Best of 2012

As has become tradition here at ANS, I'll look back at the year and round up all the best articles. (Here are the best of 2009, 2010, and 2011.) This annual post is as much for me as it is for readers for a couple reasons. First, I get to gaze upon the results of all the hard work myself, Keith, Jack, and other contributors have done. And second, it's a handy way to collect all the quality posts from the year in one place.

Each year I think it's finally the year that the site has peaked and all the low hanging statistical fruit has been plucked. But somehow things keep going strong. Jack and Keith provided lots of great game and player analysis plus some original research of their own. There were also some cool new features added to the site. Keep in mind, these are just a fraction of the 200 posts from 2012.

Starting with last January, Keith applied his Markov model to look at the drive that broke the Jets' 2011 backs.

I introduced two new features of the player stat visualizations--the QB career totals for EPA and WPA. The visualizations are a clever way to compare careers. The "Nth Best EPA" graph plots each QB's career in order of his best through worst seasons. The "Career WPA" graph plots each QB's cumulative WPA through each year of his career. These are a couple of my favorite new features at the site.

My contributions with Slate and Deadspin continued through the 2012 season. Here is a post that looked at some critical 4th down decisions in last year's playoffs and put the 4th down itself in perspective.

Jack is the king of the Tableau visualizations. Here is his analysis of how HOU beat CIN in last year's wildcard round.

This article was the culmination of a lot of research and analysis. Using EPA and WPA, I estimated the price of a win in terms of salary cap hit. This became a framework for evaluating contract values, and the article uses Drew Brees' recent contract as a case study.

The 'Dome at Cold' effect is well known to ANS readers. Here's a slightly more in-depth look at the climate phenomenon and how various types of road teams fare by temperature. Here are several more articles on how weather, including temperature and wind, affects passing, running, and field goals.

This was one of Keith's most popular (controversial?) articles. It compared Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer.

Almost all team ranking systems that adjust for opponent strength show a substantial (negative) correlation between team strength and team strength of schedule. Some out there worry that this is some kind of flaw, but as we see, it's a sign that the system is working correctly.

I'm often asked to grade coaches and teams based on their willingness to play the right percentages when it comes to 4th down decisions. It's very tricky because there are so many situational variables. We can't just look at 4th attempt rate, or even attempt rate by yards to go. Here's my solution from last February: "Win Probability Forfeited."

Super Bowl 46 between the Giants and Patriots was one of the most interesting ever from an analytics perspective. As the Giants drove for the game-winning score, the Patriots faced an agonizing decision. Should they intentionally allow the Giants to score a TD so that they would be assured of enough time to respond? If so, when? Here's the analysis that spells out why that was a good strategy. Here were the live comments from readers and myself during the game.

In March I followed up the 'How Much Should a Win Cost' analysis with one for running backs. Very different results.

In June, I unveiled a fresh coat of paint on the entire site. I went for a clean, minimalist look. Steve Jobs would approve...except for the Flash-based win probability graphs. If you long for the old look, you can always check out ANS Community.

In July, I applied the new EPA/WPA-based salary framework to assess new contracts for Drew Brees, Ray Rice, and Matt Forte.

With training camp in full swing in August, ANS got back to business with a look at the connection between offensive lines and their salaries. There were some really interesting results. Higher average salaries indicated worse performce, while higher median salaries indicated better performance.

Here's a collection of all the fantasy football wisdom I've accumulated over the past few years.

Keith was on fire this year (NumberFire, that is!) He examined the probability of a touchdown on any single play by down and by field position. His hot streak continued with this look at passing vs rushing on an offense's own goal line. (...Hint: pass more...)

Zach Sanders returned in the 2012 season with his Game Changers feature, a close look at plays that caused  big swings in WP. Here's a look at the Bengals' use of the wildcat against the Redskins.

I unveiled The Wall in September. It's single page with all the week's WP graphs running in real-time. The Wall works best on large monitors.

In the aftermath of the GB-SEA game-deciding blown TD call, I took a look at generalized Hail Mary probabilities by yard line.

Today's speeding tickets no longer cost $25 dollars, like they did in 1978. That wouldn't deter speeding very well. So why are NFL penalties doled out in 1978 yardage?

Offenses regressed slightly this season from their peak yardage and scoring in 2011. Here's a look at what that means for game strategy.

Kickers keep getting better too.

With the continuing trend of offensive potency in mind, I took a look at how the Expected Points curve has changed over time.

Jack makes the mid-season case for J.J. Watt as MVP. He also exposes Matthew Stafford.

In October, I unveiled a permanent QB Air Yards page. You might be surprised who the leaders are for 2012.

I'm including this post in the best-of mostly because the graph is so cool. It was part of my testing for building a more robust WP model.

The particulars vs the base rate. Coaches ignore the base rate and focus on the unique peculiarities of game situations.

Keith examined the impact of punting when backed up against your own goal line.

Keith also put the Fourthdownulator to good use with this analysis of the Cardinals-Bills game.

I did some research for Judy Battista of the NY Times on 2012 as the year of the comeback. Don't forget you can always find the biggest comebacks for any team or season with this handy (but underused) tool.

How dominant has Ray Lewis really been? Hint: really, really dominant.

Running to create a 'manageable 3rd down' is self-defeating in most cases.

This year was a slow one for ANS Community. Editor extraordinaire Ed Anthony wasn't very busy in 2012, but here is one highlight. Longtime reader Jim Glass put some sports streaks in perspective, including those of Drew Brees and John Unitas.

The opponent's 40-yard line is the field goal nexus of the universe. Completely meaningless but interesting at the same time.

Jack finished out October with a comparison of Peyton Manning's best seasons. How did his 2012 stack up?

That teams need to run more often is one of the most worn out false narratives in football. November's first article was an analysis of which teams should typically run more often and which should probably pass more often.

During the Redskins' bye week, I used my column at the Post to take a look at what analytics can and can't do for the sport of football.

By the way, what's the point of the extra point?

Keith analyzed fake kick and punt success rates. It all comes down to a game theory equilibrium.

Jack illustrates how Josh Freeman succeeded this season by going deep. Vincent Jackson had a huge impact.

2012 was a season of massive turnarounds for many teams, thanks partly to highly performing rookie QBs. I examined the biggest year-to-year improvements and declines for each team at the QB position for the past dozen seasons.

The new OT rules are complex and very difficult to model. How should teams handle 4th downs under the new rules? FGs don't mean the same as they once did. This article was the result of several weeks of what was possibly the most difficult analysis I've attempted.

December kicked off with Keith applying a Markov approach to the new OT rules.

Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano's idea about replacing kickoff with punts drew a lot of attention thanks to a mention from Roger Goodell in an interview. I was asked by Slate and Deadspin to analyze the proposal's potential effect on the game.

Sports Illustrated's in-depth article of the advent of football analytics in its year-end double issue featured ANS very prominently.

The most fascinating quandary of football strategy must be when a defense should intentionally allow a TD. Super Bowl 46 was a prime example. This analysis attacked the question to create a generalized recommendation. I had to break it up into five parts because it was so involved. (I learned what tl;dr means in Internet lingo. Sorry, but questions like this have many moving parts.) By the way, as I'm typing this, I think the LSU defense should have allowed Clemson to score a TD here in the final minute of the Chick-fil-a Bowl. And...yep, they should have.

Part of the intentional TD analysis required a detailed modeling of the time remaining when a team on defense can expect the ball back in the end game. It's more complicated than you might expect. I decided to use the model to create a time calculator for the site.

Here's an application of the WPA/EPA salary framework to assess Joe Flacco's value heading into his final contract negotiations.

What is a "stat"?

This analysis from Jack was one of the most popular of the past couple years. He makes a strong case that Cam Newton's first two seasons have been the best statistically of all time.

Following up on the new OT analysis, this article maps out 4th down decisions for the strange situation when a team finds itself down by 3 and needing a FG to survive or a TD to win.

And last but certainly not least, here is a gift that keeps on giving. The Sports Column Generator is sure to provide meaningless drivel for local football columnists for decades to come!

2012 was quite a year. Here's to a fun 2013!

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2 Responses to “Best of 2012”

  1. MSpiciarich says:

    Do you think Air Yards per Completion is a valuable stat? A QB with poor completion percentage gets dinged on AirYardsPerAttempt in a way that muddies the water in my mind a little.
    I would think calculating the number by Completion tells us who is actually taking shots down field.

    Great work. Love the site.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I'm sorry to ask an unrelated question, but I am very curious.

    With as much as the futility of having a good run defense and the meagerness of the rushing offense compared to passing, has the possibility been considered that better rushing offenses/defenses could be better as far as scoring defenses because of their ability to run/ stop the run when it is the best strategical choice in the red zone? Simply put, does rushing and the ability to stop it have an impact on scoring because of red zone effectiveness?
    Thanks so much, I'm curious and find all your work fascinating.

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