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Most Memorable Plays For Each AFC Team

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

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

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Why Do Teams Run The Ball, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

[click to continue…]

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Best Quadruplets in NFL History (Single-Season)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guest Post/Contest: PFRWhacks

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[click to continue…]

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s take a look at the league average dropbacks (pass attempts + sacks) per game for each year from 1950 to 2014.

dropback per game [click to continue…]

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You remember 1976, don’t you? Two teams — the Colts with Bert Jones and Roger Carr, and the Raiders with Ken Stabler and Cliff Branch — stood out from the pack when it came to pass efficiency that season. The Colts led the NFL in passing yards, ranked 2nd in passing touchdowns, and threw just 10 interceptions, tied for the fewest in the NFL. Oakland threw 33 touchdown passes — nine more than the Colts and 12 more than any other team in football — while ranking 3rd in passing yards. Both teams averaged 7.5 Net Yards per Pass Attempt, while every other team was below seven in that metric. Those two teams went a combined 24-4.

The next four best passing teams were St. Louis, Dallas, Minnesota and Los Angeles. Each of those teams went 10-4 or better. In fact, the linear relationship between pass efficiency and team record was quite strong that year. Take a look at the chart below, which plots Relative ANY/A — i.e., Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt relative to league average — on the X-Axis, and Winning Percentage on the Y-Axis: [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I looked at the best defenses in football history in terms of (estimated) points allowed on an (estimated) per drive basis. Today, the reverse: the worst defenses in history, at least, without adjusting for era, in terms of points allowed per drive.

The 1981 Colts take the top spot, and that’s not going to be a surprise to any fan of NFL history. Those Colts teams were terrible, particularly on defense. In ’81, Baltimore beat New England 29-28 in week 1, beat New England 23-21 in the last game of the season, and lost every game in between. In ’82, Baltimore finished 0-8-1. In fact, beginning in December 1980, over the team’s next 31 games, the Colts went 3-1 against the Patriots and 0-26-1 against the rest of the NFL! And beginning in ’81, the Colts went 24 straight games without being favored.

The ’81 Colts finished last in just about every defensive category, including points, yards, turnovers, first downs, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, and net yards per attempt. Baltimore’s defense ranked in the bottom three in both rushing yards and passing yards, too. Baltimore allowed 533 points, which remains the most in a single season in NFL history, undisturbed by the modern era. [click to continue…]

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The Purple People Eaters

The Purple People Eaters

The 1969 Minnesota Vikings were really good on defense. It began with the defensive line, as that Minnesota squad was the only team in NFL history to send all four defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl. Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen may have been the greatest combination of defensive linemen playing together in their primes in NFL history. The Vikings also had Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause playing in the prime of his career.

Minnesota was quarterback by Joe Kapp, but propped up by the defense: after the season, Kapp was traded to the Patriots, and proceeded to suffer the second worst decline in passer rating in NFL history. The Vikings went 12-2 that season, losing on opening day and in a meaningless game at the end of the year.

Minnesota allowed just 133 points, or 9.5 points per game, in 1969. That’s the 2nd fewest in a season since World War II, trailing only the Gritz Blitz 1977 Falcons. The Vikings allowed 16 touchdowns in 1969, but four came on returns (two on interceptions, one fumble, one interception)! Exclude those, and the Vikings allowed just 84 points on touchdowns and 21 points on field goals, for a total of 105 points allowed to the opposing offense. [click to continue…]

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As regular readers know, PFR’s Approximate Value statistic uses Offensive Points Per Estimated Drive (OPPED) as its base statistic. Given the discussion yesterday regarding estimates drives and scoring, I thought it would be useful to provide a list of the single-season leaders since 1950 in this metric.

Let’s use the 2007 Patriots as an example. For modern teams, we have the data available on how many drives each team had, but for historical teams, it’s not so easy. There are two ways we can measure drives for all teams. One is to measure the end of drives. For example, the ’07 Patriots had:

  • 50 passing touchdowns;
  • 9 interceptions;
  • 17 rushing touchdowns;
  • 24 field goal attempts;
  • 45 punts;
  • 6 fumbles lost; and
  • 0 safeties (i.e., the offense was never sacked in the end zone)

That gives us a total of 151 estimated drives. What we’re missing here are drives that end when the clock runs out and turnovers on downs. Unfortunately, that data is simply not out there historically, although it’s probably not all that important (and, at least with respect to the former, those drives arguably should be excluded, anyway).

We can also measure the start of drives.  The ’07 Patriots:

  • Played 16 games, which means 16 times where the team received the ball at the start of each half;
  • Recorded 0 safeties recorded on defense (which would lead to a possession);
  • Allowed 23 passing touchdowns;
  • Forced 19 interceptions;
  • Allowed 7 rushing touchdowns;
  • Faced 14 opponent field goal attempts;
  • Forced 76 punts;
  • Forced and recovered 12 fumbles.
  • In addition, New England also had 3 pick sixes and returned 3 fumbles for touchdowns.  as a result, we need to subtract 6 from our total, since those turnovers did not lead to drives for the offense.

This method of estimating drives isn’t perfect, either, but if we average the two results, hopefully we get something pretty close.  New England’s offense had 161 estimated drives by this metric, giving them an averaged of 156 estimated offensive drives.1

What about estimated points? That one is relatively simple:

  • Award 7 points for each rushing touchdown or passing touchdown;
  • Award 3 points for each made field goal

There are flaws here, well, but this is probably the best we can do.  By this method, New England had 532 estimated offensive points, and 3.41 OPPED.  That is the most of any team since 1950.  The full list:

RkTeamYrLgEst Drive (End)Est Drive (St)Est OptsOPPED
1New England Patriots2007NFL1511615323.41
2New Orleans Saints2011NFL1621675183.15
3Green Bay Packers2011NFL1621735133.06
4Minnesota Vikings1998NFL1681685113.04
5Indianapolis Colts2004NFL1581704872.97
6Denver Broncos2013NFL1901995722.94
7New England Patriots2010NFL1491684582.89
8St. Louis Rams2000NFL1701875132.87
9San Diego Chargers1982NFL991022862.85
10New England Patriots2012NFL1721815002.83
11Green Bay Packers2014NFL1521634452.83
12New England Patriots2011NFL1661764832.82
13Miami Dolphins1984NFL1651874962.82
14Indianapolis Colts2007NFL1511554262.78
15San Francisco 49ers1994NFL1601754652.78
16Indianapolis Colts2006NFL1441594142.73
17Kansas City Chiefs2004NFL1631764572.7
18San Francisco 49ers1993NFL1551684332.68
19St. Louis Rams2001NFL1731774682.67
20Indianapolis Colts2005NFL1461634122.67
21Dallas Cowboys2014NFL1661694462.66
22San Diego Chargers2009NFL1501644182.66
23Denver Broncos1998NFL1741874752.63
24San Francisco 49ers1992NFL1491644112.63
25San Diego Chargers2006NFL1711874702.63
26Dallas Cowboys1995NFL1541594102.62
27New Orleans Saints2008NFL1611794442.61
28New England Patriots2014NFL1641714342.59
29Green Bay Packers1962NFL1501563952.58
30San Diego Chargers2008NFL1531654102.58
31Kansas City Chiefs2002NFL1601844402.56
32Washington Redskins1983NFL1962055122.55
33Washington Redskins1991NFL1721814502.55
34Houston Oilers1961AFL1871974892.55
35San Diego Chargers2004NFL1651744312.54
36New Orleans Saints2009NFL1701854512.54
37Houston Oilers1990NFL1491613922.53
38San Francisco 49ers1984NFL1731814462.52
39St. Louis Rams1999NFL1741804452.51
40San Diego Chargers2010NFL1661664172.51
41Minnesota Vikings2009NFL1721864492.51
42Indianapolis Colts2003NFL1661754262.5
43Denver Broncos2014NFL1731934572.5
44New England Patriots2008NFL1531694022.5
45New England Patriots2004NFL1601624012.49
46Jacksonville Jaguars2007NFL1461643852.48
47New England Patriots2009NFL1571714072.48
48Dallas Cowboys2007NFL1681774282.48
49Cincinnati Bengals2005NFL1601744132.47
50San Francisco 49ers1989NFL1671814302.47
51New York Giants2012NFL1621684072.47
52Green Bay Packers2009NFL1721784312.46
53San Diego Chargers2011NFL1531603852.46
54Oakland Raiders2002NFL1581734072.46
55New Orleans Saints2013NFL1611774152.46
56Cincinnati Bengals1988NFL1671764212.45
57San Francisco 49ers1987NFL1721814332.45
58San Diego Chargers1981NFL1892014772.45
59Buffalo Bills1990NFL1561683962.44
60San Diego Chargers2013NFL1551643892.44
61Kansas City Chiefs2003NFL1761854402.44
62Atlanta Falcons2012NFL1631714072.44
63San Francisco 49ers1998NFL1872024742.44
64New York Giants2008NFL1581724022.44
65Buffalo Bills1991NFL1731884392.43
66Minnesota Vikings2004NFL1481673832.43
67Indianapolis Colts2009NFL1581703982.43
68San Francisco 49ers1953NFL1461563662.42
69Green Bay Packers1961NFL1471533632.42
70Miami Dolphins1986NFL1701834272.42
71Seattle Seahawks2005NFL1761824322.41
72Detroit Lions1995NFL1681864272.41
73Baltimore Colts1976NFL1641764102.41
74Los Angeles Rams1950NFL1801804342.41
75New Orleans Saints2014NFL1591734002.41
76Minnesota Vikings2000NFL1601683952.41
77San Francisco 49ers1995NFL1611683962.41
78Baltimore Colts1964NFL1641764082.4
79Indianapolis Colts2014NFL1831904472.4
80Kansas City Chiefs1966AFL1711774162.39
81New Orleans Saints2012NFL1741834252.38
82Oakland Raiders2000NFL1721874262.37
83Buffalo Bills1975NFL1651774052.37
84Miami Dolphins1972NFL1521633732.37
85Indianapolis Colts2008NFL1361523402.36
86Los Angeles Rams1951NFL1611573752.36
87Dallas Cowboys1966NFL1711754082.36
88Carolina Panthers2011NFL1641713952.36
89Cleveland Browns1966NFL1561703842.36
90Pittsburgh Steelers2014NFL1581723882.35
91Indianapolis Colts2010NFL1681734002.35
92Denver Broncos2000NFL1701894212.35
92Denver Broncos2012NFL1741854212.35
94Houston Texans2010NFL1551773892.34
95Green Bay Packers2012NFL1691784062.34
96Baltimore Colts1958NFL1481643652.34
97New York Giants1963NFL1731794112.34
98San Diego Chargers2005NFL1731754062.33
99Washington Redskins2012NFL1601783942.33
100San Francisco 49ers2001NFL1621733902.33
101Green Bay Packers1995NFL1641773962.32
102Detroit Lions1972NFL1361523332.31
103Chicago Bears2013NFL1671733932.31
104Cincinnati Bengals1982NFL91972172.31
105Baltimore Ravens2014NFL1571803882.3
106Seattle Seahawks2012NFL1541703732.3
106New York Giants1967NFL1561683732.3
108New York Jets1982NFL1001052362.3
109Indianapolis Colts2000NFL1691824042.3
110Cincinnati Bengals1985NFL1771964292.3
111New England Patriots2013NFL1821854222.3
112Cleveland Browns1960NFL1321433162.3
113Philadelphia Eagles2013NFL1811904262.3
114Carolina Panthers1999NFL1751834112.3
115Seattle Seahawks2014NFL1541713732.3
116Miami Dolphins1995NFL1681713892.29
117Denver Broncos1997NFL1651833992.29
118Cleveland Browns1964NFL1501643602.29
119Dallas Texans1962AFL1621803922.29
120Green Bay Packers2007NFL1681763942.29
121Dallas Cowboys2006NFL1631773892.29
122Denver Broncos2008NFL1511603552.28
123Denver Broncos1995NFL1631703802.28
124Baltimore Colts1959NFL1401583402.28
125Chicago Bears1995NFL1591723772.28
126Green Bay Packers2003NFL1791894192.28
127Baltimore Colts1968NFL1551633622.28
128Arizona Cardinals2008NFL1631803902.27
129Carolina Panthers2008NFL1711803992.27
129Dallas Cowboys2013NFL1721793992.27
131San Francisco 49ers1965NFL1691723872.27
132Minnesota Vikings2003NFL1601783832.27
132Cleveland Browns1968NFL1641743832.27
134Baltimore Colts1967NFL1541653612.26
135Miami Dolphins1975NFL1531603542.26
136Miami Dolphins1994NFL1671703802.26
137Miami Dolphins1985NFL1771924162.25
138San Diego Chargers1963AFL1721723872.25
138New Orleans Saints2010NFL1611673692.25
140Pittsburgh Steelers2007NFL1581713702.25
141Kansas City Chiefs2005NFL1641763822.25
142Green Bay Packers2013NFL1691813932.25
143Green Bay Packers2004NFL1681773872.24
144Atlanta Falcons2010NFL1651723782.24
145Green Bay Packers1996NFL1681883992.24
146Detroit Lions2011NFL1851924222.24
147Chicago Bears1965NFL1621743762.24
148San Francisco 49ers1991NFL1631753782.24
149Dallas Cowboys1968NFL1681723802.24
150New York Jets1998NFL1691813902.23
151San Francisco 49ers2000NFL1581783742.23
152Philadelphia Eagles2010NFL1821944182.22
153Indianapolis Colts1999NFL1691813892.22
154Cincinnati Bengals1981NFL1791894092.22
155Dallas Cowboys1980NFL1832004252.22
156Washington Redskins1999NFL1771924092.22
157St. Louis Rams2003NFL1831884112.22
158Atlanta Falcons2011NFL1651803822.21
159Los Angeles Rams1973NFL1581773702.21
160Atlanta Falcons2008NFL1561703602.21
161New York Jets2008NFL1611713662.2
162San Diego Chargers1985NFL2022094532.2
163Dallas Cowboys1993NFL1541693562.2
164New York Giants1962NFL1651793792.2
165New Orleans Saints1987NFL1771874002.2
166New Orleans Saints2006NFL1721843912.2
167Dallas Cowboys1971NFL1711783832.19
168Jacksonville Jaguars1997NFL1621783732.19
168Dallas Cowboys1992NFL1631773732.19
170Cincinnati Bengals1989NFL1671843852.19
170Denver Broncos1996NFL1711803852.19
172Oakland Raiders1972NFL1561653522.19
173Atlanta Falcons1998NFL1731843912.19
174Seattle Seahawks2013NFL1711823862.19
175San Francisco 49ers2012NFL1661703672.18
176Dallas Cowboys1994NFL1691803812.18
177Denver Broncos2002NFL1601813722.18
178New York Jets1972NFL1581673542.18
179Kansas City Chiefs1967AFL1691723712.18
180Denver Broncos2005NFL1641793732.17
181Tennessee Titans2003NFL1711833832.16
182Buffalo Bills1998NFL1711873862.16
183Miami Dolphins2014NFL1581763602.16
184Cleveland Browns1987NFL1631753642.15
185Chicago Bears1956NFL1421583232.15
186Cincinnati Bengals1986NFL1771903942.15
187San Francisco 49ers1983NFL1711863832.15
188Minnesota Vikings2002NFL1781803842.15
189Los Angeles Rams1989NFL1821964052.14
189New England Patriots2006NFL1681823752.14
189Green Bay Packers2010NFL1631733602.14
192Dallas Cowboys1973NFL1601753582.14
193New York Giants2009NFL1691823752.14
194Atlanta Falcons2002NFL1751843832.13
195Cleveland Browns1980NFL1661753632.13
196Pittsburgh Steelers2005NFL1631813662.13
197Philadelphia Eagles2004NFL1691843752.12
198Seattle Seahawks1987NFL1631753592.12
198Baltimore Colts1965NFL1641743592.12
200Atlanta Falcons2014NFL1621773602.12
  1. Note that the Patriots went 15/21 on 4th down attempts that year. FWIW, Football Outsiders has New England with 158 offensive drives. []
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The 1972 Detroit Lions Offense

There are lots of ways to measure a team’s offensive production.  But if a drive does not end in a punt or a turnover, it’s probably a pretty good drive.  Last year, the Packers had just 64 possessions end in a punt (51) or turnover (6 interceptions, 7 fumbles lost).  The Raiders led the way with 138 Bad Drives — defined as possessions that ended in a punt or turnover — so this metric passes the sniff test.

Here’s some more positive evidence for this statistic: Since 1970, the team with the fewest Bad Drives was the 2007 Patriots at 60.1  That New England team was followed by the ’14 Packers, the ’11 Saints (66), the ’06 Colts (67), the ’10 Patriots (68), the ’72 Lions (68), the ’11 Packers (69), and the ’09 Chargers (69. The Colts from ’04 to ’08 were extremely consistent and extremely strong in this metric, with 71 Bad Drives in ’04, 71 in ’05, ’67 in ’06, 71 in ’07, and 70 in ’08. [click to continue…]

  1. And excluding 1982. []
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Defensive Player of the Year Award: 2000-2006

Every year, the Associated Press names a Defensive Player of the Year.  But not all winners are chosen by the same margin (the ’14 winner received 100% of the vote, while the ’13 winner had just 26%), and the AP is hardly the only authority.  I thought it would be fun and informative to take a closer look at the selections in some prior years.  Let’s begin with the 7-year period from 2000 to 2006.

2000: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

The AP voting: Lewis (30), La’Roi Glover (11) (Saints), Warren Sapp (4) (Buccaneers), Keith Hamilton (2) (Giants), Derrick Brooks (2) (Buccaneers), Jason Taylor (1) (Dolphins) [click to continue…]

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There were 220 touchdown passes thrown during the 1950 season. Let’s break down who threw those scores into three categories:

  • 22 were thrown by players who were not playing professional football in 1949, including rookies like Tobin Rote and Adrian Burk.

Now, for some perspective, note that in 1949, there were 10 NFL teams and 7 AAFC teams.1 All else being equal, with just one merged league in 1950, you might expect the splits to be along the lines of 59% NFL, 41% AAFC. The above data looks as though this would support the widely-held notion that the NFL was the superior league.2 But if you dive a little bit deeper into the analysis, you get a slightly different picture: [click to continue…]

  1. Historians might recall that the AAFC was an 8-team league. That’s generally true, but the Brooklyn Dodgers merged with the New York Yankees prior to the ’49 season. And yes, both of those teams were AAFC teams, not MLB teams. []
  2. Although, frankly, I’m not even sure if this would support the case nearly as much as many would suggest, since discarding the AAFC entirely is acceptable to some observers. []
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1-Yard TD Passes

The 2nd touchdown of Ken Stabler’s career came in mop up duty at the end of a blowout in 1972 against the Oilers. With the Raiders up 27-0 on Monday Night Football, Stabler threw a one-yard touchdown off of play-action late in the fourth quarter.1

A month later, Mike Ditka caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Craig Morton to put the Cowboys up 24-0 against the Chargers in the first half.2 In December, Denver’s Charley Johnson found Haven Moses for a 1-yard touchdown in the first half against the Chiefs.

Why am I reviewing some random 1-yard touchdown throws from 1972? Well, I’m not reviewing some random 1-yard touchdown passes from 1972; I just finished reviewing all of them. That’s right: there were just three touchdown passes of one yard in the entire 1972 season. [click to continue…]

  1. That was probably not the most memorable part of that broadcast. []
  2. Dallas would go up 31-0 before John Hadl (!) led a spirited second-half comeback that fell just short. []
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Memorial Day 2015

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, eleven 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 28 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 men, too. Lummus received the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Iwo Jima, and you can read more about his sacrifice here. [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I was a guest on the Wharton Moneyball show on SiriusXM Channel 111 (@BizRadio111), discussing the NFL draft. As always, it was a lot of fun, but the hosts threw me a curveball in the final seconds:

Which will produce the best quarterback from the 2015 Draft — the Jameis Winston/Marcus Mariota group, or the field?

Now I am quite familiar with the value of taking the field in these sort of bets. We are prone to being overconfident in our ability to predict things, especially when it comes to the NFL Draft. But I still said I’d take Winston/Mariota and leave you with everyone else, and be reasonably confident that I would end up with the draft’s best quarterback.

But am I right? How far down the quarterback slots do you have to go in the average draft to find the best QB? Would taking the top two generally be enough?

This is, of course, a question without a clear answer because there is no objective answer to the question “who was the best quarterback in the [__] Draft?” It’s much too early to grade the 2013 or 2014 drafts, and you will get no shortage of debate as to whether Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson is the best quarterback from the 2012 draft. In 2011, Cam Newton was the first overall pick, but Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick were the 5th and 6th quarterbacks taken.

In 2010, Sam Bradford does appear to have been the best quarterback from that draft, and should be remembered that way absent Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, or Jimmy Clausen having a magical career turnaround.

In 2009, getting the top two quarterbacks would give you Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, while the field would give you…. Josh Freeman and Curtis Painter.

In 2008, the top two quarterbacks were Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. The book is not yet written on which one of them will be remembered as the best, but we can say that both will wind up being better than the field of Chad Henne, Matt Flynn, and Josh Johnson.

In 2007, the quarterback class was… ugly. The top guy will probably go down as one of Trent Edwards (most starts, most wins, most yards), Kevin Kolb (a positive TD/INT ratio!), or Drew Stanton (highest ANY/A but only 12 starts). Although for our purposes, we don’t need to finely split hairs. That’s because it’s clear the top quarterback was not JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn, the top two quarterbacks in that draft. Score one for the field.

Say what you want about Jay Cutler, but he was the clear top quarterback of 2006. In fact, he has thrown for more touchdowns than the rest of the class combined! As the 11th overall pick, he doesn’t quite meet the spirit of today’s question, but he is part of the field technically. That’s because Vince Young and Matt Leinart were the 3rd and 10th selections.

We need not spend much time on 2005. It was Aaron Rodgers, the second quarterback selected. Although Rodgers was much closer to the field (Jason Campbell was taken 25th overall, one pick after Rodgers) than being the first pick (Alex Smith).

For 2004, we can at least ignore the pretend Eli Manning/Philip Rivers debate, but that doesn’t help us when Ben Roethlisberger is in the mix, too. Call this one a push between top 2 and the field.

In 2003, it’s easy: it was Carson Palmer, the first overall pick. Nobody else comes close. Well, I guess that depends how you define class: Tony Romo went undrafted that year. Does the field include undrafted quarterbacks?

In 2002, not only is the answer David Garrard, but I think it’s Garrard by a wide margin. Garrard had a winning record, the most yards, the most TDs, and the best ANY/A out of the group with him, Patrick Ramsey, Josh McCown, and the first and third overall picks: David Carr and Joey Harrington. Score another one for the field.

In 2001, it’s Drew Brees, who was the second quarterback selected, albeit 31 picks after Michael Vick.

For 2000, let’s put that one down for the field.

1999 isn’t particularly close: Donovan McNabb made six Pro Bowls and started for 11 years; Daunte Culpepper is the runner up with three and five, respectively. And we know about 1998. So that’s two more for the top two. [click to continue…]

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We all know the story of the 1991 Washington Redskins, one of the best football teams in NFL history. The team had an SRS of 16.6, the second highest since 1990 (to the ’07 Patriots), and that’s with the team losing a meaningless week 17 game.

So it always takes me a second when I look at the 1992 draft and see that Washington had the #4 pick in the draft. How did that happen?? Well, on Draft Day 1991, Washington was sitting with the 47th overall pick, the 20th selection of the second round, when the team found a taker. San Diego, desperate for … a guard … wanted to trade up to Michigan State’s Eric Moten. The Chargers had already picked George Thornton with the 36th pick and Eric Bieniemy with the 39th, but I guess the team was really, really in love with all three players. That’s because San Diego was willing to trade its 1992 first round pick in exchange for the 47th in the ’91 draft and a fifth rounder in the ’92 draft.

That trade, as it turned out, was really bad. San Diego, 6-10 in 1990, slipped to 4-12 in 1991. Four teams finished with fewer than four wins that year, and the tiebreakers landed San Diego in the middle of the three teams that finished 4-12. That meant the 6th overall selection was headed to D.C.

But Washington really coveted Howard, the Heisman Trophy winner. And, ironically enough given what Howard is mostly remembered for during his pro career, the biggest threat to dressing Howard in burgundy and gold was Green Bay, holders of the fifth pick. So Washington traded its 6th and 28th picks to Cincinnati to move up to 4th overall, while also getting to jump from 84 to 58 in the third round. Not a great trade according to my calculator (Washington was getting about 80 cents on the dollar for its picks), and the team only received about 87 cents on the dollar according to the traditional draft chart. But hey, how often can a defending Super Bowl champion add a top-five draft pick with a Heisman Trophy on his bookshelf?

That anecdote made me wonder: what other cases are there of really good teams holding high picks in the draft? Some would be by trade on draft day, of course, which probably doesn’t mean all that much. But many, presumably, would be a result of strategic planning earlier that worked out beautifully after a trading partner had a down year. And where does “Washington getting Howard” rank on this list? [click to continue…]

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Since 1970, there have been just nine times where two teams agreed on a trade knowing that it was for the first overall draft pick. Will a trade up for Jameis Winston make number ten? Let’s go in reverse chronological order and look at every instance since the AFL-NFL merger when the first overall pick was traded:

2004: Giants trade up to acquire Eli Manning

New York trades the rights to Philip Rivers (the fourth pick), the first pick in the third round (Nate Kaeding), a 2005 first round pick (Shawne Merriman) and a 2005 fifth round pick (Jerome Collins) to San Diego for the rights to Manning

This one technically wouldn’t count as a trade of the first overall pick, because San Diego selected Manning before trading him. But I am counting it because it this meets the spirit of the question. Prior to the draft, the Chargers and Giants had been in a standoff on compensation, and San Diego upped the ante by actually selecting Manning. New York gave up an enormous haul to move up three spots in the draft, and the Chargers then hit on the additional picks they received (Merriman went to three Pro Bowls; Kaeding went to two). The Chargers flipped the pick that became Collins for Roman Oben, who started 24 games at tackle for San Diego. On top of that, many will view Rivers as the best player in the deal, but this is one of the few trades where I suspect each team is happy with the trade.

2001: Atlanta trades up to select Michael Vick.

Falcons trade the 5th pick (LaDainian Tomlinson), third round pick (Tay Cody), and 2002 second round pick (Reche Caldwell) to San Diego for the first overall pick

At the time, it felt like an enormous haul was being given to acquire Vick, but this is actually less compensation than San Diego would get from the Giants three years later. Vick obviously never reached his full potential in Atlanta, while the Chargers were able to acquire the best running back of his generation. Oh, and they did pretty well when they snagged a quarterback at the top of the second round, too.

1997: St. Louis trades up to select Orlando Pace

Rams trade the 6th pick, third round pick (Dan Neil), fourth round pick (Terry Day), and seventh round pick (Koy Detmer) to New York for the first overall pick

The Jets had the first pick for the second year in a row, going 1-15 a year after selecting Keyshawn Johnson. Things would have turned out much differently if a certain Tennessee quarterback had decided to declare for the draft after his junior year, but as of this time, the Manning family was not yet focused on being in New York.

With the luster on the first pick gone, the Jets — now under the management of Bill Parcells — chose to trade down and rebuild. The Rams didn’t have to offer all that much to move up six spots in the draft, as the top six or so players were all generally considered to be in the same tier. Things worked out nicely for the Rams, as the team went to two Super Bowls during Pace’s standout career, winning one in 1999.

The Jets then traded down from 6th to 8th, acquiring a fourth round pick (Leon Johnson) from the Bucs in the process. The Jets finally selected James Farrior, who a role player but not a star during his Jets career (before a decade of strong play in Pittsburgh). Tampa Bay sent the 6th pick to Seattle in exchange for the 12th pick (Warrick Dunn) and the third pick in the third round (Frank Middleton); while the Bucs hits on those picks, the Seahawks were the big winners, trading up to select Walter Jones.

1995: Cincinnati trades up to select Ki-Jana Carter

Bengals trade the 5th pick (Kerry Collins) and the 36th pick (Shawn King) to Carolina for the first overall pick

Cincinnati had the 1st pick in 1994 and used it on Dan Wilkinson; the Bengals then went 3-13. But because the Panthers and Jaguars were entering the NFL, that only entitled Cincinnati to the 5th pick.  The Bengals running game was putrid in ’94, with Derrick Fenner, Steve Broussard, and Harold Green combining for just 1,094 yards and 4 touchdowns on 311 carries (3.5 YPC) as part of a three-headed attack.

Carter rushed 198 times for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns during his junior year at Penn State, culminating in a 21-carry, 156-yard, 3-touchdown performance in a Rose Bowl win over Oregon, capping a perfect 11-0 season for the Nittany Lions. Carter’s next game would be much worse. On the third carry of his first preseason game, he tore his ACL, causing him to miss the entire 1995 season.

He struggled in 1996, the days of when a torn ACL was really a two-year injury. In the third game of the ’97 season, he rushed 13 times for 104 yards, but tore his rotator cuff. He would later miss nearly all of ’98 with a broken wrist, while ’99 was lost with a dislocated right kneecap.

The trade obviously didn’t work out for Cincinnati, although in an odd twist, he actually lasted longer in Cincinnati than Collins did with the Panthers. Carolina was happy to grab Carter’s teammate with the 5th pick in the draft, but an immature Collins wore out his welcome in Carolina. Of course, he would turn things around, and wind up playing for 17 seasons. King, a defensive end from LSU, started just ten games in his four year career, and only two of those starts came with the Panthers. This was a trade with no winners.

1991: Dallas trades up for Russell Maryland

Cowboys trade Ron Francis, David Howard, Eugene Lockhart, the 11th pick (Pat Harlow) and a second round pick (Jerome Henderson) to the Patriots for the first overall pick

The Cowboys under Jimmy Johnson were not shy about taking Hurricanes that Johnson had coached at Miami.  Here, Dallas sent the 11th pick and a bunch of spare parts1 to move up ten slots, as the Patriots were desperate to retool their roster. Maryland had a good but not great career: he played for ten years, mostly as a starter, and was a force in the middle.   But he was rarely dominant, and never had more than 4.5 sacks in a single season. Basically everything the early ’90s Patriots was a failure, this trade included.  Harlow was a nondescript starting tackle for four years in New England, while Henderson made just ten starts with the Patriots.

The other part of the story here concerned Rocket Ismail, the Notre Dame star receiver who was the consensus best player in the draft. That is, until Ismail decided to head to the CFL for more money. The Cowboys thought they might convince Ismail to come to Dallas instead of New England, but after the Toronto Argonauts offered more money, Dallas settled on Maryland. [click to continue…]

  1. Francis never played for the Patriots, Howard started 15 games over two years, and Lockhart started 21 games in two seasons. []
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Free Agency, and the Most Improved Teams

There are a lot of articles out there that suggests free agency is over-rated (as usual, Neil Paine has one of the better ones). But today I want to look at the question from a different perspective: instead of looking at how teams who are active in free agency have fared, what is we look at what free agent veterans were added by the teams that improved the most?

Last Wednesday, I looked at regression to the mean and team wins. I looked at the team that improved the most in each of the last 10 years, and then examined which free agents they added in that off-season. The results:

2014 Cowboys (12 Actual Wins; 8.0 Expected Wins, +4.0): DE Jeremy Mincey (Denver/Jacksonville), LB Rolando McClain (Baltimore), and DT Henry Melton (Chicago) were the only veteran additions of note. [click to continue…]

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Guest Posts: Immobile Quarterbacks

Longtime commenter Jason Winter has chimed in with today’s guest post. Jason is a part-time video game journalist and full-time sports fan. You can read more of him at his blog: https://jasonwinter.wordpress.com/, and follow him on twitter at @winterinformal.

As always, we thank Jason for contributing.


A couple months ago, Ryan Lindley had a historically bad postseason game. If he’d thrown just seven more passes in the regular season, he would have made history in another way, too.

Lindley threw 93 passes last season, while recording precisely zero rushes. There was nary a scramble, quarterback sneak, or even a kneeldown on his record for the 2014 season. At 6’3”, 229 lbs., he hardly seems the scrambling type, but he was also only 25 and was, shall we say, far from the best passer in the league. You’d think he might have resorted to using his legs at least once.

Lindley’s 93 passes gives him the second-most passes in a season for a player who recorded zero rushes. The record-holder is a somewhat better-known name: the recently deceased Earl Morrall, who recorded 99 pass attempts with the Colts in 1969 without a carry. On the one hand, Morrall was 10 years older than Lindley, though he was a fairly effective and semi-regular runner throughout his career, averaging 3.7 yards on 235 rushes in 255 career games. Lindley has thus far totaled seven yards on four carries, all coming in 2012. [click to continue…]

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Chris Borland and Playing Only One NFL Season

Late Monday night, 49ers linebacker and tackling machine Chris Borland announced that he was retiring due to concerns over the toll a longer career would have on his mind and body. Anyone can give a #hottake on this situation, but not everyone can come up with a list of the top players who played for exactly one season in the NFL.

My initial inclination was that the two best one-season careers came from Dieter Brock and Art Weiner, with former Vikings head coach Bud Grant getting an honorary nomination (you can read why, here). Brock was a great quarterback in Canada for 11 seasons who finally joined the NFL as a 34-year-old rookie in 1985. How did that happen?

The ’84 Rams were quarterbacked by Vince Ferragamo and Jeff Kemp, but they were essentially quarterbacked by Eric Dickerson.1 The team signed Brock in the off-season, and then traded an aging Ferragamo and a third round pick to Buffalo for tight end Tony Hunter.2 Kemp would lose the job in camp to Brock, who produced perfectly average numbers3 while playing with an insanely talented lineup (in addition to Dickerson, those Rams had Henry Ellard and sent four offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl: Kent Hill, Doug Smith, Dennis Harrah, and Jackie Slater. The fifth starter, Irv Pankey, was in the middle of a successful ten year run as the Rams left tackle.) In the playoffs, though, Brock struggled mightily, going 16/53 for 116 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs, which culminated in a shutout loss to the Bears in the NFC Championship Game. That would be enough for anyone to call it a career. [click to continue…]

  1. Los Angeles ranked last in pass attempts and second in rushing yards, as Dickerson set the single-season rushing record. []
  2. Who would finish second on the ’85 Rams in both receptions and receiving yards. []
  3. His ANY/A average of 4.9 matched the league average. []
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Was this the best quarterback of his era?

Was this the best quarterback of his era?

There are a lot of great things about Football Perspective, but my favorite is the caliber of the commenters. The Football Perspective community is a great one, and has been going back to its days at the Pro-Foootball-Reference blog. In the recent Greatest QB of All Time, Wisdom of Crowds post, long-time commenters Kibbles and Brad O. got into a fascinating discussion in the comments about Norm Van Brocklin and Otto Graham.

I’ve decided to reproduce, unedited, their words here. Why? Well, for starters, I found the debate fascinating, but you may not have seen the whole thing buried in the comments. The Van Brocklin/Graham question is a great one, and any historian will enjoy reading their thoughts. I also present their words in an aspirational sense: the Football Perspective commenters are great, but these are the type of respectful, meaningful, and thought-out words that I hope breaks out more often.

I kicked things off by expressing a bit of disappointment that Van Brocklin finished only 25th in the Wisdom of Crowds poll.  He had a star-studded career, is the only quarterback to lead two different NFL teams to a title, and had some outstanding efficiency seasons. [click to continue…]

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Last year, I wrote a post on the plays that had the biggest impact on the eventual Super Bowl champion. These were the plays that affected the Super Bowl win probability by the biggest amount among teams that did not win the title. At the time, the Buffalo Bills were on the short end of the most influential play in the Super Bowl era. When Frank Reich put the ball down for Scott Norwood, I estimated that the Bills had a 45% chance on winning the Super Bowl.1 After the kick went wide right, the Bills’ win probability fell to zero. The 45 percentage point fall was the biggest change for a non-champion of any play in the Super Bowl era. Over 48 years, a bunch of plays fell in that range, but no team could point to a single play as having lowered its championship chances by so large an amount.

A couple weeks ago, that long-held record got broken kind of like Michael Johnson broke the 200-meter record in the Atlanta Olympics. Malcolm Butler’s pick obliterated the old mark. My estimate has the Butler interception as increasing the Patriots’ chances of winning by 0.87. There is no doubt that what some have called the Immaculate Interception is on an island by itself as the most influential play in NFL history.

To get that change in win probability from Butler’s play, I am going to assume that the Seahawks would have run on third and fourth down. I am going to give a run from the one a 60% chance of working. That might seem high, but the Patriots were the worst team in football in stuffing the run in important short-yardage situations either on third or fourth down, or down by the goal line. And their limited success mostly came against terrible running teams. It is not a huge sample, but against teams outside the worst quarter of rushing teams by DVOA, the Patriots had allowed opponents to convert 16 of 17 times with two yards or less to go for a first down or touchdown. If we add the playoffs, they actually had three more stops against good running teams (Baltimore and Seattle), albeit in games where the opponent had a good amount of success on the ground.2 With Seattle being the best rushing team in football by a mile and the Patriots being at best not great in run defense in that situation, it seems hard to think that Seattle had anything less than a 0.60 chance of scoring on a run. [click to continue…]

  1. Recent research by Chase suggests something similar. []
  2. Note that the stop against Baltimore should not even count. In an otherwise great game for Gary Kubiak, he called for a reverse to Michael Campanaro on third-and-1 in the second quarter. The run was stopped for a loss. The Patriots basically could not stop Justin Forsett, making the reverse call very unnecessary. []
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Guest Post: Remembering Charles Follis

Bryan Frye is back with another fun guest post. Bryan, as you may recall, owns and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history. You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link. You can follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


Follis at Wooster High School

Follis at Wooster High School

Fans familiar with the history of the NFL know that Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall were the first black NFL players, playing in the league’s inaugural season of 1920.1 However, often lost in history is the story of the first recorded black professional football player: Charles Follis.

Follis’ name rarely comes up because he played well before the inception of the NFL, before Americans had even heard of Jim Thorpe. When Follis first played professionally, Pollard was only ten years old, and Marshall was just a freshman at Minnesota. The year was 1904 – when Teddy Roosevelt was more interested in negotiating treaties between Japan and Russia than he was in saving football – and the twenty-five year old “Black Cyclone” inked a meager deal with the Shelby Blues of the Ohio League. However, Follis was more than a footnote in football history, and his story merits another telling.

Follis was born in Virginia in 1879, the oldest of seven children. His father was a farm laborer, which effectively meant Charles was, too. He worked long hours with his father, developing great strength at a young age.2 It is unclear when the family left Virginia for Wooster, Ohio, but interviews suggest that it was when Follis was still a small child.3

As a junior in high school in 1899, he not only led the effort to establish Wooster High School’s first football team, but he was also subsequently elected team captain by his white teammates. He was the team’s star player as they went undefeated, not allowing a point all season. So great was his impact on Wooster High School that the school’s football stadium was named Follis Field in 1998. His prowess in both football and his best sport, baseball, were so easily recognizable that he was eagerly recruited by the local college. [click to continue…]

  1. For its first two seasons, the NFL was known as the American Professional Football Association, or APFA. It didn’t become the National Football League until 1922. []
  2. This reminds me of the well-known story of Jerry Rice working countless hours with his bricklaying father, catching brick after brick after brick that his father tossed to him. []
  3. From Milt Roberts’ 1975 interview with Follis’ sister-in-law, Florence Follis. []
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The Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX, and whatever your thoughts on the end of the game, there’s no doubt that New England was one of the top teams in the NFL in 2014. But it’s not quite so easy to identify why, at least when looking at the traditional per-play metrics. New England ranked 17th in Net Yards per Pass Attempt and 16th in Net Yards per Pass Attempt allowed, hardly the stuff of Super Bowl champions. The Patriots didn’t stand out as particularly excellent as a rushing offense or a rushing defense, either.

But those passing statistics belie the fact that the Patriots did, in fact, have a great offense this year. Part of the issue was the slow start and a meaningless week 17 game. Beginning in week 5, and excluding the week 17 game, New England scored 487 points, a 34.8 points per game average. That matches what the team did in 2012, when the Patriots had a historically lethal offense. And it’s not too far off from even the heights reached by the ’07 team.

The Patriots passing attack ranked 5th in TD rate, 3rd in INT rate, and 4th in sack rate; as a result, they jump from 17th to 6th when moving from NY/A to ANY/A. But the Patriots were even better at pure scoring.1 That’s been a trend for the team: during the Tom Brady era, New England has fared better in points scored than it has in ANY/A, and fared better in ANY/A than the team has in NY/A. And New England has generally been improving in all three statistics, too.

There is one area where the 2014 Patriots stand out as special. New England had just 13 turnovers all season: 9 Brady interceptions, three Brady fumbles, and one Brandon LaFell fumble. That is tied for the third best ever, although that sounds better than it is. The record for turnovers per game is 10 turnovers per 16 games, a feat accomplished by the 2010 Patriots and then the 2011 49ers. In 2014, the Packers also committed just 13 turnovers, and the Seahawks had just 14. As you might suspect, yes, this does mean that turnover rates have declined significantly in recent history. Take a look at the following graph, which depicts turnovers per 16 games for the average NFL team since 1970.  The purple line shows all turnovers; the blue and red lines are for interceptions and fumbles lost, respectively. [click to continue…]

  1. While New England moves at a fast pace, they actually ranked 3rd in points per drive and 4th in overall points, because the Broncos had even more drives than New England. []
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The Patriots SRS rating has been inflated in the postseason

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

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

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

  1. Note that Football Outsiders’ DVOA does update for the playoffs. []
  2. It looks like I get the same numbers as PFR in a bunch of cases, but I have not checked all of them. In any event, it looks like my program works. []
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It is not a reach to predict Beckham taking home OROY despite missing three games.

It is not a reach to predict Beckham taking home OROY despite missing three games.

Odell Beckham was the best rookie in the NFL this year despite missing a quarter of the season. Over the last eleven weeks of 2014, he led the NFL in receiving yards, and finished second in receptions and receiving touchdowns. He will very soon be named the Offensive Rookie of the Year, which made me wonder: how often has a player won a major award despite missing at least three games in a season?

If we exclude the Walter Payton Man of the Year, the Super Bowl MVP, and Comeback Player of the Year awards,1 my database identifies six players who have won an award despite missing at least three games.2 Four of them won the defensive rookie of the year award, while the other two were quarterbacks.  In reverse chronological order… [click to continue…]

  1. For those curious, Tedy Bruschi, Greg Ellis, Doug Flutie, Tommy Kramer, Jim McMahon, Joe Montana, Jim Plunkett, and Michael Vick have all won that award despite missing games — or, perhaps in some cases, because of missing those games. []
  2. This excludes the 1987, when just about every player missed three games due to the players’ strike. []
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NFL Passing, 1950 Through Week 13, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed, 2014 is on pace to become the greatest passing season in NFL history. Which may not be surprising, since just a few months ago, the three best passing seasons in NFL history were the 2012, 2011, and 2013 seasons. Falling into fifth place will be the… 2010 NFL season. So passing numbers are on the rise, but you already knew that.

Through week 13 of the 2014 season, the NFL average Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt — defined as gross passing yards, plus 20 yards for every touchdown pass, minus 45 yards for every interception, and minus sack yards, all divided by the total number of pass attempts plus sacks — was at 6.26.  Most passing statistically typically take a trip south in December (and prior to SNF, the week 14 average was 5.85), but 6.26 would be a significant outlier even in our high-flying times. The graph below shows the NFL average ANY/A for each season since 1950.  Of course, we are doing a bit of apples-to-oranges comparisons by using full season numbers for all years and through-13-weeks numbers for 2014, but so be it: [click to continue…]

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