The passer rating system is too convoluted because it's impossible for somebody with pen and paper to figure out. It's much easier to accurately figure a baseball player's batting average if you have his stats or a pitcher's ERA. But try to calculate what a passer rating is and the average fan might as well be taking a Portuguese spelling test.
In football, the team concept wins out – not the individual stars topping the charts. With one notable exception. Quarterbacks.
Of the 12 teams that qualified for the 2011 playoffs, they have some sketchy histories if you believe the numbers the NFL uses as the standard baseline – yards. By that standard, the best team in the NFL is San Diego. Somehow the Chargers finished 9-7, yet had the NFL's top-rated offense and defense. Both! How is that possible? Because the NFL uses a standard of yardage in determining who's hot and who's not.
By their own standards, the No. 1 seed in the NFC – the Atlanta Falcons – are the 16th best team in the NFL. The rationale is too simple to argue. They have the 16th-ranked offense and the 16th-ranked defense. However, when you have a record of 13-3, you don't have to slow your roll for anybody.
Bears have the No. 2 seed in the NFC, yet they "boast" the 30th-ranked offense in the league – only Arizona and Carolina were worse. The Patriots have the league's best record at 14-2. However, by NFL standards, they have the 25th-ranked defense. The teams that are worse? Arizona (a recurring theme that should get Kurt Warner put in the Hall of Fame ahead of schedule), Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington. The only one of those in the playoffs is Seattle and they have no business being close. Does that mean the 14-2 Patriots should get done in their first game? Not likely.
You win games by rushing the ball, right? Not necessarily. Of the top 13 rushers in the NFL, only four (Jamaal Charles, Michael Turner, Rashard Mendenhall and Ray Rice) are in the playoffs. The other nine have their seasons done with.
O.K., so the NFL is more of a passing game? Not if you go by the numbers. A total of 17 receivers have 1,000 or more yards. Of those, 10 of them were on non-playoff teams, including league leader Brandon Lloyd, who amassed 1,448 yards.
When it comes to quarterback rankings, it's a sketchy scale set on the improbable baseline of 158.3. What? Not base 10. Not on a scale of 1-100. No. It's based on a scale of 158.3 to be the ideal quarterback. Can we assume that the guy who came up with that scale and those parameters was never exactly a Casanova with the ladies? He spent a lot of time alone crunching numbers. But, he got it right.
One could pretty much figure out who was in the playoffs without watching a game by simply looking at the 2010 passer ratings. Nine of the top 12 quarterbacks in terms of passer rating are in the playoffs – including four of the top five and six of the top eight. Perhaps the league has to get the Geek Patrol working on complicated, supercomputer data to find ways to equate team effectiveness by something other than yardage. The results don't back up the data. As convoluted and arcane as the passer rating system is, there isn't much arguing the reality. The best team in the league (New England) is in the bottom quarter in terms of team defense – and they're 14-2. The Bears have a first-round bye and have the third-worst offense in the league. It makes no sense, yet, until the NFL finds a way to combine factors like turnovers, sacks and big plays into ranking offenses, the numbers will mean nothing.
What makes the passer rating so effective? You get credit if you don't screw up too bad. If you threw one pass and it was incomplete, you have a career passer rating of 39.6 – pretty brutal, but you're on the grid. Only one player had a perfect passer rating and only one had a rating of 0.0 – and both have hyphens in their names. The good? Antwaan Randle-El of the Steelers, who completed both of the passes he threw for 42 yards and both went for touchdowns. The only 0.0 came from running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who threw one pass that was intercepted.
As complex as the passer rating system is, it achieves its purpose. Get on it, nerd community. Football needs a team ranking system that accurately helps to rank teams and individual players like quarterbacks are ranked. Somewhere, a homebound guy with severe acne is going to change the NFL by cracking the code of weighting variables to come up with the secret to success in the NFL. Keep working, buddy. We need you.