Pop quiz: Name the top five receivers from the 2006 Patriots. I'll give you some time to think while rehashing a few things. In yesterday's post, after an overview of the events that led to the acquisition of Tom Brady's weapons in 2007, we dove deep into how changes before the 2004 and 2011 seasons, such as significant rule changes and the 2011 lockout, paved the way for Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to have historic seasons in a way that Tom Brady did not benefit from in his record-setting 2007 season. Keeping that in mind, in order to fully explain why Tom Brady's 2007 season was greater than any other quarterback regular season of the salary cap era, I need to delve deeper. That brings me back to the pop quiz. Do you have the answer?
As mentioned in yesterday's post, the top five Patriots receivers were Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson, and Jabar Gaffney. Why do I bring them up again? The reason is because in 2007 Tom Brady became the only quarterback in NFL history to throw over 40 touchdown passes when his top three receivers from the previous season did not catch a pass from the quarterback during the season.
|WR 1||Reche Caldwell||Randy Moss|
|WR 2||Troy Brown||Wes Welker|
|WR 3||Doug Gabriel||Donte' Stallworth|
This was also the only time that the #1 wide receiver from the previous season did not play in the 40+ touchdown season (exception - Kurt Warner, but I will address that later). The second most touchdowns ever thrown by a quarterback that lost his previous season's #1 receiver was 38 touchdowns by Brett Favre in 1995, a mark good for 14th all time. The wide receiver that Favre lost in 1995 was Sterling Sharpe, an extraordinarily talented player that suffered a career-ending injury in 1994.
What about a quarterback that lost his first, second, and third receivers? Which quarterback threw the second most touchdown passes, and how many? Before I get into that, I should probably first explain why I chose quarterbacks that had thrown over 40 touchdown passes for comparison. For one, it seemed like a round enough number at the start and the fact that it had only happened nine times in history means it is a rare accomplishment (although it is becoming increasingly more easy to achieve). Second, with the exception of Dan Marino's 1984 and 1986 seasons, every season occurred during the salary cap era. Seeing as the salary cap era is the main time frame focus, it is significant.
|1||Tom Brady (30)||50||2007||NWE|
|2||Peyton Manning (28)||49||2004||IND|
|3||Dan Marino+ (23)||48||1984||MIA|
|4||Drew Brees (32)||46||2011||NOR|
|5||Aaron Rodgers (28)||45||2011||GNB|
|6||Dan Marino+ (25)||44||1986||MIA|
|7||Drew Brees (33)||43||2012||NOR|
|8||Kurt Warner (28)||41||1999||STL|
|Matthew Stafford (23)||41||2011||DET|
Two things that I need to mention regarding the list above.
1. The only player on the list that did not start in the season before throwing for over 40 touchdowns was Kurt Warner. In fact, Warner only had 11 career pass attempts before the 1999 season. Because of this, I do not think it fair to include him in the comparison of wide receiver changes.
2. When I say wide receivers, I do not mean tight ends and running backs.
While Tom Brady's wide receivers suffered a dramatic makeover, the tight end position and running back positions were still manned by players he was familiar with. Though you might jump to the conclusion that his familiarity with those players granted him an advantage, that advantage was merely a constant for every quarterback. Two of the top three receiving tight ends for every quarterback played with the team the year prior to the quarterback throwing for 40 or more touchdowns. As far as running backs are concerned, the number one or number two receiving running back played the prior season for every quarterback as well, except for Aaron Rodgers. In 2011, James Starks and Ryan Grant were the top receiving running backs versus Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn in 2010.
Time for unfinished business. With the knowledge that Tom Brady threw the most touchdown passes of any quarterback when his top three receivers from the previous season did not catch a pass from the quarterback during the season, who threw the second most touchdown passes and how many did they throw? In order to answer that, I first had to determine what type of constraints needed to be made in order for the season that I chose to most accurately mirror the same circumstances that Tom Brady went through in 2007. I created two additional constraints.
1. The quarterback had to have been on the same team for both seasons, meaning the touchdown season being measured and the season before.
2. The quarterback had to have been the primary starter for both seasons.
After going digging through the "NFL Single-Season Passing Touchdowns Leaders" list I finally found him. The quarterback that threw the second most touchdown passes in NFL history when the previous season's first, second, and third wide receivers did not catch a pass during the season was Brett Favre. In 2002, Brett Favre threw 27 touchdown passes, which is tied for the 130th most all time with 27 other players, after experiencing wide receiver changes the same way Tom Brady did in 2007.
|Brett Favre||2001||2002||Tom Brady||2006||2007|
|WR 1||Bill Schroeder||Donald Driver||WR 1||Reche Caldwell||Randy Moss|
|WR 2||Antonio Freeman||Terry Glenn||WR 2||Troy Brown||Wes Welker|
|WR 3||Corey Bradford||Javon Walker||WR 3||Doug Gabriel||Donte' Stallworth|
The importance of continuity applies to more than just tossing touchdowns. When it comes to the best passer rating seasons of all time, the receiver continuity that quarterbacks experienced was the same as with the top touchdown seasons. Well, except for Tom Brady's 2007 season. Below is a chart of the top ten passer rating seasons of all time.
|1||Aaron Rodgers (28)||122.5||2011||GNB|
|2||Peyton Manning (28)||121.1||2004||IND|
|3||Tom Brady (30)||117.2||2007||NWE|
|4||Steve Young+ (33)||112.8||1994||SFO|
|5||Joe Montana+ (33)||112.4||1989||SFO|
|6||Tom Brady (33)||111||2010||NWE|
|7||Daunte Culpepper (27)||110.9||2004||MIN|
|8||Drew Brees (32)||110.6||2011||NOR|
|9||Milt Plum (25)||110.4||1960||CLE|
|10||Drew Brees (30)||109.6||2009||NOR|
Milt Plum's 1960 season, while being the only one prior to a 16-game season, was also back when some players played offense and defense. In order to compare receiving threats with the other players in this list, I went through and recorded the top receiving players from 1959 and 1960 to try and gain any semblance of passing continuity that I could to use for comparison. This does not mean that the top player played wide receiver, but it does the best job to reflect who the passing threats were. Below is a chart showing what I found.
|Billy Howton||Bobby Mitchell|
|Ray Renfro||Gern Nagler|
|Bobby Mitchell||Ray Renfro|
|Preston Carpenter||Rich Kreitling|
|Jim Brown||Jim Brown|
|Ed Modzelewski||Leon Clarke|
|Frank Clarke||Fred Murphy|
Even with Milt Plum playing in an era much earlier than any of the others, two of his top receivers in his then record-setting season had played with him previously. Just as with the 40 or more touchdown passers, only Tom Brady posted a top ten passer rating season when his top three wide receivers were different from the previous season. Of the top ten passer rating seasons, the only season to come close to Tom Brady's change in receiver continuity in 2007 was by Tom Brady in 2010, when the only one of his top three wide receivers were in the top three from the previous season.
|WR 1||Randy Moss||Wes Welker|
|WR 2||Wes Welker||Deion Branch|
|WR 3||Julian Edelman||Brandon Tate|
There is one more thing that I want to mention regarding the top ten passer rating list. Daunte Culpepper's 110.9 passer rating that he set came in 2004, the same year that Peyton Manning posted a 121.1, at the time the passer rating record. While Culpepper's mark currently stands at seventh all time, at the end of the 2004 season it was fourth. In 2011, when Aaron Rodgers broke Peyton Manning's passer rating record, Drew Brees posted a passer rating of 110.6 the same season, good for eighth all time. As I mentioned in part one, passing records were very easy for quarterbacks to assault given the change in rules.
Having covered how circumstances paved the way for Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to have the historic seasons that they had, and then putting into context how Tom Brady's 2007 season sets itself not only apart from the other great quarterback seasons, but above them as well, it is time to move to the historical success the Patriots team had as a result of Tom Brady's season.
The 2007 Patriots shattered the previous scoring record of 556 points set by the Minnesota Vikings in 1998 by scoring 589 points on their way to an undefeated season. At the time, it was only the 11th time in NFL history that a team had surpassed 500 points in a season. That 500 point threshold has been passed six times since - three by the Patriots (2010, 2011, 2012), twice by the Saints (2009, 2011), and once by the Packers (2011).
You might notice that in 1998 and 2011 there were multiple teams to surpass 500 points. Scoring a lot of points is impressive, but what if some of these records came as a result of playing in a year that was conducive to scoring a lot? Below is a chart organizes each 500 point scoring season ranked by their points scored over the league average that year. The league average was calculated by removing the team being measured. That way the team does not count against itself. Accompanying beside the league average numbers, in columns starting with "2nd Best", is a list of the next best team in a given season. In 1998 and 2011, the "2nd Best" is replaced with the top team if the team was not first that season.
|Team||Year||Points Scored||Rest of League Average||Difference||2nd Best Team||2nd Best Points||2nd Best Difference|
Now we're talking. The 2007 Patriots team scored over 249 points better than the league average. How crazy is that? That is more points the Kansas City Chiefs (226 points) and the San Francisco 49ers (219 points) scored the entire 2007 season. The 2007 Patriots team was also one of two teams to score 100 or more points than the second best team during their season. The other was the Houston Oilers in 1961, a team playing in the AFL when there were only 8 teams.
But the Patriots of 2007 were not the highest scoring team in history on a per game basis. That title belongs to the 1950 Los Angeles Rams who scored 466 points in 12 games. Their 38.83 points per game average was 2.02 points per game better than the 36.81 per game by the Patriots in 2007, similar to the 2.06 difference the Patriots had over the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
|Team||Year||Points Scored||Rest of League Average||Difference||2nd Best Team||2nd Best Points||2nd Best Difference|
Even with the 1950 Rams having the best scoring average, their scoring above compared to their league average was not as high as the 1999 Rams, 2011 Packers, 2000 Rams, 1998 Vikings, or the 2007 Patriots. Of the highest scoring teams in history, the 2007 Patriots were far and away above the league average and above that season's second best team. It is not a stretch to say that the 2007 Patriots are the greatest offense in NFL history in the regular season, and they are far and away the best offense of the salary cap era. This would not have been possible without the unthinkable season that Tom Brady had passing the football.
In 2007, the New England Patriots became the only team in NFL history to have an undefeated regular season in the 16-game format. Behind the offensive juggernaut that was created through Tom Brady hooking up with new receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, the Patriots did something that had never happened before or since. There are some that think that the record of a team should not be used in discussing how good a player is. When trying to determine which regular season was the best of the salary cap era, greatness is measured by historical significance, and records are a part of that.
Should a quarterback be given all the credit for his team's victories? Of course not. But the correlations, both literally and figuratively. According to Chase Stuart, who wrote "Correlating pass stats with wins" for footballperspective.com, supplied a chart that measured the correlation coefficient of certain passing statistics with winning football games.
As you can see, passer rating is indeed correlated with wins; a correlation coefficient of 0.51 indicates a moderately strong relationship; the two variables (passer rating and wins) are clearly correlated to some degree.
Kerry J, Byrne, writer for coldhardfootballfacts.com, in "40 and Fabulous: in praise of passer rating" mentions t the relationship between passer rating and winning, even if it isn't exactly the same as correlation.
CHFF's "Correlation to Victory" is not true correlation in the actual mathematical and scientific definition of the word. We use the phrase to demonstrate how often teams win games when they win particular statistical battles.Teams that won the passer rating battle (i.e., teams that won the battle of Passer Rating Differential) have won about 80 percent of all NFL games in the five years since the 2007 season. That number is fairly consistent throughout all of NFL history, too.
Byrne, in "Defending traditional passer rating" on si.com, notes that passing efficiency on both sides of the ball is a great indicator of team success.
The NFL has ALWAYS been dominated by teams that dominate the skies, as measured by passer rating.
• an incredible 40 of 69* NFL champions (58 percent) since 1940 finished the year No. 1 or No. 2 in Passer Rating Differential
• 67 of 69* champions (97 percent) since 1940 finished the year ranked in the top 10 in Passer Rating Differential.
For a little perspective, consider that 68 of 69 champions finished in the top 10 in scoring differential. That's right. Passer rating is nearly as effective at identifying winners as points.
The average NFL champion, for example, ranked No. 2.7 in scoring differential. They ranked 3.4 in Passer Rating Differential.
A quarterback's performance has an impact on whether or not a team wins football games. Of the top 30 passer rating seasons of all time, only Milt Plum in 1960 did not play in the postseason. In that season, the Cleveland Browns finished with the second best record in football (8-3-1) behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the Eastern Conference. This way a time when there were six teams in each conference, the East and the West, and only the top record in each conference went.
Kerry J. Byrne, writer for coldhardootballfacts.com, wrote in his piece "The definitive list: Top 10 NFL quarterbacks"the following regarding Tom Brady's 2007 season.
There's been no season in history that combined raw, dizzying numbers with the ultimate stat: victories.
Tom Brady's 2007 season was the greatest regular season for a quarterback of all time during the salary cap era. Having individual success that rivals the best passing seasons of all time under circumstances that no other quarterback faced, while leading the greatest offense in NFL history, sets Tom Brady's season on a pedestal that might never be seen again. I'll leave you to decide if you think it is the best quarterback season of all time.