How Does Tebow Compare Statistically with Every 2013/2014 NFL (Playoff) Team?


Five simple charts provide rare clarity on Tim Tebow’s place in the NFL.  Using 2013 NFL regular season game data, Tebow’s performance is ranked against every NFL team, with an emphasis on playoff berths.


Why is a physicist writing about Tebow?  Well, this physicist is a sports fan, and a HUGE Tebow fan.  I’ve seen every snap he’s taken since he began college, and my family and I spent time with him a few years ago in Tampa.  The current state of the Tebow debate has frustrated me to no end.  I was happy enough waiting for somebody else to make the following case, but it never happened.  So reluctantly, I compiled and crunched the numbers as a physicist does.  The results were so obvious, that I felt obligated to write this article sharing these data that conflict so strongly with conventional wisdom; people don’t know what they think they know.

Tim Tebow, with an abysmally low completion %, made the playoffs; it happened. Hand-waving explanations ranging from Denver’s defense to divine intervention have been discussed. Most of these are anecdotal, subjective, and easily dismissed by anybody with a differing opinion (e.g. everyone with a television). There has been one outstanding analysis done by Cold Hard Football Facts using their Real QBR metric (see here and also here), but it requires readers to be fairly comfortable with numbers in order to fully appreciate the case being made. Instead, this article features five straightforward charts comparing Tebow’s average game performance to every team during the 2013 NFL season for a few simply understood statistics.  The strength of the relationship between these statistics and making the playoffs will be obvious to all but the very slowest of learners; remember that for all five charts, green bars are playoff teams and better performance is to the left…then see where Tebow ranks (he’s the blue bar).


The first chart (Figure 1) shows team completion % for 2013. This inevitably comes to the forefront in every Tebow discussion, and is also often the last word. You’ll see that playoff teams generally have a better completion % (with some notable exceptions), and Tebow is completely to the right, with a ridiculously low value. If Figure 1 told the whole story, Denver’s 2011 playoff berth was nothing short of a miracle. This chart illustrates the lion’s share of the reasoning behind so many of the ubiquitous absolutely certain public declarations that Tebow has no business playing QB in the NFL. Figures 2 through 5 illustrate why completion % is an incomplete, superficial, and misleading measure.  This is the point in this story where readers who already know everything might want to stop reading.


Figure 2 shows the passing yards per pass attempt (NOT per completion). This statistic clearly correlates with playoff berths, and correlates better than completion %.  When a player has simultaneously high passing yards per attempt AND low completion %, it tells you that he was taking more (inherently lower percentage) shots down the field than most other teams. Anybody who watched Tebow in Denver knows this. There’s little doubt that Tebow’s completion % would have been higher had he attempted a more usual number of short passes. One might also wonder if it matters. Regardless of how uncomfortable some readers may now feel, Tebow making the playoffs is no surprise when considering where he falls on this chart.


Figure 3 shows interceptions per attempt; here Tebow excels. Again, teams that made the playoffs in 2013 had far better values than non-playoff teams. This is a far more fair comparison than simply counting interceptions because it doesn’t penalize teams that throw more often (“per attempt” does not benefit Tebow, and he still shines). Tebow was careful with the ball, and although it may have cost him some completions, it protected him from throwing interceptions. It’s worth noting here that many highlights used to illustrate Tebow’s passing inaccuracy, were actually intentionally (and legally) grounded. He was taught to “beach it” if he saw the defense approaching his target (you can watch John Fox talking about this here).


Interceptions per completion (Figure 4) is a combination of how careful a QB is with the ball, QB accuracy, and decision-making. As with the other charts, playoff teams are noticeably better here than non-playoff teams. As before, Tebow’s performance here is playoff caliber.  A merely inaccurate QB would err in throwing closer to a defender as often as away from him, giving him no advantage on this chart.

The statistics discussed above all strongly coincide with the likelihood of a team’s making the playoffs, and yet completion % virtually guarantees that Tebow would be the last quarterback to ever make the playoffs; this not only differs from the other (more strongly correlating) metrics mentioned, but also with NFL playoff history. The mismatch between Tebow’s playoff berth and the traditional view of completion % is understandably bewildering. However, with a little thought, it becomes less so. Anybody who has watched Tebow play understands that he often runs when traditional QBs might throw a check-down pass. By keeping the ball and running instead of throwing a check-down, Tebow accomplishes two things. First, he extends plays, creating opportunities for longer passing routes to develop while simultaneously forcing defenses to choose between covering a pass and a run. Second, he isn’t attempting the high percentage throws that tend to inflate a non-running QB’s completion %. What if Tebow’s rushes were reasonably considered as completed check-downs? How would that alternative completion % rank? This is similar to the thinking used by the Cold Hard Football Facts Real QBR analysis.


Figure 5 shows Tebow’s alternative completion % fitting in perfectly with most playoff caliber teams (>60%). If readers are questioning whether or not this treatment is legitimate, they should consider the following. If it is legitimate, history and statistics live in perfect, predictable harmony, where playoff expectations are met; there is no magic or mystery interfering with the NFL postseason. On the other hand, if it is not legitimate, readers must accept historical playoff anomalies, and justify these bizarre aberrations with unmistakable statistical cherry-picking. There is only one intellectually consistent option…that Tebow played well enough to bring a team into the playoffs.

The figures considered above reveal that Tebow has proven himself to be not only an NFL caliber QB, but very likely a playoff caliber NFL QB. He did so in his first 16 NFL starts, after the NFL lockout, without having previously practiced with the first team, in a new and predictable offense cobbled together mid-season, with inexperienced WRs among the league leaders in drops, on the second worst team from the prior year, led by the guy who coached the worst team the year before, and under media scrutiny typically reserved for celebrity murderers. On the other hand, and to be fair, Tony Sparano couldn’t find a way to use him effectively…so there’s that.

Remarkably, this playoff caliber performance IS THE MOST INEXPERIENCED AND RAW THAT TEBOW WILL EVER BE AT QB! He’s just spent an entire season outside of the NFL, working solely on his mechanics and footwork with Tom House (a guy who works with Tom Brady and Drew Brees). Even once detractor Trent Dilfer has been impressed by and has endorsed the new and improved Tebow (a playoff caliber NFL QB is now new and improved!). And yet, Tebow’s sitting at home while the teams who proudly (and comically) turned their noses up at the thought of signing him miss the playoffs, fire their coaches and GMs, and consider taking the college QB flavor-of-the-month with their well-deserved choice draft picks instead of on a position with less bust potential. Tebow is undeniably worthy to start at QB in the NFL, and many teams would instantly improve by signing him.  The real question is if the four horsemen of obstinance (i.e. groupthink, risk-aversion, pride, and cognitive dissonance) will prove too great a foe to reason; I pray for reason’s triumph.



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10 Responses to “How Does Tebow Compare Statistically with Every 2013/2014 NFL (Playoff) Team?”

  1. Bigfan says:

    Good stuff!!

  2. Bigfan says:

    Indeed! On another note Ryan Mallet traded to the Texans for a 6th round pick.

  3. Brandi says:

    This is the type of stuff that simply convinces people of their position. To Tebow Fans it’s evidence that he’s getting a raw deal and a bad rap. To those who don’t like him it’s simply proof Tebow Fans will come up with any way of spinning things.

    The Anti-Tebowists have ignored Sports Illustrated making the statistical case that Tim is a Playoff caliber QB. There’s no stats that will mean anything to them.

    To 90+% of Football Fans, watching what Tim did on the Field when given the chance is their evidence he should at least get a chance. Until Fans see him on the Field leading a Team for a sustained period of time and see him fail to Win Games, nothing will convince them he doesn’t belong there. To that small minority who don’t like Tim or his Fans who want to say the NFL can do no wrong (Unless it’s something they care about that they disagree with) his not being on the Field is their evidence he never should have been there in the first place.

    • ck says:

      Brandi: And we know they are WRONG A LOT!!! Mascot Army has nothing but the F-A-C-T-S!!! Glad he continues to prove the PC LIARS WRONG!!!

      • Brandi says:

        Hi CK–For some time I ticked off some of Tim’s Fans by saying Stand Up and fight. (basically) That his not being in the league is not about not being good enough. It’s not about style of Play…his style of Play is gradually becoming a standard. It’s not about mechanics or anything at all Football related.

        It’s about the NFL thinking it costs them nothing to keep him out of the league. Everybody with a working brain wave knows it costs them something. Some who would be Fans if Tim was Playing but not if he isn’t. And apparently the NFL is perfectly OK with that. But thinking it doesn’t cost them Fans they already had. In essence, Tim Tebow is NOT more popular than them. (Like little boys stomping their feet and throwing a tantrum.)

        Goodell and the Owners know Tim’s good for the league. But they haven;t been willing to give the little boys having their tantrum a good spanking over Tim and his Fans.

        Because they think the Fans they already had they’ll keep anyway. Yeah, over 90% of the Fans think Tim should be a starting NFL QB. But so what? We’re the NFL. They eat what we put before them and tell them to like it. And the Owners think they will. At least enough so as to not bother having a fight with the little boys throwing a tantrum.

        If it doesn’t cost them, they’re not doing anything about it. Anybody here…anybody. Tell me any other league where a massive following of Fans is called a “circus”. Find it. It doesn’t exist. Because Professional Sports Leagues live off those followings of Fans and the more the better. Name another Pro league where standing up for the Fans is cause for consternation. There isn’t one. EXCEPT for the NFL. This is NOT a Tim Tebow Quarterback thing and it never has been. It’s not an ability thing and it never has been. It’s little boys throwing tantrums because people like Timmy more than them. And Mom and Dad aren’t going to do anything about it unless the Fans prove they like Timmy more in ways that hurt.

        I’ve called for Tim’s Fans to stand up for a very simple reason. Because if the largest bloc of Followers the NFL has ever seen, with a Player who has a pretty darn impressive record of winning can be shut down…put in their place…that’s the end of NFL Fans. The NFL would have just proven there is nothing they can do to the Fans that will get cause a backlash. And if there’s one thing the NFL should have proven to people by now it’s that if they think they can get away with something they’ll do it. They threatened to sue churches and created phony medical studies. There is absolutely no low that is beneath them. And if the Fans say there’s no low that’s beneath them as well? UGH.

        • ck says:

          Hi Brandi! Your points are all valid and guess what happened to “Baseball” when the fans had enough?!! They can’t get the so called fans to the stadiums in some cases; i.e., look at JAX w/free beer…And that is kinda desperate!

  4. BroncofanDK says:

    This is an excellent input. As a fan of what Tebow did for my beloved Broncos, I find it tragic that he has not gotten playing time to show neither the ones seeing a young promising QB nor the ones seeing an over-hyped talent devoid QB with a Tea-Party following, whether they were right or wrong.

    I believe in the IT factor being more important than Tebow’s insanely poor skills in throwing 1-10 yard passes (his completion percentage is exceptional on 30+ yard passes.

    My bet is that he would continue to bring teams into or close to the playoffs if he was a starter, and that he could mirror an Eli Manning or Joe Flacco. Players that have many critics, are inconsistent but rarely irrelevant.

  5. ck says:

    BroncofanDK: Sarcasm much? Think you have been here before…hmmmmmm! If it were not for Tebow having been your #1 starting QB that year you would not have had much to celebrate at ALL!!!

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