Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Lose 24-42

It's hard to climb back to .500 when you can't win two in a row. I actually felt pretty good about this pick, but the 2.5 point underdog Seahawks were blown out to the tune of 42-24 by the Chiefs. The Chiefs offense was basically unstoppable, as Cassel generated 7.28 YPA and threw for 4 TDs with no interceptions. Moreover, their top 2 running backs combined for a whopping 42 carries, which yielded 241 yards. They were also able to consistently convert on 3rd down and keep Seattle's defense on the field, and ended up dominating the time of possession.

Dwayne Bowe was the main reason they were so successful  on 3rd down; he was simply unstoppable, and seemingly all of his catches either resulted in 3rd down conversions or touchdowns. Seattle's failure to cover Bowe confounded logic. The film of his TD catches reveals that Seattle simply neglected to cover him, and they consistently refused to adjust their scheme to take him away. This failure was inexplicable given that Bowe has been on a torrid TD-catching streak and is rapidly emerging as a dominant WR. Indeed, Seattle made the Cassel-to-Bowe connection look unstoppable.

All that said, Seattle was in this game in the second half. They made some of the lucky plays that have characterized their home games, including a blocked FG and a blocked punt for a TD. In fact, at one point in the 2nd half they were down only 21-17 and were driving near midfield. But then, the wheels came off. Unlike last week, when a close game broke my way late, this week it broke even more dramatically the wrong way. As a result, the Seahawks came nowhere near covering.


1. Stay away from the Seahawks and the Chiefs this year. Ugh. Those two teams obviously continue to befuddle me. I entered the year thinking that the Seahawks were atrocious. They immediately proceeded to win by 25 points.  A few weeks later, I picked against them again, as they went on the road to Soldier field to play the (now 8-3 and coming off a convincing win over the Eagles) Bears. Of course, Seattle immediately won what I have little doubt will be their only road  game of the year. Then, I finally pick them at home to continue their winning ways, and they get blown out by a Chiefs team that had at that point only 1 road win -- a 2 point squeaker over Jake Delhomme. And what do they do? They get eviscerated by 18 points. In short, I can't win with this team, and I'm done with them for this year.

Of course, I'd also predicted that the Chiefs would dominate the bad Broncos (who have since lost 2 straight and appear to be imploding) in Denver 2 weeks ago. I was expecting to get the type of performance we got this week. Instead, they were blown out. Then I decide to pick against them, and they become the ones doing the blowing out. Very frustrating.

This seems to be the type of season where no trend sustains itself for long. I said in the aftermath of the last Chiefs' loss that I would beware teams coming off huge blowouts. Although that was 2 weeks ago, perhaps I should have heeded that advice this week. In this weird NFL season, the fact that the Chiefs lost huge on the road last time out probably should have suggested that they'd inexplicably play great this time around. 

Either way, Seattle by any statistical measure is quite bad. BadNFL will not be involved in any of their games for the rest of this season.

2. BadNFL's continued inability to make coherent use of home/road splits. I have now picked twice on the theory that one team was atrocious on the road, and both times that team has won. I don't know what it is; as one commenter pointed out,  Seattle's home wins have come over uniformly atrocious teams. Maybe that was a sign. It seems that by the time a home/road split deepens enough to where its noticeable, the team in question performs the opposite of expectations the following week.

3. The Hilton 100 theory: 2-0 this week, as the Vikings +2 and the Chargers +3 both covered. The Vikings game was pretty close, but the Chargers covered by 25 points. I'm wishing I had picked that Chargers game instead -- they historically match-up quite well against the Colts, and as I noted last year, the Chargers start to dominate at this time of year, and appear primed to do it again.

In any event, the Hilton 100 theory now moves to 10-3, with mostly dominating cover margins. It really does, at least of late, look like a freakishly accurate prediction market. Maybe I should just start piggybacking BadNFL on its results (although that in some ways defeats the point of the website). Hopefully I'll get it back on track next week.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Week 12 Pick: Seahawks +2.5 vs. Chiefs

BadNFL tries to continue its painful journey back to respectability this week by jumping on a game involving two teams who have screwed me this year -- the Chiefs (when I picked them) and the Seahawks twice (when I picked against them). I'm finally picking the Seahawks, so hopefully they'll continue their trend of winning handily in games that I pick. Here's why:

The game is at Qwest Field.

Pretty simple logic, really. Both of these teams have generally played well at home and poorly on the road. Specifically, the Chiefs are 1-4 in their 5 road games thus far this year, and their only win was a 2 point squeaker. Conversely, the Seahawks are 3-1 at home, with 3 pretty convincing wins and 1 bad loss to the Giants. Importantly, the Seahawks were quarterbacked by Charlie Whitehurst -- making his first career start -- in that loss. He will not be quarterbacking this game. If the pattern holds, the Chiefs will again turn in a lackluster performance, particularly since they are playing at Qwest Field -- one of the most hostile environments in the NFL. It's really a perfect storm: the Chiefs, who are perhaps more dependent on the Arrowhead advantage than any team in the NFL, going on the road to play in a venue that is traditionally the hardest on visiting teams. I rarely think that home-field advantage has decisive statistical relevance, but given the particular makeup of these two teams, I think that the venue takes on paramount importance.

I also think that the Seahawks match-up fairly well against the Chiefs' running game, which is their primary strength. Indeed, while the Seahawks' total run defense is above average at 13th in the NFL, their per-carry defense is very solid at 8th in the NFL (3.9 YPC). Not only that, but Hasselbeck has been playing well, and and thus there's a chance that the early home-field advantage could propel the Seahawks to a big early lead; if that happens, I think you'll see KC abandon the run, like they did in that ill-fated Denver game.


It's true that the Seahawks have suffered a lot of injuries, most noticeably to their starting nosetackle and best WR. There's a chance that the Seahawks will play worse this week than they have in their previous home games because of these injuries. But they have Hasselbeck back, which seems to distinguish this game from the only Seahawks' home loss of the year, and the Chiefs have been too lackluster on the road this year to justify this spread. The Chiefs are also 2-4 against the spread as favorites this year, and 0-2 outright in games in which they were road favorites. I expect that trend to continue.

Finally, I'm not worried that this home/road split argument is too obvious, because the line has moved steadily in the Chiefs' favor, and 75% of the public money now sits on the Chiefs. In other words, this looks like a great candidate for another successful contrarian bet. The Seahawks are off a bad loss to the Saints and the Chiefs are off a dominating home win against Arizona. Which makes it the perfect time to pick the Seahawks. Seattle covers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Upon Further Review: Ravens Cover 37-13

BadNFL continued its long arduous trek back to .500 with the Ravens' 37-13 defeat of the Panthers last weekend. Although the final score reveals that the Ravens covered the 11 point spread by a cool 13 points, this was not an easy cover. In fact, the Ravens lacked fire and focus early in the game, committing unseemly mistakes -- a muffed hand-off in the redzone comes to mind -- that kept the Panthers in the game. Flacco did little to dispel my fears that he remains significantly overrated, as he played an uneven game. Thus, the Panthers kept it close, and they were within 7 points late in the 4th quarter. As a result, the Ravens weren't nearly as impressive as the final score would seem to indicate. 

That said, the Ravens did surge late, courtesy of two back-to-back pick-6 interceptions by the two longtime stars of their defense, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. This is somewhat in line with my prediction, since the primary reason for picking the Ravens this week was the nearly unprecedented lack of experience of Brian St. Pierre. And BSP was pretty bad on the day, completing only 13 of 28 passes and throwing 2 INTs. Because of their opportunistic defense and the Panthers' general ineptitude, the Ravens were able to convert a relatively close game into a blowout late.


1. The Ravens certainly lacked focus and motivation in this one, perhaps confirming one of my biggest fears -- that big favorites against teams missing key offensive players tend to underperform. Or perhaps that is just typical of the Ravens, who have especially tended to play to the level of their competition this year. But luckily, the Panthers were so bad late that the pick still paid off.

2. I was right that the Panthers look atrocious. John Fox is a dead man walking on the sidelines, and the continuous roster shuffling has deprived them of any semblance of offensive rhythm. It's hard to see them winning any games right now; it's almost as hard to see them covering even significant spreads.

3. Hilton 100 theory pays off again -- the margin and absolute pick #s were extremely high for this game, and it obviously came through. It's now 8-3 ATS in the five weeks that I've tracked it, with a consistently high margin of victory ATS.

4. Blowouts: the Chiefs and the Redskins, who both were blown out in week 10, both won their games and easily covered this week. On the other hand, the Broncos, who delivered an unforeseen beating to the Chiefs last week, followed it up with a miserable performance. I'm starting to wonder what the stats are on teams following either blowout wins or losses -- because one potentially promising theory of prediction would rely on the "regression to the mean" theory and anticipate teams coming off blowout wins to fail to cover the following week, and vice versa. It's something I'll be following for the rest of the year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Update: A Good Sign?

The Hilton contestants absolutely love BadNFL's pick this week. The Ravens received 124 picks, safely making them a member of the "Hilton 100," and they enjoyed a whopping +117 margin. The only game I've seen getting that type of a margin was the Giants at the Seahawks a few weeks back, a game in which the Giants covered by 4 TD's. Hopefully that bodes well for my pick this week. If the Hilton is truly to serve as a useful prediction market, it better.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Week 11 Pick: Ravens -11 @ Panthers

Somewhat surprisingly, my first double digit favorite pick of the year comes in week 11. I've had some success picking these before, but I've also had some spectacular failures. But this one just seems too ripe for the picking. The reason that I think the Ravens will cover is simple: the Panthers are sporting one of the most pathetic offenses I've ever seen. To be specific, they are starting a QB this week, named Brian St. Pierre, who was literally a stay-at-home dad at this time last week. He appears to have thrown a total of 5 passes in the last 7 years. And this is a passing attack that was already miserable; they generated a net sum at sixty-eight passing yards in their recent loss to the Saints.

Not only that, but the Panthers' top three running backs are all out this week. In short, they'll be lucky to put up more than 7 points for the game. It is true that the Ravens don't have a great secondary, but the Panthers are so woefully ill-suited to exploit the Ravens' weakness that I expect the Ravens to dominate this game.

Admittedly, the Ravens haven't blown out many teams this year -- in fact, they've won by a double digit margin in only 2 games. But they haven't played anyone as bad as the Panthers -- the team last in the NFL in point-differential and one that specializes in succumbing to the blowout. I think that the Ravens will be motivated coming off a tough road loss to the Falcons, and Ray Rice is chomping at the bit to redeem himself against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. The Ravens should be able to win this one by 2 TD's at least.


This just seems like one of those games where there's no way anyone can even envision an argument for how the Panthers can win. And that scares me. In fact, last year one of my lessons learned in the wake of a failed Cardinals pick against the injury-depleted Lions was to shy away from huge favorites against teams missing their starting QB and RB. I'm not heeding my own advice this week, because the Panthers just seem so bad.
It seems like the only way the Panthers can stay in this game is through either some crazy series of special teams successes or creative wacky plays like wildcat formations, surprise flea-flickers, etc. But John Fox -- perhaps the league's most conservative coach -- never tries things like that. Fox's coaching style seems more suited for a solid front-runner like he had earlier this decade, not the young huge underdog that he has now. Without some weird turn of events, I just can't see the Panthers staying in this game. Ravens cover.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Lose 29-49

And just like that, the Chiefs bring BadNFL's three game winning streak to a screeching halt. This game perpetuates the trend of BadNFL predictions missing by a mile, as the favored Chiefs lost by 20. And it wasn't pretty; the Broncos jumped out to a huge 28-0 lead by way of 21 1st quarter points (after they had scored 7 first quarter points all season). The huge early lead for the Broncos totally negated the Chiefs' vaunted running game, which was my primary reason for picking the Chiefs. Indeed, the "dynamic" duo of Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles combined for an unsightly 44 yards on 18 carries.

Obviously, had I known that the Broncos would come roaring out of the gate on offense like that, I never would have picked the Chiefs. To be fair to myself, it was difficult to foresee -- the Broncos had their highest scoring game in 47 years, and many analysts referred to it as a "stunning" loss for the chiefs. The question is, why did it happen? Several theories have been bandied about: maybe it was the Elway pep talk he gave before the game,  maybe their quick passing attack surprised the Chiefs and put them on their heels, maybe it was the injuries to the Chiefs' underrated safeties. Or maybe the Chiefs just came out flat and played poorly, yet again, on the road. Others, including some friends of BadNFL, claimed that crazy things happen in divisional games like this -- although I looked up the stats, and the Broncos had been 0-4 under McDaniels in home games against the AFC West. This much is certain: pretty much nothing the Chiefs did, in any phase of the game, looked good. Things were going so bad that even the replay machine broke when the Chiefs tried to challenge a questionable call.

In any event, some pundits are proclaiming the Broncos' season re-energized. They certainly dominated this game, and the bet was nowhere close.


1. Don't just cite aggregate rushing statistics, but break down them game by game. It is true that the Broncos' rushing defense statics were ugly coming into the game, but in retrospect, they had been distorted by one atrocious loss against the Raiders. In fact, they'd had some decent games, especially when health had permitted them to play their 3-4 scheme of choice. That fact, combined with the fact that an early deficit can pretty much eliminate a ball control offensive strategy, should have inspired some caution about relying so heavily on the ground game match-up. After all, in my preseason preview, I noted some research showing that it is actually the match-up of pass offense vs. pass defense that matters much more in today's NFL.

2. Beware the team coming off the massive blowout. I just noted the statistical effect that the Oakland blowout had on my analysis, but I think that it may have also affected the psychology of the game. I need to do this statistical research next summer, but I wonder what teams' records are against the spread in the 3 or 4 weeks following huge blowouts. Probably pretty good. Far preferable is finding an overrated team who has had some ugly wins and not that bad losses -- which, combined with other factors, may be the sign that a dominating loss is on the horizon (the Skins' ugly loss to the Eagles on MNF this week is a good example).

On the other hand, the Chiefs had led some smart analysts, like FO's Aaron Schatz, to label them Super Bowl contenders. But then the wheels just totally came off. I obviously thought that the poor performance by the Chiefs in Oakland last week was an anomaly, but instead it looks now like it may have portended things to come. 

3. Detroit covered yet again. They are now 8-1 against the spread. Just sayin'.

4. The "Hilton 100" theory moves to 7-3 since I've begun tracking it. The top three picks -- the Rams +6 @ Niners, Vikings -1 @ Bears, and Bucs -6.5 vs. Panthers -- went 2-1 this week. The Rams +6 line looks like a miscalculation by oddsmakers in retrospect. I hated the Vikings line, but liked the Bucs line, and stayed away from it because it was getting so much public action. But of course, so were the Chiefs, and that didn't dissuade me. In retrospect, Bucs probably should have been the pick last week.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Week 10 Pick: Chiefs -1 @ Broncos

I'm really pushing my luck this week, as for the second straight week, I'm going with a pick that public money seems to love. Even so, I couldn't find a line I was quite as happy about, so despite the 75% of public money backing the Chiefs, I'm picking them to cover this spread. Here's why:

1. Chiefs should dominate the game on the ground.

This is, at least on paper, a dream match-up between the Chiefs' greatest strength and the Broncos' biggest weakness. The key to the Chiefs' surprising turnaround this year has been their superlative rushing attack; they rank 3rd in yards-per-carry and 1st overall in total yards rushing. On the other hand, the Broncos surrender the 2nd most yards per game on the ground, and they yield the 5th worst YPC for opposing running backs. There's little reason to think that the overall trends won't hold in this game; remember, last time these teams played, Jamaal Charles ran for 259 yards and 2 TDs. I expect the duo of Charles and the perennially underappreciated Thomas Jones to enjoy similar success this week.

If the Chiefs do dominate on the ground in the manner of which they are capable, they should win this game fairly easily. Indeed, the Broncos typically fare poorly against teams that control the game on the ground. Just look at the 20-point drubbing the Chiefs administered at Denver last time that Charles ran wild, or the Raiders' domination of the Broncos a few weeks ago behind DMC's career best day on the ground. Kansas City should again be able to control the time of possession and field position and put up plenty of points to beat the Broncos.

I have little faith that the Broncos' defense will step up their game and reverse these prevailing trends. Put simply, they're a total mess. Injuries have forced them to waffle between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense, despite not having the personnel to effectively run either scheme. In addition, D.J. Williams' DUI will likely deprive the Broncos one of their only playmakers on defense for this game. Moreover, I doubt the Broncos' coaching staff's ability to schematically compensate for their defensive shortcomings and take the Chiefs' ground game away. The Broncos have been gashed by all sorts of running games -- zone blocking attacks, outside speed, inside power -- and their staff has demonstrated no clue how to stop the pounding.

So this is not as simple as identifying one glaring flaw in the defense and applying a fix. And even if it was, the Broncos' players may be tuning out McDaniels' shrill and overbearing voice. Indeed, this has the trappings of a lost season in Denver, and the players may be just playing out the string. I'm not sure where leadership is going to come from within the organization, but at this point, it's reminding far too much of Dallas. In sum, ground game asymmetry is something that an in sync and respected coaching staff may be able to scheme around, but I don't see that happening in Denver.

It is true that the Broncos are coming off a bye, which is a factor in why the line is this low (Broncos are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 post-bye games), and perhaps a reason why the Broncos will be more prepared this week. But as Simmons pointed out this week, the bye historically exerts little influence on game outcomes, particularly with subpar coaches. Last year the Broncos' came out of their bye and lost by 21 points to the Ravens. This year, their bye comes on the heels of a loss to a bad 49ers team in London. In short, look for the Chiefs to conduct business as usual on the ground, at the expense of the Broncos' porous front-7.

2. The Chiefs are undervalued because of their fluky loss last weekend.

As most of you know, the Chiefs lost a heartbreaker last week in Oakland. I've discussed previously the role of recency bias in spread formulation, and there are those who have overreacted to he Chiefs' ugly failure to close out the Raiders last week. The line is this low in part because people will have a hard time overlooking the Chiefs' sloppy play last week. But I'm not all that worried about it.

The Chiefs lost for two basic reasons last week: penalties and poor special teams play. I think both are correctable, especially given that some of the calls were questionable and that special teams have been quite a strength for Kansas City this year. Moreover, the play of the game consisted of an long pass completion inexplicably going right through Brandon Flowers' hands.  I have faith in an outstanding Chiefs' coaching staff -- led by the fiery Todd Haley and perhaps the best pair of coordinators in football -- to use that game as a teaching moment and bounce back this week.

After all, the Chiefs' success has not been a statistical mirage this year; they are exhibiting few unsustainable statistical trends or runs of inexplicable luck to account for their victories. As such, I consider the Raiders' sloppiness last week more of an aberration than a burgeoning trend.

And even if the Chiefs were to play that sloppy again, I think they'll win anyway. The Raiders are displaying newfound swagger and poise in big moments, whereas the Broncos have consistently found ways to beat themselves. The Chiefs should be supremely motivated to bounce back from a bad game, particularly given their position in their division. In addition to their rushing attack analyzed above, I expect their young talented defense to be flying around the field. The way that the Raiders beat them -- exploiting their quarters coverages with deep straight-line speed -- is not something that plays well to Orton's weak arm and quick-throw offense.

In other words, I like the fact that the Chiefs lost a game they probably shouldn't have last week. That's a great time to pick a team.


Admittedly, the Chiefs have struggled on the road this year. Their inability to close teams out on the road have led some Chiefs' blogs to pick against the Chiefs this week. While I would be much more comfortable with this pick were it in Arrowhead, the fact it's in Denver is not enough to sway me off this pick. First, the Chiefs have not played anyone this bad on the road -- indeed, their 4 road games have been a win at Cleveland, and for the most part narrow losses to the Colts, Texans, and Raiders. All 4 teams are significantly better than the Broncos. Moreover, last year the road team won both games between these two teams, with the Chiefs dominating by 20 at Denver. And the Denver homefield advantage has significantly eroded; they are 5-15 ATS in their past 20 home games. And just to put their struggles in perspective, since their very surprising and chimerical 6-0 start last year, the Broncos have lost 14 out of their last 18 games. In part because of that fact, one statistical projection system (Advanced NFL Stats, about which I've written here), projects that the Chiefs have a 65% chance of winning this game. I think that this system, which factors in the home/road splits, underestimates the disarray of the Broncos' team and locker room. Thus, although the road factor worries me, I think the quality differential between the two teams is too much to overcome. Chiefs cover.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Upon Further Review: Packers Cover 45-7

Well that may be the most correct I've ever been about a prediction. The Packers utterly annihilated the Cowboys. Philips was clearly at a complete loss, and the players expended very little effort. The game wasn't close; the Packers dominated in every phase.

As everyone now knows, the game caused Jerry to finally put Wade out of his misery. There's not much else to say, other than the 2010 Cowboys are perhaps the most pathetic team in NFL history. This was the easiest cover I can remember.


1. Sometimes teams are so psychologically broken that they fail to rebound even from rock bottom. The big concern I had entering the game was the laughably pathetic showing the Cowboys had made against Jacksonville the week before. But I explained at length my reasons for thinking that the miserable Boys would fail to improve on that effort, and they incredibly turned in an even worse performance than I expected.

One of the real tricks to assessing football teams is deciphering the true meaning of an extraordinarily poor performance coupled with player discontent. We saw it last week with Dallas, and they followed up with yet more ineptitude. But we also had it weeks 2 and 3 with the Giants, who were first pummeled on national TV by Eli's big brother and then taken advantage of by the Titans the following week. The media had begun to call for Coughlin's head, and players were openly grousing -- the team looked on the brink of collapse. Yet the Giants rallied, won five straight, and are now perhaps the NFC favorite to make the Super Bowl.

The situations are difficult to distinguish. Obviously one could say simply that Coughlin is a better coach than Philips. But I wonder if it that's simple; after all, the Giants imploded last year after a 5-0 start, and there was credible talk that Coughlin's hard-charging style had irretrievably alienated his players.

Upon reflection, there were ample warning signs that portended the Cowboys absolute collapse against the spread. Most prominent was the catalytic event of Romo's injury. I wrote last year in the wake of the Eagles' inexplicable loss to the woeful Raiders of the importance of catalytic events re-orienting the makeup of a team. There, it was Antonio Pierce's harsh criticism of the Raiders, whom his Giants had just destroyed. Here, we had the opposite type of event -- a team that was teetering on the edge of the abyss, laboring under the daunting weight of inflated expectations and its owner/GM's despicable and preening incompetence. When Romo went down, the team deflated, and I witnessed a disturbing lack of effort for the next game and a half. That was what inspired me to pick against them this week, and I'm glad I did so.

On the other hand, the Giants had flown under the radar somewhat heading into the season, and they had a coach with credibility born of Super Bowl success. They were down, but they weren't dead. Hopefully the comparison between the early-season Giants, the Eagles-Raiders, and the 2010 Cowboys will help BadNFL Nation in future weeks sniff out the teams that we should leave for dead, and the ones that we should expect to bounce back.

2. The "Hilton 100" theory suffered two losses this week. While the Giants, who were the runaway leaders in both pick quantity and margin, beat the spread by 28+ points, the Chiefs and Jets both failed to cover, albeit by 1 point each. Thus, the theory is now 6-2 in the last 3 weeks, with a spread differential of about 13 in wins and a loss differential of 1. Still pretty impressive. And as Millman grouses, only fluke plays prevented both losers from covering.

3. Finally, I noted that I was going to monitor the "situation vs. scouting" clash on display in the Colts-Eagles game. Well, the post-bye week Eagles won but failed to cover by 1 point. The excessive citation of the bye-week stat caused me concern, and perhaps for good reason. We heard so much that week about Andy Reid's post-bye week success that I think there was little value in relying on that particular stat. Who knows -- but when I look for situations in the future, I'm much more inclined to seek out those that receive less media attention.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Update: Hilton Contestants Not In Tune with BadNFL This Week

Well, unlike last week, in which my prediction comported with the consensus of Hilton contestants, this week, not too many contestants are on my side. In fact, the Cowboys at +7.5 received the 5th most votes and the 4th biggest margin. Moreover, among the contestants that are leading the field right now, the Cowboys at +7.5 received the most votes. Yikes.

I have little doubt why that's the case -- simply see the counter-argument noted in my prediction post. Cowboys sunk to rock bottom last week and the line overreacted -- or so the theory goes. I explained why I don't think that's applicable this week, but I admit that it's a powerful argument, particularly when the dumb public is betting the Packers so heavily.

On the other hand, we have 3 more candidates for our "Hilton 100" club, being led by the Giants at -5.5 (received a whopping 151 picks). The Giants also crushed the field in margin, with an absurd +123. I agree that that line seemed pretty solid, although when I looked by the time it was ready to do my post, it had shifted from Giants -5.5 to Giants -7; a shift that certainly would have dissuaded some of the contestants who picked them. The other two picks reaching triple digits were Kansas City +2.5 and Jets -4. Both games were difficult to call for me; I do think that KC will run the ball on Oakland, but they've been bad on the road. And as readers of this blog know, all Detroit does is cover spreads. This will be a real test for the Hilton 100 theory this week.

And here's hoping that all those top contestants were wrong about the Boys. I think they are.

Update: An interesting clash of situation vs. scouting

The two primary types of analysis in which handicappers engage is technical team analysis and situational analysis. The first focuses on the way that the teams are playing that season -- their yards/attempt stats, advanced metrics like DVOA, the quality of their special teams play, etc. (some call this "technical analysis"). The latter focuses on the two teams' situations -- how they match-up against the opposing team historically, how they do when coming off of a brutal loss, heading for a back-to-back road game, traveling from east to west coast, etc. Most good handicappers seem to focus on a blend between the two. This blog also tries to take both types of analysis into account, although obviously time limitations preclude me from being too sophisticated in the mathematical underpinnings of my technical analysis.

I write about this topic now because one game this weekend starkly demonstrates the clash between these two theories of game prediction: Colts @ Eagles. Many of the key stats and match-ups favor the resurgent Colts, and the Peyton Manning-led Colts have traditionally dominated Andy Reid's Eagles. But then there's this shocking stat: Andy Reid has won all 12 of the post-bye week games that he's coached, many by significant margins. It's true that when you parse the numbers of the teams that he's played, their records don't overwhelm. But that stat is impressive nonetheless, impressive enough to singlehandedly convince some prognosticators, like Bill Simmons, to pick the Eagles this week.

Colts +3 looked good to me initially, but the Andy Reid bye week stat caused me to back off and focus instead on the Packers/Boys. BadNFL will be following the game closely to see how the teams play and how the general media covers the interaction between the X's and O's and the overwhelming history of bye week success that surround this game. Perhaps we can learn something.

Week 9 Pick: Packers -7.5 vs. Cowboys

As we head into Week 9, this just looks too easy. I knew this was going to be the pick last Sunday afternoon, because let's face it: the Cowboys are an absolute disaster. I was kind of hoping I'd be able to find this line at -6.5, out of some naive hope that the people still thought that the Cowboys would get things together, but I'll have to settle for 7.5 Here's why:

1. The Cowboys -- particularly on defense -- are just going through the motions.

The Cowboys were blown out by a mediocre Jacksonville team last week. It wasn't just the trouncing on the scoreboard that perturbed me; it was the way that the Cowboys totally sacrificed their dignity. Put simply, the Cowboys didn't look like they were trying, and they looked like they really didn't want to be on the field. The team that marched out there last Sunday had no chance, and it's one that was so deflated that the players didn't care about -- and were helpless to stop -- the drubbing that was taking place.

I don't see that mentality letting up soon. Wade Phillips, as much as I've occasionally defended him in the past, is the lamest of ducks. And given that, it's obvious that accountability throughout the organization has simply vanished into the abyss of this disgraceful season. Part of it is that Wade himself is way too lax, part of it is that the players exploit his soft reputation, but the real explanation is that because everyone knows he's gone after the season, he's lost any remaining modicum of credibility in the locker room.

You can see the symptoms everywhere -- players criticizing the coaches' gameplanning, the Cowboys' talented pass rushers failing to generate any pressure on the QB,  and the coaches sticking with the stupifying and putrid Alan Ball at free safety. But most of all, you can see it in the body language on the field. The Cowboys don't care anymore, and the score has started to reflect that. As such, I expect the same sorry attitude on the field to continue, and if the Cowboys play anything close to how they did last week, it will be another blowout. Ever since Romo broke his clavicle, that's the way it's been.

2. The Packers are well-suited to exploit the Cowboys' weaknesses.

First and foremost, the Cowboys never play well at Lambeau field. This year, that trend will likely continue, primarily because of the Packers' defensive scheme. Don Capers, even though being forced to adjust to significant defensive injuries, has schemed up one of the most creative defensive systems in football. They might not have as many big name players as we're used to, but the varied defensive fronts, zone blitzes, and pre-snap movement has proved quite confusing to opposing offenses. The film last week of the Packers' shutout of the Jets is impressive indeed, as the Packers totally confused and shut down a talented Jets squad.

This spells particular trouble for the Cowboys, because creative defensive alignments traditionally give Dallas fits. This exact same defense all but shutout the Cowboys last year in Green Bay, and that Cowboys team had its starting quarterback and a lot more pride. In short, the Cowboys have a stupid and poorly coached offensive line that struggles with pre-snap movement, and with the ultra-stationary Jon Kitna in the pocket, things won't likely get better for them this week. The problem will only be compounded by the match-up between the injured and crappy Marc Colombo at RT and the frenetic NFL sack leader Clay Matthews at strong side OLB.

You might say the Cowboys will be able to run the ball against Green Bay to take the pressure off Kitna? Not a chance; the Jaguars ranked in the bottom 3rd of the league stopping the run, and the Cowboys got nothing against them. And although the Packers' rush defense has mediocre overall numbers, they've actually been pretty effective in stopping opposing running backs; it's the mobile QBs like Michael Vick that have tormented them. Since Kitna is obviously anything but mobile, I expect the Packers to easily handle the Cowboys' pitiful running game.

It is true that the Packers' offense has been quite inconsistent this year. But they've averaged 27.5 points a game at home, and the underachieving Cowboys' defense should be just the tonic they need to get going. The Packers have probably weathered the worst of the storm this year, and at 5-3 they possess a nice mixture of confident and motivated. Their film exhibits the opposite mindset from the Cowboys, as they are fiery, intense, and motivated. They should be able to win handily.


I have to admit that everything just seems too easy with this game. The entire nation saw the Cowboys embarrassed last week, and there's a decent chance that I'm hopping on the anti-Cowboys' bandwagon a week too late. Particularly worrisome is the sizable amount of public money coming in on the Packers, which both confirms my fears about a letdown game and further worries the contrarian theorist in me.

The game that I worry this might be scarily similar to? Last year's Raiders-Eagles game, heading into which everyone had written off the Raiders because of a similar laughter-inducing "they've totally given up on the season" type performance the week before. And I did note before the season that Year 1 -- and that Raiders' game in particular -- had taught us the perils of betting against a team that had just reached rock bottom.

I nonetheless love the Packers this week, because I think a couple of factors distinguish this game from games like those I discussed in my preseason preview. Primarily, I see little incentive for the Cowboys to rebound from the rock bottom performance, because, unlike Tom Cable (who is now leading that same Oakland squad back to respectability), Wade Phillips is a lame duck who has totally lost the locker room. Second, Oakland had few expectations heading into last year, which made it less devastating when they played poorly. Conversely, the Cowboys were horrifically overhyped this year, causing Romo's injury and the pathetic play to inflict particularly severe psychological wounds. Unlike the perpetually bad Raiders, I think these Cowboys are mentally regrouping for next year. Finally, the Raiders were at home, while the Cowboys have to travel to Lambeau, a place they never play well. I said early on this year that I need to pay more attention to home/road splits, and this is one circumstance in which the Packers' home mojo makes me less worried about a letdown.

Ultimately, I think that I am, like many sharps, surprised that this line isn't higher. I think the Cowboys might keep it close for a while, but once they fall behind, I see no sign that this team is capable of climbing back into it. Accordingly, I think the Packers might turn it into a laugher in the 4th quarter. I was going to take this game at anything under 10. Packers cover.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Upon Further Review: Lions Cover 37-25

And just like that, BadNFL is showing signs of life. My week 7 pick turned out quite nicely, and overall I'm feeling cautiously more in tune with the games. We'll see if it continues, but in the meantime, your week 7 Upon Further Review is here.

Don't be fooled by the final score; this game was too close for comfort for 57 minutes. Although the Lions played generally better than the Redskins for most of the game, they were still behind heading into the latter half of the 4th quarter. There were two reasons: the Redskins' Brandon Banks and his seemingly out-of-nowhere dominance in the return game, and Nate Burleson's idiotic fumble. The Burleson play was quite sloppy and took sure points off the board for Detroit, but the real story of the game for the Redskins was Brandon Banks, without whom the Skins would have been blown out of the building.

But blown out they were not, and this was an extremely tight game most of the way through. It was at the end, however, that the fireworks started. The Lions surged to a late 3-point lead, at which point they were covering the spread, and Shanahan proceeded inexplicably to bench McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman. As Bears' fans could have predicted, Grossman immediately turned the ball over, and the incomparable rookie DT Ndamukong Suh scooped the ball up and took it in for a score.

Along the way, many of my expectations for this game proved correct. The Skins' offense continued to struggle, failing to generate much yardage. In particular, the offensive line stunk, yielding 7 sacks and countless hits on McNabb. The Lions were able to run the ball well, for over 4 YPC. But more importantly, Stafford shook off some early rust and threw for 4 touchdowns. My feeling about DeAngelo Hall also proved somewhat accurate -- although he had a nice early interception in the redzone, Calvin Johnson exploded against him for 101 yards and 3 TDs. I also located a statistic, courtesy of Peter King, to back up my assertion that Hall remains wildly overrated: this year, he has allowed the highest completion percentage against of any cornerback in football.

Add it all up, and it produced a nice cover by the Lions. Perhaps I should have gone with the Dolphins, who I liked but leaned away from because of the contrarian theory, but the Lions ended up working out just fine. 


1. Keep an eye on the Lions. They now sport a nice +18 point differential on the year, including +45 at home. They also move to 6-1 against the spread. As I noted last week, they continue to be underrated among prognosticators, particularly at home.

2. The Skins are a mess, but the window for exploiting their failings may be closing. Many analysts are now recognizing that McNabb's numbers have been horrendous, and the claim that the Skins were suffering bad luck remains ludicrous. More worrisome is Shanahan's decision to bench McNabb and bring on Rex Grossman, as well as his conflicting and incoherent explanations for his decision. They have a bye week next week, but it seems unlikely that the marketplace will continue to overvalue the Redskins moving forward.

3. Keep a long-term perspective. An 0-6 start was pretty depressing, but in the long-run, it's important to stick to one's instincts -- BadNFL is still way under .500, but at least I'm no longer staring directly into the abyss. The importance of the long-term perspective, and riding out anomalies in the first few weeks of the season, is demonstrated by the recent performance by the Raiders. All year long, the sharps have loved Oakland (readers will remember that BadNFL did too). And despite some early struggles, Oakland has now reached 4-4 and is looking like a legitimately competitive team. One can only hope that we'll be able to use similar adjectives about BadNFL someday.

4. The "Hilton 100 theory" picks up steam. I noted last week that those picks were 2-0, beating the spread by an average of 10.5 points. This week, the three qualifying picks (including the Lions pick) went 3-0, beating the spread by an average of 9.75 points. I recognize that the sample size is small, but in the two weeks I've tracked it, we're now at 5-0 with a double digit differential. That's pretty incredible. I'll keep tracking it on this blog, and may try to further work in some Hilton stats into my predictions.