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14 Sep 2017

1986 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

by Aaron Schatz

It's time to take one more trip into the past, with the last of the three new years of historical DVOA that we promised to deliver this summer. We're going back over 30 years to the wonderful year of 1986. The radio waves were filled with the sound of "That's What Friends Are For," "Addicted to Love," and "Party All The Time." The No. 1 movie at the box office was "Top Gun." And the defenses of the NFC ruled the National Football League.

Two years ago, in 2015, we had a year of defensive extremes: the Denver Broncos were one of the top defenses in NFL history, while the New Orleans Saints set (what was at the time) a record for the worst defensive DVOA ever. 1986 was a similar season. According to DVOA, the top three defenses in the NFL belonged to the top three overall teams in the NFL. But the top defense (and top team) was not the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who were third. It also wasn't the legendary mid-Bill Walsh dynasty San Francisco 49ers, who were second.

No, the top overall DVOA and defensive DVOA of 1986 belonged to the defending champion Chicago Bears. The 1986 Bears pass almost every other team we've ever measured and now have the No. 2 defensive DVOA of all-time.

Best Defensive DVOA, 1986-2016
Year Team DVOA W-L Pass D Rank Run D Rank
1991 PHI -42.4% 10-6 -48.6% 1 -34.9% 1
1986 CHI -33.6% 14-2 -40.8% 1 -25.5% 1
2002 TB -31.8% 12-4 -51.9% 1 -8.8% 8
2008 PIT -29.0% 12-4 -32.8% 1 -24.2% 2
2004 BUF -28.5% 9-7 -34.7% 1 -21.9% 2
2008 BAL -27.8% 11-5 -27.1% 2 -28.6% 1
2012 CHI -26.7% 10-6 -29.0% 1 -23.1% 1
1988 MIN -25.9% 11-5 -38.8% 1 -12.2% 5
2013 SEA -25.9% 13-3 -34.2% 1 -15.2% 7
2015 DEN -25.8% 12-4 -28.0% 1 -22.8% 4
2009 NYJ -25.5% 9-7 -36.5% 1 -13.9% 7
2000 TEN -25.0% 13-3 -23.0% 2 -27.4% 2

This kind of dominance from the Bears is not really a surprise. Some football historians believe that the Bears had a better defense in 1986 than in 1985, but a significantly inferior offense. The Bears allowed fewer points per game in 1986 (11.7 vs. 12.3) as well as fewer yards per play (4.12 vs. 4.38). The 1986 Bears had fewer takeaways, but the difference was small: three fewer interceptions and three fewer forced fumbles. The starting lineup was the same in both years, except for starting cornerback Leslie Frazier, who had a career-ending knee injury while returning a punt in Super Bowl XX.

The 1986 Bears still fall significantly short of the 1991 Eagles. That means it is likely that when we finally break down 1985, the "Super Bowl Shuffle" Bears will not hold the title of the greatest DVOA defense ever. At least, not when we only look at the regular season. Of course, part of what makes the 1985 Bears legendary is the way they destroyed opposing offenses in the postseason. The 1986 Bears are legendary for what they did in the postseason, but for a different reason: Doug Flutie's hideous playoff performance at quarterback. Flutie went a dismal 11-for-31 for 134 yards, with one touchdown and two picks, as the Bears lost at home to Washington, 27-13.

(Brief digression: The 1986 Bears defense wasn't great in the playoff loss to Washington either. So when we include the postseason in DVOA, as I did in the ratings I did for our ESPN Insider "30 for 30" series this summer, the Bears drop to No. 3 all-time behind the 1991 Eagles and the 2002 Buccaneers.)

The struggles of the Chicago offense were a huge storyline for the entire season. The Bears finished 20th in offensive DVOA; every other team in the overall top 10 was also in the offensive DVOA top 10. However, the difference in offensive DVOA with and without Jim McMahon is not as big as you would expect. McMahon battled injuries all year, and ended up playing in six games: Weeks 1, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 12. In those weeks, Chicago's offensive DVOA was -2.1%. In the other 10 regular-season games, Chicago's offensive DVOA was -10.1%. There's a gap, but not a colossal one. During the regular season, it was actually Flutie who had the highest passing DVOA, suggesting that Mike Ditka's decision to start him in the playoff game was not absurd. No Bears quarterback had the 200 attempts needed to be ranked in DVOA, but the breakdown went like this:

  • Jim McMahon: 6 starts, 150 pass attempts, -13.0% DVOA
  • Mike Tomczak: 7 starts, 151 pass attempts, -26.2% DVOA
  • Steve Fuller: 2 starts, 64 pass attempts, -34.8% DVOA
  • Doug Flutie: 1 start, 46 pass attempts, -12.6% DVOA

Tomczak, a second-year undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, actually had the highest net yards per pass attempt at 6.94, but he also completed less than half his passes and had a horrific ratio of 2 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

I said that 1986 was a year of defensive extremes, and the other side of that coin is the horrible defense played that year in the state of Florida. But before we get to the Bucs and Dolphins, let's run the entire 1986 table.

* * * * *

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings for 1986, measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league averaged based on situation and opponent in order to determine value over average. (Explained further here.)

OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted based on strength of opponent as well as to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season. NON-ADJUSTED TOTAL VOA does not include these adjustments.

As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.

TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
NON-ADJ
TOT VOA
W-L OFFENSE
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
1 CHI 30.4% 29.4% 14-2 -6.9% 20 -33.6% 1 3.7% 5
2 SF 26.0% 29.8% 10-5-1 10.1% 6 -16.0% 2 -0.2% 15
3 NYG 20.4% 22.1% 14-2 4.6% 9 -14.7% 3 1.2% 11
4 DEN 19.3% 21.0% 11-5 16.4% 4 -1.4% 12 1.5% 10
5 CIN 18.1% 10.5% 10-6 24.7% 2 0.3% 15 -6.2% 27
6 MIN 17.0% 17.5% 9-7 12.0% 5 -5.5% 9 -0.5% 17
7 WAS 16.0% 15.3% 12-4 19.5% 3 5.0% 22 1.5% 9
8 SEA 13.3% 14.4% 10-6 9.3% 8 0.3% 14 4.3% 4
9 CLE1 13.1% 12.2% 12-4 9.9% 7 2.8% 18 5.9% 3
10 LARM 9.7% 8.9% 10-6 2.8% 10 -9.7% 4 -2.8% 19
11 NE 6.2% 11.3% 11-5 -0.3% 13 -6.5% 7 0.0% 14
12 LARD 5.9% 2.0% 8-8 -2.9% 17 -5.1% 10 3.6% 6
13 MIA 3.4% 8.6% 8-8 28.5% 1 21.9% 27 -3.2% 20
14 NYJ 2.1% 2.7% 10-6 1.9% 11 9.7% 25 9.9% 1
TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
NON-ADJ
TOT VOA
W-L OFFENSE
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
15 PIT 1.6% -5.2% 6-10 1.3% 12 -4.1% 11 -3.8% 22
16 NO 1.1% 2.1% 7-9 -14.2% 24 -6.1% 8 9.3% 2
17 SD -5.6% -5.1% 4-12 -0.6% 14 0.5% 16 -4.6% 24
18 DAL -5.9% -7.2% 7-9 -1.0% 15 4.7% 21 -0.2% 16
19 ATL -8.2% -5.5% 7-8-1 -2.6% 16 0.6% 17 -5.0% 26
20 DET -10.4% -13.5% 5-11 -7.4% 21 3.3% 19 0.2% 13
21 HOIL -10.5% -10.8% 5-11 -14.9% 25 -1.1% 13 3.3% 7
22 KC -11.3% -7.8% 10-6 -17.2% 27 -7.1% 6 -1.1% 18
23 PHI -14.6% -16.6% 5-10-1 -16.1% 26 -7.9% 5 -6.4% 28
24 GB -14.6% -23.5% 4-12 -5.6% 19 4.5% 20 -4.5% 23
25 STLC -16.4% -15.1% 4-11-1 -10.2% 22 8.2% 24 2.0% 8
26 BUF -25.6% -20.2% 4-12 -5.4% 18 16.7% 26 -3.5% 21
27 IND -30.5% -29.3% 3-13 -23.6% 28 7.3% 23 0.4% 12
28 TB -43.8% -45.5% 2-14 -12.7% 23 26.1% 28 -5.0% 25
  • ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles.
  • WEIGHTED DVOA is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.
  • 1986 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#28, most negative).
  • PYTHAGOREAN WINS represent a projection of the team's expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed.
  • VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#28, highest variance).



TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
W-L ESTIM.
WINS
RANK WEI.
DVOA
RANK 1986
SCHED
RANK PYTH
WINS
RANK VAR. RANK
1 CHI 30.4% 14-2 12.7 1 28.6% 1 -6.0% 27 13.0 1 15.1% 21
2 SF 26.0% 10-5-1 11.5 2 27.7% 2 3.8% 5 11.7 3 14.6% 20
3 NYG 20.4% 14-2 10.7 4 23.8% 4 2.9% 7 11.9 2 8.5% 3
4 DEN 19.3% 11-5 11.3 3 11.3% 10 3.0% 6 9.4 9 19.6% 24
5 CIN 18.1% 10-6 10.5 7 23.8% 3 2.2% 9 8.4 13 19.8% 25
6 MIN 17.0% 9-7 10.6 5 11.1% 11 0.6% 15 11.4 4 14.2% 16
7 WAS 16.0% 12-4 10.6 6 11.4% 9 1.8% 10 10.1 8 10.2% 7
8 SEA 13.3% 10-6 9.7 9 12.1% 8 2.9% 8 10.1 7 26.9% 28
9 CLE1 13.1% 12-4 9.8 8 16.3% 5 -1.4% 22 10.2 6 10.8% 9
10 LARM 9.7% 10-6 9.4 10 14.8% 6 -2.6% 24 9.4 10 9.2% 4
11 NE 6.2% 11-5 8.0 15 -0.6% 16 -1.3% 21 10.8 5 14.3% 17
12 LARD 5.9% 8-8 9.0 11 -0.6% 15 1.4% 12 7.3 18 18.6% 23
13 MIA 3.4% 8-8 7.9 16 5.9% 12 -4.0% 26 8.6 12 14.4% 18
14 NYJ 2.1% 10-6 8.4 12 1.0% 14 -0.8% 19 7.4 17 11.1% 10
TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
W-L ESTIM.
WINS
RANK WEI.
DVOA
RANK 1986
SCHED
RANK PYTH
WINS
RANK VAR. RANK
15 PIT 1.6% 6-10 8.1 14 14.7% 7 -4.0% 25 7.1 19 24.3% 26
16 NO 1.1% 7-9 8.3 13 4.4% 13 0.9% 14 8.0 15 9.8% 5
17 SD -5.6% 4-12 6.7 18 -8.0% 18 4.2% 3 6.4 21 13.1% 14
18 DAL -5.9% 7-9 6.4 20 -17.0% 25 4.1% 4 8.3 14 12.5% 12
19 ATL -8.2% 7-8-1 7.2 17 -16.2% 24 1.3% 13 8.0 16 11.1% 10
20 DET -10.4% 5-11 6.2 21 -9.3% 20 -1.2% 20 6.5 20 10.0% 6
21 HOIL -10.5% 5-11 5.9 22 -11.4% 22 1.5% 11 6.3 22 16.7% 22
22 KC -11.3% 10-6 6.5 19 -10.9% 21 -1.5% 23 8.9 11 14.6% 19
23 PHI -14.6% 5-10-1 5.9 24 -9.2% 19 6.8% 1 6.2 23 13.4% 15
24 GB -14.6% 4-12 5.3 25 -7.3% 17 4.5% 2 3.7 26 25.1% 27
25 STLC -16.4% 4-11-1 5.9 23 -14.3% 23 -0.6% 18 4.0 25 10.3% 8
26 BUF -25.6% 4-12 3.3 26 -22.5% 27 -6.1% 28 6.2 24 5.5% 1
27 IND -30.5% 3-13 2.9 27 -21.5% 26 0.2% 16 3.3 27 7.3% 2
28 TB -43.8% 2-14 1.8 28 -54.8% 28 0.2% 16 2.5 28 12.6% 13

DVOA for 1986 is now listed in the stats pages:

The 1986 Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass the 2015 New Orleans Saints as the worst defensive DVOA ever, by a very slim margin of about 0.05%. The Bucs allowed 5.97 yards per play, with only 13 interceptions and 19 sacks. The NFL averages in 1986 were 4.98, 21, and 43, respectively.

1986 is famously the year that Tampa Bay had the No. 1 pick and took Bo Jackson, only to have Jackson decide he wanted nothing to do with the Culverhouse family and would play baseball instead. However, the massive black hole of essentially blowing the No. 1 overall pick on nobody hides the fact that Tampa Bay's defensive drafts were also a complete fiasco. The Bucs took defensive players with their next four picks after Jackson: SMU cornerback Rod Jones with another first-round pick, then two second-round picks and a fourth-round pick. Jones had a long NFL career, but he mostly had it in Cincinnati. The second-round linebackers were Jackie Walker, who never developed, and Kevin Murphy, who didn't start until 1988. Fourth-round pick Craig Swoope was the starting strong safety as a rookie and the Bucs loved his performance so much they cut him halfway through his second season.

And this was the best defensive draft the Bucs had enjoyed in years. You can't accuse the team of not trying to solve the defensive problems. In 1985, the Bucs also used their first four picks on defensive players -- over seven rounds, because they had dealt three picks away. The big find there was safety Mike Prior in the seventh round. Prior played in the NFL for 14 years. Of course, almost all of them came for Indianapolis and Green Bay, because Tampa Bay cut him after his rookie season. In 1984, the Bucs didn't have a first-round pick but used their second- and third-round picks on defensive players. Linebacker Keith Browner Sr. only started for three years, and defensive back Fred Acorn was out of the league after one year. By the way, the Bucs didn't have a first-round pick in 1983 either. Were they taking advice from the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Worst Defensive DVOA, 1986-2016
Year Team DVOA W-L Pass D Rank Run D Rank
1986 TB 26.11% 2-14 32.6% 28 21.2% 28
2015 NO 26.06% 7-9 48.1% 32 -2.4% 27
2000 MIN 26.0% 11-5 35.2% 31 13.8% 28
1987 MIA 24.4% 7-5 33.5% 28 16.5% 28
2008 DET 24.3% 0-16 32.8% 32 17.1% 31
1999 CLE 22.2% 2-14 27.8% 29 17.8% 31
1986 MIA 21.9% 8-8 25.3% 26 19.2% 27
1996 ATL 21.6% 3-13 38.0% 29 5.0% 27
2004 MIN 21.6% 8-8 30.2% 31 11.4% 32
1992 ATL 21.3% 6-10 32.7% 28 11.1% 26
2008 DEN 20.7% 8-8 32.2% 31 9.7% 29
1999 SF 20.4% 4-12 41.7% 31 -4.5% 18

Continuing our tour through NFL Florida, the 1986 Dolphins also rank among the 10 worst defenses in DVOA history. The Dolphins were No. 1 in offense for three straight years 1986-1988, and either 27th or 28th in defense each year. Oh, and they were 28th in 1989 too. Are you wondering why Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl? This is why. Notice that every team with a top 10 offense in 1986 is in the total DVOA top 10 with a winning record, except the Dolphins who were 8-8 and ranked 13th in overall DVOA. Marino led all 1986 quarterbacks in passing DYAR and ranked second in passing DVOA, and he was simply playing a different game than everybody else. Marino threw 44 touchdowns in 1986, while no other quarterback threw for more than 24. He had 643 pass plays, while Bernie Kosar (571) and Jay Schroeder (572) were the only other quarterbacks above 550. Yet incredibly, the Dolphins were also dead last in the league in sacks allowed. Marino only took 17 sacks all season.

These extreme defenses are not the only peculiar records for 1986. Let's take a look at some other interesting teams, starting at the top and going down the DVOA rankings:

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS/NEW YORK GIANTS

The curious question here might be how the 49ers were No. 2 in DVOA but went only 10-5-1, while the Giants were 14-2 but finished only third in DVOA, ten percentage points behind the other 14-2 team in Chicago. The answer was performance in close games, as it often is. The 49ers crushed the bad teams on their schedule: a 31-7 win over Tampa Bay, a 43-17 win over St. Louis, and a 35-14 win over Indianapolis. However, they were 1-3-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown, while the Giants were 7-2 in such games.

From Week 9 to Week 12, the Giants won four straight games by a field goal or less. In Week 13, they went to Candlestick Park on Monday Night Football and beat the 49ers, 21-17. That's one of the Giants' seven close wins and one of the 49ers' three close losses. The rematch in the playoffs was not quite as close. The 49ers went to the Meadowlands and the Giants completely destroyed them. The final score was 49-3. This is the famous game where Jim Burt knocked Montana out of the game with a concussion. Lawrence Taylor intercepted that pass for a pick-six while Montana spent the night in the hospital.

There's more to say about the Super Bowl champion 1986 New York Giants in this interview with Bill Belichick we did where he answers questions about the 1986-1988 Giants teams.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The Patriots had gone on a bit of a Cinderella run to Super Bowl XX before they were crushed by the Chicago Bears. They looked even better as defending champions. In five of their first eight games, the Patriots allowed a touchdown or less. Of course, they allowed 27, 31, and 38 points in the other three games and lost each one. The Patriots ended up finishing 11-5 as AFC East champions, but the way they did it was really strange.

The 1986 New England Patriots essentially stand as a monument to how much the passing game matters more than the running game in the NFL. The Patriots went 11-5 with a good defense, a good pass defense, and a running game that was complete garbage. In the year of "Top Gun," the Patriots certainly did not feel the need... the need for speed.

Worst Run Offense DVOA, 1986-2016
Year Team Pass DVOA Rank Run DVOA Rank Yd/Car Top Running Backs
1991 IND -29.0% 27 -30.2% 28 3.30 Eric Dickerson, Ken Clark
2005 ARI 12.3% 14 -29.1% 32 3.16 Marcel Shipp, J.J. Arrington
2002 HOU -37.9% 32 -27.4% 32 3.18 Jonathan Wells, James Allen
2013 BAL -9.0% 24 -27.2% 32 3.14 Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce
2013 JAC -24.2% 32 -27.1% 31 3.33 Maurice Jones-Drew, Jordan Todman
2016 LARM -38.2% 32 -26.6% 32 3.34 Todd Gurley
1986 NE 25.2% 6 -26.5% 28 2.93 Tony Collins, Craig James, Mosi Tatupu
1995 ARI -11.2% 24 -25.1% 30 3.52 Garrison Hearst, Larry Centers
2015 WAS 31.4% 6 -23.5% 32 3.65 Alfred Morris, Matt Jones
2016 MIN 8.6% 19 -23.3% 31 3.17 Jerrick McKinnon, Matt Asiata
1991 PHI -17.8% 25 -23.0% 27 3.13 James Joseph, Heath Sherman, Keith Byars
1998 NO -11.8% 27 -22.9% 30 3.54 LamLamar Smith, Ray Zellars, Troy Davis

Halfback Tony Collins averaged 2.6 yards per carry, and fullback Craig James averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Each had over 150 carries. Backup fullback Mosi Tatupu added another 71 carries at 2.4 yards per carry. As a team, the Patriots couldn't even average 3.0 yards per carry. The only running plays to gain at least 20 yards all season were a Tony Eason scramble and an Irving Fryar end-around. At least Collins was useful as a receiver; he had five receiving touchdowns and ranked third in receiving value among running backs behind Gary W. Anderson of the Chargers and Darrin Nelson of the Vikings.

Only three teams since the AFL-NFL merger have averaged below 3.0 yards per carry, and all three of them came in years for which we have DVOA ratings. The worst is another Patriots team with a massive imbalance between the passing and running games. The 1994 Patriots led by Drew Bledsoe and coached by Bill Parcells averaged just 2.79 yards per carry on the ground. Despite that low average, the Patriots' -16.9% rushing DVOA wasn't even last in the NFL that season. Essentially, the offense was so heavily built around Bledsoe that the Patriots passed on first down to put the running game in strong down-and-distance situations instead of running on first down to put the quarterback in manageable situations. The Patriots averaged a league-low 7.3 yards to go on runs that year. (The NFL average was 7.9 in 1994; last season it was up to 8.2.)

Then comes the 1992 Indianapolis Colts at 2.91 yards per carry (-18.5% rushing DVOA, because they were at least good running in the red zone) and then the 1986 Patriots at 2.93. Before that, the last team that averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry was the 1966 Pittsburgh Steelers at 2.91. Washington somehow averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry three different times in the '60s: 1961, 1962, and 1965.

NEW YORK JETS

The 1986 Bears are not the only team in 1986 to rank on the all-time DVOA lists. The Jets had phenomenal special teams in 1986, ranking as the No. 4 special teams ever and passing the 2016 Rams as the best punting team on record. Punter Dave Jennings didn't have as much individual value as Johnny Hekker did last season, but the Jets had phenomenal punt coverage with four forced fumbles. The Jets also got Pat Leahy going 16-of-19 on field goals and had kick return touchdowns from both Bobby Humphery and Jo-Jo Townsell (Your Life is Calling). It was part of a fabulous run where the Jets are No. 1 or No. 2 in special teams DVOA for three straight years from 1986 to 1988. The Jets weren't even the only all-time great special teams of 1986. New Orleans also makes it into the top ten, thanks mostly to Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen, punter Brian Hansen, and kick returner Mel Gray.

Best Special Teams DVOA, 1986-2016
Year Team ST
DVOA
FG/XP KICK KICK
RET
PUNT PUNT
RET
2002 NO 12.2% 8.8 18.4 14.7 9.8 9.2
2007 CHI 11.2% 6.5 7.1 13.8 10.6 18.0
1994 CLE1 10.1% 10.8 12.3 11.9 11.7 3.9
1986 NYJ 9.9% 10.4 -2.7 9.9 30.7 1.2
1996 CAR 9.8% 7.1 14.0 13.6 8.1 6.1
2009 CLE 9.7% 4.8 10.3 21.0 0.9 11.2
1986 NO 9.3% 13.0 9.7 13.2 16.5 -6.2
1998 DAL 9.2% 5.2 22.5 2.3 4.1 11.6
2012 BAL 9.0% 9.4 12.4 13.3 7.4 2.5
2001 PHI 8.9% 7.7 14.3 6.5 12.1 4.1
1997 DAL 8.9% 11.1 20.4 7.3 1.4 4.1
2000 MIA 8.8% 9.6 15.0 2.8 6.6 10.3

The greatness of the special teams was somewhat overshadowed by the horrible tragedy of the Jets going Full Kotite. The Jets started the season 10-1 and looked like they might be Super Bowl-bound. Then they got wracked by defensive injuries and quarterback Ken O'Brien saw his performance collapse. They lost their final five regular-season games. Then somehow they turned things around a bit in the playoffs, walloping the Chiefs 35-15 in the wild-card game and then losing in respectable fashion, 23-20 in overtime to Cleveland.

1986 New York Jets DVOA, Weeks 1-10 vs. 11-16
Weeks 1-10 Rank Weeks 11-16 Rank
Jets offense 8.6% 7 -11.3% 20
Jets defense -0.3% 15 24.0% 27

Despite having the best punter in the league, the Jets ran a fake punt on fourth-and-20 against the Patriots in Week 2, even though they were losing by 11 points halfway through the fourth quarter, because they were still the Jets.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Speaking of Kansas City, the Chiefs may be the weirdest team of the entire 1986 season.

The 1986 Chiefs stand out like a sore thumb, both among 1986 teams and among Kansas City Chiefs teams. Look above and you'll notice that the 1986 DVOA ratings generally track the win-loss records. The top 14 teams in DVOA have winning records or are 8-8, while 13 of the teams from 15 to 28 have losing records. The Chiefs are the one exception, ranked 22nd in DVOA despite a 10-6 record. At the same time, 1986 is the only year between 1972 and 1989 where the Chiefs managed to make the postseason or record double-digit wins.

What's going on here? It's not really about close games, as the Chiefs still had 8.9 Pythagorean wins. It's only a little about schedule, where the Chiefs ranked 23rd in the league. The Chiefs had a horrible offense, where Todd Blackledge started half the games and completed 45.5 percent of his passes. But they had a very good defense that also got phenomenally lucky when it came to making big plays, and a special teams unit that piled up the big, generally "non-repeatable" plays that aren't included in special teams DVOA.

The Chiefs recovered 16 of 22 fumbles on defense, but what's more important is what they did with fumbles and interceptions. The Chiefs had a grand total of TEN non-offensive touchdowns during the regular season, plus one in the wild-card loss to the Jets. In Week 16, the Pittsburgh Steelers outgained the Chiefs 515 yards to 171 but the Chiefs won 24-19 because of a fumble recovery in the end zone, a kickoff return touchdown by Boyce Green, and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by Lloyd Burruss. A Week 7 win over San Diego was even more wild. The Chargers outgained the Chiefs 512 yards to 222 and won the time of possession battle 39:17 to 20:43. The Chiefs won the game anyway, 42-41. Again, they had three non-offensive touchdowns. Lloyd Burruss had two interception returns for a touchdown, and Kevin Ross added a third when the Chargers fumbled a kickoff return. Meanwhile, the Chargers also had an interception return for a touchdown; the Chiefs had first-and-10 from their 14 near the end of the second quarter but Leslie O'Neal picked off Todd Blackledge nine yards behind the line of scrimmage and went five yards into the end zone. There were also three fumbles in this game, and the Chiefs recovered all of them.

After the season, the Chiefs fired head coach John Mackovic and replaced him with special teams coordinator Frank Gansz Sr. And what do you know, it turns out that a ridiculous rate of non-offensive touchdowns is tough to repeat. The 1987 Chiefs went 4-11 (4-8 in regular games, 0-3 in strike games) and dropped from 22nd in DVOA all the way to 24th.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

This is one Football Outsiders has already taken on, way back in 2006 when Mike Tanier wrote a feature about the Sacked and Looted 1986 Eagles. Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks were sacked 104 times in 1986. That's 6.5 sacks per game for an entire season. By comparison, only one quarterback was sacked that often in Week 1 of the 2017 season, when DeShone Kizer took seven of them.

No other offense in 1986 took more than 64 sacks. Hell, no other offense in NFL history has taken more than 78 sacks. The 1997 Arizona Cardinals are the lucky ones in second place, with the 2002 Houston Texans third with 76 sacks. No other team has ever taken more than 72 sacks. So only two other teams in NFL history have even come within 30 percent of the number of sacks Philadelphia took in 1986. In fact, only two other teams in NFL history have taken more sacks than just one player took in 1986. Randall Cunningham took 72 sacks by himself. This is partly because of the weird way Buddy Ryan used Cunningham. As Mike Tanier explains in that piece about the 1986 Eagles' sack record, Ron Jaworski started much of the year for the Eagles but Cunningham would come in specifically on third-and-long where his scrambling ability would theoretically be of more value. In Weeks 1-9, Cunningham was in for 62 pass plays and 47 of them came on third or fourth down. Twenty of those 47 plays were sacks. Meanwhile, Jaworski took 22 sacks, backup Matt Cavanaugh took 9 sacks on 67 dropbacks, and Keith Byars threw in an extra sack on a halfback pass play just for the hell of it.

Seriously, go read Mike Tanier's article on the 1986 Eagles. It is insane. Buddy Ryan was insane.

Now let's take a look at the best and worst players by position:

Quarterbacks: As noted above, Dan Marino easily led all quarterbacks with 1,693 passing DYAR. No other quarterback would come close to Marino's 1986 performance for over a decade, and no other quarterback reached 1,650 passing DYAR or more until Peyton Manning did it in 2000. Tommy Kramer of the Vikings actually led the league in passing DVOA, in part because he played a very difficult schedule. Marino had over 200 more pass plays than Kramer did. Boomer Esiason was second in DYAR and third in DVOA. Jay Schroeder and Bernie Kosar rounded out the top five.

Indianapolis second-round rookie Jack Trudeau finished last in the league in passing DYAR; he completed less than half of his passes and had more than twice as many interceptions (17) as touchdown passes (8). Randall Cunningham was next-to-last in passing DYAR but led the league in rushing value. Cunningham, Steve Young, and Mark Malone (!) all had five rushing touchdowns in 1986.

Running Backs: Curt Warner of Seattle and George Rogers of Washington are neck-and-neck atop our rushing value table. Warner just narrowly edges out Rogers with more carries and more yards per carry while Rogers had more touchdowns and a higher success rate. James Brooks was third in rushing DYAR and first in DVOA, and also ranked fourth in receiving DYAR. Eric Dickerson, in his final full season with the Rams, was fourth in rushing value. As noted above in the section on the Patriots, the top receiving backs were Gary W. Anderson of the Chargers and Darrin Nelson of the Vikings.

Wide Receivers: Very few people remember the stars of the pre-Belichick New England Patriots, but wide receiver Stanley Morgan had his best season in 1986. For most of his career, Morgan was strictly a deep threat. He averaged over 22 yards per reception in 1979, 1980, and 1981, but caught fewer than 50 passes each season. Then suddenly, for one year in 1986, the Patriots used him as a modern No. 1 receiver. Morgan had never caught more than 60 passes before, or had over 1,050 yards. In 1986, Morgan caught 84 passes for 1,491 yards. He also had 10 touchdowns, and his 62 percent catch rate ranked fifth among wide receivers with at least 50 targets. So Morgan was far and away the No. 1 receiver of the year by DYAR. His 544 DYAR put his 1986 season among the top ten wide receiver seasons in DYAR history. Mark Duper finished second but way behind Morgan with 366 DYAR. Jerry Rice was third, Wes Walker fourth, and Gary Clark fifth.

The surprising name at the bottom of the wide receiver table is Hall of Famer James Lofton, who had quite the off-year in 1986. Lofton was coming off three straight seasons with over 1,150 yards but only had 64 catches for 840 yards in 1986. That season's 13.1 yards per reception is the only time between 1978 and 1991 where Lofton had an average below 16 yards per reception. Lofton also had a low 45 percent catch rate. We can't completely blame that on quarterback Randy Wright, who was close to NFL average for quarterbacks that season. Lofton's bad year got even worse when he was charged with sexual assault in December because of an incident in the stairwell of a Green Bay nightclub, though he was later acquitted. After the season, the Packers traded him to the Raiders for two mid-round draft picks. He bounced back after that, even making the Pro Bowl for the 1991 Bills.

Tight Ends: 1986 was peak Todd Christensen. No other tight end could match his 1,153 receiving yards, his eight touchdowns, or his beautiful perm. Honestly, I'm serious about the touchdowns. We're so used to tight ends as red-zone weapons these days, but Christensen and Steve Jordan (6) were the only tight ends with more than five touchdowns in 1986. The legendary Mark Bavaro was second in receiving DYAR with Jordan third. Rodney Holman of Cincinnati was the top right end in DVOA but only had 54 targets compared to 146 for Christensen and 102 for Bavaro. In last place for receiving DYAR was Greg Hawthorne, who was originally a halfback for Pittsburgh, played some wide receiver for New England, and then was suddenly thrust into the starting tight end role for the 1986 Patriots. The next year, Hawthorne couldn't make an opening day roster but showed up with the Indianapolis Colts during the strike. Those were his final three games in the NFL. I'm guessing there's more story here than what I can find online, but it looks like this guy had a really strange career.

Here are a few more fun tidbits about the 1986 season:

  • The Giants would never have won Super Bowl XLII if Mike Carey called "in the grasp" the way officials did in the mid-'80s. Here's a good example from a Week 1 Jets-Bills game. Ken O'Brien is barely touched.
  • The NFL implemented uniform number restrictions before the 1973 season, but grandfathered in pre-existing numbers. San Diego wide receiver Charlie Joiner, who wore No. 18, was the last player left whose number did not fit the restrictions. Joiner broke the all-time receiving yards record in the same Week 5 game where Seattle's Steve Largent set a new record for consecutive games with a catch.
  • In the second Seahawks-Chargers game, Week 15, the Seahawks somehow ended up in second-and-52. Two offensive holding calls and an illegal crackback block call gave them first-and-44, and then Dave Krieg took an 8-yard sack. And then, on second-and-52, Lee Williams of the Chargers got flagged for roughing the passer and the Seahawks got a new set of downs.
  • There was a weird punting situation for the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8. Apparently, punter Greg Coleman was hurt. Although he was listed as active, quarterback Wade Wilson punted in the first half (he had done it in high school) and kicker Chuck Nelson punted in the second half.
  • The Week 8 Redskins at Giants game on Monday Night Football was being played simultaneously with Game 7 of the Mets-Red Sox World Series, and Joe Jacoby got flagged for a false start for jumping when the crowd cheered Ray Knight's seventh-inning go-ahead home run on the Jumbotron.
  • Detroit didn't score a point in the first quarter until Week 9.
  • We can't give enough thanks to Jeremy Snyder for all his hard work transcribing these old gamebooks. He also put together a Year in Quotes from 1986 for us, just like he did for 1987 and 1988. You can read it all here. It's kind of gigantic.

There's still a lot to do to add 1986-1988 to the Premium DVOA database and player pages. We'll be working on that over the next couple months. Meanwhile, after the 2017 season ends we'll get started on 1984 and 1985. We have all of 1985 except for one quarter: the first quarter of the Week 6 Colts-Broncos game has an unreadable mimeograph in the official gamebooks in both the Broncos and NFL archives. If we can't find a record of it elsewhere or a videotape, we'll need to piece it back together based on game stats, but we'll do our best. As for 1984, there are two games where we do not have any gamebook or video: Week 13 Bengals-Falcons and Week 14 Bills-Colts. If you know anything about a tape of one of these games, please let us know.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 14 Sep 2017

129 comments, Last at 20 Sep 2017, 8:41am by Will Allen

Comments

1
by serutan :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:26am

That second defensive DVOA table should be "Worst" instead of "Best". Otherwise good article.
______
Was wr

18
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:14am

Now fixed!

2
by RickD :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:30am

Ah, yes. 1986. Also known as the first year without John Hannah. In 1985, the Pats averaged 4.1 yards/carry. As you note, they dropped to 2.9 in 1986. Craig James dropped from 4.7 YPC to 2.8. Tony Collins dropped from 4.0 YPC to 2.6. And the Pats returned 4/5 of their offensive line!

It is rare to see the impact of one lineman made so clear.

3
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:57am

One of those close Giants victories happened when this happened.....

http://m.giants.com/videos/videos/Relive-the-Play-4th--17/8fdf577e-e4c9-...

........and that play kept the Vikings out of the playoffs.

5
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:46am

Remember where I was when taht game happened

7
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 5:09am

I was about 75 yards from where Bobby Johnson caught the ball. That Vikings team was kind of unlucky to not win 11 or 12 games.The next year, they barely made the playoffs, when their replacement players lost all their games.

4
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:34am

Where do most people think Dan Marino ranks all time? The more I see these lists, the more I think he was the best qb of his era and probably in the top 5 all time. In fact, I think he is a top 5 all time qb:

In no order - Manning, Montana, Marino, Brady, Tarkenton

Brady owns the goat title, but I like to think if we lived in the internet age - Marino would get a lot more press among the goat candidates.

10
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 6:36am

while the brady-manning arguments were rough, marino-montana might have put them to shame, especially since they met head-to-head in a super bowl, and marino never won one (though i wonder whether lacking the toxic boston sports media it would have gotten as bad). when the broncos won in 2015, football perspective did an article about teams that had made super bowls in close succession, once carried by offense and once carried by defense, and the 1982-1984 dolphins were the only ones close to the broncos for changing their one-dimensional style as quickly

12
by EnderCN :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 8:18am

Really just depends on what you mean when you say best QB. If you stuck Joe Montana onto the Fran Tarkenton Vikings teams he wouldn't be considered one of the best ever. Brett Favre gets dinged hard because of all of the INT but he literally was carrying the offense by himself most of his career, those were a lot of really mediocre WR he was throwing to. You swap teams for Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford my money is on Stafford having more rings than Brady at this point. So much of how good a QB is really depends on the team and system he is a part of.

13
by RickD :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 8:26am

>You swap teams for Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford my money is on Stafford having more rings than Brady at this point.

The guy who has yet to win a playoff game? Who is not close to Brady by any metric?

Wow.

14
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 8:34am

You pair Tom Brady with Matt Millen, and Brady's career may have been over in less than 10 years, with zero championships. That isn't criticism of Brady. You have a time machine, and stick Stafford with Belichik in 1999, it isn't at all hard to see that combination winning at least one.

15
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 8:46am

To further illustrate the point, I'll contend again that if Archie Manning and Terry Bradshaw switch birthdays, and thus which teams they are drafted by on the early 70s, Manning is the 1st qb to win 5 Super Bowls, and Bradshaw is a local New Orleans celebrity.

21
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:51am

Consider Steve Young on the 49ers and Steve Young on the Bucs.

Stafford arrived on a team worse than Young's Bucs.

33
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:04pm

Yeah those kind of comments drive me a bit batty. Opinions vary on how hard Brady should get the Belichick discount, but in no other alternate universe do I believe Stafford would be better than Brady if the roles were reversed.

34
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:06pm

The list of QBs that were Brady's contemporaries that might have matched his success in New England if they were drafted there in 2000 to me are the following:

Peyton
Rodgers
Brees

That's it. Beyond that, I think people start seriously stretching.

36
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:10pm

The assertion was that Brady would have fewer rings than Stafford, not that Stafford would be better. You really think Brady would win championships with a roster built by Millen? You really think Belichik would be unable to win one with Stafford?

37
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:12pm

Wasn't Millen gone by the time Stafford showed up?

The 2010-2013 Lions weren't all that untalented. I feel like Brady gets them to 11-13 wins a year.

Schwartz's defense might have also been far more effective playing with leads that Brady gives them more often.

42
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:29pm

Stafford was very undisciplined and had bad mechanics in his first several years. Whether that was because he got David Carr'ed with the 2009 Lions (who still had a lot of Millen draft picks/free agents on the roster...only like 3 of them were useful players), or because he was poorly coached (I think he was), is up for debate. Brady in that environment would have still been better, but I doubt he would have been as good as he was on the Patriots.

51
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:52pm

I was supposing a universe where Stafford is Brady's age, and Stafford lands on the Patriots roster in 1999, and Brady stays in state with the Lions. I could easily envision Brady's career lasting about a decade with zero rings, and Belichik getting enough consistency from Stafford to win at least one.

73
by renangms :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:27pm

Saying that Stafford wins at least one is completely different than Stafford having more rings than Brady.

92
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:43pm

Yes, and I'm saying if Brady starts his career in Detroit in 1999, Brady has zero. This is not a knock on Brady. I can't see any qb starting his career in Detroit in 1999, and winning a championship.I could see many qbs beginning their career with the Patriots in 1999, and winning one, naybe more than 1. A few I could see winning as many as Brady, although probably not Stafford.

74
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:31pm

How about this hypothetical.

Prior to the 2009 draft, the Lions trade the 1st overall pick to NE for Tom Brady. The Patriots draft Stafford with that pick.

8 years later, what team has had more success, the 2009-2016 Lions with Brady instead of Stafford, or the 2009-2016 Patriots?

For the sake of this, assume the guys they've drafted to each stay the same (for the Lions, they still get Suh, somehow).

I would say DET does better with Brady. Maybe both win 1 Super Bowl?

79
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:48pm

In what season would the Lions have won the Superb Owl?

In 2017, he'd have to beat Seattle on the road, then Dallas, and then Atlanta, just to run into the Stafford Patriots.

Let's say it's 2015.
Brady beats Dallas, fine. Is he going to beat the 2015 Seahawks, in Seattle? Then Rodgers and GB in Lambeau? All to run into the Stafford Patriots again?

How about 2011? He gets peak Brees in his first game, who puts up 466 yards and three TDs, and never punts. Stafford puts up 380 yards and 3 TDs, and still loses by 17. Let's say they win. They get GB in Lambeau in the snow, followed by Harbaugh SF or his nemesis, the Eli Giants.

I think the Stafford Pats lose to Baltimore in the AFC Championship game in this reality.

I don't see a year where the Brady Lions win the Owl. I see a couple where the Stafford Pats do, though.

85
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:03pm

Why do you assume the teams have the same record and thus same playoff path?

My point is put Brady on the 2014 Lions, I think they go better than 11-5, maybe win the #1 seed. Playoff path is different.

Same in 2013 - don't think Brady loses a division to a 8-7-1 Packers team.

Similarly, I would posit the Patriots do slightly worse, maybe don't get the #1 seed in 2011, 2014.

89
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:21pm

Simplicity. It's not my thesis that there's a vast gulf in potential between the two. Go look for bad Stafford games and find losses you can replace with wins.

If you want to complicate things, realize that the Stafford Lions have rarely had competent TE play and essentially never had healthy NE-style fungible 3rd down backs. They sort of did in 2013. They had Megatron, but that doesn't play to Brady's strengths. He'd still be spectacular, but you wouldn't see the Stafford 60 yard bombs into a jump-ball over two DBs.

91
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:28pm

Simplicity is fine, but my larger point was that Brady would push that team over-the-top to where they wouldn't be a wild-card team.

Also, don't fully agree in terms of personnel. In their best seasons, the Lions had decent TEs (Pettigrew, Scheffler) and moreso backs that would probably look better within a Brady offense for their receiving (Joique Bell, Jahvid Best, Reggie Bush, Theo Riddick - all these guys had fairly good receiving numbers in the Stafford-led offense).

90
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:27pm

Agreed, where did the idea that the Lions had poor talent come from? I think Brady on the Lions makes them a heavyweight contender in the NFC... probably better than gb.

Stafford on Ne is still a contender but no longer the prohibitive favorite and easily behind Denver and probably Pittsburgh.

95
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 5:10pm

I'll handle this and the above together.

The Lions history since the Kennedy administration gives me the idea the Lions had poor talent.

Brady was drafted by an 8-8 team with a DVOA of -4.
Stafford was drafted by an 0-16 team with a DVOA of -48. Their defense had a DVOA of +42. This was the worst defense and second worst team in DVOA rankings to that point. This was the Brady-less year, where NE still managed a +13.

2009 Detroit was even worse.

NE has on average had better offenses. A primary difference is in rushing. Detroit cannot run the ball. At all. Since Stafford entered the league, NE's worst rush offense was 15th. Stafford's best was 14th. He's had a top-20 rushing attack twice. NE has had a top-2 rushing attack that often. NE has had a better rushing attack every year Stafford has been in the league. So what offense Detroit manages is whatever Stafford can pull off, against defenses that know Detroit can't run.

Stafford has had Megatron. He's had a bunch of oft-injured WR-type RBs and a few oft-injured ineffective big backs. Brandon Pettigrew looked like Tarzan but played like Jane. He's turned shit into shinola like few others. Maybe only Rivers does more with less. Maybe.

97
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 8:06pm

I agree the starting point was shockingly horrible, but 2009 was a long time ago. They've had Jeff Backus, domnick rayola, Suh, fairly, Avril, ansah, levy, slay, and the incomporable Megatron. That's a pretty solid foundation of talent, not exactly the browns. I don't think the colts, for example, have more than 3 good players on the team since 2010.

115
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 09/18/2017 - 10:59pm

The Lions still had a terrible pass D and a terrible run game. The Patriots overall roster was superior to that of the Lions over the same period. Don't forget that the Patriots won 11 games the year that Brady was out. Do you think the Lions could have even finished at .500 without Stafford?

38
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:20pm

I agree, even as an ardent Stafford defender. However, I think this comment was more of a complement of the Patriots franchise and Belichick's coaching, that it was an insult to Brady, or a compliment to Stafford.

I'm a Michigan Alum, and saw every game Brady played in college. Let's just say that I wasn't totally shocked that he lasted until the 6th round in the draft.

40
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:23pm

It's probably a bit of hyperbole. Brady is the best ever....but, remember he was only "pretty good", not great in the early 2000's. It's not ludicrous to suggest that coaching and environment may have helped season him into the GOAT as he reached mid-career. Conversely, I think Stafford was very poorly coached in during the Jim Schwartz regime.

That doesn't mean I think Stafford would have been better that Brady if their teams were switched.

45
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:41pm

Just to clarify. I think the assertion that in a vacuum Stafford is better than Brady is absurd.

I have no doubt that if Brady was not in Ne, he would not have the same success. I think he'd still be an easy hall of famer. For the record, it's the former that makes me think Brady is not the goat in a vacuum, but it's kind of unknowable so people can and do understandably differ on just how different Brady looks without Belichick.

Btw I wonder if the same could be said if fouts, though fouts seemed to have a pretty terrific supporting cast.

46
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:45pm

I really think you are underrating the importance of context. There are very, very, few HOFers who could not have had their careers ruined by starting their first 7 or 8 years in awful situations, by way of physical battering alone

49
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:48pm

I guess I would ask you...if Brady got drafted first overall by some moribund franchise...what sort of career does he have?

53
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:59pm

I think if the start of Brady's career had coincided with Matt Millen's GM career, and Millen had drafted him, and started him right away, I think Brady is used up in no more than a decade, with perhaps 1 or 2 Pro Bowl appearamces, and maybe zero. The only great qbs I could see surviving Matt Millen is a guy like Tarkenton, who could not only extend plays, but was phenomenal at avoiding contact. He wss better than Russell Wilson in that regard

56
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:08pm

Marty Morninwheg was a disaster as a coach, but I think Steve Mariucchi could have done some good things with a decent quarterback. Brady's skill set would have fit his system perfectly, too.

58
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:14pm

Yeah, there's a chance, if given Brady, Mooch coulda' countered The Millenial Factor. Brady with the roster that brutalized David Carr is another interesting counterfactual.

62
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:36pm

It's hard to say. Brady, at U-M and NE, has never played behind a below-average offensive line. He gets apoplectic about even middling performance.

With the Lions, he never would have played with one. That line has never been able to run block in the Stafford era. Really, it hasn't since Lomas Brown retired. It's unclear whether it could even then -- Sanders covered up a lot of mistakes. Brady is shifty and has a fast trigger, but he tends to lose games where his line doesn't win.

How all this plays out does depend some on whether he still gets Palmer'd behind the Lions O-line and how he bounces back from that. That aside, he'd have to live with a lot of trash going on around his feet that he just doesn't have to deal with in NE.

60
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:21pm

To add on, I think you always keep cognizant of the ol'Ultra Violence of the NFL. A inexperienced qb, even one with GOAT potential, will, in the wrong emvironment simply, quite likely, get phyisically destroyed.

55
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:04pm

"Just to clarify. I think the assertion that in a vacuum Stafford is better than Brady is absurd."

We are in agreement there. How careers get affected by context is uknowable, like you say. But it's fun to talk and think about how many failed QBs were really Steve Youngs on Tampa Bay that never got the opportunity to go to a good team, and vice versa.

FWIW, my opinion is that if Brady ware born later was drafted by the 2009 Lions, I still think he would be pretty good...probably better than Stafford was from 2009-2014, but I doubt he would be considered a 1st ballot HOF. I think context matters to varying degrees for every single player in football.

57
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:10pm

I'll argue forever that Archie was better than either of his sons, given a good situation.

61
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:31pm

Derek and David Carr are good examples, too.

I think if you pressed both of them, they'd both say David was the better QB. Derek had a solid O-line and an MVP candidacy. David had a sieve and PTSD.

65
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:43pm

I know I'm probably in the extreme minority...but I don't think Carr was going to be a good qb. Stafford went to a team that was absolutely horrible and didn't end up wrecked. I think Carr was bound to take sacks because he had poor pocket presence. Maybe a better o line would have fixed some of his other bad habits(like taking checkdown after checkdown), but to me, if you are a horrible qb - no situation is going to elevate you all that much. Leaf and Russell would have looked horrible on the 2007 Patriots just as much as they did with their respective sad sack teams.

103
by Duff Soviet Union :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:07pm

I'd agree. I think people massively overstate the effect to which environments "ruin" QB's. Carr's QBASE projections (admittedly retrofitted) were not great, kind of middle of the pack among eligible QB's. The two QB's above him are David Greene (who?) and Tim Couch and the two below are Charlie Frye and Johnny Manziel. Hardly a great prospect. His brother ranks a bit higher (surrounded by Jake Plummer, Brees, Colt McCoy and Andrew Walter, which is interesting).

63
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:40pm

Hmm...archie over Peyton...it would take a lot for me to believe that.

64
by Mike B. In Va :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:42pm

As someone who dimly remembers how bad the Saints were, I can almost agree with you - he didn't quite have Peyton's head, but had better physical tools. Switching him for Bradshaw gets him four rings.

67
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:44pm

Peyton's physical tools (mobility aside) were pretty damn good pre-neck injury.

69
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:20pm

You put Peyton on the early 70s Saints, quite possibly the worst combination of coaching and talent since the merger, in an environment where receivers get mugged all over the field, defensive ends can employ the head slap, olinemen have little leeway to hold, and qbs are allowed to be openly brutalized, and an inexperienced Peyton may be out of the league by 1979. Its a damned miracle Archie, who was really monile, lasted as long as he did.

71
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:26pm

Isn't Peyton the one guy who can orchestrate an offense independent of personnel? I'm not saying that skill alone makes him the goat or anything, but he can setup a peyton Manning offense anywhere.

76
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:36pm

Peyton Manning of 2010 is not Peyton Manning of 1998.Especially in a rules environmenr which makes passing much, much, harder. I can't emphasize enough how much more difficult it is for a very inexperienced qb to deal with a bad roster.

72
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:26pm

Peyton would have grown up playing football (college, high school, etc.) in the same era in terms of rules.

Can't speak to the Saints in particular - who obviously were terrible - but the more 'this era was different' stuff is tough to manage in these hypotheticals.

If you take any modern QB and time-warp them into 1976 when the rules and legality of hits were way different, sure, they'll all struggle, regardless of how good or bad their teammates are.

77
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:45pm

Nope,Peyton was never on a field where the head slap was allowed, and when you gave a great NFL defensive end that tool, it nade protection much more difficult. Really, contact allowed all over the field, when every db has NFL talent, is a very different proposition.

78
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:48pm

Might have been unclear. I agree that if you take any QB from today and stick them in the 1970's they'll struggle precisely because the rules are different. That isn't limited to Peyton, and that is also not limited to what team we stick him on.

My point was that if Peyton grew up in the 70s, and played high-school and college ball in the 70s, and then was drafted into the league, he would be more used to that type of play.

81
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:53pm

Yes, and he being much more immobile than his dad, and the rules partially negating the ability of even the best qbs to get the ball out quick to an open receiver, and throw them open, would have meant, in my opinion, Peyton being physically decimated in a few years, like Jim Plunkett. Plunkett got himself into a good situation eventually, but he was never physically the same.

80
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:48pm

Sure, but put the inverse on the table. If archie goes to the 2000 Pats or the 1998 Colts - does he replicate the careers of Brady and Manning the son? Would he achieve the same heights?

86
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:04pm

I think his throwing ability was at least as good as theirs, and he was much more mobile. The guy lasted through armageddon, so I know he had the work ethic. I can't prove his ability to do stuff presnap and during the play development would have been as rapid as the modern game asks of qbs, but since he passed his genes on to Peyton, I dont think it unlikely.

82
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:54pm

On the other hand, he'd also be playing in era where zones were rudimentary and the Tampa-2 hadn't been invented yet, and defenses still played 8 men in the box on base downs.

83
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:02pm

Tampa 2 goes back to the Steelers of the first half of the 70s, and arguably the Vikings of the late 60s. You are right that the mental demands on qbs today are much greater, but I dont see much evidence that Archie is worse at pattern recognition than his sons.

84
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:03pm

Yeah, I don't think its a given that qbs of the old days could just pick up these aspects of the game. If a qb doesn't complete over 60 percent of his passes and maintain a healthy 30td to 13 int ratio, hes not considered a good player.

87
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:07pm

Nothings given, but you simply cant use a straoght on statistical comparison, due to rules changes.

20
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:50am

A point in Montana's favor is that he also took the Chiefs to their best post-season success of the post-Stram era.

Both he and Manning demonstrated that their success wasn't team-specific. It's an interesting side-angle.

44
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:41pm

Manning also demonstrated it wasn't coach specific.

He's the reverse Joe Gibbs (winning 3 SBs with 3 different QBs).

Manning wen't to 4 Super Bowls, with four different head coaches, including two first-year head coaches (Caldwell, Kubiak - first year with Denver).

47
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:46pm

Even the 4 sbs sells it a bit short. He was an all time qb in two different destinations with different coaches, players, etc.

I've heard this explained away due to supporting cast, but that strikes me as a similar knock for being in a done most of his career. True to an extent, but way overblown. Most elite qbs have good supporting cast.

104
by Duff Soviet Union :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:36pm

Right, and nobody was calling Denver a "great supporting cast" until he went there and dominated. Then, in hindsight, it was obvious all along.

127
by Richie :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 7:38pm

For perspective, here is a reddit thread when Manning signed. The general consensus seems to be "The 49ers seem like a better choice, and what is on the Broncos roster that made him go there?"

https://www.reddit.com/r/nfl/comments/r3ke0/mortensen_manning_to_broncos...

29
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:38am

Tarkenton played with Vikes in 70s who had phenomenal defenses, goodo RBs (Chuck foreman tremendous player), good receivers (White, Gilliam were not HOFsrs but were very solid )and good ofrensive line. Montana heloped SF win Super Bowls in 1981 and 1984 seasons. His receivers were no better than tarkenton's and those SF defenses were not better than the Vikes defenses. I fail to see why yopu think Montana on the Vikings teams would not be considered one of the best ever.

16
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 9:08am

My rankings:

Tier 1 (in no order): Manning, Brady, Montana, Unitas

Tier 2 (in no order): Marino, Young, Elway, Favre

Tier 3 (in no order): Tarkenton, Staubach, Rodgers, Brees

22
by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:56am

I might do the same rankings, but I'm admittedly guessing on pre-80s stuff. I never saw Unitas, Tarnkenton, or Staubach play.

I do find the parallels between Brees and Marino interesting, though. Both have huge passing numbers and have been consistently saddled with atrocious defenses. If the Saints don't win that Super Bowl, I have no doubt Brees would have spent the last five years getting constantly compared to Marino.

23
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:10am

I've never seen any of those guys either. Remember the tail end of Marino & Young's careers but I was too young at that time to really have any solid opinion on them based on how they played.

Going mostly on stats, others opinions, etc.

From the 70's Staubach stands out as a cut above the others purely from stats (Fran is close but I put him as a previous generation with Unitas). Same with Unitas in the 50s-60s.

26
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:26am

I've noted it a million times, but it bears repeating. Tarkenton was well into his 30s, two thirds of his career over, and past his physical prime, at the beginning of the 70s dead ball era, before he ever played on a team with competent coaching and management. His production, given those handicaps, is simply phenomenal.

27
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:27am

I agree, which is why I think he would fit in right with the rest of my Tier 3 group, maybe even bump into Tier 2.

Maybe switch him with Elway? I have to say out of all the QBs, Elway's place is the most built on other's opinions and myth-making, as by stats he's very out of place.

31
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:42am

I think we flatter our evaluative abilities with these fine delineations. We really are unable to remove the performance from the context.

50
by theslothook :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:52pm

I don't think you even need to be subjective about it. Tarkenton's era adjusted numbers are eye popping. I don't think enough people realize that.

101
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 9:49pm

The 70s dead ball era was such a strange time in football history. Look at all the defense-oriented nicknames around the league (Purple people eaters, fearsome foursome, doomsday defense, steel curtain, no name defense, even the grits blitz falcons and orange crush broncos for a year or two; may have missed a few). in contrast, i can only think of the electric company bills for offense. in the '80s and '90s, sportswriters acted like this 'three-yards-and-a-pile-of-dust', '3 things can happen with a pass and 2 of them are bad' was traditional, old school, smash-mouth football, but it really was a historical aberration

114
by Independent George :: Mon, 09/18/2017 - 6:22pm

The same things that makes Tarkenton's career so remarkable also makes the double-murderer's career arguably even more impressive.

116
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 7:37am

Once Lou Saban arrived back in Buffalo in '72, the Bills were pretty well coached, with a solid, young, o line (Reggie Mckenzie and Joe D were terrific), and a decent qb in Joe Ferguson, until Simpson was used up. Saban was fired early in '76, Simpsons last good season. The first 3 years of Simpson's career were entirely wasted, with the dumbest coaching imaginable, and Simpson's stats reflected that. The murderer really never had good production with an awful coach.

102
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 9:58pm

Staubach was also 31 by the season he became the full time starter (although he'd started 10 games plus the playoffs and the Super Bowl a couple of years earlier). he's another guy hurt by playing in that era (although he was never first-team all pro)

30
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:41am

not bad rankings there

doint same thing as you where I have three tiers and four in each tier and not in order--------

tier 1- Montana, brady, unitas, p. manning

tier 2- staubach, baugh, graham, Rodgers

tier 3- Elway, tarkenton, young, favre

ask me som toher day and I might put marino in over young or favre or put graham on tier 3 and Elway on tier 2. but as of today, 9/15/2017, above is hwo I rank them

32
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:49am

I have to admit, I have no basis to judge pre-SB era QBs (I'm including Unitas as a SB era QB in this).

Have no reference for Baugh and Graham and that truly was a too different game. Given that I'll never argue anyone's placement of those guys.

112
by TecmoBoso :: Mon, 09/18/2017 - 4:42pm

If Brady is Tier I, then so are Marino and Elway; and you could make a good case for Rodgers at this point.

I'd personally take Peyton, Marino, Elway, Montana, Rodgers all over Brady. Brady has had some excellent seasons, and should be in any "greatest QB of all time" conversation; but I don't think it's an open and shut case like so many (at least in the media) seem to believe.

I think the FIVE RINGZ argument for Brady is poor because he was along for the ride in the first win, and then the Seahawks and Falcons more lost than the Pats won the most recent SBs (the counter point is both Giants victories were Pats losses more than Giant victories granted). But he's only four or five plays away from 'only' having two rings. And how much differently would we/many view him then? And getting to play in the AFC East, were (for the most part) the lack of competent division rivals have allowed the Pats to make more trips to the playoffs and/or get the bye/home field advantage which obviously helps a ton in making the Super Bowl.

Favre is the most overrated QB in my lifetime, going back to about 1988 or so.

One current QB I really don't know how to rank is Rivers... can't decide if he's very good who just has been playing on bad teams recently; or if he's just pretty good. I'm included to believe he's very good.

113
by Independent George :: Mon, 09/18/2017 - 6:17pm

I both agree and disagree on Favre. He might be overrated, but I think that's more a matter of the media fawning than his skills as a QB (also, the late 90s were really a terrible time for QBs). Out of curiosity - did you get to watch much of early Favre? Because during the Holmgren years, I was certain that he would end his career as on par with Montana and Marino.

He regressed without Holmgren to keep him in line, but even then he was still playing at HoF level (but not GOAT caliber, where he was through '97). Favre had the Marino-like ability to zip the ball out like a laser beam on pure arm strength, without any sort of windup. And he was mobile, too.

117
by t.d. :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 9:53am

The man won three straight MVP awards. Pretty sure the list of guys who have pulled that off is just one guy. Favre's hurt by his post-prime lasting so long- he played another 13 seasons after his final MVP. Jerry Rice suffers from this too, a bit- he stuck around for so long after his peak that sometimes I think that's the guy people remember (I might consider the argument that Moss might have had a higher apex, but, really, when Jerry started doing what he was doing, nobody had ever seen anything like it; by the time he'd slipped just a little, lots of guys were playing like he now was, so it seemed less extraordinary, but you'd have a tough time convincing me any receiver at any time was better than Rice was in '87)

118
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 10:11am

When he was coached hard, even by a mediocrity like Childress, Favre responded and then some. When he had a coach that was reluctant to very, very, demanding of his best player, Favre regressed, but anybody who says Favre was overrated really isn't appreciating how high the peak of Mt. Favre was.

119
by TecmoBoso :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 10:40am

I'm not saying Favre wasn't good, he was very very good; but I don't think he's an all timer like so many seem to claim. He, in part, benefited from being the best QB of the late 90s, a time when the greats of the 80s and early 90s were aging out of the league, and the greats of the 00s were just starting. The QBs drafted in the early 90s were a fairly underwhelming bunch with Bledsoe the best of the bunch, and then solid QBs like Kerry Collins, McNair, Brunell, and then a lot of Jeff George, Dilfer, Neil O'Donnell, Grbac, and guys who busted like Mirer and Leaf. Kurt Warner would be the closest to a "would you rather have..." debate during Favre's prime years.

Marino had Elway, and Montana beat them both. Peyton would have Brady, and eventually Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger, McNabb, and Rivers. Favre never had any sort of 'rival' in a GOAT sense, and by the time Peyton and Brady came into their own early in the 00s, it was pretty clear, imo, that they were better than Favre.

I just think Favre is a notch below the Marino, Elways, Montana, Manning, Brady, etc conversation. I also think the mid/late 90s Packers should have won more than won Super Bowl, but I'll also admit that I haven't retroactively looked at DVOA and other stats of those late 90s teams to see if I'm misremembering a bit.

120
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 12:28pm

He was a legitimate winner of three straight MVPs.He would have been a legitimate winner at age 39. He was great, period, and like I said elsewhere, we really flatter our powers of evaluation when we attempt to make fine delineations among great players. Take away Belichick from Brady after six years, and saddle him with the likes of Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman, and Brad Childress forthe balance of Brady's career, and tell me you know exactly how that plays out. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, we cannot seperate the performance from the context.

121
by TecmoBoso :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 1:33pm

That's getting at my point, though I may have communicated it poorly.

Swap Favre with Marino, and Marino (probably) wins a title (or two) with GB in the 90s and 00s. Marino is seen as clearly the best QB of the era, wins three or four MVPs, and a number of people call him the greatest (especially if he wins two or three rings). Meanwhile, Favre probably has a career that's slightly worse than Marino's in the 80s/early 90s with the Fins; and most see Montana and Elway as superior players, and no one in 2017 is discussing Favre as one of the great QBs of all time, rather one of the best of the 80s.

I also don't think saying Favre is more in the rage of 8 to 12 on the list of greatest QBs rather than 3-6 is really much of a knock on him.

(side note: I thought the Stafford/Brady discussion above was excellent, and I agree that Stafford wins a title with NE).

122
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 1:48pm

When you call a great player "most overrated" there certainly exists a reasonable implication that the player was less than great. I don't think we have the means to confidently say that we know that who we put in the 1-4 slot was definitely better than who we put in the 6-10 slot.

123
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 1:48pm

When you call a great player "most overrated" there certainly exists a reasonable implication that the player was less than great. I don't think we have the means to confidently say that we know that who we put in the 1-4 slot was definitely better than who we put in the 6-10 slot.

124
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 1:48pm

When you call a great player "most overrated" there certainly exists a reasonable implication that the player was less than great. I don't think we have the means to confidently say that we know that who we put in the 1-4 slot was definitely better than who we put in the 6-10 slot.

125
by theslothook :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 2:19pm

Favre's career is one of the hardest to evaluate because there is so much going on. His highs were very high, but his flaws were always there and persistent. The supporting casts weren't that great either, but you knew Favre had the ability to compensate for his supporting cast through his accuracy, arm, and tenacity. Coaching was also a mixed bag.

That said and I think Tecmo might agree- Favre wasn't consistently excellent over the same kind of period the way Manning, Brady, Rodgers, or even Brees have been. Those guys have put in at least 8-9 years of high level consistent qb play. In the case of Manning and Brady - those years of excellence went on for 12 years!

Think about it. From about 2002-2014( Peyton Manning was one of the three best qbs in football every year except the one he was hurt in).

For Brady - from about 2006 to today - hes been the one of the best. Few athletes can match that kind of consistent excellence.

126
by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 3:30pm

I generally agree with this. I find it hard to evaluate Favre because his lows were so low. None of those other QBs had a Favre 1999-2000 or 2005-2006 (I guess Peyton did in 2015). But Favre's highs were damn high, especially when given the rotating cast of characters he had to throw to during his career. I wonder how he looks historically if Sterling Sharpe doesn't get injured, or if Holmgren never leaves Green Bay.

I would put him and Brees at a similar level. Brees got to play indoors for nearly all of his HOF-level seasons (and he has a more significant indoor/outdoor split than Manning, I believe). Brees had more coaching and weapon consistency than Favre did.

I think they're definitely below Montana/Manning/Brady/Marino/Unitas. YMMV after that.

129
by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 8:41am

Oh, absolutely, the likes of Manning and Brady were more consistent. Why they were more consistent is multifactoral, with indivudual performance being a very prominent factor.

35
by JIPanick :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:06pm

I say the top 5 (no order) are Manning, Marino, Montana, Staubach, Tarkenton.

6
by justanothersteve :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:09am

Ah, yes. The mid-80's. When newspapers ran a column called "The Bottom Ten" and twice a year the Crummy Game of the Week was the Battle of the Bays. 1986 was also the year of what was probably the dirtiest hit ever in the NFL when Charles Martin body slammed Jim McMahon into the turf at Lambeau Field (which is why Flutie was the Bears playoff QB).

39
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:23pm

that hit was actually on the zSoldier Field rug which made it worse

43
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:31pm

Hard to think about the crap surfaces which were played on from the '70s into the 90's. Hard to believe anybody got out of Philly alive. The Metrodome regularly destroyed HOF careers (Sims, Millard, etc.) via non-contact knee catastrophes. Ugly stuff, even without considering brain trauma.

8
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 5:43am

we're into a stretch where the bears won 25 straight stats by mcmahon (including playoffs), the longest streak in nfl history- he didn't lose from mid-1984 to late 1987. after ryan left, the defense wasn't quite the same, though obviously it isn't showing up here (much as the '91 Eagles were still great a year after he left)

9
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 6:08am

also, heading into the playoffs, the giants were regarded, by the media at least, as the heavy favorites. seems odd in retrospect, though they obviously took care of business

11
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 6:57am

1986 also marks the first losing season for the dallas cowboys since 1964. they started 6-2, and then in week 9 the giants broke danny white's wrist, and that was that. white seemed destined to be the forgotten guy for the cowboys, but he was good enough to start his career as starter getting the cowboys to three straight nfc championship games (sort of a better jeff garcia). hard to say how much credit landry deserves, as the cowboys' management really was ahead of its time, but 20+ consecutive winning seasons is pretty impressive, regardless

17
by Jetspete :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 9:29am

For me and countless Gen-x Jets fans the phrase "Same Old Jets" dates back to this 1986 season. The notion that no matter how good the team might be on the field, they will find a way to blow it in the end, usually in mind-numbing fashion. First you had a 10-1 start ruined by a 5 game losing streak. Then a 10 point road lead in Cleveland erased when Mark Gastineau committed an egregious roughing the passer call penalty. The loss in double overtime still haunts me 31 years later.

Side note: the ghosts of '86 reappeared in 2010. In '86 the 10-1 jets lost 45-3 in Miami on a Monday night. In '10 the 9-2 jets (best record since '86) lost 45-3 in New England on a Monday night.

19
by danplatt17 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:48am

Nice article. On the 1986 Bears team, a couple of points:

1. That defense was totally stacked. There were a few differences beyond Leslie Frazier, though. Most importantly, Vince Tobin became the defensive coordinator. They were still a fantastic defense, but played a less aggressive style compared to Buddy Ryan's. I would say that they were near impossible to run on, and still had a great pass rush. But they didn't strike the same fear in opposing quarterbacks. I know that's completely subjective, but I think it made a difference, especially in their loss to Washington in the playoffs. The other difference is that they got back two players that held out for the entire 1985 season - Todd Bell and Al Harris. Todd Bell was a Pro Bowler in 1984, and Al Harris was a good player, too. Both lost their starting jobs to other Pro Bowlers (Wilber Marshall and Dave Duerson), but they made the defense even deeper, and got some decent playing time in 1986, I believe.

2. As a die-hard Bears fan, it is painful to look at the quality of players on that roster, and realize that they only won one Super Bowl. The defense was unbelievably talented and deep. The offensive line was excellent - I believe Jimbo Covert was still healthy in 1986, and they were a pretty consistent unit personnel-wise for years. They had a still good Walter Payton, with Neal Anderson as a rookie behind him. But the passing game was so terrible - the quarterbacks and the targets were equally bad. It was an epic fail on the part of Bears management and coaches not to get something better on the field for the passing game. Alas.

25
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:19am

It would be very interesting to get a comparison of the qb hits between the '85 and '86 teams, to see if Ryan's greater aggressiveness resulted in more qb punishment, in an era when qbs were far less protected from violence.

Jay Hilgenberg was a terrific center on those Bears' teams, and one must remember that winning the NFC in that decade meant going through Gibbs' Redskins, Parcells' Giants, and Walsh's Niners. That's quite the task.

28
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:27am

That team was largely built by Jim Finks, who quit when they hired Ditka. He'd been involved with the Purple People Eaters before, and went on to build the Dome Patrol Saints. I sorta think they'd have gotten another ring or two with another coach (all the other great teams of the '80s won multiple rings and were coached by legends)

41
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:25pm

Jim Finks, no brainer HOF GM, was not driven away by just one stupid owership situation, but by two. Prior to the salary cap/free agency owners had an even more outsized effect on success than they do now. In the 80s in particular, owners with outside wealth who were able and willing to not pursue maximum cash flow, like with the Niners and Redskins, had a tremendous advantage, when they hired the right gm/coach, because they could stockpile tremendous depth on their rosters. If Marino had been a little older, and had been paired with Gibbs who ran the ideal offense for Marino's skills, and had the backing of Jack Kent Cooke's checkbook (Joe Robbie in Miami was pretty tight), that would have been frightening. Can you imagine the '91 D.C. team, except with Marino instead of Rypien?

52
by LyleNM :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:55pm

Can you imagine the '91 D.C. team, except with Marino instead of Rypien?

How about imagining Marino with even a middle-of-the-road defense (like, say, 1986 Denver)? Marino probably wins 2-3 rings with such a defense and probably 4-5 with the Redskins defense.

54
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:03pm

The thing about Marino in D.C. is that the Gibbs approach to offense would have just been off the charts great for Marino.

68
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:47pm

They probably go undefeated (as it is, they came pretty damned close, and they're already #1 in historical dvoa). This series of articles has convinced me that, great as he was, Marino's still probably been a little underrated. I realized his defenses weren't great, but I wouldn't have guessed 'worst in the league/runner up' through the meat of his prime (and the running game sucked, too). It's funny, both Jerry Rice and Marino were drafted onto Super Bowl teams, but Marino's situation had already deteriorated by his fourth season

70
by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:26pm

I don't think Shula forgot how to build a roster in the 80s, but rather his owner kept a tight budget, and then the cap was instituted, which changed everything.

93
by johonny :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:46pm

It's true Joe Roby was putting his own money into his new stadium during this time period and that money had to come from somewhere. I think Miami was one of the teams that really poured it on in free agency which arrive after this era when the stadium was finished and that it allowed Shula's teams to have some success in the early mid-90s. Shula lost his D-coordinator Bill Arnsparger after 1983 and there was a noticeable drop off in defensive play until...IDK Dave Wannstedt arrived. Part of it was putrid poor luck, like Hugh Green getting hurt. But Jarvis Williams, John Offerdahl, and Mark Brown were their best defensive picks 1983 until 1990 so there was a lot of poor scouting going on which might be budget related. The 1990 draft was a turning point and they clearly drafted much better in the early 90s than the late eighties. I have no idea if they opened up the scouting budget at that point or what. Unfortunately at that point their offensive skill position players aged badly and the less written about lack of quality offensive players drafted in that era really doomed Marino's later career. At one point Miami's offense was composed of many swing passed to Jim Jensen chucking the ball deep to whatever of the two Marks Brother wasn't on IR at the time and that was about it. When the Mark brothers left town it became a sorry state of vagabond WRs that Miami relied on.

98
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 8:42pm

Bad ownership is extremely difficult to overcome, and might have been even more of a hindrance then. It strikes me as odd- the class of '83 was famously the greatest influx of talent at the qb position, all of those guys went to the AFC, and yet the next year the NFC run of dominance really took hold. A lot of that can be explained away- typically, the NFC champ was the top seed, with 13 to 15 wins, with no upsets- you almost had to be a juggernaut just to make it out of the conference. The AFC reps were much likelier to sneak in off an 11-5 season. Just makes me think the higher bar in the NFC benefited all those well-run organizations

24
by occams_pointed_... :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:15am

The Bengals in 1986 (10-6), just like in 1976 (10-4), had one of their best teams ever. Neither squad even made the playoffs.

48
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:47pm

It's interesting that by DVOA Denver was fairly close to New York when looking at the Super Bowl matchup.

We're always told how outmatched the Elway SB teams in the 80's were and while that was certainly true by DVOA in 1989 (SF was at 36.0%, DEN at 19.0%), in 1987 the Broncos rated better, and here it was really close.

Is DVOA missing something (not capturing strength of NFC?), or is there a general misconception about the NFC's superiority.

59
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:17pm

Five of the top seven teams of 1986 were NFC teams. I don't think there's a misconception about the NFC's superiority! It's just that the top AFC regular-season team from 1986 made the Super Bowl but the top NFC regular-season team did not.

66
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:43pm

Fair.

Interesting about DEN though. Heard so many Elway apologists talk about how overmatched those teams were, and aside from 1989, they stack up well with the 87 Skins and 86 Giants.

75
by cjfarls :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 2:35pm

I think you have to separate the team, vs. the "team + Elway". There is a reason that no Broncos are in the HOF from the 80s era (besides Elway)... because none of them are particularly good.

Elway in the 1980s had a decent/average defense (Joe Collier was a very good DCoord, and Mecklenburg, Fletcher, Dennis Smith were talented defenders). That was the strong part of the "team".

On offense it was Elway. All 10 other players were JAGs at best. His best offensive skill position players until the 1990s were RB Sammy Winder and the late-near retirement WR Steve Watson. The "3 amigos" were better marketers than receivers. Elway's play-calling was Dan Reeves-special straight out of the dead-ball era (plod Winder into the line twice, let Elway bail them out on 3rd down). That +16% offensive DVOA is pretty much 100% Elway-effect.

So the teams WERE overmatched. Elway was the great equalizer.

99
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 9:24pm

Broncos were actually winning at halftime against the Giants (and had a 10 point lead after the first quarter against Washington). Reeves's offense was a bad fit for Elway's skills, and he became more efficient as soon as Reeves was fired, but only the 49er game was expected to be a slaughter (and it was)

100
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 9:26pm

/

96
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 5:47pm

The NFC's domination of interconference play was in 1970-71 (2-0 and not close, talent still equalizing, even with 3 teams shifting to the AFC) and 1989-95 (5-1-1 against the AFC). Otherwise, the AFC was at parity (26-26 in 1986) or better until recently. Outside of 1989-95, 1981 was the only time the NFC had the better regular in regular season interconference play between 1973 and 2010. The NFC's domination of the Super Bowl in the 1980's and 90's until the Broncos beat the Packers is generally that the best teams in the NFC were better than the best teams in the AFC.

88
by jgibson_hmc95 :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:14pm

Something I just noticed that was really weird looking through the player pages and team offense pages - Denver had the 4th best offense - 7th in passing and 2nd in rushing. But their main running back, Sammy Winder, is way down on the list of RBs with a negative DVOA. The rushing offense is top 2 primarily because of Elway's dominant rushing DVOA (trailing only Cunningham in QBs).

94
by cjfarls :: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 4:51pm

Fun find... matches my recollections of the time, and comment #75 above.

105
by Subrata Sircar :: Sat, 09/16/2017 - 5:14am

Are you allowed to mention Craig James on the internet, without mentioning he allegedly killed five hookers? (smirk)

These ratings bring up a bunch of memories for me, mostly around how good Marino really was. Even to a football neophyte, it was clear that Marino was a great quarterback saddled with a bad situation. The Super Bowl matchup between the 49ers and Dolphins is illustrative - the 49ers were essentially sitting on two Hall of Fame QBs plus All-Pros at nearly every position, plus two HoF coaches(!), while the best QB was on the other side with the dregs. It's like someone gave the Dolphins the first pick and the 49ers the next 50.

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by Raiderjoe :: Sat, 09/16/2017 - 8:43am

do not agree about Super Bowl 19 matchup. Killer Bee defense very good. K. Bokamper, B. Baumhower, D. Betters, the Blackwoods- akll quality on '84 Dolphs tema.
Marino had only one HOF temammate on team (D. Stephenson) but M. Clayton and M. Duper were exceptional for several seasons including that one.

Like Dolphisn, '84 49ers also not loaded with HOFers. Team had R. Lott and F. DEan.

Marino not saddled with bad situation in '84. If you wwre comparing 1988 dolphs with '88 49ers I might agree btu you were specifically comparing '84 teams. as is, just cannot agree with yoru assessment

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by Bryan Knowles :: Sat, 09/16/2017 - 2:11pm

And if we're talking about the '84 49ers specifically, this is the first time I've ever heard Hall of Fame talk for Matt Cavanaugh!

The '84 49ers had just one 1st-team All Pro: Keith Fahnhorst, who is often forgot about when talking about the 49ers' dynasty; he started for some awful, awful 49ers teams in the 70s but lasted long enough to play in the first half of the '80s run. The Dolphins had four (Marino, Dwight Stephenson, Ed Newman, Reggie Roby).

The 49ers had nine all-pros of any description, the same number as the Dolphins. I think part of the issue is that most of the Dolphins' stars were focused on offense (all but Roby and Bob Baumhower) while the 49ers were more balanced, with four or five stars on each side of the ball.

All things considered, you'll be more effective when you spread that talent out, rather than having one really great unit. The '84 Dolphins might end up with the highest offensive DVOA of the '80s when we're all said and done (though watch out for one of Don Coryell's Chargers teams), but their defense no es bueno.

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by Richie :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 7:59pm

I watched Super Bowl 19, but I was 12 years old, and don't remember much except my sadness.

I just took a look at the play-by-play for that game. It looks like Reggie Roby and the punt coverage team played a critical part.

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198501200mia.htm

The Dolphins led 10-7 early in the second quarter. Miami had to punt from its own 10-yard line. Roby's punt only went 37 yards. (He averaged 44.7 that year.) San Francisco took the lead 4 plays later.

Next drive, Miami punted from its own 43. Roby punted 40 yards, but it was returned to the SF 45-yard line. The 9ers needed 6 plays to score on another short field.

Next drive, Roby punts 39 yards from his own 23. It gets returned to the SF 48. The 49ers needed 9 plays this time to score.

So San Francisco scored on 3 straight drives in the second quarter with average starting field position near midfield.

Of course, if Marino could have driven the Dolphins deeper, Roby's punting situation could have been better.

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by Jerry :: Sun, 09/17/2017 - 3:42am

Don't undersell Don Shula as a coach. In Bum Phillips' immortal words, "He can take his'n and beat your'n, or take your'n and beat his'n."

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by Cheesehead_Canuck :: Sat, 09/16/2017 - 7:33pm

Long time reader (several years), very rarely commenter. Enjoyed reading the Stafford and Brady hypotheticals. I know a lot of Pats fans who would be less offended if you spit on their mother's grave than if you don't blindly agree Brady is the goat. But then again, the average casual fan literally ranks QBs by rings and stats alone.
Having said all that, if you take away championships, what does Brady have that Rodgers doesn't?

I think the easy answer is the most obvious and he wears a hoodie on the sideline.

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by theslothook :: Sat, 09/16/2017 - 7:36pm

There are certain things Brady does better than Rodgers on a microlevel.

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by dmstorm22 :: Sat, 09/16/2017 - 8:55pm

Pocket presence for one.