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Lately I’ve been looking in to NFL penalties, and I’m hoping to have a larger project on them in the near-ish future. But for today, just one penalty: the false start. As football fans, we know what causes false starts: miscommunication and confusion between members of the offense, usually brought on by the home crowd cheering its defense to the tune of more than 100 decibels or so. It’s pretty common knowledge that in CenturyLink Field, the Seattle Seahawks enjoy probably the best home-field advantage in the NFL. That may well be true, and an oft-cited statistic is that the Seahawks have benefited from more opponent false starts at home than any other team in the league. We all know it’s true, everyone in Seattle, and all the visiting offenses that have played there, and of course I took that added difficulty for granted when my 49ers went up north to play there. The thing is, uh… it’s a myth.

Let’s start with that claim, “the most”. ESPN Stats & Information keeps tabs on opponent false starts in every stadium in the league. Then, for reasons I don’t fathom, they hide this information so no one can access it, even people who are willing to pay for it. I found an occasional reference to one or two stadiums in their various blog posts, but no go. The most comprehensive list I can find is only the top four, proudly displayed on the Seahawks’ own website. They proclaim that since 2005, visiting offenses have false started 121 times at CenturyLink Field, 115 at Mall of America Field (Vikings’ home field), 107 at Ford Field (Lions’), and 104 at University of Phoenix Stadium (Cardinals’). Well, that settles it I guess.

Wait, hold on! Since 2005… why? CenturyLink opened for the 2002 NFL Season. The selection of 2005 is what statisticians call “arbitrary endpoints”, or what I call “arbitrary endpoints used to make whoever is using the statistic sound cooler than they really are”.1 By perusing the “Home field advantage” section of CenturyLink’s Wikipedia page, I discovered that counting from 2002, the Vikings actually have the most opponent false starts. (The Seahawks are second.) Hm. The stadium hasn’t changed since then… maybe the fans have? Maybe, or maybe in an infamous 2005 game, the visiting New York Giants false started 11 times in Seattle. Hey, that’s exactly what happened! Without that one game2, the Vikings have the most since 2005 (as well as 2002).

Well still, offenses are false starting in Seattle a lot, right? Well… probably not. NFLPenalties.com has logged every NFL penalty since the 2009 season. Their false start data includes which teams have drawn the most false starts from opponents, although tragically without home/away splits. But in fact, that doesn’t really matter. Over the last five seasons (Week 1, 2009 through Week 15, 2013), 50.79% of all (3,103) false starts have actually come when the offense is at home. Seriously? The data must be wrong right? Well, NFLPenalties.com is just conveniently reformatting the information from NFL.com‘s play-by-play data, so the information should be as accurate as anything else NFL.com compiles, and is quite official.

Back to Seattle. Even without knowing in which stadium, I know how much all of each team’s opponents have false started against them the last five seasons. Even better, these aren’t just raw sums, but come with how many games each team has played. Leading the way is the Arizona Cardinals, with a whopping 1.75 opponent false starts per game; the Vikings are second with 1.46 per game. Seattle is tied for 18th (with Cleveland) at 1.15 opponent false starts per game. Could the Seahawks still be forcing a league-leading number of false starts (on a per game basis) at home, and just be unlucky by having played offenses that seldom false start when the Seahawks themselves go on the road? It’s possible, but quite unlikely, especially over five years’ worth of opponents.

Consider: the 49ers, Cardinals, Rams, and Seahawks make up the NFC West, and have eight common opponents each year.3 Any two of those teams, say the Cardinals and Seahawks, have 10 common opponents, the eight plus the 49ers and the Rams, whom they place twice each, once at home and once on the road. So the Seahawks and Cardinals (and 49ers and Rams) have mostly played the same teams over the last five seasons. If the Seahawks were playing a lot teams that just didn’t false start very much (either at home or on the road or both), the Cardinals would play many of them too, and have the same difficulties. But the Cardinals lead the league with 1.75 opponent false starts per game over the last five years, while the Seahawks are tied for 18th with 1.15 per game. This may be because no such Seahawks advantage truly exists, or because teams are preparing for them much better than they used to (while perhaps not taking the Cardinals as seriously). Regardless, the extra false starts in Seattle seem to be a myth of the past. I wonder how long the legend of CenturyLink Field will continue into the future.


  1. Rolls right of the tongue. 
  2. It’s also not clear how many games we’re talking about. Most teams play eight home games a year, with a couple each year playing a “home” game in London. Of course there are also playoff games at home. But we’re looking at 60+ games, at least. 
  3. It’s the brilliance of NFL scheduling. The divisions rotate. Last year, every team in the NFC West played every team in the NFC North & AFC East; this year, every team in the NFC South and AFC South. Next year, it’ll be the NFC East and the AFC West. And so on. 

The football was the most amazing football last Sunday. I’m still processing it, and probably won’t be ready to talk about it until at least Friday. But I must go on with my continuing Economics and Sports Management recurring feature, The Search for the Best (& Worst!) Contract in Football. The end is near!1 We’re finally in the defensive backfield, as I look at cornerback pay and performance. And we have a serious challenger for guard Davin Joseph’s former stranglehold on the worst contract in the league.

First, some usual disclaimers: other things go into a player’s market value besides on-field performance. Measuring those things, how popular a player is, if he makes his teammates better, if he’s a good guy to have around, works well with the coaches, etc, is really, really hard. Certainly performance is a huge component of pay though. Tim Tebow, even Brett Favre, hell even Mike Tyson would still probably sell some tickets, but you don’t see them getting NFL contracts. Also, while certain players may rake in the ticket and jersey sales, that is at least partially controlled for by doing the analysis by position. The backs and receivers, even the tight ends may bring a lot of money in without their play, but take Davin Joseph. Earlier this season I estimated he was overpaid by $10+ million dollars.2 You can’t make a case that he’s helping the Buccaneers recoup that in other ways, certainly not all $10 million. Similarly, with a few exceptions, I don’t think fans go to watch other offensive linemen, or really any defensive players.3

Secondly, the Pro Football Focus grades I use for this analysis are super awesome, but not 100% perfect. I think their main weakness is not controlling for the quality of the opposition, down to the individual level. If a cornerback blankets Calvin Johnson and holds him without a catch on 10 targets with three passes defensed and no penalties, it counts the same as another corner who does exactly the same thing to Greg Little.4 Still, over the course of a season, things should even out a good deal, if not completely. Doing the analysis after one game would be almost meaningless. But after thirteen games of players getting graded on every play, it’s much more compelling.

Cornerbacks! 111 have played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps through Week 14. The Buffalo Bills released Justin Rogers earlier this season, so I dropped him from the sample. (He lost an opportunity to perform, and they stopped paying him, so…) Here are the Top 10 performing cornerbacks on the field this season (PFF grade in parentheses):

  • 1. Darrelle Revis, TB (18.1)
  • 2. Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (15.5)
  • 3. Patrick Peterson, ARI (13.1)
  • 4. Brent Grimes, MIA (12.5)
  • 5. William Gay, PIT (11.1)
  • 6. Jason McCourty, TEN (10.9)
  • 7. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DEN (10.8)
  • 8. Tramaine Brock, SF (10.7)
  • 9. Vontae Davis, IND (10.5)
  • 10. Leon Hall, CIN (8.7)

That Derrelle Revis guy, still pretty good it turns out, even after age and injuries have had their say. Poor rookie sensation Tyrann Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL this past Sunday, ending his season. It’s truly a shame, as Arizona had a good, and entertaining, duo going on with Mathieu and his former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson reunited. And while some of San Francisco’s Tramaine Brock’s grade was as the third corner usually covering the opponent’s third wide receiver, the last few weeks he’s been starting for an injured Tarell Brown, performing very well. On to the Bottom 10:

  • 101. Dee Milliner, NYJ (-9.1)
  • 102. Leonard Johnson, TB (-9.2)
  • 103. David Amerson, WAS (-9.3)
  • 104. Brandon Flowers, KC (-9.7)
  • 105. Antonio Cromartie, NYJ (-10.5)
  • 106. Ike Taylor, PIT (-11.2)
  • 107. Derek Cox, SD (-11.8)
  • 108. Shareece Wright, SD (-12.4)
  • 109. Brice McCain, HOU (-12.7)
  • 110. Cortland Finnegan, STL (-19.7)

Revis left the Jets for Tampa Bay, and his first round draft pick replacement Dee Milliner hasn’t quite fit the bill just yet. (Though note that another thing PFF grades don’t measure is potential.) Antonio Cromartie has played well in the past though, not sure what’s up with him. Down at the bottom, solidly entrenched by his terrible play, is Cortland Finnegan of the Rams. Again, the worst corner so far this season is Cortland Finnegan, by a sound margin. The average grade is a 0.18, with a standard deviation of 6.69. Eeesh, as usual, tremendous variation in player performance.

Here are the Top 10 paid cornerbacks who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps (average annual salaries in millions of dollars, reported by Spotrac.com, in parentheses):

  • 1. Darrelle Revis, TB ($16 million)
  • 2. Brandon Carr, DAL ($10.02m)
  • 3. Cortland Finnegan, STL ($10m)
  • 4. Johnathan Joseph, HOU ($9.75m)
  • 5. Joe Haden, CLE ($8.547m)
  • 6. Leon Hall, CIN ($8.475m)
  • 7. Lardarius Webb, BAL ($8.333m)
  • 8. Brandon Flowers, KC ($8.225m)
  • 9. Antonio Cromartie, NYJ ($8m)
  • 10. Tramon Williams, GB ($7.615m)

Hey, it’s Cortland Finnegan! He is the third most expensive corner in the league and on average makes $10 million a year. Alright! Also Darrelle Revis’ contract is more than two standard deviations above the next most paid player. Remember, while his play was tops as well, it was less than one standard deviation above the next best player. Not looking like a good contract for the Buccaneers. These are the Bottom 10 paid cornerbacks:

  • 101. Alfonzo Dennard, NE ($0.539m)
  • 102. Byron Maxwell, SEA ($0.538m)
  • 103. Jimmy Wilson, MIA ($0.521m)
  • 104. Robert McClain, ATL ($0.51m)
  • 105. Nolan Carroll, MIA ($0.497m)
  • 106. Nickell Robey, BUF & Melvin White, CAR ($0.495m)
  • 108. Leonard Johnson, TB ($0.483m)
  • 109. Chris Harris Jr, DEN ($0.466m)
  • 110. Isaiah Frey, CHI ($0.45m)

The average annual salary is $2.722 million, with a standard deviation of $2.873 million. As with a couple other positions that unusually had a standard deviation greater than the average, this indicates a few players (or in this case, a Derrelle Revis) who are just paid boatloads of money more than their peers. Are they worth it? What do you think?

The Top 10 cornerback contracts so far this season (contract quality5 in parentheses):

  • 1. Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (2.99)
  • 2. Tramaine Brock, SF & William Gay, PIT (2.06)
  • 4. Chris Harris Jr, DEN & Richard Sherman, SEA (1.85)
  • 6. Will Blackmon, JAC (1.84)
  • 7. Alterraun Verner, TEN (1.81)
  • 8. Vontae Davis, IND (1.78)
  • 9. Alan Ball, JAC (1.77)
  • 10. Corey White, NO (1.75)

And it’s Honey Badger in front! Congratulations to Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim! And apologies to the Cardinals for their bad luck that Mathieu went out for the season two days ago. That just sucks. But hey, at least he’s really good and you’re not paying him very much money and he’s only a rookie! It could be worse…

… and the Worst 10 contracts (so far):

  • 101. Cary Williams, PHI (-1.93)
  • 102. Darrelle Revis, TB (-1.94)
  • 103. Chris Houston, DET (-2.03)
  • 104. Charles Tillman, CHI (-2.11)
  • 105. Derek Cox, SD (-2.58)
  • 106. Brandon Carr, DAL (-2.81)
  • 107. Ike Taylor, PIT (-3.19)
  • 108. Brandon Flowers, KC (-3.39)
  • 109. Antonio Cromartie, NYJ (-3.43)
  • 110. Cortland Finnegan, STL (-5.5)

Ladies and gentlemen, Cortland Finnegan! A -5.5! AAAUUUGGGHHH!!! That is so, so, so bad. A few players had -3 or so (they may have since improved, or worsened ). Guard Davin Joseph had a -4.78. A -5.5 through thirteen games… There are a couple more things I want to point out (like Darrelle Revis!), but I just… I’m done. There are no words. -5.5.


  1. Well, not really. I’ll be doing this all again, bigger and better, with even MOAR analysis, at the end of the season. 
  2. He only makes $7.5 million a year. He’s so bad is just doesn’t even make sense. He broke the analysis. I’m still working on it. 
  3. Yeah, there are some exceptions. I said that! But when you look at all the starting defensive players in the league, that’s 11 * 32 = 352. How many can you name off the top of your head? How many of those don’t play for your team? 20? 30? The vast majority of them lack “star power”. I may not be able to measure it, but I know it when I see it. Most guys don’t have it. If most guys did have it, we’d have to call it something else, or move to Lake Wobegon. 
  4. Currently PFF’s worst graded receiver with a -13.9 through Week 14. 
  5. Reminder: contract quality is determined by how a player’s on-field performance, relative to the average using standard deviations, relates to his salary, relative to the average using standard deviations. CQ = performance SDs above/below the average – salary SDs above/below the average 

The Seahawks trounced the Saints, clinching the first playoff spot in the NFL, leaving 18 others with a somewhat reasonable chance or better of getting the remaining 11 spots (in my opinion). Meanwhile, I move onward with my continuing series, Economics and Sports Management Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst!) Contract in Football. And today, looking at defensive linemen, we may have found it.

As usual, a few notes before beginning. The defensive side is a little bit trickier. Most of the time, most teams have two corner backs and two safeties on the field, and either four linebackers and three defensive lineman, or three linebackers and four defensive linemen. In the former, a 3-4 (linemen-linebackers) defense, an outside linebacker usually takes on the primary pass rushing responsibility, while in a 4-3, it’s one of the outside linemen, a defensive end. But defensive ends in a 3-4 (generally) excel at stopping the run game and occupying offensive linemen, rather than getting to the quarterback. Pro Football Focus categorizes 3-4 and 4-3 defensive ends and outside linebackers all differently, believing their differences warrant it. They’re the player performance experts, so I’ll follow their lead. PFF lumps interior defenders from both formations together into two groups (linemen and linebackers), as their responsibilities are more similar.

Another thing: Corey Wootton has played 25% or more of the Bears’ snaps as a defensive tackle and 25% or more as a 4-3 defensive end. I’ve added his respective grades together to determine his contract quality, but other players move around on the defensive line too, even if they don’t register 25% or more of their snaps in multiple positions. While minor (most of the starters tend to play most of their snaps from the same spot), this analysis doesn’t account for that.

Lastly, there is a distinct possibility that in the beginning, father of football Walter Camp created J.J. Watt, and saw that he was good. Like, really good. Seriously J.J. Watt is pretty good at this whole playing football thing. Anyone who doesn’t think Watt deserves to be the defensive player of the year (an award he certainly won’t win given that the Texans are 2-10) best keep an open mind or stop reading right now. You have been warned.

And here are the Top 5 performing 3-4 defensive ends who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps through 12 games this season (PFF grade in parentheses):

  • 1. J.J. Watt, HOU (89.7)
  • 2. Calais Campbell, ARI (27.2)
  • 3. Cameron Jordan, NO (26.6)
  • 4. Kyle Williams, BUF (25.4)
  • 5. Sheldon Richardson, NYJ (25)

89.7! Excuse me, but like, OMFG! 89.7! Holy moly hot tamale am I right? PFF’s grading system might not be 100% perfect, but it is the same for every player. 89.7. That is 3.3 times more than the second best player at his position. We had a few outliers both at the top and the bottom among the offensive positions, but nothing like this. Nothing even close. Among the 45 3-4 defensive ends with enough snaps to qualify, the average grade counting Watt is a 7.05; without him, it’s a 5.17. The standard deviation with Watt is a 16.62; without him, it’s a 10.96. Fortunately, even a (super tremendous) outlier like Watt doesn’t affect his peers’ contract quality much. CQ = # performance SDs above/below the average – # of salary SDs above/below the average. As both the average and standard deviation are proportionally affected, the contract qualities of 3-4 defensive ends are still comparable among one another and across positions. So just one more time, J.J. Watt with an 89.7 grade through 12 games. Wow.1

Here are the Bottom 5 performing 3-4 defensive ends:

  • 41. Demarcus Dobbs, SF (-7)
  • 42. Datone Jones, GB (-7.8)
  • 43. Ziggy Hood, PIT (-9.2)
  • 44. B.J. Raji, GB (-10.8)
  • 45. Kendall Reyes, SD (-17.8)

B.J. Raji showing yet again that you don’t have to be good to be popular. Raji gets State Farm commercials and so far as I know all Watt does are the fantasy football and NFL Play60 ones.2 Speaking of raking it in, here are the Top 5 paid 3-4 defensive ends (average annual salaries from Spotrac.com, in millions of dollars, in parentheses):

  • 1. Calais Campbell, ARI ($11 million)
  • 2. Tyson Jackson, KC ($10.985m)
  • 3. Darnell Dockett, ARI ($9.333m)
  • 4. Antonio Smith, HOU ($7.1m)
  • 5. Desmond Bryant, CLE ($6.8m)

Campbell is tops of both lists, and goodness, are the Cardinals spending a lot at this position. Here are the Bottom 5 paid 3-4 defensive ends:

  • 41. Cedric Thornton, PHI & Tom Johnson, NO & Demarcus Dobbs, SF ($0.465m)
  • 44. Corbin Bryant, BUF ($0.45m)
  • 45. Tony Jerod-Eddie, SF ($0.43m)

Note that while Dobbs is the fifth worst player so far, he’s the third least paid! With multiple injuries on their line this season, the 49ers have at least not overspent on backup talent. The average salary for 3-4 defensive ends is $2.983 million, with a standard deviation of $2.83 million. Want to guess which team has gotten the most for their money?

Here are the Top 5 contracts among 3-4 defensive ends (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. J.J. Watt, HOU (5.04)
  • 2. Cameron Jordan, NO (1.55)
  • 3. Mike Daniels, GB (1.39)
  • 4. Muhammad Wilkerson, NYJ (1.29)
  • 5. John Hughes, CLE (1.28)

Correct, the answer is J.J. Watt, with a 5.04. What a guy. The previous best was a 3.17 from Jimmy Graham. There are still four games left on the season, but… J.J. Watt. That is all. Congratulations to Texans General Manager Rick Smith!

Here are the Worst 5 contracts among 3-4 defensive ends:

  • 41. Stephen Bowen, WAS (-1.64)
  • 42. Desmond Bryant, CLE (-1.83)
  • 43. B.J. Raji, GB (-1.92)
  • 44. Tyson Jackson, KC (-2.63)
  • 45. Darnell Dockett, ARI (-2.79)

So all that money the Cardinals are spending may not be such a good idea. In fact Calais Campbell, also of the Cardinals, is 40th with a -1.62, despite having the second highest grade. Campbell and Dockett just aren’t worth what they’re paid. And I can only assume State Farm Insurance probably knows not to waste money like the Packers and got what they wanted from Raji in those commercials.

Onto 4-3 defensive ends! Here are the Top 5 (so far):

  • 1. Robert Quinn, STL (54.4)
  • 2. Michael Johnson, CIN (24.2)
  • 3. Rob Ninkovich, NE (19.9)
  • 4. Cameron Wake, MIA (17.8)
  • 5. Michael Bennett, SEA (15.8)

Robert Quinn! He’s no J.J. Watt, but that’s still some serious dominance, a grade more than twice as good as second place. Quinn gets pressure (a hurry, a hit, or a sack) on the quarterback 15.5% of the time he rushes the passer, tops in the league at his position by 1.7% over Michael Bennett. (Even Watt only registers a 13.5% in this stat, although it’s also not his primary job as he’s in a 3-4.) And here are the Bottom 5 performing 4-3 defensive ends:

  • 46. Derek Wolfe, DEN (-14.1)
  • 47. Jason Hunter, OAK (-14.8)
  • 48. Shea McClellin, CHI (-18.8)
  • 49. Mathias Kiwanuka, NYG (-22.4)
  • 50. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, TB (-25.4)

The average grade among these fifty players is a 1.84, with a standard deviation of 12.68. That’s enormous. In the industry, we say there is “a #$*&ton” of variation in the quality of play from 4-3 defensive ends. As for their pay?

Here are the Top 5 paid 4-3 defensive ends:

  • 1. Julius Peppers, CHI ($14m)
  • 2. Charles Johnson, CAR ($12.667m)
  • 3. Jared Allen, MIN ($12.212m)
  • 4. Chris Long, STL ($12.05m)
  • 5. Michael Johnson, CIN ($11.175m)

Lots of big names. And here are the Bottom 5:

  • 46. Everson Griffen, MIN ($0.583m)
  • 47. Jonathan Massaquoi, ATL ($0.567m)
  • 48. David Bass, CHI ($0.552m)
  • 49. Derrick Shelby, MIA ($0.483m)
  • 50. Eugene Sims, STL ($0.473)

The average salary is $4.084 million, with a standard deviation of $3.732 million. Note how much less variation there is among their pay, where the standard deviation is less than the average. This suggests some are greatly overpaid, and some greatly underpaid. Who, specifically?  Here are the Best 5 contracts among 4-3 defensive ends (so far):

  • 1. Robert Quinn, STL (4.61)
  • 2. Rob Ninkovich, NE (1.79)
  • 3. Greg Hardy, CAR (1.75)
  • 4. Shaun Phillips, DEN (1.42)
  • 5. Lamarr Houston, OAK (1.39)

When you so thoroughly dominate your position like Watt and Quinn (but NOT Adrian Peterson, or Calvin Johnson, or a host of other players who are the best but not by a great margin), you are well worth the investment. Congratulations to Rams General Manager Les Snead! Of course, the celebration may be short-lived. Here are the Worst 5 contracts among 4-3 defensive ends:

  • 46. Charles Johnson, CAR (-1.86)
  • 47. Chris Long, STL (-2.06)
  • 48. Mathias Kiwanuka, NYG (-2.27)
  • 49. Jared Allen, MIN (-2.44)
  • 50. Julius Peppers, CHI (-2.74)

Sure enough, Chris Long on the other end of the line has played okay, but for the fourth most expensive contract at $12m+ a year, he needs to do more to earn it. Similarly Jared Allen and Julius Peppers may be the classic, old-school veteran stars, but they haven’t met the bill on the field this season.

Here we are with our last position of the day, or rather, two positions, as nose tackles (of the 3-4 defense) and defensive tackles (of the 4-3 defense) have nearly identical responsibilities. The Top 5 performing interior defensive linemen are:

  • 1. Gerald McCoy, TB (44.9)
  • 2. Ndamukong Suh, DET (32.7)
  • 3. Jurrell Casey, TEN (31.9)
  • 4. Damon Harrison, NYJ (28.7)
  • 5. Jason Hatcher, DAL (27.1)

Gerald McCoy sits firmly atop the field, joining Watt and Quinn in the “Players Offensive Linemen and Quarterbacks Around the League Have Nightmares About” category. Here are the Bottom 5:

  • 65. Akeem Spence, TB & Roy Miller, JAC (-12.4)
  • 67. Domata Peko, CIN (-13.3)
  • 68. Nick Hayden, DAL (-20.8)
  • 69. Chris Jones, NE (-21.6)

Hayden and Jones… blegh. Among interior defensive linemen the average grade is a 5.52, with a standard deviation of 12.53. That’s high, but there’s much less variation among interior defensive linemen than there is on the outside. As for compensation, these are the Top 5 paid interior defensive linemen:

  • 1. Ndamukong Suh, DET ($13.079m)
  • 2. Gerald McCoy, TB ($12.687m)
  • 3. Haloti Ngata, BAL ($9.705m)
  • 4. Geno Atkins, CIN ($9.125m)
  • 5. Randy Starks, MIA ($8.45m)

Suh and McCoy are tops of both lists, while Geno Atkins probably would be up there on performance were it not for his season ending injury some weeks ago. Among the three defensive positions I’ve analyzed, no one has been among the worst players while getting paid the most, which was a regular occurrence on the offensive side. Curious. Here are the Bottom 5 paid interior defensive linemen:

  • 65. Drake Nevis, DAL ($0.555m)
  • 66. Cam Thomas, SD ($0.4953m)
  • 67. Joe Vellarno, NE ($0.495m)
  • 68. Damon Harrison, NYJ ($0.482m)
  • 69. Brandon Deaderick, JAC ($0.458m)

The average salary is $2.652 million, with a standard deviation $2.807 million. Curious that while player performance varies less among interior defensive linemen compared to other positions, their salaries vary more, with the rare salary standard deviation greater than the average. But who got the best deal? These are the Top 5 contracts:

  • 1. Jurrell Casey, TEN (2.81)
  • 2. Damon Harrison, NYJ (2.62)
  • 3. Jason Hatcher, DAL (1.95)
  • 4. Malik Jackson, DEN (1.53)
  • 5. Karl Klug, TEN (1.49)

Congratulations to Titans General Manager Ruston Webster! An inspiration to children named Ruston everywhere. And here are the Worst 5 contracts among interior defensive linemen:

  • 65. Ndamukong Suh, DET (-1.55)
  • 66. Ryan Pickett, GB (-1.61)
  • 67. Kendall Langford, STL (-1.69)
  • 68. Domata Peko, CIN (-2.1)
  • 69. Haloti Ngata, BAL (-2.3)

Ndamukong Suh, divisive, popular, and well paid, is in fact too well paid. Meanwhile Ngata makes the third Raven to perform the worst for his money this season, though a quarter still remains. I’ve been calling it a Flacco, but maybe I should just call it a Raven? We’ll see.

And that’s it for the defensive line! Check back later in the week for linebackers.


  1. I now feel even better about naming one of my fantasy teams “Watt You Talkin’ ‘Bout Willis”. Also in 2012 Watt earned a 101.6 grade, while second place (Muhammad Wilkerson, NYJ) was a 49.1. In 2011, as a rookie, he was fifth with a 25.5, while first place was a 46.5 (Justin Smith, SF). J.J. Watt is currently 24 years old. Coming off his senior season in high school as a tight end/ defensive end seven years ago, Rivals.com rated him a two start recruit, not at the top of his class in either position, and only the number seven prospect coming out of Wisconsin. Way to show ’em, J.J. I mean, damn. 
  2. But really how long until Watt’s elbow brace secures a million dollar endorsement deal? Months? 

First off I’d like to dedicate this column to Bill Barnwell, writer at Grantland, who has been pushing a nomentum agenda heavily in his columns this NFL season. After “momentum” came up a couple of times in my first Sh*t Announcers Say post, I thought I’d touch upon it a bit more, in a slightly different light. I’m not going to offer a bunch of numbers; plenty of people have already done that.1 No, I’m going to look at momentum theoretically.2

We sports fans have a lot of theories. We love our theories. We have theories for why that $*&%bird referee made a certain call when he did, what enabled Lebron James to finally win a championship (two of them, actually), and how the Fear the Beard movement propelled the Red Sox to their third world series title in ten years. Milorad Cavic and many others have their theories about Michael Phelps’ touch-out in the 2008 100-meter men’s butterfly Olympic final. Some theories even rise to such prominence that they get names, such as Dave Cirilli’s Ewing Theory. Personally, I have theories about which articles I read covering the 49ers during the week will help them play the best on Sunday3, and when they scored twice to take a 20-14 lead over the Saints in the fourth quarter last week, just after a friend had come over for a little bit, I almost begged him not to leave his seat on the couch.4 We see things, and we try to explain them. Conceptually, it’s like a science. We sports fans are just a little more fanatical about it, that’s all.

Unfortunately, that’s the problem. Struggling for objectivity is boring and lame, but it isn’t like science: It is science! When you watch a game and the momentum shifts in your team’s favor, and you go on to win, it sticks in your mind. “The game totally hinged on that play!” we say. “After that, we knew they couldn’t stop us. You could see it.” When you watch a game and the momentum shifts in your team’s favor, but they go on to lose (or the “momentum” shifts back), it’s forgotten or dismissed. “We had something going, but the game got out of hand.” But just because a team’s momentum didn’t come through once doesn’t mean it’s not responsible for all the times they actually won. After all, theoretically it makes sense, right? That team was in the zone! After that play they knew they were going to win. It was a huge confidence boost, and they put the other guys back on their heels.5

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. It’s just a coin! A fair coin, at that. It’ll come up heads 50% of the time and tails 50% of the time. Even if the coin wasn’t fair, there still wouldn’t be any momentum. If you knew a coin flipped heads 75% of the time, but while flipping there was a run of three tails in a row, would you next bet on heads or tails? Heads, of course. It comes up 75% of the time.6 If you think momentum plays a role in a coin flip, you may be beyond help. But if you agree it doesn’t, you’ve got to agree that momentum plays no role in sports as well.

BUT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT REAL PEOPLE, PLAYING SPORTS, NOT A STUPID COIN FLIP! Well…

In statistics (like, 101, don’t worry, it’s super simple) we say events are either independent or dependent. Coin flips are independent of each other. The outcome of one event does not change the probabilities of the outcomes of any of the others. Two events that would be dependent are whether I wear a rain jacket and whether or not it is raining. The probability that I wear a rain jacket increases dramatically when it is raining.

So sports. Does the outcome of a certain play, or game, or season, change the probabilities of the outcomes of other plays, or games, or seasons? The 49ers just gained a first down. Are they now more (or less) likely to gain another first down than they were before gaining the original first down? Or, the 49ers just won three games. Are they now more (or less) likely to win the fourth game than they would be otherwise? No and no. No! This is not to say the 49ers (and their opponents) are static. The 49ers may have figured out the other team’s defense. That would improve their chances of gaining a first down. They may have gotten better at playing football. That would improve their chances of winning. Those improvements may be reflected in outcomes (gaining a first down, winning a game), as outcomes are certainly dependent on those improvements. But those improvements are not “momentum”! Future outcomes are not the product of prior ones; they’re a product of what the team is doing. The outcomes themselves are independent of one another.

BUT, you say, WHAT THE TEAM IS DOING DEPENDS ON THEIR PREVIOUS OUTCOMES! Sure, teams respond to what’s happened, and may change their strategy, use different players, employ different techniques, etc. And that’s exactly my point. It’s that process, of evaluating performance and making changes, that drives outcomes.

*Hey, over here! Say we have a fair coin that flips heads 50% of the time. We’re having a coin flipping contest (whoo!) and at halftime, we switch to a weighted coin that flips heads 75% of the time. In the second half we flip heads twice in a row. Are we more likely to flip heads on our third flip than we were on our flips in the first half? Yes. Is it because we flipped heads the last two times? No. It’s because this coin comes up heads 25% more often. The probability of flipping heads was 50%, but now it’s 75%, and we’re seeing the difference.

*Say the 49ers offense scores a touchdown against the Rams (whom we7 play this weekend) 50% of the time. At the end of the first half Robert Quinn is injured, also the 49ers have discovered Alec Ogletree and JoLonn Dunbar get out of position on screen passes. These changes improve the 49ers chances of scoring a touchdown to 75%. They come out of half time and score touchdowns on their first two possessions. Are the 49ers more likely to score on their third possession than they were on their possessions in the first half? Yes. Is it because they scored on their last two possessions? No. It’s because Robert Quinn is injured and they are now exploiting Ogletree’s and Dunbar’s weaknesses! The probability of scoring a touchdown was 50%, but now it’s 75%, and we’re seeing the difference.

That’s all football is. Theoretically, that’s all sports are: a coin flip, and the weight of the coin is always changing. Players practice (and take performance enhancing drugs) to weight the coin in their favor. Head coaches spend hours reviewing tape and game planning to weight the coin in their favor. Peyton Manning makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage to weight the coin in his favor. There are no guarantees, and there are a lot of coins. The probability of Dustin Pedroia getting on base coin. The Lebron James free throw coin. The Landon Donovan penalty kick coin. The Jim Harbaugh challenge coin. There are a lot of coins, and they all contribute to The Coin, the probability of winning coin. It could be weighted heavily towards your opponent, as was the 2008 Detroit Lions coin, or strongly in your favor, as was the 2007 New England Patriots coin. But no matter what you do (as those same Patriots would be sure to remind you), the outcome of The Coin is never 100% certain.

So the game starts and maybe the 49ers will score a touchdown 30% of the time against the Rams. After one drive the Rams change their coverage, weighting the coin in their favor, down to 28%. The 49ers try a new wrinkle, weighting the coin in their favor to 31%. Vernon Davis misses a couple drives with a cramp, weighting the coin down to 22%. So it goes. On and on. And if you think looking at the numbers like that takes the fun out of sports, get some glasses, because you’re seeing sports all wrong. Those changes– the freak occurrences, the constant adjustments in preparation and strategy– are what make sports great. And fun. Win or lose.


  1. Again, to get you started, check out the Hot-Hand fallacy. Also a more friendly Bill Barnwell Grantland piece. And an even friendlier New York Times piece
  2. Jeez, it’s almost like I went to a college where a bunch of people wore “That’s all well and good in practice… but how does it work in theory?” t-shirts. Oh wait, I did! Long live Thompson House, and our blessed cake business! 
  3. Surely reading all of Matt Maiocco’s content before kickoff demonstrates my love as a fan, and will be rewarded? Though actually, I didn’t get to all of it before they beat Washington on Monday. But whatever. 
  4. He did, and the 49ers never scored again, losing 23-20. SEE WHAT I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH? 
  5. They made a statement! Changed the complexion of the game. Dictated the game. Took the driver’s seat. Could smell blood.  Answered the call. Started to make some noise. Fired on all cylinders. Hit their stride. Hit a turning point. Turned the corner. Turned the tide. Set the tone. Raised the bar. Played with swagger. Played with a sense of urgency. Were on a mission. Were off to the races. Made a stand up play. Made a gutsy play. Made a textbook play. I could go on… 
  6. An obligatory link to the Gambler’s Fallacy. Three tails in a row doesn’t make heads any more likely either. 
  7. Yes, I say “we” frequently when talking about the team I root for, in this case the San Francisco 49ers. My San Francisco 49ers. Who are (obviously) Jed York’s San Francisco 49ers. Get over it. 

Last year the Kansas City Chiefs finished 2-14, tied with Jacksonville for worst in the league. The league office officially declared them the worst when granting them the first pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, using the strength of schedule tiebreaker. Back in Week 2 of this season, plenty of “The Chiefs have already matched their win total” talk was going around. While a great many people expected the Chiefs to play a great deal better, before the season I don’t think many had the Chiefs losing their first game in Week 11, on the road, against Peyton Manning, to fall to 9-1. And like Jim Harbaugh’s takeover of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, most of the players remained on the team. Despite losing all those games, and despite that the Pro Bowl is a so-so indicator of talent, the 2012 Chiefs still fielded 6 Pro Bowlers, as many or more than 27 of the league’s 32 teams.1 The story was they were an okay team, hindered by terrible coaching and quarterbacking, with bad luck and tragedy thrown in. And like the 2011 49ers, the solution was a competent coach guiding Alex Smith’s check-downs, a solid running back, and a terrific defense to one of the best records in football. So what’s more impressive? The 2012 Chiefs going 2-14, or the 2013 Chiefs starting 9-1?

Before discussing the Chiefs, an anecdote. While looking for numbers relating to this piece, I came across a hilarious, embarrassing, presumably unnoticed error on Bleacher Report. In his article, Andrew Garda indicated the Chiefs’ strength of schedule this season was a .473 based on the record of their opponents last season, who combined to go 121-135. This was good for 5th easiest schedule in the league. The problem is those numbers of wins and losses. 121 + 135 = 256 games the Chiefs’ opponents played last season. As they each played 16 games (the playoffs are excluded), 256 / 16 = 16 teams the Chiefs play each season. Peachy, right? Wrong. Very very wrong. The Chiefs have 13 opponents every season. They play 16 games, but they play the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders twice each in intra-division match-ups. The Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders were double counted to reach that 256 game total. In 2012 the Broncos finished 13-3, the Chargers 7-9, and the Raiders 4-12. Removing those numbers from the total, you get 97-111.2 You are still left with the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders records in this figure, just only counted once. The actual strength of schedule the Chiefs face this season is a .466. Only a .006 difference? Well, the same article had the Raiders with the 4th easiest schedule with a .469, only .004 ahead of the Chiefs. Of course, this double counted their division opponents as well. What a mess. I’m not going to go back and calculate each teams strength of schedule properly, but the message is clear: Beware the Internet!

When outlining each of the Chiefs’ seasons, I used football’s Pythagorean numbers a lot. It’s a way of gauging how many games a team “should” have won using their total points scored and allowed over the course of a season. Bill Barnwell of Grantland explains it, and some other good NFL stats, in this article. I also used this Pythagorean metric to determine strength of schedule. That number represents the percentage of games the Chiefs’ opponents “should” have won, against all competition. On to the Chiefs!

The 2012 Kansas City Chiefs

  • Record: 2-14, .125 (tied for worst in league)
  • Pythagorean Wins: 2.6 (under-performed by 0.6, 12th unluckiest in league)
  • Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage: 16% (worst in league)
  • Pythagorean Strength of Schedule: .513
  • Record in Games Decided by 7 Points or Fewer: 2-3
  • Turnover Margin: -24 (tied for worst in league)
  • Sum PFF Quarterback Grade: -17.7 (Matt Cassel -4.9, Brady Quinn -12.8)
  • Previous Record of Head Coach: 26-41, .388 (Romeo Crennel)
  • Dead Money: $2,462,176

The 2013 Kansas City Chiefs

  • Record: 9-1, .9 (tied for 2nd best in league)
  • Pythagorean Wins: 7.7 (over-performed by 1.3, 4th luckiest in league)
  • Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage: 77.4% (3rd in league)
  • Pythagorean Strength of Schedule: .421
  • Record in Games Decided by 7 Points or Fewer: 3-0
  • Turnover Margin: +15 (1st in league)
  • Sum PFF Quarterback Grade: -4.5 (Alex Smith -4.5, Chase Daniel 0.0 on 3 snaps)
  • Previous Record of Head Coach: 130-93-1, .583 (Andy Reid)
  • Dead Money: $16,667,470

The Improvement

  • Record: +7 games/ +.775 and counting
  • Pythagorean Wins: +5.1 wins and counting
  • Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage: +61.4%
  • Pythagorean Strength of Schedule: -.092
  • Record in Games Decided by 7 Points or Fewer: +2
  • Turnover Margin: +39
  • Sum PFF Quarterback Grade: +13.2
  • Previous Record of Head Coach: +78.5/ +.195
  • Dead Money: +$14,205,294

Yeesh. When the only thing that gets worse from one season to the next is the opposition, a team wins a lot more games. Oh, actually the Chiefs are spending $14 million more on players who don’t play for them than they were last year? Well, ignoring that it’s a close call, but I’m going to go ahead and declare the 2013 Chiefs more impressive at being good than the 2012 Chiefs were impressive at being bad. Congratulations to the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs! Proof of what can happen when you significantly upgrade your quarterback3 and coaching situation.

A few other teams have enjoyed similarly large improvements in the past. The 1999 Rams (13-3), 2004 Steelers (15-1), and 2012 Colts (11-5) all improved by nine wins over the previous season. The 1999 Colts (13-3) and the 2008 Dolphins (11-5) improved by 10, tying for the NFL record. With six games remaining, the Chiefs have already improved by seven wins. The six remaining are home for the Chargers, Broncos, and Colts and at the Redskins, Raiders, and Chargers. I think they’ll at least get to 12-4, tying the record. Hell, I’ll say that they are So Impressive this season that they’ll get to 13-3, and set an NFL record by improving 11 wins from the previous season. Of course, a part of me hopes they lose the rest of their games; the 49ers get their 2nd round pick in the daft.4


  1. And all other teams with 6+ Pro Bowlers made the playoffs, let alone got to .500. 
  2. If you still don’t believe me that this is bad, 97 + 111 = 208. 208 / 16 = 13, the actual number of teams the Chiefs play every season. They play 10 games against opponents they only play once, and 6 against 3 opponents they play twice. When determining their strength of schedule, one team gets one record. You can’t count the Broncos twice because they play them twice. Yes, it does make a difference. 
  3. You may notice, that quarterback improvement is more than a full standard deviation. When I looked at QBs last week, the standard deviation of performance was a 10.4. 
  4. That Alex Smith guy? He got us TWO second rounders, one last year, one this year. And he beat the Saints in a home playoff game. And he still has yet to start two straight seasons with the same offensive coordinator. What a guy. 
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