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15 Feb 2017

Postseason QB Drive Stats and DVOA

by Scott Kacsmar

Each year since 2014, Football Outsiders has written about playoff drive stats for quarterbacks, continuing work I did before arriving here. With Super Bowl LI complete, we've got another year of results to add to our database. This leaves us with the same 35 quarterbacks that we had in our sample a year ago, but we finally have some new data on Eli Manning and Matt Ryan. Ryan did a lot to change his playoff persona this year, at least among rational fans, even if things did fall apart at the end of Super Bowl LI. Meanwhile, aside from the two improbable Super Bowl runs, Manning has led the Giants offense to just 0.93 points per drive in four one-and-done appearances. For context, the 2016 Rams were dead last this season at 1.17 points per drive.

Drive stats can provide a lot of context into an offense's performance. Great quarterbacks typically lead offenses with great drive stats. The following is an annual update to the quarterback playoff drive stats I first introduced six years ago at Pro Football Reference. You can read last year's edition here. Each year this study grows and it now includes 5,011 drives.

Since these are stats for the whole offensive unit, we always need a warning here.

Disclaimer: While passing stats are not entirely individual stats, the drive stats are even more teammate-focused. There are, of course, drives where the quarterback never drops back and just hands the ball off every play. The entry "Matt Ryan" is another way of saying "2008, 2010-12, and 2016 Atlanta Falcons," and also an abbreviation for Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas, Michael Turner, Alex Mack, Devonta Freeman, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, etc. Drive stats are not adjusted for opponent.

Most of these stats will be familiar to users of Football Outsiders' drive stats -- my inspiration for collecting this data in the first place. Yards per drive still measures net yards, including penalties. As always, kneeldown drives are excluded, and any kneeldown is removed from the drive stats. Generally, only games started by the quarterback are included, but there are some significant backup performances included for Steve Young, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Mark Brunell, Dave Krieg, Bernie Kosar, and Randall Cunningham. Every quarterback with at least six playoff starts is included.

The other exciting part about this year's update is the addition of passing DYAR and DVOA for the 1986, 1987, and 1988 postseasons. We will get into those numbers in the second half of this article.

Drive Stats

Our first table includes general drive stats for things like yards (Yds/Dr), points (Pts/Dr), and starting field position (LOS/Dr) per drive. The average scoring margin at the start of each drive is also included in the final column. The 15 active players are in bold, and the average of the sample is included at the bottom.

Quarterbacks: General Postseason Drive Stats
Quarterback Games Drives Yds/Dr Pts/Dr LOS/Dr Plays/Dr Avg. Lead
Colin Kaepernick 6 60 41.48 (1) 2.75 (1) 27.20 (34) 6.08 (3) -2.42 (28)
Aaron Rodgers 16 169 35.76 (2) 2.54 (2) 27.83 (31) 6.03 (4) 1.01 (11)
Drew Brees 11 130 35.53 (3) 2.35 (6) 27.51 (32) 5.88 (10) -2.26 (26)
Matt Ryan 8 82 35.24 (4) 2.33 (7) 27.29 (33) 5.93 (9) 1.33 (10)
Steve Young 15 141 34.63 (5) 2.46 (3) 31.44 (15) 6.01 (6) 0.66 (12)
Andrew Luck 6 69 34.57 (6) 1.90 (21) 24.03 (35) 5.87 (11) -7.19 (35)
Russell Wilson 12 124 34.10 (7) 2.27 (8) 30.63 (20) 5.74 (14) -2.45 (29)
Kurt Warner 13 144 33.64 (8) 2.35 (5) 32.69 (5) 5.26 (31) 2.50 (4)
Peyton Manning 27 293 33.14 (9) 1.95 (19) 28.06 (29) 6.00 (7) -0.09 (15)
Tom Brady 34 375 33.02 (10) 2.26 (9) 30.86 (19) 6.02 (5) 1.55 (9)
Troy Aikman 16 164 32.81 (11) 2.44 (4) 33.12 (4) 5.82 (12) 1.59 (8)
Joe Montana 23 248 32.41 (12) 2.15 (11) 31.62 (13) 5.53 (20) 2.64 (3)
Warren Moon 10 107 32.37 (13) 1.87 (23) 28.01 (30) 6.35 (2) -1.13 (20)
Ben Roethlisberger 20 217 32.33 (14) 2.11 (13) 30.36 (22) 5.82 (13) -0.07 (14)
John Elway 22 239 32.03 (15) 2.13 (12) 31.79 (12) 5.53 (21) -0.10 (16)
Cam Newton 6 68 31.52 (16) 1.91 (20) 28.90 (27) 5.72 (15) 2.12 (5)
Tony Romo 6 62 31.09 (17) 1.81 (27) 28.40 (28) 5.98 (8) -2.27 (27)
Neil O'Donnell 7 78 30.92 (18) 1.85 (24) 33.33 (1) 6.56 (1) 3.26 (1)
Quarterback Games Drives Yds/Dr Pts/Dr LOS/Dr Plays/Dr Avg. Lead
Jim Kelly 17 195 30.89 (19) 2.08 (14) 33.18 (3) 5.57 (17) 1.73 (7)
Bernie Kosar 8 93 30.60 (20) 1.98 (16) 29.14 (26) 5.27 (30) -1.62 (22)
Alex Smith 6 71 30.08 (21) 2.20 (10) 32.00 (10) 5.55 (18) 2.99 (2)
Jeff Garcia 6 64 29.98 (22) 1.89 (22) 29.92 (24) 5.55 (19) -6.97 (34)
Brett Favre 24 274 29.96 (23) 2.03 (15) 33.22 (2) 5.37 (25) 0.18 (13)
Mark Sanchez 6 65 29.75 (24) 1.85 (25) 32.28 (7) 5.45 (23) -1.86 (24)
Philip Rivers 9 96 29.73 (25) 1.83 (26) 31.25 (17) 5.35 (26) -1.88 (25)
Eli Manning 12 132 29.62 (26) 1.72 (30) 29.64 (25) 5.63 (16) -1.00 (19)
Jake Delhomme 8 93 29.61 (27) 1.78 (29) 30.35 (23) 5.04 (34) -0.96 (18)
Dan Marino 18 205 28.64 (28) 1.79 (28) 30.56 (21) 5.42 (24) -5.62 (32)
Joe Flacco 15 173 28.56 (29) 1.97 (17) 31.32 (16) 5.35 (27) 1.82 (6)
Matt Hasselbeck 11 133 28.21 (30) 1.95 (18) 32.08 (9) 5.32 (29) -1.77 (23)
Donovan McNabb 16 187 27.48 (31) 1.68 (31) 31.99 (11) 5.33 (28) -1.56 (21)
Steve McNair 10 117 26.96 (32) 1.54 (33) 32.34 (6) 5.52 (22) -0.88 (17)
Mark Brunell 11 113 26.41 (33) 1.56 (32) 31.16 (18) 5.26 (32) -3.29 (30)
Randall Cunningham 10 125 25.64 (34) 1.46 (34) 32.09 (8) 5.02 (35) -6.58 (33)
Dave Krieg 11 105 23.36 (35) 1.31 (35) 31.57 (14) 5.11 (33) -5.62 (31)
AVG 13.0 143.2 31.21 2.00 30.49 5.64 -0.98

Obviously, it would be great if Colin Kaepernick started some more playoff games in his career, because all of his success is tied to the 2012 and 2013 seasons with San Francisco. The prospects of that look at least a little better than Mark Sanchez, another six-playoff game gunslinger, ever returning to relevance. Then again, we just had a postseason where Connor Cook, Brock Osweiler, and Matt Moore started on the same weekend, so really, anything is possible.

The playoffs bring a plethora of possibilities and a drastic reversal of perception if things work out well. Just a year ago, Matt Ryan ranked 20th in yards per drive (30.71) and 30th in points per drive (1.74) in this same 35-quarterback sample. After his best season and best postseason, Ryan is up to fourth in yards per drive (35.24) and seventh in points per drive (2.33). Sure, Atlanta fans will eternally wish that he gained about 10 more yards to set up Matt Bryant for three more points to put away the Super Bowl, but it was a very successful postseason for the MVP. More on that later.

Ryan still has the third-worst average starting field position in this sample, though that is heavily slanted towards the quarterbacks who have started a lot of games since kickoffs returned to the 35 six years ago. Yes, it still feels weird that Neil O'Donnell had the best average starting field position in our sample group, but he also averaged the most plays per drive and played with the biggest leads on average thanks to a couple of blowouts. Sanchez and Alex Smith are the only active quarterbacks to rank in the top 16 for best starting field positon. The touchback change of 2016 will also have an impact on this data going forward, assuming the NFL doesn't reverse the change this offseason. There were 39 drives in this study that started at exactly the 25 this past season. There were 131 such drives in the other seasons combined, so 22.9 percent of the drives starting at the 25 were from the seven veteran quarterbacks studied this postseason.

The next table includes more drive stats. PEN +/- is a per-drive measure of the net difference in penalty yards for the quarterback's offense. So if an offense drew an illegal contact penalty and had a 10-yard holding penalty on the same drive, the net would be -5 for that drive. 3Outs/Dr is the percentage of drives ending in a three-and-out. Please note that drives where an offense ran three plays, gained zero first downs, and then kicked a field goal because they started in ideal field position still count as three-and-out drives. QBTO/Dr refers to the turnovers by only the quarterback, including interceptions and lost fumbles. Not only are the rates of touchdowns per drive shown, but the average distance of each quarterback's touchdown drive is also sorted from longest to shortest.

Quarterbacks: Supplemental Postseason Drive Stats
Quarterback Games Drives PEN +/- 3Outs/Dr Punts/Dr QBTO/Dr TD/Dr Avg. TD Dr
Colin Kaepernick 6 60 1.07 (1) .217 (12) .300 (1) .100 (13) .317 (1) 69.4 (7)
Steve Young 15 141 0.38 (11) .199 (9) .333 (7) .128 (26) .312 (2) 58.8 (30)
Aaron Rodgers 16 169 0.75 (3) .219 (14) .379 (15) .083 (7) .302 (3) 71.9 (2)
Matt Ryan 8 82 0.66 (4) .195 (8) .366 (13) .134 (30) .293 (4) 68.7 (8)
Troy Aikman 16 164 -0.31 (28) .159 (1) .329 (5) .116 (22) .293 (5) 58.3 (34)
Kurt Warner 13 144 -0.69 (34) .194 (7) .354 (9) .118 (23) .292 (6) 61.7 (22)
Drew Brees 11 130 -0.22 (23) .177 (3) .315 (3) .069 (5) .277 (7) 68.4 (10)
Joe Montana 23 248 -0.27 (26) .226 (18) .395 (21) .089 (9) .266 (8) 60.8 (26)
Tom Brady 34 375 0.19 (16) .243 (25) .395 (20) .091 (10) .264 (9) 63.0 (20)
Russell Wilson 12 124 -0.37 (30) .194 (6) .347 (8) .097 (12) .258 (10) 63.4 (18)
John Elway 22 239 0.63 (5) .205 (11) .385 (17) .109 (17) .255 (11) 63.7 (16)
Alex Smith 6 71 -0.03 (19) .268 (30) .437 (28) .056 (1) .239 (12) 63.6 (17)
Brett Favre 24 274 -0.04 (20) .204 (10) .358 (11) .128 (27) .237 (13) 64.6 (15)
Bernie Kosar 8 93 0.44 (9) .237 (23) .387 (18) .108 (16) .237 (14) 67.0 (11)
Jim Kelly 17 195 0.55 (7) .231 (20) .328 (4) .159 (32) .236 (15) 58.4 (33)
Mark Sanchez 6 65 -0.32 (29) .262 (28) .523 (34) .062 (2) .231 (16) 59.8 (29)
Ben Roethlisberger 20 217 0.20 (15) .184 (4) .355 (10) .115 (20) .230 (17) 61.8 (21)
Joe Flacco 15 173 1.00 (2) .272 (32) .434 (27) .075 (6) .225 (18) 58.5 (31)
Quarterback Games Drives PEN +/- 3Outs/Dr Punts/Dr QBTO/Dr TD/Dr Avg. TD Dr
Cam Newton 6 68 -0.31 (27) .221 (16) .368 (14) .162 (33) .221 (19) 61.7 (24)
Jeff Garcia 6 64 0.25 (14) .266 (29) .438 (29) .125 (25) .219 (20) 71.4 (4)
Philip Rivers 9 96 -0.64 (33) .229 (19) .469 (33) .104 (14) .219 (21) 70.7 (5)
Matt Hasselbeck 11 133 0.33 (12) .278 (34) .451 (30) .068 (4) .218 (22) 57.0 (35)
Dan Marino 18 205 0.04 (18) .234 (22) .380 (16) .141 (31) .215 (23) 63.0 (19)
Tony Romo 6 62 0.05 (17) .161 (2) .387 (19) .065 (3) .210 (24) 71.4 (3)
Warren Moon 10 107 -0.79 (35) .224 (17) .308 (2) .168 (34) .206 (25) 68.5 (9)
Jake Delhomme 8 93 -0.15 (22) .269 (31) .452 (31) .129 (28) .204 (26) 66.2 (12)
Andrew Luck 6 69 -0.22 (24) .217 (13) .333 (6) .188 (35) .203 (27) 72.6 (1)
Peyton Manning 27 293 0.53 (8) .239 (24) .358 (12) .106 (15) .198 (28) 70.2 (6)
Neil O'Donnell 7 78 -0.38 (31) .192 (5) .410 (24) .115 (21) .192 (29) 58.5 (32)
Donovan McNabb 16 187 0.27 (13) .219 (15) .401 (23) .134 (29) .182 (30) 60.2 (27)
Eli Manning 12 132 -0.27 (25) .250 (27) .462 (32) .083 (8) .182 (31) 66.2 (13)
Mark Brunell 11 113 -0.52 (32) .274 (33) .398 (22) .124 (24) .168 (32) 61.7 (23)
Steve McNair 10 117 0.57 (6) .248 (26) .410 (25) .111 (18) .162 (33) 64.8 (14)
Dave Krieg 11 105 0.41 (10) .324 (35) .543 (35) .095 (11) .152 (34) 61.2 (25)
Randall Cunningham 10 125 -0.06 (21) .232 (21) .432 (26) .112 (19) .152 (35) 60.1 (28)
AVG 13.1 143.7 0.08 .227 .392 .110 .230 64.2

It makes sense that Smith has the fewest giveaways, especially matched with a high three-and-out rate. However, did you expect Mr. Buttfumble to be No. 2 in that category? Feels like we almost need a Mark Sanchez disclaimer in this column each year, and we haven't even gotten to his absurd DVOA ranking yet. Sanchez has only appeared in two postseasons, and in those six games he had two good full games (vs. 2009 Bengals and 2010 Patriots), two good halves in his AFC Championship Game losses (vs. 2009 Colts and 2010 Steelers), and two poor games where he at least managed game-winning drives (vs. 2009 Chargers and 2010 Colts). The Jets weren't overly productive behind Sanchez in the playoffs, but he kept the turnovers down and took advantage of some favorable field position. Some great quarterbacks on this list do not have the type of numbers you would expect, so it only makes sense that the reverse would be true for some of the lesser players, especially in just six games.

Passing DVOA for 1986-2016

One of the best things about introducing DVOA for another old season like 1988 is that we also have the postseason data. Although we haven't fully written up 1986 and 1987 yet, we were able to include the playoff data from all three of these seasons in this new analysis. That means every John Elway Super Bowl season is now covered. So are all but one of the playoff games with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice together, and every NFL playoff game for Jim Kelly and Warren Moon. This also means we now have DVOA and DYAR for every postseason since I was born. below, We've put together the playoff passing DVOA for all 51 quarterbacks with at least 150 passes since 1986.

(Ed. Note: Full 1987 commentary is taking a little extra time because we want to write up interesting notes on the scab games. It won't be ready for publication until I return from a week of vacation. The current plan is to run 1987 in early March and then 1986 in late March or early April. -- Aaron Schatz)

Postseason Passing DVOA Leaders, 1986-2016 (Min. 150 Passes)
Rk Player Passes Games DVOA Rk Player Passes Games DVOA
1 Joe Montana 440 14 50.9% 27 Randall Cunningham 393 12 6.6%
2 Kurt Warner 481 13 42.3% 28 Ben Roethlisberger 669 20 6.5%
3 Drew Brees 483 11 32.5% 29 Chad Pennington 233 6 6.1%
4 Troy Aikman 536 16 31.0% 30 Rich Gannon 258 10 5.4%
5 Mark Sanchez 161 6 28.3% 31 Dave Krieg 204 6 5.3%
6 Steve Young 498 20 27.8% 32 Michael Vick 152 6 4.0%
7 Philip Rivers 292 9 27.5% 33 Neil O'Donnell 290 9 3.8%
8 Matt Ryan 305 8 26.4% 34 Brad Johnson 232 7 3.3%
9 Aaron Rodgers 639 16 24.8% 35 Jake Delhomme 242 8 3.2%
10 Peyton Manning 1071 27 22.7% 36 Jeff Garcia 227 6 2.4%
11 Tom Brady 1387 34 21.9% 37 Steve McNair 325 10 2.2%
12 Mark Rypien 241 8 21.5% 38 Cam Newton 200 6 1.5%
13 Bernie Kosar 269 9 21.0% 39 Jim Everett 183 5 1.3%
Rk Player Passes Games DVOA Rk Player Passes Games DVOA
14 Vinny Testaverde 196 7 20.0% 40 Wade Wilson 212 7 -0.6%
15 Colin Kaepernick 173 6 19.9% 41 Andrew Luck 268 6 -1.2%
16 John Elway 636 20 19.9% 42 Donovan McNabb 625 16 -1.3%
17 Brett Favre 827 24 17.1% 43 Alex Smith 236 6 -4.5%
18 Joe Flacco 475 15 16.8% 44 Jake Plummer 207 6 -6.5%
19 Matt Hasselbeck 425 11 14.9% 45 Mark Brunell 326 11 -6.7%
20 Eli Manning 427 12 14.3% 46 Stan Humphries 240 6 -13.0%
21 Warren Moon 432 10 13.4% 47 Jim Harbaugh 176 5 -14.0%
22 Kerry Collins 251 7 12.1% 48 Kordell Stewart 153 6 -16.3%
23 Russell Wilson 372 12 11.2% 49 Drew Bledsoe 269 7 -25.4%
24 Jim Kelly 570 17 9.4% 50 Andy Dalton 170 4 -34.9%
25 Dan Marino 470 12 6.6% 51 Jay Schroeder 173 7 -41.4%
26 Tony Romo 207 6 6.6% (Passes include sacks and DPI)

If you heard his recent interview, then you know that Joe Montana is not ready to crown Tom Brady as the greatest quarterback in NFL history. If one irrationally chose to use playoff performance as the sole tool of evaluation, then Montana would have a great case. Montana's own place in the history of playoff quarterbacks is likely secure at No. 1, because even though our 1986-1988 update adds two of his absolute worst performances, Montana is still at 50.9% DVOA over his last 14 playoff games. (He was at 62.3% DVOA before this most recent update.) In one of the biggest playoff upsets of all time, Montana posted minus-99 DYAR and a minus-70.6% DVOA against the 1987 Vikings despite playing at home. A year earlier, he suffered a minus-42.5% DVOA on 15 passes against the 1986 Giants in a 49-3 rout. Montana did not finish either game, completing a three-game playoff losing streak that started in the 1985 season. Montana will eventually drop again in playoff DVOA after that 1985 loss to the Giants is included, but Montana's first eight playoff games, including a dominant Super Bowl XIX performance against the 1984 Dolphins, will keep him as the playoff DVOA GOAT, or the "PODVOA GOAT" if you will.

As for Brady's 14th and latest postseason, he finished with a 24.0% DVOA, his eighth-best postseason. His 345 passing DYAR ranks third among his own postseasons, bested by 2011 (469) and 2014 (361). In terms of just Super Bowls, Montana blows away Brady and the competition among the 11 quarterbacks with multiple starts since 1986. Montana's Super Bowl DVOA so far is 87.7%, while Brady ranks fifth at 25.4% (a little above his typical playoff level), which ranks outside of the top 10 and sixth among his active peers. If Brady had the dominant playoff performances to back up his team's winning reputation, then Montana (and anyone else) would no longer have an argument, but that has never been the case over his career.

With 31 years of this data, we looked at the top 10 postseasons in passing DYAR and passing DVOA (min. 50 passes).

Quarterbacks: Top 10 Passing DYAR Postseasons Since 1986
Rk Player Year Passes Games DYAR DVOA Result
1 Joe Montana 1989 84 3 784 130.4% Won Super Bowl
2 Joe Flacco 2012 132 4 618 56.0% Won Super Bowl
3 Peyton Manning 2009 132 3 584 54.4% Lost Super Bowl
4 Kurt Warner 2008 140 4 562 51.2% Lost Super Bowl
5 Troy Aikman 1992 96 3 553 83.0% Won Super Bowl
6 Jim Kelly 1990 83 3 536 82.5% Lost Super Bowl
7 Drew Brees 2011 111 2 526 54.8% Lost NFC-DIV
8 Aaron Rodgers 2010 140 4 517 45.9% Won Super Bowl
9 Joe Montana 1988 100 3 505 67.9% Won Super Bowl
10 Matt Ryan 2016 107 3 494 58.4% Lost Super Bowl
Quarterbacks: Top 10 Passing DVOA Postseasons Since 1986 (Min. 50 Passes)
Rk Player Year Passes Games DYAR DVOA Result
1 Joe Montana 1989 84 3 784 130.4% Won Super Bowl
2 Troy Aikman 1992 96 3 553 83.0% Won Super Bowl
3 Jim Kelly 1990 83 3 536 82.5% Lost Super Bowl
4 Phil Simms 1986 62 3 346 80.2% Won Super Bowl
5 Kurt Warner 2009 61 2 380 77.2% Lost NFC-DIV
6 Joe Montana 1988 100 3 505 67.9% Won Super Bowl
7 Peyton Manning 2004 77 2 430 64.9% Lost AFC-DIV
8 Troy Aikman 1995 84 3 421 64.1% Won Super Bowl
9 Steve Young 1994 91 3 448 63.5% Won Super Bowl
10 Matt Ryan 2016 107 3 494 58.4% Lost Super Bowl

Montana's 1989 run remains the gold standard, but he was also very good the previous year when the 49ers were less dominant as a whole. Montana is the only quarterback to appear multiple times in both tables.

Then we have Matt Ryan's 2016, which managed to crack the top 10 in both DYAR and DVOA. Again, one more beneficial gain to get Ryan over 500 DYAR (and the Falcons to more points) is about all Atlanta fans would ask from their quarterback, but that just did not happen. Still, it was a very strong postseason for someone who infamously entered this tournament with harsh criticism for a 1-4 playoff record. Just three games later and Ryan is up to eighth in DVOA after he ranked 24th a year ago at 9.1%.

Ryan became the latest regular-season MVP quarterback who failed to win a Super Bowl, but their performances in the playoffs have not been that bad overall. Here's a look at each MVP season since 1986.

MVP Quarterbacks: Postseason Passing DVOA
Rk Player Year Passes Games DYAR DVOA Result
1 Joe Montana 1989 84 3 784 130.4% Won Super Bowl
2 Peyton Manning 2004 77 2 430 64.9% Lost AFC-DIV
3 Steve Young 1994 91 3 448 63.5% Won Super Bowl
4 Matt Ryan 2016 107 3 494 58.4% Lost Super Bowl
5 Peyton Manning 2009 132 3 584 54.4% Lost Super Bowl
6 Kurt Warner 1999 125 3 465 49.2% Won Super Bowl
7 Joe Montana 1990 62 2 188 40.5% Lost NFC-CG
8 Brett Favre 1995 108 3 351 39.7% Lost NFC-CG
9 Peyton Manning 2003 108 3 388 38.3% Lost AFC-CG
10 Peyton Manning 2013 129 3 405 35.4% Lost Super Bowl
11 Steve Young 1992 70 2 195 31.4% Lost NFC-CG
12 Brett Favre 1997 103 3 261 29.0% Lost Super Bowl
Rk Player Year Passes Games DYAR DVOA Result
13 Tom Brady 2007 117 3 294 26.6% Lost Super Bowl
14 Brett Favre 1996 78 3 190 25.0% Won Super Bowl
15 Kurt Warner 2001 113 3 222 20.8% Lost Super Bowl
16 Steve McNair 2003 52 2 84 18.6% Lost AFC-DIV
17 Cam Newton 2015 99 3 176 15.1% Lost Super Bowl
18 Aaron Rodgers 2014 72 2 118 14.5% Lost NFC-CG
19 Peyton Manning 2008 43 1 71 13.7% Lost AFC-WC
20 Rich Gannon 2002 122 3 194 12.1% Lost Super Bowl
21 John Elway 1987 98 3 125 8.2% Lost Super Bowl
22 Tom Brady 2010 50 1 29 -2.4% Lost AFC-DIV
23 Aaron Rodgers 2011 50 1 -10 -14.1% Lost NFC-DIV
24 Boomer Esiason 1988 75 3 -192 -54.1% Lost Super Bowl

Only four of the 24 seasons produced Super Bowl wins, while the most common result was a Super Bowl loss, which happened 10 times. However, only Tom Brady (2010), Aaron Rodgers (2011), and Boomer Esiason (1988) produced negative DVOA, and Esiason's season was unlike any other on this list. The 1988 Bengals led the NFL with 2,710 rushing yards, but Esiason still had a fantastic regular season, ranking first with a DVOA of 37.5% with 3,572 yards on 388 attempts. But in the playoffs, Cincinnati's passing offense was anemic each week. Esiason went 18-of-39 for 202 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in wins against Seattle and Buffalo. (Yes, those were his combined numbers for the two games, not his averages.) In the Super Bowl, he only threw for 144 yards and took five sacks. His DVOA was -43.5% in the Super Bowl, which was better than what it had been against Seattle (-57.6%) or Buffalo (-64.3%). The weather in Cincinnati that January was nothing like the 1981 Freezer Bowl, so this was really one of the greatest disappearing acts by a top passing offense in playoff history.

Conversely, Montana had at least 150 passing DYAR in each of his three playoff games that season. He finished off Esiason's Bengals in that Super Bowl with a classic drive, hitting John Taylor for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. Montana had six straight playoff games with at least 150 passing DYAR in 1988 and 1989.

Speaking of great performances, the top playoff game from 1986 to 1988 belongs to Washington's Doug Williams in the Super Bowl against the 1987 Broncos. Williams had 223 DYAR, including 197 DYAR in the second quarter alone. Williams also had a DVOA of 108.3%. This came a year after the Broncos allowed Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms to post 209 DYAR and a 102.2% DVOA through the air. Two years later in 1989, the Broncos were back, allowing Montana to hit 283 DYAR and 136.3%.

Going back to our postseason passing DVOA table, at least half of the 26 players listed on the left (ranked 1-26) will be in the Hall of Fame one day, including nine already there. Bernie Kosar was a pleasant surprise as someone above 20.0% DVOA, but he often played well in January, only to see Elway and the Broncos rip his team's heart out. As for the lesser achievers, the players listed 27 to 51 on the right side of the table feel mostly right. None of those quarterbacks are in the Hall of Fame. Ben Roethlisberger seems like a lock at this point, and he has plenty of time left to jump up from 28th and join the top 26. Roethlisberger is nestled in very closely with Tony Romo and Dan Marino. Players such as Cam Newton and Andrew Luck can take solace in Ryan's last two postseasons for how quickly things can change here.

We also have a little shake-up at the bottom of the table. Andy Dalton is no longer the bottomless pit of postseason quarterback play. Jay Schroeder actually went 3-2 as a playoff starter, but he completed 45.6 percent of his passes, never had a 200-yard passing game, and managed just 5.01 yards per attempt. He saved some real gems for his two losses in conference championship games: a 20-of-50 stinker against the 1986 Giants in a 17-0 shutout, and a five-interception dud in a 51-3 rout at the hands of the 1990 Bills when he was with the Raiders.

Speaking of the Raiders, I wonder where Jim Plunkett will eventually land in these stats. But we must conquer the 1980s before answering that question.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 15 Feb 2017

50 comments, Last at 23 Feb 2017, 1:10pm by Bob Smith

Comments

1
by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 02/15/2017 - 6:20pm

Man, talk about a lesson in small sample sizes; Colin Kaepernick at the top of the charts. Has the same number of games and almost the same drives as Cam Newton, and far better stats in anything. How the briefly-terrifying have fallen.

Joe Flacco having the 2nd-highest DYAR postseason makes that 2012 Super Bowl against Kaepernick the Bizarre Statistical Value Super Bowl of all time.

6
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 02/15/2017 - 9:32pm

Somewhere out there is a GM who will see that stat and will sign Kaepernick thinking he just needs the right coach and players to replicate that performance.

8
by tarkovsky :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:19am

What's ironic is that he wouldn't be wrong, it's just kind of an impossible-to-come by group of players these days. Those 49ers teams were really unique and fun to watch. They could run tight 2-back formations where 10 of the guys on the field were 6'5 240 or bigger, including the QB. The outright bullying they did of some teams was crazy, and it's even crazier how long ago that seems.

10
by coremill :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 11:04am

Yeah, those 2TE sets with Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker were devastating. Not only were they big, they were fast. Davis was the fastest guy on the team despite being 6'3/250, just a total physical freak. And Walker was a sub-4.5 40 guy. Having two TEs with that speed is a matchup nightmare for defenses. The things they could do with those guys using formations and shifts to create matchups were deadly.

If you go back and watch highlights of the 2012 49ers with Kaepernick, Kaepernick hit a lot of big plays where receivers were wide open.

45
by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 02/22/2017 - 7:48pm

It was so great to be a 49er fan in 2012.

2
by Damon :: Wed, 02/15/2017 - 7:47pm

Seeing Kerry Collins ahead of Dan Marino on the postseason DVOA is a major bummer and I wonder how much Kerry's performance in the 2000 NFC Championship Game elavated him?

4
by coremill :: Wed, 02/15/2017 - 7:59pm

I'd guess that Collins isn't buoyed that much by the 2000 NFCCG, since he a) the 2000 Vikings had a historically horrendous defense (2nd worst of the DVOA era) and so the opponent adjustments will be huge, and b) he had 2 INTs in that game.

5
by Damon :: Wed, 02/15/2017 - 8:55pm

Fair point, but Kerry still threw for 381 and 5 TD's though.

I also forgot to mention that 2002 playoff loss to the 49ers where he also threw for 300+ yards, outside of those two games, his resume is pitiful.

15
by Scott Kacsmar :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 2:15pm

Collins would be -0.5% DVOA without the Minnesota game. He'd also be 40.0% without the Super Bowl loss.

9
by Bob Smith :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:43am

Damon-I'm with you on that one. But I have seen too many studies that show that my guy (Marino) had way too many mediocre to bad playoff games and hardly a handful of good ones. Chase Stuart over at P-F-R did an Approx. Value study that showed that Dan provided Negative Value to our team (the Dolphins) in 10 of his 18 PO games and his Value was in the single digits in 2 others. Marino's overall Value was only -156 (that's Negative 156) for his Career. Other "greats" had totals from 500 to 1,000.

18
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 3:00pm

This gets me wondering about how good a job Don Shula was doing.

Is there anything that can be done with the DVOA team stats to show us how good coaches were over the years?

By the time we get back to 1986 we've got the last 10 years of Shula's career, over half of Gibbs and Parcells, as well as five years of Chuck Noll. And after that we have people like Seifert, Holmgren, JJ, Cowher, Dungy, Gruden, Belichick, Reid, Shanahan, Coughlin, Fisher, Fox, Carroll, Tomlin, McCarthy as well among others.

22
by Bob Smith :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 5:15pm

Bright Blue Shorts-I think you are blaming the wrong person there (blaming Shula). Are you aware of the freedom that Marino had when it came to calling audibles for example? According to Dan, he had total freedom. I have a quote I can give you if you want. For me, the blame lies with the way Marino performed a majority of the time in the playoffs as Chase summed up with his study.

23
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 5:25pm

I wasn't specifically blaming him ... I said I was wondering ... but now you say it ... if the coach gives the QB room to call audibles then he'd better call the right ones. And if he doesn't that's on the coach for giving him the freedom.

Anyway the bigger picture of my post was whether this site's team metrics could be collated to measure coaches.

24
by Bob Smith :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 5:52pm

That is a great line-if the coach gives the QB............I guess we can safely say that Marino was not calling the right ones, at least a majority of the time in the playoffs, as Chase's study summed it up.

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by RickD :: Thu, 02/23/2017 - 1:15am

I think the NFL game passed Shula by in the mid-90s. His early teams were built around defense and running, and even though he had Dan Marino, he could not build an elite team in the NFC-dominant era from '85-'96. He didn't even make the Super Bowl again after losing the AFCCG to the Pats in January of '86. He was a dreadful 6-17 vs. Marv Levy's Bills.

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by Bob Smith :: Thu, 02/23/2017 - 11:19am

RickD-There could be another way to look at it-maybe Coach Shula was "ahead" of his time. He allowed his QB (Marino) to throw around 35 or so passes per game while most others were back at 30 or so. For a while now 35 or so has become the norm. Dan was the only QB to do it consistently until Drew Bledsoe came along in the late 90's. Perhaps Shula is regretting all of that however.

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by Bob Smith :: Thu, 02/23/2017 - 12:01pm

Let me correct something-Marino was the only QB throwing it that consistently until Favre and Bledsoe came along in the early to mid 90's. But of the 3, only Favre was having success in the playoffs.

49
by nat :: Thu, 02/23/2017 - 12:52pm

Warren Moon?

50
by Bob Smith :: Thu, 02/23/2017 - 1:10pm

nat-that's a tough one. For Moon's 1st 6 years he averaged only 29 pass attempts per game, He definitely dialed it up after that, but for overall consistency I don't think he would quite fit in. Just my opinion.

3
by eagle97a :: Wed, 02/15/2017 - 7:49pm

Good work. Wanted to ask if playoff rushing DVOA will be featured. And can we incorporate both postseason passing and rushing DVOA with the drive stats for qb evals? And as sample sizes become more significant could weather significantly affect postseason DVOA? I see the top playoff qbs by DVOA are all warm weather/dome players with Mark Sanchez the highest cold weather qb at 6 games admittedly. All in all a very nice peek into playoff performances.

11
by nat :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:03pm

Sanchez played all his playoff games on the road. He's not a "cold weather playoff QB" for this kind of analysis. You need to look at players who played the at least half of their playoff games in outdoor, potentially bad weather stadiums.

The top 10 QBs by playoff DVOA are all majority warm climate / indoor playoff QBs. That's not suspicious in and of itself. Perhaps there just aren't very many QBS who have to contend with those northern outdoor stadiums in the playoffs.

But 6 of the bottom 10 QBs are majority bad weather stadium QBs in the playoffs.

Take these together, and it is abundantly clear that you have asked the right question: Does weather affect/skew postseason DVOA?

It's also pretty clear that the answer is "Yes, it does."

It's harder to figure out how much. Football Freakonomics showed a drop in pass completion % of about 4-5% from September to December in outdoor stadiums of all climate types. You'd expect a larger drop than that for those outdoor stadiums in harsher climates. I'll leave it to you (or at least to later) to figure out what that means for interpreting playoff DVOAs.

13
by Travis :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:12pm

Sanchez played all his playoff games on the road. He's not a "cold weather playoff QB" for this kind of analysis. You need to look at players who played the at least half of their playoff games in outdoor, potentially bad weather stadiums.

3 of Sanchez's 6 playoff games were played in below-freezing weather.

14
by nat :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:45pm

My bad. I started writing this as "More than half" and switched to "At least half". Sanchez gets included as a 50-50 warm weather / bad weather playoff QB.

He's a small sample size case. But otherwise, sure, let's include him as a borderline case.

27
by eagle97a :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 8:14pm

That has always been my suspicion and I agree that the hard part is teasing out by how much are playoff performances impacted by weather. This issue will take a long time to resolve if ever IMO.

7
by ClavisRa :: Wed, 02/15/2017 - 11:59pm

Holy meaningless data Batman!!

I come to this site 90% for the Ben Muth articles, and 10% for the occasional diamond in the rough analysis. But, wow, if you can't understand the limitations of DVOA and DYAR, how will you ever produce articles that mitigate and contextualize those deficiencies and offer something substantial to the reader?

16
by ammek :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 2:15pm

I think, after 13 years, you can assume that both writers and readers understand the limitations (as well as the plusses) of FO's stats.

I'm amazed how well Drew Brees comes out in these numbers. He is going to be underappreciated because of the team he played for and the dominance of the Manning-Brady narrative.

19
by coremill :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 3:05pm

Yeah, Brees is underappreciated because he got saddled with atrocious defenses. NO's rank in defensive DVOA during the Brees era: 22, 30, 26, 17, 10, 28, 32, 10, 31, 32, 30. It doesn't matter who your QB is, nobody can consistently win with defenses that terrible.

12
by Led :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:03pm

Mark Sanchez and nine hall of famers in the top 10 playoff DVOA, just because the universe is weird.

17
by ChrisS :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 2:25pm

It looks like there is a 6 game threshold for inclusion in this list. If we make it 7 games then Sanchize gets dropped and Brady added. Make it so.

20
by Led :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 3:16pm

I kinda like the weirdness. It encourages humility as we all endeavor to understand the world.

21
by renangms :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 5:09pm

M. Ryan and P. Rivers will be Hall of Famers?

28
by MC2 :: Fri, 02/17/2017 - 8:19pm

The jury's still out on Ryan. It's looking highly unlikely that Rivers will make it.

But I'm guessing they would both be close to locks, if only more of the HOF voters employed criteria more sophisticated than, "COUNT TEH RINGZZZ!!!!!!!!!!"

29
by Bob Smith :: Sat, 02/18/2017 - 9:47am

MC2-the HOF is for those QB's that were the ultimate leaders of their offenses and their teams, those QB's that got it done at times in spite of other factors. If you can name a QB that never got it done in the biggest games of his career (Championship Games), then he probably should not be in with those that did. Especially if his numbers in those biggest games were not very good. Just my opinion.

30
by Alternator :: Sat, 02/18/2017 - 1:23pm

The classic counterpoint: Dan Marino.

"Never got it done" is a terrible criteria.

31
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 02/18/2017 - 1:54pm

I believe Dan Fouts is also in there despite not getting it done. And I'm not sure Warren Moon ever got near a NFL championship game.

Meanwhile Ken Anderson who won an AFC Championship but lost a Super Bowl still waits.

I'm not entirely against Bob's point but in the end there does have to be some level of nuanced conversation around supporting casts or we need to get Jim Plunkett and Trent Dilfer inducted super damn quick.

33
by Bob Smith :: Sat, 02/18/2017 - 4:19pm

At no time did I attempt to insinuate that if a QB won a championship that that automatically got him into the HOF.

40
by Steve B :: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 3:39pm

Marino and Fouts put up numbers the game had never seen before. Moon is a combo of big numbers and being a trailblazer. Sonny Jurgensen's another one. Never played in a league title game (though he was a member of one team that won one and one that lost one), but he was very prolific (led the league in passing yards five times).

There's no equivalent for Rivers in the HoF.

32
by Bob Smith :: Sat, 02/18/2017 - 4:15pm

My guy (Marino) got it done in the '84 Conf. Champ. game, but unfortunately for his teammates, that was the only time in 4 champ. games that he did. Our (Dolphin fans) hopes were riding on Dan's abilities in the playoffs, but more often than not he did not play very good and we lost, including 3 other champ. games including 1 S.B. game.

34
by MC2 :: Sat, 02/18/2017 - 7:38pm

The way I see it, it boils down to whether you believe that individual players (in this case, QBs) can single-handedly win games, irrespective of the quality of their teammates. To put it bluntly, does the team whose QB plays best always win?

If so, then the other 20 players on the field are irrelevant; they have no real value. That leads to the (in my opinion) absurd conclusion that, for example, players like Jerry Rice or Lawrence Taylor were no more valuable than street free agents.

On the other hand, if QB play does not single-handedly determine the outcome of games, then judging QBs by their team's success seems incredibly silly and unfair, since it assigns a QB full credit or blame for an outcome for which he was only partially responsible.

Baseball people used to make much the same arguments that you are making to justify rating pitchers by W-L record. Fortunately, that sort of thing is becoming much less common. I can only hope the same sort of progress will one day happen in football.

35
by Bob Smith :: Sat, 02/18/2017 - 8:17pm

I see your point, but there is a big difference when evaluating a QB that has 3 TD passes, a Rating of 100, and leads his offense to 25 points and loses a championship game or games, vs. a QB that plays much worse and loses a championship game or games, IMO. Or if a QB has his team in position to win a championship game and then his kicker misses a championship game-winning kick (Jim Kelly). Football is the ultimate team game, but more than 1 study has shown that the play of each QB determines the outcome of games a good majority of the time.

36
by MC2 :: Sat, 02/18/2017 - 10:46pm

Well, I agree with you that it matters how well a QB plays in big games. I would actually say that when evaluating a QB, regular season play should count for more than postseason play, just because there are so many more regular season games, and therefore so much bigger a sample, but certainly, I think a good (or bad) postseason performance should be given more weight than a similar regular season performance.

Where I have a problem is when the "count the rings" argument is used as some sort of indisputable trump card, without considering mitigating factors, such as individual stats, quality of teammates, and so forth. For example, in the days following this year's Super Bowl, I lost track of how many talking heads said that Brady winning his fifth ring "ends the debate" over who is the greatest QB of all time. Certainly, it has to factor into the discussion, but to say that it "ends the debate" is almost laughably simplistic (in my opinion), and I feel much the same way about HOF voters who base their votes exclusively, or almost exclusively, on the "count the rings" criteria, without taking into account the contextual factors that I mentioned earlier.

39
by Eddo :: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 12:22pm

Right - if the Falcons had won the OT coin toss and scored a TD, does that "re-open the debate"?

41
by RBroPF :: Tue, 02/21/2017 - 9:07am

There's a difference between "ending the debate" and "being the entire argument". And there's also a difference between saying that what happened in a game cemented a legacy vs. the only thing that mattered was the W at the end.

It's entirely reasonable to think that the debate was mostly over before the game and that how Brady played in the game was the final piece that ended the debate. And I think most commentators who said that were also talking about the epic comeback rather than just the final result.

In an article premised on looking at such a small subsample of a QB's stats that Mark Sanchez winds up as #5 all time, because I guess we think that "clutchness" is a thing, why not take it even further? In the 4th quarter of SuperBowls when his team is behind, Tom Brady plays out of his mind. That's the ultimate high-leverage, high-pressure situation, and it will definitely stick in people's minds when they look back on his career to assess it's "greatness".

42
by Bob Smith :: Tue, 02/21/2017 - 10:26am

That is a great point about Brady's heroics in the 4th quarter. The only QB close to Brady was Terry Bradshaw in that regard.

43
by MC2 :: Tue, 02/21/2017 - 2:43pm

I would argue that the reason why we should pay particular attention to postseason games, and weigh them more heavily (on a game-by-game basis) than regular season games, is not because it takes more "clutchness" to win a postseason game than a regular season game. Rather, it's because each postseason game counts for more. Specifically, it takes approximately 10 regular season wins to reach the first round of the playoffs, but it only takes one postseason win to advance to the second round, and then only one more to advance to the third round, and so forth. In contrast, the 4th quarter of any game counts not one iota more than any of the first 3 quarters.

As far as Brady's performance in this game specifically, and the general idea of giving extra weight to 4th quarter comebacks, I made a comment in another recent thread that seems appropriate here:

...I wasn't particularly impressed by Brady's performance. He was pretty terrible for basically the first two-thirds of the game (especially considering that he was facing one of the worst defenses in the league). Of course, he was fantastic for the last third of the game, but again, you have to consider the quality of the defense he was facing. Overall, I have seen him play many better games, so why would this one make me move him up on my all-time list?

The whole idea of giving extra weight to 4th quarter comebacks -- and in many cases, effectively rewarding QBs for playing poorly during the first 3 quarters -- has never made sense to me. Digging yourself a hole and then digging your way out of it may be more exciting from a subjective standpoint, but I see no reason why it is more impressive in an objective sense. Yet there are actually people who seriously claim that Eli's "clutchness" makes him a better QB than his brother. Go figure.

44
by PatsFan :: Tue, 02/21/2017 - 5:08pm

If you're going to give a QB "extra credit" for a 4QCB you also need to dock him for what he did to be in a 4QCB situation in the first place.

25
by BearDown103 :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 6:06pm

How did you count penalties that were "half the distance"?

26
by Scott Kacsmar :: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 7:03pm

Used whatever the yardage issued was.

37
by Pen :: Sun, 02/19/2017 - 12:28am

I think you'll find Bart Starr at the top by the time you ever get there.

38
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Sun, 02/19/2017 - 4:22pm

"Football is the ultimate team game, but more than 1 study has shown that the play of each QB determines the outcome of games a good majority of the time."

No, those studies show that quarterback OUTPUT determines the outcome of games a good majority of the time. Quarterback output and quality of play are related, but not always closely- an easy example of that is to just take a look at every QB who ever played with Randy Moss. An example in the opposite direction is to look at any QB who plays behind a bad offensive line.