WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 4 (Part 1)

Before we get to the first half of this week’s Greatest of All Time simulations, there was an actual league transaction of some importance yesterday as the 49ers traded Alex Smith to the Chiefs for a 2nd-round pick this year and a conditional draft pick (probably a 3rd-rounder, though it supposedly could rise to another 2nd-rounder) in 2014.

Now in the short term, this is a big upgrade at quarterback for Kansas City. Smith isn’t going to have anywhere near the type of talent surrounding him that he had in San Francisco, but the coaching dropoff from Jim Harbaugh to Andy Reid isn’t particularly steep (last year notwithstanding) and Smith certainly comes in with a stronger pedigree than Matt Cassel did when the Chiefs made a similar trade in 2009. If Smith performs as the league-average starter he seems to have become next year – and, more importantly, if the Chiefs’ defense has a strong bounce-back year – then it’s not hard to talk yourself into Kansas City becoming 2013’s out-of-nowhere team that rides an easy schedule to nine or ten wins and a playoff spot.

Long-term, however, San Francisco won this deal handily. The pick they’re receiving this year from the Chiefs is the 34th overall in the draft and they now own five of the top 100 picks in the draft. They can now stockpile even more young talent or, as SI’s Chris Burke terrifyingly notes, use those picks as the foundation for a deal to acquire Darrelle Revis or Percy Harvin. Let me just be the first to say that if Darrelle Revis gets traded to the 49ers next season, there will be no point in having a season, other than seeing if the 49ers could potentially be the greatest team of all time. Lord knows they don’t need any more help.

This deal could also hurt Kansas City in the long-term because even after two above-average years in San Francisco, Smith’s ceiling still doesn’t look any higher than “Superbly Accomplished Game Manager.” Having that type of guy at quarterback is a good way to get your team stuck in NFL purgatory, sticking within seven-to-ten wins every year and never having a real shot at a Super Bowl. Isn’t there a decent chance the Chiefs could have gotten the same type of production they’re likely to get from Smith by just choosing a quarterback with that 34th overall pick – and at a much cheaper price?

Those are questions that will start being answered six short months from now. The question of who will emerge victoriously from this week’s WhatIfSports simulations of the Greatest of All Time season, however, will be answered momentarily! This week brings our first byes into action, as the 2006 Colts, 2000 Titans, 1960 Eagles and 2009 Saints are all resting up their virtual hamstrings. The rest of the league springs into action below, starting with…

1992 Dallas Cowboys (3-1) 21, 1989 San Francisco 49ers (1-2-1) 16

One of the more anticipated games of the season finds the 49ers gaining seventy more yards and 7 more first downs than the Cowboys yet falling short due to a number of big plays generated by the Dallas offense. Foremost among them, Kelvin Martin caught a 68-yard touchdown pass from Troy Aikman in the second quarter and Emmitt Smith ran for a 31-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to stake the Cowboys to an ultimately insurmountable lead. Aikman finished 13-of-21 for 206 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception and Smith finished with 116 combined rushing and receiving yards. Joe Montana went 21-of-29 for 238 yards – 117 of those going to Jerry Rice – but a late 4th-and-2 screen pass from Montana to Tom Rathman was halt for a three-yard loss, ending San Francisco’s final threat.

2012 Atlanta Falcons (1-3) 19, 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) 14

Michael Turner scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 59 seconds remaining and the Falcons won their first game of the year, primarily thanks to an outstanding performance from Matt Ryan (18-of-24, 291 yards, 1 TD). Mark Brunell threw three costly interceptions for the Jaguars, including one to Dominique Franks with 37 seconds left that essentially ended the game.

1981 Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) 20, 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) 10

Cris Collinsworth caught a go-ahead 58-yard touchdown pass from Ken Anderson with 10:11 remaining in the game and the Bengals put up over 430 yards of offense on the Steel Curtain at Riverfront Stadium. Collinsworth finished with six catches for 163 yards and a whole lot of pleas for “heheh pass the corn chips, Ken.” And pass those corn chips he did: Anderson ended up 18-of-32 for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Franco Harris finished with 155 yards on just 15 carries and scored on a 38-yard run early in the fourth quarter to briefly tie the game, but the Steelers couldn’t overcome a subpar performance from both their defense and Terry Bradshaw (11-of-25, 129 yards).

1979 San Diego Chargers (3-1) 17, 1968 New York Jets (2-2) 10

Dan Fouts threw for 299 yards and Clarence Williams scored both touchdowns for the Chargers, as they improved to 3-1 with a road victory at Shea Stadium. The Jets scored on their third play from scrimmage on a 54-yard touchdown throw from Joe Namath to George Sauer but wouldn’t find the end zone the rest of the day. Two Fouts interceptions kept San Diego from building an insurmountable lead, however, despite 130 more yards of offense and the Chargers had to sweat out a Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the game before claiming victory.

1985 Chicago Bears (2-2) 23, 1952 Detroit Lions (1-3) 6

The Bears shrugged off two consecutive home losses and held the Lions to 24 passing yards in a blowout win at Tiger Stadium. Neither team could muster 200 total yards of offense: Walter Payton was held to 46 yards rushing on 21 attempts but did score both Bears touchdowns. Bobby Layne had an even rougher time when he was on the field: he was sacked five times (twice by Otis Wilson) and when he did get to throw, he could only rack up seven completions, 60 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 19 attempts.

2007 New England Patriots (4-0) 26, 1990 Buffalo Bills (3-1) 23

In the unquestioned Game of the Year so far, Laurence Maroney caught a 48-yard Hail Mary from Tom Brady with no time remaining and the Patriots stunned the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in a battle of previously unbeaten AFC East foes. The Bills had just retaken the lead with 32 seconds left when Jim Kelly capped a nine play, 95-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to James Lofton. After the kickoff gave the Patriots the ball at their own 29-yard line, Brady hit Sammy Morris with a 23-yard pass and then threw three straight incompletions before striking gold on the final play of the game. The two teams combined for 34 points in the fourth quarter – a Thurman Thomas touchdown run gave the Bills a 16-6 lead with a little over twelve minutes remaining, but a 67-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss and a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown by Randall Gay gave the Patriots a 20-16 lead, setting up those classic last two minutes. Brady finished 14-of-25 for 299 yards and three touchdowns.

1962 Green Bay Packers (4-0) 41, 1973 Minnesota Vikings (1-3) 14

The Packers rushed for 272 yards and destroyed the Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium to run their record to 4-0. Jim Taylor rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts and Paul Hornung added 87 yards on only six carries as the Packers took a 31-7 lead into halftime and were in complete command the entire way. Fran Tarkenton performed fairly well given the circumstances, going 14-of-26 for 220 yards and two touchdowns, but the Purple People Eaters had no answers for the Packer Sweep or Bart Starr (8-of-18, 151 yards, two touchdowns).

Tomorrow: The ’91 Redskins meet the ’86 Giants in the Meadowlands; the ’02 Buccaneers try to improve to 4-0 against the ’05 Panthers; and the ’72 Dolphins make a quarterback switch in an attempt to get their first win of the season at the hands of the ’58 Colts.

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Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2008

Our weekly Predictive Yards per Play series has already reached back to the Dubya presidency and 2008 – hopefully, thus far, you’ve enjoyed reading these rankings as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. And if you haven’t enjoyed them, then feel free to stick your head inside a radiator for an extended period of time. Let’s begin!

Predictive Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.00): a metric which uses probabilities drawn from research Brian Burke did back in 2008 in trying to determine which stats best correlated with future play.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)1.61 (2009 ranking: #11)
  2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)1.32 (2009 ranking: #7)
  3. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)1.25 (2009 ranking: #12)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)1.13 (2009 ranking: #9)
  5. New York Giants (12-4)1.11 (2009 ranking: #13)
  6. Carolina Panthers (12-4)1.06 (2009 ranking: #5)
  7. Tennessee Titans (13-3)0.98 (2009 ranking: #20)
  8. New Orleans Saints (8-8)0.95 (2009 ranking: #6)
  9. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)0.84 (2009 ranking: #2)
  10. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)0.82 (2009 ranking: #8)
  11. Houston Texans (8-8)0.41 (2009 ranking: #15)
  12. Washington Redskins (8-8)0.39 (2009 ranking: #21)
  13. San Diego Chargers (8-8)0.33 (2009 ranking: #14)
  14. Miami Dolphins (11-5)0.31 (2009 ranking: #17)
  15. Green Bay Packers (6-10)0.29 (2009 ranking: #4)
  16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)0.28 (2009 ranking: #24)
  17. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)0.16 (2009 ranking: #16)
  18. New England Patriots (11-5)0.04 (2009 ranking: #1)
  19. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)-0.03 (2009 ranking: #25)
  20. Denver Broncos (8-8)-0.23 (2009 ranking: #10)
  21. New York Jets (9-7)-0.24 (2009 ranking: #3)
  22. Chicago Bears (9-7)-0.25 (2009 ranking: #26)
  23. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)-0.31 (2009 ranking: #22)
  24. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)-0.95 (2009 ranking: #18)
  25. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)-1.04 (2009 ranking: #28)
  26. Cleveland Browns (4-12)-1.12 (2009 ranking: #32)
  27. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)-1.26 (2009 ranking: #23)
  28. Buffalo Bills (7-9)-1.29 (2009 ranking: #19)
  29. Oakland Raiders (5-11)-1.31 (2009 ranking: #27)
  30. Seattle Seahawks (4-12) -1.68 (2009 ranking: #29)
  31. St. Louis Rams (2-14)-1.75 (2009 ranking: #31)
  32. Detroit Lions (0-16)-1.94 (2009 ranking: #30)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.77)

  1. New Orleans Saints (8-8)6.00 (2009 ranking: #2)
  2. Houston Texans (8-8)5.82 (2009 ranking: #8)
  3. Denver Broncos (8-8)5.72 (2009 ranking: #15)
  4. New York Giants (12-4)5.62 (2009 ranking: #9)
  5. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)5.52 (2009 ranking: #6)
  6. San Diego Chargers (8-8)5.52 (2009 ranking: #4)
  7. Carolina Panthers (12-4)5.45 (2009 ranking: #17)
  8. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)5.21 (2009 ranking: #20)
  9. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)5.18 (2009 ranking: #12)
  10. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)5.18 (2009 ranking: #10)
  11. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)5.15 (2009 ranking: #3)
  12. Green Bay Packers (6-10)5.05 (2009 ranking: #5)
  13. Miami Dolphins (11-5)5.05 (2009 ranking: #16)
  14. New England Patriots (11-5)5.02 (2009 ranking: #1)
  15. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)4.99 (2009 ranking: #13)
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)4.90 (2009 ranking: #18)
  17. Tennessee Titans (13-3)4.82 (2009 ranking: #14)
  18. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)4.76 (2009 ranking: #11)
  19. Washington Redskins (8-8)4.68 (2009 ranking: #22)
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)4.62 (2009 ranking: #23)
  21. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)4.51 (2009 ranking: #24)
  22. New York Jets (9-7)4.50 (2009 ranking: #19)
  23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)4.45 (2009 ranking: #7)
  24. Chicago Bears (9-7)4.18 (2009 ranking: #26)
  25. Cleveland Browns (4-12)4.02 (2009 ranking: #31)
  26. Detroit Lions (0-16)3.96 (2009 ranking: #29)
  27. St. Louis Rams (2-14)3.90 (2009 ranking: #32)
  28. Buffalo Bills (7-9)3.89 (2009 ranking: #25)
  29. Seattle Seahawks (4-12)3.76 (2009 ranking: #28)
  30. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)3.71 (2009 ranking: #27)
  31. Oakland Raiders (5-11)3.70 (2009 ranking: #30)
  32. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)3.70 (2009 ranking: #21)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.77)

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)3.15 (2009 ranking: #14)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)3.63 (2009 ranking: #13)
  3. Tennessee Titans (13-3)3.84 (2009 ranking: #27)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)3.86 (2009 ranking: #10)
  5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)3.86 (2009 ranking: #5)
  6. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)4.28 (2009 ranking: #16)
  7. Washington Redskins (8-8)4.29 (2009 ranking: #11)
  8. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)4.31 (2009 ranking: #6)
  9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)4.34 (2009 ranking: #18)
  10. Carolina Panthers (12-4)4.39 (2009 ranking: #2)
  11. Chicago Bears (9-7)4.43 (2009 ranking: #19)
  12. New York Giants (12-4)4.51 (2009 ranking: #17)
  13. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)4.65 (2009 ranking: #9)
  14. New York Jets (9-7)4.74 (2009 ranking: #1)
  15. Miami Dolphins (11-5)4.74 (2009 ranking: #20)
  16. Green Bay Packers (6-10)4.77 (2009 ranking: #8)
  17. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)4.97 (2009 ranking: #12)
  18. New England Patriots (11-5)4.99 (2009 ranking: #7)
  19. Oakland Raiders (5-11)5.01 (2009 ranking: #23)
  20. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)5.02 (2009 ranking: #15)
  21. New Orleans Saints (8-8)5.05 (2009 ranking: #24)
  22. Cleveland Browns (5-11)5.15 (2009 ranking: #31)
  23. Buffalo Bills (7-9)5.17 (2009 ranking: #4)
  24. San Diego Chargers (8-8)5.19 (2009 ranking: #22)
  25. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)5.21 (2009 ranking: #26)
  26. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)5.24 (2009 ranking: #25)
  27. Houston Texans (8-8)5.42 (2009 ranking: #21)
  28. Seattle Seahawks (4-12)5.44 (2009 ranking: #29)
  29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)5.56 (2009 ranking: #30)
  30. St. Louis Rams (2-14)5.65 (2009 ranking: #28)
  31. Detroit Lions (0-16)5.90 (2009 ranking: #32)
  32. Denver Broncos (8-8)5.95 (2009 ranking: #3)

Thoughts…

  • This is the season where Predictive Yards per Play would have truly lived up to its name, as the top-ranked Steelers ended up going on to win the Super Bowl (thus far, this is the only time in this century that the #1 team in PY/P has won it all). As you can most likely tell from the numbers, they did it with an absolutely oppressive defense and roughly-average offense. Slight SPOILER ALERT: the Steelers’ defensive mark of being 33.96% above league average rates them as the best regular season defense of the 2000s (I’ll stop short of calling the best defense, period, of the 2000s because the 2000 Ravens will show up at my door and stuff my head into Tony Siragusa’s armpit if I do). It’s not hard to see why – they finished #1 in both Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed and Yards per Carry Allowed against a slightly harder-than-average schedule and only allowed one opponent all year (well, two if we’re counting the Super Bowl…but we’re not) to gain more than 300 yards of offense in a single game. That’s…okay? Offensively, Roethlisberger and Co. look pretty bad before you adjust for the fact that they played against one of the four toughest slates of opposing defenses in the league; taking that into consideration, they come out basically league average.
  • On the other hand, if you were looking for confirmation here that we should have seen the Cardinals’ Super Bowl run coming…well, would that I could. To be fair, they certainly were not “the worst playoff team ever,” as some talking heads were opining before the postseason began. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin led a very good offense that scored enough points to offset its equally very bad defense – and as the 2010 Seahawks and 2011 Broncos would show us, you CAN, in fact, get into the postseason with a whole lot less than that. I’d even go so far as to say that, factoring in home-field advantage, the Cardinals had nothing worse than a 50/50 shot in their first playoff game against the Falcons, a team with similar offensive excellence and defensive struggles. But then going into Carolina and beating the Panthers with noted postseason hero Jake Delhomme at quarterback (seriously – his postseason numbers pre-2008: 5-2 record, 11 touchdowns vs. 5 interceptions, 8.55 yards per attempt), then beating the second-ranked Eagles at home, then putting up 400 yards of offense on the best defense of the past ten years and almost beating the Steelers in the Super Bowl? Sorry. Didn’t see that coming.
  • The Giants were essentially the team to beat in the NFC for the entire season – they started out 11-1 before sliding towards the finish line and needing an overtime victory over the Panthers late in the season to hold on to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Surprisingly, however, their division rival Eagles are the ones who come out as the best-rated team in the NFC in Predictive Yards per Play, despite a slew of excruciating losses and Donovan McNabb’s bewilderment at the possibility of a tie game in the NFL. Mainly, this was due to their defense – the last Eagles defense that would be coordinated by Jim Johnson – which ranked in a virtual tie for fourth with the Ravens. In general, defensive excellence had a much higher correlation with winning in 2008 than usual – the Titans, Steelers and Colts all boasted the best records in the AFC while sporting top-six defenses while the top three offensive teams in the league (New Orleans, Houston and Denver) all finished 8-8. Basically, this is the one season in the past, oh, thirty or so in which defense truly won a championship.
  • One of the greatest “What Ifs?” from the past five years in the NFL: what if Broncos owner Pat Bowlen didn’t fire Mike Shanahan after the Broncos choked away a three-game lead in the AFC West with three games to play and missed the playoffs for the third year in a row? Certainly, if Shanahan stays on for at least 2009, Jay Cutler doesn’t get alienated by Josh McDaniels (unless that happens separately – like, if they were both waiting in line at a Quizno’s or something) and doesn’t ask to be traded out of Denver. As you can see from the offensive rankings, the Broncos had NO issues on that side of the ball in 2008 – it was a porous defense that managed to rank even worse than the winless Lions that plummeted the team back down to .500. Had Bowlen kept Shanahan around another year, I think it would have been very likely that the Denver defense would have improved (they definitely did under McDaniels, anyway, rating third in 2009), 26-year-old Cutler would have kept the offense at roughly the same level and the Broncos probably would have made the playoffs.
  • It’s tough to say that things haven’t worked out in reality for either the Broncos (turning a few months of a national sensation at quarterback into Peyton Manning = NOT BAD) or Shanahan (eventually wound up with someone even more talented at QB in Washington, although he’d tell RGIII to go out and play right now if they had a game tomorrow). Cutler, on the other hand, has seen his fortunes change dramatically since being traded to Chicago. And while he’s certainly brought on many of his struggles himself, it’s also a fact that Shanahan’s offense was the ABSOLUTE PERFECT system for his abilities. How differently would Cutler’s career would have gone if he’d just been teamed with Shanahan and Brandon Marshall for the past four years? Would he have turned into a perennial top-ten quarterback – or even a top-five quarterback? Or would his rivalry with Philip Rivers have just devolved to the point where they would eventually engage in a duel during a TV timeout and Cutler would either get killed or sent away to prison for twenty-five years for first-degree murder? In any event, if you’re wondering where in the world Jay Cutler’s untapped potential went, it’s stuck here in Denver in 2008.
  • The 0-16 Lions finish exactly where you think they would in the overall PY/P rankings but actually rate slightly better than the 2-14 team that followed them in 2009. Instead of being GAHHHH YOU CAN’T LET THAT OFFENSE OUT OF THE HOUSE bad like they were in 2009, the Lions were merely terrible offensively in 2008. Although I don’t remember Matthew Stafford stepping out of the back of the end zone unintentionally like Dan Orlovsky did in ’08, so feel free to adjust the rating based on that piece of embarrassing information.
  • Finally, in this year’s awards roundup…This was probably the weakest year for MVP candidates in the past decade. Since none of the quarterbacks on the playoff bye teams had particularly strong numbers, the award wound up going to Peyton Manning, even though it was his weakest season in six years and he probably didn’t deserve it but on the other hand he probably should have had five or six already so whatever it’s probably all good. While sympathetic to that line of reasoning, I probably would have picked Philip Rivers or Drew Brees, even though it feels weird to name an MVP from a 8-8 team. Oh well. Since the Chargers ended up making the playoffs (and he was slightly more efficient than Brees), I’ll give my hypothetical award to RiversBrees, on the other hand, ended up winning Offensive Player of the Year for coming within 15 yards of breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record (WHEN WILL HE EVER GET A CHANCE TO BREAK THAT AGAIN???). I don’t particularly feel like quibbling with a bunch of voters who have no idea what the criteria for this award actually is, so I’ll green light this one…DeMarcus Ware had an absolutely monster year, picking 20 sacks, 27 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles. But when one defense stands out as the best of the past decade, it’s tough to choose the Defensive Player of the Year from any other team. Thus,the choice of James Harrison as DPOY is probably the correct one…2008 was one of the most loaded years in recent memory in the Offensive Rookie of the Year category, as Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Kevin Smith, Eddie Royal and Steve Slaton (yes, Steve Slaton) all had OROY-caliber seasons. Matt Ryan, however, had one of the best seasons a rookie quarterback has ever had. So that kinda wins…The pool for Defensive Rookie of the Year, on the other hand, was considerably shallower – Aqib Talib, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cliff Avril, and Jason Jones all sort of lingered around the conversation instead of standing out. Jerod Mayo was a tackling machine from day one for the Patriots and, in a weak year, was a deserving winner…Chad Pennington won the Comeback Player of the Year award for the seventh time, thus qualifying him for having his name engraved on the trophy and getting half-off his next shoulder surgery…And Tony Sparano and John Harbaugh led the Dolphins and Ravens, respectively, to huge turnaround seasons and would have been equally deserving winners as Mike Smith. I’m sticking with Smith as my choice because I just mentally went Eenie-Meenie-Minie-Mo and he won.
  • Next week: 2007 – a season in which a certain team MAY post the highest Predictive Yards per Play rating of all time (HINT: it’s not the Raiders).

Offseason Biography: Conrad Dobler

The second in an occasional series of posts seeking to shed some light on the forgotten NFL greats of yore…

  • Name: Conrad Francis Dobler
  • Born: October 1, 1950 in Chicago, Illinois
  • Position: Right Guard
  • Height: 6 feet 3 inches
  • Weight: 254 pounds
  • College: Wyoming
  • NFL Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1972-1977), New Orleans Saints (1978-1979), Buffalo Bills (1980-1981)
  • Main Claims to Fame (in order of importance):

1. HE WAS THE DIRTIEST [expletive of your choice] EVER. Considering he played the same sport as Dick Butkus, Mean Joe Greene, Bill Romanowski and Erik Williams, that’s high praise. And unlike most other dirty players whose play gets described in euphemisms such as “he’s a hard-nosed player” or “he plays to the echo of the whistle,” Dobler’s meanness was discussed completely out in the open – he even made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a result of that notoriety. Wikipedia (always the most trustworthy source) credits Paul Zimmerman as saying about Dobler: “Conrad Dobler was mean dirty. He tried to hurt people in a bad way…he made teams that he played on better. He played hurt, didn’t complain, but he was a filthy, filthy player.” Dobler even got Alex Karras to foam at the mouth during a Monday Night Football game in 1975: “There you have it, folks: holding, tripping, kicking. All on the same play. That’s Conrad Dobler, the dirtiest player in professional football.”

2. No, seriously – HE WAS THE DIRTIEST PLAYER EVER. One activity that Dobler was most fond of, even though he often denied it (“I can say with a clear conscience that I have never knowingly bit another football player. For one thing, I believe in good hygiene.”), was having a little chomp on the flesh of his opponents. Apparently his appetite became so voracious during the 1974 playoff game between the Cardinals and Vikings that Vikings defensive tackle Doug Sutherland asked the team trainer for a rabies shot at halftime (according to the Football Hall of Shame). “I never played a football game before where I also had to worry about rabies,” said Sutherland afterwards. Obviously that quote came before Jim Harbaugh started patrolling the sidelines but the message remains as harrowing today as it was then. Ultimately, though, as Dobler’s coach Don Coryell once put it, “He may bite a little, but that’s not going to end a guy’s career.” That’s a fair point, Don.

3. It’s worth emphasizing again JUST HOW UNBELIEVABLY DIRTY THIS GUY WAS. There are several wonderful Dobler stories that have stood the test of time. One of the best describes how Dobler took some liberties with a plaster cast he wore on his broken left hand in the 1974 season. In typical Dobler fashion, he denied any specific wrongdoing in one breath (“I was sticking it (the cast) out there and they just happened to run into it”) and mischievously describing the finer tricks of the trade in the next (“The most effective place to use it is the throat. It really makes a guy stop short.”). Before one game, Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey asked to get a closer look at the cast (apparently Bergey had never seen any Three Stooges shorts before that day). Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo write in The Football Hall of Shame, “Dobler told him to look at it real close. When Bergey bent down, Dobler raised his arm up and smashed Bergey in the mouth.”

4. He was so dirty, he’d go out of his way to hurt already-injured players. The Football Hall of Shame relays an anecdote about a time Cowboys defensive back Cliff Harris was slow to get up after a play and, ever the humanitarian, Dobler was hit with a wonderful idea. “I was about 20 yards away. But I thought, ‘Why not? What the hell!’ I hit him alongside the earlobe and his head bounced three or four times.” Imagine that happening in a game nowadays – I’m pretty sure Skip Bayless’s head would explode (and that wouldn’t actually be the worst thing in the world). In perhaps an even more famous display of, er, kindness, Dobler once ran 50 yards out of his way to spit in injured Eagles’ player Bill Bradley’s face.

5. He was so dirty, even Merlin Olsen got mad at him. This is worth emphasizing because successfully antagonizing a devout Mormon and the sidekick to Pa Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie takes a special type of deviance to pull off. But Dobler achieved the impossible during the 1975 playoff game between the Cardinals and Rams, as Edwin Shrake noted in the January 5, 1976 issue of SI: “Shortly before the half Olsen had been tackled and pinned to the mat by Dobler, who had yanked Olsen’s jersey down so that a shoulder pad stuck out. Olsen jumped up, aimed an angry punch at Dobler‘s groin and followed it with a lecture on etiquette. ‘Conrad likes for people to talk about him, so I’m not going to mention him,’ Olsen said later. ‘But somewhere down the line somebody is going to break his neck, and I won’t send flowers.'” Again, it’s worth repeating that Dobler got THIS GUY…

 …to kick him in the groin and talk enthusiastically about a hypothetical scenario in which his neck was broken. That’s dirty.

6. How much clearer can I say that he was the DIRTIEST…PLAYER…IN THE LEAGUE??? But he had a good sense of humor about it, so it’s all good! In that cover article in SI from 1977, Dobler rather thoughtfully and charmingly argued his case on a wide array of subjects ranging from biting (“If someone stuck his hand in your face mask and put his fingers in your mouth, what would you do?”), holding (“Sometimes I hold by accident. You know, I get my hand caught in a face mask. But always remember this: at no time do my fingers leave my hand.”), his fears of getting to know his opponents too well (“At the Pro Bowl you get to know and like your opponents. And when you like a guy, you don’t step on his fingers or kick him getting up.”) and worrying that his reputation may be preceding him too much with officials (“In one game I was called for tripping a guy who was standing up. Sure I tried to trip him, but I didn’t succeed, and attempted tripping is not illegal. Oh, hell, the officials are only human.”). He was a very witty monster!

7. He was also a very good guard. Made three Pro Bowls in a row with the Cardinals (1975-1977), anchored the right side of the Cardinal line with Dan Dierdorf, ranks 64th all-time among guards in Approximate Value according to Pro Football Reference, blah blah blah boring MORE BITING STORIES PLEASE.

So today we salute you, Conrad Francis Dobler, for all your contributions to this great sport you love. Your time on the NFL gridiron may be gone…but it shall NEVER be forgotten.

The Rising Star of the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine: The All-New S-Series by John Deere

The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis tends to get quite a bit more attention than it really deserves – mostly because it’s February and there’s nothing else to do, but still! While working out college prospects in a t-shirt and shorts may make for good (or mediocre) TV and running a series of physical and mental tests on each player may expose some hidden concerns every once in a great while (poor Star Lotulelei), for the most part there isn’t any new information to be gleaned from these proceedings that should in any way, shape or form take precedence over analyzing the tape and stats of what these players did during actual games. Start putting too much emphasis on Combine results and you end up like the Raiders – a team full of guys who can run a 4.3 in the 40 but can’t catch or tackle. Any player whose draft stock rises by a couple rounds due to what they do in Indianapolis this week should be looked upon with great suspicion – and the exact opposite is true for those who perform poorly. Frankly, any NFL-related diversion is a welcome diversion, but the Combine shouldn’t be regarded as anything more than that.

With that said, however…there’s one prospect from a tiny school in the Midwest who has been making a lot of headlines with his performance in workouts thus far. He came in with little buzz but may leave Indianapolis as a potential top-five pick. He may even be, as one league general manager told me yesterday, “a guy who could change the face of the league forever.” With high praise like that, how can you not let go of all skepticism you may have stored up and believe blindly in the potential of a player who’s never played a down in the NFL? Let’s look at this player a little more in depth…

  • Name: John Deere S690 S-Series Combine
  • College: Cornholer University (Omaha, Nebraska)
  • Height: 13 feet 0 in.
  • Weight: 43,730 lb.
  • 40-Yard Dash Time: 4.32 (threshing); 2.00 (highway)
  • Bench Press: 7,439 reps
  • Vertical Jump: 10 inches (achieved by going full speed over a small hill)
  • Broad Jump: 0 inches
  • Cone Drill: 4.87 seconds
  • 20-Yard Shuttle: 3.13 seconds
  • 60-Yard Shuttle: 7.01 seconds

Strengths:

Overwhelming size confounds linemen at the point of attack and compels opponents to run out of his way whenever he steps on the field…Mows down everything that’s set in his path, including turf and any stray birds that may have been briefly grazing on the field…Impossible to bring down after he’s built up a good head of steam…Knocks down a ton of passes at the line of scrimmage due to superior height and width…Hard worker in the film room and wants to improve his technique every single day…Ultra-competitive, desires to grind every opponent he comes across into a bloody, crumpled mess…consistently delivers the highest grain and straw quality on the market…

Weaknesses:

Lacking top-flight agility; could not run cone drill without running over the cones and obliterating each one into a thousand pieces. Portent of things to come against elite pass blocker?…Cannot get legs off the ground without some sort of secondary assist, though overwhelming height partially makes up for this issue. Would still be a liability in pass coverage against a great leaping receiver such as Calvin Johnson or Vincent Jackson, however…Has a tendency to run out of gas quickly due to consistently high effort level and take plays off to refuel. Perhaps future model can provide higher MPG?…Failed to answer a single question during time allotted for Wonderlic exam; agent claims this is due to fact that he has no mouth, hands or other means of communicating and not because of any attitude problems. Still may be best to give him simplified assignments at first before he shows he’s capable of learning the intricacies of an NFL playbook…Ultra-competitiveness can come back to bite him, as he has literally ground some former opponents into a bloody and crumpled mess…

What Scouts Are Saying:

  • “Completely and utterly unblockable – if you tried to block him, you’d get killed. Literally. I used to joke about that when Reggie White was first coming out of college, but not in this case. Death is a serious issue when going up against him. As an opponent, I’d worry about that.”
  • “If you’ve just got him at a threshing top speed, then you’ve got a shot – he’s fast, then, but every team’s got three or four guys who are just as fast. If he’s operating at top road speed, though, then it’s all over. I’ve never seen anyone fly around the field like that. It makes really makes you wonder – where did this kid come from? Another planet? And why is he green and twice the height of all our other players?”
  • “All I’ve heard about the guy is how soft-spoken and compliant he is. Might not be the brightest kid around, but my God, does he give a consistent effort. If you tell him to do something, he does it. And he also has two cupholders in his mouth for whenever you’ve got a Diet Coke on the sidelines that you need stored close-by. His attitude and work ethic are off the charts, really.”

Draft Outlook:

Would likely have been a Top 5 pick after news of his initial workouts spread; after his embarassing Wonderlic score, however, he has fallen back down to the 6th or 7th round range.

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 3 (Part 2)

Week 3 of the Greatest of All Time season began yesterday with, as Jesse Jackson might say, “some UNEXPECTED DEVELOPMENTS…in the FOOTBALL SIMULATION COMMUNITY.” For the second half of Week 3’s action (which includes five matchups between past NFL champions), tune back in…right about now.

1998 Denver Broncos (2-1) 24, 1973 Minnesota Vikings (1-2) 10

John Elway went 16-of-22 for 205 yards and two touchdowns and the Broncos used four sacks of Fran Tarkenton to fuel a victory in their home opener. Both of Elway’s touchdown passes came outside the red zone. The first came on a 36-yard throw to Ed McCaffrey with 24 seconds left in the first half and gave the Broncos a 14-3 lead heading into halftime. The second, caught by Rod Smith in the third quarter, went for 62 yards and once again gave the Broncos a two-score advantage after the Vikings had scored on the opening possession of the second half. Chuck Foreman rushed for 144 yards on only 17 carries for the Vikings, but Tarkenton was limited to 184 yards passing on 34 attempts.

1979 San Diego Chargers (2-1) 29, 1981 Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) 24

In possibly the best quarterback duel of the season so far, Dan Fouts was a hair better than Ken Anderson and the Chargers avenged their loss in the Freezer Bowl (but not really, since this is all fake and in no way is based in any semblance of reality) with a come-from-behind 29-24 victory at Jack Murphy Stadium. Fouts went 17-of-25 for 303 yards, an interception and two touchdowns – the second of which (a 46-yard strike to Clarence Williams) put the Chargers back in the lead with 4:32 left in the fourth quarter. The Chargers had marched out to a 20-10 lead early in the second half, but two touchdown passes from Ken Anderson (15-of-25 for 257 yards and three touchdowns overall) gave the Bengals a 24-23 lead heading into the final quarter. Cris Collinsworth had 151 yards and two touchdowns receiving on five catches, but the Bengals couldn’t muster anything on either of their two possessions after Fouts’ late touchdown throw to Williams.

2000 Tennessee Titans (3-0) 38, 1969 Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) 7

The Titans continued their surprising run as perhaps the most impressive team in the league thus far and held the Chiefs scoreless until the final minute of the game at Municipal Stadium. Steve McNair threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns on 32 attempts and the Titans picked up a whopping 26 first downs, thanks to their remarkable 10-for-17 efficiency on third down. Before Otis Taylor caught a 77-yard touchdown from Len Dawson with less than a minute remaining, the Chiefs had only gained 126 total yards offensively. Time to call these Titans serious contenders!

1999 St. Louis Rams (2-1) 30, 1958 Baltimore Colts (1-2) 17

Kurt Warner threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns on 33 attempts, Marshall Faulk added 161 combined yards on 26 touches from scrimmage and the Rams improved to 2-0 on their home turf. The first half featured wide-open play and a bunch of points scored by both sides. Lenny Moore had a 66-yard run in the first quarter that set up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas to Raymond Berry and Unitas also hit Alan Ameche (166 combined yards) with a 69-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter. Warner had already thrown for two touchdowns by that point, however, and Robert Holcombe had also run for a 11-yard touchdown, so the Rams took a 24-17 lead into halftime. From there, both defenses buckled down and the Colts couldn’t muster any offense in their comeback attempt.

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-0) 50, 2012 Atlanta Falcons (0-3) 10

Remember what I said about the ’00 Titans possibly being the most impressive team so far? Well…I hadn’t run this simulation yet. Playing as the offensive juggernauts we all knew them to be in their time, the Buccaneers gained 578 yards offensively and embarrassed the Falcons in their home opener. The score was just 16-10 after Matt Bryant hit a 39-yard field goal with 34 second left in the first half, but Brad Johnson then hit Rickey Dudley – RICKEY DUDLEY, of all people – for a back-breaking 80-yard touchdown pass right before halftime and the Falcons never recovered. Johnson would go on to throw another 80+ yard touchdown in the third quarter (this time to Michael Pittman, who wound up with 230 combined yards on 19 touches) and wound up with 395 yards passing and two touchdowns on 30 attempts. Mike Alstott added two rushing touchdowns and Warren Sapp even had an interception! Bet he didn’t rub that in Matt Ryan’s face afterwards.

1986 New York Giants (1-2) 27, 1960 Philadelphia Eagles (0-3) 10

Joe Morris ran for 204 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and the Giants won the battle of previously winless NFC East rivals at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Phil Simms was mediocre at best again, only throwing for 98 yards on 20 attempts but did add two touchdown passes and avoided throwing an interception for the first time all year. Norm Van Brocklin went 18-of-31 for 218 yards for the Eagles, who trailed the entire way and, we can only assume, were booed mercilessly throughout the second half.

1992 Dallas Cowboys (2-1) 23, 1985 Chicago Bears (1-2) 17 (OT)

A blase first three quarters gave way to a fast and furious final period and a third and Emmitt Smith gave the Cowboys a road victory with a 38-yard touchdown catch a little over four minutes into the overtime period. Entering the fourth quarter, the only scoring had been a 38-yard field goal by Lin Elliott to close out the first half. But the Bears offense came alive with a 33-yard touchdown run by Dennis Gentry and then, after a Troy Aikman touchdown throw to Jay Novacek, a 14-yard touchdown throw from Jim McMahon to Matt Suhey that gave the Bears a 14-10 lead with a little over three minutes to play. Then the Cowboys committed a major error in running the ball with Curvin Richards on a 4th-and-8 play from their own 27-yard line with a little over two minutes left and all three timeouts remaining. Richards was stopped for no gain and the Bears took over with an opportunity to salt the game away. But the Cowboys held Chicago to a three-and-out and a Kevin Butler field goal and with fourteen seconds left, Aikman hit Michael Irvin with a 24-yard touchdown pass to tie the game up and set up Smith’s heroics in overtime.

2009 New Orleans Saints (1-2) 48, 2006 Indianapolis Colts (0-3) 16

One of the prevailing themes from the first three weeks of simulations is that WhatIfSports doesn’t think the 2006 Colts defense could stop anybody. That trend continued in the Superdome, where the Saints jumped on the Colts for 548 yards offensively and sent Indianapolis to an 0-3 start. Drew Brees was excellent, going 21-of-35 for 313 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and Pierre Thomas added 101 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on only 12 attempts. Even Mark Brunell got in on the action, completing his only pass for a 44-yard gain. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning continued his slow start, going only 17-of-34 for 180 yards, a touchdown and an interception. WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE COLTS???

Next week: The first wave of bye weeks begin, but there’s still plenty of enticing matchups, including a battle of unbeatens between ’07 New England and ’90 Buffalo, the first game in the Redskins-Giants rivalry this season, the ’72 Dolphins trying to get their first win of the season in Baltimore against the ’58 Colts, and Joe Montana leading the ’89 49ers into Irving to take on the ’92 Cowboys. Not bad.

The WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season Standings

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 3-0
  2. ’90 Buffalo: 3-0
  3. ’68 NY Jets: 2-1
  4. ’72 Miami: 0-3

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 2-1
  2. ’58 Baltimore: 1-2
  3. ’81 Cincinnati: 1-2
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 0-3

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 3-0
  2. ’99 Jacksonville: 2-1
  3. ’91 Houston: 2-1
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 0-3

AFC West

  1. ’79 San Diego: 2-1
  2. ’98 Denver: 2-1
  3. ’69 Kansas City: 1-2
  4. ’76 Oakland: 1-2

NFC East

  1. ’92 Dallas: 2-1
  2. ’91 Washington: 2-1
  3. ’86 NY Giants: 1-2
  4. ’60 Philadelphia: 0-3

NFC North

  1. ’62 Green Bay: 3-0
  2. ’52 Detroit: 1-2
  3. ’85 Chicago: 1-2
  4. ’73 Minnesota: 1-2

NFC South

  1. ’02 Tampa Bay: 3-0
  2. ’05 Carolina: 1-2
  3. ’09 New Orleans: 1-2
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 0-3

NFC West

  1. ’08 Arizona: 2-1
  2. ’99 St. Louis: 2-1
  3. ’89 San Francisco: 1-1-1
  4. ’05 Seattle: 1-1-1

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 3 (Part 1)

Through two weeks of the simulated Greatest of All Time season, we’ve had some big surprises (the ’08 Cardinals going 2-0 and the ’89 49ers going winless in their first two home games) and some not-so-startling developments (the ’62 Packers and ’07 Patriots starting out undefeated). Today, we’ve got the desperate ’72 Dolphins trying to avoid an 0-3 start at the hands of the 1990 Bills; the ’76 Raiders heading into Lambeau to face the ’62 Packers; the ’08 Cardinals and ’91 Oilers both trying to extend their undefeated starts; and a battle of AFC East unbeatens in Foxborough. Let’s rev WhatIfSports up and see what happens this week…

1991 Washington Redskins (2-1) 20, 1952 Detroit Lions (1-2) 17

The Redskins took advantage of a questionable late-game decision from Lions coach Buddy Parker to kick a 24-yard Chip Lohmiller field goal and ice a victory that sent them to 2-1. Down 17-10 with a little over three minutes left and all three timeouts remaining, Parker decided to go for it on 4th-and-3 from the Lions’ own 23-yard-line; when Wilber Marshall subsequently sacked Bobby Layne to turn the ball over on downs, the Redskins were essentially handed the field position needed to kick an easy field goal and put the game out of reach. Washington had taken the lead early in the fourth quarter on 25 yard touchdown pass from Mark Rypien (11-of-17, 140 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) to Gary Clark. Layne was extremely hit-or-miss, going only 5-of-13 but gaining 149 yards on those five completions, two of which went to the immortal Cloyce Box (what a name!)

1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) 42, 2008 Arizona Cardinals (2-1) 17

The Steelers scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and racked up nearly 500 yards of offense to hand the Cardinals their first loss of the season. Both Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris rushed for over 100 yards (Harris scoring two touchdowns on the ground and Bleier adding two as a receiver) and Terry Bradshaw was superb, going 17-of-24 for 222 yards and four touchdowns. Kurt Warner had his first off game of the year, going only 12-of-27 for 134 yards and an interception, in large part because Larry Fitzgerald was held to a single catch for 19 yards.

1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) 37, 1991 Houston Oilers (2-1) 7

Jacksonville harassed Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, sacking him eight times and forcing two interceptions and the Jaguars romped over one of the two previously unbeaten teams in the AFC South. Renaldo Wynn had two of Jacksonville’s eight sacks and Tony Brackens added another in addition to an interception that set up a Mike Hollis field goal. Offensively, Mark Brunell was solid, going 16-of-26 for 213 yards and a touchdown and Fred Taylor added two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter to firmly put the game out of reach.

1962 Green Bay Packers (3-0) 27, 1976 Oakland Raiders (1-2) 3

The Packers limited the Raiders to ten first downs and became the first team to achieve a 3-0 record by romping over Oakland at Lambeau Field. Bart Starr went 10-of-19 for 181 yards and the Packers scored three touchdowns in a ten-minute span in the second quarter to put up an ultimately insurmountable advantage. Paul Hornung scored two touchdowns on the ground.

1990 Buffalo Bills (3-0) 23, 1972 Miami Dolphins (0-3) 20 (OT)

For the second week in a row, the Dolphins blew a fourth-quarter lead at home and after missing his first attempt in overtime, Scott Norwood made the second from 52 yards away to send the Bills to 3-0 and the Dolphins, shockingly, to 0-3. Jim Kelly (20-of-32 for 261 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT) threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Andre Reed with 3:19 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game up. After the Dolphins were forced to punt on their ensuing possession, the Bills actually drove deep into Miami territory with seconds remaining but Thurman Thomas fumbled at the Dolphins’ 9-yard-line with 15 seconds remaining and the game went into overtime. There, after missing a 51-yard attempt to cap Buffalo’s first possession, Norwood hit his second attempt to win the game for the Bills. The comeback spoiled a great rushing performance from Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka, who combined for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts. Earl Morrall went only 8-of-20 for 129 yards for the Dolphins, however, and with Bob Griese waiting in the wings, we can only assume a virtual quarterback controversy is taking shape.

1989 San Francisco 49ers (1-1-1) 21, 2005 Carolina Panthers (1-2) 7

Joe Montana went 16-of-22 for 214 yards and the 49ers scored nine points in a twenty-four second span in the fourth quarter to earn their first victory of the year. With the score just 12-7 early in the fourth quarter, Kevin Fagan sacked Jake Delhomme in the end zone for a safety. Then, following a great return on the free kick back to the Panthers’ 6-yard line, Roger Craig scored his second touchdown of the game on the very next play to give the Niners a comfortable two-score advantage that they would not relinquish. Jerry Rice was held in check (only 36 yards on three catches), so the bulk of the San Francisco offensive attack shifted to…Tom Rathman? Rathman had 107 combined rushing and receiving yards, including a 41-yard catch.

2007 New England Patriots (3-0) 20, 1968 New York Jets (2-1) 0

The Jets held the prolific Patriots offense to one offensive touchdown but couldn’t muster any offense of their own and were shut out in a battle of previously 2-0 teams. Tom Brady was a solid 20-of-29 for 213 yards (145 of those going to Randy Moss and Wes Welker), but the game was still just 13-0 midway through the third quarter when Randall Gay intercepted Joe Namath’s pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. From there, Namath (12-of-24 for 200 yards and that pick-six) was able to lead the Jets into the Patriots’ red zone twice but failed on two different fourth down conversions and came away with no points.

2005 Seattle Seahawks (1-1-1) 27, 1964 Cleveland Browns (0-3) 21

Aided by two Frank Ryan interceptions deep in his own territory, the Seahawks scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and withstood a furious Cleveland rally in the fourth quarter to send the 1964 league champions to 0-3. The Browns led 7-6 at halftime, but two quick Ryan interceptions to Kelly Herndon and Jordan Babineaux set the Seahawks up at the Cleveland 22 and 27-yard lines, respectively, and paved the way for two Shaun Alexander touchdowns – one as a rusher, another as a receiver. Alexander capped an eleven play, 69-yard Seahawks touchdown drive later in the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown run to push the Seahawks’ lead to 27-7. But an 11-yard touchdown run by Jim Brown (107 yards on 22 carries) and a 44-yard touchdown throw from Ryan to Gary Collins gave the Browns new life and they actually drove to the Seahawks’ 8-yard line with 1:35 remaining in the game. Then, facing a 4th-and-5, Ryan thought it would be wise to run out of bounds after gaining a single yard. Even Matt Schaub is shaking his head at you right now, Frank! From there, the Seahawks just ran the clock out.

Tomorrow: Week 3 wraps up with ’92 Cowboys vs. ’85 Bears, ’73 Vikings vs. ’98 Broncos, ’58 Colts vs. ’99 Rams, and the ’06 Colts going up against the ’09 Saints in a battle to see who can be more virtually disappointing.

Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2009

This week’s Predictive Yards per Play rankings takes us back to 2009 – a crazy season that saw Jay Cutler go from franchise savior to scapegoat, Josh McDaniels from franchise killer to savant back to killer again and JaMarcus Russell go from really bad quarterback to REALLY bad quarterback. Let’s get started.

Predictive Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.00): a metric which uses probabilities drawn from research Brian Burke did back in 2008 in trying to determine which stats best correlated with future play.

  1. New England Patriots (10-6)1.84 (2010 ranking: #3)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)1.55 (2010 ranking: #18)
  3. New York Jets (9-7)1.27 (2010 ranking: #4)
  4. Green Bay Packers (11-5)1.13 (2010 ranking: #2)
  5. Carolina Panthers (8-8)1.04 (2010 ranking: #30)
  6. New Orleans Saints (13-3)0.99 (2010 ranking: #12)
  7. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)0.97 (2010 ranking: #8)
  8. Minnesota Vikings (12-4)0.97 (2010 ranking: #15)
  9. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)0.92 (2010 ranking: #10)
  10. Denver Broncos (8-8)0.80 (2010 ranking: #27)
  11. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)0.79 (2010 ranking: #1)
  12. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)0.74 (2010 ranking: #9)
  13. New York Giants (8-8)0.67 (2010 ranking: #6)
  14. San Diego Chargers (13-3)0.63 (2010 ranking: #5)
  15. Houston Texans (9-7)0.56 (2010 ranking: #16)
  16. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)0.45 (2010 ranking: #17)
  17. Miami Dolphins (7-9)0.03 (2010 ranking: #7)
  18. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)-0.05 (2010 ranking: #14)
  19. Buffalo Bills (6-10)-0.22 (2010 ranking: #24)
  20. Tennessee Titans (8-8)-0.24 (2010 ranking: #21)
  21. Washington Redskins (4-12)-0.29 (2010 ranking: #25)
  22. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)-0.51 (2010 ranking: #29)
  23. San Francisco 49ers (8-8)-0.68 (2010 ranking: #26)
  24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)-0.74 (2010 ranking: #20)
  25. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)-0.82 (2010 ranking: #32)
  26. Chicago Bears (7-9)-0.84 (2010 ranking: #13)
  27. Oakland Raiders (5-11)-1.45 (2010 ranking: #22)
  28. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)-1.56 (2010 ranking: #19)
  29. Seattle Seahawks (5-11) -1.69 (2010 ranking: #31)
  30. Detroit Lions (2-14)-2.03 (2010 ranking: #11)
  31. St. Louis Rams (1-15)-2.08 (2010 ranking: #28)
  32. Cleveland Browns (5-11)-2.10 (2010 ranking: #23)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.72)

  1. New England Patriots (10-6)6.13 (2010 ranking: #1)
  2. New Orleans Saints (13-3)6.03 (2010 ranking: #13)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)5.81 (2010 ranking: #15)
  4. San Diego Chargers (13-3)5.58 (2010 ranking: #6)
  5. Green Bay Packers (11-5)5.48 (2010 ranking: #3)
  6. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)5.46 (2010 ranking: #9)
  7. Minnesota Vikings (12-4)5.45 (2010 ranking: #20)
  8. Houston Texans (9-7)5.44 (2010 ranking: #2)
  9. New York Giants (8-8)5.41 (2010 ranking: #12)
  10. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)5.38 (2010 ranking: #4)
  11. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)5.31 (2010 ranking: #5)
  12. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)5.12 (2010 ranking: #14)
  13. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)5.11 (2010 ranking: #16)
  14. Tennessee Titans (8-8)5.00 (2010 ranking: #27)
  15. Denver Broncos (8-8)4.94 (2010 ranking: #18)
  16. Miami Dolphins (7-9)4.84 (2010 ranking: #17)
  17. Carolina Panthers (8-8)4.82 (2010 ranking: #31)
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)4.72 (2010 ranking: #22)
  19. New York Jets (9-7)4.54 (2010 ranking: #10)
  20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)4.35 (2010 ranking: #32)
  21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)4.32 (2010 ranking: #11)
  22. Washington Redskins (4-12)4.16 (2010 ranking: #24)
  23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)4.02 (2010 ranking: #7)
  24. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)4.01 (2010 ranking: #21)
  25. Buffalo Bills (6-10)3.97 (2010 ranking: #19)
  26. Chicago Bears (7-9)3.93 (2010 ranking: #26)
  27. San Francisco 49ers (8-8)3.79 (2010 ranking: #28)
  28. Seattle Seahawks (5-11)3.75 (2010 ranking: #29)
  29. Detroit Lions (2-14)3.58 (2010 ranking: #8)
  30. Oakland Raiders (5-11)3.56 (2010 ranking: #23)
  31. Cleveland Browns (5-11)3.51 (2010 ranking: #25)
  32. St. Louis Rams (1-15)3.33 (2010 ranking: #30)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.72)

  1. New York Jets (9-7)3.26 (2010 ranking: #2)
  2. Carolina Panthers (8-8)3.78 (2010 ranking: #17)
  3. Denver Broncos (8-8)4.14 (2010 ranking: #31)
  4. Buffalo Bills (6-10)4.19 (2010 ranking: #26)
  5. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)4.19 (2010 ranking: #8)
  6. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)4.26 (2010 ranking: #24)
  7. New England Patriots (10-6)4.29 (2010 ranking: #20)
  8. Green Bay Packers (11-5)4.34 (2010 ranking: #6)
  9. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)4.36 (2010 ranking: #16)
  10. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)4.41 (2010 ranking: #14)
  11. Washington Redskins (4-12)4.46 (2010 ranking: #25)
  12. San Francisco 49ers (8-8)4.47 (2010 ranking: #22)
  13. Minnesota Vikings (12-4)4.48 (2010 ranking: #9)
  14. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)4.52 (2010 ranking: #1)
  15. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)4.67 (2010 ranking: #23)
  16. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)4.72 (2010 ranking: #10)
  17. New York Giants (8-8)4.75 (2010 ranking: #5)
  18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)4.76 (2010 ranking: #27)
  19. Chicago Bears (7-9)4.77 (2010 ranking: #3)
  20. Miami Dolphins (7-9)4.81 (2010 ranking: #4)
  21. Houston Texans (9-7)4.88 (2010 ranking: #28)
  22. San Diego Chargers (13-3)4.95 (2010 ranking: #7)
  23. Oakland Raiders (5-11)5.01 (2010 ranking: #21)
  24. New Orleans Saints (13-3)5.03 (2010 ranking: #12)
  25. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)5.17 (2010 ranking: #29)
  26. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)5.23 (2010 ranking: #32)
  27. Tennessee Titans (8-8)5.24 (2010 ranking: #11)
  28. St. Louis Rams (1-15)5.41 (2010 ranking: #18)
  29. Seattle Seahawks (5-11)5.44 (2010 ranking: #30)
  30. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)5.57 (2010 ranking: #15)
  31. Cleveland Browns (5-11)5.61 (2010 ranking: #19)
  32. Detroit Lions (2-14)5.61 (2010 ranking: #13)

Crazily enough, I have some thoughts…

  • The Saints and Colts both started the year 13-0, but neither team ended up in the top five overall rankings. Part of that is due to each team’s decision to tank their last game of the season after their shots at undefeated records were gone – the Colts mainly treated their finale at Buffalo as a stat-padding extravaganza to get both Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark to 100 catches and the Saints didn’t even start Drew Brees, who decided to sit on his record-breaking completion percentage and let 39-year-old Mark Brunell flail about against the Panthers. Even then, though, both teams needed a fair amount of luck to ride to those undefeated starts (as is the case with every other team that has gone deep into the season undefeated). The Saints used seven defensive touchdowns to boost their season-ending scoring total over 500 points and mask some otherwise glaring defensive inefficiencies (they finished 24th overall in Defensive PY/P). The Colts were even luckier, going undefeated in all seven games they played that were decided by seven points or less. Bob Sanders played only two games all season and naturally the Colts’ defense suffered without him but their run offense was even more of a black hole, finishing third-to-last in Yards per Carry. Both teams’ quarterbacks were pretty good that season if you recall, so it’s not as if I’m claiming that these teams deserved to go 7-9 or anything. Just saying there were holes on both teams, is all…
  • Surprisingly, the team that finished #1 was the Patriots – in a year where they tied their worst record in the past ten years of the Belichick/Brady era and actually were a game worse than the previous year, where Matt Cassel took 99% of the season’s snaps. Nevertheless, the ’09 Patriots rate as the second-best regular season team of the Belichick/Brady era in Predictive Yards per Play, trailing only the undefeated 2007 edition. The reasons for the incongruity between PY/P rating and won-loss record? The usual suspects – strength of schedule and performance in close games. The Patriots were one of six teams (the Buccaneers, Dolphins, Panthers, Falcons, and Bills being the others) that played a significantly harder schedule than the rest of the league. Their defense received a particularly large bump, rising from a 15th-place ranking with no strength of schedule added to #7 with SOS factored in but the offense rocketed even higher, jumping past the Saints to rate #1 overall. That tough schedule coupled with a 3-5 record in games decided by seven points or less conspired to keep the Pats’ record down at 10-6. Essentially, however, this was a team with almost the exact same profile as the 2010 Packers heading into the postseason – their fortunes in the playoffs ended up slightly differently, however.
  • Their division rival Jets also rate very well, ending up at #3 overall and begging the question of what they possibly could have accomplished with anyone other than a rookie Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Because here are Sanchez’s numbers from 2009: 196-for-364 (53.8% completion percentage) for 2444 yards, 12 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, a 6.7% sack rate and a 4.07 overall Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (27th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks). And they still finished 3rd overall despite getting THAT production out of the most important position in the game. Obviously their defense was phenomenal that season – second-place Carolina is somewhat in the rear view mirror, but the distance between the Jets and third-place Broncos is astronomical – approximately the same as the distance between the Broncos and the 23rd-place Raiders. Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene also had huge seasons rushing behind the best offensive line in the league. MY GOD, IF THEY ONLY HAD A QUARTERBACK…
  • The highest-rated NFC team is probably a bit of a surprise, too, as the Cowboys spent most of that season getting ridiculed as the underachieving underachievers they really were before getting hot in December. Despite only finishing 14th overall in points scored, Tony Romo and the Dallas offense finished 3rd in the PY/P offensive rankings – and this despite playing an easier-than-average slate of defenses. Mainly, their troubles came in the red zone – they finished 18th in red zone efficiency and Nick Folk caught a serious case of the yips, costing the Cowboys several points in missed field goal attempts. Despite all that, however, Dallas was still probably the best overall team in the NFC, as they showed in their seven-point December win at New Orleans that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. This, of course, made their eventual 34-3 loss to the Vikings in the playoffs that much more enjoyable…
  • The 2009 season ended up showcasing a wide gulf between really good teams and REALLY bad teams. Fifteen teams ended up with a PY/P differential of at least .50 yards per play (compared to ten in 2010 and just nine in 2011), meaning that almost half of the league’s teams were truly at least nine-win quality. On the flip side, there were an equally extraordinary number of horrible teams at the low end of the spectrum. Any of the bottom six teams in the 2009 PY/P rankings (from 27th-place Oakland down to last-place Cleveland) would have rated as the worst team from the 2011 season and three teams – the Lions, Rams, and Browns – all finished with a PY/P differential of -2.00 or worse, which is essentially the equivalent of automatically forfeiting 13 or 14 games before you even take the field. There’s been only one team in the three seasons since (the 2010 Cardinals) that has finished below -2.00.
  • I’m sure the 2009 team that’s rated way higher than most people would expect is the Panthers, who even end up ahead of the Saints. They were kind of like a poor man’s Jets, playing a crazy tough schedule and trying to counterbalance absolute crap from the quarterback position (in this case, Mr. Jake Delhomme) with a great defense and running game. Matt Moore’s effectiveness at the end of the season convinced me to pick the Panthers for a wild-card slot in 2010. That pick didn’t turn out so good. On the other end of the spectrum, the 10-6 Cardinals wound up just 25th overall, making their thrilling 51-45 playoff victory over the 4th-ranked Packers one of the bigger playoff upsets in recent memory. You may remember their fortunes turned out a little differently in 2010 when Derek Anderson took the quarterback reins from Kurt Warner…
  • In this year’s retroactive award ceremonies…Peyton Manning won the MVP award for the fourth time and, considering that he’s deserved to win it at least five or six times during his career, it wasn’t a horrible choice. But in one of the most loaded years ever for MVP candidates (seriously, Brett Favre threw 33 touchdowns against 7 interceptions and didn’t get a sniff of voting), Peyton was probably surpassed in excellence this year by two guys: Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, who was even more efficient than Manning with an even worse supporting cast. If you put a gun to my head, I’d probably choose Brees…Two years before he won the award for Most Fantasy Team Owners Ticked Off in a Single Season, Chris Johnson won Offensive Player of the Year under the always-defensible position that he ran for over 2,000 yards. Brees, Rivers, Manning, Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo or Matt Schaub all had good cases to make as well…Charles Woodson was outstanding as the jack-of-all-trades cornerback in Dom Capers’ system, but Darrelle Revis arguably had the greatest season any cornerback has ever had. The Jets’ entire defensive scheme was built around funneling passes towards the receiver Revis was covering – and they ended up with one of the five best defenses of the 2000s. Revis was your true Defensive Player of the Year in 2009…Percy Harvin beat out LeSean McCoy and Beanie Wells in a relatively uninspiring year for Offensive Rookie of the Year voting; McCoy and Wells ended up with more yards from scrimmage, but Harvin was a more dangerous threat whenever he touched the ball and was probably the best choice out of a mediocre crop…Clay Matthews and Brian Orakpo both began effectively building their reputations as fearsome pass rushers in their rookie seasons, but PED-aided or not, Brian Cushing was arguably the best linebacker in the entire league and was far and away the best choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Then again, I think Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa should both be in the Baseball Hall of Fame…Tom Brady narrowly edged out Albert Haynesworth for Comeback Player of the Year, a decision that looks better and better with each passing year…And, finally, Marvin Lewis won Coach of the Year for watching Carson Palmer stay healthy for a full season and riding an easy schedule to 10 wins. It may surprise you, then, to hear that I would have chosen a different candidate. Sean Payton was eminently deserving as well, but if I had a vote I probably would have thrown my considerable weight behind Rex Ryan for his job turning the Jets’ defense into a monster virtually overnight. As Herm Edwards might say, “IF YOU GET TO THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP WITH MARK SANCHEZ AS YOUR QUARTERBACK, YOU’RE A GOOD COACH!”
  • Next week: 2008 – aka “The Year the Cardinals Came Out of Nowhere,” “The Ravens and Steelers Legitimately Try to Murder Each Other” and “Plaxico’s Revenge.”

Alberto Riveron Fun Fact of the Day: We Hardly Knew Ye, Al…

Well, this is just horrendous news. Here I was minding my own business and having a perfectly pleasant little Tuesday morning, still riding high from yesterday’s delightfully nonsensical Thom Yorke AMA on Reddit and my breakfast-of-champions combination of generic Honey Nut Cheerios and Mountain Dew. I was even thinking about humming a little ditty out loud before thinking better of it. As far as mid-February days go, this one’s going pretty well so far. There’s nothing that could possibly undermine its effectiveness or sabotage its entire identity with one fell swoop…

Oh hey, a new tweet from Adam Schefter. Let’s see what he has to say…

…Wait a minute, what?

What???

WHAT?????????

*double-checks to make sure this isn’t Fake Adam Schefter*

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What a sad day this has suddenly become. On the one hand, we all share in your joy, Alberto, as you climb the NFL corporate ladder and accept a most-deserving promotion that will give you and your family stability and the sweet comfort and assurance that you will never have to see Philip Rivers in person again. Perhaps you can continue your business as the leading storm panel salesman in south Florida as a labor of love? It would hurt us to think that some prospective buyers seeking shutters to keep their homes from getting blown the crap away by hurricanes would no longer be able to enjoy the taste of sweet Cuban pastries during their meeting with a more-than-qualified storm panel representative. But we understand if you’ve decided to leave that life behind you, Al.

On the other hand, your absence on the gridiron fields of autumn will leave a stalwart and no-nonsense hole in our hearts that will simply never be filled. For starters, the chances that the guy who is replacing you (former V.P. of Officiating Carl Johnson) won’t suck are extremely low. Fact is, you were one of the four or five referees in the league who were consistently competent at their job week in and week out over your five year tenure. That’s something to celebrate in and of itself! Carl Cheffers always looks like he’s crapping his pants whenever he makes an uncomfortable call against the home team. Clete Blakeman perpetually seems like he just started the job three days ago (can you believe he’s been doing this crap for THREE years already?). Ron Winter is senility personified. Scott Green and Jeff Triplette will lull you to sleep with two or three consecutive solid games, then completely zone out on the proper protocol for a down-by-contact ruling. Mike Carey and Ed Hochuli love the sound of their own voice more than anything in the world (except perhaps, in Ed’s case, for bicep curls). Jerome Boger is hopeless and the fact that he got the Super Bowl refereeing gig over you, Al, is a shame, a damn shame! And perhaps the worst of all of them is Walt Coleman, who’s been doing this for so long now that he ought to know this crap backwards and forwards but reviles in making bizarre and inane calls anyway. The man is pure evil. I can assure of this.

You on the other hand, Al? You were a beacon of integrity and testicular fortitude from the beginning.  The games you refereed always had outstanding flow, never let the players turn the proceedings into a back-alley street fight and always felt like there was a strong hand firmly keeping the sanctity of the game in check. We may have disagreed on some calls from time to time, Alberto – particularly any call that went against the Bears – but we never doubted that you had made the best decision based on the information available to you at the time.

Sure, this blog’s championing of you as the great refereeing mastermind of our time had more than a little to do with your colorful pronunciations on your penalty announcements (“Fifteen yahd penalteee. Steel first down.”). To me, though, that was just another layer of your genius – not only could you properly enforce the rules of the game when the time arose to do so, but you can entertain and brighten the days of millions of Americans while doing so. Let’s see Gene Steratore or John Parry pull THAT off.

So we’re going to miss you, Alberto. We’re going to miss you a lot. The NFL refereeing fraternity lost one of its great members today and, to be frank, we’re not sure if they’re ever going to recover. But what we will always have – and what we will always share – are the memories. There is a place, on a football field located deep inside our hearts, where you will forever be conferring with your line judge to get to the right call. A place where you will forever be getting in the middle of post-play scrums and breaking up any funny business that may be occurring between Ray Lewis and Rob Gronkowski. And, most importantly, a place where there will forever be a personal foul and fifteen yard penalty…and still first down.

Offseason Biography: Dick Shiner

The first in an occasional series of posts seeking to shed some light on the forgotten NFL greats of yore…

  • Name: Richard Earl “Dick” Shiner
  • Born: July 18, 1942 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania
  • Position: Quarterback
  • Height: 6 feet 0 inches
  • Weight: 197 pounds
  • College: Maryland
  • NFL Teams: Washington Redskins (1964-1966), Cleveland Browns (1967), Pittsburgh Steelers (1968-1969), New York Giants (1970), Atlanta Falcons (1971-1973), New England Patriots (1973-1974)
  • Main Claims to Fame (in order of importance):

  1. His name. I’m sure people in the ’40s had much cleaner minds than we all do now and weren’t as aware of the hilarity double entendres can bring into our lives, but come on. His parents HAD to know what they were doing when they named him Richard, right? You can’t give him that first name in conjunction with the last name “Shiner” and NOT know the eventual consequences that kid’s going to face starting at approximately age eight and ending approximately never. I refuse to believe they could be that oblivious and for that alone, DCFS should have taken poor Dick out of the Shiner household and placed him in foster care where he could have been given another boring ’40s name. Like Glen. Or Burt. Of course, if that had happened Mr. Shiner would have just gone down as another unmemorable career backup in the Stoney Case or Cody Carlson mold. So everything happens for a reason, I guess.
  2. He backed up a couple of Hall of Fame quarterbacks. During his stint with the Redskins, he was the second-string behind Sonny Jurgensen and got some action in 1965, going 28-of-65 for 470 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Unfortunately for Dick, Otto Graham became the Redskins coach in 1966 and, as Sports Illustrated put it in their 1966 preview, convinced Jurgensen to “(trim) down his familiar paunch.” Sonny’s post-paunch efficacy rose dramatically and that left no window of opportunity for Shiner in the nation’s capital. He would later back up Fran Tarkenton on the 1970 Giants and actually put up a better Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt figure than ‘ol Fran – 6.00 to 5.57. Sure, Dick only dropped back 13 times that whole season but sample sizes don’t matter! So that’s a pretty good thing to put on your resume – “I studied under two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and emulated their good qualities (strong arm, decisive decision-making, quick wits) and disregarded their bad ones (paunch).” Better to put that than “I couldn’t beat out Bob Berry for playing time on the ’71 Falcons.”
  3. He was very good at taking orders. His college coach Tom Nugent told John Underwood in the October 15, 1962 issue of SI that “if I told [Shiner] to take three steps back and fall down, he’d do it.” What a team player! Anybody who can do that belongs in the NFL, no questions asked.
  4. He was nicknamed “The Rifleman.” In college, anyway – I don’t think it’s legal for any person not named Chuck to hold on to that nickname for more than three years. From that same issue of SI: “One Shiner pass split the palm of an end’s hand and put him out for weeks. But with Maryland winning as it is, and Shiner completing a majority of his passes, his coaches wouldn’t dream of changing his style, even if he used up a dozen ends.” Nor should they have! All football teams, collegiate or otherwise, run at least fifteen players deep at receiver and wouldn’t have to resort to lining the head groundskeeper at flanker if their quarterback broke the hands of his top dozen receivers. This was a good career move by coach Nugent.
  5. His mechanics were fundamentally sound. Except for the times where he “often throws off the wrong foot,” according to the September 22, 1969 issue of SI. For a quarterback getting his first extended action as a starting quarterback on a terrible pre-Steel Curtain Steelers team, you’d almost think that would be a problem. On the other hand, the magazine went on to note that Dick “has a lot of confidence and a good touch” and as wide receiver Roy Jefferson noted, “All we need is confidence and a little luck and we’ll be on our way to a new Steeler tradition.” Hey, he turned out to be pretty right about that! Unfortunately, Dick did not get to be a part of that Steeler tradition after he went 3-16-1 in his two seasons starting for Pittsburgh.
  6. Norm Van Brocklin believed in him. This would have meant a whole lot more if Van Brocklin wasn’t one of the worst head coaches ever, proving to be as adept a hard-headed dingus as he was a phenomenal quarterback. As SI wrote in its November 19, 1973 issue, “Van Brocklin, who had decided on his quarterback more by default than logic, was determined to prove that journeyman Dick Shiner could win for the Falcons, although he had never won consistently for any other team.” Other than that? NO ISSUES HERE. Dick wound up getting sacked eleven times in just 75 dropbacks and got shipped off to New England to back up Jim Plunkett.
  7. Lee Corso also believed in him. Corso was the assistant coach at Maryland who ended up convincing Shiner to skip out on Duke and play for the Terrapins instead. No word on whether Corso did an Irish jig during the recruiting process.
  8. He got booed in practice… Having to back up Sonny Jurgensen will make you seem rather impotent in comparison, but poor Dick probably didn’t deserve that! “Sonny’s the best passer I ever saw,” he said in 2007. “When I was his backup with the Redskins, we’d practice down by the river and people would come out and watch and we’d have a crowd sitting up there on the bank. And Sonny would always put on a show, throwing the ball behind his back, sprinting to his right and throwing a strike back across the field to some fast wide receiver 30 yards down the far sideline…So, when it came my turn to run the offense, I couldn’t do any of that stuff, and the crowd up on the bank would always boo. They’d boo me in practice!” And that’s why you always want to be the backup quarterback on a team with a bad quarterback.
  9. …But once got cheered during a game. An actual, real game! This is hilarious. That same 2007 article from above presents the highlight of Shiner’s NFL career as the one time Jurgensen sucked horrendously (“Sunday, Nov. 28, 1965”) and Shiner got sent in for spot duty. “Shiner buttoned his Redskins helmet,” Wilt Browning writes, “and as he did, the roar from the crowd began to build. By the time Shiner trotted onto the well-worn D.C. Stadium turf, the cheers were thunderous.” Getting token cheers from a ticked-off crowd who would have cheered the insertion of the backup quarterback even if it was Nikita Krushchev? That, my friends, is living the NFL high life.

So today we salute you, Richard Earl “Dick Shiner,” for all your contributions to this great sport you love. Your time on the NFL gridiron may be gone…but it shall NEVER be forgotten.

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 2 (Part 2)

Week 2 of the Greatest of All Time season (simulated through the WhatIfSports sim engine) continues on with several exciting matchups, including the ’07 Patriots facing the Steel Curtain in Pittsburgh, the (16-1 in real life) ’76 Raiders and (17-0 in real life) ’72 Dolphins meeting in a battle of 0-1 teams, and Kurt Warner taking on Kurt Warner as the ’99 Rams visit the ’08 Cardinals. If you missed yesterday’s results, which included the ’62 Packers-’86 Giants and ’90 Bills-’64 Browns, click here.

2008 Arizona Cardinals (2-0) 33, 1999 St. Louis Rams (1-1) 30

Arizona Warner gets the best of St. Louis Warner, as ’08 Kurt went 24-of-33 for 311 yards, three touchdowns and no picks and the ’08 Cardinals get off to a most surprising 2-0 start. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin combined for 14 catches, 208 yards and three touchdowns and even three-levels-beyond-washed-up Edgerrin James was effective, gaining 95 yards on 16 carries. Maybe these Cardinals are just treating all of these games like they’re playoff games and that’s why they’re starting so well? Who knows? ’99 Warner was only 12-of-28 for 149 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions; Paul Justin came in at the end of the game and randomly threw a 24 yard touchdown pass to Marshall Faulk (171 combined yards on 17 touches, 3 combined touchdowns). When Paul Justin’s outplaying Kurt Warner, I’m sorry, I’ve got to start to questioning the accuracy of the simulation.


1968 New York Jets (2-0) 33, 1992 Dallas Cowboys (1-1) 16

Joe Namath went 15-of-24 for 236 yards and three touchdowns (all to Don Maynard) and the Jets blew out the Cowboys at Shea Stadium. Emmitt Smith was held to just 30 yards on 20 carries and outside of a 74-yard run by Kelvin Martin, the Cowboys never got much going offensively. Maynard ended up with 80 receiving yards to go along with those three touchdowns and George Sauer added 90 receiving yards of his own.

1952 Detroit Lions (1-1) 31, 1973 Minnesota Vikings (1-1) 7

The Lions avenged their embarrassing opening week loss at San Diego in a big way, rushing for 242 yards and holding the Vikings scoreless until the final minute of the game. Bobby Layne went 11-of-19 for 238 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, plus a rushing touchdown; Bob Hoernschemeyer ran for 133 yards on just 15 carries; and both of Pat Harder’s catches went for touchdowns. Leon Hart also added an 80-yard touchdown catch. Fran Tarkenton went 14-30 for 252 yards, a touchdown (which came with 50 seconds remaining) and an interception.

1969 Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) 16, 1979 San Diego Chargers (1-1) 3

The Chiefs held the Air Coryell Chargers to just 208 total yards of offense and played methodical, ball-control offense to earn their first victory of the season. Frank Pitts’ two-yard touchdown catch from Len Dawson capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter that provided the only touchdown of the game. Dan Fouts was limited to 131 yards on 26 attempts and was also sacked twice.

1998 Denver Broncos (1-1) 13, 1985 Chicago Bears (1-1) 10

Just as we all figured after they lost to the ’99 Jaguars last week, the Broncos went into Soldier Field and beat the ’85 Bears, holding Walter Payton to 13 yards on 18 carries in the process. Jason Elam kicked two field goals, including a 27-yarder less than a minute into the fourth quarter that proved to be the game-winner. Terrell Davis made up for a mediocre performance from John Elway, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Matt Suhey picked up the Bears’ lone touchdown but was also the team’s leading rusher at just 22 yards.

2007 New England Patriots (2-0) 30, 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) 20

Tom Brady threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts and Laurence Maroney rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries as the Patriots defeated the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium. One of Brady’s touchdown tosses was a 67-yarder to Wes Welker on the second play of the second half, which gave the Patriots a 20-14 lead they would never relinquish. Terry Bradshaw played well for the Steelers, throwing for 246 yards and three touchdowns on 26 attempts but also threw two interceptions, one of which occurred in the Patriot end zone. Lynn Swann was the main beneficiary of Bradshaw’s passing success, gaining 127 yards and two touchdowns on six catches.

1976 Oakland Raiders (1-1) 26, 1972 Miami Dolphins (0-2) 23

In the unquestionable game of the day, Ken Stabler led an amazing last second comeback to tie the game in regulation, then drove the Raiders into short enough field goal position for Fred Steinfort (who had missed four field goals and an extra point already in the game) to convert a 21-yard field goal for the victory. After a holding penalty negated a first down, the Raiders were faced with a 4th-and-20 from their own 27-yard-line with only 31 seconds in the fourth quarter. Stabler then incredibly scrambled for 34 yards to convert for the first down and on the very next play hit Dave Casper with a 39-yard touchdown pass with twelve seconds left. Because of Steinfort’s repeated issues earlier in the game, the Raiders were forced to go for two to send the game into overtime but converted when Stabler hit Cliff Branch in the end zone. After both teams failed to score on their first possession in overtime, Stabler’s 30-yard pass to Clarence Davis set up Steinfort’s game-winner. The shocking collapse dropped the ’72 Dolphins to 0-2 and ruined a fine game from Mercury Morris (108 yards on 14 carries).

1991 Washington Redskins (1-1) 35, 1960 Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) 13

Mark Rypien threw four touchdown passes and the Redskins limited the Eagles to 198 total yards in a lopsided divisional game. The Eagles only gained 39 yards on 27 carries and Norm Van Brocklin went a miserable 13-of-34 for 172 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Rypien threw two interceptions of his own but two touchdown tosses to Gary Clark and one each to Ricky Sanders and Don Warren more than offset that damage.

Next week: The ’76 Raiders head into Green Bay to take on the ’62 Packers; Joe Namath leads the somewhat surprising 2-0 ’68 Jets into Foxborough to take on the not-so-surprising 2-0 ’07 Patriots; the ’92 Cowboys meet the ’85 Bears in Chicago in a battle to avoid a disappointing 1-2 start; Johnny U. takes the ’58 Colts into St. Louis to take on the Greatest Show on Turf; and the ’06 Colts and ’09 Saints meet in a battle of desperate 0-2 Super Bowl champions.

The WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season Standings

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 2-0
  2. ’68 NY Jets: 2-0
  3. ’90 Buffalo: 2-0
  4. ’72 Miami: 0-2

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 1-1
  2. ’81 Cincinnati: 1-1
  3. ’58 Baltimore: 1-1
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 0-2

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 2-0
  2. ’91 Houston: 2-0
  3. ’99 Jacksonville: 1-1
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 0-2

AFC West

  1. ’69 Kansas City: 1-1
  2. ’79 San Diego: 1-1
  3. ’98 Denver: 1-1
  4. ’76 Oakland: 1-1

NFC East

  1. ’92 Dallas: 1-1
  2. ’91 Washington: 1-1
  3. ’86 NY Giants: 0-2
  4. ’60 Philadelphia: 0-2

NFC North

  1. ’62 Green Bay: 2-0
  2. ’52 Detroit: 1-1
  3. ’85 Chicago: 1-1
  4. ’73 Minnesota: 1-1

NFC South

  1. ’02 Tampa Bay: 2-0
  2. ’05 Carolina: 1-1
  3. ’09 New Orleans: 0-2
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 0-2

NFC West

  1. ’08 Arizona: 2-0
  2. ’99 St. Louis: 1-1
  3. ’89 San Francisco: 0-1-1
  4. ’05 Seattle: 0-1-1