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What kind of season does Ben Roethlisberger need to make 2020 a successful comeback?

Currently the favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year for 2020, what would it take for Roethlisberger to bring home the award?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On last Thursday’s episode of Steelers Stat Geek, I was tackling the question submitted by a listener as to what sort of statistics Ben Roethlisberger would need in order to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2020. Currently the favorite to win the award according to most oddsmakers (although some have him tied with Rob Gronkowski), what type of seasoning would Ben Roethlisberger need in order to take home the individual hardware?

First and foremost, I have to give the disclaimer that winning this award is not ultimately important. It is not Ben Roethlisberger’s goal to win Comeback Player of the Year. But, if Ben Roethlisberger does win this award, it would be because he had a great season. And that is the goal.

When referencing Comeback Player of the Year, I will be referring to the award given by the Associated Press. It has been given by the AP from 1963 to 1966 and every year since 1998. Although the Pro Football Writers have been giving the award since 1972, we will focus on merely the ones since AP got back into handing out the award for the first time since the ‘60s.

One thing is for sure, Ben Roethlisberger has a chance to make history in 2020. If he were to win NFL Comeback Player the Year and lead the Steelers to their seventh Super Bowl win, he would be the first quarterback to do both in the same season. The only player who has won AP Comeback Player the Year in the same year their team won the Super Bowl was Rob Gronkowski in 2014.

What kind of numbers would it take for Rothlisberger to get the award? In order to break it down, I looked at the last five quarterbacks to win Comeback Player the Year. They were:

2019 Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
2018 Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
2013 Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
2012 Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
2011 Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Michael Vick won the award in 2010, but since he did not play in all 16 games his stats could possibly throw off the exercise. Granted Ryan Tannehill did not play in all 16 games either this past season, but since he is the most recent award winner he needs to be included.

So here is a breakdown of some key stats from each winner during the season in which they receive the award.

Comeback Player of the Year Stats

Player Record Comp/Att % comp Yards TDs INTs
Player Record Comp/Att % comp Yards TDs INTs
Ryan Tannehill 7-3 201/286 70.3 2742 22 6
Andrew Luck 10-6 430/639 67.3 4593 39 15
Philip Rivers 9-7 378/544 69.5 4478 32 11
Peyton Manning 13-3 400/583 68.6 4659 37 11
Matthew Stafford 10-6 421/663 63.5 5038 41 16

Of course, all of these players had a winning record. But there are some other similarities and differences when it comes to the award given to these five players. First of all, both Ryan Tannehill and Philip Rivers received the award in a season where they played the majority of the games the previous year. Basically, they were given the award based on elevated performance. With Tannehill, who missed five games the previous season, it came by switching teams from the Miami Dolphins and leading the Titans to the playoffs after taking over in Week 7 from Marcus Mariota. But for Philip Rivers, he won the comeback player of the year with a 9–7 record after going 7-9 the previous season. Both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck won the award after missing the entire season the previous year while Matthew Stafford only played in three games the year before.

Another interesting similarity with most of these players are four of them were selected to the Pro Bowl. Peyton Manning was also voted All-Pro in 2012 when he won Comeback Player of the Year. The only player who did not make the Pro Bowl the year he won the award was Matthew Stafford who threw for more touchdowns and yards than any of the other players on this list.

One thing all of these players have in common are they lead their teams to the postseason the year they were chosen as NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

If looking at the statistics of these five players combined, the first thing which has to be done is to adjust Ryan Tannehill‘s to account for the fact he only started 10 games. For this exercise, his season totals were adjusted for 16 games based on a calculation from what he had done in the 10 he played.

Averaging the stats of all five players would equate to the following performance:

10.5 Wins
390/577 completions/attempts
67.4 % completion rate
4,631 passing yards
37 touchdowns
13 interceptions

So how have past seasons of Ben Roethlisberger compared to these numbers? When it comes to wins, he has eclipsed the mark five times (2004, 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2017). The only season where Roethlisberger had a higher completion rate than the average was in 2015 when he had a 68.0% rate. As for yards, Roethlisberger has only gone over 4,600 yards twice in his career which was in 2014 and 2018. While Roethlisberger has had plenty of seasons throwing less than 13 interceptions, the only one he did so where he played in 16 games was in 2014. And as many of you may know, Roethlisberger has never thrown more than 34 touchdowns in any given season.

After doing all the work and digging up the stats and averaging everything else, what the numbers ultimately tell me is that most of these numbers will not ultimately determine if Roethlisberger is worthy of winning NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

What is the most important of all these numbers?

WINS

Ultimately, Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t need to light the world on fire in 2020. He doesn’t need to pad his stats in order to take home the individual trophy. What he ultimately needs to do is stay healthy and play the entire season while leading the Steelers to victory and into the playoffs. If he does this, he will be a very strong candidate to win the award.

To listen to the Steelers Stat Geek podcats which addressed this question as well as what it would take for any of the other players on the Steelers to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2020, the show is available below.