Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders drops by to talk about the matchups on this first weekend of the NFL playoffs
Aaron Schatz: Hey there, Baseball Prospectus and Football Outsiders readers. Welcome to a little series we're calling Football Fridays, where the FO staff will be sharing our sabermetric-style views on the NFL playoffs over the next few weeks. You get me today, Michael David Smith next week, Bill Barnwell before the conference championships, and then me again before the Super Bowl. I'll also take questions from fans of the other 20 teams about what their favorite squads should do this off-season. Thanks again to BP for the opportunity to use their chat space while they work 'round the clock finishing up BP 2008. And off we go...
Bri (KW): Of all the teams who rested guys the last week, who will it hurt from a momentum stand point and who will it help from a getting healthy/ready for the playoffs standpoint?
Thanks Aaron, keep up the great work!
Aaron Schatz: Thanks, man. I have to be honest, I'm not one of those people who thinks that teams sitting players "lose momentum" going into the playoffs. Philadelphia sat starters in 2004 for two weeks, and made it to the Super Bowl anyway. Indianapolis lost in their first game in 2005, but I don't think sitting starters was really the issue there. A lot of people see the Tampa Bay-New York game as making some sort of statement about whether it is better to rest players or risk injuries by playing them in meaningless end-season games, but the idea that this is a test case sort of assumes that these teams are equal in every other way, which is of course ridiculous. The fact is, the Giants looked amazing against the Patriots but they had some huge injuries, most importantly center Shaun O'Hara.
As far as helping with injuries, the answer has to be the Colts -- that team has had a ton of injuries, and they should have almost everyone back to play next week.
sean (jacksonville,fl): everyone seems to be on jax..makes me wonder..what do you think?
high scoring game?
Aaron Schatz: I think there are two strange things about the Pittsburgh-Jacksonville game.
First, people think of Pittsburgh as a great running team, and they think of Jacksonville as a great run defense, but actually those are the two weaknesses of the two teams.
Second, people are acting like the Jaguars blew the Steelers out of the water a couple weeks ago. Yes, the trends for these teams are shockingly positive for Jacksonville and negative for Pittsburgh, but still, that was a one-touchdown game. The Jaguars didn't score the winning touchdown until there were two minutes left. The Jags are the favorite to win this game, but is isn't quite the fait accompli that people think.
As for high-scoring, both teams are good on both sides of the ball so I don't see a reason to expect it to be specifically high-scoring or low-scoring. It could be either.
mafrth77 (Boston): are you on WEEI today?
Aaron Schatz: Yes, which is why this chat was moved back from 1pm to noon.
Tim (New Brunswick): Have you run another similarity score on Eli Manning since the infamous Jay Schroeder comparison before last season?
Aaron Schatz: This seems to be a regular feature of Football Outsiders, doesn't it? Eli Manning is like the similarity score superstar. OK, let's see what we can do here...
Before this season, I think I had changed my tune on Manning. Remember, Schroeder actually got worse when he hit the age where he should have been peaking. So by the start of the year, I had changed from saying "Eli is Jay Scroeder trapped in the body of a Manning" to "Eli is Jim Everett trapped in the body of a Manning."
So, when we look at players similar over a three-year span to Eli Manning from 2005-2007, we get... Jim Everett, although not in the first spot.
9 of the top 10 similar players are the same four guys in different seasons. The most similar player is Tommy Kramer of the Vikings from 1979-1981. He's also number two, from 1980-1982. (The similarity scores do include adjustments for age and career experience.) Third place is Jim Zorn from 1978-1980. Fourth, sixth, and 10th are all... Jim Everett. Fifth and ninth are both Aaron Brooks. Seventh and eighth are both Drew Bledsoe.
Eliminate Brooks' running ability, and doesn't that sound like a very good list of players who share with Eli Manning the same strengths, weaknesses, inconsistency, and frustrating inability to meet their expected potential? Except for Brooks, they all had long careers, made a couple Pro Bowls, but never were really top quarterbacks. That's how Eli Manning's career will go as well.
jevonjaconi (Green Bay, WI): Based on Brett Favre's unusually good (for 38yr old QBs) season, how do you think he would do if he came back for another season at 39? Thank you!
Aaron Schatz: I think you would have to expect some regression from Favre, given both his age and the fact that this season was a huge jump over how well he played in 2005-2006. However, he would still be an above-average quarterback, and I don't see why he should not come back if he wants to. However, if he does come back, the Packers might want to consider trying to deal Aaron Rodgers and then drafting a new apprentice in the second or third round.
At this point, Favre is really unique among NFL players. I just ran the three-year similarity scores, and the most similar player to Favre's last three years is Warren Moon from 1993-1995. The next three most similar players are Brett Favre. Favre is also the eighth, 11th, and 13th most similar player to himself. Even after applying the penalties for age and experience, there just aren't many quarterbacks playing at this level after their early 30's.
Jamie (Cali): Hello!Maroney was expected to be a top 10 back this year. With Brady probably moving back toward his mean in production-do you expect Maroney to be a top 10 back next year?
Aaron Schatz: No. I think we can now safely assume that Bill Belichick simply does not use a running back in the way that would make him a top 10 fantasy football player.
This was my big problem this year with the KUBIAK fantasy football projections -- I really misread a lot of playing time battles. One of the things to do next year is try to project running backs without a subjective playing time variable, and either using that for the main projection, or using it to really improve the "risk colors" for running backs.
abernethyj (Chapel Hill, NC): Am I wrong to believe in Todd Collins to lead the Redskins to a first-round upset of the Seahawks?
Aaron Schatz: No. Fans of a team should always believe. Hope, man, that's what gives sports meaning, right?
Seriously, Todd Collins has been great these last four weeks. He clearly understands the Al Saunders offense, and that opens up all kinds of possibilities that weren't there with Jason Campbell. On the other hand, I think Bill Simmons has a point with something he brought up when I did his podcast this week. A lot of these backup quarterbacks who start hot end up cooling off once opponents have enough film to find their weaknesses. Think of Damon Huard this year compared to last. I think the Redskins have to look at their quarterback situation for 2008 in the same way, with one advantage: Jason Campbell is way, way better than Brodie Croyle.
As for the game this weekend: Seattle really wasn't that much better than Washington this year -- the Seahawks played the easiest schedule in the league, while Washington played the fourth-hardest, which is a big reason why superficially the Seahawks look better -- so the Redskins definitely have a good shot here. Seattle is still the favorite, though. Home field advantage doesn't determine games absolutely, but it is still a factor.
My previews will go up later today on FootballOutsiders.com, but an interesting thing in this game is the way both teams are much better passing even though the media will concentrate on their running backs, Portis and Alexander. Yes, I said BOTH teams are better passing -- and that was true when Campbell was quarterback just as much as it has been true with Collins at quarterback.
The other big difference is the strengths of the defenses. Seattle has a great front seven but I still have questions about their secondary, and a veteran like Collins can find the holes in that Cover-2. The Redskins have a nice secondary but no pass rush whatsoever and they aren't so swell against the run.
Doug (York, PA): Aaron, don't you love regression to the mean? Are there any teams that stand out this year as teams that could very easily suffer from the Super Bowl Loser's Curse? Maybe Green Bay?
Aaron Schatz: Well, I haven't had time to look at any kind of 2008 projections yet, but people know some of the basics of what to look for -- the third-down rebound, teams that suffer a very low number of injuries in a successful year, teams that depend more on defense and special teams than on offense, etc.
Actually, the Patriots fit the first two items, but a regression for them just makes them 13-3, so big whoop.
I don't think the Packers quite fit. There isn't really a team that jumps out. Tampa Bay and Seattle were actually worse on offense on third downs than they were the rest of the time... the Colts and Cowboys dealt with plenty of injuries and didn't have any third down weirdness... Yeah, nobody really sticks out in my mind right now.
Brian (Brooklyn NY): Have you watched any of the bowl games? Any players in particular impress you?
Aaron Schatz: Come back next week and ask Michael David Smith. I really don't know college football at all, somewhat on purpose because at a certain point you can only concentrate on a certain number of things. I leave that to MDS, Russell Levine, Dave Lewin, Brian Fremeau, etc.
I will say that Colt Brennan likely played himself out of the top two rounds and thus out of consideration by the Lewin Career Forecast system despite his awesome collegiate completion percentage.
Steve (North Dakota): When do these 3 RB's go in fantasy drafts next year?
Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden
Aaron Schatz: I will be shocked if Peterson is not the first or second pick in every single fantasy draft in the country next year, along with LT2. Gore will probably go end first round, depending on whether the 49ers are aggressive in finding new offensive linemen this off-season. McFadden of course I have no idea whatsoever, it depends on who takes him. He probably goes to one of the teams that has to coin flip from 3-5, since Miami and St. Louis are set at the position. Weird as this is to say, the best team for him is probably Oakland. They still can't pass-block at all but their run blocking this year was reasonable.
Jim Clancy (Exhibition Stadium): One type of trade that's relatively common in the NHL and MLB that's fairly rare in the NFL is the veteran dump at the deadline from an also-ran to a contender. I have my own theories, but what's your take on this?
Aaron Schatz: The NFL is just not conducive to in-season trades. First, the deadline is Week 6. After six games, every team in the league is still in the playoff hunt, even Oakland. Second, you have to consider the salary cap rules and the way trades cause the signing bonus to accelerate on the cap of the team trading the player. Third, it takes time to master a playbook and learn a new offensive or defensive scheme. It's not like you just send a guy to the batter's box with a scouting report on the pitcher and say, "OK, now go hit." There's way more teamwork involved.
charlesf (nyc): How do you see the future for the Texans?
And why was Rivers jawing at Cutler a few weeks ago?
Aaron Schatz: Well, I have no idea about the psychodrama between the quarterbacks of the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos... we're not in the locker rooms and there is a reason we're called "Football Outsiders."
However, I have pretty strong views on the Texans. I wrote the chapter in PFP 2007 and as far as I am concerned this season bore out everything I said in that chapter. The defense has four budding superstars and is poised to take a huge leap forward as soon as they can upgrade the other seven players on that defense from bad to mediocre (especially the other defensive backs besides Dunta Robinson). The offense is on a fast track to boring mediocrity, especially now that they are talking about bringing Ahman Green back again at the age of 31. That offense has two weapons, that's it: Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels, and Daniels is a complementary piece, not a star. The offensive line is still an issue, even if they finally have a quarterback who doesn't take 100 sacks. And Houston is a team that is going to be hit with the third-down rebound: The offense was 23rd on first down, 12th on second down, but 7th on third down.
Brian (Brooklyn NY): How big is the dropoff (if at all) from Vince Young to Kerry Collins?
Aaron Schatz: The dropoff is in the running game, I think, because of the way that scrambling quarterbacks force the defense to watch the cutback lanes and therefore open up more room for Tennessee's uninspiring running backs. Passing the ball, honestly, there's no dropoff, and Collins may be better at this point. The Titans certainly trust him to throw the deep ball better.
I was goofing around at midseason with the idea of writing about the Tennessee quarterbacks. Would it be interesting to have a platoon where Collins plays the first 60 yards of the field and Young the last 40? The closer you get to the end zone, the less Collins' ability to throw deep is a help and the more Young is a threat to turn his scrambling into touchdowns. Of course, it would help if he scrambled better than he did in 2007...
Jim (Philly): Who do you think will be a better fantasy option next year-Willie Paker or Maurice Jones Drew?
Aaron Schatz: MJD. Quick, how many touchdowns did Willie Parker have this year?
That's right, two. That's a bit of a fluke, but there is something to be said for the fact that Parker needs the defense to be spread out to go on one of those 50-yard scampers. They aren't spread out in the red zone. MJD and Taylor are much more interchangeable in that area, as opposed to Parker and Davenport. You also have to expect that Taylor will eventually discover that he is 31 years old. That's one thing KUBIAK got wrong in 2007, but guess what, we're going to end up predicting Taylor to decline again in 2008. Eventually, age gets everyone.
Doug (York, PA): How many New England Patriots does it take to change a lightbulb?
Aaron Schatz: 53, darn it, this is a team and we play as a team.
Ted (Atlanta): Should Joe Thomas have been Offensive ROY? Peterson's candidacy seemed to rest on two monster games while Thomas was outstanding all season. Which would you rather have going forward?
Aaron Schatz: I have no problem with Peterson winning the Rookie of the Year award. He really did so much to bring that team and its fans hope, even if we might say that Thomas was more important to the Browns given the fact that Peterson was on a team that also had a strong defense. Going forward, no question: You take a Pro Bowl-level rookie left tackle over a Pro Bowl-level rookie running back every single day of the week and twice on Sundays.
(Except if you are scheduled for Monday Night Football, in which case you take Thomas twice on Mondays but only once on Sundays.)
Walter L (Orono): "I think we can now safely assume that Bill Belichick simply does not use a running back in the way that would make him a top 10 fantasy football player."
What about the last few games, when Maroney was doing very well? Belichick used him less earlier because Maroney was struggling in the newer wide open system the Moss/Brady Offense needed.
Belichick knows that optimally the running game needs to be respected for the passing game to open up, so why wouldn't he use Maroney as much as he can when he's started to find success?
Aaron Schatz: Three good fantasy football games. That's it, three. One of them because he happened to have two touchdowns for the first time this season. Listen, I'll sing the praises of Maroney and the Pats running game to anyone who will listen, I've been constantly talking about how this team can run when they need to, and they rank first in offensive rushing DVOA. But fantasy football and real football are different games. If they throw this same offense out there next year, that's another year where Kevin Faulk gets a lot of playing time. Add to that Maroney's clear injury issues, and the guy isn't going to have 300 carries, and he isn't going to be a top 10 FANTASY running back.
Or (Dallas): Hey, Aaron. Love your work on FO. How would you rank the three big FA corners this year? Obviously, Samuel is drawing the most hype. But Trufant has had a terrific year, and teams flat-out avoid Asomugha. Also, how much do you think these guys will cost to sign?
Aaron Schatz: Opening up the (still incomplete) game charting pass-run pivot...
I think everyone in the league now thinks of Samuel as the second-best cornerback in the league. The talk of him being some sort of system player is gone. Ron Jaworski and Greg Cosell were laughing at that idea when Tanier and I visited NFL Films this year. He's the top guy. The Pats have to pay through the nose to keep him, and he's going to get the money Nate Clements got.
Nnamdi Asomugha is great. He didn't qualify for listing in the game charting pass coverage stats piece I wrote a couple weeks ago because teams are throwing at him so rarely. However, his Stop Rate is 64%, right up there with the top guys like Roderick Hood and Champ Bailey and Samuel. As far as I'm concerned, he's right below Samuel on the totem pole of free agents. I wouldn't be shocked to see Oakland franchise him.
I would worry about Trufant. The fact is that he looks much better since Seattle moved towards playing a Cover-2 dominated defensive scheme. Let's all not forget the way he was schooled by Torry Holt in game after game when forced to play more man coverage. It isn't quite the Jason David situation, but if I ran a team that played mostly man coverage, I would not want to pay him what Seattle would probably pay to keep him. On the other hand, he would be an awesome addition for, say, Detroit or Buffalo.
Walter L (Orono): Okay; but do you agree that Maroney has the potential to be in the top 10; especially if Moss leaves?
Do you think Moss will leave?
Aaron Schatz: Hi again, Walter. You better believe that Randy Moss is the number one priority for the New England Patriots during the 2008 off-season. They won't let him leave unless some team offers to make him the highest-paid receiver in the game by a good margin, and Moss decides he would rather be miserable and absurdly super rich on a losing team than happy and just plain super rich on a winning team.
Frankly, with Samuel and Moss being so important, Donte Stallworth should just call his real estate agent right now.
Dan (LA): I need to pick a team to lose this week. I am leaning towards NYG but TEN is awful tempting. What do you think?
Aaron Schatz: Look, I appreciate that the Giants played one great game against the Patriots, but we've learned over the year that teams that are supposed to have "momentum" in the playoffs because of one awesome game really have nothing of the sort. A trend of 8-10 games tells you when a team has improved, not a trend of one game. All eight teams have a shot to win this weekend, of course, but looking at the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings, it isn't even close: Tampa Bay vs. New York is the biggest mismatch of the first round. That's even more true once you consider that Tennessee's defensive DVOA with Haynesworth in the lineup went from -13.5% to something like -23.5%.
Steve (New York): Can you coordinate something with Simmons for his picks next year? Like DVOA picking against him and his wife? I wonder how an objective system would do over the course of a season, betting wise...if it was legal.
Aaron Schatz: It is legal, in Canada and England and Nevada, and there is no reason why Football Outsiders would not consider offering some sort of prediction service to our Canadian, English, and Las Vegas-resident readers.
Yes, that's a hint for next year.
kenshin01 (la): what do the pats look to do with the 49ers pick?
Aaron Schatz: It was hilarious listening to sports radio around here, people asking if the Pats should take Darren McFadden back when the pick looked like it would be second or third. They aren't using the first-round back they have now enough to justify using the pick on him, are they really going to take another one?
Now that the pick is seventh, at least that talk is gone. The perfect pick would be Chris Long but he is probably gone by seven. Everyone knows the Pats need to get younger at linebacker but they just don't like drafting linebackers, because they don't feel rookies can learn the 3-4. Then again, they didn't like drafting running backs early until they took Maroney...
Actually, if Samuel leaves, that's the perfect spot to take whoever is considered the best defensive back in this year's draft -- Mike Jenkins or Malcolm Jenkins, or that kid from Miami, Kenny Phillips, who could be Rodney Harrison's eventual replacement with Brandon Meriweather switching to corner.
mattymatty2000 (Philly, PA): I'm betting over the course of running Football Outsiders you've done some work on momentum. Its something that you always hear in-game from announcers and between games from columnists. I was wondering what effect, if any, does momentum have on playoff games. Specifically I'm wondering if the Redskins have some advantage over Seattle because they have won four straight games while Seattle lost their previous game. Thanks, and keep up the great work!
Aaron Schatz: This sort of goes to my previous comments about Manning and the Giants and their win over the Patriots vs. their overwhelming trend of decline in the second half of this season.
In general, we've found -- through the research that produced the WEIGHTED DVOA formula -- that you learn more about a team concentrating on a period of roughly 12 weeks, rather than all 17. That's a lot more time than most people think will establish a trend, but we're generally big believers in looking at more data, not less.
On the other hand, the "secret sauce, football version" article Bill Barnwell did last year showed that regular DVOA had a better correlation with playoff success than weighted DVOA, which was a bit surprising.
Anyway, I don't think this means much for the Seahawks-Redskins game. The question I have when it comes to momentum is Dallas: This team has been AWFUL the last four weeks, but was the second-best team in the league in their first 12 games. Which team is the real Cowboys?
A question to ask MDS next week, perhaps...
Aaron Schatz: OK, WEEI will be calling in a bit, and then I have to finish the playoff previews for FO. Thanks for all the questions. MDS will be here next week at 1pm. Look for the FO playoff previews later today on FootballOutsiders.com -- this year I'm doing them Saturday/Sunday rather than AFC/NFC -- plus a new version of Bill Barnwell's "secret sauce." What it tells you about the 2007 playoffs will completely and totally blow your mind.