Nice call on Flacco, Harbaugh – Joe is one of the “best third-year quarterbacks in history of football”

I think now is a great time to dig up an article I wrote last February (2011) on Joe Flacco.  Primarily because Flacco has just completed a game in which he threw for a whopping 3.6 ypc, the lowest ypc of any QB this year in the NFL w/ at least 37 pass attempts.

In the last 8 NFL seasons, only 5 other QBs have thrown for lower ypc on 37+ attempts:  Bruce Gradkowski, Derek Anderson, Eli Manning, Ken Dorsey and Carson Palmer.

Here is the article I wrote back in February, and you will find most of it is still 100% relevant:

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“Statistically, he’s one of the best third-year quarterbacks in history of football,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think we should ever lose sight of the fact that this guy is as good a third-year quarterback as has played in the history of this game so far. And I believe in him. He’s my quarterback, he’s our quarterback, he’s going to be our quarterback, and we’re going to win championships with this guy.”

I was blown away when I heard Jim Harbaugh, Ravens HC, make this comment.

Joe Flacco has the height and build that make him look like a prototypical QB. And this season it was politically correct to think Joe Flacco is a solid, dependable and possibly a great QB.

I disagree wholeheartedly and it’s my prerogative to feel that way until Flacco proves me wrong. He has a big arm, he has a big body, he throws a good deep ball. But he chokes in big games, he is not a leader that proves it on the field and his passing under pressure is miserable. But I’m not the only one who sees his limitations:

Otherwise, though they would never say different, why would Flacco’s GM/Owner/Coach make such unprecedented moves before the 2010 season? As we all know, the Ravens build through the draft, they groom their own. But they realized the severe limitations of their QB, so they knew they had to help him. So this season, they added Anquan Boldin, TJ Houshmandzadeh and Dontae’ Stallworth.

If they had a QB they could trust to win big games, they wouldn’t have needed to add all these weapons. Their run game was huge in 2009 so they certainly didn’t need to add WRs to help the run game. They had Mason already, another former Pro Bowler, and could have added one other WR if they saw the opportunity. But they didn’t. They added three. This was a team that, in 2010, brought in 2 Pro-Bowl receivers to add to the 1 Pro-Bowler they already had. Does this sound like a team that trusts they have an all-star QB? No. This team, when going 3 wide, felt they needed to have 3 Pro-Bowl WRs starting together at the same time.

Forget about the Miami Heat or the NY Knicks stacking talent, that’s what the Ravens tried to do with their WR position in 2010.

Did Belichick, when Brady was his young QB, go out in FA and bring in a ton of Pro Bowl WRs? No, Brady won 3 SBs w/ Troy Brown, David Patten and Deion Branch.

When Big Ben was a young QB w/ the Steelers, did Cowher go out in FA and buy a bunch of Pro Bowl WRs? No, Ben won Super Bowls w/ Hines Ward and Randle El, and then another w/ an older Hines Ward and a young, homegrown Santonio Holmes. None of these guys were FAs, they were drafted by the Steelers.

In fact, let’s look at all the younger QBs of the last few years:

Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers

When these guys were budding in the league, struggling at times, did any of the teams they played on, even the ones who didn’t have great run games and great defenses, bring in multiple proven and veteran Pro-Bowl WRs for their QB to use? Absolutely not. So why would the Ravens feel they needed to add such talent if they love their QB so much, and already had a great run game and defense? You would think Flacco would be able to win with Pro Bowl options Mason and TE Todd Heap, as well as leading pass receiver and Pro Bowler Ray Rice out of the backfield catching passes.

I will tell you why they knew he couldn’t get it done: It’s because the Ravens front office is one of the best in the NFL and they knew Flacco and his limitations. They also knew how he struggled on the road and late in the season.

On the road from December onward, Flacco has a QB rating of just 68.8, has thrown 12 TDs and 12 Ints in 13 total games, and is throwing for just 5.7 ypa in his 3 year career.

I said early in the season last year that Flacco was bound to do better in 2010, because he couldn’t do much worse than he did in years 1 and 2. And he did produce better statistically overall. But now we have his head coach claiming there is no better 3rd year QB in NFL history?

First let’s just look at just year 3, then we’ll look at years 1-3 as a package. Let’s compare Flacco to all 3rd year QBs in NFL history to see if Harbaugh is right or wrong that he is the best all time:

In Flacco’s 3rd year, as compared to other QBs in their 3rd year, he does not rank even in the top 10 in:

  • Completion percentage
  • Passing Yards
  • Passing TDs
  • QB Rating
  • Yds/Attempt
  • Win Percentage

So how is Flacco the best 3rd year QB in NFL history if he didn’t even finish in the top 10 in any one of the numerous relevant categories in his 3rd year? Clearly Harbaugh is way off base with his comments on Flacco. I know why he said them which I will get to at the very end of the article.

Now let’s look at years 1-3 combined. But first it should be noted a few things. Flacco did not come into the league and start playing on a bad team. This is a team that:

  • went 13-3 two years before Flacco came to town
  • had the #1 defense in the league for several years, including Flacco’s rookie season
  • went to the playoffs for 3 straight years (but not due to the stellar play from the QB position)

The point is, Flacco was not drafted at the top of the board to a bad team, a la a Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Alex Smith, Eli Manning or Carson Palmer. He was drafted 18th overall to a very good Ravens team. The table was set for him to come in and excel, almost like no other QB in history. There are not many QBs that come in as rookies to teams who are perennial winners, with #1 defenses, a stellar run game and a solid offensive line, like Flacco stumbled into in Baltimore.

But in years 1-3 combined, Flacco does not rank in the top 10 in any of the major categories. Far from it…

  • Completion percentage – 20th, behind guys like Chad Henne, Trent Edwards, Big Ben, Brady, Cutler, Palmer, Marc Bulger, Daunte Culpepper, Charlie Frye, etc.
  • Passing Yards/game – 31st
  • Passing TDs/game – 40th
  • QB Rating – 25th, behind guys like Matt Ryan, Brady, Big Ben, Palmer, Bulger, Cutler, Brian Griese, etc.
  • Yds/Attempt – 66th

Then there are the ever important “leadership” type numbers that translate directly into wins. Such as QB being credited with 4th quarter comebacks, or QB producing a game winning drive.

In Flacco’s first 3 years, he has four 4th quarter comebacks, ranking 45th in NFL history. Current QBs such as Peyton, Big Ben and Matt Ryan have at least double that number in their first 3 seasons.

When it comes to game winning drives, Flacco ranks 35th in NFL history in a QB’s first 3 seasons. Players like Big Ben, Peyton, Ryan, Delhomme, Rivers, Palmer and Cutler rank higher, as do players with fewer than 3 seasons under their belt, like Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman.

Finally, let’s just look at the postseason, because as everyone knows, this is where players either play or go home. Flacco ranks (min of 2 playoff games started in first 3 yrs):

  • Completion percentage – 27th(53%)
  • Passing Yards/game – 32nd (150 passing ypg)
  • Passing TDs/game – 33rd (4 total passing TDs in 7 games played)
  • QB Rating – 36th (61.6 rtg)
  • Yds/Attempt – 39th (5.7 ypa)

And there are only 50 QBs who fit this criteria. It seems only logical to try to find someone in a similar situation to compare Flacco to. The only player close would be Big Ben. Both the Ravens and Steelers:

  • were good teams who drafted these QBs as lower 1st round draft picks
  • had a solid defenses in place
  • possessed a solid running game

But Ben isn’t even in the comparable to Flacco. Just in the playoffs, in Ben’s first 3 years, he had

  • 61% completions (10th),
  • 202 passing ypg (17th),
  • 10 passing TDs in 6 games (10th),
  • 87 QB rtg (12th) 8.3 ypa (9th) in his first 3 years.

Ben also ranks 1st and 4th all time in game winning drives and 4th quarter comebacks in his first 3 years, gaining over twice as many of each, while Flacco ranks 35th and 45th respectively.

Harbaugh said Flacco is as good a third-year quarterback as has played in the history of this game so far. This is completely untrue. Honestly, Flacco isn’t even the 2nd best in his own division, as both Palmer and Big Ben were night and day ahead of where Flacco is now at the end of year 3.

If that wasn’t enough, Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said Flacco is “probably a top-ten quarterback”. In the game today, there are any number of QBs who rank well ahead of Flacco, to push him out of the top 10, and then there are the younger breed of QBs who certainly have a higher ceiling and more talent than Flacco, who you could argue you would take over Flacco in a draft today, such as Sam Bradford or Josh Freeman.

I looked at the active QBs in the league, and if you were trying to take a QB to lead your team for the next 3 years, I don’t see Flacco being ranked higher than 17th. Which puts him in the bottom half of the league.

The truth of this whole issue is there is no way that Harbaugh or DeCosta say anything negative about Flacco. He’s the only chance they have, and if he fails, they will both have to admit they made a big mistake on him. So pumping him up and throwing Pro-Bowl receivers into the mix is the way to make Flacco look better. Not to mention brining in the offensive guru Cam Cameron. And at times the offense run thru Flacco still looks terrible.

The most telling quote out of the articles I read was from DeCosta, who said it’s up to the Ravens to surround Flacco with more talent if they want to win a Super Bowl:

“Not all of our draft picks have panned out, for sure. And we need better players, and when we have better players around Joe Flacco, I think you’ll see a better quarterback and you’ll see a better team and you’ll see a team that’s able to go in and beat Pittsburgh when we need to beat Pittsburgh and challenge for the Super Bowl.”

Keep in mind, this was not said last year before bringing in two Pro-Bowl WRs, this was said a few days ago! So let’s examine the Ravens that supposedly need so many better players:

  • They have had a top 10 offensive line the last 3 years that Flacco has been in Baltimore
  • They have Pro-Bowl RB and FB in Ray Rice and LeRon McClain, plus their backup Willis McGahee is also a former Pro-Bowler
  • They have a Pro-Bowl TE in Todd Heap and great young prospects they drafted in the 3rd and 4th rounds last year
  • They have 3 former Pro-Bowl WRs on their team, with tons of experience in Boldin, Housh and Mason

Really, aside from admitting they should have brought in a different Pro Bowl WR, what more could the team do to build around Flacco? This team is immensely talented offensively. The only thing holding them back IS Flacco, not the other way around. The way the Ravens are built offensively has made Flacco look as good as possible the last few years. If he was not surrounded by such talent, there is no way he would stand on his own a la Sam Bradford or Josh Freeman last season .
Their defense is solid and while they are not the same defense as they were back in 2008, they are good enough to win this team Super Bowl(s) if they could get more consistent, clutch play from their QB position.

In my opinion, Flacco is an average QB, who is no where near the best 3rd yr QB of all time, nor a top 10 QB in today’s game. The Ravens made a mistake if they believed he was a true franchise QB. In an effort to overcome that mistake, they have decided to build a “super-team” on offense to overcome Flacco’s deficiencies. His stats will improve, as they have last season, not because he is a great QB, but because he is given many more weapons than the average QB is given. It appears the Ravens are willing to overhaul their historical recipe for success by building through the draft, to try and buy an offense that can mask Flacco’s inabilities to win now.

Finally, I don’t want to insinuate that Flacco and the Ravens are terrible. Far from it. I have made profit the last few years betting on the Ravens as well as against the Ravens in situational spots:

The Ravens and Flacco are a bankroll building 71% ATS as double digit favorites at home, and are a solid 89% at home after scoring 27+ points and building up their confidence.

But the comments from Harbaugh and DeCosta made me nauseous and the truth about where Flacco ranks right now should be painfully obvious to everyone, save for those residing in Baltimore. Don’t be surprised if Flacco continues to look even better as he develops and has more weapons placed around him offensively, and eventually the Ravens may win, perhaps because of him or perhaps in spite of him. After all, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl in Baltimore, too. (But aside from Pro Bowl TE Shannon Sharpe, Dilfer only had Qadry Ismail and Patrick Johnson as receivers.)

 

Addressing NFL Totals thru Week 6

I need to address the NFL totals.  I’ll repeat a phrase I use at the bottom:

The college totals results have been tremendous, the NFL totals results have been horrendous.

I will break them down on a week by week looking at the last 7+ days, and look @ a game by game basis:

First, let’s look at week 5.  Totals went 3-3, but should have gone 4-2 for certain, with a huge in-game upset loss on Monday Night Football w/ the Houston/Jets game.

Here were the 3 losses:

Hou Over 41 – Loss -> the in-game line in the late 3rd quarter, with the total points thus far sitting at 34 (need just 1 TD to push) at Pinnacle for this game was Over 49.5 juiced at -175 to the over.  At 5Dimes it was Over 51.  This game was a huge favorite to go over 41 points.  Over was no doubt the right side.  For it to land at 40, with just 1 FG (3 pts) scored in the 4th quarter was a huge upset.

Atl Over 51 – Loss -> This game deserved to lose.  Sure, the Redskins are putting up and allowing a lot of points this season.  Their games have seen a combined 351 points, far and away the most of any team in the NFL.  Ignoring this game vs. Atl (24-17) their games are averaging 62 total points.  The Falcons, ignoring this game with Washington, are seeing an avg of 49 pts scored in their games.  And yet we saw just 41 on a 51 point total.  But it was not close, just 7-7 at the half.

Bal Over 46 – Loss -> we saw what Baltimore did this week on offense and defense vs. Dallas.  Scored 31, allowed 29.  60 pts.  We also saw what KC did in Tampa Bay – they allowed Tampa to score 38 points!  This is Tampa Bay, a team who has league’s #28 rated offense.  The prior week (week 4) the Chiefs gave up 37 points to the Chargers.  So allowing just 3 FGs to the Ravens was a huge anomaly and clearly, when the game is more wide open, if the Ravens take the larger lead, the Chiefs get more aggressive leading to more overall points (positive or negative) for the team.  So there’s nothing more to say than a tremendous anomaly in this game.

Clearly, that Houston game is a solid winner the vast majority of the time.

Now let’s look at this past week, week 6:

Phi Under 47.5 – Loss -> In game, the Under in the 4th quarter at Pinnacle was 32.5.  This game was 12-7 entering the 4th quarter (just 19 pts scored).  It saw 27 scored in the 4th quarter.  The game was sitting 16-13 with under 6 minutes to go in the game.  The game saw an incredibly 17 points scored in the final 6 minutes, and we STILL were under the total, the problem was the game was tied at 23 (46 total points) and now overtime would cost us the win.

NYG Over44.5 – Loss -> Well, some games are like this and there is virtually no one who would have guessed the Giants defense, which allowed 27 pts to Cleveland the week before, would hold the 49ers to zero red zone trips and just 3 total points.  And as a result, we lose this one badly.  Looking at the Giants, they had 6 trips to the red zone and converted just 2.  The 49ers had allowed a conversion rate of 83% so far the first 5 weeks.  Far more than their 2011 numbers.  The Giants were averaging 50% entering this season.  So I would have expected at least 50% from the Giants, instead of 33%, so perhaps they score 30 on the 49ers.

Looking at missed FGs, the Giants missed a 39 yarder and the 49ers missed two (43, 51).  That’s another 9 points off the board.  Right there we’re looking at 42 points scored in the game, even if the 49ers don’t even get into the red zone once, and score just 3 FGs.  So even worst case scenario, w/ the 49ers doing nothing on offense, we’re seeing 42 points scored instead of 45 that we needed for the win.  Considering how well the 49ers played to this point this season (averaging 30 ppg overall and 36 ppg at home), kicking just 3 FGs (and missing 2) again, was a total anomaly and not something that any person or computer can predict.

At absolute worst, we should have been 1-1 yesterday (winning Eagles Under, losing Giants over).  There are logical reasons why we “could” have gone 2-0 in those totals, but thinking thru rose colored glasses is not always helpful.

Summary:

If you take the last 2 weeks of totals, we were overwhelming favorites to go 5-3.  We lost 2 games where were were immense 4th quarter favorites:  Houston Over last week and Eagles Under this week.  Looking at the other 3 losses, you can see some games that w/ some better luck, and games playing more to the “average” of the season, maybe we win 1 more.  But again, it’s too hard to factor in those crazy “what if” scenarios.  Instead of 5-3, we lost both games we were tremendous favorites to win late in the game, and we’re 3-5.

I’f we’re 5-3 (63%) the last 2 weeks, there is no panic and everyone is feeling decent about the totals.  Instead, we’re 3-5 (328%) and the program has yet to have a winning week this season.

I can assure you, the program is NO different than in the past.  If anything, it’s slightly more advanced.  Several of these losses have been due to extreme bad luck.  While your confidence may have wavered, and I assume it did for everyone, mine has not.  This program is the same one I applied to college football.  This season, its 47-28-2 (63%) and its worst week was 1 game below .500.

I’m very frustrated, just like you are, with the results.  I belie its a matter of time before they get back on track.  It’s not as if the games we’re releasing are getting killed by the closing number.  Multiple syndicate groups took SF Over at worse numbers than we got early in the week, and that game was bet up to 47 and closed right around 46.5/47.  Our 44.5 (45 at worse) was good value.  Clearly other groups are on similar games, they are betting these plays from their own numbers and systems, and their plays are matching mine.  And we’re both losing.

I can assure you the struggles are not from a lack of effort right now, and I’m going to continue to work hard to get the NFL plays back on track.  The college totals results have been tremendous, the NFL totals results have been horrendous.  Note the distinction – the plays themselves have not been horrendous, but the results certainly have.  Looking constantly to improve, and will look to do so starting week 6.

Regarding CFB totals, I’ve been asked a few times about releasing earlier in the week.  The problem with that is that I play halftimes as stronger plays, and those lines don’t even get posted by books until middle of the day on Friday.  So I’m generally done on late Friday night, and release as early Saturday morning as possible.

NFL Totals in Division vs Non-Division Games

Thru week 5 of the 2011 season, Overs stand at 46-29 (61%).  As compared to 53% the prior 3 years.  We know the new rules are conducive for more passing and more points, and teams are taking advantage of this.  But there is another reason why totals have been going Over:

The lack of divisional games to date on the schedule – The NFL, in an effort to preserve division games in case the first month of the season was lost due to the work stoppage, put no division games in weeks 2 or 4 of the schedule.  As a result, including the 5 division games this weekend, there will be only 25 division games thru 5 weeks as compared to an average of 33 games the prior several seasons.  What is the impact?

1.  Division games see fewer ppg scored – Since 2008, division games average a combined total points scored of 42 points.  Non-division games average 45 points scored.  Thus there are 3 fewer ppg scored in division games.

2.  Division games see far fewer overs than non-division games – Since 2008, 50% of division games go over (58 overs, 57 unders).  But in non-division games, 57% of games go over since 2008 (129 overs, 96 unders).  This is despite the fact that the average total set on division games was 41.6 (08-10) vs. a higher 42.3 on non-division games.

Therefore, because of fewer division games so far this season, we are seeing more overs which is naturally going to occur as non-division games go “over” 7% more than division games. 

Linesmakers have attempted to adjust to the increased overs by raising the total.  But I believe the overcompensated:

Thru Week 6, the average total set on non-division games this year is 1.2 points HIGHER (43.5) than it has been set on non-division games from 08-10 (42.3).  But the average total (including this weekend’s 5 games) set on division games this year is 2.4 points HIGHER (44) than it has been set on division games from 08-10 (41.6).

Including the rounding, the linesmakers have therefore raised division totals over twice as much as non-division totals, which makes zero sense given the fact that division totals historically have seen lower totals as compared to non-division totals, and go under much more frequently.

This season non-division games have gone over 35-20 (15 games over .500) and division games are over at just 11-9 (2 games over .500).  Thru the entire 2010 NFL season, non-division games went over 61% of the time, and division games went over 47% of the time, a 14% swing!

So again, there is no surprise that we are seeing 61% overs so far this year, and this will be quickly corrected when division games begin appearing at a higher rate.

With linesmakers battling bettors in an attempt to win on totals, the more division games we see in the next few weeks, the more chances we may find over-inflated total numbers and opportunities to bet unders because the linesmakers are, in my opinion, raising the division totals far too high.

This weekend, using Pinnacle lines, division games are:

  • Phi/Was, Opened at 48, now at 47.5
  • Car/Atl, Opened at 51, now at 50.5
  • NO/TB, Opened at 49, now at 49.5
  • Min/Chi, Opened at 42.5, now at 41.5
  • Mia/NYJ, Opened at 41, now at 43.5