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538: 2013/2015 Broncos and the 1982/1984 Dolphins

The 2013 Broncos had one of the greatest offenses of all time and made it to the Super Bowl.  Two years later, Denver is again in the Super Bowl, on the strength of a superb defense.  How rare is that?  Well, the only team that really fits that profile is the Miami Dolphins, who made the Super Bowl in 1982 and 1984, and had a similar swing (albeit in the other direction).

Over at 538, I look at the  similarities between those two teams, and other teams that have swung from an extreme offensive/defensive identity to an extreme defensive/offensive identity just two years later.  A special thanks to Adam Harstad, who was the one who gave me the simple but creative methodology to display these results.

In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Miami Dolphins made it to the Super Bowl on the strength of an incredible defense that allowed the NFL’s fewest yards, first downs, passing yards and net yards per pass attempt. The offense wasn’t very good, but the defense — known as the Killer Bees because the last names of six starters began with the letter B — guided the team to the Super Bowl, as Miami ranked second in points allowed and third in takeaways.

Just two years later, the Dolphins were back in the Super Bowl, and once again, the team was one-dimensional. But, remarkably, it was the offense that was the dominant unit, as Miami led the NFL in points, yards, first downs and net yards per pass attempt, while a second-year quarterback named Dan Marino set single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns.

You can read the full article here.

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Janis outplays Patrick Peterson for the touchdown... somehow

Janis outplays Patrick Peterson for the touchdown… somehow

Jeff Janis had the game of his life last night. Janis, who dominated the 2014 combine despite coming out of tiny Saginaw Valley State, has not been a factor as a wide receiver for most of his Packers career (he has made an impact as a returner). As a rookie, he caught two passes for 16 yards; this past season, he caught two passes for 79 yards, both in a game against the Chargers.

Then, with Randall Cobb injured early in Green Bay’s playoff game against Arizona, Janis had the game of his life, catching 7 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. More incredibly, he had two catches for 101 yards on the Packers final drive of the game! Here’s a vine of those two plays, courtesy of Ryan Hester’s twitter account. [click to continue…]

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This week at the New York Times, a look at how this season was, yet again, the best passing season in history:

First, a look at quantity. N.F.L. teams averaged 35.7 pass attempts per game, the most in league history, breaking the record of 35.4 set in 2013. Teams used those attempts to also set per-game records for completions (22.5) and passing yards (243.8). Passing touchdowns per game were also at a new N.F.L. high. The record had been 1.63 a game, set, remarkably, in 1948. The league had been inching toward that mark — teams averaged 1.57 and 1.58 passing touchdowns per game in 2013 and 2014 — before surpassing it with 1.64 passing touchdowns per game in 2015.

For the first time in N.F.L. history, 12 quarterbacks threw for 4,000 yards. In addition, 11 quarterbacks threw at least 30 touchdown passes; that breaks the record of nine set last season. Before 2014, no N.F.L. season had more than five quarterbacks with at least 30 touchdown throws.

You can read the full article here.

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Single-Season Passing Records in Jeopardy

With one game remaining, the NFL is having yet another record-breaking season through the air. Teams are averaging over 259 gross passing yards per game, which would break the record of 252, set last year. Teams are completing 63.1% of passes this year, which would break the record of 62.6%, also set in 2014. And teams are averaging 1.7 passing touchdowns per game, the first time in NFL history (it was 1.6 each of the last two years, and also in 1965).

As a result, a number of single-season franchise records are in jeopardy of falling this year, too, depending on what happens today. Let’s go through the list. [click to continue…]

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Nobody wants to watch this Saints defense with their eyes open

Nobody wants to watch this Saints defense with their eyes open

In short, maybe.

New Orleans has allowed 4,217 passing yards this year (which includes yards lost by the opposing team on sacks) on 538 dropbacks, which is already pretty bad.  That translates to a 7.84 Net Yards per Attempt allowed average, which is the worst in the NFL by half a yard per attempt.  But where things get really bad is in touchdowns and interceptions.  New Orleans has allowed an unbelievable 43 passing touchdowns through 15 games, the most in NFL history. In addition, the Saints have intercepted just 8 passes, tied for third fewest in the league this year.

That translates to an 8.77 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average, after giving 20 yards for each touchdown pass and subtracting 45 yards for each interception.  That is, by a decent measure, the worst rate in NFL history.  The current record belongs to the 0-16 Detroit Lions, who allowed 8.53 ANY/A.  Only three other teams — the ’81 Colts, the ’69 Saints, and the ’63 Broncos — have even allowed 8.00 ANY/A over a full season. [click to continue…]

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Antonio Brown has 1,586 receiving yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,813 receiving yards this season.

Adrian Peterson has 1,314 rushing yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,502 rushing yards in 2015.

That’s pretty weird.  In general, the rushing leader usually gains more rushing yards than the receiving yardage leader picks up through the air.  From 1970 to 2014, the receiving yards leader  “outgained” the rushing yards leader in only 10 of 45 seasons.  And in only three of those years did the receiving leader “win” by more than 100 yards: in 1999 (Marvin Harrison had 1663 receiving yards; his teammate Edgerrin James had 1553 rushing yards), 1990 (Jerry Rice over Barry Sanders, 1502 to 1304), and 1982 (Wes Chandler over Freeman McNeil in the strike-shortened season, 1032to 786). On a per-game basis, it’s tough to beat what Chandler did, but Brown is on pace to become the first receiving leader since the merger (in fact, the first in the NFL since 1952) to “outgain” the rushing leader by over 300 yards. [click to continue…]

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In 2014, the Denver Broncos ranked 4th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt; in case you forgot, Peyton Manning‘s “struggles” last year were really confined to the back end of the season. This year, the Broncos rank 31st in ANY/A, as Manning has been terrible and Brock Osweiler has been far below average. The Broncos ANY/A has dropped from 7.67 to 4.90, a decline of 2.77 ANY/A.

But that’s not even the biggest decline of 2015. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys ranked 2nd in ANY/A at 7.96; this year, without Tony Romo, the team is dead last at 4.76, for a decline of 3.20 ANY/A. Here is the full list of how passing offenses have improved/declined from 2014, which also shows why Carson Palmer is a pretty good choice for MVP: [click to continue…]

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

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Pre-Week 15 WP: Carolina’s 13-0 Record

This week at the Washington Post,  a look at the other nine teams to begin a season 13-0.

The Carolina Panthers are 13-0. The team leads the NFL in points scored, with 411, and in points differential, at 168. Carolina has won an incredible 17 consecutive regular season games, and boasts arguably the best pass defense in the NFL, the most productive running game, and maybe even the best quarterback. In short, if you want to make an interesting comparison between the Panthers and another team, you’re going to need a time machine.

There have been 10 teams to begin a season 13-0. And, at least among those teams, Carolina falls near the bottom of the pack. The Panthers’ plus-168 points differential ranks ninth in that group, ahead of only the 2009 Colts that won seven of its first 13 games by eight or fewer points (the Panthers have won six such games).

You can read the full article here.

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The 2007 Patriots set all sorts of records, and are as good as you remember.  In fact, that New England team was even great when compared among great teams.  Through 13 games, the Patriots outscored opponents by 281 points, by far the best differential among teams since 1970.  Carolina’s +168 points differential, while good enough to lead the league in 2015, looks downright unimpressive by comparison.

But what’s often forgotten about that New England team is that it slowed down considerably during the season, perhaps due to age (the Patriots were the third oldest team in the NFL that year, by AV).  In case you forgot:

  • The 2007 Patriots outscored opponents by 25.4 points per game in New England’s first 10 games.
  • In the team’s final six games, the Patriots outscored opponents by 10.2 points per game.
  • In three playoff games, New England outscored opponents by 5.7 points per game.

We think of the ’07 Patriots as a dominant team, and they of course were.  But they were also a team that ran out of gas as the season went along, culminating in the Super Bowl loss.  New England covered the point spread, often by large amounts, in nine of the team’s first ten games. Then, the Patriots covered the spread in just one of New England’s final nine games.   While the ’07 Patriots were one of the greatest teams in football history, it’s also true that their story was a tale of two halves: an absurdly dominant first half, and a less-than-overwhelming second half, that failed to meet expectations. [click to continue…]

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2015 And Unique Scores

A fun couple of articles for you to read today, courtesy of Eldorado (@eldo_co) (with a hat tip to Football Outsiders).

Part I

Part II

The full articles are worth your read, but the premise: a record number of made field goals, a high number of missed extra points, and a ton of successful two-point conversions have lead to a record low number of “Football Scores.”

I wanted to run my own numbers on this, and while the effect using my methodology isn’t quite as extreme, 2015 does still stand out. I looked at the likelihood of every score occurring in NFL history (for example, (20-17 has occurred 1.6% of the time throughout NFL history, 17-14 and 27-24 1.3%, 23-20 and 13-10 at 1.1%, and so on). I then took the average likelihood of each score in each season, plotted below:
unique scores

From 1995 to 2014, the “average” final score score had a 0.38% likelihood of occuring; this year number has dropped to 0.32%. Again, that’s not quite as extreme as Eldorado’s results, but it is consistent in direction: 2015 is having some very unusual scores. In fact, the last time the average rate was at 0.32% was in 1930. This year, Tennessee beat Jacksonville 42-39, Pittsburgh beat San Francisco 43-18, and Pittsburgh beat Seattle 39-30; in each instance, those scores had never occurred before in NFL history.

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GronkSmash

GronkSmash

Rob Gronkowski is in a scoring slump. It’s one of the worst scoring slumps of his career. But more on that in a bit.

Jerry Rice once1 caught 67 touchdowns over a 57-game period. This stretch was during all of 1987, 1988, and 1989 (including playoffs) and the start of the 1990 season. That pro-rates to an insane 19-touchdown per-season average for three-and-a-half seasons. Then again, the weirder thing is when Rice doesn’t top a receiving category.

Lance Alworth once caught 55 touchdowns2 over one 57-game stretch from 1963 to 1967.

Only three other players since 1960 have ever had more than 50 touchdowns in any 57-game stretch (including playoffs): Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Art Powell, each of whom topped out at 53 touchdowns in 57 games. Cris Carter, Sonny Randle, Sterling Sharpe were at 49, Larry Fitzgerald was at 58, and Gary Collins, Anthony Freeman, Marvin Harrison, and Andre Rison were at 47.  Calvin Johnson topped out at 46 at one point in 2013.  Dez Bryant hit 46 in his last 57 after the Lions playoff game, but then went three straight games without a touchdown catch. [click to continue…]

  1. Well, he actually did it three times, although the same 55 games were in all three stretches. []
  2. Three times, like Rice, with 55 of the same games. []
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Antonio Brown caught caught 17 passes (on 23 targets) for an incredible 284 yards today against the Raiders. He also had two carries for 22 yards. But while 306 yards from scrimmage is insane, Brown wasn’t a one-man show: DeAngelo Williams rushed 27 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns, while catching two passes for 55 yards. Together, the duo combined for an insane 531 yards from scrimmage. That’s the most in the NFL by any duo since at least 1960… by a whopping 50 yards!

TeamOppYearDuo YFSPlayer 1YFSPlayer 2YFSBoxscore
PITOAK2015531Antonio Brown306DeAngelo Williams225Boxscore
OAKHOU1963481Art Powell247Clem Daniels234Boxscore
DETDAL2013451Calvin Johnson329Reggie Bush122Boxscore
PHIDET2007442Kevin Curtis221Brian Westbrook221Boxscore
BUFMIA1991422Thurman Thomas268Andre Reed154Boxscore
PITATL2002421Plaxico Burress253Hines Ward168Boxscore
INDBAL1998420Marshall Faulk267Torrance Small153Boxscore
CLENYG1965414Ernie Green222Jim Brown192Boxscore
PHISTL1962411Timmy Brown249Tommy McDonald162Boxscore
RAMMIA1976410Ron Jessie220Lawrence McCutcheon190Boxscore
WASDEN1987402Timmy Smith213Ricky Sanders189Boxscore
NYJBAL1972401Rich Caster204Eddie Bell197Boxscore
CHIMIN2013400Alshon Jeffery249Matt Forte151Boxscore
STLWAS2006400Steven Jackson252Isaac Bruce148Boxscore

But hey, Cleveland fans: the Steelers duo still wasn’t quite as good as Jerome Harrison and Josh Cribbs.

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This week at the New York Times, a look at how it’s a season for old quarterbacks:

Through eight weeks this season, over half of all passing yards have come from quarterbacks who are on the “wrong” side of 30. The same is true of passing touchdowns. What’s more incredible is that 55 percent of all wins this season have come from quarterbacks who are 30 years or older. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the N.F.L., but are two of the four quarterbacks on 7-0 teams. The top four leaders in passing touchdowns are 34 or older: Brady, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. And the seven leaders in passing yards through eight weeks were 30 or older, too: Rivers, Brady, Matt Ryan, Palmer, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning.

You can read the full article here.

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This week at the Washington Post, a look at one of the most surprising ten-game winning streaks in NFL history.

The 2014 Panthers entered December with a 3-8-1 record, and had not won a game in two months. Suffice it to say, they are one of the least likely teams to ever go on a 10-game winning streak. Prior to Carolina, there had been 140 teams since 1970 to go on a 10-game winning streak. On average, those teams had won 7.2 games in their previous 10 regular season games*, while all teams other than the 1975-76 Colts (who went 2-8 before going on an 11-game winning streak) had won at least four of their previous 10 games. The Panthers? They had gone an ugly 1-8-1 prior to ripping off 10 straight regular season wins.

You can full the article here.

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Young Jaguars Could Power Next Great Offense

The Broncos, Bengals, Falcons, and Packers won in week 5 to get to 5-0, while New England blew out Dallas to reach a 4-0 mark. So why, today, would I write about a Jaguars team that is now 1-4?

Because while Jacksonville is again in the NFL cellar, it’s anything but business as usual. I’m not quite sure how long it is going to take, but it feels like the next great NFL offense could be germinating in northern Florida. That’s because a young trio that has emerged this year while the team generally flies under the radar.

Blake Bortles has thrown for 1,299 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, against just 4 interceptions. As a rookie, Bortles threw for over 270 yards just twice; he’s done it three times in five games this year. As a rookie, Bortles had multiple touchdown passes in a game twice; he’s also done that three times in five games in 2015 so far, including a career high four on Sunday. Bortles is on pace to complete 346 passes for 605 yards (57.1%) for 4,157 yards, with a 6.87 Y/A average and an impressive 12.03 yards per completion rate. He’s also on pace for 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, along with 45 sacks (but for only 198 yards). He’s averaging 6.19 ANY/A — that’s right around league average, a pretty big jump from his 3.81 ANY/A average as a rookie. [click to continue…]

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Last year, the Cardinals started the season 8-1, but did so in a fashion that screamed, “UNSUSTAINABLE!” Here is what I wrote at the time last year:

The Cardinals have scored 223 points and allowed 170. That translates to just a 0.668 Pythagenpat winning percentage. That’s easily the worst of any team since 1990 to start 8-1 or 9-0.

The Cardinals promptly followed that up by going 3-2 over their next five games despite being outscored by 10 points! But then Ryan Lindley took over, and Arizona lost their final three games of the year.

This year, the Cardinals started the season in a fashion not-too-dissimilar from what we saw from them last year: Arizona defeated New Orleans, 31-19, but only thanks to a 55-yard touchdown to David Johnson in the final two minutes.

But since then, Arizona won 48-23 against the Bears and 47-7 against the 49ers yesterday. Through three weeks, the Cardinals have outscored opponents by a whopping 77 points, which is tied for the 13th best margin through three weeks among all teams since 1950. The good news for Arizona fans: the first 12 all made the playoffs, three won it all, and five more lost in the title game. [click to continue…]

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Brees may not be throwing for awhile

Brees may not be throwing for awhile

Ian Rapoport is reporting that Drew Brees may miss several games with a shoulder injury. That’s tough news for all involved, including those who will now have to watch a bad Saints team led by Luke McCown (or Garrett Grayson). But it also could mark the end of a weird bit of trivia.

Believe it or not, Marques Colston and Brees have connected for 72 touchdowns, tied with Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for the 5th most in NFL history by any receiver/quarterback combination. I’ve written about that streak before, but here’s something else unique to consider: Colston has never caught a touchdown pass from anyone other than Brees. [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: How Good Was The Super Bowl Champ Last Year?

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 read more of him at his blog: https://jasonwinter.wordpress.com/, and follow him on twitter at @winterinformal.

As always, we thank Jason for contributing. He submitted this article a couple of weeks before the season began, but I was a bit tardy in posting. But hey, it’s still relevant.


A couple of months ago, I happened upon Peter King’s NFL power rankings, where he listed Baltimore as his #1 team. “Really?” I thought. I mean, they were pretty good last year, going 10-6, but they were the #6 seed in the AFC and hadn’t done anything really notable in the offseason. Surely you wouldn’t rank them above obvious powerhouses like Seattle, New England, Green Bay, Indianapolis, or Denver, right?

We know that the best teams in any given year rarely are the best the next year. And sometimes teams can have complete turnarounds – for better (like the 1998-1999 Rams) or worse (like the 1993-1994 Oilers). But how uncommon would it be for a team like the 2014 Ravens to actually be the best team – or at least the Super Bowl winner – the next year?

Excluding the years following the two strike-shortened years, I took every Super Bowl-winning team in the NFL in the 16-game-season era and looked at how good they were the year before winning it all. I charted each team’s wins and SRS the previous year, as well as their league-wide rank in wins and SRS in those years. In case of ties, I averaged out the ordinal rankings, which is why you’ll see several fractional rankings in the table below. [click to continue…]

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Nick the Kick

Nick the Kick

On Tuesday, I explained the formula used in my system of grading field goal kickers, which is based on field goal success rate adjusted for distance and era.  Yesterday, I looked at the single-season leaders using that methodology. Today, we look at the best field goal kickers since 1960 on the career level.

And frankly, it’s not much of a question as to who is the best kicker ever. Until presented with evidence to the contrary, that honor belongs to Nick Lowery (you can tell him about that here). The table below shows the top field goal kickers ever; let’s walk through Lowery’s line as an example.

Lowery played from 1978 to 1996. The length of his average field goal attempt was 36.6 yards, and the length of his average made field goal was 34.8 yards. Lowery attempted 479 field goals in his career; based on the distance of those kicks and the era in which he played, we would expect an average kicker to have made about 337.6 of those attempts. Instead, Lowery made 383 of them, a whopping 45.4 field goals above expectation. Thought of another way, Lowery’s expected field goal rate was 70.5%, while his actual was 80.0%, so he was successful an extra 9.5% of the time he lined up to kick. That’s remarkable. In short, Lowery was the most valuable field goal kicker in NFL history. [click to continue…]

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In 1983, there were 46 field goal attempts of 52 yards or longer. That year, just 17 of them were successful… and four of them came from Baltimore Colts rookie kicker Raul Allegre. But that’s just the highlight for perhaps the best kicking season ever.

During the Colts last year in Baltimore, fans voted Allegre the team’s most valuable player. And with good reason: Allegre attempted 35 field goals, but given the distances of those kicks and the kicking environment in 1983, we would have expected Allegre to make 21.2 of those attempts. Instead, Allegre connected on 30 field goals, giving him 8.8 more field goals above average. That’s the highest rate in any single season ever. Yesterday, I unveiled a methodology for ranking kickers, based on two factors: the length of each field goal attempts and the year in which they kick was attempted. Using that formula, I then was able to grade every field goal kicking season since 1960.

Let’s use Nick Lowery’s 1985 season to walk through the table below. That year, playing for the Chiefs, Lowery went 4/4 on kciks from 20-29 yards, 10/11 from 30-39 yards, 7/7 from 40-49 yards, and 3/5 from over 50 yards. (Note that while I have the data on the specific distance of each attempt, it made sense to present it for consumption in this way.) He attempted 27 kicks, and given the distances and the era, was expected to be successful on 17.2 of them. Instead, he made 24, giving him 6.8 field goals above average. If you prefer to think in terms of rates, Lowery was expected to be true on 63.7% of kicks, but actually made 88.9% of his attempts; that’s 25.2% above expectation, the highest rate by any kicker with at least 25 attempts. The table below shows the top 300 seasons since 1960: [click to continue…]

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Six years ago, I took my first crack at analyzing field goal kickers. I have been meaning to update that article for each of the last three offseasons, and with the sun setting on the 2015 offseason, I didn’t want to let this slip yet again.

Ranking field goal kickers is not difficult conceptually, but it can be a bit challenging in practice. One thing I’ve yet to refine is the appropriate adjustments for playing surface, stadium, time of game, temperature, and wind. That’s a lot of adjustments to deal with, all on top of the most obvious adjustment: for era.

But as I understand it, Rome was not built in a day; further, I believe that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. As a result, I’m okay with only getting part of the way there for now, and punting (which is very, very different from kicking) the rest of this process to next offseason.

Let’s begin with the obvious: era adjustments are really, really, important.  To provide some examples, I looked at the field goal rates at four different increments: 22-24 yard kicks, 31-33 yard attempts, kicks from 40-42 yards away, and finally, field goal attempts from 49-51 yards.  In the graph below, I’ve plotted the success rate at those four distances for each year since 1960, along with a “best-fit” curve at each distance. Take a look: [click to continue…]

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Most Memorable Plays For Each NFC Team

Yesterday, we looked at the most memorable plays for each AFC team. Today, we switch to the NFC, and let’s begin in the NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys: Emmitt Smith, with one good shoulder, runs for 10 yards to put Dallas in field goal range against the Giants in week 17, 1993

For a franchise with as proud a history as the Cowboys, there are some painful memories to consider: the Tony Romo bobbled snap against the Seahawks, Leon Lett against the Bills (and Dolphins), the ending of the Ice Bowl, the Tom Brown end zone interception of Don Meredith to clinch the 1966 NFL championship game, the Dez Bryant “incomplete” pass last year, and Jackie Harris starring in the Sickest Man in America.

But when it comes to the Cowboys, the mind immediately goes to the dynasty built in the ’90s. That team cemented its place in the game’s history by repeating as Super Bowl champions in 1993, and much of the credit for the title goes to winning in week 17 against the Giants. A loss in that game would have made the Cowboys a Wild Card team, while a win gave Dallas the number one seed. And that game turned out to be the most memorable of Emmitt Smith’s career. Playing much of the game on shoulder, he totaled a career high 41 touches. Here’s the play in question, and Smith carrying Dallas to victory that day remains the most iconic memory of one of the franchise’s greatest players. A close runner up: the original Hail Mary, from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson against the vikings in the 1975 playoffs. But that game didn’t lead to a Super Bowl championship. [click to continue…]

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Most Memorable Plays For Each AFC Team

The other day, the Sporting News produced a slideshow of the most iconic plays in franchise history for each of the 32 teams in the NFL. That’s a fun idea, and something I think this community would enjoy thinking about, so I wanted to spend this weekend discussing what we view as the most memorable/iconic/incredible plays for each franchise. For each team, I’ll cast my opinion (which may or may not be the same as what the SN chose), but I’m really more interested in your thoughts. Today, we’ll do the AFC; tomorrow, the NFC. Let’s begin in the AFC East, with a franchise that’s most memorable play was probably a painful one.

Buffalo Bills: Scott Norwood, Wide Right, Super Bowl XXV [click to continue…]

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Why Do Teams Run The Ball, Part II

Seven and a half years ago, I asked the question, why do teams run the ball? Today, I want to revisit that post, given that a lot has happened over the last seven and a half years.

Let’s begin my analyzing league-wide pass and rush efficiency. To measure rush efficiency, we will use Adjusted Yards per Carry, which is calculated as follows:

(Rush Yards + 11 * Rush TDs + 9 * Rush First Downs) / (Rushes)

For passing, we will use a modified version of ANY/A by also giving credit for first downs. Here’s the formula:

(Gross Pass Yards – SackYardsLost + 11 * Pass TDs + 9 * Pass First Downs – 45 * INTs) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks)

[click to continue…]

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Best Quadruplets in NFL History (Single-Season)

The ’90s Cowboys had the Triplets — Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin — that helped define the team’s dynasty. Well, the modern Packers have not just an outstanding quarterback, a great running back, and one excellent wide receiver: they have two excellent wide receivers.

Let’s take some “basic” stats and see how the 2014 Packers fared:

  • To measure quarterbacks, let’s use Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. Aaron Rodgers ranked 1st in ANY/A last year.
  • To measure running backs, we can use the most basic measurement out there: rushing yards. Eddie Lacy ranked a respectable 7th in rushing yards.
  • To measure wide receivers (and tight ends), let’s use Adjusted Catch Yards, which is receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for receptions and a 20-yard bonus for receiving touchdowns. Jordy Nelson ranked 3rd in ACY last year, while Randall Cobb ranked 8th.

Where does that rank since 1970? Well, one thing we could do is just add the ranks: 1 + 7 + 3 + 8 = 19. That’s a pretty good score for a group of four players, but it’s not the best ever. It’s tied with two other teams for 6th best ever. Can you guess which team since 1970 has the best score using this methodology? While you think about it, let’s look at the other teams to produce a score of less than 20. [click to continue…]

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Back in December 2009, Jason Lisk wrote about a recent trend in the NFL: quarterbacks throwing for 300 passing yards and actually winning. Jason wondered whether that was something fluky, or a sign of the shifting nature of the NFL. With the benefit of hindsight, I think the answer is…. well, I think it’s pretty clear.

Including playoffs, quarterbacks who threw for 300+ yards in a game during the 2009 season won an incredible 63.3% of games. And that mark remains the highest in modern history. Over the last five years (2010 to 2014), quarterbacks have won 52% of games when cracking that mark; during the decade of the ’90s, quarterbacks won 53% of their games when throwing for 300+ yards.

Of course, the likelihood of a quarterback throwing for 300+ yards has increased significantly. Over the last four years, quarterbacks have thrown for 300+ yards in 25% of all games, an enormous increase relative to most of NFL history. The graph below shows both pieces of information: in blue, and measured against the left Y-Axis, shows winning percentage by year when a quarterback throws for 300+ yards; in red, and against the right Y-Axis, is the percentage of all games where a quarterback hit the 300+ yard mark: [click to continue…]

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Guest Post/Contest: PFRWhacks

Today’s guest post/contest comes from Adam Harstad, a co-writer of mine at Footballguys.com. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


Like most of you,1 I like to spend my weekends building custom databases of NFL statistics. This past weekend, while doing just that, I happened to notice that Marshall Faulk topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage in both 2000 and 2001 despite playing just 14 games each year. Which sent me scrambling to the Pro-Football-Reference.com player season finder2 so I could share on Twitter the novel observation that Marshall Faulk was, indeed, good at football.

As luck would have it, the humble proprietor of Football Perspective just happened to be sitting at home, trolling around on Twitter, and likewise playing with various historical databases.3 He saw my tweet and responded in kind, with a list of all NFL players sorted by average yards per game from age 25 to 28.

All of this inspired a fun back-and-forth between various other users on Twitter which culminated in me providing a list of all running back seasons with 250+ carries and 50+ yards per game receiving. It’s a rather short list featuring just 8 total seasons. Marshall Faulk accounted for four of those eight seasons, consecutively, from 1998 to 2001.

I quickly noticed an interesting thing about that last list, though. Not only did Marshall Faulk account for half of those seasons in NFL history, but he actually had the top four by receiving yards per game. In fact, if we adjust our “receiving yards per game” baseline from 50 to 54, we wind up with this list, instead.

Now that is a rather more impressive list. Using just two simple cutoffs, we had managed to create a list that was just four names long, and every single one of those names was “Marshall Faulk.”

Seguing away for a second… in the early days of the internet, before there were continents composed solely of cat pictures (or handy NFL season finders to query, for that matter), people would resort to pretty much anything to keep themselves entertained. One game that sprung from these dark times was known as “Googlewhacking”. A Googlewhack was two words that, when entered together into the search bar of the eponymous Google, matched just a single result on the entire internet.

For instance, there was once a time when searching the words “ambidextrous scallywags” (but without the quotation marks) would return just a single match. This was then a successful Googlewhack. Googlewhacks were, by their very nature, ephemeral constructs, since the very act of publishing a Googlewhack would cause the published result to show up on Google and would therefore cause the words to lose their Googlewhack status. [click to continue…]

  1. I assume. []
  2. Obviously. []
  3. On second thought, I doubt luck played any role. []
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There are 23 quarterbacks who have won both a championship (as a starter) and a Most Valuable Player award in professional football history. Can you name them? First, let’s get to the fine print:

  • To determine championships, I began in 1936. I awarded half a ring to each of the championship quarterbacks in the AAFC and NFL from 1946 to 1949, and half a ring to the two championship quarterbacks in the AFL and NFL from 1960 to 1965. For purposes of this post, I am including all quarterbacks with “half a ring”, but when I list career totals, keep the half-ring idea in mind.
  • Based on sharing of quarterback duties, I awarded half-rings to the quarterbacks on the NFL champions in 1939, 1951, 1972, and 1990. For the NFL champion in 1970, I also awarded half a ring to that team’s top two quarterbacks, since the starter left while trailing in the Super Bowl. If you disagree with my awarding of half rings in this manner, don’t worry about.  I’ve spelled out the relevant information in the post below, so feel free to manipulate the system as you desire.  If so inclined, you can dismiss the early AFL years or give full credit to both MVPs in a particular season, for example.
  • For MVPs, I used the Joseph F. Carr award from ’38 to ’46. Then I used the UPI for the next ten years, or the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club award when the UPI didn’t name an MVP. Those years were 1947 (which, as it turns out, was one of the easiest seasons to identify), 1949, 1950, and 1952. Then I used the AP for every year since for simplicity’s sake (i.e., just using what is listed on PFR, not out of a misguided notion that the AP is the end-all, be-all source for MVP voting). I gave the AFL and NFL MVP half an award in each year from 1960 to 1969, and I also assigned only half credit to the shared MVPs in ’97 and ’03 (the award was also split in ’49).

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Yesterday, we looked at which teams had the most pass attempts (including sacks) in individual games relative to league average. Today, we will analyze things on the season level.

Let’s use Tobin Rote as an example. As Brad Oremland noted, Rote was stuck playing for terrible Packers teams in the ’50s that were weak on defense and light at running back. In 1951, Green Bay ranked 12th in the 12-team NFL in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns, and 11th in points allowed and yards allowed. The Packers often went with just one running back in the backfield — a rarity in those days — which is a sign that the emphasis on the passing game wasn’t just a result of the team’s losing record. Green Bay also went with a quarterback-by-committee approach: Rote started 11 of 12 games, but he finished the year with 256 pass attempts, while backup Bobby Thomason had 221. Individually, neither had great numbers, but together, they helped Green Bay finish with 50 more pass attempts than any other team in football.

The method I used yesterday, and will be using throughout this series, is to give the starting quarterback credit for all team pass attempts in that game. The reason? If a quarterback gets injured and finishes a game with just 5 attempts, that will kill his average in a misleading way. That would do more harm, I think, than giving him credit for all attempts in the game. But that decision has its drawbacks, and in particular, it seems ill-suited for teams in the early ’50s that employed a QBBC approach. This is particularly relevant here, because “Rote’s” 1951 season checks in as the most pass-happy on our list.

So the Rote line for ’51 should really be thought of as Rote and Thomason. Rote’s 1956 season also makes the top ten, and there’s no fine print necessary there. Rote started 11 of 12 games and threw 308 passes, while Bart Starr started the remaining game and had just 44 attempts that season. The ’56 Packers were not very good, ranking last in both points and yards allowed, and last in rushing attempts, too.

The table below shows the top 300 seasons (minimum 7 games started) in terms of pass attempts relative to league average. You can use the search function to see that Rote’s season in 1954 with Green Bay also makes the cut. To explain what’s in the table below, let’s use season #15 on the list, Shane Matthews in 1999, as an example. That year, Matthews started 7 games, but in those games, the Bears averaged an incredible 47.1 dropbacks per game, the second highest rate ever. Matthews shared some snaps with rookie Cade McNown that year, so you wouldn’t know it just by looking at Matthews’ raw numbers, but the ’99 Bears were insanely pass-happy under Gary Crowton. The league average was 36.3 dropbacks per game, so the Bears in “Matthews games” were 10.8 attempts above average, and 129.8% above league average. [click to continue…]

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