Nerds on Sports Where nerds are talking about sports!

March 4, 2008

Our Powers Combined

It’s never too early to start talking about football.

Meet The SpartansScary Movie VIII: if Internet pervs can cackle over Britney Spears’ declining career in the hopes that she’ll go topless when she hits bottom, then sports nerds can wait for the day that Brady Quinn appears in a Wayans Bros. movie, signalling his own demise. Quinn, if you’ll recall, held out last season (after the Browns bent over backwards to draft him) and held a clipboard for fifteen weeks. He’s apparently still fighting for the starting job this year. I think “second string for the Cleveland Browns” has become my new euphemism for “surprisingly bad.”

Dominique Rogers-CromartieLines and Corners: The NFL combine has come and gone. The story this year: linebacks and cornerbacks. Scouts oohed over the raw speed of Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Leodis McKelvin and aahed over the massive power of Jordan Dizon, Cliff Avril and Geno Hayes. Apparently someone watched a game this past February and noted that Defense Wins Championships.

Baltimore RavensAs Of Someone Gently Rapping: Speaking of the only championship in the last decade owed entirely to defensive play, the Ravens are looking to buy! CBs Chris McAllister and Samari Rolle look pretty shaky this season – the former’s coming off of knee surgery; the latter, a mild case of epilepsy. Cromartie’s unlikely to fall to the #8 slot – this is a hot year for cornerbacks – but McKelvin might, or Mike Jenkins out of South Florida. The Ravens already have some decent tools on the offense, like a Heisman-winning QB ready to step into McNair’s ratty slippers. Shore up the D and the AFC North might be a place to play again.

January 8, 2008

2007: That Was The Year That Was

Now that the regular football season is over, it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball of, er, the past and see how my many predictions panned out.

Named after the Michael Jackson song, of courseRavens Draft Day Roundup (May 1 ’07): I predicted good things of Yamon Figurs (lots of punt returns for TDs) and Troy Smith (Heisman winning QB; potential replacement for McNair). Figurs posted 1138 yards on kickoff returns with an average of 24.7 yards per carry. This put him in the top 10 for the year.

Troy Smith didn’t start a lot of games, but he finally showed us something against the Steelers. 16 for 27, 171 yards passing, no interceptions and only 1 fumble. Not that impressive, until you remember that he’s wearing a Ravens uniform, and suddenly he becomes the best quarterback in franchise history. Maybe. We’ll see.

I call this one close enough, only by virtue of the vagueness of my original promises.

The Game in Game Theory: (Aug 28 ’07): I predicted that Michael Strahan would stay retired and that Brady Quinn would have cause to regret holding out. I was, of course, as wrong as wrong can be about Stray: he helped carry his team to the postseason with 57 tackles, including 4 solo hits against the Patriots in Week 17 and a herculean 8 solo hits at Tampa Bay.

This is MUCH better than football!Brady Quinn, on the other hand, started his only game of the season in the ultimately meaningless 20-7 shellacking of the 49ers. And then, only to sub in for Derek Anderson. And then, only to go 3 for 8 and all of 45 yards. Holy hell. Notre Dame’s current quarterback put up better numbers this season.

I call this one a wash, tending toward “ehh …”. I was wrong on Strahan, but I submit history will bear me out on Quinn. Keep watching Cleveland, I, er, guess.

Fantasy Football Woes (Sep 25 ’07): I predicted that my fantasy football team would do terribly. The Baltimore Colts finished 3-10, 14th out of 14. Of course, I stopped updating my roster after about week 9. That may have something to do with it. But I prefer to blame the Champagne of Running Backs and his unapologetic just-above-averageness. I call this one worse than I expected.

Old Man Easterbrook: I predicted that Gregg Easterbrook would keep saying the most bafflingly dumb things. Viz:

In other football news, 9-7 City of Tampa hosts a playoff game, but 11-5 Jacksonville opens on the road, 10-6 Cleveland is eliminated and the 10-6 Giants travel to the 9-7 Bucs. Has there ever been a better case for making the NFL postseason a seeded tournament? No one cares about the AFC versus NFC Super Bowl setup any more: My guess is you don’t even know how that series stands. (Basically, tied; yawn.) The postseason brackets should reward the teams that perform best, and the best Super Bowl pairing — Indianapolis versus New England — should at least be possible when the countdown begins. The NFL could retain conference and division structure for the purpose of organizing regular-season play, then make the playoffs a 12-team seeded tourney. Performance would be rewarded, and pairings would be better. What’s not to like?

Read the New Republic!  Braaaagh!“Oh man! The Steelers totally robbed the Ravens in November!”

“You said it, Chip! But with the wild card slot, we’ll meet them again in the postseason, right?”

“You couldn’t be more wrong, Frank! Thanks to the Easterbrook Rule of 2008, we have to face the correspondingly highest seed in our bracket! Looks like we’re going to Dallas!”

“Dallas? I can’t afford a plane ticket to Dallas!”

“Then that’s a hearty Go Screw Yourself from Gregg Easterbrook to you, Frank!”

“Ah ha ha! Good one, Easterbrook!”

I call this one dead on.

Never Tell Me The Odds (Oct 23 ’07): I called the Colts, Ravens, Giants and Steelers games to be the biggest challenges between the Pats and 16-0. As it turns out, the closest scoring games between Week 8 and Week 17 were the Colts, Eagles (?!?!), Ravens and Giants. I call this one close enough.

August 28, 2007

The Game in Game Theory

Two children have a slice of ice cream cake to share between them. The longer they debate over what a “fair share” would constitute for each of them, the more the cake melts. It is, in fact, entirely possible that the cake will have melted by the time they reach a consensus.

Keep that image in mind while I talk about the most exciting part of preseason football: contract holdouts!

Rookie QB Brady Quinn made headlines by holding out for weeks after signing. Larry Johnson (KC Chefs) held out until last week before signing a 5-year, $43.2M extension. Asante Samuel (NE Patsies) just announced his return yesterday, though he’s still ducking efforts to wear the “franchise” tag. And Michael Strahan (NY Football Giants) is, as of this writing (Tuesday, August 28th, 9:00ish AM), still undecided. The man might very well hang up his cleats (sources say).

So what goes on during a contract holdout? What are the costs and benefits of avoiding training camp? Is the risk worth the reward? To find out, we turn to one of the classics of game theory, Thinking Strategically, by Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff.

Reputation

For decades, the nation of Israel had a policy of never negotiating with terrorists. The government declared this to discourage hostage-taking: if capturing a civilian, or a politician, will never pay off, why bother? Israel did this to build a reputation of not being someone to screw with. The downside to having this sort of reputation, of course, is that it turns potential hostages into instant victims. There’s always a cost to talking tough.

No GM wants to cave if one of his players pouts and refuses to show up for training camp. To do so would immediately send a signal that this sort of behavior works and would open the floodgates next summer. It’s in every owner’s interest to stay firm.

Asante Samuel knows his game theoryAt the same time, however, the players aren’t chess pawns. There’s a world of difference between an Asante Samuel and a Randall Gay (2 tackles in 3 games last year). Coach Belichick may play it off like Samuel’s return is no big deal, but the defense he spent the entire offseason crafting in his Fortress of Solitude probably hinged more on a guy who caught 10 picks last season than a guy who sat for 12 games.

Samuel knew he was valuable to the Patriots. The question was: how valuable? That’s the kind of question that a holdout is meant to uncover – by watching the management’s change in behavior as the clock ticks and the options narrow.
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