Another NFL regular season has come to a close. While fans of 12 teams anticipate the playoffs, fans of the other 20 teams start thinking about the NFL draft and what their team has to do to improve. The last football column of the regular season is going to focus on one of these teams. But before we get to that, here are the final QB Score and RB Score rankings for 2007.
The Top Backs of 07
Three of the four tables above are about the NFL’s signal callers. The first is just the QB Score rankings for week 17. The second table has the weekly rankings for every quarterback who attempted at least 14 passes in one game this past season. If you look over the list, you will see 71 names. Of these 71, twelve only attempted fourteen passes in one game. This means that 59 quarterbacks attempted 14 passes in multiple games, which appears to work out to almost two signal callers for each team. Still, despite the larger number of quarterbacks who played in 2007, the Bengals, Browns, Saints, Giants, Chargers, Patriots, and Cowboys never game significant playing time to any quarterback other than their starter.
In ranking the quarterbacks each week I noted how often the player finished a week ranked in top 10 or below 20. If we look at the 24 quarterbacks who attempted at least fourteen passes in ten or more games, we see that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning lead the way with more than ten top 10 finishes. In contrast, Tarvaris Jackson played ten games and only had one top ten finish.
When we turn to the Final QB Score Rankings, we see that Brady and Manning again lead the way. The third name – David Garrard – might seem surprising until we note that he only committed five turnovers all season.
Overall, the top five quarterbacks in each conference – in terms of QB Score per play — are as follows.
AFC: Brady, Manning, Garrard, Matt Schaub, and Jay Cutler
NFC: Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Jeff Garcia, Drew Brees, and Kurt Warner.
Carson Palmer and Derek Anderson would have been top five quarterbacks in the NFC, but in the AFC each places a bit lower.
Turning to the running backs, the following players are ranked in the top five in each conference in RB Score per game.
AFC: LaDainian Tomlinson, Fred Taylor, Joseph Addai, Jamal Lewis, Maurice Jones Drew
NFC: Brian Westbrook, Adrian Peterson, Brandon Jacobs, Frank Gore, Steven Jackson
RB Score per game rewards a player for both playing often and well (a point made a couple of weeks ago). If we wish to only consider efficiency, we can look at RB Score per play. By this metric the top five would be somewhat different.
AFC: Jones-Drew, Taylor, Tomlinson, Laurence Maroney, Justin Fargas
NFC: Peterson, Westbrook, Marion Barber, Ryan Grant, Jacobs
There are many stories we can tell about these lists, but one leaps out. Jacksonville has a top quarterback, as well as two top running backs. If this team was in the NFC it would be considered a strong candidate to go to the Super Bowl. In the AFC, though, this seems unlikely.
The Lions Illusion
And I would be sympathetic to the plight of the Jaguars, but the cats I follow have left me unsympathetic to the plight of any playoff team. The Detroit Lions have once again concluded a losing season. But despite another failed campaign, there is reason for optimism in Detroit. After six years where the team never won more than six games, the Lions in 2007 were victorious in seven contests. Unfortunately for me and other fans of this team, this record is an illusion (in other words, I am going to smash the call for optimism).
When we look at how many points this team scored and surrendered in 2007, it’s hard to see how the Lions are any better than they have been in any year with Matt Millen in charge.
In 2000, the year before Millen arrived, the Lions scored and surrendered 307 points en route to a nine win season. The next season, the Lions declined dramatically. Detroit only scored 270 points, while their opponents scored 424. When the season was over the Lions had only won two contests.
The next year the team’s points differential improved from -154 to -145 and the Lions managed to win three games. This was followed by the 2004 campaign, when the Lions differential was -109 and the team’s victory total stood at five.
In 2005 we came to what has been the high point in the Millen era. The Lions scored 296 points while only surrendering 350. The differential of -54 was the best since Millen took over, and until this year, the victory total of six was also the high point.
In 2005 and 2006 the team regressed. The differential was -91 and -93 respectively, and the Lions only won eight games across both seasons.
This year, though, this team won seven games. After eight games this team was considered a playoff contender. And then the Lions fell apart. When the season ended, the Lions had been outscored by 98 points. Yes, in terms of point differential, the Lions are no better than what they were in 2005 or 2006. In sum, despite winning seven games in 2007, the Lions are not making any progress.
What does all this mean? Each summer NFL teams bring together a collection of players that exceeds the roster limit set by the league. After weeks of practice and pre-season games, each team sends a host of players home. Each time they tell the player that’s departing that in sum, “you just aren’t good enough”.
When the season ends, the same story plays out for coaches and general managers. Owners have seen how the team has performed over 16 games, and when teams lose more often than the owners like, the people in charge tell their coaches and/or general managers “you just aren’t good enough.”
At least, that’s what happens everywhere outside Detroit. In Detroit the summer story happens. Players are told each summer that “you just aren’t good enough.” A few of those players go elsewhere and prove the Lions wrong. But still, the process exists to eliminate those who have not met expectations.
Unfortunately, the same process doesn’t exist in January. Matt Millen has now had seven years to turn the Lions into winners. Last year he told the Detroit media that he was staying until he finishes the job.
This is a noble sentiment (perhaps), but imagine if a player made the same argument next summer. The Lions coaches bring in a player to let them know “you just aren’t good enough.” And the player responds “I am not leaving until I get the job done. I refuse to quit on this team. I am going to keep playing until I get it right.” One suspects that the Lions coaches would start laughing if a player made such a speech when he was being cut. So why aren’t we all laughing when Millen says the same thing?
For more on QB Score, RB Score and what these metrics mean see