By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts Sleeping Beauty
Welcome back, football season! While the summer may be a busy and wild time for some (e.g.: those working for in minor-league baseball), it's never easy to spend nearly seven months without NFL games that truly matter.
Perhaps that's why nobody's complaining the 2012 NFL season begins in Wednesday, because we're better off with real football on odd days than no football at all.
In honor of the new season kicking off with a drama-filled bang, with two NFC East rivals reliving a Week 17 match-up that saw one team go home for the playoffs and the other team make the playoffs en route to arguably the most shocking championship run in league history, it's to give a few doses of "Mathletics" for our football Wednesday.
For those who heard of "Mathletics" for the first time, the concept surrounding this is quite simple. In a 16-game NFL season, there tends to be certain statistical achievements that rarely happen in league history. Because such feats are so rare, it's safe to assume by simple odds and statistical theory that there will be some regression to the mean the following season.
In the first part of this "Mathletics" doubleheader, the challengers in the 2012 NFL Kickoff Game. Let's look at Five Factors That'll Shape the 2012 New York Giants season.
1. W-L Record (trending up)
One trend in, and there's already a challenge to our Potentate of Pigskin's claim that the New York Giants will not make the playoffs. Let the sleeping beauty explain the trends to suggets why the Giants should be able to improve despite all the luck the team had to make its Super Bowl run.
First, the 2011 Giants are just one of five Super Bowl champions with a .680 winning percentage or worse in the regular season. Here's the first four:
- 1967 Packers (9-4-1, Won Super Bowl II): Finished 6-7-1 the following season after Vince Lombardi's retirement; Phil Bengtson replaced Lombardi as the head coach
- 1988 49ers (10-6, Won Super Bowl XXIII): Finished 14-2 in 1989, won home-field advantage in the NFC and won Super Bowl XXIV; George Seifert replaced Bill Walsh as the head coach
- 2007 Giants (10-6, Won Super Bowl XLII): Finished 12-4 in 2008 and won home-field advantage in the NFC; Lost in the Divisional Round to the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles
- 2010 Packers (10-6, Super Bowl XLV): Finished 15-1 in 2011 and won home-field advantage in the NFC; Lost in the Divisional Round to the fourth-seeded New York Giants
At this point, with these limited examples, it seems like these teams build off their Super Bowl victories to improve the following regular season.
The 1967 Packers were an "end of an era" type of team, as Lombardi retired the following season and the Packers wrapped up a "three-peat" that only two set of teams achieved in NFL history. No improvements should've been expected.
Meanwhile, the 2011 Giants became just the third team with a negative scoring margin. The other two teams, the 1978 Oilers and 1996 Jaguars would both go 11-5 in the following season.
Finally, look at some of the notable 9-7 teams to the reach the conference championship game or farther. The 2009 Jets rode its elite pass defense to the AFC Championship Game, and they followed up with a 11-5 campaign.
The 2008 Cardinals reached Super Bowl XLIII and then went 10-6 the next year. The 1979 Rams reached Super Bowl XIV and went 11-5 the next year. At the worst-case scenario, the 1995 Colts made the AFC Championship Game, and went 9-7 again the next year.
History suggests last year's playoff run was just the start of something special for the Giants.
2. Eli Manning's Fourth-Quarter Play (trending down)
Perhaps no quarterback in NFL history put together a better season in the fourth quarter than Eli did last year. Manning passed for a league-record 15 touchdown passes in the final 15 minutes, and he put together an amazing seven fourth-quarter comebacks. As our own Captain Comeback explained, there will be regression to the mean for Manning's fourth-quarter comebacks.
Obviously, there will be regression to Manning's fourth-quarter passing production as well. This should impact the Giants' overall fourth quarter offensive performance. Since 2003, no team with at least 140 points in the fourth quarter improved that total the following season.
Finally, Manning put together a 111.0 passer rating in the fourth quarter, as opposed to his fourth-quarter career average of 84.6. Even if Manning puts together one of his best seasons in 2012, he'll need a whole batch of luck to keep up his fourth-quarter production from 2011.
3. Victor Cruz's Big-Play Touchdowns (trending down)
Last year, Cruz came out of nowhere to become the Giants' best big-play threat. That rose the Paterson, New Jersey kid to immediate stardom. En route to a 1536-yard season, Cruz caught touchdown passes of 99, 74 (twice), 72 and 68. As a result, he tied an NFL-high since 1961 for most touchdown receptions of at least 60 yards.
Of the first five receivers since 1961 to achieve this feat, they combined for a total of six such touchdowns in their respective following seasons.
Big-play touchdowns are conducive to certain factors, primarily being that the offense has to be in their own territory. With better field position, the Giants may not even need those big plays from Cruz. Quite simply, they can't count on it.
4. Rushing YPA (trending up)
Despite putting together one of the worst rushing offenses in the league during the regular season, New York only made its Super Bowl run, but it remained effective at scoring rushing touchdowns. In fact, the Giants became just the 14th team in the Live Ball era to score at least 15 rushing touchdowns while rushing for fewer than 3.5 yards per carry.
Of the first 13 teams, only three decline in their rushing average. However, none of the three declined by more than 0.1 yard per attempt. The best explanation for this: these teams are salting away games (only two of the 13 teams had a losing record) and they are frequently scoring short-yardage touchdowns.
New York made a great draft move by taking David Wilson. If he can have an immediate impact, the rushing offense will certainly be more efficient. That could certainly ease of the burden on the near-inevitable decline in Manning's fourth-quarter play.
5. Second Half Strength of Schedule (trending down)
While the Giants have habitually struggled down the stretch during the Tom Coughlin era, the team wasn't given any favors by the NFL last year. Big Blue played four games against 8-8 teams and a game against each one of the fellow NFC divisional champions. Add in the Week 9 against the New England Patriots, and New York's final nine opponents owned a combined 91-53 record (.632).
In 2012, the Giants seem to have a very stiff challenge one again. After Week 9, they play six teams that made the postseason last year and two divisional opponents. However, the Green Bay Packers won't be 15-1 again and the New Orleans Saints won't be 13-3 again. The Cincinnati Bengals could also decline after feasting on weak opponents last year.
Perhaps for a change, Big Blue cruises down the stretch, even if it doesn't seem likely right now.