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The original standard for postseason success.

On Wednesday, I explained the methodology for grading each quarterback in each season. Yesterday, I came up with an all-time career list of the best quarterbacks based on their regular season play. Today, a look at playoff performances.

Using the same formula, we can grade each quarterback in each game and adjust for era1. However, it should be obvious that the sample sizes here are incredibly small, and the stats are even less likely to tell the true story when looking at just one game. Strength of schedule becomes a significant factor here, as well. But, caveats aside, there’s a lot we can do with playoff data. For example, we can rank every quarterback performance in Super Bowl history:

1Joe MontanaSFOMIA19W353313040611272
2Steve YoungSFOSDG29W363256043111.1264
3Troy AikmanDALBUF27W302734038112.3258
4Joe MontanaSFODEN24W292975039713.3256
5Kurt WarnerSTLTEN34W45414204479.7225
6Jim PlunkettOAKPHI15W212613032014.5219
7Phil SimmsNYGDEN21W252683032312.4216
8Doug WilliamsWASDEN22W293404135811.6211
9John ElwayDENATL33W293361133111181
10Jim McMahonCHINWE20W202560028411.6174
11Joe MontanaSFOCIN23W36357203519165
12Jake DelhommeCARNWE38L33323303258.8146
13Tom BradyNWECAR38W48354313697.7141
14Terry BradshawPITDAL13W30318412667.8140
15Mark RypienWASBUF26W33292212878.7128
16Terry BradshawPITRAM14W213092321410.2123
17Bart StarrGNBKAN1W23250212248.7121
18Terry BradshawPITDAL10W19209202009.5121
19Aaron RodgersGNBPIT45W39304303488.3118
20Brett FavreGNBNWE31W27246202688.1111
21Drew BreesNORIND44W39288203218107
22Ken StablerOAKMIN11W19180101838.7103
23Troy AikmanDALPIT30W23209102188.791
24Kurt WarnerARIPIT43L43377313297.387
25John ElwayDENNYG21L37304112706.581
26Bart StarrGNBOAK2W24202101826.579
27Joe MontanaSFOCIN16W22157101887.876
28Tom BradyNWEPHI39W33236202597.475
29Joe NamathNYJBAL3W28206001956.568
30Peyton ManningINDNOR44L45333113086.867
31Ken AndersonCINSFO16L34300222546.467
32Jeff HostetlerNYGBUF25W32222102346.966
33Bob LeeMINOAK11L9811010010.965
34Roger StaubachDALMIA6W19119201406.763
35Steve McNairTENSTL34L36214002085.661
36Eli ManningNYGNWE46W4029610302761
37Terry BradshawPITMIN9W1496101046.559
38Kurt WarnerSTLNWE36L4436512287655
39Roger StaubachDALPIT13L30228311614.653
40Jim KellyBUFNYG25L30212002056.652
41Jim PlunkettRAIWAS18W25172101746.448
42Roger StaubachDALDEN12W25183101424.845
43Brad JohnsonTAMOAK37W34215212106.245
44Earl MorrallBALDAL5W15147011026.843
45Ben RoethlisbergerPITARI43W30256112096.537
46Bob GrieseMIAMIN8W77300637.934
47Brett FavreGNBDEN32L42256312405.634
48Daryle LamonicaOAKGNB2L34208211814.932
49Fran TarkentonMINMIA8L28182011414.531
50Gary KubiakDENNYG21L448004510.225
51Troy AikmanDALBUF28W27207011595.521
52Tom BradyNWENYG46L41276212616.120
53Len DawsonKANGNB1L27211111354.219
54Trent DilferBALNYG35W25153101545.517
55Tom BradyNWESTL36W27145101545.314
56Len DawsonKANMIN4W1714211974.910
57Gary KubiakDENSFO24L32800256.87
58Frank ReichBUFWAS26L11100109.45
59Steve YoungSFODEN24W32000206.55
60Vince FerragamoRAMPIT14L25212011274.44
61Danny WhiteDALDEN12W250031.14
62Matt HasselbeckSEAPIT40L49273112344.53
63Ben RoethlisbergerPITGNB45L40263222115.12
64Bill MusgraveSFOSDG29W160065.20
65Fran TarkentonMINOAK11L35205121323.7-4
66Babe ParilliNYJBAL3W10000-0.4-5
67Zeke BratkowskiGNBKAN1W1000-1-0.8-5
68Jay SchroederWASDEN22W1000-1-0.6-6
69Pete BeathardKANGNB1L5170071.3-6
70Tony BanksBALNYG35W1000-1-0.7-6
71Eli ManningNYGNWE42W34255211824.9-8
72Bob GrieseMIAWAS7W118811443.4-8
73Peyton ManningINDCHI41W38247111844.7-10
74John ElwayDENGNB32W2212301984.3-12
75Don StrockMIAWAS17L3000-3-0.9-17
76Steve FullerCHINWE20W4000-3-0.6-23
77Ron JaworskiPHIOAK15L38291131463.8-28
78Joe TheismannWASMIA17W2314322742.8-33
79Dan MarinoMIASFO19L50318122194.1-33
80Elvis GrbacSFOSDG29W1000-30-28.2-36
81Johnny UnitasBALNYJ3L2411001652.7-37
82David WoodleyMIAWAS17L149711281.9-37
83Donovan McNabbPHINWE39L51357332494.5-40
84Norris WeeseDENDAL12L102200-18-1.6-42
85Gale GilbertSDGSFO29L63001-17-2.7-44
86Gary CuozzoMINKAN4L31601-32-9.6-46
87Johnny UnitasBALDAL5W98812-12-1.3-47
88Tom BradyNWENYG42L48266102194.1-53
89Bob GrieseMIADAL6L2313401301.3-58
90Boomer EsiasonCINSFO23L2514401782.6-65
91Jim KellyBUFDAL28L50260011823.4-66
92Stan HumphriesSDGSFO29L49275121893.7-67
93Ben RoethlisbergerPITSEA40W2112302452-67
94Tony EasonNWECHI20L6000-40-5.6-72
95Roger StaubachDALPIT10L2420423371.2-78
96Chris ChandlerATLDEN33L3521913912.5-79
97Joe KappMINKAN4L2518302391.4-81
98John ElwayDENWAS22L3825713932.2-90
99Rex GrossmanCHIIND41L2816512541.9-90
100Steve GroganNWECHI20L3017712561.6-105
101Jim KellyBUFDAL27L78202-72-9.3-107
102Joe TheismannWASRAI18L3524302731.8-112
103Craig MortonDALBAL5L2612713-2-0.1-112
104Fran TarkentonMINPIT9L2610203-33-1.3-127
105Earl MorrallBALNYJ3L177103-64-3.8-136
106Frank ReichBUFDAL27L3119412160.5-137
107Neil O'DonnellPITDAL30L49239131222.3-147
108Billy KilmerWASMIA7L2810403-48-1.6-159
109Drew BledsoeNWEGNB31L4825324741.4-178
110John ElwayDENSFO24L2610802-22-0.7-182
111Rich GannonOAKTAM37L4427225350.7-212
112Craig MortonDENDAL12L153904-157-9-214
113Jim KellyBUFWAS26L5827524300.5-269
114Kerry CollinsNYGBAL35L3911204-124-2.9-335

If you type Montana’s name into the search box, you can see that he has the 1st, 4th, 11th and 27th best performance in Super Bowl history. The best performance in a losing effort goes to Jake Delhomme, who shredded the Patriots secondary in the second half of Super Bowl XXXVIII (he began the game 1 for 9 for 1 yard). The worst performance in a winning effort, unsurprisingly, goes to Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XL, although Joe Theismann against the Dolphins gets an honorable mention. Worst performance overall goes to Kerry Collins, although Craig Morton’s 4 interceptions and 39 yards on 15 attempts against his former team in Super Bowl XII could give Collins a run for his money.

What about best championship game performances in the pre-Super Bowl era?

1Tobin RoteDETCLE1957W192804038019304
2Sid LuckmanCHIWAS1943W262865038614.8248
3Otto GrahamCLERAM1950W33298412927.7236
4Sammy BaughWASCHI1937W33335313209.7228
5Harry NewmanNYGCHI1933L192092120410.7197
6Charlie ConerlyNYGCHI1956W101952023222.1192
7Bart StarrGNBNYG1961W171643022413.2152
8Otto GrahamCLEDET1954W121633219312.9135
9Frank RyanCLEBAL1964W182063121211.2132
10Norm Van BrocklinRAMCLE1951W61281014824.7129
11Tobin RoteSDGBOS1963W151732022613.1127
12Sid LuckmanCHINYG1941W121600016013.3125
13George BlandaHOULAC1960W313013036111.6123
14Charlie ConerlyNYGBAL1958W141871019011.6122
15Arnie HerberGNBNYG1938L141231014310.2117
16Johnny UnitasBALNYG1959W29264202677.4115
17Charlie O'RourkeCHIWAS1942L71280012818.3105

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  1. Note that I do not have individual playoff sack data prior to 2008, so I am using pro-rated sack numbers based on team sack data. []

Yesterday, I explained the methodology behind the formula involved in ranking every quarterback season in football history. Today, I’m going to present the career results. Converting season value to career value isn’t as simple as it might seem. Generally, we don’t want a player who was very good for 12 years to rank ahead of a quarterback who was elite for ten. Additionally, we don’t want to give significant penalties to players who struggled as rookies or hung around too long; we’re mostly concerned with the peak value of the player.

What I’ve historically done — and done here — is to give each quarterback 100% of his value or score from his best season, 95% of his score in his second best season, 90% of his score in his third best season, and so on. This rewards quarterbacks who played really well for a long time and doesn’t kill players with really poor rookie years or seasons late in their career. It also helps to prevent the quarterbacks who were compilers from dominating the top of the list. The table below shows the top 150 regular season QBs in NFL history using that formula, along with the first and last years of their careers, their number of career attempts (including sacks and rushing touchdowns), and their career records and winning percentages (each since 1950). For visibility reasons, I’ve shown the top 30 quarterbacks below, but you can change that number in the filter or click on the right arrow to see the remaining quarterbacks.
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In 2006, I took a stab at ranking every quarterback in NFL history. Two years later, I acquired more data and made enough improvements to merit publishing an updated and more accurate list of the best quarterbacks the league has ever seen. In 2009, I tweaked the formula again, and published a set of career rankings, along with a set of strength of schedule, era and weather adjustments, and finally career rankings which include those adjustments and playoff performances.

If nothing else, that was three years ago, so the series was due for an update. I’ve also acquired more data, enabling me to tweak the formula to better reflect player performance. But let’s start today with an explanation of the methodology I’m using. To rank a group of players, you need to decide which metric you’re ordering the list by. I’ll get to all of the criteria I’m not using in a little bit, but the formula does use each of the following: pass attempts, passing touchdowns, passing yards, interceptions, sacks, sack yards lost, fumbles, fumbles recovered, rush attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Most importantly, the formula is adjusted for era and league.

Two of the best quarterbacks ever.

So where do we begin? We start with plain old yards per attempt. I then incorporate sack data by removing sack yards from the numerator and adding sacks to the denominator1. To include touchdowns and pass attempts, I gave a quarterback 20 yards for each passing touchdown and subtracted 45 yards for each interception. This calculation — (Pass Yards + 20 * PTD – 45 * INT – Sack Yards Lost) / (Sacks + Pass Attempts) forms the basis for Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, one of the key metrics I use to evaluate quarterbacks.

For purposes of this study, I did some further tweaking. I’m including rushing touchdowns, because our goal is to measure quarterbacks as players. There’s no reason to separate rushing and passing touchdowns from a value standpoint, so all passing and rushing touchdowns are worth 20 yards and are calculated in the numerator of Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. To be consistent, I also include rushing touchdowns in the denominator of the equation. This won’t change anything for most quarterbacks, but feels right to me. A touchdown is a touchdown.
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  1. I have individual sack data for every quarterback since 1969. For seasons before then, I have team sack data going back to 1949. For seasons before 1950, I ignored sacks; for seasons between 1950 and 1969, I gave each quarterback an approximate number of sacks, giving him the pro-rated portion of sacks allowed by the percentage of pass attempts he threw for the team. While imperfect, I thought this “fix” to be better than to ignore the data completely, especially for years where one quarterback was responsible for the vast majority of his team’s pass attempts. []

The fountain of youth consists of two parts levitation and one part Matt Schaub

In a year where offensive fireworks dominated the headlines, here’s a piece of trivia on the other side of the ball: 36-year-old London Fletcher led the league in tackles. Fletcher, like Ray Lewis, is past the point where he can be referred to by his name alone. Instead, both get the honorific “ageless” before their names. The ageless Ray Lewis made his thirteenth Pro Bowl last season, putting him one behind Merlin Olsen and Bruce Matthews for the record. While it’s tempting to say Lewis is making Pro Bowl berths based on reputation now, I don’t think it’s his play is undeserving of such recognitiion. According to Pro Football Focus, Lewis was the 5th best inside linebacker last season. As for London Fletcher, he also registered in the top ten according to PFF. And while Fletcher was never as dominant as Lewis, ‘ageless’ simply has replaced ‘criminally underrated’ for Fletcher, a moniker that preceded his name most of the time for the last decade.

I think most of us know that it’s pretty incredible that these two are 37-years-old and still playing at high levels (well, at least we expect them to in 2012). But do we really recognize how truly rare this is? There are eleven modern era inside linebackers currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The table below lists them chronologically based on the year they entered the league. The columns show the “Approximate Value” or “AV” score (as defined by Pro-Football-Reference) assigned to each linebacker for each season during his thirties.

Mike Singletary181213159000
Harry Carson71013149600
Jack Lambert1717200000
Willie Lanier95500000
Dick Butkus156000000
Nick Buoniconti91116149010
Ray Nitschke16151097220
Sam Huff118860600
Les Richter119200000
Joe Schmidt172190000
Bill George171415919609

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This is a starting NFL quarterback in an NFL uniform. Welcome to 2012.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were drafted as franchise saviors, and have been expected to start on opening day for months; more recently Brandon Weeden in Cleveland and Ryan Tannehill in Miami won starting jobs. Then, last night, Pete Carroll announced that Russell Wilson had beaten Matt Flynn in the Seahawks quarterback battle. Barring injury, we’ll see five rookie quarterbacks starting on opening day for the first time since 1950 (and likely ever). Before Wilson, we were already in record territory, as no more than three teams have ever started the season with rookie quarterbacks since 1950 (and likely ever). In 1969, Roger Staubach, Greg Cook and James Harris were week one starters for the Cowboys, Bengals and Bills. The year before, Greg Landry, Dewey Warren, and Dan Darragh started for the Lions… Bengals and Bills. And in the AFL’s inaugural season, three teams fielded rookie quarterbacks. But on average, less than one rookie quarterback has started a team’s opening game each season since the merger.

Last year, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton were opening day starters, and their success (along with the success of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan) have undoubtedly made teams become more willing to start rookie quarterbacks. In fact, the youth movement goes beyond just this year’s class: in addition to Newton and Dalton, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, and Blaine Gabbert will be second-year quarterbacks starting in week one this season. That’s another record, breaking the seven such quarterbacks in 2000. Remember 1999, the Year of the Quarterback in the NFL Draft? Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, and Daunte Culpepper were all high first-round draft picks, and all were sophomore starters in 2000. Shaun King, fresh off a strong late-season run for Tampa Bay, joined the group in week 1 of the 2000, as did Jeff Garcia in San Francisco.

What’s the explanation? Luck, Griffin, and Newton were uber elite talents who were too good to sit. Wilson legitimately won the Seahawks job in training camp and preseason, a rare event in any era for a rookie quarterback. But the rest of the group — Weeden, Tannehill, Dalton, Gabbert, Ponder, and Locker — seem to signal a shift in NFL philosophy. The table below lists all quarterbacks drafted in the top 40 — but not in the top 5 — since 1970, and the first year in their career when they started for their team in week one:
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Trivia of the Day – Sunday, August 26th

Prevented Aikman, Emmitt and Michael from threepeating.

Yesterday’s trivia question centered on which team has won the most regular season games since 1970. Today we’ll shift to post-season results.

Every NFL team has now won a playoff game, as the Houston Texans joined the club in January with a win over the Bengals in the wildcard round of the playoffs. That puts them tied with the Detroit Lions for fewest playoff wins since 1970; and unlike the Texans, the Lions have been around for far too long to have mustered just one playoff win in the last 43 years. Detroit defeated the young Dallas Cowboys in the division round of the 1991 playoffs — just before the Cowboys would put it all together and win the next two Super Bowls.

But what about the most playoff wins? Like yesterday, take a second to think about it, or click on the multiple choice answers below for some hints:

Answer A Show

Answer B Show

Answer C Show

Answer D Show

Click 'Show' for the Answer Show


Trivia of the Day – Saturday, August 25th

George Halas

The Chicago Bears have won 712 regular season games, most in NFL history. Of course, the Bears even predate the “NFL”, having had their inaugural season as the Decatur Staleys in 1920. At the time, the Staleys, the Cardinals (playing in Chicago), and several since defunct franchises were playing in the American Professional Football Association. The next year, the Green Bay Packers joined, and in 1922, the APFA was renamed the National Football League.

The easiest trivia question of all time is which team has the most losses in NFL history. That would be the Cardinals, whose 699 regular season losses outpace the Detroit Lions by exactly 100. The Eagles have the third most losses, with 549.

But what if we examine performance in relatively modern times? Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, which team has the most regular season victories?

Take a second to think about it, or click on the multiple choice answers if you would like some hints:

Answer A Show

Answer B Show

Answer C Show

Answer D Show

Click 'Show' for the Answer Show


Tomlinson pushed many teams to fantasy titles.

Bill Simmons wrote about LaDainian Tomlinson last month and called him the best fantasy football player of all-time. “Greatest ever” debates are always subjective, but at least when it comes to fantasy football, we can get pretty close to declaring a definitive answer. Joe Bryant’s landmark “Value Base Drafting” system explained that the “value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores, but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.” Bryant came up with the concept of calculating a ‘VBD’ number for each player to measure their value.

A player’s VBD is easy to calculate. Each player’s VBD score is the difference between the amount of fantasy points he scored and the fantasy points scored by the worst starter (at his position) in your fantasy league. A player who scores fewer fantasy points than the worst starter has a VBD of 0. There is no standard scoring system for fantasy leagues, so a player’s fantasy points total will depend on the specific league’s scoring rules.1 And, of course, his VBD score will change depending on the number of starters at each position in the league.2

That said, once you pick a scoring system and a set of rules, it’s easy to calculate career VBD scores for every player since 19503. Let’s start with the quarterbacks:

Peyton Manning1998--2010QBclt107191
Brett Favre1992--2010QBatl-gnb-nyj-min1061102
Dan Marino1983--1999QBmia988143
Fran Tarkenton1961--1978QBmin-nyg921154
Steve Young1985--1999QBtam-sfo774245
Joe Montana1979--1994QBsfo-kan727336
Randall Cunningham1985--2001QBphi-min-dal-rav723357
Tom Brady2000--2011QBnwe720368
Drew Brees2001--2011QBsdg-nor688389
John Elway1983--1998QBden6604010
Roger Staubach1969--1979QBdal6304411
Johnny Unitas1956--1973QBclt-sdg6254712
Warren Moon1984--2000QBoti-min-sea-kan5925713
Ken Anderson1971--1986QBcin5397414
Sonny Jurgensen1957--1974QBphi-was5287715
Dan Fouts1973--1987QBsdg5267816
Daunte Culpepper1999--2009QBmin-mia-rai-det5158017
Aaron Rodgers2005--2011QBgnb5078318
Tobin Rote1950--1964QBgnb-det-sdg-den4948819
Roman Gabriel1962--1977QBram-phi40413020
Rich Gannon1988--2004QBmin-was-kan-rai39613521
Kurt Warner1998--2009QBram-nyg-crd39613622
Bobby Layne1950--1962QBchi-nyy-det-pit38514023
Y.A. Tittle1950--1964QBbcl-sfo-nyg38414124
Daryle Lamonica1963--1973QBbuf-rai36815325

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  1. I’ve decided to use a blend of the most common scoring options: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 5 points per passing touchdown, -2 points per interception, 6 points for rushing/receiving touchdowns, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 0.5 points per reception. []
  2. Again, I’m using a blend here, but for baseline purposes I’m using QB12, RB24, WR32 and TE12, since the standard 12-team league starts 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2-3 WRs and 1 TE. []
  3. I’ve pro-rated production for those players who were part of seasons when the NFL did not have a 16-game schedule; I also changed the baseline numbers depending on the number of teams in the league, as a baseline of QB12 doesn’t make sense for 1950, when there were only 12 teams. []

Not opposed to occasional acts of piracy.

Greg Schiano made an interesting comment the other day which went against conventional wisdom.

“It’s a fine line between being a physical, aggressive football team and getting a flag. You gotta be careful. I don’t ever want to be the least penalized team in the league, because I don’t think you’re trying hard enough then…. But I certainly do want to be in the top 10. That’s where you should be. You should be — five through 10 is a great place to be as a penalized team.”

Schiano’s statement makes some sense. Not all penalties are the same, even though they’re usually grouped that way. False starts, late hit penalties, excessive celebrations, delays of game and “12 men on the field” are examples of penalties that drive every coach crazy. When we think of undisciplined teams or stupid penalties, these are the ones we envision. Other penalties, like offensive holding or defensive pass interference might not be bad at all, and might be symptomatic of rational thinking. If a lineman believes the likelihood of his man getting to the quarterback is higher than the likelihood of him getting called for a penalty if he holds the defender, then holding may be the wise course of action. Similarly, a defensive back that tries to prevent a touchdown on pass interference isn’t necessarily committing a bad penalty. Intentional grounding is rarely a penalty that really hurts the team, as it’s usually called when for the quarterback, the alternative is usually a sack (or worse).

Off-sides, roughing the passer or certain penalties associated with hits (defensive receivers, leading with the helmet, etc.) are correlated with aggressive behavior. They should be minimized, of course, but I would not shocked to discover that they were generally correlated with positive play. The point being there are many types of penalties, an issue I’ve touched on before.

Still, I performed a regression analysis on penalties and team success. The results show that fewer penalties appears to be very slightly correlated with winning. A team with 80 penalties on the season would be expected to win 52.4% of its games, while a team with 100 penalties on the year would be projected to win 50.1% of its games. To jump just one win in a 16-game season, the results here indicate that a team would need to commit 54 fewer penalties. That’s absurd on its face,, which means that there is not necessarily a causal relationship between penalties and winning. Which is exactly what Schiano implied.

But we could break it down even further. I grouped all teams since 1990 into penalty ranges. As you can see, there does seem to be a small relationship between fewer penalties and winning:

57 to 74330.535
75 to 901550.516
91 to 1092780.501
110 to 1291740.487

Of course, this doesn’t go against what Schiano said. He didn’t want to be below average in penalties, just not number one. And I’m sure he’d want to be number one at avoiding stupid penalties. But I agree with him that the goal of a team shouldn’t be to avoid penalties at all costs, just like a team shouldn’t try to avoid interceptions at all costs. The goal is simply to win, and there being too aggressive isn’t the only option that carries with it a tradeoff — a team that isn’t aggressive enough is also unlikely to win championships.

[Updated: I realized that I might as well post the results of the teams to lead the league in fewest penalties and the eventual Super Bowl champs. The first table shows the team with the fewest penalties each season and how they performed in the post-season. On average, these teams won 9 games. The second table shows all Super Bowl champions since 1990 and where they ranked in penalties; on average, they ranked 12th in penalties.]



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I don’t receive anything or make extra money if more people sign up for Footballguys, but I hope my readers subscribe because it’s simply a good use of your money. If you play fantasy football and want to win your competitive league or save hours doing research for your local league, a Footballguys subscription is well worth it. For $28.95, you get:

  • Constantly up to date and informed projections and rankings, along with 50,000 + pages of Footballguys Insider content.
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Anyway, I’m not very good at the salesman thing, so I’ll end it here.


I broke down each of the NFL and AFL champions since 1950 into three categories:

  • Pass Efficiency, measured by a modified version of ANY/A. The formula was (Passing Yards + 10*TD – 22.5*INT – Sack Yards)/(Pass Attempts + Sacks). This strikes a middle ground between traditional ANY/A and NY/A.
  • Rushing Success, according to the following formula: (Rushing Yards + 10*RTD + 5*Rushing1stDowns)/(Carries).
  • Defensive Rating, based on the number of offensive touchdowns scored by their opponents.

There are ways to quibble with those categories, and I won’t begrudge anyone who does. After giving each team a rating in each category, I calculated how they compared to the league average in each season. In all cases, the average is 100%, and a number higher than 100% means better.

Here’s what each of the columns mean, from left to right. In 2011, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl; they allowed 43 touchdowns to opposing offenses, averaged 7.6 in my modified version of ANY/A, and averaged 4.9 adjusted yards per carry. The next three columns show how New York ranked relative to league average. By allowing 43 scores, the Giants D was well below average, putting them at 83% of the average mark; they were 25% better than average at passing, but only 86% of league average efficiency in the running game. Since the Giants highest rating came in the passing category, they are listed in the Identity column as a Passing team.
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New England has had one of the most creative and flexible offenses for the last decade. From 2002 to 2011, the Patriots offense was always good but it was rarely predictable. On paper, the Patriots arguably have their best and deepest set of skill position players in franchise history. But with the addition of Brandon Lloyd to a group that includes Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, many are wondering what the breakdown will be in the passing game in 2012. Let’s not forget that Tom Brady passed for the second most yards in NFL history last year and then the team signed Josh McDaniels’ favorite Brandon Lloyd.

Before speculating on the 2012 season, we need to look at how the Patriots passing game has operated in the past. The chart below shows a breakdown of targets in the New England passing game for each of the past ten years by position:

Some thoughts:

  • Kevin Faulk used to get around 55 targets per season, but New England has essentially fazed the running back out of the passing game. I doubt that is by design, but more a reflection of New England’s failure to find the right replacement at the position. Note that New England signed ex-Florida Gator running back and Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps last week, although he is unlikely to make an immediate impact.
  • From ’02 to ’05, the Patriots had a pretty consistent offense. Troy Brown, David Patten, Deion Branch, and David Givens each spent time as the main receiver, and in ’02, ’04 and ’05, wide receivers as a group saw 63-64% of the Patriots’ targets. In ’03, Brown had fallen off while Givens and Patten weren’t main cogs in the offense, but otherwise, New England’s offensive philosophy didn’t vary. Then, after the 2005 season, the Patriots traded Deion Branch, who had seen 23% of the team’s targets in that season. The ’06 Patriots responded by throwing more to Ben Watson, which ultimately proved not to be the answer.
  • In 2006, Reche Caldwell led the team in targets, which prompted the Patriots to add Randy Moss and Wes Welker in the following off-season. Whereas the targets for the WR1 and WR2 had been declining from ’04 to ’06, in 2007, Moss and Welker received over 50% of the team’s targets, and the tight ends and running backs became less integral. In 2008, even without Brady, little changed with Matt Cassel running the offense, with the most notable decline being the lack of targets for the fourth, fifth and sixth wide receivers. 2009 resembled 2007, as Brady got the Sam Aikens and Joey Galloways of the world involved. By that time, the Patriots were running a full spread offense, and had almost entirely forgotten about the tight end. But much of that was out of necessity: Ben Watson was in his final year with the team and the Patriots wanted more speed on the field; New England had signed Chris Baker to be the backup tight end, but the long-time Jet had little left in his tank.
  • In that context, perhaps it isn’t surprising that New England added Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 draft. Moss had worn out his welcome, and New England struggled to find a true replacement. The Patriots turned to their young tight ends, along with Danny Woodhead, but still were weak at wide receiver as Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman were not competent as backup wide receivers. In the off-season, the Patriots signed Chad Ochocinco, which turned out to be a disaster. Outside of the WR1 and WR2, the other wide receivers and the running backs averaged 39% of the team’s targets from ’02 to ’10; in 2011, that number dropped to 18%, the first time that group failed to have at least 31% of the team’s targets. In ’03, for example, the backup WRs and the RBs had nearly 50% of the targets, but the talent was there: David Givens, Bethel Johnson, David Patten, Kevin Faulk, Larry Centers and Antowain Smith weren’t stars, but were competent in their roles. Last year, Ochocinco, Edelman and Tiquan Underwood added almost nothing, while only Woodhead was a threat in the passing game among the running backs.

So what can we expect for 2011? BenJarvus Green-Ellis is gone, but New England doesn’t seem likely to give Shane Vereen many more targets. I think we can safely conclude that the Patriots won’t be depending on their running backs to gain yards through the air in 2012. But I do think the Patriots want more from their wide receivers, and the signing of Brandon Lloyd should increase the production of both the WR2 and the WR3, which is where Branch will now be. Assuming he isn’t cut, I doubt Branch is fazed out completely — Ochocinco saw only 5% of the Patriots targets last year, but usually New England will target their third wide receiver around 10% of the time. With so many mouths to feed, Welker is likely to see a small decline in attention. If we put Welker at 23%, Lloyd at 19%, Branch at 9% and the other wide receivers at 3%, that would mean Brady would target his receivers on 54% of his passes. Giving the running backs 10% — the same number as last season — would leave 36% for the tight ends. We’ll probably see both Gronkowski and Hernandez each up with 18% of the targets, as Brady hasn’t shown a significant preference for either player.

Assuming strong production per target, it’s certainly possible for Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez to all have monster years in 2011 *and* for Brandon Lloyd to improve on Branch’s numbers and for Branch to improve on Ochocinco’s performance. Of course, all of this assumes — or signals — that Tom Brady is going to have a monster year if things go according to plan. But to expect Brady to improve on last year’s numbers may be asking too much.

For fantasy purposes, the bigger question might be about the size of the pie rather than about its breakdown. If New England’s defense is better, the Patriots could certainly end up passing less this year. Brady may be more effective per pass, and could put up lofty touchdown numbers, but without a high number of attempts (aided by a bad defense) it’s unlikely we see Brady set his sights on 5,000 yards again. I think the Patriots offense can handle the addition of Brandon Lloyd, and think it’s clear that Belichick wants to incorporate that vertical threat on the outside into his offense. And let’s not forget, the offensive line is as unsettled as it’s been in years. From a fantasy perspective, though, it will be important not to chase last year’s numbers too much.

If Welker and Gronkowski each lose 10% of their targets, and then the Patriots also throw 5% less frequently, those small slices can add up. Welker with 100 catches is a lot less valuable than Welker with 122 catches. I don’t think any of the stars in New England bust, but if that defense can approach league average levels, all of the Patriots stars may end up failing to live up to their fantasy draft status. I suspect that Brady finds the open receiver and doesn’t lock on any of his targets, leaving Gronkowski, Welker, Lloyd and Hernandez with very similar receiving yards totals. Gronkowski should lead in touchdowns and Welker in receptions, but otherwise good luck predicting which player Brady will lock in on in any given week. One mark that could possibly fall: New England might be the first team to have four 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.


Trivia of the Day – Sunday, August 19th

What a 13-time Pro Bowler looks like.

Pro Bowls aren’t a great measure of NFL ability, but they’re one of the few statistics that enable comparisons across positions. Ray Lewis has made 13 Pro Bowls in his 16-year career, and he can tie the NFL record if he makes another trip to Hawaii this season. Only two players in NFL history have ever made 14 Pro Bowls in their career.

As you would suspect, both are in the Hall of Fame. Among eligible players, Will Shields is the only non-Hall of Famer with 10 or more Pro Bowls on his resume, and Shields will surely be inducted within the next couple of years.

But can you name either of the two men who have made 14 Pro Bowls?

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Trivia of the Day – Saturday, August 18th

A hint, perhaps?

Today’s trivia is Jeopardy-style, where you need to guess the question. The answer is: LaDainian Tomlinson (2006), Shaun Alexander (2005), Priest Holmes (2002), Marshall Faulk (2000 and 2001), Emmitt Smith (1995), Jerry Rice (1987), Marcus Allen (1982) and O.J. Simpson (1975).

It may not be much help, but I’ve at least given you the years to let you know it’s a single-season record. Leave your guesses in the comments, and as always, the honor system will be strictly enforced.

A few hints as you try to guess the trivia question:

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The Preseason is Meaningless

Pre-season superstar, Colt Brennan.

I have a love/hate relationship with the pre-season. After months without football, it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of seeing live NFL games. But as soon as I start watching pre-season action, I usually wish I was doing just about anything else. But I keep watching. Maybe the better description is that I’m a pre-season addict.

Everyone knows the preseason is meaningless. The coaches do, the players do, and the fans do. There is no simpler way to explain it than this: the main goal is not winning. It’s trying out new plays. Or staying healthy. Or avoiding showing too much. Or seeing how a certain formation, route, or play, works. Or seeing how a player responds to an event. But winning is never the main goal.

But as much as I can’t stand watching the preseason (but still do), what I really can’t stand is reading people talk about how good (or bad) a player or team looks in the preseason. It’s about the most meaningless piece of data one could ever cite, although of course some will say differently. There are those who believe if you know what to look for you can get meaningful information out of preseason games. To them I say, good luck.

As Exhibits A through Z, I present to you, Ryan Leaf.

There weren’t any apparent opening-night jitters for Ryan Leaf.

The touted rookie quarterback from Washington State came out poised and led two scoring drives – capping one with an impressive 3-yard TD pass to Bryan Still – and the San Diego Chargers beat San Francisco 27-21 in their exhibition opener last night.

Leaf made a few mistakes, like throwing into double coverage at the goal line – Still actually drew a pass-interference call on that one – and not getting off a play in time during the two-minute drill.

Otherwise, Leaf had a better night than Steve Young.

The 22-year-old Leaf, taken with the second pick in the April draft and named the starter for the season on Wednesday, was 14 for 20 for 116 yards.

Here’s another account of his first night:

Ryan Leaf didn’t look at all like a rattled rookie in his NFL debut. Sure, the touted San Diego Chargers quarterback made some mistakes and still has a ways to go in adjusting to the faster pace of the pro game. But was he nervous? Nope. It’s not in his playbook.

“He throws so accurately,” coach Kevin Gilbride said. “Even though he was late a few times, he put it in position where the only one who could catch it was us. That was the most encouraging thing…. I don’t want to in any way, shape or form make it seem like he’s where he needs to be. Still, he’s able to make plays and that’s what it comes down to. I thought he did that very, very well.” As he has numerous times this summer, Gilbride called Leaf “special.” Running back Terrell Fletcher called Leaf “a fearless player. That’s a big attribute.”
Leaf said the radio receiver in his helmet, which coaches use to call in plays, didn’t work the first two series. He partially winged it, with help from his teammates and quarterback coach June Jones, who told him to have three or four plays down pat to use. “I think he surprised a lot of people with how composed he was,” guard Raleigh McKenzie said. “We went three-and-out the first series, then he got real poised. He knew what to do in there.”

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A couple of years ago, my colleague Jason Lisk explained why Joe Namath is a legitimate Hall of Famer. With each passing year, it seems as though Namath’s career gets more misunderstood, particularly by those who look at his career stats without context. One of the main pieces of evidence that sounds damning: among Hall of Fame quarterbacks who began their careers after 1950, Namath ranks last in both touchdown/interception differential and passer rating:

1Dan Marino1983199942025286.4168
2Joe Montana1979199427313992.3134
3Steve Young1985199923210796.8125
4Fran Tarkenton1961197834226680.476
5John Elway1983199830022679.974
6Sonny Jurgensen1957197425518982.666
7Jim Kelly1986199623717584.462
8Warren Moon1984200029123380.958
9Len Dawson1957197523918382.656
10Roger Staubach1969197915310983.444
11Johnny Unitas1956197329025378.237
12Troy Aikman1989200016514181.624
13Bob Griese1967198019217277.120
14Bart Starr1956197115213880.514
15Dan Fouts1973198725424280.212
16Terry Bradshaw1970198321221070.92
17Joe Namath1965197717322065.5-47

But analyzing a player by his career numbers is too broad a brush for advanced analysis. Brandon Jacobs is 107 yards away from matching Gale Sayers’ career rushing total. Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey have caught more passes than Lance Alworth and Kellen Winslow. At quarterback, comparing players across eras by their raw numbers is a pointless exercise. Byron Leftwich, Kyle Orton and Aaron Brooks have higher career passer ratings than Johnny Unitas. As always, we can only compare players by how they compared to their peers.

Namath’s career is misunderstood for several reasons. Younger fans think he’s famous because of The Guarantee, but he would have been an elite quarterback (and was acknowledged as one by his contemporaries) even if he never won a Super Bowl. He was among the best ever at avoiding sacks, an often overlooked but key element of effective quarterback play. He played in one of the worst eras for quarterbacks to compile strong passing stats, which is why his numbers don’t compare to modern quarterbacks. And his career arc was unusual, which further makes the use of career numbers an inappropriate way to understand Namath’s career.

There are 17 Hall of Fame quarterbacks to enter the league since 1950, and we can add Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to get to an even twenty. Through age 26, Namath was outstanding, and was the second most productive quarterback of the twenty behind Dan Marino during those years. The table below1 shows how much value was added by each of the twenty quarterbacks through the age of 26:
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  1. This list is sorted by how much Adjusted Net Yards over average each quarterback produced each season. This is calculated by taking each quarterback’s ANY/A, comparing it to league average, and then multiplying the difference by the number of total attempts each quarterback had. []

McFadden begs you not to touch him.

Darren McFadden has missed games due to injury in each of his four seasons in the NFL. But he earns the label “injury prone” instead of “bust” thanks to his incredible production the past two years. In 2010 and 2011, McFadden totaled 2,432 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns in 20 games while averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 10.0 yards per reception.

But is the injury prone label fair? From a rearview standpoint, it certainly is. But the label carries with it the perception that he will continue to be injury prone. Is that fair?

From a statistical standpoint, we’re really limited by sample size. In the past two decades, only a handful of young running backs have been as productive as McFadden despite dealing with significant injury issues. Ricky Williams played in 12 and 10 games his first two seasons, and earned the injury prone label before three straight 16-game seasons. Steven Jackson missed games here and there early in his career, and in fact still has just two 16-game seasons in his career. But Jackson is no longer considered injury prone and has also registered three 15-game seasons.

Fred Taylor resided for years at the intersection of talented and injury prone, earning colorful nicknames like ‘Fragile Fred’ and ‘Fraud Taylor.” He played in only 40 games in his first four seasons, but still scored 37 touchdowns, averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and averaged 106 yards from scrimmage per game. He would play in 16 games each of the next two seasons, before missing games due to injury every other season for the rest of his career.

Cadillac Williams played in 14 games in each of his first two seasons, and things only got worse from there. He played in just 10 games the next two seasons, before playing in 16 games in both 2009 and 2010. Julius Jones missed significant time in each of his first two seasons, but then played in 16 games in each of his next two years. On the other hand, Kevin Jones’s career went 15-13-12-13-11 in terms of games played. Robert Smith was a track star on the gridiron and often seemed as tough as one. In his first two seasons as the starter with the Vikings, he wound up being inactive half of the time each year. In 1997 and 1998, he played in 14 games, but Smith would only play one 16-game season in the NFL: his last one.

But back to McFadden. Let’s start with some baseline about what the anti-McFadden would look like. From 1990 to 2010, there were 911 running backs, age 25 or younger, who rushed for at least 1,000 yards and played in 16 games. Only 38 of those 91 running backs (42%) played in 16 games the next season, while the group averaged 13.9 games played in the following year. The median was 15 games played, with 58% of running backs playing in 15 or 16 games.
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  1. This excludes Robert Edwards, Jamal Lewis and Terry Allen, each of whom would suffered a season-ending injury prior to the start of the following season. []
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Stanford makes terrible quarterbacks.

Twice in four years, the Buffalo Bills have teased their fans. In 2008, the Bills started 5-1, and Peter King named Trent Edwards his MVP after the first quarter of the season. Edwards had led fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives in the second and third weeks of the year, and he ranked in the top-five in AY/A after seven weeks.

The former Stanford Cardinal would rank 24th in AY/A the rest of the season while Buffalo finished the year with a 2-8 record.

Fitzpatrick was smart enough to shave before the game.

The Bills won just ten games the next two seasons, but made some noise at the start of the 2011 season. Going back to the nerd well at quarterback, Buffalo raced out to a 5-2 start. Fitzpatrick led two fourth-quarter comebacks/game-winning drives and ranked 11th in AY/A after eight weeks. Unfortunately, the former Harvard star ranked 32nd in that metric over the last nine weeks of the season, and the Bills finished the season 1-8.

How unusual is it for a team to have such a hot start and cold finish? It’s simple enough to look at first-half/second-half splits, but I prefer a more nuanced approach by weighing each team game based on when it occurred; e.g., game 1 counts 16 times as much as game 16, game 2 counts 15 times as much as game 16, game 3 counts 14 times as much as game 16, and so on. I looked at each team since 1990 and calculated their actual winning percentage and their “weighted” winning percentage.

The 2011 Bills had a 0.375 winning percentage last year, but by placing greater weight on games earlier in the season, Buffalo had a 0.507 weighted winning percentage. In 2008, the Bills had a 0.438 actual winning percentage and a 0.566 weighted winning percentage. As it turns out, those were two of the five “strongest-starting” teams of the last five years. The table below lists the “strongest-starting teams” since 1990, along with their actual and weighted winning percentages. The last column represents the difference between the two winning percentages.
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The man with the second longest TD streak played for the Chargers...

Last year, I noted that Drew Brees had thrown a touchdown in 37 consecutive games and examined his chances of breaking the NFL record. The current mark is held by Johnny Unitas, who threw a touchdown in 47 consecutive games from 1956 to 1960. By the end of the 2011 season, Brees had upped his streak to 43 games, which positions Brees to break the record in week 5 of this season, against his former team, the San Diego Chargers, on Sunday Night Football.

Assuming Brees breaks the record, we can expect a four-hour telecast devoted to the greatness of Drew Brees, which is largely warranted. Brees is a future Hall of Famer and one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the history of the game. And he’ll be breaking one of the oldest records in football, one currently held by the standard bearer at the position.

If you’ve been at Football Perspective for long, you probably know where this is going. How impressive will it be for Brees to break this record? The short answer is, probably not as impressive as you might think.

What are the odds of throwing a touchdown in 47 straight games1? Brees deserves all of the credit and praise he gets for being an elite quarterback, and a Blaine Gabbert-type is obviously not going to be the one to break this record. But the real question we want to ask is what are the odds of a star quarterback throwing a touchdown in 47 consecutive games. We can get a pretty good estimate of that.

In 44 games from 2002 to 2005, Marc Bulger threw a touchdown in 93% of his games, or 41 of 44 games. And in two of the games where he did not throw a touchdown, he threw fewer than five passes. In 73 games from 2000 to 2004, Daunte Culpepper threw a touchdown in 86% of his games. Brett Favre, from 2001 to 2004, threw a touchdown in 95% of his games. Eli Manning, from 2005 to 2011, threw a touchdown in 86% of his starts and was booed by Giants fans in just as many. Peyton Manning, excluding his rookie year, threw a touchdown in 87% of his games with the Colts. Philip Rivers once threw a touchdown in 50 of 54 straight games. Aaron Rodgers has thrown a touchdown in 50 of his last 53 games, with one of his zeroes coming in a partial game against the Lions. Tony Romo has thrown a touchdown in 90% of his games since 2007, and 92% of those games if you exclude two games he did not finish. Matt Ryan has thrown a touchdown in 30 of his last 31 games. Matthew Stafford has thrown a touchdown in 28 of his last 30 games, with one of his shutouts coming in a game he did not finish due to injury. From ’99 to ’01, Kurt Warner threw a touchdown in 93% of his games.

And then there’s Tom Brady. Since 2007, Brady has thrown a touchdown in 92% of his starts, or 94% if you exclude his game against the Chiefs when he tore his ACL in the first quarter. Brady has also thrown a touchdown in each regular season game the past two seasons, which means he could also break Unitas’ mark in 2012.

There is obviously an upper limit to the question ‘what is the likelihood of an elite quarterback playing at an elite level throwing a touchdown in any given game?’ Last year, I speculated that Brees’ likelihood was around 89-91%, which in retrospect, might be a little low. The upper limit is probably closer to 96 or 97%, although obviously very few quarterbacks could get there. If we assume complete games — i.e., that the quarterback won’t get injured or get benched or rested — maybe a star quarterback in today’s game has a 94% chance of throwing a touchdown in any given game.

... as did the man with the longest streak

In that case, such a quarterback has a 5% chance of throwing a touchdown in 48 consecutive games. In some ways, of course, this is a “what are the odds of that” sort of question. Yes, Brees is at 43 in a row, but he’s not alone. Brady has thrown a touchdown in every game the last two seasons. Stafford has done it in 18 straight games, Rodgers for 17, and Ryan is at 15. And, of course, players like Kurt Warner and Brett Favre and Peyton Manning have played at elite levels for stretches just like Brees.

Perhaps the better question is, assuming 14 elite quarterbacks playing at elite levels play in 48 straight games, and each has a 94% chance of throwing a touchdown in any given game, what are the odds that none of them go 48/48? The answer to that: 48%. In other words, it is more likely than not that some quarterback would break the record.

Brees deserves all the praise in the world for essentially putting himself at the upper limit of elite quarterback play. He deserves credit for having a quick release and excelling at pre-snap coverage, which limits the amount of hits he takes. On the other hand, he’s fortunate to have almost entirely avoided playing in poor weather. He’s fortunate to have avoided injury on the hits he has taken, and to have not played for a coach that chose to bench him for a meaningless game after a drive or two (in fact, he missed week 17 of the 2009 season entirely, keeping his streak alive). He’s also fortunate that he’s thrown a touchdown in 43 games and not 41 or 42 out of 43, like many other elite quarterbacks. Brees has had bad games during this streak — in 7 of them, he’s averaged 4.8 AY/A or fewer — but he always managed to throw at least one touchdown. That’s less skill than luck, and you can read about some of Brees’ near misses here.

The skill involved for Brees is getting himself to that upper limit. Given enough quarterbacks playing at elite levels for enough years, Unitas’ record was bound to fall. Brees happens to be one of those quarterbacks.

  1. Assuming independence and a consistent rate per game []

Trivia of the Day – Sunday, August 12th

Moss makes turkeys out of the Cowboys.

In 1983, the Washington Redskins set an NFL record by scoring 541 points. Fifteen years later, the Minnesota Vikings broke that mark by going 15-1 and scoring 556 points. Then, in 2007, the New England Patriots topped Minnesota by going undefeated and scoring 589 points, the most in NFL history.

Last year’s Green Bay Packers scored 560 points, preventing Randy Moss from being a star on the two highest scoring teams in NFL history. But it’s not the Patriots, Vikings or Redskins that hold the mark for most points scored per game in NFL history. New England averaged 36.8 points per game in 2007, but one NFL team in the pre-modern era scored 38.83 points per game.

They’re the subject of today’s trivia question. Can you name the highest scoring team in NFL history?

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Trivia of the Day – Saturday, August 11th

Also a member of the Raiders.

There’s only one team in NFL history that had a full lineup’s worth of Hall of Famers on the offensive line. In 1971, the Oakland Raiders incredibly rostered five offensive lineman who would one day wind up in Canton.

Four were starters; the fifth was a reserve on the team who played one year with the Raiders before retiring. The fifth starter was right guard George Buehler, who probably didn’t get much recognition during his playing days. But hey, his card is here on Football Perspective today!

I’ll switch up the trivia today, with one hint for each of the five starters. How many can you name?

Trivia hint: LT Show

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Trivia hint: LG Show

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Trivia hint: C Show

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Trivia hint: RT Show

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Trivia hint: Backup Show

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Expect more MJD-style holdouts in the future

Jones-Drew's problems go back to how he was viewed as a college prospect.

The Maurice Jones-Drew holdout is slightly different than the typical holdouts we see every summer. As a 27-year-old running back, Jones-Drew is seeking his last big contract. But with a new owner and regime in Jacksonville, management is understandably hesitant to give a large contract to a player who already has two years remaining on his deal. The difference between Jones-Drew and most players is that this is his last chance to cash in. If he plays out his contract, even if he plays well the next two seasons, he’s unlikely to get a huge deal in 2014.

Would that be fair? I would hope that some of those writers who argued in favor of reducing rookie contracts would find such a result unjust, as a talented, star player should be rewarded with a big contract.1 But even if he performs well in 2012 and 2013, by 2014, Jones-Drew would be a 29-year-old runner who had just endured five years of punishment as a workhorse running back. No team would sign him to a large contract at that point, as he could not be expected to continue to produce at such a high level.

When it comes to running backs, it is understood that they must try to maximize their salaries when they are young, as big paydays for older runners are few and far between. But in this situation, some have argued that since this is Jones-Drew’s second contract, he should honor his deal (or, alternatively, that we should be less sympathetic to his cause). In 2009, Jones-Drew signed his second contract, and the argument goes that unlike a rookie contract — where players have almost no leverage — Jones-Drew already had his bite at the apple. But that argument ignores the fact that Jones-Drew’s rookie contract remains part of his current predicament.
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  1. This is obviously shtick, but I do find it hypocritical for owners to argue against paying “unproven” players and then to argue against paying aging players who “have little left” in the tank. Players should be paid for what we expect them to produce, and the “unrpoven” argument is and always has been a red herring. []

Gonzalez has made 12 straight Pro Bowls.

Kansas City didn’t send an offensive player to the Pro Bowl last year, and the Chiefs didn’t do so in 2009, either. But that doesn’t stop them from leading all teams in offensive Pro Bowlers over the last decade. Surprised? It’s been awhile, but the Chiefs ranked first in either points or yards in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Kansas City sent 21 offensive players to the Pro Bowls in those seasons, but also delivered four Pro Bowlers in both 2006 and 2010.

The Chiefs could count on sending Tony Gonzalez to the Pro Bowl after every season, and guards Brian Waters and Will Shields each went to Hawaii five times. Kansas City sent three different running backs, two quarterbacks and a fullback to the Pro Bowl over the past decade.

The table below lists all 32 offensive Pro Bowl selections for the Chiefs since 2002. Note that this excludes WR Dante Hall who made two Pro Bowls as a returner.

On the other side of the ball, I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear which team has the most Pro Bowlers. The Baltimore Ravens have seen 33 defensive players make the Pro Bowl since 2002, and rank fourth in terms of overall Pro Bowlers. And surprised probably isn’t the right word to describe how most people would react when they see which team has the most Pro Bowlers over the last ten years:
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The NFL's version of Two Face.

The 2011 Giants were one of the more confusing teams in recent memory. Will this year’s the Giants play like the defending Super Bowl champions or the team that allowed more points than they scored last season? Jason Lisk points out that there’s a third option, and we should consider the 2011 Giants as a 13-7 team that faced an extremely difficult schedule.

Let’s start by recognizing that the 2011 Giants faced a difficult schedule in the regular season; not only was the NFC East competitive, but New York also faced the top four teams in the NFL outside of their division. In 2011, the Giants ranked 13th in the Simple Rating System. For the uninitiated, the SRS is a predictive system, which means it could theoretically place a 3-5 team ahead of a 7-1 team. The SRS mimics the points spread you would see in Las Vegas rather than a power ranking system. As the name implies, it’s simple in the sense that it only looks at two variables: strength of schedule and margin of victory. Each game is given equal weight. A win by 10 points over a team that is 5 points below average is equal to a 5-point win over an average team. The SRS is always just the sum of the margin of victory and the opponent’s rating. Unlike many systems, in the SRS, the values have meaning. A team with an SRS rating of +6.0 means that team is six points better than average.

It’s complicated to create these ratings, but I’ve done the heavy lifting1. Here were the SRS ratings for each team immediately after week 17 last season:

1New Orleans Saints13-1.611.4
2Green Bay Packers12.6-1.211.4
3New England Patriots10.7-1.49.3
4San Francisco 49ers9.4-1.18.3
5Baltimore Ravens7-0.96.1
6Detroit Lions5.40.66.1
7Pittsburgh Steelers6.1-0.85.3
8Philadelphia Eagles4.30.54.7
9Houston Texans6.4-1.94.5
10Atlanta Falcons3.30.33.5
11Chicago Bears0.80.91.7
12Dallas Cowboys1.40.31.6
13New York Giants-0.421.6
14Miami Dolphins1-0.10.9
15New York Jets0.900.9
16San Diego Chargers1.8-0.90.9
17Seattle Seahawks0.40.40.8
18Cincinnati Bengals1.3-0.90.5
19Tennessee Titans0.5-1.5-1
20Carolina Panthers-1.40.1-1.3
21Arizona Cardinals-2.30-2.2
22Buffalo Bills-3.90.5-3.4
23Washington Redskins-4.90.8-4.1
24Oakland Raiders-4.6-0.3-4.9
25Denver Broncos-5.1-0.2-5.3
26Cleveland Browns-5.60.2-5.4
27Jacksonville Jaguars-5.4-0.3-5.6
28Minnesota Vikings-6.81.1-5.7
29Kansas City Chiefs-7.9-0.2-8.1
30St. Louis Rams-13.42.9-10.4
31Tampa Bay Buccaneers-12.92.3-10.6
32Indianapolis Colts-11.70.4-11.3

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  1. The tricky part is that each team’s strength of schedule is dependent on the ratings of each of their opponents, which is dependent on the ratings of each of their opponents, which includes the original team we’re trying to rate. If you adjust each team’s rating over thousands of iterations, eventually the ratings converge, and we’re left with “true” ratings []

The best rookie season and best career from the class of '89.

Yesterday, I looked at how frequently the highest drafted rookie running back ended leading his draft class in rushing yards. Today, we’ll examine how often the best rookie running back ends up being having the most career rushing yards among the members from his class.

I performed this same exercise at wide receiver, and concluded that as great as A.J. Green was last season, the odds were stacked against him leading the 2011 rookie receiver class in career receiving yards.1 For whatever reason, there simply is not a strong correlation between rookie performance and career performance for wide receivers. Is the same true at the running back position?

There was an eleven-year stretch from ’92 to ’02, when Ricky Watters, Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Fred Taylor, Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Clinton Portis each led their class in rushing yards both as rookies and over the course of their careers. The lone exception came in 2000, when Mike Anderson nudged by Jamal Lewis to lead the ’00 class in rookie rushing yards, while Lewis ended with the most career rushing yards. If I had written this article a decade ago, I would have thought that unlike at the receiver position, there was an extremely strong correlation between rookie and career performance for the top running backs.

But since then, things have changed. Domanick Williams (Larry Johnson), Kevin Jones (Steven Jackson), Cadillac Williams (Frank Gore), Joseph Addai (Maurice Jones-Drew), Steve Slaton (Chris Johnson), and Knowshon Moreno (Arian Foster) led all rookies in rushing yards but have been passed in the career category by another back from the same rookie class. It’s too early to get a handle on the last two draft classes, although I certainly wouldn’t take even odds on either Ben Tate or LeGarrette Blount finishing with the most career rushing yards of any running back who entered the league in either 2010 or 2011.

The table below shows the top rookie running backs and the top career running backs from each class since 1978.
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  1. From 1978 to 2008, only three of the 31 wide receivers with the best rookie seasons ended up with the most receiving yards from their class. []

An ordinary running back.

Last month, I wondered whether previous Justin Blackmons — i.e., the first receiver selected in the draft — lived up to their lofty draft status. There have been 42 drafts since 1970, but only five times has the highest selected wideout gained the most receiving yards among all rookie receivers. The long-term odds were slightly better, though, as nearly a quarter of those highest selected receivers ended up with the most receiving yards in his draft class.

So how do things look at the running back position? The Bills drafted Willis McGahee knowing he would miss his entire rookie season, while Bo Jackson chose to play baseball instead of playing with the Buccaneers. Ki-Jana Carter and Larry Stegent suffered season-ending injuries in the pre-season of their rookie years, making them inapplicable for our purposes, assuming Richardson stays healthy. What about the other 38 running backs who were the first at their position selected in the draft since the merger?

Over 40% of those highest drafted running backs led their class1 in rushing yards as a rookie, while exactly half gained at least 75% as many rushing yards as the the most productive rookie running back. That may not be particularly impressive in the abstract, but represents a much better track record than we saw at the wide receiver position. On the other hand, recent history has not been particularly great: in the past 10 years, arguably every top rookie running back outside of Adrian Peterson disappointed, as even Moreno failed to meet the expectations of many.

YearRunning BackTeamPickCollegeRush Yds% of LeaderTop Rookie
2011Mark IngramNOR28Alabama4740.53DeMarco Murray
2010C.J. SpillerBUF9Clemson2830.42Ryan Mathews
2009Knowshon MorenoDEN12Georgia9471.00Knowshon Moreno
2008Darren McFaddenOAK4Arkansas4990.39Steve Slaton
2007Adrian PetersonMIN7Oklahoma13411.00Adrian Peterson
2006Reggie BushNOR2USC5650.52Joseph Addai
2005Ronnie BrownMIA2Auburn9070.77Cadillac Williams
2004Steven JacksonSTL24Oregon St.6730.59Kevin Jones
2003Willis McGaheeBUF23Miami (FL)----Domanick Williams
2002William GreenCLE16Boston Col.8870.59Clinton Portis
2001LaDainian TomlinsonSDG5TCU12361.00LaDainian Tomlinson
2000Jamal LewisBAL5Tennessee13640.92Mike Anderson
1999Edgerrin JamesIND4Miami (FL)15531.00Edgerrin James
1998Curtis EnisCHI5Penn St.4970.41Fred Taylor
1997Warrick DunnTAM12Florida St.9780.87Corey Dillon
1996Lawrence PhillipsSTL6Nebraska6320.46Eddie George
1995Ki-Jana CarterCIN1Penn St.----Curtis Martin
1994Marshall FaulkIND2San Diego St.12821.00Marshall Faulk
1993Garrison HearstPHO3Georgia2640.18Jerome Bettis
1992Tommy VardellCLE9Stanford3690.65Vaughn Dunbar
1991Leonard RussellNWE14Arizona St.9591.00Leonard Russell
1990Blair ThomasNYJ2Penn St.6200.66Emmitt Smith
1989Barry SandersDET3Oklahoma St.14701.00Barry Sanders
1988Gaston GreenRAM14UCLA1170.10John Stephens
1987Alonzo HighsmithHOU3Miami (FL)1060.16Christian Okoye
1986Bo JacksonTAM1Auburn----Rueben Mayes
1985George AdamsNYG19Kentucky4981.00George Adams
1984Greg BellBUF26Notre Dame11001.00Greg Bell
1983Eric DickersonRAM2SMU18081.00Eric Dickerson
1982Darrin NelsonMIN7Stanford1360.20Marcus Allen
1981George RogersNOR1South Carolina16741.00George Rogers
1980Billy SimsDET1Oklahoma13031.00Billy Sims
1979Ottis AndersonSTL8Miami (FL)16051.00Ottis Anderson
1978Earl CampbellHOU1Texas14501.00Earl Campbell
1977Ricky BellTAM1USC4360.43Tony Dorsett
1976Chuck MuncieNOR3California6591.00Chuck Muncie
1975Walter PaytonCHI4Jackson St.6790.74Mike Thomas
1974Bo MatthewsSDG2Colorado3280.28Don Woods
1973Otis ArmstrongDEN9Purdue900.09Boobie Clark
1972Franco HarrisPIT13Penn St.10551.00Franco Harris
1971John RigginsNYJ6Kansas7690.70John Brockington
1970Larry StegentSTL8Texas A&M----Duane Thomas

Richardson is the favorite to be the most productive rookie running back, although “the field” appears to be a more enticing proposition. But Cleveland drafted Richardson for what he can do for the next five or ten years, which will ultimately be much more significant than how he performs in 2012. Even if the highest drafted running back is unlikely to lead his draft class in rushing yards as a rookie, is he more likely (than the field) to lead his draft class in career rushing yards?
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  1. Note that this only includes drafted running backs. []

Trivia of the Day – Sunday, August 5th

Maynard and Sauer were the stars of the late '60s Jets, but Maynard first achieved success with another New York wideout.

There have been 105 teams to have at least two players gain 1,000 receiving yards in a season. It first happened in 1960 in the AFL, where wide receivers benefited by playing against lower quality of defensive backs and also a fourteen-game schedule (the NFL schedule switched from a 12 to 14 games the following year). New York’s Don Maynard led the team with 1,265 yards, while Art Powell finished with 1,167. Maynard and Powell repeated the feat in 1962, and then Maynard and the Jets’ George Sauer also joined the club in ’67 and ’68. In total, seven different AFL teams fielded a pair of 1,000 yard receivers, with Bill Groman and Charley Hennigan (1961, Houston), Warren Wells and Fred Biletnikoff (1968, Oakland) and Lance Alworth and Gary Garrison (1968, San Diego) rounding out the list.

But in the NFL, no team fielded a pair of 1,000 yard receivers in the ’60s, even with the 14-game schedule. And as professional football entered the dead ball era in the 1970s, it wasn’t until the passing rules changes and the advent of the 16-game schedule that an NFL team — in fact, three NFL teams — first fielded multiple 1,000-yard receivers.

Trivia hint 1 Show

Trivia hint 2 Show

Trivia hint 3 Show

Click 'Show' for the Answer Show


Trivia of the Day – Saturday, August 4th

Congratulations to the six members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012: Curtis Martin, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Willie Roaf, Jack Butler

Tonight, those six men will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, a must-see event for any football fan. You can also read the Hall of Fame Candidate Profiles that Jason Lisk and I wrote for the PFR Blog a couple of years ago, including profiles on Martin, Dawson, Doleman, and Kennedy.

On to Saturday’s trivia…

Peterson needs to make more defenders cry if he wants to up his career averages.

Jim Brown had a magnificent career, averaging 104.3 yards per game during his 118-game career. Brown retired as the all-time leading rusher in both yards and yards per game. While he’s since been passed in the rushing yards category, Brown remains the only player (minimum 20 games) to average over 100 rushing yards per game for his career. Barry Sanders rushed for 15,228 yards in the first 152 games of his career, putting him just north of the century average. But in his 153rd and final game he gained only 41 yards, ending his career with a 99.8 rushing yards per game average.

Adrian Peterson has rushed for 92.5 yards per game so far in his career, although that number is likely to go down by the time he retires. The Vikings star is currently fourth on the career rushing yards per game list, which leads us into today’s trivia question:

After Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, which player has averaged the most career rushing yards per game?

Trivia hint 1 Show

Trivia hint 2 Show

Trivia hint 3 Show

Click 'Show' for the Answer Show


RSP Writers Project: Questions and Answers

Yesterday, I told you about the RSP Writers Project and showed you my roster. As a reminder, here’s the full 53-man team:

QB1	Peyton Manning		LDE1	Shea McClellin
QB2	Colt McCoy		LDE2	Cameron Heyward
QB3	Nate Davis		DT1	Phil Taylor
RB1	Kendall Hunter		DT2	Jared Crick
RB2	Pierre Thomas		DT3	Terrence Cody
RB3	LaMichael James		DT4	Martin Tevaseu
RB4	John Clay		RDE1	Vinny Curry
WR2	Victor Cruz		RDE2	Adam Carriker
WR1	Torrey Smith		SLB1	Leroy Hill
WR3	Anquan Boldin		SLB2	Aaron Maybin
WR4	T.Y. Hilton		MLB1	A.J. Hawk
WR5	Ted Ginn Jr.		MLB2	Nick Roach
WR6	Wallace Wright		MLB3	Greg Jones
TE1	Jimmy Graham		WLB1	Jameel McClain
TE2	Delanie Walker		WLB2	Clark Haggans
TE3	Matthew Mulligan	LCB1	Morris Claiborne
FB1	Charles Clay		LCB2	Kyle Wilson
LT1	Jonathan Martin		SS1	Eric Berry
RT1	Todd Herremans		SS2	James Butler
LT2	Levy Adcock		SS3	James Ihedigbo
RT2	Vlad Ducasse		FS1	Ryan Clark
LG1	Charlie Johnson		FS2	Dwight Lowery
RG1	Chad Rinehart		RCB1	Ike Taylor
LG2	Robert T Griffin	RCB2	Will D. Allen
RG2	Robert Turner			
C1	Max Unger		K1	Ryan Longwell
C2	Kris O'Dowd		P1	Kevin Huber

But the actual player selections are far less interesting than the reasoning behind the players chosen. You can view the full Q&A session I had with Matt Waldman about my roster, but let me explain two of the philosophies that influenced my roster decisions.

One star offensive lineman does not a star offensive line make.

1) Offensive lineman when pass blocking are more like defensive players than offensive ones

On pass plays, offensive lineman retreat and block; their goal is to prevent the aggressors from reaching the quarterback. When DeMarcus Ware tries to get by David Diehl to get to Eli Manning, Ware is the aggressor and Diehl the defender. In those situations, offensive lineman are essentially gatekeepers, and the key to an effective gate is more about the strength of the weakest link rather than the strength of strongest one. When I built my offensive line, my goal was to avoid having any obvious weakness on which opposing defensive coordinators could focus. If you have $25 million to spend on your offensive line, the smartest move in my opinion is to evenly distribute that money, and that’s exactly what I did. While none of the starters cost more than $5 million per year, none of them cost less than $4.5 million per year, either. Essentially, the whole really is worth more than the sum of its parts.

2) For the same reason, the value of individual defensive players can be overrated

As a Jets fan, I watched Darrelle Revis have a magnificent season in 2009, shutting down practically every wide receiver and helping the other ten members on defense. He was the primary reason the Jets ranked #1 in nearly every major defensive category that season. Then, in the AFC Championship Game, Peyton Manning torched the rest of the Jets defense, as Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie combined for 18 catches for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns. If there’s a weak spot on your defense, an elite quarterback will find it. Even two great corners can be neutralized if you have poor safety play. So in building a defense, my philosophy was less focused on finding stars on defense, and more on avoiding having any weak links. Star players are great, but I think — especially given the constraints of a salary cap — building a capable pass defense is less about finding players to build around and more about avoiding having to field players whom opposing quarterbacks would be eager target.

You can read my full Q&A here.


RSP Writers Project: My NFL Roster

The key to my RSP Writers Project team.

Matt Waldman is best known for his annual publication, The Rookie Scouting Portfolio, the most comprehensive evaluation of draft prospects at the skill positions I’ve ever seen. If you’re unfamiliar, you can view all of Matt’s work at his website, MattWaldmanRSP.com. In addition to being a good friend, Waldman and I also work together at Footballguys.com. So when he told me about his new idea — The RSP Writers Project — I instantly signed up. And in addition to getting some of the best football writers in the internet community to compete, Waldman has also opened his project to anyone who wants to participate.

How does it work? We were asked to build a 53-man roster as if we were constructing our own NFL team. Each player has been assigned a salary and each owner is given a salary cap of $150 million. In addition to picking our players, we were asked to explain the logic behind makeup of our team, along with the schemes and the plays that we would use. You can download the instructions and the Q&A and submit your own team.

I went extremely heavy on offense (more on that tomorrow), spending $93.5 million of my salary on that side of the ball. You can view my full roster here, which lists the salary values and my short explanations for why I chose each player. But here’s a quick look at who I selected:

QB1	Peyton Manning		LDE1	Shea McClellin
QB2	Colt McCoy		LDE2	Cameron Heyward
QB3	Nate Davis		DT1	Phil Taylor
RB1	Kendall Hunter		DT2	Jared Crick
RB2	Pierre Thomas		DT3	Terrence Cody
RB3	LaMichael James		DT4	Martin Tevaseu
RB4	John Clay		RDE1	Vinny Curry
WR2	Victor Cruz		RDE2	Adam Carriker
WR1	Torrey Smith		SLB1	Leroy Hill
WR3	Anquan Boldin		SLB2	Aaron Maybin
WR4	T.Y. Hilton		MLB1	A.J. Hawk
WR5	Ted Ginn Jr.		MLB2	Nick Roach
WR6	Wallace Wright		MLB3	Greg Jones
TE1	Jimmy Graham		WLB1	Jameel McClain
TE2	Delanie Walker		WLB2	Clark Haggans
TE3	Matthew Mulligan	LCB1	Morris Claiborne
FB1	Charles Clay		LCB2	Kyle Wilson
LT1	Jonathan Martin		SS1	Eric Berry
RT1	Todd Herremans		SS2	James Butler
LT2	Levy Adcock		SS3	James Ihedigbo
RT2	Vlad Ducasse		FS1	Ryan Clark
LG1	Charlie Johnson		FS2	Dwight Lowery
RG1	Chad Rinehart		RCB1	Ike Taylor
LG2	Robert T Griffin	RCB2	Will D. Allen
RG2	Robert Turner			
C1	Max Unger		K1	Ryan Longwell
C2	Kris O'Dowd		P1	Kevin Huber

Let me know what you think, and consider submitting your own team or view other rosters here. Tomorrow, I’ll add my comments on why I chose the players I did.

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