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Archive for February, 2007

League Leaders

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 28, 2007

Anytime I hear a stat like "Eli Manning was 5th in the NFL in passing yards in 2005", the first question that comes to my mind is "Well, where did he rank in pass attempts?" If you rank higher in pass attempts than passing yards, it's going to be difficult to impress me by throwing for lots of yards; it means at least one person threw for more yards on fewer passes.

I was wondering what percentage of league leaders in a particular statistic (say, passing yards) also ranked first in opportunities (in this case, pass attempts). I was also curious which players had led the league while ranking the lowest in opportunities.

Here's the full list of the 37 QBs to lead the post-merger NFL in passing yards in a single season. The first column shows where each QB ranked in pass attempts that season.

7 2001 Kurt Warner
7 1983 Lynn Dickey
7 1974 Ken Anderson
7 1972 Joe Namath
6 1976 Bert Jones
5 2006 Drew Brees
4 2005 Tom Brady
4 1997 Jeff George
4 1995 Brett Favre
4 1979 Dan Fouts
4 1970 John Brodie
3 2000 Peyton Manning
2 2004 Daunte Culpepper
2 2003 Peyton Manning
2 1999 Steve Beuerlein
2 1998 Brett Favre
2 1996 Mark Brunell
2 1985 Dan Marino
2 1982 Dan Fouts
2 1975 Ken Anderson
1 2002 Rich Gannon
1 1994 Drew Bledsoe
1 1993 John Elway
1 1992 Dan Marino
1 1991 Warren Moon
1 1990 Warren Moon
1 1989 Don Majkowski
1 1988 Dan Marino
1 1987 Neil Lomax
1 1986 Dan Marino
1 1984 Dan Marino
1 1981 Dan Fouts
1 1980 Dan Fouts
1 1978 Fran Tarkenton
1 1977 Joe Ferguson
1 1973 Roman Gabriel
1 1971 John Hadl

To me, the accomplishments of Warner, Dickey, Anderson and Namath did is much more impressive than when Fouts or Moon led the league in passing attempts. I'm not saying you should throw for the most yards in the NFL when you pass more often than anyone else, just that it's less impressive when you do. Slightly fewer than half (17 of 37) of the league leaders in passing yards also led the league in atempts that season.

We can look at the same numbers for running backs, just using rushing yards and rush attempts.

9 1982 Freeman McNeil
8t 1996 Barry Sanders
6 1993 Emmitt Smith
6 1990 Barry Sanders
5 2001 Priest Holmes
4 1997 Barry Sanders
4 1994 Barry Sanders
3 1984 Eric Dickerson
3 1978 Earl Campbell
3 1976 O.J. Simpson
3 1974 Otis Armstrong
2 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson
2 2003 Jamal Lewis
2 2000 Edgerrin James
2 1998 Terrell Davis
2 1992 Emmitt Smith
2 1985 Marcus Allen
2 1979 Earl Campbell
2 1972 O.J. Simpson
2 1970 Larry Brown
1 2005 Shaun Alexander
1 2004 Curtis Martin
1 2002 Ricky Williams
1 1999 Edgerrin James
1 1995 Emmitt Smith
1 1991 Emmitt Smith
1 1989 Christian Okoye
1 1988 Eric Dickerson
1 1987 Charles White
1 1986 Eric Dickerson
1 1983 Eric Dickerson
1 1981 George Rogers
1 1980 Earl Campbell
1 1977 Walter Payton
1 1975 O.J. Simpson
1 1973 O.J. Simpson
1 1971 Floyd Little

Once again, the league leader in yards was the league leader in attempts 17 of 37 times. I think it's a little more difficult to draw conclusions from this list than the QB list, because a high number of rush attempts is probably a good sign that the RB is pretty darn good. Freeman McNeil led the league in rushing in 1982 despite eight other players rushing more often than he did, because he averaged 5.2 YPC. But that's not more impressive than when Barry Sanders in 1997 averaged 6.1 YPC, even if "only" three other RBs had more carries than Sanders that year. Presumably, if McNeil was a better RB, he would have ranked higher than 9th in carries that year. (Not that I think McNeil's 1982 performance was a fluke; in the playoffs, McNeil rushed for 362 yards on 62 carries, averaging 5.83 YPC.)

While comparing RBs to QBs might be just a small difference in degree, using the same tools to compare WRs is a difference in kind. The analog to pass attempts and rush attempts would be targets, but we don't have target data stretching back many years. So we'll have to use receptions, which may be a little misleading. Here's the list, anyway:

13t 1976 Roger Carr
13 2000 Torry Holt
11t 1996 Isaac Bruce
11t 1978 Wesley Walker
8 2006 Chad Johnson
8 1983 Mike Quick
7 2001 David Boston
6t 1977 Drew Pearson
5 2004 Muhsin Muhammad
5 1989 Jerry Rice
5 1979 Steve Largent
4 1998 Antonio Freeman
4 1981 Alfred Jenkins
4 1975 Ken Burrough
4 1970 Gene Washington
3 1997 Rob Moore
3 1984 Roy Green
2t 1988 Henry Ellard
2t 1995 Jerry Rice
2 1999 Marvin Harrison
2 1994 Jerry Rice
2 1993 Jerry Rice
2 1991 Michael Irvin
2 1985 Steve Largent
2 1982 Wes Chandler
2 1974 Cliff Branch
2 1971 Otis Taylor
1t 2005 Steve Smith
1t 1980 John Jefferson
1 2003 Torry Holt
1 2002 Marvin Harrison
1 1992 Sterling Sharpe
1 1990 Jerry Rice
1 1987 JT Smith
1 1986 Jerry Rice
1 1973 Harold Carmichael
1 1972 Harold Jackson


Here is the flip side: the league leaders in attempts who ranked lowest in yards.


Att. Leader YR Yd rank
Jon Kitna 2001 16
Drew Bledsoe 1995 11
Jim Hart 1974 7
Jim Zorn 1976 7
Vinny Testaverde 2000 6
Brett Favre 2006 6
Brad Johnson 2003 5
Steve Deberg 1979 5
Brett Favre 1999 4
Roman Gabriel 1970 4
Brett Favre 2005 3
Peyton Manning 1998 3
Dan Marino 1997 3
Drew Bledsoe 1996 3
Joe Montana 1982 2
Archie Manning 1972 2
John Elway 1985 2
Bill Kenney 1983 2
Fran Tarkenton 1975 2
Trent Green 2004 2


Att. Leader YR Yd rank
Ricky Williams 2003 10
Earnest Byner 1990 4
Ricky Watters 1996 4
Stephen Davis 2001 3
O.J. Simpson 1974 3
Emmitt Smith 1994 3
James Wilder 1984 3
Eddie George 2000 3
Jerome Bettis 1997 3
Thurman Thomas 1993 3
Ron Johnson 1972 3
Ron Johnson 1970 2
Jamal Anderson 1998 2
Walter Payton 1979 2
Barry Foster 1992 2
Tony Dorsett 1982 2
Walter Payton 1976 2
Larry Johnson 2006 2
Walter Payton 1978 2
Gerald Riggs 1985 2

7 Comments | Posted in General

Workout warriors

Posted by Doug on February 26, 2007

I teach for a living. If you're ever in a room full of teachers and you sense too much discord in the air, simply mention that students don't take their work seriously enough. That will bring the group into harmony. Knowing nods will be exchanged as stories of underachieving kids get bandied about, and unanimity will reign. I suspect there is a similar topic in every profession and for almost every group of people who share a particular interest.

With the NFL scouting combine now upon us, I am reminded what that subject is for football fans.

Scouts and organizations put way too much emphasis on players' measurables: height, weight, 40 time, and bench press.

Rarely do you find an NFL football fan who disagrees with that. And NFL fans are known for their disagreement. But not on this topic. Mike Mamula's name will be brought up, people will shake their heads in mock dismay, and we'll all feel good about ourselves as we wonder when will they ever get it?

Tight ends Zach Miller of Arizona State and Greg Olsen of Miami entered the draft as the top two players at the position. My impression is that they were about even, or that Miller had a slim edge going into the combine. But now Olsen has apparently moved ahead of Miller because Miller ran a slow 40 (4.8) and Olsen ran a fast one (4.5).

Ridiculous, right? Scouts have been poring over dozens of games worth of film on both Olson and Miller. Based on that, they came to the consensus that Miller was a slightly better prospect. And now because of a drill that has little to do with football --- they weren't even wearing pads --- that's switched. When will they ever get it?

So the question is: at what point, if any, do you have to start paying attention to the measurables? Is 4.5 vs. 4.8 a big enough difference to switch the two? If not, what if Miller had run a 4.9? A 5.1? I certainly do generally agree with the sentiment that organizations place too much emphasis on the combine. If 4.8 speed was good enough for Miller to amass a body of work in college that was sufficient to be ranked ahead of Olsen, then the combine shouldn't change that. But at the same time, the difference between a 4.5 and a 4.8 seems pretty significant.

So I'll just throw this out as a discussion question: is .3 seconds in the enough flip flop these two guys in your rankings? If so, then would .2 be? What about .1? Why? If not, would .4 be? .5? I'm not necessarily looking for a precise figure. I'm more interested in your thought process.

32 Comments | Posted in NFL Draft

Coaching and Choking in the Playoffs (Part 2)

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 22, 2007

Yesterday, we looked at lots of combinations of playoff games featuring a mix of regular season records and prior post-season coaching records. Today we're going to get a bit more precise as we conclude the study, and take a quick look at what happened in 2006.

I think its important to be especially clear on what our goal is. This blog has noted the distinction between retrodictive and predictive systems a few times, and in this comment, PFR reader Jim A provided a very useful link. The basic difference is that retrodictive systems answer the question "which team or coach has accomplished the most in the past" while predictive systems answer the question "which team or coach is most likely to win in the future?" What we're trying to create is a predictive system. There's no denying that Bill Belichick (13-3 playoff record) and Joe Gibbs (17-6 career playoff record) have been much more successful than Marty Schottenheimer (5-13) or Jim Mora Sr. (0-6). But that's as obvious as it is uninteresting. Any retrodictive system would have to place Gibbs and Belichick at the top, and Marty and Mora at the bottom.

But when we're talking about whether Schottenheimer should have been fired, we want to know whether he'll win in the future. We want to know the predictive ability of our system. If we find out that a coach's past post-season record is a useless indicator of his future post-season success, it doesn't mean that Schottenheimer is as accomplished as Belichick; it just means that going forward, we have no reason to expect Belichick to be better than Schottenheimer. Those two statements are very different, and that difference is essential to understanding where we're going with this.

Yesterday, I gave a preview of what we're going to look at today -- multiple regression analysis. For each of the 346 playoff games from 1970-2005, I recorded three input variables and one output variables. The output variable is win/loss; the input variables are: 1) each team's head coach's prior playoff record, 2) the difference in winning percentage of the two teams in the regular season, and 3) where the game was played (home, away or neutral (the Super Bowl)).

Before looking at the variables together, let's look at them individually. Home field advantage is strongly correlated with winning -- the Pearson correlation was 0.362 and the correlation was significant. The difference in regular season winning percentage was even more correlated, 0.442, and significant. As for our third variable, past playoff record? The correlation was just 0.03, and was not significant (0.386 on a 2-tailed test). In other words, there is no historical relationship between a coach's prior post-season record and his future post-season performance in a playoff game.

When you run a least squares multiple regression analysis, the following formula is created:

0.436 + 0.13*HFA + 1.32*RegSeaWin%Diff + 0.01 * PastPlayoffWinDiff

So we might say that a team at home (HFA = 1) that won 2 more games than its opponent (RegSeaWin%Diff = 0.125) and with even head coaches, should be expected to get 0.73 wins (or if the game is played 100 times, should win it 73 times). Notice how small the coefficient for past playoff record is -- the differential among the coaches is going to have minimal predictive power. Further, the P-value for past playoff win differential was 0.15, making it not statistically significant.

So what do you say to your friends who won't believe you when you say a coach's past post-season record is irrelevant to predicting his future post-season success? For starters, they'll probably cite some examples. Maybe the Patriots over the Chargers (2006), the Patriots over the Colts (2003, 2004) or Joe Gibbs' Redskins over lots of teams. But if they try and name several examples, remind them that over 350 playoff games have been played since 1970, so individual examples aren't going to prove much. Then throw out these five examples going the other way:

1) In 1982, Chuck Noll had a 14-4 career post-season record and 4 Super Bowl titles to his resume, while Don Coryell was a choke artist that had gone 2-5 in the playoffs. Coryell's team won in Pittsburgh, 31-28.

2) Tom Flores was coaching the defending SB Champions, had won 2 Super Bowls, and owned a sparkling 8-1 career playoff record. His 11-5 team lost in Seattle (12-4) to Chuck Knox, who had been 6-8 in the playoffs prior to that game.

3) The Great Tom Landry, owner of two SB rings and a 20-14 career post-season record, was coaching another great Cowboys team that went 12-4 in 1983. Hosting the 9-7 Rams, John Robinson in his playoff debut went into Dallas and won, 24-17.

4) Bill Walsh was 7-1 in the playoffs and had won two Super Bowls. His defending champion 49ers team played a Giants team with the same 10-6 record, and a coach in Bill Parcells that had a 1-1 career playoff record. But Parcells' Giants won in 1985, 17-3. (And before you start thinking Parcells shouldn't count as a choke coach because "he's Bill Parcells", note that Parcells lost all three times he had a five game advantage over his opponent. In 1994 (8-3 career playoff record at the time) he lost to Bill Belichick in his first post-season game, in 2003, Parcells (11-6) lost to John Fox in his first playoff game, and in 1989 Parcells (5-2) lost at home to John Robinson, who had an ugly 3-5 playoff record before that game.

5) Don Shula, who had coached in four Super Bowls and won two of them at the time, hosted a New England team in 1985 that was coached by Raymond Berry. Raymond Berry's first full season as a head coach was that year. But Berry's team went into Miami and won, 31-14.

The results are clear: the correlation between past playoff success and future playoff success is extremely small and not statistically significant. But let's take it one step further, as I think you should with almost any study that looks at the post-merger NFL: what's going on lately?

I eliminated all playoff games from before 1993, and ran the same numbers. Now we have a look at the modern, post-free agency era. The Pearson Correlation of past playoff records and winning the next game was 0.000, and of course, not significant. Home field was slightly more correlated than before (0.381) and significant, and regular season record was slightly less correlated (0.417) and significant. Running the least squares multiple regression, we get:

0.500 + 0.00*HFA + 1.32*RegSeaWin%Diff + 0.01 * PastPlayoffWinDiff

Once again, past playoff performance is practically irrelevant, and any effect is not significant statistically (0.21 p-value). What's most curious is how home field advantage has been zeroed out. Perhaps one of our readers can help me out, but the big problem I see is that home field advantage is very closely tied to regular season records: there have been only five games out of 130 where the home team had a worse record than the road team. So I believe what the regression is telling us is that once we know the regular season win differential between the two teams, knowing which team is home isn't very useful. Running the regression with only two variables (removing the HFA variable) does not make past playoff record any more useful.

All the statistical tests I've performed make it clear that in terms of a predictive system, knowing a coach's past post-season record is useless to predicting how he will do in a future playoff game. But for fun I thought I'd look at the 2006 playoff results now.

Here's how the first row in the table can be read. When Bill Belichick played Marty Schottenheimer, Belichick (coach 1) had a +17 playoff win differential (Belichick was 10 games over .500 at 12-2, while Schottenheimer was 7 games under .500 at 5-12), a -2 regular season win differential (New England went 12-4 this year, San Diego went 14-2), was on the road (0 = road, 1 = home) and won (0 = loss, 1 = win).

Coach1 Coach2 PWD RWD HFA W/L
BeliBi0 SchoMa0 17 -2 0 1
BeliBi0 DungTo0 12 0 0 0
BeliBi0 MangEr0 9 2 1 1
BillBr0 DungTo0 5 1 1 0
HolmMi0 SmitLo0 4 -4 0 0
ReidAn0 CougTo0 3 2 1 1
ReidAn0 PaytSe0 3 0 0 0
ParcBi0 HolmMi0 2 0 0 0
EdwaHe0 DungTo0 2 -3 0 0
SmitLo0 DungTo0 1 1 0.5 0
PaytSe0 SmitLo0 1 -3 0 0

Of the 11 games this year, only three times did the coach with the better playoff record win the game: Belichick over Schottenheimer and Mangini, and Reid over Coughlin. It's not much of a stretch to say those latter two games weren't surprising; the Eagles and Patriots were more than a notch above the Giants and Jets this year. The Schottenheimer/Belichick game will forever give ammunition to those who believe that past playoff performance is a strong predictor of future playoff performance -- after all, the most clutch coach ever took a worse team on the road and beat the least clutch coach ever. But let's remember that it was still just one game, and one game that could have very easily gone the other way. Belichick lost to Dungy, Billick lost to Dungy at home, and youngsters Sean Payton and Lovie Smith beat successful playoff coaches Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren.

I thought I'd close things today with just a little bit of anecdotal evidence. For all the Marty-bashing that goes on, his 5-13 record could easily be a lot better. The first five games I think of that he's lost in the playoffs all turned on a single play. If John Elway doesn't have The Drive (thanks to a 3rd and 18 completion), if Byner doesn't commit The Fumble, if Lin Elliot doesn't miss 3 field goals (KC loses 10-7), if Nate Kaeding hits a 40-yard FG in overtime, or if Marlon McCree falls down, Schottenheimer would have been 10-8 instead of 5-13. In terms of retrodictive analysis, that stuff's pretty irrelevant: it happened, and Schottenheimer lost. In terms of predictive analysis, I don't know if Marty would have had to have been any better a coach to have a career winning record in the playoffs.

Schottenheimer also lost a 14-10 game, a 17-16 game, a 24-23 game, and a 24-21 game. He's been in lots of close playoff games, but hasn't come out victorious in many. But considering he's got 200 career wins, and an extensive empirical study shows no correlation between past playoff success and the predictability of future playoff success, I have no doubt that Schottenheimer would have had an excellent chance to win a Super Bowl with the Chargers this year.

36 Comments | Posted in History, Statgeekery

Coaching and Choking in the Playoffs

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 21, 2007

Over a week ago, the San Diego Chargers became the first team to fire a head coach following a a fourteen-win season. Marty Schottenheimer's team lost its first playoff game, which seems less punishable when you remember what happened the previous two years. In 2004, a 15-1 Steelers team was a Doug Brien field goal away from losing its first playoff game, and got blown out the next week at home; the following year, Bill Cowher brought the city of Pittsburgh its fifth Super Bowl Championship. In 2005, a 14-2 Colts team lost its first playoff game; the following year, Tony Dungy brought the city of Indianapolis its first professional sports title ever (discounting the three ABA titles won in the early 1970s).

Marty Schottenheimer won't get a chance to bring the city of San Diego its first professional sports title (discounting the AFL title in 1963), and you'll hear lots of reasons why. If Schottenheimer was Bill Belichick, we know he wouldn't have been fired. But Belichick has a past history of post-season success, and Schottenheimer has a horrible history of playoff failure. Almost assuredly, if Schottenheimer did not have a poor career record in the playoffs, he would have been retained. While the loss of both assistant coaches was significant, it is my opinion that the overriding factor was the thought that "Marty won't win in the playoffs." This can only make sense if past post-season success is indicative of future post-season success. To make my bias clear, before I conducted this study I believed that statement to be false. Let's see what happens. (Note: I don't care to turn this into a debate on the reasons Schottenheimer was fired. There's currently an 847 post thread on that at our other site.)

From 1970-2005, there were 346 playoff games played in the NFL. To figure out if past playoff prowess is correlated with future post-season success, we need to isolate two factors: regular season record and home field advantage. Because regular season record is highly correlated with home field advantage (the team with the better record has usually been the home team), we're going to leave HFA out for now to make this a bit more palatable.

I hate having to write keys for charts, because that usually means the data isn't presented in its simplest format. But this was the best I could do. Every playoff game has a "clutch" coach and a "choke" coach. The clutch coach is simply the coach with the better career post-season record prior to that game ("better" will be explained in a bit).

RWD = Regular Season Win Differential
N = Number of times two teams met in the playoffs with that differential
Cl Win% = Winning percentage of the "clutch" coaches when they were X games better in the regular season than the opponent.
Ch Win% = Winning percentage of the "choke" coaches when they were X games better in the regular season than the opponent.
Cl Gm = Number of times the "clutch" coach had the better record
Ch Gm = Number of times the "choke" coach had the better record
Ev Gm = The number of times teams with that RWD met and the two coaches had "equivalent" prior post-season records. Equivalent here means both coaches were the same number of games above, at, or below .500. This is only to be complete, since we won't care about these games.

RWD N Cl Win% Ch Win% Cl Gm Ch Gm Ev Gm
6 2 1.000 1.000 1 1 0
5 9 0.667 1.000 3 5 1
4 20 1.000 0.625 9 8 3
3.5 3 1.000 1.000 1 1 1
3 35 0.900 0.833 20 12 3
2.5 4 1.000 0.500 1 2 1
2 74 0.857 0.657 28 35 11
1.5 12 0.600 1.000 5 3 4
1 112 0.682 0.623 44 53 15
0.5 15 0.429 0.500 7 2 6
0 120 0.538 0.462 52 52 16

First, a quick example. When the 1998 (15-1) Vikings played the 1998 (9-7) Cardinals in the playoffs, Dennis Green had a career 1-4 post-season record and Vince Tobin was 1-0 in the playoffs. Green's Vikings won, so that game is filed under RWD as 6, under Ch Gm as 1 (this was the only time the "choke" coach ever had six more regular season wins than his opponent) and under Ch Wins (not presented above) as 1. Then I divided Ch Wins by Ch Gm to get the Ch Win%, which is presented above. Whew.

Let's summarize the table. When two teams face off in the post-season where one team has won five or six more games than the other, the team with the better record (regardless of coaching history) is 11-1. The one loss was when Jerry Burns (1-0) beat mighty Bill Walsh (7-3) in the playoffs, so that's a "clutch" loss.

At four wins better than the opponent, "clutch" coaches are 9-0 but "choke" coaches are only 5-3. Tom Coughlin's upset of Mike Shanahan (1996), Ted Marchibroda's upset of Marty Schottenheimer (1995) and Chuck Noll's upset of Dan Reeves (1984) were the three surprises. All three were by seven points or less. Note that Shanahan (0-0) was considered the "choke" coach and Coughlin (1-0) the "clutch" coach by only the thinnest of margins. We'll address this later today and more thoroughly tomorrow.

At 3/3.5 games better, clutch coaches are 19-2 (John Robinson over Tom Landry in 1984, Chuck Knox over Don Shula in 1983), while choke coaches are 11-2 (Bill Cowher over Tony Dungy, 2005, and Bill Belichick over Mike Martz in SBXXXVI). This illustrates one of the drawbacks of such an approach. Robinson and Knox were both six games behind Landry and Shula (in terms of career post-season records) when they faced, and were clearly big underdogs with respect to playoff success. Martz and Dungy were only one and two games behind Belichick and Cowher at the time, so they had nearly identical playoff records when they faced. So the two clutch losses were much more extreme than the two choke losses.

A wide gap emerges, however, at 2/2.5 games better. Clutch coaches are 25-4, a very respectable winning percentage. Choke coaches are 24-13, which is decidedly more average. Interestingly, in the most extreme discrepancies in games where the choke coach was on a team with two more regular season wins, the choke coach followed history and lost. Dennis Green lost his post-season debut to Joe Gibbs, whose 15-4 record in the playoffs may have mattered more than his team's 9-7 regular season record in 1992. Additionally, Bill Belichick (10-1) beat Jack Del Rio in his post-season debut, but then again, that game was in Foxboro.

The two sets of data converge again when the two regular season teams were within 1.5 games of each other. Both the clutch coach (36-20) and the choke coach (37-21) won 64% of their games when they coached a team with a slightly better regular season record.

When two teams have the same regular season record, clutch coaches have a slight edge, winning 28 of the 52 games. If we had no other data to analyze, this would be what I'd be most curious to see. When the teams are even, who wins? There could be several factors affecting this, so 28/52 isn't conclusive of much.

When coaching a much stronger team, measured by regular season record, both clutch and choke coaches dominate in the post-season. When coaching teams that are a significant but not large amount better, clutch coaches have been noticeably more successful. When coaching teams that are slightly better, clutch and choke coaches appear identical.

As hinted at earlier, we may not be comparing apples to apples. If Coach A has a 1-0 post-season record, and he faces Coach B who owns a 0-1 post-season record, Coach A will be labeled clutch and Coach B will be labeled choke. If Coach A is 10-0 and Coach B is 0-10, the same labels -- clutch and choke -- will apply. But presumably we'd want to focus more heavily on games where there is a large difference in the post-season records. Otherwise, it would be like writing the difference between a 15-1 team and 9-7 team is the same as the difference between a 10-6 team and 9-7 team. Labeling them "good" and "bad" isn't very precise.

We just looked at how the "good" team in every post-season game did (good meaning has X many more regular season wins than the opponent) depending on whether the coach was previously clutch or a choker. Now we're going to look at "clutch" coaches in every post-season game, and see how they fare depending on whether they're coaching a "good" team or a "bad" team. This is susceptible to the same problems, of course, but gives us another way to look at the data. The only reason we talk about clutch coaches in the sense of prior post-season success is because we assume that a clutch coach can beat a choke coach with a bad team. When a good team beats a bad team, we aren't surprised. But how often do "clutch" coaches lead inferior teams to post-season success, and vice versa, how often do "choke" coaches hamper superior teams?

In this chart, we'll need a third column -- even games. Before we dismissed even games because we were analyzing clutch coaching, and if neither coach is clutch, we don't care about the game. Now we might care most about the even games, because that features two teams with the same records.

CF = Clutchness Factor. How many more career post-season wins above .500 the clutch coach had.
N = Number of games where the CF differential was X.
G Win % = Winning percentage by the clutch coach when he had the "good" team (better regular season record)
E Win% = Winning percentage by the clutch coach when the two teams were "even" (same regular season record)
L Win % = Winning percentage by the clutch coach when he had the "bad" team (worse regular season record)
G Gm = Number of games where the clutch coach was on the good team
E Gm = Number of games where the two teams were even
B Gm = Number of games where the clutch coach was on the bad team

CF N G Win% E Win% B Win% G Gm Ev Gm B Gm
10+ 4 --- 0.500 0.500 0 2 2
9 5 --- --- 0.400 0 0 5
8 6 1.000 1.000 0.500 3 1 2
7 4 1.000 --- 0.500 2 0 2
6 22 0.857 0.333 0.083 7 3 12
5 39 0.588 0.600 0.176 17 5 17
4 24 0.615 0.500 0.400 13 6 5
3 50 0.788 0.600 0.250 33 5 12
2 61 0.900 0.786 0.370 20 14 27
1 79 0.792 0.313 0.385 24 16 39

Once again, let's go through a quick explanation and a summary. I'm measuring a coach's record by how many games over .500 he is. If you're 10-5, you're at 5 games over. If you're at 6-13, you're at 8 games under. If those two coaches met, I'd record the difference as +12. This formula works well enough, and the most important thing is that we all know what the formula is, rather than finding the perfect formula.

When Mike Holmgren (9-8) met Joe Gibbs (17-5) in the second round of the 2005 NFC playoffs, Gibbs would be the clutch coach and filed under 10+ wins (since he's actually at +11). Gibbs lost, and he was on the "bad" team since Seattle had won three more games than Washington that year. But when Joe Gibbs (15-4) beat Dennis Green (0-0) thirteen years earlier, he also coached the worse team. Those are the only two times a coach with a 10+ advantage over his opponent coached the team with the worse record in the playoffs (and such a coach has never coached the better team).

On to the summary. When a playoff game features a clutch coach with a large advantage (7 games or more), the clutch coach is 5-0 when coaching the better team and 2-1 when the teams are even. When coaching the worse team, the clutch coach is 5-6. These numbers are more significant than you might initially realize; this means the choke coach is 0-5 when coaching the worse team (compared to 5-6 when the clutch coach has the worse team) and just 6-5 (vs. 5-0) when coaching the better team. Curiously, though, in the most extreme example, the choke coach won. Don Coryell (2-5) met Chuck Noll (14-4) in the playoffs in Pittsburgh, and both teams had gone 6-3 in the regular season. But Coryell's Chargers edged Noll's Steelers, 31-28.

The evidence goes the other way, however, when we look at times when the clutch coach had a 5 or 6 game edge on his opponent. When coaching good teams, he was 16-8; when coaching the worse team he was just 4-25. The converse means while coaching bad teams the choke coach still won 33% of his games, and the "choke" coach won nearly all of the games when he had the better team. The four losses? Chuck Noll (7-2) over Ted Marchibroda (0-1), in 1976; Dan Reeves (9-7) over Dennis Green (2-5) in the 1998 NFC Championship Game, Mike Shanahan (1-1) over Marty Schottenheimer (5-10) in 1997, and Herm Edwards (1-2) over Schottenheimer (5-11) in 2004. Outside of those games, the evidence strongly points to clutch coaches doing worse than choke coaches for this stretch. There are many more games like Bill Parcells losing to John Fox than Herm Edwards beating Schottenheimer.

When we look at coaches with 3 or 4 game advantages, we see a very small edge going to the "clutch" coaches. In those games clutch coaches are 6-5 against choke coaches when both teams have the same regular season record. When the clutch coach is on the good team, his record is 34-12 (74%), and when the clutch coach is on the bad team, his record is 5-12 (29%). Conversely, choke coaches win 71% of the time and 26% of the time when on the good, and bad teams, respectively.

This effect is magnified even more when we look at coaches with just slight advantages, a one or two game lead. I'm not sure this is conclusive of anything, because if there is something to this clutch ability, it shouldn't increase as we get to the least clutch coaches. Anyway, clutch coaches are 37-7 when they coach the good team, while choke coaches are just 41-25 when they're on the good team. Clutch coaches are also 16-14 against the chokers when the teams are even.

So where does that leave us? None of the above methods are perfect, since there are some drawbacks to those tools. In both examples, we made team strength (good/bad) and coaching history (clutch/choke) into binary categories, when of course they are not. As a result, some effects could be hidden. The best way to solve this is to use a regression analysis. I didn't do that today because regression analysis is useless to people who don't understand regression. The tables presented at least bring the numbers to life. Tomorrow, though, we'll sacrifice simplicity for precision, and the results are pretty interesting.

18 Comments | Posted in History, Statgeekery

Michael Irvin

Posted by Doug on February 20, 2007

Last week I wrote a couple of posts about methods for ranking the great wide receivers. Based on some good discussion in the comments following those posts, I've modified the method somewhat and am close to being comfortable calling it a Definitive Ranking System (as definitive as such things can ever be, anyway). But that's a post for later in the week if all goes well.

For now I want to talk about the one guy who always appears near the top of these kinds of lists but who isn't usually thought of as one of the all-time greats: Michael Irvin. Among all receivers whose careers started since the merger, Irvin ranked #2 in the receiving yardage category of the Gray Ink rating system I posted last week. He ranked #1 among all receivers debuting in 1978 or later according to this system that I posted back in May, and he ranked #7 among all receivers debuting since 1970 in my favorite WR ranking system EVER (though I admit it's one that probably doesn't produce the "best" rankings, it's the one I like best in theory).

Irvin's prime was something to behold:

Receivng yards: 1991--1995

Jerry Rice 1991-1995 1451
Michael Irvin 1991-1995 1419
Cris Carter 1991-1995 1068
Andre Rison 1991-1995 1025
Henry Ellard 1991-1995 1025
Tim Brown 1991-1995 1016
Anthony Miller 1991-1995 1011
Irving Fryar 1991-1995 999
Herman Moore 1991-1995 979
Sterling Sharpe 1991-1995 963
Andre Reed 1991-1995 899

He's barely behind the best receiver of all time, and a mile ahead of everyone else. Even if you consider all five-year stretches that started within five years of 1991, Irvin's is still second best, it's still close to Rice's best, and it's more than a hundred yards better than anyone else.

But that understates it. Irvin was playing on a conservative offense. During Rice's best stretch, the 49ers were throwing 536 passes per season, compared to 482 passes per year for the Cowboys during Irvin's peak. From 1991--1995, Irvin averaged more yards per team passing attempt than any player in post-merger NFL history.

Player Years AvYd AvTmAtt Yd/TmAtt
Michael Irvin 1991-1995 1419 482 2.95
Jerry Rice 1991-1995 1451 536 2.71
Marvin Harrison 1999-2003 1519 567 2.68
Randy Moss 1999-2003 1412 532 2.66
Jimmy Smith 1997-2001 1346 516 2.61
James Lofton 1980-1984 1175 465 2.53
Torry Holt 2000-2004 1474 591 2.49
Herman Moore 1992-1996 1211 489 2.48
Tim Brown 1993-1997 1269 518 2.45
Chad Johnson 2002-2006 1319 542 2.44
Harold Jackson 1972-1976 795 327 2.43
Rod Smith 1997-2001 1273 528 2.41
Cliff Branch 1974-1978 869 361 2.41
Hines Ward 2001-2005 1095 455 2.41
Terrell Owens 2000-2004 1293 543 2.38
Joe Horn 2000-2004 1258 535 2.35
Henry Ellard 1987-1991 1188 509 2.34
Steve Largent 1983-1987 1101 476 2.31
Sterling Sharpe 1989-1993 1245 542 2.30
Stanley Morgan 1978-1982 885 389 2.27
Ken Burrough 1975-1979 837 375 2.23
Andre Reed 1988-1992 1050 476 2.20
Eric Moulds 1998-2002 1176 538 2.19
Cris Collinsworth 1982-1986 994 455 2.18
Drew Pearson 1974-1978 860 394 2.18
Drew Hill 1985-1989 1070 494 2.17
Cris Carter 1996-2000 1152 532 2.17
Laveranues Coles 2002-2006 1072 497 2.16
Art Monk 1982-1986 972 451 2.15

Is this a contrived stat? Somewhat. But it's tough to argue with the logic behind it:

1. Gaining yards is good.

2. WRs can't gain yards unless their team is passing the ball.

As with any attempt to rate receivers, there are a lot of relevant factors that are not included in this stat. In other words, yes, I am aware that the presence of Emmit Smith probably helped open things up for Irvin, and that that Aikman guy was a fairly accurate passer. But the rest of the list is filled with receivers from some of the best offenses of all time. It's not like Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, et al were playing with crummy running backs and offensive lines.

Michael Irvin's prime years were among the best five-year stretches that any wide receiver ever had.

27 Comments | Posted in General

Some much-needed culture

Posted by Doug on February 19, 2007

Joe Fischer is a frequent commenter on this blog who goes by the name "Pacifist Viking." He has a a blog of the same name that I recommend highly. The Minnesota Vikings are the primary subject of his musings, but he writes about a variety of other topics, including basketball, social issues in sport, and --- believe it or not --- literature. Real, honest-to-goodness literature. Recently, he has started comparing great NBA players to famous poets, like this:

Tim Duncan is akin to Alexander Pope: fundamentally sound, technically skilled, but ultimately dull. He inspires nobody; we remember him because we have to remember him, not because we want to.

And this:

Rodman is akin to Edgar Allan Poe. Like Poe, Rodman's brilliance never hid his tormented and haunted soul; in fact, his brilliance seemed a direct result of his soul, as if it exuded directly from it, and put the eccentric individual all the more on display. Both are remembered in large part for their weirdness and creepiness, but that weirdness and creepiness led to a greatness that should be remembered on its own.

For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I think this is top-notch schtick. I honestly haven't read a poem in nearly twenty years, so maybe I just see it as an easy way to for me to learn something about poets. As many of you know, I'm a professor at a small liberal arts college and a graduate of a similar institution. So I am constantly telling my students about the value of a well-rounded education.

And now I'm telling you. Numerical data and cold logical analysis are what this blog is usually about, but that doesn't mean we can't benefit from an occasional dose of culture from our friends in the humanities. With that in mind, I asked Fischer to cook up some player/poet comps from the NFL.

Poets and players, by Joe Fischer of Pacifist Viking

Terrell Owens: Ted Hughes
Hughes is a brilliant poet, but he’s is probably better known for his personal life, particularly as the husband of poetry legend Sylvia Plath. Hughes seemed to have a devastating effect in his relationships: both Plath and lover Assia Wevill committed suicide while in a stormy relationship with Hughes. Likewise, Owens is by any measure a terrific football player, but he is best known for his flamboyant personality, selfishness, and mean-spirited treatment of coaches and teammates. He also has a devastating effect in relationships: he helped bottom out the 49ers, he ruined the 2005 Eagles, and he may be in the process of destroying the Cowboys.

Randy Moss: William Wordsworth
Wordsworth revolutionized British poetry with Lyrical Ballads (co-written with Samuel Taylor Coleridge). Romantic poetry is considered to have begun with Wordsworth, and his early poetry inspired and influenced many future poets, changing what seemed possible to do in poetry. While he remained respectable throughout his career, something changed at some point: he grew more socially conservative (he was an early admirer of the French Revolution, which influenced his poetry), and along the way his poetry lost the flair of his early years. Likewise, Randy Moss burst onto the scene with bravado, but he seems to have lost some of the spirit of his earlier career. When future football historians look back at Moss, they’re going to look at the first part of his career, as his later career has featured little worth noting. The later Moss lacks passion and inspires nobody.

Brett Favre: William Shakespeare
Here’s something you might not know: Shakespeare wrote some lousy plays. Have you read King John? It’s not fun. Most of his comedies are formulaic. While he is brilliant and rightfully legendary, he’s also human. He’s a writer of masterpieces and a writer of mediocrity. Likewise, Favre deserves the role of gridiron legend and statesman. But he’s human. Only injury will prevent him from breaking Dan Marino’s touchdown record next season, and only injury will prevent him from breaking George Blanda’s interception record. But it’s likely we’ll remember Favre for his masterpieces, not his mistakes.

Peyton Manning: T.S. Eliot
Isn’t there something about Manning that makes you think he’s operating on a whole other level, and that he knows it? He may seem pleasant enough, but there’s something about him (and his game) that seems to be constantly aware that he’s better than everybody else. He’s a perfect match for the pretentious Eliot. In The Wasteland, Eliot was so full of himself that he included an appendix to explain all the literary allusions he tried to use. The problem is, many people had trouble understanding the appendix, too.

Rex Grossman: Emily Dickinson
This is an insult to Dickinson, but the way Grossman plays football reminds me of Dickinson’s style of poetry. She writes with hyphens, she’s elliptical, she jumps and starts and halts. Even though it’s lyrical poetry based in the form of the ballad, it’s hard to read smoothly. Sharp sounds, sharp halts, a sort of helter skelter movement that is often jarring. Isn’t that Rex? The fumbling, the interceptions, the craziness, with a few beautiful throws mixed in. Rex Grossman plays football like a Dickinson poem.

Edgerrin James: John Donne
John Donne really has two poetic careers. When he was young, he wrote clever metaphysical poetry that played with form and was often about sex. When he grew older, he wrote in a more conventional style and usually about religion. Edgerrin James looks like he’s having two NFL careers: one as a highly successful running back on a great offense, and one as an overpaid running back behind a bad offensive line.

Clinton Portis: Robert Browning
Robert Browning sort of invented a new type of poetry: the dramatic monologue. He wrote poems not from an authorial perspective, but as if he were a particular character (sometimes an historical or literary character). He played roles in his poetry. And will any of us forget Clinton Portis’s characters? Instead of speaking as a poet, Browning wrote behind a mask as another character; instead of speaking as an athlete, Clinton Portis put on masks, called himself names like “Dr. I Don’t Know” and “Sheriff Gonna Getcha” and pretended to be somebody else. Outstanding.

Tom Brady: Alfred Tennyson
As British Poet Laureate, Tennyson is one of the lucky (and fairly rare) poets to be a legend in his own time (Queen Victoria was his biggest fan). Brady, too, is treated like a legend in his own time: the winning quarterback of Super Bowls 36, 38, and 39, he was actually the official coin flipper of Super Bowl 40, an honor usually designated for legends of the past (Dan Marino flipped it for Super Bowl 41). Tom Brady: getting legend treatment mid-career.

Michael Vick: e. e. cummings
e. e. cumming’s poetry is unique and instantly recognizable: he ignores capitalization and plays wild and loose with spacing and stanzas (there’s a deliberate lack of discipline, it seems). Yet one wonders if his poetry is gimmicky and inferior. So too with Vick: unique and recognizable, but is he productive? We’re not sure.

Larry Johnson: Robert Herrick
“Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may,/ Old Time is still a-flying;” Herrick famously wrote. After being so overused by Herm Edwards (NFL record carries in 2006), we can wonder whether Larry Johnson will have many more rosebuds to gather.

10 Comments | Posted in General

Gray ink reflections

Posted by Doug on February 16, 2007

Two days ago I presented a gray ink test for football players. The name is borrowed from Bill James' analogous test for baseball players and the purpose of the thing is to put a single number on the quality and quantity of a particular player's league-leading or near-league-leading seasons. Having had a couple of days to wade through the lists and reflect upon them, I have a couple of thoughts.

First, I decided the system was potentially a little too sensitive to the particular stats of the #10 (or #5) player. If there is a huge gap between #9 and #10, or between #10 and #11, then the stats of the #10 guy don't really reflect what I think they're supposed to reflect, which is the approximate production of a guy in roughly that position. So I decided to smooth things out a little by averaging the stats of the 9, 10, and 11 guys to get the baseline #10 production. Likewise, I averaged the 4, 5, and 6 players when using a #5 baseline.

But that's pretty minor.

The major thing I noticed is that the really great seasons get a lot of credit. The point of this metric, of course, was to give credit to just those seasons, but I think it might go too far.

For example (working with receiving yards and a baseline of #10), Harold Carmichael's 1973 earns him 799 points while Chad Johnson's 2006 nets him 175. Both led the league in receiving, but one gets 624 points more than the other. I specifically said last time that its ability to distinguish between a truly great league-leading season (like Carmichael's) and a fairly weak league-leading season (Johnson in 2006 just happened to be at the top of a group of 6 guys separated by fewer than 100 yards) was one of the selling points of this method. But I'm wondering if I haven't overdone it.

And in 1978, Carmichael got 306 points for finishing third in the league in receiving. Isaac Bruce got roughly half that (158) for leading the league in receiving in 1996. Is that right? One could certainly argue that it is. Even though he led the league, Bruce was just a handful of catches from finishing out of the top 10, the fact that he was at the top of a homogeneous pack instead of in the middle or at the bottom is not very important. But still, he did lead the league.

While the lists produce a pretty nice mixture of receivers from all eras, I look at some of those 70s seasons --- like the Carmichael seasons mentioned above, Cliff Branch's 692 points in 1974, and Drew Pearson's 684 points for finishing second in the same season --- and wonder if they aren't being over-credited. In 1974, there were 26 teams, most of which only really utilized two receivers at the most. In 2006, there are 32 teams, many of which use several wide receivers extensively. The #10 receiver in 1974 was #10 of around 50 or 60 "meaningful" receivers, while the #10 receiver in 2006 is #10 of about 80. Am I wrong about this?

16 Comments | Posted in General

Gray ink

Posted by Doug on February 14, 2007

For the purpose of assessing baseball players' Hall of Fame chances, Bill James devised something he called the "Black Ink Test." It essentially counts how many times a player led the league in any important stat, with extra credit given for the most important stats, e.g. home runs. The name derives from the fact that league leading stats are printed in bold type in most baseball encyclopedias. James also developed the "Gray Ink Test," which is similar, but counts top ten performances instead of only league leading ones.

These tests are a bit simplistic and fail to adjust for certain things. Leading an 8-team league (in 1952) counts the same as leading a 16-team league (in 2006), to name just one. But it wasn't intended to be anything more than what it is: a quick way to summarize some important information in a single number.

Despite not generally being a fan of Hall of Fame-type debates, I've gotten sucked into a few of them recently. And it certainly would be handy to have a quick way to summarize the number and quality of a given player's outstanding seasons more easily than saying, "he never led the league in receiving yards, but he finished in the top five three times and in the top 10 seven times." And then how do you compare that to the guy who led the league twice, but only had two other top ten finishes?

So I decided to develop a quick gray ink test for football players. Here's how it goes. (Fantasy football players will recognize it as being very similar to VBD.)

Step 1: pick a stat and pick a baseline. I'll use receiving yards as the stat and #10 as the baseline throughout this post, but you could do the same thing with 5 or 12 or 20 and with whatever stat you like.

Step 2: for each season of the player's career, compare his stat to the baseline stat. If it's above the baseline, he gets credit for the difference, normalized so that all years' baseline stats are treated the same. Specifically, the player gets credit for

1000 * (PlayerYards - BaselineYards) / BaselineYards

points worth of gray ink. The 1000 there is arbitrary, but is intended to be a typical number for the 10th-ranked receiver (if we were doing TDs instead of yards, I'd choose something more like 10 instead of 1000). Essentially, what this calculation does is attempt to ensure that players from offense-happy eras are not not unduly rewarded by inflation of the raw numbers. My assumption is that a player who had 1200 yards when the baseline was 800 has accomplished as much as a player who had 1500 yards when the baseline was 1000. The above calculation gives both players the same number of points: 500.

Step 3: add up the gray ink points for each season of each player's career.

Again, this is by no means intended to be The One Stat Which Ends All Discussions. It's just a quick way of capturing the number and quality of a player's outstanding seasons. One thing I like about it is that it distinguishes between different levels of leading the league. Brett Favre led the league in passing TDs in 1995 and Dan Marino led the league in 1984, but Favre had only 16 more TD passes than the #10 guy, while Marino had 16 more TD tosses than the #2 guy and 29 more than the #10 guy. If you count them as being the same thing, you're losing information. Likewise, Terrell Davis finished 2nd in rushing yards in 1996, but only 15 yards behind the leader. Had he gotten another 16 yards during the season, it really would not have changed anything about how impressive or how valuable his performance was, but in many debates during the coming decades, it would have changed that performance from a "top five performance" to a "league leading performance."

Here are some wide receiver lists. They include all receivers who debuted in 1970 or later (I'm still not sure how to properly account for the much smaller leagues that were the norm before the merger).

Receiving yards, baseline #10, typical baseline receiver = 1000 yards

Jerry Rice 3501
Michael Irvin 1679
Marvin Harrison 1402
Cliff Branch 1301
James Lofton 1285
Sterling Sharpe 1237
Torry Holt 1223
Steve Largent 1204
Wes Chandler 1178
Harold Carmichael 1148
Randy Moss 975
Henry Ellard 965
Drew Pearson 945
Gary Clark 807
Jimmy Smith 780
Tim Brown 735
Andre Rison 731
Isaac Bruce 713
Dwight Clark 685
Chad Johnson 677
John Jefferson 671
Ken Burrough 656
Isaac Curtis 594
Herman Moore 579
Mike Quick 563
Wesley Walker 554
Roy Green 537
Mel Gray 491
Stanley Morgan 476
Drew Hill 472
Anquan Boldin 466
Cris Collinsworth 456
John Stallworth 446
Carlos Carson 444
Anthony Miller 439
Art Monk 436
Rod Smith 430

Receiving yards, baseline #5, typical baseline receiver = 1200 yards

Jerry Rice 2283
Michael Irvin 1013
Cliff Branch 897
Marvin Harrison 851
Harold Carmichael 701
Steve Largent 650
Drew Pearson 645
Henry Ellard 633
Wes Chandler 625
Sterling Sharpe 615
Torry Holt 601
Randy Moss 517
John Jefferson 454
Ken Burrough 435
Gary Clark 425
Dwight Clark 387
Wesley Walker 358
Isaac Bruce 346
James Lofton 335
Stanley Morgan 321
Jimmy Smith 276
Roger Carr 272
Mike Quick 260
Antonio Freeman 245
Rob Moore 244
Isaac Curtis 226
Andre Rison 214
David Boston 206
Herman Moore 201
Carlos Carson 190
Eric Moulds 188
Rod Smith 178
Roy Green 173
Mel Gray 166
JT Smith 155
Chad Johnson 142
John Stallworth 141

Receptions, baseline #10, typical baseline receiver = 70 receptions

Jerry Rice 197
Marvin Harrison 108
Steve Largent 100
Dwight Clark 99
Cris Carter 99
Sterling Sharpe 98
Art Monk 85
Harold Carmichael 84
JT Smith 78
Ahmad Rashad 75
Herman Moore 68
Al Toon 65
Drew Pearson 59
Michael Irvin 58
Andre Rison 58
Torry Holt 58
Haywood Jeffires 57
Bob Chandler 55
Jimmy Smith 47
Tim Brown 46
Wes Chandler 43
Cliff Branch 39
Andre Reed 38
Randy Moss 36
Reggie Rucker 35
John Jefferson 35
John Stallworth 35
Anquan Boldin 32
Gary Clark 32
Rod Smith 30
Cris Collinsworth 30
Lynn Swann 29
Pat Tilley 28
Hines Ward 28
Chad Johnson 26
Muhsin Muhammad 26

Receptions, baseline #5, typical baseline receiver = 80 receptions

Jerry Rice 103
Dwight Clark 75
Marvin Harrison 69
Sterling Sharpe 60
Art Monk 58
JT Smith 52
Harold Carmichael 42
Cris Carter 40
Steve Largent 36
Herman Moore 35
Al Toon 35
Ahmad Rashad 34
Bob Chandler 32
Jimmy Smith 31
Haywood Jeffires 26
Reggie Rucker 24
Torry Holt 24
Drew Pearson 21
Wes Chandler 20
Cris Collinsworth 20
Andre Rison 19
Terance Mathis 18
Randy Moss 18
Tim Brown 16
John Jefferson 15
Rod Smith 14
Michael Irvin 13
John Stallworth 13
Stanley Morgan 10
Rob Moore 10
Wally Francis 9
Hines Ward 9
Andre Johnson 9
Muhsin Muhammad 9
Anquan Boldin 9

Receiving TDs, baseline #10, typical baseline receiver = 8 TDs

Jerry Rice 67
Marvin Harrison 29
Terrell Owens 28
Randy Moss 27
Sterling Sharpe 26
Mark Clayton 26
Cris Carter 24
Cliff Branch 23
Andre Rison 20
Steve Largent 19
Mike Quick 17
John Jefferson 13
Roy Green 13
Harold Carmichael 13
John Stallworth 12
Carl Pickens 12
Sammy White 12
Wes Chandler 12
Isaac Curtis 10
Nat Moore 10
Antonio Freeman 9
Charlie Brown 9
Wesley Walker 9
Lynn Swann 8
Bob Chandler 8
Mark Duper 8
Rich Caster 8
Daryl Turner 8
Herman Moore 7
Isaac Bruce 7

Receiving TDs, baseline #5, typical baseline receiver = 10 TDs

Jerry Rice 47
Terrell Owens 22
Marvin Harrison 20
Randy Moss 19
Mark Clayton 15
Cliff Branch 14
Sterling Sharpe 13
Mike Quick 11
Andre Rison 10
Steve Largent 10
John Jefferson 10
Roy Green 9
Nat Moore 8
Wes Chandler 8
Cris Carter 6
Charlie Brown 6
Lynn Swann 5
Sammy White 5
John Stallworth 5
Alfred Jenkins 4
Steve Watson 4
Hines Ward 4
Isaac Curtis 4
Rich Caster 4
Carl Pickens 4
Michael Jackson 4
Tony Martin 4
Wesley Walker 4

14 Comments | Posted in General

Worst receiver ever to have a 1000-yard season

Posted by Doug on February 13, 2007

This story from a few weeks ago indicates that Ashley Lelie has voided his contract and is now a free agent. I took a look at his numbers and was surprised to (re-)discover that Lelie had 1084 yards and seven touchdowns just two short years ago.

Immediately the title of this post popped into my head. I knew the answer probably wasn't Lelie, but I figured it would be a fun query to run, so I ran it. After Lelie, the next name that came to mind was Charles Johnson.

I took all receivers who had a 1000-yard season and played for at least four seasons. Then I found the ones who had the lowest average of their second-, third-, and fourth-best seasons. Lelie's best four seasons, for instance have been 1084, 770, 628, and 525. So his three-next-best average is 641. I found 20 receivers with lower three-next-best averages that that. Some of these guys probably shouldn't be on any kind of "worst wide receivers" list, but they ended up here anyway for one reason or another.

So don't think this is the definitive list. But here it is anyway, for you to use as a guide in your search for the animal described in the post's title. Personally, I think Nate Burleson is making a strong bid for the crown. Albert Connell might have a case too.

Patrick Jeffers 1082 330 127 24
Nate Burleson 1006 455 328 192
Pat Studstill 1266 479 389 252
Germane Crowell 1338 464 430 289
Brandon Stokley 1077 543 357 344
Charley Frazier 1129 717 381 306
Albert Connell 1132 762 451 191
R.C. Owens 1032 620 532 395
Marlin Briscoe 1036 603 532 447
Willie Jackson 1046 589 523 486
Dick Gordon 1026 610 534 477
Bob Boyd 1212 586 548 534
Stacey Bailey 1138 881 437 364
Bruce Hill 1040 673 641 403
Bob Mann 1014 696 560 517
Eric Metcalf 1189 614 599 576
Bake Turner 1009 974 428 402
Earnest Gray 1139 777 537 529
Tim Smith 1176 1141 660 72
Marcus Robinson 1400 738 657 515
Ashley Lelie 1084 770 628 525
Koren Robinson 1240 896 536 495
Bill Groman 1473 1175 437 328
Michael Westbrook 1191 736 664 559
Drew Bennett 1247 738 737 504
Rod Gardner 1006 741 650 600
Jim Benton 1067 981 511 505
Wally Francis 1013 862 695 441
Charlie Brown 1225 918 690 412
Lionel Manuel 1029 859 619 545
Charles Johnson 1008 815 642 577

19 Comments | Posted in General

Favre vs. Marino

Posted by Doug on February 12, 2007

There is currently a thread, and accompanying poll, on that topic at the footballguys message board. If you were starting a team from scratch right now and you could have either of those two as your quarterback, knowing you'd get 240 games out of him in his career, which one would you take? The poll is extremely close (98-96 in favor of Favre last I checked), and I must admit to not having had any idea which way to lean without doing some research.

But research I did, so off we go....

The Raw Numbers

Since the shapes of Marino's and Favre's careers are so similar, the short-brilliant-career vs. long-steady-career debate isn't really an issue. Their numbers of top five and top ten finishes in passing yards and passing touchdowns are very close. So let's hop straight to the totals.

Favre 8024 57500 414 273 61.1 7.0 6.0 85.0
Marino 8358 61361 420 252 59.4 7.3 6.5 86.4

Rate is the NFL's passer rating, and Marino has the slightest of edges there. AdjYPA is adjusted yards per attempt, which was developed by Pete Palmer et al in The Hidden Game of Football. The formula is (yards + 10*TDs - 45*INTs)/attempts, and the motivation is that their (copious) research indicated that an interception was worth about the same as 45 yards, and that a TD --- or more precisely, the difference between a TD and having the ball at the one --- is worth about 10 yards. If I could only have one stat, I'd want adjusted yards per pass, and Marino has a not inconsequential advantage in that stat. Fortunately, though, we don't have to limit ourselves to just one stat.

The Context

It's not as though wholesale changes have occurred, but passing numbers have, in some categories, crept up slowly since Marino came into the league. Here are the league averages in adjusted yards per attempt, passer rating, touchdown percentage, and interception percentage, since Marino's rookie year:

Year AYPA Rate TD% INT%
1983 5.64 75.8 4.37 4.37
1984 5.73 76.1 4.24 4.05
1985 5.58 73.5 4.11 4.17
1986 5.59 74.1 3.99 3.99
1987 5.73 76.5 4.57 3.90
1988 5.54 73.0 3.93 3.91
1989 5.81 75.8 4.04 3.86
1990 5.83 77.3 4.21 3.53
1991 5.69 76.4 3.66 3.49
1992 5.51 75.4 3.84 3.85
1993 5.59 76.7 3.57 3.23
1994 5.74 78.5 3.85 3.13
1995 5.79 79.3 3.96 3.05
1996 5.54 76.8 3.90 3.39
1997 5.71 77.1 3.89 3.03
1998 5.79 78.2 4.21 3.28
1999 5.63 77.0 3.95 3.36
2000 5.68 78.2 3.88 3.23
2001 5.65 78.5 3.88 3.34
2002 5.75 80.4 3.97 3.04
2003 5.57 78.4 3.95 3.24
2004 6.07 82.9 4.44 3.18
2005 5.79 80.0 3.89 3.09
2006 5.82 80.4 3.93 3.15

If you take a weighted average --- weighted by Marino's number of passing attempts during each season --- of the league passer rating numbers, you can conclude that a completely average quarterback would have compiled a passer rating of 76.2 given the attempts that Marino had. So Marino's rating of 86.4 is about 10.2 points better than average. A similar exercise with Favre pegs him at about 6.5 points better than average. Here is the summary:

Brett Favre 78.58 85.04 +6.47
Dan Marino 76.23 86.38 +10.15

Here is a similar table for touchdown percentage:

Brett Favre 3.94 5.03 +1.09
Dan Marino 4.02 5.03 +1.00

and interception percentage:

Brett Favre 3.23 3.32 +0.09
Dan Marino 3.63 3.02 -0.62

That right there is the biggest issue that Favre-backers have to explain. That amounts to about 3 or 4 interceptions per year, which is nontrivial. The AYPA table, which summarizes all this data, looks like this:

Brett Favre 5.71 6.00 +0.29
Dan Marino 5.68 6.49 +0.81

Half a yard per attempt is a significant difference. Several months back, Chase used this methodology to rank the best and worst quarterbacks of all time. In this post, he essentially translated the above data into a total yardage figure, and the results are shown here.

Player Name Value Career Attempts
Steve Young 7103 4149
Dan Marino 6752 8358
Joe Montana 6634 5391
Roger Staubach 5286 2911
Ken Anderson 5135 4475
Dan Fouts 5017 5604
Peyton Manning 4927 4333
Trent Green 3788 3329
Kurt Warner 3487 2340
Fran Tarkenton 3401 3445
John Elway 3155 7250
Bob Griese 3116 2491
Warren Moon 2908 6823
Jim Kelly 2885 4779
Brett Favre 2672 7612

The units on the Value column are yards. Marino was 6752 yards above average during his career and Favre was 2672 yards above average. That 4000-yard difference translates to about 320 points, roughly 20 points per year. This was before the 2006 season, but Favre's numbers were near average, so it wouldn't change his ranking much.

Frankly, most of what I wrote above could be replaced with a link to Chase's old post. But I decided to look at a variety of stats for the benefit of those people who don't happen to appreciate AYPA.

To summarize: while the raw numbers look extremely similar, the context is just different enough, and the fairly small edge Marino has in almost every category turns out to add up to a sizable difference. Twenty points per year is significant.

That's what the numbers say. Anyone arguing for Favre, then, must argue that the numbers aren't telling the whole story, and there are a few arguments there that seem to have some merit. Let's examine them.

[Prediction inserted here for my amusement: I predict that someone will find this post via a google search, read the first few lines, and then post a comment along these lines. "There's more to it than numbers!!!!11 Marino played with two great receivers and Favre played with a bunch of nobodies!!111 Also Favre won a ring!!!"]

Possible arguments for Favre

1. Marino had a better supporting cast (on offense)

Popular perception has it that Marino's wide receivers --- in particular, Mark Clayton and Mark Duper --- were better than Favre's. You'll often hear it said that Favre turned nobodies like Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman, and even Bill Schroeder into great receivers. And I think there is something to that.

My reaction to that, though, is to point out that the same might be true of Duper and Clayton. They never did anything without Marino. Of course they never had the chance, but the point is that their numbers are entirely consistent with them being merely good receivers who happened to have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time throwing to them. Do we really know that Duper and Clayton are better than Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman?

It's impossible to say, but I think there is some evidence that Duper and Clayton really were very good. First, they decisively took their jobs, each in their second year, from Nat Moore and Duriel Harris, who were good and decent, respectively, though they were getting a bit old. Second, even into their thirties they kept Tony Martin on the bench for the first four years of his career, and Martin went on to have 1000-yard seasons in three different locations (including Miam at age 34). Now, lots of receivers are kept on the bench for all sorts of reasons --- Derrick Alexander kept Joe Horn on the bench in Kansas City, for instance, but no one would argue that Alexander was better than Horn --- so I'm not claiming this is any sort of decisive evidence. But we just don't have much to go on here, so I'm trying to examine every clue I can find.

Favre also worked with receivers who had success without Favre, namely Sterling Sharpe and Javon Walker. But he only got three years with Sharpe and three years with Walker, and none of those years were in Favre's prime. Marino got almost twenty combined years --- and all of his prime --- with Duper and Clayton. Others we haven't yet mentioned? Donald Driver seems to be pretty good, but not better than Irving Fryar, who had a couple of 1000-yard seasons in his mid-thirties with Ty Detmer throwing to him in Philadelphia.

Favre's tight ends perhaps rate a slight edge over Marino's, but I don't think that's clear. Both had good pass-catching backs at their disposal.

What about offensive lines? Favre played with three Pro Bowl offensive linemen: Mike Flanagan, Marco Rivera, and Frank Winters. Marino played with at least one Pro Bowler on the line almost every season of his career. Early on it was Bob Kuechenberg and Dwight Stephenson. Later it was Keith Sims and Richmond Webb. Because of this research that I did on Pro Bowl retention rates, I really don't have a lot of faith in number of Pro Bowl selections as a proxy for quality. I frankly have no idea how to compare the quality of Favre's offensive lines to those of Marino, and I'm suspicious of anyone that claims he can, unless that someone happens to have a lot of game films and a well-trained eye. But really, our only two choices are (1) throw up our hands and say that offensive line comparisons are off limits, or (2) go by reputation. If you want to go with (2), then Marino's supporting cast rates the edge here.

So I do think that this argument has merit. The evidence we have is highly ambiguous as usual, but I do think it helps Favre's case.

2. Favre was less one-dimensional / more mobile / better at improvising

This one I don't buy. If you're talking about Steve Young or Randall Cunningham or Michael Vick --- guys who can pick up 500+ yards rushing in a season --- then OK. Mobility has to enter the discussion. But Favre's career high was 216 rushing yards.

Now, anyone who watched Favre in his prime knows that he was indeed a master at keeping plays alive with his feet. I don't dispute that at all. But here's the thing: after he kept those plays alive with his feet, he passed the ball to a receiver, and that appears in his stat line. He's already been given credit for the pass. To give him additional credit for the mobility is double-counting.

Favre's mobility helped Favre produce better passing numbers than he would have if he wasn't mobile. Of that there is no doubt. But Favre's mobility did not allow him to produce better passing numbers than Marino. If you want to give credit to Favre for mobility, then you have to give credit to Marino for being taller. In each case, it's just one of the many attributes that helped these guys to be the great passers they were.

Another thing that needs mentioning here is Marino's own mobility, which was admittedly more subtle, but no less important. In about the same number of pass attempts, Favre was sacked 174 more times than Marino was. You can debate how much of that is due to the quarterback and how much is due to the line, but the quarterback has to be given some credit for it. Consider this: Troy Aikman, a great quarterback playing behind what is widely regarded as one of the best offensive lines in history, had a sack rate of 4.4% from 1992--1995. Marino's career sack rate was 3.1%.

If there is any edge in this category, it goes to Marino.

3. Favre won a ring and Marino didn't

As we all know, this begins and ends the discussion for many people.

Chase has a theory for why people are so blinded by the rings. I'm sure he'll chime in to correct me if I misstate it, but it goes something like this. The reason rings are overvalued in discussions like this is because people confuse the question "would you rather have been a fan of Favre's actual team during Favre's actual career or Marino's actual team during Marino's actual career?" with the question "which guy played better during his career?"

To put it another way, people interpret the question "which guy was better?" to mean "which guy would you rather have been?"

To suggest that Marino did not have the ability to lead a team to a Super Bowl championship seems as absurd as suggesting that Favre lost that same ability between the 1996 and 1997 seasons, never to regain it again. We have seen time and time again that players who have that alleged ability seem to have it right up until the point when they lose it, and that players who don't have it often seem quite capable of acquiring it with no advance warning. We saw that just last week.

Is there anyone who honestly believes that Marino, with the help of the NFL's best defense and with Desmond Howard chipping in over 200 return yards, couldn't have beaten the 1996 Patriots if given the chance?

My vote


Marino has slightly, but clearly, better numbers. Marino's ability to avoid sacks adds to that edge a little bit. Marino's failure to win a ring shouldn't enter into it at all. The only reasonable argument for Favre, in my view, is that he would have posted better numbers than Marino had he had Marino's supporting cast. It's going to be subjective, as always, but the objective parts of the argument are so close that I really can't fault anyone for voting for Favre on that basis.

35 Comments | Posted in General

Declining a touchdown

Posted by Doug on February 8, 2007

A few days after Boise State's Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, I got an email from a reader named Dan who had a question about endgame strategy.

Here is the situation:

Tie game. Boise State ball on their own 25. 1:16 to play. Boise has two time outs remaining. On the first play, Bronco quarterback Jared Zabransky threw an interception which Sooner defensive back Marcus Walker returned for a touchdown.

As we all know, Boise came back to win the game, but that's neither here nor there. Dan's thoughts:

It has long been my contention that in situations like these, instead of scoring on that interception TD, Oklahoma should have gone out at the 1 (or the 1-inch line or whatever). Then, run the time down (or at least force Boise to use its timeouts - they had 2 left) and punch it in. Everyone I talk to says that this is lunacy - that you have to "TAKE THE POINTS!" (caps added since usually they are yelling it at me). But I think it is far from an obvious decision. Especially in a case like this when even if you just kneel it down a few times, a FG still wins the game.

From a strict win-probability-maximization standpoint, my intuition tells me that Dan is right. Let's walk through it. What if Walker had stepped out at the one inch line?

Since Boise had two timeouts remaining, the Sooners could have run three kneel-downs and then tried a chip-shot field goal on the last play of the game. Using that strategy, their probability of winning has to be about 98% (I'm estimating a 96% chance of making the field goal, and a 50% chance of winning in overtime after missing the field goal.) Using the strategy they actually used --- i.e. scoring the TD --- they were giving the Broncos the ball with two timeouts and 1:00 to play, down 7. If Boise's touchdown probability on such a drive is 4%, then the Sooners would have the same 98% chance of winning the game. If it's less than 4%, they'd be better off scoring the TD. If it's greater than 4%, they'd be better off not scoring it.

To generalize, here is the rule:

If your chance of making a 20-yard field goal is better than your chance of stopping your opponent from scoring a TD with 1:00 minute left and two timeouts, then step out. Otherwise, score the TD.

Frankly, both of those are such gimmes that it's tough for me to estimate which is greater. Unless your defense or your kicker is really, really terrible, you're never going to be able to estimate either of these probabilities with sufficient accuracy to be confident that one is greater than the other.

But the strategy I outlined above (three kneel-downs and a field goal) isn't OU's only option. They could have run two kneel-downs, forcing Boise to use its last two timeouts, then tried to score a touchdown on third down, and kick on fourth if that failed. With that strategy, the possibilities are as follows:

Score the TD on 3rd down. Give the ball back to Boise with about :45 remaining, no timeouts, and a seven-point deficit.

Fail to score, try the field goal on 4th down. Assuming your third-down play was a run, you're trying the field goal on the last play of the game. If your third-down play was an incomplete pass, you're trying the kick with about :40 remaining.

Turn the ball over on third down. Give the ball back to Boise with :40 remaining, no timeouts, and a tie game.

In the first case, you're not that much better off than you would be if you had scored the TD in the first place. In the second case, you're not better off than you would be if you just took a knee on third down, which I opined above isn't better than scoring the TD in the first place. And the turnover, of course, is disastrous.

So based on this admittedly thin analysis, I don't see much advantage in stepping out.

But this all changes if Boise has more --- or fewer --- than two timeouts remaining.

If they have three timeouts, then the only advantage of not scoring the TD is that you can force them to use all three of their timeouts and use about 10 seconds of their clock. That's not nothing, but I don't think it's worth the risk.

If they have no timeouts remaining (and you do), then you take a knee on first down. This runs the clock down to about :15. Now you take two shots at the end zone, and then kick a field goal on fourth if necessary. This probably gives you a better win probability than if you had simply scored the touchdown in the first place.

Now, if the time remaining when you made the interception was more like 2:00 instead of 1:00, then this could all start to look very different.

But what does seem clear to me that a loss caused by a purposeful decision not to score a free touchdown is unquestionably much, much worse than a regular loss. That's the kind of thing that could ruin a season, or a coach's or player's career. Further, the line is so fine between situations where this might make sense and situations where it doesn't that it would be mighty tough to give your defensive players clear instructions in August when you're reviewing fundamentals.

The bottom line is that, while I agree with Dan that it's not lunacy to consider the possibility, if you score the TD your win probability is in the 90s, probably the high 90s. There just isn't a lot of upside to getting cute.

But there is a situation where I think there is upside to declining a touchdown in this way, and that's the same situation but up one instead of tied. Had OU been up by one point at the time of the interception, then scoring the touchdown makes the lead eight --- still a one-score game --- and gives Boise the ball back, whereas stepping out of bounds at the one-inch line would have literally ended the game. Well, OK, not literally literally, but you know what I mean.

19 Comments | Posted in General

Quarterback Play in the Playoffs

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 7, 2007

I've often wondered how much worse quarterbacks play in the playoffs than in the regular season. With the 2006 season in the books, I now have data on the last forty years of NFL post-season play. It's safe to assume that in the aggregate, the statistics of players at any position decreases in the playoffs. This is true for two reasons, one obvious and one hidden. First, we know that the average playoff opponent has a better team, a better offense and a better defense than the average regular season opponent. Against better opponents, we'd expect poorer statistics.

The other idea is that teams that make the playoffs may not be as good as we think. Over at our other site, I do a lot of writing on rearview strength of schedule analysis, which adjusts regular season performance for strength of schedule. One thing I've noticed is that many times the quarterbacks that post the best regular season numbers are the ones that play the weakest schedules. I'd suspect there's at least a decent correlation between great quarterback statistics and qualifying for the post-season, so we might see QBs that aren't as good as they seem go up against much harder defenses in the playoffs. As a result, we can certainly expect to see QB Ratings and Adjusted Yards/Attempt dip in the post-season.

Let's start by looking at the wrong way to do it. Since 1967, all NFL QBs have completed 13,162 of 23,653 passes (55.65%) for 162,201 yards (6.86 Y/A) with 975 TD/ 1004 INT (5.36 AY/A, 73.3 QB Rating). For starters, we don't have too much to compare that to, although I think most of us know that those numbers are below the league averages these days.

What we really want to know is what happens to specific QBs in the playoffs. To do that, we need to compare every QB's regular season performance with their post-season performance. Let's get some administrative stuff out of the way early. Jarious Jackson, Jason Garrett, Bobby Hoying, Bill Musgrave, Dave Brown, Andre Ware and Rich Gannon threw post-season passes in years without throwing a regular season pass. Since there was no regular season to compare their post-season numbers to, I threw those statistics out. Additionally, three QBs -- Pete Beathard, Bernie Kosar and Steve Walsh -- played for two teams in the regular season in years they made the playoffs. I included their regular season numbers only from the team they made the playoffs with.

That leaves 909 games played by QBs in the post-season during the last 40 years. To determine how we might expect them to play, we need to get a weighted average of their number of post-season attempts by their regular season QB ratings. For example, take the small hypothetical list:

QB RegQBR Postseason Atts
QB1 100.0 100
QB2 90.0 20
QB3 70.0 70

In that hypothetical three quarterback world, we'd expect their aggregate QB rating in the playoffs (assuming that the playoffs were no different than the regular season) to be 87.89. That's because [ (100.0 * 100) + (90.0 * 20) + (70.0 * 70) ] / (100 + 70 + 20) = 87.89.

Now we can apply that logic to the actual results, only with several hundred QBs and several thousand attempts. Over the course of the 23,000+ post-season attempts, thrown by many great and some terrible quarterbacks, we'd have projected a QB rating of 83.6 and an AY/A of 6.30.

In reality, the aggregate post-season QB rating is 73.2 and the AY/A is 5.37 (the numbers are slightly different than before because of the QBs removed from the data). So we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that "playing in the post-season" reduces a player's QB rating by about 12-13% and adjusted yards per attempt by 14-15%. I'm not sure if this reinforces what the average fan believes, but this seems pretty reasonable to me. I'm not sure how much the decline should be divided up among tougher weather conditions, teams with easy schedules making the playoffs, overall stiffer competition in the playoffs, and other distinctions.

Removing all QBs with fewer than 100 regular season attempts doesn't change the sample size much. Their actual aggregate performance compiled a 73.7 QB Rating and 5.41 AY/A, while we'd have projected an 84.5 QBR and 6.37 AY/A. Once again, a noticeable decrease in QB efficiency. But why not break things down even more.

Expected QBR and AY/A statistics by round

w 83.1 6.20
d 83.5 6.28
c 85.9 6.55
s 89.3 6.84

W, D, C and S stand for the Wildcard, Divisional, Conference Championship and Super Bowl rounds. As you can tell, the numbers increase slightly as we move to the later rounds, which is about what we'd expect. Generally the best regular season QBs move on to the later rounds, so we'd expect better QB Ratings and AY/A there. But of course, this assumes that defenses (and everything else) remains constant in the post-season, which we know it does not. So what actually happened in the four playoff rounds?

w 79.1 5.78
d 71.4 5.27
c 70.0 5.08
s 76.2 5.68

There have been a few standout performances in the Super Bowl, but in general we've seen actual performance go down as we move further into the playoffs. The conference championship round in particular has been rough for QBs, which may reflect that many of those are played in cold weather stadiums, whereas Super Bowl XLI was the first one with suboptimal conditions.

But by far the most significant result comes when looking at win/loss splits. Sure, we should expect winning QBs to have high QB ratings and losing QBs to have low QB ratings, but the split is enormous. Based on the specific QBs that won a playoff game, we'd expect an 86.6 QBR and 6.58 AY/A. They actually had a 92.9 QBR and averaged 7.17 AY/A.

Losing QBs would be expected to have, based on their regular season numbers, an 82.8 QBR and averaged 6.21 AY/A. In reality? A 58.4 QBR and an ugly 4.01 AY/A.

It's unclear which is the chicken (losing) and which is the egg (low QB Rating) but there's certainly a very high correlation.

After chewing on that for a minute, the natural follow up question popped into my head: what's the splits among winners and losers in the regular season? From 2001-2005, winning QBs in the regular season had a 94.1 QBR and averaged 7.04 AY/A. Losing QBs had a 68.2 QBR and averaged 4.68 AY/A. We're not drawing from the same population (regular season data is from five recent seasons, playoff data spans four decades), but the results are pretty similar. I'm not too sure what to make of it, but it wasn't what I was expecting. For what it's worth, in the post-season from 2001-2005 winning QBs scored a 100.2 QBR and averaged 7.56 AY/A, versus losing QBs having a 66.0 QBR and a 4.56 AY/A) average.

11 Comments | Posted in General, History

More postseason data added to the site

Posted by Doug on February 6, 2007

For a long while, the site only had postseason game stats from 1975 to the present. Now I've got it back to 1967 so you can see, e.g., Roger's Staubach's complete playoff history:

1969 cle L,14-38 | 4 5 44 1 0 | 3 22 0
1971 min W,20-12 | 10 14 99 1 0 | 2 2 0
1971 sfo W,14-3 | 9 18 103 0 0 | 8 55 0
*1971 mia W,24-3 | 12 19 119 2 0 | 5 18 0
1972 sfo W,30-28 | 12 20 174 2 0 | 3 23 0
1972 was L,3-26 | 9 20 98 0 0 | 5 59 0
1973 ram W,27-16 | 8 16 180 2 2 | 4 30 0
1973 min L,10-27 | 10 21 89 0 4 | 5 30 0
1975 min W,17-14 | 17 29 256 1 0 | 7 24 0
1975 ram W,37-7 | 16 26 220 4 1 | 7 54 0
*1975 pit L,17-21 | 15 24 204 2 3 | 5 22 0
1976 ram L,12-14 | 15 37 150 0 3 | 2 8 0
1977 chi W,37-7 | 8 13 134 1 1 | 4 25 0
1977 min W,23-6 | 12 23 165 1 1 | 4 4 0
*1977 den W,27-10 | 17 25 183 1 0 | 3 6 0
1978 atl W,27-20 | 7 17 105 0 0 | 1 3 0
1978 ram W,28-0 | 13 25 126 2 2 | 3 7 0
*1978 pit L,31-35 | 17 30 228 3 1 | 4 37 0
1979 ram L,19-21 | 13 28 150 1 1 | 1 3 0
TOTAL | 224 410 2827 24 19 | 76 432 0

About a month ago I posted this look at the all-time great playoff performers, but the metric I used didn't properly adjust for the differing conditions of each era. Doing so will be fairly complicated, and I need to give it a bit more thought before I have something that I'm happy with, but for now I'll just post some of the best performances of the 1967--1977 period.

These lists are only very roughly in order of impressiveness. Extra credit is giving for winning, and also for winning in the later rounds (i.e. Super Bowls get more weight than Championship games, which get more weight than divisional games)


Roger Staubach 1975 C: w, 37- 7 vs ram | 16-26-220-4-1 | 7- 54-0 |
Terry Bradshaw 1975 S: w, 21-17 vs dal | 9-19-209-2-0 | 4- 16-0 |
Joe Namath 1968 C: w, 27-23 vs oak | 19-49-266-3-1 | 1- 14-0 |
Daryle Lamonica 1968 D: w, 41- 6 vs kan | 19-39-347-5-0 | 0- 0-0 |
Joe Kapp 1969 C: w, 27- 7 vs cle | 7-13-169-1-0 | 8- 57-1 |
Bart Starr 1967 C: w, 21-17 vs dal | 14-24-191-2-0 | 1- 1-1 |
Ken Stabler 1974 D: w, 28-26 vs mia | 20-30-293-4-1 | 3- 7-0 |
Billy Kilmer 1972 C: w, 26- 3 vs dal | 14-18-194-2-0 | 3- 15-0 |
Craig Morton 1977 C: w, 20-17 vs oak | 10-20-224-2-1 | 2- -4-0 |
Fran Tarkenton 1973 S: l, 7-24 vs mia | 18-28-182-0-1 | 4- 17-1 |
Johnny Unitas 1970 C: w, 27-17 vs oak | 11-30-245-1-0 | 2- 9-0 |
George Blanda 1970 C: l, 17-27 vs bal | 17-32-271-2-3 | 0- 0-0 |
Len Dawson 1969 S: w, 23- 7 vs min | 12-17-142-1-1 | 3- 11-0 |
Earl Morrall 1968 D: w, 24-14 vs min | 13-22-280-2-1 | 0- 0-0 |
Ron Jaworski 1975 D: w, 35-23 vs stl | 12-23-203-1-0 | 8- 7-1 |
John Brodie 1970 D: w, 17-14 vs min | 16-32-201-1-0 | 2- 3-1 |
James Harris 1974 C: l, 10-14 vs min | 13-23-248-1-2 | 3- 17-0 |
Don Meredith 1967 D: w, 52-14 vs cle | 10-12-212-2-0 | 2- 6-0 |
Bob Griese 1971 C: w, 21- 0 vs bal | 4- 8-158-1-1 | 1- 12-0 |
Ken Anderson 1975 D: l, 28-31 vs oak | 17-27-201-2-0 | 3- 12-0 |
Frank Ryan 1967 D: l, 14-52 vs dal | 14-30-194-2-1 | 2- 14-0 |
Bill Nelsen 1969 D: w, 38-14 vs dal | 18-27-219-1-0 | 0- 0-0 |
Roman Gabriel 1969 D: l, 20-23 vs min | 22-32-150-2-1 | 4- 26-0 |

Running Backs

Larry Csonka 1973 S: w, 24- 7 vs min | 33-145-2 | 0- 0-0 |
Preston Pearson 1975 C: w, 37- 7 vs ram | 7- 20-0 | 7-123-3 |
Matt Snell 1968 S: w, 16- 7 vs bal | 30-121-1 | 4- 40-0 |
Franco Harris 1974 S: w, 16- 6 vs min | 34-158-1 | 0- 0-0 |
Tom Matte 1968 C: w, 34- 0 vs cle | 17- 88-3 | 2- 15-0 |
Chuck Foreman 1976 C: w, 24-13 vs ram | 15-118-1 | 5- 81-0 |
Duane Thomas 1971 S: w, 24- 3 vs mia | 19- 95-1 | 3- 17-0 |
Hewritt Dixon 1967 C: w, 40- 7 vs hou | 21-144-1 | 1- 8-0 |
Norm Bulaich 1970 C: w, 27-17 vs oak | 22- 71-2 | 0- 0-0 |
Pete Banaszak 1976 S: w, 32-14 vs min | 10- 19-2 | 0- 0-0 |
Tom Nowatzke 1970 S: w, 16-13 vs dal | 10- 33-1 | 1- 45-0 |
Tony Dorsett 1977 S: w, 27-10 vs den | 15- 66-1 | 2- 11-0 |
Clarence Davis 1976 S: w, 32-14 vs min | 16-137-0 | 0- 0-0 |
Walt Garrison 1970 C: w, 17-10 vs sfo | 17- 71-0 | 3- 51-1 |
Ed Podolak 1971 D: l, 24-27 vs mia | 17- 85-1 | 8-110-1 |
Lawrence McCutcheon 1976 C: l, 13-24 vs min | 26-128-1 | 2- 18-0 |
Leroy Kelly 1968 D: w, 31-20 vs dal | 20- 87-1 | 2- 46-1 |
Dave Osborn 1969 C: w, 27- 7 vs cle | 18-108-1 | 0- 0-0 |
Donny Anderson 1967 S: w, 33-14 vs oak | 14- 48-1 | 2- 18-0 |
Mike Garrett 1969 S: w, 23- 7 vs min | 11- 39-1 | 2- 25-0 |
Craig Baynham 1967 D: w, 52-14 vs cle | 13- 50-2 | 1- 3-1 |
Marv Hubbard 1973 D: w, 33-14 vs pit | 20- 91-2 | 1- 17-0 |
Charlie Smith 1969 C: l, 7-17 vs kan | 12- 31-1 | 8- 86-0 |
Robert Newhouse 1977 C: w, 23- 6 vs min | 15- 81-1 | 2- 5-0 |
Don Nottingham 1971 D: w, 20- 3 vs cle | 23- 92-2 | 1- 5-0 |
Travis Williams 1967 D: w, 28- 7 vs ram | 18- 88-2 | 1- 8-0 |
Larry Schreiber 1972 D: l, 28-30 vs dal | 26- 52-3 | 3- 20-0 |
Jim Kiick 1972 S: w, 14- 7 vs was | 12- 38-1 | 2- 6-0 |
Don Perkins 1967 D: w, 52-14 vs cle | 18- 74-2 | 1- 4-0 |
Reggie Harrison 1976 D: w, 40-14 vs bal | 10- 40-2 | 4- 37-0 |

Wide Receivers

Lynn Swann 1975 S: w, 21-17 vs dal | 0- 0-0 | 4-161-1 |
Haven Moses 1977 C: w, 20-17 vs oak | 1--10-0 | 5-168-2 |
Charley Taylor 1972 C: w, 26- 3 vs dal | 0- 0-0 | 7-146-2 |
Fred Biletnikoff 1968 D: w, 41- 6 vs kan | 0- 0-0 | 7-180-3 |
Don Maynard 1968 C: w, 27-23 vs oak | 0- 0-0 | 6-118-2 |
Bill Miller 1967 S: l, 14-33 vs gnb | 0- 0-0 | 5- 84-2 |
Cliff Branch 1974 C: l, 13-24 vs pit | 0- 0-0 | 9-186-1 |
Boyd Dowler 1967 C: w, 21-17 vs dal | 0- 0-0 | 4- 77-2 |
Otis Taylor 1969 S: w, 23- 7 vs min | 0- 0-0 | 6- 81-1 |
Paul Warfield 1971 C: w, 21- 0 vs bal | 0- 0-0 | 2-125-1 |
Gene Washington 1969 C: w, 27- 7 vs cle | 0- 0-0 | 3-120-1 |
George Sauer 1968 S: w, 16- 7 vs bal | 0- 0-0 | 8-133-0 |
Harold Jackson 1974 C: l, 10-14 vs min | 0- 0-0 | 3-139-1 |
Sammy White 1976 S: l, 14-32 vs oak | 1- 7-0 | 5- 77-1 |
Warren Wells 1968 D: w, 41- 6 vs kan | 0- 0-0 | 4- 93-2 |
Ray Perkins 1970 C: w, 27-17 vs oak | 0- 0-0 | 2- 80-1 |
Butch Johnson 1977 S: w, 27-10 vs den | 1- -9-0 | 2- 53-1 |
Drew Pearson 1973 D: w, 27-16 vs ram | 0- 0-0 | 2- 87-2 |
Bob Hayes 1967 D: w, 52-14 vs cle | 0- 0-0 | 5-144-1 |
Golden Richards 1977 S: w, 27-10 vs den | 0- 0-0 | 2- 38-1 |
John Gilliam 1974 D: w, 30-14 vs stl | 1- 16-0 | 2- 54-2 |
Billy Parks 1972 D: w, 30-28 vs sfo | 0- 0-0 | 7-125-1 |
John Henderson 1969 S: l, 7-23 vs kan | 0- 0-0 | 7-111-0 |
Rod Sherman 1969 D: w, 56- 7 vs hou | 0- 0-0 | 4- 60-2 |
Charley Frazier 1967 C: l, 7-40 vs oak | 0- 0-0 | 7- 81-1 |
Howard Twilley 1972 S: w, 14- 7 vs was | 0- 0-0 | 1- 28-1 |
Lance Alworth 1971 S: w, 24- 3 vs mia | 0- 0-0 | 2- 28-1 |
Mike Siani 1975 C: l, 10-16 vs pit | 0- 0-0 | 5- 80-1 |
Eddie Hinton 1970 C: w, 27-17 vs oak | 0- 0-0 | 5-115-0 |
Carroll Dale 1967 D: w, 28- 7 vs ram | 0- 0-0 | 6-109-1 |
Frank Lewis 1976 D: w, 40-14 vs bal | 0- 0-0 | 2-103-1 |

Tight Ends

John Mackey 1970 S: w, 16-13 vs dal | 2- 80-1 |
Dave Casper 1976 S: w, 32-14 vs min | 4- 70-1 |
Larry Brown 1974 S: w, 16- 6 vs min | 3- 49-1 |
Stu Voigt 1976 S: l, 14-32 vs oak | 4- 49-1 |
Mike Ditka 1971 S: w, 24- 3 vs mia | 2- 28-1 |
Pete Lammons 1968 C: w, 27-23 vs oak | 4- 52-1 |
Ron Howard 1975 S: l, 17-21 vs pit | 1- 34-1 |
Randy Grossman 1975 S: w, 21-17 vs dal | 1- 7-1 |
Billy Joe Dupree 1977 S: w, 27-10 vs den | 4- 66-0 |
Russ Francis 1976 D: l, 21-24 vs oak | 4- 96-1 |
Alvin Reed 1969 D: l, 7-56 vs oak | 7- 81-1 |
Bob Moore 1975 D: w, 31-28 vs cin | 6- 57-1 |
Dave Kocourek 1967 C: w, 40- 7 vs hou | 1- 17-1 |
Milt Morin 1969 D: w, 38-14 vs dal | 4- 52-1 |
Earl Thomas 1974 D: l, 14-30 vs min | 6- 64-1 |
Riley Odoms 1977 D: w, 34-21 vs pit | 5- 43-1 |
Marv Fleming 1971 D: w, 27-24 vs kan | 4- 37-1 |
Billy Truax 1969 D: l, 20-23 vs min | 5- 47-1 |
Jim Mandich 1973 D: w, 34-16 vs cin | 3- 28-1 |
Bob Windsor 1970 C: l, 10-17 vs dal | 3- 70-0 |
Bob Klein 1974 D: w, 19-10 vs was | 2- 23-1 |
Paul Seymour 1974 D: l, 14-32 vs pit | 2- 35-1 |
Jerry Smith 1971 D: l, 20-24 vs sfo | 3- 32-1 |

1 Comment | Posted in History, P-F-R News

My life story, one Super Sunday at a time

Posted by Doug on February 4, 2007

Tonight was the 30th Super Bowl I've watched. In the span of those 30 years, I've lived in twelve different domiciles in six different towns in five different states with seventeen different people. I've watched Super Bowls in 22 different places. I've gone from being a seven-year-old to having a seven-year-old.

I decided to bung down a paragraph about my memories of each Super Bowl, and I've found that doing so was a good way of remembering people, places, and times that I hadn't thought about in awhile. Please add your own memories in the comments.

1977 (1st grade): Cowboys over Broncos - As I mentioned in this post, I'm not sure if I really remember this game or if I've just convinced myself that I remember it.

1978 (2nd grade): Steelers over Cowboys - The only clear memory I have of this game is that I forced my brothers (who weren't nearly as into football as I was) to go outside and play football with me at halftime. We played for what seemed like hours and hours. But when we went back inside, it was still halftime. Super Bowl halftimes are long. I guess that's a lesson we all have to learn the hard way.

1979 (3rd grade): Steelers over Rams - My family went to a Super Bowl party at some friends' house. Nothing memorable about this one.

1980 (4th grade): Raiders over Eagles - I watched this game alone in my parents' bedroom; I guess the rest of the family wanted to watch something else on the main TV. This was the first time (of many) that the result of a Super Bowl really made me mad. I was a Seahawk fan back in those days, so I disliked the Raiders. And my dislike of the Cowboys put me on the Eagles' bandwagon at an early stage of the season. Plus Kenny King was a Sooner. It all adds up to a disappointing game.

1981 (5th grade): 49ers over Bengals - I remember very little about this game. This one, in fact is the only one that I don't know where I was when I watched it. I was rooting for the Bengals (loved those stripes!) and was displeased with the outcome, but I don't remember anything else. Oddly, I do remember both conference championship games --- The Catch and Air Coryell in the cold --- vividly.

1982 (6th grade): Redskins over Dolphins - I watched this one at home. It was on the main TV, but I don't remember anyone watching it with me. Another disappointment, as I liked the Killer Bs.

1983 (7th grade): Raiders over Redskins - I went to a friends' house to watch this one. True story: for English class, we had to write a bunch of poems. One of mine included this nifty rhyme:

But seriously folks, the Skins will win,

By 3, sixteen, or a-hundred-and-ten

I have since tried to forget about that poem, but I have a friend from that 7th grade English class who continues to remind me about it to this day. I was rooting for the Skins, so the game itself was another letdown, but I distinctly remember this particular game teaching me about the value of good cornerbacks. Mike Haynes' and Lester Hayes' domination of Charlie Brown and Art Monk left a big impression on me.

1984 (8th grade): 49ers over Dolphins - I had a friend over to my house to watch this one, and he wasn't really into football. I'm not sure why he was over that day, but I didn't get much of this game watched. Probably for the best as it was the fifth straight year that the side I was backing came up short.

1985 (9th grade): Bears over Patriots - I remember watching this at my house, but don't remember who, if anyone, was watching it with me. I did not like either team and didn't have much of a rooting interest either way.

1986 (10th grade): Giants over Broncos - I went to a Super Bowl party at a local pizza establishment. There were girls there. I played down the crazed football fan act, but the ladies were somehow still able to keep their hands off me, which allowed me to get a lot of actual game-watching done. I hated Elway and did not yet hate Parcells, so I was pleased with the outcome.

1987 (11th grade): Redskins over Broncos - I watched this at a friend's house with several other buddies (no girls this time). Elway certainly did not do anything during the 1987 season to make me stop hating him, so this was another happy outcome.

1988 (12th grade): 49ers over Bengals - This was with essentially the same group of guys as the previous year, but at a different friend's house. I remember the Tim Krumrie play, of course, and the revolutionary 3D commercial. I didn't watch the commercial, mind you. I just remember that there was one. I also remember that there was some debate about whether the 3D effects would still be present if you recorded them on a VCR. Whatever rooting interest I had was pretty mild and dissolved quickly enough to allow me to appreciate a great game.

1989 (freshman in college): 49ers over Broncos - I watched very little of this game. NFL football actually slipped pretty far down the priority list during my freshman year.

1990 (sophomore in college): Giants over Bills - Football was back in my routine and I watched this in my dorm room with the kind of rotating mob of slobs that was and is the norm in dorm rooms the world over. Like the 49ers/Bengals game of two years ago, this was a great game. Unlike that game, the final outcome prevented me from enjoying it. Mostly, I was rooting for former Oklahoma State Cowboy Thurman Thomas. But there was more. Back in my hot youth, I used to get frustrated when the "better team" (as determined by me, of course) didn't win. I've softened on that quite a bit over the years, but this one really burned me up.

1991 (junior year): Redskins over Bills - I watched this in my apartment with essentially the same bunch of slobs as the previous year. To me, this game is most memorable as the backdrop of the first Simpsons Super Bowl episode: Lisa the Greek.

1992 (senior year): Cowboys over Bills - I watched this at my apartment with a smaller bunch of slobs. I was a big Cowboy fan at this time and so loved every minute of this game. Having already admitted to disliking the Cowboys earlier, I'd better explain why that changed. It was because of Jimmy Johnson. He was, of course, the head coach of my Oklahoma State Cowboys for a time, so that's good. He never beat the Sooners while he was in Stillwater, but he made up for that by moving to Miami and becoming the only guy who could beat the Sooners during the late 80s. When he got hired by the Cowboys, and started bringing Hurricanes with him, it was only natural that I would start rooting for the Cowboys.

1993 (grad school): Cowboys over Bills again - I watched this with a relatively small group of people at the apartment of a friend. This game was not particularly notable.

1994 (grad school): 49ers over Chargers - I watched this with a group of people I barely knew, but it wasn't an organized enough affair to constitute a Super Bowl Party. Not a memorable game or event.

1995 (grad school): Cowboys over Steelers - this one happened just a few blocks from my apartment in Tempe. Classes were cancelled the Friday before the game. I did not indulge in any of the pre- or post-game craziness because, well, because that's just not the kind of thing I enjoy indulging in.

If I recall correctly, the NFL offered 200 tickets to ASU students and faculty via a lottery. As a grad student / TA, I was eligible to enter both the student lottery and the faculty lottery. I won neither, so watched the game from my apartment. Careful readers of the 1992 recap will not be surprised to learn that I really hated the Cowboys at this point and was ticked off about this game. Also, it was (and still is) frustrating to have to explain to people that possibly, just possibly, Neil O'Donnell wasn't necessarily at fault for those ugly interceptions.

Sobering side note: Just last week, I was talking Super Bowl with a student in my class. I asked him which Super Bowl was the first one he remembered. He answered this one.

1996 (grad school): Packers over Patriots - I watched this one in my apartment with a roommate who was a great guy but did not like football. I did not like this Packer team but also didn't want a really crummy New England team to win, so I was indifferent to the outcome.

1997 (grad school): Broncos over Packers - I think this is my favorite Super Bowl of all time. I didn't really like the Broncos, but I had warmed just a little to Elway, Terrell Davis had carried my fantasy team for a couple of years, and I was really sick of the Favre schtick, so I was rooting for Denver pretty hard. I watched this game all by myself, and I think that was a big part of why I enjoyed it so much. Super Bowl parties can be fun in other ways, but they certainly do alter the way you watch the game. This was just like a normal football game, but it happened to be a really, really good one.

1998 (grad school (yeah, that's six years, you wanna make something of it?)): Broncos over Falcons - I went to a full-fledged Super Bowl party and enjoyed it about as much as you can enjoy one, I guess. Not a memorable game. I was rooting for the Broncos, but wasn't too heavily invested in it.

1999 (I'm not sure how to categorize myself at this point. Let's say age 28): Rams over Titans - We had just moved to New Hampshire and my wife and I were invited to a Super Bowl party at the home of some friends. My wife and I had, at this point, been together for six Super Bowls, but this is the first time she had ever watched one with me. As far as I know, it may be the first time she ever watched one period [Update: no, it's not, she informs me. "People watch the Super Bowl," she says]. My son, not typically a raging crier, decided to scream his head off for the entire first quarter and into the second. Eventually he fell asleep, but it was really draining and by the time the game was over I didn't much care what the heck happened in it. I am an Isaac Bruce fan, though, so was glad to see him have a good game.

2000 (age 29): Ravens over Giants - I was at a job interview from Saturday through Monday of Super Bowl week. They put me up in a bed-and-breakfast, which was nice but had no TV in the room. The people in charge of keeping me entertained were friendly, so I felt comfortable offering up a semi-serious, "where am I supposed to watch the Super Bowl." The response was, "hmmm, I guess the Super Bowl is this weekend, isn't it? Hmmmm. Maybe we can find someplace for you to watch it." As it turns out, there was a dinner planned at someone's home for Sunday night anyway, so all they had to do was flip on the game. It's not clear if they would have turned it on were it not for my request.

I was not offered the job.

2001 (age 30): Patriots over Rams - I watched this at my house with my friend JC (of sabernomics fame), and our wives. I won't discuss the game itself because it would violate the self-imposed probation agreement that this blog agreed to after the Patriots Rant, but the company was good.

2002 (age 31): Bucs over Raiders - I watched this in the same location and with exactly the same cast of characters as the previous year. Again the company was good, but the result was dissatisfying. I never really have like the Raiders, but I had just won a postseason fantasy football pool by loading up on Raiders, so I had gotten into the habit of rooting for them.

2003 (age 32): Patriots over Panthers - I went to a full-fledged Super Bowl party hosted by some people I barely knew, where there were lots of people that I didn't know at all. Generally I wouldn't enjoy watching the big game under those conditions but it worked out well in this case, because my Patriot hatred was at its all-time peak and social norms prevented me from working myself up into an embarrassing frenzy.

2004 (age 33): Patriots over Eagles - I watched this one at JC's house with a small group of people. By this time, the Patriots' performance had actually caught up with their reputation, and Tom Brady and Corey Dillon had been helping my fantasy team for more than a year, so I wasn't as anti-Patriot as I had been in 2001 and 2003. I was rooting for the Eagles, but not so much that I was unable to appreciate a pretty good game.

2005 (age 34): Steelers over Seahawks - My dad, who is not at all a football fan, just happened to be in town visiting on Super Bowl Sunday. We watched the game together and he was kind enough to humor me while I explained to him how annoying the Steelers are. This rather long post details how I became a Seahawk fan for two weeks in early 2006.

2006 (age 35): Colts over Bears - All of my emotional energy was spent on the Patriots/Colts game, so I found myself mostly indifferent towards the Super Bowl. I find Peyton Manning to be pretty irritating, but not nearly as irritating as the people who are constantly dumping on him. And I like Tony Dungy. So I'm glad the Colts won, but it wouldn't have bothered me much if they hadn't.

11 Comments | Posted in History, Rant

Rerun: Squares for squares

Posted by Doug on February 3, 2007

See also: PFR Super Bowl Squares mobile app

This post first appeared at sabernomics two years ago:

My understanding is that a Super Bowl Squares gambling event is intended to be a completely random lottery type situation where casual gamblers have as good a chance as sharks. Usually, the squares are assigned to people before numbers are assigned to squares, which means that every participant has an equal chance of getting the plum squares. But J.C. claims he has participated in squares pools where the numbers were pre-assigned and people were actually able to choose their squares on a first-come-first-serve basis.

This post is for you if (a) you watch Super Bowls with the unscrupulous and the naive, as J.C. apparently used to do, or (b) you auction off the squares. And if there’s any group of people that fall into the latter category, it’s got to consist of economists. What follows is a list of which squares are most likely to house the winning name at night’s end. It was generated by looking at the final scores of all regular season NFL games since the 2-point conversion rule was instituted in 1994. Some details follow.

Square(s)   PCT


70/07      3.80

74/47      3.71

03/30      3.21

41/14      2.23

04/40      2.04

71/17      1.93

77         1.93

73/37      1.93

00         1.71

63/36      1.63

44         1.59

60/06      1.54

01/10      1.48

34/43      1.45

18/81      1.35

33         1.19

31/13      1.00

80/08      0.95

16/61      0.95

76/67      0.89

11         0.85

78/87      0.83

64/46      0.82

97/79      0.80

57/75      0.76

90/09      0.74

84/48      0.72

93/39      0.72

50/05      0.72

58/85      0.69

69/96      0.69

49/94      0.67

24/42      0.65

83/38      0.61

02/20      0.56

91/19      0.56

66         0.56

32/23      0.54

35/53      0.52

45/54      0.50

86/68      0.48

72/27      0.46

88         0.41

26/62      0.35

21/12      0.33

52/25      0.33

92/29      0.32

89/98      0.30

95/59      0.24

15/51      0.24

65/56      0.22

82/28      0.22

99         0.19

55         0.19

22         0.04

What that means is that, for example, 7.6% of the time one team has a 7 and one team has a 0. We’ve got to cut that in half to meaningfully compare it with, e.g., the 00 square, so that’s why the 3.80% appears next to 70/07. It’s also why the numbers in the righthand column don’t add up to 100.

So, to recap, here is the plan for making friends at your Super Bowl party.

1. As soon as the squares are drawn, find the people with the 70 and 07 squares. Offer them $3 for their square. If they accept, tell them that they just traded an expected payoff of $3.80 for a mere $3.00. Call them suckers.

2. Find the guy with 22 and let him know that since the merger in 1970 there has only been one single 22 game (it was the Dolphins and Bills in week 13 of this year). Call him a sucker too.

6 Comments | Posted in General

Greatest Super Bowl Teams II

Posted by Doug on February 2, 2007

Yesterday I posted an objective list of the best and worst Super Bowl teams of all time. Commenter JKL opined that the list might be improved by including some information about the surrounding years.

The 2002 Buccaneers, for instance, ranked #16 on yesterday's list. But nobody really thinks of them as a historically great team, largely because in the surrounding years the Bucs were just good, not great, which causes people to downgrade the Super Bowl win as a bit of a fluke. The 2000 Ravens fall into the same category.

If the Colts win this weekend, they'll be an example of the reverse phenomenon: a team that really did not have a terribly impressive year, but that probably will be looked kindly upon in hindsight because of their consistently excellent play for the last several years.

So here is what I did.

1. For each Super Bowl team, I looked at all three three-consecutive-year stretches that included the Super Bowl year. For example, for the 2002 Bucs, I looked at 2000--2002, 2001--2003, 2002--2004.

2. For each of those three-year periods, I weighted the team's rating (according to the simple rating system) in the Super Bowl year as 50% of their score and their rating in each of the other two years as 25% of their score.

3. I then take the three-year stretch with the highest score.

For the Bucs, their best (weighted) stretch was 2000--2002 and their score breaks down like this:

RNK TM YR Score 3-yr run Yr1 Yr2 Yr3
39. *tam 2002 7.9 2000-2002 5.1 2.5 12.0*

So their ratings were 5.1, 2.5, and 12.0 in 2000 through 2002 respectively. That adds up to a weighted score of 7.9, which ranks them 39th among the 74 post-merger Super Bowl participants. The Super Bowl year is marked with a star.

Note that teams from 1970, 1971, 2005, and 2006 could potentially be at a bit of a disadvantage because they didn't have (or haven't yet had) the chance to complete all three stretches during the years under consideration.

Here is the list:

RNK TM YR Score 3-yr run Yr1 Yr2 Yr3
1. *pit 1975 13.0 1974-1976 8.6 14.2* 15.2
2. *sfo 1989 12.3 1987-1989 10.8 7.9 15.2*
3. *sfo 1994 12.2 1992-1994 11.1 10.6 13.5*
4. *dal 1992 12.1 1992-1994 13.3* 11.2 10.8
5. *mia 1973 12.1 1971-1973 7.6 11.0 14.8*
6. *gnb 1996 11.9 1995-1997 6.8 16.3* 8.2
7. *chi 1985 11.7 1985-1987 18.1* 6.4 4.2
8. *pit 1974 11.6 1974-1976 8.6* 14.2 15.2
9. *dal 1993 11.6 1992-1994 13.3 11.2* 10.8
10. *was 1991 11.4 1990-1992 5.5 17.3* 5.6
11. was 1983 11.2 1982-1984 11.2 13.7* 6.0
12. *mia 1972 11.1 1971-1973 7.6 11.0* 14.8
13. *sfo 1984 11.1 1983-1985 7.9 14.4* 7.5
14. *dal 1995 10.9 1993-1995 11.2 10.8 10.8*
15. *nwe 2004 10.6 2004-2006 13.8* 4.1 10.7
16. *den 1998 10.6 1996-1998 6.7 11.7 11.9*
17. *pit 1978 10.6 1976-1978 15.2 5.4 10.8*
18. *den 1997 10.5 1996-1998 6.7 11.7* 11.9
19. *was 1982 10.5 1982-1984 11.2* 13.7 6.0
20. *pit 1979 10.4 1977-1979 5.4 10.8 12.8*
21. *sfo 1988 10.4 1987-1989 10.8 7.9* 15.2
22. stl 2001 10.3 1999-2001 12.2 2.1 13.6*
23. mia 1971 10.2 1971-1973 7.6* 11.0 14.8
24. *stl 1999 10.0 1999-2001 12.2* 2.1 13.6
25. *dal 1971 9.9 1971-1973 11.5* 4.8 11.7
26. gnb 1997 9.9 1995-1997 6.8 16.3 8.2*
27. *oak 1976 9.7 1975-1977 6.7 11.1* 9.7
28. mia 1984 9.6 1982-1984 10.0 6.8 10.8*
29. mia 1982 9.4 1982-1984 10.0* 6.8 10.8
30. dal 1978 9.1 1976-1978 4.0 10.6 11.0*
31. ind 2006 9.1 2004-2006 11.3 10.3 7.3*
32. *dal 1977 9.0 1976-1978 4.0 10.6* 11.0
33. oak 2002 8.6 2000-2002 9.9 4.1 10.1*
34. *nwe 2003 8.3 2003-2005 7.6* 13.8 4.1
35. min 1973 8.2 1973-1975 9.1* 6.4 8.2
36. min 1976 8.2 1974-1976 6.4 8.2 9.1*
37. den 1977 8.0 1976-1978 7.2 10.6* 3.8
38. buf 1990 8.0 1988-1990 5.4 4.2 11.1*
39. *tam 2002 7.9 2000-2002 5.1 2.5 12.0*
40. *pit 2005 7.8 2004-2006 8.6 10.0* 2.8
41. *rai 1983 7.8 1982-1984 4.6 10.4* 5.9
42. *nyg 1986 7.8 1984-1986 1.2 4.2 12.9*
43. dal 1970 7.8 1970-1972 7.4* 11.5 4.8
44. was 1972 7.8 1972-1974 7.9* 6.5 8.8
45. dal 1975 7.6 1973-1975 11.7 5.3 6.6*
46. min 1974 7.5 1973-1975 9.1 6.4* 8.2
47. phi 1980 7.4 1979-1981 2.3 9.5* 8.0
48. *bal 2000 7.0 1999-2001 1.7 11.7* 2.8
49. *nyg 1990 6.5 1988-1990 2.2 5.6 9.2*
50. buf 1991 6.4 1990-1992 11.1 5.0* 4.6
51. buf 1992 6.3 1990-1992 11.1 5.0 4.6*
52. phi 2004 6.2 2002-2004 7.7 4.1 6.5*
53. *nwe 2001 5.6 2001-2003 5.3* 4.0 7.6
54. nwe 1996 5.1 1996-1998 6.4* 5.5 2.2
55. nwe 1985 5.0 1985-1987 6.1* 5.0 3.0
56. pit 1995 4.9 1994-1996 5.4 4.8* 4.7
57. den 1986 4.9 1984-1986 6.3 3.1 5.0*
58. buf 1993 4.8 1991-1993 5.0 4.6 4.9*
59. *sfo 1981 4.8 1981-1983 7.3* -3.2 7.9
60. cin 1988 4.8 1988-1990 6.4* 6.5 -0.1
61. *oak 1980 4.7 1978-1980 2.0 3.6 6.6*
62. chi 2006 4.6 2005-2007 1.2 8.6* 0.0
63. sea 2005 4.5 2003-2005 3.2 -3.7 9.2*
64. *was 1987 4.3 1985-1987 -2.1 6.6 6.3*
65. den 1987 4.2 1985-1987 3.1 5.0 4.4*
66. ten 1999 4.1 1998-2000 -0.2 3.9* 8.7
67. den 1989 3.7 1989-1991 6.6* -1.6 3.1
68. *bal 1970 3.5 1969-1971 0.0 2.5* 9.0
69. cin 1981 3.3 1981-1983 6.4* 0.3 0.2
70. ram 1979 2.6 1977-1979 7.1 3.4 -0.1*
71. sdg 1994 2.5 1992-1994 1.7 1.9 3.2*
72. car 2003 2.1 2003-2005 1.9* -1.0 5.6
73. atl 1998 1.8 1997-1999 -4.3 9.0* -6.6
74. nyg 2000 1.8 2000-2002 4.4* -1.7 0.1

11 Comments | Posted in General, History

Ranking the historical Super Bowl teams

Posted by Doug on February 1, 2007

If not now, when? Everyone else is posting lists of the best and worst Super Bowl teams of all time, so I may as well pile on. This one will be different --- not better --- than most because it's completely objective. This is simply a list of all 74 Super Bowl teams since the merger, ranked according to this simple rating system. So really, I'm not ranking the teams. I'm ranking the teams' distance away from their competitors in the given year.

Recall that, under the simple rating system, the units on Rating are points. So the 1991 Redskins' rating of 17.3 means that they were 17.3 points better than an average 1991 NFL team.

Here is the list, Super Bowl winners are marked with an asterisk. A few observations follow:

TM YR Rating SOS Record
1. *chi 1985 18.1 0.3 18-1
2. *was 1991 17.3 0.4 17-2
3. *gnb 1996 16.3 0.6 16-3
4. *sfo 1989 15.2 -0.0 17-2
5. *mia 1973 14.8 0.4 15-2
6. *sfo 1984 14.4 -1.6 18-1
7. *pit 1975 14.2 0.1 15-2
8. *nwe 2004 13.8 2.7 17-2
9. was 1983 13.7 1.8 16-3
10. stl 2001 13.6 -0.1 16-3
11. *sfo 1994 13.5 -0.7 16-3
12. *dal 1992 13.3 1.0 16-3
13. *nyg 1986 12.9 1.4 17-2
14. *pit 1979 12.8 2.2 15-4
15. *stl 1999 12.2 -4.1 16-3
16. *tam 2002 12.0 0.5 15-4
17. *den 1998 11.9 -1.5 17-2
18. *den 1997 11.7 0.5 16-4
19. *bal 2000 11.7 -0.3 16-4
20. *dal 1971 11.5 -1.7 14-3
21. *was 1982 11.2 1.6 12-1
22. *dal 1993 11.2 1.1 15-4
23. *oak 1976 11.1 2.2 16-1
24. buf 1990 11.1 -0.6 15-4
25. dal 1978 11.0 0.1 14-5
26. *mia 1972 11.0 -2.6 17-0
27. *pit 1978 10.8 -0.6 17-2
28. mia 1984 10.8 -1.4 16-3
29. *dal 1995 10.8 1.1 15-4
30. *dal 1977 10.6 -1.0 15-2
31. den 1977 10.6 3.2 14-3
32. *rai 1983 10.4 1.1 15-4
33. oak 2002 10.1 1.9 13-6
34. mia 1982 10.0 1.8 10-3
35. *pit 2005 10.0 1.2 15-5
36. phi 1980 9.5 0.4 14-5
37. *nyg 1990 9.2 1.0 16-3
38. sea 2005 9.2 -1.3 15-4
39. min 1973 9.1 1.2 14-3
40. min 1976 9.1 1.0 13-3
41. atl 1998 9.0 1.5 16-3
42. *pit 1974 8.6 -0.5 13-3
43. chi 2006 8.6 -2.5 15-3
44. gnb 1997 8.2 -0.2 15-4
45. was 1972 7.9 -0.8 13-4
46. *sfo 1988 7.9 1.1 13-6
47. *nwe 2003 7.6 1.0 17-2
48. mia 1971 7.6 -0.9 12-4
49. dal 1970 7.4 2.2 12-5
50. ind 2006 7.3 2.3 15-4
51. *sfo 1981 7.3 0.6 16-3
52. dal 1975 6.6 0.1 12-5
53. den 1989 6.6 0.9 13-6
54. *oak 1980 6.6 1.4 15-5
55. phi 2004 6.5 -1.5 15-4
56. min 1974 6.4 -0.9 12-5
57. nwe 1996 6.4 -0.4 13-6
58. cin 1988 6.4 -0.7 14-5
59. cin 1981 6.4 -1.0 14-5
60. *was 1987 6.3 -1.3 14-4
61. nwe 1985 6.1 2.5 14-6
62. *nwe 2001 5.3 -0.6 14-5
63. den 1986 5.0 2.9 13-6
64. buf 1991 5.0 -3.1 15-4
65. buf 1993 4.9 0.0 14-5
66. pit 1995 4.8 -0.1 13-6
67. buf 1992 4.6 -0.7 14-6
68. den 1987 4.4 -0.5 12-5
69. nyg 2000 4.4 -1.2 14-5
70. ten 1999 3.9 -0.6 16-4
71. sdg 1994 3.2 0.2 13-6
72. *bal 1970 2.5 -4.4 14-2
73. car 2003 1.9 -0.8 14-6
74. ram 1979 -0.1 -0.8 11-8


  • As you can see, I put the Bears and Colts in there; they're 43rd and 50th respectively. The winner could conceivably move into top half of the list with a blowout. But regardless, this year's winner will rank among the weaker Super Bowl champs. The loser, on the other hand, will be fairly strong (for a loser).
  • Students of the basic mathematics of ranking systems and of AFL/NFL history will know why I have not included the pre-merger Super Bowl teams on the list. Had I included them, the 1969 Chiefs would have been #1, largely on the strength of what the system perceived to be an incredibly difficult schedule. Because all the information we have from that season (one game) indicates that the AFL was better than the NFL (by 16 points!), the system essentially starts from the assumption that the AFL is the much stronger league.
  • I was born in 1971. I definitely do not remember the Raiders/Viking Super Bowl of 1976. I definitely do remember the Cowboys and Steelers in 1978. I think I remember the rather forgettable Broncos/Cowboys game in between, but I may be fabricating those memories. Anyway, I had always filed that Bronco team away with the rest of the bumbling Super Bowl losers, but they were a terrific team. They were 14-3 against arguably the toughest schedule of any Super Bowl team in history. They only played four games against teams with losing records. Of their three losses, two were to the eventual champion Cowboys and the other was against the defending champs: an 11-3 Oakland team.
  • We all know the 1999 Rams had a weak schedule, but every time I see it it seems to get worse. Here are the regular season win totals of their opponents: 8, 5, 4, 4, 5, 2, 13, 8, 8, 4, 3, 8, 3, 7, 6, 5. And their playoff opponents were very weak (by playoff standards) too.

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