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Facing the facts

8/28/2011

Never.

I think that's the key word.

On Sept. 12, at 3:30 p.m. ET, on ESPN2, the Worldwide Leader will debut a show called "Numbers Never Lie."

Now, "numbers" is an important word, of course. The show will look at current stories in the world of sports from a statistical angle. Less about game film and more about the box score, this is a show that considers "Moneyball" a much more important book than, say, "Winning in the Trenches" by Forrest Gregg. So yeah, we definitely need "numbers."

And "lie" is a crucial word, as it implies an empirical truth to those numbers.

But "never?" Never is the money word.

We know people, memory, our own eyes can mislead. But numbers? Can numbers lie, the show asks? And the title tells us no. Not occasionally, not once … never.

Numbers. Never. Lie.

As you might expect on a program about statistics, there is a fantasy element to the show. And as a result, I will be among the folks presenting those always truthful numbers.

In honor of this show, everything in this article is 100 percent true. Every single thing is a can't-argue-with-it, completely verified fact.

For example, I can tell you a story of a player whose rushing touchdowns decreased by 29 percent last year and who spent much of the season on the bench, after his team brought in another running back to be the starter. He's a productive piece of a real NFL team, but from a fantasy perspective, owners should keep in mind he was tied for 40th in the NFL in goal-line carries last season. His team went out this offseason and brought in another running back in addition to keeping last year's starter, further muddying the running back position. Known for his speed and pass-catching ability out of the backfield, you have to question if he's lost a step, considering his longest reception from scrimmage the past three years has gone from 75 to 49 to 31 yards. A career high in fumbles last year may have contributed to the fact he got limited carries, as he had more than 17 carries only three times last season. A change in offensive coordinator only puts him further behind the eight ball, so clearly, whatever you do, be very cautious before you draft Jamaal Charles.

Yeah.

Everything I wrote above about Charles is true, of course. It's also wildly misleading. There's a reason I have Charles as my No. 2 running back this year, and the addition of Le'Ron McClain or Charles' fumbles increasing from two to three last season does not deter me.

Look, I'm not Bill James when it comes to stats. Never claimed to be. There are many people out there with greater statistical backgrounds and analytic knowledge than me. Listen, there are millions of people out there better than me at almost anything.

Truth be told, there's not a lot in this world that I'm good at, but two things that I am fantastic at? Researching statistics and then completely manipulating them to make a point. That's why I like the fact the actual title of the show is "Numbers Never* Lie." The asterisk makes it for me. Because while the numbers themselves are true, the people who use them, like me, constantly have our pants on fire.

I've written some of what follows before but it bears repeating every year, especially as we're about to start another season during which you will read, listen to and watch tons of analysis, for fantasy football and many other subjects, from me and many others.

We lie with numbers … because we have to. There's two reasons for this: The first and simplest is, frankly, time. We don't have enough of it. When I am on "SportsCenter," I get 45 seconds to tell you something. I can't possibly give you a complete picture of a player in 45 seconds, let alone multiple players, which is what I'm usually doing.

Even on the podcast, in my column or on "Fantasy Football Now" (Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2!) I have only a finite amount of time. I can't speak/type/gesticulate wildly all day any more than you can listen/read/tolerate me. Ultimately, this is a hobby, and if you're not at least slightly entertained, you're going elsewhere.

But even if we both had all the time in the world for me to completely break down every facet of every single player and you had to the time to absorb it all, it wouldn't matter. Because here's the second thing: It's impossible -- and I mean impossible -- to get a complete statistical overview of a player. Once you start segmenting and measuring every possible action on every possible play, you'd have hundreds upon hundreds of stats for every player, some of which haven't even been invented yet.

There's the obvious things like targets and red zone looks, and more detailed things like yards after contact and passing efficiency on plays of more than 25 yards. Then you get into things like percentage of runs on first down. Completion percentage from the shotgun. Rushing average after 15 carries. Yards at the catch versus yards after the catch. Yardage in two receiver sets. In three. With two tight ends. While trailing. While leading. At home. On the road. On grass. In a dome. In December. In the fourth quarter. With so-and-so as the offensive coordinator. Over the past three seasons. Months. Weeks. Since so-and-so went down with an injury. The permutations are nearly endless.

A player's potential value changes with every game, every situation, every play, every personnel grouping, every scheme. And it's all dependent on everything else around it.

The only way to do a complete statistical overview of every player, team and the thousands of different situations they all find themselves in would be to memorize an entire website. And even if you did, it wouldn't matter. Because there's stuff we don't know. What if everything about the Brett Favre texting story last season had been kept under wraps so well that only league officials, Favre and the Vikings knew about it, but no one else? Say it hadn't become public yet. And then we have a situation where a season after having an amazing year with Minnesota, Brett suddenly looked tentative, ineffective and very un-Favre like. Why? Did he suddenly get old? Ineffective pass protection, a lack of communication between coach and player, the injury to Sidney Rice, Favre's own injury … or maybe he was just really worried about this embarrassing rumor and picture being released and attributed to him? We know the whole story and we still don't know if that situation affected him or if it was any one of hundreds of other potential mitigating factors that combined to make him crash and burn.

I recently heard a rumor about a high-profile NFL player that, if true and if it came out, would be on the level of the Tiger Woods or Brett Favre scandals. No idea if it's true, no idea if it will ever come out, can't do anything with it even if I did know, because I don't know if the player is aware of this rumor, and if he is, I have no idea how it would affect him.

There is a human element to every number and no stat can predict that. So, in order to try to make sense of the chaos and to force ourselves to make a decision on a player, we have to make choices.
I study all the stats, do the research and talk to as many folks as I can, then I choose which stats I want to show/discuss/butcher. If my research shows I should like the guy, I tell you positive stats. If it's the other way, I highlight the negative. Just like I showed in the Charles example, I can talk up or talk down anyone; I just have to choose the right stats for the job.

Every single person who does analysis, be it in sports, politics, pop culture or whatever, does the same thing. Every single time. I'll be doing it on every podcast, radio show, column and TV show I'm on this year, including "Numbers Never Lie."

Your job is to decide who to trust, who not to, find out whom you agree with and whom you think is a moron. Take it all in and make your own call because you're the one who has to live with it.

Everything that follows is absolutely true. They all are facts. Some are about football players and teams; some are about me. Not one of them tells the whole story.

There are 100 in all. What you do with them is up to you.

1. Last season, only Tom Brady had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than Josh Freeman.

2. Last season, only Michael Vick had more rushing yards among quarterbacks than Josh Freeman.

3. Last season, there were six quarterbacks who got at least five rushes inside an opponent's 10-yard line. Of those six, only Josh Freeman and Jon Kitna failed to score.

4. The four remaining quarterbacks scored an average of 4.25 touchdowns for the season.

5. If Freeman scores, say, three rushing touchdowns instead of zero, he finishes with 264 fantasy points.

6. That is one point better than Drew Brees' 2010 total.

7. Last season, Ben Roethlisberger's yards per completion was 13.33, highest in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks.

8. Only two teams had more 20-plus yard touchdowns and only one team had more 20-plus yard completions last season than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

9. Ben Roethlisberger played only 12 games last season.

10. Mike Wallace is a member of the Steelers.

11. I recently became an uncle. Jacob Gold Berry is my younger brother's first son and, being Jewish, Jacob had a bris. Google it. I don't care how tough a guy you are, it's as uncomfortable a 20 minutes as you'll ever have. Love my brother and his wife, love my new nephew, glad it's over.

12. John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information tells us that, last season, the New Orleans Saints attempted 661 passes, second most in the NFL.

13. He goes on to tell us that, 23 percent of the time, the pass was to the tight end, 12th in the league.

14. Jimmy Graham is going in the 12th round.

15. In 2007, Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes.

16. Using ESPN standard scoring, he had 386 fantasy points that season.

17. If you took Michael Vick's total stats from last year, divided them by 12 and then multiplied by 16 (and rounded up on the fractions) … you come up with 449 fantasy points.

18. That works out to basically four points a game better than Tom Brady in the 50 touchdown year.

19. OK, I'm done talking Vick. There is tons of risk. Tons. I acknowledge it. But … 449. That's the potential we are talking about.

20. I wish I could write quickly. It takes me forever to write and as you've noticed, it's usually long, which just adds to the time it takes. There are people I know who can just churn it out and I am so jealous. Every word is a struggle for me as I will agonize over a sentence or a paragraph for an hour. I can't tell you how many times I rearranged the order of the facts in this column, deciding when to separate facts and when to combine in one line and so on. If it wasn't for deadlines, I'd never turn anything in.

21. More from John McTigue: Over the first four weeks last year, Tom Brady was 18th in the NFL in passing yards.

22. Starting Week 5 (the first week without Randy Moss and with Deion Branch) through the rest of the season, Brady was seventh in the NFL in passing yards.

23. And no one threw more touchdown passes.

24. Continuing on that thread, in the four games before Deion Branch joined the Patriots, the tight ends on the New England roster had 28 targets, or seven per game.

25. In the 12 games after Branch joined (and Randy Moss left), the tight ends had 105 targets, or almost 9 per game, which is 25 percent more. [Editor's note: this is corrected from a previous miscalculation].

26. My 6-year-old recently came into the bedroom while the Current Mrs. Roto and I were watching "Jersey Shore." We paused it. He said "Why are you stopping it? That's Pauly D. Come on, let's party!" and proceeded to pump his fist. I couldn't help but laugh, which only encouraged him. I'm fairly certain I'm the worst parent ever.

27. Last season, Mike Tolbert had 11 rushing touchdowns on 182 carries for the San Diego Chargers.

28. That's the second fewest carries for a player with 11-plus rushing TDs over the past four seasons.

29. Over the past two seasons, no team in the NFL has more rushes inside an opponent's 10-yard line than the San Diego Chargers.

30. In the 11 games Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert both played in last year, Tolbert had nine touchdowns. In the four games that Mathews missed, Tolbert had just two touchdowns.

31. Mike Tolbert is going in the 10th round.

32. By the way, speaking of pass-happy teams that run on the goal line more than you think, only six teams in the NFL ran more inside an opponent's 10 yard line than … the New Orleans Saints.

33. Oh, and no team in the NFL had more rushing yards inside an opponent's 30-yard line than … the New England Patriots.

34. Jay Cutler's passing yards the past three seasons, starting in 2008: 4,526, 3,666, 3,274. Jay Cutler's total touchdowns the past three years: 27, 28, 24. Jay Cutler's total turnovers the past three seasons: 20, 27, 22. Jay Cutler's fantasy points the past three years: 266, 216, 196.

35. In 2009, the Chicago Bears were 23rd in total yards and 19th in points per game.

36. In 2010, under Mike Martz, they were 30th in total yards and 21st in points.

37. I thought the ESPN book "Those Guys Have All the Fun" was terrific, especially the first half about the start and struggles of the company to find its way. I learned many things I did not know, even about people I have known well for more than five years. I desperately wished that book existed before I started at ESPN. I think I would have had a better understanding of what my life was about to be like, both positive and negative, and been better equipped to deal with both.

38. Last season, no running back in the NFL had more rushes inside an opponent's 10-yard line than Michael Turner.

39. And no team ran more inside an opponent's 10-yard line than the Atlanta Falcons.

40. In 45 total games with the Atlanta Falcons, Michael Turner has 41 touchdowns.

41. Over the past two seasons, there are 10 different NFL running backs with more offensive touches than Michael Turner's 539, including Ray Rice, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson, all of whom are being drafted ahead of him.

42. John McTigue chimes in again: Over the past two seasons, when offensive tackle Jeff Otah is out of the lineup, DeAngelo Williams averages 4.0 yards per carry.

43. With him in the lineup, his yards per carry average is 5.3.

44. Last season the Carolina Panthers scored seven rushing touchdowns, down from 18 in 2009.

45. Seven.

46. Last season, Danny Amendola had 85 receptions, ninth most in the NFL.

47. He also had 24 targets inside the red zone, tied for the most in the NFL.

48. He had three receiving touchdowns, tied for 71st in the NFL.

49. "Something's gotta give" is a popular saying.

50. Back to the ESPN book. One thing I'm always fascinated by is the other story. By that I mean, there were eight or nine companies that passed on ESPN initially before Getty Oil stepped up. I'd love to know what those eight or nine people/companies that said no think now. It's a subject that comes up on Howard Stern all the time in regards to Jackie Martling, who left the show midway through its run. I'm fascinated by those decisions and the repercussions of the folks that say no. Because "no" is the easiest answer. It's the ones with the guts to say "yes" that get rewarded. Those are my heroes.

51. My colleague Tristan Cockcroft has written about "The Curse of 370" a few times over the years. The following is an excerpt from his 2009 research: "Though not as drastic an impact as those who fell prey to the 'regular-season curse,' the 13 'playoff-curse' players … saw their fantasy totals dip by 77 points the following year on average, and that's in spite of three of them actually improving the year after running the football 397-plus times. That's still sufficient evidence, though the good news for fantasy owners is that no one in the NFL ran 397 or more times in 2008 when including postseason rushing attempts. Whew, we're safe (for this year, at least)!"

52. Last season, including playoffs, Rashard Mendenhall had 385 carries and 412 total touches, most in the NFL.

53. Isaac Redman is going undrafted in 10-team leagues.

54. In the wake of Ryan Williams' injury, the average draft position of Beanie Wells has increased by 25 picks and his average auction value has gone up almost four dollars.

55. Over the past three years, no team in the NFL has attempted fewer running plays than the Arizona Cardinals.

56. Over the past three years, the Cardinals are 25th in the NFL in rush attempts inside an opponent's 10-yard line.

57. Beanie Wells averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 2010 (down from his rookie year average of 4.5.), and his team drafted Ryan Williams in the second round of the subsequent draft.

58. To date, there has been no scientific evidence to suggest that when one player gets injured, another player suddenly becomes a better football player.

59. Meanwhile, on that same 2010 Arizona Cardinals team, Tim Hightower averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

60. Hightower, now a member of the Washington Redskins, is going in the 11th round. Or five rounds later than Beanie Wells.

61. Like anyone in the public eye, I get my fair share of criticism. Some of it is fair, some of it is not, but I will tell you this: While I don't enjoy it, I do admire those that say "I don't like you, here's why, here's who I am, here's my picture, here's my email address." Those that hide behind fake screen names, fake pictures and aliases I consider cowards and other words I can't use. You have something to say, be a man (or a woman) and own it. And if there is legitimate criticism from a real person, I consider it. I'm nowhere close to perfect and always trying to get better.

62. I used this one in Love/Hate, but I'm using it again because I want to really emphasize it: In games in which Felix Jones has received at least 17 touches, in his entire career, he's never gained fewer than 83 total yards and has averaged 103 yards per game.

63. Under Wade Phillips last year, Jones averaged 12 touches a game.

64. Once Jason Garrett took over as head coach, Jones averaged, you guessed it, 17 touches a game.

65. By the way, writing this article this year took longer than usual because I had already used so many facts in Love/Hate and in the Draft-Day Manifesto. Feel free to go back and look through those.

66. Speaking of Love/Hate, I was genuinely touched and moved by all the responses to this year's version. It was, obviously, my most personal story (and longest!) and, well, putting myself and my life out there like that, even for me, was a lot. I wasn't sure what the reaction would be. I got more positive feedback and kind words from that column than anything I have ever written. I apologize in advance for the humblebrag, but when trying to respond to all of them, Twitter told me I exceeded my "tweet limit" and shut me down for the day. I am still trying to respond to all of them, but know that I read every one, that it meant a great deal to me that you took the time to email, comment, post on my Facebook page, tweet and text me. Seriously. Thank you.

67. Santonio Holmes had just two games with the Jets last season before their bye week. After the bye week, for the rest of the season, among wide receivers, Santonio Holmes was top six in touchdowns, top 11 in receiving yards and top 12 in targets.

68. Since 2003, in a season in which Chad Ochocinco has played all 16 games, he's never had fewer than 1,000 yards or fewer than seven touchdowns.

69. Carson Palmer is not Tom Brady.

70. Another John McTigue special: Before Jermichael Finley went down with an injury, Greg Jennings averaged six targets a game. After Finley was out for the year, Jennings averaged 8.2 per game.

71. Over the final four games of last season, when Owen Daniels was finally healthy, he had 271 receiving yards and 37 targets.

72. Among tight ends, only Jason Witten had more over that time frame.

73. Last season, in 16 games, "Tight End A" had 656 yards and six touchdowns.

74. Last season, in 13 games, "Tight End B" had 599 yards and five touchdowns.

75. Player A is Tony Gonzalez. Player B is Todd Heap.

76. Just want to repeat that Player B is Todd Heap. Seriously, that's the area code Gonzalez has fallen to. Todd Heap.

77. Oscar Wilde said that all criticism is autobiography. I tend to agree with that. Often, I find that the thing or person someone rails against is actually their own insecurities or jealousies. Concentrating on doing whatever you do better rather than on trying to bring someone else down will get you much closer to wherever you aspire to get to. Trust me.

78. In the past two seasons, Matt Forte is just 3-for-28 at the goal line.

79. And yet, last season, Matt Forte had nine touchdowns.

80. That's more than Jamaal Charles, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson and Ray Rice.

81. Joseph Addai has played at least 15 games in three of his five NFL seasons.

82. He's had at least 1,100 total yards in each of those three seasons.

83. Joseph Addai currently is going in the ninth round.

84. According to Zach Jones of ESPN Stats & Information, last year, the Ravens running back with the most carries and touchdowns in goal-to-go situations was … Ray Rice. He had 12 carries for four touchdowns.

85. Willis McGahee had 10 carries and three scores.

86. McGahee is no longer on the Ravens. But blocking fullback Vonta Leach is.

87. By the way, according to Alvin Anol of ESPN Stats & Information, Ricky Williams had just five rushes inside an opponent's 10-yard line in 2010, with just one touchdown.

88. One more on Love/Hate. I saved the CMR story for that because my preseason football Love/Hate is my most-read column of the year and I have the most time to write it (plus the most space to be self-indulgent). Last year's Love/Hate intro was the famous actress story, which generated tons of interest and material for the whole season, and this year's article seemed to touch a nerve, as well. I have no idea what I am going to write in next year's preseason Love/Hate but I am already dreading it. Welcome to my psychosis.

89. Last season, Kenny Britt had almost 800 yards and nine touchdowns in just 12 games.

90. Last year, Tennessee completed just 57.7 percent of its passes. Only six teams were worse.

91. Matt Hasselbeck's career completion percentage is 60.1 percent.

92. The new head coach and offensive coordinator in Carolina came from San Diego, where Antonio Gates has carved out a nice career as a pass-catching tight end.

93. Greg Olsen has caught 13 touchdowns over the past two years.

94. John Fox was the Panthers' head coach from 2002 to 2010.

95. Over that span, Carolina had the second-fewest pass attempts in the NFL.

96. Last season, Knowshon Moreno averaged just 14 carries a game.

97. He finished as the 17th best fantasy running back.

98. More John Fox, this time from Zach Jones of ESPN Stats & Information: From 2002 to 2010, the Panthers ran the ball in goal-to-go situations more than 57 percent of the time, 11th highest in the NFL.

99. Willis McGahee is going in the 12th round.

100. As we embark on this NFL season together, please remember this fact above all others: It's just a game. A game we play for fun. If you're reading this and getting ready to play fantasy football this year, I assure you, there are many people in this world much worse off than you, no matter what your situation is. Remember that.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- tried to find some numbers to make himself feel better about his Redskins, but he couldn't. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend