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On Tuesday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of worst starter. Yesterday, I used that data to help identify which receivers produced their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses. Today, instead of measuring wide receivers by how often their teams passed, I want to measure them by how well they passed.

Some teams are very efficient at passing because they have great wide receivers: to be clear, today’s post doesn’t prove anything about which way the causation arrow runs. But I do think it’s worth quantifying the reality that receivers produce their numbers in very disparte environments. Let’s use Joey Galloway as an example. Galloway, longtime readers will recall, was a favorite of an early iteration of Doug Drinen’s attempts at ranking wide receivers. For similar reasons, Galloway comes out “very good” in this system, if good means producing numbers while playing for bad passing offenses (a proxy, one could argue, for playing with bad quarterbacks).

Galloway produced 2,071 Adjusted Catch Yards above the baseline in his career, good for an unremarkable 84th place on Tuesday’s list. But let’s look at the 8 seasons that get Galloway there: [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of the worst starter. Today, I want to use that data to help identify which receivers put up their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses.

Let’s use Calvin Johnson as an example. He’s been with the Lions for each season of his career, and Detroit has been very pass-happy throughout his career. Last year, Detroit averaged averaged 40.56 dropbacks (pass attempts plus sacks) per game, while the league average was 37.29 dropbacks per game. So Detroit passed 108.8% as often as the average team.

In 2013, Detroit’s ratio to the league average was 108.2%, but it was 129.8% in 2012. To measure pass-happiness as it pertains to Johnson, we can’t just take Detroit’s average grade from ’07 to ’14; instead, we need to assign more weight to Johnson’s best years. Johnson gained 1,358 ACY over the baseline in 2012, which represents 29% of his career value of 4,721 ACY over the baseline. As a result, Detroit’s 129.8% ratio in 2012 needs to count for 29% of Johnson’s career pass-happy grade.

If we do this for each of the players in yesterday’s top 100, here are the results. [click to continue…]

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Brown stuck the lanning.

Brown stuck the lanning.

Adjusted Catch Yards are simply receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for each reception and a 20-yard bonus for each receiving touchdown. In 2014, Antonio Brown led the NFL with 2,603 Adjusted Catch Yards, the 5th highest total in NFL history. That was the result of a whopping 129 receptions for 1,698 receiving yards (both of which led the league) and 13 touchdowns.

Brown was dominant in 2014, and he led the NFL in more advanced systems, too. But today, I wanted to do something relatively simple. How do we compare Brown’s 2014 to say, three Packers greats from years past?

In 1992, Sterling Sharpe had 108 catches for 1,461 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those are pretty great numbers for 1992, although they don’t leap off the page the way Brown’s 2014 stat line does. If we go back farther, Billy Howton in 1956 had 55 receptions for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns. Like Brown, that was good enough to lead the NFL in two of the three major categories, and rank 2nd in the third. And 15 years earlier, Don Hutson caught 58 passes for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns. How do we compare that statline to Brown’s?

Here’s what I did.

1) Calculate each player’s Adjusted Catch Yards. For Brown, that’s 2,603. For Sharpe, Howton, and Hutson, it’s 2,261, 1,703, and 1,228, respectively.

2) Next, calculate the Adjusted Catch Yards for every other player in the NFL. Then, determine the baseline in each year, defined as the number of ACY by the Nth ranked player, where N equals the number of teams in the league. For Brown, that means using 1,398 Adjusted Catch Yards, the number produced by the 32nd-ranked player in ACY in 2014. For Sharpe, we use 1,078 ACY, the number gained by the 28th-ranked player in ’92. For Howton, it’s just 797, the number of ACY for the 12th-ranked player (keep in mind that ’56 was a very run-heavy year). And finally, for Huston, we use the 10th-ranked player from 1941, who gained only 413 Adjusted Catch Yards.

3) Next, we subtract the baseline from each player’s number of Adjusted Catch Yards. So Brown is credited with 1,205 ACY over the baseline, Sharpe gets 1,183 ACY over the baseline, Howton is 906 ACY over the baseline, and Hutson is 815 ACY over the baseline.

4) Finally, we must pro-rate for non-16 game seasons. For Brown and Sharpe, we don’t need to do anything, so Brown wins, 1,205 to 1,183. Howton played in a 12-game season, so we multiply his 906 by 16 and divide by 12, giving him 1,208 ACY, narrowly edging Brown. And in 1941, the NFL had an 11-game slate; multiply 815 by 16 and divide by 11, and Hutson is credited with 1,185 ACY.

As you can see, it wasn’t a coincidence I chose those three Packers seasons to compare to Brown. Those four seasons are the 19th-through-22nd best seasons of all time by this metric, and stand out as roughly equally dominant for their eras (both Sharpe and Hutson won the triple crown of receiving in their years).

This is not my preferred method of measuring wide receiver player, but it’s my favorite “simple” one. I put simple in quotes, of course, since there’s a lot of programming power behind generating these numbers. But at a high level, it’s simple: we combine the three main receiving stats into one, we adjust for era because the game has changed so much, and we pro-rate for years where the league didn’t play 16 games. Nothing more, nothing less. [click to continue…]

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The Golden Nugget has released point spreads for a large number of college football games.  And these spreads can tell us a lot about how Vegas views these teams.  That’s because, for the most part, the spreads are consistent.

Let’s look at Ohio State, the defending national champions and a team the Golden Nugget released lines for four games. The Buckeyes are 14-point home favorites against Michigan State, 16-point road favorites against Michigan, 19-point home favorites against Penn State, and 16-point road favorites against Virginia Tech. So how good is Ohio State? Well, that depends on how good Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, and Virginia Tech are. As it turns out, those teams aren’t half bad, so Ohio State must be really, really good. Let’s ignore the games where two of Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State play each other (since that won’t tell us much about Ohio State), and look at the rest:

  • Michigan State is a 6-point road favorite in Nebraska and a 1-point home favorite against Oregon. This would imply that Ohio State is about 9 points better than the Ducks1, an annual college football contender.
  • The only non-Big 10 game for Penn State where a line was released was Penn State -28 against Army.
  • Michigan is a 33-point home favorite against UNVL, a 4-point road dog against Utah, a 14-point home favorite against Oregon State, and a 7-point home favorite against BYU. The Wolverines aren’t great, but remember that Ohio State is favored by 16 against them in Ann Arbor.
  • Virginia Tech is a 9-point home favorite against Pittsburgh, a 4-point road favorite against virginia, a 9.5-point road dog against Georgia Tech, and a 6-point road dog against Miami. And, remember, a 16-point home dog against Ohio State.

But we don’t need to strain our brains trying to piece together these ratings. As I showed last year and in 2013, we can take the point spreads from each game to determine what Vegas’ implied ratings are for 70 college football teams. [click to continue…]

  1. Michigan State would be viewed as 2 points worse on a neutral field than Oregon, while being 11 points worse than Ohio State on a neutral field. []
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Julius Thomas and Expected Touchdowns

In 2013, NFL players combined for 129,177 receiving yards and 804 receiving touchdowns. That means, on average, a touchdown was scored every 160.7 receiving yards. Denver tight end Julius Thomas gained 788 receiving yards that year, which means we might have “expected” him to catch 4.9 touchdowns. But Thomas was no average scorer: he finished with 12 touchdowns, or 7.1 more than expected.

In 2013, only Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis scored more receiving touchdowns relative to expectation than Thomas (Davis scored 13 times on just 850 receiving yards, or 7.7 more than expected, while Graham converted 1,215 receiving yards into 16 touchdowns, or 8.4 more than expected).

Well, as good as Thomas was in 2013, he was even crazier at scoring touchdowns last year. Despite gaining just 489 receiving yards, Thomas again scored 12 touchdowns, 8.9 more than expectation (the league average was 159.7 receiving yards per receiving touchdown). That was the most in the NFL, and only Dez Bryant (1,320/16/+7.7) was within shouting distance of him. [click to continue…]

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Passing By Uniform Number

Namath BearMost people know about quarterbacks and the number 12. Even if you didn’t know where it started — Al Dorow of the New York Titans made the Pro Bowl in ’61 wearing number 12, while Charley Johnson of the St. Louis Cardinals was the first #12 to throw for 3,000 yards, doing so in 1963 and 1964 — you can probably recite most of the history from there. John Brodie, who entered the NFL in 1957, was the first great #12, while Joe Namath took the number to iconic status in the late ’60s. It was popularized by Roger Staubach (who also wore 12 at Navy in the early ’60s), Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, and Ken Stabler in the ’70s.1 That means the Super Bowl winning quarterback wore #12 for nine straight years, beginning with Super Bowl VI. Doug Williams even wore it in Tampa Bay, although punter Steve Cox forced Williams to don #17 when in Washington.

Lynn Dickey wore it for the Packers in the early ’80s, while Randall Cunningham and Jim Kelly repped #12 later in the decade. Stan Humphries made it to the Super Bowl wearing #12 with the Chargers, while Erik Kramer set the still-standing franchise records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season while wearing #12 for the Bears in 1995. The only time a Ravens quarterback threw for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns was when Vinny Testaverde wore #12 in 1996. Chris Chandler took the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 1998 wearing #12, while Rich Gannon became the second great Raiders quarterback to wear twelve a year later.

And since then, three guys you might have heard of have worn #12: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Andrew Luck.

Since 1950, players wearing #12 have thrown for 675,044 yards. No other number has yet to hit the 500,000-yard mark. But that brings us to today’s trivia: Which number has produced the second most passing yards since 1950? [click to continue…]

  1. And, sadly, not popularized by Greg Cook. []
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In 2012 and 2013, I looked at which passers were most effective on third and fourth downs; today, we examine those numbers for 2014. Throughout this article, when I refer to “third downs” or “third down performance”, note that such language is just shorthand for third and fourth downs.

To grade third down performance, I included sacks but discarded rushing data (in the interest of time, not because I thought that to be the better approach). The first step in evaluating third down performance is to calculate the league average conversion rate on third downs for each distance. Here were the conversion rates in 2014, along with the smoothed (linear) best-fit rates: [click to continue…]

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Reggie Bush, After 9 NFL Seasons

Bush in his prime

Bush in his prime

There’s no better college football writer than Matt Hinton, and his latest article — The Ghost of Reggie Bush — is a good example of Matt’s typically thorough work. Thinking about Bush now, there’s no denying that he has failed in the NFL to deliver on his oversized hype. And while you don’t need me to count the ways, here are just a few of them:

  • Bush’s best single-season performance in rushing yards is 1,086, set when he was with the Dolphins in 2011. Since he entered the league, 52 players have rushed for1,087 yards or greater in a seaseon at least one time. And that’s 52 players, not 52 player-seasons. Frank Gore, for example, has hit the 1,087-yard mark 7 times since 2006.
  • Bush’s best single-season performance in yards from scrimmage is 1,512, set two years ago as a member of the Lions. Since 2006, 46 players have had at least one season with 1,513 yards from scrimmage or greater. Adrian Peterson has 5 such seasons.

So yeah, Bush has failed to change the game.  He hasn’t been able to do this, or this, or this (sorry, Richie), or this (sorry, Richie), or this in the pros.  Bush has had some impressive returns in the NFL, but the closest he’s ever come to approximating USC Bush was this touchdown run in the playoffs against Arizona.  So, other than for a few brief moments, no, Reggie Bush never became Gale Sayers.

But let’s try to paint Bush’s career in some positive lights. Consider:

  • Rushing Yards: Bush ranks 19th in rushing yards since 2006, which is — not bad? He’s also one of 13 backs to rush for 5,000 yards and 4.3 YPC over the last nine seasons.
  • Yards from Scrimmage: Bush ranks 21st in yards from scrimmage over the last nine years, and 11th in that metric among running backs. That’s … pretty good?

OK, those aren’t great, but what should we have expected out of Bush? In the last 50 years, there have been 21 running backs to win the Heisman, including Bush (who, you know, “didn’t win the Heisman”). Here are their NFL stats: [click to continue…]

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Guest Post/Contest: PFRWhacks

Today’s guest post/contest comes from Adam Harstad, a co-writer of mine at Footballguys.com. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


Like most of you,1 I like to spend my weekends building custom databases of NFL statistics. This past weekend, while doing just that, I happened to notice that Marshall Faulk topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage in both 2000 and 2001 despite playing just 14 games each year. Which sent me scrambling to the Pro-Football-Reference.com player season finder2 so I could share on Twitter the novel observation that Marshall Faulk was, indeed, good at football.

As luck would have it, the humble proprietor of Football Perspective just happened to be sitting at home, trolling around on Twitter, and likewise playing with various historical databases.3 He saw my tweet and responded in kind, with a list of all NFL players sorted by average yards per game from age 25 to 28.

All of this inspired a fun back-and-forth between various other users on Twitter which culminated in me providing a list of all running back seasons with 250+ carries and 50+ yards per game receiving. It’s a rather short list featuring just 8 total seasons. Marshall Faulk accounted for four of those eight seasons, consecutively, from 1998 to 2001.

I quickly noticed an interesting thing about that last list, though. Not only did Marshall Faulk account for half of those seasons in NFL history, but he actually had the top four by receiving yards per game. In fact, if we adjust our “receiving yards per game” baseline from 50 to 54, we wind up with this list, instead.

Now that is a rather more impressive list. Using just two simple cutoffs, we had managed to create a list that was just four names long, and every single one of those names was “Marshall Faulk.”

Seguing away for a second… in the early days of the internet, before there were continents composed solely of cat pictures (or handy NFL season finders to query, for that matter), people would resort to pretty much anything to keep themselves entertained. One game that sprung from these dark times was known as “Googlewhacking”. A Googlewhack was two words that, when entered together into the search bar of the eponymous Google, matched just a single result on the entire internet.

For instance, there was once a time when searching the words “ambidextrous scallywags” (but without the quotation marks) would return just a single match. This was then a successful Googlewhack. Googlewhacks were, by their very nature, ephemeral constructs, since the very act of publishing a Googlewhack would cause the published result to show up on Google and would therefore cause the words to lose their Googlewhack status. [click to continue…]

  1. I assume. []
  2. Obviously. []
  3. On second thought, I doubt luck played any role. []
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There are 23 quarterbacks who have won both a championship (as a starter) and a Most Valuable Player award in professional football history. Can you name them? First, let’s get to the fine print:

  • To determine championships, I began in 1936. I awarded half a ring to each of the championship quarterbacks in the AAFC and NFL from 1946 to 1949, and half a ring to the two championship quarterbacks in the AFL and NFL from 1960 to 1965. For purposes of this post, I am including all quarterbacks with “half a ring”, but when I list career totals, keep the half-ring idea in mind.
  • Based on sharing of quarterback duties, I awarded half-rings to the quarterbacks on the NFL champions in 1939, 1951, 1972, and 1990. For the NFL champion in 1970, I also awarded half a ring to that team’s top two quarterbacks, since the starter left while trailing in the Super Bowl. If you disagree with my awarding of half rings in this manner, don’t worry about.  I’ve spelled out the relevant information in the post below, so feel free to manipulate the system as you desire.  If so inclined, you can dismiss the early AFL years or give full credit to both MVPs in a particular season, for example.
  • For MVPs, I used the Joseph F. Carr award from ’38 to ’46. Then I used the UPI for the next ten years, or the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club award when the UPI didn’t name an MVP. Those years were 1947 (which, as it turns out, was one of the easiest seasons to identify), 1949, 1950, and 1952. Then I used the AP for every year since for simplicity’s sake (i.e., just using what is listed on PFR, not out of a misguided notion that the AP is the end-all, be-all source for MVP voting). I gave the AFL and NFL MVP half an award in each year from 1960 to 1969, and I also assigned only half credit to the shared MVPs in ’97 and ’03 (the award was also split in ’49).

[click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows are Brad’s thoughts on a stat-based quarterback ranking system.


I recently concluded an eight-part series on the greatest quarterbacks in the history of professional football. Those rankings were subjective, based on everything I know about the players: stats, awards and honors, coaching and teammates, team success and postseason performance, reputation, the eye test, and so forth.

But I also have a method for classifying quarterbacks statistically. I actually published the results of this formula three months ago, but without revealing the process that produced those results. A number of readers were curious about my methodology, and in this post, I’ll finally explain how the sausage gets made. The math is not complicated — you don’t need a stats background to understand this — but there’s a lot of it: you could calculate most of this with a pencil and paper, but by the end, you’re going to want a spreadsheet. [click to continue…]

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Last Sunday, I asked you about the head coaches who won playoff games with the most quarterbacks. Today, per wiesengrund’s request, the reverse: quarterbacks who won playoff games with multiple coaches.

There is one quarterback who won playoff games with four different head coaches. Can you name him? [click to continue…]

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An alternate uniform for the greatest tight end ever

An alternate uniform for the greatest tight end ever

Over the last three days, we’ve looked at the most dominant fantasy quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. Today, we look at tight ends, using the methodology described over the three previous days.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

You probably expect to see Rob Gronkowski’s 2011 season grade as the best fantasy season by any tight end. But, as it turns out, an AFC West tight end had one season that was ever so slightly more dominant.

You might think I’m talking about Tony Gonzalez, who has an unreal eleven seasons in the top 200. Or Kellen Winslow, who has eight top-200 seasons, half of which rank in the top 25. And if not one of those two, then surely Antonio Gates, who has nine top-200 seasons, including two in the top twenty. Or Shannon Sharpe, of course, who also has nine top-200 seasons, with six of those being in the top 70.

In fact, AFC West teams1 have 14 of the top 25 seasons by a tight end in fantasy history, and and 19 of the top 35 years. No division has dominated this position like the AFC West, but the best tight end season in fantasy history came from someone else: Oakland’s Todd Christensen. [click to continue…]

  1. And we don’t even need to include Seattle, which has 0 entries in the top 200 []
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The GOAT

The GOAT

On Wednesday, we looked at the most dominant quarterbacks in fantasy history. Yesterday, we did the same for running backs. Today, we look at wide receivers, using the methodology described over the two previous days.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

There are four seasons that have topped 200 points of VBD in wide receiver history: Elroy Hirsch, 1951; Wes Chandler, 1982; and Jerry Rice, 1987 and 1995. In ’95, Rice set the still-standing record with 351.5 fantasy points, courtesy of 122 catches, 1,848 receiving yards, and 15 touchdowns (he also rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown). Rice averaged 21.97 FP/G that year, while the baseline of WR32 was 9.15 FP/G. Therefore, Rice was 12.82 FP/G above the baseline for 16 games, which comes out to 205.1 points of VBD. [click to continue…]

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The fantasy GOAT

The fantasy GOAT

Yesterday, we looked at the most dominant quarterbacks in fantasy history. Today, the running backs, using the methodology described yesterday. Let’s look at the three best seasons in fantasy history, since all shed light on the formula here. Those three are LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006, which is easy to argue as the best year ever as Tomlinson shattered the record for fantasy points scored. But O.J. Simpson in 1975 (not ’73) was also dominant, and did so in a 14-game season and when the baseline was lower. The darkhorse candidate is Priest Holmes, 2002, who put up insane numbers but missed two games due to injury.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

In 2006, Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards with 28 TDs, caught 56 passes for 508 yards and 3 touchdowns, and even threw for 20 yards and two touchdowns. He totaled a still mind-boggling 455.3 fantasy points. On a per game basis, Tomlinson averaged 28.46 FP/G, while the baseline — which for these purposes is RB241 — was at 10.75 FP/G. Therefore, Tomlinson averaged 17.71 FP/G over the baseline, and he did it for 16 games, giving him a VBD of 283.3 fantasy points (17.71 x 16). [click to continue…]

  1. Baselines used in this series: From 1968 to 2014, RB24. In ’66 and ’67, RB20, and from ’61 to ’65, RB16. In the 1960 AFL, the baseline is RB6, while it is RB8 in the NFL. From 1950 to 1959, the baseline used is RB8. []
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What was the most dominant fantasy season of all time? You might think Peyton Manning 2013, but let me throw out another candidate: Steve Young, 1998.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

In 2013, Manning threw for 5,477 yards and 55 TDs with just 10 interceptions, while rushing for -31 yards but with one TD. That comes out to 486.75 fantasy points. In 1998, Young threw for 4,170 yards with 36 TDs and 12 INTs, but also ran for 454 yards and 6 TDs. That is equal to 421.90 fantasy points. So, advantage Manning.

But we measure fantasy dominance “not by the number of points he scores[, but] by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.” Those are the words of Joe Bryant in his famous VBD article, and I’ll make an appendix to that for historical purposes: the key is how much a player outscores his peers at his particular position in that particular year.

When calculating VBD scores, the standard is to use the 12th-ranked quarterback. In 2013, the 12th=-ranked QB scored 309.2 fantasy points, which means Manning outscored him by 177.55 fantasy points (or we could say that Manning produced 178 points of VBD). In 1998, the 12th-ranked quarterback scored just 235.6 fantasy points, which means Young finished with 186.3 points of VBD. So, advantage, Young.

But there’s another piece of the puzzle that tips the scales even more towards the 49ers quarterback. In 1998, Young missed one game. For fantasy purposes, it’s more valuable to have a quarterback produced X points in 15 games than it is for him to produce X points in 16 games, because you can play someone else during that 16th game. [click to continue…]

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On Sunday, I calculated the average number of pass attempts (including sacks) per game for each season since 1950, and then looked at which were the highest era-adjusted passing games in football history. On Monday, I looked at the single seasons that were the most and least pass-happy, from the perspective of each quarterback and after adjusting for era. Today, career grades.

How much do you know about Frank Tripucka? Probably not that much. If you’re a younger fan, you might know him because Denver “unretired” his #18 when Peyton Manning came to town, or because his son Kelly played in the NBA.

If you’re a Football Perspective regular, you may recall that he was the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.1 Well, after today, you’re never going to forget about Tripucka.

I looked at all quarterbacks who started at least 48 regular season games since 1950.2 As a reminder about the methodology, I then calculated the league average dropbacks per game (i.e., pass attempts + sacks) in each season. Then, I determined the number of dropbacks by each quarterback’s team in each game started by that quarterback.

Then, I compared that number to league average to determine the ratio. Do this for every game of a quarterback’s career, and viola, career ratings! Here’s how to read the table below. Tripucka started 50 games in his career since 1950. In those games, his teams averaged 38.5 dropbacks per game, while the league average was 31 dropbacks. As a result, Tripucka’s teams in games he started finished with 124% as many pass attempts as the average team, or 7.5 more attempts per game. That makes him the most pass-happy quarterback ever. The final column shows whether the quarterback is in, or very likely to wind up in, the Hall of Fame.3 [click to continue…]

  1. And by first, I mean that in the most literal sense: in 1960, Tripucka, playing in the AFL and a 14-game season, crossed the 3,000 yard mark in the final game of the season. For Denver, that happened to be a Saturday. The next day, another AFL quarterback, Jack Kemp, crossed the 3,000-yard threshold with the Chargers. The AFL opened with a 14-game schedule to get a jump on the NFL, which was still playing a 12-game schedule in 1960. The NFL’s regular season ended at the same time, and Johnny Unitas became the first NFL passer to hit 3,000 yards on the same day as Kemp. []
  2. For quarterbacks who played prior to 1950, like Tripucka, they are included, but only their post-1950 stats are counted. []
  3. Note that I have included Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, and Aaron Rodgers as HOF quarterbacks for these purposes. This is not based on my subjective opinion of those players, but based on my subjective opinion of their likelihoods of enshrinement. If one was to sort by the HOF category, I thought it would be more useful to have them as a “Yes” than as a “No.” Your mileage may vary. []
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Yesterday, we looked at which teams had the most pass attempts (including sacks) in individual games relative to league average. Today, we will analyze things on the season level.

Let’s use Tobin Rote as an example. As Brad Oremland noted, Rote was stuck playing for terrible Packers teams in the ’50s that were weak on defense and light at running back. In 1951, Green Bay ranked 12th in the 12-team NFL in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns, and 11th in points allowed and yards allowed. The Packers often went with just one running back in the backfield — a rarity in those days — which is a sign that the emphasis on the passing game wasn’t just a result of the team’s losing record. Green Bay also went with a quarterback-by-committee approach: Rote started 11 of 12 games, but he finished the year with 256 pass attempts, while backup Bobby Thomason had 221. Individually, neither had great numbers, but together, they helped Green Bay finish with 50 more pass attempts than any other team in football.

The method I used yesterday, and will be using throughout this series, is to give the starting quarterback credit for all team pass attempts in that game. The reason? If a quarterback gets injured and finishes a game with just 5 attempts, that will kill his average in a misleading way. That would do more harm, I think, than giving him credit for all attempts in the game. But that decision has its drawbacks, and in particular, it seems ill-suited for teams in the early ’50s that employed a QBBC approach. This is particularly relevant here, because “Rote’s” 1951 season checks in as the most pass-happy on our list.

So the Rote line for ’51 should really be thought of as Rote and Thomason. Rote’s 1956 season also makes the top ten, and there’s no fine print necessary there. Rote started 11 of 12 games and threw 308 passes, while Bart Starr started the remaining game and had just 44 attempts that season. The ’56 Packers were not very good, ranking last in both points and yards allowed, and last in rushing attempts, too.

The table below shows the top 300 seasons (minimum 7 games started) in terms of pass attempts relative to league average. You can use the search function to see that Rote’s season in 1954 with Green Bay also makes the cut. To explain what’s in the table below, let’s use season #15 on the list, Shane Matthews in 1999, as an example. That year, Matthews started 7 games, but in those games, the Bears averaged an incredible 47.1 dropbacks per game, the second highest rate ever. Matthews shared some snaps with rookie Cade McNown that year, so you wouldn’t know it just by looking at Matthews’ raw numbers, but the ’99 Bears were insanely pass-happy under Gary Crowton. The league average was 36.3 dropbacks per game, so the Bears in “Matthews games” were 10.8 attempts above average, and 129.8% above league average. [click to continue…]

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Let’s take a look at the league average dropbacks (pass attempts + sacks) per game for each year from 1950 to 2014.

dropback per game [click to continue…]

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There are three head coaches who have won playoff games with five different quarterbacks. Can you name them?

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Trivia hint 3 Show
[click to continue…]

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Will Chip Kelly Win A Playoff Game With the Eagles?

What this post will not be about: answering the question of whether Chip Kelly will win a playoff game with the Eagles. But coming up with a more precise title for this post is tough, and well, let me give you the background to this post.

I was having lunch with the fine folks at Sports-Reference yesterday, and the conversation turned to Kelly. I asked them whether they thought Kelly would wind up being a bust in Philly, and they wisely asked for a more precise question. So I asked: did they think Kelly would win a playoff game with Philadelphia before his tenure ended?

We all thought that was a pretty interesting question — I’m not quite sure how Vegas would set the line on it, although I imagine it would be very close to even money. But it made me wonder: at any given point in time, how likely is coach X of Team Y to win a playoff game before his tenure ends? For example, let’s flip back the clock four years ago, to the start of the 2011 season. Let’s say we asked that question of each of the 32 head coaches: what would the results be?

For two of them, the answer would be TBD: Marvin Lewis, of course, has coached the Bengals for a record 12 seasons without winning a playoff game… or getting fired. And, over the last four years, Mike Tomlin hasn’t won a playoff game or been relieved of his duties, either.

Of the other 30 coaches, 12 of them would go on to win at least one playoff game with the team they were coaching at the start of the 2011 season. The other 18 were fired or otherwise had their tenure end without winning a (or, if they won a playoff game pre-2011, “another”) playoff game. Here’s the full table, showing how many playoff wins each 2011 coach had with that team through the 2014 season:

Remember that when looking at the above table, for someone like Rex Ryan, the question isn’t whether he won a playoff game with the Jets, but whether he would win a playoff game beginning with the start of the 2011 season. Ditto for Tomlin, which is why he’s in the TBD column.

But a sample size of one year doesn’t tell us much, so I looked at this question for each season since realignment in 2002. Here are the results.

coach playoffs

The 2002 season was the most “successful” of the bunch, with an even half of the league’s 32 coaches at that time going on to win at least one playoff game with their team (starting from 2002). As it turns out, the 2011 season was a slight outlier, but in general, we should expect that only about 13 of the 32 head coaches will win a playoff game from here on out before their tenure ends. On average, from 2002 to 2011, 17.9 coaches did not win a future playoff game, 13.1 did, and 1 (Lewis, naturally) is TBD.

This doesn’t necessarily do much to answer the Kelly question, but hey, that’s what the comments are for.

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Chan Gailey, Quarterback Whisperer?

The Jets coaching staff underwent a significant overhaul this offseason, headlined by the hiring of head coach Todd Bowles. For any defensive-minded head coach, the most important hire is his offensive coordinator. Here, Bowles tapped veteran coach Chan Gailey as the man responsible for reviving the Jets offense and, perhaps, the career of Geno Smith.

Gailey has been lauded as a quarterback whisperer based on… well, let’s just take a look and see exactly what that is based on. Because when it comes to new Jets offensive coordinators, it’s best to actually study the numbers and not just listen to hype. [click to continue…]

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You remember 1976, don’t you? Two teams — the Colts with Bert Jones and Roger Carr, and the Raiders with Ken Stabler and Cliff Branch — stood out from the pack when it came to pass efficiency that season. The Colts led the NFL in passing yards, ranked 2nd in passing touchdowns, and threw just 10 interceptions, tied for the fewest in the NFL. Oakland threw 33 touchdown passes — nine more than the Colts and 12 more than any other team in football — while ranking 3rd in passing yards. Both teams averaged 7.5 Net Yards per Pass Attempt, while every other team was below seven in that metric. Those two teams went a combined 24-4.

The next four best passing teams were St. Louis, Dallas, Minnesota and Los Angeles. Each of those teams went 10-4 or better. In fact, the linear relationship between pass efficiency and team record was quite strong that year. Take a look at the chart below, which plots Relative ANY/A — i.e., Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt relative to league average — on the X-Axis, and Winning Percentage on the Y-Axis: [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


I’ve been studying NFL history my whole life, but until this year, I never published my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. This is the final installment in an eight-part series, so let’s review the list thus far.

The best pre-Modern Era quarterbacks: Sammy Baugh, Dutch Clark, Ed Danowski, Paddy Driscoll, Benny Friedman, Arnie Herber, Cecil Isbell, Sid Luckman, Bernie Masterson, Ace Parker, and Bob Waterfield. [click to continue…]

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On Saturday, we looked at the top passing performers against each franchise. Yesterday, we did the same thing but with rushing statistics. Today, we revive a post from two years ago and complete the series with a look at the top receiving producers against each franchise (all data beginning in 1960).

Let’s begin with receptions. In the past two seasons, Jason Witten has emerged as the number one franchise nemesis for both Washington and New York, eliminating Art Monk and Michael Irvin, respectively, from the tops of those record books. Witten was already the top guy against the Eagles, making him the career leader in receptions against each of the Cowboys three NFC East rivals.

Other non-surprising news: Jerry Rice is the top man against the Falcons, Saints, and Rams, with his numbers against Atlanta being particularly mind-blowing. Tim Brown is number one against his old AFC West teams, and was also number one against the Seahawks until Larry Fitzgerald just passed him. Andre Reed takes the top spot against the Dolphins/Colts/Jets (Marvin Harrison is #1 against the Patriots), Hines Ward has more catches than anyone against the Browns/Bengals/Ravens, while Cris Carter is number one against all four of his old NFC Norris rivals. [click to continue…]

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Franchise Nemeses: Rushing Metrics

Yesterday, we looked at the top statistical passers against each franchise. Today, we revise a post from a couple of years ago and look at the top rushing producers against each franchise.

Only two players have emerged as a franchise’s top rushing nemesis over the last two years. One of those situations involves the Rams. Only five players have ever rushed for 1,000 yards in their careers against the Rams franchise: Shaun Alexander, Jim Taylor, and Tony Dorsett each finished with between 1,008 and 1,032 rushing yards against the Rams. As of two years ago, Roger Craig’s 1,120 was the most, but since then, Frank Gore has upped his career total to 1,191 rushing yards against St. Louis (and he’s done it in three fewer games than Craig).

With the Saints, it’s even trickier. For a long time, Lawrence McCutcheon was the career rushing leader against New Orleans with 966, but Eric Dickerson (984) passed him before Dickerson retired. Then, Warrick Dunn took over the top spot with 1,135 yards. But in 2013, DeAngelo Williams passed Dunn for most career rushing yards against the Saints. Otherwise, the list below remains pretty similar to how things were last time, although note that this time around, I’m including the playoffs. That’s enough to cause Eddie George to leapfrog Jerome Bettis for the top spot against the Ravens.

Oh, and for the second day in a row, you have to go back to the ’60s to find the man who has been the number one nemesis for the 49ers: [click to continue…]

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A couple of years ago on the July 4th holiday, I looked at each team’s franchise nemesis in a number of statistics. Let’s revisit that, beginning today with passing yards and passing touchdowns.

You won’t be surprised to know that John Elway has thrown for more yards against the Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, and Seahawks — his four division rivals — than any other player has gained against those four teams. Similarly, Dan Marino has thrown for more yards against the Bills, Jets, Patriots, and Colts than any other quarterback. Brett Favre threw for more yards than anyone else against the Lions, Bears, and Vikings (but not the Bucs), and Peyton Manning is the top nemesis for the Oilers/Titans franchise, the Jaguars, and the Texans.

Drew Brees is the big enemy of the Bucs, Panthers, and Falcons, while Ben Roethlisberger is the top passer against the Ravens, Bengals, and Browns. Perhaps more surprising is that Eli Manning has already thrown for more yards against Philadelphia, Washington, and Dallas than any other quarterback: that’s particularly surprising since he wasn’t #1 against any of those teams two years ago.

One that always kind of surprises me is seeing Johnny Unitas as number 1 against the 49ers, but it does make some sense. My guess is you could win quite a few bar bets with that one. Here’s the full list, which includes all passing yards thrown by each quarterback against each of the 32 teams (and includes playoff games): [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I looked at the best defenses in football history in terms of (estimated) points allowed on an (estimated) per drive basis. Today, the reverse: the worst defenses in history, at least, without adjusting for era, in terms of points allowed per drive.

The 1981 Colts take the top spot, and that’s not going to be a surprise to any fan of NFL history. Those Colts teams were terrible, particularly on defense. In ’81, Baltimore beat New England 29-28 in week 1, beat New England 23-21 in the last game of the season, and lost every game in between. In ’82, Baltimore finished 0-8-1. In fact, beginning in December 1980, over the team’s next 31 games, the Colts went 3-1 against the Patriots and 0-26-1 against the rest of the NFL! And beginning in ’81, the Colts went 24 straight games without being favored.

The ’81 Colts finished last in just about every defensive category, including points, yards, turnovers, first downs, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, and net yards per attempt. Baltimore’s defense ranked in the bottom three in both rushing yards and passing yards, too. Baltimore allowed 533 points, which remains the most in a single season in NFL history, undisturbed by the modern era. [click to continue…]

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The Purple People Eaters

The Purple People Eaters

The 1969 Minnesota Vikings were really good on defense. It began with the defensive line, as that Minnesota squad was the only team in NFL history to send all four defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl. Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen may have been the greatest combination of defensive linemen playing together in their primes in NFL history. The Vikings also had Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause playing in the prime of his career.

Minnesota was quarterback by Joe Kapp, but propped up by the defense: after the season, Kapp was traded to the Patriots, and proceeded to suffer the second worst decline in passer rating in NFL history. The Vikings went 12-2 that season, losing on opening day and in a meaningless game at the end of the year.

Minnesota allowed just 133 points, or 9.5 points per game, in 1969. That’s the 2nd fewest in a season since World War II, trailing only the Gritz Blitz 1977 Falcons. The Vikings allowed 16 touchdowns in 1969, but four came on returns (two on interceptions, one fumble, one interception)! Exclude those, and the Vikings allowed just 84 points on touchdowns and 21 points on field goals, for a total of 105 points allowed to the opposing offense. [click to continue…]

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Single-Season Cellar Dwellars in OPPED

On Sunday, I looked at the single-season leaders in estimated offensive points per estimated drive. Today, let’s look at the reverse: the teams since 1950 with the fewest points per estimated drive.

The 1977 Bucs ranked last in the NFL in points, yards, first downs, passing yards, passing touchdowns, net yards per attempt, rushing yards, and rushing yards per carry. The team ranked third from last in rushing touchdowns and interceptions. It was that kind of year for Tampa Bay, as the team was shut out 6 times in 14 games, and held to just a field goal in three others.

Tampa scored just 103 points, but the defense scored four touchdowns! As a result, the Bucs get credit for just 76 estimated offensive points (the offense does get credit for one missed extra point), the fewest of any team since 1950. [click to continue…]

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