Contrary to what some may think, the Cowboys have a fairly efficient scoring offense this season. While the offense "only" ranks 12th in the league with 363.3 yards per game, they rank eighth with 25.7 points per game. If you divide the offensive yards gained by points scored, you get a metric called Yards Per Point.
YPP measures how easy it is for an offense to score points by looking at how many yards the offense needs to gain to score a point. On the defensive side, YPP is an indication for how hard a defense makes it for its opponent to score as it calculates how many yards the defense gives up for each point scored. Ideally, the number on offense is as low as possible (your team scores with ease) while you want the defensive number to be as high as possible (your opponent has to work really hard to score points).
On offense, the Cowboys rank 8th in the league with a YPP of 14.2 which isn't too far behind the league-leading Chicago Bears (12.0) but a long way off from the last place Titans (24.3). Unfortunately, the Cowboys’ defensive number doesn't look quite as good. Their YPP of 15.7 ranks them 18th in the league. Compare that to the league-leading Bengals (32.1) or Texans (23.1) and you'll understand that there's still a lot of room for improvement for the Cowboys defense.
Some in the stat community get all high and mighty when talk turns to YPP, and like to point out its inadequacies as a metric. Despite that, there are many different ways in which YPP can and is being used, and we could go off on many different tangents with this topic, but what we’re going to do today is look at one of the more common uses for YPP: a quick-and-dirty way to predict scores.
The way this can work is by taking the average yards per game allowed by a given team and dividing those by the opponent's YPP to arrive at a predicted score. You can do this using the cumulative season statistics; you can do it using the stats from just the last couple of games; just the home games; whatever tickles your fancy – there is no one single approved way to do this.
Today we’ll use YPP to predict the score for Sunday’s Saints @ Cowboys game, and we’ll do it using the stats from the first three games of th season. Over their first three games, the Saints have allowed a league-high 379.9 yards per game. The Cowboys’ YPP value on offense is 14.2. Divide New Orleans' yards allowed per game by Dallas’ YPP and you get a predicted score of 26.7 points.
And here's how much the Saints are projected to score by this method: The Cowboys have given up 360.3 yards per game over the first three games, while the Saints offense has a YPP of 15.8. Do the math and you get a predicted score of 22.8 points.
Cowboys predicted score: Saints Y/G: 379.9 / Cowboys YPP: 14.2 = 26.7 points
Saints predicted score: Cowboys Y/G: 360.3 / Saints YPP: 15.8 = 22.8 points
So there you have it. The Cowboys beat the Saints by about a field goal.
The Over/Under for the game is set at 53.5, the highest value for any game in Week 4, and the projection above is for 49.5 points. Then again, both teams may throw caution to the wind and decide that given the state of each other's defenses, the best defense is a high-scoring offense.
Using the YPP of the last four games played to predict scores is a betting system known as the Dudley Method. Another method popular with some bettors is the "Total Dudley Method" which is a calculation of each team's last four games using offensive and defensive YPP to predict the score of a game. None of this is rocket science of course, and there are many far more complicated algorithms out there that try to predict scores. But the nice thing about this one is that it’s simple and it predicts a Cowboys win on Sunday.
Then again, we know that even with the most sophisticated statistical analysis, nobody has gotten rich (and stayed rich) by accurately predicting game outcomes in the NFL.
In the last four head-to-head games, the Saints hold a 3-1 advantage over the Cowboys, but the combined score has oscillated between 41 (24-17 Cowboys win in 2009) and 66 points (last year's 17-49 fiasco in New Orleans).
How are you feeling about the Cowboys’ chances on Sunday?