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The 2014 NFL Draft is 78 days away, and the NFL “New Year” begins March 11th, at which point salary cap implications for teams’ current players will kick in for the coming season.

Last season, the Oakland Raiders had $56-plus million dollars worth of dead money. That is, more than $56,000,000 of their funds last season were tied up in players who were not even members of the Raiders. It was an impressive figure, more than one-third of their $123 million salary cap. Their incoming general manager, Reggie McKenzie, made a courageous decision to dump at once all of the terrible contracts he inherited, guaranteeing a tough season for Raiders fans. (In fact, going 4-12 was something of a pleasant surprise.)

But now McKenzie can reap the rewards, earn the salt, bring home the bacon, have his cake and eat it too1, all those good things. The Raiders have over $60 million in cap space heading into next season. With 2013 behind them, McKenzie and the Raiders can spend nearly half of the yet-to-be-finalized 2014 NFL salary cap (likely $123-126 million or so) however they like. And their terrible season last year has armed them with the fifth, fourth, and third picks of the first three rounds of the draft, respectively. Shake it out, Raiders fans! Remember, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

McKenzie’s management has moved the Raiders to the tenth-best standing in the NFL Dead Zone, brought to you by Richard Seymour. What is the NFL Dead Zone? The NFL Dead Zone is a psychic realm of Roger Goodell’s mind where upon shaking players’ hands he sees visions of their future on-field concussions and disillusioned, depressed lives after retirement, and through the Dead Zone’s apparitions Goodell can actually change the future!

Wait, that isn’t it. The NFL Dead Zone is the long-awaited series finale/made-for-TV movie, ditched by UPN, then USA, and coming to NFL Network this fall as part of the new NFL-CBS deal for Thursday Night Football!

Wait, that isn’t it either.

The NFL Dead Zone is a statistic relating a team’s dead money and salary cap space. Definitively, it is a team’s dead money divided by the sum of their dead money and their salary cap space. That is:

(Dead $$$) / (Dead $$$ + Salary Cap Space) = Dead Zone Rating

The NFL Dead Zone is a hybrid of those two related, interesting-but-not-absolute team management metrics. Neither having some dead money nor having little cap space is insurmountable. But when dead money–accounted to players no longer on a team’s roster–is the primary cause of a team’s tight cap situation (as opposed to, say, signing Peyton Manning), then…

Christopher Walken, is it really you? ARE YOU IN THERE SOMEWHERE?

Christopher Walken, is it really you? ARE YOU IN THERE SOMEWHERE?

…well, it gets ugly.

The NFL Dead Zone is a percentage, and ideally you want as little to do with the Dead Zone as possible, for it is a most terrifying place indeed. It is a place where Christopher Walken looks like that. It is a place where your daughter is screaming and the world is burning. It is a place brought to you by defensive tackle Richard Seymour, whose contract cost the Raiders $13.714 million last season, despite being voided seven months before the season even began. The Dead Zone, both in Stephen King’s writing and in the NFL, is a place ripe with fear and apprehension about the future.

Blessed with McKenzie’s bravery, the Oakland Raiders have mostly emerged from the dark of the Dead Zone, sitting pretty with the 10th-lowest Dead Zone Rating as the dawn of the 2014 season approaches. The Raiders still have $9 million in dead money this coming year, fifth-most in the league; but with nearly $61 million in unallocated salary cap money, that amounts to an NFL Dead Zone rating of 13.25 percent, tenth-lowest in the league. Well done, Mr. McKenzie, well done.

Pictured: Reggie McKenzie, General Manager, Oakland Raiders

Pictured: Reggie McKenzie, General Manager, Oakland Raiders

The team least troubled by the Dead Zone? The New York Jets. This is NOT to say that the Jets are the best team, or will be the best team next season, or that they have objectively gotten the most out of their salary cap (or that they are the team most capable of changing the future). But it does mean that at the moment, the share of the Jets’ potential cap space lost to players not even on their team anymore is the smallest in the league at 0.24 percent. Their mere $0.049 million in dead money is the lowest in the league, while their $20-plus million in cap space ranks eleventh.

At the other end of the spectrum are the New Orleans Saints. The third-most dead money–over $10 million–and the fourth-least cap space–less than $2 million–make for an 87.57 percent dead zone rating. By awarding millions in signing bonuses and guaranteed money to players they would later cut or trade away (Roman Harper, Jabari Greer, Will Smith), the Saints road through the dead zone will be formidable. If I were Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, I would call up Christopher Walken right now for advice. Or at least Stephen King.

Now, here at last is the complete enumeration of where every team2 stands in the NFL Dead Zone.3 It’s over. You’re finished.

Team Rank Dead Zone Rank Dead Money Rank Cap Space
NYJ 1 0.24% 28 48,958 11 20,044,583
TB 2 1.10% 26 139,119 15 12,541,710
IND 3 2.30% 25 800,733 4 33,972,029
CIN 4 3.99% 24 984,281 9 23,662,960
MIN 5 5.92% 21 1,783,163 7 28,331,238
PHI 6 6.30% 23 1,348,343 10 20,059,815
GB 7 8.59% 18 2,677,484 6 28,498,261
JAC 8 10.18% 10 5,600,511 2 49,428,124
MIA 9 13.21% 11 4,942,895 5 32,481,214
OAK 10 13.25% 5 9,286,520 1 60,817,593
CLE 11 13.67% 8 7,194,153 3 45,452,022
STL 12 17.82% 27 133,805 28 617,229
NYG 13 18.08% 17 2,778,141 14 12,588,186
BAL 14 21.16% 12 4,422,216 13 16,479,137
CHI 15 22.61% 22 1,476,669 22 5,054,728
WAS 16 24.89% 7 7,941,733 8 23,969,653
SF 17 26.00% 20 1,934,691 21 5,506,346
DEN 18 26.26% 14 3,992,329 17 11,212,168
TEN 19 27.98% 19 2,449,725 20 6,306,953
ATL 20 32.25% 9 5,922,507 16 12,442,188
BUF 21 38.89% 2 12,070,113 12 18,967,410
DET 22 50.40% 13 4,069,438 23 4,005,130
ARI 23 51.25% 4 10,087,467 18 9,595,088
KC 24 53.13% 15 3,505,823 25 3,092,443
HOU 25 56.29% 16 3,247,174 26 2,521,766
CAR 26 68.35% 1 17,840,240 19 8,260,965
NE 27 70.08% 6 8,533,721 24 3,644,255
NO 28 87.57% 3 10,450,051 27 1,482,990

  1. Because what good is having cake if you can’t eat it? Seriously… 
  2. Okay, almost; four teams–Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Seattle–actually have negative projected 2014 salary cap space at the moment, a situation so bad it goes beyond the parameters of the Dead Zone and into something more of an “After-Death Zone”. Perhaps more on this later. 
  3.  Team dead money and salary cap figures determined by Spotrac.com

There are so many wonderful things to gamble on in this world. With the Oscar nominations announced this morning, a lot cleared up in those gambling races. Twelve Years a Slave’s money line is -250, which along with American Hustle at +275 and Gravity at +750 wraps up the favorites. And while perusing such lines, what do you know, there are early money lines out for all 32 teams on Super Bowl XLIX, taking place February 1st, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. Let’s take a look!

Rank Team American Odds Fractional Odds (to One)
1 DEN 600 6
1 SEA 600 6
3 SF 700 7
4 NE 1200 12
5 GB 1500 15
5 NO 1500 15
7 ATL 1800 18
7 CIN 1800 18
9 CAR 2000 20
10 ARI 2500 25
10 CHI 2500 25
10 KC 2500 25
10 IND 2500 25
10 PHI 2500 25
15 BAL 3000 30
15 DAL 3000 30
15 DET 3000 30
15 HOU 3000 30
15 NYG 3000 30
15 PIT 3000 30
15 SD 3000 30
15 STL 3000 30
15 WAS 3000 30
24 MIA 4000 40
24 TB 4000 40
24 TEN 4000 40
27 NYJ 6000 60
27 BUF 6000 60
27 CLE 6000 60
27 MIN 6000 60
31 JAC 10000 100
31 OAK 10000 100

Funny how none of the bottom teams have a clear guy at quarterback yet. Who might be worth putting some money on?

The New England Patriots, +1200

This team is playing in the AFC championship game this Sunday. How could they be underrated? Well, they have endured one of the more tortured campaigns in recent memory with injury after injury, almost none of their ten best players from a year ago are still playing, and with Bill Belichick at the reins and Tom Brady in the huddle they are still playing in the freaking AFC championship this Sunday.

The counter argument here is that Patriots won one and a half more games than they “should” have this season,1 and that the player I mentioned in the previous paragraph will be 37 years old. Still, with the Pats basically making the playoffs every year, at 12-1 it might not be crazy.

The Green Bay Packers, +1500

By some measures, the Packers actually suffered more bad injury luck than the Patriots this season. Oh, and also by conventional measures: Aaron Rodgers missed two months and Clay Matthews was out for good by the time the playoffs came round. Which the Packers still made; which they went out of on the last play of the game, by three points, to the 49ers, currently headed to their third straight NFC championship game. The Packers can play with the very best. Aaron Rodgers probably is the very best.

The NFC North will likely be a tougher beat than the AFC East, however. And the Packers’ coaches, particularly Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers, do not seem to be in quite the same class as the league’s best. Still, a better than a one in sixteen chance that the Packers win it all seems likely.

The New Orleans Saints, +1500

Drew Brees. Also though stuck in the six seed this season, the Saints were a couple of games away (read: road losses to the Jets and the Patriots) from better playoff positioning.

But, you know, they still have to play eight road games next season, so…

The Atlanta Falcons, +1800

The best bet of the bunch? Maybe. If not, it will be the next one. There is a lot to like about the Falcons, who lost Matt Ryan’s top weapons on offense (like seriously, the wide receivers and the running backs), and eventually resorted to starting only high school seniors on defense, or something, I forget. But that Matt Ryan! Matt Ryan has been one of Pro Football Focus’ top five quarterbacks four of his six seasons in the league. Among the league’s elite quarterbacks, his team is getting the worst odds (which is to say, the best odds). Oh yeah, and the Falcons have the sixth pick in the draft.

The main downside here is the NFC South. The Falcons will have tough competition next year. In fact, the Panthers at +2000 might be more compelling than these featured teams. The Panthers might be so compelling that one might be compelled to write a post just about them in the near-ish future. (HINT: One such person might be me.)

The Houston Texans, +3000

“Houston, we have a quarterback.” These words must be realized in order for Houston to win it all. But the Texans do not need the best quarterback, they just need a starting NFL quarterback. They have the number one pick in the draft. But yeah, Manziel or Bridgewater, rookie quarterbacks cannot win the Super Bowl, etc.2 But what if they trade that pick for an established quarterback (and that team’s first rounder, or some later round picks or whatever)? Philip Rivers will turn 33 in December of next season. Michael Vick will turn 34 in June, and apparently has lost his job to Nick Foles. Eli Manning just turned 33. Ben Roethlisberger turns 32 in March.3

Remember, Houston won a playoff game in each of the previous two seasons. They were the unluckiest team in the NFL this season, winning two fewer games than their net point total suggests they should have. Also, they likely adjusted their priorities when it became clear they would not make the playoffs. J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson have been among the very, very best at their respective positions since they entered the league. The toughest competition for their division will likely come from the Colts. They should have an easier schedule after finishing last in the league. They are currently 30-1. Remember this day, sports fans. Remember this.


  1. According to football’s Pythagorean theorem, they outperformed by 1.5 wins. 
  2. There is actually no rule that says that a rookie quarterback cannot win the Super Bowl. Keep that in mind. 
  3. Confession: All I want to do now is get in a room with Rick Smith, Houston’s general manager, and talk about this. Also, how crazy would this be: the number one pick for RGIII? Tragically, Washington already gave their next 4,500 draft picks to the Rams, and without anything else to work with not even I will grant this feasibility, but… damn. 

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 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.

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