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The Stategist

As many of you know, there is a group of Footballguys, myself included, that take great pleasure in the use of statistical analysis as a means to succeed in fantasy football. Traditionally, we do much of our work leading up to the draft, using historical trends analysis and number crunching to help fine tune our annual projections for players and teams. But statistical analysis can, when used in conjunction with logical reasoning and sound football acumen, be useful during the season, as well. With that in mind, I will attempt to address some relevant in-season issues each and every week, with a statistical slant of course…


Handicapping the Super Bowl Favorites…

The Indianapolis Colts are 8-0 after dismantling the defending champion Patriots this past week. So it's no surprise that they are, halfway through the season, on everyone's short list for Super Bowl favorites. At 8-0 with a punishing defense and the inside track on home field, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

But beyond the Colts, who else appears to be legitimate contenders? Looking at the standings can sometimes lead you astray. After all…there are contenders and then there are teams good enough to REALLY win the Bowl.

One of the greatest things about the NFL is the, usually, the cream rises to the top. Teams have rarely been able to win the championship without excellence on BOTH offense and defense. Don't believe me? Let's look at the numbers…

Looking back to 1972 (as far as I had the requisite data), there have been 33 Super Bowl champions.

First, the defense…

In 31 of 33 seasons, the Super Bowl champion finished the regular season among the top 10 in fewest points allowed. Only twice since 1972 has a Super Bowl champion finished outside the top 10 in points allowed (in both cases, the Raiders)…and it hasn't occurred since the Raiders 1983 season.

In 29 of 33 seasons, the Super Bowl champion finished the regular season among the top 10 in fewest yards allowed. The Patriots were the lowest ranking team in this category to ever win the Bowl, ranking 24th in 2001 (but they were a solid 6th in points allowed that year).

Putting a finer point on this…ALL BUT ONE SUPER BOWL CHAMP SINCE 1972 HAS FINISHED IN THE TOP 10 IN AT LEAST ONE OF THESE TWO CATEGORIES…

So now let's look at the top teams in each league (based on standings through Week Nine) and how they rank…

AFC "Contenders" (Defined as all teams .500 or above through Week Nine)

Team
W
L
PtsAll
YardsAll
Comments
Indianapolis Colts
8
0
1
4
Top 5 in each…looking good
Cincinnati Bengals
7
2
7
25
Bending, but not breaking
Pittsburgh Steelers
6
2
4
8
Top 10 in each…solid
Denver Broncos
6
2
19
29
Surprisingly weak given their record
Jacksonville Jaguars
5
3
8
6
Another top 10 in each…solid
San Diego Chargers
5
4
23
30
Pretenders defensively
Kansas City Chiefs
5
3
22
26
So much for that defensive revamp
New England Patriots
4
4
26
23
The dynasty is on hiatus

Couple of thoughts…

  • The Colts are top five in both categories, no surprise given their 8-0 start
  • Pittsburgh and Jacksonville are also winning with Super Bowl caliber defenses
  • Cincinnati is giving up yards, but not giving up points…and history says points allowed is a slightly more telling metric

NFC "Contenders" (Defined as all teams .500 or above through Week Nine)

Team
W
L
PtsAll
YardsAll
Comments
Seattle Seahawks
6
2
10
7
Top 10 in each, quite surprising
Atlanta Falcons
6
2
11
17
Defense not up to 2004 levels
Carolina Panthers
6
2
18
13
Not as dominant as reputation
New York Giants
6
2
14
27
Winning, but the D is spotty
Dallas Cowboys
5
3
13
15
Just on the fringes of acceptable
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5
3
3
1
Dominant, as usual
Washington Redskins
5
3
15
5
Giving up points, but not yards
Chicago Bears
5
3
2
3
Dominant in all facets
St. Louis Rams
4
4
32
31
Pretenders defensively
Philadelphia Eagles
4
4
24
22
Dare I say? Pretenders

Couple of thoughts…

  • A case of the haves and have-nots in the NFC it seems
  • Seattle surprisingly is among the top 10 in both defensive categories…remember Ray Rhodes has been dealing with health issues and this team is still perceived as an offensive minded squad
  • Tampa and Chicago have the defense, do they have the offense?


Moving on to the offense…

Offensively, it's not historically been as important to have a top 10 offense (as long as you have a dominant defense), but is still decidedly predictive.

In 28 of 33 seasons, the Super Bowl champion finished the regular season among the top 10 in points scored. But in three of the last five years, the Super Bowl champion has been outside the top 10 in points scored (NE'03, TB'02, BAL'00).

In 25 of 33 seasons, the Super Bowl champion finished the regular season among the top 10 in offensive yards. The least predictive of the 4 metrics, as nearly 25% of the SB champs since 1972 haven't been top 10 teams in yards produced.

But combining these metrics…TWENTY-NINE (29) OF THIRTY-THREE (33) SUPER BOWL CHAMPS HAVE FINISHED IN THE TOP 10 IN EITHER OFFENSIVE YARDS OR POINTS SCORED.

AFC "Contenders" (Defined as all teams .500 or above through Week Nine

Team
W
L
 PtsSc 
YardsSc
Comments
Indianapolis Colts
8
0
6
13
Yards a tad weak, but the points are there
Cincinnati Bengals
7
2
5
4
Top 5 in each...SB caliber
Pittsburgh Steelers
6
2
12
24
The offense isn't matching the D
Denver Broncos
6
2
4
2
See Cincy
Jacksonville Jaguars
5
3
20
21
See Pittsburgh
San Diego Chargers
5
4
1
5
SB caliber and balanced
Kansas City Chiefs
5
3
11
10
Close enough, if they had the D
New England Patriots
4
4
16
9
Much like the D, not up to SB years

Couple of thoughts…

  • It's odd to see the Colts not in the top 5 of every offensive category, but they're still "good enough"
  • Cincinnati, Denver and San Diego are top 5 in BOTH, the definition of SB caliber
  • Pittsburgh and Jacksonville fans need to point toward the recent trend of defense being the more telling factor to retain hope

NFC "Contenders" (Defined as all teams .500 or above through Week Nine)

Team
W
L
 PtsSc 
YardsSc
Comments
Seattle Seahawks
6
2
9
6
Top 10 in each...despite missing WRs
Atlanta Falcons
6
2
10
17
Much like the D, good but not good enough
Carolina Panthers
6
2
7
19
Efficient enough if the D can improve
New York Giants
6
2
2
15
See Carolina
Dallas Cowboys
5
3
8
3
Quietly well-rounded and SB caliber
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5
3
23
20
Just not enough offense
Washington Redskins
5
3
19
11
See Tampa
Chicago Bears
5
3
25
28
See Washington
St. Louis Rams
4
4
3
1
The O is great as usual...but that D, ugh.
Philadelphia Eagles
4
4
13
12
O is close, but without TO?

NOW, Let's Combine The Two…

AFC "Contenders"

Team
W
L
 PtsSc 
YardsSc
PtsAll
YardsAll
Avg
Indianapolis Colts
8
0
6
13
1
4
   6.0
Comment: At 8-0, it's no shock they rank the best
Cincinnati Bengals
7
2
5
4
7
25
 10.3
Comment: Bengals are legit, statistically
Pittsburgh Steelers
6
2
12
24
4
8
 12.0
Comment: Can the offense be "just good enough?"
Denver Broncos
6
2
4
2
19
29
 13.5
Comment: That defense doesn't bode well
Jacksonville Jaguars
5
3
20
21
8
6
 13.8
Comment: A poor man's Pittsburgh
San Diego Chargers
5
4
1
5
23
30
 14.8
Comment: Like Denver, the D looks troubling
Kansas City Chiefs
5
3
11
10
22
26
 17.3
Comment: A pretender
New England Patriots
4
4
16
9
26
23
 18.5
Comment: A pretender (Belichick & Brady or not)

NFC "Contenders"

Team
W
L
 PtsSc 
YardsSc
PtsAll
YardsAll
Avg
Seattle Seahawks
6
2
9
6
10
7
   8.0
Comment: Top 10 in all 4 categories = LEGIT
Atlanta Falcons
6
2
10
17
11
17
 13.8
Comment: "Good" but not "Great" on both sides
Carolina Panthers
6
2
7
19
18
13
 14.3
Comment: A mediocre team, the D has to improve
New York Giants
6
2
2
15
14
27
 14.5
Comment: See Carolina
Dallas Cowboys
5
3
8
3
13
15
   9.8
Comment: Arguably the 2nd best option in NFC
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5
3
23
20
3
1
 11.8
Comment: Can the offense produce in the 'offs?
Washington Redskins
5
3
19
11
15
5
 12.5
Comment: See Washington
Chicago Bears
5
3
25
28
2
3
 14.5
Comment: Pretender (unless Orton makes strides)
St. Louis Rams
4
4
3
1
32
31
 16.8
Comment: Pretender
Philadelphia Eagles
4
4
13
12
24
22
 17.8
Comment: Pretender

Final Thoughts

Obviously there's another half of the football season to play and these rankings won't hold steady. But this should give you a framework through the first half for who appear to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders and who has some work to do before we should take them seriously. The Colts aren't surprising atop the AFC rankings, but the Seahawks have to be surprising to many (myself included) despite the 6-2 record.

Have a Great Week!


Notes:
1) All fantasy point production assumes the Footballguys Scoring System:

  • 1 point per 25 yards passing
  • 1 point per 10 yards receiving or rushing
  • 4 points per passing TD
  • 6 points per rushing or receiving TD
  • -1 per interception thrown

2) Special thanks to Doug Drinen for providing the relevant statistical databases

3) Feel free to contact me (wood@footballguys.com) if you wish to discuss this column further or share other ideas for future issues

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