Predictive Yards Per Play Rankings: 2011

We’re only four days into the offseason, but it seems like it’s been four hundred. When the biggest news swirling out of the NFL rumor mill right now is the Giants cutting Ahmad Bradshaw and Joe Flacco angling for the largest contract in history (words I never, EVER expected to put in the same sentence), it might for the best if we leave unsubstantiated opinions to Mike Florio and the like and turn our attention to the past for a while. Today, SSLYAR starts its weekly series of year-by-year Predictive Yards per Play unveilings with the ratings for a time not so far removed from this one: 2011.

Before we get into the rankings, I will note that the way the numbers are presented will look a bit different from what they were presented as during the weekly power rankings in the regular season. From now on, the Predictive Yards per Play metric will look like the old Adjusted Yards per Play rankings did, with defensive numbers equal to offensive and league average representing 0.00. Nothing has changed about the formulas used to derive these figures; the conversion has been made simply for ease of use and there’s two reasons why this should be easier to follow now.

First, creating a baseline where the average is 0.00 makes it much easier to determine if a team is good or bad; if their differential is positive, they’re obviously above-average and if it’s negative, they’re obviously below-average. And secondly, putting the defensive stats on equal footing with the offensive stats makes it MUCH easier to calculate how many points we can expect a team’s offense and defense to generate. Taking the 2011 Packers as an example, they averaged 6.17 Predictive Yards per Play offensively. Since every fourteen yards gained equals roughly one point and teams will generally run about 64 plays from scrimmage in a given game, we can determine the expected points the 2011 Packers offense could be expected to generate in one game just by themselves by multiplying 6.17 by 64 and then dividing that number by 14 (the answer is 28.21, by the way). Or if you wanted an even speedier shortcut, you could just multiply a team’s Predictive Yards per Play by 4.5 and get roughly the same answer.

Alright, enough preamble. Let’s see how each team stacked up in 2011…

Predictive Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.00): a metric which  uses probabilities drawn from research Brian Burke did back in 2008 in trying to determine which stats best correlated with future play.

  1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)1.29 (2012 ranking: #13)
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)1.29 (2012 ranking: #21)
  3. Houston Texans (10-6)0.96 (2012 ranking: #16)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)0.85 (2012 ranking: #22)
  5. Detroit Lions (10-6)0.85 (2012 ranking: #9)
  6. New York Giants (9-7)0.80 (2012 ranking: #8)
  7. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)0.79 (2012 ranking: #12)
  8. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)0.72 (2012 ranking: #17)
  9. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)0.52 (2012 ranking: #1)
  10. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)0.47 (2012 ranking: #15)
  11. Green Bay Packers (15-1)0.46 (2012 ranking: #4)
  12. New England Patriots (13-3)0.37 (2012 ranking: #5)
  13. Carolina Panthers (6-10)0.24 (2012 ranking: #6)
  14. San Diego Chargers (8-8)0.08 (2012 ranking: #28)
  15. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)-0.02 (2012 ranking: #19)
  16. New York Jets (8-8)-0.04 (2012 ranking: #29)
  17. Minnesota Vikings (3-13)-0.19 (2012 ranking: #11)
  18. Seattle Seahawks (7-9) -0.20 (2012 ranking: #2)
  19. Washington Redskins (5-11)-0.24 (2012 ranking: #7)
  20. Oakland Raiders (8-8)-0.33 (2012 ranking: #26)
  21. Chicago Bears (8-8)-0.33 (2012 ranking: #14)
  22. Tennessee Titans (9-7)-0.35 (2012 ranking: #25)
  23. Buffalo Bills (6-10)-0.35 (2012 ranking: #20)
  24. Miami Dolphins (6-10)-0.47 (2012 ranking: #23)
  25. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)-0.59 (2012 ranking: #27)
  26. St. Louis Rams (2-14)-0.63 (2012 ranking: #10)
  27. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)-0.65 (2012 ranking: #32)
  28. Cleveland Browns (4-12)-0.71 (2012 ranking: #24)
  29. Denver Broncos (8-8)-0.82 (2012 ranking: #3)
  30. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)-1.23 (2012 ranking: #30)
  31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)-1.29 (2012 ranking: #18)
  32. Indianapolis Colts (2-14)-1.42 (2012 ranking: #31)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.96)

  1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)6.57 (2012 ranking: #1)
  2. Green Bay Packers (15-1)6.17 (2012 ranking: #7)
  3. New England Patriots (13-3)6.15 (2012 ranking: #5)
  4. Carolina Panthers (6-10)5.86 (2012 ranking: #9)
  5. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)5.77 (2012 ranking: #26)
  6. New York Giants (9-7)5.71 (2012 ranking: #6)
  7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)5.67 (2012 ranking: #23)
  8. San Diego Chargers (8-8)5.53 (2012 ranking: #29)
  9. Detroit Lions (10-6)5.51 (2012 ranking: #8)
  10. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)5.45 (2012 ranking: #10)
  11. Houston Texans (10-6)5.43 (2012 ranking: #18)
  12. Oakland Raiders (8-8)5.34 (2012 ranking: #19)
  13. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)5.30 (2012 ranking: #13)
  14. Buffalo Bills (6-10)5.07 (2012 ranking: #16)
  15. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)5.05 (2012 ranking: #14)
  16. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)4.93 (2012 ranking: #20)
  17. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)4.89 (2012 ranking: #3)
  18. Tennessee Titans (9-7)4.81 (2012 ranking: #22)
  19. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)4.61 (2012 ranking: #2)
  20. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)4.58 (2012 ranking: #31)
  21. Minnesota Vikings (3-13)4.57 (2012 ranking: #15)
  22. Washington Redskins (5-11)4.42 (2012 ranking: #4)
  23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)4.31 (2012 ranking: #12)
  24. Miami Dolphins (6-10)4.30 (2012 ranking: #25)
  25. New York Jets (8-8)4.25 (2012 ranking: #32)
  26. Indianapolis Colts (2-14)4.24 (2012 ranking: #24)
  27. Cleveland Browns (4-12)4.21 (2012 ranking: #27)
  28. St. Louis Rams (2-14)4.17 (2012 ranking: #17)
  29. Denver Broncos (8-8)4.10 (2012 ranking: #11)
  30. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)4.00 (2012 ranking: #28)
  31. Chicago Bears (8-8)3.97 (2012 ranking: #21)
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)3.40 (2012 ranking: #30)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.96)

  1. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)4.26 (2012 ranking: #12)
  2. New York Jets (8-8)4.29 (2012 ranking: #15)
  3. Chicago Bears (8-8)4.30 (2012 ranking: #1)
  4. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)4.37 (2012 ranking: #2)
  5. Houston Texans (10-6)4.47 (2012 ranking: #10)
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)4.49 (2012 ranking: #5)
  7. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)4.58 (2012 ranking: #24)
  8. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)4.62 (2012 ranking: #22)
  9. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)4.65 (2012 ranking: #29)
  10. Washington Redskins (5-11)4.65 (2012 ranking: #25)
  11. Detroit Lions (10-6)4.66 (2012 ranking: #19)
  12. Minnesota Vikings (3-13)4.76 (2012 ranking: #8)
  13. Miami Dolphins (6-10)4.76 (2012 ranking: #14)
  14. St. Louis Rams (2-14)4.80 (2012 ranking: #7)
  15. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)4.82 (2012 ranking: #3)
  16. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)4.83 (2012 ranking: #17)
  17. New York Giants (9-7)4.91 (2012 ranking: #21)
  18. Cleveland Browns (4-12)4.92 (2012 ranking: #18)
  19. Denver Broncos (8-8)4.92 (2012 ranking: #4)
  20. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)4.95 (2012 ranking: #13)
  21. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)4.98 (2012 ranking: #23)
  22. Tennessee Titans (9-7)5.15 (2012 ranking: #26)
  23. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)5.16 (2012 ranking: #6)
  24. New Orleans Saints (13-3)5.28 (2012 ranking: #31)
  25. Buffalo Bills (6-10)5.43 (2012 ranking: #28)
  26. San Diego Chargers (8-8)5.45 (2012 ranking: #16)
  27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)5.60 (2012 ranking: #27)
  28. Carolina Panthers (6-10)5.63 (2012 ranking: #9)
  29. Indianapolis Colts (2-14)5.66 (2012 ranking: #32)
  30. Oakland Raiders (8-8)5.66 (2012 ranking: #30)
  31. Green Bay Packers (15-1): 5.71 (2012 ranking: #11)
  32. New England Patriots (13-3)5.78 (2012 ranking: #20)

My thoughts on the above stats…

  • As I wrote on Tuesday, the Giants’ Super Bowl run doesn’t look nearly as unlikely when you’re looking at their per-play metrics (as opposed to their won-loss record and point differential, which both rank the worst of all Super Bowl champions). They ranked sixth overall in Predictive Yards per Play in 2011, mainly due to an excellent offense and a defense that looks about average once you figure in that they faced the third-hardest schedule of opposing offenses in the league. Weirdly enough, they actually ranked ahead of every team they played in the postseason, including the 15-1 Packers and 13-3 Patriots. Again, I’m not trying to make the argument that they were one of the best Super Bowl champions of all time or that they even belong in the top thirty. Simply judging from Predictive Yards per Play, it looks like the 2011 Giants (similarly to the 2010 Packers, though to a lesser extent) were a very good team that played a tough schedule and had a poor record in close gam…wait a minute. They actually went 5-3 in one-score games. Oh well, scratch that last part, they were really good, though.
  • As good as the Giants were, though, it’s tough to argue they would have had much of a chance against the Saints if San Francisco hadn’t pulled off the upset in the Divisional Round. The clear best team in the NFL in 2011 was the Saints…when they were at home. In their nine home games that season (including their 45-28 win over Detroit in the playoffs), they averaged – AVERAGED – 507 yards per game and 7.35 yards per play. That’s ridiculous! They only scored fewer than 30 points at home in one game all season (curiously, against Tampa Bay, who had one of the six worst defenses in the league) and had a general aura of invincibility surrounding them at all times. Fortunately for the rest of the NFC, their opening night loss at Green Bay cost them their shot at home-field advantage; otherwise, they could have easily won their second Super Bowl title in three years.
  • The Packers won their first thirteen games en route to a 15-1 record but only wind up ranking eleventh overall due to, well, everything other than their passing game. They intercepted the most passes in the league but rank second-to-last defensively anyway because defensive interceptions generally say more about the quality of the opposing offense than any repeatable skill defensively. Since the Dom Capers-led Packers defenses have always intercepted opposing offenses at above-average rates, you could make a good argument that they’re an exception to the rule. At any rate, though, giving up 6.3 yards per play defensively isn’t a great recipe for long-term success and that showed up in the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers was pretty good this year, though…
  • Over in the AFC, the Steelers’ rating clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack and pushed them into a virtual tie with New Orleans for first-place. It’s interesting to note, though, that the Texans came in at a not-too-distant third, despite missing Matt Schaub for the final six games of the season (and this at a time when Schaub was the most efficient quarterback in the league outside of the big three of Rodgers, Brady, and Brees). Allow this to be the 3,000th reminder of how much Super Bowl potential was squandered when Schaub suffered his lisfranc injury. You’re welcome, Houston!
  • The only defense worse than Green Bay’s in these ratings belonged to New England, a development that caused Bill Belichick to spend roughly 37 picks in the next year’s draft on defense. Interestingly enough, they met the top-ranked defense in Baltimore in the AFC Championship game; Joe Flacco’s conventional stats came out better than Brady’s and the common refrain from the talking heads after the game was that Flacco had outplayed Brady. Well, it’s a whole lot easier to do that when you’re facing the league’s worst defense as opposed to its best, am I right? Not taking anything away from what you did this postseason, Joe…
  • TEEEEEBBBBBBBBBOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW!!!!!! did not hold much sway over the Broncos’ rating, as they finished 29th both offensively and overall. I can only assume that makes their upset over the second-ranked Steelers in the Wild-Card Round one of the craziest of all time. Thanks to a slight change in quarterback, this year’s Broncos team had the biggest improvement over last year’s rating, followed closely behind by the Seahawks and 49ers. The two Pennsylvania teams, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, had the sharpest drop-off; obviously if I had seen that coming in September, I would have thought twice about making Steelers over Eagles my Super Bowl prediction for this year. You live and learn!
  • As far as the season’s individual awards are concerned…Drew Brees and Tom Brady both ended up throwing for more yards than he did, but Aaron Rodgers played as efficiently as any quarterback ever has and was the clear Most Valuable Player…The voters for Offensive Player of the Year tend to get wildly confused on a year-to-year basis on how to vote for the award. If it’s truly supposed to go to the best offensive player in a given year, then obviously Rodgers should have won this award, too. If it’s actually supposed to be a consolation trophy for the best player who didn’t win MVP, then Drew Brees, the guy who ended up winning the award, was the most deserving choice. In any event: make up your minds on how to vote for this thing, guys!…In an underwhelming year for defensive standouts, Terrell Suggs’ Defensive Player of the Year win was probably as deserving as any other pick (although it’s a worthy debate as to whether he was even the best player on his own defense that season). Simply for the sake of being a contrarian, I’d give my hypothetical vote to Justin SmithCam Newton won Offensive Rookie of the Year in one of the easiest decisions of the year…On the other side, Von Miller beat out Aldon Smith for Defensive Rookie of the Year in probably the hardest decision; if forced to make a choice, I probably would have chosen the former as well, however…Comeback Player of the Year is a stupid award anyway, but the 2011 choice of Matthew Stafford left me more annoyed than usual. What great performance level was Matt bouncing back to, exactly? It’s not like he was an established star before he missed basically all of 2010 – seriously, he was awful his rookie season. If you wanted to call him the Breakout Player of the Year, be my guest! Comeback Player, though? Not biting on that one. Anyway, for my fictional vote, I’m picking D’Qwell Jackson because he tackled everything in sight in 2011 and somebody on the Browns deserves to be recognized every five years…And it was a tough choice between Jim Harbaugh and Raheem Morris for Coach of the Year but, just like the voters did, I ended up leaning Harbaugh.
  • Next week: 2010 – a strange and bizarre land where…wait, the two best teams in the league actually played in the Super Bowl? What’s going on here?
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