November 27, 2011; St. Louis, MO, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton (19) is tackled by St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (94) in the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. Arizona defeated St. Louis 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Why The St. Louis Rams Aren't In The Running For The Top Spot In The 2013 NFL Draft

For the most part, Rams Nation is used to seeing St. Louis anchored in the lower tier of the NFL, especially in the Sports Illustrated and ESPN power rankings. While power ranking do have a tough time gauging the talent in the middle three-fourths of the league, they are typically very accurate on the high and low end of the spectrum. Most have already written off the NFC West to the San Francisco 49ers, claiming their ownly divisional competition comes from the Russell Wilson/Pete Carroll led Seattle Seahawks. However, Grantland.com blogger, Bill Barnell seems to believe that the St. Louis Rams are not even in the Bottom 8 in his predictions for the teams vying for the No. 1 spot in April during the 2013 draft.

Barnell’s analysis is obviously one of opinion, but is backed with some intriguing statistics that are relatively uncommon in the world of football. One measure that is used is termed “Pythagorean wins.” The concept of Pythagorean “expectations” stemmed from the baseball world, and was originally used as a tool to estimate how many games a team “should” have won based on the number of runs allowed and the number of runs scored. The formula was used in correlation with the actual number of wins through to the season, and was geared towards evaluating how “lucky” a team was throughout the season by measuring the discrepancy between the actual wins and Pythagorean wins.

Using this method, Barnell was able to determine which teams should have won more games than they actually did (i.e. unlucky), and visa versa. By this calculation, the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, and Indianapolis Colts anchored the unlucky side of the ball, with the Dolphins and Vikings, tied for unluckiest team, winning two less games than would be expected given the points allowed and points scored throughout the season. On the other end of that spectrum are the Packers, Broncos, and Raiders, where the Packer won 3.1 more games than expected given their point differential. Although the outcome of the games probably has more to do with the caliber of team than with “luck,” but it is a useful measuring tool when trying to estimate who will come out on the bottom at the end of the season.

Barnell also used a measurement that details a team record in games when the final tally was within a single “score,” or within 7 points. At the end of the day, this is the bottom line in evaluating “clutchness,” the ability for a team to pull out the win in a close contest. On this record, the teams at the low end are not surprising, including the Vikings (2-9), Panthers (1-5), Rams (1-5), and Colts (1-5). Alternatively, the teams on the flip side of this record will have the better records, and thus, are considered the better teams. These teams are the ones that are able to control the ball and the clock in close situations, do not make the mental mistakes, and put points on the board (or don’t allow the other team to put points on the board) in crunchtime. The high end of the list includes the Packers (5-1), 49ers (6-2), and Steelers (5-2).

Finally, they took into consideration, what they call, the “Plexiglass Principle.” They sum up the concept by explaining that “teams that make a significant leap  in their performance (or an aspect thereof) over a given season often give back some of those gains  during the following year.” Essentially, for significant jumps in performance, the proverbial stars must align for the team; such as, limited injuries throughout the year, winning all the close games,  hikes in production from key players, as well as some help from the opposing team, just as key injuries at the right times, costly mistakes, under performance in the rest of the division, and so on.  For example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stunned the league by going 10-6 in 2010 after jumping from 3-13 in 2009. However, the 2010 season was an “aligning of the stars” with a breakout year for both Josh Freeman and then-rookie LeGarrette Blount, mixed with getting to play the NFC West and AFC North (the old Bengals and still-horrible Browns). Tampa Bay won 9 games against teams with losing records, with the exception of a win against the Saints in Week 17, and took all 6 of their losses from teams with a winning record. In 2011, the Plexiglass Principle took effect, when Blount and Freeman both took a step back in terms of production and the Bucs were matched up against the much tougher NFC North and AFC South, leading to the a 4-12 season. This effect works both ways, in situation where the stars align in a negative fashion, forced an average team to perform much more poorly than they should. This can be the result of injury, coaching changes, tougher schedules, or a combination of the sorts.

So what does all this mean? Well, there evaluation of the 2013 sweepstakes takes into account all of these lesser-thought-of values to pick the winner. They have eight teams fighting for the top spots: Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Redskins. Surprisingly, the St. Louis Rams did not make the cut, here is why…

The St. Louis Rams were in the upper tier in all of the “unlucky” categories. This is understandable given the amount of injuries to starters at key positions (LB, CB, RT, LT, QB, RB, WR) the Rams suffered on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. On top of that, they had one of the hardest schedules in the NFL, playing the AFC North (which sent 3 teams to the playoffs) and NFC East, with additional games against the Green Bay Packers (15-1) and two games against the overperforming 49ers in their 13-3 season. Even worse, the NFL was locked out, forcing Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams to take the field under the complexity of a Josh McDaniels offensive system without an offseason to prepare.

These factors resulted in a -5 win differential from the previous season (3rd worst) and a 1-5 record in close games (T-2nd worst). The Rams did not have the depth or personnel to maintain composure during the close games, which  helped contribute to the 2-14 record. Our 2010 season is what researchers would call a “proof of concept,” that the fundamental parts of the team, when assembled correctly, can produce a particular outcome; in that case, a 7-9 season, under a rookie head coach, rookie quarterback, and a practice squad pick-up from Philly as the best wide receiver.

What do the Rams have the those other teams don’t? They don’t have any indication that they have “what it takes” to avoid scrapping along the bottom of the barrel…

  • Six out of the eight teams listed as vying for the bottom spot are coming off multiple years in the bottom of their respective divisions and/or the bottom of the entire league.
  • Five of the eight teams are being governed by either a rookie (RGIII, Wilson, Tannehill) or second year quarterback (Locker, Ponder), with the other three having Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel, and John Skelton as starters.
  • None of those teams were in the Bottom 5 in terms of games record where the the final score was within a single score; namely, because they were getting blown out, with the exception of the Raiders.
  • Several teams were even “overachieving” in terms of their Pythagorean effectiveness but were still coming out with losing records, such as the Chiefs who won 3.0 more games than their scoring differential would estimate.

The St. Louis Rams are younger (in a good way), healthier, have a much easier schedule, and are more prepared and better coached than in 2011 season, or 2010 for that matter. For those reasons, we should see the Plexiglass Principle in full effect this year, launching the St. Louis Rams out of the hunt for the top spot in April.

 

 

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