Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Schedule Through The Top 100 List Lens

Before we go too far into today's project, please know that everybody is aware that lists don't mean anything in sports beyond serving as talking points. They are lists. And either they are a media guy's opinion or a coach's opinion or someone else's opinion. Opinions kill time in sports, but we have scoreboards that truly matter. We all know this and we all get it.
However, during the summer months, time does need to be killed and the NFL Network has a worthy time-killer that involves polling the league's players to come up with an annual list of the Top 100 players in the league. The players vote for their top 20 and from the results of those countless returned ballots, they do the math and spit out who is at the top. In a way, it is a popularity contest, but I do want to know who the players think is the best. It also is a poll dominated by recency bias, so a 4-12 Cowboys team will not represent the same way a 12-4 Cowboys team would the year before.
That said, during my summer break, I took careful notes so we could have a day on the blog to visit about this. And today is that day.
The Cowboys only had two players crack the Top 100 in 2016, after putting five on the list in 2015. They are:
No. 51, WR Dez Bryant (No. 15 last year)
Obviously hurt by being hurt, Dez slips down to being the seventh-ranked wide receiver in the league by his peers.
No. 42, LT Tyron Smith (No. 36 last year)
Tyron is in essentially the same spot, where he fits as the second-rated tackle and third-ranked offensive lineman overall behind just Joe Thomas and Marshal Yanda.  
Those who dropped off the list from last year include Tony Romo (No. 34 last year), Jason Witten (No. 93) and DeMarco Murray (No. 4 when he was a Cowboy on last summer's list). In the case of Romo, you would certainly hope that is all based on the pessimism around his health and his upside moving forward. He is behind 15 different quarterbacks rated on this list -- many of whom you would be offended by if someone claimed they were better than Tony.
Again, it is just a list. But I enjoy looking at it every year.
Now, another exercise I go through to prepare for the season is looking at the Cowboys' schedule as it pertains to the Top 100 list. In other words, who will they be facing each week from the list? Here we go:
Week 1 -- New York Giants
No. 10, WR Odell Beckham; No. 47, QB Eli Manning
Week 2 -- at Washington

No. 11, CB Josh Norman; No. 45, T Trent Williams; No. 77, TE Jordan Reed; No. 85, QB Kirk Cousins
Week 3 -- Chicago 
Week 4 -- at San Francisco
No. 61, LB Navorro Bowman
Week 5 -- Cincinnati 
No. 16, WR AJ Green; No. 29, DT Geno Atkins; No. 35, QB Andy Dalton; No. 44, TE Tyler Eifert; No. 67, T Andre Whitworth; No. 70, DE Carlos Dunlap
Week 6 -- at Green Bay
No. 6, QB Aaron Rodgers; No. 57, LB Clay Matthews; No. 95, DT Mike Daniels
Week 7 -- Bye
Week 8 -- Philadelphia 
No. 49, DT Fletcher Cox
Week 9 -- at Cleveland
No. 23, T Joe Thomas; No. 94, TE Gary Barnidge
Week 10 -- at Pittsburgh
No. 4, WR Antonio Brown; No. 21, QB Ben Roethlisberger; No. 41, Le'Veon Bell; No. 88, DE Cameron Heyward
Week 11 -- Baltimore
No. 37, G Marshall Yanda
Week 12 -- Washington

No. 11, CB Josh Norman; No. 45, T Trent Williams; No. 77, TE Jordan Reed; No. 85, QB Kirk Cousins
Week 13 -- Minnesota
No. 5, RB Adrian Peterson; No. 73, S Harrison Smith; No. 77, DT Linval Joseph
Week 14 -- at New York Giants
No. 10, WR Odell Beckham; No. 47, QB Eli Manning
Week 15 -- Tampa Bay 
No. 53, LB Lavante David; No. 63, DT Gerald McCoy
Week 16 -- Detroit 
No. 43, DE Ezekiel Ansah
Week 17 -- at Philadelphia
No. 49, DT Fletcher Cox
It's really a manageable schedule if you look at it carefully. If the average NFL team should have three Top 100 players, then the Cowboys only play three teams that are above that average: The Bengals, the Steelers and the Redskins.
They also avoid the three NFC Powers: Carolina, Arizona and Seattle.
They do, for what it is worth, face a fair number of Top 100 QBs: Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins twice, Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. But that's assuming you think Cousins is a legit Top 100 guy. I suspect that is an example of that pesky recency bias there.
Anyway, that is this morning's exercise of examining the season through the lens of the Top 100 list.

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