≡ Menu

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:

gnb pass

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:

chi pass

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:

det pass

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:

min pass

With Teddy Bridgewater entering year 3, and rookie Laquon Tradwell joining Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph, can Minnesota finally have an above-average passing attack again?

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:

nfcn avg

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:

nfc north

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

  1. And in that year, the Bears were at 5.310 ANY/A, while the league average was 5.309! []
  • How common is it for all teams in a division to be above-average in ANY/A? It seems like it would be pretty rare, but I really don’t know, and it would require far more research than I’m willing to do to find out. 😉

    • Wolverine

      2002 and beyond doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Prior to that, with 5 team divisions, it seems like tall order, even if you take into account the lower average ANY/A’s in the less favorable passing environments.

    • Richie

      I think the NFC South may have done it last year. PFR seems to be having a problem with their individual ANY/A+ stats for 2015.

      But using the Play Finder, Winston, Ryan, Brees and Newton all had ANY/A+ over 100 in 2015. So assuming any backup QB’s didn’t do too much damage, not only would the division be above average, but every team in the division was above average.

      • Richie

        And it looks like 2014 AFC North pulled it off. Roethlisberger, Flacco and Hoyer all had ANY/A+ over 100. Dalton was at 95.

        So maybe it’s not too difficult for a division to do it. But if that division includes QB CHI, then it’s tougher. 🙂

  • Richie

    Peak NFC North? I’d be surprised if they matched their production in 1995. Seems like a lot of “if’s”:

    – Teddy Bridgewater breaks through
    – Inconsistent Jay Cutler has another 100+ season. He hasn’t had back-to-back 100+ ANY/A+ seasons since he was in Denver.
    – Matt Stafford has to stay at 100+ despite losing Calvin Johnson
    – Aaron Rodgers. I’m not worried about him doing his part.

    • Wolverine

      You have to keep in mind ’95 and ’98 included some very offensively-challenged Tampa Bay teams, which brings the average down. Free of that encumberance, it seems easier for the NFC North to have an above-average passing year.

  • Wolverine

    1995 was a strange year in the NFC Central (as it was called then). Scott Mitchell in Detroit and Erik Kramer in Chicago both had outstanding career years, then promptly fell off the map in subsequent years (Kramer due to injury, and Mitchell due to sucking). Brett Favre had his best season to date, and Warren Moon was finding his mojo with Chris Carter and Jake Reed.