Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2004

I really got burned out on doing these rankings in the late winter and early spring, but a close-to-three month respite has gotten the ‘ol statistical juices flowing again and with a month-and-a-half yet to kill before training camp starts, now seems like a good time to dive back into the Predictive Yards per Play rankings. This year, we take you back to 2004 – along with 2007 and 2009, one of the strongest contenders for Most Interesting Year of the ’00s. You’ll notice that the format of the rankings themselves will look a little different – that’s because I recently learned that you could paste data from an obscure program called Excel into WordPress posts. What a world we live in! I’ll leave you to the rankings and then pop back in with my own thoughts.

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.

Rank Team Record Off. PY/P Def. PY/P 2005 Rank PY/P Differential
1 Indianapolis Colts 12-4 6.49 4.85 4 1.64
2 Denver Broncos 10-6 5.34 3.71 1 1.62
3 Pittsburgh Steelers 15-1 5.18 3.66 8 1.52
4 New England Patriots 14-2 5.19 3.80 11 1.39
5 New York Jets 10-6 5.32 4.00 28 1.33
6 Buffalo Bills 9-7 4.40 3.45 30 0.95
7 Cincinnati Bengals 8-8 5.02 4.19 9 0.83
8 Kansas City Chiefs 7-9 6.26 5.43 2 0.83
9 Philadelphia Eagles 13-3 5.28 4.60 14 0.68
10 San Diego Chargers 12-4 5.14 4.56 3 0.58
11 Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7 4.39 3.84 10 0.55
12 Baltimore Ravens 9-7 3.98 3.56 19 0.42
13 Minnesota Vikings 8-8 5.83 5.65 26 0.18
14 Houston Texans 7-9 4.55 4.60 31 -0.05
15 Carolina Panthers 7-9 4.37 4.55 17 -0.18
16 Green Bay Packers 10-6 5.45 5.67 20 -0.22
17 Cleveland Browns 4-12 4.30 4.53 24 -0.23
18 St. Louis Rams 8-8 4.86 5.10 23 -0.24
19 Oakland Raiders 5-11 4.73 5.00 13 -0.26
20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11 4.05 4.39 18 -0.35
21 Seattle Seahawks 9-7 4.65 5.06 7 -0.41
22 Tennessee Titans 5-11 4.56 4.98 22 -0.42
23 Washington Redskins 6-10 3.52 3.96 5 -0.44
24 Miami Dolphins 4-12 3.45 4.01 16 -0.56
25 Atlanta Falcons 11-5 4.20 4.82 21 -0.62
26 New York Giants 6-10 4.23 4.94 6 -0.71
27 Detroit Lions 6-10 4.24 4.95 29 -0.71
28 Dallas Cowboys 6-10 4.44 5.25 12 -0.81
29 New Orleans Saints 8-8 4.26 5.24 27 -0.99
30 Arizona Cardinals 4-12 3.25 4.51 15 -1.26
31 San Francisco 49ers 2-14 3.57 5.39 32 -1.82
32 Chicago Bears 5-11 2.59 4.75 25 -2.16

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.60)

“PY/P” = unadjusted Predictive Yards per Play, “Ball Control %” = the percentage of the team’s total plays in which their offense was on the field, “SOS %” = strength of schedule, “Final PY/P” = Predictive Yards per Play with adjustments made for ball control and strength of schedule.

Rank Team Points PY/P Ball Control % SOS % Final PY/P
1 Indianapolis Colts 522 6.49 0.9816 0.0260 6.49
2 Kansas City Chiefs 483 5.79 1.0315 0.0604 6.26
3 Minnesota Vikings 405 6.06 0.9918 -0.0385 5.83
4 Green Bay Packers 424 5.49 1.0213 -0.0333 5.45
5 Denver Broncos 381 5.30 1.0382 -0.0339 5.34
6 New York Jets 333 5.03 1.0076 0.0545 5.32
7 Philadelphia Eagles 386 5.52 0.9802 -0.0298 5.28
8 New England Patriots 437 5.03 1.0116 0.0220 5.19
9 Pittsburgh Steelers 372 4.66 1.0343 0.0761 5.18
10 San Diego Chargers 446 5.20 1.0013 -0.0135 5.14
11 Cincinnati Bengals 374 4.54 0.9934 0.1121 5.02
12 St. Louis Rams 319 4.99 1.0012 -0.0304 4.86
13 Oakland Raiders 320 4.71 0.9669 0.0412 4.73
14 Seattle Seahawks 371 4.94 0.9969 -0.0607 4.65
15 Tennessee Titans 344 4.41 1.0187 0.0132 4.56
16 Houston Texans 309 4.56 1.0076 -0.0106 4.55
17 Dallas Cowboys 293 4.35 1.0112 0.0080 4.44
18 Buffalo Bills 395 4.10 1.0010 0.0650 4.40
19 Jacksonville Jaguars 261 4.48 1.0048 -0.0246 4.39
20 Carolina Panthers 355 4.72 0.9925 -0.0700 4.37
21 Cleveland Browns 276 3.84 0.9735 0.1273 4.30
22 New Orleans Saints 348 4.65 0.9810 -0.0682 4.26
23 Detroit Lions 296 4.55 0.9698 -0.0380 4.24
24 New York Giants 303 4.23 0.9862 0.0115 4.23
25 Atlanta Falcons 340 4.56 0.9924 -0.0729 4.20
26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 301 4.34 0.9969 -0.0618 4.05
27 Baltimore Ravens 317 3.77 0.9955 0.0499 3.98
28 San Francisco 49ers 259 3.51 1.0029 0.0092 3.57
29 Washington Redskins 240 3.67 1.0123 -0.0426 3.52
30 Miami Dolphins 275 3.09 1.0032 0.0743 3.45
31 Arizona Cardinals 284 3.48 1.0132 -0.0589 3.25
32 Chicago Bears 231 2.95 0.9804 -0.0676 2.59

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.60)

“PY/P” = Unadjusted Predictive Yards per Play, “Ball Control %” = the percentage of the team’s total plays in which their defense was on the field, “SOS %” = strength of schedule, “Final PY/P” = Predictive Yards per Play with adjustments made for ball control and strength of schedule.

Rank Team Points PY/P Ball Control % SOS% Final PY/P
1 Buffalo Bills 284 3.41 0.9990 -0.0109 3.45
2 Baltimore Ravens 268 3.99 1.0045 0.0961 3.56
3 Pittsburgh Steelers 251 3.75 0.9657 -0.0092 3.66
4 Denver Broncos 304 4.25 0.9618 0.0845 3.71
5 New England Patriots 260 4.12 0.9884 0.0589 3.80
6 Jacksonville Jaguars 280 4.37 0.9952 0.1124 3.84
7 Washington Redskins 265 3.81 0.9877 -0.0429 3.96
8 New York Jets 261 4.20 0.9924 0.0385 4.00
9 Miami Dolphins 354 4.27 0.9968 0.0531 4.01
10 Cincinnati Bengals 372 4.20 1.0066 0.0077 4.19
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 304 4.12 1.0031 -0.0551 4.39
12 Arizona Cardinals 322 4.32 0.9868 -0.0540 4.51
13 Cleveland Browns 390 4.62 1.0265 0.0461 4.53
14 Carolina Panthers 339 4.47 1.0075 -0.0092 4.55
15 San Diego Chargers 313 4.79 0.9987 0.0502 4.56
16 Houston Texans 339 4.95 0.9924 0.0700 4.60
17 Philadelphia Eagles 260 4.14 1.0198 -0.0807 4.60
18 Chicago Bears 331 4.55 1.0196 -0.0231 4.75
19 Atlanta Falcons 337 4.61 1.0076 -0.0383 4.82
20 Indianapolis Colts 351 4.79 1.0184 0.0071 4.85
21 New York Giants 347 4.57 1.0138 -0.0650 4.94
22 Detroit Lions 350 4.59 1.0302 -0.0470 4.95
23 Tennessee Titans 439 5.36 0.9813 0.0630 4.98
24 Oakland Raiders 442 5.36 1.0331 0.1136 5.00
25 Seattle Seahawks 373 4.73 1.0031 -0.0685 5.06
26 St. Louis Rams 392 4.93 0.9988 -0.0365 5.10
27 New Orleans Saints 405 5.04 1.0190 -0.0220 5.24
28 Dallas Cowboys 405 5.10 0.9888 -0.0452 5.25
29 San Francisco 49ers 452 5.01 0.9971 -0.0854 5.39
30 Kansas City Chiefs 435 5.82 0.9685 0.0467 5.43
31 Minnesota Vikings 395 5.28 1.0082 -0.0697 5.65
32 Green Bay Packers 380 5.42 0.9787 -0.0807 5.67

Thoughts…

  • The final year of the Patriots’ reign atop the NFL occurred this year, as they won their second Super Bowl in a row and third in four years. The ’01 and ’03 champions perhaps elicit more jubilant memories for Pats fans, but I think the general consensus is the ’04 team was the best and their PY/P rating jives with conventional wisdom. Their overall ranking of fourth is the same as the ’03 team, but offensively the ’04 Patriots were considerably better, ranking in the top ten for the first time. Tom Brady made the leap from glorified game manager to actual Pro Bowl quarterback and Corey Dillon had his last excellent year as a runner. Despite those developments, would you classify the Patriots as a dominant regular season team? I’m not sure I would. At least, not in the same way you would classify the ’85 Bears or ’72 Dolphins or, heck, the ’07 Patriots as true historical juggernauts. Then again, it’s always better to be a very good but not great regular season team that goes on to win the Super Bowl than the best regular season team all year that woofs in the playoffs. The ’07 and ’10 Patriots know that better than anybody.
  • Indianapolis winds up #1 over Denver by a few small decimal points, almost entirely because their offense was TERRIFYING. Seriously, the Colts’ defense rates below-average this year and the team still ranks #1 because of an offense that was about 41% better than the average team’s. Pittsburgh also finished above the Patriots, although they probably have to be considered the worst 15-1 team of all-time (only because the only other 15-1 teams ever were the ’85 Bears and ’98 Vikings, but still). However, giving early-2000s Bill Belichick a merely above-average roster is a terrifying thing in and of itself. Because in case you can’t remember what the landscape of the NFL was back in Dubya’s first term, no NFL head coach was within light years of Belichick at that point. He was five or six steps ahead of everybody else strategically. That’s how a team with a legitimately bad roster won a Super Bowl in 2001 and how a team with an average one won fourteen games and another Super Bowl in 2003. And Belichick’s genius was a particular kryptonite for the Colts, who had better rosters but could always be counted on to do the same thing EVERY GAME. It took several years and a gradual decay of New England’s roster for Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning – two otherwise remarkable individuals – to finally figure out a way past the Pats.
  • The AFC was full of intrigue and outstanding performances all season long. On the other side of the league, though, the NFC was playing a brand of football that was only at a slightly higher level than the SEC’s. If you glance back up at the overall rankings in Predictive Yards per Play, you’ll see that the top eight teams – yes, eight – are all from the AFC and one of them (Kansas City) had a losing record. When even the other conference’s losing teams are better than your winning teams, that may be a sign you’re having a down year. The Eagles reaped the benefits of being the lone human in a conference of lilliputians; every other NFC team trudged along and did their best not to suck so hard. The Falcons finished 11-5 but ranked 25th overall in our rankings (losing games by scores of 56-10 and 27-0 will do that to you). The Packers and Vikings fought for the NFC North title with essentially the same teams: great offenses and HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE DEFENSES. And the NFC West also existed. If Andy Reid hadn’t figured out a way to get the Eagles into the Super Bowl against THAT pool of competitors, he would have been beaten to a bloody pulp and possibly deserved it.
  • Surprise! The Bills wound up with the league’s highest-rated defense after going on six-game stretch in November and December in which they outscored their opponents 228-89 and forced 26 turnovers along the way. Naturally, they missed the playoffs after losing to the Steelers’ second-stringers at home in the final week of the season. The Packers narrowly edged out the Vikings for both the NFC North and Worst Defense of the Year – both teams were in the running for the former because they found ways to let the Bears gain 300 yards on them. Bears fans tend to look back on that team with great fondness. Ah, Chad Hutchinson! Your ability to complete a forward pass is almost as limited as Jonathan Quinn’s, but certainly exceeds that of Craig Krenzel’s.
  • Quickly summarizing the awards action, Peyton Manning won both MVP and Offensive Player of the Year for having perhaps the greatest offensive season of all time. Seems reasonable…Ed Reed picked off nine passes, forced three fumbles, defended seventeen passes, scored two defensive touchdowns and essentially allowed the Ravens to not bother fielding three other members of their secondary. His Defensive Player of the Year award was also well deserved…Kevin Jones gained over 1300 yards from scrimmage for Detroit, but Ben Roethlisberger was the sixth most efficient passer in the league and didn’t lose a game in his rookie season until the AFC Championship. I’d say he deserved his Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but I’m still protesting the fact that Craig Krenzel didn’t win it…Finally! One the AP voters got wrong! Jonathan Vilma won Defensive Rookie of the Year for finishing 32nd in the league in tackles – a preposterously overrated stat for defenders to begin with! Dunta “Sackmasta” Robinson picked off six passes, defensed nineteen passes, got three sacks and finished with three fewer tackles than Vilma. Obviously, the guy who played for the New York team deserved the award over the player who was better…Drew Brees won Comeback Player of the Year for leading the Chargers to a breakout 12-4 season and if the award Brees won was Breakout Player of the Year, I’d throw my support behind that. But what exactly was Drew coming back from in 2004? Being a mediocre-to-below-average starting quarterback the two previous years? I’m flummoxed. Out of principle, I’m giving my (fake and exceedingly tardy) vote to Chad Pennington…And, bless his heart, Marty Schottenheimer won Coach of the Year for orchestrating that turnaround for San Diego. Unfortunately for him, Bill Belichick was alive that year, so he probably deserved the award instead.
  • Next time: 2003 – a year with no dominant team lends itself quite well to the powers of one Darth Hoodie.

 

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Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2005

A quick note before we dive into the 2005 rankings: today’s Predictive Yards per Play post will be the last in this series for a little while. My feeling is throwing so many numbers at the reader week after week after week is leading to nothing sinking in and there’s only so many times in a six week period you can feign serious interest in who should have won the Comeback Player of the Year award. So I’ll probably give this series a break and start it back up after the draft’s over. Sound good? It better! Here’s your PY/P ratings for 2005…

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. Denver Broncos (13-3)1.66 (2006 ranking: #15)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)1.53 (2006 ranking: #12)
  3. San Diego Chargers (9-7)1.34 (2006 ranking: #3)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)1.25 (2006 ranking: #1)
  5. Washington Redskins (10-6)1.04 (2006 ranking: #24)
  6. New York Giants (11-5)0.97 (2006 ranking: #17)
  7. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)0.97 (2006 ranking: #29)
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)0.97 (2006 ranking: #8)
  9. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)0.62 (2006 ranking: #11)
  10. Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)0.39 (2006 ranking: #2)
  11. New England Patriots (10-6)0.29 (2006 ranking: #6)
  12. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)0.23 (2006 ranking: #10)
  13. Oakland Raiders (4-12)0.20 (2006 ranking: #30)
  14. Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)0.15 (2006 ranking: #4)
  15. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)0.12 (2006 ranking: #31)
  16. Miami Dolphins (9-7)0.09 (2006 ranking: #7)
  17. Carolina Panthers (11-5)0.07 (2006 ranking: #16)
  18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)-0.07 (2006 ranking: #28)
  19. Baltimore Ravens (6-10)-0.07 (2006 ranking: #5)
  20. Green Bay Packers (4-12)-0.23 (2006 ranking: #13)
  21. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)-0.44 (2006 ranking: #18)
  22. Tennessee Titans (4-12)-0.48 (2006 ranking: #23)
  23. St. Louis Rams (6-10)-0.55 (2006 ranking: #21)
  24. Cleveland Browns (6-10)-0.58 (2006 ranking: #32)
  25. Chicago Bears (11-5)-0.68 (2006 ranking: #14)
  26. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)-0.70 (2006 ranking: #22)
  27. New Orleans Saints (3-13)-0.77 (2006 ranking: #9)
  28. New York Jets (4-12)-0.88 (2006 ranking: #20)
  29. Detroit Lions (5-11)-0.98 (2006 ranking: #25)
  30. Buffalo Bills (5-11)-1.30 (2006 ranking: #19)
  31. Houston Texans (2-14)-1.85 (2006 ranking: #26)
  32. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)-2.68 (2006 ranking: #27)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.38)

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)5.66 (2006 ranking: #13)
  2. Denver Broncos (13-3)5.57 (2006 ranking: #20)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)5.48 (2006 ranking: #5)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)5.38 (2006 ranking: #1)
  5. San Diego Chargers (9-7)5.34 (2006 ranking: #2)
  6. New England Patriots (10-6)5.21 (2006 ranking: #9)
  7. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)5.14 (2006 ranking: #30)
  8. New York Giants (11-5)5.05 (2006 ranking: #16)
  9. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)4.82 (2006 ranking: #6)
  10. Washington Redskins (10-6)4.76 (2006 ranking: #11)
  11. Oakland Raiders (4-12)4.54 (2006 ranking: #32)
  12. St. Louis Rams (6-10)4.51 (2006 ranking: #10)
  13. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)4.50 (2006 ranking: #12)
  14. Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)4.48 (2006 ranking: #7)
  15. Carolina Panthers (11-5)4.37 (2006 ranking: #21)
  16. Tennessee Titans (4-12)4.36 (2006 ranking: #18)
  17. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)4.32 (2006 ranking: #28)
  18. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)4.19 (2006 ranking: #8)
  19. Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)4.17 (2006 ranking: #4)
  20. Miami Dolphins (9-7)4.16 (2006 ranking: #17)
  21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)4.15 (2006 ranking: #31)
  22. New Orleans Saints (3-13)4.09 (2006 ranking: #3)
  23. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)4.06 (2006 ranking: #27)
  24. Green Bay Packers (4-12)4.00 (2006 ranking: #19)
  25. Cleveland Browns (6-10)3.89 (2006 ranking: #29)
  26. Detroit Lions (5-11)3.85 (2006 ranking: #23)
  27. Baltimore Ravens (6-10)3.74 (2006 ranking: #14)
  28. Buffalo Bills (5-11)3.47 (2006 ranking: #22)
  29. Houston Texans (2-14)3.38 (2006 ranking: #25)
  30. New York Jets (4-12)3.29 (2006 ranking: #15)
  31. Chicago Bears (11-5)3.19 (2006 ranking: #26)
  32. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)2.83 (2006 ranking: #24)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.38)

  1. Washington Redskins (10-6)3.72 (2006 ranking: #32)
  2. Baltimore Ravens (6-10)3.81 (2006 ranking: #2)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)3.86 (2006 ranking: #13)
  4. Chicago Bears (11-5)3.87 (2006 ranking: #5)
  5. Denver Broncos (13-3)3.91 (2006 ranking: #9)
  6. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)3.95 (2006 ranking: #19)
  7. San Diego Chargers (9-7)4.00 (2006 ranking: #14)
  8. Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)4.02 (2006 ranking: #12)
  9. Miami Dolphins (9-7)4.07 (2006 ranking: #1)
  10. New York Giants (11-5)4.08 (2006 ranking: #15)
  11. Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)4.09 (2006 ranking: #3)
  12. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)4.13 (2006 ranking: #17)
  13. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)4.13 (2006 ranking: #18)
  14. New York Jets (4-12)4.16 (2006 ranking: #23)
  15. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)4.18 (2006 ranking: #20)
  16. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)4.21 (2006 ranking: #27)
  17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)4.22 (2006 ranking: #16)
  18. Green Bay Packers (4-12)4.23 (2006 ranking: #10)
  19. Carolina Panthers (11-5)4.29 (2006 ranking: #8)
  20. Oakland Raiders (4-12)4.34 (2006 ranking: #6)
  21. Cleveland Browns (6-10)4.47 (2006 ranking: #28)
  22. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)4.76 (2006 ranking: #7)
  23. Buffalo Bills (5-11)4.77 (2006 ranking: #11)
  24. Detroit Lions (5-11)4.83 (2006 ranking: #25)
  25. Tennessee Titans (4-12)4.84 (2006 ranking: #22)
  26. New Orleans Saints (3-13)4.86 (2006 ranking: #24)
  27. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)4.86 (2006 ranking: #26)
  28. New England Patriots (10-6)4.92 (2006 ranking: #4)
  29. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)4.93 (2006 ranking: #21)
  30. St. Louis Rams (8-8)5.05 (2006 ranking: #31)
  31. Houston Texans (2-14)5.23 (2006 ranking: #29)
  32. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)5.50 (2006 ranking: #30)

Some thoughts on the above ratings…

  • My guess is Super Bowl XL will probably forever be the closest matchup according to Predictive Yards per Play – since we’re into splitting hairs around here, the Seahawks had a positive differential of +0.969736 and the Steelers were ONLY +0.965407. If we were to convert those PY/P figures to points, our numbers would have suggested that the Seahawks deserved to be favorites in Super Bowl XL by a robust .02 points. WHAT A SPREAD. Of course, the Steelers’ offensive rating was brought down significantly by the four games that Ben Roethlisberger missed during the year. Tommy Maddox lost the two games he started and generally played horribly in both; Charlie Batch, on the other hand, won both games he started and performed slightly above-average but nowhere near Roethlisberger’s 7.5 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt figure. So if we ran the numbers and included only the games that Roethlisberger started for Pittsburgh in 2005, their offensive rating would have jumped and, if we were around back in 2005 to make predictions on the internet, we would probably would have picked the Steelers over the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. HUZZAH WE WOULD HAVE GOTTEN ONE RIGHT!
  • Neither the Steelers nor the Seahawks were near the top of the leaderboard for the season, however. A crazy AFC West triumvirate of Denver, Kansas City and San Diego (only one of which actually made the playoffs in 2005) took the top three spots in the Predictive Yards per Play differential rankings for the season. Largely only remembering Jake Plummer crapping the bed in the AFC Championship Game, this came as a surprise to me. The answer, as usual, lies in strength of schedule – all three teams played schedules that were among the five hardest in the league, with San Diego playing the absolute toughest. The Broncos were very good at everything, the Chargers had a strong defense to go along with LaDainian Tomlinson and the last year of Drew Brees’ stay in San Diego and the Chiefs were in the last year of one of the most underrated offensive runs of all time. Hold on, this deserves its own paragraph…
  • When people talk about great offenses from the past, you NEVER hear the early-to-mid 2000s Chiefs mentioned. Ever. Yet who led the league in points scored from 2002 to 2005? Why, that would be Kansas City, sir. If we wanted to measure these things by Predictive Yards per Play, the Chiefs rank first offensively in every year during that span except 2004 – and that season was actually their highest rating out of the whole bunch (6.26), there’s just no way they were going to beat out Peyton Manning that year. For some perspective, the Patriots since 2007 have ranked #1 in PY/P three times, the Colts in Peyton Manning’s prime (2003-2007) ranked #1 only twice and the Greatest Show on Turf Rams did the same. So, ahem…excuse me while I bust out the all-CAPS for a second, but…THE 2002-05 CHIEFS OFFENSE WAS PRETTY DAMN GOOD. The reasons we never think of them in such lofty terms, I think, are twofold. First, they never won a playoff game, primarily because their defense was horrible in every year except ’05. And, second, most of their Hall of Famers came from non-glamour positions. Willie Roaf is in the Hall of Fame, Tony Gonzalez will get in five years after he retires and Will Shields should get in sometime in the next couple years. But those are two offensive linemen and a tight end. Trent Green and Priest Holmes will never get into Canton unless they buy a ticket and that’s not the end of the world. But let’s just take a moment to recognize how good they were for a few years last decade.
  • We’re obligated to mention the NFC somewhat, even if they were still in the midst of a long downtrodden stretch. 2005 wasn’t actually too bad for the conference according to PY/P – seven of the 16 teams finished with above-average differentials. However, three of those teams missed the playoffs (including the 6-10 Eagles and 5-11 Cardinals – I’m particularly perplexed at how Arizona ended rating decently, but that’s a question that’s not particularly interesting or relevant) and the Bears wound up with a bye despite finishing 25th overall (thanks to the legend of rookie Kyle Orton). I’ve never Joe Gibbs’ second stint as Redskins coach described in particularly glowing terms, but Washington DID rate as the best team in the conference in 2005, largely thanks to the best-rated defense in the league – a defense that would go on to finish dead last in 2006 and then back at the top in 2007. You look up the term “mercurial” in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Gregg Williams’ creepy mug staring right back at you. Given Seattle’s tremendous home-field advantage, however, it was always probably a long-shot for any other NFC team to make it to the Super Bowl once the Seahawks wrapped up their 12th win.
  • On the futility side of the equation, just try to look at that 49ers rating without throwing up. Can’t be done. To put things into perspective, Alex Smith threw one touchdown against eleven interceptions this season…and wasn’t even the worst performing quarterback on his team (hello, Cody Pickett!). The fact that Mike McCarthy somehow got the Packers’ head coaching job after offensive coordinating this disaster either speaks to the brilliant foresight Green Bay’s front office had or the incredible good fortune they lucked into after hiring him. For me, personally, it’s a toss-up between the two.
  • In the 2005 individual awards watch…Shaun Alexander won the MVP award for having the good fortune of running behind a great offensive line and getting every conceivable red zone and goal line carry so he could break the single-season touchdown record. Even if you didn’t think giving the MVP to a running back was stupid, you could make a strong argument that Alexander wasn’t even the best running back that season – go check out Tiki Barber and Larry Johnson’s all-around stats and tell me Alexander was THAT much better than them. Harrumph. As usual, the guy who actually deserved it was Peyton Manning, although Carson Palmer was actually a close second. Oh, if only his knee hadn’t got Kimo von Oelhoffen’d…MVP was actually the second of two undeserved awards Alexander won in 2005, as he also took home Offensive Player of the Year. Not to beat a dead horse, but Thomas Jones probably could have broken the single-season touchdown record running behind Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson. Peyton or Tiki Barber would have been better choices…As a Bears fan, I obviously love the crap out of Brian Urlacher, but even I have to admit he probably didn’t deserve Defensive Player of the Year this year. Jason Taylor had twelve sacks, four forced fumbles and ten pass deflections, but Champ Bailey had eight picks (two of them returned for touchdowns), twenty-three pass deflections and played great in run support. Plus he almost single-handedly ended the Patriots’  dynasty with his 100-yard interception return in the playoffs. That doesn’t technically count for anything here, but…okay, it means a lot…Cadillac Williams eked out a close Offensive Rookie of the Year win over Kyle Orton (he went 10-5 as Bears starting quarterback! He was a stabilizing influence and THE main reason the Bears won the NFC North!)…Shawne Merriman picked up ten sacks for the Chargers, won Defensive Rookie of the Year and proceeded to have one more good season before falling off the face of the earth. That’s a good job by you, Shawne!…Steve Smith and Tedy Bruschi shared Comeback Player of the Year and while you’d have to be a PRETTY BIG CURMUDGEON to begrudge media members voting for a guy who came back from a stroke…I mean, do you remember the way Steve Smith played that year? He was frigging terrifying! I still have nightmares of him running circles around Peanut Tillman and humping the Soldier Field goalposts in the playoffs. GAHHHHHHH. Let’s just forget I brought that up…And I was about to launch into a spiel saying that Joe Gibbs should have won Coach of the Year this year. But then I remembered that Lovie Smith got the Bears into the playoffs with Kyle Orton as his quarterback. So…touche, Lovie. 
  • Coming at some point in the future: 2004 – where Peyton Manning has arguably the best season of all time and it only gets the Colts a #3 seed…

Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2006

You know the drill by now: I take you back to a year in the distant past – this time, 2006 (remember the Jonas Brothers?!?!) – and then give you statistical information and harebrained thoughts you probably didn’t ask for and may not actually care about at all. WELL THAT’S TOO BAD, FRAIDY SUE, ‘CAUSE YOU’RE GONNA READ THIS ANYWAY. 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. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)1.52 (2007 ranking: #2)
  2. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)1.27 (2007 ranking: #5)
  3. San Diego Chargers (14-2)1.10 (2007 ranking: #11)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)1.08 (2007 ranking: #4)
  5. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)0.96 (2007 ranking: #26)
  6. New England Patriots (12-4)0.94 (2007 ranking: #1)
  7. Miami Dolphins (6-10)0.87 (2007 ranking: #27)
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)0.71 (2007 ranking: #10)
  9. New Orleans Saints (10-6)0.65 (2007 ranking: #20)
  10. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)0.37 (2007 ranking: #3)
  11. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)0.30 (2007 ranking: #18)
  12. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)0.08 (2007 ranking: #23)
  13. Green Bay Packers (8-8)0.07 (2007 ranking: #7)
  14. Chicago Bears (13-3)0.01 (2007 ranking: #24)
  15. Denver Broncos (9-7)-0.03 (2007 ranking: #12)
  16. Carolina Panthers (8-8)-0.03 (2007 ranking: #25)
  17. New York Giants (8-8)-0.07 (2007 ranking: #13)
  18. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)-0.09 (2007 ranking: #29)
  19. Buffalo Bills (7-9)-0.11 (2007 ranking: #19)
  20. New York Jets (10-6)-0.30 (2007 ranking: #21)
  21. St. Louis Rams (8-8)-0.33 (2007 ranking: #31)
  22. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)-0.36 (2007 ranking: #9)
  23. Tennessee Titans (8-8)-0.45 (2007 ranking: #14)
  24. Washington Redskins (5-11)-0.48 (2007 ranking: #6)
  25. Detroit Lions (3-13)-0.73 (2007 ranking: #15)
  26. Houston Texans (6-10)-0.87 (2007 ranking: #17)
  27. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)-0.92 (2007 ranking: #32)
  28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)-0.94 (2007 ranking: #8)
  29. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)-0.99 (2007 ranking: #16)
  30. Oakland Raiders (2-14)-1.12 (2007 ranking: #30)
  31. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)-1.12 (2007 ranking: #28)
  32. Cleveland Browns (4-12)-1.18 (2007 ranking: #22)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.50)

  1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)6.10 (2007 ranking: #5)
  2. San Diego Chargers (14-2)5.55 (2007 ranking: #12)
  3. New Orleans Saints (10-6)5.51 (2007 ranking: #8)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)5.38 (2007 ranking: #7)
  5. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)5.18 (2007 ranking: #10)
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)5.13 (2007 ranking: #18)
  7. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)5.11 (2007 ranking: #3)
  8. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)4.95 (2007 ranking: #2)
  9. New England Patriots (12-4)4.90 (2007 ranking: #1)
  10. St. Louis Rams (8-8)4.85 (2007 ranking: #31)
  11. Washington Redskins (5-11)4.72 (2007 ranking: #16)
  12. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)4.69 (2007 ranking: #21)
  13. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)4.63 (2007 ranking: #28)
  14. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)4.55 (2007 ranking: #26)
  15. New York Jets (10-6)4.51 (2007 ranking: #22)
  16. New York Giants (8-8)4.43 (2007 ranking: #13)
  17. Miami Dolphins (6-10)4.39 (2007 ranking: #23)
  18. Tennessee Titans (8-8)4.36 (2007 ranking: #25)
  19. Green Bay Packers (8-8)4.30 (2007 ranking: #4)
  20. Denver Broncos (9-7)4.19 (2007 ranking: #6)
  21. Carolina Panthers (8-8)4.19 (2007 ranking: #30)
  22. Buffalo Bills (7-9)4.18 (2007 ranking: #24)
  23. Detroit Lions (3-13)4.14 (2007 ranking: #17)
  24. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)4.10 (2007 ranking: #32)
  25. Houston Texans (6-10)4.07 (2007 ranking: #11)
  26. Chicago Bears (13-3)4.01 (2007 ranking: #29)
  27. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)3.79 (2007 ranking: #9)
  28. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)3.79 (2007 ranking: #20)
  29. Cleveland Browns (4-12)3.73 (2007 ranking: #15)
  30. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)3.73 (2007 ranking: #19)
  31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)3.58 (2007 ranking: #14)
  32. Oakland Raiders (2-14)2.89 (2007 ranking: #27)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.50)

  1. Miami Dolphins (6-10)3.52 (2007 ranking: #23)
  2. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)3.59 (2007 ranking: #15)
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)3.84 (2007 ranking: #20)
  4. New England Patriots (12-4)3.95 (2007 ranking: #9)
  5. Chicago Bears (13-3)4.00 (2007 ranking: #13)
  6. Oakland Raiders (2-14)4.01 (2007 ranking: #24)
  7. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)4.16 (2007 ranking: #11)
  8. Carolina Panthers (8-8)4.21 (2007 ranking: #14)
  9. Denver Broncos (9-7)4.22 (2007 ranking: #19)
  10. Green Bay Packers (8-8)4.23 (2007 ranking: #17)
  11. Buffalo Bills (7-9)4.28 (2007 ranking: #16)
  12. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)4.30 (2007 ranking: #6)
  13. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)4.42 (2007 ranking: #3)
  14. San Diego Chargers (14-2)4.45 (2007 ranking: #7)
  15. New York Giants (8-8)4.50 (2007 ranking: #10)
  16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)4.52 (2007 ranking: #5)
  17. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)4.56 (2007 ranking: #12)
  18. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)4.57 (2007 ranking: #2)
  19. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)4.58 (2007 ranking: #8)
  20. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)4.72 (2007 ranking: #21)
  21. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)4.77 (2007 ranking: #28)
  22. Tennessee Titans (8-8)4.80 (2007 ranking: #4)
  23. New York Jets (10-6)4.81 (2007 ranking: #18)
  24. New Orleans Saints (10-6)4.86 (2007 ranking: #32)
  25. Detroit Lions (3-13)4.87 (2007 ranking: #22)
  26. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)4.89 (2007 ranking: #29)
  27. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)4.91 (2007 ranking: #30)
  28. Cleveland Browns (4-12)4.91 (2007 ranking: #31)
  29. Houston Texans (6-10)4.94 (2007 ranking: #27)
  30. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)5.02 (2007 ranking: #26)
  31. St. Louis Rams (8-8)5.18 (2007 ranking: #25)
  32. Washington Redskins (5-11)5.20 (2007 ranking: #1)

My attempts at an explanation…

  • Remember when I said a couple weeks ago that the 2008 Steelers were the only team this century to rank #1 in the year-end Predictive Yards per Play rankings and win the Super Bowl in the same year? Turns out I lied. Not intentionally, though! You simply must take my word that there was no malice of forethought and I just naturally assumed that the 2006 Colts’ defense would weigh their overall rating down so much that they couldn’t possibly sniff the #1 ranking.  I ASSUMED INCORRECTLY. The Colts’ run defense (during the regular season, anyway) WAS just as bad as you remembered it, ranking dead last in Yards per Carry Allowed. But their pass defense was actually a little above-average in Net Yards per Attempt Allowed – and they did that against a tougher-than-average schedule. So when you crunch all the numbers down in my eight year-old Windows XP supercomputer, you find that the Colts’ defense was ultimately just a tad below-average overall. And since this was the final season of a four-year stretch in which Peyton Manning was a football god, “just a tad below-average” won’t hold one of the best offenses of all time down too much.
  • As for the team the Colts beat in the Super Bowl, you’ll notice that these ratings essentially place the Bears as a completely league-average team and thus the worst team to make the Super Bowl that we’ve run into so far by a wide margin. And, frankly, if you don’t pay any attention to special teams (which these ratings don’t), that would be a pretty accurate assessment of that team. The defense was excellent but significantly aided by the easiest schedule of opposing offenses in the league. And I’m sure you remember Rex Grossman. Just for kicks and giggles, take a look at Sexy Rexy’s stat line from this game…aaaaaannnndddd then this game. Pretty gross, right (pun most definitely intended)? AND THE BEARS STILL WON BOTH GAMES. You have no idea how happy Devin Hester made me that year.
  • The fact that the Bears were able to ride such a (to put it nicely) MERCURIAL quarterback to a 13-3 record says quite a bit how good their special teams were and/or how bad the rest of the NFC was that year, depending on how generous you want to be. Only five teams rated above league-average overall in PY/P and two of them (the Packers and Bears) made it over that hump by the skin of their teeth. The only team in the entire conference that was above-average on both offense and defense was Philadelphia – and you knew that Andy Reid was going screw that all up by the end, so it was pretty tough to find a legitimate contender to go up against all the big boys in the AFC. After this year, the conference sobered up in a hurry and found some new quarterbacks that started to shift the conference tide back in their direction. But for 2006 still, the NFC was a joke.
  • On the other hand, the ratings for the AFC’s winningest teams this season don’t make them look nearly as scary as I remember them being. This is probably best evidenced by the fact that the Jaguars ranked second in the overall rankings despite finishing 8-8 and starting Byron Leftwich at quarterback for six games. Everybody was crapping their pants over the thought of facing the Chargers the last three months of ’06, but Predictive Yards per Play suggests that their offense, while super freaky good, was not the gruesome force of death it was made out to be and their defense was probably only capable of making the Raiders quake in terror (and that’s only because they were starting Andrew Walter – they were quaking in terror at everybody that year). Switch offense and defense around for the Ravens and you basically get the same idea. Obviously the Pats were good that year, too, but not overpoweringly so on either side of the ball. So to sum up: if you were a fan of one of those aforementioned teams in 2006, your team wasn’t nearly as good as you thought they were. You’re welcome!
  • Another good What-If from the late ’00s: what if Nick Saban stayed on as the head coach of the Dolphins? Yeah, they went 6-10 in ’06 but that’s only because they started Joey Harrington and Cleo Lemon at quarterback for twelve games that year – that’s a winning recipe only if you’re a coaching a Pac-10 team in 2001. Defensively, the Dolphins figured some stuff out under Saban: they finished #1 in PY/P in 2006 and then crashed to #23 in 2007 under Cam Cameron. Was it possible that Jason Taylor and Co. lost the will to live once they learned that Cam Cameron was going to be their new coach? CAN’T RULE IT OUT. Anyway, convince Saban not to bolt for Alabama (a tougher task than I’m giving it credit for, admittedly) and give that Dolphins team a decent quarterback and I think you’ve got a consistent rival for Darth Hoodie and the Patriots in the AFC East. Alas, Nick decided that recruiting 13 year-olds was a more attractive career path and the Dolphins defense has never really scaled the same heights since. Too bad!
  • Finally, the biggest statistical oddity from this year would have be the Redskins finishing dead-last defensively before bouncing back to #1 in 2007. Before you scratch your head any further, though, let me just point out that Adam Archuleta started seven games at safety for them in ’06. MYSTERY SOLVED.
  • And now your individual awards breakdown…LaDainian Tomlinson won MVP for breaking the single-season touchdown record and generally have one of the four or five greatest seasons a running back has ever had. That’s a good job by you, LaDainian! And if a running back was even remotely relative in worth to a quarterback, LTD would have been a deserving MVP choice. Unfortunately, they are not and Peyton Manning should have been busy picking up his fourth MVP award in a row. THEY CAN’T KEEP DOING FOREHEAD WRONG LIKE THAT!…On the other hand, I’m not going to argue against LaDainian winning Offensive Player of the Year. Even if there’s no set criteria for this crap, sure feels wrong to let the guy who set the record for most touchdowns in a season ride off into the sunset without an award of some kind. I’m sure my fake vote means a lot to him…Jason Taylor picked up 13.5 sacks, forced nine fumbles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns (although one was off Rex Grossman, so it shouldn’t count) and was awarded Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts. I’m inclined to agree, even though Champ Bailey and Asante Samuel both had ten interceptions and played all-world level cornerback…Before Tim Tebow in 2011, there was Vince Young in 2006. After the Titans started out 2-7 in ’06, Young led Tennessee on a crazy six-game winning streak filled with multiple comeback victories (including this one over the Giants in which they came back from 21 down with less than ten minutes to go and won the game in regulation) that were full of crazy heroics but questionable quarterback play. Reggie Bush or Joseph Addai would have been a better choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year…DeMeco Ryans led the league in tackles and beat out his higher-drafted teammate Mario Williams for Defensive Rookie of the Year. This would be a more impressive feat if chewing up tackles on a bad defense wasn’t a useless function, but Advanced NFL Stats thinks he was pretty good that year anyway, so we’ll still support his candidacy over Kamerion Wimbley and Mark Anderson…Chad Pennington won his 73rd Comeback Player of the Year award and as much as I love to support Chad for the award he was born to win, where’s the love for Jeff Garcia? He was completely irrelevant for three years, then came off the bench when Donovan McNabb got hurt and led the Eagles on a five-game winning streak to win the NFC East. As someone who has spent many hours recreating and exaggerating Jeff Garcia’s footwork and throwing motion, I feel it is my responsibility as a blogger to give him my hypothetical vote for an award that nobody cares about anyway…And Sean Payton took the Saints from a 3-13 team without a home to one of the most exciting teams in the league and one game away from the Super Bowl in one season. He’s a pretty good coach.
  • Next week:2005, the year the Patriot Mystique was finally broken. By Jake Plummer, of all people! 

Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2007

In this week’s installment of the year-by-year Predictive Yards per Play, we take you back to 2007 and tell you about the most memorable team of the decade – a team that made a lot of history and broke a lot of records along the way. By now, I’m sure you’re aware I’m referring to the 49ers, of course! Let’s break this sucker down…

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 England Patriots (16-0)2.41 (2008 ranking: #18)
  2. Indianapolis Colts (13-3)1.78 (2008 ranking: #3)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)1.52 (2008 ranking: #9)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)1.09 (2008 ranking: #2)
  5. Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5)0.95 (2008 ranking: #23)
  6. Washington Redskins (9-7)0.95 (2008 ranking: #12)
  7. Green Bay Packers (13-3)0.95 (2008 ranking: #15)
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)0.70 (2008 ranking: #16)
  9. Minnesota Vikings (8-8)0.61 (2008 ranking: #10)
  10. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)0.61 (2008 ranking: #1)
  11. San Diego Chargers (11-5)0.61 (2008 ranking: #13)
  12. Denver Broncos (7-9)0.55 (2008 ranking: #20)
  13. New York Giants (10-6)0.53 (2008 ranking: #5)
  14. Tennessee Titans (10-6)0.14 (2008 ranking: #7)
  15. Detroit Lions (7-9)-0.21 (2008 ranking: #32)
  16. Seattle Seahawks (10-6) -0.23 (2008 ranking: #30)
  17. Houston Texans (8-8)-0.27 (2008 ranking: #11)
  18. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)-0.35 (2008 ranking: #24)
  19. Buffalo Bills (7-9)-0.41 (2008 ranking: #28)
  20. New Orleans Saints (7-9)-0.44 (2008 ranking: #8)
  21. New York Jets (4-12)-0.45 (2008 ranking: #21)
  22. Cleveland Browns (10-6)-0.53 (2008 ranking: #26)
  23. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)-0.58 (2008 ranking: #25)
  24. Chicago Bears (7-9)-0.64 (2008 ranking: #22)
  25. Carolina Panthers (7-9)-0.70 (2008 ranking: #6)
  26. Baltimore Ravens (5-11)-0.71 (2008 ranking: #4)
  27. Miami Dolphins (1-15)-0.73 (2008 ranking: #14)
  28. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)-0.91 (2008 ranking: #19)
  29. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)-0.93 (2008 ranking: #17)
  30. Oakland Raiders (4-12)-1.29 (2008 ranking: #29)
  31. St. Louis Rams (3-13)-1.58 (2008 ranking: #31)
  32. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)-2.49 (2008 ranking: #27)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.50)

  1. New England Patriots (16-0)6.53 (2008 ranking: #14)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)5.63 (2008 ranking: #11)
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5)5.57 (2008 ranking: #16)
  4. Green Bay Packers (13-3)5.45 (2008 ranking: #12)
  5. Indianapolis Colts (13-3)5.45 (2008 ranking: #5)
  6. Denver Broncos (7-9)5.16 (2008 ranking: #3)
  7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)5.12 (2008 ranking: #10)
  8. New Orleans Saints (7-9)4.92 (2008 ranking: #1)
  9. Minnesota Vikings (8-8)4.81 (2008 ranking: #23)
  10. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)4.78 (2008 ranking: #32)
  11. Houston Texans (8-8)4.77 (2008 ranking: #2)
  12. San Diego Chargers (11-5)4.70 (2008 ranking: #6)
  13. New York Giants (10-6)4.68 (2008 ranking: #4)
  14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)4.67 (2008 ranking: #20)
  15. Cleveland Browns (10-6)4.64 (2008 ranking: #25)
  16. Washington Redskins (9-7)4.56 (2008 ranking: #19)
  17. Detroit Lions (7-9)4.46 (2008 ranking: #26)
  18. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)4.43 (2008 ranking: #18)
  19. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)4.41 (2008 ranking: #29)
  20. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)4.26 (2008 ranking: #8)
  21. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)4.17 (2008 ranking: #9)
  22. New York Jets (4-12)4.13 (2008 ranking: #22)
  23. Miami Dolphins (1-15)4.11 (2008 ranking: #13)
  24. Buffalo Bills (7-9)4.07 (2008 ranking: #28)
  25. Tennessee Titans (10-6)3.99 (2008 ranking: #17)
  26. Baltimore Ravens (5-11)3.72 (2008 ranking: #15)
  27. Oakland Raiders (5-11)3.72 (2008 ranking: #31)
  28. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)3.71 (2008 ranking: #21)
  29. Chicago Bears (7-9)3.67 (2008 ranking: #24)
  30. Carolina Panthers (7-9)3.67 (2008 ranking: #7)
  31. St. Louis Rams (3-13)3.43 (2008 ranking: #27)
  32. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)2.55 (2008 ranking: #30)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.50)

  1. Washington Redskins (9-7)3.61 (2008 ranking: #7)
  2. Indianapolis Colts (13-3)3.67 (2008 ranking: #6)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)3.82 (2008 ranking: #1)
  4. Tennessee Titans (10-6)3.85 (2008 ranking: #3)
  5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)3.97 (2008 ranking: #9)
  6. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)4.03 (2008 ranking: #4)
  7. San Diego Chargers (11-5)4.09 (2008 ranking: #24)
  8. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)4.11 (2008 ranking: #8)
  9. New England Patriots (16-0)4.12 (2008 ranking: #18)
  10. New York Giants (10-6)4.15 (2008 ranking: #12)
  11. Minnesota Vikings (8-8)4.20 (2008 ranking: #2)
  12. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)4.29 (2008 ranking: #29)
  13. Chicago Bears (7-9)4.31 (2008 ranking: #11)
  14. Carolina Panthers (7-9)4.37 (2008 ranking: #10)
  15. Baltimore Ravens (5-11)4.43 (2008 ranking: #5)
  16. Buffalo Bills (7-9)4.48 (2008 ranking: #23)
  17. Green Bay Packers (13-3)4.50 (2008 ranking: #16)
  18. New York Jets (4-12)4.58 (2008 ranking: #14)
  19. Denver Broncos (7-9)4.61 (2008 ranking: #32)
  20. Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5)4.61 (2008 ranking: #25)
  21. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)4.63 (2008 ranking: #28)
  22. Detroit Lions (7-9)4.68 (2008 ranking: #31)
  23. Miami Dolphins (1-15)4.83 (2008 ranking: #15)
  24. Oakland Raiders (4-12)5.01 (2008 ranking: #19)
  25. St. Louis Rams (3-13)5.01 (2008 ranking: #30)
  26. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)5.04 (2008 ranking: #17)
  27. Houston Texans (8-8)5.05 (2008 ranking: #27)
  28. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)5.10 (2008 ranking: #20)
  29. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)5.14 (2008 ranking: #13)
  30. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)5.17 (2008 ranking: #26)
  31. Cleveland Browns (10-6)5.17 (2008 ranking: #22)
  32. New Orleans Saints (7-9)5.36 (2008 ranking: #21)

Scattered thoughts that are escaping from the barren wasteland that is my brain…

  • Did you remember the Patriots being that good in 2007? I had no clue until I re-ran the numbers! For whatever reason, I’ve always associated that Pats season with Brandon Meriweather’ s indomitable zeal for victory and forgot everything else associated with that year until today. Oh well! The ’07 Patriots’ overall PY/P rating of 2.41 is indeed the highest of all time – I haven’t run the numbers for seasons before 1971 yet, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that figure’s probably going to hold up to even further scrutiny. On the other hand, if we’re adjusting for era, the Patriots’ overall mark of being 53.59% above league-average actually has been surpassed by another team in the past 42 years – I’ll give you the answer a little later on, but I’m reasonably confident in saying that there’s no way any of you are going to get it. On the other other hand, the Patriot offense’s mark of 6.52 Predictive Yards per Play has since been surpassed by the 2011 Saints, but in terms of percentage points above average, their percentage of 45.11% is the greatest mark I’ve got on record thus far. So they’ll always have that! Until some team in the future surpasses it.
  • The Giants ranked 13th overall in Predictive Yards per Play in 2007 and their postseason run that year still remains probably the most unfathomable thing I’ve come across as an NFL researcher/watcher/fan. To begin with, the Buccaneers were quite a bit better than their 9-7 record indicated and were solid favorites to bounce the Giants out of contention in the first round for a third year in a row. But the stretch AFTER they beat the Bucs in the Wild-Card Round is what’s particularly amazing. To beat the 13-3 Cowboys and Packers on the road in back-to-back weeks and THEN beat the undefeated Patriots…well, let’s just say I would have put their percentage chances of winning the Super Bowl before the divisional round at approximately 0.9%. Lord knows I hate the Patriots with a passion, but sometimes I wish Mike Carey had ruled Eli in the grasp for a sack before he was able to squirm free and fling the ball towards David Tyree’s helmet. Who knows if we’ll ever see another team that gets THAT close to perfection? Now with that said, I hope the Patriots go 2-14 for the next fifteen years.
  • Meanwhile…LOOK AT DAT COLTS DEFENSIVE RATING. Hmmm. I wonder who was healthy for 15 out of the 16 games that season? It just goes to show you that if you build your entire defense around an oft-injured safety, DREAMS CAN COME TRUE! But only for one season and then he’s going to play a total of four games over the next five years. This is also the year where Peyton threw six interceptions in that Sunday Night game against the Chargers and the Colts still would have won if Vinatieri hadn’t shanked a 29-yard field goal. Subjectively, I would say that ranks as one of the five most memorable Sunday Night games since NBC got that package, with Colts-Pats and Eagles-Giants in ’09, Saints-Packers in ’11 and Ravens-Patriots in ’12 probably rounding things out. This game ranks last.
  • Who remembers this being the year that David Garrard only threw three interceptions all season? David Garrard, his agent and the Jaguars definitely remember it! It’s tough to recall this in the wake of the atrocities that Blaine Gabbert’s been committing the past couple of years, but there was a time when the Jaguars’ offense was actually pretty formidable. I mean, if Maurice Jones-Drew is your BACKUP running back, you’re doing something pretty good! Still, I found their third-place ranking offensively just a tad surprising. Equally surprising was the Redskins’ #1 defensive ranking – all I remember about the Redskins from that season is Sean Taylor getting killed and Todd Collins having the best four games of his life at the end of the season. APPARENTLY THERE WERE OTHER ASPECTS TO THEIR SEASON.
  • Sorry for springing the following Tim McCarver rhetorical device on you, but it seems fitting: as good as the Patriots were in 2007, THAT’S HOW BAD THE 49ERS WERE IN THAT SAME YEAR. It was a time when Mike Nolan felt the need to start a 35-year-old Trent Dilfer for six games and an equally 35-year-old Chris Weinke for one (Quick semi-related tangent: this is also the year a 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde started six games for the Panthers. Just in case you ever forgot how bad David Carr was.). It was a time when the 49ers gained more than 300 yards offensively just twice all season – against a schedule that was the third-easiest in the league. It was a time when poor Andy Lee had to punt 105 times and had to have his right leg reattached in Germany in the offseason, using a controversial surgical technique in which Berlin scientists cloned his other leg and flipped all the bones around to make sure everything still worked. It was not a great time to be a 49er fan, let’s just put it that way.
  • The 1973 Los Angeles Rams, by the way, have the highest percentage above average of all teams I’ve measured so far – 59.31%. Told ya you wouldn’t get it!
  • Now for our quick pass through the year’s individual awards…It’s a tough argument, but you might be able to convince me that Tom Brady was the Most Valuable Player this season. Incredibly, someone voted for Brett Favre, so Brady wasn’t a unanimous pick. I sure hope they took that guy’s voting privileges away after that year, whoever he was…Strangely enough, I also agree with the choice of Brady for Offensive Player of the Year. For kicks and giggles, if I was voting by the “Second-Most Valuable Player in the League” criteria these people seem to use when it’s convenient for them, I probably would have gone with…Tony Romo? Ha, I just remembered this was the year he dated Jessica Simpson. Good times!…Bob Sanders used the profile boost he received during the Colts’ Super Bowl run the year before and a never-to-be-seen again stretch of good health to win the Defensive Player of the Year voting in a down year. No offense to Bob, but this pick looks 17% sillier with each passing year. I’ll give my hypothetical vote to DeMarcus Ware because he picked up 14 sacks and 26 quarterback hits and it seems silly to think that he doesn’t have one of those awards yet…It is possible that Adrian Peterson was a worthy choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year. It is also possible that JaMarcus Russell would have been an equally worthy selection. No way of knowing for sure…Patrick Willis had 174 tackles and basically became the best middle linebacker in football from day one, so I suppose it’s fair that he won Defensive Rookie of the Year. My goodness, this was the easiest year for voting ever…32-year-old Greg Ellis won Comeback Player of the Year for notching 12.5 sacks a year after missing seven games with injury. As an unabashed Kurt Warner homer, I must unfortunately protest this decision. No offense to Greg…And I’m pretty sure it’s written in the constitution for Coach of the Year voting that one team goes undefeated that season, you HAVE to vote for that guy. So good job following those orders with Belichick, guys. Seriously, if all these awards were such open-and-shut cases every year, there would be no point in rehashing these things…
  • Next week: 2006 – In which the Bears prove that you CAN make it to the Super Bowl with just defense and special teams…

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).

Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2009

This week’s Predictive Yards per Play rankings takes us back to 2009 – a crazy season that saw Jay Cutler go from franchise savior to scapegoat, Josh McDaniels from franchise killer to savant back to killer again and JaMarcus Russell go from really bad quarterback to REALLY bad quarterback. Let’s get started.

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 England Patriots (10-6)1.84 (2010 ranking: #3)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)1.55 (2010 ranking: #18)
  3. New York Jets (9-7)1.27 (2010 ranking: #4)
  4. Green Bay Packers (11-5)1.13 (2010 ranking: #2)
  5. Carolina Panthers (8-8)1.04 (2010 ranking: #30)
  6. New Orleans Saints (13-3)0.99 (2010 ranking: #12)
  7. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)0.97 (2010 ranking: #8)
  8. Minnesota Vikings (12-4)0.97 (2010 ranking: #15)
  9. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)0.92 (2010 ranking: #10)
  10. Denver Broncos (8-8)0.80 (2010 ranking: #27)
  11. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)0.79 (2010 ranking: #1)
  12. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)0.74 (2010 ranking: #9)
  13. New York Giants (8-8)0.67 (2010 ranking: #6)
  14. San Diego Chargers (13-3)0.63 (2010 ranking: #5)
  15. Houston Texans (9-7)0.56 (2010 ranking: #16)
  16. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)0.45 (2010 ranking: #17)
  17. Miami Dolphins (7-9)0.03 (2010 ranking: #7)
  18. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)-0.05 (2010 ranking: #14)
  19. Buffalo Bills (6-10)-0.22 (2010 ranking: #24)
  20. Tennessee Titans (8-8)-0.24 (2010 ranking: #21)
  21. Washington Redskins (4-12)-0.29 (2010 ranking: #25)
  22. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)-0.51 (2010 ranking: #29)
  23. San Francisco 49ers (8-8)-0.68 (2010 ranking: #26)
  24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)-0.74 (2010 ranking: #20)
  25. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)-0.82 (2010 ranking: #32)
  26. Chicago Bears (7-9)-0.84 (2010 ranking: #13)
  27. Oakland Raiders (5-11)-1.45 (2010 ranking: #22)
  28. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)-1.56 (2010 ranking: #19)
  29. Seattle Seahawks (5-11) -1.69 (2010 ranking: #31)
  30. Detroit Lions (2-14)-2.03 (2010 ranking: #11)
  31. St. Louis Rams (1-15)-2.08 (2010 ranking: #28)
  32. Cleveland Browns (5-11)-2.10 (2010 ranking: #23)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.72)

  1. New England Patriots (10-6)6.13 (2010 ranking: #1)
  2. New Orleans Saints (13-3)6.03 (2010 ranking: #13)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)5.81 (2010 ranking: #15)
  4. San Diego Chargers (13-3)5.58 (2010 ranking: #6)
  5. Green Bay Packers (11-5)5.48 (2010 ranking: #3)
  6. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)5.46 (2010 ranking: #9)
  7. Minnesota Vikings (12-4)5.45 (2010 ranking: #20)
  8. Houston Texans (9-7)5.44 (2010 ranking: #2)
  9. New York Giants (8-8)5.41 (2010 ranking: #12)
  10. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)5.38 (2010 ranking: #4)
  11. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)5.31 (2010 ranking: #5)
  12. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)5.12 (2010 ranking: #14)
  13. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)5.11 (2010 ranking: #16)
  14. Tennessee Titans (8-8)5.00 (2010 ranking: #27)
  15. Denver Broncos (8-8)4.94 (2010 ranking: #18)
  16. Miami Dolphins (7-9)4.84 (2010 ranking: #17)
  17. Carolina Panthers (8-8)4.82 (2010 ranking: #31)
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)4.72 (2010 ranking: #22)
  19. New York Jets (9-7)4.54 (2010 ranking: #10)
  20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)4.35 (2010 ranking: #32)
  21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)4.32 (2010 ranking: #11)
  22. Washington Redskins (4-12)4.16 (2010 ranking: #24)
  23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)4.02 (2010 ranking: #7)
  24. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)4.01 (2010 ranking: #21)
  25. Buffalo Bills (6-10)3.97 (2010 ranking: #19)
  26. Chicago Bears (7-9)3.93 (2010 ranking: #26)
  27. San Francisco 49ers (8-8)3.79 (2010 ranking: #28)
  28. Seattle Seahawks (5-11)3.75 (2010 ranking: #29)
  29. Detroit Lions (2-14)3.58 (2010 ranking: #8)
  30. Oakland Raiders (5-11)3.56 (2010 ranking: #23)
  31. Cleveland Browns (5-11)3.51 (2010 ranking: #25)
  32. St. Louis Rams (1-15)3.33 (2010 ranking: #30)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.72)

  1. New York Jets (9-7)3.26 (2010 ranking: #2)
  2. Carolina Panthers (8-8)3.78 (2010 ranking: #17)
  3. Denver Broncos (8-8)4.14 (2010 ranking: #31)
  4. Buffalo Bills (6-10)4.19 (2010 ranking: #26)
  5. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)4.19 (2010 ranking: #8)
  6. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)4.26 (2010 ranking: #24)
  7. New England Patriots (10-6)4.29 (2010 ranking: #20)
  8. Green Bay Packers (11-5)4.34 (2010 ranking: #6)
  9. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)4.36 (2010 ranking: #16)
  10. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)4.41 (2010 ranking: #14)
  11. Washington Redskins (4-12)4.46 (2010 ranking: #25)
  12. San Francisco 49ers (8-8)4.47 (2010 ranking: #22)
  13. Minnesota Vikings (12-4)4.48 (2010 ranking: #9)
  14. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)4.52 (2010 ranking: #1)
  15. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)4.67 (2010 ranking: #23)
  16. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)4.72 (2010 ranking: #10)
  17. New York Giants (8-8)4.75 (2010 ranking: #5)
  18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)4.76 (2010 ranking: #27)
  19. Chicago Bears (7-9)4.77 (2010 ranking: #3)
  20. Miami Dolphins (7-9)4.81 (2010 ranking: #4)
  21. Houston Texans (9-7)4.88 (2010 ranking: #28)
  22. San Diego Chargers (13-3)4.95 (2010 ranking: #7)
  23. Oakland Raiders (5-11)5.01 (2010 ranking: #21)
  24. New Orleans Saints (13-3)5.03 (2010 ranking: #12)
  25. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)5.17 (2010 ranking: #29)
  26. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)5.23 (2010 ranking: #32)
  27. Tennessee Titans (8-8)5.24 (2010 ranking: #11)
  28. St. Louis Rams (1-15)5.41 (2010 ranking: #18)
  29. Seattle Seahawks (5-11)5.44 (2010 ranking: #30)
  30. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)5.57 (2010 ranking: #15)
  31. Cleveland Browns (5-11)5.61 (2010 ranking: #19)
  32. Detroit Lions (2-14)5.61 (2010 ranking: #13)

Crazily enough, I have some thoughts…

  • The Saints and Colts both started the year 13-0, but neither team ended up in the top five overall rankings. Part of that is due to each team’s decision to tank their last game of the season after their shots at undefeated records were gone – the Colts mainly treated their finale at Buffalo as a stat-padding extravaganza to get both Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark to 100 catches and the Saints didn’t even start Drew Brees, who decided to sit on his record-breaking completion percentage and let 39-year-old Mark Brunell flail about against the Panthers. Even then, though, both teams needed a fair amount of luck to ride to those undefeated starts (as is the case with every other team that has gone deep into the season undefeated). The Saints used seven defensive touchdowns to boost their season-ending scoring total over 500 points and mask some otherwise glaring defensive inefficiencies (they finished 24th overall in Defensive PY/P). The Colts were even luckier, going undefeated in all seven games they played that were decided by seven points or less. Bob Sanders played only two games all season and naturally the Colts’ defense suffered without him but their run offense was even more of a black hole, finishing third-to-last in Yards per Carry. Both teams’ quarterbacks were pretty good that season if you recall, so it’s not as if I’m claiming that these teams deserved to go 7-9 or anything. Just saying there were holes on both teams, is all…
  • Surprisingly, the team that finished #1 was the Patriots – in a year where they tied their worst record in the past ten years of the Belichick/Brady era and actually were a game worse than the previous year, where Matt Cassel took 99% of the season’s snaps. Nevertheless, the ’09 Patriots rate as the second-best regular season team of the Belichick/Brady era in Predictive Yards per Play, trailing only the undefeated 2007 edition. The reasons for the incongruity between PY/P rating and won-loss record? The usual suspects – strength of schedule and performance in close games. The Patriots were one of six teams (the Buccaneers, Dolphins, Panthers, Falcons, and Bills being the others) that played a significantly harder schedule than the rest of the league. Their defense received a particularly large bump, rising from a 15th-place ranking with no strength of schedule added to #7 with SOS factored in but the offense rocketed even higher, jumping past the Saints to rate #1 overall. That tough schedule coupled with a 3-5 record in games decided by seven points or less conspired to keep the Pats’ record down at 10-6. Essentially, however, this was a team with almost the exact same profile as the 2010 Packers heading into the postseason – their fortunes in the playoffs ended up slightly differently, however.
  • Their division rival Jets also rate very well, ending up at #3 overall and begging the question of what they possibly could have accomplished with anyone other than a rookie Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Because here are Sanchez’s numbers from 2009: 196-for-364 (53.8% completion percentage) for 2444 yards, 12 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, a 6.7% sack rate and a 4.07 overall Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (27th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks). And they still finished 3rd overall despite getting THAT production out of the most important position in the game. Obviously their defense was phenomenal that season – second-place Carolina is somewhat in the rear view mirror, but the distance between the Jets and third-place Broncos is astronomical – approximately the same as the distance between the Broncos and the 23rd-place Raiders. Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene also had huge seasons rushing behind the best offensive line in the league. MY GOD, IF THEY ONLY HAD A QUARTERBACK…
  • The highest-rated NFC team is probably a bit of a surprise, too, as the Cowboys spent most of that season getting ridiculed as the underachieving underachievers they really were before getting hot in December. Despite only finishing 14th overall in points scored, Tony Romo and the Dallas offense finished 3rd in the PY/P offensive rankings – and this despite playing an easier-than-average slate of defenses. Mainly, their troubles came in the red zone – they finished 18th in red zone efficiency and Nick Folk caught a serious case of the yips, costing the Cowboys several points in missed field goal attempts. Despite all that, however, Dallas was still probably the best overall team in the NFC, as they showed in their seven-point December win at New Orleans that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. This, of course, made their eventual 34-3 loss to the Vikings in the playoffs that much more enjoyable…
  • The 2009 season ended up showcasing a wide gulf between really good teams and REALLY bad teams. Fifteen teams ended up with a PY/P differential of at least .50 yards per play (compared to ten in 2010 and just nine in 2011), meaning that almost half of the league’s teams were truly at least nine-win quality. On the flip side, there were an equally extraordinary number of horrible teams at the low end of the spectrum. Any of the bottom six teams in the 2009 PY/P rankings (from 27th-place Oakland down to last-place Cleveland) would have rated as the worst team from the 2011 season and three teams – the Lions, Rams, and Browns – all finished with a PY/P differential of -2.00 or worse, which is essentially the equivalent of automatically forfeiting 13 or 14 games before you even take the field. There’s been only one team in the three seasons since (the 2010 Cardinals) that has finished below -2.00.
  • I’m sure the 2009 team that’s rated way higher than most people would expect is the Panthers, who even end up ahead of the Saints. They were kind of like a poor man’s Jets, playing a crazy tough schedule and trying to counterbalance absolute crap from the quarterback position (in this case, Mr. Jake Delhomme) with a great defense and running game. Matt Moore’s effectiveness at the end of the season convinced me to pick the Panthers for a wild-card slot in 2010. That pick didn’t turn out so good. On the other end of the spectrum, the 10-6 Cardinals wound up just 25th overall, making their thrilling 51-45 playoff victory over the 4th-ranked Packers one of the bigger playoff upsets in recent memory. You may remember their fortunes turned out a little differently in 2010 when Derek Anderson took the quarterback reins from Kurt Warner…
  • In this year’s retroactive award ceremonies…Peyton Manning won the MVP award for the fourth time and, considering that he’s deserved to win it at least five or six times during his career, it wasn’t a horrible choice. But in one of the most loaded years ever for MVP candidates (seriously, Brett Favre threw 33 touchdowns against 7 interceptions and didn’t get a sniff of voting), Peyton was probably surpassed in excellence this year by two guys: Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, who was even more efficient than Manning with an even worse supporting cast. If you put a gun to my head, I’d probably choose Brees…Two years before he won the award for Most Fantasy Team Owners Ticked Off in a Single Season, Chris Johnson won Offensive Player of the Year under the always-defensible position that he ran for over 2,000 yards. Brees, Rivers, Manning, Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo or Matt Schaub all had good cases to make as well…Charles Woodson was outstanding as the jack-of-all-trades cornerback in Dom Capers’ system, but Darrelle Revis arguably had the greatest season any cornerback has ever had. The Jets’ entire defensive scheme was built around funneling passes towards the receiver Revis was covering – and they ended up with one of the five best defenses of the 2000s. Revis was your true Defensive Player of the Year in 2009…Percy Harvin beat out LeSean McCoy and Beanie Wells in a relatively uninspiring year for Offensive Rookie of the Year voting; McCoy and Wells ended up with more yards from scrimmage, but Harvin was a more dangerous threat whenever he touched the ball and was probably the best choice out of a mediocre crop…Clay Matthews and Brian Orakpo both began effectively building their reputations as fearsome pass rushers in their rookie seasons, but PED-aided or not, Brian Cushing was arguably the best linebacker in the entire league and was far and away the best choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Then again, I think Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa should both be in the Baseball Hall of Fame…Tom Brady narrowly edged out Albert Haynesworth for Comeback Player of the Year, a decision that looks better and better with each passing year…And, finally, Marvin Lewis won Coach of the Year for watching Carson Palmer stay healthy for a full season and riding an easy schedule to 10 wins. It may surprise you, then, to hear that I would have chosen a different candidate. Sean Payton was eminently deserving as well, but if I had a vote I probably would have thrown my considerable weight behind Rex Ryan for his job turning the Jets’ defense into a monster virtually overnight. As Herm Edwards might say, “IF YOU GET TO THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP WITH MARK SANCHEZ AS YOUR QUARTERBACK, YOU’RE A GOOD COACH!”
  • Next week: 2008 – aka “The Year the Cardinals Came Out of Nowhere,” “The Ravens and Steelers Legitimately Try to Murder Each Other” and “Plaxico’s Revenge.”

Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2010

Our year-by-year Predictive Yards per Play unveiling continues this week with a trip back to 2010 – a year where no team in the NFC West finished with more than seven wins, Peyton Manning was putting the finishing touches on a monster new contract that would keep him in Indianapolis for life, and Mark Sanchez was one of the hottest up-and-coming quarterbacks in the league. A TIME SO MUCH LIKE OUR OWN. Let’s dive into these rankings, shall we?

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)1.83 (2011 ranking: #2)
  2. Green Bay Packers (10-6)1.49 (2011 ranking: #11)
  3. New England Patriots (14-2)1.44 (2011 ranking: #12)
  4. New York Jets (11-5)1.21 (2011 ranking: #16)
  5. San Diego Chargers (9-7)1.04 (2011 ranking: #14)
  6. New York Giants (10-6)1.01 (2011 ranking: #6)
  7. Miami Dolphins (7-9)0.75 (2011 ranking: #24)
  8. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)0.74 (2011 ranking: #4)
  9. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)0.57 (2011 ranking: #32)
  10. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)0.54 (2011 ranking: #7)
  11. Detroit Lions (6-10)0.47 (2011 ranking: #5)
  12. New Orleans Saints (11-5)0.43 (2011 ranking: #1)
  13. Chicago Bears (11-5)0.38 (2011 ranking: #21)
  14. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)0.31 (2011 ranking: #15)
  15. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)0.23 (2011 ranking: #17)
  16. Houston Texans (6-10)0.19 (2011 ranking: #3)
  17. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): -0.07 (2011 ranking: #8)
  18. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)-0.12 (2011 ranking: #10)
  19. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)-0.13 (2011 ranking: #27)
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)-0.22 (2011 ranking: #31)
  21. Tennessee Titans (6-10)-0.27 (2011 ranking: #22)
  22. Oakland Raiders (8-8)-0.48 (2011 ranking: #20)
  23. Cleveland Browns (5-11)-0.52 (2011 ranking: #28)
  24. Buffalo Bills (4-12)-0.60 (2011 ranking: #23)
  25. Washington Redskins (6-10)-0.72 (2011 ranking: #19)
  26. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)-0.84 (2011 ranking: #9)
  27. Denver Broncos (4-12)-1.00 (2011 ranking: #29)
  28. St. Louis Rams (7-9)-1.16 (2011 ranking: #26)
  29. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)-1.23 (2011 ranking: #30)
  30. Carolina Panthers (2-14)-1.51 (2011 ranking: #13)
  31. Seattle Seahawks (7-9) -1.76 (2011 ranking: #18)
  32. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)-2.53 (2011 ranking: #25)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.76)

  1. New England Patriots (14-2)6.40 (2011 ranking: #3)
  2. Houston Texans (6-10)5.66 (2011 ranking: #11)
  3. Green Bay Packers (10-6)5.56 (2011 ranking: #2)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)5.44 (2011 ranking: #7)
  5. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)5.43 (2011 ranking: #5)
  6. San Diego Chargers (9-7)5.28 (2011 ranking: #8)
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)5.10 (2011 ranking: #23)
  8. Detroit Lions (6-10)5.09 (2011 ranking: #9)
  9. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)5.07 (2011 ranking: #26)
  10. New York Jets (11-5)5.07 (2011 ranking: #25)
  11. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)5.06 (2011 ranking: #16)
  12. New York Giants (10-6)5.06 (2011 ranking: #6)
  13. New Orleans Saints (11-5)5.02 (2011 ranking: #1)
  14. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)5.00 (2011 ranking: #13)
  15. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)4.99 (2011 ranking: #10)
  16. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)4.81 (2011 ranking: #15)
  17. Miami Dolphins (7-9)4.74 (2011 ranking: #24)
  18. Denver Broncos (4-12)4.73 (2011 ranking: #29)
  19. Buffalo Bills (4-12)4.61 (2011 ranking: #14)
  20. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)4.61 (2011 ranking: #21)
  21. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)4.60 (2011 ranking: #30)
  22. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)4.54 (2011 ranking: #32)
  23. Oakland Raiders (8-8)4.51 (2011 ranking: #12)
  24. Washington Redskins (6-10)4.46 (2011 ranking: #22)
  25. Cleveland Browns (5-11)4.36 (2011 ranking: #27)
  26. Chicago Bears (11-5)4.34 (2011 ranking: #31)
  27. Tennessee Titans (6-10)4.26 (2011 ranking: #18)
  28. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)4.21 (2011 ranking: #17)
  29. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)3.92 (2011 ranking: #19)
  30. St. Louis Rams (7-9)3.72 (2011 ranking: #28)
  31. Carolina Panthers (2-14)3.32 (2011 ranking: #4)
  32. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)3.10 (2011 ranking: #20)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.76)

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)3.60 (2011 ranking: #6)
  2. New York Jets (11-5)3.86 (2011 ranking: #2)
  3. Chicago Bears (11-5)3.96 (2011 ranking: #3)
  4. Miami Dolphins (7-9)3.99 (2011 ranking: #13)
  5. New York Giants (10-6)4.05 (2011 ranking: #17)
  6. Green Bay Packers (10-6)4.08 (2011 ranking: #31)
  7. San Diego Chargers (9-7)4.23 (2011 ranking: #26)
  8. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)4.26 (2011 ranking: #1)
  9. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)4.38 (2011 ranking: #12)
  10. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)4.50 (2011 ranking: #29)
  11. Tennessee Titans (6-10)4.53 (2011 ranking: #22)
  12. New Orleans Saints (11-5)4.58 (2011 ranking: #24)
  13. Detroit Lions (6-10)4.62 (2011 ranking: #11)
  14. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)4.70 (2011 ranking: #16)
  15. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)4.73 (2011 ranking: #9)
  16. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)4.76 (2011 ranking: #20)
  17. Carolina Panthers (2-14)4.83 (2011 ranking: #28)
  18. St. Louis Rams (7-9)4.87 (2011 ranking: #14)
  19. Cleveland Browns (5-11)4.88 (2011 ranking: #18)
  20. New England Patriots (14-2)4.96 (2011 ranking: #32)
  21. Oakland Raiders (8-8)4.99 (2011 ranking: #30)
  22. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)5.06 (2011 ranking: #4)
  23. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)5.07 (2011 ranking: #7)
  24. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)5.11 (2011 ranking: #21)
  25. Washington Redskins (6-10)5.18 (2011 ranking: #10)
  26. Buffalo Bills (4-12)5.21 (2011 ranking: #25)
  27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)5.32 (2011 ranking: #27)
  28. Houston Texans (6-10)5.48 (2011 ranking: #5)
  29. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)5.63 (2011 ranking: #23)
  30. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)5.68 (2011 ranking: #15)
  31. Denver Broncos (4-12)5.73 (2011 ranking: #19)
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)5.77 (2011 ranking: #8)

My thoughts…

  • In a development that almost never happens (seriously – I’ve run Predictive Yards per Play numbers all the way back through 1995 and the only other time this happened was 2002), the top teams in each conference according to Predictive Yards per Play played in the Super Bowl, with the slight underdog Packers coming out on top over the top-rated Steelers. The Patriots stole the national limelight in the second half of the season with their ridiculous tear through a handful of very good teams, but the Steelers and Packers both finished the season in the top-six on both offense and defense. The narrative surrounding the Packers after they eked into the playoffs and went on to win the Super Bowl was that they “got hot at the right time.” That’s technically true – I don’t think anyone wins a Super Bowl without getting hot in the postseason – but just chalking up their postseason run to a random hot streak doesn’t accurately portray how excellent they were in the regular season. This was a 13-win quality team that faced a tough schedule and had poor luck in close games. Just because they were the #6 seed didn’t mean they weren’t far and away the best team in the NFC field (the 2nd-best team in the conference according to these numbers, the Giants, didn’t even make the playoffs).
  • The Patriots’ terrible defensive start to the season set them on a path to the #20 ranking defensively and cost them a shot at the #1 overall slot, but HOLY CRAP WERE THEY GOOD OFFENSIVELY. They averaged 5.9 yards per play, threw just five interceptions and fumbled only nine times all season – and did that all against one of the toughest schedules of opposing defenses in recent memory. The AFC East teams that season had to go up against the AFC North and NFC North – which meant going up against the defenses of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota, plus two games in division against the Jets and Dolphins (unless you were the Jets or Dolphins, in which case you couldn’t play yourself). Buffalo, Miami, and New England all received 10+% spikes in their offensive ratings thanks to the schedule they played. In Buffalo and Miami’s cases, that turned their offensive ratings from really bad to below-average; in New England’s case, it changed their rating from great to OH MY WORD WE CANNOT STOP THIS MONSTROSITY. Watching them eviscerate everyone they faced from mid-November on that season made it seem like Brady and Belichick’s fourth Super Bowl ring was just a foregone conclusion…
  • …AND THEN THEY LOST TO MARK SANCHEZ IN THEIR FIRST PLAYOFF GAME. After the events of the past two years, how crazy is that to think about? Not only that, but because of the crazy difficult schedule they faced, the Jets’ offense actually tied the Colts for ninth place in the 2010 rankings and Sanchez actually rated out as an above-average quarterback. Overall, the Jets ranked fourth in the league and looked for all the world like they would be one of the best young teams in the league for the next half-decade. Obviously, had we known then what we know now about the misfortunes that would befall Darrelle Revis’s ACL and Sanchez’s everything, we would not have been in such a hurry to make a rash pronouncement. But we must not judge ourselves too harshly for our child-like naivete; we can only accept that as much as we learn and study about the NFL, much of its future remains unknowable. Also, F-E-E-T! FEET! FEET! FEET!
  • Remember how bad the NFC West was in 2010? San Francisco came out the best in these ratings and they only landed at #26. The four teams in the division comprised four out of the worst five offenses in the league (the Jimmy Clausen-led Panthers being the only team to sneak into that quadrumvirate) and generally made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Joe Montana. Let’s run down these teams’ quarterbacks from that season, shall we? Derek Anderson. A rookie Sam Bradford. A washed-up Matt Hasselbeck. A pre-Harbaughed Alex Smith. Max Hall. Charlie “Clipboard Jesus” Whitehurst. Troy Smith. A rookie John Skelton. RICHARD BARTEL. Ah, what a time it was to be alive! Seattle ended up winning the division at 7-9 AND beating New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs despite ranking second-to-last overall. This makes sense.
  • The extreme imbalance in quality between divisions (AFC North and AFC East = really good, NFC West = GAHHHH KILL IT WITH FIRE) led to some pretty screwy strength of schedule ratings and, in turn, a lot of ratings that don’t necessarily correspond with the team’s won-loss record. Cincinnati, for example, ranked fourteenth overall and rated as an above-average offense despite a 4-12 record and approximately fifty dropped interceptions thrown by Carson Palmer. They ended up making the playoffs the next year, so I guess the system knew what it was talking about? Other teams that rated above-average despite poor records included the Lions and Texans, who had the second-best offense in the league but a defense that ranked 28th and led the league in Hail Marys given up to OHHHHHHH MIKE THOMAS!!!! In 2011, both teams ended up with won-loss records more in line with the above-average ratings they garnered.
  • On the other, before we go patting ourselves on the back TOO much, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that, going strictly by these numbers, we would have forecast huge, breakout seasons for the Chargers, Dolphins and Vikings in 2011, too – and those teams ended up a combined 17-31. What can I say? They can’t all be gold.
  • As far as the season’s individual awards are concerned…Tom Brady was light years ahead of everybody else in the MVP discussion. I can’t even remember who would have made a reasonable #2 choice. David Garrard? Yeah, let’s just say David Garrard and move on…Brady also won the Offensive Player of the Year award, illustrating once again how the voters for this award don’t have any idea whether to just give the award to the same guy who won MVP or the #2 choice. Acceptable #2 choices would have been Aaron Rodgers, Jamaal Charles, or Arian Foster…There was a bit of a hubbub surrounding Troy Polamalu‘s Defensive Player of the Year win over Clay Matthews, but under the always defensible “Give it to the best player on the best defense” rationale, Polamalu was probably a deserving winner in an underwhelming year. Cameron Wake, Ed Reed, and Ndamukong Suh all had cases to be made as well…Sam Bradford won Offensive Rookie of the Year, presumably as recognition of his herculean effort to start all 16 games behind an absolutely awful offensive line. That’s fair enough, but if the voters had wanted to chose a player who’d actually been effective in his rookie season, they probably should have chosen LeGarrette BlountNdamukong Suh had a good argument for being the overall Defensive Player of the Year, so his selection as Defensive Rookie of the Year was one of the easiest choices of all time (remember, we didn’t yet know that he desired to horribly maim opponents every Thanksgiving with his feet)…Michael Vick had a pretty electrifying season if you recall and spurred the voters on to a Comeback Player of the Year choice that actually made sense. Good job, Michael!…And it’s always tough to second-guess a Bill Belichick selection for Coach of the Year. So I won’t.
  • Next week: 2009 – two teams start out 13-0, a certain aging quarterback who shan’t be named has his last hurrah, and JaMarcus Russell tries to eat EVERYTHING.

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?