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2012 Season Recap - Part I

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Editor's Note: The Sports Boss was the third-best NFL handicapper (61%, +1,808) on VegasInsider.com in 2012. Sign up now for his discounted 2013 season package!

Part I · Part II · Part III
The 2012 regular season was completed months ago – so let’s take a closer look at my models and statistics, review some of the key data points, and discuss which indicators are solid when projecting strengths of certain teams.

The first metrics we will examine are my performance ratings model (PR). Below shows each team, broken down by offense, defense and total performance. In addition to those metrics I have also included blended SOS (Strength of Schedule) rating (1 is the toughest, and my formula for blended SOS is 75% opponents performance ratings and 25% opponents record), along with straight up (SU) wins for each team – the teams are sorted according to total performance rating.

Performance Ratings
Team Offense Rank Defense Rank Total Rank SOS Wins
DEN 52.2 3 50.4 1 102.6 1 25 13
SF 47.8 5 47.4 2 95.3 2 18 11
SEA 48.4 4 44.9 5 93.3 3 8 11
NE 55.4 1 35.1 25 90.5 4 24 12
HOU 45.2 10 44.2 6 89.4 5 27 12
GB 46.0 8 43.3 7 89.3 6 20 11
WAS 53.1 2 33.8 28 86.9 7 22 10
PIT 39.6 20 47.3 3 86.9 8 31 8
CHI 38.9 22 45.8 4 84.6 9 10 10
ATL 46.4 6 36.4 21 82.8 10 29 13
CAR 45.3 9 37.3 17 82.6 11 11 7
CIN 39.4 21 43.1 8 82.5 12 28 10
BAL 41.7 15 40.0 13 81.7 13 13 10
DAL 42.7 13 38.0 15 80.7 14 7 8
DET 43.2 12 36.9 18 80.1 15 6 4
MIN 42.1 14 37.5 16 79.6 16 6 10
BUF 41.6 16 36.3 22 77.8 17 31 6
NYG 44.3 11 33.2 29 77.5 18 4 9
TB 40.8 17 36.7 19 77.5 18 19 7
SD 36.9 24 40.3 12 77.2 20 27 7
NYJ 33.2 29 42.5 10 75.8 21 17 6
STL 37.4 23 38.2 14 75.7 22 2 7
MIA 34.7 26 40.7 11 75.4 23 21 7
IND 39.8 19 34.9 26 74.7 24 32 11
PHI 39.9 18 34.3 27 74.2 25 14 4
NO 46.3 7 27.5 32 73.8 26 3 7
OAK 36.8 25 35.8 23 72.5 27 23 4
KC 34.4 27 35.3 24 69.7 28 15 2
CLE 32.6 30 36.4 20 69.0 29 9 5
ARI 24.5 32 43.0 9 67.5 30 1 5
TEN 34.3 28 31.9 30 66.2 31 13 6
JAC 30.4 31 31.9 30 62.3 32 16 2


The above figures represent how each team stacked up in the statistics I utilize to track true team performance. Teams are rated on a scale of 160 per game, 80 on both offense and defense – so team’s that show a rating of 80 played average football, or an 8-8 type team over the course of a season.

A very important factor when developing any models to numerically gauge team performance is to include both stats that measure “per attempt” depending on the metric, but also taking a look at “total” performance in the same stat. For example, if one was to only use yards per rush and attempt to decipher if a team is solid running the ball with only that stat you could be misled – if team A rushes six times for 42 yards that would show 7 yards per carry, but if team B rushes for 100 yards on 20 carries that would show 5 yards per carry – and more than likely team B would represent a stronger running game then team A even though if you only use the yards per rush category you may not reach that conclusion. Let’s apply this reasoning to an example from the 2012 regular season:

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Denver
was the #14 rushing offense in the NFL according to my statistics. There was a significant difference between their yards per rush ranking of #27 vs. their total rushing yards ranking of #15. Why would there be this discrepancy? One reason is likely because Denver was often ahead in their games, and more relying on their ground game to stall out the clock when the game had already been decided versus using their rushing attack as their main mode of transportation during the critical stages of each game.

In addition, SOS is very important; it is actually flat out critical to be able to see how strong a team’s opponents are before rushing to state one team is better because their statistics say so. That phenomenon also needs to be applied to unit analysis – what I mean by that is when you are breaking teams down into rushing, passing, or any other bucket you may use. Once again let’s apply this reasoning to an example from the 2012 regular season – here are the top 5 rushing offenses according to my numbers last year, with the corresponding SOS for their opponents rush defense:

Washington: #1 rushing offense vs. #26 opponent’s rushing defense
Minnesota: #2 rushing offense vs. #15 opponent’s rushing defense
San Francisco: #3 rushing offense vs. #22 opponent’s rushing defense
Seattle: #4 rushing offense vs. #7 opponent’s rushing defense
New England: #5 rushing offense vs. #22 opponent’s rushing defense

After including category specific SOS we can see that although the Redskins posted the #1 rushing offense in the NFL according to my stats they accomplished this feat versus the 7th easiest schedule of opponent rushing defenses; conversely, we see the Seahawks at #4 in rushing offense, but they performed at that high level vs. the 7th toughest schedule of opponent rushing defense. As you can clearly see, including stat/category specific SOS can really assist in testing the true strength of a team’s performance.

Let’s take a closer look at the above table, and focus on the playoff teams. The top seven teams made the playoffs, then three of the next 4four missed (Atlanta only team that earned a berth); the final four spots were comprised of teams rated #12 Cincinnati, #13 Baltimore, #16 Minnesota and #24 Indianapolis – which is relatively in line with the type of team rankings we see making the playoffs over the last couple seasons. For comparative purposes Denver’s mark of 102.6 was the highest full season rating since this model has been tracking results commencing in 2008; on the flip side Jacksonville’s rating of 62.3, the worst of the 2012 NFL season, was still above the worst rating of the 2011 season, Indianapolis, who checked in at 58.4. Speaking of the Colts, see more about their 2012 season.

Next, let’s use the overall performance ratings and compare those to certain team’s corresponding records – indentifying which teams stand out for good or bad as that could be a solid indicator of upcoming success of failure:

Pittsburgh (8-8): The Steelers were easily the highest ranked team not to post an above .500 record. For the 2012 Steelers the problem was not on defense, where they continued to post solid results, checking in at #3; it was an offense that was just #20 in the NFL, as they struggled through many injuries and an inability to run the football (rushing offense was #25 in the NFL). In an improving division that has seen Cincinnati reach the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, along with the defending champion Baltimore Ravens, they need to get back to their bread and butter, running the football, to execute a turnaround.

Carolina (7-9): The Panthers were #11 in the performance ratings, suggesting a borderline playoff team. However, their 2012 story was that of a tough schedule – their SOS was #11, with only two teams ahead of them in the performance ratings facing a tougher schedule. Carolina suffered many tough, close defeats last season – and if those games flip, and the defense continues improving, there is a lot to like about Carolina’s chances heading into 2013.

Detroit (4-12): The Lions were the biggest underachieving record team of 2012 posting the third worst record in the NFL, yet settling into the #15 spot in the performance ratings – which typically corresponds to that of an 8-8 squad. What impacted the Lions? First was an SOS that was rated #6 in the NFL – notice no team above the Lions in the performance ratings faced a tougher schedule. Secondly and almost of equal importance was a TOM (Turnover Margin) that was (16) on the season – good for 3rd worst in the NFL. Time and time again we stress the point about TOM – perform well in that area and your chances for a .500 or above season are greatly enhanced; perform poorly there, especially amongst the worst in the NFL and you have no chance at reaching .500.

Indianapolis (11-5): No question about it the Colts were the biggest benefactors from breaks as far as records go last year posting 11 wins, and reaching the playoffs in rookie QB Andrew Luck’s inaugural season. The Colts rated just #24 overall in the performance ratings – a spot that does not even correlate to a .500 season, let alone a playoff berth. What drove their record so much higher than their true performance? The #1 factor was their SOS of #32, the easiest in the NFL. Every other statistic I track pointed to a sub .500 record, so be very aware of a potential big drop by the Colts in 2013.

  
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