29 September 2009

Tuesday Gridiron (3/2009)

First of all, best wishes to USC running back Stephon Johnson, who took a horrific injury to his throat.  The details are still too horrible for me to think about, so if you haven't learned the details, you can follow this link.

Well, I was about to spend a whole blog dissecting the new jerseys the Seattle Seahawks wore two days ago (seen at right).  They aren't pretty, but the bright green isn't the problem -- it's the dark blue sleeves that make them look so bad.  (For that matter, the sleeves look awful on the Seahawks' regular home jerseys, too.)  Anyway, the new jerseys still aren't remotely as noxious as those 1940s-style rags the Buffalo Bills call their current uniforms.

In other news, I've been playing fantasy football.  And sucking at it, hard.  Last week, I lost both my #1 running back and my #1 receiver to injuries.  Tom Brady did okay for me at QB, but I was lucky to lose by only 21 points, and fall to 0-3 in the process.  Go, Team Venture?

22 September 2009

Tuesday Gridiron (2/2009)

Last year, I made a new post after every week of NFL games.  Each post showed only the standings with my Victory Weighting system, with a few comments here and there.  This year, since Blogger allows HTML-based gadgets, the current Victory Weighted standings will appear at the bottom of the blog.  Actual Victory Weighting related posts will appear most Tuesdays until the Pro Bowl in February, but they'll consist of comments on the standings.

To recap what's been posted here at the Cat: In Victory Weighting, each team has a Strength rating.  At the end of each game that ends in regulation, the winning team adds 4 points to its Strength.  For games that end in overtime, the winner adds 3 points to its Strength, and the loser adds 1 point.  In the rare case of a tie, each team adds 2 points to its Strength.

Teams are then ranked by Strength.  If two teams have the same Strength, the one with the better winning percentage gets the higher rank. Victory Weighting also modifies some NFL tie-breaking procedures:
  1. For tiebreakers that compare sub-records, Strength precedes winning percentage. For example, if two teams have the same Strength from division games, then the team with the better winning percentage in its division advances.
  2. For head-to-head tiebreakers, Strength from the relevant game(s) replaces winning percentage.
  3. A team's strength of schedule, most commonly used as the final draft-order tiebreaker, is redefined as the sum of all of its opponents' Strength ratings. Division opponents count twice in this calculation, since every team plays its division rivals (but no one else) twice.
  4. Likewise, the definition of the rarely used strength of victory becomes the VP-weighted sum of opponents' Strength ratings. Each game played contributes a "game strength," which is the product of (a) the number of Strength points the team earned from that game and (b) the opponent's overall Strength. The strength of victory, then, is the sum of all the game strengths.
Besides mitigating the inherent unfairness of sudden-death overtime, Victory Weighting offers additional advantages:
  • Fairer playoff seeding:  Since victory-point totals better reflect the quality of teams' victories, they also better reflect the quality of the teams themselves.
  • Faster tiebreakers:  Because Victory Weighting changes the standings every time an overtime period is played, it spreads teams out. Rivals who share a common won-loss record can nevertheless have different Strengths. If the rivals are competing for playoff spots, no tiebreakers need apply, since the different Strengths sort them out.
  • Quicker playoff scenario resolution:  One team's performance in its last regular-season game can affect not only its own playoff status but also those of several rivals. Under traditional rules, the rivals have to wait until the whole of this central game is completed, even it it requires overtime. Under Victory Weighting, however, overtime itself can either provide or take away the single Strength point required to determine everyone's fate. The waiting ends when regulation time does.
Victory Weighting does expand the number of playoff scenarios. Instead of three potential outcomes (win, loss, draw), each game now has five (win, OT win, loss, OT loss, draw).  For a two-team race, the total number of scenarios increases from 9 to 25; for three teams, from 27 to 125. On the other hand, the resulting tiebreakers work faster, resolving the additional scenarios almost as quickly as they are added.

Finally, Victory Weighting exerts an impact that is neither positive or negative. At the end of the season, it does affect draft order, especially for those teams whose final Strength falls between 26 and 38. These are the teams in the middle of the overall table, with 7-9, 8-8 and 9-7 records.  Even when Victory Weighting jumbles their draft positions, such teams can usually work their way around the changes – just as they do now.

18 September 2009

The Ghost-Grey Cat Presents: (1) Separating generations

As I composed the first draft for this post, some research reminded me that another piece of CBS history is being made today.  The Guiding Light, the longest scripted series ever, will close its run after 72 years on both radio and television.  The radio episodes alone (almost two decades' worth) accounted for more air time than CBS Radio Mystery Theater, itself one of the longest running radio fiction series ever.

Nevertheless, RMT made an impressive run--1,399 episodes aired over 2,969 nights--all long after scripted network radio supposedly died.  The show even did well enough to enjoy rerun-based revivals in 1989 and 1998.  As it turns out, however, the end of RMT in 1982 did, indeed, spell the death of scripted radio, at least on the fiction side.

For some of us, the show didn't always leave us with the "pleasant dreams" host E.G. Marshall (and his successor, Tammy Grimes) wished us, but they did leave happy memories. Fans of all ages curled up with their little transistor radios at night, listening to RMT episodes when they were supposed to be sleeping.

Those memories make RMT a rather useful tool for separating the generations. RMT's youngest fans--including me--were grade-schoolers when its episodes first aired in 1974, and teenagers at the end of the show's run. Older fans were part of the Baby Boom or earlier generations; those too young to remember RMT belong to Generation X.  But we, the youngest RMT fans in the 1970s, don't fit easily in either category.

Back to The Guiding Light, which everyone remembers but, apparently, no one watches.  Any show that takes more than seven decades to finally lose its audience had to be doing something right.  Nice run.

12 September 2009

Final 2008 NFL Standings with Victory Weighting

In Victory Weighting, teams are ranked by their Strength. If two teams have the same Strength, then the one with the higher overall winning percentage gets the higher rank.

With that in mind, let's see how the final 2008-9 NFL standings would have appeared under Victory Weighting. Playoff teams in these listings are preceded by their seed in parentheses.

NFC North
(3) Minnesota10-6-00-0400.625
Chicago 9-7-02-1350.538
Green Bay6-10-00-1260.375
Detroit 0-16-00-000.000

NFC South
(1) Carolina 12-4-00-1490.750
(5) Atlanta 11-5-01-0430.688
Tampa Bay 9-7-02-1350.538
New Orleans 8-8-00-1330.500

NFC East
(2) NY Giants 12-4-02-0460.750
(6) Philadelphia9-6-10-0380.594
Dallas 9-7-00-1370.538
Washington 8-8-00-0320.500

NFC West
(4) Arizona 9-7-01-0350.538
San Francisco7-9-01-0230.432
Seattle 4-12-00-1170.250
St. Louis 2-14-00-080.125

AFC North
(2) Pittsburgh12-4-01-0470.750
(6) Baltimore 11-5-00-1450.688
Cleveland 4-12-00-0160.250

AFC South
(1) Tennessee 13-3-01-0510.812
(5) Indianapolis12-4-00-0480.750
Houston 8-8-00-1330.500

AFC East
(3) New England11-5-00-1450.688
Miami 11-5-00-0440.688
NY Jets 9-7-01-1360.538
Buffalo 7-9-00-0280.432

AFC West
(4) San Diego8-8-00-0320.500
Kansas City2-14-00-190.125

Usually, Victory Weighting produces the same set of playoff teams as do traditional standings, but seed them differently. Here, Carolina would have earned the #1 NFC seed, and the Panthers would have hosted Philadelphia at the divisional playoff stage.  The New York Giants, the actual top seeds, would have fallen to #2, where they would have met surging Arizona.

Last season also provided a less common result:  it actually produced a different playoff field.  Miami completed its Cinderella run by winning the AFC East and hosting Baltimore in the wild-card round.  Under Victory Weighting, however, the Dolphins would have missed the playoffs altogether, and New England would have hosted the Ravens instead. The difference is that only the Patriots had a game go to overtime. The OT loss gave the Patriots an extra Strength point.

11 September 2009

How To Improve NFL Overtime

Baseball resolves ties by playing full extra innings. In basketball, tied teams play extra time in 5-minute parcels. Even in soccer and hockey, they get it partly right, with fixed overtime periods preceding those dreaded shootouts. In none of these sports does the game stop at the first score. But in the NFL, overtime consists of a sudden-death period that ends the first time somebody scores. Sometimes, the result of an NFL overtime has some fairness. When both teams are allowed to possess the ball at least once, they can reasonably claim that the OT period tested all of one team against all of the other. (That's why OT works in those other sports.) Unfortunately, many NFL overtimes end after only one possession. When that happens, overtime tests only one of half of the winning team against half the losing team. Yet, the winning team still gets full credit for the win. That's wrong. College football teams use a different scheme, giving each team in a tie game an additional possession at the same place (usually the near 25-yard line). The team that scores more points in its possession wins the game. In case of tie, the teams get another possession and try again. That's more fair than sudden-death, but each team gets more than a couple of chances, it can occasionally take a while. Let's review: NFL overtime doesn't work fairly, but the best fix, the college OT scheme, takes too long for the NFL to implement. The good news is, I have a solution. Enter Victory Weighting. The basic idea is this:
The winner of an NFL game should get more credit if they do it in regulation.
If overtime is required, the winners shouldn't get full credit for the win. On the other hand, the loser of an overtime should get a little credit for forcing overtime in the first place. To enforce this principle, we just add another column to the standings. In addition to a won-loss record, each team receives a Strength score. Every game played adds up to four points to a team's Strength, based on how the team fared:
  • Regulation win: +4 Strength
  • Overtime win: +3 Strength
  • Tie: +2 Strength
  • Overtime loss: +1 Strength
  • Regulation win: 0 Strength
For example, as a result of last night's game, the Steelers now have a Strength of 3, while the Titans have Strength 1. Both team's Strengths have been weighted by the fact that their game required overtime. (Hence, the term Victory Weighting.) In most cases, the standings using Victory Weighting will be the same, but there will be deviations, especially during midseason, when some teams have taken their byes while others are still waiting for their weeks off. As we'll see next time, when we review the 2008-9 season, Victory Weighting can also impact playoff bids.

"Eat Yer Burritos," Take Two

Hi! "Take one" was something called "Shaddup and Eat Yet Burritos," which also lived on Blogspot. I had hoped it would be a general-purpose blog, but somehow, it turned instead into a football blog. That really wasn't what I wanted. At the beginning of this year, I had to turn my attention to more pressing matters, like moving halfway across North America. Of course, I could have just added new posts to the old blog, whose last entry was in January. On further review, however, I decided to move the blog to a new place. For one thing, it was inspired by the fact that I was living in Maricopa County, home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his anti-immigrant obsessions. While Illinois has plenty of immigrants, the obssession isn't as strong, so the title doesn't mean as much. More to the point, it occurred to me that I have something else to talk about in a blog. One of my favorite things about the 1970s was the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, the nine-year, 1400-episode extravaganza that marked the end of radio drama in the U.S. I have quite a few things to say about CBSRMT, enough for years' worth of weekly or bi-weekly posts. Hence: The Ghost-Grey Cat. The new title is a play on "The Ghost-Grey Bat," one of the best horror installments of the entire CBSRMT run. I'll discuss this episode, and CBSRMT in general, in the weeks to come. Meanwhile, the NFL season has started again, so I'll first talk about Victory Weighting, my proposal for making sudden-death overtime periods fairer to the teams that have to endure them. Happily, the Titans and Steelers gave me more material last night. Anyway, welcome to The Ghost-Grey Cat!