Vol. 1, Issue 5
The greatest sports writer of all time, Gay Talese, took pride in searching for truly great stories in sport. He rarely wrote about great games, spectacular individual performances or epic dynasties. Why should he write about what everybody else would cover? No, Talese was a once-in-a-lifetime writer, the so-called “founder of the New Journalism,” which used all the elements of fiction to describe true current events, and took an entirely different approach to sports coverage.
Talese was always intrigued by losing. What does it do to a man? How does the loser respond? What does the loser say when all the other reporters are interviewing the winner?
He was drawn to boxing because of the clarity of the sport (one winner and one loser) and thus by how quickly a boxer could rise to fame and fall into obscurity. Boxing, if you think about it, is like all of sport condensed into one moment—two men enter a ring, beat on each other, and one emerges a winner.
Just as Grantland Rice is the namesake of Bill Simmons’s new project, so we here at Fidelity Sports owe a debt of gratitude to a long-retired sportswriter, Gay Talese. (Talese Sports doesn’t have the same ring to it, and I also owe a similar debt to Wendell Berry, even if Mr Berry doesn’t own a TV, much less NFL Sunday Ticket.)
I write all of this because I am now realizing that anyone can write about a team when they’re winning; anyone can write gleaming things about an athlete at the top of his prime—the story is right there in front of you, the audience is hungry, and the lines come quickly. But this is what separates the good writers from the great: the great ones can write compellingly, even timelessly, about losers and losing.
When my beloved Royals were on their historic October run, I had to contain myself from writing 4500 words a day. In fact, I wrote several articles but just saved them to dropbox and closed my laptop—no one really needed a Royals essay from me every single day. But now that they’ve lost—and now just lost, but lost in the World Series, Game Seven, at home, when we had a runner on third, down one, with two outs, in the bottom of the 9th—I can’t bring myself to write a single word about it. *gentle crying*
As a pastor, I’ve studied and experienced the stages of grief enough to know that you don’t move simply from one to the next, to the next. One moment, you experience shock and denial. A moment later, anger; minutes later, acceptance; and then it starts all over. This has been my experience since Wednesday night. I’ve had to relive the Royals loss over and over—since I’m one of the die-hard few Royals fans here in Louisville, Ky., everybody now identifies me with the team—but still the words haven’t come. Not yet. Not now. There’s just still too much pain. *considerate sobbing*
It’s a good thing I’m not writing for a living. *loud weeping*
NFL Mid-Season Review
So while I’m recovering from my Royal heartbreak, let me carry on with a lighter, simpler topic: a Fidelity Sports NFL Mid-Season Review.
OK, let me explain how this is going to work. Anybody can rattle off lame power rankings and dole out imaginary midseason awards, but this is Fidelity Sports people, ground-breakin’, earth-shakin’, prediction-makin’ Fidelity Sports. We do things different; we do ‘em right.
So instead of reviewing the past 8-9 games, let’s preview the next 7-8 games, based on the trajectories of the first half. Brilliant, right? Who wants to relive the past when we can imagine the future—with advanced statistical metrics and deeply flawed personal biases?! *thinking about the past, thinking about the Royals, crying again*
So based on midseason projections—relying on my beloved SRS metrics described last week—here are the final records of playoff teams and near-misses, as of the mid-point. Here’s the method: I converted the teams’ SRS rating to an expected win total. So this part is just pure statistics; don’t come whining to me if you don’t like the results. (Remember, top four seeds go to divisional winners, #5 and #6 are top wild card teams.)
SRS Playoff Projections
AFC Playoff Look:
(1) New England (13-3)
(2) Denver (13-3)
(3) Indy (12-4)
(4) Baltimore (11-5)
(5) KC Chiefs (12-4)
(6) Miami (11-5)
Steelers, Bengals (10-6)
Bills, Chargers (9-7)
NFC Playoff Look:
(1) Arizona (12-4)
(2) Philly (11-5)
(3) Detroit (10-6)
(4) New Orleans (8-8)
(5) Dallas (10-6)
(6) Green Bay (10-6)
San Francisco (8-8)
If you had Arizona getting the #1 NFC seed and Kansas City winning 12 games, you’re my hero. If you’re wondering why the AFC has eight 10-win teams and the NFC has only 5, read last week’s Review.
Rule number one: The Team Comes First. But here, we give out some individual awards—again, first-half stats projected over the full season.
MVP: Peyton Manning
4900 yards, 50 TD, 7 INT, 119 rating
Runners-up: Andrew Luck, DeMarco Murray, JJ Watt
Rookie of Year: Sammy Watkins
75 rec, 1200 yards, 10 TD
Runner-up: Teddy Bridgewater
Coach of the Year (tie): Andy Reid (Chiefs) & Bruce Arians (Cardinals)
Biggest Disappointments (tie): Ray Rice & Adrian Peterson
0 yards, 0 TD, 3 battered individuals, 2 likely prison sentences
Worst Commissioner of All Time: Roger Goodell
Most Pleasant Surprise: Alex Smith
3,400 yards, 22 TD, 8 INT, 95 rating
My boy Alex Smith really has been the most pleasant surprise of the season. He’s had a 100+ rating in all four Chiefs wins this year. He’s never going to win Offensive POY, or even be the second best QB in his own division (see: Manning, Peyton; and Rivers, Phillip), but he’s good enough to take a great team to a Super Bowl win, that’s for sure (see: Flacco, Joe—2012; and Manning, Eli—2007, 2011).
Why It Pays to Lose Big
All the teams listed above are trying their darndest to reach the Big Game. But make no mistake: there are two ways to have a successful season: you can make the playoffs (which only 12/32 teams will do) or you can go 2-14 and land in the bottom five of the NFL—especially when the upcoming draft is this loaded.
We all know that tanking—intentionally losing like crazy to put yourself in a better draft position for a potentially franchise-changing college player—is a thing of the NBA, not NFL, right? Wrong! It’s clearly a thing of pro football too. How else do you explain the Colts without Peydey in 2011 or the last 25 years of the Oakland Raiders?
Why is this upcoming draft so important? Because of multiple potential franchise QB’s: FSU’s InFamous Jameis and UCLA’s Brett Hundley? Nope. Because of the record-smashing RB’s: Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon? Still no. Because of the best crop of wideouts in recent history: Alabama’s Amari Cooper, Mizzou’s castaway Dorial Green-Beckham, and Louisville’s DeVante Parker (all top 15 picks)? Even still, no. This draft matters because of the best college quarterback of all time, a prospect so pure he makes Andrew Luck look like JaMarcus Russell…
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Even before he wins the Heisman in a landslide and before his Ducks lose to Alabama for the national championship in January, this kid has had the most impressive college career ever. Check the season line:
68% comp, 2500 pass yards, 10.3 YPA, 26 TD, 2 INT, 187.2 rating, 91.2 adj QBR
400 rush yards, 5.8 rush avg, 7 TD, 8-1 record
Just one of these seasons would put a man in GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) territory, but this is basically the third straight year Mariota has put up that stat line! Now, he’s not playing in the SEC, but still, it counts. Check the career line:
8900 pass yards, 9.4 YPA, 89 pass TD, 12 INT, 170+ rating
1900 total yards, 6.7 rush avg, 23 rush + rec TDs, 31-4 record
Because I know you Jamies soul-mates can point to a lot of yards and TD’s, too, I thought I’d include a couple helpful career stats for comparison purposes:
Winston: 22 games, 60 total TD’s, 19 interceptions (3.15 TD/INT ratio)
Mariota: 35 games, 112 total TD’s, 12 interceptions (9.33 TD/INT ratio)
And this is still saying nothing of MM’s year-in, year-out high-class behavior to JW’s… well, juvenile behavior. (For the record, I’m genuinely rooting for JW to finish his college career well, grow up a bit, and have a meaningful life as a human being. I just wouldn’t bet my kids’ college fund on him being a steady NFL QB.)
Now that the #1 pick cleared up, let’s look at the same SRS formula to figure out the most probably draft order—and as my gift to you as we’re approaching the holiday season, an early 2015 mock draft top five.
2015 NFL Mock Draft
#1 Oakland (1-15)
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
#2 Tampa Bay (1-15)
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
#3 Jacksonville (2-14)
Leonard Williams, DT, Southern Cal
#4 NY Jets (2-14)
Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Mizzou
#5 Tennessee Titans (3-13)
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
OK, back to the 2014 NFL season!!!
Fidelity Playoff Predictions
So what to expect in the playoffs? Forget the SRS projections, this is where we speculate—Fidelity Sports Predictions! Slogan: Always Passionate, Rarely Accurate TM.
AFC: (3) Colts over (6) Dolphins; (5) Chiefs over (4) Ravens
(5) Chiefs over (1) Patriots; (2) Broncos over (3) Colts
AFC Championship Game:
(2) Broncos over (5) Chiefs, 19-16, OT
NFC: (6) Green Bay over (3) Detroit; (4) New Orleans over (5) Dallas
(1) Arizona over (4) New Orleans; (6) Green Bay over (2) Philly
NFC Championship Game:
(6) Green Bay over (1) Arizona, 27-20
Fall 2014 Movie of the Year
Mid-Season Super Bowl IX Prediction
Denver Broncos 42
Green Bay Packers 31
Yes, I hate picking the Broncos to win anything, but this just seems like destiny. It also seems only fitting that my underrated Chiefs would roll through the Wild Card and Divisional rounds of the playoffs then lose a heart-breaker in the final minute of the one that matters most.
And after a few very impressive off-season moves to bolster their defense, Denver is a much more experienced and well-rounded team—they were the definition of a “get-rich-quick team” in last year’s Super Bowl. And while I still think Seattle has plenty of time to turn their season around and make it back to the Big One, they’re going to have to make the playoffs first, and according to SRS, that would be an upset right now. #Ouch
And just how much fun would this Super Bowl be?! The GOAT QB Peycheck Mann-child against the Future of the NFL, Aaron Discount Double-Check Rodgers! That would be a blast for football fans everywhere.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, dear Fidelity faithful.
We still have half a season left, and crazy amazing things can happen when you least expect them (see Royals, KC—October 2014).
Fidelity out, homies.