::Literate Blather::
Friday, January 19, 2007
5 Questions About: Football

(DaRK PaRTY lives and breathes NFL football – especially our hometown New England Patriots. So on the eve of Championship weekend in the NFL, DaRK PaRTY wanted to talk pigskin – and we found the man who can talk the talk better than anyone in the business. Kerry J. Byrne is the founder of Cold, Hard Football Facts.com – the destination for football analysis (and stuff about beer and hot chicks). Who better to give us the inside scoop of the NFL playoffs?)

DaRK PaRTY: Cold, Hard Football Facts likes to take sports reporters to task for getting things wrong. Why do you think sports reporting is so bad?

Kerry: Couple reasons:

1.) It's too much work to do what we do ... research everything, study the numbers, and then draw conclusions based up on the evidence. It’s easy to puke out vomit on to a keyboard and try to pass it off as analysis.

Basically, the Cold, Hard Football Facts apply the scientific method to sports reporting. Of course, we add a lot of self-congratulatory bombast and gratuitous references to cold beer and hot chicks to keep everyone from getting bored. But, essentially, it takes a lot longer to do what we do than it takes the average sports reporter to do what he/she does … which is essentially take notes and then spit out a story.

2.) In defense of sports reporters, a lot of them are spread thin and are basically turning out copy the way strippers turn out lap dances for dirty old men. Sure, there are other things they'd rather do, like maybe impale their genitals on barbed wire. But the almighty dollar, not to mention their bosses, demand that strippers and sports writers just keep grinding, no matter how dirty they feel inside about the job. Most sports writers would prefer to pen the next "Tuesdays With Morrie." But to survive they really just need to bang out copy to fill space. Right, wrong ... it doesn't matter. They just need to fill space.

3.) Another problem is that, for some reason, sports writing puts a premium on opinions, no matter how fuckin' stupid those opinions may be. Everyone from Jim Rome to sports radio hosts in local markets is praised for their cutting-edge opinions, or for "having the balls" to tell you what they think. Well, every drunk at the end of the bar has an opinion. How much value is there in that?

And, sorry, it doesn't take any balls to tell a bunch of people "what you think" about sports. It takes balls to invade an enemy beachhead under deadly withering fire. It takes two or three semi-functioning synapses to tell people what you think about sports. Most people can "think" for themselves and form their own "opinions." I think most sports fans listen to the uneducated opinions of your average sports pundit and say, “What a fuckin’ moron.”

Jim Rome is a perfect example. Actually caught him on TV the other day talking about the AFC title game, and I quote: "How in the world can you pick against the Patriots? With that said, I'm picking the Colts. But how can you go against the Patriots?" This guy has the analytical skills of a three year old. Actually, he must be a genius to turn that utter lack of ability into that kind of money. He’s like the Paris Hilton of the sports world, except not quite as hot. So I guess you gotta admire that.

4.) Finally, the consumer has a role in all this, perhaps the primary role. People like salacious dirt, bombastic opinions and gridiron gossip. Whether it's right or wrong, the consumer typically just wants some juicy mind candy to suck on while they're killing time at work or knocking back a few beers at home. Factless opinions about sports go a long way toward filling that need.

With that said, there's definitely a demand in the marketplace for what we do: intelligent, well-researched and entertaining sports writing that offers consumers something they can count on: the truth. I think our pretty impressive growth in a very crowded market shows there’s a thirst out there for people who offer up something a little deeper than “what I think.”

DP: Let's talk some football. What are two of the biggest surprises to emerge so far in the 2006/2007 NFL season?

Kerry: First surprise: the fact that the sports media continues to misunderstand the way the New England Patriots run their organization. Win or lose against Indy, this team has pulled off the single most remarkable run in the history of playoff football. For example, in their playoff games since 2001, they’ve beaten five teams who were 13-3 or better in the playoffs. That’s pretty remarkable. To put it into context: Joe Montana, during his four Super Bowl postseasons, played and beat just one team that was 13-3 or better, and that was the 14-2 Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.

One other example: the 2004 Patriots beat opponents in the playoffs who were a combined 40-8 – that’s the toughest postseason schedule a champion’s overcome in the Super Bowl Era. The Patriots this year are fresh off a road win over a 14-2 No. 1 seed.

Yet here we are heading into the AFC title game, and the majority of “pundits” out there are picking Indy, a team that’s never even reached a Super Bowl and that has serious defensive questions, to win the game. Indy CAN certainly win this game. It’s just amazing, based upon the track records of each team, and the performances of each team this season statistically and otherwise, that so many people are pegging the Colts to win. It makes no sense, logically speaking.

Second surprise: the fact that so-called “parity” in the NFL is dead and buried – yet nobody’s got the message. Everyone likes to talk about parity in the NFL. It’s a big buzzword. Every time there’s a close game, you hear parity, parity, parity.

But look at the playoffs: the same teams dominate year after year after year: New England is always good. Indy is always good. Denver is almost always good. Same with Pittsburgh. They had down seasons this year, each missing the playoffs. But that’s always been the case. And, generally speaking, the same teams are in the mix year after year.

The NFC is a bit more of toss-up, and the Saints are a surprise team, obviously. But if you look back on history, there have always been surprise teams. There have always been lousy teams that shocked powerhouses – the NFL has ALWAYS been competitive.

There was a period of parity in the NFL … back in the mid-80s, but it’s over and dead.

Look at 1985 – everyone remembers the great 15-1 Bears. But nobody else won more than 12 games that year. Hell, the Browns won the AFC Central with an 8-8 record. If that’s not parity, I don’t know what is.

In 1988, no team in football won more than 12 games, and only three were that good. Three of six division winners that year were 10-6 or 9-7. That’s parity. The 49ers won the SB with a 10-6 record - worst ever for a Super Bowl winner.

That’s parity. It doesn’t exist anymore. The Colts and Patriots, for example, are setting records for most wins ever over a whole series of given time periods.

The bad teams, meanwhile, generally continue to suck: Cleveland, Arizona, Detroit shit the bed year after year. If parity truly existed, these teams will make a run once in a while. They don’t.

DP: The Chicago Bears will take on the New Orleans Saints for the NFC championship. Who do you like and why?

Kerry: I like Chicago … they have problems, but New Orleans has bigger problems. The Saints defense is truly inept, especially considering the level of the competition they’ve faced this season, which has been poor. Their run defense, for example, surrendered 4.94 yards per attempt this year … that’s pretty friggin’ poor, not just this year, but historically speaking.

The Saints are 10-6 and only one 10-6 team has gone on to win a Super Bowl – the 1988 49ers. Of course, they had Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. The Saints can get by Chicago, but they have no shot, really, of winning the Super Bowl.

I think it ends for them this weekend.

DP: The big match-up of the weekend has to be the AFC title match of New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts? Who do you see winning and why?

Kerry: The Colts are like the Saints: a team that’s won a lot, despite glaring flaws. The Colts, for example, surrendered 360 points this year – far worse than even the worst Super Bowl winning defense (1983 Raiders, 338 points). They also have one of the worst run defenses in the history of football.

Now, with that said, the Colts have gone 14-4 through this point in the playoffs. But if you’re looking at this solely through Cold, Hard Football Facts – that is, through the pigskin prism of stats and data – it’s inconceivable that they could go on to win the Super Bowl.

Sure, they can win this weekend. But if we have to take a pick, we’re going to base our decision upon what the numbers tell us. And the numbers tell us that New England is the stronger all-around team and, therefore, the safer bet to win the game.

DP: How does the New England Patriots winning streak compare to other dynasty and to what do you attribute their success?

Kerry: We just reported on this topic this week. A couple facts for you to digest:

  • The 2004 Patriots, as we stated, overcame the toughest postseason schedule ever to win a Super Bowl.
  • The Patriots of the past couple years have set every single win streak in the entire 87-year history of football: most consecutive regular-season wins (18), most consecutive overall wins (21), most consecutive postseason wins (10). One team owns all those records.
  • Should the Patriots beat Indy, they’ll be favored to become just the second team to win four Super Bowls in six years.
  • The 2003-04 Patriots won more games over a two-year period (34) than any other team in NFL history.
  • The 2003-04 Patriots beat 20 teams with winning record over those two seasons – nobody in history has come close.
  • The Patriots, heading into the Indy game, own the best postseason winning percentage in NFL history (.633), just ahead of the Packers (.632).
  • Since Bob Kraft bought the team in 1994, New England has won 15 playoff games. The Bears, one of the original NFL franchises from 1920, have won 15 playoff games in their history.

Add it all up, and it is the most remarkable streak of dominance in the history of football.

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