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Look Who Is Alone In First Place In The AFC East

The New England Patriots are 0-1. The Dolphins, due to Hurricane Irma, have had their week 1 game postponed to week 11, giving Miami a week 1 bye. And the Jets and Bills square off in Buffalo today. The winner of that game will therefore be alone in first place in the division. Which is pretty unusual in the Tom Brady era.

The last time that Buffalo was alone in first place in the AFC East was after week 2 of the 2014 season, when the Bills were 2-0 and the rest of the division was 1-1. Before that, the last time was week 3 of 2011, and other than a few weeks during 2008 (the year Miami won the division and Matt Cassel started 15 games for New England), the only other times since 2001 were after the first two weeks of the 2003 season.

For the Jets, it’s been even longer. New York was last alone in first place in the division after week 6 of the 2010 season, when the Jets were 5-1 and the Patriots were 4-1 (a week later, both teams were 5-1). Since 2002, the only times the Jets have been alone in first place were weeks 11-13 of the 2008 season, weeks 2 and 3 of the 2009 season, and weeks 5 and 6 of the 2010 season.

Looking ahead to week 2, the Bills travel to Carolina while the Jets head to Oakland. So there’s a very good chance the winner of the Jets/Bills game will be 1-1 next week, and New England (playing in New Orleans) will either be 1-1 or 0-2. That would allow the Dolphins, with a win over the Chargers in the first NFL regular season game at the StubHub Center, to be alone in first place in the division. The last time that happened? Week 2 of the 2010 season, and before that, week 4 of the 2005 season! Yes, there has been exactly one week in the last 11 years where Miami was alone in first place (in 2008, the Dolphins never achieved that status, despite winning the division on a tiebreaker).

The graph below shows how many games above .500 each team in the AFC East after each week of the NFL season for the 2001 through 2016 seasons. The Bills and the Patriots share blue and red as their primary colors, but that’s not a huge issue in this chart. [click to continue…]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[click to continue…]

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Charlie Conerly and the Quarterbacks That Never Arrived

Back in the day, men were men and quarterbacks were Marlboro men.

You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Charlie Conerly. If you do, it’s probably in the context of his legacy as a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, the man who won a record four TD/INT crowns, or as the best quarterback from Ole Miss to lead the Giants to a title.

But here’s something you probably didn’t know about Conerly: he was the oldest quarterback in the NFL… for eight years.   Sammy Baugh retired after the 1952 season at the age of 38; after Baugh, the oldest two quarterbacks in the NFL were Bob Waterfield and Frankie Albert, each 32, and both of them retired after the season, too. That left a pair of 31-year-olds as the elder statements of the NFL arms race: Otto Graham, born in December 1921, and Conerly, born in September 1921.

So in 1953, a 32 years old Conerly was the oldest quarterback in the NFL, thanks to a three month edge over Graham. The NFL was a young man’s league back then, at least at quarterback: no other starter was in his 30s, and only one other regular starter was older than 27. The gap would only grow over time. Graham retired in 1955; in 1956, Conerly was 35, and the next oldest quarterbacks were all 30 years old: Bobby Layne, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, George Ratterman, and Harry Gilmer.  In 1960, the oldest four QBs in the league were Conerly at 39, and Van Brocklin, Layne, and Tittle at 34 (yes, no 36-year-old quarterback magically appeared).  In ’61, the three oldest quarterbacks in the NFL were Conerly at 40, and Tittle and Layne at 35; by then, Van Brocklin was coaching the Vikings. Conerly retired after the 1961 season. [click to continue…]

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Inexperienced Receiving Games

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

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

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

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

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Throwbacks: ’85 Bears Caught In A Miami Vise

I love reading old articles, and reading old articles about football history is a particular passion of mine. This is the second installment of a new feature at Football Perspective: reviews of historical articles. Today’s content is four articles in one, all published in the Chicago Tribune on December 3rd, 1985. Hours earlier, the 12-0 Bears lost as 2-point favorites in Miami to the 8-4 Dolphins, 38-24, ending Chicago’s perfect season. You can read all four articles here: I recommend you read them before going on.

The four articles are “Bears squeezed in Miami vise” by Don Pierson, “Only thing Bears lost was hint of immortality” by Bernie Lincicome, “No McMiracle in late show” by Bob Verdi, and “Dolphins roll out anti-blitz offense” by Ed Sherman.

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Bears squeezed in Miami vise (Pierson)

The Bears convinced the National Football League they are perfectly human Monday night when the Miami Dolphins ruined their perfect season and preserved history for themselves with a 38-24 victory.

The Bears’ 12-game winning streak and dreams of an undefeated season turned to a nightmare with a 31-point onslaught by quarterback Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the first half.
….
The noisy Orange Bowl crowd of 75,594 counted down the seconds and hailed the 1972 Dolphins as the last unbeaten (17-0) team.

Walter Payton got his record-breaking eighth 100-yard game in a row only because the Bears called time out three times in the final minute when the Dolphins had the ball. Payton finished with 121 yards in 23 carries and curiously carried only 10 times in the first half.

“Walter Payton is the greatest football player to ever play the game. Other people who call themselves running backs can’t carry his jersey,” said Ditka.

[click to continue…]

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White crushes the Falcons

The 2016 Falcons were really good, and were really, really, really close to winning the Super Bowl. The Falcons had one of the most heartbreaking ends to a season in NFL history: at one point, the Falcons had a 499-in-500 shot of winning it all, and still lost. Can they possibly recover from this?

My first thought, honestly, was no. How could they? This was arguably the biggest gut punch in history: has any team, in any professional sport, at any time, been 99.8% likely to win a championship and then fail to do so?

But then I remembered the 1996 Broncos. Do you remember that team? Woody Paige wrote an article previewing the Broncos/Jaguars playoff matchup that well, you can read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, the Broncos weren’t supposed to be challenged. The Broncos clinched the 1 seed early thanks to a 12-1 record, and were expected to ride to the Super Bowl unchallenged. Instead, a shocking upset left head coach Mike Shannahan saying “This is going to hurt and this is going to hurt for a long time.”

The Broncos, having already lost three Super Bowls with lesser teams, were supposed to finally win it all under John Elway. Instead, they had a heartbreaking loss… and responded by winning the next two Super Bowls.

How about the 2004 Steelers? Pittsburgh had gone 15-1 that year under rookie Ben Roethlisberger, and hosted the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Pittsburgh, thanks to future New England killer Plaxico Burress, dominated the Patriots during the regular season. The Steelers had already lost AFC Championship Games at home to San Diego (’94), Denver (’97), and New England (’01) under Bill Cowher, along with the Super Bowl against the Cowboys. But with the best quarterback of the Cowher era — and Roethlisberger entered the game with a 15-0 career record– things were supposed to be different.

And yet, for the fourth time in 11 years, Pittsburgh lost at home in the AFC Championship Game, a heartbreaking finish to a season. If not then, when could the Cowher Steelers ever win it all?

Well, the next year, in fact.

The ’87 49ers were the best team in the NFL, and arguably the best team of the 49ers dynasty. But that San Francisco team was stunned in the playoffs:

Sitting through the shock at the bay is how San Francisco 49ers fans will remember a certain playoff Saturday, an occasion that was supposed to have been a walk through Candlestick Park on the way to San Diego and the Super Bowl.

Instead, the 49ers will have to live with the final score and the indignity of the season that was theirs for the taking, or so it seemed.

The Minnesota Vikings, league wild cards and everyone else’s discards, pulled off what others deemed impossible. Not only did the Vikings defeat the 49ers, 36-24, before a crowd of 62,547, they defeated them soundly and advanced to the National Football Conference championship game next week.

San Francisco, admittedly, was different than Atlanta, Denver, or Pittsburgh because the 49ers had already won two Super Bowls (although some of the names had changed). Still, this was a heartbreaking loss, and the team responded by winning the next two Super Bowls.

And how about the Tom Landry Cowboys? In ’66, Dallas lost a heartbreaker in the NFL Championship Game to the Packers (Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl I two weeks later). In ’67, Dallas lost another heartbreaker in the NFL Championship Game — aka, the Ice Bowl — to the Packers (Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl II two weeks later). The next year, a 12-2 Cowboys lost in the playoffs to Cleveland. In 1969, an 11-2-1 Cowboys team lost at home in the playoffs to Cleveland. Then, in 1970, Dallas exercised their playoff demons and made it to the Super Bowl.

In that game, the Cowboys led 13-6 entering the 4th quarter, and Baltimore star Johnny Unitas had been knocked out of the game. With 9 minutes to go, Dallas had the ball and a touchdown lead… and then disaster struck: a Craig Morton interception led to a short touchdown, and another Morton interception led to a last second game-winning field goal. If Dallas couldn’t win it all then, when could they?

The next year, as it turns out. Dallas made it all the way back, and then beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. And it’s worth noting that the Cowboys lost in Super Bowl V to the Colts… a team that two years earlier had their own heartbreak to deal with. [click to continue…]

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Throwbacks: Dr. Z On Roger Staubach’s Retirement

I love reading old articles, and reading old articles about football history is a particular passion of mine. As much time as I spend working on era-based adjustments, you can’t beat reading about a player in (his) real time. So I’m introducing a new feature at Football Perspective: reviews of historical articles. Today’s content comes from the great Dr. Z in April 1980, and it covers the retirement of Roger Staubach. I recommend you read the whole article first.

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So long, Roger, we gave you a bum deal, kid. For openers, we never picked you All-Pro. That’s we, the writers, the pickers, the guys who vote on the AP and Pro Football Writers ballots. Now that’s a bad call right away, because all you did was end up as the NFL’s top-rated passer—in history, the whole 59 years. Higher than Unitas, than Tarkenton or Jurgensen, than Tittle or Baugh. And you quarterbacked the Cowboys in four of their five Super Bowls, winning twice. And brought the team from behind to victory 14 times in the last two minutes or in overtime, 23 times in the fourth quarter. Hey, what does a guy have to do?

All of those facts are true, of course. Let’s go in order. [click to continue…]

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Best Non-Record Breaking Seasons: Passing

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

I thought this was a fun one:

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

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

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

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

Starr vs. Bradshaw

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

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

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Missing Links In The Dynasty Chain, Part IV

On Tuesday, we looked at three of the best teams on three of the greatest dynasties in football history: the ’53 Browns, the ’87 49ers, and the ’07 Patriots. Wednesday, the focus shifted to Lombardi’s ’64 Packers, while yesterday we looked at the ’76 Steelers. Today, we complete the series with some notes on the ’94 Cowboys, and how Dallas not only nearly became the first team to win three Super Bowls in a row, but the first team to win four.

Switzer wasn’t able to sustain Johnson’s success

Dallas won the Super Bowl after the ’92, ’93, and ’95 seasons, and lost in the NFC Championship Game against the ’49ers after the ’94 season. Given that the Super Bowl would have been against the Chargers, there’s little doubt that the Cowboys would have been Super Bowl champs had they defeated San Francisco. Back then, the NFC Championship Game — which was between the 49ers and Cowboys three straight years — was the Super Bowl. So was the ’94 version of the Cowboys worse than the other three teams? Let’s look at the rosters. [click to continue…]

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Missing Links In The Dynasty Chain, Part III

On Tuesday, we looked at three of the best teams on three of the greatest dynasties in football history: the ’53 Browns, the ’87 49ers, and the ’07 Patriots. Yesterday, the focus was on the ’64 Packers, a talent-rich team sandwiched around repeat champions from ’61-’62 and ’65-’67. All four teams were dynasties with Hall of Fame coaches and quarterbacks, and that trend continues today with a look at the ’70s Steelers, and the historic combination  Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw.

And as with the Packers, we will look at a Steelers team that didn’t win the Super Bowl but was in the middle of the team’s dynastic run.You know that Pittsburgh won four Super Bowl titles in six years, but less understood is how the team evolved over that period.

Four of the Steelers Hall of Famers were drafted in 1974, the year of the team’s first championship. Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, and Mike Webster were all green 22 years olds that season, and only Lambert was a major contributor as a rookie; Stallworth, Swann, and Webster combined to start just six other games.

Noll and Bradshaw didn’t always see eye to eye, but they usually won.

A fifth Hall of Famer, QB Terry Bradshaw, was drafted in 1970, but he was far from Terry Bradshaw even five years into his career.  The ’74 Steelers featured one of the worst passing attacks to ever win the Super Bowl, and Bradshaw’s passing numbers were below average in each of the first five seasons of his career.  In fact, it was Joe Gilliam who won the training camp battle for the starting job; Bradshaw didn’t even start the first six games of the 1974 season.  Four years later, he was the AP MVP.

What about the rest of those famous Steelers? RB Franco Harris was drafted in 1972; he was an immediate star, and made his third straight Pro Bowl in ’74.  LB Jack Ham was drafted a year earlier, and he made the first of six straight AP 1st-team All-Pro teams in ’74 (and the second of eight straight Pro Bowls).

In 1970, Pittsburgh drafted not just Bradshaw, but Mel Blount. The famed cornerback was a full-time starter his first five seasons, but he didn’t make his first Pro Bowl or earn any All-Pro recognition until 1975, when he led the league with 11 interceptions.  And in 1969, the Steelers drafted DT Joe Greene and the best Steeler with four rings not in the Hall of Fame, DE L.C. Greenwood.  Both were in their prime by ’74.

So while the ’74 Steelers had the names, only half of them had actually developed into stars by 1974. Stallworth, Swann, Webster were reserves, Bradshaw had been benched and underperformed, and Blount had yet to break out. The ’74 team went 10-3-1 and had an SRS of +6.8; the ’75 version was much, much better: that team went 12-2 and had an SRS of +14.2, and rested starters and lost the final game of the regular season. And the ’76 version? Well, after a very rough start, it finished with an SRS of +15.3, the best in Pittsburgh history.

So when it comes to missing rings, the obvious starting place to look is the ’76 Steelers. The ’73 Steelers were far too young, while the ’80 Steelers were over the hill; the only other choice would be the ’77 squad, but that one was doomed before the season even started, with the team chemistry hindered by lawsuits and holdouts. No, the Steelers team that should have won it all — but didn’t — was perhaps the best Pittsburgh team in franchise history. [click to continue…]

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Missing Links In The Dynasty Chain, Part II

Yesterday, we looked at the three of the best dynasties in NFL history, and one of the very best teams on each of those dynasties that somehow fell short of winning it all. For the ’07 Patriots and ’87 49ers, shocking playoff losses as double-digit favorites were the the result of ferocious pass rush engineered by the Giants and Vikings, respectively. For the ’87 49ers and ’53 Browns, these losses were followed by back-to-back championships, signs of the talent-laden rosters these teams possessed. And for the ’53 and ’07 Patriots, all-time great seasons by all-time great quarterbacks ended with bitter disappointment.

Today? A look at yet another dynastic team that had all the talent in the world, sandwiched between its inexperienced championship teams of yesteryear and its aging veteran championship rosters of tomorrow.

1964 Packers

Even these two couldn’t save the 1964 Packers.

Yesterday, we talked Brady/Belichick, Montana/Walsh, and Graham/Brown. Today we focus on one of the only other coach and quarterback combinations that can compare to those three. The Packers won their first title in the Vince Lombardi / Bart Starr era in 1961. The 1962 Packers may have been the greatest team in NFL history. In 1963, the Packers again led the NFL in the Simple Rating System, and ranked in the top 2 in points and points allowed. The problem for Green Bay? The Chicago Bears had one of the greatest defenses in NFL history: the Bears led the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, turnovers forced, net yards per attempt allowed, passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and yards per carry allowed. Green Bay finished 11-2-1, with both losses coming to Chicago (including one game that Bart Starr missed).  And, of course, in 1965, 1966, and 1967, the Packers three-peated as NFL champions.  By ’68, Lombardi was gone, and the Packers Hall of Famers were largely retired or past their prime.

So what rings did the Packers miss? There are only three years from which to choose: ’60, ’63, and ’64.  In 1960, Green Bay made it to the title game, but that team was the baby Packers. There were 13 all-time great players to play for the ’60s Packers, and 12 of those made it to the Hall of Fame. Here is how old each player was in ’60, ’63, and ’64. [click to continue…]

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Missing Links In The Dynasty Chain, Part I

A decade ago, NFL Networking aired a series called America’s Game: The Missing Rings, looking at five great NFL teams that failed to win a Super Bowl. These were the Minnesota Vikings from 1969 and 1998, the 1981 Chargers, the 1988 Bengals, and the 1990 Bills. None of those franchises have ever won a Super Bowl, but those five teams all came very close to winning or at least making a Super Bowl.

But what about the 6 great pro football dynasties since World War II? The ’50s Browns, ’60s Packers, ’70s Steelers, ’80s 49ers, ’90s Cowboys, and modern Patriots all had (at least) one great team that failed to win it all, too. We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the great Brady/Belichick, Graham/Brown, and Montana/Walsh teams that didn’t win it all. But in some cases, those were the very best teams they ever fielded.

2007 Patriots

You know the story. New England became the first and only team to ever go 16-0, and the first and only team to ever outscore its opponents by 300 points. QB Tom Brady was the NFL MVP, and WR Randy Moss, LT Matt Light, LB Mike Vrabel and CB Asante Samuel were all 1st-team All-Pros. WR Wes Welker led the NFL in receptions, and G Logan Mankins, C Dan Koppen, and NT Vince Wilfork all made the Pro Bowl (and the defense also had veteran stars in LB Junior Seau, DE Richard Seymour, and S Rodney Harrison). The year before, without Moss and Welker, the Patriots nearly won the Super Bowl: New England lost in the AFC Championship Game to the Colts, a game the Patriots led 21-3 early on. [click to continue…]

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The 1987 MVP Award: Rice, Montana, and Elway

Two of the most valuable players from 1987.

In 1987, the Associated Press voters were faced with a difficult choice. This was a year disrupted by the players’ strike, which led to a 15-game season that included three games featuring replacement players. Jerry Rice was the rare unanimous first-team All-Pro selection at wide receiver, courtesy of a record-breaking 22 touchdown receptions in 12 games.  How remarkable was that? Eagles receiver Mike Quick was second in the league in receiving touchdowns with *11*, and no other player had more than 8!  And for good measure, Rice scored a 23rd touchdown on a rush against the Falcons.

And it’s not as though all Rice did was catch touchdowns. Cardinals wide receiver J.T. Smith crossed the picket line and played in all 15 games; he wound up leading the league in receiving yards, but Rice led the NFL in receiving yards per game for the second straight season.  A remarkable year from the greatest receiver in NFL history is certainly worthy of MVP honors.

The biggest threat to Rice capturing the MVP award appeared to be his own quarterback, Joe Montana.  The 49ers lost on opening day in Pittsburgh, but the 49ers went 10-0 in Montana’s remaining starts.  In part, this is because this was a dominant San Francisco team on both sides of the ball, but Montana led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdowns, touchdown rate, and passer rating.  He also ranked 2nd in ANY/A, behind Cleveland’s Bernie Kosar (the Browns went 8-4 in his starts, and Kosar received minimal MVP attention). Montana had three 4th quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives, while Kosar had none.  And in a head-to-head game on Sunday Night Football, Montana outclassed Kosar. And Montana was Montana, so it’s no surprise that peak Montana on a 10-game winning streak was considered the best quarterback in the NFL. [click to continue…]

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Today’s guest post comes from hscer, a frequent commenter here at Football Perspective. Hscer is starting a project on his website, MVPQB.Blogspot.com, where he is working on his most valuable quarterback for each season since 1951. Here’s a sample chapter today: as always, we thank our guest posters for their contributions.


 “When .500 is a Miracle” – The Giants trade a number of picks for Fran Tarkenton and immediately go from a one-win team to a .500 club.

The Stats

Unitas (AP1): 255-436 (58.5%) 3428 yards (7.86 y/a) 20 TD 16 INT, 83.6 rating, 7.13 AY/A, 11-1-2 record in starts (4 4QC, 3 GWD). Rushing: 89 yards on 22 attempts (4.0 avg.), 0 TD, 4 fumbles.

Tarkenton (MVQB): 204-377 (54.1%) 3088 yards (8.19 y/a) 29 TD 19 INT, 85.9 rating, 7.46 AY/A, 7-7 record in starts (2 4QC, 2 GWD). Rushing: 306 yards on 44 attempts (7.0 avg.), 2 TD, 4 fumbles.

The Argument

For older selections, I’ve often deferred to the AP when they pass over a quarterback on a weaker team to give their All-Pro nod to an established star on a great squad. I won’t do that here.

The 1966 Giants went 1-12-1. Much of that was due to a putrid defense which allowed 501 points, many of them in an infamous 72-41 loss to the Redskins. But the offense could not be absolved from blame. Gary Wood, Earl Morrall, and Tom Kennedy split time at quarterback, and no rusher exceeded 327 yards. As a result, New York was 12th in the 15-team NFL with 263 points scored, and 8th in yards. Just two seasons later, Morrall would be putting up Unitas-like numbers on Unitas’ own team.

In ’66, New York’s top 5 pass receivers were Homer Jones, Joe Morrison, Aaron Thomas, Chuck Mercein, and Bobby Crespino. In ’67, they were Thomas, Jones, Morrison, Ernie Koy, and Tucker Frederickson, the last two of which were also on the ’66 squad. Four starting offensive linemen returned, and the only new one was 1966 eighth-round pick RT Charlie Harper. [click to continue…]

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Today’s guest post comes from hscer, a frequent commenter here at Football Perspective. Hscer is starting a project on his website, MVPQB.Blogspot.com, where he is working on his most valuable quarterback for each season since 1951. Here’s a sample chapter today: as always, we thank our guest posters for their contributions.


“Say What?” – Was Ken O’Brien really better than Dan Marino at any point in time? For one season, he at least had an argument.

The Stats

Marino (AP1): 336-567 (59.3%) 4137 yards (7.30 y/a) 30 TD 21 INT, 84.1 rating, sacked 18-157, 6.21 ANY/A, 12-4 record in starts (4 4QB, 6 GWD). Rushing: -24 yards on 26 attempts (-0.9 avg.), 0 TD, 9 fumbles.

O’Brien (MVQB): 297-488 (60.9%) 3888 yards (7.97 y/a) 25 TD 8 INT, 96.2 rating, sacked 62-399, 6.60 ANY/A, 11-5 record in starts (1 4QC, 1 GWD). Rushing: 58 yards on 25 attempts (2.3 avg., 0 TD, 14 fumbles.

The Argument

Yes, really. Even though Ken O’Brien took far too many sacks in ’85—62 to be exact, losing 399 yards—when he got the ball off, he was better than Marino. Even when he didn’t, his passing edge was large enough to secure a higher ANY/A than The Man in Miami. Dan Fouts was another reasonable selection despite missing four games by throwing for 3638 yards and 27 TD with a league-leading 7.02 ANY/A in the games he did play, but this year comes down to Marino and O’Brien.

Dan Marino was coming off of the greatest season an NFL quarterback has ever enjoyed in 1984, still the best ever in my opinion. This likely helped his cause. It didn’t help O’Brien’s cause that he had one of the ugliest season debuts you can imagine. In a 31-0 loss to the Raiders, he was 16-29 for 192 yards, 0 TD, 2 interceptions, and sacked a whopping 10 times for -61 yards, producing an adjusted net yards per attempt of 1.05. In the final 15 games, his ANY/A was 7.14, but the first game counts all the same. [click to continue…]

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Today’s guest post comes from hscer, a frequent commenter here at Football Perspective. Hscer is starting a project on his website, MVPQB.Blogspot.com, where he is working on his most valuable quarterback for each season since 1951. Here’s a sample chapter today: as always, we thank our guest posters for their contributions.


“When Fifth is First” – Maybe fifth is unkind to Gannon’s 2000 season, but he certainly wasn’t the best or even top three.

The Stats

Let’s begin with a look at the stats from six of the top quarterbacks from 2000: Rich Gannon, Peyton Manning, Daunte Culpepper, Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia, and Brian Griese.

QuarterbackCmp-Att-(%)-YdY/ATDINTPassRtSk-SkYdANY/AW-L4Q/GWRshYd-Rsh-YPC-TDFumDYARDVOA
Gannon (AP1)284-473-(60.0%)-34307.25281192.428-1246.7312-43/4529-89-5.9-49105221.4
Manning (MVQB)357-571-(62.5%)-44137.73331594.720-1317.2210-62/3116-37-3.1-15188838.3
Culpepper297-474-(62.7%)-39378.3133169834-1817.2811-53/4470-89-5.3-711135230.1
Warner235-347-(67.7%)-34299.88211898.320-1157.978-31/217-18-0.9-0492328.0
Garcia355-561-(63.3%)-42787.63311097.624-1557.346-100/0414-72-5.8-47164231.8
Griese216-336-(64.3%)-26888194102.917-1397.797-30/1102-29-3.5-15106234.7

The Argument

Gannon’s win here is baffling when you look at the stats in this context: he ranks 5th in DYAR, and 6th in Y/A, ANY/A, Passer Rating, and DVOA. So why did the Associated Press, along with Pro Football Weekly / Pro Football Writers of America and The Sporting News select Gannon as their first-team All-Pro quarterback?

Well, four teams went 12-4 or better, including Gannon’s Raiders. The other three teams had Kerry Collins, Steve McNair, and the
Tony BanksTrent Dilfer combo at quarterback, and Gannon had the best numbers of that group. But even for media types, it usually takes a little more than wins to clinch these awards. McNair, with 2847 yards and 15 TD on the 13-3 defending AFC Champion Titans, was likely not considered by anyone. [click to continue…]

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The top QB/WR duo by touchdowns, and another top-10 combo.

Three years ago, I looked at the top quarterback/receiving pairings in terms of total passing touchdowns between the two players. Per a comment suggestion, let’s update that list today. The top two pairs have not changed, but there has been some movement in the top ten.

Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have now connected for 84 passing touchdowns, all of which came in the regular season. The list below includes the playoffs, and Young and Rice have combined for 85 regular season touchdown passes and 7 playoff scores. That means Rivers and Gates are two more touchdowns away from the second most regular season touchdowns in NFL history. Gates is tied for 6th all time in receiving touchdowns (111) with Tony Gonzalez: despite that, Gates has connected with a touchdown more often with Rivers than Gonzalez has with both Matt Ryan and Trent Green combined.

There’s another tight end duo creeping up the list: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have connected for 76 touchdowns, tied for fifth place on the list. Also at 76 touchdowns: Marques Colston and Drew Brees. The interesting note there: Colston retired without ever catching a touchdown pass from anyone besides Brees.

The table below shows the full list for combinations that have at least 25 touchdown strikes: [click to continue…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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. []
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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…]

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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…]

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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. []
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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…]

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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…]

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Return Touchdowns Were Way Down in 2016

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

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

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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…]

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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…]

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