Aug 16, 2019
Aug 16, 2019

NFL: NFC preview

NFL: NFC preview

NFL preseason is now in full swing in preparation for the opening fixture on September 5th. As ever, we’ll look at the underlying statistics from the 2018 campaign to attempt to inform your NFC predictions by looking at which direction each franchise is headed going into the new season. Who will win the NFC? Read on to find out.

NFC South

Blue is above average, Red is below average.

New Orleans Saints (13-3 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 111%

Offense Running Efficiency 95%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 106%

Defensive Running Efficiency 81%

Scoring Efficiency 130%

Allowing Efficiency 92%

The most comfortable of divisional winners in the 2018 NFL, the Saints again relied upon the arm of Drew Brees to provide the passing efficiencies to drive their impressive scoring rate.

However, Brees is the latest starting quarterback to reach his 40th birthday.

Their defense remained in the top ten for the second season running after a raft of years where they propped up the NFL’s rankings.

A 13-3 record is usually liberally sprinkled with unsustainable outcomes and a 5-1 record in close games isn’t typical of the Saints’ previous seasons and they also posted the league’s seventh best turnover differential.

They’re still around 50% to gain 11 or more wins and 65% for the division.

Atlanta Falcons (7-9 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 107%

Offense Running Efficiency 102%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 102%

Defensive Running Efficiency 110%

Scoring Efficiency 108%

Allowing Efficiency 112%

Atlanta’s top ten offense couldn’t compensate for a poorly assembled defensive setup that failed to control the ball or keep points off the board.

Their Pythagorean was worth an extra win, but none of the other transient indicators strayed far from their actual seven win record.

Their schedule projects the Falcons to have a 50% chance of gaining eight or more wins, which pitches them firmly into a tight battle for second spot with Carolina.

Carolina Panthers (7-9 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 96%

Offense Running Efficiency 116%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 102%

Defensive Running Efficiency 108%

Scoring Efficiency 98%

Allowing Efficiency 97%

Carolina was nearly an eight-win team based on their Pythagorean and albeit predominately in the red by their efficiency figures, they were close enough to the league average to pull themselves into positive territory with a few tweaks.

They ran the ball extremely well and didn’t allow yardage to turn into points against on the scoreboard.

More encouragement could be found in their seven narrow losses and just two narrow wins and they have a 60% chance of gaining eight or more wins and are the more likely team to chase home the Saints.

Tampa Bay (5-11 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 118%

Offense Running Efficiency 91%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 111%

Defensive Running Efficiency 104%

Scoring Efficiency 106%

Allowing Efficiency 119%

Having improved the defense from rock bottom to midtable respectability in the first half of the decade, Tampa is back at the bottom of the pile for the second straight year.

So, there’s no real expectation of a bounce on that side of the ball, although they did suffer badly from injuries.

Offensively they were more than adequate, particularly through the air and enter 2019 with a quarterback friendly head coach.

They were a net minus three wins in close games and had the league’s second worst turnover differential, which was mainly down to errant throwing. In addition, their Pythagorean was one and a half wins above their actual five wins.

Less extreme values in 2019 are likely, and they have a 68% chance of six or more wins, a 48% likelihood of seven or more.

The Buccs are still most likely to prop up the division, but they’ll be more competitive in individual matches, particularly against the spread.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys (10-6 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 95%

Offense Running Efficiency 102%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 100%

Defensive Running Efficiency 87%

Scoring Efficiency 93%

Allowing Efficiency 88%

Dallas topped the charts for having the best record in narrowly decided games, going 8-2 in such games.

Winning such matches isn’t a repeatable skill across seasons and even a 6-4 record in those matches last year drops them to a dead average 8-8 outfit, which is also very close to where Pythagorean wins expected them to be.

They were amongst the bottom 25% of sides when passing the ball and only just a top half running team.

They were a top ten defensive unit, but even there they were no better than average against the pass.

Overall they are a hugely vulnerable defending divisional champion in a traditionally competitive division. All four teams have lifted the title at least once since 2011.

Dallas are 49% to gain nine or more wins and must be taken on to follow up last season’s title success.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 102%

Offense Running Efficiency 92%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 99%

Defensive Running Efficiency 106%

Scoring Efficiency 101%

Allowing Efficiency 94%

Philadelphia had the same 8.5 Pythagorean wins as Dallas, and a more rounded set of efficiency figures, with fewer extremes.

They were neither helped nor hindered by their 6-6 record in close matches and they’ll hope for some natural improvement from only the 25th best turnover differential of -6.

Only four NFL teams has an easier Pythagorean projected strength of schedule in 2019 and there’s a 60% chance the Eagles will get nine or more wins and a 40% chance of ten or more, making them a shade of odds on for the division.

Washington Redskins (7-9 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 85%

Offense Running Efficiency 99%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 102%

Defensive Running Efficiency 103%

Scoring Efficiency 76%

Allowing Efficiency 99%

Only five NFL teams scored fewer than 300 regular season points, averaging five wins between themselves. Therefore, Washington was the outlier of the group by stretching their offensive stupor to seven victories.

Their average defense played a part, but Pythagorean wins were a more modest 5.7 and this is also reflected in three more narrow wins than losses and the equal seventh best turnover differential of plus seven.

They are only a 43% chance to equal or better last year’s seven wins and are more likely to finish fourth than the current market suggests.

New York Giants (5-11 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 100%

Offense Running Efficiency 101%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 104%

Defensive Running Efficiency 99%

Scoring Efficiency 104%

Allowing Efficiency 113%

The heady days of the early part of the decade when the Giants had a top ten passing offense have long gone and the lack of a structure to replace Eli Manning at quarterback has become acute.

However, they still managed average efficiencies both through the air and on the ground. Defensively, they were below par against the pass, but might feel aggrieved to have conceded as many points as they did.

Statistics are unaware of off season changes, off course, so their optimism doesn’t account for the Giants trading away Odell Beckham Jr.

In addition to the efficiency numbers, the Giants had a Pythagorean of nearly seven wins and just a 4-8 record in close matches.

There’s a 54% chance the Giants achieve as many or more than the seven wins they may have gained in 2018, which puts them above Washington in the NFC East pecking order.

NFC West

LA Rams (13-3 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 115%

Offense Running Efficiency 109%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 103%

Defensive Running Efficiency 115%

Scoring Efficiency 139%

Allowing Efficiency 103%

The Rams played “catch us if you can” on the scoreboard, backed by a multitalented offensive approach on the ground and through the air, a respectable pass defense, but little quality against the run.

It worked admirably in the regular season, but failed to produce more than a single field goal in the Super Bowl.

Opponents won’t be as creative in stopping the Rams as the Patriots were in the final game of 2018, but also LAR won’t defy gravity as they did in gaining 13 wins.

Turnover differential was the fourth highest in the league at plus eleven, they were 6-1 in close games and it’s no surprise that Pythagorean estimates were less impressed, projecting the Rams as a 10.9 winning team.

There’s only a 16% chance LA equal or better 13 wins, but it is still odds on (57%) they get 11 or more wins on the board and a 62% chance of taking the division.

Seattle Seahawks (10-6 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 105%

Offense Running Efficiency 107%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 102%

Defensive Running Efficiency 110%

Scoring Efficiency 111%

Allowing Efficiency 93%

Seattle came out top of the turnover table in 2018, taking the ball away 26 times to just 11 giveaways of their own.

Their ball control was partly by design, they ran the ball efficiently and often, while passing much less frequently, but also with efficiency.

The Seahawks won as many close games as they lost, were a 10 win Pythagorean team and despite their extreme ball protection approach, turnovers are likely to drift back in 2019.

The defense was remade in 2018 and, while impressive in preventing points, their efficiencies were slightly below par against the pass and even less impressive stopping the run.

A 28% chance of winning the division reflects their role as a slightly under rated challenger to the Rams, with 10 or more wins a 57% chance.

San Francisco (4-12 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 105%

Offense Running Efficiency 98%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 98%

Defensive Running Efficiency 91%

Scoring Efficiency 89%

Allowing Efficiency 112%

Rarely can a side have gained such little reward from a relatively impressive set of efficiency figures.

SF were above average passing the ball, near league average at running it and above average both on the ground and through the air on the defensive side of the ball.

And all with their starting quarterback going down for the season in week three, but it was the league’s worst turnover differential of minus 25 eroded all that was good in adversity in SF.

These numbers are unprecedented. SF took the ball away from opponents just seven times and only twice by way of interceptions.

That will change, purely by randomness in 2019 and their upside is further boosted by a likely healthier season, a 2018 Pythagorean of nearly six wins and a -2 record in close matches, particularly when they led late in the game.

This has not escaped the bookies though and a 48% chance of recording seven or more wins appears to be their benchmark figure.

Arizona Cardinals (3-13 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 73%

Offense Running Efficiency 83%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 90%

Defensive Running Efficiency 106%

Scoring Efficiency 59%

Allowing Efficiency 107%

225 points and three wins tells you everything about the Cardinals decision to draft a well talked up quarterback with the first overall draft choice.

They were the worst passing team, little better at running the ball, but at least had the semblance of a capable defense with an impressive top ten passing defense.

There was more good news in their minus two-win differential in close games and the 29th best turnover differential, driven mainly by poor throws leading to 18 interceptions.

However, they were still just a three Pythagorean wins team and are just a shade of odds on (55%) to equal or better last season’s three wins.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (12-4 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 100%

Offense Running Efficiency 92%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 85%

Defensive Running Efficiency 86%

Scoring Efficiency 108%

Allowing Efficiency 79%

Defense certainly won the divisional title for the Bears in 2019. They conceded the fewest regular season points and were hugely efficient defending both the pass and the run.

They had below par running efficiency and were just average passing it, but in a down offensive year for the division that still gave them the edge through the air.

11.5 Pythagorean wins was only just off the pace of their actual 12 wins, but they won two more narrow games than they lost and feasted on interceptions to record the third best turnover differential of plus 12.

A drop off may be on the cards and they are around a 34% chance to equal or better 12 wins and 37% to lift the division again.

Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 98%

Offense Running Efficiency 94%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 93%

Defensive Running Efficiency 95%

Scoring Efficiency 97%

Allowing Efficiency 91%

Minnesota continued the theme of mediocre offense, but efficient defense in chasing home Chicago.

They just sneaking into the top 16 for offense with a near average passing game and were a top six defense, albeit well removed from the Bears’ excellence.

They had two narrow wins and two narrow losses, 20 takeaways and 20 giveaways and a Pythagorean of 8.5 wins that exactly matched their actual record.

They are 60% to have eight or more wins, 46% for a winning season and 32% to lift the title.

Green Bay (6-9-1 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 99%

Offense Running Efficiency 112%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 107%

Defensive Running Efficiency 100%

Scoring Efficiency 102%

Allowing Efficiency 111%

Injuries certainly play a part, but Aaron Rodgers fell out of the top ten quarterbacks for the first time in his career, while posting barely average passing efficiency numbers in 2018.

The running game held the offense together during Rodgers’ relative slump, but the head coach paid the price for consecutive losing campaigns.

The defense failed to step up, finishing above just a handful of other NFL sides and struggled mightily against the pass.

Green Bay underperformed their Pythagorean by a win and had two more narrow losses than wins in 2018.

A better performance from under centre is likely, along with natural regression, but the Pack is still slightly behind the top two from 2018, with a 26% chance of taking the division.

Detroit Lions (6-10 in 2018)

Offense Passing Efficiency 93%

Offense Running Efficiency 93%

Defensive Passing Efficiency 108%

Defensive Running Efficiency 98%

Scoring Efficiency 88%

Allowing Efficiency 97%

The Lions will hope for a kinder return from the transient, luck driven outcomes in 2019. They lost four games narrowly and won just once in return, their negative turnover differential ranked equal 23rd in the NFL and their scoring and conceding rates were more consistent with a seven-win team.

However, their efficiency ratings were almost universally poor. Offensively they were basement dwellers and their extremely poor defensive efficiencies against the pass were at odds with a slightly above average rate of points concession.

They remain around a coin flip to finish fourth, which is a slightly more generous assessment than the current odds imply.

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