The Pi-Rate Ratings

January 30, 2009

PiRate Ratings Super Bowl 43 Preview

Super Bowl 43 Preview

 

Do a little search on the Internet; read your local paper; listen to the radio; watch ESPN for hours.  You get the same positional breakdown of Super Bowl 43 in Tampa.  Every one of these breakdowns compare Kurt Warner to Ben Roethlisberger and determine which team has the edge.  Then, they proceed to do this for all the other positions.

 

Tell me something.  At what point in the game will Warner and Roethlishberger line up against each other on a scrimmage play?  I can only think of one time where they will be competing directly against each other, and that will be on the coin flip.  I don’t think we can determine much from that.

 

On this preview, we here at the PiRate Ratings will analyze the positions as the players actually line up against.  In other words, we will analyze Kurt Warner against the Steeler’s pass defense.

 

Let’s start with the usual statistics you see here each week.

 

­ The PiRate Pro Ratings (Rating)

 

The NFL version of the PiRate Ratings is not the same as the collegiate version.  The NFL version is strictly a statistical formula than could be reproduced by anybody who knew the equations I use to devise the formula.  No subjective data is used.

 

The formula combines scoring margin, strength of schedule, and early in the season, last year’s scoring margin and strength of schedule.  As the season progresses, last year’s data decreases to where it has little effect by mid-October. 

 

 

The Mean Ratings (Mean)

 

Just like the PiRate Ratings, the NFL Mean Ratings are not the same as the collegiate version.  The NFL Mean Ratings consist of a dozen different calculations.  Three calculations consist of different ways to look at point differential and strength of schedule.  Five calculations look at yards gained and allowed rushing and passing and special teams play with the strength of the opponents’ rushing and passing.  Point values are assigned based on each set of data.  The remaining four ratings are my old four pro ratings from the 1970’s and 1980’s.  The 12 ratings are given equal weight, and then I take the average (mean) to get the rating.

 

The Bias Ratings (Biased)

 

The Bias Ratings consist of five of the components of The Mean Ratings.  The five ratings are not given equal weight.  The five ratings are weighted at 37.5%, 25%, 12.5%, 12.5%, and 12.5%.  I have back tested these ratings and found that this weighting gives the rating its best predictive percentage.

 

All three ratings are normalized so that 100 is average.  If I don’t mess up with the math, each of the three ratings should average 100.  The teams’ ratings show how many points above or below average they are in comparison with the rest of the league.  A rating of 107 means that team is a touchdown better than average, while a rating of 93 means that team is a touchdown weaker than average.

 

Super Bowl Ratings

PiRate:  Pittsburgh by 11.3

Mean:    Pittsburgh by 9.7

Bias:      Pittsburgh by 7.2

 

Game Simulations

100 Sims:            Pittsburgh 53  Arizona 47

Average Score:    Pittsburgh 27  Arizona 25

Outlier 1a Sim:    Pittsburgh 30  Arizona 10

Outlier 1b Sim:    Arizona 31  Pittsburgh 16

 

Las Vegas

Line:             Pittsburgh is favored by 6½ or 7 points, depending on the book

 

Totals:          Again, depending on the book, you can find the totals for this game at 46½, 47, or 47½

 

Moneyline:    If you want to take Pittsburgh, the best moneyline odds you can find are -210 on multiple offshore books, while the best Vegas odds are -220.

 

                     If you want to take Arizona, the best odds you can find are +200

 

Weather Forecast For Tampa

How about perfect football weather?  It should be partly cloudy skies, a light wind out of the east southeast (less than 10 MPH) with temperatures starting out around 65 at kickoff and dropping to around 60 by game’s end.  It will be a little on the humid side, and there’s always a chance of rain (about 10% or less).

 

The Matchups

 

When Pittsburgh Runs The Ball

 

Steeler Run Blockers

LT:  78-Max Starks           

LG:  68-Chris Kemoeatu   

C:    62-Justin Hartwig

RG: 72-Darnell Stapleton

RT:  74-Willie Colon

TE:  83-Heath Miller & 89-Matt Spaeth

FB:  38-Carey Davis

 

Steeler Rushers

TB:  39-Willie Parker & 21 Mewelde Moore

 

Cardinal Defensive Line

RE:  55-Travis Laboy

RT:  90-Darnell Dockett

NT:  97-Bryan Robinson

LE:  94-Antonio Smith

 

Cardinal Linebackers

Will LB:  58-Karlos Dansby

Mike LB: 54-Gerald Hayes

Sam LB: 56-Cheake Okeafor

 

This is not the Steelers’ strong point this year.  Against good defensive front seven’s, the run blocking has fallen apart and even broken down at times. 

 

The Cardinals have performed quite well against the run in the playoffs, but the run stoppers were average or a little better during the regular season.  I tend to give about three times more importance to the playoffs when diagnosing unit vs. unit comparisons.  Arizona won’t stop the Pittsburgh running game like Baltimore did, but I expect the Cardinals to give up between 80 and 110 rushing yards in this game.  The key here is how the defense will perform in short yardage situations, as the Steelers will try to run the ball straight up the gut and force Gerald Hayes to stop them.  One thing is for sure:  the Steelers will not run the ball at Darnell Dockett; look for them to run toward Travis Laboy and up the middle.

 

When Pittsburgh Passes The Ball

 

Steeler Passers/Receivers

QB:        7-Ben Roethlisberger & 4-Byron Leftwich

WR:       86-Hines Ward & 85-Nate Washington

WR:       10-Santonio Holmes & 14-Limas Sweed

 

Cardinal Secondary

LCB:              26-Rod Hood & 20-Ralph Brown

SS:         24-Adrian Wilson & 47-Aaron Francisco

FS:         21-Antrel Rolle & 22-Matt Ware

RCB:      29 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie & 27-Michael Adams

 

Here is where the game will be decided.  We have a rare Super Bowl game where both quarterbacks already sport Super Bowl Championship rings.  Roethlisberger is a better quarterback now than he was when he led the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL.  However, the pass blockers are not close to as competent as that 2005 team.  Big Ben has taken a lot of punishment throughout the 2008-09 season, and he will be facing a pass rush that is almost as good as the Ravens and Titans. 

 

The Cardinals will send a linebacker or two or three on a host of red dogs and combination stunts, and I expect Roethlishberger to go down at least twice if not four or five times.  There’s always a chance that he will be shaken up and miss some playing time.  There’s also a chance that he could throw a wild pass due to the pressure.

 

Rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been the secondary star of the playoffs for Arizona.  He will keep Santonio Holmes from getting open deep on the sideline.  The Cardinals safeties plus Gerald Hayes will offer little open space in the deep middle.

 

The key here is the health of Hines Ward.  If he is not close to 100%, then I believe the Steelers are in trouble.  Without him, their passing game falls below average, and I don’t think Pittsburgh can win this game with Willie Parker trying to emulate Franco Harris. 

 

Note: The 100 simulations did not factor in the health problems of Ward and assumed every starter was 100% healthy. 

 

When Arizona Runs The Ball

 

Cardinal Run Blockers

LT:  69-Mike Gandy

LG:  74-Reggie Wells

C:    63-Larry Sendlein

RG: 76-Deuce Lutui

RT:  75-Levi Brown

TE:  82-Leonard Pope & 89-Ben Patrick

FB:  45-Terrelle Smith

 

Cardinal Rushers

TB:  32-Edgerrin James & 34-Tim Hightower

 

Steeler Defensive Line

LE:  91-Aaron Smith

NT:  98-Casey Hampton

RE:  99-Brett Keisel

 

Steeler Linebackers

Sam LB: 56-LaMarr Woodley

Mike LB: 51-James Farrior

Mac LB:  50-Larry Foote & 94-Lawrence Timmons

Will LB:  92-James Harrison

 

Arizona‘s run blocking has improved by leaps and bounds in the playoff run.  Make no mistake about it; Edgerrin James has returned to form because he has had ample running room.  He is still relatively fresh as he didn’t get many carries during the regular season.  Think of a well-rested starting pitcher in the World Series.

 

Pittsburgh‘s run defense is close to the top of the NFL if not the best.  The beefy front three occupy a lot of space at the line of scrimmage, and they can keep the enemy offensive line away from their fabulous quartet of run-stopping linebackers.  I believe the Steelers will contain the Cardinal running game for most of the evening.

 

When Arizona Passes The Ball

 

Cardinal Passers/Receivers

QB:        13-Kurt Warner & 7-Matt Leinart

WR:        11-Larry Fitzgerald & 85-Jerheme Urban

WR:       81-Anquan Boldin & 15-Steve Breaston

 

Steeler Secondary

LCB:              24-Ike Taylor & 22-William Gay

SS:         43-Troy Polamalu & 23-Tyrone Carter

FS:         25-Ryan Clark & 27-Anthony Smith

RCB:      26-Deshea Townsend & 20-Bryant McFadden

 

This is going to be a great contest of strength versus strength.  Warner and his bevy of receivers are made much more potent by an excellent pass blocking corps.  Give Warner three seconds, and he can tear apart even the best secondary.  Fitzgerald and Boldin can stretch defenses out enough to open seams in the short zones and make the running game better as well.  Warner should pass for more than 250 yards in this game.  If he tops 275 and throws no interceptions, look for the Cardinals to be hoisting the trophy Sunday night.

 

The Steelers will try to unnerve Warner by throwing a bevy of blitz schemes.  They have the horses to get to him, but they will also leave themselves vulnerable to a big play if the Cardinals pick up the blitz and stop the pressure.  It isn’t wise to leave Fitzgerald or Boldin in single coverage.

 

All-in-all, I look for this to be an even match.  Warner will hurt the Steelers with his arm about half the time he drops back to pass, and the Steelers will defend the pass well the other half. 

 

Special Teams Play

 

I tend to downplay special teams play in the Super Bowl.  Usually, both teams are well-equipped to eliminate big plays if they have gotten this far.

 

There is a small chance that Arizona could capitalize a little bit here.  The Steelers have not covered punts or kickoffs all that well as of late, and the Cardinals have ample weapons to exploit any openings. 

 

Steeler punter Mitch Berger’s punting has left a lot to be desired in the last few games.

 

Both place-kickers are above average, and I see no real advantages here.

 

Coaching

 

Can Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau find a way to stop the vaunted Arizona passing game in two week’s preparation time?  The answer is definitely a yes, but strategy alone may not be enough to actually stop it.  I could devise a plan to beat Lebron James in a game of 1 on 1, but that plan wouldn’t stand a chance if I didn’t have Marcus Camby or Kevin Garnett as my defender.

 

The Steelers have enough Camby’s and Garnett’s to slow down the Arizona offense, but their own offense may not be adequate enough to outscore the Cardinals.

 

Summary

 

If you have read this blog at all during the 2008-09 NFL season, you know we at the PiRate Ratings love to be contrarians.  It is the overwhelming consensus here that Arizona will pull off the upset and win a close game Sunday. 

 

In a majority of past Super Bowls, the team that strikes quickly with either early offense or a big scoring surge in the second quarter, is the team that wins this game.

 

Pittsburgh is more likely to try to force a 13-10 game, while Arizona may come out more loose and try to make this look like an AFL Championship Game from the 1960’s.

 

The way we see it here is that after a dull first quarter, the Cardinals will score double digit points in the second quarter and take a nice halftime lead.

 

At this point, Roethlisberger will have to take to the air, and the Steelers will begin to score in the second half.  Pittsburgh will have to win this game with a comeback in the final period.  We believe they will have the ball late in the game with a chance to win it at the end.

 

There are five of us here who contribute to this blog.  Two of us believe the Cardinals will win by a score similar to 28-24.  Two of us believe the Steelers will win by a similar score.  The fifth, who is the originator of this blog, believes this could be the first overtime game in Super Bowl history and could be decided by the coin flip and a field goal attempt.

 

The Infamous Ads

 

We’ve turned this section over to our E-mail friend Ari, who is an insider in the entertainment business.  Here’s what she wrote:

 

The $3 million for each 30-second commercial is a bargain in my opinion.  The entire world will be watching, and unlike any other time, many will purposely be watching to actually view the commercials rather than the programming.  The advertisers will gear many of their ads to the women watching.

 

My personal favorite most years has been GoDaddy.com.  They only advertise one day a year, and they put all of their eggs in the Super Bowl basket.  It has worked well for them.

 

I am a softie for animals, and this year Pedigree will air Super Bowl ads for the first time ever.  Without spoiling the ad for you, it involves exotic animals and why you should never own them.  It left me wanting more.

 

Coke and Pepsi will have an ad war in this game, but Pepsi already won when they anted up to keep Coke out of the entire first half.  I’ve seen both of their ads, and I think they will not deliver what they hope to deliver.  There is a remake of the old Mean Joe Greene football jersey throw from years ago, but this one involves a current Steeler player.  Don’t ask me who he is, since I don’t know anything about the teams other than Matt Leinart.

 

Denny’s has a couple of different ads.  One is really good, while the other is so-so.

 

GoDaddy’s this year has two different ads.  One will air depending on a vote by the public.  You will have to go online to see the “shocking” conclusion to see what happens with Danica Patrick.  Spoiler Alert:  Don’t count on the conclusion being what it’s hyped to be.  Danica isn’t one of Hef’s girls.

 

Heineken and Budweiser will have an undeclared war in this game.  Bud goes for the theatrics, while Heineken features one of my favorite actors, John Turturro, in a classy 30-second spot.  You have to “read between the lines” to “get it.”

 

The predicted winner of this years ads war might be Sobe.  They will air a 3-D commercial, and you will need to get yourself some 3-D glasses.  It will be the most talked-about ad on Monday morning, and regardless of whether the talk is positive or negative, you will still remember the Sobe brand name this summer.

 

Our thanks go to Ari for her candid comments.

January 16, 2009

PiRate Ratings For The NFL Conference Championship Games–January 18, 2009

PiRate Ratings For NFL Playoffs

Conference Championship Games: January 18, 2009

 

We’re down to the Final Four of the NFL, and I got it right for once.  Last week, I picked the Ravens, Steelers, Cardinals, and Eagles to win, and they won for the reasons I postulated here.

 

As I mentioned in the last two weeks’ NFL previews, I pick games in the playoffs by trying to determine which teams have distinct advantages.  Let’s start by trying to figure out these distinct advantages by finding what consistently works in the NFL post-season.  In the old days, it was all about running the ball and stopping the run.  Today, it’s mostly about passing the ball and stopping the pass.  The days of winning by running it down the throats of the defense have come and gone.  When a team gets to the playoffs, they have good enough defenses to avoid getting burned for 200 rushing yards.

 

Let me clarify what I mean by passing and pass defense.  This is not merely an exercise to find which teams pass for the most yards.  The key here is to find the team that has a passing attack that cannot be stopped.  It might be a team that throws the ball 25 times a game, and it might be a team that throws the ball 40 times a game.  I dare say that if team A passes the ball 25 times and completes 15 passes for 240 yards, while their opponent passes the ball 40 times and completes 24 passes for 240 yards, then team A has enjoyed a much better day.  Team A will win most of the time in this instance.

 

Look at it this way.  If a team can complete 33% of its passes by completing one pass and then throwing two incomplete passes, and they always pick up 12 yards per completion, then they are unstoppable.  If they start at their own 28 yard line, they will score a touchdown in 16 plays.

 

Here’s another adjustment I use in figuring passing strength.  When you see a quarterback throw the ball to a back in the backfield, and the back picks up three yards, do not count that as passing yards.  The swing pass to the back who then sweeps around the perimeter and picks up or loses yardage is the 21st Century version of the old Lombardi Sweep.  It is a pass in name only.  The difference is merely in the manner the quarterback delivers the ball to the back.

 

The running game isn’t to be totally dismissed.  It’s just that I am looking for something a little different than rushing average and rushing yardage.  I’m looking for teams that can count on their running attack to get the job done on 3rd and short and when they are within three yards of pay dirt.

 

Let’s say team A averages 3.7 yards per rush, while team B averages 4.4 yards per rush.  Team B isn’t necessarily a more potent running team.  Let’s say that in 10 rushing attempts, team B rushed for 8, 6, 7, 9, 4, 5, 5, 2, 1, and -3.  If you give the ball to team B at their 20 yard line, and they ran the ball 10 consecutive times, resulting in the above order, team B would have picked up three first downs and faced 4th and 10 at other team’s 36 yard line. 

 

Now, let’s say team A with their 3.7 yard average ran the ball 10 consecutive times and picked up 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 4, 3, 4, and 4.  Starting at their 20 yard line, team A would have picked up three first downs and had the ball 2nd & 6 at the opponents’ 43 yard line.  Team A’s running attack would be considered almost impossible to stop, whereas Team B’s running attack would have been stopped.

 

It’s the teams that can pick up the bulk of their yards passing the ball down the field and counting on their running games to pick up the critical yards in short yardage situations that score in the playoffs.  Defensively, it’s the teams that can curtail the opponent’s passing games and stop the opponent’s running games in critical situations that stop teams in the playoffs.

 

Special teams, penalties, turnovers, and the like play a part in deciding playoff games.  I consider interceptions as part of the pass defense equation I described above.  I consider forced fumbles as part of both pass and run defense.  Special teams rarely decide playoff games, and penalties may determine a playoff outcome only once every 25 years.

 

The PiRate Pro Ratings (Rating)

 

The NFL version of the PiRate Ratings is not the same as the collegiate version.  The NFL version is strictly a statistical formula than could be reproduced by anybody who knew the equations I use to devise the formula.  No subjective data is used.

 

The formula combines scoring margin, strength of schedule, and early in the season, last year’s scoring margin and strength of schedule.  As the season progresses, last year’s data decreases to where it has little effect by mid-October. 

 

 

The Mean Ratings (Mean)

 

Just like the PiRate Ratings, the NFL Mean Ratings are not the same as the collegiate version.  The NFL Mean Ratings consist of a dozen different calculations.  Three calculations consist of different ways to look at point differential and strength of schedule.  Five calculations look at yards gained and allowed rushing and passing and special teams play with the strength of the opponents’ rushing and passing.  Point values are assigned based on each set of data.  The remaining four ratings are my old four pro ratings from the 1970’s and 1980’s.  The 12 ratings are given equal weight, and then I take the average (mean) to get the rating.

 

The Bias Ratings (Biased)

 

The Bias Ratings consist of five of the components of The Mean Ratings.  The five ratings are not given equal weight.  The five ratings are weighted at 37.5%, 25%, 12.5%, 12.5%, and 12.5%.  I have back tested these ratings and found that this weighting gives the rating its best predictive percentage.

 

All three ratings are normalized so that 100 is average.  If I don’t mess up with the math, each of the three ratings should average 100.  The teams’ ratings show how many points above or below average they are in comparison with the rest of the league.  A rating of 107 means that team is a touchdown better than average, while a rating of 93 means that team is a touchdown weaker than average. 

 

I do not attempt to rate teams from different years.  A 107-rated team in 2008 is not the same as a 107-rated team from 1972.  We all know that due to the evolution of strength and quickness, today’s Detroit Lions would blow the 1972 Miami Dolphins off the field.

 

Notes

Weather forecasts and odds are those as of Friday, January 16, 2009, 12 Noon EST

 

In December, I listed multiple odds from multiple Vegas and offshore books.  For the playoffs, I have decided to list the odds from the Sports Pit at Harrah’s in Las Vegas. 

 

Average Simulation Scores for each game are now rounded to nearest whole number.

 

 

Game Previews

 

SUNDAY, JANUARY 18, 2009

 

Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals

Time:           3:00 PM EST

TV:               Fox

Forecast:     Sunny, light winds, temperatures in the upper 70’s (But roof likely to be closed for maximum noise)

 

PiRate:                Philadelphia by 7

Mean:                  Philadelphia by 3

Bias:                    Tossup

 

Vegas:               Philadelphia by 3½      

Ov/Un:               47

Money Line:       Phil -190     Ari +165

 

100 Sims:           Arizona 50  Philadelphia 50

Avg Sim Score:  Arizona 27  Philadelphia 27

Outlier 1a Sim:  Arizona 38  Philadelphia 19

Outlier 1b Sim:  Philadelphia 41  Arizona 17

The last time two teams met in the game before the Super Bowl and neither team won double digit games in the regular season was 1967, when the 9-4-1 Green Bay Packers defeated the 9-5-0 Dallas Cowboys in the infamous Ice Bowl game at Lambeau Field.  The weather will be much more comfortable some 41 years later.

 

These teams met on Thanksgiving night, and the Eagles annihilated the Cardinals by four touchdowns.  Look for the home team to be ready to exact revenge. 

 

In the five games where Philadelphia scored 17 points or less, Donovan McNabb was held in check by the opposing pass defense.  He averaged less than 5.5 yards per attempt in those games, and he was forced to throw several dump passes that got his team nowhere.

 

Can the Cardinal defense force McNabb into one of those poor passing games?  The first time around, McNabb had one of his best passing games ever.  He tossed four touchdown passes and completed nearly 70% of his attempts.  Many passes converted key third downs that day.  The Cardinals looked much better defensively last week when they stopped Jake Delhomme in Charlotte. 

 

Kurt Warner’s two playoff games have shown he is close to as good as he was in the “Greatest Show on Turf” days in St. Louis.  When he plays in good weather or in domed stadiums, he can be nearly unstoppable.  The Eagles’ defense is strong enough to slow him down, but I don’t believe they can totally stop him, and I believe there’s a 50-50 chance Warner will top 300 yards Sunday, especially if Anquan Boldin is anywhere close to 100% healthy.

 

The Eagles are banged up in the offensive line, and Brian Westbrook is going to play injured in this game.  I have to believe that the Eagles will have to win by playing great defense and hoping McNabb can equal or top Warner through the air.

 

I’m going with the underdog at home.  The Cardinals have been given very little respect, as they just barely finished above .500 in the weakest division in the NFL.  I think when the gun sounds Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals will be headed to their first Super Bowl.  I’ll call it a 28-20 win.

 

 

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Time:           6:30 PM EST

TV:               CBS

Forecast:     Light snow, low winds, temperatures falling from the mid to low 20’s

 

PiRate:                Pittsburgh by 2

Mean:                  Pittsburgh by 2

Bias:                    Pittsburgh by 2

 

Vegas:               Pittsburgh by 6       

Ov/Un:               33½

Money Line: Pit -250        Bal +200

 

100 Sims:           Baltimore 52  Pittsburgh 48

Avg Sim Score:  Baltimore 19  Pittsburgh 18

Outlier 1a Sim:  Baltimore 27  Pittsburgh 3

Outlier 1b Sim:  Pittsburgh 13  Baltimore 0

This isn’t the first time that division rivals have met for a third time to determine the conference champion.  Pittsburgh has been involved twice in the past with games just like this.  They defeated the Houston Oilers in both 1978 and 1979.

 

I see this game being very similar to the 1969 season.  In 1969, the Oakland Raiders narrowly beat the Kansas City Chiefs twice during the regular season (and one extra time in the preseason) in games that could have just as easily gone the other way.  Oakland won the AFL West with a 12-1-1 record in the final season of the old league, but in that final season, the AFL decided to add the division runners-up as wildcard teams.  Kansas City finished 11-3-0 and dismissed the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Jets 13-6 in the first playoff round.  These two teams were without a doubt the best two teams in the AFL, both offensively and defensively. 

 

In the AFL Championship game, the underdog Chiefs went to Oakland and won 17-7 as their aging but great defense shut down the top offense in the circuit.  Kansas City advanced and “matriculated” the ball down the field in a Super Bowl win over Minnesota.

 

I see the same thing happening here Sunday.  Baltimore could have just as easily won both games against Pittsburgh this year.  These teams could play 100 games and split them 50-50; the 100 simulations I ran displayed a whopping 83 games decided by a touchdown or less.  I believe this game will be memorable as a punishing defensive struggle that may play itself out just like the 1969 AFL Championship.  If the Ravens give Joe Flacco enough protection, he will come up with a game-changing play.  I will call for the Ravens to win in the neighborhood of 16-13.  Then, they will be headed back to Tampa where they won the Super Bowl eight years ago.  For what it’s worth, only Matt Stover and Ray Lewis remain as holdovers from that team.

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