Friday, January 13, 2006

Redskins - Seahawks Fantasy Predictions

One definition of psychosis is the inability to separate reality from fantasy. I'm about to forecast real games using a prediction tool I use to forecast fantasy football games.

I'm a long time fantasy football player and in one of my leagues have evolved into a sports writer and analyst for that group using the pen name Master4Caster. Over the years, I developed a method of predicting the game winners and the point differential. Last season, I was able to correctly pick the winner 67% of the time, far better than my record as the team owner of Tony's Ponies.

In spite of my success, handicapping fantasy games is difficult. Fantasy teams are not real. It's an assortment of players with points awarded on the compilation of statistics derived from their individual play. Forecasting the points works best when player performance runs along predictable trends. Of course, that doesn't always happen. That's the challenge and fun of fantasy football.

There are two "gotchas" in applying fantasy handicapping to real teams. In fantasy scoring, players are awarded points for yards as well as scores. In real football, points only come from scoring. Shaun Alexander may rush for 200 yards and Peyton Manning may throw for 400. If they don't score touchdowns, they don't get points.

Second, real teams are not a loose assortment of individual players. They are organized. Teams consist of talent selected to fill specific roles in an offense or defensive system. The objective is synergistic perfection where a team performs better than the sum of player ability. Cohesive teamwork and synergy are why a weaker team can beat a stronger one sometimes. That can't be measured solely by projecting player statistics and extending trend lines. Ironically, intangibles have weight in real games. They do not in fantasy sports. So, the following analysis is all in fun.

REDSKINS AT SEAHAWKS - This is the game of the clashing streaks and something's got to give. The Redskins come in battle tested after winning six straight do-or-die games get this far. They beat the Seahawks in week three and come to Quest Field unintimidated by the intimidating Seahawks. John Riggins says Matt Hasselbeck is the best quarterback in the NFC. Shaun Alexander is the NFL Most Valuable Player, earned because he rushed for 1800+ yards and set the record for rushing touchdowns in a single season. Seattle's defense upgraded its talent and allowed fewer points than the Redskins, although they don't show the Skins' mental toughness. After the week three game at FedEx Field, Seattle reeled off eleven straight wins (they haven't lost at home this year) while the Redskins lost six of its next eight games.

The Skins turned their season around when the players finished plays and made defensive stops. They forced 14 turnovers in the last five regular season games and got something like six sacks. They gave the offense good field positions. The special teams scored a time or two. The Redskins earned their 10-6 record against tougher competition than did the Seahawks. The Skins averaged 28 points in its last five regular season games; by 34 points in its last three.

But the Redskins offense is flawed. Santana Moss is the only down field threat. Chris Cooley is dangerous at H-back, but is double covered all the time. Reliable receiver James Thrash has a broken thumb and is doubtful. The other receivers are notable for their failure to contribute. It's never too late to contribute. Now would be a good time to start, but they've shown themselves unreliable. I think Clinton Portis and Mike Sellars will see more passes.

The Skins win through defense and ball control. They will go as far as that tendency carries them. To rely on the passing game is to rely on the weakest part of the offense. Seattle can run and pass. Stopping one phase of their game does not handicap them, although it's always better to stop the run and force the pass.

In running my fantasy/psychotic analysis, I find that the fantasy site I use for input gives excessive weight to all the Seattle player's prospects and minimal weight to the Redskins. No doubt, they too obsess over the offense's performance in the Tampa Bay game. Allowing three points for homefield, I calculate a 13 point margin in favor of the Seahawks. This says the Seahawks will gain a lot of yards. However the game goes, the score will be closer.

The Redskins can certainly win this game if they stick to the formula: defensive stops, turnovers and running. Taylor Jacobs and Antonio Brown (love that name) stepping up would be a bonus.

In other playoff games, my fantasy projections are:
Broncos over Patriots by 6. Denver is too strong in its running game.

Panthers over Bears by 4. Chicago is too weak in its passing game.

Colts over Steelers by 30. Motivated Colts are too strong at every level.

The Cream Rises. The remaining playoff teams are coached by men who have won nine of the thirty-nine Super Bowls ever played.

Joe Gibbs - 3
Bill Belechick - 3
Mike Shanahan - 2
Mike Holmgren - 1

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