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Two guys who were pretty good at picking up first downs.

On Monday, I provided some initial thoughts on the relative values of completion and passing first down percentage. Yesterday, I looked at the difference between the 1972 and 2017 Jets when it came to those two metrics, along with a breakdown of every team’s passing performance so far in 2017.

Since passing first down percentage — which is simply the number of passing first downs a team gained divided by their pass attempts (including sacks) — is so important, I wanted to present a list of the top teams in NFL history using this metric. My data on first downs goes back to 1950, and since then, the top three teams all have something in common: Peyton Manning. The 2004 Colts picked up a first down on a whopping 44% of passing plays, the most in league history. That team is followed by the 2013 Broncos and the 2006 Colts, and the 2016 Falcons and 1984 Dolphins round out the top five. Here’s how to read the table below, which shows the top 200 passing offenses by this metric. The 2004 Colts completed 67% of their passes, had a sack rate of 2.6%, and 67.4% of their completed passes went for first downs. The final column is what the table is sorted by: the percentage of pass plays that went for a first down.

The table below shows the top 200 teams by this metric: by defaut, it only lists the top 20, but the table is fully sortable and searchable.

RkYearTeamCmp%Sack %1D/Cmp% of PP for 1Ds
12004IND67%2.6%67.4%44%
22013DEN68.3%2.9%63.6%42.2%
32006IND65%2.6%66.6%42.1%
42016ATL69.6%6.4%63.9%41.6%
51984MIA64.2%2.4%66.2%41.5%
61982SDG61.5%3.4%69.7%41.4%
72011NOR71.3%3.5%59.3%40.8%
82009SDG65.1%4.8%65.7%40.7%
92011NWE65.7%5%65.2%40.7%
102005IND67.4%3.7%62.5%40.6%
112010SDG66%6.5%65.7%40.5%
122014DAL68.9%5.9%62.5%40.5%
132015ARI62.8%4.6%67.1%40.2%
142013SDG69.5%5.2%60.8%40.1%
152003TEN62.7%4.7%67%40%
162007NWE68.8%3.5%60.3%40%
172001STL68.8%6.8%62.3%39.9%
181989SFO70.2%8.5%61.7%39.6%
191991WAS58.4%2%68.6%39.3%
202009IND66.9%2.1%60%39.3%
212014GNB65.1%5.3%63.6%39.2%
222000STL64.7%7%65%39.1%
231988CIN57.4%7.1%73.3%39.1%
242007DAL64.4%4.5%63.5%39%
251984SFO62.9%5.2%65.4%39%
261980SDG58.9%5.1%69.7%39%
272011GNB68.1%6.9%61.2%38.8%
281985SDG61.1%5.8%67.1%38.6%
291994SFO70.3%6.4%58.5%38.5%
302004KAN66%5.4%61.6%38.4%
312012ATL68.6%4.4%58.5%38.4%
322012NWE62.7%4%63.7%38.3%
332005SEA64.8%5.4%62.5%38.3%
342012NOR63%3.7%63.1%38.3%
352011SDG62.9%4.9%63.9%38.2%
361974OAK55.5%6.7%73.7%38.2%
372009NOR69.5%3.5%56.9%38.1%
381987SFO64.3%5.5%62.7%38.1%
392012DEN68.4%3.4%57.7%38.1%
401995DAL65.2%3.5%60.6%38.1%
412011PIT63.3%7.2%64.8%38%
422008SDG65.3%5%61.2%38%
431993SFO67.6%6.3%59.9%37.9%
442016NOR70%3.9%56.1%37.8%
452004NWE60.4%5.1%65.9%37.8%
461986MIA60.8%2.6%63.8%37.8%
471991BUF64.3%6.4%62.7%37.7%
481983GNB59.1%7.4%68.8%37.7%
492014PIT67.2%5.1%59.1%37.7%
501998MIN61.4%4.5%64.2%37.6%
512004MIN68.8%7.7%59.2%37.6%
521974MIA60.4%9.9%69%37.6%
531995GNB62.7%5.3%63.2%37.5%
541976OAK64.3%7.2%62.9%37.5%
551992SFO66.5%6.3%60.2%37.5%
562009MIN68.2%5.8%58.4%37.5%
572006KAN60.4%8.4%67.6%37.5%
582014NOR69.2%4.4%56.6%37.4%
592009HOU67.3%4%57.9%37.4%
602016DAL67.3%5.5%58.8%37.4%
611995CHI60.2%2.8%63.8%37.4%
621957NYG54.6%2.5%70.1%37.3%
632004PIT63.7%9.1%64.5%37.3%
642004GNB63.9%2.3%59.7%37.3%
652000DEN62.2%5%63%37.2%
661959BAL52.3%5.8%75.5%37.2%
671998NYJ59.8%4.5%65.1%37.2%
681990HOU62.4%5.8%62.9%37%
691954RAM53.3%5%73.1%37%
701975OAK56%6.9%70.9%37%
712007IND64.4%4%59.7%36.9%
721988RAM59.8%5.1%65.1%36.9%
732015CAR59.9%6.2%65.7%36.9%
742010NWE65.3%4.7%59.2%36.8%
751976BAL59.6%7.7%67%36.8%
761978PIT55.8%6.2%70.3%36.8%
771999STL64.7%5.9%60.3%36.8%
782002NYJ67.8%6.2%57.8%36.8%
792008IND67.2%2.3%56%36.7%
801959CLE57.6%7.1%68.6%36.7%
811998ATL55.9%11.1%73.8%36.7%
821971DAL57.1%8.1%69.9%36.6%
831985MIA59.5%3.2%63.6%36.6%
842010HOU63.6%5.3%60.8%36.6%
851998SFO62.4%8.7%64.3%36.6%
862007PIT63.8%9.6%63.5%36.6%
871955CLE55.6%12.7%75.4%36.6%
881980PHI57.7%6.3%67.6%36.5%
891953CLE63%9.3%63.9%36.5%
901982CIN70.6%8%56.2%36.5%
911990RAI54.5%7.9%72.7%36.4%
921972MIA55.6%7.5%70.8%36.4%
932000MIN62%6.6%62.9%36.4%
942010IND66.3%2.3%56.2%36.4%
952009NWE65.9%3%56.9%36.4%
962014DEN65.7%2.7%56.9%36.4%
972014IND62%4.2%61.2%36.4%
981965SFO59.9%4%63.2%36.4%
992005CIN67.3%3.8%56.1%36.3%
1002006DAL61.3%6.8%63.5%36.3%
1011983CIN63.9%8.1%61.7%36.2%
1021995MIA64.9%4.7%58.6%36.2%
1031968GNB59.1%11.4%69.1%36.2%
1042016CHI62.1%4.8%61.1%36.1%
1051957WAS54.2%6.9%71.6%36.1%
1061995DET59.8%5%63.5%36.1%
1072003KAN63.2%3.8%59.3%36.1%
1081991SFO62.3%4.4%60.6%36.1%
1092012SFO66.3%8.6%59.5%36.1%
1102003IND67%3.2%55.6%36.1%
1111989WAS58%3.5%64.4%36%
1121998DEN59.1%4.8%64.1%36%
1132000IND62.5%3.4%59.7%36%
1141956DET53.2%2.3%69.4%36%
1151989KAN59.5%5%63.7%36%
1162012WAS65.8%6.9%58.8%36%
1172007JAX61.4%6.2%62.5%36%
1182007CIN64.9%2.9%57.1%36%
1192011DAL66%6.4%58.2%36%
1201985NYJ61%11.1%66.3%36%
1211972WAS56%3.7%66.7%35.9%
1222014NWE64.4%4.1%58.2%35.9%
1231981CIN60.4%6%63.3%35.9%
1242016TAM61.4%5.7%62%35.9%
1251980CLE60.8%4%61.4%35.9%
1262016WAS67.1%3.7%55.5%35.9%
1271992HOU65.1%5.3%58.2%35.9%
1281979DAL57.1%7.5%67.9%35.8%
1292009PIT65.5%8.5%59.8%35.8%
1301977OAK56.8%7.2%67.9%35.8%
1312006CIN62.5%6.4%61.2%35.8%
1322008HOU66.1%5.5%57.2%35.8%
1332015TAM58.3%4.8%64.4%35.8%
1341975MIA60.9%7.6%63.5%35.8%
1352008NOR64.9%2%56.2%35.7%
1362015WAS69.5%4.6%53.9%35.7%
1371999IND61.9%2.5%59.2%35.7%
1381992BUF57.6%5.4%65.5%35.7%
1391980DAL59%6.5%64.5%35.6%
1401990BUF61.9%6%61.2%35.6%
1411974WAS61.5%5.7%61.4%35.6%
1421961GNB57.8%5.3%65%35.6%
1431992DAL64%4.5%58.3%35.6%
1442008MIA67.2%5%55.8%35.6%
1452002KAN61.2%5.2%61.3%35.6%
1461963NYG57%7.6%67.5%35.6%
1472015CIN66.1%6%57.2%35.6%
1482013PHI61%8.3%63.5%35.6%
1491961HOU51%2.7%71.7%35.5%
1501975CIN58.9%7.3%65.1%35.5%
1512015SEA68.1%8.6%57.1%35.5%
1521991DAL61%7.1%62.6%35.5%
1531989RAM58.9%5.8%64%35.5%
1541983SFO64.2%5.9%58.7%35.5%
1552013NOR68.5%5.4%54.7%35.5%
1562012DET60.1%3.8%61.1%35.4%
1572016NWE66.9%4.2%55.2%35.4%
1581957CLE55.4%9.3%70.4%35.3%
1592015NOR69%4.6%53.7%35.3%
1601961NYG51.7%8.2%74.4%35.3%
1612013CHI64.4%4.9%57.6%35.3%
1621996WAS57.3%4.5%64.4%35.3%
1632008DEN62.3%1.9%57.8%35.3%
1641975STL52.7%2.2%68.4%35.3%
1652014MIA66.2%7.2%57.4%35.3%
1662010GNB65.1%6.6%58%35.2%
1672012HOU63.9%4.8%57.9%35.2%
1682015ATL66%4.9%56.1%35.2%
1692011HOU61.7%6.6%61.1%35.2%
1701961CLE57.8%6.2%64.9%35.2%
1712000OAK59.8%5.6%62.3%35.2%
1722007GNB66.3%3.2%54.8%35.2%
1731980NWE58.1%5.7%64.2%35.2%
1742001GNB61.6%4.1%59.6%35.2%
1751992NOR58.9%3.4%61.8%35.1%
1762014ATL66.1%4.7%55.7%35.1%
1772006PIT59.7%8.6%64.4%35.1%
1781960PIT48.8%3.7%74.8%35.1%
1791975BUF51.4%5.9%72.5%35.1%
1802008ARI66.3%4.3%55.3%35.1%
1812001IND62.7%5.1%59%35.1%
1821997SFO64.4%9.2%60.1%35.1%
1831973RAM53.1%5.9%70.1%35.1%
1841998BUF58.4%8.2%65.4%35.1%
1851962NYG52.3%4%69.8%35%
1862005PIT60.2%7.8%63.2%35%
1871986SFO60.7%4.3%60.3%35%
1882016IND63.4%7%59.5%35%
1891972NYG59.9%2.8%60.2%35%
1902014SDG66.2%6.1%56.3%35%
1912008CAR59.4%4.6%61.8%35%
1922000NYG58.8%5%62.7%35%
1932011NYG61%4.5%60.2%35%
1941982DAL62%8.8%61.9%35%
1952012GNB67%8.4%57%35%
1961985NYG55.3%9.5%69.8%35%
1971984PIT54.2%7.3%69.6%34.9%
1982002TEN61.2%4%59.5%34.9%
1992012SEA64%7.5%59.1%34.9%
2001973OAK58.1%11.3%67.8%34.9%

The 2012, 2013, and 2014 Broncos all crack the top 200, as do all 11 Colts teams from 1999 through 2010 other than the 2002 squad. That means a whopping 14 Peyton Manning teams make the top 200.

For those curious, 8 of the Tom Brady Patriots teams make the list, including 2007 and all but two teams since 2009 (the 2015 Patriots were at 34% and ranked 246th, while the 2013 Patriots were also at 34% and rank 324th; the ’05 Patriots were at 34% and ranked 248th as well). There are also eight entries from the Drew Brees Saints: in fact, every New Orleans team since 2008 other than the 2010 squad, which was at 34% and ranked 257th. As for the Packers? There are four Aaron Rodgers teams and four Brett Favre teams on the list as well.

What stands out to you?

  • Interesting that 3 of the top 4 49ers seasons are Montana offenses. The next 3 are Young though. (Then a Brodie!)

  • I’m a Packers fan so I’m always looking for Packers gems. I love seeing the 1983 Packers crack the top 50. This team went 8-8 and played in FIVE overtime games, but went just 2-3. They had an incredible boom-and-bust offense with Lynn Dickey, James Lofton, John Jefferson, Paul Coffman, Gerry Ellis, etc. I’ve seen a number of their games, and it’s like watching an offense designed for NFL Blitz where you need 30 yards for a first down. They had no defense, so nearly every game was a wild shootout. One of things that I love about the old school Packers fans of my dad’s generation is how this team is still very well remembered. Fans my age (30s) have known nothing but winning with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, but that older generation, while enjoying the current days, have never forgotten about all those teams trying to pull the team out of mediocrity. They talk about the 1972 John Brockington-led Division Championship team and the 1983 team like they won Super Bowls.

    • sacramento gold miners

      The other aspect of those exciting Packers teams was the addition of the logo on the sleeve. At the time, it was a big deal with the diehard Packers fans, since the jersey had remained relatively unchanged for a long time.

      Getting back to those mid 80s Packers, RB Eddie Lee Ivery was also a contributor to that offense, but I do recall the defense suffered the unexpected loss of gifted CB Tim Lewis. A first rounder out of Pitt, and a future defensive coordinator, Lewis’ career was cut short by a neck injury. Lewis appeared to be a future Pro Bowler, so this was quite a setback. I also recall Jim Zorn filling in at QB because of injuries, very weird to see him as a Packer.

      Another interesting Packers bit of history was the attempted comeback of RB Duane Thomas in 1977 or 1978. At one time, Thomas was among the best backs in football, but the Packers cut him in training camp.

    • Mark Growcott

      That was a remarkable season by Dickey that garnered him 1 MVP vote. His franchise record for Passing yardage that season was never surpassed by Favre and Rodgers has only surpassed it once in 2011. If they had just turned one of those OT losses into a win they would have made the Playoffs. Their 3 OT losses is tied for the most by a team in a season and among those 6 teams that have achieved that feat are 2 others from that 1983 season, the Oilers and Bucs who both lost in OT to the Packers.

    • Richie

      Those 5 overtime games are more than any other team had in a season.

      12 teams have had 4 overtime games in a season, most recently the 2011 Cardinals, who won all 4.

      http://pfref.com/tiny/yuv2T

      The 2003 Panthers had 5 overtime games, including playoffs. They went 4-1.

      • One would think that many overtime games in a season would be memorable, but I don’t remember the 2007 Broncos (Who had four.) playing a bunch of OT games at all. That was also a rather dreary, unexciting Broncos team, though. It wasn’t a bad team, but thoroughly boring.

        • Mark Growcott

          For this Packers’ fan, there was the memorable MNF game that the Packers won on the first play of OT (Favre to Jennings) 🙂

          • And while I know it’s not accurate, my memory is that the Packers dominated that game. I don’t remember the OT because I remember it being a romp!
            I’m probably being influenced by my hatred of the Packers and especially Brett Favre.

  • Richie

    The 1984 Dolphins and 1982 Chargers sure stand out amongst all those other teams from the 2000’s.

  • LightsOut85

    I’m not surprised at the top teams, but I am surprised there aren’t more pre-2000 teams among the higher ranks. I thought the past trend for deeper passes would result in comparable 1D rates (like that NYJ example), but it seems modern completion rates (for QBs who aren’t throwing completely dink & dunk) *have* made a difference (/YAC on shorter passes has been that good, so you’ve got good comp% & YAC that picks up the 1D).

  • Duff Soviet Union

    Do you plan on doing an era-adjusted rankings? I’m guessing the 84 Dolphins would shoot to the top and we’d see a lot less 2000+ teams in the top 20.

    • Mark Growcott

      I would also expect those Fouts’ Charger teams to be nearer to the top as well.

  • Ryan

    Say what you will about Jameis, but both of his full seasons make the list, and I believe this year so far ranks even better by this metric. Only 3 other teams have made the list each of the last two years: Saints, Falcons, Redskins.

  • bullitt27

    The top of the list appears to heavily favor post 2003 seasons, especially if the Martz & Coryell offenses (Rams & Chargers) are ignored. An era-adjustment would probably reveal some very interesting results.

    As a Cowboys fan I noticed that the new CBS color commentator Tony Romo has the same number of top 200 seasons as Rodgers & Favre (4), including two seasons in the top 25. I continue to believe he is easily one of the greatest passers ever.

    Other Cowboys, fwiw:
    Aikman- 3 appearances
    Staubach- 2
    Danny White- 2

    • bad dawg

      I hate to bust your bubble but Cowboy fans dont care about passing stats, we care about leading the team to the SB and winning it. On that count Romo is a first class loser and failure. Just saying from one Cowboy fan to another.

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