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2009 Predictions: Look Out for Rams and Chargers

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Jul 10, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    By Mike Tanier



    (Mike Tanier is a Fifth Down contributor and co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 , which is available in print and as a download at FootballOutsiders.com. It contains over 400 pages of in-depth N.F.L. and college football analysis, statistics, and player and team projections).

    Before we set out to write Football Outsiders Almanac, we analyze thousands of variables to create the most accurate preseason forecasts in the business. Sometimes, our computer models produce such off-the-wall predictions that we laugh out loud.

    Take last year: The computers predicted that the 5-11 Ravens would bounce back from a bad season and go deep into the playoffs. We all had a hearty laugh about that one. We stopped laughing when the Ravens went 11-5 and reached the A.F.C. championship game.

    Before the 2007 season, our models said the Packers would bounce back on the strength of — get this — a comeback season by Brett Favre. Another howler that just happened to come true.

    Nowadays when the computer models produce a surprise team, we hold the chuckles and dig deeper into the data. Even when that surprise team is the Rams.

    The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003. They have won five games in two years. All of the big names from their Super Bowl runs — Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace — have moved on or retired. Sure, the former Giants assistant Steve Spagnuolo has great potential as a head coach, but isn’t a Rams playoff prediction a little … ridiculous? Yet there it is, on Page 78 of the Football Outsiders Almanac: the Rams have a 48% of winning nine or more games, giving them almost even odds of becoming this year’s “miracle” team.

    It turns out that Spagnuolo isn’t the only reason for optimism in St. Louis. Many statistical indicators suggest that the Rams are close to rising again. One is their fumble recovery percentage: the Rams forced 17 fumbles last year but recovered just five, a sign that with better luck and a dose of Spagnuolo’s coaching, their defense will create a few more turnovers.

    The Rams were one of the worst teams in the league in red zone running, and it only takes a slight improvement in that area to make a big difference on the scoreboard. The Rams lost many of their starters to injuries in 2008 and can get better just by getting healthier.

    One other major factor works in the Rams’ favor: their division. The Seahawks are rebuilding. The 49ers haven’t had a winning season since 2002. The Cardinals won the conference, but they are no powerhouse. With a few slight improvements, the Rams could easily go 4-2 or 5-1 against the N.F.C. West. Those wins alone would give them their best record in three years!

    Our other surprise team for 2009 is less of a surprise. You know the Chargers have a lot of talent, that their defense will get a boost by the return of Shawne Merriman, and that their 2008 record was marred by a blown call that cost them a game against the Broncos. They look like a 9-7 or 10-6 win team to the naked eye, but our models project them to have one of the best records in the league: they have an 87% chance of winning eleven games or more. The reasons: a critical mass of talented defenders just entering their primes, an overlooked passing game that’s among the league’s best, and a schedule full of down-and-out division opponents. The only thing that can stop the Chargers may be their own head coach: Norv Turner’s teams rarely live up to their projections. It’s hard to see how he can mess this situation up.

    Not all of our predictions are surprising, but all of them are based on the best available data and research. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share the predictions for the Jets and the Giants with Fifth Down readers, plus some thoughts on the N.F.C. East and A.F.C. East. To get all 32 team predictions, in addition to fantasy projections for hundreds of players, a college preview, and more, check out Football Outsiders Almanac 2009.


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