The final Football Friday of the season features Football Outsiders head man Aaron Schatz talking about Sunday's Super Bowl matchup.
Aaron Schatz (Football): Hey there, everybody. Time for our final Football Friday. For BP readers who are unfamiliar with my name, I run Football Outsiders, the pigskin arm of the Prospectus family, and authors of Pro Football Prospectus. I'll be taking your questions on Super Bowl XLII... or, if you are a fan of one of the other 30 teams, your questions on the off-season.
Obviously, this is a bit of an interesting Super Bowl. From an analytical, statistical perspective, it is a complete mismatch. But there's no such thing as a sure thing.
The official FO Super Bowl preview is here: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/2008/02/01/ramblings/game-previews/6079/
Or (Dallas): I simply don't understand people arguing that Randy Moss will not be a factor. The man's one of the best receivers in football; his impotence in the first playoff games is more a tip of the hat to Rashean Mathis and Antonio Cromartie than a detraction of Moss's abilities. He should be able to roast the Giant cornerbacks.
Aaron Schatz (Football): I will agree with you that Sam Madison and Corey Webster are not the equal of Rashean Mathis and Antonio Cromartie, although the Jaguars were actually covering Moss with Brian Williams and a safety. That's more to the point: Moss doesn't need to roast the Giants cornerbacks to be a factor. If he draws the attention of double coverage, he becomes a factor even if Tom Brady never throws him the ball. It leaves Wes Welker open, or it stops the Giants from rushing more than four. That's one of the interesting things about football: You only have 11 chess pieces to cover the other 11 chess pieces.
Josh (West Palm): The sides are evenly matched and the excitement is palpable. At 6:17 pm EST on Sunday, we'll finally have our answer. Give me some insight, I got $50 riding on this... HEADS or TAILS. Who ya' GOT?
Aaron Schatz (Football): It blows my mind that people will actually bet on something they know is 50-50, even though they have to pay a vig. It has to be the most ridiculous losing bet in the history of gambling.
But I'll go with Tails.
Tommy Bahama (Boston): Hey Aaron, your book was gold for 07! I loved it and recommended it to all my friends. Barnwell wasnt able to give me an accurate release date but how long after the draft is that thing going to be out? I also need your John Hancock on that thing so maybe you can create an early book signing schedule.
Aaron Schatz (Football): We go into an intense writing frenzy after the draft, because it is so hard to finalize anything until the draft is over. We end around June 1, we rush it into the printing process, and the goal is to be out around July 20.
Ben (Seattle): Without Jim Zorn, will Matt Hasselback regress to replacement level, or will his aging body do it for him?
Aaron Schatz (Football): I sometimes think that position coaches are a bit overrated. They can help younger players improve, but why should their departure suddenly cause veterans to forget everything they learned?
Just for fun, I did go run similarity scores for Mr. Hasselbeck, over his last three seasons. Enjoy:
John Elway 1991-1993
Brad Johnson 1999-2001
Jim Everett 1992-1994
Joe Montana 1985-1987
Archie Manning 1978-1980
Joe Theismann 1979-1981
Troy Aikman 1995-1997
Ron Jaworski 1980-1982
So Hasselbeck could become the best color analyst on television, or the worst color analyst on television. As for his quarterbacking future, age makes injury more likely, but otherwise, I think he'll be fine next year.
manhaus1 (Richmond): Ahmad Bradshaw is going to be better then Tiki Barber, right?
Aaron Schatz (Football): Bradshaw seems like a talented player, and he's the kind of running back the Patriots have trouble defending, but it does seem to me that the hype doesn't quite match the record here. We're talking about a guy who hardly played until Week 16. He had one huge game against Buffalo. He's been good in the playoffs, but not great.
Just for fun, I ran similarity scores on Bradshaw, just to see what came up for a guy who carried the ball only 23 times but averaged more than eight yards per carry. Some wacky names here: three guys who had careers, and three who didn't.
Dino Hall of the 1979 Browns, who was basically never heard from again.
Jerry Ellison of the 1995 Bucs, who had another 35 carries the next year for just 106 yards, and was basically never heard from again.
LaMont Jordan with the 2001 Jets. You know him. You also know Lorenzo Neal (!) from the 1993 Saints and Stephen Davis from the 1996 Redskins.
Finally, Gary Ellerson with the 1985 Packers. He got 161 carries over the next two years, but only averaged 3.6 yards per carry, and his career was over after 1987.
TGisriel (Baltimore): How much difference does stability in the offensive line make? Was the shuffling inthe offensive line this season a material factor in the Ravens' offensive woes?
Aaron Schatz (Football): Stability in the offensive line is important. We actually have an essay about this in the Cleveland chapter of Pro Football Prospectus 2007. All other things being equal, teams with increased offensive line continuity allow fewer sacks and gain more Adjusted Line Yards (our stat that filters out long runs to better measure consistent run blocking). Offensive line continuity is actually an important part of New England's recent success. Light, Mankins, Koppen, Neal, and Kaczur have been starting together now for almost three years, since Kaczur entered the starting lineup in Week 4 of 2005.
Ed Tato (Lawrence,KS.): How would you rate the following three players for fantasy football for the 2008 season. Ronnie Brown, Maroney and Marion Barber? Peace out.
Aaron Schatz (Football): What's interesting is that we've got three different questions asking me to rank running backs for fantasy football in 2008. They each list different running backs, but I picked Ed's question because Ed knows to put spaces after his commas. I'm not just the stat geek -- I'm also the grammar patrol.
Now, let's look at the players mentioned in all three questions: The three Ed mentions, plus Clinton Portis, Willie Parker, and Maurice Jones-Drew.
With Marion Barber, a lot depends upon Julius Jones. If Jones is elsewhere next year, and Barber is the clear starter and number one back in Dallas, he probably becomes the most valuable player on this list. He was worth as much in fantasy football as guys like Willis McGahee and Jamal Lewis, even though he had only two-thirds as many carries. If he gets 300 carries instead of 200, he's a stud.
I love MJD, but one of the mistakes we made last year was assuming that teams with a veteran back and a young back would gradually shift usage to the young back. Didn't happen, not in Jacksonville, or Atlanta, or Carolina. I don't think you can go into next year assuming MJD is going to carry the ball much more than he did this year.
Brown was amazing in half a season this year and he'll probably be very good in half a season next year. In the first half of the season, still recovering from the ACL injury, he won't be so good. Another one of the mistakes we made in last season's fantasy projections was assuming that just because Javon Walker recovered quickly from an ACL injury, everyone was going to recover quicker than they had historically. I think Donovan McNabb did a good job of proving what a stupid assumption that was.
Parker's injury is not one that will carry over to next year at all. We know the Steelers like to use him a lot, and his inconsistency from carry-to-carry means nothing to fantasy football players. All you care about is totals.
Portis actually isn't as old as you might think -- he'll be 27 next year. The injury concerns seem to be smaller now than they were a year ago, and he had a great fantasy year. In terms of rushing points alone, he was third behind only LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson.
Maroney is an excellent back but after this year, it is hard to go into 2008 believing that he will be used as much as these other players, except for Jones-Drew.
For fantasy purposes, I would rank these backs as follows: Barber (assuming he's a clear starter), Portis, Parker, MJD, Maroney, and Brown.
Justin Zeth (Altoona, PA): Allowing that there probably isn't any QB in NFL history whose first four seasons look remotely like Ben Roethlisberger's, did you try to run a comps list for him?
Aaron Schatz (Football): Yeah, no kidding. His yards per pass attempt were off the charts the first two years, far beyond what any other young quarterback had ever done, except for Marino. Then he was mediocre in 2006, and then he was fabulous again in 2007, with nearly twice as many touchdowns as any other season.
Running similarity scores for a three-year span... the closest similarity is a player who was a couple years older: Troy Aikman 1991-1993. You get the high completion percentages and yards per attempt totals, although Big Ben's 2007 touchdown total is way past anything Aikman did.
Second is another player who struggled in his third year as a starter, Brian Griese 2000-2002.
Third is Daunte Culpepper, 2001-2003. Culpepper threw many more interceptions in 2002, with a much lower completion percentage and yards per attempt number.
Then you've got Marc Bulger 2002-2004, Brett Favre 1992-1994, Tim Couch 2000-2002... if this sounds like a list of guys who bear no resemblance to Roethlisberger whatsoever, well, I agree.
By the way, the most similar single season to Ben Roethlisberger 2007 is Drew Brees 2004, by a ridiculous amount. The similarity score difference between Brees and the second-most similar single season (Pennington 2002) is equal to the difference between Pennington 2002 and the 27th most similar season.
havybeaks (Michigan): Isn't offensive line continuity vs. success a chicken-and-egg correlation? You said that consistent lines are successful, but unsuccessful lines never get the chance to be consistent.
Aaron Schatz (Football): Sure, but it is also true that consistent offensive lines featuring lesser-paid players are often better than an offensive line featuring a couple of big money free agent acquisitions. This year's Cleveland line was an exception, of course, but they'll have continuity from now on. Joe Thomas will be there for the next dozen years.
Nanook (Canada): Maybe you can't answer this but...What reaction do Bills fans have to their team playing 8 games in the next 5 yrs in Toronto? Seems to me if I lived in Buffalo I'd be less than thrilled.
Aaron Schatz (Football): I don't know how Buffalo fans feel, but if I was a Buffalo fan I would be thrilled. I would rather have my team playing eight games in Toronto over the next five years than playing 16 games in Los Angeles every single year, sometime within two years of whenever Ralph Wilson passes away. Buffalo is one of the smallest markets in the league, without the tradition and public ownership that keeps the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay. If an NFL team is going to move, it is most likely going to be the Bills or Jaguars. If this is the way to keep the team in that region, then by all means, play some games in Toronto.
Justin Zeth (Altoona, PA): I heard that some nut is spreading a rumor that the Cowboys are offering two first-rounders plus Marion Barber for the Dolphins' #1 pick. Setting aside that that's obviously 100% imaginary, that would be a competitor with the Herschel Walker deal as the worst trade in NFL history, right?
More to the point, given how much of your cap space you have to devote to their monster contracts, is a top-3 pick in the NFL draft the most overpriced commodity in sports? Does the lack of high-end trade action the last three years mean teams are finally wising up on this?
Aaron Schatz (Football): To answer your questions: Yes, this is imaginary. Yes, this would be the worst trade in NFL history. No, a top three pick is not the overpriced commodity in sports, I'm sure we could find something more overpriced, but it is high up there. Yes, teams are wising up on this.
Seriously, as good as Darren McFadden is, what are the odds that he will be better than Marion Barber?
bartleby (chicago): For those of us who have been looking forward to next year since October, should the Bears draft a QB, or should they go after McNabb or another veteran?
Aaron Schatz (Football): They should do both.
I love the McNabb to Chicago idea. I'm a statistical analyst, not a psychotherapist, but it certainly does seem like getting McNabb out of Philadelphia would be the healthiest thing for the Eagles and for McNabb himself. ACL injuries usually take more than a year to heal, it was clear that McNabb was more mobile and playing better near the end of the year. Chicago is his hometown, so he would be happy going there. It works well.
Then, they should also draft a quarterback to be McNabb's backup and heir apparent, sometime in the third or fourth round. Honestly, after watching Colt Brennan melt down in the Sugar Bowl, there is really just one first-round quarterback this year, Matt Ryan. If the Bears were to take a quarterback in the first round or even in the high second round, I don't think they are getting value.
shamah (NYC): I know Lewin was big on Kellen Clemens coming out of college, but his brief start with the Jets didn't inspire a lot of confidence. Is he still the long term answer at QB for them?
Aaron Schatz (Football): Well, we'll see. You have to give a guy more than just a few games before you decide on him. Also, we made a bit of a mistake on Clemens because we assumed he would be a little better than the projection stated -- because his games started in college were artificially low due to a broken leg his senior year. After researching more, Dave Lewin now believes that injuries don't make a difference in the projection.
Rob (Buffalo): Well at looks like Trent Edwards will be our QB going forward. Any thoughts on what you see his value is, would be greatly appreciated.(please say he could be a franchise QB)
Aaron Schatz (Football): I think Edwards would be a fine quarterback in a West Coast offense built around shorter routes. His strength is his head, not his arm. He's not going to turn into Tom Brady or anything like that, but he's good value on the dollar for the Bills.
Eli (New York): can I take a XLII break and ask you thoughts on Belichek's rebellious disciple, Eric Mangini? Is he, as one FO writer observed, eerily like Jim Mora II? Or does he show signs of being a successful NFL head coach?
Aaron Schatz (Football): I don't think we know yet. We've seen a good year, and we've seen a bad year. I will say that some of the decisions in that Browns-Jets game were really strange. Also, I must admit that I am shocked by how much Mangini -- a Belichick disciple -- does media and commercials. That has nothing to do with his coaching ability, it just surprises me.
On second thought, Eli from New York, don't you have something else you should be doing now, like practicing?
Little Danny (Potomac, MD): How do you think Jim Zorn will affect Jason Campbell's development next year bringing in the West Coast offense?
Aaron Schatz (Football): What is this, the 457th offensive system poor Jason Campbell has been forced to learn? Will somebody please give the guy a break and a little consistency? Also, isn't Campbell's strength is strength, and his arm? Doesn't he fit more of a downfield passing attack, rather than a short drop and read offense?
Finally, I think hiring your coordinators before you hire your head coach is just PHENOMENALLY STUPID. You need everyone to be on the same page as far as scheme and strategy.
mattymatty2000 (Philly, PA): The rumors are that Ocho Cinco may be on the trading block. Who is likely to end up with him and what is he worth (an admittedly tough and subjective question to answer, but you are a professional, so I thought I'd ask).
Aaron Schatz (Football): I don't really understand this Chad Johnson thing at all. Randy Moss quitting on the Oakland Raiders was one thing, that place is a circus. We didn't think it was possible that Moss only struggled for two years because Oakland is a soul-sucking pit of despair, but it turns out that Moss only struggled for two years because Oakland is a soul-sucking pit of despair. Is Cincinnati? Doesn't that team have a good coach and a good quarterback? Weren't they in the playoffs a couple years ago?
As far as how much Johnson is worth, it depends on which team we are talking about. If he goes to some bad team where he becomes the focal point of the offense, it isn't going to suddenly turn them into world-beaters. On the other hand, if I'm general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars, I'm calling up Cincinnati today and offering my first-round pick. That team is ready to win the Super Bowl next year, and the biggest gaping hole is the lack of a go-to receiver for David Garrard.
Aaron Schatz (Football): With that, I shall sign off. Last year, I compared the Indianapolis Colts to the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that struggled after years of success, then turned it on in the postseason to win a championship everyone thought they would win in a different year. Well, for the second straight year, the Super Bowl brings us a baseball comparison. The New York Giants are the Colorado Rockies. Sometimes, the team that gets hot at the end of the year pulls off the big upset. Usually, when they run into the best team in the game in the final round, they are going to lose. That's my Super Bowl prediction. Thanks to BP again for having us, thanks to all of you for reading. Enjoy the Super Bowl, keep checking FO in the off-season, and buy Pro Football Prospectus in July. As for me, well, Monday I become just another guy impatiently waiting for BP to show up on my doorstep, just like the rest of you. Be well!