The Football Outsiders Almanac is a must read for pro football fans who want to go deeper into the game, and Aaron Schatz is the founder of Football Outsiders and lead editor for the Almanac. Full disclosure: I have a guest article in the back of the book relating to running back workload and injury reports, building off what I did here a few years ago. I was not involved in any of the extensive team chapters, with extensive projections for all 32 teams, so once I was able to look at the rest of the book, I had some questions for Aaron Schatz about some team projections that stood out to me.
Q: The Jets actually have a better win projection than the Giants. After a season where the Jets missed the playoffs and the Giants won the Super Bowl, some might think the Jets are going the wrong direction, so what is driving the Jets with more wins than Giants, and better playoff odds?
AS: Well, you have to start off with the fact that the projections are primarily based on how teams play in the regular season, and the Giants just weren’t that great last regular season. First 9-7 team to win the Super Bowl, remember? The Jets actually ranked higher than the Giants in our DVOA ratings last year; the 8-8 Jets were 10th while the 9-7 Giants were 12th. The Giants of course project to be healthier this year, but on the other hand they have a much harder schedule than the Jets. We’re projecting the Giants with the fourth hardest schedule in the league, while the Jets are 21st.
Subjectively, I feel like our projection system missed something with the Giants, and they should have come out higher. The problem is that I have that same subjective feeling about the 49ers, Lions, and
Cowboys. But none of our NFC projections seem too *high*. If I subjectively think those teams should win more games than our mean projection, the wins have to come from somewhere. Where do they come
from? I’m not sure.
As for the Jets going the wrong direction, the chapter that Mike Tanier in the book does a good job of detailing the circus around the Jets and our opinion of this two-quarterback idea, but you can’t get
away from the fact that this is one of the best defenses in the league, ranked fifth or higher in our ratings for three straight seasons. The Jets finished 20th in points allowed last year, but former FO writer Bill Barnwell did a good job on Grantland about a week ago of pointing out why that ranking is ridiculous and not really indicative of how well the Jets really played on defense. (A lot of it has to do with points scored by other defenses against the Jets *offense.*)
Q: The Bills are among the teams projected for a playoff spot in 2012. What do you see as the biggest factors driving that projection?
AS: Yep, this is our big “going out on a limb” forecast for 2012. The Bills have a history of roping us in with early success and then collapsing, so I’m hoping they don’t do that this time. Here’s what’s
driving the forecast:
— Adding a Pro Bowl-level pass rusher is probably the best offseason addition you can make on defense.
— The defense has a good mix of young talent and in-prime talent.
— Team had an above-average amount of injury in 2011, especially if we consider the Ryan Fitzpatrick rib injury, although “secret injuries” not reported until after the season don’t necessarily have
the best track record of being true.
— Easy projected schedule for all the teams in the AFC East, which makes Bills and Jets strong wild card contenders.
One negative for the Bills, I think, is something their fans likely see as a positive, which is drafting Stephon Gilmore 10th overall. As we point out talking about Morris Claiborne in the Dallas chapter,
rookie cornerbacks — even the most talented ones, who develop into Pro Bowlers — don’t have a very good track record in their first seasons. Someone like Joe Haden was a huge exception. More often you
see the more gradual development of someone like Vontae Davis or Johnathan Joseph. Darrelle Revis was pretty bad in our game charting numbers as a rookie — 56th in success rate, 61st in yards per pass —
and he may go down as one of the greatest who ever played the position.
Q: The FOA projection is really high on the Bears in 2012. I think that just shows that you continue to be the biggest Jason Campbell defenders. In seriousness, though, where does Chicago finish last year with a Campbell type backup, and do you see this as a continuation of the team that won 11 games in 2010, and was on pace for that in 2011 until Caleb Hanie?
AS: Yeah, the book points this out but the Bears’ offensive DVOA after Cutler’s injury would have ranked as the worst offense we’ve ever tracked if it had been their rating for the entire season. The Bears were 7-3 when Cutler got hurt. They had -7.5% DVOA through Week 11, then -44.9% afterwards. I happen to think Jason Campbell is an above-average backup, but we’ll assume a backup who is a little worse
than that, so let’s assume instead a -20.0% DVOA from Week 12-17. The difference between that and what the Bears actually did would likely be enough to make up the difference against Oakland in Week 12 (25-20) and Denver in Week 14 (13-10). It might be enough to make up the difference with Kansas City in Week 13, although we have the gap between the two teams a bit larger than the final score indicated. Anyway, with a reasonable backup, the Bears go 10-6 and tie Detroit for the second wild card spot — I have no idea who wins the tiebreaker — and, by the way, the San Diego Chargers also win the AFC
So yeah, we see this year’s Bears team as a continuation of the 2010 11-5 team and the 2011 7-3 team, which is why their projection is the second-highest in the NFC behind Green Bay.
Q: Which projection do you personally disagree with the most?
AS: Probably the Giants or 49ers, as I noted earlier. Both seem like they should be higher. The Giants projection doesn’t do a good job of incorporating how well they played in the postseason and the idea that
*that* is the “real Giants,” and the 49ers projection doesn’t — and in a statistical system like ours, can’t — account for the idea that Jim Harbaugh is a very good coach whose teams have a history of
improvement without taking intermediate steps backward.
Q: Since you mention the Giants rating is based only on the regular season, have you considered adding in the postseason (not overweighting it, just adding it as additional games) since it does give more data about a team’s ability? Have you researched whether, controlling for teams with same regular season DVOA, adding in the postseason does a better job of predicting the next year?
AS: Oh, I’ve played with so many variables over the nine years I’ve been trying to forecast NFL seasons, and yes, that’s one of the variables I’ve played with. I’ve done things in the past to look at the postseason. I’ve never worked a way to work it into the projection system, but I’m sure I’ll try again in the future, especially since teams like the 2008 Giants and 2009 Cardinals took significant postseason improvement and carried it over to the next year’s regular season.
[photo via US Presswire]