This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
The Map Is Not The Territory
– Alfred Korzybski
I read this quote a couple decades ago, and I thought I knew what it meant. The concepts we have about things are not the things themselves. The models we use to forecast real-life events are only maps – they can't account for the complexity of the events themselves.
It's easy to see the truth in this when it pertains to other people. I see so many mistaking data from their spread sheets as actual truth. If a coach punts on 4th-and-short in plus territory, and on average that punt is less conducive to winning a game, football analytics Twitter will excoriate him (I've been part of this chorus myself many times), because their model informs them it was the wrong decision. But that coach is privy to specific information about his players and game that you are not. He might still be wrong, but you cannot know that by citing your general rule about punting in that general situation. Your map – your down-and-distance-punt heuristic/spread sheet – is not the game itself.
But just last week, I considered an aspect of this truth for the first time. I wrote:
As for the best-bet streak, it's dead. I foolishly took the Raiders, thinking they'd bounce back, especially after the underperforming Chiefs were gifted a win in the Jordan Love game. But it was precisely the opposite as the Chiefs seemed to adjust to their streak of being solved offensively, and the Raiders were sloppy and unprepared. Reading the ebbs and flows is more art than science, and maybe I forced one. Making a mistake is okay, though as long as I don't commit the cardinal sin: succumbing to the math. The probability calculations will kill you as they set "realistic" expectations and circumscribe the limits of what you can achieve. Never believe the odds unless you're gambling on dice, cards or coins. Lose because you screwed up, never because "this is unsustainable, regression inevitable." In the latter case, you've lost before you ever placed the bet.
I was concerned the mental map I was carrying to help me navigate the terrain might have been the reason I picked the wrong team. The map, of course, was the coin-flip model of picking games against the spread, wherein one must necessarily, over time, regress to roughly 50 percent. If you have this as your mental model, you will presume long-term success is impossible, and you will necessarily be flippant about your picks, either just guessing and finding a reason to justify the guess, or relying on paper-thin heuristics "Monday-night-home-dog, e.g.," which essentially amount to the same thing. That mental model then is a self-fulfilling prophecy – you will be mediocre because you do not believe it possible to be otherwise.
Even so, I did not realize fully the implications until later in the week when I discussed it with Dalton Del Don on the podcast. The NFL games as coin flips model has been burned into my worldview for more than 25 years. I simply took for granted an unfathomably complex system with astronomical numbers of variables should be seen as a series of coin flips. While the analogy might be useful in some respects – uninformed guessers of ATS outcomes might perform about as well as someone guessing heads or tails on non-weighted coins – it is only an analogy. There is no reality to it. Even if on average the underdog covers roughly 50 percent of the time, each particular game is unique, and it cannot be said that the probability of the underdog or favorite covering in that game was 50 percent. It's a one-off event for which the precise individual probability cannot be known.
The task then is identify which side is more probable in the specific instance, while conceding that assigning a specific number to it is impossible. Once you have ditched the coin-flip model, it's at least possible to pick the right side, to perceive value relative to the market's number. But you will never be able to do so without ditching the deeply-embedded coin-flip model of handicapping NFL games.
Week 12 Sporcle
Apropos of Jonathan Taylor's monster showing Sunday, can you name the only players since 1965 to have 200 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in a game?
Guessing The Lines
|My Line||Guessed line||Real line||Net||My O/U||Real O/U||Net|
|Bears at Lions||-3||-3.5||-3.5||-0.5||44||41.5||-2.5|
|Raiders at Cowboys||4.5||7||7||2.5||48||51||3|
|Bills at Saints||-3||-4.5||-4||-1||49||46.5||-2.5|
|Buccaneers at Colts||2||0||-2.5||-4.5||51||51||0|
|Jets at Texans||3||3||3||0||46||44||-2|
|Eagles at Giants||0||-2.5||-3.5||-3.5||48||46||-2|
|Panthers at Dolphins||3||2.5||0||-3||45||42.5||-2.5|
|Titans at Patriots||7||6||5.5||-1.5||44||44.5||0.5|
|Steelers at Bengals||4||3.5||3.5||-0.5||46||45||-1|
|Falcons at Jaguars||-3||-2.5||0||3||48||46.5||-1.5|
|Chargers at Broncos||-2.5||-3||-2.5||0||46||47||1|
|Rams at Packers||3||3||1||-2||49||48.5||-0.5|
|Vikings at 49ers||3||3||3||0||52||48.5||-3.5|
|Browns at Ravens||7||7||4.5||-2.5||49||46||-3|
|Seahawks at Team||3||3||0||-3||46||46||0|
At first glance, I especially like the Colts, Giants, Dolphins, Falcons and Team, but I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating The Book.
Week 11 Observations
- Tom Brady had an easy time of it, picking the defense apart with short throws. The Bucs still miss Antonio Brown, but having Rob Gronkowski (8-6-71-0) back made a difference.
- After disappearing for a month, Ronald Jones (8-33-1-0) split carries with Leonard Fournette (10-35-0, 6-6-39-0.) Jones is the better interior runner when he holds onto the ball, and I'd expect him to be a factor down the stretch.
- Mike Evans (1-10-0, 11-6-73-1) caused the only turnover of the game with a pass off his hands, but otherwise played well, giving the smaller cornerback James Bradberry problems. Chris Godwin (6-6-65-1) was involved early and didn't get much work in the second half.
- Daniel Jones isn't it. I already decided this a few weeks ago, but it was never more apparent than in this game. He's got all the physical talent to be great, he's tough, courageous, but lacks the natural feel to be a great quarterback. Things like throwing the ball into the turf on fourth down rather than up for grabs, throwing late to open receivers, throwing senseless interceptions on early downs and lack of pocket awareness doom him. He'll be a useful backup, but the Giants need to cut bait and start again at the position in 2022.
- Saquon Barkley (6-25-0, 6-6-31-0) was eased in, but also game flow and lack of successful drives limited his output. He looked healthy, and the passing-game work bodes well.
- Kadarius Toney (12-7-40-0) wasn't efficient, but he's maybe the quickest receiver in the league.
- The Monday night announcers were killing me, and keep in mind, I only watched the 40-minute edited version. I would describe the genre as "insulting viewer intelligence peppered with forced chuckling to feign enjoyment."
- That Steelers-Chargers game was fun especially since I had the Steelers plus 5.5, Justin Herbert in two leagues and Diontae Johnson. It's a beautiful thing to see the team you bet against take a knee to close out the game at the five yard line.
- Justin Herbert has been so Jekyll and Hyde this year, but when he's good, he's very good, and the 90 rushing yards were icing on the cake.
- I faded Austin Ekeler this year, so it hurt to see him score four times. It would have been worse had the player I usually took ahead of him not scored five times on the same day.
- Colt McCoy moves pretty well at age 35. I thought the version from last week was the real one, but he's been great in two of three games.
- Zach Ertz (9-8-88-2) is a top-five-ish TE now, though that might change when the Cardinals get DeAndre Hopkins back.
- James Conner (21-62-1, 6-5-37-0) is a top-10 back and a touchdown machine. He looks the part right too, showing quickness and power.
- Russell Wilson should have waited a couple more weeks to return. Geno Smith would have been at least as good.
- Rashaad Penny (hamstring) had an opportunity, but got hurt yet again. His career just could not get going.
- I believed DK Metcalf (8-4-31-0) could not fail if healthy, and while he's been a little banged up and dealing with a Russell Wilson injury, this is failure.
- The Cowboys offense is not the same without Tyron Smith. He's the second most important player on the team, and I wonder whether some competent backup behind the Smith line wouldn't be better than Dak Prescott running for his life behind this one. And Prescott isn't especially mobile these days, either.
- Ezekiel Elliott aggravated his knee injury, but returned to the game. He doesn't have much burst though.
- Patrick Mahomes was a low-end caretaker for the day, with no TD passes, one pick, a lost fumble and only 260 pass yards.
- Chris Jones dominated the game, and suddenly the Chiefs defense looks credible.
- I was on the Bengals, but Jeff Erickson talked me into talking the Raiders. I should have known better, but this one's on him.
- Every time I start Bryan Edwards, he gets me a zero.
- Joe Mixon (30-123-2) ran like a man possessed, but didn't see any targets.
- Jeff Wilson (19-50-0, 2-1-8-0) and Trey Sermon (10-32-0, 1-1-23-0) don't seem like threats to Elijah Mitchell once Mitchell gets healthy again.
- Only James Robinson (12-29-1, 3-2-9-0) is usable among the Jaguars, and the output is usually modest.
- It's surprising how little Trevor Lawrence has progressed. He'll get endless chances due to his pedigree, but he would be the biggest bust of all time if he stays on this road.
- Taylor Heinicke is quietly becoming a solid quarterback, providing Exhibit 20 of why you don't reach for the early-first-round guy on whom you're not sold.
- Jalen Hurts threw for only 147 yards and no TDs, but that's okay because he ran for 69 yards and three scores.
- The Saints have one usable offensive player (Alvin Kamara or Mark Ingram if Kamara is hurt), and that's it. I keep waiting for Sean Payton to turn to Taysom Hill, but Hill didn't receive a single snap.
- I had Elijah Moore (1-15-0, 11-8-141-1) in my NFFC Primetime lineup, but was a coward and subbed in Michael Pittman a few hours before kickoff. The team still had a great day thanks to Taylor, Herbert and Ertz, but it could have been monstrous.
- The Dolphins are a poor man's Patriots – an ugly team of mostly no-names getting better as the year goes on.
- Aaron Rodgers apparently played through pain in his toe, but you wouldn't know it from the numbers – 384 yards, four TDs, no picks, 21 rush yards.
- That AJ Dillon (11-53-0, 6-6-44-0) wasn't derailed by gameflow is a great sign while he fills in for Aaron Jones.
- Mason Crosby has been a disaster, but I'm waiting for him to miss a kick after hitting the crossbar, so I can call him Mason Crossbar.
- The Vikings always have the same three players who produce – Dalvin Cook (22-86-1, 4-3-29-0), Adam Thielen (10-8-82-1) and Justin Jefferson (10-8-169-2.) It was the same way when Stefon Diggs was there, and it's the same when Cook is hurt, and Mattison plays. It's the league's narrowest tree.
- After running through a who's who of the league (Rams, Colts twice, Chiefs and Bills), the Titans ran out of gas against the Texans. The AFC's No. 1 seed has now lost to the Texans and Jets.
- The only receiver more chronically banged up than A.J. Brown, who left with a chest injury, is Julio Jones.
- If you thought running backs don't matter, watch this offense without Derrick Henry.
- D'Andre Swift (14-136-1, 4-3-0-0) would be a top-five overall player on an average team.
- Nick Chubb (22-130-0, 2-2-14-1) didn't get enough carries until late in the game where the Browns sealed a tight game with his power runs.
- I'm with OBJ's dad – Baker Mayfield is terrible.
- To illustrate the extent to which Dalton Del Don and my $6M Circa Survivor entry is truly the Team Of Destiny, consider this:
With the Lions down 13-7 with 35 seconds left in the third quarter Swift ran for 13 yards to set up first-and-10 at the 32. Swift was gashing the Browns' exhausted defense, and as I mentioned, Mayfield was totally inept. The Browns had no weapons at receiver, and should they have fallen behind, they'd be relying on Mayfield and a kicker who had already missed a field goal and PAT.
After Swift's run, the quarter ended, and the game cut to commercial break. When the broadcast returned, we were informed the Lions had gotten an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, so it was 1st-and-25 from the 47! Apparently, the penalty was from offensive lineman Jonah Jackson saying something not so nice about Jadeveon Clowney's mother!
The Lions were forced to punt, instead of coming away with a field-goal attempt (or better), the Browns defense got a rest and they held on to win by three points.
Team of Destiny!
- Andy Dalton replaced Justin Fields (ribs), and is likely to start against the Lions on Thanksgiving. Darnell Mooney (16-5-121-1) and Allen Robinson, should he get healthy, become relevant again. (Mooney's 16 targets with only five catches has to be close to a record, though.)
- The Ravens are the No. 2 seed after pulling out some improbable wins including this one with their backup QB.
- Jonathan Taylor (32-185-4, 3-3-19-1) was already the 1.1 before smashing (I believe) the league's top-defense against running backs to pieces. I actually don't know for sure if they were the top defense because they're listed at No. 15 now after Taylor's output got baked in.
- Josh Allen had another mediocre game – maybe the Bills are too pass-heavy, and defenses have figured them out.
- None of the MVP front-runners (Allen, Lamar Jackson (illness), Mahomes or Prescott) did themselves any favors Sunday. Aaron Rodgers had a big game, but he's battling a toe injury, and immunization-gate is likely to be held against him in any event. I should have bet Taylor before his monster game, but Cooper Kupp was 100:1 (I'm told) as of last week.
- Mac Jones played a great game, save for a pick he forced, one play after his best throw of the night, a perfectly threaded ball to Hunter Henry. I guess he got cocky. There was a one-year gap, but Tom Brady to Jones might be the next Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers or Joe Montana to Steve Young.
- Rhamondre Stevenson (12-69-0, 1-1-6-0) looks explosive running outside and breaks tackles. Damien Harris (10-56-0, 1-1-9-0) is the interior bruiser, and it looks like an even timeshare going forward with Brandon Bolden in on most third downs.
- The Patriots defense isn't flashy, but they are solid and rarely make mistakes.
- I can't believe I almost cut Nick Folk. He's a beast, though I was annoyed he missed the final PAT.
- The Patriots are my pick for the AFC. If anything, this team will only get better, and the smash-mouth style should play in January. A Brady-Belichick Super Bowl would be bananas.
- The Falcons are a teardown.
- Kyle Pitts (5-3-29-0) should get his chances, but the Patriots won't be the last team to take him away and let other players not beat them.