Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2008

Our weekly Predictive Yards per Play series has already reached back to the Dubya presidency and 2008 – hopefully, thus far, you’ve enjoyed reading these rankings as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. And if you haven’t enjoyed them, then feel free to stick your head inside a radiator for an extended period of time. Let’s begin!

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. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)1.61 (2009 ranking: #11)
  2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)1.32 (2009 ranking: #7)
  3. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)1.25 (2009 ranking: #12)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)1.13 (2009 ranking: #9)
  5. New York Giants (12-4)1.11 (2009 ranking: #13)
  6. Carolina Panthers (12-4)1.06 (2009 ranking: #5)
  7. Tennessee Titans (13-3)0.98 (2009 ranking: #20)
  8. New Orleans Saints (8-8)0.95 (2009 ranking: #6)
  9. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)0.84 (2009 ranking: #2)
  10. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)0.82 (2009 ranking: #8)
  11. Houston Texans (8-8)0.41 (2009 ranking: #15)
  12. Washington Redskins (8-8)0.39 (2009 ranking: #21)
  13. San Diego Chargers (8-8)0.33 (2009 ranking: #14)
  14. Miami Dolphins (11-5)0.31 (2009 ranking: #17)
  15. Green Bay Packers (6-10)0.29 (2009 ranking: #4)
  16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)0.28 (2009 ranking: #24)
  17. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)0.16 (2009 ranking: #16)
  18. New England Patriots (11-5)0.04 (2009 ranking: #1)
  19. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)-0.03 (2009 ranking: #25)
  20. Denver Broncos (8-8)-0.23 (2009 ranking: #10)
  21. New York Jets (9-7)-0.24 (2009 ranking: #3)
  22. Chicago Bears (9-7)-0.25 (2009 ranking: #26)
  23. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)-0.31 (2009 ranking: #22)
  24. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)-0.95 (2009 ranking: #18)
  25. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)-1.04 (2009 ranking: #28)
  26. Cleveland Browns (4-12)-1.12 (2009 ranking: #32)
  27. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)-1.26 (2009 ranking: #23)
  28. Buffalo Bills (7-9)-1.29 (2009 ranking: #19)
  29. Oakland Raiders (5-11)-1.31 (2009 ranking: #27)
  30. Seattle Seahawks (4-12) -1.68 (2009 ranking: #29)
  31. St. Louis Rams (2-14)-1.75 (2009 ranking: #31)
  32. Detroit Lions (0-16)-1.94 (2009 ranking: #30)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.77)

  1. New Orleans Saints (8-8)6.00 (2009 ranking: #2)
  2. Houston Texans (8-8)5.82 (2009 ranking: #8)
  3. Denver Broncos (8-8)5.72 (2009 ranking: #15)
  4. New York Giants (12-4)5.62 (2009 ranking: #9)
  5. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)5.52 (2009 ranking: #6)
  6. San Diego Chargers (8-8)5.52 (2009 ranking: #4)
  7. Carolina Panthers (12-4)5.45 (2009 ranking: #17)
  8. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)5.21 (2009 ranking: #20)
  9. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)5.18 (2009 ranking: #12)
  10. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)5.18 (2009 ranking: #10)
  11. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)5.15 (2009 ranking: #3)
  12. Green Bay Packers (6-10)5.05 (2009 ranking: #5)
  13. Miami Dolphins (11-5)5.05 (2009 ranking: #16)
  14. New England Patriots (11-5)5.02 (2009 ranking: #1)
  15. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)4.99 (2009 ranking: #13)
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)4.90 (2009 ranking: #18)
  17. Tennessee Titans (13-3)4.82 (2009 ranking: #14)
  18. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)4.76 (2009 ranking: #11)
  19. Washington Redskins (8-8)4.68 (2009 ranking: #22)
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)4.62 (2009 ranking: #23)
  21. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)4.51 (2009 ranking: #24)
  22. New York Jets (9-7)4.50 (2009 ranking: #19)
  23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)4.45 (2009 ranking: #7)
  24. Chicago Bears (9-7)4.18 (2009 ranking: #26)
  25. Cleveland Browns (4-12)4.02 (2009 ranking: #31)
  26. Detroit Lions (0-16)3.96 (2009 ranking: #29)
  27. St. Louis Rams (2-14)3.90 (2009 ranking: #32)
  28. Buffalo Bills (7-9)3.89 (2009 ranking: #25)
  29. Seattle Seahawks (4-12)3.76 (2009 ranking: #28)
  30. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)3.71 (2009 ranking: #27)
  31. Oakland Raiders (5-11)3.70 (2009 ranking: #30)
  32. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)3.70 (2009 ranking: #21)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.77)

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)3.15 (2009 ranking: #14)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)3.63 (2009 ranking: #13)
  3. Tennessee Titans (13-3)3.84 (2009 ranking: #27)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)3.86 (2009 ranking: #10)
  5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)3.86 (2009 ranking: #5)
  6. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)4.28 (2009 ranking: #16)
  7. Washington Redskins (8-8)4.29 (2009 ranking: #11)
  8. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)4.31 (2009 ranking: #6)
  9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)4.34 (2009 ranking: #18)
  10. Carolina Panthers (12-4)4.39 (2009 ranking: #2)
  11. Chicago Bears (9-7)4.43 (2009 ranking: #19)
  12. New York Giants (12-4)4.51 (2009 ranking: #17)
  13. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)4.65 (2009 ranking: #9)
  14. New York Jets (9-7)4.74 (2009 ranking: #1)
  15. Miami Dolphins (11-5)4.74 (2009 ranking: #20)
  16. Green Bay Packers (6-10)4.77 (2009 ranking: #8)
  17. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)4.97 (2009 ranking: #12)
  18. New England Patriots (11-5)4.99 (2009 ranking: #7)
  19. Oakland Raiders (5-11)5.01 (2009 ranking: #23)
  20. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)5.02 (2009 ranking: #15)
  21. New Orleans Saints (8-8)5.05 (2009 ranking: #24)
  22. Cleveland Browns (5-11)5.15 (2009 ranking: #31)
  23. Buffalo Bills (7-9)5.17 (2009 ranking: #4)
  24. San Diego Chargers (8-8)5.19 (2009 ranking: #22)
  25. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)5.21 (2009 ranking: #26)
  26. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)5.24 (2009 ranking: #25)
  27. Houston Texans (8-8)5.42 (2009 ranking: #21)
  28. Seattle Seahawks (4-12)5.44 (2009 ranking: #29)
  29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)5.56 (2009 ranking: #30)
  30. St. Louis Rams (2-14)5.65 (2009 ranking: #28)
  31. Detroit Lions (0-16)5.90 (2009 ranking: #32)
  32. Denver Broncos (8-8)5.95 (2009 ranking: #3)

Thoughts…

  • This is the season where Predictive Yards per Play would have truly lived up to its name, as the top-ranked Steelers ended up going on to win the Super Bowl (thus far, this is the only time in this century that the #1 team in PY/P has won it all). As you can most likely tell from the numbers, they did it with an absolutely oppressive defense and roughly-average offense. Slight SPOILER ALERT: the Steelers’ defensive mark of being 33.96% above league average rates them as the best regular season defense of the 2000s (I’ll stop short of calling the best defense, period, of the 2000s because the 2000 Ravens will show up at my door and stuff my head into Tony Siragusa’s armpit if I do). It’s not hard to see why – they finished #1 in both Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed and Yards per Carry Allowed against a slightly harder-than-average schedule and only allowed one opponent all year (well, two if we’re counting the Super Bowl…but we’re not) to gain more than 300 yards of offense in a single game. That’s…okay? Offensively, Roethlisberger and Co. look pretty bad before you adjust for the fact that they played against one of the four toughest slates of opposing defenses in the league; taking that into consideration, they come out basically league average.
  • On the other hand, if you were looking for confirmation here that we should have seen the Cardinals’ Super Bowl run coming…well, would that I could. To be fair, they certainly were not “the worst playoff team ever,” as some talking heads were opining before the postseason began. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin led a very good offense that scored enough points to offset its equally very bad defense – and as the 2010 Seahawks and 2011 Broncos would show us, you CAN, in fact, get into the postseason with a whole lot less than that. I’d even go so far as to say that, factoring in home-field advantage, the Cardinals had nothing worse than a 50/50 shot in their first playoff game against the Falcons, a team with similar offensive excellence and defensive struggles. But then going into Carolina and beating the Panthers with noted postseason hero Jake Delhomme at quarterback (seriously – his postseason numbers pre-2008: 5-2 record, 11 touchdowns vs. 5 interceptions, 8.55 yards per attempt), then beating the second-ranked Eagles at home, then putting up 400 yards of offense on the best defense of the past ten years and almost beating the Steelers in the Super Bowl? Sorry. Didn’t see that coming.
  • The Giants were essentially the team to beat in the NFC for the entire season – they started out 11-1 before sliding towards the finish line and needing an overtime victory over the Panthers late in the season to hold on to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Surprisingly, however, their division rival Eagles are the ones who come out as the best-rated team in the NFC in Predictive Yards per Play, despite a slew of excruciating losses and Donovan McNabb’s bewilderment at the possibility of a tie game in the NFL. Mainly, this was due to their defense – the last Eagles defense that would be coordinated by Jim Johnson – which ranked in a virtual tie for fourth with the Ravens. In general, defensive excellence had a much higher correlation with winning in 2008 than usual – the Titans, Steelers and Colts all boasted the best records in the AFC while sporting top-six defenses while the top three offensive teams in the league (New Orleans, Houston and Denver) all finished 8-8. Basically, this is the one season in the past, oh, thirty or so in which defense truly won a championship.
  • One of the greatest “What Ifs?” from the past five years in the NFL: what if Broncos owner Pat Bowlen didn’t fire Mike Shanahan after the Broncos choked away a three-game lead in the AFC West with three games to play and missed the playoffs for the third year in a row? Certainly, if Shanahan stays on for at least 2009, Jay Cutler doesn’t get alienated by Josh McDaniels (unless that happens separately – like, if they were both waiting in line at a Quizno’s or something) and doesn’t ask to be traded out of Denver. As you can see from the offensive rankings, the Broncos had NO issues on that side of the ball in 2008 – it was a porous defense that managed to rank even worse than the winless Lions that plummeted the team back down to .500. Had Bowlen kept Shanahan around another year, I think it would have been very likely that the Denver defense would have improved (they definitely did under McDaniels, anyway, rating third in 2009), 26-year-old Cutler would have kept the offense at roughly the same level and the Broncos probably would have made the playoffs.
  • It’s tough to say that things haven’t worked out in reality for either the Broncos (turning a few months of a national sensation at quarterback into Peyton Manning = NOT BAD) or Shanahan (eventually wound up with someone even more talented at QB in Washington, although he’d tell RGIII to go out and play right now if they had a game tomorrow). Cutler, on the other hand, has seen his fortunes change dramatically since being traded to Chicago. And while he’s certainly brought on many of his struggles himself, it’s also a fact that Shanahan’s offense was the ABSOLUTE PERFECT system for his abilities. How differently would Cutler’s career would have gone if he’d just been teamed with Shanahan and Brandon Marshall for the past four years? Would he have turned into a perennial top-ten quarterback – or even a top-five quarterback? Or would his rivalry with Philip Rivers have just devolved to the point where they would eventually engage in a duel during a TV timeout and Cutler would either get killed or sent away to prison for twenty-five years for first-degree murder? In any event, if you’re wondering where in the world Jay Cutler’s untapped potential went, it’s stuck here in Denver in 2008.
  • The 0-16 Lions finish exactly where you think they would in the overall PY/P rankings but actually rate slightly better than the 2-14 team that followed them in 2009. Instead of being GAHHHH YOU CAN’T LET THAT OFFENSE OUT OF THE HOUSE bad like they were in 2009, the Lions were merely terrible offensively in 2008. Although I don’t remember Matthew Stafford stepping out of the back of the end zone unintentionally like Dan Orlovsky did in ’08, so feel free to adjust the rating based on that piece of embarrassing information.
  • Finally, in this year’s awards roundup…This was probably the weakest year for MVP candidates in the past decade. Since none of the quarterbacks on the playoff bye teams had particularly strong numbers, the award wound up going to Peyton Manning, even though it was his weakest season in six years and he probably didn’t deserve it but on the other hand he probably should have had five or six already so whatever it’s probably all good. While sympathetic to that line of reasoning, I probably would have picked Philip Rivers or Drew Brees, even though it feels weird to name an MVP from a 8-8 team. Oh well. Since the Chargers ended up making the playoffs (and he was slightly more efficient than Brees), I’ll give my hypothetical award to RiversBrees, on the other hand, ended up winning Offensive Player of the Year for coming within 15 yards of breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record (WHEN WILL HE EVER GET A CHANCE TO BREAK THAT AGAIN???). I don’t particularly feel like quibbling with a bunch of voters who have no idea what the criteria for this award actually is, so I’ll green light this one…DeMarcus Ware had an absolutely monster year, picking 20 sacks, 27 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles. But when one defense stands out as the best of the past decade, it’s tough to choose the Defensive Player of the Year from any other team. Thus,the choice of James Harrison as DPOY is probably the correct one…2008 was one of the most loaded years in recent memory in the Offensive Rookie of the Year category, as Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Kevin Smith, Eddie Royal and Steve Slaton (yes, Steve Slaton) all had OROY-caliber seasons. Matt Ryan, however, had one of the best seasons a rookie quarterback has ever had. So that kinda wins…The pool for Defensive Rookie of the Year, on the other hand, was considerably shallower – Aqib Talib, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cliff Avril, and Jason Jones all sort of lingered around the conversation instead of standing out. Jerod Mayo was a tackling machine from day one for the Patriots and, in a weak year, was a deserving winner…Chad Pennington won the Comeback Player of the Year award for the seventh time, thus qualifying him for having his name engraved on the trophy and getting half-off his next shoulder surgery…And Tony Sparano and John Harbaugh led the Dolphins and Ravens, respectively, to huge turnaround seasons and would have been equally deserving winners as Mike Smith. I’m sticking with Smith as my choice because I just mentally went Eenie-Meenie-Minie-Mo and he won.
  • Next week: 2007 – a season in which a certain team MAY post the highest Predictive Yards per Play rating of all time (HINT: it’s not the Raiders).
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