Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week 8 Picks

Here are this week's best plays against the point spread:

Kansas City Chiefs -7 vs. Buffalo Bills (M-P Line: KC -12.9)
St. Louis Rams -1 vs. Carolina Panthers (M-P Line: STL -7.4)
Green Bay Packers +6 @ New York Jets (M-P Line: GB +2)
Arizona Cardinals -3 vs. Tampa Bay Bucs (M-P Line: ARI -6.6)

The following are smaller-edge plays:
Pittsburgh Steelers +1 @ New Orleans Saints (M-P Line: PIT -1.5)

The following are not large enough to feel confident betting on (at standard -110 line), but they should win more than 50% of the time:
San Francisco 49ers -2.5 vs. Denver Broncos (M-P Line: SF -4.4)
Indianapolis Colts -5.5 vs. Houston Texans (M-P Line: IND -7.1)
New England Patriots -5.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings (M-P Line: NE -6.6)

The rest of our lines:
DAL -7.0 vs. JAC (not that this does not factor in Romo injury)
DET -3.0 vs. WAS
CIN -0.0 vs. MIA
SD -3.4 vs. TEN
OAK -1.7 vs. SEA

A few notes:
*SF/DEN played in London; line does not factor in QB Alex Smith's injury
*IND/HOU line does not account for IND injuries to TE Dallas Clark and WR Austin Collie

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reaching the halfway point

Are we learning?
Two weeks ago we took a look at average rank variance for both computer based and subjective ranking systems and found that M-P had the highest variance. Checking in after week 7, we find that our average rank variance has decreased by more than five, while ESPN’s has gone up by almost two. Covers has improved the most by nearly eight. So what, if anything, does this mean?

Perhaps it’s too early to look back into this issue, but it appears as though ESPN has become more sensitive to week to week performance over the last two Sundays while the teams that perform well based on the metrics that matter for the statistical models have started to solidify themselves in each systems ranking universe. That is, teams are falling into line, becoming “who we think they are” to paraphrase a former Arizona Cardinals coach.

Of course, there are always surprisingly big moves in M-P each week, and that brings us to our look back.

A look back: OAK v. DEN
The Raiders moved up 9 spots this week to claim the dubious achievement of being our biggest positive mover this week. Their opponent, the suddenly hapless Denver Broncos, tumbled 7 spots (biggest loser). That’s what happens when a division rival drops 59 on you at home, I suppose.

What can the M-P model say about the way a game was won? For one, the Raiders like having Darren McFadden around. He scored enough points on his own to have beaten the Broncos by four points. The Raiders jumped from 14th to sixth in M-P’s rushing offense rankings. But what moved the Raiders ranking was the improvement in their scoring offense and play success on defense, our second and third most important categories. The silver and black moved up 9 spots in both. Perhaps not surprising given the 59 points they put up and only 14 they allowed.

The Broncos, on the other hand, got dominated in every category one might imagine: rushing defense, passing defense, and offensive and defensive play success.

Bring up the rear

I noticed while compiling results of our stats-based model competitor that the bottom three teams were far behind the rest of the field in terms of points. The 30th ranked San Francisco 49ers are 3.8 points worse in this week’s poll than the 29th ranked team. This is the largest point differential between teams in the ranking. Additionally, the difference between the 49ers and the 31st ranked team, the Bills, is only 0.3 (one of the smallest differences) and between the Bills and Panthers 0.9. In the poll, the really bad teams are really in a class by themselves.

The disparity between the bottom 3 and the top 29 in got me wondering if the same trend exists in the M-P rankings. Indeed, the largest difference between team points is between the 30th ranked Bills and the 31s ranked TB Buccaneers (1.90). The difference between the Bucs and the last ranked team (you guessed it, Panthers) is a below average 0.33. So yes, M-P “dislikes” the bad teams in its rankings, too. But what’s really interesting to me is that this week Tampa Bay Bucs coach Raheem Morris called his 31st M-P ranked Bucs, “the best team in the NFC.”

A look ahead: NYJ v. GB
This is a big matchup for a lot of reasons. Some consider the Packers to still be the class of the NFC and the Jets are coming off a bye and look to keep rolling. It's also a pretty interesting matchup on paper.

Almost halfway there
At the close of play Tuesday morning, a few teams will have played half of their games. As such, it's time our readers check out our projections broken down by conference. New York fans will be pleased.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Week 7 Picks

It's been a busy week, so I am just posting these without any write-up. Thought I should first point out, though, that there have been 4 games where Pinnacle has moved the line at least one-half point since Wednesday, and 3 of those 4 games the move has been toward Massey-Peabody's number. This is not surprising--in fact, this has been the trend throughout the season. If our system has predictive power not contained in the point spread (and historical data indicates it does), we would expect these kinds of line moves, since the closing point spread is generally more efficient than the opening (and mid-week) point spread. So, to summarize, if line moves tend to be predictive, and Massey-Peabody has predictive power controlling for the closing line, we would expect line moves to be toward the Massey-Peabody line more often than not, so betting opportunities should be better early in the week.

Ok, on to the are the strongest, which I would feel comfortable blindly betting:

Green Bay Packers -2.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings (M-P Line: GB -7.5)
Cleveland Browns +13 @ New Orleans Saints (M-P Line: CLE +8.2)
St. Louis Rams +3 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (M-P Line: STL -0.2)

The following plays offer a smaller edge:

Chicago Bears -3 vs. Washington Redskins (M-P Line: CHI -5.6)
Oakland Raiders +8 @ Denver Broncos (M-P Line: OAK +5.5)

Marginal plays (we expect to be correct more than 50% of the time, but the edges are not great enough to recommend a bet against a standard -110 vig):

New England Patriots +2.5 @ San Diego Chargers (M-P Line: NE +1.1)
New York Giants +3 @ Dallas Cowboys (M-P Line: NYG +1.6)
Jacksonville Jaguars +9.5 @ Kansas City Chiefs (M-P Line: JAC +8.1)
Miami Dolphins +3 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (M-P Line: MIA +1.7)

The rest of our lines:

ATL -3.0 vs. CIN
TEN -2.7 vs. PHI
BAL -12.5 vs. BUF
SEA -7.6 vs. ARI (was a play early in the week when line was SEA -5.5, but line has moved to SEA -7)

Edit: Omitted one large edge play (second grouping)...
San Francisco 49ers -1 @ Carolina Panthers (M-P Line: SF -4.3)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stories to follow in week 7

Which is the most complete team?
Forgetting for a second that a team’s ranking in each category is weighted in determining that team’s overall ranking, I thought it would be interesting to see which team is the most “complete” based on the play-by-play categories we consider in our analysis. Given that only 4 of the top 10 teams come from the NFC and only two of those teams (NYG and NO) have records above .500, it makes sense that, coefficient weights aside, the two most complete teams as far as the M-P rankings are concerned come out of the AFC. PIT, ranked number one overall, has an average category rank of 9. NYJ comes in just a hair ahead with an average rank of 8.75.

The Jets excel in running offense (#1), defensive play success (#1), scoring defense (#4) and scoring offense (#5). The Steelers have the top ranked running defense, scoring offense and scoring defense, and rank third in passing offense. PIT’s 20th and 24th ranked offensive play success and running offense, respectively, bring up their average relative to the Jets.

However, the reason the Steelers climbed to number one this week while the Jets fell a spot to fifth is because the Steelers far outrank the Jets in two important categories. PIT ranks first in scoring offense (second most important category) and third in passing offense (fourth most important), whereas the Jets sit fifth and 29th in those same categories.

Persistent stupidity
At least three teams either over the course of the season or last week alone caught our attention as being heavily penalized: DET, DAL and SD. On TV, it’s easy to see how these penalties prevent teams from achieving success in the win/loss column. Take for instance the Lions, who stopped the Giants on 3rd and goal, only to receive an unsportsmanlike penalty at the end of the play giving the Giants at least three more shots at the endzone. Three plays later, the Giants scored. For the Cowboy, Miles Austin torched the Minnesota secondary, but only by committing offensive pass interference for which he was flagged. The Cowboys ended up punting.

Where do the effects of these penalties over the course of a game or the duration of a season manifest themselves in our rankings? Indirectly, persistent sloppiness shows up in the categories of scoring offense and defense. For Dallas, who has been plagued by penalties since week one when a penalty on the last and potentially game-winning play of the game cost them victory against the division rival Redskins, this is painfully obvious. The team’s unweighted average category rank is 11 when scoring offense and defense are omitted and 15 when they are not.

Detroit appears to be sloppy on the defensive side of the ball, which detracts from the big numbers put up by Calvin Johnson and the rest of the team’s offense. For San Diego, poor discipline on both sides of the ball has begun to chip away at their meteoric rise in our rankings as documented last week. San Diego slipped from 7th to 12th after this past weekend when their comeback attempt against the resurgent Rams fell short.

A look back: Chiefs/Texans
One of the more intriguing matchups of last week for us was the Texans and Chiefs. The game lived up to excitement expectations with the Texans furiously fighting back in the fourth quarter to take it in the end. What made this game particularly interesting to M-P was the direction each team was heading in entering play. From a rankings perspective, HOU needed to play well to stave off their impressive M-P plunge and QB Schaub’s huge day helped the Texans jump from 21st to 18th overall. The evenly played game (the Chiefs outgained the Texans by 4 yards and had the ball for 6 more minutes) and QB Cassel’s similarly impressive performance benefitted KC from our point of view as well.

A look ahead: Giants/Cowboys
A Monday night matchup of top 10 M-P teams grabs the headlines this week, albeit top 10 teams heading in different directions at different rates the last two weeks. DAL may be (1-5) and occupy the bottom spot in the NFC East, but the Cowboys impress M-P by ranking fourth in both offensive and defensive play success (the first and third most important categories) and sixth in passing offense (fourth most important). The Giants counter well by ranking ninth and second in the same two play success categories, respectively. NYG’s sixth ranked rushing offense versus DAL’s 17th ranked rushing defense and DAL’s sixth ranked passing offense versus NYG’s 15th ranked passing defense will be key matchups for each team to exploit in the march to victory.

- Andrew Hughes

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 6 Massey-Peabody Picks

Here are this week's strongest plays against the point spread:

Kansas City Chiefs +4.5 @ Houston Texans (M-P Line: KC -1.8)
Cleveland Browns +13.5 @ Pittsburgh Steelers (M-P Line: CLE +8.4)
Green Bay Packers -3 vs. Miami Dolphins (M-P Line: GB -7.8)
Oakland Raiders +7 @ San Francisco 49ers (M-P Line: OAK +3.8)
Detroit Lions +10 @ New York Giants (M-P Line: DET +6.9)
Jacksonville Jaguars +3 vs. Tennessee Titans (M-P Line: JAC -0.0)
St. Louis Rams +9 vs. San Diego Chargers (M-P Line: STL +6.6)

Other small edges (not sufficient for a play):
TB +4 vs. NO (M-P Line: TB +2.2)
PHI -1.5 vs. ATL (M-P Line: PHI -3.2)
IND -3 @ WAS (M-P Line: IND -4.3)

Note: Massey-Peabody Rankings do not factor in injuries, so the return of Ben Roethlisberger from his 4-game suspension, the absence of Michael Vick, and the slew of Packers' injuries are not accounted for.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Week 6 Storylines

A trip with Hughes around this week's slate…

The Packers at Number One?
The same team that clanked the game winning field goal as time expired off the left upright and proceeded to lose in OT to now-26th ranked Washington (who dropped from 19th after the win, incidentally)? What is going on here? Simply put, the Pack fair well on what best predicts future performance. For example, they rank third in offensive play success, fifth in scoring offense and fifth in passing offense after week five despite the loss. The question going into week six should not be about their ranking, but about their ability to live up to it given their injuries, particularly to Aaron Rogers.

Movers and Losers

Through five weeks of the NFL season, we've seen some teams move pretty fluidly through the M-P rankings. While it's early, this season's biggest net winner so far has been the San Diego Chargers, who sat 28th after week one and now rank seventh. The Houston Texans, who debuted in the top spot after week one, have tumbled to 21st after their beatdown at the hands of the New York Football Giants.

Other ranking systems we track tell a different story. While Covers and SportsNutz have at least moved those teams in the same direction as M-P, ESPN -- which is the only "human" system of the 4, as actually DROPPED San Diego over the course of the season (from 12th to 21st). All 4 systems agree on Houston, but the fall from grace has been steepest at M-P (from 1st to 21st). 
Who has most impressed and disappointed the other systems?  The other computer systems have been most positively surprised by Atlanta (Covers, +17) and KC (SportsNutz, +17), while most disappointed by Seattle, New Orleans (both -17 at Covers) and the Giants (-11 at SportsNutz). The human voters over at ESPN have been most favorably surprised by Chicago (+15) and most disappointed by Minnesota (-14).

It's still too early in the season both from a results and data collection point of view to make value statements about whether our system arrives at the accurate ranking for a team "faster" or a particular ranking system "underweights" or "overweights" teams that M-P is impressed or disappointed by, but that's the direction we're heading. 



ESPN vs. Computers
One question we did ask this week was how responsive different ranking systems are week to week, including our own. We're curious whether subjective systems like ESPN's are more or less responsive to changes in performance or results than computer systems or vice versa and how we compare to the other systems generally.

Again, it is early in the season, but we can draw at least one preliminary conclusion. ESPN has the lowest rank variance of all systems we looked at, which suggests that voters are less sensitive to week to week performance and results than the computers. About 1/2 as responsive, on average. Perhaps unsurprisingly, voters are more likely to stick to their team biases, at least in the early going. Among the computer rankings M-P is easily the most responsive (too responsive?), shifting teams twice as far as SportsNutz.

Child Abuse

Colt McCoy sat and waited a long time on draft day for his name to be called. 84 players were taken ahead of him. Word out of Cleveland is that he won't have to wait much longer before he makes his NFL debut. Coach Eric Mangini is leaning toward starting the UT product against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Yikes.

In addition to suffering injuries at the quarterback position last week, the move may be prompted by the need to address underperformance under center as the team ranks in the bottom half of the league in all offensive categories. McCoy will take over the 19th ranked passing offense that receives little reprieve from its 25th ranked rushing offense. The team ranks 17th and 23rd in offensive play success and scoring offense, respectively. McCoy is an accurate passer and if you're both a Browns fans and an optimist - perhaps an unlikely combo - you might argue that Colt can win your team some M-P points in the important offensive play success category by throwing five - ten yard passes and moving the ball down the field. However, with a rookie QB starting on the road against the Steelers defense, expect the offensive burden to fall on the shoulders of that 25th ranked rushing offense.

And speaking of the Steelers' defense, pick your poison. Through week five, the Steel Curtain holds the top spot against the run and in scoring defense, is number three against the pass, and ranks ninth in defensive play success. Seeing as how the Brown's porous offensive line play has yielded two injured quarterbacks (Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace) and a dismal ground attack, Colt should be expecting a long day and an anxious family in the stands in a stadium that will be rocking for Big Ben's return.
- Andrew Hughes

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Packers are #1? Huh?

I'm sure a few of you are wondering how the Packers could jump three spots to #1 in this week's Massey-Peabody Rankings.  First, let me mention that the rankings are purely quantitative---they do not know that the Packers are decimated by injuries.  Obviously, if Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Jermichael Finley are out for any length of time, the Packers are not the same football team.

Still, how did the Packers improve 3 spots while the Redskins dropped 7 spots after the Redskins beat the Packers?  As a lifelong Redskins fan, I watched the game on Sunday and can honestly say that the game should have been over at halftime.  The Packers were clearly the superior team, but made a few key errors that kept the game from being a laugher.  Green Bay failed to convert on 4th-and-goal from the WAS 1-yard line and missed two field goals in the game.

Let's look at the component statistics used to derive the M-P rankings for this game, adjusting for context.  The numbers below are z-scores, representing the number of standard deviations above or below the mean of the expected distribution of the opponent, adjusting for home field.  For defensive stats, lower is better; for offensive stats, higher is better.

  Rush O Rush D Pass O Pass D Score O Score D PlaySucc O PlaySucc D
GB 2.68 -1.09 -0.03 -0.21 -0.89 -1.34 0.35 -1.06
WAS -1.49 3.04 0.32 -0.46 -1.06 -1.36 -1.37 -0.21

Green Bay's rushing attack did much better than they have all season, thanks in part to a 70-yard run by Brandon Jackson. The Redskins passing game looks like it was moderately successful, judging by the positive z-score for Pass O, however, most of the Skins' yardage came on a few big plays.  Green Bay enjoyed its biggest edge in the play success category.  Play success controls for down and distance, and rates each play as either successful or unsuccessful.  What we see is that Green Bay's defense did a great job against Washington's offense, save a few big plays.  And Green Bay's offense was moderately successful against Washington, but it had a few missed opportunities.  Judging by these stats, it appears that Green Bay clearly played the superior game, and should be rewarded for that, while Washington should be punished, even though they won the game.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week 5 Picks

This week's Massey-Peabody picks against the spread:

Arizona Cardinals +7 vs. New Orleans Saints (M-P Line: Cardinals +1.8)
New Orleans is still getting respect from the betting public despite the fact that they are playing like the 'Aints.  The primary culprit? The Saints' porous defense, ranked 30th in M-P pass defense and 28th in rush defense.  Arizona's defense has been almost as bad, but their M-P ranking has been buoyed by a surprisingly potent rush attack, ranked 3rd in the league.  Rookie Max Hall makes his debut for the Cards, replacing the ineffective Derek Anderson.  Considering the Cards' passing offense ranks 31st in the league, we don't see much downside to this change.

New York Jets -4 vs. Minnesota Viking (M-P Line: Jets -10.3)
The new leaders atop the M-P rankings play host to the new-look Vikings.  Minnesota's acquisition of Randy Moss is not reflected in our rankings, however considering the discrepancy between the M-P line and the consensus Vegas line, we remain bullish on the Jets.  Minnesota, known for its staunch rush defense the last few seasons, has had problems against the run this season (rush defense z-score of 0.11), while the Jets have the 2nd-rated rushing attack (z-score of 0.90).  Minnesota's solid rushing offense, led by Adrian Peterson, should be held in check by the Jets' 3rd-ranked rush defense, so the Vikings may be forced to win with their passing game, which ranks dead last in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs +7 at Indianapolis Colts (M-P Line: Chiefs +2.7)
This line opened at Colts -8.5 but was quickly bet down to a flat 7.  Still, the 3-0 Chiefs are a good play coming off a bye against a Colts team that hasn't been off to its typical torrid start.   

Cleveland Browns +3 vs. Atlanta Falcons (M-P Line: Browns -2.9)
The Browns are a mediocre team in just about every aspect of the game.  Why does M-P think they should be favorites?  We are bearish on the Falcons, a team that has gotten a strong backing thus far by professionals.  Atlanta ranks below average in rushing offense, rushing defense, passing offense, and passing defense.  In a matchup of two mediocre teams, home field gives Cleveland the advantage.

Smaller/marginal plays (2-3 point edge):

Philadelphia Eagles +3.5 at San Francisco 49ers (M-P Line: PHI +1.5)
St. Louis Rams +3 at Detroit Lions (M-P Line: STL +0.6)

In the remaining 8 games, the M-P line falls within 2 points of the point spread, so we do not believe betting these games provides a bettor with an advantage on either side.

Our remaining lines:
BAL -5.2 vs. DEN
JAC -0.9 @ BUF
CIN -7.1 vs. TB
CHI -2.8 @ CAR
GB -2.0 @ WAS
HOU -4.1 vs. NYG
SD -5.8 vs. OAK
DAL -6.0 vs. TEN