To help figure out good value for potential win totals in 2019, it is important to look back at what really occurred in 2018. Several underlying metrics have historically been effective in projecting whether teams are likely to improve or decline in the upcoming season.
Earlier in the week, we looked at three stats that could help in projecting team win totals. Today, we’ll look at three more.
Hidden special teams stats
Football Outsiders does a really good job calculating what they call their hidden special teams statistic. This consists of elements of special teams that are out of the opposing team’s control. It takes into account special teams performance which is largely luck related like kickoff and punt distances from opponents as well as opponent field goal percentages. It is difficult to make the case for a team having a “good” or “bad” field goal defense which is why opponent field goal kickers performance is largely due to randomness. For example in 2017, Rams opponents had the lowest field goal percentage in the NFL since the 2011 Eagles at 67 percent. Then in 2018, the Rams opponents made field goals at a rate of 89 percent which was the eighth-highest rate in the NFL. Falcons opponents made every single field goal against them last season, which is the first time that has happened in the NFL since the 2010 Chargers. This is after two straight years of opponents hitting field goals at a rate towards the middle of the pack and allowing opponents to only make 76 percent of field goals, third-lowest in the NFL in 2015. The Falcons shouldn’t expect opponents to be that accurate again in 2019. You might be able to explain the effectiveness of opponent kickers in Atlanta since they play in a dome. But then we have the case of the Detroit Lions, who also play in a dome, and had the lowest opponent field goal percentage in the NFL last season. This includes opponents hitting under 70 percent both at home and on the road. Go figure.
Net success rate vs win/loss record
Historically, stats like yards per play were used to measure a team’s effectiveness on offense and defense. Recently success rates were introduced which can more properly measure efficiency. Success rate refers to if a play is successful when it gains at least 40 percent of yards-to-go on first down, 60 percent of yards-to-go on second down, and 100 percent of yards-to-go on third or fourth down. Net success rate is simply each team’s offensive success rate minus defensive success rate. Sometimes teams win or lose despite what success rates says they should, similar to the point differential discrepancy. A perfect example of this was in the 2016 season when both the Saints and Eagles won seven games but ranked first and second in net success rate in the NFL. The following season both teams made the playoffs and the Eagles won the Super Bowl. We can use these major disparities as a guide. Based on their 2018 net success rates as compared to their win percentage, the Panthers, Jaguars, 49ers, and Raiders would be bet over teams. The Browns, Cowboys, Seahawks, and Titans would be bet under teams.
Adjusted Games Lost
Football Outsiders have created a stat called Adjusted Games Lost (“AGL”) which can help better quantify the impact of injuries to teams in a given year. Instead of just adding up the number of games missed by all players on a team, Adjusted Games Lost applies a larger weighting to starters versus bench players and takes into consideration what each player’s health game status is for that week. Many times the biggest impact on whether teams make the playoffs or not is based on the number of injuries during a season. Last season the Buccaneers and Eagles were impacted the most by injuries while the Ravens, Bills, and Bears were impacted the least in the NFL. What’s interesting is Chicago had been notorious for devastating injuries for multiple years in a row prior to 2018. In fact, the 2016 Chicago Bears hold the all-time record for most AGL in a season. Two years later the Bears finished as the third-healthiest team in the NFL and made the playoffs. If a team like the Eagles can reduce the impactful injuries this season, they could be expected to be contenders for a Super Bowl.