Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mediocrity by association (American Football)

I get it that the AFC is much stronger than the NFC. And by this I understand it to mean that the best teams in the AFC are stronger than the best teams in the NFC. But why is it that people tend to feel that mediocre teams in the AFC won't be mediocre in the NFC? Denver was favored by a field goal at home against Green Bay on Monday night, which essentially means that the two teams were viewed as being equal on a neutral site. Is a mediocre AFC team really equivalent to a good NFC team? I don't think so and the results certainly seemed like they played pretty even in Denver (which should mean Green Bay's better, since Denver most definitely has a home field advantage).

Another situation where people assume mediocrity by association is when a team just barely beats or even loses to a clearly inferior team. For that one game, the head coach may have gone with a conservative game plan to guarantee his victory, and end up winning by only a field goal instead of covering the spread. This, however, should not be an indicator of how good the team is. I remember at the beginning of last season when Denver lost their first game at St. Louis and then barely squeaked past a poor Kansas City team in OT at home. People wrote off Denver but they ended up beating both the Patriots and the Ravens in the next few weeks. The reason for the loss in St. Louis was 5 turnovers while in the Kansas City game, Shanahan just went very conservative, thinking his team was the better team and trying not to do anything stupid.

Along this line of reasoning, one must be able to look past certain games where a favored team ended up losing because of turnovers or special teams touchdowns. We can never predict when or how many turnovers will occur in a game, and sometimes it's just bad breaks. Even though a good special teams unit will typically net good starting field position and provide a predictable advantage, we're never sure when someone might break a return for a touchdown. An example of where we can take advantage of this kind of association of mediocrity was in the Pittsburgh at Cincinnati line this past weekend. Pittsburgh was favored by 3.5 the same as the line for their game in Denver from a week before. But with a bad game plan and some costly turnovers, Pittsburgh lost that game in Denver while the Bengals finally managed to score some points against a bad Jets defense. Did people really feel the Bengals were equivalent to the Broncos or did the line also reflect people's incorrect downgrade of Pittsburgh because of that loss?

The point here is that the next time you say "I don't like team X because they barely beat that awful team Y last week", you might want to rethink it. And just because a team beats 3 bad teams and loses to 3 super teams doesn't mean it's better than any other 3-3 team because of how super the teams were that they faced.

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