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Temporary Archive Page

As regular readers know, the site is currently in somewhat of a transition period, at least from a tech standpoint. Rest assured, content will continue to flow on a daily basis (at a minimum) while we fix things on the back end.

One of the current casualties is the archive page, which is one of the favorite pages on the site both for me and many readers. The archive page provides a simple listing of every post ever published on the site. Well, I’ve created this temporary archive page, which includes every post (except this one) through September 9, 2014. Hopefully, this helps you folks out in the short-term, and thank you for sticking around during this maintenance period. [click to continue…]

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The Coryell Index

Yesterday, we looked at the Billick Index, a measure of coaches who managed teams that were good at preventing offensive touchdowns and bad at creating them. Today, the reverse, which is appropriately named after Don Coryell. Coryell’s teams were slanted towards the offense even when he was in St. Louis, but the situation exploded when he went to San Diego. Here’s a look at Coryell’s year-by-year grades in the Coryell Index: for example, in 1981, his Chargers scored 23.1 more offensive touchdowns than the average team, while opposing offenses against San Diego scored 10.1 more touchdowns than average. Add those two numbers together, and there were 33.3 more offensive touchdowns scored in San Diego games than in the average game in 1981 (this is the same information presented as yesterday, but now the “Grade” column reflects the number above average).

Year
Record
OFF
DEF
GRADE
19734-9-11.8-11.813.5
197410-43.52.51
197511-36.50.55.9
197610-44.8-1.86.6
19777-76.6-6.613.1
19788-46.8-1.68.4
197912-412.46.65.8
198011-51119.9
198110-623.1-10.133.3
19826-314.3-0.314.6
19836-105.1-16.121.1
19847-96.4-13.419.8
19858-819.8-15.835.6
19861-72.4-2.95.3
Total111-83-1124.4-69.6194

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Previewing the World Cup by NFL Divisions

The Super Bowl is a football competition decided by a series of single-elimination playoff games played after 32 teams attempt to qualify from eight groups of four teams each. That’s the World Cup, too!

And just like the NFL, there are some not-so-good AFC South-ish groups and some very good NFC West-like groups. So let’s assign each World Cup group its doppelganger of an NFL division, and then every team to one of the NFL teams in that division.

That gives us our NFL World Cup Bracket. The AFC South is Group E, which contains no great team and at least one candidate to be the Jacksonville Jaguars of the World Cup. The NFC West is Group B, which has three legitimate contenders to win the whole thing, one of which will not even make it out of the group.

Each team is listed in its predicted order of finish within the group according to my highly scientific NFL-based World Cup prediction machine. Teams with a * are predicted to advance out of the group.

NFL WC Bracket [click to continue…]

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Bradford had a lot of surrounding talent in Norman.

Bradford had a lot of surrounding talent in Norman.

Do players get too much credit when teammates make them look good? Take Johnny Manziel. In the last thirty years, no quarterback has had teammates around him drafted so highly. Last year, his left tackle (Luke Joeckel) was the second pick in the draft. This year, his new left tackle (Jake Matthews) was the sixth pick in the draft and his talented wide receiver went immediately after. That’s three top seven picks from his offense in two drafts. Does this means, perhaps, that Manziel was riding those players’ coattails? Or is it Manziel who helped make his teammates look better?

The first round quarterback with the closest comparable surrounding college talent — a left-handed former Florida QB drafted in 2010 — doesn’t appear to be a very promising comparison. Tim Tebow’s top wide receiver was drafted 22nd overall (Percy Harvin) in 2009, and successive linemen Pouncey brothers were drafted in the top 20 the next two years (Maurkice went #18 in 2010 and Mike #15 in 2011).1 Tebow is obviously very different from Manziel, most notably in lacking the important skill for a quarterback of being able to throw a football well. But Tebow may have looked better as a college player in part because of the great talent around him, a situation which may be similar to Manziel.

In general, does having better college teammates cause QBs like Manziel to be overvalued in the draft? Or, do better QBs cause their college teammates to be overdrafted? To check these ideas out, I compared how draft picks performed in their first five years (according to PFR’s Approximate Value) relative to their expected value given their draft position.2 I then compared performance relative to expectation for players who had the benefit of teammates who were drafted in the first round to those who weren’t so lucky. The results are certainly not what I expected: by the end of this post, it might be Bucs fans who worry the most that they overvalued a high pick in the 2014 draft.

Quarterbacks

I first considered the value above expectation (VAE) for quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds since 1984. It looks like having a lineman drafted in the first round either in the same or subsequent draft has no clear impact on the QB’s VAE. Those QBs who played with first-round linemen do about 1.8 points worse in VAE than QBs (relative to a baseline of 22.2), but this difference isn’t close to being distinguishable from zero.3

Here’s the list of QBs from the first three rounds who had at least one lineman drafted in the first round of the same or subsequent draft.4 The VAE for the last few entries is missing because those players have not finished their first five seasons. Keep in mind that the VAEs cannot be too low for third-round picks like Bobby Hoying, since little was expected of them given their draft position.

Quarterback
Year
VAE
School
OL
Boomer Esiason198441.3MarylandRon Solt
Chuck Long1986-18.7IowaMike Haight
Todd Marinovich1991-21.2USCPat Harlow
Matt Blundin1992-19.2VirginiaRay Roberts
Billy Joe Hobert1993-8.4WashingtonLincoln Kennedy
Rick Mirer1993-5.8Notre DameAaron Taylor
Kerry Collins1995-6.8Penn St.Jeff Hartings; Andre Johnson
Todd Collins1995-10MichiganTrezelle Jenkins
Bobby Hoying1996-9.6Ohio St.Orlando Pace
Charlie Batch199814.9East. MichiganL.J. Shelton
Eli Manning20049.5MississippiChris Spencer
Brian Brohm2008-15.7LouisvilleEric Wood
Chad Henne20086.4MichiganJake Long
Matt Ryan200837.9Boston Col.Gosder Cherilus
Sam Bradford20100OklahomaTrent Williams
Tim Tebow20100FloridaMaurkice Pouncey; Mike Pouncey
Andrew Luck20120StanfordDavid DeCastro
Ryan Tannehill20120Texas A&MLuke Joeckel
Russell Wilson20120WisconsinKevin Zeitler; Travis Frederick

There are definitely some classic failures on this list, notably Todd Marinovich, but there are some big successes, too. And, for the more recent QBs, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson will more than balance out Tebow. Overall, there’s little reason to think getting to play with a first-round lineman causes QBs to be overdrafted in general. As a result, Manziel critics may not have much support if they want to point to Matthews and Joeckel as the reason for Manziel’s college success.

But what about the presence of Mike Evans? Does having an elite wide receiver or tight end mean that a QB might be overvalued in the draft? I ran a separate regression looking at whether having a first-round WR/TE predicts a QB to succeed or flop relative to his expectation. Here, there’s more reason to think there might be something going on, but there is still not clear evidence that teammates make the QB. Part of this is just the relatively small number of QBs with first-round WR/TEs in the sample. On average, QBs with first-round WR/TE teammates in college do 6.5 points worse relative to expectation than other QBs. That gap is still indistinguishable from zero, however.5

Below are the QBs since 1984 who had at least one WR/TE teammate in the same or following year drafted in the first round.

Quarterback
Year
VAE
School
WR/TE
Vinny Testaverde1987-4.5Miami (FL)Michael Irvin
Tony Sacca1992-17.7Penn St.O.J. McDuffie
Rick Mirer1993-5.8Notre DameIrv Smith
Kerry Collins1995-6.8Penn St.Kyle Brady
Kordell Stewart199519.9ColoradoMichael Westbrook
Bobby Hoying1996-9.6Ohio St.Terry Glenn; Rickey Dudley
Peyton Manning199840.5TennesseeMarcus Nash
Marques Tuiasosopo2001-14.2WashingtonJerramy Stevens
Chris Simms2003-2.3TexasRoy Williams
Matt Schaub200410.9VirginiaHeath Miller
JaMarcus Russell2007-30.5LSUDwayne Bowe; Craig Davis
Sam Bradford20100OklahomaJermaine Gresham
Brandon Weeden20120Oklahoma St.Justin Blackmon
Robert Griffin20120BaylorKendall Wright
Geno Smith20130West VirginiaTavon Austin

The repeats from the earlier list who were blessed with great help both on the line and at WR/TE were Rick Mirer, Kerry Collins and Sam Bradford.6 As you can see, Peyton Manning swings this upwards, but JaMarcus Russell swings it down just as much. Both of those would seem to be anecdotes that fit the story of teammates potentially inflating another player’s perceived value, with the QB inflating the WR (the instantly forgotten Marcus Nash) in Manning’s case and the WR (Dwayne Bowe) perhaps inflating the QB in Russell’s case.

Overall, though, it’s unclear whether WRs in general tend to inflate their QBs, making them overvalued in the draft. The effect size is substantial and just three of the 11 QBs have positive VAE, but it could be driven by random chance given the small sample size.7 Given what I find below for predicting WR success, I suspect that the Manning-Nash example may happen more often than the Russell-Bowe situation.

Wide Receivers

Do great college quarterbacks cause NFL talent evaluators to reach for their wide receiver and tight end teammates? It seems like the answer to this question might be yes. Receivers selected in rounds 1-3 who come from schools with first-round QBs drafted the same or following year do 6.4 points worse relative to expectation from their draft position. Here, we have more data and the results are statistically significant that having a first-round college QB has led to their wide receivers being overvalued in the draft.8 WRs drafted in the first three rounds without a top QB generated an average value in their first five years of 17.6, so the predicted drop in value is down to about 11.2. Having a first round QB thus predicts a WR gets taken a little more than a round too early.9

In fact, from 1984 to 2009, only 20% of the round 1-3 WR/TEs who played with first-round QBs had a positive VAE.

WR/TE
Year
VAE
School
QB
Jonathan Hayes1985-11.9IowaChuck Long
Flipper Anderson198817.3UCLATroy Aikman
Mike Bellamy1990-16.9IllinoisJeff George
Derek Brown1992-26.7Notre DameRick Mirer
Irv Smith1993-14.9Notre DameRick Mirer
Cory Fleming1994-10.4TennesseeHeath Shuler
Malcolm Floyd1994-7.9Fresno St.Trent Dilfer
Tydus Winans1994-9.8Fresno St.Trent Dilfer
Kyle Brady1995-20.4Penn St.Kerry Collins
Bryan Still1996-10.9Virginia TechJim Druckenmiller
Joey Kent1997-15.7TennesseePeyton Manning
Marcus Nash1998-21.1TennesseePeyton Manning
Patrick Johnson1998-8.7OregonAkili Smith
Kevin Johnson199910.6SyracuseDonovan McNabb
Jabar Gaffney2002-1.1FloridaRex Grossman
Reche Caldwell20022.7FloridaRex Grossman
Taylor Jacobs2003-16.2FloridaRex Grossman
Mike Williams2005-25.8USCMatt Leinart
Anthony Fasano2006-2.3Notre DameBrady Quinn
David Thomas2006-2.5TexasVince Young
Dominique Byrd2006-10.7USCMatt Leinart
Maurice Stovall2006-6.1Notre DameBrady Quinn
Craig Davis2007-15.1LSUJaMarcus Russell
Dwayne Bowe200713.4LSUJaMarcus Russell
Fred Davis2008-2.3USCMark Sanchez
Jordy Nelson200812.8Kansas St.Josh Freeman
Juaquin Iglesias2009-10.1OklahomaSam Bradford
Mohamed Massaquoi2009-2.9GeorgiaMatthew Stafford
Patrick Turner2009-10.4USCMark Sanchez
Percy Harvin200917FloridaTim Tebow
Jermaine Gresham20100OklahomaSam Bradford
Coby Fleener20120StanfordAndrew Luck
Justin Blackmon20120Oklahoma St.Brandon Weeden
Kendall Wright20120BaylorRobert Griffin

And at least one of the successes on this list is an exception that fits the broader idea. Percy Harvin played with a QB who just maybe was a slight reach as a first round pick. It’s hard to think that Tim Tebow made Percy Harvin look good.10 At least based on these results, having a great college QB has caused wide receivers to be drafted much too highly over the last thirty years.

Conclusion

So it seems like Bucs fans might have more to worry about than Browns fans. The evidence is unclear on whether QBs such as Manziel generally become overvalued from playing with first-round receiver talent, although there might be something going on there. But the evidence is much clearer that WRs such as Evans become overvalued from playing with premier college QBs. Perhaps it’s not surprising from what we know about the NFL that there’s a pretty good chance that Manziel’s excellence helped inflate Evans’s value.

Of course, the last example of a 6’5 receiver drafted in the top ten who played with a first-round Heisman-winning QB doesn’t bode well for Evans, either.11 And while Evans will likely still be in the NFL after six years unlike Mike Williams, it is likely that he would have gone lower in the draft if he played with a quarterback not quite so good as Johnny Football.

  1. And he had a talented tight end go in the fourth round in 2010, too. Like Tebow, he is also no longer playing football. Let’s move on. []
  2. I did this by running a regression of a player’s value in the first five years on a fifth-order polynomial in draft position. This is pretty much the same thing as looking at the value a player generates compared to their expected value according to Chase’s chart, except I also control for whether a player went to a major football school. []
  3. The p-value is 0.70 []
  4. All analysis in this post ignores the supplemental draft. []
  5. p = .20 []
  6. All of those first-rounders were actually TEs (Irv Smith, Kyle Brady and Jermaine Gresham, respectively), although Collins also threw to a second-round WR in Bobby Engram. []
  7. Kordell Stewart is one of those three and he did play a little WR in his first few years, too, but almost all of his value was at QB []
  8. The p-value for this effect is .01 []
  9. For wide receivers, I estimate 17.6 as being the expected value generated by about the 46th pick, with 11.2 the expected value generated by the 89th pick []
  10. I’d argue the same for Dwayne Bowe and JaMarcus Russell, but Russell at least was a legitimately excellent passer in 2006 []
  11. The similarities don’t stop there. Mike Williams is listed at 229 lbs and ran a 4.56 40 at the combine. Evans is at 231 and ran a 4.53. And they’re both named Mike. []
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Colleges with the Best Drafts In Each Year

Half of the top four picks in the 2010 draft.

Half of the top four picks in the 2010 draft.

Thanks to the Football Perspective Draft Value Chart, we know the value of each pick in the draft. If we assign the draft value associated with each pick to the college of that player, then we can determine which school produced the most draft value in any given year.  For example, this year, Texas A&M could have three players selected in the top ten: Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews, and Mike Evans.  In fact, I have the trio all going in the top 8 in my mock draft.

Only three times in the last 25 years has a school had three of its players go in the top ten. Four years ago, Oklahoma had three players go in the top four, with Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, and Trent Williams only interrupted by the Lions selection of Ndamukong Suh.  Nine years ago, Auburn running backs Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams went in the top five and cornerback Carlos Rogers was selected ninth overall. And in 1995, Penn State sent Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins, and Kyle Brady to the NFL, although the Nittany Lions didn’t even have the best draft of any school that year.

But no school dominated a single draft quite like Notre Dame back in 1946. The Fighting Irish had three of the first five picks (including Jason’s boy, Johnny Lujack and Hall of Famer George Connor), and the 10th and 16th overall selections. And then seven more in the top 135! In more modern times, the Hurricanes’ 2004 class takes the cake.  That year, Miami had six of the top 21 picks (Sean Taylor (5), Kellen Winslow Jr. (6), Jonathan Vilma (12), D.J. Williams (17), Vernon Carey (19) and Vince Wilfork (21))! [click to continue…]

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When a general manager trades away a future first round pick, it’s worth wondering if the transaction was the effect of the principal-agent problem. A general manager is supposed to act in the best interest of the franchise, but he may instead choose to act in his own self-interest. If he’s on the hot seat, trading a future first round pick for something right now may be a pretty attractive option, as he may not be around when the bill comes due.

Does that happen in practice? The most obvious example I can think of involved the Raiders in 2011.  On October 8th, Al Davis passed away. Eight days later, starting quarterback Jason Campbell went down for the season with a collarbone injury. With the owner and general manager positions unsettled, head coach Hue Jackson became the de facto head of football operations. And he traded first and second round picks to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer. Had the move worked out and the 4-2 Raiders gone on to make the playoffs, Jackson would have been very happy. When the move failed, the Raiders missed the playoffs and Jackson was fired. As a result, it was Reggie McKenzie sitting at the table when the bill arrived.

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Don't worry, this will all make sense by the end. I think.

Don't worry, this picture's presence will make sense by the end. I think.

Two years ago, I wrote this post on running back aging curves. One conclusion from my research was that age 26 was the peak age for running backs, which was immediately followed by a steady decline phase until retirement. In that study, I only wanted to look at very good-to-excellent running backs in the modern era; as a result, I was forced to limit myself to just 36 players. I’ve been meaning to update that post, but wasn’t quite sure what methodology to use.

Last year, Neil wrote a very interesting post on quarterback aging curves. In it, Neil computed the year-to-year differences in Relative ANY/A at every age. While reviewing that post, a lightbulb went off. We can greatly increase the sample size if we only look at running backs from year-to-year, and not just the best running backs on the career level.

There are 723 running backs since 1970 who had at least 150 carries in consecutive seasons and who were between 21 and 32 in the first of those two seasons. For each running back pair of seasons, I calculated how many rushing yards the player gained in Year N and many yards he gained in Year N+1. Take a look:

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2013 NFL Playoffs: Post Your Predictions

Before the playoffs start, I encourage everyone to post their playoff predictions in the comments. Here are mine:

Wild Card Round
Saturday, Jan. 4, 4:35 p.m.: Chiefs at Colts — Chiefs
Saturday, Jan. 4, 8:10 p.m.: Saints at Eagles — Eagles
Sunday, Jan. 5, 1:05 p.m.: Chargers at Bengals — Bengals
Sunday, Jan. 5, 4:40 p.m.: 49ers at Packers– 49ers

Divisional Round
Saturday, Jan. 11, 4:30 p.m.: 49ers/Packers/Saints at Seahawks — 49ers
Saturday, Jan. 11, 8:15 p.m.: Bengals/Colts/Chiefs at Patriots — Bengals
Sunday, Jan. 12, 1:05 p.m.: Eagles/49ers/Packers at Panthers — Panthers
Sunday, Jan. 12, 4:40 p.m.: Colts/Chiefs/Chargers at Broncos— Broncos

Conference Championship Round

Sunday, Jan. 19: 3:00 p.m.: 49ers at Panthers 49ers
Sunday, Jan. 19: 6:30 p.m.: Bengals at Broncos Broncos

Super Bowl
Sunday, Feb. 2, 2013 – 6:20 p.m.: Broncos vs. 49ersBroncos

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Eleven Years And Counting

Outstanding. Now the real question? Want to be a Footballguy?

That was the e-mail I received from David Dodds on June 6, 2002. The co-owner of Footballguys.com then and now, Dodds was replying to a freelance article I submitted to his site. Two days later, my article was posted, and I had become a paid writer.

Eleven years ago, there was no twitter, blogging wasn’t mainstream, and fantasy football was probably less cool and definitely less popular than Dungeons and Dragons. I hated writing: growing up, I was always a “math person.” I thought of writing proficiency as a soft skill, itself a euphemism for a useless skill, and had no desire to spend a moment of my time writing. My brother was and is a sports anchor/reporter, and he was the writer in the family.

I began playing fantasy sports in the late ’90s, which was a year-round hobby as fantasy basketball and fantasy football rose in popularity (I started off with fantasy baseball). I was quickly hooked on fantasy football, but it took a couple of years before Footballguys came across my radar. The articles were terrific and opened my eyes to the intricacies and strategies of the game. But the real treasure was the site’s message board. I could post on the board and minutes later someone would reply. That was my first introduction to the value of reader feedback. I didn’t think of “posting” on the message board as writing, but it was there that I learned the appropriate ways to craft an argument. The board also helped me develop a pretty thick skin for internet criticism, the sort of armor every blogger needs.
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We would like to start the bidding at Fort Knox.

We would like to start the bidding at Fort Knox.

This trade was a Win-Win-Win for all three sides. The Buccaneers received the best cornerback in the NFL when healthy, the perfect elixir for a team that ranked 1st against the run and 32nd against the pass in 2012. I’m a big fan of Josh Freeman, who should continue to improve as he matures. The Bucs were the 3rd youngest team in the NFL last year, making them a team on the rise. Adding Revis and Dashon Goldson to the secondary makes Tampa Bay an immediate playoff contender and a darkhorse Super Bowl contender.

Meanwhile, this is a big win for Revis, who received an incredible $96 million dollar contract and no longer has to worry about playing this season on a three million dollar base contract. Instead, he has a $13M base for each of the next six seasons, as well as a $1.5M workout bonus and $1.5M roster bonus in each season. By making $16M per season, he’s making just a hair below what Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are making, and he’s trumped the averages per year going to Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. He’s making not just quarterback money, but elite quarterback money. The trade-off for that insanely high annual figure is that he has little protection. Technically, he has no guaranteed money, but absent a season-ending injury — and maybe not even that — he’s going to make at least $32M over the next two years. And unless he falls apart, he’ll pocket $48M from 2013 to 2015, an incredible three-year haul. It’s also a few million dollars more than what DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Suggs, and Clay Matthews received on their monster deals. Unless Tampa Bay cuts Revis after two years — in which case they would have paid $32M and lost a first round draft pick and obviously received very little — a deal with no guaranteed money isn’t particularly risky for Revis. In reality, zero guaranteed dollars is a red herring, and Revis will receive $40+M over the next three years even if Tampa Bay cuts him after year two or $48M if he stays on the team.
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I’ve received a couple of questions asking about what the discount rate should be when trading future draft picks. For example, two years ago, Atlanta traded the 27th, 59th, and 124th picks in the 2011 draft, along with their first and fourth round picks in the 2012 draft, to the Browns to acquire the 6th pick and select Julio Jones. In making that trade, the Falcons were implying that the future picks were worth less than current selections. Can we quantify exactly what discount rate they used?

The Falcons went 13-3 in 2010, so they probably expected that they’d be picking pretty late in the first round of the 2012 draft, especially after adding Jones. No doubt part of the reason we see teams trading future picks is because teams expect those to be late future picks. Atlanta went 10-6 in 2011 (and lost their first playoff game), earning the 22nd pick in the 2012 draft. But let’s give Atlanta the biggest benefit of the doubt possible and say that we should assume that they were going to win the Super Bowl.

If you place picks 27, 59, and 124 into the Draft Pick Value Calculator, you see that they are worth 26.1 points. Unfortunately for Atlanta, that haul alone — without adding the future picks — is worth more than the value of the 6 pick (23.3 points). The Football Perspective chart is based on actual NFL production of drafted players, but I don’t argue that teams use my chart: just that they should. In reality, we know what chart they do use (at least as a starting point).
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On Friday, I looked at the career leaders in 4th quarter (and overtime) game-winning touchdowns from scrimmage. Yesterday I presented the all-time leaders in passing touchdowns. Today we give field goal kickers some love using the same criteria.
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I’m usually the one doing the talking, but we’ve got a long off-season ahead of us. I generally advise people interested in becoming writers to write what they want to write about, but it’s also important to give your audience the type of writing they want to read.

This week I looked at a wide range of topics. Monday’s post was about how can teams best take advantage of the rookie salary cap, which fits into the football strategy and theory parts of Football Perspective. On Tuesday, I went all statgeekery on you with a look at the youngest and oldest teams in the NFL last year.

I changed courses on Wednesday and went the player profile route with an in-depth look at Arrelious Benn, while on Thursday I did a social economics-style post when I examined the correlation between birth months and making the NFL. On Friday, I did the sort of data dump that was a specialty at PFR with a post about players who played with the most coaches.

Those are five very different types of posts, and I like to think that there’s generally an wide variety of posts at Football Perspective. But I’d like to make the site as reader-friendly as possible, and I know there are some devoted readers who check in every day. If I can produce content you’re interested in reading about, all the better.

So, how can I improve the site? What would you like to read about? Nothing is off-limits, so make your suggestions in the comments.

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Morhinweg

Mornhinweg and Vick plan for their dream season.

On Friday, the Jets finally concluded their search for a new offensive coordinator by hiring Marty Mornhinweg. The reaction was predictably mixed, but one of the facts trumpeted by the pro-Mornhinweg crowd was that he has been an offensive coordinator for 11 years and his teams never ranked lower than 15th on offense. Besides my initial reaction of “well, that’s about to change“, my next thought was: wait, the 2012 Eagles were a top-fifteen offense?!

Philadelphia turned the ball over 37 times last year, tied with the Jets and the Chiefs for most in the league. The Eagles ranked 29th in points scored. But when people speak of things like a top-fifteen offense, the convention is to refer to a team’s rank in yards gained, and Philadelphia did rank 15th in yards in 2012.
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Season in review: AFC and NFC North

On Monday, I examined the seasons of the teams in the AFC and NFC East. Today I will do the same for the AFC and NFC North, starting in the AFC.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 11 wins (after weeks 2, 5, and 9)
Minimum wins: 8 (after week 16)
Week 1 comment: Sunday Night was one of the best games I’ve seen from Ben Roethlisberger. An elite team that will be favored to win most weeks, although questions remain about the offensive line, the running backs, and the age of the defense.

Pittsburgh started off 6-3 and looked like a contender, but tanked in the second half of the season once Roethlisberger went down. Even when Roethlisberger returned, the offense never quite looked right. Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Rashard Mendenhall were unexciting plodders, which is an improvement over the 25 carries that went to Baron Batch. No Steeler finished the season with more than two rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both failed to match last year’s lofty numbers. The potential was there, but the results were not in Pittsburgh in 2012.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s defense performed well by conventional measures — through week 16 (which is when they were knocked out of the playoff race), they ranked 1st in yards allowed and first downs allowed, and ranked 2nd in net yards per attempt allowed, rushing yards and rushing yards per carry allowed. But the defense wasn’t really up to Steelers standards — through week 16, they ranked 10th in points allowed and, more damningly, had forced more turnovers than just three teams. Pittsburgh allowed 5 4th quarter game-winning drives, which ultimately cost them the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 11 wins (first after week 3, last after week 13)
Minimum wins: 9 wins (after week 15)
Week 1 comment: Great performance on Monday Night, but I have to imagine missing Terrell Suggs is going to hurt this team. He’s too good to simply expect business as usual in Baltimore, and their schedule (AFC West, NFC East, Houston, New England outside the division) is riddled with traps.

The schedule was riddled with traps, but the Ravens rode some late-game success and excellent special teams to a 9-2 record. At that point, I wrote: I still don’t believe in this team, because they aren’t going to have amazing special teams or amazing 4th and 29 conversions every week.

Joe Flacco had a solid but not great year, while Ray Rice continued to prove effective when given the carries. The big issue for Baltimore was defensively. Through 16 weeks, the Ravens ranked 20th in yards allowed, 18th in NY/A, and 24th in first downs allowed. While the Ravens won the North, 8 games out of Terrell Suggs, 6 games of Ray Lewis, and 6 games of Lardarius Webb simply wasn’t enough to give them the defense Ravens fans were used to seeing.
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Checkdowns: QB Playoff Wins by College

Watching Matt Barkley today against UCLA, I tweeted that Mark Sanchez is responsible for 4 of the 9 playoff wins by USC quarterbacks. Since twitter is not a very good medium for showing large datasets, here’s a quick look at which colleges have produced the quarterbacks with the most playoff victories.

Two pieces of fine print. One, I am using the player’s last college as his college, so Oklahoma does not get credit for Troy Aikman in this scenario. Second, I am giving only the quarterback who threw for the most passing yards for his team in that game as the “quarterback” to avoid giving credit to players who came in and took a couple of snaps at the end of blowouts (or who started games but were benched or injured early). So the number of playoff wins for each quarterback — listed in parentheses in the table below — could slightly differ from official figures.

Enjoy.
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New page added to Football Perspective: NCAA Games

At the top of every page there are gray tabs that will take you to the different pages at Football Perspective. I’ve added a new one: NCAA Games. That page will show you the results for every individual game involving any of the 124 FBS teams this year. The page will be updated along with the SRS standings each week. If you’ve got any tips or suggestions, you can leave them here.

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In Buffalo’s loss to Tennessee on Sunday, Chan Gailey faced an interesting decision. Buffalo trailed 28-27 in the final seconds of the third quarter when Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Steve Johnson for a 27-yard touchdown. Now up 33-28, Gailey chose to kick the extra point, and ultimately saw his team lose, 35-34.

Why did Gailey choose to go for 1? Bill Barnwell has his theory:

[The next mistake was] Gailey’s decision to kick an extra point on a touchdown at the end of the third quarter, which created the margin of victory. By going for one with seconds left in the third and a five-point lead (pending the extra point), Gailey paid tribute to the long-standing rule that teams shouldn’t go for two and try to create a seven-point lead before the fourth quarter. It’s an absurd rule, of course, that breaks down when you ask anybody to explain at any length why it makes sense. The two-point conversion chart at footballcommentary.com suggests that the Bills should have tried to tack a two-pointer onto their 33-28 lead if their chances of converting were better than 24 percent. Because the clock hadn’t ticked for 10 additional seconds and bumped the decision into the fourth quarter, though, the Bills kicked and ended up losing by one.

When I read that, my reaction was “yep, that sounds about right.” Up 5 with just over 15 minutes left, it seems like the “stats-geek” move is to go for two while the “conservative old school train of thought” says it’s “too early” to go for two. Of course, if that’s all there was to the story, you wouldn’t be reading this post right now. Take it away, Jason Lisk:

When I look at the game winning probabilities at Advanced NFL Stats, though, Gailey’s decision was different [than Mike Tomlin's]. It pains me to say that conventional wisdom is right here, but it is. With 15 minutes left, being up 5 is more costly than up 7 is beneficial with all the permutations. There are enough possessions that you can get beat by two field goals gained, or not extend the lead with another field goal.

When is it too late to go for one point in either of these situations, though? As it turns out, the answer is roughly between the 6 and 7 minute mark of the fourth quarter. That’s when possessions become more limited and you must try to tie, or make it where a touchdown doesn’t beat you.

A little surprised, I went over to Advanced NFL Stats and entered the numbers into Brian Burke’s Win Probability Calculator. Up 5, at the start of the 4th quarter, with the opponent having 1st and 10 at the 22 yard line, yields a 72% win probability to the leading team. Up 6 translates to a 77% win probability and up 7 increases it to 80%. That’s what Lisk meant when he said that difference between being up 5 and up 6 — 5% — is greater than the difference between being up 6 and up 7 — 3%.

Nerd Fight! Brian is a good friend of the site and one of the smartest minds out there, but he’d be the first to tell you that his Win Probability model is not perfect. So the question we have to ask is, is this a situation where his Win Probability Model breaks down?

Let’s not forget what Barnwell noted: according to footballcommentary.com, going for 2 is the obvious call here. And let’s used my tried-and-true method for making any football decision. If you were a Titans fan, now trailing by 5 at the end of the 3rd quarter, would you have been happy to see Buffalo’s kicking team run onto the field, or would you have wished that instead they went for it? My gut tells me — and let’s stipulate that the Bills would have had a 50% chance of converting the 2-point attempt — that as a hypothetical Titans fan, I’d want Buffalo to kick the extra point. Being down 7 sounds really bad, while the difference between 5 and 6 seems pretty negligible to my Nashville gut.
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Checkdowns: Patriots Passing Game Struggles

If there was one thing you can count on in New England, it’s that the Patriots passing attack would be more efficient than their opponent’s nearly every week. From 2003 to 2011, New England averaged 6.9 net yards per pass attempt while their defense allowed 6.0 NY/A. But this season, the Patriots passing offense is struggling by New England standards while the pass defense is worse than ever. Take a look:1

Year
Att
Yds
Sk
Opp_Att
Opp_Yds
Opp_Sk
NY/A
NY/A A
Diff
20122431758132191733116.97.5-0.7
20116125084326194703407.97.10.8
20105073847256114136367.26.40.8
20095924436185123355317.36.21.1
20085363569464743219316.16.4-0.2
20075864731215263041477.85.32.5
20065273400295183203446.15.70.4
200556441202852737033376.60.3
200448535882653834004575.81.2
200353734323261832324164.91.1
20026053577315313179345.65.60
20014823089465463497415.96-0.1
20005653181485443522295.26.1-1

Playing the Jets on Sunday is the perfect medicine for a NY/A-imbalance, but what do you make of New England’s struggles this year?

  1. Note that the table below lists team passing yards, which already deducts sack yardage lost []
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Yesterday, I took a comprehensive look at offensive fumbles and the associated fumble rates. Let me first say that going through eleven years of play-by-play logs is an impossible one-man task, which means you need to write a lot of code to sort your way through the hundreds of thousands of plays.

Its pretty easy to do that for offensive fumbles; coding is not nearly as effective or efficient when it comes to unique fumbles. I’ve done my best to be both exhaustive and accurate, but am not particularly confident that I met either such goal. I’d love to hear from others who have studied fumbles by defensive and special teams players and compare notes — just drop a note in the comments or shoot me an e-mail. With that said….

Defensive Fumbles

According to my database, there were 115 interceptions where the defender fumbled on the ensuing return. The passing team wound up get the ball back 52 times (45.2%). The most memorable of these was when Marlon McCree intercepted a Tom Brady pass in a playoff game following the 2006 season; on the return, Troy Brown forced a fumble and Reche Caldwell recovered, keeping New England’s hopes alive. This, of course, means that 63 times (54.8%) the intercepting and fumbling team would retain possession after the turnover.

As you might imagine, trying to locate plays where a team recovered a fumble and then the recovering player fumbled is not one that was particularly easy to identify. Without spending an inordinate amount of time on this, I did look at all rushing and passing plays that appeared to have two fumbles. I surely missed some, but I found 37 examples. Only nine times (24%) did the team on offense get the ball back.

Kickoffs

If anyone could point me to a study on fumbles on special teams plays, I’d appreciate it. Parsing through the data was not easy, so I’m not going to pretend that I am 100% confident that I did this correctly. Note that I excluded all onside kicks and kickoffs where the receiving team was executing laterals.

There were 940 kickoffs that resulted in fumbles or muffs. The kickoff team recovered the ball 305 times, while the receiving team retained possession 635 times (67.6%). There were a total of 30,230 kickoffs, which means that roughly 3.1% of all kickoffs resulted in fumbles, and roughly 1% of the time the kicking team ended up gaining possession.

Punt returns

There were 30,777 punts in my database, and 1,085 punts where the returning team muffed or fumbled the punt return. Usually, the punt returning team would keep the ball — 731 times or 67.4% of the time to be exact. That leaves 354 times where the punting team would retain possession, or on 1.15% of all punts.

Punts/Kicks

My database shows only 45 field goal attempts (or possibly fakes) that were nixed due to fumbles (out of over 11,000 attempts; obviously not all field goal attempts that went awry were labeled as fumbles in the game recaps.). It’s true that 35 times the kicking team recovered the fumble, but it was always a short-lived victory. In each of those cases, the kicking team did not gain enough yards to pick up a first down. In fact, Tony Romo had the best single play following a fumbled field goal attempt, by rushing for 7 yards. And people say he’s not clutch! The other 22% of the time the defensive team recovered, and three times they scored a touchdown on that play.

My database shows only 35 fumbles by punters before punting — again, no doubt that some punts have been excluded from the sample. In any event, 70% of the time the punter or punting team recovered. Again, the important thing here is that regardless of who recovers, it would be extremely rare for the punting team to actually get a first down (only three in my database).

Note: There is a small miscellaneous category — things like fumbles on onside kicks, fumbles following blocked field goals, fumbles on laterals on the last play of the game, — that my brain begged itself to ignore.

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It’s still too early to really put a lot of faith into the SRS ratings, but hey, we’ve got enough games to at least give it the old college try. As always, thanks to Dr. Peter Wolfe for providing the game scores for all of college football. As a reminder, here’s the system.

1) For each game not played at a neutral site, 3 points are given to the road team. After that adjustment, all wins and losses of between 7 and 24 points are scored as however many points the team won by. So a 24-10 road win goes down as +17 for the road team, -17 for the home team.

2) With one exception, wins of 7 or fewer points are scored as 7-point wins and losses of 7 or fewer points are scored as 7 point losses. So three 4-point home wins (+3 before the adjustments, +21 after) is worth more than two 10 point road wins and a 1 point home loss (+19 before, +19 after). The one exception is that road losses of 3 or fewer and home wins of 3 or fewer are graded as 0 point ties. So a 21-20 home victory goes down as a tie for both teams.

3) Wins/Losses of more than 24 points are scored as the average between the actual number and 24. This is to avoid giving undue credit to teams that run up the score. So a 67-point home win goes down as a 44-point win.

After four weeks, what are the results?

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Football Perspective turns 100 days old

Not the historical archives at Football Perspective.

It’s been an incredible 100 days here at Football Perspective. When I started this site, I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, the success so far at Football Perspective has exceeded my wildest expectations. Starting a football site in June isn’t the smartest thing in the world, but I think I’ve been fortunate to develop a pretty loyal fan base.

But I have the traffic numbers to prove that some of you weren’t here on day 1, or day 15, or day 37. At the top of each page at Football Perspective is a tab titled “Historical Archive.” One thing I know: very, very, few people have ever clicked that button.

But you should. If you want to catch up on any of the first 100 or so posts at Football Perspective, check out the historical archive tab. Let me know in the comments which post has been your favorite, and have a great rest of the weekend. I’ll be back tomorrow with another college SRS post.

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Footballguys.com – Consider Subscribing

Here’s the short sell: If you are a serious fantasy football player, you’ll find that Footballguys.com has more content and is more analytical than any other fantasy site. If you are a casual fantasy footballer, you’ll find that the tools available at Footballguys will make it easy for you to stay atop your league. Either way, a subscription is a fantastic value.

As for the longer sell: Before the New York Times, before Smart Football, and before Pro-Football-Reference, I was an aspiring young football writer with more energy than brains and more curiosity than experience. For reasons unbeknown to most everyone, Footballguys asked me in the summer of 2002 to join their staff. I’ve been affiliated with the site ever since. At the time, Footballguys was the best known secret in fantasy football; now it’s simply the best product in the industry. I continue to publish articles there, although all my non-fantasy work is published here.

I don’t receive anything or make extra money if more people sign up for Footballguys, but I hope my readers subscribe because it’s simply a good use of your money. If you play fantasy football and want to win your competitive league or save hours doing research for your local league, a Footballguys subscription is well worth it. For $28.95, you get:

  • Constantly up to date and informed projections and rankings, along with 50,000 + pages of Footballguys Insider content.
  • The Footballguys Draft Dominator (the single most valuable tool in all of fantasy football, IMO), along with the Lineup Dominator and Projections Dominator. Even if you don’t sign up for Footballguys, you can still use the ultra-cool Rate My Team application for free.
  • The Footballguys Insiders contest, giving you a chance at over $35,000 in prizes — this is 100% free to subscribers.
  • During the season, My FBG is a fantastic customizable tool that makes roster management incredibly easy. If you’re in multiple fantasy leagues, this is a lifesaver, and can be fully integrated with certain league management systems.
  • I won’t list every reason to sign up, but you can check out the Why Subscribe? link or just play around on the FBG homepage.
  • In addition to everything else, a money-back guarantee. In the 10 years I’ve been at Footballguys, they’ve always offered this feature, and it’s almost never used. There’s a reason for that.

Anyway, I’m not very good at the salesman thing, so I’ll end it here.

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The Preseason is Meaningless

Pre-season superstar, Colt Brennan.

I have a love/hate relationship with the pre-season. After months without football, it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of seeing live NFL games. But as soon as I start watching pre-season action, I usually wish I was doing just about anything else. But I keep watching. Maybe the better description is that I’m a pre-season addict.

Everyone knows the preseason is meaningless. The coaches do, the players do, and the fans do. There is no simpler way to explain it than this: the main goal is not winning. It’s trying out new plays. Or staying healthy. Or avoiding showing too much. Or seeing how a certain formation, route, or play, works. Or seeing how a player responds to an event. But winning is never the main goal.

But as much as I can’t stand watching the preseason (but still do), what I really can’t stand is reading people talk about how good (or bad) a player or team looks in the preseason. It’s about the most meaningless piece of data one could ever cite, although of course some will say differently. There are those who believe if you know what to look for you can get meaningful information out of preseason games. To them I say, good luck.

As Exhibits A through Z, I present to you, Ryan Leaf.

There weren’t any apparent opening-night jitters for Ryan Leaf.

The touted rookie quarterback from Washington State came out poised and led two scoring drives – capping one with an impressive 3-yard TD pass to Bryan Still – and the San Diego Chargers beat San Francisco 27-21 in their exhibition opener last night.

Leaf made a few mistakes, like throwing into double coverage at the goal line – Still actually drew a pass-interference call on that one – and not getting off a play in time during the two-minute drill.

Otherwise, Leaf had a better night than Steve Young.

The 22-year-old Leaf, taken with the second pick in the April draft and named the starter for the season on Wednesday, was 14 for 20 for 116 yards.

Here’s another account of his first night:

Ryan Leaf didn’t look at all like a rattled rookie in his NFL debut. Sure, the touted San Diego Chargers quarterback made some mistakes and still has a ways to go in adjusting to the faster pace of the pro game. But was he nervous? Nope. It’s not in his playbook.

“He throws so accurately,” coach Kevin Gilbride said. “Even though he was late a few times, he put it in position where the only one who could catch it was us. That was the most encouraging thing…. I don’t want to in any way, shape or form make it seem like he’s where he needs to be. Still, he’s able to make plays and that’s what it comes down to. I thought he did that very, very well.” As he has numerous times this summer, Gilbride called Leaf “special.” Running back Terrell Fletcher called Leaf “a fearless player. That’s a big attribute.”
Leaf said the radio receiver in his helmet, which coaches use to call in plays, didn’t work the first two series. He partially winged it, with help from his teammates and quarterback coach June Jones, who told him to have three or four plays down pat to use. “I think he surprised a lot of people with how composed he was,” guard Raleigh McKenzie said. “We went three-and-out the first series, then he got real poised. He knew what to do in there.”

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Matthew Stafford threw for 5,038 passing yards last year, making him just the 4th man to ever throw for 5,000 yards in a season. Of course, Stafford also threw 663 passes in 2011, the third most in league history. Stafford actually ranked 13th in yards per attempt last season, which put him just ahead of Matt Ryan.

Lions fans certainly think that Stafford is a franchise quarterback, an elite talent, and the team’s first star quarterback since Bobby Layne. It’s hard to disagree, as Stafford and Calvin Johnson led a team that had no running game and an inconsistent defense to a 10-6 record last year. But on some level — with one big caveat — Lions fans are essentially saying that Stafford’s 5,038 passing yards are more of an indicator of his ability than his 7.6 yards per attempt average. And we know that’s not true.

What’s that one caveat? You can make a pretty compelling case that if Stafford had 400 attempts in 2011, averaged the same 7.6 yards per attempt, and threw for 3,040 yards, then his 2011 season would still signal an excellent future. At 23-years-old, ranking in the top half of the league in yards per attempt is pretty impressive. A lot of quarterbacks were far behind the curve at age 23: Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Mark Brunell and Trent Green didn’t even get in a game at that age. Others, like Tom Brady, Len Dawson, Philip Rivers, Rich Gannon, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana and Norm Van Brocklin were pure backups during their age 23 season. The table below looks at some of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and how they performed at age 23. The two columns on the far right show where each passer ranked in Pro-Football-Reference’s Yards per Attempt Index and Net Yards per Attempt Index. In each case, 100 represents league average, and a higher number is better. 115 represents being one standard deviation above average, 130 represents two standard deviations above average, etc. For players who were 23 before 1969, the first year we have individual sack data for quarterbacks, they do not have a NY/A+ rating.
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Welcome to FootballPerspective.com

Welcome to footballperspective.com. Football Perspective is a blog about football history, football stats, and football stats and history.

I’ve written about fantasy football for the past decade over at Footballguys.com, the leading fantasy football content site in the industry. I also worked for a number of years at pro-football-reference.com, and you can find all of those articles at the PFR Blog. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with the Fifth Down blog at the New York Times, along with Chris Brown’s excellent site, smartfootball.com.

So what will I be doing here? I’ll be blogging about everything football-related, from Jerry Rice to Bobby Douglass, and from the 1978 Patriots to who is the greatest quarterback of all time.

Hopefully you can learn something in at least a few of these posts. Welcome and be sure to comment! If you’ve got any questions or ideas for a football article, please direct them to chase [at] footballperspective [dot] com.

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