Commentary Archives - 1999
New and Old Faces - September 10, 1999
Just a couple of more weeks to go before another season is underway. It doesn't seem as is if the season ended that long ago, but it has. Three of the more predominant players of the 90's have retired, John Elway, Reggie White, and Barry Sanders. One can say with relative certainty that Elway and White have retired for good, the same cannot be said for Sanders. I believe the NFL has yet to see the last of Barry Sanders.
In looking down the road it appears as if retirement is not too far off for many of the names and faces that have played so well for the last ten to fifteen years. Dan Marino, Steve Young, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, etc. can certainly put together another year or two, but not much more. Also, some of the more dominating coaches of the same time period have also set themselves up in a position to turn the reigns over to their successor shortly (a la Bill Walsh after he won his last Super Bowl).
It appears as if the NFL is on the brink of issuing the next generation of stars into the league. This can certainly issue in a new era of excitement into the game. It appears as if may be underway already. In looking at some of today's younger stars such as Kordell Stewart, Mark Brunell, Terrell Davis, Randy Moss, etc., there appears to be a heightened degree of athletic ability. Remember when players such as Randall Cunningham and Lawrence Taylor came into the league? They changed the way coaches and personnel directors looked at the abilities for each of the respective positions.
What can be expected from the younger players of today? More than likely bigger, stronger, and faster players. One drawback from all of this athletic ability is that the players will be susceptible to injuries due to more violent collisions. Also, it appears as if teams in the NFL are attempting to stem the amount of injuries by utilizing natural turf more than artificial turf on it's new stadiums. Also, some teams have removed artificial turf and installed natural turf in its place.
Lastly, the amount of injuries have placed an ever increasing importance of carrying a well balanced roster of players without overspending the amount of money available under the salary cap on a few players while attempting to fill in the holes with lesser caliber players. Football has become, more than ever, a team game. In examining a given teams chances at making playoffs and playing well into the post season, it is important to evaluate the team's backups as well as their front line marquee players. Remember this when making your selections for teams that you believe will win the next Super Bowl. Even an injury that keeps a key player player out of action for a game or two can be detrimental to a teams chance by causing the team to lose out of the home field advantage during the playoffs.
Injury Bug - September 17, 1999
Once again, the injury bug has struck a front line quarterback that appears to put the fate of his team in serious jeopardy. In the New York Jets game last week against the New England Patriots, Vinny Testaverde went down with a ruptured Achilles Tendon that means he will be gone for the season, and perhaps longer. Can this be the same guy that fans joked about just a couple of seasons ago? How did Vinny get to become a savior of the New York Jets?
In reality, the savior of the New York Jets has been it's Head Coach Bill Parcells, and he is not injured. With all due respect to Vinny Testaverde, it was Coach Parcells' game plans that restored Vinny's confidence and, once restored, allowed him to play to his strengths. Vinny has just about said as much in the interviews since his injury.
Throughout Parcells' career he has always been able to spot talent and get the most out of it. Look at the careers of such players as Ottis Anderson, Terry Glenn, Jeff Hostettler, and Vinny Testaverde himself. Also, his game plans are made to accentuate a players talent while minimizing the same players weaknesses. Parcells continuously places his players in a winning situation which helps them, and conversely his teams, build self confidence and breed a winning attitude.
Look over the next couple of games for Parcells to bring Rick Mirer along slowly in order to restore his self confidence. The Jets do have an offense that possess talent enough where the quarterback is not required to carry the burden which can only help. Little by little, Parcells will have Mirer do more and more where, come playoff time, the Jets will once again be a formidable opponent.
Still, what if Mirer turns out to be a flop and is notable to handle the job he has so quickly inherited? Look for Parcells to reach out and trade for a veteran quarterback or perhaps lure someone out of retirement. Last year's participants in the NFC Championship Game had two quarterbacks that were at one time retired. Randall Cunningham started for the Vikings and Steve DeBerg of the Falcons was the backup.
As you can probably tell, I am a big Bill Parcells fan. The job he did in rebuilding both the New England Patriots and the New York Jets can only be admired, particularly in the amount of time he accomplished both of these feats. Additionally, the job he did with the New York Giants was equally commendable in not only building the team that on one Super Bowl, but returned to win yet another Super Bowl ring when their starting quarterback went down with an injury. Look for the injury to Testaverde to be only a set back to the Jets; their season is hardly over.
Parity - September 23, 1999
The 1999 has had its share of early season surprises. Some of the larger surprises include, but are not limited to the following:
Once again, it appears that the NFL has done reasonably well at achieving the parity it seeks. There really is no clear cut favorite at this time to go to the Super Bowl. Even if one were to make a prediction on the teams to make it to Super Bowl, an injury to a key player can foil that teams chance in a moment.
With all of this parity, it makes life as a handicapper more difficult than in my earlier days. The old adage that 'on any given Sunday a poor team can beat good team' has never been more true. Some of the things that are good to keep in mind in while struggling with handicapping games are the following:
Quarterbacks - October 7, 1999
Well, the results are in from the first quarter of NFL action. The results can best be described as surprising to say the least. It appears as if there is a changing of the guard at the quarterback position. Some of the stars of the late 80s and early 90s are getting old. While they still have the fire and can get the job done, it appears as if they cannot sustain it for a full season.
The following are the quarterbacks who were recently leaders, but appear to have seen there best days:
1. John Elway (Denver): Now retired.
2. Dan Marino (Miami): Plays in offense primarily designed to run.
3. Warren Moon (Kansas City): Backup roll; has not played.
4. Vinnie Testeverde (N Y Jets): Season ending injury.
5. Steve Young (San Francisco): Suffered another concussion.
6. Randall Cunningham (Minnesota): Offense has yet to show '98 form.
The following are the quarterbacks who are now in their primes:
1. Brett Favre (Green Bay): Can still light up another team.
2. Drew Bledsoe (New England): Currently carrying the Patriots.
3. Mark Brunell (Jacksonville): Struggling, but can go off at any time.
4. Troy Aikman (Dallas): Statistics don't overwhelm you, but he leads a well balanced attack.
The following appear to be the young quarterbacks on the rise:
1. Charlie Batch (Detroit): Has shown patience and consistency.
2. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis): Has done well since rough '98 start.
3. Steve McNair (Tennessee): On the verge of breaking out, then got hurt.
4. Brian Griese (Denver): Even though he is now on the bench, I believe he has the right stuff.
5. Jake Plummer (Arizona): Very rocky '99 start.
There is also the quarterback class who are rookies this year. They really have not played long enough to form much of an opinion on.
These types of lists (aging veterans, players in their prime, emerging stars, and rookies) could be made pretty much every year for the past twenty to thirty years. However, this year there is another category which apparently is going to be a breeding grounds for quarterbacks. This list is players who have had recent playing experience in either the Arena Football, Canadian Football League, or European Football and is as follows:
1. Kurt Warner (St Louis): Probably the biggest surprise of '99.
2. Doug Flutie (Buffalo): Probably the biggest surprise of '98. While not surprising anyone, he continues to win.
3. John Kitna (Seattle): Showed a lot last year, slowed by injuries in '99.
4. Jeff Garcia (San Francisco): Did well in first performance.
5. Brad Johnson (Washington): While it has been a couple of years, this is where he got playing time to sharpen his skills.
Realignment & Future Expansion - October 17, 1999
With the recent announcement from the NFL concerning the award of the next franchise to Houston came the news that they would realign the AFC and NFC conferences to four divisions of four teams. Last weekend I saw the same realignment proposal that most everyone saw. It really did little to promote geographical rivalries.
The following is our recommendation for realignment:
Buffalo, Miami, New
England, and N Y Jets
Baltimore, N Y Giants,
Philadelphia, and Washington
I know that the final version of realignment will probably never look the above proposal, but the geographical rivalries for the most part would be maintained. Also, one day Los Angeles will get their act together and put a deal together for a franchise. This franchise would fit well in the NFC West or the AFC West (it has been mentioned that the NFL would like to get to Mexico City, this fits better in the NFC West). Other potential teams could be awarded on the basis of their geographical area.
Money Management - October 28, 1999
Perhaps the single most important aspect of being a successful sports handicapper is fully understanding and implementing a successful money management program. Proper planning needs to be planned for in the event a player experiences a down period where things are not working out well. This requires strict discipline to ones plan. It is a popular belief that more handicappers go broke more from improper management of their funds than from his/her ability to pick winners.
In order to help one from losing their bankroll one must foresee that everyone at one point in time or another will suffer from a streak of bad luck. Conversely, they will also experience receive the benefit of going through a streak of good luck. Since the odds are in favor of the house (at 11/10 for straight plays), it is imperative to realize that going trough a bad spell can deplete ones bankroll prior to the arrival of a time of good fortune.
It is recommended that each individual establish the amount of funds that he/she could lose and to play within their means. Also, the individual needs to not panic within when times go bad and to not become too overconfident when times are going well. If you stand back and look at what was just stated, this is the same advice one should adhere to when venturing investments in the stock market. In reality, this is a very true statement. When one invests in the stock market, the investor is placing his/her money on the line based on his/her planned expectations of the company's performance over a given time period. When placing a wager on a sporting event the better (investor) is placing his/her money on the line based on his/her planned expectations of the given team's performance.
Within any successful handicapper's career, one will find a good, well thought out money management plan. Within the Armchair Athlete's subscription plan, such a plan is in place. It is recommended that you develop a plan for yourself should you decide to venture into the world of sports handicapping. Odds are you will be thankful you did.
Statistics - Turnovers - November 5, 1999
In looking at the statistics of several games from week 8 of this season it was noticed that there were a few games that illustrated the importance of various items of a teams performance, or lack thereof, and the final score of the game.
One of the areas which can be used to measure a teams performance is turnovers, both fumbles and interceptions. For example, please note the following games:
1. Cleveland Browns beat New Orleans Saints 21-16: The Saints had the advantage of total yards gained by a 351 to 243 margin, had more first downs by a 25 to 9 margin, and had the ball on offense for 40:50 while the Browns had it for 19:10. With all of these advantages, the Browns won the game.
2. Washington Redskins beat Chicago Bears 48-22: The Bears had the advantage of total yards gained by a 445 to 376 margin, had more first downs by a 22 to 18 margin, and had the ball on offense for 35:56 while the Redskins had it for 24:04. With all of these advantages, the Redskins won the game.
3. Tennessee Titans beat the St Louis Rams 24-21: The Rams had the advantage of total yards gained by a 415 to 281 margin, had more first downs by a 23 to 17 margin, and had the ball on offense for 31:43 while the Titans had it for 28:17. With all of these advantages, the Titans won the game.
4. Minnesota Vikings beat the Denver Broncos 23-20: The Broncos had the advantage of total yards gained by a 391 to 302 margin, had more first downs by a 24 to 15 margin, and had the ball on offense for 31:54 while the Vikings had it for 28:06. With all of these advantages, the Vikings won the game.
5. Detroit Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3: The Bucs had the advantage of total yards gained by a 292 to 256 margin, had more first downs by an 18 to 13 margin, and had the ball on offense for 34:31 while the Lions had it for 25:29. With all of these advantages, the Lions won the game.
If one just looks at the yardage, first downs and time of possession statistics, that person would figure the score to be the opposite of what really happened. The reason? In everyone of the abovementioned games, 2 of which were won by a wide margin, the team that won the game enjoyed the statistical edge in turnovers. This is illustrated below:
1. Cleveland Browns beat New Orleans Saints 21-16: The Browns won the game and had a 5-1 edge in turnovers.
2. Washington Redskins beat Chicago Bears 48-22: The Redskins won the game and had a 5-2 edge in turnovers.
3. Tennessee Titans beat the St Louis Rams 24-21: The Titans won the game and had a 3-0 edge in turnovers.
4. Minnesota Vikings beat the Denver Broncos 23-20: The Vikings won the game and had a 3-0 edge in turnovers.
5. Detroit Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3: The Lions won the game and had a 2-0 edge in turnovers.
Additionally, further examination of the net turnover statistics generally speaking shows the more successful teams in terms of straight up wins and losses have a higher number of net turnovers and teams that struggle area typically at the bottom of the list. This is illustrated below:
Kansas City +13
Turnovers is not the end all of measuring a teams success rate, but it is a good indicator which should not be overlooked.
Midseason Review - November 12, 1999
In assessing the performance of the NFL's 31 teams, the following are the teams that are picked to make it to the playoffs:
In the playoffs, look for Jacksonville to emerge from the AFC and St Louis to make it out of the NFC. The Super Bowl should go to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In looking for a MVP candidate, one cannot ignore the numbers Kurt Warner has put up at quarterback for the St Louis Rams. Should he falter or get hurt, others worthy of consideration are Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots, Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James of the Indianapolis Colts, Brad Johnson of the Washington Redskins, and John Kitna of the Seattle Seahawks.
The Coach of the Year leading candidates are Bobby Ross of the Detroit Lions, Jim Mora of the Indianapolis Colts, and Dick Vermeil of St Louis Rams, but there are other worthy coaches as well. You have got to go with Vermeil right now, and Mora or Ross if Vermeil falters during the second half of the season.
Rookie of the year has got to go to Edgerrin James. He is making those draft day predictions at Indianapolis look good when they picked him over Ricky Williams. However, in defense of Ricky Williams, he has been hurt and is playing on a poor New Orleans Saints team.
Now lets go back and take a look at our preseason selections to make the playoffs:
We are looking pretty good in the AFC with only the N Y Jets and Denver being essentially out of the race. The NFC is a little worse with Atlanta and San Francisco are all but eliminated from post season contention. I know it is an excuse, but in looking at the teams that mentioned above, all of them have sustained a major injury to at least one of their premier offensive weapons. Once again this points to the importance of having a good team and not just a few very good players.
Retirement - November 27, 1999
In looking back at 1999, the sporting world has noted many of it's best performers during the 1980s and 1990s have recently retired as an active player. Most notably John Elway left the National Football League, Michael Jordan left the National Basketball Association, Wayne Gretzky left the National Hockey League, and Steffi Graf left the Women's Tennis Tour. Another great football player, Barry Sanders, has retired, but many believe that he has not yet played his last game in the NFL. All of these great athletes left while at or near the top of their game. As a matter of fact, both Elway and Jordan left their teams fresh off of a championship season. While everyone cannot do this, it is good to see that some athletes chose to exit this way.
However, there are some players that stay in their respective game too long. Those that come to mind quickly are Muhammad Ali from boxing, O J Simpson in football, and Bobby Orr in hockey. All had great careers in their sport, but by the time they retired they were only able to compete at a much lower level than they had previously. They did flash occasional glimpses of their previous abilities, but they were not sustainable. It was at times sad watching these great athletes play. There abilities were either marred by injury or simply the aging process. Some people may say that they needed the money, but these great athletes were household names to the sports fans of the world and these guys could have gotten money from endorsements and coaching/management type of jobs.
In the National Football League it looks as though there are a couple of players that fit into the abovementioned category. Most notably there are Jerry Rice, wide receiver of the San Francisco 49ers and Dan Marino, quarterback of the Miami Dolphins. These are two of the greatest, and some will argue they are the greatest, to play at their position. These two players have had recent injuries that have hampered the effectiveness during recent games. While the jury is out on these two great players, there are other sorts of injuries that are occurring more frequently that have threatened the careers of some other great players.
Concussions, head injuries, and similar injuries have ended careers of some players, tragically is some cases. Additionally, the medical technology has increased which is allowing more preventative types of diagnosis to occur. Such players as Steve Young (quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers), Erik Kramer (quarterback of the San Diego), Troy Aikman (quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys), and Michael Irvin (wide receiver of the Dallas Cowboys) face important career decisions shortly. Actually, these decisions are more than career related as they have implications on their respective personal lives as well. There is an additional consideration needs to be taken into account. The life of the player that may one day deliver a blow that results in a fatal injury. Quite often the player that delivers such an injury never quite mentally recovers as well. Jack Tatum was never quite the same after the injury sustained by Daryl Stingley, a former wide receiver of the New England Patriots.
If a player is near the end of their career and is facing the decision of continuing to play and risking a possible fatal injury versus retiring; please take the retirement. Everyone will be better off.
Playoff Wagering - January 11, 2000
When I first became interested in handicapping game some twenty five years ago I used get excited about the playoffs as an opportunity to excel in making good selections. In looking back over those early years, I never was very successful in the playoffs. I was new to handicapping at the time and it took me a while to figure out some things, such as:
1. The games are played with much more of a 'do or die' attitude than the games are during the regular season. This leads to teams taking more desperate types of measures to either catch up (if behind) or to become a little too conservative (if ahead).
2. The above mentioned measures can take many forms such as the kickoff return to end the Bills - Titans game last week. They can also take the form of an earlier contest between these same two teams some eight years ago when the Bills came back from a 32 point deficit.
3. The home field advantage tends to become more magnified during the playoffs, typically because the better of the two teams is usually playing at home.
4. Teams that have a good defense tend to have more success than teams with a good offense. Since the press usually gets excited about good offense rather than good defense, one's judgment can sometimes be swayed by what one reads, sees, or hears.
There are others, but these are the main ones. Nowadays, I find it better to do my handicapping during the regular season and leave the playoffs to others.