Boston, Brady, and Brian Burke

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series.  The Boston Celtics currently have the best record in the NBA, and perhaps the best efficiency differential in NBA history.  And now the New England Patriots are undefeated.   Could there be a happier city than Boston right now?  Could there be anything else to make the rest of the country less happy? 

Since I am not from Boston, I’m among the many that are not happy to see Boston celebrate (once again).  So with this feeling in mind, today’s football column is going to be about why we shouldn’t be impressed by the Patriots.  Keep in mind, this column is not motivated by impartial science.  No, I am motivated strictly by spite (or envy or whatever). :)

Let’s start with the Week Sixteen QB Score and RB Score rankings.

Week Sixteen QB Score Rankings

Overall QB Score Rankings

Overall RB Score Rankings

Is Tom Brady the Best Ever?

The rankings don’t include Saturday’s game between the Patriots and the Giants.  In that game, which clinched New England’s perfect mark, Tom Brady threw for 356 yards without a turnover.  His QB Score of 201 on 47 plays gave him a per play mark of 4.28, which is well above the average mark of 1.85.

When we add these numbers to what we see in the above table, we see that Brady finished the 2007 season with the following marks:

All Yards: 4,776

All Plays: 636

All Turnovers: 12

QB Score: 2,508

QB Score per play: 3.94

Net Points: 210.3

Net Point per play: 0.331

Wins Produced: 5.54

Where does Brady rank in NFL history?  To hear the pundits talk, his 2007 season was the greatest ever by an NFL quarterback.  When we turn to QB Score, Net Points, and Wins Produced, we see a different story.

Here are the stats for Peyton Manning in 2004:

All Yards: 4,494

All Plays: 535

All Turnovers: 11

QB Score: 2,559

QB Score per play: 4.78

Net Points: 212.7

Net Point per play: 0.398

Wins Produced: 5.61

In terms of the Wages of Wins metrics, Manning in 2004 was better.  The aggregate measures – QB Score, Net Points, and Wins Produced – are not much different.  But when we look at the per play marks, it’s clear that Manning in 2004 had better numbers.

One should also note that a similar story could be told with respect to Kurt Warner in 2000 and Randall Cunningham in 1998.  Warner posted a QB Score per play of 4.17 while Cunningham’s mark was 4.07.  Both of the numbers eclipse what Brady did this season.

Considering +WP16 from Brian Burke

Of course, the WoW measures do say that Brady was the best in 2007.  For an alternative view, consider the work of Brian Burke.  Burke has a measure called +WP16, or wins added per 16 games.  According to Burke, “the +WP16 stat estimates the wins added based on a regression that analyzes what makes teams win. The QB stats included are passing yards per attempt, rushing yards per attempt, sack yards per attempt, fumble rates, and interception rates. +WP16 isolates QB performance by assuming an average rushing game and an average defense.”

In essence, Burke’s metric – which he details at his website simply called NFL Stats (a site I highly recommend, as you can tell in this post) – is quite similar to the Wages of Wins metrics.  The basic differences (as far as I can tell), is that Burke

– considers total fumbles as opposed to fumbles lost.

– subtracts Yards after Catch (YAC), which he argues is a statistic that tells us more about receivers

has also considered the quality of the defenses a quarterback faces.

When Burke incorporates this last element he reaches a rather startling conclusion:

“In the year of Tom Brady and the Patriots, it may be David Garrard who is the best QB this season. After factoring in opponent strength, his +WP16 rating jumps from +2.2 to +2.5, edging Brady for the top spot. That’s remarkable considering Garrard wasn’t even his team’s starter in training camp. Jaguars coach, Jack Del Rio, looks like a genius for cutting Leftwich and sticking with Garrard.”

I would note that I also tinkered with subtracting YAC from QB Score and came to the same conclusion offered by Burke.  Garrard posted better numbers than Brady in 2007 (at least after Week 16) when YAC is not counted.  I am not sure if YAC should be counted in our evaluation of quaterbacks, although Burke make a credible argument for why YAC should not be considered in evaluating signal callers.

More from Burke

Of course 16-0 is not just about the quarterback.  Shouldn’t we be impressed by this accomplishment?  Burke also offers some thoughts on that question:

How rare is a 16-0 team?
Here is a quick back-of-the-envelope analysis. Let’s say that every year there are two legitimate 13-3 teams. In other words, there are two teams in the NFL that have a fundamental .813 winning percentage against an average strength of schedule without luck of any kind. In a 16-game season, a team with an underlying .813 win probability would have a 2.8% chance of winning all 16 games. (0.813 ^ 16 = 0.0281).

Because we assumed there are 2 such teams each year, the chance of neither team going undefeated is (1-0.028)^2 = 0.944, or 94.4%. The chance of one or both teams being undefeated is therefore 1-0.944 = 5.6%. We should expect an undefeated team about every 1 out of 20 years with the current state of talent distribution and a 16 game schedule.

I’m not saying the 2007 Patriots are really a 13-3 team that’s been really lucky. Assuming they beat the Giants, my hunch is (and their stats say) they are really a 15-1 team that dodged a bullet or two (namely the Ravens and Eagles).

Perfection or a Super Bowl

Let me close this rather spiteful and one-sided post by asking this question:

Which is more important, 16-0 or winning the Super Bowl?

Many pundits seem to argue that 16-0 means nothing if the Patriots fall in the playoffs.  This sentiment, in my view, is nonsense.  Every year one team wins a Super Bowl.  And although these teams are remembered by their fans and people overly obsessed with NFL history, for many fans of the NFL these teams tend to all blur together across time. 

A season of perfection, though, is quite rare.  Although Burke notes that statistically it’s not as rare as we might think, it’s still not something that happens every year.  So although I’m not happy with this much joy in Boston, I do have to admit that 16-0 is more impressive than winning a Super Bowl. 

Wait, let me amend that statement.  If the Detroit Lions ever win a Super Bowl, that would be more impressive than any team going 16-0.  The Lions have only won one playoff game in the past 50 years.  Although I have not seen Burke’s analysis of this issue, I would think the Lions making the playoffs and winning enough games to take the title would be statistically less likely than another team going 16-0.  Certainly as a fan of the Lions it seems this way.

– DJ

For more on QB Score, RB Score and what these metrics mean see

The New QB Score

Consistent Inconsistency in Football

Football Outsiders and QB Score

The Value of Player Statistics in the NFL

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