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Playoff hockey, rude fans, and the plight of the Canadian

I’ve always wanted to be a sports writer. It just seems like such a chill job to write about shit that doesn’t matter. And judging from a certain four-letter monopoly that rhymes with ESPN, you don’t really even have to know anything to succeed. All that is required is an extreme opinion and the fanatics will read, watch and listen, whether they love you or want you dead.

I could never do it though. The moment that I actually have to write something always seems to correlate perfectly with when I don’t want to write something.

But it’s time for playoff hockey and I just can’t contain my excitement. The first round begins Wednesday, and I want to prognosticate, whether you like it or not or couldn’t care less.

Atlantic division

(4) Detroit vs (1) Boston – This one may go seven games with as well as Detroit has been playing, but even if it does, the Bruins are just too good at home. The series clinching goal will come off of Brad Marchand’s nose.

(2) Tampa Bay vs (3) Montreal – Tampa in 6. Carey Price won gold with Team Canada, but he’s not good enough to carry a team that was 10th from the bottom in the league in scoring this year.

By the way, how messed up is it that a Canadian team has not won a Stanley Cup since 1993? That’s 20 seasons. Currently 7 of 30 NHL franchises (23%) are located in Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto). In 1993, when the Quebec Nordiques were still around, 8 of the then 24 NHL teams played north of the border (33%). If you were to put the names of each team in a hat for each season since 1993, and pick one team randomly from each hat, the likelihood of not picking a single Canadian team after choosing from all 20 hats is only 0.3% (0.75^20, assuming about 75% of teams in a given season are American). What could be the cause of this anomaly? In order to maintain a competitive balance, the current NHL CBA mandates a minimum team salary expenditure of somewhere around 70% of the salary cap. Between 1998-2008, when payrolls were less regulated, Canadian teams still spent similarly to their American counterparts. The revenue and spending have been there. Why do the gods hate Canada so much?

Metropolitan division

(4) Columbus vs (1) Pittsburgh – Marc-Andre Fleury is probably playing for his future in Pittsburgh. I don’t know what a sports psychologist does, but I sure hope it worked. MAF blames his recent playoff struggles on the fact that he worries about pleasing everyone, which does not allow him to shrug off poor performances. Weird. If he wants to please Pens fans, he could just shrug off the poor performances.

(2) New York Rangers vs (3) Philly dicks – To the insufferable Flyers fans that continue to chant “Crosby sucks“, and those who are frankly just too mean for my liking, I wish the worst in everything that happens to you, including watching your team not win the cup…again and forever. To the friendlier Flyer fans, my condolences for the first-round exit. Rangers in six, but only if Lundqvist has a stroke. Otherwise its a sweep and Philly leaves the ice like the Soviets did when the Flyers were a real hockey team.

Pacific division

(4) Dallas vs (1) Anaheim – I really want to pick Dallas for the big upset, but Anaheim is just so offensively skilled with Getzlaf and Perry and a ton of depth. Bruce Boudreau uses excessive profanity to keep his boys focused and Anaheim takes it in six.

(2) San Jose vs (3) LA Kings – San Jose in five. I have a hunch about them this year. I have a hunch about them every year.

Central division

(4) Minnesota vs (1) Colorado – I love the awesomely skilled Colorado Avalanche and this is exactly the type of team that disappoints in the playoffs. Wild in six.

(2) St Louis vs (3) Chicago – What happened to the Blues? They were so good until recently. What could have changed such a great squad so dramatically? Could it have been the ridiculous trade for Ryan Miller?? They deserve the beat down they’re about to get. Hawks in five.

So yeah, there it is. If I’m not too ashamed, I’ll come back for more when round 2 is set.

And lastly, but most importantly, never forget that even though there are a lot of beavers in Canada, this is NOT the time of the season to be eating wood.

M

 

Using unpaired t tests of past regular season statistical rankings to predict nothing about the Super Bowl

I am especially excited about this year’s Super Bowl.

The season has been all about the Seahawks and Broncos and it’s nice to see players rewarded for regular season success.  But how do you even formulate an argument to pick the winner? Both teams finished the regular season with 13-3 records while performing similarly against playoff teams. Denver’s offense broke the single season record for points scored while Seattle’s defense is undeniably the best in the NFL.  Something has to give, right?

Here I’ve run some simple analyses on 7 regular season statistics that I hypothesize are best associated with team success to determine correlates of past success in the big game. I will use these data to predict the Super Bowl winner.

Methodology 

I went back and looked at the past 15 Super Bowls dating back to 1999.  This date was chosen as it was the year that the Minnesota Vikings broke the single season record for points scored, ushering in the era of some of the most prolific offenses in NFL history.  While Minnesota would lose in the NFC championship game that year, high-powered offenses including those of the St. Louis Rams, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and this year’s Denver Broncos  would dominate the landscape of the league for the next 15 years.

For each participant in each Super Bowl between 1999 and 2013, I have assessed the team’s overall ranking in each of seven cherry-picked regular season statistical areas that I presumed had the best chance of correlating with Super Bowl success.  NFL rankings instead of raw numbers were used to normalize the data.  A parametric analysis was performed using an unpaired t-test to generate p-values for significance (p<0.05 is generally considered statistically significant).

GraphPad Prism software was utilized and did most of the work for me.  I am not a trained statistician by any stretch of the imagination, so if my inferences are stupid, kindly inform me where I went wrong. Here you can view each plot with it’s associated p-value.  Here is a sloppily produced PDF of the raw data that I used, obtained from NFL.com.

edit- I posted incorrect raw data of the composite rankings in the second PDF.  Here are the corrected values.

Elements assessed

1.  Quarterback rating

Justification:  The quarterback is the most important position in all of sports:  This is the only position player to touch the ball on every offensive play. The ability to make favorable decisions quickly can be the difference between a beastly and lousy offense.  Quarterback rating takes in multiple parameters including completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns per attempt and interceptions per attempt, and uses them to gauge a quarterback’s success in all phases of his throwing game (running is not included).  While many people find the formula confusing – likely because they haven’t bothered to learn it – you will see that most established quarterbacks remain at the top of the list, year after year.

Results:  No statistical significance was found between the regular season passer ratings of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks and Super Bowl runners up (p=0.6205).  As a matter of fact, Super Bowl losing quarterbacks had a slightly higher mean passer rating compared with winners.

2.  Defensive yards allowed per game (YPG)

Justification:  If your opponent cannot move the ball, they are much less likely to score.

Results:  No statistical significance was found between regular season defensive YPG of SB winners and losers (p=0.8839).

3.  Defensive points allowed per game

Justification:  Teams can’t beat you if they can’t score.  This metric takes into consideration the “bend but not break” defense that may occasionally give up big plays but can shut offenses down in the red zone.

Results:  Again, no statistical significance was found (p=0.8373)

4.  Yards per carry

Justification:  Although the majority of a team’s yardage comes from passing the ball, the ability to run, especially with a lead, can be essential in securing a victory. A team’s yards per carry (YPC) best represents the success with which a team has running the ball.

Results:  Sadly, there is once again no statistical significance between winners and losers when it comes to regular season rushing efficiency (p=0.694).

5.  Turnover differential

Justification:  Teams that have a high proportion of takeaways to turnovers often win the field position battle and need to do less offensively to score.  Turnovers can derail even the most talented offenses.

Results:  No significance with a p-value of 0.6918.

6.  Sacks

Justification:  I once heard or read a statistic that teams only score on 7% of drives in which the quarterback has been sacked at least once.  If you pay attention, you will notice that sacks invoke huge momentum shifts and often drastically change field position.

Results:  A calculated p-value of 0.8618 indicates that a team’s regular season sack total has no correlation whatsoever with winning or losing in the Super Bowl.

7.  Field goal percentage

Justification:  In a league that strives for parity with a salary cap and revenue sharing, teams are so evenly matched that games frequently come down to the final play, which is often a field goal attempt.  Teams with successful kickers are more likely to win close games.

Results:  Despite falling short of the typically accepted cutoff for statistical significance of p<0.05, a calculated value of p=0.1384 for this parameter suggests that there is a much greater chance that regular season field goal percentage correlates with Super Bowl success compared with any of the other parameters tested.

Conclusion

Each Super Bowl is incredibly difficult to pick, although this one is especially challenging.  Vegas currently has Denver at -3, which is essentially an admission that it’s a toss.  Vegas always takes the better quarterback in these situations even if the data suggest that that may prove futile for the Super Bowl.

The Broncos and Seahawks were 1 and 2 respectively in the only category that came close to being statistically significant, field goal percentage.  Matt Prater and Steven Hauschka are both very good kickers.  Seattle’s composite score, obtained by averaging each of the 7 assessed statistics, was an impressive 4.6 while Denver was at 12.6, indicating Seattle’s advantage in overall team balance.  The comparison between composite scores of Super Bowl winners and losers yielded a p-value of p=0.5417.

Despite any real statistically significant findings, I will still offer a prediction.

Seattle (+3) swarms Peyton and his receivers on defense and takes this one, 24-21.

When it comes to bullying, don’t go Incognito

The summer before fifth grade a long-time childhood friend and I decided to go for a hike in the woods. We liked to throw ninja stars, cook ration packs in the creek and catch amphibians. Typical fifth-grader shit.

There was this one day, though, when we encountered the local bully and 5 or 6 of his goon buddies. I had always been warned to avoid this crew, but I remained naive to the evil within these freaks. Upon our encounter, my friend dropped his bike and fled, leaving the scrawny 11 year-old version of me to handle myself. This was not a good position for my skill set.

Now if I can recall correctly, this jerk, lets call him Joe, was 2-3 years older than I was. At this age, where there was a fine line between armpit hair and sounding like a girl, those 2-3 years gave him a pretty ridiculous size advantage over me. Anyway, he and his dirtbag thugs bloodied me up a little. I didn’t put up much of a fight as I was alone and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.

I told my parents and friends that I wrecked my bike, and that was that. Or so I thought. For years after this incident, Joe tried his best to make my life miserable at school. I never understood why. I never had a quarrel with him, wasn’t exceptionally popular such as to invoke jealousy, but I had enough friends and success in school to keep me from the black hole of loser-dom. The dude just had it out for me from the start, and as a pacifist, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

Recently, news has broke about the alleged bullying of Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin by the notorious thug, Richie Incognito. Incognito has long been known to be a volatile individual, and these accusations seem to have surprised nobody except for everybody involved in the Dolphins organization. How this type of behavior can be shrugged off and ignored by grown adults is appalling (but I guess this should be expected within the realm of professional sports).

While there has been plenty of commentary condemning Incognito’s actions and his teammates’ lack of cognizance, there has also been an alarming extent of defending the situation, with certain players and television personalities suggesting that Martin “man up” and the like. As if a physical altercation, “win” or “lose”, with a man who called you a “half nigger piece of shit” and threatened to kill you (remember that Aaron Hernandez guy?) is really going to accomplish anything.

So needless to say, I can empathize a bit with Jonathan Martin and any others who have been savagely bullied in their lives. Even I, after one year of Junior High football in seventh grade, didn’t return the following year because of Joe’s bullshit.

When it comes to any form of harassment, there are almost always three parties involved- the aggressor, the victim and the witness(es). Bullies seem to have a low emotional intelligence, and often appear to genuinely not realize the impact of their actions on the victim. While they are certainly not without blame, they are also the least likely to ameliorate the situation. Meanwhile, those being bullied often feel inferior and unable to speak up, especially if they receive little support from others. While there is the occasional feel-good story of the kid who finally stands up to his long-time tormentor, many of these tales have much darker endings as multiple studies have shown bullying to be a significant factor in adolescent suicide.

Consider all of the young people, the future teachers and doctors, mothers and fathers, whose lives have been made so miserable by harassment from their peers that they would rather be dead. All of the good memories, their loving friends and families, all overshadowed by the constant hate thrown at them by one or a few insignificant individuals on their path through life. Fortunately for myself and any of you reading this, the good (and perhaps an understanding of the permanence of death) outweighed the bad when we were young and irrational. But it’s a tightrope that many people both adolescent and adult are walking, and sometimes a certain level of peer mistreatment is enough to push them off.

Which brings me back to the third player, the bystander. If you see somebody being attacked with regard to race, sexuality, appearance or any other benign trait, it is your moral duty to speak up. A bully will rarely stop upon their own recognition and the victim often feels powerless to react. Looking back at my situation, I wish I would have punched Joe in the face and told him to fuck off, and maybe it would have worked. But most victims of bullying don’t have that capacity and really could use some support from the rest of us. Even if you are too craven to speak up during the act, simply acknowledging to the victim that what you witnessed was wrong may be enough support for them to cope.

I think that it is important to accentuate the fact that this discussion should never be about the weakness of the victim. When has the answer for child abuse been to tell the child to be a man about it?. We don’t suggest that women (or men for that matter) who are sexually assaulted to suck it up. Why should bullying, something that can have far-reaching repercussions such as depression and suicide, be any different?

Note- Most of my evidence here is anecdotal and I don’t claim to be an expert on the topic. I am merely presenting my personal philosophy on how to handle a situation based off of my life experiences.