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The Mandatory Tim Tebow Article

We don't usually write articles about individual players, let alone backups that only see situational snaps. But quarterback is the one position where strong conclusions can be drawn from our stats and ratings, and it seems these days that everyone needs to state their take on Tim Tebow. "Tebowmania" as a whole appears to result from a combination of factors: Tebow's religion, college success, winning despite seemingly subpar play, and improvement in the 4th quarter. We will examine some of the football-related topics above in an attempt to analyze how good Tebow has been and what to expect from him going forward.

The most important thing to keep in mind regarding Tim Tebow is that a small sample of wins does not immediately mean that a quarterback is playing well. The quarterback is the most important indicator of a team's quality, but the rest of the team matters as well, and even bad teams can have a good stretch of game results. For a full analysis of how bad teams are able to overperform over a small sample, see our article How Variation Affects Outcomes. The strongest sign of a bad team getting lucky is when a team has happened to play better to barely win several games while being blown out in their worse performances. This is exactly what Tebow and the Broncos did in 2011. Such teams with a good record and bad point differential usually tend to over time have their record change to be closer to their point differential rather than the other way around.

Tebow proponents love to state that Tebow took over a 1-4 team and then went 7-1. But the unbiased numbers are that Tebow was 7-4 in the regular season as a starter, 8-6 including 2011, and 9-7 including playoffs. You don't have to look far to see that these numbers do not have to be the result of good QB play. Just two years earlier, the QB that Tebow replaced, Kyle Orton, started off 6-0 before finishing 8-7 as a starter. In fact, Orton went 10-5 as a starter in his rookie season of 2005 with the Bears. Tebow wasn't even the only subpar quarterback to take over a team with a bad record and have them finish with a decent record last season. The Cardinals' John Skelton went 6-2 in games he primarily played while Arizona went 2-6 with Kevin Kolb. Skelton even won his games in a similar manner to Tebow, with unimpressive stats, several late comebacks, and overtime wins. But Skelton doesn't seem to get quite the media attention. Likewise, Matt Moore took over an 0-4 Dolphins team and led them to a 6-6 finish while posting unimpressive passing stats.

Our stats and ratings reveal that Tebow's impact on the Broncos was not positive, but he was not totally terrible either. The average net points generated by the Broncos offense with Tebow starting at QB was 3.4 in 3 games in 2010, -6.2 in 11 regular season games in 2011, and 1.2 in the 2 playoff games. That gives an overall average of -3.4 net points per game, meaning the offense typically put the team at a net 3.4 point disadvantage compared to a league average offense. Our rating for the Broncos offense in 2011 was -2.6 points per game, which was actually increased slightly from when Orton was at QB, so the stats and ratings tell a similar story in this case. This level of offensive effeciency is significantly below average, but not among the worst few teams in the league. If we look specifically at called pass plays, the numbers are slightly worse still (even including scrambles). But Tebow should receive credit for some of the success in the running game due to called QB runs and RB runs often having the threat of Tebow keeping the ball, so we focus more on the offensive performance as a whole.

So how did the Broncos go from 1-4 to 7-4 if the offense wasn't any better under Tebow than under Orton? Because opposing offenses were much less successful during the games Tebow played. This resulted from the combination of playing an easier schedule and the defense simply playing better. Part of the improvement in play was likely the result of having a healthy CB Champ Bailey, DE Elvis Dumervil, and LB D.J. Williams, all who missed multiple games only during the games Orton started. During Orton's 5 starts, opposing offenses were 4.6 net points per game more successful than the league average. During Tebow's 11 starts, opposing offenses were 1.5 net points per game worse than the league average. That makes for a 6.1 point deficit per game that Orton was unable to make up for.

Our analysis indicates that the best explanation of how good Tim Tebow really is would be to say that he is a borderline starter/backup caliber performer as an NFL quarterback. He is certainly not the underappreciated clutch playmaking winner that some like to make him out to be. But his ability to extend plays and scramble make up for his terrible passing enough that he is not the undeserving to be in the league scrub that others make him out to be. A couple of opposing arguments could also be made here. First, obviously only 2 seasons in the NFL and 14 total regular season starts is not enough to completely count him out of ever being a starting caliber NFL quarterback. On the other hand, it's not unreasonable to think that Tebow's early success may have been aided by facing unprepared defenses and that he is not even as good as his stats show.

Looking forward to Tebow's 2012 season with the Jets, there is some potential to have an impact. Big running quarterbacks such as Daunte Culpepper, Cam Newton, and Tebow himself have displayed the ability to have success in short yardage and goal line scenarios, which is likely to be where the Jets will use Tebow the most. Also, the Jets offense under Mark Sanchez has only been marginally more successful than the Broncos under Tebow, so there is a chance the Jets will insert Tebow as the full time starter if Sanchez continues to struggle. The only reason to think that Tebow would be more successful though is that the Jets face a bit easier schedule in the later half of the season. The Jets face opponents on average 0.7 points better than average in the first 8 weeks, then have a bye, and then face opponents on average 0.8 points worse than average in the final 8 weeks, using our ratings from 2011. And given the Jets strong defense, there is always a possibility that either of the quarterbacks could win a string of games.

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