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Archive for March, 2010

The WCB Tournament, second round, part I

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 30, 2010

Here were the opening round results and the first round results from the Tampa/New Orleans and the Los Angeles/Houston regions.

Now, we move to the second round with some fantastic matchups. There weren't many huge upsets in the first round (1991 Buffalo as a #13 seed and 1999 Jacksonville as a #12 were the two lowest to advance), which may just mean that they are due in this round. Today, we will hit the second round games in the Tampa and New Orleans regions.

#12007 New England Patriots vs. #9 1966 Dallas Cowboys

Wes Welker had a big game in the slot for New England, and they win comfortably again.

New England 38, Dallas 13

#4 1990 San Francisco 49ers vs. #12 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the early Cinderella story, following up the win over the 1974 Raiders with a convincing win across the bay against the 49ers. Joe Montana throws 3 interceptions, and San Fransisco is held to 162 total yards, while Taylor and Stewart combine for 192 rushing yards.

Jacksonville 26, San Fransisco 10

#3 2005 Indianapolis Colts vs. #6 1997 Green Bay Packers

In a 3-6 matchup that many might not see as an upset, the Packers go into the RCA Dome and win. The play of the game comes right before the half, when Holmgren decides to go for it on fourth and inches at the two yard line with 19 seconds left and no timeouts. Levens scores on the play, and the Packers go on to pull away in the fourth.

Green Bay 26, Indianapolis 13

#2 1969 Minnesota Vikings vs. #10 1996 Denver Broncos

Denver manages only 107 yards of total offense for the game, but turns two second quarter Joe Kapp interceptions in Viking territory into 10 points. Minnesota manages only field goals, and with the score at 10-9, gets the ball back at the Denver 37 with just over three minutes left. The offense squanders the opportunity again, going backwards, and leaving Fred Cox to try a desperation 57 yard field goal that misses.

Denver 10, Minnesota 9

NEW ORLEANS REGION SECOND ROUND

#1 1998 Minnesota Vikings vs. #9 2000 Tennessee Titans

The first top seed has fallen as the Titans overcome a sluggish first quarter to take a lead at the half. It stretches to 23-13, but then the Vikings get a touchdown from Moss and a defensive stop. Getting near field goal range, Cunningham throws an interception to Samari Rolle with 39 seconds left.

Tennessee 23, Minnesota 20

#4 1967 Los Angeles Rams vs. #5 1984 Miami Dolphins

The Fearsome Foursome frustrated Marino early, intercepting him at the goal line on Miami's best drive, to create a 10-0 halftime score. Miami gets it going in the third, taking the lead with two touchdowns, but the Rams' ground game is the difference as Les Josephson and Dick Bass put up over 280 combined rushing yards against a leaky Dolphins defense.

Los Angeles 27, Miami 21

#3 1994 Dallas Cowboys vs. #11 1998 New York Jets

The new OT rules have not been implemented for the WCB tournament, and Dallas takes the kickoff in overtime and wins with a field goal. Curtis and Emmitt both struggled to get anything going on the ground, and Testaverde outplayed Aikman, but the Cowboys do just enough to send the Jets home and make Chase Stuart cry.

Dallas 20, New York 17, OT

#2 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. #7 2006 Baltimore Ravens

In a game that lived up to its defensive billing, Pittsburgh wins the turnover battle and scores the only offensive touchdown, and then the Steel Curtain came down in the second half, setting up a "What Could Have Been" regional semifinal between two dynasties.

Pittsburgh 13, Baltimore 3

24 Comments | Posted in Insane ideas, Totally Useless

The WCB tournament: round one, part II

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 28, 2010

Sorry for the delay in finishing the first round. The good news is that over 60% of the games are done after completion of the first round. Here were the opening round results and the first round results from the other half of the bracket. Today we continue with the Houston and Los Angeles regions.

LOS ANGELES FIRST ROUND GAMES

#17 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers at #1 1968 Baltimore Colts

In our alternate universe, Earl Morrall successfully throws to Jerry Hill for a touchdown right before the half, and the Colts go on to dominate.

Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 0

#9 1977 Oakland Raiders at #8 1997 Kansas City Chiefs

If there is one thing Marty Schottenheimer could do, it was beat the Raiders. Tony Gonzalez' late touchdown catch breaks the tie and sends Stabler home despite a great performance.

Kansas City 24, Oakland 17

#12 2009 Minnesota Vikings at #5 1978 Dallas Cowboys

NOTE: Due to a human error, the original simulation was run with the 1975 Cowboys instead. The Cowboys won that one, and they won this one with the 1978 team in a defensive battle that was clinched with a late Dorsett run.

Dallas 20, Minnesota 9

#13 1991 Buffalo Bills at #4 2006 San Diego Chargers

The Chargers come from 10 down inside the final four minutes to tie it, only to lose another heartbreaking home playoff game on Scott Norwood's field goal with 3 seconds left.

Buffalo 30, San Diego 27

#19 1987 Denver Broncos at #3 1983 Washington Redskins

In a back and forth affair, Theismann scrambles for the go ahead score, then Denver runs out of time inside the Washington 10 yard line.

Washington 17, Denver 13

#11 1988 Cincinnati Bengals at #6 1967 Oakland Raiders

No Ickey Shuffle in this one, but Hewritt Dixon runs for one score and catches another as the Raiders win comfortably.

Oakland 30, Cincinnati 17

#10 1986 Chicago Bears at #7 1976 New England Patriots

Walter Payton totals 217 yards as the Bears jump out to an early 13-0 lead and hold on.

Chicago 20, New England 10

#15 1981 Dallas Cowboys at #2 1992 San Francisco 49ers

In the matchup of the first round thanks to a selection committee error, it is the '92 Niners who avenge the loss against the franchise that defeated them in the playoffs, when Amp Lee's late touchdown run seals the victory.

San Fransisco 27, Dallas 16

LOS ANGELES REGION SECOND ROUND
#8 1997 Kansas City Chiefs at #1 1968 Baltimore Colts

#13 1991 Buffalo Bills at #5 1978 Dallas Cowboys

#6 1967 Oakland Raiders at #3 1983 Washington Redskins

#10 1986 Chicago Bears at #2 1992 San Francisco 49ers

HOUSTON REGION FIRST ROUND

#16 1966 Kansas City Chiefs at #1 2001 Saint Louis Rams

Johnny Robinson's interception return for a touchdown gives the Chiefs' hope after the Rams jump to a 14-0 lead on passes to Bruce and Proehl, but the Chiefs cannot get any closer.

St. Louis 26, Kansas City 16

#9 1970 Dallas Cowboys at #8 2004 Philadelphia Eagles

Brian Westbrook's 65 yard run with just over two minutes left sets up the clinching score.

Philadelphia 24, Dallas 10

#12 1972 Washington Redskins at #5 1987 San Francisco 49ers

Kilmer throws four interceptions and Montana has a great day as the 49ers roll.

San Fransisco 27, Washington 6

#13 1976 Minnesota Vikings at #4 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers

Both passing games struggle in wet conditions, and Aaron Smith's 3 sacks get him player of the game honors as the Vikings lose to the Steelers again.

Pittsburgh 10, Minnesota 3

#19 1980 Atlanta Falcons at #3 1970 Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings dominate on both sides of the ball. Dave Osborn and Clint Jones both rush for 100 yards, and Paul Krause gets an interception (no sacks though)

Minnesota 28, Atlanta 6

#11 2005 Seattle Seahawks at #6 1977 Denver Broncos

If you had Shaun Alexander in your WCB fantasy squad, you are off to a good start. 228 total yards and 2 touchdowns for the 2005 MVP, as the Seahawks jump to a 24-0 halftime lead and cruise to victory.

Seattle 34, Denver 6

#10 1973 Los Angeles Rams at #7 2009 Indianapolis Colts

Art imitates life, as Jim Caldwell sends Stover on to attempt a 52-yard field goal trailing by 8 in the fourth quarter, rather than go for it on 4th and 5, and it comes up short. The Rams control the Colts' anemic ground game, and McCutcheon and Bertelsen run over the Colts and frustrate Manning all day.

Los Angeles 21, Indianapolis 6

#15 1982 Miami Dolphins at #2 1990 Buffalo Bills

In an AFC East battle, the K-gun offense explodes for 20 points in the second quarter to erase an early Miami lead.

Buffalo 27, Miami 13

HOUSTON REGION SECOND ROUND MATCHUPS

#8 2004 Philadelphia Eagles at #1 2001 Saint Louis Rams

#5 1987 San Francisco 49ers at #4 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers

#11 2005 Seattle Seahawks at #3 1970 Minnesota Vikings

#10 1973 Los Angeles Rams at #2 1990 Buffalo Bills

21 Comments | Posted in Insane ideas, Totally Useless

Peter King on Eric Berry: are safeties really a risk at the top of the draft?

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 25, 2010

Among his many thoughts in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback article, Peter King shared some on Eric Berry, the star safety from the University at Tennessee, who is projected as a top ten pick, and on many boards a top five pick, in this year's draft:

If I were an NFL team drafting high, I'd be very careful evaluating Eric Berry.

The Tennessee safety, obviously, is a rare prospect. But the history of safeties in terms of longevity and greatness at the top of the draft is very shaky.

The nature of the position is smallish people throwing themselves around like linebackers, and that doesn't lend itself to long careers. The three best safeties to be drafted in the past decade -- Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Bob Sanders -- have missed 78 games due to injury in their 21 combined NFL seasons.

Berry looks like a top-10 pick, but the team that takes him is going to be picking against history. Of the five top-10 safeties this decade, none has had franchise-player impact: Roy Williams (Dallas, eighth overall, 2002), Sean Taylor (Washington, fifth overall, 2004), Michael Huff (Oakland, seventh, 2006), Donte Whitner (Buffalo, eighth, 2006), LaRon Landry (Washington, sixth, 2007). Taylor might have had franchise-player impact if he had not been gunned down three-and-a-half years into his career. But overall, the position justifies the caution lots of teams are taking with it.

. . .

I'm not saying Berry won't be a great player. Maybe he'll be Ed Reed. Maybe he'll know when to dish out the big hit and when to steer a player instead of seek and destroy. But the odds of him being great for a long time -- as opposed to the physical longevity of a tackle or defensive lineman or quarterback not subject to as many high-speed collisions -- are pretty long, based on history.

I had several instant reactions to that segment, including:

1) Well, if someone is talking about history, we might just be able to look into that;

2) It would suck if Eric Berry had a career like Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Bob Sanders . . . I mean, who would want 9 pro bowls, 5 first team all-pros, and 3 second team all-pros, and numerous playoff appearances during the combined first five years of their respective careers. Seriously, who would want to settle for that while they were still playing under their rookie contracts? If God gave you some insider info that Eric Berry's first five years were going to be a cross between Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Bob Sanders, but he was unfortunately mum on everyone else, and you were a team sitting with pick number five for a team that had horrendous safety play the year before, don't you jump at that opportunity? I don't know how Eric Berry's career will turn out, but I would be primarily concerned with how he will do while he is playing under the initial contract, and not what might happen eight years later.

3) Even just looking at the five recent top ten safeties cited, it is clearly a case of lack of comparison to how other positions perform and selective memory. Roy Williams is a liability now, but he made 6 pro bowls and 1 first team all-pro. As we will see, that's pretty good for an early first round pick. Sean Taylor made two pro bowls in his first four seasons and looked like a star; I don't think we should anticipate the tragic end to his life and project that as impacting how highly drafted safeties turn out. Whitner, Landry and Huff have each started three seasons. Others can chime on Whitner, Landry and Huff, but I wouldn't rule out Whitner or Landry making a pro bowl at some point; Huff looks like the most disappointing but he could turn it around. Those three guys are young and have been starters and we certainly shouldn't make a historical comparison to other guys who are still quite active and potentially entering their primes.

4) On the injury thing, how different is that from other positions? I think it is an interesting question--though one that should be more of an issue when evaluating contract extensions and second contracts. Do star safeties tend to fall apart more frequently than other positions, once they hit the mid to late twenties?

I'll try to take a look at that last injury issue in the future. For now, I want to get back to the history of drafting safeties in the first round. We can always have a recency versus relevancy debate, but I'm not going to look at guys who have played for three seasons and are still active. I used the draft database to find all players in the 1978-2002 drafts--this coincides on the front end with the changes in passing rules and the sixteen game schedule, and ends with a draft where players, if active, should be at age 30 or older. I then sorted each position by number of players who made a pro bowl, and number of players who had a career AV of 50 or greater. Here are the results for all first round picks during that span, sorted by position, and percentage of pro bowlers.

Position PB selection Total PB Pct AV50 TOTAL AV50 Pct
Defensive Tackle 20 45 0.444 21 45 0.467
Safety 14 32 0.438 13 32 0.406
Running Back 41 98 0.418 32 98 0.327
Quarterback 19 47 0.404 22 47 0.468
Tight End 10 25 0.400 6 25 0.240
Offensive Tackle 31 79 0.392 36 79 0.456
Offensive Guard 14 36 0.389 13 36 0.361
Linebacker 31 81 0.383 33 81 0.407
Wide Receiver 30 80 0.375 31 80 0.388
Cornerback 24 74 0.324 23 74 0.311
Center 3 10 0.300 3 10 0.300
Defensive End 27 95 0.284 37 95 0.389

Okay, so this is just a quick look, and is not sorted by draft position within the first round, pro bowls are not a perfect measure of value, etc., etc. We see, though, that safeties grade out pretty well. What about early first round picks, though? Berry is going to go high in the draft, not just in the first round. Here is the same chart, except for top ten picks only, during the same time period.

Position PB selection Total PB Pct AV50 TOTAL AV50 Pct
Safety 7 9 0.778 6 9 0.667
Defensive Tackle 11 16 0.688 9 16 0.563
Running Back 22 35 0.629 20 35 0.571
Offensive Tackle 17 30 0.567 18 30 0.600
Wide Receiver 14 26 0.538 13 26 0.500
Linebacker 16 33 0.485 16 33 0.485
Cornerback 10 21 0.476 11 21 0.524
Quarterback 13 28 0.464 14 28 0.500
Defensive End 14 38 0.368 18 38 0.474
Offensive Guard 3 9 0.333 3 9 0.333
Tight End 1 4 0.250 0 4 0.000

So, yes, you're reading that correctly. The history of safeties in terms of longevity and greatness the top of the draft is, in fact, not very shaky at all compared to other positions--it is the opposite of shaky. Seven of the nine safeties drafted in the top ten between 1978 and 2002 made a pro bowl. Six of the nine had a career AV higher than 50 (and Bennie Blades finished at 49). The median top ten safety had a career like Eric Turner. Rickey Dixon is the only one who started less than three seasons and could be considered a true bust.

Only nine were drafted in this time period, so we have a small sample size. GM's don't want to draft safeties early. They want to take the next Bruce Smith at defensive end, which is why we see that position rank second-highest in terms of most picks in the first round, but lowest in terms of pro bowl percentage. That's the position where they are willing to reach and to view with rose-colored glasses. They don't reach for safeties. You have to be elite to overcome the bias at safety against using the early pick, much like what we may be seeing with Berry. Contrary to King, I think history (granted, a very small number from history) shows that Berry is a relatively safe pick at the top of the draft to turn out to be at least a pretty good starter during his rookie contract.

17 Comments | Posted in NFL Draft

Checkdowns: Brady Quinn, Charlie Whitehurst and draft value

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 24, 2010

In the past two weeks, two QBs were traded in the NFL.

  • First, Brady Quinn was traded to the Broncos in exchange for Peyton Hillis, a 2011 sixth round pick and a conditional 2012 pick based on Quinn's playing time. Breaking it down into the pieces, we've got: a) not much (Hillis); b) the equivalent value of a 2010 seventh round pick (the 2011 pick) and the equivalent value of very late 2010 pick. I think it's probably generous to say the value of the package the Broncos are sending to Denver is an early to mid 2010 sixth round pick.
  • A few days later, the Seahawks acquired Charlie Whitehurst from the Chargers by moving down from the 40th pick in the second round to the 60th pick and by sending San Diego their third-round pick in the 2011 draft. On my draft value chart, Seattle moving from #40 to #60, along with giving up a 3rd rounder next year (valued as a mid-4th round pick this season), is roughly equivalent to trading the 77th pick.

So we can gather that Quinn was worth a 6th round pick and Whitehurst was worth a 3rd round pick. The obvious follow up question is, why? We don't know too much about either player, but here's what we know so far:

11 Comments | Posted in Checkdowns

2009 RB rankings and Chris Johnson

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 23, 2010

Last off-season, I started grading the most dominant running back seasons in NFL history. I ended up writing five posts, which are available here:

Methodology
Most Dominant single seasons
Most Dominant careers
Most Dominant post-seasons
Most Dominant overall

While I'll certainly tweak the formula later this off-season or next year, I was curious to see how Chris Johnson's incredible 2009 performance would rate. Johnson not only rushed for 2,000 yards last season, but he also set the single season record for yards from scrimmage. So how great did Johnson's season end up being? And which RB was #2 in 2009?

Here's a review of the formula, at least for seasons since 2002. We break each player's stats down into three categories: rushing, receiving and scoring.

Step 1: Calculate the player's rushing score by taking his total rushing yards, subtracting 25 yards for all fumbles and adding 25 yards for all fumbles recovered. Divide that result -- the player's adjusted rushing yards -- by his number of games played.

Step 2: Start with the player's total receiving yards, add 1.5 adjusted receiving yards for each reception, and divide by games played.

Step 3: Add up the player's rushing and receiving touchdowns and divide by his number of games played.

17 Comments | Posted in Best/Worst Ever, Running Backs

Fifth Down Post: Revis and Cromartie

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 22, 2010

Over at the New York Times blog, The Fifth Down, I wrote a short article about the 2010 Jets. Barring injury, the '10 Jets corners will be a 25-year-old Darrelle Revis and a 26-year-old Antonio Cromartie, both of whom have been named first-team All-Pros by the Associated Press before. As it turns out, only three other times since the merger has a team fielded two players at the same position, both 26 years of age or younger, who had previously been selected as 1APs by the Associated Press.

All three pairs produced one Hall of Famer

5 Comments | Posted in Announcements

The WCB tournament: first round games, part I

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 22, 2010

The brackets have been set and the opening round matchups have been played. Today, we move to the first round matchups in the Tampa and New Orleans Regions.

TAMPA REGION FIRST ROUND

#17 1986 Denver Broncos at #1 2007 New England Patriots

The first #1 seed to take the field rolls as Tom Brady puts up ruthlessly efficient 25 of 29 for 300 yard and 3 td performance.

New England 37, Denver 14

#9 1966 Dallas Cowboys at #8 1973 Minnesota Vikings

Dan Reeves and Don Perkins combine for 164 yards on the ground, and Lilly and company shut down the Vikings' ground game, as the Purple People Eaters take their first loss of the tourney.

Dallas 21, Minnesota 10
+

#12 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars at #5 1974 Oakland Raiders

Marv Hubbard's early touchdown run gets the Raiders off to a good start, but Stabler throws four picks as the Jaguars roll.

Jacksonville 23, Oakland 7

#20 1992 Buffalo Bills at #4 1990 San Francisco 49ers

Buffalo gets off to a rough start as Kelly throws a pick on the first two possessions, the second of which is returned for a td. Buffalo battles back, and Nate Odomes gets an interception return for touchdown in the second quarter to give Buffalo the lead. Dexter Carter's 30 yard run in the third gives the 49ers the necessary points to win, and they hold off a late Bills drive to tie.

San Francisco 26, Buffalo 19

#14 1975 Dallas Cowboys at #3 2005 Indianapolis Colts

Dallas jumps out to a 16-3 second quarter lead, but the Colts fight back to take a slim lead early in the fourth, and then survive the upset bid where they were outgained significantly, when Fritsch misses a fourth quarter field goal and the Boys are stopped on downs. No Hail Mary to Pearson in this one.

Indianapolis 17, Dallas 16

#11 1976 Los Angeles Rams at #6 1997 Green Bay Packers

Dorsey Levens scores three times as the Packers pull away in Lambeau in impressive fashion, setting up a showdown between Favre and Manning.

Green Bay 34, Los Angeles 12

#10 1996 Denver Broncos at #7 1998 Atlanta Falcons

The game was close at the half, but a huge game by John Elway gives the Broncos an easy victory in the second half. The Falcons do no better against the '96 version of the Broncos.

Denver 34, Atlanta 12

#18 1981 San Diego Chargers at #2 1969 Minnesota Vikings

Cold conditions in the Midwest, and the Vikings defense, hold down Air Coryell, and the neither team scores after the first quarter as the Vikings hold on for the victory.

Minnesota 10, San Diego 7

TAMPA REGION SECOND ROUND MATCHUPS

2007 New England Patriots vs. 1966 Dallas Cowboys

#4 1990 San Francisco 49ers vs. #12 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars

#3 2005 Indianapolis Colts vs. #6 1997 Green Bay Packers

#2 1969 Minnesota Vikings vs. #10 1996 Denver Broncos

NEW ORLEANS REGION FIRST ROUND

#16 1993 Buffalo Bills at #1 1998 Minnesota Vikings

In the game of the tournament so far, the Bills jump to a shocking 21-3 halftime lead with a flurry at the end of the half. The Vikings fight back to within 5, and get a key sack on third down with 3 minutes left to force a punt. On 4th down with the ball at the 7, Cunningham finds Cris Carter in the back of the end zone for the winning touchdown.

Minnesota 22, Buffalo 21

#9 2000 Tennessee Titans at #8 1979 San Diego Chargers

In another tight game, the Chargers jump out to a 13-0 lead, but the Titans fight back. Fouts throws his third interception of the day with the score at 13-9, and the Titans go on an 18 play drive that features two fourth down conversions, and score with less than two minutes remaining. The Chargers get into field goal range, but Benirschke misses a 44 yard attempt that would have sent it to overtime.

Tennessee 16, San Diego 13

#12 2002 Philadelphia Eagles at #5 1984 Miami Dolphins

Marino throws 3 touchdowns, and rookie reserve running back Joe Carter has the game of his career, breaking a 55 yard run and finishing with 169 yards on 11 carries, as the Dolphins roll.

Miami 41, Philadelphia 14

#20 2000 New York Giants at #4 1967 Los Angeles Rams

Eddie Meador's punt return touchdown is the difference in a defensive slugfest.

Los Angeles 10, New York 3

#14 1974 Minnesota Vikings at #3 1994 Dallas Cowboys

Aikman throws four touchdown passes while Tarkenton throws three. The Vikings get one last chance at midfield to tie, but fail to pick up a first down.

Dallas 31, Minnesota 28

#11 1998 New York Jets at #6 1970 Detroit Lions

Testaverde has a huge game at Detroit, hitting Chrebet early for a big touchdown pass. The Jets pull away with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, as Landry is knocked out of the game.

New York 32, Detroit 10

#10 2003 Kansas City Chiefs at #7 2006 Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Defense sacks Trent Green five times in the fourth quarter to preserve the win.

Baltimore 27, Kansas City 17

#15 2002 Oakland Raiders at #2 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh jumps out to a 17-0 halftime lead. Oakland fights back in the third, but Bleier's late touchdown run seals the win.

Pittsburgh 29, Oakland 13

NEW ORLEANS SECOND ROUND MATCHUPS

#1 1998 Minnesota Vikings vs. #9 2000 Tennessee Titans

#4 1967 Los Angeles Rams vs. #5 1984 Miami Dolphins

#3 1994 Dallas Cowboys vs. #11 1998 New York Jets

#2 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. #7 2006 Baltimore Ravens

10 Comments | Posted in Insane ideas, Totally Useless

The WCB Tournament: the opening round games

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 20, 2010

I talked about the general idea here, and then set the field of 80 here, so you will want to glance at those or this will make little sense. Today, we start the games with the opening round matchups between the teams seeded 13 through 20 in each region. You should be able to click on each matchup and see the What If Sports box score and play by play. As we know, games aren't played on paper, they are played inside tiny computers, so let's get to the action. We'll start in the Tampa Region.

TAMPA REGION OPENING ROUND GAMES

#20 1992 Buffalo Bills at #13 1980 Philadelphia Eagles

The score was 10-7 in favor of Buffalo in the third quarter when Mark Kelso intercepted Ron Jaworski, leading to a Thurman Thomas TD catch. Philadelphia fought back in the fourth quarter, getting to within 3 points when Tony Franklin missed a 43 yard attempt that would have tied it right before the two minute warning. With the Eagles blitzing to stop the run and get the ball back, Thomas sealed the game when he broke through the line and found the endzone 63 yards later.

Buffalo 24, Philadelphia 21

Next up: at #4 1990 San Francisco 49ers

#19 2008 Arizona Cardinals at #14 1975 Dallas Cowboys

Swirling winds in Dallas made life difficult on the offenses, and the kickers combined to miss all three field goals beyond 40 yards. The Cardinals turned in a gutty performance on the road, and had first and goal trailing by 4 points right before the two minute warning. Lee Roy Jordan stepped in front of Kurt Warner's pass on third down to save Dallas.

Dallas 17, Arizona 13

Next up: at #3 2005 Indianapolis Colts

#18 1981 San Diego Chargers at #15 1999 Tennessee Titans

Rolf Benirschke's 49 yard field goal as time expired saved Kellen Winslow from having to come up with overtime heroics, sending Air Coryell on against the Purple People Eaters.

San Diego 13, Tennessee 10

Next up: at #2 1969 Minnesota Vikings

#17 1986 Denver Broncos at #16 1987 Cleveland Browns

The Drive. The Fumble. Revenge for Cleveland?

No. Elway hits Orson Mobley for Denver's only touchdown of the game with less than a minute left to win another close one.

Denver 10, Cleveland 7

Next up: at #1 2007 New England Patriots

NEW ORLEANS REGION OPENING ROUND GAMES

#20 2000 New York Giants at #13 1981 Cincinnati Bengals

Kerry Collins throws for over 300 yards as the Giants jump to an early lead that they never relinquish.

New York Giants 27, Cincinnati 10

Next up: at #4 1967 Los Angeles Rams

#19 1985 New England Patriots at #14 1974 Minnesota Vikings

Fred Cox and Tony Franklin have a field goal battle. Minnesota was shutout through three quarters, but Tony Eason throws two costly interceptions, the last one coming at midfield with a minute left in a tie game, and Cox nails the game winner. Chuck Foreman goes for 165 total yards.

Minnesota 12, New England 9

Next up: at #3 1994 Dallas Cowboys

#18 1989 Denver Broncos at #15 2002 Oakland Raiders

Gannon outduels Elway as the Raiders jump to an early lead.

Oakland 26, Denver 14

Next up: at #2 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

#17 1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at #16 1993 Buffalo Bills
The Bucs defense holds the Bills out of the endzone, but the Bucs offense cannot score. Andre Reed has 138 yards receiving on 3 catches.

Buffalo 15, Tampa Bay 0

Next up: at #1 1998 Minnesota Vikings

LOS ANGELES REGION OPENING ROUND GAMES

#20 1979 Los Angeles Rams at #13 1991 Buffalo Bills

Thurman Thomas is already on his way to the WCB rushing title with another strong performance, as the Bills move to 3-0 in the opening round.

Buffalo 17, Los Angeles 13

Next up: at #4 2006 San Diego Chargers

#19 1987 Denver Broncos at #14 1971 Miami Dolphins

Elway does his best Bob Griese impersonation, throwing only 13 passes as Denver tries to hold on to a lead. Miami fails twice in the red zone in the fourth and time runs out on Miami.

Denver 21, Miami 17

Next up: at #3 1983 Washington Redskins

#18 2003 Carolina Panthers at #15 1981 Dallas Cowboys

Jake Delhomme throws 3 interceptions, and Dallas cruises to a comfortable victory.

Dallas 30, Carolina 11

Next up: at #2 1992 San Francisco 49ers

#17 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers at #16 1979 Houston Oilers

If only the Luv Ya Blue Oilers didn't have to play the Steelers. Mike Reinfeldt of the Oilers gets 4 interceptions of Neil O'Donnell, but the offense can't get in the end zone, and the Steelers make their red zone trips count, pulling it out with a fourth quarter touchdown.

Pittsburgh 15, Houston 12

Next up: at #1 1968 Baltimore Colts

HOUSTON REGION OPENING ROUND GAMES

#20 1994 San Diego Chargers at #13 1976 Minnesota Vikings

Tarkenton throws for 3 touchdowns, and Foreman has another huge game, as the Vikings roll the Chargers.

Minnesota 30, San Diego 3

#19 1980 Atlanta Falcons at #14 2006 Chicago Bears

A 16-point second quarter is enough for the Falcons to take control of the game.

Atlanta 19, Chicago 13

Next up: at #3 1970 Minnesota Vikings

#18 1996 New England Patriots at #15 1982 Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins score two touchdowns in one decisive minute in the fourth quarter, on either side of a Bledsoe interception.

Miami 27, New England 17

Next up: at #2 1990 Buffalo Bills

#17 1993 Houston Oilers at #16 1966 Kansas City Chiefs

A spring snow storm hits the Midwest just in time to wreak havoc on the run-n-shoot Oilers. Moon throws three interceptions in bad conditions, while the Chiefs keep it on the ground for 231 rushing yards. The Oilers still have a chance because of four missed field goals by Kansas City (look for them to draft a Danish Norwegian kicker as a result), but come up two yards short of the goal line as the game ends.

Kansas City 17, Houston 10

Next up: at #1 2001 Saint Louis Rams

39 Comments | Posted in Insane ideas, Totally Useless

Rod Martin, John Mobley and Andre Wadsworth

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 19, 2010

Which colleges lead the way when it comes to quantity and quality of NFL draft picks? That's the question I set out to answer today. Here's what I did:

  • I started in 1967, when the AFL and NFL began holding a common draft. I looked at every NFL draft from 1967 to 2009.
  • I then gave each player the value that his draft slot was worth; I used the pick value chart I derived two years ago, which closely resembles the famous NFL draft chart that many sources cite (but I chose to use my values since the reasons why the two charts diverge are precisely why, for this sort of study, my values are preferred).
  • I then gave each school, in each season, the sum of all of the draft values of all of its players drafted. This gives each school a season grade. To come up with a program grade, I used the draft values in the three years before and after the year in question (along with that season). So the 2000 Oklahoma State Cowboys' program value would be the sum of the OSU seasonal grades from '97 to '03. Because of this, I only have program grades from '70 to '06.

Which college-seasons come out on top?

5 Comments | Posted in History, NFL Draft, Statgeekery

The WCB Tournament: the Field of 64, er, 80 is set

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 18, 2010

Okay, so I looked at all the great comments and decided that I couldn't decide between teams. 20 at-large entries was not enough. On the other hand, I have to draw the line somewhere. So I expanded it to 80, so there will now be 36 at-large (non-Super Bowl) entries along with every Super Bowl losing team. Of course, this still means everyone will be disappointed by something. I settled on the 36 entries by some general combination of the following:

1. Find the teams with the best records not to make it (so, everyone that went 14-2 in a non-strike year should be in);
2. Then find the teams with the best SRS performance not to make the Super Bowl (so teams like 1970 Minnesota get in even though they were also just in the year before);
3. Then find teams that were really good for a three year stretch but never made the Super Bowl during that time (think Rams of the late 60's and 70's, or the 13-3 Chiefs from the mid-90's). I chose a representative year for these teams; and finally . . .
4. The last 9 entries were entirely based on commenter votes and adding teams from franchises not represented. I decided that the Texans would not get in (when your best team is 9-7, sorry), but the city of Houston is represented by the run-n-shoot and luv ya blue Oilers. The only other franchise not in is New Orleans. I could have gone with the 2006 Saints but decided that Saints fans can just bask in the glow and ignore this silly exercise. So, commenters pushed in teams like the aforementioned Oilers, the 1977 Raiders, and the 1976 New England Patriots (a very solid choice by all the numbers plus the way they lost, by the way).

Then, I had to seed this darn monstrosity. Trust me, I claim no expertise in this matter. I just set up a rough formula based on win percentage, SRS rating, and margin of defeat and distance from the SB winner in terms of points for each of the 80 teams. I gave myself the liberty to move a team up or down a line or two from what that kicked out. Then I seeded the teams by making sure no franchise could play itself before the Elite 8, and also tried to have a balance across eras. If your team got a bad seed, well they can play their way out.

The #1 seeds are:

2007 New England Patriots
1968 Baltimore Colts
1998 Minnesota Vikings
2001 Saint Louis Rams

All these teams rated highly in every category--outstanding win percentage, high power rating, and lost in close fashion in memorable games (the Colts being the only ones who lost by more than 3). Without further ado, here are the seeds in each region:

The Tampa Region
1 2007 New England Patriots
2 1969 Minnesota Vikings
3 2005 Indianapolis Colts
4 1990 San Francisco 49ers
5 1974 Oakland Raiders
6 1997 Green Bay Packers
7 1998 Atlanta Falcons
8 1973 Minnesota Vikings
9 1966 Dallas Cowboys
10 1996 Denver Broncos
11 1976 Los Angeles Rams
12 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
13 1980 Philadelphia Eagles
14 1975 Dallas Cowboys
15 1999 Tennessee Titans
16 1987 Cleveland Browns
17 1986 Denver Broncos
18 1981 San Diego Chargers
19 2008 Arizona Cardinals
20 1992 Buffalo Bills

The New Orleans Region
1 1998 Minnesota Vikings
2 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers
3 1994 Dallas Cowboys
4 1967 Los Angeles Rams
5 1984 Miami Dolphins
6 1970 Detroit Lions
7 2006 Baltimore Ravens
8 1979 San Diego Chargers
9 2000 Tennessee Titans
10 2003 Kansas City Chiefs
11 1998 New York Jets
12 2002 Philadelphia Eagles
13 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
14 1974 Minnesota Vikings
15 2002 Oakland Raiders
16 1993 Buffalo Bills
17 1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18 1989 Denver Broncos
19 1985 New England Patriots
20 2000 New York Giants

The Los Angeles Region
1 1968 Baltimore Colts
2 1992 San Francisco 49ers
3 1983 Washington Redskins
4 2006 San Diego Chargers
5 1978 Dallas Cowboys
6 1967 Oakland Raiders
7 1976 New England Patriots
8 1997 Kansas City Chiefs
9 1977 Oakland Raiders
10 1986 Chicago Bears
11 1988 Cincinnati Bengals
12 2009 Minnesota Vikings
13 1991 Buffalo Bills
14 1971 Miami Dolphins
15 1981 Dallas Cowboys****
16 1979 Houston Oilers
17 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers
18 2003 Carolina Panthers
19 1987 Denver Broncos
20 1979 Los Angeles Rams

The Houston Region
1 2001 Saint Louis Rams
2 1990 Buffalo Bills
3 1970 Minnesota Vikings
4 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers
5 1987 San Francisco 49ers
6 1977 Denver Broncos
7 2009 Indianapolis Colts
8 2004 Philadelphia Eagles
9 1970 Dallas Cowboys
10 1973 Los Angeles Rams
11 2005 Seattle Seahawks
12 1972 Washington Redskins
13 1976 Minnesota Vikings
14 2006 Chicago Bears
15 1982 Miami Dolphins
16 1966 Kansas City Chiefs
17 1993 Houston Oilers
18 1996 New England Patriots
19 1980 Atlanta Falcons
20 1994 San Diego Chargers

Okay, so there is the bracket. Tampa Region winner will play New Orleans winner; Houston winner will play Los Angeles winner. Next up is the opening round games between the #13- 20, #14-#19, #15-#18, and #16-#17 teams.

****see comment about 1981 Cowboys below

20 Comments | Posted in Insane ideas, Totally Useless

Fifth Down Post: NFL Draft and Team AV

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 18, 2010

Pro-football-reference will be teaming up with the Fifth Down throughout the off-season, although not on a weekly basis like we did during the regular season. Here's a short article that looks at what percentage of each team's Approximate Value came from players it drafted.

I don't think you can draw too many conclusions from this; the Saints don't get "credit" for Pierre Thomas (UDFA) since he wasn't drafted. The Patriots don't get credit for acquiring two stud WRs by trading draft picks for them. And teams that are really bad may end up starting low round draft picks who aren't very good and wouldn't start on most teams, but get "credit" for drafting players who accumulate value. Still, I thought it was an interesting exercise (made all the more interesting by noting that Cleveland somehow ranked last on the list).

Here's the link: http://fifthdown.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/n-f-l-draft-which-teams-build-wisely/

4 Comments | Posted in Announcements, Approximate Value, Checkdowns

Checkdowns: Brady Quinn

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 16, 2010

The Browns traded Brady Quinn to the Broncos for Peyton Hillis, a 2011 sixth round pick and a 2012 conditional pick. Quinn was selected in the first round of the 2007 draft and was expected to be the Cleveland quarterback of the future. As it turns out, Quinn returned practically nothing on Cleveland's investment. He leaves Cleveland with just 12 career starts and only three wins on his resume, along with commensurately ugly individual stats.

How poorly does the Cleveland-Quinn relationship rank? I looked at all QBs selected in the first round since 1950, and noted how they performed for the team that drafted them. The table below shows the number of starts, wins, seasons as main starter, total passing yards and seasons with an AY/A index of over 80, 90, 100 and 110 (with enough attempts to qualify for the league passing title) each quarterback had for his drafting team. (Note: For players selected in both the NFL and AFL drafts, I'm choosing to list the player's draft status by the team he selected to play for. An asterisk indicates the player's team in the table was not the team that drafted him, but traded for his rights before he ever played for the team that selected him; a + indicates the player went to the CFL or chose to play baseball. QBs selected in the supplemental draft were not included.)

10 Comments | Posted in NFL Draft

Checkdowns: Tomlinson to the Jets

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 15, 2010

LaDainian Tomlinson has had an incredibly successful pro career, all while playing for the San Diego Chargers. Now, in the twilight of his football life, he's moving on to a new team. Sound familiar? Tomlinson joins a long list of all-time greats who switched teams before fading into the sunset. The Jets have picked up aging Hall of Famers before (Brett Favre, Art Monk and Ronnie Lott, who came to NY after a couple of seasons with the Raiders), but they're by no means the king of acquiring former superstars in their thirties (that would be the 49ers).

Who were the best players to change teams? Which teams have picked up the most aging superstars? Which player hung with one team the longest but still didn't retire in that city? I looked at all players who acquired at least 100 points of AV with one team (I'm talking about the sum of his single season AV scores, not the 100-95-90 career AV score) before moving on to a new team. I only gave the new team credit if the player immediately joined that team, so the Jets don't get credit for Ronnie Lott and the Eagles don't get credit for Art Monk (who went there after playing for the Jets). The table below shows all players who meet the above description, along with each player's accumulated AV with his former team, his number of seasons with his former team, his age and the year when he first played for the new team, the AV he had for his new team in his first season, and his number of seasons with his new suitor. (Note: There are two columns for position; the first column is presented so you can sort by position in a more effective manner.)

8 Comments | Posted in Checkdowns, History

P-F-R March Madness pool 2010

Posted by Doug on March 15, 2010

First prize is we will do a podcast (yeah, that's right) on the player or team/season of your choice. Also honor and glory.

Rules: each team has a price, listed below. Pick as many teams as you want, as long as the total price stays at 100 or less. The winner will be the entry with the most total wins by all teams in the entry. First tiebreaker is greatest number of 16 seeds, second tiebreaker is greatest number of 15 seeds, etc. No point will be awarded for winning the play-in game.

Enter by putting a comma-delimited string of team numbers in the comments, like this:

3,8,12,14,...

which would correspond to Baylor, Duke, Georgetown, Gonzaga, etc. It doesn't matter what order you put the teams in. I will try to check all the entries to make sure they're legal, but I make no guarantees. It's your responsibility to make sure your entry is legal. Deadline is tipoff of Thursday's first game.

 1 = (16) Ark.-Pine Bluff       1
 2 = ( 7) BYU                   7
 3 = ( 3) Baylor               11
 4 = ( 5) Butler                5
 5 = ( 8) California            4
 6 = ( 7) Clemson               4
 7 = (12) Cornell               2

53 Comments | Posted in Non-football

Support Pro-Football-Reference.com, Sponsor a Page

Posted by Neil Paine on March 15, 2010

Sponsoring a page is fun, fast, and easy way to support what we're doing here at Pro-Football-Reference. With a sponsorship, you can:

  • Show your support for your favorite player or team.
  • Drum up traffic for your own site & draw in fans with a common interest.
  • Get some well-deserved recognition for your support of PFR.
  • Make your voice heard by the tens of thousands of people who visit Pro-Football-Reference every day.

Here's all you have to do to get involved:

  1. Create a membership account.
  2. Find the page(s) you'd like to support, and click "sponsor" (available pages).
  3. If the page you want is already sponsored, click "Alert Me!" to be informed when the current sponsorship expires.
  4. Follow the instructions to create your message and make your payment.
  5. Your message and links will be visible on the page after we approve them (usually in less than 24 hours).

And who knows, if you're clever enough, your message might end up on lists like these.

Comments Off | Posted in Announcements

Career touchdown lengths

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 15, 2010

Mostly a data dump today. With the 2009 season in the books, I thought it would be a good time to look at career touchdown lengths for the best guys at throwing, catching and running for touchdowns. All three tables include all career touchdowns except those that came: (1) while in the AAFC or any other non-NFL league besides the AFL; (2) in the post-season; (3) before 1940.

Passing: I've included all QBs who have thrown at least 125 touchdown passes that weren't nullified by those three criteria:

name years tms tds avg median
Norm Van Brocklin 1949--1960 ram-phi 171 30.9 26
Sid Luckman 1939--1950 chi 134 28.8 25
Daryle Lamonica 1963--1974 buf-rai 164 26.5 23
Sammy Baugh 1937--1952 was 168 26.5 23
Bart Starr 1956--1971 gnb 152 28.0 22.5
Bobby Layne 1948--1962 chi-nyy-det-pit 196 26.4 22.5
Babe Parilli 1952--1969 gnb-cle-rai-nwe-nyj 178 27.1 21.5

9 Comments | Posted in Statgeekery

The What Coulda Been (WCB) Tournament: the at-large selections and seeding

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 12, 2010

I suppose I could have titled this the March Sadness tournament as well.

Here's the idea. To mirror the NCAA Basketball Tournament that is going to be taking place over the next several weeks, we are going to do a 64-team field simulation tournament of NFL teams. I could have chosen any number of criteria, but this tournament is going to be for all those teams in the Super Bowl era who came up just a little short. It's the best of the not-quite-best. The woulda-shoulda-couldas. The "close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes" crowd. Or if you prefer, the Vikings and Bills chance at redemption (or additional heartbreak).

History only remembers the victors, but here at the PFR blog we like to shine the light on some of history's other teams. So here is how it is going to work. Much like the NCAA tournament has several automatic selections that go to teams that win their conference, even if they would not be strong enough to get in as an at-large, every team that won its conference (or league from 1966-1969) and then lost in the Super Bowl gets an automatic bid into the tournament. That fills forty-four of our sixty-four slots.

The remaining twenty slots are going to be filled by at-large selections with teams that lost before reaching the Super Bowl. I have several somewhat loose criteria for making my at-large selections:

68 Comments | Posted in Insane ideas, Totally Useless

Rest in Peace, Merlin

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 11, 2010

The football community lost one of its greatest members today. Merlin Olsen spent all fifteen seasons of his playing career with the Los Angeles Rams. After that, he teamed with Dick Enberg to cover AFC football games (and the Rose Bowl) as a color commentator in the '80s. For Rams and Olsen fans out there, let's take a trip down memory lane:

  • Olsen was a huge star at Utah State, where he played defensive tackle under future Denver Broncos coach John Ralston. During Olsen's junior and senior seasons, the Aggies won nine games each season, the only time in school history USU has hit the nine-win mark. As a junior, Utah State ended the season 18th in the polls, the first time the school ever finished a season ranked in the AP poll. The 9-0-1 Aggies ended Olsen's senior season ranked 10th in the polls, which was the last time the school has been ranked by the Associated Press. Ironically, the second best NFL player from Utah State was in the same class as Olsen; one can only imagine how good the Aggies would have been if he actually played football for them.
  • As a senior, Olsen won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best linemen; unsurprisingly, he then went in the top three in both the NFL and AFL drafts in 1962. The Los Angeles Rams went 4-10 in 1961, earning themselves the 3rd pick in the NFL draft. Before the '61 season began, LA traded wide receiver Del Shofner (who was 27 years old and already a two time, first-team AP All-Pro selection and would make that team again in '61, '62 and '63) to the Giants for the Vikings first round pick (which the Giants owned after fleecing Minnesota in a trade for QB George Shaw), which turned out to be the #2 overall selection. After Ernie Davis went first overall, the Rams selected QB Roman Gabriel and Olsen with those two picks; in the process, they solidified both sides of the ball for the next decade.

4 Comments | Posted in Obituaries

Random thoughts on completion percentage

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 11, 2010

This post will be exactly what it says--random thoughts on completion percentage as a measure of quarterback performance, as a statistic used in passer rating, etc.

1. Contrary to what you might think, I do not hate completions. Incompletions are a bad thing. A quarterback who completes 50% of his passes for 7.0 yards per attempt would be more productive if a few of those incompletions were instead turned into short completions. He might be a 55% passer with a 7.3 yards per attempt instead. A few more, and he might be a 60% passer with a 7.6 yards per attempt. Clearly, the latter is much better than the former.

2. The issue, such as what comes up with passer rating, though, is not whether incompletions are bad--they are. It's whether the tradeoff of incompletions for higher yards per completion or attempt is bad. It's whether Jason Campbell's 62.3% completions at 6.4 yards per attempt in 2008 is really as good as Mark Brunell's 57.7% at 6.7 yards per attempt three years earlier for the same franchise. Both of those seasons garnered similar passer ratings.

3. Completion percentage is often cited as a measure of accuracy. Clearly, the more accurate you are, the more passes you will complete, all else being equal. The problem, though, is that everything is not equal. It is highly dependent on the offensive system, the game situation, and the quarterback (or offensive) philosophy when it comes to attacking the defense, as well as the quarterback's willingness to throw the ball under pressure rather than take sacks. Let's put it this way. Is Chad Pennington really the most accurate passer in NFL history? To me, citing his completion percentage as evidence of being most accurate is a bit like citing the old lady who drives five miles a week as the safest driver because she has no accidents. We need more information than number of accidents or completion percentage before we can make a value judgment about safest/most accurate.

4. I don't think the relationship between completion percentage and success is linear, where we can simply say that a every additional completion is worth x points across the board. Let's consider some extreme hypotheticals. We have two teams that both average a whopping 14 yards per attempt. One team completes 100% of its passes; the other 50% (for 28 yards per completion). If I were to model those two, it seems pretty clear that the team that completes 100% would score more. They would score on virtually every possession, only failing to score in limited cases where their 3 consecutive completions net 9 or fewer yards. The 50% team would also score alot, but string together a few more droughts. I suspect my 100% completion team with 14 yards per attempt would average about 60 points a game, while the 50% completion team would average closer to 50.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have two teams that average 3 yards per attempt. If one of those teams completed 100% of their passes, they would struggle to maintain drives or even get them started, while a 25% completion team would occasionally string together first downs and get into scoring range. Neither would score much at all, but if I were forced to watch both teams for 24 hours straight as punishment for all my transgressions, I'd take the team with the yards per completion to win in a non-shootout.

Now, the question is, where is the line where it begins to switch? Where does a higher completion percentage at the same yards per attempt matter significantly in terms of points?

5. A team that completes a higher percentage (at the same yards per attempt) will have more first down passes. This is true. The comparable team with the lower completion percentage will nevertheless have a higher percentage of completions that result in first downs avoided. What do I mean by this? Consider two quarterbacks who gain 30 yards, the one that went 2 for 2 may have picked up two first downs. The other who gained it in one pass picked up one first down, and avoided the necessity of executing and gaining at least one more.

6. This one hit me when I was looking at Sonny Jurgensen's career splits as a result of this post on quarterback schedule adjustments. Jurgensen's yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage were all worse against the Western Division, supporting the theoretical adjustment to schedule in his case. However, his completion percentage was actually higher against the West.

People talk about quarterbacks who pad their stats when the team is trailing. They'll talk about things like garbage touchdowns or late yardage to put up what appears like a big game. You never hear people talk about padding the completion percentage, though. For good quarterbacks, these late situations are precisely when they can put up high completion rates, all else equal (I'll get back to that in a second). Defenses that have a lead are willing to concede yards and first downs for time and preventing big plays late in a game. This is the situation when the accurate QB should make hay. I play fantasy football in a league that gives points for first downs. I've watched it happen as someone like Brees or Warner racks up first down after first down late when trailing. On the other hand, defenses that are trailing are incentivized to prevent completions, because they need to stop the clock and force a change in possession; a big play may be only marginally more costly than allowing a couple of first downs. In these situations, the same quarterback may find that completing passes is more difficult, but gaining larger chunks of yards is more likely to occur.

The problem with measuring this effect, though, is that good passers usually don't trail against bad pass defenses to begin with, so if they are trailing, it's usually to a pretty good defense. If we could artificially manipulate it, I suspect we would find Peyton Manning would complete a higher percentage of passes against the same Ravens defensive unit if we started two artificial games with 15 minutes left, one with the Colts trailing by 10, the other with them leading by 10.

7. Sacks taken should count against completion percentage; sacks avoided by throwing incomplete or out of bounds do. Or at least we should have a separate statistic that measures completions versus total opportunities to pass. A quarterback who throws two passes away rather than taking a sack will have a lower completion percentage, but has saved his team's chances at points. A 18 for 30 game (60%) becomes a 18 for 32 game (56.25%) with two sacks avoided-type incompletions.

8. Back to the question of where the line is for where completion percentage increase becomes advantageous for the offense. My prediction/guess is at roughly 7.5 yards per pass attempt, or roughly the point where a team that completes 65% of its passes is still going to average 11.5 yards per completion and throw for a healthy number of first downs per completion, that it becomes very profitable to have the more consistent (i.e., higher completion rate) offense compared to the less consistent one. This is probably about one standard deviation better than the average, and would mean that higher completion percentage (for teams with the same yards per attempt) is either a small factor or a negative factor for about 85% of the teams. It matters greatly for the elite passing teams, but probably not for most.

In other words, it matters at the high extreme and was a big reason why the Niners teams of the 1980's and 1990's were so good. Not so much for guys like David Carr and Charlie Frye.

9. Completion percentage, like sack percentage, is somewhat consistent for individual quarterbacks, even when they change teams. This suggests that part of what we are measuring is a repeatable skill and not just entirely system-driven or teammate related. I would tend to take the quarterback with the higher comp% over the lower comp% going forward in the future to be able to maintain the yards per attempt rate. In other words, I think it has some predictive value. This has to be tempered by system, because it is pretty clear that the QB's in a Don Coryell-based offense (Fouts, all of the Redskins QB's of the 1980's and early 1990's, and the Rams and Vermeil era Chiefs recently) are undersold by passer rating relative to adjusted net yards per attempt in terms of the value they provided, and the West Coast passers are oversold, and its because of the different philosophies as they affect completion percentage.

10. After writing paragraph #8, I pulled a list of team-pairs going back to 1970 for teams with the exact same yards per attempt in the same season, but completion percentages that differed by 5% or more. I'll probably post that separately rather than lengthen this one.

25 Comments | Posted in General

Part II: The 36 best undrafted players since ’36

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 8, 2010

Yesterday, I looked at half of the 36 best undrafted players since the first NFL draft in 1936. Today, listed alphabetically, the second half:

Warren Moon - players like Night Train Lane and Larry Little were prevented from player major college football due to the color of their skin, but Moon had to deal with double discrimination -- he wasn't just black, he was a black quarterback. Some major colleges wanted Moon, but none of them wanted him as a quarterback. He instead went to West Los Angeles College, where he starred for the Hustling Oilers at quarterback. After two years at the junior college, he was able to convince the University of Washington to let him play the position he loved. The Huskies' faith in Moon paid off when in his senior season he was named MVP of the Rose Bowl, as UW upset Michigan, 27-20. Despite the success, Moon went undrafted in 1978 when he refused to switch positions to play in the NFL. He went north where he found a team willing to make him their leader, and he starred for six seasons in Canada. After winning five Grey Cups and having one of the most remarkable careers in CFL history, Moon was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2001. In 1984, after tearing apart Canadian defenses for years, Moon was welcomed into the NFL. He would again become the QB of a team called the Oilers, this time in Houston. Moon didn't enter the NFL until age 28, and when he did, he joined a miserable Houston team that was just 2-14 the season before. Despite all that, Moon made an incredible 9 Pro Bowls in his career. Moon and Jerry Rice are the only non-linemen to make nine Pro Bowls after turning 28 years old.

Marion Motley - Fullback, linebacker and all-around bulldozer, Motley was one of the greatest athletes in Cleveland history. With the help of Sean Lahman, I briefly highlighted Motley's terrific career last year. In the four AAFC championship games, Motley rushed 48 times for 415 yards (8.6 YPC) and five touchdowns. When the AAFC collapsed/merged with the NFL, Motley was the all-time leader in rushing yards thanks to an incredible 6.2 YPC average. The NY Daily News named him first-team All-AAFC all four seasons and then All-NFL in 1950. Because of five years of service in the Navy during WWII, Motley was 30 years old by the time he entered the NFL. With his incredible power and acceleration, Motley would have had a chance to set several NFL records if he had entered the league at an early age. Instead, due to his Naval commitment and his time in the AAFC, he's mostly remembered for (along with teammate Bill Willis and Kenny Washington and Woody Strode in the NFL) reintegrating pro football. But relative to his era, he's probably the most athletic player to ever go undrafted.

Nate Newton - like Mills, Newton spent time in the USFL before playing in the NFL. But no one ever accused Newton of not being big enough to play in the NFL; in fact, he was considered too big, or more precisely, too fat. Newton never seemed to be bothered by his weight -- he turned down an offer to play at Arizona State because coach Frank Kush made his players run up and down a mountain; instead, Newton stayed in-state and attended FAMU. There are no mountains near Florida A&M's campus. He wasn't selected in the 1983 NFL draft but signed on with the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately, he was cut before ever appearing in a game, and then signed on to play in the USFL. Newton quickly became a fan favorite playing for the Tampa Bay Bandits and finally signed with the Cowboys in 1986. When he came to Dallas, he was even bigger than William Perry, so some started calling him "the Kitchen". At first, Newton was something of a joke or an experiment, and while Newton struggled with weight his whole career, he helped usher in the modern era where being a fat lineman is a good thing. In 1995, he made his fourth straight Pro Bowl, won his third Super Bowl, and was a first-team AP All-Pro for the second straight season. He helped Emmitt Smith break dozens of records, and Newton quickly went from the Kitchen to the prototype, with every NFL team searching for a Newton. Nate's post-playing life was tarnished due to consecutive drug busts; in two months, he was arrested twice for possession of 388 pounds of marijuana, or what some called, a Newton-sized amount of pot.

14 Comments | Posted in General, History, NFL Draft

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