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Per Spotrac.com (and dozens of media outlets), Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has re-signed on a seven-year deal worth $126 million overall, averaging $18 million a season with $54 million guaranteed. Quarterback is the most expensive position, and Cutler is good, certainly “good enough to win a Super Bowl”.1 The Bears offense really has looked good this season, and it makes sense to keep a good thing going between Cutler, Marshall, and Jeffery. Ultimately though, the Bears’ shaky offensive line, Cutler’s health, and his marginal value added make this a bad deal.

From 2007-2009, Cutler did not miss a start. But 2009 was the last season that would be the case. Since then, he has missed 13 of a possible 64 starts, 20 percent. He turns 31 years old in April. The Bears’ offensive line improved some this year, but it is still bad, and most of its improvement came in the running game. Pro Football Focus has them graded 29th in the league in pass protection. An older quarterback, with documented injury history, behind a terrible offensive line, uh… it might not be something to spend $54 million dollars on, right upfront. It is easy to see poor Cutler going out for the season in Week 1 or 2 next fall. Then the Bears would be left to wait until he was 32, and had gone through yet another injury, to start seeing a return on their investment. Not so good.

Of course, given that Chicago’s receivers are so great, and backup Josh McCown looked like one of the better quarterbacks in the league with them this season, might the Bears still have hope? Sure, especially if they can resign McCown, who might retire. But the front office’s eagerness to re-sign the veteran makes it seem that they also considered the nightmare scenario outlined above…and chose to pay Cutler $18 million a year anyway. Hm.

Forgetting the injury concerns, is Cutler worth it? Here are some highlights of his PFF statistics back through 2008, relative to his peers. The numbers include his performance grade, quarterback rating (flawed but conventional statistic alert!), and yards per attempt.

  • 2008 (among 37 QBs): Grade 17.1 (4th); QB Rating 86 (18th); YPA 7.3 (12th)
  • 2009 (40 QBs): -12.2 (28th); 76.8 (24th); 6.6 (22nd)
  • 2010 (37 QBs): -2.7 (22nd); 86.5 (18th); 7.6 (8th)
  • 2011 (38 QBs): 3.1 (16th); 85.7 (13th); 7.4 (14th)
  • 2012 (38 QBs): 8.7 (16th); 81.3 (23rd); 7.0 (18th)
  • 2013 (42 QBs): 13.5 (10th): 89.2 (13th); 7.4 (13th)

2008 was Cutler’s last season in Denver, and this season, in six fewer games, Josh McCown earned a PFF grade of 16.6 (5th), quarterback rating of 109 (3rd), and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt (5th).2  Even ignoring the injury issues, Cutler’s play does not merit this much money. And even if his play was a little better, he hardly seems irreplaceable. In 2010 Josh McCown played for the Hartfield Colonials in the United Football League; he came cheap ($865 thousand a year), and did an excellent job. And now the Bears are going to pay Cutler more than $1 million a game (even assuming he starts them all), when at his best he has looked like a borderline top-10 quarterback? That is not smart.

A nifty roster move would have been to sign McCown to a two-or-three-year deal, giving Trestman time to find and groom a kid he likes while providing plenty of competency at the position in the mean time. Or, if the Bears could have gotten Cutler at less money, say $12 million annually, that might have been okay. Instead, they took the 44th highest-paid player in the league and made him the 6th highest-paid. The soon to be 32-year-old. Taking snaps behind perpetually awful pass protection. Good luck, Chicago. Likely, you will need it.3


  1. “Good enough to win a Super Bowl” is seemingly an expression reserved for quarterbacks who have already won a Super Bowl, applied dubiously to young quarterbacks, and applied rather doubtfully to really good quarterbacks who have yet to win one. If Trent Dilfer was good enough to win a Super Bowl, so are Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, and other decent quarterbacks who have never won one. 
  2. It is pretty sad that McCown turns 35 this July. He seems to have found the right fit at last. 
  3. Before this deal, Devin Hester actually made more than Cutler. He currently rakes in $10.244 million a season. The sort-of-used-to-be-corner-back-now-wide-receiver who is really, really good at returning kicks, and, uh, not much else. Oh dear. 

Last Week: 10-5. My entire life: 30-26-2.

Last week was the craziest week of football I remember. The Abominable SnowMegatron in Philly. The most snow for a Ravens game in M&T Bank Stadium ever, and positive freakishness in Baltimore. The Cleveland Browns (and terrible officiating). The sideline in Pittsburgh ruining Antonio Brown’s truly miraculous near-comeback.1 Me taking the Seahawks at +2.5 in San Francisco and having it come through AND having the 49ers actually win by 2! There were some downers, a couple of injuries and that picture of the start of the 3rd quarter in FedExField, but all in all, an incredible day. It’s got me feeling good heading into Week 15, so this’ll probably be a disaster. As always, lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

Chargers (+10.5) over BRONCOS

I’ve got a good run going of picking a double-digit underdog against the Broncos, only for the Broncos to cover anyway because Peyton Manning and touchdowns all-day-‘erry-day and stuff. Pythagorean points suggest the Chargers have been the fifth unluckiest team in the league, underperforming by more than a win, so maybe Vegas is giving them a few too many points. Screw it.

UPDATE: Felt terrible about this after that opening drive. Felt good after that Broncos’ neutral zone infraction that gave the Chargers a new set of downs, and it went well from there.

FALCONS (-7) over The Washington D.C. Football Team

Both of these teams are bad. It’s possible we’re overreacting to that crushing D.C. loss last week, but also maybe expecting Cousins to be better than he really is? The Falcons defense should make him look good, but for now, I’ll take Matt Ryan.

BUCS (+6) over 49ers

Let down game and cross-country flight for the 49ers, slipping into the early game slot for the first time in a while. The Bucs defense is good, and I’m still not convinced our offense is.

Seahawks (-7) over GIANTS

If only the Giants had something to play for…

Bears (-1.5) over BROWNS

At this point, we’ve got to be able to count on Cleveland to go for a good draft pick, right? Even if they have to chain Josh Gordon in the locker room to do it? ‘Cause he has been so unstoppable, even having Brandon Weeden throw him the ball might not be enough.

Texans (+6) over COLTS

The Colts already clinched their division, and they’re two games behind a tie for the two seed in the AFC. They’re pretty much locked in to the four seed. The Texans might just confuse everyone, opening the door to the first overall pick with their first ever win in Indianapolis. Or not. I don’t care, I’m gunning for it.

JAGUARS (+1.5) over Bills

Here’s to hoping Gus Bradley actually has them playing better now than in the beginning of the season, and hasn’t just gotten lucky the past few weeks.

DOLPHINS (+1) over Patriots

The Pats have been very lucky, even eking out a win after poor Gronkowski went down and out with that injury. But I think it stops here.

Eagles (-6) over VIKINGS

If not taking the Vikings on the road won’t work for me, I’ll try not taking them at home, damn it! I’m not taking them.

PANTHERS (-11.5) over Jets

The Jets do not deserve their six wins. The 9-4 Panthers might deserve 10. Plus, they’re going to be pissed after a little embarrassment on Sunday Night Football right? Or at least regress to their mean?

The Kansas City Football Team (-6) over RAIDERS

Kansas City has nothing to play for either, but… whatever.

Cardinals (-3) over TITANS

Arizona’s playoff prospects are dimming, but until they’re extinguished, I expect them to keep it up, Honey Badger or no.

Saints (-6.5) over RAMS

Even after that last win, Saints with plenty to prove, and the NFC two seed to secure.

Packers (+7) over COWBOYS

Rodgers hasn’t been cleared. I reserve the right to reverse this pick if he isn’t. But I really, really think he will be. The Packers are a half game back. And the Cowboys are coming off a short week in which Josh McCown scored on them every time he got the ball.

UPDATE: Sportsbook has actually dropped this game for the moment, and an hour or so ago Rodgers was ruled out. So no action here.

Bengals (-2.5) over STEELERS

I just took five four road teams in a row. Oh dear.

LIONS (-6) over Ravens

With that half-game lead, the Lions can’t let up. Also the Ravens might be a little emotionally drained after experiencing five touchdowns in the final 2:07 of regulation last week.

And that’s another week in the books! With football season drawing to a close, I’m going to have to learn how to look stupid guessing basketball and hockey games soon. Stay tuned.


  1. I would put it behind The Play, but possibly ahead of the Music City Miracle2 and the Immaculate Reception, and definitely ahead of the Toucherception from last year, as well as the Miracle at the Meadowlands and the Miracle at the New Meadowlands. The Music City Miracle and the Immaculate Reception were in the playoffs, but this would have been almost as good, with the Steelers and Dolphins still very much in the hunt. There was more controversy in Tennessee and in Pittsburgh in 1972, but there was almost even more in Pittsburgh last Sunday: imagine if the snow had obscured the sideline, leaving them no choice but to call it a TD even on replay? Sigh… 
  2. Inception footnotes! I love how immediately after the Music City Miracle, one announcer notes that “All that’s missing is the band!” 

Today I wrap up the offensive side of the ball as we continue our recurring series, ESPM Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst!) Contract in Football.  It’s time for offensive line contracts. Lineman never get enough attention, which is sad, and will also be the case in this series. At the end of the season they’ll get their full due, but right now I want to move along to the defense before the end of the season gets here, and there are a great many offensive lineman (duh). I couldn’t bring myself to lump them all together, as the different positions on the line require different skill sets, but I did lump them all in the same post. I’ll be starting on the inside of the line and working my way out. As always, player performance grades come from the professional analysts at Pro Football Focus and salary information comes from the databases at Spotrac.com.

A quick note: in addition to the usual disclaimers about players providing worth beyond on-field performance (popularity, teamwork, what have you), there’s another thing this analysis misses: special teams play. This was also the case for a handful of backs and receivers who play special teams, but especially the lineman, who usually play every special teams snap (excluding kickoffs, in most cases). Keep that in mind. Now, here are the Top 3 performing centers who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps, through Week 12 (PFF grades in parentheses):

  • 1. Chris Myers, HOU (19.1)
  • 2. Manuel Ramirez, DEN (15.7)
  • 3. Alex Mack, CLE (11.9)

And the Bottom 3:

  • 32. Robert Turner, TEN (-13.1)
  • 33. Peter Konz, ATL & Gino Gradkowski, BAL (-15.1)

The average grade is 0.16, with a standard deviation of 8.5. So far it looks that, just like the other “skilled”1 positions, the variation in on-field performance is enormous. Also I’d like to mention that Nick Mangold of the New York Jets is currently 31st with a -10.6 grade. So, here are the Top 3 paid centers (average annual salary in millions of dollars in parentheses):

  • 1. Ryan Kalil, CAR ($8.186 million)
  • 2. Nick Mangold, NYJ ($7.153m)
  • 3. Max Unger, SEA ($6.459m)

Oh look, it’s Nick Mangold! It has never failed: at every position so far, one of the best paid is one of the worst on the field. And here are the Bottom 3 paid centers:

  • 32. Jim Cordle, NYG ($0.555m)
  • 33. Jason Kelce, PHI ($0.534m)
  • 34. Lemuel Jeanpierre, SEA ($0.465m)

The average salary of NFL centers who have played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps is $2.794 million, with a standard deviation of $2.163 million. That average is significantly more than fullbacks ($0.992m) and a touch more than tight ends ($2.546m), though still behind running backs ($3.043m), wide receivers ($3.258m), and quarterbacks ($7.818m). Which general managers have navigated contract negotiations to get the most for the least amount of cash? Here are the Top 3 contracts among centers (contract quality2 in parentheses):

  • 1. Manuel Ramirez, DEN (2.49)
  • 2. Stefen Wisniewski, OAK (1.92)
  • 3. Jason Kelce, PHI (1.75)

Congratulations to Bronco’s General Manager (and former Super Bowl winning quarterback) John Elway! As usual, those raking in high-priced free agent contracts are absent from the upper echelon. They do populate the Worst 3 contracts, though:

  • 32. Max Unger, SEA (-2.18)
  • 33. Scott Wells, STL (-2.27)
  • 34. Nick Mangold, NYJ (-3.28)

Unger is the third most paid, Wells the fourth, and Mangold the second. Some more on Mangold: in the past he has performed much, much better. Now 29 years old (not exactly “old” for a center), his play seems to have fallen off considerably this season. Since PFF began grading in 2008, he was the top ranked center in 2008 and 2009, second in 2010 and 2011, and sixth last year. I suspect he was worth (or nearly worth) the money all the years before now, but his contract goes through 2017, with $25m of the $50m+ guaranteed. If he keeps playing like this, that’ll end up a terrible investment.

On to guards. These are the Top 5 guards so far this season:

  • 1. Evan Mathis, PHI (33.7)
  • 2. Louis Vasquez, DEN (20.8)
  • 3. Josh Sitton, GB (17.9)
  • 4. Larry Warford, DET (16.4)
  • 5. Ben Grubbs, NO (13.5)

Evan Mathis!!! Goodness gracious. There are 74 guards who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps this season. So far Mathis is all alone at the top by a margin of 12. He’s outperformed the fifth best guard by a margin of 20! Of the positions I’ve examined, no one is dominating this season like Evan Mathis. The average grade among guards is a -2.65, with an Enormous standard deviation of 11.99. Still, that leaves Mathis one standard deviation ahead of second and nearly two in front of fifth; Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman was pretty similarly isolated at the top, albeit among only 24 fullbacks. Mathis’ play stands out like no one else’s. Well, actually another guard’s play does as well, but for the wrong reasons. Here are the Bottom 5 performing guards:

  • 70. Mike McGlynn, IND (-20.8)
  • 71. David Diehl, NYG (-22.8)
  • 72. Will Rackley, JAC (-25.4)
  • 73. Davin Joseph, TB (-33.1)
  • 74. Lucas Nix, OAK (-40.1)

Oh, Lucas Nix, oh no. Nearly two standard deviations worse than fifth worst Mike McGlynn. Yikes. Davin Joseph is way down there too. What’s that? Did I just mention Davin Joseph? Well… the Top 5 paid guards:

  • 1. Logan Mankins, NE ($8.5m)
  • 2. Jahri Evans, NO ($8.1m)
  • 3. Andy Levitre, TEN ($7.8m)
  • 4. Davin Joseph, TB ($7.5m)
  • 5. Ben Grubbs, NO ($7.2m)

Ah, Davin Joseph! Yet another best paid, worst performer. Sigh. Onto the Bottom 5 paid guards:

  • 70.Ronald Leary, DAL ($0.483m)
  • 71. Nate Chandler, CAR ($0.482m)
  • 72. A.Q. Shipley, BAL & Lucas Nix, OAK ($0.48m)
  • 74. T.J. Lang, GB ($0.441m)

The average salary among guards is $2.481 million, with a standard deviation of $2.241 million. And while Joseph and Nix are the bottom two players in the league, the Bucs are paying Joseph $7.5 million a year (on average) while at least the Raiders only pay Nix $0.48 million.3 So, who’s the best deal for their team? Here are the Top 5 contracts among guards (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. Larry Warford, DET (2.35)
  • 2. Brandon Fusco, MIN (2.09)
  • 3. Evan Mathis, PHI (1.91)
  • 4. Travelle Wharton, CAR (1.89)
  • 5. T.J. Lang, GB (1.7)

The rookie Warford is having an excellent year, and having watched the Packers-Lions game yesterday I’m sure by now his performance grade and contract quality are even higher. Congratulations to Detroit Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew. But look at Mathis! Mathis’ average annual salary is $5 million a year, good for the 13th highest among guards. Almost all the others who make so much have negative contract qualities, and a few have slightly positive ones, but Mathis’ is good for third best! The Eagles are spending $5 million a year on him, and not just getting their money’s worth, but getting an absolute steal! I assume he won’t be able to keep this up, but even if his play drops some his contract should remain a sound investment. A rare example of a successful, expensive free agent signing. Most of them belong on the list of the Worst 5 contracts:

  • 70. Jahri Evans, NO & Logan Mankins, NE (-1.95)
  • 71. Jeromey Clary, SD (-2.08)
  • 72. Lucas Nix, OAK (-2.23)
  • 73. David Diehl, NYG (-2.88)
  • 74. Davin Joseph, TB (-4.78)

Evans is the second most expensive guard in the league, and Mankins is the most. In fact, the third most expensive, Andy Levitre, is just above them at 69th with a contract quality of -1.47. Nix, while cheap, is playing so frighteningly bad that he finds his way on the list as well. Diehl is the 12th most paid guard. And then there’s the elephant on the list, Davin Joseph. A -4.78! Oh my. Just, wow. The worst we’ve seen so far is a -3.83 from Dolphins’ wide receiver Mike Wallace, followed by a -3.78 from Raiders’ running back Darren McFadden. A -4.78. Oh jeez. I couldn’t resist, I took the standard deviation of the contract qualities of all 469 contracts I’ve evaluated (including tackles, whom we’ll get to in a moment).4 It’s a 1.2. Joseph’s contract quality is four standard deviations below the average. It’s just another of a dozen ways of saying: the Bucs are paying him way, way too much money.5

Last of the offensive positions, here are the Top 5 performing tackles:

  • 1. Joe Staley, SF (24.7)
  • 2. Jordan Gross, CAR (23.1)
  • 3. Joe Thomas, CLE (23)
  • 4. Jake Long, STL (22.3)
  • 5. Demar Dotson, TB (20.6)

Alright Joe Staley! Gross, Thomas, and Long find themselves among the Top 10 tackles in compensation. We’ll have to see if they’re truly worth it6, but at least they are some of the best at their position. Here are the Bottom 5 tackles:

  • 74. Eric Fisher, KC (-19.9)
  • 75. Lamar Holmes, ATL (-22.6)
  • 76. Bradley Sowell, ARI (-23.1)
  • 77. Paul McQuistan, SEA (-23.2)
  • 78. Jordan Mills, CHI (-31.5)

Eric Fisher, first overall pick in last year’s draft, continues to struggle.7 And tackle may be the last offensive position we look at, but it’s the first without someone pulling a Flacco! Tackles on big contracts may not be worth all the money, but they’ve at least played somewhat respectably. The closest to Flacco levels of pay and performance is the Chicago Bears’ Jermon Bushrod, who is the tenth best paid and the 13th worst on the field. The average grade of a tackle is a 1.82 and the standard deviation is 12.1. So while the group at the top is somewhat tight, Jordan Mills, also of the Bears, is pretty alone at the bottom. Poor Jay Cutler and Josh McCown! Here are the Top 5 paid tackles:

  • 1. Jason Peters, PHI ($10.11m)
  • 2. Joe Thomas, CLE ($10.063m)
  • 3. Trent Williams, WAS ($10m)
  • 4. Branden Albert, KC ($9.828m)
  • 5. Jordan Gross, CAR ($9.4m)

And the Bottom 5 paid tackles:

  • 74. Don Barclay, GB ($0.481m)
  • 75. Byron Bell, CAR ($0.47m)
  • 76. Cameron Bradfield, JAC ($0.467m)
  • 77. Matt McCants, OAK ($0.45m)
  • 78. Austin Pasztor, JAC ($0.435m)

Top paid Jason Peters is currently PFF’s 23rd ranked tackle, while Matt McCants is currently their 27th ranked tackle (through Week 12). Hmm. The average salary of tackles who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps is $3.347 million, the standard deviation $2.946 million. So, the Top 5 tackle contracts are (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. Tyler Polumbus, WAS (2.22)
  • 2. Demar Dotson, TB (2.14)
  • 3. Zach Strief, NO (1.89)
  • 4. Cordy Glenn, BUF (1.61)
  • 5. Chris Clark, DEN (1.49)

ESPM presents the award for best offensive tackle contract in the 2013 NFL Season (so far) to Washington Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen. Congratulations Bruce! Polumbus went undrafted out of University of Colorado Boulder, signing with the Broncos in 2008, the Lions and Seahawks in 2010, and then the Redskins in 2011. Dotson, Strief, and Clark are also veterans of a few short-term deals, while Glenn is on the second year of his rookie tender. Like the avoidance of a Flacco, this too suggests there may be something different about how tackles are evaluated and paid, relative to the other positions we’ve examined. Here are the Worst 5 tackle contracts:

  • 74. Jordan Mills, CHI (-1.82)
  • 75. William Beatty, NYG (-1.96)
  • 76. Jermon Bushrod, CHI (-2.24)
  • 77. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, NYJ (-2.39)
  • 78. Eric Fisher, KC (-2.54)

Yup, and completing the trend is rookie Eric Fisher, first overall selection of last year’s class. Mills is also a rookie, while Beatty and Ferguson are on their second contract, and Bushrod is on his third. Also the Chicago Bears! When both of your tackles play badly and are a big waste of money, well, it’s harder to win the NFC North at least.

As for what’s different about tackles, I’m not sure. They are the second highest paid position with that $3.347 million average. But I can’t see why NFL offices would be better at evaluating tackles than other positions (especially offensive line positions). Perhaps they aren’t, and it’s an aberration. Or perhaps it’s simply harder for younger tackles to come in and have success early, relative to other positions. Given that tackles are usually without help to their outside, that may be reasonable, and would certainly lend hope to fans of Fisher and Mills. In any case, I’m excited to revisit pay and performance upon the season’s conclusion and see if something more can be gleaned then.


  1. As if blocking a bunch of super quick super heavy super strong dudes from getting to where they’re paid millions of dollars to get to doesn’t require skill. Skill positions… who decided we call them that? 
  2. Contract Quality = (# Standard Deviations above/below Average Performance) – (# Standard Deviations above/below Average Salary) 
  3. Both Joseph and Nix are the rare examples of players who, using this analysis, should be paid negative dollars. That’s how badly they have played. Unfortunately negative dollars don’t have a clear interpretation. Should they pay their teams to let them play? Or should their teams pay them not to play? I’ll see if I can tinker with the analysis to resolve the issue, but for now just rest assured that they are playing terribly. 
  4. Yes, the average contract quality is 0. More on that when my search is said and done, after the regular season. 
  5. If, as I was, you’re curious about Joseph, keep reading. The Bucs drafted Davin Joseph 23rd overall in 2006. In 2008, he was PFF’s 57th ranked guard of 74, and made the Pro Bowl as a substitute; 2009, 75th of 84; 2010, 82nd of 82, and after that season signed his current contract, averaging $7.5 million a year over seven years with $19 million guaranteed, the fourth most expensive guard contract in the league today; 2011, 46th of 78, with another Pro Bowl appearance; and 2012 he missed the entire season due to injury. His Wikipedia page currently states that “He is currently considered to be one of the best guards in the NFL.” (CITATION NEEDED!!!!!) Mark Dominick, hired in early 2009 as the Bucs general manager, gave Joseph that contract… and is still their general manager today. Ben Dogra is Joseph’s agent; he also represents Adrian Peterson, Robert Griffin III, and the 49ers’ own Patrick Willis, as well as more NFL first round draft picks than any other agent since 2004, well, according to Wikipedia. (CITATION NEEDED) In any case, well done Mr. Dogra. Well f$%*ing done. 
  6. All three of them have negative contract values, but they aren’t too bad. Jake Long’s is -0.06, for example. And the season’s not done yet. 
  7. Luke Joeckel, 2nd overall pick, also struggled to a -6 grade through 280 snaps with the Jaguars before an injury ended his season weeks ago. 

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 

Last week: a humbling 5-8-1. My entire life: also a humbling 5-8-1.

So I’ve got some work to do. By far the most devastating defeat was the Saints failing to cover -3.5 in their three point victory over my 49ers. I was so saddened that I crawled under my 49ers throw blanket and wept for nearly an hour, swearing off football for all time, before getting bored and watching Sunday Night Football. Even more devastating was this text I got from an old friend:

Colin, I have a few questions for you.

1. Is there a difference between Sunday and Monday night football other than the day of the week.

2. Does the quarterback do anything but call the plays.

3. Why does Texas live up to its stereotypes?

I ignored this text for three hours while I watched Monday Night Football, idly wondering why I watched football, and promptly being rewarded with an an hour’s worth of “WASN’T THAT PASS INTERFERENCE” tweets. My Pats-fan friend, however, seemed beyond grief. She didn’t even text me.

SO, with devastation done with for good (right?), I’m trying some Week 12 picks. Lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

Bucs (+8.5) over LIONS

Is Tampa Bay ever going to start using the best cornerback in the NFL, whom they paid millions and millions for in the off-season, to take away the other team’s best wide receiver? I’m guessing no at this point? He might still be sorta injured or something? Even so, the Bucs have lost some close games, have a good defense, and remember that time Mike Glennon tore the Seahawks best secondary in the league to shreds for half a game?

TEXANS (-10) over Jaguars

I think every time the Jaguars have a 3&out, the Texans should have to remove one defender from the field, but it can’t be J.J. Watt. I want to see the Jaguars offense play J.J. Watt. WHAT IS THE LINE FOR THAT, VEGAS? And wouldn’t you still take J.J. Watt? Or even just J.J. Watt’s elbow brace?

PACKERS (-5) over Vikings

The Vikings have a win in London over the Steelers (average expected winning percentage 42.6%) and at home over the Redskins (36.5%). Also I just looked at their schedule and at the very least will not be taking them on the road for the rest of the season.

Chargers (+5) over CHIEFS

Yyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Panthers (-4.5) over DOLPHINS

All of the makings of a let down game for the Panthers… but how long it takes to read that statement is approximately how much time Ryan Tannehill has to throw when he drops back to pass.

BROWNS (-1) over Steelers

Am I missing something? I know the Steelers have played a little better, but unless Brandon Weeden gets involved… oh right. God hates Cleveland. Damn it.

Bears (+1) over RAMS

Josh McCown over Kellen Clemons. Brandon Marshall over Chris Givens. Devin Hester over Tavon Austin. Martellus Bennett over Jared Cook. And let’s forget about that whole “defense” thing.

RAVENS (-3.5) over Jets

The Jets have a point differential of a 3-7 team. They’re 5-5. When given the opportunity to bet on regression to the mean, bet on regression to the mean.

Titans (-1) over RAIDERS

Something about how 46.3% of the money the Raiders are spending this season goes to players who no longer play for the Raiders.

CARDINALS (-2.5) over Colts

The beauty of seeing the Colts beat the 49ers and Seahawks and lose to the Rams and Cardinals is just too wonderful to pass up.

GIANTS (-2.5) over Cowboys

I really wanted to take the Cowboys here, but I am starting Tony Romo in fantasy this week, so…

PATRIOTS (+2.5) over Broncos

Forecast for Foxborough, MA for the weekend.

49ers (-6.5) over Redskins

If they 49ers keep, or maybe regain at this point, their focus, they’re in good shape. Will they? EEEEEeeeeeehhhhhhhhhh I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I suck at gambling! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find people to help me carry a cream soda keg up three floors. Freakin’ weekend ‘errbody.

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