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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
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Q&A: What Offseason Factors Best Indicate a Team's Stability, Improvement, or Decline from Year to Year?
Week 2

Last Week's Question: What Offseason Factors Best Indicate a Team's Stability, Improvement, or Decline from Year to Year?

In last week's column, I suggested that there is a lot of guesswork when it comes to assessing how well or poorly various NFL franchises navigate the offseason. For example, back in 2005, I was one of many analysts who gave the Dolphins high marks for hiring Nick Saban as the head coach. When the Dolphins missed the playoffs in his first year, I had to back off my enthusiasm for Saban. And when he abruptly departed for Alabama in 2007, I saw that what had initially struck me as a windfall for Miami was really nothing but a protracted disruption.

Any time a team gets a new head coach, writers and observers are happy to grade the team on its choice. Jerry Jones got high marks from plenty of Dallas fans for hiring Bill Parcells (who never won a playoff game with the Cowboys, much less a Super Bowl). Wayne Weaver got high marks from most Jaguar fans for firing Tom Coughlin (who went on to win a Super Bowl with the Giants while his replacement in Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio, has only made the playoffs twice in eight years without so much as sniffing a championship). No one goes back to grade the analysts on the grades that they assign to franchises, and the result is that we are allowed to keep making the same mistakes in our offseason assessments year after year.

I asked for readers to make specific predictions about the offseason moves of particular teams and to explain their reasons, but clearly not all readers understood my request. It was marginally funny (but not enlightening) to learn that the Cowboys will continue to suck because Romo is still a homo. And I think one reader was trying to be funny by saying that the Eagles will not win a game this season because Michael Vick is evil. Maybe it wasn't supposed to be funny, but creepy. Whatever that assertion was supposed to be, it was not the sort of response I was looking for.

In light of what passes for "reasoning" with some readers, I am particularly grateful to Ken for taking the time to develop his thoughts in response to last week's question:

When thinking about offseason changes, I'm certainly not any better than anyone else. However, pretty much everyone else sucks as well. I think conventional wisdom, which is always a big part of FF offseason chatter, is more jacked up around this issue than most other aspects of the game. I think this might be because information is so limited and controlled - and it's also pretty unclear to the teams themselves, I think. Anyway, here are my answers to the questions you pose, and you'll sense a couple of themes here:

Team 1 - Colts - (made payoffs last year, but won't this year). I have to say I'm taking the easy call here, but I'm contrasting it to team 3. The Colts will miss the playoffs because of the injury to Manning, but that's a little like saying I'm going to miss a mortgage payment because my 13-year-old car broke down. At some point, the car is going to break down, and the question is going to be whether or not you have prepared adequately for that eventuality. This year, the Colts will pay the price for not having looked ahead. Manning has made some pretty average receivers elite; the idea that you have possibly the smartest QB to ever play the game and you do not have him mentor a younger QB with elite potential [suggests an astonishing] lack of foresight. Who knew a professional football player might miss games at some point during 13 seasons? As a bonus pick, my reach here is the Eagles. They might have a great defense, but they did not address the O-line sufficiently--and as a result might suffer some serious and surprising consequences.

Team 2 - Redskins - (missed playoffs last year, but will make the cut this year). Why? They got rid of distractions, but most importantly they continued to build on their core strength, the run game (which happens to be a traditional strength of the team). Their O-Line stayed together and was ready as soon as camp began. They traded for a runner who could excel in the system, and they made sure they are stocked at backups in case of injury. Compare the stable this year to last year, and the contrast with the Colts is overwhelming. The other issue is that by focusing on the run game, they can cover a multitude of sins. Have a suspect defense? Slow down the game and limit scoring opportunities for the opponent. Have a question at QB? Have him hand off the ball 60-65% of the time. The 4th quarter against the Skins could suck for a number of teams. (BTW, I am a Cowboys fan, so it really hurts to say all of this.)

P.S. The Chargers are the obvious answer here, and a correct one, I think. They kept their core strengths intact and added pieces to the defense that are no big deal if they don't pan out, but could be dramatic upgrades. But that would be too easy of a call.

Team 3 - Patriots - (continuity). Ok, here I am taking the easy call. The Patriots (who I dislike with a passion usually reserved for lawyers and virii) are an unbelievably well-run organization. Not only do they have the star, a la Indianapolis, but they are able to trust that star power to keep egos in line (allowing them to bring in reclamation projects such as Haynesworth and Ocho) as well as mentor very capable backups. Everyone knows Cassell, but when I watched Mallett this preseason, I was shocked. He might be the best of this year's crop when all is said in done, in part because he is getting to learn from one of the best in the game. So yeah, they are dirty and they cheat, and I root against them. But they know how to keep an organization on top year after year. They are insulated against the inevitable injury because the franchise player helps to develop his own capable backup. They could suffer 5 injuries at the skill positions and still make the playoffs.

Thanks Ken for the coherent, reasoned feedback. I look forward to reviewing your predictions at the end of the season. My gut tells me that you may be overemphasizing the offensive line in your assessment of the Eagles (as Vick's mobility can certainly compensate for breakdowns and missed blocks), but time will tell.

This Week's Question: What is the best glossary of fantasy football terminology available for public consumption on the internet?

This week's question is inspired by David, who wrote in to ask about the etymology of "handcuffing" in fantasy football:

My brother isn't into fantasy sports, but I was telling him the story of how I totally conquered our draft last night . . . including the detail of getting both MJD and his handcuff Deji Karim. He asked, "What does handcuff mean?" I told him it was the guy who backs up a player on the NFL team, so if the main guy goes down to injury or incarceration, you [already have his replacement on your roster]. And he asked, "Ok, but why do they call that handcuffing? It sounds more like an insurance policy." After two hours of googling, I couldn't really convince him that the term makes a lick of sense.

What do you think? What's the connection between shackles that a criminal wears and a reserve player?

I fear I can't be much help on this question. I have written about handcuffs in FF in various columns over the years, but I confess I have not given the term itself much thought. I don't remember making an effort to learn the word, so its meaning must have been contextually clear to me the first time I encountered it. Still it does seem an odd lexical choice now that David brings it to my attention.

A query to FFToday's Mike Krueger about who first popularized the use of the term yielded this response: "I would say it's grown in popularity and become commonplace as an ff term over the last 4-5 years, but [I am unsure of its] origin."

I will be happy to include specific responses to David's question in next week's column, but I thought a broader question about fantasy football terminology might be interesting to readers of this column.

When I googled "fantasy football terminology," I was surprised at the number of glossaries there were to choose from. The second link in my search took me to a printer-friendly list of terms compiled by Ron Knight. Knight's list is easy to read, organized alphabetically, and useful--but he has no entry for "handcuff." Martin Signore's list of fantasy football terms (on the "For Dummies" website: defines a handcuff, but is far less thorough than Knight's (omitting key terms such as RBBC and dynasty leagues). I suspect that somewhere out there lurks a commissioner who has put together a fantasy football glossary as a labor of love. Perhaps his website doesn't get enough traffic to get a high score on the standard web search. If you know of such a glossary, please bring it to my attention (with a link and a brief explanation of what makes it useful).

Last Man Standing - Week 1 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Week #1 was exactly what everyone had hoped that it would be: exciting. The big upset of the week was the Bills' win in Kansas City, which looked bad from the beginning with the Chiefs fumbling the opening kickoff. The Chargers started off the same way that last season ended; a kickoff return given up for a touchdown put them down 7-0 immediately--and to add INJURY to insult (that is not a typo), they lost Kaeding for the season with a torn ACL trying to tackle the return man.

Trap Game:

I don't believe that there truly is one this week. I say this because if you are going to be like 90-95 of your LMS competitors, the smart bet is on the Steelers. It's for that reason alone that your "spidey" sense should be up. The fans will just "will" the Steelers to a win if they are behind at the end of this game. It would be very unusual to see them come out of the gate 0-2 in a division in which they are already one game behind the Ravens.

#3 GB over Carolina (0-1 KC):

Green Bay will be an easy pick most of the season, but there is not a great reason to use them this week after their extended rest coming off the Thursday night win over New Orleans. Cam Newton introduced the Carolina faithful to an upbeat, emotional game in which he broke the debut passing record of Peyton Manning by throwing for 422 yards. This game should be a treat for Carolina fans who didn't have much to cheer for last year. Maybe the Panthers will be lucky enough to do what the Saints couldn't do on Thursday and pull off a come-from-behind win in the last minute. But it's more realistic that Mr. Newton will be schooled by a Green Bay defense that had almost 3 sacks per game in 2010.

#2: Detroit over KC (1-0 AZ):

Matthew Stafford racked up 305 yards against Tampa Bay in Week 1. He has to be looking forward to the chance to play a Kansas City team that yielded 4 passing TDs to the Buffalo Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Chiefs played horribly at home in their opener, and it is difficult to see why their performance will improve without Eric Berry in the secondary when they travel to Detroit. Wish Matt Cassell and Jamal Charles luck; they will need it.

#1 Pittsburgh over Seattle (1-0 SD):

Pete Carroll's Seahawks are in a tough spot. They know they played poorly against a division rival in Week 1--and now must face a Steelers team that has something to prove. The Steelers received a drubbing at the hands of the Ravens in a game that Steeler fans will do their best to forget until the rematch in Week 9. Pittsburgh has ground to make up--and should start the recovery process against a Seahawk team that fared poorly against a 49er offense that isn't nearly as good as that of Pittsburgh. The Seahawks only gave up 209 yards to Frisco, but Ben Roethlisberger is a lot better than Alex Smith. The Steelers should win this one running away (on offense and defense). If they don't, it would be an even better bet that 90% of Survivor/LMS Pools will be cleaned out.

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.