IIWI: The Story of the NFL Playoffs

Greetings my friends, I bring news of the future. It turns out that the winner of the Superbowl will be one of 12 previously selected football teams. And there's a good chance it won't be the Broncos. Aren't I amazing?

Unimpressed huh? Well, I admit that I'm not from the future. Rather, I am just a humble fan watching other teams yet again have a chance for the title, while my team watches on its collective couch cushion. It is what it is. What is interesting to me, however is suggestions for how management should fix this team, as if there were an easy way of doing that. One of the most peculiar suggestions, and one that should be taken quite seriously, is that we focus solely on offense yet again and try to build an elite team like Green Bay and New Orleans.

I am quite unconvinced by this line of argument, not because it would not be nice to have an elite offensive team, but because the data doesn't support that this is a good idea. The Dallas Cowboys did not make the playoffs this year because of their lackluster defense, it had very little to do with the offense.

Mood Music: Back in the Saddle by Aerosmith

I took the liberty of compiling statistics of all playoff teams plus Dallas and the League Average for both offense and defense according to NY/A.


Offensive NY/A is a good measure of a team's offensive prowess. As you can see 6 NFL Playoff Teams have a Net Y/A of better than the Dallas Cowboys: Green Bay,Houston, New England, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and, New York.

The Offense definitely could be better. The only problem is that a 6.9 is a pretty good NY/A (it sits a standard deviation above the mean offense of the entire league) especially if adjusted for the game in which Stephen McGee played, the lowest NY/A of the season.

On the other hand our defensive statistics are not so pretty:


The mean for Defensive NY/A is about 6.1. As you can see almost every playoff team falls within one standard deviation of the mean. Being one standard deviation above the mean, in this case, means you are bad compared to the mean, and below, in this case, means you are good compared to it. There are only 5 which don't fall within a standard deviation: Pittsburgh, Houston, Dallas, Green Bay, and New England. Obviously both Pittsburgh and Houston are very good defensive teams, one of the reasons they made the playoffs.

Contrary to popular belief only two teams which are "bad" defenses made the playoffs. It is no surprise to me that they are the two highest rated offenses according to NY/A. Some others which are mediocre made the playoffs but this is not the same thing. Dallas, on the other hand, is not one of the highest rated NY/A teams and also falls one standard deviation above the mean.

Compared to the league average: 2 Bad Defenses, 4 Mediocre Defenses, 4 Pretty Good Defenses, and 2 Really Good Defenses made the playoffs.

What is the solution to all of our problems then? Well, if we want to make the playoffs the answer seems fairly simple: Get our defense at as good as or better than Playoff Average, and maintain our offense at or increase it to above the playoff average.

Here is a list of teams with average or better than average Playoff Offenses and Defenses:

Detroit, Pittsburgh, Houston, Philadelphia

Here is a list of teams whose NY/A on both sides falls within 1 Standard Deviation of the mean

Washington, Atlanta, New York Giants, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Fransisco, Detroit, Cincinnati, Houston, Pittsburgh.

I'd say that depicted the final playoff race pretty well, wouldn't you?

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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