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How quaint: a quarterback taking snaps form under center

How quaint: a quarterback taking snaps form under center.

With one game remaining, Peyton Manning has already set the new single-season record with 51 passing touchdowns (two months ago, I projected Manning to finish the season with 52 touchdowns). But all records must be viewed in their environment, and NFL teams are averaging 1.58 touchdown passes per team game this year, the highest average since 1948. In 1984, the year Dan Marino threw 48 touchdowns, teams averaged 1.37 touchdown passes per game.

So which season is more impressive? That’s a complicated question, and one that could be answered in many ways. In my view, the question boils down to which performance was more outstanding; in mathematical terms, we could define that as which season was farthest from the mean.

To make life a little simpler, I’m going to analyze this question on the team level, meaning we will compare “Denver 2013” to “Miami 1984.” Of course, this approach is preferable in many ways, since when we praise Manning we really mean “Manning with his offensive line and his coaching staff throwing to Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas.” And “Marino in 1984” means “Marino and Mark Clayton and Mark Duper and Dwight Stephenson and Ed Newman.”

This season, the Broncos have 51 touchdown passes. The other 31 teams (through 15 games) are averaging 22.8 passing touchdowns, which means Denver is 28.2 touchdowns above average. The standard deviation of the 32 teams in passing touchdowns is 7.4; as a result, we can say that the Broncos are 3.84 standard deviations above average, also known as their Z-score.

In 1984, the other 27 teams (through 16 games) averaged 21.0 touchdowns, while the Dolphins threw 49 scores (Jim Jenson, a college quarterback who played receiver for Miami, threw a 35-yard touchdown to Duper against the Patriots off a Marino lateral). The standard deviation that season in touchdown passes at the team level was 7.5, which gives Miami a Z-score of 3.72 in 1984.

So the Broncos this season have been more extraordinary, at least by this measure. One nice thing about using the Z-score is we don’t need to adjust for games played. I went ahead and calculated the Z-scores for every team since 1932. The current Broncos are #1, with the ’84 Dolphins in second place. The third place team isn’t the Tom Brady 2007 Patriots; that team is down at #7, because the standard deviation in passing touchdowns among the league’s 32 teams was 8.8 that season. Instead, the third slot goes to the 1986 Dolphins. Few remember that Marino threw 44 touchdowns that season; add in Don Strock’s two touchdowns, a lower league average and a smaller standard deviation, and those Dolphins get a Z-score of 3.70.

Let’s look at the top 100 teams using this metric. The 2004 Colts ranked fifth (if you click on the cell in the team column, the link takes you to that team’s PFR page) in Z-score. That year, Indianapolis threw 51 touchdowns, while the other 31 teams averaged 21.97 touchdown passes. That means Indianapolis was 29.03 touchdowns above average, the highest production above average to date. But that year, the standard deviation among the 32 teams in passing touchdowns was 8.53, giving the Colts a Z-score of “only” 3.41; that’s why they’re 5th, not first.

RkTeamLgYrPass TDLgAvgTDovAvgLgSDZ-ScoreMain Quarterback
1DENNFL20135122.7728.237.363.84Peyton Manning
2MIANFL19844920.9628.047.533.72Dan Marino
3MIANFL19864620267.033.7Dan Marino
4SFONFL19874421236.513.53Joe Montana
5INDNFL20045121.9729.038.533.41Peyton Manning
6STLNFL19994220.7721.236.443.3Kurt Warner
7NWENFL20075021.6128.398.763.24Tom Brady
8OAKNFL19763314.7818.225.73.2Ken Stabler
9BUFNFL19913917.4821.527.053.05Jim Kelly
10BALNFL19593314.9118.095.963.03Johnny Unitas
11GNBNFL20115122.3928.619.622.97Aaron Rodgers
12GNBNFL19963920.2418.766.382.94Brett Favre
13SFONFL19943720.2216.785.882.85Steve Young
14ATLNFL19923317.8915.115.382.81Chris Miller
15HOUNFL19903719.9317.076.182.76Warren Moon
16STLNFL20013719.9317.076.272.72Kurt Warner
17OAKAFL19693617.5618.446.922.67Daryle Lamonica
18SDGNFL19853720.7816.226.112.66Dan Fouts
19GNBNFL19973520.0714.935.632.65Brett Favre
20HOUAFL19614819.1428.8611.062.61George Blanda
21CHINFL1934164124.612.6Gene Ronzani
22NYGNFL19633920.2318.777.232.6Y.A. Tittle
23OAKNFL19742813.9214.085.532.55Ken Stabler
24NORNFL20124323.0319.977.872.54Drew Brees
25NORNFL20114622.5523.459.622.44Drew Brees
26MINNFL19984121.2819.728.222.4Randall Cunningham
27SFONFL19984121.2819.728.222.4Steve Young
28PHINFL19613419.3114.696.132.4Sonny Jurgensen
29SFONFL19722715.0811.924.992.39Steve Spurrier
30GNBNFL19953921.5217.487.362.38Brett Favre
31STLNFL20003719.917.17.332.33Kurt Warner
32CARNFL19993620.9715.036.442.33Steve Beuerlein
33SFONFL19893520.2614.746.332.33Joe Montana
34BALNFL19572513.1811.825.082.33Johnny Unitas
35OAKNFL19702815.9612.045.212.31Daryle Lamonica
36BALNFL19582616.829.183.992.3Johnny Unitas
37SFONFL19653520.9214.086.122.3John Brodie
38SDGNFL19821911.157.853.452.28Dan Fouts
39WASNFL19883319.3713.6362.27Mark Rypien
40SDGNFL19813420.6313.375.92.27Dan Fouts
41PHINFL19903420.0413.966.182.26Randall Cunningham
42NYGNFL1933154.6710.334.62.25Harry Newman
43GNBNFL1938208.1111.895.292.25Bob Monnett
44NYGNFL19623520.3814.626.512.24Y.A. Tittle
45CINNFL20053219.7412.265.512.22Carson Palmer
46SDGNFL20083419.7414.266.422.22Philip Rivers
47NORNFL20083419.7414.266.422.22Drew Brees
48DALNFL19732614.0811.925.472.18Roger Staubach
49GNBNFL1942288.8919.118.82.17Cecil Isbell
50SDGNFL19712314.648.363.892.15John Hadl
51GNBNFL19943320.3712.635.882.15Brett Favre
52GNBNFL20124023.1316.877.872.14Aaron Rodgers
53PHINFL19532514.9110.094.712.14Bobby Thomason
54SFOAAFC19483019.5710.434.882.14Frankie Albert
55BALNFL19963420.4113.596.382.13Vinny Testaverde
56CLENFL19663317.6415.367.242.12Frank Ryan
57PITNFL19782816.311.75.582.1Terry Bradshaw
58RAMNFL19503115.7515.257.272.1Norm Van Brocklin
59NWENFL19793018.8111.195.362.09Steve Grogan
60PHINFL19543316.1816.828.12.08Adrian Burk
61INDNFL20053119.7711.235.512.04Peyton Manning
62NWENFL20103723.0313.976.862.04Tom Brady
63SFONFL19922918.0410.965.382.04Steve Young
64CHINFL1941198.8910.114.982.03Sid Luckman
65SFOAAFC19492812.6715.337.652.01Frankie Albert
66SFONFL19932918.0710.935.452Steve Young
67BUFNFL19752816.211.85.912Joe Ferguson
68WASNFL19752816.211.85.912Billy Kilmer
69INDNFL20063119.911.15.561.99Peyton Manning
70PHINFL20063119.911.15.561.99Donovan McNabb
71GNBNFL20033220.0611.945.991.99Brett Favre
72MINNFL20033220.0611.945.991.99Daunte Culpepper
73MINNFL20043922.3516.658.531.95Daunte Culpepper
74DETNFL19512915.5513.456.891.95Bobby Layne
75RAMNFL19883119.4411.5661.92Jim Everett
76NWENFL19973120.2110.795.631.92Drew Bledsoe
77GNBNFL1936176.2510.755.641.91Arnie Herber
78DETNFL20114122.7118.299.621.9Matthew Stafford
79SFONFL20013220. Garcia
80GNBNFL20013220. Favre
81DALNFL19792918.8510.155.361.89Roger Staubach
82DALNFL19712214.687.323.891.88Roger Staubach
83CHINFL1943289.5618.449.821.88Sid Luckman
84WASNFL193918994.791.88Frank Filchock
85PHINFL19602916136.961.87Norm Van Brocklin
86CHINFL1937178.118.894.781.86Bernie Masterson
87SEANFL19772313.529.485.11.86Jim Zorn
88CHINFL19472917.6711.336.141.84Sid Luckman
89OAKAFL19673319.6313.387.251.84Daryle Lamonica
90BUFNFL19893220.3711.636.331.84Jim Kelly
91CINNFL19893220.3711.636.331.84Boomer Esiason
92MINNFL19752716.2410.765.911.82Fran Tarkenton
93ATLNFL19932818.119.895.451.81Bobby Hebert
94NYYNFL19502915.9213.087.271.8George Ratterman
95CLENFL19552114.456.553.641.8Otto Graham
96MIANFL19943120.4410.565.881.79Dan Marino
97CHINFL1944219.611.46.381.79Sid Luckman
98CLENFL19642819.238.774.911.79Frank Ryan
99INDNFL20003320.0312.977.331.77Peyton Manning
100MINNFL20003320.0312.977.331.77Daunte Culpepper

The 1987 49ers are an interesting group. Joe Montana led the league with 31 touchdown passes, although four of them came in a game against replacement players. Steve Young also chipped in with ten touchdown, and three other players each threw one touchdown. But the league’s teams were tightly packed together that season, which is why the 44 touchdowns the team produced through the air sticks out as a huge outlier.

The Aaron Rodgers 2011 Packers got an assist from Matt Flynn in the season finale to get to 51 touchdowns, but only come in 11th place here because the standard deviation was pretty wide that year. You can type “gnb” in the search box to see all the Packers teams, or “sfo” to marvel at the number of Jerry Rice teams on the list.

Randy Moss deserves a lot of credit for the 2007 Patriots finishing as one of the greatest pass offenses ever. He deserves a lot of blame for the team atop the next table: the worst Z-scores with respect to passing touchdowns since 1932:

RkTeamLgYrPass TDLgAvgTDovAvgLgSDZ-ScoreMain Quarterback
1OAKNFL2006720.68-13.685.56-2.46Andrew Walter
2HOUNFL20021122.03-11.034.58-2.41David Carr
3TAMNFL1995522.69-17.697.36-2.4Trent Dilfer
4KANNFL1979719.67-12.675.36-2.36Steve Fuller
5CHINFL19691120.8-9.84.2-2.33Jack Concannon
6NORNFL1981821.59-13.595.9-2.31Archie Manning
7BUFAFL19651321.43-8.433.7-2.28Jack Kemp
8BDAAAFC1947420.43-16.437.23-2.27Bob Hoernschemeyer
9SFONFL2005820.52-12.525.51-2.27Alex Smith
10PITNFL1945012.11-12.115.45-2.22Buzz Warren
11TAMNFL1977314.26-11.265.1-2.21Gary Huff
12CHINFL1993718.89-11.895.45-2.18Jim Harbaugh
13CARNFL2010923.94-14.946.86-2.18Jimmy Clausen
14DALNFL19641020.62-10.624.91-2.16Don Meredith
15PITNFL19651022.85-12.856.12-2.1Bill Nelsen
16BUFNFL1985921.81-12.816.11-2.1Vince Ferragamo
17DETNFL19691220.73-8.734.2-2.08Bill Munson
18KANNFL2012824.16-16.167.87-2.05Matt Cassel
19GNBNFL1949518.11-13.116.41-2.05Jug Girard
20MIAAAFC19461017.57-7.573.7-2.05Marion Pugh
21CINNFL2000620.93-14.937.33-2.04Akili Smith
22ARINFL20101023.9-13.96.86-2.03Derek Anderson
23BUFNFL1973414.96-10.965.47-2Joe Ferguson
24OAKNFL2003920.81-11.815.99-1.97Rich Gannon
25ATLNFL1974414.88-10.885.53-1.97Bob Lee
26BOSNFL1970716.8-9.85.21-1.88Joe Kapp
27PHINFL1998722.45-15.458.22-1.88Bobby Hoying
28ATLNFL1968919.87-10.875.83-1.86Randy Johnson
29DENNFL1971815.24-7.243.89-1.86Steve Ramsey
30CRDNFL19521018.91-8.914.86-1.83Charlie Trippi
31OAKAFL19621123.57-12.576.91-1.82Cotton Davidson
32SEANFL1992918.78-9.785.38-1.82Stan Gelbaugh
33CHINFL1978717.07-10.075.58-1.81Bob Avellini
34KANNFL1978717.07-10.075.58-1.81Mike Livingston
35RAMNFL1955915.55-6.553.64-1.8Norm Van Brocklin
36GNBNFL1946413.56-9.565.34-1.79Irv Comp
37PITNFL1946413.56-9.565.34-1.79Bill Dudley
38OAKNFL20091022.58-12.587.06-1.78JaMarcus Russell
39GNBNFL1972715.88-8.884.99-1.78Scott Hunter
40GNBNFL1974514.84-9.845.53-1.78John Hadl
41CHINFL1950517.92-12.927.27-1.78Johnny Lujack
42PITNFL19891021.19-11.196.33-1.77Bubby Brister
43GNBNFL1948820.89-12.897.37-1.75Jack Jacobs
44PITNFL1948820.89-12.897.37-1.75Ray Evans
45PHINFL1956614.18-8.184.7-1.74Bobby Thomason
46DALNFL20021421.94-7.944.58-1.73Chad Hutchinson
47ARINFL19941121.19-10.195.88-1.73Steve Beuerlein
48BKNNFL1944312.67-9.675.6-1.73Charlie McGibbony
49BUFAFL1968720.22-13.227.67-1.72Dan Darragh
50DETNFL1960617.92-11.926.96-1.71Jim Ninowski
51CHINFL20051120.42-9.425.51-1.71Kyle Orton
52NYJNFL20051120.42-9.425.51-1.71Brooks Bollinger
53CLENFL1975717.04-10.045.91-1.7Mike Phipps
54SDGNFL1975717.04-10.045.91-1.7Dan Fouts
55CHINFL19681019.8-9.85.83-1.68Jack Concannon
56CHINFL2004923.32-14.328.53-1.68Chad Hutchinson
57ARINFL19991121.8-10.86.44-1.68Jake Plummer
58ARINFL20121124.06-13.067.87-1.66John Skelton
59DENAFL19641425.14-11.146.76-1.65Jacky Lee
60DENAFL19661223.38-11.386.94-1.64John McCormick
61CLENFL20091122.55-11.557.06-1.64Brady Quinn
62BALNFL1982611.63-5.633.45-1.63Mike Pagel
63STLNFL1982611.63-5.633.45-1.63Neil Lomax
64BALNFL19831222.7-10.76.57-1.63Mike Pagel
65NYGNFL19831222.7-10.76.57-1.63Scott Brunner
66BUFNFL20031120.74-9.745.99-1.63Drew Bledsoe
67CLENFL2000920.83-11.837.33-1.62Tim Couch
68INDNFL19931018.78-8.785.45-1.61Jeff George
69DETNFL19891121.15-10.156.33-1.6Bob Gagliano
70BUFAFL19631625.14-9.145.71-1.6Jack Kemp
71KANNFL19811221.44-9.445.9-1.6Bill Kenney
72GNBNFL1977614.15-8.155.1-1.6Lynn Dickey
73NYGNFL1977614.15-8.155.1-1.6Joe Pisarcik
74MINNFL1971915.2-6.23.89-1.59Gary Cuozzo
75PITNFL19471019.78-9.786.14-1.59Johnny Clement
76TENNFL2007922.94-13.948.76-1.59Vince Young
77CINAFL1968820.11-12.117.67-1.58John Stofa
78DETNFL1966819.43-11.437.24-1.58Karl Sweetan
79CLENFL20101323.81-10.816.86-1.58Colt McCoy
80RAMNFL19631122.38-11.387.23-1.57Roman Gabriel
81SDGNFL19971220.86-8.865.63-1.57Craig Whelihan
82HOUAFL19671122.38-11.387.25-1.57Pete Beathard
83GNBNFL1953916.36-7.364.71-1.56Tobin Rote
84NYGNFL19951122.48-11.487.36-1.56Dave M. Brown
85PHINFL19951122.48-11.487.36-1.56Rodney Peete
86CHINFL1967921-127.76-1.55Jack Concannon
87CHINFL1957714.82-7.825.08-1.54Ed Brown
88NYJNFL1976715.74-8.745.7-1.53Joe Namath
89STLNFL2011923.74-14.749.62-1.53Sam Bradford
90SDGNFL19881120.19-9.196-1.53Mark Malone
91CLENFL19581218.09-6.093.99-1.53Milt Plum
92NORNFL1975817-95.91-1.52Archie Manning
93CRDNFL193527.75-5.753.79-1.52Phil Sarboe
94SDGNFL19991221.77-9.776.44-1.52Jim Harbaugh
95CARNFL20021521.9-6.94.58-1.51Rodney Peete
96NYYAAFC1949516.5-11.57.65-1.5Don Panciera
97MINNFL19681119.73-8.735.83-1.5Joe Kapp
98NYJNFL20131324-117.36-1.49Geno Smith
99NYJNFL20091222.52-10.527.06-1.49Mark Sanchez
100STLNFL20091222.52-10.527.06-1.49Marc Bulger

The 2006 Raiders were one of the worst passing teams in history, and their reward was the right to draft JaMarcus Russell. As always, the table is fully sortable and searchable. If you sort by year, you’ll notice that the Geno Smith Jets barely crack the list, as does the version with a rookie Mark Sanchez from four years earlier. I’m not too surprised seeing the 2010 Panthers (which landed them Cam Newton) or the 2012 Chiefs on the list, either. If you type “cle” into the search box, you might be surprised to see only three Browns teams since 2000 on the list. I’ll leave it to you guys to add your thoughts in the comments.

  • Quarterbacks who appear on the first table more than two times: Brett Favre (6), Peyton Manning (5), Sid Luckman (4), Steve Young (4), Roger Staubach (3), Johnny Unitas (3), Kurt Warner (3), Dan Fouts (3), Dan Marino (3), Daryle Lamonica (3), Drew Brees (3), Daunte Culpepper (3). That’s nearly half of the occurrences on that list populated by a dozen QBs (which probably is not surprising). Within that group, Daunte Culpepper sticks out like a sore thumb. His early career production really was remarkable.

    And before anyone says it, yes, I am aware that Randy Moss was playing with him then. That doesn’t change the fact that he did throw those touchdowns. (Moss, for anyone concerned, has six teams on that table: Min 1998, Min 2000, Min 2003, Min 2004, NE 2007, and NE 2010.*)

    Quarterbacks to appear on the second table more than once: Jack Concannon (3), Archie Manning (2), Chad Hutchinson (2), Jim Harbaugh (2), Mike Pagel, Rodney Peete (2). Here, Manning is rather an outlier, at least as far as reputation.

    *Moss only played with the Patriots for four weeks in 2010. He then moved on to Minnesota and finally Tennessee that season. It would probably be more accurate to say that he was on 5 or 5.25 teams on that table.

    • Chase Stuart

      Good stuff.

    • re: Culpepper

      We began a dynasty football league in 2005. I invested heavily in acquiring Duante Culpepper to be the main player on my team. Oh man, did that not go well.

      • Ouch.

        • Before the 2011 season I acquired Aaron Rodgers. That’s how long it took me to fill the QB position after the Culpepper debacle.

  • Ty

    How much would factoring in the pass defenses each team has faced change the results?

    Average Pass Defenses vs. Denver = 23.9
    2013 LgAvg = 23.7

    Average Pass Defenses vs. Miami = 25.5
    1984 LgAvg = 22.0

    • Chase Stuart

      Yeah, I could have done an SOS iteration, but that was too much work. Perhaps a good idea for it in the offseason once the numbers are final. Although with something like passing touchdowns, I am not sure if SOS adjustments are that necessary, as I suspect Game Scripts might matter more. Perhaps that’s another topic for the to-do list: will a team throw more touchdowns in a game against a bad pass defense where the Game Script is high or against a good defense where the Game Script is low (of course, getting the Game Script higher probably means you threw a touchdown or two. Although you could probably isolate that by controlling the number of TDs in the first half.)

  • dgreen

    Still one more week to go. The 2013 Broncos Z-Score could easily drop below the 1984 Dolphins’. Of course, it could also easily increase more.

    • Chase Stuart

      They would also need 3 TDs to pass the 2004 Colts for most TDs over average.

      • Archer

        The first half was enough for that and then some (and had Manning played on, it could have been another 7 TD game easily).
        Updated table please?

        • Archer

          P.S. a big thank you to the Pats for making today’s game meaningful for the Broncos, so that unlike 2004, Peyton played more than two minutes.

  • I think the amazing part of Marino’s record is that he broke the old record by 33%! Blanda (1961) and Tittle (1963) threw 36TD’s.

    How many single-season records (in any sport) get broken by such a huge margin?

    (I’m pretty sure Doug had a post looking at the margin of some career records, but can’t remember if he did it for single season records.)

    • Chase Stuart

      True. Fouts did a nice job in 1980, too: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/pass_yds_single_season_1980.htm

      I’m a bit surprised Marino 84 didn’t win here. Then again, Miami 1984 was 17 TDs ahead of #2, 17 TDs ahead of #3, 19 TDs ahead of #4, and 21 TDs ahead of #5. Denver 2013 is is 16 ahead of #2, but 20 ahead of #3 and #4, and 21 ahead of #5. It’s a pass-crazy era, of course, but Denver is really, really far ahead of the pack (historically so, as it turns out!).

      • Kibbles

        Keeping in mind, of course, that in the early ’80s the 16-game season was still in its infancy, so lots of records were falling by huge margins. Marino might have thrown for 33% more touchdowns than Blanda, but he “only” threw for 16.7% more per game. Fouts’ 4715 yards were only 3% more per game than Namath’s 4,007 in 1967.

        On the other hand, when Blanda broke the old interceptions record by 23.5%, he did it the hard way- even if you pro-rate Luckman’s old 12-game record, Blanda still had 16% more per game, comparable to Marino’s edge in touchdowns.

        Speaking Luckman… when Luckman set the Passing YPA record at 10.9 (a record that still stands today, by the way), the previous best was 8.1 by Bernie Masterson, meaning Luckman broke it by 34.5%, which is almost unfathomable for a rate stat like that. And Masterson had just 113 pass attempts; if we raise the minimum cutoff to 200 attempts (admittedly, an unfair distinction meant solely to abuse multiple endpoints), then the previous standard bearer was Cecil Isbell with 7.5, meaning Luckman broke the record by 45%.

        I don’t know which is more surprising, that Luckman was that far ahead of the previous best (and remained there for years afterwards), or that his YPA record still stands largely unchallenged. Only three other players have gotten over 10.0 (Graham twice and Van Brocklin once), none since 1954. Kurt Warner put up a 9.9 ypa average in 2000, which stands as the modern record (breaking the previous modern record of 9.6 by… Chris Chandler. Seriously.)

        The guys who have come within 2 yards of Luckman in the last 25 years pretty much reads like a who’s who of Hall of Fame QBs. You’ve got Roethlisberger twice (’04 and ’05), the San Fran guys (Montana in ’89, Young in ’91), Peyton (’04), Rodgers (’11), and Warner (’00). Oh yeah, and like I said, Chris Chandler had 9.6 ypa in 1998, because of course he did. And Nick Foles sits at 9.0, leaving him one game away from joining that group, too.

    • Wayne Gretzky’s 215 point season beats Phil Esposito’s old record by 41%.
      Gretzky’s 163 assist season in 1986 was 59.8% ahead of Bobby Orr’s 1971 season, and is still 43% ahead of Mario Lemieux’s 1989 season. It’s 20.7% ahead of his own next best year (135). Gretzky’s assist totals are so high that his actual 20-year career (including time lost due to age, injury and lockouts) yields more assists than the 20 next best seasons in NHL history.
      Gretzky’s 1982 goal scoring record (92 goals) was “only” 21% ahead of the old record of 76, held by Esposito.

    • Archer

      It’s unfair to compare old-time records to modern ones, but it’s still worth mentioning that Benny Friedman broke his own passing TD record by 82% in 1929 (from 11 to 20, stood for 13 years) and Hutson broke his own receiving TD record by 70% in 1942 (from 10 to 17, stood for 42 years, until Mark Clayton caught 18 TD passes from Marino 1984).

      And since Mike mentioned Gretzky, the baseball equivalent – in 1920 Babe Ruth bettered his own home run record by 86%, from 29 to 54.

  • Another way to compare (perhaps without any mathematical value) is to look at percent above average.

    Marino threw 3 TD/game, which was 219% above the average team that year.

    If Marino was able to throw 219% above average in 2013 (where teams are averaging 1.58 TD/game), then he would be on pace for 55.4 TDs.

    • Chase Stuart

      That’s sort of like what the TDovAVG column gets at, although it’s not using percentages.

      • Richie

        Please, I’m trying to find some way to keep Marino at #1.

        • Chase Stuart

          You’re going to love* Saturday’s column.

          *All references to love shall be read as if the reference was to hate.

    • DSMok1

      I actually prefer this approach from a mathematical perspective to Z scores. I feel it has more mathematical merit than simply comparing to the bell curve of teams that year, in terms of calculating how impressive a number is. Z-scores… are sort of an arbitrary and not extremely meaningful metric in my opinion (for non-technical questions).

  • james

    If the Broncos score 18 points, they will break the record for most points in a season. If they score 28, they will be the first team in history to score 600 points in a season. Will you run a column after the season to see where the Broncos rank all time in terms of greatest offenses using the Z score method? Despite all the talk of passing league and how offenses are out of control, the Broncos lead the #2 team in points scored by 10.3 PPG and the league average by 14.5 PPG.

    • Chase Stuart

      Good idea.

    • Kibbles

      Right now, the #2 scoring team in the league is Philadelphia. Philly is currently closer to 31st place (Houston) than they are to Denver in 1st.

  • Rich Newell

    Interesting analysis. The only worrying thing is that your best Z-score is +3.84 while your worst Z-score is -2.46.
    I wouldn’t have expected there to be such a difference in magnitude; while the normal distribution is a very familiar and practical distribution it might not be the best one in this instance.

    • Rich Newell

      The league average passing TD was similar for 2010-2012 so I put the three together and did a Q-Q plot. The data seem normal from Z=-2 to +1 but the normal distribution simply doesn’t cut it for star performers.

      • Chase Stuart

        Thanks, Rich. Any thoughts on a solution or another way to compare across eras?

        • DSMok1

          I would recommend that you not use Z-scores. They are typically more trouble than they are worth (adding more noise than anything).

          Simple ratios of average would work, as would other approaches–as Tangotiger would say, don’t use a more complex stat when a simpler one will work. Usually bad things happen…

          • Chase Stuart

            Thanks – always appreciate your thoughts. I have some ideas for improving on Z-scores, but putting that aside, ratio of averages doesn’t work for evey stat, though. For example, ANY/A in the ’70s was very low, and I think a couple of defenses had negative ANY/A ratings. How would you deal with comparing those Ds to modern Ds? And how do you like ratios versus the TDovAvg idea?

  • BritPat

    I’m interested as to why the article isn’t a true comparison between the Quarterbacks breaking the records and what they did with the ball in comparison to each other. Your article is severely flawed, based on the fact that your ratings work off the league average. There’s no attempt to compare what the Quarterbacks did with the ball in their hands, or more importantly the era in which they played. If you compare the most important figures, you see the following, starting with numbers overall:

    In terms of passes completed, Ryan Tannehill (#10 on the list currently) has 335 completions on the year, with one game to go. In 1984, that would have been good for third place.

    In terms of attempts, the current 10th ranked player is Tony Romo with 535. Again, in 1984 that would have been good for third place.

    In terms of passing yards, only the top 3 on the list were over 4000 yards on the year (Simms only just so); with only the top two over 4,500 yards. In 2013, with a game to go, you have EIGHT of the top 10 over 4000 yards, with as many as 6 capable of going over 4,500 yards.

    If you want to directly compare the record breakers and their Touchdown numbers, this is how it turns out if you extrapolate their figures to compare with his in terms of completions this year:

    Marino – 56.3 Touchdowns

    Manning (’04) – 62.0 Touchdowns

    Brady – 53.3 Touchdowns

    Manning has throw more passed and completed more passes on his way to the record. It may have looked pretty, but it certainly wasn’t as efficient.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks for stopping by. The point of the analysis was not to determine the greatest season ever, or the most efficient season at throwing touchdowns ever, but to determine which team was the biggest outlier when it comes to passing touchdown.

  • BritPat

    But you’re not comparing the era’s, which is vital to the record. The title of the article is “More Impressive Passing TD Record: Manning 13 or Marino 84”. It’s not “who threw more passes than the league average”. It’s easier to complete passes and throw Touchdowns now. Before Manning broke the record in 1984, only two Quarterbacks had thrown 40+ TD passes in a season. Marino did it twice, Warner once.

    From 2004 onwards, 5 different quarterbacks have thrown 40+ TD’s in a season. All in all it’s been done 7 times in 10 seasons from 2004 onwards.

    Before that it was 3 times in 70 years.

    I grew up watching Marino, he’d likely throw for 6000 yards and 40+ TD’s every season nowadays with the way the rules have been changed. And again, I don’t think this is even Manning’s best season – 2004 was a lesson in Quarterback play.

    • Chase Stuart

      How would you compare eras other than comparing each quarterback to the league average in that particular season?

  • RustyHilgerReborn

    I find it humorous that the 1989 Lions made the “worst” list, given that it was the same year they installed the Run N Shoot offense, which was supposed to “revolutionize” the passing game. I guess that will happen when you discover that all of the quarterbacks on your roster are terrible….and also discover that kid named Sanders you drafted in April turned out to be pretty good. Most coaches with half a brain will dial down the passing attempts and hand the ball off more in the red zone.

    I’m also suprised the 1988 Lions didn’t make the list. I think they’re in the running for one of the worst offenses in NFL history.

    The 2011 Lions making the “best” list gives me hope that Matthew Stafford is salvageable as a true franchise quarterback with the right coaching staff.

    • Chase Stuart

      I’d be careful not to read into these tables what isn’t there. This doesn’t say that the 1989 Lions offense was bad — in fact, the team led the league with 23 rushing touchdowns. It also doesn’t say that the 1989 Lions passing offense was bad (it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t that bad, either). All it says is that the 1989 Lions didn’t throw many touchdowns. Having only 11 passing TDs is really low, even for 1989.

      OTOH, I wouldn’t read the list to love Stafford too much, either. Here’s what I said about Stafford’s 2011 season 17 months ago: http://www.footballperspective.com/random-perspective-on-the-2012-detroit-lions/

  • Great stuff as always Chase. Looking forward to Saturday’s article.

  • GG

    Marino greatest QB ever, all-time. End of story.

  • KJ

    Marino had the greatest single season in NFL history considering all these circumstances. What this article does NOT mention is Manning in the 2013 season through nearly 100 more passes than Marino did in 1984 . Manning also had a QBR of 81.1. to Marino’s 98.5. Marino also played with far tougher rules when they could assault the WR’s while receivers have far more freedom of movement these days. Just like what the NBA did when they changed their rules.