Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Line Power, via Neil Smith

This thing about lines, lest you think I'm just doing some sort of Jackson Pollock splash-painting with football words, really does exist. Really really. You can prove it for yourself using a spreadsheet and the simplest of analytical tools: your brain.

Go to Call up the page that lists all current teams and their all-time records. Copy it and dump it into an Excel spreadsheet. Then eliminate all the extraneous stuff, such as who the all-time leading receiver was for a given team. Yeah, there is some sort of hungover eyebrow-raising to be done at the revelation that Eric Martin is still the Saints' all-time leading receiver, but you know that record's going to last all of about another 10 months. Or 15 years, at the current rate of negotiations.

Once the non-essentials have been banished to Deleteville, sort the teams by won-loss percentage -- winningest teams at the top, if you don't mind. You should wind up with a spreadsheet that starts with the Chicago Bears and ends with the Houston Texans. (It's not an oldest-to-youngest search by any means, thanks to those Clint Hurdles of the football world, Detroit and ChiStlAz.)

Now go though the spreadsheet and identify the part of the team that has historically been the strongest -- QB, RB, O-line, D-line, LB, DB, WR, special teams. Use your memory; not statistics. It’ll be more accurate, unless you’re Barry Bonds, too.

Do that and you wind up with something like this:

Team                    Win %       Strength(s)

Miami Dolphins     0.576         O-line, QB

Green Bay Packers 0.559        Lines, QB, RB

Minnesota Vikings  0.551        D-line, RB

Cleveland Browns  0.549         O-line, RB

Oakland Raiders    0.549         Lines, WR

New York Giants   0.548         O-line

San Francisco 49ers 0.548       QB, WR

Baltimore Ravens    0.535        DB, D-line

Indianapolis Colts   0.532        QB, WR

New England Patriots 0.526     QB, LB

Denver Broncos      0.522        QB, lines

Jacksonville Jaguars 0.52         WR, O-line

Kansas City Chiefs 0.52          Lines, LB

Pittsburgh Steelers  0.52          Lines, LB

Washington Redskins 0.515    O-line, QB

St. Louis Rams       0.509       QB, WR

San Diego Chargers 0.505       Lines, WR

Tennessee Titans    0.492        O-line

Philadelphia Eagles 0.485        QB, LB

Seattle Seahawks    0.478        D-line, RB

Buffalo Bills           0.469        O-line, RB

Carolina Panthers   0.465        LB

New York Jets       0.46          RB

Detroit Lions         0.456         RB, DB

Cincinnati Bengals 0.435         Nothin'

New Orleans Saints 0.428       Zip

Atlanta Falcons      0.424        RB

Arizona Cardinals   0.414       ST, DB

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0.399 D-line

Houston Texans     0.382        Zilch

Sehr interresant, nicht wahr, that nine of the 10 teams have been characterized by at least one dominant line -- and have been able to perpetuate those lines over time and changes in personnel, rules, game play, and coaching staffs?

Nothing else comes close. You can win some games with a great QB, about as many with a great RB, proportionally less with great pass-catchers and D-backs. But you ain't perpetuating nothin' unless you're committed to building powerhouse lines every season, regardless of coach or quarterback. And while Kansas City isn't the winningest team out there, its whirpool runneth over with really solid D-linemen like Neil Smith -- a stout run-stuffer, a sack machine, and very, very comparable to Buck Buchanan. If you're wondering what a perennially great team is made of, here's your answer: Neil Smith. Four Neil Smiths, ideally.