There are countless ways to measure a team’s level of success in the game of football, but none more telling than the yards per play it gains and the yards per play it allows. Wins and losses determine who makes the postseason and who drafts in the top 5 every April, but in a league with a hard salary cap and only 16 opportunities every season to prove your worth, they don’t tell nearly the full story.
One of the best measures for a team’s success and efficiency in conducting an offense is its yards per play. Similarly, a telling measure of the way a team defends its opponent can be measured by the number of yards it allows per play. The difference between a given team’s yards per play gained and allowed can help you see through the noise of media narratives, television highlights and pregame shows on Saturdays and Sundays and truly understand a team’s effectiveness in moving the football and stopping it.
Below are the top 5 teams from the 2018 NFL season by measure of their yards per play differential, if you will. These teams were a combined 48-34-4 ATS in the 2018 season.
A similarly effective measure of a team’s ability to cover a number is its ability to omve the chains on third down. Not only is a team’s third down conversion rate a measure of its ability to execute its gameplan on third down, it is also an indicator of efficient coaching that keeps an offense out of 3rd-and-long situations and in 3rd-and-manageable situations. Teams that cannot convert on third down effectively cannot sustain drives, score points and force their defense back onto the field more quickly than teams that can convert on third down. Below are the bottom 5 teams from the 2018 NFL season by measure of their 3rddown conversion rate. These teams were a combined 33-44-3 ATS in 2018.
||3rd Down Conv %
Understanding the flow of a game and the way numbers such as these can perhaps give you a slight edge against the number. Identifying matchups where a defensive juggernaut with an effective offense faces a team that struggles to move the chains on 3rddown, for example, are opportunities where you can find a real edge.
Between the NFL coaching carousel, free agency and the draft, many rosters are significantly different from what they were last year. Using 2018 statistics to predict 2019 games is therefore not the most effective way to find an edge. As coaches like Matt LaFleur and and Zac Taylor and duos like Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy G and Bruce Arians and Jameis Winston are forced to show their hands starting this weekend and moving forward, we will begin to understand more clearly the teams that can move the ball and those that cant. As numbers roll in and teams show their cards, we will find our edges every week between now and January.