Sunday, November 29, 2009

Empty Sacks

One of several cliches which I hate is the notion that "statistics lie". Mark Twain's famous quote about there being "lies, damn lies, and statistics" has been over quoted about a million times (source: OMD). Contrary to what many people may think, statistics DO NOT lie. They can't lie. They are just numbers, which makes them incapable of lying. You can have false statistics, which is a different issue because someone else is lying by making them up, but assuming the statistics are accurate in what they are measuring then they are not lying. They can be misinterpreted, misanalysed, misappropriated and otherwise mistreated, but they can't lie.

Statistics are merely numbers which tell parts of a story in quantifiable ways. In order to really get the most out of them, you have to think, something that most people lack the time or inclination (or both) to do. And an important part of this thinking involves realizing the limitations of what statistics can and can't tell us about a given phenomenon.

Today's victory against the Chiefs can remind us of the interesting ways in which stats can't quite capture everything that goes on in a football game. Simply looking through the box score, or at the accumulated stats of a team or player, can never tell us the whole story, because of course the whole story isn't easily quantifiable.

The Charger defense played fairly well today, giving up just 14 points and limiting the Chiefs to 284 yards of offense. They managed to do with without three of their best players, who were all down for most or all of the game with injury. Most importantly, they forced 4 turnovers. But surprisingly, the Chargers actually recorded no sacks today. Someone without knowledge of the game itself might look at this and think that the Chargers were unable to generate any sort of pass rush today, but this would be wrong. The Chargers actually had several plays which were nearly sacks but actually ended up better than sacks.

(EDIT: after writing this post, I actually looked over the message boards, and this subject was already a discussion topic. Someone who hadn't seen the game had looked at the sack stats and was bemoaning the Charger lack of pass rush.)

Paul Oliver would have had a sack if not for the inexplicable fumble by Matt Cassell. Instead Oliver got a gift TD, which was a much better outcome. Similarly, Larry English could have had a sack except that he beat Cassell to recovering a fumble. Dobbins also would have had a sack if not for the intentional grounding call. The result was the same, a safety, but no sack recorded.

So in this case you have at least three would be sacks which the Bolts missed out on, but it was actually to their benefit to do so! It won't help them in the league standings for most team sacks, but the actual outcome was better.

Looking at LT's stat line, you can see another way statistics fail to tell the whole story. True, he had 2 TDs, but he gained a mere 39 yards on the ground. From this we might conclude that he had a poor game, but the reality is that he played as much as the Chargers needed him, and was basically pulled from the game pretty early on because it was a rout.

Its not fair to blame the stats for this. They aren't inaccurate at all, they are just limited by their nature. A sack can only be a sack, it can't be anything else. Its a good example of how statistics are merely a tool which require careful thought and consideration in order to be utilized properly.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Showdown in Denver

As much as I'd like to take credit for predicting the Chargers catching up to the Broncos by this weekend, sadly I was too lazy (or gutless) to actually write it down. Hence I have no proof of my prediction, not that it matters.

I wanna take this opportunity to say that I do not have a good feeling about tomorrow's showdown. I know I should, given the winning streak and the Broncos losing streak and the injury to Orton and Big Daddy LT's sudden resurgence. Conventional wisdom says this should be a mile-high cakewalk.

Which is exactly why I feel uneasy about it. I hate conventional wisdom, and I especially hate it when it comes to football, because football is a game which refuses to do what people say it should do. Every single story about the game has put forth the narrative of a suddenly invincible Chargers team heading into Denver to finish off a Broncos team in its final death throws. In just the latest example of lazy sports journalism, every article I've read or video I've watched about it has used the the phrase "two teams moving in opposite directions".

Yes, the Chargers have won 4 in a row. One of those was against the Chiefs. The next was at home against the Raiders, and that required a last minute defensive stand. The last two were against marginally better than .500 teams, and both of those games went down to the wire. I'm not trying to discount the wins, but its a great example of the fact that winning solves everything. Each of the last three games could have easily been lost but for a few key plays.

On the flip side the Broncos have lost 3 in a row. Two of those games were too very strong teams, and the other was on the road without their starting QB playing for a half. As bad as a losing streak is, they should still be considered dangerous.

Hopefully it all works out and this isn't an issue. I just know that the NFL is a league where the line between success is thin and chalky. Hopefully the Bolts can find themselves on the right side of it tomorrow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Big Questions in Life

Ok, so I was half wrong and half right. I was right to say that the Packer-Cowboys game would be a pile of blah, I was wrong in predicting the Cowboys to come out on top. Congrats to the Packers for their win.

I have an interesting situation this evening which comes up every so often for those of us who play fantasy football. I've already won for this week. I have more points than my opponent, and while all his players are done, I still have one player going in the Monday Night Game.

So the question is this: start, or sit?

In this situation I'm far enough ahead that a points backslide into a loss seems very unlikely, so it really doesn't matter. The other issue here is that any points my player gets will help me in a tiebreaker situation, and for that reason alone I'm gonna play him. However, I believe that anything that can happen certainly will, especially in football, so I did seriously consider benching my player and banking my victory before Hank Williams Jr. came on to sing.

There are two schools of thought on the subject. The sportsman in me says that you should play him, in accordance with the spirit of the game. The strung out victory junkie in me says that you bench him and enjoy your good fortune. This is the NFL after all, even if its just Fantasy Football (JUST!), and in the end you are indeed what your record says you are. It doesn't matter if you lose because you valued fake sportsmanship over fake victory.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Another excuse to hit the bar...

A quick thought: Screw you, Fox.

This Sunday at 4PM, approximately 124% of the nation is going to be subject to the Fox Broadcast of the Cowboys at Packers game. Seriously, check out the broadcast map. Its Fox's Marquee Game of the Week, and we know this because they put Joe Buck in the booth. Oh Joy!

Look at that map. The red bleeds into every nook and cranny of our great nation. The other games hardly have enough room to breath. Typically markets will get the games of teams in their division, but you don't even get that here with the exception of northern Colorado. Not Southern Colorado. Just the north half of the State.

They don't even have the decency to show the Chargers vs. Eagles in all of Colorado, or in Oakland or Kansas City. And I have to imagine there are plenty of Eagles fans in the rest of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York who really don't give a damn about the Cowboys and Packers. Plus I guarantee there are plenty of Charger fans in, say LOS ANGELES who might be curious as to how that game is going.

The Cowboys are a good but unspectacular team. They have little star power. And the Packers are bad and have no star power. This is not a marquee match up. So why is most of the nation being subjected to it? Short answer: Because the Cowboys are "America's Team"!


Memo to Fox: No one likes the Cowboys. Sure a few people do, but really most people dislike them. It's not that they're just indifferent to them. Most NFL fans The only possibly joy they would get from watching them is if they were ripped limb from limb by their opponent. And that's not likely to happen against a team which just lost to the freaking Buccaneers.

In fact, its more likely that Wade's Warriors will rip off at least one of Aaron Rogers limbs off, given that the Packer's O-Line is so godawful that they should be arrested tried for committing assault and battery on their own QB. Check out this cool website which tracks all his punishment throughout the season.

So basically we're going to be subjected to 3 hours of Buck and Aikman praising the Cowboys non stop, with a special focus on Tony Romo. And you just know that given the games' location, a certain QB who shall not be named and isn't even playing in the game will be mentioned at least 2 dozen times.

My only hope is that the Cowboys manage to blow out the Packers horrifically and are up 40 points at the half so Fox will mercifully switch stations, but now that I've said I want that I know its not gonna happen. My prediction: The Cowboys jump out early and maintain a double digit lead for most of the game. Two close to switch networks, not close enough to be an interesting game.

I guess what I'm really saying is: could you please show the Eagles/Chargers game?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Badverstising: Chase Sapphire Card

I know this is an older commercial, but I can't escape it and I hate it more every day. Let me explain: I usually watch The Daily Show and Colbert in the mornings on my computer while having breakfast. Between segments they play commercials, and it seems like this commercial has been on between every single segment for about 2 months now. Meaning I've had to endure and/or shut it off out of revulsion about 6 times every single morning.

Its not a totally awful commercial, but it is pretty bad. And pretty bad gets exponentially terrible with each showing. Let's go to the tape:

She spent a whole vacation's worth of points on that fugly dress!?!? What?!? Its not even flattering or pretty! They could be having lobster in St. Bart's but instead she gets to look like she's wearing a wrinkled sheet?

Then there's the music. I like Frank Sinatra, and I actually really like this song. But goddamn is it loud. They do the regular commercial trick of cranking the volume up 100% from the very sensible level at which you were listening. Plus, the crappyness of this commercial has actually inspired a kind of negative Pavlovian response in me for Old Blue Eyes. I hear those first few notes and I freak!

Please people, someone either get a Chase Sapphire or buy out the company and fire whoever green lit this commercial and decided to run it a gazillion times.