Passing = Winning

Advanced NFL Stats owes its start to an old water cooler debate: What's more important, offense or defense? Running or passing? A few years ago, I still had some statistical software left over from grad school loaded on my laptop, so I thought, "Hey, maybe these are questions that can be definitively answered." I tried to answer those questions with one of my original posts three years ago, What Makes Teams Win. When I read my older stuff, I sometimes want to cringe, but not with that one. It holds up very well, and it's well worth revisiting for newer readers, this time with more data. In this post, I'll do just that, focusing on the relative importance of running and passing.

When I was little, my dad taught me the inanity of the 'running leads to winning' fallacy. We'd watch a game on Sunday, and invariably we'd hear the announcers talk about how a team always wins when their star RB got at least 25 carries or so. They'd wax poetic about the noble nature of pure, old-fashioned, run-it-up-the-gut football. My dad would say, "Yeah, by that logic, teams should start kneeling in the first quarter. Kneeling leads to winning, right?"

A Fantasy League Minus The Randomness?

Carson Cistulli, contributor-extraordinaire at my favorite baseball site Fangraphs, wrote me to ask an interesting question. He wanted to know how someone would set up a fantasy football league using commonly available scoring options that would remove most of the luck and leave mostly the results of skill. Personally I think the randomness of sports, including fantasy sports, is part of what makes them so compelling. But draining a lot of the randomness from a fantasy league would be an interesting experiment. Here's what I suggested:

"First, turnovers are extremely random. The correlate weakly from week to week and even less from season to season. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. I would exclude turnovers from your scoring (including TDs directly occurring on turnover plays).

2010 Koko Fantasy Rankings - WRs

Next up in the 2010 Koko fantasy rankings are the WRs. These projections are intended to establish the baseline minimum accuracy as the most reasonably naive predictions. The general explanation of the system along  can be found in the 2009 QB post. Details on how WRs are projected can be found in the 2009 WR post.

One thing to note--This year I included an estimate of receptions per game for those whose scoring system credits each catch. I did not add them into the total projected points column, but it's easy enough to do on your own. The TE rankings did the same thing.

2010 Koko Fantasy Rankings - TEs

The next installment of the 2010 Koko fantasy rankings are the TEs. These projections are intended to establish the baseline minimum accuracy as the most reasonably naive predictions. The general explanation of the system along  can be found in the 2009 QB post. Details on how TEs are projected can be found in the 2009 TE post.

2010 Koko Fantasy Rankings - RBs

The next installment of the 2010 Koko fantasy rankings are the RBs. These projections are intended to establish the baseline minimum accuracy as the most reasonably naive predictions. The general explanation of the system along  can be found in the 2009 QB post. Details on how RBs are projected can be found in the 2009 RB post.

I tried to remove guys who are injured for the year or who have retired, but I may have missed someone. If you find one, just remember the classic line from Major League when Coach Lou Brown was given the list of players from the management. "This guy here is dead." "Well scratch him off then!"

2010 Koko Fantasy Rankings - QBs

It's that time of year. I suppose some of you have been running mock drafts for weeks already, but for the rest of us it's just now time to start thinking about our 2010 fantasy roster. The first installment of the Koko rankings is for QBs.

These projections are intended to establish the baseline minimum accuracy as the most reasonably naive predictions. The general explanation of the system along with details of the regression plots can be found in the 2010 QB post.

Roundup 8/21/10

The Roundup feature returns for the 2010 season. The twitter feed over there to the right has served as my voting ballot for interesting football links recently, but the Roundup lets me make comments and explain what I found interesting in each link. There's a backlog of links since the last roundup, so although some of these off-season links might be a little stale, they are still worthy of note.

If a free-agent who brings a certain number of wins comes to a big market team, he'll increase its revenues more than he would to a small market team. So why do teams tend to pay equal prices for free-agents? Phil Birnbaum tells us. Part II.

More Phil. This time a great essay on numeracy. Understanding the world around us requires and understanding of math, but sound logic is just as important if not more so.

Reviving fallen franchises.

What if the draft was an auction? (Off topic, here's a funny/disturbing auction. Apparently they have an edgy sense of humor in New Zealand. Helmet-knock: Mind Your Decisions.)

Player-specific win-loss records. (Part II) A very cool idea from Tango using Win Probability.

Koko's 2009 Fantasy Report Card

Last August Advanced NFL Stats ventured into the fantasy world with its own player projections. But these projections weren’t what you might expect. Instead of trying to develop a complex and advanced projection system, the Koko system projected fantasy performance using the simplest rules reasonably possible.

The Koko projections, named for George Costanza’s simian nickname from his tenure at Kruger Industrial Smoothing, are what a monkey might guess given the typical regression rates from one season to the next. Koko is a (bad) rip-off of the Marcel baseball projections created by Tom Tango. Instead of competing with other projections, the intention is to establish a minimum baseline of predictive power against which other projections can be measured. Further, Koko tests whether other systems are really worth all the additional analysis, subjective and objective, that goes into them.


The following is a list of definitions of many of the concepts and statistics found throughout Advanced Football Analytics.

Air Yards (AY) - The passing yards forward of the line of scrimmage in which the ball travels through the air. In other words, it is total passing yards minus any yards after catch (YAC) gained by the receiver.

Air Yards Per Attempt (Air YPA) - The average air yards (AY) gained per pass attempt. Note that this does not include any sack yards.

Win Probability (WP) – The probability that a team will win a game in progress, given a particular combination of circumstances including score, time remaining, field position, down, and to go distance. WP is based on a model built on actual outcomes of NFL games from recent seasons that featured similar circumstances.

Win Probability Added (WPA) – The difference between a team’s Win Probability (WP) at the start of a play and the WP at the end of the play. WPA is the measure of a play’s impact on the outcome of a game. An individual player’s WPA is the sum of the WPA of the plays in which that player was directly involved. Being directly involved is defined as an offensive player who ran, threw, or kicked the ball, was targeted by a pass, or flagged for a penalty. Defensive players are credited for WPA when they tackle or sack the ball carrier, are credited with an assisted tackle or sack, cause a fumble, defend a pass, or are flagged for a penalty.

Greatest WPA Plays In Super Bowl History

Thanks to everyone for the nominations. And thanks go to Anonymous and Hawerchuk for the link to the Super Bowl play-by-plays.

Let's go in chronological order.

Super Bowl 5.  Dallas vs. Baltimore. Baltimore intercepted a Dallas pass with the score tied 13-13 with 1 minute left in the game and return s the ball to the Dallas 13. Baltimore went on to kick a FG to win. The interception took the colts from a 0.63 WP to a 0.91 WP, for a 0.28 WPA.

Super Bowl 23. San Francisco vs. Cincinnati. With 1:17 left in the game, Joe Montana threw a 27-yard pass to Jerry Rice on 2nd and 20 from the CIN 47. SF went from a 0.37 WP to a 0.66 WP for a 0.29 WPA.

How Much Did Super Bowl XL's Officiating Affect The Outcome?

Bill Leavy, the referee of Super Bowl XL between the Steelers and Seahawks (Win Probability graph), recently apologized for his mistakes in the game. "I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that. It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly," he admitted.

Leavy is referring to two critical calls he made in the 4th quarter. But there were a couple other controversial calls earlier in the game, each going against the Seahawks. In this post, I'll look at each situation and measure their impact on the game. Each of the calls were questionable to varying degrees, and I'll leave it up to others to decide whether they were defensible or not.

What Happens To The Vikings If Favre Does Retire?

How big is the difference between Brett Favre and the Vikings' next best option? Last year a resurgent Favre led the Vikings to a first-round playoff bye.Tarvaris Jackson is currently the #2 QB. If we replaced Favre's passing performance with what we could expect from Jackson in the tried-and-true win-efficiency model, we can estimate how many fewer games Minnesota could expect to win.

Putting 'The Catch' in Perspective

To mark David Tyree's recent retirement, The Fifth Down linked to Shutdown Corner's take on his signature accomplishment, "The Catch." How does that play rank with other iconic NFL plays? If only there were a way to put a number on how critical a play was toward winning a game...

Fortunately, there's WPA to give us the answer. From the win probability analysis of Super Bowl XLII:

+0.19 for Tyree’s catch

+0.41 for the TD pass to Burress.

Sadly, few will remember the 2-yd gain by Jacobs on 4th and 1 to keep the drive alive, but that play had a WPA of +.21. If Tyree doesn’t make the catch, the drive is still alive--it was ‘only’ 3rd down. If Jacobs is stuffed—that’s all she wrote.

Of course, there’s no good way to quantify the style points for Tyree’s miraculous grab or Manning’s escape from the sack.
I especially like comment #6 at the Fifth Down's post from Jay who describes the unquantifiable aspects of the play especially well. In fact, my Giants-fan friend prefers to call it 'The Play' rather than 'The Catch.' After all, the play has far more than just one player pinning the ball to his helmet.