10:52 AM Thu, Feb 12, 2009 | Permalink
By Michael Salfino
Back to the bums, inspired again by Gene McCaffrey's great Wise Guy Baseball Annual. If you missed Part I, here it is. Next week, last year's bum starters and relievers. The analysis of the second basemen and shortstops below can also be found in the profiles I wrote for the "Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball 2009 Draft Guide," which will be available wherever magazines are sold beginning in March.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: He's not going to be cheap in the New York market (too many Yankees fans). And it would have been more helpful if the power numbers were down as appreciably as was the average. Fantasy owners don't price average well considering that it's so much harder to make up ground there even after half the league has packed it in (losing players can actually help weaker teams in average). The 97 RBI of 2007 were a product of a better Yankees lineup than we can reasonably expect in 2009. And he's an extreme ground-ball hitter, so don't project even 20 homers. But the .320 average (or thereabouts) should return and be all the more valuable given his low rate of walks (26 last year in 597 ABs).
Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays: Here are Hill's rates of fly balls that have cleared the wall since 2005 (in order): 2.4 percent, 3.4 percent, 8.0 percent, 2.3 percent. Clearly, that 2007 figure is the outlier. If Hill doesn't hit 15 homers, he's of no use because he doesn't run or control the strike zone (which limits his average). Hill's being sold as a bum to own in many quarters because he's at the right age for a peak year (26). But we've already seen that peak. Even aside from his concussion issues, he's just 50/50 to have a starting job come Memorial Day.
Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B, Indians: At 22, we expect growing pains. But he put it behind him after being promoted back from the minors with a .320/.398/.464 stretch to end the season. Cabrera profiles as a No. 2 hitter, but will need to improve his rate of 3.8 pitches per plate appearances for the stat-savvy Indians to consider moving him back to the top of the lineup. There's a decent chance for double-digits in homers and/or steals. He did grab 25 bags in 105 minor-league games in '07, but hasn't run much in the bigs. Our friends at Baseball Info Solutions confirm what our eyes say: he's a wizard with the glove. Defense at second keeps your guy playing through a normal slump.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: The power came back late in the year, presumably after the torn labrum healed. He slugged .516 in September. He likely hasn't touched his ceiling yet at age 24. Zimmerman doesn't meet the strict "bum" criteria. He's not going to be discounted. But he's a potential star who hasn't peaked yet and who already has been a productive player. Usually, you have to pay a premium to speculate on the promise of greatness that Zimmerman reasonably holds. One more big injury, though, and he's dead to me.
Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels: He only qualifies at third. But if you stick a guy with four homers in his last 1,023 plate appearances at a corner, you'd better get plus power from your middle infielders and/or catcher, and that's expensive. Figgins walks at a high rate for a guy with no power (16 XBH in '08). In fact, he's one of just six guys since 2000 with an isolated slugging (slugging minus average) under .100 and an average of .295 or worse to have at least a .350 on-base percentage (minimum 1,000 plate appearances). The others: Jason Kendall, David Eckstein, Jamey Carroll, Mark McLemore and Ryan Theriot. Even if Figgins gets to .350 again, his OPS will be barely .700 and that's not something any team, let alone a contender, should start at third. Why hold your breath hoping the Angels don't figure that out?
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: He's discounted relative to last year, but appropriately. The 30 homers of 2007 were never sustainable. He converts about 6 percent of fly balls into homers most years. Age 30 is about when many base stealers start slowing down. I'll give him .280 with 10 homers and 40 bags, but he's consistently priced higher even in expert drafts/auctions.
Khalil Greene, SS, Cardinals: Finally out of Petco. But Greene hit significantly better at home (.624 OPS) than on the road (.529) last year. The smart guys will look at 2007 and note his road OPS that season was .840 and project him closer to that. Career splits? .802 OPS on the road with 50 homers, versus 34 at home. In 500 at-bats, Greene, an extreme fly-ball hitter, should hit 15 to 20 homers. Project the low end of that range given that Busch Stadium has suppressed homers the past three years almost as much as Petco (minus 16 percent vs. minus 19 percent in San Diego).
Julio Lugo, SS, Red Sox: A true test for the Bum Strategy is stepping up to buy Lugo and walking away from the table happy. Boston couldn't give him away this winter. His on-base percentage wasn't bad (.355), but he can't sniff the top of the Red Sox lineup after his 2007 (.294 OBP). If you start him for the speed upside, you will pay a price in other categories (nine homers in his last 833 at-bats). He's even a minus defensively - 22nd in The Fielding Bible shortstop, plus/minus ranks.
Eric Byrnes, OF, Diamondbacks. Another true bum. The smart guys run away because they've been laughing at the Diamondbacks for giving him all that money instead of just keeping Carlos Quentin. No one expects the steals to bounce back. But he's a smart player and maybe the opportunities will be there for the taking again like they were in 2007. McCaffrey notes how Keith Hernandez said last year that any player with brains should be able to steal 15 bases just catching teams when they're sleeping. While the conventional wisdom now is that Arizona doesn't run, they did under manager Bob Melvin in 2007 (fifth in the NL in attempts).
Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants: Not a bum. When you regress from your career year to basically your career averages, you're just yourself again. Don't expect or pay a penny more for Rowand than what he actually earned last year.
Hideki Matsui, OF, Yankees: He slugged .424 last year and is 35, so this could be the beginning of the end. However, he's a Hall of Fame-caliber player when you factor in Japan. Joe Girardi's loyalty to Matsui is unknown and probably not worth banking on. So he'll have to hit early to stay in the lineup. There's risk, but a very reasonable path to .300-20-100, and I'll buy if the discount on those numbers is at least 20 percent.
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11:59 AM Wed, Feb 11, 2009 | Permalink
By Michael Salfino
Nothing puts you in the mood for baseball faster than having to sit around for weeks with a rack of broken ribs, watching the Major League Baseball Network between pain-killing rounds and reading every preseason baseball magazine in sight.
While it's always a treat when my friend and colleague Gene McCaffrey sends me his excellent Wise Guy Baseball annual, I couldn't rip open the Fed Ex envelope this year fast enough. It's dogged-eared now as I've carried it with me from room to room as I convalesce. I've been unable to muffle laughter on more than one occasion, pain be damned. And Gene's player-by-player tour through the big leagues is as thought-provoking as ever.
Gene long ago introduced the label of "last year's bums" as a fantasy baseball drafting strategy (or for auctions, if you prefer). And his book always gets me thinking about who is a bum from last year (cheap relative to his 2008 price) and whether I want to own him.
So here's a two-part list of my bums, with arguments for and against. Next week, we'll look at 2008 bum starters and relievers.
Kenji Johjima, C, Mariners: He was incredibly unlucky on batting average on balls in lay (BABIP) -- lowest of any player with 225 or more ABs. Everyone except the Mariners, who will find out soon enough, knows that prospect Jeff Clement can't catch. I'd say chances are 70/30 that Johjima gets 400 at-bats, and it's more likely than not that he hits .280 again with middling power. For mixed leaguers, 500 at-bats are a 50/50 proposition and worth the risk of a last pick or even reserve selection.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers: He's not a bum, but he'll be significantly cheaper than in 2008, having dropped from 50 bombs to 34. And we see his rate of homers on fly balls fell from 24 percent to 18 percent (average is about 11 percent). I don't think 24 percent will be his Fielder's peak (Ryan Howard has been as high as 38 percent). But if we split the difference last year (21 percent of fly balls are now homers) and change nothing else, he hits 40 bombs. So last year was the power floor and if he's not priced accordingly, buy.
Carlos Guillen, OF, Tigers: Actually opens the year qualifying only at first and third. But he's slated to play the outfield. His decline looks like a normal aging trend to me. The power has gone from average (homers on 11.4 percent of fly balls) to below (8.1 percent). His BABIP was consistently around .350 (average is .300) and now has been just below .320 for two straight years. There's as much downside as upside and his preseason draft/auction value hasn't slipped enough for me to buy.
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: The always good RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide has him at $17 in an NL-only league, which is right at the cusp of even being drafted in a normal mixed league. Would I take Helton with say my last pick? Well, his line-drive rate was actually higher in '08 than in his last good year: 2004. But that's deceiving in assessing average upside, because Helton's homer rate was twice as great in '04. His .298 BABIP in '08 was unlucky. Expect .310 this year. Monitor spring training reports on his recovery from back surgery. No matter what you read about how great he feels, the power upside remains 15-to-20, even in Colorado. Health permitting, Helton's worth pulling out of the discount bin.
Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: Leagues virtually ignore one bad year from an established slugger, but they rightfully punish the guy who slips two years in a row. Konerko's stock will be pounded. The park is great for homers and he's still just 33, though; so I'll try to catch that falling knife.
Nick Swisher, 1B/OF, Yankees: My No. 1 bum, especially if Xavier Nady doesn't get traded before your draft. Given the age of the Yankee regulars and the frequency of DL trips nowadays, 400 at-bats are about guaranteed even without a trade. The .219 last year was really unlucky. He'll hit .250ish and that stings less with all his walks (fewer at-bats). He's also at a peak age (28), in a good lineup and swinging in a great hitting environment when batting from the left side. Here are the cheapest 30 homers on the board.
Ryan Garko, 1B, Indians: Most of these bums have quirky stats. Garko's line-drive rate went up but rate of extra base hits went down. I agree with Gene that we need a "hit velocity" stat. There's too much wiggle room in "line drive." Garko is viewed as a reserve. But aside from the usual run of injuries, ask whether Garko is a better hitter than Kelly Shoppach. If he is, Victor Martinez catches. Shoppach strikes out twice as frequently as Garko.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: Expecting him to hit .282 like in 2007 was crazy. But .260-to-.270 is reasonable if he can cut down his Ks to the still very breezy rate of 142 in 490 at-bats from '07. (Last year, it was 166 in 490 ABs). Hitting more homers will also boost the average; but putting 29 percent of fly balls over the wall like in 2007 is not a reasonable expectation. He did hit 21 homers in 83 games after returning from the broken finger. If they're not making you pay for 35 to 40 homers, buy.
11:42 AM Tue, Jan 27, 2009 | Permalink
By Michael Salfino
The Cardinals being in the Super Bowl has the media furiously searching for story lines to sex up the matchup with Pittsburgh.
Before examining the game, let's look at the sidebars.
The Steelers are a seven-point favorite and the line has held steady since it opened more than a week ago. If they win as expected, and looking at the money line, you see the oddsmakers are giving Pittsburgh about a 70-percent chance to prevail straight up, we're going to be asked to consider whether the Steelers are the most successful franchise in the history of sports.
Isn't it enough to consider them the most successful franchise in the history of the NFL? They have an ironclad case for that, irrespective of the outcome of Sunday's game. But there's no way they are even in the same area code as the Yankees in baseball or the Celtics in basketball. Pittsburgh went 25 years without a Lombardi Trophy and was a laughingstock their first 38 years of existence (one playoff appearance, seven winning seasons).
If the Cardinals win, the sidebar will be Kurt Warner as Hall of Fame QB.
There aren't "shooting star" QBs in the Hall of Fame, because they are so rarely done in by injury and generally play their way out of the game. Warner has but four seasons with more than 11 games and a paltry 85 career starts.
We can make a reasonable argument that he's been a product of his environment. He's played in perfect throwing conditions whenever he's excelled. He's been surrounded by Hall of Fame skill talent, first in St. Louis and now in Arizona. And he's arguably had the best weapon in football as the focal point of his attack in his two Super Bowl years - Marshall Faulk with the 1999 Rams and now Larry Fitzgerald. Warner has never been widely accepted as the best QB at any point in his career, a highly subjective yet important standard.
So who will win?
Our computer, programmed with regular-season key stats, says Steelers by 5. The Steelers are the number one team in the NFL this year in our No. 1 key stat - net YPA (yards per pass attempt, including sacks).
Their total, though, is just below the 2.00 yards differential that we expect from a championship club. It is about a yard and a quarter better than the Cardinals (who are 13th in net YPA), which translates to Steelers by about 8 points.
If we look at all plays, the Steelers are still first, but their advantage over the Cardinals shrinks to a half-yard per game.
Pittsburgh is a poor running team, as are the Cardinals. But Arizona knows this and emphasizes the pass much more than does Pittsburgh. The Steelers aren't a good passing team, either, because they can't protect the QB (29th in sack percentage allowed and 11th out of 12 playoff teams this postseason).
The Cardinals yielded 36 passing TDs in the regular season and then were demolished by Donovan McNabb and the Eagles in the last 20 minutes in Arizona. For Ben Roethlisberger to take advantage, he'll need a reasonably healthy Hines Ward (knee) and time to throw.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast can get on play-calling rolls when he outguesses offenses in mixing up blitzes and coverage looks. By this I mean that he'll blitz when you flood the field with wide receivers (thus killing your QB), and then drop eight in coverage when you keep all but two or three receivers in to block.
It is extremely difficult to consistently coach up deficient talent with this kind of mental acuity/guesswork. Sooner or later, as happened against the Eagles, the birds come home to roost.
We've noted in Football by the Numbers in the past how top passing offenses generally get the better of top passing defenses. In the NFL, good defense is more largely dependent on poor offensive execution.
The Steelers had three games this year against teams in the top 10 in YPA gained - the Chargers twice and the Texans (on opening day). All three games were in Pittsburgh. The first two, the Steelers defense dominated. The last one, against San Diego in the divisional round, was a battle clearly won by the Chargers' offense. Do not believe this Steelers pass defense is bulletproof.
Note also that the Cardinals have had six games against top 10 defenses in YPA allowed (Pittsburgh is No. 1) and have performed better than NFL average in that stat in four of these games, with 14 TD passes.
Prediction time: The Steelers get your QB not with numbers but by confusing your blockers, who can't seem to figure out which guys from the front seven will be charging and which will be dropping.
Remember, though, that Ken Whisenhunt is the former Steelers offensive coordinator and knows this Steelers defense inside-out, because he practiced against it. The Steelers' scheme has not changed since then, as defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been in the NFL for over a half century.
The Cardinals will look to generate big passing plays outside the numbers to Fitzgerald, who is so physically dominant that he's always open, no matter how many guys are flanking him. Will Fitzgerald win these battles? If the safeties are too conservative in defending that, Anquan Boldin will kill them on slants and in the seams.
Arizona will get about 400 yards of offense, like the Chargers did, and about 25 points. So the Steelers are going to need to attack. But that's not their game given their pass-protection woes. However, Roethlisberger is certainly capable, especially when improvising and sliding out of the pocket. I do not think enough time has passed for Ward to recover from his sprained (i.e., partially torn) MCL, and that's the difference here as Pittsburgh comes up just short, disappointing what will basically be a home crowd (but not home playing conditions). Cardinals 27, Steelers 24.
3:32 PM Tue, Jan 13, 2009 | Permalink
By Michael Salfino
Playing at home has been worthless thus far in the NFL postseason, with higher seeds going just 3-5 thus far.
Before we look at the conference championship games in detail, let's note, gleefully, that my Stat Power Index (or rankings, if you prefer) are 7-0 thus far in identifying winners simply based on where teams ranked in the four NFL stats that most closely correlate to winning this decade - net yards per play (including sacks), net red-zone possessions, net third-down percentage and net interception percentage.
We haven't done so well in picking winners straight up as we have against the spread, but that's mostly because we add three points for the home team (following standard oddsmaking procedure) when home field has meant less than nothing thus far in 2009. Looking back further, home teams in the Divisional Round the past four years are 7-9.
The Steelers have lost four of five AFC championship games at home since 1994. And since 1992, all home teams are 18-20 in conference championship games. Against the spread, favorites (home or road) are 17-15 (not including ties).
Now let's look at the games in condensed form using our key stats and then make some specific unit/player recommendations.
Eagles (-3) at Cardinals: For most of the year, the Eagles have been our No. 1 Stat Power team. The Cardinals were tied (14th overall) with Atlanta and actually slightly ahead of the very overrated Panthers (17th) in our key stats. Since the Cards beat the Falcons at Arizona, neither of their playoff wins qualifies as true upsets. Beating the Eagles would qualify. The Cards are getting the full three points for being at home, but how much of an advantage is that? The conditions are perfect for the Eagles' pass-oriented offense. Yes, they're perfect for Kurt Warner, too, but the Eagles' pass defense is top-shelf and the Cardinals, conversely, yielded 36 regular-season TD passes. Neither the Falcons nor the Panthers were designed to exploit poor pass defense, but the Eagles are. Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast vs. Andy Reid is an interesting chess match (just not in the final two minutes, when Reid tends to zone out). Eagles defensive guru Jim Johnson will make sure the Eagles put bodies on Kurt Warner, who, like all QBs, does not like contact. Anquan Boldin will not recover in time to play effectively, and there's no way the Eagles fall asleep on Larry Fitzgerald like Carolina did last week. Eagles 31, Cardinals 17.
Ravens (+6) at Steelers: The Ravens are the Steelers' match on a neutral field. So this line should be Ravens +3. But Baltimore is banged up after the trench warfare in Tennessee. DE Terrell Suggs (shoulder) isn't talking like he'll play and Suggs is needed to exploit the Steelers' great deficiency in pass protection -- 29th in rate of sacks allowed; Pittsburgh allowed six sacks in 64 attempts against the Ravens this year. The Steelers got their running game going this year, but were last in football in yards per rush in the first half of games this year. They will not run it well against the Ravens. A key will be which QB makes the bigger mistakes. The Steelers had a higher interception rate than the Ravens, and Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco has yet to throw a pick this postseason (first rookie QB to win two postseason games in NFL history). The over/under is 34 points and I'd be surprised if 30 are scored. The Ravens were lucky to win a bruising game last week and Sunday will be time to pay the check. Steelers 17, Ravens 10.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles: This is the week where the Cardinals backfield woes haunt them. McNabb will play like a Hall of Famer, which he might be considering this is his fifth NFC championship game and he's never lost an opening postseason game.
Santonio Holmes, WR, Steelers: The Ravens are obsessed with Hines Ward all the time for his chippy blocking and will be doubly so after the last game, when he burned them with eight catches for 107 yards. Holmes will thus get more room to roam versus a banged-up Ravens secondary.
Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles: He'll be relegated to decoy duty, but that's of huge value to the rest of the offensive unit. Let half the team follow Westbrook around while everyone else is single-covered, if they're covered at all.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: Philip Rivers piled up some garbage-time stats on Sunday. Otherwise, the Steelers' defense was typically top-notch. Flacco has made but a handful of plays in two weeks and is not in any way winning games. He does get credit for not losing them, though.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: The Eagles' motto on Sunday will be, "Anyone but Fitzgerald."
2:51 PM Tue, Jan 06, 2009 | Permalink
By Michael Salfino
Last week, all four road teams were favored when the Vegas lines opened. But this Divisional Week, the NFL playoffs have a more traditional bent, with each home team expected by the oddsmakers to prevail.
In this expanded playoff edition of Football by the Numbers, we'll use the computer's analysis of all the data in our Key Stat Power Rankings to once again forecast the games. And then we'll crunch the numbers to project how specific units and/or individual performers will fare in Week 19.
Going back to 1993, the average victory in this divisional round is about 14 points. Home teams are 44-16 since then, but just 6-6 the past three years (3-9 against the spread).
There's only been one home underdog in this round the past 15 years - Carolina vs. Dallas in 1997, when the Panthers prevailed 26-17 as a three-point dog.
For the wild-card round, our Key Stat Power Rankings were fed into the computer and the program identified the winners in each game - it expected the Cardinals and the Chargers to win by three and four points, respectively. But I foolishly discounted the computer in my prediction of a Falcons win, as I couldn't get past the 36 TD passes the Cardinals allowed, nor their inability to run the ball and thus exploit the Falcons' biggest statistical weakness.
The first game of the weekend is the Ravens at the Titans. The computer says it's a pick 'em, with the Ravens three points better on a neutral field. The oddsmakers say the Titans by three. Remember, though, these lines are inflated because of the history of home-team success in this round. It's also very rare for a rookie QB to win two straight road playoff games, though the Ravens are the rare team that doesn't count on its signal caller to be a decisive factor. The Ravens were clearly better over the course of the year in our key stats. Defense travels better than offense in the playoffs because crowd noise is not a factor in how defense performs. When the teams met in early October, Kerry Collins was terrible until bailed out by a questionable roughing call that extended a winning drive in the final minutes in the 13-10 Titans win. Joe Flacco also struggled then, but is better now and a rookie at this point in name only. Collins will make two or three bad plays and one of those will lead to a Ravens TD that wins it. Ravens 16, Titans 10.
Cardinals at Panthers is the game most likely to be a blowout, I agree. But the computer says, "Not so fast." The Panthers finished the season 22nd in net interception percentage and 22nd in net-third-down percentage. The Cards were similarly bad in those categories, but these teams were basically even in our season rankings. The Panthers are more respected due to their running prowess, which is very explosive when DeAngelo Williams is on the field. But the Cardinals were 12th best (better than the Giants, for example) in yards allowed per rush. The Panthers' pass defense was seventh-best per play and the Cardinals may be without Anquan Boldin (hamstring). I agree with the computer that this game will be closer than most think, but can't see a Cardinals win. Boldin is very tough and this picks assumes he will play effectively. Panthers 27, Cardinals 23.
The Eagles made me our Rankings proud by advancing and then thrashing the Vikings Sunday. Philly is the best team in football, says our key stats. The computer pegs the Giants as a one-point favorite, due only to the game being played in East Rutherford. Philly, like the Giants last year, has already walked through the valley of death and I think that's steeled them. I'll be shocked if this game is decided by more than a field goal either way. Brandon Jacobs is healthy, which should allow the Giants to run it just well enough. The Eagles struggle in the red zone, which costs them here. Giants 17, Eagles 16.
The computer says Steelers by 5 in Pittsburgh; Vegas says by 6. Darren Sproles is better than even a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson right now. Fortunately for the Chargers, Tomlinson isn't healthy, so the hard decision to feature Sproles is made easy for Norv Turner. I don't like how Philip Rivers looked last week, shaky in the pocket and unwilling to throw downfield after some early plays blew up in his face. How does this improve against the torture chamber that is the Steelers defense? The Chargers defense has been much better since Ron Rivera became defensive coordinator. The Steelers offense is significantly below average, especially in pass protection. That could be key with Ben Roethlisberger so concussion prone. This game will be low-scoring unless turnovers play a big factor. Steelers 20, Chargers 13.
Willie Parker, RB, Steelers: The Chargers' run defense is mediocre; the Colts, remember, were last in the NFL in yards per rush. Parker is healthy and running now without the shoulder harness, which he says was inhibiting him. Give him 100 yards and a TD in the Steelers win.
Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers: Matt Ryan was very ineffective last week and unable to strike downfield, even when receivers were open. Delhomme is a proven playoff performer who will not miss easy plays against a Cardinals defense that yielded a bushel full of passing TDs. Neither will the electrifying Steve Smith.
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans: He's very explosive and not a guy like LenDale White who is so negatively impacted by a tough matchup, as the Ravens are for any back. If Johnson finds a crease, he will outrun anyone. It will be far more bust than boom, though, as Johnson was stuffed more in '08 than any back.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles: He's not stout enough against press coverage, or reliable enough catching or running routes to be featured for the Eagles. He can make a big play for sure (one catch for 34 yards last week) and is a very dangerous punt returner, but Kevin Curtis (four catches last week) and Jason Avant (five catches) are the Eagles receivers that move the chains.
11:08 AM Fri, Jan 02, 2009 | Permalink
By Chad Lawton
Below are complete fantasy football rankings, considering scoring potential for the ENTIRE playoffs. They are based on a combined yardage/scoring system (4 points for a passing touchdown, 6 points for a rushing/receiving touchdown, one point for every 25 passing yards, one point for every 10 rushing/receiving yards).
* = check status
The first element of a Fantasy Football Playoff cheat sheet is a ranking of the teams by "game potential." That list will have significant weight to how the skill players are ordered, and it's just about all you need to construct your kicker and defense ranks. This playoff cheat sheet was constructed on the assumption of a Steelers-Panthers Super Bowl (albeit New York's chances are right there with Carolina), and it's also making the assumption that the Eagles and the Ravens will probably win this weekend (while the Vikings and the Dolphins probably make early exits). If you expect different results, your personal list should be adjusted to reflect those opinions; handicapping the winners and losers ahead of time is critical to success in any fantasy playoff pool.
Enjoy the second season, and good luck with your teams.
Teams in order of "Games Potential"
1. Donovan McNabb, Eagles
2. *Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
3. Jake Delhomme, Panthers
4. Eli Manning, Giants
5. Peyton Manning, Colts
6. Philip Rivers, Chargers
7. Kurt Warner, Cardinals
8. Kerry Collins, Titans
9. Joe Flacco, Ravens
10. Matt Ryan, Falcons
11. Chad Pennington, Dolphins
12. Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings
1. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
2. Brian Westbrook, Eagles
3. Chris Johnson, Titans
4. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
5. Michael Turner, Falcons
6. Derrick Ward, Giants
7. *Joseph Addai, Colts
8. Willie Parker, Steelers
9. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
10. *LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
11. Le'Ron McClain, Ravens
12. Dominic Rhodes, Colts
13. Darren Sproles, Chargers
14. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
15. LenDale White, Titans
16. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
17. Correll Buckhalter, Eagles
18. Willis McGahee, Ravens
19. Jerious Norwood, Falcons
20. Ricky Williams, Dolphins
21. Edgerrin James, Cardinals
22. Mewelde Moore, Steelers
23. Chester Taylor, Vikings
24. Jacob Hester, Chargers
25. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
26. J.J. Arrington, Cardinals
27. Ray Rice, Ravens
28. Tim Hightower, Cardinals
29. Gary Russell, Steelers
30. Ahmand Hall, Titans
1. Steve Smith, Panthers
2. Roddy White, Falcons
3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
4. Reggie Wayne, Colts
5. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
6. Hines Ward, Steelers
7. *Anquan Boldin, Cardinals
8. Santonio Holmes, Steelers
9. Derrick Mason, Ravens
10. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
11. Domenik Hixon, Giants
12. Kevin Curtis, Eagles
13. Mark Clayton, Ravens
14. Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers
15. Justin Gage, Titans
16. Amani Toomer, Giants
17. Bernard Berrian, Vikings
18. Steve Breaston, Cardinals
19. Anthony Gonzalez, Colts
20. Nate Washington, Steelers
21. Marvin Harrison, Colts
22. Ted Ginn, Dolphins
23. Brandon Jones, Titans
24. Davone Bess, Dolphins
25. Steve Smith, Giants
26. Michael Jenkins, Falcons
27. Justin McCareins, Titans
28. Chris Chambers, Chargers
29. Bobby Wade, Vikings
30. *Malcom Floyd, Chargers
31. Jason Avant, Eagles
32. Sinorice Moss, Giants
33. Sidney Rice, Vikings
34. Harry Douglas, Falcons
35. Jerheme Urban, Cardinals
36. Reggie Brown, Eagles
37. Hank Baskett, Eagles
38. D.J. Hackett, Panthers
1. Dallas Clark, Colts
2. Antonio Gates, Chargers
3. Kevin Boss, Giants
4. Heath Miller, Steelers
5. Todd Heap, Ravens
6. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
7. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
8. L.J. Smith, Eagles
9. Jeff King, Panthers
10. Bo Scaife, Titans
11. David Martin, Dolphins
12. Gijon Robinson, Colts
13. Dante Rosario, Panthers
14. Alge Crumpler, Titans
15. Brent Celek, Eagles
16. Brandon Manumaleuna, Chargers
17. Justin Peelle, Falcons
18. Leonard Pope, Cardinals
19. Daniel Wilcox, Ravens
20. Matt Spaeth, Steelers
1. Jeff Reed, Steelers
2. John Carney, Giants
3. Rob Bironas, Titans
4. David Akers, Eagles
5. John Kasay, Panthers
6. Nate Kaeding, Chargers
7. Adam Vinatieri, Colts
8. Matt Stover, Ravens
9. Jason Elam, Falcons
10. Neil Rackers, Cardinals
11. Ryan Longwell, Vikings
12. Dan Carpenter, Dolphins
12:04 PM Tue, Dec 30, 2008 | Permalink
By Michael Salfino
Last week, half the teams were going through the motions. This week, eight will play for their lives. Let's predict the four Wildcard Weekend games and also use the key stats to project individual performance.
The book is now closed on our 2008 Key Stat Power Rankings. And there are some teams sitting at home who faired better here than a number of squads with tickets to the postseason dance.
The Saints (sixth overall), the Packers (10th) and the Texans (11th) are all playoff-caliber by my measure. Note the 11-5 Patriots finished 16th in these rankings because of a bad defense that was greatly aided by horrendous playing conditions in Week 17.
I don't think I've ever had a team as high as the Packers with only six wins. They lost seven games by four points or less. The random bounces and mere inches that separate NFL success from failure went against them at key times. They had no wins that narrow. Even splitting those seven narrow losses slightly against them gives them a 9-7.
Worst teams in the playoffs, in order of worseness, are the Vikings (18th), the Panthers (17th), the Cardinals and the Falcons (tied for 14th).
The top-tier teams (separated by less than two points on a neutral field): the Eagles, the Ravens, the Steelers and the Giants. The Eagles needed lots of help on Sunday to avoid being the first No. 1 team to not make the playoffs in the six-year history of my rankings.
This week the Eagles get the worst playoff team. The computer says Eagles by 6 on a neutral field factoring in the key stats, but that becomes just 3 in Minnesota (the actual Vegas line). I believe differences this great are magnified in the postseason and will call it Eagles 24, Vikings 17.
That's the final game of the weekend. The first is the Falcons at the Cardinals; teams the computer says are so dead-even statistically that home field decides it. But the program ignores finer points like the Falcons being 28th in stopping the run (which hurts their net yards per play average) and the Cardinals inability to capitalize (31st in yards per rush). That's why Vegas favors the Falcons by 2. I agree and will call it Falcons 27, Cardinals 24.
The second game on Saturday is the best of the weekend because both clubs are very dangerous. The computer says Chargers by 4, and I agree with it over the Vegas line (Colts by 1). Forget the Chargers' 8-8 record and note they finished seventh in point differential. Chargers 28, Colts 24.
The final game pits a Ravens squad that's finally found a semblance of a passing game (16th in YPA) in Miami against a Dolphins team that's won with mirrors (and turnover differential). Note the Ravens are ahead of the Dolphins in net interception rate. Miami has a slight edge in overall turnover differential; but fumbles are more random than picks. My computer and Vegas both say Ravens by 3. Ravens 16, Dolphins 13.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: The Cards can't stop you when they know you'll pass (36 scoring strikes allowed). Even if they choose the slow death (run) versus the fast (pass), as almost all defenses do, the over/under on Ryan is 250 yards and two TDs. If they load up the box to stop Michael Turner, add at least 50 yards and another TD for Ryan. America learns about Roddy White this week, too.
Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles: The Vikings' run defense is stout, but refrigerator-sized Pat Williams (shoulder) might not play. Even if he fortifies the interior of the line, Westbrook can get outside and prove impossible to contain in the passing game.
Darren Sproles, RB, Chargers: He killed the Colts last year in the playoffs and will do the same this year with LaDainian Tomlinson out or severely limited by a strained groin. This is a big break for the Chargers, as Sproles is the far more dangerous weapon even when LT is healthy.
Cardinals running game: If you can't run on Atlanta, you're hopeless. Suddenly, the Cards are bullish about Edgerrin James again. If the Cardinals don't get 100 rushing yards and at least one rushing TD, they have no chance.
Dolphins Offense: Baltimore is fifth in yards allowed per rush, second in YPA allowed, has allowed the fewest first downs, is second in interception rate but, surprisingly, just 14th in sack percentage. The Ravens make the red zone look like a stop sign: second in TDs allowed overall and first in lowest TD percentage after the opponent is "and goal."
Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Vikings: Jim Johnson will have about 100 blitzes ready for Jackson, who won't know what hit him. Jackson is a good runner, not a great one, and will likely run his way only into more damaging sacks.