Were Any Performances From the 2013 NFL Season Truly Historic?
Video games just aren't the same anymore, man.
Every week a new game comes out, and reviews tell us that it's the biggest, best game ever, and the most "immersive" experience to date. What does that even mean, and why are none of these games as good as Super Mario World?
It's because we're creatures of the moment, and the thing that's happening now is the thing we see most clearly. We're looking at life in a rear view mirror, and can only really see what we've just passed.
The same thing happens in sports. Tune into a championship game of any team sport, or a major tournament of any individual sport, and you're sure to hear a commentator exclaim that a particular performance was "one for the ages." A bench player who drops 24 points in an NBA Finals game is likely to be praised the next morning as "The best bench player in Finals history."
So with the 2013 NFL season still fresh in our minds, I thought it’d be helpful to put the good and the bad from last season into perspective. Did Seattle have the best defense we’ve seen over the past decade? Was Jamaal Charles off-the-charts good? Was Chicago’s rush defense historically horrendous?
Let’s set the record straight now, so there will be no confusion later.
Seattle’s defense grades out as 26th best since 2000.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but historically speaking, the Seattle defense kinda sucked.
Alright, maybe that's not fair. The fact is though, they're not even close to being the fourth-best defense since the start of the new millennium. Using our Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points metric, which accounts for down, distance and game situation (and is adjusted for strength of schedule) to produce a statistic that measures production and efficiency, the Seahawks had the 26th best defense since 2000. There are three Bears' defenses, three Ravens' defenses, and three Buccaneers' defenses over that time that are better than Pete Carroll's latest bunch.
To their credit, the Seahawks did have the best defense since 2009, and the game is certainly a different one that it was in 2003. But in order to be historic, I think we'll need to go back a little further into history.
Josh Gordon was the best second-year receiver we've ever seen.
We may not see Josh Gordon on a football field for quite some time, so while we still can, let's cherish what he was able to do last year in only his second season in the NFL.
The Cleveland receiver posted a Reception NEP of 138.64, which bested Victor Cruz's 132.91 to take the crown as the best sophomore season for a receiver since 2000. And that's quite the accomplishment considering the disparity in offensive quality of their respective teams.
Gordon's Browns finished with a -29.92 Adjusted Passing NEP total, while Cruz's Giants finished with a total of 84.87. So the offense on which Gordon flourished was four touchdowns below what was expected given their situation, while Cruz's was well, well above expectation.
The final product of Gordon's season finished 16th overall since 2000, putting him among all-time great names like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Let's hope he can straighten out his personal life and get back on the field to make more history down the road.
The Chicago Bears had the worst rushing defense since the winless Detroit Lions of 2008.
The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers had an excuse for not winning any games. They were expanded into existence with Lee Roy Selmon and a bunch of street free agents, and asked to compete in the NFL for 14 games. They failed, and lost every contest, finishing 0-14.
The 2008 Detroit Lions didn't have a similar excuse. They had a third-year head coach who won seven games in charge the previous season, and Calvin Johnson on offense. There was no reason for them to not win at least one game. Yet they did, and it was thanks in part to an awful defense that couldn't stop the run.
The 2013 Bears challenged their NFC North rivals for the crown of worst recent rushing defense, finishing just over three Net Expected Points shy of the winless Lions' horrible defensive statistics. Dating back to 2000, the 2013 Chicago run stopping effort grades out second-worst, nearly 40 points worse than the next closest 2013 team, the San Diego Chargers. And this is in a pass-first league, too.
Jamaal Charles was the best dual-threat back since Marshall Faulk and Charlie Garner.
Marshall Faulk had the rare ability to contribute efficiently both on the ground and in the passing game, which is why he was an integral part of the ridiculous St. Louis offenses in the late 90's and early 2000's.
Charlie Garner played a similar role for the 2002 Raiders, carrying the load on offense by toting the ball well and being a strong producer in the passing game.
And according to our numbers, what Jamaal Charles did in 2013 was on par with those performances.
Charles posted the fourth-best Reception NEP among running backs since 2000, behind only the aforementioned Faulk and Garner. And unlike Darren Sproles, who previously held that title, Charles did so by carrying the ball on a regular basis as well.
So Charles joined Faulk, arguably the greatest yards-from-scrimmage producer of this era, at the top of our rankings, and that's a fact that shouldn't be taken lightly.
The Atlanta Falcons had the worst defense since 2008.
Yes, the Bears struggled to stop the run, and yes, the Dallas Cowboys gave up a million first downs and seemed to choke away even the best Tony Romo performances, but no team had a worse defense in 2013 than the Atlanta Falcons.
And to defense-minded head coach Mike Smith's shame, it was the worst defensive performance since 2008, and the third-worst since 2000.
With a million injuries to deal with after starting with a roster not exactly brimming with talent, the Falcons had the highest Adjusted Defensive NEP number in the NFL last year by a wide margin. Highest, in this case, is not a good thing, as the Falcons surrendered nearly 145 more NEP than would be expected in their situation.
The 2012 Atlanta defense was 155 points better, meaning the collapse on defense in the Dirty South was nothing short of historic, and for all the wrong reasons.
Peyton Manning had a truly historic season at quarterback.
You know all of the raw numbers from Peyton Manning's fantastic 2013 season, and it may have won you a fantasy football title along the way. But the underlying metrics are just as impressive.
According to our Passing NEP metric, Manning was just over 19 points better than Tom Brady in 2007, the previous bar over which quarterbacks must leap to be considered the best in history. And the way he smashed the competition along the way makes it even more impressive.
As I wrote back in January, the margin by which Peyton led all 2013 quarterbacks in NEP (around 103 points ahead of Drew Brees) would have finished fifth among passers last year, and is better than any season in Eli Manning's career. You could have combined any two quarterbacks in the NFL not named Drew Brees and not equaled the production of Peyton in 2013.
And while the NFL has changed over time, and there are some great moments that pre-date our data, none compare to what Manning was able to do last season. More than anything else that happened in 2013, Peyton Manning's passing was the definition of historic.