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Week 7 (2014) Game Scripts: Packers Lead the Way

For the second straight week, a pair of blowouts registered Game Scripts of at least +17.0 points. This time, two 2013 NFC South playoff teams were on the losing side of things, as the Packers (+22.8) crushed the Panthers in the afternoon before the Broncos obliterated the 49ers (+18.0) at night. Aaron Rodgers was his absurdly hyper efficient self, completing 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns. Peyton Manning, in addition to setting the career passing touchdowns record, threw for a first down on 14 of his 28 dropbacks. That’s pretty darn good.1

There were only two teams to win in week 7 with a negative Game Script.  The most shocking comeback of the day came in Detroit, where the Lions overcame a 13-point deficit with five minutes remaining to win, 24-23. In Buffalo, the Bills drove 80 yards in just over three minutes and defeated the Vikings when Kyle Orton hit Sammy Watkins for a touchdown with just one second left in the game.

In the “misleading final scores” category, the Browns/Jaguars game takes first prize. The Jaguars posted a Game Script of just +1.5 in the team’s 24-6 win; the Browns actually led for most of the first half and had the ball in Jacksonville territory in the middle of the fourth quarter tailing by just four points. Alas, two late touchdowns, and it turned into a Jaguars blowout. On the other side of the coin, the Rams won by just two points, but were in control for most of the game in the upset victory over Seattle. St. Louis had a 21-3 first half lead, before Russell Wilson second-half magic nearly altered the result. For the day, Wilson became the first player to ever pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game.

The table below lists the Game Scripts data from each game in week 7. [click to continue…]

  1. The best rate this year was Matt Ryan against Tampa Bay, when he picked up a first down on 60% of his dropbacks. []
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Passing Kings, From Friedman to Manning

Friend-of-the-program Bryan Frye has contributed a fantastic guest post for us today. Bryan lives in Yorktown, Virginia, and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history. Be sure to check out Bryan’s site, and let him know your thoughts on today’s posts in the comments.


Last Sunday, Peyton Manning broke the record for career touchdown passes. You may have heard about it. Rather than add more flotsam and jetsam to the vast sea of internet articles dedicated to Manning, I thought I would instead focus on the rich history of the record itself.

[click to continue…]

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This week at the New York Times, I look at some of Seattle’s struggles to win as defending champs.

Staying on top of the football mountain is often more difficult than getting there. That is a lesson the defending champion Seattle Seahawks have been painfully experiencing this season. The Seahawks often face each opponent’s best effort, and that reality was clear against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

The Rams pulled off a 28-26 victory powered by a pair of special teams trick plays; these are the sort of plays that teams hold back for years before unveiling them at a key time against a significant rival, and Seattle played the guinea pig in Week 7.

In the first half, St. Louis called an unusual punt return fake, in which the team sent both Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey as potential returners. The punt went in the direction of Bailey, but Rams blockers crossed the field to set up for a return by Austin as if that was where the ball was heading. The Seahawks, following the blockers and not the ball, wound up out of position. The end result was an easy touchdown on a play St. Louis will not be able to use again for years.

As I’m wont to do, I end with a look at some quirky stats from the season to date. Including, of course, a depressing Jets stat. You can read the full article here.

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In early September, Adam Steele, a longtime reader and commenter known by the username “Red” introduced us to his concept of Marginal Yards after the Catch. Today is Part II to that post. Adam lives in Superior, Colorado and enjoys digging beneath quarterback narratives to discover the truth; hey, who can blame him?


Introducing Marginal Air Yards

There are three components of Y/A: Completion %, Air Yards/Completion, and YAC/Completion. In my last post I looked at YAC, so today, let’s look at the other two components. By multiplying completion percentage and air yards per completion, we get air yards per attempt, which we can then modify to create Marginal Air Yards (mAir):

mAir = (Air Yards/Attempt – LgAvg Air Yards/Attempt)*Attempts

Here are the yearly Air Yard rates since 1992, with the table sorted by Air Yards per Attempt:: [click to continue…]

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Last week, three Big 12 teams occupied the 4-5-6 spots in the rankings, making the Big 12 look like an obvious contender to take one of the four spots in college football’s first ever playoff. Then week 7 happened.

Yesterday, West Virginia won at home against Baylor, 41-27, while Oklahoma lost in Manhattan to Kansas State, 31-30.1 TCU blew out Oklahoma State, 42-9, which only increases the pain associated with how the Horned Frogs blew the Baylor game a week ago. When SEC teams beat up each other, it shows the strength of the conference. When every other conference beats up each other, it shows how the conference isn’t as good as we thought. That’s an extreme version of the narrative, but that does seem to be the thought process for many in the media. After week 7, the Big 12’s big three is now a big four with Kansas State2 joining the mix. All four are in the top 12, but none are in the top 4. More importantly, TCU, the top Big 12 team, ends the season with Kansas, Texas, and Iowa State. It’s going to be tough for TCU to gain a lot of momentum in December with that finish to the schedule, and will TCU look that much different than say, the winner of the Oklahoma/Baylor game? Kansas State could wind up undefeated in the conference, but what will that say about the Big 12 relative to the SEC if KSU’s only loss was to Auburn?

It’s definitely too early to really think through possible scenarios, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Below are the week 8 ratings. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Some more playoff thoughts about the jump: [click to continue…]

  1. The Sooners not only missed an extra point, but a 19-yard field goal in the game’s final minutes. []
  2. Why not West Virginia? Sure, the Mountaineers are 5-2 with only losses to Alabama and Oklahoma, but the SRS so far thinks WVA belongs in a lower tier than the top teams in the conference. []
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Seattle trades Percy Harvin to the Jets

When John Schneider sent a 1st round draft pick1 to Minnesota for the right to pay Percy Harvin $67M over six years, it looked like a risky move that might pay off if a whole bunch of “ifs” came true. Today? After paying Harvin more than eighteen (18!) million dollars and getting little in return, the Seahawks are sending him to the Jets for a conditional pick (rumored to be a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, depending on what exactly those conditions are). The 2012 transaction now looks like one of the worst trades in recent NFL history. What was Seattle thinking?

Let’s travel back in time to October 31, 2012. Would you be shocked to learn that Percy Harvin may have been the best wide receiver in football? To measure this, I looked at how all receivers had performed over the trailing 365 days. The table below shows the production for each receiver from week 9 of the 2011 season through week 8 of the 2012 season. I’ve also calculated each wideout’s fantasy points, with 0.5 points given for each reception, 0.1 points for each yard from scrimmage, and 6 points for each offensive touchdown. Since, due to bye weeks, some receivers could have played between 15 and 17 games, the table includes the 20 wide receivers with the most fantasy points but is sorted by FP/G: [click to continue…]

  1. And a little more. As it turned out, the Vikings drafted Xavier Rhodes, Jerick McKinnon, and Travis Bond with those picks. That looks even better today than it did a year and a half ago. []
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In Between Pete Metzelaars and Scott Chandler

Chandler tries out for the role of Ivan Drago

Chandler tries out for the role of Ivan Drago

The early 1990s were a simpler time. That’s doubly true when it comes to passing statistics, and triply true for tight ends. In week 2, the Bills and 49ers played a famous game in which neither team punted. In week 4 of the 2014 season, the Bears and Packers played just the second game in NFL history with no punts. A streak of 22 years and 2 weeks is pretty long, but that’s not even the longest streak to come out of that Buffalo/San Francisco game.

The Bills defeated the 49ers in no small part thanks to Pete Metzelaars, who caught four passes for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns. And until last Sunday, that was the last time a Buffalo Bills tight end gained 100 yards in a game. In 1993, Metzelaars had a 98-yard game; Lonnie Johnson had an 86-yard game two years later, and gained 90 yards in a 1996 game. Jay Riemersma had three 80+ yard games for the Bills, but that was about it. For over 22 years, no Buffalo Bills tight end hit the hundred yard mark until Scott Chandler caught 6 passes for 105 yards against New England.

In between Metzelaars and Chandler, there were 289 games where a tight end gained at least 100 receiving yards in a game. Unsurprisingly, the Patriots lead the way with 29 of those games, with Rob Gronkowski and Ben Coates responsible for 22 such performances. The table below shows — for each franchise — the number of tight ends who gained 100 receiving yards between week 3 of the ’92 season and week 5 of this year.  I have also included (in parentheses) the number of 100-yard games recorded by each tight end for that franchise: [click to continue…]

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Week 6 (2014) Game Scripts: Bucs Blown out Again

It was only back in week 3 when the Falcons posted a Game Script of 32.5 against the Bucs. In week 6, the Ravens nearly duplicated that effort in Tampa Bay!

Joe Flacco threw two touchdowns to Torrey Smith in the first 6 minutes of the game. He would hit Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro before the quarter was over, becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history with four first-quarter touchdown passes. The other? Tommy Kramer in 1986 against the Packers.

Baltimore’s Game Script produced the 2nd best Game Script of the year; meanwhile the Eagles’ 27-0 shutout against the Giants came with a Game Script of +17.1, the 7th highest mark this season.

The table below lists the Game Scripts data from each game in week 6. As is customary around these parts, I’ve highlighted the Bengals/Panthers game in blue as a result of their tie (you can move your cursor over that row to see it more clearly, not that I know why you would want to). [click to continue…]

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Just above these words, it says “posted by Chase.” And it was literally posted by Chase, but the words below the line belong to Bryan Frye, a longtime reader and commenter who has agreed to write this guest post for us. And I thank him for it. Bryan lives in Yorktown, Virginia, and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history.



With six weeks behind us, we should be at the point where we can figure out who teams are.1 However, this season seems to be a parity lover’s dream. Although many teams near the poles are who we thought they were, others (such as New Orleans and Dallas and perhaps San Diego) are far from their preseason projections. The middle ranks are a jumble of average and indiscernible teams, and no team was even able to make it to 4-0.2 With half of the NFL’s teams lingering around 1-2 losses, how can we tell the petty tyrants from those with legitimate claims to the throne? I recently began working on a model to do just that.

[click to continue…]

  1. For a counter view, see this post by Chase. []
  2. Think that’s crazy? In 1961, the Cowboys, Lions, and Eagles were the last undefeated teams in the NFL, at 2-0. []
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New York Times, Post Week-6 (2014): Big D in Detroit

This week at the New York Times, I looked at the dominant Detroit defense.

It is a new football era in Detroit. For five years, the Lions were known as a talented but undisciplined squad that failed to reach its potential under Jim Schwartz. The defense, in particular, was high on names but low on production. And while the offense had its moments, it was asked to do too much: In five years Detroit won only two games when it failed to score 20 points, the second fewest in the N.F.L. over that span behind San Diego.

But this year the new-look Lions have already won a pair of low-scoring affairs against division rivals. In Week 3, Detroit held the Packers to 7 points, the fewest in any game that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers started and finished. The Lions also held Green Bay to 223 yards, the fewest in any game with Rodgers since 2008. On Sunday, Detroit’s defense was outstanding: It recorded eight sacks and three interceptions against Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and forced five three-and-outs with a sixth drive ending in a four-and-out.

You can read the full article here.

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Appearance on Three-Cone Drill Podcast

I went on the Three Cone Drill Podcast with Rivers McCown and Danny Tuccitto to talk when, football and stats. You can listen to it below.

For you twitter folks, you can follow the Three-Cone Drill Podcast here, Rivers here, and Danny here. And be sure to check the Three-Cone Drill website, which updates regularly with podcasts (iTunes page is here) and posts. Thanks again to Rivers and Danny for having me on.

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Eli Manning and the Hall of Fame

Let’s worry about axes and labels later. For now, take a look at the graph below. The red dots represent Hall of Fame quarterbacks (or players not yet eligible but very likely to wind up in Canton). The blue dots represent non-HOF quarterbacks. The black dot? That’s Eli Manning.

hof

Okay, so what the heck is this chart? What it’s *not*, is the most sophisticated way to measure the value of a quarterback. Instead, it’s a quick-and-dirty method I calculated to measure quarterback dominance.

  • Step 1) Calculate each quarterback’s ANY/A for each season of his career where he had enough pass attempts to qualify for the passing title (14 attempts per team game). ANY/A, of course, is calculated as follows: (Passing Yards + PassTDs * 20 – INTs * 45 – Sack Yards Lost) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks).
  • Step 2) For each quarterback, award him 10 points if he led the league1 in ANY/A, 9 points if he finished 2nd, 8 points if he finished 3rd, … and 1 point if he finished 10th. A quarterback receives 0 points if he does not finish in the top 10 in ANY/A or does not have enough pass attempts to qualify.
  • Step 3) For each quarterback, add his “points” from each season to produce a career grade.

[click to continue…]

  1. For purposes of this post, I have excluded AAFC stats, but combined the AFL and NFL as one league. []
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The Bulldogs pushed aside the Tigers in week 7; just not in the SRS

MSU pushed aside Auburn in week 7; (but not in the SRS).

In last week’s rankings, Auburn stood head and shoulders above the rest of college football. As a result, even a 15-point loss on the road against Mississippi State wasn’t enough to nudge the Tigers from the top spot. Is this a problem? Not really. The SRS ratings are predictive; they are not designed to tell you which teams are the most deserving or which schools have accomplished the most. Instead, they are intended to give you an idea of what might happen in a future game between any two teams.

Auburn’s rating is amplified by a 41-7 victory against LSU, which stands out as the most dominant performance of the year. The Tigers also crushed Arkansas by 24, a margin that looks more impressive every week. Other than yesterday’s loss, Auburn’s “worst” performance of the year by SRS standards was a 6-point win on the road against Kansas State (#14 in the SRS), which would be the best game of the year for all but a handful of teams.

The Mississippi schools check in at #2 and #3 in the SRS this week; Alabama and Texas A&M are #8 and #9, giving the SEC West five teams in the top ten yet again. Auburn, with the double-edged sword of a brutal schedule, will have no problem getting back into the playoff discussion if the Tigers can win out. Georgia, fresh off a 34-0 thumping of Missouri, is now 7th in the SRS. But I want to focus on schools 4, 5, and 6 in the ratings. All are from the Big 12, a conference doesn’t appear to be getting much respect nationally.

The ten-team conference plays a round robin schedule, meaning each team gets nine division games. That leaves only 3 nonconference games for each school, and the class of the conference — Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU — are already done with that part of their schedule. It makes sense to analyze these teams as a group, because for SRS purposes (and based on the two head-to-head games), these three teams are all about equal. In their nine nonconference games, they went 9-0 with an average margin of victory of 41 points, and all wins came by at least 23. Of course, that schedule was loaded with cupcakes: other than Tennessee (currently 12th in the SRS), the only semi-respectable opponents were Minnesota (#38) and Louisiana Tech (#50). And the Vols game is certainly helping: Tennessee is 3-3, but the losses were by 1 point to Florida, 4 to Georgia, and 24 to Oklahoma. [click to continue…]

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Thoughts on SEC West schedules

The SEC West is the best division in all of college football. The division is 31-6 this year, with all six losses coming at the hands of other SEC West teams. There have been only three inter-divisional games in the SEC this year, and the West teams came away with three blowout victories: Alabama over Florida (42-21), Texas A&M over South Carolina (52-28), and Ole Miss over Vanderbilt (41-3). In Power 5 play, Arkansas, Alabama, and Auburn have notched wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Kansas State, while LSU knocked off Wisconsin. And Ole Miss defeated Boise State and Memphis, too.

Auburn, Mississippi, MSU, Alabama, and A&M all are in the top 10 of the SRS, and LSU and Arkansas are in the top 20. So what happens if these teams beat up on each other? Each school plays each of the other six SEC West teams. While there’s a good chance at least one of these schools goes 5-1 or 6-0 in division play, there’s also a chance we end up with a multi-team tie atop the division at 4-2. The actual tiebreakers are the typical boring type that you can imagine, but we need not restrict ourselves to the creativity capacity of executives of the Southeastern Conference. So today, I’m ranking schedules. Since this is not the tiebreaker that the SEC would actually use, you can think of this as how-to guide to rooting for people who have morals: [click to continue…]

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Antone Smith and Long Touchdowns

Allow me to present to you Atlanta running back Antone Smith’s 2014 play-by-play log in its entirety:

Week 1 vs. NO
QtrTimeScoreDown/DistYardlineDescription
211:400 - 132nd-and-10own 20rushed for 2 yards
209:160 - 131st-and-10opp 31rushed for 5 yards
300:3317 - 202nd-and-9own 46caught pass for 54 yards TOUCHDOWN
Week 2 vs. CIN
QtrTimeScoreDown/DistYardlineDescription
214:49417011st-and-10own 28caught pass for 4 yards
201:14417083rd-and-4own 38target of incomplete pass
410:23417221st-and-10opp 35caught pass for 15 yards (first down)
400:54419361st-and-10own 41target of incomplete pass
Week 3 vs. TB
QtrTimeScoreDown/DistYardlineDescription
104:21367081st-and-9opp 9rushed for 4 yards
209:0028 - 01st-and-10opp 11rushed for 10 yards (first down)
302:3649 - 01st-and-10opp 36rushed for -2 yards
301:5949 - 02nd-and-12opp 38rushed for 38 yards TOUCHDOWN
Week 4 vs. MIN
QtrTimeScoreDown/DistYardlineDescription
105:230 - 73rd-and-2opp 29rushed for 2 yards (first down)
104:470 - 71st-and-10opp 27rushed for 3 yards
214:55418342nd-and-10own 31rushed for 9 yards
301:4021 - 271st-and-10opp 48rushed for 48 yards TOUCHDOWN
Week 5 vs. NYG
QtrTimeScoreDown/DistYardlineDescription
103:420 - 71st-and-10opp 23rushed for 2 yards
214:59418273rd-and-4opp 4caught pass for 1 yards
212:33419191st-and-10own 25caught pass for 8 yards
305:5113 - 103rd-and-4own 26caught pass for 74 yards TOUCHDOWN

That’s four long touchdowns on 17 offensive touches.  On his four scoring plays, Smith has gained an incredible 214 yards.  That’s the most in the NFL so far, with Steve Smith (162 yards) and Jordy Nelson (160) rounding out the top three.  Perhaps even more incredible is that Smith has gained 214 yards on scoring plays despite gaining only 63 yards on non-scoring plays.  Here’s a chart I tweeted a couple of days ago, showing yards gained on TDs on the X-axis and yards gained on all other plays on the Y-axis: [click to continue…]

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There's been a long drought in Cleveland

There’s been a long drought in Cleveland

October 27, 1991. The 4-3 Browns were hosting the 3-4 Steelers, and Vegas oddsmakers set the Browns as 1.5-point favorites. Bernie Kosar would complete 21 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a score, while Kevin Mack would lead the team with 54 yards rushing on 19 carries. It was not a great offensive day for the Browns, but the team managed to pick off Neil O’Donnell two times, and held Merrill Hoge to just 48 yards on 12 carries (the factor back chipped in with 56 receiving yards, too). Clay Matthews — the middle one — had one sack, Louis Lipps led all players with 69 receiving yards, and the only thing that would trick you into thinking that this game didn’t take place generations ago was that Matt Stover started the scoring with a 34-yard field goal. [click to continue…]

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Brian Football

Brian Football.

Last week in this space, we bemoaned the large number of blowouts and the lack of exciting comebacks. Apparently, bemoaning works.

After falling behind against Atlanta by a score of 20-10, the Giants scored the final 20 points of the game to steal the win. The Saints jumped out to a 13-0 lead against Tampa Bay, but the Bucs responded by going on a 31-7 run. With the season teetering on the edge, New Orleans responded by scoring 17 straight points to pull off the rare come from ahead comeback.

In Detroit, the Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead. But the Bills scored 17 straight, and won with a Game Script of -6.4. In Carolina, the Bears took an early 21-7 lead, but the Panthers scored 24 of the game’s final 27 points, winning with a -3.8 Game Script. But by far the biggest comeback of the day came in Tennessee, when the 2014 edition of the Kardiac Kids pulled off the largest road comeback in NFL history.

With 2:55 left in the first half, the Titans led the Browns, 28-3. But from that point forward, Brian Hoyer completed 16 of 27 passes for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell, and Terrance West rushed 24 times for 107 yards. By the end of the day, Cleveland had won 29-28 despite a Game Script of -10.5. That checks in as the worst Game Script by a winning team since the Colts won with a -11.0 against the Texans in week 9 of last season.

The table below shows all the Game Scripts data from week 5:

[click to continue…]

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New York Times, Post Week-5 (2014): From 0-2 to 3-2

This week at the New York Times, I look at a pair of teams that have gone from 0-2 to 3-2, a statistical rarity, and a league-wide passing trend:

About three weeks ago, you probably heard some variation on the following statistic: Since 1990, only 12 percent of teams that started 0-2 ended up making the playoffs. Seven teams started 0-2 this season, but two of those have rebounded with three-game winning streaks.

Andrew Luck leads the N.F.L. in passing yards and touchdowns while posting a 100 passer rating. His Colts lead the league in points scored, and Indianapolis has the second-best point differential in the N.F.L., behind the San Diego Chargers. The Colts, division champions in 2013, are back on top of the A.F.C. South, tied with the Houston Texans for the division’s best record. As a result, it is probably hard to even remember that only three weeks ago, the Colts were one of those struggling 0-2 teams.

The A.F.C. South was the worst division in football last year, and not much has changed in 2014. In interdivision games, A.F.C. South teams are 5-11, the worst record of any division. That is one of the biggest reasons the Colts were able to jump from last to first place so quickly. Indianapolis has feasted on its poor division.

You can read the full article here.

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Andrew Healy joining Football Outsiders

Congrats to Andrew Healy, who is now working with Football Outsiders. His first post went up today.

Since 1979, teams have covered the point spread by more than 17 points almost exactly 10 percent of the time. Going back to 2003, the New England Patriots have now done it half the time (5 out of 10) after losing the previous game by more than 14 points. We want to be cautious with this kind of split given the small sample size, but this is pretty remarkable given how rarely teams exceed expectations by so much….

To put how unusual this is into context, take an average team that beats the spread by 17-plus points exactly 10 percent of the time. What is the chance that team would beat the spread by 17-plus points five (or more) times out of ten? 0.2 percent! So this is a case where a small sample size really does tell us something. Over the last decade, the Patriots have been completely on their own island in their propensity for following big losses with surprisingly strong wins. And it looks like more than randomness. Note that I am counting 2008, too. If we only include the Brady era, following big losses the Patriots have beaten the point spread by more than 17 points four out of seven times.

You can read the full article here. And you can view all of Andrew’s posts at Football Perspective here or here.

And again, congrats Andrew! I’m sure he would appreciate some love from you guys in the comments, either here or over at FO.

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500 touchdown passes

No one is more prolific at touchdowns than Manning

No one is more prolific at touchdowns than Manning.

Yesterday, Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes against Arizona. In the process, he joined Brett Favre as the only players in NFL history to throw 500 career touchdown passes. In previewing that game, Mike Tanier noted that it would require us to travel back to 1987 to collect 500 Cardinals touchdown throws.

Naturally, that made me wonder how far back we would have to go to calculate the last 500 touchdown passes for each franchise. The four most recent expansion franchises — Houston, Jacksonville, Carolina, and Baltimore — have yet to throw even 400 touchdown passes. For Manning, of course, he’s thrown 500 passes beginning in the 1998 season. That’s better than any franchise in the NFL; the closest team would be the Packers. To count 500 Green Bay touchdown throws, you would need to start on November 23, 1997. Beginning on that date, Favre would throw another 269 touchdowns for the Packers, Aaron Rodgers would chip in with 200, and a handful of other Green Bay players would combine for 31 scoring throws. [click to continue…]

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Ole Miss pulled off the big upset

Ole Miss pulled off the big upset.

Early in the day, Mississippi State blew out Texas A&M in Starkville, 48-31. That was the first half in the most incredible football day in Magnolia State history. What happened next was much more dramatic.

Ole Miss had lost 10 straight games to Alabama, with 9 of those games coming by at least 22 points. The last three years, the Crimson Tide had won by an average of 36.7 points. Last year, a 3-0 Ole Miss team — fresh off of a blowout win in Texas — lost in Tuscaloosa, 25-0. So while the Rebels entered Saturday with a 4-0 record and a top-15 ranking, it would be fair to wonder how they would handle an Alabama team that was still Alabama.

Early on, the Tide looked like the better team. Amari Cooper was not dominating, but T.J. Yeldon looked great, en route to a 100-yard day. Quarterback Blake Sims looked smart and efficient, while Ole Miss couldn’t seem to get much going on offense like just about every opponent ever against Alabama. Still, the Rebels defense had played well enough to keep the Tide to just seven first half points, and the game looked to be 7-3 at the end of the half. That is, until what appeared to be the turning point of the game.

In the final seconds of the half, a screen pass to I’Tavius Mathers looked to be uneventful, until Cyrus Jones pulled off the trifecta — strip, fumble recovery, return for a touchdown. Replays showed that Jones committed a blatant facemask penalty, which likely lead to the fumble, but the refs didn’t see it. So after a great first half, a bad call meant Ole Miss was suddenly down 14-3. This seemed like a recipe for yet another Alabama win over the Upstart Of the Week.

But the weirdest thing happened in the second half. Ole Miss didn’t just outscore Alabama, it outplayed them. And not by an insignificant margin. Bo Wallace, Laquon Treadwell, and Evan Engram (other than a huge drop) were dominant in the second half, while the Ole Miss defense continued its excellent play. A gorgeous touchdown to Jaylen Walton gave Ole Miss a touchdown lead, but in typical Ole Miss fashion, the team botched the extra point not once, but twice.1

With Ole Miss now clinging to only a 6-point lead, you could hardly blame anyone for expecting Alabama to win the game with a last second touchdown. A 30-yard catch and run by Cooper on the final drive put the Tide in inside the Ole Miss 30. But an incredible interception by Senquez Golson sealed the victory, and the day was complete: Mississippi not only beat, but outplayed Alabama, in a crucial game in a battle for SEC West supremacy. The game (and the aftermath) was everything that was great about college football.

Which almost makes it seem silly to transition to college football ratings, since we are still too early in the year for these ratings to hold significant meaning. Last week, I unveiled the initial SRS ratings. In perhaps two weeks, the ratings will start to really hold up, but for now, these are mostly a gut check. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. As a reminder, these ratings are intended to be predictive only, and not intended as a way to rank college football teams for any other purpose. [click to continue…]

  1. First, the kick clanked off the upright. A roughing the kicker penalty gave the Rebels another chance, but the second extra point attempt was blocked. []
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Your Guide to Rooting Against the SEC

I got an email a few days ago with an idea for a post. Because coming up with one entire idea every day can get to be a grind after awhile, sending me such an email is Step Two to getting on my good side (Step One, of course, is submitting a guest post). I can use all the help I can get. Here was the email in full.

Vanderbilt lost to freakin’ Temple this year. While it would be great if Vanderbilt went undefeated in SEC play, that’s not going to happen. So what else can an SEC-hater root for this year that would make the SEC look bad?

If you’re rooting against the SEC as a whole — and getting involved in conference wars is a surefire way to get lost down the rabbit hole — what teams do you want to keep an eye on this year?

  • As our emailer suggested, having Vanderbilt fare well in SEC play would be one way the conference as a whole would look worse. As it stands, that’s exceedingly unlikely to happen. Vanderbilt’s best game of the year was a 10-point loss to Kentucky; the Commodores look to be the worst team in the conference, which will minimize the impact of the Temple loss.
  • SEC teams have not lost any other games against non-Power 5 conferences. So what’s next? In fact, the conference has lost just two other out-of-conference games.
  • Tennessee lost to Oklahoma 34-10, but the Sooners are the top team in the early edition of the SRS rankings. The Vols may be pretty good this year — they nearly beat Georgia last weekend — but it’s going to be hard for this loss to wind up reflecting badly on the SEC as a whole. Absent an unexpected SEC East division title, the biggest hope here would be for the Vols to be competitive with Alabama. In that case, if the Sooners and Crimson Tide are both battling for one playoff spot, that data point could be used against ‘Bama.
  • But by far the biggest blemish came when Indiana — Indiana(!) — won in Missouri, 31-27. The Hoosiers are one of the worst teams in a not very good Big Ten. In the team’s other three games, Indiana beat an FCS school, lost badly at home to Maryland, and lost to a MAC school (Bowling Green). Every game Mizzou wins could theoretically devalue the conference (or at least the SEC East) as a whole. After the Tigers beat South Carolina last weekend, Missouri is off to a good start in the team’s bid to repeat as SEC East champs. Assuming Indiana tanks, this is the one data point SEC haters can cling to so far.

[click to continue…]

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Thursday Night Football. New York and Washington. Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Giants won in a snoozer, 45-14, while posting a Game Script of +12.9.

Okay, what about Sunday Night Football? Dallas and New Orleans. Tony Romo and Drew Brees. Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Cowboys won in a snoozer, 38-17, while posting a Game Script of +14.4.

The week ended with Monday Night Football and Tom Brady! Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Chiefs won in a snoozer, 41-14, while posting a Game Script of +14.5.

In between, two other teams — Miami and Indianapolis — also finished with Game Scripts of 13-14 points. Green Bay and San Diego won by a combined 40 points, although the Game Scripts indicated slightly more competitive action against the Bears and Jaguars than that final score. In fact, just two games were won by teams with negative Game Scripts, and those were the only two real comebacks of the week.1

Team
H/R
Opp
Boxscore
PF
PA
Margin
Game Script
Pass
Run
P/R Ratio
Op_P
Op_R
Opp_P/R Ratio
KANNWEBoxscore41142714.5283842.4%331667.3%
DALNORBoxscore38172114.4303446.9%451278.9%
INDTENBoxscore41172413.8414150%311567.4%
MIA@OAKBoxscore38142413.5313547%461773%
NYG@WASBoxscore45143112.9403851.3%351767.3%
BALCARBoxscore38102811.9313050.8%362559%
GNB@CHIBoxscore3817217.1281959.6%364146.8%
SDGJAXBoxscore3314196.2411968.3%402561.5%
DET@NYJBoxscore241775.9382758.5%352657.4%
MINATLBoxscore4128135.6304440.5%422265.6%
HOUBUFBoxscore231761.5392263.9%462366.7%
TAM@PITBoxscore27243-1.3442068.8%462663.9%
SFOPHIBoxscore26215-3344244.7%441278.6%

The two teams to win with negative Game Scripts were San Francisco and Tampa Bay. The 49ers trailed for most of the first half, and the Eagles extended their lead to 21-10 in the 2nd quarter. That means that in every Philadelphia game this year, the first team to obtain a 10-point lead has wound up losing. And the 49ers, after blowing a 17-point lead to the Bears and an 8-point lead to the Cardinals, finally found themselves on the positive side of a comeback. In Pittsburgh, the Bucs jumped out to a 10-0 lead, Pittsburgh responded with a 24-7 run, and then Tampa Bay scored the final 10 points of the game.

For the Patriots, this was the 3rd worst Game Script of the Tom Brady era. The worst performance came in the 31-0 loss to the Bills on opening day 2003, when the Patriots had a Game Script of -18.0. The only other game with a lower Game Script was a -16.6 in the playoff loss to the 2009 Ravens.

Finally, let’s look at some of the unusual pass/run ratios from week 4:

  • Against the Packers, the Bears became the first team since 1976 to run 40+ times despite losing by at least three touchdowns. To some extent, there was a perfect storm of events to make that happen: the Packers scored the final 24 points of the game, and the 21-point margin was much worse than the -7.1 Game Script number indicates. But Chicago still was very run-happy in this game: consider that the Bears ran more than they passed, while the Packers threw on about 60% of their plays. That stat line is typically associated in a game where the Bears would be posting the +7.1 Game Script, not the other way around. Of course, Chicago rushed for 235 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry, which might explain the run-heavy offensive game plan.
  • The Chargers are known as a run-oriented team, but injuries to Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead may change things. Donald Brown and Branden Oliver rushed 19 times for just 42 yards against the Jaguars. As a result, San Diego threw on about twice as many plays as it ran, which is out of character for a team (especially the Chargers) with a +6.2 Game Script. Jacksonville actually ran more frequently, although without much success (to be fair, five of the Jaguars runs were by Blake Bortles). Were the Jaguars trying to protect their rookie quarterback? Probably. But giving Toby Gerhart, Denard Robinson, and Jordan Todman 20 carries isn’t worth much if they can only muster 61 yards. Another sign of the team’s conservative attack: Other than a 44-yard bomb to Allen Hurns, Bortles averaged 7.6 yards per completion on his other 28 completions.
  • The Jets and Lions had nearly identical pass/run ratios, with Detroit passing slightly more often. That is only unusual because the Jest trailed by an average of 5.9 points throughout the game on Sunday. As we’ve said just about every week, the Jets like to run the ball, and teams do not like to run the ball against the Jets. By the end of the year, expect New York to rank in the bottom three in both pass identity and in opponent’s pass identity.
  • The Eagles had an incredible 78.6% pass rate against San Francisco. Nick Foles did not have a very good day, completing just under half of his pass attempts.  So why did the Eagles abandon the run? LeSean McCoy couldn’t do much against the 49ers front: he had just 10 carries for 17 yards, with Darren Sproles chipping in with only one rush.  The Eagles offensive line has been decimated, although it’s not clear that the response to that circumstance is a very pass-happy attack. There’s nothing wrong with passing so often, but it’s always worth noting when the team that was the most pass-happy of the week was in one of the more competitive games. The Eagles had been passing on around 60% of their plays through the first three weeks, with a consistent ratio each week.  Perhaps Sunday’s result says more about the opponent than it does the Eagles.
  1. Technically, the Vikings had a 4th quarter comeback against the Falcons, but Minnesota took the lead for good with about 11 minutes left in the game. []
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Nelson has been the league's best receiver in 2014

Nelson has been the league's best receiver in 2014

I have used the concept of Adjusted Catch Yards for a long time; that metric is the base statistic in my Greatest Wide Receivers Ever post. ACY, you may recall, is simply receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for receptions and a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns. Why a 5-yard yard bonus for catches?

We want to give receivers credit for receptions because, all else being equal, a receiver with more receptions is providing more value because he’s likely generating more first downs.

For the last 15 years, we have data on the number of first downs a receiver produces. But this summer, we added a bit of crucial information: we now know that the value of a first down is about 9 yards. As a result, Adjusted Catch Yards can be modified to be:

Receiving Yards + 9 * First Downs + 11 * Touchdowns

Why is the variable on touchdowns changed to 11? Because a touchdown is a first down; mathematically, this is the same as keeping the value of a touchdown at 20 but changing the first downs variable to be “first downs that did not result in a touchdown.”

This year, Jordy Nelson has caught 33 passes for 459 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 24 of those catches going for first downs (and, of course, 21 going for first downs and not being a touchdown). As a result, Nelson has produced 708 Adjusted Catch Yards this year. But we don’t want to just rank receivers by Adjusted Catch Yards. One thing we can do is rank them on a per-attempt basis; while not as advanced as True Receiving Yards, this provides a relatively simple metric that everyone can understand. We start with receiving yards; then we add bonuses for first downs and touchdowns, and finally we divide the level of production by team pass opportunities. [click to continue…]

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New York Times, Post Week-4 (2014): Statistical Superlatives

This week at the New York Times, I look at the best players from the first month of the season.

Most Valuable Player: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

The best marriage in football occurred one year ago in San Diego, uniting a coach and a quarterback. In 2012, Philip Rivers had the worst season of his career, prompting the team to fire Norv Turner and replace him with Mike McCoy. In 2013, Rivers was named the comeback player of the year by The Associated Press. He has been exceptional since McCoy arrived.

This year, Rivers leads the N.F.L. in passer rating despite facing Arizona, Seattle and Buffalo, three of the top pass defenses in football. Rivers is completing 70.1 percent of his passes, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, and sports a sparkling 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Rivers was not only the best quarterback in the N.F.L. in September; he was also the most valuable one.

You can read the full article here.

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Worst Coaching Regimes

With another ugly loss, Dennis Allen’s record as head coach of the Raiders has dropped to 8-28. But does this mean Allen’s tenure as Oakland head coach has been one of the worst 10 coaching regimes since the merger?

Not exactly. For starters, we should remember that Allen was dealt a terrible hand. The year before Allen’s arrival, 2011, Oakland didn’t have a first round pick. He inherited one of the worst rosters in the NFL, and didn’t have a first or a second round pick in his first year. In 2013, the Raiders spent only $67M on the players on their roster, courtesy of $50M of dead money on the team’s salary cap. So an 8-28 record, while perhaps not even good considering the circumstances, is hardly all Allen’s fault.

That said, I thought it would be fun to just compare Allen’s record to that of other regimes since the merger, regardless of circumstances. The most common way to do this would be to use straight winning percentage, but that would put Allen behind say, Cam Cameron, who went 1-15 as the Dolphins head coach.

Another method could be to use games under .500 — Cameron would therefore be 14 games below .500, while Allen would be 20 games below. But Jim Schwartz finished 22 games below .500 with the Lions, courtesy of a 29-51 record.  Your mileage may vary, but to me, an 8-28 record is worse than 1-15 and 29-51; the former could be disregarded as just one terrible year, while the latter was much better on a per-game basis. [click to continue…]

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The past couple of weeks, I was using a quasi-Elo style rating system to produce college football team ratings. And while after five weeks it is still far too early to put much faith in any computer ratings, we can at least begin framing the discussion of which are the most impressive teams in college football. So, as we did last year, the first edition of the college football SRS ratings are coming out at the end of September. As a reminder, here is the methodology:

1) For each game not played at a neutral site, 3 points are given to the road team. After that adjustment, all wins and losses of between 7 and 24 points are recorded exactly as such. This means that a 24-10 road win goes down as +17 for the road team, -17 for the home team.

2) With one exception, wins of 7 or fewer points are scored as 7-point wins and losses of 7 or fewer points are scored as 7 point losses. So a 4-point home win goes down as +7 (and not a 1) and a 1-point home loss is a -7 (and not a -4). The one exception is that road losses of 3 or fewer (and home wins of 3 or fewer) are graded as ties. So a 21-20 home victory goes down as a 0 for both teams.

3) Wins/Losses of more than 24 points are scored as the average between the actual number and 24. This is to avoid giving undue credit to teams that run up the score. So a 75-point home win goes down as a 48-point win.

Once we have a rating for each team in each game, we then adjust each result for strength of schedule. This is an iterative process, where we adjust the ratings hundreds of times (to adjust for SOS, you have to adjust for the SOS of each opponent, and the SOS of each opponent’s opponent, and so on.) in Excel. Then we produce final ratings, where the SRS rating is the sum of the Margin of Victory and Strength of Schedule in every week.

After five weeks, what are the results? As usual, the table is fully searchable (type “-0″, for example, to see a list of undefeated teams, or SEC to see all SEC teams.) Right now, the number one team is Oklahoma, with an average (adjusted) Margin of Victory of 24.6 points per game against an average opponent that is 43.3 points better than average (average includes all football teams at all levels, so all FBS teams will have a positive grade). Among undefeated teams, the only teams with tougher to-date schedules than Oklahoma are Auburn and UCLA. Below shows the ratings for all 128 FBS teams.

As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. [click to continue…]

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Analyzing NFL SRS Ratings Through 3.0625 Weeks

I thought it would be fun to create NFL SRS ratings through three weeks and one Thursday Night football game. After just 3.0625 weeks, all data are heavily influenced by events that are unlikely to be repeated.  Remember Neil’s old post that showed how for teams with any record, to determine their “true winning percentage”, we need to add 5.5 wins and 5.5 losses. That means through three weeks, a team’s actual record should still be regressed to league average by nearly 80%; in other words, take all these ratings with a big grain of salt.  But there’s no reason not to run the numbers, so here are the customary parameters:

  • Home wins of less than 3 points are treated as ties;
  • For all other games, give the road team 3 points.  From there, wins of fewer than 7 points are treated as 7-point wins;
  • Wins of between 7 and 24 points (after adjusting for home field) are treated as they are.  So a 14-point home win is a 11-point MOV, and a 17-point road win is a 20-point MOV;
  • Wins of greater than 24 points convert to a Margin of Victory that is the average of 24 and the HFA-adjusted MOV.  So the Falcons get a 31.5 for beating Tampa Bay by 42 at home, while the Giants get a MOV of 29 for winning in Washington by 31.

From there, we simple use the typical SRS iteration process to produce a set a season ratings. Those are presented below: [click to continue…]

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Are Kickers Faring Worse In 2014?

Does it feel like kicking accuracy is down so far in 2014? Detroit rookie Nate Freese was just 3/7 before the Lions cut him on Monday, with all four misses coming in the 40-to-49 range. Bengals kicker Mike Nugent has also missed four attempts so far this year; for him, a 38-yarder balances out his 55-yard miss, to go along with a pair of unsuccessful tries in the 40-to-49 range.

Tampa Bay placekicker Patrick Murray had a 24-yard attempt blocked in a game Tampa Bay lost by two points. Randy Bullock, the Texans kicker who was Freese before Nate Freese existed, saw his 27-yard attempt blocked by Justin Tuck.1 Eight more kicks were missed in the 30-to-39 range, too, so if you feel like you’ve seen a bunch of missed field goals, well, I won’t tell you how to feel.

But are kickers actually faring worse this year? I broke down field goal attempts in three yard increments (18 to 20, 21 to 23, 24 to 26, etc.) for the first three weeks of each year beginning in 2002. The blue line shows the data from 2002 to 2005, the red line represents kicking from 2006 to 2009, and the green line covers the last four years. Since the data can be choppy, I included larger, smoothed lines, for each four-year period. [click to continue…]

  1. Who is not to be confused with the near-automatic Justin Tucker. The Ravens kicker did miss once this year, but we’ll give him a pass since it was a 55-yarder. []
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Ryan posted his 2nd monster game in three weeks on TNF.

Ryan posted his 2nd monster game in three weeks on TNF.

In 2013, the largest Game Script was 23.8, courtesy of the Chiefs 45-10 blowout in Washington. But that game was child’s play compared to the NSFW game that was Atlanta/Tampa Bay on Thursday Night.

The Falcons finished with a Game Script of +32.5, the sixth highest in NFL history. Matt Ryan finished the day 21 of 24 for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns. Incredibly, Atlanta turned it over 4 times, although that didn’t stop the Falcons from finishing +1 in the turnover margin.

In a normal week, Indianapolis would stand out for its thrashing of the Jaguars: the Colts posted a Game Script of 19.8, which is even large by Indianapolis/Jacksonville standards. Last year, the Colts finished with Game Scripts of 15.5 and 17.8 against the Jags. What’s weird, though, is that Indianapolis — which has a tendency to get very conservative at times — has thrown on about 60% of its plays in the team’s last three games against the Jaguars, despite monster leads. Andrew Luck fantasy owners, take note, although I’m not quite sure what this says about the Colts mindset.

The Bengals continued their dominant ways in week 3, holding an average margin of victory of 14.8 points against the Titans. Cincinnati had a Game Script of +8.5 in week 2, while the Titans had -8.5 Game Script in week 2, so I guess 8.5 + -8.5 = 14.8? Leave the math to the professional bloggers, folks.

The table below shows the Game Scripts data from each team in Week 3: [click to continue…]

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