran, four-time All-Pro safety John Lynch chimed in:

He goes to Matt Flynn and they get a little momentum right away.

Whether or not you “believe” in momentum in sports or not, you probably know there is no factual evidence for it if you feel strongly about it one way or the other. Bill Barnwell, of the great Grantland.com, has sort of made “Nomentum” a thing this year, bringing facts a bit further into the mainstream. I’ll only say this: what do you mean when you refer to “momentum”, exactly? Lynch said they got “a little momentum right away.” Scott Tolzien, just benched, had pulled off two nifty moves on a six yard touchdown run earlier in the game. Did that play accrue momentum? And if so, it must have disappeared, since Tolzien was benched? So was the momentum from this pass from Flynn more noteworthy than any momentum Tolzien had gained, an indication that the Packers’ fortunes would be reversed and cause for the fans to rejoice? I, uhh, kinda doubt it. On the next play James Starks ran for 34 yards, setting up 1st&10 from the Viking 37. The momentum must really be going now, right!?! Then Starks ran for two yards, Flynn threw an incomplete pass, and Flynn threw a pass for a loss of five yards, leaving the Packers with 4th&13 from the Vikings 40. They punted. Tragically neither Burkhardt nor Lynch explained where that momentum had gone, and what impact, if any, it had on the game.

Up 24-3 facing 3rd&1 from the Colt 45 with 4:13 remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Cardinals’ Andre Ellington was stuffed for a loss of two.

After the play, CBS color commentator Dan Fouts, 15 year NFL veteran and two-time First-team All-Pro, praised the Colts for the stop, saying:

It looked like the Colts- er, the Cardinals had momentum.

What a curious statement! It LOOKED like the Cardinals had the momentum. But in fact, the Colts now have the momentum? The Cardinals had the momentum because they were up by three touchdowns at home and driving in their opponent’s territory? But then, in one fell swoop, the Colts got a stop and now they have the momentum? Or some momentum? The Cardinals have less momentum now? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, DAN??? You know, I think I know. I was never the quarterback for any football team, let alone the San Diego Chargers, and I’m not in the NFL Hall of Fame, but hear me out: “momentum” is when a team improves their situation, relative to the previous situation. And it gets thrown around for a variety of situation types: momentum accrued from a winning streak (sometimes dating back to last season!), unanswered points, a string of good plays, or just one good play, or penalty, whatever. So far as I’m aware, there is A LOT of anecdotal, personal claims that such “momentum” helps a team or player perform, but actually zero (scientific) evidence that it does. Certainly, that’s the case in other sports7, and given the fickle nature of momentum’s tangible effects on performance, I sure don’t see a case otherwise.

On 4th&4 down 27-3 with 11:14 left in the third quarter, Andrew Luck’s pass from the Cardinal 36 was batted into the air and nearly intercepted on the Cardinal 20 before hitting the turf.

Fouts pointed out:

Well they’re better off not catching that ball.

And good for him, it’s a good point and he is totally right. On 4th down, unless there’s a good run back opportunity, the defense improves field position by batting the ball down instead of catching it. And then play-by-play man Ian Eagle chimed in:

It doesn’t matter other than the yardage. So you can pad your stats as a defensive player, but you actually are going to benefit if it’s incomplete.

Eagle sort hits on the right point (after Fouts brought it up), but uhhh… “It doesn’t matter other than the yardage”? Yeah, that’s what the teams are doing in football, trying to gain yards and get to the end zone. The yardage matters! According to Advanced NFL Stats‘ Win Probability Calculator, in this situation the yardage matters to the tune of a single percent chance of winning. Starting on their 36, the Cardinals had a win probability of 95%; starting on their 20, it would have been 94%. That’s not a lot, but disregarding yards in a football game, especially 16 of them (nearly a fifth of the field), is pretty silly.

With 4:52 left in the fourth quarter of Sunday Night Football, down 31-24, Wes Welker dropped a pass over the middle on a 1st&10 from the Patriot 36.

Cris Collinsworth, eight year NFL veteran and three-time Second-team All-Pro selection, wondered of Welker’s drop:

How many times do you see that?

Fortunately, NBC play-by-play caller Al Michaels jumped right in:

Once too many for some New England fans.

Fans who don’t obsess over the numbers but just enjoy watching football (God bless ’em) may well think Wes Welker has terrific hands, because nearly without fail, every time he drops a pass, whoever is announcing the game remarks “Oh, a rare drop from Wes Welker!” Except Welker’s drops are hardly rare, so over the course of a season it is a pretty regular occurrence to hear a rare Wes Welker drop proclaimed on television. Going as far back as PFF data goes, through the 2008 season, Welker’s drop rate is the following (league-wide rank among players with 25% of their team’s targets or more in parentheses):

  • 2008: 6.03% (19th of 81)
  • 2009: 4.65% (24th of 101)
  • 2010: 13.13% (70th of 89)
  • 2011: 9.63% (48th of 95)
  • 2012: 11.28% (58th of 82)
  • 2013: 9.72% (54th of 97)

Welker certainly doesn’t have the worst hands in the NFL, but he’s hardly elite. Larry Fitzgerald, for example, finished 13th or higher all of those seasons except 2012, when he finished 24th. To answer Collinsworth’s question, counting 2013, the last four seasons Welker has dropped 9% or more of his catchable passes. Counting last night, so far in 2013 he’s dropped seven passes; only seven players have dropped more than him this season. Kudos to Michaels for hinting to Collinsworth that, in fact, a Wes Welker drop is not all that unusual.

Lastly, I just thought I’d remind everyone who the Top 10 quarterbacks have been in fantasy football this week, pending MNF (standard points in parentheses):

  • 1. Philip Rivers (27.78)
  • 2. Tom Brady (24.76)
  • 3. Ryan Fitzpatrick (24.4)
  • 4. Alex Smith (21.46)
  • 5. Carson Palmer (20.56)
  • 6. Cam Newton (20.06)
  • 7. Drew Brees (18.52)
  • 8. Josh McCown (18.48)
  • 9. Ryan Tannehill (18)
  • 10. Matthew Stafford (16.48)

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, and Josh McCown all cracked the Top 10. What is the world coming to? Although to be fair, yesterday at mid-afternoon Mike Glennon, Christian Ponder, Kellen Clemens, and bad quarterback superstar Brandon Weeden were also in the running. Mike Glennon actually scored more points (16.18) than Peyton Manning (13). I give up. Go 49ers!


  1. And also a Seattle Mariners fan. That Pacific Northwest life, being close to the homeland in Alaska. Incidentally my mother’s two favorite baseball teams are the Washington Nationals, where she grew up, and the Mariners, closest to where she lives now. They are the only two active Major League Baseball franchises that do not have a single appearance in the World Series. (Yes, even before when the Nationals were the Montreal Expos.) It’s a hard life. 
  2. Also, Vin Scully had the call for “The Catch”, so it’s even more okay. 
  3. How did I catch calls from so many different games? DirecTV’s NFL Red Zone Channel. God bless DirecTV’s NFL Red Zone Channel. 
  4. Among running backs who’ve played 25% or more of their team’s snaps. PFF has multiple analysts grade every player on every snap of every game. Click here to learn more about PFF’s grading system. 
  5. Poor Kubiak. His recent health scare is keeping him from the sidelines, and after losing to the Jaguars, at home, you’ve got to wonder if he’ll be coaching the Texans next season, or even at the end of this one. I only take issue with his chosen strategy in this case; I’m sure he’s a wonderful human being and I wish him and his family the best. 
  6. Which ended on a Case Keenum interception from the Jaguar 41. If the Texans had only needed a field goal to tie then, they might have squeaked it out. 
  7. See all scientific findings regarding “the hot hand”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot-hand_fallacy 
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