Saturday, June 22, 2013

NFL 2013 Leading Indicators

Each offseason leading up to a new season I complete an analysis of 4 key statistics – called my “Leading Indicators” – I feel are critical to team success.  Those four stats are point differential (which is simply points scored minus points allowed), yards per play, first downs per game, and turnover margin – those four by themselves are very highly correlated with win/loss performance year after year.  Besides setting up this analysis for the upcoming season below, I have posted my review of the NFL 2012 Leading Indicators article that was very successful projecting which way team’s records would slide

Without further discussion let’s break down 3 of the 4 stats I mentioned above leaving out turnovers for now – they are perhaps the most critical, but I will be performing a more detailed analysis on that stat down the line – which will be featured in its own blog entries – so today I will not spend any time on it.  In a change from last year’s format, since we have already posted an in depth review of last season’s projections which is linked above, here is what stands out for the upcoming 2013 NFL Regular Season:

1.      Points Differential: simple calculation by taking the average points scored per game minus the average points allowed per game which yields a points differential per game.  There is a pretty standard matrix across the industry that has been put together studying just this figure over the last 30 or so years, which allows you to slot teams into a specific projected record based on this number (some refer to this analysis as the Pythagorean Theorem Analysis).  Once you do that the value in this analysis is added by comparing the actual record of a team vs. the record their points differential suggest it should have led to – and based on that you can green or red flag specific teams for the upcoming season.
o       Last year we nailed 4 of 5 projections
·        Based on 2012 figures, for the 2013 season we expect to see:
o       DET & NE & NYG & SEA to increase their wins this year.  Those four teams are what the numbers suggest – meaning, each of those four teams had a points differential that suggested they should have posted a better record than they actually did (and it just so happens this year that all four of those teams should have each won 2 additional games).  But by taking a closer look, and being familiar with the general slides we see year to year with NFL teams, I am hard pressed to agree with NE moving up from their 12 wins last year, along with SEA increasing their win total from the 11 they posted last season.  However, I do expect both DET & NYG to increase their win totals – especially DET which has a lot of supporting indicators that you will read about in this blog as we review last season.
o       IND & TEN to decrease this year.  Unlike the team’s projected to enjoy additional wins in the coming season, I do agree with the assessment that both of these AFC South teams will drop in wins from the 2012 season.  Like the Lions who are supported by many data points for an increase in their win total, the Colts on the flip side somehow won 11 games last season with not many indicators suggesting they should have even been close to that level – thanks Andrew Luck.  Expect the Colts to miss the playoffs in 2013, while the Titans should wind up with at worst a Top 5 selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.

2.      Yards per Play: the calculation is straight forward, and the idea here is to take this number for each team, sort from best to worst, and identify outliers – where teams that are near the top of this metric had a poor record, or vice versa.
o       Last year we were correct on 4 of 4 projections
·         Based upon 2012 figures, for the 2013 season we expect to see:
o       IND & CHI & CIN to have a worse record compared to 2012.  As mentioned above and in other articles we are extremely bearish on the Colts as 2013 approaches.  CHI, led by a Top 5 defense, has changed HC and resides in the tough, deep NFC North – so I will concur with the premise suggested here that CHI will win 9 or fewer games in 2013.  Lastly, the Bengals have enjoyed a playoff berth in each of the last two seasons, both times falling to the Texans in the Wild Card round…..this year I do not expect them to be as successful, as they will fail to reach double digit wins.
o       NO & CAR & TB & DAL & DET will have a better record.  Although the numbers suggest this, it’s hard to envision a scenario where 3 of the 4 NFC South teams enjoy an increase in their win totals from 2012 – hence, we will back the first two NO & CAR, leaving TB off the official projection list.  The Saints are a team to be bullish on because the impact HC Sean Payton’s suspension had on this team was visible – just like the favorable impact he will have this season.  CAR suffered through multiple close losses early last season, and although QB Cam Newton struggled some in his 2nd season, I look for him to use that as a launching pad onto bigger and brighter things in 2013.  DAL was once again stuck at 8 wins, although their yards per play metric ranked 9th in the NFL, suggesting a potential double digit win team.  With the heat turned way up on HC Jason Garrett & newly minted QB Tony Romo, I do finally expect DAL to contend for a playoff berth in 2013, breaking through the .500 mark.  DET shows up once again in one of our leading indicators as a team who should enjoy more success in 2013, and we completely back that projection here.

3.      First Downs per Game: another straight forward calculation or stat you can pull from just about any website, this gives a good idea of the consistency and success teams have a moving the ball, and hence scoring points.  While the big play isn’t captured in this metric, they are few and far between – and a much more favorable way to measure the consistency of an offense is by their success picking up first downs. 
o       Last year we were correct on 3 of 3 projections
·          Based upon 2012 figures, for the 2013 season we expect to see:
o       CIN & CHI to have a worse record
o       DET & NO to have a better record

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, Turnover Margin is the other leading indicator I use, but it will not be discussed here today.  I will feature an entire blog entry on this topic in the coming weeks, and trust me when I tell you that is a must read for any football handicapper.