Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Replacement Officials: They are that bad

Replacement officials in the NFL have been mildly controversial lately. From players to coaches to numerous columnists, it appears that the call for the real refs is universal.

Several of my usual reads have already analyzed various aspects of the situation. At, Brian Burke took a look at home field advantage and concluded that the numbers for this season are not conclusively different from the long-term trend. Bill Barnwell comes at it from more of an “integrity of the game” approach that a great number of columnists are favoring.

Are they really that bad?

Avg Penalties per Week (1-3)
Stats-wise, any time I see this kind of consensus opinion I want to look into it and see what’s up. Through three weeks, the replacement refs are averaging 218 penalty calls per week. This puts them comfortably in range of the past ten seasons when compared against the first three weeks of each. When compared against the full-season numbers, 2012 looks terrible with only 2004 and 2005 above 200. But this is because the replacements have so far participated only in 16 game weeks while full seasons have several weeks with 13 or 14 games to accommodate byes. Penalties per week also tend to go down slightly throughout the season even accounting for byes.

So if they aren’t calling more penalties, what is the problem? The 2012 season is seeing more penalties than 2011, about 0.5 extra calls per game, but that doesn’t seem like enough to cause this outcry.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why are NFL preseason win projections so bad?

I have been unable to avoid looking at predictions for the upcoming NFL season. After spending some time picking apart ESPN’s Future Power Rankings back in May, these predictions have again piqued my interest – so I will pick them apart too. When will they ever learn that I will go away if they pick the Browns to make the playoffs (I’m not even asking for a Super Bowl, just to make the playoffs and maybe also to have Pittsburgh not do well).

Projecting win totals is definitely hard. Brian Burke, the very talented founder of, has had a significant amount of fun deconstructing Football Outsiders’ projections over the years. Among other things, he has shown that the results could be improved by picking all teams to finish 8-8 (he refers to this as the CoMA strategy) and picking all teams to regress somewhat by projecting 6 wins plus ¼ of the prior year’s win total – 10-6 becomes 6 + 10/4 = 8.5 wins (he refers to this as the ‘Koko the Monkey’ strategy, fans of Seinfeld approve).