≡ Menu

Memorial Day 2017

Pat  Tillman

Pat Tillman.

It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.
Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC

Today is a day that we as Americans honor and remember those who lost their lives protecting our country. As my friend Joe Bryant says, it’s easy for the true meaning of this day to get lost in the excitement of summer and barbecues and picnics. But that quote helps me remember that the things I enjoy today are only possible because those before me made incredibly selfless sacrifices. That includes a number of football players who have lost their lives defending our country.

The most famous, of course, is Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety who chose to quit football to enlist in the United States army. On April 22, thirteen years ago, Tillman died in Afghanistan. Over thirty years earlier, we lost both Bob Kalsu and Don Steinbrunner in Vietnam. You can read their stories here. For some perspective, consider that Hall of Famers Roger Staubach, Ray Nitschke, and Charlie Joiner were three of the 29 NFL men who served in the military during that war.

An incredible 226 men with NFL ties served in the Korean War, including Night Train Lane and Don Shula. Most tragically, World War II claimed the lives of 21 former NFL players.

Jack Chevigny, former coach of the Cardinals, and John O’Keefe, an executive with the Eagles, were also World War II casualties. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has chronicled the stories of these 23 men, too. Lummus received the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Iwo Jima, and you can read more about his sacrifice here. In 2015, the Giants inducted him into the team’s Ring of Honor. [click to continue…]


Winning The Turnover Battle

It’s one of football’s oldest maxims: the key to winning the game is to win the turnover battle. This works better as an explanation for why a team won rather than as a cause of success — correlation doesn’t equal causation, of course — but that doesn’t mean the stat is useless.

We know that turnover rates have declined significantly over the last several decades. So here’s the question of the day: does winning the turnover battle matter more or less now than it used to?

As it turns out, the importance of winning the turnover battle has been remarkably static throughout NFL history. Last year, teams that won the turnover battle won 78% of their games. And from 2007 to 2016, teams that won the turnover battle won 78% of their games. In the decade of the ’70s, when turnover rates were much higher, teams that won the turnover battle won 78% of their games. From 1950 to 2016, the average winning percentage of teams that won the turnover battle was 78%, too. Take a look: [click to continue…]


Games Are Closer Than Ever Now, Part III

Part I

Part Ii

Last season, Washington and Detroit each played in 9 games where there was a 4th quarter score to take the lead (i.e., the game was either tied, or the team that scored was trailing before the score and leading after the score). On the other side, the 49ers played in just two such games.

The record for games with a 4th quarter score to take the lead is 11, set by the 1989 Chargers, and matched by the 1997 Cardinals and 2013 Lions.

Yesterday, I looked at 4th quarter comebacks using a narrow definition: I only included games where the winning team trailed after three quarters, which was the case in about 16% of all games. That number doubles if you use today’s broader definition: the graph below shows the number of games where a team scored in the 4th quarter to take the lead:
[click to continue…]

{ 1 comment }

Games Are Closer Than Ever Now, Part II

Part I

The Detroit Lions went 9-7 in 2016, but it was a remarkable 9-7. That’s because quarterback Matthew Stafford recorded 8 fourth quarter comebacks and 8 game-winning drives! That’s right: in all but one win for the Lions (and therefore, all but one game), Detroit trailed at some point in the 4th quarter.

That makes those 4th quarter comebacks sound impressive: if not for those 4th quarter comebacks, the Lions would have gone 1-15. And they were impressive! But here’s a way to make them appear less impressive: Detroit won just a single game last season where the team trailed entering the 4th quarter.

No, really. The Lions trailed by 3 points entering the 4th quarter in a home game against Jacksonville, and won 26-19. The Lions were 1-6 when trailing after three quarters in 2016. Detroit did win two games when tied after three quarters, and went 6-1 when leading after three quarters.

This isn’t intended to diminish Stafford’s performance last year, but rather to put some perspective around the idea of 4th quarter comebacks/game-winning drives. In a lot of competitive games, there are a number of lead changes in the 4th quarter, and it makes sense to call all lead-changing drives a comeback.

That said, let’s look at a different definition of a 4th quarter comeback: one where a team won after trailing while entering the 4th quarter. By that measure, Oakland led the NFL with 5 such comebacks, and the Raiders went 5-4 when trailing after three quarters. Although maybe pump the brakes a little bit if this fact alone causes you to elevate Derek Carr in your brain: the Raiders trailed entering the final frame by 1, 1, 3, 4, and 11 (opening day against New Orleans) points in those games.

In 2016, just 39 games saw a team trail entering the 4th quarter and go on to win; another two ended in ties. For context, there were 245 games overall in 2016 where a team trailed entering the 4th quarter overall.1 That means teams won2 16.3% of games when trailing entering the 4th quarter. That’s not remarkable at all, and matches the long-term average throughout football history. The graph below shows the winning percentage, by season, among teams that trailed entering the 4th quarter: [click to continue…]

  1. Said another way, there 11 games that were tied entering the 4th quarter. []
  2. Counting ties as half-wins. []

The Jets, And Draft Capital Spent On QBs Since 2009

Drafting quarterbacks is more art than science. And by art I mean film noir.

The Jets have drafted a quarterback in each of the last four drafts, and six quarterbacks since the 2009 draft. And yet the Jets still — unless they already do have their guy in Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg — are trying to solve the quarterback riddle.

Let’s be clear: this sort of analysis is mostly trivia in nature.  That’s because past draft picks are simply sunk costs, although that’s generally only clear after a team has reached an evaluation on a player.  The Jets drafted Mark Sanchez in 2009, and that didn’t work out.  Four years later, the team selected Geno Smith in the second round, and that didn’t work out, either. In between, the Jets spent a 7th round pick on Greg McElroy, but spending much time lamenting the use of a 7th round pick is not productive.  Similarly, a year after drafting Smith, the Jets selected Clemson’s Tajh Boyd in the 6th round. New York then upped the ante by grabbing Bryce Petty in the fourth round in 2015, a move which seems unlikely to pay off.

And while those picks may not have been good, they were old made under an old regime. General manager Mike Maccagnan came on board in 2015, and while he didn’t draft a quarterback that year, he did trade a 7th round pick for Ryan Fitzpatrick, a moved that was heralded as a steal last December.  So far, the only quarterbacks drafted by Maccagnan were Petty in ’15 and the second round pick used on Christian Hackenberg last year.  Petty has underwhelmed in limited action, while there has been no ability to grade the Hackenberg pick so far, as he (intentionally) did not see the field last year.

So yeah, the Jets have drafted a lot of quarterbacks.  And for the most part, those picks have been bad.  But that doesn’t mean the Jets should stop drafting quarterbacks or that drafting quarterbacks is a bad idea. It just means the team hasn’t found its quarterback yet — unless, again, they already have in Hackenberg (or perhaps Petty).

Two years ago, I looked at the draft capital spent on quarterbacks from 2000 to 2014.   Today I want to do the same thing but from 2009 (when the Jets drafted Sanchez) to 2016.  Again, I’ll be assigning draft picks value based on the Draft Pick Value Calculator, which comes from the values derived here and shown here. If we assign each draft pick its proper value, and then sum the values used to select quarterbacks by each team over the last eight years, we can see which teams have devoted the most draft capital on quarterbacks.

And while the Jets have used six picks on quarterbacks over that time period, New York isn’t alone. The Broncos have, too, and Denver may not be much closer than the Jets are when it comes to finding their franchise quarterback of the future. The table below is sorted by total value, and the Jets rank “only” 4th in that regard, behind the Rams (who have spent two number one picks on passers during this time frame), the Bucs (a #1 and another first) and the Titans (a #2 and a #8). I hvae also listed each quarterback selected by each team during this time frame, from most valuable pick used to least. Take a look: [click to continue…]


Games Are Closer Than Ever Now

In 2016, 146 of 256 regular season games finished with a margin of victory of 8 or fewer points. That’s an incredible 57.0% of all games being decided by one score, which makes the 2016 season one of the most competitive in NFL history. If not the most competitive. In 2015, 54.7% of all games were decided by 8 or fewer points; prior to that, no other season since 1960 finished with 54.1% or more games being decided by one score.

The graph below shows the percentage of all games since 1960, by year, where the final margin was 8 or fewer points:

[click to continue…]


Tony Romo Has Borderline HOF Stats (Era-Adjusted)

This photo probably has one HOF QB

Yesterday, Tony Romo announced that he was retiring from football after an excellent career with the Cowboys. Now here are two interesting questions: will he be a Hall of Famer? And should he be a Hall of Famer?

Regular readers will recall that in 2014, I looked at how Eli Manning’s stats compared to other Hall of Fame passers. I used a quick-and-dirty method to measure quarterback dominance, reprinted below.

  • Step 1) Calculate each quarterback’s Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) for each season of his career where he had enough pass attempts to qualify for the passing title (14 attempts per team game). ANY/A, of course, is calculated as follows: (Passing Yards + PassTDs * 20 – INTs * 45 – Sack Yards Lost) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks).
  • Step 2) For each quarterback, award him 10 points if he led the league1 in ANY/A, 9 points if he finished 2nd, 8 points if he finished 3rd, … and 1 point if he finished 10th. A quarterback receives 0 points if he does not finish in the top 10 in ANY/A or does not have enough pass attempts to qualify. This is biased in favor of older quarterbacks to the extent he is playing in a smaller league. For example, Charlie Conerly
  • Step 3) For each quarterback, add his “points” from each season to produce a career grade.

[click to continue…]

  1. For purposes of this post, I have combined all AFL, NFL, and AAFC Stats. []

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on quarterback statistical production.

Author’s Note: This is a very long post, but I discourage you from skimming it. Wait to read it until you can go over it without feeling distracted.

Two years ago, I wrote an exhaustive series on the greatest quarterbacks of all time. That was a subjective ranking, but I also discussed the formula for Quarterback Total Statistical Production, QB-TSP. This post concerns that stat, QB-TSP, so you may want to read that link if you haven’t already.

I’ve made three minor adjustments to the formula since that writing: [click to continue…]


More Thoughts On Pick Sixes

Four years ago, I wrote that interceptions were being returned for touchdowns at a much higher rate. As it turns out, that may have just been a blip: the 2012 season set a record for both pick sixes and pick sixes per interception.

We can look at pick sixes in a few ways. On Monday, I noted that on a per-game basis, interceptions per game were down to near-historic lows. Given that pass attempts are way up, you won’t be surprised to learn that pick sixes per attempt are really, really down.

The graph below shows the number of interceptions returned per 1,000 pass attempts throughout NFL history. Last year was the lowest in history, at 1.86; thought of another way, there was just one pick six for every 538 pass attempts.

[click to continue…]


Return Touchdowns Were Way Down in 2016

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

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


Joe Montana had what many consider to be the best performance in Super Bowl history. In Super Bowl XXIV against the Broncos, Montana completed 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns, with 1 sack for 0 yards. Jerry Rice was the biggest beneficiary, catching 7 passes for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns, in a 55-10 blowout of the Broncos.

Do the math, and Montana averaged 13.23 Adjusted Net Yards per attempt that day. Making it even more impressive is that he was facing a Broncos defense that allowed just 3.89 ANY/A to opposing passers during the regular season. That means Montana averaged 9.35 additional ANY/A relative to the average Broncos opponent. Over 30 dropbacks, that’s 280 Adjusted Net Yards of Value that Montana added. That’s the most in Super Bowl history, just ahead of what Doug Williams did two years earlier against the Broncos.

In that game, Williams was 18/29 for 340 yards with 4 TDs and 1 INT, and one sack for 10 yards. That’s an ANY/A of 12.17, but it came against a slightly tougher defense: the Broncos allowed 3.77 ANY/A that season. So Williams was 8.40 ANY/A better than “expected” against Denver, over 30 dropbacks; that means he produced 252 ANY of value in the Super Bowl.

Below are those numbers for each of the 128 passers in Super Bowl history. For Super Bowls prior to 1981, I had to use estimated sack data rather than actual, with the formula for estimated sacks being simply (Team Sacks) * (QB Pass Attempts/Team Pass Attempts). [click to continue…]


Atlanta had a really, really good offense this year. My favorite statistic: the Falcons had 59 drives end in a punt or a turnover, and 58 end in a touchdown.  Atlanta averaged 3.03 points per drive this year, and yet, the offense has been even better in the playoffs.

There was no stopping Matt Ryan and the Falcons against Green Bay, as the group scored 44 points on 9 drives in the NFC Championship Game. In the division round, the Falcons scored 36 points on 9 or 10 drives against Seattle, depending on whether you want to treat the Falcons final drive of the game as a real drive.  In two NFC playoff games, Atlanta’s offense has scored 10 touchdowns, seen 5 drives end on punts, 3 end on field goals, with zero turnovers and one drive end with the clock running out.

Scoring 80 points on 18 or 19 drives translates to an average of 4.21 or 4.44 points per drive. Take an average of those two numbers, and the offense is still averaging a whopping 4.32 points per drive. How remarkable is that? Well, it’s the best average for any of the 102 Super Bowl teams in their pre-Super Bowl playoff games.

The NFL has not historically recorded drive stats, so I previously wrote how one can estimate the number of offensive drives a team has in a game or season.  I used that formula to measure the best playoff offenses entering the Super Bowl; unsurprisingly, the 1990 Bills were the previous hottest offense.

Against Miami in the division round, Buffalo had between 10 and 12 drives, depending on how you treat the final drives of the half (the Bills received the ball with 14 seconds left on their own 32, and took a knee) and the game (Buffalo received the ball with just over one minute to go, and ran three times for a first down to run out the clock). Those other ten drives ended as follows, in order: Touchdown, Field Goal, Field Goal, Touchdown, Touchdown, Interception, Field Goal, Touchdown, Touchdown, Punt. That’s 44 points on 10 real drives.

The next week, in the AFC Championship Game against the Raiders, the Bills had 11 or 12 drives, as the final drive of the game featured Buffalo taking a pair of knees to close out a 51-3 victory. The first 11 drives went: TD, TD, Interception, TD, missed FG, TD, TD, Punt, TD, FG, Punt.  That’s 44 points (Buffalo also scored on a pick six, and one extra point was missed) on 11 drives. [click to continue…]


Would the Atlanta Falcons be the worst franchise to win the Super Bowl? The Falcons have a franchise regular season record of 341-437-6, which translates to a 0.439 winning percentage.

In 51 years, the Falcons have made the playoffs just 13 times. Atlanta didn’t record back-to-back winning seasons as a franchise until Matt Ryan arrived; the team had five straight years with a winning record, but hasn’t had repeated the feat since (next year, perhaps). Atlanta has never led the NFL in offense; it hadn’t led the league in scoring until this year. It only led the league in points allowed one time, the historic ’77 team, but has never finished first in yards allowed.

In short, this is not a good franchise. It may be one of the three worst franchises to ever win a Super Bowl, yet it may still be the best franchise from the NFC South to ever pull off that feat. Here are my rankings of the worst franchises to win a Super Bowl.

5) 2001 Patriots: Sure, it’s easy to think of New England as one of the best franchises in the league. But 15 years ago? Not so much. New England had a 291-328-9 record (0.471), 37 games below .500, when the team won its first Lombardi Trophy. The franchise had been on the rebound from the ugly days of the early ’90s, but the franchise’s history was mostly bad, even when the team was good (see: Super Bowl XX).

4) 1974 Steelers: Another team that used its first Super Bowl victory as the birth of a dynasty. But Pittsburgh was 199-280-19 (0.419) at the conclusion of the 1974 regular season; at 81 games below 0.500, this was a bad franchise. In the ’50s and ’60s, the Steelers had the second most losses of any team in the NFL. That all changed once Chuck Noll came to town, and quickly turned the Steelers into the team of the ’70s.

3) 2016 Falcons, with a win: Atlanta is currently an underdog in Super Bowl LI, but this feels like the appropriate slot for the team. At 96 games below .500 and with a 0.439 winning percentage, this is a bad franchise. Under Rankin Smith, Atlanta went 129-218-5 in the team’s first 24 years of existence, with just one playoff victory. He handed the keys to the organization to his son, Taylor, in 1990; Atlanta won a playoff game in ’91 and then two more in 1998, culminating in the team’s only Super Bowl appearance prior to this year. Still, three playoff wins and an 83-109 record in 12 years wasn’t much better.

The team was sold to Arthur Blank in 2002, and the Falcons have been good under Blank in large part because the team landed Michael Vick and then Matt Ryan.  The Falcons are 129-110-1 in the Blank years, with a 5-6 playoff record. Perhaps most impressive: in 15 years, Atlanta has had a losing season just five times.

2) 2009 Saints: New Orleans was a whopping 103 games below .500 after the 2009 season, courtesy of a 275-378-5 record (0.422).  This was a bad, bad franchise: under founding owner John Mecom Jr., the team went 78-176-5 in 18 years without a single playoff appearance!  Tom Benson took over in 1985, but the Saints didn’t win their first playoff game until 2000!  Entering the ’09 playoffs, the franchise had just two playoff wins, but won three that year to capture the team’s sole Lombardi Trophy.

1) 2002 Bucs: Tampa Bay had a 0.382 winning percentage at the end of the 2002 regular season, and stood at 99 games below 0.500 with a 160-259-1 franchise mark. This team was called the “Yucks” for a reason: from Hugh Culverhouse was the team’s original owner, and the franchise famously lost its first 26 games.  Culverhouse died after 18 years, and Tampa Bay had won just a single playoff game during his time; overall the Bucs were 81-194-1, easily the worst franchise in the NFL over that period.

In 1994, the Bucs went 6-10 without a true owner; the Culverhouse estate sold the team to Malcolm Glazer, who had a pretty nice start.  His first two draft picks were Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, and the team soon turned from laughingstock to contender once Tony Dungy came on board in 1996.  Glazer controversially fired Dungy and traded two first-rounders, two second-rounders, and $8 million for Jon Gruden, but the moved proved to be an immediate (if not necessarily long-term) success: the Bucs won the Super Bowl in ’02, the first year under Gruden.


Background reading:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V (Career Passer Ratings)

In the interest of making all data available to you, the reader, the table below shows the averages for each professional football league since 1932 in the relevant passing statistics used to calculate passer rating: [click to continue…]


In yesterday’s post, I examined the methodology behind passer rating. Here were the passer ratings for the 30 quarterbacks who threw enough passes to qualify for the crown in 2016:

1Matt Ryan*+ATL534373494438769.9%9.267.1%1.3%117.1
2Tom Brady*NWE432291355428267.4%8.236.5%0.5%112.2
3Dak Prescott*DAL459311366723467.8%7.995.0%0.9%104.9
4Aaron Rodgers*GNB610401442840765.7%7.266.6%1.1%104.2
5Drew BreesNOR6734715208371570.0%7.745.5%2.2%101.7
6Sam BradfordMIN552395387720571.6%7.023.6%0.9%99.3
7Kirk CousinsWAS6064064917251267.0%8.114.1%2.0%97.2
8Derek Carr*OAK560357393728663.8%7.035.0%1.1%96.7
9Andrew LuckIND5453464240311363.5%7.785.7%2.4%96.4
10Marcus MariotaTEN451276342626961.2%7.605.8%2.0%95.6
11Ben Roethlisberger*PIT5093283819291364.4%7.505.7%2.6%95.4
12Ryan TannehillMIA3892612995191267.1%7.704.9%3.1%93.5
13Matthew StaffordDET5943884327241065.3%7.284.0%1.7%93.3
14Russell WilsonSEA5463534219211164.7%7.733.8%2.0%92.6
15Andy DaltonCIN563364420618864.7%7.473.2%1.4%91.8
16Alex SmithKAN489328350215867.1%7.163.1%1.6%91.2
17Colin KaepernickSFO331196224116459.2%6.774.8%1.2%90.7
18Tyrod TaylorBUF436269302317661.7%6.933.9%1.4%89.7
19Philip RiversSDG5783494386332160.4%7.595.7%3.6%87.9
20Carson PalmerARI5973644233261461.0%7.094.4%2.3%87.2
21Jameis WinstonTAM5673454090281860.8%7.214.9%3.2%86.1
22Eli ManningNYG5983774027261663.0%6.734.3%2.7%86.0
23Trevor SiemianDEN4862893401181059.5%7.003.7%2.1%84.6
24Joe FlaccoBAL6724364317201564.9%6.423.0%2.2%83.5
25Carson WentzPHI6073793782161462.4%6.232.6%2.3%79.3
26Blake BortlesJAX6253683905231658.9%6.253.7%2.6%78.8
27Case KeenumLAR322196220191160.9%6.842.8%3.4%76.4
28Cam NewtonCAR5102703509191452.9%6.883.7%2.7%75.8
29Brock OsweilerHOU5103012957151659.0%5.802.9%3.1%72.2
30Ryan FitzpatrickNYJ4032282710121756.6%6.723.0%4.2%69.6

Now, as we learned yesterday, passer rating is the result of four variables: completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, and interception rate. Those variables are all scaled so that the average score is 1.0 for each variable. Then, we take an average of the four variables and multiply it by 66.67, since that was intended to be the league average passer rating (or, said differently and how it is more commonly represented in formulas, we sum the four numbers, divide by six, and multiply by 100).

So let’s take a look at the scores in each of the four variables for these 30 quarterbacks to better understand their 2016 passer ratings. The far right column shows the average of those variables, which again, is equivalent to their passer rating divided by 66.67. [click to continue…]


Adjusting Passer Rating for Era: Part I

Passer rating is a dumb stat. Let’s get that out of the way. As I’ve written before, passer rating is stupid because it gives a 20-yard bonus for each completion, a 100-yard penalty for each interception, and an 80-yard bonus for each touchdown. In reality, there should be no (or a very small) weight on completions (or, better yet, a bonus for completions that go for a first down), a 45-yard weight on interceptions, and a 20-yard weight on touchdowns. But given how ubiquitous passer rating is in analysis of passing, let’s at least try to understand it more.

Let’s begin with the formula one needs to calculate passer rating in Excel:


To make this formula work, you need to put the following categories in these cells:

C2 = Attempts
D2 = Completions
E2= Passing Yards
F2 = Passing Touchdowns
G2 = Interceptions

That formula probably seems like gibberish to you, so let’s unpack it a little bit.


This part is simple enough: if a quarterback doesn’t have at least 224 pass attempts (during a 16-game season), they fail to qualify for the passer rating crown.  You can lower this number for non-16-game seasons as necessary.

Passer Rating – Four Components

Passer rating comprises four components: completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns per attempt, and interceptions per attempt.  Let’s see how the above formula addresses these concerns:

Completion Percentage


Take a look at the bolded blue text — What are we doing? Taking completions and dividing them by attempts is how we come up with completion percentage, of course.  You take that result and subtract 0.3, or 30%.  Savvy readers will pick up on the fact that if your completion percentage is 29% or 0%, you get the same credit in passer rating: there is a floor of 30%. [click to continue…]


There is a lot of talk about the large point spread in the Patriots/Texans game. New England is a 15.5-point favorite over Houston tonight, tied for the second largest spread ever in a non-Super Bowl playoff game behind only Minnesota/Arizona in 1998.  The over/under is 44.5, which means the projected final score is 30-14.5.

Let’s say the Texans pull off the upset. Are they more likely to do so in a low-scoring game, or in a shootout?  If Houston wins 14-13, they will have come in under their projected points total by 0.5, but held New England to 17 fewer points than expected.  If the Texans win 31-30, they would have exceeded their projected points total by 16.5 points, while holding New England to exactly the number of expected points.

So, which result is more likely? My intuition says a low-scoring game, but what do the numbers say? There have been 24 games since 1985 where a team won despite being an underdog of at least 14 points.  As it turns out, intuition is correct: on average, these underdogs exceeded their projected points for total by 7.8 points, but held their opponents to 13.3 fewer points than expected. [click to continue…]


The Packers won every home playoff game for over 60 years. Green Bay was 13-0 at home in playoff games until Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons won as 6.5-point underdogs at the end of the 2002 season. Since that 13-0 start, the Packers are a much less intimidating 5-4 in the postseason. Below is the points differential in every playoff game in Green Bay in NFL history:

[click to continue…]


Nobody wants to be compared to Ryan Leaf, so it tells you all you need to know about Jared Goff‘s rookie season that such a headline doubles as a legitimate question. Let’s start with the raw stats, even though we know the passing environment has changed significantly since 1998:

Passing Rushing
Rk Player Year G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Y/A AY/A NY/A ANY/A Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
1 Jared Goff 2016 8 0-7-0 112 205 54.6 1089 5 63.6 66 7 26 222 5.3 4.26 3.75 2.82 8 16 1 2.0 6
2 Ryan Leaf 1998 10 3-6-0 111 245 45.3 1289 2 39.0 67 15 22 140 5.3 2.67 4.30 1.93 27 80 0 3.0 20

[click to continue…]


The Lions began the season 9-4, but have now lost the team’s last two games headed into a winner-takes-the-NFC North showdown with the Packers. Detroit’s success — and failures — have been SOS-related. Detroit’s last two losses came to the two best teams (by record) the Lions have faced all year: the 13-2 Cowboys and 10-5 Giants. And the 9-4 start came with Detroit going 8-1 against teams with a losing record and 1-3 against teams with a winning record. To date, the only wins for the Lions this year against a team with a winning record was a 20-17 home victory over 8-6-1 Washington where Detroit had the ball, down 4, at its own 25, with 1:05 remaining. The Lions have done well by beating bad teams, but if Detroit loses to Green Bay, that unlikely win over the Redskins will be the only impressive win the team has all year.

Eight teams have finished with a winning record, missed the playoffs, and also lost at least their last three games.

  • The final season of Dan Fouts’ career was an odd one. The 1987 Chargers lost their first game, but went 3-0 during the replacement games with Rick Neuheisel and Mike Kelly at quarterback. Then, with Fouts and the regular starters back, the Chargers ran their record to 8-1… before losing their final seven games of the season. San Diego went from 8-1 to eliminated from the playoffs even before the final game of the year, and ended with an 8-7 record.
  • The 1993  Dolphins began 9-2, even though Dan Marino was lost for the season after five games with a torn achilles.  But the 9th win came in the Leon Lett game, and Miami didn’t win another game the rest of the year, while the Cowboys didn’t lose another game that season.  A 5-game losing streak to end the season was particularly painful for the Dolphins, who lost a tiebreaker at 9-7 to two other AFC teams to miss the playoffs.
  • The 2008 Bucs collapsed down the stretch, which resulted in Jon Gruden  losing his job. Tampa Bay began 9-3, but lost their final four games in embarrassing fashion. The Bucs allowed three 4th quarter touchdowns to Carolina to lose 38-23, lost a heartbreaking in overtime to Atlanta, lost by 17 to the Chargers, and then blew a 10-point 4th quarter lead as 10.5-point favorites to the Raiders.
  • The 2002 Saints, 2000 Jets, 1996 Chiefs, 1971 Lions, and 1970 Cardinals all lost their final three games and missed the postseason.  New Orleans, New York, and Kansas City all started 9-4, while Detroit was 7-3-1 and St. Louis was 8-2-1.

[click to continue…]


Guest Post: Wide Receivers and the Hall of Fame

Today’s guest post comes from one of the longest followers of this blog (and its predecessor), Richie Wohlers. Richie is 44-year-old accountant from Southern California who is a Dolphins fan despite never being to Florida. As always, we thank our guest posters for contributing.

Previously, I looked at linebackers and centers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With Andre Johnson’s recent retirement announcement, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at wide receivers next. As before, I am just taking a look at post-merger players by using some objective factors to try to get a picture of what a typical HOFer looks like. Those factors are All-Pros, Pro Bowls, Weighted AV, Total AV, Super Bowl Appearances and Super Bowl wins). I am going to classify all players into a single position for simplicity. If you are interested in knowing the details of my calculation, see footnote.1

I explored the relationship between statistics (receptions, yards, touchdowns) and HOF induction for WRs, and it doesn’t improve the correlation. My “Career Score” is more aligned with HOF inductions than any single receiving statistic. The correlations are hurt by weak stats from HOFers like Swann and Hayes. And they are also hurt by big numbers from non-HOFers like Henry Ellard, Harold Jackson and Football Perspective hero Jimmy Smith. [click to continue…]

  1. Methodology: For All-Pros, Pro Bowls, Career AV and Total AV, I am looking at the average numbers for each player at his position. In an attempt to make the average HOFer at a position worth 100 points, I am assigning a weight of 16.6 for each category (16.6 times 6 categories equals 99.6 points). If an average player had 5.7 All Pros I divided 16.6 to get 2.9. So each All Pro is worth 2.9 points at that position. Super Bowls are the exception. I’m just going with a straight points system. One appearance is 8 points, 2 appearances is 14 points, 3 appearances is 18 points, and then 2 more points for each additional appearance. Super Bowl wins are worth 12, 20, 26, 30 and then 2 more per additional win. I add them up for a “Career Score”. []


Take a look at the Broncos pass defense this year, compared to the Broncos pass defense last year:

Year Tm G Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Y/A AY/A Y/C Y/G Rate Sk Yds NY/A ANY/A
2016 DEN 14 260 483 53.8 2562 10 2.1 12 2.5 5.8 5.1 10.7 183.0 67.5 40 221 4.9 4.2 7.6 72.16
Year Tm G Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Y/A AY/A Y/C Y/G Rate Sk Yds NY/A ANY/A
2015 DEN 16 344 573 60.0 3193 19 3.3 14 2.4 6.2 5.7 10.3 199.6 78.8 52 351 5.1 4.7 8.3 59.89

Three years ago, I looked at the Seattle pass defense and calculate how many standard deviations above average the Seahawks were. At the time, I compared them to an average of the other 31 defenses rather than an average of all 32 defenses, including themselves. I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer there, but I’m going to use the latter methodology today, which will explain why the numbers are slightly different.

Anyway, Seattle was 2.80 standard deviations above average in ANY/A allowed in 2013. That’s because Seattle’s pass defense allowed 3.19 ANY/A, while the league average was 5.89 ANY/A. That’s a difference of 2.70 ANY/A, and the standard deviation among the 32 pass defenses that year was 0.97. Divide 2.70 by 0.97, and you see that Seattle was 2.80 standard deviations above average.

The 2016 Broncos? They are allowing just 4.25 ANY/A. That is over a full yard “worse” than Seattle, but worse needs to be put in quotes. For starters, the league average is 6.25 ANY/A this year; in addition, the rest of the league is bunched together. The standard deviation for the 32 pass defenses is 0.74 ANY/A. That means the Broncos have a Z-Score of 2.69 standard deviations better than average (here, negative is better).

That puts Denver as the 5th best pass defense, by this metric, since 1970: [click to continue…]


In 2012, the Atlanta Falcons were 11-1 through 13 weeks, just like the Cowboys are this season. And just like this year, the NFC, no other team had more than 8 wins at that point, with an NFC West squad — then, the 49ers, this season, the Seahawks — holding the second best record at 8-3-1.

Through 13 weeks, how often does a team lead its conference by at least 2.5 games?  I am defining through 13 weeks to mean:

  • In 1993, to mean through 14 weeks, since there were two weeks of byes that year.
  • From 1970 to 1989, to mean through 12 weeks, since there were zero bye weeks before 1990.
  • From 1990 to 2016 (1993, excepted), to mean through 13 weeks! That’s simple, isn’t it?

That gives us 94 seasons to analyze conference data in the post-merger era. This year, the Cowboys are at +2.5, while the Raiders and Patriots are tied at 10-2 in the AFC; that means the AFC leader is at +0. On average, the #2 team in a conference has been 1.1 games behind the #1 team in the conference through 13 weeks. Here is the breakdown: [click to continue…]


The 0-11 Browns Are Looking To Challenge History

The Browns have lost their first 11 games of the season, becoming just the sixth team since 2000 to begin the season 0-11.

  • In 2008, the Lions went 0-16.
  • In 2007, the Dolphins began the year 0-13, and ended the streak with an overtime win against Baltimore in game fourteen.

I’m short on time today, so here’s a quick look at all teams that began the season 0-10, along with how long that streak continued, and which opponent broke the streak.

TeamYearFirst WinOppRecord
Cleveland Browns2016Game ??????
Oakland Raiders2014Game 11KAN3-13
Indianapolis Colts201114TEN2-14
Detroit Lions2008n/an/a0-16
Miami Dolphins200714BAL1-15
Detroit Lions200113MIN2-14
San Diego Chargers200012KAN1-15
Indianapolis Colts199711GNB3-13
Cincinnati Bengals199311RAI3-13
Indianapolis Colts198614ATL3-13
Buffalo Bills198412DAL2-14
Houston Oilers198411KAN3-13
Houston Oilers198311DET2-14
New Orleans Saints198015NYJ1-15
Tampa Bay Buccaneers197713NOR2-12
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1976n/an/a0-14
San Diego Chargers197512KAN2-12
Buffalo Bills197111NWE1-13
Philadelphia Eagles196812DET2-12
Oakland Raiders196214BOS1-13
Washington Redskins196114DAL1-12-1
Dallas Cowboys1960n/an/a0-11-1
Chicago Cardinals195312CHI1-10-1
Chicago Rockets194711BCL1-13
Brooklyn Tigers1944n/an/a0-10
Chi/Pit Cards/Steelers1944n/an/a0-10
Chicago Cardinals1943n/an/a0-10
Detroit Lions1942n/an/a0-11
Pittsburgh Pirates193911PHI1-9-1
Oorang Indians192311LOU1-10

The Chiefs have been the streak-breaker four times, but sadly for Cleveland fans, Kansas City is not on the schedule this year.


The Minnesota Vikings are the last undefeated and untied1 team in the NFL. Entering week 5, there were three undefeated teams, but the Broncos (Atlanta) and Eagles (Detroit) both lost on Sunday.

From 1970 to 2015, there were 43 times when there was one team standing as the lone unbeaten team remaining.2 How long did those teams remain undefeated? And how did their seasons ultimately end? Take a look: [click to continue…]

  1. Note: Throughout this post, I am using “undefeated” or “unbeaten” to mean no losses and no ties. []
  2. Obviously that means there were four seasons where that wasn’t the case. In 2014, the Bengals and Cardinals were the last two unbeaten teams, and lost in week 5. In 1990, the Giants and 49ers both went 10-0, but lost in their 11th game before their head-to-head matchup. And in 1970, the Broncos, Lions, and Rams entered week 4 undefeated, but all left week 4 with a loss. []

538: Analyzing The Eagles Surprising 3-0 Start

Today at 538: a look at some key numbers surrounding the Eagles hot start.

At 3-0, the Philadelphia Eagles are quickly gaining altitude.  Our preseason Elo ratings gave the Eagles a mere 1 percent chance to win the Super Bowl and a 27 percent probability of winning the NFC East; now those numbers are up to 6 percent and 59 percent, respectively.

Tom Brady’s suspension notwithstanding, three of the league’s other four current undefeated teams had much higher preseason Super Bowl odds: Denver was at 11 percent, with New England at 7 percent and Minnesota at 4 percent. Like Philly, Baltimore was at 1 percent — but at least they were not breaking in a new coach and a new quarterback. Philadelphia’s hot start is the one very few saw coming.

You can read the full article here.


The early AFL was unstable, which probably isn’t too surprising. This was most clear in 1963, which must be one of least sticky league seasons in pro sports.  The Oakland Raiders, under new coach Al Davis, jumped from 1-13 to 10-4. The San Diego Chargers, who added quarterback Tobin Rote and had a breakout season from second-year wide receiver Lance Alworth, went from 4-10 to 11-3 and league champions.

Meanwhile, three of the eight teams in the AFL had huge declines.

  • The Houston Oilers had been the class of the early AFL, winning the title in ’60 and ’61, before falling in the championship game in ’62. But in ’63, Houston dropped from 11-3 to 6-8.
  • Houston lost in the ’62 AFL title game to Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans, who went 11-3 behind coach Hank Stram and quarterback Len Dawson. But  after moving to Kansas City in the off-season, the team went just 5-7-2.
  • Denver went 7-7 in 1962,  with a pass offense and a pass defense that was both about average.  But in ’63, both ranked last in the league, and the Broncos fell to 2-11-1.

The graph below shows each team’s winning percentage in 1962 (on the Y-Axis) and in 1963 (the X-Axis), along with a trend line.  In a stable lead, the teams would form a diagonal line that starts on the bottom left and goes up to the bottom right; i.e., as win percentage rises in Year N, it rises it Year N+1. Yet here, the trend line is the exact opposite.  That’s because there was a strong negative correlation (-0.49) between winning percentage in the two years. [click to continue…]

Decker after another score

Decker after another score

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

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

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

  1. For Decker, I included 2016, but for every other player, I have not updated their numbers, if any, with the results of this year. []

538: Post-Week 1, 2016: Close Games Define Week 1

Today at 538, a look at why Week 1 (prior to Monday Night) was extraordinarily competitive:

But this year’s Week 1 results aren’t just close by Week 1 standards. The Broncos (over the Panthers), Bengals (Jets), Raiders (Saints) and Giants (Cowboys) all won by just 1 point: That’s the first time that four games in one week have been decided by a single point in 34 years.

Since 1993, only one week has been as close on average as the 5.1-point margin tallied so far on opening weekend — Week 5 of the 2001 season. Since 1993, the standard deviation of from the previously mentioned 11.6-point average margin of victory was 2.3 points. That makes this season’s Week 1 a true outlier: At 5.1 points (pending tonight’s games), it is 2.3 standard deviations from average. The graph below shows the average margin in each week of the regular season since 1993:

You can read the full article here. Good thing this was filed before Monday night’s games! The Steelers (38-16) and Rams (28-0) won by a combined 50 points, while the first 14 games were decided by just 72 combined points.

{ 1 comment }

Running Back Production By Birth Year

Barry Sanders was born in 1968. Emmitt Smith was born in 1969. The next two years were pretty quiet — Dorsey Levens and Garrison Hearst were born in ’70 and ’71 — but business was about to pick up. Terrell Davis and Jerome Bettis were born in 1972, and Curtis Martin, Eddie George, Marshall Faulk, and Priest Holmes were all born in 1973. That’s a 6-year period that gave us some of the most important running backs in NFL history.

And it came at a really important time. Because the previous five years were not nearly as fruitful.

  • In 1967, there were no notable1 running backs born.
  • In 1966, Thurman Thomas was born, but other than him, not much else.
  • In 1965, there were no notable running backs born.
  • In 1964, Neal Anderson2 was born and that’s about it.
  • In 1963, Rueben Mayes was the most notable running back born.

[click to continue…]

  1. Okay, this sounds kind of mean, but I mean notable in the sense of having historical importance to the game of football. []
  2. Note that the notable bar is very low. []
Previous Posts