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Super Bowl XLVIII Denver/Seattle Preview

Before we get to my preview, I want to point you to some excellent Super Bowl previews I saw this week:

Last week, I went into the film room and recapped the preseason matchup between these two teams. Today, I’m going to analyze the six — yes, six! — different matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Seattle Pass Defense vs. Denver Pass Offense

I’ve written many glowing articles about the Seattle pass defense, and we all know about the Broncos record-setting offense. Super Bowl XLVIII is the greatest offense/defense showdown since 1950 and the greatest passing showdown ever. Denver’s pass offense is historically great, and Seattle’s pass defense is historically great. But beyond being a great defense, there are reasons to think the Seahawks present a particularly tough challenge for Manning and company. [click to continue…]

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2013 AV-Adjusted Team Age

The Rams are loaded with young talent

The Rams are loaded with young talent.

In each of the last two years, I’ve presented the AV-adjusted age of each roster in the NFL. Measuring team age in the NFL is tricky. You don’t want to calculate the average age of a 53-man roster and call that the “team age” because the age of a team’s starters is much more relevant than the age of a team’s reserves. The average age of a team’s starting lineup isn’t perfect, either. The age of the quarterback and key offensive and defensive players should count for more than the age of a less relevant starter. Ideally, you want to calculate a team’s average age by placing greater weight on the team’s most relevant players.

My solution has been to use the Approximate Value numbers from Pro-Football-Reference.com.  The table below shows the average age of each team, along with its average AV-adjusted age of the offense and defense. Here’s how to read the Rams’ line. In 2013, St. Louis was the youngest team in the league, with an AV-adjusted team age of 25.5 years (all ages are measured as of September 1, 2013). The average AV-adjusted age of the offense was 25.9 years, giving the Rams the third youngest offense in the NFL. The average age of the defense was 25.2 years, and that was the youngest of any defense in football in 2013.

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sb xlviii squaresLast year, I wrote an article about Super Bowl squares. Well, it’s that time of year again, so here’s your helpful cheat sheet to win at your Super Bowl party.

Every Super Bowl squares pool is different, but this post is really aimed at readers who play in pools where you can trade or pick squares. I looked at every regular season and postseason game since 2002. The table below shows the likelihood of each score after each quarter, along with three final columns that show the expected value of a $100 prize pool under three different payout systems. The “10/” column shows the payout in a pool where 10% of the prize money is given out after each of the first three quarters and 70% after the end of the game; the next column is for pools that give out 12.5% of the pool after the first and third quarters, 25% at halftime, and 50% for the score at the end of the game. The final column is for pools that give out 25% of the pot after each quarter — since I think that is the most common pool structure, I’ve sorted the table by that column, but you can sort by any column you like. To make the table fully sortable, I had to remove the percentage symbols, but “19, 6.7, 4.1, 2” should be read as 19.0%, 6.7%, 4.1%, and 2.0%. [click to continue…]

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On Friday, I explained the idea behind Playoff Leverage. That post is required reading before diving in today, but the summary is that the Super Bowl counts for more than the conference championship games, which count for more than the division round games, which count for more than the wild card games. The value that is assigned to each game — the Super Bowl is currently worth 3.14 times as much as the average playoff game — is then used to adjust the stats of the players in those games.

For quarterbacks, the main stat used to measure passing performance is Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. In case you forgot, ANY/A is defined as

[math]Pass Yards + 20*PassTDs – 45*INTs – SackYards)/(Attempts + Sacks)[/math]

Today, we’re going to look at every quarterback since 1966. Players like Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas who played before 1966 will count, but their stats from 1965 and earlier will not be included. This obviously is a serious disservice to Starr in particular, but for now, I’m going to only focus on the Super Bowl era. [click to continue…]

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Regular readers know I’m not prone to exaggeration. I’m more of a splits happen kind of guy. But Super Bowl XLVIII will, in my opinion, be the greatest passing showdown ever. This year’s Super Bowl checks in as the greatest offensive/defensive showdown in Super Bowl history (and the greatest of any game, regular or postseason, since 1950). That’s because the passing showdown between Denver and Seattle is arguably the greatest of any game in all of pro football history.

How can we quantify such a statement? I’m glad you asked. If you recall, I labeled the 2013 Seahawks as one of the five greatest pass defenses since 1950. For new readers, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt is calculated as follows:

[math]
(Gross Pass Yards + 20 * PTDs – 45 * INTs – Sack Yds)/(Attempts + Sacks)[/math]

In 2013, the Seahawks allowed 3.19 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (Seattle allowed 3,050 gross passing yards and 16 TDs, while forcing 28 interceptions and recording 298 yards lost on sacks, all over 524 pass attempts and 44 sacks.). The other 31 pass defenses allowed an average of 5.98 ANY/A, which means Seattle’s pass defense was 2.79 ANY/A above average. Over the course of the 568 opponent dropbacks, this means the Seahawks provided 1,582 adjusted net yards of value over average. In other words, the Seattle pass defense provided 99 adjusted net yards over average on a per game basis. Let’s be clear: the Legion of Boom is not just a hype machine, and Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and company form the best secondary in the league.

All other passing attacks are pushed aside when Manning is involved.

All other passing attacks are pushed aside when Manning is involved.

Denver’s offense was even more dominant, although that’s to be expected: in general, the spread in offensive ratings is a bit wider than it is on the defensive side of the ball. Denver threw for 5,572 gross passing yards and 55 touchdowns, while throwing just 10 interceptions and losing only 128 yards to sacks. The Broncos had 675 pass attempts and were sacked just 20 times, giving them an 8.77 ANY/A average. The other 31 offenses averaged only 5.79 ANY/A, meaning the Broncos were 2.98 ANY/A better than average. Over the 695 dropbacks the team had, that means Denver provided 2,072 adjusted net yards of value average average. On a per-game basis, that’s 130 yards of value each game!

So, how do we judge the greatest passing showdowns in football history? Denver’s passing offense gets a rating of +130, while Seattle’s pass defense gets a rating of +99. Those two numbers have a Harmonic Mean of 112. That’s easily the most in Super Bowl history. In fact, it’s the third most in any playoff game ever, and those other two games each have asterisks.

In the 1961 AFL, the Houston Oilers behind George Blanda, Bill Groman, and Charley Hennigan possessed an incredible passing offense (rating of +167), while the San Diego Chargers had a dominant pass defense (+129). But in the early days of the AFL, the talent pool was diluted; this would be akin to comparing two teams in non-BCS conferences with out-of-this-world statistics to a matchup between champions in two power conferences. For what it’s worth, Houston won the game — played in San Diego — but with a catch. The Oilers offense was shut down, as Blanda went 18/40 for 160 yards with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions…. but Houston won 10-3, as Jack Kemp threw four picks for the Chargers. [click to continue…]

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Are Teams Afraid To Pass Against Seattle?

The Legion of Boom May Be Harmful To Your Offense's Health

The Legion of Boom May Be Harmful To Your Offense's Health.

We know that the Seahawks pass defense is historically good, but the title of this post sounds like it was written by a Seahawks homer, right? I mean, who else besides a green-and-blue fanboy (or maybe Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas) would write something as absurd as “Seattle’s pass defense is so good that teams are afraid to throw on them!!!”

The thing is, it’s kind of true. Seattle faced only 568 pass attempts (including sacks) during the regular season, the sixth fewest in the NFL.  Some of that is due to the Seahawks pace on offense and dominance of a defense that prevented sustained drives; even still, opponents passed on “only” 57.4% of all plays against Seattle.

Seattle ranked below average — 18th — in percentage of pass plays faced, but there’s a reason I put only in quotes. Seattle held an average lead over every second of game play this year of 5.6 points, the third best mark in the NFL. Denver and San Francisco were the only teams to play with larger leads, and they ranked 6th and 7th in percentage of plays faced that were passes. This is hardly a newsflash — teams generally throw often when trailing — but that wasn’t the case with 2013 Seahawks.

When Steve Buzzard used the Game Scripts data to determine defensive pass identities, he found that teams were more hesitant to pass against Seattle (once adjusting for the score and strength of schedule) than against any team in the league. I thought it would be interesting to take another crack at measuring this effect. We can use the score differential after each of the four quarters of the game to determine how many pass attempts (as a percentage of total plays) a team *should* face. [click to continue…]

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Earlier this week, I looked at how likely or unlikely the playoffs were in each of the last 25 seasons. Today, we look at each Super Bowl winner since 1978, and calculate their odds of winning each playoff game, and by extension, how likely (or unlikely) it was that that team wound up winning the Super Bowl.

As you might expect, no team was as unlikely to win the Super Bowl at the start of the playoffs as the 2007 New York Giants. If we know the points spread for a given game, we can derive the team’s probability of winning by using the following formula, assuming the spread (with a negative number for the favorite) is in cell C2 in Excel:

=(1-NORMDIST(0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE)) + 0.5*(NORMDIST(0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE)-NORMDIST(-0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE))

New York was a 3-point underdog in Tampa Bay in the Wildcard round (41.4%), a 7-point dog in Dallas (30.7%), and a 7.5-point underdog in Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game (29.4%). Then, in the Super Bowl against the 18-0 Patriots, the Giants were 12.5-point underdogs, implying an 18.4% chance of victory. The odds of New York winning all four of those games was less than one percent! I don’t think this was a case where the oddsmakers were off, either. Remember that in 2007, Eli Manning led the league in interceptions and the Giants were significantly worse in the regular season than Dallas, Green Bay, or New England. Even in retrospect, the Giants run was remarkable, but even unlikely events are likely to happen given a long enough time period. Of course, it sure seemed like unlikely events were becoming the norm in the playoffs, at least until 2013. [click to continue…]

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SB XLVIII Is The Best Offense/Defense Super Bowl Ever

This year, the Broncos averaged 37.9 points per game, 14.5 points more than league average. Seattle, meanwhile, allowed just 14.4 points per game, 9.0 points better than league average. That means this is a true clash of the titans in one sense: when the Broncos offense is on the field against the Seattle defense, the two units will have been a combined 23.4 (difference due to rounding) points better than average during the regular season.

As it turns out, that’s the greatest disparity between any two units in Super Bowl history. One nice aspect of comparing a team’s offense to an opponent’s defense is that you don’t need to adjust for era, since a high (or low) scoring environment will equally help and hurt each pairing. You can simply subtract Seattle’s 14.4 PPG average from Denver’s 37.9 PPG average to get that same 23.4 PPG difference. The table below shows the differential between each team offense and opposing defense — measured by points scored and points allowed per game — for each of the 48 Super Bowls. That means the Denver/Seattle battle will replace Super Bowl I for the greatest offense/defense showdown in Super Bowl history.

Here’s how to read the table below. In 1966, the Kansas City offense faced the Green Bay defense in Super Bowl I (hyperlinked to the boxscore at PFR). The Chiefs quarterback was Len Dawson, and Kansas City averaged 32 points per game that year. Meanwhile, the Packers allowed only 11.6 points per game, providing a difference of 20.4 points. In Super Bowl I, however, the Chiefs lost to the Packers, 35-10. This is the first time since Super Bowl XXV that the number one scoring offense is facing the number one ranked scoring defense, but frankly, the Bills/Giants showdown pales in comparison to this one. The difference there was nearly ten points narrower than the Denver/Seattle disparity. [click to continue…]

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Even for Football Perspective, this is a very math-heavy post. I’ve explained all the dirty work and fine details behind this system, but if you want to skip to the results section, I’ll understand. Heck, it might even make more sense to start there and then work your way back to the top.

Background

In 2012, Neil Paine wrote a fascinating article on championship leverage in the NBA, building on Tom Tango’s work on the same topic in Major League Baseball. Championship Leverage was borne out of the desire to quantify the relative importance of any particular playoff game. Truth be told, this philosophy has more practical application in sports where each playoff round consists of a series of games. But Neil applied this system to the NFL playoffs and crunched all the data for every playoff game since 1965. Then he was kind enough to send it my way, and I thought this data would make for a good post.

The best way to explain Championship Leverage is through an example. For purposes of this exercise, we assume that every game is a 50/50 proposition. At the start of the playoffs, the four teams playing on Wild Card weekend all have a 1-in-16 chance of winning the Super Bowl (assuming a 50% chance of winning each of four games). This means after the regular season ended, the Colts had a 6.25% chance of winning the Super Bowl. After beating Kansas City, Indianapolis’ win probability doubled to 12.5%. Win or lose, the Colts’ Super Bowl probability was going to move by 6.25%, a number known as the Expected Delta.

New England, by virtue of a first round bye, began the playoffs with a 12.5% chance of winning the Lombardi. With a win over Indianapolis, the Patriots’ probability of winning the Super Bowl jumped 12.5% to 25%; had New England lost, the odds would have moved from 12.5% to zero. Therefore, the Expected Delta in a Division round game is 12.5%. [click to continue…]

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The NFC West Won 75% of Non-Division Games

Kaep can't afford Beats by Dre

Kaep before he could afford Beats by Dre.

It was a very good year for the NFC West. Seattle is heading to Super Bowl XLVIII, as king of the best division in football. To get to MetLife Stadium, the Seahawks had to defeat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, which is only fitting after the scorched-earth run by the division during the regular season. Seattle went 9-1 outside of the division in 2013, losing only in Indianapolis (and 10-1 including the playoffs). The Arizona Cardinals went 8-2 when not facing NFC West opponents, with the only losses coming in Philadelphia and New Orleans. The 49ers went 7-3 (8-3 including playoffs), losing in New Orleans and at home to Carolina and Indianapolis. That means the top 3 teams in the NFC West went 24-6 outside of the division in the regular season, with all losses coming to 10+ win playoff teams.

Unlike the rest of the division, the Rams actually beat both New Orleans and Indianapolis. But St. Louis lost to Dallas, Carolina, Tennessee and Atlanta (in week 2), giving the Rams a 6-4 record outside the NFC West. All told, the division finished a remarkable 30-10 in non-division games this year. That’s tied for the 2nd best mark since 1970, and tied for the best performance since realignment in 2002. Wait until Richard Sherman hears this news.

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The 2013 Playoffs Were Not Very Random

In September 2012, Neil wrote that the NFL playoffs had become more random. And that was three months before Joe Flacco turned into Joe Montana. This year, however, feels like one of the least random playoffs in recent memory. And there’s a good reason for that: it is.

If you know the points spread for a game, you can derive the team’s probability of winning in Excel by using the following formula and typing the spread (with a negative number for the favorite) in cell C2:

=(1-NORMDIST(0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE)) + 0.5*(NORMDIST(0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE)-NORMDIST(-0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE))

Using that formula, the table below shows the winner of each game in the 2013 postseason, sorted in order of ascending pregame win probability.1 There was only one big upset this year, the Chargers victory in Cincinnati. Conversely, the least surprising outcome was San Diego’s loss in Denver the following week. [click to continue…]

  1. All points spread data from Pro-Football-Reference.com. []
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Film Room: Manning against Seattle in the preseason

Who treats the preseason like BS? BS!

Who treats the preseason like BS? BS!

On August 17th, Denver traveled to Seattle for each team’s second game of the preseason. Some people think the preseason is meaningless, but I thought it would be worthwhile to rewatch the first half of that game. If you’re interested, there were a pair of good recaps written in August from Field Gulls, the Seattle SB Nation site, and Its All Over, Fat Man!, a Broncos site and friend of the program.
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No, Peyton, you're the man

No, Peyton, you're the man.

In 1984, Dan Marino set an NFL record with 48 touchdown passes, but his Dolphins lost in the Super Bowl. Twenty years later, Peyton Manning broke Marino’s record, but he lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots in the playoffs. In 2007, Tom Brady broke Manning’s touchdowns record, but he lost in the Super Bowl, too.

When the greatest quarterback seasons of all time are discussed, these three years dominate the discussion. And with good reason. But if you include the playoffs — and frankly, there’s no reason not to include the playoffs — which quarterback produced the greatest season of all time? I’m going to stipulate that the greatest quarterback season ever has to end in a Lombardi Trophy, because otherwise, I think we’ll end up back in the world of Marino ’84/Brady ’07/Manning ’04. Of course, now another Manning season has entered the mix: and with a Super Bowl win, Manning’s 2013 should and would be remembered as the greatest quarterback season of all time.

So, the question becomes, which season would he knock off the top rung? I think there are six seasons that stand out from the rest, based on regular and postseason performance.

Honorable Mention [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl Metrics

The table below shows each Super Bowl champion since 1970 and its rank in various categories. At the top, I’ve included an average of the ranks of the teams over the last 10 years and since 1970, and each team is hyperlinked to its Pro-Football-Reference team page. The categories in this first table are record, points for, points allowed, Pythagenpat record, offensive yards, defensive yards, yards differential, offensive pass yards, offensive rushing yards, defensive passing yards (i.e., passing yards allowed), and defensive rushing yards. [click to continue…]

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Championship Game Preview: New England at Denver

These two men look important

These two men look important.

Someone needs to say it. I know, I know, it’s Manning/Brady XV. But someone needs to remind people that Peyton Manning threw 30 more touchdown passes than Tom Brady in 2013. He threw for over 1,000 more yards. He threw one less interception. He was sacked 22 fewer times. And did I mention that he threw 30 more touchdowns? If you’re not into stats, Brian Burke has Manning providing 5.83 extra wins this year, compared to 3.82 for Brady. At some point, the analysis should move beyond “a game between two of the greatest quarterbacks ever” and recognize these things, right?

Let’s cut off the Patriots fans before they can begin typing in Boston accents: the fact that Manning’s 2013 numbers dwarf Brady’s 2013 numbers does not mean Manning’s career >>> Brady’s career. And it doesn’t even mean (although it strongly implies) that Manning was a better quarterback in 2013 than Brady was. There’s no doubt that Denver’s supporting cast, at least on offense, is much better than New England’s. Manning has Brady’s favorite target from last year, Wes Welker, along with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas. Brady has dealt with a very inexperienced set of receivers following massive turnover. The Patriots have had to replace Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Woodhead with Julian Edelman, 12 games worth of Danny Amendola, 8 games of Shane Vereen (although he’ll be around on Sunday), 7 games of Gronkowski (he won’t be around on Sunday), and Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Each quarterback is down a star tackle (Ryan Clady, Sebastian Vollmer) but has an All-Pro caliber guard (Louis Vasquez, Logan Mankins).

But whatever the reason for the discrepancy, one conclusion is inescapable: this is not a meeting of equal passing attacks. On one hand, you have one of the greatest passing offenses ever. On the other, you have an above-average passing offense. And that’s the real story. The Broncos averaged 10 more points per game than New England, while Manning (as representative of the Denver passing attack) averaged 2.75 more adjusted net yards per attempt than Brady (as representative of the Patriots passing attack). [click to continue…]

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It’s Carroll-Harbaugh X! Okay, the Whats Your Deal Bowl may not have quite the hype of Brady/Manning XV, but don’t tell that to folks on the West Coast. Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh are longtime rivals who have managed to alienate 31 other fanbases in the NFL. For the record, Harbaugh holds a 6-3 record over Carroll, including a 4-2 mark in the NFL. Of course, Carroll’s Seahawks won the last two games at CenturyLink Field, the site of the NFC Championship Game.

Let’s begin our preview by analyzing each team’s passing offense:

Sadly, this post is not sponsored by beats by Dre

Sadly, this post is not sponsored by beats by Dre.

Picking between Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson feels like an exercise in hair-splitting. Over the last two seasons, these two have nearly identical passing numbers, ranking 4th and 5th in ANY/A. Kaepernick was slightly better last year, Wilson slightly better this year, and then Kaepernick has been better in the playoffs. By ANY/A standards, this is a complete wash.

What about the weapons? That’s one area where it at least appears like the 49ers have the edge. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis are legitimate stars who combine to give Kaepernick three versatile weapons on every play. A healthy Percy Harvin changes things for Seattle, but with Harvin declared out for the game, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller represent a clear downgrade from the 49ers bunch.

But remember, when we look at the passing statistics of Kaepernick and Wilson, those numbers already incorporate the quality of each quarterback’s targets. After all, a quarterback’s ANY/A or NY/A averages are not mere reflections of the passer, but of the passing offense as a whole. On the other hand, Kaepernick hasn’t had those three players together for most of his career. In fact, the trio has only been available in 7 of Kaepernick’s 28 career starts. In 10 starts, only Crabtree and Davis were on the team, and in another 10, Kaepernick had just Boldin and Davis.1 The table below shows Kaepernick’s numbers as a starter depending on the availability of his three weapons: [click to continue…]

  1. There was also one start, against Indianapolis, where both Crabtree and Davis were out. []
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Cap Space Versus Production For DEN/NE/SF/SEA

It’s not much of a stretch to say that the Patriots, Broncos, 49ers, and Seahawks, and are four of the best organizations in the NFL. Over the last two years, these four teams are the only to win 23 games in the regular season or 26 games if you include the playoffs. In the salary cap era, being an excellent team means managing the salary cap well. And, broadly speaking, managing the cap well means finding good values for cheap and making sure the players you spend a premium on deliver commensurate production.

So is that true for New England, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle? The invaluable Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap has salary cap data for each team in the league, which can answer half the problem. But how do we measure production? I decided to use the ratings from Pro Football Focus, since the website provides a rating of every player on every team (although I excluded special teamers from my analysis today).

One note about PFF data, which comes from Nathan Jahnke, a writer at the website. As he explained to me, PFF’s ratings are not necessarily designed for comparisons across positions. For each position, zero is average, but the magnitude a player’s rating can get to is somewhat dependent on the position they play. For example, PFF has never had a safety over a grade of +30, while five 3-4 DEs hit that mark in 2013. For my purposes today, this is not a big concern — it just means view the graphs with an understand that these are not designed to be the perfect way to compare a player. But in general, I think they work well. (And, of course, don’t think that just because Brandon Mebane has a higher rating than Russell Wilson that it means PFF thinks Mebane is a more valuable player.)

To avoid people using my graphs to scrub data and steal the hard work put in by by Over The Cap and Pro Football Focus in assembling the salary cap data and player grades , I have decided not to label either axis with salary information or player ratings. Just know that the X-axis (that’s the horizontal one) is for salary, and players on the left are cheap and players on the right are expensive. The vertical or Y-axis shows the PFF grades from worst (on the bottom) to best on top). Note: to compare across teams, I have used the exact same dimensions for both axes across all four graphs. [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl XLVIII Preview Generator

The Super Bowl is still 18 days away, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to write a preview of The Big Game. In fact, only suckers wait until the conclusion of the conference championship games to write their preview article. So prepare yourself for your first Super Bowl XLVIII Preview:

Super Bowl XLVIII Promises To Be A Classic

The NFL was at its best on championship Sunday, providing us with a delicious appetizer in preparation of Super Bowl XLVIII. In the early game, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning staged yet another all-time classic, and then Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick gave us a glimpse of the next great quarterback rivalry in the late game. One thing’s for sure: after two great battles following yet another remarkable season, the two best teams in the league will be meeting this year at MetLife Stadium.

After winning games in Denver and Seattle to get here, I don’t think either team is going to be afraid of the elements in two weeks. You will hear many doomsday predictions for the weather in this game, but truth be told, neither team is at a disadvantage in the first cold-weather Super Bowl. Many narratives will be written about this year’s game, so let me be the first to remind you that this game features [a matchup of two former Jets head coaches in the stadium where the Jets play their home games/rematch of Super Bowl XXIV/Brady against the team he grew up loving/the teams from the only two states in the country to legalize recreational marijuana/]!

One topic of discussion you’ll certainly hear this week: if victorious, many would conclude that OLDQB is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. With multiple MVP awards and multiple Super Bowl rings on top of some pretty incredible statistical accomplishments, it would be hard to argue otherwise. And consider: [Manning would become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls with two different teams and the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl and lead the league in passing yards in the same season./Brady, who win or lose will to become the first quarterback to ever start in six Super Bowls, surpassing John Elway, would join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw in the four ring club with a win. Brady would also become the only quarterback to ever win Super Bowls more than a decade apart, an incredible accomplishment.] And while the stakes may not quite be the same for YOUNGQB, a Super Bowl victory would perhaps be the foundation of a Hall of Fame career.

[click to continue…]

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Harrison actually caught this pass.

Harrison actually caught this pass.

In a couple of weeks, the newest class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be announced. Only five modern-era wide receivers have been selected enshrinement on their first ballot: Jerry Rice, Paul Warfield, Steve Largent, Raymond Berry, and Lance Alworth. This year, in his first year of eligibility, Marvin Harrison is one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I suspect the majority will view Harrison as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but there are a few minority voices who disagree.

As best as I can surmise, there are three primary reasons why Harrison shouldn’t be selected in 2014. Two of those reasons can be addressed rather easily, but let’s start with the more complicated issue to analyze.

Harrison’s numbers are inflated because of Peyton Manning

Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all time. Rice was probably better at his position than any football player has ever been at theirs. Rice might be the most dominant sportsman of his generation. Rice probably isn’t in the discussion of greatest athletes in the history of mankind, which is about the only negative thing I’m willing to say about him. All of that is important background to say, being worse than Jerry Rice is not a negative, but just a fact of life as a wide receiver.
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By all accounts, this was an underwhelming quartet of games played on The Best Weekend in Football. Last year, the division round gave us an incredible Russell Wilson comeback where the Seahawks scored three fourth quarter touchdowns before falling short against the Falcons and the Peyton ManningJoe FlaccoRahim Moore classic. Seattle won this year but in boring fashion, and Broncos fans undoubtedly prefer this year’s rendition of Neutral-Zone-Infraction to last year’s heartbreak. In 2011, the 9-7 Giants pulled off the rarest of upsets: outclassing the 15-1 Packers and winning a game as huge underdogs while managing to look like the better team in the process. The day before, Alex Smith lead the 49ers in a home upset over the Saints in one of the more exciting playoff games of our generation. In 2009 and 2010, the brash Jets won road games as heavy underdogs in convincing fashion against the Chargers and Patriots. This was the halcyon era of the Mark SanchezRex Ryan Jets, also known as years 3 and 2 Before The Buttfumble. In 2008, the Ravens (over the Titans), Eagles (Giants), and Cardinals (Panthers) all won as road underdogs. The year before, the Giants shocked the Cowboys before that was our Tony Romo-adjusted expectation, and the Chargers won as 11-point underdogs in Indianapolis preventing a Tom BradyPeyton Manning upset (no such road bump this year).

In some ways, the results this weekend were a good thing. Perhaps we will remember this as the year the division round of the playoffs felt like eating a salad – a bit unsatisfying at the time, but better for us in the long term. No one would complain about seeing more Andrew Luck — actually, maybe some of us would — but getting an AFC Championship Game of Manning and Brady just feels right. We have become so accustomed to seeing fluky teams like the Chargers make runs that we’ve forgotten that it can be very good when the results match our intuition. Back in April I said that the Patriots and Broncos were on a collision course for the AFC Championship Game, although my reasoning wasn’t exactly spot on (“the key to their success is keeping Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Amendola healthy, although the Patriots will be fine as long as two of them are on the field.”)

But it’s not as if I had some special insight: as noted by Will Brinson, the 49ers, Seahawks, Patriots, and Broncos were the four teams with the best preseason odds. No one would complain about seeing more from the Saints and Panthers, but I don’t think many would argue with the idea that the 49ers and Seahawks are the two most talented teams in the league. A few years from now, there won’t be much we remember from the division round. But I have a feeling it set up two conference championship games that will be very memorable. [click to continue…]

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Division Preview: San Diego at Denver

I’m not going to do it again. This time last year, I thought I wrote a very good preview of the Denver/Baltimore game. I looked at both teams, decided that Denver was much, much better, and ended with this:

I think it’s best not to over think this one.

Prediction: Denver 31, Baltimore 13

A year later, and we’re in the same boat. The Broncos just had another marvelous run, again capturing the #1 seed in the AFC on the back of a spectacular season by Peyton Manning. The opponent looks overmatched, at least on paper: the 2012 Ravens had an Simple Rating System score of +2.9, while the 2013 Chargers are at +2.7. The 2012 Broncos had an SRS grade of +10.1, a number that has risen to +11.4 this year. About the only good thing we could say about the 2012 Ravens (relative to Denver) was that they were getting healthier. About the only good thing we can say about the 2013 (relative to Denver) is that they’re getting hotter. And, I suppose, they’re healthier, too, at least compared to a Broncos team that is missing Von Miller, Ryan Clady, Rahim Moore, and Dan Koppen. So no, I’m not just going to assume Denver will win and move on.

I suppose some of you out there are thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. The Chargers beat the Broncos in Denver in the regular season. Doesn’t that mean something?” Well, tell that to the 1934 Bears, who went 13-0 and beat the Giants in the Polo Grounds in the regular season only to lose 30-13 at that same spot in the playoffs! Okay, presumably Denver/San Diego won’t flip on the shoe selection of the competitors, but the larger point remains: road teams that played a rematch in the playoffs against a team they beat at that same venue in the regular season are just 18-32.

Here’s how to read the table below. In 2010, the Seahawks went on the road to play the Bears after beating them in the regular season, 23-20. Seattle met in Chicago in the Division Round of the playoffs, and the Seahawks were 10-point underdogs. Seattle lost, 35-24.
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Division Preview: San Francisco at Carolina

At least 400 total yards were gained in every game this season. When Nick Foles threw 7 touchdowns against the Raiders, Oakland actually out-gained Philadelphia, and the two teams combined for a season-high 1,102 yards that day. On the other end of the spectrum was San Francisco/Carolina I, when the two teams combined for just 401 yards. That first game was essentially the NFL’s version of LSU/Alabama, and I don’t think the rematch will be very different.

When these two teams take the field on Sunday, the opponent will feel familiar for a couple of reasons. One, of course, is because of the week ten match-up. But these teams are also mirror images of each other. Consider:

Kuechly and Kaepernick are just two of the many stars in this game

Kuechly and Kaepernick are just two of the many stars in this game.

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When it comes Patriots/Colts, it’s easy to want to focus on Tom Brady vs. Andrew Luck. Or to marvel at the sheer number of star players these teams have lost in the last 12 months. If you played college in the state of Florida, you’re probably not going to be playing in this game: T.Y. Hilton is the last star standing with Vince Wilfork, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes, and Reggie Wayne gone. The Patriots also have placed Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson on injured reserve, while Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard are both questionable. Also, of course, Brady is probable with a shoulder.

The Colts just put defensive starters Gregory Toler and Fili Moala on injured reserve, adding to a list that already included Wayne, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Dwayne Allen, Donald Thomas, Montori Hughes, and Pat AngererLaRon Landry and Darrius Heyward-Bey are both questionable, and the latter’s injury caused the team to sign ex-Patriot Deion Branch.

All the injuries and changing parts make this a pretty tough game to analyze. So I’m not going to, at least not from the usual perspective. Instead, I want to take a 30,000 foot view of the game. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots were the most consistent team in the league this season, while the Colts were the fourth least consistent team. Rivers McCown was kind enough to send me the single-game DVOA grades for both teams this season, and I’ve placed those numbers in the graph below with the Colts in light blue and the Patriots in red. The graph displays each team’s single-game DVOA score for each game this season, depicted from worst (left) to best (right). For Indianapolis, the graph spans the full chart, from the worst game (against St. Louis) to the best (against Denver). As you can see, the portion of the graph occupied by New England is much narrower, stretching from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. [click to continue…]

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Division Preview: New Orleans at Seattle

Brees and Wilson scheming to get on an amusement park ride

Brees and Wilson scheming to get on an amusement park ride.

On the surface, this does not appear to be a very even matchup. In home games in 2013, Seattle outscored opponents by 15.4 points per game, an average that includes the loss to Arizona. In road games during the regular season, the Saints were outscored by 4.6 points per game. Both of those averages, of course, include Seattle’s 27-point demolition of the Saints in Seattle just six weeks ago. The 20-point difference between Seattle’s average home margin and the New Orleans’ average road margin — which, for brevity’s sake, I’m going to call the “projected MOV” — is very high, even by historical standards.  In fact, only 20 playoff games since 1950 featured a game with a larger projected MOV.

The table below shows the 50 playoff games with the largest projected MOV since 1950, measured from the perspective of the home team. For games since 1978, I’ve also shown the pre-game points spread. The largest projected MOV came in 1998, when the Vikings hosted the Cardinals in the playoffs. That year, Minnesota outscored teams by 23.6 points per game at home, while Arizona was outscored by 9.1 PPG on the road. Those numbers combine for a projected MOV for Minnesota of nearly 33 points! The game took place during the division round of the playoffs and the Vikings were 16.5-point favorites. You can click on the boxscore link to see the PFR boxscore for the game, which Minnesota won, 41-21.

YearHomeRoadHm PD/GRd PD/GProj MOVRdSpreadBoxscorePFPAW/L
1998MINARI23.63-9.1332.75D-16.5Boxscore4121W
1991WASDET22.88-7.530.38C-14Boxscore4110W
1973MIACIN21.86-6.7128.57DBoxscore3416W
1991WASATL22.88-426.88D-11.5Boxscore247W
1999STLTAM24.63-226.63C-14Boxscore116W
1969MINCLE24.29-1.8626.14CBoxscore277W
1978DALATL14.75-11.2526D-15Boxscore2720W
1987SFOMIN20.29-4.1324.41D-11Boxscore2436L
1979PITHOU20.38-424.38C-9.5Boxscore2713W
1950RAMCHI23.5-0.1723.67DBoxscore2414W
2008CARARI15.38-7.8823.25D-10Boxscore1333L
1999STLMIN24.631.3823.25D-7Boxscore4937W
1977RAMMIN18.86-422.86DBoxscore714L
1997DENJAX22-0.3822.38W-6.5Boxscore4217W
2011NORDET23.25122.25W-10.5Boxscore4528W
2007NWEJAX21.5120.5D-13.5Boxscore3120W
1996PITIND15-5.3820.38W-8Boxscore4214W
1996CARDAL16.5-3.7520.25D3.5Boxscore2617W
1996DENJAX14.38-5.8820.25D-12.5Boxscore2730L
1979PITMIA20.380.2520.13D-9.5Boxscore3414W
2004ATLSTL6.88-12.8819.75D-6.5Boxscore4717W
2011GNBNYG18.75-0.8819.63D-8Boxscore2037L
2007NWESDG21.51.8819.63C-14Boxscore2112W
1989SFOMIN14.88-4.3819.25D-7.5Boxscore4113W
1985CHIRAM19.50.2519.25C-10.5Boxscore240W
1969MINRAM24.295.1419.14DBoxscore2320W
1969DALCLE17.29-1.8619.14DBoxscore1438L
2009NWEBAL18.38-0.6319W-4Boxscore1433L
1973MIAOAK21.862.8619CBoxscore2710W
1998NYJJAX16.38-2.518.88D-9Boxscore3424W
2012DENBAL16.13-2.6318.75D-9Boxscore3538L
2005SEAWAS16.75-1.8818.63D-8.5Boxscore2010W
1985MIACLE13-5.6318.63D-10.5Boxscore2421W
1979SDGHOU14.63-418.63D-8Boxscore1417L
1977DALMIN14.57-418.57CBoxscore236W
1998MINATL23.635.2518.38C-11Boxscore2730L
1998DENMIA14.63-3.2517.88D-13.5Boxscore383W
2011SFONYG16.75-0.8817.63C-2Boxscore1720L
1999JAXMIA13.63-3.8817.5D-8Boxscore627W
1954CLEDET21.674.1717.5CBoxscore5610W
1991HOUNYJ15.63-1.7517.38W-9Boxscore1710W
2001PITBAL14.5-2.7517.25D-5.5Boxscore2710W
1963SDGBOS12.86-4.2917.14CBoxscore5110W
2012BALIND9.38-7.6317W-7Boxscore249W
1997SFOMIN15.38-1.6317D-11.5Boxscore3822W
1998DALARI7.75-9.1316.88W-7Boxscore720L
1969OAKHOU13.71-3.1416.86DBoxscore567W
1967OAKHOU21.714.8616.86CBoxscore407W
1996GNBCAR18.882.1316.75C-12Boxscore3013W
1988CINSEA15.38-1.3816.75D-6.5Boxscore2113W

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Steve Buzzard has agreed to write another guest post for us. And I think it’s a very good one. Steve is a lifelong Colts fan and long time fantasy football aficionado. He spends most of his free time applying advanced statistical techniques to football to better understand the game he loves and improve his prediction models.


Last month, I wrote about how to project pass/run ratios using offensive Pass Identities and the point spread. However, this methodology only considers one side of the ball. Can we actually improve our projections model using both offensive and defensive Pass Identities? As it turns out the answer is yes.

First, I started off by creating defensive Pass Identities using the same methodology found here. The first thing I noticed was the standard deviation of pass ratios for defenses was only 3.0% compared to 5.1% for offenses. This led me to believe that offenses control how much passing goes on in a game more than defenses. I was glad to see this as it confirmed most of my previous research as well. Given this, it wasn’t appropriate to use a standard deviation of 3.0% for defenses in my projection while using a standard deviation of 5.1% for offenses. Instead, I used the combined standard deviation of all 64 offensive and defensive pass ratios, which turned out to be 4.17%. This doesn’t change the order of passer identities much but obviously does increase the deviation from the mean for the offensive side of the ball and decrease it for the defensive side. [Chase note: Determining the best way to handle the differing spreads between offensive and defensive pass ratios is a good off-season project; in the interest of time, I advised Steve to split the difference and move ahead with the analysis.]

Now that we have a Pass Identity grades for both sides of the ball, we can add a strength of schedule adjustment, too. To make the SOS adjustment, I simply took the average of the defensive Pass Identities played by each offensive unit and the average of the offensive Pass Identities played by each defensive unit. As expected the SOS adjustments had a much larger impact on the defensive Pass Identities than the offensive Pass Identities.
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Penalty Rates Are Down In The Playoffs

Did notice the lack of yellow flags this weekend? In the first round of the 2013 playoffs, just 31 penalties were called over four games, a 7.75 per-game average. That’s the lowest per-game average from any week this season, and the 63.25 penalty yards assessed also represent the floor on a per-game basis for any week in 2013.

In 2012, Wild Card weekend was also the least penalized weekend of that season, on both a penalty and penalty yards basis. That is, until the later rounds of the playoffs. As it turns out, these examples are part of a broader trend in the NFL for over a decade.

The graph below shows the average number of penalties called per team game in both the regular season and the postseason going back to 2000. Obviously for 2013, we’re looking at just four games, but for each other postseason, I included all 11 games. [click to continue…]

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Trivia Podcast with Jason Lisk of The Big Lead

Longtime readers know that Jason and I started together at the Pro-Football-Reference blog. Over there, Doug, Jason, and I would compete in trivia podcasts from time to time, which was as geeky as you think it is. Well, Jason and I got together last week and asked each other multiple questions in three separate categories. The way we structured the podcast, it should be easy for you to listen and play along at the same time, too.  Post in the comments how you fared, or just make fun of me for not knowing anything about NFL trivia compared to Jason.

You can listen here, or via iTunes here.

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Still number one.

Still number one.

After 15 weeks, I wrote that Seattle’s pass defense looked to be one of the most dominant since the merger. With the regular season now over, and the Seahawks getting ready for their first playoff game, I wanted to revisit this question and slightly tweak the methodology.

We begin with the base statistic to measure pass defenses, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt.  Team passing yards and team passing yards allowed, unlike individual passing yards, count sack yards lost against a team’s passing yards total. So to calculate ANY/A on the team level, we use the formula (Passing Yards + 20*TD – 45*INT) divided by (Attempts + Sacks).  The Seahawks allowed just 3.19 ANY/A this year, which was 1.20 ANY/A better than any other defense this season.  In fact, it was so good that it enabled Seattle to easily post the best ANY/A differential (offensive ANY/A minus defensive ANY/A) in the league, too.  The Seahawks 3.19 average is the 4th best average in the least 20 years (behind only the 1996 Packers, 2002 Bucs, and 2008 Steelers). But what makes Seattle’s accomplishment more impressive is the passing environment of the NFL in 2013.

When I graded the Seahawks three weeks ago, I defined the league average ANY/A in the customary way: the ANY/A average of the passing totals of the league as a whole. This time around, I decided it would be more appropriate to (1) exclude each team’s own pass defense when calculating the league average, and (2) take an average of the other team’s ANY/A ratings, as opposed to taking an average of the totals. In 2013, the other 31 pass defenses allowed an average of 5.98 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. That means Seattle allowed 2.79 fewer ANY/A than the average team this year: that’s better than every defense since 1990 other than the 2002 Bucs.

Next, I calculated the Z-Score for each pass defense. The Z-Score simply tells us how many standard deviations from average a pass defense was. The standard deviation of the 32 pass defenses in 2013 was 0.95, which means the Seahawks were 2.93 standard deviations above average. That’s the 4th best of any defense since 1950.
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It’s Christmas in January. Again. Thanks to the tireless work of Mike Kania and the P-F-R staff, PFR has now generated the Approximate Values for every player in the NFL this year. For the uninitiated, you can review how AV is calculated here. And if you’re so inclined, you can thank Mike or PFR on twitter. (You can still thank Neil, although he has now officially moved on.)

Here’s a list of the top 100 players. AV is also listed for each player on each team’s roster page on PFR (for Seattle, it’s Richard Sherman). You can use the PFR player finder for all sorts of AV-related fun, too. For example, you could see the player with the most AV on your favorite team (for the Jets, it’s Muhammad Wilkerson), or by position (among wide receivers, it’s a three-way tie between Antonio BrownAlshon Jeffery, and Demaryius Thomas), or by age (among those 35 or older, it’s Peyton Manning, or John Abraham for non-quarterbacks; Vontaze Burfict and Luke Kuechly lead the 23-and-younger crowd.)

Here’s a list of the 25 players with an AV of 15+ or greater:

Games Misc
Rk Player Year Age Draft Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
1 Peyton Manning 2013 37 1-1 DEN 16 16 1 1 19
2 Richard Sherman 2013 25 5-154 SEA 16 16 1 1 19
3 Louis Vasquez 2013 26 3-78 DEN 16 16 1 1 19
4 Navorro Bowman 2013 25 3-91 SFO 16 16 1 1 18
5 Vontaze Burfict 2013 23 CIN 16 16 1 0 18
6 Luke Kuechly 2013 22 1-9 CAR 16 16 1 1 18
7 Drew Brees 2013 34 2-32 NOR 16 16 1 0 17
8 Jason Peters 2013 31 PHI 16 16 1 1 17
9 Jamaal Charles 2013 27 3-73 KAN 15 15 1 1 16
10 Karlos Dansby 2013 32 2-33 ARI 16 16 0 0 16
11 Cam Newton 2013 24 1-1 CAR 16 16 1 0 16
12 Robert Quinn 2013 23 1-14 STL 16 16 1 1 16
13 Philip Rivers 2013 32 1-4 SDG 16 16 1 0 16
14 Tyron Smith 2013 23 1-9 DAL 16 16 1 0 16
15 J.J. Watt 2013 24 1-11 HOU 16 16 1 1 16
16 Muhammad Wilkerson 2013 24 1-30 NYJ 16 16 0 0 16
17 Russell Wilson 2013 25 3-75 SEA 16 16 1 0 16
18 Matt Forte 2013 28 2-44 CHI 16 16 1 0 15
19 Greg Hardy 2013 25 6-175 CAR 16 13 1 0 15
20 Colin Kaepernick 2013 26 2-36 SFO 16 16 0 0 15
21 Andrew Luck 2013 24 1-1 IND 16 16 0 0 15
22 Robert Mathis 2013 32 5-138 IND 16 16 1 1 15
23 LeSean McCoy 2013 25 2-53 PHI 16 16 1 1 15
24 Patrick Peterson 2013 23 1-5 ARI 16 16 1 1 15
25 Ndamukong Suh 2013 26 1-2 DET 16 16 1 1 15
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Love the Bowl Championship Series or (more likely) hate it, tonight marks the end of college football’s 16-year BCS experiment. Designed to bring some measure of order to the chaotic state college football had been in under the Bowl Alliance/Coalition, the BCS did streamline the process of determining a national champion — though it was obviously not without its share of controversies either.

If various opinion polls conducted over the years are any indication, the public is ready to move on from the BCS to next season’s “plus-one”-style playoff system. But before it bids farewell forever, how does the BCS grade out relative to other playoff systems in terms of selecting the best team as a champion?

Back in 2008, I concluded that it didn’t really do much worse of a job than a plus-one system would have. But that was more of an unscientific survey of the 1992-2007 seasons than a truly rigorous study. Today, I plan to take a page from Doug’s book and use the power of Monte Carlo simulation to determine which playoff system sees the true best team win the national title most often.

(Note: If you just want the results and don’t want to get bogged down in the details, feel free to skip the next section.) [click to continue…]

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