Do the Steelers Take Weak Teams Lightly?

Over the past few years I have heard the complaints of the local radio personalities as well as my mother, who claim that the Steelers take their opponents lightly and often lose games that they should have won. Pittsburgh’s football team has been successful by most measures in recent history, but that success has created a fan base with very high expectations. And perhaps has also produced a team that does not work as hard to prepare for their lesser opponents.

But is it true?

While some fans might think they should win every game, we will focus only on the games in which they were favored. In the five seasons since they won Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers have been the favorites in nearly three of every four games (59 of 80).

In short, they have gone 42-17 in those games. And while only winning 71% of the games you are favored in may sound low, it is actually higher than the rest of the League, which wins 67%.

Let’s take it a step further though by breaking down the weeks they were favored point-by-point. If we look at all NFL games over the past five years (almost 1300) we find that as the spread increases, the accuracy of the pick increases steadily as well. Teams who were favored to win by one point won just 51% of the time, whereas teams who were favored to win by 11 points won 90% of the time. We are not concerned about covering the spread here, simply winning the game.

Let’s graph it out point-by-point, although keep in mind that the Steelers’ line will look a bit wonky since they have played so few games as compared to the rest of the League.

Steelers Graph

As we can see, Pittsburgh is better than most teams in games that they are favored at five points or less. They have won 67%, compared to a 56% League average. When they are favored by more than five points, however, our doubters may have a point. Pittsburgh has won 75% of their games while the rest of the League has won 80%. It may only be a difference of two games out of 28, but it would have been very clear that they were the favorite going in. It would have also included games like Pittsburgh’s most notable failure—a 27-24 defeat at the hands of Oakland in December 2009. A 15-point favorite entering the game, the game was the biggest upset in the NFL over the past five years.

While there appears to be some confirmation bias at play overall, there is some truth that the Steelers lose when they are ‘supposed’ to win more than most.


In Which Enlightenment is Illustrated by the NFL

“You live and you huff and puff as if it had tremendous meaning.
You appear as if it does, but yet it doesn’t.”

We are often brought up to root for a certain team. There is not much reason behind it, but it is clear that this team is superior to all the rest. Geography is usually a factor. And so we become a single-minded crybaby who want our team to score on every play and know that the other team, refs, and even announcers are against us.

Some people remain in this reality
Some people remain in this reality

At some point though, many of us start to see the bigger picture. Our complaining, we discover, is not having much effect on the game happening hundreds of miles away. So we don’t get so frustrated over each individual play, although we are happy when our team wins the game and it is difficult to get out of bed the next day if the final score did not go the right way.

If we jump to the next level, happiness is no longer based on a single team’s win-loss record. We realize that the Cowboys hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is not that different than the Chiefs. We see our rival not as evil, but as necessary to add more enjoyment to the whole show. You know that episode of The Twilight Zone where the guy died and suddenly got everything he wanted? Spoiler Alert: He wasn’t in heaven.

When Jesus said to love your enemy, he was talking about Spygate
When Jesus said to love your enemy, he was talking about Spygate

And ultimately we reach a level in which we see the whole League working in perfect balance. Where every loss is also a win. The NFL moves as a single organism in complete balance, and we can derive enjoyment out of the play for the sake of play. We now derive enjoyment out of botched extra point snaps that were once viewed with widening eyes of horror. What was chaos is now a harmonious dance.

This is not so far off life. We view the world around us on many different levels. The teacher Ram Dass says that at the most basic, animalistic level we divide others into three categories: potential partners, competitors, or irrelevant. “That’s standing on the corner watching the girls go by, that’s that reality.”

Go up a level and we label people with physiological terms, “He’s nice, she’s manic-depressive, that person is very difficult to get along with, that person is kind and responsible… And that’s a whole reality and a lot of people live in… They go around seeing it, they study it they analyze and they get analyzed and they just keep doing it on and on and on and that’s their reality.”

If you keep zooming out until you see the whole big picture that the universe is one giant, perfect process. You are that process and can derive enjoyment out of life for the sake of life.

He's enjoying life
He’s enjoying life

Robert Harris writes in his book, 101 Things Not to Do Before You Die, to never be a passive observer of sports. If you flip on a game between two teams that you could not care less about, pick one of the teams and root for them anyway. You will have fun! Pump your first with joy and cry out with disappointment—while it lasts you will have fun.

But I thought we just said it doesn’t matter who wins, that enjoyment comes out of the game rather than the outcome?

The catch is that while each level brings a different type of enjoyment, none of them is higher than the others. Dass says, “The complete cycle is going from the many into the one and then coming back into the many to delight in the forms of individual difference.”

So while you know in the back of your mind that it does not matter, and that five minutes after the final whistle you will be just fine, go ahead and root for that punt to go every yard possible. Better yet, find a friend to root for the other team.

Pantheism Lite

14 billion years ago, bang,

For eons, expansion,

Stars born, dying in explosions,

Atoms smashing, violent collisions,

Hurling through space, colliding with planets,

Carbon Nitrogen Sulfur, extracted from Earth,

Dug, gathered, mixed, melted, shaped into,

This water bottle


Baseball’s Unbreakable Records, In Graph Form

There was a great thread last week about which baseball records will never be broken. I took some of the top suggestions and put them into graph form.

Many of the graphs present the top five leaders and active leader. This can give the appearance that many of them are within closer grasp than they sound at first, but keep in mind that there are roughly 20,000 other guys who did not even make the chart in the first place.

It would seem there are many that will indeed stand forever. One I wasn’t aware of prior to reading the thread is the one that takes the cake:

The use of pitcher has clearly changed over the years. A guy today hits 100 pitches and he is done. That obviously influenced the above chart as it does this one:

A reduction in the innings also means a reduction in strikeouts. CC Sabathia has already played for 13 seasons, is 33 years old, and is not even halfway to Nolan Ryan’s strikeout record:

With the increasing bullpen emphasis, pitcher wins also matter much less in today’s game. When guys were throwing a complete game in 95% of their starts though, they got a lot more decisions:

It also meant that they got many more losses, which is why Cy Young’s loss record will probably never be broken either. Ironically, to lose this many games means not that the pitcher has to be bad, but has to be good enough to hang around so long he can build up the loss tally:

Of course if Young’s loss record is broken, he will no doubt hold on to his wins record much longer:

Another change in pitchers has been the increase of the number of runs scored. It is unlikely we will ever see another pitcher with a sub-1 ERA over a whole season. Current pitchers are not necessarily less dominant, though, if we look at ERA+, which compares each ERA to the league average of the year many recent pitchers are in line with the historic seasons of Keefe and Leonard.

Perhaps it’s not a real record category, but Johnny Vander Meer’s feat of throwing two consecutive no-hitters will be tough to beat. Unlike most of the other records, some which take decades to accomplish, this one only takes 18 innings. So I could potentially see someone tying this at some point, but three in a row? Good luck.

On to offense, we find Dimaggio’s famed 56-game hit streak. Unlike the pitchers, there has not been a drastic change in how offensive players are used. So it may take a long time, but this one isn’t insurmountable.

Ichiro arrived in the US at age 27 and stole a career-high 56 bags during his rookie year. Had he started in MLB at age 21 and stole 56 every season until he turned 27, that would bring his current total to one more than Tim Raines for fourth all-time.

Derek Jeter has played at least 145 games in 15 of his 19 seasons. If he continued to hit his career mark of .312 and didn’t miss another game, he would need five more years to break Rose’s record. It’s a safe bet this one will stand for a while.

Another one that would take about five years under optimal conditions to break would be Hank Aaron’s career record for most total bases. A-Rod is doubtful to reach that. Jeter won’t make it either. Albert Pujols, at 34, is about seven great years away.

One you don’t hear every day is Chief Wilson’s record of 36 triples in a season, which he did in 1912. Only Granderson and Lance Johnson have more than 20 triples in the past 20 seasons.

It would be stretch for Pujols to play that long, but not so much for Cal Ripken, Jr. who as you know played every game for 16 seasons. Another cool fact someone mentioned: Japanese player Tomoaki Kanemoto did not miss an at-bat or an inning on defense for ten years.

Finally, we’ve got the Cubs’ drought of 105 years without a World Series. If Epsein can’t pull it off, it may take 200 years.