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Let's Talk About Super Bowl Hangovers


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So obviously the notion of the Falcons succumbing to a "Super Bowl Hangover" has dominated the offseason. The fact that the Super Bowl was cancelled after the 3rd Quarter of the game has made it an even stronger assertion among the various football writers. Well, I want to chat a bit about where Super Bowl hangovers come from and whether we can reasonably expect those things to affect the 2017 Falcons. 

The way I see it, there are a few major engines of the "Super Bowl Hangover" They are, in no certain order:

1. Over-performance as measured by winning more games than point differential would suggest

2. Injury luck (both for the team and for opponents)

3. Roster Attrition due to Free Agency

4. Generalized randomness (dropped passes/INTs, fumble luck, etc.)

Over-Performance

The most recent version of the Super Bowl hangover was shown by the Carolina Panthers who followed a 15-1 season which finished in a Super Bowl loss to the Broncos with a 6-10 season. While there are a number of things that contributed to this, over-performance is one of the biggest. 

The 2015 Panthers were 4th in total DVOA for the year. Their pythagorean expectation (an advanced measure created through analysis of point differential) was 12.4 wins while they had an "estimated win" count of 11.1. The Panthers out-performed their expected win total by more than 2.5 wins, a measure that is highly correlated with regression the following year. Why is this? Namely because the entirety of NFL history suggests that certain things are more or less random and unlikely to repeat. Chief among these are successes in one score games. Carolina was 6-1 in one score games during the regular season. On average, teams hover around .500 in one score games. In 2016? Carolina regressed to the other side of the mean by going 2-6. Not great. 

So how do the Falcons measure up here? Surprisingly well, actually. We were 3rd in DVOA for the 2016 season. Our pythagorean win count was 10.9. Our estimated wins 11.8. Our actual wins? Right there at 11. We didnt outperform our fundamentals at all! How about one score games? 4-4! We were actually right there in the sweet spot of close games. Now, that doesnt mean we're destined to go 5-1 in such games. But what it does tell us is that our record was less the product of outperforming expectation and more an accurate reflection of what we were fundamentally. I think both of those things suggest 2017 is unlikely to be a regression year in those areas. 

Injury Luck

Another one of the biggest factors in Carolina's struggle, injury luck is something to be concerned about here. Our starting offensive line started 80 of 80 possible games. That's pretty tough to replicate...something that arguably reared its ugly head in the Super Bowl itself. 

On the whole, the Falcons were 6th in the league in adjusted games lost. We were healthier than all but 5 other teams. Making matters "worse" from a gambler's fallacy angle, we were 2nd! in 2015. To have a third consecutive light injury year would be pretty stellar but unlikely. My bet is we'll have to rely on depth a bit more this year than last. Thankfully, I feel pretty good about the state of the roster in terms of depth, particularly on defense. If the OL can fill the void at RG and stay reasonably healthy, even if its not 80/80, we should be okay. 

As for Carolina? This actually wasnt as big of a factor in the overall situation. Carolina went from 4th in 2015 to 9th in 2016. However, Carolina was 18th in adjusted games lost on offense and 28th in AGL among OLs. Combine that with the loss of Luke for half the year and its pretty easy to see how they failed to recreate the magic. 

Free Agent Attrition

Thankfully, this wasnt an issue for us. We are largely returning the same roster with the addition of some rookies, a healthy Desmond Trufant, and the addition of Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford along the DL. Our biggest FA loss was Patrick DiMarco, a very good fullback. Fortunately, his role was de-emphasized over the course of the season as we began to move toward more 3WR sets. While we'll miss his versatility, if we can get even average play out of the FB position, we should be able to avoid any major ill effects. 

Also of note, obviously, is the loss of Kyle Shanahan. He did an absolutely fantastic job calling plays last year. His ability to leverage concepts off of each other and to work against tendency in a way that created easy points was vital to this team's success. Recreating anything close to that success will fall on the shoulders of Sark and Matt Ryan, with Sark carrying most of the load. However, there is some hope that Matt Ryan could be entrusted with a bit more offensive control, something that could prove beneficial at the end of games/Super Bowls. 

Generalized Randomness

I already touched on the one-score game issue, which is one place where variance happens. To a large extent, injury luck is also one of these. But the ones I want to talk about here are more of the in-game random events. This includes dropped passes (for and against), adjusted interceptions and fumble luck. 

First, fumble luck. While creating fumbles is possibly a skill (think Lovie Smith teams in the mid-00s), RECOVERING fumbles is not a skill in any quantifiable way. A football's status as a prolate spheroid (what up google!) means it doesnt bounce in predictable ways. Which makes for lots of randomness in recoveries. Last year, on offense, we fumbled the ball a league low 8 times. Of those 8 fumbles, we recovered 4 of them. Which is largely what you would expect. That's promising! It says our successes werent tied to being the beneficiary of random chance events. However, the idea of only fumbling 8 times is a little concerning. That number could jump up out of sheer randomness. 

On defense, we forced 17 fumbles, tied for 13th in the league. Of those 17, we recovered 10 (2 TDs). That's a little bit of luck in our favor. We could expect that to drop down a bit toward 8-9. However, its interesting to note that other teams with similar FF numbers actually recovered a higher rate of fumbles. So we werent alone in that regard. Kansas City in particular recovered 15 of the 19 fumbles they forced. Our 10/17 isnt all that scary, although 2 fumbles could literally change the outcome of two games. 

In terms of dropped passes, we were very fortunate here. Football Outsiders Almanac charted the Falcons as having only 16 drops all season, fewest in the league. This was a year after having a league-leading 32 drops in 2015. Normal expectation would likely bring us somewhere closer to the middle, which could see our drop number increase to the low-to-mid 20s. We were also very fortunate in terms of drops against with our opponents dropping a league-leading 44 passes. I don't think thats likely to happen again. 

Lastly, adjusted interceptions is a measure of interceptible passes thrown by our QBs but dropped by the opposing team. In general, Matt Ryan has hovered in the high teens for interceptible passes thrown, usually in the 17-20 range (when he was regularly attempting 600+ passes). Last year, the decrease in total attempts also led to a decrease in interceptible passes as he only through 10 and had 7 of them picked off. Not too bad and certainly nothing that suggests a crash to Earth. 

The other important thing to note is strength of schedule. Our success last year was not the product of an easy schedule as we actually played the second hardest schedule in the league. Our schedule this year actually projects to be as average as possible (average projected DVOA of opponent = 0.0% 17th in the league). While the names on the schedule are daunting, theres reason to believe the bark is worse than the inevitable bite. 

Conclusion

So what's all this mumbo jumbo mean? I think it means that our fundamentals are stronger than most teams. And while fans and the media frequently focus on Super Bowl losers as potential hangover teams, these forces are frequently affecting Super Bowl winners just as much. And recent history tells us that quality teams CAN reach consecutive Super Bowls or multiple Super Bowls in short windows of time. The Broncos did it, losing their first before winning one two seasons later. The Seahawks did it, winning their first and losing their second. The Patriots are there every freaking year. For us? There isnt a ton to suggest that the forces that usually take down successful teams are in play here. We werent overly lucky, we wont see a massive increase in schedule difficulty, we didnt see a ton of attrition or roster churning. Our fundamentals are good and as long as the Shanahan thing doesnt derail the offense and/or the offensive line can stay healthy, we should be able to compete at the same (or a higher) level as last year. 

TL; DR - Shove your hangover up your bunghole, brah. 

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Good work, you going after Barnwell's job? :D

Think the Falcons are set up about as well as you could be, considering the last game.

Quick question on interceptible passes-Ryan threw 2-3 really good throws that got tip drilled by the WR into an INT.Are you sure all the INTs were counted in the interceptible total of 10?

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My biggest concern, and you touched on it briefly is the health of the o-line.

 Honestly it scares the %#^$ outta me.

 Can you extrapolate what we are likely to see "on average " for games missed from olinemen?  My fear is we should plan on something like 65/80 and I'm not sure how that would work out.

Btw, thanks for the great read, I love the posts with numbers to quantify the arguments behind them.

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On 8/11/2017 at 4:17 PM, falconidae said:

Good work, you going after Barnwell's job? :D

Think the Falcons are set up about as well as you could be, considering the last game.

Quick question on interceptible passes-Ryan threw 2-3 really good throws that got tip drilled by the WR into an INT.Are you sure all the INTs were counted in the interceptible total of 10?

FOA has him at 10 for adjusted interceptions. That number typically comes from taking INTs, subtracting hail mary and WR drop/tip picks and adding interceptions dropped. But I also think that pry doesnt count the Berry pick. 

 

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On 8/11/2017 at 5:10 PM, AlabamaFalconFan said:

My biggest concern, and you touched on it briefly is the health of the o-line.

 Honestly it scares the %#^$ outta me.

 Can you extrapolate what we are likely to see "on average " for games missed from olinemen?  My fear is we should plan on something like 65/80 and I'm not sure how that would work out.

Btw, thanks for the great read, I love the posts with numbers to quantify the arguments behind them.

Thanks. 

Yeah, Cian Fahey was just talking today about how only two teams had all five of their OL play more than 90% of their snaps.....and both of them played in the Super Bowl. 

It's a very big deal for us, particularly because we dont have a ton of depth along the OL unless Harlow outperforms expectations. The "bright side" is that every team in the league is essentially in this situation...even the Cowboys. 

Last year's AGL rankings can be found here: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2017/2016-adjusted-games-lost-unit

The 16th ranked team in OL AGL Oakland with 13.3. We had .5 (lowest in the league). Worst team in the league was Minnesota with 57.2. However, the other 31 teams ranged from .5 to 33 so that 57 is a pretty crazy outlier. In 2015, the worst AGL in the league was again 33 (again Minnesota...yikes) so that seems like the most likely worst case scenario. Which would be essentially losing two full seasons from starters. Not great. Average expectation for an average OL AGL is in that 11-13 range. 

Interestingly enough, we were 1st in 2015 as well. With our starters combined for 78 of 80 starts. Guys like LeVitre and Matthews have been pretty good at playing through injuries, even if their performance suffers a bit. Schraeder has stayed healthy for the most part. I suppose theres a bit of concern with Alex Mack given that hes suffered two left fibula injuries. Both seem pretty freaky but its something to keep an eye on. 

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Yeah, I think the SB hangover bit is just lazy analysis. I think the Bucs and Panthers will be in better position to try and snatch the crown this year, but I honestly find it hard to think we won't be as dangerous on offense as last year, with a much improved defense. O-line injuries worry me, as they probably do every team in the NFL, but 2 years of low injury count can't be scoffed at when realizing the regiment Quinn has set out for our players since day one. It's constantly about getting stronger, faster, coming in the best shape of your life. We don't have any Kelvin Benjamins showing up out of shape...and hey, maybe he still plays at a high level with a little fat packed on. But shedding weight quickly like that is never good for your body when doing something as rigorous as a 16+ game NFL season.

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On 8/11/2017 at 4:01 PM, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

Free Agent Attrition

Thankfully, this wasnt an issue for us. We are largely returning the same roster with the addition of some rookies, a healthy Desmond Trufant, and the addition of Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford along the DL. Our biggest FA loss was Patrick DiMarco, a very good fullback. Fortunately, his role was de-emphasized over the course of the season as we began to move toward more 3WR sets. While we'll miss his versatility, if we can get even average play out of the FB position, we should be able to avoid any major ill effects. 

Attitude of this team will debunk the so called hangover effect.... Nice work man.........

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I also think a lot of times that a super bowl loser regresses the next year is actually because the window starts closing and teams are often at their highest point during the SB year before they start to regress. This Falcons team on the other hand went to the super bowl due to getting really hot, not because they were excellent for years prior. The 2007 Giants are a good example. The next year, they went 12-4 with the #1 seed. They were just getting started, just like the Falcons are now 

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14 hours ago, akemp3000 said:

The Superbowl hangover is fictitious. Research what happened to the losers of the past 20 Superbowls the following year. Like most, the Falcons will not have a hangover.

I think its sort of a weird misperception to even group "Super Bowl losers" together in the first place. It makes more sense to group all Super Bowl teams, IMO. 

 

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15 hours ago, Wjcorner said:

Yeah, I think the SB hangover bit is just lazy analysis. I think the Bucs and Panthers will be in better position to try and snatch the crown this year, but I honestly find it hard to think we won't be as dangerous on offense as last year, with a much improved defense. O-line injuries worry me, as they probably do every team in the NFL, but 2 years of low injury count can't be scoffed at when realizing the regiment Quinn has set out for our players since day one. It's constantly about getting stronger, faster, coming in the best shape of your life. We don't have any Kelvin Benjamins showing up out of shape...and hey, maybe he still plays at a high level with a little fat packed on. But shedding weight quickly like that is never good for your body when doing something as rigorous as a 16+ game NFL season.

I was wondering this same thing about the training and conditioning a team goes through. Will there be a correlation with less time missed for us on Defense with the Rugby-Style tackling that DQ has implemented? 

I know you can't prevent injuries from happening but is there anything to be said about the type of player that is brought on to the team? Does the toughness mindset help train the players minds to endure slightly more pain. Being hurt vs. Being injured

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