For over two decades, the Green Bay Packers have been lucky to have a Hall of Fame quarterback. How good have things been? Well, last year was only the third time since 1994 that the Packers finished below league average in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. But in general, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league, and the return of Jordy Nelson should ensure another stellar year for Rodgers.
When discussing Green Bay’s passing attack in the days since the merger, you get a pretty stark split between the pre-Favre/Rodgers eras and the post-Favre/Rodgers eras. The graph below shows the Packers Relative ANY/A — i.e., the team’s Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt minus the league average ANY/A — in every year since 1970:
In Chicago, the passing game has generally lagged far behind the rest of the team. Jay Cutler has helped stabilize things, tho (and was excellent in 2013), and Chicago now looks to have a relatively solid passing game. Alshon Jeffery is fantastic, and the arrival of 2015 1st round pick Kevin White could only help matters. The bar is pretty low, but the 2016 Bears passing game should be a very good one by Chicago passing standards:
Like the Bears, the Lions have also had issues at quarterback for most of the last 50 years. But Matthew Stafford has given Detroit a franchise quarterback, and even without Calvin Johnson, we should expect a pretty good passing game out of the Lions this year. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin (yes, he signed there last week), and Eric Ebron give Stafford a solid quartet of weapons. And in any event, the bar in Detroit is not very high: take a look at the team’s RANY/A in every year since 1970:
That brings us to Minnesota, the franchise with the best passing game of any NFC North team since the merger. That may be hard to imagine, but that’s only because of recency bias. From the 24-year period from 1970 to 1993, Green Bay’s RANY/A was an average of -0.58, while Minnesota’s was +0.29. In the 22-year period from ’94 to ’15, the Packers are at +1.04, and the Vikings at +.16. But even that fails to truly capture the recent issues that have played Minnesota. Over the last 11 years, the Vikings have been notably below-average in ANY/A in all but one season:
There have been only 8 seasons since 1970 when the Bears had an above-average passing game, and in only half of those years were the Lions also above-average. And, in only two of those years were the Vikings above-average. The Packers were above-average those years, too, which were ’95 and ’981. But could 2016 be the third year where CHI/GB/MIN/DET all field plus passing games?
The graph below shows the average RANY/A (taking a simple average) of the NFC North teams in each year since the merger. You can see that 1995 and 1998 stand out, as do (to a lesser extent) 2011 and 2013:
In 2013, the Packers, Lions, and Bears — with Rodgers, Stafford, and Cutler — all had strong passing games. The Vikings, though, had a terrible one, which led to the drafting of Bridgewater. With those three veterans still playing well, and Bridgewater now entering his prime years, perhaps we are at peak NFC North QB?
Oh, and for fans of hectic charts, here are all five graphs from above reproduced in one chart:
As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.
- And in that year, the Bears were at 5.310 ANY/A, while the league average was 5.309! [↩]