Commentary

# Just the facts

### A hundred facts you need to know, and how to use them

Updated: August 29, 2009, 10:21 AM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

I'm guessing you're probably not a big fan of 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. But you're probably familiar with his most famous quote.

"There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."

Speaking as someone who deals in statistics every single day, I must say: totally agree with the Preem.

Much has been made about the "Curse of 370" and why Michael Turner is doomed to fail this season. None of them, however, seem to mention that Adrian Peterson had 363 carries last season. Every single place I've seen the curse of 370 mentioned also has All Day listed as the No. 1 running back in their rankings, and fails to mention that Peterson actually had more total touches last year (384) than Turner (382).

There's a terrific article by Brian Burke on his Web site advancednflstats.com that uses many fancy graphs and big words to tell you that the curse of 370 is a total crock. It doesn't work for 365 carries or 375 carries or any other number but 370. It's a statistical oddity that falls apart when you look at the whole pie rather than just one slice of it. (Bonus Fact No. 1: When I write hungry, food references have a way of weaving themselves into my work).

Burke also discusses something called selection bias. The good folks over at Wikipedia describe it this way …

"Selection bias is a distortion of evidence or data that arises from the way that the data are collected. It is sometimes referred to as the selection effect. The term selection bias most often refers to the distortion of a statistical analysis, due to the method of collecting samples. If the selection bias is not taken into account then any conclusions drawn may be wrong."

Of course, the good people of Wikipedia once had me dating my former "Fantasy Show" co-host Danni Boatwright. (Not true. She is happily married and not nearly crazy enough for me to have dated.)

Let's put what we just learned to work where it really matters: fantasy. Here are two different running backs.

Player A: Set a career high in touchdowns in 2008 and has at least 1,400 total yards and 10 touchdowns for three straight seasons.

Player B: Will turn 30 before the start of the season, has seen his yards-per-carry and yards-per-catch average go down for three consecutive years. He's never played all 16 games in a season, and last year there were only 10 teams in the NFL who had fewer rushing attempts than his.

Which running back do you want?

It doesn't matter, because both players are Brian Westbrook.

Stat don't work in a vacuum. Both sets of stats about Brian Westbrook are true, as is the fact that the Eagles drafted running back LeSean McCoy, and I wouldn't be totally shocked if you saw Michael Vick in some Wildcat formations near the goal line this season.

Bottom line: If Brian Westbrook racked up more than 1,700 total yards and 12 touchdowns this season, you wouldn't be shocked. That's his average for the past three seasons. And if Westbrook got injured, missed six games and finished with 900 total yards and six scores, you wouldn't be shocked either.

So do you draft Brian Westbrook? Again, I can't answer that in a vacuum. If he's your No. 1 running back, that's a lot of risk. If you get Adrian Peterson and a stud wideout with your first two picks and Westbrook is sitting there at the top of the third, I've got no issue with it. You can afford to take some risk. Can you get LeSean McCoy as a handcuff? Does your league count points per receptions? How do you cope with the words "day-to-day" and "Questionable"?

Only then might you have some idea as to whether you think you're drafting "Player A" or "Player B."

To tell you the truth, I practice statistical bias all the time. I have to. When I'm on "SportsCenter" or ESPN Radio or our Fantasy Focus podcast, I have a finite amount of time. I can't speak/type/gesticulate wildly all day any more than you can listen/read/ tolerate me doing so.

So when I have 15 seconds to let you know what I think about a player, I choose a stat that illustrates what I want you to see. If I'm pro-Brian Westbrook, I tell you about "Player A." If I'm down on Brian Westbrook, I tell you about "Player B." Whether you think I know what I'm doing when it comes to choosing "A" or "B" is up to you. Read, listen and watch … or don't.

If you read my "You Heard Me" column and were left wondering what the heck I was thinking, you'll find a lot of stats in here that back up why I feel certain ways about various players. You'll also find some facts about me so you can make your own decisions when deciding whether to trust my selection bias.

Here are 100 stats, and a few bonus ones interspersed for fun. Do with them what you will. A big shout-out and thanks to Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats and Research, who helped out, double-checked and researched a lot of these.

1. Antonio Bryant had seven touchdowns last season.
2. He had seven in the three previous seasons combined.

3. Over the second half of last season, Pierre Thomas averaged 105 total yards per game, sixth-best in the NFL for that time frame, and he had 12 touchdowns for the season.
4. Deuce McAllister had six touchdowns for the Saints last season.
5. Deuce McAllister is no longer on the Saints.
6. Only four teams last season had more rushing touchdowns than the New Orleans Saints.

[+] Enlarge
Jerry Lai/US PresswirePierre Thomas has a lot going for him, including the fact that he is not dating Kim Kardashian.
Bonus Fact No. 2: I've been fairly obsessed with Pierre Thomas for over a year now..

7. More on the Saints: Last season, Reggie Bush played five games in which Marques Colston was injured. He averaged 19.4 touches per game.
8. There were also five games in which Bush and Colston both played together. In those games, Bush averaged 12.2 touches a game.

9. When we first meet, I am the nicest guy in the world and will literally give you the shirt off my back. Unless you screw me over or slight me in some way, in which case I become a petty, vindictive jerk. I'm trying to find some gray in my black-and-white world.

10. Maurice Jones-Drew has seen his yards per carry go down for back-to-back seasons since his sensational rookie debut.
11. His fumbles have increased in back-to-back seasons.
12. Fred Taylor had 556 rushing yards last season and exactly one touchdown.
13. If you give all the rushing yards to MJD, you're looking at an additional three points a week. I like him, but feel he'll be what he was last year.

14. You know about the receptions. But did you know five of Matt Forte's 12 touchdowns (Bonus Fact No. 3: That's almost half!) last season came inside the 10? He got 21 rushing attempts inside an opponent's 10-yard line and was stuffed once.
15. By comparison, Adrian Peterson of Minnesota got 18 attempts inside an opponent's 10-yard line last season. He was stuffed 6 times.

16. Last year, of running backs with at least 250 rushing attempts, only DeAngelo Williams had a higher yards-per-carry average than Chris Johnson's 4.9.
17. Johnson also had 10 touchdowns.
18. Much has been made of LenDale White vulturing scores (he had 15), but only 11 running backs had more scores than Johnson.

19. The most frequent question I get is "How do I get your job?" The answer, very simply, is just be good. Anyone could have done what I did. I answered a blind ad for a Web site in 1999. Wrote for five years, starting at \$25 an article, built an audience, started my own Web site in 2004, built more of an audience, sold it to ESPN in 2006. Many people do fantasy analysis, and many of them are very good. What I feel separated me from the pack was I offered something different. Whether you are a fan of my writing or hate it, you could take my byline off a column, read it blind and say "Yeah, that's a Matthew Berry column." If you want to do what I do, offer something different than what is currently out there and do it very well. If you're good, someone will find you. I promise.
20. Back-patting aside, I'll be the first to admit I'm a very flawed human, starting with the fact that I'm a complete and total narcissist. To be out there on TV, print, etc. doing nothing but trying to predict the future with confidence, you have to be full of it.

21. Terrell Owens has seen his receptions drop in back-to-back years.
22. He was fourth in the NFL in drops last season.
23. Last season, Dallas was eighth in the NFL in pass attempts. Buffalo was 24th.
24. Only nine teams allowed more sacks last season than the Buffalo Bills, who lost Jason Peters and Derrick Dockery in the offseason from their already suspect offensive line.
25. The Bills' depth chart currently shows two rookies (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) starting for them on the line.
26. I'm not a fan of Terrell Owens this year.

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBonus Fact No. 4: Ovie Mughelli of the Falcons had 4 career rushes inside the 10 and has scored once. Same as Jerious Norwood had last season. Spooky.
Bonus Fact No. 5: The "G" in "Mughelli" is silent.
27. No running back last season got the ball inside an opponent's 10-yard line more than Michael Turner. He got 36 attempts.
28. Steve Slaton was second with 30 rushes.
29. Thomas Jones and Brandon Jacobs had 29 for third.

30. Adrian Peterson had 18 attempts inside an opponent's 10-yard line, tied for 18th overall with Ryan Grant and one behind Brian Westbrook and Marshawn Lynch.
31. Chester Taylor had five touchdowns in the final eight games last season.
32. Then you also consider that Adrian Peterson's touchdowns went down last year, his fumbles went up and the Vikings lost center Matt Birk in the offseason.
33. He's a stud, no doubt, but he's not without questions.

34. I'm semi-obsessed with the "Big Brother" reality show. I'm rooting for Kevin, because I hate him the least.

35. Only Steve Smith had more plays of 20-plus yards last season than Calvin Johnson.
36. Megatron was also fourth in the NFL in yards after the catch.
37. He had 12 touchdown catches, tied for most in the NFL.
38. He did this despite getting only 14 red zone targets, which was tied for 31st in the NFL.
39. Detroit's new offensive coordinator is Scott Linehan.
40. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, when Linehan was with the Rams from 2006-08, St. Louis was first in the NFL in passing touchdowns in the red zone.
41. When Linehan was the Dolphins' offensive coordinator in '05, they were fifth in red zone touchdowns.
42. From 2002-04, Linehan was with the Vikings, as was a guy named Randy Moss. He seemed to do OK.
43. And they were 13th in red zone touchdowns.
44. I have decided Scott Linehan likes to throw in the red zone.

45. The guy Johnson was tied with in TD catches was Larry Fitzgerald.
46. Six of those scores came in the four games Anquan Boldin missed.
47. Over the past three seasons, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin have played together in 36 regular-season games (out of a possible 48). Their totals for when both are healthy: Fitzgerald has 214 receptions, 2,992 yards and 20 touchdowns. Boldin has 221 receptions, 2,827 yards and 23 touchdowns.
48. Anquan Boldin is going 21 picks (two rounds) later than Larry Fitzgerald.

49. You can follow me on Twitter at @TheRealTMR. It's not that I think someone would want to be me or that I need to differentiate myself, but when I registered they wouldn't let me have "TheTMR" for some reason. I try to alternate between fantasy advice and general goofiness on Twitter. I do OK.

50. Tristan Cockroft brings up this great point in his "Man 2 Man" argument against Tom Brady: Drew Brees is the only player in NFL history with at least 4,400 yards passing and 26 touchdowns in three straight seasons.

51. Only Brett Favre had more interceptions last year than Jay Cutler.
52. Denver attempted almost 100 more passes than Chicago.

53. Tony Romo was fourth in the NFL last season in passing yards per game.

54. For all the injury concerns and DeAngelo Williams' amazing season, only nine running backs in the NFL got more red zone carries last season than Jonathan Stewart. He still had ten touchdowns.
Bonus Fact No. 6: I have this strange compulsion to write DeAngelo's name "D'Angelo." It drives my editor crazy.

55. David Garrard was top 10 in passing yards last year.
56. Whatever you think of Torry Holt and Troy Williamson, they are better than what the Jags had last season.

57. Ronnie Brown had single-digit fantasy points in six of his final seven games last year.
58. If you take out the crazy five-touchdown game, he had 803 rushing yards and six scores over 15 games.

59. I have vowed to, at least once a day, tell a person that I don't talk to on a regular basis that I care about them.
Bonus Fact No. 7: Surprisingly, this still hasn't gotten me any closer to my ultimate goals of a date with Anne Hathaway or a pitch meeting with Steven Spielberg.

60. Of wideouts with at least 60 targets, no wide receiver in the NFL had a higher yards-per-catch average than Bernard Berrian did last season.
61. He had almost 1,000 yards and seven scores with Gus Frerotte (2008 completion percentage: 59.1 percent) and Tarvaris Jackson (59.1 percent).
62. Brett Favre's 2008 completion percentage was 65.7 percent.

Jason Miller/US PresswireHe's a boring Brown. Which is redundant, but no reason to dismiss Jamal Lewis as a decent fantasy back.
63. Over the past three seasons, only six teams in the NFL ran the ball inside an opponent's 10-yard line more than the Eric Mangini-coached Jets.
64. Jamal Lewis had almost 1,200 total yards last season on a team for which everything went wrong on offense.
65. Of running backs that got at least 250 carries, his stuff percentage was second-best in the NFL (to Thomas Jones).
66. Jamal Lewis is currently going in the eighth round.
67. Eric Mangini now coaches the Browns.

68. If you're a fan of mine, the best "representation" of me is the Fantasy Focus podcast I do every day with Nate Ravitz and Jay "PodVader" Soderberg. It's the thing I enjoy the most; it's the truest representation of my personality; I am "myself" the most on it. On all other platforms of ESPN I do my best, but between time constraints for TV and the importance of our Web site being family-friendly, they probably don't give you the full picture of me, whatever that is.

69. Last season, there were seven tight ends that lead their team in receptions. Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates won't shock you, and you're probably not surprised to find Chris Cooley on the list.
70. The other three? Zach Miller, John Carlson and Bo Scaife.
71. Speaking of Cooley, he has increased his receptions in back-to-back seasons.
72. In fact, his 83 receptions last year were second to only Tony Gonzalez. He had two more than Jason Witten.
73. He had at least six touchdowns in his first four seasons in the league before getting only one last season.

Bonus Fact No. 8: Chris Cooley plays fantasy football and once scored three touchdowns in a game ... to help his opponent beat him and eliminate him from playoff contention.

74. Greg Olsen was top 10 last year among tight ends in targets, receptions and touchdowns with Kyle Orton as his quarterback.
75. Now he gets Jay Cutler.

76. Among tight ends last season, Zach Miller was sixth in receiving yards, seventh in targets and eighth in receptions.
77. Among all tight ends, Kevin Boss was third in red zone targets last year.
78. Only four tight ends had more touchdowns last season than Kevin Boss.
79. Fourth in red zone targets for tight ends was Dustin Keller.

80. Among tight ends, only Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates had more touchdowns than Anthony Fasano last season.
81. The Miami Dolphins had 20 passing touchdowns as a team in 2008.
Bonus Fact No. 9: Ronnie freakin' Brown had one of them.
82. Of those 20, 14 of them -- more than two-thirds of their touchdown passes -- were to a tight end.

83. One last one, I promise. Last year, Visanthe Shiancoe had seven touchdowns.
84. In Brett Favre's last season in Green Bay (in other words, the last time he was in an offense like the one he's playing in now), Favre threw nine touchdowns to tight ends.
85. Shiancoe is currently going 14th among tight ends.

86. "Expert" leagues are a crock. I've won plenty in my time and missed the playoffs in others. They are done early for publication, half the people don't pay attention and it's not at all a representation of how good I, or any of the other participants, are as analysts.
87. I'm one of the people who doesn't pay attention. I've been playing fantasy sports for 25 years now. And when I started, I desperately wanted to win every league I was in. To talk smack, to prove how smart I was, to be the best. And I realize this may come across as cocky, and I don't mean it to. But I'm just being honest. Once I got my job here at ESPN, there's not a league in America I could win that would give me a better feeling than I got when it happened. I still love to play, and I care deeply about longtime leagues I've been in with friends, but honestly … I care so much more about getting picks right than winning a league. On a Sunday, if I said all week Joe Flacco would have a big game, I'm rooting for him hard even if I'm playing against him in three leagues. I'd rather lose all three games and be right then the other way around. So for all those people who say they could beat me in a league … you're probably right. I spend much more time poring over stats, scouting reports and trends than I ever do on my own teams. Just doesn't matter to me the way my job does.

88. Jim Mora is the new head coach in Seattle. Greg Knapp is the new offensive coordinator.
89. The last time they worked together, it was in the same positions: head coach and offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-06.
90. In every single one of those seasons the Falcons led the NFL in rushing yards per game. And in two of those years, they were in the top eight in the NFL in rushing touchdowns.
91. Now, they had Vick all those years, so it's a bit skewed, but still.
92. One week after I predicted good things for T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones in my "You Heard Me" column, based in part on these facts, the Seahawks cut Duckett and signed Edgerrin James.
93. I have a great job, but sometimes the "having to predict the future of guys like T.J. Duckett" part of it sucks.
94. Anyway, Edgerrin James averaged 6.2 yards per carry last December. I'm guessing he didn't sign to be a backup.

95. I wish other fantasy analysts (those that work at places other than ESPN) would spend less time worrying about what I write/say/do and just concentrate on doing a good job for their readers. I'm flattered, but it gets a bit weird to see all the references to me. (I have Google Alerts on my name. See Fact 20.)

96. Over the second half of last year, once Shaun Hill became the starter, he was top 10 in the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns. In fact, over that time frame he had more touchdown passes than Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan, among others, and he had more passing yards than Donovan McNabb and, again, Tony Romo.

97. Kevin Walter had almost 900 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
98. He was, believe it or not, fifth in the NFL in red zone targets.

99. Nate Washington is a career 16.4 yards-per-reception receiver and finally gets a starting job. I am not worried about the injury.

Bonus fact No. 10: If we all had eight fingers like on "The Simpsons," this list would have been 64 facts long.

100. I consider myself very lucky to have this job. You reading this, even if you hate me, is the reason I have it. So thanks. May all your backups become starters.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is a fan of children's lit and collects Curious George art. And that's a fact. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend

• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"