Thanks for the Memories, Brett

With Brett Favre’s recent non-un-retirement making news, I thought I’d take a look back at some of his best plays. I know I’ve been critical of Favre during his comeback year, but to be honest, I truly respect his play. How could you not? What I really didn't like was the fawning media, which overlooked every indication he was nothing close to his old self. Still, the bottom line is that he was a great competitor and most of all a winner.

And what better way to measure a winner than to directly measure his contribution to his team’s chances of winning with a stat like win probability (WP)? Every play in a game has an effect on the WP, whether it’s +1% or -20%. We can sum up the WP for all the plays a player has been a part of, and we can get some idea of his overall contribution to his team’s efforts. For a specific play, or for a specific player, this is ‘win probability added’ (WPA).

I’ll use WPA to go back through the database and pull out Favre’s most heroic plays. Unfortunately, the data only go back through 2000, after some of Favre’s peak years. But it is still a neat way to demonstrate some of the interesting things we can do with WPA, and it hints at some of its future applications in football.

The table below lists Favre’s twelve plays with the biggest impacts.

Favre's Best Plays of the Decade

DateWPAOppDn-Dist-Fld PosLeadW/LQtrPlay Description
10/29/20070.55DEN1-10 OWN 180WOT(14:56) 4-B.Favre pass deep left to 85-G.Jennings for 82 yards TOUCHDOWN.
9/23/20070.53SD2-10 OWN 43-4W4(2:13) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass short left to 85-G.Jennings for 57 yards TOUCHDOWN.
10/7/20010.49TB2-3 TB 38-4L4(1:19) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass to 30-A.Green to TB 13 for 25 yards (59-J.Duncan). screen right
12/8/20020.34MIN3-13 MIN 40-9W4(10:58) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass to 89-R.Ferguson for 40 yards TOUCHDOWN.
11/14/20040.33MIN2-10 OWN 460W4(1:05) 4-B.Favre pass to 40-T.Fisher to MIN 29 for 25 yards (21-C.Chavous).
10/17/20040.32MIN3-10 OWN 16-7L4(12:07) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass to 80-D.Driver for 84 yards TOUCHDOWN.
11/4/20070.31KC2-10 OWN 40-6W4(3:13) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass deep middle to 85-G.Jennings for 60 yards TOUCHDOWN.
11/6/20000.31MIN3-4 MIN 430WOT(11:33) B.Favre pass to A.Freeman for 43 yards TOUCHDOWN. Play Challenged by Review Assistant and Upheld.
10/26/20080.30KC2-5 KC 15-3W4(1:05) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass short left to 87-L.Coles for 15 yards TOUCHDOWN.
12/21/20060.30MIN2-6 OWN 37-1W4(4:05) 4-B.Favre pass deep right to 82-R.Martin to MIN 27 for 36 yards (26-A.Winfield).
12/10/20000.28DET3-8 DET 492W4(5:50) B.Favre pass to B.Schroeder pushed ob at DET 4 for 45 yards (J.Brown).
1/11/20040.26PHI1-10 OWN 490L4(12:22) 4-B.Favre pass to 84-J.Walker to PHI 7 for 44 yards (21-B.Taylor).

What stands out to me is that 6 of the top 10 plays were against his almost-current team, the Minnesota Vikings. Also, not all of them were touchdown plays. Many were simply critical first down plays late in tight games. I remember the #1 play well because 2007 was when Favre was my fantasy QB, and that game against the Broncos was a nationally televised game.

Of course, there were receivers and blockers making the plays too. I can’t separate the individual contributions to each play. Still, the list is a handy way to start looking for great plays.

I know what all the Favre critics are wondering, and I was wondering the same thing. I couldn’t help it. Below are his twelve worst plays. The same caveat applies—the bust could be on a receiver or blocker, and not Favre himself. And let’s not forget that the other team gets paid too.

Favre's Worst Plays of the Decade

DateWPAOppDn-Dist-Fld PosLeadW/LQtrPlay Description
10/26/2008-0.61KC3-2 KC 84W4(9:29) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass short middle intended for 83-C.Stuckey INTERCEPTED by 24-B.Flowers at KC 9. 24-B.Flowers for 91 yards TOUCHDOWN.
10/8/2006-0.54SL2-10 SL 11-3L4(:44) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre sacked at SL 18 for -7 yards (91-L.Little). FUMBLES (91-L.Little) touched at SL 15 RECOVERED by SL-23-J.Butler at SL 13. 23-J.Butler to SL 13 for no gain (63-S.Wells).
10/7/2001-0.43TB1-6 TB 60L2(15:00) 4-B.Favre pass intended for 88-B.Franks INTERCEPTED by 53-S.Quarles at TB 2. 53-S.Quarles for 98 yards TOUCHDOWN.
12/4/2005-0.41CHI1-7 CHI 71L2(:24) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass intended for 89-R.Ferguson INTERCEPTED by 33-C.Tillman at CHI -2. 33-C.Tillman pushed ob at GB 7 for 95 yards (40-T.Fisher).
12/24/2000-0.41TB2-10 TB 340W4(1:54) B.Favre pass intended for C.Lee INTERCEPTED by J.Duncan at TB 28. J.Duncan to TB 43 for 15 yards (A.Green).
12/21/2006-0.39MIN1-10 OWN 406W3(5:19) (Shotgun) 4-B.Favre pass short left intended for 85-G.Jennings INTERCEPTED by 21-F.Smoot at GB 47. 21-F.Smoot for 47 yards TOUCHDOWN.
1/11/2004-0.38PHI1-11 OWN 320LOT(13:12) 4-B.Favre pass intended for 84-J.Walker INTERCEPTED by 20-B.Dawkins at PHI 31. 20-B.Dawkins to GB 34 for 35 yards (30-A.Green).
11/24/2002-0.38TB1-12 OWN 261L3(7:27) 4-B.Favre pass intended for 83-T.Glenn INTERCEPTED by 25-B.Kelly at GB 49. 25-B.Kelly ran ob at GB 18 for 31 yards (30-A.Green).
12/24/2004-0.37MIN3-4 OWN 70W4(8:31) 4-B.Favre pass intended for 84-J.Walker INTERCEPTED by 55-C.Claiborne at GB 15. 55-C.Claiborne for 15 yards TOUCHDOWN.
9/17/2006-0.36NO1-7 NO 7-1L3(7:57) 4-B.Favre pass short right intended for 33-W.Henderson INTERCEPTED by 23-O.Stoutmire [55-S.Fujita] at NO -1. Touchback.
1/20/2008-0.35NYG2-8 NYG 80LOT

(14:13) 4-B.Favre pass short right intended for 80-D.Driver INTERCEPTED by 23-C.Webster at GB 43. 23-C.Webster to GB 34 for 9 yards (80-D.Driver).
9/9/2007-0.34PHI3-7 PHI 70W4(4:26) 4-B.Favre sacked at GB 43 for -9 yards (58-T.Cole). FUMBLES (58-T.Cole) RECOVERED by PHI-93-J.Kearse at GB 38. 93-J.Kearse to GB 38 for no gain (76-C.Clifton).

WPA takes into account the context within the game, but it does not account for the context around the game. In other words, it treats the overtime interception against the Giants in the NFC Championship game in 2008 the same as if the game were in September. I don't blame him for not wanting that to have been his last play.

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6 Responses to “Thanks for the Memories, Brett”

  1. Ian says:

    Being nitpicky, but his best play 1-10-OWN 8, pass for 82 yards, TOUCHDOWN doesn't add up to a whole field length. A TD from your own 8 is a 92 yard play.

  2. Ian says:

    Sorry for the double post but thinking out loud, in terms of trying to account for the context around a game is it possible to build in some kind of 'probability of winning Superbowl' algorithm by taking the probability a team has of winning the Superbowl given their record at the time i.e. costing your team the game in the first week of the season isn't as important as doing so when you are 9-6 heading into the last game of the season, but costing your team the win when you're 14-0 will have pretty much no effect as you're already in the playoffs.

  3. Brian Burke says:

    Thanks. That should read OWN 18.

  4. Brian Burke says:

    Ian-Yes. I did almost exactly that during the playoffs/Super Bowl last year when trying to identify the "play of the year." It's easy to calculate during the playoffs, but during the year, the significance of each game is uncertain until the end of the year.

  5. Ian says:

    Brian- Thanks for the reply. I know that it's impossible to model the exact significance of each game, but I had a look at game results for the past 7 seasons recently to see whether there is a trend in records and their probability of making the playoffs (of course, sometimes worse records end up making the playoffs see San Diego / New England last season). It seems as though there does seem to be an applicable table that would model the probability of a team making the playoffs given their record, but this wouldn't be able to model a player blowing a game when their team is 9-6 and needs to win to make the playoffs any more differently than a team that is 9-6 but cannot possibly make the playoffs, in which case it wouldn't matter what the players did.

    Looking at the data and just using raw numbers (no smoothing), and assuming two idenitical plays that have 0.5 WPA, increasing the WP from 0.25 to 0.75.
    In instance one, a team is 9-5 (the probability of a 10-5 making the playoffs is ~95%, and a 9-6 team has ~50%). The playoff-prbability added (PPA) by the play is then around 23%.
    In the second instance, a team is 1-1 (probability of making playoffs from 2-1 is ~50% and from 1-2 ~27%). In this case the play has a PPA of 12%.
    It's not a perfect system as it doesn't feature last-game scenarios, but it could be used to help with 'play of the year' decisions, depending on how 'play of the year' is defined.

  6. Thomas says:

    Stats don't do these justice. Stats don't show his reads, the blocking, the receiver's routes, audibles, etc. For example, you have his 11/6/00 pass to Antonio Freeman and say how it was a 43 yard touchdown pass to win in overtime. But that doesn't say anything about how Freeman caught it off the tip after already landing on his back out of attempt to get it before the tip. It actually was a bad play on Favre's part, but probably Freeman's best ever plays to make the catch and save Favre after he had thrown it into coverage and had it tipped. Several of those plays were just great plays by the receiver/line and a good throw from Favre. Those all were great plays that you have, but they weren't necessarily his greatest plays.

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