Building a Super Bowl Winner: Offense

Building a Super Bowl Winner: Offense
Building a Super Bowl Winner: Offense
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

In Part I of our look at Super Bowl teams in the DVOA era, we looked at some of the most common traits of those championship clubs. Building at least one dominant unit (an offense or defense in the top three of the DVOA ratings) was an important factor. But is one side of the ball more important? Today we are focusing on the offensive side of the ball.

"Offense wins championships" has never caught on as a saying, but offense does tend to win a lot of the games necessary to get to those championship opportunities. We observed through DVOA that more No. 1 offenses (six) have won a Super Bowl since 1989 than No. 1 defenses (five). Top-ranked offenses (four) have even lost more Super Bowls than top-ranked defenses (two) in that time. But obviously a great offense by itself cannot get the job done. Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl in Miami, while the Air Coryell Chargers and run and shoot Oilers never even got to one.

Consistently strong offenses do usually make it to at least one Super Bowl. Since 1989, there have been 12 offenses that ranked in the top five in DVOA for at least three consecutive seasons. Nine of those teams appeared in at least one Super Bowl, with seven winning a championship. The 2009-2013 Patriots and 2012-2014 Broncos did not win a Super Bowl at their dominant peaks, but both won one in their very next seasons with offenses ranked out of the top five. So a lot of the same pieces were still present, though Denver's offensive decline last year is well known. As for the three offenses that failed to reach the big game, two of them -- the 2000-2002 49ers and 2001-2005 Chiefs -- partially fell victim to that more defensively-dominated era in the early 2000s that we discussed in Part I. Dick Vermeil's Chiefs may have had as much offensive talent as his Greatest Show on Turf Rams did, but the defense was never there and the AFC started to be controlled by the Patriots, Colts, and Steelers. That also played a factor in the third example, the 2008-2011 Chargers, never getting past the AFC's divisional round.

It certainly pays to build a great offense, and we know from countless studies that offensive success is more sustainable from year to year than defensive success. But how does one go about acquiring the pieces to build and sustain a great offensive unit? It would be crude to suggest "sign a Hall of Fame quarterback" as the first part of the strategy when there are only 25 modern-era (since 1945) Hall of Fame quarterbacks in existence. An offensively-driven team really needs that caliber of quarterback, but even when we add Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers to the list of Hall of Famers, that is 32 players over the span of 70 years. Meanwhile, teams in 2016 are preparing to start Trevor Siemian, Blaine Gabbert, Shaun Hill, and Case Keenum in Week 1.

No one said winning a Super Bowl was easy, but it is easy to spot great offense when you see it.

Super Bowl-Winning Offenses

Our first table looks at the last 27 Super Bowl winners in the DVOA era (since 1989). Their rank in offensive DVOA along with their rank in the previous season is included, as well as the rankings in both passing and rushing. Also included are where the offense ranked in weekly variance, ordered from most consistent to least consistent that season, and the average schedule of defenses faced, ranked from hardest to easiest. Top-three units are in bold.

Super Bowl-Winning Offenses, 1989-2015
1989 SF 1 N/A 1 4 5 25
1990 NYG 7 14 7 12 2 11
1991 WAS 1 4 1 9 6 11
1992 DAL 2 4 2 6 3 16
1993 DAL 2 2 2 2 23 19
1994 SF 1 1 1 11 21 28
1995 DAL 1 3 1 1 11 5
1996 GB 3 2 2 11 24 9
1997 DEN 2 4 6 1 10 17
1998 DEN 1 2 1 1 20 4
1999 STL 4 26 1 9 8 31
2000 BAL 22 27 24 8 20 5
2001 NE 11 20 10 17 28 25
2002 TB 20 13 13 28 17 7
2003 NE 14 9 12 25 13 10
2004 NE 3 14 2 4 6 7
2005 PIT 8 8 6 10 27 22
2006 IND 1 3 1 7 14 20
2007 NYG 18 7 22 4 10 17
2008 PIT 21 9 19 15 23 7
2009 NO 2 4 5 1 14 11
2010 GB 7 5 5 10 14 9
2011 NYG 7 10 4 19 11 14
2012 BAL 13 13 15 7 30 18
2013 SEA 7 4 8 7 18 9
2014 NE 6 4 5 14 10 8
2015 DEN 25 3 25 20 24 16
AVG - 7.8 8.3 7.4 9.7 15.3 14.1

Two-Year Outlook

The average offensive rank is 7.8, as only eight teams ranked outside of the top 10, and interestingly enough, all of them have come since 2000. The four offenses ranked 20th or worse were paired with what are most often considered (along with the 2013 Seahawks) the best defenses in the NFL in this time: 2000 Ravens, 2002 Buccaneers, 2008 Steelers, and 2015 Broncos. No offense ranked lower than Denver at 25th last season, but that also represents the biggest single-season fall as the Broncos had still been the third-ranked unit in 2014. The decline of the offensive line and unresolved losses of Julius Thomas and Wes Welker hurt, but the biggest problem was Peyton Manning's final season being his worst -- a far cry from the peak he managed to sustain from 1999 to 2014.

Nineteen of these teams had been a top-10 offense in the previous season, including 14 top-five finishes, and that will likely be 20 once we add the 1988 49ers. On average, these units deviated 5.2 spots in the rankings from the previous season. We again see that bizarre period around 1999-2003 producing unique results with the more defensively-driven winners. The 1999 Rams, 2000 Ravens, and 2001 Patriots are the only offenses to rank worse than 14th in previous-season DVOA. Baltimore won with defense, but did benefit from drafting running back Jamal Lewis and signing tight end Shannon Sharpe in 2000. The 2001 Patriots of course replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe with Tom Brady at quarterback, but it was actually the 2004 Patriots that made the second-biggest jump in the rankings, climbing 11 spots after adding Corey Dillon to the backfield.

But no one can compare to the massive improvement the Rams made in 1999, moving up 22 spots to the No. 4 offense. (Yes, not the No. 1 offense; opponent adjustments were huge.) While Isaac Bruce (1994) and Orlando Pace (1997) were already there, the Rams made three huge moves. Marshall Faulk was acquired via trade with Indianapolis and became the best dual-threat back in the NFL. Torry Holt was drafted with the No. 6 pick and formed a great duo with Bruce for years to come. The biggest move was a stroke of luck. Trent Green was supposed to be the starting quarterback for this team, but his season ended after a hit by Rodney Harrison in the preseason. The Rams rallied around Kurt Warner, who was on the roster in 1998, but had no success to speak of unless we are counting the Arena Football League. Warner had a dream season, throwing 41 touchdowns and claiming MVP and Super Bowl MVP honors. This was the start of one of the greatest three-year runs on offense in NFL history. It was only made possible by adding three Hall of Fame talents to the starting lineup in 1999, one by complete accident. That's not a realistic blueprint to follow.

Variance and Schedule

Weekly variance did not prove to be a factor for these teams. There were just as many consistent offenses in the top 10 (10) as there were inconsistent offenses ranked 20th or worse (10). The 2012 Ravens (30th) were the least consistent offense, but sure put it together in the playoffs. The 1990 Giants (second) were the most consistent offense despite losing Phil Simms late in the season.

The average schedule faced was pretty much average at 14.1, though there were more teams (11) that played a top-10 schedule than teams (four) that played a bottom-10 schedule. A year after Denver won the Super Bowl in 1998 despite playing the fourth-toughest schedule (and the highest listed here), the 1999 Rams had it the easiest with the last-ranked schedule.

Passing vs. Rushing

Fourteen of these offenses were able to rank in the top 10 in both passing and rushing DVOA for good balance. However, the average passing offense (7.4) was better than the average rushing offense (9.7), which is to be expected when we preach the importance of the passing game in dictating NFL outcomes. Eleven teams featured a top-two passing attack, while only five teams finished that high with the running game. This is not to say the running game is irrelevant, because only five of the 27 teams finished in the bottom half of the league in rushing DVOA. However, that does include the 25th-ranked 2003 Patriots and 28th-ranked 2002 Buccaneers, the lowest units in this table.

The best rushing teams share something in common: great running backs (Emmitt Smith and Terrell Davis) that were heavily relied upon behind very talented offensive lines in smart schemes. Smith's 1993 and 1995 seasons may have been the best of his career, as he won MVP and Super Bowl MVP in 1993 after a two-game holdout to start the season, and set career-highs in 1995 with 1,773 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. Davis was incredibly productive for Denver in 1997-98, leading the league in DYAR both years, achieving a 2,000-yard season, and winning an MVP in addition to a Super Bowl MVP. As I highlighted in his Hall of Fame case three years ago, when the playoffs are included, Davis had 951 carries in those two seasons and the two highest rushing totals in NFL history. No running back has ever meant more to a Super Bowl-winning team than Davis, who did it twice. This is in stark contrast to the other great rushing team, the 2009 Saints, who were very efficient with a strong interior line, but had no individual back even rush for 800 yards that season. In the playoffs, the running game was dominant against Arizona, but afforded Drew Brees very little production (39 carries for 120 yards) in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl. Tracy Porter's two massive interceptions were more significant for New Orleans than the No. 1 rushing attack.

Alas, those run-heavy approaches with Smith and Davis are from a different era of NFL football, but some teams will still try to win that way this year. Adrian Peterson will have to be great for Minnesota with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. Turner was Smith's offensive coordinator in 1991-93, but unlike in Dallas, Peterson is not playing with Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and the best offensive line in the league. Even the current Dallas team thinks it has the right setup with its offensive line, rookie back Ezekiel Elliot, and a healthy Dez Bryant, but will have to start the season with fourth-round rookie quarterback Dak Prescott after another Tony Romo back injury. Rarely do rookies pay dividends for championship offenses.

Timing Is Everything

Examples like Dallas show the importance of timing in the NFL, and trying to match the windows for players with a variety of experience levels. The Cowboys acquired Irvin, Aikman, and Smith in the 1988-1990 drafts, so they were able to grow and hit their primes at the same time. Right now, Dallas has a young line and Bryant in his prime, but a rookie quarterback and a 34-year-old Jason Witten nearing the end of his career. Even if Prescott is the future, no rookie quarterback has ever started a Super Bowl.

The following table shows each Super Bowl winner's primary quarterback, leading rusher, leading receiver (by yards), and head coach. The "XP" is how many seasons that person had been with the team he won a ring with at the time. Members of the Hall of Fame are in orange, likely future Hall of Famers are in yellow, and rookies are in green.

DVOA-Era Super Bowl Winners: Key Pieces
Year Team Primary QB XP Leading Rusher XP Leading Receiver XP Head Coach XP
1989 SF Joe Montana 11 Roger Craig 7 Jerry Rice 5 George Seifert 1
1990 NYG Phil Simms 14 Ottis Anderson 5 Stephen Baker 4 Bill Parcells 8
1991 WAS Mark Rypien 5 Earnest Byner 3 Gary Clark 7 Joe Gibbs 11
1992 DAL Troy Aikman 4 Emmitt Smith 3 Michael Irvin 5 Jimmy Johnson 4
1993 DAL Troy Aikman 5 Emmitt Smith 4 Michael Irvin 6 Jimmy Johnson 5
1994 SF Steve Young 8 Ricky Watters 4 Jerry Rice 10 George Seifert 6
1995 DAL Troy Aikman 7 Emmitt Smith 6 Michael Irvin 8 Barry Switzer 2
1996 GB Brett Favre 5 Edgar Bennett 5 Antonio Freeman 2 Mike Holmgren 5
1997 DEN John Elway 15 Terrell Davis 3 Rod Smith 3 Mike Shanahan 3
1998 DEN John Elway 16 Terrell Davis 4 Rod Smith 4 Mike Shanahan 4
1999 STL Kurt Warner 2 Marshall Faulk 1 Isaac Bruce 6 Dick Vermeil 3
2000 BAL Trent Dilfer 1 Jamal Lewis 1 Shannon Sharpe 1 Brian Billick 2
2001 NE Tom Brady 2 Antowain Smith 1 Troy Brown 9 Bill Belichick 2
2002 TB Brad Johnson 2 Michael Pittman 1 Keyshawn Johnson 3 Jon Gruden 1
Year Team Primary QB XP Leading Rusher XP Leading Receiver XP Head Coach XP
2003 NE Tom Brady 4 Antowain Smith 3 Deion Branch 2 Bill Belichick 4
2004 NE Tom Brady 5 Corey Dillon 1 David Givens 3 Bill Belichick 5
2005 PIT Ben Roethlisberger 2 Willie Parker 2 Hines Ward 8 Bill Cowher 14
2006 IND Peyton Manning 9 Joseph Addai 1 Marvin Harrison 11 Tony Dungy 5
2007 NYG Eli Manning 4 Brandon Jacobs 3 Plaxico Burress 3 Tom Coughlin 4
2008 PIT Ben Roethlisberger 5 Willie Parker 5 Hines Ward 11 Mike Tomlin 2
2009 NO Drew Brees 4 Pierre Thomas 3 Marques Colston 4 Sean Payton 4
2010 GB Aaron Rodgers 6 Brandon Jackson 4 Greg Jennings 5 Mike McCarthy 5
2011 NYG Eli Manning 8 Ahmad Bradshaw 5 Victor Cruz 2 Tom Coughlin 8
2012 BAL Joe Flacco 5 Ray Rice 5 Anquan Boldin 3 John Harbaugh 5
2013 SEA Russell Wilson 2 Marshawn Lynch 4 Golden Tate 4 Pete Carroll 4
2014 NE Tom Brady 15 Jonas Gray 1 Rob Gronkowski 5 Bill Belichick 15
2015 DEN Peyton Manning 4 Ronnie Hillman 4 Demaryius Thomas 6 Gary Kubiak 1
Hall of Fame inductees marked in orange.
Likely Future HOF inductees marked in yellow.
Rookies marked in green.

(Note: the importance of the offensive line is not lost on us. The problem is the time crunch with the regular season about to start, so I did not have time to complete an offensive line study. Unlike the skill positions, we really cannot just focus on one offensive lineman as the whole starting unit needs analyzed. Due to the nature of the position, our data is really just limited to career experience (draft status, seasons played, games started) and adjusted line yards. It is worth noting how the 2008 Steelers, 2011 Giants, 2013 Seahawks, and 2015 Broncos have been accused of having the worst offensive line in the league those years. Three of those teams had a No. 1 defense as well as quarterbacks capable of managing pressure in unique ways. Not much of a study is needed to conclude that the quality of Super Bowl-winning offensive lines was much better in the '90s than in today's game. This is something we could approach at a later date with more time and care.)


These four-man groups had been together for an average of 4.9 seasons when they won the Super Bowl. The 2014 Patriots (9.0) had more than a year's worth of experience than the next closest team, and that is even with Jonas Gray as the leading rusher instead of playoff rushing leader LeGarrette Blount, who was only in his second season with the Patriots.

I know I keep stressing how unusual 1999-2003 was, but the results back it up. The four shortest collections of talent belong to the 2000 Ravens (1.3), 2002 Buccaneers (1.8), 1999 Rams (3.0), and 2003 Patriots (3.3). The 2001 Patriots (3.5) are tied for fifth.

No team acquired all four people in the same year, though there were seven cases of getting three in one year. They were not always by plan -- Baltimore never intended to start Trent Dilfer, and the Packers traded for Brett Favre in 1992 to backup Don Majkowski. The 1995 Broncos really struck gold by hiring Mike Shanahan, finding Terrell Davis in the sixth round, and watching Rod Smith become one of the greatest undrafted wide receivers in NFL history. New Orleans stretched out success even longer with the hiring of Sean Payton, the signing of Drew Brees and stealing seventh-round draft pick Marques Colston in 2006. Baltimore had an instant rebuilding plan by hiring John Harbaugh and using its first two draft picks on Joe Flacco and Ray Rice in 2008. Finally, Seattle put itself on the right track towards a DVOA dynasty with the hiring of Pete Carroll, second-round selection of Golden Tate, and in-season trade for Marshawn Lynch in 2010. It also helped to draft Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor that year as well.


Wow, I just pegged 21 of the 27 teams with a Hall of Fame quarterback. Even if you are understandably down on Eli Manning, it is not like Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson are closed cases. In fact, Wilson's case will likely be stronger than Eli's very soon, but it is only 2016. Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, and Mark Rypien stand out here, and Phil Simms was replaced by Jeff Hostetler due to injury for the stretch run for the 1990 Giants.

Quarterbacks had the most experience with their team (6.3 seasons), but a lot of that has to do with John Elway and Tom Brady winning Super Bowls so late in their careers after also getting to three early ones. They are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to start at least five Super Bowls.

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Twenty-one of the quarterbacks were in at least their fourth season with the team when they won. Only Trent Dilfer won in his season debut, and he did not even open the 2000 season as Baltimore's starter. He ended up replacing Tony Banks. Again, that period of 1999-2002 was responsible for four of the six quarterbacks to win within their first two seasons on a team. Since then, only Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson pulled it off as sophomores on similarly built teams: vertical passing offenses bolstered by a commitment to the running game and great defense.

As much as some fan bases (Denver in particular this year) believe their team can win without a stellar quarterback, this table says otherwise. Manning was clearly not himself last year, but the DNA of a HOFer was still there. How many quarterbacks can pull off that 80-yard touchdown drive in Week 2 in Kansas City when the Broncos were down 24-17? It is impossible to say how the rest of the season would have progressed had Denver lost, but if every other game result had been the same, the Broncos would have slipped from the No. 1 seed to the No. 5 seed. It is hard to imagine any Super Bowl run then, and the Broncos led the NFL with seven games won by scores in the fourth quarter or overtime, including five against playoff teams. Brock Osweiler helped contribute to that too, but while the two Denver quarterbacks made plenty of mistakes last season, they still moved the ball (4,216 passing yards) and made those timely plays. Good luck expecting Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round pick with one kneeldown on his regular-season resume, to do the same this year.

Running Backs

They say running back is the quickest position to learn, and the numbers support that here with the leading rusher averaging just 3.3 seasons in the league. That includes the only two rookie players in the table, Jamal Lewis and Joseph Addai. We already touched on the greatness of Smith, Davis, and Faulk, but one look at this table should make it abundantly clear that a HOF-caliber back has not been required to win a Super Bowl. I am not even that confident that Marshawn Lynch will get in, but he is the closest case since 2000. Lynch and Rice are the only 1,000-yard rushers on the last eight Super Bowl winners.

Seven leading rushers were able to win a ring in their team debut compared to one quarterback, one receiver, and three coaches. We decry teams after the draft for using really high picks on running backs, and this table really shows why that is the case in today's NFL. The level of running back production necessary to win a Super Bowl can be found in players of a lesser caliber.


The quality of player is higher here than with the running backs, though Parcells and Belichick sure loved to test that with Stephen Baker and David Givens sticking out like sore thumbs. Personally, I think Gary Clark was better than teammate Art Monk. Rod Smith and Anquan Boldin wouldn't be bad additions to Canton. Greg Jennings really went downhill after leaving Green Bay. Shannon Sharpe and Rob Gronkowski are the only tight ends on the list, and Gronkowski is getting close to first-ballot lock status after just six seasons.

Antonio Freeman, Deion Branch, and Victor Cruz are the only leading receivers who were just in their second NFL season, but Cruz blew away expectations after catching zero passes as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He exploded in 2011 with 1,536 receiving yards, joining Michael Irvin (1995) as the only receivers in NFL history to win a Super Bowl during a 1,500-yard receiving season.

In updating an old study on the top four receivers (in yards) for all 50 Super Bowl winners, I came up with the following results:

50 Super Bowl Winners: Leading Receiver Averages
Receiver Yards NFL XP Team XP Age WR TE RB
No. 1 1,029 5.8 4.9 27.6 46 4 0
No. 2 738 6.0 4.1 27.6 41 4 5
No. 3 493 5.0 4.2 26.8 19 19 12
No. 4 361 4.9 4.0 26.7 19 16 15
  • Just over three-quarters (76.0 percent) of the players were homegrown, meaning they were acquired through the draft or as an undrafted free agent before playing for any other team.
  • High draft picks paid off: 48.0 percent of the players were drafted in the first or second round. Only 15 players were undrafted (9.9 percent).
  • Out of the 200 player-seasons studied, only eight belonged to rookies, including two teams with multiple players (Lynn Swann and John Stallworth on the 1974 Steelers, and Travis Taylor and Jamal Lewis on the 2000 Ravens). All of the rookies were third or fourth receiving options, except for Charlie Brown, who led the 1982 Redskins with 690 yards in the strike-shortened season.
  • Torry Holt (1999 Rams) was the only rookie to exceed 700 receiving yards on a Super Bowl winner. He had 788 yards.
  • The 2002 Buccaneers are the only Super Bowl winner to have its top four receivers acquired through trade and free agency. The only other team with more than two such players is the 2015 Broncos (three), who signed Emmanuel Sanders, Owen Daniels, and Jordan Norwood in free agency.
  • Twenty-nine of the 50 Super Bowl winners were led in receiving by a player they drafted in the first four rounds, including Gary Clark (twice) in the supplemental draft.
  • Only four No. 1 receivers were acquired through free agency: Plaxico Burress (2007 Giants), Shannon Sharpe (2000 Ravens), Todd Christensen (1983 Raiders), and Don Maynard (1968 Jets). Trades produced six No. 1 receivers: Anquan Boldin (2012 Ravens), Keyshawn Johnson (2002 Buccaneers), Paul Warfield (1972-73 Dolphins), Roy Jefferson (1970 Colts), and Carroll Dale (1966 Packers).

Free agents and rookies are rarely the tickets to a championship. Most teams draft players that develop in their system for a few years before putting it together for a Super Bowl.

Head Coaches

Expect Jimmy Johnson, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Bill Cowher, and Tom Coughlin to get some Hall of Fame consideration down the road, but right now Bill Belichick projects to have more Super Bowl wins by a HOF coach than the rest of this group combined for this period of time.

George Seifert was the only rookie head coach to win right away, and the 1989 49ers were really the pinnacle of that team's run. However, he had been the defensive coordinator from 1983-88, and not enough credit is given to how great that San Francisco defense was every year too. Bill Walsh was the mastermind in building the 49ers machine, but Seifert did not slow them down. Still, he gets somewhat viewed as a guy who won with someone else's team, though maybe not as much as the other two coaches to win in their debut season. Jon Gruden is viewed as taking Tony Dungy's team and great defense all the way with Tampa Bay in 2002. Gary Kubiak stepped into a pretty loaded Denver team last year that had been close already and then watched the offense fall off a cliff, but defensive coordinator Wade Phillips brought the goods on his side of the ball. Barry Switzer and Mike Tomlin won in their second seasons, and it could be said they won with the teams Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher helped grow.

No one here took longer than Cowher (14 years) to win his first championship. The next closest was five years, which makes this pretty damn interesting. That means no other coach since 1989 has been able to win his first championship if he has been in the same city for more than five seasons. If we take this back to the beginning of the Super Bowl, then we find similarly stunning results, although it is difficult to treat coaches who started their careers before the Super Bowl equally with today's coaches. But Vince Lombardi, Weeb Ewbank, and Hank Stram all won a championship within the first five seasons of their careers, then collectively won the first four Super Bowls before the 1970 merger.

Super Bowl-Winning Head Coaches: How Long Did It Take?
Head Coach 1st Title Win Team Team XP NFL HC XP Note
Don McCafferty 1970 BALC 1 1 Rookie winner
George Seifert 1989 SF 1 1 Promoted from DC; also won SB XXIX
Jon Gruden 2002 TB 1 5 Only SB appearance
Gary Kubiak 2015 DEN 1 9 Only SB appearance
Tom Flores 1980 OAK 2 2 Also won SB XVIII
Joe Gibbs 1982 WAS 2 2 Also won SB XXII, SB XXVI
Barry Switzer 1995 DAL 2 2 Only SB appearance
Brian Billick 2000 BAL 2 2 Only SB appearance
Bill Belichick 2001 NE 2 7 Also won SB XXXVIII, SB XXXIX, SB XLIX
Mike Tomlin 2008 PIT 2 2 Also lost SB XLV
Vince Lombardi 1961 GB 3 3 Also won in 1962, 1965, SB I, SB II
Don Shula 1972 MIA 3 10 Lost SB III in 6th season w/Colts
Bill Walsh 1981 SF 3 3 Also won SB XIX, SB XXIII
Mike Shanahan 1997 DEN 3 3 Also won SB XXXIII
Dick Vermeil 1999 STL 3 10 Also lost SB XV in 5th season w/PHI
Hank Stram 1962 (AFL) DTX 3 3 Lost SB I; won SB IV
Head Coach 1st Title Win Team Team XP NFL HC XP Note
Mike Ditka 1985 CHI 4 4 Only SB appearance
Bill Parcells 1986 NYG 4 4 Also won SB XXV
Jimmy Johnson 1992 DAL 4 4 Also won SB XXVIII
Tom Coughlin 2007 NYG 4 12 Also won SB XLVI
Sean Payton 2009 NO 4 4 Only SB appearance
Pete Carroll 2013 SEA 4 8 Also lost SB XLIX
Weeb Ewbank 1958 BALC 5 5 Won SB III with Jets
Mike Holmgren 1996 GB 5 5 Lost next two SB appearances
Tony Dungy 2006 IND 5 11 Only SB appearance
Mike McCarthy 2010 GB 5 5 Only SB appearance
John Harbaugh 2012 BAL 5 5 Only SB appearance
Chuck Noll 1974 PIT 6 6 Also won SB X, SB XIII, SB XIV
John Madden 1976 OAK 8 8 Only SB appearance
Tom Landry 1971 DAL 12 12 Lost SB V; won SB VI and SB XII
Bill Cowher 2005 PIT 14 14 Lost SB XXX in 4th season

Eight coaches first won with their second team (or third in Carroll's case). On average, the coach had been with his team for 4.0 seasons when winning his first championship. Among the 31 Super Bowl-winning head coaches, only Chuck Noll (six), John Madden (eight), Tom Landry (12), and Cowher (14) needed more than five seasons on one team. Landry was tasked with an expansion team in 1960, and it should be noted that he lost Super Bowl V and won Super Bowl VI, so even that example is not nearly as long as it looks. Cowher really stands out, as does Madden given the Raiders' success before and after he was the coach.

What does this say about someone like Marvin Lewis, who is going into his 14th season with Cincinnati without a single playoff win? Not hopeful. Ron Rivera (Carolina) and Jason Garrett (Dallas) are going into their sixth full season on the job. Did Rivera just miss the best opportunity he'll ever have in losing Super Bowl 50? Time will tell, but 27-of-31 is rather daunting. This gives some support to the heavy turnover among coaches.

Quick Changes in Offensive DVOA

Change in personnel is almost a necessity to expect change in on-field performance. Practically no team brings back the same roster and staff from one year to the next, but some changes are obviously more impactful than others.

What about the teams that made huge strides in one year? I gathered the 20 teams with the largest single-year improvements in offensive DVOA (among all teams, whether they played in the Super Bowl or not) and tracked if they made changes at quarterback, head coach (or offensive coordinator), No. 1 receiver, or top running back. Players with "RK" in parenthesis were rookies. "FT" means the player had been on the roster the year before, but in a backup or limited role, then became a full-time player in a championship season. Players with an "H" designation had been on the roster the previous year, but had their season seriously compromised by health, failing to play in at least 10 games. Their return to a prominent role helped.

Top 20 Year-to-Year Increases in Offensive DVOA Since 1989
Rk Team Year OFF Rk Y+1 OFF Rk DIFF New QB? New HC/OC? New REC1? New RB1?
1 CAR 2010 -35.8% 32 18.2% 4 54.0% Cam Newton (RK) Ron Rivera - DeAngelo Williams (H)
2 OAK 1998 -24.2% 29 20.5% 2 44.7% Rich Gannon - - Tyrone Wheatley
3 DAL 1990 -23.6% 28 17.6% 4 41.2% - Norv Turner (OC) Michael Irvin (H) -
4 BUF 1997 -18.0% 28 19.4% 4 37.4% Doug Flutie Wade Phillips Eric Moulds (FT) -
5 PHI 1991 -24.6% 26 10.5% 5 35.1% Randall Cunningham (H) - - Herschel Walker
6 PHI 2012 -10.8% 25 22.9% 3 33.7% Nick Foles (FT) Chip Kelly - -
7 SEA 1992 -41.3% 28 -7.8% 20 33.5% Rick Mirer (RK) - Brian Blades (H) -
8 SD 2012 -10.0% 24 23.1% 2 33.1% - Mike McCoy Keenan Allen (RK) -
9 SF 2005 -40.4% 32 -8.2% 23 32.2% Alex Smith (FT) Norv Turner (OC) Antonio Bryant Frank Gore (FT)
10 DEN 2011 -9.9% 23 22.1% 2 32.0% Peyton Manning - - -
11 STL 1998 -13.4% 26 17.7% 4 31.1% Kurt Warner (FT) Mike Martz (OC) - Marshall Faulk
12 BAL 2013 -21.70% 30 9.4% 9 31.1% - Gary Kubiak (OC) Steve Smith Justin Forsett
13 DEN 1992 -15.7% 25 14.8% 3 30.5% - Wade Phillips Derek Russell (FT) Rod Bernstine
14 NE 2006 14.1% 4 43.5% 1 29.4% - - Randy Moss Laurence Maroney (FT)
15 HOU 2002 -43.3% 32 -14.7% 28 28.6% - - Andre Johnson (RK) Domanick Williams (RK)
16 PHI 2005 -7.5% 19 21.1% 3 28.6% Donovan McNabb (H) Marty Mornhinweg (OC) Donte' Stallworth -
17 ARI 2012 -30.9% 32 -2.4% 20 28.5% Carson Palmer Bruce Arians - Rashard Mendenhall
18 KC 2012 -25.1% 31 3.0% 15 28.1% Alex Smith Andy Reid - -
19 CAR 2007 -14.7% 26 12.9% 6 27.6% Jake Delhomme (H) - - DeAngelo Williams (FT)
20 DET 2009 -28.4% 31 -0.8% 19 27.6% Shaun Hill - - Jahvid Best (RK)

Five of these offenses were still below average in the second year, so we are not really interested in those cases, like when the 2006 49ers made Alex Smith the full-time starter in Norv Turner's offense that featured Frank Gore (very good) and Antonio Bryant (not so good). But anything would have been better than the 2005 abomination.

Every team made at least two big changes except for the 2011-12 Broncos. Replacing Tim Tebow with Peyton Manning was enough to turn the Broncos from a prehistoric offense into a great one for the next three years. 2010 draft picks Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker shined in 2012, Willis McGahee led the team in rushing again, and the only other real changes were Manning bringing former teammates Jacob Tamme and Brandon Stokley along with him. There was a legitimate concern that Manning would never be able to play effectively again after four neck surgeries, but John Elway's gamble paid off.

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Out of 14 quarterback changes, Cam Newton was the only rookie that has really continued to have an impact for his drafting team, but we still have the 2011 Panthers as the top Carolina offense in the last five seasons. This is also a reminder of just how abysmal Jimmy Clausen was in 2010. Also, not every change here was by design. Matthew Stafford was hurt after three games in 2010, leading to Shaun Hill taking over for most of the season.

Only seven teams changed head coaches, but some provided instant improvement, including four in 2013: Mike McCoy, Chip Kelly, Andy Reid, and Bruce Arians. Of course, the latter two are coaching Super Bowl contenders this year while Kelly is out of Philadelphia and McCoy may soon be taking a long walk off a short pier in San Diego.

The 2016 Raiders will be looking towards the 1990-91 Cowboys for inspiration, as Dallas relied on health and improvement from its young trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Norv Turner took over as offensive coordinator, which Aikman always cites as a huge reason for his success. The Raiders really did not add much to the offense this year outside of left guard Kelechi Osemele, but they'll hope Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Clive Walford and Latavius Murray grow together in Year Two of Bill Musgrave's offense.

As far as new leading receivers go, nothing can really top Randy Moss going to New England in 2007 and scoring 23 touchdowns. That record-setting offense also added Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth in the same offseason, so that is an extreme example of an offensive overhaul. In Buffalo, Eric Moulds did not eclipse 300 receiving yards in either of his first two seasons, but exploded in 1998 with Doug Flutie at quarterback. In fact, Moulds even topped Moss' rookie season in DYAR and DVOA.

There were a dozen running back changes, but only a few were significant, such as Marshall Faulk in St. Louis, Herschel Walker pairing up with a healthy Randall Cunningham in Philadelphia, Justin Forsett in Kubiak's system in Baltimore, and DeAngelo Williams' breakout season in 2008.

Teams like Dallas, Cleveland and Houston are best suited to join this table should there be a huge improvement in those offenses this season. We touched on Dallas already, but Cleveland has Hue Jackson at coach, Robert Griffin III at quarterback, drafted Corey Coleman and is getting Josh Gordon back. Just getting a new coach and quarterback alone is worth watching, though admittedly the Browns do look like a major underdog to become a success in 2016. Houston, a playoff team with the 24th-ranked offense last year, has a decent shot with the additions of Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller. But even with greatly improved offenses, none of those three teams really fit the mold of a Super Bowl winner.

We will conclude our study in Part III next week with a look at the sustainability of offense versus defense, as well as the traits of Super Bowl-winning defenses.


77 comments, Last at 17 Nov 2016, 10:50am

#1 by ramirez // Sep 03, 2016 - 10:45am

"The 2001 Patriots of course replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe with Tom Brady at quarterback, but it was actually the 2004 Patriots that made the second-biggest jump in the rankings, climbing 11 spots after adding Corey Dillon to the backfield."

The other major reason for the improvement of the 2004 Patriots was Tom Brady's development into one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Points: 0

#2 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 04, 2016 - 5:10am

Scott - think this article has got lost among a raft of others that got published over Thursday / Friday / Sat

It's my observation that I checked into this site frequently during July-August and there was often no new content to read. That was kind of a shame. There was a good series of Film Room article but not a lot else. This article would have been great reading and discussion during that time.

Personally I found Part I was very long to read and haven't got round to reading this yet. And with so much info there was potential for a lot of discussion, but we end up focusing on one or two areas.

I don't know if anyone else agrees? ... but I think the site could "kill two birds with one stone" by breaking these articles down even further and carefully choosing when to schedule them. But with football season now arriving we're likely back in that time when there is new daily content and Extra Points available all the time.

(Please take as feedback not criticism)

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#12 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 04, 2016 - 8:48pm

No I get where you're coming from. I probably should have set this up a week or two earlier, but I've been blindsided by a lot of serious health problems since late July.

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#13 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 05, 2016 - 9:54am

Sorry to hear that Scott - hope you're feeling healthier and it's all cleared it.

I enjoyed the breakdown, it was a good read.

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#3 by Bob Smith // Sep 04, 2016 - 11:29am

Scott-you use my guy (Marino) as an example of a good offense that never won a S.B., but Dan never put up good enough numbers in our (the Dolphins) biggest games (except 1) to help us win it all. Even in his 1 and only S.B. game, he led our O to only 13 points (with 3 other points coming without his help). Did we have a good Offense-absolutely-in the Reg. Season.

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#4 by theslothook // Sep 04, 2016 - 1:31pm

Are you sure you aren't an insurgent afc east fan posing as a dolphins fan?

I am curious, why do you believe they have a worse offense in the postseason?

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#5 by Bob Smith // Sep 04, 2016 - 3:43pm

My buddies and I used to have 2 Rules. Rule No.1-No Dolphin loss can ever be blamed on Dan Marino. No.2-if Dan played a mediocre to bad game and we (the Dolphins) lost, then see Rule No.1 again and start making as many excuses as we can. We absolutely worshipped the guy for 17 years. Now it is time to look more objectively at his Resume.

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#6 by Bob Smith // Sep 04, 2016 - 3:47pm

The subject here is more about Championship games, and in our (the Dolphins) 3 Championship Game losses with Marino at QB, our Offense averaged only 12 p.p.g. That is why I say our O was worse-and Dan's numbers were not very impressive in those 3 losses either.

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#8 by Bob Smith // Sep 04, 2016 - 5:31pm

Why-that is a tough 1 to answer. I can tell you this-in our 1 win (the '84 Conf. Champ) Marino had a line like this: 4 TD's and 1 INT, a Comp.% of 65.6%, a Passer Rating of 135.4, and he led our O to 45 points. In those 3 Champ. Game losses his line looked like this: again 4 TD's but 6 INT's, a Comp.% of only 49.6%, an Avg. Passer Rating of only 59, and he led our O to an avg. of only 12 p.p.g. So, as you can see there is not much difference there. It could not have been Marino's fault. (My buddies insisted that I add that last line).

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#10 by Bob Smith // Sep 04, 2016 - 6:13pm

Maybe that is your opinion, but you already read my opinion-there just wasn't much difference in the way Dan played as I showed you using his numbers. Do you think that there was a difference in how he played??

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#11 by theslothook // Sep 04, 2016 - 8:43pm

No, I mean - that seems to be the takeaway people have with Marino and think its unfair. Also, I sadly didn't see Marino play - was too young/not into football when then.

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#16 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 06, 2016 - 1:35pm

I have the 1985 AFC Championship Game burned to a disc somewhere. Marino wasn't good that day, but his teammates really stunk it up against a NE team they should have beat. Tony Nathan fumbled on Miami's first play from scrimmage, setting up short field for 3-0 NE lead. Miami missed a 31-yard FG and fumbled the second-half kickoff, leading to a short field TD and 24-7 deficit. Down 24-14 with 12:41 left, another Miami RB lost a fumble and the Patriots turned that into a 31-14 lead with half a quarter to go. Basically game over. Marino's second pick was out of desperation in the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 28.

Marino did his job in the 1990 and 1994 postseasons. Not sure those should be devalued compared to 1985 and 1992. I'm not convinced Miami stood any real chance against teams like the 1992 Cowboys and 1994 49ers anyway. Same way the Dolphins had the misfortune of drawing the 17-1 49ers in 1984.

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#21 by Bob Smith // Sep 06, 2016 - 4:28pm

Scott-you are just scratching the surface with the excuses that you point out in the '85 game. We (my buddies and I) had more than that, I am sure. The same for every one of our PO losses with Marino. Here is what I would like to see now-Jaworski's coaches tapes where you get 5 angles or so of every play. Was Marino calling good audibles? was he throwing to the open receiver? could he have run more to keep scoring drives alive? could he have scrambled around more until a receiver got open? etc., etc. Why do I now feel like we (the Dolphins) could probably have had much more success with a QB like Elway and his athleticism-I guess because I saw what a difference that athleticism made in a number of Elway's biggest wins.

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#25 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 06, 2016 - 5:32pm

Bob, you posted later about judging a player on how he played in the game. To do that, you need to stop looking at these as "excuses" and treat it as part of the analysis of what happened in the game. Many things are out of the QB's control. We can go back and look at Marino's fumbled snap or first red-zone interception, but there was a lot of things that went wrong that day irregardless of how Marino actually played.

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#28 by Bob Smith // Sep 06, 2016 - 7:43pm

That's fine-call them whatever you want. My bigger concern would be the answers that Jaworski's coaches tapes might provide.

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#14 by rich006 // Sep 06, 2016 - 11:41am

A great quarterback on an average team can pick apart average defenses, but against the top defenses you meet in the playoffs it's harder for the quarterback to carry the team. See Peyton Manning for most of his Colts years, John Elway before Shanahan, Aaron Rodgers last year.

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#15 by Bob Smith // Sep 06, 2016 - 12:51pm

Yes but almost all very good QB's (especially those that have played for over 10 years) have played good enough to help their teams win multiple championships of some kind-conference and/or league championships. I would not include Elway the way you did-he helped 3 teams get all the way to the S.B. that were far from great overall teams. Scott happened to mention 3 that could not play good enough-Marino, Fouts, and Moon.

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#17 by theslothook // Sep 06, 2016 - 1:41pm

I think with a large enough sample, you are going to get some situations like Marino just by chance.

I've always posed it this way - does anyone really believe Marino couldn't win a championship on the 49ers or the redskins or giants, etc.

Its why I don't really care if Rodgers wins another championship or not. He's already one of the best qbs I've ever seen in my lifetime. Its true the media spin will go after Rodgers if he doesn't, but that's not my problem.

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#18 by Bob Smith // Sep 06, 2016 - 2:01pm

You can pose it that way-but all that does is allows us to "pretend". Let's pretend that Marino won 5 S.B. games with the Niners and whomever else we choose. Now we have to go back and see if this pretending did any good-was Dan's official NFL Resume changed? I just checked- no it wasn't-he is still credited with only 1 Championship Ring-the '84 Conf Champ. That's enough pretending.

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#19 by theslothook // Sep 06, 2016 - 3:52pm

I'm not pretending - I'm trying to show the power of context. When you concentrate solely on what you observe, you can be lead into confirmation bias.

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#24 by Bob Smith // Sep 06, 2016 - 4:44pm

Could Marino have won a Ring with other teams-it doesn't matter what we want to think would have happened-we have his whole career to dissect now that he is retired, and his numbers in a big majority of his biggest games suggest that he would not have been able to play good enough to accomplish it. You have to look at how he played. All you can do now is pretend that he would have played better.

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#26 by theslothook // Sep 06, 2016 - 5:56pm

The problem is - you are comparing Dan Marino to other qbs, but they aren't playing on a similar set of circumstances.

Its not a race where we all run on the same pavement. Some are running on grass, others through quicksand. To pretend everyone has the same set of circumstances and then the results explain the difference is wrong.

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#31 by Bob Smith // Sep 06, 2016 - 7:52pm

Doesn't matter which 1 was better or who we think was better, the difference right now-Flacco had a team that was good enough to win it all and he then played 4 very good games and helped them to win it all. Marino was never able to play even 3 very good games in a playoff year regardless of the quality of the team. In fact, 2 of Dan's worst PO years were when he had the No.1 Defense for Least Points Allowed.

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#32 by theslothook // Sep 06, 2016 - 8:00pm

So its unfair to do that for desmond howard but not the qb? I get that the qb has the biggest influence on the game - but he's not playing by himself against another qb.

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#33 by Will Allen // Sep 07, 2016 - 8:23am

When I'm 100 years old, I'll be telling some football fans that there are 22 players on the field at a time, 22 more starters, not including special teams, and special teams are about 15% of the imputs that determine the win or loss. I will then ask them by what basis they have decided that it makes sense to pull out a tiny sample size of a player's total games, to make informed judgements of a player's career performance.

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#34 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 9:31am

Will-for me it is all about "keeping it in context" when it comes to sample size. Would 10 games be a large sample size if we were looking at a QB's Regular Season performances-absolutely not-in fact, way too small. However, 10 games is absolutely a decent sample size when assessing a QB's Playoff performances. Why-because that is probably way above the average for all starting QB's that ever played in the NFL. Why are the playoffs so important when looking at QB's-because of the impact to the outcome of a game that the QB has.

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#35 by Will Allen // Sep 07, 2016 - 10:28am

I'm sorry, but I do not understand your argument, at all. The qb is the qb in all the games. There is no rational reason to pull some games out of the larger sample, if your endeavor is an empirical inquiry as to which qbs performed the best for a career. If the goal is to create narratives that get clicks, or sell books, or make for dramatic voiceovers in a NFL Films production, well, yes, I understand the purpose, and that's fine. That isn't what I'm talking about, however.

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#36 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 11:32am

For me, it's a combination of things. In the Reg. Season I want my QB to play good enough to help us win enough games to qualify for the playoffs-any seed will do (S.B. winners have come from ALL seeds). If he wants to "pad his stats" now and then fine; if he has 4 or 5 "off" days-fine, just get us in the PO's. We don't have that kind of mind set at all in the PO's however. Don't even have 1 "off" day and rarely can they "pad their stats" in the PO's because the competition is usually better in every game. Most of the great ones still did just fine in a majority of their PO games. Others-not so much.

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#37 by Will Allen // Sep 07, 2016 - 12:14pm

Yes, and some guys no doubt played worse in week 6 . You understand, however, that this variation is just noise, while convincing yourself that the variation in weeks 19, 20, and 21 is not just noIse.

My point is that there is very little rational basis to have convinced yourself of this.

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#38 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 07, 2016 - 12:22pm

Bob, most SB winners have their offense (which often means the QB too) have an off day in the playoffs. The other parts of the team just happen to step up that day and overcome it.

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#39 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 12:47pm

Of course they do have off days-but that doesn't change the mind set going into the game. There is added pressure on any QB as they go from that 1st PO game to the 2nd and 3rd games. Some still have good games and others do not. I tend to reward those that still have good games. There is nothing harder for a QB to have than a good winning % in championship games. That to me is where we separate the men from the boys, especially those that have played in say 4 or 5 or more championship games and still have a good winning percentage.

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#42 by theslothook // Sep 07, 2016 - 2:25pm

Why is there more pressure in the 3rd and 4th championship game than the first? If they lose any of them, they are out - so they are all valued the same; at least as a player playing the game.

Also, take this endeavor to its logical conclusions. Qbs who are able to perform better in quote, "more pressurized games" should then be able to do even better in non-pressurized games. Thus, great postseason qbs should dominate the regular season, including Sanchez, Flacco, and Alex Smith - all with good postseason numbers - should be really good in the regular season.The fact that they don't/aren't means either:

a) this notion of pressure defining games is nonsense
b) these pressure performing qbs regard the regular season as a waste of time and don't really apply themselves as much.

I know which I'm more inclined to believe.

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#44 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 5:02pm

You know exactly what I meant-the 2nd and 3rd PO games OF EACH PO YEAR are always more pressure-packed than the 1st. Not my opinion, but just what I have heard many QB's tell reporters over the 60 years that I have been watching the NFL. Like what John Unitas said in '58-of course there is more pressure on me, this is for the championship. Are you going to tell me that you have never heard a QB, or a TV Commentator, or a sports talk host mention that the pressure is ratcheted up each week of the PO's?

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#47 by theslothook // Sep 07, 2016 - 5:16pm

I've heard qbs say lots of things. Ive heard ex players and coaches say all manner of idiotic things. That doesn't mean they are correct. How many football players swear that establishing the run is the key to winning. Or you need to be physical to win(whatever that means).

I once heard Jon Gruden say two contradictory statements in the same game in a span of 20 minutes. When the colts blitzed fitzpatrick last season and defended the pass, Gruden,"That's the right move Mike. You gotta make sure you get pressure quick. Can't let these young corners hang out there covering forever."

Then later in the game when the colts were trying to protect a lead; they backed off and played coverage. When the coverage worked on a particular play, Gruden "That's the right strategy mike. Keep more guys in coverage. Can't let these young corners be left on an island to guard the whole field."

I ask you, do you feel anymore anxiety as a fan if its a divisional round playoff game or a championship round playoff game? I feel anxious no more or less. The loss may feel worse depending on how far you go; but the fear of losing is the same.

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#48 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 5:22pm

Back in the day when I lived and died with each Dolphin win and loss, yes, I did feel extra pressure at PO time. But more importantly than that, as a semi-pro athlete, I can tell you from 1st hand experience that our whole team felt it, and this was only semi-pro. I had teammates throwing up before PO games and when I would ask them what was wrong they would say-hey this the playoffs.

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#53 by theslothook // Sep 07, 2016 - 6:47pm

Yes, when I played hs basketball - we had lots of pressure when we were at home or in tourneys. But guess what, during the game - at least from my experience, you stop thinking about it because you are too focused on what you're doing otherwise to realize its a pressure situation.

Plus Marino is not someone taken in a vacuum and forced to do something under pressure. He's been playing football his whole life. He's been under pressure his whole life. I seriously doubt it took the championship games for nerves to get the better of him.

Also, as I've mentioned before, if the playoffs really were a true referendum on the abilities of the players, then you'd see it as having strong predictive power in the future. It does not, suggesting whatever impact nerves/pressure have(and I believe there is some) is pretty small.

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#56 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 7:10pm

You know what-you are probably right. Let's forget about pretending that Marino won 5 S.B. games, Let's now pretend that he played good enough to help his team win 10 S.B. games. That's right-we can pretend that he played better than any QB in history and had more success than any QB in history. Wow, he was great. I can't wait to tell my buddies about this change in Marino's Resume. They will be very happy.

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#43 by Will Allen // Sep 07, 2016 - 2:37pm

Bob, if the Patriots don't get great place kicking in a couple instances, and Pete Carroll manages the end of a game better, by your reasoning, Tom Brady would be a significantly lesser qb, compared to what is now the case.

I'm sorry, but this is an unsound approach to performance evaluation.

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#45 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 5:11pm

Nope, you are completely mis-characterizing my opinions. How did Brady play at the end of those games? Did he not help his team get into field-goal position? He gets the same credit from me whether the kick is good or not. His official winning % would be different, but I would still give him credit for getting his team into position to win that game, and when we would talk about his winning % I hope I would remember to point that out. The same as I do now with Marino when discussing the '94 PO game with San Diego and Jim Kelly's S.B. game in '90.

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#49 by Will Allen // Sep 07, 2016 - 5:27pm

Bob, you referenced winning percentage in playoff games as a means of evaluating qb play. If that is not what you meant to write, fine, but I don't think my reading was unreasonable.

In any case, the logic you are now employing is still simply unsound. You have no rational basis for cobcluding that the variation in performance, pulled from a tiny sample of passes in playoff games, is anything more yhan randomness, and, no statements about pressure packed moments dont change that.

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#50 by Will Allen // Sep 07, 2016 - 5:27pm

Bob, you referenced winning percentage in playoff games as a means of evaluating qb play. If that is not what you meant to write, fine, but I don't think my reading was unreasonable.

In any case, the logic you are now employing is still simply unsound. You have no rational basis for cobcluding that the variation in performance, pulled from a tiny sample of passes in playoff games, is anything more yhan randomness, and, no statements about pressure packed moments dont change that.

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#54 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 6:59pm

That is not correct. I clearly referenced winning % in championship games-the biggest games in any QB's career-just ask them. I like to compare how each QB played in their biggest games in their careers. Some played very good in a majority of them. Others-not so much.

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#55 by theslothook // Sep 07, 2016 - 7:01pm

Ok Bob, then you have to hold yourself to the logical consistencies of your argument. If your life depended on winning a sb - you'd rather have Flacco than any qb ever and certainly over Dan Marino.

Is that a conclusion you are happy with?

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#58 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 7:18pm

"and certainly over Dan Marino". Tell me again-Marino played good enough to help our team win HOW MANY S.B. games??? If your answer is ZERO, then yes, I would take Flacco. If it is 10 like we are now pretending from my most recent post just before this, then no, I would take Marino. Ten S.B. wins would win out.

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#40 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 07, 2016 - 1:33pm

I can't really understand your argument Bob.

By your reasoning ... John Elway was a crap QB in his first three SB blowout losses when he was carrying the team and a great QB when the rushing attack was carrying him.

And last year's Peyton Manning is better than the 2009 and 2013 incarnations.

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#41 by theslothook // Sep 07, 2016 - 2:17pm

I also hate the word stat padding. Stats are not some vague window dressing. Stats help a team win the game. TDs, yards, avoid turnovers and sacks - those are stats to follow because they are heavily tied to winning.

Also - Bob - please expound your argument further because I really didn't understand it. 10 game sample size of the regular season is spurious but 10 games in the postseason is reasonable??

At least in the 10 game regular season, we know the qb is playing with generally the same coaching staff and supporting cast. In 10 playoff games, we're looking at a qb over different periods of time with different teammates - making the sample size issue even more spurious.

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#52 by theslothook // Sep 07, 2016 - 6:44pm

No offense, but your definition for what constitutes adequate sample size is one no statistician would ever use.

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#60 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 7:31pm

OK, so what is the answer- how many playoff games on average did all QB's that ever started a game in the NFL ever play in? If the answer is 1 or 2, then 10 should be a decent sample size to use. Remember to use all QB's that ever started an NFL game. In other words, all QB's that had a chance to start a PO game if indeed their team would have made it to the PO's.

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#64 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 08, 2016 - 6:42am

I said it before the difficulty with using playoffs as a measure is that it's a knockout tournament so you don't get a chance to recoup losses. While I can see that makes an argument for survival of the fittest, actually what it does is skew the numbers.

- Tom Brady has 9 losses in the playoffs. He also has 22 wins because he's been there just about every year for the past 15.

- Trent Dilfer has a 5-1 record (0.833) due to going 1-1 with the Bucs in 1999 and 4-0 with the Ravens but the other 11 years of his career he never went to the playoffs.

- Eli is 8-3 in his time in the league. Two great years when the team got hot, three one-and-dones, and seven years where they didn't even touch the playoffs.

- Montana is 16-7 (69%), Elway is 14-5 (67%) - those records are pretty close but Montana is always mentioned long before Elway in a GOAT discussion.

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#65 by Bob Smith // Sep 08, 2016 - 9:36am

Why are you reluctant to include Marino's line-he is the main subject in most of this discussion. Let me try to use your terms: Dan is 8-10; he had 1 good (but not great) year, 3 one-and-dones, and 6 years where they (he) didn't even touch the playoffs. Sounds an awful lot like Eli Manning to me-except 1 minor thing-where Eli played good enough to help his team win 4 Championships to Marino's 1.

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#66 by Bob Smith // Sep 08, 2016 - 9:39am

As for Eiway vs. Montana-again look at how they each played in a majority of their championship games. It's not real close, but you do have a point-Elway did play good enough to help his team win 7 championships and only Montana, Bradshaw, and Brady have done better.

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#67 by theslothook // Sep 08, 2016 - 2:04pm

Forgetting the issue of survivorship bias(a whole separate story) - the playoffs are not sampled from the same pool. They are snapshots of a qb at different points of his career; with different teammates, with different coaches, etc etc. All that means, you have to control for now 10 extra variables.

Think about it. Does it make sense to measure Manning's postseason play by including data from when he was a second year qb and then as a broken down veteran and to pretend he's the same qb as when he was in his prime? Also, that his teammates and coaches were the same?

Face it - the playoffs are a theater of noise. This is probably the best tested proposition in all of football.

You can search for a narrative all you want with postseason numbers, but small sample sizes can produce almost anything. And just by chance, you are going to see situations like Marino and Montana. Given how sensitive the results of winning and losing are to a few plays here and there, its not hard to see why the playoffs are so noisy.

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#69 by bigpoppapump // Sep 08, 2016 - 6:50pm

Some games mean more than others. How you play in those more meaningful games gets remembered. That may not lend itself to statistical reliability but it's how the people want to consume their sports.

It's a sport not a spreadsheet.

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#70 by Will Allen // Sep 09, 2016 - 1:38am

That's fine, as long as the person using that method of reasoning is willing to forthrightly acknowledge that what they are engaged in is not an objective inquiry based in observable reality. What is a bit ironic is that the most empirically unsound approach to evaluating performance is often accompanied by the most certitude..

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#71 by Bob Smith // Sep 09, 2016 - 10:19am

Well said. Take '84 for example-where my guy (Marino) and Montana met in the S.B. There is no doubt that Dan had the better REG. SEASON, but there is also no doubt that Joe had the better YEAR. Montana reached "The Pinnacle of His Profession" by outplaying Marino and reaching the main goal that both were trying so hard to achieve.

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#73 by Will Allen // Sep 09, 2016 - 2:18pm

Good grief. What there is no doubt of is that the Niners had a much better roster, ooutside of the qb position.

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#74 by Bob Smith // Sep 09, 2016 - 3:06pm

Nope. Completely disagree. If we would have traded QB's for that game Montana still would have won with my Dolphin team. Why-because of his athleticism and the way he kept scoring drives alive by running. Five scoring drives he kept alive. He would have used Tony Nathan just like he used Roger Craig. Plus he would have the Marks brothers to throw to.

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#61 by Bob Smith // Sep 07, 2016 - 7:39pm

"The rushing attack was carrying him". How did Terrell Davis and the Broncos do in the '96 PO's? Let me help you out-they were ONE AND DONE. Terrell Davis guaranteed the Broncos exactly the same amount of success that Barry Sanders guaranteed the Lions-exactly NONE.

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#76 by jellygamatgoldg // Sep 13, 2016 - 8:05pm

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#77 by Gift seller // Nov 17, 2016 - 10:50am

Good grief. What there is no doubt of is that the Niners had a much better roster, ooutside of the qb position.

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