WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Super Bowl

Before we go any further, thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Odin Lloyd, whose name has been mentioned roughly 1/1000th as much as the person who allegedly orchestrated his murder. That seems wrong to me, particularly since he is the one who is no longer living. For his family’s sake, I hope the perpetrators are brought to justice and given an appropriately harsh sentence.

Now that we’ve got the real-life story out of the way, it’s time to finish up the Greatest of All Time season with the Greatest of All Time Super Bowl. Now the NFC representative, the ’99 Rams, isn’t that big of a surprise. If we all had our own individual picks, we would probably choose someone different like the ’85 Bears, ’92 Cowboys, one of Lombardi’s Packers teams or one of the Montana 49ers teams, but I don’t think anyone denies that the ’99 Rams were a pretty darn good team. If you successfully picked the AFC representative before the season, however, congratulations: you were the only one. The ’99 Jaguars went only 9-7 in the Greatest of All Time regular season but just finished up a run where they beat the ’75 Steelers, ’79 Chargers and ’07 Patriots — all on the road, too. Which is pretty crazy, if you think about it. I mean, the ’99 Jaguars DID go 14-2 but they did it against a really soft schedule and got blown out at home in the AFC Championship Game by a Titans team that wasn’t comprised of a bunch of world-beaters, either. Were they one of the 200 best teams ever? Probably. But it would be a pretty big stretch to include them in the top 100. And yet here we are – the ’99 Jaguars a game away from being called the greatest team of all time by an objective simulation engine. Hey, nobody said life wouldn’t be full of surprises! Here are some other things that WhatIfSports taught us along the way this season:

Teams that did a lot of things well and didn’t have any glaring holes fared very well. I sure as Helsinki didn’t think the ’00 Titans and ’79 Chargers would combine for a 28-4 regular season record, but those teams were among the most well-rounded squads in the tournament. Conversely…

If you were a championship team that did only one thing well, you were going to get POUNDED. Hence the massive struggles for the ’06 Colts, ’76 Raiders, ’64 Browns and ’60 Eagles. Of course, I’d also like to think that part of the ’06 Colts’ offensive struggles stemmed from the fact that the simulation engine chose to run Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai as much it chose pass with PEYTON FREAKING MANNING. No big deal or anything.

Hail Marys can and will occur roughly ten times a season. Why, just last week the Jaguars beat the Patriots on a touchdown pass from Mark Brunell to Reggie Barlow on the final play of the game. I’d be a fan of this happening more often in real life. And finally…

Jake Delhomme throws a ton of terrible interceptions at inopportune times. Clearly we could have only found this out via the WhatIf Sports sim engine.

And now, without any further ado: the Greatest of All Time season Super Bowl (played at a neutral site at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, for those who care about such trivialities.)

(NFC) 1999 St. Louis Rams (16-3) 31, (AFC) 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (12-8) 17

The Rams won fictional bragging rights as the greatest team of all time behind 141 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries from Marshall Faulk and two turnovers from their defense. Faulk won MVP honors for his performance, scoring from 12 yards away in the second quarter and 13 yards away in the fourth. His first touchdown gave the Rams a 13-3 lead with about five minutes remaining in the first half, but Jacksonville responded with a one-yard touchdown pass from Mark Brunell to Jimmy Smith; Jeff Wilkins’ third field goal of the half subsequently gave the Rams a 16-10 lead going into halftime. Faulk’s second score then gave the Rams a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter; on the Rams’ next possession, Faulk scampered 71 yards to set up Kurt Warner’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce, which put the Rams up 21 with a little over six minutes to play and essentially salted the game away. James Stewart scored on a five-yard touchdown run with under five minutes to play for Jacksonville, but the Jaguars couldn’t make any further push from there.

So that’s it. The fictional season is done and soon the real 2013 regular season will be getting underway. We’ll be covering that in-depth in the coming weeks and months.

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Conference Championships

You may note this is the first – and only – post I’ve made – or will make – this week on THIS HERE BLIGGITY BLOG. Between busy summer activities out in the physical world and an utter dearth of football-related stories out there right now (other than the potentially very serious and very sad investigation involving Aaron Hernandez), this has seemed like a pretty good week to recharge the batteries before gearing up to write the 2013 team previews for each team. Look for those to start appearing next month. However, I’m making a brief appearance this morning to post the results to the conference championship rounds of the Greatest of All Time season. Which NFC behemoth will make it to the fictional Super Bowl – the ’85 Bears or the ’99 Rams? And how much credibility will WhatIfSports.com lose if the ’99 Jaguars are somehow the team that ends up representing the AFC in the Super Bowl? We’ll find out the answers to those questions…right about now.

#5 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (12-7) 22, #2 2007 New England Patriots (14-4) 21

Look, it doesn’t make sense to me, either, but the fact of the matter is Reggie Barlow caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Mark Brunell as time expired to complete a 15-point comeback and shock the Patriots to make it to the Super Bowl. Brunell finished 16-of-25 for 250 yards and two fourth quarter touchdown passes that lifted the Jaguars over the Pats. New England had built up a 21-6 lead early in the third quarter thanks to touchdown passes from Tom Brady to Randy Moss and Kevin Faulk and a 34-yard touchdown run from Sammy Morris. After a Mike Hollis field goal late in the third quarter, however, Brunell’s touchdown toss to Jimmy Smith cut the score to 21-16 with 9:07 remaining. On their next possession, the Jaguars drove from their own eight-yard line to the Patriots 11 with a little over a minute and a half remaining, but New England tackled Keenan McCardell short of the first-down marker on fourth down to force a turnover on downs. The game looked over, but after Jacksonville forced a quick three-and-out (and exhausting their supply of timeouts in the process), the Jaguars got the ball back at New England’s 38 with 22 seconds left. Brunell hit Smith with a 15-yard gain, threw an incompletion, scrambled for five yards and then hit Barlow with the game-winning Hail Mary on the final play of the game. Would ESPN lose its mind over a real-life playoff game that ended on a successful Hail Mary? PERHAPS.

#1 1999 St. Louis Rams (15-3) 24, #3 1985 Chicago Bears (13-6) 17

Apparently the best football ever played occurred in 1999, as the Greatest Show on Turf moved on to the Super Bowl to take on the Jaguar team from that same year after a close win over the ’85 Bears. Marshall Faulk scored on consecutive 11 and 29 yard runs late in the fourth quarter to erase a seven-point deficit. The Rams had a 10-3 halftime lead thanks to a 65-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Torry Holt, but the Bears tied the game early in the second half on a 52-yard touchdown toss from Jim McMahon to Willie Gault. Then Walter Payton scored on a 4th-and-goal from the St. Louis 2 early in the fourth quarter to give the Bears a 17-10 lead. The Rams drove 78 yards on nine plays on their next possession, however, to tie the game up on Faulk’s 11-yard touchdown run. After the Bears went three-and-out, the Rams’ dominance on the ground continued with a four-play, 73-yard drive that all came on the ground, punctuated by Faulk’s 29-yard touchdown scamper. The Bears drove to the St. Louis 29 at the two-minute warning, but McMahon was picked off by real-life Super Bowl hero Mike Jones on second down to end the Bears’ last great hope.

Next week: The culmination of the Greatest of All Time season occurs when the ’99 Jaguars take on the ’99 Rams.

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Divisional Round

The second round of the Greatest of All Time playoffs comes today and, with it, a host of enticing fictional matchups for WhatIfSports to ponder and consider in its relatively infinite wisdom. The ’91 Redskins handed the ’99 Rams one of their only three losses during the regular season, but can they repeat that feat on the road? The ’92 Cowboys beat the ’85 Bears in Chicago during the regular season – will the Bears get a measure of revenge today in Texas Stadium? And will the ’79 Chargers win their fifteenth game in a row to get to the AFC Championship game? In a way, it’s possible that we’ll never know the true answers to those questions. In another, more factual way, we’ll find out the answers in a few seconds.

#5 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (11-7) 23, #1 1979 San Diego Chargers (15-2) 9

Fred Taylor scored on touchdown runs of six and ten yards and the Jaguars outgained the Chargers 394-252 to score their second stunning upset in a row and move on to the AFC Championship next week. Taylor only rushed for a total of 38 yards on 14 carries, but James Stewart provided the main rushing push between the 20s, gaining 108 yards on 18 attempts. Mark Brunell added 229 passing yards on just 24 attempts – Jimmy Smith caught seven of Brunell’s passes for 97 yards. The Chargers led 3-0 after the first quarter, but Taylor finished off a six-play, 79-yard drive with his first touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. After receiving the second half kickoff up 10-9, the Jaguars went on a ten-play, 88-yard drive that lasted over six minutes and was capped by Taylor’s ten-yard touchdown run. Meanwhile, the Jaguars defense held Dan Fouts to a 16-of-33 day for 232 yards and gave up only 49 yards on the ground.

#1 1999 St. Louis Rams (14-3) 34, #5 1991 Washington Redskins (12-6) 17

Kurt Warner went 17-of-23 for 240 yards and three touchdown passes and the Rams easily avenged their regular season loss to the Redskins to move on to the NFC Championship. Washington limited Marshall Faulk to just 52 combined rushing and receiving yards on 17 touches, but the remainder of the Greatest Show on Turf cast picked up the slack as Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl all caught touchdown passes from Warner. Mark Rypien performed well in defeat for the Redskins, going 19-of-29 for 263 yards and no turnovers but Washington was only able to gain 78 yards on 33 rushing attempts, putting Rypien and the Redskin passing game behind the 8 ball too often on 3rd downs.

#3 1985 Chicago Bears (13-5) 17, #2 1992 Dallas Cowboys (12-5) 7

Just like the Jaguars and Rams before them, the Bears avenged a regular season loss via 124 rushing yards and a touchdown from Walter Payton and a strong showing from their defense to beat the Cowboys on the road and advance to the NFC Championship Game next week. Dallas scored easily on the first possession of the game, moving 79 yards on just four plays to score on a 36-yard touchdown run from Curvin Richards. From then on, though, Dallas had major trouble moving the ball — Troy Aikman went only 12-of-24 for 157 yards and an interception and Emmitt Smith gained just 61 yards on 23 carries. The Bears took the lead late in the first half on a 2-yard touchdown run from Dennis Gentry and expanded it to 17-7 on Payton’s 34-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. From there, the Cowboys offense couldn’t move past the Bears 48-yard line and never seriously threatened to score.

#2 2007 New England Patriots (14-3) 20, #3 2000 Tennessee Titans (14-4) 18

In a game marked by six lead changes, the Patriots got the last laugh on Stephen Gostkowski’s 42-yard field goal with no time left and defeated the Titans to advance to the AFC Championship Game. The field goal capped a wild fourth quarter that started with the Patriots clinging to a 10-9 lead. Al Del Greco’s fourth field goal of the game gave the Titans the lead back with 7:38 remaining, but after Laurence Maroney gained 43 yards on a pitch play, Tom Brady hit Kevin Faulk with a six-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a 17-12 lead with 5:42 left in the game. With under two minutes remaining, though, Steve McNair hit Carl Pickens with a 43-yard touchdown pass to give the Titans an 18-17 lead. Eddie George’s resulting two-point conversion attempt, however, was stopped short of the goal line and the Patriots got the ball back at their own 26-yard line with 1:10 remaining needing just a field goal for the win. After Brady hit Ben Watson with a 21-yard pass to convert a crucial third down with 27 seconds left, Gostkowski came on to kick his second field goal of the day.

Next week: The playoffs begin to wind down with the conference championship games.

AFC: #5 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (11-7) at #2 2007 New England Patriots (14-3)

NFC: #3 1985 Chicago Bears (13-5) at #1 1999 St. Louis Rams (14-3)

Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2004

I really got burned out on doing these rankings in the late winter and early spring, but a close-to-three month respite has gotten the ‘ol statistical juices flowing again and with a month-and-a-half yet to kill before training camp starts, now seems like a good time to dive back into the Predictive Yards per Play rankings. This year, we take you back to 2004 – along with 2007 and 2009, one of the strongest contenders for Most Interesting Year of the ’00s. You’ll notice that the format of the rankings themselves will look a little different – that’s because I recently learned that you could paste data from an obscure program called Excel into WordPress posts. What a world we live in! I’ll leave you to the rankings and then pop back in with my own thoughts.

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.

Rank Team Record Off. PY/P Def. PY/P 2005 Rank PY/P Differential
1 Indianapolis Colts 12-4 6.49 4.85 4 1.64
2 Denver Broncos 10-6 5.34 3.71 1 1.62
3 Pittsburgh Steelers 15-1 5.18 3.66 8 1.52
4 New England Patriots 14-2 5.19 3.80 11 1.39
5 New York Jets 10-6 5.32 4.00 28 1.33
6 Buffalo Bills 9-7 4.40 3.45 30 0.95
7 Cincinnati Bengals 8-8 5.02 4.19 9 0.83
8 Kansas City Chiefs 7-9 6.26 5.43 2 0.83
9 Philadelphia Eagles 13-3 5.28 4.60 14 0.68
10 San Diego Chargers 12-4 5.14 4.56 3 0.58
11 Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7 4.39 3.84 10 0.55
12 Baltimore Ravens 9-7 3.98 3.56 19 0.42
13 Minnesota Vikings 8-8 5.83 5.65 26 0.18
14 Houston Texans 7-9 4.55 4.60 31 -0.05
15 Carolina Panthers 7-9 4.37 4.55 17 -0.18
16 Green Bay Packers 10-6 5.45 5.67 20 -0.22
17 Cleveland Browns 4-12 4.30 4.53 24 -0.23
18 St. Louis Rams 8-8 4.86 5.10 23 -0.24
19 Oakland Raiders 5-11 4.73 5.00 13 -0.26
20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11 4.05 4.39 18 -0.35
21 Seattle Seahawks 9-7 4.65 5.06 7 -0.41
22 Tennessee Titans 5-11 4.56 4.98 22 -0.42
23 Washington Redskins 6-10 3.52 3.96 5 -0.44
24 Miami Dolphins 4-12 3.45 4.01 16 -0.56
25 Atlanta Falcons 11-5 4.20 4.82 21 -0.62
26 New York Giants 6-10 4.23 4.94 6 -0.71
27 Detroit Lions 6-10 4.24 4.95 29 -0.71
28 Dallas Cowboys 6-10 4.44 5.25 12 -0.81
29 New Orleans Saints 8-8 4.26 5.24 27 -0.99
30 Arizona Cardinals 4-12 3.25 4.51 15 -1.26
31 San Francisco 49ers 2-14 3.57 5.39 32 -1.82
32 Chicago Bears 5-11 2.59 4.75 25 -2.16

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.60)

“PY/P” = unadjusted Predictive Yards per Play, “Ball Control %” = the percentage of the team’s total plays in which their offense was on the field, “SOS %” = strength of schedule, “Final PY/P” = Predictive Yards per Play with adjustments made for ball control and strength of schedule.

Rank Team Points PY/P Ball Control % SOS % Final PY/P
1 Indianapolis Colts 522 6.49 0.9816 0.0260 6.49
2 Kansas City Chiefs 483 5.79 1.0315 0.0604 6.26
3 Minnesota Vikings 405 6.06 0.9918 -0.0385 5.83
4 Green Bay Packers 424 5.49 1.0213 -0.0333 5.45
5 Denver Broncos 381 5.30 1.0382 -0.0339 5.34
6 New York Jets 333 5.03 1.0076 0.0545 5.32
7 Philadelphia Eagles 386 5.52 0.9802 -0.0298 5.28
8 New England Patriots 437 5.03 1.0116 0.0220 5.19
9 Pittsburgh Steelers 372 4.66 1.0343 0.0761 5.18
10 San Diego Chargers 446 5.20 1.0013 -0.0135 5.14
11 Cincinnati Bengals 374 4.54 0.9934 0.1121 5.02
12 St. Louis Rams 319 4.99 1.0012 -0.0304 4.86
13 Oakland Raiders 320 4.71 0.9669 0.0412 4.73
14 Seattle Seahawks 371 4.94 0.9969 -0.0607 4.65
15 Tennessee Titans 344 4.41 1.0187 0.0132 4.56
16 Houston Texans 309 4.56 1.0076 -0.0106 4.55
17 Dallas Cowboys 293 4.35 1.0112 0.0080 4.44
18 Buffalo Bills 395 4.10 1.0010 0.0650 4.40
19 Jacksonville Jaguars 261 4.48 1.0048 -0.0246 4.39
20 Carolina Panthers 355 4.72 0.9925 -0.0700 4.37
21 Cleveland Browns 276 3.84 0.9735 0.1273 4.30
22 New Orleans Saints 348 4.65 0.9810 -0.0682 4.26
23 Detroit Lions 296 4.55 0.9698 -0.0380 4.24
24 New York Giants 303 4.23 0.9862 0.0115 4.23
25 Atlanta Falcons 340 4.56 0.9924 -0.0729 4.20
26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 301 4.34 0.9969 -0.0618 4.05
27 Baltimore Ravens 317 3.77 0.9955 0.0499 3.98
28 San Francisco 49ers 259 3.51 1.0029 0.0092 3.57
29 Washington Redskins 240 3.67 1.0123 -0.0426 3.52
30 Miami Dolphins 275 3.09 1.0032 0.0743 3.45
31 Arizona Cardinals 284 3.48 1.0132 -0.0589 3.25
32 Chicago Bears 231 2.95 0.9804 -0.0676 2.59

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.60)

“PY/P” = Unadjusted Predictive Yards per Play, “Ball Control %” = the percentage of the team’s total plays in which their defense was on the field, “SOS %” = strength of schedule, “Final PY/P” = Predictive Yards per Play with adjustments made for ball control and strength of schedule.

Rank Team Points PY/P Ball Control % SOS% Final PY/P
1 Buffalo Bills 284 3.41 0.9990 -0.0109 3.45
2 Baltimore Ravens 268 3.99 1.0045 0.0961 3.56
3 Pittsburgh Steelers 251 3.75 0.9657 -0.0092 3.66
4 Denver Broncos 304 4.25 0.9618 0.0845 3.71
5 New England Patriots 260 4.12 0.9884 0.0589 3.80
6 Jacksonville Jaguars 280 4.37 0.9952 0.1124 3.84
7 Washington Redskins 265 3.81 0.9877 -0.0429 3.96
8 New York Jets 261 4.20 0.9924 0.0385 4.00
9 Miami Dolphins 354 4.27 0.9968 0.0531 4.01
10 Cincinnati Bengals 372 4.20 1.0066 0.0077 4.19
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 304 4.12 1.0031 -0.0551 4.39
12 Arizona Cardinals 322 4.32 0.9868 -0.0540 4.51
13 Cleveland Browns 390 4.62 1.0265 0.0461 4.53
14 Carolina Panthers 339 4.47 1.0075 -0.0092 4.55
15 San Diego Chargers 313 4.79 0.9987 0.0502 4.56
16 Houston Texans 339 4.95 0.9924 0.0700 4.60
17 Philadelphia Eagles 260 4.14 1.0198 -0.0807 4.60
18 Chicago Bears 331 4.55 1.0196 -0.0231 4.75
19 Atlanta Falcons 337 4.61 1.0076 -0.0383 4.82
20 Indianapolis Colts 351 4.79 1.0184 0.0071 4.85
21 New York Giants 347 4.57 1.0138 -0.0650 4.94
22 Detroit Lions 350 4.59 1.0302 -0.0470 4.95
23 Tennessee Titans 439 5.36 0.9813 0.0630 4.98
24 Oakland Raiders 442 5.36 1.0331 0.1136 5.00
25 Seattle Seahawks 373 4.73 1.0031 -0.0685 5.06
26 St. Louis Rams 392 4.93 0.9988 -0.0365 5.10
27 New Orleans Saints 405 5.04 1.0190 -0.0220 5.24
28 Dallas Cowboys 405 5.10 0.9888 -0.0452 5.25
29 San Francisco 49ers 452 5.01 0.9971 -0.0854 5.39
30 Kansas City Chiefs 435 5.82 0.9685 0.0467 5.43
31 Minnesota Vikings 395 5.28 1.0082 -0.0697 5.65
32 Green Bay Packers 380 5.42 0.9787 -0.0807 5.67

Thoughts…

  • The final year of the Patriots’ reign atop the NFL occurred this year, as they won their second Super Bowl in a row and third in four years. The ’01 and ’03 champions perhaps elicit more jubilant memories for Pats fans, but I think the general consensus is the ’04 team was the best and their PY/P rating jives with conventional wisdom. Their overall ranking of fourth is the same as the ’03 team, but offensively the ’04 Patriots were considerably better, ranking in the top ten for the first time. Tom Brady made the leap from glorified game manager to actual Pro Bowl quarterback and Corey Dillon had his last excellent year as a runner. Despite those developments, would you classify the Patriots as a dominant regular season team? I’m not sure I would. At least, not in the same way you would classify the ’85 Bears or ’72 Dolphins or, heck, the ’07 Patriots as true historical juggernauts. Then again, it’s always better to be a very good but not great regular season team that goes on to win the Super Bowl than the best regular season team all year that woofs in the playoffs. The ’07 and ’10 Patriots know that better than anybody.
  • Indianapolis winds up #1 over Denver by a few small decimal points, almost entirely because their offense was TERRIFYING. Seriously, the Colts’ defense rates below-average this year and the team still ranks #1 because of an offense that was about 41% better than the average team’s. Pittsburgh also finished above the Patriots, although they probably have to be considered the worst 15-1 team of all-time (only because the only other 15-1 teams ever were the ’85 Bears and ’98 Vikings, but still). However, giving early-2000s Bill Belichick a merely above-average roster is a terrifying thing in and of itself. Because in case you can’t remember what the landscape of the NFL was back in Dubya’s first term, no NFL head coach was within light years of Belichick at that point. He was five or six steps ahead of everybody else strategically. That’s how a team with a legitimately bad roster won a Super Bowl in 2001 and how a team with an average one won fourteen games and another Super Bowl in 2003. And Belichick’s genius was a particular kryptonite for the Colts, who had better rosters but could always be counted on to do the same thing EVERY GAME. It took several years and a gradual decay of New England’s roster for Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning – two otherwise remarkable individuals – to finally figure out a way past the Pats.
  • The AFC was full of intrigue and outstanding performances all season long. On the other side of the league, though, the NFC was playing a brand of football that was only at a slightly higher level than the SEC’s. If you glance back up at the overall rankings in Predictive Yards per Play, you’ll see that the top eight teams – yes, eight – are all from the AFC and one of them (Kansas City) had a losing record. When even the other conference’s losing teams are better than your winning teams, that may be a sign you’re having a down year. The Eagles reaped the benefits of being the lone human in a conference of lilliputians; every other NFC team trudged along and did their best not to suck so hard. The Falcons finished 11-5 but ranked 25th overall in our rankings (losing games by scores of 56-10 and 27-0 will do that to you). The Packers and Vikings fought for the NFC North title with essentially the same teams: great offenses and HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE DEFENSES. And the NFC West also existed. If Andy Reid hadn’t figured out a way to get the Eagles into the Super Bowl against THAT pool of competitors, he would have been beaten to a bloody pulp and possibly deserved it.
  • Surprise! The Bills wound up with the league’s highest-rated defense after going on six-game stretch in November and December in which they outscored their opponents 228-89 and forced 26 turnovers along the way. Naturally, they missed the playoffs after losing to the Steelers’ second-stringers at home in the final week of the season. The Packers narrowly edged out the Vikings for both the NFC North and Worst Defense of the Year – both teams were in the running for the former because they found ways to let the Bears gain 300 yards on them. Bears fans tend to look back on that team with great fondness. Ah, Chad Hutchinson! Your ability to complete a forward pass is almost as limited as Jonathan Quinn’s, but certainly exceeds that of Craig Krenzel’s.
  • Quickly summarizing the awards action, Peyton Manning won both MVP and Offensive Player of the Year for having perhaps the greatest offensive season of all time. Seems reasonable…Ed Reed picked off nine passes, forced three fumbles, defended seventeen passes, scored two defensive touchdowns and essentially allowed the Ravens to not bother fielding three other members of their secondary. His Defensive Player of the Year award was also well deserved…Kevin Jones gained over 1300 yards from scrimmage for Detroit, but Ben Roethlisberger was the sixth most efficient passer in the league and didn’t lose a game in his rookie season until the AFC Championship. I’d say he deserved his Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but I’m still protesting the fact that Craig Krenzel didn’t win it…Finally! One the AP voters got wrong! Jonathan Vilma won Defensive Rookie of the Year for finishing 32nd in the league in tackles – a preposterously overrated stat for defenders to begin with! Dunta “Sackmasta” Robinson picked off six passes, defensed nineteen passes, got three sacks and finished with three fewer tackles than Vilma. Obviously, the guy who played for the New York team deserved the award over the player who was better…Drew Brees won Comeback Player of the Year for leading the Chargers to a breakout 12-4 season and if the award Brees won was Breakout Player of the Year, I’d throw my support behind that. But what exactly was Drew coming back from in 2004? Being a mediocre-to-below-average starting quarterback the two previous years? I’m flummoxed. Out of principle, I’m giving my (fake and exceedingly tardy) vote to Chad Pennington…And, bless his heart, Marty Schottenheimer won Coach of the Year for orchestrating that turnaround for San Diego. Unfortunately for him, Bill Belichick was alive that year, so he probably deserved the award instead.
  • Next time: 2003 – a year with no dominant team lends itself quite well to the powers of one Darth Hoodie.

 

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Wild-Card Round

The playoffs are finally here in the Greatest of All Time season and let me just be the first to say that it couldn’t have come a moment too soon. Wading through a bunch of meaningless ’60 Eagles-’52 Lions type games didn’t turn out to be the most exciting fodder for a blog post ever. But hey! We’re in the playoffs now! Twelve teams remain in the battle for the right to say they’re the greatest team ever (as determined by a computer simulation engine) and we start this week with the Wild-Card round. First, a look at the bye teams who have off this week:

AFC

#1 1979 San Diego Chargers (15-1)

#2 2007 New England Patriots (13-3)

NFC

#1 1999 St. Louis Rams (13-3)

#2 1992 Dallas Cowboys (12-4)

And now, the results from the Wild-Card round of the playoffs…

#5 1991 Washington Redskins (12-5) 27, #4 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-7) 10

The Redskins forced four Tampa Bay turnovers en route to a seventeen-point victory at Raymond James Stadium. Monte Coleman had two of the three interceptions for the Redskins, with Darrell Green claiming the other. Mike Alstott’s 1-yard touchdown run with under three minutes left in the second quarter gave the Bucs a 7-6 lead, but Ricky Ervins countered with a 43-yard touchdown scamper with just 24 seconds remaining in the half to give Washington a 13-7 lead going into halftime. From there, Earnest Byner scored on a six-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and Mark Rypien threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark with a little over two minutes remaining to ice the victory. Clark finished with 79 yards receiving on five catches.

#5 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-7) 19, #4 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-6) 14

Mark Brunell threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith with 52 seconds remaining in the game and the Jaguars withstood one last Steeler charge to upset Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium. Jacksonville received the ball down 14-13 with 3:10 remaining at their own 40 yard line after a Pittsburgh drive that had taken seven minutes off the clock ended with a missed 50-yard field goal by Roy Gerela. From there, Brunell hit Smith, Kyle Brady and James Stewart with passes that led to the eventual game-winning pass from Brunell to Smith. Terry Bradshaw led the Steelers to the Jacksonville 36 on the final play of the game, but his Hail Mary heave fell incomplete. Stewart started the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run, but Pittsburgh responded shortly thereafter with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw to John “Frenchy” Fuqua. After a Mike Hollis field goal gave the Jaguars a 10-7 lead going into halftime, the Steelers took the lead on a 29-yard pass from Bradshaw to Lynn Swann. The Steel Curtain defense ultimately couldn’t make the lead hold up, however.

#3 2000 Tennessee Titans (14-3) 20, #6 1972 Miami Dolphins (9-8) 3

Steve McNair threw first-quarter touchdown passes of 12 yards to Yancey Thigpen and 56 yards to Frank Wycheck and the Titans shook off two losses to end the regular season to bounce back in the opening round of the playoffs against the ’72 Dolphins. McNair finished 13-of-25 for 201 yards and two touchdowns and Eddie George added 110 yards on 24 attempts. The Dolphins were able to hit some big plays, such as a 64-yard run by Paul Warfield on a reverse and an 84-yard pass play from Earl Morrall to Larry Csonka. But two interceptions and an abysmal 3rd-down performance (3-of-16) kept the Dolphins from scoring more than 3 points. Tennessee will now play the ’07 Patriots next week.

#3 1985 Chicago Bears (12-5) 10, #6 1962 Green Bay Packers (9-7-1) 7 (OT)

Kevin Butler hit a 55-yard field goal almost nine minutes into the first overtime period and the Bears beat the Packers for the third time this season and advanced to play the ’92 Cowboys next week. Green Bay started the scoring with a two-yard touchdown pass from Bart Starr to Max McGee in the first quarter, but the Bears responded in the second with a nine-yard pass from Jim McMahon to Dennis McKinnon to tie the game at 7 going into halftime. And there the score stayed for nearly 39 minutes, as both teams frequently got to the edge of field goal range but mainly chose to punt rather than kick a very long field goal. The exception to this came in the fourth quarter when Butler missed a 54-yard attempt with 1:54 remaining. After the Packers had to punt right away, Dennis Gentry fumbled right away to give Green Bay the ball at the Chicago 47. But Starr gave the ball right back when his pass was intercepted by Richard Dent (who also had two sacks). Finally on their second possession in overtime, the Bears drove 26 yards in seven plays to get Butler a second chance at a long field goal. Walter Payton rushed for 132 yards on 25 carries for Chicago. Jim Taylor had 89 yards on 19 carries for Green Bay, but Starr was wildly ineffective, going only 10-of-31 for 69 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

Next week: The following playoff matchups occur.

AFC

#5 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-7) at #1 1979 San Diego Chargers (15-1)

#3 2000 Tennessee Titans (14-3) at #2 2007 New England Patriots (13-3)

NFC

#5 1991 Washington Redskins (12-5) at #1 1999 St. Louis Rams (13-3)

#3 1985 Chicago Bears (12-5) at #2 1992 Dallas Cowboys (12-4)

Here’s a Video of the Longest Play in NFL History

Worth viewing for two reasons:

A): Antonio Cromartie doing something notable other than forgetting the names of all his kids;

and

B): Dan Dierdorf saying, “YOU COULD FRY AN EGG ON THE TOP OF BRAD CHILDRESS’S HEAD!” Sure, I guess you could do that if you really wanted to, Dan. But would the resulting taste of the egg be satisfactory? If you’re talking about subpar ways to fry an egg, I’M NOT SO SURE that using the top of Brad Childress’s head isn’t one of the right answers to that question.