2014 Passing Yardage Predictions – Part II

Categories: Fantasy, NFL, Statistics
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Published on: August 19, 2014

Welcome back everyone. I took last week off because some very important things were and still are happening in our country. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about a game overlaid on top of another game. It just seemed a little disconnected from the world at large. I think it’s important that we all stay reminded of the events happening in Ferguson, MO. That being said, it’s time to build an audience and nothing builds an audience like new content.

This week I finished a full set of projections for yardage totals of quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. This new model makes two major corrections compared to the one I posed a couple weeks ago. First, it corrects for 2013 injuries. You’ll note that Julio Jones has a much higher predicted yardage total in this model compared to the previous one. Second, it corrects for changes to the offensive system. I’ll get to why this is important in a minute. For ease of viewing, I’ve added a new page to the banner so you can easily check these tables whenever you need to. Remember that these yardage totals assume the player in question plays all 16 games and any coaches that have changed jobs do not radically alter the schemes they’ve used in the past. I also want to throw out a big thank you to Jeff over at thefakefootball.com for the offensive coordinator history spreadsheet that made all these projections possible.

One very important caveat before we begin. I don’t have any historical data to check these predictions against. Jeff’s data on targets doesn’t go back far enough for me to do any historical checking on how accurate this model tends to be. So, I have no idea about the uncertainty inherent in this model. We’ll all be learning this together as the season goes on. After the season is over, we’ll check them together. Isn’t science fun?

Top Projected Wide Receivers – Receiving Yards

My first list of projections is for wide receivers, and that list doesn’t come with a lot of surprises. You’ve got your Andre Johnsons, your Dez Bryants, your Brandon Marshalls and your DeSean Jacksons at the top. I don’t really see a surprise on that list until I see Josh Gordan predicted at less than 1,000 yards – assuming he plays all 16 games. And even that is understandable given Cleveland’s quarterback situation. I’ll keep the list updated as depth charts change and injuries occur.

Top Projected Tight Ends – Receiving Yards

Once again, a lot of ho-hum on this list. Jimmy Graham will lead the league in tight end receiving yards, a Detroit Lion will follow him because Detroit will still throw the ball all over the place and defenses will try to lock down Calvin Johnson, blah-blah-blah. You’ll see Levine Toilolo third on that list, but I’m not sure I buy that specific prediction. The model is assuming that Toilolo will step in and take all of Tony Gonzalez’s targets which my human brain tells me isn’t going to happen. I have left that prediction as the model reports it for accuracy’s sake, but on that one, I think we have some justification to adjust it down a bit.

Top Projected Quarterbacks – Passing Yards

I went back and checked the results I’m about to tell you three different times. As I was doing that, I anthropomorphized the mathematical equation and called it a “little dickens” for trying to trick me. But there was no mistake. The inputs I fed into the model were all correct. Furthermore, all the other top five quarterbacks make perfect sense. Most of us expect Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and Peyton Manning to have high yardage totals at the end of the season. But I didn’t expect the guy at #1 by a long shot. And so, without further ado, your projected 2014 NFL leader in passing yards – edging Peyton Manning by 98 yards – is…Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick.

You’d call a mathematical equation a “little dickens” too if it tried to trick you with such nonsense. After I saw it I looked up the prop bet odds on Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the NFL in passing yards and found that it’s such a ludicrous notion that Vegas isn’t giving action on such a proposition. It seems insane, but let’s keep an open mind and consider this for a second.

Once you think about it, there are several reasons why it makes sense that Ryan Fitzpatrick could lead the league in passing yards this year. First, we know something about what Bill O’Brien likes to do on offense. We know he likes to throw the football and his system is very effective at gaining yards through the air. Any system that makes Matt McGloin look that good has got to have something going for it. We also know that O’Brien provides a lot of opportunities to his best receivers and seems to be able to adapt the passing game around what he has. Second, Houston has the best receiving corps you will find outside of Denver or Chicago. From top to bottom, the wide receivers in Houston know how to get open and know how to get yards after the catch. This will be a second huge bonus to Fitzpatrick’s passing yards. Third, nobody really knows what the status of Arian Foster is. We know he’s busy trying to be the best teammate he can be, but can he still be the productive running back he once was? I have my doubts. And finally, I don’t want to count out the man himself. Fitzpatrick is a serviceable quarterback. He’s not going to take a team on his back or anything, but he’s not horrific either. There’s a reason he’s stuck around in the NFL so long.

So there you go. Lots of fairly boring expectations for receiving yards and one super out-of-left field prediction. Let the season begin!

Quarterbacks in Minnesota

Categories: Fantasy, NFL, Statistics
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Published on: October 16, 2013

The Vikings recently announced that Josh Freeman was going to be their starting quarterback.  This move really shouldn’t surprise anyone given the problems the Vikings have in the passing game.  However, is Josh Freeman “the answer” in Minnesota?  What can we expect from Josh Freeman now that he is the man of the hour on this endless carousel of starting quarterbacks in Minnesota? 

First, you’ve probably seen that Josh Freeman has an NFL low 45.7% completion percentage this year.  We care about completion percentage because it’s one of the few quarterback stats that travels reasonably well.  However, I am confident that Freeman’s completion percentage will go up as a member of the Vikings.  When that happens, people will tell you that it is because of the toxic relationship between Freeman and his coach in Tampa.  They will tell you that sometimes a change is scenery is necessary for a quarterback to get better.  These story lines are all nonsense of course, but people will tell them to you because so many are willing to believe them.  What’s actually going to happen is a much less interesting story called regression to the mean.  Extreme scores tend to be followed up by less extreme scores and performance tends to move toward the averages.  Josh Freeman has a career completion percentage of 58.2% and we would expect his completion percentage this season to move towards that number (This will be important later).    

We can also expect that Freeman’s completion percentage will go up because he moved from Tampa to Minnesota, but not by much.  Given the data we have, we can expect an increase in his completion percentage of about 1%.  This effect is statistically reliable, but not particularly meaningful because it’s going to be swamped by the change due to regression to the mean.

Let’s get to the heart of the question.  Are we going to see more production out of the Viking’s passing game now that Freeman is the starter compared to Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder?  We can actually answer that question better in this specific case than most times.  At one point or another last year, all three of these quarterbacks had starting jobs.  That means we have reasonably good data on production levels for each one.  This really good data gives us some idea of how well each would do in a starting role this year. 

The short answer is no, the Vikings are not better off with Josh Freeman starting.  In fact, I am projecting we will see much much less out the Viking’s already anemic passing attack now that Freeman has been placed in the starting role. 

Here are the numbers.  Pre-season passing yard projections are based on a regression equation that uses statistics in Year A to predict production in Year A+1.  It accounts for 33.5% of the variance in passing yards and has a standard error of the estimate of 314.9 yards.  This model assumes similar production and usage from 2012 to 2013.  Be aware that this model tends to underestimate yardage totals because yardage totals are not normally distributed.   

Some take away points from that table

·         I would not have recommended signing Greg Jennings.  At one time he was a productive wide receiver, but that production has faded with age.

·         Where has Jarius Wright been this season?  He had some good times in 2012.

·         Of the three quarterbacks currently on the Vikings roster, Ponder was the best choice preseason.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Ponder is not the problem.  The problem for Minnesota’s passing game for the last three years has been and continues to be a wide-receivers-not-named-Percy-Harvin problem.

The decision to sign Freeman is not looking particularly good here.  However, the previous projections come from 2012 data.  We also have data from 2013 on all three quarterbacks.  Admittedly, at most it’s two or three games for each quarterback and five games for each receiver, but it’s at least something.  Let’s take what we know about each quarterback and receiver’s production and usage for 2013 and input that into our model instead of the 2012 numbers.  Here are the projections showing what I would expect with each of these quarterbacks throwing to these five receivers for a full season.

* Because Freeman’s completion percentage is so abysmal this year, the prediction of Freeman to Wright actually comes out negative. Freeman’s line has been changed to assume he will increase his 2013 completion percentage by 10% as a member of the Vikings, which would be more in line with his historical average.

Here are those same projections pro-rated for the 11 games the Vikings have remaining on their schedule. 

* See note in previous table

So there you go.  According to these projections, the Vikings paid $3 million to lose more than 1,000 yards of production through the air compared to what we would expect if Cassel or Ponder were still the starter.  Go Vikes.

Fantasy Football Advice: October 1, 2013

Categories: Fantasy, NFL, Statistics
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Published on: October 1, 2013

I haven’t done much fantasy football advice, mostly because I hadn’t spent the time to build the mathematical models necessary to do it.  However, I recently got a receiver model working.  And it works very well.  If my research paper gets accepted to Sloan, I will share every gory mathematical detail with you, but you don’t have time for that.  Sloan isn’t until March and you need a quality receiver now.

You will want to pick up Keenan Allen.  You will want to do this because he is a very good wide receiver who is likely to have a very good year.  Let’s look at the numbers.

First, Philip Rivers has been ridiculous the first quarter of the season.  He’s seen his completion percentage go drastically up this season compared to last.  For receivers to get yards, they need a quarterback that can complete some passes, so that’s our first clue.

Second, Allen himself has flashed ability to catch well and gain good yards after catch, which is also a plus.

Third, with Malcolm Floyd out on season-ending IR, Keenan Allen will be seeing the field more.  More time on the field means more opportunities to be a pass target means more opportunities for yards.

Here are the projections.

Assuming Philip Rivers continues his crazy huge completion percentage and Allen keeps his crazy yards after catch average, Keenan Allen is projected to have a 1,000 yard season.

But maybe that’s too much to ask so…assuming Philip Rivers has a year of completing passes on par with his worst year in the league and Keenan Allen keeps getting YAC comparable to where he is now, Keenan Allen is projected to have a 700 yard season.

Assuming Philip Rivers has a historically average season for him and Keenan Allen regresses to an average receiver, Allen is projected to have a 650 yard season.

All these projections assume Allen remains the #3 receiver in San Diego, which I don’t think will happen, but let’s keep these projections as “worst case” predictions.

So, need a receiver?  His name is Keenan Allen.

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