Thursday, October 30, 2014

NFL Picks, Week 9 - Thursday Night Edition

This week's maps: 506sports


  • The "national" late afternoon game is Denver at New England, on CBS.  
  • Tonight's game is solely on the NFL Network. If you turn on CBS at 8:00 PM tonight, you're getting The Big Bang Theory

New Orleans (-3) over CAROLINA
I don't love picking New Orleans away from home (they're 0-4 outside of the Superdome), and I don't love taking the visiting team on a short week, but there's a good reason to go against the home team this week: the Saints are a much better team. 

The Saints run the ball well (5.1 ypc), and defend the run well (4.0 ypc against). The Panthers run the ball poorly (3.5 ypc) and defend the run terribly (5.2 ypc against). New Orleans' big weakness (pass defense, 7.9 ypa against) isn't something the Panthers will be able to consistently take advantage of. 

While the Saints just break even on big plays (39 for, 38 against), the Panthers are hopeless in this regard (26 for, 43 against). So why are these two teams joined at the hip, record-wise? Turnovers. The Saints are -6 on the season and Carolina is +4. Unfortunately for the Panthers, turnovers are notoriously difficult to predict. 

2014 Midweek Picks: 6-2

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NFL Power Poll, Week 8


Rank
Team
Record
Score
Last Score
Difference
1
6-1
36.03
33.08
2.95
2
5-3
21.94
23.17
-1.23
3
4-3
21.57
21.57
0
4
4-3
21.25
21.53
-0.28
5
6-2
16.53
18.76
-2.23
6
4-3
15.55
9.63
5.92
7
6-2
15.31
12.90
2.41
8
6-1
12.40
9.03
3.37
9
6-2
10.39
8.32
2.07
10
4-3
9.63
5.23
4.4
11
5-3
9.00
1.75
7.25
12
5-3
8.24
13.89
-5.65
13
5-3
8.02
13.48
-5.46
14
4-4
4.65
-1.72
6.37
15
3-5
4.04
2.37
1.67
16
3-5
3.10
-3.40
6.5
17
5-3
2.74
3.28
-0.54
18
5-2
1.92
7.07
-5.15
19
4-3
-0.61
-6.37
5.76
20
5-3
-0.62
-0.24
-0.38
21
3-5
-1.10
1.00
-2.1
22
3-4
-3.45
-8.61
5.16
23
4-2-1
-6.15
-6.10
-0.05
24
2-6
-12.20
-6.41
-5.79
25
2-6
-17.13
-14.60
-2.53
26
3-4
-17.70
-17.70
0
27
3-4-1
-19.05
-19.19
0.14
28
1-7
-20.07
-13.74
-6.33
29
2-5
-25.61
-20.85
-4.76
30
1-7
-27.44
-23.23
-4.21
31
0-7
-29.80
-27.24
-2.56
32
1-6
-29.80
-25.94
-3.86

A Deeper Look:

Here I'll take a closer look at some teams whose ranking may look funny when compared with their record: 

San Francisco (4-3, ranked 3rd): The 49ers have the second-largest toxic differential of any team in the league. So why are they 4-3? Their points-per-drive differential is -0.09, and they aren;t running the ball particularly well (4.2 ypc). 

New England (6-2, ranked 9th): The Patriots barely break even in the per attempt section of the formula, thanks to an inability to run the ball (3.8 ypc) or stop the run (4.6 ypc against). They also have given up 8 more big plays than they've created themselves. But they are 3rd in the league in points per drive (2.64) and first in the NFL in turnover differential (+11). 

Washington (3-5, ranked 15th): You know how I know the DeSean Jackson deal has worked out for the Redskins? They have the top passing yards per attempt in the league despite starting Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy for 6.5 of their 8 games. Yes. These Redskins. They also are tied for 3rd in the NFL in big play differential (+15). So why are they below .500? Their -8 turnover differential doesn't help, and their -0.46 point-per-drive differential drags them down too. 

Biggest 1 week risers: 
1. Buffalo (+7.25)
2. Minnesota (+6.5)
3. Houston (+6.37)
Biggest 1 week fallers: 
1. New York Jets (-6.33)
2. Tennessee (-5.79)
3. San Diego (-5.65)

The Forumla: 
I broke down my formula into three parts: 

Part 1: Yards per play. 
Here I take each teams yards per carry (rushing) and yards per attempt (passing) numbers and subtract from them the YPC and YPA their defense allows.  The theory being that, if Team A's offense is better per play than what their opponent's offense can muster against Team A's defense, Team A should be consistently better than their opponents over a full game's worth of plays (60 to 70 per game approximately). 

Part 2: Toxic Differential
A better yards per play differential is helpful to a team's chances of winning, but just how often is an NFL team able to consistently drive down the field taking 5-8 yards at a time? You're essentiall asking an NFL offense to put together 10-12 plays without more than 1-2 negative plays, be they incompletions, sacks, no-gainers, or worse: turnovers. It's doable, but it's really hard to do with any sort of consistency in a single game.

This is why coaches harp on turnovers so much. A turnover a) takes away an opponent's possession which decreases their chances of scoring more points, and b) can give your team a shorter field so you don't have to put together an 80+ yard drive to get points of your own. The problem with turnovers is you can't count on them. So much of what goes into a turnover is dependent on a) the other team and b) luck that relying on turnovers is a dangerous proposition.

So yes, turnovers are important. But there's something else that can make getting points in a drive much easier: big plays. If my offense can get 20 or 30 yards in a single play, that cuts out 4-6 plays of grinding, or 4-6 plays where something could go wrong. Now my offense only has to put 5-6 plays together on a drive where they also get a chunk play.

Brian Billick is credited with coming up with the toxic differential statistic. This adds your takeaways and big plays generated by your offense and subtracts your giveaways and the big plays given up by your defense. Again, the theory goes that teams with a better toxic differential will be better at turning drives into points and games into wins. Pete Carroll also bases his offensive and defensive identity around turnovers and big plays being the most important indicators for both sides of the ball.

Note: For this formula, a big play is considered a rushing play of 10+ yards or a passing play of 25+ yards.

Part 3: Points Per Drive
What's the most important job of an NFL team? Score more points than your opponent. Rather than look simple points per game differential, I wanted to dig a little deeper and normalize the data a little further. Game-to-game the number of possessions can vary based on team tempo, weather coniditons, etc. So instead I looked at points per drive data for each team's offense and defense, and multiplied the difference by 10. Why 10? A typical NFL game has 12 possessions, but 1-2 of those come at a point where a team isn't really interested in scoring (maybe they get the ball with 12 seconds to go before halftime, or they get it with 3 minutes to go in the game up 14+ points already. 10 seemed like a good number of possessions per game where the end goal is to score points.

All statistics taken from Sporting Charts and TeamRankings