There’s No Place Like Home…

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The King’s comments about the Arizona Cardinals, in this week’s edition of Monday Morning Quarterback, have left me slightly confused and more than a little perturbed. The Cardinals, if you recall, lost a close road game to the Carolina Panthers, 27-23, on Sunday afternoon. Both His Majesty and I correctly predicted the outcome of the game, but did so for very different reasons. The King, like many members of the sports media, recently fell in love with the stat depicting East Coast teams’ dominance against traveling teams from the Pacific and Mountain Time Zones. Let’s revisit his prediction:

If my predictions of Oakland and Arizona losing are correct, by 4 p.m. Sunday the NFL’s stat of the half season will be this: Pacific and Mountain time zone teams playing in Eastern time this year will be 0-13.

This morning, four days after championing the time zone theory, The King tries to distance himself from it completely:

What makes me delirious about Sunday’s games: You can’t say teams flying from west to east (in luxury, by the way, for between three and five cushy hours) can’t win. I know the Cards lost after a 2,050-mile jaunt to Charlotte, but they led for much of the game and showed no sign of sleep-walking through any part of the game.

He goes on to dismiss the formula that he used to justify his prediction for the Cardinals/Panthers game as the “silliest story angle of the 2008 season”. But it is in His justification for the Cardinals shattering the previously unbreakable time zone theory (despite the fact that they did not win their East Coast game) that The King completely ceases to make sense. First of all, San Diego led for much of its game in Buffalo last week. In fact, the Chargers were about to move ahead late in the game when Philip Rivers threw a terrible interception in the end zone. How does the Cardinals playing the Panthers close prove anything that had not already been proven the week prior? In both games, the road team had a chance to win but was done in by lackadaisical play and sloppy turnovers. The King adamantly asserts that the Cardinals “showed no sign of sleep-walking through any part of the game” but fails to mention that they turned the ball over inside their own twenty-yard line when they were up by multiple scores, which precipitated the Panthers’ comeback—if that does not qualify as “sleep-walking” then I guess I need to review my dictionary of hackneyed sports terminology.

To his credit, His Majesty starts making sense again when he questions the quality of the West Coast teams:

All the opiners wondering why teams like Seattle and San Francisco can’t win on the East Coast should consider this possibility: Maybe they stink.

Allow me to pause and congratulate The King for finally reaching the conclusion that I had arrived at several weeks ago. I would also add Oakland to the list of terrible Pacific/Mountain Time Zone teams that have lost on the East Coast this season. Furthermore, I would like to point out that of the other three teams that qualify for the time zone stat, two (the Chargers and Broncos) are maddeningly inconsistent and have terrible defenses, while the third (the Cardinals) has been great at home but awful on the road this season (MY much more substantive justification for picking the Panthers to win). Overall, the Pacific/Mountain Time Zone teams are a combined 6-17 on the road.

But despite His brief moment of sanity and coherence, The King quickly returns to his normal nonsensical ways. In the face of the overwhelming statistical evidence (the win/loss record for home teams this season is 73-42), His Majesty takes the counterargument for the time zone theory far beyond its logical conclusion, and tries to remove home field advantage/road team disadvantage from the equation completely. Observe his final assessment of Kurt Warner and the Cardinals:

Maybe when the Cards get routed at the Jets it’s because Kurt Warner’s turnover-happy that day, which he’s been at home and on the road in his career. Maybe Arizona loses at Carolina because Carolina’s better, not because the Cards had such an arduous trip east.

Carolina was the better team in its game with Arizona, but surely the fact that the Panthers were playing at home gave them some sort of advantage? I could take a page from The King’s book and write an incoherent paragraph of analysis that does not substantiate the point that I am trying to make—I’m getting sick of all this writing, though, so I’ll just present you with the teams’ home/road splits and let the stats make the argument for me.

Carolina’s record this season: Overall: 6-2, Home: 5-0, Road: 1-2.
Arizona’s record this season: Overall: 4-3, Home: 3-0, Road: 1-3.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think I see a pattern there. How can this pattern exist, though, if Kurt Warner is just as careless with the football at home as he is on the road? Perhaps it is because The King’s assessment of Warner’s play has no basis. As usual, King makes a brash assertion that has a lot of bark but little statistical bite. Again, I’ll let the statistics speak for themselves:

Kurt Warner’s fumbles/INTs this season:
Overall: 6 interceptions, 6 fumbles
Home: 1 interception, 1 fumble
Away: 5 interceptions, 5 fumbles

Clearly, Warner has done a better job of taking care of the ball at home than he has on the road so far this season. Furthermore, if you look at his passing statistics, you can see that while his number of touchdown passes is consistent (seven at home and seven on the road), his completion percentage is nearly eleven points better at home than it is on the road (77.1 to 66.3 percent). Perhaps it is a bit misleading, however, for me to draw these conclusions based on such a small sample size. To save myself from an onslaught of angry emails from rabid King supporters, I will head to the vault and pull up Warner’s statistics from last year, his first and to-date only full season as the starting quarterback for the Cardinals, and see how they compare:

Kurt Warner’s fumbles/INTs in the 2007 season:
Overall: 17 interceptions, 12 fumbles
Home: 6 interceptions, 7 fumbles
Away: 11 interceptions, 5 fumbles

While the split between Warner’s home and road performances is not nearly as drastic as it has been thus far this season, he still fumbled/threw interceptions more frequently on the road than he did at home (16 to 13). Furthermore, returning to the passing statistics, his completion percentage was again significantly higher at home than it was on the road (66.7 to 57.8 percent). Last but certainly not least, the Cardinals, in his 14 starts, were 6-1 at home and 1-6 in away games. The only conclusion that one can draw from this pile of statistical evidence is that Kurt Warner and the Cardinals, over the past two seasons, have played significantly better at home than they have on the road.

Maybe there is an argument to be made for the quality of a team being more significant than home-field advantage (see: the New York Giants), but His Majesty could not have picked a pair of teams (Carolina and Arizona) and a player (Kurt Warner) more ill suited for said argument. A less knowledgeable football fan, however, might easily have been taken in by The King’s unsubstantiated analysis simply because His Majesty argues His points so adamantly. Thank you, Your Majesty, for once again justifying the existence of this blog.

(Update: In MMQB Tuesday Edition, His Majesty responds to a question about the time zone theory with a bold faced lie: “I’ve never bought into the theory that it prevents a team from showing up and playing well.” By never, I guess he means not since he posted his picks on Thursday.)

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