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Records Against the Spread

The Titans lost to the Jaguars last night, dropping Tennessee’s record to a woeful 2-13. The 2014 season started off nicely for the Titans, who upset the Chiefs in Kansas City, 26-10, on opening day. Since then, not only has Tennessee gone just 1-13 (the sole win being a 2-point home victory against Jacksonville), but the team is a mind-bogglingly poor 2-11-1 against the spread.

Points spread data is not official, of course, and some sources of data are better than others. Using what is available at Pro-Football-Reference, I calculated the worst teams against the spread since 1978. If the Titans fail to cover next week against the Colts, they will end the year at 3-12-1 against the spread. That would make them one of just 13 teams since 1978 to post such a poor ATS record. On the other hand, it would only tie them with another AFC South team from the past two years:

TeamYearWLTwin%ATS WATS LATS TPerc
BAL200751100.31331300.188
NWE198121400.12531300.188
PIT19809700.56331300.188
CIN198741100.26731200.2
HOU201321400.12531210.219
STL201121400.12531210.219
NYG200341200.2531210.219
OAK200341200.2531210.219
DAL199761000.37531210.219
HOU199421400.12531210.219
BAL198121400.12531210.219
SFO197821400.12531210.219
HOU19821800.1112700.222
PHI201241200.2541200.25
TAM201141200.2541200.25
CAR201021400.12541200.25
JAX200851100.31341200.25
STL20027900.43841200.25
CIN200221400.12541200.25
ARI200031300.18841200.25
OAK199741200.2541200.25
CIN199131300.18841200.25
RAM199131300.18841200.25
NWE199011500.06341200.25
NYJ198941200.2541200.25
NOR198551100.31341200.25
ATL198441200.2541200.25
HOU198431300.18841200.25
DEN20088800.541110.281
PHI200561000.37541110.281
SFO200210600.62541110.281
NOR199931300.18841110.281
CIN199831300.18841110.281
NYJ199241200.2541110.281
DEN199051100.31341110.281
MIA198861000.37541110.281
DET197921400.12541110.281
CHI20138800.541020.313
WAS201331300.18851100.313
OAK201241200.2551100.313
KAN201221400.12551100.313
CLE201051100.31351100.313
ARI201051100.31351100.313
DEN201041200.2551100.313
JAX20097900.43851100.313
DET200921400.12541020.313
DEN20077900.43851100.313
STL200731300.18851100.313
DEN20069700.56351100.313
STL200561000.37551100.313
NOR200531300.18851100.313
SEA20049700.56351100.313
TEN200451100.31351100.313
CHI200241200.2551100.313
CLE200031300.18851100.313
MIN199910600.62541020.313
SFO199941200.2551100.313
DET199851100.31351100.313
STL199841200.2551100.313
DET199651100.31351100.313
DEN19947900.43841020.313
PHI19947900.43851100.313
RAM199351100.31351100.313
IND199341200.2551100.313
NYG199261000.37551100.313
CHI199251100.31351100.313
NYG19918800.551100.313
IND199111500.06351100.313
CHI198961000.37551100.313
WAS19887900.43851100.313
STL198551100.31351100.313
MIN198431300.18851100.313
GNB19838800.541020.313
SDG198361000.37551100.313
NYG198331210.21951100.313
NYJ198041200.2551100.313
DAL197911500.68851100.313

The 2007 Ravens went 5-11 overall and 3-13 against the spread, making them the worst team in recent history when it comes to covering the point spread. That year marked the end of the Brian Billick, Steve McNair, and Kyle Boller eras in Baltimore. And while first-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt is probably safe, Titans fans can rest easy knowing that the Jake Locker era is almost certainly over. As for Zach Mettenberger and Charlie Whitehurst? The door may be about to close on them as well. After losing to the Jets and Jaguars, Tennessee looks to be in great shape once the music stops to land Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.

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Week Fifteen Game Scripts: Bengals Dominate Manziel

Entering week 15, one of the biggest storylines was that Johnny Manziel was set to make his first start of the season. Manziel’s opening performance was a flop: his -0.56 Adjusted Yards per Attempt average was the second lowest by a quarterback this season, although not the lowest by a quarterback in a Browns/Bengals game. The Bengals won 30-0 in a game that was never in doubt for much of the second half; Cincinnati’s +16.6 Game Script was the highest of the week.

The Patriots, Chiefs, and Saints all posted double digit Game Script scores as well. In the process, New England clinched the AFC East, Kansas City kept their playoff hopes alive and avenged an uglier loss to Oakland, and the Saints? Well, New Orleans still controls its own destiny for the playoffs despite a 6-8 record.

The comebacks were light this week, as only Detroit (-3.3) and the Jets (-1.5) managed to win with a negative Game Script. The table below shows the Game Scripts data from week 15: [click to continue…]

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Nuke

Would you believe this guy is good at catching footballs?

Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is having a fine year. While his 69 receptions is tied for only 24th in this era where catching passes is easier than ever, he’s averaging an impressive 16.9 yards per reception. No player with more than 50 receptions has a higher yards per catch average, which is why Hopkins ranks 9th in receiving yards despite ranking 24th in receptions.

But 9th is still just 9th, which is a long cry from 1st. But consider that the Texans are just 31st in pass attempts this year: in that light, ranking 9th looks a lot more impressive. And then consider the state of the Houston quarterback play. The Texans actually rank above average in yards per attempt, but there’s a reason that statistic is misleading: that reason is DeAndre Hopkins.

Houston passers (Ryan Fitzpatrick, mostly, with some Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage cameos) are averaging 7.4 yards per attempt, but that is the result of a 10.7 Y/A average on passes to Hopkins and 6.2 yards per attempt on all other passes.

So start with a player who ranks 9th in receiving yards, adjust for the fact that he’s on the team with the second fewest passes in football, and then consider that his quarterbacks are terrible on passes to everyone else on his team. That’s how you end up with Hopkins being responsible for a league-high 38.6 percent of his team’s receiving yards. [click to continue…]

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New York Times, Post Week-15 (2014): AFC Parity

This week at the New York Times: AFC and its (lack of) parity:

The New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos have the two best records in the A.F.C. The Indianapolis Colts are the class of the A.F.C. South, at 10-4, but no other team in that division has a winning record. The Cincinnati Bengals are first in the North, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, longtime division heavyweights, are tied for second.

The San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs cannot challenge the Broncos in the West, but both teams have winning records. The Miami Dolphins, despite some early optimism, have fallen to .500. On the other side of the spectrum, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders are both again in line for a top-five pick. The Jets have scored the third fewest points among teams in the conference, and quarterback Geno Smith has the lowest passer rating in the N.F.L.

This is an accurate snapshot of how the A.F.C. looks with only two weeks left in the 2014 regular season. It also describes the conference at the conclusion of the 2013 regular season. Despite the perception that parity exists to a greater degree in the N.F.L. than in other major professional sports, that has not been the case over the last several years in the A.F.C.

You can read the full article here.

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College Football Season Recap

The college football regular season is over. You can view the SRS ratings for each team here, and the single-game SRS ratings from each game involving an FBS team here. That list is sorted by the best single-game performances of the year, and Ohio State’s 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game takes the top prize there. But today I thought it would be fun to go back and look at some of the most unusual performances of the year.

Biggest Upset: Northwestern State 30, Lousiana Tech 27

Northwestern State is an FCS school with a rating of just 23.7. Louisiana Tech is actually pretty good, finishing 8-5 and 37th in the SRS with a rating of 43.4. Given that the game was in Louisiana, we would put Northwestern State as 23-point underdogs, but on September 20th, they pulled the shocking upset. Although it was not the most noteworthy upset of the day, because….

Biggest Upset involving a Power 5 school: Indiana 31, Missouri 27

Missouri won the SEC East, although the Tigers were not a great team, finishing with a 48.9 SRS rating. Of course, Indiana is kind of terrible: the Hoosiers began the year 0-7 in Big Ten play before edging by Purdue in the season finale. Given that the game was in Columbia and that Indiana finished with a 31.4 SRS rating, Missouri should have won by 20.4 points. Instead, Indiana pulled the shocking upset, and gave SEC haters something to crow about.

The table below shows the 25 biggest upsets of the year: the Virginia Tech/Ohio State game slides into the top five, as does this year’s Bedlam game, which flew a bit under the radar given what else was going on in college football last week. For each team, I’ve listed their SRS rating and their opponent’s SRS rating, along with the difference between the two teams’ ratings after taking into account home field.

[click to continue…]

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2014 College Bowl Preview

The Army/Navy game concluded our college football regular season. As a result, it’s now Bowl season for the Football Bowl Subdivision. The table below shows all 38 games, along with each team’s SRS ratings, the average of the two teams’ ratings, and the difference between the two ratings.

DateFavoriteSRSUnderdogSRSBowlLocationAvgDiff
12-20-14Utah45.3Colorado St41.1Royal Purple Las Vegas BowlLas Vegas NV43.24.1
12-20-14Utah St37.8UTEP29.6Gildan New Mexico BowlAlbuquerque NM33.78.2
12-20-14Western Michigan34Air Force32.8Famous Idaho Potato BowlBoise ID33.41.2
12-20-14Nevada34.2Louisiana-Lafayette30.2R+L Carriers New Orleans BowlNew Orleans LA32.24
12-20-14South Alabama25.9Bowling Green23.9Raycom Media Camellia BowlMontgomery AL24.92
12-22-14Memphis41.6Brigham Young38.2Miami Beach BowlMiami FL39.93.4
12-23-14Marshall46.3Northern Illinois34Boca Raton BowlBoca Raton FL40.112.3
12-23-14Navy34.6San Diego St32.1San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia BowlSan Diego CA33.42.4
12-24-14Western Kentucky35.5Central Michigan30.2Popeyes Bahamas BowlNassau BA32.85.2
12-24-14Rice30.6Fresno St29.8Hawaii BowlHonolulu HI30.20.8
12-26-14Louisiana Tech43.4Illinois33.7Zaxby`s Heart of Dallas BowlDallas TX38.59.8
12-26-14North Carolina St37.8Central Florida36.8Bitcoin St. Petersburg BowlSt. Petersburg FL37.31
12-26-14North Carolina37Rutgers34.2Quick Lane BowlDetroit MI35.62.8
12-27-14Southern Cal51.3Nebraska47.7National University Holiday BowlSan Diego CA49.53.6
12-27-14Arizona St47.5Duke42.4Hyundai Sun BowlEl Paso TX455.2
12-27-14Miami FL44.1South Carolina41.6Duck Commander Independence BowlShreveport LA42.82.5
12-27-14Virginia Tech41.8Cincinnati39Military BowlAnnapolis MD40.42.9
12-27-14Boston College42.5Penn State37.3New Era Pinstripe BowlBronx NY39.95.2
12-29-14Oklahoma52.8Clemson47.1Russell Athletic Florida Citrus BowlOrlando FL49.95.7
12-29-14Texas A&M47.6West Virginia47.2AutoZone Liberty BowlMemphis TN47.40.4
12-29-14Arkansas52.2Texas41.9Advocare V100 Texas BowlHouston TX4710.3
12-30-14Georgia56.9Louisville47.1Belk BowlCharlotte NC529.9
12-30-14LSU52.3Notre Dame42.9Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlNashville TN47.69.4
12-30-14Stanford48.3Maryland39.9Foster Farms BowlSanta Clara CA44.18.4
12-31-14TCU60.5Mississippi58Chick-fil-A Peach BowlAtlanta GA59.32.5
12-31-14Mississippi St55.5Georgia Tech50.7Capital One Orange BowlMiami Gardens FL53.14.8
12-31-14Arizona48.6Boise St44.8VIZIO Fiesta BowlGlendale AZ46.73.8
01-01-15Alabama61.6Ohio State57.6Allstate Sugar BowlNew Orleans LA59.64.1
01-01-15Baylor57.4Michigan St56.1Goodyear Cotton Bowl ClassicArlington TX56.81.3
01-01-15Oregon61Florida St51.6Rose Bowl Presented by Northwestern MutualPasadena CA56.39.4
01-01-15Auburn55.9Wisconsin49.7Outback BowlTampa FL52.86.3
01-01-15Missouri48.9Minnesota44Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus BowlOrlando FL46.54.8
01-02-15Kansas St53.7UCLA50.3Valero Alamo BowlSan Antonio TX523.4
01-02-15Tennessee47Iowa41TaxSlayer BowlJacksonville FL446.1
01-02-15Washington44.2Oklahoma St37.8TicketCity Cactus BowlTempe AZ416.4
01-02-15Pittsburgh40Houston33.1Lockheed Martin Armed Forces BowlFort Worth TX36.57
01-03-15Florida47.4East Carolina38Birmingham BowlBirmingham AL42.79.4
01-04-15Arkansas St34.1Toledo33.8GoDaddy BowlMobile AL340.4

Best Bowls

The Sugar Bowl, featuring Alabama and Ohio State, checks in as the best game of Bowl season, as measured by the average ratings of the two teams. The Crimson Tide have the best SRS rating, while Ohio State has the 5th highest rating.

The other playoff matchup comes in the Rose Bowl, but Florida State’s poor rating actually drops them game to #4 behind the Peach Bowl (TCU/Ole Miss) and even the Cotton Bowl Classic (Baylor/Michigan State).

The worst game? That’s South Alabama and Bowling Green in the new Camelia Bowl. Yes, the inaugural game of a new Alabama Bowl game featuring two six-loss teams will kick off at 9:20 on the opening night of Bowl season. Make sure you have your schedule cleared for that one.

Biggest Mismatches

Marshall and Northern Illinois face off in a game that, on the surface, appears to be a very good one. Marshall is 12-1 and a legitimately good team. On the other hand, while Northern Illinois is 11-2, a bunch of close wins against MAC teams doesn’t make UNI a good team. The Huskies lost by 38 against Arkansas and by 17 at home against a bad Central Michigan team. Northern Illinois is 12.3 points worse than Marshall in the SRS, which makes traveling to Boca Raton even more depressing.

Arkansas/Texas, Georgia/Louisville, and Louisiana Tech/Illinois are all 10-point mismatches, too. Of course, Bowl season has a habit of deviating from the regular season script, so don’t blame me when all the underdogs win. According to Vegas, the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is the most lopsided matchup. One reason for that: Stanford is the de facto host here, and the Cardinal are 14 point favorites against Maryland. [click to continue…]

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The Worst Matchups in NFL History

Johnson returns to Nashville

Johnson returns to Nashville

The Jets and the Titans play tomorrow, in a matchup of 2-11 teams that ranks as one of the worst in NFL history. If you’re watching this game, you’re either a diehard fan of both teams or are fascinated by the idea of a Chris Johnson revenge game (which is probably even sadder than being a fan of either team). It’s even worse than the Colts-Jaguars game of a few years ago, when the 2-13 Colts needed a loss in Jacksonville to the 4-11 Jags in order to secure the rights to Andrew Luck. Something similar could be on the line in Tennessee: with the Jets, Bucs, and Titans all 2-11 (not to mention the Jaguars and Raiders), there are three quarterback-needy teams in a draft with two marquee quarterbacks: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. As a result, the loser of the New York/Tennessee game could ultimately be the long-term winner.

This will be the first matchup of 2-11 teams since a 2008 game between the Rams and Seahawks. That game turned out to be much less exciting for draftniks with the benefit of hindsight: St. Louis selected Jason Smith with the second overall pick, while the Seahawks drafted Aaron Curry fourth overall.

So what’s the worst matchup of teams in NFL history? You can’t use just winning percentage, and it’s hard to compare teams who have played a different number of games. One solution is to add 11 games of .500 ball to each team. For the Jets and Titans, that would make both teams 7.5-16.5, which translates to an adjusted winning percentage of 0.313. That would be tied for the 19th worst game in NFL history.

The worst? There’s a tie there, too, involving a pair of Colts teams a decade apart. In 1981, the 1-14 Colts defeated the 2-13 Patriots. Baltimore had an adjusted (after adding 11 games of .500 play) winning percentage of 0.250, while New England was at 0.288, for an average of 0.269. The win swung the first overall pick to the Patriots and dropped the Colts to second overall, although Kenneth Sims and Johnie Cooks didn’t change the fate of either franchise. Ten years later, the Colts were again 1-14 and were scheduled to play the 2-13 Bucs. The twist here: Tampa Bay had already traded the team’s first round pick in 1992 to Indianapolis in exchange for Chris Chandler in 1990. The Bucs defeated the Colts, and Indianapolis selected Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt with the first two picks. Spoiler alert: that didn’t change the fate of the franchise, either. [click to continue…]

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The Arizona Cardinals and Pythagenpat Records

The secret to Arizona's success

The secret to Arizona’s success

At 8-1 — but with just a 0.668 Pythagenpat winning percentage — I wrote about the good fortune of the Arizona Cardinals. Fortune is relative: the Cardinals have lost both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries, and just about every key contributor you can think of along the way. But the team’s good fortune when it comes to Pythagenpat winning percentage has continued. (For the uninitiated, you can read more about how to calculate Pythagenpat records here.)

Since that article, Arizona has gone 3-2 despite being outscored by 10 points. That is both a fact and doubles as the most 2014 Arizona Cardinals sentence you could ever write. The 11-3 Cardinals are definitely not the worst 11-3 team ever, but they aren’t too far from the top of the list. If we look at all teams with at least 11 wins in their first 14 games, Arizona checks in as the 8th biggest overachiever. Given that the 2004 Falcons had a worst points differential *and* were fortunate to face an easy schedule, Arizona can’t match Atlanta when it comes to worst 11-3 teams. [click to continue…]

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Number one in our hearts

Number one in our hearts

Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 3,652 yards and 35 touchdowns on his 416 pass attempts this year. He has throw just three interceptions, although he has taken 26 sacks for 156 yards. Do the math, and Rodgers is averaging 9.19 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this year. Through 14 weeks, the NFL average is 6.24 ANY/A, which means Rodgers is averaging 2.95 ANY/A better than average. Over the course of his 442 dropbacks, this means Rodgers has produced 1,303 yards of Adjusted Net Yards of Value over average.

ANY/A leaves much to be desired as the end-all, be-all measure of quarterback play, but it’s simple, easy to understand, and works well for historical comparisons. At the end of the year, I will produce an SOS-adjusted version of the statistic, but today, I just wanted to take a quick look at the leaderboard. There are a few surprises, after the very expected result at the top of the list. [click to continue…]

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Advanced Football Analytics Podcast: Appearance #4

Yes, I somehow keep getting invited back to talk football on the Advanced Football Analytics (formerly Advanced NFL Stats) podcast.  In this episode, we talk college football playoffs, preview week 15 match-ups, and discuss some of my recent articles.

You can listen here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS

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Week Fourteen Game Scripts: Comeback Colts Return

Luck had gone 20 consecutive regular season games without a game-winning drive

Luck had gone 20 consecutive regular season games without a game-winning drive

As a rookie in 2012, Andrew Luck led Indianapolis on a league-high seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. In 2013, the Colts won games with Game Scripts of -11, -4.6, and -2.8, and Luck recorded four 4th quarter comebacks for the second straight year.

This year? Indianapolis did not have a single victory with a negative Game Script, and Luck did not record a game-winning drive or a 4th quarter comeback, until this past weekend in Cleveland. It’s worth noting that the comeback was in part the result of Luck’s mistakes: the Browns raced out to a 21-7 lead thanks to two Luck turnovers that went for defensive touchdowns. But in the final four minutes, the star quarterback led the Colts on an 11-play, 90-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown.

That was the only big comeback of the week. On the blowout side, the Carolina Panthers — you know, the team that was on a six-game losing streak and had not won a game since October 5th — produced the most dominant performance of the week, finishing with a Game Script of +22.9 in a blowout over New Orleans. The Giants similarly embarrassed the Titans, producing a Game Script of +18.5.

Below are the week 14 Game Scripts data, and three games near the top of the list show the difference between Game Script and points differential.  The Packers had a Game Script of 10.6 but won by only 6 against Atlanta, while St. Louis won by 24 but with a Game Script of only 10.  But the Game Script measures the average points differential throughout the game: Green Bay led Atlanta 31-7 at halftime, while the Rams were up by just six points at the break.  The Broncos led Buffalo 24-3 after three quarters, which led to a Game Script of +9.6, even though Denver wind up winning by only seven points. [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Marginal Drops

Munir Mohamed, a reader of Football Perspective, has agreed to write this guest post for us. And I thank him for it.



Regular readers are familiar with Adam Steele’s three-part series here on Marginal YAC; today, I want to look at drops, and marginal drops.  As Adam noted, Sportingcharts.com keeps track of dropped passes.1

Her’s how to read the table below, which is sorted by career Marginal Drops.  Over the course of this data set, Eli Manning completed 2,929 of his 5,008 passes, for a completion percentage of 58.5%.  Manning’s Giants dropped an estimated 299.4 of his passes; if we add those to his 2,929 completions, Manning was therefore “On Target” with 64.5% of his throws.  Relative to league average, Manning had 44 more drops than we would expect. Manning’s drop percentage — i.e., his number of drops divided by his total number of completions and drops, was 9.3%, which represents his percentage of catchable balls that were dropped. Manning lost 516.5 yards from his marginal drops, or 52.9 yards last from marginal drops per 300 completions. [click to continue…]

  1. Some fine print: Unfortunately, that data is only recorded on a team level, not at the individual passer level.  As a result, I gave each quarterback his pro rata portion of his team’s dropped passes relative to the percentage of team incompletions for the entire team.

    For example, let’s say the Jaguars have 30 dropped passes. Assume QB A for the Jaguars has 200 incompletions, and QB B has 100 incompletions. My methodology handled this by crediting QB A with 20 dropped passes and QB B with 10 drops. The numbers in this article are from 1992-2013. In the table below, “Marginal Drops” represents how many drops above average a quarterback had compared to league average rate. If a passer has positive Marginal Drops, this means he had more drops than expected. []

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New York Times, Post Week-14 (2014): Under-the-Radar Ravens

I was on vacation last week, but the weekly New York Times posts are back! This week, a look at the Ravens, a team quietly positioning itself as one of the league’s best.

With three weeks remaining in the N.F.L. regular season, the cream is rising to the top.

The Green Bay Packers have scored 369 points over their last 10 games and Aaron Rodgers is the front-runner for most valuable player. The New England Patriots have won eight of their last nine games (with the only loss at Green Bay) and outscored opponents by a league-best 10.3 points a game. The Seattle Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champions; after an uneven start they are starting to play like it. They have allowed 507 yards over the last three weeks, the fewest in the N.F.L. by any team in a three-game stretch in over three years.

But the Baltimore Ravens are the only team that ranks in the top quarter of the league in both points scored and points allowed. It is hard to imagine a team two years removed from winning the Super Bowl flying under the radar, but that is what is happening in Baltimore, with national coverage of the domestic violence episode involving their former player Ray Rice overshadowing the team’s performance.

You can read the full article here.

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NFL Passing, 1950 Through Week 13, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed, 2014 is on pace to become the greatest passing season in NFL history. Which may not be surprising, since just a few months ago, the three best passing seasons in NFL history were the 2012, 2011, and 2013 seasons. Falling into fifth place will be the… 2010 NFL season. So passing numbers are on the rise, but you already knew that.

Through week 13 of the 2014 season, the NFL average Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt — defined as gross passing yards, plus 20 yards for every touchdown pass, minus 45 yards for every interception, and minus sack yards, all divided by the total number of pass attempts plus sacks — was at 6.26.  Most passing statistically typically take a trip south in December (and prior to SNF, the week 14 average was 5.85), but 6.26 would be a significant outlier even in our high-flying times. The graph below shows the NFL average ANY/A for each season since 1950.  Of course, we are doing a bit of apples-to-oranges comparisons by using full season numbers for all years and through-13-weeks numbers for 2014, but so be it: [click to continue…]

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The college football regular season is over. Florida State ends the year as the only unbeaten team, even if the defining characteristic of the Noles’ season was their inability to ever earn any style points. FSU ends the regular season a mind-boggling 3-10 against the spread, which is all you need to know about how the team played relative to expectations on a weekly basis.

Most agree that Alabama and Oregon are the top two teams in the country; the SRS agrees with the consensus! The Crimson Tide have emerged with an SRS rating of 62.0, with the Ducks narrowly behind at 61.5.  The Seminoles are down at 15 in the SRS, which is unsurprising to regular readers.  The SRS is a predictive system, like Las Vegas; this implies that Florida State would be an underdog to all the top teams, which is hard to argue against.

Of course, FSU will take one of the four golden tickets, as will Alabama and Oregon.  The fourth spot in the first ever college football playoff will come down to TCU, Ohio State, or Baylor.  The SRS is not necessarily a great way to decide which team should advance — after all, that should be based more on resume than on best team — but it can be instructive to look at the ratings.  In this case, those three teams check in at #3, #5, and #6.

As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Some more playoff thoughts about the jump:

[click to continue…]

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The Baylor/TCU Question

Today, TCU will finally play Iowa State, the worst team in the Big 12, and Baylor will finally play Kansas State, the best team in the Big 12 after Baylor and TCU. At that point, both the Horned Frogs and Bears will have faced each other and nine common opponents.1 The chart below shows how each team fared against those ten common opponents, treating Baylor/TCU as one team.

On the X-Axis is each opponent, in (roughly) descending order from left to right in terms of strength. For both Baylor and TCU, the other team was its toughest opponent, while Iowa State and SMU were the two easiest opponents both teams faced. On the Y-Axis is the home field adjusted margin of victory. Of note: TCU lost by 3 to Baylor, but the game was played in Waco, so both teams get a 0 for that game. TCU is represented by the purple dot below, with Baylor’s results displayed in green:

baylor tcu [click to continue…]

  1. In addition to the remaining 8 teams in the Big 12, both TCU and Baylor beat SMU in nonconference play. []
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Quarterback Musical Chairs

Not every team is so lucky.

Not every team is so lucky.

There are 13 teams with very clear quarterback situations for the near future. By that I mean, barring unforeseeable injury, you can say with 95% confidence who the team’s week 1, 2015 starting quarterback will be. Those teams are, in no particular order: Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), Indianapolis (Andrew Luck), Carolina (Cam Newton), Baltimore (Joe Flacco), New Orleans (Drew Brees), Atlanta (Matt Ryan), Detroit (Matthew Stafford), Kansas City (Alex Smith), Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger), Jacksonville (Blake Bortles), San Diego (Philip Rivers), Seattle (Russell Wilson), and New England (Tom Brady).

We can get to an even half the league by adding San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick), Miami (Ryan Tannehill), and the New York Giants (Eli Manning), but I think each of those situations are slightly cloudier due to potential uncertainties higher up in the organization. Will Jim Harbaugh still be coaching the 49ers in 2015, and if not, what does that mean for Kaepernick? If the Dolphins miss the playoffs for the sixth straight year, would that mark the end of the Joe Philbin — and Tannehill — eras in South Beach? Manning is actually entering the last year of his contract in 2015, and comes with a cap hit of $19.75M and dead money of just $2.25M if he’s cut or traded. He’s not worth $20M per year, and if Tom Coughlin is gone, will a new coach want to go in a new direction?

Still, the smart money is on those three wearing the same uniforms in 2015; more importantly for our musical chairs purposes, all three will be starting quarterbacks somewhere next year. Peyton Manning could retire if the Broncos win the Super Bowl, but odds are he brings our list up to 17 quarterback situations we can clearly identify for week 1 of the 2015 season. We can get to an even 20 by including Cincinnati (it’s unlikely Andy Dalton isn’t the starter this time next year), Dallas (Tony Romo will be the guy if healthy, but his back troubles moves him out of the group 1 list), and Minnesota (no, Teddy Bridgewater has not been great, but he’s been capable enough as a 22-year-old rookie to be given the job at the start of the 2015 season).

[click to continue…]

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Over the prior two weeks, we were short on comebacks. Things took a big turn towards exciting in week 13:

  • The Bengals trailed the Bucs 3-0 for most of the first quarter, and then 10-0 for the majority of the second. Cincinnati would ultimately take the lead by the end of the third quarter, but the Bengals still finished with a -3.0 Game Script.
  • On Monday Night Football, the Jets also jumped out to a 10-0 first-half lead before ultimately falling to Miami, 16-13. But more to come on this game later in the post.
  • Another team that fell behind 10-0 early was San Diego. In fact, the Chargers didn’t take their first lead against the Ravens until the final minute, winning 34-33 despite posting a Game Script of -5.9.
  • But the biggest “comeback” of the week was in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars ruined Tom Coughlin’s homecoming. New York stormed out to a 21-0 lead, but imploded in the second half, allowing Jacksonville to steal the win, 25-24. Jacksonville won with a Game Script of -6.8, the fourth largest of the year and the worst Game Script by a victor since the Lions 21-point comeback in London against the Falcons.

Below are the Game Scripts data for each game in week 13: [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Is Reggie Wayne a Hall of Famer?

Bryan Frye is back with another fun guest post.  Bryan, as you may recall, owns and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history.  You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link.


A future HOFer?

A future HOFer?

Reggie Wayne has been in the news recently because Chuck Pagano called a pair of late-game pass plays in order to stretch Wayne’s streak of consecutive games with at least three receptions to 81 games.1 Frankly, I don’t care to criticize either of them for that. What I do want to do is acknowledge an impressive record from a great player and discuss whether or not he is likely to join fellow greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.2

Hall of Fame voters don’t seem to care too much about advanced stats, so I won’t bother covering anything beyond simple box score numbers.3 What voters do seem to care about are counting stats and a good story, or a combination thereof. Without any more ado, let’s get into the stats and the narrative.

The Stats

Currently ranks 7th all-time in receptions, 8th all-time in receiving yards, and 22nd all-time in receiving touchdowns. I am making the assumption that he will play a few more years at a diminishing level until he retires. That will leave us with a few questions about his statistical merits.

[click to continue…]

  1. That number has since grown to 82. []
  2. And yes, it is a very impressive streak, regardless of how it was achieved. According to Pro Football Reference, the second longest such streak is Cris Carter’s 58 from 1993-1997. []
  3. However, if you do want a more in depth look at receiving stats, check out Chase’s series on the greatest wide receivers of all time. []
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Since 1970, only three teams have finished first in both offensive and defensive ANY/A:

  • The 1996 Packers were the last team to do it. Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman helped the Green Bay offense average 6.5 ANY/A, just ahead of Miami for the league lead. On the other side of the ball, Reggie White and LeRoy Butler guided a dominant Green Bay defense that allowed just 3.1 ANY/A, far ahead of the rest of the NFL (Pittsburgh, at 3.8, was the only other defense that allowed fewer than 4 ANY/A).

[click to continue…]

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50 Carries/50 Passes in Consecutive Games

In week 10, the Browns blew out the Bengals in the Andy Dalton Thursday Night Implosion game. A less-publicized factoid from that night: Cleveland became the first team in 2014 to record 50 rush attempts in a game. It was a true team effort on the ground, with Terrance West rushing 26 times for 94 yards, Isaiah Crowell going 12 for 41, and even Ben Tate gaining 34 yards on 10 carries. All three players rushed for a touchdown, too, and Brian Hoyer added four carries, bringing the total to 52 runs.

But in week 11, the Browns had 52 pass attempts in a loss to the Texans. As it turns out, calling 50 runs and 50 passes in consecutive weeks is pretty unusual. In fact, it’s only happened eight other times in NFL history.

u mad bro

2012 New England Patriots

Facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in week 5, New England dominated the game on the ground. The Patriots at one point led 31-7, allowing Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen to combine for 50 carries for a whopping 253 yards (Ridley (28/151/1) shouldered the largest load).

The next week, the Patriots helped bring Richard Sherman into the national spotlight. Tom Brady threw 58 passes as the Patriots lost 24-23 to Seattle.

1994 Pittsburgh Steelers

This was the first great season of the Bill Cowher  era, and you won’t be surprised to learn that Pittsburgh finished 2nd in rush attempts and 1st in rushing yards in 1994.  In the Steelers first playoff game — against Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, and the Cleveland Browns — Pittsburgh rushed 51 times for 238 yards. Barry Foster rushed for 133 yards on 24 carries, Bam Morris produced a very Morris-like stat line of 22/60, and fullback John L. Williams (of Seahawks fame) had two carries for 43 yards and a touchdown. Pittsburgh won comfortably, 29-9, which made what happened next so surprising.

In the AFC Championship Game against the Chargers the following week, Pittsburgh again enjoyed the lead for most of the day (Game Script of +3.9). But there, Foster gained just 47 yards on 20 carries, which led to a very pass-happy offensive approach. Neil O’Donnell finished 32 of 54 for 349 yards and 1 touchdown with no picks and was not sacked. But the Steelers, despite controlling the game and the clock (TOP of 37:13) wound up losing, 17-13.

1987 Cincinnati Bengals

In 1988, the Bengals had rookie Ickey Woods and Pro Bowler James Brooks lead the NFL’s best rushing attack. But in ’87, Woods was dominating at UNLV, while Brooks was still in San Diego. So in week 9 of the ’87 season, when the Bengals rushed 50 times, it was Larry Kinnebrew (27/100/1) and Stanford Jennings (12/91) leading the way, while Boomer Esiason also carried 10 times for 77 yards. The Bengals won in Atlanta that day, 16-10.

The following week against the Steelers, the ground game was not working, and Esiason dropped back an incredible 58 times. Esiason did throw for 409 yards, but took five sacks and was intercepted three times, as the Bengals fell, 30-16.

1986 Detroit Lions

The Lions and Packers were not very good 18 years ago, and staged a forgettable game back in week 6 of the 1986 season. Eric Hipple completed 15 of 19 passes but for only 102 yards. Fortunately for Detroit, the ground game was humming along just fine: Garry James (20/140/1) and James Jones (29/99) carried the day in Green Bay, leading the Lions to a 21-14 victory.

The next week in Anaheim, the Rams jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead; Jones and James would finish the day with just 57 yards on 22 carries. As a result, the game was in Hipple’s hands, and he went 31/50 for 316 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers aren’t bad, but Hipple was sacked twice and threw a pair of picks, including a pick six. Los Angeles threw just 12 passes all day, and held on to win, 14-10.

1985 New York Giants

The NFC East was up for grabs when the 9-5 Giants traveled to Dallas to take on the 9-5 Cowboys. Neither team ran the ball that efficiently, but the Giants went unusually pass-happy. Phil Simms had 55 dropbacks, completing 24 passes and taking five sacks, while throwing for 329 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions (including a pick six).

With the division title gone, New York needed to win in week 16 to make the playoffs. Simms threw just 16 passes, as the Giants rode Joe Morris to the tune of 36 carries for 202 yards and 3 touchdowns. As a team, the Giants rushed 51 times for 292 yards (excluding a pair of Simms kneeldowns), and blew out the Steelers, 28-10.

1984 Seahawks

Heading into the final weekend of the season, the Seahawks and Broncos were both 12-3. The teams squared off in Seattle for AFC West supremacy, just four weeks after Seattle won in Denver, 27-24. Things were different in the rematch: Denver won 31-24 despite John Elway going just 9 of 21 for 148 yards with 4 interceptions. The Seattle running game was ineffective, so Dave Krieg wound up dropping back 54 times, going 30 for 50 for 334 yards, with four sacks, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.

The loss put Seattle in the Wild Card round, and that’s when Ground Chuck took over. The Seahawks rushed 51 times for 204 yards … and completed just four passes! Dan Doornick rushed 29 times for 126 yards, while Krieg was limited to just 12 dropbacks. As you can imagine, the Seahawks defense came to play, shutting out Oakland for most of the game in a 13-7 victory.

1975 New Orleans Saints

In week 10 of the ’75 season, Archie Manning went 25 of 52 for 207 yards with no interceptions and two picks in a 16-6 loss to the 49ers. If you think 52 pass attempts (and four sacks) is a pass-heavy game plan for 1975, you are correct: it was the most pass-happy game of the season.

The next week, New Orleans jumped out to a 16-3 lead against the Browns in Cleveland, which seemed to dictate a change in strategy. Manning finished the day 6 of 10 for 92 yards, while Mike Strachan (21/99) and Alvin Maxson (16/45/2) powered the offense. The Saints finished with 177 rushing yards on 51 carries, but a late Cleveland rally turned it into a 17-16 Browns win.

1961 Houston Oilers

The early AFL Oilers teams were one of history’s great aerial attacks. In 1960, Bill Groman produced a 72/1473/12 stat line in 14 games, George Blanda guided the AFL’s top passing offense, and Houston won the AFL title. The following year, Houston averaged a whopping 36.6 points per game, Blanda threw for 3,330 yards and 36 touchdowns, Groman caught 17 touchdowns, and Charley Hennigan caught 82 passes for 1,746 yards and 12 touchdowns. And Houston again finished the season as the AFL champion.

But the 1961 season didn’t start the way you might think. In the opener against a bad Raiders team, Houston jumped out to a 28-0 lead before the half. As a result, Billy Cannon rushed 22 times for 82 yards, Charley Tolar added 101 yards on 18 carries, and the Oilers finished with 203 yards on the ground on 55 carries.

The next week, Houston lost to San Diego, an outcome the Oilers would avenge in the AFL Championship Game. After a 3-3 first quarter, Houston scored four touchdowns in the second quarter, putting the game out of hand. George Blanda finished 15/29 for 131 yards and 4 picks, while Jacky Lee came in and threw 25 times for 190 yards (with 3 touchdowns and 2 picks) in the second half. A week after rushing 55 times, the Oilers dropped back 57 times in the loss to San Diego.

The real question: why didn’t someone start crunching Game Scripts data in 1961?!

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Brady likes the second half of the season

Brady likes the second half of the season

When we think about the most dominant teams of all time, the New England Patriots of the last few years don’t leap immediately to mind. Yet, their performance late in the year has been mind-bogglingly good. From 2010-13, New England went 29-3 in the final eight games of each season, a record that no other team since 1960 can match over any four-year period. Including their three games this year, the Patriots are on a 32-3 run in regular-season games in the second half of the season. From 2010-2013, the Patriots also have the biggest four-year point differential in second-half games in the history of football.

Part of that huge point differential comes from the higher point totals that teams have than they did in the past, and from New England’s offensive-centric philosophy. As a result, when we look at Pythagenpat records, the Patriots are not as dominant.1 Here are the hundred best late-season teams over any four-year period, according to Pythagenpat record. The Patriots from 2010-13 rank only 38th on the list, behind four other recent Patriots’ runs, some of those overlapping with 2010-13. The Patriots have been great and it is an unlikely outcome that they’d have no Super Bowls in the decade so far, but they also have not been quite as strong in terms of their true strength as their second-half records would suggest. As a high-scoring team, we would have expected them to lose more of their regular season games than they have. [click to continue…]

  1. I used 0.251 as the value in the Pythagenpat formula to find exponents for each team-year. []
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The AFC North is 10-1-1 Against the NFC South

The NFC South has been miserable this season: the Falcons, Saints, Panthers, and Bucs are now 6-23-1 (0.217) in games outside of the division. If Atlanta, New Orleans, Carolina, and Tampa Bay combine to go 3-7 in their ten remaining non-division games, they would eclipse the 2008 NFC West and become the worst division in modern history (at least, by record).

The NFC South has been particularly bad against the AFC North, going 1-10-1 this year. The two non-losses were the shocking upset by Tampa Bay in Pittsburgh in week 4, and the tie between the Bengals and Panthers in week 6 (which ended, you may recall, with Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent missing a 36-yarder as time expired).

The remaining games between these two divisions in 2014 are: Cincinnati at Tampa Bay, Cleveland at Carolina, Pittsburgh vs. New Orleans, and Pittsburgh at Atlanta.  If the AFC North can go 3-1, that would up its record to 13-2-1, which would set the post-2002 mark for the best record by one division against another in a single season.

The current record? A mark of 13-3, set five times in the current era.  It was most recently done by the NFC West last year, when the only losses it had against the AFC South came versus the Colts (in the case of the 49ers and Seahawks) or the Titans (Rams).

What if the AFC North went on a clean sweep the rest of the way, finishing 14-1-1? That would be the best mark since the merger, but not the best mark of all time.  That honor belongs to the 1965 NFL West: that year, the division went 13-1 against the NFL East.  That’s going to be a tough mark to ever eclipse, as it would require a 15-1 mark given the current format. How about the best mark of the post-merger era by one division against another?

The honor belongs to the AFC West, which went 31-9 outside of its division in 1984. The division really beat up on the NFC Central, going a collective 15-2 in such games. Not surprisingly, the two losses were against the Bears (by Denver and Los Angeles).

Measuring success by one division against another across eras is complicated due to differing number of games. One tweak we can make is to use True Winning Percentage, which adds 11 games of 0.500 ball to any record. If your record is 1-0, True Winning Percentage will strongly regress that 1.000 winning percentage to the mean; if your record is 90-10, not so much: we add 5.5 wins and 5.5 loss regardless of your record. Using that methodology here would translate the AFC North’s record against the NFC South in 2014 from 10-1-1 to 15-6-2 (or 16-7), equivalent to a 0.696 winning percentage. That would be the 5th best in NFL history, and the 3rd best since the merger:

RankYearDivDivRecordWin%True Win%
11965NFL WestNFL East13-10.9290.74
21984AFC WestNFC Central15-20.8820.732
31991NFC EastAFC Central14-20.8750.722
41936NFL WestNFL East18-40.8180.712
51935NFL WestNFL East16-40.80.694
61993AFC WestAFC East9-10.90.69
72013NFC WestAFC South13-30.8130.685
72010NFC SouthNFC West13-30.8130.685
72008NFC SouthNFC North13-30.8130.685
72007AFC SouthNFC South13-30.8130.685
72004AFC EastNFC West13-30.8130.685
71989NFC WestAFC East13-30.8130.685
71980AFC CentralNFC Central13-30.8130.685
71979AFC WestNFC West13-30.8130.685
151934NFL WestNFL East15-40.7890.683
161946AAFC WestAAFC East22-7-30.7340.674
171983NFC WestNFC Central10-20.8330.674
171976NFC EastNFC West10-20.8330.674
171975AFC CentralAFC West10-20.8330.674
171949AAFC WestAAFC9-1-20.8330.674
211950NFL AmericanNFL National11-30.7860.66
221969AFL WestAFL East20-7-30.7170.659
231999AFC EastAFC Central7-10.8750.658
231975NFC EastNFC West7-10.8750.658
251970NFC EastAFC Central5-010.656
261960NFL EastNFL West9-2-10.7920.652
272009AFC SouthNFC West12-40.750.648
272008NFC EastNFC West12-40.750.648
272008AFC EastAFC West12-40.750.648
272007NFC NorthAFC West12-40.750.648
272007AFC SouthAFC West12-40.750.648
272006AFC EastNFC North12-40.750.648
272005AFC NorthNFC North12-40.750.648
272004AFC NorthNFC East12-40.750.648
271988AFC CentralNFC East12-40.750.648
271969NFL CapitalNFL Century12-40.750.648
371968AFL WestAFL East21-90.70.646
381999NFC CentralNFC West8-20.80.643
381994AFC EastAFC West8-20.80.643
381991AFC WestAFC East8-20.80.643
381990NFC EastNFC Central8-20.80.643
381989AFC WestAFC East8-20.80.643
381987AFC CentralAFC West8-20.80.643
381979NFC EastNFC Central8-20.80.643
381978AFC EastAFC West8-20.80.643

The 1991 NFC East was what TV executives apparently think that division will always be. That year, teams from the NFC East went 14-2 against the NFC Central, with both losses coming by three points (Giants at Bengals), with one going to overtime (Dallas at Houston).

A 3-1 finish would give the AFC North a 13-2-1 record, good enough for a 0.704 true winning percentage.  One more loss would knock it behind the five 13-3 teams of the post-2002 era, but so far this year, the AFC North has been dominating the NFC South at a historic level.

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The Travis Kelce Post

Last year, Jeff Cumberland finished #2 in DVOA among all tight ends.  This really happened.  Of course, that required some digging, so I wrote the following about Cumberland in the 2014 Football Outsiders Almanac:

What’s going on here? How did Cumberland produce such strong numbers, and wind up second in DVOA among tight ends? Among the 52 tight ends with at least 20 targets, Cumberland ranked fifth in yards gained through the air (per reception) and seventh in yards gained after the catch (per reception). Incredibly, [Ladarius] Green ranked first in both of those metrics, but there’s generally an inverse relationship between those two statistics: you either catch passes downfield, or you gain a lot of yards after the catch, but rarely both. In fact, Green and Cumberland were the only two tight ends to rank in the top 15 in both categories, which underscores just how impressive Cumberland’s efficiency numbers were in 2013.

So is Cumberland coming off a sneaky strong season and about to break out? There’s no denying that his efficiency numbers were great, but sometimes, the best course of action is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. In 2012, Cumberland finished second on the team with 53 targets. In the offseason, New York allowed Dustin Keller to head to Miami, but instead of handing the job to Cumberland, signed Kellen Winslow. As a result, Cumberland wound up seeing only 40 targets in 2013. If the Jets were as high on Cumberland as his numbers would suggest, he would have managed to pick up more than 2.5 targets per game in one of the league’s most anemic passing attacks. Then, New York drafted Jace Amaro in the second round of the 2014 draft. Efficiency numbers are fun to look at, but the revealed preference of the Jets organization would seem to trump those metrics. And it appears as though the organization views Cumberland as a role player and little more.

Cumberland split time with Winslow, and his low target numbers were a strong indicator that he was an average talent.1 Yards per target is not a good stat because it is not very sticky; yards per route run is quite a bit better.  After all, a route run is more the analog of a “pass attempt” than a target, so YPRR is really the receiver’s version of yards per attempt.

The next great tight end?

The next great tight end?

This year, as he did in 2013, and 2012, and nearly in 2011, Rob Gronkowski leads all tight ends in yards per route run. He is averaging 2.67 yards per route run on his 304 routes, and the only receivers with a higher yards per route run average on over 225 routes are Demaryius Thomas (2.77) and Jordy Nelson (2.84). In short, Gronkowski is the man.

But, assuming you read the title to this post, you know that today we want to focus not on Gronk, but on baby Gronk. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce is second among tight ends in yards per route run, with a 2.49 average over 218 snaps. Those are incredible numbers, and a reflection that Kelce is already one of the top playmaking tight ends in football.

The Chiefs star hase has 542 yards on 52 targets, and his 10.4 yards/target average is the best among all tight ends.  But remember, Y/T is not a good stat: Cumberland ranked 3rd last season in yards per target, with a 10.2 average. Cumberland’s issue was that he wasn’t targeted very much despite being on the field.  As a result, his yards/target average overstated his value. Let’s throw some math into this equation: in 2013, Gronkowski was targeted on 30% of his routes, the best rate among all tight ends; Cumberland was targeted on 16% of his routes, the 35th best rate among tight ends.

Kelce isn’t the best receiving tight end in football because he leads with a 10.4 yards/target average.  It’s not just about what you do per target, it’s how often you get targeted. As he did last year, Gronk leads all tight ends in targets per route run, as he has been targeted on 28% of his pass routes.  But Kelce ranks 4th — and just a hair behind Jimmy Graham for 3rd place2 — in targets per route run! He’s not having a fluky season at all, or at least, not in the way Cumberland did. The Chiefs are throwing to Kelce very often when he’s running routes, which is a very good sign that he’s the real deal.

So why is Kelce “only” 6th in receiving yards among tight ends? Because he’s just 28th in pass routes run by tight ends this year. And that’s the real conundrum: he simply isn’t getting much playing time. For the 2013 Jets, Cumberland was on the field for more offensive plays than any Jets player other than the quarterback and offensive linemen. Kelce simply doesn’t get the same level of playing time, as he ranks 4th among non-OL/QBs for Chiefs offensive players in snaps.

The other problem for him is that Kansas City ranks just 31st in pass attempts this year, which is going to depress his raw totals. But the good news is his playing time is on the rise — he was on the field for 63 of 67 snaps in week 12 and 50/52 in week 11. He can’t do anything about how often the Chiefs pass, but in his case — unlike Cumberland’s — the organization seems to be buying into the numbers. Kelce’s been dominant on a per-route basis this year, and now, Kansas City keeps giving him more playing time. The next big question is whether he can maintain his level of production as a full time starter, but the hunch here is that he can. And hey, maybe we just identified the first undervalued fantasy player of 2015.

  1. In his defense, Cumberland was tied for 11th in yards per route run, but that’s (1) still a far cry from #2 and (2) more a reflection of the weakness of the 2013 Jets supporting cast. []
  2. Jordan Reed is second. []
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College Football Rivalry Weekend

A couple of quick notes on rivalry weekend, using the latest SRS ratings. All rankings come from the College Football Playoff.

#15 Auburn at #1 Alabama (-8.5)

In the SRS, Alabama is first overall with a rating of 61.7; Auburn is 7th overall, which may surprise some folks, courtesy of a 57.5 rating. Given that the game is in Tuscaloosa, that would imply a spread of -7.2, not too far off of the 8.5-point line. Auburn is probably a top ten team in Vegas’ ratings as well, so this Iron Bowl may be closer than some experts think.

Florida at #2 Florida State (-7.5)

Sure, FSU is ranked #2 in the country while Florida is an unranked and disappointing 6-4. But the teams are pretty close in the SRS, with the Seminoles at #17 (51.6) and the Gators at #24 (49.4). We would expect the spread in Tallahassee to be FSU -5.2, again, closer than you might think. A Florida upset would be surprising, but not shocking.

#3 Oregon at Oregon State (+19.5)

This one should not be all that close: Oregon has a 60.3 in the SRS, which would imply a 23.8-point spread over the Beavers (33.5). Don’t believe anyone who invokes the phrase “throw the records out” when they preview this game.

#4 Mississippi State at Ole Miss (+2.5)

The SRS narrlowly prefers Ole Miss despite the worse record: the Rebels should be 3.6-point favorites given the ratings of each team. This game is a true toss up, but also one where the spread is about 6 points off of the SRS.

#5 TCU at Texas (+5)

Given the records for each team — 9-1 for the Horned Frogs, 6-5 for the Longhorns — you might be surprised that the spread is just five points. TCU has an SRS rating of 59.4, while Texas is down at 44.4. We would expect TCU to be 12-point favorites, so the spread being off by a full touchdown here is an eye-opener. On the other hand, Texas has been playing better of late, so the upset watch is on in Austin.

Michigan at #6 Ohio State (-21)

This is one spread that lines up perfectly with the SRS: Ohio State is 17.7 points better than Michigan on a neutral field, so being three touchdown favorites at home makes sense.

#7 Baylor vs. Texas Tech (+24.5)

Baylor (59.5) is 4th overall in the SRS, while the Red RAiders are down at #82 (32.4). That would imply a home spread of Baylor -30, so I guess Vegas views this game as ever-so-slightly more competitive than the SRS.

Stanford at #8 UCLA (-5.5)

UCLA has an SRS of 53.5, good enough for 15th overall. Stanford is a competitive 6-5, but the Cardinal’s 46.6 rating puts them down at 32nd in the SRS. Given that the game is in LA, a 10-point spread would make sense. The Bruins have a very uphill battle to crack the top 4, but a win over Stanford is the first domino that must fall (well, a Texas win tonight would help, too).

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Guest Post: Bryan Frye and Win Contribution Rating

Bryan Frye is back with another fun guest post.  Bryan, as you may recall, owns and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history.  You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to all the loyal Football Perspective readers!


Win Contribution Rating

It’s Thanksgiving. I don’t have a ton of time to write; you don’t have a ton of time to read. Let’s make this snappy.

A few months ago, I began using a rating that I feel better describes a quarterback’s contributions to helping his team win. I am terrible at coming up with names for stuff like that, but Football Guy Adam Harstad swooped in like a guardian angel and suggested the name “Win Contribution Rating.” I liked it, and I began using it without delay.

I used three metrics that correlate highly with future wins: Brian Burke’s EPA/P, Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and my Adjusted Yards per Play (AYP).1  The correlation coefficients with future wins (i.e., Year N+1 wins) for the individual metrics are .273 for EPA/P, .265 for DVOA, and .256 for AYP.2 When I ran those in a multiple regression, I got the following best fit equation (rounded):

Win% = .5 + EPA/P *.39 + DVOA * .13 + AYP * .008

Because the basis of this regression is win percentage, the equation spits out small decimals that I find aren’t relatable to most of the casual fans I know. To transform this into a number that resembles the NFL passer rating that people already know, I simply multiply by 140 to find the Win Contribution Rating.3

The highest score since 1999 belongs to Peyton Manning in his virtuoso 2004 performance. Let’s take a look at his rating:

EPA/P: .38
DVOA: 58.9%
AYP: 9.1
WCR = (.5 + .38 * .39 + .589 * .13 + 9.1 * .008) * 140 = 111.7 [click to continue…]

  1. Please note that the difference between the 45 yard penalty Chase uses and the 50 yard penalty I use for interceptions is based on this article by Brian Burke. I chose 50 as a compromise between the traditional and the new research. For fumbles, I used the standard 50 yard penalty and divided it in half to account for the randomness of recovery. []
  2. This includes all quarterbacks for which data is available from both FO and AFA, from 1999-2012. I did not include 2013 because I didn’t know year N + 1 wins; I’m not in the fortune telling business. []
  3. This may seem strange, but keep in mind that the NFL multiples by 16.67 to achieve its final passer rating. []
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Last week, the Game Script winners went 14-0. In week 12, there were two moderately-sized comebacks:

  • In New York, the Giants jumped out to 14-3 and 21-10 leads, fueled in part by Odell Beckham being ridiculous. But then the Cowboys offensive line got ridiculous, and Dallas went on a 21-7 run to win the game despite posting a Game Script of -4.0.
  • In Denver, the the Dolphins controlled the game for most of the first three quarters. Miami led 21-10 with two minutes left in the first half, and later took a 28-17 lead into the fourth quarter. But the Broncos scored three straight touchdowns to put the game out of reach, despite finishing with a Game Script of -4.3.

Denver had posted a Game Script of at least +5.0 in 6 of the team’s first 7 games, after doing so in 10 of 16 games in 2013. But things have changed drastically in Denver over the last month: the Broncos have had Game Scripts of -11.5, -7.7, and now -4.3 in three of the team’s last four games.

On the positive Game Script side, the Eagles (+14.3) and Bills (+14.2) were the big producers this week, although New England’s +11.2 against Detroit might have been the most impressive when you consider strength of schedule. The table below shows the week 12 Game Scripts data: [click to continue…]

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New York Times, Post Week-12 (2014): Total QBR

This week at the New York Times, I take my annual look at ESPN’s Total QBR:

In 2011, ESPN introduced Total QBR, or Total Quarterback Rating, a proprietary statistic intended to capture several of the hidden aspects of quarterback play. The next year, the Indianapolis Colts drafted quarterback Andrew Luck. And while he has helped revitalize the franchise, he has also served as one of the shining examples of how Total QBR credits players for positive plays that are otherwise ignored.

As a rookie, Luck ranked 26th in passer rating but ninth in Total QBR; last year he finished 18th in passer rating but eighth in Total QBR. So what was traditional passer rating missing when it came to Luck? In both years, he ranked in the top three in value added via penalties and on the ground. He did the little things — drawing a significant number of penalties (including value pass interference flags), making key contributions with his legs — that traditional passer rating ignored.

This year, though, Luck ranks slightly higher in passer rating (seventh) than Total QBR (eighth). Alok Pattani and Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Information, via email, shed some light on Luck’s season, along with other quarterbacks who have exhibited key differences between their Total QBR and passer rating numbers.

While Luck is having a breakout year via traditional metrics — he leads the N.F.L. in passing yards and is on a pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passer rating and touchdown percentage — he has taken a step back in some of the areas in which he used to excel. Luck picked up a first down on 78 percent of his rushes last year, but that number has dropped to 40 percent in 2014. Scrambles represent the majority of his rushes, and he gained a first down on 75 percent of them last year, compared with 29 percent of them this year. He also ranked third among quarterbacks in Expected Points Added via penalties in 2012 (+12.6), in part because he drew 13 defensive pass interference plays for 238 yards. This year Luck ranks 14th in penalty E.P.A. (+3.5), with five pass interference calls for 104 yards

You can read the full article here.

Finally, a Brian Hoyer note or two that made its way to the cutting room floor. Hoyer ranks 10th in ANY/A but 23rd in Total QBR. I was curious about that, and here is what Alok and Sharon were able to tell me:

  • Hoyer has really struggled on third downs. He ranks 2nd-to-last among qualifiers in completion percentage (49%), Y/A (5.7), and first down pct (32%) on 3rd downs.  Not coincidentally, the Browns rank 2nd-to-last in NFL in 3rd down conversion rate.
  • Hoyer has also been really bad at running, with 4 yards on 22 carries (only 4 1st downs).  Total rush EPA of -5.6 is lowest in NFL this season.
  • Hoyer’s also getting bad grades for the context of his interceptions: five of his interceptions cost his team 4+ EPA, including two of his picks against Falcons.  Only Cutler, Bortles, and Dalton have more “really bad” interceptions.
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Rookie Quarterbacks: It Is Not 2012 Anymore

It's been a rough year for rookies like Blake Bortles

It’s been a rough year for rookies like Blake Bortles

Jets second-year quarterback Geno Smith has averaged 3.88 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this year, which has resulted in him being benched for Michael Vick. That 3.88 ANY/A average is the worst of the 34 qualifying quarterbacks this season. In fact, only three other quarterbacks have averaged fewer than five Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this year: Derek Carr (4.93), Teddy Bridgewater (4.75), and Blake Bortles (4.16). Those three, along with Johnny Manziel, were selected in the top 40 of the 2014 Draft. Since Manziel has been on the bench most of the season, and Zach Mettenberger does not yet have enough attempts to qualify, this means the only three rookie quarterbacks in the NFL this season have been terrible. With a capital T.

Which maybe isn’t too surprising. But it is a bit different. In 2008, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco played well as rookies, with Ryan posting outstanding numbers and Flacco making it to the AFC Championship Game. In 2009, Mark Sanchez made it to the AFC Championship Game, too. In 2010, Sam Bradford set some volume-based passing records, and helped St. Louis go from 1-15 to 7-9. In 2011, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton had varying degrees of success, and generally exceeded expectations. [click to continue…]

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In Minnesota, Aaron Rodgers and Richard Rodgers combined for an incredible touchdown. No really, take a look (h/t Aaron Nagler): [click to continue…]

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