A Look At The Metrics
Without getting into far advanced metrics that would bore all but one or two of our readers, let’s take a look at some of the main statistics every football fan is familiar with and try to determine what is affecting NFL games the most this year.
Let’s go through each big recognizable statistic and see if we can discover where the top tier in each stat is winning and in line for the playoffs, and which stats appear to mean very little this season.
Of course, we will throw out things like wins and losses and scoring margins. Obviously, these are the most important stats to determine who is performing the best so far, but we cannot look at just wins and losses and scoring margin and determine that a team is bound to win their next game or lose their next game based on these factors. Later in the season, won-loss records and scoring margins can be used to determine future wins and losses, but still there are times when these stats are not perfect. We won’t even include the fact that a team that has clinched its division and has nothing to play for in Week 17 might treat a game against a 7-8 team like an exhibition. We are talking about games when all teams are still trying to win.
We will also throw out things like Adjusted Value over Average or Air Yards per Pass Attempt. These statistics are great for individual achievements, but a forward pass includes blocking, the quarterback throwing accurately, and intelligently, the receiver catching the ball, and then the receiver looking for downfield blocks and empty space to run.
Something that should be considered is how the yards are gained. Two teams can average four yards per rush, but they may have wide ranges with how they average four yards per rush. Let’s say Team A runs for 16 yards on the first attempt and then gains nothing at all on the next three attempts. If Team A begins at their own 25 yard line and runs four consecutive times for 16,0,0,and 0 yards, they will face 4th and 10 from their own 41 yard line.
Let’s say Team B runs for exactly four yards on each attempt. Four plays later, they will also be at their own 41 yard line, but unlike Team A that is having to punt on 4th and 10, Team B will have it 2nd and 6. Consistency of gaining more than what is needed on a play is more important than regular average. A big fullback might average just 2.9 yards per rush, but if he only carries the ball at the opponents’ two yard line and also on 3rd and 1 or 2 or 4th and 1, that 2.9 yards might make him the most valuable player on the team. Then, another player with a 4.8 yard rushing average might be almost worthless, because he frequently gets stopped short of the first down marker and then gets a 35-yard run just before halftime when the defense has a 7-man secondary and is in prevent, as that 35-yard run ends the half.
After looking at all the 2016 stats that are easy enough to understand, you can completely eliminate total offense, total defense, yards per rushing attempt by offense and versus defense, and yards per passing atttempt by offense and versus defense. There are teams in line to pick high in the 2017 draft that are doing quite well in these statistics, and there are teams that could receive home field advantage in the playoffs doing poorly in these statistics.
Does your team’s coach believe that you win by running the football to set up the pass and by stopping the run first? Chances are, your team is not doing well this season. Four teams are averaging around five yards per rush this season–Buffalo, Cleveland, Miami, and Tennessee. These four have a combined 10-18 record. One team averages less than three yards per rush–Minnesota with a 5-1 record.
Okay, so you say that stopping the run is what really counts? Then, explain why the New York Jets, Carolina Panthers, and Baltimore Ravens aren’t at the top of their divisions, since they stop the run cold. Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders are surrendering five yards per rush and have a 5-2 record.
Let’s look at the passing game. Passing the ball and defending the pass have been more accurate in predicting the winners of NFL games in the last 10 years or so. It is definitely a better indicator this season than rushing, but it is still not overly accurate. You have division leaders Atlanta, New England, and Dallas among the league leaders in yards per pass attempt, but you also have Cincinnati, San Diego, Miami, and Detroit among the top of the charts.
Defensively, Denver and Minnesota are leading the way by allowing the fewest yards per pass attempt, but right with these two division leaders are Jacksonville, Arizona, the New York Giants, and Los Angeles.
So what statistic currently corresponds with the best with the won-lost records of the NFL? There is definitely one that stands out by itself as the most accurate after seven weeks. In fact, of the top 12 in this statistic, eight would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, and two of the other four would be within striking distance but currently are on the outside due to byes giving teams a half-game lead.
What is this statistic? It is turnover margin. Turnover margin has been much more important this year than in recent seasons. Minnesota leads the league in turnover margin. Oakland and Buffalo are tied for second. Following the top three in order are: Kansas City, Philadelphia, Denver, Dallas, Arizona, and New England. Not a single team has a losing record among this group.
At the other end, of the bottom 13, only two teams have winning records, and both are just 4-3. All eight last place teams in the divisions can be found in this dirty dozen.
The question becomes: “Can we use this stat to predict future results? Ah, therein lies the problem. The turnover margins tend to be the least predictable, even when you have Ryan Fitzpatrick or Case Keenum as your starting quarterback. Fitzpatrick might throw 10% of his passes to the wrong colored jersey for an entire month and then not throw one for a month. A ball carrier might fumble twice in one game and then go weeks without coughing it up.
That presents quite a dilemma when trying to pick winners and losers in the NFL this year. The only rational thing to do is go with underdogs that have positive turnover margins and against favorites with negative turnover margins. And then, don’t count on being all that successful this year.
This Week’s PiRate Ratings
|Current NFL PiRate Ratings|
|A F C|
|N. Y. Jets||99.1||97.5||100.0||98.9||58||41|
|N F C|
|This Week’s Games|
|Cleveland||New York Jets||-6.5||-4.3||-7.7||39|
|(*) This game will be played in London|