Reliving The NFL’s Worst Plays

This weekend the NFL Network aired the NFL Top 10 Worst Plays. I believe it speaks to my psyche as a sports fan that I watched three of the top four as they were happening — one of them in person, from just a few hundred feet away — and in all three cases, I was rooting for the team that was on the failing side of the play.

I accept number one as the top choice because of how consequential it was. It’s the only play in Super Bowl history where the team on offense has gone from near-certain victory to near-certain defeat. Even the conclusion of Super Bowl XXV, perhaps the closest analogue, involved a relatively low percentage field goal attempt.

What I do continue to dispute is the conventional wisdom that this was the worst play call of all time. Statistically speaking the risk of a quarterback throwing an interception at the one-yard line is comparable to a running back fumbling at the one-yard line. If anything, the real problem with the play call is that the Patriots anticipated its use. As the video shows, the Patriots defense had run through the play in practice, and former Seahawk Brandon Browner warned Malcolm Butler to be ready for the coverage as they lined up for the snap. This belies the standard criticism of this play call: That the obvious choice in this situation was to have Marshawn Lynch run the ball. It also points out how well prepared the Patriots were to play the Seahawks.

The conventional wisdom also neglects the fact that the fateful play wouldn’t have even been possible if not for a phenomenal catch by Jermaine Kearse two plays earlier. What really cost the Seahawks this game is that they gave up two fourth quarter touchdown passes to the Patriots. Prior to Super Bowl XLIX they had an eight-game winning streak in which they consistently dominated the ends of games.

If there’s any consolation for me, reliving it through the replay might help anesthetize me to the coverage of it that is sure to intensify as November 13th approaches.

Choosing A New Ringtone

I’ve been binge-watching Episodes lately and Matt LeBlanc’s ringtone has inspired me to replace the main one I’ve been using for years.

If you’re the kind of person who isn’t content to stick with the ringtones that your phone manufacturer provides, you know what a consequential choice your ringtone can be. That you select it from millions of possibilities and that it spontaneously and repeatedly shares a piece of yourself with people who are nearby makes it among the most revealing of personal choices. Here’s how I pick one.

The first criterion is that I won’t get tired of hearing it repeatedly. When Windows 3.1 first came out and made multimedia a standard part of the PC experience, one of the first things people did was customize their sound schemes. (Remember the Microsoft SoundBits product line?) As my Windows shutdown sound, I picked Porky Pig stuttering, “That’s all, folks!” It was cute at first, but I was developing system software and restarting Windows fifty times a day. It got old in a hurry.

I also want a sound whose essence can be captured in a few seconds. The point of a ringtone is to alert me that my phone is ringing, so I don’t want to be thinking about — or having people around me wondering — what that strange sound is and what it means. Because it has to be edited to less than thirty seconds and might have to repeat in the middle, it has to be cuttable and loopable.

The above criteria favor shorter, catchier melodies over more complex ones. They also tend to favor instrumentals over vocal tracks, though this can be managed with proper editing. I edit my own ringtones with mp3DirectCut and end up listening to the sound over and over, so I get a sense if it’s going to meet these criteria.

Since the ringtone often plays when you’re not expecting it, it shouldn’t have a jarring opening. I learned this a couple of years ago during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when I experimented with using the New York Rangers goal song as my ringtone. You can listen for yourself, but suffice it to say it begins with the sound of a foghorn and quickly transitions to the musical equivalent of a hockey riot.

While I try not overthink the symbolism of the sound, I do avoid ringtones that might come across as if I’m trying to associate myself with a heroic character. Or songs that are too popular or iconic. For this reason I wouldn’t choose songs like the themes from Batman, Secret Agent, or Mission Impossible, even though sonically they work well.

Finally, and foremost, it has to be a sound that makes me happy when I hear it.

Hearing Two Time repeatedly on Episodes, often to humorous effect, set me in the directions of 1960’s/70’s instrumentals. I listened to a bunch of TV theme songs and also some Herb Alpert tracks. There were a number of good options, but ultimately this one stood out:

We’ll see how long it lasts.

Car Ads, 2016

The latest in my continuing series of posts on television commercials for cars that catch my attention (the commercials, not the cars).

Cadillac’s marketing team must continue to believe that the effectiveness of their ads for the Escalade is directly correlated to the utter selfishness portrayed by its drivers in those ads. In their latest one, The Herd, the message seems to be, “Because I drive an Escalade, it’s OK for me to drive the wrong way down the middle of a one-way street and force every other driver to swerve to avoid me.”

Or, to put more succinctly: “I’m an Escalade driver. I don’t give a crap about anybody else.” This is indeed consistent with my personal experience with Escalade drivers.

On the positive side, I’ve discovered a car ad that I enjoy watching even after numerous viewings: Nissan’s Family Visit. It’s clever, well-choreographed, and has a great backing track. And Mariette Hartley nails the punchline.

How the Seahawks Clinched, 2015

Seahawks clinch 2015 - small

When the Seahawks defeated the Browns on Sunday, it was announced broadly that the Seahawks had clinched a playoff berth. Nowhere, however, was it explained how this was determined. It appeared to be taken on faith, generally without a source, though in some cases the information was cited as coming from “the league”. This is not good enough for me.

When the same thing happened in 2013, I took it upon myself to investigate, and produced How the Seahawks Clinched. At the time I imagined that it couldn’t get much more complicated to prove that a team had clinched a playoff berth. I was wrong. Hold on for the ride.

Let’s start by excluding the scenario where the Seahawks win the NFC West division. As of this writing it is moot due to Arizona’s victory on Sunday night, but when the Seahawks-Browns game was completed, it was still theoretically possible. (Obviously had the Seahawks won the NFC West, they would have had a playoff berth.) This means that we only have to concern ourselves with how the Seahawks clinched a wildcard berth.

Because the Seahawks are 9-5, they can only be defeated for a wildcard berth by a team that has lost at most seven games and isn’t going to win its division. Not counting the NFC East for the moment, this limits the teams to Green Bay (10-4), Minnesota (9-5) and Atlanta (7-7).

Now let’s dispatch the NFC East. Washington can go 9-7, but if they do then they win the division title and thus aren’t part of wildcard consideration. Philadelphia could also have gone 9-7 had they not lost to Arizona on Sunday night (which occurred after the Seahawks clinched). However, in order for the Eagles to have finished 9-7, they would also have had to have defeated Washington next weekend. In this case, Washington would do no better than 8-8, Philadelphia would win the NFC East, and Washington would not be part of the wildcard picture. To summarize, no NFC East team can qualify for a wildcard position.

This leaves three detailed scenarios to consider, which I will cover in increasing order of complexity.

The first and simplest scenario is where Seattle wins (or ties) at least one more game or Atlanta loses (or ties) at least one more game. If Seattle wins or ties one more game, it is at least 10-6 (or 9-6-1) and Atlanta’s theoretical 9-7 best is not good enough. Similarly, if Atlanta loses (or ties) at least one more game, it can finish no better than 8-8 (or 8-7-1) so Seattle’s theoretical 9-7 worst is good enough. In either case Seattle is guaranteed one of the two wild card slots, and the other goes to either Minnesota or Green Bay (whichever of these two doesn’t win the NFC North).

As a result of this, in the remaining scenarios we only have to consider cases where Atlanta wins out and Seattle loses out and thus they both finish 9-7.

The second scenario is where Minnesota wins (or ties) at least one more game. In this scenario, Minnesota and Green Bay are both 10-6 (or 9-6-1) or better and Atlanta and Seattle are both 9-7. The better of Minnesota and Green Bay wins the NFC North, and the worse gets the higher wild card position, i.e. 5th seed overall. This leaves Atlanta and Seattle competing for the final wild card position.

Atlanta and Seattle didn’t play each other, so there’s no direct head-to-head, and they are in different divisions, so intra-divisional records aren’t compared. The next tiebreaker is conference record; in this scenario both teams would be 6-6. After that the next tiebreaker is record against common opponents, with a minimum of four. It turns out that Atlanta and Seattle have exactly four common opponents this year — Carolina, Dallas, Minnesota, and San Francisco — and the Seahawks are 4-1 (3-1 if you count the 49ers only once) while the Falcons are 1-3. Even if you include the Panthers a second time, and the Falcons defeat them in the rematch next weekend to finish 2-3 (which they need to do in order to finish 9-7), it’s not good enough. So the Seahawks win this tiebreaker and are in the playoffs.

The third scenario is where Minnesota loses both of its remaining games, leaving them tied with Atlanta and Seattle at 9-7. Figuring out who wins this three-way tiebreaker is quite involved. None of these teams defeated both of the other two, so there’s no winner based on sweeping the head-to-head games. Minnesota would also have a 6-6 conference record in this scenario, so that doesn’t help either. And these three teams do not play at least four common opponents in 2015.

The next step in the tiebreaker is strength of victory. This is where things get really gnarly. Strength of victory involves taking the combined won-lost-tied records of all of the teams that each team defeated and computing an aggregate won-lost-tied percentage. This means that even a meaningless Week 17 game like Chicago vs. Detroit could have an effect on the tiebreaker because it could improve one team’s strength of victory at the expense of another.

The good news is that who wins the three-way tiebreaker amongst Atlanta, Minnesota, and Seattle is moot as it affects the Seahawks playoff chances. Here’s why: Let’s assume that one of the three teams has the best strength of victory. If it’s the Seahawks, then they win the 5th seed by virtue of this tiebreaker. And if it’s not the Seahawks, then either Atlanta or Minnesota wins the 5th seed, leaving the Seahawks in a two-way tie with the other team to determine the 6th seed.

If Minnesota wins the three-way tiebreaker, then Atlanta and Seattle are competing for the 6th seed. This is the same as the second scenario, where we’ve already shown that Seattle wins over Atlanta by virtue of record against common opponents. If Atlanta wins the three-way tiebreaker, then Minnesota and Seattle are competing for the 6th seed, which Seattle takes on the basis of its 38-7 victory over Minnesota on December 6th.

Even in the unlikely case that no team won the strength of victory tiebreaker (and I’m not even sure if this is mathematically possible at this point), eventually one of the three teams would have to win one of the lower tiebreakers — coin toss, anyone? — and the above logic still applies: Either the Seahawks win the three-way tiebreaker and get the 5th seed, or they’re competing one-on-one against either Atlanta or Minnesota for the 6th seed and win that two-way tiebreaker.

So to recap, in any season-ending scenario that was possible at the time that the Seattle-Cleveland game ended on Sunday afternoon, the Seahawks would have a playoff berth. Q.E.D. And phew!

[Updated 2015-12-24: Added image and made minor text edits.]

iPhone: The First 72 Hours

20151215_205529857_iOS (1024x768)As I wrote in September, after more than a decade as a Windows Mobile/Windows Phone user, most recently for the past two years with a Lumia 1020, I decided to make the switch to an iPhone. I got an iPhone 6s at the end of last week and have spent a few days getting accustomed to it. Here are my initial impressions:

iPhone Pros

  1. The availability and quality of the apps. It’s like discovering an oasis after wandering through a desert.
  2. The phone is thin and light and feels nice in my hand.
  3. The phone feels much faster and more responsive than my previous phone. I don’t know how much of this is the Apple vs. Nokia/Microsoft platforms, how much is that the new one is part of a two-years-newer generation of devices, and how much is software crud that built up on the old phone, but whatever the reasons, the difference is noticeable.
  4. Ditto the above for battery life.
  5. Touch ID.
  6. Siri. It’s very convenient to be able to summon her hands-free. I don’t know yet if she’s significantly smarter than Cortana, but in my initial use she’s been at least as good if not better.

iPhone Cons

  1. No ability to pin tiles to the home screen for deep links to things within apps: People, OneNote notebooks, etc.
  2. Siri doesn’t automatically offer to read incoming text messages to me when the phone is connected to Bluetooth.
  3. Swype reliability. On Windows Phone 8.1 the equivalent functionality (called “shape writing“) is built in. I don’t mind paying the extra dollar for Swype, but frequently I find that the Swype keyboard has been turned off and I have to manually press a couple of buttons to re-enable it.
  4. I’m dependent on the Groove Music app to play my OneDrive-based music collection, and my use of it on the phone has surfaced a couple of serious problems:
    1. The app frequently cuts out mid-song and starts replaying the song from the beginning. Sometimes multiple times. I don’t know why this is happening but it makes the experience almost unusable.
    2. When playing music on the car’s audio system via Bluetooth, the name of the artist isn’t displayed. The album and song name are both displayed, so I’m not sure why this is failing. I’ve seen this with two different cars, neither of which has this problem with the Xbox Music app on Windows Phone 8.1 or with other music apps on the iPhone.
  5. The default podcast app isn’t that great. I’m trying Overcast and it seems to be better.
  6. No separate button to launch the camera app and take pictures.
  7. Porting existing custom ringtones to the iPhone is a bit of a hassle.

Seahawks: Anticipating History’s Judgment

Steelers vs. Bears

After another lackluster Seahawks performance in yesterday’s loss to the Cardinals, in the first of what are likely to be several “must win” games, Seahawks fans are starting to resign themselves to a wait-till-next-year attitude. It’s a tough spot for those of us who have been counting on 2015 to erase the bitter taste that was left in our mouths by the excruciating loss in Super Bowl XLIX. I prefer to cope with this season’s difficulties by trying to place the team — prematurely, I readily admit — in a longer-term historical context.

When I watched the Seahawks of the early Russell Wilson era in 2012 and 2013, the team they reminded me of most was the Pittsburgh Steelers of the early 1970s. A team that won two consecutive Super Bowls after the 1974 and 1975 seasons on the strength of a punishing defense, a strong running game led by an All-Pro running back, and a quarterback who was then known more for scrambling than downfield passing.

It is, to be sure, a flattering and optimistic comparison. After missing the Super Bowl the next two seasons, this Steelers team, still possessing a dominant defense but transformed by a pass-first offense thanks to the blossoming of its Hall of Fame-bound quarterback and receivers, won another two consecutive Super Bowls, cementing its place as one of the greatest teams in NFL history. How nice to believe, especially in the modern NFL era of parity and free agency, that the current Seahawks team could sustain such a record of achievement over the next decade.

There is another historical comparison that, while equally apt, is considerably less optimistic: The 1985 Chicago Bears. A team that dominated during the regular season with outsized swagger, led by one of the greatest defenses of all time. Featuring a beloved, Hall of Fame running back and a quarterback known more for finding ways to win than for his passing skills. A team that dismantled its opponent in one of the most dominating Super Bowl victories of all time. And sadly for its fans, a team that, while remaining a contender for the next several years, never regained the dominance that characterized its one glorious Super Bowl-winning season.

Which path are the current Seahawks likely to follow? We’ll know in a few years.

JEB!’s Debate Failure

[This post is about campaign tactics, not policy. And it’s definitely not an endorsement.]

JEB! has been rightly excoriated for picking on Marco Rubio’s Senate attendance record in last night’s debate and Rubio deserves credit — from a debating standpoint — for his clever rebuttal. Given that JEB!’s attack was obviously pre-planned, it seems like he was advised poorly by whomever was preparing him for the debate.

From a tactical perspective, a better approach for JEB! to win over Republican voters would be to paint Rubio 2016 as equivalent to Obama 2008. Imagine if he had said something like this:

“If we’ve learned anything during the last eight years, it’s that half a term in the Senate is not sufficient experience to be President. Marco, you may offer Obama-esque rhetoric about youthful optimism, but President of the United States is not the place for you to get on-the-job training.”