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This week at the Washington Post, a look at the most indispensable non-quarterbacks in the NFL.


Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams

Since entering the starting lineup in week four, the Rams rookie has averaged 22 carries a game for 131 yards, producing an exceptional 5.85 yards per carry average. No team has thrown fewer passes in the league this year or gained fewer passing yards than St. Louis. Incredibly, Nick Foles has failed to hit the 200-passing yards mark in any of his last seven games, despite throwing at least 20 passes in each contest; that makes him the first quarterback to meet those marks since Matt Hasselbeck in 2008. Gurley is the Rams offense, making him the most indispensable running back in football.


You can read the full article here.


WP: Pre-Week 9 – Midseason Awards

This week at the Washington Post, a look at some unusual midseason awards.

Unsung Rookie of the Year: Offense – Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings

With the types of seasons being had by a pair of SEC stars in Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s Amari Cooper, there is little hope for Diggs — a fifth round pick out of Maryland — to bring home any hardware at the end of the season. But after being inactive during the first three games of the season, the Vikings wide receiver has been the model of consistency since then, catching six or seven passes each week for at least 87 yards. Over the last five weeks, Diggs ranks fifth among all players in receiving yards despite the Vikings bye week taking place during that stretch.

You can read the full article here.


Here are the SRS ratings as of this morning — that is, through seven weeks and the Patriots/Dolphins game last night. The formula here was pretty simple: I took the difference between each team’s points scored and points allowed in each game, and added 3 points for home field, and that was it. The Patriots have a HFA-adjusted average margin of victory this season of 16.1, against a schedule that (after iterating) has been 0.5 points below average. That gives New England an SRS of 15.7.


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The Patriots are 6-0, while all other AFC East team has at least two losses. Given that New England is the best team in the division and already has a large lead, the odds of the Jets, Bills, or Dolphins winning the division are really, really low. But considering the rest of the AFC — the South has zero good teams, the West has one, and the North has two if Roethlisberger is healthy — it’s pretty likely that the AFC East will send a second team to the playoffs. Right now, 538 has the Jets playoff probability at 59%, Buffalo at 16%, and Miami at 15%. [click to continue…]


This week at the Washington Post, a look at how the Jets built an offense the “wrong” way.

Fitzpatrick is the team’s leading passer, Ivory the leading rusher, and Decker and Marshall the two leading receivers.

It’s very rare for a team’s top passer, top running back, and top two weapons in the passing game to all come from other teams. In fact, the 2015 Jets will become just the second team in the last 10 years to meet those criteria, and just the 12th since 1970. The question now is how well this core can sustain this high level of play. As you can see from the table below, which illustrates the first 11 teams that featured out-of-house core fours, success isn’t that common for teams of this type.

You can read the full article here.


Punting, Kicking Games Power Luck-less Colts

The Indianapolis Colts won a game without Andrew Luck in week four, but that doesn’t mean the defense is any good or that the offense can survive without Luck.  In fact, this was the rare game where the Colts got outplayed on both sides of the ball and still win.  It sure helps to have two All-Pro specialists on the team.

Take a look at the boxscore from the game.  The Colts won by 3 points, and PFR provides an expected points summary of many aspects of the game play.  By definition, the sum of those values have to equal +3 for the Colts, and -3 for the Jaguars.  On offense, the Colts were 3.57 points below average, and therefore, the Jaguars were 3.57 points above average on defense.  Indianapolis had a similar performance on defense, where it was 3.23 points below average, and Jacksonville was 3.23 points above average. [click to continue…]


Last year, Atlanta won its fourth game of the year in week eleven.

Last year, Carolina won its fourth game of the year in week fourteen.

This year, both the Falcons and Panthers have started the season 4-0. But both teams have feasted on some pretty easy schedules. Which gets us to the real question: how good are these teams, really?

For Carolina, it’s easy to buy into the idea that this 4-0 streak is mostly a mirage. The Panthers have beaten Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay. Those four teams are 4-12 this year, after the Saints defeated the Cowboys in overtime on Sunday Night Football. And two of those wins came against each other! Carolina may very well have gone 4-0 against four teams that won’t win 20 games combined this year. [click to continue…]


For most NFL fans, the book on Andy Dalton has been written in permanent ink.  But this week at the Washington Post, I write why 2015 may in fact be his breakout season.

So, through three weeks, it’s easy to dismiss the great numbers that Dalton has produced as the product of a small sample size. On 94 passing drop backs, he’s thrown for 866 yards and 8 touchdowns with just two sacks and one interception. That translates to a 10.32 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average, the best in football through three weeks. But is there any reason that Dalton, who has had hot streaks before, can maintain this level of play?

You can read the full article here.


What am I looking to watch today? Some quick thoughts on each game.

New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers

Luke McCown last threw a touchdown pass on December 30, 2007.  Cam Newton was a freshman at Florida, and this was three weeks after Tim Tebow just won the Heisman Trophy.  It was a long time ago, although we will stretch back a few weeks earlier later in this preview.

The Panthers are on track to become one of the worst 3-0 teams in a long time. A win over Jacksonville is the best trophy on the wall, matched up against wins vs. a Ryan Mallet-led Texans team and whatever you want to call this version of the Saints. The Panthers are banking wins, though, and could get to 4-0 next week courtesy of a visit to Tampa Bay.

Carolina 20, New Orleans 6

Oakland Raiders @ Cleveland Browns

The last time the McCown brothers both started on the same day? December 9, 2007. But let’s not focus on Josh McCown or even Johnny Manziel: Derek Carr appeared to have his breakout game last week. Can he keep that up against a Cleveland defense that was very strong against the pass in 2014, but has been inconsistent so far this year? [click to continue…]


Instant Analysis: Jets Top Browns In Week 1

fitzmagicFor the fourth straight year, the Jets have opened at home. Each time, the Jets have been blessed with the good fortune of getting to face one of the weaker teams in the league. And each time, the Jets have emerged victorious. Given that I spent half of my Sunday at the game, my week 1 analysis is going to be limited to the wonder that was Jets/Browns.

The optimistic view is that over 60 minutes, the Jets were pretty clearly the better team. New York averaged 4.3 rushing yards per play with 9 first downs, while holding the Browns to 3.7 rushing yards and just 5 rushing first downs. And, frankly, that’s pretty misleading, because Cleveland’s top two rushers were the team’s quarterbacks, who gained 58 yards on 8 carries, carries which came with a large cost: three fumbles. Cleveland running backs had 20 carries for just 46 yards. [click to continue…]


TTaylorTyrod Taylor was a sixth round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. Since then, he’s thrown just 35 passes over four years, before signing with the Bills as a free agent in the 2015 offseason. Now, after beating out Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel in training camp, Taylor will be the Buffalo Bills opening day starter in 2015.

How rare is this? Taylor was in the NFL for at least four seasons and never started a game in his NFL career; now he’s his team’s opening day starter. Since 1970, there are just four other quarterbacks who meet that profile. In reverse order… [click to continue…]


38 Questions: A Football Perspective Contest

Below you will find 38 pairs of numbers. In each case, you tell me which number will be bigger. One point for each correct answer. Most points wins.

Ties — and I expect there to be a nontrivial number of them — go to the side that had fewer votes. For example, here is a pair:

Number of wins by the Lions
Number of wins by the Ravens

Let’s say 41 people take the Lions and 54 take the Ravens. If the Lions and Ravens end up with the same number of wins, then each Lions-backer will get a point and each Ravens-backer will not.

GRAND PRIZE: the main prizes will be (1) honor and (2) glory. There will also be some sort of trinket to be named later. By the time this thing is over, more than five months will have passed, so that gives me some time to scrape something together. But you probably shouldn’t enter unless honor and glory are sufficient.


1. Everyone is limited to one entry per person. This will be enforced by the honor system. If caught breaking this rule, you, your children, and your children’s children will be banned from all future FP contests.

2. I won’t enter the contest myself, which will allow me to arbitrate any dispute impartially. Any ambiguities in the rules will be clarified by me in whatever way causes me the least amount of hassle.

3. While there are quite a few items that refer in some way to the NFL postseason, unless specifically stated, all the items below refer to regular season totals only. For example, here’s a pair:

Margin of the Titans biggest win.
Number of Passing TDs thrown by Marcus Mariota.

This one will be decided based on the Titans regular season and Mariota’s regular season numbers. I’d hate for there to be confusion when Tennessee wins a playoff game by 28.

4. If you try to get cute and complain that the Titans one-point win over the Colts was actually their “biggest win” even though it wasn’t their win with the biggest point margin, see rule #2. Ignoring your comment is generally my hassle-minimization strategy of choice.

5. You may enter until 1:00 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, September 13th, 2015. However, you can earn a bonus of two (2) points if you enter before kickoff of Thursday’s game.

6. In the event that the contest ends in a tie, the winner will be the person whose entry was submitted first.

HOW TO ENTER: Cut-and-paste the list of questions below into your editor of choice, delete the choices you don’t like (thereby leaving the ones you do like), and then cut-and-paste your 38 answers into the comments of this thread. Do not worry about whether the players are linked to their PFR page or not. Please do not edit the text in any way other than deleting half of it. If you want to leave non-entry comments, you are free to do so either at the very end of your entry or in a subsequent comment, but please do not put commentary in the body of your entry. [click to continue…]


Consecutive Week 1 Starting Quarterbacks

There are 12 starting quarterbacks in week 1 that were not week 1 starters last year. We can group them into a few buckets:

  • The Rookies: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will be the week 1 starters for the two teams that went 2-14 last year.
  • The Returning Starters: Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewaters, rookies last year, were not week 1 starters but the main quarterbacks for Jacksonville and Minnesota last year.  Cam Newton missed week 1 due to injury, but is obviously returning as Carolina’s franchise quarterback.  And in the continuing tire fire that is Washington football (both in general and as it specifically relates to RG3), Kirk Cousins will be the new starter in Washington over RG3.
  • The New Starters: Buffalo will have a new starter, with Tyrod Taylor beating out both Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel. Philadelphia and St. Louis traded quarterbacks, so Sam Bradford and Nick Foles will be new faces. In addition, the Browns (Josh McCown), Houston (Brian Hoyer), and the Jets (Ryan Fitzpatrick) added veteran quarterbacks in the offseason.

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Cam disingenuously listening to his head coach

Cam disingenuously listening to his head coach

Four years ago, I noted with some annoyance that the Carolina Panthers signed Olindo Mare to a 4-year, $12M deal, while at the same time signing Cam Newton to a 4-year, $22M contract. I was not a fan of the way rookies were treated under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the Mare/Newton situation was a perfect example of the problem. With the new rookie wage scale, the NFL had taken money that was going to go into Newton’s pocket and placed it into the wallets of players like Mare.

Much of the outrage over what rookies made under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement was due to the fact that “unproven” players were making so much money. Even look at the comments to my old article: there are several who expressed the idea that proven players should get rewarded at the expense of unproven players, and Newton would benefit from that scenario once he became a proven player.

Well, that’s sort of true. I assume that most everyone would agree that Newton is now a “proven player” or else that is a term without any meaning. This week, Newton signed a five-year contract extension worth an additional $103.8 million. According to Over The Cap, Newton received a $22.5 million signing bonus and $7.5 million roster bonus upon signing the contract, and you can read Jason’s full article on Newton’s new contract here.

The contract extension Newton signed is pretty close to a “market value” contract for Newton, although I do think he’d make more on the open market than what he just received.  Newton’s leverage was slightly limited by the fact that Carolina had him under contract for $14.66M in 2015, and could use the franchise tag on him in ’16 (which would probably cost Carolina around $20M).

But the real issue is the lack of any “catch up” payment.  Newton lost real dollars on his rookie contract due to the new structure, and he’s never going to get to make those up. The rookie wage scale has always been B.S., and I’ve said so much from the moment it was instituted.  But the new system was, by some, argued as an improvement because only the “proven players” would be rewarded. Sure, a rookie might make less now, but he’d get to make more in the future. After all, if teams weren’t forced to pay so much to rookies, there would be more money to go around for the “proven” veterans, right?

But that logic doesn’t work once we look at Newton, who has been the Panthers most valuable player over the last four years, and will probably be the team’s most valuable player over the next six, too.  As a rookie, Newton was grossly underpaid, with a salary cap value of $4M while the salary cap was $120M.  As a result, Carolina was able to lock up Newton for just 3.3% of the cap, which enabled the team to overpay players like Mare.

In 2012, Newton’s cap hit only rose to $5M, or 4.2% of the cap.  In 2013, his cap hit became $6M, or 4.9% of the $123M cap.  And then last season, Newton’s contract reached $7M, which was 5.3% of the $133M cap. It goes without saying that the Panthers received quite a deal over the last four years.  On average, Carolina devoted 4.4% of its cap from ’11 to ’14 to Newton.  This season, he will cost the Panthers $13M salary cap dollars, or 9.1% of the cap.

Let’s assume that the salary cap will increase by $7.5M per year over each of the next five years. And let’s assume, naively, that Newton will play out his entire contract.1  In that case, he will take up about 12-13% of the Panthers salary cap from ’16 to ’20.  But that still means that over his first ten seasons in the NFL, Newton will, on average, only take up about 9% of his team’s salary cap.

In the table below, I’ve shown Newton’s salary cap hit, the NFL salary cap, Newton’s percentage of the cap in that season, and Newton’s career average (in terms of percentage of cap hit) through that season. In each case, I’ve assumed a $7.5M yearly cap increase beginning in 2016. Here’s how to read the ’16 line: That year, Newton will have a cap hit of $19.5M, while the salary cap will be $150.8M. That means Newton will take up 12.9% of the Panthers cap, but will have only taken up, on average from 2011 to 2016, 6.6% of the Panthers cap dollars over the course of his career to date. As you can see from the last entry in the table, Newton — if he reaches the end of his contract — will only take up about 9% of the Panthers salary cap over the first decade of his career.

YearNewton CapNFL CapSingle Yr %Career Avg %
2011$4,004,636 $120,375,0003.3%3.3%
2012$5,005,795 $120,600,0004.2%3.7%
2013$6,006,954 $123,000,0004.9%4.1%
2014$7,008,113 $133,000,0005.3%4.4%
2015$13,000,000 $143,280,0009.1%5.3%
2016$19,500,000 $150,780,00012.9%6.6%
2017$20,166,000 $158,280,00012.7%7.5%
2018$21,500,000 $165,780,00013.0%8.2%
2019$23,200,000 $173,280,00013.4%8.7%
2020$21,100,000 $180,780,00011.7%9.0%

The $7.5M increase is just an estimate, but it works well enough for our purposes. If the salary cap continues to increase by about $10M per year, then that percentage will drop, but only to 8.8%. If instead the cap increases by an average of just $5M/year, Newton’s percentage will only rise to 9.3%. In other words, the Panthers will be able to lock up the first overall pick for a decade and pay him an average of just about 9% of the team’s salary cap.

Is that right? Well, that’s not the correct question to ask.  The correct question, I think, is “is that market?” And the answer there seems pretty clearly “no” to me.   If the number one pick is a quarterback who turns out to be a success and even he is only getting 9% of his team’s cap space over the first ten years of his career, that seems very out of whack with actual market value.

Perhaps nobody cares or will care, because why should people care whether Newton makes $140 million or $180 million? But I do think it’s worth recognizing that the NFL gas screwed over rookies with the new CBA, and part of the narrative was that it came with the promise that if those players weren’t busts, they could make up that money in their second contract.  Looking at Newton now, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  If a top draft pick is merely okay (but not a bust), a team will likely avoid having to pay serious dollars to that player, as it could always just replace him with a rookie at a fraction of the cost.  That’s the obvious downside to the rookie wage scale for veterans: cheaper replacement labor is now available. But there’s another downside to the rookie wage scale for veterans: even if that player turns out to be a success, he’ll only receive market value for about half of his first decade with the team, and he’ll always be chasing the dollars he lost.

Of course, everything above applies even more strongly to Russell Wilson. That will be another contract worth watching, but don’t expect the Seahawks to give Wilson a bump just because the team got to ride his low-salary contract for years.

  1. In reality, he will be cut if he under-performs and see less money, or likely restructure the deal with an extension towards years four or five if he is successful. []

Yesterday, the NFL announced the extra point will be moved to the 15-yard line (although two-point conversion attempts will stay at the 2-yard line). What will this mean?

Probably not too much. You can expect the extra point conversion rate to go from a hair shy of 100% to say, 95%. On field goal attempts from 31 to 33 yards (assuming the average XP will be a 32-yarder), kickers were successful on 96% of attempts last year, 96% in 2013, and 92% in 2012. This rule change would have made a much bigger impact … well, just about at any other time in NFL history. The graph below shows field goal success rates from 31 to 33 yards since 1960: [click to continue…]


As you know by now, Tom Brady has been suspended for the first four games of the season. This seems to have sparked outrage among everybody because that is what we do in 2015. But let’s try to take a logical approach to things.

Do you think the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs?

The answer to this one seems to be almost certainly yes. The numbers bear that out, as does the very lengthy Wells Report. There has been some confusion about the Wells Report findings, so let’s try to clear that up now.

What exactly did the NFL ask Wells and his team to do? To “conduct an investigation… pursuant to the Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of Competitive Rules.” The very first footnote in the Wells report reads

Under the Policy, the “standard of proof required to find that a violation of the competitive rules has occurred” is a “Preponderance of the Evidence,” meaning that “as a whole, the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not.”

So the NFL asked Wells to determine if it was more probable than not that the Patriots violated the rules. Here was Wells’ conclusion:

For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.

Wells’ report did not say he thought there was a 51% chance the Patriots violated the rules. In reading the report, it seems pretty clear that Wells thought it very likely that the Patriots violated the rules. But that wasn’t the question he was asked. He was asked if he thought it was more probable than not that the Patriots deliberately circumvented the rules, and to that he answered in the affirmative. At this point, I don’t see any rational argument to be made to the contrary, given the duration and depth of Wells’ investigation. Sure, it’s theoretically possible that the Patriots did not intentionally cheat, but that seems to be very unlikely. [click to continue…]


Andrew Healy, frequent contributor here and at Football Outsiders, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Andrew’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @AndHealy.

For a stats guy, the Wells Report is gripping reading, particularly the appendices provided by the consulting firm Exponent. The conclusion there is pretty simple. Compared to referee Walt Anderson’s pregame measurements, the Patriots’ footballs dropped significantly further in pressure than the Colts’ footballs did. Therefore, even if Tom Brady’s involvement is unclear, a Patriots’ employee probably deflated the balls.

At first glance, that evidence seems pretty convincing, maybe even strong enough to conclude more definitively that tampering occurred. And it is kind of awesome that the officials even created a control group. But there is a problem with making firm conclusions: timing. As Exponent acknowledges, the measured pressure of the balls depends on when the gauging took place. The more time that each football had to adjust to the warmer temperature of the officials’ locker room at halftime, the higher the ball pressure would rise.

And, not surprisingly given the Colts’ accusations, the officials measured the Patriots’ footballs first. This means that the New England footballs must have had less time to warm up than the Indianapolis footballs. Is that time significant? We will get to that, but it does make for a good argument that the Indianapolis footballs are not an adequate control group for the New England footballs. Given the order of events, we would expect the drop of pressure from Anderson’s initial measurements to be lower for the Colts’ balls that had more time indoors at halftime. As the Wells report notes, the likely field temperature was in the 48-50 degree range, compared to the 71-74 degree range for the room where the footballs were measured.

So, how much lower? Here it gets a little fuzzy. The report is clear that the Patriots footballs were gauged first during halftime, but it is unclear about whether the second step was to reinflate the Patriots’ balls or to measure the four Colts’ balls. In Appendix 1 (see p. 2 of the appendix), Exponent notes “although there remains some uncertainty about the exact order and timing of the other two events, it appears likely the reinflation and regauging occurred last.” If events unfolded this way, it would make the Indianapolis footballs at least a better sort of control group. [click to continue…]


There were only two trades on Thursday night, but the activity picked up significantly last night. Let’s go through all the trades through the first three rounds of the 2015 draft.

1) San Francisco trades the 15th pick to San Diego for the 17th and 117th (4th) picks, and a 2016 5th round selection

The Chargers traded up for Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, while the 49ers took Oregon’s Arik Armstead, a 3-4 defensive end, two slots later. According to my chart, San Francisco picked up 136 cents on the dollar on my calculator (using the 150th overall pick as a proxy for the 2016 5th), while the trade was essentially even on the traditional calculator, with the 49ers getting 99 cents on the dollar. [click to continue…]


As explained last year, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement provides that most rookies sign four-year contracts. But teams were granted a club option for a fifth year for all players selected in the first round. Note that the option is only guaranteed for injury, however, so a team can exercise the option for 2012 first round picks and still release the player at the end of the 2015 season.

For players in the top ten, that fifth year salary is equal to an average of the top ten highest-paid players at their position from the prior year. For players selected with picks 11 through 32 — and for the second straight year, the number 11 pick has produced one of the most valuable players from the class — the fifth-year deal is worth an average of the salaries of the players with the 3rd through 25th highest salaries at their position.

The deadline for exercising the fifth-year option on 2012 first rounders is May 3rd. As a reminder, here is a review of the first round of the 2012 Draft: [click to continue…]


In week 5, Carolina has a bye.

In week 10, Arizona has a bye.

In week 11, San Francisco has a bye.

And in week 12, Pittsburgh has a bye.

And each of those teams, in the week following that bye, play the Seahawks. That gives Seattle a league-high four opponents in 2015 coming off of their bye week. In addition, the Seahawks play the Rams in week 16, when St. Louis will be coming off of ten days’ rest, having played on Thursday Night Football against the Bucs in week 15. You can view the full schedule here.

There is one saving grace for the Seahawks: all five games take place in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. Is that a coincidence? Probably not, although don’t expect Seahawks fans to give the NFL the benefit of the doubt here.

Playing four opponents off of a bye is a lot (tho not unheard of). In fact, only one other team has more than two such games, and that’s Washington. In weeks 5, 6, and 11, the Jets, Bucs, and Giants have their respective byes. And those teams are Washington’s opponents in weeks 6, 7, and 8 (the Jets game is on the road; the other two are home games).

In week 8, New England plays on Thursday Night Football, and week 12 is Thanksgiving, when the Dallas annually plays. The Patriots and Cowboys play Washington in weeks 9 and 13, respectively, giving New England and Dallas extra rest before their Washington game, too.1

Seattle and Washington are the only teams in 2015 that play five games against teams coming off of extra rest. On the other hand, we have Tampa Bay and Carolina. Neither the Bucs nor the Panthers play a single opponent coming off of extra rest in 2015! Carolina has its bye before a trip to Seattle and a Thursday game (Thanksgiving) before a trip to New Orleans, so the extra rest on the team side (rather than the opponent side) could come in handy. Tampa Bay travels to Washington after its bye and hosts the Bears after the Thursday night game against the Seahawks, and well, the Bucs could use all the help they can get. [click to continue…]

  1. One might argue that in New England’s case, this is canceled out by the fact that Washington has a week 8 bye, so the Patriots get no advantage here. On the other hand, every team gets a bye, so if Washington’s one bye is neutralized, that appears to cancel out the, uh, canceling out. []

The 2015 NFL Schedule

The color-coded schedule is back!

Download the Excel file here

That Excel file contains full page and wallet-sized copies of the schedule, in both color and black and white. On the wallet-sized copies, the line between weeks 8 and 9 has been enlarged — that is where you want to fold the paper in half to put in your wallet.

iPhone page: http://www.footballperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2015-iphone-schedule1.png

Go to that page on your phone, then hit your power and home button at the same time to take a photo (or hit the button on the middle of the Safari browser and click ‘save image.’) The schedule has been formatted to fit an iPhone screen, so you can always carry the schedule with you.

Of course, you don’t need an iPhone or Excel to view the NFL schedule: [click to continue…]


Running Backs are More Desirable than Kickers

These guys like running backs

These guys like running backs

This time last year, the media chorus was signing that the running back position had been severely devalued in the modern NFL. Part of that, no doubt, was true: it is undeniable that less draft capital is being spent on running backs.

When I wrote about the 2014 Running Back Free Agent Market last year and how little they were being paid, I made sure to link to a pretty key point made by Jason Lisk at the Big Lead: the free agent class just wasn’t very good. Last year, the top free agent running backs were Toby Gerhart ($4.5M guaranteed, $7M over the first two years of his contract), Donald Brown ($4, $7), Rashad Jennings ($2.98, $5.25), Maurice Jones-Drew ($1.2, $5.0), Ben Tate ($2.5, $4.35), and Knowshon Moreno ($1.25, $4.25).

In case you forgot, here’s a quick summary of how those backs fared last year:

  • Gerhart averaged 3.2 yards per carry over 101 carries and was benched;
  • Brown averaged 2.6 YPC over 85 carries and was benched;
  • Jennings rushed for 639 yards in 11 games, missing 5 due to injury;
  • Jones-Drew averaged 2.2 YPC over 43 carries and is now retired;
  • Tate was cut after 106 carries and 8 games;and
  • Moreno was limited to 3 games due to injury.

This was an underwhelming class of free agent running backs that somehow fell far, far short of expectations.  Then, Chris Johnson joined the class, and signed a two-year, $8M contract with $4M guaranteed.  The Jets cut him after one season, where he gained 814 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns in 16 games. [click to continue…]


Darrelle Revis Returns

There are legitimate criticisms one could identify, and they aren’t just nits. Darrelle Revis will turn 30 in July, and his contract far outpaces that of every other cornerback in the NFL. He is getting $39M guaranteed at a rate of $7.8M in guaranteed money per season, numbers that are more than 50% higher than every other corner. He will count for $48M against the cap over the next three years. Nobody knows how Revis will age, but he’s had one ACL surgery and he’s never been a player with top notch speed, which means he can’t really afford to lose a step (quick, think how many cornerbacks — as opposed to wide receivers — you can think of that get by on veteran guile).

Revis is all about Revis, which is a crime in some circles. He’s not loyal, and is now switching teams — incredibly — for the third consecutive season. The Jets were one of the worst teams in football by any measure last year, and with no clear answer at quarterback and holes throughout the roster, squarely fall within the definition of a “rebuilding team.” And writing blank checks for 30-year-old cornerbacks is not exactly part of Rebuilding 101. [click to continue…]


The contract Miami is willing to give this guy is kind of nuts

The contract Miami is willing to give this guy is kind of nuts

Ndamukong Suh will be signing a 114 million dollar contract with the Dolphins today, with approximately $60M of that money guaranteed. Suh has often been compared to Reggie White, which makes some sense given that each player possessed rare a rare combination of size/strength/agility for any human being, and both were defensive linemen. Recently, Suh has been compared to White in another way, as some have referred to Suh as the best player to hit free agency since White.

Peyton Manning, of course, was a free agent a mere two years ago, but let’s not let facts get in the way of narrative. Suh was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press last year; as it turns out, 25 players were so named between 1992 and 2014, and then switched teams the following offseason.

The table below shows all 25 players. Here’s how to read it. Suh is a defensive tackle, and his last year in Detroit was in 2014 (i.e., Year N). That season, he recorded 17 points of AV according to PFR. As of September 1st of 2015 (i.e., Year N+1), Suh will be 28.7 years old. His new team is Miami, and the final column shows how many points of AV each player produced in his first season with a new team. [click to continue…]


Super Bowl XLIX New England/Seattle Preview

Will Brady be mad after today's game?

Will Brady be mad after today’s game?

I’ve done Super Bowl previews the last two years, but I decided not to go with the full-fledged Super Bowl preview this year. One reason: Bill Barnwell’s outstanding preview is so excellent and exhaustive that well, I didn’t have much else to say.

But I do have some high-level thoughts. Regular readers know that I’m a guy who spends a lot of time thinking about rating teams and players and trying to make adjustments to make high-level comparisons across eras. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe that in any one game, matchups can matter more than pure talent. Last year, I thought the Seahawks were a bad matchup for the Broncos, and I tweeted as much before the 2013 conference championship games. I still believe that if the 49ers had scored on that final drive against the Seahawks, then Peyton Manning would have another Super Bowl in his trophy case.

But the matchups this year are kind of weird, a fact that Barnwell detailed well in his preview. When Darrelle Revis was with the Jets, fans often bemoaned that he was a “waste” against a Patriots team that threw to Wes Welker in the slot and to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Jets may have had a star cornerback, but the Patriots didn’t have a star outside wide receiver, and the Jets best player was essentially neutralized when playing New England.

Here, something similar will happen, but for both teams. Revis will be manned up on Doug Baldwin and well, okay. So instead of four catches, Baldwin will have… two? The hunch is that Richard Sherman will see a lot of Brandon LaFell, which means the Seahawks best cornerback will be isolated on the Patriots third-best receiver (behind Gronkowski and Julian Edelman). [click to continue…]


The Patriots SRS rating has been inflated in the postseason

The Patriots true SRS rating is deflated if you only use regular season data.

It has always seemed a little strange to me that we think about the regular season and the playoffs separately when evaluating a team’s season. At least, that’s usually what happens in terms of the numbers. We think about a team’s regular season record and we think about where they were eliminated in the playoffs. A team’s Simple Rating System (SRS) rating is based just on their regular season performance.1 When we evaluate a team or a matchup, it might make more sense to think about their whole body of work including the playoffs when calculating ratings.

In the table below, I have calculated the SRS of Super Bowl teams according to Pro Football Reference’s (PFR) method that considers just the regular season.2 I have also added adjusted ratings that include the playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl. These set of adjusted ratings help to identify the Super Bowls that were the closest and best matchups based on teams’ performances over the entire season including the playoffs. [click to continue…]

  1. Note that Football Outsiders’ DVOA does update for the playoffs. []
  2. It looks like I get the same numbers as PFR in a bunch of cases, but I have not checked all of them. In any event, it looks like my program works. []

Thoughts on the Championship Games

On conference championship Sunday, it’s easy to pick the home teams, particularly when they are the number one seeds and touchdown favorites. That logic is further supported in a case like 2014, where the favorites have histories of success against these particular underdogs.

But conference championship game Sunday is not immune to upsets. The graph below shows the average point spread of each winner in a conference championship game since 1978. Based on the line data I have (which comes from PFR), there have been a pair of touchdown underdogs in recent memory: the 2012 Ravens and 2007 Giants.

ccg hist

In recent history, conference championship games have been viewed as much closer than what we see in 2014, where the Seahawks are 8-point favorites and the Patriots are currently at -6.5. To find a semifinal weekend where both favorites were giving at least six points, you have to go back to 2007, when the Patriots and Packers were also playing. That day, the Giants pulled off the huge upset in Green Bay, while New England handled San Diego. [click to continue…]

Brady was happy to have the game put in his arm on Saturday

Brady was happy to have the game put in his arm on Saturday

Every week during the season, I compile Game Scripts data, which measures the average points margin during every second of every game. Since most people don’t have a chance to watch every game, it’s helpful to have this information.

During the playoffs, most of us are watching each game, so we know what’s going on. But after two weeks, I thought it was still worthwhile to check in on the numbers. There have been two big comebacks during the playoffs: the Cowboys against the Lions during the wildcard round, and the Patriots against the Ravens last weekend.

The Dallas comeback against Detroit would rank as the 4th biggest comeback of 2014, or the 4th worst Game Script produced by a winning team. Those with longer memories may recall that in 2011, the Lions beat the Cowboys despite having a Game Script of -9.4, and last year, the two teams scored 41 combined fourth quarter points. In other words, don’t turn off the game early when the Lions and Cowboys are playing.

The Patriots also pulled off a big comeback. New England trailed 14-0 and for most of the first half, and entered the locker room down seven. The Patriots are no strangers to these sorts of comebacks, though: since 2001, New England has the third best winning percentage when trailing at halftime by between 7 and 14 points.

Here are the full numbers from the first two rounds of the playoffs:

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio

[click to continue…]


This week at the New York Times, a look at the two matchups this weekend, arguably pitting the most valuable quarterbacks against the most talented teams.

At Stanford, Andrew Luck was immensely hyped as the next great quarterback prospect. The Indianapolis Colts selected him with the first overall pick in 2012, and remarkably, Luck has managed to meet even the highest of expectations. After helping turn a 2-14 team in 2011 into a playoff team in 2012, Luck won his first playoff game during the 2013 season and has now guided the Indianapolis Colts to the A.F.C. championship game.

Just 25 years old, Luck threw for a league-high 40 touchdowns during the regular season. On Sunday, against the heavily favored Denver Broncos, he delivered another strong performance, throwing for two touchdowns and guiding an offense centered on the passing game.

Luck is perhaps the most important person to his franchise of any player in the N.F.L. But it is Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and not Luck, who is likely to be named the league’s most valuable player this month. Rodgers averaged 7.68 net yards per attempt during the regular season, the highest in football. Rodgers also led the N.F.L. in interception rate (a minuscule 1.0 percent) and finished second to Dallas’s Tony Romo in touchdown rate (7.3 percent).

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, an early look at the division round of the playoffs:

In 1990 the N.F.L. switched to its current playoff format, featuring six teams from each conference, with the top two seeds earning first-round byes.

For the first 15 years, this structure appeared to provide an enormous edge for the top two seeds: Teams coming off byes won 81.7 percent of all games in the division round of the playoffs from 1990 to 2004.

Then, over the next six seasons, the rested teams were 12-12 and it seemed as though being “hot” negated any advantage teams gained from a week off. In the last three postseasons the pendulum has swung back, with three bye teams winning each year. Last year, all four favorites were victorious in the division round of the playoffs, with the road 49ers winning at Carolina as 1-point favorites.

This year projects to mark a return to the old days. For the first time since 2007 all four home teams in the division round are favored by at least 4 points, and any more than one upset would qualify as shocking. So while the home teams are heavily favored this weekend, here is one tidbit to keep in mind for each game.

You can read the full article here.

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