Best of 2013

This is my favorite post of the year. It's an annual opportunity to look back over all the interesting analysis, features, visualizations, and analytical tools we've been able to put together at ANS. Great thanks to Keith Goldner, Dave Collins, Sterling Xie, Rob Hendryx, and Kevin Meers for making 2013 another successful year. (Here are the best-of posts of 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. They're a great way for new readers to come up to speed.)

I said this last year and I'll say it again. With each passing season I start to feel like we've peaked. Maybe all the low-hanging fruit of football analytics has been plucked, and there's little left to do but become a broken record on a handful of subjects. But this stuff is too much fun to give up. And so sure enough, over the course of another season we stumble on a few more insights and push the envelope just a little further. And interest continues to grow too. 2013 was the best year yet in terms of traffic to the site, and December was the site's best month ever.

With every new feature, ANS becomes a little bit harder to run throughout the season. So please forgive me as I take a breath, step back and highlight some of what we consider some of our favorite stuff. Of our 219 total posts in 2013, here are a few of the best...

With the AFC playoffs appearing to go through Denver throughout last January, I took a look at the effects of altitude on FG success.

Keith analyzed John Fox's decisions in his team's upset at the hands of the Ravens. Here are my own two cents in a post at Slate and Deadspin.

I finished up the series on when to intentionally allow a TD with a look at what the numbers say for when teams are tied. This was possibly the most challenging bit of analysis I've done, and it spawned the time calculator tool, which got a major upgrade last January.

I took a look at how much QB clutch performance persists from season to season.

February started with a look at how Joe Flacco's magical post-season over-performance compared to that of other QBs in the recent past.

The Super Bowl was one of the more interesting and exciting championship games in memory. It featured a fake punt, an intentional safety, and a couple crucial 4th down decisions. It was also a case study in saving your timeouts.

I took advantage of some off-season time to use +EPA and +WPA to put a dollar value on some notable free agents. Here is a look at the veteran safeties available, including Ed Reed.

April was a big month for me personally. The press embargo finally ended and I was able to announce my involvement with this sure-fire Hollywood blockbuster. Advance screenings begin this March.

I participated in the Coaching and In-Game Decisions panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Here's the video. I was outnumbered a bit on the stage, but I think I had the room. It was a ton of fun, thanks mostly to the novel format.

Team GMs and scouts often claim not to care about stats, but the contracts they give out say otherwise. Pass rushers are paid mostly according to their sacks alone, to the tune of $300k marginal salary per sack.

Aaron Rodgers' new contract could be looked at one of two ways. Here's both of them from an analysis last May.

This has nothing to do with football, but it was one of the most fun projects I've done in a while. I built a genetic algorithm to optimize my kids' swim meet lineups.

In August I revisited the Aaron Rodgers contract and the pay-performance link in general.

This past season ANS was tapped by NBC to provide live in-game WP graphs and analytic nuggets for each game.

In September we introduced our newest contributors. We added Sterling Xie who handled the weekly team ranking updates and analysis, and Rob Hendryx, who handled the weekly playoff probability posts. Here are some of Rob's best of 2013. Sterling's best can be found here.

Perhaps the biggest addition of the year is the ANS Podcast with host Dave Collins. Dave is a real pro interviewer and really understands sports analytics. Sometimes this site can get to be a chore even for me, and even when it's stuff I'm genuinely interested in. But Dave's podcast is always something I can't wait to download. All of the podcasts can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, or under the Analysis|Podcast link in the main menu above.

ANS also began its partnership with the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective in September. Kevin Meers coordinated things from Cambridge.

Later in September, I took analyzed Rex Ryan's decisions regarding his challenges in terms of WP in the Jets-Bills game.

Weekly game probabilities returned for a 5th year at the New York Times.

Sam Waters from HSAC asked whether it made sense for a team to bench a good RB for fumbling.

I added a new visualization feature to the site with the position leaders viz. It doesn't get as much traffic as I think it should. It's a quick, visual way to get an idea of who the true top performers are at each position. (For example, is CAR LB Luke Kuechly overrated this season? Hint: Yes.)

Sterling took a look at the myth of Peyton Manning as a choker in the playoffs.

The 1999 season was added to the database for all the advanced stats.

Some teams were so abysmal at running the ball while being decent at passing I suggested they might consider abandoning the run except in specific circumstances.

I crunched the numbers on when a defense should decline a penalty. Here's part two.

I ticked off a few people by suggesting that sabermetrics was helping ruin baseball. Some good points on both sides of the question. Many of the critical comments were very insightful.

Dave interviewed Virgil Carter, former NFL QB and founding father of football analytics.

Sometimes the WP model makes some kooky recommendations, like punting from the opponents' 26. But that doesn't mean they're wrong.

DAL should have intentionally allowed DEN to score a TD in their epic game from October. MIA should have allowed BUF to do the same.

I updated the Top Game finder to add a week search field, and customized it based on a couple 'unique' requests I received.

Sterling took on another common narrative and looked at whether Tony Romo can be called a choker.

I analyzed BAL's surprise onside attempt vs PIT.

TB led the league in team BGF (Blown Game Factor).

In November, Keith analyzed GB's OT decision vs. MIN that ultimately led to a tie. In fairness, that tie made the difference for their division championship.

The brutally cold DEN-NE game led to a flurry of fumbles. I did a quick look at how game temperature affects fumble rates. Billl Belichick won the toss and took the wind in OT of this game. Highly unconventional, but was it the right decision?

End of half clock management always perplexed me. Because football is by construction a zero-sum contest, what's good for one team must be equally bad for the other. So why do both teams so often seem content with letting the clock expire at the end of the half?

I think the new OT format is too complicated and contrived. Here is a plan to greatly simplify it.

I finally got around to doing a hard look at the nebulous concept of momentum in a game. Is it real? If so, how big is the effect? Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Part 5 is forthcoming.

Dave interviewed David Romer, author of the watershed 4th down paper.

The WP Calculator tool got a major upgrade in November with the implementation of the new OT rules. Now you can select one of the three OT game states for the game in question.

Sterling looked at whether comeback wins suggests future regression to the mean.

Is the 4th down revolution over?

December provided plenty of grist for the analytical mill. Teams commonly kick game-ending FGs on early downs in the event of a bad snap or hold. But does it make more sense to use the extra down(s) to shorten the kick?

In partnership with the NYT, we launched the 4th Down Bot earlier this month. It's been fun and illuminating, even if a bit misunderstood. It's also been a good test of my models, exercising them in all kinds of situations. Times interactive graphics editor Kevin Quealy deserves all the credit for making it happen. Look for new, more capable and interactive features next season.

This was a fun one and wins best title of the year award: Saban's Hyperbola. Should Alabama have tried that infamous long FG at the end of the Iron Bowl?

Dave interviewed Pete Palmer, the analytic mind behind the ground-breaking book The Hidden Game of Football.

The WP model received several significant upgrades, including team-strength and home field adjustments. I also built an adjusted version of the live graphs.

Sometimes we don't need numbers to know whether to go for two.

Sean Payton made an unusual and highly criticized decision to decline a 5-yd penalty on offense. He was right and here's why.

Sub-optimum equilibrium: PIT nearly blew their game against GB by scoring a TD when they should have run out the clock and taken a chip shot FG. And GB should have let PIT score the TD.

For week 17 I built a live playoff probability widget. It was a ton of fun but I wish it were useful on more than just one day out of the year. In case you missed it, here is the minute-by-minute graph of each of the four AFC wildcard contenders' chances as the afternoon went on.

It's been a great 2013. Thanks to all the readers and supporters who make this such a fun project and such a vibrant community.That's 65 links, and thankfully only 4 refer to going for it on 4th down. There's more to football analytics than one subject, and I think the list above shows we did a good job illustrating that this year. Happy 2014!

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