Tables vs. Graphs

I'm not sure about everyone else, but I've got a very visual brain. I'm one of those guys at work who can't have a conversation without going to the whiteboard, if only to organize my own thoughts. I don't think I'm alone, either. Many theorists believe one reason humans became such smart monkeys is that we co-opted the huge visual-spatial part of our brains to use for abstract thought.

The concept of time is one example. We think and talk of time, a concept virtually without its own terminology, in terms of space and motion: Time goes by...Our best days are ahead of us...I'm looking forward to next season. The blathering talking heads on CNBC can't go 20 seconds without convulsively saying the phrase going forward whenever referring to the future.

Abstract sports concepts like win probability are no exception. We would all call 2-yard run on 4th and 1 a big play, even though it was anything but literally big. How would we characterize a 38-35 game? As a high-scoring game, of course. We are universally comfortable speaking about abstract concepts in terms of the metaphors of physical position, size and motion, and it's a window into how we think. That's why I'll take a graph over a table of numbers any day.

Full 2010 Play-by-Play Now Available

Full play-by-play data for the 2010 season, including the post-season, is now freely available here. Happy crunching.

Roundup 2/12/11

The Fifth Down picked up my analysis of the Packer's 4th and goal decision a the end of the Super Bowl. Editor extraordinaire Toni Monkovic made the connection to a very interesting quote about the psychology of needing a TD to win rather than a FG to tie by Eli Manning.

Ever wonder which sports are followed by liberals and which by conservatives?

Which QB is most likely to be best in 2011?

In defense of the NFL passer rating.


As the 2010 season is put to rest, the league and union are negotiating the next collective bargaining agreement. In addition to pay and benefits, there are structural topics to be debated, such as an 18-game schedule, fines, and player safety issues. While they're busy tinkering with things, here are a few other ideas they might consider.

American 'gridiron' football isn't a static, unchanging sport. It's been remade many times in many different ways. There used to be no passing, 3 downs to make 5 yards, various point values for scoring plays, blockers were allowed to lock arms, and the game lasted 70 minutes. Today's sport would be  unrecognizable to players and fans at the beginning of the previous century.

Here are some ideas, many borrowed from other leagues and other sports. I don't necessarily favor any of them (except for #5, which would be highly entertaining). I just think they're interesting.

The status quo has the power of inertia, so as you consider any idea for a rule change, imagine if football had always been that way and whether or not we'd want to change the game to the way it actually is now.

For example, there could be a penalty box for players flagged for helmet-to-helmet hits or other flagrant fouls. Offenders would have to sit out for, say, 10 minutes of game time. But unlike in hockey, his team could replace him on the field with a backup. Think of it as a short-term ejection. Maybe it sounds crazy to you, or maybe it's not crazy enough, but imagine if it had always been that way and we were considering eliminating that rule. You might feel differently.

Here are a few ideas to get things rolling. Looking forward to everyone's comments and own suggestions.

Super Bowl 45 Analysis

I'm growing a little tired of all the Roman numerals.

Players of the Game

Aaron Rodgers was truly the game's MVP, leading all players with a 0.19 Win Probability Added (WPA). His 304 yards, 6.9 net YPA, and 3 TDs were good enough to produce 10.5 Expected Points Added (EPA) and ultimately a 6-point margin. Strangely, despite Ben Roethlisberger's two interceptions and failed final drive, he actually produced 11.6 EPA, slightly more than Rodgers did. This means, in terms of moving the ball and getting first downs, Roethlisberger played just as well as Rodgers. It's just that the way the game unfolded, BR was holding the bag at the end of the game. Rodgers' Success Rate was very low at 38.1%, while BR's was 47.8%, right where his season average was.

Had it not been for the Mendenhall fumble, costing -0.18 WPA, things may have unfolded very differently. As expected, the running game (aside from the fumble) for both teams was inconsequential. James Starks totaled -0.4 EPA but cost a net of -0.10 WPA. Mendenhall carried the Steelers for a TD drive, but his lost fumble more than washed it out, netting him -0.11 WPA.

Super Bowl Win Probability Graph

We'll see if the new online server can handle the load.

The new address for live games is Share your thoughts on the (now automatically refreshing) chat/comment feature.

The new address for the mobile version is It works on all web-accessible devices, including iPhones, Androids, and Blackberries. It's also a good substitute for any browser that doesn't play nice with Flash.

And for those of you with your own sites, remember you can add the graph with these few lines of code:

As Carson says, Go Football!

Ten Super Bowl Predictions

Aaron Rodgers' Milwaukee-area home.

As our host in these pages, Brian Burke, has established, there are two things humans love more than anything: lists and predictions (and the Twilight movies, too, turns out, but let's limit our scope to the first two items for right now). Burke's weekly game probabilities -- themselves lists of predictions -- are wildly popular for this reason.

Always one to ride the coattails of his more talented and well-liked colleagues, I've submitted here a list of ten predictions for tomorrow's (Sunday's) Super Bowl.

Here they are, sans delay.

1. Aaron Rodgers will complete a thousand-yard pass -- to one of heaven's angels.

Roundup 2/5/2011

Please welcome Outside the Hashes to the advanced stats community.

The Rams Herd uses advanced stats to compare STL's MVP candidates.

Does defense really win championships? A couple more stabs at the question.

How much does NFL playoff seeding matter? Obviously the 1 and 2 seeds have a very substantial advantage simply due to the bye. Home field is a big plus too. Beyond that I doubt the seeding matters in terms of strength of draw for a lot of reasons. The post at the link appears to confirm that.

Bradford and Suh won rookie of the year honors. But between the two, Suh has clearly made the bigger first-year impact. Bradford still has a lot of potential, but he was 33rd in total EPA for all QBs. Suh ranked 2nd in +EPA for all defensive tackles. He was 7th in TF. He led the league for all DTs with 10 sacks and 17 QB hits.

Advanced NFL Stats Replay: Biggest WPA Plays in Super Bowl History

Perhaps last August wasn't the best time to post this article. This week seems somewhat more appropriate, and maybe next week we'll have a new addition to the list.

Before you read the list, what do you think the biggest play was? (Hint: The picture on the left does not give it away.)

Super Bowl Match-Up

If I put up a post that discussed the Packers' and Steelers' statistics in meticulously detailed prose, comparing every possible conventional and advanced stat for both teams and their top players, it would be read by about 10,000 readers by tomorrow.

But if there were a standing page that compiled those same stats automatically and put them on one big cheat-sheet for you, it would get 12 readers. How do I know it would be 12? Because there is such a page, and that's how many people have visited it today. So I don't think I've done a very good job of promoting the match-up page.

Want to compare the Packers' and Steelers' offensive run success rates?

Super Bowl Game Probability

The Super Bowl game probability is available now at the Fifth Down. Find out what happens to the probability when the each team's passing stats are limited to just those of their starting QBs. Plus, is the Packers' image benefiting from the recency effect?

Want to Work for an NFL Team?

An NFL team is looking for a young analyst with computer skills and an econ or comp sci background. Here are the only details I can give:

NFL team looking for statistical analyst. The successful candidate will have a Computer Science or Econ background and be proficient with basic computer code / Stata.  Football specific experience not required.  Entry level position.  Terms/salary TBD.  If interested, submit resume and cover letter to

Sorry, I can't answer any questions beyond that.

Attention Webmasters: Win Probability Widget

Webmasters? Does anyone use that term any more? In any case, if you run a website or blog, particularly a Steelers site or Packers site, you can now include live win probability graphs on your own home page. I've created a widget with some simple html code, and the Super Bowl is a great opportunity to try it out.

I'm able to do this because I've added another server that will handle a much greater traffic load. As regular visitors will attest, the demand for the live graphs would often crash the site, especially during nationally televised games. Hopefully, that's a thing of past because it drove me crazy resetting the server over and over. The new link for live WP graphs is, but the old link will still work too.