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Defenses have taken a wide variety of responses to the rise of 11 personnel. Is any one system better than another? And how has the rise of the "moneybacker" changed defensive philosophy?

18 Jan 2017

Scramble for the Ball: A Lot to Live Up To

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: Well, that weekend got exciting all of a Sunday.

Bryan: After an NFL record eight straight playoff games stretching back to last year being decided by 13 or more points, we had one of the most exciting games you will ever see in Green Bay-Dallas. And a … let's say more relaxed, but still tight contest between Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

Andrew: Pittsburgh beating the Alex Smith Chiefs in the playoffs by kicking only field goals is about as close as the NFL gets to active trolling. Trust Andy Reid to be the guy who finds a way to lose a playoff game despite outscoring the other team two touchdowns to none. Would it be fair to say that Reid is this generation's Marty Schottenheimer with fewer job changes? He's obviously a good coach, he almost never has losing seasons (three of 18 for Reid, two of 21 for Schottenheimer!), and he turned around a trashed Kansas City team in no time flat. Lest we forget, the Chiefs were 2-14 the season before Reid was appointed, and haven't had a losing season since. For one reason or another though, he has never quite been able to take a team over the top.

Bryan: There are some coaches you can count on, year in and year out, but never quite seem to take things over the top. I think if Reid was coaching in an era without someone like Bill Belichick around, we'd think more highly of him. As it stands, though, he's on that Mount Rushmore of greatest coaches to never win a title, along with Schottenheimer. They're practically the patron saints of "almost, but not quite."

Andrew: If Bill Belichick were not around, of course, both Reid and Schottenheimer may well have won a title in the mid-2000s: the 2004 Eagles and the 2006 Chargers both had their chances ended by Belichick's Patriots. Reid's loss was classic Reid: a four-minute touchdown drive down two scores with only 5-and-a-half minutes to go. Schottenheimer's, on the other hand ... that Marlon McCree interception return fumble is the single greatest Keep Choppin' Wood moment I've ever seen. And I've watched a lot of Aaron Brooks.

Bryan: You could pair them with Bud Grant of the great '70s Vikings teams, and George Allen, who won 116 games with the Rams and Redskins, and you'd have a pretty darn good grouping of coaches who could "never win the big one" -- they were probably cursing the names of Tom Landry and Chuck Noll in the early hours of the morning.

Andrew: Of course, with only a very slight adjustment to our present reality, we could be writing about two quarterbacks with similar reputations as those coaches: without Tony Romo getting injured in the preseason, it could easily have been him and Matt Ryan in the NFC Championship Game. Romo has been enduring those "can't win the big one" headlines for a decade, and there were plenty of them for Ryan too last week. Now that he has won another playoff game, that's quieted, but he is still lagging behind in recognition considering he has been one of the best quarterbacks in the game since his third year in the league.

Bryan: It is a phenomenal set of quarterbacks we will get to watch on Sunday. When the worst of the four is either this year's MVP candidate or a two-time Super Bowl winner, you're doing alright.

It is a trend that's been accelerating in recent years, too -- four quality quarterbacks in the conference championships. While occasionally you'll see a Colin Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez, or Rex Grossman slip through, they are really the exception, rather than the rule. It wasn't that long ago when you had Stan Humphries and Neil O'Donnell battling in the AFC Championship Game after the 1994 season -- not bad quarterbacks by any stretch of the imagination, but a far cry from what we have today. The 1987 season saw Bernie Kosar, Doug Williams, and Wade Wilson make championship game starts! The average quality of your championship game quarterbacks has gone up in recent years, partially because of the quarterback renaissance we have seen in the 21st century, and partly because the passing game continues to become more and more crucial to a team's success.

Andrew: Kaepernick has something of an exception in that list. His career has not been great, but we forget how good he was in that 2012 season. It is hard to imagine him ranking third in passing DVOA now, but then he was considered a transcendent talent.

Bryan: It has been a long fall from grace for him, though it would have been hard for anyone to succeed in San Francisco at the moment. It kind of goes to prove the point, though -- even the "worst" conference quarterback of the past five years was having a transcendent season.

Andrew: Wait, Joe Flacco was having a transcendent season too?

Bryan: If you can convince the Ravens to swap Flacco for Kaepernick, I'm all ears.

Andrew: So here's a question then: recency bias be damned, is this the best quartet of quarterbacks ever to grace conference championship weekend? Seems like there must be a Manning-Brady year that outdoes it, even if nobody will miss the flame wars their contests ignited.

Bryan: There's not really a statistical way to get the answer to that question, but we can at least get a very good starting point for an argument. Adding up the DYAR (both passing and rushing) for all quarterbacks to start a conference championship game in the DVOA era (i.e., going back to 1989) gives us five seasons with a combined DYAR total of more than 5,000. They are, at least by our stats, the best of the best years.

Andrew: Alright, let's see what you've got.

No. 5: 2014 (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson)

Andrew: This was Andrew Luck's best year yet by our numbers, ranking 10th by DYAR and 11th by DVOA, though oddly it was the worst of Russell Wilson's (13th and 14th in those respective categories) until injury impacted this year's campaign. Both played this year at almost the exact same level as they did in 2014, though with less team success. They look set to be fixtures in the Conference Championships in future years even though so far neither has returned.

Brady and Rodgers, of course, return this very year: in Brady's case, for the sixth year in a row. Both have made the playoffs every year since 2008, when Brady was injured and Rodgers and the Packers went 6-10. Seattle has also made the playoffs in every year of Russell Wilson's career so far, so assuming Indianapolis can ever put a team around Luck you could argue that the 2014 crop was the stars of the present versus the stars of the future.

No. 4: 2013 (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick)

Bryan: You could make an argument that 2013 was the last truly great season for Peyton Manning. He nearly hit 2,500 DYAR and set records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season. It's up there with the greatest seasons we have ever seen from a quarterback, and easily the peak of his Denver career. It set up a great matchup with Brady, who was having something of a down year, by his excellent standards -- "only" 25 touchdowns and 4,300 passing yards, and missing 1,000 passing DYAR for the first time (when healthy) since 2006. That's still a great season for any of us mere mortals, but it does lower the year's overall rating somewhat.

While the AFC Championship Game had two legends going at it, the NFC version had Stars of the Future...in theory, anyway. Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick were at the forefront of the read-option era, the way football was going to be played in the future. Both had about 700 passing DYAR but did plenty of damage with their legs, fooling defenses and racking up yards and juking defenders out of their socks. Wilson has gone on to bigger and better things, but this represented the peak of Kaepernick's career; he has never been able to regain the form he showed in his first full year as a starter.

No. 3: 2016 (Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger)

Andrew: Turns out this year does in fact eclipse any of the Brady-Manning years, at least by the numbers we're using. Manning's retirement means that Ben Roethlisberger, for so long AFC quarterback No. 3, gets to play only his second postseason game against Brady's Patriots, and the first since his rookie year. It is, however, Roethlisberger's fifth AFC Championship Game in a 14-year professional career.

Of this crop, only Matt Ryan has not won a Super Bowl, and by the time the big game rolls around it may be that only Roethlisberger has never been league MVP. Though Drew Brees, who ranks second by DYAR this season, would probably rank above Ryan on most people's "Career Greatest" lists, Ryan's league lead in DYAR and DVOA alongside three preseason favorites means it's difficult to argue that this isn't the best group of quarterbacks this season could have possibly produced for the final four.

No. 2: 1998 (Randall Cunningham, Vinny Testaverde, John Elway, Chris Chandler)

Bryan: Randall Cunningham revitalized his career in Minnesota . Coming back to the NFL after a year where he was out of the league, selling granite, he led the Vikings to a 15-1 record before one of the most painful losses in Minnesota's history. Chris Chandler set a '90s record with 9.65 yards per attempt, staying healthy and shedding the "Crystal Chandelier" moniker he had been tagged with. Vinny Testaverde moved to New York and flourished in his first season with his hometown season. John Elway saddled up for one last ride and had one more great season as he led the Broncos to a Super Bowl. Add it all together, and you have the recipe for a shockingly great collection of quarterbacking seasons.

I say quarterbacking seasons rather than just quarterbacks because, just based on career resumes, you wouldn't necessarily think this class would be so high. Elway's a Hall of Famer of course, and Cunningham was an amazing talent when healthy, but most people think of Testaverde as a stat-compiler, and Chandler's career, while very good at times, never really made you think of him as a legend or anything like that. It's a confluence of good quarterbacks who each played lights-out football for one, glorious season. Cunningham's 1,598 passing DYAR is by far his highest we have ever recorded, though his as-of-yet unrecorded 1988 season may challenge it. Testaverde's 1,531 DYAR in his first year in New York is his high-water point as well, as is Chandler's 912. Only Elway wasn't at his very peak, and he was still very good in his last NFL season, recording more than 1,000 DYAR. Any year other than 1998, this collection of passers wouldn't get special attention. In 1998, however, they were amazing.

No. 1: 1992 (Steve Young, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly)

Andrew: Hard as it is to believe, these guys were all from before my time: I was 10 years old in 1992, and way more interested in Denmark's European Championship soccer fairy tale (sitting on a beach until Yugoslavia imploded, then won the tournament) than anything happening in body armor across the Pond. I've since learned better, and now get excited about every name on this list. It's hard to imagine a better quartet of contemporaries: this is Brady, Manning, Rodgers, and Brees all going head-to-head on the same glorious weekend.

Bryan: I was seven, and still very much of the mindset that Joe Montana was the greatest person to ever lace up a pair of boots, and that this Steve Young guy would never, ever hold a candle to him. Then 1992 happened, and a whole new world opened up. Getting to watch Montana and Young perform magic on the football field really colored how I view the game and led me to here, and the 1992 season has a lot to do with it.

So this list probably would have been my choice for the top grouping just from the eyeball test, and it's nice to have the statistics backing it up. That's four bona fide Hall of Famers right there. You've got your '92 MVP in Young, having the first of his three near-perfect seasons. You have Dan Marino throwing for more than 4,000 yards in an era when people really didn't do that. You have the best year of Troy Aikman's career -- the most yards and touchdowns he'd ever compile. And then you have Jim Kelly as your "worst" quarterback, racking up his last Pro Bowl selection. They were the top four in passing DYAR, all finished in the top six in DVOA -- it's hard to get much better than that, yeah? We could go all the way back to the '60s, and I doubt we would find a foursome that tops what these four were able to do, either in a single season or in their careers as a whole.

Anytime I can have an article where I get to sing about how great Steve Young was, it's a good day.

Back to the Future

Andrew: So as it happens, we really are looking at a historically excellent group of matchups this weekend, at least at the quarterback position.

Bryan: Thank goodness Houston lost. Brock Osweiler would have slightly lowered the average quality.

Andrew: I did say they were better than you gave them credit for!

...and they still lost by 18 points, which says it all.

Bryan: A week like this, with arguably the four best teams in football, with arguably the four best quarterbacks in football, is what we all watch this game for. Hopefully, the Packers and Cowboys kicked the playoffs into high gear, and we'll get two legendary conference championship games this weekend.

Andrew: Yes, please. More Dallas-San Francisco, and less Dallas-Buffalo, would be a very welcome way to end what has been a ... shall we say turbulent? ... year or so, on and off the field.

Bryan: '92 Dallas/San Francisco; '98 Atlanta/Minnesota; '13 Seattle/San Francisco; '14 Seattle/Green Bay -- the last four times we've had this caliber of quarterbacks remaining, we've gotten at least one legendary game. Here's hoping for this week!

As a final footnote -- and something to fight about in the comments below -- here are the worst five years for quarterbacking talent in the conference championships. A far cry from this year's results!

Staff Playoff League Update

Bryan: Sterling's quintupling-down on Green Bay continues to pay huge dividends. Aaron Rodgers leads all scorers, all but two of Sterling's players have hit double digits, and he has only lost two slots -- Lamar Miller and Jimmy Graham. He also happens to have the lead at the moment, with 181 points. If Green Bay beats Atlanta and heads to the Super Bowl, he'll probably be unstoppable.

Vince is right behind him though, with 176 points. He's hurting more, as Seattle's loss killed three of his slots, but Chris Boswell's record-breaking day gave him a huge boost. He'll need Sterling to stop scoring at some point, but if Atlanta does top Green Bay this week, he's positioned well, with star running backs from both the Falcons and Steelers ready to score him points. This is far from over.

Aaron and I are also probably still at least alive with a fighting chance. We're tied in last place with 95 points each, so that's a massive deficit to make up, but we each have mostly intact rosters. I've only lost Michael Crabtree, while Aaron is set up nicely for a potential Atlanta-New England Super Bowl matchup. At some point, though, the theoretical points of a LeGarrette Blount need to translate into actual points if we're going to make a run at this.

Scott and Andrew look mostly dead. Scott still has three Patriots, including the Tom Brady-to-Julian Edelman combo, so he can't be counted out completely, but everyone else is going to just gather so many points this week that it's unlikely that alone will push him to the top. Meanwhile, Andrew's strategy of picking a diverse roster of players has kept him in third place -- but also means he only has Mohamed Sanu available. He needs Matt Schaub to come in and have a huge couple of days throwing to Sanu, and only Sanu. I mean, stranger things have happened...

Scott Aaron Sterling Vince Bryan Andrew
QB Tom Brady Matt Ryan Aaron Rodgers Russell Wilson Ben Roethlisberger Dak Prescott

18 28 58 38 23 28
RB Jay Ajayi Ezekiel Elliott Ty Montgomery Le'Veon Bell LeGarrette Blount Spencer Ware

4 12 25 45 3 9
RB Dion Lewis James White Lamar Miller Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman Latavius Murray

16 7 21 18 13 10
WR Julian Edelman Julio Jones Jordy Nelson Doug Baldwin Antonio Brown Odell Beckham

14 12 1 30 34 2
WR Dez Bryant Chris Hogan Davante Adams Jarvis Landry Michael Crabtree DeAndre Hopkins

25 9 25 10 3 18
WR Cole Beasley Tyreek Hill Eli Rogers Taylor Gabriel Malcolm Mitchell Mohamed Sanu

4 3 3 7 0 10
TE Travis Kelce C.J. Fiedorowicz Jimmy Graham Ladarius Green Martellus Bennett Jason Witten

7 12 11 0 0 11
K Robbie Gould Stephen Gostkowski Mason Crosby Chris Boswell Matt Bryant Steven Hauschka

8 11 24 27 10 17
D New York Kansas City New England Seattle Atlanta Houston

0 1 13 1 9 10
Total 96 95 181 176 95 115

Best of the Rest

There's a limited number of players remaining who have scored double-digits to this point in the season, and Bedfordp has them all. With the likes of Thomas Rawls, Jared Cook, Dan Bailey, the Pittsburgh D, and Alex Smith, they have a league-leading 92 points. There's some controversy in second place -- Sid has 88 points, but only if you exclude their second running back. They had picked Ty Montgomery, who was ineligible. The other players they have taken have done very well, but whether their team should qualify or not is up for debate. They can't win, mind you, because they have the same surviving players as BedfordP, but still.

Bedfordp is down to just Michael Floyd, Jared Cook, and Pittsburgh, though, so they may not be in the best position going forward. That might go to Michael in Melbourne. Their 81 points aren't too far off the leader, and they still have four Packers alive. That might be enough to put them over the top.

Top 5:

  • 1. Bedfordp (92 points) (Still alive: Michael Floyd, Jared Cook, Pittsburgh DST)
  • 2. Sid (88 points) (Still alive: Michael Floyd, Jared Cook, Pittsburgh DST)
  • 3. RFT (88 points) (Still alive: Jared Cook, Pittsburgh DST)
  • 4. Puffbronfman (82 points) (Still alive: Aaron Ripkowski, Jared Cook, Green Bay DST)
  • 5. Michael in Melbourne (81 points) (Still alive: Aaron Ripkowski, Geronimo Allison, Jared Cook, Green Bay DST)


Keep Choppin' Wood: For Houston to have even the faintest of chances in New England, two things would definitely have to happen: Houston's very good defense would have to play exceptionally well, and New England would have to make critical mistakes at inopportune moments. For one stretch of the game, that's exactly what happened: the Patriots offense struggled mightily with the Texans defense, Tom Brady was intercepted for only the third time this season (the fourth came later), Dion Lewis fumbled a kickoff away ... and worst of all, Eric Rowe wiped out a big third-down stop for the Patriots with a ridiculously silly personal foul penalty for pulling a player out of a pile. Turnovers happen, nobody's perfect, but there's no excuse for dumb post-play penalties wiping out critical third-down stops. Bill Belichick did not look happy when Rowe returned to the sideline, and no doubt the former Eagles cornerback will have heard all about it on Monday.

John Fox Award for Conservatism: When a coach preaches all week about "keeping the game close," and "giving ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter," it's a safe bet that the coach providing those quotes is more focused on avoiding an embarrassing defeat than going all-out for the upset win. So it was for Bill O'Brien, as the CBS broadcast team repeatedly informed us during the broadcast of Houston's visit to New England. In the wake of the 18-point defeat, FO alum and current ESPN writer Bill Barnwell ran an article discussing O'Brien's game-long conservatism (and that of Seahawks counterpart Pete Carroll) in more detail than we have room for here. We'll simply draw attention to the punt on fourth-and-4 in Patriots territory, trailing 17-13 in the third quarter. It doesn't matter what the game situation is, who you're playing, or where; to have any success at all, at some point your offense is going to have to get you 4 yards. Fourth-and-4 in no man's land is a prime opportunity for a smart coach to make a relatively aggressive call with little downside. O'Brien punted, and the Patriots drove for a touchdown anyway.

Mike Martz Award for Confusing Coaching: A more obscure rule for the average fan -- but one that stat nerds love -- is the fair catch kick. A team that has made a fair catch always has the option to attempt an unopposed free kick from the spot of the catch. It very rarely happens, because most kicks take the ball out of field goal range; we have only seen four in the 21st century, and none have been good since Rey Wersching booted a 45-yarder back in 1976.

The Cowboys had a chance to pull off a fair catch kick at the end of the first half -- Cole Beasley fair-caught the Packers' punt as time expired. It would have been a 72-yard kick, but Dan Bailey has quite the leg. Instead, they chose to just head to the locker room. Perhaps they were worried about a return of a missed field goal, which is at least somewhat understandable.

With just two seconds on the clock, the Packers could also have avoided the whole mess by leaving the punter on the sideline and having Aaron Rodgers stand there for two seconds and then heave the ball out of bounds. Either way, neither coach showed an ideal understanding of the fair catch kick rule, so I'm hitting both Mike McCarthy and Jason Garrett with this award.

'Now You're Cooking With Cliches' Fantasy Player of the Week: With Jordy Nelson out, the Packers needed some of their other weapons to step up -- Jared Cook answered the bell. While he was held to a quiet first half -- just two catches, and failing to haul in a touchdown -- his second-half contribution was crucial to Green Bay's win. Four catches, 84 yards, a touchdown, and the extraordinary reception that set up the game-winning field goal. Pretty good day.

Jon Snow (We Know Nothing) Lock of the Week

Once again this year, all picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Records so far:
Bryan: 8-9-1
Andrew: 7-9-2

Bryan: Close, but no cigar, and I fall back to a losing record for the first time this season. Well, when faced with a potential losing margin, there's nothing for it but to turn to New England (minus-6) over Pittsburgh. New England beat Pittsburgh comfortably back in October, but that was without Ben Roethlisberger, so don't spend too much time thinking about that. Instead, realize that the Patriots were beaten up by the third-ranked Houston defense, Brady had one of his worst playoff days behind center -- and they still managed to string together 34 points. The Steelers, meanwhile, marched up and down the field against Kansas City, but found the end zone verboten. The Steelers will score a touchdown, but Brady is unlikely to have two bad games in a row. Give me Brady and Belichick in January.

Andrew: ...which means I'm picking Pittsburgh (plus-6), who were my preseason choice for Super Bowl winners. I had in mind a reprise of their epic against Arizona, but instead a revenge game against the Packers remains a possibility if their "Killer B's" can overcome Brady, Blount, and ... Bennett? Put me down for Final Fantasy XLV-2, even if I absolutely do not recommend putting money on it.


Credit where credit is due -- Houston performed better than I expected in this playoff run. I thought they would fail even to handle a rookie quarterback making his first start, but not only did they pass Oakland, but they put up a very solid defensive effort against the Patriots, too. Of course, even the best defense in the league would struggle to keep up with just how bad the Texans' offense has been. Of all the playoff teams, they probably have the most serious questions to answer this offseason, as they struggle to figure out what to do with their $19 million quarterback.

Kansas City has some questions to ask going forward, as well. They have not won a home playoff game since the end of the 1993 season, when Joe Montana was their quarterback -- and that's also the last year they won multiple games in the postseason. These sorts of opportunities aren't guarantees; questions will be asked about whether Andy Reid is the right coach to get the Chiefs over the hump, and whether Alex Smith is the right quarterback to lead them there. The answer to both those questions isn't necessarily "no," and if the Chiefs just trot out the exact same lineup next season, they'll be right in playoff contention once again. If they want to do more than just appear in the postseason, however, they may need to move away from being the Single Most Boring Offense in the NFL.

Dallas' loss in their first playoff game has to be disappointing; only Washington and Detroit have gone longer without appearing in an NFC Championship Game at this point. There's no shame in losing a truly great game to a great quarterback, however, and when people look back at this season years from now, they'll remember the rise of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, and less the overall end result. Short-term pain; long term glory. Now, if they could only build a defense to go along with those offensive studs…

Seattle is apparently opting to double down on their current offensive line crew, which is either an admirable piece of believing in one's own strategy or the very definition of insanity. One way or another, their reign as DVOA champions ended this year, though it was injuries that really derailed them. A healthy Seahawks squad is probably still NFC West favorites, at the very least -- though I may point out that a good offensive line might be a key component to ensuring a healthy Seahawks squad.

Still, with the possible exception of the Cowboys, all four squads this week lost to the better team, giving us a high-quality set of conference championship games. Every team that lost has issues they need to solve -- and solving them could see them right back here again next year. There's work to be done this offseason -- time for an inspirational montage!

Football Outsiders doesn't answer fantasy questions on Twitter, so if you don't have a Premium subscription and access to the 24-hour Fantasy Answering Service, the Scramble mailbag is one way to get a Football Outsiders answer to your fantasy questions! Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, best quarterback pairings in Super Bowl history, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 18 Jan 2017

37 comments, Last at 21 Jan 2017, 10:22pm by surebrec


by ryan5581 :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 3:54pm

Where would this year rank for QB's if the final four included Dak instead of Rodgers? Or for that matter, what if Carr also hadn't gotten injured and made it to the AFC champs against Brady?

Looks like about 400 of additional DYAR.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 4:49pm

In general I'm not going to get into "what if X hadn't gotten injured", because that's opening up a huge rabbit hole -- players get injured, miss regular season games, and can't rack up DYAR. Still, what-ifs are fun...

Prescott replacing Rodgers would squeak 2016 past 1998; it's only a net gain of 82 DYAR (from 5,352 to 5,434), but that's how close it was between #2 and #3.

Carr replacing Roethlisberger would have added 354 DVOA; that alone would have pushed this group past '92. I feel that, qualitatively, the '92 group is still better -- but that is, at least in part, because I have their whole career to look at and judge in retrospect.

If Carr replaced Roethlisberger, it would join 1992 as the only two years where all four quarterbacks had more than 1,000 DYAR -- every other year, at least one quarterback dragged people down.

We have not yet had a year when all four quarterbacks have been under 1,000 DYAR -- turns out, having a really good quarterback lines up well with postseason success. It's quasi-common to have three QBs under 1,000 DYAR, though -- most recently in that very good 2013 season. Only Peyton topped 1,000 (he topped 2,000!) but Brady, Wilson and Kaepernick were all above 875.

by Anon Ymous :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 3:59pm

O'Brien punted, and the Patriots drove for a touchdown anyway.

And TMQ wrote, "game over" on his notepad.

Sorry, just had to do it. :)

by Andrew Potter :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 5:44pm

Hah, quite!

by t.d. :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 4:58pm

Aikman, Young, Kelly, and Marino was pretty good (so was Aikman, Young, Kelly, and Montana the next year- it might not match up in DYAR, but you could argue it was even more the gold standard- what Montana did with a less-than stellar Kansas City team bolsters his 'gold standard' case as much as starring for the 49ers)

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 8:46pm

'93 Montana gets dinged a little bit because he missed five games, and DYAR's a counting stat. But that's not why it missed the top five!

For the purposes of our list, we looked at the quarterbacks who actually threw the majority of the passes of each conference championship -- it was the simplest way to get a list quickly and efficiently without looking up 60 different gamelogs. That means the '93 Chiefs actually get credit for ~Dave Krieg~, and not Montana! Krieg attempted 29 passes as the Chiefs tried to catch up; Montana threw only 23.

Montana actually played just over half that game, getting a concussion on the third play of the third quarter. If you replace Krieg's numbers with Montana's for '93, to get a better idea of the hype coming into the game, 1993 gains 634 DYAR. That's not enough to propel it into the top five -- if it had been, we would have noted that with an asterisk -- but it's certainly much better. Montana's missed five games and the beginning of Kelly's decline keep it from being in the top five.

Of course, subjectively, anything with Montana is better than anything without Montana. I'm pretty sure that's a scientific fact.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 4:54pm

1973-74 season had Tarkenton, Staubach, Stabler and Griese. That's really good.

by Andrew Potter :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 5:42pm

Thanks, Will. One thing I'm interested about, as a relative whippersnapper, is what pre-DVOA lineups might even shove the Brady-Manning rivalry out of the top 5 completely.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 5:52pm

Might be a fun topic to tackle this offseason <_<

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 6:52pm

How would you handle years like '68, where the Super Bowl was Unitas-Namath, but Morrall played the entire conference championship?

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 8:38pm

It would depend on what we were trying to measure. We had a couple similar issues with this one -- like the 2001 Patriots, who started Tom Brady, but had Drew Bledsoe come in and play most of the game due to injury.

If we were trying to measure ~hype~ or buildup, I think we'd look at who each team intended to start when the game began. If we were trying to measure what actually happened, we'd probably take into account whichever quarterback actually played the majority of the game.

by Travis :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 10:06am

1981's pretty good: Ken Anderson (in his MVP season), Dan Fouts, Danny White, and Joe Montana. By adjusted net yards they finished 1st, 2nd (with a big lead over #3), 5th, and 6th in the league that year.

1979's a disaster: Terry Bradshaw (3rd in ANY/A), but also Dan Pastorini (24th in a 28-team league), Doug Williams (21st, injured and replaced in the 3rd quarter by Mike Rae, ineffective in the final game of his career), and Vince Ferragamo (would have ranked 28th out of 29 had he qualified).

by RickD :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 1:39pm

Griese threw about half as many passes as the other three.

I exaggerate a bit. But the fact remains that his main contribution was not screwing up. His raw numbers would put him at the bottom of today's QB list. The other three at least completed >60% of their passes. Griese was down at 53.2%.

by Travis :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 2:02pm

I exaggerate a bit. But the fact remains that his main contribution was not screwing up.

You're not really exaggerating for Griese's 1973 season. He threw 13 passes COMBINED in their final two playoff games, and only 2 of those passes came in the second half.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 3:05pm

Isn't Griese in the HoF?

by Travis :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 3:27pm

Sure, but not for his 1973 passing performance. If you want to give him credit for that season, credit his play-calling (like most non-Cowboy quarterbacks of the era, Griese ran the offense).

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 4:17pm

Well, sure, deadball '70s era raw numbers are going to be poor, compared to today's, and he is certainly the ultimate "The RINGZZZZ!!!!" Hall of Famer. Hall of Famer nonetheless, however.

by Bryan Knowles :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 7:31pm

Fun Behind the Scenes Fact:

First draft had us using AV and looking at quarterbacks back through the Super Bowl era, and I couldn't figure out why my PFR search wasn't finding everyone in the conference championship games.

It was because I set my pass attempts at a minimum of 10 per game, and that's quite excessive for Bob Griese.

Griese attempted six passes against the Raiders in '73 and eight passes against the Colts in '71. There's a good chance one of our quarterbacks this year will top that on the first ~drive~ of the game.

Football in the '70s was a very, very strange beast compared to the modern era. It's why I find it so difficult to compare a Johnny Unitas to a Tom Brady -- they're not even speaking the same language!

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 11:29pm

Pedantry alert: Unitas really isn't a significant part of the '70s dead ball era. His prime was late 50s to about '67, when things weren't quite so ground oriented.

(edit) You are right, however. Peope who didn't see the NFL from about '71-'77 have a tough time envisioning how different the game was. Yeah, they needed to change, but I tell'ya what; that era, before everyone got huge, had hugely entertaining run blocking schemes. The traps and misdirections were a blast to watch.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 9:32am

The mid-70s resembled the offenses of the mid-50s. But the offenses of the mid-60s resembled the offenses of the mid-80s. So you probably can compare Unitas and, say, Montana reasonably cromulently.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 1:49pm

Yeah, that's about right. Tarkenton is an interesting case, because his career began with the 60s, with a little less than half in the dead ball era, leaving just as the passing-firendly rules were passed. Of course, he was past his physical prime before he landed on a well coached roster wuth substantial talent on both sides of the ball.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 6:49pm

Regarding the ESPN-based question that leads the page -- was that asking about in-season performance, or was that based upon career accolades? My interpretation was the latter.

2008 looks a lot better on an aggregate-career standpoint.

It's funny how many ConfChamps are ruined by one unpolished turd, though.

Manning! Brees! Favre! Sanchez! Wait, what?

It's like Wind! Water! Earth! Fire! Heart! Heart? Who invited Ma-Ti?

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 8:36pm

Heh, it's funny you mention ESPN-based. Ex-Scrambler Barnwell independently came up with this same topic over at the Worldwide Leader. Great minds, I suppose! It's worth a read, and he comes up with a different (although similar) list.

We looked at a couple different ways to rank the people for this one, including looking at total career value to kind of represent "Marquee Value". 2015 Peyton Manning may not have been great, but the Manning name still has cache. We decided against it because something like Career AV has some flaws when dealing with active players, and it unfairly credits players as being famous well before they established themselves as such -- the 2004 Tom Brady didn't get nearly the same level of kudos as the 2016 edition.

For this article, we just looked at in-season performance, in part so we could talk about '98.

by RickD :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 1:33pm

Are you knocking The Fifth Element? Ruby Rhod is going to be upset.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 4:52pm

Captain Planet

(If you don't mind falling down a wiki-hole)

by uosdwiS :: Wed, 01/18/2017 - 10:19pm

I don't know about Jason Garrett, but Mike McCarthy is certainly aware of the free kick rule. GB tried one in 2008 at the end of the half against the then- 0-15 Lions. See for yourself.

by ChrisLong :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 11:21am

Is there going to be an update for the FO Playoff Challenge soon?

by Bryan Knowles :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 7:27pm

I don't have the numbers, but I'll pass this along and get an update.

by surebrec :: Sat, 01/21/2017 - 10:22pm

If you remember your team name, you can find how many points it has at


and the most recent week's results at


Please note that in the standings, there are invalid teams listed, such as those with rosters which don't include all 12 playoff teams.

by Bucs_Rule :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 5:10pm

What is the worst Quartet ever?

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 8:04pm

not sure. 1985 had dan marino but also tony eason, jim McMahon and dieter brock. marino- hlal of famer, McMahon- good, eason- mostly bad eben though got league mvp vote one time maybe in 85, and brock one year in league

1996- Bledsoe, brunell, favre, Collins

2000- dilfer, gannon, Collins, culpepper (no gall of famers)

2002- Johnson, gannon, mcnabb, mcnair (no hall of famers)

even though r. gannon league mvp one time, might havbe to say 2000. bonus pints if taking into fact siragusa fell onto gannon and blubbered him out of game and B. hoying played rest of way in afc title hame

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 3:57am

Didn't McNair also tie Peyton for half an MVP each in 2002?

by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 11:11am

2011? Not yet "Elite" Flacco, Alex Smith, Eli Manning and Tom Brady?

What hurts is Eli had a legitimately very good year that season.

by Travis :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 10:35pm

re-post from above:

1979's a disaster: Terry Bradshaw (3rd in ANY/A), but also Dan Pastorini (24th in a 28-team league), Doug Williams (21st, injured and replaced in the 3rd quarter by Mike Rae, ineffective in the final game of his career), and Vince Ferragamo (would have ranked 28th out of 29 had he qualified).

The NFC Championship ended 9-0, with each Bucs QB completing 2 of 13 passes. A running back tied for the team lead in passing yards.

by KYvampyre :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 5:33pm

If Andrew really is counting on Matt Schaub to throw passes to Mohamed Sanu to win the fantasy playoff contest, he's probably going to be disappointed.

by Bryan Knowles :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 7:26pm

He's got a chance!

by Bucs_Rule :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 11:53am

Matt Schaub throwing pick 6s will help Andrew as that will cause garbage time to arrive earlier.