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For the benefit of teams that like to live dangerously, the league has tried to inject some pizzazz into the season by making the throwing of an occasional bomb seem more inviting. New rules give receivers more freedom and quarterbacks more throwing time. Alas, Goode's computer says the changes will have little effect on play.
"It is a case of too little too late," he says. "Developments over the last 15 years have made the bomb an endangered species. Teams used to gain almost 50% more distance per pass than the 5.2-yard average of today. The combination of zone defenses, nickel defenses, better athletes playing defense and moving the hash marks in—which has reduced the throwing room on the wide side of the field—is too much to overcome with small rules changes." To demonstrate the effect of the new rules, Goode assumed an enormous increase of 20% in yards per pass attempt. The computer shows that even with such an increase the net result would be fewer than three additional points per game. NFL '78 will not become an aerial circus.
In computing yards per attempt, Goode includes sacks as unsuccessful attempts, which the NFL does not do on a weekly basis. He claims the sack is the most underrated statistic in the game, pointing out that it is not even kept in college football. The computer shows that one sack more than the opposition is worth three points in the winning margin. Not surprisingly, it was Super Bowl champion Dallas that led the NFC in sacks last year. Goode's statistics also reveal that teams which failed to make at least one sack in a game lost 80% of the time.
Goode disagrees with the NFL practice of lumping interceptions with fumbles and other turnovers. Interceptions are critically important, fumbles almost meaningless, presumably because fumbling a lot goes hand in hand with running a lot. Pittsburgh led the AFC in fumbles last year, while Chicago and Minnesota tied for the NFC lead. All three were playoff teams. But the five teams that threw the most interceptions—Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Kansas City and the New York Jets—won just 18 games among them. Passing doesn't pay, except in television ratings.
Despite Goode's uncanny accuracy, the season will produce some surprises, of course. There are things that cannot be factored into the computer. Injuries, for instance, like the one to Miami's Bob Griese. Nor can the computer delve into the minds of the six new coaches to detect how they may change the philosophies of their teams.
Chuck Knox, a Goode client who is receiving the printout this season in Buffalo, not L.A., frequently chides the analyst, saying, "Bud, don't tell anyone you know anything about football. You don't. You just know more about the interrelationships of the stats than anyone. Stick to the numbers and you'll be O.K."
This year a lot of people will be sticking to Goode's numbers.