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538: Is the AFC South Not As Terrible As We Think?

Today at 538: Is the AFC South suddenly not as terrible as we all think? Did you know: the AFC South had a better record this year than the NFC West?

Titans offense

Tennessee has turned into one of the most fun teams in football. After an uneven first month, second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota has been incredible. I looked at stats for each quarterback starting with his team’s fifth game and ending with the 12th. Over that span, Mariota led the NFL in both passer rating (117.7)5 and touchdown passes (21), while throwing just three interceptions. The Titans led the NFL in scoring in that same period, finishing with 8 more points than the New England Patriots have scored since Tom Brady’s return. For the season so far, DeMarco Murray is secondin the NFL in rushing, and the Titans rank third in both rushing yards and yards per carry. Tennessee’s offense will be tested in their next two games, against the Denver Broncos and Chiefs: If the Titans win, the AFC South may be sending the hottest offense in the league to the playoffs.

You can read the full article here.


New York Times, Post Week-7 (2015): Todd Gurley; AFC South

This week at the New York Times: Todd Gurley is awesome; the AFC South is not.

Incredibly, Gurley turned 21 in August: He is now the youngest player to rush for 125 or more yards in three consecutive games since at least 1960. Despite not getting his first N.F.L. start until Week 4, Gurley is already making history. He is the first rookie in the N.F.L. since Eric Dickerson in 1983, a Hall of Famer and another Rams player, to rush for 125 yards and average at least 5 yards per carry three times in his team’s first eight games.


But this year, the division may reach a new low. Through seven weeks, the four teams in the A.F.C. South have won just four of 19 games outside the division. That puts the division 11 games below .500 in interdivision games. That is the second worst performance in the last 30 years and the worst by any division through seven weeks since the N.F.C. East began the season 4-17 in 1998.>.

You can read the full post here


Britt smoked the Eagles secondary

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary.

Kenny Britt’s story is hardly a secret. As a freshman at Rutgers in 2006, his 64-yard catch turned the tide in the biggest win in school history. The next year, he was part of a dynamic offense: Ray Rice rushed for 2,012 yards, Tiquan Underwood caught 65 passes for 1100 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Britt was the big play threat, gaining 1,232 yards and 8 touchdowns on 62 catches. In 2008, Britt caught 87 passes for 1,371 yards and 7 touchdowns. After his junior year, the dynamic college receiver made the obvious move and declared for the NFL Draft. He then watched his hometown Giants take Hakeem Nicks one pick before the Titans made Britt the first Rutgers player ever to be selected in the first round.

Before analyzing his NFL career, I think it’s important to remember that Britt is young for his class year: he played in his first NFL game before he was old enough to legally drink. Despite the young age, Britt didn’t disappoint, producing 701 receiving yards as a rookie in ’09. He even produced a signature moment, catching the game-winning touchdown pass from Vince Young in what was one of the greatest comeback drives of all time (no, really — I swear).

Britt’s 2010 season looks like modest improvement on the surface, but his 775 yards and 9 touchdowns don’t tell the full story. According to Pro Football Focus, Britt only ran passing routes on 253 snaps that season, but averaged a whopping 3.1 yards per route run, easily the highest rate in the league. The obvious follow-up question is why didn’t he run more routes? Well, the 2010 Titans were a run-heavy team centered around Chris Johnson; Tennessee finished 30th with just 474 pass attempts. Britt also missed nearly five full games with a hamstring injury, and Tennessee tended to place Nate Washington on the field in their 1-WR sets. Those seem like reasonable explanations for overlooking why a 22-year-old would play a limited number of snaps. The impressive part is his insane production.
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Season in review: AFC and NFC South

Last week I reviewed the seasons of the teams in the AFC East and NFC East and in the AFC North and NFC North. Today we’ll review the interesting seasons from the AFC and NFC South divisions.

In the AFC South, I had the bottom three teams projected for between 5 and 6 wins for a five week stretch starting after week two. As we now know, that was resolved quite definitively by the end of the year:

AFC South

Houston Texans

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 14 (after week 15)
Minimum wins: 10 (after week 1)
Week 1 comment: Going to win the AFC South going away; this team could win 12 games, but concerns about injuries and the potential to rest starters late keep them at 10 wins for now.

A miserable December ruined what should have been a marvelous season in Houston. At no point did I project any of the other AFC South teams to finish within even three games of the Texans. When they were 5-0, I wrote: Not only do the Texans still have 6 home games remaining, but they have 4 more games against the AFC South and get the Bills and Lions. Even without Brian Cushing, I don’t see why they don’t win 8 more games.

The Texans schedule was easy, but they also had dominant seasons out of J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson. Left Tackle Duane Brown was outstanding, and Houston is as good as any other team in the league when they’re at their their best. Unfortunately, they might be undermanned in a gunfight with the Broncos or Patriots, and it looks like now they’ll have to beat both of those teams to get to New Orleans. Still, I give the Texans a fighting chance; Matt Schaub has struggled in primetime games, but that doesn’t really mean anything. In the end I think the week 17 loss submarined their playoff hopes, and the team will be left wondering how good they could have been if Cushing stayed healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Pre-season Projection: 5.5 wins
Maximum wins: 10 (after week 12 through the end of the year)
Minimum wins: 4 (after week 1)
Week 1 comment: There will be growing pains in Indianapolis. But nobody feels bad for their fans, nor should they; the Colts will be contenders each year for a decade, starting next season.

I never got on board with the Colts this year and it only looks worse in retrospect. On the other hand, even though Indianapolis finished 11-5, they were still outscored by 30 points in 2012. They struggled to beat Brady Quinn and the Chiefs and split with the Jaguars. The Colts won just two game by more than a touchdown.

While I missed on the Colts overall, I was on board the Andrew Luck bandwagon early on even when his numbers were terrible. I wrote this before the Colts-Packers game: Andrew LuckAaron Rodgers I won’t steal the spotlight from Tom BradyPeyton Manning XIII; by the time these two teams play again in four years, we may be looking at the best two quarterbacks in the league. I highlighted how Luck was being undervalued by conventional statistics after week 7, and wrote this after week 8: A wildcard darkhorse? I don’t think the Colts are very good — they’re just 29th according to Football Outsiders — but a win over Miami this weekend puts them in the driver’s seat. I finally projected them at 10 wins after week 12, and noted: Basically clinched a playoff berth with win over Buffalo and Steelers loss. Hard not to like this team.

They may not be very good, but they certainly are likeable. Even after the upset win over the Texans, Houston is just the 10th team to make the playoffs after being outscored by at least 30 points.
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One of the most difficult decisions an organization has to make is when to admit its mistakes. The Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in 2011, and his lack of success is even more striking when compared to the rest of the top dozen selections:

Last year, there were three legitimate excuses the Jaguars could proffer to defend Gabbert’s play: he was a rookie, the lockout prevented him from getting proper training, and Jacksonville had the worst set of receivers in the league. Giving up on a first round quarterback after just one season would be silly, especially one where the expectations were that the rookies would struggle. And the cupboard was bare: Jacksonville became the first team since the 2004 Ravens and only the 5th team in the previous 20 seasons to not have a 500-yard wide receiver, so it’s not like Gabbert had a lot to work with.1

But through five games, little has changed in Jacksonville. The Jaguars should wait to evaluate Gabbert’s career — five games into his second season isn’t a fair sample size — but his production so far have been extremely disappointing:

A few years ago, Jason Lisk wrote this post on when the Lions should have given upon Joey Harrington. One of the most relevant points of that article was Lisk’s supposition

that teams are far more likely to commit errors of holding on to a quarterback for too long, while rarely giving up on a quarterback too early — once they have seen him play any amount of time in a real NFL game. I can think of examples of quarterbacks who were drafted, never started for their original team, and found success elsewhere, but its relatively rare to find a quarterback who started but never had success with his original team, and moved elsewhere to have his first breakout.

There were 70 quarterbacks selected in the first round of NFL drafts between 1978 and 2010. How often did a team give up too early on a good quarterback?2 Vinny Testaverde had success outside of Tampa Bay, but the Bucs didn’t give up “early” on him by any means; he played for six years in Tampa with with varying levels of success. The team did give up too early on Steve Young, although he wasn’t included in this study because he was selected in the supplemental draft. Jim Harbaugh had success in Indianapolis, but it’s not like the Bears didn’t know what they had: Harbaugh was in Chicago for the first seven years of his career.

Jeff George had good years outside of Indianapolis, but I wouldn’t say the Colts gave up early on him. He was inconsistent for four years and caused problems off the field; he was finally traded in connection with a holdout. Mike Vick has had success in Philadelphia, but the Falcons obviously had their hands forced when they gave up on him. Ditto Kerry Collins, whose off the field issues left the Panthers with little choice.

With the exception of Steve Young, who Tampa traded after two years — and who may not have ever turned into a star quarterback in Tampa Bay — you’d be hard pressed to find any examples of teams giving up on first round picks too early (with the exception of those released/traded for nonfootball reasons). Chad Pennington had one great year in Miami, but that was after a long career in New York. Doug Williams and Trent Dilfer won Super Bowls with other teams, but Tampa Bay didn’t give up on either quarterback too early by any reasonable definition of the phrase. The reality is, teams will do just about everything before giving up on a first round quarterback too early and as a result, take way too long to move on from a bad investment. And while teams are (understandably) deathly afraid of giving up on a highly drafted quarterback too early, they’re more likely to harm themselves by waiting to move on for too long on a bad investment.

Through six weeks, NFL teams are averaging 6.44 NY/A, meaning Gabbert is averaging only 67% as many net yards per attempt as the average passer. How does that compare historically? The table below shows all drafted quarterbacks who threw at least 250 passes in their second season, and lists their NY/A and NY/A relative to league average during their sophomore years:

QBYearTmAttNY/ANY/A LgAvRd.Ovrl
Dan Marino1984MIA5648.6146%1.27
Ben Roethlisberger2005PIT2687.8131%1.11
Daunte Culpepper2000MIN4747.4127%1.11
Peyton Manning1999IND5337.3126%1.1
Eric Hipple1981DET2797117%4.85
Boomer Esiason1985CIN4316.8117%2.38
Jay Cutler2007DEN4676.8112%1.11
Matt Robinson1978NYJ2666109%9.227
Bernie Kosar1986CLE5316.3107%1.1
David Carr2003HOU2956.2106%1.1
Josh Freeman2010TAM4746.5105%1.17
Kerry Collins1996CAR3646.1105%1.5
Trent Edwards2008BUF3746.4105%3.92
Brett Favre1992GNB4716104%2.33
Eli Manning2005NYG5576.1104%1.1
Drew Bledsoe1994NWE6916.2104%1.1
Doug Williams1979TAM3975.9103%1.17
Joe Flacco2009BAL4996.3103%1.18
Jim Everett1987RAM3026103%1.3
John Elway1984DEN3806103%1.1
Gus Frerotte1995WAS3966.1103%7.197
Michael Vick2002ATL4216102%1.1
Brian Griese1999DEN4526102%3.91
Rodney Peete1990DET2716101%6.141
Vinny Testaverde1988TAM4665.9100%1.1
Charlie Batch1999DET2705.899%2.60
Joe Montana1980SFO2735.999%3.82
Byron Leftwich2004JAX4416.199%1.7
Tom Brady2001NWE4135.899%6.199
Craig Erickson1993TAM4575.799%4.86
Jake Plummer1998ARI5475.898%2.42
Timm Rosenbach1990PHO4375.998%1.2
Tony Eason1984NWE4315.898%1.15
Matt Ryan2009ATL451697%1.3
Tarvaris Jackson2007MIN2945.997%2.64
Tony Banks1997STL4875.597%2.42
Chuck Long1987DET4165.797%1.12
David Woodley1981MIA3665.897%8.214
Vince Young2007TEN3825.997%1.3
Carson Palmer2004CIN4325.997%1.1
Drew Brees2002SDG5265.696%2.32
Jim McMahon1983CHI2955.795%1.5
Mark Sanchez2010NYJ5075.895%1.5
Billy Joe Tolliver1990SDG4105.795%2.51
Alex Smith2006SFO4425.694%1.1
Mike Pagel1983BAL3285.694%4.84
Steve Walsh1990NOR3365.694%1.1
Shaun King2000TAM4285.493%2.50
Neil O'Donnell1991PIT2865.593%3.70
Chad Henne2009MIA4515.792%2.57
Patrick Ramsey2003WAS3375.392%1.32
David Whitehurst1978GNB3285.192%8.206
JaMarcus Russell2008OAK3685.590%1.1
Don Majkowski1988GNB3365.389%10.255
Tyler Thigpen2008KAN4205.589%7.217
Trent Dilfer1995TAM4155.389%1.6
Danny Kanell1997NYG294588%4.130
Troy Aikman1990DAL3995.288%1.1
Marc Wilson1981OAK3665.287%1.15
Todd Blackledge1984KAN2945.187%1.7
John Friesz1991SDG4875.287%6.138
Chris Miller1988ATL3515.187%1.13
Donovan McNabb2000PHI5695.187%1.2
Steve Fuller1980KAN3205.286%1.23
Browning Nagle1992NYJ387586%2.34
Joey Harrington2003DET554586%1.3
Charlie Frye2006CLE392584%3.67
Kellen Clemens2007NYJ250583%2.49
Cade McNown2000CHI2804.882%1.12
Rick Mirer1994SEA3814.982%1.2
Colt McCoy2011CLE4635.282%3.85
Steve DeBerg1978SFO3024.480%10.275
Phil Simms1980NYG4024.880%1.7
Tim Tebow2011DEN2714.978%1.25
David Klingler1993CIN3434.578%1.6
Sam Bradford2011STL3574.977%1.1
Kyle Boller2004BAL4644.675%1.19
Jeff George1991IND4854.575%1.1
Andrew Walter2006OAK2764.474%3.69
Akili Smith2000CIN2673.560%1.3

If your quarterback plays poorly in his second year, you’re basically hoping he’s Phil Simms (who had his first strong season at age 30) or the good version of Jeff George. Maybe Sam Bradford or [gasp] Tim Tebow, will also become solid starters in the NFL one day. But that’s only one part of the equation, and it’s the minor half. You could have the next Akili Smith or Kyle Boller or David Klingler or Colt McCoy or Rick Mirer or Cade McNown or Joey Harrington, too.

You might think it’s far better to wait a year too long with a first round investment than to cut bait a year too early. Tell that to the Ravens, who after two years of Kyle Boller, chose to wait it out in the 2005 draft and selected Mark Clayton over Aaron Rodgers (why take Rodgers, Cal quarterbacks are terrible!). Detroit selected Joey Harrington with the third pick in the 2002 draft, but as Lisk noted, Detroit could have reasonably “given up” (more on this in a second) on Harrington by the end of the 2003 season. The Lions did not, and selected Roy Williams in the 2004 draft instead of say, Ben Roethlisberger.

And “give up” doesn’t necessarily mean cut or spend a first round pick on another quarterback. Assuming Joe Flacco re-signs with Baltimore, there won’t be any real options in free agency for the Jaguars to address the quarterback position (Jason Campbell is probably the best of the bunch). But they can certainly address the issue in the draft. If a quarterback the Jaguars’ scouts view as elite is available with their (potentially very high) first round pick, then I don’t think you can simply say “let’s give Blaine one more year.” But at a minimum, the Jaguars must spend a pick on a quarterback in the 2013 draft if Gabbert doesn’t improve over the rest of 2012.

  1. Of course, there is the obvious “chicken or the egg” question involved there. The other four teams on that list? The 2004 Ravens (Kyle Boller), 2003 Lions (Joey Harrington), 1997 Buccaneers (Trent Dilfer) and 1992 Bengals (Boomer Esiason/David Klingler) featured four first round quarterbacks who ended up being busts. []
  2. Note that for purposes of this post, I am considering Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Jim Everett, and John Elway as being drafted by the Giants, Chargers, Rams and Broncos. []

I don’t know why, but coach of the year is one of those awards that kind of fascinates me. That’s probably because its one of those few awards that in practice, bears little resemblance its name. There was a stretch from ’95 to ’01 — when Bill Parcells, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Tony Dungy, and Bill Cowher were roaming the sidelines — that the award went to Ray Rhodes, Dom Capers, Jim Haslett and Dick Jauron. Coach of the Year sounds like Most Valuable Player but is more often treated like Comeback Player of the Year or Surprise of the Year. Predicting in the pre-season which coach will ultimately win the award is so difficult that Vegas doesn’t even offer odds on the event. For reference, below is a look at every coach to ever be selected by the Associated Press as NFL Head Coach of the Year:

YearTeamWinnerTenureWin %RecN-1 Win%N-1 RecImp
2012INDBruce Arians10.7509-3-00.1252-14-00.625
2011SFOJim Harbaugh10.81313-3-00.3756-10-00.438
2010NWEBill Belichick110.87514-2-00.62510-6-00.25
2009CINMarvin Lewis70.62510-6-00.2814-11-10.344
2008ATLMike Smith10.68811-5-00.254-12-00.438
2007NWEBill Belichick8116-0-00.7512-4-00.25
2006NORSean Payton10.62510-6-00.1883-13-00.438
2005CHILovie Smith20.68811-5-00.3135-11-00.375
2004SDGMarty Schottenheimer30.7512-4-00.254-12-00.5
2003NWEBill Belichick40.87514-2-00.5639-7-00.313
2002PHIAndy Reid40.7512-4-00.68811-5-00.063
2001CHIDick Jauron30.81313-3-00.3135-11-00.5
2000NORJim Haslett10.62510-6-00.1883-13-00.438
1999STLDick Vermeil30.81313-3-00.254-12-00.563
1998ATLDan Reeves20.87514-2-00.4387-9-00.438
1997NYGJim Fassel10.65610-5-10.3756-10-00.281
1996CARDom Capers20.7512-4-00.4387-9-00.313
1995PHIRay Rhodes10.62510-6-00.4387-9-00.188
1994NWEBill Parcells20.62510-6-00.3135-11-00.313
1993NYGDan Reeves10.68811-5-00.3756-10-00.313
1992PITBill Cowher10.68811-5-00.4387-9-00.25
1991DETWayne Fontes40.7512-4-00.3756-10-00.375
1990DALJimmy Johnson20.4387-9-00.0631-15-00.375
1989GNBLindy Infante20.62510-6-00.254-12-00.375
1988CHIMike Ditka70.7512-4-00.73311-4-00.017
1987NORJim Mora20.812-3-00.4387-9-00.363
1986NYGBill Parcells40.87514-2-00.62510-6-00.25
1985CHIMike Ditka40.93815-1-00.62510-6-00.313
1984SEAChuck Knox20.7512-4-00.5639-7-00.188
1983WASJoe Gibbs30.87514-2-00.8898-1-0-0.014
1982WASJoe Gibbs20.8898-1-00.58-8-00.389
1981SFOBill Walsh30.81313-3-00.3756-10-00.438
1980BUFChuck Knox30.68811-5-00.4387-9-00.25
1979WASJack Pardee20.62510-6-00.58-8-00.125
1978SEAJack Patera30.5639-7-00.3575-9-00.205
1977DENRed Miller10.85712-2-00.6439-5-00.214
1976CLEForrest Gregg20.6439-5-00.2143-11-00.429
1975BALTed Marchibroda10.71410-4-00.1432-12-00.571
1974STLDon Coryell20.71410-4-00.3214-9-10.393
1973RAMChuck Knox10.85712-2-00.4646-7-10.393
1972MIADon Shula3114-0-00.7510-3-10.25
1971WASGeorge Allen10.6799-4-10.4296-8-00.25
1970SFODick Nolan30.7510-3-10.3574-8-20.393
1969MINBud Grant30.85712-2-00.5718-6-00.286
1968BALDon Shula60.92913-1-00.85711-1-20.071
1967RAMGeorge Allen20.85711-1-20.5718-6-00.286
1967BALDon Shula50.85711-1-20.6439-5-00.214
1966DALTom Landry70.7510-3-10.57-7-00.25
1965CHIGeorge Halas80.6439-5-00.3575-9-00.286
1964BALDon Shula20.85712-2-00.5718-6-00.286
1963CHIGeorge Halas60.85711-1-20.6439-5-00.214
1962NYGAllie Sherman20.85712-2-00.7510-3-10.107
1961NYGAllie Sherman10.7510-3-10.5836-4-20.167
1960PHIBuck Shaw30.83310-2-00.5837-5-00.25
1959GNBVince Lombardi10.5837-5-00.1251-10-10.458
1958BALWeeb Ewbank50.759-3-00.5837-5-00.167
1957DETGeorge Wilson10.6678-4-00.759-3-0-0.083

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