If you don’t know, call it psychological

You can always tell when someone who is analyzing sports has no idea what the hell he is talking about.  He will attribute the outcome of the game to motivational or psychological factors.  This morning I was watching the political show Morning Joe, and Mike Barnicle and Donnie Deutsch were going back and forth about what caused the New York Jets victory over the New England Patriots, when each and every expert had the Pats in a walk.

Deutsch was certain the victory was a direct consequence of Wes Welker’s hilarious “foot reference” pregame press conference.  (For the two people who don’t know, Welker subversively referenced Jets Coach Ryan’s alleged foot fetish by peppering nearly every answer he gave with some reference or analogy involving “footwork” or “feet” or “foot soldiers”.  It was brilliant.) 

Deutsch was outraged by Welker’s stunt calling it akin to “picking on someone’s father”.  He claimed it “fueled” the New York Jets to their upset, and he further claimed that he “knew” the Jets would be victorious soon after he heard Welker’s comments.

What a bag of crap.  The Jets outplayed the Patriots, plain and simple.  But that’s not sexy enough.  Here’s a great excerpt on the same topic, but concerning the great Packer victory over the overrated Falcons, posted this morning on one of my favorite sites, AdvancedNFLStats:


Well, their luck had to run out sometime. One game proves nothing, even a blow-out like this, but it was hilarious to watch ESPN’s Sports Reporters Sunday and see the likes of Lupica and Albom struggle to comprehend such an upset. They threw up all the usual fallacious narrative nonsense: momentum, wanting it more, playing under the big lights. Frankly, I’m not sure what all the excuses were because none of it made sense.

What the numbers have been saying since before mid-season is that GB is really, really good but a bit unlucky, and ATL was average at best but very lucky. Turnover luck plus some very timely unforced miscues by opponents are what gave ATL their #1 seed, and we saw what happened when the football gods stopped smiling on Georgia.

Aaron Rodgers’ performance was one of the best of his career: 0.50 WPA, 27.0 EPA, and 68.2% Success Rate. Think about what 27 EPA means. It’s not just “27 points;” it’s 27 net points generated. Another way of looking at it is 27 points above what the average QB contributes.

One note on strategy–I’ll credit Mike Smith with going for the onside kick much earlier in the game than most coaches would have. Even down by a boat-load of points, he was still playing to win and didn’t care about the final score if he lost. Unfortunately, we can’t say that about all the head coaches this weekend. Congratulations, Coach. You’re the Advanced NFL Stats Coach of the Week.


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