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Explaining our Handling of “Holds”

24th February 2016

UPDATE (Feb. 25, 2016): MLB has informed us that they will be updating Brach's 2015 holds total to 15 (matching us). MLB's Cory Schwartz commented: "We do credit Holds whenever the pitcher enters in a Save situation and leaves with the lead intact, so this was an oversight on our part."

It recently came to our attention that for the 2015 season, we credited Brad Brach with 15 holds. MLB, meanwhile, credited Brach with just 14 holds (NOTE: After reading this post, MLB has agreed that 15 is the correct number of holds for Brach in 2015). It was discovered that the difference was in the handling of the Orioles 5-4 win over the Mariners on May 21. Before we jump into the details, let's examine MLB's definition of a hold (bolding is ours, for emphasis):

"The hold is not an official statistic, but it was created as a way to credit middle relief pitchers for a job well done. Starting pitchers get wins, and closers -- the relief pitchers who come in at the end of the game -- get saves, but the guys who pitch in between the two rarely get either statistic. So what's the most important thing one of these middle relievers can do? "Hold" a lead. If a reliever comes into a game to protect a lead, gets at least one out and leaves without giving up that lead, he gets a hold. But you can't get a save and a hold at the same time."

UPDATE (Feb. 26, 2016): Please see MLB's updated Holds definition here

As you can see, this isn't really much of a definition at all. There's little in the way of criteria here, and it's also pointed out that the statistic isn't even official, anyways. In fact, there's enough confusion that credits Cory Rasmus with 2 holds in 2015, but Elias (MLB's official statistician) credits him with 1 hold in 2015. We credit him with 2, for what it's worth. This "definition" provides enough room for interpretation that variance in recorded totals is not uncommon.

Being that the statistic is unofficial, explaining all of this might be a pointless exercise, but in an effort to be transparent, we at least want to point out what standard we are using to assign holds.

Our standard is to give a pitcher a hold any time they protect a lead in a save situation (meaning they could have been eligible for a save if they finished the game). Brach presents an interesting study in that May 21 game. Starter Chris Tillman pitched 3 innings and left with a 4-1 lead. Obviously, he was not eligible for the win due to Rule 10.17(b), as he did not complete 5 innings. Tillman was relieved by Brian Matusz, who allowed 2 runs in the 4th, but completed the inning of work and left the game leading 4-3, when Brach took the mound for the 5th inning. Brach completed 2 scoreless innings, but the Mariners tied it up in the 7th after Brach left the game. The Orioles eventually won the game.

With the benefit of hindsight, you could say that Brach would have been in line for the win (not the save) if he had finished the game, since he ended up being more "effective" than Matusz, which would make it nearly a lock that the official scorer would have given him the win. But, hypothetically, Brach could have given up 20 runs in relief, but maintained the lead, and earned the save (with Matusz getting the win). As unlikely as that scenario is, the point here is that we're not using hindsight in assigning holds. In our opinion, the opportunity for a hold is defined when you enter the game and is only removed retroactively if you are given the win.

To be as clear as possible: our policy is to credit a hold when a pitcher enters the game in a save situation and leaves with the lead (and is not later given the win by the official scorer).

As we bolded in MLB's definition of a hold, "If a reliever comes into a game to protect a lead, gets at least one out and leaves without giving up that lead, he gets a hold." It would sure seem to us that Brach's May 21st appearance fits that criteria.

Posted in Announcement,, FAQ, Ridiculousness, Stat Questions, Statgeekery | 10 Comments »

NFL Cap Hits Added to Pro Football Reference

22nd February 2016

One of the most common terms searched for on Pro Football Reference is "salary." Since we believe in giving the people want they want, we've gone ahead and added some of this data. We've created a page showing 2015 cap hits, and have also added cap hits to the 2015 team roster pages. We do not quite have full coverage. 1,979 players played in an NFL game in 2015. We have cap hits for 1,777, which is just shy of 90% coverage. We will update with 2016 cap figures as they become available.

Posted in Announcement, Data, Features, | Comments Off on NFL Cap Hits Added to Pro Football Reference

Try Our New Passer Rating Calculator

18th February 2016

We have added an NFL Passer Rating Calculator to our frivolities page which will allow users to calculate NFL passer ratings on the fly. All you need to know to calculate a passer rating are attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. A "perfect" rating comes out to 158.3.

Posted in Announcement, Features,, Statgeekery | Comments Off on Try Our New Passer Rating Calculator

Lessons From the 14 Biggest NBA Deadline Trades

18th February 2016

The 2016 NBA Trade Deadline has, is, or will be passing as you read this. The long term consequences will shake out over the next few months and even years, but we can look back at past deadlines to determine just how important deadline deals tend to be.

Last year's Trade Deadline shows that it takes a few years to be able to truly evaluate the impact of a trade. At the time, the best deal of the day seemed to be the Goran Dragic Trade. Miami picked up Dragic, the reigning MIP who had been worth nearly 23 NBA Win Shares in his career with Phoenix up to that point, for two 1st rounders and mostly filler players.

Since the trade, Goran Dragic has contributed 5 WS to Miami, but he's also signed a big new contract. His scoring and his efficiency have plummeted this season and, as Miami's roster ages, those two draft picks are starting to look more valuable.

Compare that to another trade involving a Phoenix Suns PG. In a 3-teamer, the Celtics acquired Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko for a Cavaliers' 1st rounder and not much else. Most agreed at the time that Dragic was the more valuable player, but Thomas has outperformed him. Since the trade, Thomas has been worth 9 WS and his scoring has leapt up 6 PPG. Even Jerebko has been worth 3 WS, not much less than what Miami has received from Dragic.

So let's take a look back at some of the biggest NBA trade deadline deals, using the benefit of hindsight to see who really gained the most from making them. It's not necessarily fair to say one team or the other "won", since, as you'll see, a lot of these trades rely on things that the front offices making them couldn't have possibly known at the time. But, perhaps, there are lessons here that GMs can take into future dealings.

A couple of notes before we start. I'm using a generous definition of the Trade Deadline to include any trade that happened in mid-January, February, or March, because it's my column and I can do what I want. To quantify value, I'm using Win Shares, a metric that Basketball Reference adapted from the baseball stat devised by Bill James. WS is a stat that awards portions of every team win to every player on the team, based on how much they contributed (positively or negatively) to said win.

The biggest trades, as defined on this list, are the ones with 100 or more Win Shares in past or future value. In other words, every trade on this list is one where all the players involved had contributed 100 WS to the teams trading them or where they would go on to contribute 100 WS to the teams that acquired them. These are trades where franchise players moved on, where teams acquired a new franchise player, or where both happened.

For each trade, we'll show the past WS of all the players in the trade for the team that traded them (so, for example, the number for Rasheed Wallace doesn't include his WS in Portland) and the future WS the player would accumulate for the team that traded for them (so, for example, Seattle's WS in the Ray Allen trade won't reflect his time in Boston). I've also included, in parentheses, the percentage of past WS each team sent and the percentage of future WS each team acquired. You can think of that as a rough measure of who "won" the trade.

Got it? Then let's get started.

Lesson 1: Selling a legend is tricky

Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Dominique Wilkins, 1994 1st Round Pick (Greg Minor). 31 Past WS sent (22.4%), 2.6 Future WS received (66.7%)

Atlanta Hawks Receive: Danny Manning.  107.4 Past WS sent (77.6%), 1.3 Future WS received (33.3%)

Houston Rockets Receive: Clyde Drexler and Tracy Murray54.5 Past WS sent (32.8%), 26.9 Future WS received (89.4%)

Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola, 1995 1st Round Pick (Randolph Childress). 111.9 Past WS sent (67.2%), 3.2 Future WS received (10.6%)

Dominique Wilkins was in his 12th year with the Atlanta Hawks when the franchise decided they'd rather trade him than give him a massive new contract. Unfortunately, because of that impending new contract, and Wilkins' age, the Hawks couldn't get back more than a Win Share. This trade makes the list because of Wilkins' lengthy tenure, but in terms of return, it left much to be desired.

Still, given that Wilkins's career was nearly over, the Hawks got a better share of the overall WS pie than the Trail Blazers did, when they traded Clyde Drexler. Drexler is still the Blazers' all-time Win Shares leader and in return they got Thorpe, who would be gone months later, Nicola, who never came to the US, and a pick that would go to a player who logged 375 total minutes for Portland. At least Clyde got a ring, though!

Lesson 2: But if you get it right, it's worth it

Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Desmond Mason, Gary Payton56.1 Past WS sent (29.6%), 16.3 Future WS received (22.9%)

Seattle Supersonics Receive: Ray Allen, Ronald Murray, Kevin Ollie, 2003 1st Round Pick (Luke Ridnour). 133.4 Past WS sent (70.4%), 54.9 Future WS received (77.1%)

Gary Payton was having an All-Star year when Seattle, apparently concerned about re-signing him, shipped him to Milwaukee. In exchange, they got the best shooter of his generation. Ray Allen would go on to chip in 38.2 WS as a Sonic before being sent to Boston, while GP would leave for LA in free agency, contributing just 2.9 WS to the Bucks.

Lesson 3: Good drafting can make a trade

Atlanta Hawks Receive: Tom Henderson, 1977 1st Round Pick (Greg Ballard). 6.6 Past WS sent (39.5%), 62.9 Future WS received (51.7%)

Washington Bullets Receive: Truck Robinson, 1977 1st Round Pick (Tree Rollins). 10.1 Past WS sent (60.5%), 58.8 Future WS received (48.3%)

Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Sam Cassell, Chris Gatling, Paul Grant10.7 Past WS sent (27.8%), 36.7 Future WS received (30.4%)

New Jersey Nets Receive: Elliot Perry, Chris Carr, Stephon Marbury, Bill Curley13.9 Past WS sent (36.0%), 20.0 Future WS received (16.6%)

Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Terrell Brandon, Brian Evans, 1999 1st Round Pick (Wally Szczerbiak). 14.0 Past WS sent (36.2%), 64.0 Future WS received (53.0%)

Detroit Pistons Receive: Rasheed Wallace, Mike James41.7 Past WS sent (91.9%), 38.7 Future WS received (37.7%)

Atlanta Hawks Receive: Chris Mills, Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura, 2004 1st Round Pick (Josh Smith). -0.1 Past WS sent (-0.3%), 50.2 Future WS received (48.9%)

Boston Celtics Receive: Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, 2004 1st Round Pick (Tony Allen). 3.8 Past WS sent (8.4%), 13.8 Future WS received (13.4%)

If you ask any fan who remembers the 2004 Trade Deadline who the biggest acquisition that year was, they'd say Sheed and Sheed a 2nd time. And, from a historic perspective, they'd be right, since Wallace helped the Detroit Pistons win a title. However, the player who had the biggest on-court impact for the team that traded for him in 2004 wasn't even in the NBA at the time.

Although the players who travelled to Atlanta in the Sheed trade didn't amount to much, they did make the most of the draft pick they got. While Josh Smith has fallen on tough times, he contributed 47.6 WS to the Hawks, more than the 37.3 Sheed racked up as a Piston. Thanks to the pick, and their smart use of it, the Hawks actually won the largest percentage of future WS in the Rasheed Wallace trade (of course, it doesn't look quite as good if you factor in the 14 WS they gave up to acquire Wallace for one game).

None of the trades in this section would have made the list based on the players who were actually in the trade. Instead, smart drafting helped some of these teams turn average-seeming trades into big wins.

4. You can't really predict how a trade will impact you

Washington Wizards Receive: Drew Gooden, Josh Howard, Quinton Ross and James Singleton67.4 Past WS sent (60.7%), 4.6 Future WS received (27.4%)

Dallas Mavericks Receive: Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson43.6 Past WS sent (39.3%), 12.2 Future WS received (72.6%)

On paper, this move seemed to bring Dallas the missing piece they needed to win a championship: Caron Butler. Yet, one year after this trade, when the Mavericks made their Finals run, Butler was in a suit, injured and unable to play. On paper, DeShawn Stevenson was a throw-in. Yet, in the 2011 NBA Finals, it was Stevenson whose 3s and D helped lead to the Mavs' upset victory over the Miami Heat. The Mavericks wouldn't have won the Finals without this trade, just not for the reason they were expecting when they made it.

5. The Rudy Gay Trade was weird

Toronto Raptors Receive: Rudy Gay, Hamed Haddadi. 56.1 Past WS sent (39.0%), 1.9 Future WS received (12.9%)

Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Austin Daye, Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, 2013 2nd Round Pick (Jamaal Franklin). 30.8 Past WS sent (21.4%), 9.8 Future WS received (66.7%) 

Detroit Pistons Receive: Jose Calderon60.3 Past WS sent (42.0%), 3 Future WS received (20.4%)

This trade makes our list because it involved 3 players who amassed over 25 WS for their respective franchises changing teams. However, it serves as a warning that, in the NBA, your past accomplishments can fade very quickly. Prince and Calderon, who accounted for over 98 of the past Win Shares in this trade, were basically just salary figures used to match the money on Rudy Gay's monster contract.

The Grizzlies "win" this trade, by virtue of the fact that Prince stayed in town till 2014 and averaged 27 MPG for a playoff team and by virtue of the fact that Rudy Gay would spend less than a year in The True North. However, it's tough to argue anyone here really won.

6. It's very, very tough to get good value back for a superstar

Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Wilt Chamberlain26.3 Past WS sent (19.0%), 71.2 Future WS received (84.6%)

San Francisco Warriors Receive: Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer, cash. 112.4 Past WS sent (81.0%), 13 Future WS received (15.4%)

Honestly, the most amazing part of this trade may be that Wilt accumulated 71.2 WS in just 3 and a half years as a 76er. Things had gotten bad for Wilt in San Francisco, but that's a tough return for one of the greatest to ever play the game

7. But it's not impossible

Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Pau Gasol, 2010 2nd Round Pick (Devin Ebanks). 6.2 Past WS sent (10.3%), 59.7 Future WS received (48.7%)

Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol, Aaron McKie, 2008 1st Round Pick (Donte Greene), 2010 1st Round Pick (Greivis Vasquez). 53.8 Past WS sent (89.7%), 62.8 Future WS received (51.3%)

New York Knicks Receive: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams, Corey Brewer34.8 Past WS sent (27.1%), 40.2 Future WS received (42.9%)

Denver Nuggets Receive: Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos cash, 2012 2nd Round Pick (Quincy Miller), 2013 2nd Round Pick (Romero Osby) and a 2014 1st Round Pick (traded). 91.5 Past WS sent (71.4%), 51.8 Future WS received (55.3%)

Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry1.9 Past WS sent (1.5%), 1.7 Future WS received (1.8%)

The Pau Gasol trade, at the time, seemed like one of the biggest steals in NBA history. Now, almost a decade later, by percentage of future Win Shares, Memphis actually won the trade. Lakers fans probably won't complain too much about a trade that convinced Kobe to stay and got them 2 rings, but Pau's 59.2 WS as a Laker are a little behind Marc's 62.2 in Memphis. In fact, the younger Gasol has been worth more WS as Grizzly than the older one was, making this the rare trade where a team dealt a superstar and improved their long-term situation.

The jury is actually still out on the Melo Trade, since Anthony, Gallinari, and Chandler remain on the teams that acquired them, but, at this point, Denver has an over-10 WS lead. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that the Knicks may have given up too much for a player they'd be able to sign as a free agent over the summer. Unlike the Gasol trade, the Win Shares seem to bear that out in this case.

8. Being a Cavs fan sucks 

Phoenix Suns Receive: Tyrone Corbin, Kevin Johnson, Mark West, 1988 1st Round Pick (Dan Majerle), 1988 2nd Round Pick (Dean Garrett), and a 1989 2nd Round Pick (Greg Grant). 62.1 Past WS sent (85.2%), 179.8 Future WS received (73.7%)

Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Larry Nance, Mike Sanders, 1988 1st Round Pick (Randolph Keys). 10.8 Past WS sent (14.8%), 64.3 Future WS received (26.3%)

Detroit Pistons Receive: Kenny Carr and Bill Laimbeer. 10 Past WS sent (34.4%), 99 Future WS received (74.9%)

Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Phil Hubbard, Paul Mokeski, 1982 1st Round Pick (John Bagley), 1982 2nd Round Pick (Dave Magley). 19.1 Past WS Sent (65.6%), 33.2 Future WS Received (25.1%)

Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Antawn Jamison, Sebastian Telfair63.4 Past WS sent (58.3%), 7.8 Future WS received (67.8%)

Washington Wizards Receive: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Emir Preldzic, Al Thornton, 2010 1st Round Pick (Lazar Hayward). 41.4 Past WS sent (38.1%), 2 Future WS received (17.4%)

Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Drew Gooden. 4 Past WS sent (3.7%), 1.7 Future WS received (14.8%)

There are three trades on this list that involve the Cavs. Two of them are trades that the Cavs soundly lost, including the Kevin Johnson trade, where Cleveland gave up the largest total future value of any trade on this list. You know a trade is bad, when it cost you more Win Shares than trading away Wilt Chamberlain.

Then there's the Jamison trade, a win for the Cavs, but one that only calls to mind 2010-2012, a period where Cleveland lost in a 2nd-round shocker, watched LeBron James announce he was leaving on live TV, and spent the next 2 years as one of the worst teams in the league.

Is there a trade you think is missing from the list? Or are you just interested in reading more about past trade deadlines? Either way, make sure to check out the Trade Tool at, where you can explore every trade in NBA history.

Posted in Advanced Stats, Announcement,, Data, Tips and Tricks | 2 Comments »

Search by Year and Team Name

17th February 2016

We'd like to briefly announce a cool search enhancement we've added to Pro-Football-Reference for users who quickly want to access season info and stats for an old team. For instance, say you want info on the 1985 Bears. You used to have to go the Bears franchise encyclopedia and select 1985. Now you can just type "1985 Bears" into the search box and go directly to their page. Go ahead and give it a shot. We'll wait. It will work for any valid combination of year and team nickname. We hope you enjoy this new feature and please let us know if you encounter any issues.

Posted in Announcement, Features, | Comments Off on Search by Year and Team Name

Find Every Box Score in ABA History

16th February 2016

Last year we added nearly every box score in ABA history to the site, but we were missing the inaugural 1967-68 season. We're now happy to announce that we have added the 1967-68 season, as well, meaning we now have box scores and game logs for the entire run of the league. This is once again thanks to the research of Michael Hamel, who has allowed us to show this data.

Among the cool new features are game logs for 1967-68 ABA MVP Connie Hawkins. You can also find his splits here. Additionally, you can find team splits and game logs.

This data has not yet been incorporated into player game finder searches or other play index tools, but that's something we'll be looking into in the future.

We hope everyone enjoys this new addition and thanks again to Michael Hamel for his permission to use this data and for his excellent research.

Posted in Announcement,, Data, History | 1 Comment »

Everything You Need to Know About NBA All-Star Weekend

12th February 2016

In 1951, the 20 biggest stars in the NBA gathered at the Boston Garden to play an exhibition. The hometown hero, Ed Macauley, scored 20 points, leading the East to victory in the very 1st NBA All-Star Game.

This Sunday, the 2016 NBA All-Star Game will be going down just about 550 miles, and one national border, away. In addition to the normal spectacle of All-Star Weekend, this year's edition could be a historically important one. It will be Kobe Bryant's final ASG, and could be the first of many for young stars like Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard. Read the rest of this entry

Posted in All-Star, Announcement, | 2 Comments »

Who Had the Best All-Star Game Ever?

11th February 2016

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game is coming up this weekend in Toronto and whether you're looking forward to Kobe's final All-Star start, want to see Steph and Kawhi play on the same team, or just happen to be a really big Sting fan, there's plenty to watch for this year. But this post is about the stars of All-Star Games past. Read the rest of this entry

Posted in All-Star, Announcement, | 3 Comments »

Super Bowl 50 Preview!

5th February 2016

In case you haven't heard, there is a football game this Sunday. Will this year's be another classic Super Bowl? A blowout? Let's dig into the numbers and see how the Broncos and Panthers look going into this game.

One thing to note about this year's Super Bowl is that SRS, our method of measuring team strength, didn't really think either team would make it this far. The Panthers ranked 6th in the NFL this year and 3rd in the NFC, behind the 2 teams they faced in the playoffs. Denver was 9th, with SRS putting them on par with Minnesota. Interestingly, this is the first Super Bowl matchup without a team that finished in the Top 5 in SRS. Of course, a high SRS ranking isn't necessarily a guarantee of a better game. The last time the #1 team played the #2 team, it was Seattle vs Denver in 2013. Denver's lowish ranking isn't particularly historic either; the Giants were 11th and 13th in 2007 and 2011, and the Cardinals were 21st in 2008.

That said, both teams did come out well in SRS on one side of the ball or the other. In terms of defensive SRS, the Broncos were 3rd, behind only Seattle and Cincy. Perhaps more surprisingly, given that they were only 13th in yards per play, the Panthers were 2nd in offensive SRS.

Denver doesn't look like any Peyton Manning team you've seen in a Super Bowl before, and certainly not the Broncos team that was just here two years ago. That team had an eye-popping 14.1 offensive SRS and a negative defensive one. This year's Broncos also averaged 5.39 yards per play, the lowest total by a Peyton Manning led attack since 2002 (for simplicity's sake, I included the games that Osweiler started).

So what did Denver need from Manning when he started? To protect the ball. If you've missed the gunslinger/game manager debate, Peyton Manning's 2015 record lets us party like it's 2009. In games where Manning threw 0 or 1 interception, the Broncos were 6-0:

Date Opp Result Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Y/A
2015-09-13 BAL W 19-13 24 40 60.00 175 0 1 59.9 4.38
2015-09-17 KAN W 31-24 26 45 57.78 256 3 1 86.9 5.69
2015-09-27 DET W 24-12 31 42 73.81 324 2 1 101.7 7.71
2015-11-01 GNB W 29-10 21 29 72.41 340 0 1 96.9 11.72
2016-01-17 PIT W 23-16 21 37 56.76 222 0 0 74.4 6.00
2016-01-24 NWE W 20-18 17 32 53.13 176 2 0 90.1 5.50
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2016.


I left off the Week 17 game where he came in after halftime, but in that game, which Denver also won, he didn't throw a pick. In contrast, when Manning does get picked off 2 or more times, Denver is just 3-2:

Date Opp Result Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Y/A
2015-10-04 MIN W 23-20 17 27 62.96 213 1 2 68.9 7.89
2015-10-11 OAK W 16-10 22 35 62.86 266 0 2 62.3 7.60
2015-10-18 CLE W 26-23 26 48 54.17 290 1 3 53.3 6.04
2015-11-08 IND L 24-27 21 36 58.33 281 2 2 78.6 7.81
2015-11-15 KAN L 13-29 5 20 25.00 35 0 4 0.0 1.75
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2016.


Manning keeping his interceptions down will be a vital for Denver's gameplan, but that 3-2 record even with multiple INTs shows that who's in charge here. This Denver team is strong enough defensively to withstand a bad day from long as they can control the short pass. If we define short passes as throws under 15 yards, then in Denver wins, opposing QBs have averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt on short passes. They've also put up 0.7 TDs per game vs 0.7 INTs when they throw short, for a passer rating of 77.3.

Compare that to the line opposing QBs put up on short passes when they win: 6.3 yards per attempt, 1.5 TDs per game, 0.3 INTs per game, and a 96.0 passer rating. Those numbers match or come close what the league averages on short passes. For Denver to succeed, they need their defense to take away short routes.

Can they do that to Cam? His 101.8 passer rating on short throws was 6th this year. However, the guy who finished one spot above him just had a day where he went 23-45 and had a passer rating of 61.7 on short throws.

Denver also needs to suppress scoring in general. When Broncos games went under the Vegas Over/Under, Denver was 9-1. That's the best record on unders of any team this year:


Record on Unders in 2015

On the other hand, they were 5-3 when the score went over or pushed, similar to how the Jets did:

over or pushd

Comparing the Broncos' performance to a team with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB brings us back to the elephant in the room: Peyton Manning. According to Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, which adjusts raw y/a to allow for INTs, TDs, and sacks, Manning was the worst qualified QB in the NFL this year.

However, the problem is most pronounced on 3rd down. Now, QBs in general do worse on 3rd down; for example, here's how they did in 2015:

Down Cmp Att Cmp% Yds Y/A TD Int Rate ANY/A
1st 4640 7213 64.3 51135 7.1 267 157 88.5 6.5
2nd 4105 6349 64.7 43187 6.8 314 129 92.3 6.5
3rd 3051 5153 59.2 33127 6.4 258 152 82.6 5.6
4th 178 334 53.3 1916 5.7 28 19 74.6 4.6
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2016.


This is true of Manning, who has a career passer rating of 88.0 on 3rd down, vs 96.0 in all situations. But this year he was worse. Much worse:

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.29.52 PM

To put that in perspective, the last QB to have a passer rating of 57.3 in a season (setting the minimum at 120 pass attempts) was Josh Freeman in 2013. Other people who appear on that list: Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell. If you prefer AY/A, Manning's performance on 3rd downs is 2010 Matt Moore-esque.

You don't need me to tell you that this isn't good, but you may need me to tell you that this is especially not good against Carolina. The Panthers faced the 6th most passes on 3rd down this year. They gave up 1st downs on 38.8% of them, a not particularly impressive number that ranks in the top half of the league. But that was against QBs who were not Peyton Manning and, therefore, almost certainly had a better passer rating on 3rd down. If Manning is stuck in passing situations on 3rd down, Denver's offense is probably sunk.

From Carolina's perspective, the key battle may involve turnovers. All teams do better when they win the turnover battle but Carolina A.) won the turnover battle a lot and B.) did very, very well when they did. Here's how many games each team had where their turnover margin was +1 or better and how they fared when that happened (including the playoffs):


Rk Tm Year W L T W-L% Count
1 Carolina Panthers 2015 13 0 0 1.000 13 Ind. Games
2 Green Bay Packers 2015 8 3 0 0.727 11 Ind. Games
3 Kansas City Chiefs 2015 9 2 0 0.818 11 Ind. Games
4 Cincinnati Bengals 2015 9 1 0 0.900 10 Ind. Games
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 9 1 0 0.900 10 Ind. Games
6 New York Giants 2015 4 5 0 0.444 9 Ind. Games
7 Arizona Cardinals 2015 8 0 0 1.000 8 Ind. Games
8 Denver Broncos 2015 8 0 0 1.000 8 Ind. Games
9 New England Patriots 2015 8 0 0 1.000 8 Ind. Games
10 Seattle Seahawks 2015 4 4 0 0.500 8 Ind. Games
11 Washington Redskins 2015 5 3 0 0.625 8 Ind. Games
12 Buffalo Bills 2015 6 1 0 0.857 7 Ind. Games
13 Detroit Lions 2015 3 4 0 0.429 7 Ind. Games
14 Minnesota Vikings 2015 6 1 0 0.857 7 Ind. Games
15 New York Jets 2015 7 0 0 1.000 7 Ind. Games
16 Oakland Raiders 2015 5 2 0 0.714 7 Ind. Games
17 St. Louis Rams 2015 4 3 0 0.571 7 Ind. Games
18 Indianapolis Colts 2015 5 1 0 0.833 6 Ind. Games
19 Houston Texans 2015 6 0 0 1.000 6 Ind. Games
20 Miami Dolphins 2015 4 2 0 0.667 6 Ind. Games
Rk Tm Year W L T W-L% Count
21 New Orleans Saints 2015 4 2 0 0.667 6 Ind. Games
22 Philadelphia Eagles 2015 5 1 0 0.833 6 Ind. Games
23 San Francisco 49ers 2015 2 4 0 0.333 6 Ind. Games
24 Atlanta Falcons 2015 3 2 0 0.600 5 Ind. Games
25 San Diego Chargers 2015 2 3 0 0.400 5 Ind. Games
26 Chicago Bears 2015 2 2 0 0.500 4 Ind. Games
27 Jacksonville Jaguars 2015 2 2 0 0.500 4 Ind. Games
28 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2015 4 0 0 1.000 4 Ind. Games
29 Cleveland Browns 2015 1 2 0 0.333 3 Ind. Games
30 Dallas Cowboys 2015 1 2 0 0.333 3 Ind. Games
31 Tennessee Titans 2015 2 1 0 0.667 3 Ind. Games
32 Baltimore Ravens 2015 2 1 0 0.667 3 Ind. Games
Total 161 55 0 .745 216
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2016.

Carolina is the 22nd team since the merger to post a turnover margin of +1 or better in 13 games or more and only 7 other teams on that list went undefeated every time they won the turnover battle. But the Broncos were also undefeated when they won the turnover battle, going 8-0.

The Broncos have also had the best rushing defense in the NFL this year. They're going to need it. Counting the playoffs, the Panthers had a rushing yard margin (in other words, rushing yards for minus rushing yards allowed) of 1,025, the most in the league and one of the 15 best since 2006. If Denver does take away the short passing game, Carolina will need to dominate the ground to win.

Another key for the Panthers this season: their excellent starting field position. The Chiefs were the only team with better starting field position than the Panthers, whose average starting spot was a little past their 30 yard line. When they started at their own 30 or better, Carolina scored 65% of the time.

Interestingly, this may be a problem that Denver is equipped to handle. Their average defensive drive started on their opponent's 29.5, the 3rd worst average starting field position for a defense in the NFL. Despite spotting teams more yards than almost any other defense, they still only allowed scores on 28% of drives.

That makes sense, given that the Broncos featured an elite defense supporting an average-at-best offense. In the end, the story of the game may come down to this. Here's the NFL's leading offenses in points per drive:



And here are the leading defenses:



Do you see the problem for the Broncos? While Carolina makes the top 5 on both lists, the Broncos are 24th in points per drive. The only reason they rank higher than that in points for is that Denver is 4th in number of drives, but the faster they play the more drives they'll create for Carolina's elite scoring offense.

To bring this full circle, SRS has the Panthers as 2.3 point favorites to win this game, below the Vegas line of 5.5. In other words, we could be in for a much closer game than people are expecting. Still, on paper, Carolina's well-rounded construction seems to give them an advantage over Denver's unbalanced team.

Lastly, a few historic notes:

-If the Broncos win, their Super Bowl record will improve to 3-5, meaning either way, they would no longer be the team with the worst Super Bowl record among the ones who have won at least 1.

-Carolina, on the other hand, would become the 20th team to win a Super Bowl. They would also be the most recently formed team to win a Super Bowl (unless you decide to count the Ravens, like this table does since that team's Cleveland history belongs to the Browns franchise).

-Cam Newton would be the 15th QB to win a Super Bowl in his first five seasons

-Peyton Manning, on the other hand, would be the oldest QB to win a Super Bowl. The current record holder is John Elway, who was 38, a full year younger than Manning, when he won Super Bowl XXXIII.

-Ron Rivera would be the 3rd person to win a Super Bowl as a player and a coach. The other two were Rivera's HC for his Super Bowl win, Mike Ditka, and Manning's, Tony Dungy.

-That note needs a subnote, which is that Tom Flores was on the Chiefs team that won Super Bowl IV, but didn't play in the game

-Riverboat Ron would also be the 3rd coach to lost a Super Bowl as Offensive or Defensive Coordinator and win as Head Coach, after Sean Payton and Mike Shanahan. The QB who beat DC Rivera? Peyton Manning

-Most of the career Super Bowl records are out of Manning's reach, but he does have an outside shot at passing Troy Aikman for the best career Super Bowl completion percentage. If things go really south, he could also make a run at John Elway's record for the most INTs in a Super Bowl.

Before the game, don't forget to check out our infographic about gambling on the Super Bowl and popular bets. We also made a list of the 14 Biggest Plays in Super Bowl History, as judged by our win probability model. And if you don't follow Pro-Football-Reference on Twitter, where it's @pfref, you definitely should before Sunday. We'll be on all evening, giving live updates on the game, answering your questions about stats and Super Bowl History, and cracking wise about the commercials.

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The 14 Biggest Plays in Super Bowl History

4th February 2016

50 years ago, the NFL and the AFL Champions agreed to square off to see who was truly the best football team in the country. Today, we look back on Super Bowl I as the game where Vince Lombardi cemented his legacy, a key pitstop on football's road to becoming America's most popular sport, and a historic object of fascination. But there's one thing that we don't talk about that much: how much that game sucked. Read the rest of this entry

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