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Quarterback Wins: Outlier Seasons

Testaverde led the Jets to the AFCCG in 1998

Testaverde led the Jets to the AFCCG in 1998.

The 1998 season was one of my favorite years in NFL history. It was also a pretty weird one. We had Terrell Davis rushing for 2,000 yards, rookies Randy Moss and Fred Taylor making defenses look silly, and a quartet of old quarterbacks stun the football world. Doug Flutie came out of nowhere Canada to lead the Bills to a 7-3 record after being out of the NFL for nine years. Randall Cunningham, who had retired after the ’96 season, came off the bench in ’98 to produce one of the best backup seasons in NFL history. The other two quarterbacks are the stars of this post.

Vinny Testaverde had a very up-and-down career, although he was almost certainly a much better quarterback than you remember. Okay, Testaverde has lost more games than any other quarterback, but he played on some really bad teams throughout his career. Testaverde retired with a career winning percentage of 0.423. In 1998, he started 13 games for the Jets; based on that career winning percentage, we would have expected him to win 5.5 games in 1998. Instead, Testaverde went 12-1 in the regular season, giving him 6.5 more wins than we would expect. If that sounds remarkable to you, it should: that’s the 2nd largest discrepancy of any quarterback in NFL history in a single season (minimum 40 career wins). [click to continue…]

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An interesting tweet from Adam Schefter today: Matt Ryan has 56 regular season wins in his first five seasons, the most in NFL history. Ryan has started 78 games, one of only three quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco) to start at least 75 games in their first five seasons.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at not just quarterback wins, but quarterback winning percentage (minimum: 15 wins) and wins minus losses (as a compromise between winning percentage and wins). As it turns out, Ryan ranks 1st in wins, 7th in winning percentage, and 1st in wins over losses (or wins over .500) among all quarterbacks to enter the league since 1960.

Quarterback1st YrWinLossTieStartsWin %W-LWin RkWin % RkW-L Rk
Daryle Lamonica19631710180.94416119116
Roger Staubach19692350280.8211871211
Ken Stabler19712051260.7881595319
Tom Brady200148140620.77434441
Jim McMahon198234120460.739222457
Ben Roethlisberger200451200710.71831363
Matt Ryan200856220780.71834171
Kurt Warner199935140490.7142120810
Dan Marino198348210690.69627495
Pat Haden197630131440.69317421013
Tony Romo200627120390.69215561119
Mike Tomczak19862090290.6911951232
Stan Humphries199031140450.68917351313
Philip Rivers200633150480.68818281411
Jay Fiedler199922100320.68812821429
Jack Kemp196029131430.68616481616
John Elway198346211680.684256176
Mark Rypien198842200620.677228187
Joe Flacco200854260800.675282194
Donovan McNabb199943210640.672227207
Doug Flutie19861680240.66781262143
Dave Krieg198119100290.65591032235
Brad Johnson19961580230.65271312350
David Woodley198030161470.64914422422
Jay Schroeder198531170480.64614352522
Elvis Grbac19951690250.6471262650
Vince Ferragamo19791690250.6471262650
Neil O'Donnell199139220610.63917142813
Vince Young200630170470.63813422925
Rex Grossman200319110300.63381033043
Terry Bradshaw197032190510.62713323125
Bernie Kosar198539231630.62716143216
Jim Harbaugh198823140370.6229713335
Michael Vick200131191510.61812353429
Steve Grogan197541260670.61215123519
Joe Namath196537234640.60914173622
Brett Favre199237240610.60713173725
Greg Landry196825162430.6059633835
Marc Bulger200236240600.612193929
Bert Jones197333220550.611283932
Ken Anderson197134230570.59611244132
Jake Delhomme199929200490.5929484235
Steve McNair199529200490.5929484235
Eli Manning200442290710.5921384425
Tony Eason198326180440.5918594543
Chad Pennington200220140340.5886954654
Mark Brunell199531220530.5859354735
Andy Dalton201118130310.58151134857
Eric Hipple198118130310.58151134857
Bobby Hebert198529210500.588485043
Randall Cunningham198530221530.5758425143
Joe Montana197928210490.5717535250
Jim Hart196724183450.5676665354
Boomer Esiason198435270620.5658205443
Jim Kelly198640310710.5639135535
Charley Johnson196226203490.5616595654
Drew Bledsoe199342330750.56985735
Troy Aikman198938300680.5598165843
John Hadl196223184450.5565715957
Virgil Carter196816130290.55231266064
Steve Beuerlein198818150330.54531136164
Gary Danielson197718150330.54531136164
Steve Walsh198919160350.54331036364
Kordell Stewart199723200430.5353716464
Ken O'Brien198431271590.5344356560
Mark Sanchez200933290620.5324286660
Jim Everett198634300640.5314246760
Joe Kapp196724213480.5313666764
Aaron Rodgers200817150320.53121196772
Scott Mitchell199317150320.53121196772
Brian Griese199927240510.5293567164
Quincy Carter200118160340.52921137172
Scott Hunter197117153350.52921197372
Roman Gabriel196219171370.52721037472
Matt Hasselbeck200120180380.5262957572
Mike Phipps197019172380.52621037572
Peyton Manning199842380800.525487760
Kyle Orton200532290610.5253327864
Byron Leftwich200324220460.5222667972
Drew Brees200230280580.5172428072
Bob Griese196729273590.5172488172
Ron Jaworski197517160330.51511198282
Aaron Brooks200035340690.5071208382
Jay Cutler200634340680.50248484
Doug Williams197833331670.50288484
Neil Lomax198130301610.50428484
Jon Kitna199724240480.50668484
Bill Kenney198023230460.50718484
Brian Sipe197422220440.50828484
Jeff Garcia199935360710.493-1209090
Carson Palmer200432330650.492-1329190
Joe Ferguson197331320630.492-1359290
Daunte Culpepper200028290570.491-1539390
Bob Avellini197523240470.489-1719490
Tommy Kramer197722240460.478-2829595
Kyle Boller200320220420.476-2959695
Trent Dilfer199431350660.47-4359799
Don Majkowski198721241460.467-3899897
Bubby Brister198621240450.467-3899997
Kerry Collins199526300560.464-45910099
Phil Simms197923270500.46-47110199
Tom Flores196023282530.453-571102103
Rodney Peete198921260470.447-589103103
David Whitehurst197716201370.446-412610499
Steve Bartkowski197522280500.44-682105106
Trent Green199822290510.431-782106107
Josh Freeman200924320560.429-866107111
Steve Fuller197915200350.429-5131107103
Dave M. Brown199420270470.426-795109107
Gus Frerotte199419261460.424-7103110107
Jason Campbell200627370640.422-1056111113
Derek Anderson200618250430.419-7113112107
Charlie Batch199819270460.413-8103113111
Tony Banks199625360610.41-1163114115
Jeff Blake199421310520.404-1089115113
Jim Zorn197628440720.389-1653116124
Dan Pastorini197121330540.389-1289116118
Warren Moon198426420680.382-1659118124
Alex Smith200519310500.38-12103119118
Jake Plummer199725410660.379-1663120124
Matthew Stafford200917280450.378-11119121115
Jim Plunkett197123380610.377-1571122121
Fran Tarkenton196123393650.377-1671123124
Tim Couch199922370590.373-1582124121
Rick Mirer199320340540.37-1495125120
Sam Bradford201015261420.369-11131126115
Richard Todd197619340530.358-15103127121
Chris Miller198720360560.357-1695128124
Joey Harrington200223430660.348-2071129130
Mike Pagel198215311470.33-16131130124
Vinny Testaverde198719390580.328-20103131130
Jeff George199021440650.323-2389132132
Norm Snead196117413610.303-24119133133
David Carr200222530750.293-3182134135
Archie Manning197115433610.27-28131135134

Of course, having a good (or bad) winning percentage early in a quarterback’s career doesn’t tell us how much of a “winner” that quarterback will be in the future.

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The guy on the right was a loser until he wasn't.

The guy on the right was a loser until he wasn't.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m not a big fan of Matt Stafford. Last year, when most people were praising his breakout 2011 season, I questioned whether he was as good as his backers claimed. And, of course, his 2012 performance only raised more questions.

Stafford has a 17-28 career record, which in light of his recent contract extension, has caused people to criticize the Lions for giving big money to a player who is not a “winner.” There are legitimate reasons to criticize Stafford, so why would people fall back on statements like this? I’m sure Lions fans wish the team had won more games under Stafford, but that’s in the past. The real question — and the one faced by Lions management before giving him the extension — is whether his current career record has any predictive value when it comes to his future record.

Since 1960, there have been 77 quarterbacks1 who started at least 25 games in their first four seasons and then 25 more games in years five through eight. There’s some survivor bias in the sample — if you stick around for 25+ starts in years five through eight, you’re probably a pretty good quarterback — but there’s not much we can do about that. If you run a regression using winning percentage through four years as your input and winning percentage in years five through eight as your output, you get the following best-fit equation:

0.450 + 0.20 * Old Win %

The correlation coefficient is a tiny 0.04, and the p-value on the “Old Win %” variable is 0.09. Putting aside the questions of statistical significance, there is no practical effect. Stafford has a 0.377 winning percentage, which means this formula would predict him to win 52.6% of his games from 2013 to 2016. Joe Flacco won 68.75% of his games in his first four seasons; this would say he should be expected to win 58.7% of his games in years five through eight. In other words, someone with a great winning percentage should be expected to win only one more game per season than someone with a terrible winning percentage. And that’s even assuming the results are statistically significant, which many would say they are not.2
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  1. Because their first seasons as starters came after age 25, I decided to eliminate Jeff Garcia, Trent Green, Warren Moon, Kurt Warner, Ed Brown, Tony Romo, Mark Rypien, and Jim Kelly from this study. []
  2. And, of course, it doesn’t mean that that one extra win is because of the quarterback. Presumably, like in the case of Flacco, those quarterbacks who win games early are on good teams, and those teams are more likely to stay good than the bad teams. []
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Wins with quarterbacks drafted by that team

Good stat today by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who notes that Kansas City has gone 25 years without winning a game with a quarterback drafted by the Chiefs. This Todd Blackledge-led victory over the Chargers in 1987 was the last time a quarterback drafted by the Chiefs won a game in red and gold.

That’s remarkable, but as always, we need context. The table below looks at all team wins from 1988 to 2012 and shows how many games were won by a quarterback drafted by that team. Note: For purposes of this post, I’m considering John Elway, Jim Everett, Kelly Stouffer, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers as having been drafted by the Broncos, Rams, Seahawks, Giants, and Chargers, respectively. Additionally, quarterbacks drafted before 1988 count, but only their wins starting in 1988 count for purposes of the table below. The last two columns show, for each, the quarterback with the most wins among those quarterbacks drafted and not drafted by that team.

TmWinsWbDQBPercMWbDQBMWbnDQB
NWE22521294.2%Tom Brady (128)Doug Flutie (7)
IND21318185.0%Peyton Manning (141)Jim Harbaugh (20)
PIT23719883.5%Ben Roethlisberger (83)Tommy Maddox (15)
NYG21717781.6%Eli Manning (74)Kerry Collins (35)
PHI22515970.7%Donovan McNabb (92)Michael Vick (18)
DEN22115570.1%John Elway (102)Jake Plummer (39)
TAM17311767.6%Trent Dilfer (38)Brad Johnson (26)
CIN15610466.7%Carson Palmer (46)Jeff Blake (25)
BUF20312662.1%Jim Kelly (91)Drew Bledsoe (23)
SDG19111861.8%Philip Rivers (66)Stan Humphries (47)
ATL18411361.4%Matt Ryan (49)Chris Chandler (34)
MIA20411857.8%Dan Marino (99)Jay Fiedler (36)
WAS18010457.8%Mark Rypien (45)Brad Johnson (17)
DAL20411556.4%Troy Aikman (94)Tony Romo (50)
NYJ1799955.3%Chad Pennington (32)Vinny Testaverde (35)
TEN21611955.1%Steve McNair (76)Warren Moon (51)
CLE1276853.5%Bernie Kosar (29)Derek Anderson (16)
DET1508053.3%Rodney Peete (21)Scott Mitchell (27)
MIN21410850.5%Daunte Culpepper (38)Warren Moon (21)
JAX1397050.4%David Garrard (39)Mark Brunell (63)
BAL1457350.3%Joe Flacco (49)Steve McNair (15)
ARI1497147.7%Jake Plummer (30)Kurt Warner (27)
CHI1968844.9%Jim Harbaugh (35)Jay Cutler (29)
STL1626540.1%Jim Everett (38)Marc Bulger (41)
SFO2298336.2%Alex Smith (37)Steve Young (89)
HOU712433.8%David Carr (22)Matt Schaub (38)
GNB2316929.9%Aaron Rodgers (45)Brett Favre (160)
CAR1263225.4%Kerry Collins (22)Jake Delhomme (53)
SEA1863619.4%Rick Mirer (20)Matt Hasselbeck (69)
OAK1772011.3%Steve Beuerlein (8)Rich Gannon (45)
NOR19921.00%Danny Wuerffel (2)Drew Brees (64)
KAN20200.00%--Trent Green (48)

As bad as the Chiefs record has been, the Saints record isn’t any better. In fact, since Archie Manning’s last game for the Saints, New Orleans has only drafted two quarterbacks – Dave Wilson and Danny Wuerffel – who have started and won a game for the team. JaMarcus Russell couldn’t even break the Raiders list, ending his career with seven wins. Two other interesting notes. Tony Romo is the only undrafted quarterback in the league currently starting. And of the 32 starting quarterbacks, three of them — Michael Vick, Matt Schaub, and Matt Ryan — were drafted by the Falcons.

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