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Sam Bradford, Career Passing By Game

On Sunday night, Sam Bradford had a great game in his first start with the Minnesota Vikings. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards, and while he was sacked 4 times (for -32 yards), he also threw for 11 first downs and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions. That translates to an 8.40 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average, giving 20 yards for every touchdown and deducting for sacks. If you also give him 9 yards for his other 9 first downs (remember, touchdowns are first downs), that means Bradford a 10.7 average.

Was that the best game of Bradford’s uneven career? I thought it might be up there, so I decided to run the numbers. Turns out, Bradford’s had more good games in his 65-game career than I had remembered.

  • In October 2013, Bradford had the most efficient game of his career: he went 12 of 16 for 117 yards with 3 TDs and 9 first downs, and no sacks or interceptions in a blowout over Houston. That gave him a career-high 13.8 ANY/A with the first down bonus included. (
  • As a rookie against the Broncos, Bradford might have had the best combination of quantity and quality in his career: He went 22 of 307 for 308 yards with 3 TDs with 16 first downs, and no interceptions or sack yards lost (he did take two sacks). That gave him a 12.4 ANY/A with the first down bonus, the second highest rate of his career.

The graph below shows all of Bradford’s games and how well he performed (using ANY/A with the first down bonus), in order, and color-coded to match the team he was playing for. I have also included a black line which represents league-average play that season. [click to continue…]

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538: Post-Week 2, 2016: Two’s A Trend

Today at 538: if Week 1 is National Jump to Conclusions Week, then Week 2 is when we can begin to trend spot.  For example:

Denver was a one-dimensional team last year, as the Broncos dominant defense overcame the team’s historically inept passing attack en route to a Super Bowl title. This year? The Denver defense looks just as fantastic. Consider:

  • In Week 1, Denver held Carolina to 333 yards and 20 points; in Week 2, Carolina gained 529 yards and scored 46 points (albeit with one touchdown coming on defense) while playing a 49ers defense that had recorded the only shutout on opening weekend.
  • In Week 2, Denver held Indianapolis to just 253 and 20 points, while the Broncos defense scored two touchdowns of its own! In Week 1, Indianapolis gained 450 yards and scored 35 points.

You can read the full article here.

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Decker after another score

Decker after another score

For his career, Eric Decker has 5,222 receiving yards and 52 receiving touchdowns.  That means he’s grabbed one touchdown catch for every 100.4 receiving yards, an incredible ratio for a non-tight end.  And while touchdons can be fluky, that doesn’t feel the way with Decker, who has been a touchdown machine for his entire career across two teams and multiple quarterbacks.

To put this into perspective, I looked at all wide receivers who entered the NFL since 1978 who have at least 2,000 receiving yards through the end of the 2015 season.  Decker has the third lowest (i.e., most touchdown-heavy) rate at a touchdown every 100.4 receiving yards1  The only two players ahead of him? Randy Moss and Dez Bryant.

In the graph below, I’ve plotted career receiving yards (’78-’15) on the X-Axis, and Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns( ’78-’15) on the Y-Axis. In that case, lower = more of a touchdown machine. [click to continue…]

  1. For Decker, I included 2016, but for every other player, I have not updated their numbers, if any, with the results of this year. []
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NFL Survivor Pool Thoughts, Week 2(2016)

Last week, I decided to pick Houston at home against Chicago, which worked out (as would have the other teams I was considering: Kansas City and Seattle). As long as you didn’t pick the Cardinals or Colts, you probably advanced last week, so let’s move on to week 2:

Date & TimeFavoriteSpreadUnderdog
9/15 8:25 ETNY Jets-1.5At Buffalo
9/18 1:00 ETAt Detroit-6Tennessee
9/18 1:00 ETAt Houston-2.5Kansas City
9/18 1:00 ETAt New England-6.5Miami
9/18 1:00 ETBaltimore-6.5At Cleveland
9/18 1:00 ETAt Pittsburgh-3.5Cincinnati
9/18 1:00 ETAt Washington-3Dallas
9/18 1:00 ETAt NY Giants-4.5New Orleans
9/18 1:00 ETAt Carolina-13.5San Francisco
9/18 4:05 ETAt Arizona-6.5Tampa Bay
9/18 4:05 ETSeattle-6.5At Los Angeles
9/18 4:25 ETAt Denver-6Indianapolis
9/18 4:25 ETAt Oakland-5Atlanta
9/18 4:25 ETAt San Diego-3Jacksonville
9/18 8:30 ETGreen Bay-2At Minnesota
9/19 8:35 ETAt Chicago-3Philadelphia

There are five teams that are 6.5-point favorites or greater, but I’m way too scared of Seattle against Los Angeles or of Baltimore on the road to take either of those teams. Miami is at New England, but I see no reason to take the Patriots now when Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are not around. Save the Patriots for later. [click to continue…]

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When Weaker Teams Sweep Stronger Teams

On Thursday, the Jets travel to Buffalo to face the Bills. Last year, New York went 10-6, but was swept by a Buffalo team that went 8-8. But that wasn’t even the oddest result of last year: 10-6 Seattle got swept by 7-9 St. Louis, and that wasn’t the oddest result last year, either.

The Ravens swept the Steelers last year, which wouldn’t ordinarily be notable. Except Baltimore went just 5-11 last year, while Pittsburgh went 10-6! Both games were very close: the first of those games was started by Mike Vick, involved two missed field goals by Josh Scobee in the final four minutes, and required kicks by Justin Tucker of 42 yards at the end of regulation and of 52 yards in overtime to secure the win.

The second one, though, was the true shocker: even though the game was in Baltimore, it was started by Ryan Mallett. For Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger struggled mightily, completing just 24 of 34 passes for 220 yards with 0 TDs and 2 interceptions. The Steelers were 10-point road favorites, but lost, 20-17, when Roethlisberger’s 4th-and-15 pass fell incomplete.

Pittsburgh won 62.5% of its games last year, and Baltimore won just 31.3% of its games; that’s a difference of 31.3%, which ranks as the 5th weirdest result among division sweeps. The weirdest? That came in 1988, when the 11-5 Vikings were swept by the 4-12 Packers. The table below shows the top 100 or so weirdest division sweeps, and the Jets/Bills example from last year only ranks 51st: [click to continue…]

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Yes, The NFL Is Getting Younger

An interesting article from Kevin Clark at The Ringer this week, arguing that the NFL has an age problem. Let’s start by acknowledging that there are two claims in that statement: one, that the NFL is getting younger, and two, that this is a problem. I am only going to address the first one, but feel free to discuss either one in the comments.

The reason I’m not going to address the second point is that it is much tougher to analyze objectively. While Clark’s argument could be true, it’s no more convincing than Jason Lisk’s argument to the contrary: i.e., if a league is getting younger, that may be a sign that a league is getting stronger. A youth movement could be a signal that the prior generation of stars was unable to sustain their dominance as they aged because talented new blood was replacing them. Had a bunch of less-talented players entered the last few drafts, those aging stars would have held on, so a young league means a stronger league. Of course, that is just a theory, too. In reality, I feel very comfortable stating that the rookie wage scale is playing the dominant role in the youth movement in the NFL.

And yes, getting back to the first claim, there most certainly is a youth movement in the NFL. Here is a graph showing the weighted (by AV, naturally) age of the entire NFL for each year since 1970, with age being calculated as of 9/1 of each year.

age-nfl

As you can see, there has been a noticeable decline over the last five years, coinciding with the new CBA in 2011. In 2010, the average age was 27.5 years; last year it was down to 27.1, with nearly all of that decline happening in 2011, 2012, and 2013.1

And, to further support some of the claims in Clark’s article, yes, offensive linemen are getting younger, too. Here’s the same graph again, but with two changes: one, the Y-Axis goes from 26 to 28 instead of 25 to 29, and two, I have included just the average AV-weighted age of offensive linemen in orange.

age-nfl-ol

So it does seem that offensive linemen are getting younger at a pretty dramatic rate. But again, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing, or even whether a decrease in quality is something we can measure. Consider that Clark’s article argues that the quality of play at the position is going down, and that Packers coach Mike McCarthy “is particularly concerned about the end of veteran lines, which were staples of the league when he entered as an assistant in 1993.” In another part, John Harbaugh is quoted as bemoaning that offensive linemen don’t know where “blitzers are coming from.”

Okay, but then in a different section, Clark quotes longtime NFL executive Phil Savage bemoaning the decline of defenders in the front seven:

“Look at edge pass rushers, outside linebackers,” Savage said. “A lot of them are one-trick ponies in college. They rely on speed, then they go to the NFL and get locked up and they don’t have a counter move. They can’t get reps at full speed, you can’t replicate this stuff in practice, and then when it’s a real game it’s very difficult.”

If line play is worse on both sides of the ball, is that something really detectable? It seems odd to me to argue that both offensive line play and the quality of play in the front seven are both in decline. That would seem to wash itself out, and certainly be hard to see with the naked eye.

What do you think?

  1. I’m not sure exactly what caused the spike in the early ’90s. My initial thought was free agency, but it’s really ’91 and ’92 that had the big jumps, which is just before the start of free agency. []
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Bryson Albright was a defensive end for Miami (Ohio) who went undrafted in 2016, but has made the Buffalo Bills roster. Albright is a relatively unknown, so when he made the final cut, the Bills media asked Rex Ryan about him:

Q: How much do you like those stories? You know the odds for undrafted guys. To have a guy like that’s got to feel pretty good, right?

A: Well it does and I think that’s where you really saw our scouting department and our coaching department get together and focus on a couple of these guys and we hit on one. So we’ll see how it is, the kind of career he has, but yeah, you’re right. And I mention it every year to these guys that there’s more guys that went undrafted that have a 10 year or more career than there are first round picks. So I think every now and then you hit a guy that—and I’m not saying he’s going to be that, that would be great if he is—but as much effort and everything else that goes into the drafting of players, there’s some exceptions. And we’ll see if this young man will be one of those exceptions.

Mike Schopp, who works for WGR in Buffalo, tweeted me after hearing this claim, and wondered if it was true. And, well, I was pretty curious, too.

If we want to measure 10+ year careers, we need to look at players who entered the NFL in 2006 or earlier. To have a large enough sample, I picked 20 years, which means we’ll be looking at all players who entered the NFL from 1987 to 2006. There were 1,062 players who entered the league during that time frame and played for 10+ years, or roughly 53 per year.

255 of those players, or 24%, were first round picks. Undrafted players? Well, that’s limited to just 182 players. [click to continue…]

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There Only Used To Be A Super Bowl Loser’s Curse

The Carolina Panthers went 15-1 last year but lost in the Super Bowl; obviously the natural follow-up question there is does this mean the 2016 Panthers will be cursed? If this was a decade ago, the answer would almost certainly be yes. Because there was a very scary Super Bowl loser’s curse that went on for about 9 straight years:

The 2006 Bears had a fantastic defense and made the Super Bowl; in ’07, Chicago went 7-9.

The 2005 Seahawks won 13 straight games (excluding a meaningless week 17 performance) before falling in the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh; in ’06, Seattle dropped to 9-7.

The 2004 Eagles started the season 13-1 and were the clear dominant squad in the NFC; after losing in the Super Bowl, Philadelphia and Terrell Owens imploded, and the Eagles went 6-10 the next season.

The 2003 Panthers lost the Super Bowl on the last play of the game; the next year, Carolina went just 7-9.

The 2002 Raiders were favorites entering the Super Bowl, but went 4-12 the next season.

The 2001 Rams were heavy favorites in the Super Bowl, but went 7-9 in 2002. [click to continue…]

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Bad Teams Doing Well In Good Divisions

In 2012, the Rams went 4-1-1 in the NFC West, but 3-7 against the rest of the NFL. The NFC West was pretty good that year, which made that even more remarkable: St. Louis had the best record in intradivision games of any NFC West team, but the worst interdivision record.

Then, last year, the Rams did it again, going 4-2 against the NFC West (best record, tied with Arizona) but a division-worst 3-7 against the rest of the NFL.

How often does it happen that a team does this? Perhaps more frequently than you might think. The Bills swept the Dolphins and Jets last year, but were swept by New England. Meanwhile, the Patriots dropped a game to both Miami and New York. But while the Patriots (8-2), Jets (7-3), and Dolphins (5-5) fared better against non-AFC East competition last year, the Bills went 4-6 outside of the division.

Since 2002, it has happened 24 times. Take a look:

YearTmDivIntra W%Inter W%Div Strength
2008NYJAFCEast0.6670.5000.650
2002ATLNFCSouth0.6670.5500.638
2015BUFAFCEast0.6670.4000.600
2005WASNFCEast0.8330.5000.600
2012STLNFCWest0.7500.3000.575
2015STLNFCWest0.6670.3000.575
2002NWEAFCEast0.6670.5000.575
2002NYJAFCEast0.6670.5000.575
2012CARNFCSouth0.5000.4000.550
2012TAMNFCSouth0.5000.4000.550
2012NORNFCSouth0.5000.4000.550
2009NYGNFCEast0.6670.4000.550
2009CINAFCNorth1.0000.4000.525
2009MIAAFCEast0.6670.3000.500
2011KANAFCWest0.5000.4000.475
2010OAKAFCWest1.0000.2000.475
2006GNBNFCNorth0.8330.3000.450
2011PHINFCEast0.8330.3000.450
2006ARINFCWest0.6670.1000.425
2013DETNFCNorth0.6670.3000.425
2006CARNFCSouth0.8330.3000.425
2013DALNFCEast0.8330.3000.400
2010SFONFCWest0.6670.2000.325
2014ATLNFCSouth0.8330.1000.263

The standard bearer for the most Rams team of the post-2002 era? All four AFC East teams won at least 7 games, and the division was 65% (24-16) of its interdivision games that year, the 2nd best season in AFC East history (1999). In those games, the Bills, Dolphins, and Patriots all went 7-3, while the Jets (with Brett Favre) went 5-5. You might think that means the Jets would have struggled in division games, but New York went 4-2, as did New England and Miami, while Buffalo went 0-6.

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Checkdowns: Bill Barnwell on Future Hall of Famers

Is there exactly one future HOFer here?

Is there exactly one future HOFer here?

I’m short on time today, but here’s a very fun article courtesy of Bill Barnwell.

There are many interesting tidbits in there, so please feel free to discuss whatever you like in the comments. One thing that stuck out to me was that Barnwell had Odell Beckham Jr. with a slightly higher chance of making the Hall of Fame than Eli Manning. Note that Barnwell’s article is focusing on the “will he” be a Hall of Famer, not the “will he deserve to be” a HOFer. Such distinction is, of course, important.

From one statistical standpoint, Manning is far from a HOFer. Brad Oremland ranked Manning in his top 60, but no higher:

Eli Manning played great in his two Super Bowl appearances, but the other 170 games of his career are pretty close to average. He’s not accurate, he’s inconsistent, and his turnover rate is unacceptable in modern football. Over the past 10 seasons, Eli committed 213 turnovers, by far the most in the NFL. Drew Brees is next (184), and no one else is within 50 of Eli. Manning brought his A-game in the two most important games of his career, and that’s something we should consider when ranking him, but I don’t believe he has a special clutch “ability” other players lack. Despite his “winner” reputation, Manning’s Giants have made the playoffs in only five of his 11 seasons [now 5 of 12], and they’ve lost their first playoff game more often than they’ve won (2-3). Eli is a good player, but he’s not Bart Starr.

Still, Eli feels like he has a decent chance of actually making it to Canton, which is the question here. Beckham? He’s been insanely productive through two seasons, but it’s just two seasons. It feels odd to say he has a higher HOF chance than Eli Manning after two years. Then again, Manning’s entire HOF argument is based on two seasons, so well…. maybe not.

What do you think?

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How will the Broncos do without Peyton Manning? There are certainly reasons to think Denver will be fine, and Von Miller is one of the biggest reasons. Last year, the Broncos ranked in the bottom 3 in offensive ANY/A and 2nd in defensive ANY/A. According to Football Outsiders, the Broncos ranked 25th in passing DVOA and 1st in DVOA on pass defense. Sure, Mark Sanchez is not great, but he’s pretty familiar with taking a team with a bad offense and a great defense to the playoffs.

Among the 50 Super Bowl winners, Denver had arguably the worst passing offense during the regular season of those teams.  The table below displays each team’s Relative ANY/A — i.e., each team’s ANY/A relative to league average.  The Broncos offense averaged 5.14 ANY/A, which was just over a full ANY/A below average.  On the X-Axis, I have plotted how each Super Bowl winner fared in offensive RANY/A; on the Y-Axis, I have shown defensive ANY/A.  So the 2015 Broncos will be (relatively) high and to the left; the 2002 Bucs/2013 Seahawks will be very high and in the middle, and the ’98 Broncos/’06 Colts will be down and to the right.  Teams like 1966 Green Bay and 1991 Washington were really, really good and balanced, so they are up and to the right. [click to continue…]

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Charles Tillman announced his retirement on Monday, marking the end of a remarkable career. From a game-saving interception (video here) during his rookie season to stop a Daunte Culpepper game-winning touchdown pass to Randy Moss, Tillman was known for delivering big plays in key moments for the Bears. But he will always be remembered for doing something cornerbacks don’t really do: or, given the rate at which he did it, maybe he should be remembering for intercepting passes at an abnormally high rate for a player who forced so many fumbles.

From 2003 to 2015, there were 49 players who recorded 20+ interceptions. During those same years, 52 players recorded at least 15 forced fumbles. Tillman had 38 interceptions and 44 forced fumbles.  To put that remarkable figure in context, take a look at the graph below, which shows all 95 players with either 20+ interceptions or 15+ forced fumbles from ’03 to ’15: [click to continue…]

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Checkdowns: AFC/NFC Players of the Week

Hey look, these two again!

Hey look, these two again!

Pro-Football-Reference.com is constantly adding fun stuff to the site, and I just noticed that this page, listing all AFC/NFC Players of the Week going back to 1984. Some thoughts:

  • Brady was so honored five times in 2007. That was the most ever, although it was equaled by Cam Newton last year. Barry Sanders ’97, Terrell Davis ’98, and Tomlinson ’06 are the only non-quarterbacks with four such honors in a season.
  • Joe Montana had 8 OPOW awards in the NFC, and 5 in the AFC. No other player has more than two in both conferences (Brees has 20/2; Esiason has 10/2).

[click to continue…]

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Kevin Durant and Hardy Nickerson

Kevin Durant made headlines this week by announcing that he was leaving Oklahoma City and joining the Golden State Warriors. Durant is one of the best players in the NBA, and chose to join the team that just set the single-season record for NBA wins. Which made me wonder: who is the most Durant-like player in NFL history? This would be akin to say, LaDainian Tomlinson joining the 2008 Patriots.

But that, of course, didn’t happen. Which means there is no perfect example. The best one I could find, by the numbers (more on this in a minute), is a wholly unsatisfying one: Hardy Nickerson joining the 2000 Jaguars. Yes, you surely remember that sexy tale of intrastate drama: Nickerson, at age 34, made his fourth straight Pro Bowl in 1999. The voters had Ray Lewis (first-team All-Pro by just about everyone) as the best inside linebacker in football, but Nickerson joined Junior Seau and Zach Thomas in picking up the rest of the awards (Nickerson was a 2nd-team Associated Press choice, a 1st-team Football Digest and USA Today Choice, and was the NFC first-team choice by Pro Football Weekly). The Bucs had a dominant defense, and Nickerson therefore picked up 17 points of AV.

That year, the Jaguars went an NFL-best 14-2. So Nickerson, one of the best players in football, joined the best team in football. That’s the Durant-like quality to his move, even if he’s a DINO (Durant In Name only). I looked at every player to change teams from 1960 to 2015, and measured their AV in the previous season and their new team’s wins from the previous season. I graphed that below, with wins on the X-Axis and AV on the Y-Axis.  Nickerson, who joined a 14-win team and had an AV of 17, is in a red dot: he stands out the most of any player on here, I think. [click to continue…]

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I’ve got no time today, so just a fun checkdown. Here is a look at the franchise record-holders in rookie receiving yards.

TeamReceiverYearYards
Oakland RaidersAmari Cooper20151070
Carolina PanthersKelvin Benjamin20141008
Buffalo BillsSammy Watkins2014982
New York GiantsOdell Beckham20141305
San Diego ChargersKeenan Allen20131046
Jacksonville JaguarsJustin Blackmon2012865
Cincinnati BengalsA.J. Green20111057
Atlanta FalconsJulio Jones2011959
Baltimore RavensTorrey Smith2011841
Denver BroncosEddie Royal2008980
Philadelphia EaglesDeSean Jackson2008912
Kansas City ChiefsDwayne Bowe2007995
New Orleans SaintsMarques Colston20061038
Detroit LionsRoy Williams2004817
Tampa Bay BuccaneersMichael Clayton20041193
Arizona CardinalsAnquan Boldin20031377
Houston TexansAndre Johnson2003976
Miami DolphinsChris Chambers2001883
Cleveland BrownsKevin Johnson1999986
Minnesota VikingsRandy Moss19981313
New England PatriotsTerry Glenn19961132
New York JetsKeyshawn Johnson1996844
St. Louis RamsEddie Kennison1996924
Seattle SeahawksJoey Galloway19951039
Indianapolis ColtsBill Brooks19861131
Washington RedskinsGary Clark1985926
San Francisco 49ersJerry Rice1985927
Dallas CowboysBob Hayes19651003
Tennessee TitansBill Groman19601473
Pittsburgh SteelersJimmy Orr1958910
Chicago BearsHarlon Hill19541124
Green Bay PackersBilly Howton19521231

Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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For a variety of reasons, I was curious to know what percentage of receiving yards was gained by each class of players. As it turns out, second-year players gain the most receiving yards of any class. Year two players have the advantage of added experience over rookies, and also are less likely to be out of the league even if they aren’t very good, relative to older players. Even bad players usually make it to the field in year two.

One reason to study this data is to analyze receiver production versus draft class. Because of passing inflation, you can’t simply compare the receiving yards gained by the 1973 class to the receiving yards gained by the 2003 class. But what you *could* do is measure the percentage of yards gained by each class, which should control for era. For example, the famed 2014 rookie class (with Odell Beckham, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Allen Robinson, et al.) was responsible for 13% of NFL receiving yards in 2014 and then 19% of receiving yards last year. Those numbers are both really, really good. [click to continue…]

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Some Thoughts on the 2016 NFL Schedule

Some thoughts as I review the 2016 schedule:

Monday Night

  • There are 17 games on Monday evenings this year: two during the opening week (Pittsburgh/Washington at 7:10 Eastern, Rams/49ers at 10:20), one every other week, and as usual, none during week 17.
  • Carolina, Chicago, Houston, Minnesota, the Giants and Jets, Philadelphia, and Washington each have two MNF games this year. Meawhile, the Browns, Jaguars, Chiefs, Dolphins, Chargers, and Titans do not play on Monday this season.
  • Since hosting two games on Monday Night Football in 2011, the Jaguars have not played on Monday Night Football. Every other team has played on MNF at least once since 2013, but Jacksonville’s streak will extend to at least 2017 now.
  • The Vikings host the Giants in week four. Minnesota has not had a home game on Monday Night since December 20, 2010. That was the second-longest stream in the NFL, a week shorter than Houston. The Texans streak will continue for another year: Houston plays two Monday Night games this year: in Denver and in Mexico (against Oakland).

Thursday Football

  • There are 18 games on Thursday this year, although not all are on what is labeled the Thursday Night Football schedule. There is no game in week 17, but three on Thanksgiving — Minnesota/Detroit, Washington/Dallas, and Pittsburgh/Indianapolis — and one every other week during the season.
  • Every team plays on Thursday at least once this year, with Carolina, Minesota, Dallas, and Denver getting that honor two times. The Panthers and Broncos play in the season opener and then later during the traditional TNF schedule, while the Vikings and Cowboys play (other teams) on Thanksgiving and then each other one week later on TNF. The NFL seems to be making a new trend out of this: last year the Packers and Lions played a memorable TNF game a week after both teams played on Thanksgiving, the Bears and Cowboys played seven days after both franchises played on Thanksgiving 2014.

[click to continue…]

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Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan was hired a year ago and given the enviable position of a lot of cap space. He used that to sign Darrelle Revis to a blockbuster deal, but he also made a couple of smart trades, adding Brandon Marshall and Ryan Fitzpatrick for a 2015 5th and 2016 6th round pick, respectively (while also getting back a 7th round pick later traded for Zac Stacy). There were six veterans who switched teams between 2014 and 2015 that wound up producing double digit points of AV last year; half of those were acquired by the Jets.

The table below shows the 44 veterans who changed teams in 2015 and produced at least 7 points of AV: And, courtesy of Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap, the table has been revised to include each player’s 2015 cap hit and $/AV: [click to continue…]

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Checkdowns: Footballguys.com Free Agent Tracker

At Footballguys.com, there is a very useful tool to help track free agents. The FBG Free Agent Tracker, which is always being updated, let’s you know the status of all the free agents, which is particularly useful this time of year. In addition, Footballguys assigns an importance rating of 1-5 for each player. That’s subjective, of course, but it’s better than nothing (another great option is what Bill Barnwell is doing over at ESPN).

And while free agency isn’t over, I thought it would be useful to “check in” on how teams are doing. According to Footballguys, the Bears have added the most value so far this season, courtesy of adding Jerrell Freeman (linebacker, Colts), Danny Trevathan (linebacker, Broncos), Akiem Hicks (defensive end, Patriots), and Bobby Massie (offensive tackle, Cardinals). Meanwhile, the Dolphins have lost the most, with Lamar Miller (running back, Texans), Olivier Vernon (defensive end, Giants), Derrick Shelby (defensive end, Falcons), Rishard Matthews (wide receiver, Titans), Brent Grimes (cornerback, Bucs), and Brice McCain (cornerback, Titans) all moving on.

On a net basis, the most-improved team this free agency period? That would be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are only down Sam Young (offensive tackle, Dolphins) and up Tashaun Gipson (safety, Cleveland), Chris Ivory (running back, Jets), Prince Amukamara (cornerback, Giants), Brad Nortman (punter, Panthers), and Mackenzy Bernadeau (center, Cowboys). The table below shows the amount of points gained, lost, and net for each team so far: [click to continue…]

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Thoughts on the Jets Run Defense and Damon Harrison

Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison is a free agent, which leaves New York in a tricky position. According to Pro Football Focus, Harrison was the 7th-ranked interior defensive lineman, and the number one rated nose tackle. Not coincidentally, Harrison was rated as the single top run defender among all defensive lineman. As a result, he’s likely to command a pretty decent contract on the open market, and is also pretty valuable to the Jets.

On the other hand, Harrison was on the field for only 53.9% of all Jets defensive snaps in 2015. And given that the vast majority of Harrison’s value comes in the rushing game, and not the passing game, there’s a limit to the sort of contract he will receive. But what I wanted to highlight today is the interesting way in which the Jets have managed to get 8 years of strong run defense and great nose tackle play with a lot of moving parts. From 2008 to 2015, the Jets rank 3rd in yards per carry allowed.

In 2007, the Jets run defense was pretty mediocre; in ’08, the Jets traded a third and a fifth round pick1 for Kris Jenkins. That turned out to be a great trade initially, as Jenkins was an All-Pro caliber player2 during his 23 games with New York, but injuries ended his career. [click to continue…]

  1. Which turned into Charles Godfrey and Gary Barnidge. []
  2. He was a Sporting News first-team All-Pro in ’08, and an AP 2nd-team choice that year. []
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I’m on vacation this week, but fortunately, there have been some great guest posts in the interim. But we have a long offseason ahead of us, so I figured I’d use this time wisely.

What topics would you be interested in reading about this offseason? Feel free to throw out there whatever you want: it’s brainstorming time. If there’s something you want me to research and write about, now’s the time.

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AP MVPs Have Not Won A Super Bowl in 16 Years

Count the shared AP MVP in 2003 between Peyton Manning and Steve McNair, and none of the last 17 AP MVPs have won a Super Bowl. That’s despite the fact that all 17 played on teams that made the playoffs, and often while playing for excellent teams. During that stretch:

  • Three have played on teams that lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs;
  • Five have played on teams that lost in the Division round of the playoffs;
  • Two have played on teams that lost in the AFC or NFC Championship Games; and
  • A whopping seven AP MVPs since 2000 have lost in the Super Bowl.

This might be the part where we say that football is a team game, and one player can’t make the difference that it can in other sports. That might sound nice, except:

  • In seven of the last 16 years, the AP MVP played on teams that made the Super Bowl. That makes it seem like one player is pretty important.
  • Incredibly, six of those seven were favored in the Super Bowl! That’s the most amazing part of this streak: the 2001 Rams were favored by 14 points in the Super Bowl; the 2007 Patriots were favored by 12.5 points; the 2015 Panthers were favored by 5 points; the 2009 Colts were favored by 4.5 points; the 2002 Raiders were favored by 3.5 points; and the 2013 Broncos were favored by 2.5 points. Only the 2005 Seahawks had the AP MVP and were underdogs during this stretch.
  • From 1993 to 1999, five of the eight Super Bowl champions had the AP MVP.

So maybe there is an AP MVP curse, in a similar way to the Madden curse. The table below shows how each AP MVP’s team has fared in the playoffs in each year: [click to continue…]

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Anderson clinches the title for Denver

Anderson clinches the title for Denver

The Denver Broncos didn’t exactly ride the team’s offense to a Super Bowl title, but C.J. Anderson did have a great postseason run. The Broncos back rushed for at least 72 yards and gained at least 83 yards from scrimmage in all three games. He had 32.6% of all yards from scrimmage gained by Denver players in the postseason, which ranks 15th among the leaders in that category on the 50 Super Bowl champions.

The player with the most yards from scrimmage in a single postseason is John Riggins, who rushed for an incredible 610 yards and picked up 625 yards from scrimmage for Washington after the 1982 season. But on a per-game basis, Marcus Allen a year later was even better: in three games, Allen rushed for 466 yards and four touchdowns, while also gaining 118 yards through the air. That gave him an incredible 584 yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns in three games, and one of the most famous highlights in NFL history.

Allen also holds the record for most yards from scrimmage during the postseason among the 50 Super Bowl champions. Anderson ranks a respectable 15th in this category: [click to continue…]

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A quick checkdown today, looking at the net points allowed in the playoffs by each of the 50 teams that won the Super Bowl. What do I mean by net points? It’s pretty simple:

(Touchdowns allowed to opposing offenses) * 7 + (Field Goals allowed) * 3 – (Touchdowns scored by the defense) * 7 – (Safeties scored by the defense) * 2

I have decided to ignore special teams touchdowns — both for and against that team — as this is just a look at defenses. And obviously this is a very basic look: it doesn’t incorporate number of drives faced, average starting field position, missed field goal attempts, or quality of opposing offense (or era). But hey, I said it was a quick checkdown!

Here’s how to read the table below. Let’s use the 1985 Bears as an example. You may know that Chicago shut out both NFC opponents en route to the Super Bowl, where the Bears allowed 10 points. But that’s a bit misleading, because Chicago’s defense was better than that. The 1985 Bears played in three playoff games, and the defense scored two touchdowns and recorded a safety (total of 16 points). The defense did allow 10 points, via a touchdown and a field goal, but that means the Bears defense allowed -6 net points in the playoffs, or -2 NP/G. [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl 50: Post Your Thoughts Here

This year, I will be live-blogging the Super Bowl at 538: Here’s a link:

http://fivethirtyeight.com/live-blog/super-bowl-50-panthers-vs-broncos/?#livepress-update

But I wanted to make a place for everyone who wants to write about the Super Bowl, so please leave your previews/in-game reactions/post-game thoughts here. Enjoy!

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James White had 16(!) Targets in AFCCG

It wasn’t shocking that Patriots running back James White played a big role in the AFC Championship Game. In my preview article at the Washington Post, I wrote that the Broncos were well-equipped to pressure Brady, which could lead to a lot of passes to his safety valve. Of course, I was thinking of a different safety valve:

But the difference-maker may wind up being Julian Edelman, who is Brady’s security blanket against the pressure. Without a pass-catching running back like a Shane Vereen (now with the Giants) or Dion Lewis (36 receptions in six games before tearing his ACL), Brady looks to Edelman as his hot receiver to understand how to get open quickly against the blitz.

As it turns out, White was only able to convert 5 of his 16 targets into receptions, for a paltry 45 yards. It’s fair to wonder if a Vereen or Lewis would have been more productive, including on deep throws (where Tom Brady went 0/5 on passes intended for White). To be fair, some of those “targets” were Targets In Name Only: they were throwaways as Brady was under pressure. But still, it turned out to be a wildly inefficient game. Pro-Football-Reference.com has target data going back to 1992, and White gained the fewest receiving yards in playoff history among the 51 players with 15+ targets in a game. [click to continue…]

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As always, the AP All-Pro selections need to come with a few disclaimers.

  • The way the AP selects its second team is dumb. Well, that’s being kind, because it assumes the AP actually selects a second team. It doesn’t.
  • The way the AP selects its first team is kind of dumb, too. Voters can vote for the same player at different positions! That can lead to odd “splitting the ballot” scenarios, and also to the crazy result that happened in Oakland this year. Kudos to Jason Lisk for shining some light on this topic every year.

With that said, let’s get to the results.

Quarterback

Cam Newton, Carolina, 40; Carson Palmer, Arizona, 6; Tom Brady, New England, 3; Russell Wilson, Seattle, 1. [click to continue…]

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Pre-Week 19: How Good Does The Broncos D Need To Be?

This week at the Washington Post, a look at how good the Broncos defense needs to be to win the Super Bowl.

This year’s Denver offense posts a minus-8.8 percent DVOA rating, which would make it the worst offense to make the Super Bowl since 1989.  If we useestimated DVOA ratings, only the ’79 Rams (-13.1 percent) were worse.  The worst offense by any Super Bowl champion prior to 1989, using estimated DVOA, was the 1980 Raiders, at -7.7 percent.  Therefore, by either measure, the Broncos would be an incredible outlier to even make the Super Bowl, much less win it.

The 2000 Ravens’ profile looks remarkably similar to this year’s Broncos teams.  That Baltimore squad had an offensive DVOA of minus-8.1 percent, and a defensive DVOA of minus-23.8 percent; the 2015 Broncos have an offensive DVOA of minus-8.8 percent, and a defensive DVOA of minus-25.8 percent.  That makes this Broncos team look like a carbon copy of the ’00 Ravens, despite Baltimore having a journeyman Trent Dilfer at quarterback, with the Broncos having arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.

You can read the full article here.

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A great article from Bill Barnwell this week, as he chronicled the rise of the improving Oakland Raiders.  At 6-7 and not playing in the NFC East or AFC South, the Raiders are not in the playoff hunt, but that’s not the only measure of a team’s success. Remember, Oakland started 0-10 last year.  Even that may be a bit of an understatement of where the team was, because the Raiders also lost their final six games of the 2013 season. [click to continue…]

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This week at the Washington Post: what to do with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Colin Kaepernick made his first NFL start less than three years ago, on a Monday night in November 2012 against the Bears. His 10th career start came for the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, when he threw for 301 yards and rushed for 62 and nearly led San Francisco to a fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory. In his first 16 career starts — the equivalent of a full regular season — he accumulated the following stat line: 259 completions in 433 pass attempts for 3,627 yards, with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, along with 674 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. At that point, Kaepernick was still three weeks shy of his 26th birthday, and appeared to be one of the game’s most valuable assets: a young, talented quarterback.

You can read the full article here.

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