Today, for the first time in this weekly series, we break away from our formula of digesting the AFC (either the AFC West, the Conference playoff picture, or both) and look at the NFL playoff landscape as a whole. Eight teams remain in the AFC and NFC, with a good mix of dominance (Seattle Seahawks) and "lucky to be here" (Carolina Panthers). More "lucky to be here" in a minute.
I'm also adding another column to our Elevated Stats table - Weighted DVOA. What is weighted DVOA? It's DVOA, with added import (weight) to the most recent weeks. Its intent is to measure "hotness," as opposed to overall "goodness." It's also meaningful because Football Outsiders stops calculating DVOA into the playoffs - that wouldn't be fair/make sense - but they continue calculating Weighted DVOA each week of the playoffs. I intend this to be a temporary addition through the postseason.
MHR Scout: Colts' Vontae Davis
There's an underrated corner out there and his name is not Chris Harris Jr.
To start today though, I want to talk about how truly meaningless all of this paralysis by advanced metric analysis might truly be. And I'm going to reference what FiveThirtyEight.com called a "classic post" on Pro Football Reference to make my point.
Back in ancient times, perhaps before anybody else thought to do it (2006), PFR simulated 10,000 years of the NFL. They assigned random strengths to teams (-16 to +16), played out their artificial seasons with a random formula using the strengths of the teams as variables, and saw that the "best team" in the league won the Super Bowl 24% of the time. That sounds about right.
What was amazing to me was that, one of those years, the worst team in football won the Super Bowl.
PFR explained the phenomenon perfectly.
It was simulated season #6605. The Seattle Seahawks were truly a great team (true strength +15.1) and they played up to their potential, posting a 15-1 regular season record. The Chicago Bears were the worst team in football, but with a true strength of -9.0, they really weren't that bad, at least by worst-team-in-football standards. The NFC North was relatively weak, and Chicago took the division with an 8-8 record.
The Bears' first round playoff opponent was the Carolina Panthers, who were not great (+2.8) but had posted a 10-6 record to finish second in the NFC South. The game was in Chicago, of course, and it was therefore only a mild upset when Chicago won it. Chicago then beat the Saints in New Orleans and the Seahawks in Seattle to reach the Super Bowl.
Unlikely? Very. One in a million? Not quite. One in ten thousand. Heck, collectively, a member of the bottom ten teams of the NFL any given year won the Super Bowl 155 times (1.6%).
This is all to hammer home a point we hear all too often: anything can happen. Any Given Sunday. The worst remaining team in these Elevated Stats certainly has a chance to pull off three upsets and win it all. This series just tells us what's most likely to happen.
Elevated Stats 2014
As always, here are your explanations for the statistics used in Elevated Stats, our Mile High look at analytics from around the web.
Record. Wins and losses. There isn't a more important "statistic" in football.
SOS: Strength of Schedule. The collective winning percentage of a team's opponents so far. Gathered from ESPN.
DVOA: Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average and Weighted DVOA. Football Outsiders' prized statistic, DVOA, measures a team's efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent. It's a beast; the Seahawks and Broncos were #1 and #2 respectively each of the last three years (2012-2014). Weighted DVOA uses the same technique, but adds heavier weight to recent games played (to tell you how "hot" a team might be). DVOA explained fully here.
PRD: Passer Rating Differential. This is simply the difference between a team's Offensive Passer Rating and its Defensive Passer Rating (the collective passer rating of QBs in games played against the team). While it seems overly simple, in this quarterback-driven league, Passer Rating Differential actually has an incredibly high Correlation to Victory and is considered the "Mother of all Stats" at Cold Hard Football Facts.
PFF: ProFootballFocus Weighted Cumulative Grades. ProFootballFocus assigns a grade to every player on every play, and then accumulates those grades into a team total. I added them up, with a .022 weight for special teams (the ratio of those plays compared to offensive/defensive plays across the league), to get these scores. Check out PFF here.
TO: Turnover Ratio. Finally, another common, simple, but all-important measurement: turnover ratio. Gathered from ESPN.
|2015 NFL Playoffs|
|1||New England Patriots||12-4||.514||22.4%||32.6%||13.56||40.9||+12|
|2||Green Bay Packers||12-4||.482||23.3%||26.0%||27.83||91.6||+14|
|*Includes postseason games|
Some thoughts from this week's stats -
Last week, we showed you that the Broncos were #1 in five of six Elevated Stats. This week, the Broncos are the king of none. How'd that happen?
First, the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers are both pretty good. They stole the #1 rank in SOS, DVOA, WDVOA, PRD, and TO from the Elevated Stats list with their inclusion. Second, the Baltimore Ravens and Broncos were neck-and-neck in PFF cumulative grade last week, but the Ravens added nearly 20 points to their score by whooping the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. If we restricted our PFF score to strictly games played in the regular season, the Broncos would still be on top.
As far as ranks go, across the NFL playoff spectrum, the Broncos are tied for 1st in record, 2nd in DVOA, 4th in Weighted DVOA, 3rd in PRD, 2nd in PFF, and 5th in turnover ratio. Those ranks would indicate that the Broncos re good just about no matter how you slice it, but the same can be said for teams like the Seahawks, Patriots, and Packers. They each rank in the top 3 in a given Elevated Stat most of the time.
This is the playoffs we're talking about, after all. Every team will be pretty good.
We'll be back later this week (possibly tomorrow) with an in-depth look at the Indianapolis Colts matchup that looks at metrics broken down by offense, defense, and overall.