As part of his reaction to the bizarre situation unfolding in Lubbock, Dr. Saturday noted:
Some day, when a major team does go an entire game without handing the ball off, there's a good chance it will come from the Big 12, which endured two or three rounds from Leach's attack and began converting Option Central into the most pass-happy conference in the nation as quickly as it could.
That made me wonder how close to going a full game without a rush attempt has an NFL team ever come? Here's a close-to-complete (but not necessarily exhaustive) list of all games where a team had fewer than ten carries:
Over the past few decades, no position has evolved more than that of the wide receiver. It wasn't until 1986 that the NFL had its first ever 750-catch receiver (Charlie Joiner). Today, 28 players have hit that benchmark, with over half of them having begun their careers in the '90s or '00s. Wes Welker is now the fifth player with 330 receptions over a three-year span (joining Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, Cris Carter and Herman Moore), and he's not even the best receiver on his own team. The average first-team All-Pro WR, as selected by the Associated Press, averaged 53 receptions, 961 yards and 9.5 touchdowns in the '70s; this decade, those averages are up to 97 receptions, 1439 yards and 12.5 scores. Wide receiver records are constantly being broken, and numbers that looked terrific in the '70s looked mediocre in the '90s and are underwhelming today.
With that backdrop, it makes sense to analyze Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed together. Each player's HOF case largely depends on how he compared to his peers during his playing days and how he now stacks up against others already in Canton. Brown's and Carter's career perfectly overlapped; both were drafted in the late '80s, were elite for most of the '90s, and were still productive at the beginning of this decade. Reed was a couple of years older, but was still a contemporary of Brown and Carter, and peaked during roughly the same time. All three made the Pro Bowl in 1993 and 1994. All had long careers and then chose to play one final season in a new uniform over retiring. Reed played for 15 seasons with the Bills and then one with the Redskins; Carter played 12 years with the Eagles and Vikings, before finishing up with the Dolphins; Brown played for Al Davis Raiders for 16 seasons before reuniting with Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. Ultimately, at least one but not all of them will make the Hall of Fame. So who gets inducted? Read the rest of this entry »
Every Tuesday for the remainder of the season, P-F-R will be teaming up with the New York Times' Fifth Down Blog. Last week I looked at the most unlikely playoff participants in N.F.L. history; this week, the reverse. Which teams have "choked" the most down the stretch over the past twenty years? The Giants started the season 5-0, which would put them in the running for the biggest second-half flops in recent history. Do you know which team started 9-2 in the '90s and still missed the playoffs?
Teams almost never replace one Hall of Famer with another. The 49ers replacing Joe Montana with Steve Young, the Bears filling Bill George's absence with Dick Butkus and the Browns handing the ball off from Jim Brown to Leroy Kelly are exceptions to the rule. Things aren't supposed to be that easy for a team. But in Pittsburgh, fans didn't have to worry about their center for a quarter-century. From 1976 to 1988, Hall of Famer Mike Webster manned the middle for the Steelers offense. Pittsburgh drafted Dermontti Dawson in the second round of the 1988 draft, and he played next to Webster for one season. After Webster left for Kansas City, Dawson moved to the middle, and would start for the Steelers from 1989 to 2000. Those in Pittsburgh still debate who was the better center. But things didn't end there for Pittsburgh, as Jeff Hartings would replace Dawson similarly to the way Jeff Garcia followed Young. From '01 to '06, Hartings continued the Steelers tradition of excellence at the position: he was named to two Pro Bowls and two Associated Press All-Pro teams. But today, we're going to focus on Dawson, and his fantastic accomplishments during his twelve seasons in Pittsburgh. Read the rest of this entry »
"We're embarrassing on offense. Forget the stats and 'This is where we are rushing the football.' We're not making plays when it counts, and we are continuously in a situation that is embarrassing, irritating, frustrating coming in on Monday, knowing that we could have won yesterday then we would be ahead and almost certain, if we won the rest of our games, to get in [the playoffs]. Now here we are again, if we win out, we have to have this scenario happen [to make it]. It's irritating."
It's pretty clear that the Jets rise and fall on the basis of Mark Sanchez's play, and like any rookie QB, he's had his ups and downs this season. First, the ups:
When Sanchez has a solid game (QB rating > 80), NY is 5-2, and he's had more solid games than most signal-callers in the league this year. I would imagine Braylon isn't really complaining when Sanchez performs at that level, but Sanchez has also had more than his share of clunkers this year as well:
The Jets are 0-5 when Sanchez has one of his bad games, and as you can see, there really isn't a lot of room in between good and bad for the rookie -- in all but one game this year, he's had a rating of either greater than 80 or less than 60. No other QB has alternated solid and bad efforts as much as Sanchez, which means Braylon should only really be embarrassed and irritated half of the time. All things considered, I guess that's better than the team he started the year on, which, prior to their rush-happy 41-point explosion vs. KC, had a frustrating and embarrassing offense all of the time.
I could have handled the conclusions one of two ways. The first would have been to present all my conclusions and then have a chart of all the AFL and NFL teams from the decade with their ratings. The second way is to present the results first, and then follow up with how I got there. I opted for the second way, as I didn't want the results and actual team ratings to be a footnote at the end of the series. These ratings, after all, were the reason I started on this path in the first place. I wanted to see how an NFL team compared in 1964 to an AFL team, how the champions of each league compared, and so forth.
I don't claim that these numbers are completely accurate or infallible. There is simply year to year variation across leagues and teams that we can't measure accurately. How do the 2007 Colts compare to the 2009 Colts? We don't know, because they didn't play in the exact same situation, and that's with a lot more direct information to draw upon than what we have when comparing the AFL and NFL. We do have numbers upon which we can make reasonable estimates though. Similarly, these numbers represent my best available guess of how teams compared during the decade of the 1960's. If you've been following along and read the entire series up until now, you probably have some idea how I got there, but I'll explain in the final post how I settled on the best guesses that I did. Read the rest of this entry »
This past summer I set out to determine which running backs were the most statistically dominant in NFL history. Terrell Davis ranked as the 13th most dominant RB in regular season history, and when combined his superior post-season stats, the 8th most dominant RB overall. The other nine RBs in the top ten all are in the Hall of Fame or will be five years after they retire. Davis is a semifinalist for the fourth straight season since first becoming eligible, but he has never advanced past this stage. Davis is perhaps the most interesting player to analyze in this year's class. There are no QBs eligible for induction, and quarterbacks are the only players for whom more individual statistics are recorded than running backs. There's only one other eligible RB and he's a slam dunk. Davis has the rings and the hardware, typically all you need at the glamour positions to make the Hall. Marcus Allen and Emmitt Smith are the only other running backs with both an MVP from the Associated Press and a Super Bowl MVP. Yet, most NFL fans don't think Davis should be inducted. Why?
The common answer is that Davis' career was too short. Four great seasons does not a Hall of Famer make, or something like that. But consider the heights Davis reached: I ranked his 1998 season as the single greatest season any running back has ever had; he broke his own single-season record for most rushing yards gained in a regular and postseason combined. He already had the record because his 1997 season also ranks among the best five ever by a RB; he's the only player to ever rush for 2300 yards (including playoffs) in a season, and he's done it twice. Davis didn't have four great seasons and nothing else; he had two of the greatest seasons in NFL history, another excellent season, a very good year and another solid season. It's not the greatest Hall of Fame profile I've ever seen, but it seems as though Davis is held to a higher standard than other running backs. Read the rest of this entry »
The Cleveland Browns earned a particularly unlikely 41-34 victory over the Chiefs today. Most of the day, the Browns didn't show up. Brady Quinn was 10/17 for 66 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions while the defense was shredded by both the run and the pass. In the first half, Kansas City scored 24 points and largely shut down the Cleveland offense. But thanks to two Joshua Cribbs kickoff return touchdowns, the Browns were still in the game. While Cribbs cooled off in the second half, that's when running back Jerome Harrison got hot. After rushing for 73 yards in the first half, Harrison had 213 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the second half, leading the Browns to victory. Harrison's 286 rushing yards were the third most in NFL history.
Cribbs set or tied several records today. He scored his 7th and 8th career kickoff return touchdowns, breaking a six-way tie for the most in NFL history. He tied the career record, three, of most kickoff return touchdowns of 100 yards or more. He became the 9th player (and second this season) to score two KO TDs in the same game, an NFL record. With 316 all-purpose yards, Cribbs now has 2,336 all-purpose yards on the season. All-purpose yards are the sum of a player's rushing, receiving, punt return and kick return yards. He'll need 355 all-purpose yards in his last two games to set the single-season record, set by Derrick Mason in 2000.
But as teammates, Cribbs and Harrison obliterated another record today. They combined for an incredible 614 all-purpose yards today. Since 1960, only 19 teammates ever had as many as 450 combined all-purpose yards in a single game, and no pair had topped 550 before today. Here are the top 20 single-season dynamic duos of the past 50 seasons. Playoff games are marked with an asterisk. Read the rest of this entry »
I was reading The Count over at the Wall Street Journal, and this article caught my eye. Carl Bialik noted that Indianapolis has won eight of its 14 games by eight points or fewer. This made wonder which team set the record for most wins by eight or fewer points? What records did they have and how did they fare in the post-season?
The table below shows the number of wins of eight or fewer points, the overall wins, losses and ties, and how many wins and losses in the playoffs each team had. While the Colts are cutting it close, three teams won all of their games by such a small margin.
NOTE: up-to-date standings can be found right here.
All new rules this year, so listen close.
For every game, you pick a team and you name your own point spread. The only catch is that the point spread you name must be worse than the official point spread (listed below). For example, Alabama is a 4.5-point favorite over Texas. If you take Alabama, you have to lay more than 4.5 points. If you take Texas, you have to take less than 4.5. If your team wins against the spread you named, you are credited with the difference between the official spread and the spread you named. For example, if you take Alabama -5.5 (and they cover), you get 1 point. If you take Alabama -10.5 (and they cover that), you get 6 points. If you take Texas +3.5 and they cover, you get 1 point. If you take Texas -3 and they cover that, you get 7.5 points. There is no limit, so you can take Texas -30 if you want, for a potential 34.5 points.
For BCS games, your score (as computed above) is multiplied by 3. For non-BCS games that kick off on January 1 or later, your score is multiplied by 2. Total points wins.
I don't have as much time as usual, so this will mostly be a data dump post. I've been using a rudimentary system for the past few weeks to predict the outcomes of NFL games, and I've been measuring the system against the spread used by Vegas. Through three weeks, in games my program says are strongly undervalued, the picks have gone 14-5 (or 15-5) against the spread. In week 12, I picked the Saints to cover against the Pats (and they did), but I did not mention them in my summary at the end. A cynic would say that had the Saints not covered, I would have claimed I never picked them, so therefore they shouldn't count in the win column. Regardless of how you veiw that game, the system has been very successful so far -- slightly more successful than it was over the 20-year period in which the method was originally tested. A sample size of 20 games is too small to draw any significant conclusions, but combined with the results from 1988 to 2007, I feel pretty confident that certain types of teams are under (or over) valued.
"Q: With just three games left, do you think both the Saints and the Colts will go undefeated the rest of the way and play each other in the Super Bowl? -- Logan (Reno, Nev.)"
"A: Logan, I think there is a better chance that each team will go unbeaten in the regular season than there is that these two teams will play in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl matchup many expect on Dec. 16 is seldom the one that materializes in late January or early February. Don't know which team it'll be, don't know when it'll be, but one of these teams will stub its toe in the postseason. If memory serves me correctly, the last time two No. 1 seeds met in the Super Bowl was in 1993, when the Cowboys beat the Bills. Rarely happens."
My stat-sense was tingling, so I decided to set up a Monte Carlo simulation to see if what Schefter claimed, that Indy and New Orleans both going 16-0 was more likely than them eventually meeting up in the Super Bowl, was true. Using each team's current Pythagorean W% (and a 58.7% home-field advantage, the league-wide rate in 2009) to predict game-by-game outcomes, I simulated the rest of the regular-season and the playoffs 10,000 times, using authentic seedings, matchups, etc. (except that all ties in the standings were broken by Pyth%). Here's what I found:
Colts go 16-0
Saints go 16-0
Both go 16-0
Colts in SB
Saints in SB
Both in SB
Both 16-0, in SB
So it turns out that Schefter was, in fact, correct -- provided both teams try their hardest to win all of their remaining games, there's a 26.6% chance both the Saints and Colts finish the regular season 16-0, compared to just a 22.1% chance that the two teams meet up in February. And, of course, there's always a 5.8% chance that both teams go into the big game with no losses, in which case there's a 100% probability that Mercury Morris' head would explode.
Brett Favre is having an MVP-caliber campaign for the Vikings this season, which approximately no one saw coming after last year's late-season meltdown with the Jets. But you may be surprised to see that, at least in terms of his rate stats, Favre is actually having arguably the best season of his entire career this year, at the ripe old age of 40! Here are Favre's career-best completion percentages:
As you hopefully are aware, Pro-Football-Reference.com is part of a family of Sports Reference sites. All of them very good, very complete and well worth checking out. We have now created a rosetta stone matching players and coaches across all of the sites, so Sammy Baugh's page now has a link to his Baseball-Reference page (yes, Slinging Sammy played minor league ball), and Herschel Walker's page now links to his Olympics at Sports-Reference page. Let us know if there are any we are missing and we'll get them updated.
There will be two groups of people who will immediately stand in the way of Art Modell's entry into the Hall of Fame. Many people don't want to see a coach, owner, or contributor selected when there are deserving players being passed over; it rubs some people the wrong way to select a nonfootball player over a football player for induction. The HOF votes in no greater than 5 modern era candidates in a year, so it becomes a numbers game. The other group of people who rally against Modell are Browns fans and sympathizers. Understandably.
So for those who want Modell to make the HOF, what can they hang their hats on? Below are some of the highlights of Modell's NFL career.
(How did we do this? Matt and the other dedicated folks at the Knobbe.org message board have spent a lot of time over the years updating this classic Nintendo football game, including the introduction of a 32-team ROM a few seasons ago. Sounds complicated, but don't worry, it's easy for you to enjoy the fruits of their labor: just get yourself an NES emulator, download the 2009 version of Tecmo here, and play to your heart's content. And be sure to check back at Matt's site for roster updates and more Tecmo-related goodness all season long.)
Every Tuesday for the remainder of the season, P-F-R will be teaming up with the New York Times' Fifth Down Blog. This week, I looked at the most unlikely playoff participants in NFL history, a list the Miami Dolphins may soon join. If Miami reaches the post-season, the Dolphins would become just the 20th team in NFL history to earn a playoff berth after falling three games below .500 at any point during that season. Do you know which team started off 1-6 and made the playoffs? They ranked #1 on my list.
This is the final piece of evidence before we get to the conclusions and overall team power rankings for the decade. Let's get right to it. Here are the point differentials and the win/loss records (from the perspective of the former NFL teams) for all regular season matchups involving an AFL team and a former NFL team from 1970-1974.
These results include matchups involving Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore against the AFC opponents. The AFL was not good relative to the NFL in 1970, the first season after the leagues merged. The next set of numbers are weighted by team quality. For example, Houston and Cincinnati played more games against former NFL teams than did Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego and Denver after the merger. Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh played more games against the AFL (by virtue of joining the AFC) than other NFL members. As Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego were three of the four best AFL teams in the late 1960's, and two teams that had been frequent playoff participants in the NFL were now joining the AFC, this might bias the results slightly in the NFL's favor.
Even considering this, though, the NFL dominated in 1970, and in fact, that year shows as more of an outlier than the raw numbers would indicate. This is because Baltimore and Cleveland show up as worse based on regular season SRS in 1970 (though Baltimore won the Super Bowl), and then they bounced back and Pittsburgh improved steadily over the next five years. Here are the schedule adjusted differentials between the teams from the two leagues during the first five years post-merger. Read the rest of this entry »
Of course, Welker's terrific play so far in 2009 (he became just the 4th player in NFL history to have 3 consecutive 100-catch seasons, joining Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, and Herman Moore) has also allowed us to reflect back on just how insane Harrison's production was during his peak. First, he is the only player in NFL history to have four straight 100-catch campaigns. Also, notice that the difference between #1 and #2 on the list above, in terms of receptions through 13 games, is the same as the difference between #2 and #15! In order to catch Harrison's staggering record of 143 catches in a season from 2002, Welker will have to haul in 12.7 catches per game for the remaining 3 games of the regular season.
That said, the real gap between Welker and Harrison isn't anywhere near as great as it sounds from the raw numbers, because Welker has suffered a handicap in his pursuit of Harrison this year -- he missed 2 games early in the season. If Welker played at his current pace, but in 13 games instead of 11 (remember, Harrison didn't miss any games during his 2002 season), Welker would have 124 catches through 13 games, which is actually 6 more than Harrison's record pace!
Thanks to the 2-game absence, we'll probably never know whether a full season of Welker could have challenged or even broken Harrison's record, but we should still count ourselves as lucky to see two of the great possession-receiver seasons of all time separated by just 7 years.