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One of the best champions in Cleveland sports history.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are facing off in the NBA Finals for the third straight season. That’s never happened before in NBA history, and it only happened once in pro football history… and it also involved Cleveland.

In 1952, the Browns won the American with an 8-4 record, while the Detroit Lions won the National division with a 9-3 record (after defeating the defending-champion Rams in the National tiebreaker game). Otto Graham and Bobby Layne were the two top quarterbacks in the NFL that year according to both the AP and the NY Daily News. Detroit traveled to Cleveland on December 28th and defeated the Browns 17-7, with Doak Walker’s 67-yard touchdown providing the biggest blow.

The next season, Graham had a season for the ages by any measure.  You’d be hard-pressed to argue for a better regular season by any quarterback from World War II to 1983, when a Graham-led Browns passing game finished with a Relative ANY/A of +5.00.  The Browns began the 12-game season with 11 straight wins, while Detroit finished 10-2 with both losses coming against the 8-3-1 Rams.  Cleveland lost the season finale in Philadelphia, and then traveled to Detroit for an NFL Championship rematch.

The Browns and Lions were tied 10-10 after three quarters, and Cleveland was up 16-10 late in the game.  But in the final minutes, Layne found an unlikely hero in Jim Doran for a 33-yard game-winning touchdown (video here), with Walker’s extra point providing the margin of victory. The bigger story? Graham having one of the chokiest games in football history, finishing with 2 of 15 for 20 yards with 2 interceptions. [click to continue…]

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2016 Postseason Game Scripts

With one massive exception, the 2016 playoffs were not very interesting. The home team usually won, the favorite usually won, and usually by a large margin. In 8 of 10 games (ignoring the neutral site Super Bowl), the home team was the favorite and won by 13+ points.

And the Game Scripts weren’t all that exciting, either. Most of the games weren’t Super Bowl, and there was just one comeback. Of course, it wasn’t just any comeback; it was perhaps the comeback. Take a look: [click to continue…]

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Thoughts on the 2016 NFL Playoffs

The cherry on top of a boring dessert

There were really only three notable games in this year’s playoffs. The Super Bowl, of course, was a classic game, if not necessarily a good one to watch from start to finish. The Patriots completed a historic comeback and won in overtime, 34-28.

And there were two upsets: the Packers went into Dallas and won, 34-31, in what was the best game of the playoffs. And the Steelers went into Kansas City and won in a sloppy game, 18-16, where Pittsburgh kicked six field goals.

The other 8 games? All were won by the favorites, and all were won by at least 13 points. That matched the number of times the favorite won by over 10 points in the three previous years combined.

Since 1990, the favorites have won 7.6 of 11 games, on average, in the postseason. With 9 wins by favorites in 2016, that matches the most times the favorite has won in the playoffs, but it happened six other times, too. So 2016 wasn’t all that notable in that regard.

And since 1990, teams have won by over 10 points in just over half of all playoff games. With 8 such wins, that is the most ever, but it happened four other times, too (although not since 2002). But what makes the 2016 playoffs stand out is the combination of the two factors: 8 times the favorite won and won by over 10 points, compared to just 4.4 times on average. The only other time that happened was in 1996.1

The table below shows the average results (from the perspective of the winning team) in every playoff year since 1990: [click to continue…]

  1. And 8 of the 10 times, the home team won, which is high, but also not particularly unusual (the home team won 6.8 games on average). []
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In 22 team games in the 2016 playoffs, just four times did a rusher crack the 100-yard mark — or even exceed 75 rushing yards.  In the Patriots three wins, their leading rusher never cracked 50 yards, and James White was three yards away in the Super Bowl from giving New England three different leading rushers in three games.

Rushing
Rk Date Tm Opp Result G# Week Att Yds
Y/A TD
1 Le’Veon Bell 2017-01-15 PIT @ KAN W 18-16 18 19 30 170 5.67 0
2 Le’Veon Bell 2017-01-08 PIT MIA W 30-12 17 18 29 167 5.76 2
3 Thomas Rawls 2017-01-07 SEA DET W 26-6 17 18 27 161 5.96 1
4 Ezekiel Elliott 2017-01-15 DAL GNB L 31-34 17 19 22 125 5.68 0
5 Devonta Freeman 2017-02-05 ATL NWE L 28-34 19 21 11 75 6.82 1
6 Lamar Miller 2017-01-14 HOU @ NWE L 16-34 18 19 19 74 3.89 0
7 Lamar Miller 2017-01-07 HOU OAK W 27-14 17 18 31 73 2.35 1
8 Tevin Coleman 2017-01-14 ATL SEA W 36-20 17 19 11 57 5.18 0
9 Russell Wilson 2017-01-14 SEA @ ATL L 20-36 18 19 6 49 8.17 0
10 LeGarrette Blount 2017-01-22 NWE PIT W 36-17 18 20 16 47 2.94 1
11 Christine Michael 2017-01-08 GNB NYG W 38-13 17 18 10 47 4.70 0
12 Ty Montgomery 2017-01-15 GNB @ DAL W 34-31 18 19 11 47 4.27 2
13 Aaron Rodgers 2017-01-22 GNB @ ATL L 21-44 19 20 4 46 11.50 0
14 Devonta Freeman 2017-01-14 ATL SEA W 36-20 17 19 14 45 3.21 1
15 Devonta Freeman 2017-01-22 ATL GNB W 44-21 18 20 14 42 3.00 0
16 Dion Lewis 2017-01-14 NWE HOU W 34-16 17 19 13 41 3.15 1
17 Latavius Murray 2017-01-07 OAK @ HOU L 14-27 17 18 12 39 3.25 1
18 Spencer Ware 2017-01-15 KAN PIT L 16-18 17 19 8 35 4.38 1
19 Thomas Rawls 2017-01-14 SEA @ ATL L 20-36 18 19 11 34 3.09 0
20 DeAngelo Williams 2017-01-22 PIT @ NWE L 17-36 19 20 14 34 2.43 1
21 Zach Zenner 2017-01-07 DET @ SEA L 6-26 17 18 11 34 3.09 0
22 Jay Ajayi 2017-01-08 MIA @ PIT L 12-30 17 18 16 33 2.06 0
23 LeGarrette Blount 2017-01-14 NWE HOU W 34-16 17 19 8 31 3.88 0
24 LeGarrette Blount 2017-02-05 NWE @ ATL W 34-28 19 21 11 31 2.82 0
25 Jonathan Grimes 2017-01-07 HOU OAK W 27-14 17 18 4 30 7.50 0
26 Paul Perkins 2017-01-08 NYG @ GNB L 13-38 17 18 10 30 3.00 0

White’s Super Bowl heroics aside — you know, he scored a record 20 points and caught a record 14 passes — New England certainly didn’t get much production from the ground game in the playoffs. Even as a team, the Patriots averaged only 86.3 yards per game in the postseason. Among the 51 Super Bowl champions, that slots in just between two other Patriots teams, giving New England three of the four Super Bowl champions that failed to crack the 90 rushing yards mark in the playoffs. But one team averaged just 37 rushing yards per game in the postseason. Can you guess? Scroll to the bottom of the table to see. [click to continue…]

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2016 Playoff Passing Numbers

These two were the top passers of the 2016 postseason

With the 2016 postseason in the books, who were the best and worst passers? There are 11 playoff games every year, and since there were no games where a starting quarterback was injured or benched during the game, that gives us 22 quarterback performances to evaluate.

The best performance belongs to Matt Ryan against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Ryan threw for 392 yards with 4 TDs and 0 interceptions or sacks. That’s 472 Adjusted Net Yards and it came on 38 dropbacks, which translates to a 12.42 ANY/A average. His opponent, Green Bay, allowed 6.85 ANY/A to passers this year; that means over the course of 38 dropbacks, Ryan produced 212 Adjusted Net Yards of Value above average.

Using that methodology, here are the single game playoff passing numbers from the 2016 postseason: [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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Through 10 weeks, the Packers were 4-6 with a -29 points differential, 8th-worst in the NFL. If Green Bay wins today, the Packers will become the 5th team to make the Super Bowl after being 2 games below .500 at any point during the season.

  • In 1993, Emmitt Smith famously held out during the first two weeks of the season; Dallas lost both of those games (and a third game in November in which Smith left due to injury after just one carry), beginning the season 0-2.  The Cowboys went on to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
  • In 1996, the Patriots began the season with road losses to Buffalo and Miami.  New England wasn’t a great team that year, but finished 11-5, and a Jaguars upset in Mile High cleared the path for the Patriots to make it to the Super Bowl.
  • Five years later, the Patriots again began the season 0-2, with Drew Bledsoe of course being injured in the second game of the season.  Enter Tom Brady, who won his first game but lost his second, meaning the Patriots were against two games under .500 at 1-3 after four games.  New England, of course, won the franchise’s first Super Bowl that season.
  • In ’07, the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to a Giants team that started the year 0-2 with two losses.  New York allowed 80 points in those games, but it turned out to be a bit of a scheduling issue: those games came against the 13-3 Cowboys and 13-3 Packers, teams the Giants later beat in the playoffs.

The Packers would be a bit of a different case, of course, as 4-6 is different than 0-2 (although I’m not sure which is more “impressive” to come back from).  The latest in a season a Super Bowl team was under .500?  The 1979 Rams were 5-6 after 11 games, which means the Packers would “tie” this record if Green Bay wins today.  What about Super Bowl champions? Well, that would be the ’01 Patriots, at 3-4 after 7 games; so if the Packers win two more games, they would set that record. [click to continue…]

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Can The Steelers Pass Rush Lead Them To The Super Bowl?

Over the first 8 weeks of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had just 8 sacks.  That was the fewest in the NFL, and the corresponding 2.84% sack rate was also the worst in the league.

Since then, things have changed pretty significantly.  Pittsburgh has 36 sacks, most in the league since the start of week 9, five more than any other team in the NFL. 1  And only Arizona’s defense (8.94%) has a higher sack rate than Pittsburgh’s 8.53% since then.

Here’s the sack rate for the Steelers defense in each game this season: in a black horizontal line, I’ve shown the league average sack rate. [click to continue…]

  1. Notably, the Giants are 2nd in sacks over that period, with 31; meanwhile, the Giants had the second-worst sack rate, at 2.85%, and second fewest sacks, with 8, over the first eight weeks. []
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The median amount of points scored in Falcons games this year is 57 points; in Packers games, that number is 53 points. So why is the over/under 60 points?

The average isn’t much different: there have been 58.9 points scored in Atlanta games, and 52.0 points scored in Green Bay games. You may be surprised to learn that during Green Bay’s 8-game winning streak, there have been 51.6 points scored per game: 32.1 by the Packers, and 19.5 by Packers opponents.

Of course, what’s really driving these numbers is not the points scored by both teams in these games, but by both offenses. The Packers are averaging 28.0 points per game this year over 18 games, 32.1 points per game during this 8-game winning streak, and 34.8 over the team’s last 5 games. Atlanta is averaging 33.9 points per game over 17 games, and 38.0 points over their current 5-game winning streak.

So by that line of thinking, a 60-point over/under probably feels low. But it is currently (the line may change) tied for the 2nd highest over/under of any game since 1978, with the only other playoff game on the list:

WinnerLoserYearWeekBoxscoreLineOver/UnderPFPATotal Pts
STLSFO20009Boxscore-763342458
NORDET2011WCBoxscore-10.560452873
KANOAK200416Boxscore-9.560313061
CARSTL200010Boxscore13.559.5272451
DENWAS20138Boxscore-1158.5452166
STLIND200116Boxscore-1358.5421759
STLATL20007Boxscore-1858.5452974
GNBNWE201413Boxscore-358262147
INDMIN20049Boxscore-758312859
CARSTL200014Boxscore85816319
DENPHI20134Boxscore-11.557.5522072

What do you think? Over or Under?

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In the wildcard round last season, all four road teams won.  It isn’t unusual to see a lower seed win in the wildcard round, as often you have the stronger team being on the road against a weak division winner.  That was probably the case when we saw KC beat Houston and Green Bay win in Washington last year; in addition, the Steelers upset the Bengals and Seahawks beat the Vikings.

Since then? Not a single road team has won a playoff game.  The four teams with bye last year — Carolina, Arizona, New England, and Denver — all won in the division round of the playoffs.  Then the #1 seeded Broncos and Panthers won, too, marking six straight home wins.  We skip the Super Bowl, although for trivia fans, the champion Broncos were in fact the designated home team.

In the first round of the playoffs this year, all four home teams won.  The “weak division winner” Texans were aided by a QB injury and beat the Raiders, while the 4 seed in the NFC (the Packers) rode a hot end-of-year streak to beat the Giants.  In addition, Seattle and Pittsburgh won as 3 seeds.

Then, yesterday, the 1 seeded Patriots and 2 seeded Falcons beat the Texans and Seahawks, respectively.  That runs the streak up to 12 straight wins by home teams in the playoffs.  That’s easily the most in NFL history.

In addition, if we include last year’s Super Bowl, that means the last 8 playoff games have been decided by at least 13 points.

Points
Tm Year Date
Time Opp Week Day Result PF PA PD
CAR 2015 2016-01-24 6:42 ARI 20 Sun W 49-15 49 15 34
DEN 2015 2016-02-07 6:39 CAR 21 Sun W 24-10 24 10 14
HOU 2016 2017-01-07 4:35 OAK 18 Sat W 27-14 27 14 13
SEA 2016 2017-01-07 8:15 DET 18 Sat W 26-6 26 6 20
PIT 2016 2017-01-08 1:05 MIA 18 Sun W 30-12 30 12 18
GNB 2016 2017-01-08 4:40 NYG 18 Sun W 38-13 38 13 25
ATL 2016 2017-01-14 4:35 SEA 19 Sat W 36-20 36 20 16
NWE 2016 2017-01-14 8:15 HOU 19 Sat W 34-16 34 16 18

There had never even been six straight games decided by at least 13 points, so this is also an NFL playoff record.

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

[click to continue…]

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Three games this year had an over/under of 38 points: Rams/Seahawks in week 2, Jaguars/Vikings in week 14, and Broncos/Chiefs in week 16. But today, with the Brock Osweiler-led Texans — Houston ranked 30th in offensive DVOA — facing off against the Connor Cook-led Raiders, in his first ever start, the over/under in Houston is just 37 points.

In addition to being the lowest in a game this season, it’s also the lowest in a playoff game in five years.  Two years ago, the Ryan Lindley Cardinals and Panthers faced off in Carolina; the over-under was 37.5, and Lindley had one of the worst playoff games ever. But the last time a playoff game had an over/under of 37 or lower was in 2011, when Tim Tebow and the Broncos traveled to Pittsburgh. Tebow wound up having an incredible game, leading Denver to a 29-23 win in a game where the over/under was just 34.

In a game with the worst quarterback in the NFL during the 2016 regular season against a quarterback who has never made an NFL start, you can understand why we have the lowest over/under of the season.

But betters, take note. From 2002 to 2015, there were 18 playoff games where the over/under was less than 37.5. In those games, 11 went over, 1 was a push, and 6 went under.

What do you predict today? I was leaning Oakland, but I think the loss of Donald Penn will change things. This feels like a true toss up.

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

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

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

[click to continue…]

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Oakland is going to the playoffs, but the Raiders will do so without starting quarterback Derek Carr. The third-year quarterback had a breakout season, driven in large part by his ability to minimize bad plays: Carr leads the NFL with a 2.8% sack rate, and his 1.1% interception rate ranks 4th in the league. Oakland went 12-3 in games started by Carr, but after breaking his fibula in a win over the Colts, the Raiders are now turning to Matt McGloin to lead them in the postseason. [Update: With McGloin hurt, Connor Cook will now be making his first career NFL start in the playoffs, the first quarterback to do that since at least 1950.]

Oakland isn’t the only team switching quarterbacks as we enter January. Houston started massive bust Brock Osweiler for the first 14 games of the season, and were rewarded with the worst quarterback play in the NFL. The Texans turned to Tom Savage early in the Jaguars game last week; Savage led Houston to a come-from-behind victory to earn the starting job. He struggled against Cincinnati in his first start, but he’s going to be the guy in the playoffs despite starting just one or two games all year (Houston could, in theory, rest Savage this week, as the Texans are locked in to the 4 seed).

Finally, there are the Miami Dolphins. After years of “will he or won’t he?” play from Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins are finally going to the playoffs…. but maybe without Tannehill. The perennially on-the-verge-of-breaking-out quarterback sprained his ACL and MCL against Arizona three weeks ago, leading his status for the playoffs in doubt. But backup Matt Moore led a game-winning drive against the Cardinals, excelled against the Jets, and was up-and-down in an overtime win against Buffalo on Sunday.

Assuming Moore starts in the playoffs, he’ll be the third quarterback this season to start a playoff game despite fewer than six regular season starts. Here’s every example in NFL history where that happened: [click to continue…]

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Smith nearly drops the chip on his shoulder

Smith nearly drops the chip on his shoulder

Measuring receiver play is really tricky, and that’s before you even get to things like supporting cast. But I want to at least put something out there to measure receiver play in the postseason, something that would be an improvement on just looking at the leaders in receiving yards. So here’s what I did. Let’s use two great playoff performances as our examples.

1) Calculate each player’s Adjusted Catch Yards in a game. In a 1974 playoff loss to Pittsburgh, Oakland wide receiver Cliff Branch had a great game. He caught 9 passes for 186 yards and 1 touchdown; giving him 5 yards for every reception and 20 yards for every touchdown, that translates to 251 Adjusted Catch Yards.

In 2012, Calvin Johnson dominated the Saints defenses in the lone playoff game of his career; Johnson finished with a 12/211/2 stat line, worth 311 ACY, tied (with Reggie Wayne against Denver) for the third most ACY in a playoff game since 1960.

2) But we need to account for era, and we should also account for the quality of the opposition. So I looked at every team since 1960, and calculated the ACY allowed to all opposing players in every regular season game. Then, I took the top 16 (or fewer, in non-16 game seasons) performances during the regular season to calculate the average ACY allowed by each defense to the top opposing receiver.

This is a very, very high baseline, of course, but I am trying to measure dominance. If a team allows 80 yards, on average, to the opposing WR1, then an 80-yard playoff performance shouldn’t stand out as special.

The 2011 Saints allowed an average of 155 ACY to the top 16 players it faced that year. As a result, Johnson gets credit for 156 ACY over expectation. The 1974 Steelers? Well, they allowed just 94 ACY to the top 14 players it faced during the regular season. That gives Branch 157 ACY over expectation.

So Branch slightly beats Megatron using this formula, as gaining 251 ACY against a defense that usually allows 94 is seen as a hair better than gaining 311 against a defense that usually allows 156. Is this formula perfect? Of course not, but it’s a start. Branch’s game checks in as the 8th best since 1960, while Johnson’s is 10th. The top game? That honor belongs to Steve Smith, naturally. [click to continue…]

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Smith nearly drops the chip on his shoulder

Smith nearly drops the chip on his shoulder

When I think of the greatest games by a wide receiver in playoff history, my mind always travels to what Steve Smith against the 2005 Bears.  And while that game was remarkable — we’ll get to that in a bit — it’s the context that matters.

In the 2005 regular season, Smith was unstoppable; Dr. Z said that he was “simply the best in the game, filling the dual roles of possession receiver and downfield threat.” But Smith’s dominance was not just anecdotal, of course: Smith led the NFL in receiving yards, and was tied for the league lead in both receptions and receiving touchdowns, all while playing on a team that ranked 28th in pass attempts.

Then, in the first round of the playoffs, Smith caught 10 of 11 passes and scored both of Carolina’s touchdowns in a 23-0 win over the Giants.  And as if all of that wasn’t enough to make the Bears focus their efforts on Smith in the upcoming game, consider that during the regular season, Smith gained 169 yards against Chicago, the most the Bears allowed to any receiver all year.

So yeah, the Bears were game-planning for Smith.  And Chicago seemed pretty well-prepared to stop him: after all, the Bears allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers during the regular season and had not just the top pass defense in the NFL, but one of the best ones in league history. And, in a neat twist of Panthers fate, Chicago’s defense was orchestrated by Ron Rivera, who was the Defensive Coordinator of the Year.

This was the best wide receiver in the NFL, coming off a huge playoff game, going into the Soldier Field to face the toughest defense on the planet.  The over/under was 31 points. The Panthers were held to 3 points in the regular season against Chicago. It was a cold and wet day. And Smith promptly caught 12 of 13 targets for 218 yards, seven first downs, and 2 touchdowns, and also ran 3 times for 26 yards.  [click to continue…]

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2015 Playoff Game Scripts Data

With the playoffs over, let’s take one last look at Game Scripts data from the 2015 season. Some high-level notes:

  • In the wild card round, all four road teams won. No road team won another game in the postseason.
  • Just two teams won playoff games this year with negative Game Scripts: the Broncos against the Steelers (-0.5) and the Seahawks against the Vikings (-2.5). The Steelers led 10-6 for much of the 2nd quarter, and 13-9 in the third quarter. In fact, Denver trailed 13-12 until there were three minutes left in the game. The frigid game in Minnesota was a tale of three quarters… and a disastrous fourth. The Vikings entered the 4th quarter up 9-0, but Seattle scored the final points of the game to emerge with a 10-9 win.
  • The most pass-happy game by a winning team in the playoffs? That came by the Patriots in the division round against the Chiefs. Even without adjusting for Game Script, it was pass-happy, but a 76.4% pass ratio with a +8.3 Game Script is incredible. Remember, New England attempted a pass on 24 of its first 26 plays, and the Patriots finished with just 10 non-kneel runs.

Below are the 2015 playoffs Game Scripts data: [click to continue…]

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The 2012-2015 Broncos: What Can We Learn?

Here was something I tweeted a few days before Super Bowl 50:

The 2012 Broncos were awesome. Peyton Manning, while not having the scorched-earth campaign he would enjoy a year later, still led the NFL in ANY/A and Total QBR, and received 19.5 of 50 votes for Most Valuable Player (Adrian Peterson picked up the other 30.5). The Broncos finished 2nd in points and 4th in yards, while on defense, the team ranked 4th in points and 2nd in yards. Perhaps more impressively, the Broncos defense ranked 1st in Net Yards per Attempt, and in the top three in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry.

The Broncos did have an easy schedule, but they were one of four teams that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL, along with the Patriots, Seahawks, and 49ers. Of course, a Joe Flacco pass to Jacoby Jones, combined with a Rahim Moore blunder, wound up ruining the dream season. [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Brady vs. Manning and Playoff Support

Adam Steele is back, this time throwing his hat into the never-ending Brady/Manning debate. Fortunately, this isn’t your typical Brady/Manning post, as Adam brings some new stats to the table. You can view all of Adam’s posts here.


By any statistical measure, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have performed at a nearly identical level in the postseason. Of course, many observers don’t care about passing statistics, and prefer to judge quarterback based on playoff W/L record alone. And as we all know, Brady has a significant edge over Manning in this regard. But if we’re going to judge quarterbacks by the performance of their entire team, it’s only fair to also evaluate the parts of the team the QB has no control over – defense and special teams.

Using PFR’s expected points estimations, I recorded the defensive and special teams EPA for Brady’s and Manning’s teams in each of their playoff games. The “Support” column is the total EPA contributed by defense and special teams. Brady first: [click to continue…]

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In 1974, Terry Bradshaw was not very good. He threw for just 785 yards on 148 pass attempts, while throwing only 7 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. That translates to a 2.92 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average, which is terrible even for 1974. He ranked 25th in ANY/A among the 32 quarterbacks with at least 120 pass attempts. Given the league average of 3.91, that means Bradshaw finished the year with a Relative ANY/A of -0.99.

That’s the worst of any quarterback who wound up winning the Super Bowl. But that doesn’t mean Bradshaw wasn’t a big part of why Pittsburgh won its first title. He was excellent in the team’s three playoff games, particularly in Pittsburgh’s first win. [click to continue…]

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This week at the Washington Post, an old topic is relevant again: why pressuring Tom Brady is the key to success against New England.

Completion percentage is often overrated, and it isn’t a critically important stat generally, but the Patriots are a unique offense. As a general rule, completion percentage is highly correlated with winning, but a large reason for that is leading teams tend to throw conservative passes and trailing teams tend to throw aggressive ones. Thus the stat is a result of success even more than a cause of it. (In other words, completion percentage is a lot like rushing attempts, where the best teams tend to fare well in this metric, but in a misleading way.) This season, teams won 58.4 percent of games when completing at least 60 percent of passes, and just 33.3 percent of games when completing fewer than that. But the Patriots were more extreme, winning 11 of 12 when completing at least 60 percent of passes, with the one loss coming in overtime against the Jets. On the other hand, New England lost three of the four games this season when Brady completed fewer than 60 percent of passes, and the one victory came when New England held Buffalo to just 13 points.

The reason completion percentage matters for New England is because the Patriots don’t really have a running game, at least not in any traditional sense. Against Kansas City on Saturday, the Patriots threw on 24 of the team’s first 26 plays. All game, Patriots running backs had just seven carries, with Steven Jackson — signed in December — taking six of those carries and gaining just 16 yards. In the regular season game against Denver, the Patriots began the game by calling 18 passes to just two runs on the team’s first six drives.

You can read the full article here.

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Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting Less Random? Part II

Before the start of the 2012 season, Neil Paine wrote an article here titled, Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting More Random? And that was before Joe Flacco turned into Joe Montana one postseason.

But since then? Man, things have been pretty chalky. The 2013 playoffs had two notable features: very low point spreads and the favorites going 5-1 in games with spreads of more than three points. [click to continue…]

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Janis outplays Patrick Peterson for the touchdown... somehow

Janis outplays Patrick Peterson for the touchdown… somehow

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

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

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Houston/Kansas City

Last year, after the Ryan Lindley disaster in the playoffs, I looked at the worst passing performances in playoff history.  At the time, Lindley had the 9th worst passing game ever.  Well, now it’s the 10th.

Against Kansas City yesterday, Brian Hoyer completed 15 of 34 passes for just 136 yards with 0 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also lost a fumble on his three sacks, which lost 17 yards.  Calculating Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt doesn’t factor in fumbles, but Hoyer still finished with -68 Adjusted Net Yards for Brian Hoyer on those 37 dropbacks.   That’s a -1.84 ANY/A average.  On the season, Kansas City allowed 4.91 ANY/A. [click to continue…]

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This week at the Washington Post, a preview of the Seahawks/Vikings game.

The Seahawks are a little tougher to categorize, because they excel in every facet of the game but have a worse record than Minnesota. By most non-traditional measures, the Seahawks are much better than a typical No. 6 seed. Seattle ranks second in Pro-Football-Reference’s Simple Rating System, behind only the Arizona Cardinals. That’s the result of the No. 1 defense by SRS standards and the No. 3 offense. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks are the best team in football, with the No. 2 offense, No. 4 defense, and No. 3 special teams; Minnesota ranks 11th overall, courtesy of the 16th best offense, 14th best defense and fourth-ranked special teams. And, of course, Seattle is a 5-point road favorite on Sunday, implying that the Seahawks might be more than a touchdown better than the 11-5 Vikings on a neutral field. In short: Seattle is really good.

You can read the full article here.

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Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting Less Random?

In September 2012, Neil Paine wrote a great article at this website titled: Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting More Random? In it, Neil found that randomness had increased significantly in the NFL playoffs, with “recently” defined as the period from 2005 to 2011.

In fact, while 2005 was a pretty random postseason, 2006 was one of the more predictable playoff years.  But the five-year period from 2007 to 2011 was a really random set of years. Consider that:

  • In 2007, the Giants won three games as touchdown underdogs, including the Super Bowl as a 12.5-point underdog.  The Chargers also won a playoff game against the Colts as an 11-point dog.
  • In 2008, five of the eleven playoff games were won by underdogs! That list was highlighted by the Cardinals winning in Carolina as a 10-point underdog in the divisional round.
  • The following year, five of the eleven playoff games were upsets, including the Jets winning as 9-point underdogs in San Diego.
  • In 2010, for the third straight year, there were five playoff upsets, including two huge ones: the Jets as 9.5 point dogs in Foxboro, and the Seahawks as 10-point home dogs against the Saints.
  • Noticing a trend? Well, in 2011, five of the playoff games were again won by the underdog. The two big upsets here were the Tim Tebow-led Broncos against the Steelers, and the Giants winning in Lambeau Field against the 15-1 Packers.

[click to continue…]

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Probably was picked off

Probably was picked off

I still can’t quite comprehend what happened. Leading 19-7 with less than three minutes remaining, Green Bay somehow lost the NFC Championship Game. It was the most remarkable comeback in conference championship game history since at least 2006, when Peyton Manning and the Colts came back from the dead against the Patriots.

But this game had the added element of Russell Wilson looking like he had no idea what he was doing out there. With four minutes remaining, Wilson had one of the ugliest stat lines in playoff history: he was 8/22 for 75 yards with no touchdowns, four interceptions, and four sacks for 24 yards. He was averaging -4.96 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. It was worse than Ryan Lindley against Carolina, a performance that would rival Kerry Collins in the Super Bowl against the Ravens for worst playoff passing performance ever.

Wilson’s stat line was straight out of a 1976 boxscore featuring a rookie quarterback against the Steelers. Yet, somehow, minutes later, the game would be in overtime. Wilson ended regulation with a still miserable stat line of 11/26 for 129 yards, with 0 touchdowns (to be fair, he did run one in), 4 interceptions, and 4 sacks for -24 yards. That translates to an ANY/A average (which gives a 45-yard penalty for interceptions, and a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns, while penalizing for sacks) of -2.50.

If the Seahawks returned the overtime kickoff for a touchdown, the game would have easily gone down as the worst performance by a playoff-winning quarterback in history. But in overtime, Wilson did his best work: first, he found Doug Baldwin for ten yards. Then, after taking a one-yard sack, he hit Baldwin on 3rd-and-7 for 35 yards. The next play, Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown, and Seattle was headed back to the Super Bowl.

Wilson finished 14/29 for 209 yards, with 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions, and five sacks for -25 yards. That translates to an anemic ANY/A average of +0.71. How does that compare historically? I thought it would be worthwhile to compare the ANY/A average of every winning quarterback in a playoff game to the league average ANY/A that season. So, in 2014, the NFL averaged 6.13 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt per pass. This means Wilson finished 5.42 ANY/A below average. And given that Wilson had 34 dropbacks, it means that Wilson produced -184 Adjusted Net Yards over average. As it turns out, that’s only the … third worst ever by a winning quarterback. [click to continue…]

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The Seahawks have met high expectations this year, thanks to #3

The Seahawks have met high expectations this year, thanks to #3

Nobody is surprised to see the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks hosting games on championship Sunday. The Patriots are in the AFC title game for the 9th time in 14 years — NINE times! That is insane. Only six other teams — the Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys, Raiders, Broncos, and Rams — have been to nine conference championship games since 1970, a feat New England has matched since 2001.

Perhaps even more incredibly: on Sunday, Foxboro will be the site of the AFC title game for the 7th time in 14 years. Since 1970, just two other cities — Pittsburgh and San Francisco — can match that claim. For some perspective, New York has hosted just two conference title games — the Giants in ’86 and ’00.

Oh, and if you’re counting at home, this will also be the fourth straight year with the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Ho hum.

As for Seattle? The Seahawks are the defending champions, and were arguably the top team in football by the end of the 2012 season, too. Seeing Seattle in the NFC Championship Game is no surprise to any football fan.

The Packers and Colts are only slightly more surprising participants. At the start of the season, Green Bay was tied with New Orleans for having the third best odds (behind Seattle and San Francisco) for winning the Super Bowl; the Colts were a distant third behind the Denver/New England tier in the AFC, but still, no other AFC team was as clear a Super Bowl contender after the Broncos and Patriots as Indianapolis. The table below shows the odds (from Bovada) each team was given to winning the Super Bowl at various points in the off-season; the final two columns display what percentage those odds convert to, both before and after adjusting for the vigorish: [click to continue…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio
INDCINBoxscore2610167.8452564.3%382164.4%
CARARIBoxscore2716115.8333945.8%321568.1%
SEACARBoxscore3117145.8242747.1%382956.7%
BAL@PITBoxscore3017134.6302554.5%531973.6%
IND@DENBoxscore2413113.8432860.6%482070.6%
GNBDALBoxscore26215-0.4362955.4%232845.1%
NWEBALBoxscore35314-4.8531380.3%452861.6%
DALDETBoxscore24204-8.1372163.8%452267.2%

[click to continue…]

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Tom Brady has been known to wear Suggs

Tom Brady has been known to wear Suggs

Disclaimer: Quarterbacks don’t have records, teams do. A quarterback’s “record” is simply shorthand for saying “the record of a quarterback’s teams in all playoff games started by that quarterback.” Please forgive me for using that shorthand for the remainder of this post.

Eight years ago, Doug Drinen wrote a fun post in advance of the 2006 AFC Championship Game. At the time, Peyton Manning had gone 0-2 in playoff games against Tom Brady, so Doug looked at quarterbacks who had gone winless against another particular quarterback in the postseason.

Manning wound up beating Brady in that game, and evened his record against Brady in the 2013 playoffs. No pair of quarterbacks have ever met as starters five times in the playoffs, so Brady/Manning are tied for the most playoff meetings. Joining them on Saturday will be Brady and Joe Flacco. This weekend’s game will be the fourth time since 2009 that the Ravens have traveled to Foxboro in the postseason, and Brady and Flacco have been under center for each game. [click to continue…]

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