After New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady brought his team from 25 points down to steal the Super Bowl from the Atlanta Falcons, Fox Sports commentator Joe Buck stated that the Patriots had “redefined momentum here tonight."
It was an incredible comeback, and one that will be remembered forever in football lore. But in terms of Joe Buck’s statement, some exception must be taken by the audience. In reality, the Patriots may have just validated the basis for this research, not re-defined momentum.
We constantly here about "momentum" in the NFL. In 2016, after a 13-2 start, the Dallas Cowboys decided to rest their starters prior to a bye week. They proceeded to lose their final two games, and caught plenty of heat from fans and media about giving up their momentum.
To address both Buck’s comments and the comments of sports pundits everywhere, we ask; is momentum real or merely in the eye of the beholder? Could “momentum” simply be an illusion, and not something that effects game results?
In order to answer these questions, Dr. John Ruscio and I analyzed between game NFL data between the years of 1978 and 2016. The complete sequence of wins and losses for each team’s season was found on ProFootballReference.com, for a total of N = 1,169 seasons.
Data from the two strike-shortened seasons (1982 and 1987) were dropped, leaving N = 1,1141 seasons. Next, seasons consisting of only wins (the 2007 New England Patriots) or only losses (the 2008 Detroit Lions) were omitted from the data set.
Finally, to restrict analyses to wins and losses, all seasons that contained a comparatively rare tie were omitted from the data set, resulting in the final sample of N = 1,075 seasons. Data for each team’s season included all regular season and playoff games. Wins were coded as 1, losses as 0, ties as .5, and bye weeks as 2.
To compare data, we created 1,000 samples of "chance" data. Re-sampling techniques were used to model a random dispersion of wins and losses, holding constant overall team strength. This was done by randomly shuffling the order of wins and losses within a season, while holding constant the team’s total win-loss record and the location of any bye weeks.
In simpler terms, if a team had went 10-6, we used re-sampling techniques to create chance level data by shuffling those 10 wins and 6 losses around to random sequences 1,000 times.
Through a series of statistical analyses, we examined a few hypotheses.
First, do bye weeks affect momentum? Assuming the momentum effect exists, then bye weeks should disrupt or end streaks. Next, does the number of runs in a season differ from chance? Momentum would predict a smaller number of runs per season than expected by chance, as team’s streaks will be clustered together.
Next, are games correlated sequentially? Momentum predicts more wins after wins, and losses after losses than expected by chance. Also, how common are winning and losing streaks? Momentum predicts more lengthy streaks than expected by chance.
And, lastly, how many previous games best predict the outcome of a team’s next game? If the momentum effect is real, then the most recent games should best predict a team’s next game.
What we found disputed all conventional football wisdom.
First, when analyzing bye weeks, we found they had no negative effects on the outcome of a team's next game. In fact, bye weeks actually increased winning percentages post-bye week from about 3%.
So, instead of "killing" momentum, it appears that bye weeks go a long way in improving a team's chances to win the very next week. Still, more research should be done before concluding anything too definite about bye weeks.
The next question we analyzed was if the number of runs in a season differed from chance. Momentum would predict that team's win and loss streaks will be clustered together, creating fewer runs. However, our data found no evidence of a momentum effect, as the number of runs per season rarely differed significantly from chance.
Let me skip down to the most important of our results, however, since I know this is getting a bit boring for most. Most prior momentum research in sports has tested things similar to us, but our most unique research came when asking how many previous games best predict the outcome of a team’s next game.
Everyone seems to believe that if you've won two in a row, you're much more likely to win game three than if you've lost the previous two games. However, statistical theory would predict the team's first 7,8,9...16 games would be better predictors of future performance than the team's "latest" game.
Of course, conventional wisdom and momentum disagree with statistical theory, but based on our research, conventional wisdom is incorrect.
Here's an example of two of our graphs. As you can see, they both have upward slopes, meaning that as the season progresses, predictions for the team's next game become more accurate. There is also a good match between the observed results (actual NFL data) and our chance-level expectations.
In other words, it's time to retire the recency bias and reactionary analysis we get in sports. Just because the Cowboys may have lost week one, that doesn't mean they are about to spiral down for three or four straight losses.
The true predictor of a team's value comes weeks into the season. For example, when the Cowboys get to 11-1, not when they are 0-1. Patience should be preached, as it is clear the public overreacts to "momentum" after each game.
I know this all is a bit nerdy, but I hope you guys can enjoy a statistical look into the sport we all love. This upcoming year I will be working on coding and analyzing within-game momentum in the NFL. For example, how does a turnover or a dropped pass effect the result of the ensuing drive.
This will be tough, but I am excited to see what the data will say. It is certainly easier for a former football player like myself to believe in within-game momentum than it is to believe in between game momentum.
Malik McDowell Is Well Worth The Risk For The Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are reportedly brining defensive lineman Malik McDowell into The Star this week for a visit, as they decide whether or not to potentially sign him for the 2019 season.
McDowell is a former second round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who fell to day two because of what scouts call "off the field" or "character" concerns. McDowell did not last long with Seahawks, as he was released in 2017 following an ATV accident in which he reportedly suffered "extensive brain and eye trauma" according to Charles Robinson.
None of us know much about who Malik McDowell is as a person, or what concerns their really should be with his health. But what I do know is that on tape at Michigan State, McDowell was a top 5-10 player in the 2017 draft class. He was a stud, and has the traits to continue to be a stud in the NFL.
The 2017 NFL Draft is chock full of talented, athletic, and productive defensive linemen. While most of the draft pundits have focused on EDGE rushers thus far, the defensive tackle class also possesses some of this year's top NFL prospects. Arguably the best of those defensive tackles is Michigan State's Malik McDowell.
Back in 2017 I wrote a full scouting report on McDowell, detailing why he earned such a high grade on my board. McDowell is a versatile linemen who is explosive off the ball, powerful and rangy against the run, and a skilled pass rusher who plays with a high motor. What more could you really ask for?
"McDowell is a patient pass rusher at times, setting up the blocker how he likes and then beating them with ease. McDowell’s ability to swipe hands off helps him greatly, but his quick swim is his most effective pass rush move.
On this play he uses that swim to perfection, forcing the center to power down to the right before swimming back to the other side."
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
When the Spartans went to a three man pass rushing front, McDowell moved to the EDGE often and made plays with his quick, active hands and impressive swim move. He was much more impressive on the interior, however, and could be a direct replacement for David Irving as an explosive and powerful 3-technique for the Cowboys.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
I love that the Cowboys are bringing McDowell in for a free agent visit. His price will likely be low, as he is yet to play in an NFL game over the last two years, but his ceiling remains very high if he is healthy. It's rare for a player with his college production, natural ability, and measurables to completely fail in the NFL.
Maybe all McDowell needs is a second chance to get his head right and prove that he belongs in the league. Maybe he flames out quickly and can't get on the field due to "off the field" stuff. Or, maybe he simply isn't healthy enough to contribute as an NFL player. Regardless, for the price he'll likely command, McDowell is well worth the risk if the Cowboys are willing to take it.
Though Not A Direct Beasley Replacement, Randall Cobb Would Bring Value To Cowboys’ Offense
When the news broke Monday that veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb was visiting the Dallas Cowboys, most immediately assumed he would be a logical replacement for the departed Cole Beasley.
When you take a look at the film and each of their skillsets, however, you quickly see this is likely not the case.
While Cobb would be able to play in the slot as a receiver for the Cowboys if he signs, his value extends much further than just a slot receiver. Where Beasley makes his mark with precise route running, short area quickness, and 3rd down reliability, Cobb is much more of a threat after the catch. He's not the route runner that Beasley is, and really isn't an upgrade over Beasley as a receiver, but Cobb would be able to help the Cowboys' become more diverse in their offensive schemes.
Similar to Tavon Austin, Randall Cobb can be used in pre snap motion and jet-sweep packages, as well as a traditional running back. A college quarterback, Cobb's versatility is what makes him so attractive to NFL teams. Cobb would actually fit more of the Lance Dunbar "scat back" role of sorts for the Cowboys than that of the Cole Beasley slot receiver role. His versatility, however, allows him to carve out a lane within the offense which they haven't quite had before.
Another area Cobb could help the Cowboys is when the play breaks down. With experience in the Packers offense playing with arguably the greatest improviser we've ever seen in Aaron Rodgers, Cobb would be able to help Dak Prescott down the field when he breaks the pocket and the play is off schedule.
So often last season we talked about how the Cowboys offense is reliant on remaining on schedule, staying in front of the chains and not having to force the ball downfield. Unleashing the Mississippi State version of Dak Prescott, where he can improvise and use his legs to create big plays, tends to be when this offense is at its best, however.
Randall Cobb won't be a Pro Bowler if the Cowboys sign him, and depending on the money he receives, it might not even be a lock that he makes the final roster. But Cobb would be an exciting addition to a Cowboys offense which has lacked "creativity" over the last few seasons, and is looking to reinvent themselves to a certain extent.
A receiving corps headlined by Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, with versatile weapons such as Cobb and Tavon Austin behind them, is a pretty good one to head into draft day with.
Signing Cobb would keep the Cowboys from "needing" to take a wide receiver early in the draft, and would allow them to easily shed Allen Hurns if a receiving weapon did fall to them at 58th overall.
Should Cowboys Inquire About Trading for 49ers DL Solomon Thomas?
When it comes to making trades, the Dallas Cowboys are typically the buyer and not the seller. They proved that last season when they acquired Tavon Austin, Jamize Olawale, and Jihad Ward via trade and could be looking do the same once again this offseason. That's why today I want to talk about the Cowboys putting in a call to the San Francisco 49ers to inquire about potentially trading for Solomon Thomas.
New 49ers Defensive Line Coach Kris Kocurek is rumored to be evaluating Solomon Thomas' film in order to determine his fit and future with the organization moving forward. This is no easy task. In his two years in the league they've tried Thomas at DE and DT, but unfortunately the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has yet to find his footing at either position.
Being a man without a position doesn't bode well for Solomon Thomas, especially after the 49ers acquired Defensive End Dee Ford from the Kansas City Chiefs last week via trade. The 49ers are suddenly stacked along the defensive line. That's not all though, things could actually get worse for Thomas.
To further complicate matters, the 49ers could use their second overall pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft on the either Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams. If that's what indeed happens, someone is going to be the odd man out. If you haven't guessed it yet, I think that player could be Solomon Thomas.
As a former high first-round draft pick, Thomas would count $7,678,468 against the salary cap in 2019 and $8,958,213 in 2020. That's probably more than the 49ers want to pay for a rotational/backup defensive lineman. And cutting him this season would create $16.6 million in dead money, so a trade is the logical solution.
With all that in mind, it wouldn't surprise me if San Francisco put Solomon Thomas on the trade block any day now. He is only two years into his four-year rookie deal and comes with a fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick. That means if a team does trade for him they have him under contract for essentially three more years.
If you add all of this up, it makes a lot of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. They need defensive line help and Solomon Thomas needs a fresh start. The Cowboys would get a young versatile defensive lineman and the 49ers get to dump his contract while also receiving some compensation in return. It's a win-win for all parties concerned.
I know what you're thinking though. What would the Cowboys have to give up in the trade? Well, it might not be as much as you think.
Fortunately, Thomas' failure to make an impact his first two years in the NFL favor the buyer, in this case the Dallas Cowboys. He has only four career quarterback sacks, three of which came in his rookie season. Stats of course don't always tell the entire story, but game film does. Unfortunately for Thomas, he can't escape his poor play.
I believe it wouldn't take more than a 2019 fourth-round draft pick to get Solomon Thomas away from the 49ers. Remember, just last season the New England Patriots sent a third-round draft pick to San Francisco and received Offensive Tackle Trent Brown and the fifth-round pick in return. Brown was a more proven player and was in the last year of his contract.
I don't know about you, but I kind of like the idea of Solomon Thomas in a Dallas Cowboys uniform. If anybody can tap into his potential, Rod Marinelli can. Giving up a 2019 fourth-round pick is well worth the gamble in my opinion.
Do you think the Cowboys should inquire about trading for Solomon Thomas?
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