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Terry Bradshaw finished his career with 212 touchdowns, 210 interceptions and a 70.9 passer rating. Kurt Warner threw 208 touchdowns against only 128 interceptions, and his 93.7 passer rating ranks 8th in NFL history and 2nd among retired players. But Bradshaw played from 1970 to 1982, while Warner played from 1998 to 2009. As a result, comparing their raw statistics holds very little meaning. Comparing across eras is very challenging, but not impossible. And in this case, once you place the numbers in the proper context, Bradshaw’s numbers were arguably more impressive than Warner’s numbers.

Let’s start with Bradshaw and begin by looking at his Relative ANY/A for each year of his career. For new readers, ANY/A stands for Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, defined as

(Gross Pass Yards + 20 * PTDs – 45 * INTs – Sack Yds)/(Attempts + Sacks)

Relative ANY/A simply compares a quarterback’s ANY/A average to league average, a necessary element when comparing quarterbacks across eras. In the graph below, the size of the bubble corresponds to how many attempts Bradshaw had in each season, while the Y-Axis shows Bradshaw’s Relative ANY/A (by definition, 0 is equal to league average).  The graph shows a clear story: for the first five years of his career, Bradshaw was a below-average quarterback, but over the rest of his career, he was one of the best in football. His best year came in 1978 when Bradshaw finished with a RANY/A of +2.0, which was the third best mark in football (only a hair behind Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts). Those stats, combined with a 14-2 record, led to Bradshaw being named the AP’s MVP that season. [click to continue…]

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No, Peyton, you're the man

No, Peyton, you're the man.

In 1984, Dan Marino set an NFL record with 48 touchdown passes, but his Dolphins lost in the Super Bowl. Twenty years later, Peyton Manning broke Marino’s record, but he lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots in the playoffs. In 2007, Tom Brady broke Manning’s touchdowns record, but he lost in the Super Bowl, too.

When the greatest quarterback seasons of all time are discussed, these three years dominate the discussion. And with good reason. But if you include the playoffs — and frankly, there’s no reason not to include the playoffs — which quarterback produced the greatest season of all time? I’m going to stipulate that the greatest quarterback season ever has to end in a Lombardi Trophy, because otherwise, I think we’ll end up back in the world of Marino ’84/Brady ’07/Manning ’04. Of course, now another Manning season has entered the mix: and with a Super Bowl win, Manning’s 2013 should and would be remembered as the greatest quarterback season of all time.

So, the question becomes, which season would he knock off the top rung? I think there are six seasons that stand out from the rest, based on regular and postseason performance.

Honorable Mention [click to continue…]

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Longest streaks as a favorite

The GSOT

The GSOT.

On its own, this week five game against San Francisco doesn’t stand out as anything special. The 0-4 Rams were traveling to San Francisco with Jamie Martin at quarterback, who led the team to just 10 points the previous week in Dallas after Kurt Warner broke his pinky finger. The 49ers were coming off of a bye week, and would send Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens to the Pro Bowl, while Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow led a top-six ground game. San Francisco should have, and did, win convincingly.

The reason that’s a notable game is precisely because the 49ers were six-point favorites. That marked the first time since week 2, 1999 — when the Rams had not yet been recognized as the Greatest Show on Turf — that St. Louis was not favored to win a game. For the final 14 regular season games and the three playoff games in 1999, all seventeen games in 2000, all 19 games in 2001, and the first four games in 2002 — a stretch of 57 straight games — the Rams took the field as favorites. That’s the longest streak since 1978, and perhaps ever. And I’m not sure if this makes that fact more of less impressive, but all things considered, the Rams’ record wasn’t that great during the stretch. Part of the reason for the streak was that St. Louis generally had a weak schedule those years, but continually being favored to win games without a great record is an interesting (and rare) sign of respect.

TeamStreakYear StartYear EndRecordStreak Ender
STL571999200240-17-0 vs. SFO
SFO391984198630-9-0 vs. MIA
DAL361981198326-10-0 vs. SFO
PIT351978198026-9-0 vs. HOU
SFO341989199029-5-0 vs. NYG
CHI331985198728-5-0 vs. DEN
SFO291991199324-5-0 vs. DAL
SFO281994199521-7-0 vs. DAL
WAS281991199223-5-0 vs. KAN
DAL271993199423-4-0 vs. SFO
DAL231995199616-7-0 vs. PHI
GNB211997199816-5-0 vs. MIN
DEN211998199917-4-0 vs. TAM
NWE202007200819-1-0 vs. NYJ

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Interceptions per Incompletion (or POPIP)

The closest I'm willing to get with a baseball photo.

I leave the baseball analysis to my brothers at baseball-reference.com, but I know enough to be dangerous. There’s a stat called BABIP, which stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. A “ball in play” is simply any at bat that doesn’t end in a home run or a strikeout. The thinking goes that luck and randomness is mostly responsible for the variance in BABIP allowed by pitchers to opposing batters. Pitchers can control the number of strikeouts they throw and control whether they allow home runs or not, but they can’t really control their BABIP.

Therefore, if a pitcher has a high BABIP, sort of like an NFL team with a lot of turnovers, he’s probably been unlucky. And good things may be coming around the corner. A high BABIP means a pitcher probably has an ERA higher than he “should” and that his ERA will go down in the future. In fact, you can easily recalculate a pitcher’s ERA by replacing the actual BABIP he has allowed with the league average BABIP. And that ERA will be a better predictor of future ERA than the actual ERA. At least, I think. Forgive me if my baseball analysis is not perfect.

Are you still awake? It’s Monday, and I’ve brought not only baseball into the equation, but obscure baseball statistics. Let’s get to the point of the post by starting with a hypothesis:

Assume that it is within a quarterback’s control as to whether he throws a completed pass on any given pass attempt. However, if he throws an incomplete pass, then he has no control over whether or not that pass is intercepted.
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The original standard for postseason success.

On Wednesday, I explained the methodology for grading each quarterback in each season. Yesterday, I came up with an all-time career list of the best quarterbacks based on their regular season play. Today, a look at playoff performances.

Using the same formula, we can grade each quarterback in each game and adjust for era1. However, it should be obvious that the sample sizes here are incredibly small, and the stats are even less likely to tell the true story when looking at just one game. Strength of schedule becomes a significant factor here, as well. But, caveats aside, there’s a lot we can do with playoff data. For example, we can rank every quarterback performance in Super Bowl history:

RkQBTmOppSBW/LAttPydTDINTCYCYPVAL
1Joe MontanaSFOMIA19W353313040611272
2Steve YoungSFOSDG29W363256043111.1264
3Troy AikmanDALBUF27W302734038112.3258
4Joe MontanaSFODEN24W292975039713.3256
5Kurt WarnerSTLTEN34W45414204479.7225
6Jim PlunkettOAKPHI15W212613032014.5219
7Phil SimmsNYGDEN21W252683032312.4216
8Doug WilliamsWASDEN22W293404135811.6211
9John ElwayDENATL33W293361133111181
10Jim McMahonCHINWE20W202560028411.6174
11Joe MontanaSFOCIN23W36357203519165
12Jake DelhommeCARNWE38L33323303258.8146
13Tom BradyNWECAR38W48354313697.7141
14Terry BradshawPITDAL13W30318412667.8140
15Mark RypienWASBUF26W33292212878.7128
16Terry BradshawPITRAM14W213092321410.2123
17Bart StarrGNBKAN1W23250212248.7121
18Terry BradshawPITDAL10W19209202009.5121
19Aaron RodgersGNBPIT45W39304303488.3118
20Brett FavreGNBNWE31W27246202688.1111
21Drew BreesNORIND44W39288203218107
22Ken StablerOAKMIN11W19180101838.7103
23Troy AikmanDALPIT30W23209102188.791
24Kurt WarnerARIPIT43L43377313297.387
25John ElwayDENNYG21L37304112706.581
26Bart StarrGNBOAK2W24202101826.579
27Joe MontanaSFOCIN16W22157101887.876
28Tom BradyNWEPHI39W33236202597.475
29Joe NamathNYJBAL3W28206001956.568
30Peyton ManningINDNOR44L45333113086.867
31Ken AndersonCINSFO16L34300222546.467
32Jeff HostetlerNYGBUF25W32222102346.966
33Bob LeeMINOAK11L9811010010.965
34Roger StaubachDALMIA6W19119201406.763
35Steve McNairTENSTL34L36214002085.661
36Eli ManningNYGNWE46W4029610302761
37Terry BradshawPITMIN9W1496101046.559
38Kurt WarnerSTLNWE36L4436512287655
39Roger StaubachDALPIT13L30228311614.653
40Jim KellyBUFNYG25L30212002056.652
41Jim PlunkettRAIWAS18W25172101746.448
42Roger StaubachDALDEN12W25183101424.845
43Brad JohnsonTAMOAK37W34215212106.245
44Earl MorrallBALDAL5W15147011026.843
45Ben RoethlisbergerPITARI43W30256112096.537
46Bob GrieseMIAMIN8W77300637.934
47Brett FavreGNBDEN32L42256312405.634
48Daryle LamonicaOAKGNB2L34208211814.932
49Fran TarkentonMINMIA8L28182011414.531
50Gary KubiakDENNYG21L448004510.225
51Troy AikmanDALBUF28W27207011595.521
52Tom BradyNWENYG46L41276212616.120
53Len DawsonKANGNB1L27211111354.219
54Trent DilferBALNYG35W25153101545.517
55Tom BradyNWESTL36W27145101545.314
56Len DawsonKANMIN4W1714211974.910
57Gary KubiakDENSFO24L32800256.87
58Frank ReichBUFWAS26L11100109.45
59Steve YoungSFODEN24W32000206.55
60Vince FerragamoRAMPIT14L25212011274.44
61Danny WhiteDALDEN12W250031.14
62Matt HasselbeckSEAPIT40L49273112344.53
63Ben RoethlisbergerPITGNB45L40263222115.12
64Bill MusgraveSFOSDG29W160065.20
65Fran TarkentonMINOAK11L35205121323.7-4
66Babe ParilliNYJBAL3W10000-0.4-5
67Zeke BratkowskiGNBKAN1W1000-1-0.8-5
68Jay SchroederWASDEN22W1000-1-0.6-6
69Pete BeathardKANGNB1L5170071.3-6
70Tony BanksBALNYG35W1000-1-0.7-6
71Eli ManningNYGNWE42W34255211824.9-8
72Bob GrieseMIAWAS7W118811443.4-8
73Peyton ManningINDCHI41W38247111844.7-10
74John ElwayDENGNB32W2212301984.3-12
75Don StrockMIAWAS17L3000-3-0.9-17
76Steve FullerCHINWE20W4000-3-0.6-23
77Ron JaworskiPHIOAK15L38291131463.8-28
78Joe TheismannWASMIA17W2314322742.8-33
79Dan MarinoMIASFO19L50318122194.1-33
80Elvis GrbacSFOSDG29W1000-30-28.2-36
81Johnny UnitasBALNYJ3L2411001652.7-37
82David WoodleyMIAWAS17L149711281.9-37
83Donovan McNabbPHINWE39L51357332494.5-40
84Norris WeeseDENDAL12L102200-18-1.6-42
85Gale GilbertSDGSFO29L63001-17-2.7-44
86Gary CuozzoMINKAN4L31601-32-9.6-46
87Johnny UnitasBALDAL5W98812-12-1.3-47
88Tom BradyNWENYG42L48266102194.1-53
89Bob GrieseMIADAL6L2313401301.3-58
90Boomer EsiasonCINSFO23L2514401782.6-65
91Jim KellyBUFDAL28L50260011823.4-66
92Stan HumphriesSDGSFO29L49275121893.7-67
93Ben RoethlisbergerPITSEA40W2112302452-67
94Tony EasonNWECHI20L6000-40-5.6-72
95Roger StaubachDALPIT10L2420423371.2-78
96Chris ChandlerATLDEN33L3521913912.5-79
97Joe KappMINKAN4L2518302391.4-81
98John ElwayDENWAS22L3825713932.2-90
99Rex GrossmanCHIIND41L2816512541.9-90
100Steve GroganNWECHI20L3017712561.6-105
101Jim KellyBUFDAL27L78202-72-9.3-107
102Joe TheismannWASRAI18L3524302731.8-112
103Craig MortonDALBAL5L2612713-2-0.1-112
104Fran TarkentonMINPIT9L2610203-33-1.3-127
105Earl MorrallBALNYJ3L177103-64-3.8-136
106Frank ReichBUFDAL27L3119412160.5-137
107Neil O'DonnellPITDAL30L49239131222.3-147
108Billy KilmerWASMIA7L2810403-48-1.6-159
109Drew BledsoeNWEGNB31L4825324741.4-178
110John ElwayDENSFO24L2610802-22-0.7-182
111Rich GannonOAKTAM37L4427225350.7-212
112Craig MortonDENDAL12L153904-157-9-214
113Jim KellyBUFWAS26L5827524300.5-269
114Kerry CollinsNYGBAL35L3911204-124-2.9-335

If you type Montana’s name into the search box, you can see that he has the 1st, 4th, 11th and 27th best performance in Super Bowl history. The best performance in a losing effort goes to Jake Delhomme, who shredded the Patriots secondary in the second half of Super Bowl XXXVIII (he began the game 1 for 9 for 1 yard). The worst performance in a winning effort, unsurprisingly, goes to Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XL, although Joe Theismann against the Dolphins gets an honorable mention. Worst performance overall goes to Kerry Collins, although Craig Morton’s 4 interceptions and 39 yards on 15 attempts against his former team in Super Bowl XII could give Collins a run for his money.

What about best championship game performances in the pre-Super Bowl era?

RkQBTmOppYearW/LAttPydTDINTCYCYPVAL
1Tobin RoteDETCLE1957W192804038019304
2Sid LuckmanCHIWAS1943W262865038614.8248
3Otto GrahamCLERAM1950W33298412927.7236
4Sammy BaughWASCHI1937W33335313209.7228
5Harry NewmanNYGCHI1933L192092120410.7197
6Charlie ConerlyNYGCHI1956W101952023222.1192
7Bart StarrGNBNYG1961W171643022413.2152
8Otto GrahamCLEDET1954W121633219312.9135
9Frank RyanCLEBAL1964W182063121211.2132
10Norm Van BrocklinRAMCLE1951W61281014824.7129
11Tobin RoteSDGBOS1963W151732022613.1127
12Sid LuckmanCHINYG1941W121600016013.3125
13George BlandaHOULAC1960W313013036111.6123
14Charlie ConerlyNYGBAL1958W141871019011.6122
15Arnie HerberGNBNYG1938L141231014310.2117
16Johnny UnitasBALNYG1959W29264202677.4115
17Charlie O'RourkeCHIWAS1942L71280012818.3105

[click to continue…]

  1. Note that I do not have individual playoff sack data prior to 2008, so I am using pro-rated sack numbers based on team sack data. []
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