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Checkdowns: Quarterback-Receiver Touchdown Pairings

A good article today from our pal Neil Paine, who asks whether Antonio Gates is the second best tight end in NFL history. I won’t weigh in on that subject, but after catching three touchdowns against the Seahawks on Sunday, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have now connected on 63 touchdown passes.

That’s the 10th most in NFL history, and the most by any quarterback/tight end pairing. The table below shows all quarterback-receiver combinations that scored at least 50 touchdown passes, including playoffs (and the AAFC). The final column shows the last year in which the duo scored a touchdown; as you can see, one other active combination is on the list, although Drew Brees and Marques Colston have not connected for a touchdown yet this year. [click to continue…]

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For years, I was an unabashed Philip Rivers supporter. I had no preexisting affinity for the Chargers or Rivers, but in all the metrics I care about, Rivers was always one of the best. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, Philip Rivers led the league in yards per attempt. He finished first in ANY/A in ’08 and second in ’09 and ’10; he finished second in NY/A in ’08 and then first in NY/A in 2009 and 2010. Simply put, going into the 2011 season, no quarterback had been better over the last three years.

Rank Player Tm Gms Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sk Y/A SkYds AY/A ANY/A Y/G
1 Philip Rivers SDG 48 986 1505 65.5% 12973 92 33 103.8 88 8.62 545 8.86 8.02 270.3
2 Tom Brady NWE 33 702 1068 65.7% 8374 64 17 102.9 41 7.84 261 8.32 7.78 253.8
3 Drew Brees NOR 47 1224 1807 67.7% 14077 101 50 98.1 58 7.79 412 7.66 7.20 299.5
4 Aaron Rodgers GNB 47 1003 1552 64.6% 12394 86 31 99.4 115 7.99 730 8.20 7.19 263.7
5 Tony Romo DAL 35 771 1213 63.6% 9536 63 30 94.8 61 7.86 360 7.79 7.13 272.5
6 Matt Schaub HTX 43 1012 1537 65.8% 12183 68 37 94.7 80 7.93 524 7.73 7.02 283.3
7 Peyton Manning CLT 48 1214 1805 67.3% 13202 93 45 95.4 40 7.31 251 7.22 6.93 275.0
8 Kurt Warner CRD 31 740 1111 66.6% 8336 56 28 95.2 50 7.50 354 7.38 6.75 268.9
9 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 43 858 1364 62.9% 10829 60 32 92.5 128 7.94 852 7.76 6.53 251.8
10 Eli Manning NYG 48 945 1527 61.9% 11261 79 49 88.3 73 7.37 507 6.97 6.33 234.6
11 Donovan McNabb TOT 43 887 1486 59.7% 10846 59 36 85.4 95 7.30 684 7.00 6.15 252.2
12 Matt Ryan ATL 46 885 1456 60.8% 10061 66 34 86.9 59 6.91 354 6.77 6.27 218.7
13 Kyle Orton TOT 43 901 1504 59.9% 10427 59 33 84.8 90 6.93 562 6.73 6.00 237.0
14 Joe Flacco RAV 48 878 1416 62.0% 10206 60 34 87.9 108 7.21 788 6.97 5.96 212.6
15 Brett Favre TOT 45 923 1411 65.4% 10183 66 48 88.1 86 7.22 599 6.62 5.84 226.3
16 Jay Cutler TOT 47 981 1603 61.2% 11466 75 60 82.9 98 7.15 625 6.40 5.67 244.0
17 Matt Cassel TOT 45 860 1459 58.9% 9733 64 34 83.9 115 6.67 644 6.50 5.62 211.6
18 David Garrard JAX 46 885 1417 62.5% 9951 53 38 84.7 117 7.02 777 6.56 5.56 216.3
19 Jason Campbell TOT 44 836 1342 62.3% 9250 46 29 85.1 114 6.89 759 6.61 5.57 205.6
20 Carson Palmer CIN 36 719 1181 60.9% 7795 50 37 81.4 63 6.60 481 6.04 5.34 216.5
21 Ryan Fitzpatrick TOT 33 603 1040 58.0% 6327 40 34 74.9 83 6.08 465 5.38 4.57 175.8
22 Matt Hasselbeck SEA 35 668 1141 58.5% 7246 34 44 71.2 80 6.35 503 5.21 4.46 207.0

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The first Monday night of the regular season gives us two football games to enjoy. At 7:00, the Bengals travel to Baltimore giving Cincinnati an immediate chance to prove that last year’s playoff berth was no fluke. At 10:15, the Chargers travel to Oakland and look to show that missing out on the last two postseasons was nothing more than a fluke.

Let’s start with the Bengals. In 2011, Cincinnati lost every game they played against playoff teams and won every game against non-playoff teams. The nine wins came against Cleveland (twice), Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle, Tennessee, St. Louis and Arizona. On the other hand, the Bengals lost twice each to Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Houston, and lost in Denver and San Francisco early in the year.

That is more an interesting bit of trivia than anything else. No team since the merger had ever done that before, and only two pre-merger teams managed to pull of that feat.1 For the Bengals, the odd split is more an embarrassing blemish that rival fans can point to than anything else. It’s not as if the Bengals can’t beat playoff teams, it’s simply that they didn’t. In 1969, the Cowboys went 0-3 against playoff teams and 11-0-1 against non-playoff teams; the next season, Dallas made the Super Bowl and in 1971 the Cowboys won it. Lombardi’s Packers pulled off the same feat in the middle of their great run: in ’63, Green Bay was 0-2 against playoff teams and 11-0-1 against non-playoff teams a year after having one of the most dominant seasons in football history. The Bengals weren’t a great team last year, but had they gone 7-2 against non-playoff teams and 2-5 in the regular season against playoff teams, would they — or rather, should they — be viewed as any better? Swapping a win against Pittsburgh and Baltimore for losses against say, Cleveland and Seattle?
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  1. In the early ’50s, the playoffs consisted of just a championship game between the two division winners. In 1953, the 49ers lost both games division rival Detroit and to Eastern division champ Cleveland; the 49ers went 9-0 against the rest of the league. The year before, the Rams pulled off the same feat: they lost week 1 in Cleveland, week 2 against Detroit, and week 4 in Detroit, while winning every other game. That gave them a 9-3 record, the same as the Lions, which at the time mandated a play-in game. Detroit beat Los Angeles in that one, too. If you limit the study to just regular season results, you end up with two more teams. In 1999, the Jacksonville Jaguars went 14-0 against non-playoff teams but lost both games to division rival Tennessee; the Titans would also defeat the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game, proving that Tom Coughlin was incapable of winning the big one. And in 1950, the Cleveland Browns were swept by division rival New York but won every other game that season; they didn’t face Western Division champ Los Angeles in the regular season. Cleveland ended the season 10-2, just like the Giants. The Browns avoided losing a third straight game to New York, winning 8-3 in the play-in game, and then captured the NFL championship by defeating Los Angeles the next week. []
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