by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games LLC
I wasn't able to watch the NFL's opening weekend this year, but later that Sunday afternoon I checked the scores on my phone. I fully expected to see that "my" team, the Saints, had defeated the Buccaneers: it seemed pretty likely, given that the Bucs would be without their starting QB, Jameis Winston, who'd been suspended for three games and replaced by journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. I went to my phone to get the score. Wait—what!? Tampa Bay 48, New Orleans 40!?
Now, for the Saints to LOSE to the Bucs was not necessarily a huge shock—they'd lost many key games to Tampa Bay over the years including the 2017 season finale, a loss that could have cost them the division title. And then there was 1977 when—well, never mind. What WAS shocking was the score: "How in the HECK did the Buccaneers score nearly 50 points with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback?"
The answer? "FitzMagic."
Veteran, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, he of the flowing red beard, had turned in a passing performance that was, in a word, magical: 21 of 28 passing for 417 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions. He earned a near-perfect passer rating of 156.2 for the game. For three glorious weeks, the magic continued. Three games, three 400-yard passing performances. The first pro quarterback ever to throw for 400+ yards in three consecutive games. EVER. Brady, Brees, Manning, Favre—EVER. His jersey was shipped to the pro football hall of fame to commemorate the feat. Then, a crash-and-burn performance in Chicago (passer rating of 49.0), a 48-10 loss. And, suddenly and shockingly as it appeared, "FitzMagic" left the building.
It created a lot of buzz on sports talk shows, and will certainly be remembered as a footnote to the 2018 season. But for us tabletop football gamers, it presents an interesting conundrum. Specifically, how should Ryan Fitzpatrick be rated for SECOND SEASON, or any other tabletop pro football sim?
Here are the 2018 passing statistics for Fitzpatrick, as of October 25. Even including his cratering in Chicago, the numbers are pretty amazing: 68% completion, 4% interception, 8.5% touchdown, 15.6 yards per completion. Compare that to Jameis Winston's numbers for roughly the same number of pass attempts: 69% completion, 5% interception, 4% touchdown, 11.6 yards per completion. Eyeballing the two sets of stats, it's pretty clear that Fitzpatrick has the better numbers. The passer ratings back that up: Fitzpatrick's passer rating is 30 points better than Winston's (115 to 85). Yet, he's back on the bench.
How should this translate for tabletop football?
As the guy in charge of creating the ratings for SECOND SEASON, I see three possible approaches...
STATISTICAL PRECISION:Taking this approach, I'd simply assign the passer grades based on the cold, hard numbers. Both Fitzpatrick and Winston would be given CMP grades of AAA or AAAA (depending on the final offense passing point totals), but while Fitzpatrick would get an X of 9, a Y of 4 and a Q of 16 (or quite possibly 14 with a bomber symbol), Winston would get ratings inferior to Fitzpatrick: X of 4, Y of 5 and Q of 12. Rating them this way would put the burden of "realistic usage" on the gamer. This is an obligation that some gamers relish, but one from which others recoil. Probably few of us feels that Fitzpatrick would perform at this level for the entire season, but it would be up to me to restrict his usage. True, there could be some sort of "start" rating (similar to what we use for hockey and soccer goal tenders) to legislate how many starts he could get, but that would miss out on the whole "magic" phenomenon. With such a rating, it would be unlikely that Fitzpatrick would start successive games—more likely, he would start sporadically, which is in itself unrealistic relative to how he actually performed. It would also force you to suspend logic and common sense, bringing in a statistically superior passer at random points during the season and watch him light it up—and then return to the bench. Alternatively, you could restrict yourself to "as played lineups" for your project, but that brings about a lot of book-keeping that many in the hobby don't particularly enjoy.
SUBJECTIVE PROJECTION: Taking this approach, I'd rate the players based on their projected performance—how I think they would perform, over the course of an entire season. Or, more importantly, how I think Bucs coach Dirk Koetter thinks they would perform over the course of an entire season. Obviously, he feels Winston is the better performer. My ratings then would reflect that. What might that look like? Well, I would rate Winston based on his actual 2018 performance, whatever that turns out to be. I would then rate Fitzpatrick somewhat lower, so as to provide black-and-white incentive for tabletop gamers to play Winston over Fitzpatrick. I'd use career numbers as my guide. For his career, Fitzpatrick gets a CMP of A, X of 4, Y of 3, Q of 11. Not horrible,not great. (Note those are still arguably better grades than Winston's current ratings—however, one has to assume that Winston's numbers are on the upswing. And if they're not, maybe Koetter will give Fitzpatrick another chance to work his "magic!") I would then rely on chance/luck to recreate the "magic"—or not. Is it possible that Fitzpatrick could generate stellar numbers with average ratings? We've all seen this phenomenon on our own tabletops. Is it likely? No. But here's another question: If the 2018 season were to somehow rewind and start over, would "FitzMagic" re-occur? Not necessarily.
CREATIVE PRESENTATION: Here, I'd try to come up with a way to get Fitzpatrick to perform at his historical levels while providing disincentive to use him beyond his actual numbers. This is a path I take routinely with running backs who have gaudy yards-per-carry averages on relatively few attempts. They get a dagger rating that allows them to perform at the high level—for a time. Maybe three or four carries. Then they come back to earth. It wouldn't be so simple for FitzMagic—in fact, it could get VERY complicated!—but it might be do-able. Perhaps we choose ONE key stat and give it a dagger rating that allows for a high level of performance for, say, the first four games of the season. To me, the glaring stat would be yards per completion. Maybe Fitzpatrick gets a Q of 16[dagger] (or, perhaps even higher) with the dagger stipulating that after week four, his Q becomes a more pedestrian 9 or 10. Or, perhaps we give him a Q of 9[dagger] and say that he gets a Q of 16 whenever Winston is not able to play. That way, if Winston gets hurt (or, if you decide to suspend him yourself), "FitzMagic" can re-occur, possibly in a somewhat different context.
Obviously, there's no easy answer or "one size fits all" solution for how "Rating FitzMagic" should be done. The way SECOND SEASON works, the player's pass/run ratings can be just as important as his passing grades, and that will factor in. However, in this case, unless Winston makes all-pro noise in the last half of the 2018 season, I don't see either he or Fitzpatrick varying much from "average" (i.e., 1 / 1 rated) for the year. Reading over these comments, I wonder how I actually WILL rate "FitzMagic" when the time comes to do so next spring. Whatever I come up with, my hope is that you'll understand the process a bit more though what you've read in this article!
Questions? Comments? Contact us—we're always happy to help!