The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet


I don’t know anything about football

But I know that Bill Simmons is an idiot.

I was going to leave this article alone. Dave’s been trying to goad me into posting about Simmons for a while now, but I’ve been shrugging him off — Simmons writes for Page 2, for pity’s sake. Page 2 is like a remedial sportswriting workshop; it’s where ESPN sticks the people whose opinions are so boneheaded and whose writing is so awful that there’s no way to take them seriously, so even people like Simmons — who writes every word in absolute earnest, gravitas dripping from each syllable — are presented basically as figures of fun. Page 2, in other words, is ESPN’s way of trolling the readership. Criticising a Page 2 article is like admiring a mousetrap, but deciding that that cheese looks fucking delicious.

Well, I’m bored, and I’m in the mood for some cheese. This looks pretty safe to me!

In baseball, statistics permeate every aspect of the game. And they should.

These are the two most sensible sentences Bill Simmons has ever written. Yes, statistics should be omnipresent in baseball — fundamentally, they’re a record of the success and failure of various things attempted on a baseball field. If baseball is a multi-billion-dollar industry — which it is — it would be complete lunacy to ignore the wealth of available information. Which, I’m sure, is what Bill is about to say.

It’s an individual sport.

I… what?

This isn’t going to go well. I’m three fucking sentences into Bill Simmons’ ten thousand word magnum opus, and he’s already completely flipped his shit. Baseball is an individual sport? Do you even know what baseball is, Bill? Because I believe you are thinking of bowling.

The comedy highlight of this whole section is that it took Bill Simmons three sentences to be maddeningly wrong about baseball in an article about football.

If a major league team hired a computer programmer to build a GM program over hiring an actual human being, the GM program probably wouldn’t embarrass itself.

I submit that most of the reason for this is because most general managers are complete nincompoops. I’d like to see the computer program that can out-general-manage, say, Billy Beane or Theo Epstein, both of whom are very good. Q-Bert could beat Kenny Williams.

Do you even need to watch baseball anymore to have an educated opinion? It’s unclear.

Of course not, you goof. That’s the whole reason newspapers started reporting about baseball a couple two-three weeks ago: because people can’t always see every game, but they want to stay informed. So people who do watch the game share their observations with the people who don’t, and then everybody can have educated opinions, yeah? I kind of thought that was the entire point of writing.

Incidentally, Bill, there are — as I’ve said before — 2430 regular-season games every single year, many of which take place at exactly the same time. If you couldn’t know anything about baseball without personally watching all of them, baseball would be the Berry Number of sports — we all know it’s there, but it’s perfectly unknowable.

But isn’t this article about football? I mean, the first word in the title is "Belichick." You want to take some time off from being wrong about baseball and maybe try being wrong about football for a while?

In football? Statistics can help. Absolutely. But you still need to watch games to have an educated opinion.

That’s more like it! Now, I repeat: I know nothing about football. I don’t watch football, and I don’t particularly follow or understand football statistics. But I guarantee my opinion about this football subject that Bill is going to write about is more educated than his, on account of he will do nothing but assert his gut feeling over and over again. Let’s watch!

After my beloved Patriots threw away Sunday’s Colts game with one unnecessarily dangerous decision, my educated opinion was this: "That’s the second dumbest thing I have ever seen any Boston team do."

educated, adj.
1) Having an education, especially one above the average.
2a) Showing evidence of schooling, training, or experience.
2b) Having or exhibiting cultivation; cultured: an educated manner.
3) Based on a certain amount of experience or factual knowledge: an educated guess.
4) Blindly stated with no logic or evidence provided for support, especially when phrased like something Maxwell Smart would say.

Looks like you win this round, Simmons! That’s an educated opinion after all!

At the time, I remember watching the Patriots line up — fourth-and-2, up six, 123 seconds to play, own 28-yard line — and thinking, "It’s OK, they’re trying to get the Colts to freak out and burn their last timeout." Then, they snapped the ball. Huh? Kevin Faulk hauled in a pass on the 30.3-yard line. It was spotted at the 29. These are the things that happen when you double on a 12 against a six because you believe — fervently — that a slew of non-face cards are coming. You might be right, but you shouldn’t do it.

Remember Simmons’ blackjack analogy here. Note carefully exactly what he’s saying: he’s saying that the right thing to do is play the percentages, regardless of what your gut feeling tells you is about to happen. That is the exact meaning of this analogy he uses here. Keep this in mind.

When your coach lets you down with a decision that makes no sense, it’s like riding in the passenger seat of a friend’s car and helplessly watching as he plows over a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Wait, what just happened? Didn’t we hit that guy? I could swear we just hit that guy. (Everything slowly starts registering.) Wait, we have to go back!!!! GO BACK! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GO BACK!!!! WE HIT THAT GUY!

Patented Bill Simmons Educated Analogy ™! When you absolutely, positively can’t make your point with fewer than ten exclamation marks.

That’s the thing: There’s no going back. I always thought we were in good hands, especially in close games, thanks to an incredibly prepared coach with a knack for making shrewd moves at the right times. Can we say that anymore?

Bill Belichick calls for one play that fails: asshole. Choker. Head-case. Does that remind you of anybody?

Did I throw my remote control on Sunday night? Of course I did. Did it break? Sadly, not the way I wanted. Did it feel good? Not really.

Any guesses from the readership on what way Simmons wanted his remote control to break? Of all the weird things he writes in this article, I think probably the flat-out weirdest is his lament about his remote control breaking the wrong way.

I walked my dog, did some robo-sulking and went to sleep believing I would wake up with a nation of football fans who agreed that, yes, the fourth-and-2 call was one of the dumbest in recent sports history.

… Except for when he makes up the incredible term "robo-sulking." I do not believe robo-sulking is a thing, Bill Simmons. And, even if it is, it probably involves something like this, and I don’t think you’re qualified to do it.

See, I never expected that fourth-and-2 call to turn into a lively sports debate.

Because part of having educated opinions is a firm, unshakable conviction that you are right, and refusal to believe that other people may have different opinions.

And I certainly never expected statistics to back up what seemed to be an unforgivable decision. The numbers were crunched by a variety of people, including ESPN’s own Alok Pattani, who reported the win probability variables for all three scenarios on fourth-and-2.

Do you hear that, ESPN’s own Alok Pattani, which isn’t your real name on account of it isn’t anybody’s real name? You can "crunch" your "numbers" all you like, but they just prove how uneducated you are unless they support the prearranged conclusion reached by educated people. All of whom agree.

Scenario A (if the Pats converted): "The Patriots’ average win probability [was] 92 percent."Before Sunday night, "the league average going for it on fourth-and-2 over the past two seasons [was] 55.7 percent (49-for-88)."

So — and, bear in mind, I am completely disqualified from having an educated opinion, because I have not satisfied Bill Simmons as to how much football I watch — it seems to me that what these (horrible, seditious) numbers are telling us is that the Patriots were more likely to succeed at the conversion than they were to fail, and that if they did succeed, they would almost definitely win, yeah? Okay.

Scenario B (if they failed to convert): "[Colts ball] on roughly the New England 29-yard line with 2 minutes to go. The Patriots’ win probability in this situation would be 66 percent."

… And, even if they fail the conversion, these (evil, meretricious) numbers tell us that they’ll still probably win. Cool! So… why shouldn’t they do it, then?

(Important note: If you were sitting next to a bookie after the Pats blew fourth-and-2, and that bookie said to you, "The odds of the Colts winning here are 34 percent; I will give you 3-to-1 odds that they score," would you have taken that wager in a millisecond or a kajillasecond? I think we can throw that number out. Whatever.)

(Important note: Bill Simmons has just said that it’s important to trust your gut feeling instead of playing the odds. Remember the blackjack analogy? Yeah. Dear Bill: please read your articles over before submitting them, because, when you contradict yourself like that, you really look like an ass. Love, everybody.)

(Important note 2: Bill Simmons used the educated word "kajillasecond," and then provided the highly educated evidence "whatever" to support his educated opinion.)

Scenario C (if they punted): "Using Patriots punter Chris Hanson’s average of 44 net yards per punt in the game, the Colts would have gotten the ball at the Indianapolis 28. The Patriots’ win probability in this situation would be 79 percent."

Okay. 79 is greater than 66, so they’re better off punting than failing. But, on the other hand, 79 is not greater than 92, so they’re better off succeeding than punting. And they’re more likely to succeed than they are to fail.

Combine all these variables and what do we have?

I’m getting there, Bill. Would you relax? Let me see. They have a 55% chance of getting a 92% chance to win, and a 45% chance of getting a 66% chance to win. So my maths tell me that adds up to an 80.3% chance of winning if they try the conversion. Checking my work… yep, looks like that’s greater than 79. So they should try it. And if Belichick and his staff actually ran those numbers on the sideline, I am fucking impressed. We need dudes like that in baseball.

According to a formula called "Expected Win Probability When Going For It," Pattani believed that the Patriots had an 80.5 chance of winning the game. By punting, they had a 79.0 chance of winning.

That is a goddamn terrible name for a formula. You sure you didn’t make that up, Bill? Well, I’ll let that slide, because right now I’m pretty pleased with myself for getting the right answer.

So my argument (made on Monday’s podcast) that Bill Belichick should have "played the percentages and punted" was technically wrong. Barely. Belichick did play the percentages if you took those percentages at face value.

"So my argument… was technically wrong… barely… if you took those percentages at face value." Wow. That is the very lamest mea culpa I’ve ever heard in my life. Sack up and deal with it, Bill: you were 100% completely wrong. You used the phrase "play the percentages" to support your idea that he should have tried a lower-percentage play. That’s not "technically, barely" wrong. That’s completely wrong.

Here, Bill. I got you a nutsack. Seems like you could use one.

I am not disputing the numbers or the methods for achieving them. But by Monday night, based on various columns and message boards (as well as e-mails to my reader mailbox), you would have thought Belichick was a genius for blowing the game. He played the percentages! It wasn’t as crazy as it looked!

Bill Simmons is disputing neither the numbers nor the methodology. No points for guessing whether or not he’s disputing the lack of attention people paid to bad mojo and gut feelings. And now Bill Simmons is using an article he got paid for by the "worldwide leader in sports entertainment" to argue with forum posts.

By this logic, Belichick also should have held a loaded pistol to his head on the sideline, spun the chamber and tried to shoot himself like Chris Walken in "The Deer Hunter." If those 1-in-6 odds came through and he succeeded, we could have said, "Hey, he played the percentages: 83.6666 percent of the time, you don’t die in that situation! You can’t blame him for what happened!"

That analogy is mind-numbingly bad. How many problems can you spot? I’ll get you started:

1) Comparing losing a football game to shooting yourself in the head — in print, for a major news source — is stunningly inappropriate.
2) If the reward for succeeding were commensurate with the penalty for failure, then, yes, Belichick should take that chance. If the only reward is not getting shot, then clearly not. You can’t see the difference there?
3) 5/6 is 83.3333, not 83.6666.

Which brings us back to statistics. Yes, they enhance the discussion. Many times.

Except when they contradict the a priori Bill Simmons Educated Truth ™.

(FYI: The "to punt or not to punt" numbers, in general, are interesting. You can make a strong case that good offenses should almost always go for it on fourth-and-short beyond their own 40.)

(Bill’s losing his argument a little here. We need to assume he means "except this particular good offense in this particular situation, due to voodoo and hexes.")

There are also times when statistics make that same discussion dumber. For instance, a former Mavericks statistician named Wayne Winston recently debuted a complicated plus-minus statistic for basketball that included the following two revelations:

1. Kevin Durant made the 2008-09 Zombie Sonics worse.
2. Tim Thomas is underrated.

Remember how I keep saying I don’t know anything about football? Well, I know even less about basketball. Like, I’ve never even heard of either of these two gentlemen. And if there’s a team called the Zombie Sonics, I’ve never heard of that, either, though I’ve already decided I’m a fan. Who wouldn’t be?

I am, however, capable of looking things up using my computer. And, doing this, I can determine that Kevin Durant did not in fact make the 2008-2009 Supersonics — which I’m assuming is what "Zombie Sonics" translates to — worse, on account of he does not appear to have played for that team in that year. So unless this is a statistic that purports to track a player’s "aftereffect," like some sort of voodoo mojo hex colada thing — in which case I agree that it’s a bullshit statistic — I assume that, perhaps, Bill meant the 2007-2008 Zombie Sonics. No problem, Bill; educated people don’t ever check their work. That’s why we have trouble with the repeating decimal on that pesky 5/6.

Anyhow, looking here, we can see the roster for the 07-08 Zombies. I gather from this — and I know nothing about basketball, remember — that Durant’s field goal percentage wasn’t great, and his three-point percentage was abysmal, so, yes, there’s a chance he was making the team worse, since he was clogging up the courtpaths for more minutes than anybody else on the team. He was pretty awesome at free-throws, anyway.

Now, I can’t really judge Tim Thomas’ underratedness, since, frankly, I’ve never heard of him, so I have no idea how well he’s rated. I can say, though, that he appears to be awesome at three-point shots, which I understand is the highest-scoring play in basketball (which I guess doesn’t have grand slams? Lame). So, I dunno. If people are saying he’s ass at three-pointers, well… I guess he probably is underrated. Let’s see what insight Bill brings to these stupid statistics!

I don’t want to get into my thoughts about plus-minus data and all the inherent problems with it. Some other time.

My guess: the main inherent problem is that it doesn’t always agree with Bill Simmons.

We’ll ignore the Durant lunacy for now.

That’s what educated people do — they just dismiss an opposing argument with a snide remark, and refuse to discuss it.

But to argue, insinuate or even blink that Tim Thomas is underrated — by any metric — cannot be allowed.

please dont hurt me mr simmins omg im worried

Forget statistics; here are hard-core facts.

That might be the greatest sentence ever written. It would probably still be the greatest sentence ever written even if Bill hadn’t fucked up his cliché — that’s "cold, hard facts," Bill. If you say hard-core facts, it makes it sound like you’re about to give us the straight dope on some serious porn. Which, frankly, I would probably pay to read.

Thomas mailed in five years of a six-year deal in Milwaukee and Chicago, tried hard for four months in Phoenix, roped the Clippers into another four-year deal, then went on cruise control again.

Those facts are hard-core! That is some hot fact-on-fact action right there. Forget all your bullshit stats — those are just records of what dudes actually did. Who cares about that? Get this: he mailed shit in. That, my friend, is a fact. And it would fuck your sister if you gave it half a chance.

I will pay Bill Simmons one kajilliadollars if he edits this article to include the line "’Nuff said" right here.

You know how I know this? I went to the effing games.

If there’s anything lamer than actually swearing in a print article for a proper news agency, it’s not actually swearing. You should make your articles more like AOL chat rooms, Bill. It’s professional.

And hard-core!!

I watched Thomas jog up and down for 48 minutes with the intensity of a drive-through attendant. I watched him stare at JumboTrons during timeouts like a stoned college student gazing into a fish tank. I watched one game in which I was convinced he had made a bet with someone that he could play four quarters without ever crossing either 3-point line. He sucked defensively, made no effort to connect with teammates, reacted to loose balls as though he was allergic to them and took ill-advised shots at the worst possible times.

Bill Simmons watched this man play for ten years, and remembers — acutely! — every detail of that ten-year career. This is because Bill Simmons is more than just a man. He is hard-core. Your pussy stats? They don’t remember shit. That’s all just computer stuff.

The losing bounced off him like a racquetball.

I hate to break this to you, Bill, but that doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s nonsense.

Two years into his contract, I nicknamed him "The Thief" because he was basically stealing from the Clippers.

So? People called Alex Rodriguez "Choke-Rod" because he never came through in the clutch. Meanwhile, for four years he put up the very very best offensive numbers in all of baseball, won some MVPs, played decent defense at what wasn’t even his natural position, and almost never missed a game.

My point? Fuck this Tom Timson dude. If he’s as bad as A-Rod, I don’t want that shit on my team!

If you’re creating a formula that determines Tim Thomas is underrated, the thesis has to be this: "You might think Tim Thomas is totally useless and a one-man swine flu for how he infects a team spiritually and psychologically, but actually, he’s only 96.7 percent useless, and here’s why."

Topical "one-man swine flu" joke: 0/10

I saw the fucking Exorcist. If Tim Thomas infects his team spiritually, I think they’re going to kick some shit. I imagine demonic strength is probably a pretty big asset in basketball. And how cheap would it be if they could fucking float?

Anything else? I cannot accept it unless it’s offered with the caveat, "As soon as my formula told me that Tim Thomas was underrated, I erased that formula from my hard drive, then set my computer on fire with a blowtorch."

So now we learn the following about having an educated opinion: it is important to avoid at all costs actually acquiring any education. If you begin to learn things, purge yourself with fire before it gets any worse.

The "Belichick made the right move" argument was nearly as dense. In the biggest game of the regular season, when a football coach tries something that — and this is coming from someone who watches 12 hours of football every Sunday dating back to elementary school — I cannot remember another team doing on the road in the last three minutes of a close game, that’s not "gutsy." It’s not a "gamble." It’s not "believing we can get that two yards." It’s not "revolutionary." It’s not "statistically smart." It’s reckless. It’s something that should happen only in video games, and only when you and your roommate are both high.

I accept that Bill Simmons is the high tribunal of football, on account of he watches twelve hours of football every Sunday, whereas I — a man with a job — do not have this luxury. I would like to know, however, how one determines that a given game is the "biggest of the season." Is the biggest game of the season always a week ten game against a non-division team? I’d think it would be maybe closer to the end, or an elimination game, or maybe against the second-place team in the division or something. But, then, I know nothing about football, and Bill Simmons is a robo-sulking football-tron from the future. So never mind me.

Topical pot reference: 1/10

Again, this wasn’t a blackjack-type situation in which you can have a computer break down those fourth-and-2 variables a katrillion times, then break down the percentages definitively. Let’s examine every possible defense of that decision.

I’d like to point out that, even though Simmons begins this paragraph with "again," he hasn’t actually said this before. I really think he’s writing this stream-of-consciousness. Also: "katrillion?"

Inane Angle No. 1: "Statistically, it was the right move"

Educated people usually refer to all counterarguments as "inane" before they’ve bothered to refute them.

So we’re saying 55.7 percent, huh? That’s the success rate for a road team playing its biggest rival, in a deafeningly loud dome, coming out of a timeout — a timeout that allowed the defense to get a breather and determine exactly how to stop the obvious five-receiver spread that was coming because the offense’s running game sucked — along with that same defense getting extra fired up because it was being disrespected so egregiously/willfully/blatantly/incomprehensibly. I say lower. By a lot.

Hey, Bill, the Jets are on line 1. They’d like to talk to you about rivalries vis-á-vis the Patriots.

Statistics — backed by research and math — say 55.7%. Bill Simmons — backed by fairy stories about nothing — says "lower." You make the call!

Statistics can’t capture the uniqueness of a particular moment, and in this case — with the Pats self-combusting, with a sure victory suddenly slipping away, with the crowd going bonkers, with a fired-up defense gearing up to stop them, with an obvious play looming (a short pass), and with everything happening during a drive that was already so disjointed that they had called two timeouts — I find it really, really, REALLY hard to believe they would have completed that play 56 times out of 100 times with how they lined up.

Remember: fuck the odds. Go with your gut! Exactly unlike that blackjack analogy Simmons thoughtfully provided earlier.

So he’s provided a whole list of reasons why this play will fail, exactly one of which — the defense anticipating the play — has anything to do with football. Not a great argument.

Given these realities, if you’re feeding me "Here’s what happened in this situation historically" numbers, shouldn’t we be looking at the data for two-point conversions?

Well… no. The Patriots had a lot more room to work with — a lot more room — here than they would on a two-point conversion, because of the non-trivial detail that they weren’t at the end of the field.

In the past two and a half years, road teams successfully executed two-point passes 22 of 65 times (34 percent).

That’s not what the Patriots were doing here. If the defense had tried to play this like a two-point conversion, the Patriots would have made a medium-depth pass and probably scored a fucking touchdown, since the entire defensive line would be within like five yards of the line of scrimmage.

Also, take note: educated people sneer down their noses at statistics, except the ones that support their own arguments.

Admittedly, the Patriots have a better passing offense than just about any other team; they also were throwing the ball effectively against Indy’s battered secondary.

"Admittedly, I’m wrong, and, also, I’m wrong, but… never mind that. I’m still right."

You cannot tell me the odds for success here were 55.7 percent for that specific formation at that specific moment in time. You cannot. Just stop.

Well, no, Captain Hindsight, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, I am forced to tell you that the odds of that specific play succeeding at that specific time were in fact 0%. That’s how odds of specific occurrences in the past work. However: 55% chance of success is barely better than even. I think you are the only person in the entire world who cannot accept that something could be 55% likely to occur and then not happen.

One other note: The "disrespecting the defense" card doesn’t show up in stats. There’s no way to measure the collective ability of a defense to raise its game for one play, as the fans shout the team on with every ounce of air in their lungs, while being fueled by a legitimately mind-blowing slight.

Florid prose: 0/10

Actually, Bill, there is a stat for that, as you’d know if you knew anything about anything. The ability for the defense to raise its play when it gets "disrespected" is expressed according to the following formula (caution: math!):


Bill. Seriously. These men are professional, elite athletes. I know you dragged your feet in gym class; everybody did. But that is not what is happening here. These men play their fucking hearts out on every play, disrespected or not. You do realise that in order to "raise their game" when disrespected, they’d have to be half-assing it the rest of the time, right? Mailing it in, like you were pissed at that basketball dude for supposedly doing? Real life is not Dragon Ball Z, Bill. They can’t just do like the Kaio-Ken and raise their power levels to over 9000 and then Kamehameha the other team to fucking death.

Insane Angle No. 2: "If they punted, Manning would have rolled down the field and scored, anyway."

I’m going to skip most of this one, on account of: it’s wrong. Are people saying this? If they punted, they had a 78% chance of winning. We covered that. I’ll just call out this part that’s completely wrong:

The Colts weren’t exactly on fire. Admittedly, I am terrified of Manning and have written as much. But Indy had already started and completed two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter against a good defense. Had the Patriots punted, Indy would have had to pull off a third long touchdown drive to win the game. I asked Peter Newmann to research the number of times a team started and completed three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to erase a double-digit deficit and win an NFL game since 2005.

You see, Bill, this is why people hate stats. Because assholes like you misuse them so egregiously. These are independent variables, Bill. Their third touchdown drive is not weighted down with pathos from their past history. It’s just another touchdown drive. Ignore the first two, because they don’t matter. Here’s the stat you want: how often do teams successfully make a touchdown drive starting on their own 28, with two minutes to play and one timeout?

I don’t know. I know nothing about football. But I know something about thinking, and that stat you made up is awful.

In 78 weeks of football dating back to 2005, it happened a whopping four times. Four! If you’re playing the statistics card, why not play that one? By punting, the Patriots would have been asking Peyton Manning to pull off something THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN EVEN ONCE EVERY EFFING SEASON. You’re damned right I just went all caps. Hold on, I have to repeatedly bang my head against my desk again.




(Uh-oh, my left eye is starting to swell up like Brad’s after Darrell whupped his ass on "The Ruins" this week. Let’s keep going.)

For those keeping score at home, Bill Simmons just:
1) Typed an all-caps sentence
2) Talked about how he just typed an all-caps sentence
3) Swore
4) Declared that he was going to hit his head on the desk
5) Acted it out
6) Swore again
7) Made a reference to what I assume is a TV show
8) Swore again

This man got paid to write this article for a publication that calls itself the "worldwide leader in sports entertainment."

Insane Angle No. 3: “I thought we could get the 2 yards.”

The first angle was "inane." The next two were "insane." Bill Simmons is "a sloppy writer."

That’s what Belichick said after the game. Look, I’m glad he felt that way. But isn’t life about resisting the urge to try something reckless just because you thought you could do it?

Well, no, Mr. Precautionary Principle, it isn’t. Most people, I’ll wager, would say that life is a lot less about that than it is about weighing risk vs. reward. Which, as we discovered when we ran the (smelly, nasty) numbers earlier, proved that trying the conversion was the better choice.

Simmons then tells a long, terrible, badly-written anecdote about how he got a speeding ticket. I won’t quote it here because it’s boring, but he swears some more, makes some Sopranos and Pulp Fiction references, and then he reaches this conclusion:

I was also relying on two variables that weren’t certainties: One, that I’m good at sniffing out cops when I drive too fast, and two, that I’d be able to weasel my way out of any speeding ticket in Seattle. Both variables failed. I was reckless. And now, I owe $299 to the state of Washington for excessive speed and failure to signal while changing lanes.

"I thought I wouldn’t get caught" is no different from "I thought we could get the 2 yards." It’s just not. You either know or you don’t.

Bill is, as usual, wrong. They are very different. First off, Belichick (we’re assuming) actually ran the odds on the play, and knew that it improved his chances of winning the game. Simmons just went with his gut feeling — which, note, he’s saying Belichick should have done — and it blew up in his face. Also important to note is that Simmons had nothing to gain by speeding except the satisfaction of driving fast. There was no reward balancing out the risk.

Also worth noting is that, according to Bill Simmons, no football team should ever run a play that it isn’t absolutely sure will succeed. If Bill Simmons were a coach, he’d call both of his time-outs consecutively right at the beginning of every game and then forfeit, because, hey, you need to be sure. And then at the end of the season he’d write a bitchy article about how all those seamheads said his plan wouldn’t work.

Insane Angle No. 4: "The Pats acted like men! They went for the kill! Had they converted that, they would have made a strong statement to everyone that they were back on top and everything was right with the world!"

Are people saying that? Because it’s not a good reason to do anything. That’s the exact reason you chose to go 90 mph through Seattle and got a $300 speeding ticket, remember?

As the great Herm Edwards once said, "You play to win the game. YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!" That’s really it.

I’m not completely sure Herm said it in all caps like that, but, yeah. Though I probably would have gone with Sun-Tzu instead, who said the exact same thing a bit more eloquently.

The Patriots dominated that entire game

… except for the fourth quarter

played better football

… except for the fourth quarter

and deserved to win.

… except that the Colts scored more points.

The bigger issue: Let’s say they punt, then Indy rolls down the field and scores for the victory. We spend the next few days saying, "Wow, I can’t believe the Pats blew that game, they had it, Manning is so great, holy crap." Then the whole thing dies. This happens all the time in football. Every week, at least one team dominates a game but urinates it away. There are never significant aftereffects because it’s a long season and, really, those defeats can happen to everyone.

Try not to get too close to Bill here, because he’s just taken a sharp left turn off into Crazy Ravine. Bill Simmons apparently doesn’t even care if the Patriots were more likely to win trying the conversion than punting, because if they punted and lost it would be an insignificant defeat. Does that make sense to anybody?

I guess it’s like what the great Herm Edwards once said: "You play to make sure you lose in an acceptable fashion. YOU PLAY TO MAKE SURE YOU LOSE IN AN ACCEPTABLE FASHION!"

But losing because you went for it on fourth-and-2 on your own 28? Much more damaging.

No. No, Bill. No. Exactly as damaging. I don’t know what you’ve been told, here, but the Patriots were given the exact same number of losses as they would have gotten had they punted and lost.

The reward (of converting it) did not match the risk (the fallout from a demoralizing loss and a week’s worth of "What the hell happened?" questions, not to mention its impact on the team’s psyche).

Note: the reward (of converting it) did, in fact, outweigh the risk (of failing). We proved that with math earlier — math Bill has already said he has no argument with. So, instead, he’s decided that the reward — i.e., winning — was not significant enough to outweigh the risk — i.e., psychological scars from losing. Fuck the heck?

This week, the Pats made a big stink about looking forward and not letting that defeat affect them. How can it not? How?

Because they’re professionals who have all lost football games before? I’m serious here: what the fuck is it with sportswriters and their fixation on athletes being fragile little pixie creatures? If you’re going to play the mumbo-jumbo psychology game anyhow, why not assume that suffering such a hard loss is going to get the Patriots all fired-up and they’re going to elevate their play for the next game like you assume the Colts can do when they get disrespected? I really don’t get this.

Insane Angle No. 5: "The decision might not have worked out, but it came from a well-thought-out place."

This is just number 1 again. I’m not sure if Bill’s aware that he’s repeating himself. He appears unable to edit. I’m not going to bother with this section, since we’ve already been through it. Suffice to say: it’s more "looks like, feels like, screw numbers and go with your gut" nonsense like he’s been saying for the whole piece, sans his brilliant blackjack analogy.

So that’s it. Except for one little snippet at the end where he’s wrong about baseball again:

Either way, he remains the most fascinating coach in professional football — something that hasn’t changed since 2001, by the way — and I remain thankful that he runs my favorite team. Give me Belichick with a few miles off his fastball over just about anyone else.

Miles is a unit of distance, Bill. I think you mean miles per hour, a unit of velocity.

This took me three hours to write and I am now going to take a shower to wash the stink of this article off. If you see anything in the news tomorrow morning about Bill Simmons being murdered with a hatchet, just remember that I was somewhere else at the time.

November 22nd, 2009 Posted by | Games | 6 comments


  1. Given that he started us off by talking about baseball, I like to imagine that his remote broke right when he wanted it to break left.

    Robo-sulking is so a thing; Marvin the Paranoid Android does it all the time. In fact, I’d say he’s overqualified. (Marvin, not Bill.)

    Man, there are more leagues in basketball than I knew existed. And thus many more teams. Sadly, I can’t even find “Zombies” as a team name. I guess it’s just as well; the other teams would simply shoot them in the head with the basketball and be done.

    I just looked up “The Ruins”, and it appears the full name is Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins, and it looks like he’s talking about episode 8. Yeah, apparently Brad and Darrell got into a fight for some reason. (I know little about reality TV, and even less about crossovers of same, so… that’s what I got from Wikipedia.)

    Heh! I suppose you could take a plural number of miles off your fastball by pitching at least 175 fewer of them (assuming a regulation distance from mound to plate). I don’t know how many fastballs he throws in any given season, so I don’t know if that’s even possible.

    Comment by Nyperold | 23 November 2009

  2. Yeah, I don’t know enough about football to state conclusively whether or not Bill Belichick throws 175 fastballs in a season. Though my (uneducated!) guess would be: no.

    Also worth noting is that it occurred to me later last night that I do know enough about football to answer the question "how often do teams successfully make a touchdown drive starting on their own 28, with two minutes to play and one timeout?" — we actually answered that earlier in the article. It’s 22 percent, otherwise known as the inverse of the chance of the Patriots winning the game if they punt. 22 percent is pretty far from a sure thing, mind you, but it’s very much not in "doesn’t even happen once every effing season" territory. It’s pretty much a "happens one out of every four attempts" deal.

    Comment by Darien | 23 November 2009

  3. Your ignorance of football does you a disservice at least once in this post (I say “at least” because I’m not going to touch the statistical arguments, since, hey, fuck stats. CHOKE-ROD 4 EVAR!)

    Simmons is right to say that the Colts are the Patriot’s biggest rivals. This is an outlier case. Clearly the general case in most every sport (and football too) is that your “biggest rival” is a division opponent. Yankees/Red Sox, Cubs/Fatinals, Broncos/Chargers, Cowboys/Giants, all division opponents.

    However, over the last seven or eight years, Pats/Colts has been *the* rivalry in football. Due to the vagaries of NFL scheduling they’re not even guaranteed to face each other in the regular season every year. But since 2001, the “renewal” year of the rivalry as Wikipedia seems to call it, the Pats and Colts have faced each other every year except one. They’ve also, perhaps most importantly, faced each other three times in the post season during that period.

    The reason these games are usually big is because they often play a big role in deciding who gets home field advantage in the playoffs. The number one seed in each conference is guaranteed home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Colts and Pats are very often vying for that number one seed. Since seeding is partially determined not just by overall record but by conference and even head-to-head records, the game can often play a huge role in the seeding.

    The Pats and Colts generally haven’t had much competition for their respective division titles over this period. Since 2001 the Pats and Colts have only lost their respective division titles twice each. Most years, there isn’t even any competition for them within their respective divisions. So the game they play against each other often is far more important to the future playoff picture than any they play within their own division.

    You imply that the Jets are or should be considered the Patriot’s biggest rivals. I’m assuming here that you came to this conclusion by looking up who is currently in second place in the AFC east. That’s wrong, for the reasons I’ve already outlined. But ultimately rivalries aren’t decided by anybody but the fans. And New England fans don’t give a shit about the Jets, the Bills, or the Dolphins, at least in the last decade or so. Sure, it’s important to win those games and all, but the game they care about is the Colts game. Because beating the Colts (or, as in this year, LOSING to the damn Colts) often means far more than beating up on the Jets.

    If you need any more proof, look at how the league and their TV partners handled those games. Pats vs Colts was on Sunday Night Football, the marquee game for the NFL. It’s on Sunday night, it’s the last game of the night, and it airs unopposed by any other football games to a national audience. The most recent Pats vs Jets game? Even though the Jets had beaten the Patriots earlier in the year, and the division title was still technically in some doubt, that game was a mid-afternoon game on Sunday, and aired only regionally. I couldn’t see it here in Denver because CBS was playing Broncos vs Chargers–and if the Broncos hadn’t been playing at that time, they probably would have aired the other “regional” game, Cincinnati vs Oakland. The NFL even gives NBC (the network that airs Sunday Night Football) some flexibility to re-schedule games to suit them. They call this the “flex schedule” and basically if NBC decides the game they were originally scheduled to air on Sunday night isn’t one that will bring in good ratings nationally, they can pick any other game scheduled to be played that Sunday and “flex” it to Sunday night, and air that instead. They didn’t do that, and not just because they’d just had the Pats on the week before. They didn’t do it because nobody wanted to see Pats vs Jets outside of the northeast. But Pats vs Colts does have some national appeal. The Pats are only scheduled to be on Sunday Night Football once more this year, and that’s in week 13 against the Dolphins. I can almost guarantee, without even looking at the other games that are scheduled for that week, that that game ends up being flexed out of the Sunday night spot in favor of something people will actually watch.

    Comment by Dave | 23 November 2009

  4. Actually, I came up with the idea that the Jets are the Patriots’ biggest rival by having lived in New England for 26 of my 28 years, having my father be a huge Patriots fan, and always listening to him complain about the Jets. Also by knowing a Jets fan who absolutely hates the Patriots. But, hey, if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. You know, barely, technically, if you take the numbers literally. Just like Bill!

    Two notes, for accuracy’s sake: the Jets are actually third in the AFC East (behind the Dolphins, of all teams), and the Colts are rather far ahead of the Patriots in terms of seeding (10-0 against 7-3, or, if you prefer, 8-0 against 6-2 before that game), so it wasn’t exactly a tie-break in that way. Still, I accept that there’s a giant rivalry there that I hadn’t heard of. Just thought I’d point out that I actually did research those two points before writing my post. I’m pretty sure I did more fact-checking than Bill Simmons did, and I didn’t even get paid!

    Comment by Darien | 23 November 2009

  5. Sure, fans hate their division opponents. Broncos fans hate the Raiders. It doesn’t mean they consider them anything like a “rival”, at least not in the last five or six years. Divisions meant more to football than they did to baseball before the unbalanced schedule came into effect in baseball. So football fans have had a long time to work up a special kind of hate for division opponents, since division games *usually* are the most meaningful. I hated the shit out of the Miami Dolphins for years, because Dan Marino ripped apart the Patriots twice a year for like a decade. I’m pretty sure no Dolphins fans considered the Pats a “rival” during those years, though.

    The special case of Colts/Pats is unique to football I think. The closest thing I can think of to it is Celtics/Lakers in basketball, and that’s only been renewed in the past few years. Maybe Yankees/Dodgers from the 50s? It also likely will not last. One or both teams will fade into irrelevance sooner or later, and they’ll stop winning their divisions year after year and thus facing each other every year. And the games, when they do happen, wont mean anything playoff wise either. The Pats/Colts rivalry is very much a Brady/Manning rivalry as well (although they have no personal animosity for each other, at least publicly, the fans love to debate who is better.) When one of those two guys retires or departs for another team, the rivalry will likely take a huge hit.

    Even if this year’s contest didn’t have any direct effect on playoff seeding, it could also be looked at as a statement game. The Patriots aren’t likely to get number one seed, so they’ll very likely have to go to Indianapolis in the playoffs at some point if they make a Super Bowl run. Crushing the Colts in Indy (as they were doing for three and a half quarters) would have proven that they could beat the Colts in Indy, and do it handily. Stuff like that is definitely grist for the rivalry mill. Fans eat that shit up.

    Comment by Dave | 23 November 2009

  6. Also, the fact that I am still something of a Patriots fan and didn’t even know who the fuck was in second place in the AFC East shows that division rivalries for that division aren’t what they used to be. The Dolphins? I know they won the division last year, but that was a goddamn fluke, caused by Brady being killed in the first game of the season, and Brett Favre breaking his arm in week 10 and forgetting to tell anybody.

    Comment by Dave | 23 November 2009

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.