Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 NFL Power Ratings

I took a break from NFL previews to focus on something I believe is much more important: NFL and NCAAF power ratings.

I used Jeff Fogle's preliminary market ratings as a baseline for mine. Fogle used his final ratings from last year and adjusted for factors like injuries, off-season moves, abnormal turnover differentials, etc. I did some homework during the past couple weeks and tweaked some numbers accordingly and eventually came up with my own power ratings.

Keep in mind these are preliminary considering training camp hasn't even started yet for some teams, and with injuries and other transactions bound to take place, these numbers are definitely not set in stone.

85 San Francisco
84 Denver, New England,
83 Seattle
82 Green Bay
81 Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston
80 Baltimore, New Orleans, New York Giants
79 Pittsburgh, Chicago, Dallas
78 Carolina, Washington (with RG3)
77 Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Miami, Tampa Bay
76 Kansas City, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Diego, St. Louis
75 Buffalo, Cleveland, Tennessee, Washington (without RG3)
74 Arizona, New York Jets
73 Oakland
72 Jacksonville

Power ratings can be used to project the beginning stages of a point spread. For example, if San Francisco played Atlanta on a neutral field, my power ratings suggest San Francisco would be about a 4-point favorite. Other factors such as location, perception, schedule spots, etc. are then implemented into the number in order to create a more accurate point spread. Remember these are preliminary numbers that will be altered as the off-season progresses.

I don't think Baltimore will regress too much this year and we have to remember they weren't a juggernaut during last year's regular season. While they did lose some valuable veterans on defense, the Ravens acquired Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff, who should help plug the hole on defense. Baltimore's offensive line remains intact and transformed into one of the best units during the playoffs after shuffling the line up. My concern with the Ravens is the wide receiver corps and the assumption that they could potentially start three or four rookies which I will be keeping an eye on them during training camp.

Cincinnati has one of the best defensive units in the league but their offense becomes stagnant at times and I don't trust Andy Dalton to get the job done. The Bengals played the second easiest schedule in the league last year behind Indianapolis (per Pro Football Reference) and I'm not buying the hype regarding them winning the AFC North.

Cleveland has a solid offensive line and appears to be on the uptick, but nevertheless, I have them listed as a 75 because I need to see more from Brandon Weeden. 

Don't get me wrong Denver is definitely one of the best teams in the NFL but they did play a cupcake schedule last year (due in large part to their awful division). I wouldn't be surprised to see them win twelve games in 2013 considering they have one of the easiest schedules but I'm not convinced they are as good as San Fran at this point and Denver will most likely begin the season one point lower on the power rating scale.

I'm not too high on Green Bay coming into this year so I conservatively pegged them as an 82 but will be quick to move them up the ladder if they can show me something in their opening game at San Fran.

New Orleans is a tricky team to get a read on considering how bad their defense is. I am expecting their offense to continue to be one of the best in the league especially with Sean Payton returning to the helm. Also Rob Ryan is coming in to coach the defense and will implement a new 3-4 scheme and I'm not sure if the Saints will be able to comfortably adjust in such a short period of time. I currently have them pegged as an 80 but will be adjusting on the fly depending on what I see from their defensive unit.

San Francisco is the best team in the league in my opinion but the wide receiver situation worries me a bit. Crabtree could miss the season and Manningham reportedly won't be ready for training camp, which leaves Anquan Boldin and A.J. Jenkins. However Vernon Davis is a cross between a tight end and a wide receiver and I expect to see him line up wide more often than we've seen in the past. San Fran's outstanding offensive line and stout defense make them the best team in the NFL regardless of some skill position setbacks.

I had Seattle ranked as high as an 84 but their subpar offensive line ultimately made be shift them down a point. The Seahawks probably have the best secondary in the league but their linebackers aren't too special in my opinion. When you factor in some of the suspensions that are set to take place during the first month of the season I conservatively ranked them as an 83. 

Tampa Bay is another tough team to grasp because of the free agents they brought in. Revis is arguably the best cornerback in the league when healthy but he will be less than a year removed from a torn ACL by the time Week 1 rolls around. Dashon Goldson is one of the best safeties in the league and their defense appears to be much improved, but looking good on paper does not necessarily translate to on-field production. I currently have them listed as 77 but that number could definitely be on the rise.

Washington was very fortunate to win ten games last year in my opinion and I don't envision them doing it again in 2013. Late season collapses by the Cowboys and Giants directly attributed to Washington winning the NFC East. The Redskins had the highest fumble recovery percentage (67.39%) in 2012 and I would expect that to regress back to the mean. The return of Brian Orakpo (tore his pectoral muscle in Week 2) will help improve a defense desperately in need as well as free up Ryan Kerrigan for some one-on-one opportunities. I expect a regression from Robert Griffin III because I'm assuming he will operate from the pocket much more often this year. He also threw a ton of bubble screens and other short patterns which helped inflate his completion percentage.

I'm still fine-tuning my NCAAF power ratings at the moment but will put them up on the site as soon as I get them finished.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

2013 NFL Preview: New York Giants

The Giants got off to a hot start in 2012, winning six of their first eight games, but folded up like a lawn chair down the stretch and ended up missing the playoffs. New York had a chance to potentially lock up the division title with a win in either Week 15 at Atlanta or Week 16 at Baltimore, but unfortunately for the G-Men they got waxed in both those games and finished the season with a 9-7 record.

With Ahmad Bradshaw out of the picture, many believe David Wilson is poised for a breakout year. While I do not necessarily disagree with that hypothesis, Bradshaw is one of the best pass protecting running backs in the league and it was surprising to see the Giants let him walk considering the only offer he garnered was a one-year, $2 million deal from Indianapolis. It will be imperative that Wilson improve his pass protection technique if he wants to fill the shoes of Bradshaw in the Giants' backfield.

Victor Cruz signed his one-year tender (worth approximately $2.88 million) and will attend training camp but it appears he will have a long-term contract in place prior to the start of the regular season. If Hakeem Nicks can stay healthy, which is much easier said than done, the Giants will have one of the most dynamic wide receiver duos in the league.

New York lost a few key pieces on defense in Osi Umenyiora and Michael Boley but for the most part the defensive unit remains intact. Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery that took place on June 4, and while the estimated timetable for recovery is twelve weeks, a set date for his return has yet to be determined.

As far as estimations for the upcoming season go, the LVH opened the Giants' season win total at 9, slightly shaded toward the 'under' (-120). Considering the LVH released their win totals over a month ago, it appears they haven't taken much action, if any, on the Giants because the vig and total remain unchanged per Mike Wilkening of Sporting News.

According to the Pythagorean Expectation theorem (outlined by Bill Barnwell in this article), the G-Men should have won approximately ten games last year based on their points scored and points allowed, so there's not much of a discrepancy and conclusions shouldn't be drawn simply from the theorem in this case. (Usually a two win difference between expected wins and actual wins is the starting point for anticipating a progression or regression the following season.)

Similar to the Cowboys, the Giants have the privilege of facing their toughest opponents at home. The G-Men play Seattle at MetLife which is a huge advantage considering the Seahawks have arguably the strongest home field edge in the league and the game will be played at 1:00 PM ET so the time zone difference factor is in play. New York also gets Denver at home so they avoid playing in altitude at Mile High.

The Week 1 matchup at Dallas will go a long way in determining whether the Giants win more than nine games or not. If New York were to lose that game, they could easily get off to an 0-2 start considering they play Denver the following week. However, the Giants play at Carolina, at Kansas City and home against Philadelphia during Weeks 3-5 and I expect them to be favored in all three of those games. New York won't face off against Washington until Week 13 which is a disadvantage because it is unknown whether Robert Griffin III will be healthy at the start of the season.

Based on my projections I have the Giants slotted for nine wins so I don't have a strong opinion on their season win total. A few lucky breaks could potentially determine whether New York exceeds expectations or not and there is too much uncertainty for me to make a wager on their win total.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

2013 NFL Preview: Dallas Cowboys

As we enter the dog days of summer, there isn't too much to get excited about in the sports world. Wimbledon is winding down and the British Open will tee off in a couple weeks, but aside from that we are basically left with baseball and Canadian football. I tried my best to get into the CFL but I just haven't been able to fully embrace the sport.

With that said, it's time for me to focus on the upcoming 2013 NFL season. I plan on constructing a preview for each team leading up to training camp, starting with the NFC East squads.

The Cowboys had a rather mediocre 2012 campaign. Dallas finished with an 8-8 mark (those eight wins came against opponents with a combined 50-62 record) but were surprisingly just one scoring drive away from potentially stealing the division title away from the Redskins.

It appears Dallas will return the majority of their starters from last year's squad with the exception of a few but they have a new face on the sidelines running the defense in Monte Kiffin. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was relieved of his duties after an unsuccessful two-year stint in Big D. Under Ryan's guidance, the Cowboys allowed 5.6 yards per play (23rd in NFL) in 2011 and 5.8 yards per play (25th in NFL) in 2012, both which were below the league average in each respective season.

Below is a chart illustrating the Cowboys' defensive woes since Ryan took over prior to the 2011 season.

The Cowboys' defense was average or below average in almost every important defensive category during Ryan's two years as defensive coordinator. Ryan's 3-4 defense is a fairly complex scheme with tons of nomenclature and the fact that the defense actually regressed in their second season under Ryan may very well be the reason he was let go. On the other hand, Monte Kiffin's base 4-3 scheme is easier to comprehend and allows the players much more freedom on defense.

Here's an Anthony Spencer quote from OTA's (via John Machota):
I think Rob had a lot more schemes for doing things...We’re going to beat them by doing the small things better than they do the small things. We’re really not going to try to scheme too much, we’re going to do the little things and try to beat them that way.
It seems like Dallas' defensive unit, particularly the linebackers, will have less to worry about in terms of intricate coverages and will be able to focus on rushing the quarterback or stuffing the run.

Jay Kornegay and his staff at the LVH have Dallas pegged for 8.5 wins shaded towards the 'under' ( -140) at the moment. However, when the win totals were initially released on May 19, Dallas  'under 8.5 wins' was listed at -155, so it appears the Las Vegas Hotel has taken some action on the 'over.'

Aside from getting the Raiders at home, Dallas doesn't have any particularly "easy" games. According to Cantor Gaming's 2013 NFL "look-ahead" lines, Dallas is laying seven at home versus Oakland which is the largest favorite they will be all season. On the flip side, Dallas is getting no more than four points in any game on the schedule (+4 at New Orleans), so they are definitely capable of stringing together a winning season. Fortunately for Dallas they get to play their two toughest opponents, Denver and Green Bay, at home in Arlington.

I'm pretty bullish on the Cowboys and would only look to take them at plus money to win nine games. They simply have too much talent on that roster not to succeed and Kiffin will get more out of this unit than Rob Ryan did. Dallas has excellent cornerbacks and that is crucial in the pass-happy league that the NFL has become. Also the NFC East is wide open this year without any true juggernauts and nine wins may be enough to win the division. With that said, I'm not a Jason Garrett fan and the fact that Bill Callahan will be calling the offensive plays has got to have Nebraska fans laughing their asses off.

Check back in a few days for my breakdown of the New York Giants.