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

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

JAGUARS (+3) over Texans

That went surprisingly well!

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

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

RAVENS (-7) over Vikings

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

Browns (+13) over PATRIOTS

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

Raiders (+2.5) over JETS

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

BENGALS (-6.5) over Colts

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

EAGLES (-3) over Lions

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

STEELERS (-3.5) over Dolphins

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

BUCS (-3) over Bills

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

Titans (+13) over BRONCOS

Yeah…

CARDINALS (-6) over Rams

Yeah…

CHARGERS (-3.5) over Giants

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

Seahawks (+2.5) over 49ers

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

SAINTS (-3.5) over Panthers

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

Cowboys (-1) over BEARS

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

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

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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. 

Last week: 7-6! My entire life: 12-14-1.

Since I started I’ve been wimping out easing in to picking the Thursday game. Well no more. Thanksgiving is upon us, and that means three whole games. I can’t be missing out on that. I was quite pleased with my improvement last week, getting two five point underdogs who won outright in the Bucs and Chargers. I have thoroughly enjoyed staking my claim to picks, which is to say that Broncos-Patriots game was an even wilder ride, having taken the Patriots at +2.5. (Awww, yeah.)

Also I’ve decided to add a little method to the madness this week, using Pythagorean Winning Percentage (henceforth PWP). It factors in strength of victory (or weakness of defeat) to get an idea of which teams have been lucky (narrow wins, big losses) and unlucky (big wins, narrow losses). Like anything else, its relevance should already be factored into the spread, but I don’t care. The formula is (Points Scored ^ 2.37) / [(Points Scored ^ 2.37)+(Points Allowed ^ 2.37)]. And here we go!

Lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

LIONS (-6.5) over Packers

The Lions, sure. By a touchdown? Well… remember when the Packers tied the Vikings (PWP 34.9%, eighth worst in league) only four days ago? Five whole quarters of football. Four days ago. Yes, I remember what Matt Flynn did the last time he played the Lions, and no, I don’t care.

COWBOYS (-9) over Raiders

Actually, the Raiders aren’t one of the very worst teams this season. They’re just one of the worst (PWP 36.5%, ninth worst).

RAVENS (-2.5) over Steelers

Looks pretty even. Both teams 5-6. Ravens lost by a field goal in Pittsburgh. So they gotta’ win by three this time right? Baltimore’s PWP: 53.2%, 13th; Pittsburgh’s: 46.9%, 13th worst. Sold.

COLTS (-4.5) over Titans

Am I going to take all the home favorites? Maybe? But this is what the Colts do, right, match their competition? Play well against good teams/division rivals and badly against bad teams from the NFC? Also, as I’ve been telling pretty much everyone, Andrew Luck loves playing Settlers of Catan. When you can, you back the player who loves playing Settlers of Catan.

Jaguars (+7) over BROWNS

The Jaguars are really, really bad. Their PWP is 12.4%, last in the league by a sound margin. But Cleveland’s is only 34.7% (seventh worst), also God hates Cleveland. Now firmly out of the playoff picture, they’ve got to secure those draft picks. And hey, both of the Jags’ wins came on the road. Plus what’s the point of looking up statistics if you’re not going to laugh in their face and completely ignore them?

Bucs (+8) over PANTHERS

I think the Bucs are pissed. Carolina’s PWP of 78.1% is tied for tops in the league, but I thought they might be ready for a let down game last week and they squeaked out a win in Miami. Maybe they won’t take a division rival lightly, but… I think the Bucs are pissed.

VIKINGS (+1) over Bears

I can’t believe I just did that. But I also can’t believe the Bears run defense. Or Adrian Peterson.

Cardinals (+3) over EAGLES

Cardinals’ PWP: 57.7%, ninth in the league. Eagles stand at 53.5%, good for 12th. Betting on a good game from Carson Palmer? (Thinking…) I’ve done stupider things.

Dolphins (-2) over JETS

The Jets are just above the Jaguars, with a PWP of 26.3%. The Dolphins are only 46%, 12th worst, but come on. I just Googled “Jets starting quarterback”. You can do it too. The results speak for themselves.

TEXANS (+9) over Patriots

Houston is, like, super bad, but getting nine points at home? Plus the Patriots also played a fifth quarter last week, and it was huge game with a lot of hype, and they’ve outperformed by a win so far this season and the Texans have under performed by a win, so I gotta’ bet on that regression.

BILLS (-3.5) over Falcons

I can’t think of anything the Falcons have going for them. … I really can’t.

49ERS (-9) over Rams

Hmmmmm. Well, that team tied with the Panthers for tops in PWP? That would be my 49ers with a 78.1%, current holders of the league’s unluckiest record, under performing by 1.59 wins.

CHIEFS (+5.5) over Broncos

Denver’s PWP is 71.8%, good for sixth. But Kansas City’s is 72.6%, good for third! Also they’re at home this time, and maybe the Broncos are a little frazzled without their head coach and after blowing it in New England? Taking the points.

CHARGERS (-1.5) over Bengals

How come the 49ers couldn’t find anyone as good as Keenan Allen with the A.J. Jenkins pick? (Yes, from different drafts. But it still hurts.)

Giants (-1.5) over Redskins

The Giants started the season terribly, while the Redskins have consistently been terrible. For what it’s worth, Washington’s PWP is 33.3%, fifth worst, and New York’s is 34.3%, sixth worst. Ugh. Does the Red Zone channel have to include this game? Remember a year ago when RGIII was the most exciting player in football? Ugh.

Saints (+6) over SEAHAWKS

The Saints are getting six points? Or is that the number of Seahawks who’ve been busted for illicit drug use? I’m confused. Did you know that even with a PWP of 72%, fifth overall, the Seahawks have two more wins than they “should”? And that the Saints PWP of 74% is good for third in the league? Also, I don’t remember exactly, but something about this being the best two records of teams to face off on Monday Night Football this late in the season since the 199-… 4 Giants and 49ers? 1995? Whatever. I demand an Immaculate Reception, Music City Miracle, and of course another Toucherception or I’ll be disappointed.

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