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The NFL New Year draws nigh. Over the last few days pending free agents have been eligible to re-sign with their current team, but starting tomorrow they can sign with any club. Here are some figures to consider concerning the big names who already chose to stick with their team.

* denotes a team using its one-year franchise tag

Defensive Ends (4-3)

Michael Bennett

** all salary information from Spotrac.com

Age: 28 (29 on November 13th)
Old Contract**: 1 year/$4.8 million, $4.8 million average (18th-highest among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 24.2 (5th of 52 4-3 defensive ends with significant playing time)
2013 Contract Quality***: 1.09 (5th among position)
New Contract: 4 years/$28.5 million, $7.125 million average (projected 8th among position)

*** a player’s contract quality is the number of standard deviations his performance is above/below the average at his position (measured by PFF), minus the number of standard deviations his average annual salary is above/below the average at his position (obtained via Spotrac.com); CQ = (performance SDs +/- positional average) – (salary SDs +/- positional average)

Last year, Bennett’s play was worth about $8.8 million, given the salaries and performances of all NFL players at his position. This deal is nearly two million under that each year. May the football gods bless quarterbacks playing the Seahawks this coming season; Michael Bennett surely is not going to.

Greg Hardy

Age: 25 (26 on July 28th)
Old Contract: 4 years/$2.776 million, $0.694 million average (42nd among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 27 (3rd of 52)
2013 Contract Quality: 2.38 (2nd among position)
New Contract: 1 year/$13.116 million*, $13.116 million average (projected 2nd among position)

Hardy will probably be overpaid, at least based solely on his on-field contributions. (It may have been worthwhile for the Panthers to keep him for other reasons, such as selling tickets and not devastating their fan base.) The franchise tag is designed to strongly compensate the player, who has had his free agency stripped of him and receives only a one-year contract in return. The Panthers will be back to square one next year, with Hardy’s stock likely not going anywhere but up with him in his mid-twenties. The Panthers (likely) should have either locked him up long-term or let him go; what does one heavily overpriced year do in the meantime?1

Wide Receivers

Jeremy Maclin

Age: 25 (26 on May 11th)
Old Contract: 5 years/$14.375 million, $2.875 million average (41st among position)
2013 PFF Grade: N/A
2013 Contract Quality: N/A
New Contract: 1 year/$5.25 million, $5.25 million average (projected 27th among position)

Maclin is coming of a season-ending injury. This deal does not look terrible, and will look good if he shows he belongs in Chip Kelly’s offense. It does come with three million guaranteed, though, even if he is injured again or fails to measure up. And in his last healthy season, 2012, Pro Football Focus graded Maclin 101st among 105 wide receivers. Hm.

Anquan Boldin

Age: 33 (34 on October 3rd)
Old Contract: 3 years/$25 million, $8.333 million average (13th among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 17.9 (9th of 111)
2013 Contract Quality: 0.63 (33rd among position)
New Contract: 2 years/$12 million, $6 million average (projected 23rd among position)

Eleven years ago Anquan Boldin was one of the slower wide receivers entering the NFL draft; the Arizona Cardinals still took him 54th overall, and never regretted it. The Ravens did trade him to free up some cap money, but presumably do not regret the eight million-plus they gave him a year, after his thirtieth birthday, as he strongly contributed to their playoff trips and Super Bowl victory. The 49ers are actually paying him pretty much what they did last year (due to some dead money going to Baltimore’s books instead of San Francisco’s). And though he is old, he should not exactly “lose a step” to younger competition; he has always been slow. His strength lies in just that: his strength.

 


  1. A possible theory is that this is back pay for the good work Hardy has already done; after all, he was making pennies the last few seasons as one of the best defensive ends in the game. But Hardy was going to get millions this spring from whatever team signed him. Why would the Panthers (a business, to an extent like any other) grant him millions just because they were able to underpay him for years? 

Way back in early September, before the NFL season began, Robert Mays and Bill Barnwell, staff writers at Grantland, ran a podcast in which they made numerous preseason predictions for fun. At the suggestion of one of them during the podcast, I took down their predictions, but then never sent them in to Grantland, and the notes have just been sitting in my Gmail drafts folder for months. No more!

While Bill Barnwell posted an excellent feature about the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, quarterback Russell Wilson, and the best contract in football (click here for my own analysis of the best contracts in football; Wilson is certainly up there), I thought it would be fun to analyze Barnwell, and Mays, to determine who made the better predictions this season. Is one more expert than the other? Check it out!

Player Props

Adrian Peterson: 5.1 Yards per Carry
Barnwell: Under
Mays: Over
Result: Under (4.5)

Say it with me now: regression to the mean. Not just to the league average (about four yards) but to Peterson’s own. Peterson has now had two seasons over 5.1 yards per carry and five seasons under it; among those five seasons, even the highest clip is only 4.8.

J.J. Watt: 15.5 Sacks
Mays: Under
Barnwell: Under
Result: Under (10.5)

Regression scores again! J.J. Watt still put up the best season of any defensive player (highest graded by Pro Football Focus on the season), but 16 sacks is a lot for anyone, especially a 3-4 defensive end whose primary job is not rushing the passer.

John Abraham: 8.5 Sacks
Barnwell: Under
Mays: Under
Result: Over (11.5)

A surprisingly impressive season from the 35-year-old.

Andrew Luck: 4,200 Passing Yards
Mays: Over
Barnwell: No bet, agrees with logic, no strong feelings.
Result: Under (3,822)

This result is even more impressive given that Trent Richardson was so completely ineffective (averaged 2.9 yards per carry) this season.

Andrew Luck: 15.5 Interceptions
Barnwell: Over
Mays: Agree? Recognizes similar logic.
Result: Under (9)

The kid is good. Although he did rank 20th among 27 quarterbacks in accuracy percentage (per PFF). Maybe something to consider next season.

Geno Atkins: 9.5 Sacks
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Under
Result: Under (6)

Atkins went down on Halloween against the Dolphins and that was it for his season. He only played in seven games. Injury risk is always something to consider.

Greg Olsen: 775.5 Receiving Yards
Barnwell: Under
Mays: Under
Result: Over (816)

Curious. Prior to 2012, Olsen’s most receiving yards in a season were his 612 with the Bears in 2009. But with Cam Newton he has now gone over 800 twice.

Matt Forte: 1,000.5 Rushing Yards
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Under, later SWITCHES to Over
Result: Over (1,339)

A wise move as Forte put together his first back-to-back 1,000-plus yard seasons. Staying healthy, and amassing the most rushing attempts since his rookie season, certainly helped.

Charles Tillman: 4.5 Forced Fumbles
Barnwell: Under
Mays: No bet (“HOW DARE YOU?”)
Result: Under (3)

Injury cashes Barnwell in again, as Tillman went down only halfway through the season. But this merely underscores that a lot of things have to go right for a corner, or really anyone, to force five fumbles in one season.

Doug Martin: 8.5 Touchdowns
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Pressed by Mays, only says “8 or 9”
Result: Under (1)
Poor Doug Martin’s fate was sealed the instant I drafted him in the first round of my fantasy draft, as he went out for the season in Week 6. Still, a low total nonetheless.
Aaron Rodgers: 38.5 Touchdown Passes
Barnwell: Under
Mays: Over
Result: Under (17)

More injuries, more problems for the over bets. Although in the eight games in which he played more than a few snaps, he only threw 17, not quite on pace for over. Presumably offensive rookie of the year running back Eddie Lacy had something to do with this.

Robert Griffin III: 575.5 Rushing Yards
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Over
Result: Under (489)
Washington never seemed to recover from their opening day track meet against the Eagles, and Griffin missing the final three games while “sort-of-injured-but-healthy-enough-to-play-but-what’s-the-point” was pretty hard to predict.
Jason Babin: 9.5 Sacks
Barnwell: Under (Barnwell’s lock)
Mays: Under
Result: Under (7.5)

Barnwell’s lock comes through, although this must have been a little exciting as Babin came on and posted 5.5 in December.

Brian Orakpo: 7.5 Sacks
Mays: Over (Mays’ lock)
Barnwell: Over
Result: Over (10)

Mays’ lock comes through, as Orakpo went over on December 1st against the New York Giants. He is pretty good when healthy, it would seem.

Alex Smith: 3,350 Passing Yards
Barnwell: Over
Mays: Over
Result: Under (3,313)

This was about Andy Reid being allergic to running backs in Philadelphia and Alex Smith having Dwayne Bowe to throw to, and, uh, hold that thought…

***BONUS BET***
Dwayne Bowe: 1,000.5 Receiving Yards
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Over
Result: Under (673)

Ouch.

Dez Bryant: 92.5 Catches
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Under
Result: Over (93)

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Grantland staff writer Robert Mays! Really must have sweat it too, with Bryant needing eight receptions in Week 17 against Philadelphia, without Kyle Orton at quarterback. But he eked it out!

Danny Amendola: 950.5 Receiving Yards
Barnwell: Over
Mays: Over
Result: Under (633)

Ouch. Injuries, injuries, injuries… Amendola missed four games.

Tavon Austin: 7.5 Touchdowns (Rushing, Receiving, & Return)
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Over
Result: Under (6)

To be fair, Austin would likely have gone over if it had not taken the Rams coaching staff to realize that Austin was on their team (and/or the Rams special teams return unit had not felt the need to hold or block in the back on approximately 371% of their returns).

Richard Sherman: 4.5 Interceptions
Barnwell: Under
Mays: Under
Result: Over (8)

An incredible result. Among corners who played half or more of their teams’ snaps, Sherman was targeted only 58 times in the regular season, the sixth-fewest. He led the league with eight interceptions. Sherman grabbed a pick every 7.25 throws into his coverage, easily tops in the league. Goodness.

***Mays’ Prediction***
Jonathan Banks leads the league in interceptions.

Very, very difficult to predict; Banks finished tied for 15th with several players, having recorded three interceptions.

Chris Long: 10 sacks
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Over
Result: Under (8.5)

Maybe next year; PFF awarded him 10 sacks, as they do not punish players by awarding only a half-sack when another teammate also gets to the quarterback. Also Long’s 46 quarterback hurries were tied for fourth at his position this season. He generated pressure, but sometimes it takes a little luck (or a bad opponent quarterback) to get the sack numbers.

Josh Freeman: 16.5 Interceptions
Barnwell: Under
Mays: Under
Result: Under (4)

What a year for Freeman, in all the bad ways. Ugh. And he actually was right about on pace, throwing one in every game he played.

Clay Mathews: 11.5 Sacks
Mays: Over
Barnwell: Over
Result: Under (7.5)

Injuries, oh the injuries…

Russell Wilson: 3,400 Passing Yards
Barnwell: Over
Mays: No bet
Result: Under (3,357)

Yeeesh. Perhaps if Percy Harvin had played more than 40 snaps…

Division Winners & Playoffs

First Pick in 2014 Draft
Barnwell: OAK
Mays: OAK
Result: HOU
AFC East
Barnwell: NE
Mays: NE
Result: NE
AFC North
Barnwell: PIT
Mays: CIN (PIT last!)
Result: CIN (PIT actually 2nd, 8-8 and ahead of the 8-8 Ravens)
AFC South
Barnwell: HOU
Mays: HOU
Result: IND
AFC West
Barnwell: KC
Mays: DEN
Result: DEN
AFC Wildcards
Barnwell: DEN, CIN
Mays: KC, BAL
Result: KC, SD
NFC East
Barnwell: NYG
Mays: DAL
Result: PHI
NFC North
Barnwell: GB
Mays: GB
Result: GB
NFC South
Barnwell: TB
Mays: TB
Result: CAR
NFC West
Barnwell: SEA
Mays: SF
Result: SEA
NFC Wildcards
Barnwell: SF, DET
Mays: CHI, SEA
Result: SF, NO
AFC Champion
Barnwell: DEN
Mays: DEN
Result: DEN
NFC Champion
Barnwell: SEA
Mays: GB
Result: SEA
Super Bowl Champion
Barnwell: SEA
Mays: DEN
Result: SEA

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Grantland staff writer Bill Barnwell! Correctly predicting BOTH conference champions AND the Super Bowl champions! Barnwell would be the very first one to tell you that this result is due to his prodigious SKILL and not at all due to luck…oh right, he is Bill Barnwell. He is not foolish.

Player & Coach Statistical Leaders and Awards

Defensive Player of the Year
Barnwell: Clay Matthews
Mays: Geno Atkins (15 sacks!)
Result: Luke Kuechly

To be fair, Kuechly totally did not deserve this award at all. (Maybe more on that later.) But then with injuries, neither did their selections.

Passing Leader
Barnwell: Peyton Manning
Mays: Andrew Luck
Result: Peyton Manning
Rushing Leader
Barnwell: Trent Richardson
Mays: LeSean McCoy
Result: LeSean McCoy
Receiving Leader
Barnwell: Calvin Johnson
Mays: Dez Bryant
Result: Josh Gordon (in only 14 games!)
First Pick in 2014 Draft
Barnwell: Jadeveon Clowney
Mays: Teddy Bridgewater
Result: TBD
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Barnwell: Tavon Austin
Mays: Eddie Lacey
Result: Eddie Lacey
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Barnwell: Kenny Vaccaro
Mays: Alec Ogletree
Result: Sheldon Richardson
Coach of the Year
Barnwell: Andy Reid
Mays: Greg Schiano
Result: “Riverboat” Ron Rivera
Most Valuable Player
Barnwell: Russell Wilson
Mays: Aaron Rodgers
Result: Peyton Manning

Final Scorecards

Overall, Mr. Mays went a respectable 15/44, 34% on his picks. In pure props he was 6/20, while going 2/9 on individual awards and statistics and 7/15 on team predictions. Mr. Barnwell edged him slightly, going 17/46, 37%. Barnwell went 9/22 on player props, 1/9 on individual awards and statistics, and 7/15 on team predictions. When both Mays and Barnwell agreed, they went 8/21, 38%; 5/15 on props, 0/1 on awards, and 3/5 on teams.

The lesson? Predictions are not easy, and your gut feeling will not take you very far, even if you know a lot. Consider that among their player predictions, designed to have a 50-50 chance, both Mays and Barnwell did worse than a coin flip. This is not because they do not know about football (they know a great deal), but because this stuff is hard, and luck plays a bigger role than anything else. Nonetheless, one can see why a comprehensive examination of numbers might come in handy.

If you see a supposed pundit make a prediction, remember to think twice before buying in. Okay, that is not news. But remember to ALWAYS think twice (and a third time, a fourth, etc), even when the pundits are quite knowledgeable, even when the predictors tell a story that you find logically sound, and perhaps most importantly, even when you already agree with them (and especially when they are not being 100% serious, à la Mays and Barnwell). Or at the very least, think twice before you put any money down.

There were some technical difficulties today, presumably all around the world and definitely in my own laptop. Specifically, said difficulties concerned my ASUS “SmartGesture_Win8_64_VER225” touchpad driver, or whatever. This was not the first time. I was Not in the mood. Technology ultimately prevailed, but has left me exhausted and weak, physically and emotionally, much like yesterday’s NFC Championship game.

So this is not a post, but a repost, indeed a reposting. The following have been the most popular articles on Crossroads:

  1. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, & 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time (Part 1 of 2)

    Around midnight of December 18th, I sat back with a fairly comprehensive Bleacher Report article (as they go), my laptop, a bottle of whiskey, a recliner chair, a big screen TV, and a YouTube to investigate what makes the “All Time Classic Plays” just so. Eight hours later, I had many thoughts, maybe even answers.

  2. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, & 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time (Part 2 of 2)

    The results of this positively unscientific and whimsical process couldn’t be clearer: it’s a play’s impact on a game’s outcome, and how unusually the players pull it off, that are most likely to set a play apart.

  3. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Am Going There! NFC Wildcard EXCLUSIVE Preview-49ers at Packers-with Pictures! (Part 1 of 2)

    “Arctic blast”? What kind of s#$% is that? Most times there’s a winter storm, or even a blizzard. This time there’s going to be an “arctic blast”? Hell no. WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

  4. Early Betting Super Bowl XLVIII: Who Will Win “The Big One”?

    As they were months ago, Seattle and Denver seem to be the heavyweights, but then, so did the 2007 Patriots six years ago.

  5. Home Economics: The Sportsfan’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of Snowshoeing This Chicago Winter

    By assigning probabilities to different outcomes, the expected net benefits of both owning versus renting snowshoes this winter (between January 1st and March 15th) become apparent.

  6. Weighting the Coin: A Theoretical Case for Nomentum

    Forget sports (just for a second, don’t worry) and think about a coin flip. Say it’s a fair coin, and you flip heads two times in a row. Does the coin have momentum? Is the coin more likely to come up heads on the next flip? You’re smart, you know the answer is no.

  7. The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Winners & Losers of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw

    Who got off easy? Argentina, no question. In addition to being in their element in South America (theoretically), they drew a Bosnia-Herzegovina team playing in its first tournament as its own nation (being formerly part of Yugoslavia), ranked 21st, Nigeria, ranked 36th, and Iran, ranked 45th.

  8. Mike Tomlin, Player Fines, and What the NFL Really Cares About

    The average NFL salary is $2.016 million ($2,015,942), with a median of $0.753 million ($753,229). The average fine ($14,543) is 0.72% of the average salary, and 1.93% of the median salary. For half of all players, the average fine is a harsher punishment than Tomlin’s 1.74% loss.

  9. ESPM Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst) Contract in Football, LBs

    You should not be surprised to see that as quarterbacks are the most expensive players, the most expensive defenders are those whose job it is to get to the quarterback.

  10. NEWS FLASH: Many of the Best NFL Players Are Pro Bowl Snubs

    Flowers and Talib, 85th and 66th respectively among all cornerbacks, both make the cut with impressive negative grades. Anyone want to bet how many times announcers mention their Pro Bowl inclusion tomorrow in a context affirming their, uh, “quality” play this season?

Last Week: 1-3. Playoffs: 3-4-1. Regular Season: 53-49-3. My Entire Life: 56-53-4.

Lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

Patriots (+5) over BRONCOS

I cannot believe I just did that. That is a dumb pick. It is ridiculous. But then, so is the Pats’ season. This quote from Grantland’s Robert Mays describes the Patriots chances as thus: “I think they can win, but it’s hard for me to imagine how they might win.” Yeah. Agreed.

Actually, no. Be rational, Colin! Peyton Manning in of his best passing attacks ever, against a wounded Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, the guy who assaulted a police officer the night before the NFL draft?

Patriots (+5) over BRONCOS
BRONCOS (-5) over Patriots

Hmm. That looks better, right?

49ers (+3.5) over SEAHAWKS

Seattle 71 – San Francisco 16. That is the cumulative score of the last two games these teams played in Seattle. As written about before, the “extra” home field advantage of Century Link Field is something of a myth, but home field advantage is certainly a thing. Additionally, my mother informs me that Alaska Airlines is offering early boarding to all passengers sporting Seahawks garb at the gate. Hm. In the end, I just believe in the 49ers. Yes, this could just be Blowout 3.0, but… if the 49ers stay focused and avoid mistakes, they will be in good shape. GO, TEAM, GO!

Here are the current odds for each of the four remaining teams to win the Super Bowl (lines from Sportsbook.com), along with Football Outsiders estimate of their chances. With Carolina out, New England leads the way with the most potential value.

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 480 4.8 17.24% 22.40% 5.16% 1
SEA 190 1.9 34.48% 34.80% 0.32% 2
DEN 200 2 33.33% 24.70% -8.63% 3
SF 260 2.6 27.78% 18.10% -9.68% 4

The New England figures should clearly be discounted, because they have just had so, so, so many injuries, no Rob Gronkowski, no defensive front seven, no perpetually healthy wide receivers or running backs, and yet… they only need to win two more games. Stranger things have happened. And with Denver’s best defensive player, Von Miller, out for the season, and cornerback Chris Harris, Pro Football Focus‘ ninth-best corner (of 110, with a 10.9 grade), now out for the season, that first game might not be too crazy? Look at the conference championship odds:

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 175 1.75 36.36% 46.00% 9.64% 1
SEA 57.14 0.5714 63.64% 62.80% -0.84% 2
SF 155 1.55 39.22% 37.20% -2.02% 3
DEN 48.78 0.4878 67.21% 54.00% -13.21% 4

Look at New England! Football Outsiders estimates that betting them straight up this weekend will win nearly 10 percent more than it must to break even. Their calculations (using weighted DVOA) may not be 100 percent accurate, especially with regard to injuries, but given that Denver’s injuries are more recent, their predictions could quite possibly be overstating Denver’s chances. Throwing a little money at the New England money line might not be the craziest of ideas.

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