2016 NFL Conference Championship Predictions

An offensive-driven team is going to win the Super Bowl this year, but the defense that plays the best over the next two games is still going to be the one holding the trophy. I would expect a game-changing turnover to highlight this weekend.

Green Bay at Atlanta

Both games are rematches, but I think this one is more likely to resemble the first matchup, a 33-32 shootout won by the Falcons in Week 8. I think both offenses and quarterbacks are going to be very good, but I do have some concerns with the health of Green Bay’s receivers; Jordy Nelson in particular. I also think in a game with two bad defenses, Atlanta should be able to run the ball better with the duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman compared to Green Bay with Ty Montgomery. This isn’t going to be a game where one defense surprises everyone with a dominant performance. Both offenses are going to move the ball and score frequently. It’s just a matter of situational stops, like on third down, forcing a field goal attempt or coming up with an unexpected fumble recovery. If the Packers get the hot start they so need like in Dallas last week, Matt Ryan can’t afford to press and throw a terrible pick like he did to Tramon Williams before halftime in his last playoff meeting with the Packers. But that was a long time ago, and Ryan is playing the best ball of his career. He’s been the MVP this season. Aaron Rodgers has been on an incredible hot streak, but this is the time of year where I start looking at how teams have done against good teams. With Green Bay, you’re talking about a team that’s 9-18 on the road against teams with a winning record since 2011. There was a 2-15 stretch going there before these last two wins in Detroit (31-24 in Week 17) and Dallas last week (34-31). Last week was the first time Rodgers won a game in his career as an underdog when Green Bay allowed more than 26 points. He was 0-17 before that. The Falcons are favored at home and have scored at least 24 in every single home game this year. Similar research also led me to this crazy stat.

Packers are 0-35 with Aaron Rodgers at QB when trailing by more than one point in the fourth quarter against a team with a winning record.

ar035

We knew Rodgers had the 10-34 record at 4QC opportunities, but I was reminded this week that only two of the 10 wins came against teams with a winning record (2014 Cowboys in Dez Caught It game, 2015 Seahawks), and both of those were 1-point deficits erased early in the quarter. Throw out a 2008 Minnesota game where he only trailed by 1 late (28-27 loss after long FG missed by Mason Crosby) and a 2008 loss in OT to the Bears in which he only had the ball in a tied game, and that’s how you end up with 0-35. Matt Flynn led GB’s only win in this situation against the Lions in 2011 (his 6 TD game).

It’s very important for Atlanta to start hot. You might recall Ryan had the Falcons up 17-0 in his last NFC Championship Game (2012 against the 49ers), but that lead was blown and the Falcons came up 10 yards short of the Super Bowl, or maybe Harry Douglas keeping his feet away from the big game. This time is the last game in the Georgia Dome. I think the crowd will understand the magnitude of this one and help the home team to victory in another high-scoring game.

Final: Packers 28, Falcons 34

Pittsburgh at New England

I already cranked out over 4200 words on this one at FO, so please read that. I rarely read my own articles, but I read this one on Friday evening and thought it came together very well. If you know me well, you know that I am sometimes not truthful in my game predictions in big games involving the Patriots. I always pick them anyway, but it’s hard to tell when I honestly believe them to win or I’m just conjuring up a reverse jinx. I think the first paragraph in my outlook for this game subtly hints at my real feelings about this one on Sunday night. But as I wrote back in Week 7, Tomlin vs. Belichick is like checkers vs. chess. If Tomlin wants to win this game as an underdog, he’s going to have to make some ballsy calls, whether it’s a fourth-down attempt at midfield or a two-point conversion try to win the game. And when Antonio Brown drops the game-winning 2PC in the final 20 seconds, maybe I start looking for work in a different field on Monday. But I think Brown will play well, Bell will play well, and Roethlisberger usually plays well against the Patriots, but not good enough to overcome the defense. Still, the loss of Gronk should be felt in this one, and I still believe the Patriots defense is vastly overrated and can be exposed by a top quarterback. We just need to see top QB play from Pittsburgh again, and it’s rarely been there even during this winning streak.

Go figure, I like the home teams, both of which I picked to get to the Super Bowl a few weeks ago.

Final: Steelers 21, Patriots 28

Season recap

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 7-7
  • Week 11: 12-2
  • Week 12: 12-4
  • Week 13: 10-5
  • Week 14: 9-7
  • Week 15: 12-4
  • Week 16: 9-7
  • Week 17: 11-5
  • Wild Card: 4-0
  • Divisional: 3-1
  • Season: 166-98

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Embracing Mediocrity

I always like it when the afternoon games I’m most interested in are on my local CBS and FOX affiliates, which is the case this week. Without failure, each season someone is shocked that I don’t have Sunday Ticket, but why would I ever want or need such an expensive service? I prefer to watch a full live game if I can, particularly the Steelers, but I also have the RedZone channel. Then there’s Game Pass and torrents. So I get the league-wide access I need at a favorable cost. If there’s a drive full of 4-yard papercuts to Jarvis Landry that I need to see, I’ll see it in due time. No worries.

Bengals at Steelers

This is easily the game of the week. That may not mean it will play out as the best, but it is the most important game — the next chapter in a heated rivalry. It also brings up one of the more fascinating stats in the NFL: Marvin Lewis is 6-7 in Pittsburgh, but 2-13 at home against the Steelers (including two crushing playoff losses). The road team just happens to play better in this series, and Cincinnati’s 6-7 record in Pittsburgh trails only Jacksonville (3-1) and New England (3-2) since 2003 among teams with at least 3 trips to Heinz Field. Part of this weird split is that Ben Roethlisberger’s stats are better in Cincinnati than at home where he has had some of the worst games of his career in low-scoring struggles, including last season’s 16-10, three-pick defeat. At least this won’t be a game where Roethlisberger is just returning from injury as was the case last year.

In his career, Roethlisberger is 54-4 at home when the Steelers allow fewer than 21 points, but three of those losses were to the Bengals. Lewis’ defense has a good feel for defending this offense, including pressuring Ben and containing Antonio Brown as a receiver (he does have 3 punt return touchdowns against the Bengals). In Brown’s last 48 games with Roethlisberger at quarterback, he’s had at least 5 catches in all 48, and at least 70 yards in 40 of them. Only the Ravens (4), Bengals (3) and Seahawks (1) have held this duo under 70 yards. I think the Bengals can limit his damage again this week, and A.J. Green is going to have the bigger game. He almost has to with both offenses experiencing many departures, putting the onus on their star receivers to dominate. Heath Miller retired, Ladarius Green and Tyler Eifert are injured, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are gone, Martavis Bryant is suspended and Markus Wheaton appears to still be injured. This means newcomers have to contribute, including Eli Rogers, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd. While a game of HORSE between Brown and Green would be interesting, the offense that gets more secondary receiver contributions is likely to win this game. I do not think either running game is going to go off, though I’d give the Steelers the edge there with DeAngelo Williams still looking really good at an advanced age behind this offensive line. I’m still not sure what to think of Jeremy Hill after a disappointing 2015, and he’ll especially be happy if Ryan Shazier isn’t at full strength after Shazier’s dominant playoff game helped eliminate the Bengals. The Steelers ought to be happy that Vontaze Burfict is still suspended for this one after Burfcit injured Le’Veon Bell, Ben and Brown on hits last season.

Defensively, I would be concerned that the Steelers did not get much rush on Washington and gave up their share of plays, but got enough big stops to limit the points to 16. That is always key, but a similar offense in Cincinnati should get rid of the ball quickly and there really is no one capable of matching up with Green in this secondary. Andy Dalton is usually one of the best-protected quarterbacks in the NFL, but he took seven sacks on the road last week. The Steelers are going to have to get their front seven to deliver more this week. I would expect a few sacks from the Bengals of Roethlisberger, but he’ll be glad to see no Reggie Nelson in the secondary. The offense had few problems in the last three quarters against Washington, but must build off that performance. You saw the ugly first quarter and how a few turnovers could really change the game around. The Bengals have the better defense in this matchup.

So home field has been established as pretty irrelevant in this particular series, but I do give the Steelers a slight edge going into this one. They’ll be happy to be home given six of their last seven games were on the road thanks to being a 6th seed in the playoffs last year and opening this year on the road. Monday night’s performance was impressive enough for me to think this offense is clicking well enough early despite the personnel losses that they can pull out a close one here.

Bengals 21, Steelers 24

Colts at Broncos

I hope I’m not relying too much on “fighting narratives” to make game picks this season, especially after a bad Week 1. But this was a game where I picked the Broncos to win when I went through all 256 games before opening night. Yes, it is true that Andrew Luck has had great success against the Broncos (3-1), including the most efficient and effective game any QB had against them last year while he lacerated his kidney. Maybe he took those matchups with Peyton Manning personally, really wanting to impress the Indy fans. He doesn’t need any extra motivation to avoid going 0-2 this week, but he hasn’t seen this Wade Phillips’ called defense on the road yet. The Broncos are still very much led by that defense, which feeds on the crowd energy to play even better at home. Trevor Siemian threw one pass over 15 yards in Week 1 and it was intercepted. He may get a boost this week with the Colts’ beat-up defensive unit struggling to get pressure and cover receivers. The Demaryius Thomas injury is a little concerning given Denver is basically two deep at that position, but I like Emmanuel Sanders this week. Right now, Siemian looks like Alex Smith without the draft pedigree, but the Broncos can win with that as long as C.J. Anderson is making great cuts behind an improved run-blocking line. Luck looked great last week, but I fear his line on the road this week against a much tougher unit. I absolutely think the Colts can win this one since you really don’t need to score many points to beat Denver, but I just don’t see it working out this time. The Colts need more of a big defensive effort than a big game from Luck (smart will do).

Colts 17, Broncos 20

Seahawks at Rams

I always like to say I get a lot of predictions wrong throughout the season, but I still get more right. It never fails to amaze me when I mention a long streak and it gets broken in the next game or two. All throughout the summer I feared a Russell Wilson injury this year due to his unusually good durability despite a frantic playing style behind a porous offensive line. Was this the year that would catch up to Seattle? Then he hurts his ankle in Week 1 and just barely limps to a late win over Miami. Unless the Seahawks are covering it up, Wilson seems to have avoided the dreaded high-ankle sprain and will start on Sunday. We don’t know anything about what Injured Russell Wilson looks like since he’s always been healthy. However, if his mobility is limited, then that’s a huge problem against a Rams defense that always gives him fits even when he’s on his game. Who saw the Rams going into Seattle in Week 16 and pulling out that win? Jeff Fisher can’t sniff a real Super Bowl again, so he treats these Seattle games as his team’s Super Bowl, and the success has been pretty good given Seattle’s overall dominance since 2012.

After the game on Sunday, I was determined to pick the Rams to win this game in their home Los Angeles opener given the Wilson injury. And then Monday night happened — an embarrassing 28-0 shutout to Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers, projected to be a bottom-two team this year. They drafted Jared Goff No. 1 to be inactive for this shit? Forget 7-9 bullshit, this looked like the start of 2-14 c*cksucker blues. And they want to give Fisher an extension? It’s madness.

And yet, as much as that game cooled me off the Rams’ upset, I still think they’re going to give Seattle a game here. I just don’t think it’s going to be enough because of that horrific offense against this great Seattle defense. Wilson may not need to throw for 100 yards. Just don’t turn the ball over.

Rams 6, Seahawks 16

Packers at Vikings

Opening a new stadium should be a joyous occasion, but in Minnesota, the throng of yawns in the air have already given the new place a stale smell of boredom and disinterest. Nothing can suck the life out of a fan base more than having to start Sam Bradford at quarterback after trading a first-round pick for him. Vikings fans, get ready to embrace mediocrity.

Mediocrity would actually be an improvement over most of Bradford’s career, but it’s really the best-case scenario this year. He plays at a league-average level, but does just enough in the right moments to get this team enough wins. Adrian Peterson is going to have to play much better than last week, though the Titans were built to stop the run and stink at the pass. Green Bay is a solid, but not great defense, and Sam Shields being out should help. I wouldn’t expect much from Bradford, but honestly, why would you ever expect much from Sam Bradford?

The other side of the ball is what interests me most about this one, because what the hell has happened to this Green Bay passing game? It went from years of being one of the most efficient attacks ever to a broken mess. Where are the timing plays and the chemistry on the back-shoulder throws? Anymore this offense works best by producing broken plays and taking advantage of offside penalties. It’s not sustainable, and it hasn’t been effective even though the Week 11 game in Minnesota is one of two times the offense has scored 30 offensive points in the last 13 games.

Aaron Rodgers has five seasons with at least 8.2 YPA.  He still ranks 5th all time in YPA (7.99). So it’s incredible when one of the most efficient passers ever has been held under 6.0 YPA in five of his last six games. That’s something Rodgers has only done in 12 other starts in his career. He’s been held under 7.0 YPA in 11 of his last 13 games (including playoffs). One of those two was the Hail Mary in Detroit to boost him up. Even though Jordy Nelson returned last week, he wasn’t the same receiver as he didn’t make the big plays. In fact, his 6 catches for 32 yards (5.33 YPC) is the lowest YPC he’s ever had in a game with more than 1 catch.

The effect this stretch of play is having on Rodgers’ career stats is interesting. He was at 8.22 YPA thru 116 regular-season games. Now after going a Joey Harrington-esque 5.96 YPA in his last 11 games, he’s down to 7.99. He still manages his TD-to-INT ratio well, but it’s hard to call this depressed passing game effective. Keep in mind the Packers are 6-7 since a 6-0 start last year. Rodgers has tore up the Vikings many times in his career, but not last year against Mike Zimmer’s defense. I think that defense rises to the occasion in this one, but the offense lets them down as Green Bay does just enough to sneak away with the win in the new stadium.

Packers 19, Vikings 16

2016 Week 2 Predictions

Well I was some 7-9 bullshit in a bad opening week. At least I changed my mind on the Jets starting 0-6 to give them the Thursday win over a growing mess in Buffalo. See, Ryan Fitzpatrick sucks against Rex Ryan defenses, but that Rob Ryan D is another story.

Winners in bold

  • Bengals at Steelers
  • Titans at Lions
  • Saints at Giants
  • Ravens at Browns
  • Cowboys at Redskins
  • Chiefs at Texans
  • 49ers at Panthers
  • Dolphins at Patriots
  • Buccaneers at Cardinals
  • Seahawks at Rams
  • Falcons at Raiders
  • Jaguars at Chargers
  • Colts at Broncos
  • Packers at Vikings
  • Eagles at Bears

Week 1: 7-9

NFL Week 13 Predictions: The MVP Race Is FUBAR

We’re into Week 13, so it is about that time for me to rant about the NFL’s MVP race.

The 2015 MVP Race Is FUBAR

Seriously. Where in the world is Carson Palmer (and Carmen Sandiego for that matter)?

This has been a terrible season for MVP discussion, because it seems like the people having the discussion have never paid any attention to what usually qualifies for an MVP season in the NFL.

Team record has been driving the debate this year with the Patriots (now 10-1) and Panthers (11-0) having their quarterbacks on top of most lists regardless of performance. Team record matters, but you never had to be a No. 1 seed just to be discussed. Look at Aaron Rodgers last year. Of course, some like to be hypocritical and throw J.J. Watt into the mix, but I thought we killed that noise last year of how a defensive player almost can never be MVP. And are we really just going to ignore that the Texans were behind by over 40 points in two different games to start this season? Give him his DPOY (if that) and move on already.

Yet I saw a Friday poll on NFL Network for MVP that included Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and J.J. Watt.

Frankly, I’m shocked they didn’t throw in Aaron Rodgers after a gift-wrapped Hail Mary to beat the Lions. Sure, we’ll just ignore he’s having his worst season since 2008.

But Andy Dalton? Yeah, through six games he was right up there, but we’ve seen more of the old Dalton emerge in recent weeks. He’s having a nice year, but it’s not in the MVP range.

Cam Newton’s season is not even close to what you’d expect from an MVP season. It’s more like a classic Steve McNair year, and I don’t even mean 2003. People just wanted to give him the award before the year started because he lost Kelvin Benjamin, yet for the fifth season now, we’ve seen that Newton essentially posts the same statistics every year regardless of what’s around him. And they are just solid, not spectacular numbers even if you adjust for shortcomings around him (while also adjusting for his own problems with overthrows and inaccurate passes). Defense is what drives the W-L record in Carolina, and it always has in the Newton era. Newton has played better since the Green Bay game, but if we prorate his numbers to a 16-game season, this would have to be one of the worst seasons ever for a MVP winner. And it’s coming against a Charmin-soft schedule that might help this team get to 16-0.

I saw another link from a top site that asked if Adrian Peterson can make this a three-horse MVP race. If that wasn’t bad enough, the article excluded other quarterbacks and had the nerve to say “Brady’s putting up better numbers with worse players.”

That statement is vomit inducing to say the least.

For all but two plays and two drives, Brady has had Rob Gronkowski, the best TE in football, all season long.

Dion Lewis was having an incredible season in terms of forcing missed tackles. He was the third-most targeted receiver on this team, and he’s missed four full games and most of a fifth. He wasn’t knocked out for the season until Week 9.

Julian Edelman is one of the best YAC receivers in the game. He has missed two full games and a large chunk of the Giants game.

Danny Amendola is about the closest thing you can have to an Edelman replacement. He missed some of the Buffalo game and one full game (Denver last week).

Most of Brady’s 2015 stats were compiled with these players on the field. If we look at since Week 9 when the slew of injuries (one every week) started, Brady’s numbers have clearly dropped to a non-MVP level.

  • Brady Weeks 1-8: 68.9% complete, 20 TD, 1 INT, 8.34 YPA, 115.8 PR
  • Brady Weeks 9-12: 58.6% complete, 8 TD, 3 INT, 7.35 YPA, 90.3 PR

Gee, it’s almost like the value-added parts of the team have been hurt in the last month. And you expect this to happen to any QB when they lose so much in a short period of time. But please stop pretending he’s put up his numbers with scrubs or that he’s still putting up MVP numbers. In this span he also should have thrown a game-ending interception against the Giants on a terrible pass, but Landon Collins dropped the ball.

In any other season, the quarterback on the No. 1 scoring offense with a 9-2 record with dazzling stats would be right at the top of the MVP discussion, yet that is not happening for some reason with Carson Palmer this year in Arizona.

He’s averaging 8.8 YPA, which is phenomenal at this volume.

Palmer’s average pass is thrown 11.0 yards beyond the line of scrimmage — highest in the NFL — and he is still completing 63.6% of his passes. Tom Brady’s average pass is 7.7 yards. Newton’s is high too at 10.5, but he’s completing 57.1% of his passes.

ESPN’s QBR has had strong correlation with MVP winners. Palmer’s 82.1 QBR is well ahead of No. 2 Dalton (73.1), and much higher than Brady (67.5) and Newton (58.5). Newton ranks 20th on the season. Palmer’s season has been more consistent than any of them.

Palmer had the big prime-time performances in back-to-back weeks against the Seahawks and Bengals, leading a GWD in each game. He’s led a GWD in three consecutive games.

Palmer slipped up late against the Rams and in Pittsburgh, but he still threw for over 300 yards in both games (over 400 in Pittsburgh) and had the team in position late. He would have liked a dropped pick in Pittsburgh.

Let’s not act like Palmer has a loaded cast here either. Never mind that his defense isn’t as strong as NE or CAR, but his offense is basically driven by three wide receivers best suited for intermediate to deep routes. John Brown and Michael Floyd are also weekly fixtures on the injury report. Chris Johnson just went down. They don’t really have much at TE. This is a vertical offense predicated on the QB being accurate down the field, and Palmer has excelled this year. If you’re someone in need of a storyline for the award, having a career year at 35 a year after a torn ACL is pretty damn good.

Guess which offenses rank first and second in average starting field position? That would be the Patriots (31.72) and Panthers (31.40). That’s very valuable to have, and none of it is driven by the QB. Arizona is solid at 7th (29.44), but again, not as favorable as what Brady and Newton have had.

Palmer should be running away with this MVP race so far, yet he’s a footnote at best in mainstream media. Offering him the “Comeback Player of the Year” award is a slap in the face.

Arizona gets Minnesota on Thursday night, and will finish the season with Green Bay and Seattle. If these quarterbacks continue to play the way they have, we’ll find out just how much of a popularity contest this award has become.

2015 Week 13 Predictions

I knew better than to start trusting the Lions, because once you do, they do something like that on Thursday night against Green Bay.

Winners in bold:

  • Ravens at Dolphins
  • Texans at Bills
  • Panthers at Saints
  • Jets at Giants
  • Bengals at Browns
  • Seahawks at Vikings
  • Falcons at Buccaneers
  • Jaguars at Titans
  • 49ers at Bears
  • Cardinals at Rams
  • Broncos at Chargers
  • Chiefs at Raiders
  • Eagles at Patriots
  • Colts at Steelers
  • Cowboys at Redskins

This feels like a week where Miami fired someone and will remember how to play good football for at least one game.

Luke McCown almost beat the Panthers in Carolina this year, so it’s good to have Drew Brees back, but the Saints are just playing lousy football right now. Panthers should win.

I like the Giants mainly because Darrelle Revis is out. Beckham in DFS, yes.

Browns are only punishing themselves by not starting Johnny Manziel. Austin Davis is not the future.

Really intrigued by Seahawks in Minnesota. Think the lack of passing game and soft running D from the Vikings hurts them in this matchup. Still, hard to trust Seattle in early road game. Should be a close one.

Normally I’d pick the Falcons to bounce back, but Tampa Bay goes against what I think this year. So I went with the opposite of my opposite pick and just stuck with Atlanta.

I expect Denver to run wild on the worst run defense in the league, which Brock Osweiler will somehow get the credit for.

Tom Brady won’t throw five touchdown passes against the Eagles, but the Patriots still might score five offensive touchdowns.

I expect the Cowboys to split the series with Washington down the stretch here, but give me the Redskins at home on Monday night.

Obviously the main game I’m focused on is Colts at Steelers. It was an offensive display last year with Ben Roethlisberger having the game of his career. He has to forget all about that one and just play the way he has this year. He’s piled up the yards in the games he has finished and has his full plethora of wide receivers for this one. I want to see if Matt Hasselbeck can win a shootout. He’s getting a lot of credit for 4-0, but this could be the toughest test yet if he has to score 28+ to win on the road. Yes, Pittsburgh’s defense has given up plenty of 300-yard passing games already, but points have been harder to come by. I think Hasselbeck is the perfect QB to repeatedly take advantage of Pittsburgh’s soft pass defense (big cushions), but you can’t do that the entire game. He’ll have to hit some big throws and the running game is still as unreliable as ever. Should be a fun game, but I like the Steelers at home here in a pretty important game for both teams.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Week 11: 9-5
  • Week 12: 8-8
  • Season: 107-69 (.608)

The Top 64 Quarterbacks in NFL History (2015 Edition) – Part I

This definitely won’t be short. However, I’m not wasting any time in showing you my updated list of the 64 greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

top64QB15

This is not created with a formula. I put everything I’ve learned and experienced from over a decade of research into creating this ranking. The only things I do not factor in are college career and time spent in other professional leagues like the AAFC, USFL, CFL, XFL, Arena, etc. So you’re still just a one-year wonder to me, Tommy Maddox.

Some players moved around from the 2014 edition, posted last August. So why is this going to be written in two parts on my blog? I figured some people won’t want to scroll through the epic length of Manning vs. Brady to read about the other players. For those who want to see the irrational debate rationalized, I promise Part II is worth the wait.

This might actually be the first time I have formally written about my list of the 64 greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. It was a personal project I started six years ago in an effort to figure out where Ben Roethlisberger stood historically after his fifth season (2008). Such rankings are subjective of course, but sports wouldn’t be the same without this stuff. Even if “that’s your opinion!” means you can’t objectively prove Roethlisberger is a better QB than Neil O’Donnell, Kordell Stewart, Mark Malone and Bubby Brister, you damn sure can make a convincing argument why he is better.

Just look at my list. Once you get past 30 or so, you’re looking at guys who maybe had six quality seasons, or a phenomenal four-year run like Rich Gannon (1999-2002) in Oakland. There aren’t many quarterbacks who sustained greatness over a long period of time in the NFL’s 95-year history. A total of 221 players have thrown at least 1,000 passes in the regular season in NFL history. Unless you mostly played before 1932 (Benny Friedman), are the latest hot rookie/sophomore (Teddy Bridgewater), or your name is Greg Cook or Cecil Isbell, you’re not even relevant from an all-time perspective. A thousand passes is about two seasons these days for a starter. Even the Browns let Derek Anderson throw 992 passes in 2007-09.

My method was to move up the list of all-time attempts, picking out which quarterbacks Roethlisberger was clearly better than, and grouping those he still has to surpass. A few years later I did something very similar to gauge where Joe Flacco stood after his fifth season (2012) led to the destruction of the QB salary market. Since then I’ve had a more concrete list and have updated it annually before the new season. The following explains some of my thought process, especially for the active players.

Five Actives in the Top 15 OF ALL TIME!?!?

I know some people are wondering how I could possibly think five of the 15 greatest QBs in NFL history are playing right now. Well, from 1991-94 we had Montana, Marino, Favre, Young and Elway active. That’s five of my top eight, so there*. Throw in Aikman, Kelly and Moon, and that’s eight of my top 28. It clearly can be done, and I think this has been a golden age of passing that’s not likely to be matched any time soon.

*Counter (because I know how to argue with myself): But Scott, were those five guys worthy of the top eight in 1991-94? This is a fair point. I don’t think Favre and Young were thru 1994, though both were well on their way. I think you could definitely have ranked Montana, Marino and Elway that high by then. My list thru 1994 would look something like Montana, Unitas, Marino, Staubach, Baugh, Tarkenton, Graham, Elway (ahead of Starr and Bradshaw). So yeah, three in the top eight with Young coming off his 6 TDs in the Super Bowl/2nd MVP award and Favre just getting ready for a 3-MVP run. This is legit.

Are the modern rules and modern medicine making it easier to sustain QB success in the NFL? I hesitate to say yes to that, because look at how many quarterbacks can’t sustain their success. Robert Griffin III had his one good year, but has been a disaster ever since. Josh Freeman (2010) can kind of relate, and I hate to see the path Colin Kaepernick is starting to head down after such early promise. Matt Schaub crumbled in 2013 after Richard Sherman picked off his confidence. Carson Palmer has fallen apart a few times, literally and figuratively. Michael Vick was never consistent and managed to have his best years four years apart (2002, 2006 and 2010). Jay Cutler and Cam Newton still can’t hit a 90.0 passer rating season in an era where it’s become common to do so. Matthew Stafford’s pretty much in the same tier, starring as the volume-heavy Drew Bledsoe of his era. Highly drafted quarterbacks are still flopping hard too (see: JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Joey Harrington, Matt Leinart, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, etc.). Are rookie QBs overall more successful now? Sure, but they’re also getting more opportunities as of 2008. Try telling Blake Bortles and Derek Carr this is an easy game.

QBHOFCB

Where are all the great quarterbacks coming into the NFL since 2006? We’ve seen dips before, but this is starting to get alarming. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson look like the best options, and I obviously think highly of Flacco and Ryan’s seven-year starts, but that’s about it since 2006. Save us, Tannehill, Bridgewater, Mariota and Winston. We need to start having some insurance that this next era when these HOF passers are retired will still be good.

(B)rees, Rodgers, Roethlisberger

We have clearly been spoiled from watching the highest level of sustained QB play in NFL history. We’ve known about “1812” for so long now, but the consistency of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger is also special. Brees broke out in 2004, the rookie season breakout for Ben. Rodgers didn’t get to start until 2008, but I think he just locked up his spot in Canton after his second MVP season in 2014. No, it wasn’t as good as his 2011, but it was another monster year of dominant efficiency and it moved him up from 26th to 14th for me. Roethlisberger is the first great QB I can say I’ve been able to watch every game of his career live. You could definitely make the claim 2014 was his finest season yet. He’ll always be the first quarterback to have multiple 500-yard passing games, and the first to have back-to-back games with six touchdown passes. All of those games were against teams that made the playoffs.

The reasons I keep Brees ahead at 13th are that I think this 11-year run he’s been on (zero starts missed due to injury) is incredible, and he has quite arguably been better in the playoffs than the other two. He just needs to get there with more consistency, though he’s gotten the short end of the stick defensively when it comes to that top five active group. Brees was still great in 2014, but he had some bad decisions at important times. I don’t think he’s done yet by any means, though I question how much higher I could rank him on this list. He might be fifth in his era when it’s all said and done. That’s really not an insult either. This group is simply special.

Some might even put Rodgers higher than 14th, but I think that’s pretty generous for someone who has been a starter for seven years, including a debut season that was more solid than spectacular (2008) and a half-season due to injury (2013). Rodgers’ stats look off the charts right now, but that’s also the benefit of having 100 percent peak performance in this era of great stats. When you look at advanced metrics, especially ones that include sacks, Rodgers is much closer to his peers. Rodgers has led the league in Total QBR one time (2011) and in passing DVOA two times (2011 and 2014).

Any mainstream criticism of Rodgers is almost nonexistent, but I expect that to change if he continues to not shine in January as has been the case since he won a Super Bowl in 2010. His struggles against the other NFC champions in that time have been troublesome, but the good news is the Giants and 49ers don’t look to be contenders any time soon. Seattle is the defense he has to figure out. And yes, I still think he struggles more than the other top quarterbacks when it comes to comebacks or having to win in different styles. If he doesn’t start a game well, I just don’t expect him to pull it together late. Winning ugly is not on the menu yet. He needs to come out with his ‘A’ game, and his ‘A’ game is pretty much as good as any quarterback’s that’s ever played in the NFL. When he’s on, he’s unstoppable. But when he’s off like in Buffalo and Detroit last year or against Seattle, he doesn’t impress.

But if these other guys ever retire soon and the young quarterbacks don’t pan out, Rodgers could enjoy a nice run at various league-leads and awards if his only real competition is Luck. Going forward, I worry a little about Rodgers’ durability, because he still takes some really bad sacks. It’s hard to believe this is already going to be his age-32 season. Health is about the only thing that could stop him from cracking the top 10 soon. If his next seven years are in line with the last seven, I expect to see Rodgers in my top five one day.

apvotes

The elite MVP seasons of Rodgers are what put him over Ben, who hasn’t had years like that yet. Amazingly, Roethlisberger has never received an All-Pro vote in his career. He’s also only had three seasons where he’s started all 16 games. The main problem is his best seasons (2007, 2009 and 2014) are years where a lot of quarterbacks were standouts, so it’s understandable why he didn’t get a vote. But considering Luck and Brady got AP votes last year, you could definitely argue Ben deserved one in 2014.

Roethlisberger is having an unusual career path. He had personal and team success immediately, but he’s been statistically better in the second half of his career when he’s had to pick up more of the slack. However, he hasn’t had much playoff success since the night he led that epic drive to beat Arizona in Super Bowl 43. This year the Steelers seem to be fielding their worst defense yet around Ben, which feels like an 8-8 season in the making. Basically, the Steelers are turning into the Saints, which is good for Ben’s fantasy numbers, but terrible for his playoff success. He definitely doesn’t need to get to another Super Bowl, but how is this thing going to end? Is he going through a rough team patch like 1992-95 Elway, only to get a better team around him at the end? Is he going to fade away like Aikman in Dallas, unable to keep the team consistently in the playoffs after their talent core declined? Is he going to have an abrupt ending after taking a shot so big he can’t recover from it?

I’ll end this section by explaining some of the decision to move Rodgers and Roethlisberger past the players previously ranked 14-25. Since most of us can agree Rodgers has had the more dominant career, we’ll just look at this from Ben’s standpoint.

Roethlisberger is entering his 12th year as a starter, which already puts him on a short list of QBs in NFL history. Jim Kelly played 11 NFL seasons. Are you really going to tell me Roethlisberger’s play in the regular season and postseason hasn’t exceeded Kelly’s? It’s not a huge difference, which is why there are only five players between them, but Roethlisberger has put together a better resume with more to come. Kurt Warner played 12 seasons, and we know only six of them really count for his HOF push. He had higher highs than Ben, but good lord did he have many lower lows.

Quarterback is a position where you need to be the full-time starter to have value for your team. This is why I don’t put much stock at all in partial seasons where a guy throws like 150 passes and wins some games off the bench, or makes four decent starts, or has a good seven-game stretch before a season-ending injury. Screw that. True value is found by suiting up every week year after year. Ben’s missed 17 games in his career for various reasons, but he’s found a way to start at least 12 games in every season. That’s important. If he does it in 2015, he’ll be the 10th QB with a dozen starts in at least a dozen different seasons. I factored this into a lot of my decisions here, as a guy like Len Dawson played 19 seasons, but you can basically chop off the first five and the last three, leaving 11 years (1962-1972). Do I think that stretch, largely done in the AFL, is more impressive than Roethlisberger’s 11 years? I don’t anymore, so I moved him past Dawson this year.

Similarly, I downplay Sid Luckman vs. Ben due to his peak coming in WWII seasons, and I don’t see any value in his final two seasons (1949-50). I downplay Norm Van Brocklin’s career for spending time in his prime in a two-QB system with Bob Waterfield and facing some suspect competition. For Y.A. Tittle, I really respect his 1961-63 seasons with the Giants, but he’s another guy with a ton of seasons you have to throw away due to the AAFC, injuries or him just being terrible (1964 swansong). He had about seven or eight really solid years overall, which again I think Roethlisberger has exceeded. So I moved him ahead of those guys.

When the worst thing you can point to in Roethlisberger’s career is his 2006 season, that’s very telling of the quality of his career. Yes, he threw 23 picks, but he still finished 10th in DYAR and 13th in DVOA. He dealt with a motorcycle accident, an emergency appendectomy and a concussion after he was getting back to form. If that’s the low point of your 11-year career, then you’re probably having a hell of a career. A lot of guys sink lower than that.

Which finally leads me to putting Ben (and Rodgers) ahead of Dan Fouts, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr. Let’s get Fouts of the way quickly. He was great for eight years (1978-1985) in a record-setting passing offense, which I really respect. That’s why he’s 19th. His other seven seasons and his lack of playoff success — started and ended with 5-INT games — are why he isn’t higher. That’s a good chunk of negative that you can’t just ignore, though I admittedly don’t do a good enough job of punishing for the bad years.

Speaking of bad years, Aikman, Bradshaw and Starr had several and it’s only fitting to talk about this trio together. In fact, Starr was almost worthless without Vince Lombardi as his head coach. Bradshaw is lucky Joe Gilliam was ineffective in 1974, because he may have lost his starting job for good after an (extended) awful start to his career. Aikman was one of the worst QBs in the NFL his first two years, and his finale (2000) was on that level. Yet all three were the quarterbacks of dynasties, the best teams in their decades with great players on both sides of the ball and fantastic coaching. They all won at least three titles and had some great efficiency stats in those playoff wins. These quarterbacks had some nice regular-season numbers at times, but the volume wasn’t there to match their peers. Unitas was better than Starr. Staubach was better than Bradshaw. Young and Favre were better than Aikman if we’re just talking 1990’s NFC. But #RINGZ.

When asked to carry flawed teams, these quarterbacks weren’t capable of getting the job done. When their team’s talent wasn’t up to the level of all-time great, they couldn’t get them into the playoffs with any consistency. Now I won’t slam these guys as much as I would a caretaker like Bob Griese — they’re still in my top 18 — but they just had easier jobs in their primes. Throwing the ball 30 or 40 times wasn’t the plan, let alone a necessity.

I think Roethlisberger would have more than two rings if he had the Steel Curtain defense instead of Dick LeBeau’s “My Defense Works for 75% of the Game Against 75% of the NFL” shtick. But just to start any game with an average team, I’m taking Roethlisberger over Bradshaw, Starr and Aikman. That trio was only effective for about 8-9 years each. Roethlisberger has already surpassed that.

But without a strong finish, I think Ben is going to be stuck at 15 until someone moves ahead of him, or if his play really declines. His career has essentially peaked from an all-time perspective, but as long as the story is still being written, there’s always a chance of changing your legacy. I just don’t think the Steelers are going to build another balanced team in time for him to do so.

Change of Heart: Tarkenton over Graham

The only other change in my top 30 was swapping Fran Tarkenton for Otto Graham. Given what I value in QBs, this should have been the case years ago. Career length is a big factor. Tarkenton was essentially a starting QB for 18 NFL seasons compared to just six for Graham. Remember, I don’t care about the AAFC. What’s amazing is how Tarkenton was such a model of consistency despite his chaotic, scrambling style — he had one below-average passing efficiency season (1962) in 18 years according to Pro-Football-Reference’s advanced tables that adjust for era. Despite all his running around, he was very durable and never had more than eight fumbles in a season. While he never had the stunning peak of a Tittle or Jurgensen, Tarkenton ranks as high as anyone when it comes to the number of quality QB seasons in the NFL. He was a star for nearly two decades, and he retired as the all-time leader in wins, passing yards and touchdown passes. In fact, he’s held the passing yardage record longer than any player in NFL history.

PYDREC

Tarkenton amassed those numbers without throwing more than 25 touchdowns to any player. John Gilliam was his top guy. Tarkenton excelled under multiple coaches and for multiple teams (Giants and Vikings). He might have been the first great one-man show at quarterback, but unfortunately those guys don’t win rings. With or without Tarkenton, Bud Grant’s Vikings great defense (“Purple People Eaters”) was routinely run over in big games. In his 1975 MVP season, Tarkenton lost at home in the playoffs to Dallas thanks to a 50-yard Hail Mary from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson (push off?) in the final minute. It remains the only game-winning Hail Mary in NFL playoff history and it came at the expense of one of the game’s finest players.

When it comes to Otto Graham, the first thing people like to mention is he led the Browns to 10 championship games in his 10 seasons. It’s as if Graham was the only player in the AAFC, and he’s certainly the only player people ever choose to recognize the stats and accomplishments of from the AAFC. I just want to point out Graham won just as many NFL Championship Games (3) as he lost. Some of the losses were absolutely brutal too. We weren’t that far off from having Bobby Layne and the Lions as the dynasty of that time.

The truth is Graham was a great player on the league’s most loaded team (7-9 HOFers every year), with a great defense and a true innovator (Paul Brown) as his head coach. Players in such situations don’t get full credit from me, because their job was easier. I still think enough of Graham to rank him 12th, and he was the best quarterback of that era (1950-55). He also wasn’t just some caretaker as he won two passing yardage titles. When you rank first in NFL history in passing yards per attempt (8.63), albeit in six seasons, you’re going to earn my respect. I just wish we would stop padding the AAFC stuff onto his legacy, because that league was not up to par with the NFL, which actually drafted Graham in 1944 (Lions). He didn’t play then because of World War II.

Graham is a player I expect to keep dropping as some of the players in my previous section continue to have long, successful careers in a more competitive era.

Eli Manning: Why?

Every year I post this list one of the main responses is why is Eli Manning so high? It bothers me too, because he should be about 10 spots lower with the other New York guys and right there with Romo and Rivers. I just haven’t had the heart to move him since first putting him 29th after the 2012 season. He was a joke in 2013 and played much better last year, but the fact is the Giants have missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. Eli and the Giants are like leap year: they strike every four years in February. 2008, 2012, and uh-oh, 2016 is next. It would only be fitting for the Giants to start with a bang (JPP), end with a bang (third title…Odell Beckham Jr. one-handed catch to beat New England of course) and for Eli to become the highest-paid player in NFL history.

At least that scenario would help keep my sanity about ranking him this high. Eli really is frustrating because you see the moments of older brother-like brilliance, but then you see the plays that would make Archie shake his head. Eli’s always been very good in 4QC/GWD situations, and I still think he engineered the greatest drive in NFL history with everything at stake in Super Bowl 42. The fact that he starts every single game cannot be undervalued either. It’s not easy to have 10 straight 3,000-yard passing seasons in the NFL. Only six other quarterbacks have had more such years. I think Eli’s 2011 season was one of the finest jobs of a QB carrying his team that we’ve seen, and even then it was a 9-7 year that barely resulted in a division title. Eli just doesn’t have the same efficiency as his peers, though his offenses do well at scoring and he doesn’t take many sacks.

If Eli’s playoff record remains intact at 8-3, then that’s very disappointing for the Giants, because that means they continued to miss the playoffs. You can’t go one-and-done or throw game-ending interceptions in January if you keep failing enough from September through December. That’s probably the single most frustrating thing about Eli. His regular-season defenses haven’t been good, so he gets credit for dealing with that. But in the playoffs, those defenses were outstanding, never allowing more than 23 points in any game and shutting down some of the best offenses in NFL history. And yet the QB still gets the most credit there. I want to see some more playoff losses, Eli. Preferably wins, but just get in the damn tournament. Increase that sample size. Give us some insurance you didn’t just have two one-month hot streaks four years apart. I’m going to drop him next year if 2015 doesn’t go well. Promise.

Ken Stabler for the HOF?

As I predicted this summer, the passing of Ken Stabler has led to him getting another look from the Hall of Fame as 2016’s senior nominee. Unfortunately he won’t be able to enjoy it if he gets in (good chance), but that’s how these things work sometimes. I believe enough time has passed to where a discussion on the merits of Stabler’s HOF case wouldn’t sound insensitive.

Stabler is one of four QBs (Charlie Conerly, Ken Anderson and Kurt Warner) to be a HOF finalist without getting voted in. We know there was some media vitriol going back to his playing days going on behind the scenes to keep Stabler out, so with new voters, that’s not likely to remain an issue. Personally, I can accept Stabler getting into the HOF. I’d sooner back Ken Anderson, but Stabler wouldn’t be a bad choice.

The argument for Stabler is simple: you’ve let George Blanda and Joe Namath in already. You can see I put Stabler ahead of both. Those guys had their peak years in the AFL. Stabler’s best years all came in the 1970’s NFL, the toughest modern decade of passing. He played against a lot of legendary defenses and teams, and definitely had the “Fame” part down with big plays in games with names. He was a very good postseason performer, winning a Super Bowl in 1976. He was also league MVP in 1974 and at least the second-best QB in 1976 (AP second-team All-Pro). Not many QBs can claim those accolades in NFL history. Stabler’s peak really lasted seven seasons (1973-79), but as we have looked at here, that’s still very good from a historical standpoint.

One problem for The Snake is that he threw a lot of interceptions, even for his era. In fact, here are some damning facts:

  • Most games with 4+ interceptions since 1970 merger (including playoffs): Ken Stabler (14)
  • Most games with 5+ interceptions since 1970 merger (including playoffs): Ken Stabler (5)

Stabler is also tied for the third-most games with at least three interceptions (29). Stabler somehow threw 20-30 interceptions in each season from 1977-1980, but still had a winning record each season. It was a different game then, but Stabler still threw too many picks. But again, that didn’t stop voters from keeping Namath and Blanda out. Stabler’s last few years with the Oilers and Saints don’t do him any favors. It’s all about the Oakland run, and that was strong enough in my book to crack the top 30. That also looks to be enough for the standards of the HOF. If you haven’t figured it out, the players in yellow in the list are in the HOF (red are active).

Marginal Moves You Probably Don’t Care About

I moved Phil Simms down four spots to 38 after becoming more impressed with the Giants’ defense and less impressed with his individual contributions.

I moved John Brodie up three spots to 32 after seeing he was one of the hardest quarterbacks to sack. Not quite Marino or Peyton level, but right up there. Part of his ascension was also at the cost of moving Bob Griese down a notch. Why did I do that? Well…

The Same Guy, But One’s Slower: Tony Romo and Philip Rivers

I’ve compared Rivers and Romo a few times over the years as equivalents in each conference. They’re basically the Dan Fouts and Warren Moon of this era: the best quarterbacks to not reach a Super Bowl. It’s a shame because this is the era of the Super Bowl quarterback. A record eight active QBs have a Super Bowl ring. Rivers and Romo have some of the highest passer ratings and YPA averages in NFL history, but haven’t enjoyed much January success for various reasons.

I had these guys 53rd and 54th last year. Romo just had probably the best year of his career, and probably deserved to be MVP if he didn’t get hurt against the Redskins on MNF. He moves ahead of Rivers, who had a MVP-like start, but faded fast after a probable rib injury hampered his play.

Both of these guys became relevant in the 2006 season as first-time starters. Here’s how I stack them up.

  • 2006: Rivers gets the edge for being the full-year starter (1-0)
  • 2007: Big edge to Romo (1-1)
  • 2008: Big edge to Rivers (2-1)
  • 2009: Romo good, but Rivers arguably at his best (3-1)
  • 2010: Not enthralled with this Rivers season, but Romo had broken collarbone (4-1)
  • 2011: Big edge to Romo (4-2)
  • 2012: Big edge to Romo (4-3)
  • 2013: Both did great things, but slight edge to Rivers (5-3)
  • 2014: Big edge to Romo (5-4)

Rivers wins the total seasons, 5-4, but Romo had more decisively better years. I also can’t help but side with Romo in the difference of styles. Romo can improvise under pressure, while Rivers can waddle towards the sideline and throw the ball away. Either way they are close, and you’d be fooling yourself to think otherwise.

These guys have been at it for nine years, and have mostly been consistent in that time. In fact, Romo has hit these bare minimums in a record nine straight seasons: 61.3% completions, 7.2 YPA and 90.5 passer rating.

These guys have winning records. They’ve led teams to No. 1 seeds and multiple 12-win seasons. They’ve had more playoff heartbreak than success, but at least they have won some games. More than Y.A. Tittle and Sonny Jurgensen for starters — that’d be none for those guys. And nine seasons as annual top 5-10 quarterbacks is really damn good. That’s why I ended up moving them past the guys with six good years or a smaller number of great years.

Yes, neither has won an MVP award like Steve McNair, Rich Gannon, Boomer Esiason, Bert Jones and Joe Theismann did, but just remember the competition from that elite group. This is the hardest era to win an award like that in. You really think Theismann, who was good for six years, is a better QB than these two? Give these guys Joe Gibbs and the Hogs instead of Norv Turner and Jason Garrett and see what happens. You want to talk about playoff failures? Boomer Esiason never threw for more than 150 yards in his five playoff starts. McNair, may he rest in peace, was a dreadful postseason QB who can thank the Music City Miracle for not leaving him with a 2-5 career playoff record. Bert Jones never won a playoff game either, was a hit machine and couldn’t stay healthy. Rivers has never missed a start in his career and even played on a torn ACL.

I think Romo and Rivers can crack the top 30 with strong finishes. As you can see, there’s just not much separating these players at this part of the table. A Super Bowl for either is likely a ticket to Canton as well.

More Shit You Really Don’t Care About

I dropped Don Meredith six spots to 58 after acknowledging he’s another QB with just about six relevant years.

I dropped Dave Krieg five spots after realizing some of his best seasons were small samples due to injury or being a backup. It’s kind of amazing he made the Pro Bowl despite playing 9 games in 1988, and it’s baffling why he made it at all in 1989. That was a poor year for the AFC though.

I got Matt Hasselbeck ahead of Bernie Kosar now, because I think his run of relevance (2002-07) is underappreciated. I don’t really blame Kosar for not getting to a Super Bowl (bad Cleveland luck), but I blame him for only having about six or seven relevant seasons.

Ryan vs. Flacco (Again)

Seriously, the Joe Flacco vs. Matt Ryan debates are quite heated — or elite as fvck depending whom you ask — on the internet. I guess I’m adding to it by simply ranking Ryan one spot ahead, the same as I did last year, but these two deserve to be very close. Advanced metrics will tell you Ryan is considerably better in his career, but 2014 was a different story. Flacco was 8th in DYAR; Ryan was 7th. Flacco was 8th in DVOA; Ryan was 9th. Flacco was 10th in QBR; Ryan was 7th. Hmm, that last one seemed to change more with the new QBR system, which surprises me since it’s supposed to devalue YAC. You saw those Antone Smith touchdowns last year, right? Then again, what do you do with the Steve Smith fluky touchdown against Carolina?

Either way, they were very close last year, which was arguably Flacco’s best regular season. Of course what happens here is Flacco has the edge in the playoffs, including getting there all but one time in his seven seasons. Ryan has had strong numbers the last two years, but Atlanta is just 10-22 and couldn’t win a pathetic division last year. Advantage: Flacco.

But I really wish something major would happen to create some separation between these two. Until it does, I’m going to continue ranking them side by side. I just hope other people can appreciate the seven-year starts they’ve had to their careers. Appreciate them even more when you consider the lack of quality signal callers joining the NFL since 2006 as detailed above.

Whither Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson?

Why didn’t I include Luck and Wilson? Well, they’ve only played three seasons. Despite the lack of great all-time quarterbacks, three seasons, no matter how impressive they are as a start, are a tiny sample to get into the top 64. However, I quickly threw together some names to branch out of the top 64 and I feel like it’s very possible Luck and Wilson could join this list after 2015. I also think it’s just as possible that at least one takes an unexpected step back this year. We’ll see what happens. And really, I just kept adding to this list Saturday night, and didn’t spend anywhere near as much time on it as I’ve spent on the top 64. I can tell you Nick Foles, Ryan Tannehill and even Andy Dalton are a big 2015 away from showing up in the top 130. Yes, even Dalton, which just goes to show how little you have to do to be considered an all-time quarterback.

Part II Preview

Why did Tom Brady stay put at No. 5 after his fourth Super Bowl, and why is Peyton Manning still on top? That’s what I’ll tackle in Part II, along with taking down the thin margin of what makes success in the postseason possible.

If you want an advanced copy of the tl;dr version of Part II, here it is:

Newsroom_Brady

NFL Week 14 Predictions: Try To Write It Down Into a Perfect Sonnet or One Foolish Line

I am feeling better this week and have some random thoughts to share on a few Week 14 games.

Colts at Browns

This is a bad game for Vontae Davis to miss with Josh Gordon getting his share of targets. He only needs a little space to break a huge play. Brian Hoyer has to know he’s on a short leash and must play better before he loses his job to Johnny Manziel. I think he’ll play a good game and the Cleveland offense will have to score a decent amount to get the win. The Colts haven’t played a road game since November 3 and this is statistically one of the best pass defenses Andrew Luck will face this year. I doubt he’ll fear Joe Haden on T.Y. Hilton and the Colts have a bunch of other weapons to go to anyway. I just hope this isn’t viewed as a week to get T-Rich going because of that dreadful trade. The best backs on the field will probably be the undrafted ones (Isaiah Crowell and Dan Herron).

The Colts surprisingly haven’t had a 4QC/GWD this year, so I think this could be the one in a 27-24 type of finish.

Texans at Jaguars

Houston should win this game, but I just wanted to reiterate a point about the ludicrous thought of J.J. Watt for MVP in 2014.

Not only is Houston just a 6-6 team, but the Texans’ strength of victory is 22-50 (.306).

Furthermore, look at the quarterbacks Watt and the Texans have feasted on in those wins:

  • RGIII (benched)
  • Derek Carr (rookie’s second start)
  • EJ Manuel (benched)
  • Zach Mettenberger (rookie in his 1st and 5th starts)
  • Brian Hoyer (slumping and may be benched too)

Now here comes rookie Blake Bortles with his league-worst 15 interceptions and poor 9.1% sack rate.

A guy scoring five touchdowns, including a 1-yard catch while already up 24 in the fourth quarter, is an asinine argument for someone to be named the Most Valuable Player in the league, yet that’s what Watt’s teammates and some fans are selling now because there’s really nothing else going on with Houston’s season. You’re 6-6? Cheers. That’s good for 12th place in the AFC.

It also helps Watt that defensive end is one of the most blameless positions in football. You don’t hear someone bash Watt or any pass-rusher for not getting to Tony Romo when he evaded him and threw a touchdown. Keep in mind the Texans lost that game in overtime. Where’s the criticism? Yet if you play defensive back and get burned for a touchdown, you can guarantee someone will point that out. Hell, Richard Sherman allowed a few first downs to Keenan Allen and people acted like he was exposed. A star defensive end can get locked down on 85-90% of the snaps in a game, but if he gets one sack some people will think he had a good game. People bash quarterbacks for not putting up enough points. Why don’t we bash a DE for not generating enough stops and pressure? Some of them are making close to QB money after all.

We’ve seen the Texans lose 14 games in a row with Watt playing at a high level. We’ve seen them allow 40+ points in games he shined. He’s a great player. He’s running away with DPOY.  Maybe he should get more red-zone snaps at tight end. He’s just not MVP material when his impact on the game is so minimal compared to the quarterback position where several great players are having incredible seasons.

Steelers at Bengals

I know the Steelers for some reason play Marvin Lewis’ Bengals better in Cincinnati (10-2 since 2003) than they do at Heinz Field (6-5), but I’m calling my shot on this final quarter of the season.

The Steelers will lose in Cincinnati, lose in Atlanta, beat Kansas City and beat Cincinnati to finish 9-7. Too little, too late. Shouldn’t have pissed around with Tampa Bay and the Jets.

Ravens at Dolphins

Close game last year won 26-23 by Baltimore. This is almost a “loser goes home” game right here, and I think there may be a little more pressure on Miami to get the win at home with the gift of Haloti Ngata’s suspension. Miami still has a very tough game left in New England. Baltimore is more than capable of winning its last three games, but if they drop this one and Miami only loses once more, that’s 10-6 for both with the Dolphins having the H2H win. So yeah, it’s a big one. I just think with or without Ngata, that Baltimore secondary is struggling and Ryan Tannehill has been playing solid. They’ll get a boost in the running game with Ngata out and I like the Dolphins to sneak out a close one.

Bills at Broncos

Julius Thomas is a game-time decision (ankle), but will his return make the Broncos worse on offense? All the rage the last two weeks has been Virgil Green’s blocking, a revamped OL, some 6-OL sets and C.J. Anderson’s excellent running. Peyton Manning’s never had an offense with two 200-yard rushing games in the same season, let alone back-to-back games. I think Thomas was missed in the red zone and he should have an impact there, but the Broncos may want to limit Wes Welker’s playing time and keep the 2-TE sets more with Thomas in the slot when he’s up to full health. Buffalo has a front four to get pressure on Manning, so it’s a good week to experiment with that extra protection. I think given time Manning will have a big day at home and Kyle Orton will be the one taking the majority of the game’s sacks. Something to watch for is Connor Barth’s kickoffs in the Mile High altitude. He was awful in Kansas City, routinely giving the Chiefs good starting field position. If he can’t get touchbacks at home, the Broncos may still have a major kicking dilemma.

49ers at Raiders

After an inexplicable fake punt loses the game on the final play, Jim Harbaugh races to midfield to a gang of Oakland players and rips off his shirt to reveal a “Just Win Baby” Raiders t-shirt. The screwjob is complete.

vince

That probably won’t happen, but it would be so much fun to see the NFL perfectly emulate old-school wrestling. You know, back when shit was called WWF.

Seahawks at Eagles

This is a big one with a lot of interesting layers, many of which were covered by my co-workers at Football Outsiders this weekend.

The Eagles have allowed a league-worst 14 pass plays of 40+ yards, but Seattle’s lost its vertical edge with the departure of Golden Tate and failure to do anything with Percy Harvin. It’s shocking to see Russell Wilson is the only current starter getting over 60% of his yards from YAC (60.9%) this season. His scrambling has been a bigger threat this year, but we’re still waiting to see a game where Wilson has to throw a lot. He’s never thrown more than 37 passes in any game, which is insane given how quickly (and often) most quarterbacks do that in their career (click to enlarge).

37RW

This could be the week with the Eagles ranking 8th against the run in DVOA and having just contained DeMarco Murray and that consistent Dallas running game that has tortured most of the league. Perhaps more importantly, the Eagles have the ability to score points. We know Seattle’s defense is healthy and playing at a high level again, but Chip Kelly is a whole different beast from Arizona/49ers and the game is in Philly.

The Eagles have scored at least 20 points in 21 consecutive games (16-5 record), tied for the 10th-longest streak in NFL history (including playoffs). The record is 25 games (2010-12 Saints). The fact this streak is alive is amazing considering the offense scored 0 in San Francisco, but three return touchdowns still gave them 21. Don’t discount the impact of special teams on the Eagles’ season.

We keep setting up Mark Sanchez to fail this year, but he’s doing okay so far. In the blowout loss to Green Bay, he literally threw one bad pass and took a few sacks and still trailed 30-3 for it. That loss didn’t say much about him. He never had a chance really. The Seahawks do not pose that kind of dynamic offense, but I think Wilson’s going to have to have one of his best games this season to get the win. This isn’t another 19-3 game by any means.

I hate to say it because I already see Sanchez making me eat my words, but I think he’ll struggle with the Legion of Boom and the Seahawks will keep rolling towards what could be another strong finish that puts them in prime position for a repeat.

Patriots at Chargers

Circadian rhythms, December records and Justin Bieber curses? What the heck are we talking about here? All I know is Philip Rivers is 0-5 against the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick duo, and outside of an ass-kicking in the 2007 regular season, the losses have been right out of a Greek tragedy.

Two game-tying field goals from 50+ yards away missed at the end. Eric Parker’s butterfingers. Martyball. Marlon McCree fumbling a Brady INT on fourth down with a 21-13 lead. Rivers having to play on a torn ACL for the 2007 AFC Championship. LT on the bike. Three straight fumbles recovered by NE in the 2010 meeting, the last time they played in SD. Four more turnovers in NE in 2011 by San Diego’s offense, including a Vince Wilfork pick.

Can San Diego win this game? Sure, but I just don’t see it happening. Darrelle Revis will contain Keenan Allen and the bigger Brandon Browner could limit the deep-ball threat of Malcolm Floyd. I think Eddie Royal and Antonio Gates have to play huge for Rivers in this one, as does the running game. He pulled out a great 4QC in Baltimore last week, but something just always goes wrong at the worst moment when he’s playing this team. I’m not sure San Diego has any answers for the tight ends of the Patriots.

Denver will be rooting like hell for San Diego to win and suffer a letdown in next week’s game, giving the Broncos a nice path to the No. 1 seed. However, I imagine we’ll see the opposite. After a loss to NE, the Chargers rally and drop Denver in Week 15, which I’ve been penciling in as a Denver loss since April. But the No. 1 seed in the AFC is very much going to be in control of what San Diego does these next few weeks.

Falcons at Packers

This is like Russell Stover taking on Hershey Chocolate. The only intrigue is whether the Packers dominate so much by ground or air and where it leaves Aaron Rodgers on this list of the most passing yards through 100 starts since 1960. He needs 293 yards to break the record.

100

NFL Week 14 Predictions

I had the Cowboys on TNF and the streak of 8-8 seasons is over. However, this could still be a 10-6 non-playoff team and that Romo back injury that led to losses to Washington and Arizona will be the main culprit.

Winners in bold:

  • Colts at Browns
  • Buccaneers at Lions
  • Panthers at Saints
  • Texans at Jaguars
  • Rams at Redskins
  • Ravens at Dolphins
  • Jets at Vikings
  • Steelers at Bengals
  • Giants at Titans
  • Chiefs at Cardinals
  • Bills at Broncos
  • 49ers at Raiders
  • Seahawks at Eagles
  • Patriots at Chargers
  • Falcons at Packers

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Week 12: 12-3
  • Week 13: 9-7
  • Total: 126-65-1

NFL Week 17 Predictions: Peyton Manning’s Greatest Season and NFC Playoffs

It’s the eve to the end of another NFL regular season. They sure go by quickly. This Sunday should be as eventful as any with only the Chiefs locked into their playoff seeding. There are a few notable story-lines to focus on this week.

Peyton Manning: Best QB Season Ever?

I’ve been asked by a few people if I think Peyton Manning is having the best season ever by a quarterback this season. The simple answer is no, it’s not even the best Peyton Manning season. The reasoning is a bit more complex.

For starters, Manning’s season is not over yet, so it’s not exactly fair to ask this question right now. He has one more game and if we are to factor in the postseason, then that’s 1-3 more games. From a pure statistical volume standpoint, I do think it will go down as the best season in that he has a good shot to reach 55 touchdown passes and 5,500 passing yards.

When factoring in efficiency, caliber of opponents and how he’s compiling the numbers, then I think it falls short of the all-time great seasons.

Manning has already thrown 631 passes this season. He only needed 497 when he threw 49 touchdowns in 2004. His passer rating is 113.0, which is below the 121.1 he had in 2004. While his interception percentage (1.6%) is the lowest of his career, he has career-worsts in fumbles (10) and lost fumbles (6). The standard of defense has also fallen off greatly this season around the league and it’s hard to acknowledge many of the defenses Manning’s played as being good, let alone great.

Manning only took the field for 149 drives in 2004 when he compiled his amazing numbers. This season the Broncos have 182 drives with one game to go. Even after we take out a few that Manning did not play, he simply has had quite a few more opportunities this season to put up touchdowns and yards.

So I think 2004 is a superior season from Manning and I think his finest overall effort was 2006. No, that’s not because he won the Super Bowl, but it’s because he carried that heavily flawed team so effectively each week. He had to overcome the horrific run defense. He led the best third-down offense ever at the time. He had a rookie running back (Joseph Addai). He had no No. 3 WR thanks to injuries to Brandon Stokley. He was as effective as ever at throwing downfield to Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. He only gained 34.3% of his yards via YAC, which is a career low. In 2013, he’s enjoying a career-high 48.5 YAC% from his receivers.

When ESPN introduced their QBR stat, the first season I wanted to see was Manning’s 2006, because I felt it could be as high as any in the last decade. Sure enough, when ESPN added more QBR data, Manning’s 2006 is the best at 87.2. His 82.2 QBR in 2013 is only his personal 4th-best season and this thing only goes back to 2006.

With all that said, I do think Manning came up just a few drives short from having had the greatest season ever this year. The margin in football is usually that small. Had Manning completed a 19-point comeback in the fourth quarter in Indianapolis, threw a game-winning touchdown in overtime in New England and at least tied the game with a 97-yard touchdown drive against San Diego, then I probably would say it’s the best QB season ever. Why would it change after three drives? Because in addition to boosting his stats even more, that’s adding the stuff of legends to his season.

Remember when Peyton went back to Indianapolis and brought his new team back from a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter? No, I just remember him getting hit as he threw and the pass was intercepted. Then his running back fumbled in the red zone to end the last rally attempt. Ho-hum.

Remember when Bill Belichick took the wind in overtime and Manning embarrassed him again with a game-winning touchdown pass? No, I just remember two punts and the game pathetically ending on a muffed Denver punt.

Remember when Peyton led his team back from 14 down in the fourth quarter with a 97-yard game-tying touchdown drive against San Diego? No, I just remember another play where he was hit as he threw and the pass was intercepted.

See, it’s only three drives and I frankly don’t even care if the Colts/Chargers both came back to win. Had he finished those games with 3 more TD passes (and 2 fewer INTs in return), then yes, that would probably be enough for me to put him over top of his own seasons and ones like Dan Marino 1984 and Tom Brady 2007.

Ultimately, the fact that one quarterback has multiple seasons in the conversation for best ever says enough about Manning.

NFC De Facto Playoff Game 1: Green Bay at Chicago

The 2013 Green Bay Packers are Above the Law, making comebacks that never happened under Mike McCarthy’s watch with better quarterbacks. This team is Hard to Kill and has been Marked for Death since November 4, but they’re Out for Justice against Chicago this week. Jay Cutler will be Under Siege against a team he’s been terrible against. The Bears are On Deadly Ground and it could be Dark Territory on Sunday night. It was an Executive Decision to hold him out this long, but Green Bay’s Glimmer Man is back in action and there’s a Fire Down Below in Rodgers, a true Patriot playing his first game in almost two months. The Bears might be leaving 2013 with some Exit WoundsThey’re going to regret starting last week’s game Half Past Dead.

Damn, Steven Seagal’s career really hit the skids over a decade ago.

I picked Green Bay in the preseason to win the division. When Marc Trestman made the move to go back to Jay Cutler, I felt the Bears would beat Cleveland, but lose to the Eagles and Packers (with a good assumption that Aaron Rodgers would be back) to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Now I did expect the Lions to be the team that took advantage, but it’s the Packers coming through and bringing back one of the best players in the game just in time for the Week 17 division clincher.

Is this one really as simple as Rodgers is great, he rarely has a bad game and he’s going to feast (as will Eddie Lacy) on that poor Bears defense while Cutler has to overcome the 1-8 mark against Green Bay (with atrocious stats)? It would seem so, but at least the game is in Chicago and there’s an expected rust factor from Rodgers. Still, let’s not forget it was Josh McCown for the first meeting and he made some incredible throws in that 27-20 win in Green Bay.

There’s not a throw McCown can make that Cutler can’t. The problem is there’s a lot of stupid throws Cutler will make that any smart quarterback wouldn’t, and that’s how he gets himself into trouble. The Packers are scoring and allowing plenty of points, so it would expect to be a high-scoring game, but Rodgers has the lowest turnover ratio in NFL history while Cutler is more prone than most to giving away the ball.

When you talk about a QB’s legacy, this is a huge game for both. Cutler is playing for a long-term job in Chicago, which could be likely should he come through with a big performance and push the Bears into the playoffs. For Rodgers, this would be a lost season for most quarterbacks after breaking their collarbone in November. He’s had just enough time to recover and the Packers have won just enough games — coupled with Detroit & Chicago losing enough — to stay alive for his Week 17 return. It wouldn’t be fair to put a lot of blame on him for losing and missing the playoffs on Sunday night, but it’s a great opportunity and his playoffs start now. He has to play well in this one and I think he will. I also think Cutler will make just enough mistakes.

If Chicago wins, it’s almost predictably going to be with a fourth-quarter comeback, which Cutler usually does well at as long as the game actually gets to that point. Now would be a great time for Rodgers to snap that eyesore streak of being 0-20 at fourth-quarter comebacks against teams .500 or better.

I don’t think the Packers have enough on defense to make a 2010-type title run, though there are 2010-like things happening for them again. It all starts with beating the Bears in Week 17 to make the playoffs, then they can go from there.

Final prediction: Packers 27, Bears 20

NFC De Facto Playoff Game 2: Philadelphia at Dallas

It’s the game many people expected would decide the NFC East since the schedule came out. But there is one big surprise: it’s Kyle “Neckbeard” Orton instead of Tony Romo at quarterback for Dallas. So let it be known Romo finished 2013 with a 1-0 record in elimination games, because he can’t lose this one after having back surgery. It’s a shame because it does weaken the game as Orton, while more than capable of moving the ball in this offense, is just not that effective when the pass rush gets to him. Romo has that unique ability to get out of trouble and make something happen. The last road game for Philadelphia featured an unexpected shredding of the improved defense by Matt Cassel, so anything’s possible, but I think the Eagles are playing too well on both sides of the ball for Dallas to pull this one out. The Eagles (especially the offense) have actually played better on the road than at home this season.

Nick Foles did have his worst game of the season — really his only down performance — in Philadelphia against the Cowboys, but that was the day he suffered a concussion. Given his season and the way the Cowboys have played on defense most weeks, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles fail to score at least 28, which should be enough here.

Final prediction: Eagles 31, Cowboys 21

NFL Week 17 Predictions

Do I think the Steelers have any hope of making the playoffs? They need four things to happen: win, Miami loss, Baltimore loss and San Diego loss. I expect the biggest problem will be getting the San Diego loss since the Chargers are at home against a Kansas City team basically mailing it in for Week 17. Now if the NFL actually had a great playoff system where every win counted, then the Chiefs would be playing for a higher seed and would actually try to win this game.

Winners in bold:

  • Browns at Steelers
  • Ravens at Bengals
  • Lions at Vikings
  • Jets at Dolphins
  • Texans at Titans
  • Jaguars at Colts
  • Redskins at Giants
  • Panthers at Falcons
  • Rams at Seahawks
  • Packers at Bears
  • Broncos at Raiders
  • Buccaneers at Saints
  • 49ers at Cardinals
  • Chiefs at Chargers
  • Bills at Patriots
  • Eagles at Cowboys

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 11-4
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-3
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 8-6
  • Week 11: 9-6
  • Week 12: 7-6-1
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Week 14: 10-6
  • Week 15: 8-8
  • Week 16: 9-7
  • Season: 150-89-1

NFL Week 4 Predictions: I Don’t Care If Aaron Rodgers Is Clutch

This has been quite the week. Four years after first quantifying a quarterback’s record at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, I finally saw that work transfer to the TV set this week on ESPN’s First Take with this graphic:

2013-09-24_11-38-24_225

Little did I expect what would follow. In true First Take style, right after debating whether or not Peyton Manning was the greatest QB in the history of the NFL, the next segment was fully devoted to whether or not Aaron Rodgers was still the best QB in today’s NFL. You know, ahead of the guy they just said might be the GOAT.

The surreal event of watching Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless hold a printout copy of my Insider article on Rodgers so they could argue about it is something I never would have expected and never will forget.

FT0924

The fruits of my labor made it like Christmas morning for Bayless, as he has argued his ridiculous “lack of clutch gene” narrative — ridiculous in that no gene exists for anyone — on Rodgers for years without doing the research to support it. He has something now, just as anyone should when I first wrote about the front-running Packers before the 2011 season started. This is nothing new to long-time readers, but it took a push by ESPN to finally get the numbers out there.

So if Green Bay’s historic struggles to win these games is a story going forward, then I have done my job.

The problem is when a large audience catches on to something completely new to them, there’s going to be a strong negative reaction too. That’s what I want to address here. You can consider this version 2.0 of “The Truth About the Front-Running Green Bay Packers”

First, allow me to expose a little secret:  Monday’s article was a last-second backup plan after the events of Sunday’s early games made a piece I did on the AFC null and void. So after the dramatic game ended between Green Bay and Cincinnati, I pitched a topic I’m very familiar with and have plenty of research on already.

Now, let’s understand this is a business. You need some controversial headlines that will generate clicks. Any good business will tell you that, not just ESPN. People can twist headlines all they want, but if you read the article:

I never said Rodgers is not clutch. I don’t write about the “clutchiness” of QBs. I write about what happened in clutch situations. Clutch is a history, not a skill.

I never said the 5-24 record at comebacks or 9-26 record at game-winning drive opportunities is all Rodgers’ fault. In fact, my first mention of this goes right to head coach Mike McCarthy.

“These close-game failures have been the hush-hush hallmark of coach Mike McCarthy’s otherwise successful tenure as Packers head coach. While the blame should be distributed everywhere, why are we not looking at the quarterback more?”

Here are some other direct quotes from the article that do not put the blame all on Rodgers:

“It’s always the same story for Green Bay: win big or lose close”

“Sunday was a perfect opportunity, but it was the latest in a long line of failures for the league’s best front-running quarterback and team.”

“There is some historical data to show the crunch-time disconnect in Green Bay.”

I understand the article is behind a pay wall, so not everyone was able to read it (hint: try Google). But there are claims out there on things I never wrote in the piece.

I also did not write the line “Recurring fourth-quarter failures prevent him from being NFL’s top QB” under the title, however I agree with it 100 percent. I’m not going to put Rodgers ahead of Peyton and Tom Brady, who have the gaudy stats, records, MVP awards and Super Bowl rings too. They also have a larger body of work. But the main difference comes in that I can still trust those QBs when the game does not start as planned and they have to win it late. I don’t trust Rodgers in the same fashion, which is why I had little faith he would get the go-ahead drive on Sunday in Cincinnati.

I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words on this topic before, so anyone thinking this was a knee-jerk reaction to Sunday’s game just doesn’t know my work on the topic. By the way, I’m limited to around 1,500 words on Insider, so any thought to being able to fully explain away every loss in the 9-26 record is a pipe dream.

Stephen A. Smith said he didn’t see a list of the games where Rodgers led the Packers to a fourth-quarter lead, but the defense gave it back. HOWEVVVVA, it does state this in the article:

“Of course, some of the 26 losses speak well for him. He has put Green Bay ahead seven times in the fourth quarter when trailing, only for the team to go on to lose the game. The defense is certainly deserving of blame for this.”

I make sure I cover my bases. So that’s what I wanted to say about the Insider piece itself.

As for any fan criticism or written defenses that have come from other writers this week, now I will respond to those.

I’m not as nonchalant about things as Rodgers, who responded with “Yeah, I’m not worried about that at all” when ESPN’s Jason Wilde asked him point blank about the lack of success in these games. I probably need to get that way to survive in this business, but I probably like arguing with people too much to stop completely.

There were many comments, e-mails and articles this week in response to my work. I’m not going to link to any of the articles as I didn’t see any that attacked me personally. If I did, I would have responded accordingly. I’m just going to go over some of the general faults I found.

No one’s done the same study I have done. It’s hard to compare (straight up) any past study of close games if you’re not looking at things the way I do, which is 4th quarter/OT, tied or down by one score. What I do takes an eternity for one person to compile, so I don’t think anyone could have accomplished that the last few days.

Stats in the final 5:00 – Sure, we can look at these, but that leaves out a lot of what goes into the 5-24/9-26 records. It’s not just about what you do when you’re behind, but it’s how you protect that lead or how you avoid getting into these situations late in the first place.

Win-loss record at 4QC/GWD should not be thrown away like trash – You can read my rant on this from FO here. We can take these stats and just look at how good a guy is at scoring a TD when he’s down 4-8 points in the 4Q, or scoring a FG when he’s tied or down 1-3. We can break them up that way and maybe get something useful out of that. The only reason I haven’t done it is because I’m still trying to put together a full database for every single opportunity in the last 30+ years. That takes time.

However, the record, the wins and losses (and sometimes ties), is the starting point for knowing which games to look at. We can’t just ignore it. While we can break the games down and see why the team won or lost, we need to be taking 4QC/GWD, which are situational drive stats at the heart of it all, and not just focus on the scoring drive(s).

Rodgers probably could have avoided last Sunday’s 4QC opportunity if he didn’t throw a bad INT early in the quarter in scoring territory. And people talk about the Johnathan Franklin fumble on 4th-and-1 losing the game, but I can tell you any advanced stat (DVOA, QBR, WPA, EPA) will give Rodgers two negatives for the sack on 2nd-and-6 and the 11-yard pass on 3rd-and-12 that set up that 4th-and-1 in the first place. He’s still accountable in that loss for things that took place before he was even trailing in the 4Q.

With a stat like TD passes, we don’t care about what happened on the drive before and after. It is what it is. These 4QC/GWD stats are different because what happens before and after them will usually decide if they stand up or not. Just taking a 1-point lead with 14:50 left to play does not put you in good position for a GWD. You will likely need to do something the rest of the game too.

Even before I became the guy who corrected 4QC stats for people like Elway and Marino, I was tracking successes and failures for active QBs for years. Eventually I started combining the two files to develop records for how successful QBs/teams are at such games. It was only natural for me to start quantifying things like one-minute drills, two-minute offense and the four-minute offense. I want to develop a new win probability model this offseason so I can use things like WPA and Expected Points Added (EPA) for QBs in these situations. I want to quantify late-game performance and strategy as well as anyone ever has, but it’s a process and you’ll just have to bear with me.

I don’t think the W-L record, especially for a QB, is the best way to judge these things, but I know it’s not meaningless either, especially for those who sit at the extreme ends of the chart. There’s something there that’s worth exploring and talking about.

Final-score analysis is heavily flawed to study the closeness of games. Because it takes too long to do this, most close-game studies have always been about the final score. Those can be very misleading. The Colts/49ers from last Sunday played a game that was a tie or one-score difference for 93% of the game before the Colts pulled away 27-7. A final-score study would reject that as a close game, but it would accept trash like MNF Eagles/Redskins from Week 1 when Washington made it 33-27 late and failed to recover the onside kick. That game was not close and the only drive involving a one-score game in the 4Q that night was Michael Vick taking two knees. Forget about the final score.

Rodgers is 20-22 (.476) in games decided by one score, and I hope it’s assumed when I say Rodgers I mean “the Packers with Rodgers at QB”. Because the record with Matt Flynn or Brett Favre (under McCarthy) would be different.

Anyways, 20-22 is a hell of a difference from 9-26 (.257) at GWDs, so you can see it’s two completely different studies. That’s the one thing I would like to change in how I’ve been writing about this. It’s not so much a close-game issue for Green Bay as it is a failure to win games when they have to score the winning points in the 4Q/OT.  Behind Rodgers they’re 9-26 at doing that, but 49-5 in all other games. No one has been able to explain that absurd gap in winning percentage, which is the largest in NFL history.

There is no simple explanation as teams lose games for various reasons. Sometimes it’s the QB, sometimes it’s the defense and once in a while it’s a kicker. You can count how many times Mason Crosby missed a clutch kick (four games and three were long attempts) that led to a loss, but what about Tony Romo (5) or Tom Brady (once)? You can’t just adjust Rodgers’ record for these things, because they happen to all other QBs too. If you want the article that will show that, stay tuned to Football Outsiders this season.

No matter who you want to blame, the Packers are 9-26 at GWDs with Rodgers at QB and that is a terrible record, especially for such a good team. Rodgers is the headline, but the Packers’ problems are the real story, and too many people are glossing over that aspect of this.

As for criticism of my “Phil Simms analysis” that 4QC show the cream rising to the top, well you find fault with the 10 guys who have held the record for most 4QC wins since 1950: Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Bob Waterfield, Bobby Layne, Otto Graham, Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas, John Elway, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. That’s a who’s who of the best QBs through the years with Joe Montana (5th all time) only excluded because he missed too many games in his career. The 1970s are not represented, but wouldn’t you know Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler all lead the decade with 15 4QC wins. Throughout NFL history, the best QBs dominate this stat as much as any other stat you can pick. But for Aaron Rodgers, he’s still somehow behind John Skelton and Tim Tebow. If that doesn’t make you scratch your head, nothing will.

Enough with the “lack of opportunity” argument – I hammered on this before, but again some people think Rodgers has a lack of 4QC/GWD for a lack of opportunity. 29-35 games is plenty of opportunity. It’s not the opportunity, it’s the bad winning percentage. Here’s an updated list with a few more notable QBs and how many 4QC opportunities they have had by start.

4QO

Rodgers is just above average at 32.6%, so stop it.

Statistical significance vs. real significance – I want to tread lightly on this topic as this alone could be 5,000 words out of me. I fully understand the small sample size issues with covering football. I’ve done hundreds of articles and looked at many things over the years, so I know as well as anyone when we don’t have enough data to make good conclusions. How many comeback opportunities does Rodgers need before we can statistically conclude his record is bad? 30? 50? 100? I don’t know, but I will work to find out in the offseason.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep doing my job as a football analyst to present the patterns and trends that aid our coverage of the game. They may or may not have statistical significance, but once you start talking about 29-35 games, that seems rather foolish to brush everything off as being random.

We can all agree the final minutes of a close NFL game are different from the rest of the game, right? The rule book changes in regards to clock stoppages and things like advancing the ball after a fumble. Time actually becomes a factor with using timeouts and managing the clock. No one cares about the game clock unless it’s the end of a half. Offenses will use all four downs while playing three-down football most of the time otherwise. There’s that sense of “if this drive is not successful, we will lose the game” that just does not come early in the game. It’s a different experience in crunch time.

So how many times does a team need to experience this before they learn how to adapt to the situation? Think of your own real-life experiences in adverse situations: driving up an icy hill on your way home from work, flying on an airplane or going to a funeral parlor. Yeah, I’m going to go with the darkest analogy I could think of.

Do you have to go see 80 dead people before it becomes statistically significant in how you will handle the situation? Or does it take a few trips before we know what to expect and act accordingly? That could be anything from the smell of the place, the demeanor of mourners, dealing with the image of the person in the casket, proper dress attire, etc. Sometimes we may get thrown a curve ball like a person laughing hysterically or someone throwing themselves onto the casket. In football, some unexpected things can come up too like a seven-man blitz or a dropped pass.

In other sports we have seen teams like Michael Jordan’s Bulls or Sidney Crosby’s Penguins have to climb the ladder of success before winning a championship. That means getting your feet wet in the playoffs, learning how to adjust for a best-of-7 series and going further each time before eventually completing the journey to the top.

Why can’t it be the same in the NFL where you have to learn to adjust to adverse situations? It shouldn’t take years upon years to do that either. I think we’ve seen enough from the Packers to reasonably conclude they struggle a lot in these types of games.

If you honestly see zero significance and only randomness to the Packers being 5-24 at 4QC behind Rodgers — possibly 0-20 against winning teams — then maybe following the NFL is not right for you. That record is unlike anyone else’s record when we’re talking about an annual SB contending team. Now if you want me to break the records down to adjust for opponent, or dig deeper into the causes, then that’s fine. I’ve done such things in the past. I know the few wins the Packers do have have often been unimpressive (bad opponents, small deficits). There are patterns. I’ve done enough to know something is not right with how the Packers win and lose football games.

Not to harp on it, but the comments made this offseason by Greg Jennings and Donald Driver about Rodgers’ leadership is another layer to this story. Cue the smoke/fire line. We don’t see receivers for QBs like Peyton, Brady and Matt Ryan question their leadership. We also see those QBs with great success in these close games. Maybe there’s something there, but let’s stick to numbers.

I have seen all 26 losses by GB. They happened and it didn’t take a stroke of bad luck every time. This team has issues late whether it’s the QB’s unwillingness to throw interceptions so he takes drive-killing sacks, the lack of a running game, the struggling OL, McCarthy’s playcalling, Dom Capers’ defense or Mr. Crosby’s kicking. There are baselines already established. For an elite QB, a 9-26 record at GWDs is bad and no one will convince me to say otherwise. Should it improve, then credit to the Packers.

But as long as it stays where it is, we have a problem here, and remember it’s a problem that has already and will continue to cost the Packers wins, division titles, higher playoff seeds, playoff wins and Super Bowl rings.

2013 NFL Week 4 Predictions

After hesitantly picking the 49ers, that makes me 4-0 on the Thursday games this season. My record’s much better than the quality of those games. I’m still stinging from another difficult Week 3 that saw an 8-8 record. Onward and upward this week as we try to figure these teams out.

Winners in bold:

  • Giants at Chiefs
  • Cardinals at Buccaneers
  • Steelers at Vikings
  • Ravens at Bills
  • Bears at Lions
  • Bengals at Browns
  • Colts at Jaguars
  • Seahawks at Texans
  • Jets at Titans
  • Eagles at Broncos
  • Cowboys at Chargers
  • Redskins at Raiders
  • Patriots at Falcons
  • Dolphins at Saints

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Season: 31-17

Good god I have 10/14 road teams winning this week. Even if we don’t count Pittsburgh (neutral site), that sounds like trouble. Upset watch for Seattle, Cincy, Baltimore and Chicago?

Also, back in April I had Pittsburgh beating Minnesota in London with the premonition of Adrian Peterson being contained, Christian Ponder coughing over some turnovers, Big Ben finding Sanders/Brown deep down the sideline for scores. Just a good day for the Steelers in London. Now with both teams at 0-3, I barely feel like watching this one. Though with Matt Cassel stepping in at QB, I can’t imagine the takeaway-less Steelers do not get a few this week. And I still expect the Steelers to win, dropping a Minnesota team I railed on more than any other team this offseason to 0-4.

With Carolina and Green Bay on the bye week, there’s no chance to blow a late lead this week. But if there’s anyone I don’t want to see need a fourth-quarter comeback in Week 4, it will be Breaking Bad. I’ve noticed a lot of big-time series finales in recent years (Dexter and Big Love especially) waited too long to get things going and tried to rush it for a botched ending. I’m counting on big things from AMC here.

If Walter White escapes the country to become a lumberjack, I’m going to lose my sanity and quit watching these series since we never get closure or final satisfaction anymore.