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East Coast Offense

Chris Liss Rotowire.com
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This is the seventh year of this column, the purpose of which is to share some of my observations of the NFL from the perspective of an industry analyst, fan, fantasy owner, sports bettor and survivor player, not necessarily in that order. It's my suspicion that a fair number of you are similar to me in that your interest in the game isn't limited to any one of those facets, and so pretty much anything NFL-related is fair game here. Your comments and feedback are welcome.

Last year's preseason ADP vs. end-of-season finish

Projecting performance for top players is usually easier than doing so for mid- or lower-level ones mostly because their track records are typically longer, their playing time (and volume) more guaranteed. So, to the extent ADP is a good measure of player performance, it should be a great measure of it at the top.

Let's take a look at last year's top players by position and how they did:

Top-5 QB by ADP (courtesy of MockDraftCentral.com

Rank Player Pos Team ADP Year-End Rank
6 Michael Vick QB PHI 7.59 11
10 Aaron Rodgers QB GB 10.29 1
21 Drew Brees QB NO 22.34 2
22 Peyton Manning QB IND 27.84 NR
23 Tom Brady QB NE 32.87 3

Of course, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford (ADP: undrafted (UD) and 123, respectively) made the top-5 in lieu of Vick and Manning.

Top-10 RB by ADP

Rank Player Pos Team ADP Year-End Rank
1 Arian Foster RB HOU 1.18 4
2 Adrian Peterson RB MIN 2 13
3 Chris Johnson RB TEN 3.31 16
4 Rashard Mendenhall RB PIT 5.75 19
5 Maurice Jones-Drew RB JAX 7.08 3
7 Ray Rice RB BAL 8.93 1
8 LeSean McCoy RB PHI 9.03 2
9 Michael Turner RB ATL 9.29 6
11 Darren McFadden RB OAK 11.99 34
14 Peyton Hillis RB CLE 15.21 40

Last year's RB rankings were pretty good. Johnson and Mendenhall were busts, but Peterson and McFadden missed their targets solely due to injuries. The only surprises in the top-10 were Marshawn Lynch (ADP: 28th RB, year-end: (YE) 5th RB), Ryan Mathews (ADP: 16th RB, YE: 7th RB), Michael Bush (ADP: 86th overall, YE: 8th RB) and Darren Sproles (ADP: 151 overall, YE: 9th RB).

Rank Player Pos Team ADP Year-End Rank
12 Roddy White WR ATL 13.28 8
13 Andre Johnson WR HOU 14.33 72
16 Calvin Johnson WR DET 16.23 1
18 Hakeem Nicks WR NYG 19.73 12
20 Greg Jennings WR GB 21.54 18
22 Reggie Wayne WR IND 24.3 29
23 Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI 25.58 5
24 Miles Austin WR DAL 26.46 42
25 Dwayne Bowe WR KC 29.07 20
26 Mike Williams WR TB 32.8 50

Here's where things get shaken up. Of the top five WR by ADP, only Calvin Johnson and Roddy White finished in the top-10, though all except Andre Johnson (due to injury) finished in the top-20. Of receivers 6-10, only one finished in the top-10 (Fitzgerald), and a second (Bowe) in the top-20 (barely). Miles Austin, Reggie Wayne and Mike Williams were all busts, and only Austin was hurt.

This jibes with what my RotoWire colleague Jonathan Bales discovered when he looked at 10 years of data. Receiving stats are the least consistent from year to year among the key positions.

That doesn't mean your high picks spent on receivers will necessarily disappoint. Andre Johnson was hurt, Greg Jennings missed three games and Hakeem Nicks missed time as well. Reggie Wayne played in an especially terrible passing offense, Austin was hurt and only Williams really fell off the map with most of the key variables remaining in place. And receivers are typically more durable than running backs. They're more volatile historically probably because there are more variables that have to be in place for them to succeed and the sample – 125 targets vs. 250 carries and 40 targets – is smaller. But to the extent we can confidently project workload and environment, I'd bet the disparity in receiver reliability goes away.

In any event, here are the other WR who cracked the top-10: Jordy Nelson (ADP: 141 overall, YE: No. 2 WR), Wes Welker (ADP: 55 overall, YE: No. 3 WR) Victor Cruz (ADP: UD, YE: No. 4 WR), Steve Smith (ADP: 87 overall, YE: No. 6 WR), Percy Harvin (ADP: 58 overall, YE: No. 7 WR). Mike Wallace (YE: No. 9) was the 11th WR by ADP, and Vincent Jackson (YE: No 10) was the 13th.

Non-obvious Predictions for 2012

The Cowboys win less than eight games

Stevan Ridley finishes as a top-12 back

Demaryius Thomas outperforms Eric Decker

Braylon Edwards finishes as a top-30 WR

Mark Sanchez keeps the job all year

Adrian Peterson doesn't break 1,000 yards rushing

Frank Gore does eclipse 1,000 yards rushing

Reggie Wayne finishes in the top-five in targets, but is not a top-15 WR

Michael Turner is a top-10 back in standard formats, leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns

Ahmad Bradshaw is a top-10 back

Michael Crabtree catches 80-plus passes for 1,000-plus yards

Justin Blackmon is a top-25 WR

One of the Redskins RBs is a top-15 back.

At least one of the non-Cam Newton second-year QBs (Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, T.J. Yates) is a top-12 QB.

The Seahawks make the playoffs

The Lions miss the playoffs

No one in the AFC West makes the playoffs

Some of these predictions are wrong (including the penultimate one)

Last year's predictions can be found here (Scroll down).

Big Fish, Little Pond

Would you rather have a frequent target like Greg Little in a poor passing game like Cleveland's or an infrequent target like Lance Moore in a great passing game like the Saints'? Obviously, we'd have to evaluate this on a case-by-case basis, but it largely depends on what you think is more likely – Little's team suddenly becoming competent at passing, and Little becomes more like Stevie Johnson or Dwayne Bowe, or Moore's team suffering an injury or two, and Moore suddenly gets 100-plus targets from an elite QB. In this case, I'd probably take Little, as Moore strikes me as more of a possession option, but were anythng to happen to Jimmy Graham, Moore could be a frequent Drew Brees red-zone target – something he's been in the past.

The same debate can be had over running backs – Donald Brown (main RB) vs. Stevan Ridley, whose role is less clear, on a much better team. I'm going Ridley over Brown or BenJarvus Green-Ellis. But I'd take Brown over Peyton Hillis (timeshare on a good running team) or Ben Tate (small timeshare/backup on the league's elite running team).

Only Game in Town vs. Help on the Other Side

Would you rather have A.J. Green – the only game in town in Cincinnati – or Julio Jones, a player who will see less coverage because Roddy White is on the other side? Brandon Marshall or Greg Jennings? Percy Harvin or Marques Colston? All things being equal, give me the only game in town every time.

Things to Watch for in Week 1

Five rookie QBs make their debuts – Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson. Only Weeden gets to play at home.

Health of star RBs – Adrian Peterson, Trent Richardson, Ryan Mathews, Jamaal Charles, possibly even Rashard Mendenhall

Packers vs. 49ers – which team more resembles the juggernaut from last year?

Giants vs. Cowboys – Defending SB champs are 8-0 since the NFL has had them play the season's lone opener

Peyton Manning's Broncos debut vs. last year's No. 1 passing defense

Beating the Book

Line: Falcons -2 at Chiefs

Matty Ice, darling of the preseason, skyrocketed up draft boards. Ryan does his best work by far against weaker opponents and tends to fade against stiffer challenges. Preseason, in other words, is where someone like Ryan should be expected to shine. Ditto for games against the soft defensive underbelly of the NFC South. The Chiefs in Arrowhead – the team that beat the undefeated Packers last year – might be a different story.

Prediction: Chiefs 20 – 19

Last year we went 10-7 in this forum and 124-125 overall. Over the last five years we've gone 50-34 in this space. You can read the full Week 1 column here.

Surviving Week 1

Let me just preface this by saying, nothing in my job terrifies me more than picking in Survivor for Week 1. Is there anything worse than handing over money to your pool, hoping for a season's worth of entertainment, drama and horror, only to see your hopes dashed after one measley week? When you're writing the Survivor advice column, you can multiply that by a thousand.

That said, it's kind of like being seated in an "emergency exit" row on an airplane. The thought that I'd have to be the one on whom everyone's life depends as I figure out how to open the door is terrifying, but it's better than depending on some random nut-job while my life hangs in the balance.

To that end, let's take a look at this week's slate:

Team Opponent % picked* Vegas ML** Vegas Odds
TEXANS Dolphins 32.40% -600 85.71
LIONS Rams 18.70% -330 76.74
BEARS Colts 17.10% -450 81.82
SAINTS Redskins 8.10% -340 77.27
Eagles BROWNS 7.70% -375 78.95
Home Team in CAPS
* according to OfficeFootballPools.com
** average of the two moneylines

These are the only five teams I'd consider. Vegas gives the Texans an 86 percent chance to win, but 32 percent of pools are on them. Let's compare that to the other strong play, the Bears (82 percent) and 17 percent of pools on them.

In a hypothetical $10-entry-fee, 100-person pool, if the Texans win and Bears lose, you'd be one of 83 people left. Your pool equity goes from $10 to $12.05. Should the Texans lose and Bears win, there would be 68 people left, and your pool equity goes from $10 to $14.70. So the respective payouts are $12.05 for the Texans and $14.70 for the Bears. But what are the odds of each happening?

The Texans will win (according to Vegas) 86 percent of the time, and the Bears will lose 18 percent. Both events (Texans win, Bears lose) will happen 15.5 percent of the time.

On the other hand, the Bears will win 82 percent of the time, and the Texans will lose 14 percent. Both events (Bears win, Texans lose) will happen 11.5 percent of the time.

Let's compare the two ratios to see which team offers a better payout for the risk. The Bears win in expected equity $14.70 to $12.05, a ratio of 1.22 to 1. But the Texans win in reduced risk, by a ratio of 1.35.

So you can see that according to the Vegas odds, and taking the officefootballpools data as representative of your pool, the Texans offer the best bang for the risk. To the extent you differ on a team's chances of winning, or you believe your pool's choices will differ from the public's, you should modify this calculation accordingly.

My choices in order are Texans, Bears, Saints, Eagles, Lions. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind when the full column comes out Tuesday night.

Follow Chris on Twitter at @Chris_Liss

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