Staff Predictions: NFC

NFC East:

Washington:  Vegas line – 8

Prediction: 8. Defenses have an entire year of film on Robert Griffin and the Read Option look.  Look for a small step back this year with no major additions to note.

Fun Facts: 

RG3 first 8 games Pass Att 223 – games 66.8CMP% – 70 Rush Att – 476 Rush Yrds – 6 TDs

RG3 final 8 games Pass Att 170 = games 64.1CMP% – 50 Rush Att – 339 Rush Yrds – 1 TD

It:  The Redskins started the season 3-5 through their first eight games.  They finished 7-1.  The simple reason why?  Robert Griffin’s usage was significantly cut for the second half of the season.  As Griffin’s usage went down, the team’s success soared.  With the obvious injury issues, this trend HAS to stay.

Philadelphia: Vegas line – 7

Prediction: 9. My guess is that league is seeing a watered down version of the Philadelphia offense that is to come in the regular season.  The Eagles will jump out on teams through the first half of the season before injuries and lack of depth hit this up-tempo attack.  Look for them to start 6-2 and finish 3-5 once teams get a second chance at them.

Fun Facts:

The team with the highest plays-per-game number last year was the New England Patriots. 74

The Philadelphia Eagles are looking to push 80! plays-per-game this year,  13 more than their 2012 average.

It: The team is now full steam ahead with Kelly announcing Michael Vick as the permanent starter.  This means it will be closer to the Oregon version of the up-tempo offense than say, the New England Patriots version, if Foles were at quarterback.  This current Eagles roster has had, barely, one offseason to prepare for this style of play.  It appears to be taking a serious toll on them already; the season grind could really test this team’s depth.

Dallas Cowboys: Vegas line – 8.5

Prediction: 10.  The Cowboys have the most talent left on their roster of any team in the division.  They’re in the bottom third of the league in strength of schedule, and play Green Bay, Denver, and Minnesota (Playoff teams in 2012) in Dallas.

Fun Facts: Tony Romo’s last 3 full seasons (2009,2011,2012)are a tale of two halves.

2009,2011,2012 games 1-8.  6847 Yards – 63.03 CMP% – 36-25 TD/INT

2009,2011,2012 games 9-16 6723 Yards – 66.83 CMP% – 49-13 TD/INT

Last 2 minutes of each half combined for       14 TDs to 5 INTS

In the 4th quarter with his team +/- 7 points. 15 TDs to 5 INTS\

It: At some time in your fan-life, someone has told you Tony Romo doesn’t have “It”.  A popular definition of “It” is performing when it matters most.  Romo does that.  The stats show he’s significantly better in the second half of the season and in crunch time.  So, that someone lied to you.

New York Giants: Vegas Line 9

Prediction: 6.This number is low.  REALLY low.  Personnel turnover on defense including two of their top three tacklers, and Osi Umenyiora lead me to believe this defense, which was one of the league’s worst last year, may not be getting much better.

Fun Facts: The Giants were 31st in Total Defense in 2012/2013, and 27th in 2011/2012 (I’m fully aware of the outcome of this season).

It:  Eli Manning is losing weapons left and right.  No more Bradshaw(leading rusher) no more Bennett(starting Tight End) no more Hixon (567 YDS, 2 TDs). Victor Cruz is currently in a walking boot.  We’re about to see how “Elite” Eli is.

– Tyler

NFC South:

Atlanta Falcons: Vegas Line 10

Prediction: 12.  The Falcons have arguably the most talented offense in the league.  Matt Ryan is coming off his best season yet, and he got his first playoff win.  He’ll look to do more of the same with two of the league’s best receivers.

IT: Matt Ryan was at his best last year on the road throwing for 21 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions for a QB rating of 111.3.  The Falcons will need that this year with tough matches on the road in both Green Bay and San Francisco.

Carolina Panthers: Vegas Line 7

Prediction: 8.  Another high octane offense in the NFC south with two running backs capable of running for over one thousand yards each, but a lackluster defense ranking in the middle in nearly every defensive stat.

IT: The Panthers finished last year winning 5 of 6 averaging 150 yards rushing per game and 28 points per game.  The previous year they won 4 of 6 with similar stats.  They finish their seasons strong, now they just need a hot start.

New Orleans Saints: Vegas Line 9

Prediction: 6. The saints had the worst defense in the league last year allowing the most yards and the second most amount of points.  Not even Drew Brees’ 5,177 yards could pull them out of the holes their defense put them in.

IT: The Saints allowed the most rushing yards per game last year.  This year they play seven games against top 10 rushing teams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vegas Line 7.5

Prediction: 9. Last year the Bucs were doing well until the last 6 games of the year, where they only won one game.  They were the worst team last year in pass defense allowing 297 yards per game, but with the addition of Darrelle Revis, they should see that number shrink.

IT: In their wins, Quarterback Freeman only threw 4 interceptions and the team rushed for 157 yards per game on Doug Martin.  Running the ball and making very selective throws seems to be a winning formula for the Buccaneers.

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals: – Vegas Line 5.5

Prediction: 8. The cardinals had the worst offense in the league last year, and their defense was mediocre.  The only averaged 263 yards per game and scored 15.6 points per game.  The upside—the just brought in Carson Palmer, who threw for 4,000 yards with the Raiders last year.

IT: The Cardinals won their first four games of the year, all under Kevin Kolb.  He only played in 6 games that year.  If they can have a consistent quarterback this year in Palmer, look for their offensive numbers to rise.

Seattle Seahawks: – Vegas Line 10.5

Prediction: 12.  Last year the Seahawks had arguably the best defense in the league only allowing 15 points per game.  They also had a top ten offense generating 26 points per game.  This year they’ve added even more weapons with Harvin (if he can stay healthy) and 11 draft choices.

IT: The Seahawks were one of the hottest teams at the end of the year winning 7 of their last 8 before the playoffs, crushing everyone in their way by averaging 31.5 points per game.  They only lost to the falcons in the playoffs by a field goal–with 8 seconds left.

San Francisco 49ers:– Vegas Line 11.5

Prediction: 10.  Another team with a stifling defense, only second to their division rivals in points allowed per game at 17.  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick may receive most of the credit with the new hype as “best ever”, but the 49ers will look to their defense again this year to carry them into the playoffs.

IT: Both quarterbacks Smith and Kaepernick had the same amount of throwing attempts—218.  Smith’s completion percentage was 7.8% higher, and his passer rating was 104.1 to Kaepernick’s 98.3.  It seems no matter who is taking snaps for them, they’re going to win.

St. Louis Rams: – Vegas Line 7.5

Prediction: 5. The Rams ranked 25th in points per game last year and 23rd in yards per game.  They just lost Steven Jackson to the Falcons and Sam Bradford is still waiting for his breakout season.  Coupled with their offensive woes, the Rams defense was very middle of the road last year allowing 22 points per game.

IT:  The Rams have Jeff Fisher for their head coach, who took the 7-9 Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans to Super Bowl contenders in only a few years.  The Rams have pieces to build around—they just need time.

-D.Ewing

NFC North

At any rate, the NFC North is a division that is arguably the most competitive division in the National Football League.  Every team in the NFC has made the playoffs at least once in the past 3 years.  The division contains the best running back (Peterson), arguably the best quarterback (Rodgers), the top receiver (C. Johnson), arguably the best receiver outside of Megatron (Marshall), and one of the most consistent defenses in the League (The Bears).  Sadly, not all 4 of these can win the division, or make the playoffs.

Chicago Bears: – Vegas Line 8.5

Prediction: 7.  Chicago had 310 yards per game total offense, 28th in the NFL.  At times, the Bears looked like one of the best teams in the league.   They were one game away from winning the division, and had the third ranked defense in the league.   Sadly, 2012 was a repeat of 2011. As good as the Bears defense was–their offensive counterpart was equally bad.

IT: The Bears did lose Jay Cutler for a portion of the season, but even with Cutler, they weren’t great.  The horrible output on offense led to the firing Lovie Smith and the hiring of an offensive-minded coach.  Even though the offense may improve, I see the bears taking a step back on defense with the loss of Urlacher and Coach Lovie Smith.

Detroit Lions: – Vegas Line 7.5

Prediction: 7. The Lions allowed 27 points per game, 6th worst in the league.  Calvin Johnson set the record for single season receiving yards, Matthew Stafford threw for nearly 5000 yards, and the offense averaged 23 points per game.  Somehow, the Lions still managed to lose 12 games (typical Lions).  This was caused by an extremely porous defense.

IT: Coach Schwartz is a former defense coordinator, so the knowledge is obviously there.  The Lions did address their defense in the off-season, but will the additions of Glover Quin (Strong Safety) and James Jones (Defensive End) be enough to get the Lions back into playoff contention?  I say it won’t be.

Green Bay Packers: – Vegas Line 10

Prediction: 12.  The Packers run game was terrible last year.  They ranked 32nd in yards per rush and 31th in sacks allowed.  Having a great football team is like having a well-oiled machine.  All parts are working and moving toward one goal.  When one part is broken, it causes deficiencies in every other piece of the machine.  What I am saying is the Packers inability to run the football forced them to pass more.  When defenses knew they were passing, they dialed up pressure and got to Aaron Rodgers.

IT: The Packers had two very good offensive line miss a major portion of the season (Ryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod. Granted Aaron Rodgers style of play may or may not have caused more sacks, but the running game must improve.  Balance is everything.  The Packers addressed this need by adding running back/offensive line depth in the draft.

Minnesota Vikings: – Vegas Line 7.5

Prediction: 6.  With only 171 Passing Yards per game, the Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL.  The Minnesota Vikings pulled together a great run into the post-season using an “old-school” mentality.  Run the football and play great defense.  However, I would imagine it was by necessity and not choice.

IT: Adding Greg Jennings should help the struggling passing game add production, but it is debatable if Christian Ponder is a capable starting Quarterback in the Nfl.

M.Lester

Dale Jr: Are They Still Making Noise?

“It doesn’t matter if they are booing you, or cheering you, as long as they are making noise”

Dale Earnhardt was quoted saying this during his illustrious career.  The statement is simple, but effective.   It summarized Dale Earnhardt’s career as a driver.  He always mattered.

Before I go forward it is important for me to make two statements:

1.  This post is about Dale Earnhardt Jr, not Dale Sr.  I will refrain from comparing the two.  They are not similar in any way as drivers, and should not be compared.

2.  I am an avid Nascar fan.  I watch nearly every race, and will always use information based off of research and what I see (hence the name of the blog)

Dale Jr is Nascar’s most popular driver and will continue to be until he retires.  Yes,  Dale Jr has made the Chase the past three years; but more often than not during race telecasts, Dale Jr is often lost in the shuffle over the numerous contenders.  Which leads me to the point of the conversation, is Dale Jr still relevant as a title contender?

The number 2.  When one thinks of Dale Jr one must remember this number.  With the backing of Hendrick Motorsports for the last 5 years Dale Jr has won 2 races.  Comparing this to his teammates: (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne) who have won 2 championships 31 races, 6 races, 4 races, 6 races respectively.  This is also looking over Junior’s two “dark” years (21th and 25th in points).  Since Steve Latarte’s arrival (who had 9 wins at the time of his arrival with Jr.) and Jr’s move into the same garage as Jimmie Johnson, Junior has not missed the chase.  In 2012, Dale Jr had the 5th most top 10 finishes in the series, and led the points after race 20.  Both are impressive stats.  However, his one win (tied for 4th with 6 other drivers) and 358 laps led (10 in the series) did not indicate that he was close to title contention.

This leads me to Jr’s age, 39.  Only two drivers have won their first title at an older age, Dale Jarrett (42) and Bobby Allison (45).  Both of these drivers had more career wins than Jr at this point (22 and 80 respectively).  Jr has 19.

At one point in Jr’s career he was a threat to win on a variety of tracks. He was also a lock to contend on superspeedways.  From 2000-2004  Junior was also the most dominant restrictor plate racer in the series (7 wins). Mind you that there are only 4 of these type races per year.   But, since the switch to the “Car of Tomorrow”, Jr has not won a single restrictor plate race.  This may indicate that he had some sort of advantage during these events, and that restrictor plate wins had more to do with the team’s car than his ability.  After all, Michael Waltrip won his only 4 races on these tracks with the same equipment.  Considering these facts, it seems that Junior is on the trend down.  But lets remove the stats and look at the situation objectively.

The Eye:

Dale Jr has the best equipment, a top flight team and crew chief, and ability to take the car home in one piece (13 DNF’s in 5 years).  Dale Jr’s style is not aggressive.  He typically always finishes races and gets as many points as possible.  This was very rewarding in the old style of points system.  But. as the world saw with Carl Edwards in 2011, points racing does not always lead to titles.

Watching Dale on the raceway, he has the speed to run in the top 5 or 10 consistently at every track.  But, once he gets to the top portion of the field, he never seems to have the ability to drive around his competition (such as Johnson, Busch, or Hamlin).  Is he afraid of pushing the car too hard? Possibly.  Is he less talented that the competition? Maybe.  There have been 16 different winners in the past two years.  At any rate, Dale Jr does not to seem to be trending down, it seems that the competition around him has stepped up.

Conclusion:

Dale Jr’s statistics and talent suggest he is a second tier driver.  He is more Ryan Newman than Kyle Busch.  But there is hope.  Dale Jarrett had a very similar path to Jr.  His father was a legend, and he had unrealistic expectations coming in.  What worries me is that Jr won the bulk of his races early in his career, Jarrett did not.  It will take a late career awaking for Jr to win a title, and it must happen in the next four to five years.  Jarrett and Allison moved to better teams to find their first championship, this is impossible for Jr.  My head says that he will not win a title.  My heart says he will.  Why?  He is resilient and talented. Junior has all but dug himself out of the whole he created by not living up to pressure of the move Hendrick. He has also proven to have speed and the ability to put himself in positions to win.

For now, “they are still making noise”, but not for much longer…

Matt

L.A. Dodgers: Flirting with History

There isn’t a hotter team in the MLB than the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They are on one of the best winning stretches in history, winning 40 of their last 48—the best in 62 years, sincethe New York Giants did it in 1951.  The Giants had a slow start to their season, much like the dodgers of today, going 59 and 51 before they started their winning stretch.  Going 39 and 8 over the next 47 games improved their record to a final 98 and 59.  On that team, rookie of the year Willie Mays–on the Dodgers, rookie of the year hopeful Yasiel Puig.  The Giants historical stretch closed their season, the difference—the dodgers still have another month and a half of baseball.  When a team is this hot, they’re sure to be the favorite to win it all, right? Vegas seems to think so, with the bookmakers labeling them as such.

Dodgers Stats since the All-Star Break

MLB Best Record 22-3

Batting

1st in AVG .294

1st in OBP .354

2nd in total bases 391

2nd in runs 130

As for Puig—he’s 30 for his last 91 picking up 48 total bases and crossing the plate 19 times (leading the club in both stats since the break).  If they keep up the pace, he will be a key to their success and will most likely be on his way to a very prolific career.

Pitching

1st in ERA 2.25

1st in Runs Allowed 68

2nd in OBP 2.76

3rd in BAA .216

The stats show why they are having a historical season.  The stats show why they are now 7 ½ games ahead in the NL West.  But what do our eyes tell us? Exactly what the stats tell us.

The Dodgers are crushing the ball, and they are shutting opponents down with both pitching and defense.  All the signs are pointing to the dodgers as the team to win it all, the stats and our eyes are telling us the same thing – World Series – but something just doesn’t feel right.  The New York Giants were winners for sure, they actually made to the World Series by beating the Brooklyn Dodgers in a playoff thanks to a game winning home run by Bobby Thompson—but that’s another story. (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/boxscore/10031951.shtml)

Those Giants, now San Francisco, are all but out of the race for the NL west, being 17 games behind the Dodgers, but still haveseven more games to player spoiler in the west (Arizona is onlysix games back).  But no—No, no, no…that can’t happen…the Dodgers pass the stats and the eyes test—they ARE the hottest team in baseball. They’ll put away past history’s pesky Giants and move on the World Series.

Yet still, it all feels too connected—too predetermined—too destined.

The last time a team was this hot, they did make it to the World Series, but how did that 39-8 New York Giants team fare in the end?

Baseball has always been a superstitious sport—see the Curse of the Bambino or Wade Boggs eating chicken—but is any of it true?  Will our eyes and the stats prove to tell the tale for this red-hot L.A team? Or is there something bigger at work?

D. Ewing

Analyze-It Baseball Guy

Here Come The Reds

I thought it was only fitting that my first blog be about the surging RedLegs.  Sitting two and a half games out of first place with 41 games to play, its safe to say the Reds are within striking distance.  Two more home/away series with each of the teams ahead of them left on the schedule leaves the door wide open.  The Reds are currently 4-8 against the Cards ( one could argue that it actually hasn’t been as close as that record represents) and a pedestrian 6-7 against the Pirates.  These next series will decide the season.

Analysis: Some fun facts:

As it turns out, the Reds play poorly against St. Louis.  -37! run differential in 4 series.

The Reds can pitch with anyone.  Top 5 in Quality Starts, ERA, Strike Outs, BAA (Batting Average Against), and Shut Outs.

Mat Latos has to take the bump against the Cards in the playoffs.  2-0 14 SO’s in three starts this year.  There’s no mental block with this guy.

Ryan Ludwick is hitting .000.  This has to be relevant.

The Reds are combined 10-15 against current division leaders Pittsburgh, Atlanta, LAD.

IT:  As we saw last year, if you want to win in the playoffs you need a hot bat, 2 great starters, and an above average bullpen.  The Reds are a lock for two of the three.  So who will it be?  Ludwick can’t possibly look this bad the rest of the year right?  The Frazier “slump” is no longer a slump, he’s a poor major league hitter.  My guess is Devin Mesoraco.  But the question at hand is do the Reds have…”it”.  The easy answer, I’m not sure.  But since I have to choose, no, not currently.  Unfortunately, the eye test and the stats are saying the same thing.  Can the pitching overcome the bats in October?

This team needs a defining moment.  The series against St. Louis in ten days may provide that.  I hope.

What We Do

What do the stats tell us? What do our eyes tell us?  We use this combination of the measurable, and the immeasurable to discuss our views, predictions, and opinions in the current sports world. We are die-hard Cincinnati Reds fans and have very little else in common when it comes to affiliates.  Nothing is off-limits, we discuss all major sports and headlines with as little bias as possible. (Outside of the Reds, of course)   When Tim Tebow is throwing knuckleballs to receivers and winning games, or the Dodgers are on a hot streak, we want to know how.     Any Comments, questions, or suggestions? Please post your constructive criticisms and views for discussion.