Archive for January, 2013

Matt Cullen is a good ol’ Minnesota boy, the pride of Virginia MN, proud alumnus of St. Cloud State…the prodigal son returneth after playing for five teams before the Wild. He does a lot of things right, he buys into the system, he gives 110%, he skates hard, he’s a mentor to the younger guys. And at the ripe age of 36, he belongs on the third line. He’s a quality guy who plays quality minutes, but he shouldn’t be used outside of a bottom-six role. He makes memorable plays, like late in the game Tuesday at home vs Columbus when the Wild were killing one of the four penalties they took in the third period, Cullen dove for a loose puck and swatted it the length of the ice. He plays committed defense and still has a quick shot but he just doesn’t do enough on offense for me to think he belongs on the second line, where Mike Yeo had been playing him alongside Mikael Granlund until recently.

Tonight’s lines were Parise-Koivu-Heatley; Bouchard-Granlund-Setoguchi; Cullen-Brodziak-Clutterbuck; and Powe-Konopka-Mitchell. While the Bouchard-Brodziak-Clutterbuck line was an interesting experiment and sort of made for a nontraditional pairing, I like the lines that the Wild put out much better–Cullen in the bottom six and a healthy Pierre-Marc Bouchard in the top six. Bouchard showed that he can still put pucks past goalies tonight on a beautiful 200-ft play that started when Marco Scandella collected the puck behind the Wild net and made a nice breakout pass to Bouchard, who dished it off and then had it returned to him as he entered the Blue Jackets’ zone with speed and zipped a snap shot right over Chris Mason’s glove for the game winner. It was the type of play that the Wild just didn’t seem to have the ability to make last season–plus it was just nice to see some production from anyone not named Parise.

The Wild got off the schneid tonight after going 0-2-1 the three previous games. They should have beaten St. Louis but I guess just to hang with one of the top teams in the conference is something to hang your hat on. Though the Wild got just 11 5v5 shots while the Blues had 25, so perhaps the score was deceiving in the first place. Minnesota was able to hang with Detroit for a little while, but that game quickly unraveled.

We might have seen our first glimpse of the top defensive pairing of the future tonight, as Ryan Suter looked a lot better and young Jonas Brodin was impressive as well. A lot has been made about the Wild’s thin blue line, but I am hopeful Scandella and Clayton Stoner can prove themselves to be at least serviceable on defense.

While some may not consider it a “real” rivalry, the Minnesota-Chicago games are always entertaining, and despite the technicality that the franchise moved to Dallas, the two teams always dial it up a notch. The Wild will be undermatched on Wednesday but perhaps they’ll find a way to hand the Blackhawks their first loss of the season.

Updated team-level fancy stats:

Fenwick (all-inclusive): 0.494

PDO (5v5): 0.995

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out my weekly fantasy hockey podcast, and follow me on Twitter, @Hashtag_Hockey!

***The podcast is embedded in this post. Hashtag Hockey Podcast Episode 2 Final

Episode 2 of the Hashtag Hockey Podcast is officially up! Today I take a look around the league and talk about who’s off to a hot start, a cold start, and the most surprising player in the new 2013 NHL season. Then, in my feature segment, I talk about how to play fantasy hockey like a poker player, and finally, I talk about shooting percentage…why you should care and how it can make you a better fantasy hockey player.


^^Good statistical database, including shooting percentage and year-to-year comparisons

Armchair On Shooting Percentages

Arctic Ice Hockey: Luck vs Shot Quality in Shooting Percentage NHL Average Shot Percentage from 1967-68 to 2012-13

^^Awesome charts! League Average Sh% for forwards and defense over time. Love these graphs!

Click here for last week’s show, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, @Hashtag_Hockey


It’s a rainy day in Southern California–a perfect time to stay inside and look at some early returns from the Minnesota Wild’s first three games. I’m having trouble navigating the site, so for now I’ll have to settle with just a basic look at Corsi-related stats. Once I figure out what I’m doing wrong over there I’ll be able to dig deeper and get into some more thorough analysis. All numbers posted below are even-strength.

Top Line: Parise-Koivu-Heatley

The first thing I see is that Mike Yeo has been capitalizing on the club’s three straight home games and using the top line in an opportune way. All three skaters have been started heavily in the offensive zone (65.2% for Parise and Heatley, 62.5% for Koivu) and all have faced soft competition (CorsiRel QoC of around -2.0 to -2.1 for Parise and Heatley and -1.9 for Koivu.) The skaters have jumped on the opportunity and directed pucks on net–Corsi On right around 7 for the wingers and an astounding 19.05 for Koivu. Obviously the sample is small that that’s impressive. The line has looked very good to my eyes, but I see that they haven’t had great puck luck, the three have on ice Sh% just over 4. This line is absolutely driving the Wild offense right now with CorsiRel of 14.5-14.7 for Heatley and Parise, and 31.4 (!!) for Koivu. We’ll see how the coach continues to use the top line on the road, but if the team wants to make the playoffs, they’ll need to get some offense out of the rest of the roster, which brings us to…

Second Line: Cullen-Granlund-Setoguchi

I wrote earlier this week about how I don’t particularly like Cullen on this line, but I see why Yeo has him paired with Granlund. I hope Yeo mixes up the pairings as the season goes on so for now I’ll hold my tongue. This line has been getting the tough competition–CorsiRel QoC of 2.8 for Cullen, 3.0 for Seto, and 3.3 for Granlund! Their possession numbers are paying the price for it, Granlund has a CorsiOn of -4.5 but Cullen (-10.8) and Setoguchi (-13.9) are seeing the ice tilted against them quite severely. Mike Yeo seems to be sheltering Granlund (OZ Start 60%) for sure and Setoguchi a bit (54.5%) with Cullen getting the nod defensively (45.5%). Granlund and Setoguchi have had a bit better luck, but their on ice Sh% are still pretty low (5.88 Setoguchi, 6.667 Granlund, and a big fat goose egg for Cullen.) I’m sure these usage numbers will change as the sample gets larger but I’m surprised to see this line get the brunt of the tough minutes when I thought they would go to better-established two-way players like

Third Line: Bouchard-Brodziak-Clutterbuck

Brodziak and Clutterbuck have a rep for playing solid 200-ft games, so I’m a little surprised to see their middling competition numbers–Bouchard has 0.5 CorsiRelQoC and the others actually negative, though just barely. Bouchard and Clutterbuck have a CorsiOn just over 5 right now while Brodziak is seeing a lot of rubber flying his way, with a -13.3. All three have OZ Start% north of 50 (56.5 Brodziak, 59.1 Clutterbuck, and 61.9 Bouchard) but they are winding up at the other end of the ice–OZ finsih% approaching 40. No es bueno. I like the composition of this line with the three bringing different playstyles to the table, so perhaps they need some more time to gel, but I’ll be keeping an eye on this line because these early numbers point to them being somewhat of a liability.

I don’t really want to get into the fourth line of Powe-Mitchell-Konopka, but the only number I’ll point out is their on ice Sv% of .909 (TM, ZK) and .917 (DP). Ouch.

Blue Line

The Wild blue line is hurting right now, but Jonas Brodin is slated to get the start tonight against Detroit. Scandella is down in Houston but I liked what I saw from him last year so I hope they bring him up soon. Dumba has been practicing with the team but hasn’t seen game action yet–I’d bet the money in my wallet that they don’t burn a year of his ELC but I sure want to see him get a couple games.

Spurgeon and Suter have seen the toughest competition of the defensemen, though their CorsiRelQoC are only about 0.7 to 0.8. Their CorsiOn is not great though, -9.5 for Spurgeon and -16 for Suter. The goalies haven’t helped either, as Suter has an on ice Sv% at .900 and Spurgeon .889. It looks like Spurgeon has drawn a couple penalties, which is good to see, but until the blue line gets a little clearer I don’t think there’s too much to squeeze out of these numbers.

I’m gearing up for continuing my podcast this weekend, should have it ready by Monday–if you have fantasy hockey questions, send them to hashtaghockey [at] gee mail dot com or tweet me @Hashtag_Hockey. Thanks for reading!


Backstrom misplays puck, Erat scores NSH @ MIN 1-22-13

^^Having trouble embedding NHL videos into my blog so here’s the link.

Just a few thoughts on the first three games of the Minnesota Wild season so far–plus the start of a recurring column looking at Wild team possession stats.

  • How much time does it take to turn a Quality Start into a non-Quality Start? For Niklas Backstrom on Tuesday night, it took about seven minutes. Backs played a great game though two periods and change, and then Martin Erat was the beneficiary of a botched 4-on-4 pass from Parise intended for Spurgeon, and Erat was off to the races. Backstrom skated waaaayyy out to the top of the circles and Erat mercifully decided not to go full-Lucic, but Backs mishandled the puck and it turned into a goal. Crappy play but honestly I’m just glad there was no collision and no injury. Backstrom is not the most durable goalie in the world and I’m not quite sure what he was trying to accomplish there. But at that point it was 2-1 against and the Quality Start was preserved even though the team found themselves behind late in the game. I normally try not to target guys from my hometown team on my fantasy squads, but Backstrom was there in like the 18th round so I picked him up. Of course I wanted the Wild to come back and win but I was also aware of Backstrom’s stats, so real late in the game I knew they would give him the hook and he would get tagged with just over a 2 GAA. But then good ol’ Pierre-Marc Bouchard gets called with a questionable slashing call and Mike Yeo has to put Backstrom back in for the PK, and he promptly gave up his third goal of the night with like 17 seconds on the clock. His final line was 0-1, .885 Sv% and 3.03 GAA. I’m not sure I would call it a choke job by Backs because that was just a weird fluky play that never should have happened, but as a proponent of Quality Starts, I feel like his final line wasn’t reflective of how well he played for 53 minutes, but that’s why they play 60.
  • So this Zach Parise guy is prettay, pretttaayy good. I’m sure I’ll examine the Koivu-Parise-Heatley line in the near future, but for now I want to mention the club’s second- and third-lines, though they don’t really look like a clear no. 2 and no. 3 but sort of a hodge podge, with Granlund centering Cullen and Setoguchi on the “second” and Brodziak (YOU’RE MY BOY BLUE) playing the pivot between Bouchard and Clutterbuck on the third. Granlund is looking sharp, he’s a fantastic puck mover and at least so far, he knows how to avoid contact so hopefully he won’t get lit up. I see the value of putting him on a line with Cullen–Granlund could learn a lot from a vet like that but I don’t really think Cullen belongs on that second line. Setoguchi looks great, too. I heard a story about how he got hit by a truck before last season so I’m really liking how he’s played coming in to this year fresh. And the Brodziak-Bouchard-Clutterbuck line is definitely interesting to watch–three guys with three different skill sets but they seem to have good chemistry. Hopefully that line is something that will work out and stay together to do some damage. Brodziak and Clutterbuck are really good two-way players and they have the ability to turn defense into quick offense.
  • Obviously, it’s WAAAY too early to put any meaning into these figures, but I’ll be tracking the Wild’s Fenwick and PDO in this space. As of now, the Wild have played three games with a Fenwick in their favor (.556 vs COL, .526 vs DAL, .513 vs NSH) for a total Fenwick of .533 which is promising. Yeah, Parise is good, I think I mentioned that. I just pulled these numbers myself from game reports and that figure is all-game Fen, not 5v5.
  • PDO, on the other hand, is limited to even-strength, and the club has been playing well but you can’t say they’ve been lucky. Their PDO is right at a normal level, (1.003 vs COL, 1.036 vs DAL, 0.955 vs NSH) for a total PDO of 0.992. I’ll chart these numbers probably starting next week, with just three games a visual look wouldn’t really be anything to look at.
  • I am proud to say I started a fantasy hockey podcast last week, and while I’ll get more into analysis for this season, for the very first few pods I wanted to share some tools that the savvy fantasy player should have in his/her toolbox for smart analysis of players. Episode 1 covers goalie stats, specifically even-strength Sv% as a better indicator of goalie play, and why Quality Starts are better than just W-L record. Check it out!

Thanks for reading, and make sure to follow me on Twitter, @Hashtag_Hockey. Until next time!


***The podcast is embedded in this post. Click the PLAY button above to start listening!!***

Or, if that doesn’t work, here is a direct link to the MP3 file: Hashtag Hockey Podcast Ep 1 Goalies


Today, I launched the Hashtag Hockey Podcast! I talked about how goalies can make or break a fantasy hockey season, and how to look at goalie stats differently than just the simple Win-Loss record, overall Sv% and GAA.

Here are the show notes, with some of the information I presented on the podcast and relevant links:


Even Strength Sv% vs Overall Sv%

DEFINITION: Even strength Sv% is simply a goalie’s Sv% when the game is at 5-vs-5 (not including Power Plays or Penalty Kill). Overall Sv% is the stat used most commonly, a goalie’s Sv% for the whole game.

LINK: A look at Niklas Backstrom’s Even Strength Sv%, from The Providence


Niklas Backstrom

Even Strength Sv%

07-08              08-09              09-10              10-11              11-12

.925                .923                .912                .928                .931

Overall Sv%

07-08              08-09              09-10              10-11              11-12

.920                .923                .903                .916                .919

PP Sv%

07-08              08-09              09-10              10-11              11-12

.905                .918                .880                .859                .864


Jonas Hiller

Even Strength Sv%

07-08              08-09              09-10              10-11              11-12

.940                .910                .930                .931                .915

Overall Sv%

07-08              08-09              09-10              10-11              11-12

.922                .900                .918                .924                .910

PP Sv%

07-08              08-09              09-10              10-11              11-12

.867                .867                .874                .891                .870

Quality Starts Explained

LINK: Hockey Prospectus, Quality Starts 2011-12

LINK: Hockey Prospectus, Quality Starts 2010-11

LINK: Hockey Prospectus, Quality Starts 2009-10

LINK: Hockey Prospectus, Quality Starts original article


Quality Start Definitions:

Quality Start (QS): A game in which the starting goalie records a .917 Sv% or better; OR a game in which the starting goalie allows two or fewer goals and records a .885 Sv% or better. Generally speaking, a team will win around 75% of the games where the goalie posts a QS.

Quality Start Wasted (QSW): A game where the starting goalie records a QS but the team loses the game.

Bailout (BO): A game where the starting goalie does not record a QS but the team wins the game.

Terrible Start (TS): A game where the starting goalie records a Sv% less than .850.

Terrible Start Bail Out (TSBO): A game where the starting goalie records a TS but the team wins the game.

For more on Ev Sv% and QS stats, see some of my earliest posts on Mike Smith, Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak, and Jonathan Quick


Thanks for checking out the podcast, and remember to follow me on Twitter @Hashtag_Hockey

The reason the NFL Playoffs are so fun is that they are completely and totally unpredictable. So why do people like me try to predict them, whether through stats, intuition or otherwise? Because if we’re right, we look smart–and who doesn’t want to look smart. Of course, the converse is that if we’re wrong, we look dumb, and nobody wants that. I felt pretty confident about my picks for last week’s Divisional Weekend, and while the games certainly did not disappoint in terms of their excitement to watch, the outcomes were definitely not what I forecasted. I went 1-3 last week against the spread, and though I’m now even at 4-4 for the playoffs, I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth from last week. We always talk about how anything can happen in the span of one game, but a lot of the action last week really went against the stats.

Recap: Baltimore Ray-vens vs Denver Broncos

Speaking of going against the stats, the Ravens and their best-ranked special teams unit allowed Trindon Holliday to return the first punt of the game for a touchdown, and then the opening kickoff of the second half for another. In fact, the first quarter of the game was packed with as much game-changing plays as I’d seen in probably the entire Wild Card weekend. The Broncos came out of the gates really hot, but in the span of 41 seconds of game time, everything changed. Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 59-yard bomb, and on the first play of the Broncos next possession, Manning throws a pick-six off the hands of Eric Decker! I really liked how Denver looked at the start of the game, but by the end of the game, Peyton just looked old to me. He wasn’t getting nearly as much zip on his passes, and just didn’t look like the Manning of old. Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about that if the Broncos hadn’t completely shit the bed on that 70-yard TD pass with like 40 seconds left. The Denver safety totally misjudged the throw, and the kept showing the replay of him just feebly jumping up in the air like three yards in front of the ball. It’s never fair to pin a loss on just one guy or one play, but the game was locked up–or at least it should have been. Flacco threw for 331 and 3 TDs with no picks, although he was 18 for 34 passing (52.9% comp) while Ray Rice carried the ball 30 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos just liked like the superior team all around going into this game, but the Ravens hung around and eventually won. They sure are giving Ray Lewis a memorable end to his career.

Recap: Green Bay Packers vs San Francisco 49ers

They started this game before the Ravens-Broncos matchup ended, so those of us who wanted to see the overtime get played out missed the early pick six by Sam Shields. While the Packers led after the first quarter, it was the Colin Kaepernick show from there out. Dude threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns AND had 181 rushing yards, including a 20- and 56-yard TD run. Unbelievable. The Niners defense held down the potent Packer offense, limiting them to just 352 yards and a 5-for-12 conversion rate on third down. Despite Green Bay racking up 31 points, this game never felt close after the first quarter, as the 49ers dominated the time of possession 38 minutes to 22.

Recap: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

This game was just crazypants. The Falcons got out to a 20-zip halftime lead, then almost choked it away, then won on a last-second field goal that the Seahawks probably shouldn’t have given up. Russell Wilson showed what a dual-threat he can be, throwing for 385 yards and rushing for 60 more for a total of three TDs and just one turnover, while Matt Ryan picked apart the great Seattle pass defense and effectively spread the ball around–Roddy White had five catches while Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez each had six. Michael Turner continues to be the engine that won’t quit, rushing just 14 times but gaining 98 yards (a nifty 7 YPR.) If the Seahawks hadn’t been so completely confused in the first half the game probably would have ended differently, or if they just would have stopped the Falcons’ last drive they would be playing in the NFC Championship game. Give credit to Matt Ryan for hanging on and making the clutch throws at the end of the game.

Prediction/Player Prop Bets: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons (+5)

The line for this game has been moving toward the Falcons all week, and if it had stayed at 3 or even 3.5 I would certainly be betting on San Francisco. But the way Atlanta beat up on Seattle for the first half of last week’s game and the way they came back to win when it all seemed lost…I’m going to go against the public here and take the points, though I do think the 49ers are the better team and I believe they’ll win the game. No one seems to have any idea how to stop Colin Kaepernick right now, and the way they just dismantled the Packers plus the fact that the Falcons defense has just looked lousy at times makes me think we’re in for another show this weekend. I was going down Bovada’s player prop lines on Kaepernick, thinking…I’d bet the over on most of them but not all:

Colin Kaepernick Props

Pass Attempts: 28.5 (under, barely)

Pass Completions: 17.5 (over, barely)

Pass Yards: 237.5 (over)

Pass TD: 1.5 (over)

Rush Attempts: 7.5 (over)

Rush Yards: 62.5 (over)

Longest Rush: 18.5 (over)

I think he’s going to shred them with his rushing ability, much like he’s done down the stretch and against the Packers. The passing lines are tricky, as I don’t really see him throwing 30+ times because they will feed the ball to Gore and Kaepernick will run quite a bit…but I think he could go like 18-26 or something like, and because he is an accurate downfield passer, I could see one going for 40 or 50, making it easier to get over 240 yards passing.

Frank Gore Props

Rush Yards: 77.5 (over)

Score TD? (Yes-even money)

Matt Ryan Props

Pass Attempts: 37.5 (over)

Pass Completions: 24.5 (over)

Pass Yards: 280.5 (over)

Longest Completion: 39.5 (under)

I think with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez, Ryan will be able to get a good number completions and yards, but I don’t see the Niners allowing a long bomb to get through. Ryan will have to be pinpoint in his midrange throwing to be able to move the ball against a great San Francisco defense–plus with the formidable pass rush the 49ers will bring, I don’t think he will have a lot of time to let long plays develop downfield.

Prediction: I like San Francisco to win the game because I think they are the all-around better team, plus like the rest of the country, I’m in awe of the things Kaepernick can do. But with the line moving to 5 and the way the Falcons played against another good defense last week, I’ll take the points. San Francisco 31, Atlanta 27

Prediction/Player Prop Bets: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-10)

In recent years there has been that one team that plays better than they did during the regular season and has a great run to the Super Bowl. The Packers and Giants are recent examples…and the Ravens are poised to be that team in 2013. Of course, if they don’t make the Big Game, not many people outside of Maryland will remember their run. The Patriots, on the other hand, just keep doing their thing despite being under the spotlight. They’re not a perfect team and they had a couple of disappointing games, but with the personnel and the talent and the Brady-Belichek, they’re almost never the underdog. The point spread here is pretty steep considering how well the Ravens have played, particularly last week against the Broncos (the recency effect is a very real thing and humans can’t help but to put more emphasis on what they’ve observed more recently.) If I was picking straight up I’d definitely roll with the Patriots but that’s a hefty number of points to give to a team that’s playing the part of the Team of Destiny.

Joe Flacco Props

Passing Attempts: 34.5 (over)

Passing Completions: 21.5 (over)

Passing Yards: 275.5 (over)

Passing TD: 1.5 (over)

Longest Completion: 40.5 (under)

Ray Rice Props

Rushing Yards: 77.5 (over)

Receptions: 4 (over)

Receiving Yards: 39.5 (under)

Ray Lewis Props

Tackles + Assists: 10 (over)

Tom Brady Props

Passing Attempts: 38.5 (under)

Passing Completions: 24.5 (under)

Passing Yards: 305.5 (under)

Passing TD: 2.5 (over)

Rushing Yards: 1.5 (over) :D

Longest Completion: 40.5 (under)

Stevan Ridley Props

Rushing Yards: 77.5 (over)

Score TD? Yes (-115)

Joe Flacco Passing Yards (+25) vs Tom Brady Passing Yards: Flacco

Prediction: The Patriots are masters of game planning, and the Ravens are not a youthful team–and they just played a 75-minute game in like 9 degree weather a week ago. I think the Pats’ game plan will be to wear down the Baltimore defense, they won’t be looking for too many explosive plays, which is why I like the unders for Brady’s passing stats. They will look to run the ball with Ridley and possibly Woodhead, and Brady’s pinpoint passing will help in the intermediate game. The Ravens will be able to move the ball on the Patirots and Joe Flacco has looked great the last two weeks, but I think New England will play a bend-but-don’t-break game and wear down the Ravens. I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of last week’s four-TD in the first quarter bonanza, as Baltimore will be tired out of the gates and the Patriots will be methodical in assessing the Ravens’ weak spots. Like a title fight where both fighters circle each other and don’t throw much of anything except jabs, I think this game will be close going into halftime, but New England’s advantage will be their rest and their preparation, and they will win a close game down the stretch. I’ll take the Patriots to win but give me the ten points. New England 37, Baltimore 30


Thanks for reading, and remember to follow me on Twitter, @Hashtag_Hockey

I have been thinking a lot about the NHL season that was recently brought back from the dead (zombie Crosby?) and fantasy hockey in particular, but the NFL playoffs are rolling along too with no less drama and intrigue than we’re used to seeing.

There were no upsets last week, and teams like Houston in particular showing that momentum doesn’t really mean that much in pro sports. I went 3-1 with my picks last week, though I was 1-3 against the spread. At the time, taking the points seemed like a good idea, but that’s why sports betting is such a tricky thing. Without further ado, let’s look back at last week and look ahead to the most exciting weekend of the NFL season.

DVOA statistics come from the number one site for advanced football stats, Football Outsiders.

Recap: Houston Texans 19, Cincinnati Bengals 13

My only upset pick was not an upset at all, as the Texans played a lot more like their early-season selves than the team that limped into the tournament. Houston’s defense in particular looked much better than it did down the stretch, as they held the Bengals to under 200 yards of total offense. I think the single most telling stat from this game is that Cincinnati was zero for nine on third down. You don’t need John Madden to tell you that a team that doesn’t get a lot of first downs isn’t going to score a lot of points. Arian Foster played the role of the workhorse, getting 40 touches (32 carries plus 8 receptions) and the Bengals seemed to forget all about Owen Daniels (9 receptions on 11 targets). Shayne Graham did not miss a kick and JJ Watt did JJ Watt things with five tackles and a sack. The Texans looked like quite the complete team, as they posted a 37% offensive DVOA and a -26% defensive DVOA. Their special teams was pretty mediocre, just 1% ST DVOA, though because they were dead last in that area in the regular season, playing simply average is actually quite the upgrade. Cincinnati’s defense was not bad (3% D-DVOA) but compared to their regular season they didn’t play up to their ability. The Bengals offense, as already discussed, was the real stinker, finishing the game with a -21% O-DVOA. Texans fans are no doubt happy their team righted the ship and the stage is set for a great matchup with the Patriots, but ultimately I don’t think they can keep up with the New England Tom Bradys (more on this later.)

Recap: Green Bay Packers 24, Minnesota Vikings 10

When the news broke late that Christian Ponder would be unavailable for this game, I–along with the NBC talking heads–talked myself into the idea that Joe Webb might actually be able to give the Packers a different and surprising look. After all, Webb looked pretty good in that one game three years ago…and hey, Ponder has looked dreadful at times, so maybe this could be an upgrade. That lasted for all of about five minutes, as Webb led the Vikings down the field for an opening drive field goal. After that, he started doing things that no fan ever wants to see his quarterback do in a preseason game, let alone in the playoffs, such as trying to avoid a sack by throwing the ball straight up into the air. I didn’t think the Vikings would win the game, but I did think they would cover the spread. Football Outsiders wrote that according to DVOA, the game was perhaps closer than the score indicated…but to my eyeballs and everyone else’s the game was just a shellacking. Not much else to say here, so let’s move on you say? Agreed.

Recap: Baltimore Ravens 24, Indianapolis Colts 9

This was destined to be a game where whatever the outcome, the pre-established narrative would take over, whether it be for Chuck Pagano or Ray Lewis. By the numbers, the Colts lived up to their billing as an abysmal defense, posting a 30% D-DVOA (recall that on defense, negative is better.) 30%!! Easily the worst defense played by any team last weekend. The next lowest was the Bengals at 3%, while all other defenses actually played above average. Andrew Luck is great, but don’t forget how bad the team played last year to secure their first-overall pick. For their part, the Ravens played a solid all-around game, with a 24% O-DVOA -11% D-DVOA, and 9% ST-DVOA, the best of any team. They’ll need to keep up that level of play to have any hopes of keeping up with New England…

Recap: Seattle Seahawks 24, Washington Redskins 14

For my money (which was none, the games are all on network,) this game was the most compelling. You had the rookie quarterbacks, the Redskins outplaying the Seahawks at home in the first half, the last game of the week…but it ended up going about exactly as I predicted, with Seattle beating down Washington by the end of the game. Robert Griffin III played his heart out and it was a terrible shame to see him hurt his knee so I won’t belabor the point too much, but the Redskins were just outclassed and outplayed in the second half. The numbers are remarkably similar (SEA: -1% O-DVOA, -18% DVOA; WAS: 0% O-DVOA, -19 D-DVOA) with the only noticeable difference coming on special teams, SEA 7%, WAS -1%. The Seahawks did look very flat in the first half, though, and they will have to play two more road games to get to the Big One, so perhaps they will have a similar situation this weekend vs Atlanta (though I wouldn’t bet on it…)

Preview: Houston at New England (-10)

Patriots Texans div

I don’t know if you know this but the Patriots are pretty good. Pretty…pretty good. They have the second-ranked weighted Offensive DVOA (28.6%) as well as the second-ranked Special Teams DVOA (8.7%). Their defense is mediocre (-0.9%, 16th ranked) but with the firepower on offense and one Bill Belichek they don’t have to worry about giving up 30 points because they will find a way to score at least 31. Houston looked good last week but their numbers are the opposite of New England–the Texans have a great defense (-12.3% weighted D-DVOA, 5th) but terrible special teams (-5.3% ST-DVOA, 31st) and their offense has a number of playmakers but they aren’t performing, -4.6% weighted O-DVOA, 17th. The Texans showed last week that they are capable of playing a solid game, but they also showed that predicting football games is like picking stocks…past performance is not predictive of future results. Arian Foster said after the game that he doesn’t believe in momentum, but that applies here as well. I don’t trust the Texans to put together two good games when they weren’t able to do that over the second half of the season.

The betting line is a different story. The Patriots see a lot of large lines because they keep their foot on the gas and are known to rack up the score. There is a case to be made that the Texans could cover the spread if their defense keeps them in the game or if Matt Schaub can exploit the Pats’ D and try to turn the game into a horse race. But I got burned last week by predicting a couple of non-covers, so if I’m picking New England this week, I’ll go all out. I learned a long time ago not to bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichek.

Prediction: New England win big over the Texans, 34 – 21

Preview: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (-3)

Packers Niners Div

The Packers and Niners have some pretty similar numbers on offense (GB 16.6% weighted O-DVOA, SF 15.3%) and special teams (GB -1.1% weighted ST-DVOA, SF -0.2%) while San Francisco has a modest advantage on defense (SF -13.5% weighted D-DVOA, GB -7.2%). As the playoffs progress and the matchups get better and better, it becomes more difficult to find significant differences in the stats, and the analysis shifts to specific matchups or players. In this case, it’s all about Aaron Rodgers. The guy is an unbelievable quarterback and has shown that he can play against the toughest of opponents. Green Bay has almost no running game to speak of, though DuJuan Harris has played sneaky good over their last two games. The Niners relied on a heavy rushing attack all season, and despite being gashed by Adrian Peterson, the Packers have a decent run defense (118.5 Rush YPG against, 16th.) I don’t really love the quarterback-vs-quarterback breakdown because they’re never on the field at the same time, and Colin Kaepernick certainly has the makings of a good NFL quarterback, but you’re telling me I can get Aaron Rodgers AND three points? Yes please.

Prediction: Close game but Green Bay wins it in the fourth quarter, 27-21

Preview: Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-10)

Broncos Ravens div

CUT THAT MEAT! CUT THAT MEAT! Going into the season, everyone was concerned about Peyton Manning’s six neck surgeries and his nerve damage. But he came back as the Peyton we all watched in Indianapolis for all those years. Denver has the third-best weighted O-DVOA (23.0%) and the second-best weighted D-DVOA (-15.9%) though their special teams is right about average (0.6%, 16th). The Broncos lost Willis McGahee late in the season but Knowshon Moreno stepped right in and didn’t miss a beat. Eric Decker (Minnesota kid) and DeMaryius Thomas have been great this year and their defense is solid, led by Von “Hipster Glasses” Miller.

The Ravens, on the other hand, are still putting up numbers that do not impress. Except for their best-ranked special teams (10.4%), they have been pedestrian on offense and defense. They looked good last week, but remember that if not for the Saints, we would have been talking about how the Colts had the worst defense in the league. Check out the Ravens weighted numbers, which give more precedence to Week 11 and later: 0.6% O-DVOA (14th), -0.3% D-DVOA (18th). Now compare those numbers to just their performance against the colts, 24% O-DVOA, -11 D-DVOA. Think they’ll be able to sustain that against the Broncos and their top-three ranked squads? I surely don’t. The following is pretty obligatory for stats guys: the numbers can’t predict a single game, and on any-given-day, any team can beat any other team. But come on. This is just a mismatch. The Broncos are laying 10 points at home, and I’m sticking with my plan of avoiding non-covers.

Prediction: Broncos outplay the Ravens for four quarters, win 34-17. The Onion kills it here: Joe Flacco Already Preparing Apology to Ray Lewis for Disappointing End to Career

Preview: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (-3)

Seahawks Falcons div

I know Vegas looks at a lot of statistics and advanced numbers, but how are the Seahawks not favored in this game? Seattle has the best overall weighted DVOA (43.9%) as well as the best weighted O-DVOA (29.5%)…better than the Patriots and Broncos. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown, and Russell Wilson (Badger) tacked on 67 more yards against a good Redskins run defense. Their defense is great, and their special teams are top-five as well.

The Falcons won 13 games this year, they won their division by six games, and their point differential was +120 this year. They are a good team (obviously) or they wouldn’t have secured the first-round bye. But the advanced stats show the Falcons as an above-average but not fantastic team. Their overall weighted DVOA 6.1% (13th), weighted O-DVOA (4.4%, 12th), D-DVOA (-2.7%, 14th), and special teams (-1.0%, 19th) all point to them as a team that is going to be undermatched against the Seahawks who are on top of the league in all phases of the game. The Falcons have a bunch of great players on offense, this year was definitely Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ coming-out party, and Roddy White is an amazing wideout who I think we’ll be considering for the HOF one day. Michael Turner is the engine that won’t quit and Tony Gonzalez is like sixty years old but still putting up crazy numbers. The Falcons are at home and will be eager to get a win after getting destroyed by the Giants last year (24-2) and the Packers at home the year before that (48-21). Seattle came out a little flat last week and is certainly missing their incredible home field advantage. But I just think Seattle is the better team all around here, so like the Packers, if you’re telling me I can get the Seahawks and the points, I’ll take that deal faster than you can say “Kimye’s baby.”

Prediction: Seahawks don’t stumble out of the gate this, knock the Falcons around and pull away late in the game, 31-21

Wrap-up: I like the favorites a lot, Patriots and Broncos–Brady v Manning just like the good ol’ days. Aaron Rodgers is too good and the Seahawks are the compleat team. Swallowing the points in the AFC, surprised I can get the Packers, Seahawks with the points.

There is really nothing like the NFL playoffs–each game during the regular season is an event in itself, and the playoffs build up to the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event in the world. The better team usually wins in the NFL playoffs, yet the games still have the “any given Sunday” feel to them.

Today I’ll take a look at the Wild Card weekend matchups and utilize a variety of stats, both simple and advanced, to make my prediction. I’ll also look at the Las Vegas betting lines and make my picks both straight up and against the spread.

The advanced stats I will be presenting are from and their proprietary DVOA system. DVOA takes every play and compares it to similar situations–down and distance, game situation, etc., and then adjusts based on opponent. The result is a percentage representing how much better or worse the team did relative to the average of all teams. For offense and special teams, positive results are good, meaning the team did better than average, and for defense, negative numbers are better, meaning the opponent did worse than average. For a full explanation, click here.

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (-4.5)

Overall DVOA (rank) Weighted DVOA Offensive DVOA Defensive DVOA Spec Teams DVOA
Cincinnati 5.5% (12) 18.0% (7) -1.8% (17) -3.8% (10) 4.1% (7)
Houston 6.6% (11) -3.0% (19) 0.1% (16) -14.2% (3) -7.7% (32)

Cin vs Hou

The Bengals have been getting a bit of recognition over the last couple of years, particularly because of their defense, but I think unless you live in Ohio or have some of their players on your fantasy team *coughAJ Green* you probably don’t know just how good of a year they put together. The Bengals have a rather well-rounded team and finished out the season on a 7-1 clip, thanks in part to their matchup vs the AFC West, but they did knock the Steelers out of the playoffs in week 16 and then beat the Ravens in week 17. AJ Green has made a name for himself as one of the elite receivers in the league, and Andy Dalton is developing nicely, and while he doesn’t have the gaudy stats like Brees or Brady, I like his decision-making. The Bengals have not had much success running the ball this year, and while BenJarvus Green-Ellis doesn’t really scare anyone when healthy, he is nursing a hamstring injury this week.

The Texans have been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons lately, and after they lit the league on fire to start the season, they have played some really subpar football lately. They have a great defense led by the pride of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, JJ Watt, but their linebacking corps has been decimated by injury. Houston has a number of playmakers on offense–I think Matt Schaub is still a bit underrated and they do have Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, but as a team they just haven’t been putting it together over the last month or so. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders took a deep dive inside Houston’s numbers (for ESPN insiders,) and he makes the point that when you have as many things going wrong at the same time like the Texans, it’s hard to turn the ship around.

This is the game that has the most potential for upset this weekend. I am not super confident that the Bengals have the experience to make a playoff run, but the Texans are a very vulnerable team. I’m not willing to lay more than a field goal for a team that has played as badly as the Texans have over the last two weeks.

Prediction: Bengals with the upset

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-9)

Overall DVOA (rank) Weighted DVOA Offensive DVOA Defensive DVOA Spec Teams DVOA
Minnesota 2.0% (14) -1.5% (17) 0.3% (15) 3.1% (21) 4.7% (5)
Green Bay 26.6% (5)% (14) 24.2% (4) 19.5% (3) -7.3% (8) -0.2% (18)

Min vs GB

This rematch of a very exciting week 17 game is getting some pretty lopsided action in Vegas–the line opened at 7.5 points and moved to 9 by press time, meaning almost no one thinks the Vikings can replicate their victory last week. Indeed, the game will be played at Lambeau Field and the Packers will not be resting any of their players as they did at the end of the regular season.

The Vikings had a surprising start to the season, including a major upset of the San Francisco 49ers. In that game, much like in the week 17 game vs Green Bay, Minnesota got out to an early lead and leaned heavily on probable league-MVP Adrian Peterson to take the pressure off Christian Ponder. The Vikings are underdogs by more than a touchdown, but they do have a road map to victory. With Percy Harvin out, I think Minnesota should get back to its West Coast style and exploit the Kyle Rudolph mismatch more than they did to close out the season. The Vikings should be better able to run the play-action than any other team, and while Ponder’s downfield accuracy problems have been well-documented, if they can keep doing what they have been doing and perhaps get a lucky turnover or a special teams swing, they just might be able to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.

The Packers stumbled out of the gate this year but came roaring down the stretch to finish in the top ten in the league in offensive and defensive DVOA, as well as fourth in weighted DVOA. Aaron Rodgers is a fantastic quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes in the red zone (I couldn’t find the stat but his red zone TD/INT ratio is just ungodly,) and while the Packers have had trouble running the ball all year, the Vikings pass defense has been downright lousy.

The stats support Green Bay as a heavy favorite, but Minnesota does have an edge in special teams, ranked fifth in ST DVOA while Green Bay ranks 18th. The teams played two pretty close games this year, and Blair Walsh has not missed a field goal from beyond fifty years, so if it’s another close game, the Vikings could have the advantage.

I think this game will come down to which team can make the other team more one-dimensional than they already are. Adrian Peterson rushed for 409 yards against the Pack this year, while Aaron Rodgers totaled 651 yards and five touchdowns through the air. The Vikings had more to play for last week plus the Packers were resting some of their players, so I’m taking Green Bay to win this game, but getting nine points in a matchup like this is just too good to pass up.

Prediction: Packers win but do not cover.

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens (-6.5)

Overall DVOA (rank) Weighted DVOA Offensive DVOA Defensive DVOA Spec Teams DVOA
Indianapolis -16.0% (25) -14.0% (25) -2.9% (18) 14.0% (31) 0.9% (12)
Baltimore 9.8% (8) 8.3% (11) 3.0% (13) 2.2% (19) 9.0% (1)

Ind vs Bal

The Football Outsiders guys have DVOA data going back to 1991, and according to their most recent write-up, the Colts are the worst team to ever finish with double-digit wins. Andrew Luck has been dynamic, especially late in games where in his rookie season–he posted four fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives. However, the abysmal Colts defense helped put him in position to lead those game-winning drives, as they had the 31st-ranked defense in DVOA, beating only the historically bad New Orleans Saints. By the numbers, the Colts have a mediocre offense, a horrendous defense, and slightly above-average special teams. Plus, their 25th-ranked weighted DVOA suggests they didn’t play their best football down the stretch. Colts fans should hope their good Luck doesn’t run out on them (three cheers for lazy jokes!)

Having said that, the Ravens have not looked that impressive this year. Their offense posted a 3.0% DVOA, good for 13th in the league, and their defense is getting really old, mostly just getting by on name recognition. They played just barely above-average with a 2.2%DVOA and ended the year ranked 19th in the league. Ray Rice has been underutilized this year, and Joe Flacco has posted some good numbers against bad teams, but has not been consistent enough to convince the fans that he is a long-term solution.

There are incredible storylines surrounding both teams, with Chuck Pagano’s incredible battle with Leukemia and Ray Lewis’s retirement announcement coming earlier this week. Indy might be able to sneak past Baltimore this week, but that defense is too much of a liability. The Ravens are playing at home and will be looking to avenge the Billy Cundiff (LACES OUT!!!) fiasco from last year so I will take Baltimore even though they are statistically mediocre. However, I don’t trust them enough to lay 6.5 points.

Prediction: Ravens win but do not cover.

Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins (+3)

Overall DVOA (rank) Weighted DVOA Offensive DVOA Defensive DVOA Spec Teams DVOA
Seattle 38.3% (1) 46.6% (1) 18.5% (4) -14.1% (4) 5.7% (3)
Washington 9.6% (9) 18.1% (6) 15.3% (6) 1.8% (17) -4.0% (27)

Sea vs Was

In what is probably the most anticipated game of this Wild Card weekend, two dynamic rookie quarterbacks face off as the best team by the numbers has to go on the road. Seattle posted the sixth-highest recorded DVOA since 1991 this year, after a 4-4 start that should have been 3-5 if not for the whole replacement referee fiasco. The Seahawks finished the year first in weighted DVOA, and top four in offense, defense, and special teams. They are led by Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, and although they don’t have a ton of household names on either side of the ball, they bring a balanced attack and excellent defense.

The Washington Redskins have one of the most exciting and dynamic rookies in recent memory in Robert Griffin III. Along with fellow rookie Alfred Morris, the Redskins have the league’s leading rushing attack with almost 170 yards per game. Their defense is solid against the run, but they allow over 280 yards per game through the air, and overall they are right in the middle of the pack with a 1.8% defensive DVOA, good for 17th in the league. Plus, their 27th-ranked special teams will not do them any favors.

In a single-elimination game, anything can happen (see: Seahawks over Saints in 2011) which is why they NFL playoffs are such an event. RG3 has the ability to break off a 70-yard run to break a game open, but Seattle is such a balanced team and have been so impressive over the last month (170 points scored, 43 allowed from week 14 through week 17) that I feel very confident laying only three points as Seattle is my lock of the week.

Prediction: Seahawks win big

To sum it all up, the Bengals have the best shot at an upset so getting 4.5 points is a fine bet but I think the game is a coin flip. It pains me to pick against my home team, but the Packers should mop the floor with the Vikings…but since it’s a divisional matchup and the teams have played each other close, I’ll take the points. I don’t trust Baltimore that much so I’d take the points there but it’s easy to pick against the second-worst defense in the league. And Washington is just outclassed in every phase of the game by the Seachickens…if Seattle didn’t have to go on the road three times to get to the Super Bowl, I think they would be getting a bit more love. For now that’s the only game I feel confident enough to lay the points.

or: Why USHL Scoreboard Operator is the Best Job in the World

gambler tee shirt 2

Although I live in Southern California, I was born and raised just outside St. Paul, Minnesota. I went to college in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where I met my lovely and talented girlfriend, Sam. She’s intelligent, funny, clever, and beautiful, but she grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin where she attended Vince Lombardi Middle School. I’m a Vikings fan and she’s a Packer fan, which has been the main source of friction in our relationship.

I starting writing this from “Titletown, USA” where we visited her family after spending Christmas with my family. While Minnesotans love to brag about the State of Hockey, Wisconsinites are famously and justifiably known for having one of the most successful and storied NFL franchises in history. As I write this, the wall opposite me in the living room has a framed share of Packer stock, a photo from the 1997 Super Bowl parade, and a collage of ticket replicas and photos from each of the Packers’ four Super Bowl victories. Sam’s dad has two boxes of Lambeau Field grass from when they re-sodded the field a few years ago, they cut up the old stuff and sold it. One box just wasn’t enough, but three would have been too many…

Lambeau grass

One afternoon, as Sam and her mom were getting ready to host a baby shower for a friend, her dad asked me if I wanted to see a hockey game, and of course, I quickly agreed. I had heard of the local team, the Gamblers, but didn’t really know anything about them, so in the couple hours before puck drop, I did some research. The Green Bay Gamblers have played in the USHL since 1994, and their alumni include a number of big-leaguers like Stu Bickel, Justin Braun, Adam Burish, Ryan Carter (pride of White Bear Lake, MN,) Matt Greene, and Blake Wheeler.

The snow had been coming down steadily all day by the time we left for the arena, and though it was light and powdery, the accumulation would end up at 6.5 inches when it was all said and done. The Gamblers’ arena is literally right next door to Lambeau Field, and we parked at one of the Packers’ practice facilities, Ray Nitschke field. It was a short walk to the arena and I saw a good crowd had make it out to see the Gamblers skate with the Chicago Steel. I saw a ton of Packer shirts, hats, and jackets, but there was a lot more black and yellow Gambler swag than I had anticipated (plus a North Stars hat, a toddler in a Wild jersey, a number of Wisconsin Badger sweaters, and a guy with a Pavel Datsyuk jersey so crisp it had to be a Christmas gift.)

The arena was less than a third full, partly because of the snowstorm and partly because the city was focused on the upcoming Vikings-Packers game. We had great seats, second row from the glass right on the blue line. I had not been that close to the ice before except for Bantam games coached by my brother-in-law, so it was great to take in a game from that vantage point.

The game moved pretty smoothly, with no penalties in the first period and not a single icing call. There was very little hitting, and almost no extra-curricular activity after the whistle. There were hardly any odd-man rushes, and not a lot of setting up in the offensive zone…it was a lot of carrying the puck in and getting a shot and maybe a rebound. Not sure if that’s par for the course for most USHL games or if the guys were just a little sluggish after Christmas.

Having been involved in zone entry tracking for quite a while now, I tend to view any game through that prism and  subconsciously count controlled vs. uncontrolled entries. These teams would chip the puck in deep for a line change here and there, but other than that you could literally count on one hand the number of times both teams attempted a dump-and-chase. Again, since I don’t have a frame of reference I don’t know if this is normal or if these two teams just play more of a carry-and-shoot style.

Midway through the second period, I looked up at the scoreboard and noticed that despite the score being 3-1 Gamblers, the Steel were credited with 21 saves on 21 shots. I thought to myself, “that’s a little strange but the scoreboard guy must have just made a mistake.” Then in the second intermission, as fans were taking part in the Puck Chuck attempting to throw bright orange foam pucks into a coffee can at center ice for some reason, I looked up and saw that the scoreboard was off by more than a couple shots–for  both teams.

I mentioned this to Sam’s dad, saying in as many words that the scoreboard guy must be watching a different game than the rest of us. At this point, a 20-year old kid with an extra-large cubic zirconium earring and a fur-lined Aeropostale coat turned around and explained (not unkindly) that they counted some missed shots as shots on goal. “Like if he misses the net but it’s pretty close, they’ll count that as a shot.” I was pretty sure there was no way that was correct, at least not for the official stats…but I didn’t argue with the diamond earring kid because he was nice enough and it didn’t seem like the right time or place to get into a fancy stats debate.

For the entire third period I watched the scoreboard more than the game and tried to wrap my head around the “some missed shots count as shots but some don’t” theory. I know there is a hazy differentiation between shots and scoring chances, both by the NHL and Elias, but I  was unable to come up with even a working model that explained the sloppy scoreboard-keeping (the three craft beers I had before the game and the 32-ounce Miller Lite from the concession stand didn’t help.)

So the game ended and the fans went home happy because the Gamblers won 6-3, earning everyone a free hot dog from the bar next door for scoring 5+ goals and free nachos for scoring a shorthanded goal (this one game with an empty net, but as the Lonely Island taught us, STILL COUNTS!)

I snapped a picture of the scoreboard before we went home so I could compare to the official score:

GB Gamblers Scoreboard

The official line for Gamblers netminder Michael Rotolo is 26 saves on 29 shots, good for a .897 Sv%. The scoreboard guy has the correct number of saves but an inflated number of shots, which would lead me to believe that he was in fact counting near misses as shots or perhaps scoring chances.

But the numbers for Steel backstop Alex Sakellaropoulos are completely out of whack: the official scoresheet has him 34 for 39 (.872) while our friend working the scoreboard again has the right number of saves but either had some acute narcolepsy or a faulty Shot button, because by his count, Sakellaropoulos made 34 saves on just 29 shots, good for a 1.172 Sv%. I’d say that’s prettaaaay, prettaaaay good.

To sum it all up, here’s what I learned: 1) in addition to a rabid NFL fanbase, the good people of Green Bay, Wisconsin have some darn good ice hockey fans, and 2) if this stats thing doesn’t work out for me, I’m going to become a scoreboard operator, because as long as you get the final score right, only nerdy guys like me will notice if you botch the rest of it.

gamblers action