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Football Outsiders Project Another Disappointing Season For The Cowboys

Our good friends (FO) published their annual Football Outsiders Almanac last week. For the statistically inclined, it is a marvelous piece of work stretching out over 575 pages.

Among many other things, like every year FO have calculated a 2011 Mean Win Projection for every one of the 32 teams in the NFL. Underlying their projections are some complicated calculations based on the DVOA for offense, defense, and special teams as well as a number of different factors such as recent draft history, coaching experience, injury history, previous years DVOA and other variables.

And as you can easily tell from the title of this post, the FO algorithm has not been kind to the Cowboys this year. FO project 7.7 mean wins for the Cowboys, and have the Cowboys again finishing third in the NFC East behind the first place Eagles, second place Giants and ahead of the fourth place Redskins.

The NFC East 2010 standings based on FO's mean projected wins after the jump.

Before we collectively start bashing FO, keep in mind that last year, they correctly predicted nine out of 12 NFL playoff teams, including Kansas City and Chicago. They also predicted a 7.5 win season for the Cowboys which the BTB community famously and collectively mocked, ridiculed and pooh-poohed. Go read that post from last year, it is actually quite funny in an awkward kind of way. Chastened by that experience, we should at least listen to what FO have to say this year.

But first, let's look at what FO projected last year for the NFC East, and how close they ended up being

2010 NFC East Projections and Standings
Team Projected Wins by FO Actual Wins
9.3 10
Redskins 9.2 6
8.7 10
7.5 6

Granted, they were a lot closer to the Cowboys final record than anybody else (and it took some balls to project a number like that at the time), but they also missed badly on the Redskins. And while the did have the Eagles as the playoff team for the NFC, it was only by the slimmest of possible margins. No point in dwelling on the past too much, on to FO's projections for this season:

2011 NFC East Projections
Team Projected Wins by FO
Redskins 5.6

The FO Almanac, as FO state themselves, has been "famously pessimistic" about  the Cowboys and this year my prove to be one of those years again. Especially since FO spend three pages ruminating on what went wrong in 2010, regression to the mean and more, but only write two paragraphs about why they expect no significant improvement in 2011. In a nutshell, their argument is that 

the offense is likely to be better, and the team’s overall luck is likely to be better. The defense is what pulls our mean projection down to 8-8. The Cowboys hope that Rob Ryan can design blitzes that bring more pass pressure, but like every other team with a new coordinator, the Cowboys are starting the 2011 season behind.

Okay, I can understand the logic. I may not agree, but I understand that a new defense may take time to come together. Funnily enough, other commentators like Matt Bowen from the National Football Post, see Rob Ryan as the main reason why he is picking the Cowboys to take the division and possibly put together some post-season wins:

The way I see it, defense is going to win in the East this season. [...] In Dallas, you are going to see a defense that attacks the line of scrimmage and protection schemes. Plus, coaching that will polish and improve the play of the secondary.

Can one coaching change really do that? Of course. I saw it first-hand when Gregg Williams came into Washington. The first day he walked into the meeting room, our attitude and defensive scheme flipped. What came next was accountability and a different approach to practice and game days.

But we didn’t have the offense that Dallas does right now.

Two sources. Two completely different takes on the Cowboys. What's your take?

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