As we are changing over into a strong push into the 2021 fantasy draft season, we are exploring some of the data points from the most recent NFL season and seeing what kind of notes and lessons we can take away in application to the upcoming season. The goal is that come late-August, we have covered all corners of the fantasy Earth from a team, player, position, and game theory stance to accurately calibrate our draft strategy for this upcoming season.
Last week we looked at per drive scoring output for teams and their touchdown dispersal through the air and on the ground. Today we are diving into how good teams were at converting their offensive yardage into touchdowns.
League Offensive Yardage Into Touchdown Conversion Over the Past 10 Seasons
If you gain a lot of offensive yardage, you are likely going to have more scoring opportunities. That is hardly breaking new ground. That said, applying actual context here, offensive yardage gained over the past decade has a .6794 r-squared correlation to offensive touchdowns scored. In other words, over the past 10 years, over two-thirds of all offensive touchdowns scored can be explained by yardage gained.
We already have established that the 2020 season was historically bonkers for offensive efficiency due to multiple factors and this area of offensive prowess was no different. NFL teams scored a touchdown once per every 131.0 yards of offense gained, by far the most efficient mark ever. Even after teams scored a touchdown per yard gained at their lowest points in three of the previous four seasons prior to 2020, this past season had a massive spike in scoring efficiency per yard gained.
As far as per-team correlations into converting yardage into offensive touchdowns per season, the 2020 season had a lower per-team correlation than the previous two seasons, but still remained extremely high as far as football correlations go. But after over 70% of all offensive scores could be explained by yardage gained over the 2008-2012 seasons, it has dipped below that arbitrary 70% mark in six of the past eight seasons.
As usual, we always want to explore how sticky the year-over-year carryover is for teams. As has been the case over the opening few posts in scoring rate per drive and touchdown dispersal, following season yardage to touchdown conversion rate is highly unstable, carrying just .0405 correlation to the following year.
As has been the case, that does not mean we still cannot take away some large-scope antidotes about the teams that were strong and struggled in this area a year ago and shine some shreds of light on potential regression as we uncovered in the touchdown dispersal department.
Over the past 10 seasons, 71.4% of the 168 teams that scored fewer touchdowns than their expected total based on offensive yardage gained per league rates that season came back and scored more offensive touchdowns the following season. Those teams scored 10 more touchdowns on average the following season.
On the other end, 70.9% of teams that out-kicked their projected offensive touchdown totals based on yardage came back the following season and scored fewer offensive touchdowns the following year. Directly flipping the teams above, losing an average of 10 offensive touchdowns per season the next year.
Looking at the most recent season in our sample, in 2019 there were 17 teams that scored fewer offensive touchdowns based on their yardage gained. Only two of those 17 teams (the Cowboys and Panthers) scored fewer offensive touchdowns in 2020 while the remaining teams upped their touchdown output by an average of nine touchdowns per team.
The bottom teams averted more disasters than previous NFL seasons. Of the 15 teams that out-produced their expected touchdown output per yardage gained in 2019, seven scored fewer touchdowns last season. That could have been a byproduct of the historic offensive tide we saw league-wide last season raising the tide across the board. If there is significant league-wide regression in scoring this season as there has been in previous historic seasons, we could see the inverse, but teams that out-kicked their touchdown coverage in 2019 were able to fight off that implied regression a year ago.
With the top-down view of the league established, we are going to look at the 2020 season output with an eye on what teams we are looking at for regression to the mean in 2021.
2020 Expected TD Output Per Yardage
Of course, the extra game added to the NFL schedule this season will raise league totals and we will have to use the per-game output when comparing the upcoming season in context with previous seasons, but you can also use the raw totals here to diagnose that per-game tide rising or falling. We also should be aware by now that the 2021 season could have league-wide regression in scoring output per-game compared to 2020, although the levels of that pending regression remain to be seen.
The Packers have popped up at the top in all of our team coverage pieces so far and here they are again.
The Packers scored a touchdown once per every 97.3 yards gained, the most efficient mark in the 2000s. Only one other team (the 2007 Patriots) had a season in which they averaged a touchdown below 100 yards of offense (once every 98.2 yards gained).
Green Bay scored 16.5 more offensive touchdowns than implied by their yardage gained last season. That was the fifth-highest mark for any team since 2008. The four teams ahead of them came back and scored 12 fewer offensive touchdowns on average the following season. As long as Aaron Rodgers returns, scoring 50-plus touchdowns would still have the Packers as a strong offense in 2021, but as previously stated throughout these team pieces, we should be anticipating the Packers to return closer to the herd this upcoming season.
Joining the Packers as teams with double-digit touchdowns over yardage expectation were the Saints (12.0), Buccaneers (11.1), and Titans (10.6). Over the previous decade, there were just 18 teams to out-kick their expected touchdown output by double digits. Of those 18 teams, 15 scored fewer touchdowns the following season (an average loss of 16 touchdowns per team) with all 15 of those teams scoring at least seven fewer touchdowns in that next season.
There were another five teams in the Seahawks (9.9), Bills (7.6), Vikings (7.0), Ravens (6.6), and Steelers (6.1) with five or more scores than expected. 75.4% of the teams over the previous 10 seasons in that arbitrary bucket came back and scored fewer offensive touchdowns the following season with an average drop of 12 fewer touchdowns per team among those teams.
Even in a historic season scoring the football, we still have teams that fall on the other end of the spectrum in disappointment. No team scored fewer offensive touchdowns below yardage expectation than the Giants last season at 11.6 fewer touchdowns. And this was a team that was still just 31st in total offensive yardage gained. The Giants scored a touchdown once per every 191.8 yards gained, which was last in the league and even worse than the Jets.
Over the previous decade, there were just 13 teams to score fewer implied touchdowns per yardage by double digits. Of those 13 teams, 11 came back and saw a spike in touchdowns with an average increase of 13 more touchdowns among those teams. Last season, the Jaguars were in that bucket of teams. Although they did not jump to the top of the league in scoring, they did go from 27 offensive touchdowns in 2019 up to 34 a year ago.
Nine other teams joined the Giants last season in scoring five or fewer times below expectation. Over the previous decade, 77.1% of teams that fall into that bucket have come back and scored more offensive touchdowns the following season with an average increase of 12.4 touchdowns scored among those teams. The Rams, Falcons, Jaguars, Cowboys, Broncos, Bengals, Panthers, Patriots, and Jets were in this area a year ago with the Giants.
We already know what derailed the Cowboys last season, but the Rams particularly stand out here after they were 11th in offensive yardage gained, but 20th in offensive touchdowns. That transition from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford could see this team bounce back to one of the highest-scoring teams in the league.
If looking for teams with double-digit increases in touchdowns scored the following season, they almost always come from the negative bucket. Of the 67 teams to have double-digit spikes in touchdown production from the previous season, 51 were teams that fell short of their expectation the year prior with 31 of those teams coming from teams that were more than five touchdowns below expectation the previous season.