The match up for Super Bowl XLVII is incredibly difficult to call. Both teams have overcome adversity, and both teams have weaknesses. In fact, I don’t totally trust either quarterback, or defense. Baltimore shut out the New England Patriots in the second half of the AFC Championship game, but San Francisco runs a totally different offense. San Francisco plays physical, but their defense almost let the Atlanta Falcons run away with the game early on in the NFC Championship game.
As for the quarterbacks, Joe Flacco has won playoff games in each of his seasons in the league, but he has also lost playoff games in each of those seasons. Colin Kaepernick has great skills, but he was shut down by the Seattle Seahawks in a prime time match up earlier in the season.
Both teams also have questions on special teams. San Francisco’s place kicker, David Akers, has missed several field goal attempts. The Baltimore Ravens, on the other hand, have a better kicker in Justin Tucker, but have been known to blow coverages on kick offs and punts.
In the passing game, The Ravens have a slight edge with their deep threat of Flacco to Torrey Smith. Anquan Boldin, and Dennis Pitta are solid, but The 49ers have the better overall receiving corps with Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, and Vernon Davis.
Both teams are solid in the run game. Baltimore’s Ray Rice is the top rusher in the playoffs this season with 247 yards. However, Frank Gore is number three with 230 yards in one less game. Right behind him is San Francisco quarterback Colin Kapernick has put up a jaw-dropping 202 yards rushing in his first NFL postseason. 183 of those yards came in one game against the Green Bay Packers.
Historically, both teams boast impressive records. San Fransisco is undefeated in five trips to the Super Bowl, and Baltimore has won one Super Bowl, and holds the best post season record of any team in history at .650. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco also has the most wins away from home of any quarterback in history at six.
San Francisco’s last Super Bowl victory was in 1988. Baltimore’s was in 2000. Because the 49ers history is much older than the Ravens’, I don’t see that playing any part in predicting this game. While they still have the mystique of being the 49ers, they are only three years removed from being one of the most underachieving teams in football. At the same time, the Ravens have been in the thick of the hunt for the better part of the past fourteen seasons.
In the previous round, both teams beat pass-first teams to get to the game, so it’s hard to tell how either will react to each other’s run-first attacks. But, it might be fair to say that the game will go to which ever team manages to pull off the first big pass plays, and if it comes down to that, my money is on Joe Flacco.
Being that both teams dodged bullets to get to the super bowl. The Ravens had a miraculous comeback against the Broncos, and the 49ers mounted an impressive come back against the Falcons. That should indicate that this game will be competitive until the end, even if one team gets off to a quick start.
On the line, the edge should go to San Francisco’s defense vs. Baltimore’s offense. Running the ball will be a challenge. So, I expect Baltimore to pass early to set up the run. Don’t be surprised if they take a shot at the endzone on first or second down of their first drive if they are not trailing.
San Francisco, on the other hand, has to hope that their read option offense has enough spark to confuse a veteran Ravens defense led by Ray Lewis who may have lost a step in terms of speed, but still reads an offense as well as anybody in history. I expect the Ravens to minimize Kaepernick’s rushing attack forcing Frank Gore to provide the bulk of the ground yards. Meanwhile, Kaepernick will have to rely on his arm, the major factor that set him apart from his teammate Alex Smith. Expect Gore to have a big game, and expect Kaepernick to air it out.
In the end, I believe that the Ravens’ experience, will outmatch the youth of the 49ers. The Ravens have spent years deliberatley improving their offense. The plan was to balance out their great defense to have a shot to win a super bowl. Now that they have made it back to the dance, I expect them to show up with their laces tied tight, and ready to rumble.
Ravens: 24 49ers: 17
Tags: afc, Alex Smith, Anquan Boldin, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Colin Kaepernick, David Akers, Dennis Pitta, featured, football, Frank Gore, Joe Flacco, Justin Tucker, Michael Crabtree, NFC, nfl, Popular, Previews, Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks, Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVII, Torrey Smith, Vernon Davis
Six Seattle Seahawks are headed to the Pro Bowl this year. The big question that everyone is asking is, “Does anybody care?” Last year’s players were accused of not competing, not playing hard enough, and basically playing a boring game. It resulted in a 59 to 41 AFC victory. Earlier this season, when asked about his Prow Bowl snub, Seattle’s own Richard Sherman seemed indifferent. He stated only that he wanted to be listed on the all-pro team.
In fact, criticism of the NFL’s all star game has grown so strong that there has been speculation that Roger Goodell may cancel future Pro Bowls if this year’s game is a flop. If he did, it would be a shame for the NFL’s youngest fans, the kids, who really believe that watching their heroes in an all star game is an exciting event.
My strongest memory of the Prow Bowl was in 1995. That year, Seahawks’ running back Chris Warren broke the Prow Bowl record for yards in a game at 127. Soon after that, his own AFC teammate, Marshall Faulk (then of the Indianapolis Colts) broke Warrens record by gaining 180 yards. Yes, the same record went down twice in one game by players from the same team.
I was young that year, and knew more about NCAA football than I did about NFL football. Maybe that was why I was so excited to see a Seattle player take a record in a bowl game. Then, when Marshall Faulk topped Warren’s record, I felt like I would feel years later when Shaun Alexander lost his share of the single season TD title to LaDainian Tomlinson the next season.
On Sunday, Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, and Leon Washington all have chances to put their names in the record books. All though, for Russell Wilson to get in the record books, he would have to put up impressive individual numbers. Peyton Manning owns most quarterback career marks. Perhaps playing behind his linemen Max Unger and Russell Okung will work to Wilson’s advantage.
It is true that some fans may be turned away from the Pro Bowl by the lack of hard hits, the no-blitz-allowed rule, mandatory 4-3 defense, Maddenesque scoring, and overall lack of competitiveness. There is still potential for some good performances by the best players that the NFL had to offer this season; at least the players not playing in the Super Bowl. In a way, the next two weeks are like a curtain call. The supporting cast coming out to take their bow first, and the biggest stars coming out to play one more game for the title.
In addition to the game itself, the event has always been a nice event for the city of Honolulu, and the State of Hawaii. If Seattle fans feel isolated having their team playing in the northwest, imagine how Hawaian fans feel being so far removed from the rest of the country as to not have a team.
Not only is the Pro Bowl a good chance to involve Hawaii in the world of professional football, this year, the league is reaching out across the pacific. The NFL is using the Pro Bowl weekend to help promote American football in Japan. To help strengthen the bond between American Football and Japanese American Football, the Pro Bowl squads will feature practices at Pearl Harbor, and coaching exchanges with Japanese coaches.
Believe it or not, football is actually played in Japanese high schools, colleges, and they have a semi-pro league that features a mix of Japanese and international players. Their championship is now called the X-bowl, and dates back to 1987. For the big picture of the growth of American football, building this international connection can only be seen as a positive.
While the Ichiro of football still may be a few generations away, this weekends prow bowl is dominated by American players. At the end of the day, the bloated statistics, and fanfare in Hawaii may not be as exciting as the Harbaugh brothers playing chess in between rounds of million dollar commercials. However, it is still football, and I’m going to watch it. Let’s hope that the players put on a good show, and that our Seattle Seahawks players give us something to cheer for.
Tags: afc, Chris Warren, Earl Thomas, featured, football, Leon Washington, Marhall Faulk, Marshawn Lynch, Max Unger, NFC, nfl, Peyton Manning, Popular, Pro Bowl, Richard Sherman, Roger Goodell, Russell Okung, Russell Wilson, Seahawks, Seattle Seahawks, Shaun Alexander
Outside of working through my list of twenty things to do before training camp, I have been attempting to rank NFL divisions by difficulty. You often hear owners, managers, coaches, and fans use the excuse of “playing in a tough division” for a bad season. This carries some weight, but there are still ten games played outside of a team’s division and not every division can be the toughest.
Without further ado, I’ll explain my methodology and break down the top four divisions in the NFL. (I’ll do five through eight, next time.) This might be a little bit mathematically thick, but nothing too complicated. To start, I calculated the standard deviation of wins for the entire NFL. This came out to 3.27 which indicated a fairly normal distribution around the obvious average of 8 wins per season. I then used each team’s 2011 record to calculate how many deviations they were from the mean. Teams that were 8-8 were right on the mean and therefore 0 deviations away, while the biggest deviations went to Green Bay, Indianapolis, St. Louis, New England and San Francisco. I then did some math to indicate whether teams were to the right of the mean (indicating a winning record) or to the left (a losing record) and ranked teams by conference and then ranked the entire league.
Next, I looked at opponent’s records and win percentage (OWP). This is often used as a predictive (forward looking) indicator which I think is completely useless. There is so much offseason movement and general parity in the NFL that using the prior season’s record of your current season’s opponents is next to meaningless. In other words, strength of schedule rankings are a joke; however, using OWP to look backwards and analyze the previous season is much more useful and meaningful. A team that had an easy “strength of schedule” initially could have had a nightmare schedule when all was said and done.
Finally, I used these numbers to create a weighted composite score which allowed me to assign rankings. I used individual team scores to get an average rank for the division. The rank score was weighted 70% for rank of standard deviation. 25% of that 70% was each team’s rank in the entire NFL since 25% of a team’s schedule is cross-conference with the other 52.5% being the standard deviation rank in each team’s home conference. The final 30% of the composite score was the record of each team’s 2011 opponents.
I admit there are many other factors which can play roles in how tough a team is and therefore how good a division is. Factors such as key injuries, home-away scheduling, distance travelled, etc. can all play a role. That being said, I do think that this break down can offer some interesting insights.
According to my calculations, here are the top four divisions in the NFL.
1. The AFC North with an “average composite rank” (ACR) of 8. This should come as little surprise since the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs last season, all three with an above .500 record. This boosted their standard deviation score. The AFC North also had the best average ranking of OWP (9), with Baltimore having the fourth most difficult schedule overall, and Cleveland the third. The combined OWP for the AFC North in 2011 was .513, tying it with the AFC West for second in the NFL.
2. The NFC East comes in second with a 2011 ACR of 12. I have to admit that I was surprised at this. One of things that started me on this project was listening to an obnoxious Cowboys fan explain why the self-declared “America’s Team” perennially underperforms. The NFC East is home to two of the most meddlesome owners in the NFL (Jones and Snyder) and I enjoy seeing their teams routinely fail. All that being said, the NFC East is also home the 2011 Super Bowl champion New York Football Giants, who had the toughest schedule last season, facing an OWP of .547. The NFC East had the highest OWP (.514), just beating out the AFC North and West.
The NFC East came in second due to unimpressive overall team records. The division winning Giants had a 9-7 record, with Philly and Dallas at 8-8, and lowly Washington at 5-7. This put their division deviation at -0.61 with an average conference rank of 9, and NFL rank of 16.
3. In third place is the AFC West. The AFC West had three teams with records of 8-8. The only outsider was Kansas City at 7-9. The AFC West actually had the same difficulty of schedule as the AFC North, but a much worse overall division record of 31-33, compared to the North’s 31-27. The division deviation was -0.31, with the Kansas City Chiefs being the only reason it dropped below zero. They had a division OWP of .513 with Denver facing the second hardest schedule in the NFL with an OWP of .543. I don’t mean to give the AFC West short shrift, but it essentially got third place by being completely unremarkable which still managed to make it better than five other NFL divisions.
4. Fourth place goes to the NFC West. The NFC West actually tied in ACR with the AFC West with 13, but had slightly worse deviation and OWP with two teams hovering at or near .500 (Arizona and Seattle, respectively) and one runaway team, the 49ers. The Rams came in with the second worst record in the NFL but the fifth hardest schedule.
The NFC West had the same total deviation as the NFC East with -0.61, but as a division, faced a slightly easier schedule with a combined OWP of .507. San Francisco actually had only the 24th hardest 2011 schedule by OWP and was the only NFC West team with overall sub-.500 competition. That pushed their individual composite rank to 17, last in the division. Arizona had the highest with a composite rank of 8. Overall, the NFC West was helped by a total deviation close to zero and generally high OWP ranks of 5 (Rams), 8 (Cardinals), and 13 (Seahawks).
A quick final note: I know that people are going to argue and disagree with my results. I am far from a professional mathematician and admit this is only amateur level analysis. However, any good analyst, no matter what level they are, tells the story that the data provides and doesn’t make the data fit the story they want. I started out with the intention of disproving the idea that the NFC East was a tough division. I was wrong. Manipulating the data to make my desired conclusion true would have made me dishonest and unworthy of being read by you.
I have no doubt people will be surprised to not see the NFC North or AFC East in the top half, but that’s just the way the results came out based on my analysis. As you will see when I post the bottom four divisions, having one great team doesn’t make a division great. As can be seen with the NFC East and AFC West, parity within a division is a much better indicator of difficulty.
I also intend to post all my raw data and calculations on a Google doc and provide the link after my next post. I hope this was at least minimally enlightening and, if you’re a numbers and Excel geek like me, enjoyable.
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