2018 Matt Ryan and the Best Passing Seasons That Didn't Matter

by Justis Mosqueda

If you were to judge quarterbacks purely by their individual statistics, the only passers in consideration for the MVP in the NFL this season would be Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, the Los Angeles Rams' Jared Goff, New Orleans' Drew Brees, the Los Angeles Chargers' Philip Rivers and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. Through nine weeks of football, the Chiefs, Rams, Saints and Chargers have a combined record of 33-5...while the Falcons are sitting at 4-5. This begs the question: Just how good of a quarterbacking season has Atlanta wasted this year?

Based on FiveThirtyEight's numbers from 2016, teams with a 4-5 record have just a 7.6 percent chance to make it to the playoffs, meaning that the Falcons are well behind the eight ball as we coast through the final two months of the season. To measure just how unlikely it is that Atlanta has landed in an outside looking in spot in the playoff race with a legitimate MVP-caliber quarterback season, I took a look at some NFL historical data that accounted for both opposing defenses (which is inherently an era adjustment) and production.

Adjusted Yards per Attempt (one of the most predictive passing stats):  (Passing Yards + (Passing Touchdowns * 20) - (Interceptions Thrown * 45)) / Attempts

Adjust Yards per Attempt (AY/A) takes into account of touchdowns and interceptions in a way that gives us one number (yards) for passing efficiency. Ryan's AY/A of 9.3 yards for the season ranks fifth among passers with 250 or more pass attempts this year, behind only Mahomes (10.0), Goff (10.0), Rivers (9.9) and Brees (9.8).

The next step to this is adjusting for defensive play. Efficiency is impacted by which defenses a quarterback faces, so opponents should be accounted for. By juxtaposing a quarterback's individual results against a defense's AY/A on the year, we can find out how valuable his performance was in yards relative to the expectation set by the defense. I call this Defense-Adjusted Yards per Attempt Value (D-AY/AV).

Defense-Adjusted Yards per Attempt Value: (Single Game AY/A - Opponent Season AY/A) * AttemptsAbove is what Ryan's D-AY/AV has looked like on an individual game basis and a season-long basis this year. When you combine his nine games so far, he has been worth roughly 692 yards above the average quarterback that opposing defenses have faced. From a league-wide perspective, the only quarterback's more valuable than Ryan right now are Mahomes (+1,080), Goff (+907), Brees (+731) and Rivers (+722).

If Ryan continues this pace of play, roughly 77 yards of added value per game, his season-long total after 16 games will be about 1,230 yards for the regular season. To put that into perspective, that's a higher season-long D-AY/AV than any quarterback in 2017, 2015, 2012, 2009 and 2008...and that is only this last decade. Make no mistake: Ryan is having an MVP-caliber season, even relative to the rising tide of passing efficiency and the fact that he's playing fairly bad NFC South defenses.

With all of that said, we can finally get back to the question of the hour: Has anyone ever pissed away a season as good of a passing season as 2018 Matt Ryan without making the playoffs?


Below is Ryan's projected D-AY/AV (+1,230) compared to the ten most valuable passing seasons since the 1970 merger which did not feature the quarterback's team earning a playoff spot. As you'll notice, The difference between 2018 Ryan and the #1 ranked 1984 Neil Lomax (147 yards) is basically as wide as the difference between 1984 Lomax and the #7 ranked 2009 Ben Roethlisberger (148 yards).

If Ryan continues his current pace, which there should be no reason to doubt at this point in this season, and the Falcons don't make the playoffs, which is very unlikely as they sit with a 4-5 record, then Ryan will finish this season as the most valuable single-season passer to not make the playoffs.

Mind you, six of the ten quarterbacks ('84 Lomax, '73 Gabriel, '86 Kramer, '83 Dickey, '86 Esiason and '74 Anderson) on this list came before the NFL's wildcard expansion to the playoffs that gave the league 12 playoff teams starting in 1990. For example, Esiason's 10-6 Bengals would have been the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs under our current playoff structure, but only five AFC teams made the playoffs in 1986 and the fifth seed Kansas City Chiefs had a head-to-head tie-breaker over the Bengals that year.

Within the context of a 12-team playoff, the only quarterbacks within the range of Ryan's season-long projections to miss the playoffs are 2009 Matt Schaub, 2010 Philip Rvers, 2009 Ben Roethlisberger and 2006 Carson Palmer. '09 Schaub, the most valuable quarterback since 1990 to not make the playoffs, was less than 80% as valuable (+974 yards) as Ryan's season-long extrapolation.

Two years after the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl off of the back of Ryan leading the league in D-AY/AV, they have grossly mismanaged what most other quarterbacks would consider being a career season.