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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

Something a BIT more substantial than the typical streak-filler post.

I’ve moved the site search to the top bar, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while; it just got too irritating having to go almost, but not quite, all the way to the bottom of the page to search my site on mobile. Beyond that nothing much has changed since last month; I have an idea for an entire series of new posts partly inspired by the arrival of Twitter’s pending new owner that would be relevant for me potentially moving to an alternative platform, but given my recent history who knows if I manage to write one word of it in the next month or even two. I feel like if it weren’t for the NFL Draft I’d have managed to put out one of the posts I’ve been working on in the past week, but if you don’t see it in the next week you’ll know I’ve been kidding myself about that.

This is really not a good sign.

So I think I’ve abandoned the notion of jumping back into sports TV ratings almost as quickly as I took it up – it was just going to involve too much work for too little reward – but that hasn’t really helped me to work on anything else. There were at least three different projects I was hoping would result in posts over the course of the last month and none of them really panned out. Some of that can actually be attributed to me doing some work for my dad, which is nominally the only reason I’ve been able to get away without getting a real job, but some of it can definitely be chalked up to me going back into the same bad habits that have bedeviled me over the past several years, including yet another mobile game to monopolize my time. I’m vaguely optimistic I can get some work in on at least one of those posts over the course of the next week or so, but I feel like I’m probably kidding myself, because I always feel like I’m so close to being productive and then I never am. I’ve gotten a bit more of an insight into why I might act this way, but that doesn’t really help me to deal with it and I don’t know if I’d be able to get the help I need to deal with it at my age. I just hope there’s some way out of the tailspin my life has been in over the past several years, and that I find it right soon.

Beijing 2022 Olympics Ratings Roundup

I can’t believe I’m doing this again. I set a goal for me to actually do something productive that might actually make me some money this year, and had a bunch of projects lined up to do over the next few months, and I allowed myself to get sucked in to something that could chew up a lot of time for not much reward. To make matters worse I’m doing it in Google Sheets in the hopes I might be able to share the spreadsheet directly at some point for people to explore the charts on their own, but at the moment it just means it’s a massive memory hog.

But hey, ShowBuzz Daily seems to be more comprehensive than any source I used when doing this in the past, recording viewers and 18-49 ratings for the top 150 original cable programs of each day in the demo, deeper than any source I’ve used in the past that wasn’t restricted to certain networks, as well as viewers, 18-49 viewers, and household ratings for any event at any time on any network (except for ESPNU and a few other, quirky networks), giving me timelier and more complete coverage of daytime sports events on broadcast networks than I’ve ever had before. It’s already had one shutdown scare, but it at least allows me to provide more comprehensive Olympics ratings coverage than the last time I tried this.

Whether or not these numbers are meaningful outside of NBC is another question. In both Tokyo and Beijing NBC opted to have USA present round-the-clock 24/7 coverage, not even interrupted by WWE Monday Night Raw in the case of Beijing (but occasionally interrupted by Premier League coverage). This means there aren’t necessarily any logical “windows” to report ratings for, and how NBC actually did divide the windows for ratings purposes doesn’t necessarily make any sense. NBC had USA’s primetime window align with NBC’s primetime window, and the late-night “Prime Plus” window align with local news and “Prime Plus” on NBC, even if the resulting cutoffs were in the middle of live event coverage. I can sort of see the logic behind that, and I can even see the logic of setting a hard cutoff at 8 AM ET, usually the time when a hockey game would be starting, but the window starting at that time would usually go for six hours, meaning it would be split roughly evenly between live coverage and a few hours of delayed re-airs. I don’t see how that makes sense even from a selling-to-advertisers perspective; few would be watching consistently for that long, and a live hockey game is likely to draw a different audience from taped coverage.

Regardless, this is my attempt to make sense of what was reported on ShowBuzz Daily. This is a list of every window reported there with viewership of over 500,000. Click here to learn more about how to read the charts, but note that that page is now woefully outdated. 

Read moreBeijing 2022 Olympics Ratings Roundup