How you play the game
San Francisco, Number Eight
It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
Most people agree that this old adage belongs on a Pop Warner youth league field, but many would say that it really has no place in the results oriented win-at-all-costs culture of the NFL. The Power Rank seeks to change this paradigm by examining not just how the teams have fared in the win and loss columns, but also examines the margin of victory used to dispatch their opponents.
For example, lets take a look at two of 2011’s 4-1 Cinderellas – San Francisco (#8, 2.33) and Buffalo (#12, 1.31). Both teams started the season in a bit of a hole, as The Power Rank accounts for last season’s ranking during the beginning of the year. At the end of last season both teams were in the cellar – Buffalo at #27 with a -3.80 rating and San Francisco at #28 with a -4.37 rating. Ouch. This poses a bit of a question though, how did the 49ers leapfrog the Bills and climb out of a bigger hole faster and end up farther?
The answer is the strength of their wins.
On paper, Buffalo has beaten more impressive teams:
Week 1 – @ Kansas City (#30, -6.39) – W 41-7
Week 2 – Oakland (#7, 3.28) – W 38-35
Week 3 – New England (#1, 14.30) – W 34-31
Week 4 – @ Cincinnati (#16, 0.46) – L 20-23
Week 5 – Philadelphia (#20, -1.19) – W 31-24
Their schedule includes two The Power Rank top ten teams, including the #1 Patriots. For an algorithm that gives credit for strength of schedule, that win alone should have been solid gold.
San Francisco on the other hand boasts no top ten teams among their victims this year:
Week 1 – Seattle (#26, -4.98) – W 33-17
Week 2 – Dallas (#14, 0.87) – L 24-27
Week 3 – @ Cincinnati (#16, 0.46) – W 13-8
Week 4 – @ Philadelphia (#20, -1.19) – W 24-23
Week 5 – Tampa Bay (#17, -0.14) – W 48-3
So what does our algorithm see in a 49ers squad whose best win was against #16 Cincinnati, over a Buffalo team that shocked #1 New England and #7 Oakland?
The first answer lies in the blowouts. In week one Buffalo surprised us by beating the 2010 AFC West champion Chiefs, and really caught our attention by doing so by burying them with a 41-7 final. At the time this win made the world seem upside down, yet in hindsight the Chiefs are barely a shell of who they were last season, as their current #30 rank suggests. In short, most teams in the NFL should have beaten the Chiefs by a wide margin in week 1.
San Francisco’s blowout came just this last week against the Bucs in a 48-3 game. I suppose the best way to prevent Josh Freeman from creating another great come from behind victory is to make sure his team is down by five touchdowns. The margin of victory is similar to Buffalo’s win over Kansas City, but earning that margin against an otherwise 3-1 team that is at worst an average team makes the win far more impressive.
While both teams have had a major blowout and a few close ones, other than the Chiefs the Bills have not been able to beat an opponent by more than one score. On the other hand the 49ers have two solid wins under their belt. First was the beatdown of Tampa Bay, and the second was a comfortable 16 point margin of victory over Seattle. Good teams win. Great teams never let their victory come into question, and The Power Rank’s algorithm naturally accounts for this distinction.
The second reason why the Bills were lapped by the 49ers is all about the Bengals. Both teams faced the Bengals in Cincinnati this year but the outcomes were slightly different. The Bengals account for the Bills lone loss, but the 49ers were able to put them away on the road. The only other common opponent so far this year was Philadelphia, and both teams were able to beat the struggling Eagles.
The Power Rank’s algorithm gave Cincinnati credit for beating the Bills, and then gave the 49ers credit for beating a team that beat the Bills. Without more common opponents to compare this early in the season, this football food chain helped slingshot San Francisco into the top ten this week while leaving the Bills behind – because as far as we are concerned, how a team gets a win is more important than the win itself.