1981 DVOA: 49ers Finally Win It All, but Eagles Rule DVOA

1981 DVOA
1981 DVOA
Montana Photo: USA Today Sports Images / Graphic: Erik Orr

NFL Offseason - Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers went 13-3 and won their first Super Bowl title in 1981. Our DVOA ratings are unimpressed. The 49ers only finished the 1981 season 12th in overall DVOA, one of the worst ranks ever for a Super Bowl champion. Instead, the regular-season DVOA title belongs to the defending NFC champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Eagles were one of the least impressive No. 1 teams in DVOA history and squandered a strong start to the season with a four-game losing streak and a wild-card loss to the rival New York Giants.

It's time to go back in time once again as we add another historic NFL season to our DVOA database. Today we're going to talk about 1981. It's the year of The Catch, the year Ken Anderson won the MVP award, and the year that "stickum" was banned for receivers and defensive backs. It's the year Lawrence Taylor won both Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, a feat nearly matched by Micah Parsons last season.

How surprising is it that the San Francisco 49ers finished so low in DVOA despite having the best win-loss record in the league and eventually winning Super Bowl XVI? On one hand, the 49ers do fine in other advanced metrics. Both Pythagorean Wins and Pro Football Reference's Simple Rating System had them second that year behind the Eagles. On the other hand, you may remember the Estimated DVOA ratings we ran a couple of years ago. San Francisco was only at 13.3% in those estimates, which put them 57th out of 70 NFL champions from 1950 to 2019. The 49ers were only 6-10 the year before their first Super Bowl championship, and only 3-6 the year after during the strike-shortened 1982 season.

The 1981 49ers were 7-2 in one-score games during the regular season (and 2-0 in the postseason). They played an easy schedule, 24th in the league by average DVOA of opponent. San Francisco ranked fifth on offense and eighth on defense, although their offense was a lot lower than what usually ranks fifth. The average No. 5 offense since 1981 had a DVOA of 14.2%. San Francisco had offensive DVOA of 8.7%. DVOA was very different from just looking at yards per play, as the 49ers ranked third in yards per play allowed on defense but only 19th on yards per play on offense. They were very good in turnovers on both sides of the ball, finishing with a plus-23 turnover margin.

The 49ers were dragged down by special teams, which ranked 27th out of 28 teams in 1981. San Francisco tried nine different kick returners that season, although their kick return value wasn't even bad. No, the biggest problem was kick and punt coverage. Only the Rams and Browns allowed more value on kick returns and only the Buccaneers (the one squad behind San Francisco in total special teams) allowed more value on punt returns. The timing of these bad returns just didn't seem to hurt them. For example, the 49ers allowed a 58-yard punt return touchdown and a 55-yard kickoff return to Washington's Mike Nelms in Week 5 but won the game 30-17 thanks in part to two return touchdowns of their own, an 80-yard fumble return and a 32-yard interception return. (In total, San Francisco had five defensive touchdowns in 1981.)

Worst Regular-Season DVOA
for Super Bowl Champion, 1981-2021
Year Team W-L DVOA Rank
2007 NYG 10-6 1.4% 15
1987 WAS 8-4 6.7% 8
2011 NYG 9-7 7.3% 12
2001 NE 11-5 7.7% 11
2012 BAL 10-6 9.0% 10
1981 SF 13-3 9.2% 12
1982 WAS 8-1 13.3% 7
2018 NE 11-5 13.5% 7
2015 DEN 12-4 17.4% 8
2006 IND 12-4 17.9% 7

The 49ers move up to sixth in DVOA when you include the playoffs as well as the regular season. DVOA is impressed by their postseason wins even though the NFC Championship and Super Bowl were both one-score games. The 49ers end up with single-game ratings of 57%, 36%, and 39% for the three playoff victories.

What about the team that actually led the league in DVOA? The Eagles' 25.8% DVOA was the third lowest ever for a team that finished the regular season on top. Only the 1993 Cowboys (24.7%) and 2016 Patriots (25.1%) were on top of the league with lower ratings. The 1981 Cowboys finished second behind the Eagles and their 18.2% DVOA was easily the lowest ever for a No. 2 team. In fact, 1981 is the only year in DVOA history where at least three teams didn't get to at least 20% DVOA. No. 3 San Diego was also the lowest No. 3 team ever.

There was plenty of parity in the 1981 DVOA ratings, except for one very, very bad defense. Very, very, very bad. We'll get to them in a little bit.

Let's take a look at all the numbers for all 28 teams in 1981:

1 PHI 25.8% 29.8% 10-6 6.1% 9 -18.1% 1 1.7% 10
2 DAL 18.2% 15.9% 12-4 3.4% 11 -10.4% 4 4.4% 7
3 SD 17.1% 18.0% 10-6 22.7% 1 8.8% 23 3.2% 9
4 DET 16.4% 18.0% 8-8 1.9% 14 -9.2% 6 5.3% 3
5 CIN 16.4% 21.2% 12-4 21.4% 2 3.8% 19 -1.2% 18
6 TB 15.6% 16.9% 9-7 12.2% 4 -10.2% 5 -6.8% 28
7 WAS 13.0% 8.3% 8-8 12.9% 3 3.2% 18 3.4% 8
8 BUF 12.9% 12.2% 10-6 7.0% 6 -6.7% 10 -0.8% 17
9 DEN 10.5% 11.1% 10-6 0.5% 16 -12.8% 2 -2.9% 22
10 NYJ 9.7% 15.2% 10-5-1 2.7% 12 -9.0% 7 -2.0% 21
11 KC 9.5% 6.6% 9-7 -1.9% 17 -5.5% 12 5.9% 2
12 SF 9.2% 12.3% 13-3 8.7% 5 -7.1% 8 -6.5% 27
13 MIA 5.4% 9.0% 11-4-1 4.9% 10 6.5% 21 6.9% 1
14 ATL 5.3% 8.2% 7-9 6.4% 8 1.3% 16 0.3% 11
15 PIT 3.7% 6.9% 8-8 2.3% 13 -2.7% 14 -1.3% 19
16 NYG 2.6% -1.5% 9-7 -14.2% 25 -12.4% 3 4.5% 6
17 GB -3.5% -4.6% 8-8 -9.4% 23 -6.1% 11 -0.2% 13
18 MIN -8.0% -10.7% 7-9 1.0% 15 8.4% 22 -0.6% 15
19 SEA -8.2% -10.8% 6-10 -3.8% 20 3.1% 17 -1.3% 20
20 NE -8.8% -7.4% 2-14 6.6% 7 12.2% 26 -3.2% 23
21 LARM -9.1% -9.1% 6-10 -12.1% 24 -3.5% 13 -0.5% 14
22 STLC -11.4% -17.8% 7-9 -2.7% 18 13.8% 27 5.1% 4
23 CHI -15.6% -19.6% 6-10 -21.8% 28 -6.9% 9 -0.7% 16
23 OAK -15.6% -14.4% 7-9 -8.6% 22 0.8% 15 -6.2% 25
25 CLE1 -19.5% -21.3% 5-11 -2.8% 19 10.4% 24 -6.3% 26
26 HOIL -21.8% -23.2% 7-9 -21.1% 27 5.6% 20 4.9% 5
27 NO -30.1% -30.1% 4-12 -19.7% 26 10.6% 25 0.3% 12
28 BALC -38.9% -45.8% 2-14 -6.1% 21 27.9% 28 -4.9% 24

DVOA for 1981 is now listed in the stats pages:

A reminder: These pages are not behind a paywall! It's a registration wall. You simply need to register for the site and make sure you are logged in to see these historical DVOA pages.

Before we go further in exploring the 1981 season, we have to report that we've reached an unfortunate milestone. This is the first season where we could not find all of the play-by-play. There have been other years in the '80s where we had to guess at a couple of plays because of unreadable gamebooks, but for the most part we've collected every play from every game from 1982 through 2021. In 1981, we are missing the entire fourth quarter of the Week 1 game between the Bills and the Jets. The gamebook we have is missing that quarter and we can't find videotape of the game to complete the play-by-play. At least our one missing quarter is pretty inconsequential; the Bills had a 31-0 lead after three quarters and there was no scoring in the fourth quarter.

Let's return to the top team of 1981, the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive coordinator Marion Campbell led the top defense in the league featuring All-Pro nose tackle Charlie Johnson and three other All-Pros: inside linebacker Frank LeMaster, outside linebacker Jerry Robinson, and cornerback Roynell Young. You also might remember the other starting cornerback, some guy named Herm Edwards. The Eagles led the NFL with just 4.9 net yards allowed per pass attempt. The offense was not as good, but still finished in the DVOA top 10. So did the special teams.

The Eagles began the season 6-0 and were 9-2 after blowing out the Cardinals and Colts in consecutive weeks. Then they lost four straight games in Weeks 12-15, although two of those losses were close. The Eagles rebounded to destroy the Cardinals 38-0 in the final game of the regular season but there was still a sense that the team was in freefall. There's definitely the possibility that recreational drug use was involved. When I first sent out the 1981 ratings to the FO staff, Mike Tanier responded that everything from the early 1980s needs a cocaine asterisk. To quote Mike, "I remember as a kid wondering what the heck I was watching in the second half of that season. There was no injury to explain the collapse. One of the stories at the time was that Dick Vermeil was pushing the team too hard. My gut tells me that he had no idea what was going on (or equated 'partying' with 'drinking') and started pressing too hard, which did wear out some of the sober players, especially in 1982, and wore Vermeil out too."

The Eagles hosted the rival Giants in the wild-card game. The Giants were in the playoffs for the first time since 1963. They had only finished 16th in DVOA and were missing starting quarterback Phil Simms and outside linebacker Brad Van Pelt, but they built a 27-7 lead at halftime. Philadelphia got two Wilbert Montgomery rushing touchdowns in the second half but couldn't fight all the way back and lost 27-21. A couple of Eagles players later told the press that the Eagles played badly in part because some of them had attended a drug party the night before.

After the Eagles, there's very little separating one team from the next in 1981 until you get down to a gap of about four percentage points between the 49ers and the No. 13 Dolphins. The Dallas Cowboys finished second in DVOA with a balanced team that ranked 11th or higher in all three phases. The San Diego Chargers finished third with, what else, the No. 1 offense in the league and a bad defense. (It was not quite as bad as it would be for the next four years.) The Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals were effectively tied in fourth place. The Lions may be a bit of a surprise at 8-8, but they outscored their opponents 397-322 over the course of the 1981 season with a 3-6 record in one-score games. The Lions finished 1-7 on the road but 7-1 at home. Unfortunately, that only home loss came in the final week of the season when the Lions and No. 6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers both entered the game with 8-7 records and the Buccaneers took out the Lions in front of a Pontiac Silverdome crowd of over 80,000 fans. The Buccaneers were ahead 13-10 early in the fourth quarter when Lee Roy Selmon hit Eric Hipple from behind and knocked out the ball. Nose tackle David Logan picked it up on one hop and ran 21 yards for a touchdown. Hipple then threw a red zone pick on the next drive. The Lions did score a touchdown with 1:26 left on an 8-yard pass from Hipple to Leonard Thompson but couldn't gather up the onside kick and that was their season.

Tampa Bay finished in the top five for both offense and defense but dead last in special teams. The defensive rating makes sense when you look at standard stats, as the Bucs were fourth in points per game and seventh in takeaways. The offensive rating may be more curious because the Bucs were just 18th in points per game, but they ranked sixth in yards per play and third in fewest turnovers. The Cowboys absolutely destroyed the Bucs in the divisional round with a 38-0 victory. Doug Williams was 10-of-29 with four picks and four sacks, and the Cowboys ended up with 139% DVOA for that game. That's one of the 20 best individual DVOA games ever.

The whole 1981 season was known for some legendary playoff games, from the Epic in Miami to San Francisco's close victory in Super Bowl XVI. Here are the DVOA ratings for the biggest playoff games of 1981:

Game Team Total
Debacle in Dallas TB -129% -84% 33% -12%
DAL 38, TB 0 DAL 139% 42% -86% 11%
Epic in Miami SD 21% 33% 15% 4%
SD 41, MIA 38 (OT) MIA -26% 10% 15% -21%
Freezer Bowl SD -37% -15% 5% -16%
CIN 27, SD 7 CIN 67% 23% -35% 9%
The Catch DAL 21% 5% -10% 5%
SF 28, DAL 27 SF 36% 16% -15% 6%
Super Bowl XVI CIN 1% 8% 1% -7%
SF 26, CIN 21 SF 39% 7% -18% 15%

The strangest division of 1981 was the AFC East, where three teams made the playoffs and the other two teams went 2-14. The Bills, who finished third in the division, had the highest DVOA rank at No. 8. The Miami Dolphins, much like the champion 49ers, were unimpressive in DVOA despite a strong 11-4-1 record. Miami ranked fifth in the league in points allowed yet DVOA ranks their defense just 21st. This was in the midst of a streak where it seemed like the Dolphins had a strong defense every year. They ranked second in defensive DVOA the next year when they made it to the Super Bowl, with the best pass defense DVOA has ever measured. But the 1981 Dolphins were 18th in yards allowed per play and tied for 23rd in takeaways. Their rank in points allowed was a mirage caused in part by strong field position from finishing first in special teams DVOA.

The Patriots ranked 20th in DVOA despite being 2-14. They easily had the best DVOA rating ever for a 2-14 team, surpassing the 2001 Lions. The Patriots were 0-8 in one-score games, including two losses to the Baltimore Colts by a grand total of three points. Those were Baltimore's only two wins.

And oh boy, do we have to talk about the Baltimore Colts. Remember above when I said that 1981 was a year for parity except for one bad defense? The 1981 Baltimore Colts still hold the record for the most points allowed in the regular season: 533 points, or 33.3 points per game. That record has stood up throughout this entire century as the offensive levels around the NFL have exploded. The 2020 Lions came the closest, giving up 519 points. Last year, the Jets gave up 504 points thanks to the extra regular-season game, and that now ranks fourth. But nobody has caught the Colts.

The Colts also hold the record for the most touchdowns allowed (68) and rank second in net yardage allowed (6,793). That latter record was finally broken in 2012 when the New Orleans Saints became the only NFL team to ever allow over 7,000 yards in one season.

As bad as the Colts were in DVOA in 1981, it's not as bad as they were in standard stats because they played the toughest defensive schedule of the season. The other four AFC East teams all ranked in the top 12 for offense, even the 2-14 Patriots, plus the Colts had to play the top three offenses in the league: San Diego, Cincinnati, and Washington. They lost to those three teams by the combined score of 122-47.

Our table of the worst defensive DVOAs features three different teams from strike-shortened seasons, but the 1981 Colts (and 1986 Buccaneers) beat them all over a full season.

Worst Defensive DVOA, 1981-2021
Year Team W-L DVOA
1981 BALC 2-14 27.9%
1986 TB 2-14 26.7%
1987* MIA 7-5 24.8%
1982 HOIL 1-8 24.0%
1999 CLE 2-14 23.3%
2019 MIA 5-11 23.0%
1982 LARM 2-7 23.0%
1986 MIA 8-8 23.0%
2001 ARI 7-9 21.8%
2015 NO 7-9 21.7%
1984 MIN 3-13 21.5%
2008 DEN 8-8 21.5%
1999 SF 4-12 21.4%
2000 MIN 11-5 21.0%
*1987 does not include strikebreaker games

The Colts look even worse if you only look at their pass defense. Baltimore had a pass defense DVOA of 51.0% in 1981; no other defense has ever put up worse than 45% over a full season. (The 1999 49ers had the second-worst pass defense at 44.8%, followed by a team that will surprise you, the 1996 Baltimore Ravens at 44.6%.) The Colts allowed 8.4 net yards per pass, which is the highest figure since the AFL-NFL merger. They allowed a league-high 61.3% completion rate when New Orleans was the only other defense to allow anything over 59% that year. They allowed 37 passing touchdowns (Atlanta was second with 30) and sacked the quarterback only 13 times (New England was next to last with 20).

Back in the early days of Football Outsiders, Mike Tanier wrote a whole feature on just how insanely bad the 1981 Baltimore Colts defense was. You can read it here

Now let's take a look at the best and worst players by position in 1981.

Quarterbacks: Ken Anderson may have won his only MVP award in 1981 but Football Outsiders stats are pretty adamant that Dan Fouts was the best quarterback in the NFL. Fouts had 37.9% passing DVOA compared to 31.0% for Anderson, and Fouts beat Anderson easily in DYAR thanks to throwing over 100 more passes. Anderson led the league in touchdown rate and interception rate, but Fouts topped him in net yards per attempt, 7.43 to 7.17. Fouts also had a lower sack rate and played a harder schedule of opposing defenses. I already wrote that Dan Fouts should have easily been MVP of the 1982 season, and I think he should have been MVP of the 1981 season as well.

Joe Montana ranked third in passing DYAR in his first full season as the 49ers' starting quarterback. He also led the league in completion rate. Tampa Bay's Doug Williams ranked fourth in DYAR but was slightly ahead of Montana in DVOA despite barely completing 50% of his passes, because he was second in the league with 15.0 yards per completion. Eric Hipple of the Lions, who led the league with 16.8 yards per completion, ended up only 20th in passing DYAR because he had 11 fumbles and 15 interceptions in only 10 games started.

Buffalo's Joe Ferguson was fifth in DYAR. Terry Bradshaw was fifth in passing DVOA but lower in DYAR because he had less than 400 pass plays. He also played an easy schedule, which knocks him down a little bit.

Chicago's Vince Evans finished last in passing DYAR among qualifying quarterbacks, those with at least 200 pass plays. Evans had 20 interceptions and 12 fumbles while completing just 45% of his passes. But he didn't actually have the lowest DYAR of the year. That belonged to Dan Pastorini, playing his only season with the Los Angeles Rams after a career in Houston plus one year in Oakland. Pastorini started five games and threw 14 interceptions with just 2 touchdowns. He had 3.43 net yards per attempt. That worked out to -74.4% DVOA on 169 pass plays, or -651 DYAR. Only three players ever put up a lower passing DVOA with at least 150 passes: Alex Smith in 2005, Craig Krenzel in 2004, and Jared Goff in 2016.

Running Backs: George Rogers of the Saints may have won the rushing title (and Offensive Rookie of the Year) with 378 carries for 1,672 yards, but it was Billy Sims of the Lions who was No. 1 by rushing DYAR. The second-year back rushed for 1,437 yards in just 14 games with 4.9 yards per carry and 13 rushing touchdowns. Chuck Muncie of the Chargers finished second in rushing DYAR. His season was notable for 19 rushing touchdowns, tying the record then held by Jim Taylor (1962) and Earl Campbell (1979). Wilbert Montgomery of the Eagles was third, William Andrews of the Falcons fourth, and Mike Pruitt of the Browns fifth. Rogers finished sixth in rushing DYAR while Tony Dorsett, who was second in rushing yardage, finished 10th in rushing DYAR.

Down at the bottom of our rushing table you'll find Harlan Huckleby of the Green Bay Packers, who averaged a miserable 2.7 yards per carry that season. He finished last among qualifying running backs in both DYAR and DVOA. However, just as with quarterbacks, the actual lowest running back of the year was someone who didn't have 100 carries to qualify for our main table. In fact, three different running backs were below Huckleby in DYAR in 1981.

  • Sidney Thornton of the Steelers had 6 fumbles on just 56 carries, averaging 3.6 yards per carry for -62 DYAR.
  • Clarence Williams of the Chargers was worse than that on just 21 carries, because he gained just 32 yards. That's barely 1.5 yards per carry for -63 DYAR. (PFR lists Williams with 20 carries for 26 yards, so there's an error either in the gamebook or the official league totals.)
  • Tony Reed carried the ball 68 times for 156 yards with no touchdowns for the Broncos. That's 2.3 yards per carry and -71 DYAR.

Terry Metcalf of Washington led all running backs in receiving DYAR, but he wasn't much of a runner in his return to the NFL after three seasons in the Canadian Football League. Metcalf had just 18 carries in 1981 (and fumbled three of those) but caught 48 passes on 71 targets for 595 yards (although no touchdowns). That was worth a league-leading 183 receiving DYAR. The receiving leader among more typical running backs was Randy McMillan of the Colts. A number of the top rushers also had a lot of receiving value, including both Sims and Montgomery. Earl Campbell was dead last in receiving value, gaining just 4.3 yards per reception.

One more interesting split year belonged to Joe Cribbs of the Bills. He had a 1,000-yard season and made the Pro Bowl on 4.3 yards per carry, but between 12 fumbles and a very easy schedule of opposing run defenses, he ended up next to last in rushing DYAR. However, Cribbs was fourth in receiving DYAR thanks to 40 catches for 603 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns.

Wide Receivers: At this point we've gone so far back in history that I'm just seven years old and growing up in a family where nobody followed sports. Some kids down the street had me following the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series and that's how my whole sports thing got started. So I'm not embarassed to say I had never noticed Steve Watson before I put together the 1981 numbers. Signed by Denver as a UDFA out of Temple in 1979, Watson became a regular starter for the first time in 1981 and exploded with 60 catches for 1,244 yards and a league-leading 13 receiving touchdowns. His 20.7 yards per reception that season is the Broncos franchise record and Watson had a 63% catch rate in a year where wide receivers caught only 49% of intended passes. (There's a little bit of an asterisk there, because official scorers in the 1980s were not always vigilant about marking down intended receivers. Denver's official scorer led the league with 57 passes listed without an intended receiver, so there's a good chance there were a couple of Watson incompletes that we aren't giving him credit for.)

Watson led the league in both receiving DYAR (450) and receiving DVOA (52.1%) and his season is one of the best ever by DVOA:

Best Receiving DVOA, 1981-2021
(min. 50 passes)
Year Player Team Pass DVOA DYAR
2018 T.Lockett SEA 70 66.3% 464
2002 D.Northcutt CLE 51 60.5% 290
1989 J.Taylor SF 75 56.3% 409
1982 W.Chandler SD 81 54.9% 416
2011 J.Nelson GB 96 52.9% 520
1981 S.Watson DEN 95 52.1% 450
2011 M.Floyd SD 70 51.9% 354
1999 T.Dwight ATL 50 51.8% 252
1993 J.Taylor SF 74 51.3% 380
2010 M.Wallace PIT 89 49.5% 462
2001 R.Proehl STL 55 47.5% 265
1999 A.Hakim STL 56 46.9% 245
1989 J.Rice SF 129 45.1% 563

Watson had two more 1,000-yard seasons before his career wound down in 1987. Add in the strike-shortened 1982 and he ranked in the top eight of receiving DYAR for four straight years from 1981-1984. He never had a season with a negative receiving DVOA.

Another Steve finished second in receiving DYAR, but this is a guy you probably have heard about, Steve Largent of the Seahawks. Alfred Jenkins of the Falcons led the NFL in both receiving yards (1,362) and receiving touchdowns (13, tied with Watson) but finished third in receiving DYAR. Frank Lewis of the Bills and Dwight Clark of the 49ers round out the top five. Clark had an astonishing 70% catch rate when no other qualifying receiver was above 63%, and there's no asterisk on this one because the 49ers (unlike the Broncos) weren't particularly high in passes listed with no intended receiver.

Wes Chandler, who would go on to dominate the league in 1982, finished seventh in receiving DYAR in a split season where he was traded from the Saints to the Chargers after four games. Chandler ended up with 71.3 yards per game for the Saints and 71.4 yards per game for the Chargers, almost the exactly the same. James Lofton of the Packers finished second in the NFL with 1,294 receiving yards but led the NFL with 146 targets and only had a 49% catch rate, so he ends up eighth in receiving DYAR.

Last place in both receiving DYAR and DVOA belongs to Wallace Francis of the Falcons. In his final NFL season, Francis caught just 30 out of 80 passes for 441 yards and 4 touchdowns. It's hard to believe he was in the same offense with Alfred Jenkins. Also low in receiving DYAR in 1981 were another longtime veteran in his final season, Ken Burrough of the Oilers, and a third-round rookie, Ken Margerum of the Bears. Also disappointing in 1981 was Hall of Famer Cliff Branch, whose 635 receiving yards in 16 games were barely more than the 575 receiving yards he had the next season in a strike-shortened year.

Drew Hill of the Rams was notable for catching just 30% of intended passes but he caught those for 22.2 yards per reception with 3 touchdowns which put him 55th out of 64 receivers in DYAR.

Tight Ends: By standard stats, Kellen Winslow was the man in 1981. He led the league with 88 receptions and had 1,075 yards with 10 touchdowns, earning first-team All-Pro honors and even some MVP votes (back when the MVP voting panel had more people than the 50 that are on it now). He did this against an above-average schedule of opposing pass defenses. So it's pretty stunning that Winslow did not lead the league in receiving DYAR. Instead, he finished second behind Jimmie Giles of the Buccaneers, whose 17.5 yards per reception was far higher than Winslow's 12.2. Overall, Giles caught 45 passes for 786 yards and 6 touchdowns. Dave Casper of the Oilers was third among tight ends in DYAR and led them in DVOA, scoring 8 touchdowns with 573 receiving yards on just 60 targets. Don Hasselbeck of the Patriots was fourth in by far his best season, gaining 808 receiving yards when he had never managed 200 yards in a season before and never would again. Two other tight ends besides Winslow also managed 1,000-yard seasons and were also a little lower than you would expect by DYAR: Ozzie Newsome of the Browns seventh and Joe Senser of the Vikings eighth.

Ronnie Lee of the Dolphins was last among tight ends in receiving DYAR, catching 14 passes on 25 targets for just 64 yards and a touchdown. After 1982, Lee switched positions and ended up starting for a few years for Miami at both right guard and right tackle.

As always, thank you to Jeremy Snyder who did a ton of work to collect this play-by-play as well as video from games where we could not find actual printed gamebooks. Jeremy also put together an excellent review of the 1981 season in The Year in Quotes. Click on that link to revisit a lot of history.

The next stop is 1980. I don't know if we're going to be able to get the whole season to add it to our data, but we're going to sure try. There are currently 33 missing games from the 1980 season. Here are the teams where we are missing gamebooks and therefore we are looking for video of games from these teams, especially 1980 games between two of these teams:

  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Baltimore Colts
  • Chicago Bears
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Houston Oilers
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New Orleans Saints
  • New York Giants
  • San Diego Chargers
  • St. Louis Cardinals
  • Washington Redskins

Please contact us at Football Outsiders if you are a video collector or know a video collector who might have some of our missing games.


147 comments, Last at 08 Sep 2022, 4:59am

#1 by Travis // Jun 28, 2022 - 12:05pm

(PFR lists Williams with 20 carries for 26 yards, so there's an error either in the gamebook or the official league totals.)

The San Diego scorer in the Week 13 game against the Broncos scored a Williams run with a holding penalty 6 yards downfield as a no play with a 4-yard holding penalty. Such errors were sadly common.

Points: 0

#2 by theslothook // Jun 28, 2022 - 12:22pm

Interestingly, the 07 Giants and the 2012 Ravens both had obscenely hard roads to the SB. Perhaps thats how you end up with a low dvoa sb winner.  

Points: 0

#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 28, 2022 - 1:06pm

Is 4th the highest the Lions have ever been in DVOA?

It's weird picturing a world where the Lions are the Ravens and the Bucs are the Chargers.

Points: 0

#4 by Tom Gower // Jun 28, 2022 - 1:18pm

The Lions were 7th in both 1995 and 1997, their only other two seasons in the single digits. 16.4% is also the best DVOA for them, passing 13.2% in 1995.

Points: 0

#5 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 28, 2022 - 2:19pm

In reply to by Tom Gower

Probably won't get any higher until you get back to 1970.

Points: 0

#6 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 28, 2022 - 2:42pm

We now have Joe Montana's last (first?) season as a full-time starter, and 95% of his career in general in our database.  So we can finally attack the age-old "Montana versus Young" debate!

As a 49er:

Young has 10,556 passing DYAR.  Montana is at 10,475.  I expect 1980 would be enough to push Montana over the top there, as he was above replacement level, but that's about as draw as draw can be.

Young has 11,836 total DYAR, once you add in his rushing stats.  Montana has 10,924.  912 DYAR in 1979-80 would be a very tall ask out of 300ish passing plays; I think Young's rushing value keeps him on top there.

Young put up a 29.9% average passing DVOA, weighted for number of pass attempts per season.  Montana is at 25.0%.

Add in Young's years in Tampa Bay and Montana's years in Kansas City, and you get a slightly different picture:

Montana goes to 12,117 passing DYAR, while Young falls to 10,266
Montana goes to 12,594 total DYAR, while Young falls to 11,706
Montana goes to a 24.2% passing DVOA; Young falls to 23.6%.

It turns out, Marty Schottenheimer's Chiefs were better than Leeman Bennett's Buccaneers.  Who knew!

It's close enough that it's really down to personal preference, balancing Montana's playoff stats and Young having Rice for his entire career in San Francisco and Young getting just the prime cut of his career after sitting on the bench behind Montana and Young staying healthier and so on and so forth.  Both players are in the top 10 in passing DVOA; both players are in the top 15 in passing DYAR.  Both were very good passers; yet another deep insight you've come to expect from the experts at Football Outsiders.

Points: 0

#8 by theslothook // Jun 28, 2022 - 3:19pm


You wrote all of this and you never made your own conclusive statement on the subject.

For me, I saw practically none of their careers. But to answer this question, I think you would need a subjective assessment of their circumstances above and beyond their receiving core. Ie - how were their offensive lines. How much did scheme elevate their numbers. How about who was asked to do more etc etc. 

It becomes a fun exercise because it's a bit of the eye of the beholder.

Anyone else wanna make a pick?


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#9 by Vincent Verhei // Jun 28, 2022 - 3:35pm

I believe Bryan's conclusive statement is "It's close enough that it's really down to personal preference."

I still say that Steve Young at his peak was better than any other quarterback was at their peak (though the more I look at Dan Marino the more I think twice about that). Now that peak only lasted seven years, so if you want to claim other QBs were better or more valuable over the long term, fine. But for that half-decade or so, the gap between Young and every other quarterback in the NFL was just comically large.

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#15 by theslothook // Jun 28, 2022 - 4:06pm

I guess this is also debatable, even if we restrict it to 7 years. Compare it to a seven year stretch for Manning, who was first for four straight years starting in 03(including two 50 + dvoa finishes that stand far above Young's best seasons) and then finished second in years 5 and 6 and then 5th in his seventh. 

Brady also has a similar case, though he missed 08 and his 2013 season sticks out as a true blemish(until you remember his whole receiving core was basically on ir). But again, lots of 1st and 2nd place finishes.

I did look up Rodgers, but his middle was quirky enough to eliminate his case.

I think, by pure peak, I don't think there is a rival to Peyton Manning. And I am trying to say that as objectively as I can.


Edit this is all by DVOA which is not even attempting to separate QB from supporting cast. So, I'll just add that disclaimer that by DVOA Peyton Manning is probably on top.

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#22 by HitchikersPie // Jun 28, 2022 - 4:53pm

As it happened this discussion came up on twitter the other day and I have this feature in the DYAR database I keep, so by each year peak it's basically Peyton/Brady 1/2 with Marino and then Brees in 3rd. However if you connect up '07 with Brady's '09-'12 peak it basically switches the results for the 7 year DYAR peaks.




This is including passing and rushing for any Young fans out there, but he was more of a DVOA than DYAR king.

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#35 by Vincent Verhei // Jun 28, 2022 - 8:18pm

OK, I admit I had forgotten how dominant Peyton was in the early part of this century. If you ranked all QB seasons from 2000 to 2006 (so, seven years) by DVOA, Peyton is in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th place. Lordy.

By comparison, if you do the same thing from 1992 to 1998, Young's best five years are in 1st, 5th, 10th, 12th, and 14th. 

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#36 by theslothook // Jun 28, 2022 - 8:45pm

If you'll indulge my inner fandom a bit; I will be curious to see how Peyton's legacy ages over time.

I think the analytics minded fan will always be drawn to Manning. His numbers are above reproach and subjective arguments about supporting casts are rather bolstered by the fact that the Colts cratered without him. 

Manning will always finish second to Brady and maybe to Montana among the traditionalists. But I do think Manning's playoff failure narrative will recede and he will be celebrated as a contrarian goat candidate.

I have also said before; Brady's goat title is different from MJs precisely because of Manning. If Manning didn't exist, I think Brady gets the MJ universal love. But instead, Manning's existence complicates things such that everyone will be waiting for that next player who wins a bunch of SBs and leaves little doubt who was the best QB of his era. 

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#37 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 28, 2022 - 9:19pm

My answer remains, and has always been, the Manning was the best quarterback of the 00s and Brady the best of the 10s.  And when asked about anything else, I point into the distance, and when they turn, leap out the nearest window.

Replace "Manning" with "Montana", "00s" with "80s", "Brady" with "Young" and "10s" with "90s", and you have an equally true statement.

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#39 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 28, 2022 - 9:41pm

Marino did exist in the 80's. Montana gets that jumpstart.  But from 84 - 88 Marino has a Manning like claim on the stats to Montana's Brady like claim to still great stats but with better post season results.

If you average the DYAR and DVOA ordinal ranks for them (so to get a 1 you have to lead in both).

83: Montana 2, Marino 4.5
84: Montana 2.5, Marino 1
85: Montana 3, Marino 1.5
86: Montana 10.5, Marino 1.5
87: Montana 3, Marino 2
88: Montana 10.5, Marino 2
89: Montana 1, Marino 6.5

Sure that method penalizes injuries because injuries is going to drop your DYAR, but I think that's fair. Marino is better from 84 - 88, doesn't trail by much in 83, and Montana has the clear lead in 89.  Marino can't compete in 80, 81, or 82 because he's not in the NFL. But he wins 5 of the 7 head to head years and can make an argument for best QB in the league for 5 of them (is 2 in 1988 is from leading in DYAR and 3rd in DVOA which is the same as Montana's 83).

So while I can agree with the Young, Manning, and Brady I do think you still need to deal with the Marino factor which even reaches into the 90's but not enough to really mess up Young. Favre didn't have the statistical highs in the 90's to really take anything from Young either.

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#111 by Scott P. // Jun 30, 2022 - 3:51am

I don't understand why people are using ordinal rank. To me, it's like saying Cheyenne, Wyoming is one of the largest American cities because it's been the largest city in its state 130 years running.

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#112 by HitchikersPie // Jun 30, 2022 - 3:56am

Perhaps it would be better to use percentile ranking among all DYAR/DVOA seasons?

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#115 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 30, 2022 - 4:37am

Of course it would, but I still haven't bothered to get a full shadow database set-up to do that easily. And if you wanted a full GOAT convo that would clearly be better.

But if you just want to determine who was the best quarterback in a season since DYAR and DVOA while related, tell you different things averaging the two ordinal ranks is pretty good indicator of who was better that season. You don't need to get into the details. It's just a quick way to get relative rankings. Because really there is no year where it's close. It's pretty clear Montana was better in 83, sure his DVOA was lower than Marino's but not by much which is why he lead the league in DYAR and Marino was 7th because of usage.

84, 85, 86, 87, 88 Marino had better DVOA and DYAR.  89 Montana had better DVOA and DYAR.

I don't care about the relative strengths. I just care who was better and the ordinal ranks made that easy.

When Marino whens the head to head in both categories for 5 years, loses it for 2, and wasn't in the league for the other 3 that is all I need to know to challenge the claim that Montana was the best QB of the 80's. Marino played for 7 years, that's enough to take the crown when the cut off is just an arbitrary mark.  When Marino was better in 90, 91, and 92 and 94 that could also matter. He was basically better for all but about 2 seasons of their 12 years of overlap.

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#40 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 28, 2022 - 9:59pm

The QB Jordan comp isn't Brady -- it's Montana.

Like Jordan, Montana missed the playoffs a few times. Like Jordan, he lost in the conference a few times -- often to a plucky, less-talented obstacle (The Giants are his Pistons). Like Jordan, he never lost in the finals (even if he did push off).

Brady, fittingly, is more like Russell. More titles than Montana, but also more losses there.

\This makes Peyton Wilt, I think

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#102 by Dales // Jun 29, 2022 - 9:18pm

I like that line.

Brady also had a thing with the Giants, it just happened in the Super Bowl and not the conference finals because of the whole not in the same conference thing.

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#101 by Dales // Jun 29, 2022 - 9:14pm

A similar thing to what you describe is why I have settled on Magic being the hoops GOAT*. Larry Bird distorted the picture.

Interestingly I don't think the effect carries over to individual sports. Sampras gets very little love despite his dominance, probably because everyone knows just how ridiculous the records would be if any of Nadal/Federer/Djokovic had the game to themselves. Hell, their records are already ridiculous.


*Of my viewing lifetime; I can't really compare Wilt etc.

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#142 by LionInAZ // Jul 02, 2022 - 12:32pm

Beg to differ. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar is the bball GOAT. 

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#20 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 28, 2022 - 4:47pm

Lol "only" I guess you could expand it to 8 with 98s league leading YPG and PTD or 91s leading Y/A, AY/A, NY/A, and passer rating (guessing you're excluding 91s 5-5 in 11 games). 

Do those above numbers include the playoffs? 

But it always seemed like coaches feared Youngs mobility and that's what I favor too. I won't fault Young for having worse defenses than Montana too much. 


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#18 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 28, 2022 - 4:33pm

My conclusive statement is that if I needed one quarterback to win me a single game with whatever arbitrarily large stakes you want to put it, I would take prime Joe Montana over anyone else who played the game.  This is in part because of his phenomenal stats, in part because of his unparalleled grace and calm under pressure, and in part because he was the quarterback of my favorite team when I was growing up. That last one might be insurmountable.

I believe that Young got to play in the more thoroughly-functioning version of the West Coast Offense, as first Walsh and then his various discipled tinkered and reshaped it. I also think that he had a better supporting cast for the majority of his time at quarterback than Montana did, at least on offense.  Even if you ignore Young getting Rice for his entire 49ers career while Montana had to do without for six years, I still would take Terrell Owens, John Taylor and Brent Jones over Dwight Clark, Freddie Solomon and Russ Francis.

But you obviously can't discount Young's scrambling ability. He's currently third on the all-time quarterback rushing DYAR list behind Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham.  Nor can you discount his health -- Montana never played a full 16-game season after 1984.  From the point he first earned the 49ers starting job, Montana only started 72% of his team's games.  From the moment Young earned the starting job, he started either 79% or 87%, depending on when you stop counting after his career-ending injury.  That's why I specified "win a single game", because Montana's biggest weakness, ultimately, was his health.  Young was more frequently available, which does matter!


Ultimately, you won't go wrong with either guy; you're talking arguably two of the best 10 quarterbacks to ever play the game going back-to-back.  And speaking of top 10...

Here are the top 10 passers in average DVOA from 1981 to today, once again weighting each year based on pass attempts thrown.  A minimum of 1,500 attempts needed to qualify:

1. Peyton Manning (29.9%)
2. Patrick Mahomes (29.4%)
3. Dan Fouts* (27.7%)
4. Tom Brady (24.3%)
5. Joe Montana* (24.2%)
6. Dan Marino (23.8%)
7. Steve Young (23.6%)
8. Ken Anderson* (22.3%)
9. Drew Brees (21.7%)
10. Aaron Rodgers (19.6%)

We have 95% of Montana's career, so he'll stay in the top 10 and maybe lose a tenth or two if we get back to 1979.  The race between Brady and Montana is interesting, especially as the two players are going in opposite directions in terms of time; Brady's had back-to-back seasons above 24% to take the lead.

We have about 55% of Fouts' career, so he'll likely drop some if we get numbers before 1979, but he was always good even before he was great.  I think he stays in the top 10, and almost certainly at least sticks around in the top 15.

We only have about 33% of Anderson's career, so I don't think he sticks in the top 10; he has some rough years from 1977-1980 coming up that would ding him some.  Still, it was a hell of an early '80s run for him, if he's hanging out in this company.

If you exclude Montana, Fouts and Anderson for not having their entire careers in yet, you allow Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and, uh, Jimmy Garoppolo to slip into the top 10.  Garoppolo just hit the 1,500 play barrier this season, and would be your prime target for "one of these things is not like the others".  If you throw out the active players too, and only go with players whose full careers are now in the system, you add in Chad Pennington, Kurt Warner, Mark Rypien and Trent Green, as we start getting into "these players didn't have a long tail of mediocre play to lower their average DVOA" territory.

Points: 0

#19 by Travis // Jun 28, 2022 - 4:39pm

Montana never played a full 16-game season after 1984.

And Montana only played all 16 games in the 1984 season because of a fluke. Matt Cavanaugh started and took every snap at quarterback against the Eagles because Montana had sore ribs, but Montana still held for placekicks.

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#21 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 28, 2022 - 4:50pm

It's fascinating in retrospect that Montana and Young, combined, played a full season only five times.

Marino, who overlapped both guys, did so 11 times.

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#25 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 28, 2022 - 6:20pm

I wonder where Rodgers ends up if you remove 2015. Nelson getting injured before the season and McCarthy still trying to feature the TE when that TE was Richard Rodgers did not work 616 passes (by FO numbers) and -1.0% DVOA. Doing that after the 2014 MVP (32.2% DVOA) and then the bounce back in 2016 to (18.7% DVOA) still started a lot of questions that weren't answered until 2020 and 2021 happen.

It's really what happened in 2015 that has me so worried about the 2022 pass catchers. As I've mentioned with how easy the schedule looks even Jordan Love could probably get the 2022 team to 9-8, but it will be very interesting to see what Rodgers does. That's the last question he has to answer, what can you do when you don't have your go to receiver? 2015 is the only year he didn't have one and he ends up 17th in DYAR and DVOA. Solid conventional stats and a 10-6 team. But for anyone wanting to nitpick his legacy it's the only question I can't answer.

I wonder about a weighted stat
Even without that 2015 he likely still doesn't get past Young on the top 10 DVOA list and of course you can't just throw out outlier years. I would also be interest in a PFR style wDYAR and maybe wDVOA (though it makes a more sense for DYAR) with only their best year counting full and then the 5% penalty per year as you go down the list. That might change order in the top 10 a bit, though I'm pretty good with DVOA not doing the weighting. Of course Tom would then get to throw out 2 years completely since that method soft caps you at 20 season. It makes me wonder if guys like Favre and Rivers would fare better. Could Roethlisberger sneak into the top 10 in career wDYAR just from longevity? If you did for DVOA you are rewarding the highest peaks and damping off years, of course doing that for something that is a rate stat anyway is weird.

Points: 0

#28 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 28, 2022 - 6:45pm

Dropping Rodgers' 2015 would bump him to 21.4%, which is nice in that it gets him in that 20% club but doesn't actually change his ordinal ranking at all.  And you're right in that once you start cherry-picking outliers, you are getting into some questionable territory about where to draw lines.

And using the PFR weighted system for a percentage runs into issues, as well.  Take Rodgers, for example -- where does that -1.0% season go?  It's 15th out of 17 seasons in total DVOA, so maybe it's 15th?  But his 617 passing plays are the third-most in his career, so maybe it's 3rd?  How do you account for 28.7% DVOA in 30 pass attempts -- high, because it's a high DVOA, or low, because it's a low amount of attempts?  All kindsa potential problems.

I think you're more looking for a way to evaluate a player's prime, which matters more for Green Bay quarterbacks named Favre than it does for quarterbacks named Rodgers.  If you look at just a player's top 10 seasons (and assume 0% seasons for players without 10 years), the top 10 looks like:

1. Manning (40.6%)
2. Brady (34.8%)
3. Young (32.9%)
4. Brees (29.6%)
5. Marino (29.2%)
6. Montana (25.9%)
7. Rodgers (25.7%)
8. Philip Rivers (24.2%)
9. Ben Roethlisberger (21.9%)
10. Tony Romo (20.1%)

Fouts falls to 14th, mostly because he only has 7 seasons in the books; the 'assume 0%' rule to avoid flashes in the pan from hitting the list knocks his DVOA 27.7% down to 19.4%.    Mahomes falls to 27th at 14.7%; Anderson to 32nd at 13.4%

Put that in as a point for Vince's "Young had the best peak he'd ever seen" column!

Points: 0

#29 by HitchikersPie // Jun 28, 2022 - 6:58pm

Obviously less important for the Brady/Manning/Marino/Brees of the world but what would the corresponding rushing DVOAs look like for Young/Rodgers, not their best rush DVOA figures, but the ones aligned with their best passing seasons (since I think we all agree those matter most)

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#31 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 28, 2022 - 7:27pm

Depends a little on how you do it, but Young's rushing DVOA is ~35% in those best passing seasons; Rodgers is at ~26%.

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#30 by theslothook // Jun 28, 2022 - 7:21pm

Geez, I never would have guessed Romo and Big Ben would get into the top 10. I guess I need to re-evaluate my opinions on both. 

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#56 by Will Allen // Jun 29, 2022 - 1:28pm

I keep trying to tell people that playing for the Cowboys after Parcells left, and up until Jerral's son Stephen started muzzling Jerral's worst instincts, was career poison. Romo had taken a bludgeoning of titanic proportions by  the time the Senior Jones was leashed a little. If Romo had been signed as an undrafted free agent by the Ravens, the Ravens likely have a few more championships, and Romo is a 1st ballot Hall of Fame selection. He was terrific.

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#59 by theslothook // Jun 29, 2022 - 2:04pm

I'll need a Cowboys fan to weigh in. I saw Romo plenty as the Cowboys are going to be televised no matter what. Romo ran pretty hot and cold, with a lot of high profile meltdowns ocurring because he was trying to do too much. Perhaps I am overreading some of those and coloring the rest of his career that way. 

Romo had talent on offense, but the team's were usually quite flawed in some form or fashion. As you said, better circumstances and we probably have a different narrative of Romo. But I can't shake that nagging feeling about him that he was just too volatile for my tastes to think of him as an all time great. 

Points: 0

#83 by Will Allen // Jun 29, 2022 - 6:25pm

When ya' have an idiot building the roster and hiring the head coach, a really good, talented qb is going to be volatile. There's been one HOF QB since 1960 who overcame idiot coaching/management for a long period of time. "Not as good as Tarkenton" isn't really criticism.

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#89 by Independent George // Jun 29, 2022 - 7:28pm

I can say as a Giants fan that Romo was terrifyingly good, and I was always worried that the Cowboys would someday build a proper team around him.  

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#81 by JimZipCode // Jun 29, 2022 - 6:19pm

If Romo had been signed as an undrafted free agent by the Ravens, the Ravens likely have a few more championships, and Romo is a 1st ballot Hall of Fame selection. 

If Romo had been signed by Brian Billick's Ravens, he would have failed to develop at all, and would have been promptly out of football.  Best case scenario for him would have been for Billick to cut him coming out of minicamp, so Romo would have had time to latch on with a team that knew a QB prospect when it saw one.

If Romo had signed with John Harbaugh's Ravens, he would have had a shot at the Hall of Fame.  But Romo had already had a season with 36 TD passes by the time the Ravens hired Harbaugh.

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#84 by Will Allen // Jun 29, 2022 - 6:35pm

Billick did fine with Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson. He was not as bad a coach as he is often depicted.

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#88 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 7:17pm

Billick was like Sparky Anderson. He couldn’t identify a prospect, but he could develop someone who was one.

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#93 by JimZipCode // Jun 29, 2022 - 7:45pm

Sure, if Dennis Green is picking out talent and mandating the system for him, Billick can do fine.

Imagine doing poorly with Randall & Randy Moss & Robert Smith & Cris Carter et al.


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#98 by theslothook // Jun 29, 2022 - 8:20pm

In reply to by JimZipCode

I actually think Romo is a high floor, make something out of nothing kind of QB. So in that sense, going to the Ravens with their usual dearth of pass catchers would probably be less of a neckweight to Romo than some other QB.

My impression is Romo's wild explosions were the result of when he had 0 faith in his defense and thus tried to do too much. I doubt that happens with the Ravens. 

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#99 by JimZipCode // Jun 29, 2022 - 8:23pm

Naw, I'm not saying Romo would have done poorly if he had made it into the regular season as the Ravens starter.  I'm saying Billick would not have recognized the talent and would not have given him an opportunity.  Would have cut him without even watching his reps.

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#124 by Pat // Jun 30, 2022 - 11:04am

DVOA's a rate stat. Low usage in many sports will tend to have higher rate stats, be it because of wear & tear or low defensive awareness. Roethlisberger in many years had very low usage, and correspondingly high DVOA. He did have a stellar 2014 but his "top 10" years include those extremely low usage years.

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#38 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 28, 2022 - 9:24pm

Thanks for doing that!

Yeah the weight works for DYAR but not DVOA. I guess what I'm really looking at is just a 1 year / 3 year / 5 year / 10 year / 15 year / Brady career type of peak thing. That might have Warner near that top for best 3 seasons but out for 5. It would help Favre too but he still doesn't get past Rodgers. Much harder to display that in a way that doesn't get too busy.

10 year is a good compromise when you are thinking about all time greats though because you need 10 years at least with the way the NFL is going to get in that convo and if you have 10 great years and 10 meh to bad you still probably can build a case for things like HoF if the best 10 are good enough and you pick up enough post season success or regular season awards.



Packers Qualified Passing DYAR seasons (I need to get rushing in there since it matters some for all of them)
I highlighted the years that a non Rodgers or Favre qualified season got in there. I also highlighted the worst Favre/Rodgers season to show the floors.

I keep saying qualified because 2011 Matt Flynn started the last game of the 15-1, it doesn't matter 2011 season, and had 225 DYAR for it. That would sneak ahead of 93 Favre but still not beat 2017 injury season Rodgers 7 starts. The 2013 injury season Rodgers 9 starts comes in ahead his 2015 and 2017 as well as 7 Brett Favre seasons too. It's pretty clear that Rodgers is better than Favre. Still not sure who I enjoyed watching more though. But take out 2020 and 2021 and that long flip flop pattern they have outside the top 2 Rodgers and then Favre run from 13th - 15th goes on for awhile.

There are 47 qualifying GB QB seasons thanks to injuries and such. But even Lynn Dickey throwing to James Lofton barely pips the top 10 seasons for either Favre or Rodgers. Don Majkowski throwing to Sterling Sharpe barely pips their top 15s. Back to back HoF QB's throws things off!

You do still get 9 different players represented with qualifying seasons in that time. They have had 15 different QBs start a game in the DVOA era.
Favre 253, Rodgers 206, Lynn Dickey 79, Don Majkowski 49, Randy Wright 32, Brett Hundley 9, Anthony Dilweg 7, Mike Tomczak 7, Matt Flynn 6, Jim Zorn 5, David Whitehurst 3, Blair Kiel 2, Scott Tolzien 2, Seneca Wallace 1, Jordan Love 1.
If you want to count Alan Risher who started the 3 replacement games in 87 that's up to you, no DVOA/DYAR for those but he was on the TB roster for all 16 games in 85 so it at least wasn't his only NFL stint.

All pretty insane here's the list

  1. Aaron Rodgers (2011) - 2059
  2. Aaron Rodgers (2020) - 1649
  3. Aaron Rodgers (2014) - 1564
  4. Aaron Rodgers (2021) - 1510
  5. Brett Favre (1995) - 1507
  6. Aaron Rodgers (2012) - 1395
  7. Brett Favre (2007) - 1311
  8. Aaron Rodgers (2010) - 1286
  9. Brett Favre (2004) - 1280
  10. Aaron Rodgers (2016) - 1279
  11. Brett Favre (1997) - 1118
  12. Aaron Rodgers (2009) - 1105
  13. Brett Favre (1996) - 1090
  14. Brett Favre (1994) - 1000
  15. Brett Favre (2001) - 966
  16. Lynn Dickey (1983) - 927
  17. Aaron Rodgers (2018) - 817
  18. Brett Favre (1998) - 813
  19. Aaron Rodgers (2019) - 794
  20. Brett Favre (2000) - 742
  21. Aaron Rodgers (2013) - 740
  22. Brett Favre (1999) - 728
  23. Aaron Rodgers (2008) - 708
  24. Brett Favre (2003) - 654
  25. Don Majkowski (1989) - 618
  26. Brett Favre (2005) - 592
  27. Brett Favre (2002) - 584
  28. Brett Favre (1992) - 553
  29. Aaron Rodgers (2015) - 406
  30. Brett Favre (2006) - 394
  31. Lynn Dickey (1984) - 367
  32. Aaron Rodgers (2017) - 334
  33. Randy Wright (1986) - 319
  34. Brett Favre (1993) - 194
  35. Lynn Dickey (1981) - 178
  36. Don Majkowski (1990) - 78
  37. Mike Tomczak (1991) - 69
  38. Lynn Dickey (1982) - 54
  39. Don Majkowski (1988) - 29
  40. Lynn Dickey (1985) - 11
  41. Don Majkowski (1987) - (-68)
  42. Randy Wright (1987) - (-83)
  43. Matt Flynn (2013) - (-196)
  44. Anthony Dilweg (1990) - (-200)
  45. Brett Hundley (2017) - (-296)
  46. Don Majkowski (1991) - (-422)
  47. Randy Wright (1988) - (-454)

You get to 60 entries if include every player that had a start in that time.

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#41 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 28, 2022 - 10:09pm

Back to back HoF QB's throws things off!

We're only ten years away from Bart Starr!

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#33 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 28, 2022 - 8:02pm

His shoulder got dinged up in the middle of the season (was P vs MN on 11/22). 

But thinking of it, who were his HOFrs? 7 years of Charles Woodson. 3 years of Julius Peppers. 3 years of Favre (and well that clearly isn't super helpful to him directly). And...uh, 1 (and final) year of 37 y.o. Jeff Saturday...maybe? He's eligible but still not in. Man, I don't think any pass catchers are gonna come close either (unless Davante keeps it up but the start wasn't historic so IDK). Maybe CM3? 

2010 was still fun in the end. 

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#42 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 28, 2022 - 11:05pm

How did I forget that injury there were questions in 2016 about if it might still be affecting him.... The injury was week 11 @MN. I tried to get his DYAR numbers from the quick reads but the tables are missing prior to week 7 (bye week for GB) and missing or screwed up pretty hard from week 7 on and the article listings are basically gone for all of 2015 so I had to do URL manipulation for most of what I could get and can't verify that I didn't miss something that way either.

Week 8: -32
Week 9:
Week 10: 22
Week 11 (injury week):
Week 12:
Week 13: -8
Week 14: 62
Week 15: -34
Week 16: -172
Week 17: -57

He had 406 DYAR on the season.

We can account for -209 post injury (that's not with final adjustments so it's not exactly right). I'm guessing the Chicago game week 12 was in the -150 range too.  So that puts him in the 750 - 850 range at the end of week 11. That gives us a pre injury of 75 - 85 DYAR a game and post injury (with a guess at Chicago) of around -60 a game. 

Rodgers has a 75 DYAR/g career average, that shoots up to 80 without 2015.

His only seasons with less than 80 DYAR a game are:
2009: 69.1 - 2nd season as a starter
2018: 51.1 - The McCarthy collapse season
2019: 49.6 - The I'm not buying into this new coaches system season
2017: 47.7 - Injured week 6 @MN, came back week 17, threw 3 INT shut down rest of season  
2008: 44.3 - First year as a starter
2015: 25.4 - The year we are talking about. Looks like a decent for Rodgers season that plummets after the injury.

He has 8 seasons better than 80 and just those 6 below it. I would like to suss out the pre and post injury numbers a bit better but just can't get the data. Someone with premium might be able to get pre and post injury DVOA. DYAR/g and DVOA correlate strongly but it's not quite the same thing but having that would clear it up for sure.

Since I don't have access to game by game DVOA using DYAR/g lets you deal with sitting in week 17/18 that has happened a few times and helps with the missed games in 13 and 17 from injuries.

Oh and the 2013 injury? That was week 8 @Min.

So yes all 3 of his major injuries (and he probably should have shat in 2015) came in games at Minnesota. Just another reasons Packers fans have grown even angrier to the Vikings.

Points: 0

#47 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 29, 2022 - 10:37am

So I don't know how major it was but the first half of the season was 8.66 AY/A, 108.2 passer rating, 19td/3int and the second was 5.93 AY/A, 80.5 passer rating, 12td/5int.

Can't find the exact video where it mightve gotten dinged but Ill have to look again

Points: 0

#27 by Dales // Jun 28, 2022 - 6:38pm

It felt like to beat Montana in big games, you had to kill him. I never got that feeling to the same degree with Young.

That's not to dis Young. Absolutely phenomenal, as everyone knows.

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#108 by Ness // Jun 30, 2022 - 3:03am

Regarding Montana not having a full slate of starts after 1984, I'd have to put an asterisk on the 1990 season. George Seifert held him out against the Saints in the second to the last game of the season due to a sore abdomen. But after that game in which the 49ers lost, George said he probably could have played, but didn't want to risk it with the playoffs around the corner. Joe came back the following week and started in Minnesota against the Vikings some, before Steve Young took over again. 

Points: 0

#77 by JimZipCode // Jun 29, 2022 - 5:55pm

It becomes a fun exercise because it's a bit of the eye of the beholder.
Anyone else wanna make a pick?

Yes, but it's going to be based on soft hand-wavey stuff and psychological impressions.  It's sort of like a Brady-Manning take.  I would want:

  • Young, if I wanted a QB for the next ~ten regular seasons, to build my team around.
  • Montana, if I wanted to make a playoff run starting right now, and win the Super Bowl.


My dad was a Baltimore Colts fan in the 70s, along with our family friends.  He tried to get me into sports, but it was an uphill slog.  He took me to a thrilling Colts-Broncos game at Memorial Stadium 
(This one: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/197810220clt.htm)
that ended with a goal line stand.  Baltimore's Ed Simonini tackled some Bronco on 4th down to seal the win.  Why did Denver not kick a FG for the win?  Fuck if I know, I was 12, but I raved about the finish to Mom when we got home.  By 1981 I had started to watch some football games on my own (not with Dad), hoping that the RB tandem of Curtis Dickey and Randy McMillan could lead the hometown Colts to a good season.  (No.)  

I was just blossoming(?) into a football fan and was watching games on TV, during the 1981 season.  For some reason I was watching when the Niners played the Bengals in week 14 – no one seems to mention that the Super Bowl that year was a rematch, the teams had met in the reg season – and I was dazzled by their passing game.  I'd never seen anything like it.  (I guess no one had.)  I was already a fan of Montana and Walsh before that postseason started.

Imagine you are just starting to become a football fan, exploring an interest that may develop into something: and the first playoffs when you are paying attention are the 1981 playoffs.  I was watching on TV at my dad's house when the Epic In Miami happened.  We screamed at the hook-&-lateral touchdown.  We were blown away by the Kellen Winslow kick-blocks.  It was a where-were-you-when-that-happened moment.  Then the following week, the Freezer Bowl was the early afternoon game, and The Catch was the late afternoon game.  Then that Super Bowl, and the NFL was branded onto my brain.

Just in time to get fully invested before the Mayflower moving fans took the Baltimore Colts away.

I mention all this personal history, to establish that I was paying attention to the Niners (from across the country) from Montana's first season as the full-time starter thru the end of Young's career.

Young was the greater athlete.  Young probably became the more accurate passer of the two – eventually.  At the start of Young's NFL career, the impression of him was similar to the most critical hot-takes of Lamar Jackson now: not really a passer, just a scatter-armed athlete who impersonates a real quarterback, but takes off running at the first sign of trouble. 

Young was a personal project that the great QB guru undertook; and as I recall the prevailing opinion was that this project was too much even for the Doctor Frankenstein who had given us Dan Fouts & Kenny Anderson & Montana.  You could see the appeal: if an athlete like Young could also become a good West Coast Offense passer, then that's a huge asset for an offense.  But it took years. Bill Walsh seemingly broke Young down and rebuilt him back up from scratch.  And when the rebuilt Young finally emerged from the lab, fans were skeptical.  No way that guy could really be as good as Montana.  Probably Young at his peak was better.  But it was a tough sell.

Montana seemed a natural, by contrast.  He was a smooth-moving rollout quarterback, going back to college.  The footwork and fundamentals seemed (from a distance) to come easy for him.  He didn't have to be broken down and rebuilt; his developmental curve was normal.  (Except historically great.)  Montana was the opposite of Fouts & Marino; not a big-armed statue, Montana was small-armed and mobile.  (Jeff Garcia made a similar physical impression.)  But he was unquestionably a passer from day one.  His size and arm-strength needed to be worked around, so he was regarded as a "system quarterback" for a while, but still a passer.   And Montana was the Comeback Kid even in college, so his clutch reputation was part of him even as a young NFL player.

I also think Montana gets extra credit points for “inventing” the West Coast Offense quarterback.  Like a Broadway actor who originates a role.  Young had an offense to play in because Montana proved you could base a whole team on it.  Montana did something that hadn't been done before.  Also it's hard to imagine Walsh getting leash enough to undertake the multi-year rebuild of Young without Montana handling the frontline role.  Even if Young surpassed Montana, we can't help but perceive him as standing on Montana's shoulders, fair or not.

Here's the psychological impressions:

I have a pet theory that the greatest clutch performers in sports (Michael Jordan, Tom Brady et al) have a little bit of psychopath to them.  A little bit of whatever makes for a good sniper.  If Hannibal Lector had to go to the free throw line down one with a second on the clock, he would swish the free throws for the win.  Detached; cold.  The surge of adrenaline hits them differently, doesn't make their hands shake.  But like eager cold.  Jordan wanted to dunk on your head; and then he wanted to let you know about it.  Brady seems to take great joy in methodically picking up 7-yard gains against blitzes, and he smirks sometimes in post-game press conferences.  He jaws some on the field too.

Montana had that "detachment", whatever it is.  There's the famous anecdote of him saying "Hey look!  There's John Candy!" in the huddle during the game-winning drive in the Super Bowl after the 1988 season (second Bengals).

Steve Young seems to be a super nice guy.  He's an engaging and interesting speaker: I love seeing him on PTI, or when he does post-game breakdowns on MNF or whatever.  Insightful.  You listen to just the sounds of him talking, his speech has variation, of pitch and volume and inflection.  He's not a "flat" speaker; his voice goes up & down, he emphasizes words, he uses gestures to punctuate.  Everything about his mannerisms bespeaks a rich inner life.  I bet he'd be an interesting and fun guy to have over for dinner and conversation.  You'd love to have him for a neighbor, yeah?  Have him & his wife over for barbecue, then sit on the back porch drinking expensive scotch and smoking cigars until late into the night, just talking.  And you just know that if your water heater blew out, he'd be right over to lend you his wet vac.  The neighbor you'd be happiest to rely on.

Compare that with when you see Tom Brady speak.  Brady is still, only his mouth and eyes moving.  His tone is fairly flat.  He rarely volunteers anything, he mostly just answers questions.  The recent barbershop and golf appearances have punctured the veneer a little, shown us a little more inner Brady, but he's still somewhat one-dimensional compared to Young.  Jordan is similar, though a little more fiery.  Both of them seem quick to take offense.  Prickly.  Wary.  

Compared with Young, Montana seems a little "flat", more like Brady or Jordan interpersonally.  His speech doesn't have the variation in rhythm / pitch / volume, doesn't have the accompanying gesture, that you get from Young.

Young had a higher ceiling than Montana.  But Young could be rattled.  A hot pass-rush, a couple hits, a tense moment: you could see Young be effected.  His body language would become more urgent, you could see stress on his face, his mechanics would suffer a little.  I am absolutely NOT not saying that Young was soft.  He was tough, he was resilient, he was courageous in the way we say that athletes are courageous.  I'm saying Young was a normal human being.  He could be impacted by the stressors that impact quarterbacks.

Montana had that little bit of psychopath we see in the all-time clutch sports performers.  He was engaged but detached.  He was eager but cold.  I never saw him be impacted by stressors.  I saw him get physically knocked out of games.  Montana missed half a season with disk issues; Jim Burt destroyed Montana on a hit in the '86 playoffs.  But I never saw Montana show any change to body language, facial expression, or throwing mechanics after a defense started banging him around a little. 

I've even seen Tom Brady be impacted by stressors in game.  I mean, it's been a while: but in the 2009 playoffs when Brady was a mere child of 32, the Pats hosted the Ravens in a playoff game, and Brady got banged around in the first quarter.  He got sacked by Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis on the Pats first two drives, and the Ravens scored quick-strike TDs, and Brady was off his game for most of the rest of the day.  3 interceptions!  3.7 yards per attempt!  It was as bad a game as he's ever had.

In contrast, Montana played the 85 Bears, and lost, and he still didn't look rattled.  He got sacked 7 times; who knows how many times he got hit.  He probably was in the ice tub all week after that game.  But he didn't break down mechanically or screw up.  Zero INTs, and a better yards-per than Brady had 24 years later against a lesser defense.  Montana just was not rattle-able.  He was even less rattle-able than Brady, and Brady is off-the-charts in un-rattle-able-ness.  

I want to be clear that, in my pet theory of the "necessary psychopath", the extra quality that I'm ascribing to Jordan-Brady-Montana et al, I see it as something of a deficit.  Young has some element of personality that makes him likable, sympathetic, interesting, empathic, a good conversationalist, a great guy to have as a friend & neighbor etc.  I see these clutch killers as having a deficit in that element.  They have a little bit “less” personality, somehow.  But maybe that aspect of personality is where doubt and vulnerability-to-stress hits.  It can be damn useful to be in-sensitve, sometimes.

I'll be hanging out my amateur psychologist shingle next week.

I am not in general a big believer in Winner Sauce and some guys being clutch while others are chokers.  I think we humans often tend to ascribe explanations to things that are somewhat random. 

Peyton Manning was a choker, and then he was the first QB in history to win a SB with two different teams.   Lamar Jackson was a choker when his Ravens lost consecutive playoff games in 2018 and 2019.  Never mind that in the 4th quarter of that 2018 playoff game Lamar passed for 233 yds and 2 TDs on 12.9 yards-per, and the Ravens probably would have won if Harbaugh had gone to the no-huddle one or two possessions earlier in the game.  In the 2019 playoff game Lamar personally accounted for 500 yds of offense, while his receivers droped seven passes and his spec teams committed penalties that put them in field position holes and his defense let Derrick Henry run for almost 200 yds.  Who choked?

These things tend to be overstated, as everyone who follows this site probably knows.

BUT.  You'd have to be a fool not to acknowledge that, if "clutchness" exists, Tom Brady has it.  Whatever "clutchness" is, it probably has something to do with being able to execute the things you are capable of, at times when the psychological stressors are or should be at their highest.  The surge of adrenaline doesn't make your hand tremble, or whatever.  You can perform up to your ability.  Tom Brady can do that.

Joe Montana had that to a greater degree than Tom Brady does.  Which sounds insane, but I'm convinced it's true.

Here are some career passer ratings for some HOF-type players, broken out by reg-season vs postseason:

Player …………………​​​​​​ ​Reg …​​​​​​... Post
Elway ………………….. 79.9 …... 79.7
Marino …………………. 86.4 …... 77.1
Rodgers ……………… 104.5 …. 100.1
Manning-Indy ……. 94.9 ….  88.4
Manning-Den …... 101.7 …... 85.0
Brees ……………………. 101.5 …... 96.9   (Saints only)
Brady-Pats …………. 97.0 …... 89.8
Brady-Bucs …….... 102.1 …... 94.9
Young  ……………..... 101.4 …... 85.8   (SF only)
Montana ……………... 93.5 …... 98.2   (SF only)

It's not usual for QBs to raise their passer rating in the postseason.  I could "logic" my way to either expectation: on the one hand playoff defenses are better than reg-season defenses, but on the other hand the years you make the playoffs your offenses tend to be better than the years you don't.  Which way would it net out?  Well, it seems to net out in favor of the postseason defenses.  One's passer rating tends to be lower in the postseason.  Maybe when your team is always good, the opposing defense factor becomes stronger.  Tom Brady has been perceived as "clutch" from the moment he sprang forth from the Tuck Rule's brow, but his postseason passer rating is distinctly lower than his reg season.

It's not unheard-of for a QB to have a higher rating in the post than the reg.  Troy Aikman's career postseason passer rating is better than his reg season.  Kurt Warner had higher postseason passer rating than reg-season in his Arizona years (but not in his Rams years).  But it's not usual, either.

Joe Montana's passer rating was higher in the postseason than in the reg-season.  And holy shit does that match the eye test. 

There's a moment in the NFL Films piece on the second Niners-Bengals Super Bowl (1988), where the Bengals score the go-ahead FG with 3:45 on the clock, and on the sideline Sam Wyche says dammit, we left him too much time.  Everyone in America agreed with Wyche in that moment.  There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Montana was going to drive his team down for the winning score.  He was inevitable, like Thanos.

Young's peak was higher, probably.  If I had to chose one QB to build around for the next ten years, I would take Young over Montana, probably.  Young's running ability gave him an extra dimension, he may have been more accurate, he probably was more durable (though the concussions are a question mark), he may have had a bigger arm.  He was one hell of a quarterback.  Young was probably better than his volume stats indicate, since he didn't get the chance to be a full-time starter until age 30.  His career stats are missing three or four prime years.  Which is scary.

When Young finally won the Super Bowl as a starter, the monkey-off-his-back Super Bowl, I remember thinking at the time that their offense ran thru the quarterback more than any Super Bowl -winning offense I'd ever seen.  Young didn't just throw for 325, he was the game's leading rusher with 50 yds.  In the conf championship vs Dallas, Young rushed for 47 yds and a TD.  It wasn't until Lamar Jackson's Ravens that I saw another good offense that was so reliant on the QB doing everything.  Young didn't contribute to the Niners offense, so much as he was it.  Even with Jerry Rice on hand having a(nother) All-Pro season.  I think the world of Steve Young as a QB.

If I had to win the Super Bowl tomorrow to save my life, I would take Montana over Young.  Without hesitation.  I would very strongly consider taking Montana over Brady.  Young's peak may have been higher, but Montana's tendency to perform near his peak in the toughest of situations was ridiculous.  Uncanny.  He was magic.

It's possible that just have trouble engaging the critical, analyst part of my brain where Montana is concerned.  I was 15 or 16 when I started watching him.  I don't usually use the word "magic" in discussing football players.  Maybe Montana resides in a hero-worshipping teenage blind spot for me.  That's possible.  But — goddam, he was impressive.  Young had seasons when he was damn near perfect (seriously: 1994), and still somehow Montana was more impressive.  I'm not sure I can explain it.  But somehow Young was never “inevitable” like Thanos.  Montana absolutely was.

Points: 0

#82 by theslothook // Jun 29, 2022 - 6:19pm

I think you have made Eli Manning's HOF case.

More seriously, I appreciate these posts. I didn't follow the NFL till 2000s, so I adore revists down memory lane by thoughtful, circumspect fans. 

Football, for all its academic nature, connects to us individually in a visceral way sometimes. There are certain games I remember that took on a meaning and ferocity that transcends a typical playoff game.

For me, I will always adore the 06 Colts vs the 06 Ravens; a game where the defense was jacked up to their eyeballs - a bunch of snarling, menacing barbarians that Manning had to survive. The simple narrative of that game is that Manning got bailed out of a bad performance because the Ravens offense had an epic meltdown at the worst possible time. But I prefer the glass half full version(of course I do); that the Colts offense had to slog against an absolute apex version of the Ravens defense to perservere. 

Points: 0

#85 by JimZipCode // Jun 29, 2022 - 6:39pm

I think you have made Eli Manning's HOF case.

God, I hope not.  🙂

Are you referring to the regular-vs-postseason passer rating stuff?  I guess the counter-argument would be, that's the entirety of Eli's HOF case.  Whereas "real" Hall candidates have thick regular-season résumés too.

For me, I will always adore the 06 Colts vs the 06 Ravens

I love you man, but your best sports memories overlap a bit too closely with my most devastatingly terrible sports memories.  🙄

By the way, I've been owing you an email reply for about five months now.  I apologize.  Will get to it.

Points: 0

#107 by theslothook // Jun 30, 2022 - 12:55am

In reply to by JimZipCode

Uve blown my cover. Also exposed me as a non white guy!

Points: 0

#114 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 30, 2022 - 4:23am

You've admitted to being a non white go before on this site. I think most of the long time commenters already knew.

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#125 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 30, 2022 - 11:12am


It's funny, perhaps. Tanier and Barnwell aside, I'm not sure I know what anyone on this site looks like. I don't particularly care. Everyone is who their words are, and the team they root for. Tanier stans for the Eagles. Will is a poor bastard of a Vikings fan. RaiderJoe began to leave us when Al Davis died, and I'm not convinced that was a coincidence. A few of us Lions fans hang out here to remember what football is supposed to look like. A few trogolodytes support the Pats. Etc.

\I don't care if you're a dog.

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#144 by theslothook // Jul 04, 2022 - 12:35am

It was a bad joke aimed at someone I don't respond to anymore. 

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#145 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jul 04, 2022 - 9:40am

But you exposed yourself further defending Gruden because you somehow thought it'd affect you (hopefully you deleted all those implicating emails). Yet here you are still blathering months later, completely unaffected. But hey, you can't have racial bias whatsoever Ajit.  

Points: 0

#86 by Independent George // Jun 29, 2022 - 6:54pm

Likewise, the quintessential Eli game for me was the NFCCG vs the Niners. Critics point out he didn't throw for a single first down in the 2nd half and got bailed out by a freak ST play; I point out that he had Justin Smith riding on his back on every snap in the 2nd half, and got up and did it again over and over without flinching. 

Points: 0

#120 by Travis // Jun 30, 2022 - 8:04am

Eli threw for 7 first downs in the 2nd half + overtime of that NFC Championship; the only Giants' rushing first down of the 2nd half happened right before the winning field goal.

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#90 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 29, 2022 - 7:30pm

I too loved watching Montana and I actually subscribe to the a bit farther along the psychopath spectrum for the best athletes theory. It is still important to note that his legend of post season inevitability was really built around 81 and then 88 - 90. He bombed out of the post season several times and if his 88 - 90 (and his final KC season) hadn't been so transcendent then he would not have a better post season passer rating than regular season. 89 was hugely impressive with the post season. Passer rating with all it's flaws isn't completely worthless and improving on a league leading rating that much over any 3 game span be it regular or post season is still impressive.

I also realize you freely admit where some of your impressions might be coming from and that you are basing things on feelings. As I said I agree that Montana had "something." Random chance still played a huge role in his narrative as it does for all NFL players, but I still walked away from watching him with more of a feeling of having watched someone who was just better than others.

I bolded ratings that lead the league that year. I bolded the SB winning years. 1 and done seasons are in italics. Normal font is a post season with at least 1 win, but no SB. If we are going to use this stat for a narrative we do want some more context around it.

Montana (92.3 -> 95.6.  SF was 93.5 -> 98.2)
81 - 88.4  -> 94.3
83 - 94.6  -> 84.8
84 - 102.9 -> 89.8
85 - 91.3  -> 65.6
86 - 80.7  -> 34.2
87 - 102.1 -> 42.0
88 - 87.9  -> 117.0
89 - 112.4 -> 146.4
90 - 89.0  -> 104.7
93 - 87.4  -> 78.2
94 - 83.6  -> 102.8

So with SF Montana got worse 5 times in the playoffs and better 4 times. He was 1 and 1 with KC. Montana has 1 of his 4 rings in spite of his performance in 84 and may have been the reason the team didn't get the SB 3 other seasons because he under performed. Montana was special, but I think you might actually hurt your own arguments when you bring passer rating into the story, because it doesn't paint quite as clear of a picture. I can point to 85 - 87 and say, that they may have been better off in the playoffs if Montana had been hurt. Well he was hurt in 86 and Kemp only had 1 vs the 2 Montana had so maybe they were. 87 he was also hurt and Young had a 94.7 rating to Montanas 42.0, so again yeah.

Even using DYAR or DVOA is going to lead to the same type of issues. Great players put together 3 or 4 games streaks fairly frequently. They also have the odd bad game here or there sometimes even a couple in a row. SB champions have been carried by defenses or running backs, or an insane WR game or two. I actually think your argument is stronger leaving any stats out of it.

Impressions do matter and anyone who watched Montana, especially from 88 onwards, is going to have one heck of an impression.

To illustrate more since theslothook brought it up in another post where he joking said you made the case for Eli Manning and the hall of fame, lets look at Eli with this too.

Eli (84.1 -> 87.4)
05 - 75.9 -> 35.0  
06 - 77.0 -> 85.6  
07 - 73.9 -> 95.7  
08 - 86.4 -> 40.7  
11 - 92.9 -> 103.3
16 - 86.0 -> 72.1

While Eli did generally improve from regular season to post season, everyone knows Eli was a below average QB for most of his career and barely in the top 10 at his best. You don't want someone using him as an example to counter your arguments. You can counter Eli with something like even in the years they won it all, his magnitude of improvement was still less than Montana, who was also clearly better than Eli in the regular season. But you just don't want Eli in your conversation at all.

I also will say again that if Eli sniffs the HoF I will just be so pissed. I will also laugh at anyone who then tries to make any argument that QB ringz don't matter to the voters because if Eli makes it then QB ringz are worth about 20 times more than anything else they consider and you might as well not even vote on any QB that wins 2 SB, just send them in because it will be hard to be as bad as Eli was and get 2 rings so any other 2 SB winning QB will just have a way way better resume, so why pretend?

Also will echo theslothook again. I too enjoy these deeper fan perspective posts. Thank you for sharing.

Points: 0

#97 by theslothook // Jun 29, 2022 - 8:16pm

Here's the thing. At least if Eli gets in, it will keep the rings loving crowd logically consistent. If they are going to tout this trumped up argument over and over; then Eli is without a doubt a hall of famer. And this isn't fake stat stuff, Eli was legitimately very good in the post season; especially when you adjust for the circumstances. I even disagree with some people about his sb 42 performance against a weak pats defense. He did pretty well even there.

Look I accept arguments for the killer instinct to a point. I think James Harden vs Kobe illustrates that killer instinct is real - as evidenced by how Harden vanishes in every major post season moment whereas Kobe would at least go guns blazing. I do think that Kobe illustrates the dangers of taking that too far. Kobe was an inefficient scorer in the post season no matter how one defines clutch. Being brave enough to take the shots is commendable and you'd rather have that than the alternative, but being brave doesn't equal being smart about it.

Ultimately, Brady may have that killer instinct, but he's won SBs where he underwhelmed and he lost a SB playing out of his mind. Maybe Montana was different in that respect?

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#106 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 29, 2022 - 10:47pm

Of course the hall isn't consistent and that likely will never change. The process is controlled by a committee that keeps changing so of course standards change and who does and doesn't make it changes. Even with hard and fast rules there are going to be outliers and exceptions made. It has certainly screwed up. It certainly under represents many positions because having some sort of stat does make it easier to make an argument and having years of stats shoved in your face psychologically predisposes you to valuing them. Seriously go look at all the research on how just hearing something once makes you more likely to believe it's true the next time you hear it. Propaganda works because the organic matter in our skulls is failable and some psychology is real. That shit happens.

Also to clarify my position on killer instinct, different psychology for athletes, etc. All of it is a spectrum like most traits that every human has. I think pretty much everyone in the NFL is going to be farther along the spectrum towards having that cold calculated ability to focus in on the moment and rise to the occasion than average humans without tipping so far that they become self destructive because of it. So when competing against other people that have that ability it is less likely to shine.

I also think that "clutch" and "hot streaks" are tied to athletes entering flow states (lots of new and cool researching coming out on those). I think it could be interesting in 15 years if research pans out on being able to force yourself into a flow state vs being more naturally inclined to be able to hit them like I think the greatest athletes and musicians can how that might impact perceptions of clutch and choke.

I think a clutch performance as most people think about them that isn't just really luck (i.e. random chance we can't really categorize) would be when someone with that killer instinct gets into and sustains a flow state at the right moment.

I don't think Montana was that different than Brady or anyone else in the NFL. He absolutely had luck, he absolutely bombed out too. Like I said it was really 88-90 where his post seasons were all basically uniformly insane that really built the narrative. Add in being the best regular season passer during one of those and the narrative explodes. As you've mentioned narratives are sticky.

So while I do think Montana had a bit more of that killer instinct than most that wasn't all it was.

More arguments against Montana
I've been tinkering a bit with an "easiest/hardest" potential path to the super bowl. This is different than actual path because the actual path can be made a lot easier if there are some upsets. It should also be usable for every team, which is why 87 SF who didn't make it shows up. I'm using team DVOA since I have that and I trust it as a pretty solid team measure.

For the NFC, 84 SF, 85 CHI, 87 SF, 89 SF, 91 WAS, 96 GB, 99 STL, and 13 SEA are all in the top 10 depending on how I weight various factors with 83 WAS, 94 DAL, 95 SF, 12 SF, 14 SEA, 15 CAR all making appearances depending on how I weight stuff. I'm very early on and I was surprised by how many SF teams showed up with easy paths. I was not surprised that 91 WAS and 85 CHI dominate no matter how I tinker. But then SF was a dominant team by DVOA for many years so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. Even in the 90's with how good DAL was in the "NFC Championship Game is the REAL Super Bowl" era the drop from those 2 giants to the 3rd and 4th teams was often large so they each only really had each other as an obstacle from 92 to 95. That is a potentially easier path then when there are more decent or even great teams in your way or if the team itself is merely good.

So several legendary post seasons are because great teams got an easy path, real or potential, in the post season. It turns out Montana had a few of those and 87 SF had one of the easiest. Then it got even easier when MIN knocked off the 2nd best NFC team in round 1. With a 47.2 DVOA the 87 49ers had the 5th largest gap between the 1st and 2nd best DVOA of any NFC team ever even with NO being 30.7%. 3rd was 15.2% though. The only potential challenge they had was NO and MIN the worst NFC DVOA took them out in the 1st round. Yes Montana was hurt after getting sacked 4 times so you could say he didn't have a chance to lead them to playoff glory but that team had a very easy path to getting to the SB and the AFC was really weak (8.2 average DVOA for their playoff teams, 7th worst every AFC average). So yes I can point to that and say Montana still failed. Had he played better earlier against MIN to get his team a lead maybe the MIN defense plays different and he doesn't get hurt. The injury complicates it but 87 SF has to be one of the biggest playoff disappoints in the DVOA era. That should still count against Montana and if you want you can count it against Young for not being able to bring them back (he tried leading both of their offensive TD drives but didn't do it).

So he failed (sort of) with one of the easiest paths, and then his biggest performances came with some of the easiest paths in the DVOA era. So does he get too much credit even if you give post season extra weight? (and I'm not saying you should).

Of course 81 and 90 were not easy paths for SF so points back in his favor (88 appears to be middle of the road difficulty for them)


I agree with you if you are going to use post season for extra weight I would like some statistical context around it as well. Even simple average potential and actual DVOA "schedule strength" of post season opponents, and gap between your DVOA and 2nd best DVOA help with that. Doing great things matters. But doing great things when the decked is stacked for or against you also matters.

I do keep thinking the FO will do this right, using their actual game predictor DVOA tools that look at more than just team DVOA and even more than just offensives vs defensive DVOA. You could build a win probability path through the playoffs with it and then give pretty quick context to things. Keep it premium because if it works as well as I think it might then it has real value for all the NFL gambling and people should get paid for their IP. But they haven't so in my spare time I've been doing my own hacks at it.

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#126 by JimZipCode // Jun 30, 2022 - 12:03pm

@DisplacedPackerFan #90:
Great comment, entertaining and insightful.

I have one nitpick:

Montana has 1 of his 4 rings in spite of his performance in 84

This comment confused me, bc that wasn't how I remembered the 1984 postseason at all.  I guess you're basing this off Montana's reduced passer rating in this postseason, versus his reg-season stats?  Looking at them, I can see how you'd think that.  But I think that's a gross misread of those stats. 

First, Montana was absolutely scintillating in that Super Bowl, 330 yards on 9½ yards-per-attempt with 3 TDs and no picks.  He also rushed for ~60 yds.  There's no "in spite of" there.

Second, in the conf championship Montana literally faced the '85 Bears before they were the 85 Bears.  (It was calendar 1985; the game took place on Jan 6.)  Wilbur Marshall was just finishing up his rookie season, not yet a full-time starter.  But Richard Dent had 17+ sacks on the season, Danimal Hampton & Steve McMichael were both in double digits, and they had three more players in the 5 to 7 sack range.  Gary Fencik & Leslie Frazier each had 5 INTs, and Todd Bell had 4.  Mike Singletary & Hampton were named All-Pro; Dent & Bell made the Pro Bowl.  That was a great defense on the verge of becoming historic.

Montana's stat line for the game doesn't look impressive.  Only 53% completions, 2 INTs, more INTs than TDs.  But he led 5 scoring drives, his yards-per was up close to 7, he threw a TD, chipped in some rushing value, and the Niners won by a 4-scores margin.  That was a good performance, not an "in spite of" performance.

Third, in the first round game Montana had 300 yards and 3 TDs on 64% completions, with yards-per approaching 8, while adding 60 rushing yards.  This also was a good performance, not an "in spite of" performance.  The 3 INTs hurt the ol' passer rating; but the opponent was pretty decent.  Bill Belichick was coaching a Giants defense with Lawrence Taylor & Harry Carson & Carl Banks on it.  Jim Burt had 7 sacks from the Nose on the season (he would crush Montana two years later in the playoffs).  Corner Mark Haynes made All-Pro that year (seven INTs).

Montana threw 2 first-quarter TD passes, to Dwight Clark & Russ Francis, and the Niners controlled the whole game.  He completed passes to seven different receivers during the game.  They added another TD before the half on a Montana pass to Freddie Soloman, and the Giants never threatened in the second half.  This was another very good game by Montana.

The Niners win of the 1984 Super Bowl was absolutely not “in spite of” Montana's performance.  It was 100% behind and on-the-back-of his performance.  He faced a pair of very tough defenses in the playoffs, which dilutes his efficiency stats for the postseason.  When he got to the Super Bowl he faced a more pedestrian (less “physical”) defense, which was usually the case for NFC teams in those years, and he got to showcase statistically how well he'd really been playing the whole time.

(And then they drafted Jerry Rice.  How absurd is that?)

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#130 by HitchikersPie // Jun 30, 2022 - 12:54pm

In reply to by JimZipCode

That looks like a terrible Super Bowl run compared to this guy called "1989 Joe Montana"

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#131 by JimZipCode // Jun 30, 2022 - 2:08pm

True.  🙂

I once heard (or more likely, read) Mike Holmgren telling a fascinating story.  He took over as Niners OC for the '89 season, and he faced the question, “How on earth do I make Joe Montana better?  How do I challenge him?”

Holmgren put together a supercut of every INT Montana had thrown in the NFL, and they sat down and watched them, broke them down.  They observed a couple things.  Holmgren didn't give it all away in this interview, but one thing he mentioned was that almost half the INTs had come on one play call.  It was a play that Montana liked; Holmgren said it appealed to Montana's “gambling” nature.  They took it out.  Just removed the play completely from their arsenal.

Montana was probably already in the HOF before that, but he went on to have his greatest statistical season.  Just a crazy good season. 

Bill Walsh was working as a color commentator on NBC broadcasts that season, working with Dick Enberg.  And wow, listening to Bill Walsh talk about the game for ~3 hours every week was educational as hell.  They didn't do any Niners games (NBC had the games where an AFC team was on the road: the games CBS has now.  Fox has what CBS used to); but I remember at one point Enberg prompted Walsh with something about the Niners, and Walsh made it a point to say:

“I have never seen Montana play any better than he's playing now.”  Which was – well it was self-evidently true; but it was also kinda generous.  Walsh had cultivated that “genius” reputation, but here he was specifically calling out, hey I'm not there and Montana is better than ever.  He was explicitly saying I can't take credit for that, Montana's just great, and the staff is doing great work too.  It was a nice comment.

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#133 by HitchikersPie // Jun 30, 2022 - 5:34pm

In reply to by JimZipCode

I can't remember but I think it's in Holmgren's "A Football Life" episode, one of the best ones, another cool moment was him yelling at Steve Young for not throwing over the middle, because Steve wasn't tall enough to see over his linemen, and Holmgren just told him to throw there anyway, and then Steve Young talks about being giddy running back to the sideline afterwards to tell Holmgren that he threw it blind and it worked anyway!

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#138 by Ness // Jun 30, 2022 - 8:14pm

In reply to by JimZipCode

Actually Bill did do a few 49ers game in the rare times an AFC team went to play San Francisco. In 1989 when the 49ers hosted the Patriots Enberg and Walsh were on the call. Same thing later that year when the 49ers hosted the Bills.

In 1990 he was also with Dick Enberg when the 49ers hosted the Steelers, and he was also with Charlie Jones when the 49ers hosted the Browns.

In 1991 Enberg and Walsh did the Chiefs/49ers game.  

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#123 by JimZipCode // Jun 30, 2022 - 10:42am

Yeah: you can't get to where he was without being somewhat psycho.  This thing of reading the character of guys I have never and will never meet, isn't terribly precise.


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#110 by Ness // Jun 30, 2022 - 3:16am

Interesting take. I probably wouldn't use the term "psychopath" to describe Montana personally. He's not the kind of guy like Brady or Jordan who is going to scream at teammates on the sidelines he thinks aren't pulling their weight or yell at the official after every snap. Joe was just "Joe Cool" 95% of the time. I think on telecast I saw him get really irked at a teammate like once. I think it was the 1985 wild card game against the Giants where all the 49ers receivers were dropping everything that day. There is a video on YouTube with Joe talking about aspects of his career a few years back. He was basically saying that he if tried to be a tough guy that was in everyone's face trying to fire them up, it would have come across as ridiculous, and not-believable. That just wasn't his persona. 

Speaking of that 1985 playoff game, you eluded to the notion that the 49ers may have been better off without him. If you go back and watch that game, it was the receivers that just completely nuked the offense. They dropped 9 balls on the day, and Craig alone dropped 4 in the 4th quarter. Nothing Montana can do when the receivers are dropping everything. Rice also had a fumble. Montana was bad in 1987 (although he was benched, and who knows what would have happened if he was allowed to keep playing as he almost pulled off a nutty comeback against the Redskins in the 83' championship), and he was bad against the Giants in 1986. 1990 he wasn't as bad, but like in 1986 got knocked out. Can't see any of those squads being better if he didn't play in those games though other than the Vikings contest. That's the only one where Joe just didn't look like himself, and was going up against an inferior squad. 

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#127 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 30, 2022 - 12:21pm

Interesting take. I probably wouldn't use the term "psychopath" to describe Montana personally. He's not the kind of guy like Brady or Jordan who is going to scream at teammates on the sidelines he thinks aren't pulling their weight or yell at the official after every snap. Joe was just "Joe Cool" 95% of the time.

If we're going by the psychopath theory, Montana is much more Hannibal Lector than Tony Montana.

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#136 by t.d. // Jun 30, 2022 - 7:25pm

I remember what might've been Young's first start for San Francisco, a Monday Nght Foorball game in '87 against the Bears, where both teams came into the game 10-2 and it was for home field advantage throughout the playoffs;  growing up in Chicago rooting for the Bears there was a frustrating sense after 1985 that that team should've gotten more than one Super Bowl from that collection of talent, but that Ditka wasn't really quite on par with the Walsh/Parcells/Gibbs's of the world;  it was Walter's last year, and we were still in the running, and we got lucky- Montana would miss the Monday night showdown with huge stakes.  With Young, we never knew what hit us, they ran over us with a truck, beat us 41-0, and it was basically over for the Bears in the '80s (Montana had never done anything like that to us, and that great defense never had the sheen of invincibility in my eyes again- we got to another NFC championship against the 49ers the next year, but it felt like we'd already been exposed and never had a chance- up through the '87 season, we'd gone 4 years without losing a game McMahon had started, still the longest winning streak for a qb ever, but even he couldn't have kept up with that)

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#11 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 28, 2022 - 3:54pm

Did Montana have more 4QC and GWDs because he was better at them, or because he let teams hang around more than Young did?

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#119 by Ness // Jun 30, 2022 - 7:32am

Probably just better at them? Steve Young doesn't have a legacy as a comeback king for a reason. Obviously he has had some. But Joe had more than a couple of comebacks up against seemingly insurmountable circumstances which I never saw Young do, especially against good teams down a few scores. 

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#26 by coremill // Jun 28, 2022 - 6:24pm

For DYAR totals it surely matters that Young missed nearly four full seasons backing up Montana, even though in 1987 and 1989 Young put up even better regular season stats than Montana did.  Montana got to play every time he was healthy; Young didn't. 

Walsh considered trading Montana after the 1987 season but was talked out it by his staff.  The rumored trade destinations for Montana were San Diego or Denver.  A fun what-if is what Montana's and Young's careers, and the NFL, would have looked like had Walsh pulled the trigger.  Especially a Denver trade (as then they would have had to turn around and trade Elway). 

Also, while Young got his whole 49ers tenure with Rice, Montana had Walsh and then Mike Holmgren running the offense his entire tenure.  Young had Holmgren and then Mike Shanahan through 1994, but then Marc Trestman in 95-96 and Steve Mariucci/Marty Mornhinweg from in 97-98.  

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#109 by Dan // Jun 30, 2022 - 3:08am

This is all just regular season DYAR, right? I'd bet that Montana's postseason DYAR advantage would be enough to close that 912 DYAR SF gap & take the lead (though not enough to open up even that size gap in the other direction).

When are we going to get a new article on postseason QB stats, now that the data go back to 1981? And will it include DYAR?

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#113 by HitchikersPie // Jun 30, 2022 - 4:08am

Definitely looking forward to when we get an update for this stuff.

I'm currently using this article from after the 2013 playoffs and anything I can find on the 'Quick Reads' Articles to round out QB stats. Having a regular season/playoff database to draw from would be significantly more convenient, and fun to see how Joe Montana compares to Brady and Peyton!

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#132 by Dan // Jun 30, 2022 - 2:54pm

There have been some updates, like this one with 1986-2017 playoff passing DVOA. That's the most recent/thorough one I found with a quick google search. It doesn't have DYAR or rushing stats, though you can approximately convert passing DVOA into passing DYAR with a little math.

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#134 by HitchikersPie // Jun 30, 2022 - 5:37pm

Oooh what is the conversion?


I'm assuming replacement is like -5 to -15% and then multiply by number of plays and some other constant, what do you find works best for an estimate?

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#140 by Dan // Jun 30, 2022 - 10:28pm

I just ran some numbers to find out, and this gets you pretty close:

DYAR = (6.4 * DVOA + 0.72) * passing plays

This means that an average quarterback is worth 0.72 yards per play above a replacement level quarterback, and each 10% of DVOA is worth 0.64 yards per play of value, where these yards are DYAR "yard equivalents".

This is based on the 2021 & 1981 qualifying regular season QBs, and has r=0.9985. The relationship does seem to change a bit with era - the correlation is over 0.999 if I fit each season separately - but this should be good enough for most purposes.

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#7 by mehllageman56 // Jun 28, 2022 - 3:10pm

Surprised the Sack Exchange did not rank higher in Defensive DVOA.  Weighted DVOA is -16.1% for them, good for 2nd in the league.  Perhaps the highest variance in the NFL has something to do with that.

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#10 by Aaron Schatz // Jun 28, 2022 - 3:53pm

The Jets were fourth in net yards per play and fifth in success rate but only seventh in DVOA. The Jets are second in VOA without opponent adjustments. It's complicated, the Jets had an average schedule based on simple DVOA of opponents but the way the down/play combinations worked out they end up taking a little bit of a hit.

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#16 by mehllageman56 // Jun 28, 2022 - 4:07pm

In reply to by Aaron Schatz

Oh, I'm not arguing at all, just a little surprised.  Probably because I didn't watch that much of the first three games, or even the tie against Miami.  And if anyone finds that final quarter in the 31-0 blowout, I'm sure the DVOA will go down even further.

Also surprised that Todd's showing in 1981 is worse than 1982 according to DVOA, but then he played Baltimore and New England twice.

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#17 by Travis // Jun 28, 2022 - 4:15pm

The Bills offense in the missing quarter was basically Joe Ferguson throwing an interception, then Ferguson sitting so former Jets exile Matt Robinson could hand off a bunch of times in garbage time while the offensive line committed a bunch of holding penalties. It wouldn't hurt the Jets' defensive DVOA.

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#12 by Boots Day // Jun 28, 2022 - 3:54pm

If you're wondering which Eagles were at the drug party before the playoff game against the Giants, Wally Henry muffed not one but two kickoffs, so there's a good place to start. 

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#129 by JSap // Jun 30, 2022 - 12:32pm

This is what I came to the comments section to mention - as a fairly young kid watching my first season of the Eagles that year, all I can remember is being behind by a lot early (I am assuming 14-0) after those two early muffed kickoffs (I could have the details wrong), and being crushed by that loss.  I don't know if it makes it better or worse to know that it might have been at least partly caused by drug parties...

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#13 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 28, 2022 - 3:55pm

I think we ran this not so long ago, but now that we're got a few years of crossover between SRS-estimated DVOA and actual DVOA, which teams departed the most from their projected DVOA, and do you have any hypotheses as to why?

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#23 by pm // Jun 28, 2022 - 5:29pm

Now that 1981 is complete, FootballOutsiders has over 40 seasons of DVOA data which is an amazing accomplish. 40% of the NFL's 100 year history has been documented.

I would love to see an update to the Football Outsiders list of best QB/RB/TE that was ran on the 10 year anniversary. I think we are on 20 years now so an update is due now that we have the whole careers of Marino/Elway/Young/Montana along with the modern QB's.

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#24 by HitchikersPie // Jun 28, 2022 - 5:53pm

FO was founded July '03 per google so maybe they're saving it for their 20th anniversary. Plus there's always more data to add...

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#43 by Aaron Schatz // Jun 29, 2022 - 9:49am

Just doing these quickly, going all the way back to 1981 through 2021:

  • DVOA to wins (actually winning *percentage*): .860
  • VOAf (no opponent adjustments and only fumbles lost penalized) to wins: .883
  • Offensive DVOA to wins: .674
  • Defensive DVOA to wins: .-.534
  • Special Teams DVOA to wins: .243

Looking at it by decade, correlation of DVOA to wins:

  • 1981-1990: .849
  • 1991-2000: .861
  • 2001-2010: .861
  • 2011-2021: .868

And this is sort of interesting. Correlation of offense vs. defense by decade:

  • 1981-1990: .605 offense, -.590 defense
  • 1991-2000: .664 offense, -.527 defense
  • 2001-2010: .704 offense, -.535 defense
  • 2011-2021: .703 offense, -.492 defense

It actually kind of makes sense that defense was more important and offense less important in the 80s. I bet we would find that to be even more true in the 70s.

One more set. Correlation to NEXT year's winning percentage:

  • DVOA: .421
  • Wins: .371

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#44 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 9:53am

I wonder if the 20 yard cap on DYAR starts to become a liability as we get into the 70s and ADoT skyrockets.

Y/C today is about 11 yards. In 1980 it was about 12.5 yards. In 1970 it was about 13 yards. In 1960 it was about 14.5!

The variance was larger, too. Today a peak is about 12.5. In 1980 it was about 14. In 1970, 16.5. In 1960, the Steelers were north of 18. Only the 49ers were under 12.

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#48 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 29, 2022 - 11:25am

  • Interesting DVOA isnt the most correlated but ive heard the same thing when trying to adjust EPA by defense as well.
  • ST doesn't matter. 
  • No decrease in correlation over the decades is interesting too
  • Offense has been the top driver for awhile, even if it's become more important over the years.

What's it for pass (d) and rush (d)? If you don't mind me asking. 

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#50 by Independent George // Jun 29, 2022 - 12:03pm

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

The offensive correlation makes sense in the same way that starting pitchers tend to dominate single-game impact in baseball: they're the ones that controlling the ball. By and large, defenses are reactive rather than proactive, and turnovers are high impact/low frequency events. But the further you go back, the more common turnovers become - not just INTs, but also fumble rates - so the changing correlation over time also makes intuitive sense.  

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#51 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 29, 2022 - 12:42pm

But all I still hear is defense wins championships. And for the most part that just isn't true (unless you really twist it and start adding qualifiers).

And going further back doesn't seem to change that fact, even if it meant more back in the day.

Same for running the ball. Yards per pass have looooooong been higher than yards per rush. Even when you include and assume all sacks are the QBs fault, which the casual fans certainly does not accept as truth. So you'd think they'd have an even easier time accepting but man, tradition is hard to kill, even with facts. Maybe DVOA will help them in this case.

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#53 by mehllageman56 // Jun 29, 2022 - 12:55pm

Parcells once said, "Defense gives you the chance to win."  At least that's what I think the quote was.  Obviously, you have to outscore the other team to win a game, and usually it's the offense that scores the points.

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#55 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 29, 2022 - 1:08pm

But that, of course, is more fair. 

It's just interesting to me some old adages just not being true, even around the time of origin, and how a couple outliers can keep the statement going for DECADES despite more and more evidence showing how dubious it is.

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#61 by KnotMe // Jun 29, 2022 - 2:33pm

Offence and Defence DVOA values of SB winners and losers would be would be interesting actually.  I wonder if the average rank has changed over time. (i.e. with the gave being more offence focused now) 

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#70 by KnotMe // Jun 29, 2022 - 4:15pm

I would be interesting to look at O and D DVOA rankings for SB winners. 

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#94 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 29, 2022 - 7:46pm

Dang. Ill put it together when I get back from dinner. No need to demand it twice!

Or maybe the next day, but not sure whether to include playoffs or not. 

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#121 by KnotMe // Jun 30, 2022 - 10:05am

Lol. Sorry. I had two replies in different tabs and forgot to combine them. Don't worry about, no need to do anything. 

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#137 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 30, 2022 - 8:11pm

But I'll just stick with the regular season to keep it even in terms of GP, and it's the first thing that pops up anyway. Lol.

  • 21 LAR: #8 O 10.6% and #5 D -8.5%
  • 20 TB: #3 O 19.8% and #5 D -14.6%
  • 19 KC: #3 O 23.5% and #14 D -2.6%
  • 18 NE: #5 O 14.7% and #19 D 1.4%
  • 17 PHI: #7 O 10.5% and #5 D -12.2%
  • 16 NE: #2 O 21.2% and #16 D -1.6%
  • 15 DEN: #24 O -8.5% and #1 D -25.2%
  • 14 NE: #6 O 13.9% and #12 D -2.0%
  • 13 SEA: #7 O 10.1% and #1 D -25.1%
  • 12 BAL: #13 O 3.0% and #19 D 3.1%
  • 11 NYG: #7 O 10.3% and #21 D 3.3%
  • 10 GB: #7 O 11.9% and #2 D -14.0%
  • 09 NO: #2 O 24.7% and #12 D -4.0%
  • 08 PIT: #21 O -1.2% and #1 D -29.2%
  • 07 NYG: #18 O -1.1% and #14 D -3.3%
  • 06 IND: #1 O 29.4% and #26 D 7.8%
  • 05 PIT: #8 O 12.3% and #3 D -13.3%
  • 04 NE: #3 O 24.5% and #6 D -10.4%
  • 03 NE: #14 O 1.4% and #2 D -18.8%
  • 02 TB: #20 O -3.5% and #1 D -31.2%
  • 01 NE: #11 O 3.6% and #13 D -1.0%
  • 00 BAL: #22 O -8.1% and #2 D -23.6%
  • 99 STL: #4 O 18.1% and #3 D-17.8%
  • 98 DEN: #1 O 35.0% and #21 D 5.1%
  • 97 DEN: #2 O 20.2% and #10 D -5.5%
  • 96 GB: #3 O 16.1% and #1 D -19.6%
  • 95 DAL: #1 O 30.1% and #13 D 1.4%
  • 94 SF: #1 O 19.5% and #7 D -7.4%
  • 93 DAL: #2 O 22.3% and #17 D 1.3%
  • 92 DAL: #2 O 24.9% and #7 D -8.6%
  • 91 WAS: #1 O 27.5% and #3 D -20.4%
  • 90 NYG: #7 O 10.2% and #4 D -13.7%
  • 89 SF: #1 O 26.4% and #5 D -11.1%
  • 88 SF: #4 O 13.5% and #4 D -10.4%
  • 87 WAS: #6 O 8.4% and #16 D 0.3%
  • 86 NYG: #9 O 4.3% and #3 D -14.4%
  • 85 CHI: #4 O 15.7% and #1 D -33.3%
  • 84 SF: #2 O 23.8% and #8 D -4.4%
  • 83 LARD: #8 O 7.0% and #2 D -13.4%
  • 82 WAS: #7 O 5.9% and #15 D -1.0%
  • 81 SF: #5 O 8.7% and #8 D -7.1%

Notes and musings:

  • 23 (generously, 24 if you have to pick '88 SF, side further from 0) out of 41 teams leaned offense...ordinally.
  • Although I guess the only team that this applies to is the most recent one, where the Rams were higher than average on O than they were D but still came up short in the rankings. 
  • 5 bad (negative) offenses. All from 2000 (BAL) to 2015 (DEN). Weird.
  • 8 bad (neg...erm positive?) defenses. All from 1987 (WAS) to 2018 (NE). Fascinating. 
  • Both the worst offense to win (2015 Denvers 24th ranked O) and the worst defense to win (2006 Indys 26th ranked D) were Peyton led lol 
  • Only the 2nd of Bradys rings was defense leaning.
  • IDK, still seems like offense no matter how you split it up. 

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#139 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 30, 2022 - 9:59pm

‘06 Indy needs an asterisk. Bob Sanders was hurt for most of the year and they simply could not stop the run. He came back late in the year and suddenly they could again. They went from a terrible defense to an above-average one.

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#141 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jul 01, 2022 - 5:27pm

Peyton, Jordan Norwood, etc missed a few games in 15 too.

Such is football. 

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#60 by Independent George // Jun 29, 2022 - 2:24pm

It appears that defense did win championships (or, at least, were more important) in the 80s, and probably moreso in the 70s, too. And the folks who grew up on football in the 70s and 80s are now the respected commentators in their 50s and 60s. Progress is made as it always is: one funeral at a time. I'd also note that the successful young coaches of today don't follow this prescription, probably much to the chagrin of those same elder commentators.

Interestingly, the most successful defensive coaches of recent memory - Parcells and Belichick - also tended to field some pretty good offenses, while the Jeff Fishers and Buddy Ryans of the world tended to flame out rather suddenly. The '85 Bears had the #4 DVOA; I think the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Bucs were the last truly *bad* offenses to win a title. The Harbaughs' Ravens & Niners teams tended to be at least average on offense, and the Steelers were genuinely good with Roethlisberger. 

My personal thesis is that the championship formula is to be at least average in everything, and great in at least one thing. Being average means seldom being at a severe matchup disadvantage, and being great at one thing means that you sometimes create at least one mismatch in your favor. 

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#62 by Travis // Jun 29, 2022 - 2:33pm

I think the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Bucs were the last truly *bad* offenses to win a title.

The 2015 Broncos had a worse offensive DVOA than either of those teams.

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#63 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 2:43pm

Interestingly, the most successful defensive coaches of recent memory - Parcells and Belichick - also tended to field some pretty good offenses

This is true of Tomlin and Dungy as well.

The ideal tandem may be a high-performance DC w/ an all-pro+ QB.

Belichick/Brady, Tomlin/Roethlisberger, and Dungy-Fox/Manning all worked pretty well.

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#64 by KnotMe // Jun 29, 2022 - 2:50pm

Well, I think you need an all pro+QB anyway. Mahomes+Reid would be the pair to watch for a possible counter example. 

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#69 by KnotMe // Jun 29, 2022 - 4:14pm

I went with a 2 ring threshold as, well, lots of guys won it all once with a HOF qb. Rodger and McCarthy would be another pair. 

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#71 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 4:30pm

Payton and Brees also had a lot of 7-9 bullshit.

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#75 by Independent George // Jun 29, 2022 - 5:46pm

This is interesting. Anecdotally, it seems like pairing a franchise QB with a good defensive HC that can bring that unit up to mediocrity while putting most of the resources into offense works out better than the inverse. On the other hand, I'm not sure there are many good examples of the inverse - I'm not at all convinced how good Brian Billick or Jon Gruden really were, and how much of those Super Bowl runs can really be attributed to their coaching the offense up. I think this says more about the importance of the QB than it does about the HC or defense in general.

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#78 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 5:56pm

A decent number of offensive guys have taken sub-All-Pros to the Super Bowl, but generally haven't won it.

Fox won a SB with pure defense. Payton with pure offense. Eagles-Patriots was basically a clash of two all-O teams. Arguably Ravens-49ers was all-D.

The inversion was probably the 2021 Rams, who won with McVay and Aaron Donald.

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#91 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 29, 2022 - 7:37pm

But the correlations say the opposite, in every decade.

Coaches nowadays don't in practice necessarily but they sure preach it (have downplay the role of analytics is a part of it). 

And indeed not being bad at anything is good and being great at something is...great but that's still too broad in terms of team building. 

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#95 by Independent George // Jun 29, 2022 - 7:49pm

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Am I reading the correlations wrong, or are offense and defensive correlation effectively the same for 1981-1990? 

1981-1990: .605 offense, -.590 defense
1991-2000: .664 offense, -.527 defense
2001-2010: .704 offense, -.535 defense
2011-2021: .703 offense, -.492 defense

I understand the negative in this case is because a negative defensive DVOA (that is, good defense = more wins) is correlated with more wins, rather than it being a negative correlation (worse defense = more wins). Offense becomes significantly more important starting in the 90s, but in the 80s they were at roughly 0.6. 

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#96 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 29, 2022 - 8:08pm

So why would one win championships?

If anything it's the opposite. Even if just slight. There's certainly no reason to swing all the way to the other side, that's for sure.

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#67 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 3:20pm

It's interesting to go back and watch games from the 80s, and realize how dangerous it was to be a QB.

Montana and Young played for a juggernaut, and more often than not, they didn't make it all the way through a year. The NFC Norris involved defenses decking QBs 5 seconds after the ball was out. Sometimes 5 seconds after the whistle. There's a reason McMahon only survived intact for one year of the Bears' peak. And why Tampa, Green Bay, Detroit, and Minnesota cycled through QBs like they were loose change.

For 50 years of the NFL, it was hard to build around a QB, because it was too easy for the opposing defenses to just literally cripple that guy.

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#76 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 29, 2022 - 5:51pm

I think this is something that even I forget when considering why Favre's ironman status got so much legend. QBs never missing starts was rare and while Favre did benefit from rule changes he started playing at a time when it was just common for QBs to get hit on every play without consequence.

Even under modern rules it's rare to find a QB that doesn't miss at least a half season at some point in their career to a major injury. Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger all have lost seasons. Rodgers has 2 separate half season misses (OK one was was 7 and the other was 9 games so not quite technically). Brees managed to mostly avoid it but still had a couple of seasons at the beginning and end of the career where he missed 5 games. So even with all the protections it's still brutal.

But as you say I remember that it wasn't completely uncommon to worry about who the 4th or 5th QB on the roster was because the starter and back-up were both out. The 3rd stringer was starting and there were weird rules about emergency QBs and such. But you go to any franchise page on PFR, look at single season passing leaders, sort it by year and see how frequent it was for 2, 3, 4, or 5 QBs to have a start for a team in the 80's and earlier and it gets pretty insane. Though the 60s - mid 90's tend to be the worst.

Of course for NFC teams even modern Chicago still has QB stater patterns like everyone did in the past but that's not just because of injury. Which is true for other teams in the past. Coaches repeatedly tried to make QB tandems a thing even though it never really worked.

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#79 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 5:59pm

Brees managed to mostly avoid it but still had a couple of seasons at the beginning and end of the career where he missed 5 games. So even with all the protections it's still brutal.

Brees also left SD due to concerns about his injured shoulder. He didn't miss any games because of it, but two franchises passed on him because they were concerned it was career-ending.

I always marveled at how the Redskins kept winning titles with a QB who wasn't the guy they opened the season with.

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#92 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 29, 2022 - 7:44pm

The pre 21st century GOAT was...a QB (Montana). Or at least on the offensive side of the ball (was Rice solidified pre or post 2k?)

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#45 by RickD // Jun 29, 2022 - 9:57am

"Instead, the regular-season DVOA title belongs to the defending NFC champions, the Philadelphia Eagles."

I think if we go back far enough in time, we'll see that DVOA thinks the Philadelphia Eagles won the Battle of Trafalgar.

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#46 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 10:00am

We may discover that DVOA favored the Eagles over Cain.

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#49 by Independent George // Jun 29, 2022 - 11:58am

People have been asking why the Eagles didn't just go directly to Mordor since the Third Age. 

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#54 by Mike B. In Va // Jun 29, 2022 - 1:06pm

DVOA is sure the Eagles are responsible for the inflationary period of the early universe.

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#104 by dbostedo // Jun 29, 2022 - 9:44pm

I just want to say that the above 4 posts might be the greatest combined post and responses I've ever seen on here. 

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#52 by mansteel // Jun 29, 2022 - 12:47pm

I know fumbles are less common these days, but I didn't realize the huge discrepancy when comparing them to yesteryear until this week's FO content. In 1981, nine RBs had at least 9 fumbles. In 2021, only one RB had more than 3 (Antonio Gibson with 5). Less comprehensively but more viscerally, I just watched a replay of a NYG/Dal game from 1971 that someone linked to on these boards recently (thanks!) and watched the teams combine for 7 fumbles...in the first 20 minutes (Dallas recovered 6...the lucky bastards).

Some possible explanations of why things have changed so much:

--more awareness that fumbles are really bad (which surely was as obvious then as it is now?)

--better technique of holding the ball securely

--before instant replay, if a guy fumbled while going to the ground, it was a fumble. Now, of course, it's looked at frame-by-frame with the consequence that many of these plays are determined not to be fumbles.

Anybody have any other suggestions?


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#57 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 29, 2022 - 1:42pm

One theory I've heard, and I don't know how much stock to put into it, is that players are more aware now of the possibility of being replaced -- larger rosters and more backfield committees mean that coaches have a quicker trigger on replacing running backs and redistributing touches today than they did in, say, the 1970s.  So if you had fumble problems back then, you would have time to work it out on the field. But if you have fumble problems today, you're probably riding the pine.  That leads both to better ball-security backs getting more playing time, and more focus and awareness for ball carriers on ball security.

I think you've also hit the nail on the head with better technique -- lots more running backs carrying the ball high and tight today than there were in even the 1980s.  Might explain why fumbles per touch for running backs have dropped, but fumbles on, say, quarterback sacks haven't really.

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#66 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 3:16pm

I think partially teams didn't care as much about turnovers because the other team was going to turn the ball over, too.

You had a decent chance of getting the ball back, or they would return the favor later in the game.

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#73 by Independent George // Jun 29, 2022 - 5:38pm

I've never been satisfied with that explanation. Just because the other team turns it over doesn't mean it's any less bad when your own team turns it over. Turnover differential has always been recognized as important.

I think much of it has to do with rules enforcement, and just how many things used to be legal on defense (head shots, leading with the helmet, late hits, head slap, etc.). Most people agree offensive numbers need to be adjusted for inflation, but the flip side is that defensive evaluation should likewise be adjusted for deflation. Can you imagine what Aaron Donald could do if head slaps were still legal? Or if OL weren't allowed to extend their arms and hold between the numbers?

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#80 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 29, 2022 - 6:10pm

Can you imagine what Aaron Donald could do if head slaps were still legal? Or if OL weren't allowed to extend their arms and hold between the numbers?

I think we'd run the ball a lot more.

It's an interesting observation that in the NBA this year, the conference finalists included 3 of the top 4 teams in turnover rate (higher is bad), and the Celtics were top-half. Basically, all four decided the benefits of a pass-heavy, flowing offense were worth the extra risk of a turnover. NBA turnover rate per possession is about the same as NFL turnover rate per drive. 

I'm curious if, in the more ground-and-pound days, you occasionally risked a turnover for a valuable chunk play, because chunk plays were hard to safely generate.

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#116 by Scott P. // Jun 30, 2022 - 5:09am

Passing in the 70s was much more heave-and-pray than today's land of the checkdown. The idea was to take advantage of the defense keying to the line of scrimmage by going for a 30 or 40-yard bomb, which might work, or might end in a turnover, but even in that case would be no worse than a punt.

It's interesting to revisit the 1970s Avalon Hill game Football Strategy. You picked one of three play styles, each of which had a card with a matrix of offensive and defensive plays. The player on defense picked one of 10 defensive calls from a set of cards, putting it face down, the offensive player picked one 20 offensive plays, and you cross-referenced the result.

It was, and is, quite fun, but there really is no way to run a modern style with what the game gives you. There was a Ball Control offense sheet, which got lots of yards on the ground, but was almost impossible to pass with (35% was a great completion percentage), there was an Aerial offense sheet, which was full of 25 - 40 yard bombs, and only a handful of short pass options, along with lots of INTs, and a "Pro-Style" offensive sheet, which was pretty much in between, but with more fumbles than the Ball Control sheet.

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#128 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 30, 2022 - 12:29pm

I've got another 70s game -- Tudor's NFL Strategy, where each player picks a play and then a spring-loaded  flicker bead determines which of a few possible outcomes can work.  It's a fun way to waste a few hours, but the really cool thing is that it comes with a surprisingly hefty manual explaining football strategy of the time for board game nerds who don't watch football.  1970s strategy, at that, which is a fun little time capsule

Maybe that's an idea for next offseason -- playing some NFL Strategy or AFPA or something while answering questions.

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#58 by Will Allen // Jun 29, 2022 - 1:50pm

Before replay review, refs really were really slow with the whistles and that did cause lots of fumbles, but it's also true that a lot guys paid very little attention to ball security, until even the dumb coaches began to grasp the impact of turnovers.

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#72 by t.d. // Jun 29, 2022 - 5:29pm

50+ dvoa passing against?  thats like every game they were facing 2007 Brady or 2004 Manning;  ridiculous

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#118 by Ness // Jun 30, 2022 - 7:23am

Thanks for doing this, and congratulations for making it all the way to 1981. That's as far as I personally wanted FO to be able to get to, as 1981 to 2005 is essentially my NFL wheelhouse. It was great to see FO's statistical take on Montana's entire career as a starter, and the 49ers as a team in general. As time went on I had the notion that the 1981 squad wasn't anything remarkable as far as all time champs are concerned, but they were a lot further down as a DVOA unit than I thought they'd be. That's fine though, because they got the wins they needed to, and even beat the AFC champs twice that year, once in Cincinnati, and the other of course in SB16. I saw elsewhere in the comments the Montana/Young debate, and I still go Montana all day. He just had too many memorable hallmark moments in his career that I couldn't put Young over him even if data hints that he was the more efficient player. I still think there is a human element to sports that can't necessarily be quantified, yet still exists. Montana just had that key ingredient. 

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#146 by SportsPhan8 // Jul 14, 2022 - 7:22am


Can you please post the DVOA z-scores for the top teams from ‘81-84? And do any of those four teams crack the top 25 list?

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