Our weeklong preview of the previews concludes today with a look at the top issue on the market, Street & Smith's Pro Football 2005 Yearbook (200 pages; $6.99 U.S. $9.99 Canada)
Street & Smith's offers a four-page profile of each team, smartly designed and highlighted by a potpourri of facts, stats and mini-features. The lead articles (not bylined) do not break down teams by individual units, eschewing the clichéd approach employed in each of the other previews we reviewed and that, when coupled with incomprehensible grading systems, went up our ass sideways.
Instead, the lead articles tend to look at challenges facing each team and reading each profile gives a good sense of the issues that fans are fretting about heading into training camp. Dallas' preview, for example, discusses the doubts many feel about Drew Bledsoe's arrival following a less-than-productive third season in Buffalo.
Street & Smith's is also the only preview with the cojones to buck convention, look at the Cold, Hard Football Facts and take on the real issue facing Indy in the postseason, during what it calls the Triplet (Manning, Harrison, James) Era.
"Is the problem on offense?" asks Street & Smith's. "While the Colts' offense drills the rest of the league, it continued to misfire against top competition, scoring just 17 points in the two playoff losses at New England. The triplets have been together for six years and have just one conference championship game appearance (a loss) to their credit. The Colts are 3-5 in postseason games in the Triplet Era."
As the Cold, Hard Football Facts have proven on several occasions, Indy's biggest postseason problem IS the offense: It's averaged a dismal 10 points per game during the five losses in the "Triplet Era" and a humiliating 5.7 PPG during the last three losses (41-0, 24-14, 20-3). Kudos to Street & Smith for choosing to put Cold, Hard Football Facts – and not hype – on their pedestal of prognostication.
The team profiles also include:
• an overall team grade
• a list of 2005 draft picks and short draft report
• a list of the top runners in each franchise's history
• a short sidebar ("The Book on...") that takes a look at a newsmaking or productive yet largely unheralded player from each team
• 2004 results and team stats
• key quotes and factoids speckled throughout
• a scorecard with the 2005 schedule and a place to write in results.
The profile also offers a 1- to 5-star power ranking for nine units on each team, from quarterbacks to management. But like other publications, Street & Smith's turns this potentially useful feature into an exercise in hyperbole and gross grade inflation. For example, 127 of the 288 units rated (44.1 percent) come in at above average (4 or more stars) on Street & Smith's system. Just 49 units (17 percent) rate below average (2 or fewer stars).
However, the rosy hyperbole is not nearly as egregious as it is in the other previews we examined. Lindy's, for example, told us that just 0.7 percent of the units in the NFL are below average – a contention that's literally, physically, logically and mathematically impossible to justify. Plus, the Street & Smith's rankings are an ancillary feature in the team profiles, not the focus of the report as they are in other previews.
Street & Smith's does not venture to predict each team's final record, only their finish within their division. It has Philly over Indy in Super Bowl XL (page 42), toeing the pigskin preview party line this year. Three of five previews pick the same Super Bowl participants and the same Super Bowl result.
An occasional cheerleader action photo is tossed in on each team's page, offering some small but compelling cleavage shots, a titillating Tennessee Titan cheervixen (page 97) dressed as a naughty police girl (O.K, we're just guessing she's naughty) and an impressive split by a very, very flexible Dallas Cowgirl (page 129).
Street & Smith's pieces together some very informative and entertaining features. Its look at the "Elite 8" ranks the top dynasties in NFL history (page 10). They also base their rankings on something near and dear to our hearts and to yours: Cold, Hard Football Facts. The author, contributor G. Scott Thomas, bases his rankings upon the statistical likelihood that another team could duplicate each dynasty's performance.
The finer points and methodology are debatable, but it's a very solid list and we admire the author's earnest faith in Cold, Hard Football Facts: the greatest dynasty, in his estimation, is the one whose accomplishments have the least statistical probability of being repeated.
The NFL's current dynasty, New England, comes in at No. 5, with the odds 33,900 to 1 that another team could duplicate its feat. (New England will end up at about the same spot on our soon-to-be published list of the top dynasties in NFL history.) Thomas places the Packers of the 1960s at No. 1 (2.24 million to 1), but he discounts the four years Cleveland spent in the old All-America Football Conference (1946-49). We, of course, believe those Browns teams of 1946-1955, which dominated two professional leagues, comprise the greatest dynasty in pro football history.
The issue is chock-full of other dandy features:
• a retro piece on the USFL (page 36) that will bring back a lot of memories for anyone in their 30s or older who remembers the fledgling league that grabbed some of football's top names
• a look at the controversial evolution of instant replay (page 16)
• a four-page preview of the CFL, whose season got underway last week (page 188)
• a short profile of new Oakland receiver Randy Moss and a comparison of him to other famous bad boys in NFL history (page 32).
Ever wonder how modern players stack up against the all-time greats? This data is often hard to find. Record books, for example, typically offer just that: records and record-holders, not a list of the 20 most productive players in a different category. So if you want to know how many players stand between Drew Bledsoe and all-time passing yards leader Dan Marino, you'll have to do some digging.
Fortunately, Street & Smith has done much of the dirty work for you, offering lists of the top 50 players in 10 different categories, ranging from points scored to sacks. It's a highly informative list that will help resolve a laundry list of barroom debates this season, assuming you're not ashamed to tote football previews from one watering hole to the next. But hey, you read this site. How much pride can you have?
The lists make for interesting reading: Bledsoe, for example, needs just 744 passing yards to surpass the production of two legends, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana, and become the 8th most prolific passer in NFL history. With a relatively productive year (3,223 passing yards) he'll also move past Dan Fouts into the No. 7 spot on the list – right behind the man he replaced in Dallas, Vinny Testaverde.
The back of the book features a comprehensive overview of team and individual statistics, broken out by conference, a list of key NFL records, 2004 standings, a Super Bowl XXXIX review, a list of every Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP and a complete week-by-week 2005 NFL schedule.
If you're looking for one indispensable package of charts and data to keep on hand this season, Street & Smith's has it.
Street & Smith's does not delve as deeply into the fantasy side of things as some other publications. But that's a-O.K. with us. We prefer to focus on real rather than imaginary football games. With that said, many of you do care about fantasy football and Street & Smith's offers a utilitarian, nuts-and-bolts fantasy package.
Its fantasy introduction, written by staff writer Matt McKenzie, offers one key tip:
"Take a running back above any other position player." Sound advice, but it's advice that is found in many other places.
Essentially, the rest of the package lists the top players at various offensive positions, from quarterbacks down to team defenses. For those who choose not to devote their lives to their fantasy draft and play it just for fun, it's a useful section to keep on hand come draft day.
We were impressed with Street & Smith's highly useful, informative and varied package. No other preview offers a better list of meaningful statistics and data, though Pro Football Weekly has a compendium that's just as impressive. Street & Smith's fantasy overviews are helpful, especially for average and new fantasy team owners. Its team profiles are slickly packaged and avoid the clichés that plague other previews. Finally, no other preview includes such an interesting collection of feature articles.
Sure, Street & Smith's handed out inflated grades (or power rankings, in its usage). But, as we mentioned, these rankings were only an ancillary element of the team profile pages and not nearly as egregious as the knob-rubbing outlooks found in other previews. And sure, its compilation of gratuitous cheerleader snapshots leaves a lot to be desired. But, hey, we can find pictures of pretty cheerleaders in plenty of other places, including here, here and here. We love you, Internet!
At the end of the day, Street & Smith's edges out Pro Football Weekly as the top preview on the market today and stands head and shoulders above the uninspired efforts turned out by the folks at Sporting News and Athlon. If you're going to purchase just one preview, this is one that you can keep on the coffee table and reference throughout the season.