Tim Gerheim

Football Outsiders' Matchups

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Trusting the Numbers

Friday, September 01, 2006


Welcome to Football Outsiders on Rotoworld! Each week I’ll be writing a start-and-sit column using the collected wisdom of Football Outsiders, plus my own ideas and opinions as a seasoned fantasy football veteran.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Football Outsiders and what we do, first of all, what’s wrong with you? We’re only the best source for independent, unconventional football analysis on the internet. And we’re stat guys, which means we have a lot to offer fantasy enthusiasts. As for myself, I’ve been mostly behind the scenes at FO for about a year now. I wrote chapters in both of the Pro Football Prospectus books we have put out, and I’ve been the assistant editor of the website since the start of the 2005 season. This will be my first regular column, but I’ve written a couple things for one of our other media partners, FOXSports.com.

Obviously, the internet is full of start-em-and-sit-em articles. So why should you read this one? Because it’s different. The centerpiece of Football Outsiders is our package of unique, advanced stats that analyze the NFL on a play-by-play basis. The crown jewel is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), which compares each play (and each player) to the leaguewide, multi-year average performance level for plays in similar situations. (Aaron Schatz, mad scientist behind DVOA and Football Outsiders, has a much longer, much better explanation.) DPAR, Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement, is a similar stat metric that’s specifically tailored to individual player performance.

I’ll use both DVOA and DPAR, as well as some of the other Football Outsiders stats, in my weekly columns. Sometimes I’ll recommend starting Isaac Bruce because the Rams play a team with a very poor DVOA against #2 receivers, or I’ll suggest you start Julius Jones over Jamal Lewis because Dallas is playing a team with a poor defensive Adjusted Line Yards ranking and Baltimore’s opponent is just the opposite. You get the idea. And I’ll also keep my eye on the statistical trends of the players themselves and their offensive lines.

This week I have just a few suggestions based on the overall season schedule. These, naturally, aren’t sit-or-start recommendations, but they may help you in drafting players or suggesting worthwhile trades. Pro Football Prospectus 2006 has a lot of fantasy draft information, as well as player projections which you may find surprising in some places. Some of my recommendations are based on those projections, and most of them are based on the projected strength of schedule incorporated into them.

More Proof That Life’s Not Fair

Guess which team has the easiest schedule of opposing pass defenses, according to Football Outsiders’ pass DVOA projections? That would be the Indianapolis Colts. That doesn’t mean you should go nuts trying to get Peyton Manning. You can get at least 90% of his value in Matt Hasselbeck, Carson Palmer, or Tom Brady, without blowing a pick you could use on a running back. What it does mean, though, is that you should be very high on the rest of the offense, especially Reggie Wayne. I expect this to be the year that he and Marvin Harrison trade roles, much the same way Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce did a few years ago in St. Louis. If that happens, Wayne owners will have the top receiver on the top passing offense for the draft price of the top receiver on a top-10 passing offense. And if it doesn’t happen this year, you will still have the best number two receiver in the league – facing the fourth-easiest schedule of defenses vs. number two receivers. In other words, as long as Wayne stays healthy, you can’t go wrong.

The biggest concern with the Indianapolis offense is Joseph Addai replacing Edgerrin James. Last year the Colts were first in Adjusted Line Yards but last in 10+ Yards, which says that James was great at rushing for five yards per carry but not so good at breaking off long runs. That means that while James is a good back, the offensive line was actually more important to his success. (That, by the way, is the reason not to overvalue James this year; making him run behind the Arizona line qualifies as a war crime.) The Indy line returns all five starters, so Addai - or Dominic Rhodes, but my money is on young Joseph – should be fine running the ball.

The concern – remember how I said there was a concern? – is that James’ pass blocking was vital to the Colts’ one-back, no-huddle offense, and Addai can’t be expected to assimilate all that information in time to be completely effective for the season opener. But tight end Dallas Clark has been in that offense for three years now. It would not be surprising if the Colts asked him to take on more blocking responsibilities, much the same way the Chiefs asked Tony Gonzalez to help in blocking when Willie Roaf was injured last year. That hurt Gonzo’s numbers last season, and it may well do the same to Clark’s this year.


Terrell Who?

If you have been able to catch any of Dallas’ preseason games, you’ve seen a guy who has looked like he could be the best receiver in football this season. Terrell Owens has been on the sidelines, but Terry Glenn has been an irresistible force hooking up with Drew Bledsoe (also known as the immobile object). Granted, his best work has come against New Orleans and San Francisco, making the Cowboys seem like a Big XII team playing their non-conference schedule against Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas. Still, Glenn has been eye-popping, and he is in a similar situation to Reggie Wayne’s. The Cowboys’ schedule is the fifth-easiest for #2 receivers, so even against teams better than the Saints and 49ers, Glenn should find space. And a Terrell Owens Meltdown™ always looms, which would elevate Glenn to the #1 receiver spot with almost no experienced receivers behind him competing for Bledsoe’s attention. It’s win-win for Glenn, even though that’s not true for the Cowboys.

One other potential beneficiary of Terrell’s Troubles™ would be tight end Jason Witten, but Dallas faces the hardest schedule in the league against tight ends. While he is an excellent tight end and will still get his chances, he may not be part of the top tier of fantasy tight ends this season.

The Sweatshirt Says Run

Keep an eye on the running back situation in New England. The Patriots have the league’s easiest projected schedule of defenses vs. the run. Given that, the lack of wide receiver depth, the Deion Branch situation, and the presence of two top running backs, the Patriots may move to a more run-centered offense this season. There may be enough carries to keep both Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney gainfully employed on fantasy teams, but platooning running backs hasn’t been the Patriots’ M.O. in recent years. The red flags are up on Corey Dillon on account of his age and recent injury history, so the smart money is on Maroney winning the starting job. Matchups against the Bills, Jets, and Texans look enticing.

Interesting Schedule Tidbits

Arizona has the fourth-easiest schedule of defenses against number one receivers, but the hardest schedule against number two receivers. Larry Fitzgerald will be open a lot. Anquan Boldin less so. Draft accordingly. The Giants have a similar split: third against ones, 30th against twos. New York’s pass offense isn’t as wide open as Arizona’s, so stay away from Amani Toomer.

The Chargers have the second-easiest schedule for passes to running backs, just in case you needed another reason to draft LaDainian Tomlinson ahead of Shaun Alexander.

The Jets have the easiest overall schedule of defenses this season – second-easiest against the pass and fourth-easiest against the run. The Jaguars have the easiest schedule against number two receivers. The Chiefs’ schedule is the sixth-hardest against the run. My point? An easy schedule is nice, but good players are nicer. What are you going to do, aggressively draft Chad Pennington and Ernest Wilford – or pass on Larry Johnson? Use your common sense. I’ll be back next week to kick off the regular start-and-sit columns.


Tim Gerheim is a staff writer at FootballOutsiders.com
Email :Tim Gerheim


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