Do the stats matter in the preseason?  Most (or at least many) of them were compiled by players that won’t even be on the teams come the regular season.  Due to risk of injury and the need to evaluate the roster starters tend to see very little action in the preseason and yet get just about all the snaps in the regular season.  So, at best, really, preseason stats can give us perhaps a glimpse of the depth the team has (which is a critical part, given the frequency of injuries in the sport).  Still, the Saints defense has been very impressive in preseason, and I was wondering how much carry over there is from preseason stats to regular season stats.  All stats were from the official nfl.com website.

(Since Brees didn’t play much in the preseason and since the Saints have been consistently good offensively during his tenure, the focus here will strictly be on defensive stats.  I’m confident the Saints offense will be fine as long as Brees is the quarterback.)

With that disclaimer, let’s look at the stats.  Saints were ranked #2 in yards per game allowed.  Here is your top 5:

Baltimore: 206.2
New Orleans: 235.5
Cleveland: 245.0
LA Rams: 270.8
Denver: 271.0

Okay, stop the presses.  Cleveland and LA is also on that list?  I mean, Baltimore and Denver, great, but you’re on the same list with Cleveland and the Rams?

Passing yards allowed per game:

Baltimore: 139.5
Denver: 153.2
Washington: 158
New Orleans: 161.2
Cincinnati: 164.2

Rushing yards allowed per game:

Baltimore: 66.8
Cleveland: 73.2
New Orleans: 74.2
Chicago: 75.8
Green Bay: 75.8

Sacks:

New Orleans: 17
NY Jets: 17
Cleveland: 16
Philadelphia: 16
Pittsburgh: 14

Opponent passer rating:

Baltimore: 51.8
Pittsburgh: 61.1
NY Jets: 65.5
Philadelphia: 66.7
Denver: 67.5
New Orleans: 68.0

Okay, so that’s enough information to see the Saints defense has been stellar.  The question now becomes, can we expect this to carry over to the regular season?  What does history tell us?  How have defensive stats in preseason carried over to the regular season in the past?  Rather than laboriously check every one of the stats provided above I’ll just focus on the total yardage allowed stat from the past couple years.

2016  – preseason top 5  (yards per game allowed)- regular season final ranking (yards per game allowed)

Green Bay – preseason #1 (219.5) – regular season #22 (363.9)
Tampa Bay – preseason #2 (237.8) – regular season #23 (367.9)
Detroit – preseason #3 (252.8) – regular season #18 (354.8)
Kansas City – preseason #4 (254.2) – regular season #24 (368.5)
Carolina – preseason #5 (257.8) – regular season #21 (359.8)

2016 – preseason bottom 5 (yards per game) – regular season (yards per game)

Cleveland – preseason #32 (374.2) – regular season #31 (392.4)
Dallas – preseason #31 (358.0) – regular season #14 (343.9)
New England – preseason #30 (351.0) – regular season #8 (326.4)
Pittsburgh – preseason #29 (347.0) – regular season #12 (342.6)
Tennessee – preseason #28 (345.8) – regular season #20 (357.5)

2015  – preseason top 5 – regular season final ranking

Dallas – preseason #1 (224.5) – regular season #17 (347.9)
Washington – preseason #2 (228.5) – regular season #28 (380.6)
Denver – preseason #3 (245.5) – regular season #1 (283.1)
Kansas City – preseason #4 (251.5) – regular season #7 (329.3)
Buffalo – preseason #5 (253.8) – regular season #19 (356.4)

2015  – preseason bottom 5 – regular season final ranking

Philadelphia #32 (401.2) – regular season #30 (401.6)
Tennessee #31 (372.8) – regular season #12 (342.2)
Baltimore #30 (362.2) – regular season #8 (337.4)
Pittsburgh #29 (352.8) – regular season #21 (363.1)
New Orleans #28 (352.8) – regular season #31 (413.4)

If we add up all the preseason top 5 teams for both years (10 teams in all) and find the average final regular season ranking we get 18.  So, the average final regular season ranking for preseason top 5 teams was 18.  If we do the same thing with the preseason bottom 5 teams for both years we get 18.7.  In other words, the average final regular season ranking for teams in the preseason top 5 was 18.7.  That’s not a lot of difference.

Conclusion

Preseason defensive rankings have no predictive value on how the team will finish in the regular season rankings.  Top 5 preseason teams the last 2 years have averaged only 18th in the regular season rankings whereas bottom 5 preseason teams have averaged 18.7th.  In 2015 Washington was preseason #2 and finished regular season #28, but that was the worst example of good in preseason/ bad in regular season.  Only 2 of the preseason top 5 finished the regular season top 10 (Denver and KC, both in 2015).  Aside from Washington’s #28 finish and Denver / KC’s top 10 finish, the rest of the preseason top 5 teams finished between #17 and #24.

Preseason top 5 (10 teams)
2 finished in top 10 regular season
7 finished 17 through 24
1 finished #28

Based on this analysis, odds are strong (70%) the Saints would finish the regular season somewhere between #17 and #24 in total yards allowed, small chance (20%) finishing top 10, and very small chance (10%) finishing #28 or worse.  Probably looking at average to slightly below average final ranking, which would be a definite improvement.

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