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Turnover Analysis · SOS Analysis · YPA Analysis
The Biggest Indicators for Projecting Team Success

Flat out there is one statistic that is so HUGE in determining the outcomes of NFL games. What is it? Its yards per passing attempt (YPA).

I didn’t notice many discussing this statistic about six years ago when I started crunching the numbers, and really touting its importance whenever, wherever I could. And year after year, season after season, this metric is about as close to a “LOCK” as you can get when talking NFL statistics and their correlation to points scored, which leads to straight up wins/losses, and against the spread win/losses.

There really are so many angles to take when simply using this one statistic, but let’s start by combining this metric with Turnover Margin (TOM), and show how critical those two combined are to a team’s performance.

How rare is it for a team to win a game, but lose both of those statistics in that same game? The answer is it’s extremely rare; it’s absolutely critical for a team to excel in both those areas. To show the point, let’s go back the last four seasons, and show how many times it occurred – a team winning the game, but being negative in TOM and NET YPA.

Believe it or not, there is every game over the last 4 seasons where a team WON the game SU, yet LOST both TOM & YPA in that same game. As a reminder, there are 256 wins per season across the NFL; since we are looking at FOUR years here multiply that by 4 which equals 1,024 wins for this analysis. Of those winners only 36 of them were won by a team that lost both the TOM & YPA in that same game. That equals 3.5% of the games played over the last FOUR years! That is truly amazing!

Game Winner TOM NET YPA
Tampa Bay at Carolina TB 27-21 (2) (2.5)
Carolina at Chicago CHI 23-22 (1) (3.3)
Jacksonville at Houston HOU 43-37 (2) (1.3)
Cleveland at Indianapolis IND 17-13 (1) (1.0)
Indianapolis at Tennessee IND 19-13 (1) (0.1)
Indianapolis at Detroit IND 35-33 (2) (0.2)
New York Giants at Washington WAS 17-16 (1) (0.2)
Arizona at New England ARI 20-18 (1) (0.9)
Seattle at Chicago SEA 23-17 (1) (1.1)
Kansas City at New Orleans KC 27-24 (2) (0.1)
Game Winner TOM NET YPA
Cincinnati at Denver DEN 24-22 (2) (0.3)
San Francisco at Detroit SF 25-19 (2) (1.1)
Houston at New Orleans NO 40-33 (1) (1.2)
Tampa Bay at New Orleans NO 27-16 (1) (0.2)
Dallas at New England NE 20-16 (2) (0.9)
Houston at Cincinnati HOU 20-19 (2) (0.8)
Dallas at New York Jets NYJ 27-24 (1) (1.6)
Buffalo at New York Jets NYJ 28-24 (2) (0.9)
St. Louis at Cleveland STL 13-12 (1) (1.5)
Kansas City at San Diego SD 20-17 (1) (0.4)
Arizona at St. Louis ARI 23-20 (1) (1.4)
Miami at Dallas DAL 20-19 (1) (1.1)
Game Winner TOM NET YPA
Carolina at New Orleans NO 16-14 (1) (0.3)
Philadelphia at New York Giants PHI 38-31 (1) (0.6)
Baltimore at New England NE 23-20 (2) (1.6)
Chicago at Carolina CHI 23-6 (1) (0.4)
Miami at New York Jets MIA 10-6 (1) (2.6)
Houston at Washington HOU 30-27 (1) (1.6)
Oakland at Arizona ARI 24-23 (2) (2.3)
Tennessee at San Diego SD 33-25 (1) (0.4)
Game Winner TOM NET YPA
Cleveland at Kansas City CLE 41-34 (2) (4.2)
Tenneessee at Houston TEN 20-17 (1) (1.3)
Denver at Indianapolis IND 28-16 (2) (0.8)
Oakland at Denver OAK 20-19 (2) (3.5)
Washington at Dallas DAL 7-6 (1) (1.1)
Carolina at Tampa Bay CAR 28-21 (1) (2.7)

Now, let’s move on to breaking down YPA on its own, as simply by itself it has an enormous correlation to success. Over the same four seasons, 58 of 63 (92%) teams that have finished with a NET POSITIVE YPA (Offensive YPA minus Defensive YPA) have had an 8-8 or better record that season. Who are the five teams that missed the mark?

2009 Washington Redskins, who were 6.01 OFF YPA, 5.89 DEF YPA for a NET YPA of +0.12 – that is narrowly in the positive category, and WAS went 4-12.

2010 Tennessee Titans, who were 6.36 OFF YPA, 5.96 DEF YPA for a NET YPA of +0.39 – they went 6-10.

2012 Carolina Panthers, who were 7.19 OFF YPA, 5.96 DEF YPA for a NET YPA of +1.23 – they went 7-9 including the pair of wins teams picked up against them mentioned above. As another reminder this is a team we are extremely bullish on heading into 2012, and would not be shocked to see them win the competitive NFC South.

2012 Detroit Lions, who were 6.43 OFF YPA, 6.12 DEF YPA for a NET YPA of +0.31 – they only won 4 games, and once again are a team we are bullish on for the upcoming season.

2012 St. Louis Rams, who were 6.19 OFF YPA, 6.13 DEF YPA for a NET YPA of +0.07 – extremely narrowly in the positive category, and the Rams just missed going .500 at 7-9.

What’s more, examining the last 3 seasons, here are the team’s that were positive in YPA each year, and where they rank in wins during that same period

Positive YPA '10, '11, '12
Teams Wins Wins Rankg
New England 39 1
Green Bay 36 2
Baltimore 34 4
Pittsburgh 32 5
*Atlanta tied with Green Bay's 36 wins but had negative YPA in 2010

We can see just how solid this metric is for identifying the best teams in the NFL – each of those teams has appeared in the Super Bowl over those three seasons, with Green Bay and Baltimore winning championships in 2010 and 2012 seasons. The Top 7, and 14 of 16 teams in the NFL over the last three seasons as measured by SU wins were positive in NET AVERAGE YPA over those seasons.

Now that we have discussed NET YPA, let’s focus on offensive YPA, which is definitely more impactful compared to defensive YPA. The first angle I will present is some key by year trends within the OYPA data:

2009: Top 16 were all at least 8-8.

2010: Nine of the top 11 were at least 8-8.

2011: Top 12 were all at least 8-8.

2012: Ten of the top 13 were 8-8 with the three that missed #3 New Orleans, #4 Carolina & #10 Tampa Bay going 7-9 (note all NFC South teams, very competitive and offensive division).

Summary: If you look at the top 11 teams each year in OYPA since the 2009 season, 39 of the 44 finished at least 8-8. Get that OYPA up and your chances of reaching the playoffs dramatically increases.

Lastly, let’s move to defensive YPA. Although when testing statistically it does not have quite the same impact on game to game results as OYPA does, it is still useful and clear trends can be seen in the data – especially full seasons. Here are some of those key trends over the last four seasons:

2009: 10 of top 11 were at least 8-8.

2010: 8 of the top 9 were at least 8-8.

2011: Top 9 were all at least 8-8

2012: Top 8 were all at least 8-8 with 7 of 8 winning 10+ (PIT going 8-8 lone non 10 win team)

Summary: If you look at the top 8 teams each year in DYPA since the 2009 season, an amazing 31 of 32 finished at least 8-8.

YPA, especially NET YPA, but also OYPA and to a lesser degree DYPA all have significant impacts on the success of NFL teams on a week to week basis. You saw all the numbers above, and they came to a conclusion that the better you are in NET YPA, the more likely you make the playoffs. And any team that can come up with a top 10-ish YPA, whether OFF or DEF has a very good chance at making the playoffs – or at the very least being in the mix as the calendar turns to December.

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