...or: Yeah, Right. Like You Know Anything About Stats
Okay, so I'm not a statistician. In fact, if you put a gun to my head and told me to be a statistician or else, I'd choose the bullet. But my hobby is misinterpreting incomplete statistics, especially relating to sports, and I just wanted to share my latest project with you.
It's this: how good, really, is the San Francisco 49ers' defense? I mean, come on: where's Ronnie Lott? Where's Charles Haley? Where's Matt Millen? (Over there, in a box.) These aren't the 49ers we all loved to be scared spitless by during that whole Dynasty thing. So how good are these guys, anyway?
Short answer: pretty darn good. Ranked 1st against the run in the entire NFL. Ranked--whoa, wait a minute, 16th against the pass? Worse than Indianapolis? Really? (Okay, just checking.) Well, that's still good enough to rank them 4th in total defense, in the whole goldurned league. So that's impressive.
But I can't help myself--I've got to try to pick this thing apart somehow. And the manner that I choose to do it in is this: how good were the 49ers' divisional opponents? Those division games, after all, count for over a third of the total stats; and everyone knows the 49ers played in the weakest division of all (in fact, the NFL is thinking of demoting them next year and replacing them with the SEC).
For instance, how did the NFC West stack up running the ball? Because maybe the 49ers' top ranking in rush defense had something to do with the weakness of the competition. And sure enough: the NFC West came in dead last. (The NFC South, by contrast, trailed only the AFC West, making the Saints' rush defense look not-so-bad after all.) So that #1 ranking doesn't look so hot in view of the fact that San Francisco's major competition was, so to speak, lame. (And yeah, I realize that being in the same division as the 49ers undoubtedly had something to do with those low rankings...but playing 2 games against a great defense doesn't skew stats like playing 6 games against dud offenses does.)
So, how about that passing rank? Pretty middle of the road, so the competition within the division must have been fierce. And, indeed, when we look into the rank of the division as a whole, we find that in passing the NFC West ranked...last. Whoa. You mean that against the worst passing teams in the league, the best the 49ers could rank was 16th? Well, surely that's because nobody could run on them, so everyone had to pass. I mean, surely. And if the Saints also can't run on them, we still won't be able to pass the ball any better than the 16th-ranked team, which was...Tampa Bay. I mean, surely.
So we'll let that one, um, pass. So how were they in the most telling category: points allowed?
A very impressive 2nd in the league, behind only the Steelers. And where did the NFC West stand in points scored?
Whoa. Last. Again. Actually, I'm making that up--I haven't even checked yet. So hang on while I do the numbers...oops. Dang. I'm afraid this is where my whole thesis falls to the ground, because the NFC West is only second-to-last. Behind that powerhouse, the AFC South, home to the Colts and Jaguars.
So, all joking aside: the fact is, the 49ers spent the entire year fattening themselves against bad teams. Now that the 2011 season is over, we can know that with certainty, because the 49ers' strength of schedule was tied for 30th in the entire league. In fact, the only team that played a cushier schedule was...whoa. The New Orleans Saints.
So, I guess we'll just to play the game after all. The stat-padding offense of the Saints against the bottom-feeding defense of the 49ers. Should be an instant classic.