Remember several months ago, before the 2010 season started, when Football Outsiders predicted your Houston Texans would finish the 2010 regular season with 5.6 wins? And we all laughed, crowing that Football Outsiders totally missed the boat?
Your 2010 Houston Texans finished with six (6!) wins. Which is, you know, PRECISELY WHAT 5.6 ROUNDS UP TO.
Now click this link so the preceding moment is appropriately scored. Then jump with me. I'm pretty sure we can make it from here.
Football Outsiders' disturbing bit of fortune-telling has stuck with me all year. Come season's end, I'd hoped to mock it like we mocked them for salivating over Fred Bennett once upon a time (even though I too salivated over The Ballhawk Gamecock once upon a time...hypocritical, perhaps, but their lust was supported by statistics and science, which makes it different from mine, and we all know we must mock those who are different from us).
Alas...it was not to be. Thus, I decided to venture into the musty BRB archives, as I recalled Rivers doing a Q&A with the Football Outsiders analyst who penned that painful prediction. Surprisingly, my memory was not completely shot; here's Rivers' interview with Vince Verhei in its entirety. The first question from Rivers, and Vince's answer:
Rivers McCown: The Football Outsiders system projects a rude wakeup call of a season for the Texans, with a mean win total of just 5.6. Can you explain to the average fan why a team that hasn't won this few games since 2006 has been saddled with such a low projection?
Vince Verhei: The three biggest reasons are Brian Cushing's suspension, the harder schedule, and the secondary. Let's start with Cushing. His 2009 wasn't just Defensive Rookie Of The Year good, it was Defensive Player Of The Year Good. (Or at least, it would have been most years. Last year Darrelle Revis was so ridiculously good that nobody else should have even been considered. That the writers still gave it to Charles Woodson is one of the worst decisions ever. But I digress.) Cushing's total of 37 Defeats (turnovers, sacks, stuffs on running plays and stops on third or fourth down) was the most in the league by a healthy margin - Patrick Willis was second with 33. It was the highest total for a rookie in our database (going back to 1993); the only other first-year player over 30 was Brian Urlacher. These are big plays, the kind that stop opposing drives immediately. Without those plays, opponent punts turn into field goals, and field goals turn into touchdowns. Cushing's absence by itself will probably cost the Texans about three points per game in each contest he misses.
Number two is the schedule. The Texans played the NFC West in 2009; this year they get the NFC East. Even though we're projecting down years for the Giants and Cowboys, it's likely that the worst team in that division could still beat out the Cardinals for the crown out West. The Texans also have to play the Ravens (our Super Bowl favorite) and the improving Jets. Last year, we ranked the Texans' schedule sixth-easiest in the league, and they went 9-7. That same team playing the 2010 schedule would likely go 7-9 or worse - and with Cushing gone for a quarter-year, they are not the same team.
And the woes in the secondary should be pretty obvious. Bernard Pollard is a very good strong safety (as we will discuss later), but he's best against the run. Kareem Jackson is promising, but cornerbacks usually don't play well until their third season. Whoever ends up starting on the other side - Glover Quin, Jacques Reeves, or Fred Bennett - is still going to be one of the worse starting corners in the league. And free safety Eugene Wilson probably shouldn't be on an NFL roster, let alone starting. I plugged Wilson's statistics over the last three years into our Defensive Similarity Scores system to find the ten players most similar to him. Four of those players never started another game, and five more were out of the league within a year. (Editor's Note: Yikes.) This team is going to get shredded.
Interesting, isn't it? Of the three reasons Vince gave for his belief that the Texans would stumble in '10, I believe it's fair to say that two of 'em did not apply. Let's examine the points in order:
1. Despite Vince's words of warning, Cushing's suspension had a negligible effect on the Texans' season, as they went 3-1 in his absence. Moreover, once Cushing did return, he was not the Brian Cushing of 2009.
2. For all the ballyhooed toughness of the Texans' schedule (and I was as guilty of this as anyone), it wasn't nearly as bad as it looked on paper, due in no small part to the NFC East being weaker than expected. Additionally, the AFC South was way down this past season and wasn't nearly as murderous as it usually is; if anything, the AFC West provided a tougher slate than many expected.
3. Secondary woes? Vince nailed this one, right down to "free safety Eugene Wilson probably shouldn't be on an NFL roster, let alone starting." In fact, you could make a cogent argument that the secondary woes were almost entirely responsible for the Texans' 2010 record. Sure, there are other areas deserving of blame (e.g., Frank Bush, the Red Carpet Zone, injuries, etc.), but the secondary overshadows almost everything, doesn't it? They couldn't stop anyone not named Rusty Smith or Trent Edwards, and nearly every week was a new exercise in the futility that was "Hold Your Opponent To Less Than 24 Points."
In summary, Football Outsiders was right on the money with their prediction of a
5.6-10.4 6-10 season for your Houston Texans. The logic underlying that prediction, however, was a bit off.
So remember that when we're trying to figure out why their prediction of 3.4 wins for the Texans in 2011 is absurd.