Top 5 Garbage Statistics in the NFL

Statistics in the NFL are starting to reach new levels, and it’s amazing. Pro Football Focus (PFF) and NextGenStats have blown up a world formerly dominated by announcers giving us random metrics like wins in a dome in November when it’s raining outside. Or whatever stat Jon Gruden came up with in the Monday Night Football booth.

Every time you kick it down the middle … most of the time something bad will happen.

Jon Gruden, via Shit Jon Gruden Says (a site that appears to no longer be active but should start back up cause I feel like we would be friends)

I know Gruden was a good coach, despite his shortcomings as a person, but was there a better example of Dunning-Kruger in a broadcast booth? Seriously asking.

Anyway, stats as a whole are better now. More meaningful, if you know where to look. Turns out when you open up and openly support and encourage gambling by fans, meaningful stats have more value. Like for real monetary value. Who knew?

So let’s go ahead and drop these 5 already, because why are you even here?

5. QB wins and QB Super Bowl wins

Is Trent Dilfer better than Dan Marino? As an NFL analyst, absolutely. As a QB… okay so that’s an extreme example, but it drives the point home.

From a larger perspective, it’s perfectly logical to invest the most in the position that gives your team the best chance to win. But that falls far short of saying a QB on a losing team is bad or a QB on a winning team is good.

This is one of those statistics that needs a major sample size to be meaningful, and even then it’s dubious. Are Tom Brady’s 7 Super Bowl rings indicative of his career greatness? Absolutely. At some point, you just can’t ignore it. But would he be any less great if Adam Vinatieri had missed the game-winning field goals in Brady’s first 2 wins, or if the Eagles got the onside kick and went down and scored in Brady’s 3rd win? Brady was watching powerless from the sidelines when those things happened, and they could’ve easily gone differently.

That’s why you can’t disregard Marino’s career as one of the greatest QBs ever to play the game. The guy threw 48 TDs during an NFL era when teams still had a backup fullback. Go back a tiny bit further to Dan Fouts, who’s career record is barely above .500 at 86-84-1 and he never got further than the AFC Championship Game. But both Marino and Fouts were major pieces of offensive revolutions.

On the flip side, look me straight in the eyes and tell me Jim McMahon would’ve won two-thirds of his games and a Super Bowl (as a starter) on any team but the ‘85 Bears or the ‘00 Ravens. ‘85 was his best season, and he threw for 2,392 yards with 15 TDs and 11 picks. The Bears got back to the Super Bowl in ‘06 with a dominant defense and Rex Grossman. That team went 13-3 despite some historically bad performances from Sexy Rexy.

Even the greats can’t always count on their greatness, but can still win with a great defense and team around them. Peyton Manning’s ring with the 2015 Broncos was his worst season since his rookie year, but the Broncos had a great running game, good receivers (mostly Demaryius Thomas), and a dominant defense.

There are plenty of actual statistical ways to judge a QB’s career, and no shock, Brady is near the top in all of those, too.

4. Tackles

Do you know who has the record for the most combined tackles in a season? Foyesade Oluokun with 192 in 2021. Second overall? Foyesade Oluokun with 184 in 2022. And yet, the former Falcon now Jaguar is hardly thought of as a force in the middle of the field. What he has is 4.48 speed that gets him to the ball carrier even if he’s not the one who made the play. Based on his PFF ratings in run defense, tackling, and overall defense, he’s a borderline top 25 off-ball linebacker.

As a career statistic, it’s really only indicative of longevity. Ray Lewis is the career leader in both solo and combined, but he also played at a consistently high level for a really long time. His greatness is defined by a hundred other metrics before tackles should be considered.

Second on both the solo and combined all-time lists is London Fletcher, who was impressive for 16 years, but not good enough for the Hall of Fame (yet). In fact, only 5 of the top 20 in all-time combined tackles is in the Hall (could reach 7 with Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David still active).

And just to pile on because why the hell not… number 10 in all-time solo tackles is Ronde Barber. I mean, good for him, but when a corner is getting all your tackles, that’s not a good sign for your defense as a whole.

3. Turnover Ratio

Hear me out on this one. It’s not that it’s a bad stat; it’s that its predictive use is actually the opposite of what you’d expect. In that sense, it can be useful in the right context, but analysts using it that way is too infrequent. Some do nail it, though. Which is why I’m sticking it right in the middle.

Turnovers are game-changing plays that, more often than not, come down to luck. In fact, a Harvard study on NFL turnover margin found that turnovers as a whole are roughly 55% luck (tipped pass, fumble bounce, etc.) and 45% talent (cautious QB, strip sack, etc.). Any stat you that can be drastically altered by unlucky bounces shouldn’t be relied on to suggest a team is somehow better or worse at creating and preventing turnovers.

Strangely enough, a good turnover ratio in one season is difficult to reproduce, and often tends to correlate with less wins the following season. The numbers there, courtesy of Shawn Wronka at, are even more shocking.

Teams since 2016 that had a double-digit positive turnover margin saw an average decrease of 10.3 in their turnover margin in the following year. Those same teams went from averaging 11.2 wins in their turnover-friendly seasons to averaging 9.6 wins in the following season, a 1.6 decrease in wins.

Conversely, teams that had a double-digit negative turnover margin during that time saw an average increase of 14.5 (!!!) turnovers in their turnover margin in the following year. Those teams went from averaging 4.8 wins to 7.3 in the following season, a 2.5 (!!!) increase in wins.

Shawn Wronka, How Turnover Margin Affects Win Probability and Win Totals in the NFL

Turnover ratio is good during a season. It means your defense has momentum and your QB is seeing the field and your ball carriers are protecting the ball. Things are going so well, you’re convinced you’re creating your own luck. And mayhaps, at times, you are. But don’t get cocky.

2. 4th Quarter Comebacks

This is the Saves statistic of the NFL. It’s equally as pointless and relies on a similar amount of luck and magical clutchiness juice.

I can’t even fully get into how much I can’t stand how this stat is recorded. You can literally take the lead halfway through the 4th quarter and flub the rest of the game, but if your defense holds the other team’s offense, you notch a 4th Quarter Comeback. Or you can lead a game-winning drive and leave 13 seconds left on the clock and watch your defense let the other team drive down and get a field goal. In 13 seconds.

I actually wouldn’t mind this stat if we cleaned it up a bit. So let’s try that. 4th Quarter Comebacks, at least on this site, now requires the following:

  • Drive starts with less than 4 minutes
  • Drive has to cover at least 50 yards
    • Excluding penalties on the defense
    • Including non-QB penalties on the offense
  • Drive has to end with a touchdown or field goal that gives team the lead or tie
    • Credit will be given if extra point would tie the game but is missed
    • Credit will be given if field goal of 45 yards or less would win or tie the game but is missed
  • Drive must leave no more than 59 seconds on the game clock
  • Winning the game is not required if all other criteria are met

Phew! I don’t know about you, but I feel better. Still don’t like it, but I can tolerate it now.

1. Practice Interceptions

I’ll let The Answer sum up my feelings on this topic:

We sittin’ in here, I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talkin’ about practice. I mean listen, we talkin’ ’bout practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game. We talkin’ about practice. Not a game, not a, not a, not the game that I go out there and die for, and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game. We talkin’ bout practice, man. I mean how silly is that? We talkin’ bout practice. I know I’m supposed to be there, I know I’m supposed to lead by example. I know that, and I’m not shovin’ it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do.

But we talkin’ bout practice, man. What are we talkin’ about? Practice? We talkin’ about practice, man. We talk — we talkin’ bout practice. We talkin’ bout practice! We ain’t talkin’ bout the game, we talkin’ bout practice, man. When you come into the arena, and you see me play, you see me play, don’t you? You see me give everything I got, right? But we talkin’ bout practice right now. [Reporter: ‘But it’s an issue that your coach raised.’] We talkin’ bout practice. Man look, I hear you, it’s funny to me too. I mean, it’s strange, it’s strange to me too. But we talkin’ bout practice, man. We not even talkin’ bout the game, the actual game, when it matters. We talkin’ bout practice.

Allen Iverson, May 7, 2002 press conference

Seriously, no one cares about practice interceptions.

What we’ve reached is what I call a Clickbait Loop. Some hypothetical reporter somewhere counted how many interceptions a QB threw during practice and wrote a throwaway article about it, knowing it was meaningless. That article got picked up by fans desperately hoping said QB will fail in the upcoming season, so they blew it up like it was a super big deal. The reporter knows it’s a garbage statistic and the fans know it’s a garbage statistic, but they can’t stop feeding each other. Eventually, fans start thinking it actually is a big deal because all these other people are talking about it, and any blogger like me sees a keyword term like practice interceptions as an uncommon topic where we can rank higher. Sheer volume of content eventually convinces everyone that something is important.

It’s garbage. And deep down, you all know it. I hope I rank for it so if someone Google’s practice interceptions and flips through to page 53 of search results they’ll come across this article and read about how it’s a garbage statistic.

The first time I ever heard about practice interceptions was in the preseason of 2018 when Patrick Mahomes was struggling in camp and throwing interceptions. That was the preseason right before he threw 50 TDs and won his first league MVP.

Marshall Faulk likes to tell a story of how Peyton Manning would throw at the same DB in practice, over and over. Faulk asked why he kept throwing it there, and Peyton said “I didn’t think he could get there.” Faulk responded, “It’s the NFL, everyone can get there.” Peyton sat on that a minute, then came back with, “You’re right.”

Practice and training camp and scrimmages and even preseason games are exactly when a QB should be throwing interceptions. You try to fit into windows you wouldn’t normally try during an official game. You try a different arm angle, you work on situational stuff. At some point you need to practice that 4th and 12 play with time running out… you want your QB to dump it off or take a shot? If a QB has a flawless training camp, I have to assume he never challenged himself and we’ll never get more than vanilla audibles.

And finally, it’s worth noting that if a QB doesn’t throw any practice interceptions, it may be time to start worrying about the team’s defense. If a team has a top-10 QB and the team’s defense can’t stop him, don’t count on a top-10 defense. Not gonna be able to Dilfer your way through that season.

What did I miss? What stats drive you nuts when they’re cited as if they’re something profound or indicative? Let me know in the comments and we’ll chat.

As always, may all your teams win or your practice throws be intercepted.

3 thoughts on “Top 5 Garbage Statistics in the NFL”

  1. This is spot on, as per usual. I never did understand the whole Super Bowl W’s thing. There’s Brad Johnson and Flacco, Dilfer and that guy who played for Washington in the early nineties. Yeah, there are a bunch of dudes who have a ring while guys like Fouts and Marino never did.

    1. I was excited to see Don Coryell get in the HOF this year. Fouts running the Air Coryell offense completely changed the game. No rings and moderate success for both of them, but every TE getting 80-90 catches a season knows those guys +Kellen Winslow (the elder… his kid was nuts) revolutionized the position, and the passing offense as a whole.

      Also, as a fellow WordPress blogger, if Gruden ends up giving any kind of public testimony about his determination to torch the league, we need to find the Shit Jon Gruden Says blogger and bring him out of retirement. Or maybe I’ll just buy the domain myself and start cornering the market on soft curse word domains.

      1. Winslow was a beast. I remember how he almost single handedly took Miami out in that famous playoff game in the ’80s.

        Buy it! I want to see this!

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