As the regular season continues to creep closer and closer, SB Nation's NFL sites were given the opportunity to have a few questions answered by the great minds at Football Outsiders. As readers of BRB know, one of our own is an editor there, so I was especially excited to participate in this exchange for any number of reasons, including but not limited to the chance to beg all of BRB to purchase a copy of Football Outsiders' 2011 Almanac (electronic form here/hard copy here).
If you're a football fan, it's a worthwhile purchase. Need more reasons to buy a copy of the Almanac? How about this: FO correctly predicted nine of the twelve playoff teams last year and, more importantly to you, correctly predicted your Texans would win six (5.6, really) games last year. Their whole data analysis thing has legs.
Someone by the name of Tributary McDown answered the three questions I lobbed. My question, and Ol' Trib's answers, are after the jump.
1. You guys realize that you picked the Texans to win the division, right? The Texans? From Houston? The Houston Texans? We're excited and all, but we don't know how to deal with this sort of expectation, especially since FO accurately predicted the Texans' fall last year. Please tell us why the Texans have become the darlings of the AFC South.
FO: Let's put this into a little context: our selection of the Texans to win the AFC South isn't quite a nomination of them as darling status. In fact, the Texans have the second-fewest projected mean wins (9.0) of any projected division winner. There are certainly anecdotal reasons to believe that Wade Phillips will improve the defense more than a generic new defensive coordinator, but we didn't find a statistically significant result when we ran the regression analysis on that. Having Houston as the division winner is a vote for regression: we're betting that with the offseason additions and the coordinator change, the Texans defense can go from mind-numbingly awful to merely mediocre or bad. We're also betting that the Colts' offense is going to continue its decline, in the form that Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark are going to have problems adequately making up for the rest of the team as they grow older and play behind a new offensive line.
I'd say that the Texans are more akin to the survivors in a horror movie. There's not that much separating them from their comrades, but we're predicting that they have just enough to get them past Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
2. Many Texans fans thought Eric Winston had a poor season last year, at least by what we've come to expect from Winston. FO, however, said he had "another good year," despite leading the team in penalties and blown blocks that led to sacks by FO's charting. Please reconcile that apparent discrepancy.
FO: Eric Winston put together fourteen pretty solid weeks last season. Unfortunately, he spent the other two weeks being devastated by his personal kryptonite, Jason Babin. Of the blown blocks that Winston had last season, seven of them alone came against the Titans. He only had one other game where he blew more than two blocks, and that was against the Ravens, who made it their mission to personally destroy Antoine Caldwell's career right next to him. Winston has his warts, but he's still a very solid tackle. He's also probably very happy to see Babin hitch up with the Eagles.
3. Mario Williams: OLB. What do you think about the likelihood of this move succeeding? Any projections as to what Super Mario's statistical line will look like at the end of the 2011 season, assuming he stays at OLB the entire time?
FO: I think way too much is made out of the move. In Phillips, the Texans have an extremely successful coordinator who knows what he is doing. Mario will be put in the position that best enables him to succeed, whether that is the linebacker spot that Phillips wants to fill or not, after a few weeks of observation. I would probably have kept him at defensive end, but I don't think the odds are against his conversion to "endbacker" being successful. We don't really project individual defensive player statistics beyond fantasy football value, but I'm imagining a season a bit worse than DeMarcus Ware's best, but not totally off that path. Maybe say, 48 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles?
Thanks to Mr. McDown for taking the time to answer my interrogatories. Now click here and buy a copy of the Almanac!