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I like trivia, and Chris Brown asked me a good question on twitter yesterday:

The game Brown was referencing was the Patriots performance against the Saints in week 2 of the 2017 season. Here was the receiving breakdown on the New England side:

 
Player Tm Pass Yd Rec Yd
Rob Gronkowski NWE 0 116
James White NWE 0 85
Chris Hogan NWE 0 78
Phillip Dorsett NWE 0 68
Rex Burkhead NWE 0 41
Brandin Cooks NWE 0 37
Dion Lewis NWE 0 11
James Develin NWE 0 6
Jacob Hollister NWE 0 5
Tom Brady NWE 447 0

Brady threw for 183 yards to his wide receivers (Hogan, Dorsett, and Cooks), 143 yards to running backs (White, Burkhead, Lewis, Develin) and 121 yards to his tight ends (Gronkowski and Hollister). So that means Brady threw for 400+ passing yards with just 40% of his passing yards coming from his wide receivers. [click to continue…]

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The Race For The Number One Pick (Post-Week 2)

There have only been two weeks of NFL football so far, and four teams have only played one game. But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about which team will wind up with the number one pick in the 2018 Draft. So far, six teams separated themselves from the pack in terms of being particularly bad. The Bills, Texans, and Giants have not played well, but with only one loss each, I’m going to exclude them for now. And while the Chargers and Saints are 0-2, as long as Philip Rivers and Drew Brees are around, they aren’t going to be in contention for the first pick. But which teams are?

The Colts have been outscored by a league-high 40 points. Indianapolis lost to the Rams and Cardinals, and both of those teams lose their other game this year. Without Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis offense looks awful: After starting off with a touchdown and a field goal, the Colts final nine drives of the game ended with seven punts, a field goal, and an interception. Indianapolis probably has too weak of a schedule to be a real contender for the first pick, but the Colts will be a mess as long as Luck isn’t around.

The Colts play the Browns this weekend, in a matchup of bottom feeders. As a sign of how far Indianapolis has fallen, the Colts are currently +1 even though the game is at Lucas Oil. Cleveland, of course, went 1-15 last year, and things are not off to a good start this season. Myles Garrett was injured before the season, and on Sunday, Jamie Collins suffered a concussion, DeShone Kizer had a bout with a migraine, and Corey Coleman broke his hand. In other words, it’s factory of sadness as usual in Cleveland: eight minutes into the game against the Ravens, Baltimore scored more points than the Browns would score all game. [click to continue…]

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Drew Brees, Blake Bortles, and Philip Rivers don’t often get lumped together, but those three are the only quarterbacks in the NFL to (1) start at least 8 games in each of the last 3 years, (2) miss the playoffs in each of the last 3 years, and (3) return as their team’s starter in 2017 (this kicks Colin Kaepernick off the list).

You don’t have to go back in time too far to find a quarterback to start half of their team’s games for at least four straight seasons and miss the playoffs each year: Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill pulled off that trick from 2012 to 2015. Also that year? Jay Cutler and the Bears missed the postseason for the fifth straight year, although Cutler’s Bears arguably would have made the playoffs once or twice with a better backup quarterback when Cutler missed time due to injury.

Prior to Cutler, Marc Bulger (2005-2009 Rams), David Carr (2002-2006 Texans), and Aaron Brooks (2001-2005 Saints) were the last three quarterbacks to miss the playoffs in five straight years with the same team.

How about six? Neil Lomax was the last do to that, from ’83 to ’88 with the Cardinals, the last six seasons of his career.

The record is 7: since 1960, it’s been done by Jim Zorn with the Seahawks (’76 to ’82), Dan Pastorini with the Oilers (’71-’77), John Hadl with the Chargers (’66-’72), and Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Snead from 1964 to 1970 with Washington and Philadelphia, respectively.

As for Rivers? If not for a missed chip shot field goal and an overtime win against Kansas City’s backups in week 17 of the 2013 season, Rivers on the 2017 Chargers would be in the running for seven straight seasons of missing the playoffs.

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Last night, the Texans and Bengals played in a yet another boring and low-scoring game. In the final seconds of the first half, the Bengals trailed 10-3, but got a big break when Cincinnati completed a 37-yard pass down to the Houston 11 yard line.  The Bengals had 1st-and-10 with 16 seconds left, which should have been enough time for… 2 plays? The first play took four seconds, and the second six, which caused the Bengals to send out the field goal team.  Cincinnati ultimately lost by four points.

Time Down ToGo Location
0:24 1 10 HTX 48 Andy Dalton pass complete deep right to Alex Erickson for 37 yards (tackle by Kareem Jackson) 10 3 2.390 4.840 51.6
0:16 Timeout #2 by Cincinnati Bengals 10 3
0:16 1 10 HTX 11 Andy Dalton pass incomplete 10 3 4.840 4.140 48.6
0:12 2 10 HTX 11 Andy Dalton pass incomplete 10 3 4.140 3.130 44.4
0:06 3 10 HTX 11 Randy Bullock 29 yard field goal good 10 6 3.130 3.000 43.8

That feels like an overly conservative move, particularly given that the Bengals had run a pass play that took four seconds just one play earlier. So I looked at all plays with 5, 6, or 7 seconds left in the first half since 2007 where the team had the ball anywhere from the 8 to the 15 yard line and before fourth down. How often do teams kick a field goal? [click to continue…]

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Bengals/Texans Is The Saddest Rivalry In The NFL

Since Andy Dalton entered the league in 2011, the Bengals and Texans have faced each other six times, including twice in the playoffs. They square off for a seventh time tonight, and the last six games will have featured Dalton against six different quarterbacks: Deshaun Watson tonight, Tom Savage in 2016, Brian Hoyer in 2015, Ryan Mallett in 2014, Matt Schaub in the playoffs in 2012, and T.J. Yates in the playoffs in 2011 (Yates also started the regular season game that year). More importantly, these games have generally been awful to watch, with four of the six taking place in front of a national audience (a MNF game, a Saturday night game, and two postseason games):

Rk Tm Year Date Time LTime Opp Week G# Day Result OT
1 CIN 2016 2016-12-24 8:25 7:25 @ HOU 16 15 Sat L 10-12
2 CIN 2015 2015-11-16 8:30 8:30 HOU 10 9 Mon L 6-10
3 CIN 2014 2014-11-23 1:02 12:02 @ HOU 12 11 Sun W 22-13
4 CIN 2012 2013-01-05 4:35 3:35 @ HOU 18 17 Sat L 13-19
5 CIN 2011 2012-01-07 4:35 3:35 @ HOU 18 17 Sat L 10-31
6 CIN 2011 2011-12-11 1:02 1:02 HOU 14 13 Sun L 19-20

From 2011 to 2016, there were 29 pairs of non-division rivals that played at least five games (including playoffs). This is highlighted by the Patriots and Broncos, who played a whopping 9 times. The Bengals and Texans have combined to average just 30.8 points per game, easily the lowest among these 29 pairs. And most remarkably, Houston and Cincinnati have combined for just 7 passing touchdowns against 11 interceptions, a -4 difference (among this group, only Texans/Ravens games have seen more interceptions than passing scores). [click to continue…]

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Sometimes, the headlines speak for themselves. After last night — the Chargers lost when the potential game-tying field goal was blocked in the final second — Los Angeles nee San Diego has now lost 18 of its last 23 games decided by 8 or fewer points.

Query Results Table
Poin Poin Poin
Rk Tm Year Date
Time Opp Week G# Day Result OT PF PA PD
1 SDG 2017 2017-09-11 10:20 @ DEN 1 1 Mon L 21-24 21 24 -3
2 SDG 2016 2016-12-24 1:00 @ CLE 16 15 Sat L 17-20 17 20 -3
3 SDG 2016 2016-12-18 4:25 OAK 15 14 Sun L 16-19 16 19 -3
4 SDG 2016 2016-12-04 4:25 TAM 13 12 Sun L 21-28 21 28 -7
5 SDG 2016 2016-11-27 1:00 @ HOU 12 11 Sun W 21-13 21 13 8
6 SDG 2016 2016-11-13 4:05 MIA 10 10 Sun L 24-31 24 31 -7
7 SDG 2016 2016-11-06 4:25 TEN 9 9 Sun W 43-35 43 35 8
8 SDG 2016 2016-10-30 4:05 @ DEN 8 8 Sun L 19-27 19 27 -8
9 SDG 2016 2016-10-23 4:05 @ ATL 7 7 Sun W 33-30 OT 33 30 3
10 SDG 2016 2016-10-13 8:25 DEN 6 6 Thu W 21-13 21 13 8
11 SDG 2016 2016-10-09 4:25 @ OAK 5 5 Sun L 31-34 31 34 -3
12 SDG 2016 2016-10-02 4:25 NOR 4 4 Sun L 34-35 34 35 -1
13 SDG 2016 2016-09-25 4:25 @ IND 3 3 Sun L 22-26 22 26 -4
14 SDG 2016 2016-09-11 1:05 @ KAN 1 1 Sun L 27-33 OT 27 33 -6
15 SDG 2015 2016-01-03 4:25 @ DEN 17 16 Sun L 20-27 20 27 -7
16 SDG 2015 2015-12-24 8:26 @ OAK 16 15 Thu L 20-23 OT 20 23 -3
17 SDG 2015 2015-12-13 1:03 @ KAN 14 13 Sun L 3-10 3 10 -7
18 SDG 2015 2015-11-29 1:03 @ JAX 12 11 Sun W 31-25 31 25 6
19 SDG 2015 2015-11-09 8:30 CHI 9 9 Mon L 19-22 19 22 -3
20 SDG 2015 2015-11-01 1:02 @ BAL 8 8 Sun L 26-29 26 29 -3
21 SDG 2015 2015-10-25 4:05 OAK 7 7 Sun L 29-37 29 37 -8
22 SDG 2015 2015-10-18 4:25 @ GNB 6 6 Sun L 20-27 20 27 -7
23 SDG 2015 2015-10-12 8:30 PIT 5 5 Mon L 20-24 20 24 -4

For his career, Philip Rivers has a 54-26 record in games decided by more than 8 points, and a 43-54 record in games decided by 8 or fewer points. Read differently, Rivers has lost 28 *more* times in close games than in non-close games. That is (for now) tied with Rich Gannon for the largest spread ever. [click to continue…]

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Longtime commenter Jason Winter has chimed in with today’s guest post. Jason is a part-time video game journalist and full-time sports fan. You can follow him on twitter at @winterinformal.

As always, we thank Jason for contributing. Note that this was written before last night’s game.


If you’re making predictions as to who will win each division on the eve of this 2017 NFL season, you’ve probably got New England to once again win the AFC East. I mean, look at the rest of that division. Seriously.

As for the other seven divisions, how many teams do you have repeating as champions? Or, let me put it to you this way: Suppose I bet you that at least half of the divisions in the NFL – the AFC East included – will have new winners in 2017. So if there are four or more new division winners, I win; if there are fewer, you win. Would you take that bet?

If we’d done that bet every year since the NFL went to its current eight-division format, I’d have won 12 out of 14 times. So you definitely shouldn’t take that bet.

But sure, that gives me an advantage: You win if 0, 1, 2, or 3 divisions have new winners (four outcomes), and I win if 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 do (five outcomes). So fine, I’ll give you an extra chance. I only win if more divisions (5+) have new winners in 2017, so you’ll win if exactly half (4) or fewer divisions have new champions. Now what chance do I have to win?

If we did this every year since 2003, I’d still be ahead in the money, with 9 out of 14 wins. Always bet on chaos.

[click to continue…]

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2016 Game Scripts in Review: Pass Identity Ratings

Did you know: the Patriots and 49ers both threw on 54% of their plays last season. Both teams ranked in the bottom five last year in pass ratio, i.e., their percentage of plays that were either pass attempts or sacks. But the teams both passed infrequently for different reasons: New England didn’t want to pass much because they were often playing with the lead and were milking the clock; San Francisco didn’t want to pass much because their passing game was not very good and because both Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert were two of the most run-heavy quarterbacks in football.

San Francisco was undoubtedly a run-heavy team last year, but the Patriots?  Of course not.  No team with Tom Brady is run-happy, but the game scripts incentivized New England to be run-happy.  Regular readers know about Game Scripts, which is simply the average points margin over every second of every game.  New England had a Game Script of +7.7 last year, the highest margin in the NFL.  This means if you were to write down the amount by which New England was leading for every second of every game last year, and calculated the average, you would get a 7.7 point lead.  The graph below shows the Game Script for all 32 teams last year on the Y-Axis, along with their Pass Ratio (pass attempts plus sacks divided by total plays) on the X-Axis. [click to continue…]

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Which QBs Have Been The Oldest QBs In Football?

Yesterday, I wrote that Charlie Conerly was the oldest starting quarterback in the NFL from 1953 to 1960, an eight-year run that remains unmatched today. Conerly was the oldest quarterback in 1961, too, but he was mostly a backup in his final season. The table below shows the oldest quarterback in each season since 1946, among all players who finished in the top 30 in passing yards (in all leagues combined). [click to continue…]

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Inexperienced Receiving Games

The 2008 Giants were very experienced; the 2009 Giants were not.

In ’08, New York had Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress as the team’s starting receivers; Toomer retired after the year, while Burress shot himself in a nightclub late in the ’08 season and missed all of the ’09 and ’10 seasons.

The top 7 receivers on the ’09 Giants were the other Steve Smith (24 years old in ’09), Mario Manningham (23), Hakeem Nicks (21), Kevin Boss (25), Ahmad Bradshaw (23), Domenik Hixon (25), and Brandon Jacobs (27). Entering the 2009 season, Smith had 637 career receiving yards, Manningham had 26, Nicks had 0, Boss had 502, Bradshaw had 54, Hixon had 601, and Jacobs had 359.  Derek Hagan, who finished 8th on the ’09 Giants with 101 receiving yards, was the most accomplished receiver entering the year by virtue of his 645 career receiving yards entering 2009.

On a weighted average, that means the 2009 Giants receiving group entered the year with just 318 career receiving yards (by reference, the 2008 Giants were at 2,608). What do I mean by weighted average? Well, Smith had 28.7% of the 2009 Giants receiving yards, and he had 637 career receiving yards prior to 2009; therefore, his 637 receives 28.7% of the team weight. On the other hand, Manningham and Nicks had, together, 38% of the Giants receiving yards in 2009, and they had, together, just 26 career receiving yards entering 2009. The table below shows the full calculation, with the result equaling a weighted average of 318 career receiving yards. [click to continue…]

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Chris McAlister played 137 games in his NFL career: 135 with the Ravens from 1999 to 2008, and then 2 with the Saints in 2009 (given that he accumulated 0 points of AV with New Orleans, I’m excluding that from the analysis). He was the 10th overall pick in the ’99 draft, and a first-team All-Pro in ’03 and ’04, and a Pro Bowler in ’06. Most notably, he played on very good defenses almost every season of his career. In 10 years in Baltimore, the Ravens defense never ranked outside of the top 10 and ranked in the top 2 more often than not. You can calculate McAlister’s average team’s defensive DVOA by weighting his DVOA in each year (where he received at least one point of AV) by his number of games played that year as follows:

As it turns out, among players with at least 70 points of career AV, his average grade of -18.1% is the highest grade of any player (Jerome Brown is at -18.2% but he had only 48 points of career AV, as his life was cut tragically short). The full list of players below. [click to continue…]

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The GOAT

Jerry Rice was really, really good for many, many reasons.  Here’s one: he led his teams in receiving yards a whopping 15 times in his career.  In 1985, Roger Craig led the 49ers in receiving yards during Rice’s rookie season. Then, from ’86 to ’96, Rice led San Francisco in receiving yards every season.  In 1997, Rice tore his ACL and was limited to just two games; as a result, Terrell Owens led the team in receiving.  In ’98 and ’99, though, it was Rice again who led the 49ers in receiving yards, before a 27-year-old Owens outgained a 38-year-old Rice on the ’00 49ers.

In 2001, Rice was in Oakland, and a 35-year-old Tim Brown beat Rice by 26 receiving yards (1165-1139) to lead the Raiders in receiving. But in 2002 and 2003, Rice — at 40 and 41 years of age — led Oakland in receiving. So from 1986 to 2003, Rice led his team in receiving yards in 15 of 18 seasons, with the exceptions being due to a torn ACL, losing out to a future Hall of Famer 11 years his junior, and losing out to a Hall of Famer 4 years his junior by 26 yards. That’s why he’s the greatest of all time.

But Henry Ellard was pretty darn good, too. Ellard played for 16 seasons in the NFL, and other than his rookie season and his final two seasons, he led his team in receiving yards every other year of his career.   During the prime years of Jim Everett’s career — 1988 to 1990 — Ellard ranked 1st, 1st, and 2nd in the league in receiving yards per game.  But he still led the Rams in receiving yards the other years, too, finishing as the leader receiver on Los Angeles each year from ’84 to ’93.  When Ellard joined the Redskins in ’94, he eclipsed the 1,000 yards mark and led Washington in receiving in ’94, ’95, and ’96.  In the process, Ellard became the first and only player to lead his team in receiving yards in 13 straight seasons. [click to continue…]

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Best Non-Record Breaking Seasons: Passing

On twitter, I’ve been doing some fun screenshots of player stats where you need to guess the player based only on all — or just some — of his stats. You can follow with the hashtag PFRScreenShots.

I thought this was a fun one:

Okay, you may say how the heck could I know that? Well, You have more than enough info there! The number 5235 can only be a reference to one thing in season stats: passing yards. And it’s not in bold, which means its not a league leader. So the real question is can you recall a player who threw for 5,235 passing yards but didn’t lead the league in passing?

Which got me to wondering: which passers had the most impressive raw statistics while not leading their league in that category? [click to continue…]

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Over the last four days, I wrote about the one great team that didn’t win it all on the six greatest dynasties in the NFL since World War II:

And while these dynasties never played each other, of course, there was some overlap among the quarterbacks.

Starr vs. Bradshaw

Otto Graham played from 1946 to 1955, while Bart Starr didn’t enter the NFL until 1956.  But Starr had a long career, sticking around in Green Bay through 1971.  And on December 6th, 1970, a very special game in NFL history took place: the only meeting with Starr and Terry Bradshaw.  Even if it wasn’t quite Brady/Manning.

In 1970, Bradshaw was the first pick in the draft, and as a rookie, he was terrible, finishing 3.30 ANY/A below average. Starr was washed up by 1970: he ranked 21st out of 25 qualifying passers in ANY/A. [click to continue…]

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Kirk Cousins was a good quarterback in 2015, and a very good one in 2016. He will probably be a very good quarterback for the Redskins again in 2017, and then will likely switch teams after the 2017 season. He will turn 29 this August, which means he would be 29 years old in the year before switching teams, and turn 30 in preseason next year with (presumably) a new team. That’s because the Redskins and Cousins can’t seem to come to terms on a long-term deal, and with Washington unlikely to tag Cousins again after the season, he will be free to move to another team.  And that will make him the extraordinarily rare case of a quarterback in his prime years hitting the open market.

Using my era-adjusted passer ratings, looked at all quarterbacks who had an above-average rating during a season in his twenties and then switched teams in the off-season. The two with the highest era-adjusted passer ratings before switching teams? Drew Brees with San Diego in 2005 and Neil O’Donnell with the Steelers in 1995.  Both left as free agents, with Brees going to New Orleans and having a Hall of Fame career, and O’Donnell going to New York and… playing for a 1-15 Jets team. [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I wrote that NFL rookies were screwed by the CBA negotiated in 2011. Today, some more data on that point.

Using the Approximate Value metric created by PFR, we can calculate what percentage of league-wide AV belongs to each class of players. For example, rookies typically provide just over 10% of all AV in any given season; before the new CBA, that number was just under 10%. And when you combine rookies with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year players, those players are responsible for just about half of all NFL value. Given that some 5th year players are also on their rookie contracts, it’s safe to say that about half (if not more) of all AV is provided by players on their rookie contracts.

The graph below shows, in a blue line, the percent of AV provided by players in their first four seasons.  The orange line shows the percent of league-wide AV provided by rookies.

We don’t see an enormous switch post-2011 from vetearns to rookies, just a slight one. Players in their first three seasons produced 33% of all AV from 2006-2010, which jumped to 36% over the last five years. But the bigger point is just that football is, and has always been, a young man’s game.

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Yesterday, I looked at Hall of Fame quarterbacks and All-Pro voting. In that post, I looked at all All-Pro nominations, but today I will limit this to just Associated Press first-team selections. The graph below shows the team winning percentage for AP 1AP quarterback’s team in each year since 1950. In red, I have also included the AFL AP 1AP team’s winning percentage:

[click to continue…]

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Today’s post is an outside the box thought experiment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether this could actually work for an NFL team.

There’s nothing more valuable in the modern NFL that a good quarterback on a rookie contract. Despite that golden rule, teams are not wont to spend multiple draft picks on quarterbacks in the same draft. Since the new CBA was adopted in 2011, only two teams have spent two picks on quarterbacks in the same draft, and no team has used three.

Famously, Washington selected Robert Griffin with the second overall pick in 2012 and then drafted Kirk Cousins early in the fourth round.  That second decision turned out to be a brilliant move by the Redskins in retrospect, even if many criticized that plan at the time.  The other example was in that same draft: Indianapolis selected Andrew Luck with the first overall pick, and took Chandler Harnish with the last overall pick. [click to continue…]

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Is Week 1 Really An Outlier?

Week 1 always seem to have some really rare results. Last year, the 2-14 49ers won 28-0 in the late MNF game on opening weekend. The Redskins finished last year with a winning record, but lost at home by 22 points to the Steelers, easily Washington’s worst performance of the season. And the Falcons won the NFC last year, but you wouldn’t have known that watching week 1: Atlanta lost at home to Tampa Bay.

In 2015, the Titans blew out the Bucs, 42-14, in the season opener; Tampa Bay finished the year 6-10, while Tennessee went 3-13. And the 49ers, who wound up going 5-11, again were week 1 superstars: in 2015, San Francisco shocked the 11-5 Vikings, 20-3, on Monday Night Football.

Many of these characters were part of the shocking week 1 results in 2014, too. That year, the 49ers beat the Cowboys in Dallas, 28-17: Dallas finished tied with the best record in the league, while San Francisco went 8-8. The Titans, as they did in 2015, were week 1 superstars in 2014: despite going 2-14, Tennessee beat the 9-7 Chiefs, 26-10, on opening day. And the Vikings and Rams show up here, too: in 2014, Minnesota won in St. Louis, 34-6, in week 1; both teams went 6-9 the rest of the year. Oh, and Miami upset the Patriots in week 1; New England won the Super Bowl, while Miami missed the playoffs.

So is week 1 really an outlier? Well, for the 49ers it obviously has been. The last three years, based on expected results (using location-adjusted SRS ratings to predict final scores), San Francisco has exceeded expectation by over 20 points in each of its last three week 1 games. But there are also teams like the Jaguars. In week 1, 2016, Jacksonville lost at home to Green Bay by 4 points, and Jacksonville finished about 8 points behind the Packers in the SRS. In 2015, the Jaguars lost by 11 at home to the Panthers in week 1, and finished about 15.5 points worse than Carolina. In 2014, Jacksonville lost by 17 in Philadelphia in week 1, and finished 2014 a little over 14 points worse than the Eagles in the SRS. In other words, Jacksonville’s week 1 performance came within 2 points of expectation — based on the full season results — in each of the last three years. [click to continue…]

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The Greatest Runners-Up In History

Lost to the eventual champion in 8 straight seasons

Happy Independence Day, folks. July 4th, 1776 was the day our forefathers declared independence in a remarkable document that’s worth your full read.  What’s known in America as the Revolutionary War began in earnest in 1775, reached ***official*** status as a revolution on this day in 1776: that was when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress.  Seven years later, the British surrendered, and the war is still known there as the American War of Independence.  But let’s not give the British too much grief: after all, Britain was the runner-up in the Revolutionary War, which earns them a silver medal in that competition.

So today, let’s look at the best runners-up in NFL history. Two teams have lost in the playoffs to the eventual champion in four straight years.

1990-1993 Bills; 1967-1970 Raiders (4)

The early ’90s Bills famously lost in four straight Super Bowls, to the Giants, Redskins, and then twice in a row against the Cowboys.  But Buffalo isn’t the only team to lose to the Super Bowl champion four years in a row: the Daryle Lamonica/Willie Brown/Gene Upshaw/Jim Otto Raiders pulled off that in the final three years of the AFL and the first year of the post-merger NFL.

In 1967, Oakland made it to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Packers. In 1968, Oakland staged a classic game against the Jets for the AFL title before New York upset the Colts in Super Bowl III. In 1969, the Raiders went 12-1-1 and led the AFL in points, yards, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and yards per attempt. In the playoffs, Oakland beat Houston 56-7, but fell to the Chiefs, 17-7, in the AFL Championship Game. Then in 1970, the Raiders again were on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, but lost 27-17 to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. [click to continue…]

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The Titans Played To Their Opponents In 2016

The Tennessee Titans were weird last year. On paper, the toughest game of the season would have been a week 15 contest in Arrowhead Stadium. And, on paper, the easiest game of the year would be a week 6 home game against the Browns. And yet against both Kansas City and Cleveland, the Titans won by 2 points.

The Titans won one game by more than 14 points last year: would you have guessed it was a 22-point win over the NFC North Champion Packers? Perhaps even more surprising: Tennessee lost one game by double digits in 2016, a 38-17 thumping put on them by… the Jaguars?

It should go without saying that teams tend to play better against bad teams and worse against good teams. But the Titans were a pretty big outlier last year. The table below shows each of the Titans games last year. The table is sorted by the “SOS+HFA” column, which shows the home field adjusted team rating of each opponent. The Chiefs had an SRS rating of +5.6, so playing at Kansas City goes down as a +8.6. The Colts were at +0.2, so playing in Indianapolis is a +3.2, while hosting the Colts is at -2.8. [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I looked at the least-conforming games of the season. I used the SRS to derive opponent-adjusted team ratings, and then came up with a predicted point spread (based on those team ratings and the location of the game) for each game in 2016. By definition, the amount by which each team will exceed its expected points in “overachieving games” will equal the amount by which it fell short of its expected points in “underachieving games.” Since we are just manipulating the 16-game sample, a point by which a team overachieves in one game has to come from another game.

But what we can do is take the absolute value of the difference between the expected margin of victory and actual points differential to get a sense of how consistent or inconsistent each team was last year. And by that measure, the most consistent team was the New York Giants. In 13 of 16 games last year, the final margin came within a touchdown of expectation, and in 3 of 16 games the final margin came within one point of expectation.

The table below shows how to calculate these ratings. Let’s use week 1, which happens to have been one of the rare Giants games that went off script. [click to continue…]

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The Jets, The Giants, And MetLife Stadium

MetLife Stadium opened in 2010. Over that time period, the Jets are 30-26 at home (a hair below-average), while the Giants are 32-24 (right at league average). And, over that same time period, the Jets are 22-34 on the road (slightly below-average), while the Giants are 26-30 in road games (slightly above-average).1

So the Jets are +8 in games at MetLife, while the Giants are +6. In home games, the Giants have outscored opponents by 142 points (16th-best), while the Jets have only outscored opponents by 51 points (23rd-best). In road games, the Giants are at -121 (also 16th-best), while the Jets are at -344 points (28th-best).

The Giants had a great year at home in 2016 while the Jets did not; the numbers were much different a year ago, when the Jets appeared to be gaining a much better home field advantage at MetLife than the Giants. That was driven, in large part, by performance in one score games. From 2010 to 2015, the Giants were 8-13 in home games decided by 7 or fewer points, while the Jets are 13-8; that made the Giants one of the worst teams at home in close games, and the Jets were one of the best. But last year, the Giants went 6-1 in home games decided by a touchdown or less, and the Jets went 0-3.

So the conclusion in today’s post? The Jets and Giants are getting about the same home field advantage from MetLife Stadium. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily an important conclusion2 But there are two worthwhile takeaways from this post. [click to continue…]

  1. Note that this includes the two games where the Jets and Giants played at MetLife Stadium; the “road” team won in both games. []
  2. Although past research showed the Giants may have been better at Giants Stadium. []
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Superman Eddie Price

Eddie Price, wearing 31 for the Giants

Even the most hardcore of NFL fans probably haven’t heard of former Giants running back Eddie Price. His career totals — 3,292 rushing yards, 24 touchdowns, 672 receiving yards — are unimpressive; his football career was anything but.

In 1942, Price was considered perhaps the best high school football prospect in the country, but World War II prevented him from being part of the next great super team at Notre Dame. Instead of going to play for Frank Leahy and the Fighting Irish, Price reported to New Orleans for his service. After the war, he stayed in New Orleans and attended Tulane, and helped power one of the best teams in school history. Price played at Tulane in the late ’40s and was a superstar:

He became the first Green Wave player to rush for more than 200 yards in a game, the first to top 1,000 yards in a season and the first in NCAA history to surpass 3,000 yards for his career.

He was named an All-American in 1949 and was twice named All-SEC. He also set the SEC rushing record with 1,178 in 1949. Price nearly beat his record in 1950 with 1,137 yards and his 1949 mark stood unbroken for 27 years.

Price’s career at Tulane was legendary. In his first collegiate game, he had a 103-yard kickoff return against Alabama for a touchdown that led to a 21-20 upset. He later helped Tulane beat the Crimson Tide in ’48 and ’49, too. In fact, Price was so dominant in his three years with the Green Wave that he retired as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher with 3,095 yards.  He helped Tulane beat LSU by the score of 46-0 in 1948 by rushing for 116 yards and two scores; the Louisiana schools used to face off every year, but the Green Wave didn’t beat the Tigers again until 1973.  As a senior, Price led the NCAA in yards per carry.

In 1950, Price was the 20th player selected, going in the second round to the Giants. And that’s when he really took off.  As a rookie, he led the NFL in rushing yards per game at 70.3. Price missed two games, but otherwise had a magnificent rookie season: he finished the season with 145 yards, 156 yards, and 103 yards rushing in three of the Giants final four games. [click to continue…]

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Five years ago, in one of the first posts at Football Perspective, I looked at league-wide passing distribution in terms of what percentage of receiving yards were gained by the WR1, WR2, WR3, TE1, and RB1 for each team. Today I want to examine passing distribution in a different way: how much are teams spreading it around than ever before?

In the comments to Wednesday’s post, Quinton White described one way economists measure how concentrated industries are, using a relevant football example:

If you wanted to incorporate more than just the #1 guy, then you could sum up the squared shares for all a QBs receivers. For example, say a QB threw to 7 guys, and the first guy caught 30% of the yards and the second 20% and the remaining 5 guys each caught 10%, then he would have a concentration index of .3^2 + .2^2 + .1^2 + .1^2 + .1^2 + .1^2 + .1^2 = .18. The higher the number, the more concentrated the passer is. The max is 1 (Brees threw all his passes to Cooks then 1^2 = 1). If he threw 10% to ten guys each, then the index would be .1.

Let’s say we did that for the 2016 Falcons, who had the best passing game in the NFL last season. Atlanta’s skill position players gained 4,960 receiving yards last year. In the table below, column 2 shows the number of receiving yards gained by each player, column 3 displays their number of receiving yards divided by 4,960, and column 4 shows the squared result of what is in column 3. The bottom right cell in the table is the sum of all the numbers in column 4, or 14.14%. [click to continue…]

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There’s no debate: FP is really good and a team effort.

On June 15, 2012, I launched Football Perspective. Since that day, Football Perspective has posted a new article every single day. Remarkably, this is the 1,998th post published at this site.  You can fact check that claim here, and at the top of every page is a link to the Historical Archive, a page that is updated after each post is published.

There’s no way this site could still be up and running — much less producing content daily — without this community.  Getting to know you, getting help from you, and just learning and enjoying football with you is an awesome experience. Your contributions to Football Perspective is what makes this a website and not a diary. A special thanks to all the guest writers, who help keep this site fresh and interesting.

Every day, I consider myself lucky to be able to participate in a community where people willingly take time out of their busy lives to check this little site.  But today, I consider myself just that much luckier.  Thank you to the many people who have helped me get this site to where it is today. I hope you forgive me if the site’s 1,998th post is a little shorter than most, but hey: we have a birthday to celebrate.

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Drew Brees and Spreading It Around

In 2016, Odell Beckham gained 34% of all Giants receiving yards, the highest share in the NFL. For 31 of 32 teams, at least one player gained 20% of their team’s receiving yards, but for the Bills, Robert Woods led the team in receiving despite being responsible for only 19% of Buffalo’s receiving yards.

But since Drew Brees came to the Saints in 2006, no team has spread it around more than New Orleans. On average, Brees’ leading receiving has been responsible for only 22% of the Saints receiving yards each year. The table below shows the average percentage of team receiving yards gained by the top receiver (RB, WR, or TE) for each team in each season over the last 11 years. The Falcons, buoyed by long runs of success by Roddy White and then Julio Jones, have been the most WR1-heavy passing game, while the Saints have been the most diverse: [click to continue…]

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How have previous Corey Davises fared?

The next star receiver wearing 84 from a directional Michigan school?

Five years ago, I asked two questions: how often does the first receiver selected in the Draft turn out to be the best rookie receiver?  And how often does the best rookie receiver turn out to be the best receiver from his draft?  In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Titans selected Corey Davis, the excellent wide receiver from Western Michigan with the fifth overall pick.

At the time of my original post, the protagonist was Justin Blackmon, the highest selected receiver in the 2012 Draft.  And at the time, the odds looked ugly: from 1970 to 2010, only 4 out of 31 times did the first receiver drafted lead his rookie class in receiving yards: Ahmad Rashad in 1972, Isaac Curtis in 1973, Jerry Butler in ’79, and then Willie Gault in 1983.  When A.J. Green did it in 2011, it ended a streak of 27 straight years where the top receiver didn’t lead the league in receiving yards.

So what’s happened since then? Well, Blackmon did in fact lead all rookies in receiving yards, although the margin over T.Y. Hilton was just four yards. In 2013, Tavon Austin was the first wideout drafted, but he ranked 9th among that group in receiving yards as a rookie with 418. Instead, Keenan Allen (1,046) took top honors that year.

In 2014, Sammy Watkins was the first wideout selected in perhaps the best wide receiver class ever.  Watkins had a very good year with 982 yards (ranking 4th among wide receivers drafted that season), but that was a far cry behind Odell Beckham and his 1305 yards (in just 12 games).  But then two years ago, Amari Cooper joined Green and Blackmon by being the top rookie wide receiver in both the draft and the regular season. Cooper was the 4th overall pick and had 1,070 yards, beating undrafted Willie Snead (984).  Finally, last season, Corey Coleman was the first wide receiver drafted, but he had only 413 yards in 10 games.  In 2016, there was just one great rookie wideout: Michael Thomas had 1,137 yards, and no other rookie receiver had even 700 yards. [click to continue…]

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Kaepernick … tuning out the critics?

Yesterday, I wrote Colin Kaepernick was an extreme outlier in 2016 in terms of TD/INT ratio relative to his Net Yards per Attempt average.  Kaepernick ranked tied for 6th in TD/INT ratio, but was 2nd-to-last in NY/A.  At a high level, we have a good clue that the sparkling TD/INT ratio wasn’t as valuable as it seems: that’s because Kaepernick went 1-10 as a starter last year, and the one win came in a game where Kaepernick threw an interception! Now we all know that win-loss record isn’t a good way to judge quarterbacks, especially considering that Kaepernick played for a team that ranked last in points allowed and yards allowed. But the 49ers ranked 27th in points scored and 31st in yards gained, so it’s not as though the defense deserves all of the blame. Because while Kaepernick had a great TD/INT ratio, that disguises how ineffective the passing attack really was. [click to continue…]

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A quarterback who was constantly harassed and took a ton of abuse in 2016 and Colin Kaepernick

This website has been pretty light on coverage of Colin Kaepernick, despite his name turning into a traffic boom for the rest of the football world. The last time Kaepernick’s name appeared in a headline was over a year ago, when I wrote about him declining for three straight years (that ended last season). In fact, Kaepernick’s name has appeared in the text of just three articles at FP in 2017, where his name was used in passing in each case.

And I’m not interested in getting into the usual Kaepernick debate. But there is something that Football Perspective is well-equipped to address: the citing of Kaepernick’s 16/4 TD/INT ratio as evidence of his productive play. Regular readers know that I’m not a fan of TD/INT ratio, and Kaepernick is a pretty good case study in why TD/INT ratio is a poor way to judge a quarterback. A 4.00 TD/INT ratio is very good, no doubt: but in the abstract, it doesn’t mean much. And what do I mean by the abstract?

For starters, it only tells us what happened on 5% of all dropbacks Kaepernick had last year. The much more predictive measure of passing performance is Net Yards per Attempt, and there, Kaepernick ranked 29th out of 30 qualifying passers.1 And, for what it’s worth, he has the worst NY/A average over the past two seasons among the 35 passers with at least 400 attempts since 2015.

So we have a pretty significant disconnect, with Kaepernick ranking 2nd from the bottom, ahead of only Brock Osweiler, in passing efficiency, but tied for 6th with Sam Bradford but in TD/INT ratio. The best thing to do, of course, is to combine the two metrics as we do in ANY/A. There, Kaepernick ranks 23rd out of the 30 qualifying passers. That’s bad, but not horrible, for a starting quarterback. [click to continue…]

  1. Neither the Bears nor Browns had a single passer finish with 224 attempts. []
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