This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
When You're Completely Wrong
I was 8-3 against the spread through the early slate, and I was feeling pretty good about myself. But the afternoon games were disastrous for me.
I had made the Cardinals getting three at home off the bye my best bet. I had a low opinion of the Rams, who only six days earlier had their defense on the field for 40 minutes, getting torched by the Ravens in their own building. Now they had to travel and chase around a mobile and rested Kyler Murray.
To me, the Cardinals clearly had the better offense, and while the Rams defense was better, the disparity in recovery time would more or less offset it. And the Rams had to give up a field goal on the road.
Moreover, I've long thought Sean McVay was overrated as a coach. Yes, he had a good idea that worked well and got the Rams to a Super Bowl (referee malpractice, notwithstanding), but the league had figured him out, and he had yet to make an adjustment more than a year later. I believed his uncanny recall of past plays was mistaken as a meaningful indication of coaching ability rather than a quirky parlor trick. I had no special faith in Kliff Kingsbury, but he had the extra week to prepare a rested team, and that should have been enough.
As it turned out, Jared Goff had 400 yards less than half way through the third quarter, the Rams defense dominated Murray and shut down the run game. Sean McVay had somehow – with his team on the ropes – turned things around in six days. The Cardinals defense was perhaps even more cooperative than anyone might have expected, but it's been generous all year to opposing passing games
I wasn't just unlucky, the victim of a bad bounce here or a missed call there – I was utterly and completely wrong. (I was almost as wrong about the Raiders-Chiefs, and anyone who backs the Chargers is preemptively wrong, but let's stick with the even more egregious Cards-Rams game as our example.)
How does one process misjudging a forecast so entirely? For starters, you look at the process and wonder where it went wrong. Yes, bye-week teams have an advantage, and yes, the Rams had looked awful on Monday night. But in terms of moving the needle, that performance probably cost them 1-2 points in baseline value, and the bye moved things another point or two in favor of Arizona. In other words, the underlying quality of the teams was still a much bigger factor than the favorable situation for the Cardinals.
Now I didn't think much of the Rams to begin with – I thought maybe there were only a couple points better than the Cardinals on a neutral field before the Monday night debacle, so that's partly why I liked the game so much in favorable circumstances. Moreover, I felt the Rams were trending badly, i.e., they had been virtually eliminated (so I thought) from the playoffs after their fifth loss, they were a team saddled with Goff's and Todd Gurley's bad contracts and a coach who had lost his early-career magic. And a team in this state would not be able to pull off what McVay and the team did in fact pull off.
One can fault me for using narratives to discern the direction of a team, but for direction narrative is really our only tool. The data is always backward looking, so if you want to project forward beyond the past performance, you'll need a story. For the purely data-driven forecaster, that's taboo, but my forecasting is biased by my personal observations and narratives already, so I don't care about that even if it obviously introduces errors at times.
But if you're using narratives, you better update them when they turn out to be false. Perhaps McVay's early success wasn't just one good idea, and while he was initially overrated as a coach, I over-corrected. Maybe Goff isn't terrible, and while he's overpaid, he can still function at an Andy Dalton/peak Joe Flacco level. It makes for a better story if Goff is trough Flacco, McVay's a fraud and the Rams a laughingstock for the next few years. But the most entertaining story isn't always true.
Bottom line, I overrated the situation relative to the team's baselines, and I misread the baselines based on directional assumptions driven by my narratives. That's why I completely botched my forecast of the Rams-Cardinals game. Going forward, I've modified my narrative about the Rams, downgraded my already middling opinion of Kingsbury and am ready to move on to the Week 14 slate.
Week 14 Trivia
Apropos of Austin Ekeler currently on pace for 957 receiving yards this year (would be good for fifth all time among running backs), can you name all the running backs since 1970 to have more than 800 receiving yards in a single season?
Guessing The Lines
|Game||My Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL||O/U||Actual O/U||MO-AO|
|Cowboys at Bears||0||-2.5||-3||3||42||43||-1|
|Panthers at Falcons||3||4||3||0||50||48||2|
|Colts at Buccaneers||2.5||3.5||3||-0.5||48||47.5||0.5|
|Dolphins at Jets||4||5.5||5.5||-1.5||46||44||2|
|49ers at Saints||0||3||3||-3||44||44||0|
|Lions at Vikings||12||13.5||13||-1||45||43.5||1.5|
|Broncos at Texans||9.5||10||9.5||0||43||41.5||1.5|
|Ravens at Bills||-3||-3.5||-5.5||2.5||43||43.5||-0.5|
|Bengals at Browns||3.5||6.5||8.5||-5||47||40.5||6.5|
|Redskins at Packers||11.5||13||13||-1.5||44||42||2|
|Chargers at Jaguars||1||-2.5||-3||4||46||43||3|
|Steelers at Cardinals||0||-2.5||-2.5||2.5||43||43.5||-0.5|
|Titans at Raiders||1.5||-3||-2.5||4||45||47.5||-2.5|
|Chiefs at Patriots||4||5.5||3||1||48||48.5||-0.5|
|Seahawks at Rams||2.5||2.5||-1.5||4||47||46.5||0.5|
|Giants at Eagles||6.5||7||8.5||-2||48||47||1|
At first glance, I'm on the Bears, 49ers, Bengals, Jaguars, Raiders and Rams. And I was way off on the Bengals-Browns total (6.5 points.) Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book.
Week 13 Observations
• Tom Brady and James White sure did work in garbage time. For White it was almost like Super Bowl 51. Otherwise, the offense looked suspect with neither a running nor a deep passing game. For this team to win the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick will have to take the wizardry to another level yet.
• Deshaun Watson was similarly handicapped in the running game, but even against the Patriots' elite secondary, he spread the ball around efficiently and was able to strike for a big play to Kenny Stills after nearly connecting with Will Fuller on the same series.
• Never complain about a bad beat when you bet the Chargers. It's not a matter of if but how. But I have to admit, the how surprised even me in this case.
• Philip Rivers bounced back after a rough start, but it's increasingly clear he'll never appear in a Super Bowl (unless he secures a backup gig with a good team.) He has Hall of Fame totals and rate stats, but I'd vote him (and Eli Manning, obviously) out. Too many soul-crushing turnovers and not even a sniff of the ultimate prize.
• The Chiefs breezed to a blowout win, but it did not inspire confidence for the playoffs. Patrick Mahomes got bailed out from a pick on a PI overturn, and he didn't look sharp in windy conditions.
• The PI that was called after Mahomes' pick might have been correct (honestly, I didn't bother to watch), but it's a massive can of worms. To allow judgment calls on every pass to be challenged (or conjured into existence on review) will be a disaster worse than the catch rule. Now every pass play in close playoff games will not have happened until the refs sign off on it. While it was awkward to see the rule never enforced earlier in the year, actually enforcing it will be even worse.
• With Darrel Williams injuring his hamstring, and Damien Williams still out with a rib injury, Darwin Thompson (who looked good) could emerge as the natural selection alongside LeSean McCoy this week against the Patriots. There's always that one unexpected back that goes off in the fantasy playoffs.
• The Rams, only six days after getting annihilated at home by the Ravens, with their defense on the field for 40 minutes, traveled to Arizona and destroyed a rested Cardinals team nearly as thoroughly as the Ravens destroyed them.
• The Rams offense was like, "Oh, the past year? That was just a joke." I'm a little disappointed they didn't set out to break Norm Van Brocklin's single-game passing record (554 yards) because they could have.
• I started Sam Darnold in one league that needed to win and score well to make the NFFC playoffs. It turns out he scored only one fewer point than my other option, Derek Carr. I have no idea what to make of Darnold as a prospect – he's probably just a guy, but that he's still so young for a starting NFL QB and has been saddled with bad coaching still gives him hope (and me dread.)
• Derrick Henry lost a fumble but otherwise he's like peak Shaquille O'Neal on a football field – too fast for his size, too strong for his position. What a monster.
• The Colts oddly used Jordan Wilkins the most this week after going with Jonathan Williams against the Texans. It's probably a good sign for Marlon Mack when he comes back that the Colts aren't committed to either backup.
• The Dolphins are in good hands with Brian Flores. They attacked the Eagles all game, took chances and set out to win.
• DeVante Parker had been in NFL purgatory the first four years of his career. He's a top-10 fantasy wideout, and his success under a new coach makes you wonder whether Adam Gase is similarly holding back the Jets pass catchers.
• Someone has to win the NFC East, and it won't be the Giants or Redskins. Carson Wentz seems like a league average QB since his injury two years ago.
• As a Giants fan, I usually take them against the spread, but I laid the wood this week. They can't run block, pass protect or play defense. I thought Daniel Jones threw the ball well, his three picks notwithstanding. One of them was on the final drive in desperation – as I've said, I want my rookie QB making mistakes and plays rather than the reverse.
• The Steelers are a professional football team, and the Browns a collection of professional football players wearing the same uniform.
• Oddly, McCaffrey and Michael Thomas, the two most automatic players in the league, both had their quietest weeks in a long time. The sliver lining is most teams that have them were already in the playoffs.
• There's nothing to say about the Jaguars-Buccaneers except that the Nick Foles experiment has to be over.
• The Ravens have the No. 1 seed in the AFC after beating the 49ers. The market was off base, making that line six, when they were plainly equal teams slugging it out on the Ravens' home field.
• The Ravens settled for a 49-yard game-winning field goal, but they have that luxury with the greatest kicker of all time.
• Kirk Cousins played a good game, showing nice touch on the screen passes and getting rid of the ball under pressure. His lone pick was a tipped ball and a great catch by the DB too. The Vikings really miss Adam Thielen though.
• The Vikings RB spot is so valuable, given all the screens and dump-offs they run. Dalvin Cook left with a chest injury the team says isn't serious, but if he were to miss a game, Alexander Mattison gets a great matchup against the Lions at home.
• Chris Carson (when he's not fumbling) and Rashaad Penny are both really good. People mock Seattle's run-heavy attack when they have the best QB in the league, but it works, and I suspect it would work even better in bad-weather playoff games. Unfortunately, the playoffs might go through New Orleans, or if the Seahawks drop a game, San Francisco.
• I don't know if Tyler Lockett was still sick, but he didn't record a single catch on three targets. D.K. Metcalf led the team with seven targets, but lost a fumble late.
• Russell Wilson hadn't done much with less than a minute left in the third quarter. Then an easy 60-yard throw to a wide open David Moore and a screen to Penny later, and he's up to two TDs and 240 yards. No QB strikes more quickly than Wilson.