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In 22 team games in the 2016 playoffs, just four times did a rusher crack the 100-yard mark — or even exceed 75 rushing yards.  In the Patriots three wins, their leading rusher never cracked 50 yards, and James White was three yards away in the Super Bowl from giving New England three different leading rushers in three games.

Rk Date Tm Opp Result G# Week Att Yds
1 Le’Veon Bell 2017-01-15 PIT @ KAN W 18-16 18 19 30 170 5.67 0
2 Le’Veon Bell 2017-01-08 PIT MIA W 30-12 17 18 29 167 5.76 2
3 Thomas Rawls 2017-01-07 SEA DET W 26-6 17 18 27 161 5.96 1
4 Ezekiel Elliott 2017-01-15 DAL GNB L 31-34 17 19 22 125 5.68 0
5 Devonta Freeman 2017-02-05 ATL NWE L 28-34 19 21 11 75 6.82 1
6 Lamar Miller 2017-01-14 HOU @ NWE L 16-34 18 19 19 74 3.89 0
7 Lamar Miller 2017-01-07 HOU OAK W 27-14 17 18 31 73 2.35 1
8 Tevin Coleman 2017-01-14 ATL SEA W 36-20 17 19 11 57 5.18 0
9 Russell Wilson 2017-01-14 SEA @ ATL L 20-36 18 19 6 49 8.17 0
10 LeGarrette Blount 2017-01-22 NWE PIT W 36-17 18 20 16 47 2.94 1
11 Christine Michael 2017-01-08 GNB NYG W 38-13 17 18 10 47 4.70 0
12 Ty Montgomery 2017-01-15 GNB @ DAL W 34-31 18 19 11 47 4.27 2
13 Aaron Rodgers 2017-01-22 GNB @ ATL L 21-44 19 20 4 46 11.50 0
14 Devonta Freeman 2017-01-14 ATL SEA W 36-20 17 19 14 45 3.21 1
15 Devonta Freeman 2017-01-22 ATL GNB W 44-21 18 20 14 42 3.00 0
16 Dion Lewis 2017-01-14 NWE HOU W 34-16 17 19 13 41 3.15 1
17 Latavius Murray 2017-01-07 OAK @ HOU L 14-27 17 18 12 39 3.25 1
18 Spencer Ware 2017-01-15 KAN PIT L 16-18 17 19 8 35 4.38 1
19 Thomas Rawls 2017-01-14 SEA @ ATL L 20-36 18 19 11 34 3.09 0
20 DeAngelo Williams 2017-01-22 PIT @ NWE L 17-36 19 20 14 34 2.43 1
21 Zach Zenner 2017-01-07 DET @ SEA L 6-26 17 18 11 34 3.09 0
22 Jay Ajayi 2017-01-08 MIA @ PIT L 12-30 17 18 16 33 2.06 0
23 LeGarrette Blount 2017-01-14 NWE HOU W 34-16 17 19 8 31 3.88 0
24 LeGarrette Blount 2017-02-05 NWE @ ATL W 34-28 19 21 11 31 2.82 0
25 Jonathan Grimes 2017-01-07 HOU OAK W 27-14 17 18 4 30 7.50 0
26 Paul Perkins 2017-01-08 NYG @ GNB L 13-38 17 18 10 30 3.00 0

White’s Super Bowl heroics aside — you know, he scored a record 20 points and caught a record 14 passes — New England certainly didn’t get much production from the ground game in the playoffs. Even as a team, the Patriots averaged only 86.3 yards per game in the postseason. Among the 51 Super Bowl champions, that slots in just between two other Patriots teams, giving New England three of the four Super Bowl champions that failed to crack the 90 rushing yards mark in the playoffs. But one team averaged just 37 rushing yards per game in the postseason. Can you guess? Scroll to the bottom of the table to see. [click to continue…]

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Consecutive Playoff Losses For a Franchise

From 1993 to 2015, the New York Islanders lost eight consecutive playoff series, beginning with a loss in the conference finals to Montreal in 1993, and culminating in a heartbreaking, 7-game series loss last year to Washington. Last night, the Isles came from behind and defeated Florida, to win the series, four games to two.

So the streak stopped at eight for the Islanders; as it turns out, the longest streaks for consecutive playoff losses in NFL history is also at eight, with two of those streaks being active. [click to continue…]


This week at the Washington Post, a preview of the Seahawks/Vikings game.

The Seahawks are a little tougher to categorize, because they excel in every facet of the game but have a worse record than Minnesota. By most non-traditional measures, the Seahawks are much better than a typical No. 6 seed. Seattle ranks second in Pro-Football-Reference’s Simple Rating System, behind only the Arizona Cardinals. That’s the result of the No. 1 defense by SRS standards and the No. 3 offense. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks are the best team in football, with the No. 2 offense, No. 4 defense, and No. 3 special teams; Minnesota ranks 11th overall, courtesy of the 16th best offense, 14th best defense and fourth-ranked special teams. And, of course, Seattle is a 5-point road favorite on Sunday, implying that the Seahawks might be more than a touchdown better than the 11-5 Vikings on a neutral field. In short: Seattle is really good.

You can read the full article here.


Super Bowl XLVII Preview

Before we get to my preview, I feel the need to point you to some excellent Super Bowl previews I saw this week:

The Ravens can stop the zone read, but at what cost?

In Colin Kaepernick’s nine starts, the 49ers have averaged 159 rushing yards per game on 4.9 yards per rush and have rushed for 14 touchdowns; at the same time, they’ve averaged 8.1 ANY/A through the air. That makes them close to unstoppable, much like the Seahawks when Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch were dominating defenses over that same stretch.

The Packers could not stop the Pistol offense.

The Packers chose to let Kaepernick beat them on the ground. He did.

For San Francisco, their dominance starts up front, and their offensive line needs only sustained success to rival what the lines of the ’90s Cowboys or ’00 Chiefs delivered. According to Pro Football Focus, left tackle Joe Staley is the best tackle in the league, while right tackle Anthony Davis is the second best run-blocking tackle in the league (behind only Staley). PFF ranks both Mike Iupati and Alex Boone as top-five guards in the league, and places both of them in the top three when it comes to run blocking. Center Jonathan Goodwin also ranks as an above-average center, and the 34-year-old veteran is more than capable of anchoring a line filled with Pro Bowl caliber players. As if that wasn’t enough, Vernon Davis is one of the top two-way tight ends in the league, while TE/H-Back/FB Delanie Walker and FB Bruce Miller provide excellent support in the run game.

Without any schematic advantage, the 49ers have enough talented beef up front to have a dominate running game. But add in what Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have been able to do with the Pistol formation and the zone read, and you have a running game that borders on unstoppable.

We saw that against the Packers, as Colin Kaepernick broke the single-game rushing record by a quarterback. The beauty of the zone read is that it gives the offense an extra blocker, an advantage the 49ers didn’t need. After the Packers were shredded by Kaepernick, the Falcons focused on containing the quarterback. Take a look at the photograph below, courtesy of Ben Muth of Football Outsiders.
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Ever wondered which Super Bowl teams were the oldest or youngest? I went and calculated the AV-adjusted age of every team to appear in the Super Bowl. (AV stands for Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value system, which assigns an approximate value to each player in each season; you can read more about it here.) You can probably guess who the oldest team was, but the youngest might be a bit of a surprise. Baltimore and San Francisco both come in roughly in the middle of the pack, with the Ravens slightly older than the 49ers. This also jives with Football Outsiders’ snap-adjusted ages article.

Bill Barnwell wrote a good article yesterday summarizing the success of Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens general manager. That made me curious to see what percentage (based on AV, not total players, naturally) of the players on each Super Bowl team had never before played for another team. Great general managers do more than build their teams through the draft (and Barnwell specifically praised Newsome for that, including the trade for Anquan Boldin), but the question of what percentage of the team is “homegrown” is still an interesting one.

For the Ravens, 73% of their players (as measured by AV) have never played for another team, with Boldin, Cary Williams, Jacoby Jones, Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk, Bernard Pollard, Corey Graham, and Vontae Leach being some notable exceptions. On the other side, 75% of the 49ers have only worn the red and gold, although Justin Smith, Jonathan Goodwin, Randy Moss, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, Mario Manningham (at least, in the regular season) were key contributors who are not home-grown 49ers.

When it comes to AV-adjusted age or measuring how ‘home-grown’ each team is, neither team really stands out from the pack. The ’78 and ’79 Steelers featured 22 starters that were all home-grown, although making placekicker Roy Gerela the lone outlier (and since AV does not include kickers, both Pittsburgh teams were at 100%).

In addition to the AV-adjusted ages and “home-grownness” of each Super Bowl participant, the table below includes where each team (since 1970) ranked in points for, points allowed, yards, and yards allowed, and whether or not the team won the game. The table is fully sortable and searchable, and the rows for San Francisco and Baltimore will remain highlighted after sorting.

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The Schottenheimer Index

Marty checking to make sure the pilot light is out.

Marty inquires as to whether Felix Wright's pilot light is out.

Last week, Neil brought us the latest iteration of the Manning Index, showing which quarterbacks have overachieved in the playoffs relative to expectation (based off of the Vegas line). I’m going to do the same today for coaches. A couple of introductory notes:

Neil described the exact methodology in his quarterbacks post, so I won’t waste time repeating it. However, I wanted to look at coaches over an even longer period, and 1950 sounded like a good cut-off.1 Since we don’t have point-spread data for games from 1950 to 19772, I simply used the projected point spread based on the differential between each team’s SRS ratings and by awarding the home team three points. So for pre-1977 games, coaches are credited with wins over expectation based on the SRS, and for post-1977, for wins over expectation based on the Vegas line. Here are the results.
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  1. Note that coaches, like Paul Brown, who coached before 1950 are included, but their pre-1950 stats are not. []
  2. One other piece of fine print: for the Super Bowls, I used the actual Vegas lines, since those are readily available. []

Those are some clutch shirts

Those are some clutch shirts.

Eight years ago — almost to the day — our old PFR colleague Doug Drinen wrote a Sabernomics post about “The Manning Index”, a metric designed to roughly gauge the clutchness (or chokeitude) of a given quarterback by looking at how he did relative to expectations (he revived this concept in version two, six years ago). In a nutshell, Doug used the location of the game and the win differential of the two teams involved to establish an expected winning percentage for each quarterback in a given matchup. He then added those up across all of a quarterback’s playoff starts, and compared to the number of wins he actually had. Therefore, quarterbacks who frequently exceeded expectations in playoff games could be considered “clutch” while those who often fell short (like the Index’s namesake, Peyton Manning) might just be inveterate chokers.

Doug ran that study in the midst of the 2004-05 playoffs, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Tom Brady (who was at the time 8-0 as a playoff starter and would run it to 10-0 before ever suffering a loss) came out on top, winning 3.5 more games than you’d expect from the particulars of the games he started. Fast-forward eight years, though, and you get this list of quarterbacks who debuted after 1977:
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Is Joe Flacco elite?

Just a guess, but I think that question will be asked quite a few times over the next couple of weeks. While the inanity of the discussion that usually follows that question is not something I wish to emulate, there’s no particular reason not to take an in-depth look at Flacco’s career. The table below shows Flacco’s performance in six key metrics — all relative to league average (1.00) — for each season of his career:

Flacco career

As you can see, with the exception of his great interception rate — which justifies its own post during this pre-Super Bowl period — Flacco’s career performance has been rather average. His touchdown rate, like those of many quarterbacks, has bounced up and down throughout his career. His sack rate was below average during his first three years, improved significantly in 2011, and landed right at the league average in 2012.


That is an elite Fu Manchu.

In the three main statistics — Y/A, NY/A, and ANY/A — Flacco has consistently finished in a tight window around the league average. His ANY/A has been slightly better than his NY/A thanks to that lofty interception rate, but suffice it to say Joe Flacco is, and has been for years, a league average quarterback.

If we look at ESPN’s Total QBR, Flacco ranked 27th as a rookie in 2008, 15th in 2009, and 12th in 2010, signaling a young quarterback improving and on the rise. In 2011, he ranked 14th, perhaps signaling a leveling off, and then this past season, he finished 25th. The positive spin would be that he’s a league-average quarterback, and the negative one (at least prior to this post-season) would have been that he was regressing.

On the other hand, here is how Flacco has performed in the playoffs in each game, as measured by AY/A:

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Super Bowl History

Now that the Super Bowl matchup is set, I thought I’d start the two-week period with some Super Bow history. The table below lists some information from each of the first 46 Super Bowls. With Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick facing off, that ends five-year streak where at least one of the two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl had previously won (or been in) a Super Bowl:

YearSBWinnerPFLoserPALocationSTQBOpp QBMVP
2011XLVINew York Giants21New England Patriots17IndianapolisINEli ManningTom BradyEli Manning
2010XLVGreen Bay Packers31Pittsburgh Steelers25ArlingtonTXAaron RodgersBen RoethlisbergerAaron Rodgers
2009XLIVNew Orleans Saints31Indianapolis Colts17MiamiFLDrew BreesPeyton ManningDrew Brees
2008XLIIIPittsburgh Steelers27Arizona Cardinals23TampaFLBen RoethlisbergerKurt WarnerSantonio Holmes
2007XLIINew York Giants17New England Patriots14GlendaleAZEli ManningTom BradyEli Manning
2006XLIIndianapolis Colts29Chicago Bears17MiamiFLPeyton ManningRex GrossmanPeyton Manning
2005XLPittsburgh Steelers21Seattle Seahawks10DetroitMIBen RoethlisbergerMatt HasselbeckHines Ward
2004XXIXNew England Patriots24Philadelphia Eagles21JacksonvilleFLTom BradyDonovan McNabbDeion Branch
2003XXXVIIINew England Patriots32Carolina Panthers29HoustonTXTom BradyJake DelhommeTom Brady
2002XXXVIITampa Bay Buccaneers48Oakland Raiders21San DiegoCABrad JohnsonRich GannonDexter Jackson
2001XXXVINew England Patriots20St. Louis Rams17New OrleansLATom BradyKurt WarnerTom Brady
2000XXXVBaltimore Ravens34New York Giants7TampaFLTrent DilferKerry CollinsRay Lewis
1999XXXIVSt. Louis Rams23Tennessee Titans16AtlantaGAKurt WarnerSteve McNairKurt Warner
1998XXXIIIDenver Broncos34Atlanta Falcons19MiamiFLJohn ElwayChris ChandlerJohn Elway
1997XXXIIDenver Broncos31Green Bay Packers24San DiegoCAJohn ElwayBrett FavreTerrell Davis
1996XXXIGreen Bay Packers35New England Patriots21New OrleansLABrett FavreDrew BledsoeDesmond Howard
1995XXXDallas Cowboys27Pittsburgh Steelers17TempeAZTroy AikmanNeil O'DonnellLarry Brown
1994XXIXSan Francisco 49ers49San Diego Chargers26MiamiFLSteve YoungStan HumphriesSteve Young
1993XXVIIIDallas Cowboys30Buffalo Bills13AtlantaGATroy AikmanJim KellyEmmitt Smith
1992XXVIIDallas Cowboys52Buffalo Bills17PasadenaCATroy AikmanJim KellyTroy Aikman
1991XXVIWashington Redskins37Buffalo Bills24MinneapolisMNMark RypienJim KellyMark Rypien
1990XXVNew York Giants20Buffalo Bills19TampaFLJeff HostetlerJim KellyOttis Anderson
1989XXIVSan Francisco 49ers55Denver Broncos10New OrleansLAJoe MontanaJohn ElwayJoe Montana
1988XXIIISan Francisco 49ers20Cincinnati Bengals16MiamiFLJoe MontanaBoomer EsiasonJerry Rice
1987XXIIWashington Redskins42Denver Broncos10San DiegoCADoug WilliamsJohn ElwayDoug Williams
1986XXINew York Giants39Denver Broncos20PasadenaCAPhil SimmsJohn ElwayPhil Simms
1985XXChicago Bears46New England Patriots10New OrleansLAJim McMahonTony EasonRichard Dent
1984XIXSan Francisco 49ers38Miami Dolphins16StanfordCAJoe MontanaDan MarinoJoe Montana
1983XVIIILos Angeles Raiders38Washington Redskins9TampaFLJim PlunkettJoe TheismannMarcus Allen
1982XVIIWashington Redskins27Miami Dolphins17PasadenaCAJoe TheismannDavid WoodleyJohn Riggins
1981XVISan Francisco 49ers26Cincinnati Bengals21PontiacMIJoe MontanaKen AndersonJoe Montana
1980XVOakland Raiders27Philadelphia Eagles10New OrleansLAJim PlunkettRon JaworskiJim Plunkett
1979XIVPittsburgh Steelers31Los Angeles Rams19PasadenaCATerry BradshawVince FerragamoTerry Bradshaw
1978XIIIPittsburgh Steelers35Dallas Cowboys31MiamiFLTerry BradshawRoger StaubachTerry Bradshaw
1977XIIDallas Cowboys27Denver Broncos10New OrleansLARoger StaubachCraig MortonRandy White1
1976XIOakland Raiders32Minnesota Vikings14PasadenaCAKen StablerFran TarkentonFred Biletnikoff
1975XPittsburgh Steelers21Dallas Cowboys17MiamiFLTerry BradshawRoger StaubachLynn Swann
1974IXPittsburgh Steelers16Minnesota Vikings6New OrleansLATerry BradshawFran TarkentonFranco Harris
1973VIIIMiami Dolphins24Minnesota Vikings7HoustonTXBob GrieseFran TarkentonLarry Csonka
1972VIIMiami Dolphins14Washington Redskins7Los AngelesCABob GrieseBilly KilmerJake Scott
1971VIDallas Cowboys24Miami Dolphins3New OrleansLARoger StaubachBob GrieseRoger Staubach
1970VBaltimore Colts16Dallas Cowboys13MiamiFLJohnny UnitasCraig MortonChuck Howley
1969IVKansas City Chiefs23Minnesota Vikings7New OrleansLALen DawsonJoe KappLen Dawson
1968IIINew York Jets16Baltimore Colts7MiamiFLJoe NamathEarl MorrallJoe Namath
1967IIGreen Bay Packers33Oakland Raiders14MiamiFLBart StarrDaryle LamonicaBart Starr
1966IGreen Bay Packers35Kansas City Chiefs10Los AngelesCABart StarrLen DawsonBart Starr

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  1. Co-MVP with Harvey Martin []

13-time Pro Bowler

Will Lewis go out on top?

According to the SRS, this is as lopsided as championship games get. The Patriots are 12.8 points better than average while the Ravens have an SRS of just +2.9; therefore, you’d put New England as 13-point favorites at home (in reality, they are 8-point favorites). I’ve been a Ravens skeptic for a couple of months now, and never thought they were one of the best teams in the league.

In my week 11 power rankings, when Baltimore was 8-2, I wrote: “According to Football Outsiders, Baltimore has the best special teams since 1991 through 10 weeks. Schatz tweeted that Baltimore’s the 16th best team based on just offense and defense.”

A few days later the Ravens defeated the Chargers in the famous 4th-and-29 game, which certainly didn’t change my outlook on Baltimore. Then the Ravens tanked down the stretch, seemingly fulfilling their reputation as an average team. And let’s not forget: had Ben Roethlisberger stayed healthy, it’s possible the Ravens don’t even make the playoffs. Without the 13-10 ugly win over Byron Leftwich and the Steelers, both Baltimore and Pittsburgh would have finished 9-7 with the Steelers holding the tiebreaker. To be fair, the Ravens did not compete in a meaningless week 17 game, but the point is that the Ravens were barely above-average team during the season that got a few breaks along the way.
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Yesterday, I provided my preview of the NFC Championship Game, and I’ll do the same for the AFC tomorrow. But today, here’s a listing of every conference championship game the since the NFL merger. The table below shows each game from the perspective of the winning team and includes a linkable boxscore for each game. The table also includes the Offensive SRS and Defensive SRS grades for each team and each opponent, along with the total SRS difference between the two teams. The final column shows the Vegas spread. You can search for all AFC or NFC games, or all games with BUF or DAL, for example. If you type in “NYG” you will see the five NFC Championship Games the Giants were in: not only was New York 5-0, but they were underdogs in four of those games. As always, the table is also fully sortable.
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And then he said, what's your deal?

And then he asked me what my deal was.

A couple of interesting notes, courtesy of Mike Sando on ESPN.com. The first is a good bit of trivia: Jim Harbaugh joins George Seifert, Barry Switzer and Rex Ryan as the only head coaches to reach the AFC or NFC Championship Game in each of their first two seasons as an NFL head coach. The second piece of information provides a possible clue as to how the game might unfold for Atlanta. Including the playoffs, the Falcons have allowed 8.9 yards per rush to quarterbacks this season, the worst rate in the NFL (excluding kneel downs).

To be fair, only three quarterbacks have done anything of note on the ground against the Falcons this year. Michael Vick rushed 7 times for 42 yards in a 30-17 loss. Vick had two first down carries that went for four yards, two third and long carries that went for 10 total yards but no first downs, and then three runs on 3rd and 3 or 4 where he picked up the first down. That’s not good, but not too alarming.
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Reviewing the Divisional Round of the Playoffs

The Best Weekend of the Year lived up to its reputation this weekend, as the divisional round of the playoffs gave us three outstanding games. Here is my reaction, with a disproportionate amount of time spent on the Denver-Baltimore game, because, well, if you saw it, you’d understand.

Baltimore 38, Denver 35

One of the best playoff games in NFL history, and an instant classic. This game could be analyzed for hours and there are countless talking points (Fox playing not to lose, Manning’s playoff failures, Ray Lewis’ retirement tour making at least one last stop, Tim Tebow anyone?) that will fill up the schedules of ESPN and talk radio for weeks. But let’s start with a big picture review of the game from the perspective of the team I expected to win the Super Bowl.

If you want to assign credit and blame to Denver, this is how I would rank the five Broncos units on Saturday, from best to worst.

1) Special teams. Sure, Matt Prater missed a long field goal, but Trindon Holliday’s two return touchdowns were a thing of beauty — especially for fans of excellent blocking. Holliday’s runs were more about textbook blocking by the return unit and poor coverage by the Ravens than Holliday himself, but in any event, the Broncos special teams had a great day. In fact, here is how Pro-Football-Reference broke down the game by unit in terms of Expected Points Added:
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Yesterday, I previewed Saturday’s games with um, mixed results (skip the Denver-Baltimore preview and just read the San Francisco-Green Bay breakdown twice). Let’s take another crack at it by examining Sunday’s matchups.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (+1) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3), Sunday, 1:00PM ET

An offense where the star eats Skittle is a young one

Did you know Marshawn Lynch eats Skittles?

Once again, Atlanta is tasked with facing a dominant wildcard team. Is this the year Matt Ryan finally silences his critics?

Atlanta is only a one-point favorite, just the seventh time a home team has been given such little respect this late in the season since 2000. Home teams are 3-3 when underdogs or small favorites over that span in the divisional conference championship rounds, although one of those losses came by the Falcons in 2010 against the Packers when Atlanta was a 1.5-point favorite. But let’s focus on these two teams, because the stats might surprise you.

Russell Wilson edges Matt Ryan in Y/A (7.9 to 7.7), AY/A (8.1 to 7.7), and passer rating (100.0 to 99.1), despite having a significantly worse set of receivers. Ryan does have the edge in NY/A (7.0 to 6.8) but the two are deadlocked in ANY/A at 7.0. Both quarterbacks led four 4th quarter comebacks this year, and Wilson led 5 game-winning drives while Ryan led six. Considering one quarterback has Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez, and the other is a 5’10 rookie, I consider this pretty remarkable.
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I was on vacation last week, so I provided just a bare bones set of NFL playoff predictions. Technically, my picks went 4-0 on Wildcard Weekend, but that doesn’t count for much when you pick the favorite in every game. With a little more time on my hands, here’s an in-depth preview of Saturday’s games. Tomorrow I’ll be previewing Sunday’s action.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (+9.5) at Denver Broncos (13-3), Saturday 4:30PM ET

Manning looks for to win another Super Bowl

Manning points to his glove dealer.

Most of the signs in this game point squarely in the favor of Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Baltimore has wildly underachieved on the road the last few seasons, and in Denver does not seem like the optimal place for that trend to reverse itself. From 2002 to 2010, Manning went 8-0 against the Ravens, including a 2-0 mark in playoff games. If you double his numbers in those games (to approximate a 16-game season), Manning would have thrown for 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions, while averaging 7.8 Y/A and 7.9 AY/A to go with a 65.6% completion rate and a 97.7 passer rating. Manning was similarly lethal in Denver’s win over the Ravens in Baltimore earlier this year.
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Regular readers surely recall my “What are the Odds of That” post from this summer. In that article, I referenced an obscured Jacoby Jones stat: in 2011, he gained three times as many receiving yards against teams at the back end of the alphabet as he did against the teams he faced in the front of the alphabet. Then I asked, “what are the odds of that?”

This is a very good reason why it’s often inappropriate to apply standard significance tests to football statistics. Surely Jones’ splits would pass any standard significance test, signaling that his wild split was in fact “real” even though we know it wasn’t. With a large enough sample, you would expect to have false positives, which isn’t a knock on standard significant testing. If something is statistically significant at the 1% level, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to see a false positive if you have 100 different samples…

Some in the statistical community refer to this as the Wyatt Earp Effect. You’ve undoubtedly heard of Wyatt Earp, who is famous precisely because he survived a large number of duels. What are the odds of that? Well, it depends on your perspective. The odds that one person would survive a large number of duels? Given enough time, it becomes a statistical certainty that someone would do just that. Think back to the famous Warren Buffett debate on the efficient market hypothesis. Suppose that 225 million Americans partake in a single elimination national coin-flipping contest, with one coin flip per day. After 20 days, we would expect 215 people to successfully call their coin flips 20 times out of 20. But that doesn’t mean those 215 people are any better at calling coins than you or I am. The Wyatt Earp Effect, the National Coin Flipping Example, and my Splits Happen post all illustrate the same principle. Asking “what are the odds of that?” is often meaningless in retrospect. If you look at enough things, enough players’ splits, enough 4th quarter comeback opportunities, enough coin flips, or enough roulette wheel spins, you will see some things that seem absurdly unlikely.

In December, I highlighted Matt Schaub’s struggles in night games compared to day games as yet another example. Well now, Ray Rice is the latest protagonist in What are the Odds of That? In case you missed it, Rice fumbled twice in Baltimore’s playoff win over Indianapolis, with the Colts recovering both times. Rice has struggled with fumbles in the playoffs in the past, but he’s always been outstanding during the regular season at holding on to the ball. In 2012, he lost just one fumble — which went harmlessly out of bounds — giving him a clean record for the season. So what’s going on? Here’s what Bill Barnwell wrote earlier this week:
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Matt Ryan is about to throw a touchdown or an interception, depending upon the month

Matt Ryan is about to throw a touchdown or an interception, depending upon the month.

For the second time in three years, the Atlanta Falcons are the NFC’s number one seed. Just like in 2010, the Falcons started this season 13-2 but ended the year with only 11 Pythagorean wins. In 2010, Atlanta lost its first game to the #6 seed Packers, who sported the highest SRS of any NFC team in 2010. This year, Atlanta hosts the #6 seed Seahawks, who finished 2012 with highest SRS of any NFC team. History suggests that this is a difficult challenge for Atlanta, regardless of the Falcons’ lofty record.

One of the obvious topics the mainstream media has hit on this week has been Matt Ryan’s inability to win in the playoffs. As everyone knows, Atlanta is 0-3 in the playoffs in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era. As Ryan prepares for his fourth playoff start on Sunday, history offers some comfort: four other quarterbacks (since 1950) have been in exactly the same situation, entering their fourth playoff start with an 0-3 record. Those quarterbacks went 3-1 in their fourth game. Let’s stroll down memory lane.

  • At age 37, Y.A. Tittle and the New York Giants went to Soldier Field to battle the famed 1963 Bears. Tittle had gone 0-3 in his previous three NFL playoff games, and had lost his lone playoff game in the AAFC, too. In 1957, Tittle was on the wrong side of the most famous comeback in playoff history prior to Bills/Oilers. In that game, Tittle threw three touchdowns against the Lions as San Francisco opened up what looked to be an insurmountable 27-7 lead. But Tittle finished the day with three interceptions, and the Lions came back and won, 31-27. In 1961, Tittle was with the Giants, and was part of an embarassing 37-0 shutout on the quite literal frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Tittle was a miserable 6/20 for 65 yards with 4 interceptions. The next year, the Giants and Packers met again, this time at a frozen and windy Yankee Stadium, with the Packers again topping the Giants.1 So you can imagine that when Tittle and the Giants had to travel to Soldier Field in 1963 — the Giants third straight year in the title game — Tittle probably carried the choker label. With a wind chill of -11 degrees, the weather was again miserable, and the result was more of the same for Tittle and New York. The Giants lost 14-10, and Tittle threw 1 touchdown against 5 interceptions.
  • Jack Kemp took the Chargers to the AFL title game in the league’s first two seasons. On New Year’s Day 1961, Kemp was outplayed by Houston’s George Blanda, and Billy Cannon put the final nail in the coffin as the Oilers won, 24-16. The Oilers and Chargers met again in the title game the following year — this time in San Diego — but Kemp had a miserable game, throwing 4 interceptions as the Chargers lost, 10-3. By 1963, Kemp was with the Bills, and Buffalo had finished the year tied with the Patriots, setting up a one-game playoff for the division title at War Memorial Stadium. But Kemp struggled and was benched for Daryle Lamonica at halftime, as the Bills lost 26-8. In 1964, the Bills went 12-2, and entered the AFL title game against Kemp’s old team, San Diego. At this time, Kemp had an 0-3 post-season record, and surely Chargers fans taunted the citizens of Buffalo by calling Kemp the Mayor of Chokesville. While Kemp did not produce stellar numbers, the Bills managed to defeat the Chargers and capture their first AFL championship. The hero of the game may have been Mike Stratton, who produced the “hit heard round the world” early in the game, knocking out San Diego’s Keith Lincoln. In any event, the Mayor of Chokesville was able to abdicate his throne.
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  1. This was the first game Ed Sabol filmed for the NFL, under the label Blair Motion Pictures. []

Checkdowns: Deja vu for the Falcons?

Mike Smith's team either just converted a 4th-and-1 or won another one-point game.

Mike Smith's goal in 2013 is to face a bad #6 seed for a change.

Much has been written this season arguing that the Falcons are not as good as their 13-3 record. Conversely, the Seahawks have emerged as a favorite among some in our advanced statistical community: Brian Burke ranks Seattle as the third most efficient team, Aaron Schatz ranks them number one, and Pro-Football-Reference ranks Seattle second in the SRS behind only the Patriots.

Here’s a quick way to summarize the Falcons-Seahawks game on Sunday: Atlanta won two more games than Seattle this season but the SRS says that the Falcons are 5.7 points worse than the Seahawks. That’s based on the fact that (1) Seattle has outscored opponents its by 2.9 more points per game than Atlanta outscored its opponents this year, and (2) Seattle faced a schedule that was 2.8 points per game harder than Atlanta’s schedule.

How often does it happen that a home team in the playoffs won 2+ more games than its opponent but was at least 5 points worse than that opponent in the SRS? This is just the second time such a matchup has occurred in the last 10 years… and the first involved the 2010 Falcons. In fact, this scenario has only unfolded five times since 1970:


[click to continue…]


Playoff Picture: Who needs what in week 17

With week 16 in the books, it’s time to take a look at the playoff picture. In the AFC, it’s simple: we know the six teams that will be in the post-season. In the NFC, there are two spots still remaining and five teams trying to claim them. In both conferences, there will be battles for byes in week 17.


The 12-3 Houston Texans are suddenly in a freefall, and could drop from the presumptive number one seed to having to win in the first round of the playoffs. If Houston loses in Indianapolis, the Texans are vulnerable to being caught by either Denver (home against Kansas City) or New England (home against Miami), or both. There’s likely no middle ground, since the Broncos and Patriots are big favorites, meaning it’s the #1 seed or no bye for Houston. Still, Houston is likely to get the top seed in the AFC. After all, the Colts did just struggle mightily to handle the worst team in the NFL.

Denver can secure a bye by beating Kansas City or having the Dolphins beat the Patriots, and would earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and a Colts victory. The likely result for Denver is the #2 seed

The Patriots are third in the pecking order with four losses. They could drop to the #4 seed with a loss and a Ravens victory over Cincinnati, but that doesn’t mean much: a home game against Indianapolis won’t scare New England and might even be an easier matchup than facing A.J. Green and Geno Atkins. The real drama is whether Denver or Houston falls, giving New England a chance for a bye or even home field. While the Patriots could end up being slotted from 1 to 4 in the AFC, expect each of the top three seeds to take care of business, and New England to finish as the #3 seed.

Pagano will likely see his old friends in two weeks

Pagano as defensive coordinator of the Ravens.

Because the Browns defeated the Bengals, the Ravens hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati. Both teams split with Pittsburgh, and would split with each other if Cincinnati defeats Baltimore on Sunday, but Baltimore’s sweep of Cleveland would give them the division even if they lose to Cincinnati in week 17. Baltimore has little to play for in Cincinnati; the irony is that if Baltimore defeats the Bengals and the Patriots lose, the two teams would face off again in the first round of the playoffs in Baltimore. Still, the likely scenario is Baltimore staying at the 4 seed and hosting the Colts in the first round of the playoffs.

The Colts are the feel good story of the year, and Chuck Pagano comes back to coach the team this weekend. It’s actually a meaningless game for Andrew Luck and the Colts on Sunday, as they can’t improve their playoff positioning. In fact, they can only hurt it: a victory over Houston in week 17 means, assuming the Patriots defeat the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs, that the Colts would face the Broncos instead of the Texans in the second round. In any event, we know that the Colts are the 5 seed and unless the Patriots lose and the Ravens win, will travel to their old stomping grounds in Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs. Expect that to be a very emotional game and for the Ravens crowd to give a warm #Chuckstrong welcome to their former defensive coordinator.


Matt Ryan and the Falcons have clinched the #1 seed in the NFC. For all the bashing Atlanta seems to take, they might end up winning three more games than any other team in the conference. However, the most likely opponent in the first round of the playoffs is Seattle, which would be a fascinating contrast in styles. The Falcons will face the winner of the 4/5 game or the 6 seed, but since the 6 seed will likely play in San Francisco, and the Seahawks look much better than either the Redskins or the Cowboys, my money is on Seattle-Atlanta in round two.

Brett Favre is honestly surprised the Packers haven't secured a bye yet.

Brett Favre is honestly surprised the Packers haven't secured a bye yet.

Green Bay is the frontrunner to win the #2 seed and secure the other bye in the conference. The NFC East winner is out, so the #2 seed comes down to either the Packers or the NFC West winner. Green Bay gets the #2 spot with a win, or with losses by both the Seahawks and 49ers. I wouldn’t count on that. Winning in Minnesota is not going to be easy — Adrian Peterson will be chasing Eric Dickerson’s rushing record and the Vikings are in a “win and you’re in” scenario themselves — but I’d still make Aaron Rodgers and the Packers the favorites. If the Packers lose in Minnesota, their punishment is a first round visit from the Vikings.

San Francisco can still finish as the #2, #3, or #5 seeds. The 49ers get a bye if the Packers lose and the 49ers win, but more likely, San Francisco defeats Arizona and ends up as the #3 seed in the NFC. The 49ers could also get the #3 seed with a loss if the Seahawks lose at home against the Rams, but good luck with that. If San Francisco loses at home to Arizona, the 49ers will likely get what they deserve — the fifth seed and a trip to either Washington or Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.

The NFC East will be decided in Washington on Sunday. If the Redskins win, which would be my prediction, Washington will win the division at 10-6. The ‘Skins have another out, as they could get the 6 seed even if they lose to the Cowboys. At 9-7, Washington would have the tiebreaker over Minnesota based on head-to-head record, so if the Vikings and Bears lose to Green Bay and Detroit, Washington is in the playoffs. Assuming the Redskins make the post-season, Luck would be joined by fellow rookies Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson in the playoffs, an NFL first.

TO taught Sherman what to do when you arrive at the Cowboys 50-yard line.

TO taught Sherman what to do when you arrive at the Cowboys 50-yard line.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys face your basic ‘win and you’re in’ scenario. At 8-8 they can’t make the playoffs, so it’s just a question of whether they can defeat the Redskins and claim the NFC East. The other interesting thing to keep an eye on: Tony Romo is only 315 yards away from hitting the 5,000-yard mark, although he trails both Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford in the race for the passing crown.

By defeating San Francisco on Sunday night, the Seahawks clinched the #5 seed in the NFC. While the Bears and Vikings could get to 10 wins, Seattle defeated both teams, so Seattle’s fate is secure as no worse than the 5th seed and is rewarded with a trip to either Washington or Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.

That leaves just the sixth seed up for grabs. If the Vikings defeat the Packers, they’d get the #6 seed and likely travel to Lambeau Field in the first round of the playoffs. No word on whether Brett Favre would be in attendance. Minnesota has the tiebreaker over the Bears because Green Bay swept Chicago, while in this scenario, the Vikes would end up 4-2 in the division. Chicago therefore needs Minnesota to lose and to win in Detroit to get the #6 seed. If both teams lose, the Redskins then would slot into the 6 seed even if they lose.

You might notice we’re missing a certain team from New York. Well, the Jets have struggled this season, and the Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow/Greg McElroy circus has only gotten more depressing. Oh wait, there’s another team in New York, right? Well, the Giants can’t win the division, but could get a wildcard berth. They would need the other teams they’d be battling for the final spot — Chicago, Minnesota, and Dallas — to lose to Detroit, Green Bay, and Washington, in addition to taking care of business against the Eagles. The longshot there would be the Lions defeating Chicago, but otherwise, it’s not a completely far-fetched scenario.


Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting More Random?

[Today’s post is brought to you by Neil Paine, my comrade at Pro-Football-Reference.com and expert on all things Sports-Reference related. You can follow Neil on twitter, @Neil_Paine.]

Most fans like to think of the NFL’s playoff system as being the final word on each team’s season — run the table and you’re the champs, the “best team in football”; lose, and your season means nothing. But what if I told you that the NFL playoffs are getting a lot more random in recent seasons? Would it change your attitude if you knew we were getting closer to the point where every playoff outcome might as well be determined by a coin flip?

David Tyree and Rodney Harrison use their bodies to attempt to depict the normal distribution.

To research this phenomenon, I want to explore two models of predicting playoff games: one powered by as much information as possible, the other completely ruled by randomness. I then want to simulate the last 34 postseasons, and see how much of a predictive edge that information actually gives you. If it’s giving you less of an edge, it means the playoffs are being ruled more by randomness.

First, I grabbed every playoff game since 1978 and looked at the Vegas lines. To convert from a pointspread to a win probability, you have to use Wayne Winston’s assumption that “the probability […] of victory for an NFL team can be well approximated by a normal random variable margin with a mean of the Vegas line and a standard deviation of 13.86.” If the Patriots are favored by 7 over the Ravens, this means you can calculate their odds of winning in Excel via:

p(W) = (1-NORMDIST(0.5,7,13.86,TRUE))+0.5*(NORMDIST(0.5,7,13.86,TRUE)-NORMDIST(-0.5,7,13.86,TRUE)) = 69.3%

This gives us a good prediction — in fact, perhaps the best possible prediction — of the outcome going into the game. So for each playoff, I’m going to say a “Smart” fan picks winners based on these numbers; 69.3% of the time he’ll pick the Patriots, and 30.7% of the time he’ll pick the Ravens. Of course, we also need a control, a fan who picks completely at random, so I’m also going to track a “Dumb” fan who thinks every single game is a coin flip.

I’m going to simulate these decision-making processes for the Smart and Dumb fans in every playoff since 1978, running through each year 1,000 times. How much better at picking do you think the Smart fan will be than the Dumb one?

To be clear, it was Neil who called you the dumb fan. It was Neil!

Well, over the course of the whole sample, the Smart fan averaged a little more than 204 correct picks in 356 games, which is good for a 56.6% rate. The Dumb fan had 178 correct picks, a 50% success rate. In other words, being “Smart” gave you an edge of 6.6% over the fan who picked Aaron Eckhart-style.

But what I really want to know is whether this number has changed over time. The logical comparison I wanted to make was pre- and post-free agency, but it turns out there is practically no difference. From 1978 through 1993, the Smart fan would pick winners at a 56.6% rate (6.8% better than his Dumb counterpart), and from 1995-2011, he picks at a 56.3% clip (6.2% better than the Dumb fan). That observed difference, less than a half a percentage point, can be chalked up completely to random variation, so there’s no evidence that the playoffs have been more or less random in the salary cap era.

However, if you compare pre-2005 to post-2005, you see a major difference that cannot be explained away by chance alone. From 2005-2011, the Smart fan would have picked only 53.2% of playoff games correctly; that’s a difference of 3.2 percent from 2005-11, vs. 6.6 percent over the course of the full sample!

Let me restate this finding: the difference between an intelligent prediction of NFL playoff games and a pure coinflip has been sliced in half in the last seven postseasons. In other words, the playoffs are more random now than they’ve ever been in the last 35 years, something we’ve all seen anecdotally with the 2005 Steelers, both Giants championships (especially last year, when they were actually outscored during the regular season), and the 2008 Cardinals’ unexpected SB run, among others.

So does this change how you feel about the playoffs? Do you still think the “best team” is synonymous with the Super Bowl Champion, or do you think it’s more of a crapshoot than ever before?


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:

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?

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

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  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. []

The NFL's version of Two Face.

The 2011 Giants were one of the more confusing teams in recent memory. Will this year’s the Giants play like the defending Super Bowl champions or the team that allowed more points than they scored last season? Jason Lisk points out that there’s a third option, and we should consider the 2011 Giants as a 13-7 team that faced an extremely difficult schedule.

Let’s start by recognizing that the 2011 Giants faced a difficult schedule in the regular season; not only was the NFC East competitive, but New York also faced the top four teams in the NFL outside of their division. In 2011, the Giants ranked 13th in the Simple Rating System. For the uninitiated, the SRS is a predictive system, which means it could theoretically place a 3-5 team ahead of a 7-1 team. The SRS mimics the points spread you would see in Las Vegas rather than a power ranking system. As the name implies, it’s simple in the sense that it only looks at two variables: strength of schedule and margin of victory. Each game is given equal weight. A win by 10 points over a team that is 5 points below average is equal to a 5-point win over an average team. The SRS is always just the sum of the margin of victory and the opponent’s rating. Unlike many systems, in the SRS, the values have meaning. A team with an SRS rating of +6.0 means that team is six points better than average.

It’s complicated to create these ratings, but I’ve done the heavy lifting1. Here were the SRS ratings for each team immediately after week 17 last season:

1New Orleans Saints13-1.611.4
2Green Bay Packers12.6-1.211.4
3New England Patriots10.7-1.49.3
4San Francisco 49ers9.4-1.18.3
5Baltimore Ravens7-0.96.1
6Detroit Lions5.40.66.1
7Pittsburgh Steelers6.1-0.85.3
8Philadelphia Eagles4.30.54.7
9Houston Texans6.4-1.94.5
10Atlanta Falcons3.30.33.5
11Chicago Bears0.80.91.7
12Dallas Cowboys1.40.31.6
13New York Giants-0.421.6
14Miami Dolphins1-0.10.9
15New York Jets0.900.9
16San Diego Chargers1.8-0.90.9
17Seattle Seahawks0.40.40.8
18Cincinnati Bengals1.3-0.90.5
19Tennessee Titans0.5-1.5-1
20Carolina Panthers-1.40.1-1.3
21Arizona Cardinals-2.30-2.2
22Buffalo Bills-3.90.5-3.4
23Washington Redskins-4.90.8-4.1
24Oakland Raiders-4.6-0.3-4.9
25Denver Broncos-5.1-0.2-5.3
26Cleveland Browns-5.60.2-5.4
27Jacksonville Jaguars-5.4-0.3-5.6
28Minnesota Vikings-6.81.1-5.7
29Kansas City Chiefs-7.9-0.2-8.1
30St. Louis Rams-13.42.9-10.4
31Tampa Bay Buccaneers-12.92.3-10.6
32Indianapolis Colts-11.70.4-11.3

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  1. The tricky part is that each team’s strength of schedule is dependent on the ratings of each of their opponents, which is dependent on the ratings of each of their opponents, which includes the original team we’re trying to rate. If you adjust each team’s rating over thousands of iterations, eventually the ratings converge, and we’re left with “true” ratings []