Friday, June 22, 2012

Are the Heat a dynasty?

I'm not in the habit of answering every stupid question that ESPN asks, because that would take all day, and frankly entire sites have been devoted to such things, but they are easier to run if you are, say, professional screenwriters and can afford to spend hours making fun of Joe Morganstupid sports people.

But this one caught my eye, mostly because it was simultaneously beyond the normal level of stupid and yet entirely representative of modern sports "reporting", which consists mostly of high-visibility sites breathlessly exclaiming that what you have just seen is the BEST EVAR and well-written, lower-traffic sites devouring that conclusion and spitting it out in well-fisked paragraphs. (OK, technically the paragraphs would be fisking, and the original article would be fisked.)

Besides, one of your dumber friends is either going to ask you if it's true, or he's going to tell you that it's true. (Given that women have been rudely excluded from many parts of sports, including fandom, over the last century or two, let's assume that as they catch up, they skip over the more obviously idiotic ideas.) So let's consider the question.

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

OK, really, let's think about it. They're obviously not, but why not? Well, let's define what a dynasty is, and when I say "us" I mean "me". Write about it on your own blog if you disagree, or include it in your podcast or whatever.
  • Championships. It's cool that you make the playoffs 21 seasons in a row (always say "seasons" when referring to the NHL or that damn lockout will trip you up) or make the conference championship 6 straight years (and after what's happened to the Pistons, I can hardly believe this actually happened recently) or make the championship game 4 straight years (which we may never see again), but really, that's trivial stuff, the kind of thing you need to know in bars and nowhere else. We're talking last-team-standing stuff here. 
  • Consecutive titles. Not that it has to be an uninterrupted streak, but you do need to demonstrate that you can put the targets on your back on Opening Day, wear them the entire season, and still hoist the trophy at the end of the season. 
  • Lack of droughts. Sure, lots of great teams caught bad breaks, but we're not talking about just great teams here ... if you use that as motivation to come back and win the next season, that's fine. If you fall on your face again, you make your fans sound like Cowboys fans insisting that their team is just one player away from a Super Bowl run. Yeah, yeah, of course they are. (Hint: you need more than one player, and no, none of them are QBs.)
  • A period of dominance. Two in a row? You earned one and lucked into one. Three in a row? Yeah, that's harder to argue against. Four straight? Unless you're in a six-team league, that should end the discussion right there.
 So, here are the rules:
  1. A dynasty starts and ends with championships. Extending it for losing in the finals doesn't make sense, does it? Because I know you weren't trying to argue that your favorite team's run includes that season where they lost in the conference quarters because blah blah blah and if only and you should have seen them.
  2. A dynasty includes at least two consecutive titles. See above: if you can't defend your title, what kind of dynasty are you? Look, in the old days, dynasties were defined by rulers who fought off all challengers ... literally. The least you can do is be defending champs and actually defend once.
  3. A dynasty does not include two consecutive seasons without a title. You can slip up once, OK, but if that isn't motivation to come back and win the whole darn thing next season, then you're just like everyone else who blew a big chance and then gave up ever asking out any woman quite like ... wait, where was I? 
  4. A dynasty includes at least three titles. Consecutive or not, doesn't matter (as long as you obey the rules above), but you've got to win enough that people actually dislike talking about your chances to win again. You need to create an anti-bandwagon, teams that root against you just to see you lose. 
That's it. Too many rules and then it becomes some kind of drinking game, except it's kind of hard to play a drinking game when it takes a full season to resolve a turn. (But if you're simming seasons at home ...)

Got it? OK, let's look at some examples.

Dynasties

  • Men's basketball: UCLA, 1964-75. Ten titles, twelve seasons, seven in a row, only missed out twice. (Clem Haskins and Texas Western, 1966 – you know that one – and Norm Sloan's 1974 NC State squad.) Quality of the dynasty is for another article entirely; here, I'm just listing ones that qualify.
  • Women's soccer: North Carolina, 1982-2000. Sixteen titles, nineteen seasons, nine in a row, and they actually missed the championship game twice. (Note that Wooden's Bruins also missed the title game both seasons above.) Again, not rating them, just pointing out that this is the kind of thing we're talking about. If you played UNC in women's soccer back then, you knew what you were getting. They still have a strong program today, but, like, sometimes, they don't even win their conference.
  • Baseball: New York Yankees, 1947-53. Six titles, seven seasons, five in a row. (You may have read about the 1948 Cleveland Indians, and you probably thought they were the 1954 Indians. The latter won 111 games; the former won the Series.)
  • Hockey: Edmonton Oilers, 1985-90. Five titles, seven seasons, only two in a row (twice). (Interestingly, the other two Finals involved Montreal and Calgary, with each team winning once.) Doesn't matter that Gretzky was gone in 1990 ... if anything, it enhances the Oilers' reputation. They got rid of the greatest player in hockey and still won a title.

Not dynasties

  • NBA: Miami Heat, 2006-12. Two titles, seven seasons. So? The Pistons won two straight titles after losing a seven-game series to an actual dynasty, and we know Detroit wasn't a dynasty, right? Those two Heat teams are barely even related. Get back on the court, LeBron, take your talents to the Finals a couple more times, bring back the trophy again, and then we can talk. Until then, go sit over there with Isiah and Hakeem.
  • Baseball: New York Yankees, any period from 1954 to the current day except 1996-2000. This is why Yankees fans enjoy shouting the number of titles they've won at you: it galls them that they can't win a World Series every year, and frankly, most of them can't imagine reliving 1963-76 or 1979-95, during which they won NONE. HA HA.
  • Men's basketball: Duke, any time period. It's great that Coach K has won four titles. It took him 20 seasons. I know the game is different, but you know what? That's how the game works. Not a dynasty. Too bad.
  • NFL: Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, 1950-57. Yes, these two teams dominated the league, winning six of eight titles and taking 11 of 16 spots in the finals (the Rams made it three times, going 1-2 against Cleveland, and the Giants and Bears played in '56). Both teams won consecutive titles, but neither could wedge a third close enough to the other two to establish dominance.
  • NBA: Boston Celtics, Bird era. Yeah, they were always a contender, but they "only" won three titles, and never won back-to-back titles. (To this day, Bird probably obsesses over things like this in his spare time.)
Yeah, these rules draw some interesting lines, or exclude some teams you would include otherwise. Michael's Bulls? Two separate dynasties, 1991-93 and 1996-98. But in retrospect, that makes sense, right? He was gone in 1994 and only played part of 1995 ... the Bulls didn't scare anyone those years the way they did in the years around them. Bradshaw's Steelers? Back-to-back Super Bowls twice, but there were two seasons in between those, and they didn't even win the AFC either year. It's quite an accomplishment, but sorry, not a dynasty. 24 months with no title means 24 months of people worrying about other teams more than yours.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

So yeah, about this blogging thing ...

see, here's the deal. I tend to post about a) sports, b) video games, and c) other little things that come up. Not mentioned above is d) my personal life, just because, well, I'm not that kind of person. You may have noticed this about me. (It was worse in the past, if you can believe it. At least now I'm more likely to answer questions ... back in the day, I'd probably have dodged those too.)

Once the NFL season was over and I finished my recap, a) pretty much took a break, except maybe for the NCAA tournament. The thing is that I can also just post on Facebook, which is easier, and so a lot of the little things just go there. (Plus I suspect more people read my posts on Facebook, even if not many read them closely. It's certainly not a format that encourages long, in-depth commentary, which I do like to bring.) That pretty much covers c). b) has been much of the same-old same-old, except for the bit of time when I was playing Diablo III a lot, and when I was trying to get as much as I could out of Dead Island before it made me too mad to play any more. (Multiplayer is interesting, at least.)

So ... I really haven't posted at all for a few months. Not because anything was wrong: on the contrary, they've been three of the more impressive months of my life, not so much with respect to big changes, but as a fulcrum for big changes.

Four years ago, an ongoing battle with my boss' boss left me without a job. In the long run, it was definitely a good thing - just like in Highlander, there can be only one, and you normally don't have to get too deep into office politics to figure out which of you it will be - but at the time, it was CHANGE. (I'd worked there 15 years.) They were good to me to the end and gave me a nice cushion, which helped get me to my second job.

Three years ago, my second job ended abruptly. (Thank you, recession.) I suppose I'm partly to blame for not demonstrating to the right people what I brought to the table, but then again, a number of coworkers did realize it (and were not happy about the company eliminating my position), so maybe this was just another variation on Company 1. If the wrong people decide you're not necessary, you may never win that battle. Anyway, they were also good to me, but the economy had changed, and so I went into contracting in lieu of permanent work.

Last year, work was kind of light ... but while I was in the middle of a one-month contract, my good recruiter called me up to let me know she had a possible full-time position for me. It was at a company not too far from where I live, maybe 20 minutes away, less than half the time it took to get to the contract company. We talked about the position and decided to come in at a figure that was the salaried equivalent of the hourly contracts I had with them. The person I was interviewing with was actually someone I'd worked with before. It was, in short, a great opportunity.

During that process, the company with which I was contracting let me know that they had a contract opportunity themselves at another company (weird, I know – just think of two middlemen instead of one), a long-term deal, six months or so. I said yeah, I'd be interested, but here's the thing: I'm interviewing for a full-time position, and if they make an offer, I'm going to accept. (They were, in fact, comfortable with the number we gave them.) The contract company seemed a bit surprised – I don't think they'd had someone say that to them before. In my mind, it was only fair. As a contractor, I'd rather take less money and have a better business relationship, so this was no different. They asked if there was anything they could do to match, but the thing was, it was a contract position vs. a full-time position, and the contract position was roughly in the same place, about 45 minutes away. You can't really offer time to someone.

So they said they wanted to put me up for it anyway, and we'd see what happened. I said OK. It turned out that the end client liked me, but for some reason, they wanted to know by the end of the week ... even though the contract was to start March 1, they needed to know the last full week in February. Of course the full-time company hadn't decided yet, so I had to turn down the contract position, and you know what happens next ... the full-time company hires the other person. (Apparently he had experience with a type of certification specific to that industry, something that I didn't have and couldn't have obtained, and thus nothing I had any control over.)

That was pretty much the low point of my contracting career. I'd lost out on a couple of other nice opportunities, but missing both of these was a pretty big blow, and with nothing lined up when the one-month contract ended, I was beginning to envy the cats for making a $35 bag of food (I buy the large bags) last a couple of months.

BUT. In March, the contract company gets in touch with the recruiter that placed me there and says hey, the end client couldn't find anyone, are you still interested? (This isn't really a surprise. There are few experienced programmers in this area with the skills I have, and few companies that use the tools I know, so it doesn't take long to get through the "list" for either group.) I say yes. So I start in early April as a contractor. The rate is lower than my normal contract rate, but hey, it's a long-term deal, and I wasn't really in a position to bargain. (My recruiter – not the good one, but pretty good themselves – did give me a significant raise above my rate for the one-month contract.)

I settle in to a routine, a welcome change from the last two years. Instead of short weeks and constant sales pitches (hate hate hate), it was 40-hour weeks and low pressure. I would say "casual", but that gives the wrong impression. Basically, my boss cared that we met our deadlines and communicated well. He was not the type to do a head count at 8 AM and 5 PM (you know the type). So I'd come in, knock out some code, and go home.

At the same time, I became aware that I needed a long-term financial plan, especially if short-term work would become the norm again. So I worked up an Excel worksheet with rows for expenses and columns for paychecks (kinda; I got paid weekly, but I divided the expenses into first-half and second-half of each month, probably from Company 2 where we were paid semi-monthly), and plotted out, as best I could, what was coming, what I was making (at least through September), and what I could afford to pay off. Apparently they call this thing a "budge-it". I made this budge-it fairly aggressive, cutting back a lot in some areas (bye-bye satellite) but being a little lenient in others (entertainment). Still, there were limits, because of the money I was making and the debt I had, so the initial plan was to basically tread water and take slow steps toward recovery.

Basically, what prompted the budge-it was that a few months back, I didn't get an e-bill from one of my credit card companies, and then I didn't notice that I didn't get one. They sent me a notice that I had a late payment, so I went online and paid it through my bank (because when money is tight, you do not give a creditor your checking information), but they punished me anyway: slashed my credit line and jacked up my interest rate. (And, I believe, that change prompted another issuer to slash my credit line, to which I said, FUCK YOU.) Thus the budge-it not only matched spending to income, but also tracked expenses so I'd know if this happened again. 

It didn't take long to make a name for myself at Company 4. The project began to expand, and soon it went from 6 months to 6-9 months to 6-12 months. People began to reassure me that there would be work for me there even after this project ended, although it was just planning and not fact at that point (the fiscal year hadn't rolled over, so budgets weren't set yet). So now I could extend my plan a little bit, if only in pencil (kids, that's what we used in the old days to write when we weren't sure if we'd have to make changes ... uh, write, like on paper ... uh ... never mind), at least until July.

So the fiscal year rolled over, and the budgets were set, and yes, they were planning to keep me around, well, indefinitely. You might say that keeping a contractor around indefinitely is penny-wise and pound-foolish, and I would say absolutely, but hey, don't let them know, OK? (It's usually a political thing. Hiring someone means an increase in specific costs on a department's budget. Hiring a contractor means an increase in cost on a project that doesn't belong to any one department.) And so I added categories to my budge-it as I remembered them, but stayed in water-treading mode. Eventually I'd put in enough hours that the recruiting company could offer me health insurance ... still no paid vacations, though.

And then the company that placed me there said hey, want to be a full-time employee? Now the catch was that the tools they use are not the tools I know, so there'd have to be a transition plan, but we'd work that out once my placement ended. (Surprisingly, the recruiter did not discuss salary with them. What? Dudes, that's what your job is. I tell you my range, you work it out with them.) So I decide to do it. My initial salary is roughly the same, but at least now I have vacation time. (And an HSA, which means money set aside for expenses, very nice. And portable. And it doesn't expire.)

But it was kind of weird. Not as weird as working through two companies for a third, but still weird, because I worked for Company 3, but I was always on site at Company 4. (There are benefits to this arrangement: I got to take advantage of birthday cake and such at both places.) And, of course, the longer I stayed at Company 4, the longer it would be before I would transition to Company 3 tools. I was reading up on my own, but that's not the same as practical uses for the tools.

At this point, Company 4 had dropped some hints that they'd be interested in hiring me, but there was no chance that would happen. (See political footnote above.) Still, the contract was going to be extended every chance they got, which was nice, but also raised the question above: can I really keep up on two sets of skills when I only use one? And can I do it when neither company is actually paying me to learn? (Company 4 did pay for on-site training, and Company 3 was paying for training materials, but that's not the same as learning on the clock, you know?)

So I'd changed employers once, but I was still a contractor. And then this February, my boss says hey, would you be interested in a full-time position if we can work it out with Company 3?

It turns out that someone was leaving the team, so instead of hiring an additional person, it would be filling an existing position, and there were no problems with that. I said sure. We discussed it in detail. I already knew what the work would be like – exactly what I'd been doing already – but the benefits would be nicer, because it was a bigger company, and I'd be working for the company where I spent my time. (Actually, the benefits are much nicer.)

Of course, you know how these contracts go ... there's a no-steal clause in them. However, if you have enough business experience, you learn that contracts are starting points, not ending points, and quickly, Company 3 said sure, you can talk numbers with him. (Imagine that I'm a defender at Portsmouth, but they don't need someone with my ability right now, so Wigan approaches them for a full-season loan. I play at Wigan that year. At the end of the season, Wigan would like to purchase my contract, so they discuss a transfer with Portsmouth. They work out the fee, and now I talk contract with Wigan.) Details will be hidden to protect the involved parties, but I was able to get a substantial raise ... significantly more than I was making at Company 3, and in fact, more even than I'd made at Companies 1 or 2.

I accepted, we made it official, and I now had a third employer in 12 months, all from doing the same work in the same office with the same people. BUT. Now, instead of treading water, I could do some damage, and unlike the mes of previous years, this me was doing damage to his debt instead of his finances. I redid the budge-it (at this point, it was current year + 1, six months at a time) to account for the increase in income, giving myself a little more to spend but a lot more to pay off, and I went to work. (Also as a bonus, I may get to work from home more often. Each day at home is 50 miles not on the car, which is roughly 1 gallon of gas – that's right, suckers, read that and weep, unless you have a Prius, in which case whatever. It's also 90-110 minutes not in the car.)

So yeah, sometimes it's hard. Soup for lunch is kind of boring. (Sure is cheap, though.) It would be nice to get the AC fixed. (You get accustomed to it. Don't worry, cats deal with hot weather much better than dogs. If I had a dog, I'd have had to get it fixed last year.) (No, really, it's OK. We didn't have AC at my mom's until high school, I think, and even then it wasn't central air, but a window unit. None of the dorms I lived in at Purdue had AC, and neither did my first apartment. It comes back to you in a hurry.)

But hey ... I paid off my car loan one month early, mostly because in addition to all this paying-off stuff, I also built up enough of a reserve that if something weird happens to a check, I'm fine. (It's still kind of weird seeing how much I net each month.) I set a goal to pay off the shitty credit card this year, and that'll happen next month. (I still haven't decided when to close the account. I'll probably wait a bit just in case. I couldn't care less about my credit score – that's just a big scam anyway – but I do want an emergency credit line if I need one.) The other card that cut my credit line will be paid off in December or January. My goal was to pay off $7500 of my debt this year; I should have that done by October. And on top of that, I had enough left over to buy myself a Kinect and a tablet.

The remaining credit cards are a bit bigger, so it'll take me longer to pay them off, but I have one planned to be done in 2014 and the other in 2015. At the same time, I'm putting more toward the principal on my mortgage, hoping to get it low enough to get the PMI removed so I can use that money toward other things. Obviously there'll be big expenses at some point - I've been blessed with good car health, so that'll run out eventually, and of course the AC - but once the main credit cards are dropping, I can handle those easily. If I end up getting raises or promotions, those will just get me to my goals faster. I didn't add those to the budget because this is more like bad-case planning (not worst-case). It's always easier to deal with more money than with less.

So. For the first time in forever, I'm actually cleaning things up. Yeah, sometimes it's tough, keeping track of basically everything, and that's, I think, why my weight hasn't really changed in six months, even though I'm within sight of the most I've ever weighed, ever. There's a limit to the amount of self-control people have. Right now, my weight is less of a danger to me than my finances are. Besides, it's kind of like living in a sauna for three months. JOKE. It's fine, really. I've been a Lions fan for 40 years, a little heat isn't going to bother me much ... although it's interesting how hot my feet get. (This is related to two problems: poor circulation, which normally manifests itself as cold feet/hands in winter, and poor sweat mechanisms. Nice if you're riding a bike - I don't wear gloves because my hands don't sweat - but not so nice in a warm environment.) Anyway, I can't really describe what it's like to be making positive changes in an area where, frankly, I've sucked pretty much my whole life. I've got a long way to go, but compared to where I've been, I think some people might not recognize me. (You should have heard ems when I told her I had a budge-it.)

See? It's much more interesting to wait than for me to post little bits at a time, plus it's not like I'm going to post all of this on Facebook. (That's the advantage of the wall-of-text blogging style. Most people won't get this far down.) And trust: if it was something really interesting, like dating, you'd already know about this. I mean, that's really what Facebook's for, right?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2011: the defense in review (with special teams)

Part 3 of my season-in-review series. Yeah, things came up, so this should have been out  a couple of weeks ago, but at least free agency hasn't started yet.

DE: B

Performance: Surprisingly, the Lions' defensive line as a whole dropped off from 2010. Their ASR dropped from 7.7% to 6.5% even though they recorded only two fewer sacks: this was partly a result of not trailing nearly as often and thus seeing a lot more passes, and partly a result of ... I don't know. I would have thought the secondary had improved this year - see my comments below. Maybe the Lions just played teams with better offensive lines. Anyway, while the ends did a pretty good job, they need to get more sacks. If the goal is to contend for a Super Bowl, they have to be able to get to QBs like Rodgers and Brees, and that did not happen enough this year.

Depth here is not an issue. Vanden Bosch, Avril, Young and Jackson are all good players, meaning that the Lions can rest their speed demons and still get comparable pressure. On the other hand, their speed is occasionally an issue much as it has been in Indianapolis with Mathis and Freeney: great if the QB has the ball, not so great if he doesn't. Vanden Bosch adjusts very well to the run – the Lions were best in the league at runs around left end, allowing just 2.22 ALY per play – but Avril was susceptible to counters and draws, as Detroit's ALY at right end (from the offense's perspective) rose to 4.80, third-worst in the league.

Top priority: Obviously, re-signing unrestricted free agent Avril. My faith in his productivity was rewarded this year; even given his struggles against the run, he had a solid year, and his interception against San Diego demonstrated the athleticism that he brings to the position. One of the few players that Schwartz and Mayhew kept from the Dark Times, he's obviously the kind of player they want, so it's up to them to get him signed before the season starts. (Maybe he's figured out that if you do it just right, you can sit out the boring parts of the exhibition season.)

Other needs: Everyone else is under contract, so it's really just a matter of signing Avril. If he somehow gets away, I'm not sure how the Lions could replace him without spending the type of money that he probably wants in the first place.

DT: B

Performance: Again, generally good performance, just not enough pressure at times. The DTs' weakness was trap and wham plays, as we saw in the San Francisco game: those plays basically gave the 49ers the win. The Lions were strong against runs up the middle (3.69 ALY, 7th in the league) and on third-down plays in general, and Suh and Williams were big factors there. 

Hill was a solid backup all year; Fairley joined him once his foot was 100%. Fluellen is adequate, but works fine with the backup unit. (He'd be a liability if he had to start.)

Top priority: Suh is obviously the top starter, but it may be his contract that is the most important issue here. If he's willing to restructure it, the Lions can re-sign Avril. If not, then the Lions may have to cut Williams and hope that Fairley or Hill is ready for full-time duty.

Other needs: Figuring out whether or not Hill can be part of the rotation. He's a RFA, so the Lions have more options with him, but it may turn out that they need to cut him loose to save cap space.

LB: C

Performance: This is actually a pretty significant improvement over the last couple of years. For a change, linebackers were actually closing on the ball and making plays; sometimes they even dropped into coverage correctly. They still don't work together as a unit all the time, but this could be because, well, they haven't played much together, not with Durant and Tulloch coming in as FAs from Jacksonville and Tennessee.

At times, they seem to rely a little too much on the DL: I charted a number of plays where the LBs were passive, letting the play come up to them. Second-level yards weren't quite as much of a problem this year (1.23, 19th) as last year (1.25, 26th), but there's still improvement to be made.

Top priority: Comparing Tulloch's value to his salary demands. As an UFA, he could ask for a contract that Detroit can't afford to offer, and there may be other situations that would be better for him ... but there can't be too many of them, and I believe Schwartz made a point of pursuing him last season. I'm not sure Tulloch will dismiss that easily.

Other needs: A backup or backups, depending on the status of Bobby Carpenter, another UFA. He's contributed both as a backup and on special teams, so he's the kind of guy that could be replaced, but not as easily as people might think. Ashlee Palmer is primarily a ST guy as well, but a RFA: the Lions might choose to replace him if they don't think he can play defense more often.

CB: C-

Performance: When they were good, they seemed very, very good. When they were bad, they were awful. Houston and Wright are the kind of guys who can take advantages of mistakes, but not so much the kind that can force them. Beyond that, the Lions had below-replacement-level performance, to the point that Cunningham rarely used a dime package, even if it meant putting a LB or S on a WR.

On a number of early-season plays, the corners were beaten by taller, athletic WRs (Dez Bryant, for example). There is an argument to be made that even their better plays could be attributed more to QB mistakes (think Tony Romo), so this C- is really like the combination of an F and an A.

Top priority: Getting a good, tall corner. Eric Wright is an UFA; his confidence issues and size may mean that the Lions look elsewhere to fill his spot. Depending on what's available when they're on the clock, this could even come in the draft.

Other needs: Quality backups. Brandon McDonald is an UFA and should probably be released; Berry and Smith are still young, so maybe they'll develop into better corners, but it would be nice to have a couple of CBs on the bench who won't hurt the team if they have to start.

S: C-

Performance: Once you get beyond Delmas, the performance was questionable at best, and when he was injured late in the season, the secondary struggled. Spievey still doesn't play well enough from time to time to justify his starting role, but the lack of depth behind him was a huge issue, particularly when Delmas was out. Wendling was fine as usual on special teams, but a bit out of his element on the field, and guys like Coleman and Harris were basically just fill-ins.

Top priority: Figuring out what to do at SS. Is Spievey really the guy? He's just a third-year player, so it's not likely they'll be able to replace him with a known star, and maybe a full offseason will help him work out some of the problems I saw last season. After all, he did make some pretty good plays as well. The problem is that the Lions will likely be having cap issues the next couple of seasons, so they might be better off finding a new, young SS now rather than trying to get Spievey under the cap with a RFA contract.

Other needs: Getting players who can play on special teams and also play safety. Detroit's ST were bad enough (see below) that it's hard to recommend keeping many of the existing guys, and the play in the absence of Delmas was not good.

K: C-

Performance: I know, worse than I thought it should be, but numbers don't lie, right? Hanson was 5 of 7 from 50 or more this year, kind of: his longest made FG was 51 yards, so his age is starting to show. His one blocked kick was costly, and the efficiency of the offense meant that he had significantly fewer attempts, especially from 40-49, and going 2 of 4 from there was not good. Kicking off from the 35 helped his touchback percentage, but he just doesn't get enough height on those kicks, and the coverage team isn't good anyway, so teams returned kicks fairly well against the Lions.

Needs: A kickoff specialist, at the very least. I haven't read that Hanson was going to retire, or that Schwartz wanted to replace him, so let's assume he returns. He'll turn 42 before the season starts, so his range is going to shrink a little. He's been a great kicker for a long, long time, and kicking indoors will keep him active for a while longer, but kicking indoors would help a young, strong kicker as well.

P: C+

Performance: As with kickoffs, unimpressive at times, but unlike with kickoffs, quite impressive other times. Ryan Donahue replaced the ineffective Nick Harris and was unremarkable for eight games before going out with a season-ending injury; the Lions signed Ben Graham, who turned out to be better than he'd been in Arizona, but some of that may have been the coverage units. (Doesn't make sense, because Arizona actually improved without him, but maybe their new punter is just that much better.)

Needs: Figure out who the punter is going to be moving forward. You really can't carry four kickers, which means that the Lions will have to cut one if they're going to look for help for Hanson. Graham would be that one, given that he's an UFA and Donahue is on a rookie contract.

KR: C

Performance: Unspectacular, but not horrible. Stefan Logan was never really a threat to break one, but then he didn't make any drive-preventing errors that I recall either. Given the boom-or-bust-but-mostly-bust nature of return games, this is probably about what you can expect.

Needs: None, really. If there's a solid CB in the draft who also returns kicks, sure, give him a chance, but there's nothing wrong with a guy who'll put you near your 20 every time.

PR: D

Performance: Not much help here. Logan led the NFL with 28 fair catches, but the real story was that he was 25th in average return – that's next to last among qualified returners, ahead of only Armanti Edwards of Carolina. (Hmm. Maybe they should quit trying to play QBs at positions other than QB. Keep in mind that the Panthers thought Jimmy Clausen was a QB.) Basically, Logan had two choices: not much yardage or no yards at all.

Needs: Better blocking, and perhaps a returner more suited to punt returns. No, Patrick Peterson won't be available in the second round, but the Lions could sure use someone with better broken-field running skills than Logan.

Friday, February 03, 2012

2011: the offense in review

Part 2 of a series looking at the season that just completed and what might be expected from the season to come. Here, I focus on the talent at each position, and what I think should be done for 2012.

QB: A-

Performance: I know ... A- for a 5000-yard season? Well, remember that Stafford threw the third-most passes in NFL history. Counting stats must always be read in context. Certainly, Stafford's first full season looked much more like a #1 overall pick than what we saw in his partial seasons, in no small part, I think, due to the strength training he did in the offseason. He took a lot of hits in 2011 as well, but got up after each one of them, and ended up missing very few snaps. (Hill threw 3 passes; I don't think Stanton ever played.)

On the other hand, Stafford still got rattled after bad throws, particularly in the game at Chicago, and still tries to force the ball into coverage. With Calvin Johnson on the receiving end, sometimes that's OK, and at his best, Stafford has the ability to fit the ball into a ball-sized window. He's not always at his best, though. Sometimes it's better to take a sack (something he did better in 2011 than in 2010) or to throw it away.

Top priority: What he did last year. Maybe work more with the younger receivers (Pettigrew, Young) to develop the same kind of rapport he has with Johnson. Think of the Colts as an example. Manning had a #1 target (Harrison or Wayne or Clark), but also had other receivers he could trust to be a certain place at a certain time, and it made their offense nearly unstoppable. If Stafford can get the WRs and TEs on the same page, this could be a similar offense.

Other needs: It would help to re-sign one of the backups; both Hill and Stanton filled in well in 2010. It's probably not possible to re-sign both for reasonable money due to their experience. Hill will be 32, Stanton will be 28, so there's that, but I think Hill is more capable of running a full-throttle offense than Stanton.

RB: C

Performance: Despite the wide variance in playing time and usage, Smith, Best, and Morris all had comparable DYAR (48, 46, and 37 respectively). Smith's raw stats look pretty good until you realize that he played mostly against teams with bad run defenses (17.1% VOA, 7.2% DVOA). All three backs had higher DYAR on the receiving side (Best 65, Morris 64, Smith 64), and each back posted a receiving DVOA above 17% (Smith and Morris were above 25%).

Obviously, the absence of Leshoure was felt from Week 1, and when Best went out (again) with concussion problems, the Lions had to scramble. If Smith hadn't been available via FA, the back situation would have been grim. Morris is a change-up back, not a starter, and Keiland Williams is an adequate big back for a team with a good OL. Detroit is not that team.

Top priority: Opening training camp with two strong, healthy backs. Leshoure's status will be almost completely unknown until camp begins: there was some research done with respect to older players and Achilles injuries, but even those are nearly anecdotal, and of course it's impossible to separate an injury-recovery decline in performance from an age-related decline in performance. Leshoure is obviously younger than NFL peak age, so he could, potentially, return at good strength in 2012, although he may not be 100% until 2013.

Best, on the other hand, has played two injury-filled seasons in the NFL following a concussion-filled college career. With the richly-deserved focus on concussions in today's game, it's entirely possible that Best will never be able to play at the level the Lions hoped he would when they drafted him in 2010. (To be clear, I'm glad if this happens, because it'll mean it's not safe for him to play and thus he won't be allowed to risk his health. In the past, they'd have thrown him out there, let him rack up concussions, and cut him when he couldn't think straight any more.)

Smith is a free agent, but remember that RB is a fungible position, and he also has a history of injury. If he'll sign for a reasonable price, get him, but if not, don't be afraid to go back to the draft, or to look for a low-priced FA.

Other needs: None, really. Morris is replacement-level at best and probably not worth re-signing. Jerome Harrison obviously has more important things on his mind right now than football. The Lions can grab younger backs if they need to fill out their roster.

WR: B+

Performance: Calvin Johnson led the NFL with 586 DYAR, topping WRs with 16 TDs (tied for 14th all-time) and the NFL with 1681 receiving yards (7th all-time, but only second in Detroit history behind Herman Moore's 1681). The one thing that could probably be improved is his catch rate, 61%, but a) that's his career high (up from 57% last season), b) it's affected by the long passes thrown to him (33% last season were either Deep passes or Bombs), and c) it's also affected by the point in the season where defensive coordinators realized that single coverage was not the way to play Megatron. (You should know by now that any coach whose last name is Ryan is not given to intelligent comments. He wasn't that far off, though: Laurent Robinson was 3rd in DVOA, ahead of Megatron, and Dez Bryant was 13th ... but significantly behind Johnson. Suffice it to say that even at the time, Ryan's remark was obviously trolling. Give Titus Young a couple of seasons, and Megatron could post stats that even Ryan would appreciate.) So let's not dwell on that 61%. Megatron had a spectacular season.

Once Young became a part of the offense, he quickly developed into a threat, catching four or more passes in each of the Lions' last four games and scoring a total of 4 TDs in those games. His catch rate is low (56%), but he's young and has a high ceiling, so he should take over the #2 role from Burleson next season. Burleson, like Young, had a slightly negative DVOA (-4.5% to Young's -1.6%), but is a good fit as a secondary receiver in this offense. Expect him to become even more of a possession receiver with Young's emergence.

Top priority: Keep Johnson healthy and happy. Until another receiver emerges as an adequate complement, Johnson is what makes the receiving corps dangerous.

Other needs: Again, none, really. Johnson-Young-Burleson is a fine group to have, and all are under contract. The only free agents are ST-quality receivers, and that's another section.

TE: B

Performance: Brandon Pettigrew's counting stats were up slightly, but his performance dropped a bit; like Young and Burleson, he had a slightly negative DVOA (-2.2%). Tony Scheffler wasn't used nearly as often (43 passes to 126 toward Pettigrew), but was far more productive, with a 24.6% DVOA (8th among TEs) and 96 DYAR (vs. 30 for Pettigrew). Scheffler's ability to make spectacular catches makes you wonder why he wasn't on the field more often ... until you realize that Detroit doesn't use a lot of empty sets, and using 2 TEs means the third WR has to come off. His low catch rate (60%) was probably a factor as well.

Pettigrew has a couple of areas for improvement: YAC and penalties. For all his size, Pettigrew doesn't seem to get through tackles often, averaging less than 4 YAC, but that wasn't as big of a deal as the penalties. He led the NFL in false starts among non-linemen (there is, of course, no source for this; I just recall hearing it during a broadcast), and of course had that personal foul late in the season.)

Will Heller was mostly used as a FB and blocking TE; he fills in well enough in both roles.

Top priority: Getting the most out of Pettigrew. If he can improve his performance, his size and skills will make him a very dangerous target.

Other needs: None, really. If Young emerges as a clear #2 WR, then Linehan can do more of the 12 package (1 RB/2 TEs) that the Lions used last season, with either or both TEs flexing out and with Scheffler occasionally lining up as a WR.

OT: C-

Performance: Ah, now we get to the criticism. When the tackles were good, they were decent; when they were bad, they were awful. Backus deserves a ton of credit for surviving the Dark Times and not missing a game (take that, QB-consecutive-games-played people), but he's obviously past his prime, and he's no longer capable of doing more than slowing down elite pass rushers. Unfortunately, Jared Allen and Clay Matthews are in the same division, which means at least one-fourth of the Lions' games are against teams with elite speed rushers. Gosder Cherilus is young, but old enough that he's probably reached his potential, which isn't much better than Backus' level of play. In fact, Detroit had much worse ALY at right end (2.44) than at left end (3.67). The Lions had a solid ASR of 5.9%, but of course some of that is from Stafford getting rid of the ball quickly; who knows how much higher it would have been if Detroit had good OTs?

Top priority: Getting a good LT to protect Stafford. If there is an immediate starter at #23 (much later than Schwartz is accustomed to picking), they need to take him. It may even be worth trading up to get one. There are no FAs who are both healthy and good, so looking at, say, Jared Gaither or Demetrius Bell may not be worth the money they'd cost.

Other needs: Backus is a FA; he's only worth re-signing if he'll take backup money. He could be a good mentor for a rookie LT. A replacement for Cherilus would be nice, but it's unlikely the Lions can find two starting-caliber tackles in one offseason. Corey Hilliard is a competent backup (actually outplaying Cherilus for stretches in 2010), and as a RFA, he could be worth re-signing.

G: B-

Performance: Not bad, actually. Rob Sims was a serviceable LG, and Stephen Peterman turned out to be better than I thought he would be. Detroit's highest ALY, by far, was through right tackle, 4.22, and Peterman deserves some credit for that. Both guards seem to do an adequate job of pulling, although the line as a unit doesn't play well enough for that to work every time.

Top priority: Figuring out if Carl Nicks can fit under the cap, lol. He's available, so it would be crazy not to ask. Barring that, the Lions should probably stick with what they have. There are more urgent needs elsewhere.

Other needs: Young backups. Leonard Davis is a free agent, but he's old and seldom used. Pick up a late-round player or an undrafted FA for depth.

C: C-

Performance: Like Backus, Dominic Raiola cut his teeth during the Dark Times (although unlike Backus, he had the temerity to miss a game or two). Like Backus, he's at the point where he's no longer a starting-caliber player. If he's responsible for line calls, then he's doing that well, as there were not many plays I saw where the protection itself was an issue (it was more individual blocking), and that's not easily dismissed, but he occasionally got run over by bigger DL.

Top priority: Figuring out if Scott Wells can fit under the cap. (Yes, I am suggesting poaching OL from the Lions' top NFC opponents. Hell yes.) There are a couple of other quality centers out there, but if Detroit can't land one, they at least need to draft a young guy who can replace Raiola in the near future.

Other needs: Probably none. Whether or not they sign a FA, they need a backup. If they do sign a FA, Raiola will probably be the backup, unless they can afford the cap hit to release him. (Even then, they may not. It would not go over very well to just dump him by the wayside.) If they draft a center, obviously the rookie would be the backup.

Coming next: the defense and what little I know about special teams.

Monday, January 16, 2012

2011: the season in review

Now that the season is over, it's time to take a look back and review it in detail, both from what things seemed like at the time and how they look now.

Overall, of course, the season was a huge success.
  • 10 regular-season wins, beaten only by the '91 Lions (12-4) and the '31 Spartans and '62 Lions (both 11-3). 
  • A team-record 474 points (yes, even in points per game; the highest-scoring team playing 14 games was the '70 Lions, they of the 5-0 loss to Dallas in the first-ever NFC wild-card game, scoring 347 points). 
  • A point difference of 87, tenth-best. The best ever by a Lions team was +179 by the '34 Lions: scoring 238, giving up just 59 (in a 13-game season!). Unfortunately, they were in the wrong division. The Bears went 13-0, including back-to-back wins over the Lions to clinch the division (19-16 and 10-7), and then lost the NFL championship to New York. (The Lions would get revenge in '35, going 1-0-1 against Chicago and beating the Giants for their first NFL title.)
  • Records of almost every kind with respect to passing: Stafford's 421 completions, 663 attempts, 63.5% completions, 5038 yards, 41 TDs; Johnson's 16 TD receptions. (Johnson's 1681 receiving yards were second to Herman Moore's 1686 in 1995 ... and Moore had 27 more receptions.) Hanson's 54 extra points were also a record.
The comebacks were nice; another comeback in the wild-card game at New Orleans would have been nice, too, but it wasn't to be. Maybe next season ...

Game 1: Detroit 27 at Tampa Bay 20


At the time: A big win on the road over a 2010 playoff contender. A 17-0 run gave the Lions a lead they'd hold through a Buccaneer comeback.
Now: Unimpressive. Tampa Bay finished a lackluster 4-12 and gave up nearly 500 points, yet Detroit managed just 27 points and had to hold off a late comeback to preserve a 7-point win. Detroit fumbled four times, but was fortunate to recover all of them.

Game 2: Kansas City 3 at Detroit 48


At the time: A rout of a 2010 division winner: six Kansas City turnovers, only 116 yards net passing, a game under control from start to finish. The Lions are an impressive 2-0.
Now: Less impressive, but still solid. A 45-point win is good no matter who the opponent is. The Chiefs finished just 7-9 (and, like Tampa Bay, fired their coach), but then again, they did manage to beat Green Bay, and the Lions couldn't do that. Matt Cassel and his backups never established a good passing game, so the 116 wasn't as good as it may have seemed.

Game 3: Detroit 26 at Minnesota 23, OT


At the time: A huge comeback on the road against a division rival. The Vikings and Lions both finished 2010 at 6-10, and both had hopes for 2011. Winning in the Metrodome meant that the Lions, for a change, were the team with an advantage.
Now: Significantly less impressive. Donovan McNabb turned out to be a huge bust - or perhaps he was simply in a no-win situation. Minnesota slumped to 3-13, making this game look more like a problem for the Lions than the big win it seemed to be. Detroit's failure to move the ball in the first half, to establish a running game, and to keep Jared Allen out of the backfield would all be repeating themes.

Game 4: Detroit 34 at Dallas 30


At the time: Another huge comeback on the road; at 4-0, with three road wins, the Lions suddenly look like a playoff team. Sure, Dallas was 6-10 in 2010, but they looked pretty good at this point. Unlike the Minnesota game, this one relied on help from the Cowboys: two interception returns for TDs.
Now: About the same. Dallas went 8-8 and just missed the playoffs, but again, lack of first-half offense without turnovers to blame meant that Detroit was starting to establish a pattern of struggling early.

Game 5: Chicago 13 at Detroit 24


At the time: In a long-awaited return to Monday night, the Lions slog through a penalty-filled game to hold off the defending division champs and NFC runners-up. At 5-0, they're a legitimate Super Bowl contender, or so we think.
Now: Hard to say. Again, the offense struggled, and obviously there were discipline problems with respect to penalties that never went away, but until Cutler got hurt, the Bears were on track for the #5 seed. With that in mind, this was a significant win for the Lions even in retrospect.

Game 6: San Francisco 25 at Detroit 19


At the time: A disappointing loss. The Lions are plus-2 in turnovers and hold San Francisco to 125 yards passing, but blow a fourth-quarter lead and fail to defeat a team, like them, coming off a 6-10 season and looking for more. The loss was more painful because it was at home, and Atlanta, not San Francisco, was supposed to be the challenge following the Chicago game.
Now: More understandable, but still disappointing. Flip this game around and Detroit becomes the #5, San Francisco becomes the #3, and who knows what's different? Still, the 49ers played a truly poor game and the Lions could not take advantage of it. Stafford could not move the ball well enough against a good defense.

Game 7: Atlanta 23 at Detroit 16


At the time: Understandable. The defending #1 seed shakes off a rough start to the season and keeps the Lions at bay the entire game. Again, Detroit struggles against a good defense.
Now: Very costly and less understandable. This was the game that knocked Detroit into the spot opposite the Saints. Atlanta's defense is still pretty good, but the Falcons turned out to be Detroit's peers, and the Lions should have been able to win this one. Inability to beat contending teams made the difference between 10-6 and maybe 13-3 ... keeping in mind that they could also have been 7-9 without those comebacks.

Game 8: Detroit 45 at Denver 10


At the time: A much-needed win, moving the Lions back toward a playoff spot. Untested Tim Tebow is ravaged by the Lions' defense, giving Detroit 14 points off turnovers and failing to generate much offense himself. Denver does get 195 yards on the ground, which is a concern.
Now: The 2-5 Broncos finish 8-8, win the division, and upset a shaky Pittsburgh team in the playoffs, making this win look pretty significant. Looking back, a 4-0 start on the road from a franchise that twice spent 3 years looking for a road win ... and notching two of those wins over playoff contenders (their fifth and final road win would come against Oakland, another contender), well ... even if all the contenders were .500 teams, that's still a lot of progress.

Game 9: Detroit 13 at Chicago 37


At the time: A humiliating blowout that put Green Bay out of reach and began to put the Lions' playoff possibilities in question. A series of poor decisions by Stafford and Detroit's special teams gave the Bears all they needed to secure a much-needed win.
Now: Not so bad considering the Bears' trajectory at the time. Keeping in mind that 14 points came from interception returns and 7 from a punt return, it certainly wasn't the defense that was at fault. Still, we see the same problems that we saw earlier: inability to move the ball against a good defense, and bad decision-making leading to points for the other team.

Game 10: Carolina 35 at Detroit 49


At the time: One horrible quarter-plus followed by two-ish quarters of very impressive offensive football. The Panthers' defense was as bad as advertised, but the Lions gave up way too much and should not have had to mount such a comeback.
Now: Somewhat understandable given the Panthers' 6-10 record, but turnovers and special teams (the only two returns for TDs the Lions gave up in the kicking game happened during these two games) put Detroit in a spot they shouldn't have been in.

Game 11: Green Bay 27 at Detroit 15


At the time: Missed opportunities. Turnovers and penalties. The Lions slowed the Packers enough to give themselves chances to win, but failed to take advantage when they could, and thus endeth the shot at a division title. Some of it could be blamed on injuries, but that was only on defense: the offense, other than at RB, was basically untouched.
Now: Just the same. All six Detroit losses came against playoff contenders: most losses were like this one, where you could see this was an improved Lions team, but also that they were simply not good enough to win these games. The absence of Louis Delmas made the secondary a concern, and guys like Alphonso Smith and Chris Harris played roles they really weren't good enough to play. Maybe that put too much pressure on the offense, but then a winning team can pull out games like that. Detroit, in 2011, did not.

Game 12: Detroit 17 at New Orleans 31


At the time: Better than Indianapolis-New England? Maybe not. Three second-quarter touchdowns put the game out of reach: the Lions couldn't cover the Saints' receivers and couldn't pressure Brees.
Now: No different. New Orleans showed they were clearly better, at least better than a Detroit team with a banged-up secondary. Even looking at this as a throwaway game for the Lions (odds of winning in New Orleans? low), at some point, you'd like your team to play well against an elite team, and it never really happened for Schwartz.

Game 13: Minnesota 28 at Detroit 34


At the time: Again, the Lions have to hold off a weak opponent in Ford Field. A missed face-mask call means Detroit forces a fumble on the final play to preserve a win; the Lions are plus-6 (!!) in turnover margin but struggle all game to move the ball. Is the offense going to be strong enough to get the Lions into the playoffs?
Now: Worse than at the time. This should have been a rout, but the offense produces just 20 points, and the defense gives up 269 yards rushing to a team that was one of the worst in the NFC. Perhaps this game showed the need to upgrade at both tackle positions: neither Backus nor Cherilus can hold off speed rushers well enough to move the ball effectively, and that's on a team with a QB who threw for over 5000 yards.

Game 14: Detroit 28 at Oakland 27


At the time: A dramatic comeback, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat yet again, and on the road in a hostile environment against a playoff contender. Calvin Johnson's monster game keeps Detroit in the driver's seat for a wild-card spot.
Now: A little less impressive given Oakland's face plant against San Diego, but still ... while the defense was wholly unimpressive, the offense did just enough to make up for it, and several teams rode that mix to a home playoff game (New England, Green Bay, New Orleans).

Game 15: San Diego 10 at Detroit 38


At the time: The Lions seal a playoff spot by rolling the Chargers, knocking San Diego out of contention. Up 24-0 at halftime, Detroit can just cruise to a win.
Now: A little more impressive given San Diego's win over Oakland in Week 17, and perhaps also because it was a win they needed to lock up a wild-card spot. Those wins aren't always easy for teams that aren't used to the playoffs.

Game 16: Detroit 41 at Green Bay 45


Now: Inexplicable. With several key players resting, Green Bay forced the usual array of turnovers and penalties that have been characteristic of Lions' losses. Instead of a game at New York or Dallas, the Lions get another trip to New Orleans, and that one ends about as well as you'd expect.

Wild-card: Detroit 28 at New Orleans 45


Now: Pretty impressive, given that in their first meeting, the Saints dunked the Lions right away and wouldn't stop until the lifeguard came over and yelled at them. Detroit actually led at halftime, 14-10 – 10 points for the Saints in one half! – and trailed only 24-21 at the end of three. New Orleans converted three fourth-down opportunities, and those made the difference: the Lions never forced a punt. In addition to OT, Detroit must upgrade at CB and SS. The NFL is a passing league, so you have to have a secondary that either makes big plays (GB) or simply doesn't allow you to make them (Hou, Bal). Another year of experience for Suh, Fairley, and Avril (who must be re-signed) should also help.

Overall, 10-6 and a playoff spot is a big step up, and for the first time since maybe the '50s, the Lions also have a legitimate reason to look for improvement beyond this. They have young talent at QB, WR, TE, DE, DT, and FS, and with healthy RBs and an improved OL and secondary, they could challenge for the NFC crown next year.

Schwartz and Mayhew deserve a lot of credit for what they've done, particularly with respect to Stafford. It's just one season at this point, but there is a huge difference between the way he was playing this year, even in the last two games, and how he played in previous seasons. With another year under his belt, and with a full training camp ahead of him, he should be posting some solid numbers in 2012 as well.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

NFL week 17: Let the playoffs begin

So ... yeah. 45 points. But hey, Stafford broke the 5000-yard mark this season ... and was third in the NFL. Take that, Danny boy.
  • Green Bay rested starters and still knocked the Lions into the #6 seed. As a result, Matt Flynn will get a Scott Mitchell-sized contract. Maybe he can do stupid State Farm commercials, too.
  • San Francisco did clinch the #2 seed, although St. Louis did make a game of it late. 
  • The Giants did sweep the Cowboys to win the division. I didn't check, but I'm sure Romo got blamed for it somehow (although he did play – amazing things they can do these days to keep swelling down).
  • The Patriots did crush the Bills (after spotting them a 21-point lead, showoffs) to clinch the #1 seed. 
  • Baltimore did not lose to Cincinnati, but they and Pittsburgh both get byes. (Because really, you think Tebow is going to move the ball against the Steelers' defense?)
  • Kyle Orton did "lead" the Chiefs to victory over the Broncos, but the Raiders lost to the Chargers and missed the playoffs. 
  • Cincinnati did get the #6 seed, but only because everyone else (including the Jets) lost.
So I got three of the four wild-card matchups right. It's Pittsburgh at Denver instead of Baltimore at Oakland. Of course it didn't take much to hit some of those predictions ... although wouldn't it have been wild if St. Louis had knocked New Orleans into the #3 seed by beating them, then bumped them back to the #2 by beating San Francisco?
  • The Colts did get the #1 pick, and apparently they will draft Andrew Luck. This is not a good sign, because Indianapolis doesn't have a GM yet. (The Polians were fired as soon as the season ended. Note: If you're an asshole, you can keep your job as long as you perform well. If you're an asshole, and you promote your asshole son to do your job, and he sucks at it, you'll both get fired. I never met the Polians, but from what I read, Bill did nothing to endear himself to anyone, and Chris was even less likable.) That means Jim Irsay is going to look for someone who'll do what he wants, and given that sometimes he doesn't even know what that is, we may well have found Al Davis' spiritual successor.
  • Raheem Morris did not fire himself; he didn't have to. The Bucs were down 42-0 in the first half, and if the Glazers actually paid attention to the team, he probably would have been fired then.
  • We ended up with 7 non-playoff teams at 8-8. This is why the draft order uses only strength of schedule and a coin flip as tiebreakers! 
  • Minnesota couldn't even beat Bad Chicago. It wasn't enough to get Frazier fired, though he did have to cut an assistant or two. 
  • Steve Spagnuolo did get fired, probably deservedly so (how about that Josh McDaniels hire? sure helped Bradford), even if he never had enough talent to work with. (The GM was let go as well.) 
  • Andy Reid did not get fired, and I agree with that as well. It took a while to get all the free agents on the same page, and once they were playing together and Vick was healthy, the Eagles looked pretty good. No team in this division looks that good, so Philadelphia should contend for a playoff spot next year too. 
  • The Chiefs may keep Romeo Crennel on as head coach, replacing the fired Todd Haley. Good luck with that.
  • The NFL continues to take measures to address player safety and how teams attend to injured players, but they continue to refuse to punish the Browns for the way they mishandled Colt McCoy's injury. I wonder how much of that is because of Mike Holmgren's presence ... one of the old guard, with his buddies looking out for him? (And why isn't the NFLPA filing complaints about it?)
OK, enough about last week. New Orleans, New York, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh will win this weekend.

Lions season outlook, wild-card round

So McCarthy did rest a number of starters, and yet the Lions' defense, not the offense, was the guilty party in the resulting loss. With Rodgers, Starks, and Jennings on the bench, the Packers still rolled up 45 points on what was supposed to be one of the better defenses in the NFL in a game that meant so much more to the Lions than the Packers. Of course the Falcons crushed a Tampa Bay team that soon-to-be-ex-coach Raheem Morris had lost weeks ago, so now Detroit travels to New Orleans and the Falcons play the Giants.

Massey gives the Lions a 22% chance to beat New Orleans, so that makes them heavy underdogs, and that sounds about right. The overall path to the Super Bowl, if there is one, probably doesn't change much: assuming New Orleans would beat Atlanta, the Lions would have faced Green Bay in the divisional playoff round if they beat New York, and of course that's who they'll play if they manage to pull off this upset. I do think the Giants are an easier team for the Lions to beat, but that doesn't matter now.

The Playoff Odds report for the wild-card round:

NFC championship appearance: 11.0%, 5th in NFC/8th overall
NFC title: 4.4%, down 0.2 points
Super Bowl win: 2.1%, unchanged

Cincinnati gets a team hoping not to play its fourth-string quarterback. Detroit gets a team with a guy who just set a few NFL records. (Of course, he also plays for the only team to lose a playoff game to a team with a losing record, so there's that.) The Lions were missing three key defensive players in the earlier matchup on Sunday night, and they were never really in the game. That was partly because the offense couldn't find a rhythm in the noisy Superdome, and that aspect won't change today. Suh is, of course, back from suspension, and both Houston and Delmas should play; Mark Ingram is, to my knowledge, the only notable injury for New Orleans. (UPDATE: after I published this, Lance Moore was declared out for the Saints. So now they're down to eleventy-minus-one receivers.) The Lions will need all three to contribute if they are to pull off the upset. Detroit has to get pressure on Brees, they have to keep Stafford upright, and they can't afford to give away points on special teams.

It would take magic for the Lions to win this game, and this year, I think the magic is in just being in the playoffs. Saints, 34-17.

Last week: predicted 20-17, actual 41-45

Current mood: just happy to be here

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lions season outlook, week 17 and beyond

A rout of San Diego puts the Lions in the playoffs, and a New Orleans rout of Atlanta gives Detroit the #5 seed for now. The opening line for the Detroit-Green Bay game was Packers -1.5, but that's already shifted to Detroit -3.5 ... clearly Las Vegas or bettors (or both) see McCarthy resting his starters in a mostly-meaningless game for the Packers. Atlanta plays a late game, so they'll know at kickoff whether or not they have a shot at the #5 seed.

Massey projections:
Week 17: at Green Bay, heavy underdog
Tossups are 50%; slight favorites are up to 3-2 (60%), then favorites up to 3-1 (75%), then heavy favorites up to 5-1 (86%), then overwhelming favorites. Slight underdogs are down to 2-3 (40%), then underdogs down to 1-3 (25%), then heavy underdogs down to 1-5 (14%), then overwhelming underdogs.


We'll have to wait for next week to find out more ... Massey's new layout makes it really hard to draw any conclusions. Sagarin has the Lions as a slight favorite against either Dallas or the Giants and a 6- to 6.5-point underdog against New Orleans or San Francisco, so that #5 seed is a big deal.

The Playoff Odds report for Week 17:

Mean wins: 10.2, up 0.3
NFC title: 4.6%, up 1.3 points
Super Bowl win: 2.1%, up 0.7 points

Obviously a playoff spot is secured, and that probably is the cause for the increase in NFC and Super Bowl title chances.

The Lions didn't struggle at all last week. It was 24-0 at halftime, and San Diego was never really close. I believe Detroit will have the same focus on the road, even if in front of a hostile crowd and likely in inclement weather. (Weather Underground says otherwise, though.) I'll assume that the Packers don't play Rodgers much, if at all. Detroit will move the ball fairly well, and Flynn won't do nearly as well against a fired-up defense. It won't be easy, but the Lions will lock down the #5 seed. Twenty years ago, they had a similar situation, but it was for the division title and a first-round bye, and it was against the AFC's #1 seed, the Bills. With Kelly, Thomas, and Reed on the sidelines, Buffalo was still able to hold down Barry Sanders and company, but Detroit stole a win in overtime, 17-14, finishing 12-4 (still a franchise record for regular-season wins) and setting the stage for their only playoff win in modern history. There will be no playoff home game, barring some crazy upsets (right, Colts fans?), but still ... Lions, 20-17.

Last week: predicted 31-26, actual 38-10

Current mood: ready for this "playoffs" thing I've heard so much about

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