1988 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

1988 DVOA Ratings and Commentary
1988 DVOA Ratings and Commentary
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Aaron Schatz

On one side, a team coming off a losing season that finally put it all together thanks to the NFL's most powerful offense, led by a quarterback winning his first league MVP award.

On the other side, the NFL's dominant franchise, led by the league's best-respected head coach and possibly the greatest quarterback of all-time.

No, I'm not talking about the Super Bowl LI matchup of the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots this Sunday. I'm talking about the Super Bowl XXIII matchup of the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers at the end of the 1988 season. The similarities between the two Super Bowls are just too good to ignore now that Football Outsiders is finally ready to unveil the long-awaited DVOA ratings from 1986 through 1988.

Hopefully, we'll get another great close Super Bowl just like the one that followed the 1988 season. San Francisco won that game 20-16, and if you want to watch Super Bowl XXIII, it's one of the full games the NFL put on YouTube a few months ago.

The Super Bowl wasn't the only reason why the 1988 and 2016 seasons were similar. Just as in 2016, the 1988 season had no historically dominant teams according to DVOA. 1988 and 2016 are two of only five seasons where the No. 1 team in DVOA wasn't able to get above 28%. In 1988, this lack of great teams extended to win-loss records as well as DVOA ratings. No team was better than 12-4, and Dallas had the worst record in the NFL at 3-13. (We'll get to the Cowboys a little further down in the article.)

The Bengals and 49ers finished 1-2 in DVOA in 1988, and they were very close together. Trying to figure out which team was really better is hampered by the fact that each team had a colossal loss in the final two weeks of the season. In Week 15, the 11-4 Bengals went to Houston and got slaughtered 41-6. That put the 49ers in first place in DVOA, for one week... until San Francisco ended its season with a 38-16 home loss to the Rams. There seems to be a bit of historical confusion about how hard the 49ers were trying that day. They had clinched their playoff position, and a loss would put the Rams in the playoffs instead of the New York Giants. But all indications are that the 49ers played to win on that day, with starting Joe Montana and the rest of their stars. The Rams sacked Montana eight times before Bill Walsh pulled him for Steve Young.

The Vikings and Rams were right behind the Bengals and 49ers in the NFL's top four, and then there was a big drop to the rest of the league. The Rams and 49ers gave us what we didn't have this year, well-balanced teams at the top of the league. Both teams ranked in the top five for both offensive and defensive DVOA. But Cincinnati was an offensive juggernaut, and Minnesota a defensive force.

The Bengals had 30.7% offensive DVOA. That's not among the top ratings in DVOA history, but it is more than 10 percentage points ahead of second-place Miami. (The Dolphins were also dead last on defense, the story of Dan Marino's entire career.) MVP Boomer Esiason led the NFL with 37.5% passing DVOA; he was second in passing DYAR behind Marino, but only because Marino threw nearly 200 more passes. However, the Bengals offense really revolved around the running attack of halfback James Brooks and fullback/dancing fool Ickey Woods. Brooks and Woods each averaged over five yards per carry with over 180 carries apiece. They ranked first and second in both rushing DYAR and rushing DVOA. There were a number of games during the season where opponents were accused of faking injuries in order to slow down Cincinnati's no-huddle offense.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's defensive DVOA of -26.5% was twice as good as any other defense in the NFL. The gap between Minnesota and No. 2 Philadelphia was larger than the gap between Philadelphia and No. 19 Indianapolis. The Vikings are now the eighth-best defense of the DVOA era, knocking last year's Broncos down to ninth. Their pass defense DVOA of -38.4% trails only the 2002 Buccaneers and the 1991 Eagles as the third-best ever measured. The Vikings allowed a touchdown or less in six different games including four straight games near the end of the regular season. They had three defensive All-Pros: defensive tackle Keith Millard, cornerback Carl Lee, and safety Joey Browner. Their top pass rusher was Chris Doleman. Floyd Peters was the defensive coordinator, and his staff had a couple of assistants you know well: defensive backs coach Pete Carroll and linebackers coach Monte Kiffin.

* * * * *

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings for 1988, measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league averaged based on situation and opponent in order to determine value over average. (Explained further here.)

DVOA represents adjusted statistics. OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted for opponent quality and to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season. NON-ADJ TOTAL VOA does not include these adjustments. DVOA is a better indicator of team quality. VOA is a better indicator of actual wins. WEIGHTED DVOA gives a stronger consideration to games late in the season. Remember that, as always, defense is better when it is NEGATIVE.

1 CIN 27.5% 29.0% 12-4 30.7% 1 0.2% 14 -3.0% 24
2 SF 26.6% 25.6% 10-6 12.8% 4 -11.4% 3 2.3% 7
3 MIN 24.9% 29.2% 11-5 -0.5% 17 -26.5% 1 -1.0% 17
4 LARM 23.8% 23.0% 10-6 16.4% 3 -8.9% 5 -1.5% 20
5 PHI 13.9% 13.7% 10-6 3.9% 10 -11.5% 2 -1.5% 21
6 CHI 13.8% 12.8% 12-4 4.5% 9 -10.8% 4 -1.5% 19
7 BUF 13.1% 14.5% 12-4 6.4% 6 -3.1% 12 3.7% 5
8 NYJ 13.1% 13.8% 8-7-1 6.1% 7 -0.2% 13 6.9% 1
9 NYG 9.7% 12.2% 10-6 0.5% 16 -7.8% 7 1.3% 11
10 HOIL 8.1% 12.0% 10-6 3.0% 11 -3.8% 10 1.3% 12
11 CLE1 7.2% 4.3% 10-6 -2.9% 19 -8.5% 6 1.7% 10
12 NO 4.3% 2.0% 10-6 1.0% 14 1.1% 15 4.4% 4
13 IND 1.3% 5.9% 9-7 2.6% 12 3.3% 19 2.0% 8
14 MIA -0.3% 0.2% 6-10 18.3% 2 18.4% 28 -0.2% 16
15 WAS -1.1% -8.2% 7-9 5.0% 8 1.9% 16 -4.3% 25
16 PHX -6.2% -8.1% 7-9 6.7% 5 6.1% 22 -6.8% 28
17 PIT -6.5% -13.2% 5-11 -8.4% 22 -3.5% 11 -1.5% 22
18 DAL -7.9% -16.7% 3-13 0.6% 15 9.0% 24 0.6% 14
19 SEA -8.9% -4.3% 9-7 -2.0% 18 12.3% 26 5.4% 3
20 NE -9.2% -10.8% 9-7 -16.5% 26 -5.6% 8 1.7% 9
21 LARD -11.0% -3.6% 7-9 -13.1% 25 4.1% 20 6.1% 2
22 TB -11.3% -16.8% 5-11 -7.5% 20 2.5% 17 -1.2% 18
23 DEN -14.6% -4.6% 8-8 1.5% 13 13.7% 27 -2.3% 23
24 ATL -15.5% -15.0% 5-11 -12.8% 24 2.6% 18 -0.1% 15
25 SD -15.9% -10.7% 6-10 -8.9% 23 8.0% 23 1.0% 13
26 GB -22.4% -24.8% 4-12 -20.9% 27 -4.1% 9 -5.7% 27
27 KC -24.1% -21.9% 4-11-1 -8.4% 21 10.6% 25 -5.1% 26
28 DET -26.9% -29.5% 4-12 -24.6% 28 4.6% 21 2.3% 6
  • ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles.
  • WEIGHTED DVOA is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.
  • 1988 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#28, most negative).
  • PYTHAGOREAN WINS represent a projection of the team's expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed.
  • VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#28, highest variance).

RANK 1988
1 CIN 27.5% 12-4 11.3 2 29.3% 2 -1.1% 17 11.0 4 16.5% 20
2 SF 26.6% 10-6 11.9 1 30.1% 1 -0.7% 16 10.2 6 8.4% 5
3 MIN 24.9% 11-5 10.9 3 26.6% 3 -3.2% 24 12.7 1 26.2% 27
4 LARM 23.8% 10-6 10.3 6 19.9% 4 -2.4% 22 11.1 3 11.8% 10
5 PHI 13.9% 10-6 9.9 7 14.7% 7 2.9% 7 9.7 7 14.2% 18
6 CHI 13.8% 12-4 10.5 4 14.5% 8 -1.1% 18 11.2 2 13.9% 17
7 BUF 13.1% 12-4 10.5 5 10.6% 9 1.0% 11 10.9 5 8.7% 6
8 NYJ 13.1% 8-7-1 9.8 8 10.2% 10 -1.2% 19 8.5 13 18.8% 21
9 NYG 9.7% 10-6 9.4 9 15.5% 6 -1.8% 21 9.6 8 10.3% 8
10 HOIL 8.1% 10-6 9.0 11 19.3% 5 1.0% 10 9.5 9 26.4% 28
11 CLE1 7.2% 10-6 9.2 10 6.0% 11 1.5% 8 8.5 12 15.6% 19
12 NO 4.3% 10-6 8.6 12 2.9% 12 0.4% 15 8.9 11 7.1% 2
13 IND 1.3% 9-7 7.6 15 2.4% 13 1.5% 9 9.1 10 3.5% 1
14 MIA -0.3% 6-10 8.2 14 2.1% 14 1.0% 12 6.3 20 12.2% 12
RANK 1988
15 WAS -1.1% 7-9 8.2 13 -7.4% 18 4.8% 3 6.9 16 10.7% 9
16 PHX -6.2% 7-9 7.2 18 -11.6% 22 5.1% 2 6.6 19 13.3% 16
17 PIT -6.5% 5-11 7.4 17 -4.2% 15 3.5% 6 5.8 22 12.0% 11
18 DAL -7.9% 3-13 6.7 20 -11.3% 21 6.0% 1 4.7 28 13.2% 15
19 SEA -8.9% 9-7 7.4 16 -7.7% 19 -6.7% 28 8.3 14 19.0% 22
20 NE -9.2% 9-7 6.9 19 -6.1% 17 4.5% 4 6.8 17 23.9% 25
21 LARD -11.0% 7-9 6.5 22 -14.3% 24 -2.5% 23 6.8 18 12.4% 13
22 TB -11.3% 5-11 5.6 24 -5.5% 16 -1.2% 20 5.3 25 8.4% 4
23 DEN -14.6% 8-8 6.5 21 -18.7% 25 -5.5% 27 7.3 15 24.0% 26
24 ATL -15.5% 5-11 5.3 25 -13.6% 23 0.9% 13 5.7 23 21.4% 23
25 SD -15.9% 6-10 5.9 23 -8.4% 20 -3.5% 26 4.8 27 12.9% 14
26 GB -22.4% 4-12 5.1 26 -22.2% 27 0.4% 14 5.6 24 21.7% 24
27 KC -24.1% 4-11-1 4.4 27 -21.1% 26 -3.5% 25 5.9 21 7.3% 3
28 DET -26.9% 4-12 3.1 28 -29.4% 28 3.6% 5 4.9 26 9.2% 7

DVOA for 1988 is now listed in the stats pages:

Before going any further, I should mention that going back to the '80s means we're now going to the period of my life when I paid very little attention to the NFL. I have no memory of this stuff, so if I make mistake in recounting some of these historical items, I apologize in advance.

In addition, there are a lot of problems with the play-by-play of these games from 30 years ago. I have to give massive, ridiculous props to Jeremy Snyder for all the hard work he's done transcibing past seasons, and he's also done a ton of work trying to make the play-by-play make sense with the NFL's historical stat totals. At some point during this process, after the Super Bowl, I'll write an article about some of the clear stat errors we've discovered in the NFL's past, and why it is so difficult to make old play-by-play logs agree with currently listed career totals. If numbers here disagree with official NFL stats for 1988, that's a big reason why.

When breaking down the gamebooks from 1988, I did not just notice how much less detail there was in the play-by-play back then. I also noticed the really dramatic differences between the NFL game today and the NFL game back in 1988.

The most obvious difference is in completion rates for quarterbacks, which are dramatically higher in today's offenses. Only two qualifying quarterbacks in 1988 managed to complete 60 percent of their passes: Minnesota's Wade Wilson at 61.4 percent, and Cleveland's Bernie Kosar at 60.2 percent. By comparison, 26 different quarterbacks in 2016 threw at least 200 passes and completed 60 percent of them. Five different quarterbacks in 1988 managed to throw over 200 passes without completing even half of them. Nobody did that in 2016. In fact, nobody has done it in the NFL since Tim Tebow in 2011.

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More stringent rules on pass defense are one of the reasons for higher completion rates, but we also see those rules play out in the dramatic expansion of Defensive Pass Interference calls. Randall Cunningham was the beneficiary of 11 DPI calls in 1988. No other quarterback had more than eight. In the 2016 season, 12 different quarterbacks drew more than eight DPI flags. Derek Carr led the league with 19 and didn't even play the entire season.

Fumbles were much more prevalent 30 years ago, particularly on running plays. Thurman Thomas fumbled nine different times on carries in 1988, and 12 different backs fumbled at least five times on carries. This year, three backs tied for the league lead with five fumbles on carries. Fifty different running backs had at least 100 carries in 1988, and those backs averaged 3.4 fumbles apiece. This year, running backs with at least 100 carries averaged half that: 1.7 fumbles apiece. The number of running backs with that many carries is another difference. In 1988, 28 teams led to 50 backs with at least 100 carries. In 2016, with four more teams, only 42 backs had at least 100 carries.

Field goal numbers from 1988 look like people were playing a completely different sport. In 1988, kickers went 8-of-37 on field goals from 52 yards or more. That's worse than 25 percent. By comparison, this year kickers tried 105 field goals of 52 yards or more and hit 59 of them. The leaguewide field goal rate for 1988 was only 72 percent on kicks of any length, which demonstrates how the Los Angeles Raiders got completely screwed that season. Somehow, opponent kickers hit 27 of 29 field goals against the Raiders (93 percent) with misses from 39 and 51 yards.

The quick kick was still a real strategy back in the late '80s. John Elway and Randall Cunningham each punted three times that season. Against that awesome Vikings defense, Buddy Ryan had Cunningham punt on second-and-18 from the Eagles 14. Yes, second down, The punt went out of bounds 58 yards downfield at the Minnesota 28, which is a pretty good flip of field position, but still... second down?

The Eagles finished first in the NFC East, which wasn't as strong a division as it was this past year but was still pretty strong. The NFC East was so strong that the Dallas Cowboys could finish 18th in DVOA and still finish just 3-13. That's right, in the season that got Tom Landry fired, the Cowboys weren't really as bad as people thought. The Cowboys played the league's most difficult schedule by DVOA and went 1-5 in games decided by a field goal or less. It worked out for them in the long run, since that 3-13 record got them the No. 1 pick and Troy Aikman to play quarterback. But the Cowboys' reasonable DVOA in 1988 is particularly surprising given that they were by far the worst team the next season, 1-15 and dead last with -36.2% DVOA.

The flipside of the Cowboys would be all the teams of the 1988 AFC West, which may have been one of the worst divisions in NFL history. Seattle won its first-ever division title at 9-7, but they ranked 19th in DVOA and only outscored opponents by 10 total points during the season. But the Seahawks were pretty clearly the best team in that division. The other four teams all were outscored by their opponents. The Raiders ranked 21st in DVOA, the Broncos 23rd, the Chargers 25th, and the Chiefs 27th. Remember, that's out of 28 teams, not 32. Although the Raiders and Seahawks finished second and third in special teams DVOA, all five AFC West teams were among the bottom 10 teams in defensive DVOA. The following year, the Denver Broncos turned things around significantly and ranked fourth in both overall DVOA and defensive DVOA.

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

Quarterbacks: As noted above, Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason were 1-2 in passing DYAR. Jim Everett of the Rams, Bobby Hebert of the Saints, and Warren Moon of the Oilers rounded out the top five. Moon was actually second behind Esiason with 32.7% passing DVOA, but missed five games due to injury. Green Bay's Randy Wright was the worst quarterback of the year, and was benched at midseason for a 1987 10th-round pick named Don Majkowski.

Wright managed just four touchdown passes with 13 picks, but he's not the player whose bad year will really jump out at you when you look at the quarterback stats page. No, that would be Vinny Testaverde, who in his second NFL season threw a ridiculous 35 interceptions. (We list 34 on the 1988 quarterbacks page because we categorized one as a Hail Mary.) No quarterback in modern NFL history has ever surpassed this interception total. To find a quarterback with more picks, you need to go back to the early days of the AFL, when George Blanda had 42 with the 1962 Houston Oilers. Testaverde had at least three interceptions in more games (5) than he had zero interceptions (3). He had six interceptions in a 49-20 loss to Minnesota in Week 8.

Running Backs: There were some great running backs in 1988 for teams other than the Cincinnati Bengals. Two others had over 300 rushing DYAR, Roger Craig of the 49ers and Earl Ferrell of the Cardinals. Eric Dickerson, in his first full year for Indianapolis, led the league in rushing yardage but finished fifth in rushing DYAR. Earnest Byner of Cleveland and Kelvin Bryant of Washington tied for the league in receiving DYAR. Byner was a much better receiver than runner in 1988, ranking 48th out of 50 qualified running backs in rushing DYAR. Kansas City's Paul Palmer was in last place; he averaged 3.4 yards per carry against an easy schedule, and that's without deliberately dropping a few balls on the carpet.

One shocking result from the 1988 ratings is just how bad Bo Jackson comes out in his second NFL season. It makes some sense when you look at the standard numbers, because Jackson averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry in his other three seasons but 4.3 yards per carry in 1988. Jackson also played a very easy set of defenses, so he drops from 28th in rushing VOA to 44th in rushing DVOA. Jackson also has poor receiving numbers, somehow catching less than half of his 19 listed targets.

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Another strange combination of ratings belongs to the Minnesota running back committee. Starting halfback Darrin Nelson only had 112 carries in 13 games, but the Vikings had five different running backs with at least 40 carries. The top two, Nelson and Allen Rice, rank near the bottom in rushing DYAR for qualified running backs. (Rice averaged less than three yards per carry.) But the next two, Rick Fenney and starting fullback Alfred Anderson, rank 1-2 in rushing DYAR for non-qualifying backs, i.e. fewer than 100 carries. The fifth back, D.J. Dozier, also was much better than Nelson and Rice on a per-play basis.

Wide Receivers: Cincinnati's Eddie Brown had a carer year with 1,273 yards and 9 touchdowns, and that put him No. 1 in receiving DVOA and far ahead of the rest of the league with 412 receiving DYAR. The gap between Brown and No. 2 Ricky Sanders of Washington was larger than the gap between Sanders and No. 8 Anthony Carter of Minnesota. Denver's Mark Jackson also had a fantastic partial season. He ranked second in receiving DVOA and ended up seventh in DYAR despite playing only 12 games with only four starts.

Also, check out the proto-Wes Welker, Jim Jensen of the Miami Dolphins. Catch rate for these old seasons is somewhat questionable, since some official scorers did not always mark the intended receiver on an incomplete pass. (We're going to look into adjusting for this at some point.) Nonetheless, Jensen's listed 77 percent catch rate stands out. No other wide receiver with at least 20 targets was higher than 70 percent. Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, with the same official scorer for home games, were at 57 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

Right now, we have San Diego rookie Quinn Early and Atlanta's Floyd Dixon as the least valuable receivers of 1988. They each had a catch rate below 40 percent. But when it comes to high risk and high reward, they can't hold a candle to former track star Willie Gault of the Raiders. Gault averaged 24.5 yards per reception but had an absurd 24 percent catch rate. That's a new record for the lowest catch rate with over 50 pass targets, breaking 29 percent by Stephen Baker of the 1992 Giants.

Tight Ends: Mickey Shuler of the Jets and Steve Jordan of the Vikings were neck-and-neck at the top of the league. Pete Metzelaars of the Bills led all qualifying tight ends in receiving DVOA, but with only 45 pass targets. Keith Jackson, who led all NFL tight ends with 869 yards, was surprisingly near the bottom of the DVOA ratings, partly because he also lapped all other tight ends with 134 targets. Randall Cunningham was probably relying on Jackson a little bit too much.

It's also worth noting the excellent Los Angeles Rams two-tight end set, with two guys I don't remember in the slightest: Damone Johnson (seventh in DYAR) and Pete Holohan (fourth in DYAR).

Here are a few more fun tidbits about the 1988 season:

  • Enjoy this video where the original ESPN Sunday Night Football crew explains a replay decision and for some reason mentions the assistant to the official in the replay booth, some guy named Roger Goodell.
  • In Week 2, the Phoenix Cardinals ran a fake field goal with three seconds left in the first half, from the Dallas 24. It did not score.
  • Washington did that one better in Week 14 by running a fake field goal from the Philadelphia 27 with 11 seconds left in the game, losing by two points. It was an incomplete pass, which left Washington enough time to hit a 44-yard field goal and actually win. But what on earth was the point of the fake rather than just attempting the field goal to begin with?
  • In Week 12, the Eagles beat the Giants in overtime even though the Giants blocked Luis Zendejas' 31-yard field goal on the play. Clyde Simmons, a defensive lineman playing on the Eagles' field goal team, picked up the loose ball and ran it 15 yards for the winning touchdown.
  • In Week 9 against the Broncos, the Colts used defensive back Willie Tullis (a college quarterback) to run some option plays from the wishbone.
  • In the Week 16 win over the Raiders that gave them the AFC West title, the Seahawks ran two flea-flicker plays in the same quarter. Dave Krieg hit Brian Blades for a 21-yard gain on the first one and a 55-yard gain on the second one.
  • Somehow, Buffalo opponents went 10-for-10 calling the coin toss, including two playoff games.
  • Here's a great article by Dr. Z from the Sports Illustrated 1988 NFL preview issue, talking about problems with quarterback play around that time.
  • For the ultimate nostalgia trip, Jeremy Snyder actually put together a Year in Quotes from 1988. You can read it all here.

Housekeeping notes:

  • We'll be unveiling 1987 sometime in February and then 1986 sometime in early March. For 1987, we'll be doing most of our tables as if 1987 were a 12-game season without the Week 4-6 strikebreaker games. We will also publish additional tables to list the stats from only those three games.
  • Once these years are all posted, we can get started on 1984 and 1985. We have all of 1985 except for one quarter: the first quarter of the Week 6 Colts-Broncos game has an unreadable mimeograph in the official gamebooks in both the Broncos and NFL archives. If we can't find a record of it elsewhere or a videotape, we'll need to piece it back together based on game stats, but we'll do our best. As for 1984, there are two games where we do not have any gamebook or video: Week 13 Bengals-Falcons and Week 14 Bills-Colts. If you know anything about a tape of one of these games, please let us know.
  • At some point soon, we'll also add "LAST YEAR" rankings to the 1989 team stats pages. I also need to re-do 1989 special teams because there are a few issues with teams being marked in the wrong type of stadium for some reason. We'll get that fixed up in the next month or so.
  • The 1988 stats do not yet appear in the FO Premium database. 1986-1988 will all be added into the database together in March once we've published the basic tables for all three seasons. We also need to fix some things in the database to make for smoother searches for teams that have moved, especially since going back to 1987 adds the St. Louis Cardinals (STLC) and going forward to 2017 adds the Los Angeles Chargers (LACH).
  • The 1989-1990 DVOA ratings were never added to the FO player pages, so at some point this offseason there will be a gigantic upload that will add 1986-1990 player DVOA and DYAR to all the player pages, along with 2016 DVOA and DYAR, and also create new player pages for those players who retired prior to 1991. (This is why some players do not have their names in the 1988 player stats tables link to player pages.)


113 comments, Last at 06 Feb 2017, 2:26pm

#1 by Bryan Knowles // Jan 31, 2017 - 1:09am

When I first saw these stats, I was surprised to see the 49ers so high -- my memory had the '88 49ers as the weakest of their Super Bowl teams.

Technically, that's still true -- it's below '89 and '94, and 26.6% isn't ~that~ high in the grand scheme of things -- but it shows you how high the 49ers' standards were in the '80s that a 10-6 season, even a slightly unlucky one, was considered somewhat disappointing.

The Chornicle's archives from the time are filled with "what's wrong with the 49ers?" articles. Hot Take '80s would have been filled with calls for Montana to sit and Steve Young take over -- can you imagine 1980s Skip Bayless, in his Miami Vice pastel suit, yelling about how Montana was washed up? Frightening.

Points: 0

#7 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 31, 2017 - 5:47am

The '88 49ers were a relative shadow of the '87 team that went 13-2 and then screwed up in the playoffs against Minnesota and the the '89 team went 14-2 and dominated the playoffs.

As Scott says further down the comments they were 6-5 at one point with Walsh flipping between Montana and Young at QB - partly due to injuries. Two great memories from those 49ers teams stick out - Young 40+ yd TD scramble against the Vikings in regular season to secure uncertain victory and Roger Craig having a career day against the Rams with some spin moves and high-stepping TDs.

Worth remembering that going into '88, Washington were the defending SB champions and being touted as Team of the Decade with their two Lombardi's and another appearance. Then the 49ers totally changed the course of history with their near threepeat.

Points: 0

#11 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 7:35am

That Young scramble was just the culminating event in the Vikings blowing a game they had solidly in hand. Absent that, the Vikings, I think, get HFA, and perhaps they play a competitive game in the playoffs, even with Wade Freakin'Wilson at qb

Points: 0

#100 by andrew // Feb 02, 2017 - 12:13pm

That was the peak of the vikings in that era. I know the 87 team made it further in the playoffs, with the great upset of the 49ers, but talentwise '88 was their peak, and the year they should have broken through. They swept the bears that year, Wade Wilson had his best year, they were loaded everywhere except RB (which is what lead to the trade that ended that team). Oddly if you look at the RB stats, the starter (Allen) had a horrible DVOA, but the next two backups, Alfred Anderson and DJ Dozier had good numbers, just not a lot of carries.

In addition to that loss to the Niners they should have won they also lost a puzzler to the Dolphins, and... got somehow swept by a 4-12 Packers team. They got blown out by them at home, and then late in the season, after they had wrestled the lead from the Bears, they lost on a cold day in Lambeau where it didn't look like they wanted to be on the field, 18-6. That cost them the division and homefield once out of the wild card games.

Prior to that though they had an awesome run, culminating in a four game stretch that was the most dominant I have ever seen from the Vikings (having not witnessed personally the 1969 season).

Prior to the Niners loss the offense had awoken, scoring 49 vs the Bucs and 44 vs the Lions.

Then the defense solidified and they won in succession:

43-3 vs Cowboys. Very bad Dallas team, 3-13 at end of Tom Landry's reign. Cowboys had 7 turnovers.
12-3 vs Colts a colts team on a 5 game winning streak.
23-0 vs Lions in an absolute defensive beatdown. Lions gained 60 yards.
45-3 vs Saints who were 9-4 at the time (10-6 overall), having beaten Denver 42-0 two weeks before. Bobby Hebert was 5-20 for 37 yards and a pick six, so they put in Dave Wilson in the second half who also threw a pick six and was 5-17.

this left the team at 10-4. At the time the Bears were 11-3 following a loss to the LA Rams, but the Vikings knew they had the Bears coming to their place for the season finale, which combined with their earlier win over the Bears would be enough... and then they fell flat vs the Packers, the Bears won their remaining games before the finale which meant they had already clinched the division before that final game which the Vikings did win (were up big, then almost blew it and won by a point, this before 2PC were a thing in the NFL). The Bears only lost four games in the regular season, two to the Vikings, one to the Rams and one out of the blue to a mediocre (3-5 at the time, finished 9-7) Patriots team whom the vikes had crushed 36-6. Maybe it was payback for 85...

Points: 0

#14 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 31, 2017 - 8:48am

Interesting question, really.

If you broke it up instead into 1981-1991, which team was better -- Washington or SF? They only ran into each twice in the playoffs -- 1983 and 1990 -- going 1-1 head to head.

Points: 0

#63 by t.d. // Jan 31, 2017 - 5:04pm

The 49ers were the proto-Patriots: there were a few key holdovers from '81, but there was a ton of roster turnover by the '87-'90 run, followed by even more turnover by the time Young got the monkey off his back. Hell, by then they'd already turned over at quarterback and head coach. I guess the Cowboys and Dolphins had done it before, but the 49ers run at the top was something else. Gibbs winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks is flashier, but there was maybe better continuity overall with the Redskins over their run (of course the 49ers run was about twice as long)

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#65 by t.d. // Jan 31, 2017 - 5:46pm

The '83 playoff game was a doozy- the Redskins set the record for points in a season, they'd gone 14-2 with two one-point losses, and they led 21-0 entering the fourth. Montana brought the 49ers all the way back, only to lose on a field goal at the end. The 49ers weren't THE 49ERS yet- they'd won a Super Bowl a couple of years earlier, but the Redskins had sort of passed them as the top dogs of the NFC (defending Super Bowl champs, and it had looked like the season was building to a Washington-Dallas showdown- they'd met in week 15 tied at 12-2 for the best record in the league, and that Dallas team had been to 3 straight NFC championship games- the Skins blew them off the field and they were never really the same). I was really shocked the Raiders trucked them- they looked like the start of a dynasty

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#66 by coremill // Jan 31, 2017 - 5:58pm

The Redskins' winning field goal drive was also aided by two controversial penalties on the 49ers' secondary (Ronnie Lott is still angry about this game). And the game featured SIX missed field goals, four by Mark Moseley and two by Ray Wersching.

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#97 by CHIP72 // Feb 02, 2017 - 1:05am

I'm glad you mentioned "The Rematch", that 1983 Week 15 game between Washington and Dallas at Texas Stadium that was probably one the 3 or 4 most-hyped regular season games I can remember since I started following the NFL in 1981. (I'd include the 1990 Giants/49ers MNF game when both teams were 10-1 and were 10-0 prior to both suffering losses a week earlier, and the 2007 SB 41 1/2 game between New England and Indianapolis.) In many ways, that game really did mark the end of an era for the Cowboys; they got pummeled by the 49ers in the regular season finale, upset by the Rams in Irving in the wild-card game, and ultimately never won another playoff game under Tom Landry.

I also agree the 49ers weren't fully the 49ers team of the 1980s and 1990s yet in 1983; they had suffered through a 3-6 season in the 1982 strike-shortened season after having a Cinderella, Super Bowl-winning season in 1981 Even in 1983, they only went 10-6, and edged a 9-7 Detroit team by 1 point in the divisional round.

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#99 by coremill // Feb 02, 2017 - 10:18am

The 49ers were only 10-6, but they had the league's second-best point differential and SRS behind Washington. Even in 1982, when they went 3-6, they outscored their opponents.

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#101 by andrew // Feb 02, 2017 - 12:23pm

Fun Trivia on the 1983 Redskins.

In the calendar year 1983, the Redskins never lost on a Sunday... or a weekend day.

They had won the superbowl after the 1982 season, so those playoffs included wins on

Saturday Jan 8 - 31-7 over lions
Saturday Jan 15 - 21-7 over vikings
Saturday Jan 22 - 31-17 over cowboys
and of course
Sunday Jan 30 - 27-17 over Dolphins

Then, in the 1983 season, they went 14-2. Those two losses were both on Monday Night Football:

Mon Sep 5 - 30-31 loss at Cowboys
Mon Oct 17 - 47-48 loss at Packers (one of the most entertaining MNF games I have watched)

In both those games reigning NFL MVP Mark Mosely missed a field goal that would have won the game. They would not lose again until the Superbowl vs the Raiders, but that was already into 1984.

So... they did not have a loss on Sunday for an entire calendar year. Or saturday. FWIW they played one other MNF game that year, a 33-17 win at the NYG. This was long before there was such a thing as Thursday Night Football.

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#106 by Bright Blue Shorts // Feb 02, 2017 - 1:16pm

"This was long before there was such a thing as Thursday Night Football."

There were usually 2-3 Thursday night games from 1978-86.

In 1983 ...
Sept 8th - 49ers 48-17 Vikings
Sept 15th - Bengals 7-17 Browns
Dec 1st - Raiders 42-10 Chargers

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#107 by CHIP72 // Feb 02, 2017 - 2:33pm

Yeah, I remember back in the 1980s ABC would have 2-3 Thursday night games, usually early in the season, that were treated as special editions of Monday Night Football. The Thursday night matchups were normally high profile games too, similar in quality schedule-wise to the Monday night games. Very occasionally, ABC also had a Friday night game late in the season after the college football season was over. A Rams/49ers game in either 1984 or 1985 sticks out in my mind in the latter case.

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#108 by Bright Blue Shorts // Feb 02, 2017 - 2:44pm

1982 Thurs Dec 2 - 49ers 30-24 Rams
1984 Fri Dec 14 - Rams 16-19 49ers
1986 Fri Dec 16 - Rams 14-24 49ers

They're all listed here ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Monday_Night_Football_results_(1970-1989)

Noting a lot of the games involved west coast teams but also being successful seems to have been a requirement.

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#64 by t.d. // Jan 31, 2017 - 5:11pm

Nah, most of the struggles came with Young playing (the job really was there for him to take, as ludicrous as Joe Montana losing his job mid-career sounds- Walsh pretty clearly preferred Young, he just couldn't justify making the move when the team wasn't winning)

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#96 by Jetspete // Feb 01, 2017 - 9:40pm

If i'm not mistaken, Montana was benched in the 2nd half of the '87 Minnesota playoff game for ineffectiveness.

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#2 by Tom Gower // Jan 31, 2017 - 1:15am

Holy smokes. Remember that XP I ran recently on the biggest YAR-DYAR rushing discrepancies? 1988 blows both ends of the spectrum out of the water.

NFC East teams faced an exceptionally strong slate of run defenses, which means the Cardinals' Earl Ferrell passes 2016 Carlos Hyde as the runner whose performance most improves in the transition from YAR to DYAR, and Herschel Walker is now third (131-107-106). Timmy Smith (WAS, 92), Stump Mitchell (PHX, 87), and Gerald Riggs (ATL, 78) would also have made my (completely arbitrary) cutoff.

On the other end, the AFC West produced some of the biggest negative adjustments ever. Curt Warner's passes Thurman Thomas for the biggest YAR-DYAR loss in DVOA history (-107 v. -100), Marcus Allen passes 2016 Melvin Gordon for 4th (-89 v -83), and Seattle's John L. Williams and San Diego's Gary Anderson also would have made my cutoff (-80 and -79, respectively).

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#3 by Scott Kacsmar // Jan 31, 2017 - 1:23am

The 49ers were sitting at 6-5 with two very weird losses in a row. First, a classic 23-point comeback led by Neil Lomax and the Cardinals in a 24-23 loss that Steve Young started. I've seen some mention in the past that the 49ers may have kept Young at QB if that game was a win. He didn't do much in it, but it's not like he blew the big lead, or allowed the game-winning touchdown with seconds to play. Montana returned the next week, but lost at home in a 9-3 final to a Raiders team that finished 7-9 and ranked 20th in DVOA on defense. Pretty strange. But then outside of that Rams loss, the 49ers won six games by double digits before that really tight Super Bowl where the defense embarrassed Cincinnati's great offense.

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#19 by Sakic // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:05am

This 49ers team is the reason why I believe WAY too much importance is placed on the belief that a QB is only as good as the number of Superbowl rings he has.

As good as that offense was it was the defense that won that game for them. That Bengals offense was a beast that year...I remember all the hype was about Ickey Woods but when you looked at the season stats James Brooks had a far better season and Boomer was the MVP yet the 49ers shut them down (only Cincy touchdown came on kickoff return.) Of course, I wonder what happens if Tim Krumrie doesn't break his ankle in the first quarter.

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#21 by Damon // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:17am

Or if Lewis Billups doesn't drop that interception in the 4th quarter with the Bengals up 13-6. That play doesn't get made and what happened on the next play? Montana hit Rice for the game-tying TD.

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#30 by Joe Pancake // Jan 31, 2017 - 11:25am

I was thinking this exact thing. So much of a QB's "legacy" is based on things over which he had no control. Lewis Billups dropping an interception is a great example of this. It's not like Montana's "calm and cool" presence created disruptions in spacetime that caused Billups to drop the ball -- he just dropped it.

Anyway, probably preaching to the choir about this on a site like FO.

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#35 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 12:30pm

I wish it were so. There are plenty of people who comment here who think the won loss record, of teams in the tiny sample which is any player's number of playoff games, is a useful metric for evaluating the quality of a player's career performance. Confirmation bias largely rules human affairs.

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#51 by eagle97a // Jan 31, 2017 - 3:28pm

Confirmation bias applies to all data sets including traditional stats not just won-loss records. W-L numbers are data sets much like any other. Fantasy football and gambling colors our judgement/evaluation of qbs as much if not more than w-l records.

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#56 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 3:55pm

Well, w-l records, especially playoff w-l records, tend to be tiny data sets, and it is a data set which is measuring team performance. The use of such a data set to evaluate the performance of an individual player during his career is more than a little problematic.

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#75 by eagle97a // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:36pm

TD, INT and sack numbers in a season are all tiny sample sizes. They also have limited value in evaluation. The key here is the totality of all the numbers in evaluating a player specially a qb. Football by its very nature has small sample sizes and fantasy football further poisoned the statistical well so to speak. W-L records are just part of the eval and not including them while including tds, ints, sacks etc. is itself a form of bias, even confirmation bias IMO.

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#77 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2017 - 2:16am

The total pass attempts, which generate the tds and ints, are around 600 a year, and the smart way to evaluate a qb is on the 600 attempts. It's the same reason why DVOA gives better insight as to team performance, compared to w-l record.

This is before we get to the issue of w-l record, especially playoff w-l record, not measuring individual performance.

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#80 by eagle97a // Feb 01, 2017 - 4:22am

Which brings me back to those stats you mentioned (td, pass attempts etc.) not being individual stats. All football stats are by definition team stats with no exceptions unless you consider combine times as football stats.

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#82 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2017 - 8:01am

If you actually believe that playoff w-l record measures individual performance as directly as passing attempts, well, you understand observable reality in such a fundamentally different way than I do that we really are never going to agree on anything. That's ok.

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#84 by eagle97a // Feb 01, 2017 - 8:33am

And if you continue to insist that passing attempts in a fundamentally team sport like football is an individual stat that too is ok. We seem to disagree on the meaning of individual and team. I did say before the w-l record is just a minor part of the total eval for any player specially a qb. I'll hazard a guess and think that you enjoy tennis or golf since those 2 sports are some of the most "individual" known to man and I'll agree with you 100% that stats for those sports are wholly individual with only very minor contributions by trainors and coaches and they do stop play in tennis and golf when the elements intervene. Enjoy Superbowl Sunday!

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#89 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2017 - 12:41pm

In fact, I have repeatedly stated, ad nauseum, that of course the individual stat known as pass attempts, numbering in the many thousands in a career, is to a very large degree affected by the context of teammates and opponents. What I have differed with is the notion that w-l record, especially when the data points are as low in number as 10(hopefully)-30 playoff games, in a one and done tournament. provides any meaningful insight as to how well an individual player performed in a career. If I were to adopt that form of reasoning, it would cause me to adopt such absurd propositions that Ted Williams World Series at bats gave us insight as to the quality of Ted William's performance as a hitter in a career, or even worse, that Dan Marino's 8-10 playoff record tells us something of value.

I have no diea what your point is about tennis and golf. Statistical signifigance has little to do with what one finds aesthetically pleasing.

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#44 by coremill // Jan 31, 2017 - 2:38pm

This is going a little too far. The 49ers had 452 yards of offense. This wasn't the 2000 Ravens or last year's Broncos.

But yeah, the 49ers' defense was great in that game, highlighted by Ronnie Lott's hit on Ickey Woods.

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#70 by Otis Taylor89 // Jan 31, 2017 - 7:03pm

Or if Stanley Wilson played instead of falling into a cocaine binge pre game.
I wouldn't say it was a top 5 SB, but the last quarter was great and it was the 1st non blowout SB in several years. Plus I won my 1st and only SB pool on the game...

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#4 by MC2 // Jan 31, 2017 - 2:45am

This really takes me back. '88 was probably the first year that I really took a serious interest in the NFL. (I watched a lot of games in '86 and '87, but I was much more of a casual fan in those years.)

By the way, a couple of minor typos: The paragraph about fumbles says that there were 6 fewer teams in '88 than there are now, when of course it's actually 4 fewer. Also, the paragraph about the AFC West says Seattle ranked 18th in DVOA, but they're listed at 19th in both tables.

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#5 by Jerry // Jan 31, 2017 - 5:11am

Washington did that one better in Week 14 by running a fake field goal from the Philadelphia 27 with 11 seconds left in the game, losing by two points. It was an incomplete pass, which left Washington enough time to hit a 44-yard field goal and actually win. But what on earth was the point of the fake rather than just attempting the field goal to begin with?

As the article mentions earlier, field goal kicking was nowhere near as automatic then as it is now. So if Washington thought they had a play that would work against that Eagles' formation, there's some value to trying it, especially if they could kick after an incomplete pass because it wasn't fourth down.

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#6 by Jerry // Jan 31, 2017 - 5:13am

There's a stray tag (or most of one) at the end of the first Housekeeping Note.

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#8 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 31, 2017 - 6:06am

'88 was probably the height of my love of American football. I was in my last year of school, my mates were interested in the game before the next few years they went off to univesity and earning a living began to intrude.

In the UK the season started with a live broadcast of the opening MNF game between the Redskins and Giants. It was a lacklustre game won on a defensive TD by one of the Giants backup LBs - Gary Reasons I think it was. Think he was mainly in the game because LT was on suspension for drugs. It was the first live game outside of Super Bowls that we'd had broadcast so a real treat.

My parents had got a VCR the previous winter so I taped every highlights show that was broadcast that year in the UK. Presented by Mick Luckhurst, John Smith and Walter Payton(!) they were a real treat. We got the best games every week - so almost always high-scoring, close affairs. The one exception being an encounter between the Giants and Saints and the two best linebacking crews in the league. It was a defensive battle that ended 13-12.

As a Raiders fan I was excited by our new headcoach - a young guy called Mike Shanahan - and especially that we had three first round draft picks - Heisman winner Tim Brown (I'd have preferred Shannon Sharpe), CB Terry McDaniel and DE Scott Davis. Tim Brown returned his first kickoff for a TD against the Chargers, then we lost to perennial makeweight Houston in a game we should have won. The big news came about 3-4 weeks in when Al Davis traded with San Diego to get tackle Jim Lachey and then traded him to Washington for Jay Schroeder. In his first game on MNF against the Broncos, the team was 24-0 down by halftime but a second half comeback took it to overtime and a game-winning kick by Chris Bahr. But the season was pretty crappy even though going into the final game against Seattle we had a chance to win the division and make the playoffs. We didn't.

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#10 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 7:30am

Oh, fer' the luv' of Bronko Nagurski, I'd forgotten that Lachey ended up in Gibbsville by way of Schroeder getting sucked into The Black Hole. Lachey, of course, was the dominant offensive tackle on one of the greatest teams in NFL history, the '91 Gibbs squad. Howie Long says Jay Schroeder ruined the latter part of Howie's career.

When Al Davis broke crazy, he really went around the bend.

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#9 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 31, 2017 - 6:09am

"One shocking result from the 1988 ratings is just how bad Bo Jackson comes out in his second NFL season. It makes some sense when you look at the standard numbers, because Jackson averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry in his other three seasons but 4.3 yards per carry in 1988. Jackson also played a very easy set of defenses, so he drops from 28th in rushing VOA to 44th in rushing DVOA. Jackson also has poor receiving numbers, somehow catching less than half of his 19 listed targets."

Maybe Mike Shanahan wasn't using the talent as effectively as he could have?

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#12 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 7:40am

If Keith Millard doesn't ruin his knee in a non-contact injury, on a terrible Metrodome turf, when he leaped to deflect a screen pass, there's a good chance he becomes another Viking d lineman in the HOF. He was big for the era at tackle, and had the speed and power to dominate games. Had 18 sacks one season, if I remember correctly.

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#23 by Raiderjoe // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:34am

yes. k. millard very good. could have been hlal of famer if able to play full-ish type career.

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#102 by andrew // Feb 02, 2017 - 12:29pm

If you ever get a chance watch his game the opening week vs Houston in 1989, that was about as dominant a performance by a DT as I can recall. They were doubling him in the middle repeatedly and he would still split the double team break through and get the sack. Millard had 3 sacks that day of Moon, Doleman had 2 and the others (Noga, Thomas) had 2 more.

Millard was in the MVP discussion at one point. Doleman eventually overtook him for the sack lead, 21-18. One more sack would have tied Gastineau. One more sack would have tied the 85 Bears team (they had 71) for most sacks in a season.

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#13 by James-London // Jan 31, 2017 - 8:24am

Great work. The Dr Z article is fun, not least because Joe Theisman was talking sh*t 30 years ago.
I miss Dr Z.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

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#15 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 31, 2017 - 8:53am

"Against that awesome Vikings defense, Buddy Ryan had Cunningham punt on second-and-18 from the Eagles 14. Yes, second down, The punt went out of bounds 58 yards downfield at the Minnesota 28, which is a pretty good flip of field position, but still... second down?"

It was a different game back when you couldn't just toss a moon ball towards the sidelines and expect the refs to bail you out with a DPI.

Incidentally, this is the first NFL season I remember.

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#16 by billprudden // Jan 31, 2017 - 9:17am

As we get nearer and nearer to having all of Jerry Rice's career in the DVOA books, can we, in a year or two, look forward to a definitive "GOAT or NO-GOAT" article? That would be super yummy.

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#20 by Damon // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:09am

Nah. Jerry Rice has the greatest career and will always be recognized as the best due to his longevity/consistency, but I'll always believe Randy Moss had the greatest impact of any WR in NFL history.

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#28 by Damon // Jan 31, 2017 - 11:09am

Depends on the debate? Impact or Career greatness?

Impact - Moss / Career- Rice

For me, the Brady vs Manning discussion is similar, as Manning had a greater impact on his teams performance, but Brady has had the better career.

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#69 by t.d. // Jan 31, 2017 - 6:29pm

Thing is, great as he was through the nineties into the early aughts, I'm convinced that people discount 'peak' Rice because he was so good for so long after it, to the extent that people forget just how much athleticism he had in his absolute prime. Great as Moss was in 2007, the single-season touchdown record he set broke Rice's record of 23 touchdowns set in 1987, in twelve games (similarly, Reggie White had 21 sacks that year). Bill James wrote about how Babe Ruth was a pioneer for sluggers in baseball, but how, in short order, other players were approaching his records, obscuring how far above the pack he truly was, until you look at the totality of his record, where, once again, he stood alone. Rice was similarly dominant, though others at times have approached some of his accomplishments

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#73 by Damon // Jan 31, 2017 - 9:37pm

"I'm convinced that people discount 'peak' Rice because he was so good for so long after it, to the extent that people forget just how much athleticism he had in his absolute prime"

Fair point and I'm certainly more impressed with his stretch of 10 1st team All-Pro selections in 11 years from 1986-1996 than I was of his six year run of 800+ receiving yards from 1998-2003, it's still worth noting despite those All-Pro seasons early in his career with 2 HOF quarterbacks, he still doesn't hold the #1 spot for most receiving yards through X season until his 10th year in 1994.

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#74 by t.d. // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:30pm

I'm guessing he did, and then guys who came after he revolutionized the position, playing in a more 'receiving yards-friendly' era, passed him. As Marino can attest, passing yards ain't what they used to be

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#81 by Bright Blue Shorts // Feb 01, 2017 - 4:24am

When Rice retired he was 50-60% better in every record category than the next guy e.g. 1500 catches to 1000; 23,000 to 14,000; 200TDs to 130.

It's narrowed a bit but he's still a long way ahead ...
Recs ... Rice 1,549 ... Gonzalez 1,325 (-17%) ... Harrison 1,102 (-41%)
Yds ... Rice 22,895 ... Owens 15,934 (-44%) ... Moss 15,292 (-50%)
Rec TDs ... Rice 197 ... Moss 156 (-26%) ... Owens 153 (-29%)

I believe Don Hutson was similar when he retired.

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#48 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 31, 2017 - 2:57pm


Don Hutson and Bob Hayes would like a word.

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#32 by Tom Gower // Jan 31, 2017 - 12:06pm

No promises, but that'd be an interesting thing to take a look at.

Michael Irvin ranked first in DVOA among WRs with 100+ targets 5 times (1991-95). Pretty sure nobody else has done it more than twice.

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#41 by billprudden // Jan 31, 2017 - 2:18pm

Cool, and thanks for even considering it for the (assuming here) very big pile of possible answers to "what can we do with all this damn data?"

Part of my question was based on my assumption that, with respectful nod to Don Hutson, all candidates for WR GOAT would be modern-era, and Rice's rookie year would pretty much get us there.

Thanks for whatever y'all can put together in coming years. We don't say it enough, but FO truly is a unique and cherished resource.


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#17 by TheAnonymousCo… // Jan 31, 2017 - 9:34am

Typo in the first paragraph about wide receivers: Minnesota's number 1 wideout that year (and each year following until Cris Carter came along to only catch touchdowns) was *Anthony* Carter, not "Andre" Carter.

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#18 by Sakic // Jan 31, 2017 - 9:45am

"and No. 8 Andre Carter of Minnesota." I'm pretty sure that is supposed to be Anthony Carter.

On a side note, Anthony Carter was the first player I ever remember playing in college and then having a reasonably successful pro career and seeing him retire...I didn't know at the time that was first sign of a person getting old. :-)

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#24 by Raiderjoe // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:39am

as posted on twiiter by me few days ago-- Anthony carter pass receicing statistics, 1985 with Oakland Invaders and Minnoesta Vikings

113 receptiopns
2,144 yards
22 touchdowns

also know he caught 5 passes for 74 yards and 1 touchdown in usfl title ghame. not sure if he played one other or two other playoff games in 1985. somebody could look that up

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#26 by Raiderjoe // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:50am

Loins and packers horrible teams that year.

One year befoe Barry Sanders. Lison had James Gang at rb (Garry james and James Jones). g. james never played in nfl again after that season. think S.F. 39ers may ghave picked him up in '89 and he got iknjured in camp maybe. James Jones hung around as pedestrian performer rest of carerer.

G/B. packets truly craptastical. S. Sharpe and P. kemp good receivers but d. Majkowski not good that year and Randy wright was wrong.

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#31 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 31, 2017 - 11:51am

The Lions were terrible that year. Can't remember who started out as their coach but it led to Wayne Fontes getting the interim job and then the permanent position. That said, seem to recall the makings of a defense with Jerry Ball, Chris Spielman and Bennie Blades - but perhaps I'm giving too much over to name recognition.

Was that the Lions team where they tried the pass on a fake punt and it hit the receiver in the back of the helmet because he never looked for it. Or is that an older NFL films blooper reel?

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#33 by Raiderjoe // Jan 31, 2017 - 12:08pm

Darryl rogers was first Detroit coach that season. was not a good nfl caoch. do not recall fake punt play but rercords show jim Arnold was 0 for 1 in passing that season. so good chance play you are thinking of did happen that season.

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#40 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 31, 2017 - 1:35pm

Thanks RJ ... Darryl Rogers it was.

Did a little bit of Googling and turns out it wasn't Rogers fault ...

"Sitting on a 14-12 lead, the Lions were faced with fourth down and 17 from their own 12. Arnold set up to punt two feet deep in his end zone.

However, Arnold noticed that nobody was on the Lions` far coverage man. It might have been a more astute observation if Arnold also had noticed that the coverage man wasn`t the regular, Butch Woolfolk. He went out with an injury, and rookie Carl Painter took his place.

It was Painter`s first time at that position. Thinking Arnold was going to punt, he never turned around to see the punter`s pass. The ball dropped to the turf, the damage done."


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#112 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Feb 06, 2017 - 2:23pm

This was the year that Rogers said in a press conference, "What does a coach have to do to get fired around here?"

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#50 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 31, 2017 - 3:28pm

Cofer and Ferguson.

In the late 1980s, DET actually had a good front 7. 1991 was about the only year they had a back 4 to go with it.

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#113 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Feb 06, 2017 - 2:26pm

This is the year before I started watching the NFL, but my dad always said the '88 Lions had an okay defense, but their offense was one of the worst he's ever seen. RJ already talked about the James gang at running back, but Rusty Hilger (filling in for an injured Chuck Long) was just as much of a disaster at quarterback.

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#36 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 12:33pm

The Vikings losing both games to the Packer was another huge factor in the Vikings not getting HFA.

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#42 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 2:33pm

That 2000 team, with one of the worst defenses in history, might have obtained HFA with one win over the Packers that year. That's how good Randy Moss was.

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#37 by Sakic // Jan 31, 2017 - 12:39pm

The Packers were horrible that year...Lindy Infante's first year and Sterling Sharpe's rookie season and Sharpe was easily the best player on that offense that year. Randy Wright should've been a career backup at best and was moved into the starting role following Lynn Dickey being waived in 1986...Majikowski definitely gave Packer fans some hope until Freddie Joe Nunn dropped him on his shoulder reducing his barely above average arm strength to something much worse. My word those were some rough years between Dickey and Favre...Randy Wright, Rich Campbell, Anthony Dilweg, Blair Kiel, Mike Tomcazak...I think Chuck Fusina was on the team at one point. Living through that pile of skank I can appreciate how great the 25+ years of Favre and Rodgers has been...I wonder if we can pull a third HOF QB out of the hat when Rodgers retires.

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#111 by justanothersteve // Feb 06, 2017 - 9:00am

The Packers in both the late 70's and late 80's were brutally awful. I did a lot of drinking during those games.

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#25 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:44am

Errors and typos fixed now.

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#27 by Raiderjoe // Jan 31, 2017 - 10:51am

bears very nice

Vikings- quality defense. big running back committee. a. Anderson, d. nelson okay. allen rice sort of crappy. Rick fenney- good player.
passing game very nice for that era. steve Jordan, from Brown, quality TE, a. carter, h. jones good wideouts.

Buccaneers- total crap. V. testaverde total junk at that time. Bruce Hill, born on leap day, so has only had 14 true birthday celebrations, had best season of his career in '88. mark carrier (not related to mark carrier of bears) also goos seasion. James wilder at end of road, so Lars tate got highest number of rushing attpempts. Looked promising but career fizzled shortuy therafter./l
defense had nobody exciting. ricky Reynolds was pretty good, you could say

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#43 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 2:34pm

Now, r.j., no passing game, with Wade Wilson doing the passing, should be described as "very nice", at least not without a large asterisk. The Wader was capable of screwing up the most obviously favorble conditions, completely out of the blue. He had his moments when paired with superior teammates, but really was mostly a disaster as a starter.

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#76 by Raiderjoe // Jan 31, 2017 - 11:29pm

thought w. Wilson was decent couple of seasons with '88 beiogn one of them.

before sunday ticket, though, so wasn't watching all eth Min. games so maybe his stats were misleading. he had a 15 td/9 int season . Jordan was steady TE. Jones had 40 catches, 778 yards, Carter had 72 catches . running back by committee spotty except for fenney who was good. think dozier was alright too but he didn't play a lot. since defense was top notch, maybe Wilson was really more game managing as people say.

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#92 by Dales // Feb 01, 2017 - 8:40pm

I was very into football at the time and Wilson never scared me and I felt at the time he was holding the Vikings back.

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#29 by dryheat // Jan 31, 2017 - 11:17am

Some great (and not-so-great) names in NFL history there. My favorite was Stephen Baker, dubbed "The Touchdown Maker". Anecdotally, a disproportionate number of his receptions were for touchdowns...because he was so afraid of getting hit. He'd drop/not attept to catch any pass in the middle of the field where we'd be at risk of geting walloped. He'd either catch a sideline pass and hop out of bounds, or catch a pass in the End Zone, usually going to his knees first.

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#39 by pm // Jan 31, 2017 - 1:24pm

2 questions:

1. Aaron, when you get 84 and 85 completed, can you run a series of the greatest players in the DVOA era (84-17) in terms of career DVOA and DYAR? A playoff ranking would help too.

2. Best teams in DVOA era including playoff games.

3. Out of the box request: Play by Play files are available for every SuperBowl Game in history. Is it possible to run an estimated DVOA for all of those Superbowl Games?

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#58 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 31, 2017 - 4:21pm

1) I'm guessing there will be something like that, to update what we did on our 10th anniversary in 2013. Probably for the 15th anniversary in 2018.

2) Yeah, I haven't fully broken down every playoff game. It's a good project.

3) Also a project I've considered but never had time for.

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#46 by Boots Day // Jan 31, 2017 - 2:48pm

It's fascinating to me the fumbling has declined by so much. You can make strategic changes that reduce interceptions, like calling for more ball-control West Coast offense-type passing and less downfield gunslinging, but how do you cut down on fumbles? I can't think of anything other than coaches emphasizing that runners need to hang on to the ball.

If you watch any old-time NFL games, though, it becomes obvious that fumbles were much more frequent. I watched an old Jets game where John Riggins fumbled on back-to-back carries.

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#49 by Duff Soviet Union // Jan 31, 2017 - 3:08pm

"but how do you cut down on fumbles? I can't think of anything other than coaches emphasizing that runners need to hang on to the ball."

That's one change. Instant replay would be another. How many "fumbles" eventually get overturned these days?

I'm actually surprised that the Vikings didn't lead the league in DVOA. They seemed to have by far the best team stats e.g point differential. I guess they did lead in non opponent adjusted VOA.

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#52 by LyleNM // Jan 31, 2017 - 3:29pm

That's one change. Instant replay would be another. How many "fumbles" eventually get overturned these days?

Well, you have a lot of calls that would have been ruled down-by-contact before replay. Officials didn't necessarily swallow their whistles as much on would-be turnovers prior to replay.

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#98 by Duff Soviet Union // Feb 02, 2017 - 6:17am

So I mentioned this earlier, but I'm really shocked that the Vikings didn't lead the league in DVOA this year. They had by far the best schedule adjusted point differential (per PFR) which usually correlates pretty well with DVOA.

I also thought it would be interesting to compare the actual DVOA ratings to Anders Sheperd's estimated DVOA ratings which he ran a few years ago and are on Football perspective.

His estimates had the Vikings well ahead of the rest of the league which is what I would have guessed. It looks like all the difference was on offense with both their passing and rushing grading out worse than they "should have".

His biggest miss was actually Philly who had an estimated DVOA of just over 0 compared to their actual 13%. Most of his other estimates were pretty accurate.

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#53 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 31, 2017 - 3:42pm

About a year ago on these threads I pointed out some footage where a 50s/60s running back - perhaps Frank Gifford - was running down the sideline, breaking and avoiding tackles but also waving the ball around above his head in doing so. While I don't think RBs were quite that wild in the 80s - ball security has been preached a lot more.

What really stuck out in the commentary was the point about completions rates are up, fumbles are down and kickers are more accurate. All in all the game has become a lot more efficient and risk averse which reflects society in general. I suspect that coaches are also more quicker to cut/bench/replace players who don't do these things - Belichick has been a leader in this area, no doubt learned from Parcells. I doubt Jim Arnold audibles to the fake punt in this day and age.

Edit: here you go ... have a look at Gifford waving the ball around on this next play ... https://youtu.be/d5ZP-_MSABw?t=43s

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#54 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 31, 2017 - 3:46pm

Note also that sacks are down these days on the 80s. Players like Elway, Moon, Krieg are the career leaders in fumbles.

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#72 by Otis Taylor89 // Jan 31, 2017 - 8:00pm

I'm trying to think when every receiver and RB started wearing golves every play, like they do now. The gloves they wear now make it so much easier to catch the ball and hold onto it.

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#57 by Eddo // Jan 31, 2017 - 4:07pm

I think a lot of it is strategy, or at least coaching staffs emphasizing certain things over others.

Back in the 1980s, the running game was still the primary method of moving the ball on offense for much of the league; therefore, you could accept a higher turnover rate, and either (a) not spend as much practice time on ball security techniques and/or (b) not care about ball security skill when selecting players.

But as the effectiveness of the passing game has increased, the running game has been used as a conservative, low-variance option. So in today's NFL, a running back that fumbles more frequently than average is a huge liability; you simply can't afford your running game to turn the ball over. So you see coaching staffs (a) stress ball security (think: Tom Coughlin and Tiki Barber); (b) choose RBs that aren't very electric but also don't fumble (think: Bill Belichick and BenJarvus Green-Ellis); and/or (c) bench players who have fumbling issues (think: Sean Payton and Mark Ingram).

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#67 by coremill // Jan 31, 2017 - 6:05pm

Shouldn't it be the opposite, though? As offenses improve, field position becomes less important, so turnovers should become less costly.

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#87 by Eddo // Feb 01, 2017 - 10:23am

That's a way to look at it, true. Though with passing being more effective, on the whole, than rushing, if your running game commits more turnovers than your passing game, why ever pass?

Also, the big hit with turnovers isn't the field position - it's giving your opponent an extra possession (by wasting one of yours).

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#88 by Bright Blue Shorts // Feb 01, 2017 - 11:05am

If you don't have the ball, you're not going to score*

How can turnovers ever be a good thing in that case?

* Obviously you'll get the occasional defensive or special teams play but generally speaking you can't score without the ball.

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#55 by wardh2o // Jan 31, 2017 - 3:48pm

"The following year, the Denver Broncos turned things around significantly and ranked fourth in both overall DVOA and defensive DVOA."

So the Broncos went from 27th in defense to 4th in defense the next year. I wonder if a new defensive coordinator helped with that turn around and if that defensive coordinator has ever been able to repeat that success with another team (or maybe even the Broncos again)?

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#59 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 31, 2017 - 4:23pm

Holy crap. You're right. I didn't even think of the fact that this was Wade Phillips' first time in Denver. His record is just astonishing. We've run it a few times. The Rams are going to have the best defense in the league next season, aren't they?

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#86 by Sakic // Feb 01, 2017 - 9:09am

That was also Steve Atwater's rookie season which probably contributed to the improvement of the defense as well.

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#60 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 31, 2017 - 4:30pm

Adding 1988 data to our records drops Steve Young's career passing DVOA from 30.4% to 29.4%. That means Peyton Manning just "passed" Young for the best career passing DVOA ever at 29.9%. Congratulations Peyton!

Young will almost certainly re-take the lead when we add 1987 data (he had ten touchdowns and no interceptions), but then Manning will likely move back in front when we include Young's Tampa Bay years of 1985 and 1986 (11 TDs, 21 INTs). This is the most exciting statistical race between two retired quarterbacks ever!

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#62 by t.d. // Jan 31, 2017 - 4:47pm

that Monday night game in '87 still gives me nightmares (thought the Bears dodged a bullet when the 49ers fell to the Vikes in the playoffs that year, and then Darrell Green happened- I believe that might've been the first time a team with a 14-0 lead had lost a playoff game; tough way for Payton to go out)

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#61 by t.d. // Jan 31, 2017 - 4:38pm

This was the last of the Ditka Bears teams that had a shot, in little-kid-me's eyes (they weren't quite the same after Buddy Ryan left, defesively, even if they were still really good- the only playoff games they won after Ryan left were the fluky fog bowl in this season and a home game against the 8-8 Saints in 1990), but I felt at the time that they were really lucky to win the division over a superior Vikings team, and that they were overmatched against the 49ers, despite beating them 10-9 earlier in the season on MNF. Guess DVOA saw things pretty much the same way. This was still a monster 49er team, record be damned, and they were pretty snakebitten to finish 10-6. There was also a budding quarterback controversy between Montana and Young, and they both started a lot of games (you could tell Walsh was dying to give the job to Young, who was the better athlete, but he just lost too many games). Sorta felt that the '91 49ers team that was also snakebitten and went 10-6 might've had a similar run in them (I know the '91 Redskins are the all-time DVOA champs, but they really lucked out in their draw, too, missing the Cowboys, Niners, and Eagles, probably the second through fourth best teams in the league). After '87, I thought the Vikings would be real contenders for years in the NFC- who knew that they'd already missed their shot? The Bengals may have finished atop the rankings in '88, but, if the Super Bowl had been included, they wouldn't have. The 49ers dominated the game in a way not reflected by the dramatic finish or the final score. This was also really the start of a really great six-year run by the Bills

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#68 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2017 - 6:19pm

Another great to good Viking roster held back by mediocre, at best, talent at quarterback, like in '69,'70, and '71 (really obviously), and '87-'89, then the Herschel Walker wipeout. They made the playoffs all through the nineties while getting qb play of varying quality, good, bad, and mediocre, without a great roster. By the time '98 offense came together (and MVP aside, Randall Cunningham was the weakest part of that offense), the defensive talent had slipped, and the defensive coaching had gone over a cliff, with the departure of Dungy and Kiffin. The Viking roster of 2008, and maybe even 2007, was championship quality, if they could have obtained even a little production from the qb spot. Favre came within the closest margin imaginable of getting them there, but really the defense in '09 had slipped from the two years previous. The Ponderous Debacle then loomed!

Now, the awful Bridgewater injury. Ugh. I didn't know it at the time, as a child, but Tark with the beginning to age but still very good Vikings defense from '73 to '75, playing against historically great Super Bowl opponents, and then getting Hailed Maryed against the Cowboys, was the last time the Vikings would match superior qb play, with a great roster elsewhere, both sides of the ball. The '76 team that was clubbed by the Raiders was aging very rapidly.

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#71 by t.d. // Jan 31, 2017 - 7:16pm

I mean I was young, but wasn't Tommy Kramer at least ok? And Rich Gannon was hanging around the back of the roster. Those Vikings teams were absolutely stacked, and, frankly, the Vikings have really been one of the better teams overall pretty much since Les Steckel left the building (surely the most successful NFC North franchise aside from Green Bay, and I'm pretty sure you guys have them beat in aggregate HoFers, too). At least it sounds like they've walked back the direr predictions about Bridgewater from earlier in the week, and this is the offseason of offseasons when you want to be a team that's a quarterback away (Romo, Cousins, Kaepernick, Cutler, Taylor, and maybe Palmer figure to be at least possibly available), and, once again, that's where the Vikings sit (though it'd be great to see their offensive line make it through a training camp healthy)

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#79 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2017 - 2:33am

Tommy Kramer was a beat up, hard drinking, husk of his former self,by the time the roster became good again in '87. If the Kramer of 1980 had been on that team from 87-89, that would have had great promise.

Gannon just needed years and years before he was good. I dont think it was coaching; Green, Billick and others did pretty well with all the other guys who were plugged into that spot in the '90s.

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#85 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 01, 2017 - 8:40am

The Vikings are like the Lions. Except for the "good to great roster" part.

Hell, in the entire old NFC Central, GB is the only franchise with a history of good QBs. CHI and DET compete with ARI for the title of old franchises with the worst overall QB performance. TB has literally never had a franchise QB. For that matter, they've never had a franchise offense. Testaverde/Wilder/Carrier are their franchise offensive leaders.

MIN had Tarkenton for what seemed like forever, and then a couple other years of decent rental veterans.

Then there's GB, with their alternating history of an embarrassment of riches or just an embarrassment. I'm not sure they've ever had a median QB. But their QBs are so far ahead of the rest of the division, it's a surprise they've ever lost it.

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#110 by justanothersteve // Feb 06, 2017 - 8:52am

He was a little better than mediocre before his shoulder injury. Not great, but at least serviceable. They also had Lynn Dickey for several years. But most of the years between Starr and Favre were a QB wasteland.

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#83 by rj1 // Feb 01, 2017 - 8:03am

1. "The 3 scab games will be in a separate table." The Flaw of DVOA Strikes! (Literally.)
2. Always enjoy these articles, you get to read about players you've not thought about for a very long time.
3. I'm amazed you have the data that you're going to be able to go back to 1984 eventually. But going through 1986 will mean that you now have 31 years into the DVOA Era.
4. The 1989 season was the first one I paid attention to the NFL. As a Broncos fan though I'm kind of amazed at how the one year in four the Broncos didn't make the Super Bowl they were so terrible. The stereotype of the late '80s Broncos is kind of like the Sanders Lions or the Marino Dolphins of "awesome player with nothing around him". It's a stereotype that DVOA has seemed to confirm. Elway's late '80s/early '90s so far in DVOA it seems to be a kind of boom or bust as far as team performance.

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#91 by Dales // Feb 01, 2017 - 8:24pm

Removed, as I see Jerry in 5 made the same point (with very similar phrasing. Weird.)

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#103 by medelste // Feb 02, 2017 - 12:31pm

Thank you Jeremy, Aaron, and the rest of the crew that does all this work. 1985 is getting closer and closer!

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