Originally intended as a UV bit, but then it got long.
As you've probably heard, Bill Belichick went for a first down on fourth and two from his 29 with about two minutes left and his team leading by six points. The Patriots didn't get it, the Colts made the short march for the game-winning score, and commentators duly exploded at how awful the decision was. Tony Dungy evidently kept saying Belichick "should have gone with the percentages."
He did. Of course he did, he's Bill Belichick:
With 2:00 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A 4th and 2 conversion would be successful 60% of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53% of the time from that field position. The total WP for the 4th down conversion attempt would be:
(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP
A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their own 34. Teams historically get the TD 30% of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.
This is obvious in retrospect, right? Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL. There is a slight chance he knows what he's doing. And even if you are one of the folk who really believes emotion and momentum overwhelm probability in football, not even broaching the idea that Belichick might be on to something is simultaneously stupid and arrogant—neat trick. If you are a caveman when it comes to football and see Belichick go for it there, your first thought should be "hmmm… maybe I don't know something." This, obviously, has not happened. Caveman status is self-perpetuating.
Really, no matter how you play with the numbers, it will come out about the same. Try it. There is almost no way–without suppressing the numbers–to make the percentages even out. The Patriots’ best PERCENTAGE chance was to go for it on fourth down. Of course, football is not really a percentage game for most of us, is it? No, it’s a game about emotion and passion and momentum.
This is where Posnanski needs to play a lot of poker. Emotion and passion and momentum are great for football players. For coaches they are ways to go on tilt and make dumb decisions that are safe but go against the percentages. Belichick is ruthless and in a position where media criticism means nothing as far as his job goes. Most other NFL coaches would take the safe route and decrease their chances of winning because they perceive that it would increase their chances of keeping their job.
But, you know, at least Posnanski brought it up. Many thousands didn't, and just did some blah blah about how it was dumb, thereby implying they were smarter than Bill Belichick. This is why he is the traditional journalist who's bridged the internet divide more successfully than any other. Clark Wonk:
In other words, ”traditional sports punditry” is denoted not by what kind of resume you have, how old you are, whether you sit in the press box, or even whether your thoughts are packaged in 800 words of ink, 1600 words of pixels, or two minutes of streaming video. No, “traditional sports punditry” denotes merely that you’re not staying current within your own field: “What the hell is Belichick doing?” as opposed to “Whoa, talk about trusting the percentages–what the hell is Belichick doing?” …
To be aware of what Posnanski calls the “PERCENTAGE”s, ones that indicate that probability was in Belichick’s favor over the course of a thousand tries, does not rule out disagreeing with the coach in this single instance. But to not be aware of these percentages is to fail in the most basic journalistic sense. To write about a decision, much less try to criticize it, without displaying any understanding of its self-evident context is to fall down on the job in the ”why” department, even if you do get the who, the what, the when, and the where.
Humans would be well-advised to nail the “why,” by the way. Computers can now do those other four pretty well.
Seriously. Does anyone remember SHOCKDOME XXXVI*? The Patriots get the ball back in a tie game with about two minutes left. Tom Brady is the Patriot's first-year starting quarterback. John Madden, embodiment of conventional wisdom-type substance, is publicly begging Belichick to run the clock out and head to overtime instead of putting the game on the kid's shoulders. Belichick says screw that noise, I've seen Tom Brady play football, let's go, and two minutes later Adam Vinateri is kicking a game-winning field goal and no one remembers the ballsy decision that won the damn game. The reason Belichick is so untouchable that he can defy conventional wisdom is because he defied conventional wisdom.
And yet no one mentions this.
*(AKA Super Bowl XXXVI. An aging Pat Summerall awkwardly blurted out "this game has turned into Shockdome 36" at some point in the second quarter when the Patriots weren't getting stomped like everyone expected they would, and I died laughing.)
Expect more Saturday night in the future. This is a bit old, but, uh, yeah. Busy. Anyway, ABC's Saturday night football initiative was a major success:
An average of 14.5 million households tuned in to ABC's Michigan-Ohio State on a Saturday afternoon, making it college football's most-watched game since 1992. But the next seven most-watched games this season â€” Notre Dame-Southern California, Ohio State-Texas, California-USC, Florida State-Miami (Fla.), Notre Dame-Michigan State (leading regionalized coverage in a slot also including USC-Arizona), Notre Dame-Georgia Tech and Ohio State-Iowa â€” were all in prime time.
They were also all on Saturday nights on ABC, which raised its Saturday prime-time ratings 28% by focusing on football. The exception was FSU-Miami on ESPN. That was on Labor Day night, back when experts said both teams were actually good. The only other game drawing more than 5 million households: NBC's Penn State-Notre Dame, a day game that got 5.3 million.
Michigan has long resisted night games, but that's going to get more and more difficult as ABC pushes for winged helmets in its prime time slot. There have been rumblings that Michigan can either choose between a home game at night or three on the road in future years; they might have to cave. Probably not next year, though. Michigan's road slate doesn't exactly scream "FEATURE ME":
- @ Northwestern
- @ Illinois
- @ Michigan State
- @ Wisconsin
You can probably pencil in Wisconsin as a night game -- and a hell of a challenge if the Badgers adequately replace Joe Thomas and John Stocco -- but the rest of that slate is ratings death.
Dan Steinberg is excited!!!!!!!!!! "Vegas Chooses Michigan!!!!!," says Dan, and that's a sequence of punctuation I am deeply uncomfortable with. Anyway:
Some people, including Brian at mgoblog, said loudly that I was wrong [about letting Vegas guys pick the BCS]. And now, in the most delicious of all possible ironies, an apoplectic Brian is using Vegas as justification that Michigan is being robbed!!!!!! I told you Brian!!!!!! You should have listened to me!!!!
For the record, this was my stirring conclusion in the piece cited above:
Striking a balance between style-point madness and rote you-win-you-stay is a delicate thing. While you can very plausibly argue the latter holds too much sway in the BCS selection process, the oddsmakers are the communism to our current fascism: yeah, they're diametrically opposed, but neither is a good idea.
My main complaint with the Vegas rankings as deployed was their wild under-reaction to events. At the time that poll was posted, LSU was 5-2 with wins over nobody and losses to Florida and Auburn. They were #5, ahead of Florida and Auburn. To Vegas, the games hardly mattered. Anyone rushing to say that LSU at #5 was darn prescient should note #2 Texas, 6-1 and then ahead of a wide array of undefeated teams. Hell, suddenly Alamo-bound Texas is still #8 in their poll.
My objection was to letting Vegas' opinion override wide disparities in actual performance on the field. When you have two teams that have virtually identical resumes by every objective measure you can apply that's a very different situation, one in which you have to look at how the teams reached their finishing point and who looks better, because there's no concrete way to separate the two. In that case, the opinion of Vegas wiseguys is highly relevant.
But when it comes down to it... I must offer a mea culpa in the spirit of Dan's post (!!!!):
DAN STEINBERG IS THE GENIUSEST!!!!! HE IS RIGHT THAT A SMALL, INFORMED GROUP OF EXPERTS WHO ARE EMPLOYED BASED ON THEIR ABILITY TO PROJECT FOOTBALL GAMES IS A BETTER WAY TO PICK THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME THAN LETTING A BUNCH OF DOOFS VOTE*!!!!! I OWE HIM SOME BEER!!!!
If you need a letter of recommendation or something, Dan, I got your back. With a select group of Michigan engineering students, there's no better reference.
*(As long as some other group narrows down the potential candidates so they can't pick, say, a 9-3 Texas.)
I was already going to call him "Jimmah!" The Chicago Sun-Times sucks up to Notre Dame fans with this hilarious headline:
'He's just little Jimmy'
Dad's comment aside, Notre Dame awaits special QB
The manual says insert unflattering image of Clausen here...
[USC commit Marc] Tyler, who is black, also saw in Clausen someone capable of fitting in with anyone.
''Jimmy's really into hip-hop music,'' Tyler said. ''He's always trying the latest dances: 'Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It,' the 'Chicken Noodle Soup.' It's like he's black on the inside.''
I got nothin'. That's just a weird quote, and anything I say could come out really wrong. Moving on.
Yeah, we're not happy. I didn't want to wrap up the Michigan outrage. Thankfully, Double Extra Point did it for me. Missed a couple Hoover Street Rag posts, including the best headline anyone's thrown up: "Quag-meyer." Sad giggity. Also excellent: a simple "INFAMY!"
He's Michigan. Forget that. From the SBT:
Notre Dame professor Brad Malkovsky was in the middle of teaching his "Christianity and World Religions" course a few weeks ago when the classroom phone rang.
Never in his 15 years of teaching in that room had the phone even made a peep.
Startled, Brad picked it up.
"A woman on the phone, who sounded like a reporter, asked if this was Lloyd Carr, the head football coach of the University of Michigan," Brad says.
So he repeated the women's inquiry for the benefit of his 70-some students: "No this is not Lloyd Carr, the head coach of the University of Michigan football team," Brad answered.
She apologized and hung up.
That is a hell of a wrong number.
That's right, Tom. Brady on Fiasco '06:
"Anyone who has seen (Florida) play realizes it is a no-brainer. Florida is not very good. I watched that game (Saturday) night and that other (Arkansas) quarterback completed like three passes the week before. They have 18 guys out there throwing passes for Arkansas," Brady said.
When a reporter countered that Michigan already had its shot at beating the Buckeyes, Brady said, "But that's not the way the BCS works. It is supposed to be the two best teams in college football. I would vote for Michigan to play Ohio State if I had a vote."
So meone get that man a vote.
Etc. Wetzel on Don Canham. Mick McCabe declares incoming freshman Manny Harris the best player in the state. Kelvin Grady is #11. OSU is going to turf next year. Bo recollection from a friend of Shemy's. They have Drew Sharp in California, too. EDSBS gives us ten reasons to be happy.