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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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The Steve Smith Postseason Post

Today’s guest post comes from Adam Harstad, who is also part of the Smitty Fan Club. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


 

One of the greatest playoff receivers ever

Smith considers letting the chip roll off his shoulder.

IS STEVE SMITH THE GREATEST POSTSEASON WR IN HISTORY?

Prior to this last weekend’s slate of games, I remarked to several friends what a treat it was that we got to watch Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Smith all playing on the same weekend. In addition to being three of the best receivers of the last decade, all three could lay claim to the best per-game postseason numbers in history, depending on where you set the cut-offs.

Calvin Johnson had only appeared in one postseason game prior to this season, but he made it count with 12/211/2 receiving in a losing effort. Calvin was actually the fourth player in history to top 10 receptions, 200 yards, and 2 touchdowns in a single playoff game,1 but each of the three previous have played additional games to bring their per-game numbers down. Among players who appeared in at least one playoff game, Calvin’s 211-yard “average” was the best by a mile.

If you moved the cutoff to 6 games, Larry Fitzgerald’s postseason averages took over the spotlight. Following the 2008 NFL season, Fitzgerald had arguably the greatest postseason run by a wide receiver, hauling in 6/101/1, 8/166/1, 9/152/3, and 7/127/2 in his four games, including what would have been the Super Bowl-winning touchdown and a likely MVP performance if not for some heroics from Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes. Fitzgerald followed that up with a strong showing in the 2009 playoffs, catching 12/159/2 over two games. All told, Fitzgerald had 53/705/9 receiving in just six postseason appearances, for a per-game average of 8.8/118/1.5. [click to continue…]

  1. Oddly, all four receivers to reach those marks were active this past weekend; in addition to Calvin Johnson, they were Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, and T.Y. Hilton. []
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Packers, Cowboys, and Undefeated Home/Road teams

The Packers went 8-0 at home this year. Green Bay scored 318 points in home games in 2014, the 3rd most by a team in NFL history. Aaron Rodgers threw 25 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in those games, and his 133.2 passer rating at home is the highest in a single season in NFL history.

A couple of minor notes for the anti-Green Bay crowd: the 2011 Packers scored 321 points en route to an 8-0 home record, while Rodgers’ 128.5 home passer rating is now the second highest ever. And the Packers lost their first playoff game, at home, to the NFC East champion that season.

This year, the NFC East champion Cowboys scored 275 points in road games, the 4th most ever. Dallas also went 8-0 on on the road, making this weekend’s matchup just the 3rd time in NFL history that an undefeated road team traveled to the site of an undefeated home team for a playoff game. [click to continue…]

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This week at the New York Times, an early look at the division round of the playoffs:

In 1990 the N.F.L. switched to its current playoff format, featuring six teams from each conference, with the top two seeds earning first-round byes.

For the first 15 years, this structure appeared to provide an enormous edge for the top two seeds: Teams coming off byes won 81.7 percent of all games in the division round of the playoffs from 1990 to 2004.

Then, over the next six seasons, the rested teams were 12-12 and it seemed as though being “hot” negated any advantage teams gained from a week off. In the last three postseasons the pendulum has swung back, with three bye teams winning each year. Last year, all four favorites were victorious in the division round of the playoffs, with the road 49ers winning at Carolina as 1-point favorites.

This year projects to mark a return to the old days. For the first time since 2007 all four home teams in the division round are favored by at least 4 points, and any more than one upset would qualify as shocking. So while the home teams are heavily favored this weekend, here is one tidbit to keep in mind for each game.

You can read the full article here.

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Ryan  Lindley imploded against the Panthers in the Wildcard Round

Ryan Lindley imploded against the Panthers in the Wildcard Round

Ryan Lindley had a very, very bad day against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday. He completed 16 of 28 passes for just 82 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked four times and lost 31 yards. Assigning 20 yards per passing touchdown and -45 per interception, and including the sack data, this means Lindley produced -19 adjusted net yards. Given his 32 dropbacks, that translates to a -0.59 ANY/A average.

Which, of course, is really bad. The fact that it came in the most pass-friendly era in history makes it look even worse, although that’s slightly tempered by the fact that the Panthers have an above-average defense. We can combine the era- and SOS-adjustments in one step by noting that Carolina allowed 5.84 ANY/A to opposing passers this year. As a result, this means Lindley fell 6.45 ANY/A short of what we would expect, given the Panthers defense and this era. Over the course of 32 dropbacks, that means Lindley produced 206 Adjusted Net Yards below expectation.

Using that methodology for every playoff game since 1950, Lindley’s mark is the 9th worst in playoff history. The worst? That belongs to Kerry Collins in Super Bowl XXXV. Here’s how to read the table below. Collins averaged -2.19 ANY/A against the Ravens over the course of 43 dropbacks; the Baltimore defense, of course, was very good against the pass, allowing just 3.88 ANY/A. Still, that means Collins fell 6.07 ANY/A short of expectation. Over 43 dropbacks, that’s -261 ANY below what we would expect given the Ravens defense, the worst ever.

One final note: in the table below, you can click on the “Year” cell for each player to go to the boxscore for that game. [click to continue…]

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Luck's Colts won big early in the year, but are small favorites today

Luck’s Colts won big early in the year, but are small favorites today

In week 7, the Bengals lost 27-0 to Indianapolis. What does that mean? I looked at all playoff rematches where:

  • The teams only played once during the regular season (as, I think, division rivals represent a different equation)
  • The rematch occurred in the same location as the original game
  • The home team won the regular season meeting

This happened once last year, where the Saints also lost by 27 points on the road to the Seahawks during the regular season, and then revisited Seattle in the playoffs. Obviously Seattle won that rematch, too, which is not unusual. There have been 11 situations where the home team won by at least 27 during the regular season, and the home teams went 9-2 in the rematch. (And, it’s worth noting, that one of the wins came with Joe Montana starting the playoff game for the Chiefs, after Dave Krieg started the regular season loss.) The table below shows all playoff rematches between teams that met the above criteria.

Here’s how to read the second entry. In 1991, the Lions traveled back to Washington for the Conference Championship Game. Detroit was a 14-point underdog, and point spread data is included for all games since 1978. In the game, Detroit lost, 41-10. In the regular season, the teams met in Washington (remember, all games in this table were rematches at the same site) in week 1, and Detroit lost 45-0 (remember, all games in this table occurred from the perspective of the road team, and the road team lost in the first game). That -45 points differential was the 2nd most ever; the table is sorted by points differential in the regular season. [click to continue…]

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These guys are back in the playoffs

These guys are back in the playoffs

At FanDuel, you start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 defense, with a salary cap of $60,000. The scoring system is pretty standard, with 0.5 points per reception being the most notable feature to keep in mind.

Given that there are just four games this week, predicting the game flow (and subsequent Game Script) of each matchup is a vital part of determining which fantasy players will do the best. My thoughts:

Arizona at Carolina

The Panthers have been hot the last four weeks, although part of that was due to playing poor teams. Fortunately for Carolina, another poor team is on the horizon in Arizona. The Panthers defense should be able to contain Ryan Lindley, making them a strong play. The forecast is for rain in Charlotte, making the matchup even tastier.

Another notable development: Arizona’s run defense has fallen from 5th in yards per carry allowed over the first 11 weeks, to 32nd over the last six. The Cardinals defense allowed 278 rushing yards in four games to Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, which makes Cam Newton a potential threat for a big game today. The downside to Newton: Patrick Peterson shutting down Kelvin Benjamin and the Panthers getting up early could limit Newton’s passing stats. A 16/25, 160 yard day with 50-60 rushing is one possible outcome, and probably more likely than Newton throwing for 300+ yards. If you want play Newton, you’re likely banking on a rushing touchdown. [click to continue…]

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The NFC South is upside down

The NFC South is upside down.

The Atlanta Falcons began the season with a 2-6 record.  In the second half of the year, the team was 4-7 and then 5-9.  The Carolina Panthers began the year with a 3-8-1 record. One of these two teams will make the playoffs.

I’m not even sure what else there is to say.  The phrase “left for dead” is probably too kind.  Carolina fell to 3-8-1 in embarrassing fashion; the team’s 8th loss came in a game where the Vikings returned two blocked punts for touchdowns, and the Panthers body language read “checked the #*$! out.”

From October 6th to December 6th, the Carolina Panthers did not win a game.  Through week 13, the Panthers ranked 28th in points differential.  The Panthers may turn out to be the most unlikely playoff team in NFL history. [click to continue…]

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Brady likes the second half of the season

Brady likes the second half of the season

When we think about the most dominant teams of all time, the New England Patriots of the last few years don’t leap immediately to mind. Yet, their performance late in the year has been mind-bogglingly good. From 2010-13, New England went 29-3 in the final eight games of each season, a record that no other team since 1960 can match over any four-year period. Including their three games this year, the Patriots are on a 32-3 run in regular-season games in the second half of the season. From 2010-2013, the Patriots also have the biggest four-year point differential in second-half games in the history of football.

Part of that huge point differential comes from the higher point totals that teams have than they did in the past, and from New England’s offensive-centric philosophy. As a result, when we look at Pythagenpat records, the Patriots are not as dominant.1 Here are the hundred best late-season teams over any four-year period, according to Pythagenpat record. The Patriots from 2010-13 rank only 38th on the list, behind four other recent Patriots’ runs, some of those overlapping with 2010-13. The Patriots have been great and it is an unlikely outcome that they’d have no Super Bowls in the decade so far, but they also have not been quite as strong in terms of their true strength as their second-half records would suggest. As a high-scoring team, we would have expected them to lose more of their regular season games than they have. [click to continue…]

  1. I used 0.251 as the value in the Pythagenpat formula to find exponents for each team-year. []
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By now, you know about guest blogger Andrew Healy, an economics professor at Loyola Marymount University and author of today’s post. There’s now a tag at the site where you can find all of his great work. He’s back with a cap to his excellent series about playoff performance, and today’s post will not disappoint:



The Purple People Eaters never won a Super Bowl

The Purple People Eaters never won a Super Bowl.

We know the teams that have experienced consistent heartbreak at the altar. But is it the Vikings, Eagles, or Bills that are the most unlikely to have never won a Super Bowl? On the flip side, we know the teams that stacked championships on top of championships. But is it the Packers, Steelers, or 49ers that have made the most of their chances?

For the latter question, it turns out that it’s option D, none of the above.  One mystery team has won four championships despite having had a pretty decent chance of never winning a single Lombardi.  The most unlikely team never to win a Super Bowl turns out to be a team that lost “only” two Super Bowls, but that has led the NFL in DVOA four times since 1979.

To figure this stuff out, I’ve utilized DVOA ratings and estimated DVOA ratings to rerun the NFL playoffs. In the simulations, the slate is wiped clean, which means there’s no reason The Fumble or The Helmet Catch or The Immaculate Reception have to happen this time around.

In last week’s post, I went decade by decade to look at the best teams, and also those that most let opportunity slip through their fingers. Today, I bring it all together. I compare what might have been with what actually was for the NFL from 1950 to 2013. I’ll also hand out awards for the teams that were the most unlikely winners and the most unlikely losers of all time. [click to continue…]

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One Play Away

Football Perspective accepts guest posts, and Andrew Healy submitted the following post. And it’s outstanding. Andrew Healy is an economics professor at Loyola Marymount University. He is a big fan of the New England Patriots and Joe Benigno.


The Browns were one play away from the Super Bowl

How much did this player lower Cleveland's Super Bowl odds?

The Catch. The Immaculate Reception. The Fumble. We remember all these plays, but which mattered the most? More specifically, what plays in NFL history had the biggest impact on who won the Super Bowl?

The answer to this question is kind of surprising. For example, two of those famous plays are in the top 20, but the other wasn’t even the most important play in its own game. Going all the way back to Lombardi’s Packers, the memorable and important plays overlap imperfectly.

Here, I try to identify the twenty plays that shifted the probability of the eventual Super Bowl winner the most. According to this idea, a simple win probability graph at Pro-Football-Reference.com identifies a not-surprising choice as the most influential play in NFL History: Wide Right. What is surprising is that they give Buffalo a 99% chance of winning after Jim Kelly spiked the ball to set up Scott Norwood’s kick. Obviously, that’s way off.1

A better estimate would say him missing the kick lowered the Bills chances of winning from about 45% to about 0%. Norwood was about 60% for his career from 40-49 yards out, and 2 for 10 from over 50. Moreover, he was 1 for 5 on grass from 40-49 before that kick. But the conditions in Tampa that night were close to ideal for kicking. It’s hard to put an exact number on things, but around 45% on that 47-yard kick seems about right.

So that 45 percentage point swing in a team’s chances of being the champ is what I’m going to call our SBD, or Super Bowl Delta, value. I’m going to identify the twenty plays with the biggest SBD values, the ones that swung the needle the most.

Here are the ground rules for making the cut. [click to continue…]

  1. I think it happens because their model basically gives you credit for your expected points on the drive, which is enough to win since Buffalo was down by a point. []
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On Friday, I explained the idea behind Playoff Leverage. That post is required reading before diving in today, but the summary is that the Super Bowl counts for more than the conference championship games, which count for more than the division round games, which count for more than the wild card games. The value that is assigned to each game — the Super Bowl is currently worth 3.14 times as much as the average playoff game — is then used to adjust the stats of the players in those games.

For quarterbacks, the main stat used to measure passing performance is Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. In case you forgot, ANY/A is defined as

[math]Pass Yards + 20*PassTDs – 45*INTs – SackYards)/(Attempts + Sacks)[/math]

Today, we’re going to look at every quarterback since 1966. Players like Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas who played before 1966 will count, but their stats from 1965 and earlier will not be included. This obviously is a serious disservice to Starr in particular, but for now, I’m going to only focus on the Super Bowl era. [click to continue…]

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Even for Football Perspective, this is a very math-heavy post. I’ve explained all the dirty work and fine details behind this system, but if you want to skip to the results section, I’ll understand. Heck, it might even make more sense to start there and then work your way back to the top.

Background

In 2012, Neil Paine wrote a fascinating article on championship leverage in the NBA, building on Tom Tango’s work on the same topic in Major League Baseball. Championship Leverage was borne out of the desire to quantify the relative importance of any particular playoff game. Truth be told, this philosophy has more practical application in sports where each playoff round consists of a series of games. But Neil applied this system to the NFL playoffs and crunched all the data for every playoff game since 1965. Then he was kind enough to send it my way, and I thought this data would make for a good post.

The best way to explain Championship Leverage is through an example. For purposes of this exercise, we assume that every game is a 50/50 proposition. At the start of the playoffs, the four teams playing on Wild Card weekend all have a 1-in-16 chance of winning the Super Bowl (assuming a 50% chance of winning each of four games). This means after the regular season ended, the Colts had a 6.25% chance of winning the Super Bowl. After beating Kansas City, Indianapolis’ win probability doubled to 12.5%. Win or lose, the Colts’ Super Bowl probability was going to move by 6.25%, a number known as the Expected Delta.

New England, by virtue of a first round bye, began the playoffs with a 12.5% chance of winning the Lombardi. With a win over Indianapolis, the Patriots’ probability of winning the Super Bowl jumped 12.5% to 25%; had New England lost, the odds would have moved from 12.5% to zero. Therefore, the Expected Delta in a Division round game is 12.5%. [click to continue…]

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No, Peyton, you're the man

No, Peyton, you're the man.

In 1984, Dan Marino set an NFL record with 48 touchdown passes, but his Dolphins lost in the Super Bowl. Twenty years later, Peyton Manning broke Marino’s record, but he lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots in the playoffs. In 2007, Tom Brady broke Manning’s touchdowns record, but he lost in the Super Bowl, too.

When the greatest quarterback seasons of all time are discussed, these three years dominate the discussion. And with good reason. But if you include the playoffs — and frankly, there’s no reason not to include the playoffs — which quarterback produced the greatest season of all time? I’m going to stipulate that the greatest quarterback season ever has to end in a Lombardi Trophy, because otherwise, I think we’ll end up back in the world of Marino ’84/Brady ’07/Manning ’04. Of course, now another Manning season has entered the mix: and with a Super Bowl win, Manning’s 2013 should and would be remembered as the greatest quarterback season of all time.

So, the question becomes, which season would he knock off the top rung? I think there are six seasons that stand out from the rest, based on regular and postseason performance.

Honorable Mention [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl Metrics

The table below shows each Super Bowl champion since 1970 and its rank in various categories. At the top, I’ve included an average of the ranks of the teams over the last 10 years and since 1970, and each team is hyperlinked to its Pro-Football-Reference team page. The categories in this first table are record, points for, points allowed, Pythagenpat record, offensive yards, defensive yards, yards differential, offensive pass yards, offensive rushing yards, defensive passing yards (i.e., passing yards allowed), and defensive rushing yards. [click to continue…]

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It’s Carroll-Harbaugh X! Okay, the Whats Your Deal Bowl may not have quite the hype of Brady/Manning XV, but don’t tell that to folks on the West Coast. Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh are longtime rivals who have managed to alienate 31 other fanbases in the NFL. For the record, Harbaugh holds a 6-3 record over Carroll, including a 4-2 mark in the NFL. Of course, Carroll’s Seahawks won the last two games at CenturyLink Field, the site of the NFC Championship Game.

Let’s begin our preview by analyzing each team’s passing offense:

Sadly, this post is not sponsored by beats by Dre

Sadly, this post is not sponsored by beats by Dre.

Picking between Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson feels like an exercise in hair-splitting. Over the last two seasons, these two have nearly identical passing numbers, ranking 4th and 5th in ANY/A. Kaepernick was slightly better last year, Wilson slightly better this year, and then Kaepernick has been better in the playoffs. By ANY/A standards, this is a complete wash.

What about the weapons? That’s one area where it at least appears like the 49ers have the edge. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis are legitimate stars who combine to give Kaepernick three versatile weapons on every play. A healthy Percy Harvin changes things for Seattle, but with Harvin declared out for the game, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller represent a clear downgrade from the 49ers bunch.

But remember, when we look at the passing statistics of Kaepernick and Wilson, those numbers already incorporate the quality of each quarterback’s targets. After all, a quarterback’s ANY/A or NY/A averages are not mere reflections of the passer, but of the passing offense as a whole. On the other hand, Kaepernick hasn’t had those three players together for most of his career. In fact, the trio has only been available in 7 of Kaepernick’s 28 career starts. In 10 starts, only Crabtree and Davis were on the team, and in another 10, Kaepernick had just Boldin and Davis.1 The table below shows Kaepernick’s numbers as a starter depending on the availability of his three weapons: [click to continue…]

  1. There was also one start, against Indianapolis, where both Crabtree and Davis were out. []
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By all accounts, this was an underwhelming quartet of games played on The Best Weekend in Football. Last year, the division round gave us an incredible Russell Wilson comeback where the Seahawks scored three fourth quarter touchdowns before falling short against the Falcons and the Peyton ManningJoe FlaccoRahim Moore classic. Seattle won this year but in boring fashion, and Broncos fans undoubtedly prefer this year’s rendition of Neutral-Zone-Infraction to last year’s heartbreak. In 2011, the 9-7 Giants pulled off the rarest of upsets: outclassing the 15-1 Packers and winning a game as huge underdogs while managing to look like the better team in the process. The day before, Alex Smith lead the 49ers in a home upset over the Saints in one of the more exciting playoff games of our generation. In 2009 and 2010, the brash Jets won road games as heavy underdogs in convincing fashion against the Chargers and Patriots. This was the halcyon era of the Mark SanchezRex Ryan Jets, also known as years 3 and 2 Before The Buttfumble. In 2008, the Ravens (over the Titans), Eagles (Giants), and Cardinals (Panthers) all won as road underdogs. The year before, the Giants shocked the Cowboys before that was our Tony Romo-adjusted expectation, and the Chargers won as 11-point underdogs in Indianapolis preventing a Tom BradyPeyton Manning upset (no such road bump this year).

In some ways, the results this weekend were a good thing. Perhaps we will remember this as the year the division round of the playoffs felt like eating a salad – a bit unsatisfying at the time, but better for us in the long term. No one would complain about seeing more Andrew Luck — actually, maybe some of us would — but getting an AFC Championship Game of Manning and Brady just feels right. We have become so accustomed to seeing fluky teams like the Chargers make runs that we’ve forgotten that it can be very good when the results match our intuition. Back in April I said that the Patriots and Broncos were on a collision course for the AFC Championship Game, although my reasoning wasn’t exactly spot on (“the key to their success is keeping Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Amendola healthy, although the Patriots will be fine as long as two of them are on the field.”)

But it’s not as if I had some special insight: as noted by Will Brinson, the 49ers, Seahawks, Patriots, and Broncos were the four teams with the best preseason odds. No one would complain about seeing more from the Saints and Panthers, but I don’t think many would argue with the idea that the 49ers and Seahawks are the two most talented teams in the league. A few years from now, there won’t be much we remember from the division round. But I have a feeling it set up two conference championship games that will be very memorable. [click to continue…]

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