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NFL Overtime Is Now Just 10 Minutes Long

The graph below shows the percentage of NFL (or AFL or AAFC) games that have ended in a tie since 1940. Note that the Y-Axis goes from only 0% to 20%: that may be misleading, but showing the graph from 0% to 100% would make for a much less useful visual in my opinion.

I’m short on time today, but most observers seem to think that shortening overtime from 15 to 10 minutes is likely to result in more ties. It certainly seems unlikely to result in fewer ties, although it’s possible that teams will just engage in tie-averse behavior earlier in overtime now.

We have spent a long time debating the best way to handle overtime. In general, I’m not too opposed to more ties in the regular season. While unsatisfying at the time, they arguably serve as a better tiebreaker than traditional tiebreakers. When two teams are 9-7, the tiebreaker to determine which one advances to the playoffs is not necessarily better than 50/50 at deciding which is the “better” or more “deserving” team. But if one of those 9-7 teams wound up being 9-6-1 rather than losing in the 74th minute of the game, that would be the team that advances. That seems more likely, in the long run, to identify the “better” or more “deserving” team. I think. Of course, that does not to change the unsatisfying result in the short term.

What do you think?

{ 14 comments }

Jones telling George where he put the running plays in the playbook.

This week, James “Four Touchdowns” Hanson had a couple of interesting posts on the support four star quarterbacks received.  James provided some very extensive, in-depth analysis, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for simple, surface-level analysis, either!

I was wondering which quarterbacks received the most and least support from their team’s rushing attacks. Which brings us to Jeff George. There are 179 quarterbacks who have started at least 50 games in the NFL. George started games across five different teams — Indianapolis, Atlanta, Oakland, Minnesota, and Washington.  And in the 124 games he started, his teams averaged just 87.9 rushing yards per game, the fewest of any quarterback in NFL history.

In Oakland (23 of 124 starts) in ’97 and ’98, George had an in-his-prime Napoleon Kaufman, so that wasn’t a bad situation: his Raiders averaged 105.9 rushing yards per game. And in 10 starts with the Vikings in 1999, George had the impressive combination of Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard, and the Vikings averaged 126.4 rushing yards per game.

But his fortunes were much different in his other stops. George began his career, of course, with the Colts from 1990 to 1993. In his 49 starts in Indianapolis, the Colts were absolutely terrible on the ground. There were 112 team seasons from 1990 to 1993 — that’s four years during the 28-team NFL — and the four Colts teams ranked 106th, 108th, 111th, and 112th in rushing yards over that period. Over those four years, Indianapolis rushed for just 4,841 yards, more than 1,000 rushing yards behind the second-worst team (Miami). The Colts averaged an anemic 3.38 yards per carry, also worst in the league. In George’s 49 starts, Indianapolis averaged just 75.6 rushing yards per game.

George then went to Atlanta, and from ’94 to ’96 (35 starts), the Falcons rushed for just 82.3 yards per game in George’s starts. George started 16 games in both ’94 and ’95, and Atlanta averaged the fewest rushing yards per game of any team in the NFL during that period.  As you probably know, those Falcons famously ran the Run-N-Shoot under head coach June Jones, so some of this was a reflection of philosophy rather than lack of talent1 In 1994, the Falcons ranked dead last in both rushing attempts and rushing yards, and 3rd in pass attempts and 5th in passing yards.

The personnel was suited for Jones’ offense: Terance Mathis, Andre Rison,2 Bert Emanuel, and Ricky Sanders were all starters in the Falcons 0-TE/0-FB offense, with Ironhead Craig Heyward and Erric Pegram at running back.  That offense worked pretty well (and would likely work even better today), but a high number of interceptions and a bad pass defense caused the team go to 7-9 in 1994.  In ’95, Rison (who signed an enormous contract to play in Cleveland) and Sanders (just two catches in his final season) were gone, but Eric Metcalf was acquired in Rison’s place and J.J. Birden (from Kansas City) filled Sanders’ role.  Heyward actually made the Pro Bowl and rushed for 1,000 yards, but the Falcons remained a pass-heavy team.  George was benched three games into the 1996 season, ending his time in Atlanta.3

The table below shows the rushing yards per game averaged in games started by each quarterback, for the 179 quarterbacks with at least 50 starts. The table is sorted by rushing yards per game, from most to fewest, so George is at the very bottom (the table is fully sortable and searchable). [click to continue…]

  1. It’s also worth noting, even this should always be implied, that rushing yards is highly correlated to team success, and George’s Colts were terrible, going 14-35. []
  2. Ironically, Rison was traded from the Colts to the Falcons Indianapolis traded up to acquire George when he was the projected first overall selection. []
  3. And to complete the story: in the final 7 starts of his career, in Washington, George’s team rushed for only 86.3 yards per game. []
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The Sam Bradford Index

Sneak peak at the average length of a Bradford completion

You may have heard that Sam Bradford set the completion percentage record in 2016 by completing 71.6% of his passes.

What you may not have heard: Bradford also ranked last in the league in passing yards gained per completion, which makes his record-breaking performance a somewhat hollow achievement. Bradford is the fifth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to rank 1st in completion percentage and last in yards per completion, joining David Carr (HOU 2006), Eric Hipple (DET 1986), Joe Montana (SFO 1980) in his first year as a starter, and Sonny Jurgensen (WAS 1969). In general, things didn’t work out well for those quarterbacks:  Carr posted a 6-10 record in 2006, while Hipple went 3-7, and Montana went 2-5.  Bradford went 7-8 last season, meaning only Jurgensen (7-5-2) posted a winning record of that bunch (and Washington had a negative points differential and faced a very easy schedule that year).

Expand the list to finishing 1st or 2nd in completion percentage and last or 2nd-to-last in yards per completion, and you bring in four more quarterbacks: Chad Pennington (NYJ 2007, 2nd in both), Joe Montana (SFO 1981, 1st in comp%, 2nd-to-last in YPC), Fran Tarkenton (MIN 1977, 1st, 2nd) and Len Dawson (KAN 1972, 2nd in comp%, last in YPC).  The results there were mixed: Pennington went 1-7, while Montana went 13-3, Tarkenton went 6-3, and Dawson went 7-5.  It is worth pointing out that Montana and Tarkenton both had above-average Y/A ratios that year: in other words, having a high completion percentage is great, but only if it doesn’t come at the expense of your yards per completion average.

How much of a checkdown artist was Bradford last year? He finished 1.95 standard deviations above average in completion percentage last year among qualifying passers, a metric commonly referred to as a Z-score. He also finished 1.82 standard deviations below average in yards per completion. If you take his Z-Score in completion percentage (+1.95), and subtract his Z-Score in yards per completion (-1.82), you get a result of +3.77.

That may not mean much in the abstract, but it ranks as the 3rd most extreme result in the Super Bowl era, behind only Jurgensen 69 and Carr 06. The table below shows the top 200 most extreme checkdown artists — by this metric — since 1966:

RkPlayerTeamYearCmp%Yd/CmpZ-Score (Cmp)Z-Score (Y/C)Total
1Sonny JurgensenWAS196962%11.32.78-1.774.55
2David CarrHOU200668.3%9.22.01-2.024.03
3Sam BradfordMIN201671.6%9.81.95-1.823.77
4Eric HippleDET198663%10.01.72-2.043.76
5Ken AndersonCIN198270.6%11.42.76-0.913.67
6Kelly HolcombCLE200363.9%9.31.19-2.483.67
7Joe MontanaSFO198064.5%10.21.84-1.783.62
8Joe MontanaSFO198766.8%11.52.45-1.133.59
9Chad PenningtonNYJ200768.8%9.91.68-1.863.54
10Fran TarkentonMIN197860.3%10.11.46-1.963.43
11Fran TarkentonMIN197564.2%11.02.27-1.083.35
12Drew BreesNOR201068.1%10.31.81-1.483.29
13Steve YoungSFO199566.9%10.71.94-1.343.28
14Kelly HolcombBUF200567.4%9.71.57-1.633.20
15Steve YoungSFO199667.7%11.32.69-0.483.16
16Joe MontanaSFO198163.7%11.51.97-1.193.16
17Matt RyanATL201367.4%10.31.56-1.583.14
18Virgil CarterCIN197162.2%11.81.78-1.243.02
19Steve BartkowskiATL198467.3%11.92.16-0.853.01
20Drew BreesNOR200767.5%10.11.36-1.602.96
21Ken StablerHOU198064.1%10.91.76-1.202.95
22Troy AikmanDAL199663.7%10.61.59-1.352.93
23Len DawsonKAN197257.4%10.51.19-1.742.93
24Fran TarkentonMIN197760.1%11.21.71-1.222.92
25Greg LandryDET197756.3%10.10.86-2.042.90
26Shane MatthewsCHI199960.7%9.91.11-1.792.90
27Joe MontanaSFO198970.2%13.03.200.322.88
28Kirk CousinsWAS201569.8%11.01.93-0.872.80
29Roman GabrielPHI197457.1%9.70.68-2.112.79
30Rich GannonOAK200165.8%10.61.75-1.022.76
31Brett FavreGNB199264.1%10.71.23-1.532.76
32Drew BreesNOR201171.2%11.72.37-0.382.75
33Ken AndersonCIN198366.7%11.81.90-0.812.72
34Norm SneadNYG197260.3%11.81.79-0.932.72
35Steve DeBergSFO197960%10.51.24-1.462.70
36Ryan FitzpatrickCIN200859.4%8.6-0.44-3.122.68
37Joe MontanaSFO198561.3%12.11.86-0.822.68
38Peyton ManningIND201066.3%10.41.34-1.332.67
39Dave KriegSEA199165.6%11.11.77-0.902.67
40Christian PonderMIN201262.1%9.80.34-2.322.66
41Kordell StewartPIT199958.2%9.20.25-2.402.65
42Fran TarkentonNYG197158.5%11.41.11-1.542.65
43Joe TheismannWAS198555.5%10.60.22-2.422.64
44Matt RyanATL201268.6%11.21.94-0.632.57
45Charlie FryeCLE200664.3%9.71.06-1.512.57
46Jeff GeorgeIND199160.2%10.00.53-2.022.55
47Bob GrieseMIA197863%12.12.06-0.492.55
48Archie ManningNOR197861.8%11.71.79-0.752.54
49Brett FavreNYJ200865.7%10.11.09-1.452.54
50Dave KriegCHI199659.9%10.10.58-1.942.53
51Gary HuffCHI197555.6%9.50.45-2.052.51
52Drew BreesNOR201469.2%10.91.71-0.802.50
53Matthew StaffordDET201567.2%10.71.20-1.252.45
54Sonny JurgensenWAS197059.9%11.71.57-0.842.40
55Ken AndersonCIN197464.9%12.52.34-0.062.40
56Jim HarbaughIND199761.2%10.91.29-1.112.40
57Ryan TannehillMIA201466.4%10.30.97-1.412.38
58Danny WhiteDAL198559.3%11.81.30-1.082.38
59Steve WalshCHI199460.6%10.00.55-1.832.37
60Ken AndersonCIN197256.8%11.21.08-1.282.35
61Steve YoungSFO199767.7%12.63.040.702.34
62Archie ManningNOR198157.8%10.80.61-1.722.33
63Troy AikmanDAL199369.1%11.42.25-0.062.32
64Mike LivingstonKAN197854.8%9.90.24-2.072.31
65Sonny JurgensenWAS196857.2%11.91.19-1.092.29
66Joe MontanaSFO198364.5%11.81.45-0.822.27
67Jay CutlerCHI201466%10.30.83-1.432.26
68Josh FreemanTAM201162.8%10.40.64-1.632.26
69Greg LandryBAL197959.1%10.91.03-1.232.26
70Bobby HebertNOR198962.9%12.11.49-0.772.25
71Ken O'BrienNYJ198960.4%11.60.90-1.352.25
72Brian GrieseTAM200469.3%11.31.83-0.412.25
73Steve BartkowskiATL198363.4%11.61.23-1.012.24
74Ken AndersonCIN198060.4%10.70.86-1.372.23
75Len DawsonKAN196757.7%12.91.56-0.662.22
76Roman GabrielRAM196954.4%11.70.73-1.492.22
77Warren MoonHOU199264.7%11.31.35-0.862.21
78Joe MontanaSFO198662.2%11.71.54-0.672.21
79Ken StablerOAK197362.7%12.31.89-0.302.19
80John BrodieSFO196955.9%12.41.14-1.052.18
81Jon KitnaSEA200062%10.30.79-1.402.18
82Steve BartkowskiATL198263.4%11.51.29-0.882.17
83Jim KellyBUF198759.7%11.20.78-1.392.17
84Randy WrightGNB198857.8%10.60.60-1.572.17
85Brad JohnsonMIN199760.8%11.01.20-0.962.16
86Neil O'DonnellCIN199861.8%10.51.10-1.052.15
87Cody CarlsonHOU199265.6%11.51.53-0.602.13
88Rich GannonMIN199159.6%10.30.40-1.732.13
89Chris ChandlerHOU199563.2%10.91.08-1.052.13
90Troy AikmanDAL199165.3%11.61.70-0.412.11
91Dan FoutsSDG198462.5%11.81.14-0.972.11
92Ken AndersonCIN198463.6%12.01.37-0.732.11
93Patrick RamseyWAS200462.1%9.90.32-1.782.10
94Sonny JurgensenWAS196658.3%12.61.31-0.782.09
95Philip RiversSDG201264.1%10.70.84-1.252.09
96Dan FoutsSDG197962.6%12.31.82-0.262.08
97Peyton ManningIND200266.3%10.71.37-0.722.08
98Joe MontanaSFO199061.7%12.31.79-0.292.08
99Roman GabrielRAM196654.7%11.70.71-1.372.08
100Joe FlaccoBAL201664.9%9.90.35-1.732.08
101Peyton ManningIND200866.8%10.81.36-0.722.08
102Dieter BrockRAM198559.7%12.21.41-0.662.07
103Brad JohnsonTAM200160.8%10.00.38-1.692.07
104Anthony WrightBAL200561.7%9.60.36-1.712.07
105Brett FavreGNB200365.4%10.91.55-0.512.07
106Ken AndersonCIN198162.6%12.51.72-0.342.07
107Tom BradyNWE200163.9%10.81.24-0.822.06
108Bob BerryATL197058%11.61.18-0.882.06
109Terry BradshawPIT197154.4%11.10.34-1.712.05
110Fran TarkentonMIN197661.9%11.61.38-0.672.05
111Jeff HostetlerOAK199660.2%10.50.65-1.382.04
112Peyton ManningIND200367%11.31.95-0.092.03
113Peyton ManningDEN201268.6%11.61.94-0.072.01
114Drew BreesNOR201670%11.11.57-0.422.00
115Ken StablerOAK197961%11.91.47-0.532.00
116Johnny UnitasBAL196758.5%13.41.73-0.261.99
117Drew BreesNOR201368.6%11.61.86-0.111.97
118Joe FergusonBUF198455.5%10.4-0.37-2.341.97
119Carson PalmerCIN200567.8%11.11.65-0.311.97
120Jim HarbaughCHI199361.5%10.00.67-1.291.96
121Tom BradyNWE200262.1%10.10.51-1.441.96
122Jim KellyBUF199063.3%12.92.320.371.94
123Joe FlaccoBAL201564.4%10.50.40-1.541.94
124Brett FavreGNB199462.4%10.70.86-1.081.94
125Steve DeBergDEN198258.7%10.70.35-1.591.94
126Steve DeBergTAM198460.5%11.50.70-1.231.93
127Jim KellyBUF199463.6%10.91.09-0.831.91
128Sonny JurgensenWAS196756.7%13.01.35-0.561.91
129Jim ZornSEA198159.4%11.80.99-0.901.90
130Len DawsonKAN197458.7%11.41.02-0.871.89
131Bernie KosarCLE198959.1%11.70.59-1.301.89
132John BrodieSFO196857.9%12.91.33-0.561.89
133Dan PastoriniHOU197353.1%9.6-0.42-2.311.89
134Ray LucasNYJ199959.2%10.40.59-1.291.88
135Philip RiversSDG201369.5%11.82.080.201.88
136Billy KilmerNOR197057%11.50.98-0.901.88
137Jim McMahonMIN199360.4%9.80.44-1.441.88
138Ken StablerNOR198261.9%11.51.00-0.881.87
139Chad PenningtonNYJ200268.9%11.31.880.021.87
140Troy AikmanDAL199263.8%11.41.18-0.681.86
141Bobby HebertNOR198858.6%11.30.75-1.101.85
142Norm SneadPHI196852.2%10.90.27-1.581.85
143Ken O'BrienNYJ198759.5%11.50.75-1.101.85
144Jeff GarciaSFO200262.1%10.20.52-1.321.85
145Drew BreesNOR201568.3%11.41.50-0.351.84
146Bobby HebertATL199660.2%10.70.66-1.151.81
147Brian GrieseDEN200161%10.30.42-1.391.81
148Dan MarinoMIA198559.3%12.31.28-0.531.81
149Jeff HostetlerNYG199162.8%11.41.13-0.671.80
150Philip RiversSDG201566.1%11.00.89-0.901.79
151Brian GrieseDEN200266.7%11.01.45-0.331.78
152Tony EasonNWE198661.6%12.11.39-0.391.78
153Matt RyanATL201062.5%10.40.37-1.411.78
154Danny WhiteDAL198362.7%11.91.08-0.701.77
155Chad PenningtonNYJ200664.5%10.71.12-0.661.77
156Jim EverettNOR199464.1%11.11.17-0.601.77
157John BrodieSFO196654.3%12.10.65-1.111.76
158David CarrHOU200560.5%9.70.12-1.641.76
159Rich GannonOAK200267.6%11.21.63-0.131.76
160Sam BradfordPHI201565%10.80.58-1.171.75
161Fran TarkentonMIN197361.7%12.51.64-0.111.75
162Aaron RodgersGNB201267.2%11.61.60-0.151.75
163Daunte CulpepperMIN200164.2%11.11.32-0.431.74
164Steve McNairBAL200663%10.30.76-0.981.74
165Gary CuozzoNOR196751.5%11.70.25-1.491.74
166Ken O'BrienNYJ198662.2%12.31.54-0.201.74
167Alex SmithKAN201667.1%10.70.88-0.851.73
168Steve YoungSFO199470.3%12.32.290.581.71
169Brad JohnsonMIN200562.6%10.20.55-1.141.70
170Archie ManningNOR197755.1%11.40.61-1.091.69
171Dave KriegSEA198760.5%12.00.99-0.701.69
172Kent GrahamNYG199959%10.60.54-1.131.67
173Fran TarkentonMIN197256.9%12.31.09-0.581.67
174Neil LomaxSTL198657%10.80.24-1.421.67
175Ryan FitzpatrickBUF201162%10.90.48-1.181.66
176Chad PenningtonNYJ200465.4%11.01.01-0.651.66
177Richard ToddNYJ198359.5%11.30.41-1.241.65
178Joe NamathNYJ197649.6%9.6-0.51-2.151.65
179Bernie KosarCLE199162.1%11.40.98-0.671.65
180Bert JonesBAL197757%12.01.02-0.621.64
181Sam BradfordSTL201060%9.9-0.28-1.911.63
182Joey HarringtonDET200355.8%9.3-0.84-2.471.63
183Steve DeBergSFO198057.9%10.70.28-1.351.63
184Bob GrieseMIA197758.6%12.51.39-0.241.62
185Peyton ManningIND200968.8%11.51.50-0.111.62
186Bernie KosarCLE198860.2%12.11.07-0.541.61
187Brad JohnsonWAS200062.5%11.00.90-0.701.61
188Steve FullerKAN197954.1%10.2-0.10-1.701.60
189Dave KriegSEA198957.3%11.60.18-1.411.59
190Dan PastoriniHOU197456.7%11.20.59-1.001.59
191Rodney PeeteDET199362.3%10.60.83-0.751.58
192Bart StarrGNB196662.2%14.51.970.401.58
193Bill MunsonDET197456.8%11.30.63-0.951.57
194Kent NixPIT196750.7%11.70.08-1.491.56
195Jon KitnaDAL201065.7%11.31.20-0.371.56
196Chad PenningtonMIA200867.4%11.41.50-0.061.56
197Ken O'BrienNYJ198855.7%10.90.20-1.361.56
198Gary DanielsonDET197856.7%11.50.65-0.901.56
199Alex SmithKAN201465.3%10.80.66-0.891.55
200Kyle OrtonBUF201464.2%10.50.36-1.191.55

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the opposite result: any guesses as to the leaders in that category?

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After the Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette with the 4th pick in the 2017 Draft, NFLResearch tweeted the following:

That was, at least for me, a surprise. And it is true: there have been nine running backs drafted in the top 5 since 2000, and those teams have improved by 43 wins. There is some natural regression to the mean built in to any analysis like this, along with two big outliers: the 2016 Cowboys and 2006 Saints used a top five pick on a running back, but also added Dak Prescott and Drew Brees, producing two of the greatest improvements in passing efficiency in NFL history. Those two teams produced 16 of those 43 wins; without those two teams, the average increase drops to a still-impressive 3.9 wins. [click to continue…]

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The only reliable thing in Cleveland

Since Joe Thomas entered the league, the Browns have a record of 48-112. That translates to a 0.300 winning percentage, the second-worst in the NFL over the last decade.

That’s bad, but not as historically bad as I would have thought. From 2000 to 2006, the Detroit Lions had a 0.295 winning percentage, the worst in the NFL. And from 2007 to 2011, the Rams had an anemic 0.188 winning percentage, the worst in the NFL. There was a common denominator for both of those teams: defensive end James Hall.

How did I find Hall? I looked at all players with 100 career games played. Then I calculated the winning percentage for his team in each season of his career, weighted by the number of games he played that season. So when calculating the adjusted career winning percentage for Hall, who played in 165 games and in 16 games for the 2008 Rams, 9.7% of his Adj Car Win% is based off of that team’s 2-14 record. The 2000 Lions went 9-7, but Hall only played in 5 games that year, so the 9-7 mark only counts for 3% of his career record. And the fact that the Lions went 3-2 in the 5 games Hall actually played is irrelevant: for calculating Adj Car Win%, I just used the team’s overall winning percentage multiplied by the number of games he played.

There are over 4,000 players who have played in 100 career games, and Hall has the lowest adjusted career winning percentage. The second-lowest? That honor belongs to John Greco, who was a teammate of Hall’s in St. Louis from 2008 to 2010, and has been a teammate of Thomas in Cleveland ever since.

Below are the 100 players with the worst adjusted career winning percentages: Thomas checks in at #35. [click to continue…]

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On Tuesday, I looked at the passing offenses, as measured by ANY/A, of each of the Super Bowl champions. Today, let’s do the same for passing defense. Just over half (26) have ranked in the top 4 in ANY/A, although as we saw with passing offenses, there isn’t a trend towards pass defense mattering more than it used to. If there’s a conclusion to be drawn, it may just be that worse teams are winning it all now than ever before. [click to continue…]

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In 1981, the Chargers and Bengals met in the AFC Championship Game. That game isn’t the most memorable game played that day, in part because of the cold weather: nicknamed the Freezer Bowl, San Diego struggled on the road in a game played with a windchill of -32 degrees.

But the bad weather obscured the fact that Dan Fouts and Ken Anderson — by far the top two passers in the NFL that season — were facing off for the right to play in the Super Bowl. Over in the NFC, the 5th and 6th leading passers in ANY/A — Danny White and Joe Montana — were meeting in what would turn out to be one of the most memorable games in NFL history. [click to continue…]

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How Often Do Teams Turn Over Quarterbacks?

Just 9 of 32 teams had a different player lead the team in pass attempts in 2015 and 2016. Take a look:

As you would suspect, some of the changes were intentional, and some were not. Denver saw their 2015 QB retire, while Minnesota lost their starting quarterback in the preseason…. which led Philadelphia to trade their 2015 starter and anticipated 2016 starter to the Vikings.

Three others were injury related. The Cowboys switched quarterbacks intentionally, of course, but still had their expected 2016 quarterback change due to injury. And Chicago lost Cutler early in the year, and he was limited to five starts.

The other four? The 49ers started 2016 with Gabbert, but benched him for Kaepernick. And the Texans, Rams, and Browns intentionally moved on from their quarterbacks, although McCown stayed with Cleveland and did wind up starting three games. [click to continue…]

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2016 Snap Counts

Using data from Pro-Football-Reference for the 2016 NFL season, I calculated the average number of snaps per play taken by players at each position across the league. Here are the numbers for offense:

QB: 1.00
RB: 1.10
WR: 2.60
TE: 1.25
OT: 2.05
OG: 2.00
OC: 1.00

Some of these are pretty obvious: you have exactly one quarterback, one center, one left guard, and one right guard on each play. For the most part, you have two tackles, although occasionally teams will have three tackles on the field (apparently, about once every twenty plays).

The more interesting numbers come in the split among the skill position players: running backs (including fullbacks) only get about 1.10 snaps per play; in the ’70s, that number would be much closer to 2.0, although there’s no way of getting more precise than that. Tight ends are at 1.25, while the average play in 2016 featured more than 2.5 wide receivers on the field. Three wide receivers has become the base formation in the NFL. [click to continue…]

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In 1973, the 14 AFC teams housed 8 Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The AFC East had Joe Namath and Bob Griese with the Jets and Dolphins, the AFC Central had Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw, and the AFC West had five HOF QBs: Len Dawson was with the Chiefs, while the Chargers had a first-year Dan Fouts and a last-year Johnny Unitas. The Raiders? They had Ken Stabler and George Blanda. And in the NFC, Sonny Jurgensen and Roger Staubach were the signal callers for Washington and Dallas, while Fran Tarkenton was the Vikings quarterback. That means the ’73 NFL (along with the ’70 and ’71 versions, which didn’t have Fouts but did have Bart Starr) housed 11 future Hall of Fame passers. And that excludes Ken Anderson, of course, who entered the league in ’71.

Meanwhile, in ’81 and ’82 — at a time, I’ll note, when Ken Anderson was doing pretty darn well — there were just four active HOF QBs. Stabler, who finally made it as a seniors’ nominee last year, Fouts, Bradshaw, and Joe Montana. On average, there have been about 7-8 active HOF quarterbacks at any one time. [click to continue…]

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Thoughts on the 2016 NFL Playoffs

The cherry on top of a boring dessert

There were really only three notable games in this year’s playoffs. The Super Bowl, of course, was a classic game, if not necessarily a good one to watch from start to finish. The Patriots completed a historic comeback and won in overtime, 34-28.

And there were two upsets: the Packers went into Dallas and won, 34-31, in what was the best game of the playoffs. And the Steelers went into Kansas City and won in a sloppy game, 18-16, where Pittsburgh kicked six field goals.

The other 8 games? All were won by the favorites, and all were won by at least 13 points. That matched the number of times the favorite won by over 10 points in the three previous years combined.

Since 1990, the favorites have won 7.6 of 11 games, on average, in the postseason. With 9 wins by favorites in 2016, that matches the most times the favorite has won in the playoffs, but it happened six other times, too. So 2016 wasn’t all that notable in that regard.

And since 1990, teams have won by over 10 points in just over half of all playoff games. With 8 such wins, that is the most ever, but it happened four other times, too (although not since 2002). But what makes the 2016 playoffs stand out is the combination of the two factors: 8 times the favorite won and won by over 10 points, compared to just 4.4 times on average. The only other time that happened was in 1996.1

The table below shows the average results (from the perspective of the winning team) in every playoff year since 1990: [click to continue…]

  1. And 8 of the 10 times, the home team won, which is high, but also not particularly unusual (the home team won 6.8 games on average). []
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Manning didn’t have much help during his career

Yesterday, I looked at quarterbacks from 2016 who started at least 8 games and threw at least 150 passes. For those passers, I calculated how many standard deviations above average they were in Relative ANY/A (i.e., how much better they were, statistically, than average) and in winning percentage. I sorted the list by the difference between the two, to find the quarterbacks whose stats and winning percentages diverged by the largest amounts.

What about historically? I performed the same study going back to 1970. And the season that stands out the most is Archie Manning’s 1980 season. That year the Saints were the worst team in the league: New Orleans went 1-15, and every other team won at least 4 games.1 Manning started every game for the team because he actually had a strong season, at least statistically: he ranked 9th out of 30 qualifying passers in ANY/A, and had a Relative ANY/A of +0.53. That, of course, is pretty unusual given his team’s 1-15 record.

That stands out as the biggest example of a divergence of stats being more impressive than team record. The best 100 seasons (although by default, the table only lists the top 20) are below: [click to continue…]

  1. The Saints’ troubles continued into the draft; New Orleans selected George Rogers first overall, when two of the top four, and three of the top eight players went on to be Hall of Famers. []
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NFL And Regression To the Mean, 1970-2016

Since 1970, you would do a pretty good job estimating any team’s record by regressing that team’s record back to the mean by about 60%. More specifically, if you take 40% of the team’s actual winning percentage the prior year, and 60% of the league average winning percentage, you would get a pretty good estimate of their record the next season (though the R^2 is just 0.17).

That’s over a long period, though, and team variability is on the rise. If you look at the last 20 years, it’s more like 70%, with the best fit formula to project winning percentage being something like 35% plus 30% of the team’s winning percentage the prior year.

Last year was a bit of a weird year, with some notable outliers. The 3-13 Browns would have been expected to progress to the mean, but instead went 1-15. The 49ers went from 5-11 to 2-14. The Bears went from 6-10 to 3-13. And on the positive side of .500, the Panthers dropped from 15-1 to 6-10, while the Jets win total dropped in half, from 10 to five.

The Patriots defied regression to the mean for the umpteenth straight year, improving from 12-4 to 14-2. The Raiders zoomed past the mean, going from 7-9 to 12-4. The Giants similarly went from 6-10 to 11-5.

The correlation coefficient between team winning percentage in 2015 and team winning percentage in 2016 was 0.27, which is pretty low, but not abnormally so. Here are the correlation coefficients for each pair of years since 1970: [click to continue…]

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Dillon was a star with the Patriots, too.

It’s been an unusually busy offseason for the Patriots. New England signed Buffalo Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a big contract, and also added former Bengals running back Rex Burkhead.  The Patriots were also active in the trade market, acquiring WR Brandin Cooks from New Orleans, DE Kony Ealy from Carolina, and TE Dwayne Allen from the Colts.

Departing from New England? TE Martellus Bennett went to Green Bay, Jabaal Sheard went to Indianapolis, CB Logan Ryan went to Tennessee, while CB Malcolm Butler and RB LeGarrette Blount, among others, could still be on the move.

Which made me wonder: do the Patriots, as you might suspect, do better adding players from other teams than other teams do when adding players from the Patriots? The table below shows the most productive players (by AV) in year 1 in New England after playing for a different team the prior season. Note that this excludes Dion Lewis in 2015, who was not on an NFL team in 2014. [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl Champions, by Draft Value

The New England Patriots won Super Bowl LI, but it wasn’t because the team was packed full of high draft picks. Of the five Patriots who had more than 10 points of AV, only one was drafted in the first four rounds. Regular readers know that I created an AV-based draft value chart, which assigns points to each draft pick based on the expected marginal production produced by that pick.

Well, you can calculate a team’s weighted average draft value by doing the following:

  • Calculate the draft value spent on each player on the roster who produced at least 1 point of AV that season.
  • Calculate the percentage of team AV produced by each player. This is key, otherwise Chris Long would skew the results in the wrong direction.
  • Multiply the results in steps 1 and 2, and then sum those values.

Here’s how it would work with the 2016 Patriots, who had an average draft value (as a roster, and weighted by AV) of 6.72.

PlayerPosAVPerc of TmAV%Draft PkDraft ValWt Draft Val
Dont'a HightowerILB145.4%2514.10.76
Malcolm ButlerCB135%udfa00.00
Tom BradyQB135%1990.90.05
Marcus CannonOL135%1383.20.16
Julian EdelmanWR114.2%23200.00
Devin McCourtyDB103.8%2713.60.52
Nate SolderT103.8%1716.60.64
Alan BranchDT93.5%3312.30.43
LeGarrette BlountRB83.1%udfa00.00
David AndrewsC83.1%udfa00.00
Shaq MasonC83.1%1313.60.11
Joe ThuneyOG83.1%786.90.21
Malcom BrownDT83.1%3212.50.38
Chris HoganWR72.7%udfa00.00
James WhiteRB72.7%1303.60.10
Trey FlowersDE72.7%1015.20.14
Martellus BennettTE72.7%618.40.23
Rob NinkovichDE62.3%1353.40.08
Jabaal SheardDL62.3%3711.60.27
Patrick ChungDB62.3%3412.10.28
Chris LongDE62.3%230.20.70
Nate EbnerDB51.9%19710.02
Logan RyanCB51.9%836.50.13
Jamie CollinsOLB51.9%529.40.18
Rob GronkowskiTE51.9%4210.80.21
Elandon RobertsILB41.5%2140.40.01
Cameron FlemingOT41.5%1403.10.05
Malcolm MitchellWR41.5%1124.60.07
Shea McClellinDE41.5%1915.80.24
Dion LewisRB31.2%1492.70.03
Stephen GostkowskiK31.2%1184.20.05
Vincent ValentineDT31.2%965.50.06
Eric RoweCB31.2%4710.10.12
Danny AmendolaWR20.8%udfa00.00
Jonathan FreenyDE20.8%udfa00.00
Ryan AllenP20.8%udfa00.00
Ted KarrasOG20.8%2210.20.00
Duron HarmonFS20.8%915.90.05
Jacoby BrissettQB20.8%915.90.05
Jimmy GaroppoloQB20.8%628.30.06
Kyle Van NoyOLB20.8%4011.10.09
Barkevious MingoOLB20.8%623.20.18
Jonathan JonesDB10.4%udfa00.00
Anthony JohnsonDT10.4%udfa00.00
Justin ColemanCB10.4%udfa00.00
Brandon KingDB10.4%udfa00.00
Woodrow HamiltonDL10.4%udfa00.00
Joe CardonaLS10.4%16620.01
Geneo GrissomOLB10.4%975.50.02
Jordan RichardsSS10.4%648.10.03
Cyrus JonesCB10.4%608.50.03
Total260100%6.72

[click to continue…]

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Ben Roethlisberger takes a lot of sacks. Since entering the league in 2004, he has nearly 100 more sacks than any other quarterback. I thought it would be interesting to look at the leaders in sacks taken over rolling 5-year periods.

Over the last 5 years, the most sacked quarterback is Ryan Tannehill, who may be going down a Roethlisberger-like path. Tannehill has surprisingly only missed 3 games in his 5-year career, but I’d say the odds of him continuing to take sacks at a high rate and playing 16 game seasons is pretty low.

As for Roethlisberger, he had the most sacks taken from ’04 to ’08, ’05 to ’09, ’06 to ’10, ’07 to ’11, and ’09 to ’13; he was 2nd from ’08 to ’12, just four sacks behind Aaron Rodgers. That was the only thing stopping Ben from leading for a whopping 6 straight 5-year periods.

Here’s a list of the leader for every 5-year period beginning in 1969, which is as far back as PFR’s sack data goes: [click to continue…]

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Median Age of Sacks (By Defensive Players)

Yesterday, I looked at the median age of interceptions by defensive players. Today, using the same methodology, I will be looking at sacks by defensive players.

Since 1982, the median sack age has been rising, although it did drop from the high levels we saw 5-10 years ago. Take a look:


[click to continue…]

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Just like yesterday, I’m very short on time, so Bryan Frye agreed to help keep the streak alive here by asking me to reproduce his work on the career rushing touchdown kings. What follows is a reproduction of his work here. As always, thanks so much to Bryan for contributing.

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As a lover of football history, I enjoy writing about the evolution of the game and examining statistical achievements from a historical perspective. I’m also fond of looking at the progression of career records, as doing so can often give us a glimpse into the progression of the game itself. I’ve previously written about the history of the passing touchdowns, passing yards, and receptions records. Today, I’ll focus on the storied history of the carer rushing touchdowns record.

The first ever Football Sunday in league history occurred on September 26, 1920.1 Rock Island Independents back Eddie Novak scored the first touchdown on a ten yard rush, but that was in the day before official stats. We have to move twelve years from that point till we find a full season with officially recorded stats. Note that, while the NFL does not recognize as official most records prior to 1932, it does recognize touchdowns; whether or not the league is correct in doing so is beyond the scope of this article. My aim is to begin in 1932, but to use the numbers the league recognizes for its first rushing touchdown king, Ernie Nevers. Without further ado…

Running Backs to Hold the Career Rushing Touchdowns Record

Ernie Nevers (16 years, 1 month as official record-holder) [click to continue…]

  1. This is in dispute, however, because that game, between the Rock Island Independents and the St. Paul Ideals, only featured one official NFL team – the Independents []
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Top Running Backs Rarely Play For Just One Team

With the Vikings and Chiefs moving on from Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, respectively, it’s a reminder that even the best running backs rarely finish their careers with one team.

Currently, there are 31 running backs in NFL history who have at least 7,000 rushing yards and have rushed for at least 70 yards per game.  Among that group, Peterson and Charles are two of just six players to spend their entire careers with one team — and that is likely going to change.  Can you guess the first 4?  Take a second.

Those thresholds aren’t insanely high.  To put some scope on those thresholds, drop them to 6500/65 and you bring in Robert Smith of the Vikings, and a pair of Giants in Tiki Barber and Rodney Hampton.

Who are those four?  They are all Hall of Famers: Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Walter Payton, and… Terrell Davis.

For comparison’s sake, there are 30 wide receivers who have at least 6,000 receiving yards and a career average of at least 60 receiving yards per game. Even excluding the six receivers who are still active, Don Hutson, Charley Hennigan, Steve Largent, Sterling Sharpe, Michael Irvin, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, and Calvin Johnson all retired and played for just one team; they represent nearly half — 9 of 19 — of the retired players in the 6000/60 club.

I don’t have much to add to that, other than I find it kind of interesting.

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The Jets have not exactly been a powerhouse franchise in NFL history, and that’s true in recent years, too. But the Jets were legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2009 and 2010, making the AFC Championship Game both years. Take a look at the Jets yearly SRS grades from 1990 to 2016, and ’09 and ’10 stand out as the last great Jets teams:

[click to continue…]

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It’s not easy to gain recognition as an offensive lineman. It’s even harder to do so as a center. And it’s almost impossible to do it as a center on a bad offense.

Travis Frederick of the Cowboys was the first-team All-Pro center in 2016, based on voting from the AP, PFW, and PFF. Alex Mack of the Falcons was the 2nd-team choice from the APP and PFF. Dallas and Atlanta, of course, had two of the best three offenses in the NFL this year.

Since the merger, 31 of the 47 first-team All-Pro centers (based on the AP team) played for teams that ranked in the top 10 in passing efficiency, as measured by Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. Just five of the 47 selections played for offenses that ranked 20th or worse in ANY/A, and all five played for the Jets or Steelers: Mike Webster (1983, Pittsburgh, 26th), Dermontti Dawson (1998, Pittsburgh, 28th), Kevin Mawae (1999, Jets, 20th), Mangold (2009, Jets, 27th), and Mangold again (2010, Jets, 20th). Here’s where the AP 1AP center’s team ranked in ANY/A each year: [click to continue…]

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The 2015 Cowboys and One Strike Out Wonders

In 2014, Dallas, behind Tony Romo, went 12-4 (and 12-3 in Romo starts).

In 2015, with Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden, and Kellen Moore, the Cowboys went 4-12 (and 3-1 in Romo games).

In 2016, Dallas, with Dak Prescott at quarterback, went 13-3.

So Dallas saw the team’s win total drop by 8 games from ’14 to ’15, and then bounce back up by 9 more games.  That’s an average change of 8.5 wins, even more extreme than the Panthers change (in the other direction) we discussed yesterday.

Of course, given the quarterback changes in Dallas, it’s not super surprising to see that big swings in wins totals.  The Cowboys are the 3rd team to have an average win swing of 8.5 wins over a 3-year period, with the middle year being really bad. The first two also happened pretty recently:

  • In 2012, the Texans (with Matt Schaub) went 12-4; in ’13, Schaub’s performance fell through the floor, and Houston went 2-14 (-10). The next year, with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston went 9-7 (+7).

[click to continue…]

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The 2015 Carolina Panthers and One Hit Wonders

The 1999 Rams weren’t a fluke. They were a shocking team that went from terrible to excellent overnight, but their success in 2000 and 2001 proved that the team wasn’t a fluke.

The 2015 Panthers? That may be a different story.  In 2014, Carolina went 7-8-1, before winning 7.5 more games (counting a tie as half a win) in 2015 as part of a magical 15-1 season.  Last year, Carolina’s win total dropped by 9 games to 6-10. That means the Panthers 2015 season was, on average, 8.25 wins better than how the team performed in the two surrounding years.

How does that stack up among all teams since the merger? Well, it’s the second biggest outlier since 1970.  Can you guess the first? [click to continue…]

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Frank Gore Isn’t Aging

Since turning 28 years old, Frank Gore has rushed for 6,651 yards. That’s the 4th most rushing yards from age 28+ in NFL history.  Gore has also hit the 1,000-yard mark in 5 seasons since turning 28, tied with Emmitt Smith for the most ever.   Here’s Gore’s year-by-year rushing totals:

[click to continue…]

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Hall of Famers on Multiple Teams

Terrell Owens in the uniform he wore most often

With the Hall of Fame failing to elect Terrell Owens to the Hall of Fame this year, much of the discussion in the media has centered around the fact that Owens bounced around the league for much of his career. That made me wonder: where does Owens stand when it comes to the Hall of Fame and playing for multiple teams?

Owens has a Career AV1 of 119. That was split as follows (any discrepancies due to rounding):

  • 74 points of AV, or 62% of his career AV, came with the 49ers;
  • 28 points of AV, or 24%, came with the Cowboys;
  • 11 points of AV, or 9%, came with the Eagles;
  • 4 points of AV, or 3%, came with the Bengals; and
  • 3 points of AV, or 3%, came with the Bills.

It is pretty rare for a player to make the Hall of Fame and lace up for five different teams, although there are already two wide receivers in Canton who can make that claim.  But we’ll get to that at the end of this post.

Where Does Having “Just” 62% of Your Career AV With One Team Rank?

There are 20 Hall of Famers who failed to eclipse 62% of their career AV with one team, including guys like Marshall Faulk, Reggie White, and Deion Sanders. A number of players, including 2017 selection Kurt Warner, barely eclipsed 50% with one team, with Curley Culp and Eric Dickerson the two lowest players at 51%. [click to continue…]

  1. I am using perceived AV throughout this post, which assigns 100% credit to a player’s best season, 95% credit to his second best season, 90% to his third best, and so on. []
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Return Touchdowns Were Way Down in 2016

Most years, there are about 3.5 to 4.0 return touchdowns per team season in the NFL, or about 115 in the entire NFL. But in 2016, there were just 73 return touchdowns, the fewest in a single season since 1988. I’m defining a return touchdown as a punt return, kickoff return, fumble return, or interception return for a score; this does exclude some unusual returns, such as a blocked field goal return, blocked punt return, missed field goal return, etc.

By this measure, the average team had just 2.3 return touchdowns last year. That’s a pretty unusually low number: [click to continue…]

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Jason Taylor Was An Unusual First Ballot Hall of Famer

Jason Taylor was a first ballot Hall of Famer, which was pretty surprising to a lot of folks. Let’s start with defensive ends: Andy Robustelli, Howie Long, and Michael Strahan were clear choices, but all had to wait one year before making it to Canton. Jack Youngblood, Carl Eller, and Willie Davis each made 5 Associated Press first-team All Pro teams, but all wait at least 7 years. Chris Doleman and Doug Atkins made 8 Pro Bowls, but both had to wait 8 years.

In the last 30 years, there have been 36 non-quarterbacks who have made the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. Among those players, Taylor is one of only 12 with 3 or fewer 1APs. Half of those 12 were running backs, which isn’t too surprising. Like quarterbacks, running back is a position with a lot of statistics, so reputation matters less when selecting All Pros. As a result, it’s much harder for a running back to rack up a high number of 1AP teams.

The other six? Placekicker Jan Stenerud (1), wide receiver Steve Largent (1), tackle Jackie Slater (0), Taylor (3), and defensive backs Darrell Green (1) and Mel Blount (2). Taylor is also one of just 8 of the last 36 first ballot Hall of Famers with 6 or fewer Pro Bowls. Five of those 8 were running backs; the other three are Taylor (6), Blount (5), and Stenerud (6). [click to continue…]

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Bill Belichick and the Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl on Sunday. For a number of reasons, that brings up some good trivia tidbits.

Most Championships

Belichick, of course, is now the only coach with five Super Bowl rings. However, three other coaches have won more titles. Paul Brown won 7 championships, although only three NFL titles (the remaining four were in the AAFC). George Halas and Curly Lambeau each won 6 NFL titles, while Belichick is now tied with Vince Lombardi at five.

Oldest Coach

Belichick is 64 years old, making him the third oldest head coach to win it all. In 2011, Tom Coughlin and the Giants beat Belichick’s Patriots in the Super Bowl, and Coughlin was 65 years old that season. George Halas won his final title in 1963, at the age of 68. Meanwhile, Dick Vermeil was 63 years old when he won the Super Bowl with the Rams to conclude the 1999 season.

Longest Run Between Titles

Belichick’s first title came in 2001, which means he’s now won championships 15 years apart. That’s tied with Curly Lambeau for the third longest stretch: Lambeau won his first championship in 1929, and his last in 1944, with both coming with the Packers. Jimmy Conzelman won as head coach of the Providence Steam Roller in 1928 and then 19 years later with the Chicago Cardinals in 1947. The longest reign, of course, goes to George Halas at 42 years; he won championships with the Bears in both 1921 and 1963. The only other coach to win titles at least 10 years apart? Weeb Ewbank, who won with the Colts in ’58 and ’59, and then as head coach of the Jets (and against the Colts) in 1968.

Most Common Record

There have been 8 Super Bowl champions with 14-2 records, and three of them (’03, ’04, ’16) were coached by Belichick. That’s tied for the second most common record for a Super Bowl champion behind 12-4. There were 11 teams that won with that record, including Belichick’s 2014 squad. The other record to win it all 8 times was 13-3. [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl LI Reaction

Well, Super Bowl LI is in the books. The Falcons dominated for most of the game, making it both a surprising but pretty uneventful Super Bowl — until the final 10 minutes or so. Matt Ryan had a perfect passer rating for the majority of the night, Robert Alford had a game-turning pick six late in the first half, and Grady Jarrett tied a Super Bowl record with 3 sacks.

Oh, and then New England staged the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, and maybe the greatest comeback in NFL history? Atlanta led 28-3 with 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.  Atlanta led 28-9 with 10 minutes left in the game. Atlanta led 28-12 with 7 minutes left in the game. Atlanta led 28-20 with 60 seconds left in the game. And yet, somehow, the Patriots won.

Down by 16, the Patriots needed everything to go right.  And it did. The Patriots scored a touchdown, got a two point conversion, forced an Atlanta punt, scored another touchdown, got another two point conversion, forced another punt to force overtime, won the coin toss in overtime, and then scored a touchdown in overtime to win.

If it wasn’t the Patriots, it wouldn’t feel real.  With the Patriots, these unrealistic finishes seem preordained.  There had been 105 playoff games where a team trailed by at least 18 points entering the 4th quarter; teams had been 0-105.

I don’t even know where to start, so I’m going to kick it to you. What is the takeaway from Super Bowl LI?  And while I know it will mostly be Patriots-centric, what about from Atlanta’s perspective? Can they recover from this?

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Super Bowl LI: Post Your Predictions Here

The two leaders in ANY/A in 2016.

Finally, it’s here: Super Bowl LI has arrived. You can read all my Super Bowl LI articles here.

What’s your projection? Post it in the comments.

For me, I’m going Atlanta 33, New England 28. I think the Falcons offense is the best thing in this game, and the absence of Rob Gronkowski will be the difference here.

And while Julio Jones is the star, I’m going to go with Devonta Freeman as my MVP. And not because of what he will do as a rusher, but as a receiver. Seattle — the 19th team to beat bot Super Bowl teams in a season — set the blueprint. C.J. Prosise caught 7 of 7 targets for 87 yards and 5 first downs, and I don’t think the Patriots linebackers can cover Freeman (especially since safety help will be needed for Jones). Freeman will clear 140 yards from scrimmage, and take home the honors.

What’s your prediction?

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