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THE ARCHIVES (Part 3)

Brett Favre

This is why QC, the father of a 7-year-old boy, is just fine with a world in which a young boy wants to grow up to be Brett Favre.

As Favre drove his team toward a tying score in Minnesota's meeting with New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game, the Fox television camera zoomed in on Favre. And he was smiling and laughing. Subsequently, Favre threw an interception on what turned out to be the Vikings' last offensive play of the season. But in the press room after the game, Favre said that the season could not have gone better.

In his wonderful book, "A Few Seconds of Panic," author Stefan Fatsis detailed his analysis of a field goal he missed in a Denver Broncos' training camp practice.

"Sports psychology tells us that, in demanding situations, we need to shut everything out. But I should have let it in--breathed deeply, to be sure, but embraced my slow-motion moment and inhaled my surroundings: the crowd, the grass, the uniform, the taunting players, the video guys in the tower, the coaches, the scouts, the equipment staff, the fans, the media, the preteen ball boys who are beginning to feel like kids of my own. Instead of embracing my few seconds of panic, I simply panicked. My body reverted to its pretraining default, slapping anxiously at the ball soccer-style. And, like Jeff Goldblum at the party in Annie Hall, I forgot my mantra."

In a world in which a coach who had just won the BCS national championship hoisted the trophy with "an expression on his face [that] could best be described as a kind of semi-grimace," Favre never forgot his mantra.

This is why QC, the father of a 7-year-old boy, is just fine with a world in which a young boy wants to grow up to be Brett Favre.
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YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
When Brett Favre retires and takes his joy for the game with him, will the NFL will be poorer for it? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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NFC & AFC Championship Game Thoughts

As the Minnesota Vikings attempted to get into position to try a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation time in what would become a 31-28 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, QC could not help but think he was watching a different game than the other 52,899,999 viewers were watching.

To QC's knowledge, everyone else was watching an NFC Championship Game that, in the words of the NFL Network's Steve Mariucci, the Vikings "were dominating statistically." Sports Illustrated's Peter King called it Minnesota's "bitterest loss in a generation" because the Vikings made 31 first downs (to 15 for the Saints) and out-gained New Orleans by 218 yards. But QC saw it differently. Indeed, at the end of regulation, QC could not find any coaching statistic to support that Minnesota should have won the game, much less was dominating.

As the end of regulation approached, New Orleans was both the better designed team and the more productive team and held a plus-3 edge in turnovers. Under these circumstances, an NFL team in the Saints' position wins about 95% of all games. QB Drew Brees' QCYPA was 7.615, while Vikings' QB Brett Favre's QCYPA was only 6.957. In other words, New Orleans was playing more efficiently than Minnesota. Furthermore, the Vikings were wasting what efficiency and productivity they were generating with turnovers. In any competition, a business or organization that operates more efficiency and productively and simultaneusly generates less waste than its competitor would be expected to prevail in the competition. In the NFC Championship Game, that superior competitor was New Orleans, not Minnesota.

In overtime, Brees and the Saints virtually crawled on their hands and knees to move into position for the winning field goal as demonstrated by their 4.20 QCYPA. When Brees last pass attempt fell incomplete, New Orleans' overall player productivity fell below the Vikings' player productivity by just a tiny fraction (6/100ths). But the Saints were still the better designed team when kicker Garrett Hartley came on and kicked the Saints into the Super Bowl and the Vikings out of the playoffs. Coaching and play design, of course, are very hard to see on television. So you should not feel bad if you were one of the 52,899,999 people who missed it.

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The essence of science is replication. The Indianapolis Colts' 30-17 victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game offered a clear illustration of this point.

New York fans were giddy in the first half as QB Mark Sanchez combined with WR Braylon Edwards for a 80-yard TD pass to help the Jets to an early 17-6 lead. Like Jake Delhomme's record-setting TD pass to Muhsin Muhammad in Super Bowl 29, the TD pass was a disproportinately large percentage of the Jets' final QCYPA (10.387), play design, and player productivity figures, which slightly exceeded Indy QB Peyton Mannings' and the Colts' figures (10.000 QCYPA). But, as the Delhomme Exception to QC's 10th Commandment holds, New York's apparent superiority was fool's gold.

If you disregard the longest completions by both Manning and Sanchez, Mannings' QCYPA becomes 9.06 and Sanchez's QCYPA becomes 6.10, which is substantially the same figures as when the teams met back in Week 16 and much more reflective of the Colts 30-17 win. In games where a team such as the Colts exceed 9.00 QCYPA and the opponent such as the Jets are below 6.692 QCYPA, the superior team wins about 96% of the time. In other words, while the Jets designed and produced one play better than any play the Colts' designed and produced, Indy replicated productive plays much more efficiently than New York did.

In addition, Colts' head coach Jim Caldwell coached a patient game and wisely took short field goal attempts and an easy 3-points early in the game rather than "boldly" (i.e., stupidly, foolishly) going for first downs on fourth down when Indy trailed. Because Caldwell took the points that were available to him in the first quarter rather than chasing touchdowns, the Colts enjoyed a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter. Statistic geeks are often quick to say that the numbers suggest that Caldwell should have gone for it on fourth down in these situations. Where is the statistician's analysis of Caldwell's fourth down decisions in this game? Their silence loudly proclaims that an NFL coach's investment in patience, such as Caldwell's investment, is undervalued.
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YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Did Minnesota dominate New Orleans statistically? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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AFC/NFC Championship Game Previews

So, far randomness has been the story of the 2009 playoffs. As QC's 9th Commandment states, turnovers are random and so far the team that has won the turnover battle is 8-0 in the playoffs (100% winning percentage). This is a dramatic improvement over the regular season where teams that won the turnover battle actually only won about 73% of the time. (Teams that won the turnover battle were 121-45, .729 winning percentage. In 45 other games, the turnover battle was a draw.) QC speculates, but has not confirmed, that turnovers take on additional signficance in the NFL playoffs because the playoffs are populated only by good teams. Thus, it is very difficult for a team to overcome both a good opponent and itself and win in the playoffs. Will the turnover trend continue in the conference championships? How the heck would QC know! Turnovers are random! Still, QC will venture a guess on how the championship games will turn out.

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New Orleans vs. Minnesota
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 3rd; Minnesota 10th
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 2nd; Minnesota 8th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New Orleans 4th (+9); Minnesota T7th (+6)

On ESPN's NFL Matchup Show before New Orleans met Arizona in the Divisional Round, analyst Ron Jaworski said that the Saints head coach Sean Payton has so many play designs that an opponent cannot really prepare for New Orleans' offense, it can only prepare for the "concept" of New Orleans' offense. QC agrees that offensively the Saints are operating at a level of abstraction that has not been seen in the NFL since at least the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf."

If Minnesota is to have any chance at slowing down New Orleans QB Drew Brees and his talented corps of receivers, it is going to have to get great pass pressure from DEs Jared Allen and Ray Edwards. Those two played out of their minds against Dallas in the divisional round. But the Saints are better pass protectors than the Cowboys, so QC expects the Vikings rush to cause some trouble for Brees, but not like last week and not consistently. As a result, New Orleans will move the ball and put up points.

When the Vikings have the ball, QB Brett Favre should be able to make some things happen in the air. Like last week, WR Sidney Rice looks like a matchup problem. If the Saints can get gut pressure from DTs Sedrick Ellis and Anthony Hargrove, they will make things a lot more difficult for Favre.

It is anybody's guess what will happen in this game on special teams and with turnovers. When the teams met last year, New Orleans' Reggie Bush returned two punts for TDs and Minnesota defensive back Antoine Winfield returned a blocked field goal for a score as the Vikings prevailed, 30-27. The Saints turned the ball over 4 times in that game, but QC does not expect Brees to let that happen again.

Another important difference between then and now is that New Orleans TE Jeremy Shockey missed that game, but he should be ready to go this week despite sustaining an injury against the Cardinals. With both Brees and Shockey in the lineup in 2009, the Saints are 14-0 and have never scored less than 26 points except against the New York Jets' best in the NFL pass defense. Minnesota's weakness is pass coverage and, while the Vikings otherwise overwhelmed the Cowboys, Dallas TE Jason Witten had a big day. The likes of Chicago's Jay Cutler and Carolina's Matt Moore have carved up Minnesota's secondary. That does not bode well for the Norsemen.

QC's Guess: New Orleans Saints

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Indianapolis vs. New York Jets
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 2nd; New York Jets 9th
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 7th; New York Jets 12th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Indianapolis 9th (+2); New York Jets T14th (-1)

Before the New York Jets stunned San Diego, 17-14, in the Divisional Round, Sports Illustrated's Peter King wrote a piece purportedly detailing how underdogs win in the playoffs. For New York to win, King wrote, the Jets had to run the ball 35 to 40 times. The Jets ran the ball 39 times and won, so King was right, right? Well, not exactly.

There is only one word that accurately describes how New York won: Luck. But this is not a criticism of New York's brilliant defensive play designer, head coach Rex Ryan, or his players. In fact, it is a compliment.

In his book, The Score Takes Care of Itself, the great Bill Walsh wrote, "Competition inevitably produces randomness that can leave you grasping at straws. The final score of a football game is decided, on average, according to the following percentages: 20 percent is due to luck, such as a referees bad call, a tricky bounce of the ball, an injury, or some other happenstance."

Such other happenstances as, say, the Colts yanking Peyton Manning in the regular season meeting with New York? Or, say, the NFL's most accurate kicker, Nate Kaeding, missing a pair of field goals inside 40 yards after he had made his previous 69 field goals from that distance? Just askin'. Lost in the euphoria of New York's shocking win over the Chargers is the fact that if Manning had finished the first meeting with the Jets, Indianapolis probably would have won and New York would be just another "random" 8-8 team sitting at home watching the playoffs. A couple of missed field goals does not change that fact.

Some of New York's players do not seem to realize this. "I think it was about 50/50," Jets' DE Shaun Ellis said of the first meeting with the Colts. "We were holding our own," said LB Bart Scott. Uh, no.

The first meeting was more like at least 80/20 in favor of the Colts. As QC documented in his Week 16 thoughts, Indy was dominating New York and had about a 96% chance of winning the game when Manning failed to rise from the bench to answer the bell midway through the third quarter. The Jets were in the game only because of a few random events within that 20% of football that Walsh identified as "luck": Brad Smith's 106-yard kickoff return for a TD and a pair of Colts' botched PATs. If the Colts eliminate those special teams breakdowns and play turnover-free ball as they did when Manning was in the game in the first meeting, it will be very, very hard for New York to win. During the regular season, more productive teams, such as Indy in the first meeting, won 80% of all games. Without turnovers, more productive teams won 94% of the time.

However, no coach in the NFL is better at creating randomness than Rex Ryan is with his defense. Ryan is smart enough to know that New York's rookie QB Mark Sanchez is not ready to control a game so he certainly wants a game that is dominated by uncertainty, rather than certainty. If Ryan can come up with a game plan that causes Manning enough uncertainty that the outcome becomes random, New York has a 50/50 chance to win, which is a far greater chance than it would have under any other circumstances. If you flip a coin often enough, 50% of the time you will get tails and lose. But during all those flips, it is quite possible that it could come up heads two times in a row and you win both times. Last week in San Diego, the Jets coin came up heads.

It could happen again. It is possible, perhaps even more likely than most people think, that Ryan could design a game plan that will fool Manning.

"If you talk to Peyton, he will tell you he's been fooled before," Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau told the Wall Street Journal.

Statisics bear this out. Since 1999, the Colts are 128-48 (.727 winning%) with Manning under center during the regular season, but only 8-8 (.500 winning%) in the playoffs. In other words, in the playoffs, Indy's success is random. Furthermore, during the regular season, Manning's career QCYPA is among the all-time greats at 8.023. (In 2009, Manning's QCYPA was 8.329.) In the playoffs, Manning's QCYPA is a respectable 7.439. But if you disregard monster games in 3 blow-out wins over Kansas City (2003) and Denver (2003, 2004), Manning's playoff QCYPA is a below average 6.319. That figure is less than the Jets' regular season QCYPA (6.361).

If Ryan comes up with a game plan that prevents Manning from controlling the game or fools him into giving away turnovers, it will not be the first time that a defensive mastermind has engineered randomness to pull a super upset. In Super Bowl 36, New England's Bill Belichick crafted a game plan that fooled the St. Louis Rams' Kurt Warner into throwing a pair of interceptions, including one that DB Ty Law returned for a TD. Belichick's defensive genius provided the Patriots with a random 50/50 shot at victory. When kicker Adam Vinatieri nailed a field goal on the last play of the game, Belichick's game plan and randomness paid off huge.

But, if Ryan's game plan, unlike Belichick's game plan against the Rams, fails to create enough uncertainty for Manning, nobody but Ryan will be shocked. After all, nobody really has control of a random event. Therefore, eventually randomness will turn against the Jets, it's just a question of when. Oakland A's general manager Billy Bean once put it this way in discussing an average hitter that was on an unusual hot streak, "[He's] a great guy," Beane said in Moneyball, "but sooner or later Tattoo's going to show up and take him off the island."

QC's Guess: De Plane, De Plane, and De Indianapolis Colts

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YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Will New York Jets' head coach Rex Ryan come up with a defensive game plan that fools Colts' QB Peyton Manning? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Divisional Round Playoff Thoughts

Bill Walsh, who was 3-0 in the Super Bowl, said, "I came to the San Francisco 49ers with an overriding priority and specific goal--to implement what I call the Standard of Performance." Once the playoffs arrive, an NFL team's individual Standard of Performance ("SOP") is known. A team's offensive and defensive SOP is the average of its performances during the regular season compared to a 10-yard gain, the ultimate objective Standard of Performance in the NFL (See 6th Commandment). For turnovers, the SOP is zero (0) or, at least, no more than the opposition. For special teams, the SOP is no major breakdowns that cost the team points (e.g., a missed field goal) or, in the alternative, allow the opposition to score points (e.g., the opposition returning a punt for a TD). Here is how the divisional round winners measured up against their individual SOPs.

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In New Orleans' 45-14 dismantling of Arizona, the Saints met their SOPs for offense, turnovers, and special teams and came close to meeting their defensive SOP. Going into the game, New Orleans' SOPs ranked much higher than the Cardinals in play design (3rd vs. 13th), player productivity (2nd vs. 14th) and turnover margin (4th vs. T23rd). The game went exactly according to form. QB Drew Brees and the Saints offense, with TE Jeremy Shockey back in the lineup, was much more productive than Arizona and its QB Kurt Warner and took exquisite care of the ball (0 turnovers). Defensively, New Orleans limited Warner and his back-up, Matt Leinart, to 7.167 QCYPA, which is not great and was a little more than the Saints regular season average. The Saints can play a little better on that side of the ball. But, Arizona gave the Saints 2 turnovers, which more than off-set the Cardinals' productivity. Reggie Bush's punt return for a TD was the final ingredient in the recipe for a rout.

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In Minnesota's surprising 34-3 blow-out of Dallas, the Vikings exceeded their SOPs for offensive and defensive productivity and met the turnover-free SOP and event-free special teams SOP. After Saturday's games (New Orleans and Indianapolis wins), QC was feeling pretty smug and thinking that all 4 of the better coached teams during the regular season might advance to the conference championship games. QC thought the most likely game that might go against the better designed and more productive team would be this one, where the Cowboys' edges over Minnesota were pretty small. But QC never thought the "Son of Bum's" 'Boys would get so completely devastated by the Vikes pass rush. (Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett probably did not see that coming either.) During the regular season, Minnesota led the NFL in pass pressure (.594 QCAPY), so QC (like everyone else) knew Jared Allen and company could get after the quarterback. But the Vikings pass pressure against Dallas was 1.200 QCAPY, more than twice its league-best average! By preventing Cowboys' QB Tony Romo from attempting pass attempts, the Vikings obliterated Dallas' slender play design and player productivity advantages. Moreover, Minnesota's pressure created 3 turnovers, which does not automatically occur with pressure (although its is far from totally unexpected). On the other side of the ball, Vikings QB Brett Favre was money ($), leading Minnesota to infinite player productivity. Overall, Minnesota simply could not have played any better. And the Cowboys, who also missed 2 field goals, could not have played any worse.

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In Indianapolis' 20-3 win over Baltimore, the Colts exceeded their defensive SOP, protected the football (plus-3 turnovers), and did not yield any big special teams plays (a penalty on the Ravens on a long kickoff return bailed them out early in the game). In particular, linebacker Gary Brackett was sensational. However, QB Peyton Manning and the Indy offense was well below its offensive SOP. As QC repeatedly emphasizes, turnovers are random. Baltimore came into the game third in the NFL in turnover margin at plus-10, but ended the game at minus-3. The Ravens' atypical generosity allowed the Colts to get away with a sub-par offensive performance and "earn" a relatively easy win.

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At 8:01 PM on Sunday night, immediately after New York shocked San Diego, 17-14, in a game in which Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding missed field goals from 36 and 40 yards after making his previous 69 field goals in a row from 40 yards or less, NPR commentator Stefan Fatsis tweeted as follows: "Let's please praise the Jets and not blame the kicker. Please. Please?" (As a veteran sports writer and the author of the incredibly entertaining "A Few Seconds of Panic," which documents his experience as a training camp kicker for the Denver Broncos, Fatsis certainly has the bon fides to so tweet.)

At 8:04 PM, NFL Network correspondent Jason LaCanfora tweeted: "Norv [Turner, San Diego's head coach,] will take a lot of heat in SD, and its a crushing loss. But besides from opting for onside kick, hard to put on him. Kicker blew it."

Sorry Stefan, love your book, agree that being an NFL kicker is tough, ... but LaCanfora is right.

San Diego's defense exceeded its SOP, holding New York to 1.79 player productivity (ðHY). The Chargers' player productivity, 4.10, was less than half of their best in the NFL 9.56 regular season player productivity. However, in all the NFL games played during the 2009 season, teams whose player producivity was between 4.00 and 6.00 and whose opponent's player productivity was below The JaMarcus Cable (<2.00) were 20-2 (.909 winning %). Even lowly Oakland (5-11) with JaMarcus Russell at quarterback was able to defeat playoff-bound Philadelphia (11-5), 13-9, under these circumstances in Week 6 while giving the Eagles 2 turnovers.

It is true that the Jets' terrific defense played capably the entire game against QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense and spectacularly for most of the second half. However, at the end of the game, San Diego's play design and player productivity still significantly exceeded New York's play design and player productivity. It also is true that San Diego turned the ball over twice, including Rivers' second interception that set the Jets up for their first touchdown at the Chargers' 16-yard line. But none of this would have mattered if Kaeding had made those two kicks. San Diego came into the game as the best designed, most productive team in the NFL. The Chargers had buckets of excess play design and excess player productivity at the margin that would have enabled San Diego to eke out a win even with the reduced productivity and a couple turnovers, which were a possibility given New York plays the best defense in the NFL. But what San Diego could not overcome and what Norv Turner could not design a solution for was what nobody expected: Kaeding missing a pair of field goals from inside 40 yards.

If it seems terribly brutal to place all the blame squarely on Kaeding, it is. But it is not unfair. And it is the only way to honestly assess the outcome. By making 69 straight field goals from 40 yards or less, Kaeding himself set his personal SOP at 100%. In addition, because coaches do not design field goal plays--every team performs pursuant to a virtually identical design--no NFL player has more control over the outcome of his performance than an NFL kicker. (See 8th Commandment). Consequently, no individual is more personally responsible for the outcome of an NFL play than a kicker is for the outcome of a field goal from a reasonable distance. Nate Kaeding knows this. He bravely took full responsibilty. But he lost the game for San Diego.
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YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Was San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding personally responsible for the Chargers' shocking loss to the New York Jets? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Divisional Round Playoff Preview

The NFL Divisional round presents some interesting match-ups. On one side are the 4 best-coached teams in the NFL according to QC's play design statistics (HA) (i.e., Chargers, Colts, Saints, and Cowboys). On the other side are teams that rank between 9th and 14th in play design (Jets, Vikings, Ravens, and Cardinals). Thus, on paper, QC's guesses look obvious.

But turnovers (and to a lesser extent other random events) are the great equalizer in the NFL. Never was that more evident than in the Cardinals win over the Packers in the Wild-Card round. The Cardinals came into the game at minus-7 in turnover margin, the worst mark of any team in the tournament. The Packers came into the game at plus-24, the best mark in the NFL during the regular season. That is a difference of 31 total turnovers or just shy of 2 per game in favor of the Packers. So, of course, Arizona finished the game at plus-2, including a miraculous sack-fumble-kick-the-ball-to-a-linebacker-who-returns-for-game-winning-touchdown. QC will say it again: turnovers simply are not predictable in any given game. Nevertheless, QC again will venture guesses for this round's games. Again, please do not call QC's guesses predictions. These are guesses.

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New Orleans vs. Arizona
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 3rd; Arizona 13th
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 2nd; Arizona 14th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New Orleans 4th (+9); Arizona 23rd (-7)

The Saints enjoy substantial advantages in both play design and player productivity and protect the football much better than the Cardinals. But the Packers had similar edges last week and it did not help them against Kurt Warner's pinpoint passes. QC expects New Orleans to be closer to its unbeatable self than the team that showed up the last 3 weeks of the season. The return of tight end Jeremy Shockey, who essentially missed all 3 losses, will be a huge boost to the offense. In addition, the Saints protect QB Drew Brees much better than Green Bay protected Aaron Rogers. While Arizona's Warner can be spectacular, he also is capable of bursting into flame by throwing a devastating interception as he did in his last two Super Bowl appearances. In their last 4 NFC playoff games dating to last year, the Cardinals have been at least plus-2 in turnovers in every game. Arizona will need that amazing run to continue. But, as turnovers are random, the streak has to end some time. QC guesses it will be in the Big Easy.
QC's Guess: New Orleans Saints

Minnesota vs. Dallas
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Minnesota 10th; Dallas 4th
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Minnesota 8th; Dallas 3rd
TURNOVER MARGIN: Minnesota 7th (+6); Dallas 9th (+2)

While Minnesota is 8-0 at home, QC has not forgotten that it took a miracle touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Greg Lewis to avoid a loss to San Francisco in Week 3 to attain that record. The 49ers are a bit of a poor man's Cowboys. Like San Francisco, Dallas will pressure Favre, who has struggled against pressure in Vikings' losses to Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Carolina. When Dallas has the ball, QB Tony Romo has been very efficient and only given the ball away on two occasions, at home against the New York Giants and on the road against Green Bay. Minnesota likes to play Cover-2, but the Vikings really do not have the middle linebacker necessary to make it work and they have been torched by Aaron Rogers, Kurt Warner, Jay Cutler, and even Matt Moore. QC expects Dallas TE Jason Witten to have a big game and Favre will have to keep up unless Romo becomes generous.
QC's Guess: Dallas Cowboys

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Indianapolis vs. Baltimore
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 2nd; Baltimore 14th
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 7th; Baltimore 13th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Indianapolis 9th (+2); Baltimore 3rd (+10)

Do not be fooled by Indy's narrow, 17-15, win over Baltimore during the regular season. The Colts and Peyton Manning had their way with the Ravens, but wasted a lot of productivity with 3 turnovers. QC expects that the Colts will take better care of the ball this time around. Baltimore simply cannot match Indy's play design and efficiency, particularly with QB Joe Flacco at less than 100 percent. Those who think this matchup looks like 2005 when Pittsburgh, a 6th seed from the North Division, came into Indianapolis and stunned the top-seeded Colts should look again. Unbeknowst to the world (including QC at the time), the Steelers enjoyed a slight play design advantage (.0656) over the Colts (.0598) in 2005. So, in hindsight, that result was not an upset. That would not be the case this time around. If the Ravens win this game, it will be a stunning upset.
QC's Guess: Indianapolis Colts

San Diego vs. New York Jets
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Diego 1st; NY Jets 9th
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Diego 1st; NY Jets 12th
TURNOVER MARGIN: San Diego 5th (+7); NY Jets 14th (-1)


This game looks like a mismatch to QC. San Diego has the best play design and player productivity in the NFL, arguably the best kicker (Nate Kaeding) and punter (Mike Scifres) combination in the NFL, and is plus-7 in turnover margin. New York looks like 2008 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh on defense, but not anywhere else. While the Jets defense generally has been outstanding, Miami's Chad Henne shredded it in Week 5 and Indy's Peyton Manning was not having much difficulty in Week 16 until Colts' management decided it did not want to try to win the game anymore. The Chargers will want to win this game. San Diego QB Philip Rivers is arguably the NFL's best at the position. If Rivers provides New York a couple turnovers and the Jets' up-and-down rookie QB Mark Sanchez has a second straight up week, New York will keep it close. But if Sanchez has a learning week against San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera's troops, the Chargers will roll.
QC's Guess: San Diego Chargers
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YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Will New Orleans return to its unbeaten form and defeat Arizona? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Wild-Card Weekend Thoughts

QC guessed correctly 50% of the time in the NFL's Wild-Card round. Of course, the probability of a pure guess is 50% so QC views this performance as guessing perfectly. QC nailed randomness. Maybe that is because, as QC's 9th Commandment holds, turnovers are random and turnovers played a huge role in all 4 Wild-Card games. In all the games, the eventual winning team capitalized on its opponents' first half turnovers to take control of the game. Here is a summary of QC's thoughts on each of the Wild-Card games.

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It would be nice to say that Dallas coach Wade Phillips vastly out-coached Philadelphia's Andy Reid to get his first ever playoff victory when the Cowboys beat the Eagles, 34-14. But, statistically, that would be wrong. Philadelphia's play design actually exceeded Dallas' play design by a slight amount. However, the Eagles more than off-set that advantage by giving the Cowboys 4 turnovers. Moreover, Philadelphia's play design edge was based on one single big play, QB Michael Vick's 76-yard TD pass to Jeremy Maclin. Other than that play, Dallas QB Tony Romo and his offensive teammates were more productive than Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb and his teammates. As QC's 10th Commandment states, sometimes the statistics lie. This was one of those times.

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What can QC say about the Cardinals 51-45 win over the Packers that has not already been said? Arizona QB Kurt Warner was nearly perfect and demonstrated that Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers' re-designing of the Packers defense is still a work in progress. While Green Bay smothered many of the lesser teams in the NFL and even turned in a good performance against Dallas, top-flight quarterbacks Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Warner had no trouble shredding Capers' designs. If the Packers want to be next year's pick as the Super Bowl favorite from the NFC, Green Bay still needs to improve the pass defense.

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Sports Illustrated's Peter King succinctly summed up Baltimore's 33-14 win over New England as follows: "Four turnovers yielded 20 Baltimore points. End of story." By bum rushing the Patriots with Ray Rice's 83-yard TD run and a Terrell Suggs' sack and recovered fumble that led to LeRon McClain's 1-yard TD run, the Ravens essentially rendered passing unnecessary. This was one of those rare games where the winning team's yards per rushing attempt (4.50) was actually greater than either teams yards per pass attempt. And it was a good thing passing was unnecessary. With QB Joe Flacco limping around, Baltimore's 3.40 QCYPA and 1.44 player productivity was below The JaMarcus Cable and even below New England's anemic 1.55 player productivity. A team has about a 20% chance of winning when its productivity is below The JaMarcus Cable. However, a team like the Patriots has a 0% chance of winning when its productivity is below The JaMarcus Cable and it is minus-2 in turnover margin.

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After defeating Cincinnati 24-14, New York coach Rex Ryan may have a few more people buying into his theory that the Jets should be the favorites to win the Super Bowl. QC is not there yet. New York QB Mark Sanchez played as well as he is capable of playing, the Jets were plus-2 in turnovers, and the injury-ravaged Bengals player productivity was below The JaMarcus Cable (1.38). Despite all these advantages, if Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham had not missed two field goals inside 40 yards, this game would have been a fight to the finish because, led by running back Cedric Benson (169 yards, TD), the Bengals averaged an outstanding 7.77 yards per attempt on the ground. QC thinks New York's win clearly demonstrates the Jets cannot afford any waste.
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Were turnovers the critical difference in the outcome of all 4 Wild-Card playoff games? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Wild-Card Weekend Previews

Notwithstanding that New York coach Rex Ryan is a very bright man who has designed the best defense in the NFL, the Jets are not the favorite to win the Super Bowl as he suggested. However, while it is unlikely, it is not unthinkable that New York could make it to Miami, the site of the Jets greatest triumph over the Colts in Super Bowl III. To do so, the Jets first will have to defeat Cincinnati. QC does not predict NFL games, but it is fun and harmless to venture a guess once the playoff tournament begins. Just please do not call a QC guess a "prediction" and do not call the playoffs the "post-season." (QC is looking at you Joe Buck.) This is no season. The playoffs are a tournament and the stakes are simple, as the late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano said, "Win and advance." This is winner-take-all, no limit Texas hold 'em.

This is the best time of the NFL year.

Here is QC's preview of Wild Card Weekend and QC's guesses, not predictions.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

Forget New York's Week 17 win over the Bengals. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis and his staff will have a real game plan this time and probably have spent all week thinking about Brad Smith's nifty triple-option. (That was cool.) New York enjoys a decided edge in play design in this game, but since most of that edge comes from Ryan's defensive designs, the Jets' player productivity edge is much less. Thus, as Marty Schottenheimer said on NFL Radio, this game likely will come down to turnovers. If Mark Sanchez is patient and plays within himself, New York should prevail. However, at times this year, Sanchez has been a turnover machine. Just a miscue or two might be all the Bengals need to eke out a surprising, low-scoring victory.
QC's Guess: New York Jets

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

Baltimore is in the playoffs not because of play design or player productivity, but because the Ravens are plus-10 in turnovers. New England enjoys advantages in seasonal play design differential and player productivity differential over Baltimore. The Patriots defeated the Ravens in Week 4, 27-21. In that game, New England posted a solid 7.625 QCYPA even though the Ravens got good pressure on QB Tom Brady. The Patriots pass protection has been excellent overall, so do not be surprised if Brady has more time than he did in Week 4 to pick apart a suspect Baltimore secondary. Finally, Bill Belichick almost never loses a rematch.
QC's Guess: New England Patriots

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Dallas has already defeated Philly twice this year, but the two teams play design differential (Dallas .0480 and Philly .0426) is so slim that a third victory is no sure thing. The coaching matchup of Andy Reid's offensive wit against Wade Phillips' defensive wit is one of the best in the NFL. So far, Phillips has gotten the upper-hand with good designs in the red zone and eliminating big plays from Philiadelphia's dynamic DeSean Jackson. The Eagles could definitely use some action from Jackson and it would help if Tony Romo would be a little more generous with the turnovers. Dallas's player productivity edge (4.38 to 2.63) suggests that the Cowboys are just a little better team, but the margin is not so great that Dallas could overcome a big special teams play by Jackson or a negative turnover margin if Romo tosses a couple of interceptions.
QC's Guess: Dallas Cowboys

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals

Green Bay smashed Arizona, 33-7, in Week 17, but Cardinals' coach Ken Whisenhunt undoubtedly hid all the good stuff. Of all the games Wild Card Weekend, this one has the best chance to be a blow-out. The Packers enjoy significant advantages in play design and player productivity and a massive advantage in turnover margin where Green Bay is plus-24 and Arizona is minus-7, the worst number of any team in the playoffs. In 2008, the Cardinals entered the playoffs even in turnovers and then enjoyed games of plus-2, plus-5, and plus-2 in their wins in the NFC playoffs. Still, it is not a sure thing. While Green Bay's defense has played well at times, veteran QBs who will hold the ball, throw it downfield, and avoid interceptions and fumbles have done very well against the Packers. Think Brett Favre in both his games against Green Bay and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. The Cardinals Kurt Warner definitely fits the mold. In addition, Arizona has the pass rush to take advantage of the Packer's poor pass protection and might receive a turnover or two from the Packers. If that happens, Green Bay has shown it can be vulnerable to the likes of Tampa Bay.
QC's Guess: Green Bay Packers
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Can the New York Jets win the Super Bowl as coach Rex Ryan suggested? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Urban Meyer

"Lately in a wreck of a Californian ship, one of the passengers fastened a belt about him with two hundred pounds of gold in it, with which he was found afterwards at the bottom. Now, as he was sinking--had he the gold? or the gold him?" John Ruskin, Unto His Last.

Unbeknowst to most people, this quote begins Moneyball--Michael Lewis' classic tale of a man, Billy Beane, desperately trying to control the unpredictable sports environment in which he competes.

The quote can be applied to the University of Florida's Urban Meyer and, probably, many many, other coaches.

Meyer stepped down as the Gators' head coach on December 27 because of personal health reasons--primarily chest pains for the past 3 years that caused him to collapse after a loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Despite losing consciousness and being taken to the hospital after his wife called 911, Meyer changed his mind the day after he announced he was leaving and said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence after the Sugar Bowl and expected to coach Florida in 2010. Thereafter, only this much was clear:

Like the gold, Urban Meyer does not control coaching. Rather, coaching controls Urban Meyer.

In being controlled by coaching, Meyer is hardly unique. Alabama legend Bear Bryant used to tell his players that approached him for advice about going into coaching, "Only do it if you can't live without it." In The Score Takes Care of Itself, legendary San Francisco 49ers' coach Bill Walsh wrote:

"I was consumed by the process of developing the abilities of others. You do it because you really care for it; you do it because you have to."

While coaching undeniably offers infinite rewards, the mental and emotional demands also are infinite. Change is the most powerful force in the world. In the coaching environment, change or the threat of change (just as scary) is a constant companion. Ambitious coaches on their way up constantly up-root themselves and their loved ones to move to the next job. Even if a coach is at peace and content in a job, the threat that change will be imposed by others upon him and his family may be just a short losing streak way. The infinite design demands of coaching--constantly looking ahead and figuring out what is going to happen before it happens--also is mentally draining.

To the best of QC's knowledge, no major studies of the impacts of the forces of coaching on mental and emotional health have ever been undertaken. The media completely disgregards these forces, even when the consquences of the forces are right under their noses. In the wake of Meyer's rocky weekend, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio coldly wrote, "Give me a break. These guys are living the dream. They get paid millions of dollars, they bask in the limelight, and they never have to lift anything heavier than a suitcase. If the price is devoting every waking moment from July through December to preparing their teams for games and most waking moments in the other six months of the year laying the foundation for the coming season, then so be it. ... No matter how hard they work, it's not work. It's organized play."

Give QC a break. Mr. Florio clearly has no idea what he is talking about. Here is what Bill Walsh wrote about coaching's infinite demands.

"It's just as important to understand that 'extra effort,' in whatever form it takes (mental, physical, emotional), cannot be sustained without eventual damage and diminishing returns," Walsh said in The Score Takes Care Of Itself. "There has to be a very acute awareness on your part as to the level of exertion and the toll it's taking on those you lead." And, such as in Meyer's case, there has to be an acute self-awareness on the part of the coach on the personal cost that he is incurring.

Walsh's description of how he approached coaching, including designing plays, sounds nothing like "play":

"Whatever it was, beyond the score I had a passion for figuring out how we could have performed at a higher and higher level of excellence. Good or bad, win or lose, 'What caused what, and how can it be improved?' was my recurrent question, an obsession. At 2 A.M. I'd be staring up at the ceiling or tossing around in bed. Eventually, I'd get up, pace around, sit down in the next room to write some notes. Then back to pacing, slowly analyzing before writing down additional observations or ideas. Finally, as the sun was getting ready to come up, I'd go back to bed and try to get a few minutes sleep. It was like this after every single game I coached in San Francisco for ten years, close to it on many other nights. By the end of the season, I was a mess physically and emotionally."

Here is how Walsh described how he knew he was doing a good job:

"If you're up at at 3 A.M. every night talking into a tape recorder and writing notes on scraps of paper, have a knot in your stomach and a rash on your skin, are losing sleep and losing touch with your wife and kids, have no appetite or sense of humor, and feel that everything might turn out wrong, then your're probably doing the job."

Does that sound anything like living a dream, Mr. Florio? Perhaps, if your idea of a dream life is Good Will Hunting.

Those who were around Walsh have confirmed the incredible price he paid for the growth of his players and the growth of his football knowledge, particularly after San Francisco won its second Super Bowl in 1984.

"Once that happened, from that moment on, we had sort of set our own high-water mark. Good luck meeting that one every year," said former 49ers guard Randy Cross in The Score Takes Care Of Itself. "Nevertheless, the pressure on Bill got ratcheted up by the owner, Eddie DeBartolo. A Super Bowl was the norm, anything less was not accpetable, and the pressure became crushing.

"Under the pressure he had on him during the last few years, there was no way he could keep going. At the end he would have needed a six-month vacation by himself on a desert island--making him sleep all the time, making him relax, making him chill out--if he wanted to continue under that load and that pressure."

Craig Walsh, the coach's son, said his father was "a man of great logic, he truly believed that in the end, your ultimate assignment as a leader is getting those on your team totally ready for the battle. After that, you have to let winning take care of itself. His ability to do that contributed to his success; his inability to do that, increasing as the years went by, forced him to leave the game as an NFL head coach."

"I've come to understand that in some ways, my father's life was almost Shakespearan, because what got him to the top professionally was his downfall personally; in spite of his incomparable achievements, he had trouble ever feeling fulfilled on a continuing basis," Craig Walsh wrote. "While he learned from each loss and every win, my dad increasingly took something away from a defeat that he couldn't shake. Driven by a desire to gain the stamp of approval from his peers (but not necessarily the public), he was consumed by work and winning, increasingly haunted by losing. When you achieve what he achieved, the inability or unwillingness to grant yourself happiness and satisfaction is perhaps tragic."

"During my last season as head coach," Walsh himself said, "I began suffering from emotional and mental exhaustion brought on by the demands and pressures of my job that had been building up in my mind for several years. The inner toll this took is indescribable. It became almost tortuous and manifested itself during the last months in my becoming increasingly sentimental about things and, at times, maudlin. All of it was, of course, related to exhaustion. I would frequently be on the edge of breaking down in tears and started to protect myself to keep it from happening. Consequently, and without telling anyone, I decided I had to retire at the end of the season."

Walsh figured out too late that he had paid a high price for his success, but he never quite figured out why he felt like he had to pay that price.

"I also know that the degree of drive an individual has to solve the puzzle perfectly, no matter how complex or difficult, is directly related to attaining higher and higher levels of success," Walsh wrote in The Score Takes Care Of Itself. "It's that desire that wakes you up in the middle of the night reaching for a pen and paper next to your bed--an insatiable hunger to capture inspiration and answers that all highly driven people share.

"Where that drive comes from is often a mystery. Here's what Arthur Ashe, one of the greatest tennis players in history, had to say about it: 'Who knows what force gnaws at us, telling us our accomplishments, no matter how sensational, are not enough; that we need to do more?' (Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace.) I sought perfection, and 99 percent isn't perfection. Why 'almost perfect' wasn't enough for me is something I cannot explain."

QC suspects that Walsh's infinite need to be perfect and his drive toward that goal was deeply linked to his relationship with his father. Walsh's father worked on an automobile assembly line and then, when he came home at night, continued to work on cars. Walsh attributes his father's long hours working on cars as motivated by a desire to provide for the family. But it is just as likely that Walsh's father spent infinite hours working on cars to satisfy his own personal obsession with cars just as Walsh spent infinite hours working on plays to satisfy his own personal obsession. The apple rarely falls far from the tree.

"The guy who set the standard for me was my father," Walsh wrote. "When I was a teenager, I had to work with him on many of those evenings and weekends, long hours into the night helping him out. I hated it, but he taught me the connection between hard work and survival, between survival and success.

"He paid a tremendous price for his willingness to work," Walsh continued. "It may have shortened his life--a life that offered little in the way of fun or material reward--and kept him from connecting in any meaningful way with his son. I never really got to know my father; he didn't have time."

In The Genius, David Harris quoted Walsh as follows: "'While some kids were outside playing,'" he remembered, "'I was out in the garage working with the men. My dad had things for me to do, sanding cars, getting them ready to paint. I didn't have a choice, but I was never mad about it. It was for the family and those were the days everybody did things for their dads. He'd give me a dollar every now and then when he thought I did a particularly good job. What struck me is the level of detail he demanded from me. His expectations were hard and stark. It wasn't like, 'Maybe you better try to." It was, 'Get that goddamn thing over here and line it up right. Take it off and do it again.' He'd blow his stack if he thought you screwed up, even if you hadn't. It was tough love if you want to call it that. It had a real hard side to it.'"

Walsh's dark relationship with his father contrasts sharply with another master NFL coach's relationship with his father: New England's Bill Belichick. Like Walsh, Belichick was the son of an obsessive worker, Steve Belichick, who was an assistant coach and scout at Navy. But there were critical differences between Steve Belichick and many other football coaches.

First, Steve Belichick learned early in his career that no family security existed in being a head coach. So, unlike most young coaches, once he arrived in Annapolis he voluntarily got off the "coaching hampster wheel" and never sought a head coaching position or even another assistant job somewhere else. Prior to coming to the Academy, after being part of coaching staffs that were fired at Vanderbilt and North Carolina, Steve Belichick became "shrewder about it all, figuring out how to take care of himself and protect himself, aware that what might seem like the best job was not necessarily the best job, at least for him," David Halberstam wrote in The Education Of A Coach.

He summed up his "tempered view" of life as follows: "One of the greatest things you can learn about yourself is your own limitations--how much you can eat at any given meal, how much you can drink, and how much you can get out of life. It's very important to know them and not go beyond them."

While Walsh hated working with his father (who never observed any limitations with respect to his obsession with cars), according to Halberstam, "Bill [Belichick] liked to hang out with his father at practice. Steve enjoyed that, too--some coaches, he knew, did not like having their sons at practice, but he was more than comfortable with it."

While Bill Walsh saw little intrinsic value to his father in his father's work, Bill Belichick's view of the intrinsic value to his father of his father's work was the polar opposite.

"What Bill Belichick remembered about his father in those years, perhaps the most important thing of all, something that lasted with him, was that he seemed to come home from work happy each night, a sign that he loved his work, and always, seemed eager to go to work," Halberstam wrote. "Bill Belichick liked the feeling of comraderie that they had, of seeing these men working so well together, bonded by a sense of common purpose. There was, he decided, an exceptional richness to his father's life."

What strikes QC as perhaps the most significant difference between Belichick's father and Walsh's father is that Belichick's father came home from work. Walsh's father never came home from work. Rather, Walsh's father brought his work home. In other words, Belchick's father controlled his work, but work controlled Walsh's father. Belchick's father was work's master. Walsh's father was subject--a slave--to work.

It does not require much speculation to conclude that, as a result of the difference in control, Belichick's father taught Bill Belichick how to work happily, while Walsh's father taught Bill Walsh how to work unhappily. Quite simply, Belchick learned to love work; Walsh learned to hate it. It requires only a short extension of speculation to conclude that both Walsh's and Belichick's coaching drive comes from a mutual passion for work, but that Walsh's passion led him in a negative, self-destructive direction until he retired and gave up coaching, while Belichick's passion led him in a positive, self-affirming direction.

"It was unpleasant to know that doing a good job in the NFL wasn't much different from doing a a bad job," Walsh wrote. "Both will get you fired; the latter just gets you fired sooner. You know you're there as a coach temporarily, only while you're very successful, only when you do a fantastic job. Then you learn that even a fantastic job is inadequate. The norm becomes impossible, and when you don't achieve the impossible, your head's on the chopping block.

"Good and bad are about the same in the NFL, perhaps in corporate America too. You're gone if good is the best you can do. Good just buys you time; great buys you a little more time. And then you're gone."

Walsh burned out on coaching after 10 years in the NFL even though he was never fired. In constrast, Belichick overcame a traumatic experience and firing in Cleveland and is in his 19th year of NFL coaching. At least publicly, he does not appear to exhibit any symptoms of burn-out. This contrast is evidence that supports QC's conclusions.

Recently, in a Sports Illustrated profile of Urban Meyer, S.L. Price wrote: "Normal isn't supposed to do this. Normal doesn't produce greatness or the manic need to reach it--at least that is what we have come to believe. The artist, the champion, has to have some crack in the porcelain, some hole to fill, some 'Rosebud!' moment to explain superhuman drive. Maybe Mama died or Dad left; maybe it was poverty or shame. Freud and Dickens and Dick Ebersol so often linked childhood trauma to accomplishment that today the rise of a figure like Urban Meyer almost comes off as odd."

If S.L. Price truly believes that Urban Meyer's childhood was "normal," then Price has a pretty odd definition of normal.

As Price explains it, Urban Meyer's relationship with his father, Bud, appears to be closer to Walsh's relationship with his father than to Belichick's relationship with his father. According Price, "almost unachievable" described Meyer's father's expecations of him. According to Price, Urban identified those infinite expectations as follows: "The kids were to get straight A's, skip grades, be impeccable. Any success was greeted with the barest of praise, any failure, any transgression, with the command to run hundreds of laps around the house or play fierce games of pepper."

Further, again according to Price, "sports was Urban's job, and Bud controlled the purse strings: a dollar for home runs, 50 cents for an RBI. Early on he demanded 25 cents for every strikeout, but by Urban's senior year at St. John High such a refund seemed piddling. So after Urban took one curveball for a called strike three, Bud made him run home. 'About eight miles,' Urban says."

Price wrote that Urban's father would "sit in the stands, taping his thoughts on Urban's at bats and carries into a portable tape recorder." His father's obsession with Urban's success in sports sounds remarkably similar to Walsh's obsession with coaching.

"If you ever quit something?" Urban Meyer rhetorically asked in Price's profile. "The sun's not coming up the next day."

At 17-years-old, a homesick Urban Meyer called his father and said he was through pursuing a major league baseball career. "You're never welcome in this house again," Meyer's father said, according to Price. "There's no such thing as a quitter in the Meyer household."

What Meyer's father did not understand is that Urban Meyer was not a quitter, he just knew he had reached his limit in baseball and wanted to come home.

On January 1, 2010, Urban Meyer's Florida Gators destroyed the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl, 54-21. At the Sugar Bowl post-game press conference, a reporter asked, "Urban you go home tomorrow, you wake up, Shelley just said you've never not coached. Do you have any inkling of what the days, weeks, months are going to be like?"

"No, I don't," Meyer replied. "I know I'm anxious to get home."

Earlier in the day another Florida college football coach, Florida State's Bobby Bowden, completed a more than 30-year coaching career in which he controlled his coaching, not vice-versa, with a 33-21 victory over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. At the end of the Gator Bowl post-game press conference, Bowden's wife of 60 years, Ann, walked onto the stage, planted a kiss on him, and said, "Time to go home, baby." Bowden then concluded, "I guess that's it, huh?"

Yup. That is it. That's all there is.

Urban Meyer does not need to quit coaching forever to find the peace that Bowden displayed in the Gator Bowl press conference. But Meyer does need to find a way to quit coaching for the day and go home from work. And he needs to do it every day that he is in Gainesville. As a coach, he should know that practice and repetition is the only path to getting better at something, and that includes getting better at quitting for the day, going home from work, and leaving your work at work.

To find his way home from work, Meyer first will have to admit that his work--coaching--controls him, not the other way around. If Meyer can do so, QC likes his chances to avoid Walsh's fate and become a coach "fulfilled on a continuing basis" like Bowden and Belichick. If Meyer cannot do so, it probably is in his best interest to quit coaching and spare himself and his loved ones the agony as he has achieved in coaching all that he could ever hope to achieve.

In every other aspect of football, Urban Meyer has been an innovator who has always been able to find a way. QC hopes he can find a way this time.
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Is coaching controlling Florida's Urban Meyer rather than Meyer controlling his coaching? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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2009 NFL Season: Week 17 Thoughts

Now that the 2009 NFL regular season is complete, QC can analyze some of the statistical results. Here are a few season statistics and QC's thoughts on the statistics.

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Better coached teams, which means teams who had a better H A than their opponents, finished the season 206-50 (.805 winning%). In other words, better coached NFL teams won 80% of their games in 2009. (More productive teams finished the season 202-54, a .789 winning%).

In 37 out of the 50 games (74%) that better coached teams lost, the better coached team committed more turnovers than its opponent. As QC's 9th Commandment states, turnovers are random and are player playmaking failures, not play design failures. Thus, in 2009, approximately 95% of all NFL games (243 out of 256 games, .949) were decided by coaching or randomly by turnovers.

In his book, The Score Takes Care of Itself, former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh wrote:

"Competition inevitably produces randomness that can leave you grasping at straws. I attempted to reduce the randomness of my responses. Hearing someone described as being able to 'fly by the seat of his pants' always suggests to me a leader who hasn't prepared properly and whose pants may soon fall down."...

"The final score of a football game is decided, on average, according to the following percentages: 20 percent is due to luck, such as a referee's bad call, a tricky bounce of the ball, an injury, or some other happenstance. I accepted the fact that I couldn't control 20 percent of each game. However, the rest of it--80 percent--could be under my control with comprehensive planning and preparation. What about the quantity and quality of talent on my team? Doesn't that override everything? Of course you need talent, but talent is not the only factor. And at the upper most levels of competition, talent becomes much more evenly distributed. Thus, for working purposes my 80/20 ratio is quite good."

QC's coaching statistics appear to confirm that NFL coaches like Walsh can control about 80% of the outcome in the NFL as 80% of the time the final outcome of the game correlated with the coaching staff that contributed the better play design to its team's effort. Quite simply, Walsh's 80/20 ratio is correct.

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Teams whose QCYPA was greater than 9.00 and who held their opponent's QCYPA below 6.672 finished the season 52-2 (.963 winning percentage). The only teams that lost under these circumcstances were Pittsburgh in Week 3 and New England in Week 13. The Steelers fell to Cincinnati because QB Ben Roethlisberger threw a pick-6 to Bengals' defensive back Jonathan Joseph and the Patriots succumbed to Miami because coach Bill Belichick passed up an easy field goal attempt and the Dolphins stuffed New England's fourth down run. In both cases, these key plays fit within Walsh's concept of "randomness that can leave you grasping at straws."

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Teams whose offensive player productivity in a game finished below the JaMarcus Cable of 2.00 player productivity (HY) finished the season 22-76 (.224 winning%).
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YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Can NFL coaches control 80% of outcomes in NFL games with comprehensive planning and preparation as Bill Walsh wrote? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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2009 NFL Season: Week 16 Thoughts

In Week 16, in Indianapolis' 29-15 loss to the New York Jets, fans of NFL competition discovered a new species of black swan: The team that deliberately does not try its best to win the game.

In Week 16, fifteen other NFL teams tried to win. Fifteen other teams designed better plays that their players executed more productively than their opponents. These fifteen other teams won their games. A perfect 15-0.

One team, the Colts, designed better plays that its star player, QB Peyton Manning, and his teammates executed well enough to hold a 15-10 lead over the Jets. Turnover-free and sack-free Indianapolis was posting an impressive 9.14 QCYPA against New York's best-in-the-NFL defense. On the other side of the ball, the Jets and their rookie QB, Mark Sanchez, were struggling. New York finished the game with an abysmal 4.79 QCYPA.

For the season, NFL teams that have exceeded 9.00 QCYPA while holding their opponents to less than 6.672 QCYPA are 50-2. That's a .962 winning percentage. In other words, with a little over 5 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Colts had at least a 96% chance of defeating New York and moving to 15-0.