Week 5 NFL Quarterback Ratings

In Week 5 news, Mitchell Trubisky made his long-awaited debut, and while he certainly looks the part, it was not great. Take away the first drive and it was downright scary-bad. But not all rookies are Matt Ryan or apparently Deshaun Watson. Cam Newton had a great game, leading the Panthers to what may be a season-defining road win at Detroit. Carson Wentz continued his breakout season and Jared Goff returned to Earth a little.

Newton, CAR, 90 (60)
Smith, KC, 87 (81)
Wentz, PHI 78 (55)
Hogan, CLE, 73 (65)
Flacco, BAL, 73 (45)
Rodgers, GB, 68 (60)
Keenum, MIN, 65 (59)
Brady, NE, 64 (69)
McCown, NYJ, 62 (56)
Brissett, IND, 62 (48)
Watson, HOU, 58 (50)
Prescott, DAL, 57 (54)
Hoyer, SF, 55 (41)
Dalton, CIN, 53 (55)
Palmer, ARI, 53 (44)
Stafford, DET, 52 (52)
Cassel, TEN, 45 (31)
Winston, TB, 43 (52)
Wilson, SEA, 42 (48)
Manuel, OAK, 41 (40)
Bortles, JAX, 39 (40)
Bradford, MIN, 38 (66)
Manning, NYG, 35 (51)
Rivers, LAC, 31 (48)
Roethlisberger, PIT, 27 (46)
Taylor, BUF, 25 (55)
Goff, LAR, 24 (60)
Cutler, MIA, 22 (41)
Trubisky, CHI, 21 (21)
Kizer, CLE, 18 (24)

The Monday Night game illustrates some of the issue I have in tracking quarterback wins and losses. As far as the league is concerned and the media is concerned, you start a game, it’s your game. Most people would never know that in Super Bowl 26, Jim Kelly was injured and only was 4-7 passing before he left the game. Frank Reich took over in the second quarter and was 18-31. The Bills lost, 52-17.

So, is that Reich’s loss or Kelly’s? It’s Kelly’s by most standards in that he started. In baseball, pitcher wins and losses are determined by who was responsible for the baserunner who scored the run that gave the other team the lead for the last time. Under that standard, Kelly is still the loser – the Bills were down, 14-7, when he left, and never held the lead again. But Reich threw many more passes (both had two interceptions), was quarterback for a longer time. And sometimes in baseball, you see a closer who had a dreadful 1/3-inning blown save end up with a win. Scorekeepers have some discretion in assigning wins, but only when a starter fails to go five innings. I’m not sure this scorer’s ruling is done anymore or even allowed.

As an aside, the Bills had nine turnovers in that Super Bowl, which isn’t that close to the NFL record of 12.

I try to be consistent in how I assign wins and losses myself. I gave Reich the loss because he threw the ball much more, though I think it could go either way and Kelly certainly put the Bills in a deep hole with three turnovers of his own in his brief stint.

So, what about last night’s game? Sam Bradford started for Minnesota and was clearly struggling with his knee. He wasn’t mobile, it just wasn’t working for him. After a turnover near the end of the half, Bradford led the Vikings five yards in three plays and they kicked a field goal to take a 3-2 lead.

Case Keenum relieved Bradford for the last half-minute of the second quarter and the entire second half. The Vikings won, 20-17. Bradford threw for 36 yards and had a game score of 38. Keenum threw for 140 yards (17-of-21) and had a game score of 65. Now Chicago did tie the score late and Keenum led the winning drive right in the final minute. So under baseball’s rules, Keenum would get the win. I had no problem giving him the win.

But would I have done the same if Chicago had failed on its two-point try in the fourth quarter and the Vikings won, 20-15, without ever having lost the lead they gained with Bradford? I think so. It gets complicated. What do you do with a quarterback who enters the game in the fourth quarter, throws an interception, the other team ties the game and sends it to overtime, where that quarterback who gave up the lead (blew the save) leads the team to victory (perhaps without even throwing a pass)?

Since wins are not an official quarterback statistic, the NFL doesn’t worry about this. I don’t really worry, either, but my primary tool in calibrating my quarterback metric is correlating quarterback statistics with wins and losses. So assigning wins and losses more accurately, whatever that means, leads to a more accurate game score.

Week 4 NFL Quarterback Ratings

Quarterback game scores for week 4 in the NFL. Season averages in parentheses. This data has yet to be adjusted to 2017 totals, but shouldn’t vary that much in the end.

Andy Dalton 86 (55)
Cam Newton 85 (53)
Russell Wilson 76 (49)
Deshaun Watson 74 (48)
Alex Smith 73 (80)
Tyrod Taylor 70 (62)
Aaron Rodgers 68 (58)
Tom Brady 65 (71)
Kirk Cousins 64 (61)
Derek Carr 63 (61)
Kevin Hogan 63 (61)
Drew Brees 61 (67)
Jameis Winston 61 (55)
Philip Rivers 60 (53)
Marcus Mariota 55 (52)
Trevor Siemian 55 (50)
Jared Goff 50 (69)
Carson Palmer 49 (42)
Carson Wentz 49 (50)
Josh McCown 49 (55)
Ben Roethlisberger 47 (51)
Case Keenum 46 (56)
Eli Manning 46 (56)
Matthew Stafford 46 (52)
Dak Prescott 45 (53)
Jay Cutler 43 (47)
E.J. Manuel 38 (38)
Mike Glennon 34 (41)
Joe Flacco 30 (38)
Matt Ryan 25 (60)
Brian Hoyer 24 (38)
Jacoby Brissett 24 (44)
Blake Bortles 17 (41)
Matt Cassel 17 (17)
DeShone Kizer 16 (26)

Week 1 Average: 52
Week 2 Average: 52
Week 3 Average: 58
Week 4 Average: 51

Mike Glennon’s weak week four performance, complete with four turnovers, has led to his benching while #2 pick Mitchell Trubisky takes the Bears’ reins. Glennon only has a 5-17 quarterback record over his career. His average game score of 55 is good for a player with his limited experience, but he was signed to keep the Bears competitive while Trubisky developed. The Bears are looking at long odds to reach the playoffs, there’s a bye week coming and Glennon hasn’t been the game manager he was signed to provide. The only reason not to start Trubisky is if there’s worry he will struggle like fellow rookie DeShone Kizer, and playing him too early might cause long-term damage. Hopefully for Chicago fans, this isn’t the case, as head coach John Fox is unlikely to keep his job if the Bears don’t make significant progress the rest of the season and these decisions shouldn’t be made out of desperation.

Top quartile Pass Defenses, by Game Score against:
1. Buffalo 37
2. Jacksonville 38
2. Pittsburgh 38
4. Kansas City 40
5. Baltimore 41
5. Seattle 41
7. Cincinnati 45
8. New York Jets 46
8. Detroit 46

Bottom quartile Pass Defenses, by Game Score against:
31. Miami 73
31. New England 73
30. Cleveland 71
29. New Orleans 66
28. Oakland 64
27. Tampa Bay 62
25. Carolina 61
25. Los Angeles Chargers 61
23. Indianapolis 59
23. Philadelphia 59

It’s much too early for conclusions based on this small a sample size, but asking if certain performances are “for real” can be addressed in a superficial manner, understanding that each of these performances make up one quarter of the opponent’s data this season.

– Notably off of career averages –
Alex Smith, 80 average, 3 bottom quartiles, 1 middle.
Tom Brady, 71 average, 1 bottom, 2 middle, 1 top.
Jared Goff, 69 average, 1 bottom, 3 middle.
Russell Wilson, 49 average, 1 bottom, 3 middle.
Carson Palmer, 42 average, 1 bottom, 2 middle, 1 top.
Mike Glennon, 41 average, 1 bottom, 2 middle, 1 top.
Joe Flacco, 38 average, 1 bottom, 3 top.

– The Rookies –
Deshaun Watson, 48 average, 1 bottom, 1 middle, 2 top.
DeShone Kizer, 26 average, 1 bottom, 3 top.

Week 3 NFL Quarterback Ratings

Quarterback game scores from Week 3 in the NFL, with season averages in parentheses. An average game score for a starting quarterback is 52. Scores are based on the weights I used for the 2016 season. Those will change, but very little from year-to-year.

Kirk Cousins 96 (59)
Case Keenum 94 (62)
Jared Goff 91 (76)
Dak Prescott 85 (56)
Tom Brady 83 (73)
Jacoby Brissett 82 (54)
Drew Brees 78 (68)
Josh McCown 78 (57)
Tyrod Taylor 78 (60)
Andy Dalton 77 (45)
Alex Smith 72 (82)
Blake Bortles 69 (49)
Eli Manning 65 (59)
Brian Hoyer 62 (43)
Aaron Rodgers 60 (55)
Matt Ryan 59 (71)
Marcus Mariota 58 (50)
Ryan Mallett 56 (56)
Deshaun Watson 55 (39)
Carson Wentz 54 (50)
Russell Wilson 54 (40)
Jameis Winston 52 (52)
Carson Palmer 51 (40)
Matthew Stafford 39 (54)
Ben Roethlisberger 38 (52)
Mike Glennon 37 (43)
Trevor Siemian 34 (49)
Cam Newton 32 (42)
Jay Cutler 32 (50)
Derek Carr 29 (61)
Joe Flacco 19 (41)
Philip Rivers 18 (50)
DeShone Kizer 16 (29)

Week 2 NFL Quarterback Ratings

Updating with the game scores from Week 2 in the NFL. For each quarterback, their average game score for this season is in parentheses.

As an aside, I’ve actually received a handful of questions about why I stopped doing the college ratings. The simple answer is just that I’m busy and it’s a lot of work to set them up for a new season. It means compiling the season-opening ratings and then entering the schedules for 130 FBS schools. I ran them for 20 years. I don’t think I’ve received a single comment about them in a decade.

For a while I had hoped (because I’ve been part of Kenneth Massey’s comparison since the beginning and mine are decently accurate) I might become part of the media that takes part in the national computer rankings. But, somewhat like Lana Turner and the Top Hat Malt Shop and the legions of wannabe actresses who put away endless sodas hoping to follow her footsteps, no one discovered them. So I’m seeing what it feels like not to spend every early Sunday morning during the fall entering lots of data.

The NFL ratings are a lot less work and they tie more into the continual research I’m doing on pro football, so I’m continuing with them for now.

As another aside, I’ve noticed someone out there has made a rather determined effort to hack into this blog through a Ukrainian proxy. Just in case Robert Muller is one of my readers, no, I had nothing to do with the 2016 election. And I hope I’m practicing safe blogging by keeping WordPress updated and greatly limiting login attempts. Not sure why someone would want access to this blog – but if you ever see anything completely weird on my web site, like pictures of unclothed Ukranians, it wasn’t me.

Anyway…

Quarterback, Week 2 (Season Average)
Tom Brady 95 (68)
Derek Carr 81 (77)
Philip Rivers 81 (66)
Alex Smith 80 (88)
Matt Ryan 74 (78)
Jay Cutler 67 (67)
Ben Roethlisberger 61 (59)
Joe Flacco 60 (52)
Josh McCown 58 (47)
Kevin Hogan 58 (58)
Trevor Siemian 58 (56)
Matthew Stafford 56 (61)
Drew Brees 55 (64)
Cam Newton 54 (47)
Eli Manning 54 (56)
Jameis Winston 52 (52)
Jared Goff 52 (68)
Kirk Cousins 52 (41)
Aaron Rodgers 49 (53)
Tyrod Taylor 49 (51)
Marcus Mariota 48 (47)
Mike Glennon 46 (46)
Carson Palmer 45 (35)
Andy Dalton 43 (29)
Deshaun Watson 43 (32)
Carson Wentz 38 (48)
Russell Wilson 35 (34)
Blake Bortles 31 (39)
Dak Prescott 31 (42)
Case Keenum 29 (29)
Brian Hoyer 25 (33)
Jacoby Brissett 25 (25)
DeShone Kizer 15 (35)

Week 1 NFL Quarterback Ratings

I don’t know how often I’ll do this, but I thought I’d put out my quarterback scores for week 1 of the NFL season. The average game score is about 52 for a starter. These scores are based on 2016 normalizations. I’ll redo the normalizations and factor in a couple of other minor things at the end of the year, but these scores won’t change much. In parentheses is a quarterback’s average game score from 2016, if he had six or more qualified games.

Alex Smith, KC 95 (55)
Sam Bradford, MIN 94 (62)
Jared Goff, LAR 84 (30)
Matt Ryan, ATL 81 (74)
Derek Carr, OAK 72 (55)
Drew Brees, NO 72 (63)
Matthew Stafford, DET 66 (56)
Carson Wentz, PHI 58 (44)
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT 57 (55)
Eli Manning, NYG 57 (48)
Aaron Rodgers, GB 56 (60)
DeShone Kizer, CLE 55
Trevord Siemian, DEN 54 (48)
Tyrod Taylor, BUF 52 (52)
Dak Prescott, DAL 52 (64)
Philip Rivers, LAC 51 (51)
Blake Bortles, JAC 46 (41)
Mike Glennon, CHI 45
Marcus Mariota, TEN 45 (54)
Joe Flacco, BAL 43 (48)
Brian Hoyer, SF 41 (59)
Tom Brady, NE 40 (66)
Cam Newton, CAR 39 (42)
Josh McCown, NYJ 35 (34)
Tom Savage, HOU 33
Russell Wilson, SEA 32 (58)
Kirk Cousins, WAS 30 (60)
Scott Tolzien, IND 30
Carson Palmer, ARI 24 (48)
Deshaun Watson, HOU 20
Andy Dalton, CIN 14 (57)

Two-Point Conversions

From time to time, I like to take the opportunity to challenge my own perceptions about football. One strategy that’s often debated is whether teams should attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown.

Decades ago, legendary coach Dick Vermeil, then a coordinator at UCLA, created a chart that’s still in popular use today. It’s not a chart I used when developing Front Office Football, but it’s not that different. Some of it is obvious; for instance if you trail by two after scoring a touchdown, you should try and tie the game. But even then, when in the game should you start consulting the chart?

Some of it is complex, or even controversial. You’re supposed to go for two when you lead by four after scoring. The idea is that if you make it, a subsequent field goal will give you a two-score lead. But if you miss, a subsequent field goal will leave your opponent the opportunity to tie on a touchdown without going for two.

Since the two-point conversion rate in the NFL is about 45% and the extra-point rate with the new distance rule is about 97%, I’d hesitate to start using any chart until well after halftime. Just take the point.

A few months ago, when working on a percentage win calculator that I’ve yet to put into any product, I analyzed a few seasons’ worth of play-by-play data and compiled a chart that could be useful for making these decisions. As an aside, I do this kind of thing a lot. Most of what I discover on these odysseys never amounts to meaningful work within my products. This might well fall into that category. But it could also be useful in compiling a more fine-tuned chart – one that even incorporates time remaining.

Today, I watched a good part of the Lions’ opener against Arizona. With 3:07 left in the third quarter, the Lions scored to cut the Cardinal lead to two. Some might say it was too early to start using a chart, but no one would question the wisdom of the decision in the closing moments. The Lions tried the conversion and failed. How did that change their win chances?

I have my play-by-play data broken into 100-second increments. To take a broader brush to include as much as is reasonable, I used the categories from the end of the third quarter to 6:40 remaining in the third quarter. There have been 2,797 plays undertaken with the score tied and a team with the ball, 1,031 plays with a one-point lead and 397 with a two-point lead. Not an overwhelming amount of data, especially since you can’t assume a reasonably uniform distribution of field position within that small a data set with the two-point lead. But in 1,629 of the tied scenarios (58%), the team with the ball won (possession matters – Arizona would have possession after the ensuing kick). In 574 of the one-point lead scenarios (56%), the team with the ball won and in 280 of the cases with a two-point lead (71%), the team with the ball won.

This is a great example of where sample size lets you down. The reason I’m writing about this is to give you some insight into my process when examining a particular question. When do you make a conclusion and when do you accept that you just don’t have enough information? This is several seasons’ worth of complete play-by-play data (350,000+ plays broken down by lead and time to go blocks), and the raw data set still isn’t good enough to make solid conclusions.

What the above numbers suggest is that the value of the extra point is immaterial, but there’s a 10-15% game-win cost in going for two and failing. That just doesn’t feel like a reasonable conclusion. When I was doing the initial work with this particular data set, I ran a whole series of rolling averages to come up with a win-percentage chart that supported the data with less precision, but a consistent set of percentages that required the least amount of intervention on my part (making “decisions” about interpretation and then using those decisions to influence how the rolling averages were applied). I feel more confident in presenting that chart as reasonable, at least in the sense that it could be used to help with this kind of decision. If this work results in use in any product, I would use that more processed chart.

Going back to the analysis of the first Lions decision: I come up with a 55.8% Arizona win percentage when tied during that time block, 61.1% with a one-point lead, 64.3% with a two-point lead. So, -3.2% for Detroit with a failure, +5.3% with success. Assuming 45% success on two-point tries and 97% success on extra points, the decision to go for it, in itself, raises Detroit’s win percentage by about a half a percentage point. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that it was a good decision. In general, my data supports this case up to about midway through the third quarter. Earlier than that, I would advise against ever going for a two point conversion except when desperate and in need of multiple positive results (let’s say you score and trail by 18).

The second Lions decision came with 9:27 remaining in the game. This time, they led by four. Vermeil’s chart says “go for it.” I don’t know if Jim Caldwell uses this particular chart, but he went for it. The Lions failed. The value of success and penalty for failure is explained at the start of this article. Now to break down it down using the data…

If the Cardinals gain possession with a six-point deficit (Detroit makes the conversion), they have a 29.2% chance of winning. With a five-point deficit, that’s 36.0% and a four-point deficit, that’s 41.0% percent. Factoring in analysis of success and failure, that amounts to, again, about a half-percentage-point increase in the Lions’ win chances. This surprised me a little, but, as it turns out, a six-point lead is quite a bit better than a five-point lead, even relatively early in the game.

Vermeil’s chart may be old, but it holds up even in the modern game.

NFL Quarterbacks for 2017

Now that the preseason is over and around 1,000 players were released this weekend, we have a good picture of the quarterback situation for 2017. I’ve put together a chart that I use as a quick reference.

Teams usually activate two quarterbacks for a game. Many keep a third quarterback on the 53-man roster and leave him inactive most weeks. This is a good place for a draft pick that isn’t expected to contribute his rookie year. Teams that don’t have three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster often have a quarterback on their practice squad. This is often a young player, but since any team can sign someone else’s practice-squad player by offering a roster spot, it’s not a place to stash a draft pick with a high upside.

There are some exceptions. A handful of teams won’t have a third quarterback, figuring on holding tryouts the next Monday in case of an injury. After all, 37 quarterbacks were released this week. Even though that group has a combined record of 26-78, there’s some talent in there, presumably in playing shape. And there are a few injured quarterbacks who need to be protected because they could be activated later in the season.

Practice squads will be formed this week. These will include at least a few of the quarterbacks released this week. A team will sometimes sign a quarterback to its practice squad that it just released.

A quarterback’s age and NFL record is in parenthesis. For rookies, their draft position is included rather than a record. For a quarterback’s record, I calculate wins and losses much like baseball does. Playoffs are included, though. Age is as of opening day next week.

*A – Indicates player is on Injured Reserve and won’t play this season. *B – Indicates player is on 53-man roster, but is likely to be placed on Injured Reserve with the possibility of returning later in the season. *C – Indicates player is on 53-man roster, is injured, but is likely to be healthy early enough to be worth keeping off of the PUP list. *D – Indicates player is on the non-football injury list and could be reinstated later in the season. *E – Indicates player is on the PUP list and will be eligible to return to the active roster after six weeks.











































AFC East
BuffaloMiamiNew EnglandNew York Jets
Tyrod Taylor (28, 15-15)Jay Cutler (34, 70-70)Tom Brady (40, 207-60)Josh McCown (38, 17-41)
Nathan Peterman (23, 171st)Matt Moore (33, 16-15)Jimmy Garoppolo (25, 2-0)Bryce Petty (26, 1-3)
T.J. Yates (30, 5-3)Ryan Tannehill *A (29, 36-40)
Christian Hackenberg (22, 0-0)
AFC North
BaltimoreCincinnatiClevelandPittsburgh
Joe Flacco (32, 93-59)Andy Dalton (29, 54-39)DeShone Kizer (21, 52nd)Ben Roethlisberger (35, 135-65)
Ryan Mallett (29, 3-5)A.J. McCarron (26, 2-2)Cody Kessler (24, 0-7)Landry Jones (28, 3-2)

Jeff Driskel *B (24, 0-0)Kevin Hogan (24, 0-1)Joshua Dobbs (22, 135th)
AFC South
HoustonIndianapolisJacksonvilleTennessee
Tom Savage (27, 2-2)Andrew Luck *C (27, 46-30)Blake Bortles (25, 11-34)Marcus Mariota (23, 11-16)
Deshaun Watson (21, 12th)Scott Tolzien (30, 0-3)Chad Henne (32, 19-37)Matt Cassel (35, 37-46)

Jacoby Brissett (24, 1-1)
Alex Tanney *A (29, 0-0)
AFC West
DenverKansas CityLos Angeles ChargersOakland
Trevor Siemian (25, 8-6)Alex Smith (33, 80-58)Philip Rivers (35, 98-85)Derek Carr (26, 22-25)
Paxton Lynch *C (23, 1-1)Patrick Mahomes (21, 10th)Cardale Jones (24, 0-0)E.J. Manuel (27, 6-10)
Brock Osweiler (26, 12-9)Tyler Bray (25, 0-0)
Connor Cook (24, 0-1)
Chad Kelly *D (23, 253rd)


NFC East
DallasNew York GiantsPhiladelphiaWashington
Dak Prescott (24, 13-3)Eli Manning (36, 116-94)Carson Wentz (24, 7-9)Kirk Cousins (29, 20-23)
Cooper Rush (23, undrafted)Geno Smith (26, 11-19)Nick Foles (28, 21-18)Colt McCoy (31, 8-17)

Davis Webb (22, 87th)

NFC North
ChicagoDetroitGreen BayMinnesota
Mike Glennon (27, 4-14)Matthew Stafford (29, 52-57)Aaron Rodgers (33, 99-50)Sam Bradford (29, 32-44)
Mitchell Trubisky (23, 2nd)Jake Rudock (24, 0-0)Brett Hundley (24, 0-0)Case Keenum (29, 9-15)
Mark Sanchez (30, 40-39)

Teddy Bridgewater *E (24, 16-12)
NFC South
AtlantaCarolinaNew OrleansTampa Bay
Matt Ryan (32, 87-62)Cam Newton (28, 54-44)Drew Brees (38, 137-105)Jameis Winston (23, 15-17)
Matt Schaub (36, 48-46)Derek Anderson (34, 21-27)Chase Daniel (30, 1-1)Ryan Fitzpatrick (34, 49-67)



Ryan Griffin *B (27, 0-0)
NFC West
ArizonaLos Angeles RamsSan FranciscoSeattle
Carson Palmer (37, 89-85)Jared Goff (22, 0-7)Brian Hoyer (31, 14-16)Russell Wilson (28, 64-27)
Drew Stanton (33, 9-7)Sean Mannion (25, 0-0)C.J. Beathard (23, 104th)Austin Davis (28, 3-8)
Blaine Gabbert (28, 9-29)


Preseason Prodigies

There’s some buzz in Cleveland because the Browns won all four of their preseason games. This coming off a 1-15 season and just 38 wins in the nine seasons since they last posted ten wins.

Is this buzz rational?

It’s easy to dismiss the preseason. Established starters see about 4-5 quarters’ worth of action in four weeks. Playbooks remain vanilla. Youngsters are fighting for jobs and a third of the players won’t play a single down during the regular season. Wins and losses aren’t that important.

I’ll also point out that the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only 0-16 team in NFL history, were 4-0 during that preseason.

Studying the issue going back to the beginning of the eight-division format, 30 teams have gone undefeated in the preseason and 32 teams have gone winless. How have they done?

The undefeated teams are more-or-less average during the regular season, with 7.97 wins per team.

How did they fare the previous season? These teams averaged 8.29 wins. So there was a slight decline – nothing too exciting given the small sample size.

What about teams that won six or less games the previous season? They averaged 1.8 wins more, on average. The Lions even made the playoffs in 2011 after an undefeated preseason following a 6-10 mark in 2010.

I’m not convinced Browns fans should be ecstatic about their 4-0 preseason, but it’s certainly not a negative.

The flip side of this argument is more interesting. Of the 0-4 preseason teams, their average record was only 7.34 wins that season. That’s a bit concerning. It gets even more concerning when you consider that the average wins for these teams the previous season was 8.77. While I’m not certain this is significant with the sample size, either, that’s potentially a study.

The average decline, season-to-season, of teams with ten or more wins the previous season that went winless in the preseason, is 3.9.

Atlanta and Oakland fans, maybe there is something there to worry about this year.

Hall of Fame Quarterbacks

Tony Romo’s announced retirement has people talking about the Hall of Fame and quarterbacks. Is he good enough? What is the criteria? What will the Hall of Fame committee do?

Since I’ve put so much work into my quarterback research, I thought I’d take a shot at answering the question. The simple answer? No. Romo will not reach the Hall of Fame. He simply didn’t play enough games.

But what’s the fun of an analysis without sharing a little more about what went into the conclusion?

I limited my work to quarterbacks who played in the modern NFL. As I’ve written many times, I think analysis of quarterback play before 1974 is completely different from analysis of today’s game. In 1974, the NFL changed the rules to open up the passing game. Before then, receivers could be bumped, tackled, you name it. This greatly limited strategies. The rules were fine-tuned over the next few years, and offenses took some time adjusting to the new NFL.

There have been 15 quarterbacks inducted into the Hall who played in the modern NFL. Roger Staubach, who retired after the 1979 season, was the first. Fran Tarkenton retired a year earlier, but didn’t get in until his third year of eligibility.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame committee is notorious stingy about offering the gold jacket to quarterbacks – about one every two years on average. And when a quarterback has the votes to emerge from the nominating process and is one of the finalists, he’s almost certainly getting the call. Only five quarterbacks haven’t been voted in the first time they were nominated. Of those five, four eventually reached the Hall. There’s only one exception, which I’ll get to later.

Point being: the committee knows what it wants in a quarterback and it’s not that hard to figure out what they did.

In my analysis, I looked at a large number of factors. But I found that the simpler I made the criteria, the more easily I could tell who was in and who was out. The committee doesn’t care about long delays between inducting quarterbacks, and they don’t care about inducting several in a short amount of time if they feel it’s deserved. Five got in between 2004-2006, all when they were first eligible. None got in for the following nine years. We’ve since had three in two years.

I found only two factors mattered. One is purely the number of games the quarterback won. I fine-tuned this a tiny bit by adding an eight-game bonus for a Super Bowl win and a three-game bonus for a Super Bowl loss, but the numbers work almost as well without that. The second is my quarterback metric, which is a way of easily comparing performance across different eras. Obviously, the committee doesn’t call me and ask for my metric. They have different sources of material – probably just experience knowing who, year after year, were the quarterbacks opponents respected the most.

The committee doesn’t seem to care about touchdown passes or total yards or when a player was drafted. It’s just a combination of winning and excellence.

Back in the ’80s, when the first of these modern quarterbacks was eligible, the committee was a little more like baseball’s committee; they seemed to view induction in the first year of eligibility as a special honor. Hence Tarkenton and Bob Griese had to wait, even though they had exceptional careers and weren’t close to the minimum threshold for induction. Later, it was more an up-or-down vote.

Not much needs to be said about the “easy” choices. You know the names: Montana, Favre, Marino, Bradshaw, Young, Elway, Aikman, Staubach, Tarkenton, Griese and Kelly. All excellent quarterbacks who won an enormous number of games.

So I focused more on the four quarterbacks who didn’t seem as though they were easy choices, plus those who were close. The ones who are in: Dan Fouts (1993), Warren Moon (2006), Ken Stabler (2016) and Kurt Warner (2017).

Moon’s case is unique. Generally, the NFL has a very good record when it comes to race, but black quarterbacks faced considerable discrimination for a long time. Despite having all the tools, Moon went undrafted in 1978. So he went to the CFL, and in six years broke so many records and led the Edmonton Eskimos to so many titles that in just that brief amount of time, he’s considered one of the best ever to play the game north of the border.

And then what did he do? He went and had an exceptional career in the NFL, putting up more than 100 wins. So even without the first six years of his career, he’d be on the borderline, maybe a little short. It seems quite reasonable for the committee to give Moon some extra points for what he did in the CFL – it is, after all, a professional league. Moon was inducted in his first year of eligibility.

Stabler is another unique case. His win total puts him solidly in the “long look” category. Not enough to make it automatic, but enough where his statistical excellence should make it an easy call. But Stabler was a character. And controversy followed him. You can look up reports of connections to known gamblers, even some suspicion of thrown games. The committee wrestled with Stabler like no one else. He was a finalist three times, starting in his first year of eligibility. He was a semifinalist six straight years (2004-2009) before dropping out of consideration. After he died, the veteran’s committee inducted him in 2016.

Warner and Fouts did not have high enough win totals. But both were leaders of top offenses and put up exceptional numbers. Fouts was inducted in his first year, Warner not until his third. These are the cases I used to establish minimums for the committee.

Warner is up there with Montana and Young in my quarterback metric. This seems to kick in when a quarterback has more than 75 wins. Warner had 78 (including playoffs) and I bump that to 92 with the Super Bowl title and two losses (no eligible quarterback with three Super Bowl starts isn’t in the Hall). Fouts had 89 wins, as well as 57.3 in the metric, which is one of the top all-time scores for an established quarterback.

There really aren’t that many quarterbacks who have more than 80 wins (even with the Super Bowl bump) and aren’t in – 17 total. I used Elway’s career score of 52.7 in the metric as the bottom of the acceptable range. Elway is in because he won so many games and had such a high winning percentage that it would be ridiculous not to include him. He won Super Bowls. He won 14 playoff games. And 52.7 is solidly above average when it comes to the general quarterback population. Maybe he had the benefit of great teammates. I track fourth-quarter game-winning drives as well – he’s among the best in that category.

I’m not a big believer in clutch quarterbacking – generally teams that are good but not great have more of those drives than teams that consistently dominate. Tom Brady (15%) and Aaron Rodgers (11%) are among the lowest in NFL history when it comes to percentage of their wins that come from late fourth-quarter drives. You want to tell me they aren’t “clutch,” whatever that means? Or that Jay Cutler (29%) is the guy you really want when the game is on the line? Not that Cutler is a bad quarterback – he’s just not someone they’ll consider for the Hall.

Nevertheless, if anyone had that late-game magic, it was Elway. You look at his per-game numbers and wonder how he did what he did, because it stands out. So of the 15 quarterbacks with 80 wins (including the Super Bowl bump) who aren’t in the Hall, I have no problem removing those with a sub-52.7 metric and less than 110 wins. That eliminates eight. Take out those between 52.7 and 54.2 and less than 100 wins and you lose another six. Dave Krieg had 101 wins and a 54.2 in the metric. He’s an excellent example of the best of the “Hall of the Very Good.” As is Rich Gannon (77 wins, 0-1 Super Bowl record, 54.7 in the metric).

And that leaves us with one quarterback who isn’t in the Hall: Ken Anderson. He had 91 wins and a 58.7 in the metric. The 91 wins, especially with just an 0-1 Super Bowl record, isn’t enough on its own. But the 58.7 is behind only Young, Montana, Warner and Griese. Anderson belongs.

I’m hardly the first person to want to campaign for Anderson. Others have broken down the case for Anderson looking at Pro Bowls, years leading the league in passer rating, even showing that he had fewer Pro-Bowl teammates than just about any other candidate. I can’t do a better job than they’ve already done.

But just based on this relatively simple analysis combining my metric with wins, he’s the only modern quarterback not in the Hall that passes these tests. I sincerely hope the veteran’s committee reviews his case soon. He was a finalist in 1996 and 1998 – so he is also the only modern quarterback who has reached the finals not to make it. The committee knows he was great. I think that now that we’ve had another 20 years to digest his candidacy and get a better picture of the role of the modern quarterback in the Hall, this omission stands out like nothing else.

Will the criteria change? I wanted to spend some time discussing the future of the modern quarterback in the Hall.

Of current nominations, none meet the elimination test. Donovan McNabb (first eligible in 2017, but not reaching the semifinals) is the closest. He had 105 wins and an 0-1 Super Bowl record, which puts him in serious consideration. But only a 51.7 career metric. Like Krieg, the Hall of the Very Good. Phil Simms (99 wins, 1 Super Bowl win, 52.0 metric), also nominated but not a semifinalist in 2017, also falls firmly in this category.

As far as new candidates go, there are none until Peyton Manning in 2021. I don’t need to tell you which way that will go. Matt Hasselbeck (91 wins, 0-1 Super Bowl, 52.0 metric) is also eligible in 2021, but won’t get more than a nomination. And Romo will come up in 2022. With an exceptional metric (60.2), Romo deserves a long look. But he only had 80 wins. So on the surface, Romo’s candidacy looks a lot like Warner’s. But here’s where having the three Super Bowl starts makes a difference.

The second piece of this analysis is that quarterbacks are lasting longer these days. While the committee has and should go with the flow when it comes to letting in several quarterbacks in a small number of years, we’re in a slightly different era when it comes to the franchise quarterback. Training methods are improving, and losing an elite guy like Aikman at age 34 or Bradshaw at 35 probably wouldn’t happen as often today. Romo is 36, and his retiring now stands out – but he has faced some unusually unlucky and severe injuries.

Still, we have Tom Brady (207 wins plus 5-2 in Super Bowls, 58.7 metric) coming up. Brady could divide his career in two and each half would make the Hall. Drew Brees (137, 1-0, 60.5), Ben Roethlisberger (135, 2-1, 58.4) and Aaron Rodgers (99, 1-0, 61.6) are also automatic choices (Rodgers still has a few good years left). I have a hard time believing Matt Ryan won’t be automatic – he’ll be only 32 next season. That’s five who are over 30 right now who likely get in on the first ballot, no hesitation.

It’s the next batch of 30-somethings that will force the committee to examine that statistical standard. Eli Manning (age 35, already at 116 wins with a 2-0 record in Super Bowls) may be a lock as well. But his 50.1 career metric isn’t that far from replacement level. Joe Flacco (age 31, 93 wins, 1-0 in Super Bowls plus a remarkable 10-5 playoff record) has a 50.9 career metric. On the other end of the scale, you have Philip Rivers (age 35, 98 wins, no Super Bowls, but a 58.4 career metric).

When you add Peyton Manning, that’s nine potential Hall quarterbacks who entered the league from 1998-2008. Maybe that’s a reflection of the current game, and what we need in the Hall. Or maybe it’s best to draw a line right under Elway from a statistical perspective and ignore Eli Manning and Flacco no matter how many wins they accumulate. Do they add Rivers because the statistics are exceptional? Hard to say which path is best, just that these are the cases that will determine the shape of the Hall in the future.

I’ve included charts of this information at the bottom of this article.




















































































QuarterbackAdjusted WinsIn Hall
Brett Favre210Yes
John Elway186Yes
Joe Montana162Yes
Dan Marino157Yes
Terry Bradshaw151Yes
Fran Tarkenton139Yes
Troy Aikman127Yes
Jim Kelly119Yes
Roger Staubach117Yes
Bob Griese115Yes
Steve Young109Yes
Ken Stabler109Yes
Donovan McNabb108No
Phil Simms107No
Warren Moon105Yes
Drew Bledsoe104No
Dave Krieg101No
Steve McNair96No
Ken Anderson94No
Jim Plunkett94No
Vinny Testaverde93No
Joe Theismann93No
Kurt Warner92Yes
Craig Morton91No
Kerry Collins90No
Dan Fouts89Yes
Boomer Esiason87No
Brad Johnson85No
Mark Brunell84No
Randall Cunningham84No
Ron Jaworski82No
Rich Gannon80No



QuarterbackAverage MetricIn Hall
Steve Young64.2Yes
Kurt Warner61.7Yes
Joe Montana61.5Yes
Bob Griese59.6*Yes
Roger Staubach58.8*Yes
Ken Anderson58.7*No
Ken Stabler57.5*Yes
Dan Fouts57.3*Yes
Fran Tarkenton56.9*Yes
Troy Aikman56.3Yes
Terry Bradshaw56.2*Yes
Brett Favre56.2Yes
Dan Marino56.2Yes
Jim Kelly56.1Yes
Rich Gannon54.7No
Dave Krieg54.2No
Brad Johnson54.1No
Warren Moon53.8Yes
Joe Theismann53.8No
Steve McNair53.4No
Mark Brunell53.3No
Craig Morton53.2*No
Boomer Esiason53.0No
John Elway52.7Yes
Jim Plunkett52.4*No
Phil Simms52.0No
Randall Cunningham51.7No
Donovan McNabb51.7No
Ron Jaworski50.1No
Vinny Testaverde49.8No
Drew Bledsoe49.1No
Kerry Collins46.5No



QuarterbackAge (end of 2016)Adjusted WinsAverage MetricRetired
Tom Brady3925358.7No
Peyton Manning4022261.2Yes
Ben Roethlisberger3415458.4No
Drew Brees3714560.5No
Eli Manning3513250.1No
Aaron Rodgers3310761.6No
Joe Flacco3110150.9No
Philip Rivers359858.4No
Matt Hasselbeck419452.0Yes
Matt Ryan319058.7No
Carson Palmer378953.9No
Tony Romo368060.2Yes
Alex Smith328050.8No
Jay Cutler337051.6No

(* – does not include quarterback metric scores before 1974)

Throwing and throwing and throwing… at the Super Bowl

Much will be written about Super Bowl LI. As Super Bowls go, it was a thriller. As comebacks go, it’s the new definition of extreme comeback. My son was asking me about New England’s chances as they entered the fourth quarter with the Patriots still trailing, 28-9. I said it has to be close to zero percent. He has school tomorrow, so he wanted me to take him back to his mom.

Then the Patriots settled for a field goal on a 4th-and-15 that I thought was ill-advised. So I said, just a couple more minutes, and we’ll head out. And then Dont’a Hightower reached out and knocked the ball away from Matt Ryan, and suddenly, the chances were at least somewhat within the realm of once-in-a-lifetime. So we stuck it out and witnessed something fairly amazing.

I am a Patriot fan these days, as I’ve written before. It’s because I moved to the Nashua, New Hampshire area in 2000 – a few months after the Patriots were forced to use a compensatory pick near the end of the sixth round. Compensatory picks could not be traded. So, reluctantly, no doubt (Bill Belichick is legendary for his love of wheeling and dealing for future draft picks – he could rival Siddhartha himself when it comes to delaying gratification), Belichick picked. And with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft, the Patriots select… yeah, you know.

I cared, though. Tom Brady was the Michigan quarterback following the National Championship in 1997. Never quite got a fair shake under Lloyd Carr, but he had a presence back there. Something Belichick saw. So when franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with a terrible injury in 2001, the Patriots were in good hands. I felt part of that – something as simple as moving and seeing my home-town guy lead my new home team to their first title… that was cool.

I should note that I grew up in Ann Arbor. My dad was a Michigan professor and all my degrees are from Michigan. It’s why I was fairly neutral about the NFL. Passion in football is about the Maize and Blue. The NFL is about research and work for me. I allow myself this one rooting interest. When Brady retires, I’ll probably return to neutral. I’m back in the Ann Arbor area now, and it would seem hypocritical to get on that bandwagon should the Detroit Lions start winning.

Of course, Deflategate was difficult. I read about Ideal Gas Law and Roger Goodell’s desire to prove that he has the legal right to act as judge, jury and executioner. So this one meant a little more, and it was nice sharing that with my son, who wore his Brady jersey as we watched and went from sad to sad to sad to at least this won’t be a total embarrassment to “I’ve been watching football my entire life and I’ve never seen anything like that.” And we stayed to watch Goodell hand the trophy to Bob Kraft and enjoy the announcement of Brady’s unprecedented fourth MVP award in his unprecedented fifth win as a Super Bowl quarterback.

So, what about the game? What to write? I tried looking up the record for most points scored by an NFL team without a single extra point. According to Pro Football Reference, 34 today ties the Eagles (week 14, 2013) for most in a game since they added extra points to their tracking tool (at least the 1960s). So there’s that.

I’ll stick with one concept for now: Brady’s 62 passing attempts. He went 43-62-466-2-1.

Generally, you don’t get to 60 without a large deficit. As I’ve written many times, I keep a database of quarterback performances dating back to 1974 – when the passing rules in the NFL were changed to open up the passing game. Before 1974 (and a subsequent adjustment in 1977), you could basically pick up a receiver, hog-tie him, carry him to the sideline and put him in the equipment trunk (along with the deflated footballs) without getting a penalty.

Today’s game was the 49th time a quarterback has made 60 or more passing attempts in a game since 1974. Their team’s record in those games: 8-41. Of those 49 games, four were in the playoffs – tonight’s and three divisional-round games. Drew Brees lost in 2012, Steve Young lost in 1996 and Bernie Kosar of the Cleveland Browns mounted a fourth-quarter comeback win over the Jets in 1987, going 33-64-489-1-2.

I don’t know that Brady’s legacy needed any cementing, but, in the end, all I can say about Super Bowl LI and his team’s comeback win is… incredible.