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Mailbag: Which teams will win in Week 5?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ryan from Bellingham, Wash., writes: Mike, I am looking for the Week 5 computer-generated NFL game winner picks that you guys put out last week. Have you posted it yet?

Mike Sando: Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats gets credit for those. He has posted those for Week 5 on the New York Times' Fifth Down Blog and I encourage you to check out his explanation there. I've reproduced the chart for Week 5.

The model thinks the Jaguars, 49ers, Cardinals and Vikings are very likely to win games involving NFC West teams in Week 5.

Burke also produces "efficiency rankings" for every team in the league. Among NFC West teams, his computer model gives the Cardinals a No. 13 ranking, higher than any team in the division. The 49ers are 17th, the Seahawks 24th and the Rams 32nd.

The rankings use what Burke calls a "generic win probability" for each team.

He explains: "GWP is based on a logistic regression model applied to current team stats. The model includes offensive and defensive passing and running efficiency, offensive turnover rates, and team penalty rates."


Brent from Amarillo, Texas writes: Your disregard for how good the 49ers actually are is really upseting to me especially including that you cover them on a normal basis and are obviously biased. You are saying, 'Wow, take a breath,' IF the cardinals win and the Niners lose -- which is a big if -- then the Cards are right there, when in fact they are still a game and a half behind and have to travel to San Francisco to even the series. The Cardinals could easily lose the next three just as the Niners could, but we have the edge in record and head to head. You have yet to give the Niners the credit that they deserve in any of your blogs and it's a shame you will not admit you were wrong in your assumption of how the division would play out.

Mike Sando: Time for another deep breath, Brent.

All I've done was point out the fact that the season is young and these teams -- the 49ers and Cardinals -- are only one game off expectations. It's time to reassess if the 49ers beat the Falcons and the Cardinals lose to the Texans.

As for disregarding how good the 49ers actually are, Mike Singletary was the one who said they were doing only "a decent job" after the team beat Seattle in posting a 2-0 record. I'm the one who wrote, "The progress coach Mike Singletary and the San Francisco 49ers have made since their previous home game against the Seattle Seahawks shined through in so many ways Sunday."

After the Week 3 defeat to the Vikings, I wrote, "Give Favre credit, but not entirely at the 49ers' expense. They showed more in this game than anyone reasonably could have expected even three weeks ago." I then elaborated upon five bullet points praising Shaun Hill, the 49ers' toughness and their recent draft choices.

My column following the season opener said the Cardinals would not be coasting to another division title. "The San Francisco 49ers will not be giving away games the way they did when former offensive coordinator Mike Martz was trying to run a Formula 1 offense with personnel better suited for a tractor pull," I wrote.

As for the "bias" alleged here, hey, I'm not the one using the pronoun "we" to characterize teams.


Dean from Pennsylvania writes: Someone is missing from your MVP Watch list. He leads the entire league in completion percentage and has done enough for his team to be 4-0 despite their 2-2 record. If two of his receivers hadn't dropped touchdown passes he would be 4-0. Where is the love for Ben Roethlisberger? Giving Brett Favre the MVP over one touchdown pass? Why don't we just hand out the awards now seeing that the media just wants Favre to have it anyway. Give him the Super Bowl too so Favre can finally equal Ben in Super Bowl rings.

Mike Sando: I cannot speak for "the media" as a whole, but I'm the guy who thought Favre didn't have much left. He's proved otherwise through four games and he belongs on the MVP Watch list behind Peyton Manning. Roethlisberger has appeared on the MVP Watch list earlier this season and I'm sure he will again. Sometimes it's tough settling on only 10 players in a week. Favre has impressed me more this season by making the clear difference in at least two games, and by posting a 4-0 record, and by throwing eight touchdown passes with only one interception (five TDs and four picks for Roethlisberger).

On the Super Bowl rings front, I'm not sure how that plays into this season. Roethlisberger has very good credentials. Focusing just on Super Bowls, though, he was pretty dismal in one and outstanding in the other. That didn't really come into play here.


Larry from Alaska writes: Do you have an updated "roided out roster" file posted for download? I also wanted to say that you're doing a great job. Do you think the Niners will hit the wall with their rough schedule ahead? After the bye, they play back-to-back road games (Texans and Colts). After that, they have an easy game against the Titans, but then have the Bears at home followed by Green Bay on the road. I'm a huge Niners fan, but they've really only beat up division foes. The only tough team they've played got the better of them.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Larry. I've put greater emphasis this season on charting every offensive play from every NFC West team. As a result, I've been updating the roided-out rosters on Saturdays, usually on planes. Hopefully I'll get those done soon and be able to post a download link.

On the 49ers, I don't know about hitting walls, but I do think their winning percentage will drop off. The team is probably not going to go from 3-1 to 12-4, in other words, and the upcoming schedule accounts for part of my reasoning. They're a smart team, an efficient team and looking very much like a team that will meet and possibly exceed my 8-8 expectations for them.


Jason from Anaheim, Calif., writes: Damn, just watched that 49ers video about Singletary and I'm a die-hard Rams fan, but I respect Singletary so much. Just the way he conducts himself and his team is so respectable, it's truly amazing.

Mike Sando: Singletary has answered every question I raised about him when the 49ers named him interim coach and then when they named him head coach. His leadership style is indeed inspiring and he has taken control of his emotions when needed. That was the one thing I wondered about, particularly given his outbursts during and after his first game as interim coach. He's fun to watch and cover.


Jonathan from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., writes: Sando, great blog! I want to play amateur psychologist for a minute and then get your thoughts. Jim Mora said in his press conference that he has searched everywhere for answers to why the Seahawks play poorly on the road (I think they've lost 11 of the last 13 road games).

Could the 'X' factor simply be this: Qwest Field is such an exceptional home environment to play in that going on the road is an even bigger mental letdown than it would normally be for a team? I think there could be something to this thought. Qwest is generally regarded as an extra tough place to play for a visiting team. So, wouldn't it be extra tough to play away from Qwest if that is what you are used to?

Perhaps the Seahawks have such a major lift at home that the lack of support on the road has a super-sized deflating effect. What do you think?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jonathan. There could be something to that. I wouldn't use that explanation to account for all the difference, but you should also account for how the home-field advantage affects the visiting teams. Not only does the Qwest Field crowd fire up the Seahawks, it makes life harder on opponents (most opponent false-start penalties, etc.).

Seattle might need to become a tougher team mentally as well. I'd be surprised if Seattle went into Minnesota and played the Vikings as tough as the 49ers played them. But that's just me and everyone knows I'm biased toward the 49ers.


Deric from Twin Falls, Idaho, writes: My proof of why the Seahawks are right there: close calls. I have seen multiple times when my Hawks have only needed one more play, whether for a first down, to score, or to get the defense off the field, only to have a very close play fall into the other team's hands. In watching other teams' games, I do not see this effect with the same consistency. Well, with the exception of the good teams. Look at San Francisco. When you watch them, they are winning much more of the close plays than they are losing. Seattle is right there, and I think it's less of skill or scheme and more about confidence. That is why I feel Seattle still has more then poor man's chance.

Mike Sando: There's no question the Seahawks are more competent and "closer" than the team that went 4-12 last season.

The reality, though, is that no team in the division and possibly the league could win games without both starting tackles and the starting quarterback.

Take away Shaun Hill, Joe Staley and Adam Snyder from the 49ers and life gets tougher. Take away Mike Gandy, Levi Brown and Kurt Warner from the Cardinals and life gets tougher. Take away Alex Barron, Jason Smith and Marc Bulger from the Rams and you get a 35-0 defeat at San Francisco.

I don't think the Seahawks will suddenly get and stay healthy. If they do, they'll be much more competitive and win more of those close calls.


Paul from Ronkonkoma, N.Y., writes: Why isn't Chris Wells starting yet for the Cardinals? He is clearly their best back and he shouldn't be benched for fumbles in practice when Tim Hightower has been fumbling the football this year and last year in live games. Why no change for a struggling team?

Mike Sando: I agree with you in general, but Wells fumbled in real games, not just practice. Also, Hightower did not fumble much at all last season.

The Cardinals still do need to find ways for Wells to produce.

As I told XTRA910 in Arizona: "What I want to see is Beanie Wells. All this stuff about, 'Oh, you don't want to put him out there with three receivers because of pass protection' -- wait a minute. You drafted him in the first round because you badly needed to upgrade your running game. And you are a three-receiver team. That is what you are going to play all season. You've got to find a way. You've got to make that work. I think that is what is going to be interesting after the bye. Do they find a way to work him in, because I think they have to."


Oz from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., writes: Mike, Even though my team has a losing record, I stil love what you do. In fact, you are by the most informed national guy on my team IMO. Here is my issue with the Cards. I am starting to get frustrated by the Cardinals' lack of consistency and I just can't put my finger on the reasoning. I believe in Ken Whisenhunt and as a Steelers alum, you know he prides consitency to the Nth degree.

So, is it the team leadership? Is it Kurt Warner and Adrian Wilson not leading properly? How is it the team can let a fumble like Hightower's last game COMPLETELY flip the momentum? They were playing lights-out in the first quarter and it all fell apart after that fumble against Indy and Peyton Manning's subsequent drive. It's obvious to me that they lack mental toughness when things get tough (see EVERY blowout the last two years) and let success go to their heads (see Rodgers-Cromartie, Dominique) which is a maddening combination. So, who does the blame lay on for that that? The coaches or the players?

Mike Sando: I see it as a maturity issue. Some coaches and coaches' staffs seem to overcome that issue more quickly than others. In the end, though, I think it comes down to the types of players a team has on its roster. I think that tends to be the case with penalties as well. A coach can stress what he wants to stress, but the players have to do their parts and some players never seem to learn.

Whisenhunt faced a different type of challenge in taking over the Cardinals. He needed to change the culture and reset expectations, but the team had too much talent for him to simply blow up the roster. He had to work with what he inherited, for better or worse. I think we're seeing the better and worse with this team. It's a continual challenge for Whisenhunt to get them playing with consistency.

Rodgers-Cromartie will presumably mature with age. He enjoyed success quickly and needs to learn how to sustain excellence.