Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
08 Dec 2010
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: I read something, I can't remember what, about the NFL salary cap era, saying that the introduction of the salary cap didn't really make individual years more competitive. You still had roughly the same number of dominant teams in a year and the same number of bad ones. This is pretty much true, but misses the point. The difference is, those teams aren't the same every year. The common denominator of great team success seems to me to be good quarterback play.
So, I thought I'd do a little experiment. Who's the best quarterback to begin his starting career in the salary cap era who never made the Super Bowl? I'm trying not to eliminate too many guys, so I looked at all quarterbacks who started their career 1990 or later. I did a Pro Football Reference search of every quarterback who started at least 80 games since 1990. The results list includes guys whose career started before 1990 and aren't eligible for this discussion.
Tom: Yes, P-F-R is great. I'm looking at the leaders as sorted by Adj Net Yards Per Attempt.
Mike: Jeff Garcia? What?
Mike: I think we can take Pennington out of the equation pretty much entirely. You have to value consistency to some degree with this sort of judgment.
Tom: I know Mr. Barnwell will be disappointed, but yes. He actually has been remarkably successful when he gets on the field, but he just hasn't been on the field that much.
Tom: Garcia also feels like he has deceptive longevity. He has 116 starts, which is more than I would have guessed, but he has started more than 13 games only three times. He just has five seasons where he started 10-13 games.
Mike: Trent Green also had the advantage of playing for a better team, at least for a time, than either of the other two.
Tom: Well, he had the advantage of playing with a very solid collection of offensive talent, especially at offensive line.
Mike: That is a better way of putting it.
Tom: Not to sell Tony Gonzalez or Priest Holmes and young Larry Johnson short. He did at least manage to perform like he was playing with a bunch of great talent, ranking in the Top 10 in DVOA and Top 5 in DYAR for 2002-05.
Mike: Yeah, on the other hand, there's something to be said for going into a terrible situation and making it not quite so terrible, as Garcia has done pretty routinely.
Tom: You know who else was kind of like that? Steve DeBerg.
Mike: I never thought of it that way, but that is true.
Tom: DeBerg also was the subject of one of my favorite Bill Walsh quotes, said when DeBerg was quarterbacking the 49ers: "He plays just well enough to get you beat."
Mike: Much like the Bengals, who are good enough to lose by three points to anyone.
Tom: Hah! To be fair, the Bills did beat them by more than three.
Mike: Zing! Back to quarterbacks.
Tom: Two more names in the teens to consider: Carson Palmer and Daunte Culpepper. I'm not sure what you think of those guys. My general perception is that people thought Palmer was good and Culpepper was a product of the system more than somebody who was really good in his own right.
Mike: Culpepper's career is always going to be discussed in terms of Randy Moss, fairly or unfairly, which both makes him a difficult subject to discuss, and nearly impossible to publicly evaluate.
Tom: Yup. But I think they're both more similar than you think. They both were pretty good for a couple years throwing to well-regarded receivers, then suffered injuries that turned them into much lesser quarterbacks.
Mike: True. I guess that actually cuts against Palmer, who still has excellent talent at receiver but is just not executing properly.
Tom: Part of the problem with the Bengals offense is they don't really have a vertical passing game. Both Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco are old and better on short and intermediate routes. I'm not sure Palmer can still throw the deep ball well, but having those starters doesn't make it easier.
Mike: True. It also doesn't help that he's in a pretty tough division. Baltimore and Pittsburgh don't have the best secondaries, but they have great pass rushes and pretty good intermediate coverage. The Browns aren't great but still have a respectable defense. He'd be doing a lot better in the AFC South.
Tom: Eh. That's probably true for this year, but I think his arm is probably now permanently shot after his 2008 shoulder injury.
Mike: Probably true.
Tom: There's actually another name the query isn't picking up, because he's not quite at the 80-start threshold yet. And that's Philip Rivers.
Mike: I'd probably say he's the best of the bunch. And considering his performance this year, I imagine many would agree, especially considering...
Tom: We've probably mentioned this before, but does Ron Turner feel left out because he got a normal first name and his brother was named "Norval?"
Mike: He's probably just happy he's not Norv.
Tom: Eh. Norv's making more money, is more famous, and is instantly identifiable by his first name.
Mike: True. Anyway, I think you have your answer right there.
Tom: The thing about Rivers is, he's only 28, turning 29 later this month.
Tom: Barring injury, he should have 4-5 more elite-type years.
Mike: So you're concerned he may make a Super Bowl after this column.
Tom: Well, no. Just that I'm not thinking of him as a guy who's likely to end up in a re-hash of this discussion in five years' time. That's probably presumptive of me. But this little exercise has clarified in my mind just why teams chase quarterbacks. If you have somebody who's very good for an extended period of time, chances are pretty danged high you will make the Super Bowl.
Mike: At the most important position on your team? That makes sense.
Tom: In a way, this is validation that quarterback is the most important position on the team. I don't think either of us would have seriously argued to the contrary, but I still think it's an interesting exercise.
Mike: Well, did you look at this for, say, linebackers?
Tom: I did not. Part of it is it's hard to tell who the best linebackers are.
Mike: True, but that might be an interesting comparison.
Tom: Here's your issue: There are a ton of linebackers who started 80 games in this time period. Does looking at Allen Aldridge really tell us anything?
Mike: You could go by defeats. That would get rid of a lot of the noise, but as we said, that is for another time.
Tom: I put up 37 more points than the third-highest scoring team in my fantasy league this week. Unfortunately, I was playing the other top-scoring team. We were tied at 117 after the afternoon games. Ben Roethlisberger put up nine for me on Sunday night. All I had to do was have Tom Brady not point up more than Ben did. Ah, well.
Mike: Roethlisberger vs. Brady is rarely a fair fight.
Tom: In a way, I'm glad that I ended up losing by 22.
Mike: Why's that?
Tom: Points against don't really matter, and it's less agonizing than the alternative. As soon as Brady hit Deion Branch for an early score, I knew I'd lost my game.
Mike: Heh. I had a battle for the second seed in my playoffs and ended up with the lowest score of the week
Mike: Somehow, Kansas City and Denver ended up a low-scoring, run-first ordeal in which my all-stars Kyle Orton and Dwayne Bowe and decent WR3 Jabar Gaffney combined for a whopping four points. That was pretty much the game, right there.
Tom: Ah, well, that'll do it.
Mike: The less said, the better.
Tom: Oh, my final regular season game this week is against the team I'm tied with for the top record. I'm tempted to say "to heck with the top seed, time to bench all my best players," just like I'm a real NFL team.
Mike: Haha, what? I'm the second seed? I somehow only lost by 23 points. If you remember from last week, if I lost by fewer than 25, I backed into the second spot, which I apparently did.
Mike: So I am playing the seventh seed, which is probably better than the sixth seed, which is a good team that's had some really bad luck. But if we both win, I'll be looking at a rematch of this previous game two weeks from now, so that will be interesting.
Tom: Well, it beats playing the top seed in two weeks.
Mike: True, although that was never a danger. Since we have an eight-team playoff, only the fourth, fifth and eighth seed have a chance of facing the top seed before the finals.
Tom: I hope the top seed is talking a lot of trash.
Mike: He's not, because he played the second (myself) and third seeds during the season and lost to us both. He's hoping that we'll both be knocked out.
Mike: Then again, we're definitely hoping he will, because he clearly has the best team. We'll have to see.
Tom: The dominant top team in my fantasy league last season went undefeated and was happy to remind everybody at every opportunity he could find. Only to go out in the semifinals.
Mike: Yeah, fantasy is too random for me to engage in any kind of smack talk.
Mike: Are you playing through some kind of time vortex to 1998? Who locks their full roster on Thursdays?
Tom: Well, the Thursday lock is only when we have the Thursday games. Anyway, after reading Will's Med Check column, I decided to go with Peterson, and benefited to the tune of 23 points. This is the same league where the commish accidentally made it a 2RB/1W lineup last year and forgot to set autodraft for absent owners this year.
Tom: OK, he did get the autodraft set eventually this year, so our draft ended up being only slightly delayed instead of done piecemeal over several days.
Team CBORG (Skynet, 3-10) 94 def. Consensus Picks (Elias, 7-6) 60
Yes, you read that correctly: CBORG put up 94 points. With significant waste, as Felix Jones (8 points) was started over Brandon Jacobs (22), and Kellen Winslow (2) over Vernon Davis (18), due to ESPN's projections. Marshawn Lynch and Chris Ivory still came up big, contributing 27 and 21 points, respectively. This was a down week for Elias, balancing a surprisingly good week for Knowshon Moreno with awful weeks from Justin Forsett, Eddie Royal, Tony Gonzalez and Bears DST (a combined 13 points). Elias still has no kicker, which could be a problem when he plays the formidable Jefes in the first round of the playoffs. Even this win, however, is not enough for CBORG to not be the worst team in the league, trying Wagstaff's Ringers in record but down by 72 points, despite CBORG having a better home record (what?). That said, every team makes the playoffs, so even these two losers have some chance of winning it all.
(Ed note: Seriously, ESPN's fantasy game standings list home and road record for each team. What on earth is that for? There's no difference whatsoever between "home" and "road" in fantasy football. -- Aaron)
Scramble Forever (Ian & Al, 9-4) 110 def. Phanatic CodeBreakers (Tanier, 5-8) 66
While your Scramble writer enjoys having freedom to choose between quarterbacks from week to week, it would be even nicer to have the choice between Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick. Either way, Ian and Al win, since they both had 26 points this week. Vick and other 20-plus-points players were Arian Foster (22) and Greg Jennings (24). In contrast, the CodeBreakers had one player above 20 (Ahmad Bradshaw with 21) and started Darren Sproles who, in Scramble parlance, got NORV'D for -2. As we discussed last week, despite this dominant victory and having the most points for in the league by a mile (93 more than Equipo del Jefe and 119 more than Remain in Matt Light), Scramble Forever will not get a bye because it is two games behind Barnwell. C'est la vie.
That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 9-4) 76 def. Team Verhei (6-7) 50
Sean wraps up the Non-Scramble Alumni division and with it a first-round bye with this victory, albeit a fairly unimpressive fashion. Sean suffered the fate of many a fantasy owner, dealing with a goose egg from Dwayne Bowe. But Vince's lineup was generally unimpressive: Philip Rivers (13 points) was the only roster spot to produce double-digits. You are almost never going to win a game like that.
Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 8-5) 100 def. Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 3-10) 60
Another beat-down, but due to Sean's win, Aaron is unable to snatch the first-round bye. It was another impressive team effort for the Jefes, with double-digit totals from six out of nine roster spots, even if none cracked the 20 mark. Tom, on the other hand, received nearly half of his total points (26) from Reggie Wayne. That about sums it up.
Malice Aforethought (Will, 5-8) 103 def. Triple Asian Flu (Doug, 6-7) 33
Even counting games with roster mishaps (which explains Jason Hanson, who is on IR, starting for Doug -- it's hard to remember to pick up a kicker by Thursday, OK?), this is probably the beat-downingest beat-down the league has seen. Three of Doug's slots produced zero points, and only one of those players didn't play. Two more scored four, then six and seven. Will, on the other hand, had both across-the-board production and some burst, with a great game from Adrian Peterson (28 points). Will is still, sadly, at the bottom of the Non-Scramble Alumni Division, and he will likely get eaten by That's Great Hustle! if he advances past next week.
Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell, 11-2) 97 def. Better Call Saul (Rob, 6-7) 77
Barnwell could have spent the week goofing off and backing into the top seed and bye week, but Her eyes are ever upon him, and he came to play. Not starting BenJarvus Green-Ellis against the Jets made sense, but Mario Manningham cost Barnwell 16 points. Rob answered the heavy hitters (LeSean McCoy with 24 and Sidney Rice with 22) with some slugs of his own (Tom Brady's 29 and Giants DST's 24), but received an average of three points each from the rest of his team. In the end, modest performances from Michael Turner (14 points) and Jason Witten (10) may have made the difference.
Some time in the next few weeks, your Scramble writers will break down the numbers and make some sense out of the great CBORG experiment. Initial thought tends toward "disastrous."
Mike: Every time I see the title, I keep thinking Spoonman. That was a complete aside, I know.
Tom: In which case I must admit I'm not familiar with Spoonman.
Mike: It's a mediocre Soundgarden song. It bears no relation to this commercial. I'm not sure why it popped into my head.
Tom: I see. Once again, there's a great deal about this commercial I don't get. Let's say that you're Pond Man. You're moving to the big city. What kind of apartment do you get?
Mike: Wait, he's moving into the apartment?
Tom: Apparently, one that doesn't have much that initially reminds you of home.
Mike: I thought he was crashing at someone's place, based on his initial interaction with the woman.
Tom: No, I think it's his place and the woman is a real estate agent.
Mike: Hm. That makes sense, but there are a million ways to make this relationship more clear.
Tom: Yes, you could have the woman saying, "Now is a great time to buy or sell a home, just like any other point in history," and you'd know for sure she was a real estate agent.
Mike: While I appreciate the jab at realty practices, she's more likely a building manager since we believe this to be an apartment, and condos are usually shown by the association.
Tom: I was more making fun of the National Association of Realtors commercials rather than realty practices themselves, but yes, you're probably right.
Mike: In conclusion: Realty organizations are always fair game. Back to the commercial, I think they're trying to emphasize how out of place he is, which is why everything is stark white and steel with no extraneous furniture
Tom: Yes, I get that.
Mike: To give the audience a sense that it's not really a home.
Tom: The only things in there that aren't white/steel are the black screen around the electronics, including the wall-mounted television, his suitcase, and him.
Mike: On the other hand, it is now official: Even swamp monsters have HD, so get with the times. You know who you are.
Tom: Yeah, HDTV really is nice. That reminds me I want to upgrade my bedroom TV.
Mike: You have a bedroom TV? You bourgeoisie!
Tom: I do. I live alone and have two televisions.
Mike: No animals, even. You're practically a reclusive millionaire.
Tom: But that just brings up my next point: Where does Pond Man get his money?
Mike: Sold natural gas rights from the swamp?
Tom: I admit I'm not hugely familiar with pond ecosystems, but as far as I know, they don't tend to feature much use of money.
Mike: Maybe that's why he had to leave -- the equipment was taking over the surface of his land.
Tom: Hm, I guess that makes sense. But from the text, Mom is still living at the pond.
Mike: Well, she's the holdout. That is why all the frogs have moved to her plat. It's like Up, but instead of cranky but lovable old men, it has swamp monsters.
Tom: Great. If this is Up, then I suppose Pond Man's mom is named "Kevin?"
Mike: I'm not sure we want to go there
Tom: Have you seen Up? Didn't it bother you that the Boy Scout named the female weird animal "Kevin"?
Mike: I have. I know. To be fair, he didn't know it was a she, and that was the joke.
Tom: I got it. It still bothered me. I'm very literal, as I mention literally almost every week.
Mike: This is literally true. Anyway, pond man and mother need to figure out Skype. I bet it even runs on his low-rent smart phone, because Skype rules our world.
Tom: Pretty much. Or at least it may be the only reason my niece doesn't run away when she sees me.
Kicker: We see a definite trend with Loser League kickers, where the player who gets few chances (and screws up) grabs the gold. This describes Graham Gano's -1 to a tee. One extra point and one missed field goal, and that's all she wrote.
Wide Receiver: This week is a mix of players at 0 points: Jerricho Cotchery and Eddie Royal both played in games where their team's passing offense either imploded or were simply shut down. James Jones, on the other hand, was part of a pretty good game by the Packers, but played no real part in it. Jones had two receptions, sneaking him past the penalty line, but he only amassed eight yards.
Running Back: It's a foregone conclusion that playing the Steelers is bad news for a running back, and despite all the questions surrounding their defense, playing the Vikings isn't so great, either. Ray Rice and Fred Jackson played very different teams but met with very similar problems, ending their games with 4 points each.
Quarterback: This week is pretty retro, marking the return of Kyle Orton to your loser leaders. Not to be outdone, however, perennial whipping boy Derek Anderson came through with 2 points. Whereas Orton simply had a bad game with a fumble, Anderson had a super-awful game and an interception.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: In a game where points and yards are at a premium, don't be the guy who gives up a touchdown and gives the other team first downs. Don't be Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden, who lost track of Anquan Boldin in man coverage to allow a touchdown and gave the Ravens two more first downs with defensive pass interference penalties.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: A wasted challenge on a first-quarter quarterback sneak in the middle of the pile, one of the hardest spot challenges to win. An extreme long-shot field goal attempt in unfavorable weather conditions in the first quarter. Punting on fourth-and-1 near midfield in the second quarter down three scores after going for in in the same spot a quarter earlier. Given everything else that happened, Rex Ryan's coaching decisions almost certainly wouldn't have affected the final outcome, but the Jets as a whole seemed discombobulated on Monday night, and that started with the head coach.
COLBERT AWARD: We resisted the each temptation to give Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims Keep Chopping Wood this week in favor of giving Sean Payton the Colbert Award. This is maybe a little much, but keep in mind that: (a) the hut-hut strategy rarely works and (b) when the Saints lined up to hut-hut, they were coming out of a timeout, meaning they would have no option but to take a delay of game, forcing a game-tying field-goal attempt to come from five yards farther back. As he did in the Super Bowl, Payton took a risk that could have cost his team and it paid off.
nick_thunderdome: First round of my fantasy playoffs and I've got tons of questions for starts in round 1:
QB: Roethlisberger or Kyle Orton. Scoring is 6 points per TD, with a bonus at 300 yards. As of now, I'm leaning towards Ben.
RBs / WRs: My league gives .5 ppr for WR / TE (not RB) and a 4 point bonus for 100 ReYds / 100 RuYds. Long TDs are worth 7 points.
My choices (average points per game so far in parentheses for reference on the scoring system): Rashard Mendenhall (14.7) vs CIN, Mike Tolbert (12.2) vs KC, Matt Forte (14.6) vs NE, Ray Rice (12.3) vs HOU, Andre Johnson (17.1) vs BAL, Steve Johnson (15.0) vs CLE, Steve Breaston (11.0) vs DEN, Hines Ward (8.9) vs CIN.
All positions are flex and I can pick 5 starters. Thanks guys.
Tom: I'll hit the quarterback question first. Denver worries me. As we mentioned earlier, Orton had a horrible game for both fantasy and real purposes last week. And I sort of assume Josh McDaniels had a lot to do with the passing game. How a team reacts after a coach is fired is always hard to know.
Mike: Yeah. On the other hand, he's playing an awful secondary, and Roethlisberger is hurt.
Tom: Both the Bengals and the Cardinals are low-ranked against the run, and the Cardinals are also bad against the pass in DVOA terms. The Bengals haven't been quite so formidable against the pass with their injuries in the secondary, though. And I just can't trust a team that's just had its coach fired.
Mike: See, I don't think coach firing is nearly a counterbalance to playing the Cardinals, but I see what you're saying.
Tom: And, oddly enough, we've now both come down more in favor of the guy on our fantasy team.
Mike: Funny how that works out.
Tom: Yup. Second half of the question, backs and receivers, pick five. Easy sit: Steve Breaston. I think Mendenhall, Forte, Rice, and Andre Johnson are all auto-starts. That means one of Tolbert, Stevie Johnson, and Ward.
Mike: I'd say sit Ward, also, and I agree with you on your auto-starts.
Tom: So we're really coming down to Tolbert against Stevie Johnson.
Mike: I'd actually go with Tolbert.
Tom: Johnson has higher upside, but he's also the riskier play.
Mike: Cleveland's defense has flashes of above-averageness. Yeah.
Tom: Even playing three running backs already, I want the more guaranteed production of a back. Start the four running backs and Johnson. Andre, that is.
Mike: I concur.
With the playoffs starting in most fantasy leagues, it's crunch time! Send in your questions to Scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com and get some non-zero edge on the competition!
41 comments, Last at 13 Dec 2010, 5:48pm by tuluse