Regarding the folly of believing the Falcons are good

falco

To a very casual observer, a mid-December post on the 6-7 Atlanta Falcons would cry out for a Dickensian introduction, but it simply has not been a tale of two halves for these dirtier-than-anticipated birds.

Some, like MMQB’s Andy Benoit, really wanted to believe in that Victorian-era trope, though. Three weeks ago, Atlanta, which started the season 5-0, had lost four of five games, slipping to a 6-4 record. Falcons fans were beginning to lose hope, but Benoit told them not to panic, because “a closer look reveals a different story.” Benoit’s message was compelling in its simplicity:

On film, the 1-4, Stage 2 Falcons haven’t looked significantly different from the Stage 1 Falcons who started 5-0. And, OK, maybe the Stage 1 Falcons were not quite as good as their record indicated, but those five wins are a more accurate portrayal of the 2015 Falcons than the club’s four losses. The biggest difference between Stage 1 and 2 has been the dreaded turnover.

[T]he Falcons have beaten themselves with random fumbles and a few interceptions, of which only one was a truly bad offensive play. Ryan, cerebral as he is, has always had a slight tendency to take the bait and make a foolish throw or two into disguised or tight coverages. But interceptions have never been a major bugaboo. So unless you believe this will change in the final six games of Ryan’s eighth NFL season, there’s little reason to believe turnovers will continue to plague Atlanta.

Most likely, Atlanta’s fate hinges on how well its offense functions.

Combine the Stage 1 Falcons with the Stage 2 Falcons and what you’ll likely get is a Stage 3 Falcons club that finishes 10-6 and is a dangerous Wild-Card foe.

The seductive simplicity of Benoit’s thesis really is too good to be true. It seems easy to pick on him three weeks later, when Atlanta dropped all three games in that period and has an active six-game losing streak, but his reasoning would’ve been flawed regardless. Even if it’s true that turnovers– both fumbles and interceptions– fall within the realm of luck, and even if it also is true that the Falcons’ then-recent losses were due to turnovers, Benoit ignores the possibility that the team’s early successes also were due to luck. Instead, he simply assumes, without offering any evidence to that effect, that the team was playing closest to its true-talent level when it opened up 5-0, rather than when it went 1-4 (now 1-7, the same record with which the Detroit Lions opened the season). Couldn’t good luck have played just as much a part of Atlanta’s 5-0 opening as bad luck did in their subsequent losses? Of course, but in his overly rosy evaluation of the early season Falcons, Benoit apparently didn’t consider that.

At 6-7, Atlanta isn’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but, with another game against the Panthers remaining and the Seahawks surging, they’re very likely done for the year.

In erasing their 5-0 start, the Falcons’ poor play in the last few weeks likely is a closer approximation of their true talent level than their results in the first five weeks. Indeed, as these charts illustrate, they’ve been historically bad from Week Six onward.

For postseason purposes, Atlanta no longer controls its own destiny (scenarios), but, at a minimum, it will need to beat its three remaining opponents– Jacksonville, Carolina, and New Orleans– to have a shot. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Falcons have a two-percent chance of making the playoffs, and their projected win probability this week against the Jaguars is fifty percent. Not great, Bob.

Can Jaguars Swim?

british jaguars

The NFL has not disguised its efforts to develop its brand abroad, and it appears to be moving toward establishing a team in another country. With expansion, which probably would reduce current owners’ revenues, unlikely, the only ready option is to relocate an existing team across the boarder.

The obvious choice is Canada. The Buffalo Bills already have some sort of timeshare arrangement with Toronto, but so long as Roger Goodell remains NFL commissioner, that move will not happen. (Goodell:Bills::Selig:Brewers, sort of.) Mexico doesn’t quite seem to be happening for the NFL either.

Instead, the league has set its eyes on Europe, and London in particular. Even though it abandoned NFL Europe, the league is pressing its product there more than ever, and it’s doing so in a targeted way. The team to go? The Jacksonville Jaguars.

I watched last night’s crime against football on Sky Sports, a British broadcasting operation. During breaks, they were airing commercials for some UK version of fantasy football that featured three Jags cheerleaders and chances to win gear from “your favorite team,” spoken over the image of a Maurice Jones-Drew jersey. (You can view the commercial here.) Jacksonville is playing Atlanta in the NFL’s now-annual game in London, but the commercial doesn’t include any Falcons imagery. It’s all about establishing a long-term connection between European fans and the Jaguars.

The newish Jags owner is on board with that long-term connection– Shad Khan, a native of Pakistan who moved to America at age sixteen and became a billionaire through the automotive-parts industry, called the Jaguars “the home team for London.” Khan also bought a London-based soccer team, Fulham Football this summer, and in Khan’s eyes, that’s no coincidence: “Obviously, there would be some practices, some synergies we’d like to take advantage of [between the Jaguars and Fulham],” he said. Khan also pointed out that the Jaguars will be playing one home game in London at least for the next four seasons.

U.S.-based fans may just now be hearing about the prospect that a team, possibly the Jaguars, could be making a more permanent connection to London, but from the looks of things like the commercial I saw last night and Kahn’s actions, the NFL may have already made a decision.

America Has a Stadium Problem (via Pacific Standard)

Over the past 20 years, 101 new sports facilities have opened in the United States—a 90-percent replacement rate—and almost all of them have received direct public funding. The typical justification for a large public investment to build a stadium for an already-wealthy sports owner has to do with creating jobs or growing the local economy, which sound good to the median voter. “If I had to sum up the typical [public] perspective,” Neil deMause . . . told me via email, “I’d guess it’d be something along the lines of ‘I don’t want my tax money going to rich fat cats, but anything that creates jobs is good, and man that Jeffrey Loria sure is a jerk, huh?’” This confused mindset has resulted in public coffers getting raided. The question is whether taxpayers have gotten anything in return.

Economists have long known stadiums to be poor public investments. Most of the jobs created by stadium-building projects are either temporary, low-paying, or out-of-state contracting jobs—none of which contribute greatly to the local economy. (Athletes can easily circumvent most taxes in the state in which they play.) Most fans do not spend additional money as a result of a new stadium; they re-direct money they would have spent elsewhere on movies, dining, bowling, tarot-card reading, or other businesses. And for every out-of-state fan who comes into the city on game day and buys a bucket of Bud Light Platinum, another non-fan decides not to visit and purchases his latte at the coffee shop next door. All in all, building a stadium is a poor use of a few hundred million dollars.

This isn’t news, by any stretch, but it turns out we’re spending even more money on stadiums than we originally thought. In her new book Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities, Judith Grant Long, associate professor of Urban Planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, shatters previous conceptions of just how much money the public has poured into these deals. By the late ’90s, the first wave of damning economic studies . . . came to light, but well afterwards, from 2001 to 2010, 50 new sports facilities were opened, receiving $130 million more, on average, than those opened in the preceding decade. (All figures from Long’s book adjusted for 2010 dollars.) In the 1990s, the average public cost for a new facility was estimated at $142 million, but by the end of the 2000s, that figure jumped to $241 million: an increase of 70 percent.

Economists have also been, according to Long, drastically underestimating the true cost of these projects. They fail to consider public subsidies for land and infrastructure, the ongoing costs of operations, capital improvements (weneedanewscoreboard!), municipal services (all those traffic cops), and foregone property taxes (almost every major-league franchise located in the U.S. does not pay property taxes “due to a legal loophole with questionable rationale” as the normally value-neutral Long put it). Due to these oversights, Long calculates that economists have been underestimating public subsidies for sports facilities by 25 percent, raising the figure to $259 million per facility in operation during the 2010 season. … Read More

(via Pacific Standard)

Midseason Monday

We’re into the meat of the 2012 football season with heavy games for most teams from here on out. It’s also the time when teams’ reputations for the year become solidified. One such team is Auburn, which fell to 1-6 on the season, 0-5 in conference with a 17-13 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville. Four years ago, I watched these teams play under the lights in the same stadium. In 2008, Auburn was 5-0 and highly ranked, but the game outcome was the same. This year’s win over the TIgers/Plainsmen/Eagles won’t do as much for the Commodores’ strength of schedule, but it does push them to 2-3 in the conference, and it’s an important win to kick off the second half of a schedule that should be easier than the first.

While Vanderbilt took a necessary step in the positive direction Saturday, Michigan State took another step toward a lost season with a 12-10 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor. More on that game later in the week. Back to the SEC for a moment, where the Eastern division is one of the most power concentrated and confusing divisions in the nation. Florida swamped South Carolina, 44-11, to go to 7-0 (6-0), while Georgia escaped Lexington with a 29-24 win over Kentucky. If Florida’s going to lose a game this year, it will be next week when they host Georgia, because the rest of their schedule is soft cake (Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jacksonville State, and Florida State). In the SEC West, LSU and Texas A&M renewed their rivalry in a compelling game featuring early Aggie control and a Tiger comeback win.

Elsewhere in the top 25, Alabama and Oregon rolled. Two quick notes on Oregon: 1) I’m worried that Florida’s #2 rating in the first BCS, together with their easy finishing schedule, will mean that we don’t get to see Alabama and Oregon in the national championship game, a matchup that feels very compelling and intriguing; and 2) the ALDLAND staff is still waiting on it’s autographed Oregon cheerleader calendar. Jog back to the SEC West, where Mississippi State is the most unheralded undefeated team in the country. After beating MTSU Saturday, though, they’re unlikely to stay that way, finishing with Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. Of course, nothing is more perennially unheralded than the Starkville Dogs, and that schedule only has something to do with it. Most of the rest of the top 25 won, including Clemson, Oregon State, and Stanford in important conference games. The upstart Texas Tech Red Raiders survived in triple overtime to beat TCU, and the very impressive Kansas State beat West Virginia in Morgantown 55-14 in a game in which I’d only somewhat jokingly predicted WVU would score 100 after being embarrassed the week before. Dana Holgorson’s air raid offense appears to be out of jet fuel.

On Sunday, the Vikings continue to mount an increasingly compelling challenge to those who would dismiss them by going to 5-2 with a win over flash in the pan Arizona. RGIII continues to impress despite another close loss, this week to the Giants. The Saints doubled their win total by beating Tampa Bay, and the Raiders came back to beat the ailing Jaguars, who lost Maurice Jones-Drew and Blaine Gabbert, sending out the bat signal for David Garrard (I hope). The Patriots beat the Jets in overtime, although VSL’s Bobby O’Shea, a noted Jets fan, thinks that something is wrong in New England, and I’m inclined to agree. Whether it was the defensive injuries Baltimore suffered last week or Houston’s push to come back from a loss, the Texans returned to 2012 form with a 43-13 win over the Ravens.

In baseball, the World Series is nearly set. The Tigers are in(!), and the Cardinals and Giants are playing a game seven right now, which the Giants are winning 7-0 in the fourth. In other current news, Ndamukong Suh just separated Jay Cutler’s neck from the rest of his body. Bears 10, Lions 0 in the first half.

To What We’re Listening (and Youtubing): The Black Keys’ new single Lonely Boy

As usual, I swore at the beginning of the football season that I wouldn’t travel to The Game Formerly Known As The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (“TGFKATWLOCP”). The many reasons for my apathy about this game included: recently Georgia has refused to put up much of a fight, Jacksonville is so overrated, coordinating getting to the game is always a royal pain, and the stadium, while neat to look at when its split blue and red 50/50, doesn’t provide anywhere near the joy of being in The Swamp. Et cetera.

But just like in years past, here we are about 24 hours to kick-off, and my willpower has faded. So I’ll be leaving in a couple hours for TGFKATWLOCP, and I’m actually pretty excited about it. We’re allegedly including a bourbon fountain in our tailgate this year, which is the good kind of bad idea that makes you scared for your life, and more importantly, your bar license. It’s a bright spot on a weekend that otherwise features grown men dressing like vampires, or drag queens, or the ultimate: vampire drag queens.

One other bright spot is that The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach – vocals/guitar and Patrick Carney – drums) dropped their first single from forthcoming album, El Camino (the cover of which inexplicably [to me] has a photo of a 90s vintage minivan on it). The new song, Lonely Boy, already has a funny video up on their Youtube channel. While you’re there, check out the videos for Tighten Up and Howlin for You. They’ll all make you laugh.

This new album was recorded at Dan’s new studio in Music City, USA. In the past, they’ve recorded all over the place, including Pat’s basement, an old rubber factory (for an album titled…wait for it…Rubber Factory), and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (founded by a group that defected from FAME, including David Hood, father of Drive By Truckers front man Patterson Hood). AD tells me their experience recording in Alabama was suboptimal, which is sad to hear. All the same, they’ve put out consistently strong bluesy rock over a series of records, no small feat for a couple of white dudes in a power duo. Though to be fair, if a white dude is trying to sing the blues with any kind of authenticity, coming of age in post-industrial Ohio can’t hurt. If the new single is any indication, they’re close to the mark again.

Good listening, Godspeed, and Go Gators.