Happy Halloween! - Andy Lyons
This week, we take a look at the history of the bye week in the NFL, some random stats, a little math, problems with Beauty & The Beast, and questionable decisions by a southern university.
[Author's note: Most of this opening stuff about the bye is plagiarized from last year's post-bye-week 2DH. However, between the new BRB readers in 2012 and the fact that this info does not seem to be common knowledge, I figured it was worth reprinting. Besides, there's some new info in here, and I even reworked some of the punchlines because I care that much about your ongoing enjoyment of the 2DH.]
I hate bye weeks. I loathe them. In terms of sports scheduling, they are my bête noire. We'll get into why I regard them with such enmity in a bit, but, first, have you ever stopped and thought about the bye?
These days, the concept of the "bye week" during the NFL season is so ingrained that the only time we think about it is when setting fantasy football rosters and, like this past Sunday, when we spend a Sunday afternoon drunkenly screaming at teams who are not the Houston Texans. Oh, sure, some of us do that during the off-season as well, especially when trying to come to terms with another summer of Cleveland Indians failure, but you know what I mean.
Yet, if you think back (and are over the age of 25), you may well recall a time before bye weeks, back in the halcyon days of 1989 and earlier. (BFD refers to this time period as "college.") From 1979, when the league expanded to a 16-game schedule, through 1989, the sixteen games occurred in sixteen weeks. Starting in 1990, one off-week was scheduled for each team and the season was lengthened to 17 weeks.
Was this done to allow players a little rest and rejuvenation time during the arduous NFL season? To protect the players' long-term health by allowing minor injuries to heal?
To quote Balki Bartokomous, "Don't be ridiculous!" We're talking about the NFL; of course it was about money.
To accommodate a huge new television deal, the National Football League will change its longstanding format of playing 16 consecutive weeks in the regular season.
This year and in 1991, each team will get a week off, stretching the regular season to 17 weeks. In 1992 and 1993, everyone will have two weeks off, creating an 18-week season.
The extensions will allow Turner Broadcasting to televise Sunday night games in the first half of the season, an agreement worth $450 million to the league. The television contract for Sunday night games in the season's second half has yet to be awarded, but it is assumed that ESPN, which has carried the games for the last two seasons, will get it, also for about $450 million.
In addition to the extra week of football, this deal also added an additional wild-card slot to each conference, expanding the post-season field from 10 to 12. And, before you ask, yes, this was also done for financial, rather than competitive, reasons.
Anyway, the 1990 byes were fairly simple in concept: starting in Week 4 and continuing through Week 9, one whole division would be off each weekend. The NFC West went first, with New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta taking off the weekend of September 30. (Side note: if that's not the worst geographical grouping of four teams in sport history, I don't know what is.)
When it came time to expand to two bye weeks in 1992, television networks suddenly realized that selling an additional week's worth of advertising was not as easy or as profitable as they'd hoped. After some negotiating, the league agreed to stick to one bye week in 1992 and to move some money around so all the millionaires and billionaires involved remained happy. I think we can all sleep better knowing that that crisis was averted.
In 1993, however, they did expand to two bye weeks per team, and it went over like a poop-filled dirigible. Whereas the single-bye schedule had allowed for all NFL teams to be active on 11 of 17 weeks, the double-bye schedule resulted in a full slate of games in only four of 18 weeks. Worse, in Week 8, four of the league's top teams (Dallas, Kansas City, the New York Giants, and the Los Angeles Raiders) were on hiatus, and CBS lost Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia and New York, pretty much killing their ratings as the NFC network that week. The "best" Sunday matchups that week were Buffalo (4-1) at New York Jets (2-3) and San Francisco (3-3) at Phoenix (2-4).
So, yeah, the television networks, who were not thrilled with the idea to begin with (once they realized it wasn't profitable) were REALLY not thrilled once the idea flopped so badly. CBS was so irked by the whole thing that they lowballed their offer in December when it came time to renew their NFL contract, and the games wound up going to Fox.
And so things went until 1999, when the Cleveland Browns 2.0 began pretending to be an NFL franchise, giving the NFL an odd number of teams for the first time since 1966. With 31 teams, the NFL needed to have at least one team on a bye every week, so you had one team off in Weeks 1, 2, and 10 through 17, and three teams off in Weeks 3 through 9.
Of course, in 2002, your Houston Texans took the field for the first time. With an even number of teams, the NFL was able to go back to the scheduled six weeks of byes, with no byes in Weeks 1 through 3 and 12 through 17. Which ends the history lesson and brings us to where we are today.
Now, as I mentioned above, I despise the bye week. Why? Consider:
1. The NFL has not figured out a way to use the bye weeks to accommodate teams for playing a short week the week before. If you play on Sunday and then have to play the following Thursday, wouldn't it just make sense to have your bye week the following Sunday? I mean, you just played two NFL games in five days; if the bye was even remotely about player health and safety (spoiler alert: it wasn't), this would just seem obvious. And, prior to this season's expansion of Thursday Night Games to every week, it would have been an easy fix: put the Thursday games and the byes on Weeks 6 through 13, and the teams getting byes in any week would be the teams who had a Monday or Thursday game the previous week. Easy peasy.
[Update: As TexansDC notes in the comments below, putting the bye week immediately prior to the week you have a Thursday game would also create better scheduling, and it might alleviate the weird spacing of games that seems to occur so often around Thursday games.]
2. The scheduling is very haphazard. The Colts had a bye in Week 4, no AFC South team was off in Week 5, the Jaguars were off in Week 7, the Texans had Week 8 off, and the Titans will rest in Week 11. If there's a rhyme or reason to this scheduling, I can't find it. And this matters because . . .
3. The timing of the bye week impacts which injured players actually play. For example, if the Texans' and Bills' bye had been in Week 9 instead of Week 8, it's highly unlikely that Mario Williams would have played in the game. It probably won't wind up being a big deal for the Texans, assuming they take care of business against the Bills, but the fact that teams may face a player that they would not had the byes fallen differently introduces an element of chance to the schedule that teams should not have to account for.
4. Anecdotally at least, the later in the season a team gets a bye, the more helpful that would be. As the Texans saw in 2008 thanks to Hurricane Ike, having a very early bye is generally less helpful in terms of getting people healthy than a later bye is. I mean, I don't have the numbers to verify this, but, as the nicks and dings and scratches of an NFL season add up, it just makes sense that the later you can have a 13-day hiatus, the better it would have to be for your team's overall health and, accordingly, for your playoff chances.
5. Bye weeks are boring. Oh, sure, there were some entertaining games Sunday, including the Titans' failure against the Colts and the Cowboys' continued Snatching Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory Tour, but did you really care? Of course not. As much as we are all NFL fans generally, we are Texans fans specifically, and a weekend without the Texans is a weekend where you are willing to, say, watch only the Red Zone channel and go out to a late lunch.
Because the NFL has figured out that THEY profit more from 17 weeks than 16, the odds of the bye going the way of the dodo and the Titans' playoff hopes are slim to none. Likewise, because the NFL would rather shove its collective manhood in a pencil sharpener than have zero television presence in a given week (and because the bye week is not about health or safety or competitive balance in the least), the obvious solution of just having all teams take Week 8 off is not going to happen. The only good news I can offer at this point is that one Texans-less week is now behind us, and we'll only have to deal with Texans-free football twice more between now and February 3, 2013.
Consecutive days, as of this writing, that your Houston Texans have had at least a share of first place in the AFC South. Yes, I'm counting days between the end of the 2011 season and the start of the 2012 season. Why? Well, did anyone pass the Texans? No? Then that's why.
Consecutive days, as of this writing, that your Houston Texans have had at least a share of first place in the AFC. That includes the last nine days, in which they have been the sole holder of that position.
Don't Believe Me? Ask The Dishes.
Recently, during the 390th or 391st time that my daughter was watching Disney's Beauty & The Beast, I realized that there's a big hole in the backstory.
See, when the film starts, we learn (through the magic of stained-glass windows as a story-telling device) that:
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind. But then, one winter's night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold. Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift and turned the old woman away. But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within. And when he dismissed her again, the old woman's ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress.
The prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart. And as punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast and placed a powerful spell on the castle and all who lived there. Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world. The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his 21st year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time. As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?
Ok. All well and good there, I suppose, even if that's kind of a jerk thing for an enchantress to do. But who understands those enchantresses anyway, amirite?
The problem, though, comes later in the film, when, during the song "Be Our Guest," Lumiere mentions (twice) that it's been ten years since the spell was cast. Because, from the climax of the film, we know that the Beast is almost 21 years old. Meaning that he was 11 when the enchantress came a-knocking. What the hell?
Knowing that the Prince was 11 (or even slightly younger) when the spell was cast opens up a whole bunch of problems. For one, where were the king and queen? Surely it wasn't just a boy prince and a bunch of servants in that castle. Also -- especially if it was just the boy prince and the servants in the castle -- why was he the one who answered the front door when the enchantress came knocking? What "spoiled, selfish" 11-year-old, royalty or not, who would answer the front door if he could instead have someone else do it?
Perhaps most problematic, as soon as the Prince is turned into the Beast, he goes all Terms of Enrampagement on the interior of the castle, flipping tables and breaking stuff. In this fit, we see him destroy a painting of himself. The painting, however, is him as he looked at 21 years old, as we see from when Belle's true love saves him and turns him back into a human. That painting simply should not exist within the universe of that movie. (And, because I know so many of you like to argue about this stuff, spare me the "it was just a painting of a relative who looked like him because those are in ever castle." It was him -- same hair, same uniform in the painting and in the final ballroom scene, etc.)
Wait. Now That I Think About It. . .
Writing that last section, something else jumped out at me. He's a prince, right? As in royalty and whatnot? Wouldn't the people (read: his subjects) notice that the local boy prince and all of his servants no longer seem to exist? Doesn't he exercise some amount of day-to-day authority over the local French village if nothing else?
Actually, for anyone to notice, I suppose they'd have to realize that there was a castle just a little bit outside of town, which no one seems to know. Gaston mocks the fact that Belle's dad, Maurice, even suggests that there's a castle out there. How the villagers could be unaware that a castle existed within a half-day's walk of the village is beyond me. Don't some of the servants live or have family in the village?
Career rushing TDs for Arian Foster, tying him for 117th all-time. He needs two more rushing TDs to crack the Top 100, and ten more to crack the Top 75. He also trails Chris Johnson by only two career rushing scores, despite Johnson's having played in 29 more games.
Total rushing yards needed by Arian Foster to hit 4,000.
Receiving yards per game that Andre Johnson (78.3) trails Calvin Johnson (78.4) by, placing Dre second all-time. Until just a few weeks ago, Andre was first on that list. Granted, Johnson is much younger and in his prime, so it makes sense that he would pass Dre, but I still want more passes to AJ10K so he can be back in the lead. I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it does.
The Indianapolis Colts' net points this season. That is the same as the Eagles and roughly the same as the Browns (-32), Jets (-32), and Panthers (-39). In recent weeks, they've been throttled by the Jets (35-9) and squeaked out wins over the Browns (17-13) and Titans (19-13 OT).
Using the modified Unit Pythagorean Expectation from Advanced NFL Stats, you would expect a team with the Colts' scoring totals to have a win percentage of .438. In reality, they are at .571. Now, that's not a huge deviation -- at this point in the season, it's the difference between 3-4 and 4-3 -- but it does suggest that some amount of the Colts' success is due more to luck than to Luck. Overall, history has shown that Pythagorean expectation is demonstrably better than past win percentage as a predictor of future win percentage.
Point being, even in a relatively weak AFC, suggestions that the Colts have a good chance of making the playoffs are ignoring that there are six teams with much better chances of reaching the post season (Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England, Miami, and Denver), at least based on the available evidence.
Unit Pythagorean Expected win percentage for the Tennessee Titans. Meaning, yes, things could get worse for them. Which is kinda awesome.
The Texans Unit Pythagorean Expected win percentage so far this season, which they've overperformed by roughly one game. Going 7-2 over the remaining nine games would be more or less in line with a regression to the expected percentage, and would result in the 13-3 finish that most people seem to be predicting right now.
Expected win percentage for the Jaguars. That's right, Titans fans: your team is not appreciably better than Jacksonville. Suck it. Suck it hard.
Fair Is Foul?
At least once during every NFL broadcast, you hear a disembodied lie to you. Like so many lies, this lie comes in the form of legalese:
This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience, and any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited.
What makes this a lie is the assertion that "any other use" is prohibited. Anyone remotely familiar with copyright law knows that there's at least one other allowable use that does not require the NFL's permission: Fair Use.
Broadly, Fair Use allows someone to use otherwise copyrighted material, without permission from the copyright holder, for purposes of, among other things, commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, or parody. So, for example, when in the context of the KTFO Award I use a .gif of Glover Quin destroying everything that Blaine Gabbert holds dear, I am protected by Fair Use, despite the fact that I'm clearly in violation of the language of the NFL's TV disclaimer.
Fair Use as a concept, however, is far from black and white. Determining whether something is protected as Fair Use requires a four-factor balancing test under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law:
1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
2. The nature of the copyrighted work
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
Because this is a balancing test, no one factor is dispositive. As an example, while courts have generally found Fair Use more readily in cases where only a portion of a copyrighted work was used, they have also applied Fair Use in certain cases where the entirety of the copyrighted work was used if that use was sufficiently transformative of the work (rather than derivative). Similarly, in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994), the Supreme Court held that Fair Use may be applicable even where the use is for commercial purposes, depending on how the overall balancing of the factors comes out. Obviously, then, this balancing test creates a great deal of gray area, and this gray area is where the legal battles take place.
As if their disclaimer above wasn't enough proof, it should come as no surprise that the NFL is one of the worst when it comes to bullying people and crapping all over the concept of fair use. They are quick to fire off a boilerplate letter whenever they think they can get the material in question taken down -- see, e.g., here and (ironically) here -- and, because they have such deep pockets and can swallow the cost of protracted litigation more easily than, say, your average, run-of-the-mill football blogger can, the NFL frequently "wins" these battles with minimal pushback from people who were not actually violating copyright law. This is frustrating, but it represents economic realities that apply even when it comes to the law.
What is far more frustrating, however, is when organizations that do have the financial wherewithal to at least press the issue and contemplate litigation simply cave rather than fight for the concept of Fair Use. Because, I'll tell you a little secret, at some level in the NFL's legal staff, they know that (a) they'd look like petty morons to even take a fight over, say, .gifs on blog posts to court, and (b) they know that it's a fight they could not win 99 times out of 100, since the use of .gifs and other brief images on blogs is nearly always done in the context of commentary, criticism, news reporting, parody, or some other Fair Use-protected form. A lawsuit that simply sought to prevent all .gif use on a blog or group of blogs would be doomed from the start; to win, the NFL would have to establish that certain, specific uses of .gifs were not protected by Fair Use. They would, in effect, have to litigate post by post.
The NFL may be money-hungry and petty at times, but one thing it generally is not is stupid enough to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars tilting at windmills in a fight over three-second clips. The sooner an organization that can call the NFL's bluff does, the better off we'll all be for it.
Random '90s Rap Video.
Let's Get Milestoned.
Random statistical milestones that Texans players could reach in the second half of this season:
Matt Schaub: 20,000 passing yards as a Texan. He needs 1,447.
Matt Schaub: With six more wins, he'll have 44 wins as a Texans starting QB, exactly double the number David Carr had.
Kevin Walter: 4,000 receiving yards as a Texan. He needs 156.
Owen Daniels & Kevin Walter: 25 receiving TDs as Texans. Both have 24.
Andre Johnson: 800 receptions. He has 740.
J.J. Watt: With four more sacks, he would have 19. This would top Mario Williams for the most by a Texan in his first two seasons. And, because it doesn't seem completely impossible, I'll mention that if J.J. can get 16 sacks in his final nine games, he'd surpass Mario's first-three-years total.
More Helmet Griping.
A few weeks ago, I noted that UCLA's "Ucla" on their helmets annoys me. It still does. You know what might actually annoy me worse, however? The fact that the University of Mississippi refers to themselves as "Ole Miss" instead of "Ol' Miss."
Yes, I am aware that "Ole" is an eye dialectic spelling of "Old." Great. It's still stupid. According to the Wiki, it comes from an 1897 contest in which students submitted ideas for names for the new yearbook. Elma Meek, being the least creative student ever, suggested "Ole Miss." Rather than, say, correct her hillbilly-ish spelling or look for an idea that was actually creative, the powers that be -- all of whom I assume looked and sounded like Jefferson Davis Hogg -- went with it. Then, because we all know the overwhelming power that a yearbook has over a student body, the name went viral (relative to 1897 Mississippi) and became the nickname for the entire institution.
But here's the thing: Between James Meredith and holding on to Col. Reb until 2010 despite his obvious antebellum plantation owner garb, the University of Mississippi does not exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to race relations. I'm hardly one to stand on political correctness, and of course Ole Miss is free to do what it wants, but sticking to a spelling of your nickname that allows people to theorize that it's "derived it from 'ol' missus', African American eye dialect for a plantation's 'old mistress'" is probably not a great idea. And sticking with the eye dialectic spelling only reinforces this.
In the meantime, I'm going to follow Displaced Texan's suggestion and pronounce it as ¡Olé! in my head.
I'm running short on time this week, so we're calling the game on account of darkness right here. BBQU will return next week, as will Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer and the TXT MSGS of the Week. I promise. If I fail to deliver, you all get your dues refunded.
 Obviously, this last part is a lie.
 Meaning that, in some ways, the bye week is to blame for the presence of Cleatus and Joe Buck.
 Uh...spoiler alert, I guess.
 Random disclosure: I've been in one play in my life. It was a high school version of this movie, in which I played Gaston. Because I am not one to half-ass things, I decided that Gaston's death scene should involve my flinging myself off the stage into the orchestra pit area. The night of the play, I did the death with gusto, only to find out on impact that the person who was supposed to put a mattress down for my landing failed to do so. My entire left shoulder and hip were bruised for about a month. COOL STORY, HANSEL!
 The disclaimer is also sort of a lie in a way unrelated to copyright law. The disclaimer purports to bar use of "the descriptions or accounts" of the game. However, copyright law does not cover facts in the public domain. I can write, "Andre Johnson had nine catches for 86 yards against the Ravens" without running afoul of any laws because the NFL’s copyright can't restrict private discussion about a game. This is not because of fair use, however, but because this information is in the public domain.