In this post I thought I would take a look at some key stats and try to determine how those stats correlate to winning percentage.  All stats from pfref.com, regular season from 2006-2016.

Sacks

First up will be sacks.  Based on my research, if you get 0 sacks you have a 29.4% chance to win the game.  Thus, getting at least 1 sack is very important for your chances of winning.  But just 1 sack isn’t really good enough.  Teams that got 1 sack in a game won only 37.9% of the time.  You need at least 2 sacks in a game to have a decent chance to win, and even then it’s only 47.5%.  Here is a complete breakdown:

0 sacks = 235-564-1 (.294)
1 sack = 503-825-3 (.379)
2 sacks = 641-708-3 (.475)
3 sacks = 560-389-1 (.590)
4 sacks = 419-202-1 (.622)
5+ sacks = 452-122-3 (.786)

For what it’s worth, I make the break even point to be about 2.1 sacks.  Fewer than 2.1 sacks and you have less than 50% chance of winning the game.  In 2016, the average team had 34.9 sacks, which comes to about 2.18 per game.

 

Takeaways

Takeaways include INT’s and defensive fumble recoveries.  Sacks lead sometimes directly to fumble recoveries (on sack/fumble plays) and sometimes indirectly to INT’s (but never on the *same* play).

0 = 285-979-4 (.226)
1 = 718-1029-5 (.411)
2 = 814-549-2 (.597)
3 = 558-187 (.749)
4+ = 435-66-1 (.868)

Notice how you need somewhere between 1 and 2 takeaways (call it 1.37) to break even.  (The other guys are taking the ball away from you, too.)  Notice how 3 sacks gets you to 59% winning percentage and 2 takeaways do (nearly) the same (59.7%).

Total yardage margin

This is the number of yards by which you outgained your opponent.  It can obviously be a negative number in some games, but I’m only looking at the positive numbers in this little study.  You can easily figure the negative corresponding number by subtracting the positive percentage from 100%.  For example, the percentage of winning when outgaining the opponent by somewhere between 1 and 50 total yards is 54.2%, which means if you get outgained by 1 to 50 yards your chance of winning would be 100% – 54.2% = 45.8%.  Here is the breakdown:

Outgain opponent by…

25-50 yards = 262-194-1 (.574)
51-100 yards = 496-245-1 (.669)
101-150 yards = 400-144-3 (.734)
151-200 yards = 277-57-1 (.828)
201-250 yards = 135-26 (.839)
251+ yards = 99-8 (.925)

Conclusion

The break even points are interesting to me.  Break even point for sacks is somewhere between 2 and 3, call it 2.1.  Break even point for takeaways is about 1.37.  Break even for net total yardage is obviously 0.  So, 2.1 sacks is worth about 1.37 takeaways in terms of getting to the break even point (50% chance to win).

If you want to get to 60% winning percentage, you need to get to 3-4 sacks, 2 takeaways, or outgain the opponent by somewhere between 40 and 50 yards.  The average for 25-50 is 57.4%, but the upper end of that range (closer to 50 yards) is better than 60%.  (When I query 40 to 50 total yardage margin I get 60.4% winning percentage.)

To get to 75% you need 5 sacks (5 sacks exactly gets you to 74.6%), 3 takeaways, or outgain your opponent by more than 100 yards (but probably less than 150 yards is necessary).

 

Today I thought I’d look at home records versus road records (2006-2016) and try to figure out which teams took the best advantage of being at home.  Notice, this is not about which team was the best home team, but rather which team was “more better” at home than it was on the road.  (Bad teams were welcome to apply.)  Here’s how I went about it: I brought up the home records from 2006-2016, then brought up the road records, and then subtracted the road records from the home records to get what I’m calling the home advantage.  All data is from pfref.com.

Here is the table of data, sorted by home advantage:

team home record road record home advantage
BAL 0.739 0.432 0.307
SEA 0.693 0.426 0.267
MIN 0.625 0.358 0.267
ARI 0.642 0.398 0.244
HOU 0.602 0.398 0.204
JAX 0.443 0.25 0.193
PIT 0.727 0.534 0.193
SFO 0.574 0.386 0.188
GNB 0.744 0.557 0.187
DET 0.466 0.284 0.182
SDG 0.636 0.466 0.17
CIN 0.608 0.443 0.165
CLE 0.375 0.216 0.159
BUF 0.489 0.341 0.148
ATL 0.614 0.477 0.137
IND 0.705 0.568 0.137
NWE 0.852 0.716 0.136
CAR 0.568 0.46 0.108
DEN 0.636 0.534 0.102
NOR 0.625 0.523 0.102
NYJ 0.523 0.432 0.091
KAN 0.5 0.42 0.08
CHI 0.534 0.455 0.079
WAS 0.443 0.369 0.074
OAK 0.386 0.318 0.068
STL / LAR 0.341 0.278 0.063
TAM 0.409 0.352 0.057
MIA 0.466 0.409 0.057
TEN 0.489 0.432 0.057
NYG 0.557 0.534 0.023
PHI 0.545 0.528 0.017
DAL 0.568 0.58 -0.012

Only one team had a negative home advantage (meaning they had a better record on the road than at home), and that was Dallas.  But Dallas had a winning record both at home and on the road, so nothing to hang their heads about.

I really thought Denver would come out on top of this due to the altitude at Mile High Stadium.  It would have made a nice narrative, but alas, it wasn’t to be.  Baltimore took the trophy in this one.  They were an impressive 73.9% winners at home, but a lackluster 43.2% winner on the road.  (Gamblers take note: betting the Ravens as road favorites might not be a great idea.)

My Saints came in 20th (not great, but not horrible), but on the bright side, like Dallas, they also had winning records both at home and on the road.

For what it’s worth, the average team has a 13.28% better chance of winning at home than they do of winning on the road, or at least that’s the average home advantage according to these numbers and this way of looking at them.

NFL best advantage of being at home

How do you lead the league in TD’s scored and still have a losing record over the last 3 years?  That’s what I’ll be trying to figure out in this episode.  All stats courtesy of my go to site for stats, pfref.com.

All the stats I’ll be quoting in this post will be regular season stats for the 3 most recent seasons, 2014-2016, in which the Saints have gone 7-9 back-to-back-to-back.  As mentioned in the first sentence, the Saints scored the most TD’s of any team in the league (155 — tied with New England for #1).  How can you score that most TD’s and yet still have a losing record?  Answer: you also give up the most TD’s of any team in the league.

The Saints defense allowed 157 TD’s, most of any team in the league.  Next team on the list gave up 15 fewer TD’s (Tennessee with 142).  Cleveland, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, eat your hearts out, you can’t hang with the big dogs.

Another area the Saints were deficient in was field goals.  Saints made the 5th fewest number of field goals (65) and had 6th fewest attempts (82).  What’s more, the 79.27% field goal percentage was 4th worst in the league.  When you’re not attempting very many field goals and your percentage made is among the worst, you’re just not going to end up making all that many of them.  So, those are points left on the field in many cases despite having the top TD ranking.  But the Saints were 3rd overall in points scored, so that really doesn’t explain the issue.  And if you’re making TD’s it stands to reason you’re not going to be going for as many field goals.  It’s really the points allowed by the 32nd ranked scoring defense that has been the Saints undoing.  Despite being #3 in points scored, the Saints were -76 in total point differential, putting them #20 out of 32 teams, right about where you’d expect a 3x defending 7-9 team to be.

Let’s now turn our attention to yards per play.  The Saints were 2nd best on offense with 6.025 yards per play, but dead last on defense giving up 6.20 yards per play.  In addition to being really good in yards per play, the Saints also ran the 2nd most offensive plays and defended against the 10th fewest plays on defense.  (There goes the theory about the defense being on the field too much.)

Turnovers have been a problem for the Saints, but they’re really only slightly below average (tied for 19th fewest turnovers on offense).   Saints had 74 turnovers, 44 of which were INT’s (12th most).  The defense hasn’t done its part in the takeaway department to offset the offense’s giveaways: 60 takeaways in 3 years ties for 5th worst in the last 3 seasons.

So, why so few takeaways?  The conventional answer has become something of a mantra among Saints fans: “It’s the pass rush, stupid.”  (Borrowing presumably from Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid,” slogan.)  And if you think the pass rush is the problem, well, the stats back you up.  Saints had only 95 sacks in the last 3 years, tied for 5th fewest.  The 30 INT’s tie them for 2nd fewest with Chicago.  No sacks = no INT’s = not many takeaways = 7-9, 7-9, 7-9 despite racking up the yardage and TD’s on offense.  One more little nugget while on the subject:  the Saints are the only team that has allowed a cumulative 3-season opponent passer rating of 100+ (102.3).  While 102.3 FM might be a good spot to be on some local radio dials, it’s never a good spot to be when that’s your opponents’ combined passer rating.

Now let’s look at yardage margins before looking at a few situational stats.  Turnover margin = -14 = 8th worst.  Passing yardage margin = +1865 = 2nd best.  Rushing yardage margin = -771 = 7th worst.

A lot of fans are pooh poohing on the offensive numbers saying “garbage time”.  They say the Saints are piling up stats while losing games.  They say perception is reality, but sometimes perception is just perception.  Let’s look at a few situational stats to see if there’s any merit to the garbage time talk.

The first thing I want to do is compare the Saints offensive rankings in the 1st quarter versus the 4th quarter.  In drives that began in the 1st quarter the Saints scored 40 TD’s (4th best).  In drives that began in the 4th quarter the Saints scored 38 TD’s (2nd best).  Bear in mind these quarters are when the drives started.   Since a drive that starts in the 1st quarter can continue in the 2nd quarter whereas a drive that starts in the 4th quarter might be subject to having the clock expire, it stands to reason there will be more TD’s for those that start in the 1st quarter.  But if it was true the Saints were racking up stats in garbage time it should also follow that they would have had more 4th quarter TD’s than 1st quarter TD’s.

Now we turn to the scoreboard.  If the game is close I think we can ignore garbage stats as a possibility.  It’s really only when the Saints are down by a couple scores (call it 10+ points) and in the 2nd half that the garbage stat thing can possibly come into play.  So, let’s consider the offensive TD ranking in 1st half versus the offensive TD ranking in the 2nd half when down by 10+ points.  The Saints had 72 1st half TD’s (this is overall, regardless of scoreboard), which was the 3rd most 1st half TD’s (behind NE and GB).  Now we look at 2nd half TD’s scored while down by 10+ points.  Saints had 28 TD’s (2nd most) and a TD percentage of 35.9% (3rd best).  So, they did score some points when behind late, but they scored a lot of points in the first half, too.  The bottom line is they scored a lot of points no matter the situation.  Just for fun, let’s look at 2nd half up by 10+ point scores:  13 TD’s (14th best), but they didn’t get too many of those opportunities being 7-9 x 3.  If we look at TD’s per drive opportunity when up by 10 or more in the 2nd half: 30.2% TD rate was 3rd best in the league.

The bottom line is the garbage stat angle is just not supported by the stats.  Yes, the Saints do score some TD’s when down big on the scoreboard, but they’re scoring TD’s all the time regardless of the scoreboard.  I think the perception is just a perception because we’re accustomed to seeing the Saints behind on the scoreboard and scoring TD’s in games, and since it tends to confirm what we already believe we know (what the psychologists might call confirmation bias) we pay more heed to it than it actually merits.  Show me some stats to back up the garbage stats claim, and then I’ll start taking it seriously.

In conclusion, the problem is the defense, not the offense.  The offense is scoring points right up there with the best in the league.  The problem is the defense getting gashed, primarily because of a lack of a pass rush and/or poor coverage in the secondary.  No sacks = no INT’s, but likewise no coverage on the back end = no sacks on the front end, too.  Can the Saints get better offensively?  Of course they can, anybody can improve, but the biggest room for improvement by far is on the defensive side of the ball.

NFL touchdowns scored 2014-2016

In this blog entry I decided to just touch upon some of the 2006-2016 stats, as in which team had the most [insert stat here].   All stats are from pfref.com (regular season only).  I’ll give the top few teams, the bottom few teams, and where the Saints were ranked for each of these stats.

Which team had the best record?  That would be New England.  Patriots won 138 games.  2nd was Green Bay with 114.  Indy, Pit, Denver,  Baltimore, New Orleans (7th place), Dallas, Seattle, and San Diego round out the top 10.  Saints were one of eight teams with 100+ wins.  Cleveland was the worst with only 52 wins. Browns, Rams, Jags, Raiders, Lions, Bucs, Skins, and Bills were the 8 franchises with 100+ losses.

Which team scored the most points?  That would be New England (5217).  Saints came in 2nd with 4849 points.   Green Bay, San Diego, and Philly round out the top 5.  Bottom of the barrel was the Rams (2994), the only team with fewer than 3000 points.  Rams, Raiders, Jags, and Bucs round out the bottom 5.

Which team gave up the most points?  That would be Detroit (4462).  Rounding out the “top” 5: Raiders, Rams, Jags, and Saints.  “Bottom” 5: Steelers, Patriots, Ravens, Seahawks, and Bengals.

Which team had the highest scoring games (both teams’ combined scores)?  That would be the Saints.  Hey!  Saints made #1.  Ooh yeah!  Average points scored in all Saints games in these 11 years was 51.42.  Rounding out the top 5: New England, Green Bay, Philly, and San Diego.  (Interestingly, the top 6 teams in this category all had winning records.  Only team in the top 12 with a losing record: Detroit.)  Lowest scoring games: Browns, Rams, Ravens, Niners, and Chiefs.  Only team in the bottom 6 with a winning record was Baltimore.

Which team had the best point differential (outscored their opponents by the most average points)?  That would be New England.  Rounding out the top 5: Green Bay, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and New Orleans.  Worst teams in point differential: Rams, Raiders, Browns, Jags, and Bucs.

Which team had the most penalties?  That would be the Raiders.  Raiders averaged just under 8 penalties (7.93) called on them per game.   Rams, Ravens, Cowboys, and Lions round out the “top” 5.  Least penalized teams were: Colts, Falcons, Patriots, Dolphins, and Jets.  Saints were the 9th least penalized team, averaging 5.84 penalties assessed against them per game.

Which team’s opponents had the most penalties?  That would be Arizona.  Rounding out the top 5 for opponents getting the most penalties called against them: Packers, Giants, Vikings, and Lions.  Least penalized opponents were: Jags, Jets, Bills, Panthers, and Cowboys.  Saints opponents had the 9th fewest penalties called against them.

Which team had the most total yards?  That would be the Saints, who averaged 405 yards/game.  Rounding out the top 5: Patriots, Eagles, Packers, and Cowboys.  Least total yards:  Rams, Browns, Niners, Raiders, and Bills.

Which team allowed the most total yards?  That would be the Browns.  Rounding out the “top” 5: Saints, Lions, Falcons, and Raiders.  Teams allowing the least total yards: Steelers, Ravens, Jets, Seahawks, and Texans.

Which team had the most 1st downs?  That would be New England.  Rounding out the top 5: Saints, Colts, Eagles, and Broncos.  Least 1st downs?  Niners, Rams, Browns, Raiders, and Bills.

Which team had the best 3rd down conversion percentage?  That would be the Saints (47.5%), followed by: Patriots, Colts, Chargers, and Packers.  Worst 3rd down conversion percentage?  Rams, Niners, Raiders, Bills, and Browns.

Which team went for it on 4th down the most times?  That would be Jacksonville, followed by Rams, Raiders, Browns, and Chiefs.  Most 4th down risk averse teams were: Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Steelers, and Panthers.  Saints went for it on 4th down the 7th most times in the league (and converted 53.4% of them).   Saints had the 5th best 4th down conversion %.  Tops were Patriots, Bengals, Cowboys, and Cardinals.  Worst 4th down %: Bucs, Rams, Raiders, Broncos, and Giants.  4th down conversion percentages were substantially higher than 3rd down conversion percentages.  This stands to reason since teams won’t normally go for it on 4th and long, but will always go for it on 3rd and long.  4th down conversions percentage: 49.07%, 3rd down: 38.85%.

Which team turned the ball over (gave it away) the most?  Cards, Lions, Raiders, Bears, and Jets.  Stingiest teams were: Patriots, Packers, Falcons, Seahawks, and Chiefs.  Saints had the 11th fewest turnovers.

Which team forced the most turnovers?  That would be (surprisingly) the Bears.  Rounding out the top 5: Patriots, Cardinals, Packers, and Panthers.  Teams forcing the fewest turnovers: Jags, Skins, Dolphins, Saints, and Raiders.

Which team had the most rushing yards?  Panthers, followed by Vikings, Jets, Eagles, and Chiefs.  Least rushing yards: Lions, Cardinals, Colts, Browns, and Rams.  Saints had 6th fewest rushing yards.

Which team had the most rushing TD’s?  Patriots, followed by Vikings, Panthers, Saints, and Eagles.  Least rushing TD’s: Rams, Bucs, Browns, Raiders, and Bears.

Which team gave up the fewest punt returns for TD’s?  Interestingly, the top 3 were all in the NFC South: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans, followed by Pittsburgh and Buffalo.  Which team gave up the most punt returns for TD’s?  That would be Carolina, another NFC South team, followed by: Vikings, Colts, Lions, and Redskins.

Which team gave up the fewest kick return TD’s?  Atlanta, followed by Buffalo, Arizona, Seattle, and the New York Football Giants.  Most kick return TD’s allowed: Steelers, Raiders, Colts, Lions, and Rams.  Saints gave up 14th fewest kick return TD’s.

Which team served up the most pick-sixes?  That would be the Rams, followed by Jags, Saints, Lions, and Jets.  Least pick-sixes given up?  Seattle, followed by New England, Green Bay, Oakland, and San Francisco.

That’s gonna wrap it up for now.  If you have a stat you’d like me to look up for you along the lines of these I provided, leave a comment and I’ll see if it’s available.NFL wins since 2006

We’ve all heard the old saying in the title.  “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”   Sounds good.  In fact, it has become so universally accepted to the point it has become a truism, too obvious even to mention.  But we don’t blindly accept truisms here at the MMB.  We check the facts, and that means checking the stats, and that means taking a virtual road trip over to the be-all end-all site for football stats: pfref.com.

The methodology in this study was to look at *all* the Superbowl champions, all 50 of them going all the way back to SBI, which the Packers took in 1967.  I looked at 4 rankings for each of the 50 champs, to wit: OFF PF (points scored), OFF YDS (yards gained), DEF PF (points allowed),  and DEF YDS (yardage allowed).  Here is the table I came up with:

Year Champion OFF PF OFF YDS DEF PF DEF YDS NET OFF
2016 NE 3 4 1 8 2
2015 DEN 19 16 4 1 -30
2014 NE 4 11 8 13 6
2013 SEA 8 17 1 1 -23
2012 BAL 10 16 12 17 3
2011 NYG 9 8 25 27 35
2010 GB 10 9 2 5 -12
2009 NO 1 1 20 25 43
2008 PIT 20 22 1 1 -40
2007 NYG 14 16 7 7 -16
2006 IND 2 3 23 21 39
2005 PIT 9 15 3 4 -17
2004 NE 4 7 2 9 0
2003 NE 12 17 1 7 -21
2002 TB 18 24 1 1 -40
2001 NE 6 19 6 24 5
2000 BAL 14 16 1 2 -27
1999 RAMS 1 1 4 6 8
1998 DEN 2 3 8 11 14
1997 DEN 1 1 6 5 9
1996 GB 1 5 1 1 -4
1995 DAL 3 5 3 9 4
1994 SF 1 2 6 8 11
1993 DAL 2 4 2 10 6
1992 DAL 2 4 5 1 0
1991 WAS 1 4 2 3 0
1990 NYG 15 17 1 2 -29
1989 SF 1 1 3 4 5
1988 SF 7 2 8 3 2
1987 WAS 4 3 6 18 17
1986 NYG 8 10 2 2 -14
1985 CHI 2 7 1 1 -7
1984 SF 2 2 1 10 7
1983 OAK 3 7 13 4 7
1982 WAS 12 7 1 4 -14
1981 SF 7 13 2 2 -16
1980 OAK 7 16 10 11 -2
1979 PIT 1 1 5 2 5
1978 PIT 5 8 1 3 -9
1977 DAL 2 1 8 1 6
1976 OAK 4 2 12 18 24
1975 PIT 5 7 2 4 -6
1974 PIT 6 8 2 1 -11
1973 MIA 5 9 1 3 -10
1972 MIA 1 1 1 1 0
1971 DAL 1 1 7 3 8
1970 BAL COLTS 6 8 7 9 2
1969 KC 2 3 1 1 -3
1968 NYJ 2 3 4 1 0
1967 GB 9 9 3 1 -14

The average offensive ranking was 6.9 and the average defensive ranking was 5.93.  Yes, folks, defense *has* been the more important ranking when it comes to winning championships.  This isn’t to say it’s universally true that you can’t win it with offense.

The NET OFF column is something I came up with to gauge where this was an offensive team or a defensive team.  Basically, I just add up the 2 defensive rankings, and then subtract from that the sum of the 2 offensive rankings.  A negative score means that was a defensive team, whereas a positive score means it was an offensive team.  Take, for example, the 2009 Saints who had a NET OFF score of +43.  They were #1 in offense in both stats: yards gained and points scored, but were 20th and 25th in defense.  20+25-1-1= 43.  The Saints, in fact, were the most offensively-oriented SB champ in history.  The most defensive-oriented (at least by this method of reckoning) were the 1982 Bucs and 2008 Steelers.  There was only one team in history with #1 rankings in all 4 of these stats, which is also the only undefeated champion in history: the 1972 Miami Dolphins.  Their NET OFF score was 0 because they were #1 in all 4 categories.  The higher NET OFF doesn’t mean you had a better offense, it just means your offense was that much better than your defense (or vice versa for the more negative scores).

If we just add up all the NET OFF scores (subtracting the negative values) we get a sum of -97.  Again, the defenses have it.  The average NET OFF score among these 50 champions was -1.94.  More support for the notion defense wins championships.

If we just go through and add up all the #1 rankings we get 18 #1 offensive rankings and 28 #1 defensive rankings.  Once again, defense wins championships.  If we add up the offensive rankings (points + yards) for each team and count all those that score 6 or less (meaning they had offensive rankings of #3 or better for each category or some combination of #1 and #5 or whatever it takes to get to a total of 6 or less) we find there were 19 teams with the high offensive rankings.  If we do the same with the defense we find there were 21 teams with the high defensive rankings.  Defense wins again.

In summary, yes, defense does win championships.  It is evidently the more important part of the game when it comes to winning the Superbowl, but the numbers are still fairly close.  The average champ was only on average 1 ranking better on each of the categories (points and yards) on defense than it was on offense.  And there were only 2 more champions (21 versus 19) that had the high defensive rankings than that had the high offensive rankings.   This is a different result from the one I had expected.  My expectation was the offensive and defensive rankings would be more or less the same.  And it could be these numbers are not statistically significant given the sample size of only 50 champions.  In time these numbers might “regress to the mean” so to speak.  Time will tell, but until then, hold off on making that “OFF” + PIECE OF A PICKET FENCE sign for now.

And now for the obligatory chart:

NFL net offensive rankings for sb champs

It’s out there.  We’ve all heard it.  “The Saints offensive numbers look so good because they’re always falling behind and racking up yards and scores when the game has already been decided.  It’s all garbage time stats, nothing more.”  Or words to that effect.  But is it true?  Let’s run the numbers and put this myth to the test, MythBusters style.  (Buckle up, Buster, it’s crash test time.)

All data used in this analysis is courtesy of my goto site for football stats: pfref.com.

So, how to test this?  Well, my impression of “garbage time” would be when the game is out of reach on the scoreboard.  You’re down big and the other team is playing a soft defense, the goal being preventing the big plays over the top.  The opposite of this would be games where the scoreboard is tight.  If the Saints offense struggles in tight game situations, but then pours it on when down big, then the myth of the garbage time stats would be confirmed, but if the Saints offense is lighting it up even in tight games, then the myth is busted.  (The fact the Saints offense also does well when down big is irrelevant, IMO.  A stellar offense will do well in all game situations.)

This table shows the plays executed while the scoreboard differential is 7 or fewer points.  In other words, teams are either up by 7 or fewer points or down by 7 or fewer points; these are one score games.   Plays column is the number of plays that offense executed during these tight games.  ToGo is the average yardage to go for a 1st down (or in the case of goal to go, for a touchdown).  Yds is the average number of yards gained per play.  1st% is the percentage of plays that resulted in a 1st down (or touchdown), and TO% is the percentage of plays that resulted in a turnover.  TD is the total TD’s scored.  TD’s per 100 plays is self-explanatory.

Tm Plays ToGo Yds 1st% TO% TD TD’s per 100 plays
ATL 587 8.62 6.9 37.6% .9% 37 6.30
NWE 540 8.43 6.54 35.0% .2% 34 6.30
KAN 513 8.49 6.24 31.6% .4% 26 5.07
WAS 756 8.53 6.14 31.3% .9% 29 3.84
PIT 597 8.43 6.1 32.5% 1.5% 29 4.86
NOR 675 8.06 6.03 33.3% 1.2% 36 5.33
OAK 723 8.58 5.92 29.3% .8% 33 4.56
SEA 650 8.76 5.92 29.7% .3% 25 3.85
CHI 564 8.96 5.85 29.8% 1.4% 15 2.66
DAL 779 8.67 5.84 34.3% .6% 37 4.75
MIA 601 8.75 5.83 28.6% 1.3% 27 4.49
GNB 653 8.17 5.82 31.7% .3% 31 4.75
SDG 679 8.55 5.78 30.6% 2.5% 30 4.42
TEN 541 8.67 5.59 28.1% .7% 23 4.25
NYG 705 8.43 5.56 27.7% 1.8% 26 3.69
CIN 665 8.5 5.54 29.9% 1.1% 27 4.06
NYJ 622 8.54 5.47 27.3% 1.4% 20 3.22
ARI 688 8.59 5.36 28.6% 1.3% 25 3.63
IND 598 8.51 5.35 28.9% 1.5% 23 3.85
DET 772 8.62 5.35 30.1% .8% 27 3.50
BUF 627 8.77 5.34 29.2% .5% 24 3.83
DEN 582 8.4 5.29 26.5% .7% 21 3.61
CAR 562 8.73 5.23 28.8% 2.0% 21 3.74
MIN 573 8.61 5.22 28.3% .5% 18 3.14
CLE 533 9.22 5.1 26.3% .9% 13 2.44
TAM 726 9.01 5.05 28.2% 1.7% 24 3.31
BAL 731 8.84 5.01 26.5% 1.4% 18 2.46
JAX 649 8.63 4.73 24.5% 2.2% 17 2.62
SFO 511 8.73 4.72 27.0% 1.4% 17 3.33
PHI 698 8.51 4.69 28.4% 1.1% 17 2.44
LAR 658 8.57 4.67 24.3% 2.1% 17 2.58
HOU 737 8.32 4.56 25.1% 1.4% 17 2.31

ATL had the top offense in terms of yards per play when the score was within 7 points one way or the other.  (They did struggle when up by 25, but that’s neither here nor there.)  The Saints were 6th best in yards per play in these tight game situations.  If we sort by TD’s per 100 plays, the Saints were 3rd best.  Sort by 1st down percentage, and the Saints are 3rd best.  This *is* a legitimate top 10 offense.  Enough with the garbage about garbage time stats.

NFL yards per play 2016 tight games (plus or minus 7 on the scoreboard)

The NFL has long had their passer rating metric, which has come under criticism from some quarters in recent years.  The passer rating, of course, is a number we can use to compare quarterbacks to one another.  It takes into account completions, attempts, yardage, touchdowns, and interceptions.  The formula is a little bit complicated, but it’s fairly straight forward to implement in a spreadsheet or (as I have done in the past) in javascript.  I won’t go into the details of the formula hear, but if you want to know the nitty gritty details, there’s a nice article on it on wikipedia.

The passer rating metric is far from perfect, but I think it’s a terrific resource, despite it’s flaws.  Let’s consider some of the flaws: 1) It doesn’t take into account when a quarterback runs for a 1st down; 2) It doesn’t take into account when the quarterback takes a sack instead of throwing the ball away (in fact, throwing the ball away would actually hurt the passer rating while taking a sack would not); 3) It doesn’t take into account when the quarterback fumbles the ball; 4) It doesn’t take into account yards after the catch (for example, the quarterback might make a little 5 yard pass and the receiver breaks 7 tackles on the way to an 80 yard touchdown); and 5) One might reasonably quibble with the formula and the weight it gives to the various factors it does take into consideration (for example, is completion percentage more important than TD:INT ratios, and if so, or if not, what should the relative weighting be?).  This is just to name a few criticisms right off the top of my formerly fully haired head.

But the real question for me is, does this passer rating metric correlate to wins and losses?  It’s all well and good for a quarterback to have a high passer rating, but if his record as a starter is 1-10, that’s not good.  And vice versa for the quarterback who doesn’t have a great passer rating, and yet he finds a way to win the games.

Passer ratings work both ways.  You can have an offensive passer rating (your quarterback) and a defensive passer rating (cumulative passer rating of all of your opponents’ quarterbacks).  That latter defensive passer rating (in my humble opinion) is one of the more underrated stats that often goes ignored.  Typically when one of the talking heads says this is the “top rated defense” or the “best defense” in the league he’s referring to that total yardage allowed stat.  Remember 2009?  That was the year the New Orleans Football Saints won the Superbowl.  Going into that Superbowl game a lot of media experts pointed to that 25th ranking the Saints defense had in total yardage, but they ignored the #3 ranking they had in opponent passer rating.  They said the Saints had been “lucky” with all the turnovers they’d been getting that year, but the luck would run out against the living legend, Peyton Manning.  (See my twitter background pic featuring Tracy Porter celebrating his pick 6 with Manning propped up on one elbow watching.)  The Saints that year allowed 15 passing TD’s while collecting 26 INT’s.  But enough reminiscing…

So, what I’ve done is come up with what I’m calling a “net passer rating”.  This is simple enough.  It’s your team’s offensive passer rating minus its opponents’ cumulative passer rating in those games they played against your team.  In other words it’s passer rating – opp. passer rating.  Here is a table of results for the 2016 season, sorted by net passer rating:

Team net passer rating winning percentage passer rating opponent passer rating
New England Patriots 25.1 0.875 109.5 84.4
Atlanta Falcons 24.3 0.688 116.8 92.5
Minnesota Vikings 14.7 0.5 97.7 83
Denver Broncos 14.2 0.563 83.9 69.7
Kansas City Chiefs 13.4 0.75 93.2 79.8
New York Giants 10.2 0.688 86 75.8
Dallas Cowboys 8.9 0.813 103 94.1
Cincinnati Bengals 8.7 0.406 91.8 83.1
Seattle Seahawks 8.4 0.656 93.4 85
Miami Dolphins 7 0.625 95.5 88.5
Pittsburgh Steelers 6.6 0.688 93.9 87.3
Green Bay Packers 6.4 0.625 102.3 95.9
Washington Redskins 6.3 0.531 97.4 91.1
Oakland Raiders 5.5 0.75 95.3 89.8
Tennessee Titans 5.4 0.563 93.7 88.3
New Orleans Saints 4.4 0.438 102.5 98.1
San Diego Chargers 3.8 0.313 87.6 83.8
Buffalo Bills 0.8 0.438 86.7 85.9
Arizona Cardinals -1.6 0.469 83.5 85.1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -1.8 0.563 87 88.8
Indianapolis Colts -3 0.5 94.5 97.5
Baltimore Ravens -4.3 0.5 82.6 86.9
Philadelphia Eagles -6.5 0.438 79.2 85.7
Jacksonville Jaguars -9 0.188 79.5 88.5
Houston Texans -11 0.563 73.3 84.3
Chicago Bears -11.7 0.188 81.8 93.5
Detroit Lions -13.2 0.563 93.3 106.5
San Francisco 49ers -13.5 0.125 83.4 96.9
Carolina Panthers -16.9 0.375 75.1 92
Cleveland Browns -24.4 0.063 77.4 101.8
Los Angeles Rams -26 0.25 69.5 95.5
New York Jets -30.9 0.313 67.6 98.5

You will notice the top 2 teams were the 2 teams in the Superbowl last year and the bottom few teams were the Jets, Rams, and Browns.  Need I say more?  Probably, but you know I will.

There were 18 teams with a positive net passer rating, and only 4 of the 18 had a losing record.  Of the 14 teams with a negative net passer rating only 3 had a winning record.  In other words, about 78.13% of the time the net passer rating directly correlates to the team’s record (positive net passer rating = winning record, negative net passer rating = losing record).  In the following chart you can see how net passer rating correlates to wins over .500 (or under .500):

NFL net passer rating chart

If the blue line is above zero it means a positive net passer rating.  The orange represents the number of wins (relative to 8 wins) the team had.  So, if the orange is below zero it means the team had fewer than 8 wins.

In summary, the net passer rating strongly correlates to winning and losing, but there are certainly other factors.  For example, the running game, fumbles, special teams, etc.  The Saints were one of the four teams with a positive net passer rating and yet a losing record.  You will no doubt recall 3 blocked kicks that were run back for scores (actually, one was stopped short of the end zone, but the opponent ended up deep in Saints territory and scored either on the next play or the one after that).  There were some fumbles that were returned for scores, too, as I recall (try as a might to forget).  And there were a few, let’s just say, “borderline” calls by the officials, many of which went against the Saints.  No excuses, though.  You have to be good enough to overcome those things, and the Saints, frankly, weren’t.  But hope springs eternal, and the Saints will rebound in 2017.  Believe dat!

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