Sour grapes

True Wins did okay over the weekend — predicting the 49ers and Patriots victories, but whiffing on the Ravens and Falcons. Picking the team with more True Wins so far has six correct and two wrong, while relying on actual wins to pick has just four right, two wrong, and makes no prediction on two games (same records for Pats-Texans and 49ers-Packers).

The True Wins king — Denver — is out! Over the last ten years, the top team in True Wins has won four Super Bowls, and the second ranked team has won two more. It’s up to the Patriots (#2) to carry on the tradition, even though the 13.5 True Win Broncos had the second highest total in the last ten years (behind another famous losing team that you may remember). That couldn’t save them from one very cold Manning flinching first in a stalemate and one very cold Champ Bailey getting toasted over and over again (not to mention one very cold referee blowing a couple video reviews and throwing a ton of flags on the Broncos). More on the playoffs later in the week, but for now, I want to go back to some old predictions and talk about this year’s playoff spectators.

The Sour Grapes Club

Last year, I broke the outsiders-looking-in into four groups (follow the link — the predictions are worth a read-through in their entirety):

  • The Michael Vick Division (pretty good teams that had some bad luck): Eagles, Bears, Chargers, Cowboys
  • The Cam Newton Division (mediocre teams with something to build on): Panthers, Titans, Seahawks, Dolphins, Vikings
  • The Rex Ryan Division (overconfident teams that need to reassess their approach): Jets, Cardinals, Bills, Raiders, Chiefs
  • The Sam Bradford Division (teams that need to start over completely): Redskins, Jaguars, Browns, Colts, Rams, Buccaneers

The first thing that has to change are the names. Cam Newton moves up a notch and replaces Vick, who unfortunately goes all the way around the horn to replace Bradford in the blow-it-up division. Rex Ryan, one of the most overconfident men in the world, is saved by Tony Romo and his buddy Troy Aikman — I can’t listen to Aikman defend Romo anymore. I’m sticking with my man Stafford and handing the “something to build on” division to him, even if my Lions regressed this year.

Here are the standings this year:

2012 non playoff standings

From the first group (I expected good things):

  • The Eagles couldn’t recover from Vick injuries (my one concern last year) and fumbles. Note that the fumbles are not new. Vick has over nine fumbles every year he’s started the majority of the games. The Eagles had a slightly better recovery percentage in past years, which was probably just good luck (I wrote about this regarding RG3 recently — beware the fumbles, Skins fans).
  • The Bears and Chargers came through, racking up as many True Wins as some playoff teams (see below). Why did the Bears fire Lovie Smith again?
  • The Cowboys? They were the luckiest non-playoff team, with one more win than True Wins. Even though they almost made the playoffs again this year, I’m now less convinced they have the right formula.

Second group (good things again):

  • Panthers, Seahawks, Vikings: check, check, check. Three of the unluckiest teams last year all stepped up, and two made the playoffs as a result. The Panthers should not change a thing — they had a two True Win deficit last year and upped it to three this year, but they had more True Wins than six playoff teams. The luck will come.
  • Why did the Dolphins ditch Matt Moore so quickly? I thought he was pretty good last year. It would have been nice to see Tannehill get a year to learn before being thrown to the wolves. However, they still had eight True Wins. It’s an easy division lately, but they are on the right track. If only they had landed Jeff Fisher . . . (more on this below).
  • The Titans let me down. The quarterback situation is a problem — this team is going in the wrong direction.

Third group (trouble brewing):

  • Jets, Cardinals, Bills, Raiders, Chiefs: I feel terrible about every single team. There’s not a good QB in the bunch and it’s a weak draft! This was easily my best category for prediction.

Fourth group (already in trouble, did any escape?):

  • Jaguars and Browns, better luck next time.
  • Colts and Redskins, you’ve won the QB lottery! Enjoy your winnings for years to come (or as long as RG3 can stay healthy and the Skins keep recovering his fumbles, and as long as Andrew Luck keeps living up to his last name in close games). The Redskins, with Shanahan coaching, remain my favorite from this group.
  • Rams and Buccaneers, you’ve won the coaching lottery! The Rams won for sure. I thought Jeff Fisher would save the Dolphins but he’s saving the Rams instead. He does all the little things, like tracking down a no-name rookie punter and kicker that had (mostly) solid seasons. However, they still need to solve the quarterback problem. Their offense was miserable at times this year.

Here are the new groups for this season, starting with the Cam Newton Division (underrated, strong teams):

  • Panthers/Bears/Chargers (see above, though the Chargers are certainly my least favorite in this group)
  • Steelers, Saints (time will heal Roethlisberger and the bounty scandal fallout)

Matt Stafford Division (something to build on, or at least I hope so):

  • Lions (time for a new coach? Schwartz is a good motivator but often disorganized)
  • Buccaneers/Dolphins/Rams (see above)
  • Browns (I love that defense, but that’s about it)

The Tony Romo Division (OVER-RATED) is pretty thin this year. Very few non-playoff teams had more True Wins than actual wins. I don’t even think the Jets are overrated anymore. There are a bunch of bad teams that everyone knows are bad right now:

  • Cowboys (they sure do have a nice stadium though)

Michael Vick Division (blow it up):

  • Eagles (it’s really too bad they lost Andy Reid)
  • Bills (best of the bunch, but the Bills benefited from an easy schedule and Fitzpatrick is not the solution, maybe a new coach will help)
  • Titans/Jets (they don’t seem to be completely lost, but both played in terrible divisions)
  • Cardinals/Raiders/Jaguars/Chiefs (sometimes things just don’t work out)

As I noted, very few non-playoff teams had bad luck in close games this year. Where are all the lucky teams? In the playoffs of course (see below)! For the Ravens, Bengals, Vikings, and Colts, a few lucky bounces were surely necessary to push them into the playoffs. The same pattern held true last year, however, even for the very best teams, suggesting that there is some element of skill in close games. I’ve been meaning to look at this more carefully — I think that luck still plays some roll, and that therefore True Wins are still helpful for comparing teams of roughly similar quality. That’s exactly what I’m using it for in the playoffs.

2012 playoff teams

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