The Weekly League: Notes and Ideas for Week Four

This week's edition of The Weekly League features notes on Sunday night's game between Chicago and the New York Football Giants. It also features some idle thoughts on American filmmaker Woody Allen. I apologize for that in advance.

The Four Factors you see below represent each team's raw performance thus far in four important categories (pass and rush efficiency, pass and rush efficiency against) relative to league average (where 100 is league average and anything above is good). They're only for this season's first three weeks of games, however, so some regression is likely.

Along with the Four Factors, you'll see two other numbers: Generic Win Probability (GWP) and Game Probability (PROB). The GWP is the probability a team would beat the league average team at a neutral site. It can be found for all teams here. The PROB is each respective team's chance of winning this particular contest. Your host, Brian Burke, provides PROBs to the New York Times each week, and those numbers (along with methodology) can be found here.

Finally, a glossary of all unfamiliar terms can be found here.

Some Notes on Football and "High Culture"
It's very possible that you, reader, have one or more objections to American filmmaker Woody Allen. It's also very possible that your objections to Mr. Allen and/or his work are entirely reasonable. I don't care to dispute that notion.

What I'd like to submit is that one of Mr. Allen's strengths -- and I think it's indisputable -- is both his ease with high culture and his ability to mock it simultaneously. (Basically his entire filmography is a testament to this notion, although, if you're looking for examples, the Marshall McLuhan scene from Annie Hall is a strong one.) At his best, Allen is teaching us an important lesson -- namely, that we ought to be curious about, and humble before, the Great Works, but also that, insofar as everything is fallible, so are the same Great Works.

In any case, Allen is relevant to this post, specfically, and to football, in general, on account of some comments he made in a recent interview with the New York Times. He has a movie coming out soon (or maybe it has already come out) called You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. The interview is mostly about his fortcoming film, but then the following happens toward the end:

Q. When you’ve got down time between projects, as you do now, how do you spend it?

A. I do the usual stuff. I take my kids to school in the morning. I go for walks with my wife, play with my jazz band. Then there’s the obligation of the treadmill, and the weights, to keep in shape, so I don’t get more decrepit than I am. I generally don’t see the big Hollywood movies. I saw “Winter’s Bone” the other day and liked the movie very much, loved all the performers. And when I was in Paris, I got a chance to read a certain amount, Tolstoy and Norman Mailer. Things that had slipped through the cracks over the years.

Q. I half-expected to see you at that 12-hour performance of Dostoyevsky’s “Demons” that Lincoln Center Festival produced over the summer.

A. No, no, I’m a lowbrow. I read that material, more out of obligation than enjoyment. For enjoyment, for me, it’s a beer and the football game.

What's the relavance of all this to Advanced NFL Stats? Well, maybe there is none. That's a distinct possibility. But my brain -- i.e. what Allen himself once referred to as his "second-favorite organ" -- my braing is telling me there's some kind of relevance, and I think it's good practice to obey one's brain. (Unless it's saying to partake in something called "Bikram Yoga," that is. In the case, one ought to ignore one's brain entirely.)

Chicago at New York Giants | Sunday, September 26 | 8:20pm ET
Four Factors

A Note from Your Host
Writing for the Times, the owner-operator of this here site wrote the following about the Bears-Giants game:

Somehow the experts have the Giants favored against the Bears, despite Chicago’s impressive performance so far this year. The Giants have been struggling at times, while the Bears lead the league in offensive pass efficiency, the single best predictor of success.

It will comfort the reader to learn that, in fact, Brian Burke is not lying to your face. The Bears do, in fact, have the league's best pass efficiency (8.4 yards per attempt), and the Giants are, in fact, favored to win this game -- giving up four points in the most recent lines.

A Note on Jay Cutler
Something to note about Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler's performance so far: while he currently ranks second among all quarterbacks with 7.5 Adjusted Yards per Attempt (AYPA), he's actually tied for eighth with 0.18 Expected Points per Play (EPA/A)*. Generally, those two numbers correlate pretty tightly: a quarterback's primary job is to get the ball down the field.

"Cistulli," perhaps you're saying yelling at me, "you already said all this junk last week." In fact, yes, I did make note of this last week. But there have been a couple of developments in the recent week, upon which I'll elaborate post-haste.

The first thing to report is that I went right to the horse's mouth to ask what factors might cause these sorts of "splits" between EPA/P and AYPA. (This is not to suggest that Brian resembles a horse in any way. I'm sure he looks entirely human.) Here's what he had to say on the matter:

EPA is factoring in things that AYPA isn't--namely fumbles, running, penalties, and context.

It's possible that QBs with high AYPA are padding their yds with 9 yd gains on 3rd and 10. Also their sacks may have been costlier than average or they lost more than their share of fumbles. Intentional groundings are killer too. Could be any combination of those.

So, that's one thing.

The other thing I did was to look at quarterbacks during the 2006-2008 seasons to see (a) if there was any kind of QB for whom a large EPA/AYPA split was prevalent and (b) to see if -- among those QBs with large splits -- to see if the pattern continued into the next season.

Below are the 10 QB seasons, from 2006 to 2008, that featured the greatest split between EPA/P and AYPA. To the right of those figures, you'll find the z-scores (i.e. standard deviations from the mean) for EPA/P and AYPA. Finally, "Diff" is the absolute value of the difference between the z-scores. (Note: I set the cutoff at pass attempts at 200.)

There are at least three things to learn from this table. Probably more than that, but definitely three, as follows:

1. It makes a great deal of sense that Michael Vick would appear on this list, as he's one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- rushing quarterbacks ever. In 2006, he rushed for 1039 yards on just 123 attempts -- good for 8.4 yards per.

2. Two of the quarterbacks on this list, Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels, played for the same team in the same season. On the one hand, that could make sense. One thinks, "Well, it's probably symptomatic of whatever sort of offense the Texans were running." In fact, that would be a reasonable conclusion, except for one thing: Schaub and Rosenfels had opposite splits. Where Schaub was among the league's better QBs by AYPA (seventh overall on our leaderboards for that year), his EPA/P was 32nd "best." Rosenfels, on the other hand, finished 20th and eighth by those same categories, respectively.

3. Matt Hasselbeck is on this list twice, both time for producing a higher EPA/P than his AYPA might otherwise suggest. Why? Well, I don't know, exactly.

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4 Responses to “The Weekly League: Notes and Ideas for Week Four”

  1. James says:

    What happened to part (b) to see if the pattern continued into subsequent seasons? And why only 06-08?

  2. Brian Burke says:

    I'm sorry. I'm an ex-Navy pilot and not familiar with these "humble" and "fallible" concepts...

  3. Tarr says:

    Probably be best scene in any Woody Allen movie.

  4. Unknown says:

    This makes no sense. This article went nowhere. Is there more to come?

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