Thursday, October 27, 2005

NFL Stock Report - Part One
By Zach

This is the first part of my look at the NFL near the midway point of the season. Today, the AFC, tomorrow the NFC.

So I'm looking at Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings for Week 8 and a thought keeps crossing my mind. How would I treat these teams if they were stocks. Would I buy, sell, hold, or what? The basic rule of thumb is this: if I say to buy a team, it means I expect them to improve their record over the rest of the season, while a selling team will perform worse. Holds are either going to perform at the same level, or I might not feel strongly enough to advise. There's no one specific rule I'm using, just a combination of data. If teams have played poorly against a weak schedule, or well against a tough schedule, I'll keep that in mind, especially in light of what their future schedule looks like. If they have glaring deficiencies in one facet of the game or another. And while DVOA doesn't adjust for injuries (because the effect of injuries is hard to quantify), I'll keep them in mind.


Baltimore Ravens: Sell. Sure, this one's pretty easy. I mean, they're 24th in offense. Worse, they're 30th in rushing offense. Worst of all, they're just 15th in the league in defense, and they'll be without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for at least a week. Oh, and did I mention they're playing the 9th toughest schedule from here on out (after playing the 18th toughest to this point).

Buffalo Bills: Sell. As fast as you can. Despite being just 1/2 game out of the AFC East, this team is going to sink like the Titanic. Why? Well, for starters, look at their defense. A very good 7th against the pass, but cover-your-eyes awful against the run (31st). The only team worse? The Texans. Offensively, they're just that, ranked 26. And after playing the NFL's 29th hardest schedule through Week 7, they play the 6th hardest down the stretch. Yikes.

Cincinnati Bengals: Hold. Yes, they took a beating against the Steelers. But they're one of the most balanced teams in the league, ranking in the top 10 in both offense (4) and defense (10). Of course, that 29th ranked run defense is a major cause for concern, but with as much talent as they have on offense they should be able to somewhat neutralize the running games of most opponents. Plus, they still have games left with Baltimore (x2), Cleveland, Green Bay, Detroit, and Buffalo.

Cleveland Browns: Hold. The biggest reason they're not a buy is the uncertainty at quarterback. Trent Dilfer has been awful of late, and Charlie Frye is, well, Charlie Frye. Their offense (17 pass, 26 run, 20 overall) and defense (20 pass, 26 run, 23 oveall) are solidly below average. But they do go from the 7th to the 14th toughest schedule in the league. Blame that on games left with Pittsburgh (x2), Cincinnati, and Jacksonville. On the other hand, games against Houston, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Baltimore are winnable.

Denver Broncos: Hold. Yes, their tendancy to blow fourth quarter leads finally bit them against the Giants. But on the other hand, they did manage to go 5-2 against the NFL's toughest schedule and did so with solid play from their defense (16th overall). The problem is, they still have a fairly tough schedule (10th), and while this isn't particularly objective, I can't help feeling like they're going to fall apart, just like they have the last two years. So hold, but look to sell aggressively if things trend any further down.

Houston Texans: Buy. What? Buy the Texans? A team I've called the worst in NFL history? Well, first of all, it's hard to believe they'll go 0-16. So that's part of it. The other fact is, they've played the 3rd hardest schedule in the NFL so far, but will face the 26th toughest over the second half. Games against Cleveland, Baltimore, Tennessee, Arizona, and San Francisco are all potentially wins. Of course, with the league's 29th ranked offense and 32nd ranked defense, no game is easy.

Indianapolis Colts: Sell. Well, in part this is because it's not likely they'll go 16-0. But a few things are going to change for this squad. First and foremost, they won't be playing the NFL's easiest schedule for the entire year. In fact, they'll be playing the 8th toughest. Secondly, while the offense has improved from earlier in the season, the defense has declined, especially against the run (23rd). With games @New England, @Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, @Jacksonville, San Diego, and @Seattle all looming on the horizon, 7-0 could turn into 12-4 or 13-3 rather quickly.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Buy. Were they lucky to beat Pittsburgh two weeks ago? Maybe. But on the other hand, their defense has been tremendous (1st pass, 9th run, 1st overall) and the offense has been good enough (15th pass, 19th run, 15th overall). Plus, factor in going 4-2 against the league's second toughest schedule, and things are looking pretty good. Oh, and did we mention they have the easiest remaining schedule? Besides hosting Indianapolis, they shouldn't be challenged for the rest of the season, and with a win over Indy could possibly pull out a surprising AFC South Championship.

Kansas City Chiefs: Hold. They've flown a bit under the radar, but with last week's pasting of the Miami Dolphins, they've established themselves as a contender in the AFC West. Good signs include the 7th ranked offense (11th pass, 4th run) and a very good run defense (3rd). Of course, that run defense has been so good because teams haven't bothered to run, not against the league's 25th ranked pass defense. Also, they face the 3rd toughest remaining schedule.

Miami Dolphins: Hold. If they could just settle on giving the ball to Ronnie Brown, I'd feel better about buying. Of course, they're being propped up in the DVOA rankings because of their blowout win over Denver, but they're still a solid two-way football team against the run, with the 10th ranked run offense and 2nd ranked run defense. The problem is the pass (23rd offense, 22nd defense). But the 27th ranked remaining schedule should help them out, especially considering they face just one team with a dynamic passing attack (Oakland).

New England Patriots: Buy. Yes, it's been a brutal start to the season for the two-time defending champions. And yes, they've been ravaged by injuries. But remember, they've faced a brutal schedule (5th), and will be getting emotional leader Tedy Bruschi back to help bolster a defense which has been miserable this year (30th pass, 21st run, 29th overall). Of course, getting Tyrone Poole back either this week or next week will help, as will facing the 22nd ranked schedule which includes all 6 games against AFC East opponents. With the pathetic status of the rest of the division, another AFC East crown is well within their grasp.

New York Jets: Hold. This would be a buy if they were starting someone besides Vinny Testeverde at quarterback. As in someone who could actually still play. Still, they get a bit of a break scheduling (8th toughest so far, 17 toughest remaining), and their defense has continued to improve (19th last week, now 13th). What's troubling is a 25th ranking against the run, though teams have been able to run while ahead against the Jets because of their miserable offense (30th overall). As Ben has mentioned many times, they might be better off tanking this season and looking to rebuild the offense via the draft.

Oakland Raiders: Buy. This is a bit of a gamble purchase, but I believe that they'll improve because Norv Turner will continue to give the ball to Lamont Jordan, who might be their best offensive player at this point. The schedule remains hard (6th toughest faced, 5th toughest remaining), but a dynamic offense (6th pass, 8th rush, 5th overall) should keep them in games. Plus, their run defense has been surprisingly solid (14th).

Pittsburgh Steelers: Buy. The stunning thing about the Steelers has been their offensive numbers. They're 12th overall, but 5th in passing and 17th in rushing. That's not what you expect to see from a Bill Cowher team, but it indicates a bit how the DVOA rankings work. While Parker and Bettis may run for plenty of yards, the important plays on offense (third down conversions, touchdowns) are usually through the passing game. Still, with Parker and Bettis as a 1-2 combination I expect their rush ranking to rise. Defensively, they're a typical Steelers unit, ranking in the top 10 in both rush (6) and pass (9) defense. They also get a scheduling break, facing the 19th toughest schedule down the stretch. They should be able to keep the pressure on the Bengals in the AFC North.

San Diego Chargers: Buy. Their record is deceptive. Their four losses have come to Dallas, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia (combined 17-9 record) and by a total of 12 points. Last week's loss to the Eagles was particularly painful, with the decisive score coming on a touchdown return of a blocked field goal. They've still got the NFL's 3rd ranked offense (3rd rush, 7th pass) and a solid defense (14th). The negative is they have the toughest remaining schedule. Still, some of the breaks should start to go their way.

Tennessee Titans: Hold. The biggest surprise for the Titans has been their miserable run offense (27th). As usual, Steve McNair has been hurt, but they've managed to be a mediocre passing team (16th). Their remaining and past schedules are about equal, 20th and 21st respectively. The pass defense has to improve, or else they could slip even lower.

That's it for Part One, stay tuned for Part Two, the NFC, tomorrow.


Blogger The Armchair Quarterback said...

The Patriots are the biggest "lock " of a buy that you have listed. They are still (you don't know how much this pains me to say this) a Super Bowl contender and will easily win their division. Even with their injuries would you bet against them (and Brady) in the post-season?

7:04 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Their potential success is going to hinge on whether they can get their secondary into decent shape. As good as they can be offensively, if their defense can't get healthy and effective, they'll be in big trouble, especially because the odds of them getting some sort of HFA this year aren't particularly good

7:24 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

If they have to go to Indy, I'd bet against them. Home field is so big in the postseason. I wouldn't take New England in Indy, just like I'd never take Indy at New England. Dome teams never play well outdoors, but at home in January, they're a force to be reckoned with. (See the Rams)
Since as Zach said, the Pats will have a tough time getting homefield over the Colts, I don't see them coming out of the AFC.

1:07 AM  

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