## KC Joyner Has Lost His Mind

Once in a while I feel silly having paid for ESPN Insider.  Today was one of those times, after I read an article by KC Joyner on how the Giants should be considered one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.  He lays out some reasons, like Eli Manning is an elite QB, the defense is solid, the offensive line is underrated, etc.  I won’t bother trying to refute them because while Joyner uses stats, he just picks and chooses them anyway (some are outright stupid: Eli is an elite QB because he just put up the sixth-most yards in NFL history?  That would be great if yards alone were a good measure, or if three of the six guys ahead of him weren’t also in the playoffs THIS YEAR).  Instead I’ll use some simple math.

The Giants are the 4 seed in the NFC.  Let’s say for the sake of argument that they are secretly the best team in the NFL despite what everyone in the world thinks.  On a neutral field, they have an 80% chance to beat anyone they play.  The top teams against the worst teams are usually about 80% favorites in the regular season; a team would never be 80% against another team in the playoffs since playoff teams are generally at least average.  So we are giving the Giants a big benefit of the doubt here.

In the first round, the Giants are at home against the Falcons.  Since they have an 80% chance on a neutral field, let’s put them at 90% at home.  So 90% of the time they advance.  Let’s say the Saints also beat the Lions (which is, unfortunately, highly likely) so that the Giants then play the Packers.  They have to go on the road.  That means we should drop their chances of winning to maybe 60%.  Thus they have .9*.6 = .54 (54%) chance of making it to the NFC championship.  Once they’re there, they’ll have to go on the road again, and be maybe a 60% favorite against the Saints.  Then they have a 32.4% chance to make the Super Bowl.

Now let’s look at the Packers, who have home field advantage throughout.  They get a week off, then hypothetically play the Giants.  They have a 40% chance to win given what we said above.  If they win, let’s say that regardless of whether they play the Saints or the 49ers they would have a 55% chance to win at home in the NFC championship.  That gives the Packers a 22% chance to make the Super Bowl.

In that scenario, the Giants would indeed be a favorite to make the Super Bowl.  Now let’s make it a little more realistic and say that the Giants are only 50/50 to win in Green Bay and New Orleans.  That’s still pretty good for a road team, especially one that lost to both of these teams already this year (including the Packers in New York).  The Giants’ chances of making the Super Bowl become .9*.5*.5 = 22.5% while the Packers’ are .5*.55 = 27.5%.  And that’s all it takes to start moving the Packers (and pretty similarly the 49ers, and soon after the Saints) past the Giants as favorites.  If you assume that the Giants are only good enough to be 50/50 on the road in Green Bay and New Orleans (and that they have a 90% chance to beat the Falcons), they drop to about the third-best option in the NFC alone.  Presumably the Patriots and Ravens have similar chances to the Packers and 49ers, so the Giants are now at best fifth.  For what it’s worth, gamblers agree: Bovada has the Giants at 7th in their odds to win the Super Bowl (18 to 1, behind the Packers, Patriots, Saints, Ravens, Steelers, and 49ers).

What KC seems to be missing is something that most stats guys talk about every time the playoffs start, which is how beneficial home field and a week off are.  The Giants will only have home field once unless the Lions beat the Saints and the Packers, and the Giants don’t have a week off.  That simple fact cuts into their chances of making the Super Bowl dramatically, even if we thought the Giants were an elite team.  Unfortunately, that’s also not true.  I have them roughly equal with the Falcons, so they basically only have home field in their advantage this weekend.  They will then definitely be an underdog to the Packers (assuming the Saints beat the Lions) and definitely be an underdog to the Saints, and I would assume the 49ers as well, were they to make it to the NFC championship.

There’s really no way to argue that the Giants should be a favorite to make it to the Super Bowl, or win it for that matter.  But that didn’t stop KC Joyner, and for some reason I pay to read his opinion.

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### 13 Responses to KC Joyner Has Lost His Mind

1. Pingback: NFL Wild Card Picks | Sport Skeptic

2. Echo says:

Except, of course, that as recently as 2007, the Giants beat even greater odds to win the Superbowl, and many of those players are still with the team. They’ve already proven they CAN do it. Will they? That’s open to conjecture. They already realistically beat Green Bay (except for the officials blowing the call on Ballard’s TD, which was later proven to have happened), of course, not IN Green Bay, but they won the NFC Championship IN Green Bay in 2007, which sort of negates any home field advantage for the Pack, along with the Giants having a better road record than home record this season.

• Alex says:

Does that really make them a favorite? I guess if you think what happened in 2007 was not only possible (obviously it was, since it happened) but likely, then you might peg the Giants as a favorite. From what I can find, the Giants were underdogs in every playoff game. I wouldn’t say that meant that a Super Bowl run was likely.

Compared to 2007, the Giants have two different guys on the offensive line, Bradshaw was a rookie who got 23 carries all year, Hixon is the only receiver still on the team, Shockey and Boss are gone, the linebackers have mostly rolled over, they have Pierre-Paul instead of Strahan, the DTs are different, Aaron Ross and Corey Webster are the only DBs still around… what makes you say that many of those players are still on the team? Alternatively, if the roster is largely the same and such a strong group, why weren’t the Giants a Super Bowl threat in 2008, 2009, or 2010?

3. T200 says:

Ahhh, what a difference a couple of weeks makes. A total of 16 players from the Giants 2007 SB-winning are still on the roster. A total of 7 players from the Patriots 18-1 record-setting team are still there.

Maybe KC is onto something…

• Alex says:

The Giants’ wins don’t mean they were actually favorites this whole time. The Rams beat the Saints, but that doesn’t mean they were favorites before the game, right? Maybe KC was right to draw attention to the Giants, but he could have said they were being overlooked or something similar.

• abbstrack says:

The Rams weren’t in the playoffs, so your analogy doesn’t hold up. The point of Joyner’s article is, that in today’s NFL where parity rules, there are no real distinct differences (records aside) from 15-1 teams and 8-8 or 7-9 ones, so it comes down more to who’s playing well, who has the balanced team, and who can play defense when it counts. THAT is why the Joyner argued the Giants should be among the favorites. The Giants were riding the wave of two playoff victories against other potential playoff teams before the playoffs even started. And they were starting to fire on all cylinders at the right time, just like in 2007. AND they had a QB who has been through it all, and has shown himself to be one of the most clutch players in the league at the position.

Instead of hating on Joyner’s opinion, maybe you should step back and look at the last few years. The 10-6 Giants beat the 18-0 Pats in 07..The 9-7 Cards make it within a hair of beating the steelers the following year. And the 9-7 Packers take it all last year. To be surprised that Joyner said the Giants should be favorites, or that the Giants are one of the remaining 2 teams, says you haven’t been paying much attention to football over the past few years.

• Alex says:

My point is that it’s a mistake to analyze the claim based on what’s happened in the meantime. That’s what my Rams comment was about. The Rams beat the Saints, but would we have ever said they were the favorite going into that game? Yes, the Giants are now in the Super Bowl. Does that mean, before the playoffs, that they were a favorite to win it? Joyner was the only opinion I saw anywhere suggesting that. Advanced NFL Stats, which was much higher on the Giants than I was, thought they had the sixth best chance out behind the Pats, Ravens, Texans, Steelers, Packers, and Saints. Vegas had them behind pretty much the same group.

You left out some other odd games from the past couple years. Last year Seattle beat New Orleans and the Jets made it to the AFC championship as a 6 seed. The year before that the Ravens cruised past the Pats and the Jets made a run as a low seed again. In 2009 both 6 seeds made it to the conference championship games. The point isn’t that upsets and weird things happen in the playoffs; of course they do in a single elimination tournament. That’s why March Madness is exciting. The question is if it’s really reasonable to look at one team and say that it’s likely (not possible or plausible but likely) that this specific team is going to beat the odds and make a run.

4. Phil says:

I bet you regret having this post to your name

• Alex says:

Nope. I think all my points still stand. You need to have some mighty good reasons to make a wild card team a ‘Super Bowl favorite’, like when Green Bay had the best point differential in the NFC but was only 10-6. The Giants don’t qualify, in my mind (they were 9-7 and outscored for the season); I would still say the Packers were fortunate to win three road games in a row in 2010. That’s tough for any team, especially against playoff-quality teams.

Even if you think the Giants were favorites, don’t you think it was a little fortunate for them to win an overtime game and then win that Super Bowl? You don’t think either of those games could’ve gone the other way? I think either one could have, and then we wouldn’t even have this discussion.

• Phil says:

I think you are reading Joyner’s article incorrectly. “A favorite” does not mean THE favorite. I think Joyner’s point was simply the Giants are a lot better than their record and point differential would indicate. A point that was proven correct by their championship win.

Do I think they were fortunate to win the NFC title game and the Super Bowl? Yes. But that does not at all disqualify the argument they were favorites. San Francisco would have also been fortunate to win the title game, and New England would have also been fortunate to win the Super Bowl. A team is always fortunate when it wins a down-to-the-wire type game like both of those were. The key factor was that the Giants managed to keep the games close enough that the lucky bounce mattered. That’s what football in the NFL is all about. If you’re suggesting that for a team to be a favorite it must never get a lucky break then you have indeed “lost your mind.”

The key point is this: The New York Football Giants won the NFC East (as Joyner predicted) and also won the Super Bowl (as Joyner predicted they had a good shot at doing). Clearly Joyner is on to something. Maybe the Giants are a team that is better than the standard numbers would indicate.

As a side note, would you still be skeptical to call Eli Manning an “elite” QB?

• Alex says:

Well, there are only 12 teams in the NFL playoffs. How many would you consider “a favorite”? My argument is having a bye week and home field is very useful; that would mean the top four teams might be favorites in my book. That’s a third of the teams. Unless there are strong reasons to go with someone else, every other team is not a favorite; although it happens, it’s hard to win four games in a row where each is likely to be on the road (or at least not at home, in the case of the Super Bowl). If Joyner thought that the Giants were so good, despite their game outcomes, as to skip over the 49ers, Packers (both of which they had already lost to), Patriots, and Ravens, then I suppose he might be on to something. Saying that a team is good enough to keep it close doesn’t quite cut it for me given the disadvantages of being a wild card. If you’d like to see someone else make a similar point, here you go.

I think Eli is a good quarterback. I’m not sure if he’s ‘elite’, again in part because I don’t know what that means. Two Super Bowl rings puts him in the conversation for a lot of people. On the other hand, if you believe in the kind of numbers at advancednflstats, Eli’s WPA and EPA per play for his career are behind Roethlisberger, Ryan, Rivers, as much of Peyton as he’s been able to track, Romo, Brady, Brees, and Rodgers; he’s about on the same standing as guys like Flacco, Stafford, and Schaub. That’s kind of a long list to me, and those are only the guys I checked who are starting this year.

But more specifically I thought Joyner’s reasoning was kind of silly. He had five points, and three of them had to do with Eli’s fourth-quarter ability. That has nothing to do with ‘elite’ for me, mostly because clutch ability isn’t consistent at all, but also because if anything it points to the fact that he wasn’t elite enough for the first three quarters and so he had to make it up in the fourth. You might counter that Eli had to be good in the fourth because his defense was letting him down and the offense had to bail them out, but Joyner also says that the Giants have a good defense. I guess it’s a mystery how they were outscored on the season. The first point, which I reference in my post, is that Eli is elite because he threw for the sixth-most yards in NFL history. This is kind of stupid when three of the other guys above him also just did it and will be in the playoffs against you. His fifth point is close enough that I won’t nitpick.

So overall I think Eli is good; he’s certainly had a strong career and has the public perception bona fides, like the rings. I won’t be surprised at all if he makes the Hall of Fame. But if you asked me who I would want to QB their team for the past 8 years if they played all the games again, I don’t think Eli would be in my top five. If the offer had been made, the Giants would have traded him for Peyton, Brady, Brees, or Rodgers in a second and I think they would (or should) give strong consideration to Ben, Rivers, and Romo as an upgrade. The rest of the guys I listed before I would consider roughly a lateral move.