The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

The Best Football (and Non-Football) Books of 2012

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I have a pretty broad array of interests. In addition to football, I really enjoy football analytics, studying football film, game theory in football, and writing fantasy football books.. Here are some of my favorite football (and a few non-football) books from 2012:

“Written for football fans who loved Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, or Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, Game Plan is a book that will entertain and inform. The book tackles the issue of decision making and strategy in the NFL from the viewpoint of a true contrarian. No NFL tradition is sacred in this look at why so many NFL teams have such a difficult time making good decisions. More importantly, Game Plan offers a radical solution that can make almost any team better.

Along the way Game Plan makes a number of compelling comparisons between football and other domains. The NFL’s coaches are compared to poker players, while the league’s front offices are compared to doctors. By using analogies like these, Game Plan illustrates how NFL teams can solve their problems by looking at the way that other industries have already solved similar problems.”

“Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair’s breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger—all by the time he was thirty. The New York Times now publishes FiveThirtyEight.com, where Silver is one of the nation’s most influential political forecasters.

Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the “prediction paradox”: The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future.

In keeping with his own aim to seek truth from data, Silver visits the most successful forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA. He explains and evaluates how these forecasters think and what bonds they share. What lies behind their success? Are they good—or just lucky? What patterns have they unraveled? And are their forecasts really right? He explores unanticipated commonalities and exposes unexpected juxtapositions. And sometimes, it is not so much how good a prediction is in an absolute sense that matters but how good it is relative to the competition. In other cases, prediction is still a very rudimentary—and dangerous—science.”

“Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his seminal work in psychology that challenged the rational model of judgment and decision making, is one of our most important thinkers. His ideas have had a profound and widely regarded impact on many fields—including economics, medicine, and politics—but until now, he has never brought together his many years of research and thinking in one book.

In the highly anticipated Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. The impact of loss aversion and overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the challenges of properly framing risks at work and at home, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning the next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems work together to shape our judgments and decisions.”

“The quarterback position may be the most important on the football field, but in fantasy football, things are different.The fact is, these team leaders are simply not as valuable as other positions in your fantasy football lineup. Before taking Tom Brady in the first round or Matthew Stafford in the second, you need to think about what you’re losing. After all, by getting these quarterbacks early, you’re sacrificing some great talent at running back and wide receiver. And this is the essence of The Late Round Quarterback. Your ultimate goal during a fantasy football draft is to select the most valuable team possible. It’s the first step to winning your championship.”

“In most domains of life, skill and luck seem hopelessly entangled. Different levels of skill and varying degrees of good and bad luck are the realities that shape our lives—yet few of us are adept at accurately distinguishing between the two. Imagine what we could accomplish if we were able to tease out these two threads, examine them, and use the resulting knowledge to make better decisions.

In this provocative book, Michael Mauboussin helps to untangle these intricate strands to offer the structure needed to analyze the relative importance of skill and luck. He offers concrete suggestions for making these insights work to your advantage. Once we understand the extent to which skill and luck contribute to our achievements, we can learn to deal with them in making decisions.

The Success Equation helps us move toward this goal by:

• Establishing a foundation so we better understand skill and luck, and can pinpoint where each is most relevant
• Helping us develop the analytical tools necessary to understand skill and luck
• Offering concrete suggestions about how to take these findings and put them to work”

“In this irreverent and illuminating book, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, change, and probability reveal a tremendous amount about our daily lives, and how we misunderstand the significance of everything from a casual conversation to a major financial setback. As a result, successes and failures in life are often attributed to clear and obvious cases, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance.

The rise and fall of your favorite movie star of the most reviled CEO–in fact, of all our destinies–reflects as much as planning and innate abilities. Even the legendary Roger Maris, who beat Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, was in all likelihood not great but just lucky. And it might be shocking to realize that you are twice as likely to be killed in a car accident on your way to buying a lottery ticket than you are to win the lottery.”

“The bestselling author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos tackles perhaps the most mind-bending question in modern physics and cosmology: Is our universe the only universe?

There was a time when “universe” meant all there is. Everything. Yet, a number of theories are converging on the possibility that our universe may be but one among many parallel universes populating a vast multiverse. Here, Briane Greene, one of our foremost physicists and science writers, takes us on a breathtaking journey to a multiverse comprising an endless series of big bangs, a multiverse with duplicates of every one of us, a multiverse populated by vast sheets of spacetime, a multiverse in which all we consider real are holographic illusions, and even a multiverse made purely of math–and reveals the reality hidden within each.

Using his trademark wit and precision, Greene presents a thrilling survey of cutting-edge physics and confronts the inevitable question: How can fundamental science progress if great swaths of reality lie beyond our reach? The Hidden Reality is a remarkable adventure through a world more vast and strange than anything we could have imagined.”

“The Essential Smart Football is an examination of football’s most important strategies and ideas, through the lens of the game’s best coaches, players, and schemes. Brilliantly written and eschewing unnecessary jargon and technicality, it makes a major contribution to our understanding of football to help all of us — coaches, players, and fans — appreciate the game we love all the more.

The Essential Smart Football features analysis of football’s top strategists and their schemes, including:

  • Urban Meyer’s spread offense
  • Tom Brady’s no-huddle attack
  • Bill Belichick’s hybrid defense
  • Mike Leach’s pass-happy “Air Raid” offense
  • The most popular scheme for running the ball in the NFL
  • Nick Saban’s school of defense.The book also includes explorations of modern approaches to the West Coast Offense, evolutions in defensive fronts and coverages, the changing role of the running game in spread and pro-style offenses, and much more”
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