The Game to Show the Games Podcast: Episode 1 (of 1?)

I don’t know if I’m going to do any more of these. I’m glad I did it, I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it, and I won’t rule out doing more audio stuff in the future (weird voice and all), but it took a lot out of me, chewed up most of my week, and I realized that if I were to spend more of it speaking off the cuff – even (perhaps especially) if I had a cohost – I’d probably leave a lot of dead air as I thought about what to say, which wouldn’t mesh well with the gimmick I came up with, and which would be a problem when writing a script takes almost as much effort for each topic as a full-fledged blog post would. (I mention I have a partially-written post on Pat McAfee sitting in my drafts, and I may end up publishing it largely adapted from what I say about him here.) It’s an interesting idea and I think you’ll find the result interesting as well, but I’m not sure this format is for me.

After the jump, timestamps and relevant links for each segment. 

Read moreThe Game to Show the Games Podcast: Episode 1 (of 1?)

A slightly less belated blog-day.

This is the 39th post since my last blog-day post, a slight improvement over a mark that I remarked at the time was the most I’d had since 2018, and in fact that mark was close enough to the 2018 mark that this is actually the most posts I’ve had since the start of my posting drought in 2016. So you might think this was a year for optimism about my ability to climb out of that drought, start posting more regularly again, and if not return to the halcyon days of the site, at least return to a place where I could put together some sizable projects that would give this site life outside football season.

It hasn’t felt that way, though, and the reality has been decidedly more mixed. I did get in a number of posts about the evolution of sports on television, and the linear television industry more generally, but they often came out well after the point where they were relevant. I put together a series of posts about a college football super league, but I’ve been sitting on the last part of the series and I’m not completely confident I’ll complete it in time for the national championship game. I said on the last blog-day post that I’d been sitting on a good old-fashioned long-form series for the past month or two, and I only managed to post one part of it all year and made virtually zero progress on the rest of it, and now I’m not confident I’ll ever return to it, especially since I’ve been sitting on two more long posts for months (though one of them is something like 95% complete and should be coming out before the new year). Last year I managed to sprinkle in some non-football posts amongst the Flex Schedule Watch; this year the Watch (and Cantonmetrics) completely took over the blog from October onwards, though a lot of that had to do with a) figuring out how the new rules would affect flex scheduling and b) the need to fill out the opening section of the new Flex Schedule Watch posts.

Basically, while I’ve improved my productivity some, I still haven’t been able to squeeze in enough time, and be awake and alert enough at those times, to write long-form posts at the rate I’d like. When I get going I can write most of a long-form post in a single session, but the prospect of it still seems daunting. I might be able to at least somewhat reduce the time I spend goofing off on my phone, but it’s possible that further increasing my level of productivity will require therapy, or perhaps a change in medication, and I’m not sure how able I’ll be to get either of those.

In the end, that might be the biggest cause for optimism to come out of Year Seventeen of Da Blog. It’s not that I started putting together long-form posts more often than I used to; it’s that I actually have something resembling a concrete path to improving things further. Coupled with my sleep schedule approaching something resembling normalcy and some other ideas I have for branching out into new areas, there’s a very real possibility that Year Eighteen marks the year where this wasted period of my life fully and completely comes to an end.

NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch: Week 14

So in the early part of this year’s iteration of this feature, I was able to fill this introductory section with some discussion of how the week’s results shaped the flex scheduling picture on a high level, leaving the details for the body of the post. In the middle portion, there seemed to be new articles or news about flex scheduling just about every week, and this section became invaluable as a place for me to leave my comments about them. Now we’re hitting the last few weeks, with only two flex scheduling weeks left, and I’m not sure what to put here. That was already the case a few weeks ago when the surprise announcement of the Week 15 flexes before the Week 13 games bailed me out, but it’s even more acute here. There’s not much in the way of anything general I could say that would apply to both weeks, although the situation in the NFC North does apply to both, and for the most part, the situations themselves are cases where I’m basically twiddling my thumbs waiting for the clock to run out. In the past this would be the last week before a decision on Week 17 flexing needed to be made, but now that there’s a formal six-day window involved there’s one more week to go through before it’s time to make any sort of firm prediction.

I will say that, despite it being responsible for knocking out a week of the Flex Schedule Watch entirely some years ago, and the NFL rendering it worthless last year, I do intend to calculate the percentage chances of each game being moved to Sunday night again. Call me crazy, but as long as I’m doing this feature I should provide some sort of structure and context to the options for the final week as we come down the stretch. Right now I’m mostly providing shots in the dark in terms of what games are in the running and why, and I should get down to business trying to figure out what the actual scenarios are. But it means next week’s post could take a long time to put together again, especially since I’m flying to Seattle next Wednesday, and also I expect John Ourand’s year-end predictions column Monday so I’d likely need to find time to squeeze that and the annual blog-day post in over the course of the week.

How NFL flexible scheduling works: (see also the NFL’s own page on flex schedule procedures)

  • Up to two games in Weeks 5-10 (the “early flex” period), and any number of games from Week 11 onward, may be flexed into Sunday Night Football. Any number of games from Week 12 onward may be flexed into Monday Night Football, and up to two games from Week 13 onward may be flexed into Thursday Night Football. In addition, in select weeks in December a number of games may be listed as “TBD”, with two or three of those games being assigned to be played on Saturday. Note that I only cover early flexes if a star player on one of the teams is injured.
  • Only games scheduled for Sunday afternoon, or set aside for a potential move to Saturday, may be flexed into one of the flex-eligible windows – not existing primetime games or games in other standalone windows. The game currently listed in the flex-eligible window will take the flexed-in game’s space on the Sunday afternoon slate, generally on the network that the flexed-in game was originally scheduled for. The league may also move Sunday afternoon games between 1 PM ET and 4:05 or 4:25 PM ET.
  • Thursday Night Football flex moves must be announced 28 days in advance. Sunday and Monday Night Football moves must be announced 12 days in advance, except for Sunday night games in Week 14 onward, which can be announced at any point up until 6 days in advance.
  • CBS and Fox have the right to protect one game each per week, among the games scheduled for their networks, from being flexed into primetime windows. During the early flex period, they may protect games at any point once the league tells them they’re thinking of pulling the flex. It’s not known when they must protect games in the main flex period, only that it’s “significantly closer to each game date” relative to the old deadline of Week 5. My assumption is that protections are due five weeks in advance, in accordance with the 28-day deadline for TNF flexes. Protections have never been officially publicized, and have not leaked en masse since 2014, so can only be speculated on.
  • Supposedly, CBS and Fox are also guaranteed one half of each division rivalry. Notably, some Week 18 games (see below) have their other halves scheduled for the other conference’s network, though none are scheduled for primetime.
  • No team may appear more than seven times in primetime windows – six scheduled before the season plus one flexed in. This appears to consider only the actual time the game is played; Amazon’s Black Friday game does not count even though the rest of their TNF slate does, and NBC’s Saturday afternoon game Week 16 doesn’t count but their Peacock game that night does. This post contains a list of all teams’ primetime appearances entering the season.
  • Teams may play no more than two Thursday games following Sunday games, and (apparently) no more than one of them can be on the road.
  • In Week 18 the entire schedule, consisting entirely of games between divisional opponents, is set on six days’ notice, usually during the previous week’s Sunday night game. One game will be scheduled for Sunday night, usually a game that decides who wins the division, a game where the winner is guaranteed to make the playoffs while the loser is out, or a game where one team makes the playoffs with a win but falls behind the winner of another game, and thus loses the division and/or misses the playoffs, with a loss. Two more games with playoff implications are scheduled for Saturday on ABC and ESPN, with the remaining games doled out to CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoon, with the league generally trying to maximize what each team has to play for. Protections and appearance limits do not apply to Week 18.
  • Click here to learn how to read the charts.

Read moreNFL Flexible Scheduling Watch: Week 14

Introducing the New NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch

The Bengals have had an unexpectedly slow start to the season with Joe Burrow not being the Joe Burrow the team needs him to be. The much-hyped arrival of Aaron Rodgers with the New York Jets came to an abrupt halt after four plays and no pass attempts – and yet the Jets with Zach Wilson still might be the better New York team, no thanks to Daniel Jones outright regressing after what seemed like a coming out party last year, leaving the Giants to stink up the joint in their primetime appearances so far. The honeymoon for Mac Jones in New England appears to be fast coming to an end as the Belichick-era Patriots may be reaching the end of their relevance. The Bears and Raiders, already questionable choices to get as many featured windows as they got, have been looking downright woeful – at least until the Bears got an unexpected win in Landover on Thursday night. The idea that Sean Payton might be able to fix what went wrong with Russell Wilson last season doesn’t seem to have panned out.

Add it all up, and we could be in for one of the most active seasons for flexible scheduling in a long time… as the NFL’s flexible scheduling regime enters uncharted territory.

I’ve put quite a bit of thought into what I want the Flex Schedule Watch to be since the schedule release back in May, and as I gleaned as much as I could about how flex scheduling will work going forward, I fairly quickly settled on the bones of a new format that I think best reflects how I’ve been conducting the Flex Schedule Watch in recent years, how the NFL has been conducting flex scheduling, and the changes to the flex scheduling regime. Gone are the regimented bullet points of the past, which had become as much restricting as guiding, and in is a new tabular format and more freeform, in-depth analysis. I’m not sure exactly how it’ll work yet – I might not have much to say about most weeks until a couple weeks until the decision has to come down – and I’ll probably work things out as the season goes along, but I have the basic idea at least. In this post I’ll walk through how it works with reference to several key weeks on the schedule. 

Read moreIntroducing the New NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch

Thoughts on the Future of the Flex Schedule Watch (and Primetime Appearance Counts)

2023 marks the beginning of the NFL’s new TV contracts including substantial changes to how flex scheduling works, not all of the details of which are known: six-day Sunday night flexing in December, Monday night flexing, and potentially even Thursday night flexing. With that will likely come substantial changes to how the Flex Schedule Watch works, which I’ve only recently started seriously thinking about… partly spurred by learning of a possible change to how flex scheduling works that could make the former format almost entirely obsolete. 

Read moreThoughts on the Future of the Flex Schedule Watch (and Primetime Appearance Counts)

NFL Week 18 Schedule Post-Mortem

Obviously the attention of the NFL world in the past two weeks has been focused on Damar Hamlin and the aftermath of his collapse in the first quarter of what was supposed to be a huge Monday night game between the Bills and Bengals. Thankfully his condition is not nearly as bad as was feared at the time, and less than a week after his collapse he was discharged from the hospital and returned to Buffalo with his release from a Buffalo hospital coming only nine days after the incident, and the NFL world seems to be moving on and returning to a semblance of normalcy, even if the NFL did end up imposing some odd contingencies to make up for the pivotal game that ended up being abandoned (though not nearly as odd as some of the proposals for delaying the playoffs that were floating around, including from me). Still, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m diminishing the Hamlin situation or anything. To be sure, certain forms of empathy don’t come as naturally to me as to most people, and I might sometimes come off as indifferent in my reaction to certain tragedies, but I think since writing that post I’ve come to a better understanding of why people react in the way that they do in those sorts of circumstances, maybe a better one than society itself has, and understand why those things have the import they do even if I don’t necessarily feel it myself.

Nonetheless, I also don’t feel that just because of the undeniably unfortunate situation the NFL world has gone through in the last week, that means the league should be off the hook for what they did in the 24 hours before Hamlin collapsed. Because as it turned out, the decision to flex Steelers-Ravens into the preceding Sunday night, which I called potentially the worst flex decision since 2015, was only a prelude to what, before the Sunday night game was even announced, would be the absolute worst flex decision of the entire flex scheduling era, and it’s not even close. Were it not for Hamlin’s collapse and the way the league dealt with it, the NFL’s boneheaded decisions about which games to move to Saturday could have had a material impact on what teams make the playoffs in both conferences (and the Sunday night pick could still have had that impact in the NFC), and it was entirely avoidable. 

Read moreNFL Week 18 Schedule Post-Mortem

Cantonmetrics: The Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Snub Team

Who are the best players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

The following chart contains the top 20 players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, any other players on the “All-Snub Team” based on the top non-Hall players at each position, and any senior candidates that would fill spots on the All-Snub Team currently filled by modern-era players to form the All-Senior Candidate team. Note that this is based on Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor metric only, so it does not necessarily reflect my opinion about who the best or most deserving players are, and even to the extent that it does, it doesn’t necessarily mean these players should be in the Hall of Fame, especially the players closer to the bottom, nor does it mean I would object to any player not on this list being inducted. It also means the list does not include any players who played the bulk of their career before 1950, as the Hall of Fame Monitor doesn’t include such players.

Note also that players who were modern-era finalists in the most recent cycle are generally not considered snubs unless they are new finalists in their last five years of eligibility. Most players who became finalists before their last five years of eligibility, all but a handful who got there before their last eight, and to my knowledge, every player since 2002 who got there before their last ten, eventually made the Hall of Fame. Since 2002, Bob Kuechenberg is the only player who was a finalist for at least the last four years of his eligibility who did not get inducted before his eligibility ran out, and since the introduction of the two-tier cutdown of finalists in 2005, the only player to make the cut to the final 10 before his last three years of eligibility not to be inducted. This explains why I’m rolling this out right after the announcement of the finalists rather than waiting to see who gets inducted. 

Read moreCantonmetrics: The Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Snub Team

A somewhat belated blog-day.

Even though I once again allowed the annual blog-day post to slip, and even though I never managed to get out of the rut I’ve been in since 2016 despite a clear goal that should have motivated me for most of that time, this is the most weirdly optimistic I’ve been for a blog-day post in a while. This is the 32nd post since the last blog-day post, not great by the standards of Da Blog’s halcyon days but the most since 2018, thanks to a couple of new projects and getting a goodly number of non-Flex-Schedule-Watch posts in in the past month. That, in turn, is the product of my making a number of realizations about my sleep schedule and other tendencies, and the potential start of a more formal plan to deal with them, that could improve my ability to be productive going forward. I fully expect to start a few more projects in the next year that should bump up my post count further, including two or three in the next two or three months, including a good old-fashioned long-form series.

Not everything is exactly smooth sailing. I intended to start that long-form series last month but only managed to finish one post and part of another before the Flex Schedule Watch and other current events started monopolizing my time, and there’s a post I meant to make a week or two ago that I’ve still barely started on and that I’m not sure I’m going to finish without absorbing into another post. Nonetheless, even though Year Sixteen of Da Blog failed to meet the standards I set for myself, I’m cautiously optimistic that Year Seventeen will prove to be a genuine turning point towards more productivity on my part.

Then again, after I said last year’s post would be short and then it ended up being the same length as the previous year’s, this year’s post actually is short because I can’t think of anything else to put here, so maybe I’m still struggling with some degree of writer’s block.

Cantonmetrics: Introduction

The Baseball Hall of Fame may be the oldest, most prestigious, and iconic of all of sports’ halls of fame, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame might be the most fun to speculate about. The Baseball Hall places all of its eligible players that haven’t fallen below a certain voting threshold on a single ballot and then asks its voters to choose no more than ten, resulting in massive backlogs that only get worse with time; the Football Hall, by contrast, iteratively narrows down its candidates down to 15 finalists and then further narrows that down to five, usually inducting all five at once. Moreover, the 15 finalists are themselves iteratively cut down to ten and then five, and while which players were cut at which stage isn’t always made clear by the Hall itself (especially since the announcement of each year’s class was made part of the NFL Honors show), nonetheless it does provide a template for seeing which players the selection committee is favoring and allows one to predict what the following year’s class will look like. Football is also, somewhat counterintuitively, one of the easier, or at least more fun, sports to fairly compare players’ Hall of Fame credentials, in large part because unlike in other sports, All-Star selections are made at the end of the season and so can incorporate the entire season, rather than giving an unfair boost to players who have strong early seasons but peter out down the stretch, and unlike in baseball, the Pro Bowl doesn’t enforce quotas requiring at least one player be selected from each team, resulting in the best player on crappy teams having their All-Star count inflated.

What makes this somewhat counterintuitive is that, more than in perhaps any other sport (popular with Americans at least), the importance of various players in football varies widely. The quarterback is significantly more prominent than any other position, while special teams players can seem largely anonymous unless what they do is truly special, and then there’s the offensive line, arguably more anonymous than special teams despite being surprisingly important to team success, because they almost never touch the ball and because statistics are generally pretty poor-to-nonexistent at capturing their performance and value. On the topic of statistics, which statistics are relevant can vary widely across positions; quarterbacks and other offensive players that touch the ball can usually be measured by yards and touchdowns, but for passing plays it’s not always clear how much of that can be attributed to the QB and how much to the receiver, and running backs can also have their numbers inflated by a good offensive line. On defense, sacks are all-important to defensive linemen but completely irrelevant to defensive backs, while interceptions are the reverse, and linebackers end up somewhere in the middle; meanwhile, neither of those stats captures players’ ability to stop the run. And more than in most other sports, the meaning of those stats has changed over time as passing has become a more important part of the modern game.

So there aren’t any easy statistical yardsticks to compare players of different positions, or in some cases players in the same positions in different eras, and when it comes to offensive linemen only those that truly obsessively study the film can really tease out whether one player is better than another. And yet in some ways, that’s part of the appeal to me: using what standards we do have to compare players at different positions, to see how a Tom Brady stacks up against a J.J. Watt or a Von Miller against a Julio Jones. Even then those standards are usually applied differently across positions – it takes a lot more for an offensive lineman to get into the Hall than a quarterback – and figuring out how to calibrate those thresholds is part of the fun.

My interest in this area started in 2010, after seeing the NFL Network’s “Top 10” series cover the best players not to make the Hall of Fame, some of which had only been on the ballot one or two years, and coupled with a pair of no-brainer first-ballot picks appearing on the ballot that year in Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, plus the aforementioned ability to tease out the committee’s thinking on the finalists based on last year’s vote, it allowed me to offer my first prediction for that year’s Hall of Fame class, something I’ve done every January since. Later that year NFL Network ran a multi-week series counting down the top 100 players in NFL history, effectively giving me a whole list of players for me to keep an eye on as they became eligible for induction. (Notably, every eligible player on the list was in the Hall of Fame even though some of the “snubs” on NFLN’s earlier list might have been deserving of spots, especially those that just hadn’t managed to break through into the top five in their limited time on the ballot.) Eventually I found the discussion of players’ Hall of Fame credentials on the website, which introduced me to the notion of All-Decade, first-team All-Pro, and Pro Bowl selections as the primary if not sole predictors of making the Hall of Fame; that led to my Top 50 Active Resumes posts, allowing me to see which players were getting close to the Hall, which ones were already in, and which ones were set to go in first-ballot, in near-real time, but which I eventually abandoned upon realizing I didn’t really have any basis for how I valued the various postseason honors across positions.

Eventually I actually put in the work to determine thresholds for when players would become Hall of Famers or first-ballot selections, and planned to post a link here to a spreadsheet tracking and predicting players’ chances based on that information that I’d update every year, but never did. I may yet do so, but part of what made me lose interest in the spreadsheet was Pro Football Reference coming up with their own Hall of Fame Monitor metric in 2019. Initially I didn’t intend to pay too much attention to it, at most considering it a supplement to determine what players to look at (though I did once use it as an easy way to compare a recently-retired player to others at their position), largely because it was primarily designed around a score of 100 representing the average Hall of Famer at each position, even though the cutoff for getting into the Hall at all was what was probably more important and interesting, and because PFR didn’t offer a way to directly compare Monitor numbers across positions, it left me wondering whether the Monitor was comparable across positions. PFR’s own page explaining the Monitor does seem to treat it as comparable across positions, though, considering 80 as marking the “strongest of the borderline candidates” and 40 as the bare minimum for eventual induction, so part of the purpose of this new section of the site is to make it easier to make such comparisons and use it as a shorthand and at least an initial basis of discussion.

The last twist that shaped this section came over the summer. Previously the Hall of Fame’s senior-committee selections, as well as the selection of coach and contributor candidates as those were moved to separate committees, were essentially black boxes, with the committees simply naming candidates to move directly to the final stage of the larger selection committee’s deliberations at the start of the process, and none of the process that went into selecting those nominees would officially be made public. This year, though, concurrent to moving to three senior selections and one combined coach/contributor selection, the Hall released lists of candidates at each stage of both the senior and coach/contributor processes, including not only lists of finalists, but of semifinalists as well, and even what candidates were eliminated at each stage of considering the finalists, something the Hall has neglected when it comes to the modern-era finalists in recent years. It’s now possible to get nearly as much of a sense of what the senior committee is thinking as it is to get a sense of the committee as a whole. Moreover, it was the clarification of the coach/contributor situation that put the final nail in the coffin of the spreadsheet as being the most important element for the launch of this section; none of the benchmarks used to compare players apply to contributors or even coaches, tipping the balance away from determining people’s Hall of Fame credentials or likelihood of being selected by the committees, and more towards looking at what the committees actually think about them. In other words, while tracking players’ postseason honors and how they translate to Hall of Fame status is still important, so is the history of how far retired players made it through the process each year.

I’m still using the “Cantonmetrics” name I came up with for this section when I still intended to base it around the spreadsheet, even though the metrics are less important than I originally had in mind for it. I’ve populated the new category with my previous prediction and Top 50 Active Resumes posts, as well as other posts relating to the Hall of Fame I’ve written over the years, including my posts on the 2010s All-Decade Team from 2019-20. Going forward I’ll have posts with tables of players selected, and not selected, at each stage of the Hall of Fame process, including their performance in the most important and objective cross-position areas used in the Hall of Fame Monitor metric as well as the metric itself, and the stage each player reached in each of the last five years, starting with the recently-announced list of preliminary nominees sometime in the next 24 hours, serving as a way to provide context and a starting point for discussion, which will likely serve as an overhaul/replacement for my existing prediction posts following the announcement of the finalists. Following the Super Bowl will be a season wrap-up post that will contain a revived and revised version of the Top 50 Active Resumes list with predictions based on the benchmarks I came up with for the spreadsheet, a look at the unselected finalists and strongest first-year candidates for the purpose of looking at next year (including potentially moving each year’s predictions to that point), and other such things. At some point, possibly soon, I’ll put up a page to serve as a larger introduction to this section and the Hall of Fame process more generally, but I probably need to spend a year figuring out exactly how this new system will work and how useful it actually is. This is going to feel surprisingly new for me considering the groundwork that I’ve been laying for it over the course of over a decade, but in many ways that just makes it all the more exciting.