92% of Playoff Teams Have This in Common

An observation that’s been made by @3rdRGR (I believe) many times in the endless “let’s get rid of Stafford” threads over several years and boards has stuck with me. That observation is that Matt has never had an average defense and an average rushing attack at the same time.

That inspired me to actually run the numbers.

Since 2010, the Lions have only had a top-half defense (ranked 16 or better in points allowed) in 3 seasons. Not surprisingly, they’ve only made the playoffs 3 times.

They’ve never had a rushing attack ranked 16 or better. In fact, over that decade, the Lions rushing attack has averaged 26th in the league.

In the years that the Lions have not gone to the playoffs, their defense has an average rank of 21 and the rushing offense has an average rank of 24th.

How does that compare with playoff teams?

Playoff-Qualifying Teams

Over the last 10 years, 92% of playoff teams (110*/120) have had either a top half defense or a top half rushing attack. 57% (68/120) have had both a top-half rushing and defense.

Of the teams qualifying for the playoffs, 71% (85/120) have had a defense or rushing offense in the top 25% of the league (ranked 8 or better).

image image
*One of the 10 teams getting to the playoffs without a top-half defense or rushing attack is the 2011 Detroit Lions

Divisional-Round Teams

Teams playing in the divisional round show these same trends.

Since 2010, 93% of teams playing in the divisional round (71/76) have at least a top-half rushing attack or scoring defense. Most - 70% (53/76) - have either a top-quartile rushing offense or defense.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of the divisional round teams have both a top-half ground attack and defense. A healthy chunk (28%) have both a defense and running game that’s in the top 25% of the league.

image image image

Conference Championship Teams

94% (32 of 34) have top-half defense or rushing
74% (25 of 34) have top 25% defense or rushing

68% (23 of 34) have top-half defense and rushing
41% (14 of 34) have top 25% defense and rushing

image image image


  • Stafford has had essentially zero support in his years with the Lions
  • The idea that other quarterbacks get to the playoffs and succeed without any defensive or rushing support is a myth
  • Quarterbacks that succeed in the playoffs need at least one or the other of a really good defense or running game. Preferably both.

so how does that compare and contract to having an expensive QB? I mean, do we NEED that style of qb or can a game manager have the same success if we have those metrics you posted?

I’m not saying I don’t want stafford, but do those metrics perhaps show that unless you have 1 of 3 or 4 qbs, you might want to chase other parts for the team instead?

1 Like

I don’t think that requires the same level of quantitative analysis. Just think about the teams that have had success in the playoffs. It’s the notable exception that a team has any shot without a good to very good quarterback. And those teams typically have a top 5 rushing AND defense (like 2017 Jacksonville with the #1 rushing attack and #2 scoring defense).

When the Lions are sitting on $20MM in unused cap space, how hobbled are they really by Stafford’s contract? It’s literally a few million more or less than most other veteran starters. Stafford’s average salary is less than that of Cousins, Jimmy G, ARodg, Big Ben, Wilson, etc., and those franchises seem to be able to build other parts of their teams just fine.


Good front offices and coaching staffs can pay their quarterback AND provide a decent running game and defense.

Jimmy G, Rodgers and Brees make similar money to Stafford.

Hell if you add up what Tennessee is paying Tannehill and Marriotta its more than what Stafford makes.

Great point.

Aaron Jones and Jamaal Willians are both on rookie contracts in GB. They’ve combined for 25 touchdowns this year. That’s what’s allowed Rodgers to take on more of a game manager role, and led to them winning even when the passing game has been awful.


Interesting stats, for sure.

I’ve never felt like the Lions were attempting to build a “win in January” team, and to me that’s a tough defense and running game. I think there’s something to the fact that most of the teams that compete for Super Bowls are cold weather cities and open stadiums. I kinda hate that the Lions are a dome team.

But as I’ve noted before, the, “it’s just a shame the Lions have never given Stafford a rushing attack” mantra doesn’t tell the whole story. At times under Caldwell, and maybe even a little under Schwartz, that wasn’t a bug; it was a feature. There was a philosophy that Stafford was who would drive the offense, and that little passes would equate to runs. To the extent building a running game was tried, it would be quickly ditched when it was ineffective, and then it was back to over-reliance on Stafford’s arm.

I’d argue it was only the last couple of years under Caldwell where it was acknowledged that was a flawed approach.

1 Like

We had the run game and the defense in 2014, we squandered that one chance away.

1 Like

We had the defense. #3 in points against. The run offense was #28 in the league. And the refs stole that playoff game.


First, great analysis and post. Learned football from my dad (who would be 97) he said it is all about running the ball and stopping the run. If you can run the ball you control the game. If you stop the run, the other team becomes 1 dimensional and is easier to defend. The worse the weather the better the concept. I agree that almost all games were played outdoors back then but I still believe in that concept today.

That was the Dallas debacle. That hardly qualifies as an opportunity squandered.
That will forever be one of the biggest bone jobs in NFL history. The sting was not satisfied by the second biggest bone job in NFL playoffs history (Dallas losing on the Calvin Johnson rule, in Green Bay, when Dez clearly caught the ball and made a football move).
Sorry, I suck at make believe.


This isn’t what I’m saying at all, nor is it what the analysis is showing.

It’s evident at face value that a decent quarterback is generally needed for success in the playoffs. What this analysis shows is that in addition to that decent quarterback, you also need to have at least a passable defense and/or a passable running game.

The Lions have been in the bottom 25% of rushing for 9/10 years, and bottom third in defense for 6/10 years. Given that 90+% of playoff teams have at least one of those things as #16 or better, why do so many people blame Stafford for not overcoming what essentially no other quarterbacks have to overcome?


Really nice read. Appreciate the contribution, brother!

Awesome post, bud. Greatly appreciated. Now let’s go get a game breaking RB in round two


2018 plays ahead 334
tied 188
losing 495

2017 plays ahead 289
tied 214
losing 477

2016 plays ahead 301
tied 247
losing 422

2015 plays ahead 374
tied 214
losing 441

You can go all the way back to Stafford’s first season in the NFL. The Lions have always had more plays losing than winning, and it usually isn’t even that close. Teams typically don’t run as often as when they are losing. I would bet that the Lions are usually losing at halftime and in the 4th quarter. A lot of other teams run the ball at the end of the game to kill the clock because they are up more than two scores. How often are the Lions leading by multiple scores in the 4th quarter? Not very often.

I’m not saying the running game has been great, but it isn’t as bad as some people claim simply because the ENTIRE offense has been poor in the first and second quarters and the running game needed to be abandoned in the 2nd half.
And when your QB makes more money than anyone else in the NFL, you have to tailor the offense around him. If a team wants to focus on a run game, then the resources that are devoted to the QB should be allocated to guards and running backs.
Even in their big year of 2011, the Lions only scored 8 Offensive TDs in the first quarter.
Getting off to slow starts has been a major problem for the Lions since I can remember.

I think the AngryDishwasher has returned.

1 Like

Was saying this very thing back at 24/7…

I’ll take an average QB with a top running game / defense anyway.

That Matt was never the problem…

1 Like

You can’t pay your QB more money than anyone else in the league and devote resources to have a great defense and awesome run game without hitting on a bunch of rookie standouts. When you spend your first round draft picks on pass protecting OLinemen and bust/injured TEs, it’s hard to develop a good running game and stout defense.

Nothing against Stafford, but if you pay a QB that much money, he needs to be a game changer like Wilson or Rodgers.

1 Like

We scored 6 points in the last 3 quarters, we squandered that chance, sorry.

Paying an elite QB is a business expense. Stafford is no longer the highest paid QB in the league and will be down the list next season.

Tom Brady could have demanded top dollar every year but didn’t. He has a wife earning double his salary and winning was more important than money.

. Those types are few and far between…cough Calvin Johnson…cough

1 Like

Stafford had the highest cap hit in 2019. It’s not that I don’t think Stafford isn’t a good QB, I just don’t see him in the same class as Mahomes, Rodgers, Wilson, and a few others. He is a good face for the franchise though.
Stafford at $20 million is fine. $30 million…pass.
It’s not my money though. Good for Stafford.