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2016 NFL Playoffs Power Rankings using Elevated Stats

The 2016 NFL Playoffs are just around the corner. How do the Broncos rank against the rest of the 12-team field? Instead of relying on just one stat... let's combine them all.

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Welcome, friends, to another edition of Elevated Stats - this one being of the postseason variety. The Denver Broncos are the No. 1 seed, but does that mean they've been the best team in the AFC all season long? As always, it depends on the stat... so I wanted to combine them. I've changed up the format for #BroncosCountryPlayoffs, did a bit of homework, and have something I'm pretty excited to share: a new analytic that combines a lot of other analytics.

Introducing the Elevated Stats Score (ESS)

I've been wanting to combine our Elevated Stats into one number for awhile. I finally did that this week in something I'm calling the Elevated Stats Score (ESS). Similar to DVOA, an ESS is a percentage where a score of 0 would be expected for an average playoff team.

The process: I took every Elevated Stat and normalized them among playoff teams, finding their mean, standard deviation, and z-score. I then averaged those z-scores and converted them to a percentage.

English? I figured out how "good" each team is at each stat in a consistent (normalized) way, averaged those out, and came up with a score.

The stats

These are a little different than the Elevated Stats I usually run with - I wanted to focus on the stats that I believed had the largest impact on the playoffs. These aren't as much about "how good you have been in the regular season" as much as they attempt to glean "how set up for success you are in the playoffs."

Focus was given to Elevated Stats with playoff impact

Each of these carry equal weight in my calculation of an Elevated Stat Score (ESS) - the idea is that the inherent strengths and weaknesses of any given stat will be offset by the weakness or strength of another.

Record. Wins and losses. There isn't a more important "statistic" in football. Winning percentage was used to calculate the data.

Seed. In order to calculate how set up for success a team is, their seed needed to be included. A 1-seed is going to have an easier road in the playoffs than a 6-seed. This also helps incorporate home field advantage into the ES Score; if you're a higher seed, you'll be at home and therefore have a better score.

If I stick with this scoring system through the playoffs, I'd remove Seed from any comparison for the Super Bowl, as it doesn't matter.

SOS: Strength of Schedule. The collective winning percentage of a team's opponents so far. Gathered from ESPN.

DVOA: Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. 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.

PFF Grade. PFF grades each player on each play, then sums them up. The higher the number, the better.

TO: Turnover Ratio. Finally, another common, simple, but all-important measurement: turnover ratio. Gathered from NFL.com.

The one element I originally wanted to include was a team's "hotness" entering the playoffs - their winning streak, or perhaps their Weighted DVOA/December-January record. I may still consider this, but there is an interesting argument to suggest a win streak isn't so much a factor.

Based on the Wild Card results, I may tweak the weights of these stats and/or introduce new ones, to try and improve ESS. Let me know your take in the poll.

On to the rankings!

Elevated Stats Power Rankings

Here is how all 12 playoff teams measured up.

12. Washington Redskins (9-7; Elevated Stats Score -105.32%)

Do the Redskins belong in the playoffs? According to our Elevated Stats, they're a full standard deviation worse than the average NFL playoff team in 2015. They had the 2nd softest schedule among playoff teams and still finished tied for the worst record. They're negative in PFF grade and DVOA (meaning they're less efficient than the average NFL team, playoffs or otherwise). One and done? Probably. Although they've been quite hot lately.

11. Houston Texans (9-7; ESS -60.26%)

Another 4th seed at the bottom of our list, buoyed into the playoffs by a weak division. The Texans have the lowest DVOA among playoff teams, although their J.J. Watt-led 8th-ranked defense could cause a lot of teams problems. The potential X-factor Saturday vs. the Chiefs (against the Texans)? Houston ranks 32nd in special teams DVOA; KC ranks 7th.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6; ESS -43.19%)

If you're surprised by this ranking, you're not alone. The Steelers are apparently the team in the AFC no one wants to face, and they have certainly been better since Ben Roethlisberger returned to the lineup. But over the course of the 2015 season, they ranked below average (among playoff teams) in record, seed (naturally), PFF grade, and turnover ratio. They're buoyed by DVOA and strength of schedule, and if they make it to the Divisional Round, I expect incorporating a "hotness" factor would increase their rank.

9. Green Bay Packers (10-6; ESS -27.80%)

The Packers were 6-0 when they faced the Broncos in Week 8; look at that final record and let that sink in a bit. Their rank here suggests something along the lines of a total collapse. Still, I have them beating the Redskins on the road this week thanks to this ES score.

8. Minnesota Vikings (11-5; ESS -20.03%)

The Vikings look decent in many of our metrics: record, seed, SOS, and TO are each slightly above average. But in the stats that go a level deeper - DVOA and PFF grade - the Vikings crumble. They're 3rd lowest in DVOA among playoff teams and 4th-lowest in PFF grade.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5; ESS 10.36%)

Statistically speaking, the Chiefs are the closest to the average NFL playoff team in 2015. Does that mean they'll win their first playoff game in half of your lifetimes? I actually think so. The Chiefs were a better football team than the Texans in Week 1, and I think they are now too.

Looking ahead, Kansas City actually outranks Denver in a handful of key areas, including DVOA and Turnover Ratio. And if "hotness" stat gets incorporated, they could jump ahead of the Broncos in ES score. They're not to be overlooked.

6. Seattle Seahawks (10-6; ESS 13.26%)

The Seahawks are No. 1 in the NFL in DVOA for the fourth straight year. That annual achievement has coincided with three NFC Championship Game appearances, two Super Bowl berths, and one World Championship. This year, they'd have to get that far as a 6th-seed Wild Card, which is probably the biggest reason they're not higher in these rankings. They're probably the hottest team entering the playoffs, but just ask the 2012 Broncos: that doesn't always amount to playoff success.

5. Denver Broncos (12-4; ESS 16.17%)

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Broncos are the only team in the playoffs with a negative turnover ratio (-4; the Panthers are +20), and as I've written a few times already, that's my biggest concern entering the playoffs as a Broncos fan. It's also the biggest reason they're a 1-seed but below three other teams seeded lower than them. If we removed turnover ratio, the Broncos would jump from 5th to 2nd in ESS.

The Broncos are the only playoff team with a negative turnover ratio

In other words: if the Broncos take better care of the football in the postseason than they did in the regular season, they have a real shot at winning it all.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4; ESS 30.87%)

The Bengals are consistently good across the board; their only negative ES sub-score was in Strength of Schedule, where they were significantly low. Still, none of their "good" numbers jump out as "great." It'll be interesting to see if that will be enough for them this weekend against a hot Steelers team.

3. New England Patriots (12-4; ESS 42.71%)

Thus ends the AFC; analytically speaking, the NFC was just better in 2015. But the Patriots are No. 1 in the Conference despite having a slightly lower Strength of Schedule than the Bengals thanks to a great PFF score (160% of a standard deviation from the mean than the average playoff team) and decent standings everywhere else. The biggest difference was the seed: had the Bengals been the No. 2 seed instead of the Patriots the No. 3, it'd be the Bengals with a 40.22% ESS, above New England's 33.37%. That first-round bye matters.

2. Arizona Cardinals (13-3; ESS 43.95%)

At times, the Cardinals have looked like the best team in the NFL. Their Week 17 matchup against the Seahawks was for the "DVOA championship" this season- the Seahawks pulled away in a landslide, locked up #1 in DVOA for the 4th straight year, while the Cardinals dropped to 3rd. But outside of that game, they've been one of the NFL's best, consistently.

1. Carolina Panthers (15-1; ESS 99.28%)

The Panthers are nearly twice as good as the average NFL playoff team. Their strength of schedule was incredibly easy, but that's accounted for by including both SOS and (to some extent) DVOA within ESS; they still really look like a really good team. Cam Newton should be the NFL's MVP this year, and their defense has been ferocious. They do a tremendous job forcing turnovers while taking care of the football, and they won 15 games. Those two ES sub-scores in particular were the highest among the entire ESS data set, more than three times as impactful in record and TO as the average NFL team.

Based on these stats, it'll be tough going for anyone in the AFC to take out the NFC in the Super Bowl.

The Elevated Stats

Elevated Stats: Playoffs
Team Record Seed SOS DVOA PFF TO ESS
Denver Broncos 12-4 1 .500 17.7% 189.4 -4 16.17%
New England Patriots 12-4 2 .473 22.6% 283.4 +7 42.71%
Cincinnati Bengals 12-4 3 .477 27.9% 159.0 +11 30.87%
Houston Texans 9-7 4 .496 -5.0% 122.0 +5 -60.26%
Kansas City Chiefs 11-5 5 .496 25.6% 103 +14 10.36%
Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6 6 .504 21.3% 95.3 +2 -43.19%
Carolina Panthers 15-1 1 .441 25.9% 283.6 +20 99.28%
Arizona Cardinals 13-3 2 .477 27.4% 160.5 +9 43.95%
Minnesota Vikings 11-5 3 .504 5.7% 96.8 +4 -20.03%
Washington Redskins 9-7 4 .465 -0.3% -42 +5 -105.32%
Green Bay Packers 10-6 5 .531 10.2% 63.5 +5 -27.80%
Seattle Seahawks 10-6 6 .520 38.0% 151.0 +7 13.26%

The two teams with the best records in football end up as the two teams atop my ESS rankings, and that gives me some confidence about the validity of this score. Football is about winning games more than anything. These two teams are the most set up for success, in my Elevated Analytical eye, and the Broncos need to seriously do a better job taking care of the football to compete for the Lombardi Trophy.

It's the NFL playoffs. Anything can happen.