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East Coast Offense: The Year of the Quarterback

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Year of the Quarterback

Forget about Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino's all-time single-season record for passing yards in 15 games, the uncanny quarterback production goes far deeper than that. Through 15 games, Tom Brady has 4,897 passing yards, good for fourth all-time. If Brady gets just 188 yards in the team's finale against the Bills, a game the Patriots need, then he too will surpass Marino's mark. (It's a good thing for Brees that the Saints play in the early game because if the 49ers beat the Rams a likely prospect then the Saints might have been inclined to sit Brees, giving Brady the all-time record.

It remains to be seen how much Aaron Rodgers will play in a meaningless game against Detroit, but he's on a pace for the third most passing yards of all time heading into this season. And Eli Manning with his usual production against the Cowboys will have thrown for more passing yards than any quarterback in NFL history heading into this year except Marino and Brees. That four quarterbacks in one season would be on pace to own top-six all-time single-season performances is astounding. Put differently, neither Dan Fouts, Kurt Warner nor Peyton Manning in his most productive season has ever thrown for as many yards as four QBs are on pace for this year.

There are several possible explanations for this, from new NFL rules keeping quarterbacks from getting hurt (though Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell, Chad Henne, Peyton Manning and Sam Bradford are all on IR), to others keeping defensive backs from interfering with receivers, to more aggressive offensive playcalling. Taking a look at the data from the last 10 years (since the Texans joined the league and made it an even 32 teams), this season doesn't look like such an outlier in terms of attempts or league-wide production:

Year League YPA Passes Attempted Total Yards TD Pass INT Sacks
2011 proj.* 7.2 17367 117142 736 502.4 1190.4
2010 7 17269 113450 751 511 1130
2009 7 17033 111851 710 525 1101
2008 6.9 16526 108177 646 465 1036
2007 6.9 17045 109722 720 534 1102
2006 6.9 16389 104861 648 520 1164
2005 6.8 16464 104168 644 506 1182
2004 7.1 16354 107797 732 524 1196
2003 6.6 16493 102628 654 538 1092
2002 6.7 17292 108661 694 528 1175

* (2011 numbers (16282 attempts, 109821 yards, 690 TD pass, 471 INT, 1116 sacks)
* 16/15, though that's not necessarily accurate because Week 17 isn't a normal week with key players often sitting out).

While 2011 as a whole is on pace to be the biggest year on record for attempts, yards and YPA, it's merely part of a long-term trend and not a major leap from seasons past. Moreover, if Week 17 has fewer passing attempts than usual due to weather and the resting of key players, this year might barely eclipse 2010's pace.

Let's also take a look at the passing stats from the top-10 QBs in YPA:

Name QBRat Comp Att Yds Y/G Y/A TD Int Sack
Aaron Rodgers 122.5 343 502 4643 309.5 9.2 45 6 36
Tom Brady 105.1 378 576 4897 326.5 8.5 36 11 28
Matt Schaub 96.8 178 292 2479 247.9 8.5 15 6 16
Eli Manning 90.3 335 556 4587 305.8 8.3 26 16 26
Carson Palmer 77.2 171 285 2336 259.6 8.2 11 15 17
Drew Brees 108.4 440 622 5087 339.1 8.2 41 13 24
Ben Roethlisberger 91.5 301 473 3856 275.4 8.2 21 14 38
Tony Romo 102.2 317 485 3895 259.7 8 29 9 30
Cam Newton 85 295 492 3893 259.5 7.9 20 16 33
Philip Rivers 86.6 347 556 4314 287.6 7.8 24 19 30

It's clear that some of the top QBs are attempting more passes than ever, despite their high success rates hence the historic yardage production. While Brees, for example, has been near this attempts pace before (last year he had 658 attempts), he averaged just 7.0 YPA, so he wasn't anywhere close to breaking the record. In fact, the odd thing about this year isn't that QBs are attempting a lot of passes, it's that successful ones are. Usually, successful QBs don't throw a whole lot because (1) efficiency in the passing game gets you down the field with fewer attempts; and (2) you're usually well ahead in the second half, and your team will run the ball more. But this year, two factors have conspired to change that: (1) many of the teams with the best QBs (Packers, Saints, Patriots and Giants) are poor defensively; and (2) head coaches of those teams often keep throwing late in games even with big leads.

This trend isn't likely to go away, either. The teams that are top five in passing attempts through 15 weeks are the Saints, Lions, Patriots, Falcons and Giants four of which are in the playoffs and the fifth three-point favorites to qualify this week. And none have played particularly well on defense this year. (Incidentally, the 14-1 Packers are just 18th in attempts, but it's awfully hard to rack up quantity when you're getting 9.2 YPA, getting touchdowns on so few attempts and sitting on big leads in the second half.)

With top QBs getting more attempts than ever, they're accordingly more valuable in fantasy. Moreover, with many of the top teams eschewing the run late in games, and also having committees of mediocre running backs, there are fewer runners who combine elite skills and an ideal, winning environment than in years past when Terrell Davis, Emmitt Smith, Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson played for squads that were playoff-bound. If you land a LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster or Ray Rice, the rare back in a good environment who makes it through most of the year, you'll do just fine, but the top quarterbacks are safer and in this new landscape might even have more upside.

Why Drafting QBs No. 1 Overall in Real Life Isn't Always a Great Idea

Given how important quarterbacks are in the modern NFL, you'd think any team without a franchise one should take the best one available in a given year. But I'm not so sure. Let's take a look at the No. 1 overall QBs since 1998:

1998 Peyton Manning
1999 Tim Couch
2001 Michael Vick
2002 David Carr
2003 Carson Palmer
2004 Eli Manning
2005 Alex Smith
2007 JaMarcus Russell
2009 Matthew Stafford
2010 Sam Bradford
2011 Cam Newton

These 11 QBs have two Super Bowl wins and three SB appearances between them (all Mannings), and three (Couch, Carr and Russell) were complete busts. If you get a Manning, it sets up your franchise for a decade or more, but if you get a Carr, Couch or Russell, you'll likely give away the next 3-5 years as it's very hard to give up on such a prized investment. If a player at any other position turned out to be a bust, it wouldn't destroy your franchise in nearly the same way.

To that end, it'll be interesting to see what the Rams do in April if they land the No. 1 overall pick as they've got a lot invested in Sam Bradford, but given his lack of development in Year 2, it would be awfully hard to pass on Andrew Luck.

Things to Take Away from Week 16

Mike McCarthy is a real jerk, challenging up 17 with two minutes left. It's Christmas, and he has no regard for people chasing the backdoor cover. In the end, the Bears settled for a FG to make it 35-21. I had Chicago +13.5.

Everyone says Peyton Manning's the MVP because the Colts were winless without him after winning 10 games or more since the dawn of time. Well, it's pretty clear the Colts are a 6-10-type team with Dan Orlovsky under center, rather than last year's 10-6. Four games is a lot, don't get me wrong, but it's Jay Cutler/Matt Schaub at this point. Maybe Manning circa 2004 would be worth 10-plus games, but let's stop with all the hyperbole this year. It might be that Manning to Orlovsky is worth four, and and Orlovsky to Painter is worth another four actually.

If you drafted Fred Jackson and backed him up with C.J. Spiller, you did just fine at one of your RB spots this year. Same with Darren McFadden/Michael Bush. Sometimes though not usually getting the backup works out. More often, you wind up with Matt Forte/Marion Barber or Jamaal Charles/Thomas Jones.

Peyton Hillis looks like last year's version again. Of course, he's impossible to evaluate for next year until we know where he's playing.

Mark Sanchez came up awfully small against what had been a terrible Giants defense (4.4 YPA, 2 INT), but the Giants got a lot more pressure on him than they had say on Rex Grossman. Eli Manning had a bizarre line, completing just 9-of-27 passes, but the YPA was salvaged thanks to Victor Cruz running by the entire Jets defense after a short grab. At least Manning has the excuse that he was facing an elite opponent.

Tony Romo owners would probably have had a better chance of winning their leagues had he been lost for the season after Week 1, than going down after scoring zero points in the fantasy Super Bowl. But the Cowboys and Chargers almost always let you down when you need them most. Tom Brady, on the other hand, knows to rush for two scores.

Jerome Simpson's flip was one of the more amazing moves I've seen on a football field. The Bengals should scrap their usual short-yardage offense and just let him flip over the pile. Of course, when Ray Lewis pops him halfway through, he'll probably get decapitated.

Tim Tebow had a terrible game against the Bills, but I wouldn't overreact. Bradford and Colt McCoy (his draft-class-mates) have had plenty of clunkers, too. Of course, just as Tebow's the messiah when he wins, he's a total joke and completely worthless when he plays poorly.

It's really too bad the Chiefs couldn't beat the Raiders because it would have set up a showdown for the AFC West between Tebow and Kyle Orton. Now Orton just gets to play spoiler, which is still a good story, but not nearly as interesting.

What kind of odds would you need to let someone else have New England, Baltimore and Pittsburgh to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, i.e., you'd get Houston, the AFC West winner and the other Wild Card? Is 20:1 enough?

Marshawn Lynch is apparently match-up proof.

While Sean Payton might be the better coach, 65-year old Tom Coughlin is far more of a bad ass after taking a hit on the sideline.

Things to Look For in Week 17

Giants and Cowboys play for the NFC East

The Bengals need to beat the Ravens to get into the playoffs, while the Ravens need to win to secure a first-round bye.

Kyle Orton attempts to knock Denver out of the playoff.

The Colts play to avoid the Luck/Manning dilemma and saddle the Rams (who will likely lose to the Niners) with the Luck/Bradford one.

Tom Brady looks to post the second-highest passing yardage total of all time and get the Pats homefield throughout the playoffs against the Bills.

Beating the Book

Colts +3.5 at Jaguars

The Colts are a different team with Dan Orlovsky, and they seemed awfully determined to win last week at home against the Texans. Moreover, I'd be surprised if they wanted to tank to get the No. 1 overall pick (something that would put management in a tough spot regarding Peyton Manning's future), and in fact they might want to erase any notion that they had been doing that. The Jaguars aren't that bad at home, but the Colts have a big advantage at quarterback in what should be a 50/50 game. Back Indy.

Colts 20 - 19

Last week we lost with the Texans to go 10-6 in this forum, 5-10-1 on the week and 115-119-6 overall. We were 10-7 in this forum last season and 40-27 over the four years of the column (we skipped Week 17 in 2007). From 1999-2010 we've gone 1565-1387 against the spread (53%, not including ties). The full article comes out Wednesday night.

Surviving Week 17

Last week, I won with the Panthers fairly easily, though the Redskins and Texans probably cleared out some pools. Let's take a look at this week's slate:

Team Opponent % Picked* Vegas ML** Vegas Odds
EAGLES Redskins 33.80% 385 79%
JAGUARS Colts 13.80% 187.5 65%
SAINTS Panthers 10.70% 385 79%
49ers RAMS 9.00% 600 86%
BRONCOS Chiefs 8.70% 177.5 64%
PATRIOTS Bills 5.20% 517.5 84%
FALCONS Buccaneers 5.10% 700 88%
GIANTS Cowboys 2.80% 140 58%
RAIDERS Chargers 2.60% 150 60%
Steelers BROWNS 1.20% 300 75%
Titans TEXANS 1.20% 145 59%
Bears VIKINGS 1.00% 100 50%

Home Team in CAPS
* according to
** average of the two moneylines

Keep in mind at this point, you've probably used most of the league's better teams, and the number of people on each one is less important than who's left for the remaining competitors in your particular pools.

If I could pick from any of these teams, I'd go Falcons, 49ers, Patriots, Steelers (if Roethlisberger plays), Saints and Eagles. Unfortunately, I've used all of them up, so it's between the Jaguars, Broncos, Giants, Lions, Cardinals and Raiders. (I've already used the Titans, too).

For now I'd go with the Giants (at home against Dallas) or the Lions in Green Bay for a meaningless game. The Giants defense played much better against the Jets, and Tony Romo's playing with a sore hand. On the other hand, the Packers have nothing to play for, so Aaron Rodgers might sit out early, while the Lions are playing for the No. 5 seed and the chance to avoid the Saints and instead play the Giants/Cowboys winner. If I had to pick now, I'd probably take Detroit, though I reserve the right to change my mind when the full article comes out Wednesday night.