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Checkdowns: Quarterback-Receiver Touchdown Pairings

A good article today from our pal Neil Paine, who asks whether Antonio Gates is the second best tight end in NFL history. I won’t weigh in on that subject, but after catching three touchdowns against the Seahawks on Sunday, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have now connected on 63 touchdown passes.

That’s the 10th most in NFL history, and the most by any quarterback/tight end pairing. The table below shows all quarterback-receiver combinations that scored at least 50 touchdown passes, including playoffs (and the AAFC). The final column shows the last year in which the duo scored a touchdown; as you can see, one other active combination is on the list, although Drew Brees and Marques Colston have not connected for a touchdown yet this year. [click to continue…]

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A full one-quarter of all NFL teams have opening day starters who have won a Super Bowl: New England (Tom Brady), Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger), Baltimore (Joe Flacco), Denver (Peyton Manning), New York Giants (Eli Manning), Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), New Orleans (Drew Brees) and Seattle (Russell Wilson) all sport Super Bowl winning passers.

That’s pretty rare. In 1991, Jeff Hostetler was the only quarterback starting in week 1 who had a Lombardi Trophy on his resume.1 From 1993 to 2012, an average of 4.0 week 1 starters had previously won a title. Having a Super Bowl winning quarterback is nice, but it doesn’t exactly make a team unique. At least not for 2014.

Year
Wk 1 SB QBs
Quarterbacks
20148Tom Brady; Ben Roethlisberger; Peyton Manning; Eli Manning; Drew Brees; Aaron Rodgers; Joe Flacco; Russell Wilson
20137Tom Brady; Ben Roethlisberger; Peyton Manning; Eli Manning; Drew Brees; Aaron Rodgers; Joe Flacco
20126Tom Brady; Ben Roethlisberger; Peyton Manning; Eli Manning; Drew Brees; Aaron Rodgers
20115Tom Brady; Ben Roethlisberger; Eli Manning; Drew Brees; Aaron Rodgers
20105Brett Favre; Tom Brady; Peyton Manning; Eli Manning; Drew Brees
20096Brett Favre; Kurt Warner; Tom Brady; Ben Roethlisberger; Peyton Manning; Eli Manning
20086Brett Favre; Kurt Warner; Tom Brady; Ben Roethlisberger; Peyton Manning; Eli Manning
20074Brett Favre; Tom Brady; Ben Roethlisberger; Peyton Manning
20064Brett Favre; Kurt Warner; Tom Brady; Brad Johnson
20054Brett Favre; Kurt Warner; Trent Dilfer; Tom Brady
20044Brett Favre; Kurt Warner; Tom Brady; Brad Johnson
20034Brett Favre; Kurt Warner; Tom Brady; Brad Johnson
20023Brett Favre; Kurt Warner; Tom Brady
20012Brett Favre; Kurt Warner
20003Troy Aikman; Brett Favre; Kurt Warner
19993Troy Aikman; Steve Young; Brett Favre
19984Troy Aikman; Steve Young; Brett Favre; John Elway
19973Troy Aikman; Steve Young; Brett Favre
19962Troy Aikman; Steve Young
19953Jeff Hostetler; Troy Aikman; Steve Young
19943Joe Montana; Jeff Hostetler; Troy Aikman
19936Joe Montana; Jim McMahon; Phil Simms; Jeff Hostetler; Mark Rypien; Troy Aikman
19922Phil Simms; Mark Rypien
19911Jeff Hostetler
19902Joe Montana; Phil Simms
19893Joe Montana; Jim McMahon; Phil Simms
19884Joe Montana; Jim McMahon; Phil Simms; Doug Williams
19872Joe Montana; Phil Simms
19862Joe Montana; Jim McMahon
19853Jim Plunkett; Joe Montana; Joe Theismann
19843Jim Plunkett; Joe Montana; Joe Theismann
19834Ken Stabler; Jim Plunkett; Joe Montana; Joe Theismann
19824Terry Bradshaw; Ken Stabler; Jim Plunkett; Joe Montana
19813Terry Bradshaw; Ken Stabler; Jim Plunkett
19803Bob Griese; Terry Bradshaw; Ken Stabler
19794Roger Staubach; Bob Griese; Terry Bradshaw; Ken Stabler
19783Roger Staubach; Terry Bradshaw; Ken Stabler
19775Joe Namath; Roger Staubach; Bob Griese; Terry Bradshaw; Ken Stabler
19764Joe Namath; Roger Staubach; Bob Griese; Terry Bradshaw
19754Joe Namath; Roger Staubach; Bob Griese; Terry Bradshaw
19744Joe Namath; Len Dawson; Roger Staubach; Bob Griese
19734Joe Namath; Johnny Unitas; Roger Staubach; Bob Griese
19723Joe Namath; Len Dawson; Johnny Unitas
19711Len Dawson
19703Bart Starr; Joe Namath; Len Dawson
19692Bart Starr; Joe Namath
19681Bart Starr
19671Bart Starr
  1. Phil Simms was the team’s backup, Joe Montana missed the entire year with an elbow injury, Doug Williams had retired, Jim McMahon was the backup in Philadelphia, Jim Plunkett and Joe Theismann had long been retired, and that takes us all the way back to 1979. []
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Guest Trivia: High and Low Points Scored In a Season

Some trivia today from longtime commenter Jason Winter. Jason is a former sports blogger (http://jasonwinter.blogspot.com/) who’s shifted his focus to video games (http://jasonwinter.wordpress.com/).

1) In a 16-game regular season, what team has the highest low point total in their games? In other words, this is the only team to score 24 or more points in every game.

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2) After reading Jason’s first trivia, I decided to do some digging. Since 1940, only two other teams scored more than 20 points in every game, including the postseason. Both teams were from the ’50s.

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[click to continue…]

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Great Offenses and Missing the Playoffs

A common sight on any fall Sunday in the early '00s.

A common sight on any fall Sunday in the early '00s.

From 2002 to 2005, Peyton Manning was the best quarterback in the NFL, at least statistically, by a wide margin. But the #2 quarterback in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt was Trent Green, and there was a wide gap between Green and all other quarterbacks not named Manning.  Over that same period, Tony Gonzalez led all tight ends in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. And the Chiefs rushed for 34 more touchdowns than any other team, in addition to ranking third in rushing yards and fourth in yards per carry.

Kansas City ranked 4th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt in 2002, 1st in 2003, 3rd in 2004, and 2nd in 2005.  In terms of Adjusted Yards per Carry, the Chiefs were 2nd in 2002, 3rd in 2003, 1st in 2004, and 3rd in 2005. That’s an incredible streak of not just dominance, but balanced dominance. And Kansas City missed the playoffs in three of those four years! (pours one out for Jason Lisk).

On Monday, we looked at some great defenses that missed the playoffs. Today, a look at some of the best offenses to stay home for the winter. And in the last 15 years, the 2002 Chiefs, 2004 Chiefs, and 2005 Chiefs are the only teams to rank in the top five in both ANY/A and AYPC and miss the playoffs.

What other teams since the merger met those criteria? [click to continue…]

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Great Defenses and Missing the Playoffs

Lewis finds out his quarterback is Kyle Boller

Lewis finds out his quarterback is Kyle Boller.

Ten years ago, the teams with three of the four best defenses in football missed the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills ranked 1st in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt allowed and 2nd in Adjusted Yards per Carry allowed. That year, Sam Adams, Takeo Spikes, Terrence McGee, and Nate Clements made the Pro Bowl, while Aaron Schobel had 8 sacks and London Fletcher was London Fletcher but younger. The team ranked 1st in DVOA by a good margin, but finished 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs.

That year, Baltimore ranked 4th in ANY/A allowed, 3rd in AYPC allowed, and 2nd in DVOA. The Ravens weren’t quite as good on defense as the ’00 or ’06 iterations, but still had Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Adalius Thomas, Chris McAlister, and Ed Reed (not to mention a 37-year-old Deion Sanders). Of course, this was the Ravens team that was one of the most one-sided team in NFL history. Baltimore also finished 9-7 in a year where six AFC teams won double-digit games.

Over in the NFC, Washington’s defense ranked 1st in Adjusted YPC and 3rd in ANY/A in Joe Gibbs’ first season back in D.C. Marcus Washington was the team’s only Pro Bowler, but the defense featured a rookie Sean Taylor, Ryan Clark, Shawn Springs, Antonio Pierce, and Cornelius Griffin. Despite ranking 4th in defensive DVOA, the team won just six games.

So why today are we looking at these three teams, nearly ten years later? It’s not to remind you that Drew Bledsoe, Kyle Boller, and Mark Brunell failed to guide those teams to the playoffs. As it turns out, these are the last three teams to finish in the top five in both ANY/A allowed and AYPC allowed and still miss the playoffs. In fact, since 1970, just nine other teams have managed to pull off that feat.

  • In 2002, Miami ranked 5th in both ANY/A and AYPC allowed, while the Panthers ranked 4th in both categories. Carolina was a year away from a Super Bowl appearance, while the Dolphins were nearing the end of their Jason Taylor-Zach Thomas-Sam Madison run.
  • In 1999, a year before The Year, the Ravens ranked 2nd in both metrics but finished just 8-8.
  • You know all about the 1991 Eagles, so of course they are on this list.
  • The 1987 Giants, a year after winning the Super Bowl, still produced a Super Bowl caliber defense behind Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Pepper Johnson, and Harry Carson, but the team’s offensive line (3rd most sacks allowed, 2nd worst YPC average) torpedoed the offense.
  • In 1978, a year before nearly carrying the team to the Super Bowl, Lee Roy Selmon and Dave Pear helped Tampa Bay rank 1st in AYPC allowed and 3rd in ANY/A allowed. But a miserable offense led to a losing record in the franchise’s third season.
  • The 1974 Packers ranked 5th in both categories. The defense sent Ted Hendricks, Willie Buchanon, and Ken Ellis to the Pro Bowl, but if you think this is just a thinly-veiled reason to bring up John Hadl, you are a regular reader of this blog.

Since 2004, six teams have ranked 1st or 2nd in AYPC allowed but missed the playoffs. Two of those seasons occurred last year, with the Jets and Cardinals, respectively. The 2006 and 2007 Vikings also join that list, along with the 2007 Ravens (a year after a magnificent season) and the 2010 49ers (a year before a magnificent season).

Having a dominant pass defense is even more likely to send a team to the playoffs. Since 2004, only one team — the 2012 Bears — ranked 1st in ANY/A allowed but missed the playoffs. The 2009 Bills are the only team to rank 2nd in ANY/A allowed and miss the playoffs, while the 2013 Bills, 2010 Chargers, and ’05 Jets are the only teams since ’04 to rank 3rd in ANY/A allowed and still fail to make it to January.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

  • The 2004 season was kind of crazy.
  • Since 2002, 24 teams have ranked in the top five in both pass defense and rush defense; five of those teams missed the playoffs, although the last 16 teams pull off this feat have made the postseason.
  • Of the 36 teams to rank in the top 3 in Adjusted Yards per Carry allowed since 2002, only 19 of those teams made the playoffs. Although it’s worth noting that eight of the 17 teams to miss the playoffs out of this group ranked 20th or worse in ANY/A allowed.
  • 28 of the 36 teams to rank in the top 3 in ANY/A allowed made the playoffs.
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Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy.

I’ve already spent some time this off-season discussing the Rams fantastic front four. Robert Quinn made the Pro Bowl last season, and he’s a good bet to make the trip to Hawaii again this year as long as he stays healthy. Adding Aaron Donald to a line that also has Chris Long and Michael Brockers means St. Louis should have the best 4-3 defensive line in the NFL this year.

The best 3-4 defensive line? That honor probably belongs to the New York Jets. Muhammad Wilkerson made the Pro Bowl last year and would have been a second-team AP All-Pro choice if that organization knew anything about how to create a ballot. The other defensive end, Sheldon Richardson, was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. The nose tackle, Damon Harrison, was easily the top run-stuffing tackle in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus, and was PFF’s highest-graded nose tackle overall.  You will probably find this hard to believe, but Rex Ryan has said that he wants to have all three of the Jets starting defensive linemen make the Pro Bowl.

How rare is that? Pretty rare — in fact, a 3-4 line has never sent all three players to the Pro Bowl. But even among 4-3 teams, sending three defensive linemen to Hawaii is a very rare feat. Although you might be surprised about when it last happened.

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What other teams have sent three defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl during the Super Bowl era? [click to continue…]

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The Rams and First Round Linemen

Robert Quinn finds out who the team's offensive coordinator is

Robert Quinn finds out who the team's offensive coordinator is.

Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays do a great job on their NFL podcasts. Yesterday, I listened to their NFC West preview, and it’s just stunning the amount of highly drafted talent the Rams have on both lines. We already know that the Rams have four former first rounders on the team’s starting defensive line, making them the first team since the 2012 Saints to pull off that feat. With Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Michael Brockers, and Aaron Donald, St. Louis has the best defensive line (at least on paper) in the NFL.

But the Rams also have two former first round picks on the offensive line, too, with Jake Long and Greg Robinson, the team’s first overall pick this year.  In fact, consider:

  • St. Louis has three linemen who were first or second overall picks: Long, Long, and Robinson. (Imagine if the Jason Smith pick worked out?)
  • The Rams also have three other linemen drafted in the top fourteen in Quinn, Brockers, and Donald.
  • Add in Rodger Saffold, and seven of the Rams’ starting nine linemen were drafted in the top 33. The exceptions: Scott Wells and Joe Barksdale.

[click to continue…]

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Leading Receivers Trivia

The GOAT

The GOAT.

Roger Craig, 1985.

Terrell Owens, 1999.
Terrell Owens, 2000.
Tim Brown, 2001.

Neil Paine wrote a fantastic post today at 538 about wide receivers competing with their teammates for production. That inspired me to start crunching some numbers. From 1985 to 2003, Jerry Rice played in at least 8 games in 18 different seasons. In fourteen of those seasons — including every year from age 24 through age 36, inclusive — Rice led his team in receiving yards per game. In the other four years, Rice ranked 2nd on his team in receiving yards per game, and usually not far behind the number one man.1 Rice finished his career with a forgettable season in Seattle, where three more players — Darrell Jackson, Koren Robinson, and Bobby Engram — out-gained a 42-year-old Rice in receiving yards per game.

What about Marvin Harrison? He led the Colts in receiving yards per game in nine of his 12 seasons in which he played in at least eight games. In 1997, Sean Dawkins edged a Harrison by 3.3 yards per game. In 2004, Reggie Wayne bested Harrison by six yards per game. And in Harrison’s final year, both Wayne and Dallas Clark outgained Harrison. [click to continue…]

  1. In ’85, Craig averaged 63.5 YPG, while Rice averaged 57.9. In 2000, Rice led the team in receiving yards, but Owens averaged 53.9 yards per game, Rice 51.9. Owens blew Rice out of the water in 2000; in 2001, Brown edged him, 72.8-71.2. []
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Touchdowns in Losses

A fun trivia question from Scott Kacsmar this week:

The most TD passes a QB threw in one season in games he LOST is 25. Name the QB, and if you can, the year.

Here’s the answer:

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Who is the career leader in touchdown passes in losses?

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Who is the single-season leader in rushing touchdowns in losses?

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What about the career leader in rushing touchdowns in losses?

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How about the single-season leader in receiving touchdowns in losses?

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Finally, what about the career leader? There’s a three-way tie in this category, with 46 touchdown receptions in losses.

Click 'Show' for the Answer Show


The trivia run ends tomorrow, as Andrew Healy has another fun post.
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The past couple of days, we looked at the players with the most receiving yards and rushing yards in their final 16 regular season games. Today, we get to the quarterbacks.

Only one non-active player threw for 4,000 yards in his final 16 games.

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Three other players threw for 3900+ yards. That doesn’t include Dan Fouts (3,805) or Dan Marino (3,869), but it does include quarterbacks from the great, the good, and the ugly category.

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I’m still short on time, so let’s keep the trivia train rolling.  Yesterday, I looked at the players with the most receiving yards in their last 16 regular season games. Today, the players with the most rushing yards in their last 16 games.

Excluding LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, and Doug Martin, only five players have rushed for over 1,500 yards in their final sixteen games.  The record-holder rushed for 1,702 yards in his final sixteen games.  Do you know who it is?

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One other player rushed for at least 1,600 yards in his last 16 games  Can you name him?

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What about the other three players who rushed for 1,500 yards in their careers? All three retired early.

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I’m very short on time this week, so here’s a fun trivia question. Last week, I noted that Justin Blackmon gained 1,201 receiving yards in his last 16 games. As it turns out, if Blackmon never plays in another NFL game, that would set the record for most receiving yards in a player’s final sixteen games (this excludes all active players, of course).

Who holds that record now? Two players gained just over 1,100 yards in their final sixteen games. Can you name them?

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Rounding out the top five: Hart Lee Dykes caught 71 passes for 1,098 yards in his final sixteen games, as an off-the-field incident (which has nothing on this off-the-field incident) and repeated knee injuries ended his career. Finally, Terrell Owens gained 80 receptions, 1,087 yards, and 10 touchdowns in his last sixteen games.

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Quarterback Losses Trivia

Can you name the two quarterbacks with the most losses in a single season?

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What about the quarterback with the most losses during his rookie year?
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[click to continue…]
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Quarterback Wins: Outlier Seasons

Testaverde led the Jets to the AFCCG in 1998

Testaverde led the Jets to the AFCCG in 1998.

The 1998 season was one of my favorite years in NFL history. It was also a pretty weird one. We had Terrell Davis rushing for 2,000 yards, rookies Randy Moss and Fred Taylor making defenses look silly, and a quartet of old quarterbacks stun the football world. Doug Flutie came out of nowhere Canada to lead the Bills to a 7-3 record after being out of the NFL for nine years. Randall Cunningham, who had retired after the ’96 season, came off the bench in ’98 to produce one of the best backup seasons in NFL history. The other two quarterbacks are the stars of this post.

Vinny Testaverde had a very up-and-down career, although he was almost certainly a much better quarterback than you remember. Okay, Testaverde has lost more games than any other quarterback, but he played on some really bad teams throughout his career. Testaverde retired with a career winning percentage of 0.423. In 1998, he started 13 games for the Jets; based on that career winning percentage, we would have expected him to win 5.5 games in 1998. Instead, Testaverde went 12-1 in the regular season, giving him 6.5 more wins than we would expect. If that sounds remarkable to you, it should: that’s the 2nd largest discrepancy of any quarterback in NFL history in a single season (minimum 40 career wins). [click to continue…]

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The core of the Manning era Colts

Presumably the picture that caused the NFL to consider eliminating the Pro Bowl.

Last week, I looked at the top receivers and the quarterbacks who threw it to them. Today, we flip that question around and look at which receivers the top quarterbacks threw to. I used the exact same methodology from the previous post, so please read that for the fine details.

For Peyton Manning, 20% of his career passing yards came via Marvin Harrison, and another 16% came from Reggie Wayne.  Both of those numbers will decline the longer Manning plays, of course, but for now, those players dominate his list (Dallas Clark is third at seven percent). That’s a pretty stark departure from other quarterbacks such as say, I dunno, Tom Brady.  For the Patriots signal caller, Wes Welker is his top man (13%), followed by Deion Branch (9%), Troy Brown (7%), Rob Gronkowski (7%), and then Randy Moss (5%).

The table below lists the top 7 receivers for each of the 200 quarterbacks with the most passing yards since 1960. The list is sorted by the quarterback’s career passing yards, and I have removed the percentage sign from the table to enable proper sorting.  For example, here’s how to read Brett Favre’s line.  He’s the career leader in passing yards, and played from 1992 to 2010.  His top receiver was Donald Driver (9%), followed by Antonio Freeman (9%), Robert Brooks (6%), Sterling Sharpe (5%), Bill Schroeder (5%), Ahman Green (4%), and William Henderson. [click to continue…]

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Last weekend, we looked at the team with the most Pro Bowlers to win a championship. Today, we look at the reverse: the team with the fewest Pro Bowlers to win it all.

As a technical matter, the Pro Bowl hasn’t always been around, so some pre-1950 teams and the 1960 Oilers (there was no Pro Bowl in the AFL’s first season) had zero Pro Bowlers. But only one team has had exactly one Pro Bowler and won the title. Here are some hints:

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Average margins in Wins and Losses

Okay, some fun trivia to kick off the week. Do you know which team last year had the worst points differential in games they lost? I’ll put the answer in spoiler tags.

Click 'Show' for the Answer Show


Where does that rank historically? I thought it would be fun to look at the teams since 1950 with the worst average margin of defeat looking exclusively at performance in losses. This was a bit of a tricky one, but Scott Kacsmar was able to guess it on twitter. The answer?

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The table below shows the 100 teams with the worst average points differential in losses since 1950. As always, the tables in this post are fully sortable and searchable. For viewing purposes, I’m displaying only the top 20, but you can change that in the dropdown box on the left. [click to continue…]
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Trivia: Pro Bowlers on NFL Champions

Yesterday, we looked at the team with the most Hall of Famers in a single season in NFL history. That team, which won the NFL championship, had 8 of its players make the Pro Bowl. That’s a very high number, of course, but over 30 teams have won it all and had eight or more players make the Pro Bowl.

Three teams have had twelve players make the Pro Bowl in a championship season. Two of them came in the AFL. In 1961, QB George Blanda, HB Billy Cannon, FB Charley Tolar, WR Charley Hennigan, TE Bob McLeod, LT Al Jamison, C Bob Schmidt, DE Don Floyd, DT Ed Husmann, MLB Dennit Morris, and cornerbacks Tony Banfield and Mark Johnston, all made the Pro Bowl for the Houston Oilers.  Somehow, Bill Groman, who led the league with 17 touchdowns and was a first-team All-Pro selection, was not a Pro Bowler.

A year later, another Texas team won the AFL championship and sent a dozen players to the Pro Bowl. Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans fielded QB Len Dawson, HB Abner Haynes, FB Curtis McClinton, TE Fred Arbanas, LT Jim Tyrer, LG Marvin Terrell, RT Jerry Cornelison, DE Mel Branch, DT Jerry Mays, LLB E.J. Holub, MLB Sherrill Headrick, and CB Dave Grayson en route to an 11-3 record.

But only one NFL champion has sent 12 players to the Pro Bowl.  Can you guess who?

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Most Hall of Famers on an NFL Team

Today’s trivia is a straightforward one: only one team in NFL history has fielded 11 players who are currently members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Can you name that team?

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At the end of my Seahawks-Saints playoff preview, I came up with (what I thought was) a pretty neat bit of trivia:

New Orleans gained 4918 passing yards and allowed only 3105 passing yards. That 1813 yard difference is largest by any NFL team in history. The 1961 Oilers, led by George Blanda, Bill Groman, and Charley Hennigan, actually gained 2,001 more passing yards than they allowed, but Houston of course was an AFL team. And there’s a bit of an asterisk here because of the games played: the 1943 Bears, 1951 Rams, and 1967 Jets also had a larger passing yards differential on a per-game basis. But regardless, that puts the Saints in some pretty impressive company. The Oilers, Bears, and Rams all won their league’s championships that season, and Joe Namath’s Jets won the Super Bowl the next season. The team with the fifth largest passing yards differential on a per-game basis, prior to the Saints, was the 2006 Colts, also a Super Bowl champion.

I never ran the same numbers but for rushing yards, because I just assumed it would be dominated by the ’72 Dolphins and other similar teams.  But as it turns out, the undefeated Dolphins rank only third in net rushing yards in a single season since 1950, even on a per-game basis.  In 1972, Miami rushed for an amazing 2,960 yards, but allowed 1,548 yards on the ground to opposing teams. That comes out to a 1,412 yard difference, or a +100.9 rushing yards per game differential.

The 2001 Steelers, with Kordell Stewart, Jerome Bettis, and a suffocating defense, finished with a +98.7 differential, the fifth best differential since 1950.  The ’84 Bears, behind Walter Payton and their own dominant defense, checks in at #4 at +99.8.  The second best performance is owned by the ’76 Steelers, who finished with a +108.1 differential.  That was the year Pittsburgh allowed just 28 points over the team’s final 9 games, and Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier both hit the 1,000-yard mark (they were the second duo to do so, behind Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris on the ’72 Dolphins).

None of those teams caused me any surprise, which I guess is why I never ran the numbers until today.  But it would have taken me quite a few more guesses to come up with the number one team on the list.  That’s why I’ll give you guys some hints. [click to continue…]

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Weekend Trivia: Sack Differential

White and Ryan helped lead a dominant Eagles pass rush

White and Ryan helped lead a dominant Eagles pass rush.

Last year, the Denver Broncos led the NFL in sack differential — that is, sacks recorded by the defense minus sacks allowed by the offense. Having Peyton Manning really helps, as the Broncos had essentially an average number of defensive sacks (41) but ranked first in offensive sacks (20). So Denver ranked 1st in 2013 at +21, with the Panthers and Rams tying for second at +17 each. The worst team was the Jaguars at -19, with the Dolphins (-16) and Bucs/Falcons (-12) not too far behind.

A few years ago, Mike Tanier wrote a great column on the 1986 Eagles, the team that obliterated the record for sacks allowed with 104. But since Philadelphia had 53 sacks of their own (having Reggie White tends to help), Philadelphia was able to pull into a tie for worst sack differential of all time. That honor of -51 is shared with the 1961 Minnesota Vikings, an expansion team led by our good pal Fran Tarkenton. Minnesota’s defense recorded an absurdly low 16 sacks that season (the 14-team league average, including Minnesota, was 38), and led the league by a substantial margin with 67 sacks, most of them attributed to Tarkenton. Back then, expansion teams were not very good, although the team would turn things around soon.

What about the teams with the best sack differential? Four teams have recorded 40 or more sacks than they’ve allowed. [click to continue…]

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Kaepernick looks primed for a career season

Kaepernick looks primed for a career season.

Colin Kaepernick won’t be hurting for weapons this year, which may be why San Francisco decided to give him a massive contract extension prior to the season. So will this be a career year for the young quarterback? Even if he plays well, he may not throw for 4,000 yards due to game script; after all, the 49ers held an average lead 5.9 points last year, and as a result, the team ranked 31st in pass attempts. San Francisco figures to be excellent again, but Kaepernick should produce very strong efficiency numbers in 2014. Assuming they all stay healthy and make the roster, check out the quintet of weapons Kaepernick will have at his disposal:

  • Anquan Boldin was dominant for San Francisco last year, and 2013 marked the sixth time in his career he’s topped the 1,000-yard mark. He maxed out with a 1,402-yard season with Arizona in 2005.
  • Michael Crabtree was limited to just five games after recoving from a torn Achilles, but he recorded 1,105 yards on a run-heavy 49ers team in 2012.
  • Steve Johnson had 1,000-yard seasons in 2010, 2011, and 2012 (with a high of 1,073 in ’10) with the Bills, but will be a 49er in 2014.
  • Tight end Vernon Davis has actually never had a 1,000-yard year, but he did gain 965 yards and score 13 touchdowns in 2009.
  • Brandon Lloyd may not even make the roster, but the man drafted by San Francisco 11 years ago has seen some success in between his stops with the 49ers.  Two years ago, he gained 911 yards for the Patriots, and in 2010, he led the league with 1,448 receiving yards while playing in Denver.

As of a year ago, only eight teams in NFL history had ever fielded a roster with five players who gained 1,000 receiving yards in a season at some point in their careers. But none of those teams entered a season with five former 1,000-yard receivers: for each of those teams, at least one of the five players had a 1,000-yard season at some point in the future.

But the 2014 49ers would only become the second team to enter a season with five players who had previously gained at least 965 receiving yards in a season. Can you guess the first? [click to continue…]

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Trivia: Rushing Yards with Multiple Franchises

Only two players in NFL history have ever rushed for 5,000 yards with two teams. Can you name either of them?

Here’s a couple of hints for the only player to rush for 5,300+ yards with two different teams.

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Click 'Show' for the Answer Show

Here’s a couple of hints for the other player:

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Click 'Show' for the Answer Show

One other player was really, really close.

Here’s a couple of hints for that player:

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Click 'Show' for the Answer Show
[click to continue…]
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Four First Round Defensive Linemen

The St. Louis Rams may have had the best defensive line in football in 2013. At defensive end, the Rams had two stars in Robert Quinn (the Defensive Player of the Year) and Chris Long (who has recorded 33 sacks over the past three years). As part of the RG3 trade, St. Louis traded down in the first round of the 2012 draft and wound up selecting defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who had a breakout sophomore season. The other defensive tackle spot was manned by Kendall Langford, a solid if unremarkable 28-year-old player. That defensive line helped St. Louis record a sack on 9.2% of all pass plays in 2013, the second highest rate in the NFL (behind Carolina).

Then, the Rams drafted a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2014 Draft. And not just any defensive tackle, but Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, the combine superstar who led the nation in tackles for losses last year. Assuming Donald replaces Langford in the lineup, that gives the Rams for first round picks on the defensive line, which brings us to the first trivia question of the day.

Can you name the last team to have four different defensive linemen who were drafted in the first round start 8+ games in a season? [click to continue…]

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Turnover Among Targets, Part II

Yesterday, I looked at team turnover in the passing game for every team in 2013. You can review the pretty complicated1 formula in that post, but the short version is to give each player credit for the lower of two values: his percentage of team receiving yards in Year N and his percentage of team yards in Year N-1. Today, I use that same concept to analyze team passing for every year since the merger.

And the team with the greatest receiving turnover in NFL history (even including pre-1970 teams) is the 1989 Detroit Lions. Take a look at the players who caught passes for Detroit in 1988:

Receiving
No. Age Pos G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
82 Pete Mandley 27 PR/WR 15 14 44 617 14.0 4 41.1
33 Garry James 25 RB 16 16 39 382 9.8 2 23.9
80 Carl Bland 27 wr 16 2 21 307 14.6 2 19.2
89 Jeff Chadwick 28 WR 10 8 20 304 15.2 3 30.4
83 Gary Lee 23 KR/wr 14 6 22 261 11.9 1 18.6
30 James Jones 27 FB 14 14 29 259 8.9 0 18.5
87 Pat Carter 22 TE 15 14 13 145 11.2 0 9.7
49 Tony Paige 26 rb 16 2 11 100 9.1 0 6.3
81 Stephen Starring 27 6 0 5 89 17.8 0 14.8
38 Scott Williams 26 11 0 3 46 15.3 0 4.2
81 Mark Lewis 27 te 3 3 3 32 10.7 1 10.7
41 Paco Craig 23 8 0 2 29 14.5 0 3.6
26 Carl Painter 24 12 0 1 1 1.0 0 0.1
Team Total 26.2 16 213 2572 12.1 13 160.8

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  1. While I admit to it being complicated, I think the added value in accuracy is worth the added layer of complexity; frankly, I can’t think of a simple way to calculate turnover that really captures what analysts value. []
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Turnover Among Targets, Part I

Cam may need to really be Superman in 2014

Cam may need to really be Superman in 2014.

The Carolina Panthers have experienced a lot of turnover this offseason. Steve Smith (Baltimore), Ted Ginn (Arizona), Domenik Hixon (Chicago), and Brandon LaFell (New England) are all gone. Those four players were the only wide receivers to catch a pass for Carolina in 2013, and they accounted for 59% of the Panthers receiving yards. last year. What does this mean for Cam Newton? Last August, a couple of star quarterbacks appeared to be going through some similarly significant turnover among their targets.

Tom Brady lost four of his top five targets from 2012 and the fifth was Rob Gronkowski; in retrospect, most people underestimated how big of an impact this would have on Brady’s numbers. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger’s receivers were a big question mark entering the season, but a monster year from Antonio Brown prevented Roethlisberger’s numbers from tanking. As it turned out, Roethlisberger didn’t wind up having much turnover, but the quarterback who experienced the second-most turnover wound up winning the Comeback Player of the Year award.

For Carolina, I think some of the departures have been overblown. The defense should again be one of the best in the NFL, and it’s not as though the passing game was outstanding last year. Greg Olsen led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns last year, and he’ll be back in 2014. In addition, the Panthers averaged 7.4 yards per attempt on passes to Greg Olsen last year and 7.1 yards per attempt (the league average) on passes to all other players. Carolina signed Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood, and Joe Webb, should draft a receiver or two in May, and has a potential sleeper in Marvin McNutt. I think they’ll be just fine, mostly because that’s all the passing game was last year.

Since it’s still a bit early to figure out exactly how the Panthers passing game will look in 2014, I thought we could use some time this weekend to review some history. Which teams have experienced the most turnover among their targets? And how do we even measure such a thing? [click to continue…]

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Interesting stat about LeBron James courtesy of Tim Reynolds: The Heat superstar has increased his field goal percentage in seven straight seasons. Take a look at his field goal percentage by season:

Season Age Tm FG%
2003-04 19 CLE .417
2004-05 ★ 20 CLE .472
2005-06 ★ 21 CLE .480
2006-07 ★ 22 CLE .476
2007-08 ★ 23 CLE .484
2008-09 ★ 24 CLE .489
2009-10 ★ 25 CLE .503
2010-11 ★ 26 MIA .510
2011-12 ★ 27 MIA .531
2012-13 ★ 28 MIA .565
2013-14 ★ 29 MIA .567

Now as you guys can probably figure out, I’m not terribly invested in the career of LeBron James or basketball stats. But one thing I know is that improving on any metric in seven straight years is really freakin’ rare.

How rare? Only one quarterback in NFL history has increased his passing yards output in six straight years. That quarterback actually increased his passing yards per game in eight straight seasons, but no other quarterback can come close to matching that feat, either. Can you guess who our mystery quarterback is?

Trivia hint 1 Show
Trivia hint 2 Show
Trivia hint 3 Show
Click 'Show' for the Answer Show

Here, take a look at his career stats:

Click 'Show' Show

So while 1) my interest in basketball is limited, and 2) as Neil would tell me, field goal percentage is meaningless, simply increasing your performance in any stat for seven straight years is remarkable. No running back has ever increased their rushing output in seven straight years, although Earl Ferrell (if you count his rookie year of zero rushing yards per game, 1982-1988) and Pete Johnson (1977-1983) both increased their rushing yards per game in six straight years.

No receiver has seen a seven-year increase in any stat, either.  However, three players have increased their number of receptions in six straight years: Jason Avant (2006-2012), Raymond Berry (1955-1961), and Reggie Wayne (2001-2007). However, none of them managed to pull off that feat in receiving yards.

But two other players did: Tim Brown (1989-1995) and Marcus Pollard (if you count his rookie year of zero receiving yards, 1995-2001) increased their receiving yards in six straight seasons. And Leonard Thompson (1977-1983), Brown, and Pollard were the only players to increase their receiving yards per game in six straight years.

So whatever you think of LeBron, just know that here’s one more reason a stats geek could find his career fascinating.

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Interactive Trivia: Jerry Rice And [_______]

One of only two players to ...

One of only two players to ...

If you play with enough filters of the “my dad can beat up your sister” variety, you can get some pretty counter-intuitive results. For example, Jerry Rice and DeSean Jackson are the only two players in NFL history to catch 350 passes, gain 6,000 receiving yards, and average 17.1 yards per reception through their first six seasons. Here’s proof.

Here’s another one: Jerry Rice and Brett Favre are the only two players to ever catch a pass after turning 40 years old.

Like touchdowns? Rice and Cris Carter are the only two players to catch 35+ touchdowns from inside of five yards.

And one more: Jerry Rice and Doug Flutie are the only two players to ever score a touchdown after turning 42 years old.

But putting Rice in a group with Hall of Famer (or future Hall of Famer) isn’t very fun, and even Flutie and Jackson are good enough players that the trivia isn’t shocking. Hence today’s post: I want to see who can come up with the worst player to be in a bit of Rice trivia along these same lines. I will defer to mob rule to select a winning entry.

The rules:

1) The trivia must take this form: “Jerry Rice and [___] are the only two players…”

2) Everyone must be eligible, so no restrictions based on team. So it can’t be “Rice and Terrell Owens were the only two 49ers to… or “Rice and Deacon Jones are the only two players from Mississippi Valley State to….”. However, a “Rice and [__] are the only two players to [________] for two or more teams would be acceptable. Make sense? If not, hey, give it a shot and maybe the crowds will approve.

Fire away, and remember, the PFR play index is your friend. Multiple entries are not just permitted, but encouraged.

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sb xlviii squaresLast year, I wrote an article about Super Bowl squares. Well, it’s that time of year again, so here’s your helpful cheat sheet to win at your Super Bowl party.

Every Super Bowl squares pool is different, but this post is really aimed at readers who play in pools where you can trade or pick squares. I looked at every regular season and postseason game since 2002. The table below shows the likelihood of each score after each quarter, along with three final columns that show the expected value of a $100 prize pool under three different payout systems. The “10/” column shows the payout in a pool where 10% of the prize money is given out after each of the first three quarters and 70% after the end of the game; the next column is for pools that give out 12.5% of the pool after the first and third quarters, 25% at halftime, and 50% for the score at the end of the game. The final column is for pools that give out 25% of the pot after each quarter — since I think that is the most common pool structure, I’ve sorted the table by that column, but you can sort by any column you like. To make the table fully sortable, I had to remove the percentage symbols, but “19, 6.7, 4.1, 2″ should be read as 19.0%, 6.7%, 4.1%, and 2.0%. [click to continue…]

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Buffalo just sacked Tannehill again

Buffalo just sacked Tannehill again.

Did you happen to notice the stat line produced by Ryan Tannehill last week? He completed just 10 of 27 passes for only 82 yards in a 19-0 loss to the Bills. A 37% completion rate and a 3.0 yards per attempt average are ugly numbers in their own right, but Tannehill was also sacked seven times for 46 yards. That means on 34 dropbacks, he produced…. 36 yards.

Tannehill did not throw an interception in the 19-0 shutout, so perhaps that’s why this game has gone under the radar. But a quarterback does not get to fare so poorly and avoid coverage of it at Football Perspective. Can you imagine if Tony Romo or Jay Cutler had a game like this? Why aren’t people talking about this? Tannehill averaged One Net Yard per Attempt over THIRTY FOUR DROPBACKS!?! Tannehill’s NY/A average dropped from 5.72 to 5.46, an unheard of drop this late in the season.

To be fair, Tannehill’s lack of interceptions does make the performance less horrible. But today, I want to just focus on yards produced on pass attempts (including sacks). Lots of good quarterbacks have had bad days when it comes to interceptions, but how often does a quarterback struggle so much on nearly every play for 34 plays?

Let’s provide some context. This season, the average pass play (including sacks) has produced 6.217 net yards, which means you would expect 34 dropbacks to produce 211.4 yards. That means Tannehill’s performance produced 175.4 net yards under average. Among quarterbacks with at least 15 pass attempts in a game, that’s the 25th worst performance since 1960, and the 7th worst performance since 2000.

The table below shows the worst 250 performances since 1960, although the only game I calculated for 2013 was Tannehill’s. The worst performance using this formula goes to Green Bay’s Lynn Dickey in 1981 against the Jets in week 16. He completed just 12 of 33 passes for 96 yards (I’ve included the TD and INT numbers even though they are not part of the calculation), and was sacked an incredible 9 times for 57 yards (Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, and Marty Lyons each had multiple sacks). So on 42 dropbacks, Dickey gained 39 yards, for an average of 0.9 NY/A. The NFL average that season was 6.02 NY/A, which means Dickey produced 214 Net Yards below average.
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