By Mitch Goldich
December 28, 2015

Welcome to Week 16 of “On the Numbers,” a weekly column that mines for statistical oddities and numerical fun facts from around the NFL.

On a week that saw Aaron Rodgers get sacked eight times, Blair Walsh outscore 13 teams by himself and Johnny Manziel run for 108 yards, there was plenty to track across the league.

Air Marshall

Brandon Marshall had a huge Sunday, with eight catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns, as the Jets upset the Patriots to give themselves inside position in the AFC wild-card race. Marshall is now up to 106 catches for 1,441 yards this year. The well-traveled receiver has never found a permanent home, but he’s been productive in all of his stops. Earlier this season Marshall became the first player ever to reach 1,000 yards receiving with four different teams.

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Sunday he set an actual record, vagabond or not, becoming the first player ever with six 100-catch seasons. He was already the first player ever with 100-catch seasons for two different franchises, now he’s also the first player with three, even before anyone else got to two. That means Jerry Rice didn’t catch 100 balls in Oakland, or Randy Moss in New England, or Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta, or Wes Welker in Denver and the list goes on.

This year Marshall added a new wrinkle by virtue of having Ryan Fitzpatrick throw to him all season. He’s the first player to catch 100 balls in a season with three different primary quarterbacks.

Here are the nine players with at least three seasons of 100 catches, broken down by team and quarterback:

Brandon Marshall 6 Broncos/Bears/Jets Cutler(4), Orton(1), Fitzpatrick(1)
Andre Johnson 5 Texans Schaub (4), Carr (1)
Wes Welker 5 Patriots Brady (4), Cassel (1)
Marvin Harrison 4 Colts Manning (4)
Jerry Rice 4 49ers Young (3), Montana (1)
Reggie Wayne 4 Colts Manning (3), Luck (1)
Antonio Brown 3 Steelers Roethlisberger (3)
Herman Moore 3 Lions Mitchell (3)
Larry Fitzgerald 3 Cardinals Warner (2), Palmer (1)

It’s true that Marshall built up a chemistry with Jay Cutler that spanned his stints in both Denver and Chicago. But it seems he can still pull in 100 catches wherever you put him and whoever you have throwing him the ball.

• ​Complete coverage of NFL Week 16: News, highlights, injuries, more

Running routs

The Cardinals have won nine in a row, and thanks to losses by the Panthers, Steelers and Seahawks they’ve taken over the mantle as “hot team nobody wants to face right now.” That label may even be underselling them, as there are people who have said for weeks that they are the best and most complete team in football.

All they did to prove it was beat the Packers 38–8. The win was Arizona’s most lopsided since Week 3, in a season where blowouts have been the norm. The Cardinals have now won six games by more than three touchdowns.

2 at Bears 48–23 25
3 vs. 49ers 47–7 40
5 at Lions 42–17 25
13 at Rams 27–3 24
15 at Eagles 40–17 23
16 vs. Packers 38–8 30

As you can see, they’ve been beating up on the weaker part of their schedule. The Packers are the only team on that list with a winning record or a playoff berth. The combined record of those teams is 39–51 and the first five are just 29–46.

But you can’t fault the Cardinals for that, as they’ve still taken care of business—not by just winning games but dismantling their opponents.

And of course you know the “Any Given Sunday” cliché and all that. The Bears beat the Chiefs early in the season, the 49ers beat the Vikings, the Lions beat the Packers, the Rams just beat the Seahawks and the Eagles beat the Patriots. So any of those teams are capable of upsetting a playoff team, and yet the Cardinals bludgeoned them all by more than three touchdowns.

The Cardinals are the eighth team in the Super Bowl era to win six games by at least 22 points, and five of the previous seven went on to win the whole thing:

Rams 1999 8 13–3 Won Super Bowl
Vikings 1988 7 11–5 Lost divisional round
Packers 1996 7 13–3 Won Super Bowl
Patriots 2014 7 12–4 Won Super Bowl
Redskins 1991 6 14–2 Won Super Bowl
49ers 1994 6 13–3 Won Super Bowl
Patriots 2012 6 12–4 Lost AFC title game
Cardinals 2015 6 13–2 TBD

It can be tough to look through trends and patterns and figure out exactly the best indicators of playoff success. But teams capable of dominating their opponents this frequently seem to do pretty well for themselves.

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Feats of strength

Have you noticed Julio Jones seems to have a habit of taking over games? You probably have. He did it again on Sunday with nine catches for 178 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ upset over the previously undefeated Panthers. The key play was his 70-yard touchdown catch, where Matt Ryan simply tossed one up and let Jones leap and make a play on the ball over a defender.

This was Jones’s fourth time going over 160 yards this season—a full quarter of the schedule. Since 1960, Roy Green is the only player with more 160-yard games in one season. And the other guys to do it four times are either Hall of Famers, Calvin Johnson or Isaac Bruce.

Roy Green 1984 St. Louis Cardinals 5
Lance Alworth* 1965 Chargers 4
Lance Alworth* 1968 Chargers 4
Isaac Bruce 1995 St. Louis Rams 4
Calvin Johnson 2012 Lions 4
Don Maynard* 1968 Jets 4
Jerry Rice* 1995 49ers 4

*Hall of Famer

Granted, 160 yards is a pretty arbitrary total. But it’s a good measure of a dominant day for a receiver—enough that one big play can’t totally skew the statistics. Just look at Jones’s Sunday: He had that huge 70-yard catch, but still topped 100 yards if you threw that one out. So I’ll keep using 160 as my convenient benchmark.

Jones is just 26 years old, but he’s already racked up eight games in his career with 160+ yards. Only 10 players since 1960 have done it more:

1 Jerry Rice* 49ers 22
2 Lance Alworth* Chargers 16
3 Terrell Owens Five teams 13
4 Isaac Bruce Rams 12
5 Calvin Johnson Lions 11
6 Henry Ellard Rams/Redskins 10
6 Torry Holt Rams 10
8 Don Maynard* Jets 9
8 Randy Moss Vikings/Patriots 9
8 Steve Smith Panthers/Ravens 9
11 Roy Green Cardinals 8
11 Charley Hennigan Oilers 8
11 Andre Johnson Texans 8
11 James Lofton* Packers/Bills 8
11 Julio Jones Falcons 8

Jones has a long way to go to catch Jerry Rice, but you can see he’s already just one game behind Randy Moss and Steve Smith.

And he’s already surpassed guys like Anquan Boldin (6), Michael Irvin (6), Reggie Wayne (6), Marvin Harrison (5), DeSean Jackson (5) and Larry Fitzgerald (3).

Jones has the speed to spring for the huge play and the size to be a target machine, and the deadly combo means he can post monster single-game receiving totals like few other players the league has seen.

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Great moments in Vegas

There were so many good, exciting, meaningful games in Week 16 that a couple games flew a little under the radar, like Bills-Cowboys and Bears-Buccaneers.

Week 16 didn’t provide too much drama for the gamblers out there, with a few blowouts and a couple double-digit favorites (Seahawks and Steelers) both laying eggs. But the Bills and Bucs provided us with some drama from a pure gambling perspective.

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The Bills closed at -6.5 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, and elsewhere. They led this barnburner rematch of Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII by a whopping 9–6 with less than three minutes left in the game. A field goal would have extended the lead, but only a touchdown would have salted away the game and enabled them to cover the spread.

Enter Mike Gillislee, the Bills’ little-used running back who had just 14 carries on the season coming into the game. Gillislee took it 50 yards to the house with 2:25 left on the clock, bringing the game to its 16–6 final score, and giving the Bills not just a win but a cover as well.

Then there are the Bucs, who helped author one of the worst bad beats of the season. Tampa was a three point favorite against the Bears at the Westgate, with a total that closed at 43.5. A Bears field goal made it 26–14 with 1:07 in the fourth quarter. The Bucs needed two touchdowns to miraculously win the game, but just one to push the total over that 43.5 line. So of course Jameis Winston threw a Hail Mary into the end zone while down by 12, and of course Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught it for the touchdown with just a single second left on the clock. Final: Bears 26, Bucs 21, over 43.5.

Running backward

Poor Charles Woodson. Sure, the Raiders won his last home game in the Black Hole, and sent him off into the sunset with chants and cheers and a celebratory heartfelt speech. But not everything went according to plan.

With the Raiders in the red zone in overtime, they snuck him into the game on offense and gave him the ball with an option to pass. Finding nobody open, Woodson ate the ball and ended up taking a loss of three yards.

After 253 games across 18 years, Woodson now has exactly one rushing attempt for -3 yards.

He may get some offensive snaps in the Raiders’ Week 17 game against the Chiefs, especially if he’s motivated to get on the positive side of the ledger. But otherwise he’ll be left with a permanent blemish on his otherwise spotless, Canton-worthy statistical record.

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Woodson is hardly the first player with negative career rushing yards. There are 293 players who are even further in the hole than he is, according to the database at Pro Football Reference. And at -3 yards, he’s tied on the all-time rushing list with guys like Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, his own teammate Amari Cooper and quarterbacks like Ryan Nassib and Graham Harrell.

He’s nowhere close to the all-time “record” holder, Hall of Fame Bears quarterback Sid Luckman. Luckman had 204 career carries for -239 yards. Although the top 10 all played in the 1940s, when it appears sacks were counted as negative rushing yards.

The “leader” since 1960 is Mike Mercer, a kicker and punter with three career rushing attempts (all negative) including a -32 yard play in 1961.

The active player with the most negative rushing yards is Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, who has been credited with nine rushing attempts for -26 yards.

Obviously this is all just in good fun. Many of the players with that many negative rushing yards have “attempts” in name only—they’re really broken plays and botched special teams snaps. But still, Woodson could be part of the illustrious group with negative career rushing yardage.

Should he end up in Canton, which most people assume he will, here’s a list Woodson would join of Hall of Famers with negative career rushing yards, again based on the numbers at Pro Football Reference:

Sid Luckman QB Bears 1939–50 204 -239
Deion Sanders CB 5 teams 1989–2005 9 -14
Rayfield Wright T Cowboys 1967–79 1 -10
Charlie Sanders TE Lions 1968–77 4 -6
Pete Pihos RE/DE Eagles 1947–55 9 -4

Prime Time! It’s true. Deion Sanders finished 1992 with one carry for -4 yards with the Falcons, finished 1997 with one carry for -11 yards with the Cowboys and finished 2004 with one carry for -10 yards with the Ravens. Fortunately he had a couple positive seasons to get him back to -14.

So when Woodson does prepare that Hall of Fame speech and analysts compare him to other great defensive backs, he can point to at least one area where he had a more prolific career than Sanders— rushing yards.

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